(The Raft, 2010 by Armando Mariño, Queloides, MF)
Now is the time when art mags and newsweeklies announce their “best of” listings. Below is a list of my six favorite art exhibitions of 2010. I’ll review some of the runners-up in another post.
#6 David Shrigley at Anton Kern Gallery, NY. With all of the tricks and tools available to contemporary artists, it is refreshing to see a body of work made with the simplest of tools: ink on paper. Add a touch of wit, a bit of sarcasm and you have David Shrigley. Shrigley can’t really draw or write, but that doesn’t matter. Humans have been making art in his primitive style since caveman days.
#5 Twisted Pair, Andy Warhol Museum. Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol. What would the art world be like without them? (A permanent land of Analytic Cubism or folk art perhaps?) A great work of curatorial scholarship, this show unraveled the uncanny and obvious similarities in the career paths (and inventions) of these trouble makers. For me, it was great to see so much work by Duchamp (even though many pieces were reproductions) under one roof. Although I’m not a big fan of excessive wall text, I thought the information was necessary, in this case to emphasize the thesis of the curators.
#4 Queloides: Race and Racism in Cuban Contemporary Art, Mattress Factory. I’m still in the process of studying this show. I like the fact that it spans two separate buildings in the midst of a neighborhood. (A couple of pieces are viewable outside) The MF staff marches to the beat of their own drummer. (They just installed a video that was recently censored at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery) They steer clear from art world trends and leave plenty of room for experimentation.
#3 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art. People love to slam this show, but I think the Whitney crew does a pretty good job. I thought the exhibition was a pretty accurate reflection of social, political and creative consciousness of 2010 America. The general mood of the show was somber. Nina Berman’s photographs documenting the life of a disfigured Marine sergeant were devastating. Stephanie Sinclair’s photos of Afghani women suffering from self-inflicted burn wounds were even more heartbreaking. (It’s odd when a visit to the art museum is necessary to catch a glimpse of reality.) The most memorable piece in the exhibition for me was Michael Asher’s concept piece, which merely involved keeping the museum open 24 hours a day, continuously, for several days. My visit involved meeting some friends at midnight for the opening hour. Our small group had the place to ourselves. I caught one guard snoozing in a hallway. I like it when artists mess with the norms of a museum. It’s rare when an artist has enough influence to make this happen.
#2 Marina Abranmović, The Artist Is Present at MoMA. In terms of art historical importance, international influence, and artistic intensity, this show should be #1. This was perhaps the international art show of the year. In 2008, with art sales in a slump, people were talking about the revival of performance art. MoMA caught wind of the notion and put a big stamp on it with this show. I think performance art is dying out in New York City. The art scene seems so gridlocked that there is little room for experimentation, risk taking and failure. Abramavić may be the greatest performance artist of her generation, but at MoMA I felt like I was walking through an overcrowded zoo. The fact that she performed for the duration of her show keeps the exhibition at the top of my list.
#1 TANIA BRUGUERA: ON THE POLITICAL IMAGINARY at the Neuberger Museum of Art. What makes a great work of art? Is a memorable show necessarily a better one than one that is quickly forgotten? Can a complex layer of experiences in an art environment create a memory that is clearer than one captured in looking at a painting or sculpture? Bruguera stacked on layer after layer of raw sensory overload in her mid-career retrospective at the Neuberger. In one room, Gunmen paced back and forth along a catwalk high above, cocking their handguns and staring blankly into a darkness that was occasionally interrupted by a blinding flashes of light. In another vast, dark room, the floor was covered with rotting sugar cane. As one’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, several ghost-like figures appeared fidgeting nearby. A girl slowly chewed a mysterious substance as she stood naked with a skinned lamb carcass hanging from her neck. Another woman balanced on a high pedestal naked against a wall, fastened into position with large metal brackets.
At the opening of the show a long line of people waited and waited to see a live monkey. The commotion created by it was the whole idea. Also at the reception, a performer stumbled around covered in thick layers of mud and sticks. All performances were reenactments of performances once done by the artist. The actions were carefully orchestrated, and performers were meticulously trained. At the show I felt like I was in a different world haunted by forces of oppression and clouded by the mysteries of a distant culture. I still see the show vividly in my mind and I can almost smell the sugar cane. Aside from problems in Cuba, the show got me thinking about oppressive governments around the world.
I’m glad that Tom Sokolowski is stepping down. Fifteen years is too long for anyone to be running a museum dedicated to Andy Warhol. I can’t deny that he has done well. During his tenure, The Warhol has produced some of the boldest exhibitions in the region. In taking on sensitive topics, Mr. Sokolowski has stuck to his vision. In a lot of ways, The Warhol is Pittsburgh’s Museum of Contemporary Art. It brings in some great traveling shows and presents edgy thematic exhibitions. Its offerings are extensive and change enough to keep the place interesting.
Mr. Sokolowski’s comments on Pittsburgh Public Art (this week in the Pittsburgh City Paper) are pretty funny. (and a good indicator that his departure is long overdue) He dismisses all public art except for a project that he helped to select. Where has he been for the past fifteen years? (either out-of-town or hiding in his museum!) What about all of the Sprout murals that have appeared throughout the city? There are definitely some good ones! What about all of the grassroots projects that pop up (sometimes temporarily) in alternative spaces? Sure, there are some awful pieces of public art in Pittsburgh. I think that Mr. Sokolowski’s favorite, Arch by Glenn Kaino, is one of the worst pieces of public art that I have ever seen. The piece is cheaply made, (it already seems to be falling apart) poorly situated (at the edge of a parking lot it looks like a commercial advertisement for the nearby Goodyear store) and it lacks any sense of complexity in drawing inspiration from the nearby bridges. It looks tacky and kitsch next to Downtown Pittsburgh. (like an urban yard gnome) Mr. Sokolowski has had some good ideas, but I wonder if those blue glasses still work?
I met Mr. Sokolowski once. Oddly, it was at the dedication for R.M. Fischer’s Langley Observatory Clock, a public art piece located next to the Carnegie Science Center. (a piece that I like) While in New York I spotting him during the week of the . I asked him if he saw anything good. “I’ve seen a lot of crap,” he responded. I guess that pretty much sums up his life.
I think The Warhol is going to be fine. I hope Mr. Sokolowski finds a happy place. I’ll excuse his remarks about Pittsburgh. I may not agree with his comments, but I admire the fact that he made his opinion known. Hopefully Pittsburghers will take his words as a challenge.
Figure 1. Base of sculpture stabilized with rocks.
Five Alive took place from May 20th through June 5th, 2010 at Monya Rowe Gallery in Chelsea. It was a group show with my four colleagues graduating from the MFA program at Purchase College. The show was curated by New York curator Omar Lopez-Chahoud, who selected a variety of work. (including a few remnants, sketches and experiments that he picked during his studio visits) Monya Rowe Gallery is a small 2nd story walk-up, but it is situated in a great location, and I like the raw look of the space. Fellow exhibiting artists included Neil Dvorak, Scott Daniel Ellison, Merav Ezer and Rachel Wiecking.
Figure 2. A selection of some of my drawings & sketches.
Figure 3. My work included a video, sculpture, paintings and works on paper.
Figure 4. My sculptural paintings were scattered in the gallery, sometimes in awkward places.
Figure 5. Painting
Figure 6. This wall sculpture was placed near the ceiling.
Figure 7. Wall sculpture. (drawing by Neil Dvorak on back wall)
Figure 8. Installation shot including survival kit. (work by Weicking, Ezer and Ellison in far background)
It has been an unusual week. It started with meeting relatives to see a Harry Potter film. I have judged these films to be mindless garbage without even seeing one. (or reading one of the books) Aside from the awkward – two teenage guys…one cute girl – dynamic, I had no idea what was happening, and I didn’t really care. (Oh, I forgot to mention…there is a cool Nick Cave song in the romance scene. I wonder if movie fans even noticed this? Maybe in the UK?)
I’ve been eating a lot of fermented stuff like kimchi and sauerkraut. I like kimchi with rice, beans and a fried egg. I eat sauerkraut plain by the bowlful. I guess the cold weather has me craving strange foods.
On Thursday, I went to the André Kertész: On Reading exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of art. I recommend checking this show out if you are interesting in reading, photography, or both. The show has humorous and poetic moments. It offers a nostalgia that will make you want to burn your Kindle.
On Saturday I went to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s performance (along with the The Mendelssohn Choir and world-renown vocalists) of Verdi’s Requiem. It is pretty impressive that a world-class event like this happens in Pittsburgh. I try to get to the symphony once a year. I’m always amazed at how something as precise and melodic as classical music can be celebrated by the primitive gesture of clapping.
Also this week, I did some reading on the Smithsonian censorship controversy on Modern Art Notes. It seems as though some conservative politicians are bent on promoting prejudice and fear. Public art museums are supposed to be forums for healthy discussion of difficult topics. They should not pander to the biased, ego-charged diatribes that we hear on conservative talk radio, in campaign ads, etc. It is ridiculous for art museums to make decisions based on the words or actions of politicians. (or in reaction to disgruntled visitors) Fortunately for the art world, David Wojnarowicz’s work is part of an international critical dialogue, whether conservative politicians like it or not.