Frieze New York: The Art Outside the Tent

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Joshua Callaghan’s Two Dollar Umbrella (2011)

As far as art fairs go, Frieze New York was better than most: the booths were spacious, the tent well lit, and the amenities for visitors excellent. The quality of the work on view, too, was a vast improvement over the first round of fairs this past March; many of the participating galleries brought impressive pieces by both emerging and established artists.

Supplementing the art lining gallery booths inside were a host of works presented outdoors, organized by appointed curators: Frieze Projects, a series of site-specific commissions curated by Cecelia Alemani, and the Sculpture Park curated by Bard CCS director Tom Eccles—technically separate, though physically intermingling with the Frieze Projects commissions.

The Sculpture Park was largely composed of the sorts of dull, oversized abstraction typical of corporate plazas and civic commissions—inoffensive, vaguely industrial, often colourful (Katja Strunz, Gabriel Kuri) or shiny (Tomas Saraceno, Jeppe Hein.) In short: perfectly positioned to move swiftly from the fairgrounds at Randall’s Island to the backyard of some collector’s summer home. Indeed, each work was labelled not only with the artist’s name, title, and date, but also the gallery representing it—all of them participants in the fair—making it essentially an extension of select gallery booths.  

Others read merely as oversized gimmicks. For Subodh Gupta’s Et Tu Duchamp? (2009–2010), the artist translated Duchamp’s famous moustachioed reproduction of the Mona Lisa, L.H.O.O.Q., into three dimensions, casting it as a large-scale bronze. The title of Gupta’s work suggests that his intent was to replicate Duchamp’s gesture of comically appropriating a canonical work—in the twenty-first century, Duchamp is as recognizable as Da Vinci—but Et Tu Duchamp? is less a subversive violation of a masterpiece than a self-aggrandizing, one-note gag. Likewise, Joshua Callaghan’s Two Dollar Umbrella (2011) presents the titular object amplified to monumental proportions; with its loose spokes pointing skyward like Laocoön’s outstretched arm, Callaghan’s pathetic umbrella has its own odd pathos—given the overcast skies during much of the fair’s run, discarded umbrellas littering the city’s street were a common sight—but elevating an everyday inconvenience to the status of mythic tragedy is neither new nor compelling.

Works that engaged the setting more directly fared somewhat better...

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JODI: Street Digital

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Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans, collectively known as JODI, are rightfully venerated for their countless contributions to art and technology, working as an artistic duo since the mid-90’s. Generally referred to as pioneers of “net.art,” that oft-misunderstood “movement” combining the efforts of artists using the internet as a medium circa 1994, JODI is revered not only for their artistic meditations on the increasing presence of new technology in our daily lives, but also for their fuck-if-I-care attitude toward both the establishments of the technology and art worlds. JODI’s famous five-word “acceptance” speech—if you could call it that—for their 1999 Webby Award in art, simply read, “Ugly commercial sons of bitches.” 

Unlike an overwhelming majority of artists, and especially those in art and tech, JODI has managed to sustain a successful career for over 15 years, mounting exhibitions internationally. February 2011 saw the duo literally blow its audience in the face with bomb-like cans of oxygen at Foxy Production, accounting for one of the best performances of the year.

Yet, their recently launched exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) finds a flashy, overly simplistic exhibition that fails to represent the deeply important perspective that JODI has come to represent over the last two decades. Comprising work made from 1999 to the present, “Street Digital” extends JODI’s focus from the desktop computer to hardware’s broader, more public landscape including cellular phones, LED signs, and iPods. A projection split into four channels, YTCT (Folksomy) (2008/2010), combines Youtube videos of “people doing weird things with hardware,” or more specifically, the video features mostly-teenage boys destroying old iPods, cameras, laptops, etc., by throwing, bashing, or hammering them. Periodically, a legitimately strange occurrence replaces the usual simple, hormonally charged violent acting-out of an enfants terrible ...

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Remote Control

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Simon Denny, Those who don't change will be switched off, (2012)

A TV set burns fiercely. These are the last days of the British analog television broadcast.

I kid you not, the United Kingdom limps sorely behind on digital conversion. Luxembourg was first to the finish line, followed by most of Europe, the States, North Africa, Japan. The UK, a chain-smoking marathon runner, who might or might not have gout, has decided — to hell with the lot of you — to race dressed as Chewbacca.

As we drag ourselves sodden and bronchial through those final steps, a slow clap from the ICA gallery greets us. The exhibition 'Remote Control' (April 3, 2012 - 10 June 10, 2012) marks the end of the analog signal by uniting works that take TV and break it apart.

Artist David Hall set television ablaze in 1971. His TV Interruptions were broadcast during normal BBC scheduling in Scotland. No announcement, nor explanation. A tap in the top right-hand corner filled the screen up with water as if it were a cross-section of a sink, a man filmed out at the audience from inside the set, a television burned to cinders in an open field. Each short film held its own during broadcast with a cool irony. Yet the creation and destruction of illusions simultaneously undermined the tyranny of any box masquerading as a window into reality. Hall pioneered art in television and continues to work with the medium and concept. With it, and in opposition to it, for the artists in 'Remote Control' hold their enemy close.

            Still from David Hall, TV Interruptions (Tap piece) (1971)

Commercial broadcasting is the adversary in Television Delivers People (1973) by Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman. A six and a half minute credit roll tells us merrily that we are the end product of TV, delivered through broadcast to be consumed by advertisers. The medium itself emerges banal, or shrill; the mechanisms of corporate control form the malevolent baseline. Screened in the ICA alongside these works by Hall and Serra as well as Gerry Schum, are further exposés on television advertising from TVTV, misogyny from Joan Braderman, and violence from Marcel Odenbach. Sixteen CRT televisions line up neatly to show us how artists rankled with the system over the decades past. 

It doesn't sound very radical does it? The wit of the interruptions has already been dampened by their removal from the broadcast context. They confront an engaged, expectant audience, not their passive target. Can we understand quite how difficult it must have been to infiltrate the mainstay of the British broadcasting industry, the BBC, when there is such a multitude of platforms available today? Should an institution that holds the contemporary at its core not be addressing the hidden power lines of the mass media that immerse us now?

 

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A Puppet's Show

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Still from Animation, masks (Jordan Wolfson, 2011)

The central figure in Jordan Wolfson’s Animation, masks (his video which showed at Alex Zachary Peter Currie until recently) is only visible to his torso, like a Jack-in-the box. He’s a caricature who lip-syncs borrowed text while making gestures and expressions that seem cinematically familiar. He's not comprised of anything; rather, he's composed through appropriation. 

The character repeats and repeats Richard Brautigan’s Love Poem, heralding a morning without falsehood. In the piece's most powerful segment, he's the face for two emotional and articulate individuals whose frank sexual conversation showcases the distance between lovers who, even with their privileged understanding of one another, can't bridge the difference between empathizing with someone and embodying oneself.  

Still from Animation, masks (Jordan Wolfson, 2011)

That sliver of difference between subject and object and the impossibility of fusing within and without defines the piece. Wolfson has created a compelling synthesis of consumption where the distance between an observer to their object of attention or affection is small but vast. An adept receiver of popular culture exists under his character's mask of mimicry and enactment; one who inhabits references by parroting them. Animation, masks is that absorptive sponge's clearly rendered dream.

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The Crisis Artist

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Still from Hangmen Also Die! (Fritz Lang, 1943)

Per-Oskar Leu's Crisis and Critique consists of a video of trial scenes selected from German films from the 1930s and '40s, leather coats hung over speakers sometimes playing Bertolt Brecht's 1947 testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and four mattressed seating areas with the German words for locked up, night, your ears, and misfortune printed on them. Presented in a curtained-off room, the installation at 155 Freeman Street was accompanied by a newly translated essay by Otto Freundlich entitled "The Artist and the Economic Crisis."  The sum of these parts might make for an ominous, harrowing piece, which by its content, it is. It's also an insightful and engaging installation on the role of the artist and art in the whole mixed-layered world at large.  

'At large' is apt as Leu, in the show's press release, cites an investigation of Verfremdungseffekt—distancing effect—in relation to the experiences of Bertolt Brecht. The video of trials in German cinema demonstrate how the format of a trial flattens the dimensions of an individual, with the defendent often used as a tool to prove a political point or create legal precedence. The transcript and audio recording of Brecht's testimony before the Committee is rich with content, displaying the State’s fear of insurgence, problems with translation and misinterpretation, and a reminder of art’s ability to incite. Brecht's words in songs and poems, the primary reason for his appearance in Washington, D.C., were quoted to him (in poor translations, he stated to comic effect) during his testimony. His appearance, along with those of so many artists and others during the McCarthy years, serves as a reminder that critical thought can be powerful and dangerous. Poets, writers and ...

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Review: Jack Strange at Tanya Bonakdar

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Jack Strange, “Deep Down”
Tanya Bonakdar through Dec 22

Normally, if one were to ask whether it’s possible to successfully create art by smearing your own blood on a gallery wall, and to evade coming off like a desperate emo teenager, I would respond with an unequivocal “absolutely not.” Blood is one of those materials that you not only want to avoid hanging out with, but also, in an art context, it comes with the most exaggerated eye rolls and “what-the-hell-were-they-thinking”s imaginable. Yet, in his latest exhibition British artist Jack Strange reveals a trick or two to convince us that bloodbathing a white cube, among other head-shakers, may in fact be a right step in considering the art of the present.

Jack Strange’s second solo show at Tanya Bonakdar, “Deep Down,” peregrinates through various media. The show coheres by way of an overarching curiosity for the slippery human consciousness, and the all-too-common instances in which we as people project our image onto dumb objects and animals in order to better understand ourselves. Beginning with the aforementioned over-the-top cloudy smear of his own blood (replete with HA HA HA’s inscribed in pencil), the show meanders through overly slick Neo-Dada assemblages of fruit pits suspended in vitrines fitted with earbuds, to cutesy cross-sectioned vegetables seemingly springing off the wall, and perhaps even less predictably, a curiously dry sound installation that may have well as been made in the 60’s. Strange also dabbles with some “new media,” encasing an iPod Touch in a ceiling-hung plastic bag, which houses another plastic bag filled with water. The works, titled “All Fish,” “All Sharks,” etc., play cartoon aquatic animals on the encased iPods, the animations originally created for an e-card. The e-card animation is then programmed to utter its stream of ...

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Review: WALLPAPERS by Sara Ludy and Nicolas Sassoon

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Nicolas Sassoon and Sara Ludy have a deep collective interest in pixelated virtual architecture and are both members of the online art collective Computers Club. Sassoon has an extensive collection of architectural animated gifs on his own site and considers them representatives of an ideal, only achievable in virtual space. Ludy, with a background in interior design, creates videos of catalog-like architecture melting together in saw-toothed fades. Their latest collaboration, WALLPAPERS, reframes their interest in physical space. Up for only one day at 319 Scholes and curated by Lindsay Howard and Katie Miller, Sassoon and Ludy’s installation transforms the location into immersive wall-sized animated gifs.

Their attention to detail and layout of the space coalesced to create a mesmerizing field. Spanning two large walls of the front room, Sassoon’s snowfield drifted upwards surrounded by darkness revealing different patterns of movement at varying distances. This added contrast to Ludy’s well cropped hybrid violet animation that rendered a mixing slow motion waterfall of abstracted texture landing somewhere between moss, leaves, and stone. Pausing for a moment, the landscape revealed itself. Ludy’s image projected onto the doorway connecting to the second room synced perfectly with the existing perpendicular lines of the architecture. Snow was falling up as the viewers walked into a temple entrance cast out of a forgotten 8-bit videogame nightscape.

The technical setup was acutely tuned to the relationship between the images, viewers, and projectors.  Two laptops cropped out of the floor resembling viewing stations for the scene. This intentional placement informed the tremendous scale shift between screen and wall. Viewers walking through the space playfully interrupted projectors beaming their images from floor level below the laptops. Staring closely at an image on one of the laptops made it possible to see the pixelations. Walking close to the wall, however, revealed a serendipitous match between the pixilated screen of the projectors resolution limits and the pixels of the animated gifs themselves. WALLPAPERS effectively wraps the viewers into architecture.

 

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Review: Oliver Laric's Kopienkritik at Skulpturhalle Basel

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Kopienkritik, German artist Oliver Laric's summer solo project at the Skulpturhalle Basel, waxes upon the politics of the reproduction of images while drawing upon the Swiss museum's collection of plaster cast copies of sculptures from classical antiquity. Laric collaborated with the museum's staff to reinstall and arrange their collection of casts, interspersing his own sculptures and video works shown on monitors and projectors throughout the museum. That Kopienkritik largely comprises works of art not created by but rearranged by Laric calls into question the functionality of the artist as not a maker of things, but a producer of ideas.

Kopienkritik (“copy criticism”) is the process of analyzing copies of classic sculptures —typically Roman reproductions of lost Greek versions — to arrive at a greater understanding of the originals. Within the art history community, the practice is seen as a last-ditch way to study ancient Greek sculpture — and one bearing many discontents. For example, ancient Greek sculptor Polykleitos, active in the 5th and early 4th century BCE, made major contributions to sculptural practice with his “invention” of contrapposto, but as his works are all lost they may only be studied and understood through lesser-quality Roman copies. To illustrate this principle, Laric grouped sculptures together similar in appearance and posture, creating visible aesthetic lineages between each work. These groupings are put into a theoretical framework by Laric's essay-video Versions, projected onto two similar plaster casts in the Skulpturhalle installation, the video attempting to fast forward discussions surrounding the authenticity and proliferation of images to an internet-sensitive context...

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Tool Time: Cory Arcangel at The Whitney

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Cory Arcangel (b. 1978), Various Self Playing Bowling Games (aka Beat the Champ), 2011. Hacked video game controllers, game consoles, cartridges, disks, and video, dimensions variable. [image via Artforum]

In many ways Cory Arcangel's solo show, on view now at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is about the failure of art and technology. This isn't to say the show is a failure; far from it in fact. Instead it's the way in which Arcangel's work frustrates the expectation that art, particularly art that engages with technology, somehow demonstrate a kind of expertise that justifies its elevation to the status of art. If the purpose of technology, broadly speaking, lies in its use-value, then it is his decided refusal of the kind of productive functionality that one expects from technical objects that makes many of the pieces on view so frustrating. Equally frustrated is the desire for an artfully crafted object expressing a unique critical vision. Instead Arcangel offers us objects that have been hacked and broken, that refuse or distort our interaction, or whose simplicity, effortlessness, nostalgia, and humor mask complex socio-technical systems. As Ed Halter noted in an interview with the artist for Rhizome in 2008, Arcangel's work seems to operate in two extremes:

You either introduce a ridiculously enormous and therefore pointless amount of work into it, or you reduce the work by using automation, or defaults, or outsourcing. So you either extend the amount of work to an enormous extent that makes it absurd, or you reduce it to nothing which undercuts its legitimacy.

Arcangel exerts incredible effort to accomplish the most banal of tasks, or produces aesthetic works that require little if any effort to manufacture — on the part of the artist, at least. In this way the works reflect on the process by which both art and technology are produced, and the means through which we ascribe value to artistic and technological objects.

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Keller/Kosmas (Aids-3D) at T293, Naples, Italy

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The infamous, brackishly titled Berlin-based duo Keller/Kosmas (Aids-3D) have exhibited widely from an extremely young age. Dropping out of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and moving to Berlin at age 20, Keller and Kosmas became known in the late naughts for their dirt-style website documenting static works with a fantastical, conspiracy theorist sci-fi sensibility, in addition to weed-infused performances of laser shows and naked babes. As an artistic entity, Keller and Kosmas essentially grew up online, and for better or worse, in the public eye. Now barely 25, Daniel Keller and Nik Kosmas enjoy exhibition opportunities throughout Europe and the United States, albeit with a more concerted sense of art historical sensitivity, production know-how, and overarching artistic maturity.

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