Friday, October 19, 2012


Caught within the barrage of historical and contemporary images, Andrew Gbur’s recent paintings and Eleven Rivington creates a pathological relationship with images that renders the artist and the viewer spellbound but in dark isolation. At the Rivington location, Gbur covers the walls with three large-scale paintings that are striking but will shake the viewer for their sporadic selection of imagery. The backgrounds consist of grids or stripes, patterns extracted from modernist vernacular of geometric abstraction, silkscreened in bright colors of red, yellow, or green. Overlaying those patterns are collages of pop images of faces, lights, alters, batteries, or clothes that, when composed in symmetrical orientation, invite the viewer to explore the cryptic language that Gbur provides for his paintings. The patterns and images become a powerful alter-like composition similar to medieval paintings but put into contemporaneous context for the use of pattern and images, uncanny to the viewer. The images are recognizable from life but can only be understood as a formal grouping. Placement and form, more than symbolic content, creates the context of the fantasy world created in the geometrically open, but chromatically and imaginarily assaulting, paintings. What these paintings present is an architectural formation of the uncanny- the nonsense of everything that should make sense (recognizable images and orderly pattern).

At the Chrystie street location, Gbur continues with this project with eight renderings of smiling faces generalized by isolating specific aspects of the face- hair, eyes, nose, and mouth- into specific shapes of bright and assaulting colors.  The faces are larger than life, confronting the viewer like sidewalk advertisements confront a walking pedestrian. However these patches of color have a torn paper quality, as if rendered by a child. The faces stare out of the painting, not necessarily at the viewer, and into empty space. This emptiness and child-like play gives the warmth of a smile a precarious makeover, providing a haunting after-taste for their dominating but enigmatic presence.

Gbur creates flat painted surfaces that evoke a psychologically powerful response from the viewer. Although using traditional materials such as paint and photographs and placing them on flat surfaces, Gbur’s work transgresses the boundaries of the physicality of material. Bringing his subject matter, whether it is faces or scattered imagery, to the level of generalizations of form and composition, Gbur explores the abstract power of pathos within physically concrete materials and surfaces- the immateriality of emotion within material. 


Whenever art questions its limits, ruptures and advances take place. Art can be brilliant when moves beyond phases of activism and politics, and finally ends up transformed into aesthetic form. The 2012 Creative Time Summit was a diffused scenario where important parts of the presentations reflected an inconsistent desire to travel between the realms of art and politics.

This fourth version of the summit focused on economic inequity. This year the problems are bigger and the global economic crisis is more serious. This event mainly consisted of projects from outside the art world. With Nato Thompson premise - “it doesn’t matter if it is art or not, what matters is if it’s just great” – as a guiding principle, the summit could gather “cultural makers” with social activists, who handled political codes, and developed different methods to generate artistic practice. It was a curatorial practice of resistance, forcing our gaze to face the crisis. Thompson’s intentions did not succeed with all the presentations.

The day was divided into four sections; the quality and content of the presentations as the day progressed.  The lack of preparation in some presentations in the morning was obvious. This made it difficult for the audience to witness how some projects were explained. The weakest presentation was during the second section: the feminist intervention by A.L. Steiner in the name of Pussy Riot. This forced-mic-check-style presentation didn’t work because she assumed that the entire audience had similar political interests, which is not realistic. Her presentation felt out of place.

Interest peaked in section 3, called “Making,” which gathered projects that could find a concrete form in the visual arts. Among the notable participants were Fernando García-Dory, Michael Rakowitz, and Hito Steryerl; and finally, the very lucid philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, who was probably the highlight of the summit. Zizek gave a proactive and masterful lecture about the role and necessity of public space in society. By the same token, the speaker Martha Rosler emphasized the use of public space through her garage sales, she exemplified how different museums are pursuing and inviting practices from real life to ‘perform’ and active their spaces.

The summit demonstrated an over diversity of projects and clear contradictions, which today inhabit the cultural world. Apparently remained in the air what is the solution to various crises: the notion of being and going ‘public’ should be re defined, once again. Unfortunately, only some presentations generated an air of loaded questions. Finally, hierarchies and power systems exist in all places and areas; the summit this year was no exception.


    An exhibition devoted to the emergence of Conceptual art is a risky undertaking at a time when museums are catering to the public with blockbusters. The Brooklyn Museum addresses the beginnings of Conceptual art from 1966 to 1972 with Materializing “Six Years,” which borrows its title and inspiration from Lucy R. Lippard’s book Six Years, published in 1973. In an attempt to present Conceptual art in a consumable format, Materializing “Six Years” uses the photographs, catalogues, video, audio, letters and other ephemera to represent the highly varied goals of this movement.

The content of Materializing “Six Years” can best be described as “art information” rather than “art object” or “art” work as you might expect in the art museum context. John Latham’s work Art and Culture (1966) includes a book, letters, photostats, and labeled vials filled with powders and liquids contained in a leather box. Together these materials document how Latham chewed and spat into vials the seminal text of the same name as his title by Clement Greenberg and was eventually fired from his academic position for the destruction of a library book. This playful and early example of Conceptual art was one of the works that was easy to engage with while Bernar Venet’s audio of three physicists giving simultaneous lectures at Judson Church in 1968 is impossible to decipher and loses meaning in the strictly audio format. As a collection of “art information” these materials function more like an archive of Conceptual art than an exhibition.

Running throughout Materializing “Six Years” are Lucy Lippard’s own art projects from this period. Because she is blurring the lines between curator, critic and artist, her vision of inclusivity and redefining the formal parameters of art recurs throughout the exhibition and lends it a focus or narrative among the many voices and causes presented. Her repeated city specific exhibitions, beginning with 557,087 (1969) in Seattle, which in turn led to Robert Barry Presents Three Shows and a Review by Lucy R. Lippard (1971) challenge viewers to easily explain Lippard’s role in emerging Conceptual art.

Materializing “Six Years” is an undeniably demanding exhibition. Strolling through the galleries will leave you clueless because each piece demands the visitor to approach, read and engage. This is necessary because the dematerialization of art along with the introduction of new formats that Lippard championed in Conceptual art continues today. Performative, site specific and ephemeral tendencies in art have not waned, and with increasing digitization art continues to move beyond traditional contexts.

MICKALENE THOMAS: The Origin of the Universe

Covered in glittering rhinestones, Mickalene Thomas’ solo exhibit “Origin of the Universe” at the Brooklyn Museum demands attention.  The collection of paintings share collage-like compositions combining elements such as stylized African American female nudes, landscapes, and living room furniture and decor popular during Thomas’ childhood in the 1970’s.  The show continues into a room beyond the paintings, where a central installation echos the furnished room scenes in some of the paintings.  It is constructed so that the viewer sees one of four corners decorated as living rooms as s/he moves around the installation.   A dark niche connected to this room displays the final piece of the exhibit: a touching documentary about the life of Thomas’ mother, and her presence in her daughter’s artwork.  Throughout the artwork in the exhibit are overarching concepts of sexuality,  empowerment of African American women, and art as a constructed representation.

Many of the mural sized paintings in the exhibit depict African American women arranged in compositions that emulate well known paintings from the nineteenth century, challenging the historical portrayals of the female nude as white.   A painting referencing a work of Courbet’s, and the inspiration for the title of the exhibit, “L’Origine du Monde,” depicts the genitals and lower torso of a female nude.  Thomas transforms the meaning of the piece by depicting the subject as an African American female, and by using rhinestones as the medium.

The segmented “living room” installations in the show mimic the same home environments represented in Thomas’ paintings.  Zebra print sofas, low coffee tables, and brightly colored and patterned decor offer four different settings.  One display plays motown music,  adding to the ambiance of the era specific spaces.  Another has a mirror that reflects the image of the viewer, reflecting his/her image in the space itself.

The documentary “Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman” is a moving addition.  In it, Thomas asks her mother to discuss aspects of her life including her childhood, marriage, divorce, motherhood, and drug addiction.  The viewer learns that her mother’s background in modeling, and her feelings about physical beauty and sexuality strongly impact Thomas‘ work.   Images of Thomas’ mother are often featured in Thomas’ collages and paintings.

This personal, multi-media exploration challenges traditional images of beauty in art by quoting historically well known paintings in the new context of racial identity, by celebrating female sexuality, and by incorporating images and memories from her childhood experience. 

MICKALENE THOMAS at the Brooklyn Museum

Mickalene Thomas’ solo show Origin of the Universe plays with the concept of the muse by probing both art historical precedents and the artist’s personal life. The title of the exhibition comes from an infamously graphic painting by Gustave Courbet depicting a nude woman’s splayed legs and genitals. Thomas has recreated Courbet’s piece twice: once as herself, and once as her lover. As is typical of Thomas’ work, the two paintings are bejeweled with rhinestones, though they lack the vibrant color palette and cut-and-paste aesthetic of the other major paintings in this exhibition. Rather, they are focused on the female form as a wellspring from which energy, power, and life itself emanate.

This regard for women’s bodies is evident in Thomas’ multiple portraits of women, including her mother. The female nude is a classic artistic muse, which Thomas acknowledges in her deliberate nods to giants of art history such as Courbet, Manet, and Matisse. One example is her monumental Le Dejeuner sur L’Herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires, in which three clothed women take the place of Manet’s salacious trio of two clothed men and a nude woman, thereby subverting the original’s power balance. Though at first it might seem like a tired trope—modern “reinventions” of famous works of art—Thomas’ glossy, bedazzled paintings seduce the viewer, not just with their sumptuousness, but also with their underlying sense of sincerity and authenticity. These real, lumpy, afro’d women, surrounded by chaotic colors, textures and patterns and enmeshed in alternately smooth and broken surfaces, do not come across as idealized muses, but as actual human beings.

The installation also includes furniture and décor of particular significance to Thomas, and it is this highly personal thread in her work that brings such spark to her subjects. It all comes back to her original muse, the origin of her artistic universe: her mother. “Mama Bush” is the subject of Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman: over a montage of images showing her posing in a crochet swimsuit, slinky dresses, and yes, even in the nude, Thomas’ mother declares that the moment she agreed to these portraits, “that’s when I knew I would do anything for you.” It is a compelling, intimate look at both the artist-muse relationship and the mother-daughter one. Through such moments, the show interrogates patriarchal art history while also demonstrating the visual and conceptual power of women’s inner lives.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Daniel Joseph Martinez’ photographic exhibition, “I Want to go to Detroit: Cheerleaders Cheer”, at Simon Preston Gallery juxtaposes two bodies of work from his days in southern California from the 1970s.

Entering into the exhibit, one is greeted by glaring and bright black and white photos of male body builders. Moving around this front room, one will notice the vulgarity of the male body, the way in which these Greek-like forms show off their strength, not to employ in any useful manner, but simply to be seen. Imperfections which are so shunned in this body building arena become incredibly apparent when every nook and cranny of the body is captured by the judging eye of Martinez’ camera; Sweat collects in unattractive areas, muscles become deflated- nothing passes undetected.  

Similarly, the second exhibit in the rear of the gallery is a collection showing the behind-the-scenes reality of beauty queens at a pageant. These horizontal photos reflect the body building series in that they offer a less than attractive view of the women so often praised for their desirability. By including candid photos of pageant queens, Martinez exploits the rarely seen imperfect dimension of beautiful women.

When viewed in conjunction, these two series reinforce the strength of one another, building upon the historical importance of the “gaze” and desire to be on display, while also offering an intimate and grimy insight into what it takes to be a spectacle.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

David Cole at Dodge Gallery


Standing in front of American Flag (Lead) 2012, a large soot gray monochromatic flag by David Cole; I was immediately reminded of two things: White Flag 1955 by Jasper Johns and a quote from Salvador Dali, “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”

Understanding these words may carry a compounded level of vulgarity due to the context of their use -- a review of a solo exhibition by David Cole at Dodge gallery, I ask for pardon.  Of course, I do not intend to insinuate Cole’s intelligence lacks in quality or quantity, in fact, his exhibit points to and well beyond his meticulous craftsmanship and inventiveness  to a complex historical comprehension and insightfulness.
The exhibit highlights a deep knowledge and devotion to the visual semiotics  (signs, symbols or “codes”) of Contemporary Art.  Which deeply troubles and slightly intrigues me,  as Cole flirts with the nullification or realization of arts (un)usefulness,  he produces objects that express the bankruptcy of moral didacticism even as they revel a "sincere" commitment to a Marxist critique.

If that isn't enough,  Cole offers  The Music Box, an industrial 10 ton paper weight that plays a horrifically smashing version of the Star Spangled Banner, what more could a society in and of the spectacle hope for?  I shudder the thought.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Bridging the aesthetics of quilting and the process of traditional film editing, Sabrina Gschwandtner’s “Sunshine and Shadow” exhibit at LMAK Projects gallery provides viewers with stories laced into unconventional textiles. The five-piece show consists of quilts made from 16mm footage, geometrically patterned and containing images from films relating to the practice of fabric production.

Techniques of repetition, symmetry and, contrasting tones visually tie the collection together but what resonates even louder from the work is a blurring of the line between what is considered high or low art. In Camouflage, bold chevron stripes glow against bleached footage, miniscule images of a military clothing assembly line stitched together with children’s shadow puppet playtime. While reverted to still life, the frames ultimately retain their story-telling abilities as a grazing of the eye from side to side allows the viewer to see the narratives of the films unfold. Arts and Crafts, presents an obvious double entendre, a documentary that follows practitioners of American arts and crafts taken apart to create a quilt divided into quadrants, dark diamonds sitting heavily over sunset-hued concentric squares. And while the big debate pitting artistic expression versus skill may persist beyond the exhibit’s quintet, Gschwandtner’s stance is clear. For in the capsule that is her show, her greatest strength is in showing that sometimes, art and craft can be one and the same. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

DOUGLAS GORDON "The End of Civilisation"

Douglas Gordon’s The End of Civilisation at Gagosian Gallery is a visually striking installation with three large video screens. The entrance to the exhibition is through a completely dark hallway into an equally dim and cavernous room containing the screens. Each screen projects different images from an abandoned British landscape. One pans across the land, and smoke is seen from a distance behind green hills. The crackling sounds of fire pervade the room, and one of the screens shows a burning object. The charred remains recall a funeral pyre in the desolate landscape. The final screen reveals the object to be a flaming grand piano.
The grand piano, an object of refinement, is ignited to symbolize civilization's demise. The piano represents order and beauty. Music is a complex system built to organize sound; one vehicle to do so is the piano. Simultaneously, the piano is also a piece of aesthetically pleasing furniture. These qualities combine to represent an object of high society and cultured education.
          The act of arson (demolishing the piano) and the panorama of empty land both communicate the end of civilization to the viewer. They also raise the question of what civilization really is. Is it an inhabited land, a taste for finery, a well educated population? It is easy to become immersed in the videos; enveloped by darkness, the viewer is drawn to the enormous screens and to the questions they provoke.