Thursday, November 29, 2012


Cindy Hinant's solo show, Aesthetic Relations, at Joe Sheftel features her projects in the past two years. Wandering inside a gallery filled with Sephora logos, questionnaires, graph papers and monochromes, viewers can easily recall some moments of their lives -- a past shopping experience or taking notes on a grid notebook. This feeling of connection is probably what Hinant aims to create in this exhibition, through which she conveys the message that art can be a universal experience, rather than a lofty aesthetic practice. While taking inspirations from relational aesthetics and minimalism, the works on view are neither a direct reference nor an apparent opposition to those movements. Instead, she borrows from them certain ideas and forms, reshapes them through distortions and additions, and tries to form a dialogue with general audiences who may come from any background. 

Taking advantage of people’s familiarity with the French cosmetic chain store Sephora, Hinant created the Sephora Project in which she visited more than two dozen stores in Manhattan. She recorded her shopping experience of each visit, such as her conversation topics with the store employees, and whether free samples were received, in a questionanaire. This project is displayed in three parts, with two of them being questionnaires framed in glass, while the third part serves as a map of Manhattan, utilizing Sephora logos to indicate store locations. Similar to relational art that aims to create a social environment in which people participate in shared activities, the Sephora Project also brings its viewers (especially females) together through their common interest in physical attractiveness and their recognition of a popular brand. But there is also a clear difference between Hinant and her predecessors. Relational artists in the 90s usually created actual events that required people to come together. For example, artist Rikrit Tiravanija cooked Thai food for visitors at 303 Gallery in 1992, where the event itself was a show, and the viewers’ experiences became art. In Sephora Project, however, Hinant places herself as a central hub and connects people into an intangible net, without asking anyone to meet anyone. This is achieved by transforming a general experience (shopping for beauty products) into her own specific experiences in those Sephora stores, which would share some common aspects with almost anyone’s individual experience. And through those non-concurrent encounters with her, the viewers are also related to each other.

While making a reference to minimalism by employing geometric shapes, Hinant’s Bed Grid series, three graph papers of identical size, fails to suggest the order and control that are usually embedded in minimalist art. Drawn with red or grey pens, these handmade grids are full of flaws -- some intervals are larger than the others, some lines are not parallel to one another, and sometimes the same line can be thicker and darker in one part while thinner and lighter in others -- perhaps intentionally done as a protest against precision. As apposed to the intimidating perfection of computer-generated graph papers, Hinant’s “tolerance” with these flaws certainly brings the viewer closer to her works, since mistakes are something we all make. As an extension of the Bed Grid series, Selfish, 2012, a HD digital video, shows static computer-generated grids in black, with vertical lines missing on a third of the screen to the right. Instead of breaking the perfection with defective lines, Hinant challenges the notion of minimalism by adding a Britney Spears song to the video. Not only is the addition itself the opposite of “reduction” -- the very essence of minimalism -- it also destroys the “fine art” feature of minimalist art by mixing it with products of popular culture. 

While many artists today try to make art exclusive to a small group of audience, Hinant insists on inviting everybody to the party. In this exhibition she plays with the elements found in relational aesthetics and minimalism, but injects her works with naughty deviations. While a general audience may not understand her works from a historical context, everyone can feel her friendly effort in seeking what we have in common. 


  1. The introduction could use some clarifications. There are claims and descriptions that set the review up for a vague first impression. Does Hinant’s work make a direct opposition to movements of the past? Is this the focus of the work? Putting the work into this historical framework does not help me, as a reader, to get a grasp of what this work is trying to do. Is it feminist? Or is it art-historical critique? There are opposing ideas of the artist’s content, and the content you are creating that confuses me. A concluding paragraph could have helped describe the big idea.

  2. Overall, I appreciate your review. However, it does need some clarification. The first paragraph seems as if it's setting up some larger critique, but it never really gets there. You mention various movements/aspects of art history, but I feel like there is a way to expand upon these throughout the rest of the review. How does the "pop culture" aspect destroy the "fine art" aspect? When you reference art history, also remember pop culture has its own niche.