Partition Expanse, 2011, 30×45 inches, acrylic on canvas over panel
Of all the genres one might associate with contemporary artistic practice, landscape painting is low on the list, more closely aligned with the nineteenth century than the twenty-first.
Still from Send/Receive
In recent years, the significance of artists' magazines has been cemented by the proliferation of exhibitions, panels, and monographic studies devoted to independent publishing endeavors. Not merely side projects or promotional vehicles, such magazines constituted, as art historian Gwen Allen argues in her 2011 book Artists Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art, a form of exhibition space in itself, a central site of postwar artistic experimentation.
The magazine was, in a sense, the ideal form for the “dematerialized” art practices taking hold in the 1960s and ‘70s, which were often rooted in language and typically exhibitable solely in the form of secondary documentation—textual descriptions, instructions, or scores; diagrams and maps; and photographs. At the moment when artists were vehemently challenging the authority of the institutions that mediated between their work and its audience, as well as the attendant commercial system that conferred value based on the saleability of the object, the form of the magazine offered a way to circumvent existing structures—to disseminate projects and ideas directly to an audience, and one that was, at least theoretically, broader than that of the museum or gallery, and more geographically dispersed.
Among the storied magazines of the ‘70s, Avalanche, founded by artist and curator Willoughby Sharp and filmmaker Liza Bear in 1968 (the first issue appeared in Fall 1970), is perhaps the most iconic in terms of capturing the ethos and character of the period’s artistic climate. The privileged editorial form of Avalanche was not the critical essay or review, but the artist interview and it often turned pages over to artists— including Gordon Matta-Clark, Hanne Darboven, and Richard Long —to design their own spreads. Likewise, its “Rumblings” section functioned as a form of pre-internet global art-world message board where artists could submit announcements of upcoming exhibitions, projects, and publications.
Ephemeral and inexpensive, Avalanche was, as Bear described, “a cross between a magazine, an artist book, and an exhibition space in print. Basically, it was devoted to avant-garde art, from the perspective of the artist.” Avalanche, and periodicals like it, were attempts to rethink the art magazine in terms of both form and content, conceived in response to mainstream publications like Artforum, which were dominated by the critic’s voice and implicitly bore the influence of curators and dealers. However, Avalanche was also a network, a decentralized mode of distributing art that aimed to shift the site of reception beyond institutional boundaries...
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...
Images from Cindy Sherman's society portraits series (2008.)
A friend recently recounted an anecdote about teaching Cindy Sherman’s work to her undergraduate students. She was in the middle of her lecture, explaining Sherman’s elaborate, chameleonic process of casting herself in various roles in her photographs, when one student interrupted, insisting that the photograph projected on screen must have been Photoshopped, that it was impossible that the woman in this image was the same person as in the one before. The others nodded in agreement. Faced with this chorus of disbelief, my friend checked her notes: the image on her slide was from the mid-1980s, several years before Photoshop’s commercial release. The process of creating it was, indeed, analog: the photograph was shot on film, and Sherman’s apparent physical mutation in it the result of costuming and skillfully applied makeup rather than digital manipulation. However, the students’ responses raise interesting questions about how we might conceive of her work in the wake of the digital, particularly since her most recent work has, in fact, made use of such software.
For those of us who first encountered Sherman’s photographs before “Photoshopped” became part of the vernacular, her work carries rather different connotations: it is less about a process of editing or altering the image than one of altering the self through a kind of private performance staged for the camera. Sherman transforms herself, in each image, to the point that she is not only no longer wholly recognizable, but also no longer present as “Cindy Sherman” at all, instead appearing as a litany of characters and stock types. As she noted in an interview with filmmaker John Waters in the catalogue of her current MoMA retrospective, “Before I ever photographed it, I was playing around in costumes and dressing up as characters in my bedroom.”
It is precisely this aspect of dressing up—of adopting and embodying different types—around which much of the critical reception of her work has revolved over the past decades. Moreover, she has maintained a rigorously private studio practice throughout her career, rarely, if ever, working with assistants: Sherman is not only photographer and model, but also hairdresser, costumer, makeup artist, and prop stylist. She performs in front of the camera, but also behind it, adopting multiple roles and functions over the course of creating each photograph. When presented in serial form, the photographs reveal the meticulousness of her process, with each successive image calling further attention to the laborious transformation involved in creating the one preceding it....
In a statement for your 2009 exhibition "TV Show" at 179 Canal, you described television as a dying medium, suggesting that the work in the show was a kind of eulogy for TV. Television is a recurring theme in your work, but you’ve used it in various ways, both as a material and as a subject, often taking the most familiar types of programs—the news, for instance—and altering the way we see it. What is it about television that appeals to you? Are you interested in defamiliarizing something we take for granted, forcing the viewer to reconsider its place in everyday life? Is this work reflecting a sense of nostalgia for television’s past? If it’s a dying medium, what do you think has replaced it?
TV is no longer the all-powerful medium it used to be. It’s dead in the same way radio is dead, whereby it only occupies a peripheral position in our lives. Internet is the new place, because it encompasses words, images, videos, audio, as well as the viewer’s participation. The internet packs more information; in that sense it’s more HD than TV and that’s what people go for, the better, more fulfilling, more entertaining medium.
I was interested in TV broadcasts initially because I thought it was funny to bring live TV into the museum or the gallery. In my TV work I encourage the use of any entertaining program. However, screening an episode of Spongebob (a personal favorite) doesn’t work the same, in an exhibition context, than say the news or any program with live content. That’s because the viewer’s common assumption is that if a video is shown, it must be pre-recorded. But I am not at all interested in working with ...