Monika Baer


View of “Monika Baer,” 2013.

Monika Baer lives and works in Berlin. Her first US museum solo exhibition runs through January 26, 2014, at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show includes nearly thirty paintings spanning the past twenty-some years of Baer’s career, from 1990 to 2013. The exhibition travels to the Williams College Museum of Art in 2014.

I USUALLY think about my work in terms of themes and nearly all of my paintings are made in series. Most of the larger ones are a series of four, though I maybe only need three or five and sometimes it’s more, as in the so-called “Breast” paintings—of them there are quite a lot. I’ve been working this way since the 1980s. I’m dealing with small changes within a set frame. I tend to think of these kinds of works cinematically. In this exhibition, which mostly displays singular paintings rather than entire groups, each work stands for a series of works, or frames, which are invisibly behind them.

It’s as though a painting could be dismantled and put together again, like there are parts of possible paintings moving through them all. New formal elements come in and others get shed. It’s a sort of machinery. Sometimes the painting may look rather pathetic or exalted, but in time that’s taken apart again and put together again in another often opposing way. It’s a process: from meat to metal, from meat to money, from coins to chains, from chains to glass, from ashes and then back to paint again. Here come the playing cards. What’s the little keyhole doing? I employ very common symbols that vulgarize the notion of the high-artness of painting.

I want the pink paintings to be seductive. I want the paint not to be descriptive, but to be the subject of the painting itself. An untitled canvas from 2012 is built up by very pink and creamy paint, like strawberry cream, which is applied thickly, leaving gaps. You want to put a finger into it. You know that kind of cream that you want to touch? At the bottom of the painting there’s a little keyhole, a black keyhole of paint right on top of all this, and for me the keyhole slaps that painting out of a region of serious elegance. It’s a loaded symbol. It functions through being a cliché, or having the potential of cliché. The representational element I put in a painting—spiderwebs or coins—is able to de-class the painting, or pull it down, which is something I want. I mean, I’m not going to trash it; I just often want this component in a painting.

The real perversity occurs when it’s painted in a certain way. To paint these chains is such a drag. I’m not good at painting chains and I have no method with which to paint them, no formula to follow. So I’m actually laboring over each link. The process has a fetishistic aspect—to want to give the depicted object that kind of intense attention.

My interest in constructing scenarios—be it in the studio or in a painting—is about configurations, often as symbolic or metaphoric confined spaces. Usually there’s a getaway or an escape painting where things break down or fall apart. That’s what I mean about putting together and dismantling. It’s all set together in a certain way and then it falls apart, then new elements come in; then it’s set together in another mode. It’s like trying out different ways of how a painting could be, how it could really be.

— As told to Jason Foumberg

Athanasios Argianas, Consonants as Noise (Foam Consonants) (detail), 2013, copper-plated sea sponges, steel, dimensions variable.

Athanasios Argianas is an Athens-born, London-based artist whose work explores how rudimentary perception becomes formalized and how it is translated between sensory media. Here, he discusses “A Sequencer *,” his debut solo exhibition in New York, which is on view at On Stellar Rays from November 2 to December 5, 2013. Branching Music, one of the video projections in the show, will be performed live on November 16, 2013, as part of Performa 13.

MY WORK tends to make use of situations that can collapse into noise but also those that can provide enough clarity so one can read the situation’s structures. One of the current exhibition’s films, A Sequencer, for example, consists of a tense yet silent proposition. Twelve live scallops are positioned on six plinths made of wood or metal. Occasionally, a single scallop that has clacked its shell interrupts the scene’s silence. Sometimes many of them clack their shells so abruptly that they fall from one stacked plinth to another, indicating the material of the plinths with sometimes dull and wooden or vibrant and metallic sounds. But this happens very sparsely––everything is mostly still. I’m mainly interested in the simplicity of the scallops’ binary system: when to open, when to close. They only have one abductor muscle, and it goes on or off similar to a system of zeroes and ones. In a perverse way, this is a situation that produces a loose, stretched-out rhythmic pattern, which accounts for the work’s title.

The percussive nature of this video works in tandem with the show’s second projection, Branching Music, which is more of a humming, melodic piece. Silhouettes of tree branches are projected one by one, while a performer traces the forms with his hand, treating them as a score for a theremin. To create the score, I drew up a set of rules: For instance, the thickness of the branch determines the volume. If the viewer doesn’t look at the image, the sound becomes formless. But when one sees how it’s produced, its musicality is found more directly.

Displayed on vertical steel poles hung from the ceiling of the gallery is another work, Consonants as Noise (Foam Consonants). It consists of two elephant ear sponges, a form of sea sponge, and two common sponges, all of which have been have been electroformed with copper––a process based on electrolysis that deposits metal over the surface of the organisms. The work as a whole is a very ambiguous, hybrid object: a mineral that assumes the architecture of an animal and vice versa. I’m fascinated by sponges because of their immense surface area that simultaneously contains and devours space. Having evolved in water, they are unbound by gravity. The resulting amorphic quality acts as an analogy of sorts for what we consider noise: The endlessly detailed, tiny chambers of the sponge accumulate into shapes that are so uniformly featureless that we can’t quite differentiate between them.

We often have to create parables or myths to understand concepts that are not intuitively graspable within the power and conventions of language. They become metaphors we use as tools like shadows in a cave. The most radical ideas of this century––those that completely overturn our perceptions of the world––usually come from physics. Surely, it’s an uncomfortable situation to deal with: the idea that you’re not going to have finite answers, that everything is an approximation of something else, and that there are no certainties. I try to keep my choices open outside of myself––to let other factors decide for me––and to embrace contingency.

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner

Haegue Yang


Haegue Yang, Three Folds and Multiple Twists (detail), 2013, venetian blinds, dimensions variable.

Haegue Yang is a Korean artist based in Berlin and Seoul who is well known for working with mundane materials such as venetian blinds, decorative lights, and fans. Yang completed a three-month residency this past summer at the Glasgow Sculpture Studios, resulting in the production of her current exhibition, “Journal of Bouba/kiki,” which is her first solo show in Scotland and is now on view GSS’s exhibition space. The show runs until December 20, 2013.

I WANTED TO DO this residency because I wanted a challenge: to be somewhere unknown without my team or my studio, and without the facilities and suppliers I’m familiar with. At the same time, I used this opportunity to commit myself to learning new techniques, such as ceramics and macramé. By working more organically with what was around me, I opened myself to new opportunities.

I ended up producing four bodies of work that are all on view in the show: one with ceramics; another with macramé—something I always wanted to work with; and the third became a combination of reading, editing, and taking photographs of public places in Glasgow, such as the Botanic Gardens and the Necropolis, a Victorian cemetery. The fourth project, Three Folds and Multiple Twists, is something that most audiences will readily identify as my work; it’s a venetian blind installation. This time, however, the blinds are subtly twisting, instead of moving up and down. All of these works deal with very specific material concerns as well as the economy of labor, fabrication, and craft, while exploring dualities of the organic and man-made, industrial and domestic, technical and lo-fi.

The macramé piece, Floating Knowledge and Growing Craft—Silent Architecture Under Construction, was very time-consuming, so I listened to podcasts, online radio stations, and music while working. For the show at GSS, I’m showing these pieces alongside an iPod, so the viewer can hear the same podcasts that I was listening to. To me, this feels like the “unedited” work in the show.

The third work, Glasgow Tales of Laugh, incorporates ten panels relating to Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel The Laughing Man. While reading this book again, I visited places in Glasgow and made photos—I haven’t picked up a camera in ten years. My piece revolves around a monster figure with a laughing face from the novel. He’s a special being. I saw laughter as a metaphor in the book—a pleasing action, but also a setting-free action. Everyone needs to laugh.

To create the ceramic pieces, I learned to work with clay and the process of forming, firing, and glazing—casting my hands in six different poses. Simply put, the hand is what I use to make something, but these hands, separated from my body, have their own process of interacting. Like the narrative on the panels, they also relate to my interests in oddities and monsters—sacred beings of society, in my view.

The exhibition is titled “Journal of Bouba/kiki,” referring to a scientific term for the way people who speak different languages tend to associate certain linguistic sounds to certain forms in a consistent way. We usually talk about the randomness of the relationship between language and reality. But what interests me is the common sense between them. This show presents a kind of journal of what I have experienced in Glasgow—I’ve been sensing the bouba/kiki effect every day, finding mysterious threads between things that would usually not seem connected. That is ultimately what framed this residency.

— As told to Lauren Dyer Amazeen

Dana Schutz


Dana Schutz, Assembling an Octopus, 2013, oil on canvas, 10 x 13’.

New York–based artist Dana Schutz is well known for her vivid paintings that freely associate fiction and realism. Her first solo exhibition in England is on view at the Hepworth Wakefield from October 12, 2013 to January 26, 2014. Schutz will also present new work at Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, from November 9 to December 7, 2013. Here, Schutz speaks about her recent canvases and the humor as well as “muscle memory” behind them.

PAINTING HAS MANY ACTS that are put together as one. My exhibition at the Hepworth revolves around canvases that show figures demonstrating simple actions as vehicles for painting. There’s one painting, for instance, where a woman is getting dressed all at once—a very difficult subject to paint. She makes eye contact with the viewer and the stopping point is her gaze. There is usually a frontal address in painting, but it doesn’t always have to be aggressively physical. My process is akin to a rehearsal, where muscle memory is involved. It can almost be like building a house, where the series of marks are laid one on top of the other; if one mark doesn’t sit right, I’ll rebuild the whole thing from the bottom up. Or the process can feel like dancing, where there is a rhythm—a physical call and a response.

For my latest painting in the show, Assembling an Octopus—which depicts a series of vignettes of people demonstrating actions—I worked on each part of the image wet on wet so that it looks as though the painting happened all at once. The work pictures a group of people that are individually engaged in scopic tasks but together assemble the image of an octopus. I wanted the whole painting to be open so I erased much of it and constantly repainted some sections until it was done, which also made the painting much thinner. An octopod’s skin acts like its brain; it uses it to communicate instead of telepathically hearing, wearing its thoughts on the outside. There are also elements within the painting that are octopus-like: There’s a woman inspecting a child’s tongue, for example. But there’s also a life drawing class and a couple walking on a beach, too.

“Everyday” seems like what a politician would say, but my subjects are derived from this level of realism, rooting the work in some form of logic, whether it’s cause or effect, or just people having to wear clothes. Humor fits in there as well because there’s something recognizable about it. I generate this kind of information because I like the idea of being able to read a painting, instead of just registering an image that comes from life.

My newest series that will be shown in Berlin depicts proposals for a god, or what God could look like without all the religiosity. I’m not particularly religious, but I was interested in God as a representational problem. When I was a kid, I thought God was a cross between Bob’s Big Boy—a restaurant chain I used to go to in Michigan where I’m from whose mascot is a chubby character with a pompadour—plus that really horrible Ray Charles–inspired big-head moon character from a 1980s McDonald’s commercial, and probably Liberace, all somehow mixed up in this pop-culture soup. But that’s really what I thought was up there in the sky—in orange, somehow without a perimeter. And maybe that’s the problem with trying to depict a thought: It doesn’t have an edge.

I think of these works as portraits, but I also want to situate them in a desolate site, where there are buildings with windows peering into spaces with nothing in them. There might be black-and-white televisions, a Hawaiian shirt, and the Hollywood Hills. One of the gods’ pants could be from the 1940s and there could also be a noir aspect with intense shadows. God could be anything, so one could paint God as anything. Anyone could be a god, for that matter, because everyone has their own universe around them at their disposal. They can just Google it.

— As told to Frank Expósito

An-My Lê


An-My Lê, Testing Truss Bridges in Statistics and Engineering Design Class, Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, 2013, archival ink-jet print, 35 x 49 3/8”.

An-My Lê’s photographs, whether of American soldiers in training or of her native Vietnam, typically focus on the preparation and aftermath of the US military’s activities. Here, Lê speaks about working on her first commission: photographs of the Coast Guard, recently installed in the USCG’s newly opened headquarters at the Department of Homeland Security campus in Washington, DC. Additionally, Lê’s work is on view in “Front Room: An-My Lê” at the Baltimore Museum of Art from October 9 to February 23, 2014.

I HAVE BEEN DRAWN to organizations that have a rigorous structure and hierarchy. And when I’m making a group portrait, it is very important for me to bring out each person’s individuality within this ranking—to show what each person represents within the organization’s structure and within the group’s psychology. In Testing Truss Bridges in Statistics and Engineering Design Class, Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, for example, each person distinguishes him or herself, and stands on his or her own. If you break down the subtle psychology of the image, there is something very interesting about each person’s features—whether it is a man or a woman, whether the person seems more outgoing or shy. Even though they are all in uniform with their cropped or pulled-back hair, what is interesting is how the work can suggest something distinctive about each of them. In an abstract way, perhaps, this is about scale, which is an issue that I have always been committed to as a landscape photographer.

Because of my personal history, I have been much more intrigued by the combatant arms of the military. Five years ago after following the Navy and Air National Guard to Antarctica, I wanted to explore other military activities in the Arctic seas. I have since been allowed on a US Navy attack submarine operating near the North Pole, but back then that possibility seemed extremely remote. Instead I contacted the Coast Guard and embarked on their icebreaker Healy while it supported scientific missions in the Bering Sea. This led to the General Services Administration commission. I had originally wanted to focus on Alaska, because the landscape is so beautiful there and I often think of myself as a landscape photographer. But as I started working on this project, I realized I should expand. I traveled to different Coast Guard stations and training centers throughout the US. The landscape may not have been as exotic as the Arctic or to Asia, but I was very taken by photographing people.

From the beginning I was anxious about taking on this commission because the Coast Guard does not have a combatant role and its work is unequivocally meaningful and heroic. It seemed that there wouldn’t be much room for the ambiguities and tensions I usually like to mine. In the end, however, it was a fascinating journey, which was enormously rich photographically and in terms of personal growth. I learned that there’s a future for me outside of the military. As long as I can work with an organization that has a history and some kind of structure that requires training, or some kind of indoctrination, I could probably find something appealing, inspiring, and challenging. I always ask myself what else interests me besides the memory, impact, and consequences of war. I’m not photographing the unfolding of war, so what is it? Is it the role of the individual within a very rigid structure? Is it that concept of having to conform, perform, and adapt while still being an individual? The idea of the power structure and the role of the individual within that power structure are very interesting to me and I am certain that this tension, which is obviously very strong in the military, exists elsewhere. You always think of where to go next, and perhaps that is an indication of something for me to follow.

The curator Susan Kismaric recently brought up a connection to Frances Benjamin Johnston while we were installing my photographs at the Coast Guard Headquarters. I’ve looked at Johnston’s work throughout the years, but not for any particular reason. Now, with that conscious link, I’ve looked his The Hampton Album again, and as much as they may differ, our works have many common threads. Johnston’s pictures are more didactic, but I feel very close to them. We both use the view camera and work in deliberate fashions and we care deeply about location and placement. We are both photographing people at work and interested in showing their tasks and clearly describing their gestures. In our work, people are very mindful, focused, and absorbed in what they are doing. But in Johnston’s Hampton pictures, the students never look up. Because of my interest in teasing out each person’s individuality, I task my pictures in terms of portraiture.

— As told to Leslie J. Ureña

View of “If I was to draw a Line, this journey started approximately 400KM north of the equator,” 2013.

Oscar Murillo is a Colombian artist based in London who often explores patterns of migration and social networking in his practice. For his current solo exhibition, “If I was to draw a Line, this journey started approximately 400KM north of the equator,” he presents stitched-together canvases, drawings, sculptures, films, and shelves made from copper sheets, which he used as flooring in a previous show. The exhibition is on view at the South London Gallery until December 1, 2013.

THE TITLE OF THE SHOW came about during a trip I made to South America. The equator goes straight through Colombia, and when I was there last and speaking to people in Europe and North America over the phone, they would all exclaim, “Oh, you’re on the equator,” or “Oh, you’re close to the equator.” But the title also is a comment on how abstract, decentralized, and increasingly networked the world has become. In the show I want to allude to new networks of exchange and am using myself as model for this, as I am a product of it. The title of the show is my way of saying that there’s a lot out there and art and culture have shifted economically. Europe and the United States no longer have the kind of power they once did.

Key to this presentation are the copper sheets I showed at Carlos/Ishikawa in London earlier this year. Originally they covered the floors, but here they feature as tables. I have a couple of interests in copper—it’s a historically versatile material and also was once incredibly cheap, so much so that it was used to build many of our urban areas. More important, it has a photographic quality—copper is a material that records touch. At Carlos/Ishikawa, the copper easily accumulated residue—shoe marks, fingerprints, and the stains left by wineglasses at the opening—so the room itself became a medium. In the present exhibition, the whole floor of Carlos/Ishikawa literally runs along one side of the South London Gallery as a shelf or a table protruding from the wall. This is key to revealing an idea of process, which usually happens when I’m painting on canvases: For instance, smudges happen gradually and unconsciously in my studio. These tables and other elements in the show will both be a continuum of processes and also offer insight into an evolving practice that includes more than just painting.

I’m not assuming I am terribly radical or have been around for decades, but I see this as an opportunity to shift attitude—the work here is not technically a move away from painting but more exposing the guts of my practice. I think it would have been quite pathetic, for instance, if I had installed a floor of canvases. I am particularly excited about not showing any paintings in this exhibition—at least, not any stretched ones. There are several loose canvases on view.

I have created my own lottery as part of this exhibition as well. I advertised the lottery of three works. So whoever is interested can purchase tickets through the gallery. Each ticket will be given a number and the other copy of that number will go into a hat. During the Frieze fair in October, I will host a ceremony to announce winners of a first, second, and third prize—each winner will receive an artwork, the medium to be revealed at the ceremony.

— As told to Julie Solovyeva