Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kate Gilmore at the Whitney Biennial

Kate Gilmore's labored ascent documented by her video and sculpture installation Standing Here, on view at the Whitney Biennial, is brutal and sympathetically painful to watch. Filmed from above a narrow shaft with four solid white walls, the video tracks her breaking in and climbing upward, toward the camera, to manually end the recording. She forcefully (probably painfully) kicks, punches, elbows, and rips holes in the walls to make hand and foot holds, all while dressed in a red and white polka-dot dress, black stockings, black gloves, and black heels. As declared by the museum, the "feminine clothes" are meant to be a hindrance to completing the task, injecting a feminist rhetoric*. However, she doesn't appear to be held back, busts that sheet rock like a construction worker, and makes steady progress up the shaft to the camera. It's not the clothes, but the wearer, that matters; a moral implied by the work.

The sculptural aspect of this installation is proof of the performance. In her private little room at the biennial, the structure subjected to her blows stands as a column, and a peek inside reveals the debris and destruction that correspond with the video. This aspect is auxiliary, though, and weak as an art object by itself. Rather, it's like a used movie set and operates as reference for material, scale, and object-specificity — certainly not integral to putting the work across.

Standing Here
follows suit with most of her previous work. The format being: she gives herself a physically challenging task, wears brightly colored clothes not suited for manual labor, sets up a camera, and sees it through. They are conceptually guided performances with masochistic and feminist tones, and a straightforward presentation. Her demeanor is earnest and choices of color light hearted, which is a refreshing change from the more severe historical precedents dealing with these issues (Nauman and Abramovic, for example).

Her inclusion in the biennial, and subsequent subsidization, seems to have prompted a move from a DIY look to the more institutionalized aesthetic of seamless white, putting her actions in the 'white cube' with a sterilizing effect. This heightens awareness of technique and technology, and allows little video problems, specifically auto focus pumping and a mid-take zoom adjustment by the camera operator, to undermine the project's seriousness.

All this being said, the work is exciting to watch. There's some suspenseful expectation for her to fall, or bleed even (no question she'll get to the top). Most of all, there is a sympathetic corporeal sensation in watching and hearing the video. Her strength and tolerance for pain is felt in the gut, and the dull thud of unyielding sheet rock under the blow of her bare elbow resonates in the chest.


Kehinde Wiley and Legends of Unity at Deitch

Puma’s travelling exhibition at Deitch combines Kehinde Wiley’s portraiture paintings with African patriotism and sports. The exhibition is a result of a project between Puma and Wiley that celebrates the 2010 World Cup and Puma’s partnership with African footballers. Wiley supplied designs for a limited edition line of Puma shoes and jerseys and four portrait paintings. The intent was to depict three of the most celebrated current football players in Africa: Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, John Mensah of Ghana, and Emmanuel EbouĂ© of Ivory Coast in a setting of harmonious unity.

The front room of the gallery showcases the line of Wiley-designed Puma jerseys and shoes. Wiley’s inspiration for the designs on the athletic wear was traditional African patterns. These jerseys and shoes set the stage as one walks up the steps into the main gallery and sees the central piece of the exhibition on the far wall, Unity (2010), the portrait of the three footballers clothed in the Wiley-Puma jerseys. Hung on another wall are three individual portraits of the same athletes, each wearing his own football jersey, and set against backgrounds again inspired by African art. There are also photos documenting Wiley’s process of creating the portraits and five videos on such topics as football in Africa, Puma, Wiley, and painting.

Puma chose correctly when they asked Wiley to represent the unity between the African nations and football and Puma. Wiley, a child with African-American Nigerian heritage, often reflects on his roots in his painting. Many of his subjects are African-American men that he poses in ways reminiscent of traditional European paintings (e.g. Wiley’s Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps). In this exhibition Wiley adapts his process by basing the poses of the three footballers in Unity on an eighteenth-century Nigerian statue. The two outside men place one hand palm-to-palm with the central figure and the other on his elbows. This pose reflects not only traditional African culture, but also a unity between multiple African football teams.

As a sport non-lover, I think this world-relevant exhibition can be enjoyed by all as it successfully combines art with a positive message of cooperation and peace among nations. It is this combination of football, African patriotism, and fine art which makes it an excellent example for other unity-inspired projects. What better way to convey this message than through two activities humans have participated in for thousands of years: sports and art.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Picturesque

In Ellen Harvey’s Room of Sublime Wallpaper, Harvey plays with the idea of the picturesque. She takes the term; which defines an aesthetic ideal that emerged from the Romantic era, and translates it in a contemporary manner. During romanticism, nature was no longer feared and having the time to experience and enjoy it was a luxury. Nature was then idealized and owning a landscape painting provided the owner an opportunity to escape their gray, industrial world and be transported to a romanticized wilderness. A picturesque scene would relax viewers and make them feel as though they truly owned a piece of nature. Harvey even stated that she wanted the exhibit to have the effect of picturesque-hunters attempting to frame scenery with their ‘Claude Glasses’ on a leisure afternoon. The idea of taking a shard out of a vast landscape and claiming that single piece as the most beautiful or the most picturesque is what fascinates Harvey, and The Room of Sublime Wallpaper is her attempt at ‘capturing’ her own vistas.

In the exhibit, the viewer sees the back wall of a room covered with newspaper and landscape paintings. Upon entering, it becomes apparent that the paintings are actually mirrors reflecting landscapes painted on panels that make up the walls of the room; which aren’t visible from the exterior. The picturesque is immediately tainted with reflections of humans obstructing the beautiful view. This is the primary message of the exhibit. Humans are unable to appreciate nature from afar and once they step ‘in it’ they ruin its beauty with their presence. As people enter the room and realize the quaint mountains are not paintings, but mirrors, they immediately disregard nature and become absorbed with their own reflection. The Room of Sublime Wallpaper is effective and makes one notice the difference between viewing nature from afar and having the need to experience and be in it.

I find it important to note that in Eastern landscape painting, humans are secondary to nature and illustrated minuscule. In Western painting, humans are the primary focus and nature is often blurred in the background and considered an accessory. Harvey’s exhibit reflects the Eastern principles of nature and The Room of Sublime Wallpaper informs viewers that it’s foolish to try to frame nature. Nature is too sublime to capture and if one attempts to frame it, he/she will fail, realizing it’s impossible to attain the picturesque.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Omar Fast - "Take a Deep Breath"

Relax...Take a breather and watch the newest film by Omar Fast currently on projection at Postmasters Gallery...but only if you want to sit passively by and pretend to see the deep meaning and culture reconciliation that the art world is still driving towards. "Regarding the Pain of Others" expounds the Director to police officers who disrupt his scene in the newest film, "Take a Deep Breath." Through out this film, which eventually becomes a filming of a film, travels through the misunderstandings and biases of all his actors and crew members on the set. If someone doesn't fit the part (profile) than just replace them but eventually you can't replace the problem - the root cause - our judgments of others and profound understanding when we come to realize that our enemy is really just someone who's story we don't know yet. There's plenty of story here just little narrative.
I though I sat through this idea once already in the Hollywood's brainchild known as "Crash." In the most self-indulgent moment of the film, the director sits dumb founded next to the recently fired actor and realizes he is not so different to himself after all. He lends him his phone to his fellow man as a gesture of communication and understanding. Really? I think not. For Fast, regarding the pain of Viewers, indeed!