Visual Art

Appropriation Situation

What the Big New Show at the Henry Does and Doesn't Do

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Courtesy Of Cherry And Martin
AMANDA ROSS-HO What the photographer saw in the belly of the bunny.
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Courtesy Of The Artist And Ratio 3
An oil painting based on a negative from Jordan Kantor’s ‘Eclipse.’
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Courtesy Of Cherry And Martin, Los Angeles. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.
Amanda Ross-Ho's Camera 1, Camera 2, 2007.
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Courtesy Of Cherry And Martin, Los Angeles. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.
Detail from Amanda Ross-Ho's Camera 1, Camera 2, 2007.
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Courtesy Of The Artist And Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami, Florida.
Sean Dack's Untitled (Beach), 2008.
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Courtesy Of The Artist And Harris Lieberman Gallery, New York.
Lisa Oppenheim's The Sun is Always Setting Somewhere Else…, 2006.
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Courtesy Of The Artist And Overduin And Kite.
Erika Vogt's I arrive when I am foreign (Centennial Tin), 2006.

You don't look at anything directly in Image Transfer: Pictures in a Remix Culture. It's the big new show of remixed pictures by 12 contemporary artists at the Henry Art Gallery, in which you're seeing versions of something somebody else has already looked at, or may be looking at right now, somewhere else. There are blown-up prints of detailed scans of art ads. There are paintings of photographs of sculptures that themselves (the paintings) have carved-up surfaces. Yes—the mind reels. Hanging ominously from the center of the ceiling in each gallery is a reflective surveillance dome, tracking your moves as you track the art.

But so what? There's nothing new about appropriation (literally). And these 12 artists are far from alone in regenerating existing images. Why did the museum choose these 12? How do the specific works illuminate each other? What is the show's argument? Curator Sara Krajew­ski's presentation doesn't provide answers to those questions. Image Transfer instead feels like 12 solo shows, each entirely lacking in explanatory material. The only text, on a panel at the show's entrance, presents clichés as revelations in a distressingly pseudointellectual voice. An excerpt of how the museum describes IT:

This exhibition proposes that these artists mark the progression of intuitive practices that are thoroughly at ease with today's hyper-fluid circulation of images. In our digital age of fair use and open source, these attitudes demonstrate how far traditional notions of the authority and primacy of source materials have shifted toward a fluent rethinking of the way we value and interact with images.

The basic claim—that we are in a "digital age of fair use and open source" marked by the "hyper-fluid circulation of images"—is simplistic at best. However much "traditional notions of the authority and primacy of source materials" have been changing—since the invention of the printing press—those traditions are met with a renewed backlash: As images proliferate, so do lawsuits over who is allowed to do the circulating. And an art museum is no image-topia. The "no photo" signs in the galleries of Image Transfer tell one of many understories beneath the marketing-speak of "our digital age of fair use and open source."

A little playfulness and unconventionality could have gone a long way in presenting this show, following the cue of the art. Kelley Walker's trio of offset color posters (hung, unfortunately, with a doorway breaking them up) is based on a crazy old ad for Braniff airlines. It features Sonny Liston and Andy Warhol—both outsiders, for very different reasons—glamorously sharing a row on an airplane. (What a ride that would have been.) Walker presents them cut apart, facing different directions, in full color and black-and-white, and obscured by star shapes and pictures of unwrapped chocolates. It's literal and wild; Braniff drove to the edge of a cliff, and Walker pushes right off.

The museum might have emphasized the hoarding. These artists are piling up images. Some are forensic files poured out as if a mystery needs solving. Karl Haendel scatters his large and small pencil drawings over an entire wall. In what order would you arrange the following drawings: Gary Cooper from High Noon, a page of a musical score, a photographic negative of a screaming baby and another of a power cord, a cracked mirror, an incidence of lightning, and another artist's work? It looks as if Haendel is trying to figure it out, too.

Matt Keegan's Images Are Words/Las Imágenes Son Palabras is a demonstration of the futile attempt to fix meaning. It's a roomful of images that his mother cut out from magazines and uses to teach ESL classes. They're mounted on walls, laminated and strewn on top of a table in a mound, and annotated by Keegan's mother in a two-channel video. What Keegan's mother teaches is not necessarily what you might see in the image—pictograms are only translations. There's a tenderness here that brings to mind Chinese artist Song Dong's 2006 installation Waste Not (currently at Vancouver Art Gallery), in which, after the death of his father, the artist's mother neatly arranged the vast universe of household objects she'd amassed over a lifetime and presented them in a gallery setting.

Siebren Versteeg's White Flags surrender to the state of being overwhelmed. Each one is a large piece of fabric waving in the gentle wind of the museum's HVAC system on a pole of white fluorescent light, the fabric printed with reproductions of thousands of tiny found images. Each nation of pictures has no linked identity; it's just a mass.

Several pieces by Jordan Kantor all riff on a mundane photograph Kantor took of a row of people sitting on a curb shading their eyes, looking at a far-off eclipse. That original photograph is not shown, but appears in secondary versions: as an oil painting of the photograph's negative, as a sketch left by transfer carbon on paper, as a screen print on Mylar. A vitrine table provides more information. It contains Kantor's palettes, various other prints of the eclipse picture, and a map of how everything (including the map) is to be installed in the gallery. At the terminus is an art-history book laid open to a spread about a not-very-well-known Manet painting called The Railroad. Words, paintings, and cartoons alongside the main illustration of the painting assist in "reading" The Railroad—unpacking its secrets, getting it, locking it into art-­historical place. But the distillation is also a multiplication. Just as Kantor's original photo—of the astronomical event of visual obstruction—is filled in by versions of it, it's also increasingly distant.

Image Transfer seems to want to add a chapter beyond 1980s appropriationists, or the Pictures Generation, with Krajewski arguing in her catalog essay that the image has finally become the ultimate "mobile sign," disconnected from context and floating. But Kantor's dual distillation-multiplication model—circling ever closer but never arriving at a center, like the choreography Robert Smithson famously created in his Spiral Jetty—seems more apt. Does greater access to seeing, altering, and reproducing images represent a substantive break in our relationship to their sources, or does it just continue the exploration of ideas as old as art itself? We may assume that mechanical and digital operations—the film photograph and the screengrab, say—are fundamentally different processes that "shift... [our] traditional notions of the authority and primacy of source materials," but what if they're not and they don't? Which values endure despite our efforts to dislodge them?

For one, the link between image making and control. Amanda Ross-Ho's mirrored security domes on each ceiling are framed in canvases, like threatening pregnant bellies poking through painting surfaces (with a nod here to Seattle artist Jennifer Zwick's photograph of precisely that a few months ago). They're just called Camera (Aerial View).

In the case of her Camera 1, Camera 2, some explanation is called for. What you see are two blown-up pictures with curved views reminiscent of the surveillance domes. The two pictures are similar: In each is a view of a wood-floored room with an unidentifiable white rectangle in the center. The rectangle looks like it was set up to obstruct the view of something—the camera, whose head peeks out very slightly, or maybe it's not a camera. Are you paranoid? The picture is large, but the image is so compromised that you know the scale is a lie; how big is this place through this looking glass, and what is the glass?

What I didn't find out until later—this is where the museum could help—is that Ross-Ho made these two pictures by scanning small parts of an official photograph of Jeff Koons's famous reflective bunny, which she found in an ad in an art magazine. The room that seems to be through the lens is actually the one thrown back by the two-tiered belly of the rabbit. If the rabbit were rescaled to fit these photographs, it would break through the roof of the Henry like some shiny/cute monster. Art is always scarier than museums want it to be. recommended

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Comments (11) RSS

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ZZZZ...SO BORING, Jen, so DAMN boring.

Oh and p.s.
Any update in the SAM/EBSWORTH
STORY? You must be chickens**t to
take it on.
Posted by Hibrowgorilla on November 10, 2010 at 5:22 PM · Report this
SO uninteresting Jen. Do you REALLY have nothing else to bring to the table than this drudge?? And this gets 14 hits with NONE of them have anything interesting or worthy to say about the "art"...UGH! Can't you come up with something compelling and stylish that's happening in the NW Art world-wasting SLOG space on unworthy art and artists is YOU not doing your JOB! Art funding? Ebsworth's Warhol "disappointment"? BTW-a rumored $20 million profit is not too shabby in my book, but it is not interesting WHY he didn't get 10-30 million more-please!), Art students "talk" tonight"? COME ON GRAVES! Ever REALLY look a the influence of African Art on African American artists instead of stupidly commenting on the fact that "it's everywhere these days"(especially when the Katherine White/SAM collection is one of the strongest collections that exists) Wasn't it first Thursday last week? Ever do a studio visit? Ever try focusing on outlying regional artists, craftspeople, or interviewing young artists? What DO YOU DO??? This week was a call in and a loser! And that makes you a loser at your job-straight up! Maybe if you were interested in art instead of "cultural cool" you'd have more passion in your column and your writing.
Posted by Hibrowgorilla on November 12, 2010 at 4:08 PM · Report this
I can't wait to find out who this gorilla chick is.
Posted by har on November 12, 2010 at 9:38 PM · Report this
gettingtoknowyoubetter 4
excellent piece. and to use some illustrative language and the cap lock key : RELEVANT, INTERESTING, thought-provoking, critical writing! ! ! ! I SLAM MY FIST ON KEYBOARD WITH CONVICTION!

Posted by gettingtoknowyoubetter on November 15, 2010 at 1:37 PM · Report this
sounds like a back pedal to me...

Why is it Ms. Graves that you've failed to mention the great George Tsutakawa's centennial exhibition and his son Gerard's exhibition at the Woodside Braseth Gallery? Seems like you've got a real chip on yer ol' shoulder pad about them (as I never hear anything about any of their shows in your column) and the northwest school as well (BTW- a GREAT movement that is getting more and more recognition outside of the NW with scholars and exhibitions-See Guggenheim's East Meets West,etc.).How is this fair or appropriate for you to shamelessly bypass this show and others when you are eating crow about the terrible and un-hip Henry show you didn't like(due to outside pressures obviously) and posting aimlessly about all this crap? And don't EVEN cop that amateur angle about the "modern", "The Right Now","the contemporary moment" cuz it doesn't float . GOOD IS GOOD-period-then AND now-and George Tsutakawa is that-GREAT. You also embarrassingly skipped over the incredible Mike Spafford monumental piece at Greg Kucera's on the last worst Thursday and it was THE talked about piece of the night (the hipsters included-a rediscovery of sorts). Not to mention the Alden Mason show at Foster White (SAM show as well), etc. etc. What is with you Graves???? What is your problem? Isn't there anyone out there who can do this job justice??? I PRAY the Weekly will get a "Jen Graves" in place that would really make you work and keep you on your toes. You have your place because of what isn't out there to illuminate your weakness.

Posted by Hibrowgorilla on November 15, 2010 at 5:52 PM · Report this
Eric F 6
Dead horse, meet HB. Don't worry about what's in his hand, you won't feel a thing. Because you're dead.
Posted by Eric F on November 15, 2010 at 8:17 PM · Report this
attitude devant 7
God this HB troll is so tiresome.

HB---if you have so much to say, get your own damn blog.

Ohhhhh, but you really don't have anything to say, you just have a thing about slamming Jen. And you clearly don't have any real place in the arts here or you'd be out doing your thing instead of pissing all over everyone else.

You are boorish, obnoxious, pointless, overbearing, a blowhard, self-important.....I could go on, but frankly you're a bore. I see your signature and skip right past.

Is that what you were hoping for? To be ignored?
Posted by attitude devant on November 15, 2010 at 8:50 PM · Report this
ms. graves, if you have not already had the pleasure, please take a guided tour at the henry. i think perhaps you need a lesson in looking at art.
Posted by artgirl07 on November 15, 2010 at 9:29 PM · Report this
dear ms. graves,

if you have not already had the pleasure, i highly suggest you take a guided tour at the henry. it seems you need a lesson in looking at art.

i was not impressed by the Image Transfer exhibition. however, there are some interesting elements that you disregarded and invalidated with your article.

by all means, please continue to do your job as an art critic but try not to ruin it for everyone else.


Posted by artgirl07 on November 15, 2010 at 9:36 PM · Report this
"Eric F"-you are SO RIGHT!...and Ms Graves is one of the cult that slaughtered the horse standing around that carcass. Oh-and "attitude deviant"you are ridiculous and sound like a 12 year old mean girl.
Posted by Hibrowgorilla on November 16, 2010 at 7:51 AM · Report this
attitude devant 11
HB, I remain unimpressed. Indeed, you underscore my point: you seem to be unable to offer any real point of view other than to criticize others in a patently content-free fashion. If you have something to say, say it. But you seem to have nothing to say; you just want to hide behind your anonymity and take potshots.

Since you take aim at my screen name (which you clearly do not understand, so you fall back on your metier and smear it----or do you think I actually meant "deviant," and can't spell?), I'll ask you a question about yours: do you mean to say "guerilla?" Or are you a large hairy primate, misunderstood by all and sundry, in love with your muse (played by Fay Wray), climbing the space needle to swat at all those annoying critics. Hmmmm?
Posted by attitude devant on November 16, 2010 at 9:17 AM · Report this

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