Jennifer Bartlett, Rhapsody (detail), 1975–76, enamel on steel, 987 plates, each plate 12 x 12”.
Over the past forty years, Jennifer Bartlett has explored the results that applied rules can yield in abstract and figurative painting. “History of the Universe,” a current survey of her work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, consists of paintings and sculptures from 1970 to 2011 that are presented as key examples of her oeuvre. Here, she discusses the show, which is on view until October 13, 2013.
IT WAS KIND OF A JOKE when I titled my 1985 novel History of the Universe. I was being ironic, since it would be very hard and perhaps nearly impossible to describe the history of the universe. But it’s not that I think my work is too ambitious. I feel very lucky to have such a long career, and I hope it goes on longer and longer. I feel okay about the novel now, but it was really an idea from Klaus Ottmann, the curator of the show, to use it as the title here. I haven’t made new work for this: It includes about thirty works. I view it as an offering of a variety of possibilities.
My working methods haven’t changed. Usually I begin a piece by making notes on scraps of paper and using what I have. The notes determine the rules I apply to before beginning a painting. Sometimes the rules change, but I prefer to follow through with them until the end. My work is finished when it’s finished: when I finish solving the problem. For example, squaring. For Squaring 2; 4; 16; 256; 65,536, I squared two, and then I squared the square root of two and so on. Solving it eventually took multiple plates for one set of numbers––a problem that became apparent immediately after beginning. People often tell me a painting is finished when I’m still not sure.
I’ve always been interested in color. There are a lot of different blues, reds, yellows, greens that can all be called by the same name. With color, I try to surprise myself. Primary colors always remain red, yellow, and blue, and secondary means orange, green, and purple, but what surprises me most is that when I postulate something, the result ends up being something entirely different than when I see it in reality.
I’m not sure what exactly was the right point in my career to start making freehand works. Unlike my previous work, the “Blob” series is not ruled and measured. This method hasn’t surprised me as much as my others, but I really like the word blob. The paintings in these series have neither stated problems nor solutions.
I first showed Rhapsody in 1976 at Paula Cooper Gallery. I made it one plate at a time at my loft in Greene Street and in the Hamptons. Part of my novel was written there too, but that’s pure coincidence. The first time anyone saw the entire piece, including me, it was at the opening. It sold that night. There were all these kinds of romances during the 1970s, but I don’t remember when they all took place. At this point in my career, Rhapsody is just something that I have done. I feel we all only have one Rhapsody in us.
I intentionally gave both Rhapsody and Song titles that are musical terms. Rhapsody seems to me like an energetic, romantic piece of music, and Song seems like a solo. Yet I don’t think music relates directly to my work. I am more interested in indeterminacy than music. I prefer rules.
Mel Bochner, Meditation on the Theorem of Pythagoras, 1972/2013, stone and chalk. Installation view.
Though the recent work of Mel Bochner has primarily explored relationships between color and language, a group of his early work in the 1970s utilized small stones to destabilize the monumentality and traditions of sculpture. Here, Bochner speaks about his use of humble materials in creating new systems of value. His current exhibition, “Proposition and Process: A Theory of Sculpture (1968-1973),” the largest survey of his sculpture to date, is on view at Peter Freeman, Inc. in New York until July 12, 2013.
BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE, a sculpture is an object-in-the-world, something in our shared space. I use pebbles because they exist at the edge of the continuum between a fully three-dimensional object and dust. Intrinsically valueless and easily replaced, they qualify as an unmediated material.
A second condition must be met for something to count as a sculpture. Some human intervention must occur—an intention, a decision, or an imposed order. One of the earliest ways human beings devised of creating order was through counting. In Latin, the word for counting is calculus, which translates literally as “stone,” so as an idea it is already deeply embedded in our language. For my purposes the most important thing about counting is that it changes nothing.
A third aspect of sculpture that needs to be accounted for is the hand. Although nothing in these works has been carved, cast, nailed, welded, glued, or otherwise assembled, the use of the numbers five and ten signify the presence of the hand. (The Latin word for “finger” is digit.)
The organizing principle behind this installation is a spiral; the works have been laid out to wind counterclockwise through the space. This leads the viewer through a range of conceptual and phenomenological relationships to the sculptures, as well as to their relationship to the architecture. The strangeness of having to look down and walk around these small configurations of pebbles and chalk in order to “read” them further heightens the viewer’s awareness of his or her own body as another object-in-the-world.
Works of art are more than material entities or luxury goods. These sculptures represent my desire to get as close as possible to an intimate, unmediated, nonideological experience of the world. Implicit in this is a critique of the overblown scale and fetishism of so much contemporary sculpture.
At the end of this exhibition, all of my sculptures will be dismantled and their components will disappear back into their own ordinariness. All that’s left will be an idea, a scratch on the surface of memory. Of course, the irony is that without the object there would be no idea, but without the idea there would be no object.
B. Wurtz’s first solo exhibition in London is on view at Kate MacGarry from June 7 to July 13, 2013. The show will include a range of his work, most of it made with found objects and raw materials—such as wood, metal, and marble—from the 1970s to the present. Here, Wurtz reflects on his long career and his recent exhibitions.
WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG I had the Eames Giant House of Cards, which unfortunately I destroyed because I played with it so much. Those cards and the images on them were some of my earliest tools (and inspirations!) for making sculptures. I would often make tall towers out of the cards and then proceed to dump our cat on them from above. If I’d known I was harming the cards I would have stopped, but since I was the kind of kid that was constantly building things, I didn’t think anything of it! I’d give anything to still have that set today. In the 1980s there was a widespread resurgence of interest in midcentury modern design, and many books came out on the Eameses. I remember coming to a page with the images of the cards and having a flood of memories rush back.
As I got older and began to consciously make art, I started signing my work with the initial “B.” (B. Wurtz)—partly because it’s shorter to write than “Bill Wurtz.” I decided I liked it because it held back some information. I didn’t go so far as to give myself a new name (“R. Mutt,” for example), but I was (and still am) more interested in having someone look at the work and draw whatever they can from it, rather than regard the person who made it. For example, there’s a piece that’s going to be in my London show, an older work from 1972 that I nicknamed the “autobiographical sculpture.” While it is, technically, autobiographical—in that it represents my age at its making (twenty-four)—it is more a formal statement than an emotional evocation of my life. The media I used in this piece are in keeping with what I consider my “palette” of common, universal materialsin this case pieces of found wood.
My work wasn’t particularly well received in the 1980s. I was (then, as now) presenting people with “lowly” objects from their ordinary lives—putting the mundane up to their faces to look at. Where I saw beauty, others saw insignificance. Many viewers wanted to escape and be given some fantasy instead of being presented with the ordinary. Despite my frustration during that time, I see that I had a sort of freedom—I was incapable of doing anything I wasn’t interested in.
These days a lot of artists working with found objects make art I can’t relate to. It feels to me like they’ve taken stuff from a pile of junk and made another pile of junk. Most of my works are fairly simple arrangements. It often takes a long time to get them where I want, but sometimes it’s just a matter of a minor tweak that clinches it all. I don’t want to obscure what the objects are. I like that there is inherent meaning attached to them in terms of their use-value, but ultimately I want the work to be formal, nearly classical.
Before my Metro Pictures survey in 2011, I had started thinking about showing older work along with newer work. I thought, “Why not? Who says I couldn’t do that?” There has always been a weird consistency in my output. One of the things that was really interesting to me about that show was that since it included over forty years of work, I somehow felt objective in seeing it all together for the first time. Much of it had been packed away for so long. I hadn’t seen many of those pieces in what seemed like forever! It was almost like looking at somebody else’s art entirely.
Jonathan Horowitz is a New York–based artist known for his often-sardonic examination of value systems in media, culture, and politics. Here, he discusses his Free Store, which he first presented in 2009 at Sadie Coles and has since recreated several times. The latest iteration of the store will be on view as part of Art Unlimited at Art Basel from on June 10 to 16, 2013. Horowitz will open an exhibition of new work at Barbara Weiss in Berlin on June 21, which will be on view until August 3, 2013.
I ALWAYS HAD MISGIVINGS about hosting a Free Store at an art fair. I originally conceived of Free Store in relation to the pristine, highly controlled environment of an art gallery—I wanted to open the doors and invite anyone in to contaminate the space with junk. For this first incarnation, I made a series of modular pedestals from recycled plastic. When turned upside down, they acted as bins and put the earth on a pedestal, like Manzoni’s Base of the World. I was thinking of the earth as being like a free storehistorically, people have thought that they can take whatever they want from it without consequence. Now we know a social contract is necessary for it to survive.
Free stores have existed at least since the late 1960s, when San Francisco–based art and activist collective The Diggers started one in Haight-Ashbury. They conceived of it as both a form of social service and as a happening. My versions have been more about infiltrating spaces that don’t feel free. In theory, art fairs, which exist to sell things to very rich people, would seem ripe for infiltration. So when asked to present Free Store at the 2012 Art Basel Miami Beach, I decided to just go with the flowit seemed in keeping with the project. With sponsorship by an online luxury retailer, however, there were inevitable conceptual clashes, including barriers to entry. At the end of the day, it wasn’t clear who had infiltrated who.
Perhaps though, it just came down to an inflection of tone. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that art is a luxury goodhopefully amongst other things. And the sort of contradictions that the Miami Basel store elicited are in many ways the standard fare of this industry. So when asked to present the store again at an art fair, I thought twice and decided to go a little less with the flow. My condition for presenting the store was that it must be open to the public free of charge. For me, it’s important that the project engage the local community who wouldn’t necessarily come to the fair otherwise, as well as the art fair tourists who would never come to Basel otherwise.
People say that art fairs have killed art exhibitions, but exhibitions are just another construct. It’s a relief sometimes not to have to fit artworks into “shows” like so many puzzle pieces. For my exhibition at Barbara Weiss, my starting point was just making work. A number of the pieces will be Coke/Pepsi themed, which I see as a broad metaphor for capitalism and personal choice. In many ways, the works are about absolute control, which is opposite to Free Store, which is about endless possibility. Coke and Pepsi present an illusion of choice but you’re more or less choosing between the same thing. I have to say though, I prefer Coke to Pepsi—I imagine there actually is a difference, even if I can’t articulate what it is.
Left: Announcement for “The Cat Show,” 2013. (Photo: Dana Byerly) Right: Sam Roeck, Contemporary Art Sculpture for Cats #2, 2013, oak, plexiglas, carpet, linoleum, 52 x 30 x 30".
CATS AND ART TOGETHER AT LAST AT WHITE COLUMNS proclaims the press release for “The Cat Show,” an exhibition curated by writer and artist Rhonda Lieberman and developed in partnership with New York’s Social Tees Animal Rescue. Here Lieberman discusses the origins of the project and the “Cats-in-Residence Program,” where cats will be offered for adoption in the gallery on June 14 and 15, and July 19 and 20. The show is on view at White Columns from June 14 to July 27, 2013.
BACK IN THE MID-’90S, I lived in a loft in Long Island City and started tending an outdoor cat colony in an empty lot on my street. I wasn’t even a cat person when I moved in, but L.I.C. had tons of street cats and they pulled me in. The cat party started at dusk when we arrived with the cans. It was my favorite art installation at the time! The cats evaded discourse. They didn’t buy some discursive, blathering response! Going to this Zen kitty garden cleared a lot of the mishigas in my head.
High-rises were about to go up on the lot, displacing the cats my neighbors and I had grown fond of. We placed some and approached some rescue groups—all overflowing with adoptable pets—and that’s when I got a crash course on the overextended rescue situation in NYC. These groups go to animal control to take the animals from death row. Bringing them more from the street was just adding to the overflow.
I thought it would be amazing to help the rescue groups by creating an un-depressing space where the public could meet the cats, a place where strays would be appreciated as the gorgeous creatures they are and not wretches in a cage-lined facility! For animal lovers, it’s very depressing to encounter the broken system that treats strays as throwaways. I thought the cat area itself was a great installation and this project would use the art context to actually facilitate adoption—as well as being an aesthetic, meditative space.
Around that time, at MoMA PS1, I went to James Turrell’s Meeting, a bench-lined room whose ceiling opens up to the sky. Nothing but presence—like the cat area. “This piece could only be improved by cats,” I said to myself. My original idea for the show was for it to be like Meeting—a place for pussies to meet the public—with stuff for the cats to use, because they like to climb, to scratch. No tableaux or tchotchkes—just interactive pieces where cats and people would hang out. In the show’s current form at White Columns, the cats do their “purrformance piece” in a kitty playground set within a salon-style kitty kunsthalle of cat-inspiredand sometimes cat-assisted—art and objets. Work by more than fifty artists and a zine with lots of personal pieces express our mysterious and intimate bond with cats through an array of sensibilities: the pieces are moving, sad, beautiful, comic.
Back in 1999(!), the artists and designers I approached got the project instantly. But finding a space that would host rescue kitties—and the funding—was a challenge. This project integrates art and animal rescue, so it kind of fell between the cracks, grant-wise. A space whose name I won’t mention agreed in 2003 to do it but kept dropping the ball when it came to development. That was an arduous and disappointing saga—so the project took a catnap there for a few years. But it was always a dream project of mine—one that had nearly happened. People would say, “What about that cat project?” Rather mortifying.
To my relief and gratitude, White Columns, the purrfect partner, stepped up and ended this purgatory. This is the right time for the project. There’s so much relational artit was there in the ’90s, too, and part of my mental framework for the project. And the Internet Cat Video Film Fest at the Walker Art Center last summer was a big hit. I’ve always been passionate about animal rescue, and this was one way I thought I could use my “skills” to help more cats than I could on a one-by-one basis. Plus there’s something magical about hanging out with cats anywhere. They’re aesthetic and fun, so an art space is a perfect fit.
The point of this show is to use art as a lever to transvalue how we see and treat strays. I propose this as a prototype to show that this kind of thing is possible, hopefully on a sustainable basis at some point. The centerpiece is the cat habitat/kitty playground: an enclosure with a tubular cat tree designed by architects Freecell (John Hartmann and Lauren Crahan) and Gia Wolff. It will swerve around seven other interactive sculptures for the cats to use, and seating so people can visit. Michelle Handelman is doing on-site video documentation and installing a multichannel video of the cats in the space for when they are not “in residence.” Social Tees Animal Rescue, a partner for the project, is providing our ten cats-in-residence: Meowrina Abramovic, Bruce Meowman, Jeff Maine Coons, Claws Oldenburg, Alex Katz, and Frida Kahlico, among others. The purr-formers will have artist bios in the zine we are producing for the show, and most of all, we hope they’ll all gain purrmanent homes during the two two-day adoption events that open and close the show.
2007 promotional image for Monica Ross, Anniversary—an act of memory, 2008-13. Photo: Bernard G. Mills.
The works of British artist Monica Ross employ drawing, performance, video, and text to address questions of memory and history. Ross’s project Anniversary—an act of memory celebrates its culminating fifth year this year, with the concluding section taking place at the twenty-third session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 10–14, 2013. At the work’s completion, nearly a thousand individuals will have spoken the two thousand words of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights in sixty public recitations in over fifty languages. The artist speaks here about how this work began.
I DEVELOPED ANNIVERSARY—AN ACT OF MEMORY in 2005, in response to the British police’s shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazillian electrician living in London. Two weeks after the July 2005 terrorist attacks, police began surveillance on de Menezes’s apartment building and saw him for the first time when he was leaving for work one morning. They identified him as a terrorist suspect on the spot due to his supposedly “foreign” appearance. They followed him into the London Underground, where a team of armed police pushed him to the ground and shot him repeatedly in the head. The officers were following a covert shoot-to-kill procedure that’s still active in UK policing, although it has no democratic sanction. It was a terrifying demonstration of the power of law enforcement to overstep its responsibility and kill an innocent man.
In effect, the officers had failed to exercise presence of mind; they were responding to instructions via earpieces, following some distant voice of authority telling them to attack and shoot. I recalled Hannah Arendt’s comments about evil rising from thoughtlessness, and I wondered if I would have had the courage and temporal focus to disobey. I asked myself how a society might nurture these qualities in its citizens. I speculated that having the bravery to resist injustice might be connected to a strong sense of communal commitment to a clearly articulated ethical code.
This idea took me to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a secular statement with a rarely quoted preamble, which urges “every individual and organ of society” to strive “by teaching and education” to promote awareness of and respect for the declaration’s rights and freedoms. This ignited my interest; in addition to being an artist, I’ve also been a teacher for a long time, yet I had never paid any attention to this historical document.
The recitation format of the final work developed in three stages. First I learned the entire declaration by heart. Then I worked on its spoken delivery. The third step was to cross the significant divide between my personal recitation and a public one; the challenge of dealing with pressure in an exposed context is symbolically very important in this project. The first few solo recitations in 2005 took place in various settings, including the Beaconsfield gallery in London, the National Review of Live Art, and the foyer of the British Library. This last recitation marked the sixtieth anniversary of the document and began the series of sixty solo, collective, and multilingual recitations that will conclude in Geneva.
In the mid-2000s, I saw these “acts of memory” as a modest strategy, but to my surprise, individuals and groups all over the UK took up the process. I think this is a sign of the times. People today seem more aware of history, which, as Walter Benjamin observed, is never safe from the victors. See, for example, the widespread anger sparked by Margaret Thatcher’s funeral earlier this year. That event was emblematic of the political right’s bid to maintain its own historical narratives through performative gestures, and it infuriated people. I’m delighted by the reception Anniversary—an act of memory has received. Crucially, though, expression isn’t the same as action. It isn’t enough to simply reiterate the declaration. One has to commit to the actualized defense of human rights. The act of recollection forms just a part of that urgent process.
Tony Feher, Come Out and Play Stephen Jay (detail), 2013, painter’s tape, 8 x 8’. Installation view, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.
Artist Tony Feher is the subject of a twenty-five-year retrospective that originated at the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston and is on view at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, until September 15. Feher, known for redeeming everyday objects and consumer goods through careful juxtaposition and placement, speaks about the new works he made for the deCordova and about surveying his art career.
AS SOON AS I DROVE into the parking lot at the deCordova, I knew I wanted to create a work for the building’s grand staircase. The building is nestled into a hill, and you enter at the bottom. A window wall goes up the side of the staircase; at its base, the windows are probably forty feet tall. Horizontal mullions define the panes of glass, and they seem to want to accept, very readily, two-liter bottles filled with dyed water—a mechanism I have used a lot. In total, nearly three hundred bottles filled with water tinted by McCormick food dye—red, yellow, blue, green—make a linear progression across the diagonal staircase. The light pouring through those spots of color looks like medieval stained glass from France. They’re just glowing.
I made two other pieces for the deCordova. One is at the end of a twenty- or thirty-foot-long hall, on a glass pane that’s approximately eight feet square. I blotted out the view onto the park completely with bits of blue painter’s tape. From a distance, it’s an ethereal, sapphire pattern lit from behind. It keeps you inside the space of the exhibition. If you look outside other windows you’ll see a forty-foot-tall fluorescent magenta pole I specified. At all times of day, it glows. It looks like it has been plugged in. Now everything is as green as possible. But in the fall, when the leaves go orange and red, it will play off of those colors. In the depths of winter, with skeletal tree limbs, the contrast will be quite dramatic. The deCordova has decided to leave it on view for two years.
The survey has helped me to realize how fortunate I am in terms of my health—that I’m still alive, still fat and sassy. A lot of the work of my coming-of-age period, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, was made in the social climate of HIV/AIDS. So many people were confronting their mortality thirty or forty years sooner than you normally do. The intimacy, the fragility—the almost pathetic quality—of some of my early work has given way, over the years that I’ve survived, to works with more substantial qualities. That might have something to do with the fact that I no longer feel like I might die tomorrow. In 1989, when I found out I was positive, I said to myself, “Well, you’re gonna be dead in ten years, so you better get busy. This is not a time to mope around and feel sorry for yourself.” Now I’m lucky to be in a situation where sometimes I can even forget about it. I take my medication and everything’s good. This show reminded me of what was going on at the time, and how far I’ve come—and we’ve come. I thought it would be easy to look back over my shoulder, but all it has done is remind me that the future is tomorrow, and there’s much more work to be done.