The Daily Pic: Charlotte Dumas shows funerary horses at rest.
This photo of a sleeping funerary horse from Arlington National Cemetery is by Charlotte Dumas, and is now in her solo show at Julie Saul Gallery in New York. Her shots of these horses are lovely, but come too close to picture-postcard animal aesthetics for my liking. What I found really gripping were the videos of the same sleeping beasts. (Click on the image to view a clip that I shot.) The videos capture the strange half-waking state the horses seem to be in, even at rest, and make clear just how different their behaviors are than our own. Their extreme vulnerability, and utter dependence on humans, also seems palpable.
The Daily Pic: Louise Lawler got launched by shooting her art collection.
This is a very early piece by Louise Lawler, titled “(Andy Warhol and Other Artists) Tulip”. She’s one of my favorite artists, and recently had a few works on view upstairs at Metro Pictures gallery in New York, in celebration of a book that just appeared about her in the October Files series. Lawler’s classic images consist of photos taken of works of art as they get “used” in collectors’ homes, museums etc. Before she hit on that mode, however, she took works from her own art collection – as here – and arrayed them as a composition on a colored studio background. That’s what she showed in her first-ever Metro Pictures exhibition, in 1982. Those early pieces make me realize that her later, classic photos aren’t only documentation of the fates of artworks as they circulate in the world; those photos themselves also function as composed still lifes – as artworks cognate to the works of art they depict.
The Daily Pic: The Italian artist made abstraction loosen up.
This is “Obliquo giallo” ("Yellow Angle") painted in 1971 by the Italian Giorgio Griffa and now at Casey Kaplan, in Griffa’s first American show in four decades. There’s a really lovely casualness about this – the painting’s meant to be folded for storage – that has echoes of Richard Tuttle’s sculptures. What I like about Griffa’s work, however, is that it seems to start in the world of “serious”, unsmiling Greenbergian abstraction, and then let its hair down.
The Daily Pic: The photographer scans the world for what ought not to be seen.
Trevor Paglen is an expert at looking at the overlooked, and this photo, from his current solo show at Metro Pictures in New York, is typical. It reveals the track in the sky of a Russian “Upravlyaemy Sputnik Kontinentalny” surveillance satellite, meant to watch for launching missiles – although it never in fact got to do its watching, because it went wrong and got stranded in a useless orbit. (Look for the faint line of light running from top left to bottom right in the photo).
Paglen has also documented other hidden or forbidden sights: Military drones in civilian landscapes, “secret” (but not quite) surveillance facilities and various unacknowledged satellites. What may be most surprising about these shots is that, for all their emphasis on simply showing hidden things (one of the oldest goals of art) they are also, Paglen insists, about beautiful image-making.
The Daily Pic: Two experts debate smell art versus fine art.
This Cypriot terracotta, of a man smelling a fruit, was made in about 500 B.C., and is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m not only showing it for its own sake, as a prototype Cyrano, but as an example of how much olfaction once mattered to us human beings, despite the short shrift our noses get now – except of course in a “live” perfume show called “The Art of Scent”, at the Museum of Art and Design for a few more weeks still.
I’ve written about the exhibition more than once, but I’m hitting it again because my thoughts in an earlier Daily Pic have now sparked some response from the show's curator, Chandler Burr, to which I’ve replied. Some smell-y readers might want to follow our ongoing dialogue.
Our first interchange is below:
The Daily Pic: Why an artist has blacked out his own photographs.
Steel Stillman is showing this image in a group exhibition at Show Room gallery in New York. For decades, he’s been shooting photos of random corners of his world, without any clear idea of what he would do with them. Now it seems he’s found out: Stillman has taken to crudely blacking out one feature of each image, leaving it poised on the brink of illegibility. Here, he’s blackened the drapery from one corner of a four-poster bed. We’ve become so used to redaction as a bureaucratic intrusion on truth-telling that it’s hard to know what to do when an artist censors himself. Maybe, in a world that seems to be drowning in photos, Steelman is mounting some quiet resistance to so much easy vision.
The Daily Pic: Her plexi pavilion reveals mirrorings from far away.
Sabine Hornig’s fiendishly complex “photographic sculpture”, called “Mirrored Room”, is in her solo show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York. It’s a metal pavilion, a touch smaller than a bus shelter, whose glass sides house color transparencies of a vacant plate-glass facade in Berlin. There’s an infinite regress of reflections: Real ones, now, of you and the gallery space in New York, which change as you move around the sculpture, versus other, fixed ones preserved from a past moment in Berlin – which, if you look closely, can be seen to include a reflection of the photographer taking the picture. There are hints here of the glass pavilions of Dan Graham and of Jeff Wall’s street-scene transparencies, but the combination is uniquely, brilliantly, Hornig’s. It messes with space, and time and image-making.
The Daily Pic: Ragnar Kjartansson sings a song of sentiment and rigor.
Four stills from the brilliant nine-screen video projection called “The Visitors”, produced by the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson and now showing at Luhring Augustine gallery in New York. One day not too long ago, Kjartansson and eight of his Brooklynish friends occupied nine rooms and sites in and around a shabby-chic mansion called Rokeby Farm, upstate in New York. Together (but apart), and in one 53-minute take, they recorded a slightly sentimental, nouveau-hippy song, each one contributing a separate musical line on voice, piano, electric bass, accordion, drums or some other classic-rock instrument. Rokeby Farm says that it is set up to “welcome bohemia and spirituality in all its forms”, and the video made there risks bathing in the same kinds of sentimental cliche. But as the sound weaves together in the gallery space, and the images remain discrete, you realize that Kjartansson’s romantic excesses are perfectly balanced by his technophilic rigor. The technology seems to provide its own ironic gloss on the song’s mawkishness.
The Daily Pic: Darren Almond treats moonlight as the light of day.
Darren Almond shoots landscapes by the light of the full moon, including this one, titled “Fullmoon@Eifel.6” and now in his solo show at Matthew Marks gallery in New York. Of course, what’s most important about these images is that exposure times measured in minutes yield results that look like perfectly normal daylit scenes, or something very close. That means that the subject here is photography, its truths and deceptions, rather than nature itself. Any photo can be exposed and processed to affect the “reality” of its subject: A day scene could be shot to be as murky as any typical night shot. “Normal”, “correct” exposure is a notion imposed by us, not by the world being shot.
The Daily Pic: Steffani Jemison shows us what we make of fleeing youths.
These are stills from Steffani Jemison’s video called “The Escaped Lunatic”, now on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem in “Fore”, a group show that presents emerging black talent. (Click on the image to watch a clip from the video). The video is straightforward but powerful: It presents a scruffy urban landscape, across which run a series of almost identical Young Black Males, and the action loops ad infinitum. Jemison says that the piece is based on early silent-film chases, and sees the piece as being about “persistence and futility” amid cultural, social and geographic constraints. But I read it differently: It seemed to be about the stereotypes we associate with running black youths, and the TV-bred image we have of them as always fleeing a crime, or perpetrating one.
The Daily Pic: Are the YBA's prints about the color of pigment, or the color of money?
This is a Damien Hirst “spot” print called “Ferric Ammonium Citrate”, done in woodblock and now on view at Carolina Nitsch in New York, in a show of all 40 works from the same series. It’s easy to see the project as a retro return to formalist issues of shape and color, of figure and ground and of variations worked on a theme. Hirst’s simple instruction-set – never repeat a color; place the spots one spot’s-width apart – does in fact yield surprising perceptual dividends, if you spend the time looking. On the other hand, it may be more interesting to see the series as a riff on market dynamics – as much about how the woodcuts sell as about what they look like. Hirst’s signature may be the deciding factor in any reading: The only function it plays, on the surface of the prints – there are 48 of each image – is to tie each one to the history of unique, certified, hand-made (or hand-signed) commodities. The messy signature actually detracts and distracts from a formalist reading of these otherwise pristine works. But then, plenty of rigorous formalists, including Barnett Newman, also defaced their works by signing the front. Does that make their paintings comments on the market, or sell-outs to it?
Is Singapore open to fostering disruptive art?
Singapore is so dedicated to tidiness that chewing gum is forbidden, or so goes an old cliché that, as it happens, is also a fact. The city-state also has strict rules about carrying open durians, the fruits loved by locals for their nauseous stink. Even the tiny food stalls in Singapore’s vast hawker centers, possibly its greatest cultural treasures, come stamped with health-department approval.
And now there are signs that Singapore’s rule makers want to disturb all this order with the mess of the avant-garde. Last month they threw their weight behind Art Stage Singapore, a commercial fair and festival of contemporary art. Also hitting its stride is Gillman Barracks, an old British military site that authorities renovated into a contemporary-art complex, with room for 17 commercial galleries and a nonprofit center. Stretching over 15 acres, Gillman feels like the white cubes of New York’s Chelsea scene transplanted to a polo club. “There’s an acknowledgment that for Singapore to be a developed society, arts and culture have to play a role ... We want to make art a bigger part of the lives of people here,” says Eugene Tan, the elegant Singaporean who runs Gillman for the Orwellian-sounding Lifestyle Programme Office of the Economic Development Board, which fosters the business end of art making. Singapore also has an eager Tourism Board, which sells local achievements to foreigners, as well as a generous National Arts Council, which helps fund artists and nonprofit spaces. There are plans for an absolutely massive National Art Gallery due to open in a few years. The bones of an art scene are there, clearly, but there’s still considerable doubt about whether any soul is in sight. Is a society that controls the chewing of gum likely to fill the half million square feet of its new museum with art that has bite? After all, this is a place where every exhibition and performance has to submit its plans and seek a permit from the censors at the Media Development Authority.
“The art is an adjunct, a barnacle to this whole tourist environment,” says Valentine Willie, a Malaysian art dealer and adviser who has had galleries across Southeast Asia and has been called the “mayor” of the scene there. He points out that Singaporeans love the term “controlled environment”—and that it applies to their art scene as much as to their air conditioning. When he put up one of his influential surveys of young Singapore artists, he was told he had to seek special approval for an image of a government official. He cites a nude performance piece that came to an unplanned end at the 2011 edition of the Art Stage fair and a gay-themed installation at the Singapore Art Museum whose erotica was censored. He points out that vexed issues of identity are at the heart of the most advanced works in Southeast Asia (this was true even at Singapore’s latest commercial art fair), and yet race, religion, and sexuality are the topics Singapore’s authorities take most exception to. “You are in the most educated country in the region, the richest in the region, and yet you can’t speak freely,” says Willie. “Art as commodity is their model.”
This is something you hear again and again in Singapore art circles. Even Tan, charged with helping that commodity succeed at Gillman Barracks, acknowledges that market forces have played too big a role on the Asian art scene: “When the market becomes too dominant, it affects what artists make,” he says. (Tan can hardly be accused of being a market lackey, despite his current position: his Ph.D. was on notions of time in conceptual art, and he has spent most of his career as a curator at nonprofits.)
The Daily Pic: Michael Benson's planetary art hovers between sci-fi and astronomy.
This is Michael Benson’s “Northern View of Saturn and the Darker Side of the Rings” based on data collected from the Cassini spacecraft on May 9, 2007. It is now on view at Hasted Kraeutler Gallery in New York. You could say that Benson’s spacey images are too eye-catching for their own good – like a painting you’d see on the cover of an old sci-fi novel. But what interests me is the idea that, while these images purport to show the solar system “as it really is”, it seems that there’s a a fair amount of artifice and number-crunching involved in making them look that way. In that sense, they are indeed as close to a sci-fi painting as to the sunset you shot on your last vacation. The more cliched they are in their picturesqueness, the more obvious that becomes, and the more questions get raised about what pictures can show.
Forget the emails. The former president’s paintings are the most interesting things to emerge from Guccifer’s hacking trove. See what art critics have to say about W.’s artwork. Plus, our own interpretations.
The WASP’s Landscape
Of course George W. Bush uses his weight room as a studio! In this picture of a picture, leaked along with a trove of family correspondence and photos, we see Dubya in his element. Wearing his down-home khaki shorts, a baseball cap, and a vest, he’s surrounded by mirrors so he can watch himself putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece: a painting of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Kennebunkport, Maine, the WASP-y seaside town where Bush spent many childhood summers.
It seems that Bush is simply taking a stab at landscapes and ecclesiastical architecture. But New York’s art critic Jerry Saltz saw something else in the painting. “The architecture strikes me as real and imagined: a small central home with maybe an addition, and a large round silo. There appear to be two crosses atop this overall structure, one on the main house and a larger one on the silo. American Gothic indeed.”
As much as we’d all love to think that our very own W. was imagining his home with two large crosses over it (the religious introspection!), unfortunately Saltz really overanalyzed this one, though he deserves props for his own imaginative interpretation.
And Beyoncé opens an online boutique. More