Posts archive: May 2006

Fairy tales pulsed with sex, death and the mysteries of the wild before Disney got hold of them. Seven artists working with raw fairy tale material (no fair wondering if they are sneezy, grumpy, or happy…) are showing work in the crypt of St. Pancras, one of London’s largest churches. Nadege Meriau, Kirsty Whiten, Rachel Thorlby, Anna Howarth, Carole Chebron, Emily Glass and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini explore the darker side of fairytales, particularly the awakening sexuality of adolescent women within these stories. Hours are limited, so be sure to check the Web site for information before you visit.

- Jeannine McDonald [Tuesday, May 30th, 2006]

KineticBaltimore, one of the mobile sculpture races leading up to the World Championship Kinetic Sculpture races in Arcata, California later this year, has posted pics and video of their May 4 event. Especially if you’re headed for Arcata, you may want to check out the competition…

- Meredith Tromble [Monday, May 29th, 2006]

Art is so strange, isn’t it?  Sometimes I can go and have a great time seeing artwork and other times I just don’t know what the hell I’m looking at.  But once in a while, like at Stanford’s MFA show, those opposing feelings merge together. I guess I sort of expected to see monumental statuary based on the adventures of Condoleeza Rice or an altar to Tiger Woods where young golfers could go to pray. Given that the founders of Yahoo! and Google went to Stanford it seemed like anything was possible.

This year’s MFA class included five artists; each very different from the others. Diane Landry offered a sideways take on Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies, with motorized salad-spinner zoetropes that didn’t seem to quite work properly. The motors were not spinning at a constant rate and sometimes it was hard to see the images inside due to the works coming apart in places. I don’t think this was intentional. Things that spin tend to fall apart.

Kristin Lucas exhibited an anthropomorphic table-person that appeared to eat a slice of cake or, alternately, play a small keyboard.  Music in the headphones seemed to indicate that the installation was funny but after watching the looped video several times, it was unclear why. The figure appeared to be to be clownish or robotic and just tried to eat cake or play the keyboard over and over.  Formally it echoed video sculptures by Nam June Paik or Paul McCarthy but lacked a context to situate its message. But it looked like art.

Brendan Lott, reminiscent of Mark Manders, laid out a cryptic iconography that almost made sense but left me wondering if I understood it or not. He mounted two separate installations of taxidermic animal forms, rough-hewn and raw, each seeming to be part of an incomplete gesture. It might be that the gestures were lost in the room with wall-to-wall carpeting and controlled lighting.  In another venue they might have come more fully to life.  A lot of work went into the presentation so I am assuming that the absence of a counterpoint or explanation was part of the idea.

Ala Ebtekar’s vending machine was quite popular and many people purchased his art for five dollars a pop. What fell out of the machine was a sealed pack of cards with Iranian mythological heroes on them, I think.

Elaine Buckholtz showed a subtle video work that toyed with the idea of video art itself.  Instead of a monitor or conventional projection, she created an entire space with seating so viewers would see the work in the way she wanted them to see it. Soft, blurry bands of color fluttered into one another and seemed like a living spectrograph or table of the elements. Sitting down at her hand-made bench and then gazing at the long band of shifting lines was like staring into a pond. The colors and their variations seemed to follow a logic, but as with the other works here in the show, there was a lack of good signage or explanatory text. Some great ideas might have been left not understood because of this. Word to the wise—sometimes viewers need help to understand—especially if they really want to understand.

— Chris Cobb

- Meredith Tromble [Monday, May 29th, 2006]

The opening reception for SFAI’s MFA graduation exhibition was an art subculture celebrity-sighting extravaganza. Artist ">Doris Salcedo, SFAI Dean of Academic Affairs and Senior Vice President Okwui Enwezor, artist and SFAI Dean Renee Green, and curator and Executive Director of The Renaissance Society Suzanne Ghez were among the world-class illuminati in attendance. The MFA catalog essays by Renee Green available online, and Chris Gilbert, ex Matrix curator at BAM, give a sense of the nature of the administrative shift in focus and the excitement about academic potentialities at SFAI.

This wide ranging exhibition of over 80 graduates includes work of more established artists such as Lisa K. Blatt and Keira Kotler alongside standout showings of emerging artists Jesse Gottesman and Niloo Tehranchi.

Ms. Tehranchi’s maximalist wall drawing and collages can be apprehended at layered distances referencing material construction while being contextualized by the minutae of mechanical reproduction. Mr. Gottesman’s sublime prints result from the contemplative application of extended printmaking techniques producing horizontal rectangular fields which read like dark screens crossed with vertical-grain white light.

Taravat Talepasand applies a mastery of 15th and 16th century Persian miniature painting to extend the practice beyond patriarchal narrative forms to treat feminist conditions that transcend the conflict and limitation within fundamentalist societies. Lisa K. Blatt, whose work has been seen internationally, articulates a cartography of light, time-exposing lapsed drifts of intense light at the lower limits of rectangular fields of stark black C prints.

Jennifer Locke explores the ambiguity of competition, dislocating wrestlers in the central frame of a minicam triptych, with side frames of static and distortion, intercut with unsteady process shots that ultimately translate the disequilibrium of outcome and outtake, referencing Roland Barthes and Tony Labat. Keira Kotler negotiates the depth of field territories of Uta Barth, while concentrating on specific aspects of color in the production of square light jet prints.

- Cheryl Meeker [Saturday, May 27th, 2006]

“The Flaming Sword of Truth” offered the works of (newly minted SECA recipient) Sarah Cain, Jaime Cortez, Leo Estevez, Jonn Herschend, Kenneth Lo, Peter Nelson, and Will Rogan. The grandiose exhibition title drew from the notion that “each of the artists offers their interpretations of truth as it is shaped and reshaped over time” and attempted to thematically corral their group dynamic. Despite that, the exhibition functioned as it should have and presented a range of dense and wildly different creative practices.

In one sense, poetic simplicity and understated humor did run a loose thematic thread through the many of the works. Jonn Herschend’s text-based video, executed within the limitations of rigidly functional PowerPoint, offered a disjointed sequence of events that seemingly resulted in a profound misunderstanding. The stark text projected on to the pristine screen offered the visual equivalent of getting back to basics, and was at once immensely appealing and amusing. (Fair disclosure: I have known Jonn for years and did even sell his work once upon a time. Though, for all the evolution presented in his current practice, if I hadn’t known better I might have thought that I was looking at the work of someone else entirely.)

A video by Kenneth Lo is constructed with old-fashioned cut paper figures hand animated by the artist in full view of the camera. The voice-over, narrated by Lo, details a close pick-up basketball game with superstar Kobe Bryant. The artist’s subverted concerns with racism and prejudice provide resonating undercurrents that linger well beyond the initial wonder at the deceptively simple execution of his imagery and his humor. Will Rogan’s video Getting Through (Spectral Vortex)leads us through the experience of watching a child playing with her own reflections in a set of vertically hinged full length mirrors—the position of the monitor and scale of the image all recreating the experience as though the viewer were holding the camera.

UC Berkeley, with its formidable associations to practical sciences, does not easily lend itself to the cliché notions of an art school. A particular brand of staid scholarly thinking is implicit with any production from its ivied halls—this year’s MFA exhibition opined that intellectual rigor can be served with a smile. The exhibition closed on May 21—shame if you missed it, but I’ll wager now that there will be many other options to see these artists again.

— Christian L. Frock

IMAGE CREDIT:  Untitled (2006) (video still), Kenneth Lo. Courtesy of the artist.

- Meredith Tromble [Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006]

If you can make it to the UCB MFA exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum, (today is the last day, and the artists are speaking at 3 pm) you’ll see a graduate show that really holds up in a museum context. With a short enough group to list them all, Sarah Cain, Jaime Cortez, Leo Estevez, Jonn Herschend, Kenneth Lo, Peter Nelson, and Will Rogan, each make a strong impression. And you can also catch the powerful work,">Now-Time Venezuela, Part 1: Worker-Controlled Factories, though Sunday May 28, by Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler, and curated by Chris Gilbert, very recent ex- Matrix curator.  (Part 2 will be viewable through July 16.)  See for yourself an installation that reveals history in the making. The president of Alcasa, a Venezuelan corporation, speaks of going beyond Soviet socialism, which left management in place, while restructuring only labor. Alcasa is socializing management by creating “revolutionary co-management.” Watching the footage in this context allows plenty of time to absorb the depth and detail of thought and feeling the workers and managers are involved with, are discovering, and are creating.

- Cheryl Meeker [Sunday, May 21st, 2006]

The SFAI MFA Graduate Exhibition catalog will be an object of curiosity for many denizens of the Bay Area art subculture not only for the work documented therein but for the essay by curator Chris Gilbert, who abruptly left the Berkeley Art Museum this month after a brief tenure as Matrix Curator. Gilbert, who devoted the resources of the Matrix program to a cycle of projects in solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution in today’s Venezuela, asserts that “the apparent plenitude of the artworld is in fact a double-order emptiness” and argues for the role of theory in making space for revolutionary subjectivity. While the essay covers nothing so practical as how these ideas shaped his exhibition program, under the circumstances it raises interesting questions about the boundaries of curatorial provocation.

- Meredith Tromble [Thursday, May 18th, 2006]

I understand that presenting any group show with over 50 people would be a challenge, but still… walking through the MFA Thesis show at California College of the Arts (CCA) I couldn’t help but feel how much the artists would have benefited from a larger or different space. It seemed unfitting somehow that so many of them had to show their work in the studio they’d been using during the program. A thesis show can be symbolic in that the space of the show can represent the passage of the student from one place in time to another.  Perhaps it’s hard to get at such ideas with so many people involved?

That said, and despite the cramped environment, there were some interesting surprises if one looked for them. For example, I noticed at the reception people seemed to really like the idiosyncratic drawings of Scott de Bie, cryptic landscapes by Leslie Shows (who just won the SECA award), and a video by Elise Irving. I noticed that there was quite a lot of drawing in the show. Equally prevalent was a lot of sculpture that toyed with messy abstraction—some were made of paper, some of plastic, some in various unidentifiable media. Much of the abstraction was unrestrained and three-dimensional—like Marie Reich’s work where fabric patterns and collage seemed to flow into one another with only a light concern for the story-telling going on within the materials. And forms seemed to dominate content, as in the work of Raoul Pacheco where his sculpted figures had an unclear dialog with the things and painting around them.

But that didn’t mean good, old-fashioned conceptual art was left out. Susan O’Malley’s social interactions, once documented, recall Alan Kaprow or Christine Hill as did the works of Nick Karvounis and Daniel Purbrick.

Upstairs the Playspace gallery had a selection of work that felt a little crammed. There too, many works got lost in the crowd. Ryan Thayer’s minimalist looking, shopping-cart-meets-Donald Judd sculptures stood in a row in the middle of the large main room, but other free-standing works competed for attention. Perhaps the greatest dilemma was that many of the interesting works throughout the show were hard to figure out and the wall text seemed helpful only part of the time. I still am not sure what the shopping carts were doing as ready-made objects paired with the structures within them. Maybe just quoting other minimalist sculpture was a sufficient read?

But really—don’t take my word for it—see it for yourself. Going to the MFA Thesis shows every Spring is one of pleasures of living in the Bay Area. Besides—it’s free.

— Chris Cobb

- Meredith Tromble [Tuesday, May 16th, 2006]

Dutch expressionist painter Karel Appel died Wednesday at the age of 85. Best-known for his association with CoBrA in the early 1950s, Appel said of his work, “Sometimes my works look very childish, or childlike, schizophrenic or stupid, you know. But that was the good thing for me. Because, for me, the material is the paint itself.” For more on Appel’s life, see the New York Times obituary.

- Jeannine McDonald [Friday, May 12th, 2006]

The winners of SFMOMA’s 2006 SECA Art Awards are Sarah Cain, Kota Ezawa, Amy Franceschini, Mitzi Pederson,and Leslie Shows.

The biennial award honors local artists of exceptional promise with an exhibition at SFMOMA, an accompanying catalogue, and a modest cash prize. The 2006 SECA Art Award exhibition will be on view at SFMOMA from January 27 through April 22, 2007.

- Meredith Tromble [Wednesday, May 10th, 2006]

Mills College kicked off the 2006 MFA exhibition season April 30th. Regular visitors have come to expect polished work from the Mills crew, and the 2006 class does not disappoint, but the exhibition is unusually, perhaps even troublingly, cohesive thematically. Listen to these excerpts from five of the artists statements:

Kimberly Cisneros:  “Our essential exchange with nature is often forgotten in modern life.”

Diana Guerrero:  Referring to the chemicals used in the greenhouse memorialized in her installation, she writes that “...decayed greenhouse artifacts reveal its dangers.” 

Avery Mazor:  “One of our obsessions has been to draw boundaries between humanity and technology…to me a circuit board is as organic as a leaf.”

Amy Rueffert:  “...based in nature, the forms become synthetic through reproduction.”

Misako Inoaka: ” My interests arise from the boundary between what we call natural and artificial.”

Inoaka’s installation of a myriad of miniature sculptures, Nurture Nature, is a show highlight.  If not for its delicacy, one would say it sprawled across the gallery. It climbs up, down, and into the walls, involving the viewer in a treasure hunt for the next small, strange, hybrid.

Although they don’t refer directly to questions of nature and artifice in their statements, Ilana Crispi, Tara Matheny-Schuster, and Nadol Pak all show works that could be fruitfully interpreted in relationship to those issues.  Crispi offers glass and felt “messenger” pigeons, Matheny-Schuster shows intimate paintings of decaying vegetables, and Nadol Pak displays map-like drawings in which “Morse code” marks double as vegetation and architecture.

Of the work pursuing other themes, Jesus Aguilar’s videos investigating binary code, language, and understanding stand out. The video loop ABC123, in which his finger appears to trace letters and numbers in a computer screen as if it were the surface of a pond, supports readings ranging from the fragility of encoded knowledge to the difficulties of communication generally.

As the other MFA programs in the area show their stuff in coming weeks, we will discover whether or not the insistent concerns of the Mills artists characterize their entire 2006 cohort. The Mills exhibition runs through May 28.


Image Credit:  detail from Nature Nurture (2006), Misako Inoaka, mixed media installation, courtesy of the artist

- Meredith Tromble [Sunday, May 7th, 2006]

From the editors