Julian Hoeber’s exhibition “The Inward Turn” pivots around the idea of an imaginary airport terminal from which people take off only to return to the same point, as if traveling the length of a Mobius strip or circumnavigating a Klein bottle. In the paintings, sculptures, and drawings on view here, Hoeber’s metaphor of futile movement manifests in repeated forms, echoing back and forth across media.
The artist approached the making of these works with an eye informed by a childhood surrounded by architects and engineers. Clustered on the back wall of the gallery is a group of drawings, including Angular to Curved Experiments 1&2 (all works cited, 2015), and different versions of the artist’s “Going Nowhere Plan” that operate as blueprints for the sculptures and paintings that dominate the space. A set of bookshelves adjacent to the drawings, Form Index, display miniature iterations of the larger sculptures in the center of the gallery, similarly showcasing the feedback loop of forms at play. These sculptures, presented like specimens on glass atop wood trestles, resemble models more than discrete artworks. Their rigidity—constructed from materials such as foamcore, plywood, and Ultracal cement—gives way to softer, biomorphic forms in the paintings. Rendered in bodily pinks and beiges, Hoeber’s delicate images depict mysterious interlocking skeletal structures, as in Ruminating Elevation, and labyrinthine enteric diagrams, as in Intestinal Floorplan/Security Apparatus. This slippage from hard to soft, geometric to biomorphic, three dimensional to two dimensional, underscores the paradox of inertia in Hoeber’s metaphor.
This past July and August, Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s solo exhibition “Everything but the Kitchen Sank” at SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries presented a studio in which visitors could witness the creation of photographs and a video of subaqueous still lifes shot inside a eight-foot-tall Kevlar pool. The resulting pictures feature a plethora of found objects and offer ephemeral and preposterous arrangements that experiment with the behavior of materials underwater. Take, for example, the theatrical video Like Steaks and Salads, 2015, which is divided into a series of acts where different items—such as matches, candles, plates, and flowers—are manipulated underwater. Almanza orchestrates unexpected movements: Some objects float and others sink, moving faster or slower depending on their buoyancy. Among the Mexican artist’s captivating photographic works is Taking the Lid Off, 2015, is an elegant but absurd image that shows a pair of fruit bowls and a vase holding a blooming artichoke; some elements are inverted, defying the natural order of things. In all, Almanza’s constructions result in dreamy, counterbalancing compositions that trickily transform the quotidian into the surreal.
Concurrently, at the institution’s Diego Rivera Gallery, visitors can see two scaffolds: one depicted in Rivera’s descriptively titled mural The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, 1931, which shows Rivera, engineers, and more laborers working on the reconstruction of San Francisco. Placed directly in front this, Almanza’s large scaffolding of fluorescent tubes, Change the World or Go Home, 2009–15, challenges the iconic mural and illuminates the ambivalent nature of progress and expansion, perhaps as a reference to contemporary art itself.
Circa 1968, amid the Cold War’s existential crises and worldwide student protests against institutionalized repression and violence, artists challenged the hegemony of autonomous objects with conceptual works that exposed the role of embodied perception in establishing art’s meaning. Fast-forward several decades, and the role of perception and “experience” is golden, evident in social-practice debates and the ubiquity of performance. “Strange Pilgrims” wades into this territory and succeeds by giving its thirty installations, made by an eclectic array of thirteen artists and one collective, space to be fully perceived.
Sensorial revelations abound. At the Jones Center, Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor, 1970, occupies the second floor, estranging everything with its narrow confines and acid hue. Downstairs, more recent works include Andy Coolquitt’s sensual object arrangements and Angelbert Metoyer’s “shrine” of indigo-dipped African sculptures and gold-dust paintings that conjure myth and pain. At the Visual Art Center, some installations wow—Trisha Baga’s projected and ceramic sights to be navigated with 3-D glasses, Phil Collins’s hutches for hunkering down and watching faux shopping television—while others are more nourishing. Charles Atlas’s Cowboy Body, 2015, feeds the whole body: Improvisational dance footage shot over decades plays on more than a dozen monitors and projectors scattered about a room in which everything, including chairs and a bed for lounging, hums in the color of ripe oranges. Paul Sharits’s Dream Displacement, 1976, stuns multiple senses: Four 16-mm projectors cast a panorama of flickering light, color, and vibrations that is occasionally “shattered” by the sounds of crashing glass.
At the museum’s lakeside venue, a bubble machine by Roger Hiorns titled A retrospective view of the pathway, 2008–15, and an LED-lit dream-sharing device by Yoko Ono, titled Summer Dream (Let your dream come true on a distant wall, 2002), delight, while photography collective Lakes Were Rivers quietly steals the show. Its project, Swan Cycle, 2015, involves a low plinth installed with framed photographs of archival material—newspaper clippings, ice sculpture, a painting—that summon the history of the estate, the museum, and photography. To see all the images, you must mount the villa’s balcony, yet to study any one picture requires remaining below. The work, like “Strange Pilgrims,” arouses the rich and contingent way meaning develops through experience.
While “sex sells” may be a marketing truism, presenting products with gradient backgrounds, retouched hands, and well-made beds often seems clinically tidy—an outright denial of psychology more than repression. “Open House,” a group exhibition organized by Jedediah Caesar at California State University, Bakersfield, offers conflicting attitudes toward a loaded commercial landscape. Take, for instance, Madelon Vriesendorp, Teri When-Damisch, and Jean-Pierre Jacquet’s 1980 animation Caught in the Act, where the Statue of Liberty mutates with jealousy at the sight of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings’ hotel-room tryst—a hilarious recrudescence of feeling toward ostensibly rational urbanism. Or there’s Paul Elliman’s Untitled (September Magazine), 2013, a glossy all-image tome that mixes sexualized and anodyne cropped limbs in kind of a litmus test for desire.
The exhibition derives its name from a 2007 anthology of Hannah Weiner’s works, and photocopies of her “Signal Flag Poems,” begun in the late 1960s, hang throughout the galleries. Using the international maritime Code of Signals, Weiner’s texts—which can be read or performed—trouble language’s distinction between the interiority of poetic expression and the practical promise of communication. Martine Syms’s The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto, 2007–15, shown as a painted wall text, takes this a step further. With aphoristic lines that embody no-nonsense rationality (“The connection between Middle Passage and space travel is tenuous, at best”), her refusal of Afrofuturism’s foundational fantasy, as well as the emotional aplomb one associates with a manifesto, is particularly apt given that logical arguments from nonwhite, nonmale speakers are so often denied access to the status of “objective.”
Jason Rhoades, PeaRoeFoam Bulk Pallet, 2002, wood pallet with fifty-five-gallon container of dried peas, fifty-five-gallon container of Styrofoam beads, twelve gallons of glue, two gallons of salmon roe, rubber boots, shovel, wrench, aluminum pipes, cardboard, bolts, felt, plastic, paper towel, box cutter, shrink wrap, tape, web strapping, 5 x 3'.
Jason Rhoades spent the entirety of his career—cut short by his death in 2006—blending sculpture, installation, and performance into a densely packed continuum of artistic production. Rhoades’s sculptures are massive orgies of stuff, yet his love of objects followed distinct patterns. Occasionally, discrete, often smaller pieces were taken from his larger bodies of work as officially sanctioned multiples.
Re-creating many of his sprawling, sculptural installations is a daunting and resource-consuming undertaking for any museum. Led by curator Christopher Bedford, though, the Rose Museum has taken a different approach and is instead offering Rhoades in bite-size pieces, showing a nearly complete collection of those editioned multiples. The most noticeable piece on view, however, is not small. Spaceball, 1997, is a human-size gyroscope, a cage of sorts that when spun gives a single seated rider a few moments of weightlessness. One of these devices was featured, as part of a larger installation, in the artist’s second solo show at David Zwirner in New York in 1997.
Rhoades’s editions may have served as a means of disseminating core concepts in lieu of original works, but the very best of them also gave the artist a way to disseminate experience—in lieu of his own presence. Consider PeaRoeFoam Bulk Pallet, 2002. This is a major piece from Rhoades’s “PeaRoeFoam” series, where the artist would whip up his dubiously functional, do-it-all construction material out of a concoction of Styrofoam, salmon roe, and green peas. The pallet is basically a DIY PeaRoeFoam starter kit, and as such it fulfills the ultimate directive of the project: that one be able to try the stuff for himself.
Deana Lawson's candid portraits are, like one's identity, at times crafted or found, but regardless are a composite of history and politics (of, in no particular order, geography, gender, and race). Her current show at the Art Institute of Chicago gathers together fourteen of her recent and semi-recent photographs showing meticulously posed moments, documentary-style shots, and reprints of found visual relics. The pictures point to the gendered experience and aesthetics of blackness in certain geographies, among them Brooklyn, Haiti, Jamaica, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Detroit. Some of the pictures are direct: Nikki's Kitchen, Detroit, Michigan, 2015, depicts its heroine posed, cat-like, over the back of a kitchen chair wearing a leopard-print jumpsuit; a latticework of security bars crossing the window behind her. Others are by turns spontaneous or memorial, such as Emily and Daughter, Jamaica, Found Image, n.d. a reprint of a family photograph, its subjects' faces ghoulishly blotched by discoloration in the surface of the original photograph.
Lawson's subjects tend to be strangers whom she has recently gotten to know, and her hyper-specific and intimate depictions of their bodies, spaces, and belongings - while often compared to the documentarian style of Jacob Holdt and the trenchant one-shot narratives of Nan Goldin—perhaps more closely evoke the immaterial, suggestive layering of content often achieved in painting. In the show's didactics, Lawson wrote, “As a black American, I was curious about the livelihood and existence of brothers and sisters in the West Indies and Africa, and wanted to connect my subjectivity and psyche to those of people in other lands.” And while she clearly seeks firstly to illuminate the distinct identity of each of her subjects, she also seems to carefully choose her photographs' sites (from Brooklyn to Detroit to Ethiopia) so location in itself becomes both a subject and lens through which those subjects’ lives are observed.
Jessica Stockholder has unveiled new work at several Chicago locations this fall, including a site-specific installation at the Smart Museum of Art as well as in her solo exhibition “Door Hinges” and the group show “Assisted,” which she curated, both in Kavi Gupta’s Elizabeth Street location. “Door Hinges” continues Stockholder’s characteristic experimentation with color and abstraction as tools to disrupt and transform architectural space: A catwalk snakes through the main room beside Wall Hardware, 2015, a temporary wall-cum-canvas fixed with enlarged calligraphic pen marks near the stool and mirror installation In Many Places, 2014. Here, Stockholder also debuts Assist 1–3, 2015, three fabricated metal sculptures strapped to large auxiliary objects with vinyl belts. These top-heavy forms behave in turns as primary sculptures—relying on a piano, a vintage desk, and a Smart electric car for support—and as pedestals supporting other artworks (including a Tony Tasset sculpture).
On the second floor, “Assisted” further examines support networks via sixteen artists who influence Stockholder’s practice. A few of Stockholder’s works appear here as well, as does a street lamp (its base appears on the first floor, and it rises to the second floor to hang over a ceramic bathtub). What emerges from these combined rooms is a profound conversation between objects and aesthetic experiments, highlighting the dynamic, polyvocal network in which individual efforts congeal.
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.
One way of thinking about photography is to see it as an art of accumulation, a medium that defies the very notion of autonomy. Any single image depends on others for its logic, and meaning necessarily accrues across series. Shannon Ebner’s syntactical artwork embodies this notion of cumulative consequence and engages the momentum inherent in the photograph’s serial capacity. “A Public Character,” Ebner’s latest museum exhibition, comprises works across a variety of media, including sculpture, installation, and video. The peculiar semantic space of the photograph reveals itself to be the formative structure, however.
Thirty-one examples from “Black Box Collision A,” 2013–, an ongoing series of large-scale black-and-white photographs featuring the letter “A,” line the walls of the first room that visitors encounter. Each piece possesses a distinct personality—some hard and steadfast, others floating and flat. With traces of advertisements and public signage, these works are easily read as kinds of “public characters” coming together in a protean play of discursivity.
A perennial pairing of photography and language marks Ebner’s poetic practice and her conceptual roots. Not only is the photograph evoked as akin to language, as a shifting signifier, but, moreover, language parallels photography here as a system of meaning. See, for instance, Auto Body Collision, 2014–, which portrays details from car-repair shops and connects notions of linguistic and visual transmission with automotive analogies—the “generator” and the “alternator.” Throughout, the show suggests collisions of denotation, encounters between literal and figurative vehicles of sense, allowing a moment within the space of art to at once speed up and brake against the imagistic conventions that crowd everyday life.
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.
Yui Yaegashi’s paintings are small, but despite their size, they own the gallery. Their humble presence fills the white walls with rectangles of muted colors. Their intricacy demands intimacy. Up close are minute topographies: Here, a ridge captures the edge of a delicate movement; there, lines weave into a texture reminiscent of upholstery fabric. In two untitled pieces (all works 2015), muted beige fields cover up the gridded interactions of blue brushstrokes, but slivers of color peek out at the margins, as if to illustrate the difficulty of seeing what hides underneath the blanket of the familiar. Rooted in the domestic, this exhibition, titled “To and from Home,” offers painterly poems marked by delicate restraint.
Yaegashi is devoted to precision. In each work, the sum of many formal choices accrues in a meticulous set of material mathematics. Her titles reflect some of these variables, such as Brush No. 15 of Sekaido or MPCG, the latter a Japanese acronym of her green, red, yellow, and gray palette. A quasi-phenomenological inquiry, the twenty-two paintings here reveal an economy of attention that deliberately attends to what is closest and hence perhaps most easily overlooked.
Studying the home with the twin perspectives of distant observer and intimate familiar, Yaegashi seems to say: This can be found in the space that holds me. How very odd. In a chronicle of formal particularities, her work advocates the discipline of looking closely to create small and surprisingly tender works.
The first dedicated to the films of Ana Mendieta in the US, this show collects twenty-one of the artist’s approximately one hundred films, along with twenty-six related photographs. Curators Lynn Lukkas and Howard Oransky have divided the gallery into six discrete spaces, with the films grouped thematically and presented on a scale that echoes the projection size Mendieta originally used—roughly, the size of her body, which increasingly became the focus of her practice.
The first, and largest, room features seven of Mendieta’s films exploring the juxtaposition of her silhouette against the earth—whether as a gunpowder outline (Untitled: Silueta Series, 1978) or as the artist’s actual body, prone and submerged under water (Creek, 1974) or under stones (Burial Pyramid, 1974). Other rooms showcase the artist’s related investigations with fire (Anima, Silueta de Cohetes [Firework Piece], 1976); blood (Blood Inside Outside, 1975, and Sweating Blood, 1973); stone (Esculturas Rupestres [Rupestrian Sculptures], 1981); and sand (Ochún, 1981).
Seen together, the works make a convincing case for Mendieta’s significance as a pioneer in the use of short films to capture the tension between transience and permanence. The show and its accompanying catalogue should help draw attention to her underrated influence as a filmmaker. These works dramatize the artist’s recurring theme of continuity between the body and land, and they blur the line between action and document. To poignant effect, the artist’s form is continually eroding—only to be reborn when each film loops.
In 1970, Bonnie Ora Sherk sat placidly in various locations around San Francisco. Her resultant “Sitting Still” series, 1970, small-scale performances that were at once personal and subtly political, is exemplary of this exhibition’s focus on simple acts in public spaces. Here, work by more than twenty female artists ranges from iconic posters by figures such as the Guerrilla Girls and Jenny Holzer to recent projects by local artists such as Amy Balkin and Favianna Rodriguez. Among several new commissions is an arresting graphic mural by Susan O’Malley on the exterior of the museum that declares “You are exactly where you need to be.”
Politics takes many forms within the exhibition. Stephanie Syjuco derides gentrification in Bedazzle a Tech Bus (I Mock Up Your Ideas), 2013–14, for which she crowd-sourced proposals for art to wrap around the infamous tech bus, now bedazzled with the likes of a portrait of Edward Snowden and Craigslist ads for overpriced apartments. Less mordant and more optimistic, Candy Chang’s removable stickers that read “I wish this was . . .” invite New Orleans residents to share their hopes for vacant buildings. Environmental concerns loom large throughout the show and are perhaps best represented in documentation of Agnes Denes’s Wheatfield—A Confrontation, 1982, her famed two-acre golden wheat field planted in lower Manhattan. Meditations in civic squares by artists such as Coco Fusco and Sharon Hayes are also particularly pertinent in the wake of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring.
The curators’ decision to underemphasize an exclusively female roster is political in its own right. Avoiding the temptation to ascribe certain qualities to work by women, the exhibition deflects focus from gender to the potentiality of art outside a traditional context.
Gabriel Martinez’s elegiac exhibition “Bayside Revisited” invokes the historic potency of Fire Island, New York, as a gay fantasy space and safe haven. By integrating archival materials related to the community into new prints and an installation, Martinez augments the current historical canonization of queer culture and the AIDS crisis recently seen in Keith Haring retrospectives and the Tacoma Art Museum’s “Art AIDS America” survey. This exhibition’s anteroom displays a digital collage of vintage gay magazine ads while melodies drift through a suede curtain. When the curtain’s drawn aside, a dimly lit room emerges, revealing Untitled (Bayside Projection), 2015, a spinning mirror ball installed low to the ground that casts a dappled projection of a segment from Wakefield Poole’s celebrated art-porn film Boys in the Sand, 1971, onto a wall sparkling with sand and glitter. The film’s setting, a notoriously cruise-y stretch of Fire Island’s beach and forest, recurs throughout the exhibition in large-scale metallic prints and a slide presentation, titled Meat Rack, 2015, of tenebrous trees.
Also casting a shadow here is Boys star Casey Donovan’s death from AIDS-related complications in 1987. A solarized print series, “Radial Projections,” 2015, captures a disco ball’s reflections that resemble cell structures. Mounted on the other side of the film projection wall is Live Hard, 2015, a sort of memorial quilt gridded with lightly used black-patterned handkerchiefs on wood and laser-etched with a depiction of a part of the island recently decimated by an accidental fire. The impact on this major queer-identified space, when so few exist, reverberates heavily.
An engraving in the original wooden mantle of the 1909 Tudor-style mansion that is now home to the Burnaby Art Gallery reads, “The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it.” On the wall above, the Canadian artist Alex Morrison has painted a black tempera mural of a cluster of magic mushrooms, alluding to the Ceperley House’s former life, not as the country home, monastery, or cult center that it also was, but as temporary student residences that played host to many a wild party and sit-in in the 1960s (from which psychedelic graffiti reportedly still remains on its attic walls).
Morrison’s eclectic work—which includes ceramics, painting, furniture design, and sculpture—is rooted in site research, which he infiltrates at the level of both surface and narrative. Here this practice leads him into areas of craft, where numerous hand-painted ceramic plates are set alongside works in gouache that fuse witty Victorian aphorisms with the decorative motifs of the Arts and Crafts movement. A new, commissioned chandelier—aptly titled “A Fine Contamination,” 2015—elegantly references the gallery’s stained-glass windows and exposed wooden rafters in golden, powder-coated aluminum, and brightly colored Plexiglas. At the SFU Gallery nearby, this interest in pastiche extends to questions of collecting, where Morrison’s paintings and sculptures are interspersed with artworks from the university’s permanent collection. Highlighting some of the countercultural narratives that have inhabited Arthur Erickson’s concrete campus over fifty years, the once radical is reframed within Morrison’s decorative systems—calling attention to questions of authenticity and, ultimately, the fashionability of ideas.