Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An observation on a line for
Henry Chapman

The now untitled piece, as it stands in front of the
studio, looks as if a moment of self-awareness took a
toll on the organic nature of the mark. The space
within the painting has been modify countless of times
since its beginning stage; as it stands now the
texture of the piece, its viscosity and its color make
a harmonious play with the various planes in the
composition. What I notice to be a visual problem is
the top side of the purple-gray plane on the left. The
edge, in this painting being one of the most important
qualities, has been modified in a way unprecedented to
any other mark. The patterns of the wavy brushstrokes,
that are neither sharp nor translucent, have an
attitude in the painting that appears foreign. The
lack of conviction in the sharpness of the line fails
to make the space move or recede, while the more
organic and natural lines of the right contradict its
Whether it is a matter of opinion, I suggest a close
consideration of the purple-gray form. There is a
constant through out the piece and the playfully
fabricated edge is not outrageous enough to make an
impact or modest enough to harmonize.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Retrospective

What should a senior show be? This is a common question that has many correct answers, all with legitimate arguments. What causes this question to be brought up so often, then, comes down to the execution, the curation and presentation of the work.

SOFIAPORIA, Sofia Berenstein's show (2nd floor lobby, April 21-26), is an example of the less common Retrospective. She has hung all of her work, from film and digital photography to paintings and etchings, in a novel format involving constructed walls that turn the uncomfortable 2nd floor lobby into a more traditional white-walled corridor. Though some of the construction details are sloppy, for temporary structures the walls work very well, and Berenstein's taking control of the space is admirable and well done. Entering the space by walking up the stairs, one sees that she has even used the walls around the staircase. Guided by the new walls, one then passes through a pleasant hallway gallery of her cleanly presented analog photography. Once the hallway ends the curation becomes immediately suspect. The Retrospective is suddenly thrust upon the unsuspecting observer; an odd etching here, a painting there, a dash of photogravure and a nice large digital photo for garnish. There is a door in the wall – do we open it? I did, and discovered another painting unrelated to the first. Is the door part of the painting? Was that just a convenient place to hang it? Are these recycled walls with a door left in them? Oh, Sofia, what have you done?

Berenstein's exhibit is stuck between two intents, unable to happily compromise. Had she gone with a more focused photography show, the paintings and etchings could go, the photos given a little more room, and it would have been a strong, functional whole. Had she been able to accept her retrospective, the photos could have been edited down and the other work organized a little more carefully, and it would be a successful survey. Even more separation may have worked, to make the analog photos completely and obviously severed from the rest, to save the viewer the confusion of trying to understand their connection. As it is, the confusion remains. 

The Moral

Whether you decide to have a show of recent work, thematic work, single-medium work, violet work, collaborative work, or all your work, remember to consider the exhibit as a whole and resist the urgings of pride.


Note – I'm not sure if the photogravures were in fact photogravures, but they were definitely a different type of work. Please excuse any ignorant mislabeling.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

about one of next week's show


I'm Ben(jamin Santiago) I'm part (1/3) of the show on the 6th Floor
opening on Tuesday (The ORIGINAL NEW ADDITION). I have been following
the show reviews on this site, and I'm interested in what you guys(Will
and Henry) would have to say about our show, especially since I don't
know you guys.


Luke Janson - So Good?

Cooper's house style is made up of things that are "great" for their
absurdity, their outrageous colors, or their vintage pop culture. Giant
Doritos, odes to Michael Jordan, fluorescent 3D paintings, and other
seemingly random things have been exhibited for their "Oh man!" factor -
a combination of "Isn't this silly?" and "That's so funny!" Beyond a
nostalgic giggle, these works have little to give.

Luke Janson superficially seems to fall into this trap as well;
rainbows, cartoons, and joints populate the gallery, various oversized
phalluses humorously interrupt the viewer's space. The first clue to his
ascension over the "Oh man!" mold is that each piece is excellently
crafted: the arm sculptures are very clean; the barber-pole-man could be
from Toys-R-Us, if they stocked that sort of thing; each painting is
fully worked with apparent intention.

The paintings, in fact, are the simplest way to find the complexity in
Janson. He has developed a vocabulary of styles, each alluding to
specific parts of art history, and collages them in each large canvas to
meet different ends.

There is the "Picture in Picture" canvas, the image shown layered on top
of scale-up versions of itself. Among its historical references are
Holbein's famous skull transformed into a soccer ball, a dripping
Dali-esque appendage, and a pointillist field and figure. These are
mixed with video game details such as the gun-toting hand of a
first-person shooter and floating power-up icons. The other three
paintings might be "Graffiti Interfering With Color-Field/Hard-Edge
Abstractions", "Picasso Gets Metaphysical With Monty Python and Nintendo Basketball", and "Bonnard's Dog Abused By Dali".

The most interesting detail, in three of these four works, is the
sparing placement of colorful globs of paint along the edges of the
canvas. This tiny addition changes the paintings enormously; they are
suddenly active, living, pooling up at the edges and nearly escaping
into the world, to scuttle away or even to capture something new to
bring back. Janson's ability to activate his work (apparent in
everything but "Bonnard's Dog") is the key to this show's success.

Unlike the paintings, which have their allusions to fall back on, the
sculptures in the show rely completely on being somehow infused with
life, so that they are not only observed, but watched. The Great
Galloping Tongue is immediately noticed for its fan and rapid inflation,
but the real interest is at the very tip. Following the gently curved
body we find this curious, wagging end, so eagerly wagging that we fear
it escaping its leash. Opposite is the Nose, the big, rough, drunkard's
nose, gently blurred by its own vibration. Again, this piece feels
restrained, as if it were captured rather than created. Standing near
these works for too long creates a growing sense of foreboding in the
viewer, though it is unimaginable what might happen.

Is Janson's show funny? Yes, but this is only the beginning of its
appeal. He proves that the absurd is not necessarily ridiculous, that
there are greater rewards than a chuckle. Underclassmen, please take
note, everything may not be "so good!"


Friday, April 25, 2008

Leslie Martinez, "Give Us This Day, Our Daily Bread," 7th Floor

I can't offer a credible interpretation of these words from the book of Matthew, "give us this day, our daily bread," from which Leslie Martinez extracts the title of her exhibition. But I did spend a lot of time looking at the painting on the wall opposite from the other work, at the top of which sits a watermelon—a watermelon which is not one, because it is also teeth, or a hole, or a shiny unnamable prize. And it seems like a plausible reading of the work to see this shiny prize metaphorically, to see it as both the daily bread and the daily work in which Ms. Martinez is engaged. In this way, her work speaks of a kind of commitment, attention and care that is hard to ignore.

You get what I mean? 

I doubt very many artists at Cooper would find the source of their exhibition title in the bible, and I know I would find enough reasons not to go there. (First of all, my only copy of the bible is called the "Student Edition.")  But she goes there. And the work goes there, too. Fearlessly. To throw a few adjectives at it, the work is narrative, elaborate, painstaking. It's illustrative. Compositionally, much of the work reminds me of Mark Alan Stamaty's "Who Needs Donuts?" in its cluttered masses of figures and shapes. I don't mean that negatively, as to lower it to the level of a children's book—as if the "level of a children's book" or of "Donut's" were lower— but some might see it as such, and see the work as such.

I don't think it can be ignored that the 7th floor lobby poses a few problems as an exhibition space, in part because the artist has to battle with John Hejduk's columns and Louise Nevelson's anniversary present, but also because of windows, outlets, strange lighting, size, and other irritating distractions. I think those distractions really take away from the work here but I also can't think of where else the work might go in this building. Certainly the show would feel sparse in the Houghton Gallery, and I've heard the argument about this work that it needs to be very tightly packed. I may just like sparse shows (see: La Mama Gallery) but I'm also skeptical of that argument. How tightly packed do they need to be? Space, and less distractions, might allow the work to breathe in a way that the 7th floor lobby doesn't afford.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Portrait of the Artist as a Rejection of Existing Values and Types: Thomas Witschonke and Cassandra Guan "In the Lubalin Center"

To make something already is a problem. 

For, Tom and Cassandra contend, we should be past the myth of "the creative genius," past the myth of the artist as visionary, past the myth of the individual. An identity is the sum of a thousand biased and meaningless parts, from birth certificates to high school diplomas, from awards and prizes to testimonials and flattering photographs. You are your context.

Either that's the simplistic message of the show, or that's my simplistic reading of it.

I enjoyed Tom and Cassandra's show, and the first few times I walked through it I thought it was hilarious. But I don't think I agree with its central premise, if I'm reading it right. How useful and how true is it that you are your context? That idea has been around, and it comes around again now, asserting that the role of the artist is as curator, as collector, as archivist.

To make a mark on a canvas suddenly seems to betray your naïve subservience to the myth of your individuality.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Regarding Titles, Again

Artwork must somehow "arriving" in order to earn a title is incorrect. That galleries and the market deem value and thus titles on work is far too subjective and limiting a notion. A title (or any textual counterpart, though I am only discussing image-based work) is a functional part of any work and exists as a part, or doesn't, as a result of the artist's choice and not the viewer's. One can look at a piece like Damien Hirst's "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" and see the title as equal to the visual, guiding the viewer to where Hirst wants them to go. Something like de Kooning's "Woman I" (or II or III or IV) is a nearly non-existent (though one could argue that the painting may not be of a woman, but this is negligible) title, purely functional, and the viewer is completely concentrated on the visual. A title being a necessary aspect of the work is therefore also incorrect, as far as thinking of a good one goes, because a "good one" will either be trivial and point only to itself or will unnecessarily complicate the visual piece.

Titles do serve purely functional, non-artistic purposes as discussed with de Kooning. Generic and numeral titles often are used simply for cataloguing and identification; they do not affect the artwork's purpose or meaning. Functionality is also where I go against the case for anonymity. Names should be attached to work and should be accessible to the viewer unless there is explicit artistic reason to exclude it. Unlike having a textual counterpart, having a creator is inherent and does not need intention to exist.

When reviewers ask for labels in the student shows, we are asking only for names and a means to refer to specific pieces, not necessarily for something extra to chew on while evaluating the work. I do maintain that we have every right to add that chew if we want. We are artists, not just students.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Re: The Case for Anonymity

Can an artist holding an exhibition claim that they haven't titled the work in the exhibition because the work isn't worthy of being titled? The premise in choosing to make one's work public seems to be that the work is worth making public.

I don't think that titles always make work better, but they make work more communicable to the viewer and unless it is integral to the piece to not communicate that element, leaving it out seems like a sloppy omission. Think of a good title! This goes for the names of the artists in group shows, too. Why not let the viewer know what's going on?


The Case for Anonymity

As much as it's not supposed to be beneficial to the work when one relinquishes all power of presenting it to the institution it's being presented in, I think that this (the presentation of a piece in a gallery for immediate sale or in a museum for view) is the only occasion when employing labels and binders can consistently work.


When I think about labels, my first thought is of 'Entropy,' the sixth floor show a month or two ago of work by Esteban Cabeza De Baca and some SVA alums. It is true that the amateurish way they executed the production of those labels contributed to how genuinely awful the whole experience was, but it's also true that the labels' basic functionality worked against the paintings on view: though they (in some ways) acted to protect Esteban in that they separated his work from the others' predominately inferior work, they also revealed the immaturity of a bunch of young art students not yet in possession of the responsibility necessary to title a piece of art. The titles given to the pieces and listed on labels next to them made the worst of the work very literally even worse than it had to be and I think that something very similar would happen in any other student show, even if the labels are made more professionally (I should mention Sonia Finley's excellent museum-quality labels in the basement of the Integrated Curriculum show as a contrary exemplary instance of label-making). I just don't think that we, as developing artists, are yet applying titles to things that deserve or can withstand the scrutiny a labeling system brings.


When a piece is put into a gallery it is put there because it is expected to sell and it is expected to sell (one would hope) because there is something about it that it is worth being bought for beyond it's allegiance to a market trend; that there is a reason one would want the work. When a piece is put into a museum it is put there because (one would hope) it is worthy of being preserved in antiquity for future generations to see; that there is a strong reason one would want the piece to be available for viewing past its current age. In both institutional instances there is a sense of unimpeachability that attends the work on display: it is work from artists who have arrived and are now making work strong enough to withstand or benefit from a title, even if that title is simply 'Untitled 1'.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Integrated Curriculum, 6th Floor Lobby and Great Hall

What happens when the School of Art cherry picks artists for an exhibition meant to represent the loftiest ambitions of the institution? A couple of things, it turns out. The first thing that happens is that art suddenly has artists, titles and intentions—with a neat, organized exhibition binder to prove it. Maybe this seems childish (or as I hear around from time to time, maybe it seems "high school") but it's also incredibly useful. All ye artists with weekly shows and no labels, maybe you could compromise and make some kind of index of the work available—binder or not.

Another thing that happens when the institution organizes the show is that no one goes to it. That's not entirely true, I suppose. As I write this, Pam Lins' 3D class is in the corner talking about Jenna Dublin's Untitled piece. Or, they're standing next to it, which is kind of like talking about it. The unsurprising lesson is that shows organized by the institution (excluding, as Sam reminds me, the great collaborative End of Year Show) don't have the same sort of enthusiasm from the students in it, or from the friends/family of those students.

I find it hard to muster enthusiasm myself when the work is tethered to the tired, self-congratulatory philosophies and clichés of the School of Art. Are these works truly meant to "initiate critical responses and alternative models in relation to the prevailing forms of institutions?" Maybe: someone give me an argument. But for me, that inflated sense of purpose does not resonate with the work in this show. The work does not represent an education "in the broadest sense," it's a microcosm of a very particular kind of education. All that's fine. Let the show be what it is, a (fairly arbitrary) sampler with some occasional really good samples.

Andrew Francis' Studio Cart—more democratically authored by "Community"—stands as an island in the lobby, reminding the viewer of the mostly unrealized potential of student involvement and voice in the direction this school takes. This isn't a finished piece, it's a piece in progress, and one that communicates directly with the institution it was born in and those who work in it.

Luke Janson drags a little bit of the fourth floor energy (and pomp) up to the otherwise quiet sixth floor. His paintings are deceptively well made and engaging, while his video, Y2K5 (the video game-video) is surprisingly boring. Still the atmosphere doesn't suffer from a little extra noise and life.

Henry Chapman

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dancing with Myself- Caitlin Macqueen in the Houghton Gallery

I've already used dancing as a metaphor for art in this blog, so I feel all the more incredibly uncreative using a dancing metaphor to describe a painting show of dancers and singers, but here goes anyway:


On the night of Caitlin MacQueen's opening (the excellently titled 'Scratch Back Daub-Shebang!') I wandered the school for a few hours after the crowds had disappeared, opening beverages and snacks gone with them, eventually coming to a stop and lingering in the Houghton Gallery pacing languidly in circles.

Maybe dancing is more like what I was doing than pacing; I would take several long, swinging, enervated (perhaps inebriated) steps in one direction, find myself face to face with a smiling pair of women dancing, spin on my heels and move toward other painted dance partners, passing the faces of their painted musical accompanists on the way, before turning to see more. Flitting from one painting to another felt like slowly spinning around a small dimly lit club or bar on an off-night. It was Tuesday, though, so an uncomfortably large crowd couldn't really be expected, could it? As the night grew long, the faces of these other people at the club with me would become familiar and I would zero in on which of them I wanted to take home (given the opportunity).

The pair I most often returned to was a large grey painting at the center of the wall facing the Houghton Gallery's windows. A sketch for it happens to adorn the show cards for 'Scratch Back Daub-Shebang!' and I would be strongly tempted to assume the painting is named that, if it does have a name: as far as I'm concerned, this painting is the show's key and its best (if not my favorite) painting.

The painting's two figures are in mid-step of dance moves that are almost comically awkward, one striking a mock Egyptian pose with a knee raised in the air and the other with arms half vogue-ing, half flailing. No matter how uncomfortable the dance, both wear pleasant expressions and it's hard not to be glad they're having fun together tonight.


One strange thing about the dance hall they're dancing in is how amorphous it is; they seem to be dancing in a curved grey non-place and, for this reason, I take the piece to be less a narrative than a meditation on the idea of dancing. It's not about where they are or who they are (there are other dance-partners on view who could just as easily be them... the dances on view in this show aren't specific to a dancer or dancers), it's just important that they're dancing.


The other strange thing about the dance hall (and about the dancers themselves) is how grim the colors are that they're painted with. As much as the painting comes across as a general celebration of the idea of dancing, this is a celebration set to the tune of a funerary dirge. I begin to wonder if this is all the talk I've heard recently about "mourning the death of painting" gradually turning on its head, sadly shaking its hips in protest of sadness and step by step casting its veil aside while cautiously adopting a guarded, perhaps cynical, grin. You've come a long way, baby.


I highlight this painting instead of the other dancers on display primarily because I did return to it the most during my private dance party, but also because it's the one painting most like the rest of them. There are elements of each of the other paintings' mannerisms in this one and, I think, it's the one painting in which each of those mannerisms 'click.' The use of line is there, the muddy colors are there and the figures are there. They look good dancing there together.