Work in Progress: Armory Show 2015

The Armory Show, Piers 94 and 92, New York, March 5-8, 2015

The Armory Show, New York’s long-running annual “local” art fair, reliably draws the city’s collectors to its Contemporary and (smaller) Modern sections on Piers 94 and 92, conveniently close to the affluent Upper West Side; a few foreign visitors were to be seen, though not many (a situation not helped by snow sweeping the city, which delayed some arrivals), at the crowded opening on Wednesday. For New York galleries, the Armory is the fair one feels obliged to attend, whilst Frieze, the powerful British contemporary art fair which launched its annual New York edition in May 2012, has the competitive edge for excitement, more experimental art and internationalism.

There is a degree of tension between the two, and a high number of galleries—local and foreign—plan to attend both. New York names can be fairly sure of selling to their American collectors at the Armory, and visiting galleries may have decided to return to it having developed a client group in New York. Decorative painting is prevalent, mostly of an accessible size. That said, the Armory Presents section, featuring younger and more experimental galleries, is certainly strong—a compact and engaging cluster at the back of the hall this year. The curated Focus section in 2014 featured Chinese galleries, and this year turns an eye to the (rather broad) “MENAM” area—Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean. The feel is flown-in; despite last year’s theme, only two Chinese galleries featured in the fair this year—recurring participant Tang Contemporary and MadeIn Gallery in the Armory Presents camp.

Sales reports seem thus far to be “okay”, in general, with some galleries having slightly surpassed their expectations. Running parallel to the figures, however, is a sometimes dogged will to keep at it and continue to present at the Armory, which in recent years has made serious efforts (and developments) in its programming in a bid to gain traction. Lawrence Abu Hamdan is the 2015 commissioned artist with audio and installation work—a choice reflecting the fair’s good ambitions (though his souvenir silver crisp packets – part of the sound research project “A Convention of Tiny Movements”—may not have made much more impact on many visitors than as a slightly puzzling free snack). Meanwhile, satellite fairs including Independent (in Chelsea) and Volta have claimed significant attention, making this a busy week for all concerned.

Philipp von Rosen Galerie

Eleven Rivington

Jack Shainman Gallery

Federica Schiavo Gallery

One and J Gallery

James Harris Gallery

James Cohan

MadeIn Gallery

Kavi Gupta

Pi Artworks

VIPs and Lawrence Abu Hamdan's potato crisp packets on opening day.

Visitors on Saturday

Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

Alexander and Bonin

Andersen's Contemporary

Blain Southern

Brennan & Griffin

Buchmann Galerie

CRG Gallery

Galerie Laurent Godin

Opening view

Opening view

Opening view

Aanant & Zoo / Galerie Thomas Schulte

China Residencies Interview with Brendan Earley

Brendan Earley (b1971) is an Irish artist who lives and works in Wicklow, Ireland. After graduating from NCAD with first class honours, Earley spent a number of years travelling before receiving the Fulbright scholarship to attend Hunter College, New York City. He graduated with a Masters in Fine Art in 1999, and returned to Dublin where he exhibits regularly. He is represented by mother’s tankstation. Earley completed a residency at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing, and Iona Whittaker caught up with him over email to learn more about his time there.

China Residencies: What sparked your interest in China?

Brendan Earley:  Really, my interest in China has been always there but not necessarily in the foreground. An entity its sheer size has meant that one cannot help noticing it, but for most of my early life China was a closed society, so I suppose my interest has been a slow development. Although I do remember that an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at PS1 in 1998 [“Inside Out: New Chinese Art”, September 1998–January 1999] really focused my interest on its contemporary culture.

CR: How did you hear about the residency?

BE: Finola Jones introduced me to Karon Seiz in New York at the Armory art fair in 2011, and the invitation to participate in the residency at Urs Meile Gallery came out of that meeting. She had seen some work Mother’s Tankstation [Earley’s gallery in Ireland] brought to Liste fair the year before and felt that I would gain from experiencing China first hand.

CR: Did you go with a specific project idea in mind, or were you looking for inspiration on the spot?

BE: I really didn’t have any specific project in mind. I feel that one of the most important things a residency can provide for an artist is new experience, so I went to Beijing with expectations – to be as open to things as one could.

CR: Tell us a bit about the project(s) you worked on while you were there.

BE: The project as such came out of an offer of exhibiting in the galleries. The decision was made quite late in the day, but it was too good an opportunity as the exhibition spaces in the gallery are wonderful – big and challenging. They also seemed the complete antithesis of the chaos I found outside in the immediate area. Caochangdi is a very ad hoc, hectic urban space.

CR: Did your work or practice change significantly as a result of  your time in China?

BE: Yes it did. However, it is hard to pin point when it happened. Shortly after I came back from Beijing, my family and I moved to a new home in the mountains just south of Dublin. I even moved out of my studio in the city and have built a small one at the bottom of the garden here. So after many years of living in an urban environment and the intense creative time of Beijing, I find myself in a wholely different environment with new challenges.

CR: How involved are the organizers with the resident’s daily life?

ER: I found that the people who ran the residency extremely helpful but stayed out of the way which, once I was set up, let me get on with my work.

CR: Did you have a show? Did you give lectures or classes during your time there? If yes, tell us more!

BE: Yes, I had a show just after the residency; but I think that this is not automatically so. Alas, I did not lecture in Beijing – there was the language barrier. As a part-time lecturer here in Ireland I would have like to see how art is taught in China to make some comparisons.

Brendan Ealey’s exhibition “In the Midnight City” [Courtesy: Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne]

CR:  If there were other artists around while you were there, what were they like? Did collaborations occur?

BE: No. No collaborations happened; it’s not something I really go looking for. But I got to meet many Chinese artists through the gallery, both on a social level and as people dropped into the studio. The residency is set up to cater for just one artist, which I personally prefer.

CR: What was Beijing like as a city?

BE: Like any large contemporary city it has familiarity, although I was surprised at how western its appearance has, as a first impression, and very disappointed with the disappearance of the hutongs. But of course, as soon as you really start to look, a city begins to reveal itself bit by bit. I was really very taken by the locals practicing Thi Chi in the temple of Heaven park early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun is closest to the earth. It’s insights like that make me travel.

CR: Had you been to China before?

BE: No, I hadn’t been to China before and was determined to see as much of it as I could. So I was delighted to follow my colleagues from the gallery on a break to Fallun, and saw its majestic mountain ranges. I felt I had walked into a Chinese ink drawing. Another trip took me to the city of JIngdezen in search of porcelain casting. I was eager to try some new techniques which would allow me an insight into Chinese culture, so working with porcelain was an obvious choice.

CR: Did China fit your expectations? Or did Beijing surprise you?

BE:  To be quite frank the first thing I realized is that China is enormous and so any expectations went out the door fast as I attempted to get to grips with just one tiny corner of Beijing. The city itself remained a mystery to me, mostly because I found it hard to get around on my own, the underground system was too far away to use on a practical basis and the taxi service was tricky at the best of times, so  trips on my bicycle were my outer orbits.

CR:  Did you speak any Chinese before coming? If no, did you learn any during your stay?

BE: I am embarrassed to say I arrived with no Chinese and left with only two words – nihao and xiexie — “hello” and “thank you”! However I did develop a great admiration of the intricacies of the spoken language.

CR:  Did you feel you encountered a significant cultural or linguistic barrier?

BE: I would say my lack of verbal understanding lent a strangeness to my environment and consequently to my experience of it. But at no time in my stay there was I ever put in an uncomfortable position, so I really can’t say I found it a barrier. In fact, if anything it added to the visceral experience of the city. I think I spoke in colors and textures by the end of my stay!

CR: Overall, which experience, adventure or encounter will stay with you?

BE: Floating down the Li river on a raft through the karst mountains of Guilin. I felt a long way from the Wicklow hills! Fantastic.

CR: Are you interested in going back and spending more time in China?

BE: Yes of course, but I think my next trip to Beijing will be with a specific project in mind – what that is, I don’t know.

CR: Do you miss being in Beijing?

BE: No, I don’t think I miss Beijing – fascinating a place as it is. It must have been one of the hardest urban spaces I have ever lived in. The pollution and general mayhem makes it somewhere one endures rather than thrives in, but I realize as I write this sentiment that I was lucky enough to be an invited visitor, rather then a migrant worker who is looking for better things.

CR: Are there ideas you have now which you can trace back to your experience there?

BE: In Beijing I felt that what was making had somehow to do with what we lived with, what is in the landscape of things that are made by people. I was motivated by a recent statistic that the world population had become more urban then rural – a first in the history of mankind – and wondered what that meant in terms of how we related to our environment on a human level,  surrounded by all the stuff we have made. This search for understanding is still the case, but now I find myself wondering about why people chose not to adapt and live in a city and instead reject that sort of social living and chose to live on the outside.

CR: Do you consider your practice adaptable? Do you feel more that your work adapted to Beijing when you were there, or that aspects of the city were assimilated into your work? (It might be easiest to isolate some specific aspects).

BE: Through the use of basic craft and a continuous reprocessing of available cultural material, my practice aimed at the creation of an alternative modernity, and one which was far more subjective and malleable the historic one. The process could be linked to bricolage, the particular kind of DIY practice in which fragments from objects that no longer function are used to create a useful item. A practice I saw going on all around me in the Beijing suburbs. “The street”, as the writer William Gibson once put it, “will find its own use for things.”

Day For Night

This practice in contemporary art is similar to that which has been labeled as ‘appropriation’ ‘post-production’, implying a digestion of received cultural elements that allows the construction of a new artwork with left-overs from the past. So, my work had to adapt to Beijing. One of the first sculptural works I made was Day For Night [pictured, left], which I had stared in Dublin but abandoned because it refused to take form! On one of my first days exploring my surroundings, I was taken to a local restaurant which had been done up in a certain Communist chic style – lots of old chairs and radios etc. form the sixties/seventies – there was a conscious retro look going on. But I saw a tacky light stand that reminded me of a Naum Gabo sculpture I seen in London. The Chinese lamp stand bore more than a passing resemblance, but I suspect it was a fluke. I immediately went back to the studio and began working on the sculpture using light filters rather than Perspex (as Gabo and the lamp designer did). I had a lot of jet lag at the time and came up with the idea of just working at night as a way dealing with the city – almost like a doppelganger. I would remake things I saw during the day and create them at night – hence the title Day For Night. Of course it also references and early cinematic technique for shooting night scenes during the day.

CR: Could you talk a little bit about your interest in “cavities” or negative space as a way to understand the urban environment?

BE: This has been a long-standing interest of mine that seemed to fit very well into living in Beijing. Dublin was and is littered with half-built buildings from the boom times; but once the economic collapse happened, the buildings were left sitting there in all sorts of places – big concrete structures with cavities where windows should be. These negative spaces fascinated me as sculptural objects and all that is associated with decay – a general ‘Gothic’ ambiance. I am interested in a certain strain of modernism which opposes the realistic impulse of Modernism. I see this more in early modernist writers, but it seems present in the work of contemporary visual artists such as Mike Nelson. It’s a sort of “Gothic Modernism” – a strain of Modernism that makes use of the well-established language and conventions of the Gothic terms in order to express recognizably Modernist concerns about the nature of subjectivity, temporality, and, by extension, our contemporary understanding of place as being somehow atemporal. Frozen, negative spaces which exist somewhere outside, my audio installations come out of these dabblings.

CR: I wondered whether you found it an empowering place to be, creatively – did those works arise from feeling assertive relative to the context, or (productively) vulnerable, like a tiny fraction or fragment amid the city?

BE: I think Rosalind Krauss suggested that the grid was the emblem of twentieth century modernity and that it is now ubiquitous. And how, through its total flatness, the grid is able to suppress the real nature of building and living. I feel that by constantly renegotiating this grid to making new paths one is empowering oneself, and I have to say the Chinese seemed to be doing this all the time in Beijing. Those crazy illegal buildings that seem to spring up almost overnight with the influx of workers from the countryside – small winding streets that are more the in-between of buildings than right of ways.

CR: Do you still feel a compulsion to be in Beijing, in its particular environment and feeling the sensations it gave you?

BE: Not really. Most of the time I was there the jet lag was so bad I thought I was in Blade Runner, plus the city is so dark at night that I found it a very confusing place. But I suppose that ultimately, that gave me the imperative to make sense of my surrounds through working.

CR: How has being there affected how you see your home environment, your studio in Ireland?

BE: This need to give form has always been part of my daily routine, coming out of a desire to make sense of the world around me and because I have lived in cities for most of my adult life; it has tended to have a late Modernist bent. But my practice has changed and had to change since moving to Wicklow. Indeed, since working with Lucy Lippard on an audio work, I have become more interested in why people feel the need to retreat from the world. She moved to a small house in the desert of New Mexico some twenty years ago and ‘dropped out’ after a distinguished career in the arts. Is it still possible in this day and age to retreat from the world, in this digital time of easy contact? Certainly, a desire for solace and a hunger for the natural world is something we learn early on, but it’s hard to find – the contemporary world seems to offer fewer and fewer opportunities for true respite and privacy.

CR: How would you sum up Beijing as an artistic environment?

BE: I found that the hegemonic centre of the contemporary art world still lies in the West and that the relationship between East and West is both fetishized and problematic. They seem want different things from each other. The former wants recognition and the latter wants stimulation. There is a desire for quick satisfaction on both sides, but this can result in disappointment or even alienation – this I discovered from talking to Beijing artists.

CR: Anything else you’d like to add?

BE: I wish there were more tea houses and less Irish pubs in Beijing.

This interview was conducted via email by Iona Whittaker for China Residencies.


03 2015

Relay >

“Relay” is a Randian blog series from New York. Embracing art in the city and the race to keep up, “Relay” might include exhibitions, places, art works, people and history. The baton passed between them each time could relate to title, description, atmosphere, artist, origin or ethos, for example, creating a thread loosely linking one post to the next.

(As this is the first installment, there is no previous post to relay from).

#1 Minimal sculpture by Anya Gallaccio

Subtly arranged on the boards of Lehmann Maupin are stone sculptures by Anya Gallaccio. Fanning out as if processing forward, their simple lines are purposeful; hard, square-cut limbs fused together precisely into minimal structures suggest cubes, but these are nonetheless works which, both in their stature and the willfulness of their making, evoke human bodies and intentions. Their titles—if one pays attention to them as grounds for interpretation—waver between hope and despair (“Don’t look to me to say goodbye”, “Give me your tomorrow”, both 2014). In this light, the sculptures come across less as formal objects than as somehow votive figures, or steles to sentiment.

New sculptures by Anya Gallaccio, installation view at Lehmann Maupin, New York. Photo Elisabeth Berstein.

New sculptures by Anya Gallaccio, installation view at Lehmann Maupin, New York. Photo: Elisabeth Berstein.


02 2015

Miao Ying .gif Island (Art Review, Jan/Feb 2015)


“Is it me you are looking for?!”, 2014, single-channel video,
1 min 14 sec. Courtesy the artist.

Internet art is, by its very nature, concerned with the most populous, unrelenting, expansive and diverse aspect of contemporary culture. .gif Island presents a measured reflection – and not without humour.

As one approaches the gallery, Lionel Richie’s Hello (1983) can be heard blaring from the first videowork, Is it me you are looking for? (2014). In it, a loop of a 1984 music video showing Lionel falling for a blind girl who fashions a sculpture of his face plays via a YouTube link. Its schmaltzy scenes are followed – or preceded – by three LAN Love Poem .gifs (all 2014), which variously pair screenshots of ‘website unavailable’ notices (from censored sites) with floating or revolving texts in kitsch, colourful fonts that act like abstract slogans haunting the broken links. ‘To be missed is another kind of beauty’, reads one; another, ‘When cigarettes fall in love with matches the cigarette gets burned’; or (this time the text appears in a Google Search box), ‘Holding a kitchen knife cut internet cable, a road with lightning sparks’. The blocked web pages are a fact – they have been deliberately barred by the government in an overt bid to curb viewers’ use of the web. The overlaid gif text that caresses the unavailable site pages is whimsical and tacky, yet with a certain poetic reach; a sense of futility against the firewall seems emphasised here via these incongruities of unembellished censorship and kitschy visuals. There is a strong note of the absurd here, which could remark on the strange nature of human attachment, and its denial.

APP-nosis (2013–14) consists of three open metal pyramids with real turf and large cushions (printed with extracts from Apple ads) laid at the base. From the top of each metal frame is suspended an iPhone inviting one to recline below, gazing up at it. On the wall beyond one of the pyramids projects the blank background hue of an app, minus the app itself (a surprisingly satisfying, minimal image with graduated tones). A soothing, oceanside soundtrack plays. This deconstructive gesture muses, one feels, on forms of attention and detachment that the handheld screen has raised to new heights.

The minimal overall aesthetic is punctured by a small space in which a case of brightly lit glittering devices encrusted with diamante stand or revolve (#mememe, 2014). Fake Apple accessories -cigarette lighters, for example – flank iPads and phones whose cases are photographic ‘selfie’ images harvested from the web and further enhanced by the artist. Selfie prints, sticks and printed towels complete this installation, pointing to the desiring culture of ownership and self-image. The advertising upon which such dreams are built finds artistic form in a series of digital prints on canvas (Tech Abstractionism, 2014). Scaled up from the perfect reflections on black products in Apple advertising, these are the most direct works in the show.
But perhaps the greatest draw in this exhibition is a pair of reclining chairs draped with emoji-printed towels (Landscape.gif, 2013). Encroaching on them in angled holders are a number of touch-screen devices on which different trembling, animated gifs repeat delirious imagery featuring whirling sandwiches, pink cloudlike cats, seals and rainbows. A mass of wires and crumpled paper bearing the Chinese Internet meme Zan (close to the ‘like’ of Western social media) litter the floor.

Thus does .gif Island explore the contemporary relationship with devices in ways both insightful and visually apt. A certain low-key sublimity underlies these works, which, as much as they represent forms of desire, kitsch and ephemerality attached to net culture, notice also its slight poetry and potential absurdity. No man is an island, as the saying goes; in turn, digital technology – far from remaining a separate, non-emotive realm – absorbs and emits human sensibility through these works.


01 2015

Notes on 2014

Beijing’s exhibitions in 2014 make for an uncertain picture. There is a multitude of spaces, a full calendar of shows and a concentration of artists—this should pose a competitive field. But rather than provoking stronger content, this situation seems largely to have flattened the landscape of exhibitions during the past 12 months, leaving it without much punctuation, and difficult to sum up—this, after a tense period last year, which nonetheless contained some impressive shows (solos by Taryn Simon, Wang Xingwei and Tang Song and the group show “Memo 1” spring to mind). Yet rather than reaching a tipping point for the confidence of artists and galleries, it seems expectations have slowed, and wills perhaps subsided. 2014 had fewer peaks. UCCA continues to work hard, and the new Minsheng Museum (slated to open on the edge of 798 art district in March 2015) might bring more breadth on the museum side, which Beijing dearly needs. Lead mostly by foreigners, a new crop of independent and non-profit outfits has opened in the downtown hutongs (the number of them must be seen as symptomatic); these will be aiming to generate an atmosphere for art in the city which is more grass-roots and community-based, with international links and exchange in the form of diaogues, ’zines and visiting artists (ie., alternatives to art fairs or high-level shows). But while these get going and their organizers gain further experience of running programs, and in the continuing absence of state-sponsored venues supporting contemporary art in the capital, it falls mostly to the commercial galleries in the art districts to lead the scene. At the moment, it appears there is a want of inspiration there, with few striking displays, the persistent issue of depthless abstraction, and slightly underwhelming new work by artists from whom we might have expected more.  Meanwhile, the younger generation seem short on ideas—or are simply too rushed (or commercially “encouraged”) to think them through? If ever there was one, this is a moment for a very thoughtful exhibition or body of work to intervene.

There is a maxim to keep in mind. Expectations of artists and the art world in general can be better managed if one remembers that every art piece or idea is an expression on its own. Aside from the scaffolds of intention and context which enable us to see them, each has this independent life which a particular set of conditions, desires and decisions have converged to create. The likelihood that it will speak to you, and given all you bring to seeing it, is very small. This is both the wonder and the difficulty of art works—their attraction and frustration (for artists and viewers alike); each should be particular, and the encounter with them something authentic, in turn.  A well-thought out exhibition can be a work of art in itself, but this is a tall order. Better, perhaps, to seek out individual works. Across all the studios, exhibitions and art fairs one might visit in a year, it’s fair to expect a personal reaction to a tiny fraction of it. A cacophony of 250 galleries at a fair might leave one thinking about just two pieces. But these are the reason to keep looking—a memory amid a mass of passing glances. Here are a few recollections from 2014, as seen in Beijing and elsewhere.

Tang Yongxiang, “Blue Background With a Few Profiles” (Tang Yongxiang solo exhibition, Magician Space, Beijing). Tang’s compositions succeed with their embrace of inadequacy, and a surprising and personal kind of abstraction—strange painterly strength.

Tang Yongxiang, “Blue Background With a Few Profiles”, oil on Canvas, 200×300cm, 2013 ?????????????????????200×300cm?2013

Ebossyn Meldibekov, Family Album (Lost to the Future: Contemporary Art from Central Asia”, Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore). Groups of people photographed in front of monuments, then and later, as time goes on and regimes fall. The series is a memorable collective portrait, documenting history and human lives as they hover in strange relation—each is the others’ backdrop.

Erbossyn Meldibekov, Family Album, photo album and 10-13 framed photographs, 2007

Song Ta, “The Loveliest Guy” (“The Loveliest Guy”, Beijing Commune, Beijing). The video is a triumph of dead-pan humor.

Song Ta, “Who Is The Loveliest Guy”, video installation, three-channel video, readymade installation, (color photographs, coated paper), video: 3’40’’, photo: 22.7 x 17.4 cm, 2014 ????????????????????????????????????????????3‘40“??????22.7 X 17.4 CM (each)?2014

Martin Creed “Mothers” (“What’s the point of it?”, Hayward Gallery, London). This colossal neon sign revolves at just above head-height. Make of the sensation and slogan what you will.

Martin Creed, “Work No. 1092”, white neon, steel, 500 x 1250 x 20 cm, 2011. (Installation at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, London, © Martin Creed)

Chris Ofili, (“Night and Day”, New Museum, New York). In a very dimly-lit, octagonal room on the third floor of the museum hang a brooding series of large paintings, their midnight black, purple and blue hues barely visible, but definitely present. You try to seek their totalities out, ducking and weaving to find better light—but you can’t. “Night and Day” is a brilliant exhibition overall.

“Chris Ofili: Night and Day”, third floor installation view at the New Museum. Photo by Maris Hutchinson/EPW.  All artworks © Chris Ofili. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Zhang Peili “Collision of Harmonies” (“Because…Therefore”, Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing).  A real assault of sound and suspense from a self-assured artist unafraid to bore, blind, deafen or frighten you.

Zhang Peili, “Collision of Harmonies”?sound installation, track, speakers, computer, fluorescent light tubes, 2014 ???????????????????????????????2014

Kenneth Armitage, “Anvil Figure” (New Art Centre, UK). From 1961, a hybrid of a strange beast and a heavy object, a surface to strike and a body on awkward legs—somehow beautiful in the final sum.

Kenneth Armitage, “Anvil Figure”, bronze, 73 × 82 × 27 cm, 1961


01 2015

Miami Vice—and Some New Virtue

Art Basel Miami Beach has closed its 2014 edition. The reports were again positive—no surprises there. This fair offers an opportunity for galleries to display more conservative stock to an audience less geared to challenging work than those in Basel proper might be; the crowd was certainly not what one might call “cosmopolitan”. Art Basel Miami beach is traditionally seen as the glitzy, snowbird relative of Basel proper (“We’re in the weirdest city in the world,” one European gallerist was heard to remark during the VIP opening), with attendees in significant part accounted for by East-Coasters flying South for the winter, their leisure time and money conspicuous under the glare of the Miami sun. Signs of change are in the air, however, for Miami’s reputation.

But first—the sales. American galleries expect to make a killing at this fair, and all signs show that they did. Upbeat reps at Simon Lee reported excellent sales of paintings by Merlin Carpenter, having sold five pieces brought to the fair and a further ten from London. Melanie Baker also sold well in an edition of Basel Miami which the gallery felt “surpassed expectations,” dispatching works they had—and had not—expected to sell. Jack Shainman of the eponymous New York gallery was pleased, too, having “sold more than half of our stand in the first few hours”.

The expats were not disappointed, either. Thaddaeus Ropac might as well have been describing Olympic sprinters when he said, “The American collectors showed strengths almost unseen before—they were very focused and very determined, exhibiting fast decision-making and a curious and positive mindset.” According to Art Market Monitor, they sold a 2013 Georg Baselitz bronze entitled “Louise Fuller” to an American collector for $2 million. Galerie Urs Meile sold a recent installment of the ongoing photographic series “Narrative by a Pile of Clay” by young artist Hu Qingyan on the first day, as well as a large 2014 painting by Wang Xingwei, “Untitled (Pan Changjiang)”, early on in the fair. Three works by Li Gang were also sold to separate collectors. Long March Space made good use of the current solo exhibition by represented artist Wang Jianwei at the Guggenheim in New York, bringing a painting and two small sculptures, both of which were sold (to collectors in the US and China). They also parted with a large painting “TBC” (2014) by Liu Wei, and a Xu Zhen by MadeIn Company piece (“Under Heaven-2632JP1403?) to a new middle-aged client from New York. The Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) was pleased with the level of engagement from visitors with the “Time Traveler’s Chronicle” project by Rirkrit Tiravanija, of which this was the first US showing. A striking sculptural formation of four metal cones from this series adorned the front of the booth. Lisson gallery, which will open its New York branch in 2015, was also very positive. Before the fair was up, its representatives remarked that the jury was merely out as to whether this year in Miami was good, really good, or excellent, and pitched their own success at the level of “very good”. One suspects that the sale of the Ai Weiwei’s “Jade Handcuffs” for 70,000 Euros may have clinched the top-level verdict. As usual, some memorable sound bites were to be heard around the fair—“I’m just looking for Picassos,” remarked one punter, whom we presume missed the opportunity to buy a ceramic plate entitled “Visage aux Mains” (1956; $85,000) before it was swiped from Leslie Smith’s booth by thieves on Thursday.

The consensus was that the new VIP opening structure worked well, allowing galleries more time to communicate with a slightly stemmed flow of collectors on the first day. Nonetheless, the galleries section was relentlessly packed with stalls, and the VIP lounge often crowded to the maximum. Welcome respite could be found at the satellite fairs, however, of which NADA (the “anti-Basel” fair) was among the best. Participants here also reported very strong sales, and it was a pleasure to peruse this quieter, edgier spot after the high-strung atmosphere at Basel.

While sales maintained the high level of last year, a more interesting development is afoot in the wider culture of Miami. Basel Miami Beach is a fair which does not have a strong curatorial imperative—to date, its very direct commercialism has matched the local context. The booths arrangements are straightforward, not subtle. There are no overbearing or difficult installations to be found breaking up the web of gallery stalls, and sections such as “Kabinett” and “Positions” serve merely as light focal points in a mass of disparate works on view. Beyond the December booths, Miami’s public museums are not known for strong contemporary exhibitions, seeming to cater to somewhat bland expectations. Meanwhile, numerous private collections make no secret of where much of the art fair’s stock ends up, and reveal a highly competitive collecting culture (at the Rubells’ opening, someone gestured at a vacuum cleaner affixed to the wall, exclaiming “Look at this Jeff Koons! I have the towel dispenser, but this is much better.”) Indeed, a walk round the de la Cruz or Margulies spaces can feel not unlike being inside a huge art fair booth, surrounded by grand works in no particular order; a peek into curtained-off rooms in these voluminous temples reveals piles more canvases and crates. Occasions like the Rubells’ eccentric 50-strong cake-eating anniversary event, too, bolster a culture of performance and attention among the area’s conspicuous art-buying class.

The new Perez Art Museum (PAMM, formerly Miami Art Museum), however, signals a new turn for institutional culture in Miami. 200,000 sq. feet (18 580 sqm) of exhibition space fills a Herzog & de Meuron structure overlooking Biscayne Bay, close to the Wynwood district where galleries and private collections hover among low-rise residential streets and graffiti-marked warehouses. The opening on December 4 was rammed. The exhibition “Global Positioning Systems” is a huge display incorporating 100+ works (both on loan and drawn from the museum’s holdings) which examines the intersection between history and globalization. The Chief Curator Tobias Ostrander (whose experience spans roles in São Paulo for the Biennial and in New York at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and MoMA, among others) has orchestrated thoughtful, broad, and often unfamiliar selections. Here is an exhibition engaged with historical and socio-political contexts which does not seek only to please the eye. What this level of engagement means is the chance for Miami to participate in international exhibition culture—rather than remaining locked in its own acute commercial zone. With a museum to be proud of, the city might shed its status as an annual time-share for contemporary art followers to become a worthy location on the global exhibition map. The opportunity is certainly there. The presence of the Perez alongside Miami’s ICA and CIFO (the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation), currently showing a very good abstract exhibition called “Impulse, Reason, Sense, Conflict” signals real potential. Watch these spaces.

Of course, there were many, many parties. Jeffrey Deitch declared Miley Cyrus “the real deal” (“This year has constantly challenged me, and that’s why I started doing art,” she announced between spandex breaths on Wednesday night), and the HUO hosted talks with sexy musicians and artists about Instagram. Celebrities colonized the brand new, all-white Edition hotel, and Drake apparently took a beating from P Diddy in a club over a girl. But enough of that. Miami has its vices. But virtue is in the air, too.

Cui Jie (Surface magazine, Dec./Jan 2014/15 issue)

 Cui Jie in her studio in Beijing.

By Iona Whittaker    |    Portrait by Eric Gregory Powell

In artist Cui Jie’s miragelike paintings, various forms—buildings, surfaces, lines, and objects—appear to hover together, belying the time it takes to make each work. For Cui, a painting may take up to a year to complete, with each layer left to dry before the next can be started. This process no doubt contributes to the suspended look among the shapes depicted. When working, the artist moves between the canvases standing about her orderly studio in North East Beijing as she adds layers to one after the next.

One can tell that Cui, 30, is not from Beijing. A gentle speaker, she is originally from Shanghai and studied at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. Cui’s relocation to the capital was not a career move, but rather because of love—her partner, Liu Chuang, is also an artist. Her affair with the city has proved less-than-straightforward, though it has been artistically productive. The paintings for which she’s now becoming known are born of Beijing’s shifting urban fabric. “I didn’t like Beijing at first,” she says. “The city has power—it’s too big. I like to walk everywhere, but in Beijing it’s difficult. Perhaps I learned to like the city by painting it.”

When in Hangzhou, Cui’s work was decidedly different—single layers, groups of people, and trees. As one might expect, her work then was more “natural,” as she puts it, whereas now it’s focused on a built environment that’s developing constantly and mostly artificially. Upon arriving in Beijing, she spent two years changing her technique. “When I got here,” she says, “I needed a new mode because my feeling had changed.”

Like most artists who have attended art school in China, Cui is a well-trained figurative painter. Architectural forms and perspective were less familiar to her, and she had to study how to draw buildings in order to create her more recent urban landscapes—if that is what they can be called. Initially, she depicted views she witnessed en route from her home to her studio each day. Now, on occasion, she rents a car to travel a planned course within the city, taking photographs along the way for later use in the studio. It has become her habit to stand on a bridge or traffic overpass from which she can take in a number of different vistas at once and begin to conjure a composition in her head. The current series of paintings are built up with a combination of views. Cui freely attributes this approach to the influence of Orson Welles’s films, wherein multiple perspectives are used. Her geometric works could also be viewed as loosely recalling Russian Constructivist artworks, as well as the early drawings of Zaha Hadid.

The paintings—three of which are currently on view in the exhibition “My Generation: Young Chinese Artists” at the Oklahoma Museum of Art (through Jan. 18, 2015)—are striking and full of depth. The sweeping curved form of a flyover, a bar, black escalator tape, or a roadway arch are precisely drawn and juxtaposed with dynamic lines that recede along perspectival vectors. Splinters of geometric shapes denote the textures of modern buildings, and are visually conversant—in many of her works—with other patterns. A seeming transparency allows one to see through one layer to another, dissolving the usual solidity of concrete. In texture, the paintings veer between thick antipasto and areas bravely dragged across with a wide, flat implement. Straight lines are scored into the various layers of paint with a fine point.

Cui tends to paint on canvases measuring roughly 60 to 80 inches. The paintings share a compelling, slightly strange palette. Aqua greens and terracotta browns or oranges stand out against light gray or cream backgrounds. “Patches of color can easily get into a relationship of competition,” she says. “It’s like a war.”

Cui makes perspective—or its perversion—king in these works, tampering with reality’s rules for space, light, and gravity. Objects or shapes appear to float, outlines cease abruptly or continue as they might in a blueprint, and shadow is all but eliminated. With each work Cui generates a somehow-consistent visual world. One senses a certain compulsive atmosphere among the paintings, each of which speaks of Cui’s drive to create them as a response to the environment. As if to answer this sensation, Cui says, “It’s my life—it’s not about liking or not liking [Beijing]. I work with the reality of living here.” She describes painting as a sort of therapy—although, she adds, “my work is not only optimistic. There is also something painful and solemn about it.”
Cui admits she only feels safe in her own studio. Asked about what stage she feels her work is at now relative to how it began, she says she’s afraid of developing her own style; there are things she has cast aside relative to her practice, but she will not say what. On the state of art in general, she says, “I don’t think art is going to challenge anything, nor does it face any challenges.”

Cui exhibits a quiet confidence, and believes she was born to be an artist. Her recent paintings evoke a desire to grasp—or at least to momentarily contain—the fractious urban landscape of Beijing, a city where 20 years is considered old for a building. It is at once a sublime and exhausting terrain to which she stays attuned. “In my work,” she says, “the thing I am most loyal to is change.”

Read it in Surface


12 2014

Art Basel Miami Beach 2014: Preview

VIP and visitor wrangling seems to be a constant issue for Art Basel, whose main lament seems to be that they are too many; ABMB (Art Basel Miami Beach) last year hosted some 75,000 visitors—7 percent more than the previous year, and expects a big crowd again in 2014. In Miami, the traditional Wednesday opening is apparently being over-attended (in 2011, it was closed early for fire-safety issues). In response, this year the official art fair Vernissage will be on Thursday morning, with the public opening in the afternoon. Only the most exclusive tiers of visitor will be admitted on Wednesday—”First Choice VIPs” at 11 am and “Preview VIPs” at 3 pm. According to the Art Basel fair director Marc Spiegler, “We are confident that this opening structure will allow us to provide our galleries with the best opportunity to spend quality time with both existing and potential patrons.” There will be no rest for the wicked, it seems, at the shiniest of Basel’s three annual art fairs.

Visitors will be privy to 500,000 square feet of exhibition space in the Miami Beach Convention Center (which, it has been decided, is soon going to be re-modeled, not replaced). Nine sectors aim to punctuate the content: Survey, Galleries, Nova, Positions, Edition, Kabinett, Public, Film, and Magazines. Survey is new for 2014, and will present so-called “precise” projects by individual artists or group shows which in some way reference art history. The main Galleries section will feature 200+ booths from around the world. From China, big hitters ShanghART and Long March Space will be there. Nova is the section for wet paint, featuring new works made within the last three years (among these will be Beijing Commune). Positions and Kabinett aim to generate a closer focus; the former asks each participating gallery to bring just one major artist project, where the latter requires that a curated show is presented within a separate area inside the gallery booth—from Beijing, Galerie Urs Meile will present Yan Xing’s “The History of Reception” (2012) in this section. Public is held each year in collaboration with Bass Art Museum (which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year) at Collins Park, and will include sculptures and outdoor installations. Film, too, goes beyond the walls of the convention center, with a 7,000-square-foot projection wall to showcase video art in SoundScape Park, designed by Frank Gehry. Talks at the fair are split into daily Conversations and the Salon events which require a ticket or VIP card.

Beyond Basel, a host of satellite fairs, dubbed “indie” in relation to the main event will also open around town (expect smaller scale, less-well-known artists and galleries and lower prices, and perhaps fewer “glitterati” visitors). Bringing the Miami Art Week total up to some 20 events are, in Miami Beach: Aqua, Ink Miami (both hotel-based), Art Miami, Design Miami (held adjacent to Art Basel), NADA Art Fair, Pulse Miami, Select, Scope Miami and Untitled. In Miami, there are Art Miami, ArtSpot, Concept (new for 2014, held on a downtown mega-yacht), Context, Fridge Art Fair (which started in New York’s Lower East Side last year by Eric Ginsburg, who says “People should not be afraid to go and see art, and it should not cost a fortune.”), Miami Photo Salon, Miami Project, Miami River Art Fair, Pinta, Prizm, Red Dot Miami, Sculpt Miami and Spectrum.

Among the museum highlights in 2014 is the Rubell Family Collection, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. Commissioned solo exhibits by Will Boone, Lucy Dodd, Mark Flood, David Ostroski, Aaron Curry and Kaari Upson (the last two of whose work has just been shown as part of “The LA Project” at UCCA in Beijing) open there on the 3rd of December. But the main event is “To Have and To Hold”—major works from the collection accompanied by a 700-page catalog called “Highlights and Artists’ Writings”. Included in this will be the Chinese artists Ai Weiwei, He Xiangyu, Li Shurui, Li Songsong, Liu Wei, Qiu Zhijie, Xu Zhen, Zhang Enli, Zhang Huan and Zhu Jinshi. Also on the Asian radar is “ADinfinitum”, a show of huge photographic works by Beijing-based artist Wang Qingsong at Frost Art Museum. This year marks the first anniversary of the new Herzog & de Meuron-designed Perez Art Museum with multiple exhibitions. Also worth a visit should be 15th anniversary show at The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse—a non-profit institution inside a retro-fitted warehouse in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami (formerly a run-down area, but now host to many galleries and some impressive public murals), showing works from the collection Martin Z. Margulies. CIFO (the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation) will stage a group exhibition of abstract art entitled “Impulse, Reason, Sense, Conflict.” At the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space is “Beneath the Surface”, a large group exhibition addressing, in its own words, “our new American landscape.”

As is true every year, Miami Art Week 2014 will hover between the label “art with parties attached” and its reverse; every night has a round of social events whilst pop-ups, promotions, breakfasts, openings, tours, screenings, talks—and, of course, art fairs—during the day are bound to keep a buying majority of well-and high-heeled visitors tired. The question for Art Basel will most simply be whether last year’s record sales are matched, or outdone.

Full article plus image captions on Randian.

Song Ta: The Loveliest Guy

“Song Ta: The Loveliest Guy”

Beijing Commune (798 Art District 4 Jiuxianqiao Road Chaoyang District Beijing 100015), Sep 30–Nov 15, 2014

Variously rebuked and remembered for “Uglier and Uglier” (2012), in which he spliced together and counted down footage of thousands of women at his university based on their level of attractiveness, Song Ta now has his first solo show at Beijing Commune.

The exhibition is airy, with works lightly presented strung across the gallery and blue-tacked to a couple of the walls; a video, “Who is the Loveliest Guy?” projects in the end room. On the wall, photographs and scraps of paper constitute the piece “People Who Write Like Me”, which is what it says it is, though with more comic variation than might be expected; one example of handwriting has been done on an octopus. Hanging up are English language exam papers which have been answered by pupils and (sometimes incorrectly) marked by a teacher. “These Are Your Test Scores, and You’re Still Playing Around?” makes for pleasing, inconsequential reading, at a glance.

But the real pull of this show is the video. “Who is the Loveliest Guy?” is a piece of real comic dexterity. Split between 3 screens is a short recording of naval officers dressed impeccably in white, as if to go on parade. They climb aboard a rollercoaster, which various camera angles then show ascending feverishly around and to the top of the rails and plunging down; muffled shouts from the officers, their rigorously presented bodies sometimes embarrassed by gravity, legs dangling, are heard sometimes against a brilliantly incongruous soundtrack of Bizet’s overture to Carmen. Witty art like this is truly rare—not least amid Beijing’s highly self-conscious and competitive scene. The value of its directness and low-key appeal is clear.

Song Ta is an artist working humorously and unapologetically. These works are born not of a deep conceptual idea, but instead often start from a whim (finding hand writing like his, or wondering whether a rollercoaster can shake naval officers’ composure). Relying neither too much on form, nor commercial appeal, nor necessarily complex thinking, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile show.


11 2014

Projecting LA

“The Los Angeles Project”:

UCCA (798 Art District, No. 4 Juxianqiao Lu, Chaoyang District, Bejing 100015), Sept 13 – Nov 9, 2014

The “Los Angeles Project” is not a thematic exhibition, and rightly so. Their shared origin naturally assumes prominence for one’s looking at these seven solo displays. But while “identity” has often proved a troubling word for contemporary art (not least in China)—conjuring inflated or personal questions that cannot be answered clearly, and may even distract from the work itself—it is simpler (and more direct) to see what one might take from this exhibition in the way of pure sensation, rather than something more complicated. What impressions do these shows deliver, individually and collectively, of the creative inclinations with which LA-based artists are working?

The varied impacts of the exhibitions make for a strong experience—without doubt, these works are the product of a different environment. Following a sense of filmic surface conjured by Alex Israel and Kathryn Andrews in the first two rooms, one is plunged into an immersive zone of hyperactive dialogue and sound on a number of video screens by Ryan Trecartin; beds and airline seats in front of them encourage the viewer to sprawl out. Aaron Curry offers a kind of respite with an emptier space occupied by white sculptures daubed with neon orange and yellow—potently reminiscent of twentieth-century surrealist figuration at ease in their strangeness. From here, one could go directly into the room devoted to Matthew Monohan’s distinctly manual sculptures and charcoal drawings (the most “traditional” part of the exhibition), or into a large oblong site of shining urethane obelisks and diffused pigments amassed by Sterling Ruby. The feeling of productive collapse that rises here appears strained and refocused in the work of Kaari Upson. Here, distressed furnishings (carpets and mattresses) and silicon-moulded chairs register the pressure of human contact, both physical and mental, between people and on domestic materials.

The “Los Angeles Project” conveys certain sensations more strongly than others. The first is a sort of deliberate unfaithfulness—or flatness. Alex Israel marks the walls with impenetrable yet seductive mural paintings: isolated instances of palm trees, a director’s chair, a caravan and rubbish bins lined up on a white backdrop. The imagery is at once aesthetically present and attractive, and knowingly absent—just like the stage sets it mimics. As such, the work affects perception in a similar way to film, suspending disbelief even as it engages the eye. In the adjoining room, the comfort—and, one could say, the freedom—of the real is pushed back still further. Kitsch, cold cylindrical sculptures bearing prints of Bozo the Clown are flanked by enormous images of pink-stockinged legs spread down the walls (the seduction scene from The Graduate). Walking through this installation, the viewer might find themselves uncomfortable, thrown in with a repeating cartoon character and giant, overbearing fiction lifted from an erotic film scene. Both directed rather than made by Israel and Andrews themselves, these two shows dispose with art’s expected delight in authenticity. In turn, their effect seems less to encourage than to aggressively place the viewer in relation to their creative processes—keeping one outside, yet seeing, and thereby somewhat vulnerable. The ambience is impersonal, the experience merely received.

Without wishing to draw their work too close together, there are like tendencies to detect also in Aaron Curry and Matthew Monohan’s displays. Although the methods are very different, both work figuratively, here and with a manual, primitive sensibility. For Curry, a sense of touch advances up the walls, where hand and shoe prints and other smudges attest to direct contact and motion. From Monohan’s hard-hewn sculptures (recast in bronze from the foam originals, for example “Column III (The Two Step)”, 2014) and drawings—especially a set of three charcoal figures with limbs detached and ribs and facial features pulled away from naturalism towards a sort of blurred, ritualistic state (the Body Electric series, 2012)—comes a sort of tribal undertone. This is echoed, though not exactly matched, in the abstraction of Curry’s sculptural creatures. Not human or animal—but in imagination, alive—these convey alternate primal echoes that pertain less to language than to the spirits of living, moving bodies. Both shows suggest something of a creative retreat, one imagines, from the artists’ immediate surroundings; they evoke a reaching for creative inheritance, and perhaps history.

But more than postmodern flatness or primal gestures, the strongest impression from this exhibition is one of gainful decrepitude—gainful for the creative work of two of the artists. In Sterling Ruby’s output there lurks a near-messianic ability with gritty, non-traditional (or artificial) and difficult-to-control media—particularly spray paint and dribbled urethane. In this urethane Monumental Stalagmite series (2010-12) and vast cycle of spray-paintings (SP217, 2012), base means become the vehicles for an unusual gothic nobility; their glossy, indolent spikes and murky expanses—looking not unlike waste substances in a final state, or things which accrue underground—nonetheless rise and extend with cathartic energy. A sense of ruin, in this case, thus become uniquely potent. In Kaari Upson’s sculpture, however, the grotesque endures without empowerment, reaching a different though also impressive limit. The silicon-moulded furnishings Upson mounts in a corner or in a red ring, almost sexually (“Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”, 2014), or places alone on the floor flanked by soiled carpeting speak of undeniable collapse. The crumpled, cringing, soiled skins of the couches appear like symptoms of inexorable demise, as her project intensifies into collapse through over-identification with her subject—the dead man, Larry, on whose story this body of work is based. Regardless of whether their attendant narrative is known, these pieces express expiration.

Against the sensations drawn from these six solo exhibitions, which seem to trace a path through forms of degeneration, empowerment, energy and indifference at the behest of people (the natural world is conspicuously absent), the seventh—Ryan Trecartin’s agitated video installations—feels like a possible index. It is the only place in the exhibition where living people are captured and displayed, and through the skilful barrage of his video works they are revealed as erratic, attention-seeking, uncouth and expectant. The angles of the lens and disturbance of the image seem to imply the mental state of these characters in their digitally compressed lives, where they also watch themselves. Their status as the products and/or producers of content like this seems confused; with an expanded view, one considers too the artistic content of the exhibition as a whole, and the background to its making.

Ultimately, the “Los Angeles Project” is not likely to be an argued exhibition (apart from the obvious prominence of Sterling Ruby’s work which, very strong and centrally positioned, might intimidate the other displays). Rather, the show evades final description because its atmosphere is underpinned by a strange feeling of encroachment. It is a sensation not removed from the progressive myth of LA for those who haven’t been, and confirmed, perhaps, for those that have. It is a sensibility not entirely benign, though definitely productive through the lens of these artists’ work. What is dark or artificial (as evoked by Upson’s corrupted furnishings or Curry’s murals, for example) is not concealed by it; indeed, these are arguably the runners lubricating an impression of steady yet submerged progress—not unlike an infection. A final thought on exiting “The Los Angeles Project” could be of an unclear cycle: environments creating people, people sensationalizing themselves—or creating art and art, in turn, triggering sensations in its audience. Although the original settings and the protagonists for these works remain inaccessible, in this exhibition, their generative power is made plain.


10 2014