Category Archives: Gallery

Permissions: Linda Besemer, Diana Deaugustine, Sherin Guirguis, and Olga Koumoundouros

Permissions: Linda Besemer, Diana Deaugustine, Sherin Guirguis, and Olga Koumoundouros
Curator: Tucker Neel
Highways Gallery 1651 18th St. Santa Monica, CA 90404

September 25 – October 16, 2010

Permissions

By Tucker Neel

A few months back I was asked by Marcie Begleiter to organize an exhibition about the legacy of the artist Eva Hesse to coincide with the play Meditations: Eva Hesse, which she had recently finished writing. It was a rather open-ended prompt. I have always been interested in Hesse’s work, ever since I encountered her odd sculptures in The Hirshhorn Museum and The National Gallery of Art in DC where I grew up. Her work seems to be all about embracing the communicative potential of an awkward sculptural slouch, a logical yet incomprehensible gesture, something that calls into question all verifiable “truths.” So I was happy to accept the invitation to curate, excited by the possibilities this exhibition poses.

Nearly every artist I talked to mentioned, in one way or another, that they not only appreciate Hesse’s work and recognize her importance as one of those artists who changed the game in art history, but also that Hesse holds a special place as a liberating force in their practice. This sentiment applied to many artists, from varying generations, working in multiple media. Why does Hesse hold such an important role in these artist’s respective practices?

Hesse is a transitional and transformative figure in art history. She is heralded as an artist who helped rework Minimalist discourses surrounding the solidity of forms in space. She injected into this previously rigid ism quizzical and often absurd objects with forms alluding to, but never illustrating, subjective realities, body parts and physical states of being. Her work is often fragile, constructed out of fugitive materials like latex and fiberglass and she embraced this impermanence as an important subject. The physical experience of seeing her work still brings forth a sense of bodily awareness in the viewer. In many ways she humanized Minimalist practices and made them more immediately physically resonant.

Hesse was a strong person and an even stronger artist, working with unyielding dedication to her practice even during the last few years of her life when she was battling brain cancer. As a woman working in the American art world of the mid 20th century, a world dominated by men, many of them very macho men, Hesse’s practice can also be seen as important to the rise of feminist scholarship and the increased visability and representation of women artists in the contemporary art world. Women artists today can take inspiration from her resilience and steadfast belief in her own practice.

Against this understanding of Hesse’s well-documented contributions to the shifting discourse defining minimalist and post-minimalist art history, one artist summed up what I was beginning to realize,

“Eva Hesse gave permission to every artist who came after her. She opened the field.”

I concurred and consequentially became interested in what it means for an artist to claim permission from someone long since past. In selecting the works for this exhibition I was interested not just in how these artists use Hesse as a model. In fact, I consciously avoided selecting work that would easily quote from Hesse’s well-known oeuvre.  Instead, I endeavored to bring together works that come from a place that has internalized Hesse’s legacy but is not beholden to it in any mimetic sense.  Instead I have attempted to present work that does not necessarily look anything like Hesse’s, but in some way updates, complicates, or resituates the discussions she helped originate over thirty years ago.

While in the gallery it’s hard not to start making make one-to-one comparisons with Hesse’s work. This is no doubt because to mention an artist like Hesse in the context of any art exhibition immediately inspires one to speak of material, formal, and perhaps conceptual similarities. One can surely see Hesse’s interest in breaking free of the constraints of the field of the canvas (drooping objects onto the floor, away from the wall) in Linda Besemer’s work, which does away with the canvas, with a conventional support structure entirely, displaying a painting made entirely out of paint. With her work Besemer questions the predetermined structure and strictures of abstract painting, how we invest ideologically constructed importance in the binary oppositions of front and back, canvas and paint, form and content. By consciously producing work that seeks to dismantle the bulwarks that maintain these binaries, Besemer by extension encourages us to break apart the supposedly unshakable ideological structures that inform other aspects of culture. In this way her work also continues Hesse’s own use of materials and methods that resist simple analysis.

With Sherin Guirguis’ work, one may draw parallels to Hesse’s embrace of chance irregularities, her ability to heighten the personal or subjective possibilities latent in processes of Minimalist repetition. For example, Hesse’s many ink washes of fields of circular forms against grey or blackened backgrounds bear an oblique resemblance to Guirguis’ works on paper. In the same way, Guirguis’ practice of cutting away at her images, in this instance employing the decorative patterning of Arabic design used in mashribiya screens to delineate the form of an atomic blast against a field of expressive watercolor washes, brings to mind some of Hesse’s early paintings from the mid 1960s, with their protrusions and punctures, bright colors, and strangely suggestive and irregular forms. With both Hesse and Guirguis, the signs of personal or subjective states, references to private parts and private spaces, intermingle with conventional formal structures to compel the viewer to create meaning between these two previously incongruous reference points.

Diana DeAugustine’s striking photographs documenting the healing process of a large ephemeral tattoo evoke associations with Hesse’s own use of patterning, her embrace of things that fall apart, degrade, and change their form with time. De Augustine’s work also resonates against Hesse’s continual interest in making work with inexplicit references to the human body. DeAugustine’s ephemeral tattoos involve a process of puncturing the topmost layer of skin with water instead of ink. The result is a temporary mark where the pigment of the tattoo comes from the blood of the tattooed person, making the mark a kind of exquisite bruise. For the work in this exhibition, DeAugustine created an ephemeral tattoo that continues the pattern of a Japanese Kimono swatch. The photographs show the healing process, skin moving from swollen to flakey, with the design in question emerging and disappearing as well. The photos bring to mind Hesse’s own use of hand-drawn patterning and grid-like geometric forms in drawings from the mid 1960s. DeAugustine’s photos also cause one to recall Hesse’s signature employment of materials with skin-like qualities, like yellowing latex, polyester resin, or translucent fiberglass. Finally De Augustine’s work, like Hesse’s employs the passage of time, the transformation of one formal proposition into another, ghost-like form, a trace or otherworldly version of its previous self.

Olga Koumoundouros’ sculpture also raises questions about the human body, specifically issues of food, consumption, and nourishment. Her sculpture is a pillar of objects used to hold food: a milk jug, a cereal box, an egg carton, a grape container, an aluminum can. Koumoundouros’ previously discarded objects are reinvested with new meaning when she covers them with paper mache’ ads from newspapers, sourced from the free weekly mailers. This transformation calls attention to how physical consumption is tied to both to advertizing and purchasing power, how daily sustenance always involves questions of who has access to resources, whose survival teeters on the brink. The entire totem-like configuration is topped with a piece of electrical conduit salvaged from a home renovation project, which juts out like a conspicuous indexical signpost, pointing to a world outside of the piece – a conduit in search of power. The work has an awkward absurdity to it, accentuated by its tilting pose and weird protrusions. While it is quite stable, it looks as if it could topple at any moment, which consequentially makes the viewer aware of his or her own body in relation to the piece. This work may remind one of Hesse’s repeated use of paper mache’ as a medium with great potential for experimentation, a skin to cover phallic or bulbous forms, creating works with great bodily resonance. Koumoundouros’s use of overlooked or everyday items also raises connections Hesse’s employment of unexpected materials in her works, like rope, paper mache’, latex and fiberglass. And of course both artists share an interest in indirect references to human bodies.

While the inclination to draw formal and conceptual connections between Hesse’s work and the work in the gallery does provide an interesting framework for seeing the past manifest in the present, it should in no way allow one to view the works on display as derivations of Hesse’s work. These are not imitators. The artists in this gallery make work that only tangentially touches on the look of Hesse’s famous works. In fact, the works here probably have more in common with each other than with Hesse’s. This is not an accident. My intention with selecting the works in this exhibition was to provide a conceptual sounding board for passing references to Eva Hesse, but also to propose a situation where thoughts about Eva Hesse are complicated and enriched with a discussion about what it means to make art today. In some way this exhibition attempts to question the very notion that one can organize a show about the influence of an artist from the past.

This brings us back to the title of the show. Why call this exhibition Permissions? Who is giving permission, and who is accepting it?

The term “permission” here does not necessarily refer to the verbal authorization of, say, a parent granting permission for their child to leave the kitchen table. Instead, the permissiveness at hand is much more aligned to notions of encouragement and motivation, the liberating ability to free ones production of constraints. The “permission” at work here was never sought by the artists present; it was chosen. Permission, in this context, is not necessarily an utterance grounded in the here and now, amongst ones peers or living colleagues. Instead it’s a permission passed across generations and time, something that one has to claim from a person in the past. It’s tied to the notion of finding role-models, heroes and inspirational voices from historically distant sources to justify and support one’s avant-garde present day interests.  So to say that Eva Hesse gave permission to artists today means much more than the idea that she “sanctioned” or “authorized” certain forms through her practice. Instead it means that the force of her work, its ability to inspire, inform, and influence artists, is so powerful that artists are still willfully picking her up as someone whose practice enlivens theirs. This is what makes an artist like Hesse timeless, enabling her to reemerge with each successive generation.

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Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia “by Deborah Calderwood”

The annals of contemporary art are filled with appropriationists, borrowers, persons who make art from other people’s images. Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Larry Johnson, all these artists, and their conceptual progeny (nearly every photographer and assemblage artist under 40), have made careers out of lifting someone else’s work for their own purposes, with, or without, permission. From looking at these artists’ work, the act of borrowing someone else’s image usually comes from a place of contention, a feeling of displeasure with the image’s original message and the conditions it stems from and helps produce.

Richard Prince is probably best known for cropping the commercial photographer Jim Krantz’s blue-jean clad Marlboro men from ads (ben day dots and all) to reframe notions of American masculinity and critique mass media advertising. Krantz never got a cut of the multi-million dollar action (nor should he have in my opinion). Levine reshot Walker Evan’s iconic WPA photos, and repainted male Modernist masterpieces to insert questions of gender and authorship into a larger art-historical narrative. More power to her. Warhol took photos from newspapers and advertisements and re-contextualized them, presented them back to us, the ever-ready consumer, as just what they are: infinitely reproducible images, each one the same, but different. Critics have made much about Warhol’s implicit critique of capitalist mass-productions, though the silver-headed sphinx maintained his critical silence on the matter (which, in the end, was probably a good thing). Before he started photographing cartoon stills, Johnson used to crib text from sources like TV Guide and Mensa to make cryptic and piercing work about the text that lies beneath the text, and in doing so he helped to unearth how subcultures congeal through language.

Richard Prince Untitled cowboy 1993

The extreme of appropriation is downright plagiarism, using another artist’s work and claiming it to be your own. Koons has been called a thief by a few photographers, most importantly Art Rogers, who sued him for making a gaudy sculpture based exactly on a photograph of multiple puppies. Rogers won his lawsuit in a landmark case (and he deserved to – in my opinion). And don’t get me started on Shepard Fairey. He’s more of a propagandist and corporate branding machine than an artist, and, thankfully, people are starting to see him for what he is: an undeniable crook. Check out Mark Vallen’s excellent article at http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm for more info. Fairey’s appropriations of real-world protest imagery are almost always self-promoting gestures, camouflaged in the guise of politics. They are wallpaper for gentrifying neighborhoods, and advertising for his OBEY brand. His appropriations often employ simple copyright infringement, with some rusted colors thrown in for revolutionary panache. But I digress.

Appropriation is not a bad thing, and there is no doubt that critically aware appropriationist gestures from the past half-century have indeed changed the way we look at reproduced and mass-marketed images and the systems of control and consumption they promote. There’s a reason so many people get enraged by artists who “borrow” from external sources. Perhaps this is because appropriation is not necessarily a kind act. Art that appropriates is often executed to make a critical tear in the image being appropriated. Rarely is appropriation used as a form of reverence, a way to communicate devotion, indebtedness, and, dare I say it, LOVE. Which is why the work of Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia in the 2010 show by Deborah Calderwood at CB1 gallery in Los Angeles has such great resonance. In this fascinating body of work we see not just a collection of pretty pictures (though they are visually stunning), but we also witness an innovative approach to appropriation, a conceptual methodology which injects much needed joy and, yes, love, into the contemporary discourse around using another’s images for one’s own work.

by Deborah Calderwood, 2008 Acrylic and oil on paper 36 x 27 inches

by Deborah Calderwood at firsts appears as a somewhat conventional art show, with a healthy selection of multiple sized framed works on paper and paintings arranged evenly and with care on the gallery’s tall white walls. Yet the forms that actually inhabit each work appear awkward, childlike. A cloud-like bulbous figure with stick arms and googly eyes inhabits many pieces. He surfs, scales mountains, jumps around, sometimes in heels, like a reoccurring tour guide or portrait of an imaginary friend. Hilarious statements pour from cartoonish figures mouths’ in large comic-book speech bubbles. A blank field of pink holds eight comical caricatures, which look indebted to both Andy Warhol and Dennis The Menace. The work bears a startling resemblance to childhood drawings.

When it comes to the basic forms in each work, compositional structure tends towards simple placement on straightforward horizon lines, with little to no foreshortening or complex arrangements of objects. These forms provide a kind of anchor to the work, like lines in a coloring book. But outside of the line quality, everything else at play is full-on mature painting, the kind of picture making that takes a real sustained art practice to produce. These are, in fact, not kid drawings.

by Deborah Calderwood, 2008 Acrylic on prepared wood panel 18 x 23.5 inches

Childlike drawings by contemporary artists have been in vogue for awhile now, as evidenced by the influence of artists like Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley (and Basquiat for that matter) on a younger generation. Yet Segovia’s work seems to completely resist the read these artist’s works illicit, denying a conversation about the man-as-child, and instead going much more towards an analysis of the forms at play, and the decorative elements that further contextualize them and give them meaning. His are much more carefully executed. They owe more to the lineage of artists like Paul Klee, Wilfredo Lam, or Lari Pittman, than, say, Tracy Emin, or other many of the left-handed artists from the Beautiful Losers school.

Nearly every work exhibits a kind of considered embellishment far outside of the attention span of a child. Decorative elements are created from seemingly infinite patterns, mark-making that no doubt took hours of dedicated concentration. Complex networks of juxtaposed abstract painterly elements cause the eye to move around the picture, always searching for more. And the palette in each work appears completely harmonious, free-wheeling, yet tempered by years of experience laying down color. The pleasure these works supply is undeniable.

by Deborah Calderwood, 2008 Acrylic on prepared wood panel 23.5 x 18 inches

Yet it’s this strange juxtaposition, this use of childlike imagery as a framework to hold advanced picture construction, that makes one ask, “just what are we looking at here?” The two pictorial approaches seems to have an underlying logic, yet one buried somewhere outside of the frame. This question becomes even more pressing when one considers that most of the works bear the words “by Deborah Calderwood,” which, as a reminder, is the title of the exhibition. The title brings to mind the de-authoring of the artist, if not the “death of the author,” in a rather comical Barthesian sense, where the notion of an originating source is thrown into flux. Such strange titling implies a confusion of creation, and, hopefully allows for a critical space to examine the work outside of the baggage that comes with discussions of authenticity, creative spirit, the innocence of children’s drawings, or, for that matter, the Greenbergian “depths of soul” discourse of abstract painting.

One approach would be to view the title, and its literal inscription on works in the show as the manifestation of an alternate identity. The artist’s own Rose Selavy perhaps? Yet there is no stand-in or fictionalized self at play here. All of Segovia’s images take their compositional inspiration from drawings created by the actual Deborah Calderwood when she was eleven years old. That Deborah is also Lorenzo’s wife, and the mother of his son, adds yet another layer of interest, making this not just a project about appropriation, but also about intimate and familial relationships.

Perhaps the title is one of the best ways to enter the conceptual framework that truly underpins this exhibition. The title first asserts itself as the invitation for the show. Here we see a photo of a young eleven year-old Deborah smiling at the camera in a billowy clown outfit, complete with painted-on eye-lashes and red nose and cheeks. This is the only photo in the exhibition, and therefore feels not necessarily out of place, but a strange reference point framing the rest of the exhibition. Besides being a sign of childhood play, her clown outfit also adds a comical element, underscoring the hide-and-seek game of identities embedded in the show.

front of the exhibition announcement for by Deborah Calderwood

As an invitation, it is actually fairly conventional; we are used to seeing all manner of portraiture of the artist deployed as a way to sell both the artwork and the artist in advance of an exhibition. Yet this invitation is different. By substituting the artist’s wife for the image of the artist himself, the invitation inverts the typical gallery invite’s play of image and text. This invite subtly critiques that kind of unabashedly self-promoting type of invite, the kind that presents the brooding artist in his studio, or on a motorcycle, or surfing. It takes the audience’s desire to image and “know” the artist and turns this desire on its head. This comes off not as a cynical gesture, but as something devotional, marking Deborah’s position as a quizzical and problematized original “creator” of the work that preceded the work at hand, in a kind of sweet, almost romantic game of Whodunnit.

The title of the exhibition, by Deborah Calderwood almost always comes after the artist’s name Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia both in print and on the gallery’s website. This has the strange effect of both reading that the work is by Deborah Calderwood and that Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia was created by Deborah Calderwood. This last read is perhaps the strangest of all, an inference that in some way the artist is asserting that his very existence, as an artist and perhaps a man/husband/father, is directly descended from his wife’s creative actions, her own position of agency. It’s a strange, if not convoluded reworking of Lacanian principles of subject development, but an interesting one to say the least.

One could come away with all this “de-authoring” and “re-authoring” and think of exploitation, that the artist was in some way taking advantage of his wife, or worse, using his artistic skills to insinuate that he is “more talented” than her, that his images are more valuable as objects invested with both cultural and commodity status. Yet if this were so, why did he chose not to exhibit any of the original drawings alongside his own finished work? It seems that the knowledge that there are indeed “originals”, and that these are absent, makes them all the more mysterious. And because they are not present, there is no one-to-one relationship between Segovia’s painted images and Calderwood’s drawn images. As far as the “better or worse” arguments go, the subject should be mute. Deborah does not claim to be an artist and she has no interest becoming one in the future. And both parties are aware that this, in fact, is an exhibition of contemporary art, not a glorified family scrap book.

"by Deborah Calderwood", 2008 Acrylic and oil on prepared wood panel 18 x 23.5 inches

After one knows the back-story of this work, the images take on new meaning. Each decorative gesture takes on the feeling of reverential adornment, something the artist uses to make Deborah’s work even better, while not destroying basic formal elements the young girl set down decades ago. In this way, Segovia’s work occupies a critical space that does not use appropriation as a means to question authority over who “owns” an image. Instead, it creates a generative space, where source material and production work together, on the same picture plane.

Sherrie Levine, After Walker Evans: 2, 1981, Gelatin silver print 3 3/4 x 5 1/16 in. (9.6 x 12.8 cm)

Sherrie Levine’s photographs were always titled “After…”; After Walker Evans, After Duchamp, etc. not “by” as Segovia does with his work. The difference between these two prepositions is vast. “After” signifies the passage of time (in Levine’s instance a lifetime, the space between the shutter in Evan’s photo and her own), while “by” always brings with it a sense of immediacy, the fixing of authorship into place with the affirmation that one (or more) person (s) brought the work into existence; art and artist are wedded by the specific instance of creation. Using the old-school rules of painting, the inscription of the artist’s name implies both inception and the finality of creation. I bring this up to further articulate how Segovia’s exhibition, as opposed to Levine’s, does not take appropriation as a distancing exercise. Hardly. His work attempts to bring the appropriated subject closer, make it more present. In a word, he is able to make these works out of love.

Yes I said Love. The love at play here is both visible in the works themselves, and discursively present in the relationships that circle around the exhibition. That love intersects with the work on display is undeniable.  Knowing that the artist used his wife’s drawings for inspiration for the work automatically brings up questions of the two’s relationship. The fact that they have a one-year-old child also further heightens the resonance of the childhood drawings on display. The creation of these images right now, in these circumstances seems more than coincidental. To not acknowledge this is to put on blinders to the physical reality informing the work’s context.

I speak of love in the work itself because these images are rich in embellishment, an almost devotional and methodical laying down of marks that boggle the mind and impress even the most rigorously anti-formal viewers. Repetitive, consistent, and embellished mark making nearly always brings with it the sign of devotion, often religious, though not always. Think of Buddhist mandalas, illuminated manuscripts, dio de las muertas altars, needlepoint pillow portraits, full-body tattoos, and any number of instances where a person, or persons worked to make an image the sum of it’s parts, invested each God-given inch with the maximum amount of attention and affection. Think of repetitive hearts scribbled on hidden love-letters, a high-school crush that results in a name being written over and over and over again. Extreme embellishment, repetitive acts, meticulous decoration, and the forms that result from these processes always seem to bring with them thoughts about the creator(s)’s relationship to their subject and the questions of investments in time and energy. The objects resulting from such actions must have been “worth it” because the subjects they revere: the Divine, a love interest, a family member, or a pet, are also “worth it.” Segovia’s painstaking ornamented works are no different. Yet all this talk of love and devotion makes me feel icky. Why is this?

Love is a troublesome, and much maligned four-letter-word in the art world, something best left to greeting cards and Mother’s Day. The curator and critic Juli Carson has pointed out that love is an “atopic discourse,” when it comes to critical analysis. Carson notes that “…love is something that must be cleaned up, a sort of stain that both hides and reveals what is lacking in scientific discourse: the analyst’s desire.” In contemporary art this stain marks a critical suicide, a lack of critical distance. To say one made work “out of love” is to prompt eye-rolls and condescending questions. It seems that when it comes to being critically engaged, L-O-V-E is better spelled D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Perhaps that’s why, like a lapsed Catholic on ash Wednesday, I find myself feeling guilty for my “uncritical” transgressions, ashamed that this talk of love will somehow cheapen my observations.

Thankfully exhibitions like Segovia’s threaten to renegotiate the terms of this discourse. By investing his own conceptual practice with artifacts from his wife’s past, he challenges us to come to grips with questions not just of authorship, but of relationships. It’s easy to borrow another’s work when you’re not wedded to them both legally and emotionally. But when you use, with permission, your loved one’s childhood drawings, decorate them with jaw-dropping intensity, and put the final work up for everyone to see, you are putting both your loved one’s past, and your own present on display. It signifies a switch in what was before a conceptual gesture relegated to discourses of parody, irony, and pastiche. The steadfast earnestness imbued in Segovia’s work does away with any of these accusations and instead points towards a generative and positive critique that revels in the love that cements it in place.

-Tucker Neel

Erik Frydenborg ‘DISTANTS’ by THE DISTANTS Cherry and Martin

Originally published in Artillery Magazine jul/aug 2010 Vol. 4 Issue 6

Erik Frydenborg’s first solo-exhibition at Cherry and Martin consists of sculptural groupings that bring to mind a kind of imaginary high-end boutique filled with commodities that entreat the viewer with their gorgeous abstracted forms and unrelenting delectable uselessness. Walking through his show one gets the feeling that one should be shopping, or at least browsing, for something to die for.

Installation view of 'DISTANTS' by THE DISTANTS

The most arresting of Frydenborg’s works contain small sliced polyurethane molds of the negative space left by absent forms. These lumpy thingamabobs, which ungulate with surfaces resembling goosebumped skin, are pigmented in hues reminiscent of sun-bleached Peptobismol, 20th century workplace beige, and Caribbean wintergreen, colors that serve to calm the abject forms and make them more appealing. They look like they should be one-of-a-kind creations, yet many are often replicated in multiples of two to four, and are positioned carefully on varying geometrically conspicuous bases that, like Brancusi plinths, serve as both pedestal and artwork.

Warm Ride 2010 U/V shielded polyurethane plastic, pigments, latex rubber, sanded gray rubber, steel rod, steel display stand, MDF, stenciled MDF, paint, nails 76 x 72 x 26 inches

Unfortunately, the show is marred by some inconsequential photographs, the most disappointing of which is Sunstroke, a parlor-sized portrait of an entirely blank expanse punctuated by a tiny patch of skin-like outgrowth in its bottom left corner. The photo’s “look at me” silence fails to hide the fact that it has little to say. It’s fortunate that the rest of the works in the show come with richer significance.

One of Frydenborg’s best assets is his ability to pan Modernist sludge for the equivalent of artistic gold: a signature aesthetic that lingers in the mind, affecting all similar forms in the future. This is achieved with a work like Warm Ride, where multiple versions of his sliced blobs, fresh off an assembly line, stand on pedestals of varying heights. A stark grey rubber sheet attached to the wall frames the scene. The sculptural tableau sits on a shallow white pedestal, which reasserts the work as a totalized cohesive unit; everything fits nicely together and nothing is out of place. It’s a theatrical conglomeration of forms that resists easy interpretation, but brings to mind Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni’s dynamic sculptures, with hints of Martin Kippenberger’s fantastic arrangements of transformed everyday objects. If anything is certain, it’s that these objects are important and worthy of such considered display.

Frydenborg’s sculptural works make you aware of your own judgmental gaze, how you value one object against another, because the objects in question, despite their perfect placement, are seemingly interchangeable. In their entirely abstracted state, literally produced from the negative space delineating a tangible surface, they come into play without referential touchstones. This causes much of the work to act like a showroom for mass manufactured widgets, evocative and pleasing widgets, but widgets nonetheless. The result is an environment that apes high-end display, but intentionally fails to deliver the goods. Frydenborg’s is not necessarily a critique of the gallery as yet another trinket shop, but a generative exploration into the conventions of display that typify nearly every place of purchase in a post-industrial society. If this work succeeds, which has yet to be seen, it does so by casting its signature misshapen shadow on all the venues that sell goods out there, from handbags at Louis Vuitton, to imported pineapples at Vons, making us even more aware that sometimes we want things simply because they are arranged to be wanted.

-Tucker Neel

LUBE at Jaus Gallery

Originally published in ARTLIES Magazine Issue 65 Spring 2010

By Tucker Neel

Lube is a fun and provocative exhibition of three female artists: Samantha Magowan, Kiki Seror, and Tameka Norris, brought together by male curator Martin Durazo for the purpose of exploring the perennial question of the objectified and sexualized female body in art. The artists address this concern with disparate media, but speak with one voice, declaring that no one is going to tell them what a female body should or shouldn’t do.

Samantha Magowan’s contribution takes the form of both sculpture and photographs. You’re Only Young Once, a totemic mass of grey, white, and platinum blonde wigs embedded with childhood objects like dolls heads and My Little Ponies, projects a feeling of something haunting from the past. While cobbled together found object work like this can come off as overly nonchalant or even half-assed, Magowan pulls it off by remaining earnest, evoking thoughts of decadent beauty, loss, decay, a sort of Fall of the House of Usher aesthetic. In another series of work, Magowan presents The Top 10 Artists I Would Most Like to Fuck, and The Top 10 Artists I Would Least Like to Fuck, two photos of a half naked lady, her back inscribed with the names of notable artists. I question if these works go further than conjuring a chuckle based in art-insider smugness. However, seeing Mike Kelly’s name crossed out in favor of Paul McCarthy in the Least Like photo is hilarious and perhaps worthy of a few more minutes of contemplation.

Kiki Seror’s video work uses the process of erasure and digital manipulation to reinterpret the visual pleasures of pornography. In Phantom Fuck a grid of 15 penises rhythmically pound away into black nothingness, their intended orifices erased by the artist. Complete with a soaring heroic soundtrack, the work is truly mesmerizing and hilarious, rendering each cock a pathetic yet determined actor in marathon copulation. In Seror’s Paradise Lost a woman appears orgasmically interacting with a pulsating, chromatically smeared spectrum of light. Like André Kertész’s surrealist photos of nude women with absurdly elongated or truncated limbs, the piece explores uncanny notions of a body without limits, in Seror’s case, a body reduced to pure light, pure spectacle. This is by far the most intriguing work in the show, allowing the viewer to ruminate on the intersections of visual and sexual pleasure.

Tameka Norris’ installation, consisting of a wallpaper of enlarged American currency cascading onto the floor, acts as a backdrop for interested viewers to pose in front of. The scene is framed on both sides by monitors playing the artist’s music video where Norris, rapping to her own lyrics, enacts recognizable vignettes from hip hop videos while bumping and grinding, like a dancer in a Lil’ Wayne video, on multi-million dollar artworks in UCLA’s sculpture garden. The lyrics put an art-world twist on rap braggaddocio: “I’m that black Cindy Sherman and that little Kara Walker. Basquiat resurrected from the dead motherfucka.” Given the influence of art schools like UCLA’s in churning out art stars, like the music industry produces one hit wonders, Norris’ critique, while somewhat one-dimensional, is actually cutting and appropriate. The installation, including the video, was first used as part of UCLA’s 2008 Undergraduate Scholarship Exhibition, where rich benefactors took pictures with their scholarship recipients in front of the gaudy backdrop. Knowing this makes me wonder if the installation would be even more effective now if Norris included these photos as a sort of documentation of the intersection of art, fame, money and academia.

Tameka Norris

Perhaps we are just so used to both female and male bodies in every visualized sexual situation, that there really is no “shocking” depiction of sexuality anymore – at least not in the exceptionally liberal art world. Jesse Helms’ ghost does, however, still haunt the NEA and popular notions of feminist art. If Lube makes one point clear, it’s that the new millennium finds the female body in fine art unrestrained by any and all puritanical iconoclasm that might linger from by-gone eras. How this will contribute to a new feminist discourse has yet to be determined. But if we are lucky the entertaining, humorous, and pleasurable nature of the work won’t change a bit.

Yo Fukui at David Salow Gallery

By Tucker Neel

Originally published in ART LIES Magazine, Issue No. 64, Winter 2009

Sometimes objects are so strange, so obsessively constructed, and unabashedly beautiful that, like a good intoxicant, they leave you mumbling and incoherent, unable to vocalize what they are doing to you. Yo Fukui’s LA debut solo show, Future Imperfect, at David Salow gallery comes satisfyingly close to accomplishing this sense of bewilderment. While it does fail to impress at times, the show is quite literally a spectacular start to this artist’s career.

Space colony”  2008, Felt, paper, hexagonal wire netting, found object, 73”x42”x40”

"Space colony” 2008, Felt, paper, hexagonal wire netting, found object, 73”x42”x40”

Fukui’s stock and trade is his signature felt appliqué technique, where countless rectangle color swatches accumulate to form fantastic patterns and sensuous surfaces.  Five large sculptural works showcase his crafty obsessiveness, usually with an amorphous felt-covered form hovering above or around brightly painted paper mache’ bases reminiscent of Franz West’s sculptures. The almost compulsive constructions are startlingly, but none is more stunning than I Love You No Matter If The Earth is Destroyed. Here Fukui deploys his additive method atop a tie-dyed sheet, creating a zigzag pattern resembling a knitting project executed under heavy psychedelics. The entire form resembles a colossal hummingbird, complete with an erect metal proboscis. At night it glows, speckled with luminescent nipple-like orbs filled with sparkling Christmas lights. The buckling and bulging mass hovers on an unassuming steel armature as its long metal pole prods the unfinished skeleton of a corrugated plastic and metal shed. Work like this is frankly difficult to describe because it’s so insistently phantasmagorical, inspiring hyphen-heavy allegorical interpretations that always seem to miss the mark. And this is where Fukui’s work succeeds, when it generates a kind of ocular overload that renders all description inept.

I Love You No Matter If The Earth is Destroyed 5x11x14 ft. mixed media 2007

"I Love You No Matter If The Earth is Destroyed" 5x11x14 ft., mixed media, 2007

The most incongruous and unsuccessful piece in the show is a painting of sorts titled Rain, consisting of countless drippy grey and black diagonal sumi ink brush strokes on over thirteen dozen rolls of toilet paper stacked on towel racks against the gallery wall. A few calculated drips on the wall itself convey that the piece was made in situ. The use of stacked toilet paper as large canvas is a novel move, but the piece is essentially a quick play on materials, marrying bodily functions with abstract painting. We’ve seen plenty of these kinds of jokes before and because of this the piece is forgettable.

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"Rain", 72 x47 x 47 in., mixed media, 2009

Perhaps Fukui’s greatest challenge is that there’s so much other work out there employing techniques and materials similar to his – to varying degrees of success. It’s hard to imagine the works in this show going toe-to-toe with the likes of Yayoi Kusama, or even Mindy Shapero, because Fukui simply hasn’t figured out how to push his obsessive material concerns to their most extreme limits. However, his work certainly holds its own among so many of the junk-as-new millennium-totem works that seem to have colonized certain sectors of the art world for the last decade. Fukui’s work will have no trouble surviving this trendy epoch if he can make his next works ones that embrace even more risk while still residing at the fringes of pleasure.

ART WITH SOME MEAT TO IT: Fallen Fruit’s Daily Servings

FALLEN Fruit wants you to eat your neighborhood. It wants you to pound the pavement and pluck the ripe fruit hanging above your head. It wants you to imagine what your city can be, and works to make this dream a reality. With their first solo shows, “United Fruit” at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), and “Fresh ‘n Easy” at Another Year in LA, running simultaneously, this quintessentially LA collective truly reps their hood and proves they are out to change the world one bite at a time.

fallen-fruit-bananas3

While they have countless comrades and collaborators, the official Fallen Fruit collective is composed of David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young. The three joined forces in 2004 in response to The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest’s call for work proposing real world solutions to pressing social and political problems. The trio looked at the sprawling LA landscape and stumbled upon an elegant solution to car-cocoon alienation, malnutrition and the wasted fruit littering public land. They decided to map the locations of publicly accessible fruit in their immediate Silver Lake neighborhood because, according to helpful attorneys, collecting fruit on LA public land is technically “not illegal.”

fallenfruit

As the collective’s mission statement points out, this public fruit is “blessed by neglect,” pesticide-free, making it organic. Picking it also circumvents the need for petroleum packaging and transportation, and performs a civic duty by preemptively eliminating fruit waste underfoot. Their maps, now charting areas far beyond Silver Lake and into other states and countries, actively encourage you to get out of your car, explore where you live and talk to strangers.

Inspired to put theory into action, Fallen Fruit got their hands dirty. Decked out in custom-made uniforms, they led groups on “Nocturnal Fruit Forages,” picking produce along the way. They teamed up with Islands of LA to plant tomatoes on traffic islands, and held an unforgettable salsa party at the Center for Land Use Interpretation. And they created intoxicating “Neighborhood Infusions,” blending local fruit with liquor. To this day they periodically hold “Public Fruit Jams” with Machine Projects, where people bring in found fruit to make delicious preserves.

newfallenfruitofsilverlake

Earlier this year the collective participated in a residency in Ciénega, Columbia in South America. In 1928, workers at banana plantations all over Columbia owned by United Fruit (now Chiquita Banana) went on strike demanding contracts and better working conditions. During a peaceful gathering in Ciénega, hundreds of men, women and children were massacred by army machine-gun fire as military troops, requested by United Fruit, attempted to violently put down the strike. Against this backdrop, in this site of past massacre, and with bananas on the brain, Fallen Fruit decided to make work for the LACE show, addressing the personal and political history of a fruit too often taken for granted.

ftr1_img2

In the main gallery at LACE viewers are confronted with a humongous photomural of an iconic peeled banana juxtaposed across from a larger-than-life banana plantation worker brandishing a worn rifle. A suite of nine hefty photo portraits of banana workers contrasts with un-idealized images of banana fields. In the back room video interviews with Columbian locals seek to personalize the individual’s connection with the banana as a social and historical phenomena. And in the video projection, The Banana Machine, adolescents peel and eat bananas in Warholian screen-test silence. Another projection across the room, Los Bananeros, shows workers processing bananas in a factory. The videos invite viewers to contemplate both their personal relation to the yellow fruit, as well as think about the labor that occurs between when a banana is planted, and when it is consumed.

ftr1_img3

For Another Year In LA gallery, the group carried over the visual feel of The Banana Machine, exhibiting a wall of photos depicting adolescent youth bearing a variety of fruit in deadpan Caravaggio-like compositions. Additionally, in the commercial gallery, Fallen Fruit literally opens shop, making customized household objects, all associated with food, available for public consumption at affordable prices. With echoes of Jenny Holzer’s early truism paraphernalia, each item is emblazoned with a striking phrase. A cutting board reads, “wut a fag.” A spoon states, “these guys are obviously anarchists.” A knife is etched with the words “fucking hippies.” And in keeping with their old school roots, Fallen Fruit has also provided fruit for visitors to take away in exchange for fruit they bring in themselves.

FF-cuttingboard_wut2

Over the course of a few e-mail exchanges, I asked Matias Viegener how he sees Fallen Fruit’s recent LA shows as venues for building on their work practice:

TN: Your work to date has incorporated a lot of “relational esthetics,” person-to-person exchange and community building. Yet the shows at LACE and Another Year in LA don’t necessarily embody this kind of relational art approach. In the gallery no one is really there to interact with viewers. I know you have done shows in gallery spaces before, but how did you approach this new situation?

MV: We try to balance the participatory work with what for now I’ll call the more traditional work: images, videos, installations, etc. At first the visual work (which we love doing as well) was primarily to attract and engage participants, to get people to come to the fruit jam, mappings, fruit forages, etc. A bit of it was documentation, but that was secondary until spring 2008. At that point footage of ours got edited by KCET and placed on YouTube, which for one or two days made it their “featured” front page video — where it received some scathing commentary. We felt a little like we had lost control of the work (both its participatory nature and its representation) and we realized that it would “enter representation” whether we wanted it or not.

FF_f_hippies

We ended up loving the nasty commentary and also realized that while we had been working with one definition of public and private space, there was another fascinating one out there (seen in YouTube): the anonymity of the Internet which is public and private at the same time. And even more interesting was that we saw a kind of participatory aspect to what might initially seem like a traditional one-way representation.

TN: Was it a challenge making saleable objects for Another Year In LA, and stepping outside of your traditional practice?

MV: It felt very natural. We’re at a point with the collaboration that it takes more time than anything else any of us do. It’s always operated in the red, and we accepted that it now had to bring in money one way or another. The core of the Another Year show were the “everyday objects,” which are of course consumer objects (practical ones, unlike luxuries such as art). Pulling the text from the Double Standard video felt just right: it’s a form of recycling, but also harvesting what we find, which was essential to Fallen Fruit from the start.

Maybe another way to engage your question would be to say that the world demands of artists that we produce primarily two-dimensional portable commodities that hold value. Rather than reject that demand (which plays into the necessity of earning a living), we embraced it. Pricing was a big question for us. Are these just nice domestic objects or limited production art commodities? We chose the former. The prices reflect the cost of materials and production, but the “mark-up” is small — far less than any small-scale economy of production would allow.

EVEN with two shows up simultaneously, the collective isn’t slowing down, so the need for working funds is understandable. Their ongoing “Colonial History of Fruit” project has Fallen Fruit traveling to New Zealand to wrestle with kiwis, and to Norway to tackle arctic berries. With global ambitions like this, Fallen Fruit seems destined to turn the dream of a sustainable, fruit-conscious world into a delicious reality, ripe for the picking.

See “United Fruit” at LACE thru Sept. 27. For more info on Fallen Fruit visit fallenfruit.org.

UNITED_FRUIT_Fallen_Fruit

by Tucker Neel

tuckerneel.com

tuckerneel.wordpress.com

Penelope Gottlieb at Kim Light

Originally published in Artillery Magazine May/Jun 2009 vol 3 issue 5
Penelope Gottlieb Installation

Penelope Gottlieb Installation

In NO $ DOWN, Penelope Gottlieb presents visitors with dozens of modestly sized, colored pencil and watercolor, drawings of “homes,” each rendered in a monochrome color, and each inside its own matching brick-a-brac frame. The work is arranged salon-style around a roaring, but completely fake, fireplace, a replica of the hearth from TV’s Leave It To Beaver. The installation is intoxicating, and one can’t help but scan the exquisitely crafted drawings and pick a favorite. In one piece titled Find Your Nest, a pitiful stucco duplex, in purple, is photographed from the street and conspicuously obscured by two parked cars. An acid-yellow tract home, surrounded by fledgling Cyprus trees, is titled Better Than New! Gottlieb’s selection of quintessentially heterogeneous Californian dwellings: craftsman bungalows, mid-century split-levels, Tuscan-style McMansions, and dingbat boxes, feels familiar. So it’s no surprise to find that the images, and their concomitant titles, come directly from real estate ads the artist mined over the past ten years from The LA Times.

Gottlieb's Spanish Doll House

Gottlieb's Spanish Doll House

In sourcing her images from The LA Times, and not, say, creating them as a plein-air painter, and packaging her appropriated images in a candy colored “pick your favorite” display, around a wholly decorative fireplace, Gottlieb creates a situation that questions not just “The American Dream” of home ownership and its bastardized nightmarish present, but also proposes a larger critique of how that very dream (or business proposition, investment, or gamble) is sold, pictured, and packaged to our consumer society. This critique doubles back on itself when one considers how strange the situation becomes when Gottlieb’s work actually sells, when someone buys her work and hangs it on their wall, putting a picture of someone else’s house, an anonymous house, in their own home. When activated as part of this exchange, the work is not about the physical veracity of a specific house, or even style of house, but about the mystique surrounding the image’s source, its point of origin, where the image, and the work of art, came from, and the conditions that facilitated its creation.

Alongside her many homes, Gottlieb also includes a handful of drawings of shopping carts overflowing with collected ephemera, as well as an image of a decorated school bus. Unlike the house drawings, these works are left Untilted, without accompanying witty real estate ad quotes. While these works attempt to expand the idea of a “home,” they come off as heavy handed, and end up to confusing the show’s larger critique. When Gottlieb’s shopping carts and buses leave the gallery and adorn other walls, they simply remain illustrative jokes at best. At worst they embody a kind of liberal guilt that distracts itself with pretty images of the sign of economic disparity, instead of focusing on the conditions that make these realities possible.

Penelope Gottlieb's

Penelope Gottlieb's Handyman's Heaven!

Despite this unfortunate inclusion, the show remains rewarding. Gottlieb has created a meditative tableau, fireplace and all, which allows viewers to contemplate the unseen forces that shape their desires and predilections, a place to reflect on the barbiturates that seek to keep America dreaming.

-Tucker Neel