Benrubi Gallery is pleased to announce Asylum, the second solo exhibition from award-winning photographer Christopher Payne. Payne visited seventy shuttered mental hospitals in thirty states between 2002 and 2008, photographing both their palatial exteriors and their crumbling interiors. The facades are ornate and enormous—the largest facilities could house more than 10,000 patients—while the dusty rooms often look as though their occupants had just left, their labeled toothbrushes still hanging in neat rows. Many of these institutions have since been demolished, so Payne’s images serve as their final appearance in the historical record.
Asylum reminds us of the pre-pharmaceutical era of psychiatric treatment, when the mentally ill were shunted out of public view in vast, village-like facilities, complete with movie theaters, hairdressing salons, bowling alleys and vegetable gardens. But although many of the buildings are the worse for wear, they seem less like prisons than mansions, as if architectural rigor could soothe a troubled mind. There is a palpable tension between the orderly spaces and the suffering and confusion of the patients who once lived in them, a melancholy that builds to tragedy as one contemplates images of empty coffins and pre-numbered grave markers and shelf after shelf of unclaimed cremains.
Payne’s photographs evoke their absent tenants by the traces they left behind, be it their clothes or medical records or the erosion caused by the passage of thousands of unknown hands and feet. Yet they also invoke their caregivers and family and a society which knew of no other way to care for the mad then building them vast palaces in which to wile away their last years on earth.
The Benrubi exhibition follows Asylum: Inside the Closed World of State Mental Hospitals, which was published by MIT Press in 2009 and includes an essay by renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks.
The third iteration of the Hammer’s biennial exhibition continues to highlight the practices of artists working throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.
As part of an ongoing series, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only addresses Los Angeles as a center of activity inseparable from the global network of art production and reveals how artists move fluidly between contexts and respond to their local conditions. Subtitled by the minimalist poet and writer Aram Saroyan as his contribution to the exhibition, Made in L.A. 2016: a, the, though, only extends into such disciplines as dance, fashion, literature, music, film, and performance.
Rather than a unifying regional aesthetic, sensibility, or identity historically associated with Los Angeles, Made in L.A. 2016 focuses on artists from different disciplinary backgrounds, allowing individual projects and bodies of work to shape the overall exhibition. It features condensed monographic surveys, comprehensive displays of multiyear projects, the premiere of new bodies of work, and newly commissioned works from emerging artists.
Rodney Graham’s debut exhibition at Lisson Gallery Milan, ‘Più Arte dello Scovolino!’ presents the work of a hypothetical artist lost to history: the pipe cleaner artist. A new body of sculptures and paintings see the Canadian artist in modernist mode, casting himself as the maker of abstract sculptures and paintings that supposedly date from early- to mid-Sixties Italy. So often the chief protagonist in his own art-historically informed tableaux, Graham is simultaneously Renaissance Man and comical persona; his works at once profoundly inter-textual and humorously self-reflexive. Each image layers multiple references and allusions, their sheer decorousness a mine of visual puns and cross-cultural riddles.
For over forty years Graham has pursued a conceptual, multi-disciplinary project that encompasses photography, sculpture, installation, books, film, video, audio and painting to explore past and present possibilities of creativity. Fundamentally a performance artist, Graham’s art proceeds from disguise and digression, through quotation and humour, towards an understanding of place within culture and time.
The works on display at Lisson Gallery Milan evolved out of the props Graham first made for Pipe Cleaner Artist, Amalfi, 1961 (2013), a diptych lightbox which depicts the artist in a rustic, sun-dappled room meditatively knotting pipe cleaners into works of art. Inspiration came from three separate images: a 1930s Man Ray photograph of Jean Cocteau working on a hanging pipe cleaner construction like those he made for his 1930 film, Blood of a Poet; a photo of Asger Jorn in his studio in Albisola taken in 1961; and an image of Lucio Fontana relaxing in the backyard of his Milan studio while apparently playing with pebbles, moving them around on a canvas in front of him. “I wanted,” Graham has said, “to invoke an image of a studio utopia in a period where modernism still seemed to hold possibilities.”
Like Graham’s earlier works made in the guise of the ‘gifted amateur’, which likewise explore the idea of the artist’s studio, the new pipe cleaner pieces are situated on the convergence of ironic distance, serious homage and play, where romance is fleshed out with pragmatism. Graham’s depiction of the artist states: “Like Cocteau he uses pipe cleaners but his art is more informal, his influences more ‘contemporary’: Klein, Fontana, Manzoni. He is probably a northern painter like Jorn (who came to Italy partly for his health, I think) and he is trying to move into three-dimensional work by way of assemblage. An avid scuba diver, his work is influenced by the colourful diversity of Mediterranean coral."
By interpolating new artworks into a prior point in time and absurdly up-ending the logic of production, Graham finds new ways to engage with sculpture and painting, footnoting art history with his own invention.