Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Postcards 3-31-09

Awol Erizku, "Famous Faces / Diff'rent Places" in the Great Hall Gallery

Constance Armellino and Anna Hutchings in the Houghton Gallery

Alyssa Kosmer, "Schadenfreude" on the 2nd Floor Lobby

Alex DeCarli & Dmitri Hertz, "Communications Programming" on the 6th Floor Lobby

Caitlin Norgard, "Nerken" on the 7th Floor Lobby

Edited. Thanks to D William for the remaining postcard images!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“Whatsoever Things are True,” Houghton Gallery and 2nd Floor Lobby

Reed Burgoyne, David Maron, Rachel Matts and Erik Winkowski offer a massive, four years of work-filled collaboration this week. The collaboration, they write at the opening of the show, started with the reinterpretation of the words, “Whatsoever Things are True,” the Cooper Union motto of 1859. It’s not clear how much this group effort is a reflection on truth, or on the institution it’s housed in, though that may be possible. Spending some time with the exhibition, I kept feeling like the message was elsewhere. It’s not about truth, but the packaging. Thoughts need form to exist in the world, and the show affirms, to be communicable, so do products, signs, and information of all kinds. How that information is handled, edited and manipulated is incredibly important and can be incredibly powerful.

David Maron’s twelve small silkscreens and one larger print in the left corner give a good example of the show at its best. These prints offer more subtle information than many of the text-based pieces in the show, and manage also to be more compelling. The forms in these prints are being conjoined, spliced and bisected. They hold you and, in rich, colorful gradients, seem to move in front of you. The “23 Dead” poster, which feels so final and frightening, doesn’t let you pass it easily. Sometimes the work, or more accurately the push for cleverness in the work, becomes cheap. The posters made in famous modern art-historical styles feels tired, and the attitude in the “shut the fuck up” cake isn’t convincing.

But there are many virtues to the show, and too many to recount all of them. Part of the appeal of the show is just how much hard work there is in it, and the work is so much and so varied that it spills out into the second floor lobby with some of the more beautiful pieces in the show. One of the best highlights of the show may be its careful and committed design, down to the way in which the artist information is conveyed. Each artist has a symbol so that even when the different artist’s work is put together, little symbols indicate the individual maker. Everything has information and all of that information here gets a package.


"Brand New Geography for Old-Timers"

Susan Little's sculpture in the Great Hall Gallery, under the hole in
the ceiling, compellingly allies with the title of the exhibition,
"Historical Geology for Beginners." This interesting turn of phrase
offers an opportunity for lots of play, and lightly touches hard
questions; for example, there is a pun between the words "geology" and
"geography." It is an understatement to say that geological time
exceeds historical time. To think in geological time is to recognize
the incredible brevity of the human span, a thought that renders
"geography" and its political maps ironic, if not silly (while, at the
same time, we have lately noticed that we are not as harmless as
flies). The word "beginners" is also absurd. It seems like a great
deal to teach a beginner the history of Earth. An understatement
again. It's impossible. Earth can't write, yet this title and this
work lend it a memory of a record and a history.

The piece is notoriously missing parts, which renders it still more
site-specific: the below-ground exhibition space, currently territory
of the Sciame company not the Cooper Union, infamously clashes with
the work of students to whom the space is promised, with about the
carefulness of icebergs. There are intended to be 50 ceramic
plate-sized pieces, in the shapes of all of the United States.
Leaning on handmade steel display stands, like new books, they all
face front. They are distributed on a large, about 8-inch high and
solid square base, which is unpainted and looks like the splintery
scrap wood used in construction work. It is utilitarian and doesn't
elevate the work like a pedestal. I am not sure what it means for the
piece to be so close to the floor rather than at eye level, where the
viewer could take in the subtle variations of the clay. There is,
though, a certain sense of grounded-ness when confronted with an
object that sits by your feet on the same horizontal plane.

The ceramic states are all glazed imperfectly, the same white. I
interpret this choice in part as an elimination of the color
differences between states, while still referencing the way a map
usually differentiates them. The edges, the state lines drawn by
rivers and human minds, are articulated in detail. But edge is no
longer a line; it's a thickness of clay, making the transition through
objecthood from "geography" to geology. Walking behind them, which
Susan has allowed room to do, their naked red backs are exposed, which
are grooved as a part of the process of making them. We can look from
below the surface (the back), and see the map backwards, which is a
bit like seeing a flag upside down. Since only one side is glazed,
they are more tiles than plates. The clay can remind you of the dirt
below the surface of everything. This is further emphasized where
gashes like wounds interrupt the glazed surfaces. Here again, it is
impossible to name these states without also thinking of their history
of breaking and floating apart, all made of the same matter and now
outlined and alone. They become icebergs or tectonic plates, so the
space between them would be the ocean, but they remain upright on
display and dispersed not only on a sphere but both in the foreground
and the background. Again working against the conventions of maps,
they are not flat. Not only is the earth not flat, the country is not
flat. They warp convex and concave, a reminder of their softness and
the baking process.

So, it is like the earth, like a kitchen or a bathroom, was tiled, and
surface layer has been lifted off. The unanswered question of where
the earth is now fills the space around the sculpture. It is gone, in
a way, it is absent, while the sense of the human hand and the
earth-likeness of the clay doesn't leave you alone. It is good as a
viewer, not to see colors, lines, or flatness, and see so much
instead, to be a beginner and look.

The 7th floor Lithographs

The biography of the artist has always been associated with a history- the history of art. Contemporary thoughts on the importance of the author and its personal history have been challenged and at times considered irrelevant or antiquated. How much can an artist introduce his or her own history to the viewer without clichés or failure?
Fortunately Mark's show on the seventh floor has brought the idea of the biography into a series of lithographs that not only narrate his "story", but with a visual language, helps us remember (or introduce us) to a conflict larger than the "self".
I believe the prints told a story more complex than the mere retailing of a Dominican conflict, the "poster" language used served adequately, it did not overly sentimentalize the story nor did it over simplify it.
Political imagery, specially associated with Latin American politics can often result in the same simplified posters alluding to socialist aesthetics or indigenous imagery just to make a point. But Mark's way appears more sophisticated than the usual portrayal of, not only a country, but also a continent's struggle for democracy. I believe he achieved success by not forgetting the importance of artistic individuality rather than using motifs or clichés.
Lastly I would like to mention, for those who though silkscreen would be a more appropriate medium for the prints, that the usage of lithography was important for the style and execution of the image specially considering the level of successes achieved.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

“New Work” by Maren Mill, Saki Sato, and Avery Singer on the 7th Floor Lobby

The 7th Floor show, "New Work" by Maren Miller, Saki Sato, and Avery
Singer, does not, as the title suggests, have a theme, so much as the
work visually and conceptually speaks to one another. Roughly ten
pieces are on display in this group show, with sculpture, collage,
photograph-posters (plotter-print vogue never dies here) one painting
and one wall drawing as well as a video. The connection between the
work is in some cases explicit, for instance the painting of a
throne-like chair (with a clashing, graphic red and blue background)
and the actual, physical throne set on a base. In other cases the
connection is made very simply and visually, like the radar-like
sculpture which faces the photo of a globular fish-eyed window. This
poster of the window hangs above the video of a chair in an empty room
facing a window which displays a distant seascape, making a subtle and
comical link. In one, the empty living room lets out into another
space, and in the photograph, the fish-eyed window reflects back onto
a scene of an elaborately decorated living. This video of a chair
facing the window is, ironically, the most quiet and most
still-seeming piece in the show.

If "New Work" isn't exactly themed, themes abound: windows, mirrors,
shadows, chairs seem, the more I think about it, to be everywhere in
the exhibition. What makes the video of the chair facing a window
subtle and appealing is lacking in the other work, which is often
crudely made to no apparent end.


Edit: as commenter points out, "Welcome" is the title of the show, which makes my suggestion that there isn't a specific theme slightly more questionable. But I think the general thought remains, that while there are definitely themes to the show it doesn't have one specific theme.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A note on Abigail Collins' video in "In Response to Choking." In the Houghton Gallery with Kirby Mages

An azimuth check, Abigail Collins tells us, is like living well- it's
better to do before you have to. In her understated video in the
Gallery, in a show that she shares with Kirby Mages, Abigail considers
direction-- the english translation for azimuth-- and what having an
"objective" might mean. The camera moves clockwise for 360-degrees
before switching locations (a theater, a snowy field, a church) as
Abigail narrates what sounds like an army-manual on the importance of
taking azimuth checks.

This relatively short video has a lot to say, I think, and deserves
the time it would take to really listen to what Abigail is saying. I
can't say that I fully grasp what I think Abigail is doing here, but
several themes seem relevant. There seems to be something at stake,
though, and maybe that's a defense for a certain way of living, or of
a certain way of seeing living. Perhaps it is a very basic thought,
like, despite the pressure to be single-focused and goal-driven, it's
important to give the time and patience to consider where you are--
not always where you're going.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Josephine Heilpern, “We missed the whole thing.” in the Great Hall Gallery

“Space” and primarily “outer space” occupies almost every print, drawing and object in Josephine Heilpern’s show in the Great Hall Gallery. For the most part, though, Josephine’s glance is not upward or outward, but backward, back toward Earth with the aesthetic distance of 200,000 miles. This is most explicit in the triptych depicting a beautiful, shiny earth from different outer-space vantage points, but present in much of the work. In two drawings placed together, tourists reach out for a very distant and small—and as with everything in the show, gorgeous—earth.

It seems like Josephine is trying to say something about tourism, and a particularly American brand of tourism, as popular images of the moon landing, takes offs and landings, and earth from outer space are all crucial to modern American self-mythology. What have we missed? The trip to the moon? The trips that made the vantage points to see earth in this way possible?

“Space” in a more general sense gets a brief mention, in a small, seemingly out of place drawing of a staircase that pushes into the space of the picture. This was a good joke, I thought. And it was nice also to see a crack in the otherwise over-devotion to theme. Would it be okay to show something not at all related to space launches or to NASA memorabilia? It would have been nice, I think, to see more of these cracks, even if it compromised a scrupulousness to message.


Postcards 3-3-09

A few of the shows tonight:

Josephine Heilpern, "We Missed the Whole Thing" in the Great Hall Gallery

Chloe Jensen, "Prospects" on the 2nd Floor Lobby

Haeahn Kwon, "Drawings: Put Your Foot Down and Take Your Shoes Off" on the 6th Floor