Expo Chicago: First Impressions (Ran Dian)

September 24, 2016

For those who haven’t been before, Chicago is singularly solid, clanking, and built-up; population-wise it ranks in the country’s top three, and in atmosphere it is certainly a Great American City. In the Chicago district near the Expo site, the subway crawls between the rectangular masses of buildings at second floor height, sporadically flashing blue sparks at them; thousands of office windows stare at each other.

The city’s art fair, Expo Chicago, this year in its fifth edition, is contrastingly light amid this overbearing environment. It is inside the Festival Hall on the Navy Pier, which stretches its pedestrian walkway out into Lake Michigan with a ferris wheel, restaurants and boat-tour docks; especially at night, it is a scene straight out of an architect’s rendering for public space. The fair occupies one floor of the Hall with (this year) a very manageable 145 galleries. The list shows no particular bias other than a majority of mid-level American galleries ranging from Chicago locals (for example, Corbett vs. Dempsey, The Mission, and Rhona Hoffman), to Minneapolis, San Francisco, and twelve that are based in LA. There is a small sprinkling of big names (David Zwirner, Daniel Templon, Paul Kasmin, Marlborough, Pace, Perrotin and Matthew Marks) and some edgier offerings from New York (Team Gallery, Bortolami, Maccarone, Salon 94), as well as a couple of engaging booths from further afield (The Breeder, Athens; GRIMM, Amsterdam). The layout is low key and linear, with a rather flat VIP area (in which Rashid Johnson’s works—wooden chairs with blocks of shea butter on their seats—stand awkwardly at neck-height on big white box plinths), and a lifeless (at least during the preview) magazines area along the back wall. The Editions and Books section at the other end is contrastingly good, if quite limited.

The general impression from the fair’s content is of a lot of highly colored painting—if not all of it bombastic, then much is still over-charged. What this does serve usefully to do is to make clear a small number of pieces that are really worth a close look; at least to this pair of eyes, there are some real treasures to be found, some of relatively modest size or status and which feel fairly unusual in the context of a fair. San Francisco’s Crown Point Press has a truly arresting etching from an edition of ten by Bruce Conner (“Dennis Hopper One Man Show Vol. III, Image VI”, 1971–73) in which tiny figures scale a snowy, mountainous landscape depicted in brilliant chiaroscuro. It takes some moments to notice eyes open in the jagged spine of rock running up the middle of the composition. At Alexander Gray Associates there is a metal sculpture by Melvin Edwards, “Good Friends in Chicago” (1972), with half oil-drum-shaped ends and slim trestle legs.

Melvin Edwards,

Melvin Edwards, “Good Friends in Chicago” (1972) at Alexander Gray Associates

Very surprising is the collection of Roy Lichtenstein work at Alden Projects’ booth which includes a flattened-out paper cup design, a “Foot Medication Poster” from 1963, and a framed patch of used wallpaper from 1968. Nearly 50 years later the foil is cracked, but the dots are resiliently intact. Seen at both Jane Lombard Gallery and Rhona Hoffman are works by Michael Rakowitz. At Jane Lombard, a mini-exhibition from the current series May the Obdurate Foe Not Stay in Good Health contains small works coupled with quotations and recollections. The objects, made from the packaging of Syrian foods imported to the US which are increasingly hard to buy in Syria, are reconstructions of artefacts destroyed, looted or at risk amid the civil war. This is an extension of the project “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist”, compiled in cooperation with the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and Interpol’s website, which in turn recreates objects stolen from the National Museum of Iraq after the US invasion in 2003. Not at a gallery but at the Chicago Conservation Center’s side booth is a large vertical graphite and oil wash drawing by Mauricio Lasansky. One of The Nazi Drawings (#19) made in the 1960s, its brutal composition appears gradually, with a naked figure attacked by the harshly-rendered bodies of birds, each a rash of hard lines.

Appealing among the technicolored paintings at the fair is Hernan Bas’s “Who the hell is Robert” (2016), which has a Vuillard feel (at Galerie Peter Kilchmann). Martin Wong’s work, too, is here with P.P.O.W from New York. James Cohan declined to bring any Xu Zhen, whose paintings from the cake-frosting-like series Under Heaven are by now an art fare staple, but did show two Anselm Kiefer works. Of these, “Untitled (Secret Life of Plants)” (2004) is absorbing, its foreground dominated by a deeply cracked clay surface while grey, boxlike towers lilt in the background to the right.

Expo Chicago falls this year at one of the most politically-charged moments in US history. The fair, doesn’t obviously register this—one might say “of course”—unless a proliferation of saturated paintings speaks of escapism. The sales, perhaps, will tell; or not. Meanwhile, the Trump Tower protrudes to a height of ninety-eight glassy floors, just up river.

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Magdalena Abakanowicz for one of the Expo Projects (Marlborough Gallery)

Magdalena Abakanowicz for one of the Expo Projects (Marlborough Gallery)

Michael Rakowitz at Rhona Hoffman

Michael Rakowitz at Rhona Hoffman


Lichtenstein “Foot Medication Poster” at Alden Projects

Mauricio Lasansky at the Chicago Conservation Center

Mauricio Lasansky at the Chicago Conservation Center

Richard Hamilton,

Richard Hamilton, “The Critic Laughs”, 1971-2 at Alan Koppel Gallery

Ren Ri's beeswax sculpture as part of the Projects, brought by Pearl Lam Galleries

Ren Ri’s beeswax sculpture as part of the Projects, brought by Pearl Lam Galleries

David Kordansky Gallery with works by Betty Woodman

David Kordansky Gallery with works by Betty Woodman

Martin Wong at P.P.O.W.

Martin Wong at P.P.O.W.

Hernan Bas at Galerie Peter Kilchmann

Hernan Bas at Galerie Peter Kilchmann

Anselm Kiefer at James Cohan

Anselm Kiefer at James Cohan

A detail of Bruce Conner,

A detail of Bruce Conner, “Dennis Hopper One Man Show Vol. III, Image VI” at Crown Point Press

Lichtenstein wallpaper at Alden Projects

Lichtenstein wallpaper at Alden Projects

New York Hit List: Futures, Lightness and Noir (Ran Dian, August 2016)

August 11, 2016

“Danny Lyon: Message to the Future”

Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014, USA), until Sept. 25, 2016

In about 1969, as he showed photographs he took in Colombian brothels five years earlier, Richard Avedon laid into the then-27-year-old Danny Lyon, asking “Who’s the real Danny Lyon? You photographed civil rights, you photographed prostitutes, you photographed bikers.” Moving through this meticulously hung exhibition of over 150 photographs and films shot by Lyon over his deeply committed career, one could see this attack, in hindsight, as a compliment. Lyon’s huge output is one propelled by a sense of empathy and responsibility to his subjects, which include the Civil Rights Movement (during which he was the photographer for the SNCC), inmates of American jails in the 1960s (shown on film as well as in photographs), motorcyclists in the American Midwest, Lower Manhattan before it was razed to make way for the financial district, street scenes, couples, kids and their dogs, Colombian urchins and rural people in Shanxi, China. Although every lens needs to be pointed, Lyon’s intense documentary impulse serves almost to dissolve one’s sense of his presence. This is an immersive and raw purview that absorbs one in a multitude of small frames.

Danny Lyon,

Danny Lyon, “Shakedown at Ellis Unit, Texas, 1968?, vintage gelatin silver print, 21.6 × 31.3 cm. Museum of Modern Art. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

“MoholyNagy: Future Present”

Guggenheim Museum (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY, USA), until Sept. 7, 2016

Another future-titled exhibition, this large retrospective of László MoholyNagy’s oeuvre, as is customary for Guggenheim exhibitions, attracted comments about the selection of works and what might be missing from it. To the non-scholarly eye, however, this is more than a sufficient introduction to the priorities and energy of the Bauhaus professor who died in Chicago aged 51. The compositions on show are hugely enjoyable, and extend through geometric paintings and a series of deft photographic collages. A stern photograph of Moholy-Nagy from his 1930 “Declaration of Intention” supports the seriousness of his vision—but there is a distinctly playful spirit evident from the works, too.

La?szlo? Moholy-Nagy,

La?szlo? Moholy-Nagy, “A II (Construction A II)”, oil and graphite on canvas, 115.8 × 136.5 cm, 1924. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection 43.900 © 2016 Hattula Moholy-Nagy/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“Lauretta Vinciarelli: Light Unveiled”

Totah (183 Stanton Street, New York, NY 10002), until Sept. 18, 2016

At Totah, a relatively new commercial gallery established by the collector David Totah on Stanton Street in the Lower East Side, there is a memorable exhibition of watercolors by Lauretta Vinciarelli. The late artist’s mastery of her medium is singularly impressive, put towards beautifully subtle renditions of mostly cuboid shapes suspended in a gentle warm and cool palate of emerald greens and shades of orange and blue. The iterative impulse that plays out here is testimony to Vinciarelli’s architectural background (she taught at a number of schools including Pratt and Colombia in New York, and was married to Harvard architecture professor Peter Rowe); meanwhile, the minimal urge behind these paintings speaks in part to her personal and working relationship with Donald Judd, whose complete writings, incidentally, have just been republished.

Lauretta Viciarelli,

Lauretta Viciarelli, “Suspended in Green (A7)”, watercolor on paper, 70.8 x 56.5 cm, 2005.

Pei Li: “Greater New York”

Klein Sun Gallery (525 West 22nd Street New York, NY 10011, USA), until August 19, 2016

Those who saw a sombre installation based on Pei Li’s grandfather’s abandonment of the bonsais he had been tending for twenty years at Taikang Space in 2010 (#9 in the 51m2 exhibition series) will recognize the use of containers of ink combined with sound or vibration in the current exhibition. But the highlight here is a video called “The Moles” in which Pei recounts life with a pet dog who eases her depression. Loneliness, vulnerability, intimacy and the mundanity of daily life are mixed together humbly in this short narrative filmed using a camera attached to the scruff of the dog’s neck; Pei’s themes have not changed, then, but her mood appears lightened in this new work.

Pei Li,

Pei Li, “The Moles”, video still, 2016


Simuvac Projects (99 Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222, USA), until Sept. 4, 2016

Ivy Haldeman’s “Pulp” at the four-shows-deep Simuvac Projects in Greenpoint is arguably one of the best solo exhibitions of the year so far. Haldeman’s first individual outing in New York, it has a brilliantly strong aesthetic using a limited number of elements, namely a “hotdog lady” clad in a soft yolk-colored bun, her high-heeled pumps, and open books pressed beneath tapering pink fingertips. Through a range of poses, Haldeman paints a strange icon fusing tenderness, grace, and disgust in ways that only an intersex anthropomorphic snack at leisure could. Drawing on memories of her grandfather’s takeaways from the plastic factory where he worked, taxidermy, and the physical attitudes of a tired female figure reworked by a procession of artists throughout history but who is now to be found softly reading, the paintings in “Pulp” occupy a supple world of their own.

Ivy Haldeman,

Ivy Haldeman, “Full Figure, Sitting, Hand Pulls Back Bun to Reveal Thigh, Fingers Splayed on Open Book”, acrylic on linen, 24” x 18”, 2016

Danny Lyon,

Danny Lyon, “Weight lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas, 1968?, vintage gelatin silver print. Collection of the artist. © Danny Lyon, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

“Moholy-Nagy: Future Present”, installation view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Lauretta Vinciarelli,

Lauretta Vinciarelli, “Incandescent Frames (Study 2)”, watercolor on paper, 57 x 38 cm, 1998.

Pei Li,

Pei Li, “The Moles”, video still, 2016

Ivy Haldeman, Ivy Haldeman, “Pulp”, installation view at Simuvac Projects

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In Character (Ran Dian, July 2016)

July 21, 2016

Song Ta: How is the Weather?

Practice, New York

Jun 30–Jul 10, 2016

smallroom_closeupHere, Song presents his calligraphy along with three pen drawings and one exam paper (not his) with a perfect score that is suspended from the ceiling in the middle of a room. Ho King’s thoughtful installation shouldn’t go unnoticed: twists of electrical cable under display screens were deliberately left visible to echo the movement of written characters; in playful acknowledgement of the suggestion that expert calligraphers are  learned in general while less is expected of those who draw well, Song was encouraged to show his cartoons of animals. With simple black line, these deliver a flair for shape and his enjoyment of the demeanors of creatures.The calligraphy (shown mostly as digital images) inscribes unrelated fragments—”Rotate resize select paste drag into wind crab by the street eat what what”—and copies quotations (from Mao Zedong’s “A Little Spark Can Kindle a Great Fire” or the great “wild grass” calligrapher Huai Su’s Autobiography (Zixu Tie)) or other extracts as an excuse to practice writing. That no reason was given for the choice of texts contributed to a certain feeling of detachment around the display—a lack of context (or the need for it) that in some way echoed the mood of its name.

“Perhaps the only decent calligrapher in Mainland China in the past two decades” was Song’s idea for a title. Equipped with this attitude and a trove of gawky, unbalanced, sprawling characters, he put up what could be called a “bad calligraphy” show after Marcia Tucker’s now-historic 1978 exhibition “Bad Painting” at the nearby New Museum, which asserted a positive, liberal attitude to the mixing of art historical references. But while “Bad Painting” featured “artists who consciously reject traditional concepts of draftsmanship in favor of personal styles of figuration” as Song does for his characters—this is certainly a tease aimed at the calligraphy establishment—Tucker also felt the bad painters’ work bypassed aesthetic progress as a goal affecting the determination of value. While his writing is irreverent, Song would like his pieces to be considered and properly appreciated (indeed, he invites their “review”, and the exhibition includes a video of a child remarking on his writing and comments from an artist friend who responded with her own calligraphy). For him, to entertain this calligraphy would be a step forward, though it’s not clear whether he wants this for himself alone, or the discipline in general; again, Song’s sphere of reference is only minimally sketched.

His approach might more simply be a “deskilling” of his own. The term was first used in hindsight (by Ian Burns in his essay “The Sixties: Crisis and Aftermath (Or the Memoirs of an Ex-Conceptual Artist)” in Art & Text in 1981) to appraise artists like Seurat in the late 19th century who invested new energy in their work partly by fritting away at the idea of virtuosity (in so doing, in a sense “de-historicizing their art”); in this lay the kernel of fine art’s challenge by industry and the consequent turn against manual as opposed to machinic or “readymade” effects—one deepened by the possibilities of photography. There followed the self-conscious rejection of technical drawing and other skills at many western art schools.

Though his anti-academic stance is nothing if not low-key, Song clearly has no interest in emulating master calligraphers or perpetuating formalism. Then again, neither do his scrawlings here suggest a path away from the individual hand— quite the opposite. He seems quietly confident, and like a lot of his work, these writings harbor a certain scorn clad in deadpan humor and an inclination to simply do something, and share the results. Song’s amiable, “dysfunctional” characters are thus very much in-character—they best convey an art of attitude, the hopes of which begin and end in the moment of making.

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Larry Bamburg (Art in America, May 2016)

May 19, 2016

Larry Bamburg: TalctoTile, PL’d to MDO

Simone Subal, New York

Feb 14 – Mar 20, 2016

LB-TalctoTileTower, from a unstable foundation_1

A saccharine, minty scent greeted visitors to Larry Bamburg’s solo exhibition. It emanated from three large, weighty, pastel-colored forms standing on the floor, two centrally placed so that viewers could walk around them, and one positioned to the left against the wall. These sculptures, from Bamburg’s “TalctoTile” series (all works 2016), were composed by stacking four-inch-thick layers of bathroom tiles (some oriented frontally, as on a wall, and some side-on) and handmade soap. Each work is topped with a piece of raw talc, the shape of which dictated the contours of the layers beneath it.

TalctoTile PL’d to MDO, shown in Pink might remind one of topographic models of hills, while TalctoTileTower, from a unstable foundation has the look of a strange, leaning, six-foot-tall pink cake. The colors of the tiles and the soap mimic the tones of the talc, so that the works are solid masses of pale pink, yellow, or green. Each of the sculptures bears a range of textures, from the smooth, clean surfaces of the tiles at the base to the central portion of soft, greasy soap to the dry craggy formation of talc at the top. Bamburg made the soap with tallow, lard, and different animal fats. I was told by gallery staff that TalctoTileTower, from a unstable foundation is “three cows’ worth.” A framed sketch for that work highlights those slaughterhouse origins in a scrawled inscription: “meat glue.”

According to the press release, these works began with Bamburg’s interest in the unresolved relationship between an original and its copy. The show included a series of color studies of a cross-section of a mulberry tree. A piece of bark was encased in a wall-hung vitrine. Framed photographs of the same bark appeared alongside it, and color charts were hung beneath them. Analogously, the “TalctoTile” sculptures echo the outline of a piece of mineral without copying it precisely. Yet it’s hard to see the soap works merely as formal experiments in copying, given the sensory associations with domestic and private experiences and Bamburg’s playful twists on form and meaning. The sculptures’ minty smell conjures memories of bathing, cosmetics stores, and hotel bathrooms. SeasShellSoap, shown in Peppermint takes the shape of a giant clam shell, as if to parody conventional molded soaps. The fatty texture of soap dimples when coerced into a sculptural body, rather like human skin. Bamburg’s use of FDA-approved dyes makes the works safe for domestic use, as if such a function were necessary now. While bathroom tiles usually line interiors, Bamburg places them on exteriors. The physical memory of such tiles as markers of a private enclosure is turned inside out in these public objects.

TalctoTire, shown in Black—a dirty pile of old tires, trash bags, acrylic sheeting, and other detritus—was positioned in a corner, and visitors would most likely have noticed it only on their way out of the gallery. It left a black smear on the wall behind it. An antithesis to the clean, benign forms that otherwise pervaded the exhibition, the work suggests that the mild horror attending them—and not just a play with concepts of original and copy—is indeed part of the artist’s intention.

Justin Berry (Art Review, May 2016)

May 15, 2016

Justin Berry: Photographs

Essex Flowers, New York

4 March – 10 April 2016


For some years, Justin Berry has been shooting landscapes from within videogames. The ten photographs in this exhibition (all but one in black and white) have each been stitched together from 100 or more high-resolution shots taken while playing a first-person-shooter game. Using the game’s built-in camera, Berry takes the photographs at moments when his player’s weapon is lowered, leaving an unobstructed view of the surrounding environment. The pictures include scenes of human settlement (sometimes ruined) in rural settings, natural vistas (for example a path through trees with majestic mountains ahead) and land- scapes seen through simple courtyard buildings in a vaguely oriental style. People are visible in only two of the photographs: one is barely noticeable, while in Perch (all works 2016), a figure sitting atop a wall is a focal point in the composition.

Printed in a square format and simply framed, the photographs are of modest size. Berry could easily have presented large images in the high-definition his method affords, but it’s not his intention to immerse the viewer in a given scene; his chosen scale instead invites one to contemplate the landscapes as contexts in relation to our own. Their scenes are fairly still, lacking the more ominous feel of Berry’s earlier works, such as Tail Wind or Last Palm (both 2012, not on show), in which waving palms in heavy jungle evoke a sense of impending drama or threat reminiscent of Apocalypse Now (1979). The most visually effective work (and the poster image for the show) is Cap, in which a rocky outcrop is seen partially covered by drifts of snow that contrast powerfully with its dark layers. The dense textural detail and striking chiaroscuro between snow and graphitecoloured rock add up to a rewarding image.

It is not part of Berry’s design to include any element of trickery or trompe l’oeil in the production of these photographs. In a spirit of experimentation, he produces images that tread an undetectable line between submission and suspicion in the eye of the viewer. In these landscapes, he tests photographic conventions, a certain artworld discomfort reserved for virtual reality and digitally generated work, and what can only be described as a human urge to fully understand what is seen. Berry challenges one’s suspension of disbelief, which in a videogame is offered willingly but becomes brittle when presented with these frozen scenes IRL (‘in real life’). Here one is compelled to figure the scenes out by minutely examining their nonreality.

This tension between belief in the imagery and a rejection of it as unreal is most effectively staged in the contrast between More or Less, an enticingly natural alpine scene under dappled light, and Perch, which confronts one with an obviously fake figure. Through the virtual landscapes he shoots in acute detail, Berry explores ill-defined territory between perception, interpretation, expectation and dismissal – in his own words, seeking ‘to look at the virtual world with the same kind of steady gaze one applies to the real world’. The photographs are arguably addressed to that most human satisfaction in naming what is, and what isn’t, and serve to question the com- pulsion for such ‘knowing’ in this day and age. Humour, too, features in what could be a sardonic reaction to attitudes that take the ‘real’ seriously while dismissing the virtual (according to the press release, ‘in order to get the pictures he wanted, Justin Berry had to kill more than one person’). This ongoing series signals a personal quest upon which he has embarked through the conventions of imagemaking and interpretation. It questions why landscape photography should be insulated from the glare reserved for everyday reality.

A Scratching Not a Biting (Art Review, Mar 2016)

March 15, 2016

A Scratching Not a Biting

Bureau, New York

10 January 10 – 14 February 14 2015


The words ‘A Scratching Not a Biting’ evoke wilful action and physical sensation. Picture a dog scratching purposefully at the ground, creating both a performance and a visible mark. ‘Not a biting’ suggests an avoidance of direct aggression, however; despite their expressive or sensual tenor, the works in this exhibition – which encompass performance (captured on video), painting, sculpture and photography – don’t force their presence or stray far from a sense of humour or self-effacement.

Like that scratching dog, the motivation behind Aaron Garber-Maikovska’s movements in the video Kitchen (2011) remains unclear. Nonetheless, the fervent gestures he performs in a nondescript kitchen are highly compelling. He homes in on the bare countertop, slapping it with his palms, plotting swiftly with his fingertips and bouncing his hands as if follow- ing an invisible plan, almost as if the surface were hot to the touch. In this wordless demonstration one senses that the strength and determination of his actions, which flow without pause, are born not of forethought but of an obsessive compulsion he has come to accept and to use. These movements appear refined by the force of habit and repetition; the sound of his gasps and short breaths adds to this atmosphere of urgency and dynamism.

Garber-Maikovska’s performance is echoed nicely in three of his ink-and-pastel compositions (all 2015), whose coloured patches and black swipes testify to the energy that drives his artistic  output. Two oil paintings by Charlie Billingham, Strike 1 and Strike 2 (both 2015), express a similar expressive force, though this time it is contained within the subject matter and its implicit narrative: in each painting a figure in profile, the head and legs of which have been strangely cropped, hugs its torso tightly, giving off an air of stubborn anticipation; the paintings are hung next to each other so that the figures appear to be standing back-to-back. What looks like a truncheon is thrust beneath their arms, and the unruly, outdated clothing combined with a certain cartoonish handling implies that these are characters culled from nineteenth-century satirical drawings. The paintings are compelling not least for this unusual air of anachronism and the swapping of colours between them: denied any background context, one figure wears a blue shirt and is placed against an emerald green field; the other sports a shirt of the same green against a background of the matching blue.

The work of the other three artists in the show is loosely conversant in a different way. Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel work together, often learning a new craft technique for the purpose of making something as a combined effort. Their humbly titled Stoneware Mural with Pipes No. 2 (2015) is an uncanny piece. From a roughly two-metre-wide landscape panel composed of fired ceramic tiles in varying shades of yellow and light brown protrude ten curved or comically straight-stemmed pipes attached to the tiles by their bowls. Their placement is odd,  and without apparent reason, reminding one perhaps of crustaceans that have affixed themselves to a sea wall. They point across the room towards two sculptures, demurely titled Stoneware Vessels (2013), also by Dewar and Gicquel, which are modelled on a toilet bowl and bidet. The wall flanking the Stoneware Vessels displays two untitled photographs by Carina Brandes, in each of which two naked figures recline and slide over a bronze bear statue. Slightly blurred, the people strive to cling to the polished, rounded body of the animal (a form slightly echoing the Vessels), while each person’s gender is kept hidden. We see only their forms in profile, torsos curled over with their behinds facing each other (echoing Billingham’s figures), or holding on by the hips, legs bent with hair falling over their faces. One detects a deliberate play by the exhibition’s organisers here between phallic pipes, bathroom-related sculptures and these slippery, noir-ish bodies.

In tune with its title, which conveys expressive curiosity over conclusive action, A Scratching Not a Biting assembles a group of works that might at first seem ambiguous in their intentions. As one explores the show, however, subtle connections – between figures who don’t face each other, for example, the shapes of bathroom ware and bodies, or move- ments exacted on a kitchen surface or canvas – reveal simultaneously the strength of each artist’s work and an intriguing cadence of sensations among them.

The Setting is Paramount (Randian, Feb 2016)

February 5, 2016

Of the reports that bounded online after the first day of Paramount Ranch last weekend, little was said in criticism. They focus on the unusual character of this small fair, in which participating galleries position artworks around an old wooden ranch hiding in the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles County. Artspace found it “uniquely pleasant”; Artnet credited it with being “free-spirited” and for “putting a fresh spin on the format”; W with satisfaction called it the “wild west of art fairs”. A less impressed gallerist there said, “People just like coming to LA”. Paul McCarthy’s giant green inflatable “Tree”, visible from the road, penetrated the vista disproportionally to signal the fair’s presence and provide amusing photo opportunities.

A view of Paramount Ranch art fair.A view of Paramount Ranch art fair.

The ranch and surrounding site was purchased by Paramount Studios in 1927, and, though it is now largely defunct as a film set, is part of a national park and available for weddings, birthdays, photography and, for the past three years, this boutique two-day art fair. Paramount Ranch is precisely as one would imagine or might remember from swashbuckling movies, with shabby wooden doors, a saloon bar, barns, a corral and smaller wooden huts with signs like “mining equipment” in large, weather-beaten print on the paneled façade. The eponymous fair is precisely the opposite of all the fairs you might have attended—their primed white panels forested inside in yawning exhibition centers and glowing translucent tents (Art LA Contemporary, or ALAC, also last weekend, happens in an airplane hangar in Santa Monica, but inside, the global-standard booths remain). At Paramount, gallerists were nonetheless encouraged not to let new holes mark the wooden walls, though existing nails helped. Visitors traipsed flatly between wooden shacks containing fresh’n’edgy works of art. Some galleries had played effectively to the setting, like Freddy (Baltimore), with snake sculptures by Puppies Puppies laid on hay bales; paintings by Liao Guohe were both striking and popular in BANK’s (Shanghai) wooden room, and Mendes Wood DM (São Paolo) did well to place a silver oil paint on bronze sculpture of a half-collapsed, bolted metal form by Paolo Monteiro on the porch of the “barbershop”. Elsewhere there were good and bad works, those that failed being the ones that were less distracting than the setting they were found in, or those that would look brash or insecure anywhere. A pleasing inclusion was an open, on paper auction of small pieces produced by artists at the experimental High Desert Test-Sites project in California.

High Desert Test-Sites, Gem/Mineral Expo and Painted Rock Auction, Paramount RanchHigh Desert Test-Sites, Gem/Mineral Expo and Painted Rock Auction, Paramount Ranch

Claire Barrow and Reba Maybury,

Claire Barrow and Reba Maybury, “Fish Wifes”, installation at Paramount Ranch (Shoot the Lobster, New York)

Paramount Ranch, of which this was the third and apparently last edition (the founders are busy elsewhere), is an idea hatched between the artist Pentti Monkkonnen, his partner Liz Craft, and the gallerists Alex Freedman and Robbie Fitzpatrick, who relocated from Berlin to LA and opened Freedman Fitzpatrick gallery there in 2013. “It’s relaxing,” some visitors were heard to remark of the atmosphere, which included pet dogs and coffee sold from a trestle table to the tune of a buzzing generator (the Flash Art café still had a macrobiotic sushi plate mimicking the design of the mag’s current Issey Miyake cover, thanks to the artist and now Flash Art special projects coordinator Cyril Duval). Yet the stalking presence of a number of famous bodies—Stefan Simchowitz (the New York Times called him the art world’s Patron Satan) shaking the hand of Art Rank founder Carlos Rivera, the prolific LA collector Dean Valentine, Jeffrey Deitch (recently re-installed in New York as a commercial gallerist) and the German über-gallerist Johann Koenig surely meant that such a sensation was merely a thin veil—at least for the dealers involved. The Ranch setting felt like just that—a stage set, and it was weird indeed. Paramount Ranch seemed a perfect embodiment of the art world’s inclination—and continuing license—to ask not “why?”, but “why not?” Deconstruct it and they will come.

Paramount Ranch

Paramount Ranch

Works by Keiichi Tanaami at Karma International (LA/Zurich)

Works by Keiichi Tanaami at Karma International (LA/Zurich)

Works by Camille Henrot at Konig Gallery (Berlin)

Works by Camille Henrot at Konig Gallery (Berlin)

Sculpture by Paolo Monteiro at Mendes Wood DM (Sao Paolo)

Sculpture by Paolo Monteiro at Mendes Wood DM (Sao Paolo)

A view of Real Fine Arts'

Real Fine Arts’ “booth” at Paramount Ranch

Installation by Maggie Lee at Real Fine Arts (New York)

Installation by Maggie Lee at Real Fine Arts (New York)

Works by Chuck Nanney at Jenny's (LA)

Works by Chuck Nanney at Jenny’s (LA)


Rachel Rose (Art Review, Jan/Feb 2016)

February 4, 2016

Rachel Rose: Everything and More

Whitney Museum of American Art

Oct 30, 2015 – Feb 7, 2016

Installation view of Rachel Rose: Everything and More (October 30, 2015–February 7, 2016). Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

Installation view of Rachel Rose: Everything and More (October 30, 2015–February 7, 2016). Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

Everything and More is a new 11.5 minute video by Rachel Rose. A plush black carpet laid in front of the screen is reverently avoided by most visitors who choose to stand or perch on the bench along the back wall – perhaps better to bask in the gently enveloping imagery that Rose has put together to achieve something between collage and a “universal” narrative.

Watching Everything and More entails a subtle cocktail of seduction and dread. It is a sumptuous piece of work, with footage of colourful liquids accompanying descriptions of space travel heard in the voiceover, which is taken from an interview with astronaut David Wolf, among whose recollections are the sensation of no up or down and colours he had never seen before. Wolf wonders too if he had ruined his life by leaving Earth.

Rose’s imagery is not as remote as outer space seems to most of us. Much of it is rendered close-up and viscous (she achieved many of the video’s effects by mixing different oils and pigments herself and then shooting them). Also shown is footage of a neutral buoyancy lab, which is used to train astronauts. We waver below and on the surface of the water, and see a craft submerged at the bottom of the pool; bubbles rise through an intense blue environment of crisp, HD colour. Back amid the equipment around the edge of the training pool the camera swoons up to a pure white space suit, the image of which begins to split into sliding prismatic fragments; we look out through its facial shield into the oily galaxies again. Later in the video come pop-sublime shots panning a rock-concert crowd, which is moving ecstatically in slow motion and tinted in red as if in a darkroom. Quivering, soulful strains of a female voice siphon up at times, lending spiritual lift and a sense of poetic abstraction to the visual sequence.

There is a degree of trust required to commit one’s eyes and attention to any video piece. Rose is a good researcher and adept at fusing direct, research-based footage with that which is more purely aesthetic – here there are facts but also visual persuasion. To date her work has investigated life, death and purposefulness. Outer space represents a uniquely and universally compelling subject for human beings: a combination of mortality and the unknown, according to Mike Massimino, another astronaut who spoke recently in New York of his experiences. There is an undertone of mortality in Everything and More, as well as wonderment about whether any individual life is essentially important, or meaningless, like a rush of images that will be recalled by few and lost, just as Rose’s slipping marbled liquids are wiped away quickly.

Watching Everything and More is at once disorientating and soothing. In the intense work it must have taken to make this short piece, one senses a channelling of anxiety. Rose has found ways to make things vivid for herself, and in turn, for us. She matches the dark fascination of her subject matter with visual and aural analogs, conveying that fascination without being overbearing. The result is a work of memorable creative presence tied to the unending threat of human absence.

Tamuna Sirbiladze (Art in America, Jan 2016)

January 14, 2016

Tamuna Sirbiladze: “good enough” is never good enough

James Fuentes, New York

Oct 13–Nov 8, 2015


Tamuna Sirbiladze’s oilstick and pastel works give an impression of movement first and a vague sense of representation second. Six such pieces from 2015, all done on unprimed canvas and all but one sharing the same large dimensions (76¾ by 114 inches), made up her clean and orderly show. Thanks to the focused selection and an even installation, the works projected their energetic content clearly and forcefully into the room.

“‘Good enough’ is never good enough” follows the artist’s well-received New York solo debut at Half Gallery earlier this year. That show, titled “Take it Easy,” featured walls painted with dense swipes of jungle green. Earlier exhibitions in Vienna and London also experimented with presentation, sometimes leaning works against each other or hanging them over windows so that light shone through the canvas. At James Fuentes, however, the display was pared down to white-cube convention, limiting expressive potential to the works themselves, rather than allowing any flourish or idiosyncrasy in their placement.

Breaking the waves was perhaps the most striking among them. Areas colored broadly with bright yellow pastel accompany long royal blue strokes and open-ended shapes. Sirbiladze’s line is spare; abundant, creamy negative space supports the gentle diagonal flow of marks anchored by dishlike forms. Gray has been used for brief wavy lines at the top, and for the suggestion of a human form cradled amid the blue and yellow strokes. Nipples faintly appear on two of the gray lines that are emphasized by repeated drawing, unlike most of the other lines, which are made by single gestures that are not revisited. To the right there is an intimation of a head with an arm outlined below it. Analyzing the components of these pieces, however, takes away their enchanting quality. As a whole, breaking the waves is replete with movement and flow, delivered by sparing means.

These works could have easily slipped into decoration, as earlier series by Sirbiladze arguably have. But they maintain a consistent force in their abstraction. The suggestion of a face, for example, in Andre Breton is allowed to surface as a sinister, partially concealed pair of eyes in a dense field of swooping and glancing lines. Elsewhere, the viewer could notice distinct variances among the six works, from broadly lilting, rounded lines to rapid crosshatching, evocative of the different tempos at which the works were made. In double/one who meant one one of the time, the texture of the piece’s wooden stretcher was deliberately exposed by rubbing the pastel over the canvas surface. In which it is whether they went with it, too, registers the aggression of the artist’s gestures. It is also the most figurative, with the curves and genitalia of a female body visible.

“’Good enough’ is never good enough” was a convincing and consistent exhibition. These canvases harbor a memorable charge. Highly expressive, but nonetheless measured, they convey a clear and personal sense of artistic purpose.

Read it in Art in America

Justin Adian (Art Review, Dec 2015)

December 5, 2015

Justin Adian: Fort Worth

Skarstedt, New York

10 September – 24 October 2015

Adian___5682_30These paintings by Justin Adian, part of a series he has been working on since roughly 2010  (all works here are from 2015), are pitched at an unusual point between the look of Minimalism or hard-edge painting and an evocative ripeness that is Adian’s own.

The paintings – for this is what they are, according to the artist, despite turgid volumes protruding some 7 – 12 centimeters from the wall in a sculptural fashion – are made  by enveloping foam shapes in heavy canvas, placing them with other shapes and slapping oil-based enamel paint on them. Most of the works marry two components together, though one (Slip It In) has seven parts, another four (Fortune Teller). Their flat color, unbroken shapes and level depth is reminiscent of the work of artists who have in?uenced Adian, among them Ellsworth Kelly. A subtle balance is struck between individual shapes, which have been carefully cut and thoughtfully combined, and the more organic puckering of canvas over bodies of spongy material.  The paint, applied last, in the main creates smooth, glossy surfaces, but it has also been allowed to pool slightly and congeal in some of the seams where two shapes nudge against each other, creating minor elastic textures in the cracks. One has the impression of works that are principled, but not purist in their execution.

Even without prior knowledge that this series is inspired by the artist’s Texas hometown, which lends the show its name, the paintings collectively deliver an atmosphere of place or locale. This might be traced to different aspects of the show. The works, in  the way that they bring different shapes into relation with each other, adhering physically,  so as to seem both intimate and pleasantly incongruous (in a manner almost anthropomorphic in some cases, and often emotive  when seen alongside their titles, for example Slow Goodbye or Outfeel), amount to a conversant community of forms. In terms of color and texture, the show has undertones of machinery, perhaps shiny automobiles, or blatant signage. There is a feeling of continuum between the works, which were designed specifically for this gallery space and show, as if each were a moment in a broader narrative.

Adian’s practice to date has drawn inspiration from books and music as well as stories or specific memories of his own life. A solo exhibition at Skarstedt in London last year was accompanied by short stories he had written. The works on show in New York lack such an accompaniment, but when combined with their titles, they retain a certain air of unselfconscious, low-fi poetry that upholds a consistent character. Names such as Orange Crush, Shoot Out and Valley High are almost Pop – certainly not esoteric – and convey a sense of freedom beyond the works’ careful formal decisions.

It is clear that Adian finds fulfilment in the continuation of this long-running series. Although the works presented here were completed within a short period, one has from them a sense of nourishment and purpose, rather than quick assemblage. Fort Worth is a show that instils confidence.