Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dia:Beacon Inspiration

Traveling from San Francisco to New York, I was both excited and unsure of what to expect. I was looking forward to visiting the myriad of locations listed on our itinerary, but I was so severely exhausted from the previous three months of class and travel, I did not know what to expect from myself. Little did I know that the next five days would be the most energizing week of my academic career. Searching for a research topic for a final paper was proving to be difficult as the semester progressed but during my trip to the Dia:Beacon, inspiration found my project.

The Dia:Beacon is located a distance away from NYC and required an entire daylong commitment, but this excursion proved to be the most exciting of the entire trip. The Dia:Beacon is a spectacularly converted Nabisco boxing factory from the 1920’s and is both expansive and spacious. Surely, something of this size and stature could never be found on the island of Manhattan. Rooms dedicated to Warhol, Chamberlain, On Kawara Gerhard Richater, Donald Judd Dan Flavin, Robert Smithson, Bruce Nauman among others was the most exciting collection of artists and space I have ever encountered. The de Mineo family collection of Rothko commissioned Mineo Chapel resides in Huston, as does the rest if the family’s collection, however, the contemporary collection of work located at the Dia:Beacon proved to be as inspirational as its physical move to Beacon, NY.

The Dia Foundation modeled its New York foundation after the German Kunsthalle model of exhibition organization, with some American modifications. The Dia Foundation held steadfast to its commitment to maintain the integrity of the art of contemporary artists. Exhibitions at the Dia New York were scheduled to only hang for one year and comprised of Dia commissioned works only with each floor of the foundation dedicated to one artist. Group shows were allowed, but only in the form of monographic shows, never a retrospective.

Historically, the 1980’s were filled with traveling blockbuster shows, but the Dia’s refusal to conform to the quid pro quo resulted in bad reviews and very little press coverage of its space in New York. Visitors to the Dia New York were rare therefore, the Dia aimed to perform to the purpose of the project of the artist, not the viewing audience. The Dia received much criticism for continuing its elitist behavior by moving to Beacon, NY, however, once the space is viewed, there is no question that New York City could never have produced a space as vast and buried in nature as the Dia:Beacon. It’s almost forgivable that one must go through Poughkeepsie, NY, before you arrive at the Dia:Beacon, NY.

Artist Robert Irwin even enjoyed hanging his work during a yearlong exhibition, only to have it taken down, modified by him to his liking and hung again for another year. Irwin also redesigned the building the Dia currently resides in, successfully repositioning the interior and salvaging beautiful original wood flooring. The Dia:Beacon is a successful space; beautiful in design and the pieces it holds

My visit of the Dia:Beacon sparked my interest in contemporary land artists such as Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer. The Dia:Beacon owns the Lightning Fields project created by Walter De Maria. Questions about the conception, creation and maintenance of the project were brought up. Land was purchased, de Maria was commission to create the steel rods and the placement was grid like and intended to distance itself from the gallery scene of the east coast. This pioneer endeavor of purchasing land to control the space and create the work was an extraordinary concept. The idea that these locations were created to step away from the commodification of the art world and have now become a destination location, a pilgrimage to Mecca, has created a geopolitical question. Purchase of land for art pieces creates questions of geopolitical associations, patronage, conservation and ideas of permanence.

De Maria’s Lightning Field is alive and needs to be maintained, creating the three things needed for land art pieces like the Lightning Field - 1) an art historical prominence of the project and artist 2) a successful art dealer who knows the business of art and 3) an individual with wealth and capital to complete the project. This idea of patronage is what jumped at me the most during our visit to the Dia and sparked my interest in the creation of land art leading me to choosing the creation of land art, its geopolitical interests, permanence and patronage as my final paper project.

Overall, the trip to New York was an excellent opportunity to get to know my fellow classmates, and have conversations about the spaces, pieces, lectures, exhibition tours and the city over dinner and a few glasses of wine. This was an excellent experience I will hang on to for a long time.

By Isabella Shirinyan

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

MOCA, Dialogue and Curation

While traveling to various museums in the Los Angeles area with Hanru’ s class, I was vitally aware of the cultural potential of museums, the need for interpretation and learning and the appeal of some institutions being open for longer than a few days a week. While visiting such locations as the Hammer Museum, LACMA, MOCA or the Jurassic Technology Museum reminded me of the importance of existing exhibitions – and the need for specific exhibitions- as they often define the heart of the museum.

Exhibitions have a unique ability to reveal and conceal the faults of an institution – and a great show has the ability to leave a prestigious mark. Author and exhibitor Kathleen McLean writes that “ exhibitions show things, whether a work of art or a working machine, a history timeline or a bit of bone. The form of exhibition is the one feature common to all museums, from institutions engaged in scholarly research for a small professional audience to a large multidisciplinary organizations providing services for the broadest spectrum of people.” And as graduate students who traveled from a new destination and dialogue to another, a conversation of curration and presentation began to construct itself within our three days: curation of exhibitions defines the soul of an artistic space and if done wrong, it exposes a lack of dialogue within an institution.

The lack of dialogue in certain institutions was evident and the class was given additional curatorial information by curators and artistic directors of the institutions that was not public knowledge. This was a grand treat. At various institutions that shall remain nameless, MOCA was highly criticized for lacking a general direction in their curatorial and exhibition departments. Comments were made which insinuated a lack of creativity and overall talent, however, having scheduled our group visit to MOCA on the last day of the trip, I was unable to neither agree nor disagree with this contention until I had witnessed it for myself. Having said that, I was unable to shake a curiosity about the MOCA and upon meeting its curator, Alma Ruiz, and touring MOCA at the Geffen Contemporary, I was finally able to understand the whispers, and concerns of its large and small contemporaries.

With five curators planning and designing shows at the Geffen center one begins to wonder which curator was able to strong arm the other in order to gain the upper hand in its design and conception. Comprising of five pieces created by 6 artists, the Geffen center is exhibiting Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light, Color, and Space" a show predominantly showing Latin American artists and curated by Latina Alma Ruiz, MOCA curator and the concept creator of the exhibit. Shown are pieces from Carlos Cruz-Diez, Julio Le Parc and Jesús Rafael Soto, Lucio Fontana and a group piece from occasional working partners Hélio Oiticica and Neville D'Almeida. The work exhibited reflects primarily on the notions of light and space – and with five extremely large pieces from larger than life artists – the Geffen MOCA is able to exhibit the growing popularity of these Latin American artists within the contemporary field. However, how does this new exhibit define the soul and definition of the institution it exhibits, except for the seemingly gimmicky pool chosen as an exhibit and one, which lacks all connection to the other pieces? While the goal of the show may have been to “ lodge an expansion of perceptual consciousness within those who encountered it” the scale of the pieces were far too sparse to act as a conduit of its artistic functions.

Lucio Fontana’ s piece looked like a signature caught it mid-air. It was the epitome of postwar three-dimensional art – compared by the Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight to Pollock’ s drip paintings. Soto’ s plastic rubber tubing allowed for the visitor to engage in the piece and become part of the motion. Le Parc’ s play on light and texture with the use of mirrors and a projector was oddly placed and the set of all five pieces lacked any obvious direction for the visitor, but always began at the first piece, Fontana’ s light sculpture. Oiticica and D'Almeida’ s piece was a combination of a swimming pool and slide show. Allowing the visitor to dive into the pleasure principle of life: leisure (and cocaine). The set up of the entire show failed to utilize the imagination of the visitor irregardless of the books and information available on near by stylish tables artfully lighted by lamps and video installations exhibiting information about the artists. I walked in thinking it was another installation only to realize that it was an information center.

By Isabella Shirinyan

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Recent showing of: ‘Walls, Diaries, Paintings'
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery

Jose Parla, a Cuban-American artist grew up in 1980’s Miami in the midst of its cocaine era, and during graffiti art’s debut as a cutting edge form of artistic expression. Since then, he has combined his street art aesthetic with his formal arts education and earned critical success by bringing his wall installations and paintings in to the white cube environment. Among many other venues, Parla has exhibited at Emmanuel Perrotin gallery in Paris as well as with Deitch Projects in NYC and has been featured and discussed by major art critics and publications. After viewing his impressive resume, I continue to be surprised by how easy it seems for artists to capitalize upon established visual and narrative tropes. While visiting the Chelsea galleries in NYC this past March, I found Parla to be a manifestation of what is problematic of the commercial art scene in NY in general: that there is a rigid fixation on the old guard and a predictable repertoire of work. In short, among many of the reputable galleries in one of the world’s most central commercial art spots, there seems to be very little that is actually new or risk taking in the Chelsea galleries. My impression in many of the galleries was, what sells is what shows and that what shows often utilizes established aesthetics while espousing played out or over emphasized critical themes. Whereas Parla’s success seems to rely on the appeal and popularity of the street art aesthetic, Mike Weiss Gallery’s recent Hermann Nitsch exhibit featured safe, colorful, and fun-loving performances (the remnants of which were for sale in the gallery) while relying on the capital of the artist’s former infamy and affiliation with the Viennese Actionists.

Walking down West 24th Street Jose Parla’s work was visible through the gallery windows across the street and was immediately captivating. Parla’s work points to the city surfaces as a billboard- journaling accumulative experiences. He resites this urban experience and imbues it with his own layer of palimpsetic code within a context where every thing exists because a decision was made, and therefore has an automatic air of meaning: a gallery. Parla mimics aesthetics of abstract expressionist gestural calligraphic mark making with Dada-esque inclusions of flyers and posters found on the street, on backgrounds that could easily be, and sometimes really are, graffiti covered walls. In combining these three trends, Parla clearly shows his predilection for the idea of texts meaning versus its actual meaning- opening the work up to reflecting the viewers personal narratives and associations of urban environments. Parla treats text in a manner similar to the Cubist and Dada artists whose fixation arose out of the mass production of newspapers and advertisements and the ensuing everpresence of words in the public visual milieu. Typography contributes to the visual experience of Parla’s art work, a formal and compositional device, they are spatial figures drawing attention to the textuality of text and suggesting the potential textuality of the other, non textual Twombly-esque marks in the work.

There is a simultaneous escapism and familiarity appealing in Parla’s work which becomes, a carnival of the evidence/impersonations of contemporary life and the sexy side of urban grit. Clear but textually indecipherable representations of daily urban experience make the work accessible, giving it impressions of layers of content, meaning, and human presence while at the same time that they absolve the viewer of the responsibility of really decoding the works meaning, making it a sensorial, what Parla terms, “reading through feeling” experience.

Perhaps there is a cynical assumption of insincerity that underwrites quotidian work presented in a white cube environment. And so, maybe the fact that Parla is one of the grandfathers of the street art movement is historically important in establishing that he was at least at one time sincere. However is there not a certain falseness to work which talks about everyday experience when it represents the everyday experience of that artist a long time ago? How long ago did he develop this idea and how many times has he repeated it since that ideas inception? The combination of these tastes which are so everpresent, from Urban Outfitters graffiti art appeal to the fact that Twombly’s can be found in most museums of modern art, and the fact that Parla’s work has not changed significantly since he became popular, makes me doubt the sincerity of his work as little more than him riding the wave that he helped create.

Interview with Jose Parla:

1-2-1 w/jeffstaple feat. Jose Parla from jeffstaple on Vimeo.


Monday, May 2, 2011

MoMA New York: Contemporary Art from the Collection - look at Huma Bhabha and Y.O.

EXHIBITION TITLE: Contemporary Art from the Collection


DATES: June 30, 2010 – May 9, 2011

CURATOR: Christophe Cherix

Christophe Cherix is the curator for the exhibition “Contemporary Art from the Collection” currently at view in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Mr. Cherix is also is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at The Museum of Modern Art. Being a native of Switzerland, Mr. Cherix received a License ès lettres from the University of Geneva.

As the curator, Cristophe Cherix assembled these particular works to invoke discourse and debate in regards to topics such as ethnicity, gender, economics and politics all of which pervaded every facet of artistic production since the 1960s. The exhibition’s installation moves in a chronological order dating the artwork from the 1960’s to as late as 2007. A variety of mediums are highlighted from all of the museum’s curatorial departments which are exemplified in approximately 130 works of art.

Huma Bhaba’s is an artist born in Karachi, Pakistan. Ms. Bhabha currently lives and works in Poughkeepsie, New York. She has a series of etchings in the exhibition called “Reconstructions” which particularly moved me. Seven etchings were hung in a row varying from 29 1/2 x 36 5/8" (75 x 93 cm) or 25 x 34" (63.5 x 86.4 cm). They were particularly startling yet beautiful images merging a line between the photographic and stylized hand rendering coupled with the technical aspects of the printmaking medium.

Visiting Pakistan every year, Huma Bhabha was inspired in the city of Karachi for this particular body of work. Huma Bhabha stated in an interview with MoMA that the city of Karachi is under constant construction and one can see many unfinished foundations all over the city. She imagines the foundations being re-born, rising as a phoenix from the ruins of war and environmental destruction. (From the MoMA Audio Program excerpt Contemporary Art from the Collection, June 30, 2010–May 9, 2011)

The beautiful etchings Huma Bhabha created go through a timely process from idea to fruition to form a finished image of social significance. She first collects discarded materials and fashions them in to figures; eroded, distressed and burnt out. She then juxtapositions them within photographic images of the varying foundations found in Karachi, Pakistan. Huma Bhabha then draws on them with India ink then applies the image through the etching process, printing them in black ink at its final stage.

Huma Bhabha’s images play a significant role in the debate and discourse concerning war, ethnicity, and politics. Her work seems to create this environment of anti-spectacle in which the viewer is compelled to make the pilgrimage mentally to discover the aura, the backstory in which the images describe. “Yes they are beautiful and profound, yet they are telling me something.” That is the strength of this body of work; it compels the viewer to seek the story of her native country of Pakistan. Huma Bhabha’s etchings live in a strange world of materiality on paper yet ephemeral from the photograph of the foundation which has no existence anymore.

While contemplating Huma Bhabha’s work I continued to walk through the exhibition in the museum. Suddenly, I was pleased and excited to come across an unintentional discovery. In every gallery I discovered small little phrases written in ink on the walls and also one on heavy cardboard glued to the floor. This “hunt” for all of the little interventions around the many galleries in the exhibition was fun for me and yet reminded me also of the truly contemporary nature of many of the art works which surrounded me. There where quotes such as: “Have the courage to tell him you love him”, “envision spring”, “smell the summer”, etc. They were all signed Y.O. I can only assume that they were made by Yoko Ono because her work was in the exhibition also. This intervention was an interesting display of how “Y.O.” affected the landscape of the institution. She posed questions of space versus production, ephemera and documentation. I was compelled by the relational aesthetic of the art directing the viewer as a participant to “hunt out” these small, little, personal treasures written by the hand of the artist. I found it also interesting that many people walked by without noticing even one. The aura created from the personal aspects of these messages connect the viewer to a more intimate relationship with the artist. This relationship creates a back-story for those who have not seen them to make the pilgrimage to the museum as well as a personal invitation for those who have to return.

MoMA, New York has treated us with sharing a portion of its collection through the exhibition “Contemporary Art from the Collection”. I would recommend taking the time to catch this show before it ends in May. Huma Bhabha’s series of etchings are complex and beautiful and asks the viewer to notice and contemplate the state of affairs in Karachi, Pakistan and its people. Although influenced by Pakistan, for me, Bhabha’s work represents imagery of our contemporary global stance and how America influences the rest of the world and its people. Many Americans understand the world and its issues through media and biased news coverage. The general American may not know what life is like in other countries let alone see the world through the eyes of others living in the disparage of war or a post-war situation. The reality may be hard to fathom for most. Interestingly however, it seems many American’s have an opinion on the matter regardless of their knowledge and experience with world affairs. In retrospect, that is the reason why this body of work is so important to me. Being a veteran of the first Gulf War, through Huma Bhabha’s work I see the influence of a wartime and post-war scenario. I see the destruction and the pain; however, I also see the determination of a people and an inspiration and imagination for growth and the rebuilding of a future which is more positive than the period of earlier circumstances which were more difficult and costly to their country and its people. I see creativity, optimism and realization; that is what moves me most about this body of work. I hope others who do not have the experience of war, other cultures and their difficult experiences with war and conflict can somehow understand through this work the difficulty of war and the difficulty of re-growth after a war and America’s positive, as well as negative impact on the world and its people.

In regards to the tiny interventions on the walls and floor by “Y.O.”, they serve as a constant reminder of the contemporary aspect of the exhibition throughout the chronology of the works involved. However, these interventions pose questions which have been debated at length and have cost municipalities millions of dollars in precious city funds for a very long time. That is the question of graffiti. There are examples of graffiti on walls since the time of the Egyptians. Graffiti has been used to express dissent with a government, a form of creative expression, as well as the simple markings of territory for gangs. One thing they have in common nevertheless is the simple fact that someone has to pay money to clean it up. It may be art but it is on another person’s property that may have not consented to such an intervention. As I stated, this debate has been going on for a very long time and I am not here to participate in that debate or provide answers. I am just curious what the social implications are for galleries and institutions in the future for sharing such interventions as art, especially when children and adolescents view such interventions at institutions whether they be real, documented or praised with historical and cultural relevance.

Orlando Lacro