Louise Bourgeois’ Legacy: Four Living Women Rocking Surrealism

Above: Installation View, “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait” At MoMA. Image © Artifactoid. 

I love artwork by Louise Bourgeois. Her recent show at the MoMA was beautiful and you can see her sculptures in the permanent collection  at Dia: Beacon. Up to and following her death in 2010, her dark, sensuous surrealism (consciously or not) continues to influence a new generation of artists. While not always as heavy nor activist as Bourgeois in their subject matter, these artists each reference certain elements of her style in original ways. Here are four that are remarkable.

1. Rita Ponce de Leon (80m2 Livia Benavides)

Rita Ponce de Leon, image from the drawings on paper series, “Nuestros, Nosotros,” 2015. 25 x 25 cm each. Image © Rita Ponce de Leon courtesy 80m2 Livia Benavides.

Rita Ponce de Leon‘s  (b. Lima, 1982) work comprises surreal drawings and sculptures that gain power from their delicate intimacy. She works with pen on ink, clay, and Papier-mâché among other media. Last year I saw her beautiful installation at Proyecto AMIL in Lima that showcased many of her techniques, including heated sculptures to hold in your hands and drawings directly on the wall that scaled from floor to ceiling in the ample exhibition salon. Ponce de Leon is represented by Galeria 80m2 Livia Benavides based in Lima, Peru.

2. Geng Xue (Klein Sun Gallery)

Geng Xue, “Oceans Roar,” 2016. Porcelain and sound installation. 39 3/8 x 13 3/4 x 7 7/8 in. Image © Geng Xue, courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Geng Xue‘s (b. China, 1983) visceral ceramics captivate the imagination and bring us closer to our humanness. Attuned to sensory experience, Geng Xue often incorporates elements such as sound into the works, as in the above pictured piece, “Oceans Roar.” Geng Xue also creates animations that bring the pieces to life.

3. C.J. Chueca (Y Gallery)

Ceramic,  9 1/4 × 3 1/2 × 2 in, 23.5 × 8.9 × 5.1 cm, Unique. Image © C.J. Chueca and Artsy.

C.J. Chueca (b. Lima, 1977) grew up moving nomadically between Perú and México, where she frequently came into contact with homeless people, nursing home residents, and psychiatric patients. According to a 2016 exhibition essay on her work authored by critic Eleanor Heartney, these experiences “stoked a deep sympathy for the dispossessed” in Chueca. Chueca’s porcelain wall reliefs are portraits of homeless men and women from her memory, modeled after assemblages of found objects.

4. Jasmine Little (Johannes Vogt Gallery)

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Installation view, “Hoodoos,” at Johannes Vogt Gallery. Image © Johannes Vogt Gallery.

Jasmine Little (b. Virginia, 1984) is a technically gifted surrealist painter and sculptor whose works draw from emotion, memory and nostalgia rather than physicality. While most often related to Chagall or Matisse, there is something about the visual style and sensitivity of the pieces that recalls Bourgeois for me. Little is currently having a solo show, Hoodoos, at Johannes Vogt Gallery on the Lower East Side through April 28th, 2018.

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A Heavy Rhetoric: Leon Golub at the Met Breuer

Above: Leon Golub. “Bite Your Tongue,” 2001. Acrylic on linen, 87 x 153 in 221 x 388 cm. © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

By Jonathan Goodman

Leon Golub’s show at the Met Breuer shows him to be an allegorical artist working by way of polemics,  although he cannot be faulted for cynical, self-aggrandizing intentions. Formally, his work is problematic. It is often muddy and unclear. This lack of clarity holds sway over the subject matter as well–it is not clear what unhappy situation Golub is referring to, although, generally speaking, we know the paintings are about torture and murder in Latin America, as well as racial contestations in South Africa. But we know these things from outside information; they are not available in the paintings themselves; this historical vagueness exists in contrast to the great political painting, whose outrage can always be dated to a specific event. Witness Goya’s The Third of May 1808, which documents Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s army during the Peninsular War. A similar particularity is not found in Golub’s art.

I am not trying to undermine Golub’s intentions, which are entirely honorable. Instead, I am criticizing the American penchant for casual political internationalism at a time when so much here in the States is so very wrong. The well-known and well-regarded poet Carolyn Forché traveled to El Salvador to document the political suffering there in the 1980s. Many see this as a noble attempt at social empathy, but I wish to counter that opinion by suggesting there is something unreal about the writer’s decision to concentrate on political events outside her culture. It is clear that Forché’s motives are of the highest kind, and it is also true that artists and intellectuals have often shown international solidarity with causes not directly affecting them–witness the extraordinary example of the British-born, American-based classicist Bernard Knox, who fought in both the Spanish Civil War and the Second War. But, even if we recognize the intensity of moral purpose in Forche’s poetry and Golub’s paintings, the implications of their supposedly empathic response to suffering so far away from them cannot survive in full trust.

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Leon Golub. “Mr. Amok,” 1994. Ink and gouache on paper, 8 × 6 in. (20.3 × 15.2 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Why is this so? First, it is clear that other cultures are much better than American culture in addressing political suffering. Think of Pablo Neruda, from Chile, or Cesar Vallejo, from Peru. These artists managed to produce writing whose political effect is authentic. But, in America, while poetry readings given in opposition to the Vietnam War were certainly earnest, I cannot remember a single poem whose art rose to the level of work by the Spanish-speaking writers I mentioned. As for Golub–it goes without saying that his sympathies were genuine. But it is also true that his paintings of mercenaries don’t ring as being entirely believable. The paintings cannot be fully trusted–as good as they are!–because our manner of life here is both comfortable and socially autonomous, making it impossible to free ourselves from the trappings of privilege. Gigantomachy  II (1966), a huge painting facing the elevators of the Met Breuer, continues our penchant for an imagined connectedness with trouble, on a mythic level. The word “gigantomachy” refers to the battle between the giants and Olympian gods in Greek mythology, and Golub portrays the conflict in epic style. Two groups of figures, all of them naked, fill the dark-brown background. Painted as if their skin had been flayed from their body, the combatants grip and lunge and push each other in some obscure conflict, a close-to-mad attempt to establish dominance.

01. Leon Golub. Gigantomachy II, 1966

Leon Golub. “Gigantomachy II,” 1966. Acrylic on linen, 9 ft. 11 1/2 in. x 24 ft. 10 1/2 in. (303.5 x 758.2 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

It is clear that Golub has painted an arresting, if murky, tale of violence by men toward other men–a theme he returns to again and again. Man’s inhumanity to man is regularly lamented, but we won’t break free of the wish to overpower our opponents. Gigantomachy II owes its power to our recognition of the conflict, but its mythic origins lie at the center of the painting.  In the later works, based on actual history and places, Golub loses mythic power but gains in realism. Almost always, Golub’s audience must read the wall plaques to gain a sense of the situation being referred to. In the painting Two Black Women and a White Man (1986), two black women sit on a bench against a yellow wall. They are old and poor; both wear hats, and the woman on the left holds a cane. On the right, a vigorous white male, in his forties, looks away from the women; his gaze goes beyond the confines of the painting. He is wearing a red, short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants; as a male figure at the top of his game, he is young and powerful and seemingly indifferent to anyone’s complaint, the black women next to him included.

Leon Golub. “Two Black Women and a White Man,” 1986. Acrylic on linen, 120 x 163 inches. © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

The man’s overt lack of feeling is both a report and a judgment. He doesn’t give exact details, so we assume it is a work reporting on conditions where segregation, or at least profound prejudice, exists–perhaps South Africa. One might argue that not knowing the painting’s circumstances helps the artist convey the general banality of evil, but the fact remains that our inability to pinpoint the situation is disturbing enough to result in a false first step in interpreting the composition. The elements of the painting seem to be at cross purposes with each other; none of the three figures interacts with the other two. There is an implicit loss of faith from the start. Whatever the particulars of this composition may be, it is clear that the main atmosphere in which the three figures are engulfed is just shy of overt hostility.

It may be that the best art contains a realism based on experience and a more imaginative view of that experience. But what if the violence is indescribable in its extent and quality? Maybe Golub is leaning toward the allegorical because a truthful report would be so troubling as to do away with its esthetic potential. The aggression in Golub’s paintings is usually indirect–although also truthful enough in its report for his viewers to be able to imagine the aggression clearly. It is true enough that art cannot match real life, but it can embellish–and deepen–our understanding of things.

11. Leon Golub. Head. 1988.jpgLeon Golub. “Head,” 1988. Acrylic on canvas, 21 1/2 × 19 1/2 in. (54.6 × 49.5 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Golub was also interested in depicting inequalities of power in gender relations. The painting discussed implies but does not directly address gender inequalities. In Horsing Around IV (1983)–the “Horsing Around” series is based on photos of mercenaries from Africa and Central America (Golub often worked from photos)–shows a white man, with a hideous face, grinning, holding a bottle of liquor, and pulling at the white blouse of a black prostitute with short, straightened hair. The woman’s dark-brown dress ends above her thighs, and she is laughing as well, although her seeming happiness is clearly being paid for.

The prostitute sits on a bar stool, her breast revealed. Golub is making an open connection between political and sexual violence. As takes place in most of Golub’s paintings, the violence is implied rather than actual. In general, this show reveals Golub’s disgust with the behavioral excesses of power, both public and private. He is telling us that the mercenaries are more than dead souls; they are active perpetrators of malevolence. But the problem of generalization in his art remains. Violence is never generic but always specific–a particular person is doing something to a particular person. If the details are left out, the visual narrative becomes allegorical and symbolic.  Despite Golub’s claim on our sympathy, true empathy is not achieved. These works portray images meant to introduce sympathy in a nearly stereotyped manner; Golub reports more than empathizes.

But reportage, a journalistic rather than an imaginative endeavor, usually results in intellectual insight rather than empathic identification. This is the problem facing all of us who have had the good luck to evade the kinds of tragedies Golub paints. It may be that good fortune, in the form of material comfort, gets in the way of our ability to sympathize with the poor and the disenfranchised. In the last painting discussed, Contemplating Pre-Columbian (no date), we see a full skeleton drawn in red chalk. The figure is in a sitting position, bent over, and with its arms bent at the elbows but also rising upward. Beneath the skeleton is a pre-Columbian skull, with a full set of teeth. The image is distraught, though there is no way of telling so. Perhaps Golub is acknowledging his own frailties: advancing age and death.

10. Leon Golub. Contemplating Pre-Columbian.jpgLeon Golub. “Contemplating Pre-Columbian,” ca. 2000. Oil stick and acrylic on tracing paper, 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Golub feels like a major artist, but a narrow one. He is uncommonly brave to direct so much attention to worldwide injustice, as well as paying attention to the long historical ascendancy of the male gender. But even so, criticism of his political vagueness seems justified in light of our need to know who did what to whom. His paintings are sometime too generalized. Golun evoked a feeling we don’t come across much in American art–a commitment to the portrayal of injustice on an international level. If Golub’s global politics prevents him from a precise demonstration of evil, it also provides him with the space to amplify the point that, these days, morality is heavily damaged everywhere. We now find acceptable, everywhere, what was once condemned. Golub even looks at the politics of gender relations, moving from the public to the private sphere. His outrage may be slightly too generic to be absolutely convincing, but his emphasis on the consequences of violence–physical, emotional, and mental–makes him an artist of high merit.

View Leon Golub: Raw Nerve on view at the Met Breuer through May 27, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Tabaimo Transforms Ancient Artifacts into Surreal Animated Worlds at James Cohan

Above: Installation view, “Tabaimo: Clue to Utsushi,” James Cohan, New York, 2018. Photo: Phoebe d’Heurle.

James Cohan Gallery on the Lower East Side is known for transforming its space for interesting installations that create an environment. You may remember Omer Fast: August, a recent controversial exhibit where the street-facing portion of the gallery was transformed to simulate a rundown Chinatown storefront, revealing video art in the back. James Cohan’s current museum-quality installation, Clue to Utsushi, comprises surreal animations by Japanese artist Tabaimo. Each animation is projected onto a wall (or custom structure) in its own shape and size relating to an ancient artifact from the Seattle Art Museum. The gallery space is transformed into an unfamiliar, austere world that invites viewers to lurk around its dark corners and discover that there is more to unfold in each animation than first meets the eye.

2018_01_15_JamesCohan_004v1E.jpgInstallation view, “Tabaimo: Clue to Utsushi,” James Cohan, New York, 2018. Photo: Phoebe d’Heurle.

Each of Tabaimo’s video projections allures with symbols of beauty, like a woman’s silhouette, a butterfly, a bird, or a set of armoires, yet leaves hints to the viewer that cohabiting with this beauty might be something sinister, and that watching and following the beautiful thing can lead you to a darker unknown place. Tabaimo creates an “Alice in Wonderland”-like universe where we are unfamiliar with where our curiosities will take us as we are drawn into the bizarre visual settings she imagined.

Utsushi1.pngStill from “Shinju Trail” by Tabaimo at James Cohan, New York, 2018. Image © Tabaimo. Photo: Artifactoid.

Clue to Utsushi is directly connected with Tabaimo’s 2016 exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), Utsusushi Utsushi. At SAM, Tabaimo discovered that ancient artifacts around the Seattle Art Museum were calling to her with different energies, leading her to create works of video art that brought the antiques to life and opened them up to reveal new narratives. Four of the resulting videos are now on display in Clue to Utsushi, plus Shinju Trail, pictured above, which was created specifically for this show.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 12.03.23 PM.pngRound-corner wood-hinged Cabinets (GUI), 16th Century, Chinese, that inspired the work “Two” by Tabaimo. Image © Seattle Art Museum.

Clip from “Two” by Tabaimo at James Cohan Gallery. Video © Tabaimo. Footage: Artifactoid.

Carrying the ancient to the present, Tabaimo, an artist known for critiquing Japanese culture, speaks to the concept of Utsushi, or, emulating artwork by masters of the past. Instead of physically copying the art of the masters, Utsushi refers to keeping the same “energy” of the master’s artwork while simultaneously bringing it into a new contemporary form. Though we don’t necessarily have this exact word in English, I believe that a lot of the best contemporary artwork from around the world demonstrates Utsushi by being original while maintaining a strong dialogue with the past and ultimately connecting it with the present and future.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 5.19.27 PM.pngImage of an artifact that inspired the below animation, “Crow” by Tabaimo. © Seattle Art Museum.

Clip from “Crow” by Tabaimo at James Cohan Gallery. Video © Tabaimo. Footage: Artifactoid.

James Cohan Gallery is located at 191 Grand Street in Manhattan. Today is the final day to view this exhibition.

 

Carolee Schneemann, Kinetic Painting at MoMA PS1

Above: Installation view, Kinetic Painting. Image © Artifactoid.

Museum retrospectives give viewers the opportunity to fully understand the career of an artist in-depth. The variation between the distinct styles of the artist’s work over decades is visible, as is their impressive generative capacity. One example of a great retrospective was the Constant Nieuwenhuys exhibit at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, where the artist’s whimsical, emotional and painterly techniques segued into highly conceptual and architectural ones spanning from the mid-century to present day.

Carolee Schneemann’s current retrospective at MoMA PS1 titled Kinetic Painting is special because it demonstrates Schneemann’s transformation from beginning in the postwar period as a female artist working within the confines of the masculine genre of abstract expressionism, to an artist who masterfully approached a diverse variety of media, fearlessly implementing new ideas. She created works, which, whether or not she intended them to be, were radical and activist.

On view through March 11, 2018, Kinetic Painting includes Schneemann’s paintings, sculptures, films, drawings and performances, ranging from interactive social experiments with friends, lovers, and pet cats, to pieces dealing with violence, mourning, grief, sex, gender, and the politics of the female body. For instance, in the below work, Vulva’s Morphia (1995) Schneemann problematizes if womens’ understanding of their own anatomy/physiology is defined in masculine terms.

Carolee Schneemann, Vulva’s Morphia, 1995. Image © Artifactoid.

Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll (detail), 1975. Image © Artifactoid.

Historically, Schneemann was part of the global avant-garde movement of Fluxus artists of the 60s and 70s who refuted the market and confronted the structures in place. Today, her influence continues to inspire creators such as New York-based performance artist and painter Theresa Byrnes who has previously been interviewed on Artifactoid. The above image depicts detail of the original manifesto that Schneemann pulled out of her vagina during the 1975 performance of Interior Scroll, one of her most famous and controversial works.

While Schneemann is most widely known for her performances, she has always defined herself first and foremost as a painter. Throughout her oeuvre, the two media are inextricably connected. As part of Schneemann’s love for painting, she is also interested in the limitations of painting and  ideas that may only be able to be expressed through performative action. Both this philosophy and her critique of abstract expressionism are revealed in works like Up To and Including Her Limits (1973-76), detailed in the below video clip courtesy of © MoMA:

When Schneemann debuted as a painter, the challenges for female artists were severe. After World War II, abstract expressionism emerged as a masculine, all-American painting style which flourished in the patriotic environment of the U.S. at the time and dominated the art market. Female painters were unable to reach the same level of success as male painters within this framework.

Siwin Lo, PhD Candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, notes,
“The climate of the art world before the 1960s in New York was a profoundly masculinist one, even though there were women who managed to attain some degree of recognition. In many cases, women artists had to navigate promoting themselves in an environment where they were considered women first, and artists second. For some, such as Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler, their careers were read largely through their relationship to their male partners, a tendency that we still see in the discussion of many women artists. For Carolee Schneemann, coming up in this type of scene, the desire to be seen as herself as well as the desire to make art as herself would have been understood as contradictory. The fact that she was punished for painting herself nude really crystallizes the assumed incompatibility between the body painted, and the artist painting—for the art schools of Schneemann’s time, these two could not co-exist in the same person. By refusing to separate herself between being the object and the maker of her kinetic paintings, she points to the gendered hypocrisy of Abstract Expressionism, as if to say, “if Pollock famously locates himself within his paintings,* why can’t I?”
Confronted with these challenges, Schneemann was a pioneer and fearless visionary. However, she generally didn’t view her own work as shocking or radical even though others did. And, while she has achieved a major museum retrospective such as Kinetic Painting, she experienced a deluge of backlash and criticism throughout her entire career. There were critiques that her work was narcissistic, diaristic, and pornographic, among other things. Despite this, she kept creating, following her truth, and providing an original perspective, which I think can be a lesson to us all.

Installation view, Kinetic Painting. Image © Artifactoid.

“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.” -Jackson Pollock, quoted in Kirk Varnedoe, Jackson Pollock (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1998), 48. Courtesy Siwin Lo.

When 1960s Sci-Fi and Surveillance Collide in 21st Century Sculpture: Björn Schülke Vision Instruments at bitforms gallery

Above: Björn Schülke, Beam Engine #1, 2016, Brass, mirror, paint, electronics, solar cells, motors, laser, 7.1 x 15 x 9.9 in / 18 x 38 x 25 cm

This article was originally published in Whitehot Magazine

Would there be world peace if aliens attacked Earth? After all, doesn’t everyone get along better once they share an enemy?

In the divisive global political environment confronting us, I find myself wishing for the aliens to appear.

I started thinking about this after learning about Raumpatrouille Orion, or, “Space Patrol Orion,” (1966), the first ever German science fiction TV series, which inspired Vision Instruments, a collection of sculptures by Björn Schülke currently on view at bitforms gallery on NYC’s Lower East Side. According to bitforms gallery, Raumpatrouille Orion reflected a certain Cold-War era global attitude of idealistic utopianism, and the mentality of conquest and emphasis on space travel, which is also present in a lot of Schülke’s work.

Schülke was born in Cologne, Germany in 1967. Perhaps as an artist he was drawn to exploring the collective psychology of the environment into which he was born, utilizing Raumpatrouille Orion as his case study. But, what can we learn from Raumpatrouille Orion now? I think that some of the answers might lie in what else Björn Schülke focuses on in his sculptures.

Björn Schülke, Vision Machine #8 , 2016, Brass, steel, wood, mirrors, paint, camera, display, sensor, electronics, 15.75 x 11.8 x 14.2 in / 40 x 30 x 36 cm, Edition of 3, 1 AP (variant)

The other central theme of much of Schülke’s work is questioning the ways in which we interact with technology. To us in 2017, the “technological frontier,” its own universe without borders, can be compared to the physical universe within which exploration was idolized during the Cold War. At that time, we worshipped astronauts like rock stars. Today, we worship tech innovators like rock stars. That is absolutely not to say that we have stopped revering our astronauts, but rather to say that when it comes to astronauts versus tech innovators, the media has switched their “it girl” over the decades and the technologists are their latest sweetheart.

So, how are we interacting with technology, this thing that we worship? I think that one thing that Schülke is trying to say with his art is that we are giving it too much power.

His shiny, white, mechanical, stick bug shaped kinetic sculptures range from about the size of a football to the size of a refrigerator, and are mounted on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the gallery, surrounding viewers from all sides. They each have unique sleek, futuristic designs, but are futile in function, clearly separating them from the product design prototypes of the tech world and setting them firmly in the art category.

Although futile, they each beckon us to interact with them. For example, we look to find our reflections in the tiny circular mirrors that some of them have, and look to see our images picked up by their cameras, even though their cameras are operating in connection with a surveillance system. This evokes the Privacy Paradox, in which we are tempted to upload mass quantities of information about ourselves onto the Internet, almost like a mirror of ourselves, even if it is at the risk of our own security – which we then express simultaneous concern about.

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Björn Schülke, Drone #9, 2016, Fiberglass and epoxide, wood, mirrors, aluminum, display, camera, electronics, sensors, video transmitter, 43.4 in / 110 cm, height, 118.2 in / 300 cm, diameter

In addition, many of the sculptures are equipped with small solar panels that take in light and charge the small batteries within them. Once the charge of the battery reaches a certain level of fullness, the sculpture moves, and is brought to life, like a little anthropomorphic creature that we created, but that now has a mind of its own and operates without our assistance, catching us off guard.

This is not the first time I have seen the issue of surveillance explored in art. In fact I have seen it utilized many times, and have written about it on several occasions as I consider it one of the interesting current themes that the global creative community is having an active discourse about. You can see some of my prior explorations of this topic in my articles about The Privacy Paradox 2016 group show at Reverse Gallery, the artist Joel Holmberg at New Museum, the artist Lorraine Oades and her project TV Tracker (a part of a 2015 group show of artists from Quebec at Knockdown Center). To note, there is also a radio show on NPR right now called The Privacy Paradox.

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Björn Schülke, Supersonic #3, 2008, Fiberglass, plywood, steel, motion sensors, theremin, woofer, tweeter, amplifier, paint 22 x 46 x 15 in / 56 x 117 x 38 cm

So, back to my original question, what can we learn today from Schülke’s revival of ideas from Raumpatrouille Orion? I think that the obvious conclusion is that while it was the first German sci-fi television show, from over fifty years ago, those same issues in the show apply now. Today it seems that it might still require this threatening, alien outside force to attack for all of us humans to band together to achieve peace on earth. What shape and form would that “force” take if the show were remade today? Could it be something like climate change, or related to technology?

Björn Schülke, Drone #9, 2016, Fiberglass and epoxide, wood, mirrors, aluminum, display, camera, electronics, sensors, video transmitter, 43.4 in / 110 cm, height, 118.2 in / 300 cm, diameter

Finally, it is this issue of surveillance resurfacing in both the outer space universe and the technology universe. During the Cold War era of Raumpatrouille Orion, sci-fi fear of aliens was this major allegory for xenophobia, fear of other countries, and fear of apocalyptic nuclear disaster. Sound familiar? At that time, a person might have asked, who are the aliens from outer space who are watching us, spying on us, maybe ready to attack? Today, we could think in those same terms, but digitally. Who is watching us, spying on us, maybe ready to attack, replete with our data?

A Compass for Kuitca: Artifactoid Exclusive Tour with Sotheby’s SVP of Fine Art Eric Shiner

When I was based in Buenos Aires during the fall of 2011, there was a time when nearly every Saturday night I would go to the Universidad Torcuato de Di Tella for the weekly opening nights at the Beca Kuitca, an artist residency founded by Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca in Buenos Aires in 1991. Many of the artists who were participating in the Beca Kuitca at that moment are incredible creators who I feel lucky to know, including Eduardo Basualdo, Florencia Rodriguez-Giles, Juan Tessi, and Nicolas Mastracchio, among others. It is beautiful to think about how Guillermo Kuitca, aside from being a hauntingly skilled artist who is included in the TATE and MET collections, developed this amazing, influential program to give back, and provide more growth opportunities to some of the premier rising artistic talents in Argentina today.

Eric Shiner, Senior Vice President of Fine Art at Sotheby’s and former Director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, shares my reverence for Kuitca, and below, I am pleased to publish excerpts and photographs from my recent tour with Mr. Shiner for Artifactoid of the Guillermo Kuitca solo exhibition he curated, Terra Nullius, featuring works by the artist from the early 1990s through 2010. Below, Shiner shares his curatorial concept, his expertise on pieces from several of Kuitca’s most important series, as well as fascinating details about the artist’s life.

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I was really thinking about doing an exhibition about being lost, prior to the U.S. presidential election, because I think so many of us were just completely aimless, tired, frustrated; all of the many things that come up when you are heading into such a momentous period and momentous occasion with so many repercussions tied to it. So I wanted to do a show about being lost, and I immediately thought of Kuitca because I loved his work for ever and he’s such a phenomenal artist and has always been just below the radar even though he should be well on the radar, or above it in so many ways. And of course he’s had such an incredible exhibition history with the things at MoMa, project space show at MoMA in 1991, to the Sao Paolo Biennale in 1989, and on and on and on. So I thought that that would be a good thing to do and because his work is very much about being lost, and it’s about displacement, about migration, immigration, persecution, psychology, and the way humans navigate space and think about space. It seemed that that would be a good topic at this precise moment in time. So, I decided to call the show, “Terra Nullius,” in Latin, (“No Man’s Land” is the English translation), to really capture that idea of not really knowing where we are, feeling displaced, and perhaps, with certain political implications, people rethinking their own geographies based on the result. One way or another, depending on who won [the election], one group of people was going to feel displaced, disconnected, and that’s ultimately what I wanted this show to reflect.”

kuitca1Guillermo Kuitca, “Everything,” Mixed media in two parts on canvas, 120 1/8 x 65 in. ea., 2003

“In this huge two-panel work (above), which is just exceptionally beautiful, Kuitca does exactly that with the maps in that they make no sense whatsoever. You’ll have Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania next to Ottowa, Canada, for example. So they’re not actual maps, but there are some semblances of reality within it that you’ll also see. In addition to a bird’s-eye view of the road system, there’s also a topographic map blended into the piece – you could read weather map patterns into it – it’s just a complete combination of all of the many layers through which we view our world; and that’s why I just absolutely love this piece; in that it’s so complex, and also, strangely, for me at least, a lot of the work is incredibly meditative and calming — that this is something you can stand in front of and stare at, and for me it’s an incredibly calming thing, but maybe for others it has a completely different vibe.”

kuitca15

“I wanted to put together this main gallery space, and then the two wings on either side. I wanted to focus on maps and floor plans here, and then in one side space, put two paintings from the “Crown of Thorns” series, and in the other side space, two pieces from the “Beds” series. I also wanted to mix it up in terms of the different ways that Kuitca looks at maps: some very crisp and clean, some bordering on abstract. And of course, include this work (below) which is a complete ode to cubism.”

kuitca14Guillermo Kuitca, “Lontano,” Oil on linen, 76 7/8 x 64 1/2 in., 2010

kuitca2Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 117 3/8 in., 1990

“This one (above) is twenty-four different grids of maps based on real places in some cases, and in other cases, not. I love that the zoom is different in terms of how high up you are looking into the space, so the scale is completely different from square to square. Here, you are much closer, and here, you are further out, and again here further out, and further out. I just absolutely love the way he’s thinking about the veins and the arteries of a city – of a space – and the way that water, rivers, or other areas become blank. It’s just a great piece – and again for me, very meditative.”

kuitca5“Untitled,” detail

“I was speaking with a group of architects from Brazil about this work, and one of them brought up the fact that today, we understand geography in our world in a completely new way through technology. In the old days you actually had to have the physical map that you would unfold – a paper map – and that was how you would chart your course; you would figure it out or probably write it down, and either memorize it or figure out how to navigate that way – left here, right there; landmarks, etcetera. Whereas now, all we do is turn on our phone, plug in the address, hit “go,” and follow its lead without really paying any attention to where we’re going; we just know that we’ll get there. It was such an interesting conversation to have, because that’s the reality of what we’re doing right now.”

“And of course, it goes without saying that Kuitca has a huge map collection. He collects vintage maps and atlases, and he uses these things as his inspiration and as his guide.”

kuitca6Guillermo Kuitca, “Crumlin Road,” Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 59 1/8 x 70 7/8 in., 1993

This painting (above) is of Belfast. It is fantastic. It’s on a terra-cotta ground, painted with a very terra cotta color, smudged, so it’s abstract in the background, and the map is superimposed on top of that. This is Belfast in Ireland, and it shows the dividing line between the Protestant side of town and the Catholic side of town. So, even though it’s only a road [Crumlin Road], it is the dividing line, and a site of war and conflict. The thing that I love about this work is that every church is demarcated.”

kuitca7“Crumlin Road,” detail

“Kuitca obviously has a very conflicted view of religion. Growing up third-generation Eastern European Jewish in Latin America (an otherwise Catholic place), I’m sure has a lot to do with his feeling displaced, lost, and not horribly religious – so how do you factor all of these things in? Both of Kuitca’s parents were psychotherapists, so you can just imagine how they (and he in turn) thus had to deal with religion and human psychology, their place in the world, being intellectuals in Buenos Aires, and all of the things that come along with that.”

“It’s very interesting to think about how Kuitca grew up, and of course, to remember that he was a child prodigy as well. As a young man, well, as a little boy, he showed huge talent in painting and could copy anything, and really was a star painter right out of the chute. It’s interesting that someone with such huge talent chose not to be a representational, or even an abstract, painter, but instead, to do something based not in painting, but in geography, cartography, and concept. And obviously, his hand is so incredibly skilled.”

kuitca16Guillermo Kuitca, “Sacramento,” Oil on canvas, 72 x 36 in., 1990

“This is Sacramento. It’s a really lovely work. It’s based on a map company that Kuitca particularly liked, which was prevalent in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He loved the color palette, with their yellows and their green major highways. As you can see, it’s fractured into 11 canvases, so here Kuitca is literally fracturing the landscape through the use of these small canvases as opposed to doing it on one big one. Then you have the void, where it’s not filled in what’s going on in these spaces, and it may or may not actually be real as to where these roads really go. Often times, in Kuitca’s works you can see that a road leads to the same place, or to absolutely nowhere if you really start to analyze.”

“Why did he choose to work with this particular map? One may ask. It’s really just a matter of what maps Kuitca comes across; now this one [Sacramento] could be read as the epicenter of California; Sacramento is the state capital, and it’s the title of the work. It’s obviously also a Spanish name of an American capital, and could deal with the things that play off the “sacred” and the implications of “sacra-“ in terms of the root of the word in a sacred lexicon. But, Kuitca is focused on areas all over the world, and there’s no rhyme or reason, except in a painting like Belfast where Belfast is very specific. The painting around the corner of Mexico City (below) is also very specific.”

kuitca20Guillermo Kuitca, “Idea de una pasión,” Acrylic on canvas, 78 5/8 x 75 in., 1991

This is Mexico City, and it is just absolutely phenomenal. Here Kuitca takes his map, based on Mexico City but again not exacting at all, and all of a sudden, the roads turn into thorns and brambles of thorns. Then you read the idea of violence, persecution, and bloodletting into this, and of course, sadly, Mexico City has the stereotypical view of being a dangerous place, even though for those of us who go there often, we are aware that that danger is unlikely. It’s just like any other city in the world where everyone is careful, but otherwise it’s not that dangerous. In addition, the imposition of Christianity on indigenous culture – I’m very convinced – is present in this work. Indigenous religions are very very different from Christianity, and the Spaniards came and put Christianity on top of Mexico. I think obviously with the implication of the crown of thorns, that’s very much there.”

kuitca21“Idea de una pasión,” detail

“To note I love this particular area of the painting (shown above), which is not a real place, but instead becomes a spider web or what could be read as a roll of barbed wire, so it’s like a trap.”

kuitca8Guillermo Kuitca, “Corona de Espinas,” Oil on canvas, 60 1/8 x 70 3/8 in., 1994

“And this is Kuitca’s homage to Cy Twombly, of course, but instead of it just being a free-spirited release in form and space, here, Kuitca is very carefully hand-painting all of these brambles of thorns. And again it is obvious that this could be Christ’s crown of thorns or it could just as easily be a reference to barbed wire and persecution, to concentration camps, to genocide, to all of those things; it’s all very wrapped up here.”

notredamekuitcaGuillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” (Marble flooring plan of the sanctuary and part of the choir of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris), Graphite and ink on linen, 77 1/2 x 63 in., 1999

“This one (above) is graphite on canvas, and it is Notre Dame in Paris. It is from Kuitca’s series of church floor plans. The image is first laid down in graphite, and then Kuitca uses an emulsion with water and some chemical agents to get the graphite to blur. He moves the canvas around so that it bleeds and blurs and stains, and I see this as the Shroud of Turin in many ways. This is the idea of the body of Christ represented in the architectural form of the church, bleeding, melting – either into the architecture, into Paris, into the city, it’s just so beautiful.”

notredamedetail“Untitled” detail

“The image is also a very powerful sculptural form in and of itself. It is as if it is both a floor plan and something achieving actual elevation at the same time.”

kuitca9“Lontano,” detail

“This painting (above) is exceptionally good. It’s based on cubism, the history of art, and the history of painting. Kuitca fuses this with another very central tenet, which is his inclusion of the floor plans of apartments or domestic space. As you know, Kuitca started off doing floor plans of his own apartment, and then just started playing with that form, that cube, of our lived environment, which is a formal element in the painting. I love that in this work the floor plans are very rigid, rectangular or square – very straight edged, straightforward – but are then surrounded by chaos.”

kuitca10Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” Oil on canvas, 75 x 96 in., 1995

And this (above) is from Kuitca’s “beds in rooms” series, and it is so – well – you can really tell that his parents were psychoanalysts when you look at a painting like this! It just becomes theatrical in many, many ways. We brought a group of school kids in last week to show them this, and they immediately said, “Somebody got murdered there!” because of the blood red and the overturned furniture.”

“If you take a look at the doors in the painting, it’s as if the painting asks, which door do you choose? It really forces you to think about which way you go. Through the black door, or, is that a white door? Or is it a closed door? Is it good or is it evil? What lies behind? It’s also interesting that Kuitca was very good friends with Pina Bausch the choreographer. They collaborated often on her stage sets; she was a huge influence on him and he on her. So when you think about Pina’s stage sets, they’re very much like this: simple, stark, just a few pieces of furniture – and just in doing research for this show, I came across this one little essay explaining that relationship and it was like, oh okay, of course! This makes total and complete sense.”

“Also Guillermo of course literally has painted on mattresses, and has hung those on a wall or has made them sculptures or bed sculptures. The bed is a site of ‘human psychogeography,’ and obviously our beds are very very important to us in terms of where we sleep or rest, have sex, enact our lives, where we have insomnia – I mean the bed is both site of trauma and absolute calm. So it’s interesting that several artists have honed in on that.”

kuitca11Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” Oil on canvas, 72 1/2 x 108 in., 1998

And in the work here (above), it’s a reflection of the same space, but also laid on top of an incredibly complex abstract work; just in terms of the staining and the mark-making that’s going on. When you start to look into it, things are more or less matching, yet completely blurred and nothing like the others at all, so is this a reflection in water? Is it a reflection in space, with the overturned beds again going on? And yet, either way it’s not a perfect reflection, because in one place, the chair is upright, in another, upside down and, in another it’s turned over on its side. So beautiful. The color palette is just incredible.”

kuitca22“Untitled” detail

“So ultimately, I was very happy with this show. It’s beautiful, and also, sadly, even more timely than I ever expected it to be. Now that we’re facing a totally new direction in our country, and the implications of what’s to come – with immigration, and ideas of walls, and architecture – from that angle, these things will take on very new meaning. But again, based on one’s politics, some people are elated and thrilled, whereas others are scared and miserable, and I mean I guess that’s always the human condition. And in many ways, when an artist is looking very specifically at how we navigate space, how we inhabit space,and how we position our own identities within it, I thought that they don’t get any better than this.” -Eric Shiner, SVP Fine Art, Sotheby’s

Many thanks to Mr. Shiner from Artifactoid for this thoughtful tour. Unfortunately this exhibit is no longer up, but please stay tuned for more beautiful upcoming shows at the Sotheby’s S|2 Gallery!

Reflections on Manus X Machina at the MET: Fashion and Technology, Couture to RTW

While Yves Saint Laurent once quoted, “Art is a very big word for couture. It’s a métier like any other, but a poetic métier,” it was difficult for me to look at the pieces on display at the MET’s Manus x Machina exhibit and not see many of them as wearable sculptures.

img_3268-1Dress featuring both hand-embroidered and 3D-printed elements, by threeASFOUR, 2014

If you didn’t get a chance to check out the recent fashion and technology exhibit before it closed this Labor Day weekend, I wanted to give you an opportunity to see some of the beautiful pieces that were featured, and consider the topic of fashion and technology.

dressIris van Herpen dress including polyurethane resin and iron fillings hand-sculpted with magnets, Autumn/Winter 2014

One thing that really struck me about this Apple-sponsored, Andrew Bolton-organized exhibit was that, for a fashion and technology exhibit, it didn’t feel very high-tech. It was more like a retrospective of how high fashion has kept up with and experimented with the tech of its time over the last century. For instance, many of the 3D-printed pieces which were presented as some of the more technologically advanced of the show were created several years back. I’d even previously seen the Iris van Herpen 3D-printed corset in early 2014 the Bass Museum in Miami.

vanherpenIris van Herpen, 3D-Printed Dress (far right, 2010)

The lower-tech vibe of the show, on the positive side, can be viewed as a testament to how well some of the show’s participating haute couture designers have been integrating new technologies into fashion – allowing couture to retain its handmade look while keeping up with some of the latest technologies available. According to The New York Times, this has always been the case, i.e., with the invention of “the sewing machine (used to make a Paul Poiret coat in 1919) and machine-made lace (Coco Chanel, in the late ’30s).”

diorGowns, Dior (left, center) and Alexander McQueen (right)

There also seems to be a limiting factor in regards to the marriage of high-tech and haute couture: since a lot of technology is created to be utilitarian, and by its nature haute couture seems to be the antithesis of utilitarian, will the applications of technology in haute couture be limited to purely the aesthetic?

Even when considering Hussein Chalayan, whose fashion designs have included robotic, LED, and remote controlled technologies, the tech provides a visual wow-factor but no practical benefits for the wearer. Then again, no one ever looked to haute couture for its practicality.

Has it been frowned upon in the fashion world for couture to incorporate practical technology? Is there this consensus that the wearer of couture wouldn’t need high-tech life hacks woven into her ensemble at the moment of wearing it because its presence might reveal her earthly needs in her moment of being a goddess? I wonder if any designers right now are experimenting with pushing what those limits seem to have been.

chalayan“Kaikoku” Floating dress, Hussein Chalayan, 2011-12

Breaking from those limitations, the ready-to-wear fashion industry on the other hand is using technology to transform clothing itself into wearable tech smart devices. For instance, Google’s “Project Jacquard” recently debuted a partnership with Levi’s for a smart commuter jacket made of tech-connective denim that you can swipe like a smartphone screen to answer calls, control your music, and more, while remaining alert riding a bike. Antonio Cerruto, an engineer working on Project Jacquard, notes, “What I find exciting is that the people working on fashion tech now are the people who will be defining a vocabulary and mode of interaction for this area.”

It’s interesting that while tech is being integrated into both haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion in different ways, the core principles of the two categories – one as essentially wearable art and the other as utilitarian – seem to remain the same. And, the most “cutting edge” of the tech seems to be applied to the most common of the clothing: a denim jacket.