Thursday, October 31, 2013


Mike Kelley is written about as one of "the most influential artists of our time." Born in 1954, he was an innovative multi-medium artist based in Los Angeles after growing up in Detroit, Michigan. He mentioned that he hoped to scrutinize mass culture with his work, in order to "discover what is hidden, repressed, within it." With his experience working with photography, sculpture, performances, video, and drawing and painting, he explores themes in culture with various mediums. However, his work shown at the Patrick Painter Gallery in Santa Monica is much less exciting.
Upon entering the gallery itself, the viewer is presented with a "hero piece," a large photograph of a fake-rock structure in Detroit. The photo itself is muddy in color and slightly desaturated. The press release for the show mentions that the viewer's expectations are meant to be challenged by the presentation of garbage as art, but all that can be seen is garbage in cheap black frames. Though Detroit itself can be a dreary place, the images at the Painter gallery are taken out of context and stripped of most of their luster.
Without the performance aiding Kelley's Project, Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's Profile, the spectator is left with thirty-four dreary black and white photographs of pages from books displaying cave formations. Out of context, the photos are also out of style and are shown in a large rectangular chunk covering an entire wall of the gallery. They read as what they are, just photos of pages from a book, nothing exceptional. The viewer is left wanting more.
One piece offers a glimmer of hope to the show: Psychic Waveforms. The large photograph is a combination of four frames and the result of a technical malfunction when developing negatives. Kelley was hoping to photograph an artist's sculpture garden and found that the negative images were marred by white wave patterns. Instead of throwing away the roll, he combined four of the frames to suggest that the marks found on the rolls were meant to be there and were evidence of psychic activity, caught on film. The black and white image is framed poorly and the glass reflects distracting light but the piece itself is impressive, a ghostly pattern of white waves repeating across the darkness. Kelley has found beauty in the repetition of form.
Unfortunately Psychic Waveforms does not redeem the show itself. Though the hanging of the photographs on display was thoughtful with regards to placement, there are amateur mistakes marring the viewer's experience. For example, upon walking up to a photograph, the spectator will notice pencil marks on the wall itself, pointing to where to hang the piece. Another distracting element to the exhibition is the apparent cheapness of the frames and glass, as they are dusty, display fingerprints, and are so reflective that it's hard to fully see the photograph within. This show had some potential but the presentation of the work made it hard to fully appreciate any one piece.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pacific Rim Triennial

Pacific Rim Triennial
The Orange County Museum of Art has given the public something to remember by neglecting their previous Biennial format (showing only California based artists) and creating an exhibition which collectively represents an example of what art means in the world today, showing more than thirty artists’ works from around the Pacific Rim. Dan Cameron is the curator-mastermind behind the show and mentions in the catalog the challenge of creating a show of this nature, especially as his goal was to exemplify the Pacific Rim’s many artists and their influence on each other. Eventually, the exhibition was narrowed down to represent fifteen countries; only a fragment compared to the vastness of the Rim itself. Pieces by the chosen artists are meant to push the boundaries of what art can be and how it serves to represent artists’ intentions, and the wide variety of mediums provides for a constantly changing atmosphere as the viewer walks throughout the many rooms of the museum. The show provides a glimpse into the ever-changing world of contemporary art through the eyes of several generations of contemporary Pacific Rim artists across international borders.
           What makes the Triennial so special is not just the quantity of work shown, but the differences and comparisons exemplified by the exhibition’s wide variety of mediums and styles. One white-walled room may contain several paintings, a sculpture, and a video installation, which may have no relation to each other thematically but somehow still serve to keep the viewer engaged. There is no discrimination between mediums, and no boundaries to set them apart. Work calls to you with sound, moving pictures, or simply with color, and lures you into dark rooms or wide spaces to experience a sensation instigated by the artist’s intentions-whether it be the intensity of a light show on the ceiling aided by a loud special effects soundtrack, or a patch of light projected on the floor inviting you to step in and paint using your body. The show serves to spike the curiosity in museumgoers and encourage them to think about art in a different manner and create relationships between themselves and the art as well as the art to other works.
           China’s Lin Tianmiao’s human and animal bones wrapped in brightly colored silk thread provide a wow-factor as the thread spills down onto the floor in a spectrum of piled color. As the bones become smaller in size the viewer loses track of whom they belong to and the line between person and beast is blurred. Tapestries reading angry anti-political slogans adorn a graphic wall, the bright colors and cartoonish embroideries pretty to see at first glance and disturbing to translate. Adan Vallecillo’s tiles made of flattened tires create a pattern of squares from wall to ceiling, instigating a newfound respect for the profound beauty of recycled materials. The naturally occurring marks defining the difference in each tile speak of the roads travelled and the influence of travel on art both physically and symbolically. The museum is a marketplace of art, and the artists are the vendors. Each piece speaks a different artistic language, but a language none the same. Much of the art provokes questioning of the authenticity of culture or the importance of identity.
           One noteworthy piece is a fifteen minute long video by the Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, titled Two Planets: The Gleaners and the Thai Farmers which shows the backs of the heads of a group of Thai women who are discussing Jean-Fran├žois Millet’s oil painting portraying three peasant women gleaning a wheat field. The women in the video ask each other about the significance of the subjects in the painting, wondering what these peasants are doing and why. The world of the museum and the rural collide in a humorous fashion as the women laugh at each other’s concepts of the painting and wonder what it means. It’s a fresh look into art from an unbiased perspective-by placing such a “fancy” piece of artwork completely out of the context of a museum or gallery, Rasdjarmrearnsook destroys the piece’s meaning and provides a clean slate for interpretation while also demonstrating that people of any culture or class can appreciate and talk about art. As an artist, she serves as the mediator between cultures and physically brings the art to people who haven’t previously seen it.
           As Rasdjarmrearnsook becomes the mediator between farmers and art in rural Thailand, San Francisco’s Camille Utterback does the same for the viewer and the art in the museum space itself. Her pieces are activated by the interaction between a participant and digital media, and the movements of the viewer are translated into brush strokes and splatters on a wall projection.  The software she created to put this into being is a testament to the link between technology and art today and further pushes the boundaries of what art is capable of by involving programming, a participant, and the artist themselves. It also begs the question of who the artist is. Are we the artist here due to our physical movements creating visible abstraction? Or is Utterback the artist because we are carrying out her vision? Her statement with this piece has something to do with provoking this question as well as her mediation between the participant and the projection.
           When it boils down to it, Dan Cameron is also a mediator, but in a bigger sense. He chose each artist in the Triennial for a purpose and presented them to us; the viewers, to understand a small portion of what it means to be interdisciplinary, innovative, and insightful. The different views of the artists and their respective stylistic choices are all selling us something- a condensed world’s fair where we are presented with objects to look at, consider, and eventually buy into. We “ooh and ahh” at a colorful mural before reading the plaque it’s presented with to realize that there is more than what meets the eye. Stereotypes, preconceptions, and formalities are all shattered when the viewer is presented with a multi-medium show that both stuns with beauty and shocks with meaning.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Let Me Show You the (Art) World(s)

What defines a gallery? The simple definition found online is: "a room or building for the display or sale of works of art," but this barely scratches the surface of the real art world. Our Gallery Practices class was able to visit two very different gallery spaces this past Friday, each on opposite sides of the art world spectrum in regards to commerciality.
We begin with Commonwealth & Council, located in Koreatown in Central Los Angeles. Founded by Young Chung, the space is primarily artist-run, and used to be a residency for artists to come work and show under one roof. Though Commonwealth and Council no longer offers artists overnight stays it does provide several studios in which artists may come and go as they please. Previously an apartment, many of the walls have been demolished to create an open atmosphere, only broken by a long hallway lined with studios as you enter, and Young mentions that ideally he would like all the doors open to make for a welcoming feel to the whole place. Not that the place does need to be any more welcoming. When we walked in, we were greeted with doughnuts and coffee (provided by our professor for his own birthday) and Young was cheery and engaging. Two artists meandered around the space, preparing for a show they were to put on in the upcoming weeks. They were kind enough to talk about their work as they did so. The space is so organic feeling-some walls are missing, floorboards squeak, there is a sense of relaxation about the place in general. The process of destroying walls, slicing open the ceiling, keeping doors open, and inviting all to come and participate in viewing and discussing art opens up Commonwealth and Capitol to create a comfortable artist-run space. The viewer is no longer isolated from the work, as the gallery space is no longer isolated from the artist. Young's place isn't sterile, disinfected from society, polished. Instead it serves to mold the artists and their work in a truly organic way. It's a homey space, artists and their art seem to belong there just as much as the walls themselves.
When we travelled back to La Cienega Boulevard to visit Blum & Poe, we were faced with a different breed of gallery, the smooth running machine that is focused on the commercial aspect of the art world. Walking into Blum & Poe was intimidating; even the door itself was impressive-a big stainless steel thing that required a bit of pulling. Clear glass panes allowed viewers to peek into a room full of books, fancy chairs, and authoritative people. We walked into the space to the left, a large white room with a desk and uncomfortable-looking furniture, almost indistinguishable from strange, seat-like chairs. After waiting a few minutes, a trendy woman gave us a tour of the current show, a solo exhibition of the English artist Linder's work. Her highly sexualized, feminist collages lined the walls of multiple rooms. The hero piece was a large light box piece titled "The Migration of Symbols" and set the tone of the show's more, well, watered down-art. Compared to most of the exhibition, it was tame, not blatantly pornographic or "too controversial," but sensual enough to grab the viewer's attention.
Overall, the exhibition was well thought out and contained such a large body of work by the single artist that it was hard not to be impressed by her clear aesthetic and production quality. The gallery itself lent a hand to the artist in its large size, cleanliness, and interesting upstairs level. The upstairs had wooden floors, white walls, and was dedicated to showing several large scale lightbox photo-collages. The colored light reflected on the floors of the dark room and gave an eerie feel to the artwork that made it feel almost surrealist, which is interesting considering Linder's use of kitchen appliances, baked goods, and flowers to cover the female body. 
Though less welcoming and more formal, Blum and Poe was a well-run gallery that clearly has backers with large pockets, a well-oiled team of curators and gallery coordinators, and high-profile artists. I suggest a visit to different gallery types to get a feel for each Gallery's own personality, as no two are the same. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Demolition Woman

Chapman's Guggenheim Gallery strikes again with an attack lead by powerful women artists. How they indivudually and collectively regenerate meanings of art, materials, and truths is what makes this exhibition successful.
Young Chung is the curator behind the show itself but credits Commonwealth and Council, an artist initiated collective, for the exhibition. Much of his focus in based on bringing to light artists who fit under opressed or minority groups, and this collective provides work of a unique and often very vocal creative nature, Demolition Woman being of no exception..
Imagine yourself walking into the gallery, a large white box or a room beginning with a wall against which a large glass case displays a beautiful hand-written book, looking somewhat important due to the way in which it is presented and the formalities in which it embodies. The book is open to a page describing in beautiful letting, the names "Madam and Eve," and suddenly, the movitve is clear. This version of the holy text is reinstating two women as God's creation-the man is now unneccessary. A statement for the affirmation of lesbians as being a svalid as heterosexuals (even in the face of the Holy Bible itself!) is abundantly clear! The artist demolishesprevious notions of the authenticity of religion simply by rewriting the text.
We pass this book in its formal casing and move on the the rest of the gallery, the single room filled with pieces ranging from sculptural, to drawing, to video, to banners lining the edge of the wall as it meets the ceiling. Our eyes move upward to the banners; they are large and long and embellished with shining text sewn onto the cloth. NO MESS HOMICIDAL PICS. COLD ICON PISS CHAMMIE. OH DISMAL COSMIC PENIS. What do all these phrases have in common? How are they demolishing anything? We learn that they are in fact anagrams, the words "Mission Accomplished" radically rearranged. In the simplest of ways, this piece serves to destroy the initial wording. But is that it? I don't think so. "Mission Accomplished" is a controversy, a stain on American history provided by George W. Bush as he walked off a plane wearing the respected uniform of one who fights for America. He steals the identity of the military man in order to bring glory to himself for "winning" the Iraqi war, a gross interpretation of the rightful credit. So, these banners carry loaded words, they shame mission accomplished and destory its meaning. The mission was never accomplished.
But there's more! There is a sculpture of a melted sculpture on the floor, referencing the demolition of the initial piece and the recreation of the metals as bars of solid material, a new piece within itself. Another sculpture is raised off the ground with thick pieces of metal wire, the raised chunks of ceramic material but becoming beautiful again through means of the piecing together of the exploded porcelain. On the adjacent wall is a flatscreen, we hear a solid sound of something hitting the ground, over and over again. We watch a muddy hand fling the raw earth to the ground, never actually seeing the impact but feeling it hit the ground through the use of the audio. The hand has bright pink painted fingernails which contract starkly with the grey mud. The flatscreen is adjacent to a large photograph of a mud-covered woman, and the connection becomes clear. Like makeup, the mud is covering up our sense of beauty. Flinging off the makeup serves to better our vision of what lies underneath.
There are several other pieces that catch our eye in the gallery but some seem coded and it's hard to see their motive. I will be returning to find the key to demolition in the pieces I do not understand at first glance, as each piece I do not understand lures me into its snare with its individuality and unique character.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Night Gallery, The Box, Actual Size

Parking in Los Angeles is not fun. With that said, it's worth the trouble when there are galleries like Night Gallery, The Box, and Actual Size. Our class was able to both view the galleries and speak to the people that ran them (very cool). Let's take a look at what we saw/heard:
Located on 16th Street in East LA (on the fringe of the warehouse district), Night Gallery is an alternative gallery space. The inside of the space used to be painted all black, with moody lighting and a theatrical feel. The name Night Gallery stemmed from the fact that the gallery was open late nights only, but due to both the issue with working late nights and the commercial promise that the white cube held for the gallery owners, they made the logical switch to white walls and daytime hours. With the leap into the world of the white, the gallery found itself attracting a different group of people-collectors and buyers that may not have attended the late night events. The move to a bigger space also allowed the owners to run shows with bigger works and the effects continued onto the artists themselves, who are now able to produce larger pieces and do so more often. The gallery represents artists who often help curate the shows themselves; the current show focusing on the artistic elements of Aliens. Interestingly enough, H.R. Giger (the artistic director of the film) has a piece shown at the gallery which served as inspiration for many of the other showing artists. The exhibition, titled Culm, features several of the artists represented by the gallery on and around the many labyrinth-like walls of the space and includes but is not limited to  video and sound installations, sculptures, and paintings.
The Box can be found in the Arts District of LA and is your standard (but very large) white cube gallery. The current exhibition, Birth of the Universe is a solo show by Judith Bernstein. Her giant paintings are in-your-face portraits of feminism-vaginas birthing space itself. Her florescent expressions of the Big Bang, nuclear explosions, and the rage of the vagina itself serves as a shocking and visually stunning exhibition. The energy in the paintings radiates around the entire gallery as every wall reverberates with themes of death, pain, pleasure, and power. 
The gallery itself tends to show a younger generation of artists who push the definition of contemporary art by playing with potentially problematic concepts and themes. Maura McCarthy (who runs the gallery) mentioned that she views art as education, and taking risks by showing radical and dynamic young artists is necessary, even if the work does not sell. The Box continues to show work as work rather than potential profit, which I think is admirable and daring. I look forward to seeing future exhibitions there.
The one-room gallery is located in Chinatown in a small storefront. Two artists run the space and spoke to our class about the gallery (with an awesome powerpoint to supplement). One thing they mentioned was that they try not to be too predictable with their aesthetics, constantly working to change their and their audiences' relationship with their space. Though Actual Size doesn't represent a group of artists exclusively, they do work with artists for extended periods of time in order to get their ideas across successfully. One really great aspect of the gallery is the fact that in addition to every show is an event supplementing the exhibition in some way. Their work in breaking the division between performance and the audience and artwork and objects is exemplified in their alternative events such as a "junk sale" of artist -made and found pieces, an open invitation to their neighbors to sit in chairs in the gallery, a 24 hour sound experience in which bands rotated inside and outside the gallery for an entire day, and a birthday party for the gallery itself for which artists decorated the space however they chose. The concept of a gallery as a white cube in which paintings must be shown is shattered by Actual Size and I love that about it. 

La Cienega

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to visit several of the galleries on La Cienega Boulevard, including Cherry & Martin and the David Kordansky Gallery. Cherry and Martin featured Brian Bress, Matt Connors, Mari Eastman, Nathan Mabry, and T. Kelly Mason while Kordansky focused solely on the sculptures of John Mason.
The white-painted brick front of Cherry and Martin gives an instant impression of the white cube space-highlighted by the bright, sterile neon light reading the gallery's name. There is a wall adjacent to the door and it creates a sort of hallway while you walk into the actual gallery space. Inside there is life in color-paintings and installations on every wall. The first piece that stands out to the viewer is a video on a flat screen, a window into the world of the television framed by a drawing. It's perplexing and intimate as we see a figure moving within a still figure, almost magical due to the fact that the format isn't square but instead the shape of a face, blurring the lines between drawing and video. Coincidentally, the video piece by Bress is actually titled "Window."

Brian Bress is featured again in the exhibition on the adjacent wall and there are several more artists shown throughout the rest of the gallery. Another artist that stood out to me was Nathan Mabry, whose sculptures evoke both minimalist and primitive themes. His piece "Blind as a.." is a ethnic-looking terra cotta sculpture of a bat on a wooden, angular pedestal. The play with words with his title creates a duality as the piece itself seems culturally oriented and almost sacred. The bat piece correlates with his other shown work, "Sly as a.." which again plays on the phrase "sly as a fox" by portraying the terra cotta fox statue as another sacred object on par with the bat.

Before I get too carried away with the work at Cherry and Martin, I'll rave a little about the Kordansky Gallery's exhibition.
I was blown away by the work shown at the David Kordansky Gallery.
The exhibition, titled Crosses, Figures, Spears, Torques features the ceramic sculptures of John Mason, an LA based artist with an emphasis on exploring and defining contemporary sculpture. His use of clay and glazing techniques push the borders of ceramic art and his work brings to light the versatility of the medium. With a focus on the power of geometry, his clay "figures" are both intimidating and awe inspiring. The installation itself is impressive, as the pieces are all raised on a single rectangular pedestal which rises a few inches off the floor of the gallery. The sculptures become lifelike.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Syrop & Chang

Syrop & Chang

Truth and Censorship

How does one understand truth when the truth is censored? Syrop and Chang's two person exhibition poses this question to visitors of Chapman's Guggenheim Gallery.
Mitchell Syrop explores the notions of text and the power it holds to the viewer by scribbling sometimes very personal statements on large scale surfaces. His blown-up versions of notes written hastily in composition books serve to give the viewer an emotional response that coincides with the urgency of his writing. We feel rushed, nervous, even anxious, and we almost can see him writing the words as we read them. The text is almost performative within itself.
York Chang dives into the idea of information, what it means to the public, and how it is provided to us. His pieces involve playing with the viewer by simultaneously giving and taking away information. For example, on one wall of the gallery are several large fluorescent lights, wrapped in black string so that a majority of the light is not visible. On another wall are rows of Polaroid photos, turned towards the wall so the only impression we get is of the black backside of the photographs. Again, a similar theme is displayed in the large stacks of newspapers set in the center of the gallery space, all from one day, headlines about terrorist attacks. He is both providing us the knowledge that the information is there, and showing us how he specifically took it away. With the lights, it is apparent; he has covered them in such a way that they don't do their job. The Polaroids provide us an inkling-we know there should be pictures underneath but are denied the privilege of seeing them. However, the newspapers provide two ideas in themselves. York is clearly politically motivated in choosing papers headlined with terrorist attacks, questioning whether this history is accurate or handed to us for purposes other than knowing the truth. He also is denying information by buying so many of these newspapers. When the papers were out, he would have bought so many that many people wouldn't have gotten copies. This may seem far fetched, but by providing us with the visual, he denies others the same information.
Another interesting idea of the fabrication of history is the piece on the wall parallel to the other newspapers. Two seemingly identical lithographs of newspaper clippings are framed next to each other, and each has a section of scratching. From a distance the lithographs do look the same, but when the viewer looks closer, they will realize there are two different headlines for the same date. This brings up the idea of questioning history itself and the institutions that provide truth to us.
Lastly, the entirety of the exhibition is black and white. The irony of this absence of color is the age old saying that "the truth is black and white." 
But is it?