Category: Conceptual

Photo Diary: The Venice Beach Biennial.

On the boardwalk: Case Study House Incense Burners, for the design-conscious stoner-intellectual. Definitely art. Or would that be architecture? (All photos by Celso + C-M.)

In a place as impossibly horizontal as L.A., it’s always nice to see the city’s highly centralized arts institutions leave their sinecures for some guerrilla activities at the fringes. For the first ever Venice Beach Biennial, the folks behind the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. biennial got a crew of more than 50 fine artists to go and set up some stalls amid the outdoor circus that is the Venice Beach boardwalk. I decided to forgo the map that was available at some stalls and just troll the boardwalk in a state of general cluelessness. This way, I could see how good I was at picking out the artsy fartsies from the run-of-the-mill weirdos.

I didn’t get to see everything, unfortunately. (I had a very important fish taco appointment with friends.) But what I did see convinced me that this is something that the city’s institutions should be doing more of: inserting art into the world, in ways that are confusing and disorienting. Most significantly, however, the whole exercise offered the very real convenience of conceptual art and patchouli in a single location — always a winner in my book.

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Calendar. 01.11.12.

This will be a tough piece to watch come together: Suzanne Lacey is doing a reprise of a 1977 work in which she tracked rapes in Los Angeles for a period of three weeks. This year, the artist, with the assistance of the LAPD, will do the same for the rest of the month of January. The L.A. Rape Map will come together in Deaton Auditorium at police headquarters in downtown as part of the Los Angeles Goes Live series of performance art exhibitions presented by LACE. Seems like a must-see to me. Get the details here. (Image courtesy of the artist and LACE.)

Biting the hand that feeds them: Find me at ARTnews.

Hey Folks:

I’ve got a feature in this month’s ARTnews on artists making art about the art world that often serves as a stinging critique of our little corner of human civilization. Covered in the piece are rants by William Powhida, installations by Jennifer Dalton, biennial pieces about biennials and my favorite: Joe Sola’s jump-out-the-window-during-studio-visits piece.

You can read the story online. Or, better yet, pick up the mag at your nearest newsstand.


Last Chance: Living as Form, on the Lower East Side.

Palas por pistolas, by Pedro Reyes, on the Lower East Side. (Photos by C-M.)

Like many people who live in New York City right now, Occupy Wall Street has occupied my mind. Like many people, I’ve been of a mixed mind about it. As has been repeated ad nauseum, there is no unifying message, no unifying issues, no unifying ethos. The protests’ goals are unclear. And the scene in Zucotti Park is a borderline circus, complete with naked-lady body painting, relentless bongo drumming and enough patchouli to gag an ox.

But as chaotic as the protests are, they have energized me — or something in me that has felt powerless before a power structure (Congress, corporations, the Koch brothers) that stacks the deck against people like myself. I’m a freelancer. I am almost 40 years old. I have almost no benefits to speak of and neither does my husband. I make less money now than I did five years ago — even though I work twice as hard. The prospect of an eventual retirement seems almost morbidly hilarious. I am, to be cliché, the 99%. Which is why I’ve supported the protests (I’ve made food donations), even if I don’t entirely know what they’re about and even if I’m not really the type to grab a sleeping bag and camp out. I also support the right of the protestors to remain firmly in place — as a noisy, irritating thorn in the side of an establishment that seems to care less and less about people like me.

All of these thoughts were consuming my brain as I paid a visit to the Living as Form exhibit in the abandoned Essex Street Market on Manhattan’s Lower East Side on Thursday. Organized by Creative Time’s chief curator Nato Thompson, the show is less a collection of aesthetic objects than a gathering of projects and project documentation that in some way speak to social action. In other words, this isn’t a show that is easy to look at. You’re not going to jet in and out and be blown away by some kaleidoscope of color or some highly photogenic installation.

Living as Form explores the ways in which many artists are engaging social issues in their work — whether its Pedro Reyes (see the image above), who collected guns and quite literally, transformed them into shovels, or Rick Lowe, who for a decade and a half, has dedicated himself to the community inhabiting a row of historic shotgun houses in Houston, a project that in every way imaginable functions like a traditional non-profit. There is a gripping video by Jeremy Deller, which recreates a historic encounter between union miners and the Thatcher government and a simple bookshelf, installed by the L.A. collective Finishing School, which displays books that have been branded “dangerous” under the Patriot Act. Some of these are obvious (The Anarchist Cookbook), others are downright befuddling (a tome about how to live off the land).

How is this art? Thompson says neither he nor the exhibit necessarily have the answer. The show is merely a way of exploring the way in which art plays a role in the lives of the many communities it inhabits. “It’s good to be aware that art isn’t universally regarded as a ‘good,’” says Thompson. “Talk to people on the Lower East Side and they might be, “I don’t want your art. I want affordable housing.” The show includes their voices, too (in the form of walking tours around the neighborhood). This may all feel a little unmoored, but that’s the point. It’s all part of the moment that we’re living in.

Living as Form will be on view through this weekend at the Historic Essex Market on the Lower East Side. Definitely go and check it out (and give yourself plenty of time when you do). Want to do a little more reading? Mira Schor has an essay on this very topic…

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Relentless Self-Promotion: On Studio 360 talking Asco.

Spraypaint LACMA, 1972. (Image courtesy of Harry Gamboa.)

Hey Folks:

I did a feature story on the L.A. Chicano art collective Asco for Studio 360 (complete with reference to Chihuahua skulls), tied to their big retrospective at LACMA. It’s my first big piece for Studio 360, so please have a listen!!


Where the ladies at?

In her new installation at the Winkleman Gallery, Jennifer Dalton picks apart the lack of female guests on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, among other programs. (Image courtesy of Dalton and the Winkleman Gallery.)

Jennifer Dalton’s latest exhibit began with an inkling. She was watching the Daily Show, in which some male guest was expounding at length about something when she realized she couldn’t remember the last time a woman had sat in that place. “I thought it was me, that I was just looking for that,” she says. “Then I went into the archives and I was like, ‘No fucking way.’” Dalton counted up all of the guests listed on the program’s online archives for all of 2010. During this time, 79% of the Daily Show‘s guests were men and only 21% were women.*

She then went and performed the same exercise on a bunch of her other favorite programs. All of them featured an overwhelming majority of male guests. The Colbert Report had a guest line-up that was 82.5% male. Charlie Rose came in at 80%. Bill Maher had 74%. And Rachel Maddow — Rachel effing Maddow! — featured dudes 80.5% of the time. Public radio fared somewhat better: Leonard Lopate‘s guests were male 66% of the time, while Brian Lehrer came in at 68%. Fresh Air, however, which is hosted by a woman, checks in with a low lady-guest ratio. More than 79% of Terry Gross’s guests are male. (Bands and other groups were counted as single guests, hence the fractionals.)

Dalton's "What does an important person look like?" (Click to supersize.)

“My gut is that it’s entropy,” says Dalton. “It makes me think that people are lazy. Like they’re just reblogging the same stuff.” The artist, who has previously charted the ways in which female cultural figures have been visually portrayed in the New Yorker (hint: cheesecake), has used this research to create new works for her latest solo show at the Winkleman Gallery. The central piece (shown at right) is devoted to the Daily Show, the program that spurred Dalton’s recent quest. In it, she has organized the guests by subject areas (authors, athletes, etc.) and placed the men in gold frames and the women in silver ones. The colors say it all.

Dalton says the piece was born of equal parts rage and glee. “These are heroes of mine and I think they’re doing really important work,” she explains of figures such as Stewart and Colbert. “But I just end up confused. It’s like are you with me or against me? I think of you as on my team, but maybe you don’t think of me as on your team?” She hopes that her work might get someone in some aspect of the media business to think a little bit more critically about what they do: “I would just love for these producers to be like, ‘Here’s a pile of women we rejected. Did we reject them too quickly?’” In order to do that, some of these programs might have to start by hiring a few more.

Jennifer Dalton: Cool Guys Like You opens today, at the Winkleman Gallery, in Chelsea.

*Update: Made a small correction to the Daily Show figures above. I previously had them as 78/22 male/female. The correct figures are actually 79/21.

**Further Super Duper Important Update (9/12 at 8:50pm): Some of the discussions I’ve seen on the internet about this piece suggest that Stewart’s male/female ratios are skewed towards men because he interviews so many political figures and most politicians are men. That is not the case. According to Dalton: only 18% of Daily Show guests are political figures. Of those 25 guests, only one was a woman (for a male/female ratio of 96/4). Just so you can draw some sort of comparison, the 111th Congress, which was in session when Dalton created the piece, was 17% female.

It’s actually authors and actors that make up the majority of Stewart’s guests — not political figures, as is frequently assumed. Together, these two arts-related categories make up 63% of the Daily Show‘s guests. And within these, the male-female breakouts remain nothing short of depressing. Of all the authors featured on the program in 2010, only 25% were female. Of all the actors, only 33% were women. In several categories (chefs, military figures, and filmmakers), the line-up was 100% male. Though, to be fair, he only featured one chef. What does this mean? It means that culture, as viewed through the Daily Show lens (as much as I love many parts of it), is heavily male. And don’t make me go to the gallery to count the minorities. ‘Cuz I’m sure that area is probably a hot mess, too.

Which brings to mind this delicious little video that Dalton recently Tweeted: Too Many Dicks on the Daily Show.

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: 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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