Category: Ben V

The Figure in Contemporary Art: Bodies on Film.



Richard Serra, Hand Catching Lead, 1968. Around the time Serra created this video, he had compiled this verb list, which he went about illustrating through his art. The whole exercise was about material and the body meeting in one simplified action or process. Questions of identity, motive, or emotion are completely separated from this work. It’s simply a hand and a verb.

I recently organized a show of new media works, and realized that my series of short photo essays exploring the human figure in contemporary art was missing a new media presence. With this in mind, I focused my attention towards those dark rooms designated for video art in museums in Beacon, Indianapolis and New York City. Here’s what I found:

Francis Alÿs, Tornado. Part of Alÿs’s solo show at MoMA, A Story of Deception (which is up through August 1). I was taken by photographs of this video so I was excited to finally see the work in person. The video includes footage of Alÿs viewing the tornado from a safe distance, as well as intense shots by him as he runs right into the heart of the storm. Watching the artist’s tiny figure facing down these huge desert dust-devils might seem pointless and painful. But there’s something poetic about it, too — the lonely figure of a man chasing down something profoundly beautiful, powerful and dangerous.

The Figure in Contemporary Art: Whitney Museum edition.

Glenn Ligon, Self-Portrait, 1996. This screen print definitely has to be seen in person to be appreciated. It’s heavily pixelated and provides a similar experience to viewing Chuck Close’s work. At a distance, the image looks perfect, yet as you get closer the process and its flaws become more apparent. (Courtesy the Whitney Museum).

A recent visit to the Whitney Museum of American Art earlier this month for the opening of the Glenn Ligon show turned up a large selection of works for my series on the Figure in Contemporary Art (check out parts One, Two, and Three). While I was there, I also saw Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection, housed in the Emily Fisher Landau galleries. While trying to soak in the art, I kept finding myself listening to old rich patrons talk about pieces they would buy. Thankfully, amid the market talk, I did manage to find exactly what this series needed: quality art examining the figure in many different manners, from many different voices. As I wrapped up my viewing experience at the museum, the upper-crust were downstairs trying to get down to Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back. I knew then that it was time to get back to Brooklyn.

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The Figure in Contemporary Art: Armory Show Edition.


The Armory Show provided the perfect location in which to scope out some works for my series on the figure in contemporary art (see parts one and two). Above, Marc Quinn’s Michael Jackson, from 2010, at Thaddaeus Ropac. A classical take on a fallen icon — reminding me of Michael Jackson and Bubbles by Jeff Koons, except naked.


Pieter Hugo, Mohammed Rabiu with Jamis, Asaba, Nigeria, 2007, at Yossi Milo. I was blown away by this series of photographs by Hugo when they came out, and it was nice to see a large print in person. The fair was heavy on photojournalism, especially series that deal with Africa.


Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2010, at Lisson. True to my Midwestern roots, I wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt to the Armory… Now, thanks to Anish Kapoor’s reflective tendencies, you’ll all know about my child-bearing hips and incredible forearms. There was an abundance of mirrors, mirror finishes, and reflective plastics at the fair.

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The Figure in Contemporary Art: Miscellaneous Round-Up.


From Jon Rafman’s series The 9 Eyes of Google Street View, Berwick Rd. Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, which was on view as part of the exhibit Free, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, until late this last January.

Last month, I launched a semi-regular series devoted to the way the human figure is depicted in contemporary art. This month, I continue it by looking at a number of works I’ve seen recently in museums, galleries and even on the street.

I want to begin this particular round-up with a look at Jon Rafman’s work, which is pictured above, and explores, among other things, the nature of travel. Rafman has ‘traveled’ the world through Google Street View and brought back the screen shots to prove it. This series along with the rest of the show, raised a lot of questions about the future of our online lives: Namely, will we eventually experience art, travel, and relationships exclusively online? How will the virtual experience differ from real-life? How is our view of other people colored by the internet? Certainly, we’re still figuring out the answers to some of those questions. But Rafman’s found imagery speaks to the abilities as well as the limitations of the web.

Find other images after the jump. All photos by me unless otherwise noted.

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The Figure in Contemporary Art: Brooklyn Museum.


Fred Wilson, Grey Area (Brown Version), 1993. (Photographs taken by Ben Valentine at the Brooklyn Museum last December.)

Recently, while browsing an art history book, I began thinking about how much the portrayal of the human figure has evolved since the Paleolithic era (think Venus of Willendorf), through the Renaissance (Michelangelo’s David), to today — when contemporary artists seem to portray humans conceptually and aesthetically in radically different manners. This has inspired me to begin collecting contemporary representations of the human form. I thought I’d begin the series at the Brooklyn Museum, which features a wide range of artists and aesthetics (all walking distance from my apartment). Hopefully this photo series will begin to give us an idea of the many facets of identity today. It could help us see how far we have come, or simply show how psychotic we all happen to be…

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Photo Diary: A tour of installation art at the IMA, in Indianpolis.


Ball-Nogues Studio, Gravity’s Loom, 2010 — currently on display in the entry hallway. (All photographs are courtesy of the IMA, unless otherwise noted.)

From the fall of 2009 to the summer of 2010 I volunteered at the Indianopolis Museum of Art (IMA) under Associate Conservator of Objects & Variable Art, Richard McCoy. While there I documented and filed examination reports on works by artists such as Maya Lin, El Anatsui, and Robert Smithson. I also helped with the installation and maintenance of the Tara Donovan (my current boss) exhibition.

Over the holidays I paid a visit to the contemporary galleries; which during my time at the IMA I’d become very familiar with, so it was nice to return with fresh eyes. Here are some of my favorite installations, both old and new:


Robert Irwin’s, Light and Space III, 2008.  (Image from Thoth188.)

In 2008, Robert Irwin made an installation for IMA’s Pulliam Great Hall, which is at center of the IMA’s galleries. The space at the time was dimly lit, adorned with outdated wood décor — lacking any kind of impact for the focal point of the IMA experience. True to Irwin’s style, Light and Space III evolved directly from the requirements of it’s location; in a sense he grew the piece from the space. One of the most amazing experiences I had while interning at the IMA was when this installation was turned off; while walking through the contemporary galleries, I kept feeling as though something was missing; it was the presence of this piece, which is turned off whenever the museum closes. (Learn a little about this piece and Irwin’s process by watching a video of the artist in conversation with my old boss.)

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Photo Diary: MCA Denver.


Parking Job: Gonzalo Lebrija’s, Entre La Vida y La Muerte, outside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Part of the exhibit Energy Effect (Elements). (Photos by Ben V.)

Over Thanksgiving break, I paid a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Denver for the first time. Founded in 1996, the museum’s website describes itself as “an activator, content provider and immediate research vehicle of culture in the making — a museum without a front door — a place for public engagement.” That all sounds good, minus the front door bit. The best part of the building was without a doubt the front entrance, which is an imposing, Mordor-esque door which slowly begins to open as you approach. After that grand entrance, it’s a pleasant, well-lit, navigable space for art, designed by rising starchitect David Adjaye.

My favorite aspect of the museum was the Open Shelf Library (see image at right), a curatorial project where displaying artists fill a shelf with the objects that inspired their work. It is stuffed with books, study drawings, test materials, and other objects — a way of making the artistic process a little more transparent.

More photos after the jump. And more from C-Mon contributor Ben V over at Contemporary Art Truck.

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