Luisa Lambri

01.31.17

Luisa Lambri, Untitled (The Met Breuer, #06), 2016, color photograph, 35 3/8 x 31 1/2".


For nearly twenty years, the artist Luisa Lambri has lingered in the twentieth century’s most hallowed interiors, using the doors, corners, and mood-altering apertures of modernist buildings by Aalto, Bo Bardi, Corbusier, and others as prompts for photographs that convey phenomenological experience rather than reliable documentation. On the occasion of “Breuer Revisited: New Photographs by Luisa Lambri and Bas Princen,” the artist reflects on her encounter with the work of Marcel Breuer and her tentative, arms-length relationship to architecture. The show runs February 1 through May 21, 2017, at the Met Breuer in New York.

FOR THIS EXHIBITION, I was asked by Beatrice Galilee, one of the Met’s architecture and design curators, to photograph three Breuer-designed buildings: the Met Breuer, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and Saint John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minnesota. I have been familiar with Breuer’s work for a while; in 2007 I took photographs of his Hooper House II in Baltimore. I had also photographed the windows of the former Whitney on previous occasions, and so I welcomed the opportunity to work there again, especially now that it has a new identity. This exhibition gives me the chance to install my photographs in that very building, which I am very drawn to. Generally, I relate to the unique dialogue between drama and simplicity in Breuer’s buildings, the thick void they create, and their silence—a cold, enveloping darkness with a spiritual dimension.

While I photograph buildings—mostly interiors of houses—I do not identify with traditional architectural photography. I actually try to distance myself from most image-making that documents architecture, even though some of my work might seem related to that. In my work, architecture only exists in abstract and subjective terms. I use it to create my photographs, rather than using my photographs to document it. I often think of my work as closer to performance than photography. For me, photographing interiors is an existential practice rather than the creation of an accurate representation of a building. The spaces I choose to photograph speak for me and of me, and each and every one of them is a reflection of myself. My photographs are in many ways self-portraits devoid of my own representation but filled with my own experiences. My work exists where personal and collective histories and images overlap.

I choose the buildings I photograph carefully, but never because they were made by a certain architect. I select spaces I relate to and identify with, and which I understand intuitively and emotionally. To me, my works are all part of the same personal archive, which is the result of pursuing the unrealizable quest to find an ideal home. They are variations of the same space and of the same image. I also feel a certain responsibility in speaking up for the buildings, especially for some of the most overlooked areas and details. Buildings have a lot to say, especially when they carry a lot of history. Male architects have designed most of the buildings I have worked with, and while I would not say that my work is explicitly feminist, I do investigate a female experience in a world created by men. I hope that exploration expands out to address larger and more universal questions about our place in the world, the relationship we have to the world that we have constructed around us, and the ideologies that have shaped these constructions.

When I take photographs, I usually focus on small and specific areas that speak to the architect’s work while also being relevant to me. I might photograph the same skylight or window for days and would do that endlessly if that were possible. I might spend time in the exact same spot or move and align myself with the space slightly differently. I usually adapt myself to it and don’t move or change anything around me, with the exception of perhaps opening a window to let some light in. I only use natural light and often work in poor light conditions, without necessarily waiting for the perfect moment to occur. Each moment is part of a process and they are all equal, as are the hundreds of photographs that are the result of a shoot.

I use film when I take photographs, and over- or underexposing it erases some of the physical elements of the architecture in favor of more metaphysical ones. But for the most part, my work is created at the lab where the images are scanned, and through an often long digital process they distance themselves further and further from the actual buildings. This transformation is as dramatic as it is imperceptible. What remains of the architecture is just an idea, and what emerges is something that transcends it.

— As told to David Huber

Joyce Pensato, Untitled, 1992, oil on linen, 36 × 36”.


Homer, Kenny, Donald, Mickey: Joyce Pensato’s painterly masticating of these American cartoon icons—distilled in black-and-white enamel—have been seducing audiences for decades. One of her earliest Mickey Mouse paintings will be featured in the Whitney Museum’s survey of image-making in downtown New York, “Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s,” curated by Jane Panetta and Melinda Lang. The exhibition opens on January 27 and runs through May 14, 2017.

I WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE my first ever solo show in the East Village at Fiction/Nonfiction gallery in 1991. A couple of the Mickey Mouse drawings I had started doing were going to be in it. For two years I’d been making work for this show, and just a couple of weeks before it was supposed to go up, it got canceled. The guy who ran the gallery came to me at the last minute and said I wasn’t ready. I was so shocked, crushed. Devastated. This was supposed to be my big break, you know? The world just fell apart. And I told everyone about it, too—my friends, my family. You know what my mom said to me? “We always knew it wasn’t going to happen.” Ha. Thanks, Mom.

Anyway, the cancellation forced me to really look at what I was doing and thinking about, and what I liked looking at. For the longest time I’d been torn, divided—I had two sides to me as an artist, and I was longing to just become one, totally unafraid of who I wanted to be. One side of me was making these colorful, atmospheric, AbEx-y landscapes, while the other was making these charcoal drawings that were simple, black-and-white, graphic. And I really wanted to make the drawings paintings—it just made sense to me. I like being messy and I love throwing paint around and fucking it all up. But I also like the structure drawing provides.

Excerpt from Joyce Pensato’s interview for 500 Words

The untitled Mickey painting from 1992 that’s going into the Whitney show is maybe the first or second Mickey painting I’d ever done. The painting was based on a rubber Mickey Mouse head someone gave me—such an unhappy-looking guy—found in a garbage dump. It looked like something out of Edvard Munch, really deep and brooding. I thought it was funny when I was approached about being in the “Fast Forward” show because I had nothing to do with the ’80s. I was the artist looking in on the ’80s. I saw a lot of people getting attention and shows, but I was so far outside of all that. At that time I was stuck in East Williamsburg—hardly any artists around! I could barely get anyone to come over the bridge and see my work. I was in Brooklyn with another painter friend of mine, Carl Plansky—we were pioneers. I’m still in Brooklyn, but believe me, I never want to be a pioneer again.

I didn’t feel like I was having problems as an artist because I was a woman. I just thought of myself as a struggling artist trying to get recognition—I wanted to show my work somewhere. But I know women get a lot of shit in the art world. I’ve become a lot more aware of this since the ’90s. I also have great painter friends like Marilyn Minter. Marilyn told me about all the difficulties she’s encountered.

I’ve had so many incredible people in my life. Thea Westreich was like my fairy godmother in the ’80s, collecting my work and boosting me up. Mercedes Matter was the first person to see my Mickey drawings and really encourage me in that direction—she was one of my teachers and mentors at the New York Studio School when I was a student there. I met Christopher Wool at the NYSS as well. He introduced me to my first collector, his dad, Ira, who was like a proud father, my biggest cheerleader. The Woolies are very important to me. Joan Mitchell was a mentor of mine too. But she could be kind of brutal. She would say, “Do you want to be one of those German Expressionists, all dark? Or do you want to be one of the French painters, like Matisse or Cézanne, with light and color?” I wanted to please her, of course, so I’d say, “I want to be French!” But I realized I was one of those expressionist painters. The last time I saw her, she was at my first group show in Paris. God, she just loved giving me a hard time. She would say, “Are you still doing those animals?”—meaning Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck; or, “Do you still have that skin disease?”—referring to the rough textures I like using in my work. Ha—she was a tough broad.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Do Ho Suh

01.19.17

Do Ho Suh, rubbing/loving (detail), 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Do Ho Suh is an artist based between London, New York, and Seoul who is known for his intensive work with architecture’s experiential, mnemonic, and psychological dimensions, engagements that often take the form of full-scale fabric re-creations of the spaces in which he has lived. Here, he discusses rubbing/loving, 2016, a large-scale piece that began with a painstaking process of wrapping all of the surfaces of his former apartment with white paper—including walls and cabinets, light switches and door handles, as well as his house key in its lock. Suh then used colored pencils and pastels to create rubbings on the sheets, in a process that discloses and memorializes all of the home’s details. After documenting the entire process, Suh vacated the apartment and has placed all the paper fragments in storage while he explores the possibility of exhibiting the reassembled work.

I FOUND THE APARTMENT ON WEST TWENTY-SECOND STREET before I even moved to New York. It was in the spring of 1997, a couple of months before my graduation from Yale. A friend of a friend was moving out and offered to put me in touch with the landlord, who lived in the building. It’s a typical New York townhouse, and he was renting out the ground floor. This was a year or two before all the SoHo galleries had started moving to Chelsea, and it wasn’t quite an art neighborhood yet. I remember the landlord was excited about the fact that I was an artist—although he also joked that he was worried I couldn’t afford the rent—and we became good friends. It is amazing how quickly the neighborhood changed after that.

I had already conceived my first fabric architecture piece while I was in grad school—I made a small-scale version of my studio in muslin. But that was just a test, because I was already thinking of much larger spaces. Soon after moving to New York, I was invited to participate in an exhibition in Seoul. Its theme was the home, so I decided to make my new apartment in fabric. I needed precise measurements of the space in order to create the pattern for the fabric, I made rubbings with graphite on paper of some of the walls, and then traced the patterns from those sheets of paper. That was the moment I got the idea for this current project—oh, maybe I could do a rubbing of my entire space! But it was cluttered with so much stuff. It wasn’t practical at the time.

In a sense, this project didn’t become possible until I had to vacate the space. When my landlord passed away this past year, the building was sold and I had to move out. I decided that the last piece I would make in the space would be a rubbing of all the interiors in the entire building. It has been interesting to think of the rubbings as an end in themselves, rather than the first step in creating a pattern for a fabric architecture piece. I knew from the beginning that my fabric architecture pieces aren’t 100 percent accurate. People think they are really precise—and really, really anal! But of course I’m not actually trying to exactly replicate a physical structure in fabric. It’s more about capturing enough visual and physical information to evoke a sense of the space as I experienced it. And the translation of the architecture into fabric is exhausting—taking measurements, creating the pattern, sewing the finished piece. There is a lot of removal from the original content, and here I wanted to have something more immediate, something that more directly captured the different layers of the space.

These layers aren’t only physical—there’s an emotional connection to a place, an accumulation of memories. I’ve always thought about architecture as clothing, or clothing as architecture. Clothing is the smallest, most intimate inhabitable space that you can actually carry. Architecture is an expansion of that. After living in this apartment for some time, I realized that it gave me a sense of protection that was quite physical. It became a kind of skin, and I felt so comfortable that I was almost not even aware of the space around me any more. Eventually, I even started to experience this space as entering inside of me, as if it had shifted from a skin to something like an internal organ. At that point, I didn’t really see the space at all—the apartment became about the orientation of my things, my movement, and my routine inside.

That’s how your house gets inside of you—it’s more than just space, and it’s not even space and time, because I think the notion of space and time as separate is a very Western idea. Time and space are always together, and they are usually collapsed into each other. That’s why the process of rubbing seemed so appropriate. It brings up a lot of memories, and it’s also very physical. As I moved upstairs, I changed the material of the rubbing from colored pencil to pastel, which I had to use my fingertips to apply. I literally had to caress every surface with my fingertips, and I started to wear off my fingerprints. I was actually giving up my own body to the architecture. The project became a spiritual quest. As I spent twenty years of my time in that space, my farewell to the house took two years. It was an extended ritual to commemorate my time in that house and my friendship with the landlord before finally departing.

— As told to Julian Rose

Alex Wissel

01.11.17

Alex Wissel and Jan Bonny, Rheingold, 2016–, episode 5, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes and 20 seconds.


Alex Wissel is a Düsseldorf-based artist whose deadpan video installations, drawings, and performances address biography and history in an attempt to deconstruct master metanarratives through reenactment. For the past year, he has been cowriting, with director Jan Bonny, and acting in Rheingold, 2016–, a series currently under development for television, which follows the downfall of Helge Achenbach, one of Germany’s most notorious and criminal art consultants. Additionally, he has been developing a body of drawings in conjunction with the series. Here, he discusses the television series, which will be screened at the Kölnischer Kunstverein during Art Cologne in April 2017.

RHEINGOLD IS A SERIES that director Jan Bonny and I have been writing together about a former German art consultant named Helge Achenbach who is now in jail for fraud. He systematically betrayed his clients (for example, the Albrechts, one of the richest families in Germany, who own the supermarket chain Aldi) over several years with a very simple trick: He forged invoices by photocopying them with little euro signs over the dollar signs, and because of the exchange rate he made nearly $20 million over a few years. After he was arrested, he testified in court that they weren’t invoices at all––they were collages.

Using this as a starting point, we want to explore how the achievements of left-wing politics in Germany have been abolished to create the basis for neoliberalism—particularly how the baby boomer generation has misinterpreted ideas around 1968, like Beuys’s concept of social sculpture and his notorious declaration that “everybody is an artist”—and we’re looking closely at the creation of an ideology centered in self-expression, ideas of freedom, and the free market, and in which art is the highest value or in which self-expression is a value in itself. Rheingold should read as a comedy or satire about the past fifteen years, particularly the Social Democratic Party and its shift from a working-class movement to one that has increasingly lost its agenda and its voters to the right wing. There’s an example of this in almost every Western country. Rheingold is a little like a prequel to the success of populism now.

Achenbach in many ways embodies this generation. He started out as a social worker, taking care of people in prisons, and then somehow became art-infected after coming across Beuys, who was a bit of a father figure for him. Achenbach opened a gallery and began inventing ideas around art consulting in Europe, proffering art as an inspirational method in the workplace that can encourage employees to be more creative and effective. He became extremely successful, building up several private and corporate collections, and selling his ideas to corporations, such as Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank, and the German national soccer team, for which he equipped a training camp called Campo Bahia for the 2014 World Cup in Brasil with artworks by German and Brazilian artists. After Germany won the World Cup he went straight to jail.

Trailer for Jan Bonny and Alex Wissel’s episodic television series, Rheingold, 2016.

I met him recently on my way to the bakery. He has now reached the status of a Freigaenger, which means that he is allowed to do social work during the daytime and only has to return to jail at night. He came up to me and said, “You’re one of the guys making a movie about me. I watched trailers on the Internet and I like that episode with me at the copy machine!” Jan and I met him one more time. He also started painting in prison now, and we’re thinking to involve him as an artist in the series. Maybe we can use some paintings as interiors for some scenes.

Jan and I both want to develop Rheingold as a proper TV series so that it will be broadcast to a wider audience. The aim is more or less to portray some ideas around a specific art discourse that are not usually addressed in German television. A lot of artists and well-known actors have already worked on it, such as Studio for Propositional Cinema, Bibiana Beglau, and Joachim Król and Mathias Brandt, who both play Achenbach in different scenes.

In German, the word Geschichte means “history” as well as “story.” I’m interested in how history can be written and rewritten, and how an alternative history can come about through using the technique of collage. For instance, if you put two pictures together, a third picture comes across; that’s how meaning is created. For me, the most interesting thing in this process is how one can produce an alternative art history. I see it a bit like activism. It’s maybe a bit old-fashioned to say, but every artist creates him- or herself by declaring themselves to be one, like Achenbach did in court. The tagline I wrote for a former project reads, “Everyone invents a story for themselves that they later call life.” In politics and in history, it’s the same.

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner

Kamrooz Aram

01.03.17

Kamrooz Aram, A Monument for Living in Defeat, 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Kamrooz Aram is a Brooklyn-based artist whose works often challenge a modernist disdain for decoration, ornamentation, and patterning. His current solo exhibition, which is on view at the Green Art Gallery in Dubai through January 8, 2017, features new sculptural installations wherein paintings are explored as mere decoration. Positioned as backdrops to tableaux that might recall museum displays of ancient art, the vibrant, buzzing canvases in these works appear both passive and active. Aram will also have a solo exhibition at the Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Deurle, Belgium, from February 5 through April 4, 2017. Here, he discusses his presentational strategies for both shows.

I TEND TO EMBRACE some of the more taboo subjects in art. For instance, making something that’s emotional, or that has a spiritual presence—these are things that are difficult to talk about because they’re dismissed, by academia mostly, as things that lead to subjectivity and sentimentalism. But not all emotions lead to sentimentality, and not all definitions of spirituality have to do with subjectivity.

The collages that I’m showing at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens are simply pages from midcentury books that document ancient Persian art. The pages are adhered to linen with minimal pencil lines and monochromatic painting; essentially I’m recontextualizing found images. I’ve realized that so much of my process is formal. When I’m composing a painting or when I’m choosing an image for a collage, it really is an intuitive and formal process.

These collages will be shown alongside sculptural works that present ambiguous objects in museum-like displays. Some of the objects appear to be genuine antiquities, while others may have been made by myself in the studio, and yet others may have been acquired at a museum gift shop. I’m interested in highlighting the importance of exhibition design in shaping one’s understanding of objects in an encyclopedic museum. There is always an interdependence between the object, the pedestal, and the painting. The pedestals in these works use materials such as brass, hardwood planks, and terrazzo—looking at the work of architects such as Carlo Scarpa inspired these choices.

In the Correr Museum in Venice, which Scarpa renovated from 1952 to 1953, there is a room in which paintings are set into large slabs of travertine. If you look closely, you can see evidence of the pencil lines indicating where the travertine should be cut, and the lines extend just a bit off the corner. It’s this really beautiful, human moment where the craftsman’s functional mark becomes a sort of expressive mark. In a previous series of paintings I referenced graffiti cover-up, which is also a form of labor that resembles artmaking. People are sent out to cover graffiti, and they are just painting however they paint “naturally”—the process is automatic and uninhibited. What results are apparently banal or bored marks. But I’d argue that there’s some care in it. When you look closely, you might see how the worker was a precisionist, though most of the work is imperfect. Despite his fanatic attention to detail, there are moments of looseness in Scarpa’s work, too—the pencil lines on the travertine, for instance; he never went back to erase them.

The idea of the painting as a backdrop to an interior is something that I’m interested in. There’s an analogy to music—sometimes you’re actively listening: The music is on, you’re totally present, following the lyrics, there’s no distraction, there’s nothing else. But other times, perhaps most of the time, you might be in a car or a café and a song is on, and you’re talking with someone, and that song somehow affects your mood, and affects your conversation, but in a way that you can’t quite say. Perhaps it happens at the subconscious level. The music is a backdrop. The idea of painting as backdrop is present in my titles—a previous exhibition was titled “Unstable Paintings for Anxious Interiors,” and my upcoming museum exhibition in Belgium will be titled “Ornament for Indifferent Architecture.” The latter is a response to Luis Barragán, who said that all architecture should be emotional architecture—though often it’s not. This idea made me think about how art functions as an element of architecture; it becomes part of the architecture and has the potential to enhance it. I think painting—and art in general—can help indifferent or banal architecture become emotional architecture.

— As told to Michael Stipe

Nick Mauss

12.27.16

Nick Mauss, visualization for Spectre/Faune, 2016.


Nick Mauss frequently stages and animates historical material in his works, which revel in unexpected juxtapositions and recontextualizations. It is fitting that he has envisioned the exhibition layout for “Design Dreams, A Celebration of Léon Bakst” at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco—one of several shows worldwide this year celebrating the 150th birthday of Bakst, the consummate set and costume designer of the Ballets Russes, among other creative roles. Here, Mauss describes the itinerary through the exhibition as well as Baskt’s enduring impact. The show is on view through January 15, 2017.

I OFTEN INCLUDE PIECES BY OTHER ARTISTS IN MY WORK, and for me the interest is always in the resonance of that work, whether it has a sense of urgency. It may be historical work by someone no longer living or no longer known, which allows for a shift in emphasis or a redistribution of attention. I am less interested in standard historicization than in how the work vibrates through layers of histories and senses of the present moment.

Celia Bernasconi, curator at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, contacted me to see if I would consider working with her and dance historian John E. Bowlt on a historical exhibition about Léon Bakst. She asked me to be the exhibition designer, which is something I’ve always dreamed of doing and in many ways I’ve already done in my work, but not explicitly. Much of the way I work is about the negotiation of distances and intimacies, and about reorienting the roles of artist and viewer and artwork. I think about the spray of implications of “the decorative.” I was drawn to modernist ballet because it’s a multiauthored, but not necessarily collaborative, form. And these twentieth-century ballets are inextricably linked to and propelled by innovations in the visual arts, especially in painting—ballet is where painting is “put in its place” as decoration.

Given the indelible impression Bakst left on twentieth-century visual culture and early modernist spectacle culture, it’s surprising how few people seem to know his work. In developing the exhibition, I learned that aside from his innovations for the stage, Bakst was an undeniable influence on Paul Poiret and other fashion designers, changing the world of fashion forever. And while he didn’t live long enough to work in Hollywood, you can find his atmospheres of excess, especially his synthetic Orientalism, drifting from Hollywood to B movies to Jack Smith. His imagery has had a strong afterlife. In the show we are even exhibiting some second- and third-generation costumes that live off fumes of what he designed. Bakst was really pathbreaking in the way he did so many different things. He was a set and costume designer; he made jewelry and paintings; he wrote treatises on fashion; and he gave lectures. He was a polymath and entrepreneur. He cast a wide net and operated in a variety of media and roles, and also upended them. He seems especially interesting to revisit now.

Installation video of Spectre de la Rose and L’Apres Midi d’un Faune, Villa Sauber, in the exhibition “Designing Dreams, A Celebration of Léon Bakst” at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.

In terms of approaching the work of another artist—there are so many questions that can run alongside conventions of curating. What is a way to actually fully incorporate the work, literally take it in—but also step away and actually disappear again? Because Diaghilev forbade the filming of his productions, his dances live in a space of total projection. I tend to work well with absence. But at the same time I wanted to see how close I could get to the material. I made many visits to the museum’s storage, and I saw that the costumes were often collages of culturally incompatible fabrics and techniques, or that the amalgamation of ornamental motifs had been hand-painted or airbrushed directly onto the costumes, and they looked incredibly fresh. It became clear that textile ornament was an integral part of Bakst's logic that I could use as a guiding principle—you can see it in his famous billowing costume drawings, in his set designs, and in his late designs for the New York fabric company Selig, of which we were able to include many original gouaches. So these motifs that could be found throughout Bakst’s work, on a cellular level and in a grand scheme of his stage designs, became a literal substrate to the exhibition, an inherently disparate grammar that unites everything.

The big challenge with an exhibition like this is that you’re trying to show, in the static museum setting, objects which were never intended to be seen as museological artifacts. They are remnants of an elaborate time-based spectacle that lasted for a few evenings, or maybe a few seasons. How to show these fragments is something I’m still thinking about, and it is such a challenge: How can you make a displayed costume become vivid enough that you want to read it like a text? How can the impact these productions had at the time they were performed—and they were very radical—be transmitted?

It was important for me to work with what was already there, and to take cues from the things I was discovering. In programs and publications from the time, I found evidence of the way these ballets were advertised, received, and consumed. One publication in particular, Comoedia Illustré, combined fantastically written descriptions of the productions with photographs, drawings, and ornamental borders in very dynamic page spreads. I transferred the space of these pages onto the exhibition walls as a way to frame, double, and narrate the costumes, headdresses, and miniature set maquettes.

Framing and making conflicted spaces is central to what I’m doing. In this case, I was able to bring the work of Bakst to the public in a way that is hopefully a rich experience. From the point of view of artistic practice, I was able to synthesize something about historical material and its formal problems, such as the basic (but often sidestepped) tension of translating two dimensions into three dimensions, from Bakst’s highly idealized drawings to the reality of the costumes and the sets, of getting how exactly to display their formal properties as constructions, their reception by an outraged or enthralled public—the list of problems could go on for days. I hope I have created a succession of experiences for the viewer that keeps these tensions and questions in motion.

— As told to Alex Fialho