September 29, 2004American Horizons: The Photographs of Art Sinsabaugh
Art Sinsabaugh (1924–1983) is an artist ripe for rediscovery. One of several important photographers to emerge from Chicago’s renowned Institute of Design, Sinsabaugh trained under Harry Callahan and taught alongside Aaron Siskind. He made his artistic breakthrough in the early 1960s with a giant 12-x -20-inch "banquet" camera that allowed him to marry a 19th-century vision with mid-20th-century formalism. He was a landscape photographer in the broadest sense: he photographed the spaces—both rural and urban—that we inhabit. Sinsabaugh’s remarkable photographs capture a richly nuanced sense of place and the ever-changing face of the American environment. This retrospective, organized by the Indiana University Art Museum, represents the first complete survey of the artist’s career ever assembled. Kicking off its midwest tour at the Art Institute, it includes more than 85 photographs, with the majority drawn from the Art Sinsabaugh Archive at Indiana University. Noted photography historian Keith F. Davis, the exhibition’s guest curator, has written the long-awaited monograph on the artist, which will be published by Hudson Hills Press.
Sinsabaugh realized that his landscapes were more than pretty "panoramas." They reflected his slowly developing pattern of social awareness. Shooting during a period of dramatic economic shifts, he was particularly drawn to urban and rural environments in transition—"before something was to go up or as something was coming down."
Sinsabaugh's cool, clear aesthetic has been described as a mixture of the great expansive vision of 19th-century landscape photographers with mid-20th century formalism. Like Eugène Atget's views of Paris, Sinsabaugh's photographs possess a remarkable quality of timeless beauty, while at the same time documenting a particular moment. His straightforward, detached viewpoint and inclusion of ordinary scenes—from car lots to strip malls—also link him to the environmental concerns of the next generation of New Topographic photographers [Adams, Baltz, Shore, Nixon, Deal].
Although Sinsabaugh is admired by many scholars, photographers and curators as an important photographic innovator, his fame has been limited by his working methodology. As one of the earliest photographers to produce small limited editions (often not more than three), his mounted exhibition prints are extremely rare.
Sinsabaugh images online:
The Art Institute of Chicago showcases a world premiere, as-yet-untitled film by film/video artist Anri Sala—specially commissioned by the museum’s Department of Contemporary Art. The film is currently being shot on location in Chicago and features a collaboration with a yet to-be-announced local rock band. Sala has won nine awards internationally for his artistic films and documentaries and will now be displaying his talent in a new and original prodcution specifically for the Art Institute.
The film and video work of Anri Sala is emblematic of an emerging generation of enormously promising artists who hail from places in Europe once believed to exist outside the mainstream discourses of the geographical, political, aesthetic, and intellectual boundaries of contemporary European art. Sala lives and works in France, but he was born in Albania in 1974 and grew up in Tirana during the brutally repressive Communist era and witnessed Albania’s arduous, uncertain conversion to capitalism. In the mid 1990s, he moved to Paris to study film and video. Since that time, he has received widespread acclaim for his blend of documentary, narrative, and autobiographical approaches. His separation from his native country imbues his practice with a dual consciousness: all of his works—exploring the dissonance between language and image, speech and action, appearances and elusive historical fact—record everyday situations that inevitably become allegories for a troubled society in transition.
Among his most noteworthy and praised work is Intervista (1998) [First Run/Icarus Films, OFFOFFOFF, After the Wall], in which Sala explores the history of the Albania revolution through found television footage of his mother’s activities as a leader of the Communist youth alliance. The film follows Sala’s efforts to recover the contents of his mother’s interview, now silent without its original soundtrack. After deaf lip readers succeed in restoring the dialogue, we learn that Sala’s mother expresses disbelief in her own naïve recital of party jargon, ironically remarking, “we were living in a deaf and dumb system.”
For Blindfold (2002)[Still 1, Still 2, When the Night Calls It a Day], a double-screen film projection with a new music soundtrack by noted Brazilian composer Wilson Sukorski, Sala returned to the Albanian city of Tirana, where he filmed two empty billboards at dusk. Covered with metallic foil, the billboards notably lack the advertising they were designed to carry. In the absence of thriving commerce, these objects become, for Sala, beautiful abstractions. As the sun sets, the foils reflect light, and the surfaces glow and radiate a shimmering, formal optimism amidst an environment of urban decay.
Anri Sala Linkage:
Current and past exhibitions
Represented by: Galerie Hauser & Wirth, Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, Galerie Martin Janda/Raum Aktueller Kunst
Night Hawk by Adrian Searle
Moved to Stillnes—Anri Sala’s Dammi I Colori by Regina Gleeson
ArtForum review from 2001 by Astrid Wege
(originates at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), one of the most popular and important painters of late 19th-century Paris, has not been the subject of a major exhibition since the large retrospective seen in London and Paris in 1991–1992. The National Gallery of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago have collaborated to organize Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, an exhibition that will place the artist's work at the peak of his career between 1888 and 1896 in conjunction with that of other artists at that period. Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries produced images that evocatively recorded the social geography of Montmartre, center of licit and illicit entertainment. Taking Montmartre as a state of mind as well as an environment, the exhibition will re-evaluate the decadent worldview of fin-de-siècle Paris, so different from that of the preceding Impressionist generation. The focus will be on several Montmartre themes, including the dance halls, the circus, and the maisons closes, integrating major avant-garde paintings, topographical canvases, and posters and caricatures of stars like Aristide Bruant and Loïe Fuller.
The aim of the exhibition is to place Toulouse-Lautrec in the wider context of his time and place and to include for comparison and contrast a selection of works by his contemporaries—painters, printmakers, and poster artists—to evoke the life and art of fin-de-siècle Montmartre. This supporting cast will include such famous names as Degas, Seurat, and Picasso, but also less-well-known figures such as Anquetin, Steinlen, and Casas, who nonetheless captured the spirit of that age. This will add a powerful new dimension to our understanding of Toulouse-Lautrec and his time.
Trivia (i.e., 'I'm getting carried away'):
The Sofa by Rachel Cohen
The Grand Guignol
The Musée de l'Erotisme
From a slightly later period: Circus strongwomen and female wrestlers in the beginning of XX century
Finally, and almost totally straying from our purpose here, meet Joseph Pujols, known to most as "Le Pétomane" (or "the Fartiste"), whose fantastic musical numbers were a Parisian craze after his 1892 debut at the Moulin Rouge. (And he was the namesake of one Honorable Governor William J. Le Petomane to boot.)
These days one can find his talent...
September 27, 2004
If you can spare a few minutes, please consider filling out this little art blog readers survey (unless of course you've filled it out already via someone else's blog, as you can only complete it once—one man, one vote... yes, even in Chicago).
Update: Franklin has a take (plus some predictions and an 'Artblog 2.0' teaser of sorts).
Some events and exhibitions in Chicago involving politics and art (this oughta be right up Cynthia's alley), ongoing and upcoming, pre- and post-election...
Salons and Democracy at ThreeWalls
Crack a Pabst and sidle up in West Loop this Tuesday evening as ThreeWalls kicks off its second four-week series of salons, this time with a focus on the political:
"Where's the Love: Apathetic or Uninformed?"—Tuesday, September 28
Despite an information rich culture, we have become increasingly uninformed about current events and pressing economic and political issues. Are we ambivalent, or has the media barrage short-circuited our attention-span and our compassion? With an election dependant on a population of ‘undecided’ voters looming, this salon will address the changes in political and civic participation.
"Disingenuous Filmmakers: The Popularity of Political Documentary"—Tuesday, October 5
in 2004 Buoyed by prankster Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, political documentaries have been receiving more media attention and financial success than in recent memory. Historical perspectives on political image-making, distinctions among artistic expressions, documentary and propaganda, as well as opinions about the current trend will be discussed.
Rich Mansfield—Tuesday, October 12
ThreeWalls 2004 Chicago Resident Artist Rich Mansfield, parodies the assumed omnipotence of the military industrial complex through kinetic and interactive sculptures. For his presentation the current resident and his brother, both veterans, will share their vexing, baffling and often hilarious stories about their service.
"ThreeWallsSALONS Round-up"—Tuesday, October 19
Join us for our traditional 'round-up' evening, where invited respondents and guests from the recent salon series are invited back to make proclamations, air grievances or find closure after marinating in their words and the words of others over the past 4 weeks.
All begin at 7:30 PM (doors open at 7). Additionally, they will be hosting Set up a democracy in your own house throughout October, featuring, among other things, DiY propaganda kiosks, audio presentations, film screenings (Oct 3: Outfoxed, Oct 10: "a selection of educational films on patriotism") and an old-fashioned soap box and megaphone setup for those who want to get in on the action.
Art at War—The Artist's Voice
Aldo Castillo, September 11–October 16
Over 89 artists from more than 20 nations will participate in the Art at War—The Artist’s Voice... an exhibition that is inspired by contemporary issues surrounding the causes and consequences of conflict and aggression. Artists address the current war in Iraq as well as the history of war as it relates to the human condition. Each artist visually expresses their feelings and views through a variety of mediums including personal statements and poetry.
After October 16th, a curated portion of the show will travel to Chicago State University, 9501 South Martin Luther King Drive. This exhibition will coincide with a symposium on the issues surrounding war and peace, tentatively planned for Wednesday, November 17th from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The opening for Chicago State University’s segment of Art at War—The Artist’s Voice will also take place that day.
Art at War—The Artist’s Voice will be curated by Aldo Castillo who was born in Nicaragua in the midst of a civil war that has had well known consequences. Since his arrival in The United States, Castillo has witnessed the illegal war against Nicaragua, The Iran-Contra Affair ("a tangled tale of politics, drugs, hostages, weapons, assassinations, covert operations and the plan to suspend the Constitution of the United States"—Encyclopedia article about the Iran-Contra Affair—The FreeLibrary.com), the Invasion of Panama and the current Iraqi War.
Select Media Festival 3
Select Media Festival is an exploration of international movements in the underground of media, showcasing emerging contemporary artists and innovative forms of media making. The insurgent media festival features video programs, net.works, installations, performance programs, street arts, experimental and advanced music. The festival is a project of Lumpen.
"The theme of Select Media Festival 3 is War.Games." A listing of film programming at the Siskel Film Center can be found here.
Terrorist Art 2: Election 2004—Part 2
Mini exhibit at Polvo, October 1–23
A propaganda show to help throw George W. Bush and his Neo-Cons out of office.
ARTISTS: Juan Compean, Tom Sibley, Harold Mendez, Mark Nelson, Jaime Mendoza, Anti-Gravity Surprise
Art to Fear II
Juried show at ARC, September 29–October 30
I'm not terribly certain about this one... For what it's worth, although ARC's site mentions nothing about the election, the Reader's listing describes this as a "pre-Halloween/election group show."
Artwork pertaining to all things spooky, ghastly, eerie and/or fearful. Also Costume Party on Friday, October 29, from 6-11 pm with D.J., refreshments, costume prizes, and artists-made masks for sale for fundraiser.
Democracy In America
The Renaissance Society, November 14–December 24
Between the fiasco of the 2000 presidential elections, the gubernatorial recall in California, and the issue of campaign finance reform, not to mention the rebuilding of Iraq, the mechanics of democracy have come under intense scrutiny. The subject of this exhibition is the exercising of democracy, literally what democracy looks like, from small town assemblies (Paul Shambroom, Maryanne Simmons) to the national presidential elections (Geoff Davis). This exhibition will feature work from various parts of the country that address challenges, great and small, as posed directly to the body politic.
September 25, 2004
ArtsJournal, Modern Kicks and From the Floor all point to a must-read Guardian article about the Momart fire. The article is worth your time top to bottom, but I found the following particularly striking.
Witness the face of the insensate mob:
By this time, reaction to the fire in Britain had already taken a decisive shift in another direction: towards glee and schadenfreude. A virtual mob of journalists, pundits, radio phone-in callers, letter-writers and vox poppers declared in one way or another that the Momart loss was Britain's gain. Whoever set the building alight, they implied, was an artist at least on a par with any of the creators in the Saatchi collection.
On the first edition of Radio 4's Any Questions? after the fire, a questioner asked David Lammy, Theresa May, William Rees-Mogg and Don Foster: "Does the panel mourn the loss of works of modern art, such as Tracey Emin's tent?"
May said: "I'm just waiting for Tate Modern now to have a pile of ashes in the room, as one of the exhibitions." The audience applauded. Jonathan Dimbleby asked May if she had heard of Patrick Heron. May said she had not. Dimbleby told her that Heron's widow Katharine had described the fire as like a bereavement. May tried to backtrack. Dimbleby turned to Rees-Mogg, who had been honing his response to the original question. "I think mourn is a bit strong," he said, and the audience laughed and clapped.
One of the people listening, at his home in Barnes, was Mel Gooding, Heron's biographer. He told me recently that he didn't hold it against Dimbleby that the presenter wrongly described Katharine Heron as Patrick Heron's widow—the artist's wife, Delia, is dead, and Katharine is one of their two daughters—but had been shocked by Rees-Mogg's dismissal of the impact of the loss of artworks.
Katharine Heron is an artist too. She is a successful architect and heads the architecture department at Westminster University. I asked her about the reaction of the media and the public to the fire. "Artists still have the ability to make people frightened," she said. "So they make them into a joke ... I think art, altogether, has taken a beating from this fire."
I interviewed Michael Craig-Martin in his beautifully austere, white, bright studio, located at ground zero of British hipness somewhere between Clerkenwell and Shoreditch. Some of his recent prints, colours as sharp as sweets, lay on view; he had two shows coming up. Craig-Martin said he had been disturbed by the vehemence towards the destroyed art from the more serious press. He had felt strongly enough about Lubbock's piece in the Independent to write to that paper in protest.
"I thought, in the review I wrote a letter about, that there was extraordinary personal anger, this is revenge, he's furious about something," Craig-Martin told me. "Many of the people in the art world are very angry about the art world. I don't know much about the other worlds but I never get the impression that the worlds of music or the worlds of theatre or literature have so many people who are angry at the art form itself, and angry or disappointed or upset about it. There's a lot of people involved in the art world who are on the verge of hating it."
Talking about Britain and its relationship to art, Craig-Martin recalled the treatment of Jacob Epstein's Ages of Man sculptures for the British Medical Association building—now Zimbabwe House—on the Strand, in 1907. Edwardian London proved unprepared for 18 monumental, anatomically correct, naked males in a public place, and the Evening Standard launched a campaign to have them removed. In the 1930s, on the pretext that a fractured stone penis had fallen and nearly killed a pedestrian, the sculptures were castrated and mutilated; thus they remain today, neither fully destroyed nor fully preserved. It was as if the icon-smashing years of the Reformation had never been forgotten.
"In most other countries the average person is not interested," he said. "Here there's a history of vehement attacks on, particularly, the visual arts, and I always wonder whether this doesn't have some puritan base, some base in iconoclasm, the destruction of the arts in the past; if there isn't some strange folk memory of this thing. It's hard to understand the level of upset about it unless there was some deep-seated feeling that it was really very, very important."
September 24, 2004
The controversy and protest surrounding the Flick Collection exhibition certainly suggest a political motivation behind the attacks mentioned yesterday (and the attacker's own words—variously, "Flick, I am satisfied" or "Flick, I forgive you"— seem to, at the very least, acknowledge the controversy), yet we find the museum quick to contend otherwise.
If the motive were to indeed turn out to be political, I'd have to ask: why the disingenuous insistence to the contrary? (Was it merely a political move to minimize or ignore a deviant act or to quietly assure us that it won't happen again? Do they fear that open discussion might encourage more of such acts?) If, on the other hand, officials are right to suggest that this is an isolated, apolitical act by a known mischief-maker, then what, pray tell, was the motive?
It seems that, either way, we find the attacker's motivations discounted from the first (whether contradicted or ignored) and her actions written off as merely those of a serial vandal. The question of motive really remains unexplored; no more needs to be said, apparently.
Nonetheless, the bizarre nature of the attack and the choice of its targets beg the question. Was the acrobatic stunt just spectacle for spectacle's sake? Did the attack take out two separate works by Gordon Matta-Clark by virtue of coincidence (or a simple matter of proximate display)? Further, and if the motive was political, what does it mean that these works of art were held representative, by virtue of ownership, of the controversial Flick family heritage? Can this attack be construed as an attack on Friedrich Christian Flick (or his grandfather) or the political and economic systems that support him, the art serving as a surrogate? What would this say regarding our experience of any work of art? Is it a coincidence that art objects have become the focus of political controversy, or does this highlight a particular capacity of art to hold our attention or make apparent our distress? If not political, what specifically provoked the deed? Was it something about these works or this exhibition in particular? Was this a swipe at contemporary or modern art in general?
I'd be surprised if we hear any answers and I offer none myself besides the thoughts suggested in the questions themselves. Still, food for thought, eh?
In his book, Freedberg argues for a history and criticism of art founded not on abstract aesthetics or a critical reclamation of context, but on psychological and behavioral response—our cognitive and emotional human relationship with images and objects. This requires us in particular to consider various forms of response (e.g., the sexual, the empathetic and the hostile) that are considered inimical to our accustomed high and disinterested appreciation of art.
From the introduction:
It has been intended, above all, to embrace those kinds of response that are too often felt to be at odds with the redemptive nature of art. I have written this book not only to present the evidence, but to lay the phantom of high response to rest.
When it comes to the iconoclastic act, then, his desire is for us to abandon the "self-deception" that relegates image breakers to a status of idiosyncratic madmen or deranged outsiders and to instead understand, through the dynamics laid bear by iconoclasm, a foundation and potentiality of response in which we all participate.
(Freedberg also authored Iconoclasts and Their Motives, which, though out of print, you can currently pick up used from Amazon at the low, low price of $120.)
"The assailant and his motives are wholly uninteresting to us; for one cannot apply normal criteria to the motivations of someone who is mentally disturbed." This is what the director of public relations at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is reported to have declared after the knife attack on Rembrandt's Nightwatch on 14 September, 1975. It was the third attack on the picture in the century. Aside from the evident psychological interest of all such cases, and aside from the odd confusion of the second half of the statement, the most telling aspect of this claim is the vehemence of its denial. Someone who responds so powerfully to the picture that he assaults it is here held to be uninteresting (at least to the museum official). He is not interesting, one gathers, because he tests the limits of normality. This is how we lay aside and suppress that with which we cannot deal. Such a claim is all too characteristic; what it amounts to is an expression of the fear of plumbing psychopathological depths that we prefer not to acknowledge—not only because we are frightened by the behavior of others, but because we recognize the roots of and the potential for such behavior in ourselves. The whole framework of denial is of a piece with the massive fortifications of repression with which we seek to protect ourselves from the powerful emotions and the distracting and troubling behavior that we sometimes experience in the presence of images: especially ones we strongly like and strongly hate. Sometimes those fortifications are so strong that they are never breached, and we feel well protected. [p. 407]
Museum officials may not wish to speak of iconoclasm at all; but the newspapers, when such things happen, are full of it. Both the serious and the popular press are replete with the details... One can hardly wonder at the success of at least one element in the motivation of many of the iconoclasts: the desire to gain attention and publicity. The restorers work magic in returning the picture to its former beauty and therefore to its former value, or something like its former value. The museum conservators hide the details from posterity or refuse to talk about them—because they do not wish to put ideas into peoples' heads. They claim that the actions of deranged people are of no interest to normal people like themselves.
...The iconoclastic deed is called einmalig, unique, the assailant deranged and beyond the pale. We, on the other hand are healthy. We are complacent in our self-control and in our love of art. We might be corrupted, as the curators and others note, if we hear (too much) talk about iconoclasm. Beneath this concern lies the strong fear that to reveal such things in other might somehow expose and legitimate that which lies deep within ourselves. We cannot bring ourselves to analyze—or even to confront—the actions of those who appear to be mentally disturbed; yet all of us know the experience of powerful but indefinable emotions in the presence of figured objects. With us (we think and constantly assert) those emotions—of catharsis, of warmth, of calm, of difficulty, even of frustration—are channeled, however inexplicably, along safe and generally rewarding lines. We too may be disturbed and troubled by specific images; but can it be that such feelings, which we know how to sublimate or transmute, often beneficially, are somehow akin to the over-demonstrative, violent, and ultimately damaging behavior of the image breakers? [pp. 423-4]
All iconoclasts are aware of the greater or lesser publicity that will accrue from their acts. They know of the financial and cultural and symbolic value of the work they assault. The work has been adored and fetishized: the fact that it hangs in a museum is sufficient testimony to that, just as the hanging of pictures in churches is testimony to religious forms (or less overtly secular forms) of adoration, worship, and fetishization. Furthermore—especially in the twentieth century—the better the art, the greater the commodity fetishism. So destruction is especially shocking to those normal people who adore art and art objects. [p. 409]
But there are further implications that were brought to the fore in the public response to the affair of the Rockeby Venus. The Times of that year was obsessed with the rise in the value of the picture and its consequent reduction after the assault. To the list of the actual figures it had at its disposal—such as the purchase price of the painting—it added figures of its own purporting to give an indication of the drop in value. The drop is always notional. The same happened with The Nightwatch in 1911. This kind of assessment of the putative financial implications has now become commonplace. It is clear that to reduce the possibility of object fetishism is significantly to impugn its status as a commodity fetish. Fortunately the magic of the picture restorers will do something to reinstate its former value—though not all of it.
The general rubric for all such cases is the moralizing fear of sensibilia. Fear of the possibility of arousal stands at one pole; exasperation with the vanity of what is represented, or of the sign itself, stands at the other... And so we attend to the modulations of given reason and possible motive, of ostensible claim and the real trauma that the sufferer consciously or subconsciously obscures. Who knows what individual frustrations, disappointments, and resentments are masked by the commonplaces of image critique? And who could establish the extent to which image critique, formulated by the most sophisticated writers, legitimates the unleashing of private emotions that culminate in attack? We, of course, if we feel impelled to hostility, are likely to prefer to attack with words. [p. 412]
In 1981 a hole was ripped in a portrait of the newly married Princess of Wales displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in London. In this instance, as often, a variety of factors in the relations between public and private, neurotic and less neurotic, are seen to converge. The young man who attacked the picture seemed disturbed, but he had a political motive. He wished to draw attention to the plight of Northern Ireland, and to Belfast in particular. So he attacked the image of Princess Diana. The young man knew that the fact that the picture was of a royal personage (and a particularly popular one at the time) would have given the gesture even greater publicity. He explained all these things at his trial, emphasizing that he had decided to bring to the attention of London what he felt about the social deprivation of Belfast. Once again private feeling found justification in the public domain for the way it has expressed itself; once again a picture became a vehicle for a political statement, though no message was scrawled across it. The motivation for publicity, of whatever kind, is clear. And once again we are reminded of old theory.
When we see an image of the king—to put it in the classical imperial terms—we respond, or are inclined to respond, as if the king himself were present... The young man knew perfectly well that by attacking the image of Princess Diana somehow the dishonor would accrue to her as well, that public response to this act would have at least as much to do with the fact that it was she who was represented as with the damage to an expensive object in a public place. But he must also have known that he would not really be damaging her person; and so the violent act could somehow and quite evidently be relegated to a second order of harm, but one which would have gained a much lower level of publicity if it had not involved an image, and certainly not an image of royalty. [p. 414]
And so we may assess the continuities. The idiosyncrasies and peculiar neuroses of individual psychologies are engaged by group iconoclasm; the group activates and legitimates that which would normally be suppressed. At the same time, it should now be clearer that outbreaks of widespread social iconoclasm, while evidently determined by social, political, and theological pressures, have as their bases those aspects of the relations between images and people that have been brought to the fore. There are strong and essential continuities between the individual act and the group act, but there are also clear continuities between one individual act and another. What is idiosyncratic turns out not to be psychological motivation, but—axiomatically—the idiosyncratic external pressures brought to bear on cognition.
When, however, we insert the apparently neurotic deed into the continuity between individual and group act, attacks on abstract art may be most instructive of all. It seems easier to understand the inclination to destroy the figurative, to assail something that appears to have life and that might be deprived of it, or to attack what is clearly symbolic of something we dislike and that might, on such grounds, in whatever way, elicit anger. This may not seem to apply to overtly abstract representations. But consider some of the motives that prevail: violent frustration at being unable to make figurative sense of the nonfigurative; rage at the temerity of even attempting the abstract in material form; the feeling that anyone could have done better (especially if the work has been financially or publicly rewarded); the notion that the object is not really art at all; or the conviction (if one is an artist) that one is really doing better or more difficult things oneself and that one therefore deserves equivalent public recognition...
One has only to think of the particular response to Barnett Newman's Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, attacked in Berlin in 1982. As with the apparently random attacks on other images, there is more purposiveness than one might expect. With the attack on the Newman, we find the most direct conceivable response to the challenge posed by the given title of the picture. The people who assail images do so in order to make clear that they are not afraid of them, and thereby prove their fear. It is not simply fear of what is represented; it is fear of the object itself. One hardly needs to add that when the Berliner Zeitung of 22 September of that year reported the attack, it did so under the headline "Das hätte jede Lehring malen können."
In addition to confessing to his direct response to the title, the student who attacked the painting by Barnett Newman also claimed that the picture was a perversion of the German flag, and that it represented an unjustified waste of public funds. The last factor again comes to the fore in an incident that occurred in the Dutch town of Apeldoorn in 1983. On the night of 1 September, over a hundred local inhabitants tore 49 rectangular stele-like sculptures by Evert Strobos from their bases. Along with 114 other such sculptures which still had to be set up, they had been bought by the town government for 180,000 florins. Money had been squandered not only on art, but on abstract art... All this could easily have taken place in any Dutch town in the last quarter of 1566. To see the links between private motive and public act, between modern event and past event, is not to force the issue; it arises from consideration of the power of the exchange between the seeing spectator and the object that speaks to those who see, that gazes at those who speak. [pp. 416-9]
The theorist and the individual may object to a picture or sculpture and may even censor or assault it on the grounds that it is a distraction from higher things, an intolerable and offensive vanity. Such an objection may rationalize another motivation altogether, but it nevertheless provides further testimony to the fear of the senses that arises from the fetishizing gaze. Even if only rationalization, it amounts to theoretical acknowledgment—at the least—that this is what happens with paintings or sculptures. The sailor who attacks The Nightwatch realizes the commodity fetishism on which the value of works of art are based, so he attacks the most valuable work he knows. the attacker of a picture like Ruben's Fall of the Damned realizes the fetishism that turns the picture into something that is threatening to his libido, so he subverts the possibility of fetishism by destroying, mutilating, or otherwise ruining it. [pp. 419-20]
In these ways we insert the individual act into its social context; thus we engage the interest of the deed that is generally regarded as beyond the pale, and thus we see the truth that lies within the apparently crazed deed of the isolated iconoclast. It is not hard to understand why we should want to repress our kinship with such people, or why we should want to repress the disturbances that images cause and that, in their turn, make us understand why the iconoclast might behave the way he or she does. If we grasp that, and if we accept the disturbances, we may then begin to talk about the power of images—even at the cost of reshuffling our preconceptions about the role and status of art in our lives, or of deriving illumination from the dark acts of those whom we dismiss as deranged and incalculably more troubled than we are. The aim is to seek the calculable. [pp. 420-1]
September 23, 2004
via Artforum News...
Yelling loudly, the 35-year-old woman attacked "Office Baroque," a cutout section of wall by American artist Gordon Matta-Clark, doing a series of head-over-heels flips before landing on the work in a handstand, punching both her arms through the drywall, said Klaus Dieter Lehmann, president of Berlin's Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.
She then ran across the large room, pushing over a section of a spray-painted truck called "Graffiti Truck," also by Matta-Clark, bending back the metal roof.
As she was apprehended, the woman said "Flick, I am satisfied," according to a museum security official.
Lehmann said the woman was known to police for causing disturbances.
"It was not a political action according to police," he said. "From the profile of the woman we think it was an isolated incident."
Bizarre. According to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur:
A woman visitor to a controversial Berlin art exhibition had damaged two works of art in an apparent protest action, police said Thursday.
The woman, whom a police spokesman said had a record of assault and damaging property, began trampling an art work until it was broken. She then proceeded to trample on another art work.
The 35-year-old, whose name was given only as Sonia H., leapt onto a three-dimensional artwork late on Wednesday and trampled on it. Then she overturned a construction made up of graffiti-sprayed car body work. "Flick, I forgive you", she screamed.
A police spokesman said on Thursday the woman had been charged with criminal damage after both works were seriously damaged.
During the show's opening on Tuesday one protestor, who said in a statement he was acting on behalf of forced labourers, snuck into the exhibition, stripped naked and then began to shave his head and his body hair to make himself look like a concentration camp internee.
A German artist group has also been demonstrating against the exhibition with a hoax poster programme offering free entry to forced labourers.
A belated addendum featuring more from West Loop...Adam Scott, 'Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful' at Kavi Gupta
The Sun-Times (offline but still cached here for the time being) described these as "paint-by-numbers on steroids." Indeed, Scott takes it to the next level, literally pouring on the colors so thick that the art nerd in me is deathly afraid for the integrity of his paint films.
The painting that really sold me on this show (and, incidentally, the only piece marked as sold as of last Friday) was Brownies and Lemonade, which features a gathering of woodland creatures (in brown) on log and stump, one reading a (yellow) book; I can only speculate on one particularly juvenile interpretation of this title.
Typical of all the works on display, both the content of this image and its source (culled from children's cartoons) are readily apparent yet effectively obscured (in this case by way of a strategy of silhouetting). Though familiar characters, critters and objects abound, without exception they are hidden from view or disembodied, whether eclipsed by a wall or rendered faceless by paint or fiery blast. We find here the cartoon worlds of youth in all their syrupy glory depersonalized into frantic tableaux at the edge of catastrophe.
Joshua Mosley's "A Vue," on exhibit at Donald Young, is a short and charmingly awkward animation featuring stop-motion wax figures in the midst of ink wash environments (primarily still-frames, based on 3D renderings and brought to life Squigglevision-style).
In it we meet Henry (a park ranger according to the written materials), who spends his time polishing a 150ft statue of George Washington Carver that looms benevolently over a small housing development (in, according to the written materials, Diamond, Missouri), and Susan, who works for National Fiber Optics, enthusing about the ability to transmit information at the speed of light. Henry remains impressed that there are over 200 uses for the peanut.
The dialogue generally leaves something to be desired but is kept to an economical minimum, the work being dominated by the stillness of the rural landscape and a cello-heavy score from Abby Schneider to match it.
Irresolution, mundane austerity and a somber yearning suffuse the piece.
Susan: Henry, why do you do this?
Henry: There's a lot of work to be done, but I feel we're on the trail of something really important.
September 21, 2004
A couple art fair tidbits seem to have floated under my radar recently, but I've caught them all now and so it's time to get us all caught up.
The biggest bit of info I had overlooked: the Stray Show appears to be all but dead...
But, before we begin, a recap on the major players:
C) a partnership of Expressions of Culture, Inc and dmg world media, producers, respectively, of SOFA and various Palm Beach art and antiques fairs and determined to establish their own (yet unnamed) fine art fair in our fine city.
Let's start things off with the Trib's Alan G. Artner. In a commentary piece a couple weeks back, the G-man pronounced any attempt at bringing a high-end international art fair to Chicago dead on arrival. "A 3rd art fair is not the solution when the phenomenon is dying":
As announced last week, the one promising something new, "Chicago Contemporary & Classic," will be a catch-all, attempting to draw on the audiences for modern and contemporary art, antiques, photography, works on paper and artist-designed furniture, which have been serviced comfortably by smaller fairs in Chicago throughout the year.
The old modern-and-contemporary fair, "Art Chicago," which for most of its history kept out second-tier dealers, can continue to admit them until a taste for work at that level dries up as well. And the remaining competitor, which has not yet a name but long has been content to mine a niche market of decorative sculpture, functional objects and crafts—the parent company organizes "SOFA Chicago"—can expand that sensibility until its effort, too, is just like the others.
This is supposed to revitalize the community?
Of course not. Art fairs are not about that. Despite diverse claims, they're about selling and schmoozing and showing you're a player.
Contrast this for a moment with Victor Cassidy's more positive assessment from the beginning of August.
Jumping to the beginning of this month we recall that Pfingsten has indeed eschewed any pretense of trying to do the Art Basel thing around here. To recap, as reported in the Sun-Times (9/1/04, now offline):
"If somebody were to announce an Art Basel-like show for Chicago, it wouldn't work, because that's such a high sliver of the marketplace that couldn't be pulled off overnight," said Rob Spademan, Pfingsten's marketing director. "Chicago needs to go for the $5,000 to $50,000 price point for collectors."
Flashing back to mid-August and Michael Workman in Newcity, we find that Pfingsten has also foresworn anything resembling the Stray Show:
Pfingsten has no plans to stage anything like Stray, opting instead to focus on building ties with the city's educational system by offering youth tours at the fair. "Stray Show had a lot of validity, it was very similar to Scope (in New York City) and shows put on in Los Angeles and London." says Vardy. "And I thought the Invitational was very good. But we're not going to pretend like we're the fair for everybody. We're very focused in our niche."
And alongside all the other uncertainty regarding TBA, between lawsuits and balance sheets, Workman reports that the future of the Stray Show itself hangs very much in the balance,
hinging on finding a location such as last year's warehouse on Kingsbury to stage it in. "I don't know if we'll do it again this year. Tom was really surprised he got it last year," says [Heather] Hubbs of the Kingsbury space. "Plans were to make it into a parking lot."
For what it's worth, TBA's website still has the announcement of the new site and dates for their big show slated for "the end of July." No word yet, however.
This all leaves us with TBA squarely in, as Workman puts it, "survival mode," the Stray Show (or anything like it) looking increasingly unlikely to materialize, and an admittedly second-tier niche show at the Pier offered up as a field trip destination.
Recall again that Mark Lyman of Expressions of Culture, Inc., whose company produces SOFA (a decorative and functional niche show which, it should be noted, now probably finds itself in competition with CC&C), insists that the opportunity remains for a top-tier fair in Chicago, but no solid plans have emerged from their camp as of yet, and Artner doesn't seem so sure. Indeed, Alan appears bearish on American art fairs in general:
Popular culture cannot be avoided. It comes to recipients regardless of their level of curiosity or effort. The fine arts, which traditionally have delved deeper, involve more. But American culture demands instant gratification. Art fairs, which provide a terrible environment for viewing and understanding, long have benefited from this quick-hit sensibility. Now, however, they have lost out to a society that even at the highest reaches spends an overwhelming amount of money on entertainment and knows or cares about little else.
A prediction: The fair emerging the commercial winner from next year's competition will be the one that panders to such taste most shamelessly. Museums and galleries have been doing it for some time with periodic attacks of conscience; art fairs are the places that will suffer them no more.
It's time to acknowledge that Chicago was the North American test case for big international contemporary art fairs with highbrow pretensions, and that phenomenon—which was fading long before the 25-year mark—is now as dead here as the fashion for monocles and plus-fours.
Workman writes of "the need for an art fair that connects the city culturally and artistically with the rest of the world," saying further that it is "essential to Chicago's standing as a world-class city." And this seems in keeping with a tendency to see the fortunes of the Chicago art world rising and falling on the back of our art expo (a rising tide and whatnot) or at the very least using it as a gauge by which to measure the scene's health. But is it really reasonable to do so?
I remain curious to see what sort of legitimate effect any big time international art fair (or biennial, for that matter) ever has on a local art scene. Surely there have been some investigations into this somewhere. I'm less skeptical than, err, curious.
But the question remains: does this debacle really warrant pessimism regarding Chicago art on the whole? For one possible response we again turn to Artner who insisted at the outset of the fall gallery season that, in spite of the art fair death throes and the loss of the Terra, the Chicago art scene is a picture of relative health. "The View from Our Critic: The art scene is thriving":
A short memory is a wonderful thing. It allows people to pronounce on the present without recalling what things were like in the past.
The pronouncement going around for months is that the art scene in Chicago in poor health. This is based, first, on the decline of Art Chicago, the art fair that for 25 years has taken place each spring at Navy Pier, and, second, on the wearying possibility that as many as three competing fairs will take place in 2005.
Well, guess what? Those are commercial considerations affecting only the people who trade in modern and contemporary art. The art scene is defined by all that one can see rather than buy, and that makes for a bigger picture—much bigger, and therefore healthier, than it was when was a college student riding the elevated train down from Evanston to look at art in Chicago.
This weekend is the kickoff of the fall art season, and more than 50 galleries will open exhibitions. That's about 20 more than the entire complement of local galleries in 1970, and the total scene now holds six times as many galleries. Of course, opinions differ on the quality of what the places show. Opinions always differ. But there can be no differing on this: Today, Chicago has 180 galleries where once there were only 30.
All of them—even the ones that ignore the hours they've posted—manage to keep their doors open, which means they're being sustained. How is not our concern. Whatever the business, all proprietors think they do too little. The point is, they do enough to keep going, some for quite a while: The Contemporary Art Workshop has been open since 1949. And since galleries charge no admission fee, we are the beneficiaries.
It's not New York, but all our hospitals do not make the Mayo Clinic either. Still, anybody who lived in Chicago for decades before dealers started calling themselves gallerists cannot help but notice the scene's expansion. It has become now what people in the 1970s were scarcely able to envision. And no matter what anyone thinks of it, that is a healthy fact.
"Alan Artner is Making Sense, and other art fair business I've missed"
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September 16, 2004
Ben Weasel on the latest casualty: "Johnny Ramone was supposed to be too tough to die."
Well, add his name to the list...
The National Hockey League has our full support as we take this difficult but necessary step toward creating a new economic system that will help our club in the future. The Chicago Blackhawks organization apologizes for the inconvenience this necessary action will cause its loyal fans, employees, and business partners. We hope our team will be back in action soon.
This probably came as a surprise to the many Chicagoans who'd been under the impression that owner Dollar Bill Wirtz had sold the storied franchise (among the Original 6) years ago for a proverbial bag of pucks. We have a team? Since when? Gee, you'd think we might've seen 'em on the TV.
In Chicago, no NHL hockey is no news whatsoever.
On the plus side, Rampant Speculation has Chris Chelios returning to Chicago for a stint during NHL "work stoppage." We can dream can't we?
September 13, 2004
Rigorous rock mayhem from an unassuming crew of RISD alums.
September 11, 2004
Bedlam in the Districts, or A simple reminder of why I hate openings.
Nearly every space and hallway presented its own fire code violation last night and I found myself in the shittiest of moods, silently hating on strangers for their hair and their clothes (but I guess that's the way it often goes in the wooly West Loop Gate). At times I think I had trouble breathing, so there was really no question of letting the art do so. I'm getting a tad melodramatic here but suffice to say that simply looking at the art was not an easy feat last night.
Plus, I had to swallow hard and shell out cash for lot parking in River North (this after swallowing hard and shelling it out for garage parking earlier in the day at the Field Museum). Argh.
On top of all this a whole lot of art seemed quite ready and determined to piss me off. But, as I was hardly approaching it with anything resembling healthy impartiality or good faith, I'll lay off it for the time being. The lows were abundant, but I'll stick to the highlights.
My recommendations, bearing in mind that I have yet to have the opportunity to really 'see' the art, so to speak...Henry Darger at Carl Hammer
To christen the season in this, their 25th year, the folks at Carl Hammer have gone with a guaranteed smash: "Alternate Worlds and the Creative Genius," devoted entirely to their main man, Henry J. Darger. I can hardly complain about this. Indeed, I'd fully expected to find at least a few Darger's there last night.
I probably don't need to bother describing or explaining Darger or his naked little girls to anyone out there, so I don't think I will. The curious and uninitiated ought to take a peek at this essay on Carl Hammer's web site, for starters.
There's not much to say really but this: if you don't know Darger, you should; if you do, this will be nothing unexpected, but nothing disappointing either.
And, as per usual, their exhibition upstairs is also worth a few minutes of your time.
Bring your reading glasses and cartographic skills with you to Zolla/Lieberman.
The group photo exhibition in their large gallery is absolutely filled to the brim, hung salon style. And rather than bother with wall labels (or even those notorious wall numbers), the gallery has prepared what must've been a 15-page title/price list with floorplans and wall diagrams. This left hundreds of patrons madly flipping and deciphering to find just who did what. That, coupled with the most outsized, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in River North last night, made for a mostly disagreeable experience.
(An aside to all area gallerists: I work a half block from Office Depot. I'm totally willing to spring for a couple packs of Avery labels if it's a matter of legwork. Really, you can order right here if you'd like.)
Best I could judge from the midst of the jostling mob, the show is a real mixed bag with a handful of stinkers and probably an equal number of real winners. I'd cough up some names, but I'll wait for the Zolla/Lieberman crew to update their website so I can actually have a full list to work from. At any rate, this one is definitely worth your while to check out (absent the opening night maelstrom). I know I'll be returning.
Among the better photography at Zolla/Lieberman were some rather affectless (and unpopulated) shots by Brian Ulrich of interiors of grocery and convenience stores that immediately brought to my mind certain photos by Gursky. I did like these but, as I commented to a friend at the time, I know I've see some works by Ulrich that I've liked much more. A number of these have popped up in various Peter Miller group displays lately and I was positively thrilled to walk into this gallery at the end of last night's trek (at which point I'd found myself otherwise depressed) to find their front gallery entirely devoted to his candid photos of shoppers caught gazing into oblivion.
The middle gallery and a small project room are home to Jonathan Gitelson's semi-narrative constructions, with which I was not previously familiar. Between his large comic book-style photo narratives,
three six precious books and a couple of video projections, there is plenty to recommend here as well.
I plan on going back to see this one again, and I'm taking someone with me.
If ThreeWalls artist-in-residence David Noonan's solo show suffers from any deficit it is the small number of paintings on display. This is not much of a complaint and it surely springs from the limitations of a brief residency. Still, I'd love to see more of his work in this vein.
Noonan selectively bleached stretched pieces of black fabric, creating improbably rich and textured imagery. I found the selection of subjects suprisingly varied considering his nostalgic focus on "genres of horror and the supernatural in the cinema of the 1970s and early 1980s." These works definitely demand some more of my time.
But don't listen to me. Listen to Terence Hannum; read his odd but probably appropriate (written while "listening to Led Zepplin’s second LP, a hand-me-down from his father, over and over") review of the show at panel-house.
**Update: It seems Noonan is simultaneously showing in NYC at Foxy Production (Foxy represents him). Tyler Green proclaims, "David Noonan's bleach-on-black-canvas paintings at Foxy Production were the funky-cool on-canvas hits of the weekend."
I found myself unable to concentrate or focus worth a damn by the time I reached Bodybuilder but I really do think I like these paintings. Something about the play of color and form, decoration and space, gloss and texture. Or something. One work even made me dig on the color purple, which is something of a feat in itself.
Again, I need to give this show another glance, sans the hubbub. But I'd urge you to see it and judge for yourself.
After a brief absence, Monique Meloche has rematerialized in the space vacated in Julia Friedman's recent flight to NYC. Davis and Langlois' apparently photo-based paintings didn't really float my boat overall, but I did find their portrait of Haile Selassie rather lovely. I reserve my highest praise, however, for the sole drawing in the bunch, a graphite portrait that is fronted on Monique Meloche's website but which I had to fight off a crowd at the back of the gallery to see in person.
In more 118 N. Peoria news, former floor four dweller FLATFILE has moved to 207 North Carpenter. I'd imagine it's FLATFILE Contemporary's former space that gescheidle will be moving into come October, though either of FLATFILE's former abodes would prove a decent upgrade for gescheidle size-wise.
September 8, 2004
Most women would agree he has a very nice rear end. Tall and handsome, he has the kind of Baywatch muscles that would make many of both sexes drool.
One small detail: he is about to celebrate his 500th birthday. He is Michelangelo's statue of David.
"I knew he was old but I wasn't aware he was turning 500," said Pat Fisico, a Canadian on holiday in Florence on Monday. "I don't think he looks a day over 22 ..."
Some high-minded criticism... "Happy 500th birthday, David! Now get some clothes on":
The ultimate hardbody is turning the big 5-0-0.
His fellow Florentines are throwing una grande festa to commemorate the event. The guest of honor will wear the only outfit he owns, one that just happens to be perfect for the occasion.
His birthday suit.
"The cat was amazing," Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton said of Michelangelo.
8. Michelangelo's work was not immediately appreciated by 16th Century Florentines. On its way to be installed outside the city's seat of government in 1504 it was pelted with stones. Some say the act was nothing but thuggery, others that it was politically motivated and inspired by the anger of supporters of the exiled Medici family.
9. Former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski threw a birthday party for his wife, Denise, that featured an ice-sculpture of David which urinated Russian vodka into crystal glasses for the 60 guests. In all, the party cost more than $2m (US).
You're killing me, guys. Seriously.
September 4, 2004
Posting this one from work...
The hard drive in the 5-year-old shitbox I use at home is seriously on the fritz. Windows' system software appears shot and the bugger won't even start up.
I've found I can still browse the hard drive by command line while running DOS off a CD but, besides offering a dose of perspective vis a vis my aggravations with Windows XP, this does me very little good.
Hope to be back up by next week's inauguration of the Chicago gallery season.
September 1, 2004
The new producer of Navy Pier's May international art fair said Tuesday it will expand the show beyond modern and contemporary works to include furniture, decorative arts and antiques.
The show, to be called Chicago Contemporary & Classic and run May 6-9, will absorb the AntiquesChicago show that has run concurrently with the art fair for the last two years in a different part of the pier. Chicago auctioneer Leslie Hindman, a co-producer of the antiques show, will work with the fair's new director, Ilana Vardy of Pfingsten Publishing LLC.
Not encouraging, Pfingsten. But should we have expected any more from the International Art and Framing Group? I suppose not.
Vardy assures us that the gallerists aren't worried:
"The contemporary galleries are excited," she said. "They understand that people's collections are very broad, that some people who collect antiques also collect modern art."
Sure sounds like spin to me.
Mark Lyman, head of the partnership that lost out in their bid on the fair, is understandably pissed:
The authority chose Pfingsten to stage the show over a group led by Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc. Expressions President Mark Lyman said Tuesday he was "shocked" that Pfingsten's plans are so different from what the authority had proposed.
"We were told very clearly that the pier was looking for a modern and contemporary fair of the highest order," he said.
Thomas Blackman could not be reached for comment.
"It's completely different from anything that's being done in America right now," [Hindman] said. "We'll have antique and modern furniture, rugs, carpets, tribal art, 18th and 19th century paintings and prints, and modern and contemporary art—all under one roof. I've felt for a long time that something really exciting and new needs to happen, and this is it."
Another factor in the move was a decision by Pfingsten Publishing, the Ohio-based firm that will own and operate CC&C, not to attempt the Chicago equivalent of very high-end art fairs such as Art Basel, acknowledged as the world leader in the field.
"If somebody were to announce an Art Basel-like show for Chicago, it wouldn't work, because that's such a high sliver of the marketplace that couldn't be pulled off overnight," said Rob Spademan, Pfingsten's marketing director. "Chicago needs to go for the $5,000 to $50,000 price point for collectors."
Mark Lyman of Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc.—whose competing bid to produce an art fair in the same time slot at Navy Pier was rejected—disagrees, adding that he is still in discussions with partners for a Chicago show that would aspire to the very top echelon of art fairs.
"They were probably realizing that they were going to have difficulty filling up the hall with the top-level fine-art dealers, so they're taking a more generalist, lower-level approach to this," Lyman said. "I think this makes it very clear that there's a strong opportunity in Chicago for a top-level art fair that would span contemporary and later modern art."
More to come I'm sure. And we wait with bated breath.