Josiah McElheny, The Club for Modern Fashions, 2013, performance view.
A new exhibition by Josiah McElheny sites The Club for Modern Fashions, a mock glass house, in the public exhibition space of a members-only art club in downtown Chicago. Performers wearing vintage fashions, from the 1920s through the 1970s, occupy the Mies-style period room within the Arts Club of Chicago weekdays for one hour at 11:30 AM, when the club’s members arrive for their luncheon. Also on view is McElheny’s 2012 film The Light Club of Vizcaya: A Women's Picture. The installation, performances, and film screening continue through December 14, 2013.
THIS EXHIBITION is deeply connected to Chicago. Chicago is an important place for me: I’ve worked with Donald Young Gallery for almost twenty years, and my first major museum intervention project was here, in 1998, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Ian Wardropper, who was head of the department, encouraged me to de-install a large section of the Renaissance collection in the museum’s hall of arms and armor, and to install my own project there instead. It was my first engagement with a public situation at that level, with thousands of people seeing it.
The construction of the glass pavilion for The Club for Modern Fashions was made in collaboration with the architect John Vinci, and it echoes important elements of Chicago architectural history. Vinci was a student of Mies van der Rohe. The Arts Club was inspired by Mies; the stairway was itself designed by Mies. My decision to paint the frame of the pavilion black echoes the literal and physical appearance of Mies’s projects here in Chicago, many of which involve black or at least very dark steel. The Club for Modern Fashions’s heritage comes from Chicago and the architectural legacy here.
The performance was inspired by Playtime, the 1967 film by Jacques Tati, which is a pantomime critique of modernism, a very subtle but slapstick comedy. Tati built fake sets and buildings that are almost caricatures of Miesian modernism.
My idea was quite simple: Could people from six different eras inhabit the same moment? The clothes make the man, or the woman, so the clothes and makeup and hair should be a character. There isn’t any narrative per se, except that each character is asked to act as if they can only see other characters from eras earlier than the one they are inhabiting, so the 1970s person can see all the other performers, but the 1920s woman can’t see anybody else. It is as if she is alone, even when the other five characters are in the pavilion with her. If you watch very carefully you can see that. The piece only exists when it has an audience, I think.
There’s the idea that people find modernism cold. Well, actually, they must find it reassuring as well, because they’ve been building itand are still building it—left, right, and center. My question is, What does that mean? And why do we continue this way? As an artist, I want to understand how the world works by thinking about aesthetics. In terms of ideas of transparency and space, it seems clear that aesthetics are interconnected to the politics of any era. Also, the idea of transparencyof, for instance, dissolving the barriers around privacy on Facebook and other social mediacannot be entirely separated from the idea that a building should be transparent.
Other people’s competing visions of modernism didn’t win. Mies and his compatriots, and the type of architecture they believed in, won: It’s being built everywhere in the world. In China, endless vistas of Miesian-style architecture are still being built. You certainly can’t call it Frank Lloyd Wright–ian. Why did that become the aesthetic of the world? It’s deeply political, ideological, and philosophical. It’s about very specific beliefs about how society should be constructed.
Matt Mullican’s “Collecting for the studio – collecting 1959–2013,” at Galerie Nelson-Freeman in Paris, brings his early and recent works together with items from his personal collection of art and objects. Ranging from prehistoric tools to twentieth-century machinery and from Piranesi etchings to 1950s comic books, Mullican’s collection has never before been presented within the context of an exhibition. Here the artist highlights a few favorite objects and discusses the relationship of the collection and his work. The show is on view until November 9, 2013.
I’VE DISCUSSED THE IDEA of showing my collection many times, but I’ve never actually done it until now. Both my mother and my father were collectors as well as artists, and we traveled a lot as a family. I grew up in a house in Santa Monica filled with all kinds of objects from all over the world, so it was very natural for me to begin collecting myself. It’s interesting because in my own art I can put whatever I want together on a bulletin board, say, and that becomes mine—it’s my work. The collected objects on view here are not things I ever wanted to include as part of an artwork, but they do provide a background in terms of what interests me.
For example, a little Ramses figure here is the first purchase I made for my collection. I got it in 1959 when I was eight, during a trip to Paris with my parents. There was an antiquities shop along the Seine, opposite the Louvre, and my parents told me I could buy something for thirty dollars. I talked to the shop owner until she wanted me out—I must have been in there an hour. Finally she started pointing at objects saying, “This one’s a fake, this one’s real, fake, real,” etc., and then told me, “Choose!” I ended up getting the Ramses for half price because she wanted me out of there so badly.
The second earliest pieces from my collection are the comic books. I bought these in the early ’60s from a fantastic shop on Hollywood Boulevard. I was only interested in the first issues—the origin story of Hulk, the X-Men, Spiderman, the Avengers, and so on. Of course the thing that most interested me with these was the idea of who creates the creator. Two of my new paintings included in this show—Overall Chart with Comics and Detail of the Moon and Overall Chart—relate very directly to the comic books.
“Collecting for the studio” is the title of the show because these objects I own are all resources for me. What led me to collect certain machinery is my interest in the transference of energy and how this relates to the transference of information. I’ve been using generators and steam engines in my work since the early 1980s, but I’ve never shown any of the actual objects from my collection. I did a rubbing in 1983 or 1984 of a steam engine belonging to my father-in-law. In the work you can see the circle above and the fire below—the energy above and the elements below. He wouldn’t give me his, so I had to buy my own steam engine.
All collectors—no matter whether they collect coins, stamps, salt and pepper shakers, or whatever—are essentially curators. There’s a different way of doing this show, of course—and that’s the Mike Kelley model, where the artist becomes the curator, as he did for his “Uncanny” exhibition. Or there’s even the reverse—the curator as the artist—which is all the rage now. But neither of those is what this show is about. That’s not what I do. If there’s confusion here about what is my work and what is my collection, that’s fine with me. I think that’s a healthy confusion.
Roddy Bogawa, I Was Born, But…, 2004, 16 mm, color, sound, 90 minutes. Photo: Moyra Davey.
MoMA’s film exhibition “Roddy Bogawa: If Films Could Smell” tracks twenty-five years in the life of the Japanese-American artist, who was born in 1962. The Los Angeles–bred punk rocker turned filmmaker has made a wide variety of films with topics ranging from the elusive story of a conflicted family (1991’s Some Divine Wind) to showcasing extreme self-portraiture (2003’s Talking Shit About Myself). The series runs September 18–23, 2013.
THE TITLE OF THIS SURVEY comes from a few sources, one being the Clash song “If Music Could Talk” and the other being Proust, who famously wrote about smell activating memory. I was thinking about what it would be like if films had a smell. Literally, they do: You can hold a roll of film to your nose after getting it back to the lab and it has this organic smell—nothing at all like a hard drive. Technology is changing everything now, memory included.
The day after Joey Ramone died, I took a camera with me to CBGB to document the things kids were leaving in his memory. While I was shooting someone’s handwritten note, the smells of decades’ worth of piss, blood, and puke started wafting into my nose and I started sobbing. I knew I could smell the movie right there. I wondered if I could evoke these emotions for other people.
I work a lot with landscape in my films. In that film, I Was Born, But…, I decided to shoot the clubs where I spent my teenage years watching punk bands. I captured whatever was at the address—a still-functioning club, a Petco, an abandoned lot. I didn’t go into any of the buildings, filming the exteriors with the street noises. When the film had its premiere, people were telling me that they were thinking about the failures of the hippie movement and tearing up. I like when a film can activate something in its audience like that. The films that inspire and excite me always did. There’s less discussion in the art and film worlds than back when you would go to a gallery show or see a movie and sit around with your friends getting drunk and arguing for two hours about what had happened. Things have mainstreamed over the past twenty years and I miss that kind of heated, excited discussion.
I hope my work can revive some of those feelings. As I’ve been looking at my films for this retrospective—and I want to say “midcareer retrospective,” because I don’t want a tombstone—they’ve seemed schizophrenic in scope: shorts, features, video pieces, 16 mm, stuff shot with surveillance cameras, experimental, narrative, documentary. I always joke that I set out to make a cheetah when I start filming and it becomes an armadillo. But that said, I do think that the films are consistently like mini time capsules trying to re-present the periods in which they’re shot.
For example, my film Taken by Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis is a documentary portrait of the late Storm Thorgerson, designer of legendary album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and others. The film editor asked what I wanted from the movie and I told her what I wanted was for someone to watch the film, remember a record he or she used to have, run home and get pissed off realizing that an old boyfriend or girlfriend stole it twenty years ago. Art and films should function in that terrain.
Left and right: Kees Visser, MondLicht (detail), 2013, paper, 9 x 7”.
Kees Visser is a self-taught Dutch artist based in Reykjavik who is known for his abstract and minimal works from the past four decades. In 1978, he cofounded the Living Art Museum in Reykjavik. His current exhibition, “Ups and Downs,” is on view at the National Gallery of Iceland until October 27, 2013. Here he discusses his fascination with the Icelandic landscape as well as two of his new series that debut in the show.
I FIRST CAME TO ICELAND IN 1976. Back then it felt like an international place, and because the art world was so small here, it was very accessible. For example, I never met Donald Judd in Amsterdam, but I met him in Reykjavik. Iceland derived its visual art from its narrative and literary traditions, which I found very charming because I’ve always had a more formal attitude. I lived here during three different periods until 1993; all together it’s been twelve years. So I’ve been in Iceland more than in Holland, where I was born, or in France, where I lived for five years. I worked in the Icelandic countryside, which was where I lived during the first two periods; later I worked in Reykjavik where I lived with my family for almost eight years. My new retrospective covers the work that I made here during those periods, and it is updated by two other pieces that are more recent. It’s an emotional moment to have such a big exhibition here.
My series “Ups and Downs” consists of individual photographs of cloud formations paired with detailed images of Iceland’s various terrains. I did a lot of walking in the countryside as a mountain guide. In the beginning, I started to make landscape photographs, but the closer I looked the more fascinated I became with details and the enormous variety of images that the ground is composed of—whether vegetal or lithic, glacial or magmatic. The difference in acidity in the volcanic eruptions yields a wide array of hues due to the different dominant minerals. On a generally gray surface, one may find a red stone that has completely crumbled to pieces and resembles a naturally produced Anish Kapoor. The pigments can be orange, yellow, ocher, green, and so on. There’s no limit.
Another new work, MondLicht, is a page-by-page weaving of two books. When you weave paper together, you essentially end up with little squares and also, if it’s printed with imagery, pure elements with plastic qualities: lines, colors, and shapes, which are building materials for artworks. I chose to weave together two art books published by Taschen: One is about Mondrian and the other is about Lichtenstein, and the combination of the artists’ names provides the title of the project, which translates to “moonshine.” I’ve always thought that Lichtenstein was a pupil of Mondrian. One can see the choice of Lichtenstein’s palette deriving from Dutch Constructivism, while the black lining of every color shape in Lichtenstein corresponds to the black lines in paintings of Mondrian. You see in the piece that Lichtenstein dominates in the beginning and you can hardly see the Mondrians. It’s only later, when the lines and color fields in Mondrian begin to emerge from the images of Lichtenstein, that one can see parallels in the formal aspects of their plastic language.
The content of the two books becomes relevant by weaving them together. It happens in time. One variant process is stopped and you start again with the next weaving. At some point in the ’80s, I came up with the slogan “repetition is change.” This, for me, is an inescapable theme. I always come back to it without looking for it consciously. Compare it to a game of chess: a limited number of moves that lead each time again to an ever-changing game each time you play it. You can start all over again but you can never end up at the same place. Simply.
After graduating from CalArts in 1982, Ashley Bickerton spent twelve decisive years in New York before relocating to Bali, where he currently lives and works. For his fourth solo show at Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York, Bickerton is presenting new pieces that strive for an “overlay” among painting, photography, and sculpture. The show runs September 11 to October 26, 2013.
PARODY HAS ALWAYS BEEN IN MY WORK. In the 1980s, I was parodying Judd’s boxes, making them into slick consumables covered in logoswhich were the iconography of that era, just as they are the iconography of our present day. I decided to turn Judd’s stripped-down object into exactly what it was: something to be photographed, something to be bought, something to be sold, something to be blatant with its own history, its own manner. I’ve never made an object that was equally manifest in all the stations of its true existence, and still to this day I’ve never thought of that body of work as sculpture—they were clearly addressing what a painting “is.” In 2004, I parodied Kiefer’s landscapes. Then, in 2008, I finally got to the elephant in the room, Gauguin. And now with all these large female heads, I’m sort of running with de Kooning. But I don’t really know if it’s parodying, channeling, homage, or more simply that we’re in dialogue.
I started making these clay heads to photograph instead of using human models. No matter how much paint and Photoshopping I added to the model, the source always remained clear. Constructing my own models from scratch was the perfect solution to continue the direction I was headed. That in turn led to the new abstract paintings, because at some point you begin to think, Why do I even need a face anyway? I thought, Let’s try this admixture/implosion of painting, photography, and sculpture at as close to ground zero as I can get. At the same time, I’ve been working with various body parts for the clay heads—scores of teeth and eyeballs lined up on tables—and at some point they also began to become the subjects of the paintings. As for the depiction of women in my work, I have never drawn a hard line between natural born genders or transgenders. It’s always been much more that I’m playing with an idea of type. For instance, I have two dogs here, a male and a female. They look almost identical, though. You have to raise their back leg to see where their parts are. That’s how I think about us as animals. The rest is adornment. And that’s the part I’m addressing: artifice.
Contrary to that idea, and in a “real” biological sense, recently I’ve become obsessed with the idea of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed solely from mothers to their kin. In recent years, scientists have isolated a single probable individual in east Africa, who died about a hundred thousand years ago, as the mother of every human being alive. I think after the Toba eruption in Sumatra, the Earth’s human population was reduced to about two thousand individuals. She was one of these—the mother figure and, for me, the atheist Madonna. So she, as channeled through de Kooning’s women with a stop at Chuck Close, is one of the big influences in my new work. The other push has to do with the physical nature of the work, an overlay, or a stew—which I’ve been working with for years—among sculpture, photography, and painting, each finally inextricable from the other. With the new abstract paintings, I’m getting closer to that ground zero. But I’ll never do art that’s completely conceptual or inherently didactic. There is always a conceptual base, but everything has to have a lyrical harmony in the end. It has to be melodious, not just a dry laying out of conceptual turf. If there is no new working language formed as a result, what is the point of a conceptually driven base?
For me, there’s a lot of clarity in this show. What’s exciting is that for years I distanced myself from my old work; I got sick and tired of being lumped into a package. It was stifling in a way. But now I think I’ve come to the point where I don’t care about that anymore. With this exhibition, you can start to see the threads of my output moving backward and forward in time. I didn’t like being trapped by the box of “Neo-Geo,” or whatever it was, and I think a few savvy critics have always seen that: They saw that the dialogue in the scathing work I made with logos carried over precisely to depictions of people too.
Los Angeles–based artist Rebecca Morris is known for her paintings and sharp compositional wit. Here, she discusses her approach to abstraction and the impulses behind her upcoming solo exhibition, “Party Cut,” which is on view at Corbett vs. Dempsey in Chicago from September 6 through October 19. Morris’s work is also featured in a solo exhibition, “#18,” at Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin, until October 5, 2013.
CHICAGO IS WHERE I BEGAN as an artist; I had my first solo exhibition at Ten In One Gallery in 1996. The title of my latest show, “Party Cut,” refers to a certain way pizza is cut into a grid so that there are more pieces per pie. I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, which is famous for its pizza, and the party cut is pretty much an abomination for a real pizza lover like myself. It means that with some slices you’ll never get a piece of the crust, as opposed to when it’s in triangular cuts, which guarantees you’ll always get the full spectrum of the pizza.
Back in 2005 at the Renaissance Society, one of the curators at my third solo show in Chicago looked at a painting of mine—a construction of shards interpieced together—and mentioned that it looked like a pizza sliced into “crazy cuts.” It’s a comment that for whatever reason has been stuck in my mind ever since. The way of dividing out a painting has a lot to do with how one cuts up its entire surface; the grid is something I’ve been using in a more foregrounded way at the moment, but it’s an aspect of my work that’s always been there. The grid is a linear, somewhat analytic structure that nongeometric elements can be anchored against—a great way of breaking up the otherwise normative picture plane, while providing a grounding for improvisational elements that affirms their relevance.
When I reflect on the term abstraction, I think of it as something that isn’t literal and can’t be looked at to know what it is immediately. There are various levels to this: In my own work, I am noticing that the abstractions are looking more like things, though they aren’t representational exactly. There’s a shape or mark—like this dashy gesture I’ve been employing right now—that will be new to me when I first use it. As the work progresses, I will sometimes see it pop up a few more times. It then becomes recognizable to me as a type of reappearing language and I become curious to see where it is going to go. The mark won’t necessarily mean the same thing every time; it instead continually shifts.
The process of painting involves a sense of what one wants in their internal world and how they come about putting whatever that is out there. I can have a sense of what I want, but it’s never overtly crystallized when it’s still in my head. Once it emerges, I give myself plenty of room to accept how it may be different than what I had initially thought I wanted. I don’t like planning too much in advance, because I want to be fully open to that moment—to that transition from the inside to its manifestation in the outside world. The trick is to keep a real fluidity within the practice. The title of this show seems to have that embedded within it too, the “cuts” belonging to songs one might play when throwing a party. All of this—the pizza, grids, and music—captures what I think is the essence of the works in this exhibition. It is this feeling of joy that is the most important part for me in painting. I don’t know how to put that into a neat, little paragraph, but that’s where “Party Cut” comes from.
Basim Magdy, Crystal Ball, 2013, Double Super 8 transferred to HD video, black-and-white, sound, 7 minutes.
Egyptian artist Basim Magdy employs film and photography to address the collective disappointment of failed projections. The artist speaks here about his first exhibition in the Czech Republic, “A Future of Mundane Miracles,” which is on view at Hunt Kastner Artworks from September 7 to October 19, 2013. Magdy is also participating in the 13th Istanbul Biennial, which opens on September 14, 2013, and runs until October 20, 2013.
IN MY WORK, I try to look for different ways of communicating my ideas, so a large part of my practice uses text, image, and sound to investigate different narrative structures. For “A Future of Mundane Miracles,” I am showing a new film titled Crystal Ball, which proposes that the future will be nothing but a reenactment of the present. Originally shot on Double Super 8 black-and-white film, it has a grainy image quality that refers to the passing of time, while unrelated footage that is woven together proposes a vision of an uneventful, disjointed tomorrow. Investigating the Color Spectrum of a Post-Apocalyptic Future Landscape, 2013, will also be shown—a slide projection of arid and volcanic landscapes that was shot on the Spanish island of Lanzarote. The different film stocks used to create the work were pickled in a variety of household chemicals, creating different degrees of loss of detail and a dominant color in each film stock used.
At the Thirteenth Istanbul Biennial, one work I will present is an ongoing photo and text series titled “Every Subtle Gesture,” which I started to work on in 2012. The work came from a personal collection of photographs that I have been taking since 1998, many of which I never intended to show. But almost six months after the revolution in Egypt—its utopian vision becoming a tangled web of confusion—it was impossible for me to work again or do anything apart from following the news. I turned back to this archive for inspiration and started interpreting a selection of these images with captions—poetic lines of text that originated from either my imagination, historical events, sheer absurdity, or a few poems I wrote between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. In my mind, the entire series constructs a loose narrative based on a group of people who keep trying to succeed but continually fail.
At the core of this work is the lingering sense of an impending apocalypse. Some of the captions include pronouns like he, she, I, we, and they to anonymously refer to particular members of this society. A few of the other captions are more abstract and emotional, like SILENCE AND MISCOMMUNICATION HELD THEIR HEARTS TOGETHER, TIME MEANT NOTHING BUT THE SLOW DECAY OF MEANING, INTERNATIONAL WATERS ARE THE PROPERTY OF THE FREE AND ALMIGHTY, and EVERY LANDSCAPE IS A CEMETERY IN DISGUISE. As the series grows, I am becoming more and more aware of its structure: Though I’m constantly going through old photographs, I’m also using more recent images, and the more often the works are exhibited, the more images are added to the series, which come from a range of sources, be it disposable or digital cameras. These are then scanned and color-corrected before printing. I’m not so worried about the work aligning itself with a photographic tradition. I’m more concerned with creating a narrative that has no beginning or end.
Hacienda is a new exhibition space located in Zurich’s Seefeld neighborhood. Co-organized by Arthur Fink, Fabian Marti, and Oskar Weiss, it follows in the vein of artist-run or “off” spaces that are a part of the city’s artistic scene. Taking on a salon-like atmosphere and including a library reading room, Hacienda opened recently with a new project by Basel-based artist Hannah Weinberger in its main exhibition space. Here members of the collective discuss the gallery. Weinberger’s show runs August 25 to October 12, 2013.
THE SPACE is located in an apartment in a small townhouse that serves as a residence for international students. The New York–based architect C. Wassmann helped us develop a system of mobile walls. This innovative architecture helps us to preserve the space’s context of domesticity while enabling artists to change and rearrange the gallery according to their needs and preferences.
The artist Karl Holmqvist provided the design for Hacienda’s logo. The name of the space is a reference to a reference. It’s inspired by the famous Manchester dance club, which in turn borrowed its name from an excerpt in Ivan Chtcheglov’s seminal Situationist text “Formulary for a New Urbanism.” Chtcheglov uses the hacienda as a metaphor for a new kind of urban locality whose structure is not subordinate to any monocultural process, economic or otherwise. His essay presents a new kind of sphere where stories and symbols coalesce and produce new categories of polyphonic signifiers. In the wake of christening our place this summer, we realized that we shared this founding narrative with Pentti Monkkonen and Liz Craft’s Paradise Garage, a Venice Beach art venue that took its name from the late-1970s and ’80s New York dance club. Needless to say, we’re very excited to welcome Monkkonen to Hacienda this spring.
To inaugurate this project we invited Basel-based artist Hannah Weinberger to make a show. She also co-runs the Elaine art space in Basel. Her exhibition, “LOOKING FORWARD,” marks the beginning of her long-term cinematographic study. She is showing footage negotiating the conception and creation of a possible full-length film. The exhibition consists of five screens displaying assemblages of selected film loops. From the reception of this footage, the artist will draw inspiration for the work on her upcoming film.
This October, we will present a survey of work by the Swiss artist Anton Bruhin, whose atelier is conveniently located a few doors down the street. Bruhin is engaged in the fine arts as well as Swiss music and poetry. A new perspective on his work points to its familiarity with the lineage of well-known Swiss artists Jean-Frederic Schnyder and Markus Raetz. Simultaneously we will organize a sale at his studio.