Monday, September 29, 2008

Jean-Pierre Gauthier at Akron Art Museum

Last week I was introduced to an artist new to me at an opening at the Akron Art Museum: Jean-Pierre Gauthier. I guess I should have been more familiar with him as he shows at the very tony and well-known gallery, Jack Shainman. Still, this was his very first North American museum show, so perhaps I can be forgiven for not knowing his work already. I encourage you to go to his website and look at the installation shots and videos. Mr. Gauthier creates complex, 3-dimensional, cross disciplinary works that defy written description. It's best to just look.
Jean-Pierre Gauthier website. (Watch the installation process on the Akron Art Museum website.)

Walking through the exhibit, I was struck by how often I was thinking of other artists. Mr. Gauthier is certainly an original and unique artist, yet the range of my associations was intriguing to me. I share them for others' thoughts or discussions.

My first association was to artists who, like Mr. Gauthier are from Montreal or have worked in there including Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Alexandre Castonguay, and Karilee Fuglem.

My association with Lozano-Hemmer's work is that both are creating environments that have an interface between humans and technology. I like the way both artists use the viewer to influence/create the work. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's website

The other two artists I mentioned both show at Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain. I saw both during my visit to Mois de Photo in Montreal this time last year. Alexandre Castonguay's "Drawing by numbers" bears distinct parallels to "Uncertainty Markers" of Mr. Gauthier. I quote here from the Ouelette website:
In Drawing by Numbers , a wall-mounted plotter lightly engraves participant's images. The drawings are based on the image analysis of visitor's movements, retaining their outlines. They are registered when people make gestures that are close enough to the coded gestures that are often characteristic of interactive art installations and of the usage of portable electronic devices.

So, in the same way the "Uncertainty Markers" uses sound to control a device that leave the traces of that sound on a wall, "Drawing by Numbers" uses photo technology to do the same thing. I would love to see both in the same show.

Karilee Fuglem is a more ephemeral link to me. Both artists use found and everday objects in their constructions, but they subvert the object's original intended use for artistic means. I also find some parallels in the the fact that both artists explore a world that is almost beyond perception. Again I quote from the gallery website:
Karilee Fuglem is interested in revealing that which is invisible at first sight. Using translucent, delicate and supple materials, she can make the air we breathe and the space we are living in tangible. The magic of Karilee Fuglem's installations, drawings and photographs comes from an aesthetic approaching nothingness, where negligible elements, such as bubblegum, dust, plastic bags and nylon thread, are charged with unforeseen potential.

With Ms Fuglem, I would include the sculptural works of Thorsten Brinkmann in my list of associations. I've spoken a few times about Mr. Brinkmann's photography, but I've spent less time noting his clever and engaging scultural work made out of found objects. I relate these especially to Mr. Gauthier's "Remue-Ménage", "The Janitor's Break", and "Le Cagibi". Brinkmann's sculpture at Kunstagenten.

Including Mr. Castonguay, I thought about other artists who have made wall drawings. There is a Sol LeWitt on the AAM wall downstairs, but I was strongly reminded of the amazing DIA show of LeWitt wall drawings 2 years ago. In Mr. Gauthier's "Uncertainty Markers" piece, a machine makes the marks on the wall rather than a team of humans operating under strict instructions. But this work shares with LeWitt's a careful limiting of scope in order to make marks and patterns on a wall for temporary and conceptual effect. They are both circumscribed in every possible sense of the word.

Is it too wimsical to invoke the sculpture of Alexander Calder? The sense of serious play and playful seriousness combines with the artists sharing a use of asymmetrical geometry hanging in three dimensional space. Maybe it's a reach but I like the idea.

Last, and not least, I was reminded of the installations of Monika Sosnowska and Iole de Freitas. These works simultaneously invade and take over the spaces they inhabit while also describing the idea of what a line describes in space. I'm thinking especially of Mr. Gauthier's works "Chant de Travail"and "Échotriste".
Iole de Freitas' website
Monica Sosnowska

I hope my ruminations on artistic associations provides some food for thought and discussion on this artist. I find the work to be excellent and thought provoking on its own. I hope these few links will only add to appreciation of the work. I have ignored the musical inspirations that Mr. Gauthier, himself, cites. Chief among these are John Cage. I feel that the viewer would find his way to this in any case, and, if not, Mr. Gauthier is there to suggest it. Comments welcomed.....

Akron Art Museum redux

I had the pleasure of revisiting the Akron Art Museum last week. I had written about this small jewel in one of my first blogs. Seeing it again, I was struck again by what a remarkable and unexpected institution this is. I am hard pressed to think of a museum in a town of this size that has such a first-class, A-list, forward-looking roster of artists in its permanent collection. And this is not a case of first rate artists represented by second rate works. As I mentioned in my previous post, we see great work by Chuck Close, Yayoi Kusama, Claus Oldenburg, and Sol Lewitt. To that list, I can add Andy Warhol, Gene Davis, Morris Louis, Nam June Paik, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, and a really exciting collection of photography. On view was a show of photo collages by John Heartfield that was curated entirely from the holding of the museum. WOW! If you're anywhere near Akron, Ohio, check out this museum. It's a treat. A link to the museum's website is to the right on my start menu.

Next: a blog about the current Akron Art Museum show of Jean-Pierre Gauthier.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The 2nd Silverstein Photo Annual

The 2nd installment of the Silverstein Photography Annual (SPA) recently opened. I continue to believe that this is a good and worthwhile addition to the NYC art and photography scene. I wrote a positive blog about it last year, and my views have not substantially shifted. We all know how tough it is for an artist to get a gallery show in the straight-jacket-tight NYC gallery scene. Artists struggle even to get their portfolios reviewed much less shown in a gallery. Add to that equation the fact that most galleries cannot gamble on economically unproven artists, and that most gallery owners are too busy paying the rent to see a broad spectrum of new work. (I don't blame them for this fact, but it is a fact.) Art consumers like me know that what we see in the galleries is a tiny slit in the panorama view of the art world. Because of these art-world realities, it seems obvious that SPA puts art in front of the NYC audience that would most likely not be seen here otherwise. I think this is deserving of praise.

Now, I know there are other outlets that show new work. There are the various museum shows like the MoMA New Photography series and the Whitney Biennial. One can visit the open studios of the many fine art schools in the area or see their graduation shows. I cherish these options as much as anyone, and I'm glad they exist, but none of them operate under the auspices of a gallery. I think this makes SPA a welcome addition. Whether Mr. Silverstein is flexing his curatorial muscle or showing his latent desire for museum cred is beside the point. The point is we get to see work that we wouldn't otherwise see. YAY!

I also like the format in which 10 curators (usually highly esteemed and renowned curators) are each asked to nominate one photographer. This means each choice is a highly edited and selective one, and it also deflates some criticism that the gallery and its directors are using SPA solely as a marketing tool. Is the work for sale? Yes. Does the gallery use the format to market itself? Of course it does. But I believe the spirit behind the marketing is honest, and that there is a love for the medium manifested in the show. Nothing is perfect; I choose to celebrate what is good in the idea.

Since perfection is an imperfect ideal, I suppose it's only to be expected that rapturous enthusiasm for every single chosen artist would be unlikely, even impossible. Again, I think this is a good thing. Most people who don't happen to be photography professionals never participate in the portfolio review process. They don't get the opportunity to see one artist against another with the sole criterion being choosing who is good. SPA lets us do that, although in a highly pre-selected way. It's fun and instructive to see who shines, who really speaks to us.

For me in this show that would be Raphael Dallaporta and Rick McKee Hocks.

Unlike most of the photographers in SPA, Mr. Dallaporta's work has been seen in NYC at least twice. His landmines work was in William Ewing's Re-Generation show at Aperture a few years ago (the same work now in SPA), and his Autopsy series was shown a few months ago in the NY Photo Festival in Dumbo. I liked the Landmines work from the very start. I love how something so menacing and deadly can be transformed into an object of glamour and seductiveness by a photographic perspective. There is a sweet moment of realization when walking up to this work. One's eye is attracted by the color and the shininess of the objects so we walk closer, just as real people do with the real thing. Then, we realize that these 1:1 proportion photographs show a deadly object that is pointed right at you. BOOOM! Terrifying. For many years, Mr. Dallaporta didn't want these photos to be sold to private collectors for fear that they would be used as objects of design and shabby chic. NY collectors are lucky that now he has changed his mind.

Rick McKee Hock creates fascinating work using Polaroid transfer onto Arches paper. I love the multiple layers of self-reflective commentary on photography and photographic process as the images are re-photographed images themselves. The combination Mr. McKee finds between well-known images and vernacular ones creates a tension in the best works that is mesmerizing. Each work is unique.

A show well worth checking out.

The Season Begins

Well, summer is officially over. It's not the sight of geese flying south or the leaves turning color but the sight of Chelsea galleries jammed to overflowing at the start of the new season. I, for one, did not find much pleasure in the experience. Was I alone? It seemed so desperate and overcrowded. The art was in third place most of the time and I just couldn't find the right rhythm to be looking at the work. I don't know if it's the financial and economic challenges on my mind or a slow transition from the easy/lazy summer days. It just didn't feel right. But there were pleasures to be found. A few thoughts on a few shows......

The new Vik Muniz show at Sikkema/Jenkins is remarkable. It showcases all of his trademark cleverness and fine craft but turns it on its head. Instead of creating a creating a photo from a made object, he has made a sculptural object from a photo. The photo is of the back of a famous painting after which Mr. Muniz and his team obsessively re-create the markings, stamps, tape, and labels that mark the provenance of all works of art. To see these recreations leaning with their putative masterpieces on the other side feels like a museum turned inside out. It also remarks wittily on our desire for authenticity and connoisseurship over any aesthetic concerns. What's on the back has become more important than what's on the front. Cool.

Von Lintel has an interesting show called "More Than Words". I was disappointed that the actual show didn't quite live up to the potential of the description of the show, but I was happy that they tried. It was good to see that the smartly curated group/theme show was not dead as we move into the Fall. Standouts for me were the typed works of Lee Etheridge IV and the drawings of Mark Lombardi. Both are artists I know well from their showings at Pierogi, Brooklyn. While Mr. Etheridge's work recalls typed work of Carl Andre, I feel that it's a new, graphical direction that stands on its own.

Wonderful Minor White retrospective at Howard Greenberg. I have loved this artist's work since I first discovered photography. Though I don't believe that his devotion to eastern philosophical principles adds much to the work, I do believe that the work stands on its own without that philosophical overlay beautifully. The abstractions are wonderfully created in camera. Some of them are so arcane that it's hard to believe that they had no post production in the darkroom. I find it hard to understand that the abstractions and constructions of Aaron Siskind, Frederick Sommer, and other from the Chicago I.D. school have found such favor with collectors while Minor White's work remains largely unknown. Mr. Greenberg chose to supplement this show with a small selection of the great artists who have been influenced by Minor White. It was a lovely frame to show the legacy and influence of a great artist and teacher. Must see.

I'm happy to see that Yancey Richardson has added Hiroh Kikai to her roster. She has a small showing of the city portraits on view. Though I don't believe this is his strongest work nor the best way to see this series, I'm happy to know that Yancey chose him. I eagerly look forward to a more comprehensive show in the coming years.

My dear friend Cornelia Hediger had her debut NYC show at the up-and-coming Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn. I am thrilled for her. It's dramatic and personal work that is well worth the trip to the other side of the river.

The always smart and engaged Becky Smith of Bellwether Gallery has a show of Zoe Beloff. The show is of maquette theaters using archival videos, mirrors, and stagecraft to unsettling effect. Take a look before you read the press release. It's interesting to have an impression of this work BEFORE you know the whole story.

Last, and not at all least, was a photograph by Christopher Rauschenberg at the newly named Michael Mazzeo Gallery (formerly Peer Gallery). Sometimes an artist taps into emotion that is so pure, so raw, so honest, that it takes your breath away. Mr. Rauschenberg has done that here.

Link to the photograph and the wall text from the show.

Just reading that makes me tear up. Seeing his brilliant, simple, honest photo, I thought about a poem I know by Joshua Beckman from his cycle "Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter"

At the news of your death
not a good poem was written
not in your country or mine
not by any of the famous poets from anywhere,
no, we all just sat down and had a good cry,

We could all have a good cry at the sight of Chris's photo. Wow.