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Julian Schnabel 1978-1981 | Oko | ArtReview

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Julian Schnabel, The Patients and the Doctors, 1978; installation at Oko, 2013

It’s hard to divorce Julian Schnabel from context. Indeed context is both the curse and blessing that has come to define the artist’s work and career over the last 35 years. That barrel chest! That hair! Those pajamas! Celeb friends! Montauk! West Village palazzo! Great films! Mary Boone! That hair! Those paintings… Here the exclamation tends to either the terrible or the wonderful, but rarely anything in between.

What was it about those paintings that made them so infamous at that moment in New York during the late 1970s and early 1980s when, as so many artists and their critics have noted, the tectonic plates of culture (pun intended) felt like they were cracking up to swallow whole the gains (or losses) of the prior 20 years, not to mention the historical memory of the pre-Second World War avant-gardes? Wasn’t painting dead? Hadn’t its inherent humanism and its private language of subjective investment been shown to be obsolete if not morally bankrupt? And who is this asshole with the hair that isn’t reading Craig Owens and getting in line like everyone else?

A few decades on and this language of critique does feel, for better or worse, like it has run out of steam. What better time then to put up some of those notorious early paintings, direct from The Painter’s private collection. And who better to organise the affair than Alison Gingeras, house curator to Amalia Dayan and Daniella Luxembourg’s uptown shop, which has underwritten the East Village storefront, Oko, where one work from each of Schnabel’s early series – St Sebastian – Born in 1951 (1975-9); The Patients and the Doctors (1978); Mutant King (1981); Abstract Painting on Blue Velvet (1980) – is on view in two-week stints. Context strikes again.

But oh, that painting! Dumb luck – or, because the rhetoric matters in such cases, ‘divine providence’ – gave to us to see The Patients and the Doctors, one of the notorious plate paintings that Schnabel exhibited in his first solo show at Mary Boone’s Soho space in 1979. It’s big. So big in Oko’s little space that, like some aesthetic bear hug, you can’t break away from it. Surprisingly, though, it’s less gestural, less expressionist and muscular than all of the history book deflations would have one believe. Breaking the plates and placing all of those ceramic shards must have been a chore. The archaeological implications are not unwarranted, but this is backyard archaeology, the way a twelve-year-old might do it (didn’t you want to play with something called ‘Bondo’ when you were a kid?). The figures are more drawn than painted, clumsily sketched in over the work’s jagged 3-D surface, as if St. Sebastian’s body from the prior painting had been jettisoned but the scars retained. And, finally, that play between two-dimensions and three, specifically where one of those figures overlaps the work’s two major levels, is facile.

And yet, there’s all that context, equally embedded in this painting’s surface, equally part of its work, be it blessing or curse.

Published in ArtReview, April 2013

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

April 26th, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Hilary Berseth | Future Greats | ArtReview

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Hilary Berseth, Programmed Hive #7 (2008)

Drawing and sculpture share an inherent affinity, which on first glance has to do with their capacities for capturing space and holding it. Julio González synthesised this affinity in a single, and singular, practice. Artists such as Richard Serra cold roll it. Hilary Berseth is peeling back a fold of that affinity, perhaps by de-synthesising, or decomposing it, and showing us new distillations and combinations, and how such an affinity may not be ‘elective’ after all. The electrochemical sculptures, in which copper and nickel grow tumorous organo-crystalline forms at their edges, hook sculpture’s hard, dead materials – in Berseth’s hands: metal, plaster, concrete – back up to its élan vital. Think Brancusi’s Bird in Space (1923) for an age whose main metaphor is no longer the machine but the network, the lattice, and their infinite complexities. There is order in this chaos, however, as witnessed in Berseth’s early Programmed Hives (2008), wherein honeycombs are built – by the bees no less! – into complex geometries, at once regular and irregular. Berseth’s drawings would then almost seem to belong to another artist entirely, until one takes note of their own complex aggregations: the image of a stairwell overlaid with one of a retina, replete with the halo of its optic disc (that is presumably doing the viewing); another of a diorama overlaid by the view one would see from its side of things. And then there are the mathematical models: perfect renderings in graphite on paper that are then backed by steel plating and mounted in three dimensions—model and copy in one. ‘To draw in space,’ is how Gonzalez described ‘this new art’ forged from ‘points in the infinite’ (he was speaking of stellar constellations). Berseth knows what he means.

Published in ArtReview, March 2013

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

April 26th, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Terry Smith, ‘Thinking Contemporary Curating’ | ICI | ArtReview

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Terry Smith’s credentials when it comes to thinking anything that comes after the modifier ‘contemporary’ are second to none.  With a number of articles in heavy-hitting, establishment journals, and a suite of books that he has either authored or edited, Smith has, of late, staked good claim to being the foremost surveyor of our contemporaneity, at least as it appears within the territories, occupied and otherwise, of visual art.

When Smith turns his mind to ‘thinking contemporary curating’, then, as he has in this inaugural volume for Independent Curators International’s new series, Perspectives in Curating, interested parties ­– foremost curators – but really anyone with a curiosity about contemporaneity itself, or in Smith’s take on it, would do well to pay attention.  After all, ‘curating’, whatever this might be, however it might be thought, is a staple practice of what we might as well call the ‘cultural logic’ of contemporaneity. The past thirty years have seen increasing emphasis and pressure placed on the practice and language of curating, and the past ten have pushed this practice and language to the point of oblivion. So Smith’s asking ‘What is contemporary curatorial thought?’ belies more than just a desire to survey the state of curating today (which, it should be said, Smith does masterfully); it is an attempt on Smith’s part to theorize ‘contemporaneity’ itself.

The problem is, as much as he might like to be, Smith is not emerging as the thinker who will do for ‘contemporaneity’ what Frederic Jameson did for ‘postmodernism’ (or ‘modernism’ for that matter). It’s not enough for Smith to peg his favoured concept as the ‘the multiple and various ways of being in time today, contemporaneously’, however quasi-Heideggarian this may sound.

Smith is better as an historian of contemporary art – that is, to say it again, as a ‘surveyor’. In that role, he has gamely named three major ‘currents’ in the art of the recent past: ‘remodernist, retro-sensationalist, and spectacularist’ (aka Anglo-American or auction-house contemporary) art is one, the art of ‘transnational transitionality’ (aka post-colonial biennial art) is another, and the rise of a ‘small-scale, interactive, DIY art’ (basically everything else) is the last.  Take them or leave them, these are useful ways of apprehending the expanding, unruly garden of contemporary artistic practice. And because this is a book on curtaing, each of these currents gets its patron curator: Kirk Vernadoe, Okwui Enwezor, and Nicolas Bourriaud (though Smith never addresses how ‘relational aesthetics’, a favorite of both currents one and two, lines-up with the DIY phenomenon that comprises current three). Smith’s ultimate point here is to note that what these curators (and the many others he mentions) do comes ‘before’ what critics and historians (like him) do.  Curators present art, and give that presentation some kind of ‘shape’ through which the art can come to be understood, and then judged, categorized, and periodized by others.

Yet all of the ways that Smith understands the practice of art and curating, let alone of writing history and criticism, either confuse the period of ‘contemporaneity’ with its temporality or disregard it altogether. It’s as if one can ‘think [the] contemporary’ or ‘think curating’ but can’t think the two together. For example, when Smith offers this nicely reduced way of describing what curating should do, which is ‘to find the figure that is inherent in that which is to be exhibited, a configuration that will shape the flow of movement through the exhibition, a pathway that will carry the spectator’s experience, until we reach the reconfiguration – the exhibitionary act – that, in doing these things, opens art to be seen,’ what makes this act of curating particularly, or even definitively, ‘contemporary’? And when Smith distills his curatorial prescriptions into the following slogans: ‘Exhibit art’s work. Renounce reticence. Curate reflexively. Build research capacity. Articulate curatorial thinking. Archive the achievements. Reinvent exhibition formats. Turn the exhibitionary complex. Proliferate alternative exhibitionary venues. Activate infrastructure. Embrace spectatorship. Curate contemporaneity in art and society – past, present, and to come – critically,’ he begs the very question of contemporaneity (as period? as temporality?) that is meant to ground his slogans, indeed his book, deep within the stakes of curatorial thought itself.

Published in ArtReview, January/February 2013

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

April 26th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Kiki Kogelnik: Early Works 1964-1970 | Simone Subal | ArtReview

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1961: Lem’s Solaris; 1962: Dick’s The Man in the High Castle; 1963: Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle; 1965: Herbert’s Dune; 1966: Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress; 1967: Zelazny’s Lord of Light; 1968: Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; 1969: Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

The 1960s were a golden age for science fiction, though as the list above would indicate, it was a a bit more golden for men than for women. Le Guin was, and is, the rare pathbreaker, in the literature and in thought. The Left Hand of Darkness was not feminist SF. It did, and does, what we expect of all great literature, and that’s to pry our minds free of convention. That Le Guin did this via the invention of an androgyne race won it the feminist label, but we can see now that it was an early stab at the kind of hybridity that Donna Haraway would flesh out 15 years later.

Kiki Kogelnik (who passed away in 1997) deserves a big place in this discussion. An émigré on the run from Vienna at the moment, in 1964, when Actionism set up its mud-and-blood-wrestling matches as vehicles of sociosexual liberation, Kogelnik took up in New York and quickly fell in with the Pop set – primarily Lichtenstein, and Oldenburg, whose early love for goopy objects echoed the Actionists’s love of bodily fluids. But the image reigned in New York, and so Kogelnik’s images, of bodies mostly, were rendered flat and graphic, yet always still with an inside, and always as something more or less than human.

Using medical stamps of heads (in profile, or head-on with chins raised to emphasise the throat), legs and women’s torsos, and silhouettes of figures made from spraypainting over the edges of cutouts, Kogelnik, like Warhol, mechanised and automated the otherwise authorial, indexical trace. If Warhol wanted to be a machine, Kogelnik wanted to be a robot, a different kind of incorporation entirely. Her works on paper, such as Robots (1966) or Untitled (Robots) (c. 1967), show cut-and-quartered bodies getting wired together as if coming off an outer world assembly line. The paintings Outer Space (1964) and Atmospheric Drag on Satellite (1965) show what the dream life of such beings might be.

Kogelnik’s greatest affinity might be with Paul Thek, whose Technological Reliquaries from the mid-1960s exhibit similar obsessions with impossible bodily hybridities and a kind of cyborg mindedness. But Kogelnik’s work is less disaster-laden, less anxiety-ridden and allegorical with regard to sexuality. The figure in The Human Touch (c. 1965), whose head is disjointed from its body and perfectly circular, is ecstatic, a secular St Teresa for our robotic age – it’s a label that could apply to Kogelnik as well.

Upcoming in ArtReview‘s December 2012 issue.

‘Targets of Opportunity’, or How to Work to Code | Tom Sachs’ SPACE PROGRAM: MARS | ArtReview

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SPACE PROGRAM (2007-2012), which the artist Tom Sachs and his studio first introduced at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, serves as a kind of magnum opus of the DIY and tinker-type workshopping of iconic examples of architecture, design and engineering that Sachs has made his own since the early 1990s. In that 2007 iteration, Sachs ‘sent’ astronauts—both women—to the moon via an armory of mock-NASA equipment, such as landers and life support systems and other bits of apparatus more or less connected to the project of exploring Earth’s only natural satellite—an example of ‘more’ would be the life-sized recreation of NASA’s Apollo 11 Lunar Module (2007); an example of ‘less’ would be the NASA Champagne Fridge (2007) and the store of Jack Daniels and Marlboroughs that were on hand as the astronauts’ dietary staples. This May and June, in conjunction with Creative Time and The Park Avenue Armory, Sachs and his team are doing it again, only this time the astronauts are heading to Mars.

Tom Sachs, SPACE PROGRAM: MARS, Park Avenue Armory, 2012

Anyone who visited Sachs’s studio prior to the Mars mission this spring took their turn at the ID Station (2010), which produced for them and for the studio a photo ID, replete with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) logo. Other than one’s name, the ID required giving two other pieces of information, which consisted of answers to two questions: “Have you seen 10 Bullets”? And “Have you seen COLOR”?

10 Bullets (2010) and Color (2011) are the first two films of a trilogy (the tentative title of the third is Materials and Methods) that Sachs has produced in conjunction with assistants John Ferguson and Van Neistat. At bottom, they are instructional films for people who work, or want to work, in Sachs’s studio. The lesson of 10 Bullets is how to ‘work to Code’.  Indeed, the ten bullets, as in bullet points (illustrated in the film as hand-drawn rounds of ammunition) comprise ‘the Code’ itself, which instructs one to do such things as ‘keep a list’ (bullet seven); to use the phrase ‘I understand’ (bullet five) when confirming instructions; to ‘sacrifice to Leatherface’ (bullet nine), i.e. to pay a fine into a lock box adorned by a figurine of the villain of the cult horror flick A Texas Chainsaw Massacre when failing to adhere to the studio’s safety or security procedures—that is, when failing to ‘work to Code’; to always ‘work to Code’ (bullet one) because ‘creativity is the enemy’ (Sachs’s own credo); and to ‘always be Knolling’ (bullet eight).  If you don’t know what Knolling is, watch the film.

Color follows 10 Bullets’ lead. Its purpose is to indoctrinate viewers into the studio’s highly standardized color palette, which is based upon the the many found objects and images and repurposed materials that have made their way into the studio’s work over the years.  So, for example, the studio’s white is drawn from, among other things, copy paper white, foamcore white, and Tyvek-suit white, which, in terms of paint, translates to Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White or Krylon Glossy White; the studio’s yellow is McDonald’s Golden Arches yellow (Golden Acrylics C.P. Cadmium Yellow Medium #1130-6 Series 7) or Kodak film packaging yellow (Golden Acrylics Diarylide Yellow 1147-6 Series 6); blue is Gulf Porsche blue, Tiffany blue, or New York Police Department barricade blue (according to the studio, the NASA logo’s PMS 286 blue is ‘dopey’, so the studio instead uses Benjamin Moore Impervex Latex High Gloss Metal and Wood Enamel Classic Navy 309 35); and purple…well purple is ‘forbidden, purple is punishable by death, there is never an excuse for the colour purple’.

The tone, as one might guess, is mock-serious, though with an emphasis on the second half of that hyphenation. The authority of the studio, of the ‘Code’ and its colour palette, are at every point affirmed without equivocation. The sense one gets is that there is an ‘inside’ to the studio, a Code that is not easily cracked from the outside. More than merely a workplace, it’s a commitment, both to a way of working and to an aesthetic, to a way of working as an aesthetic. In the face of all the attention that gets paid to ‘post-studio’ art practices, Ten Bullets and Color unabashedly attest to the power and importance of the studio itself, but the studio understood as the embodiment of a rigorous system and social rationale, one in which the words ‘creativity is the enemy’ can be willingly embraced because everyone (who knows how to work to Code) understands that individual creativity, in the form of the impromptu choice, the undisciplined decision, is indeed the enemy of collective creation.

It is with this perspective in mind that we might see how Sachs’s SPACE PROGRAM, in both its Lunar and Martian iterations, can be understood as both self-reflexive and allegorical of the studio as well.  It is self-reflexive insofar as what the SPACE PROGRAM reproduces, in its simulations of all of those highly choreographed yet quotidian routines that receive such fanfare when they are broadcast live (on TV) and later dramatized (in books and movies)—from donning space suits and eating dinner to collecting rock and soil samples (which consisted, in LA, of drilling into and digging up Gagosian’s highly polished concrete floor)—is the seamless functioning of the studio, the assigning, monitoring, and carrying out of operations on a check list (bullet seven!) by people—and this is important—not just with training and expertise to perform those operations but who are also individually committed to, and so hold themselves responsible for, seeing them through. The many ‘stations’ of the Mars mission, from the RBR: Red Beans and Rice Station (2011) to the HNDS: Hot Nuts Delivery System (2011), to the Biology Lab (2011; which is growing poppies for a Martian heroin harvest), to the Bike Station (2011-2012) and Repair Station (2006-2010) are just so many reflections of the ‘sacred space’ (bullet two!) of the studio—the ‘shop, office, welding booth, bunker, and kitchen’—so soberly detailed in 10 Bullets.

The SPACE PROGRAM is allegorical because if it represents anything at all, it is this idea of commitment to a goal, this fidelity to a shared aim, to a target as distinct from a telos. Let me explain: Early in his book Targets of Opportunity (2005), Samuel Weber builds on a ‘terminological distinction’, first addressed by the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, between two senses of ‘end’: telos and skopos.  Where telos is understood as the ‘fulfilment of an action or process’, skopos is the ‘target that one has in one’s sights and at which one takes aim; it is the goal presently and clearly offered to an intention…Skopos is the draw of the bow, telos, life and death.’  The metaphorical reach of skopos is important here, connecting as it does the implicit violence of targeting with the technological projection of our conscious attention (‘intentionality’, in the language of the philosophical phenomenology in which Nancy was schooled).  ‘Skopos is already, tendentially, the tele-scope’, Weber writes, ‘since “the one who aims” is also “the one who surveys.” To survey, in this sense, is to command at a distance.’

However else we want to characterize research missions that land men on the moon and rovers on Mars, we must recognize that even our limited ‘surveys’ of these other worlds are bound up with a ballistic sort of ‘scopic’ knowledge that traces its genealogy according to Nancy’s metaphorical ‘draw of the bow’.  What else is Curiosity, the Mars rover that is currently hurtling through space towards its target at 12,000 miles per hour, than the tip of the arrow?  Why else would the engineers on the Entry, Decent, and Landing (EDL) team at JPL, for which Sachs designed the mission patch and served as the unofficial artist in residence, refer to these three final phases of Curiosity’s flight as ‘Six Minutes of Terror’? (Those six minutes will unfold in real time this coming August when Curiosity hits the Martian atmosphere.)  Or for that matter, what possible reason would the astronauts on the SPACE PROGRAM lunar mission in 2007 have for securing their landing site with DIY shotguns (Lem: ATF: MSA: Shotgun , 12 gauge, Breech-loading, handmade, 2007)? And why would the astronauts on the Mars mission need a mortar (Mortar, 2011)?

Because everywhere in Sachs’s work, targets abound. Despite betraying some boyhood fascinations with militarized gear, and beyond all of its tongue-in-cheek fetishising of the arch seriousness of the military-industrial-academic-research complex, Sachs’s SPACE PROGRAM is just this targeting writ large—not quite as large as NASA or JPL and the ‘general intellect’ of which they are the cutting edge, but large enough to stand for it, to represent it, allegorically as it were.

The one bit of ‘equipment’ that stands out in this respect, both because of what it stands for and how out of place it is within the panoply of stations destined for Mars, is the Tea House (2011-12), a full-scale building (Sachs’s first ever since abandoning architecture to become an artist) designed to accommodate traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The form of that ceremony (exactingly detailed, as with all of the SPACE PROGRAM’s procedures, in a set of accompanying instructions) distils the PROGRAM’s and the studio’s targeting ethos. For as ritualized as the choreography of the tea ceremony may be, it is a dance that depends entirely upon subtle yet instrumental moments of feedback between host and guest(s). Every action—the quarter-clockwise turn of the tea bowl, the laying down of the tea scoop (bullet eight: always be Knolling!)—is also a cue for some subsequent action, such that all the players in the ceremony are highly attuned to and tracking—targeting—one another. They are bound together in a collective project, and the ceremony, the ritual, the Code does the binding. It is in this sense that the tea ceremony—like the SPACE PROGRAM; like the studio—is not teleological. The point is not to fulfil it, to get to its end. It is scopic. The point is to see, to survey, to attend, to target—to always, always, work to Code.

 

This piece is from the summer 2012 issue of ArtReview.

Gilbert & George: London Pictures | Lehmann Maupin and Sonnabend | ArtReview

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‘Hunt for serial rapist’. ‘Jet bomb plotter jailed’. ‘Man, 81, dies in blaze’. ‘Teen gunman caged’. ‘Pair accused of boys torture’. ‘Royal gay sex blackmail plot’. ‘Evil woman stalker jailed’. ‘Mum killed tot with pills’. ‘Junkie murderer attacked 100-year-old woman’. ‘Bullied girl, 15, stabbed in head’. ‘Sex beast attacks woman in her home’. ‘Man died after sex act “went wrong”‘. ‘Cricket coach strangler mystery’. ‘Woman missing on date is dead’. ‘Drugs batch laced with glass’. ‘Hackney girl killed by heroin’. ‘Elderly die alone: shock figures’. ‘Play portrays Jesus as drunk womaniser’. ‘Man goes mising [sic] at shopping centre’.

One could—and indeed Gilbert & George’s new London Pictures, 262 of the pair’s signature multi-panelled prints, these reproducing London tabloid newspaper posters, do—go on.  But why? Because of their self-professed love for and obsession with East London, the city and the area that the two have made their home and workplace since emerging from St. Martin’s College in the late-60s? Because we, the innocent audience, keepers of our own dark urges and perversions, need to be confronted with this textual cataloguing of human cruelty and pain? Because the poetics of the tabloid headline just haven’t been given their due? Because isn’t life just misery, and it’s oh so nice to be reminded that it’s likely more miserable for someone else, like that Hackney girl, or that Cricket coach, or Jesus?

Gilbert and George, Girl, from The London Pictures, 2011

With no offense to London, what Gilbert & George’s London Pictures are is tiresome at best and cynical at worst.  After a career predicated upon needling the soft flesh of perceived social refinement, including aping the latter with their own arch politesse, what the pair have served up is one giant finger wag (Tssk Tssk!). The London Pictures no more make art out of the abyss of humanity, which the artists claim could always be found right outside their Spitalfields’ studio door, than Glenn Beck makes programming aimed mobilizing the global Left. Like Beck, though, Gilbert & George have perfected the camera-ready glower; and in these pictures, it’s made all the more goofily sinister by what looks like too much television makeup and the pair’s overly whitened–i.e. bloodless–eyes. In the past, the artists’ self-portraits were gestures at their own implication within the great social carnival; within the London pictures, they look like spectres of self-righteousness.

What are we to take away from it all? From the murders and rapes and hangings and stabbings and beatings and burglaries, from the boys and girls and men and women and drunks and thugs and playboys and police? Is this London? Is this humanity? No doubt it is. Then how should one respond? Exactly as one is expected to when confronted with the gruesome headline or shocking tabloid poster.  Utter “What the fuck?”, and move on.

 

From the Summer 2012 issue of ArtReview.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

May 16th, 2012 at 9:35 am

Michael Snow: In The Way | Jack Shainman | ArtReview

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Michael Snow, The Viewing of Six New Works (2012); Installation view, Jack Shainman

All of the work in Michael Snow’s In the Way – some older, such as Exchange (1985), an early holographic work of a man mugging for the camera, and La Ferme (1998), a blown-up and recut filmstrip of cows in a field; and one newer, In the Way (2011), a floor-bound projection of a video shot off the back of a truck, showing a rough and muddy road passing beneath our feet – deals in some way with the shallow space just on the other side of the lens- and light-derived frame. But it is the newest work, The Viewing of Six New Works(2012), that takes this shallow space to its extreme and also animates, literally, what we might well call the ‘geometry of touch’.

The Viewing of Six New Works is an installation of seven looped video projections (one work consists of two projections), each of which features a different-coloured and -sized rectangle that moves against a black-screen background and intersects an invisible frame that is both internal to the projector’s own and commensurate with its coloured partner. (Just imagine the dream life of Ellsworth Kelly and you’re halfway there.) Every so often we get a glimpse of one of the rectangles aligning itself in its frame, but all the real action is contained by the rotations and translations of the rectangles within and ‘behind’ the frames, which at once hide and reveal the rectangles’ edges (now parallel, now skewed) and corners (now present, now absent).

However, to accept that what one actually witnesses are the movements of rectangles ‘behind’ their frames is to accept too easily this metaphorical language of real space: there is no ‘frame’ to speak of until it is intersected and so revealed – or better, actualised – by the movement of colour across the screen. And that colour itself only ever appears as a rectangle as much as it appears as a parallelogram or as some other irregular figure brought about by this actualisation of framing edge by the mobile colour field. The animation is self-consciously two-dimensional; it’s a speciation machine for inhabitants of flatland…

Read the rest at ArtReview.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

March 21st, 2012 at 7:28 pm

ARTICLE: Eve Sussman and The Rufus Corporation | ArtReview

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Eve Sussman and The Rufus Corporation, still from whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, 2011

 

The question of why Kazimir Malevich, painter of the Black Square (1914–5), inventor of Suprematism, plowhead of Russian Modernism and sacrifice of the Soviet avant-garde, turned, or rather returned, during the 1930s, to painting odd, faceless, geometricised peasants has yet to be answered fully or forcefully. That this self-proclaimed ‘commissar of space’, who had once enlisted himself with Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh the ‘men of the future’ (budetliane) – in a battle to gain ‘victory over the sun’, retreated to the precincts of indigenous mysticism and donned the vestments of religion (Malevich’s final self-portrait, from 1933, shows the artist as church father) troubles any mind that desires the genuine venture of thought, be it artistic, scientific or intellectual breakthrough, to open onto the promise of some future free from the shackles of the present, let alone the past. And yet perhaps what Malevich was grappling with during the 1930s was not so much the past as a different conception of the future, and how one could get there.

Malevich, the good modernist, had a time problem, and at its root was film. Caught out by Sergei Eisenstein’s and Dziga Vertov’s masterworks of the 1920s, and with them the rise of filmic and photographic montage as the inevitable visual language of the revolution, Malevich’s commitment to painting could only appear quaint at best and counterrevolutionary at worst. Art historian Margarita Tupitsyn has argued convincingly however that even by 1920 Malevich had begun thinking filmically. In the small booklet Suprematism: 34 Drawings, published that year, Malevich projected one abstract sketch after another within, or rather upon, a drawn frame. Like a film, Malevich saw this work as ‘one piece, with no visible joints’ – he called it a ‘suprematist apparatus’. ‘It was a mechanism’, Tupitsyn says, ‘meant to operate without its inventor.’[1]

Like their previous two films, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004), a dilation of the moment depicted in Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656), and The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007), which dramatises the suspension of time pictured in that painting (by Rubens) and its cognates (by David), the latest film by Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation (her ever evolving studio of collaborators), whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir (2011), which completes the trilogy, nods in the direction of another painting – Malevich’s Composition: White on White (1918). And it, too, is a mechanism that operates without its inventor…

Download the full article here.


[1] See Margarita Tupitsyn, Malevich and Film (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, in association with Fundação Centro Cultural de Belém, 2002), 25.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

January 13th, 2012 at 11:40 am

ARTICLE: Josephine Meckseper | ArtReview

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Josephine Meckseper, Emirates Palace, 2011; Timothy Taylor Gallery

Consider this: ‘Around 2000, I began to focus on making shelves and vitrines. I felt motivated by the idea of establishing a link to real shop windows smashed by rioters.’ Or this: ‘The mirrored sculptures, vitrines, and slatwalls are not meant as affirmations or glorifications of consumerism. On the contrary, their shiny surfaces are meant as provocations for destruction.’ Or this: ‘Their clean surfaces are a provocation for vandalism and destruction. They represent the moment right before a demonstrator picks up a stone and smashes a window.’

These statements, which Josephine Meckseper made in interviews between 2008 and 2010, must read much differently today after the violence, looting and vandalism of England’s August riots, when the ‘shoplifters of the world’ united under the banner of what we might call ‘liberated consumerism’. The word that will inevitably be bandied about during the run of Meckseper’s show at London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery this month is ‘prescient’. Well-placed artworld types, commentators, loyal ‘theorists’ and devotees will note that Meckseper ‘gets it’, and that she obviously ‘got it’ long before the London, Manchester and Birmingham police, or the shocked populace, or the media cynics, or the welfare state, or the neoliberal world order – which, one might add, both the left and the right have diagnosed as the disaffected rioters’ spectrum disorder: ‘What’s wrong with Johnny?’ ‘Oh, he’s neoliberalistic.’

But here’s a question: if you were to pick up a stone and hurl it through the crystal pane of one of Meckseper’s mirrored vitrines, would you still qualify as a demonstrator? Who and how, exactly, is this work meant to provoke? Does it want from you – the artist, the collector, the casual gallerygoer, the writer/critic/curator, the socialite/dealer, the exhausted art-handler, the art martyr – the same as it wants from the tracksuited hoodies from North London? Is it even possible that you want the same things?

Download the full article here.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

November 3rd, 2011 at 12:46 pm

REVIEW: ‘Can I Get a Witness’ | Ah Hole Ah Hole | ArtReview

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Ah Hole Ah Hole, “Can I Get a Witness”; installation at Art Blog Art Blog

‘What, exactly, is a blog?’  This question is our contemporary moment’s shibboleth.  If you ask it, it’s likely that you’re receiving social security checks, or get into the movies at a reduced rate.  Nevertheless, it’s a valid existential question too, because a blog is the quickest and most ubiquitous way to gain an independent ‘presence’ online (i.e. one not tethered to Facebook or Google). And though blogs have been around since the early days of the web browser, their ubiquity belongs to the last decade, long enough, that is, to begin to feedback into the way we look at, and think about, and do things, offline.

Can I Get a Witness, curated, or ‘posted’, we might say, by Tisch Abelow, Jashin Friedrich, and Dakotah Savage, is the first exhibition I have seen that manages to translate, or perhaps ‘remediate’, the form and sensibility of the blog.  I say “the blog,” even though there is ‘a’ blog in particular—Art Blog Art Blog, the blog of Joshua Abelow, one of the artists in the show and older brother to Tisch—that has temporarily lent its name to the space (Ross Bleckner’s studio, in fact) in which Can I Get A Witness was ‘posted’.  There is another blog too, Ah Hole Ah Hole, which is Tisch Abelow and Dakotah Savage’s, and which does much of what the elder Abelow’s does, and that is to array—this is what blogs do, array things, consecutively, most often vertically, but sometimes horizontally too; it is the blog’s form—images and videos and short tweet-worthy statements and questions and announcements, and, of course, links, all of which have been put there by the blogger(s).

Download the rest here.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

November 3rd, 2011 at 12:37 pm

BOOK REVIEW: The Royal Remains | Eric L. Santner | ArtReview

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Eric L. Santner, The Royal Remains: The People’s Tow Bodies and the Endgame of Sovereignty
The University of Chicago Press, 2011

’Sovereignty studies’ has been on the rise over the last decade. The translation of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer in 1998 and the publication of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire in 2000 did much to bring theories of personal and political sovereignty to the center of debates over the ‘biopolitical,’ Michel Foucault’s term since the ’70s for the type of ‘governmentality’ to which we are all subject at present. At least since his magisterial study of the German jurist Daniel Paul Schreber’s ‘nervous illness’ (My Own Private Germany, 1996), Eric Santner, currently Professor of Modern Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, has been at work considering the ways that this sovereign power, understood particularly as a ‘space of representation’ – that is, as the ‘offices, roles, symbolic mandates and titles’ that we assume in our daily lives – can affect, to put it plainly, our ‘nerves.’

Drawing upon Ernst Kantorowicz’s landmark The King’s Two Bodies (1957), Santner here, in The Royal Remains, argues that the (traumatic) investiture of sovereign power in The People at the moment of the French Revolution logically transfers the split corporeality of The King, at once the body politic (immutable, devine, transcendent) and the body natural (mortal, contingent, precarious), onto us. This power transfer is not a clean one, however. We never quite ‘fit’ our new symbolic authority. The King never did either, for that matter. The ‘political theology’ of sovereignty itself is always productive of a kind of excess, what Santner calls a ‘surplus of immanence,’ a  ‘strange materiality,’ in short, the ‘flesh’, that organises the symbolic networks of authority in the first place….

Download the rest here.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

November 3rd, 2011 at 12:22 pm

REVIEW: Ostalgia | New Museum | ArtReview

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Erik Bulatov House, 1992; Seva’s Blue, 1979; Russian XX Century, 1998-99; from The New Museum

Erik Bulatov’s House (Dom), completed in 1992, just months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, could serve as an emblem of the kind of time slip that is everywhere present in Ostalgia, New Museum Director of Exhibitions Massimiliano Gioni’s love letter to the art and artists of the former eastern bloc and the contemporary artists who remain fascinated by the latter.  Running vertically down a background of photo-based, faded Kodachrome colored sky cracking with Baroque rays of light one ‘reads’ the three large block letters of the Russian word for ‘house’: ‘дом’.  The painting as a whole mobilizes familiar pictorial tropes, such as tensions between surface and depth, image and text, form and content, but there is something more to House than this.  It recalls, rather, those kitschy credits from 1970s science fiction movies—think Zardoz (1974), or Logan’s Run (1976), or Solaris (1972)—with their equal mixtures of techno-utopianism and environmento-Wagnerian romanticism.

The point here is not to saddle Bulatov’s work with some particular iconographic resource but rather to note that those films themselves, their aesthetic and their narratives, were, like Bulatov’s paintings and much of the best work in Ostalgia, products of the cold war, which was everywhere itself a product of collective fantasies and fears and desires.  The future, back then, was a contest played out on the field of the present with the weapons of history, both personal and political; and SF offered some of the most compelling diagnoses and representations of that contest, precisely because the horizon of time that formed SF’s core orientation was also the horizon that organized the two super powers’ dueling collective projects.  And as with capitalism (but notably not democracy) the modern nation state was for socialism merely an exit vehicle, one that could eventually be discarded when the working class or consumer, as the subject and so the inevitability of history, traversed the globe…

Download the rest here.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

November 3rd, 2011 at 12:11 pm

REVIEW: Thomas Lowe | Horton Gallery | ArtReview

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Thomas Lowe, Thanks. Come Again, 2011; image from Horton Gallery

Dada photomontage – think Hannah Höch’s iconic Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany (1919) – was meant to disrupt the plenitude of the ‘bourgeois’ easel picture. It was syntactical rather than mimetic. Like an editorial, one had to ‘read’ it, which would be a political act, and photomontage a political form, given how it countered any conventional ‘aesthetic experience’. One gets the sense that Thomas Lowe is after a similar politics of form, though with this series of deft coloured-pencil drawings, we’re firmly back in the province of mimesis, but now the mimesis of photomontage itself…

Read the rest at ArtReview

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

June 28th, 2011 at 4:49 pm

REVIEW: Krzysztof Wodiczko | Galerie Lelong | ArtReview

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Krzysztof Wodiczko, …OUT OF HERE: The Veterans Project, 2009-11;
Installation View, Galerie Lelong, New York, 2011

Painting has long given up the ghost on the Renaissance metaphor of acting as a window onto some other world; it now has to battle it out as just one more screen among many.  Yet it is surprising how few of those screens have taken up this metaphor for themselves.  Of course Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) made the case for cinema as voyeurism, and along less mainstream lines, both Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967) and Richard Serra’s Frame (1969) probed the limits of fenestrated filmic perception and cognition.  To my knowledge, however, no practitioner of the camera arts has equated the screen with the window, has literalized this metaphoric relationship, quite as effectively as Krzysztof Wodiczko…

Read the rest in the forthcoming May issue of ArtReview or on ArtReview Digital.

REVIEW: E’wao Kagoshima | Algus Greenspon | ArtReview

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E’wao Kagoshima, Monkey Smoking, 2007; image from Algus Greenspon

Is the difference between eclecticism and pastiche simply a function of framing?  When an artist works in many different styles, let alone mediums, and the results are gathered together in one place, the outcome we regard as a kind of willed eclecticism.  When those styles all appear in a single work, or when their allusions to other works of art, or artists’ styles, are so strong as to be quickly recognizable, it’s pastiche.  But what happens when the frame that keeps eclecticism distinct from pastiche begins to slip, when we find ourselves caught in the midst of a search (for a style) and a comment (on “style” itself) without knowing which is which, or even if the question itself is valid (after all, who would think to talk about “style” anymore)? Valid or not, it is a question that will confront any viewer of E’wao Kagoshima’s output since 1976, which is when the artist arrived in New York and began the various artistic campaigns that are well represented at Mitchell Algus’s (and business partner Amy Greenspon’s) newest enterprise…

Read the rest in the forthcoming April issue of ArtReview or on ArtReview Digital.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

February 19th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

REVIEW: Monika Sosnowska | Hauser and Wirth | ArtReview

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Image: Monika Sosnowska, 2010 (installation view), photo: Thomas Mueller. Copyright the artist. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth London, New York, & Zurich.

My review of Monika Sosnowska’s first solo at Hauser & Wirth, NY, is up at artreviewdigitial.com (requires registration).

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

February 4th, 2011 at 8:10 am

REVIEW: Tony Cox | White Trash Mystic | ArtReview Digital

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My write up of Tony Cox’s show from back in October now up at artreviewdigital.com (requires registration), along with the rest of the December issue.  PDFs of this and other recent writing will be updated soon.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

November 24th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

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ARTICLE: Ryan Trecartin | ArtReview

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Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

August 22nd, 2010 at 8:10 am

REVIEW: Carol Bove | Kimmerich | ArtReview

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installview3xlIt is tempting to say that Carol Bove’s show at Kimmerich’s new space in New York was, quite simply, beautiful, and leave it at that. It would not be wrong, either, to state as much, though it likely would be to leave it at that, not only because a show like this, with its conceptual underpinnings (Bove became known for her acute arrangements of historically symbolic items, such as touchstone books and photographs from the 1960s) and manifest attention to detail (no arrangement of things in a gallery has ever been more ‘acute’ than they are here) is after so much more than any mere pronouncement on what can count as beautiful, or perhaps ‘tasteful’, today, but also because one gets the sense that this is exactly what such beauty, or perhaps ‘taste’, is being asked to do – that is, to compel us not to go too far with any kind of enquiry…

Read the rest at artreview.com

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

May 16th, 2010 at 2:09 pm

REVIEW: Luis Camnitzer | Memorial | Alexander Gray Associates | ArtReview.com

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Here is a link to a brief piece on Luis Camnitzer’s new project.  It’s a more personal reflection than I’m accustomed to, but I don’t really see any other way this work.

Written by Jonathan T. D. Neil

March 31st, 2010 at 10:41 am