Diane Rosenstein Fine Art is pleased to present “Unsparing Quality,” a group show curated by Farrah Karapetian. The exhibition poses the question: where do Surrealist impulses manifest in contemporary practice? The response involves three generations of artists who engage the legacy of Surrealist practice and offer work that investigates the subtle madness of the ordinary world.
The title of this exhibition is derived from André Breton's First Manifesto of Surrealism (1924): “Beloved imagination, what I like most in you is your unsparing quality.” The imagination does not forgive nor does it spare the dreamer the pain and pleasure of everyday life. This exhibition includes photographs, drawing, video, and sculpture by twenty-eight artists - each an investigation into the poetic potential of the Everyday. The tempo is set by Man Ray: he appropriates, he abuses materials, he communicates at once with his subject and viewer, and he puts his fears and values on the line. His “Indestructible Object” (1923/63), is a metronome with a cut-out photograph of a blinking eye that opens and closes as the arm swings. Man Ray understood clearly what makes an indelible impact: he elevates the object, the Thing, into a haunting talisman.
Three contemporary sculptures will depict a displaced self, which is a persistent presence (albeit in absentia) in René Magritte's later paintings: Shana Lutker's “T.” (2010), a form shaped like the letter, or a mysterious structure shaped like a gallows from a child's game of hangman; Julian Hoeber's “Family” (2011-12), an installation of adult-sized wooden cradles; and Carmen Argote's “L'Altalena” (2013), a seesaw, not for children, but fit for tigers one might imagine wandering out of Rousseau's The Dream. A series of wigged masks from My Barbarian's “Broke People's Baroque Theater” (2012) are sculptural artifacts of a collective performance and a perspective on economic inequity.
Two extraordinary series of self-portraits - one by Claude Cahun (1926) and the other in 2013 by Luke Gilford & Zackary Drucker, titled “This Is What It Looks Like (To Go From One Thing To Everything),” traverse the subtle terrain of the unseen self. Luke Gilford, who shares with Man Ray and René Magritte a background in fashion photography and advertising, will also present earlier photographs; namely, “Untitled (Rya, L.A. Stories),” a portrait of a housewife - her face and body obscured by a flesh bodysuit - who becomes a cipher, a mannequin, an avatar.
How we outfit our selves becomes a matter of discovery - not just in terms of costume, but in terms of which identity we uncover at all. “There must be more to life than just having everything,” begins the narration in Zackary Drucker's film (with Flawless Sabrina), “At least you know: you exist” (2010-11). The film is a symbiosis of identity between two artists and an ode, therefore, to a genuine attitude of creativity towards one's changing sense of self. Eleanor Antin's “I Invoke The Gods Of War” (1974) is a sequenced suite of vintage silver gelatin photographs in which the artist walks among her people as her ‘political self’ - the bearded King of Solana Beach. Robert Therrien's “Untitled (Beard)” sculptures are similarly mythic adornments for a variety of bodies. For this exhibition, Mr. Therrien will assemble a “beard cart” that includes multiple beards as well as a variety of the tools of their upkeep.
In Tim Hawkinson's life-sized bronze, “Samoa” (2013), a cast of the artist's body includes chain links shackling his tongue to his hands. The joints of the chain are casts of the artist's tongue, lips, thumb, and index finger. Our senses and mind ensnare us, and we, as artists and humans, look for ways out of this bind. British artist Jane Wilbraham's “Seven Month Frail” (2013) is a whittled sycamore pitchfork with claw-like tines part animal/part human. In “The Semi Transparent City” (1950), Japanese avant-garde photographer Kansuke Yamamoto also separates adornment from flesh, and invokes the dystopic undertow of post-war Tokyo in his phantasmic image.
“Artwork comes out of some disobedient spirit against readymade things of society,” wrote Mr. Yamamoto (1941). The Mexico City-based sculptor Martin Soto Climent wrenches new meaning from found objects, and in “Tight on Canvas (Bridget)” (2010) he fashions a perverse poetry from a friend’s pink stockings and leather pumps. New York-based photographer Tim Davis finds that reaction in “L'Origine du Monde,” 2004 an image that addresses its subject and the compromise of being seen; while Jacques Villeglé's décollage, “Rue du Temple” (1967) and Unica Zürn's torn and reassembled drawing similarly display an aesthetic of anarchy and distress.
Chloe Piene's expressionistic charcoal contour drawing, “Pousette” (2012), evokes Hans Bellmer's automatic drawing and Gustav Klimt's eroticism. Kim Schoen's film, “The Horseshoe Effect” (2013), showcases the absurdity of the language of commerce and the ease with which the contemporary subject slips into nonsensical improvisation in that sphere. Martha Rosler's photomontages from “Bring The War Home: Iraq” (2004) and Eleanor Antin's epic photographic tableau, “The Tourists (from ”Helen's Odyssey“)” (2007), highlight the incongruent and non-real experience of those at war and those who visit it through the one-way mirror of their television sets. Matt Lipps and Deville Cohen each use re-photography to collapse perspective on time itself.
This exhibition also includes work by Ray Anthony Barrett (drawing), Max Rain (drawing), Mie Hørlyck Mogensen (photography), and Masood Kamandy (photography). There is a readiness in these artists to render real their fantasy, but to reveal the rendering as a part of the work. Psychological or political situation are not only the impetus for this work, but the practice and product of it as well.
The threads drawn here between artwork of the mid-20th century and the 21st century do not suggest that artists of these periods think literally about the work of the early surrealist movement. Instead, Unsparing Quality suggests a thriving continuum in the human impulse to reveal and refine psychological and political realities, using the flexibility of fantasy to face one's fears.
There will be a public program of artists' readings and performance throughout the run of this exhibition. On February 23rd, Eleanor Antin will read from her memoir, Conversations with Stalin and from her new memoir, An Artist's Life by Eleanora Antinova as told to Eleanor Antin, a work in progress. A limited edition catalogue has been published to accompany the show.
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