Monday, December 31, 2012

Last Years News

Here is a list of my favorite exhibits of 2012 in no particular order.

Hirokazu Kosaka, Untitled, performance, 1972
Pomona College Museum of Art, August 30, 2011- May 13, 2012

Part of the Pacific Standard Time initiative, this series of exhibits and performance events highlighted the hotbed of creative activity on the Pomona campus between 1969 and 1973. The three exhibitions revealed the fertile community which grew from fluid exchanges between faculty, students and curators. Artists such as Bas Jan Ader, Michael Asher, Chris Burden, Judy Chicago, Robert Irwin, William Leavitt, John McCracken, Allen Ruppersberg, James Turrell and William Wegman engaged in experimentation that influenced the future of conceptual practices. 

Installation view, Alina Szapocznikow: Sculpture Undone

Hammer Museum, February 5- April 29, 2012

This first American survey of works by little known Polish sculptor Alina Szapocznikow featured figurative sculptures that resonated with erotic and mortal weight. Fragmented and diseased parts longed for touch and psychological reunion with their lost host. There was a distinct ache in the visceral surfaces rendered through resin, rubber, raw wool, paper, and other tactile materials. Like Eva Hesse, Szapocznikow's oeuvre is haunted by the shadow of cancer that took her life at age 46.

Installation view, Rebel Dabble Babble2012
Courtesy of the artists and The Box, Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Paul and Damon McCarthy's Rebel Dabble Babble
The Box, May 11- July 7, 2012

This ambitious collaboration between Paul McCarty and his son Damon, took the form of a multi-room installation of video and objects. The project, part of James Franco's Rebel show, was based on rumors about the time Nick Ray, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, James Dean and Dennis Hopper, spent at Chateau Marmont during the filming and rehearsal of Rebel Without a Cause. The videos oscillate between the fantasy of Hollywood and the lurid under belly of violence and power. Natalie Wood was only sixteen years old when she became embroiled with both her 44-year old director and co-star Hopper. The videos often focus on the vulnerable and over-sexulalized Wood character who craves constant attention from the eye of the camera and the grotesque men behind the lens. 

Self-Obliteration (Net Obsession Series), c. 1966. Photocollage on paper,
Collection of the artist. © Yayoi Kusama. Image courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

Whitney Museum, July 12- September 30, 2012

The Yayoi Kusama retrospective spanned the artist's long and on-going career, from the tortured floral forms painted at age 20 to a room of vividly colored paintings from 2009. The show highlights Kusama's multi-disciplined practice that includes painting, installation, performance, film, fashion design and media publication. Vitrines were filled with remnants of the artists infamous free love works from the late 60s and reveal Kusama's happenings as precursors to contemporary works in relational aesthetics. The show also featured, Fireflies on the Water, one of Kusama's stunning light installations. 

Gertrude Abercrombie, The Courtship, Oil on masonite, 1949
 Photo © Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, by Nathan Keay

LACMA, January 29, 2012–May 6, 2012

This exhibit featured well known Surrealist practicioners, such as Louise Bourgeois, Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Lee Miller, Kay Sage, Dorothea Tanning, and Remedios Varo, but also introduced the work of lesser known artists like Gertrude Abercrombie. The exhibit raised interesting dialogues between the works around issues of female agency and sexual identity. It was also a nice surprise to see Marcel Duchamp menaced by a phantom noose in Maya Deren's Witch's Cradle, which looped on a small monitor.

Alberto Burri, Sacco (Sackcloth), 1953

MoCA, October 6, 2012- January 14, 2013

This show serves as a companion to Paul Schimmel's  seminal 1998 exhibit Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979. Like Out of Actions, Destroy the Picture favors process and impermanence over the primacy of the precious art object. The show features a global roster of artists including the often overlooked artists of the Gutai movement. Works verge on collapse and reference the dark and formidable vacuum left in the wake of WWII. Artists like Alberto Burri, Robert Rauschenberg, Shozo Shimamoto, Lee Bonticou and Yves Klein, cut, burned, slashed and stitched surfaces fashioned from quotidian materials to produce a dark and poetic realism.

Sharon Lockhart, Five Dances and Nine Wall Carpets by Noa Eshkol, 2011.
LACMA, June 4, 2012–September 9, 2012

In this show, Sharon Lockhart turned her documentarian eye on the visionary work of Israeli choreographer and textile artist Noa Eshkol. Conceived as a two-person show, the exhibit featured Eshkol's carpets, dance scores, and drawings along side Lockhart's five-channel film that captured a selection of Eshkol's dance works derived from the universal notation system she created with architect Avraham Wachman in the 1950s. In Lockhart's film, young and old dancers moved together through a series of simple gestures synchronized to the metrical tick of a metronome. The sparse regulated motions created a mesmerizing display of bodies engaged in the translation of a kind of sacred language. 

We don't lose Anything by being born, still from video document, 2000

Museum of Latin American Art, May 24 – September 30, 2012

This show featured a selection of the powerful and distressing performance works of Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo. Presented through video documents, the works explore issues of power and agency, especially in relation to the role of women in culture. Like body artists of the early 70s, Galindo places her own flesh in harms way to speak of literal and metaphoric violations of the body. Read my full-review from earlier this year here.

She seas dance, 2012, Iridescent, white and gold PVC, Louver styrene, 3 channel projections
Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer

Wangechi Mutu’s Nitarudi Ninarudi
Susan Vielmetter, Los Angeles November 3- December 22, 2012

Wangechi Mutu’s recent solo exhibit followed threads of her previous bodies of work  portraying the monstrous-feminine rendered through her signature brand of glimmering magic. The new collages showed two-headed creatures encrusted in thick layers of dirt and glitter as meditations on memory and identity. In the front space of the gallery,  a room-sized structure loomed like a shimmering mirage. Made from layers of gold streamers, the interior of the space served as the surface for a three-channel video projection that showed a woman's glamourous disembodied eyes opposite a woman's private and languid dance.

Anne Gauldin, Photo collage for the Woman's Building Newsletter, 1982-83

Don It in PublicFeminism and Art at the Woman’s Building
Ben Maltz Gallery, October 1, 2011 - February 26, 2012

Part of Pacific Standard Time, this show focused on the legacy of feminism and collective practices centered around the Woman's Building, a locus of the feminist art movement from 1973-1991. The exhibition featured objects and ephemera as well as an extensive on-line archive of first-person narratives on art and feminist communities in Los Angeles in the 70s. Founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and Arlene Raven, the Woman's Building became a refuge for women who traveled from across the country seeking a community built through sisterhood. I wish such a place still existed today! For more on the history of the Woman's Building, see Terry Wolverton's excellent book Insurgent Muse.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Into the Woods

When I was a graduate student in the mid-90s, I took a performance art class with Gagik Aroutiunian called Experimental Directions. I was drawn to performance through the intense monolouges of Karen Finley and Holly Hughes, but was intimidated by the theatrical focus of their works. I was shy and totally inept in the art of the stage (I had never even been in a school play). Gagik opened an entirely new realm of possibility to me when he introduced the Body-Object-Ritual project. The assignment had a simple premise; interact with an object in an unexpected way.

My body was shaking the day I presented my first performance to our small class. I sat down in a wooden chair and began stitching small black "hairs" onto the palm of a white cloth glove. I pushed the needle through the stiff cotton and brought it to my mouth where I held it between my lips as I cut each thread. I became calmer with each stitch and fell into the pure rhythm of process. That year I made a series of performance works derived from silent, intimate and repetitive gestures.

Through working with Gagik, I came to recognize the deep relationship between my performances and the tactile, process based works I had been exploring in the studio. I knew my art practice related to my Mother and Grandmother's incessant domestic production of garments and toys made through sewing, knitting and crochet. But, it wasn't until I found performance that I started to realize a connection to my Father and his love of hunting.

As a kid, I was always mortified when I arrived home from school to find a deer hanging in the garage slowly leaking blood onto the cement floor. I felt sad and I couldn't understand how an avid animal lover could hurt an innocent creature. When I started performing, I began to see hunting as a ritual; as a primitive process between man, nature and death. My Dad was a serious and ethical hunter who knew how to deal a fatal blow with swiftness to spare the animal undue suffering. He spent hours crouched in a tree stand waiting and listening. As is the case with all ritual, the body, space and time are authentic and present. My Father spent his life hunting a small radius of land between his birthplace and the house he had built with his own hands. Those woods were his sanctuary and he held a deep and intimate knowledge of that place.
In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.        --John Fowles                                                                                            
It was in graduate school that I also met Ron Cubbison who was my advisor. He confided that the graduate review committee thought my work was too political. He fought to get me in the program and became a steadfast champion of my work. I often thought of him as my "art Dad" because of his attentive and unconditional support. Like my own Father, Ron spent his life growing and making within nature.

Ron's art practice grew from his traditional training as a painter and he made works that captured beautiful and sensitive views of the natural world. He despised the sentimental and placid vistas found in conventional landscape painting. Ron's landscapes vibrated with the sensual violence of nature and the ever present process of death and decay. After he retired from teaching, Ron returned fully to his work and began making a series of intimate pencil drawings. I remember his eagerness to show me the new work which he felt was a breakthrough in his efforts to capture nature. The drawings were comprised of layers of gyrating marks like a tangled forrest floor breathing on the page. There was a metaphysical resonance and a purity to the gesture as if the image had been channeled directly through his body onto the surface of the paper. 

That series proved to be Ron's last as he fell ill and passed away in the fall of 2008. I was shocked by his death, as I had always imagined him at age 100, walking the woods and climbing foreign mountains. He was an avid traveler and he arranged an exhibition that would award five travel grants to his former students after his death. I admire that Ron wanted his legacy to remain in the realm of teaching and that he gifted his students with the opportunity to experience the world through travel. Ron had a profound impact on my life as a teacher and an artist and I hold his memory close to my heart.

Last week I lost my Father. He had been fighting cancer for two years, but the end still came more quickly than expected. It was difficult to watch him suffer and return to a state of dependance not unlike infancy. We moved him from the hospital to a serene hospice room with doors that opened into the woods. My family took solace that he was in the woods, the place where he felt most at home. My Father was a laborer, a man who worked hard, who took pride in what he could do with his hands. He was outdoors everyday until the past year when he was often too tired to head to the barn to take up some new project. I will remember a man who rescued abandoned opossums and raccoons, who fed strays and wouldn't sleep until all his cats were indoors at night. I will remember a man who in his 70s still chopped wood, climbed trees in need of trimming, and tended his large garden. I will remember a man who understood silence and the solemn poetry of deer prints on a newly fallen snow.