Thursday, April 29, 2010
One peers into each photograph as if examining a map of the small town Kyjov itself. No Internet needed for foot fetishes, plenty of skin in this show. The majority of the photographs are snapshots of Czech Lolitas in bathing suits, others are couples on park benches with an emphasis on public displays of affection. Yet, you should not dismiss the exhibition as mere voyeurism of nubile girls; these pictures are of the people of Kyjov and of the Tichy himself. His life is his camera, his eye. Still, the uneasy sense voyeurism is inescapable and seeps into your subconscious while looking at the pictures but never worry, the I.C.P. is always clean and respectable.
Presented in regal glass frames; this gives rise to more of a time capsule for each picture than a mere perfunctory manner of presentation. Stepping back, you can see echoes of Gerhard Richter’s Atlas series. Some photographs have unique drawn pencil-line frames navigating around the edges of the picture. Others have elegant line contours around the blurry curves of the women. In addition, there are display cases to highlight his homemade cameras made from found cameras, rubber bands, bottle caps, Plexiglas, toilet paper tubes and any other discarded item he manages to find in the trash. The cameras look like remnants after a nuclear blast, gray and fallen apart. The inclusion of a documentary filmed sheds colored light to the artist and the town Kyjov. Tichy’s voice and presence, much like his photography, is fascinating to watch. He tells stories of arrests and bouts of insanity. One would never have known, this man who appears an old vagabond to be a gifted artist.
The I.C.P has a landmark show on their walls. Tichy’s bad camera never becomes a bad picture. Tichy art is the anti-thesis of photography, he treats the photograph in way that makes professional photographers cringe and there lies his magic. This observation is crucial; here we have a collection of more than a moment but a life. Thank You, Mr. Tichy!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Between Spaces is a group show about materiality and the interpretation of everyday objects into new, altered and reinvented form. The idea in "Between Spaces" is challenging because of its call for artists to combine solid and empty space into a unitary and cohesive meaning. Each artist in this show works very differently from one another and fulfills the theme of the show with various conceptual approaches. Working creatively with disparate elements and distilling them, they transform areas of separate rooms focusing their craft at the interstices and gaps of art work; inside and through an object rather than just in the round. See-through objects, scattered elements built into a larger whole, and large openings signifying something missing and unfinished. The less successful pieces but equally interesting include incorporating soda as paint onto floor, mini blinds into parabolic wall fans, and broken window centerpieces. In this unconventional manner where solidity is secondary, the artist is expressing the tension between "presence and absence" as described by the show's curating team, and explores this relationship and expand upon it. For the most part, and because of the complexity of the work, and the varied use of the everyday into inventive arrangements and constructions one finds oneself meditating more on the work due to the less obvious nature of the material.
In "Nightmoves" (2009, moving blankets, fluorescent lights, B+W laser printing, dimvar) by Sam Moyer there are large square ocean scenes juxtaposed next to equally sized squares of moving blankets wrapped around what appears to be a 4'x4' pieces of plywood. Their mutual abstractions and undulating patterns resemble each other and evoke ocean shore landscapes. Decoding the ripple effect of each, the artist relates an equivalency in the blankets embroidery with the photos and plays them off one another as land and sea. Meanwhile the room is darkened to suggest night, with fluorescent backlighting giving an aura like moonlight. By equating moving blankets with photos of waves of water breaking along a shoreline Moyer seems to be conjuring the transitory nature of modern life. In this it is as if she is using all these elements in the context of ones ever changing location, always on the move in life's ebb and flow. The installation is rhythmic, it fills up the space while using the walls and floor as supports, and however dissimilar these elements are from each other apart, together they show an interesting cogent relationship in their patterns and placement in the room. The analogy seems to come together in that each place we go to is like reaching a new distant shore.
David Altmejd's work "Untitled" (2009, plexi, chains, beads, acrylic paint) is a massive plexiglass box whose contents are diagrammatic, schematic and somewhat like a complex math problem in a 3D collage. The whole piece is cross between industrial and pretty and gaudy craft store material. Its quite fetishistic due to its opulent features, glorification of commodity, cheap poppiness and a banal uselessness and beauty. That's also why it's so captivating too; regal but made in low brow materials. It convincingly straddles the digital and primitive simultaneously, thus transposing the ritualistic into the futuristic and fulfills the central premise of the show and it's "betweenness" in that you can see right through it. From the outside leading in, the surface is engraved and scratched with a draftsman's confidence and connects to the chains that form lines into this three dimensional drawing and around inside. The inside includes wide ranging material like gold chains, beads and feathers and other crafty materials, all working together into something indescribable. Everything just connects playfully together as spontaneous and organic shapes form and interrelate and transform, all combining seamlessly and sparingly leading to the bottom of the cube to a plexi skeleton of some unknown animal.
"Green Desert/missing the points" (2006-9, wood, mirrored glass, fur, wall paper, paint, sheet rock, stick pins, frames and table legs) by Heather Rowe is an archetype about the home because "Green Desert" seems highly filled with psychological exploration about domesticity. It is made mostly out of studs that form two parallel lines forming a room long hallway with other hallways leading from it but end where they begin, implying something unfulfilled. It's painted a gaudy sage green and tinted glass runs along the top giving it a feel of 70's decor, expressing a post-minimalist starkness and reduction in form. Upon closer inspection of "Desert" we discover little nooks in the walls that run along the whole piece that are filled with household items and other objects here and there; mirror pieces, table legs, wood flooring,...... unseeable if viewed from a distance. Together this choice of material interaction and use alludes to emptiness and to the vagaries of alienation, as it doesn't have any walls or a ceiling either. Its these hidden pieces that probably symbolize "missing points", and the sense of feeling lost. Locked away inside and away from easy discovery, like hide and seek of our sub conscience thoughts, between walls and imbedded in them like recesses of our minds. Overall this work by Heather Rowe is one where she is describing a narrative of either her own reality or reflecting on some nightmare vision. Perhaps the obvious use of period construction and the reference to a different time is intended to display one which was harsher and more secretive than now. On the other hand its title, "Desert', conjures up a hazy memory of a destitute period filled with isolation like one would experience in a desert alone while exposed to its extreme environment or, in this case, when one no longer feel any attachment to their surroundings or home. "Desert" is a shelter that does not shelter and the 'points' are clearly made.
In Cliché #23, (paint yourself into a corner), the artist, literally paints himself into the corner. This particular work is the most intriguing, through the 39 minute loop we can watch the picture (cliché) invert itself. By the time he has successfully painted himself into a corner he has painted a picture that has no corners and no dimensions, only the dimension of the scrutinizing eye of the camera which always is the scrutinizing eye of the viewer. I took great pleasure in viewing the second video, Cliché, #24 (put your foot in your mouth) The artist begins in a Buddha-like position then rapidly contorts himself to be able to shove his foot in his mouth. There is a presence of erotic fetishism here; those with a secret fascination with feet and an overt love for video art with take great enjoyment in this one. The third video projection, Cliché #26 (dig your own grave), obviously has the artist digging his own grave. This one lasts almost five hours then repeats. He works through heat and exhaustion to dig his own grave. Let us just hope he does not bury himself afterwards because Hempel has a future ahead of him.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Walking down the stairs of the International Center of Photography, one enters the dim, ethereal exhibition guest curated by Therese Lichtenstein. She has brought together over 150 works, mostly photographs, but also films, books, and period ephemera, to represent the surrealist view of Paris during the 1920s and 30s in Twilight Visions: Surrealism and Photography in Paris.
This exhibition aims to set the mood for viewing black and white Paris as portrayed by Surrealist photographers such as Brassaï, Ilse Bing, Man Ray, and André Kertész. As one walks through the various dark rooms painted in the somber tones of eggplant and deep teal, one encounters variously sized and framed photographs depicting diverse scenes of Paris such as street views, the Eiffel Tower, and Montmartre cancan dancers. The somber, subtly chaotic mood is an attempt to alert the viewer of the “twilight zone” he/she has entered, that place between night and day and according to Lichtenstein, “in which objects and people are strangely illuminated and things are both revealed and concealed.”[i]
The first section, “Marvelous Encounters,” exhibits photographs of sights around Paris meant to capture the everyday as more surreal and magical than it appears. Brassaï’s Staircase in Montmartre (1932) shows an exterior staircase of two flights alongside a wall and a slope paved with bricks and cobblestones. The only living being in the photo is a little dog standing on the landing between flights, all the rest is quiet, gray stone. Capturing the scene at a time when the sun creates dark, angular shadows off walls, this photo is full of contrast and strong, geometric lines, making the scene more dramatic than would be at first glance. Reminding one of a scene out of a François Truffaut film, this photo captures the quiet, eerie stillness of a neighborhood, devoid of human life.
Sounds interrupt this subdued exhibition with films playing throughout. Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s iconic film Le Chien Andalou (1929) can be seen as one approaches the exhibition from the stairs. Although, as it is positioned to the left toward the end of the exhibition, it is not visually emphasized and thus easy to miss. Jean Renoir and Jean Tedesco’s La Petite marchande d’allumettes (The Little Match Girl) (1928) is more prominently displayed projecting against a wall with a single bench for those willing to spend 33 minutes to watch the entire short firm. This film captures many ideas experimented with during the Surrealist movement through the retelling of a Hans Christian Andersen tale. The story is of a young matchbox seller forced out of her little cabin on a cold, snowy night to sell matches. Unable to sell any, she spends her time watching warm people inside, dodging snowballs from bratty boys, and staring at toys in a display window. The film moves into the surreal as she lies down in the snow, too scared to return home with no money, and begins to freeze. She starts hallucinating and dreams of playing with life-size toys. The film culminates with her being chased by Death on horses in the clouds and him eventually triumphing, in her dream as well as in reality. Utilizing superimposed images and camera effects such as soft focus and an early form of lens flares, this film dabbles in the bizarre and brings a surreal atmosphere to life through the eyes of the little matchbox seller.
A section of the exhibition entitled “Looking at Atget” realizes the influence Eugène Atget had on the Surrealists and compares his photographs with a selection of theirs. One such pair is Atget’s Pont Neuf (1902-03) and Man Ray’s Le Pont Neuf (ca. 1935/37). The photographers chose different portions of the Pont Neuf to photograph, but similar angles are employed, thus showing a likeness in composition. (Relevantly, there is also a small exhibition of other Atget Parisian photos on the same floor.)
In the back of the exhibition is the section “Portraits after Hours.” As the Surrealists moved around Paris, some spent time in the night clubs and bals musette establishments and captured people there in photos. One such image is by Ilse Bing, French Cancan Dancers, Moulin Rouge, Paris (1931) in which the dancers are photographed as blurry shapes as they hold their skirts high and kick their legs. The intensity of the dancing and the lively atmosphere are perceived by the blurry edges of the dancers and the lit up, sparkling windmill blades in the background. The viewer becomes the patron at the Moulin Rouge and a part of the Parisian night life in Montmartre as the dancers face the camera and no other people can be seen.
The final section in the exhibition is called “Mutable Mirrors” presents images distorted in an attempt to alter perceptions, especially of the female body. Partially within this section are six photos of mannequins decorated by some of the Surrealists for the International Surrealist Exhibition at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in 1938. Photographed by Gaston Paris and Josef Breitenbach, the scantily clad, seemingly haphazardly dressed mannequins were decorated by Man Ray, Sonia Mossé, Espinoza, Marcel Jean, and Max Ernst. Situated on the wall that leads toward the seating for the café they seem out of place, as if not quite appropriate for the theme of the exhibition, more representative of the Surrealist movement than of Paris, but still important as the Surrealist artists decorate and distort these stand-ins for the female body utilizing their own perceptions.
As one wanders through this dark, eerie exhibition, one begins to experience what Paris might have been for the Surrealists in the 1920s and 30s, or rather what they want viewers to see of Paris. A place of intrigue, even in the most basic of sights and monuments, and a place where the imagination can run away and distort reality in an attempt to see it differently. Hopefully after viewing Paris in black and white, the viewer will see Paris as the Surrealists intended, though remembering that this is only one perspective of many.
[i] Quoted from intro panel of Twilight Visions: Surrealism and Photography in Paris (2010).
The term Chicano (also Xicano) commonly refers to U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. It gained popular usage during the civil rights oriented Chicano Movement of the late 60's and early 70's (César Chávez is a popular figurehead) which crystallized and validated the ethnic identity. This makes for a plausible set of curatorial criteria; that the artwork should represent the interests and experiences of the Latino American and, in so doing, present a legacy of the Chicano Movement. An appropriate set of intentions for a museum whose mission is to educate about Latin American culture. Taking this into consideration, the artwork by itself resists criticism, while the curators' decisions, relative to their apparent ambitions, and the educational aspects are more at stake.
The galleries that contain Phantom Sightings are fairly crowded from floors to walls with heterogeneity of media and modes of presentation. The large photographic and small video documents of the group ASCO's near the entrance provide a good summary of the issues at hand. Their theatrical performances on L.A. streets use spectacle to raise issues of gender identity with androgynous costume, ethnic identity with traditional Mexican symbols, and urban life. As the oldest work on view, they establish an avant-garde precedent to the art that follows. However, their approach seems the most radical in comparison to the other works, which seems to have no problem fitting into the art institution. This likely reflects the tightening of the screws on anything 'guerrilla' that happens in urban public zones since 2001.
Also near the entrance is one of Alejandro Diaz's Miracle Cans, 2008: a nearly 4 foot tall, enlarged version of a hand made donation can — the kind you'd find in a small market or bodega — asking for money for a loved one's health care, complete with a vague photograph of the person in need, a genuine sounding typed plead, a giant red bow, and a slot cut through the plastic lid. The enlargement of these personal and sometimes tragic urban artifacts seems an attempt to force attention, not only on their socio-economic causes, but also onto our own inclination to take it for granted. Oddly, there were a few dollars and some change in this first of three cans through the show. Doubtful that the artist placed the money there — more likely moved visitors — so questions of whether or not he is employing fiction and what faith may be placed in him by those visitors become an issue. In another room hangs his Dichos (Sayings), 2004, consisting of a wall covered with hand painted cardboard signs riffing off the homeless comedian's strategy for seeking charity with witty remarks directed to an art crowd: "Marfa 1,800 miles [with left arrow]" or "The Filet Mignon of affordable conceptual art." His art here recontextualizes common urban symptoms of economic struggle and attempt to force latent recognition of these issues in viewers.
A major political theme in this show, and the country, is illegal immigration. Julio César Morales' deadpan series, Undocumented Interventions, 2005, consists of large prints of strategies for hiding people in cars or objects hardly big enough drawn in the style of airplane emergency pamphlet or IKEA furniture schematics. Perhaps the most 'beautiful' works here are Delilah Montoya's large panoramic desert landscape photographs which present sites where those braving the trip through the desert to the U.S. from Mexico have camped or can get water. The subject matter here is very strong, and the selection of this work should be commended, as it's easy to be heavy handed with this issues.
Another prominent characteristic of this show is the emphasis on cars and car culture. A peice from Rubén Ortiz-Torres's Assimilation and Resistance series, 2003 is like color field painting of high gloss specialty car paint on aluminum that changes color based on the angle from which it's viewed. It seems not only an exploration of the formal possibilities of the paints (although it's a pleasure to look upon), but it carries with it some of the obsession attached to car modification. Also, a collaborative set of sculptures from Ruben Ochoa and Marco Rios, Rigormotors, 2004-06, are caskets formed to emulate the animated and open positions of tricked out lowriders showing off feats of hydraulic engineering.
This last theme in the show brings up an important aspect that is, in my opinion, unique to the West Coast; at least something we don't see around here. It is the display acceptance of 'cool' content in a supposedly serious fine art context. Car culture is one. Shizu Saldamondo's paintings of friends looking hip, retro illustration with glitter, converse shoes, and the Black Flag logo are a few more examples. It's the kind found in the San Francisco based Juxtapose magazine (not popular in NY), which has a lot of art tied in with street culture. I'd venture to guess much, not all, of this work would be considered immature in the Chelsea and East coast academic contexts (perhaps this calls for a reevaluation of our own regional tastes). The exhibition brochure calls this popular imagery "vernacular", which isn't wrong, but also isn't an end in and of its self. The reading and subtle understanding of some of this art are accessible for those who are familiar, not restricted to the informed art audience. Returning to the priorities of the Chicano Movement, this aligns with ideas about cultural solidarity and appropriately positions this exhibition within populist ideologies, however regionally specific.
Currently featured in Surface Tension: Photographs from the Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a work entitled ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’, by Wolfgang Tillmans. The piece is a large-scale chromogenic development print created in 2000. ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’ deservingly is the only print in the exhibit to have its own wall-space and immediately catches the viewers’ attention. Surface Tension consists of contemporary artists exploiting the contradiction between photograph as a window and photograph as an object. The exhibition presents works that play with tension between the flatness of photographs and their lifelike illusion of depth. Tillmans, a distinctive German photographer who emerged in the 1990s, creates works of art that play with texture and dimension, and captures vignettes of everyday life. He also uses multimedia and photographic techniques to direct viewers’ attention directly to the physical surface of the photograph. In ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’, Tillmans manipulated the photographic paper during the development process to achieve dimension, as well as create a mood to correspond with the theme of his image.
The subject of ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’ is a blue sky, clouds, terrain and beacons of light. Dark greenish-black ink streaks the surface and obscures the image. At first glance, the viewer sees a beautiful photo of sky and ocean that is ‘ruined’ by ink, but when one carefully studies the photo, it becomes noticeable that the ocean, is not water at all, but a grassy field backed by misted mountains. The color of the landscape was altered in order to become more harmonious with the primary subject—the vast sky. Also, the ominous streaks that previously tainted the image, now enhance the scene and make it more intriguing and textural. One may question why Tillmans would manipulate the paper and want to change this beautiful, naturalistic scene. Tillmans does this to create a mood, to tell a story and to invent! If the scene was left in its natural state, it would not be original and would fail to ignite the viewers’ imaginations. ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’, successfully reels in onlookers and because of its title, creates the jumping-off point for viewers to concoct their own story to go along with the image. I find that photography often falls flat and begs to be considered a legitimate art form through desperate attempts at mimicking painting (especially through digital manipulation), but the works of Surface Tension, especially Tillmans’ piece, are original works of art. ‘I Don’t Want To Get Over You’ is an interactive piece; which is rare in photography, and goes beyond the surface, allowing one to fall into its skies and get lost in thought.
Tillmans’ title is irresistible and was named after a song by the American indie pop band, ‘The Magnetic Fields’. According to the tombstone, Tillmans fashions his best work after the perfect three minute pop record. A majority of pop music consists of simple, cliché lyrics that deliver the message of the song quickly and efficiently. No one wants to listen to a radio pop tune and have to over think the song. The point of the perfect three minute pop song is to ease listeners and provide them with the opportunity to relate to the song based on its familiar subject. It is all a marketing strategy for pop music why lyrics and titles are so straightforward and simple. Though Tillmans may very well like ‘The Magnetic Fields’ track, he understands this marketing strategy and reflects it in his work. Viewers will see the piece and may not understand it, but when they read the title—it is easy enough to comprehend—and so they apply the ‘meaning’ of the title to the art and make it work.
It is possible for the piece to stand alone, without the title, but I do not think it would be as successful or intriguing. The power of the piece owes a lot to the title. The two paired together just works and makes sense. How so? The scene without the manipulation symbolizes beauty, freedom, hope and endless possibilities. It symbolizes the ideal (even if it may appear saccharine). There is a vast blue sky, and blue terrain—blue being a calming color that symbolizes loyalty and clairvoyance; which fits accordingly with the theme of ideal love. The warm beacons of light that emerge from behind the clouds inform the viewer that the possibility of ideal love is actually attainable. This hope is clouded though by the ominous streaks of ink (anguish and heartbreak) that drifts across the surface, obscuring the beauty behind it. This dark ‘smoke’ belongs to the artist not wanting to get over his past love. The smoke still lingers because of his emotional state and fogs the artist from seeing the beauty that could possibly be his, if he just let go. It is often said that we are unaware of the beauty that surrounds us when we hold on to the scars, regrets and negativity in our lives—preventing us from moving forward. The blue of the image could also serve a dual meaning and represent the blue, depressive state of the artist—especially since the landscape was intentionally altered blue—emphasizing his dazed, nostalgic condition. I even took a moment to listen to the ‘Magnetic Fields’ track and the lyrics are harmonious with Tillmans’ piece.
I don't want to get over you. I guess I could take
a sleeping pill and sleep at will and not have to
go through what I go through. I guess I should take
Prozac, right, and just smile all night at somebody new…
to get you off my mind. I could leave this agony behind…
but I don't want to get over you
cause I don't want to get over love…
This is Tillmans’ message. It is romantic and poetic. Tillmans is successful in creating a work of depth. ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’ is relatable and memorable—like the perfect three minute pop record—except better! It goes beyond the surface and displays how powerful the underappreciated field of photography can truly be.