Sunday, April 28, 2019

So Much Deathless at Red Bull Arts New York

“So Much Deathless” at Red Bull Arts is a retrospective of the work of Gretchen Bender (1951 - 2004). Bender was a multi-disciplinary artist who worked heavily in video, particularly by repurposing TV programming as well as live tv broadcasts.
Bender’s work Aggressive Witness - Active Participant, 1990, is composed of 12 older model televisions, placed about four feet off the ground against the walls, wrapping around the viewer in a dimly lit room. Some of the screens play period abstract computer graphics while others play live television shows and commercials.
Upon closer inspection, the broadcasts displayed are contemporary television shows and ads. Centered on each screen in vinyl letters are one to two word statements such as “NO CRITICISM” or “NUCLEAR WARHEADS”.
These phrases overlaid on top of antiquated looking television sets would seem like social commentary by the artist on the culture and climate of the time the work was created. Instead, experiencing the overlay of phrases such as “IMAGE WORLD” AND “HOMELESS” over present day commercial content reflects on the meaning these social commentaries have today and how their relevance is as true now as it was when the work was created nearly 30 years ago.
The presentation on the older CRT monitors reminds the viewer that the moving image/media’s role and power in our society is nothing new and has long been problematic in its sway of the general public’s opinion and attention. The viewer is confronted with phrases that inspire thought and hopefully discussion over social and political issues such as homelessness and the potential for nuclear war but is made to consider these topics with the backdrop of a toothpaste commercial or America’s Got Talent. These issues are just as real today as they were 30 years ago and Bender helps the viewer consider whether one would prefer to spend time watching the next episode of a sitcom or researching and debating long standing and evolving socio-political issues.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Loophole of Retreat, Simone Leigh, Guggenheim

Loophole of Retreat, a new body of work by Simone Leigh, centers the experiences of black women. In the back corner of the room, a seemingly unidentifiable sound emanates from a grey concrete breeze block wall. As you move closer, the audio becomes clearer as recordings of protests, and newscaster's voices become discernable amongst the layered sounds. The alcove gives its name to the exhibition as a whole - Loophole of Retreat. This title is borrowed from the writing of a formerly enslaved abolitionist, Harriet Jacobs, who detailed her struggle for freedom. The word "retreat" suggests the action of withdrawing or moving back, either to a time of calm or after a battle. The title gives new meaning to the concrete wall, positioning it not just as an architectural structure but a line of defense or protection from the outside world, with the layered sounds serving as a reminder of black resilience against violence. 

Outside this corner are three of Leigh's large-scale sculptures, primarily bronze and stoneware. Closer to the entrance stands Panoptica, a towering terracotta chimney that rises out of a layered raffia skirt. The curve of the chimney, as well as its scale, suggest a periscope that looks out at the viewer. The name of this piece links this uneasy possibility of being watched in the gallery to the panopticon prison design, linking both to the realities of mass incarceration and Leigh's exploration of black womanhood. Next to Panoptica is Jug, one of many works by Leigh which uses the slim torso of a black woman connected to an inanimate object skirt. In this case, the skirt attached to the torso is formed by a water jug, the kind traditionally used by farm workers. By relating the bodies of women to everyday items, Leigh explores themes of objectification, labor, and agency. Leigh's work takes an intimate look into the black female experience, and uses the large physical scale of her pieces to compel the viewer's attention to the struggle against white supremacy and patriarchy. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Monumental by Lucien Freud

The Monumental exhibition by Lucian Freud at the Aquavella Gallery includes a series of large-scale works by the artist from different periods of his life. We find the artist's most well-known work included: the nudes painted in his London studio.

Lucian Freud was a painter who stood apart from trends and different movements. Although he connects his studies of the nude to the European academic tradition, the artist represents the human body from a rebellious and transgressive perspective, in contrast to classic beauty canons. His paintings show us characters exposed before the scrutinizing gaze of the artist, who makes no distinction about their status or social class, presents them all equally, naked, vulnerable, and delivered.

Freud acts like a surgeon, he tries to pierce his armor and decipher the anatomy and psychology that support him. The brushstrokes are heavy and resounding. They do not pretend to embellish but rather to dissect. The nuances of the flesh are depicted by the different layers of paint, and the contrast between the cold colors, green, blue, violet, and the warm, orange, ocher, pink, create a chromatic spectrum that depicts the tremulous skin and the pulse that runs through it.

It is this way of taking advantage of the carnality of painting, (understood as a modulable and living material) to express the human body´s condition, that makes Freud's work stand out. We can glimpse the influence of Soutin, in his fascination for entrails, and that of Ribera, in his ability to represent the passage of time in his skins and skulls.

Freud does not look for attractiveness, nor decipher the soul, but as he said: "to represent people and to let them be themselves". Affirmation that is paradoxical for a realistic painter who does not hesitate to distort the proportions of his models. Perhaps there is his genius, in his ability to understand imperfection as part of beauty.

Jeff Gibson at LMAKgallery

Jeff Gibson´s solo installation Hard Sell is located in LMAKgallery´s outdoor courtyard, comprised of five white sandwich board signs covered in images of various products. Each board holds a different variation of a color scheme, such as beiges, greens, or reds and blacks. Additionally, the images chosen for each board also follow a pattern in form and shape. The visual categorization of each board delivers an organization of color or shape that tricks the viewer into accepting the absurd image groupings. At first glance, pairing fried chicken with hair pieces and microphones with raw beef seems totally natural.

Each of Gibson´s signs could easily pass on a busy and plastered New York sidewalk without gathering many second glances. Even just walking a few steps outside of the gallery, I noticed an aesthetically similar promotional sign in front of the deli next door. Perhaps this isn´t even so specific to New York, but instead is one of the linking factors to cities around the world. Gibson´s bio states that he grew up in major urban centers in the United States, Germany, and Korea, and received his MA at The Royal College in London before moving to New York. This knowledge might lead one to connect that a baseline common denominator between cities across the globe, despite their seemingly disparate cultures, is the imagery used in street advertisements outside of local markets and corner stores.

Gibson´s work appropriates the mundane yet vibrant commercial imagery of products and assembles them in a way that essentially defeats their meaning beyond that of their value as an image. The groupings that he creates in his work lead viewers to consider both the power of imagery as well as their everyday-ness, as we are constantly inundated with images, like visual white noise in the background of our daily lives.

Lucian Freud: Monumental

Lucian Freud: Monumental showcases Lucian Freud’s well known naked portraits. Freud is a figurative painter; inspired by the impressive physicality of performance artist Leigh Bowery, Freud began a series of works that emphasize the physical presence of models. For him, the portrait begins with his idea that for all human beings, the naked body is complete honesty.

Arguably, his handling of the surface of the paintings is one of the essential elements to savor in his works. The thick brushstrokes emphasize the intensity of the subject, which encourages the viewer to focus on observing the subject immediately rather than the external judgment. The weight derived from this application of paints organizes and balances the tension of the whole painting. In other words, the rough and thick texture of his brushstrokes is not like a traditional Renaissance painting’s embodiment of figure as a seamless surface, but his work exposed the figure itself as a powerful being that pulls the physicality of the figure to confront the viewer. Furthermore, confronting the figure by physical application of paint with the spectrum of colors between the cold tone of colors on shadow part of bodies and warm tone of colors on the bright part of figures brings the subject matter plainly that causes the sense of honesty of bodies that Freud intentionally wanted to evoke.

Except in some of the paintings of closed-eye figures, the people in his paintings are staring straight of the viewer with serious, seemingly intimidating look. The expression of gazing of these figures existing between strange beauty and unattractiveness, almost seems like visual aggression, even give the uncomfortable feelings to the viewer. These are his devices to emphasize the existence of the figure itself, not the creation of aesthetic value through the beautification. Notably, his consistency of translating his immediate perceptions of figures onto the canvas without the beautification of body, cause the portraits that are complete honesty as the figure is.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Art Happens Here: Net Art’s Archival Poetics: The Art Happens Here: Net Art’s Archival Poetics

The Stephen Hawking like computer generated “singing” emanating from Alexei Shulgin’s 386 DXI, is the first thing you notice walking into The Art Happens Here: Net Art’s Archival Poetics at the New Museum. The show, presented by Rhizome, is a showcase of net art from the past two and half decades. 

386 DXI, declared the “first ever cyberpunk band,” consists of a 1990’s PC and two computer speakers on a wooden shipping pallet taking shade under a rainbow umbrella, and a small coffee cup stuffed with a few dollars in front.  Green text scrolls left to right across the screen asking the viewer “SPARE SOME CHANGE FOR A POOR COMPUTER!”.   

The power of the piece comes from its ability to engender both empathy and bemusement.  The unidentified song being recited in the text-to-speak robotic voice has the rhythm of a sea shanty or old timey ballad, but somehow feels sadder. Located on the ground in the corner of the gallery the bulky busking outdated tech is positioned like a homeless person or gutter punk.  The absurdity of the computer positioning itself as human by asking for “spare change” while acknowledging its own object-hood as a machine, forms a perverse joke about late capitalism. ‘If robots replace human workers, leading to unemployment and poverty, what happens when those robots are replaced by their upgrades’?

Alexei Shulgin, 386 DXI, c. 1998