If the concept of place in photography has shifted throughout history, “A Sense of Place” examines these shifts in rich detail through the work of more than forty artists from the past two centuries. Beginning in the 1840s, a scientific approach to the medium gave rise to photographic “documents” such as topographical ordinance survey studies—like the one on view here by Carleton E. Watkins, The Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, ca. 1883. Later, in the post–World War II period, photographers suggested metaphoric meaning embedded in photographed sites, such as the socially charged American landscapes of Stephen Shore’s “Uncommon Places,” 1973–81, an iconic series included in the exhibition. Another recent development has been the use of photographs to express place through material manifestations, as when a physical accumulation of images functions as a sculptural installation: For Erik Kessels’s 24-HRS in Photos, 2013, for example, he printed every digital image uploaded to Flickr during a twenty-four-hour period. Installed in floor-to-ceiling piles, as if sand dunes had been poured into the gallery, the prints of 1.4 million vernacular images reflect—both as individual images and as aggregate heaps—the overabundance and barrage of photographic reproduction we face in daily life.
Other series reflect on content through their modes of installation. Lee Friedlander’s “America by Car,” 1992–2009, is hung uniformly in three rows, but with tight irregular gaps between images, as if to echo the constricted space of the automobile that is used as a framing device in each image. In another gallery, nineteenth-century landscape photographs are installed along a single meandering horizontal line that undulates up and down as if re-creating, in the overall viewing experience, the rolling landscape seen by the photographers. Such unconventional hangs highlight sensibilities pertaining to place both historically and within the framework of contemporary display—sensibilities that are complicated by the digital nature of photographic imagery as it inescapably shapes our perceptions of place both inside and outside the gallery.
This exhibition, the first in a museum for choreographer Deborah Hay, involves an absorbing multiscreen video installation that presents four versions of a solo dance. For decades, Hay, who worked in the 1960s with Merce Cunningham and the Judson Dance Theater, has composed dances intended to be adapted differently by each dancer, and therefore has never performed the same piece twice. Laying this premise bare, the installation, A Continuity of Discontinuity, 2014, shows various individuals giving life to the written notes and drawings of a single score.
For the Blanton, Hay has choreographed a dislocating installation in a darkened gallery. Four screens are angled toward the room’s center, making them difficult to take in at once, and the projected films shift among them, toying with viewers’ urge to find continuity in the footage. Dancers appear dressed in everyday clothing (black pants and tank tops, shorts and frilly shirts) and move through a set of similar actions and stances (torso folded, arms aloft, legs akimbo) with shared intensity, yet the results are remarkably distinct.
It turns out that each rendition is based on Hay’s 2010 composition No Time to Fly. After performing the work, Hay invited three dancers to practice her score, which is on view in an adjacent room and reads, in part, “I walk in a stride and style not mine . . . . Sing a wordless song.” Later, the dancers performed their adaptations for Hay, who had them filmed. She then worked with engineers, filmmakers, and software developers to turn four of these sessions—one dancer is featured twice—into the thirteen minute, four-channel film presented here, which she set to a whispering audio track based on sounds recorded during each dancer’s performance. Hay’s interpretation of the adaptations in this installation is startling and moving. When the two women collapse at the same time, one crumples on her side and another crouches into a tense ball. The project suggests that dancers—at least for Hay—are not vessels, but collaborators: embodied and alive.
I AM HOPING TO SEE THE DAY reads the text spelled out in fist-size, chalk-white rocks on the floor of Juan Capistran’s two-part exhibition “What We Want, What We Believe: Towards a Higher Fidelity” at the Visual Arts Center. Nearby, a tidy stack of offset prints of a craggily textured surface is available for viewers to take and crumple, forming an ad hoc rock. This replica, which intimates revolution but materially lacks the heft, is an apt summa of the thin line that Capistran walks with aplomb. How to suggest revolutionary potential without controlling the conversation? How to find a model that honors collective and individual contributions to social change?
Thoughtful about his archival material as well as the formal progression of his works, Capistran here caps off a few years’ worth of investigation on the subjects of insurrection, violence, and protest with a disarmingly quiet, monochromatic palette. Tellingly, Capistran’s archive is collaged from the existential texts of Albert Camus and the revolutionary rhetoric of Black Panther Huey P. Newton (with a note found in Timothy McVeigh’s car thrown in for good measure). These source materials appear here as photographs of isolated and redacted texts, and the artist’s renderings are bitingly open. One reads, MAYBE NOW, [REDACTED] LIBERTY!
Across the university campus at the ISESE Gallery, Capistran’s series of 2012 photographs featuring white revolutionary objects (a Molotov cocktail, a fist, a flag) photographed against a white studio background hang alongside the work of Austin-based photographer Ricky Yanas. Geographically split apart, Capistran’s two bodies of work are poetically distant even when their meanings are so intimately bound. Strains of Daniel Joseph Martinez’s white-on-white paintings and Black Panther marble works are present in both exhibitions of Capistran’s work, but in a generative rather than derivative sense. It was Martinez who once told a San Antonio blog, “I think we’re at the end of ideology. I think both the right and the left have failed. Utopian visions don’t work.” We’re hoping we never see the day, and we’re hoping Capistran doesn’t either.
Synchronized with a capsule exhibition of Tony Greene’s canvases in the current Whitney Biennial, this group show curated by John Neff gathers works by the late painter and pieces from eight (queer-identified) artists. If the roster seems a bit obvious given the cachet that many of the featured are currently enjoying, the works and the telling rapport produced by their placement and proximity to each other prompt the viewer to imaginatively construct lineages that were interrupted by the devastation of AIDS. (Greene died in 1990 from AIDS-related complications.) Loss and lust permeate the exhibition, but so does an earnest gesture to recover forgotten histories and call attention to shared aesthetics.
Greene’s paintings are jewel toned and densely decorated; they began with photographs that he painted over with lush gardens, wreaths, banners, and achingly complicated frippery. For instance, Grain of His Skin, 1988, laces a bare male torso with gummy paintings of feathery scrollwork. The compositionally symmetrical painting is flanked by Latham Zearfoss’s Preserve, 2013, a set of luminous silk curtains patterned with slices of strawberries pressed into their surfaces. At the opening, a boyishly handsome local wore Dean Sameshima’s Numbers T-shirt, 2011, and art viewing was more like cruising; but now the shirt is empty and tossed onto a gallery bench, no less sexy, but sadder. An unfinished and untitled work of Greene’s—showing a black-and-white close-up of a man’s pouty mouth and jawline—is paired with an untitled work on paper by Paul P. from 2014, which is representative of the latter artist’s recent turn toward abstraction, decor, and vulgar palettes. The two works cleave together as a deconstruction of Greene’s oeuvre, with Paul P. bringing forward Greene’s camp and romance into a present-day iteration.
These knowing moves in the show’s design recalls Neff’s exhibition project in 2011 wherein he reprinted a selection of Robert Blanchon’s photographs. Akin to the sumptuous layering in Greene’s paintings, Neff here continues to fruitfully develop his sensibility for elegantly reassembling dispersed artistic and gay histories.
Few artists are as universally known for a single work of art as Robert Smithson is for Spiral Jetty, 1970. Yet this art-historical hallmark wouldn’t have existed had Smithson not been commissioned to create a site-specific installation for the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in 1966. With this project at hand, Smithson was inspired to imagine flying in airplanes as the primary vantage to see his proposed sculptural experiments, proving a key turning point in the artist’s conception of monumental works executed with and in the landscape. Except for the posthumously constructed Amarillo Ramp, 1973, this small exhibition pays homage to five of the artist’s unrealized artworks in various locales around Texas.
Earth Window, 1966, which was designed as several horizontal square holes excavated and filled with baseball-stadium lights, then covered with crushed glass, would have glittered like a disco ball radiating from the earth. Dallas‐Fort Worth Regional Airport Layout Plan: Wandering Earth Mounds and Gravel Paths, 1966, which as the title suggests is carefully arranged dirt mounds and rock trails, appears as meandering burial mounds. With Island of Sulfur (Dollar Bay), 1970, Smithson envisioned a dramatic film project documenting numerous dump trucks moving boulders of sulfur from a quarry to a barge, finally to deposit their neon yellow loads, overwhelming the small Dollar Bay Island.
In its totality, Smithson’s work embodies a kind of hubris, not unlike the ancient desire to be monumentalized via ostentatious architectural edifices. The difference between the Egyptian pyramids, for instance, and Smithson’s proposals is the intended audience. Smithson understood art as an active force in the world that can alter the substance and comprehension of human situations, place, and possibilities. Not surprisingly, the mood of this exhibition is reverently melancholy; one can’t help but feel the divide between the hastily drawn plans on various sheets of paper and the heroic vision they were ultimately meant to become.
With “Tabernacle: A Metamorphic Healing Module,” Sameer Reddy invites visitors to suspend their disbelief and try, just try, his playful form of personal healing. Exhibited in a gallery adjacent to the museum’s James Lee Byars retrospective, “I Cancel All My Works at Death,” Reddy’s show extends Byars’s spirtualism but eschews the morbidity and heft of his work, while combining central iconography from various faiths with fragments from pop songs and pop culture.
The sculpture Light as a Feather, 2012, for example, shows a balance scale with a bottle of Smart Water on one side and holy water in a Virgin Mary bottle on the other. In two self-portraits he dresses as Lakshmi and Shiva, deities from his own Hindu heritage. In his image of Shiva, It’s the End of the World, as We Know It, and I Feel Fine, 2010, Reddy poses for the dance of destruction with glow sticks and a cosmic background borrowed straight out of Detroit’s rave scene (from which he took a sense of enlightenment during his adolescence in the city). In his version of Lakshmi for Untitled (Lakishmi), 2010, he stands in a digitally made palace interior surrounded by gas station bounty—a junk food buffet. Both images offer material and debased forms of transcendence and comfort within a context of faith, myth, and religious devotion.
Yet Reddy’s aim seems to be not to trivialize iconography but to make it more accessible. This perspective becomes clear when viewers follow a set of instructions that Reddy provides at the entrance to his show, including, among other actions, to deposit their fears forever in a series of small ballot boxes. If they take Reddy’s work as an argument not against religion but in favor of the central role that faith can assume in our daily activities, they can trustingly follow his guidance through a process of admitting their worries and doubts and finding release from them.
Panning over a seductive canopy of tropical trees toward a dense metropolis, a sound track of helicopters provides a seismic calibration for the coming narrative. Focusing first on the gathering of a joyful crowd of intergenerational, multiracial celebrants at an altar, a tone of reverence descends, which before long is ruptured by an apocalyptic rapture. Demonstrating Yael Bartana’s recurrent interest in the concepts of return and belief, the exquisite ritual staged in Inferno, 2013, engages with the strange confluence of Evangelism and neo-Pentecostalism in present day Brazil and their connections to the Holy Land and Judaic traditions.
Commissioned by the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Israeli artist’s luscious and provocative eighteen-minute film addresses the current construction of the third Temple of Solomon by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in São Paulo. Based as much on fact as fiction, Bartana’s project emerged from a research residency initiated by curators Eyal Danon and Benjamin Seroussi devoted to considering the rise of “new religious movements.” Built to biblical specifications, this new temple includes material directly from Israel and intends to replicate the first temple in Jerusalem, the violent destruction of which signaled the first diaspora of the Jewish people in the sixth century BCE.
Displacement is of course another theme Bartana cyclically revisits. The characters in Inferno are anachronistically dressed in white linen tunics and fruit headdresses, conflating Biblical times with hippie bohemia and socialist uniforms. By the time the fire and brimstone begin, the sheer beauty of Bartana’s tableau has already mesmerized the viewer. At once ancient and futuristic, using an evocative combination of prophesy and imagination, Bartana’s “historical pre-enactment” echoes the epics of blockbuster cinema with a twist of tropical kitsch. The bizarre transposition of the Wailing Wall to Latin America as a site for pilgrims to worship as well as for tourists to sip from menorah-emblazoned coconuts exemplifies the insufficiency of concepts such as hybridity to address the complex intermixing of influences in either contemporary culture or religion.
Leave it to Kara Walker to fuse early-1990s hip-hop with the early-twentieth-century avant-garde in her most recent curatorial effort, “Ruffneck Constructivists.” Walker’s title references the song “Ruffneck” by protofeminist rapper MC Lyte, which affirms the rakish street fixture as one who “goes hard,” unafraid to take action, upending societal strictures in the process. Simultaneously, Walker invokes the Russian Constructivists, suggesting revisions to their modernist legacy. Reimagining the idealism of utilitarian form as social ideology, “Ruffneck Constructivists” recuperates a vitality that too often slips into the crack between modernist transcendence and urban redevelopment. Without explicitly engaging a political agenda, the show articulates a realm of architecture’s intersection with urbanism that is at once radically new and very, very old: the formation of spaces that both repress and are defined by blackness. Aptly exemplified by Kendell Geers’s freestanding sculpture Stripped Bare, 2009—a window delicately cracked by the traces of bullets—the works’ undermining of architecture’s pretensions to stability and security defy the exploitative realities of late-capitalist surveillance, spectacle, and consumption.
Probing the abject forces behind the quantification of personhood, in Claim, 2014, William Pope.L pins 688 fragrant slices of bologna to a wall. Onto each slice is pasted an image of a randomly photographed resident of Philadelphia, and they all together represent 1 percent of the city’s Jewish population. Equally poetic in its mining of material affect, Dineo Seshee Bopape’s art stages fluttering detritus, tiny film projections, and mirrors as a self-reflexive web of remembrance and posterity. While these installations imply the traces of lived presence, Kahlil Joseph’s videos, already beloved by many hip-hop enthusiasts, present urban life as a dreamy entropy, picturing city dwellers as the architects of their own fate. Similarly, Deana Lawson’s Untitled Snapshots, 2013, capture a woman posing with her incarcerated boyfriend and her familytheir varying arrangements, clothing, and hairstyles evidencing the passing of time. Lawson taps a spirited refusal of futile social tautologies—one paralleled in the exhibition’s own insistence on troubling who shapes and authorizes urban environments.
“Michael Snow: Photo-Centric” posits a decentralized notion of photography at the center of the Canadian artist’s oeuvre. Positioned on floors, mounted on walls, and hanging in installations, the photographs—which were shot between 1962 and 2003—reveal humor, narrative, and performance as correlates to Snow’s more widely exhibited exercises as a structuralist filmmaker. The exhibition reveals that some of Snow’s most structurally reflexive works are also his most ludic. For instance, the grid of sixteen photographs in Press, 1969, pictures various objects literally leveled by the flattening gaze of the camera. Whether a pair of pressed gloves or a squashed stick of butter, each image is sandwiched beneath a redundant layer of Plexiglas bolted with C-clamps. Structure thus gives way to humor as Minimalism cedes to excess.
In fact, Snow’s photographs are frequently narrative in ways that his most iconic films (such as Wavelength, 1967, or La Région Centrale, 1971) are not. In Media Res, 1998, is a large-scale, lushly colored photograph taken from a bird’s-eye view. The scene captures three people reacting to the escape of a caged parrot. Like the Oriental rug on which the action unfolds, the photograph is displayed on the floor, the bird’s plumage a brilliant smear at its center. While motion here is the clear subject, movement in this show as a whole is most dynamic in the contortions Snow impels in the spectator. Imposition, 1976, and Crouch, Leap, Land, 1970, coax viewers to assume positions similar to those performed by the models in the photographs. The tilt of the head required to study Imposition (a photograph hung on its side) leaves us mimicking the poses of two models who in turn contemplate a photograph, while in Crouch, we must kneel to observe the images of a crouching, leaping, and landing woman affixed to the bottom of three hanging stations. Our recourse to Snow’s photography is never direct but rather directed: We double take, calculate, rotate, and circulate to Snow’s specifications.
Ethical metalworking, sustainability, and recycled detritus figure prominently in Richmond-based Susie Ganch’s two-part exhibition. “Susie Ganch: Tied” offers independent work while the Radical Jewelry Makeover project, founded by Ganch in 2007 as an outreach program of the nonprofit Ethical Metalsmiths, presents a collaborative endeavor that repurposes unwanted jewelry.
Although separate practices, both allow Ganch to highlight the discarded and unwanted, ranging from everyday things to gold and diamonds. For her own work, she achieves this by magnifying scale through accumulation and using impeccable precision to elevate waste into aesthetic objects. Drag, 2013, for example, is a dialogue of found materials: plastic cups and hair barrettes to faux feathers and glass beads. As a series of gradually expanding, interconnected links, the deceptively elegant pile of garbage hooks into the wall, thereby creating an indelible tension between growth and restriction. Pile: Starbucks on Robinson, April–December 2012, 2013, a sea of undulating white Starbucks tops arranged to mimic a three-dimensional hanging tapestry, and Bale, 2014, a stockpile of white garbage rolled up to resemble a life-size hay bale, use similar materials but abandon metalworking techniques for sculptural installation.
With these works, Ganch undermines the viewer’s reaction; this is not just well-composed garbage. Rather, she reframes the three-dimensional objects with photographs or suggestive titles, directly alluding to questions about consumerism, ethical standards of global retailers, and mass production. Bale reappears in a Photoshopped print, with one white garbage bale after another dotting a nondescript pastoral landscape. Drag, both sculpture and bracelet, stymies the wearer when it becomes a weighted chain. In each installation, Ganch places implication equally on buyer and producer as the innumerable individual parts are held together to form a gestalt. Ultimately, Ganch—the artist and the activist—is most successful when she straddles the in-between spaces, changing our perception of the permissible and polemically probing our assumptions.
Mungo Thomson’s “Crickets for Solo and Ensemble” is a two-part musical movement that is divided by the physical parameters of the exhibition space, becoming an equal two-part show. Acting as a concerto in three spaces, the show explores the banal and commonplace sounds of crickets in nature.
In collaboration with Los Angeles–based composer Michael Webster, the work includes sounds of crickets chirping in habitats all over the world that have been converted into a musical composition involving a seventeen-piece orchestra. The first part of the show, Cricket Solos, 2014, is located on the ground level of the gallery. It comprises cricket cages made of mason jars and is fashioned with iPods that play solos imitating the chirp of individual crickets. The chirps play through the storefront window of the space and out onto another—the sidewalk surrounding the building—in a twist of ironic symphony that materializes the sound of nature and projects it back into its environment.
The second component of the exhibition, Crickets, 2013, converts the gallery’s upstairs room into a theater that houses a life-size video projection of the orchestral ensemble playing the musical composition. Along an adjacent wall is Crickets (Conductor’s score), 2013, the sheet music for the entire composition, which has been blind-embossed onto the paper, making the musical notes barely visible in the dim light. The human result is an uncanny and idiosyncratic version of nature’s original, which heightens the awareness of such a common sound by turning it into a captivating and intentional formal configuration