The conviction fills the void created by the fact that these suits hide the race, class, and gender of their wearers. Who are these beings and what do they want? How we interact with them, and what do we think they might do? They have the potential to rewrite the world in our imaginations.
Here's what Cave has to say for himself about what he does, and why he does it. His show at SAM, Meet Me at the Center of the Earth, is up through June 5.
Portraits of newly minted Egyptian martyrs. A pair of Italian artists who hijacked a million Facebook profiles for an online installation. The Republican anti-art agenda and the failure of art people to show up as a united progressive force. Hyperreality and Google Art Project. The end of art itself (a revisitation). The rise of art news over art criticism.here), has been writing about in the last, oh, month or so in his new position at Artinfo.com (his author archive here).
His aptly named weekly column, Interventions, comes out Wednesdays. It tackles the big questions, blending theory-based eggheadedness with an insistence on real-world events and concerns outside the presumed confines of art. Davis is also a really fine writer.
So I thought it might be fun to talk to Davis about all this, especially the two subjects he's become known and criticized for: Art and class, and the shifting landscape of art critics, writers, and bloggers.
I caught him at home in New York. The audio is the best we could do given the involvement of iPhones—I apologize in advance. It's worth a try, I think.
If you only listen to one art interview in Seattle this year, let this be it.cries from all quarters when Michael Darling announced recently that he's leaving Seattle Art Museum to become chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. With shows like Target Practice and Kurt, he's the rare person whose work piqued the interest of artists, audiences, and administrators alike, and he spoke freely and frankly in this exit interview at his small office inside the Chase tower, looking out at the high-rises of southwestern downtown and the industrial waterfront. He praised big donors and dissed the University of Washington's art grad school, he described what the museum's bought lately, he revealed what works and what doesn't about the renovated downtown building, he named names of local artists to watch, and he gave his take on whether SAM's unwieldy three sites are sustainable given the collapsed economy and WaMu's demise.
He's bound to stir up controversy, but that's not his goal. These considered opinions are his parting gift to the city as someone who still cares about it, and we'd do best to use them in that spirit.
Thanks for the memories and the observations, Michael Darling. (And P.S.: Keep Seattle artists on your radar!)
Whiting Tennis, Bovine, became part of SAM's collection during Michael Darling's tenure, along with other works of art by Seattle artists, including Jeffry Mitchell, Eli Hansen, Gretchen Bennett, Dan Webb, Roy McMakin, and Cris Bruch.
The art of Heather and Ivan Morison seems left behind from another world: a jacknifed semi-truck with cut flowers spilling out the back; a cabin in a park where visitors meet a Host who has a limited vocabulary; and, now, a giant sculpture made of charred, sooty wood, shaped in the form of a kite. It leans on the architecture of the Bellevue gallery Open Satellite, seemingly having fallen onto this place. But from where? Why? Can we use it to get back there?
Listen in as Heather talks about ruins, Arthog (the ancient wood they bought in Wales), and the failure of British prisoners to survive in Tasmania. The starting point is Frost King, the sculpture at Open Satellite named after the first kite ever to lift a person (1905; it was designed by Alexander Graham Bell). If you could escape, where would you go? If you couldn't, do you know how to survive where you are?
(My written piece on Frost King here.)
The story of Tim Rollins and the Kids of Survival in the South Bronx is, by now, legendary. They're the subject of an exhibition at the Frye Art Museum, and last week Rollins and K.O.S.er Angel Abreu talked onstage at the museum to a packed room and an overflow crowd of 40 watching a simulcast in the museum's education wing.
What really happened all those afternoons in the broken-down public-school studio, with Rollins determined not to let these kids flounder and these kids wondering what the hell this white guy was trying to do?
Hear about it in this interview, taped at the Frye just before the talk. My review of the show is here.
(One P.S.: I forgot to ask on tape why there haven't been more girls in the group. It's a common criticism of K.O.S. Rollins answered candidly when I brought it up after the interview. He said, one, parents didn't want their girls running around with boys after school, and two, when there were girls, there was sex. A girl would go to the bathroom, a boy would go to the bathroom, and they'd come back a half hour later. There never were restrictions on who could join, but Rollins could get more done just with the boys, he said.)
The day Tacoma-based artist Marc Dombrosky moved to Las Vegas and started a job at a furniture warehouse, the furniture warehouse went out of business and Michael Jackson died. Dombrosky and his wife, artist Shannon Eakins, found themselves lost in the desert. Dombrosky's new show at Platform, Neverland, came out of the sensation of that day and the scavenging and repairing that followed. (Review of the show here.)
Dombrosky is a great talker; you definitely want to listen in.
One white wall of OHGE Ltd. has been turned into a white billboard with a slightly different-colored-white area inside it where a message might have once been.
A megaphone hangs inside the left side of this cloud. On the right side is a small thicket of gleaming white fluorescent lights leaning against the wall. Colored roses coated in glitter lie in a heap on the floor.
There's another room parallel to this one in the gallery, approached through a door. In that congruent room, large white block letters spell out "I FORGOT" so that, if the wall were removed between the rooms, the letters in one room would appear in the same position as the empty area of the billboard in the other room.
The billboard has been divided from its message, and all that remain are two incomplete halves. There is only silence that might once have been, or might yet become, speech. The kind of silence that wants breaking.
This installation is called The future belongs to crowds (a line taken from Don DeLillo), and it's by Eugene-based, Iranian-born artist Tannaz Farsi. She made the piece after the Iranian demonstrations this summer.
Listen to her talk about it just before the opening on December 3. It's up through January 14, 2010.
The stringy weavings leaning on the wall outside the elevators at the Seattle Art Museum look at first like they are semi-spent stuff on its way out of the galleries, to somewhere else. But once you spend a minute with them you begin to see they're their own place. The artwork is called Endless Night, and it's by Josh Faught. It consists of imperfectly woven, window-sized afghans derived from a 1-inch-by-1-inch pattern of a view out a window at night. The afghans (the nights) grow increasingly darker from left to right, having been dyed in indigo. A little pink candle on one is trying to cast some light. Next to it is what Faught refers to as a "failed" weaving, an afghan wrapped around a post and tied messily like a frayed flag.
Endless Night is an intriguing, unusual work of art by the relatively unknown artist who won this year's Betty Bowen Award. Turns out his other works—incorporating weaving, political pins, video, found objects, books, photographic imagery, nail polish, and spraypaint—are intriguing, too. They use deliberately modest means to wrangle with some big questions about sculpture, authority, materials, gender, tradition, and power.
He speaks from his home in Eugene, Oregon, where he's been teaching since 2007, after getting his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. (He cites influences you can check out here, here, and here—those first two, notably, have Northwest roots of sorts. His work is also on the Grizzly Bear albums "Horn of Plenty" and "Friend.")
Now, almost a hundred of the Polaroids Wolf found are the subject of a breathtaking, tender, revealing exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle—having already visited the Whitney and museums in Chicago and the UK.
This conversation with Wolf is the story of how they—and Mapplethorpe—came out.
"Yes, but why does he have an ear on his arm?" my friend continued.
And it was a fair question.
Stelarc is the name (his last and first names conjoined) of an Australian artist who has been making performances that involve technological extensions to and experiments on his body since the 1960s. His most famous project is the as-yet-unfinished ear-on-arm, but he's done many others, including throwing the products of his and a fellow artist's liposuction into a robot-like blender for a gallery installation and being suspended by his skin 25 times.
I've never seen any of Stelarc's work in person—except when I sat down to do this interview with him. Meaning: I've seen the arm.
It was hidden under a black jacket (DO NOT HIDE YOUR ARM-EAR UNDER A BUSHEL!), so I asked to see it, which felt slightly dirty. It looked like it looks in the photographs with one important distinction: the two large scars near it. They produced in me that queasy-stomach feeling that makes me uncomfortable in my own body out of something like extreme empathy.
Listen in and see what you think.
On September 3, Paul McCarthy and Richard Jackson flew up from LA to give what turned out to be a hilarious and historic talk at Seattle Art Museum—but a few hours before that, they sat down in a brightly lit conference room upstairs at the museum for a private conversation with a tape recorder and me.
McCarthy starts right in with a story about his liquid bodily functions, which seems right enough.
And the writeup of the later talk—again, basically a classic—is here.
In Alice Wheeler's smart and tight but generous new show of photographs and a video, Women Are Beautiful—named after Garry Winogrand's series but reframing it completely—she's hit a stride. You can hear it in the way she talks, too, about the 60s, old Seattle versus new Seattle, places she calls "Man's Lands," and her subconscious pursuit of green eyes. Wheeler's a rock-hard feminist with a record of being underestimated. It's about to end.
Don't miss this interview.
Buddy Bunting stakes out prisons. He parks by the sides of their roads to sketch, photograph, and videotape them in a hurry, before he gets caught.
Nobody is supposed to look too closely at a prison. Bunting does it in part because prisons are what he knows. Growing up in a Maryland area where a prison moved in and provided plenty of jobs, Bunting's regular friends were prison guards as well as prisoners. He knows the in and the out, so he stands at the border and makes art. (Click images to enlarge.)
The first image above is a bowed panorama view (the gallery wall doesn't actually curve leftward) of Bunting's 30-foot ink and pencil portrait of Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon.
The second image is a detail of the part of the painting that depicts the "work" building (those four vertical doors), where private businesses can "rent" the extremely cheap labor of prisoners for a time.
This 30-foot painting—without weather or plant life, or any signs of life at all, punctuated by insanely erect lampposts—is the centerpiece of Bunting's solo show High Living at Crawl Space, which is full of stark, colorless scenes that convey a powerful, tense sense of place and time. He's nervous while he works, he says, and that comes through. But his images also are made with a cold observational eye. They take no stands, testify to nothing, cannot be convicted or exonerated.
Listen to the artist talk.
'I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine.' --John Adams, in a letter to his family, 1780
What is the trajectory of early American art? From a time of war to the Gilded Age? That's the question subtly raised by the exhibition Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery at Seattle Art Museum through May 25 (pictured is John Trumbull's self-portrait, with paintbrush and sword). Although the exhibition is an idiosyncratic study, based as it is on a single collection (Yale's), it's also a proposition about the possibilities of art in a new democracy—art as a tool of political rhetoric, art as a sign of wealth, art as a way of memorializing, art as a way of promising better things to come, art as a display of national ambition.
In this podcast, SAM American art curator Patti Junker talks not only about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness—especially its trajectory, as in the Adams quote above (which is painted on the gallery wall at the entrance to the show), from struggle toward enlightenment (which resulted not only in great early photographs but also in not a few ostentatious sofas!)—but also about SAM's entire season of Americana. That includes exhibitions by contemporary artists Titus Kaphar, Corin Hewitt, and Mary Simpson and Fionn Meade; a show of relatively controversial paintings of Native Americans by the 19th-century Victorian George de Forest Brush, who couldn't stand to look; SAM's own Bierstadt painting of Puget Sound; and SAM's recent acquisition of a Louis Sullivan elevator facade from the Chicago Stock Exchange building.
The exhibition is just generalized and crowd-pleasing enough not to dwell much on the unhappier, or more hypocritical, aspects of early American life. But there are hints in and among the hits. A series of intimate pencil drawings of the Amistad captives, by William H. Townsend, is touching (pictured is "Grabo," ca. 1840; click to enlarge).
Junker shares her own theories about several things—why de Forest Brush stopped looking, why Bierstadt's Puget Sound isn't as laughable as we all thought—even as she explains why it's impossible to do an 18th-century portraiture show except in New Haven. Listen in.
Corin Hewitt does not think of himself as a performance artist in the traditional sense: his performances are always in the service of demonstrating how images are made, and—perhaps sending up the way that performance art finds this end no matter what—they result in an ongoing series of images.
In 2007 at Small A Projects in Portland, Hewitt set up a space for himself that was part-kitchen and part-photo studio. Visitors could watch him from an aperture in the wall. What they saw when they looked in was him cooking up his food at the same time as he was cooking up his photographs using materials he'd brought with him. He did an earlier version of this in Redhook, N.Y., and a later version at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which has a great video and photo archive from the project here.
For the Portland project, he brought with him various cooking implements, foods, plasticine, patterned fabrics he'd bought in Portland, and printed-out images of Native American baskets in the collection of the Portland Art Museum. He set to work, sending each of these materials through a process of continuous transformation pictured in (and effected by) photographs taken by four different cameras: a 4-by-5 traditional format camera, a Polaroid, a 35mm, and a digital camera.
He might weave a copy of the museum basket out of multi-colored pasta, set the pasta basket down on a backdrop of vividly patterned (woven) fabric, and take a photograph. That photograph might make its way into another photograph of the artist eating a bowl of the pasta, which might also include, in one corner, a camera not being used but still sort of standing there and watching the moment.
Things that get consumed in Hewitt's performances often reappear in another form. He might take a bite of a pear, sculpt a perfect copy of that bitten pear, and then take a picture of the two together. That picture might appear again in another image, and so might that pear's core appear in a photograph of the installation's compost pile. (Every Hewitt performance includes a compost pile.)
At the Whitney, the outer walls of the built studio-in-the-gallery served as an exhibition space. Hewitt would change out photographs every so often, as he made new ones. There is no such thing as a final photograph in Hewitt's work; something that appears on a gallery wall now may later appear in a photograph sitting in a compost heap. What do we decide to keep and what to let go of? How do we decide what's worth taking a picture of, and what should be left on the periphery?
Hewitt's work playfully and poignantly points to the way that photography transfers matter from one form into another through desire and anxiety about reproduction and decay.
The Portland performance did not have enough space for gallery walls, so the current SAM exhibition is serving as the second half. Titled Weavings, it's an installation of 75 photographs of varying sizes, styles, and techniques (remember, there were four cameras). They're a hodge-podge; there's no linear order to them, which is an invitation to the viewer to form his or her own ideas about what they're looking at and how it got there. And another version of this exhibition—transformation is Hewitt's calling card—exists in a new, hardcover book of the 75 photographs published by J&L Books. In the book, the scale of the varying prints and the sensation of looking into a building through 75 individual windows is lost, but the qualities of each image—this interplay of sculpted and edible pieces of food, that patch of slimy shine on a rotting melon—are heightened.
When Hewitt came to Seattle for the opening of his show, he sat down for this podcast, and turned out to be a master of ungodly eloquence. Our talk ranged from Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency to the death of his father when he was young to a photograph's dual role in providing a model for future behavior and a document of the past. When we began to talk about decay, a fleet of sirens drove by. You'll hear.
Titus Kaphar is a black artist who doctors history paintings so they're not so quietly (or unquietly) racist anymore. He takes this, for instance,
and turns it into this.
The original Thomas Eakins oil painting, Rail Shooting on the Delaware from 1876, is part of the Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery exhibition visiting Seattle Art Museum right now. (It's often cited as an example of a good, relatively equitable relationship between a black man and a white man, which Kaphar understandably finds a little hard to take.)
Kaphar made his response, Push Yuh Own Damn Boat, especially for the occasion of his simultaneous show down the hall at SAM.
The frisson of the direct response is powerfully specific, and its presence in the museum at the same time as the Yale show cracks open some of the under-explored issues in the history exhibition simply by inserting the doubt of an alternative perspective. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is richer because it shares a space with Kaphar, the history-painting explorer.
Kaphar is the first recipient of SAM's biennial Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship, which is devoted to supporting black artists.
But it would be a mistake to see his work as limited to the context of race. Every cut he makes into one of his paintings—copies and interpretations of old European and American paintings—is different. He might cut out a woman to release her from the man she's standing next to; he might slice away a warrior and lay him on a pedestal in order to give the man some deserved rest; he might turn some figures toward the wall and others out into the room in order to engage with the basic questions of modernism in painting. He also uses tar to redact entire areas of a painting.
How does Kaphar think about his own work, and how does he feel about being celebrated as a black artist? Listen in.
And for his next trick...
Stranger Genius Alex Schweder makes performance architecture. He's interested in relationships, in permeability, in the way bodies and buildings affect each other, in the way artists and audiences interact even. But he also knows that "audience participation" can easily turn into an excuse for an artwork to become one-shot entertainment. You get it, then it's over.
So how does he handle performance architecture? In this podcast, he talks about his priorities and his hopes, his fears and his promises. He especially addresses Stability, his latest work, in which he and artist Ward Shelley are living on a teeter-totter trush at Lawrimore Project for a solid week. The artists will knock each other off balance every time they move or receive any supplies (you can take them supplies from their "Needs List" here).
Stability is part of a larger exhibition called Stability and Other Tenuous Positions, running through May 2 at LP.
What else is Schweder up to? Much.
1. He has a show coming up in Berlin in June, at Gallery Magnus Müller, called This Form Follows Your Performance, in which he changes your living space according to how you behave in it. (His description reminded me of Hadley + Maxwell's awesome Decor Project.)
2. A new version of his A Sac of Rooms Three Times A Day, first seen at Suyama Space in 2007, will be part of an exhibition called Sensate at SFMoMA.
3. Simultaneously he'll have a solo show at Jack Hanley Gallery in SF.
4. This one is something he'd like to do, but not something he's actually working on already. You know about the woman who married the Berlin Wall (and consummated it) and the woman who married the Eiffel Tower (profiled in a documentary called The Woman Who Married the Eiffel Tower)? Well, Schweder would like to design spouses for these and other "objectum sexuals," or people who fall in love with inanimate objects.
It's good to see that his genius is being recognized all over the place.
The 17th-to-19th-century Indian paintings visiting Seattle Asian Art Museum this winter have made perfectly rational people drool. On normally empty weekday afternoons, the galleries are full of clumps of people clutching magnifying glasses and craning toward the miniature details, rapt. (My review here.)
Now hear the curator of the exhibition, the wondrously named Debra Diamond, talk about the paintings.
Obama equals change, right? Well, how does change apply to art?
I throw out a bunch of questions, and they respond with a bunch of ideas: Is irony really the enemy? (Yes.) Does the national government have a role to play in the lives of artists? (What national government?) Will the collapse of the market help make better art? (It already has.)
Don't expect them to agree. Webb is working in public art as a political statement; Robb has just returned from the Global Creative Leadership Summit in New York, where she was the only visual artist included among a bunch of world leaders in every field. (Here's one of the panels she found herself on.) They both have plenty to say about the future of art in Obama America.
Is this the real meaning of public art? Art that actually reshapes the environment to better suit what the public needs?
Cheryl dos Remedios would say yes. Here's my column about what she wants to do, and just click to listen to our entire conversation about the LIV Project.
Jackson Pollock's Mural, which cash-strapped University of Iowa administrators considered selling last year.
Last month two pretty shocking things happened in the museum world. One, the nation's best contemporary art museum considered subsuming itself in another museum but did not seriously or publicly consider selling art to keep itself afloat. Two, a far more obscure museum did sell two works of art in order to keep its lights on—and was publicly blacklisted by the museum community.
These are not isolated cases. Universities and libraries have tried (some successfully) to sell off artworks to square up their balance sheets. Other museums, like the Detroit Institute of Arts, are holding on to their van Goghs despite facing tens of millions of dollars in shortfalls. And it seems there is news every day about another museum's financial woes in this economy: today's exposed victim is the Denver Art Museum.
To people outside the art world, the math can seem obvious: If museums are sitting on all this valuable art, why don't they sell some of it to pay the bills?
That, as you can imagine, makes many art people scream.
Things tend to devolve quickly into shouting matches.
But do they have to? Is compromise possible? Can museums ever sell works of art except for the purpose of collecting more art (the current rule)? Where did that rule come from? And who is the best authority for determining whether sales that do fund other art purchases are in fact justified?
Into this controversy waded Jori Finkel, a writer from Los Angeles for the New York Times, whose story about the history, philosophy, and controversy of deaccessioning—"Whose Rules About Art Sales Are These, Anyway?"—appeared on December 28.
Now, in a taped phone interview, she takes an even broader look, talking about what didn't make it into her story and what her greater goals were in writing the piece.
She also directs attention to voices outside the usual suspects (which are also worth checking out for background here, here, and here): Michael O'Hare's public policy paper "Capitalizing Art Museum Collections: Awkward for Museums but Good for Art and Society," and Adrian Ellis's 2004 essay for The Art Newspaper, "A New Approach to the Deaccessioning Issue."
Once you start thinking about it, you can't stop. And the current rule seems both incomplete and overly restrictive. Surely there's an opportunity here for reasoned reform.
Editor's note: One blogger central to the conversation about deaccessioning at the National Academy and elsewhere was inadvertently left out of this conversation. Check out the work of Lee Rosenbaum (Culturegrrl) here.
Roger Fernandes's Sleeping Spirits Awaken (2001), acrylic on canvas, 30 by 40 inches
It took Seattle Art Museum eight years to put together its current exhibition of Salish art—the art of the native people of this region—and SAM's show, amazingly, is the first major museum exhibition ever devoted to the work and culture of the Salish.
Why has Salish culture been so lost for so long? What is it really about, and how does the SAM show succeed and fail in presenting it?
Salish artist Roger Fernandes—who grew up in an apartment on Capitol Hill but in a close Klallam family (the Klallam are from the Port Angeles area)—talks about his own search for his artistic heritage, and why he deliberately makes art that his ancestors would recognize.
(For my review of the SAM show, click here.)
Photo by David Shankbone
What Lawrence Weschler does is he writes about the world in ways that make it seem bigger and much more exciting—both more complex and more penetrable—than you ever thought before. He does this by writing (for magazines, in books, on the web) about art, politics, and science, drawing them all together. "I write about people who are just moseying along in the dailiness of their lives and suddenly catch fire," he says. It's not far-fetched that he's written about torture and repressive regimes: what interests him is that spark, "the thing that has to be repressed when repression takes place."
He also runs cultural things: New York University's New York Institute for the Humanities and Chicago's Humanities Festival; Alastair Reed calls him "The P.T. Barnum of the Mind."
In this far-ranging conversation, he talks about everything from how his Robert Irwin biography, Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, was self-medication; how modernism sprung from the invention of kindergarten; whether sub-Saharan clitorectomy or the North American college application process is stupider; a performance of Waiting for Godot by imprisoned lifers in Sweden (who escaped on tour!); and how The Stranger accidentally got him into a fight with his then-boss, New Yorker editor Tina Brown.
You really don't want to miss listening to this. Just saying. I'm going to listen to it again myself.
The Date the Internet Told Us We Would Die (detail), by Caleb Larsen
Caleb Larsen is a young artist (now studying at RISD and clearly very caught up in art history) who works extensively in digital media and has his first real outing in Seattle at Lawrimore Project this month. I caught up with him to talk about the generation of a patch of frost in the gallery, how to film boiling water without steaming up the camera, the restoration of the oral tradition to the epic of Gilgamesh by way of computer, mopeds, titles, and his death.
Caleb Larsen's A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter, a wooden box that sells itself on eBay
Mauricio Dias and Walter Riedweg first showed this artwork, Funk Staden, at the politically charged Documenta mega-show in Kassel, Germany in 2007. It hung in a European palace in the hometown of the German who first depicted Brazilian cannibals in the 16th century—and now it has come, in expanded form, to Seattle.
Dias is Brazilian and Riedweg is Swiss German, but they live in both places and speak several languages. They're culturally interstitial people who make interstitial art; wherever they are they find and become attached to communities of Others—people who don't usually appear in art, except maybe as vague subjects: janitors, prisoners, sex workers, or in this case, the impoverished residents of the favelas in Dias's hometown of Rio de Janeiro, where paranoid and otherwise secretive drug dealers throw elaborate private funk balls.
Funk Staden is an enactment of a mini-funk ball organized by the artists. What you see above is a shot of the whole installation of video screens and mirrors at the Frye; below is a still from one video.
In this extended interview, the artists talk about how they made this work and why, about what the election of Barack Obama means to them, and about their 14-year relationship to each other, to various cultures, and to artistic practices from formalism to documentary filmmaking.