This week Dana Bassett and Duncan Mackenzie catch up with the artist Ben Stone. We are joined thanks to Artadia by special guest host (whose name Duncan has been mispronouncing for years and to his shame this continues here) Elysia Borowy-Reeder Executive Director of MOCAD ( Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit).
We catch up with Ben during the intense run up to his solo show at Western exhibitions which is up now through September 16, 2016. In a rich conversation we chat about things work, humor and contemporary art, violence, sports, and the magic of therapy.
Geoffrey Todd Smith,
The Score Sports Talk,
Untitled Art Fair,
Belle and Sebastian,
The second installment of a curatorial project by Jens Hoffmann and Harrell Fletcher, the People’s Biennial 2014 takes a stronger approach to its mission than the first. In 2010, the idea was to highlight five cities in the US that are not art centers and showcase the work of artists working within contemporary art frameworks. This year, selected established artists from all over the US invited a creative person whom they personally know but are outside of the art world to collaborate on an installation within the refurbished Woodward Gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. From a brilliant autistic child, to blind woodworker, activists, collectors and outsider artists, the exhibition highlights the value of individual expression, ability and passion of all humans, why that can be artistic and is beautiful as art. So a child’s imagination can be on the same playing field as a celebrated photographer, just as an upholsterer can be exhibited nearby the 2011 Venice Biennale’s US artists.
Each collaboration is framed by a simple wood shed painted a solid color, equalizing all that is within. Drawings of the duo or collaborative by Studio Stripe accompanies some biographic info and an interview or introduction to the lesser known’s work. The collaborations vary, but in most cases, the established artist tends to take a back seat, marveling at the non artist or marginalized artist’s creative process.
Scott Reeder and Xav Lepae create a playful booth that evokes a bit of Gary Panter and Wayne White while showcasing the 24/7 radio station Lepae runs. Lee Walton & Harriet Hoover lovingly tell the story of Mr Coppers, a caring man who runs a small upholstery business. The resulting display augments the rich life that he has. Cary Loren and Jimbo Easter, having collaborated before, create a seamless installation that relishes in underwhelming Halloween effects, primitive paper mache and abject piles of junk as pen and ink drawings cover the walls. Dara Friedman chronicles Ishmael Golden Eagle, an amateur archeologist, who serendipitously discovered a significant spiritual well in LA, and whose dedication to preserving it is heroic.
Mounting an exhibition of non artists collaborating with established artists will likely yield different results, and not all of them may be visually engaging. This proves to be the exhibition’s only shortcomings, and as it is somewhat expected due to the nature of the exhibition, is minor. Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla and Robert Rabin’s work, as well as Hank Willis Thomas and Baz Dreisinger’s collaborations suffer from this condition; the latter of each group’s direct activism visually nullified by bland documentation. Some stories are not easily translated visually, especially within regimented structures, but it appears to be through the fault of the established artists collaborating that this has happened.
Opening up dialogue not just about what is art, but what is artful, the exhibition gives equal weight to the pursuits of non artists and marginalized artists. What may draw us to the show are the names of Alec Soth, Cary Loren or Dara Friedman, but what keeps us there is Jimbo Easter, Ishmael Golden Eagle and Mr Coppers. A simple, beautiful message about civilized life, where everyone is equal, every vision is unique and everyone has a story to be told. What we are left with is a more inclusive and open proposal for what the contemporary art world could be.
The People’s Biennial is co-curated by Jens Hoffmann and Harrell Fletcher and is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MoCAD) from September 12, 2014 – January 4, 2015.
The floor is covered with silver tarps and the entrance wall has the press release hand scrawled in acrylic paint. Partitions of white heavy plastic sheeting hanging from aluminum support beams create booths to mimic an art fair. This is Jose Lerma’s own art fair, where the works are made on site while you watch. For a full month during gallery hours, the artist and his assistants utilize MoCAD’s main exhibition space as an artist studio, transforming it into a one person art fair. Having opened May 16, the final display is this Friday, June 13, and will remain on display through July.
One of the strongest works on display is the monster made of U of M T-shirts and Spongebob’s idiotic face hanging from reflective curtains. Walking past the work lights blaring directly onto the curtains, the fabric reacts to create a fantastic sunset effect, albeit unapologetically cheesy. A few hanging junk assemblages are painted a uniform bright yellow to match Spongebob Square Sun. Two slabs of brick ruins from an old brownstone “play” a keyboard set to a shimmering new age setting. The bricks find their final resting place on the keys, and a non stop trance inducing drone fills the entire museum, aided by a small amplifier and the building’s open floor plan. The whole effect is theatrical and sublime, allowing the materials to transcend their position as trash or generic objects of ennui.
To the right is a horizontal stripe painting and a wooden cube reacting to a strobe light overhead. The colors become animated in the lights, dancing to the keyboard drone and a disco beat locked somewhere in the colors and released by the artist’s intervention. While this small section is playful, the strobe gets down to business in the next installation. In the west corner of the gallery, mirrors on both walls work their magic to turn a quarter circle of pastel painted bricks into a full circle. These surround a constructed podium adorned with triangles in every color and direction, ripped from a thrift store sweater (plus a background of Bird Shit White), housing plants and two tube TVs. The TVs play the same video: a few people in this very same environment making unintelligible sounds by flicking their cheeks incessantly, as if they are trying to create a language. The strobe is in the video as in the actual space, slowing down the video by de emphasizing certain frames within. This visual doubling and redoubling is complemented by the mic’d sound of the cheek recital. It too seems doubled and redoubled to the point of not even recognizing it as human: getting within earshot it sounds like a fountain. It takes watching the video and seeing yourself in the space to realize that it is not.
In a video made by MoCAD to promote the exhibition, Lerma speaks about the materials and the resulting work’s relationship to Detroit. He says: “I found a lot of these things on the street. And it’s shocking that they make a suitable replacement for artworks at an art fair; just junk that I found and you put together in a day.” Said so coyly, it seems like a dig, but I doubt to artists who work within the framework of detritus. Since he teaches at one of the nation’s largest art schools, he probably sees more than his fair share, and from all sides, of work that re-makes polemical modernist art, both from his peers and fellow faculty still engaged with it, and young students trying to address it in their smirkingly angry way. Go to Basel and see that shit is in some horse stalls across from the original LeWitts, Judds, etc., and you’re likely to think you can never escape it. So while the fake minimalist crap in the northwest part of the gallery looks really boring, there are a range of artworks at an art fair. Winners and losers. At Basel, its not just the works on display but the spectacle, the who’s who of both sides. The only thing that changes is the number of works still available for purchase. At MoCAD, the number of works keeps increasing, each hour and each day, creating more potentials of dialogues within the works in the exhibition.
While the museum claims Lerma is addressing the history of the building as a former auto dealership, the only real connection is through class markets. As the dealership no longer exists, the market is no longer the people who make the product. Underlining this is the idea of transient economies, like an art fair. Keep reading the press release and no one talks of sale, just dismantling. With support from Andrea Rosen and Kava Gupta Chicago/Berlin, the works will likely go on sale after the exhibition in other economies. The slimy part of art which is on full view at art fairs gets pushed almost entirely out of sight here. Standard procedure, sure, and several of these works deserve a good home. With the DIA just a couple blocks north of MoCAD, one can’t help but think of unspoken intentions when it comes to politicizing art speak. Since Lerma has never avoided history and politics in his work, I don’t doubt he sees this as another relationship his work creates with Detroit.
Beautiful cacophony, the secret rhythms of color exposed and a perfect blending of light, sound and materials. I can’t see him as this cynical, even though he is. Even at his most cynical, the resulting work is too beautiful to deny. Its like a predator perfectly stalking its prey, and that fragile creature who, in a moment of self absorption, or not being quick enough, or just dumb fucking luck — succumbs to the predator with such grace, that the whole event is nothing less than majestic. Everything that took place was exactly as it should, with nothing extra and no piece of carnage left out. The viewer is left staring, amazed. And as the drone seeps into your subconscious, the strobe lights screw with your sense of time and place, you start to understand the language created by the cheek recital.
José Lerma: La Bella Crisis is organized by MOCAD. It is curated by Elysia Borowy-Reeder, Executive Director of MOCAD and coordinated at MOCAD by Exhibitions Coordinator Zeb Smith. Exhibition runs from May 16 – July 27. For more information, visit MoCAD’s website here.
August 30, 2013 · Print This Article
Stephanie CristelloÂ published an interview with Richard Holland and Duncan MacKenzie onÂ The SeenÂ recently to talk about Bad at Sports’ plans for EXPO, including the upcoming print publication Dana Bassett is spearheading and the various interviews we will be conducting on site at the fair.Â
BAD AT SPORTS // INTERVIEW
Duncan MacKenzieÂ andÂ Richard HollandÂ ofÂ Bad at SportsÂ are two of the best in town to talk with about art. Known for their witty commentary and contemporary art talk platform Bad at Sports, they are most admired for their weekly podcasts and blog. The three of us sat down to discuss their involvement with EXPO/2013 â€“ the recent venture of a newspaper that will be distributed throughout the fair spearheaded byÂ Whatâ€™s the T?Â columnistÂ Dana BassettÂ entitledÂ The EXPO Register, and the live interviews they will be fielding from their booth next to the /Dialogues stage. The lineup for this yearâ€™s panel is impressive, titled â€œOne-on-One,â€ just one of many sports puns, MacKenzie and Holland will be in conversation with gallerists, directors, and curators, such as Solveig Ã˜vstebÃ¸ of the Renaissance Society, Elysia Borowy-Reeder of the MOCAD Detroit, and Director Charlie James, as well as artists William Powhida, JosÃ© Lerma, and Sanford Biggers. While the details of these interviews are kept secret (you will just have to see them in person to find out), our conversation breaches the extent of Bad at Sports coverage at the fair, their plans for the paper, and MacKenzie and Hollandâ€™s bucket list â€“ like an interview about interviews, or something along those lines.
Stephanie Cristello:Â Letâ€™s start off by talking about some of the things youâ€™re doing for the fair. Youâ€™re working with Dana Bassett to publish a newspaper reporting live?
Duncan MacKenzie:Â Yes, the newspaper is going to be called The EXPO Register and reflects our collective style â€“ slightly goofy, a touch irreverent, yet fairly straight ahead. The great thing about working with Dana is that she has the same wry sense of humor as us, which will definitely be a part of it, but it will also be a sincere tool for the fair goers.
Richard Holland:Â At Bad at Sports we are slightly irreverent, but not extensively. We are respectful of our guests â€“ we will make fun of them now and again, but at our core, we are the fan club newsletter. This newspaper will be a different side of that effort.
SC:Â So you will be reporting on trends, how much gossip is there going to be?
DM:Â 98% trash! No â€“ there will be a chunk of it thatâ€™s gossip, but itâ€™s light.
RH:Â Weâ€™re just trying not to get sued, thatâ€™s why we donâ€™t have comments on our site anymore. After the fourth time we got threatened with a lawsuitâ€¦
Walking up to the clapboard rancher surrounded by a sod lawn in front of a brick building whose facing side was painted a sky blue, an uneasy feeling of displacement crept up my spine. On one side was downtown Detroit, the other was suburbia. Except it was some sort of self conscious version of suburbia, reminiscent of the prosaic childhood setting so many of us are familiar with, but with an almost mythic nature as a newly fetishized art object. Originally â€œlaunchedâ€ in 2010 as an intricately choreographed performative sculpture, Mike Kelleyâ€™s Mobile Homestead finally opened to the public on May 11, 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit as a permanent fixture on the adjacent lot. As a recreation of the late artistâ€™s childhood home in suburban Westland, MI, the resulting structure is fairly straightforward. As an art work, it is extremely complex, a nearly uncatagorizable masterpiece, wholly embracing major themes of his lifeâ€™s work while barreling into new territory altogether in the most ambitious project of his far too short career. Mobile Homestead asserts itself as both public and private sculpture, focusing on community involvement and outreach, yet retaining a strong sense of privacy and secrecy inherent in homes by the elaborate basement labyrinth which will be kept off limits to the general public.
A small lending library greets visitors open entering the house, while in the room to the right an electric organ is tucked by the doorway leading to two back rooms furnished as offices of sorts, with donated or second hand furniture. This office vernacular continues through the back hallway and restroom, with overhead lighting and white walls, gray linoleum floor that denies the sense of warmth typically associated with a home. Having looped around to the back left of the house, the last two rooms before the garage contain the most engaging participatory elements of the house thus far. On wall pegs were thrift store items that could be â€œpurchasedâ€ by creating money from materials provided on a nearby table. Visitors can determine the perceived value of the item of their choice, which were mostly fake food items, knick knacks and toys: objects of little use, or like the invented monetary system, items of play. While both a welcoming and generous proposal for a new economic system of exchange, it underlined an important critical perspective of the art. We are pretending that art can make an impact on a community that has little need in or interest of art. Kelleyâ€™s mistrust of public art is manifested in a contradictory work that both invites and refuses, both provides a platform for social empowerment and an expectation of failure. By paying for a sequined Mexican Wrestlers mask with hand drawn currency I am not helping anyone but myself, for something I donâ€™t need at all or that will serve me any purpose except momentary enjoyment. Carrying it around the rest of the night, I felt stupid and a bit guilty, that I had taken advantage of the generosity of an invented system that could have bettered someone else instead. With the gift is the debt, and Kelley has specifically talked about this with works like More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid (1987):
â€œ â€˜…we can make an art object that canâ€™t be commodified.â€™ Whatâ€™s that? Thatâ€™s a gift. If I give you this art-thing, itâ€™s going to escape the evils of capitalism. Well, of course thatâ€™s ridiculous, because if you give this thing to junior he owes you something. It might not be money, but he owes you something. The most terrible thing is that he doesnâ€™t know what he owes you because thereâ€™s no price on the thing. Basically, gift giving is like indentured slavery or something. Thereâ€™s no price, so you donâ€™t know how much you owe.â€ – Mike Kelley in conversation with John Miller in 1991
Experiencing this sense of debt, an acknowledgement of worth arises. Art must have some worth in oneâ€™s day to day life, but to come at it through debt is to force its sense of worth on the indebted. Yet in the bowels of the house is a very private and crucial element of the art work that is off limits to the general public, harkening all the way back to the Tree of Knowledge in the Book of Genesis. The desire to enter the basement becomes even more significant. To be invited into an elite group that has access to the more private or sacred space of the artist. A twisted mentality develops of feeling slighted by the benefactor, that class or some social identifier has determined oneâ€™s limit in the consumption of the work. This sinister turn of emotional understanding complicates oneâ€™s position towards Homestead as a public artwork, while invoking the gothic nature found throughout Kelleyâ€™s art. The unattainable labyrinth basement sets the house as a sort of prison in which the inmate was just informed of his captivity after a lifetime of believing they were free. How would the programming develop, would it actually create community impact, would it fail, and quickly? What types of programming would be offered and when? From this comes the question, for whom? Would the programing be for me, or someone else? How am I included or excluded?
Public art and social practice typically engages a community by attempting to fill a need which is usually seen from someone outside of that community. They rarely give the community the chance to discuss if these actions of altruism are actually beneficial to them or not. In essence, the underprivileged remain unrepresented, denied agency to speak while seen without agency to overcome their perceived situation. Slyly cynical as a suburban home entering the city of Detroit as a reversal of White Flight, Mobile Homestead can potentially become a carefully disguised form of oppression like many other public art and social practice works. As Kelly has stated in his essay accompanying Mobile Homestead for the 2012 Whitney Biennial, â€œ…public art is always doomed to failure because of its basic passive / aggressive nature. Public art is a pleasure that is forced upon a public that, in most cases, finds no pleasure in it.â€
Throughout the house and walls of MoCAD on opening night everyone wondered how the programming would unfold, and thus what would the fate of Mobile Homestead be. Without the guidance of the artist, it is up to the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and MoCAD to do the best in executing the artistâ€™s wishes. Thus Mobile Homestead is not at an end point but just a new phase of its ongoing development. As MoCAD is encouraging public suggestion and development of supported programming in the house, it seems then that even though Kelley believed that it wouldnâ€™t work, he may have wished for it to, that Homestead was an honest attempt at public art performed in â€œbad faith,â€ as the artist put it. It will continue an unwieldy yet potentially revealing choreography as one of the best artworks of its time, a harsh critique of power, public art and social engagement that challenges its audience to prove it wrong by embracing it as a tool for community enhancement while remaining an autonomous work of art.
More information on Mobile Homestead, including visitor hours and programming can be found on MoCAD’s website: