Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at Brooklyn Museum

            Amazing. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic evidently shows his successful 14-year-old career. Wiley’s work is appropriation at its finest; yet it is refreshing and thought provoking enough to question the never-ending questions concerning race and gender through the skills of European masters painting and sculpting techniques. There is no doubt the exhibition is a spectacle. However, while it provokes the ideas that must be questioned and answered, the exhibition ironically falls into the trap of being another ethnocentric representation that one cannot empathize without the aid of specific background and culture.

            Wiley’s work is truly meticulous and work intensive. He scouts, photographs, digitally manipulates images. Only then he is allowed to start the painting, which usually is captivating in size. In works like Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), he clashes and juxtaposes references of Jacques-Louis David’s painting Napoleon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Great St. Bernard Pass with contemporary black culture. Most of his models are displayed in such majestic, heroic way; to the point where an ‘average Joe’ he found in Harlem would indeed resemble historical figures like Martin Luthor King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

            In Femme piquée par un serpent (2008), Wiley’s strengths are no different. Inspired by Auguste Clesinger, there is a notion of eroticism, naturalism, and heroism. There is sign of many cultures embedded even the textural designs of the background. However, one would easily notice a trend in his body of work. While I have nothing but compliments for the aesthetics, I cannot help but to point out his exhibition was conveniently and almost coincidentally displayed along with Jean-Michel Basquiat in Brooklyn. It is as if what started as an awareness of a specific misunderstood culture never left its home to prove a point. While I fully agree with Wiley’s proposal that Western art is unfairly ethnocentric towards white culture, I see no room for progress if he does the same with his own. Would he be recognized as he is today if he was an Italian decent who painted Italians in Little Italy? Why does the problem have to be either determined as white or black? To tackle such global issue, Wiley needs to paint more than a single portraiture of an Indian (which was displayed at the exhibition) to prove that he indeed is aware that there is a world outside of Harlem.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Hito Steyerl at Artists Space Exhibitions

Artists Space Exhibitions surveys the work of German artist and writer Hito Steyerl. This non-profit space dedicated to provoking discussion and experimentation, has been a site for emerging artists since the 1970s and is an apt location to showcase Steyerl’s progressive work which examines the contemporary status of images and image politics.

The viewer is first confronted by three vertical monitors emitting a red hue. Red Alert (2007) references Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko’s 1920s monochrome paintings and Homeland Security’s terror alert system. Steyerl exemplifies how the monochrome has been hijacked to provide an aesthetic means of policing the masses.

Red Alert, 2007  Photo Courtesy of Hito Steyerl

In the next room, a blue glow engulfs the space and a large screen stands erect in the middle of the area. A blue mat arches concavely upward from the screen providing a space for viewers to sit inside the wave-like form. Liquidity, Inc (2014) features Jacob Wood, a former investment banker as he becomes an MMA fighter. The collage-like layers of images intertwine various concepts of liquidity such as economic and political climates, the adaptable quality of water, and the relationship between capital and the individual.

Liquidity Inc, 2014  Photo courtesy of ArtForum

Leaving the consuming blue light, a dark and narrow padded hallway creates physical discomfort before opening into a cavern featuring the film Guards (2012). Former law enforcement officers who are now security guards the Art Institute of Chicago recount and reenact tactical maneuvers within the gallery spaces. These guards who often remain unseen in the gallery juxtapose violence with the privatization and privilege of the museum setting.

Guards, 2012  Photo Courtesy of Sleek Magazine

Steyerl’s work is art object, essay, film, and installation combined which immerses viewers and mimics the reality of living within an abstract image-laden world. Technology and global communication themes are present in her work which allows one to consider each piece individually as well as in relation to one another. As Postmodernism has taken hold over the decades, the collapse of linear history and perspective has muddied the waters of perception and reality. Steyerl’s work addresses these postmodern issues by raising numerous questions to consider such as who is in charge and how power is used in contemporary society.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Liquidity Inc., Hito Steyerl

Installation view of Liquidity Inc, 2014

The Artists Space is presenting German filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl’s artistic video productions from 2004 on wards. All through Steyerl's work there is a close connection between what is investigated and the medium through which the investigation happens. In Liquidity Inc., Steyerl takes a closer view on the methods of massive images creation. Parallels are drawn between the innovation of studio and satellite photography. The parallel images are the strongest distinguished part compare to traditional film production. Liquidity Inc. has being a huge 'determination target' for testing the force of perception satellites. In a playful manner, it is also an ironical video to reveal the computerized age.
The screening installation of Steyerl’s work in general structured by the seating set up as well as in Liquidity Inc. The related architecture environmental consideration fits the receptiveness of the audiences. The wave designed seating and the dark blue lights create a water circulation between visual and the actual sensibility.

Screen shots from Hito Steyerl. Liquidity Inc, 2014

Water consolidates everything, and everything is consolidated. Reference to fluid is extremely pervasive, where it shows the fighting competitions of the main hero through a projection of a main character Jacob Wood.  He sat in an office, at a work place, wearing a business suit, he wrote on a scratch pad, "BE WATER". These words appeared on a big plasma screen in the hall. It includes the recited phrase by Bruce Lee through an iPhone-the voice twisted and auto-tuned as he rehashes, "Be water my companion"-and it was highlighted on the primary screen of the International Contemporary of Art theatre.
The outcome of Liquidity Inc. is a divided semi-documented issue that brings the worldwide money problem, the accident and connections between the weather and trade, as well as an examination of creation and circulation. By using the changing web-sources and various tabs, circling GIFs and multi-layered arrangement, the Liquidity Inc. changes unexpectedly the way of understanding generation, dissemination and flow of the images and finance.  

 Screen shots from Hito Steyerl. Liquidity Inc, 2014

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

On Kawara and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Juxtaposed

On Kawara's first retrospective, held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, delivers to the viewer the dedication and consistence that Kawara had for his works since 1966.  For a conceptual legend like On Kawara, who embodied conceptualism, Guggenheim is a fitting match for the scale and depth of his body of work.  The exhibit showcases many of his series, such as Today, One Million Years, and Title.  The exhibit makes it clear that the longest-running series is Today, by having the date paintings spread across the exhibit unlike the other series, which are grouped by individual series between the date paintings.  No one series overshadows the rest – every one of them are well-balanced.

The greatest strength of the exhibit is the linear nature of the exhibit.  The beginning (bottom floor, beginning of spiral) and end of the exhibit (top floor, end of spiral) created by the spiraling corridor of the architecture makes it easy for the curator to organize the art from old to new, which also makes it easier for the viewers to connect the pieces chronologically.  For Kawara, this linear viewing order not only makes the viewing experience more sensible for viewers but also contributes to the conceptual nature of his time-dependent art.  From a conceptual standpoint, the spiraling tower of Guggenheim creates an interesting juxtaposition against the linearity of Kawara’s works.

However, the exhibit is marred by one mistake – despite its linear nature, there is no clear end to the exhibit.  Once viewers reach the end of the exhibit corridor, they are forced to turn around and walk back down, which breaks the immersion.  There should have been a clear signifier at the end of the exhibit such as an elevator leading viewers back down to the lobby.  Last year’s Zero exhibit executed this very well by leading the viewers to a hall of installation pieces as the grand finale, after which viewers will ride the elevator back down to the lobby.  While not a deal breaker for the scope of Kawara’s conceptual art, the abrupt end to the exhibit creates a distraction to otherwise exceptional exhibition.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Natalie Frank: The Brothers Grimm at The Drawing Center

The genre of fairytales has been explored by artists but purely working on the uncensored versions written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Brothers Grimm) has not been done so extensively. Like the tales themselves, Natalie Frank, in her exhibition at The Drawing Center, boldly captures the gruesomely human essence in her drawings of characters from these stories, which were meant to represent common European folklore before they were mellowed down for children by directors like Walt Disney. The rustic quality of the tales, along with their violent and sexual nature is kept intact formally in the drawings with the gestural use of dry pastels and gouache (in grotesque fleshy tones in some cases) giving the work its visceral characteristic.

The work incorporates themes such as mythology and fantasy when it comes to depiction of characters which appear to be hybrids of humans and beasts. Stylistically, the drawings touch upon surrealism and abstraction as characters merge and melt into other characters. Compositionally, the drawings maintain the traditional book- illustrative quality, at times shown with thick bordering around the central image. There is a child-like rawness to the drawings but the work itself may not be suitable for children to view marking another similarity with the original Grimm tales which were not intended for a younger audience.

There is, however, a comic element and a sense of absurdness alongside the inherent horror and cruelty. The psychological tension underlying the drawings may make one feel uncomfortable. An abject reality comes to the surface: the significance of the subject of sexuality combined with violence to humanity. Such ideas have been of great interest in the past and with the release of films like Fifty Shades of Grey in the present, it can be rightly concluded that it continues to do so. In this case, the moral of the story may be that the subject of fairytales, censored or uncensored, may never grow too old to be explored further as the primal human desires remain the same through the ages.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Portraits from the École des Beaux-Arts Paris

The Drawing Center celebrates the intimate and often revealing aspects of portraiture through four hundred years of portrait drawings in their current exhibition, “Portraits from the École des Beaux-Arts Paris.” The range of mediums and styles of portraits featured in this exhibition all work together to showcase the long history and meaning behind portraiture. It has lived as a platform of prestige as well as a means of reflection on identity. The varied display of formal qualities and subjects in the exhibition allows viewers to explore the diversities that have persisted in portraiture’s history and contextualize its place in society today. The traditional portraiture showcased in “Portraits from the École des Beaux-Arts Paris” is no longer a common means of portraying one’s identity. Portraits now live as profile pictures on social media and photographs.
            Walking through this exhibition, viewers are able to see the life of portraiture from early baroque to contemporary, allowing them to witness the shifting perceptions of artist and model, as well as artist and self. The audience is able to catch a glimpse of intimacy through the details of stroke that capture an emotion. Through the exhibition there is a sense of calm because of this quiet intimacy in every portrait. Even each caricature feels as if it is a sort of self-reflection on insecurities.

 “Portraits from the École des Beaux-Arts Paris” creates a provoking narrative of one of the most intimate forms of art, as well as invites viewers to experience these moments of closeness. These varied displays of intimate portraits allow viewers to appreciate these moments that are lost within the fast paced world today. When a click of a button captures a moment, does it hold as much as the built gesture and markings of a drawing from a live model? This question has persisted through history since the invention of photography, and the Drawing Center’s new exhibition works as a reminder of the non-replicable experience of a drawn portrait.

It's a Björk World After All, "Songlines" at MoMA

An internationally renowned musician and artist who has won many awards, Björk is known for creating immersive, curious, and quirky music. The Museum of Modern Art is currently displaying a multifaceted career retrospective. One of the elements of the multi-floor exhibition is "Songlines," a 40 minute long immersive audio tour through most of her albums, featuring costumes, notebooks filled with lyrics, and random ephemera. The Björk retrospective has been unanimously denigrated by critics which can cause viewers to go into the show expecting the worst. After the anticipatory hype of queuing, the museum staff provide the exhibition goer with an audio guide. At the beginning of the audio tour a narrator implores the viewer to experience the exhibition fully, ensuring they spend sufficient time in each area. However, most visitors did not. If MoMA truly wanted everyone to spend the full 40 minutes, they should have put them on a timed tram ride.

Lacking any other contextualisation, biographical or historical introduction, the exhibition presupposes a knowledge of the prolific musician. Unfortunately this renders the experience inaccessible and devoid of meaning to an uninitiated viewer. Those unfamiliar with Björk might consider the experience as foreign hero worship. The knockoff Madame Tussaud mannequins did not help either. As a fan of Björk's music, I revelled each time a segment of a familiar song played, but found the story narration to be annoying like an AM radio station I couldn't turn off. I was grateful to see her costumes in person, but all the exhibition ignited in me was the desire to listen to her music.

Although Björk has performed at MoMA and previously collaborated in museum educational events for children, a traditional career retrospective for a musician always feels like an odd marriage. However, several museums have managed to make successful retrospectives of musicians' careers. Effective examples include the "David Bowie is" at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville. To make such an exhibition engaging and enjoyable I find it necessary to include more biographical background information, ephemera from various archives, and access to the music itself. Unfortunately MoMA decided to go in a nontraditional direction that was not as compelling to a wide audience.

- J.E. Molly Seegers

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Much to be Desired: Triennial exhibition, "Surround Audience."

Steegmann Mangrané's "Phantom"

                                                             Jerry Saltz experiencing "Phantom" 

Heavy on the technology and Internet-themed works, Surround Audience presents the work of 51 early-career artists including Steegmann Mangrané's and his piece, "Phantom". "Phantom" uses the technology of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality gaming gear. "Oculus was looking for an opportunity to unveil its technology in a public way," Steegmann Mangrané stated, and everyone there seemed to really enjoy the experience. Standing in line, you patiently wait you turn, while hearing each person go and gasp at what they see. 
For me, I am no stranger to either the technological wonders of video games, nor the oculus. I have experienced many games using the new technology and was overly excited to see what a visual artist would do with something like that. When you put on the head gear you are transported to a digital forest, he chose an endangered forest in Brazil. For those who haven't experienced it, its basically a digital world you can walk around in. Although everyone around me was thrilled and inspired by the experience, I was disappointed. I was so disappointed that I actually became mad. For me the experience was amateur hour in comparison to what game developers have done with the technology. 
Artnet news claimed that "It's so cool," was proclaimed by almost every "rifter". But for me, Mangrané didn't make art, he made a demo, and not a very good demo. My point of view is that he used the hype of the technology to hide just how mediocre his piece actually was. As a gamer, I have been exposed to not only the impressive and deep worlds created by game developer but also their simple yet brilliant demos. If the Oculus Rift company had wanted to have a public viewing of their new technology and exposed it to non-gamers maybe they should have stayed with a game developer who understands it because Steegmann Mangrané didn't even touch on the possibilities of the technology.