The rabbit hole of pop apotheosis, where Jerry Garcia, Tim Burton, Danny Elfman, Elvis, and the Mad Hatter reside, threatens us with a question: Where do we go from here? Quintessa Matranga and Rafael Delacruz, in their dual exhibition, “100% Stupid,” take on the impossible task of drawing out how one can wrest subjectivity and creativity in the force of unattainable perfection.
Delacruz’s oil pastel drawings simulate the visual tide of the online art-sharing platform DeviantArt. As Jacob Ciocci, a founding member of Paper Rad, attests in the show’s press release, the website serves as a digital town square where amateurs might buoy an artist’s sense of “unique genius,” or pathetic lack thereof. Scooge 3 (all works 2015) suggests the latter, where we see a boyish character sliced in half to reveal oozing green guts. Are we all just slimy garbage behind the flimsy veneer of our artistic moves and aspirations? However, in another drawing, Garbage men are all magicians, seems to offer that the mind’s capacity to transcend reality, inspired or insipid, might undo the stronghold of self-doubt.
Matranga’s “unfinished” paintings exacerbate the relationship to success that many artists struggle with—a desire to go above, beyond, and be stupendous, but without the means (i.e., luck, courage, financial or intellectual resources) to go about it. Thinking About Egypt, in which a pathetic-looking yogic figure dumbly contemplates a pair of pyramids, is hung right next to Evolution, a picture where the evolutionary scale of man is turned up vertically, trapped and stagnating between the upper and lower edges of the canvas. Finally, My boyfriend wants to watch a scary movie shows an adolescent’s diary entry partially obscured by gray hearts and an unfinished drawing of a woman’s face—the artist herself?—bearing a scar above her eye and a wan smirk. Abutting it is Paris, France, a de-skilled sketch of the Eiffel Tower against a fecklessly rendered backdrop of night. Maybe it’s here, in this space of ambivalence, uncertainty, and abjection that—with an openness toward failure coupled with a great deal of love—true creativity and uninhibited subjectivity can thrive.
An obstacle course provided by three floor-based works by K. r. m. Mooney makes traversing this show a tense endeavor. The delicacy and metallic hues of these mixed-media pieces—which often feature steel cables, wires, trays, and bars—ensure difficulty in trying to distinguish them from the concrete floor. This anxiety sets the tone for the austere exhibition “Of Echo Systems,” which augments a concern for viewing predicated on a heightened sensitivity of one’s bodily parameters. For instance, Will Rogan’s Adam 2, 2016, is a mahogany clock with a playful anthropomorphic, smiling face. It clearly looks back to similar Dadaist contraptions, but perhaps also to our current awareness of the body’s internal chronometer.
Yet for any holistic allusion, there is a lack of formal uniformity in the show. Take Shannon Ebner’s A SELF, 2015, a seven-foot-tall silk-screened list. Its height is ultimately referential to the body—the way a Donald Judd stack sculpture would be—yet Ebner’s list is uneven, irregular, and linguistic instead of pure color and volume. Meanwhile, Ebner’s video Unrested Image, 2013, offers a close-up of a post-op FTM torso. The image flickers as we are faced with the shifting nature of what had been historically an assumed given. In the throes of a desperate pluralistic search for appropriate forms of concretizing the body in art, this exhibition is a subtle but incisive stab at all the possibilities of subjectivity in our age.
We are all Northern Californian now. Conscious, sustainable, holistic, but with no sacrifice of artisanal luxury from our eco slow-lives. This style of contemporary living—with its ethics and repercussions—is the fulcrum of Carissa Rodriguez’s exhibition “I’m normal. I have a garden. I’m a person.,” for which she foraged from what was once the fringe and is now the heart of American culture that serves as digital technology’s geographical and spiritual headquarters.
Succulents (all works 2015) is a floor installation of over 200 grass-fed cattle bones in a post-broth state, sourced from a holacratic Berkeley kitchen. Has scatter art gone ethically grown and nutrient dense? Nearby, Untitled (“still renting”) is a cashmere-blend tank top smeared with beef tallow dangling from a brass hook—conceptual rigor finds its match in understated chic. Finally, Untitled (“the use and abuse of vegetational concepts”) is a slab of bone-colored, cold-pressed soap hung with inlaid tallow and bone segments, which wouldn’t feel out of place in a shop in the neighboring Mission District.
A trenchant reference to the volatility of our corporatized, tech-fueled lives takes the form of a trio of shiny dye sublimation prints on aluminum from photos taken in 2015 at the Napa home of Tracy Ann Valenzuela, who was among those accused of a 2010 cyber attack against PayPal after it suspended Wikileaks’ account. Like the exhibition itself, all three works in this series are titled after her incantatory words from a pretrial interview. In two, the Guy Fawkes mask—used by the group Anonymous, credited with the cyber attack—protrudes into domestic kitchen scenes, while autographs of other defendants in the case consecrate the mask. Together, these works demonstrate how radical defiance and vigilance can bubble out of signifiers of normativity.
Rodrigo Lara Zendejas’s modest solo show, “Deportable Aliens,” mourning the forced removal of people of Mexican descent from the US in the aftermath of the Great Depression, shouldn’t be taken only as a history lesson. The artist’s timely critique of this reprehensible operation gains urgency in the context of Donald Trump’s presidential bid. Even if Lara creates fragmentary memorials to the victims of the euphemistically named Mexican Repatriation, we can’t help but think about the targets of such policies today.
The show features thirty-four white porcelain sculptures arranged on a bare wooden shelf, collectively titled Deportable Aliens, 2014–15. Each of them is shaped like a thumb, with part of a face added on. Furrowed brows and forlorn eyes emit suspicion, anger, and exhaustion. One playfully sticks his tongue out; another bares his teeth. Lara’s superimposition of eyes, ears, noses, and mouths on larger-than-life digits links markers of citizenship—a thumbprint, for example—with the idea of personhood. With their mustaches and beards, many of the sculptures represent men. Others could be construed as female, but no obvious attempt is made to signify gender.
Rather than glorify individual pieces, Lara leaves the sculptures on shelves as if they still lie in wait. Like Doris Salcedo, Lara employs synecdoche, although he has much to gain from channeling the Colombian sculptor’s attention to material. Immigrant Identification Card, 2015—just that, a large replica of the document mounted on the wall—with bits of Lara’s hair and saliva, is illustrative.
Amplification, absorption, reverberation, tone, displacement, diffusion—any encounter with the work of Jennie C. Jones demands that a viewer repeatedly wrestle with transmutation, the vocabulary from the science of sound doing double duty in the service of ekphrasis. And the rabbit hole goes deeper, as those keywords also describe the dynamics of social change and race. Indeed, Jones encourages such readings with her punning titles, Solo, Vertical, into Crescendo (Light), 2013, or Score for Sustained Blackness Set 2, 2014. Such is the sparkling noise of the artist’s first mid-career survey, as curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver.
For all the sound, and talk about sound, though, it’s a quiet show—a concerted, almost hermetic succession of series and suites. Jones’s ongoing 2011 series “Acoustic Paintings,” constructed with acoustic paneling, are well represented. Much is gained in viewing the artist’s conceptually ambitious works in the context of a broad retrospective, as their sum total deftly knits together an array of sometimes convergent, but more often divergent, social histories of avant-garde musical and visual traditions. Like the fabric used for pop filters and speaker grills, Jones’s works sieve out particularly resonant sounds and materials. The effect is often a shimmy shake between critique and adoration. For example, the staccato scatting of Ella Fitzgerald is stretched to a high tone and capped with an almost campy canned sound of breaking glass in the audio collage Ella, Scat, Shatter (Short Version), 2008. It references an almost certainly campy 1972 commercial for Memorex audio cassette tapes, wherein Fitzgerald hits a glass-shattering note at the end. Add fidelity to that list of words. Also: rarefaction (or what an artist does for a payday).
Shatter the glass again, Ella; play me out, Jennie.
Reports emerged in early 2015 that Florida government officials had unofficially banned state employees from using phrases such as “climate change” and “global warming” or words such as “sustainability” in their communications. Bik Van der Pol, the Rotterdam-based artistic team of Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol, took this curious censure, which the government denies, as a partial point of departure for their installation Speechless, 2015, the result of a residency at PAMM.
The work consists of a custom-made aviary, the walls of which contain letters that if unscrambled spell out the aforementioned banned words. The structure includes five parrots—Cleo, David, Paco, Zach, and Jany—that will be taught to recite various verses from T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land throughout the run of the show. Eliot’s Europe, devastated by World War I, is Bik Van der Pol’s conception of a south Florida overwhelmed by an impending ecological catastrophe. By hearing the Other, language need not be a divisor between humans and animals.
The accompanying wall text indicates that the museum’s avian guests have made public appearances their entire lives and that they are being taken care of by “the nation’s leading” veterinarian and are all on loan from a local private collector to whom they will be returned. While it might be far-fetched to write that the parrots are not treated as (art) objects, the public display of this information is further evidence of the work’s central message, an interest in blurring the human/animal divide, a binary that has led us to our current quagmire.
For her debut solo exhibition in the US, Andrea Büttner presents works—be it video, philosophy book illustrations, growing moss, prints, or a fabric-based installation—that highlight her willingness to follow an idea to whatever medium it needs to take. Large walls mostly covered in vibrant blue cotton fabric—typically used for British service workers’ uniforms—radiate in the gallery, providing a richness that contrasts with the cold white of the rest of the space. Indeed, Büttner’s work can feel as if it is all about contrasts and opposing ends: The lofty philosophical concerns taken up in eleven large panels of images that illustrate Kant’s 1790 Critique of the Power of Judgment are counterbalanced here by two large woodcuts of a huddled panhandler in Beggar, 2015, with his hands reaching down, demonstrating the lowly vow of Franciscan servitude.
Büttner’s art, in fact, occurs between two extremes—through tension, certainly, but also through meandering in the poetic space of contemplation that is left open between the edges of high and low. In the video installation Piano Destructions, 2014, watching and listening to nine women play grand pianos, projected on one wall, while mostly male avant-garde performers violently bash the instruments with axes and sledgehammers on four screens on an adjacent wall feels brutally gendered and unjust. Though the piece was commissioned by the Walter Phillips Gallery and Banff Centre in Canada, this exhibition adds another layer of profound dissonance, as every male artist—from George Maciunas to Nam June Paik—in the destruction performances has work in the Walker’s permanent collection. The stellar departure in this show is Büttner’s series “Phone Etchings,” 2015, wherein the intimate brush of a fingertip on her phone in search of something is recorded, enlarged, and etched to become expansive gestural strokes in search of expression.
Andrzej Zieliński’s totemic paintings and sculptures mostly elide the pitfalls of a slew of recent work glorifying the kitsch vestiges of tech’s recent past, and instead imbue their subjects with a psychic (and literal) weight. In “Open Sourced,” two galleries—one with paintings depicting Mars rovers and the other filled with (earlier) canvases of technological devices just past their moment of ubiquity and soon to be scrapped, such as paper shredders, scanners, early aughts laptops—accompany a standout array of sculptures. Loosely modeled after desktops, Razr phones, and boxy keyboards, the sculptures display a subtler virtuosity than the artist’s effervescently facile paintings; the three-dimensional forms are seemingly haphazardly formed but in fact meticulously crafted from hewn rock, cast and welded bronze, sculpted marble, alabaster, and a variety of specialty woods. (While the paintings will be taken down on January 17, Zielinski’s sculptures are on view through March 20.)
As objects’ windows of utility grow ever narrower amid constant updates and overhauls, a gray zone has emerged for apparatuses that are still kind of useful—the Blackberries, dongles, and mice no longer in daily rotation, which fill our bottom drawers and closets until we toss them in a burst of KonMari purging. For the moment they linger, subsumed in what Walter Benjamin described as the utopian glow afforded to technological devices in their final hours, freed from the constraints of commodity value—at leisure and ready to have their portraits taken.
In his latest exhibition, Patrick Maguire stages nine new, formally complex oil paintings on the walls of a carefully altered version of this gallery. A circular gray platform in the center of the room offers four arched wooden structures, each roughly the dimensions of a standard door; Maguire has installed a similar archway in the entrance to the gallery. These—and the gallery walls—are stuccoed with drywall compound, which provides a gentle oatmeal tone. Pink spotlights above further round out this soothing environment while a ceiling-mounted speaker emits a low-fi lulling whistle. Portholes are cut out of each “door” at eye level, and when looking through one of these, the viewer notices how various combinations of the paintings are visible—but never more than three works at a time. Standing on this central plinth structure also recalls being in an eighteenth-century landscaped garden, allowing one to experience a specific view that challenges each painting’s autonomy.
Yet, the strata of pigment in the paintings obscures any kind of representation. In Beyond Those Hills, 2015, a small square painting on a bright orange ground, purple-black and yellow nested semicircles alternately mirror the curvature of the exhibition’s central installation and entryway. These semicircles are overlaid with a loose mesh of tiny cream-colored vertical brushstrokes organized into uneven horizontal segments, which appear to undulate. The imposing body-scaled Window, 2015, is sparer, comprising horizontal bands of the same tiny marks, each band transitioning from cream to lilac. The illusion of simultaneous motion and stillness in these flickering patterns evokes a paused video. Maguire’s meditative installation thrums with potential energy.
For more than thirty years, a treasure trove of photographs and videos lay dormant in the nooks and crannies of the home of native Portlander Paige Powell, a former publisher at Interview magazine, Andy Warhol’s confidante, and girlfriend of Jean-Michel Basquiat. This two-part installation is Powell’s first museum show displaying the intimate archive she created of the 1980s New York art world. As part of Warhol’s circle, she was surrounded by spectacular personalities. Yet many of her images in the exhibition depict quotidian reflective moments—conversations over dinner, workplace diversions, and artmaking—suggesting that Powell was more interested in her subjects’ inner lives than in their public status.
The largest work in the show—The Ride, 2015—presents three newly unearthed videos that include footage of both Warhol and Keith Haring. Each video is projected onto one of three identical, and abutting wall-covering images of Basquiat sitting in the back of a limo watching television. The videos are aimed to make it appear as though they are what Basquiat is watching, though in the original photograph he’s watching the movie Goldfinger. Framing these within the limo speaks to the explosion of home videos and cable television during the 1980s and references Warhol’s ever-prescient vision of America’s narcissistic media obsession. The most compelling of the videos depicts Haring painting black designs on a large white sculpture of an elephant. It’s mesmerizing to watch Haring work, his brush gracefully arcing across the surface of the sculpture without spilling a drop of paint. His elegant gestures are a stinging reminder of all that would soon be lost.
With its 300 works, “Franz Erhard Walther: The Body Draws”—the first American survey of the pioneering German artist—offers an interesting reassessment of his work. As the title suggests, the show is intended to consider the extent to which drawing—broadly speaking—has always been at the core of the artist’s practice. Focusing on works on paper, the extensive exhibition foregrounds the importance of the line, in a body of work at the crossroads of painting, sculpture, architecture, the conceptual, and the performative.
In the main room, Walther’s cornerstone piece, 1. Werksatz (1. Work Set, 1963–69), sits in the same state it occupied while in storage, letting viewers imagine what lies within canvas bags, within folds. Along the wall, videos show the unfolded fabric pieces being “activated”—a term Walther uses to describe the moments when these works are brought to life by being solemnly held or worn. Daily, volunteers activate some of these elements as well, as when a duo formed a line with the help of one of Walther’s long strips of fabric connecting the tops of their heads, or when four people quietly unfolded a cruciform piece of fabric. These activations remind viewers the work should be experienced with their participation.
In the 1970s, the artist revisited this iconic piece, through very realistic renderings of these activations, which are presented in the same room. Be it abstract or realistic, drawing is Walther’s way to remember, revisit, plan, or re-embody a work—and to expand a practice where the conceptual is absolutely incarnate. Through the exhibition’s seven rooms, the works on paper constantly dialogue with the sculptural elements, allowing viewers to sense—and take part in—Walther’s practice at its closest, to witness what the artist calls his “inner modeling” and be reminded that, as Michel Foucault put it in 1966, “the body is the zero point of the world.”
The nine large-scale installations for this show prompt us to “wonder” at the alchemical transformation of fairly quotidian materials into art. Though the labor of producing these works leaves a few visible traces, the emphasis here is less on process than on the result: a conversion of the Renwick’s galleries into sensual environments.
It’s a fitting way to reopen this museum, which houses the Smithsonian’s craft and decorative arts collection, after a two-year renovation. In the first gallery, Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus A1 (all works 2015)—two ethereal planes of rainbow-colored thread—hang between stark-white Corinthian columns. Nearby, Leo Villareal’s Volume (Renwick), a twinkling galaxy of 23,000 computer-controlled LED lights, illuminates the freshly gilded grand staircase. These approximations of natural phenomena are consistent with the show’s preoccupation with the anthropogenic environment. Further, Chakaia Booker offers a labyrinth of recycled rubber in Anonymous Donor, while Maya Lin’s Folding the Chesapeake, an installation of thousands of green fiberglass marbles, suggests the fragility of topographic forms.
The imbrication of the natural and the technological signals that for today’s artists craft is not a retreat from technology but a means to “live differently in the modern world,” as the show’s curator, Nicholas Bell, puts it. Judging by the works here, living differently means responding to even low-tech, handmade forms with the same sense of wonder that typically greets new technologies. But perhaps living differently might also mean wondering if our insatiable appetite for amazement is as innocent as it seems. At first glance, Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig, a room full of towering, nest-like forms of molded tree saplings, invites us to play; its vertiginous curves and arabesques exhilarate the eye (and elude the camera). But the work also is imbued with the tension of the struggle between man and nature, and its shadows are a nightmarish thicket. Like wonder itself, it entices but threatens entrapment.
Many of the black-and-white and color photographs that constitute Celia Perrin Sidarous’s current solo show, “Les Figures,” document her travels in Greece, Italy, and Norway. Images such as Cyprès, Pompeii (all works cited, 2015) and Palm, Ancient Agora of Athens offer unspectacular views of the titular subjects. On the walls of the Parisian Laundry in Montreal, these photographs provide clues to how Sidarous came to create other images, also on view, that depict assemblages of found objects. Was the piece of coral placed on a mirror in Black Coral a memento from Greece, or the green-gray ovoid in Marble Egg, Seashell and Images a souvenir from Italy? These questions are tangential. What makes Sidarous’s images compelling are not the stories behind the objects’ journeys to her studio but the complex compositions of the assemblages.
Among the more striking works in the show, The Waves triangulates a conversation between a cutout photograph of a ruffle pattern, its reflection in a circular mirror, and birds feeding in the sea, also pictured with their reflection, all against a seemingly flat, white background. The boundary between the real thing and its representation is undermined to create a space that only exists within the image. While works such as Black Coral offer the stability of a still life, unlikely landscapes such as The Waves allow viewers to reconsider their understandings of medium, material, and perspective.