Category Archives: Public Art

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE National Museum of American History, Artillery Magazine, July 2014

This press release was a work of art I contributed to Artillery Magazine’s “Celebrity” issue in July of 2013. The press release was published, as is, with no explanation, in the magazine.

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The National Museum of American History to Exhibit Artworks by Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush

The National Museum of American History is pleased to presentPresidential Pictures: Paintings & Drawings by Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. This unprecedented exhibition brings together works from three of the most powerful and influential men in American history. Presidential Pictures will no doubt open the public’s eyes to the fact that these men were not just great politicians but also true artists.

While he is best known as the American president who desegregated the U.S. armed forces and public schools, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960, and articulated the anti-Communist “domino theory,” Dwight D. Eisenhower was also a dedicated painter. Having taken up the art in 1948 to relieve the stress of being Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Eisenhower created hundreds of images before, during and after his presidential tenure. He even had an artist’s studio installed in the White House. Always a straight-shooter, the former President was quick to dismiss symbolic meanings viewers might read into his tranquil images of farm houses, mountains, and mirthful family members. At a 1967 exhibition of his paintings, the former president told United Press International reporter Richard Cohen, “They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren’t the president of the United States.” Referring to his portrait of Abraham Lincoln—based on a photo by Alexander Gardner—one cannot help but consider the thoughts that went through the artist’s mind as he carefully rendered the shine on the forehead of his heroic predecessor. President Eisenhower’s work is provided courtesy of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Museum, The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, and David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

It’s no secret that Ronald Reagan was an actor before he was a politician, starring in dozens of films, from Santa Fe Trail to The Voice of The Turtle. Political and film historians have proposed that President Reagan’s work as a stage and screen actor, President of The Screen Actors Guild, and spokesman for General Electric, allowed him to cultivate a “Teflon” façade, an impermeable presence that deflected criticism from the Iran-Contra affair to his indolence at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. But did you know President Reagan was also a cartoonist before and after his time in office? Visitors to this exhibition will get the rare chance to explore President Reagan’s prolific drawing practice through his images of cowboys, horses, football stars, butlers and even caricatures of hook-nosed men and mustachioed Asian faces. As President Reagan said in a 1984 letter to political cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, “I am a cartoon aficionado up to and including reading the comics every morning.” Amidst these pictures—most of them doodled on White House stationery—one sees the president’s externalized mental space in the moments between moments, when meetings got a little too boring and he needed some distraction. President Reagan’s work comes to us courtesy of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library and the many private collectors credited in the exhibition’s catalog.

Unlike his artistic predecessors, George W. Bush took up the palette knife after leaving office. America knows the Decider in Chief as the man who battled for the contentious 2000 election, initiated the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and signed The Patriot Act into law. But in 2014, President Bush had his first museum show of portraits comprising images of global leaders such as Vladimir Putin and the Dalai Lama, all taken from the Google image search engine. Since then, he’s never looked back. Speaking of his now prolific painting practice, President Bush told CNN’s John King, “I relax. I see colors differently. I am, I guess, tapping a part of the brain that, you know, certainly never used when I was a teenager.” Amongst the former president’s numerous portraits, visitors will have the opportunity to fully experience the former Commander in Chief’s visual perspective on what it was like to connect with global leadership. President Bush’s paintings appear courtesy of The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

A catalog with essays by Lynne Cheney, Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith accompanies this exhibition.

Special Events:
Feb. 6: To celebrate his birthday, the museum will screen Knute Rockne: All American, starring the former president. A panel moderated by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will follow.

Starting Feb. 14, President George W. Bush will teach a 10-week drawing and painting class, focusing on classical technique. Students will produce a portrait and a still life, using live models and nature mortes arranged specifically by the 43rd president. Reservations required.

Up Next At The Museum:
Missing! A photographic survey of looted artifacts from the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars.

 

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DESERT SHINDIG: Shenanigans at Shangrila, Artillery Magazine, November 2013

Like its Himalayan literary counterpart, Joshua Tree’s Shangrila is a utopian vision; part dream, part tourist destination. Concretely, it’s a one-bedroom residence on Shangrila Lane, overlooking a seemingly endless expanse of undeveloped, government-owned desert. It’s remote enough to seem completely isolated, yet close enough to civilization that you can feel the earthquake-like blasts from simulated bombing raids at the U.S. military fake Iraqi training village in neighboring Twentynine Palms. Originally a homesteader cabin built in 1947, the Shangrila lot was decrepit when artist and curator Drew Dunlap purchased it in 2005 while enrolled in Otis College’s MFA program. In addition to envisioning his future home as a vacation rental, Dunlap also wanted to establish a sporadic artists’ residency where one could create works inspired by epic surroundings. Today Shangrila resembles a mid-century modernist spec house with a swing set and three conspicuous shipping containers in the back yard.

In 2008 Dunlap executed his plan, inviting a few dozen artists for a weekend of experimentation and imaginative planning. They planted the seeds for what would become “Shangrila”: the art event, which debuted in June of 2010. For this first weekend event, Dunlap curated art and performances investigating questions of utopia. I participated in this show as an artist, and again the next year (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, probably dulls my critical edge a little). While there were many fine works on display in that 2010 show, Rob Faucette’s intervention stood out as particularly poignant. Faucette invented Girlfriend Beer, a fictional company that “sponsored” the event. The artist stuck DIY labels on cheap beer cans, posted roadside ads, and distributed free branded koozies to visitors. I couldn’t help but take his work as a preemptive inoculation by satire against corporate sponsorship.

As the perennial art happening matured, Dunlap shifted his role, co-curating “Shangrila: New Moon” with artist Michelle Chong in June of 2010. During the day, Veronica Duarte’s iconographic self-guided tour relayed meandering information about Joshua Tree and its history, while at night Taylor Tschider’s galaxy in a cardboard box beautifully echoed the Milky Way above. In early fall of 2011, Dunlap turned the event over to the collective Durden and Ray, who put on “Shangrila: Oasis.” I missed out on this iteration, but stories of naked BBQ cooks, stalagmite campaign signs by Elizabeth Gahan, and Brian Thomas Jones’ glowing super-phallic inflatable tube confirm that I should have been there.

Unlike other desert art events like tech-yuppie Burning Man, or the more elite High Desert Test Sites, Shangrila remains emphatically emergent and wonderfully unpredictable. Somewhere in between the blazing Friday sunshine and the hungover Sunday drive home (after a transcendental visit to the Integratron sound bath a few miles away), Shangrila morphs from nervous art opening into a temporary autonomous zone where people transform in strange ways. I’ve witnessed buttoned-up academics get shit-faced and near-naked with people navigating in and around in-situ artworks pursuing nocturnal trysts.

This year, the curatorial team of Steven Bankhead and Jesse Benson organized “Shangrila: Burrito Deluxe,” which included 50-plus artists. To manage the expansive undertaking, they enlisted other curators. As Bankhead notes, “Jesse and I both distinguish ourselves more as organizers… We weren’t so interested in curating specific types of art but rather organizing a group of artists that are doing interesting things.” On Friday, Calvin Phelps hosted “Supper,” a performance/gourmet meal inspired by the desert. The collective Elephant created an impressive temporary stage resembling their LA outdoor space. And with the help of Michelle Chong, Elephant scheduled a series of performances throughout the night, many of them by members of the LA sound art organization, SASSAS.

One of the greatest things about Shangrila is the ability to encounter work in the surprising desert landscape. As Benson puts it, “While some works were immediately recognizable in the environment, others were more difficult to ‘discover.’ Stumbling through the desert at night with a flashlight and encountering a work is of course different than seeing a work in a gallery.”

This experience is a welcome invitation to create site-specific installations, exemplified this year by Fatima Hoang’s small inflatable sun, which kept rising and falling throughout the night, commenting on the promise of new beginnings while comically punctuating Joshua Tree’s picturesque vista.

Like any event incorporating lots of artists with multiple agendas, Shangrila always has hits and misses. While some works fall flat in their new desert context—especially those that cling to the safety of the property’s shipping containers, which mimic the white cube—others remain indelibly memorable because they reimagine our relation to the desert landscape. In the end it’s the strange weekend-long event that creates the critically important space for contemplation.

Takin It To The Streets: An Interview With Susan Silton

“Takin It To The Streets: An Interview With Susan Silton,” ARTPULSE Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 4, Spring 2012.

http://artpulsemagazine.com/takin-it-to-the-streets-an-interview-with-susan-silton

 

Susan Silton’s art sneaks up on you where you least expect it, often in public, on power boxes, billboards and fumigation tents, in postcards and posters, in whistling crowds and on Facebook. Silton’s work is all about communication (and lack thereof) and power (and lack thereof). Silton has cultivated a thriving practice with her multimedia works interrogating the history of stripes as signs for social deviance, her postcards re-situating the language of wartime propaganda leaflet drops, and a recent project citing quotes about free speech in public spaces. She was happy to share her thoughts in this interview, in which we discuss her ongoing projects, the Occupy Wall Street movement, art, politics and the power of words.

By Tucker Neel

Tucker Neel – Your work often resides in public places or is framed by a public experience. What is it about public space that interests you? What sort of considerations do you make when negotiating work for a public space?

Susan Silton – I’m especially interested in the accessibility of public space-how it can expand the audience for a given work and provides a viable art platform beyond the commodity-based value structure of the institutional white cube. Last year, for example, I participated in an event called Trespass Parade, which was a celebration of free speech mounted by Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization West of Rome. As part of the parade, I passed out a series of postcards I produced in conjunction with a concurrent public project of mine about free speech calledUtility, which is installed on five utility boxes in neighboring Pasadena. It’s incredibly gratifying to extend a work’s sphere of influence beyond the gallery or museum. If one person who never sets foot in a traditional art space posts one of my postcards on her/his refrigerator, the work, to my mind, has achieved great success. And this is in sharp contrast to how success is defined by the institutional art world. In addition to the accessibility of public space, I’m drawn to the relationship between public space and media proliferation; public space is where and how media of every conceivable nature goes viral. As such, it’s propaganda’s chief venue. So I regard the public realm as a rich site for subversive intervention.

 

 

Inside Out, 2007, site-specific installation at Pasadena Museum of California Art, vinyl tarps, sandbags, pony clips. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

Inside Out, 2007, site-specific installation at Pasadena Museum of California Art, vinyl tarps, sandbags, pony clips. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer

 

T.N. – You make a lot of work that takes ‘political issues’ as its subject. Im thinking here of your recent work in Pasadena addressing censorship or your propaganda postcards. How do you see your art practice in relation to politics, specifically activism? I mention activism because your work often uses direct texts to communicate specific messages to the viewer, perhaps to inspire some sort of action?

S.S. – I don’t regard any of my artistic output as being an overt call to action, but of course it’s politically infused. Art production is the form of activism I most comfortably inhabit. Neither of the projects you mentioned are intended to inspire action so much as to engage reflection about its broader context and meaning, calling to mind the famous Hannah Arendt quote about storytelling revealing  ”meaning without committing the error of defining it.” Reflection itself, on the part of the spectator, is extremely active. If I’m lucky, this is what my work will provoke.

 

 

JAMES, from the series BY THE CROWD THEY HAVE BEEN BROKEN; BY THE CROWD THEY SHALL BE HEALED, 2009. Animated video.

JAMES, from the series BY THE CROWD THEY HAVE BEEN BROKEN; BY THE CROWD THEY SHALL BE HEALED, 2009. Animated video.

 

As you note, language is often incorporated into my practice, sometimes in more literal ways, as in the Pasadena utility box project, but most often in more coded ways, as with the propaganda postcards. Language is equally as pervasive as image, and just as weighted, if not more so, with signification. So I’m most interested in interrupting the channels through which language, and its concomitant spin, is conveyed, and received.

T.N. – On a similar note as the previous question, what role do you see art, particularly your art, playing with regards to political change. I ask this because a few months ago we discussed the Occupy Wall Street movement and our shared desire to do something. Have the grassroots movements of OWS inspired you to make new work?

S.S. – At the inception of OWS and throughout its many occupations, I was energized by the activity I witnessed (and continue to observe in reverberative actions), but for me this hasn’t yet translated into work directly related to the movement. Many of us as you know saw work being generated site specifically by friends, including actions, performances, discussions. Artists have always been on the front lines of political change, but this movement is still in its nascency, as are the creative works emerging from it. I’m following the discourse on a regular basis, but I’m not in the thick of it as other artist friends are. When I went down to Occupy L.A., though, I was so struck by the vibration of the place; there was an overwhelming sense of shared hope even amidst the crankiness that comes from recognizing and resisting difference. I’m currently working on projects that are still in process or were put on hold last year for health reasons. These include a book/exhibition project that originally was an intervention in a John Baldessari public piece; a new whistling project in the Canary Islands for which I was recently awarded funds by Art Matters Foundation and Center for Cultural Innovation to help realize; and a new project that I’m conceiving about my recently scarred body.

T.N. – Your work, BY THE CROWD THEY HAVE BEEN BROKEN; BY THE CROWD THEY SHALL BE HEALED <http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=130960708760&ref=ts&gt; (2009) involved digital avatars of publicly disgraced men, like Mel Gibson or Bill Clinton, performing an apology, but with your voice substituted for theirs. The entire work was ‘exhibited’ on Facebook, a very public virtual space. Im wondering what your thoughts are about social networks, specifically Facebook and its perennial problems with privacy issues, since you made this project?

S.S. – I conceived the work for Facebook because of my ambivalence about social networking and the strange hybridity between public and private space that is now the new normal. The public apology for private indiscretions has also become a normalized form of discourse, so I felt it was the perfect content for the Facebook platform. As for privacy issues, I think it’s naive to have thought from the moment Facebook and other social networks originated that there wouldn’t be privacy issues. Facebook is a corporation, and as users each one of us is one of its consumers, consuming each other. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Facebook as a platform for collective protest, information sharing and even art production; this is when it feels the most authentic and transformative.

 

 

Utility, 2011, vinyl wraps, five utility boxes. Public art commission by Pasadena Playhouse District, Pasadena, CA.

Utility, 2011, vinyl wraps, five utility boxes. Public art commission by Pasadena Playhouse District, Pasadena, CA.

 

T.N. – You had installed fumigation tarps (that might refer to Daniel Buren or Christo) covering art institutions such as the Pasadena Museum of California Art. Are these tents a critique of art institutions? Are they a comment that something might be rotten inside art institutions, the art market, the art system?

S.S. – Yes, absolutely, that’s an unequivocal and intentional reading of the work. But the museum wrap at PMCA is part of an ongoing, more extensive investigation of the stripe. I had been commissioned in 2004 to produce a billboard to coincide with the election of that year. We had just invaded Iraq the year before, and George Bush and company were at the height of egregious policy making. I used an image I’d taken some years prior of a fumigated house covered in red, white and blue stripes, which became a trenchant metaphor for the diseased country. This led to a deeper inquiry into the stripe; beyond its more obvious associations with modernism, the stripe has a compelling history as a signifier for otherness, as put forward by social historian Michel Pastoureau in his book The Devils Cloth: A History of Stripes. Pastoureau traces the stripe, in clothing, to the Middle Ages, when it was being worn by society’s outcasts in one form or another. So this historical framing of the stripe as abject added a new dimension to present-day fumigation tents. There is an insistence of content in the stripes wrapping the PMCA, which is how it distinguishes itself from, say, Buren’s use of the stripe, or Christo’s wraps.

 

 

Utility, 2011, vinyl wraps, five utility boxes. Public art commission by Pasadena Playhouse District, Pasadena, CA.

Utility, 2011, vinyl wraps, five utility boxes. Public art commission by Pasadena Playhouse District, Pasadena, CA.

 

T.N. – Ive been thinking recently about all the handmade protest signs that came out of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Im just wondering if there are any specific signs that caught your attention?

S.S. – So many I can’t cite them all here! The pervasiveness and immediacy of media has much to do, I’m sure, with how prevalent the protest signage became. Plus it’s such a succinct populist expression of the individual and collective voice. But I think the astute wordplay in many of those that circulated reveals just how strong a role language has increasingly played in the production and dissemination of spin by both corporate and government entities and how this is now being reflected back in various ways in protest signage. It seems like an interesting kind of acculturation.

The sign held by Cornel West that went viral will likely persist as an iconic image of OWS: ‘IF ONLY THE WAR ON POVERTY WAS A REAL WAR THEN WE WOULD ACTUALLY BE PUTTING MONEY INTO IT.’ But there were other brilliant combinations of wordplay and seriousness, like ‘ONE DAY THE POOR WILL HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO EAT BUT THE RICH.’  Another iconic sign, for obvious reasons, came from an American soldier: ‘2ND TIME I’VE FOUGHT FOR MY COUNTRY 1ST TIME I’VE KNOWN MY ENEMY.’ As an aside, I read some months ago that the Smithsonian had made a concerted effort to collect protest signs, including those from Tea Party protests, for its collection. Let’s see what happens if and when they show up on the walls of that institution.