Monday, February 22, 2010

Just Ride It: Bicycles and Art

Exhibition Title: The Magnificent Seven - Abraham Cruzvillegas
CCA Wattis Institute 111th 8th Street San Francisco, CA 94107

Dates: November 15 - November 29, 2009

Lecture Title: Race and Alternative Show
Eighth Street San Francisco, CA

November 21, 2009

Discussing the forms of vehicles and investigating concepts of need and scarcity in relation to object making, Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas led a group of graduate students from CCA to transform regular bicycles into objects of art. When does the functionality return to the art object? Does that have something to do with the endless discussion between highbrow and lowbrow art? It seems to be that today contemporary art — if we can still call it that — challenges the object by shifting it into its original function. The return to the utilitarian role and the use of alternative spaces confronts old debates by making art enjoyable outside the gallery space — yet inside of the art world — and non-limited to the public that both interacts and laughs with this “new” way of artistic production.

Bike Race, November 21, 2009 (taken by Mick Lorusso)

Abraham Cruzvillegas was the first participant in the Wattis Institute's The Magnificent Seven program and of last fall’s Capp Street Project artist in residence. The Mexican artist is best known for his sculptures that transform everyday objects, such as found scrap wood into elegant compositions. The artist plays the role of a scavenger, finding value in the discarded objects. The student artists who participated in the program were Fred Alvarado, Natalia Anciso, Angela Camille, Daniel Dallabrida, Rachel Dawson, Crystal De la Torre, Courtney Johnson, Vanessa Nava, Carlos Ramírez, and Allison Rowe. After 4 months of intense work, the results were configurations of scrap bike parts, but scrap that was presented within the rules of art distribution and consumption. At first, the exhibition of the products was in the main hall of CCA, but the real interaction happened when the “art objects” stopped being static and started to be functional. How? The public was able to touch, ride, and interact with the risk of damaging the works. The only broken aspect of this “exhibition” was actually the artistic social behavior, which could be described as: no touching, no screaming, no laughing, and no running. The performance was totally the opposite of a conventional art exhibition and more like a kindergarten park with hotdogs and riding games. The show on Eighth Street was based on the idea of a race, since the configurations of these artifacts were functional.

A sense of hypertrophy is created through the means of changing the parameters and sizes of bike parts that transform these objects into something else, that is, art objects. How then do regular objects become artworks? Is it only through the means in which those are created and distributed (i.e. art school, art show)? Or is it only through a sense of hypertrophy (this is an increase in volume or parts of an organ due to the enlargement of its components) that the useful value becomes an aesthetic one? Throughout art history, we find several times in which artists have turned to this strategy of production, but what happens if the breaking of social behaviors also occurred? I would say that exhibitions like this one challenge the way in which art must be understood, read, and enjoyed. Cruzvillegas’ idea of art has the sense of not needing the rules of art to be art, and that is what showed during the process and the race. Perhaps without intending to, visiting faculty and students put aside not only the academic rules but the art world rules as well. So how do we approach this kind of art? I say, just by riding it.

Bike Race, November 21, 2009 (taken by Mick Lorusso)

However, by the end of the race the objects returned to the gallery, and again the sense of hypertrophy became just an idea to be shown, not a real or functional one. What’s left? Just the reminiscence of a performance documented in diverse mediums (web, catalogues, photos, etc.) is what’s left in peoples’ memory. Is it art then or just an experience? Several artists base their works on the experience, people like Rainer Prohaska who Enter Beijing riding a three-wheel-cargo-bike; Pablo Helguera who travels from Alaska to the Patagonia with the idea of a mobile art school gathering and sharing experiences; or even Harrell Fletcher whose material of production is the people he works with and what results from this interaction. I believe art is still in the process of assimilating the “experience” as a way to produce sense and/or meaning. If accepted and repeated in time, would it then be called as a “new” art movement? In the meantime, artists continue their production, breaking the rules and making art more and more enjoyable, creating more than just experience, but a new meaning that is understood, not with the mind, but with the heart.

Fundación/Colección Jumex scholar

A Weekend of Fine Art: Napa Style

Exhibition Title: Napa Valley Mustard Festival
Location: Napa Valley, CA
Date: January 30 - March 27, 2010

As a rather unorthodox way of finding art, I visited The Napa Valley Mustard Festival. The festival was created to secure year-round travel and tourism to Napa Valley during the winter months of January, February, and March enabling them to support year round employment in the area as well as an international prosperity. During the Weekend of Fine Art (as described by their website), California artists “are invited to enter traditional, contemporary, impressionist, and abstract, flat, and three-dimensional works of art in the annual…Visual Art Competition." The artists kept in tune with the theme of the festival supporting the landscape, food, wine, and culture.

Official poster by Thomas Monaghan

I was invited to attend by one of the participants. She had the fortune of winning third place in one of the categories. Gale S. McKee is a born and raised San Francisco artist. Presently, she is working with Pottery Barn creating prototypes of fabric ornaments and stuffed animals for the Christmas season. She also expressed her desires to experiment with mixed media and is currently working on glass, metal, light and paint projects. During the opening of the actual Mustard Festival on January 30th, the sale of the art works entered into the competition began. As a result, the exhibition was incomplete since buyers had already taken a number of works.

I was left impressed by the organization of the show. The curators of the exhibit and the competition kept a detailed folder of the submissions, price, buyer, and location of all the works. From what I did see in the exhibit, the pieces ranged in style and brought up a rather curious observation. As accomplished artists enter the competition, it is rather alarming the type of work portrayed. I had fully expected the competition would bring submissions of the artist’s own theme yet they produced art in spirit of the fundraiser. These pieces were sold at a range of about $900 to $4000. Unfortunately, what I saw was kitsch. It brings to mind Clement Greenberg’s Avant-Garde and Kitsch. At what point does art stop being fine art? These pieces were quite clearly made for commercial purposes and, in my opinion, by no means represent these artist’s talents. The aspect of fundraising in this festival brought out this idea fully.

As another perspective, the fact that these pieces are sold at high prices, does it confuse the idea of fine art amongst the general public? I do not consider myself an artist and have no formal art education, but even I was concerned by the supposed value of these pieces both artistically and monetarily. The general public misinterprets the development of art when they receive or view art that is meant for commercial “old” art as opposed to artist innovation. The fundraising is the purpose of this kitsch art so does that entail that fundraising should not exhibit art? Is the real problem the fundraiser or the theme? This question I feel I can answer. A fundraiser, to provide a more accurate art representation, should not expect artists to provide artwork they would not normally produce. In other words, the artists should submit work of their own caliber for proper evaluation of the general public.

I do not mean to knock the purpose of the festival and fundraiser nor the goodwill of the artists. I do, however, show a level concern over the concept of art amongst people. Art should be more than just pretty and speak about the artist, not a fundraiser. My last question that attending this exhibition brought to me was, when did landscape stop being considered art?


Mexico City Hosts Retrospective Straight From Tate Modern

Exhibition Title: Retrospective of Cildo Meireles
Location: Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo Mexico City, Mexico

Dates: July 4, 2009 - January 10, 2010

Last summer, I was visiting Mexico City when I encountered an exhibition that had stayed in my mind ever since.

It was a retrospective on Cildo Meireles at the MUAC (Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo).
The first section of the exhibition was comprised of three installations where poles that spanned from floor to ceiling created architectural forms that appeared to move or shift shape as I walked around them. In this same room were different drawings that related to the three installations set in the center of the space, by the way of architectural plans.

The second section contained different pieces that were in conversation with American Imperialism. Among the pieces that caught my attention the most were
Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project (1970) and Zero Dollar (1979-84). These two pieces caught my attention for their obvious finger pointing at the United States. The Coca-Cola Project was created by Meireles as a newfound form of disseminating art outside of the Gallery System, by printing political messages on Coca-Cola bottles such as “Yankees Go Home”; almost invisible when the glass bottles were empty, the messages reappeared when the bottles were refilled in the factory, and were sent back into circulation amongst unsuspecting people. Zero Dollar, on the other hand, may speak of the valuelessness and counterfeiting that his creation evokes in the economic relationship that occurs between the US and Brazil.

Cildo Meireles The Coca-Cola Project

The following section was overtaken by several large-scale installations including:
Glovetrotter (1991), Red Shift: I. Impregnation (1967-84) and Babel (2001). My favorite was Babel, where upon entering a dark blue-lit room, an enormous tower expands from the center of the floor. The tower is comprised of 800 or more radios ranging from the 1920's to the present day, revealing themselves in the dim light with different colored bulbs. A quiet chatter flows through the room as the radios deliver various stations at a low volume. The most resonant correlation of the installation to its title, Babel 2001, is expressed through the unintelligible voices and tangled languages projecting from a tower that stretches upward “to the heavens.” According to the Old Testament, God punished the men who built a tower to reach him by altering their tongues so they could no longer communicate. Perhaps the artist, Cildo Meireles, is suggesting our inability to communicate with each other even with the technological advances that humankind has accomplished.

Cildo Meireles Babel 2001

The work resembles a modern city by night, such as New York, with its eternal lights and crammed up voices that overlap one another from inhabitants that do not listen. Babel 2001 invites the observer to watch but even more so to listen, and take in the chaos of the city and humankind’s sound.

Finally, the fourth section presented three installations: Eureka / Blindhotland (1970-75), Through (1983-89/2008) and Fontes (1992/2008). All three invited the public to interact with them and not to stand as mere spectators. Through invited people to walk in it, to feel and listen as the shattered glass under one’s feet cracked while observing the textures of the different see-through barriers that overlapped and made up the piece. Eureka / Blindhotland allowed the spectator to play with the different density and weight that each rubber ball of the installation by comparing knowledge and perception. Fontes was the last installation of the exhibition; a small room was built where hundreds of measuring rulers hung from the ceiling in the form of a spiral, clocks set at different times filled the walls, and black vinyl numbers were scattered on the floor. This black and white installation poetically questions our ideas of the measurement of time and space, where chaos reigns and parallel time and space coexist.


Seeing Double

Exhibition Title: R for Replicant
Location: CCA Wattis Insitutite 111th 8th Street San Francisco, CA 94107
Dates: January 19 - April 10, 2010

If a black and white photograph is taken of an artwork and then positioned next to the authentic piece, does the validity of the artist’s original work change? This is one of the questions posed by the exhibition titled
R for Replicant, curated by Xiaoyu Weng and on display at the CCA Wattis Institute. The term “Replicant,” refers to Philip K Dick’s androids, or human-like machines that eventually begin to mimic “human empathy” through their own memories and experiences. In his sci-fi novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, bounty hunter Rick Deckard employs the Voigt-Kampff test, a set of questions used to determine the lack of empathy in an android. The replicant could then be retired (often in the form of a bullet to the head).

Both the novel and Ridley’s Scott’s film adaptation, Bladerunner, present a questioning of apparent reality and alternative experiences. The question of “what happens when humans are replicated into machines” can be applied to artworks. How does the experience change when you see a reproduction next to the original? Which is the “more real” image? The illusion of a fixed reality tests the exhibition spectator.

Mark Soo That's That's Alright Alright Mama Mama

R for Replicant succeeds at imitating the notion of replication through image doubles of each original work. It also covers a wide range of media and materials, including photography, sculpture, film, painting, prints, and collage. The various sounds in the exhibition are hypnotizing, ranging from the melodic bells of Bruce Conner’s film Easter Morning (2008), to the eternal whirring of the 16 mm projector used by Mario Garcia Torres in One Minute to Act a Title: Kim Jong II Favorite Movies (2005). However, individual works lose expressions of artistic intention and end up yielding to the curator’s model. Some of the works play with history, others on contemporary moments, exoticism, or pop culture, yet the collective theme is based around experience, memory, and replication.

Rodney Graham Dance!!!

One of the highlights dealing with the issue of false (android-like) memories is Rodney Graham’s Dance!!!!! (2008), a backlit color transparency diptych portraying three men in a Western saloon. Although it appears historical, the contemporary twist is that the man “dancing around the bullets” is the artist. The image is a false account of a popular personal memory of the iconic West, a false memory nurtured by Hollywood films.

The artworks in the show were all drawn from the Route 101 Collection, which includes artists living and working on the West Coast around Highway 101 and to the north (Vancouver) or south. Some of these artists represent a comprehensive spectrum of media, such as Ron Terada, Mark Soo, Bruce Conner, Jeff Wall, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Allen Ruppersberg, and Eleanor Antin. The curator could only use works from the Route 101 Collection, no doubt causing a challenge for a “sci-fi concept.” Fortunately, the curator’s play with doubles kept the “replicant” theme from being too fantastical.


Presenting Brazil In A Contemporary Atmosphere

Exhibition Title: When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts 701 Mission Street San Francisco, CA 94103
Dates: November 5, 2009 - January 31, 2010

The very first time that this exhibition,
When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art, 1960s to the Present, was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in October 2008, it was a peculiar time for the relationship that Brazil and Japan had shared over the past hundred years; one marked by a very complex negotiation with identity and nationalism. As Brazil celebrated the centennial of Japanese immigrants arriving in São Paulo in 1908, the celebration that was going on in Japan was shrouded by dark clouds of betrayal by the Japanese government who ushered in the largest exodus of people in the twenty-first century; deporting 400,000 Japanese Brazilians that had been living and working in Japan since the 80s back to Brazil. Many had started families, and bought homes in Japan. Many had children while living in Japan, and now these children were being displaced to a "homeland" of which they had never set foot. Brazil–home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, with numbers ranging over a million–would be receiving the Brazilian born Japanese back into the fold. Some of those Japanese Brazilians, born in Brazil and speaking Portuguese as their first language went to Japan for work and the chance to be acknowledged as actually being Brazilian; something that proved hard to do in Brazil where often the Brazilian born first, second and third generation Japanese were marginalized and never quite excepted into the idealized multi-cultural "utopia" of the Tropicálist motif.

By the time that the exhibition traveled to San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), the attention paid to these issues of transnational identity politics would go unrecognized, despite the fact that it was held in the Bay Area, home to the largest Japanese population in the mainland US. Curator Yuko Hasegawa – I would like to believe – took this into consideration while looking for a new venue for this exhibition. Startling was that the Japanese-Brazilian artists that dominated the show with some of the most compelling works would out do
the famous heavy hitters of the nostalgic Tropicália milieu like Cildo Meireles's classic
Zero Dollar (1978-84), Zero Centavo (1974-78) and Zero Cruzeiro (1974-78) which greet you across from Beatriz Milhazes framed collage paintings when you first walk into Gallery One. As Meireles's small conceptual works – depicting re-fashined currency – by placing Uncle Sam on an American dollar – and emptying it of all value by making it worth nothing, nil, zero, while Milhazes's use of colorful package designs embedded in a floral kaleidoscopic diffusion of the same agents of capitalism, i.e., the consumable snack food packaging that one might purchase with their Zero Centavo on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, were a delightful contrast.

Probably the most famous artists to emerge out of Brazil in the 1960s would be Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape and the legendary Hélio Oiticica. Despite my fondness for all of the important names included in with the 25 artists and collectives that participated in this exhibition, the works that were chosen were interesting to say the least. Lygia Clark's
Bichos (Animals) series from the 1960s, a group of interactive naked metal sculptures, with thin pieces of metal sheets in the shapes of triangles and half-circles and put together with creatively placed hinges–one of which was displayed on a table and not in a vitrine so that patrons could play with it–were quite elegant as I thought that they were reminiscent of origami cranes, with collapsable triangular parts that seemed to only frustrate me as I tried to manipulate it into an uninteresting shape. Using perhaps the most famous image associated with Oiticica, the photograph of Tropicália troubadour, Caetano Veloso wearing one of Hélio's fabulous Parangolé capes from 1964 was an unnecessary inclusion in a show that already had a hundred works displayed. However, the elusive Quasi-cinemas installation of his collaboration with filmmaker Neville D'Almeida – Cosmococa 1: Trashiscapes (1973) was an exciting choice by Yuko Hasegawa, since it is a rarely shone work that was done while Hélio was in exile in New York City during the 70s. Positioned in a dark room, with mattresses laid out and slide projections on either wall, the Trashiscape soundtrack of Hendrix and other well known musicians from the 60s and 70s drug culture went well with the temporary drawings that Hélio was making on the covers of magazines and album covers with thin lines of cocaine captured by D'Almeida's camera. Lygia Pape's circle of bowls on the floor that were filled with colored and flavored water gave off an aroma that sweetened the horrible clustering of these three artists that all share roots in the Neo-Concretist movement.

Hélio Oiticica & Neville D'Almeida Cosmococa 1: Trashiscapes, Hélio Oiticica & Neville D'Almeida (as seen from one of the mattresses)

More contemporary works, like Assume Vivid Astro Focus and their "tropical punk" style bored me. The only thing I found interesting about it was how poorly the vinyl was applied, with huge sections buckling and bubbling off the walls. The work of the singularly named Marepe must have been a favorite of the curator, with multiple works that included sculpture, photography, installation, and drawings. The photograph that accompanied the large metal sculpture that resembled a popcorn popper from the 80s – but was actually some kind of headgear that would amplify sound – begged for you to find it compelling, which it wasn't. The photograph of a dark skinned beach-goer wearing yellow swim trunks and flip-flops at the horizon of a cobble stoned walkway, a clear sky and a calm ocean appeared to be an attempt to mimic Hélio Oiticica's series of photographs of favela dwellers in Rio de Janeiro wearing his Samba inspired Parangolés from the 60s, where instead of wearing billowing fabric that was blowing in the wind, the figures head was encased in the odd circular sculpture; erasing identity. The only works of Marepe that truly stood out to me were his whimsical drawings on colored paper. Like Hélio's drawings done with thin lines of cocaine, here Marepe just simply applied glitter to cartoonish lines drawn in glue. The hybrid forms of machine and animal remind me of the subject of mecha in Japanese pop cultural entities like manga and anime.

Untitled Work by Marepe

Untitled Work by Marepe

Once I had exhausted the big names and the obvious favorites of the curator, I found myself most excited by those artists that I knew nothing about. Rogério Degaki, one of the younger artists in the show–born in São Paulo of Japanese decent–had two oil paintings, Rabbit with Pumpkin-colored Ears (2007) and Vicky (2006) which were described by the wall label as "...a new generation’s interpretation of Japanese otaku culture—obsessive fandom related to anime and manga.", yet I couldn't make that leap. Unfamiliar with his sculptural work, I was more interested in his method here, where he uses oil paint to mimic the knitted images of crocheted animal faces seen on throw rugs for children's bedrooms which were popular in the 1970s. Here, the idea of appearing as being one thing at a glance, but really being an entirely different thing at closer examination was more of a commentary on the conditions of Japanese-Brazilian subjectivity; appearing Japanese, but in actuality being a born and bred Brazilian.

Rogerio Degaki Vicky (Dog in Hat) and Rabbit with Pumpkin-colored Ears

Upstairs had some interesting works, notably Vik Muniz's
Sugar Children Series (1996). Portraits of children he had met while visiting a sugar plantation in the West Indies. Ephemeral drawings made with sugar against a dark background of negative space and then photographed were visually deceptive; looking almost like charcoal drawings. The connections made between sugar and coffee–two of the great capitalist exports of Latin America–reminded me of the reason why Japanese emigrants decided to go work in the plantations in São Paulo a hundred years earlier. Also, again I'm reminded of how influential Hélio Oiticica was on the generation of artists that came after him; making contrasts between Muniz's photographs of sugar and the cocaine drawings tracing the faces on the covers of magazines. Another favorite of mine, architect Ruy Ohtake (son of another artist in the show, Tomie Ohtake) represented that first generation of Brazilian born Japonese, Nikkei*. Born in 1938 in São Paulo, his archetectural practice is know for bold forms and vibrant colors that are reminiscent of his mother's paintings. The social practice of re-fashioning São Paulo’s Heliópolis favela that began in 2004 was an exciting project that again, reminded me of Hélio Oiticica's work that engaged with the eclectic life of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the seminal piece that coined a whole movement, the immersive penetrable work that was titled Tropicália; featured in the legendary 1967 collective exhibition Nova Objectividade Brasileira (New Brazilian Objectivity) held in the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro and emulating life in a favela. The installation of Ruy Ohtake's project, presented with photographs and a short 6 minute video playing on a small monitor with head phones, showing the process of how the project emerged. Employing local masons and carpenters from the Heliópolis favela to do all of the work–which was much needed in a place with so many people out of a job–the goal to beautify as well as activate the community were effective and ultimately a visual and emotional success. Sadly, this great piece was some what lost, shoved to the back of the long walk that had to be made on the mezzanine past the lifeless architectural works of Lina Bo Bardi and the paintings by street art duo, Osgemeos (which seem to have more in common with Otaku aesthetics than Rogério Degaki). However, as I started to head back down stairs, I had a better view of Ernesto Neto's Simple and light as a dream…the gravity don’t lie…just loves the time (2006), a large spectacle-like soft sculpture of bulbous and organic forms made out of foam and lycra and precariously balancing from the ceiling of YBCA's main lobby. Beautiful, playful and ultimately making me think of the balancing act one must do to experience the performative identity of Brazilians following the complicated 1960s.

*Nikkei: A person of Japanese descent born overseas.

Ruy Ohtake Heliópolis Favela Project

Many other interesting choices were made in the selection of artists. Fashion and its relationship to the wearable, performative and participatory work of the 60's that seemed experimental and avant-garde back then had appeared naturalized by younger contemporary artists like Jum Nakao and Ronaldo Fraga; both born during the colorful and turbulent 60's.

Ultimately, the exhibition was a disappointment. Some of the work looked a little worse for wear (slightly damaged from being installed so many times perhaps), but the real downer is the location. The YBCA seemed ill equipped for this exhibition. With the high ceilings and extremely bad lighting, works in the main gallery were left to be viewed in a muted overcast haze. Colors struggled to pop off the walls when they so desperately needed to. Also, one of the slide projectors in Hélio Oiticica & Neville D'Almeida's Trashiscapes installation had a burnt out bulb and was not working. When I asked someone about it, they just shrugged and stated that it had been like that for days. However, the bad lighting did serve Rivane Neuenschwander's great stop-motion film, a one minute 16mm loop of beef carpaccio on a white dinner plate in the cartographic image of the continents of the world coming together and deconstructing over and over again. Hopefully the YBCA will do a better job installing the next exhibition – Renée Green: Endless Dreams and Time-Based Streams – which opens February 20th and might work better in the odd space provided.

–Violet Mendonça

Placing Burning Man In Hayes Valley

Exhibition Title: Ecstasy by Karen Cusdolito and Dan Das Mann
Patricia’s Green Hayes Street and Octavia Street San Francisco
February 7 - June 18, 2010

As a student at SFAI, I attend a number of art shows on a regular basis. Most of the time - I’m embarrassed to say - it’s obligatory and not an earnest and sought out desire to see what is being exhibited. The reason for this has everything to do with the amount of work and lack of enough time in each day. Considering my motivation for attending exhibitions recently, I decided to use this assignment as an opportunity to take myself out of the museum or gallery setting and into the public space. While looking at the reviews of my colleagues last week, I noticed that all of the events or exhibitions discussed were shows in the space of a gallery/museum or in one case a garage. I began to seek out works of art that exist in open public space as installations. My research led me to the work of native San Franciscan Mark Baugh-Sasaki's, specifically his sculpture Adaptations, that I thought was installed at the intersection of Octavia and Hayes. When I went to view the piece, I learned it had been moved to a new home at 580 Hayes at Laguna, a space in the process of becoming an Art Park. In its place was an interesting sculpture that I must admit is something I would not have experienced otherwise.

Patricia’s Green, the name of the park at Octavia and Hayes in Hayes Valley, is now home to the massive piece Ecstasy, by Karen Cusdolito and Dan Das Mann. Both works are part of a goal set by the Hayes Valley Art Coalition to sponsor art installations and find artists willing to donate their time and creative energy toward the creation of public art.

Karen Cusdolito and Dan Das Mann Ecstacy (Photo taken by Hasan El-Tayyab)

Ecstasy’s history includes an appearance at the Burning Man Festival in 2008. Ironically, the first piece ever installed at Patricia’s Green was another art installation from Burning Man, David Best’s pagoda temple made from plywood and sponsored by the Black Rock Arts Foundation.

About the work…it’s enormous! I mean enormous!!! It’s 30’ tall and made from recycled and found material. Sculpted in the shape of a woman, its sinuous path from top to bottom is as captivating as its monumental proportions. The stance of the figure mimics a fluidity, contrasted by the materials used for its construction that are rigid and fixed. Ecstasy dwarfs its surroundings much like Godzilla in film, but, instead of provoking fear, the figure is not threatening at all and has a sentimental quality that creates an emotional response in the viewer. For me, I recognized this emotion as sadness. The linked chains that hang from the top of the piece like hair could be interpreted as an expression of exhilaration. However, I would describe it more like an expression of the evacuation of life that is being pulled out of this body. I can’t help but walk around it and feel as if something has been lost; an epic battle has taken place where there is no victor.

Karen Cusdolito and Dan Das Mann Ecstacy (Photo taken by Michael Strickland)

I can only imagine what it may have looked like at the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada in 2008. At Burning Man, it was assembled along with eight other similar metal figures that surrounded a 99-foot tall wooden oil derrick with gestures of prostration, worship, and exaltation. The collected piece titled Crude Awakening represented various types of religious worshipers and included a grandiose firework and fire display. From the information posted on the Black Rock Arts Festival website, I learned that this particular piece is “the largest burn to date gathered around in homage of the symbol of the oil derrick.” I can only imagine what the experience of seeing Crude Awakening at Burning Man in all its fire and glory was like.

Thinking about the work brought to mind the essay Can Man Survive by Robert Smithson. The writing critiques an exhibition, titled Can Man Survive, in the Museum of Natural History in 1969. The exhibition was built out of leftover technology from a failed company. He describes the viewer’s experience as,

“…being conditioned for some unknown millennium. A condition of fear inclining toward religiosity is evolved through boundless agitation, uncontrolled representations of man’s inventions. The storm spirits are with us again in the shapes of grinding motors. Magic and demonic dread is instilled in the viewer. Out of the failures of Western religion a weird faith is being born. The irrational, the unaccountable is the essence of the exhibition and its belief in ecology and the internal agents of pollution.”

He goes on to explain that the exhibit on a whole is meant to make people want to restore nature’s harmony but only succeeds at presenting a “convulsive yearning, a super-serious rapture before the environmental crisis.”

This seems particularly apropos for this piece. In the case of Ecstasy or the Crude Awakening installation, the yearning for rapture is apparent but the threat of an environmental crisis is well on its way. Perhaps the entire Burning Man Festival is an example of this need for something to believe in and what way to represent the gods of today then with discarded material that we can never dispose of completely.

Karen Cusdolito and Dan Das Mann Ecstacy (Photo taken by Kim Silva)

Though I recognize the power of the piece, I have to admit, it is not something I subscribe to in terms of contemporary art in a public space. Perhaps, it is the placement of an enormous figure plopped in the middle of an affluent area surrounded by high-end boutiques and expensive cafes and restaurants that make the piece not work. It loses the power it likely has when displayed in the desert setting. I find it somewhat insincere to display a piece that was built for such an “outsider or fringe” festival and place it in a city park surrounded by concrete, asphalt and traffic signals. I don’t think that is what the artists had intended when they built the piece. On its own, in a city that strives to reject mega supermarkets and huge malls, it is clear it does not belong. Its message is lost. It becomes something to look at for its size and not its quality. I can’t help but wonder what the Hayes Valley Art Coalition thinks this piece offers to the public? Is it a chance to package up what has made Burning Man unique and bring it to the city in order to attract tourism and inevitably more money to the community or does the Art Coalition actually want to bring art to the public? If the answer is the latter, somebody needs to tell them that the public needs something more than a physical representation of humanities waste and destruction; the work doesn’t have to be cool. In a public space, a greater challenge might be to offer something that addresses the community it becomes a part of once it is installed. The goal should be to present artwork that inspires creativity and builds community. The constant feed of destruction and waste propagated in media makes the role of public art vital. Public art works cannot be reiterations of what we already know because if they do they become irrelevant. Public installations need to present new ideas, new talent and new energy in order to stimulate conversation and create interest. I’m afraid the installation of Ecstasy in Hayes Valley misses the mark completely.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Local Text-Based Artist Thrills At Catherine Clark Gallery

Exhibition Title: Anthony Discenza Everything Will Probably Work Out Ok
Catherine Clark Gallery 150 Minna Street San Francisco, CA 94105

January 7 - February 13, 2010

Photo: Installation shot, Catherine Clark Gallery

Upon entering Catherine Clark Gallery, you are confronted with strange juxtapositions displayed on aluminum with fluorescent lights that are reminiscent of Richard Prince’s early textual joke paintings before he added imagery and while he worked as ad agency assistant. These works recall advertising in a sarcastic and ridiculous manner. The words are enough to excite the viewer visually. The white words pop out against the black background; one is drawn to the content, reads it and chuckles. The Teasers, all created in 2009 by Oakland-based Anthony Discenza for his second solo show at the gallery, emit strange connections, such as:

Bitches Brew meets the Jetsons meets Haruki Murakami meets Ayn Rand meets the Playboy Mansion.

These combinations cause the viewer to think in a more abstract manner than they are accustomed functioning as a contemporary puzzle of sorts.

Anthony Discenza Teaser #2 2009

Throughout the exhibition Discenza addresses the relationship between text and image, confronting the viewer with commonplace textual systems such as lists, similes and verbal descriptions. The street sign series installed in a back room of the gallery and outside of the gallery reveal humorous and often cryptic messages, such as:


People like the alternative the signs provide. These are not the everyday signs we have grown so accustomed to seeing. Some of the signs reflect cynicism while others address the viewer in familiar behavioral modes,



Commissioned Historical Painting
, is the only work that depicts imagery (in addition to the video). The work shows the cast of Star-Trek with their heads switched for members of the Bush administration and this work is not as effective as the rest. It was placed as if an afterthought behind the receptionist’s desk and makes one wonder if the same person created this work. We have all seen this before and it is too easy; the connotation and meaning are lost when dumbed down.

It is clear that Discenza knows his art history, referencing Prince, On Kawara in the simplicity of the black and white text works and by creating two works spoofing Ed Ruscha’s work in Viscious Beating and Ghost. He imitates coupling text with sunset-like hazy horizons that he distorts and makes the statements non-sensical by adding the word “like”, thus creating similes.

The other work that provides imagery is the fragmented video, The Future Has Already Been Written. Charlton Heston is shown in three of his legendary films, Planet of The Apes, Omega Man, and Soylent Green. The film moves very quickly in an almost epileptic manner. Each of the films depict Heston as a man in a horrible future dealing with conditions he can not control, all ending in catastrophe. This film hits hard in our current state of affairs, it has been one tragedy after the next, 9/11, Katrina, Haiti, making us wonder what will occur next.

Discenza’s work is highly conceptual but also fun and visually appealing which is needed to maintain the patron’s attention in our fast-paced information-saturated world. Text lacks images and lets the viewer conjure whatever pops into their heads, much like what people across America do on a daily basis as they surf the web in their cubicles, daydreaming and longing to be elsewhere. He wants the viewers to be active participants and work for the visuals/special effects they have grown so accustomed to seeing. The ambivalent title plays on this and what we are faced with presently.

Anthony Discenza Le Menu 2009

Anthony Discenza has shown work at SFMoMA, Australian Center for the Moving Image, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Getty Center and the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive. He has a degree in Film and Video from California College of the Arts and a BFA in Studio Art from Wesleyan University.


Asian Art Museum Presents Modern Perspectives of Ancient City

Exhibition Title: Shanghai
Location: Asian Art Museum 200 Larkin Street San Francisco, CA 94102
Dates: February 5 - September 12, 2010

The Shanghai Show at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco opens February 12, 2010 in conjunction with the Shanghai Celebration, the year-long Bay Area collaboration honoring San Francisco's sister city and coinciding with the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Britta Erickson is the curator of Shanghai Today (1980-Present), which is a section of the Shanghai exhibition. At a lecture on February 5, 2010, Britta explained that each piece of the show was chosen in order to portray the range of styles, media, and references that are present in the contemporary art of Shanghai. Britta accomplished her goal of showcasing the range of the artistic practice of artists working in Shanghai through the range of media selected that portrays a snapshot of the contemporary culture of Shanghai today. The show reflects the importance of photography, video, and installation as important modes of production in Shanghai.

After the lecture by Britta Erickson, we were able to hear directly from three of the artists in the show: Zheng Chongbin, Li Huayi, Jian-Jun Zhang.

Zheng Chongbin The Dimension of Ink No.1 2008

The artist talked about the relation of contemporary Chinese ink painting to traditional Chinese ink painting. Contemporary Chinese ink painting extends the traditional vocabulary of ink painting. Contemporary Chinese ink painting refers to various forms of traditional ink painting yet, Chongbing creates a depth to the piece. Traditional Chinese ink painting is very linear, however this piece has a sense of space and depth achieved through the use of acrylic paint mixed with ink applied with a Western brush. Chongbing uses acrylic white paint vs. “white space” typical in Chinese ink painting creating a sense of physicality of the work. Chongbin’s work, The Dimension of Ink No. 1, references traditional ink painting as well as Western influences.

Li Huayi Forest 2004

Li Huayi described his work as semi-abstract. His method of working is very similar to Zheng Chongbin’s. He discussed how if he stopped halfway then his work would look exactly like Zheng Chongbin’s. The artist draws on the traditional notion of “Chi” which is the energy and body movement expressed through the brush, however Li Huayi uses a western brush. His work reflects a personal approach to both the past and the present of Chinese landscape painting.

Jian-Jun Zhang Shanghai Garden 2010

Jian-Jun Zhang refers to his installation as a “societal landscape”. In this installation the artist draws upon the traditional rock garden form with contemporary elements in order to signify the squeezing together of old and new, east and west. Jian-Jun made molds of Taihu rocks and cast them in silicone. Jian-Jun also made a mold of an antique Han Dynasty vase also cast in peach silicone. The color of the rocks and the Han dynasty vase were chosen by going into fashion schools to see what the latest color trends are thus choosing rose, peach, and burgundy. Referencing the destruction of the architecture of Shanghai, bricks were taken from houses that were constructed in Shanghai in the 1920s that have now been demolished. Atop these bricks were laid the rocks and the vase. Scattered throughout the bricks are little “trees” which are solar powered and add a touch of fantasy to the rock garden.

This piece is partially visible upon entering into the museum on the left hand side thus drawing you into the exhibit. The placement of this piece is perfect as it combines East and West thus inviting both audiences into the space. The piece is accessible to both a traditional audience as it clearly references the rock garden but also ties in modern issues of globalization.

Other highlights:

Shen Fan, Commemorating Huang Binhong-Scroll, 2007
Liu Jianhua, Shadow in the Water, 2010
Yang Fudong, Liu Lan, 2003

Overall, the show does present a snapshot of the culture of Shanghai today as well as provides a comment on the impact of globalization in Chinese contemporary art practice.

All images courtesy of Shanghai Exhibition Catalogue


Luc Tuyman Retrospective On Not So Long Career

Exhibition Title: Luc Tuyman Retrospective
Location: SFMoMa 151 Third Street San Francisco, CA 94103
February 6 - May 8, 2010

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting the first U.S retrospective of artist, Luc Tuymans. Slated by SFMoMa as, "One of the most significant painters working today," Tuymans's work predominantly situates itself within the realm of global histories, postcolonial issues, and the aftermath of war/tragedy. The exhibition brings together over seventy-five pieces by Tuymans dated after 1985, inviting the spectator to reflect upon national historic memories and moments of destruction, while exposing global topics one might not be as apprised in. For this reason, Tuymans' retrospective reaches its audience through various historical reference points, surpassing geographic borders and uniting the international by moments of turmoil.

Luc Tuyman The Perfect Table Setting 2005

In viewing Tuymans's retrospective, the influences of photography and cinema become apparent from his collection entitled, Proper. Complied of work surrounding September 11th and the months proceeding under the Bush Administration, Tuymans strategically focuses on the cinematic/photographic elements of cropping and framing his subject matter to recall horrific moments in time. Working from actual photographs he took during a trip to the White House, Tuymans cropped, The Perfect Table Setting as both an homage to the classical still-life genre of painting and to allude to America's struggle to maintain a status of wealth and perfection while confronting the war on terror. His focus on the symbolic representation of a "perfect" high class dinner, while gloomier truths lay beneath the painting's surface, comments on American politic as it tries to mask war and invasion with the shiny cocktail place settings of the White House.

Exploring perception in another dark moment in history, Tuymans' collection
Der Architekt (The Architect), calls to attention the horrific tales from the Holocaust and post World War II. Images such as, Gaskamer (Gas Chamber) go beyond expectation in that it captures a setting of inexplicable tragedy and perish, yet presents itself as aesthetically pleasing and tolerable to observe despite its historical reference. It is within Der Architekt that Tuymans references a struggle manifesting within the arts today; the barrier of language. The limitations of the written word fails to fully encompass the truth and understanding of the destruction and emotional turmoil that plaque Tuymans' work. The written word's inability to universally describe a scene, such as a gas chamber, refrains the public from totalizing an experience, leaving one only with artistic expression, to at the very least touch on such heavy-handed subjects.

Luc Tuyman Gaskamer (Gas Chamber) 2005

The most noteworthy observation of Tuymans' work is his ability to transform a room stripped bare with white walls, into a pastel landscape of assorted figures, landscapes, and textiles. The overall curation fluidly exemplified the various collections represented throughout the exhibit, utilizing the spaces of every turn and corridor to entrap the viewer into each tiny world reflecting on each assemblage of global histories.
Overall it was an enjoyable experience to view Tuymans' work at SFMoMa largely for its ability to tackle historically charged content with commanding aesthetic beauty. His way of romanticizing or editing moments of weakness easily fooled the eye into believing it was beholding a moment of triumph. The range of work that transpired from this retrospective lay bare the understandings of masked perceptions and the truths that rest beneath the most captivating renderings of such a principal artist.


Tracing Similiarites and Differences With The Work of Maya Hayuk and Lowell Darling

Exhibition Title: Maya Hayuk Feeling Space & Lowell Darling Full Disclosure
Location: Gallery 16 501 Third Street San Francisco, CA 94107
Dates: February 5 - March 31, 2010

As I entered Gallery 16, I was immediately drawn to the right as an explosion of neon and people swirled around the room. Maya Hayuk’s series of colorful paintings, mural and light collaboration, as well as a painting and mural collaboration hung waiting to be surveyed. On opening night, February 6th, the crowd was amass of every age group; it seemed an entire community had come to see Feeling Space. Babies crawled across the floor while an elderly man lay passed out in a colorful Hayuk inspired beanbag; someone had enjoyed a little too much free beer. I have been a fan of Hayuk’s for a while; her murals that can be traced all the way from Santiago to Brooklyn are colorful, in a thoughtful and psychedelic manner. She is probably best known for this medium as she is commissioned for it quite often. Prior to going to the show I read an interview with Hayuk in which she spoke of the trouble she felt she had encountered at trying to translate her mural style to the canvas. Trouble indeed. As I circled the gallery space that held Hayuk’s work I was nothing but disappointed. Hayuk’s work just did not translate. The canvas took on a lackluster appearance, nothing really stood out to me. The bright colors and shapes were very similar to what is found in Hayuk’s murals, however, when Hayuk is downsized, the result is not in her favor. Hayuk had one large work up that was mounted to the wall and comprised of a half mural accompanied by wood and painted canvas panels, I felt lost when looking at the work. It seemed childish and confusing, and effortless, none of these qualities translating to a favorable piece. Hayuk is an exceptional muralist and her talent is obviously there, but her show at Gallery 16 is nothing to get excited over. My greatest worry is that those new to Hayuk’s work will quickly dismiss her paintings. Hopefully Hayuk will continue with her murals and work out this canvas issue she is currently facing.

Untitled work by Maya Hayuk

Across the gallery California conceptual artist Lowell Darling’s show called Full Disclosure was displayed. How these two shows were supposed to smoothly transition from one to the other I cannot tell you. There seemed to be no fluidity between the two, no common theme, and quite frankly it was a confusing display of two very different artists. Darling recently announced his candidacy for California Governor, and many at the opening wore pins bearing Darling’s petition to run. The exhibition displayed all of Darling’s personal possessions from the United States. Boxes piled full of personal items, ephemera, and art that had been removed from a storage unit for this show. Some personal letters were displayed while others remained in their boxes. Probably the most amusing items hanging on the wall were an IRS document proving Darling is not an artist, as well as a letter Darling had written to Norman Rockwell asking why he had chosen to do artwork for a liquor advertisement. The gallery plans to hold weekly performances at the gallery where Darling will inventory the boxed items with the viewers present.

Untitled work by Lowell Darling

Darling’s exhibition was interesting to view but felt out of place next to Hayuk’s multi-colored canvases. Whether you choose to vote for Darling in the 2010 primaries is up to you, but hopefully his personal belongings will continue to be available for years to come as I am sure their amusing quality outweighs Darling’s ambitious race for Governor. As for Hayuk, I truly hope that she continues to work with canvases because as her mural work shows, her work only becomes smarter and sharper with time.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Curating a Farm Metropolis: The Making of an Urban Ho-Down

Exhibition Title: Urban Ho-Down
Location: Rosie's Cheeks Garage 1132 Florida Street San Francisco, CA 94114
Dates: February 6, 2010

On February 6th, Rosie’s Cheeks Garage located at 1132 Florida Street was transformed into a barn - the kind of barn seen in movie stills from Paper Moon, the kind of barn where girls with pigtails become adults with men named Farmer John. With nearly three feet of straw covering the cement floors, the art show was a combination of freak show installations, accordion performers and bicycle driven hayrides. The only thing missing was the petting zoo.

Photo: Najva Sol

Done in collaboration with MAPP (Mission Arts Performance Project), the show was a collaborative effort with residents of the Mission District of San Francisco. As described by their website:

The Mission Arts & Performance Project is a bi-monthly, multidisciplinary, intercultural community arts event that takes place in the South-East neighborhood of the Mission District of San Francisco. The MAPP connects visual artists, musicians, poets, dancers/choreographers, filmmakers, playwrights, and other artists, in an on-going collaboration with community organizers and local residents, placing art and performance on the street level through the use of alternative spaces such as private garages, gardens, living rooms, studios, street corners, and small businesses, to manifest a non-centralized intercultural arts happening.

Najva Sol, a peer from New York I had worked with in the past, recently moved out West in search of a creative haven. Having already established The Lowbrow Society of the Arts in Brooklyn, she came to the city with a mission: to curate an art-party. In her words, “We dress up your event. We art direct raves. We build kissing booths. We book dancers, fire performers, hula-hoopers, face-painters, burlesque-queens, VJ’s, and other delectable entertainment. We provide scandal. We provide culture. We provide a spark.” And this time the spark was the classic urban ho-down. Apple bobbing, pie eating contests, popcorn and cider—all for sake of Americana kitsch.

When asked to curate the show, I rejoiced. I imagined a white-walled loft space in SOMA, complete with collaged columns, exposed brick and French doors leading to the back porch. I imagined piles of crisp 100 dollars bill placed neatly in a Hermes purse to be used to our liking. I imagined furs draping off of philanthropists as they trace the walls I so neatly hung. Instead, I got a garage. Thankfully, I got a garage. Suddenly, the possibilities were limitless. Traversing a 3-month journey through the terrain of county fair ephemera provided many obstacles. Artists came easily, as San Francisco is a beacon of young artisans searching for a resume addendum. While performers presented a more difficult search, last minute confirmations established a set list as funky as it was awkward.

Photo: Najva Sol

Ukulady was the headliner. Dressed in hot pink and lime green garb, her short stature only concealed her aggressive performance tactic. Loud and brash, the audience was immediately captivated by the contrast between her high-pitched vocals and burly demeanor. Other highlights included The Eco-Carny who used homemade puppets to discuss environmental issues and the positive impacts of weed. The art—which at times was unfortunately shielded by organized activities (pie eating, etc.)—included local professional artists as well as students of the SFAI community. Featuring the work of Frida Cano, Rebekah Goldstein, Carey Baldwin, William Brennan, Najva Sol, Joie Rey, Aubrey Learner, David Grant, Lou LeMauviel and Beja Tinsley, the pieces transformed the warped wood of the rusted garage. Each with a designated arena, Frida Cano’s family portraits were dimly lit in a back alley way, while Lou LeMauviel’s stuffed animals with reflective faces were meticulously lined in our version of a Hall of Mirrors.

On February 6th, Rosie’s Cheeks transformed into a concrete ranch supplying the necessary aesthetic of circus freaks, masked carnies, apple bobbing, pinstriped popcorn bags, and the general feeling gained from a passing tumbleweed. If success could be measured by leftover hay,
Urban-Ho Down was a masterpiece, as nearly a week later and all those in attendance are still finding straw stuck to the bottom of their feet.