V Magazine, September 2014

LA><ART Annual Gala

Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills

Saturday, September 27th marked a special occasion for Los Angeles contemporary art enthusiasts – LA><ART, a non-profit that focuses on experimental multi and new-media and performance art held their first annual gala, aptly held at the incredible Greystone Mansion at the top of a long winding road in Beverly Hills.  The organization, founded in 2005, has been situated in Culver City and has recently announced a big move to Hollywood in 2015, marking ten strong years of important contributions to Los Angeles’ ever-expanding contemporary art scene and discourse.  The evening was certainly one to remember, and unsurprisingly, felt much more like a strange, dream-like event, complete with performers roaming through the crowds of guests in full costume, than it did a stuffy fundraising endeavor.  

Over twenty various performances and interventions were taking place all over the Greystone estate, which includes a sprawling 18.3 acres of gardens and greenery.  In one secluded patch of grass just on the other side of a small bridge that covers a coy-filled pond, New York based duo, Kathy Garcia and Sarvia Jasso initiated a guided meditation underneath an open pyramid made of silver rods and filled with white throw pillows and aromatic incenses.  Meanwhile, just down the way celebrities like Zoe Saldana and her fiancé, Marco Perego, Busy Phillips and Rose McGowan sipped champagne and noshed on the passing hors d’oeuvres while colorful lights filled the giant fountain in the middle of a grand courtyard. Inside the main house more unusual and captivating installations and performances were underway.  

Each room had a vibe and tone all its own, some seeming to clearly connect with the rich history of the estate, which has long been embroiled in murder mysteries and rumors of familial scandal throughout the years since its erection in 1927 and its eventual dedication to the city of Beverly Hills as a public part in 1971.  One particularly context-bound piece involved masked male dancers in coattails beckoning guests to allow themselves to be blindfolded and taken into a closed, dim room where they waltzed in darkness.  Another took place in the alcove of a long corridor where a performance piece by Tim Youd consisted of a man at an old typewriter hacking away at a desk surrounded by historical photos of the mansion on the three walls behind him.  

A similarly sound-based piece by Molly Sumo took place in a small room just off the grand staircase that opens out onto the foyer, in which three women in white nightgowns sat, parlor-style, in front of mirrors, combing their hair, which was connected to microphones and digitally manipulated sounds that resonated from the static between hair and comb.   Nearby, the infamous shallow pool in which Goldie Hawn’s character, Helen, in the movie Death Becomes Her, is flung after Meryl Streep, (Madeline), shoots her in the stomach, had been transformed into a serene and romantic site complete with harpist strumming away and a video projection of lovers in close embrace by Lauren Merage. 

By the close of the evening all had an enhanced appreciation for both the Greystone estate and most importantly, LA><ART, which has proven itself, perhaps once and for all, throughout all of 2014, as being at the forefront of complex performance and multi-media art practices, and which will no doubt garner only an increasingly widened and delighted audience when they move into their new, well-deserved new digs next year.

January 2013

Courtney Malick in Conversation with Xavier Cha

Xavier Cha, untitled solo exhibition, 2013

47 Canal, New York

Xavier Cha is a performance artist based in New York whose work, over the past few years, has veered more and more towards the directorial --setting up circumstances, scenarios and boundaries for performers that she casts to carry out her explorations of the point at which the relationship between the body and the mind enters the psychic realm. Perhaps her best-known work to date, titled Body Drama, occupied the ground floor gallery of the Whitney Museum last year from June to October. Within the gallery, visitors encountered individual performers fashioned with a cumbersome video camera harnessed tight onto their frame by what looked like an uncomfortable back brace. With the camera pointed squarely at their face, performers proceeded to have nothing short of a total freak out, the recording of which was then played on a wall dividing the space during the following half hour, before a different performer entered to continue the sequence. If it was not already clear, Body Drama made an unmistakable statement about Cha’s practice and her ongoing investment in acting and human behavior, and all that goes along with it as it is received in a public and covetous space. Her new solo, untitled exhibition at 47 Canal, which consists of four corresponding videos featuring an unusual soundscape by Jonathan Coward, is certainly much quieter, yet it continues to take what is inherently inner and project it outward onto an audience.

Xavier Cha, Body Drama, 2011

Whitney Museum of American Art, (performance documentation), New York

Courtney Malick: How did you start thinking about this new work? Did it start out as just one video? 

Xavier Cha: The video began as an offshoot of Hourglass (2010), where the time and space that the people in the video are experiencing is accessible only through the mental projection of the viewer. With this project I wanted to take the conversion of filmic space into mental space a step further by making the hollowness of the subjects palpable—taking an out of body, transcendental experience and giving it form. Basically, creating a tangible environment through emptying out ego, objectifying nothingness. To me, it is sculptural. I conceived the piece as a four channel video installation. I wanted it to be spatial, and felt throughout the room.  The sound is also spatial—each channel has a unique soundtrack that integrates with the others.

CM: When I was looking at these new videos I became very focused on the performer's eyes and eye movements, which are also central in Hourglass. It seems like many of them are almost never blinking while on camera. It gives them a transfixed gaze that they are then projecting onto the viewer, and the sound, as in Hourglass, really enhances that feeling. Was this element of the building up of time and the accumulation of this somewhat abstract sensation (both for the performers as well as viewers) something intentional?  

XC: Yes, I was hoping to engulf the viewer in the unsettling, hollowing experience of the people on screen. It was interesting how their faces seem to melt, distort or become completely void of their usual animism throughout the experience. They seemed to lose their "personalities." I want the viewers to lose a sense of their usual grounding as well, to become absorbed in the vacancy.

CM: I see. Do you feel that this show also relates at all to Body Drama (2011) or any of your other more recent work? To me there seems to be some kind of connection that is loosely based on a relationship between a performer or subject and the camera, and that that relationship somehow gets reflected onto the viewer who could potentially take on either of those stances (i.e. that of a subject or that of a recording device of some kind).

XC: I guess in a way it also relates to Body Drama in that the works in this show create a high pressure vacuum within the gallery through the medium of the body (a conductor for the craft of acting in Body Drama, for the delicate constitution and deconstruction of subjectivity in the new work) and the incantation of projection.

CM: Do you feel that the body as a medium, even if the body is not necessarily physically present, can have such an effect on the gallery space as to turn it into a high-pressure vacuum? 

XC: I refer to the body as medium in multiple senses—like the material use and also like a vessel or agent delivering an idea or communicating between realms (like psychic mediums). Using the body as the former (material) to act as the latter (psychic medium) opens avenues that can channel and re-arrange concepts and then project them into space in a relatable and discernable way.

Xavier Cha, untitled exhibition, installation view, 2013

47 Canal, New York

CM: Wow, that is definitely more complex than I had imagined, but I really appreciate the idea that in your work the body can take on two different roles, the work itself somehow representing their reconciliation or integration into one another. On a different note, I am also curious to hear from you what the press release (which mostly consists of a back and forth e-mail conversation between you and the gallery) is meant to convey?

XC The email correspondence with the gallery began with Margaret Lee after I sent her a short essay that I wrote for a grant application recently. I thought it would give some background on the ideas running through my work. Her initial question about "technology" stemmed from something in my statement about the deconstruction and formalization of subjectivity, often through deferred access and alternate perspectives default to the presence of a camera. I was pleased with her thoughtfulness and felt the correspondence gave a lot of information about the emotional investment behind the work in the show. Usually I feel press releases are stale and written in formulaic circular speak around the work that actually says nothing.

CM: You have done a number of performance projects in which you take on a directorial role and leave the actual performing to others. Tell me about that shift in your practice. How has your working process of casting and giving directions to your performers evolved over the past few years? 

XC: I removed myself from my performances because I wanted to speak to something broader than the unavoidable personal narrative attached to the artist as performer (gender, race, cultural identification, etc.). Moving on to cast and direct other specialized performers is an interest in formalizing or abstracting their specified mode of cultural production as re-appropriated materials in the work. I try to strip away any extraneous signification, popular or trend driven preconceptions and create a unique and transcendent experience through the re-contextualization of the forms.

I believe the process of casting and directing performers has become much more focused and rigorous over the past few years. Especially with my recent interest in the craft of acting as a profoundly spatial practice—I have a clearer idea going into performances of the object-like quality of acting—how it seems to occupy and form space. With this understanding I have an easier time envisioning the psychic qualities of space I want the performers to manipulate. I have been lucky to work with extremely talented performers who have given so much.

CM: Had you studied or explored acting earlier on in school or in your practice, and are there certain kinds of performers that you are looking for?

XC: Acting is extremely peculiar and thinking about it too hard actually gives me the chills. It's a freaky and mysterious talent when done well. Yes, I cast performers very specifically for each piece. I try to work with people who are exceptional in their field, however esoteric or dismissed. To cast the actors for Body Drama the Whitney posted casting calls. I reviewed hundreds of head-shots, held two full days of auditions and another day of callbacks before selecting the final cast. The actors were all experienced stage or film actors. The process was the same for Fruit Machine (2012)—casting call, narrowing down of submissions and two days of auditions. I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I am looking for in the performers—again as the primary medium.

The people filmed in the current four-channel installation at 47 Canal are not actors, but people selected and cast with the help of Jonathan Coward and the guidance of Twig Harper. What they are experiencing is a real transcendental experience and not a performance. I was hoping to overwhelm the space and the viewer with their subjective vacancy.

CM: Were the same sounds playing when for the performers when they were being videotaped?

XC: No, they were filmed in silence, but I feel the soundtrack very closely captures and conveys each internal experience.

CM: Do you have any future plans for this work? Can you see it making sense within a larger group show, for example, or do you feel that it functions best on its own as it is now being shown? 

XC: The design and editing of the piece and soundtrack were tailored with 47 Canal in mind, but I could see the installation working in a larger show, as long as the videos occupy a separate room. I think occupying a small room is important to the way the piece is experienced and the way that the psychic energy envelops the viewer.

CM: Do you have any other upcoming shows?

XC: I have a solo show in February at Aspect Ratio gallery in Chicago, which is a video focused space.  I am also working on a large-scale multi-media dance piece.  Xavier Cha's untitled show is on view now at 47 Canal, New York.

V Man, July 2012

Courtney Malick in Conversation with Ashland Mines

Blasting Voice

Curated by Ashland Mines

Suzanne Geiss Company

76 Grand Ave., New York

Courtney Malick:  How did you initially get involved in this project?

Ashland Mines: Early in the year Isabel Vereno and I had been talking about the possibility of me consulting on a book project she was heading up at Rizzoli on nightclubs, clubbing, and DJ culture. I think Isabel and Suzanne chatting about the project inspired Suzanne to have Isabel and Kevin McGarry organize the summer show at The Suzanne Geiss Company. After playing around with a few different possibilities Isabel and Kevin eventually decided to ask me to step in and put something together.

CM: I know that The Suzanne Geiss Company is relatively new, do you have any thoughts about the direction that Suzanne's program is beginning to take and how this extremely lively project fits into that?

AM: Suzanne giving her space over to an art-adjacent club kid like me for the summer, carte blanche, is a pretty "lively" move for sure. This opportunity is incredible and feels very rare, but I think Suzanne is pretty well-versed in trying
things outside the norm. The future of her space seems very open - a new chapter for a similar environment she helped foster at Deitch.

CM: Did you begin your selection process for the participants in this project with an over arching concept of any kind and if so how would you describe it?

AM: The name of the show, "Blasting Voice", came first, and was the overall guide. I wanted to try and create an experience like witnessing a solo voice filling an arena. I asked people who's "voices" are on blast - who's volume is enough to fill a stadium. I requested strict solo performance and solo produce, to focus on the strength of each person’s singular voice.

CM:  Do you feel that most of these artists and musicians share a common playing field of some kind or was your intention to bring together a sort of patchwork of performers who would otherwise not necessarily be considered in
juxtaposition to one another?

AM: I definitely wanted to show a wide spectrum of voices and tried to program each night of the series with different styles and tones that would play against each other and kind of balance out the whole picture.

CM: Will these performances be mostly music based or are there some more performance art elements that will come into play at some point?

AM: Most of the performances are music based. I didn't really intend to have it this way but formal artists, generally, are more touchy than recording artists - they need to consider the total context that their work is being presented in. So I
had a harder time selling my vision of a collection of performances to some artist.  Musicians, generally, will bite at any opportunity for a gig but I think for the most part all the musicians involved are not looking at this series as a normal
gig and are excited about an opportunity to present something distilled from their general repertoire. Not using anyone's stage name or artist name in the promotions has helped with this i think.

CM: Can you tell me about the installation in the gallery and how performers have or plan to interact with it?  Also, how do you feel the performances or the project (as one that is performance based) as a whole is represented in the gallery during the day?

AM: My goal for the stage was to use all the show mechanisms of arenas and stadiums - flood lights and lazers, a high powered sound system, intense aluminum trussing - all condensed down to a stage only big enough for one performer - something like a wearable machine for each performer.  I wanted to have the piece be flexible in terms of tone so that it could serve each performance differently.  During the day the piece is accompanied by a sound installation that includes work from nine different artists all inspired by arena presentation. 

CM: Similarly, will all of the performances be documented?  And if so, how will the documentation be made available to audiences once the project is over? 

AM: We are documenting the performances and will be posting images and video clips of every performance on The Suzanne Geiss Company website. (www.suzannegeiss.com) Releases of the full performances are still being determined. 

CM: Can you tell me some highlights from the program thus far? 

AM: Kyp Malone's performance on the second night of the series stands out to me.  He started the night off with a meandering story about harvesting a mushroom from a tree somewhere in Brooklyn, and having an interaction with a schizophrenic man who told him he was scared that he was going to hurt people.  Kyp then sang an improvised prayer for the mushroom and to hope that the man he met while harvesting it wouldn't hurt anyone, while the audience drank tea he made from the mushroom.  The performance went on from there and set a tone for the rest of the night with performances by David Riley and Lee Relvas.

CM: Are there any artists in particular that you were less familiar with in the past and have been hoping to get to know or work with?

AM: For the most part I'm friends with all of the artists or have worked with them in the past.  Shayne Oliver is a friend that I've known for years but who's produce is always expanding and evolving - his work as a designer, as a singer/lyricist, as a DJ and club promoter and his general overall life presentation has such a strong voice.  He's a really multifaceted producer, so I'm excited to see what he decides to present on this platform. (Shayne performs on Saturday, July 28th)

CM: Do you feel that there is something about this project occurring at this time and place, (New York), that is intrinsic to it as a form or could you conceive of curating a similar project somewhere else in the future?

 AM: There is always a call for a stage, and I hope that this program continues to evolve in other places.

V Magazine, December 2011

Miami Basel

Martha Rosler, Amputee (Election ll), 2004

Martha Rosler

It was nice to see so much of Rosler’s work present at Basel.  Rosler, who has been working in video, photography, collage, found imagery, text, installation and performance since the 1970s has always been deeply politically engaged.  It seemed particularly pertinent that these works from her 2004 series, Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful, New Series, would surface at this time when presidential candidates are beginning to make pre-campaign speeches and appearances and the fate of the country’s future is yet again in question.  Unlike so much of the other collage-based work from the early 200s, some of which was also on view at Basel, Rosler’s is not just aesthetically pleasing, though her unusual juxtapositions are certainly eye-catching, more importantly they begin with humor, even sometimes sex appeal, but immediately point to political contradictions that while often subliminal are nonetheless felt within all aspects of daily life whether it be in domestic life, an aisle at the supermarket or an ad for beauty products. 

Mike Kelly, Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites, 1991-99

Mike Kelly

What’s not to love about Mike Kelly, he takes childhood memorbelia and makes it disgusting and fucked up and that is so sexy.  It also reminds us that not all art need be intellectually driven, (not that that was the general mentality at Art Basel anyway, since its basically a very pretty shopping mall), but rather that art can be equally powerful when it is driven the smallest and most distant of odd, maybe sometimes perverted of memories.  This installation is all encompassing for viewers as these giant balls made of every imaginable stuffed animal (including Baby Bop from Barney and Friends, a personal fave), hang just overhead.  They are surprisingly clean for Kelly, who is known for his filthy toys and Johnson’s baby shampoo bottles, but nonetheless there is something eery about them, they are conglomerated, many of them facing inward with their faces buried deep inside the body parts of the others.  They are isolated in bubbles, most of them probably not even available to buy/play with anymore except for maybe the rare find on Ebay.  But beyond the ying-yang that is childhood memories – half endearing, half confusing – that this piece represents, Deodorized… also looks at the consequences of accumulation, fake happiness and distorted realities that we only later realize are present in our lives from the moment we are born.

Catherine Opie, Untitled #6, #7, #8, #14, #18, 2010-11

Catherine Opie

Unlike Opie’s signature portraiture, this installation of tempered, hazy blue horizons was definitely a breath of fresh air amidst the onslaught of shiny,  glittery, inhanced, sexy things that made up the majority of the things on sale at Basel.  In other words, Opie is totally chill right now apparently, and her calm reminds me of all of the times I’ve spent in those sun drenched rooms at Dia staring at the Agnes Martins.  There isn’t much to say except that these photos are simply serene and I would do a lot of unconscientious things to be able to have one hanging in some empty white room that doubled as my bathroom. 

Tom Sachs, Magnum, 2011

Tom Sachs

Well, this is just a really nice, streamlined portrait of something beautiful.  I mean who doesn’t love that feeling when you are in front of the condom section at Duane Reade and you know SOMEONE is probably watching you, and you think about your man, pause for a second, and then get real and reach for the Magnums.  It rules.  It’s no surprise that we see this enlarged condom wrapping from Sachs, and perhaps that is a little disappointing, since it is usually better to be surprised, but unlike some of his more decorative, detailed sculptures, this painting gets STRAIGHT to the point, (no pun intended…?)  And it is probably a bit riskier than showing some of his better known pieces based on skulls, toilets, Hello Kitty and McDonalds.  This painting is clearly about sex, it’s not really about safe sex, even though it is a condom, and that is pretty cool.  Its just about really good advertising, and that means forgetting functionality and focusing on feeling and excitement.

Gillian Wearing, Me in my Mask, 2011

Gillian Wearing

This portrait creeped me out in the best way possible and that may be in part to Al Modovar’s most recent film The Skin I Live In, which was also about masks.  This is a self portrait of the artist, one of many she has made over the past twenty years of her career which is generally based on portraiture and figurative distortion of some kind.  Wearing is looking at herself in this image, but she can only actually see her own eyes, the rest of her face is a mask – another portrait – that she has already made and, ironically enough, is wearing.  Perhaps she is saying that she cannot see her true self because she creates a mask for herself whether she is wearing one or not.  Perhaps the mask is protective, though she looks sad and sort of trapped within it.  The realism of the mask is very impressive (unlike others in the series that are much easier to detect), as if she wants to be as honest as possible without revealing her own flesh.  Is she hiding if she wears a mask that is identical to her own face?  I have no idea.  But the obviousness of the mask that is evident only around her eyes is pronounced and makes her look scary and horror-film-esque, so it is actually the fact of the mask itself, rather than what it looks like, that disturbs the viewer.

Sarah Oppenheimer, W-13, 2011

Sarah Oppenheimer

This installation was very disorienting and I always enjoy being disoriented, (ok not always…).  In any case, its placement within a fair that was literally a cyclical maze made it all the more interesting to behold.  And as we all know, (or as we all should know), this is what Sarah Oppenheimer is all about, and admittedly does better than most.  This piece invites you to walk through it from one side, but just around the corner its entrance, (or exit), is blocked by a clear sheet of triangular glass.  There is something about corners and their architectural relationships that is inherent in this work.  They are pivotal, they turn – and in as much they represent the ability to shift direction or end movement altogether.  This corner-turner is no different, it is not what it seems, and it changes from angle to angle.  Oppenheimer is all about angles and while at this point in time that kind of work could be construed as predictable, it is a lot of fun and it looks really sleek and kind of Japanese, which is pretty much always a good thing.  It would be very interesting to find out how this piece would be installed in a collector’s home, while it looks rather common in a museum or art fair setting, placed in an extravagant, minimalist pool house, (for instance), it could really be startling and thought provoking…

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin Chess Set, 2003

Yayoi Kusama

I have a personal attachment to this chess set because I worked on an exhibition that it was in several years ago but I think it is probably considered incredibly lovable by most art viewers.  What I learned during my work for this particular exhibition, The Art of Chess, was that there is a long and layered history of artists making chess sets, perhaps the live sound art-based chess game between Marcel Duchamp and John Cage in 1968 being among the most famous.  But the Surrealists were also very engaged in chess and chess sets, and Kusama intricate and obsessive work clearly relates. 

Leandro Erlich, Global Express, 2011

Leandro Erlich

I love everything Erlich does.  Much like his work in last years Miami Basel, The Boat, Global Express falls in line perfectly with his expanding practice, which explores the boundaries of who and what is inside and who and what is outside.  The video captures the passing views of cities from all over the world through the window of a subway car but the footage continues relentlessly without breaks between locations.  It is difficult to tell them apart, since things often seem to be New York, or perhaps so we just assume.  The frame within which the video is set mimics the windows of the New York subway, but most likely many of such windows look the same in other cities.  The viewer is then placed within the subway, looking out, yet the subway is a public place, and so is an art exhibition, blurring the lines that delineate art’s territory in the larger scheme of daily life that for many includes the annoying routine of riding the subway.  It is also about transportation more generally, as is The Boat, and the fact that the cities that whiz by all look the same is somehow reassuring, as we all need to be able to get around.  

V Magazine, June 2012

Courtney Malick in Conversation with Kehinde Wiley

An Economy of Grace

Sean Kelly

475 10th Ave., New York

May 6 - June 16, 2012

Kehinde Wiley, who has been exhibiting his paintings since 2008 has been a well-known figure in the art world for his vibrant and art historically referential portraits of African, African American and Israeli men.  Now he has veered in a new direction, focusing his most recent series of works, which make up his solo exhibition, An Economy of Grace, at Sean Kelly Gallery, solely on African American women from New York.  I had the chance to walk through the gallery with Wiley and talk with him about how this new body of work can be seen as both a departure but also a natural extension of his practice.  Through our conversation he reveals much about his artistic process, which clearly goes far beyond merely creating portraits, and also discusses his most recent collaborations with Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci and documentary filmmaker Jeff Dupre.

Courtney Malick: What motivated you at this point in your career to embark upon this new series, which explores only female subjects – an area of portraiture you have not worked in before?

Kehinde Wiley: It’s actually something that has been evolving over time.  This body of work took more than two years to produce.  So, what you are looking at is the culmination of what has been a rather slow process, which has to do with my interest in gender in artworks, which is project specific and so the work that I was doing around men was very much about defining the state of African American identity and the performance of masculinity within American culture.  I think that the obvious question then becomes, ‘what is the presence of black women in the image making in the American, and increasingly global, imagination?’  The answers there are many, and there is a very important history that I mine within Western European easel painting.  The depiction of women has always been sort of at the service of powerful men – never in the forefront of the picture but always behind the scenes.  You will see oftentimes in many important portraits that the men are the “main sitter,” stridently at the front of the picture, and behind him is the land, the wife, the children, the cattle…

CM: … his possessions?

KW: Yes, his possessions.  So there has always been this subservient presence, but I think that secondarily there is another thread within the tradition that has more to do with the image of the woman as having been designed for the male gaze in order to be consumed.  In much of the work here you will find that there is a one to one relationship between the eyes of the viewer and the eyes of the sitter, save for one piece in the main gallery where there is actually an absolute refusal to connect, sort of like Miles Davis on stage… literally taking that connection and turning it the other way.  So there are certain moves such as that one, but I think that in more subtle ways the backgrounds start to tell a bit about some of my thoughts here as well…

CM: That leads to my next question, which has to do with something that you had said about this body of work, which was that they can be read as a way of re-examining the kinds of historical depictions that you have been referring to.  Did you ask these subjects to model in a way that replicated what you saw there?

KW: Well in most of my work what happens is the models are asked to go through art history books and to choose the poses that they respond to and that resonate with them.  However, in this body of work I have done away with that formula and decided to do something that was much more fixed – specifically because this was made for one particular exhibition only and we knew that there would be one painting here, one here… so it was also a tactical decision.  Additionally, in the beginning I didn’t really know which model was going to work with which pose, so each of them during the photo shoot performed each of the roles and my job then was to edit down which ones worked best for each pose. 

Kehinde Wiley, Juliette Recamier, 2012

CM: Oh, I did not realize that, that is interesting.  Can you tell me how you chose these subjects?  To me they look as though they are pretty similar in terms of their age or their general places in their lives…

KW: What I try to do is go through that certain demographic that is kind of the sweet spot – somewhere between 18 and 35 years old.  Much of what I am mining globally is this sense of urban, youth culture that is defined in many ways by hip-hop but I think it also goes beyond that and it goes beyond race more into a certain type of attitude or a cultural essence that you see being sort of beamed throughout the world and also which is being consumed globally.  So, yes, there is certainly a desire here to capture young America.

CM: Can you tell me how your collaboration for this project with Riccardo Tisci came about and why you chose to work with him amongst so many designers from which you could have potentially chosen to work with?

KW: Well, the history of portraiture during the 18th and 19th centuries involved the commissioning of specific couture clothing, and that was very important socially – not so much with the men historically, but certainly with the women.  I wanted to heighten that tradition and draw attention to it.  In a way this brings about a sense of absolute glamour and aspirational clothing and in that sense I thought that Riccardo was the perfect choice for a designer.  His work has a type of subtle drama to it that really resonated with me.  So I arranged a meeting with him and it turned out that he already admired my work and was pleased to do the collaboration.  So what we did first was to arrange to have a private viewing at the Louvre, so it was just the two of us in the massive museum and we had the opportunity to really talk about painting and fashion within painting.  There was one moment where we were looking at this Madame [Juliette] Recamier painting done by [Jacques Louis] David and she was wearing this neo-classical tunic-like piece and that really became the starting point us.

CM: So do you feel that Tisci brought something to this body of work that directly relates to the iconic imagery that is specific to Givenchy?

KW: Yes, definitely. 

CM: I also wanted to ask you about the documentary that is being made about this body of work in particular, and I assume also delves into your artistic process more generally.  How did this project come about?  I know that Jeff Dupre, the filmmaker, has made documentaries about many other artists.  Can you tell me if you feel that the work that you are doing with Dupre for the film is a collaboration in the same sense that you collaborated with Tisci?  And if so, what similarities or differences have you experienced between the two projects?

KW: I have always been documenting my process because I have always seen my work as more than just a painting on the wall but rather as series of social engagements between people and between histories.  It is not only about my process but also just about seeing these women coming into the studio with their street gear on and going through hair and make-up and opening up that huge, hunking box from Givenchy and seeing all the dresses… There is something about process here that is quite amazing.  So [in the past] I had small films for “Africa” and small films for “Israel” and [for this project] I really wanted to take it to the next level.  So when I first spoke to Sean [Kelly] about wanting to do this show and the ideas behind it I also told him that I wanted to make a film about it and Sean recommended that I meet with Jeff.  Then I saw early footage of Marina [Abramovic’s] movie and I thought, ‘this guy is brilliant!’

CM: So Jeff’s film is going to focus on this series?

KW: It does focus on this series but I think that at its best what it is does is it starts to talk about more than just these paintings but about who these people are as individuals.  The paintings are a catalyst or a provocation to tell individual life stories too – and how we all go here.  So it is about this moment when your minding your own business, trying to get to the subway, and the next thing you know your portrait is hanging in one of the great museums [galleries?] [JC1] in the world.

CM: So Jeff was there from the very beginning of this process?

KW: Yes, he was there for everything.  From running through the streets in the rain and noticing someone, and he had shoulder-mounted cameras and booms and everything…

Kehinde Wiley, Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha, 2012

CM: So do you feel that this film represents an equal collaboration between the two of you?

KW: I don’t know what it will be – I’ve never gone through his process before.  In the past we had just happened to have someone with a camera there, like an intern or someone who would just document things as they happened, whereas this process is a lot more integrated.  I was wearing a wire most of the time, the cameras and the microphones were always there, but I don’t know what he is doing with that footage yet.  I don’t know what it is going to look like – that’s his baby… As opposed to Riccardo and I who were formulating the story-line together and here with Jeff’s work my life is the story-line and he has to choose the mechanism through which he tells that story.

CM: Do you know when the film will be completed and how it will be presented to the public?

KW: I have no idea, we were still documenting opening night and we are planning to have a charity auction where all of Tisci’s gowns are put up for sale to give money to some of the organizations who benefit the neighborhoods… so we want to document that as well.  We are also planning to spend some time doing “a day in the life” kind of scenes where each of these models will be shadowed.

CM: They all came to the opening?

KW: All but one could make it

CM: What was their reaction?

KW: There was a room full of crying girls… It was great! 

CM: I guess you didn’t get that kind of reaction from most of your male subjects in the past?

KW: No, because the performance of masculinity is such a prevalent thing and so much of what I find interesting about those portraits is that I gave a lot of those men the option to choose their own poses from within the history of art so that is why you see so much sword wielding.  And in that sense it is as much about them as it is about the artist who is depicting them.

CM: Do you think that the women from this series had any real sense of what these finished works would look like?

KW: Well when I was posing them for the photo shoots we were actually looking at the paintings so they had some sense of it, but I don’t think anyone imagines the scale.  I mean at the opening there were so many people and cameras going off everywhere and celebrities that those women had always dreamed of seeing and so it was a pretty moving experience for them.  I can’t even imagine what that feels like – I am sort of building that for them but I have never experienced it for myself.  It must be a sort of out of body experience. 

V Magazine, July 2012

Documentaries by Ai Weiwei

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Last Sunday, July 22nd, I was lucky enough to attend a new series in programming at the YBCA in San Francisco, Dinner and a Movie.  The program, along with much of the museum’s other interactive initiatives, is designed to generate discourse and personable involvement amongst its visitors, which thereby will stimulate an ongoing community and dialog that reflects the issues raised in the works presented YBCA’s exhibitions and film screenings.  At the moment the museum is focusing on political entanglements of various kinds including championed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and his new body of works that take the form of what he refers to as “social documentaries”.  Sunday’s double feature screening of two of his recent films Ordos 100 and So Sorry (both 2012), was followed by an intimate early dinner complete with wine and sparkling water, during which guests had the chance to listen to and engage in discussion with California based independent scholar and curator, Britta Erickson, who has been researching and working with contemporary Chinese artists for over ten years. 

Ordos 100, (which you can also conveniently find on Youtube), follows the elaborate construction project initiated in 2008, which was to take place in Ordos, located in inner Mongolia, organized by Ai Weiwei along with Herzog & de Meuron, whom the artist had previously collaborated with on his infamous contribution to the 2008 Beiijing Olympic’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium.  Together Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron selected 100 architects from 27 countries to each design a villa, the conglomeration of which would mark the beginning of a new, forward thinking community in the area.  The stipulation for these 100 new villas was that they comply with a larger architectural concept designed by Ai.  Though the film documents each of the three site visits made by Ai and his collaborators, throughout which all 100 designs were completed, construction for the project has yet to commence.  

While Ordos 100, though an unfinished work in progress, still shows a positive outlook on what artists like Ai can bring to China, So Sorry, which was also the name of the artists’ 2010 retrospective at Munich’s Haus Der Kunst, takes a far darker tone.  So Sorry is the sequel to the artists 2009 film Disturbing the Peace, in which Ai and a small team go in search of one of his studio assistants that had disappeared into police custody after a raid that took place in her hotel room earlier that year.  After that initial confrontation with the Chinese government, Ai goes on, as is captured in So Sorry, to investigate the families of the victims of the Sichuan earthquake that took place in China in 2008.  Ai’s research and conversations reveal that many of the deaths of helpless workers and children were in fact the direct result of poor building construction that had been conspicuously okayed by the government in another of its many corrupt fractures.  Not surprisingly when officials discovered Ai had been conducting such research on film they placed him under close surveillance and eventually raided a hotel room in which he was staying in the small town of Chengdu andproceeded to beat him, the audio of which was caught on tape and makes for an understandably startling scene in the middle of the film. 

Weeks after the beating Ai traveled to Munich for the installation and opening of the his retrospective, So Sorry, which in part pays homage to the children who lost their lives in the earthquake with a large text based work made of colorful backpacks that covered the façade of the Haus der Kunst.  But before the show could open Ai suffered terrible headaches that led to his hospitalization, revealing that his brain had been hemorrhaging as a result of the police beating.  The aftermath of his operation makes for another paralyzing sequence in the film in which Ai lays sullenly in a hospital bed with a tube of blood draining from his head, at times flipping off the camera, at other times looking cheerful and giving two thumbs up.  Fortunately he was able to attend the opening of his exhibition in which he discussed Chinese politics openly with chief curator, Ulrich Wilmes and even went so far as to say that should the opportunity to work in politics in China ever present itself to him that he would not hesitate to attempt to improve the conditions of his country and its people.

Not only was So Sorry incredibly compelling, uncovered an incredible amount about life in China in a small space of time, but the entire Dinner and a Movie event was made all the more extensive by the conversation that followed with Britta Erickson.  Having worked with Ai on several projects in the past and continuing to visit him as a friend and colleague in Beijing, where he is now held captive by the government, she has seen the effect that his relentless work has had on Chinese culture first hand.  Surprisingly, while Ai continues to be celebrated as one of the most importantly living artists in the world outside of China, his presence is far less impacting within his native country.  Though Erickson noted that there is now a widely flourishing contemporary art scene throughout all of China, much of which is political by default in that so little is allowed to be expressed according to government standards, Ai’s position in the larger scheme of Chinese fine art remains to be of little consequence.  At the same time, the very fact that the government, after imprisoning him for a year for tax evasion, is still adamant that Ai may not leave Beijing for any reason, says a great deal about the threat that he poses to their rule.  In the meantime the artist continues to work fervently and each project by this point takes on a greater meaning as he is watched so closely and so strictly forbidden to make art that may be considered political in any way.  Regardless of the freedoms that we enjoy in all forms of expression in the west, Ai’s work now encapsulates its cultural and social context within it whether intentionally or not in a way that the art world has at times sought to ignore in order to focus purely on the longevity and withstanding value of a work of art as it ‘stands the test of time’ as they say.  The time, as Ai remarks in the statement he made in an interview (shown above), is in fact the art in his case, and may in fact end up changing much of the way that we approach art making in general. 

V Man, February 2012

David Benjamin Sherry

Quantum Light

Book Release

“Quantum Light” is the title of photographer David Benjamin Sherry’s second monograph to date, and the name only begins to get at the vibrancy of the images found inside.  Sherry has been praised throughout the art world for the past few years for his unique ability to transform photographs, (analog, developed in a dark room and never digitally manipulated), into images that feel more like luminous, photorealist paintings.  Perhaps this is in part due to his masterful relationship with color, which often appears to have originated somewhere deep beneath the paper and risen up, pressed flush against the surface of his photos.  Or maybe that is just the effect one experiences because Sherry’s visceral subject matter, which focuses on enormous natural elements and camouflaged, painted bodies, evokes such immediate emotions that tend to bubble to the contours of ones own exterior when confronted with his work.  It is no coincidence that viewer’s reactions to Sherry’s work are often described through a language based in physicality.  There is a link between the compulsion of Sherry’s viewers and that of the labor and care with which his photos are configured, staged, shot and painstakingly printed.  It is this alignment between ones own imagination and that of the artist that continues to swell the longer you allow your mind to travel within the intensity of his frame.  Furthermore, Sherry is clearly not shying away from what is raw, fragile, brazen or sensual about his work, and thus himself as well. 

One of the less visually striking, but truly insightful parts of “Quantum Light” is Sherry’s conversation with photographer and long time mentor to Sherry, Collier Shorr.  The book itself sets color as a high precedence, and Shorr attempts to get to the bottom of the artists’ use of color as a medium in and of itself.  Sherry explains that he spent most of his childhood in upstate New York and he discusses how such an environment has affected his relationship to nature, where he finds color to be in its most immediate state.  If there was any doubt of the seriousness and sincerity of Sherry and his work, this publication proves that he is only at the beginning of what is sure to be a long and mythic journey through such boldly rendered, interpersonal relationships. 

V Magazine, January 2012

Courtney Malick in Conversation with Jacco Olivier


Courtney Malick: I know that some of the pieces in Madison Square Park were older and that others you made specifically for this project.  Can you tell me how you feel about making public art?  Were the pieces that you had already made first shown in a different context, and if so, how do you feel they transition from an art going public to a general public that may just happen to be passing through the park and stumble upon these works?

Jacco Olivier: Indeed three of the works I have shown before, in a gallery setting.  In the white cube space of a gallery everything looks like art.  I do not want my work to look like art or like anything else.  I want it to be real.  It just has to be there, in existence, no questions asked.  There is this old painters trick that involves a chair.  If you’re in your studio and want to see if the painting you’re working on is any good, put a chair next to it.  It will immediately show if the painting is as real as the chair or not.  The painting and the chair should have the same value, objects that are just there for your convenience.  The public space is like the chair to the extreme.  Now the work has to sit next to a tree, the grass, a garbage bin, live animals and everything.

Three of the other works I made especially for the park.  I had very specific ideas about certain locations and the work I would do there.  One of the works I embedded in the grass, one I suspended from a tree and one I projected next to a statue, facing the famous Shake Shack.  Working on this project gave me all new ideas and possibilities.  So, to come back to your question, how do I feel about making public art, I think its challenging, it gives me new ideas and it makes me make new work. So it’s awesome.

 And the transition from art going public to general public is no issue as I am the general public.

CM: From what I read I understand that these animation videos to some degree can be considered reflections or meditations on the act of painting, would you agree with this?  Do you feel that there is a larger connection between the theme of painting in the works and the public park site within which they are being presented and received?

JO: I consider myself a painter, as that is what I do.  And that is how I make my work.  I paint and I never seem to be able to decide when to stop painting.  So I continue painting until my painting has vanished under many layers of paint.  Meanwhile I take photographs of the things I paint.  If the painting is painted to death then I look at the photographs to see what the painting was about.  The photographs show the history of the painting.  If I put one photograph after another, I can enter the painting at the front and exit at the back, seeing the layers in between, I can see what has happened or was going to happen.

With this I build an animation.  Reconstruct the painting.  So to me the animations are very much related to painting.  And yes, there certainly must be a larger connection between the theme of painting and the public park site.  But I do not see one.  Or it must be that a public park site refers to leisure with a resonance of 18th century bourgeoisie, just like painting.

CM: From what I have seen it seems like a lot of your work focuses on the outdoors in one way or another, can you discuss a sort of evolution of your work in terms of its content and how you have come to this point in your career?  Does it in some way feel like coming full circle to have a show in a park?  Is it something you have thought of doing for a while?  Something you would like to do again in the future?

JO: Well…Evolution of my work in terms of its content: As a painter back in art school my teachers always talked about how a painting must be a statement.  I misinterpreted that as a painting should be very serious and therefore the subject should be heavy and serious as well.  It took me many years to overcome that and realize that the smaller and more personal the subject matter becomes the more relevant a work can be.

And I just happen to like the small simple things.  The way that somebody walks his dog, how a bird lands on a branch, that sort of thing.  That just happens to happen outdoors a lot.  So, yes, a lot of my work focuses on the outdoors.  

And don’t underestimate the fact that architecture is more difficult to paint than nature.  Hmmm…Maybe I should paint some more indoor stuff.

CM: I understand what you mean by enjoying the small things and its simplistic sentiment, however, as wee see with this project, all of those kinds of small things can add up to an entire atmosphere or mentality.  In this way it makes sense to me to put these particular works in this public setting because they add to an entire attitude that the environment within the park exudes. Do you see these things as culminating into something greater than the sum of their parts in a similar way?

JO: About the small things: God is in the details and the closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat.

And it is the small things to which people can relate. Its about you and me.

So yes, i think lives are built up by small things, so it adds up to an entire mentality. 

 I’m happy if my work is characterized that way. It is intentional and inherent to the works. Like I said, it took me years to shake off the seriousness in art. It is serious of course, as in I mean it, but playful is the way to go. And in some way the playful feeling of the animations is certainly enhanced by the site of the park.

CM: Do you feel that this project, these particular works that are on view in the park, resonate in any way that is singular to New York and its residents?  Or, is this project more mobile and adaptable, can you see it traveling to another city or country in another public location, maybe not even a park at all?

JO: The works do resonate, but not in a way that is singular to New York and its residents, I think they resonate in any leisurely environment.  In that way it’s mobile and adaptable. I can see these works living in my garden for example. If I had a garden.

CM: There is a real playful quality to these animations, from the stills that I have seen.  Can you tell me how you feel about the work being characterized that way?  Was it intentional?  Is it something that you feel is enhanced by the site of the park, or is it something that is inherently in the works? 

JO: I’m happy if my work is characterized that way. It is intentional and inherent to the works. Like I said, it took me years to shake off the seriousness in art. It is serious of course, but playful is the way to go.  And in some way the playful feel of the animations is certainly enhanced by the site of the park.

As for how it effects the park and its visitors; I hope it puts at least a smile on somebody’s face.

CM: I was intrigued by your statement about not wanting your work to appear as art, or as anything other than a real, "normal" object in the world.  I had not thought of the site of the park as leveling the context of the work in the way that you described.  From my perspective it seems that using flat screens to present animated photos of paintings in a sense exaggerates the work in contrast to its "natural" site, (the park with its trees, benches, animals and people, etc).  I see the exaggeration as a result of several reflective aspects of your works that are at play, the first being the reflection upon your own process of painting (through photography and animation), and in addition, the images that appear on the screens reflect the environment within which they are embedded.  Is this reflective element of your work something that you feel moves it more toward being "real" as you referred to it, or does it in fact help the work retain its own identity amongst the everyday regularities that take place within the park?

JO: It works both ways, as you describe it. Its real as in its there and it retains its own identity amongst the everyday regularities. When I say ‘being real’ I do not mean it to be like a rock on the ground or a billboard in the city, it very much should retain its own identity. But it should not be in your face. It should be there and you should accept it for what it is. If you start thinking, ‘what the hell is this thing doing here?’ then it will not work.

I know my statement is a bit dualistic, its like the parrots flying by my studio window every morning…I might think, ‘what are those exotic birds doing in Amsterdam?’ but the main feeling is, ‘hey wow look parrots! Nice!’ A bit out of the ordinary but totally acceptable that they are there.

CM: From the way that you described your interest in making work that is "accepted" as something that is "there," (like your example of the parrots), its seems that your work may actually be better suited for public sites, since within the white cube it is not really a matter of being accepted but it is certainly EXPECTED, and when something is expected maybe it loses a certain sense of wonder about it that you seem to be getting at.  Would you say that as far as achieving this goal of "accepted-ness" in relation to your audience that this public site wields a more successful result?

JO: Well, I don’t know… In the sense of making something that you stumble upon that is just there although you don’t expect it to be there but it is and it’s fine, the public site is a nice playground. But then again, within a white cube It is also possible, even in a place where everything is expected, I will certainly not accept everything and I always hope to have and sometimes do have that sense of wonder that happens when you don’t expect something but totally accept it.

CM: Although you mentioned that you consider this project to be "mobile" in the sense that you could potentially transport it to another public site in another city, can you tell me if there were any particular aspects of New York that you took into consideration when making the new works for this installation? 

JO: I took into consideration that New York is full of screens and moving images, that everything is fast paced and serious and that human scale is almost irrelevant in New York. In a sense I think I ended up making real European work. 

V Man, January 2012

James Franco

The Dangerous Book Four Boys

Book Release, Rizzoli

Not only does James Franco act, direct and write, he now has an artist book to boot.  His recent artistic endeavor, a publication entitled “The Dangerous Book Four Boys” directly reflects his first solo exhibition of the same title, which took place in 2010 at New York’s infamous Clocktower Gallery.

It is less the images in the book and more the essays that shed light on Franco’s subject matter, some of which are written by important figures in the arts such as MoMA Chief Curator Klaus Biesenbach and original P.S 1 (before MoMA) Founding Director Alanna Heiss.  The most prominent of the installation shots are of three simple wooden structures resembling playhouses.  This is our first clue that Franco is exploring childhood in some way.  From the texts we discover that these structures also house videos, some dealing with the houses’ own destruction and others taking a more narrative tone.  Their content vary from a masked Franco making a film for his favorite director Wes Anderson, ruminations on artist Paul McCarthy’s indulgent installation Pig Island (2003-10), to an awkward yet explicit sex scene between Star Trek’s Spock and and Kirk.  While the shows reviews focused primarily on Franco’s meditations on childhood and memory, this book, which reveals much of the process behind the exhibition, seems to move beyond such basic categorizations.  Franco’s work is disjointed yet it attempts to patchwork together an unassuming set of signifiers from various corners of our media saturated culture, one within which he knowingly plays a large and influential part.  It is this self acknowledgment more than any specific imagery that grounds his work and more importantly brings to it a certain sense of intrigue. 

V Man, November 2011

Maurizio Cattelan


The Guggenheim Museum and Foundation

1071 5th Ave., New York

November 4, 2011 - January 22, 2012

It seems à propos that Maurizio Cattelan’s first major retrospective, which will take place in New York at the Guggenheim from November 2011 through January 2012, is singularly titled, All.  Not only does such an obvious word sum up the function of a retrospective, but the exhibition’s title also references an unusually somber piece by Cattelan from 2007, entitled, All.  This work, rendered in marble, consists of nine cloth-covered bodies lying on the floor and is uncommonly morbid for the artist, who is best known for blooper-like pieces such as La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), a sculpture of Pope John Paul ll being crushed by a meteor.  However, All represents a seminal and serious moment within the artists’ practice, though we may assume that the Guggenheim exhibition will tend towards a more expansive look at the artists’ work and its inherent -- if blatant -- humor. 

Cattelan has been known as representing a self-reflexive and therefore often sarcastic perspective on politics, religion and especially the art world itself that some feel has been lacking in recent years in contemporary art.  Needless to say, such a large presentation in such a highly populated and culturally revered museum will bring a broadened reception to Cattelan’s body of work, which spans the past twenty years and is rife with punch lines and jabs manifested into brightly colored and often awkwardly positioned sculptures and installations.  While visually the show promises to be head turning, it will be just as interesting to see how the artist’s mischievous social commentary will be read by viewers to the monumental Guggenheim, which, unlike the artist, has continued to stand for all that is holy in art and its histories. 

V Magazine, November 2011

Carsten Holler


New Museum

235 Bowery, New York

October 26, 2011 - January 22, 2012

I have to admit I was pretty excited to experience Stockholm-based scientist turned artist, Carsten Höller’s first solo exhibition, Experience at the New Museum.  What I anticipated most was having the chance to slide down one of his infamous see-through, tube slides that stretches from the fourth to the second floor of the museum.  I have been relatively familiar with Höller’s work for the past few years and have always appreciated its ‘not-so-serious’ attitude, but I have also wondered if once confronted with the work inside of the meaning-imposing walls of a museum, if to the contrary, his psychotropic-inspired interactive installations would ultimately leave me un-exhilarated.  The answer was more difficult for me to assess than I would have expected.  The slide, titled, Untitled (Slide), my first order of business, was undeniably a jolt to my psyche!  

Luckily I went straight up the stairs to the third floor, which I had whizzed past in the slide, where I happily found by far the most exciting work, not only of the entire exhibition, but I must say of any that I have visited recently.  I knew that there were two works for which visitors needed to sign release forms, one of which had been the slide, the other of which they had tried to explain to me after I had signed, but I didn’t listen because I was too excited to get to the slide.  I suddenly realized that what they were trying to prepare me for was the fact that people were getting naked and floating together in groups of six in a large beige structure inside of which Höller had crafted a sensory deprivation tank titled Giant Psycho Tank.  

Seriously – naked – with strangers.  How ‘60s!  Being a girl to whom her hair is of utmost importance, I was hesitant.  But, I figured it would be perhaps even more awkward to come back with a casual acquaintance, and plus I really can’t resist anything even remotely spa-related.  Timidly, I approached the structure, and I must say that I immediately noticed a very pleasing sense of calm was sort of swathing the entire room.  The glowing of the illuminated tank within the dimmed light of the gallery, the shillouettes of the quiet, bathing strangers and the hushed tone of the attendant as he welcomed me up the stairs onto the platform and instructed me about the shower and where to put my clothes and the fresh towels to the right…  My expectations could never have reached so far, especially for an exhibiton that I assumed would be full of works similar to, but less exciting than the slide, like Mirror Carousel, for example, a “carousel” with uncomfortable swing seats instead of horses, covered entirely in mirrors and lights, that rotates so slowly that even toddlers can get on and off without any difficulty.  

Back to the Psycho Tank, though terribly shy at first, I undressed, showered, and made my way into the salty, surprisingly shallow tank of water, within which I found two other floating bodies, whom to my delight, seemed not to notice me at all.  While I definitely would have much preferred to be alone in the tank, the buoyancy of our bodies did allow one to momentarily forget the presence of others, always the ultimate hope when trying to connect with a work of art in a tourist filled museum.  

If there were sounds being make outside of the tank I barely noticed, and when others left or entered, I was aware of them but felt none of my usual voyeuristic tendencies to sneak a peak.  It was very relaxing, but certainly not a setting capable of allowing me to enter the kind of altered dream state that solo deprivation tanks promise.  No hallucinating, just a very salty, very unusual, communal bath that I left feeling both cool for having had the guts to do it, as well as refreshed, because I had just taken two showers in public in the middle of the day.  

After Giant Psycho Tank there is really no way to further impress a viewer as far as I am concerned.  The fact that one has to go back down to the lobby, sign yet another form and leave a credit card at the front desk to get a pair of the ‘Umkehrbrille Upside Down Goggles’ and then head back upstairs with them on to see the entire exhibition upside-down is just ridiculous.  For me, though it was funny to watch others walk into walls and while I did somewhat appreciate the sense of instability I felt wearing this large, cumbersome headpiece through the museum, I did not find the works any more interesting when I saw them upside-down.  The goggles are clearly an attempt of furthering the interactive theme of the exhibition, an important conceptual backbone to keep in mind when at times as a viewer one feels a bit out of sorts, but in the end they were more a distraction than an enhancement of the works on view. That said, what I would really have enjoyed was if Höller had imposed the kind of serenity that was found in the Psycho Tank on the rest of the exhibition and I hope to see Höller move towards bringing this kind of therapeutic and introspective “experience” into the gallery and museum more in the future.  While the tank felt a bit out of place amongst Höller’s more flashy, ride-like works I actually believe were the tantk to be encountered within a different, dare I say more serious setting, that it could have very powerful and positive effects on viewers and the way that they feel about the role of collective viewership within public institutions.  

V Man, July 2011

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra

Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain

For its largest Summer 2011 exhibition, The Fondation Beyeler in Basel explores the relationships and juxtapositions between the monumental, abstract sculptural works and lifelong artistic practices of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Richard Serra (1939-).  Curated by Oliver Wick, Brancusi and Serra is undoubtedly one of the largest surveys of both of the artists’ ouvres, and will continue on to the Guggenheim Bilbao where it will be on view from October 2011 to April 2012.  Not surprisingly, Serra has discussed finding great inspiration in Brancusi, and even studied in the Modern master’s Paris studio in the mid-sixties, shortly after his death.  Such overlap in the organic curvature of their forms is especially evident in Serra’s drawings, an ongoing practice that the artist describes as independent but concurrent with his architectural sculptures, and which is pointedly emphasized in the exhibition.  

At first consideration the aesthetic relationship between the work of Brancusi and Serra may seem clear enough, both being known as major pioneers of their respective movements -- for Brancusi, Modernism and for Serra, Modernism’s related, if reactionary cousin, Minimalism.  Yet while both artists work is abashedly bold, masculine and overwhelming, Brancusi’s in abundance and Serra’s in sheer scale, the joining of their sculpture seems to bring out something far more delicate in both bodies of work, a nuance that is as refreshing as it is subtle.  The enormous undertaking of such an extensive exhibition speaks to the gravity of influence that both artists have had on the history of abstract sculpture, linking two distinct eras in art together through poised and distinctive form.  

V Magazine, June 2011

Aboveground Animation

Curated by Casey Jane Ellison

Ramiken Crucible

389 Grand Street


This years program for the 7th, traveling, bi-annual Aboveground Animation at Ramiken Crucible in New York City, curated by animator, Casey Jane Ellison, includes a wide array of videos by 25 international artists working in animation and related media.  With an evening event of back-to-back screenings at Ramiken on Friday, June 24, 211, and a subsequent online exhibition presented by Dismagazine.com, Aboveground Animation permeates through the new, quirky and sometimes sinuous directions in digital animation and three-dimensional rendering. 

While a return to the human body and meditations on figurative forms, along with a tendency towards electronic music in favor of dialog, is prevalent throughout many of the works on view, the lack of conceptual continuity for this grouping of videos is actually rather refreshing.  Instead of focusing on a particular niche of animation and digital video, Ellison, it seems, has embraced the juxtaposition of works by this diverse set of artists in order to present a range of what is possible through animation, as well as looking to artists based around the world in order to get a sense of how such mediums travel through, relate to and effect cultures in a more global sense. 

One such unique perspective comes from Kuwaiti artist, Monira Al Qadiri.  Qadiri is based in Tokyo where she recently completed her PhD at Tokyo University of the Arts.  Having lived in Tokyo for many years, Qadiri’s video, Visual Violence, works off of the curt dialog and banal negativism, complete with the lethal injections and inner demons that are common to a certain style of Japanese comics.  What is intriguing about Visual Violence in this case is perhaps less its narrative, which ruminates on the protagonist’s issues of mistrust and personal despair, but instead the palpable insertion of Qadiri’s own, more concentrated aesthetic, which often references Kuwaiti culture and traditions.  Insomuch, Visual Violence, being one of only a few works in Aboveground Animation that includes dialog, (in Japanese with English sub-titles), feels at once genuinely antagonistic yet at the same time acts as a parody of a certain type of animation that has by now become a Japanese cliché.  This duality inherent in the work thus raises questions about how animation functions within and outside of the international cultures and the smaller circuits within which it is distributed and disseminates. 

Aboveground Animation offers many other exciting videos including Italian artist Emanuele Kabu’s, Übermensch, whose abstracted story of man, woman and the evolution of animals is told through cyclical, sexual and murderous momentum rather than dialog or narrative, Seychelle Allah and Rhett LaRue's Thinspiration, an audio relaxation and diet guide, illustrated by the swelling and shrinking body of a levitating and oddly adult-looking baby, and Berlin-based artist, Kathleen Daniel’s jittery and seedy, quasi-portrait entitled, Delic.  However, another interesting aspect of the show as a cross section of contemporary animation, is its inclusion of projects that are generated from outside of a distinctly animation related context.  This includes music videos, such as “Don’t” by Actually Huizenga, directed by lead singer Ashley Huizenga.  Another off-kilter project is Dish, produced by Dis Magazine. Aboveground Animation presents the introductory look at the upcoming Internet series, which takes the form of a daytime talk show, hosted by artist and designer, Akeem Smith.  Dish is also not the only piece in the show that acts as a prelude to an ongoing project, Sketches: for Sketches for Baal by recent Parson’s graduate, Leigha Mason, is the shortest of all of the videos, revealing only flashes of a dimly and colorfully lit, decaying cornucopia with a cryptic voice over by Genesis Breyer P. Orridge, that acts as a suggestive glance at a future, more elaborate video project to come. 

Together all of these experimentations on drawing, animating, 3D digital rendering and modeling, sound and narrative culminate in a screening and online exhibition that explores not only the technological possibilities within the medium, but furthermore contemplates how stories can be told through moving images and music.  Perhaps more importantly, Aboveground Animation probes at what kinds of stories and ideas are being brought up through animation that we may see less of in other forms of contemporary art today, such as the powerful role of the subconscious.  While some of the works are darker and more demented and others are arousing or just hilarious, their ability to counter one another when seen together makes for a playful if not mischievous alternate reality in which to spend some quality time.

V Magazine, September 2011


 Jonah Bokaer: On Vanishing

It is particularly fitting that the title of Korean born artist and philosopher Lee Ufan’s first US retrospective, on view in New York at the Guggenheim through September 28th 2011, should be titled, Marking Infinity.  His work has consistently traversed the abstract terrain of the tension between the intangibility of time passing and the physical forms of measurement and embodiment impressed upon it.  It is not surprising then that the Guggenheim chose to commission a new performance, On Vanishing, from choreographer and media artist, Jonah Bokaer, to respond to Ufan’s work.  On Vanishing was presented on Thursday, July 14th 2011 in the museum’s ground floor rotunda, next to one of Ufan’s captivating installations, entitled, Dialogue, 2009.  The performance was also accompanied by cellist Loren Kiyoshi Dempster playing John Cage’s complex score, “One8,” 1991. 

Bokaer has been known throughout his many enigmatic experiments in dance and choreography to meditate on metaphysical concepts similar to those resonant in the work of Ufan, which involve the fleeting and invisible qualities of choreography in contrast to its realized state as dance and bodily movement.  As Bokaer expresses in his statement printed in the performance program, On Vanishing, as the title alludes, is an “intellectual and physical exercise, attempting to concretize the introverted work of choreography, turning the composition of movement into something more akin to objects.”  

Certainly On Vanishing, with its stoic dancers leaning, bending and pressing upon one another with the greatest of ease, brings an inner momentum to the stern sculptural installation of Dialogue, within which the dance is set.  Dialogue consists of two large rocks on either side of a thick, black steel wall.  From an aerial view it would ironically look a lot like a division symbol, a dichotomy to the notion of dialogue that seems particularly astute.  On Vanishing, however, took two of Ufan’s works as its primary focus, one being Dialogue, and the other entitled, Things and Words, three large pieces of Japanese paper laying flat on the ground, which was originally installed on the steps leading into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tokyo, in 1969.  The paper in On Vanishing, as it turns out, is rather crucial, and seems to speak to Ufan’s ongoing series of related works entitled simply, From Point and From Line, in which the artist makes repetitive markings and gestures on paper.  From my perspective, the relationships formed between the dancers through the 41 minute duration of On Vanishing, are meant on the one hand, as Bokaer states, to physically manifest the process of choreography composition, and on the other hand, similarly manifest the complex points of contact, departure and exteriority that allow for mark-making and communication more generally.  

With five dancers in total, On Vanishing begins with a solo by a male performer (performer 1) whose twisting movements suggest that he is again and again resisting some sort of force or presence in order to make his way across the space.  Once he recoils behind the black wall of Dialogue, a woman emerges (performer 2) from its other end and circles her way once around the divider.  Then another solo male dancer (performer 3) promptly makes his way to the center of the space, his movements resembling those of performer 1, but with greater fluidity, nuance and speed.  It is almost as if performer 1 had laid the difficult way for performer 3, who now goes over the path paved by performer 1, as if a significant period of time has conceptually passed between the performances of the two. 

At first the role of performer 2 is still a bit of a mystery.  Soon performer 3 is joined by another woman, (performer 4) at which point the title of the sculpture, Dialogue, becomes increasingly apparent as they quickly begin to move in unison with one another, even when not performing identical steps.  The rhythms that the sounds of the pads of their feet and hands make as they make contact with the ground inform and follow one another, creating an interesting accompaniment to the music of the cello. 

As the last performer, another man, (performer 5) is introduced into the ongoing yin-yang produced by performers 3 and 4, his presence notably changes their dynamic.  Performer 5 inserts himself into their conversation made up of movements distinguished by clean straight lines, 90 degree angles at the wrists, ankles and hips, and their tendency to behave as sheer mass, falling at times like stiff planks onto one another, using each others bodies for support.  It is then, when the three of them are responding to each other, that they begin to mount the three sheets of paper, kneeling onto them and then scrunching into fetal positions, crinkling the paper into sculptural forms.  The other woman, performer 2, then returns, and her relationship to the other three is clearly distanced, even dictatorial.  

The piece ends first with a sequence of trust fall-like interactions with the wall of Dialogue by the three interlocutors, performers 3, 4 and 5, while the outsider, performer 2, swirls around the crumpled sheets of paper.  Finally performer 1 returns and repeats movements similar to those with which he had begun, seeming still to be stuck in his own space.  Though the tone throughout the duration of the performance was extremely reserved, thoughtful, and pensive yet intuitive, its ending produces a surprising rush both in the performers and the audience.  One begins to realize the amount of energy, both mental and physical, that is used up even in stillness – in the tension and pressure that builds in the feet and muscles while pivoting slowly on a sharp angle.  In all, while On Vanishing was perhaps less explosive than what we have seen from Bokaer in the past, it was nonetheless technically impeccable and perfectly situated for the pairing with Ufan.  Certainly there is much Bokaer has uncovered about the artist and his exhibition, which seems at first glance to be swathed in a soothing sort of solitude, but upon closer inspection, says a great deal about how we relate to one another. 

V Magazine, June 2011


Talk to Me, an exhibition on contemporary design and communication, opens at MoMA on July 24, 2011.  While the show promises interactive encounters with products, furniture and vehicles, what is most intriguing about the curatorial process is that the groundwork for the project has already been made available online and welcomes contributions. The show will include design work by artists, designers, scientists and scholars.  The accumulative, online component is described by the curators as a platform for “productive biofeedback”. The website is divided into two categories, a ‘checked tab’ of topics that have already been explored, including categories such as ‘apps’ and ‘pets and fairytales,’ among others.  The second part is the ‘queue’, consisting of a list of related projects yet to be researched.  It will be interesting to see how the online expansion effects the show itself and its public programming. 



Dis HQ is a performative and participatory project that will take place in the Invisible Exports Lower East Side gallery during August 2011.  While Dismagazine.com will continue to generate material online, the working process of the Dis collective will be made visible and manifest within the gallery’s public space.  This will allow on the one hand for work of the website, which is generally discursive, to become simultaneously interactive through events such as lectures, screenings and workshops, and representational through the production of buyable objects such as products, accessories and photos.  Through this process Dis attempts to bring their counter-context perspective on lifestyle and branding to the downtown community.