View of “Erika Verzutti: Mineral,” 2014.
Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti’s work investigates the role of the natural readymade in sculpture. She speaks here about her first solo museum exhibition, “Mineral,” which is on view at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, New York, through November 16, 2014, and includes an installation of a field of handmade gemstones. Verzutti’s work can also be seen in a solo exhibition at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, on view through July 19, 2014, as well as the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative’s “Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today” group exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which is on view through October 1, 2014.
“MINERAL” is a group of sculptures that were made individually but are kept together as one family. Each piece in the group represents a geode or a gemstone. The role of geodes in nature seems to be purely aesthetic, as their shape and color are their most regarded features. So representing them was like making sculptures out of sculptures. I do this often—sometimes I quote known works like the Venus of Willendorf, and other times, like with the geodes, I find myself using nature itself as a found object.
I started creating these geode sculptures by making molds from the natural stones, similar to what I have done with fruits and vegetables in other works. For instance, Painted Lady, which is included in the “Under the Same Sun” exhibition, is made of casted star fruits, coconuts, and bananas stacked in the form of a totem pole. But this time I quickly moved on to making shapes directly in the clay, not depending on the real stones to cast from but inventing my own rules to create a different nature. I always try to find fertility in my practice, to have the feeling that the work will naturally grow from a small molecule of decision. For example, in “Mineral,” a simple repeated gesture of hitting fresh clay with my fingertips created a particular texture for the outside of the gemstones.
I often use paint or pigmented wax in the last stage of making the sculptures. That is a very enjoyable yet complex part of the articulation of the work. In “Mineral,” I seized an opportunity to exercise paint arbitrarily, motivated by the variety found in natural geodes’ colors and styles. In this group of painted sculptures I painted some stones with color fields mimicking Rothkos, with the same enthusiasm that I painted an all-gray surface quoting modernist functional housing in Brasília. Call Girl, a handmade bronze plate with rectangular depressions filled with red and blue Plasticine and exhibited at the Tang Museum, reminds me of the colors of Hélio Oiticica’s Metasquema and also of a makeup case I saw in an in-flight magazine.
I perceive sculpture today as something that can exist in domestic and public spaces but also in phone screens or embedded in human gestures. I believe sculpture does not need much order or space to pulsate. I made one of my first bronzes, Galapagos, an iridescent blue, birdlike arrangement of tropical fruits, in 2007. A friend bought it and placed it by the window in his kitchen on his farm. He then paired it with a dwarf statue that matched much of my sculpture’s size, temperature, and color. I considered that a happy ending for an art object, finding its profane companion for life.
Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg was chosen last spring as the winner of a competition for a memorial in Norway to honor the victims of the July 22, 2011 attacks. His proposed piece, Memory Wound, is a cut across a peninsula that faces the island Utøya, where the attacks occurred. Here, Dahlberg talks about some of the concepts behind the work, such as loss, distance, and vulnerability, as well as what it means to look and remember. The work will be finalized in July 2016.
THE PIECE IS commissioned by Public Art Norway (KORO), the government’s agency for public art under the Ministry of Culture, in commemoration of the events nearly three years ago, when a single gunman attacked a camp organized by the youth division of the Norwegian Labor Party on the island of Utøya. Sixty-nine people were murdered and hundreds were injured on the island. Moreover, the same assailant bombed a government building, and eight people died. Memory Wound began mainly with two site visits, one on the island of Utøya, where the events took place, and another on a small peninsula that faces the island, which is the site of the piece.
One of the foundational concepts for this work, that of “wounding” nature, came from the Utøya visit, where we were taken on a tour that followed the footsteps of the attacker. After arriving on shore, we went from place to place where people had died, stopping at each spot with our guide, a person who had survived the attack, who told us about that day and the people who had lost their lives where we stood. On our tour, it became evident that the buildings had retained the event but in nature there was almost no trace of it. Inside the buildings, there was evidence of what had taken place: bullet holes in the walls and floors stained with cleaning agents. Outside, however, nature had healed in a way that the building couldn’t. As if nature had moved on, what had once attested and bore witness had now been covered up. Considering the site for the memorial, I thought about possibilities of doing something that wounded nature to the point that it couldn’t heal—to do something that would obstruct its inevitable self-restoration, to do something which couldn’t be undone.
From the island, we were then taken to the peninsula that the Norwegian government had designated as the site for the memorial. It’s a sharp point extending from the mainland toward Utøya, and we walked out to its tip, seeing the island across the water in an absolutely picture-perfect setting. I determined that I wanted to leave Utøya alone—in the sense that I felt it was crucial to break that gaze and not make the island a focus. One reason for this is that the youth organization wants to actively regain possession of the island by continuing to use it for their summer camps. Another is because that kind of gaze from that kind of vantage point is passive and turns people into onlookers, nonparticipating observers. As in my previous films, I wanted to work with sight lines and questions of what it is to see and be seen, and to see one’s own seeing, effectively making up a more contemplative space where each person’s sight comes into play as reflective. I wanted to turn the will to look at the island and cast it inward.
The meaning of monuments and architecture can shift with political change. And they deteriorate. To make something irreversible in nature meant, to me, that instead of making something abstract that would illustrate loss, one would make loss; rather than to allude to distance, one would make distance; instead of suggesting the vulnerability of an island, one would make an island. This became the cut across the peninsula, just wide enough so people won’t reach the other side. And instead of making a vista from which to view Utøya, a downward slant leads to a room from which people will see the other side on which the names of the victims will be engraved.
David Diao, 1971-A, 1971, acrylic on canvas, 7' 6" x 12’.
Paintings by the New York–based artist David Diao were recently featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and were the subject of a colloquium this past March at the Université de Strasbourg. His latest survey exhibition, “David Diao: Front to Back,” curated by Richard Klein, is on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. The show, which coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the institution, runs from July 13 to September 21, 2014.
WHEN RICHARD FIRST PROPOSED THIS EXHIBITION, I thought we would focus on paintings I made in 2005 about the Glass House and architecture in New Canaan, Connecticut. He quickly rejected this as too predictable. As there is no brand new work I felt ready to show, he decided to present a survey going back to my beginnings. While the gallery space is not huge, it does include the museum’s entryway, which gave us a good start when thinking about how to install the show. I had made a group of paintings in the 1990s that ask how one might image and document a life as an artist. They take the form of curriculum vitae, sales records, studio visits, and critical reviews, all organized as orderly charts that might serve as introductory wall labels for a retrospective. I had in mind an ordinary, yeoman artist but did use data gathered from my own middling career for the task at hand. For a long time I did not think I was doing autobiography. The work was shown 1991 under the title “...for a real allegory,” as a direct reference to Courbet’s painting of himself in the studio surrounded by his milieu. At the Aldrich, I am finally showing the CV painting, Résumé, as a wall text, which is how it was first imagined to be. This work is in three separate panels and twenty-two feet long—too lengthy for the intended wall. Richard came up with the brilliant solution to break up the three panels with the first on the left side and the other two conjoined on the right side of the double glass doors leading into the gallery. It is almost as if the painting—whose subject is the twenty-two-year exhibition history of the artist being shown—has parted to admit the visitor into the show.
I am also pleased to be showing several squeegee paintings from 1971 and ’72 that I haven’t seen in over forty years. In the late ’60s, the allover paintings I had been making were simply getting bigger and bigger in size without the increase in scale that I had sought. One solution, I thought, was to increase the size of the actual mark, to have a one-to-one relationship between mark and canvas, as if a giant had made the mark. I was also determined to go against Clement Greenbergʼs advice to painters to cut off and crop the painted canvas in order to find the final work. Instead, mine indexes everything that happened on it. The streets of SoHo were littered each night with cardboard tubes from the rag trade. These became the readymade scrapers with which I would spread the paint. I found I was able to control a cardboard tube of approximately five feet by inserting an electrical conduit into the tube and leaving a length exposed as a handle. I would scrape, roll, or drag repeated layers of paint across the entire canvas in swaths I could manage until something happened to my liking.
With this show I also have the added pleasure of employing a few works as evidentiary proof against specific canonical chronologies and events that I have been written out of. For instance, in Synecdoche, 1993, I collaged Benjamin Buchloh’s catalogue essay from a Gerhard Richter catalogue with my own squeegee works: Wherever his name appears in the text, I crossed it out and replaced it with my own. Some would say that what I do is unseemly, that one should not toot their own horn. I guess it’s a ridicule that I chance for what I perceive to have been a wrong.
Also on view in the show is Double Rejection, 2012. This work images the Philip Johnson–designed boardroom at MoMA as well as my painting Triptych, which was brought there for possible acquisition in 1972, yet was ultimately rejected (as was Johnson’s eventually destroyed architecture). By bringing these paintings together again, I hope the show enlivens my old work and offers the public not a hearsay or fabrication—as so often is the case with art history—but a fact.
Jon Rafman, Still Life (Betamale), 2013, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes 54 seconds.
Jon Rafman is a Canadian artist whose work explores shifting boundaries between the virtual and the real while acknowledging fading distinctions between the two. Here, he discusses his recent work and debut solo exhibition in an American museum. “Jon Rafman: The end of the end of the end” is on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis from June 27 to August 10, 2014.
I BEGAN TO KNOW the fighting game community of New York while I was doing interviews for my 2011 film Codes of Honor, which is about a lone gamer recounting his past experiences in professional gaming. That work generally deals with a loss of history and the struggle to preserve tradition in a culture where the new sweeps away the old at a faster and faster pace. I saw the pro gamer as a contemporary tragic hero who strives for classic virtues in a hyperaccelerated age. The very thing the gamer attempts to master is constantly slipping away and becoming obsolete, which acutely reflects our contemporary condition.
When I held the pro gaming tournament at Zach Feuer in honor of the original Chinatown Fair arcade, which was the last great East Coast video arcade, it was as if the whole project had been leading up to that night. This was also true for the release on 4chan of my 2013 film Still Life (Betamale), a work that brings to light the darker fetishes of Internet subcultures—including furry fandom, kigurumi, and 8-bit anime. The community and the artist came face to face, and the reaction to the work was rich and varied. For instance, a 4chan user wrote:
this shit would have been cool in 2005 but you're on goddamn 4chan in 2013, one of the biggest sites for “SUCH A LOSER ;_;” people to ever browse the internet
someone didn't found out your dirty secret life and reveal it to everyone else
we've been doing it since the early/mid 2000's
it isn't special
get over it
Here the commenter is mocking my fetishization of these subcultures in classic 4chan style, while also revealing that sense that the moment you “discover” said culture it has already moved on. It also indirectly hints at the sublime feeling I every now and again experience when I'm surfing the Web and I suddenly discover a new community or fully formed subculture that has its own complex vocabulary and history. It’s this overwhelming sensation that there are subcultures within subcultures, worlds upon worlds upon worlds ad infinitum.
My earlier work is more romantic: There’s a flaneur-like gaze that crystallizes in the Google Street Views of Nine Eyes and the virtual safaris seen in the Kool-Aid Man in Second Life projects, for instance. As the Internet became a ubiquitous part of daily existence, I shared in the excitement of these new communities and was excited to explore the newly forming virtual worlds. Sometimes I see myself as a member of the community, but in many cases I approach the subcultures as if I were a passing explorer or an amateur anthropologist.
My latest videos and installations have a darker tone, delving into the murkier corners of the Web. What concerns me is the general sense of entrapment and isolation felt by many as social and political life becomes increasingly abstracted and experience dematerialized. There is no viable or compelling avenue for effecting change or emancipating consciousness, so the energy that once motivated revolution or critique gets redirected into strange and sometimes disturbing expressions.
I had planned to premiere my latest video, Mainsqueeze, in St. Louis for “The end of the end of the end,” but it was deemed too difficult and disturbing for the context of the exhibition. Some of the content, particularly the section with the “crush fetish,” in which a woman is depicted stepping on a live shellfish, is indeed difficult to watch. But I think the fetishes can evoke repressed desires as well as reveal latent societal tensions. There’s an underlying barbarism that can be found in daily life that I’m trying to capture. That said, I think the film is as beautiful and ironic, or postironic, as it is horrifying.
Currently, I’m developing a sculpture and installation series that has grown out of my intense interest in “troll caves,” which are the spaces inhabited by gamers during excessive hours in virtual reality. These spaces are actualized in a gallery environment and represent a borderland between the real and virtual. The troll caves contain a certain refined depravity that I find especially poignant today. They are at once abject and sublime spaces, revealing the material residue of a life completely dedicated to an online existence, and they point to the impossibility of total escape from physical reality.
View of “Judith Bernstein: Rising,” 2014.
For the past five decades, New York artist Judith Bernstein has used painting as a vehicle for often shocking, sometimes erotic, always provocative satires of masculine, AbEx excess. The works in her “Fuck Vietnam” series turned graffiti from a men’s bathroom into powerful antiwar statements. Now, with her latest “BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE” paintings, Bernstein places female genitalia at the center of giant Day-Glo canvases. “Judith Bernstein: Rising,” which features newly commissioned variations on her signature themes, runs from July 5 to August 24, 2014 at Studio Voltaire in London.
STUDIO VOLTAIRE is a gallery repurposed from a traditional Protestant church. I couldn’t ignore that fact when planning this show, which feels both spiritual and meditative. There’s a beautiful, large alcove at the head of the chapel, where I will put a BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE painting, depicting the cosmic fluorescent cunt at the beginning of it all—including the double helix and the Big Bang. My images of active cunts have been likened to the iconic images of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the sense that they are large, glowing, mystical presences. The cunt is the mother and the source of the universe—not unlike the Madonna figure. Along the sides of the chapel there are rafters that come down and divide the walls evenly—to perfectly house my large vertical phalluses, my screw drawings, like a procession, like marching soldiers going up to the altar.
I didn’t realize how humorous my work was until I went back to the old antiwar pieces from the 1960s. The screws, the giant phallic charcoal drawings that I made starting in the early ’70s, are a humorous idea, but the end result is extremely heavyit doesn’t have the humor and the lightness that some of my other work has. This latest work was wonderful because I went from a black and white palette to an explosion of colorful energy like the Big Bang. Adding color created an extraordinary explosion, and it was great to make that shift, very liberating. There’s anger in my work, but there is also a lot of play in it, and raw humor. Humor and laughter are cathartic in the way that ejaculation is cathartic.
I’m interested in the vagina being the birth source. That needs to be supremely valued. The result has been this large body of work focusing on the origin of existence—our beginning and our journey. Existential contemplation is very much a part of that. In the BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE paintings, I’m making the connection between our relationships to space, time, and infinity. I’ve incorporated numbers that deal with the age of the universe as well as numbers that are personal to me. I put down 1942 because I was born in 1942; eighteen is kind of superstitious, Jewish people like it as good luck; fourteen, I was born on October 14, 1942; sixty-seven is when I graduated from Yale; seventy-one is how old I am now; and sixty-ninewell, that’s an old standard, and it always works, by the way.
Thomas Fuesser, Hans van Dijk, 1993, C-print, 27 1/2 x 35".
“Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names” is a two-part exhibition that commemorates the pioneering Dutch scholar, curator, and dealer, who was a foundational influence on contemporary art in China and died in 2002. The current exhibition at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing is curated by art historian Marianne Brouwer and examines van Dijk’s life and work through archival materials and artworks by artists to whom he remained close. The show also became the center of a debate when the artist Ai Weiwei decided to remove his works from the exhibition, accusing UCCA of self-censorship when his name was omitted from a press release although his works remained in the show. Here, Brouwer talks about her conception of the exhibition, which is open through August 10, 2014. The second part of the show will run at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam from September 4, 2014 to January 5, 2015.
THERE ARE MANY REASONS to produce a show and catalogue about Hans van Dijk. He was a defining figure in China’s art scene from the early 1990s on, yet until quite recently there was little historical research of his work; there was nothing “official” to describe his role in the history of Chinese contemporary art. The idea to “do something about Hans” was around for quite a while—Frank Uytterhaegen, who cofounded the China Art Archive and Warehouse (CAAW) with Hans and Ai Weiwei in 1998, was among the early initiators of a plan to produce a show and a book on Hans. When Frank died in 2011 the project was in danger of coming to an end. One of the most difficult parts was to find funding for such a big project, as it involves editing and translating four languages (Chinese, German, Dutch, and English), interviewing an enormous number of people in various countries, and researching archival materials at the New Amsterdam Art Consultancy (NAAC) and CAAW in Beijing.
The exhibition consists of three parts: the artworks, the archival materials, and a lexicon of over five thousand artists born between 1880 and 1980, essentially documenting one hundred years of Chinese modern art history, which was discovered on his computer. My curatorial decisions were based on those artists Hans had promoted and “discovered” throughout his career—from his early time at university in Nanjing, where he studied Chinese language and art history from 1986 to 1989, through his later life in China, when he founded NAAC and cofounded CAAW. These artists are now very well known, but Hans’s instinct for good art and his choices at the time remain astonishing: When in Nanjing, he had already corresponded and met with artists such as Huang Yongping, Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, Ding Yi, Tang Song, Hong Hao, and Wu Shanzhuan. Others were given their first solo shows by him or remained close to him throughout his life: Wang Xingwei, Mai Zhixiong, Duan Jianyu, Zheng Guogu, Xu Hongmin, Meng Huang, to name only a few. He supported artists throughout his life with everything he had; any money he made from sales went back into art.
Several participating artists made new works especially for the show, but none of these were commissioned—they arose spontaneously from the artists’ proposals. It was incredible to see how many people had been deeply touched by Hans. Through the writings and photos on display I have attempted to give an impression of the many stories which connect the individual works in the show in a personal way to Hans. As for Ai Weiwei’s withdrawing from the show, I can only say that I came to UCCA to do an exhibition about Hans, which I did to the best of my ability. Like any artist, he has the right to withdraw his own works from an exhibition he disagrees with. I just deeply regret the attention taken away from Hans.
As artist and writer Chen Tong said to me when we were discussing the lexicon, Hans made no distinction between woodcut or photograph, ink painting or oil painting. Only the quality of the work counted and its relation to the historical development from modern to contemporary art in China. I think this is a good summarization of the most important legacy he left us. Hans was convinced that contemporary art in China was absolutely equal to contemporary art in the West. As Ai Weiwei said to me in an interview: West or East—there is only contemporary art. In the exhibition, I tried to follow Hans’s main curatorial decisions as I encountered them during my research as faithfully and objectively as possible. I can only emphasize that even so it has been impossible not to be fragmentary and incomplete. Thus I see this exhibition not as an end but as a beginning of much more research into China’s art in the 1990s and Hans’s crucial role.