View of “R. H. Quaytman: O Tópico, Chapter 27,” 2014.
R. H. Quaytman’s chapter-based works draw upon geometry and grammar to examine how paintings can function structurally. O Tópico, Chapter 27, her latest installation, is on view at Gladstone Gallery in New York until December 20, 2014, before it permanently moves to a pavilion—which, like the architecture in the show, is designed by Solveig Fernlund—at the contemporary art museum and botanical garden Inhotim in Minas Gerais, Brazil.
AS THE CHAPTERS progress and the paintings accumulate, I am compelled to locate the direction they might lead. What are they adding up to—or, to put it bluntly, what is the “book” about? Until now, the content of the chapters has been historically and contextually based in Europe and the US. In accepting Inhotim’s invitation in 2012 to produce a permanent installation, I had to reexamine my own authority in relation to the site and the audience. Even though I believe that my work would not be possible without the advances and insights of peripheral modernisms that came out of Poland and Brazil (Kobro, Strzeminski, Clark, bo Bardi, Lispector, Oiticica, Artigas), I also felt acutely aware in Brazil of my role as an outsider. To address this site, as I have with previous chapters, seemed somehow illegitimate and false. In the position of foreigner/tourist/guest, how could I authorize the paintings with any hope of resonance there and also have them make sense with the work that preceded it?
I made two research trips to Brazil and just looked, listened, and read. I became overwhelmed by the vigor of Brazil’s nature and realized that maybe the only way to begin to think about this group of paintings would be through the idea of matter itself: matter as in earth, the thing itself, the subject. That’s how I settled on the title O Tópico, which means “matter” or “subject” in Portuguese. Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Triste Tropique was important to these paintings, and I felt my title echoed that.
I began by gessoing in black and yellow hues a full set of eight panels in the pattern of a Fibonacci spiral. The sizes of my panels are based on the golden section—they all use the ratio 1:1.618—and they nest. For Brazil, I decided to paint the pattern of the spiral generated from this ratio as the base for nearly all of the paintings. The pavilion is also based on this well-known shape that’s found everywhere in nature. It turned out that this “ground” had a spinning or spiraling effect that I could not have predicted. When hung on the walls of the pavilion, which have been designed with the same proportion, the paintings seem to spiral and point outward into the landscape of the botanical garden. Since one of my main concerns has always been to find a way out of the monocular pull of the single painting and into a hieroglyphic or lateral legibility and movement, this was a great discovery for me.
I also ended up trying two new media—encaustic and polyurethane—which in turn forced me to paint in ways that I have avoided most of my life, namely gestural abstraction. In fact, I made the first painting by pouring a puddle of polyurethane onto the floor and then nailing the dried form it created to one of the black and yellow gessoed square panels. It looked like a pile of shit, basically, but as I looked at it on the wall of my studio I began to see a frightening Janus head. This is how I found my subject—in the pouring, the painting, the making. But this is perhaps too complicated to get into in this short space. The point is that the making was the route that enabled me to begin to feel more authorized.
Musicians Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips first collaborated with the Andy Warhol Museum in 2008 for 13 Most Beautiful . . . Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. Now, from November 6 to 8, 2014, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Wareham and Phillips continue this work and partnership with the Warhol Museum for the performance “Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films.” Alongside other celebrated musicians, they have created scores for fifteen as-yet unscreened Warhol films from the 1960s. Here, Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner and Wareham talk about the event.
THIS PERFORMANCE comprises fifteen short Warhol films that have recently been digitized by MPC/Technicolor and have not yet been publicly screened. They are fascinating in different ways—some are touching, at least one is erotic, another is erotic but also very funny. We were amazed to see a home movie of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg on the Factory sofa, drinking beer and clowning around with Superstars Taylor Mead and Gerard Malanga.
A major impetus for developing the project around the Warhol Museum’s twentieth anniversary was the timing and synchronicity of both the recent access to these unseen films through the Warhol film digitization project and discussions that began about two years ago among Ben Harrison, Geralyn Huxley, Greg Pierce—curators at the Warhol Museum—Joe Melillo, executive producer at BAM, and Kristy Edmunds, executive and artistic director at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, regarding a new performance/film commission and collaboration. As a follow-up to 13 Most Wanted, which has toured internationally the last five years, we knew there was an appetite for Warhol film in a performance mode and we knew there was much more to explore.
Many of Warhol’s silent films seem to be intentioned for multiple presentation contexts. Not only were they shown at his studio, the Factory, and as short subjects in avant-garde screenings, but also the Screen Tests, for example, were a primary visual component of Warhol’s multimedia happenings Andy Warhol Uptight, in 1966, and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, in 1967. These shows, featuring live performances by the Velvet Underground and Nico, provide a precedent and historic basis for this film/performance initiative at BAM. As early Warhol films, these unseen works differ from Warhol’s more conceptual and stylized series in that some of them are more aligned with experimental home movies or “actualities” that portray some of Warhol’s iconic friends. They have a more “human” and relatable quality than later work.
In addition to Dean, there will be four other main performers: Tom Verlaine of Television; Martin Rev, who pioneered synthesizer music with Suicide in the ’70s; Eleanor Friedberger, formerly of the Fiery Furnaces; and Bradford Cox, who makes strange and beautiful music as Atlas Sound and in Deerhunter. Each performer is scoring three films. We also have a backing band of Britta Phillips on bass, Jason Quever from Papercuts on guitar and keys, and Noah Hecht on drums. We love recording with vintage equipment, but we don’t always want to travel with it. Britta’s Fender Mustang bass might be the only instrument onstage that dates to 1965—and it has the original strings, too.
This is a film-scoring gig, but it has to be approached as a live show also. The main note you take from Warhol is to just pick up an instrument and make music; you might not be trained as a filmmaker, but you can make a film. And you may not be trained as a musician, but you can start a band. Warhol is an important figure in the history of rock ’n’ roll, primarily on account of his involvement with the Velvet Underground, and it’s hard to imagine rock history in the ’70s and beyond without that particular collaboration. You can make the case that Warhol is a father to the punk movement, too. He took commonplace “low” objects and turned them into art, and that’s at least part of what punk was about.
“LOVE ME” is the first New York retrospective of works by Greer Lankton (1958–1996). Known for her distinctive dolls—modeled on friends, celebrities, fictional characters, and herself—Lankton was an important figure in the East Village art scene of the 1980s. This exhibition, curated by Lia Gangitano in cooperation with G.L.A.M. (Greer Lankton Archives Museum), includes over ninety of Lankton’s dolls as well as ephemera documenting the installations she created for them, her artistic processes, and her milieu. “LOVE ME” will be on view at PARTICIPANT INC from November 2 through December 21, 2014. Here, Gangitano speaks about the show.
UNFORTUNATELY we can’t locate Sissy, 1979–96, the doll that Greer worked on for most of her adult life, but there are many photos of her in the show. She was a little bigger than life size, and, as Greer’s most autobiographical work, she evolved over time. Like Greer, Sissy was trans, she had gender reassignment surgery, though that might not be the right term: Greer referred to it always as “the operation.” She made operation-themed dolls and drawings that make it clear that this was not an easy thing. She transitioned while she was a student at Pratt, where she was already making these incredible dolls. They are meticulously painted, with glass eyes. The fabric ones are jointed, they’re bendable, so that she could pose them. Someone told me that she constructed the skeletons from broken umbrellas—I love that!—but I don’t think it’s entirely true. I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like to do studio visits at an MFA program and see work like Greer’s—a life-size doll of a hermaphrodite giving birth, for example. I mean, what she was doing is not like anything else. We have some of her student work on view, and some things from her childhood, including a marionette she made with her dad around age seven.
After art school, Greer lived in Nan Goldin’s loft for a while, and many people recognize her from Nan’s work. Nan is one of our lenders for the show. Peter Hujar also took beautiful photos of Greer, and she collaborated with David Wojnarowicz sometimes. (One of the dolls we have in the show comes from David’s papers at the Fales Library at NYU.) So, some people are familiar with Greer through her associations with other artists. But many people who were in New York in the ’80s know her work from her solo shows at the East Village gallery Civilian Warfare, or from walking by Einsteins, which was her husband Paul Monroe’s boutique at 96 East Seventh Street. Greer and Paul made ever-changing installations in the shopwindow—we have a great photo of Sissy in a maid’s outfit vacuuming with a cigarette there. Paul kept great records of the Einsteins era, and he founded G.L.A.M. to preserve Greer’s work. She died quite young, from an overdose.
It’d be hard to recount the magic chain of events that led Paul to call me about doing this show, so I’ll just say that when I got off the phone with him for the first time, I felt that it was fated, that this was what I was supposed to be doing with my life. We’ve been working on the exhibition for two years. Paul has a large collection of Greer’s artwork and personal ephemera, and he also knew how to start tracking down many of the other dolls on view.
Iggy Pop was one of our first lenders. He and Greer lived in the famous East Village building the Christodora House at same time, and Princess Pamela, 1980–83, is from his collection. Pamela is one of two life-size dolls in the show. Greer made her from a fat suit that she would sometimes wear to go out! The other life-size doll is Diana Vreeland, 1989, who Greer made for a window display at Barneys. Anna Sui bought Diana and then later donated her to the Met’s Costume Institute. I think it’s important to note, though, that Greer’s community was decimated by AIDS, and many of her friends—who were also her collectors—are gone. So this could never be a comprehensive survey; it’s difficult to find her work. But my hope is that the exhibition will introduce Greer to a broader audience, and to new generations of trans artists in particular, so that forebears are known. Really, I see “LOVE ME” as a starting point for understanding a prolific and influential artist who was so loved by her peers.
View of “Xavier Le Roy: Retrospective,” 2014.
Xavier Le Roy has worked as a choreographer and dancer since 1991, and he is well known for pieces that highlight audience-performer relationships. In his debut US survey exhibition, on view at MoMA PS1 as part of the French Institute Alliance Française's Crossing the Line festival, dancers perform excerpts from works Le Roy made between 1994 and 2010, all of which address the complicated negotiations performers engage in as both subjects and objects. The show is on view through December 1, 2014.
LAURENCE RASSEL, from the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona, commissioned “Retrospective” in 2012. It was the first time a curator had proposed that I exhibit my work in a museum. Although I see the exhibition as a new work, I chose the genre of the retrospective because of its specificity to museums, and I also liked that an exhibition could hold the pieces in one space at the same time, producing new meanings. So, instead of presenting eight consecutive solos every night, the performers in this show choose excerpts from my solo works to perform while also telling stories from their pasts. The rule is basically that they use excerpts of my work and I have suggested that they choose to speak about something meaningful, for instance a memory that the work evokes. Not only do the dance excerpts vary according to the wishes of each dancer, but they also change in each country where the work is performed. The culture influences the work. You hear in their stories a combination of factors specific to that location and its politic—for example, in Singapore there are tales of censorship and how being an artist there is considered a hobby, not work.
The show addresses the notion of “looking backward” in that each experience in the present is also a condensation of the past. The performers are doing what we call “an individual retrospective of my work in and through their lives,” and the point is not that they say something about themselves but that they use this moment to say something as artists. This format is based on a 1999 piece, Product of Circumstances, which marked the first time I used this structure of dancing and speech. It’s always one and then the other: the gesture and the speech. It can be a comment, it can be complementing. Sometimes the movement can produce the end of a sentence. There are many ways to combine these juxtaposing things. The work also tries to do something other than just taking a dance and performing it endlessly—“museographing” is not interesting to me.
“Retrospective” pushed me to think about what I can do in exhibition spaces that I cannot do in a theater. In a gallery, people can stay as long as they like and they can leave whenever they like, but in the theater they make an appointment and perhaps feel they must stay—the duration is decided for them. I am interested in how behaviors change in these two spaces: What does each allow for or prohibit? With this show, I knew I wasn’t going to start doing painting or video—I would continue to work with performers. This brought up the question: How can you work with dancers for a long duration without transforming them into objects? Where is the agency of the performer for this, and where is the agency of the viewer?
There is a constant tension that you have as a performer about being objectified. In the field of contemporary dance and choreography, it comes up often in stories about how much you are used by the person who authors the work. It’s a contract, but the contract is often full of questions and uncertainties. During the exhibition we try to approach, unfold, and transform that problem and make these negotiations visible.
Glenn Kaino, Tank, 2014, dimensions variable. Installation view, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, 2014. From Prospect.3 New Orleans. Photo by Joseph Rynkiewicz.
Glenn Kaino is a Los Angeles–based artist whose work addresses social and political histories while prioritizing individual subjectivity. His latest installation Tank, comprises seven saltwater-filled vitrines in which clear resin sculptures cast from a disused tank are submerged and covered in corals. It will be displayed at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans as part of “Prospect.3: Notes for Now,” the third iteration of the Prospect New Orleans biennial, which is taking place across fifteen venues from October 25, 2014 through January 25, 2015.
IN MY WORK, I attempt to reconcile irreconcilable materials as a way to generate moments where the impossible or improbable is given form. I think of my practice as conceptual “kit-bashing,” which is an old model-maker’s term for using the parts of different model kits to make something new, sans instructions. I draw from a diverse set of materials, ideas, and systems of knowledge, putting them together in ways that should not succeed but somehow do. For Tank, I worked with Grand Arts in Kansas City, the Prospect organizers, and a team of scientists and designers across the country to create seven translucent casts of a decommissioned US M-60 military tank and to grow living coral formations on each sculpture.
I have been interested in using living organisms to understand behaviors and ways of existing. Years ago, I discovered that the US military was dropping retired tanks into the ocean, where they later eroded and were colonized by algae and coral, becoming artificial reefs. I saw a poetic contradiction in the notion that some of the smallest organisms in the world were reclaiming the instruments of much larger organisms. Corals are fascinating to me because they are reactionary and survive by responding to need but also to instinct. They have an embedded memory and programming that requires a battle with other corals for territory. Fighting is in their nature, but one would not see this unless they were trained to.
Growing corals on this piece of artillery was a way for me to visualize a combination both beautiful and violent and to explore an urge at the most basic level to conquer and occupy in order to sustain life. My piece is an attempt to raise meaningful questions about our nature, the relationship we have to the space we occupy, and the systems and social constructions within which we reside. There are scratches and marks on my cast pieces that the tank had from combat, but others came from the original manufacturing of the tank–which also required a type of casting–so it was already both a sculpted object and a weapon before I made this work. As the corals on the work grew and touched each other, their interactions became combative, resembling territorial divisions and creating a living map. They sent out stinging tentacles and chemicals, attacking and then subsequently advancing or retreating. In this case, as with nations, encroachment correlates to a recoiling. What’s also similar is that without a capable witness, the conflict would be invisible, and the struggle would have no meaning. I see Tank as a way to ask questions about how we might assert empathy over a perhaps instinctive colonial impulse and also to suggest a new way of being together where progress does not come at the expense of others.
Jean-Michel Othoniel, Les Belles Danses (The Beautiful Dances) (work in progress), 2014, Murano glass, steel, dimensions variable. Photo: Philippe Chancel.
Installed over the summer of 2014 as part of a major renovation of one of Versailles’s gardens, the three sculptures in Jean-Michel Othoniel’s Les Belles Danses (The Beautiful Dances), 2014, evoke King Louis XIV dancing on water. To realize the works, the Paris-based artist set up a makeshift studio in a vaulted ceiling chamber that once housed the Sun King’s apothecary. Othoniel is the first contemporary artist to make a permanent mark on the royal grounds as well as Versailles’s first artist-in-residence in over 300 years. The work will be previewed during FIAC this month before the grand opening in spring 2015.
AS A FRENCH ARTIST, it is a special experience to add my work to a garden originally designed by André Le Notre for Louis XIV. Versailles is one of the most important historic sites in France; it is part of our national identity and collective past. Louis XIV’s reign represents a key moment in French history because he was the first king who really made a connection between art—he especially loved dance and was himself an accomplished dancer—and politics.
The arabesque forms in Les Belles Danses were born out of a discovery I made while doing research during a residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In the Boston Public Library I found L’Art d’écrire la danse par caractères, figures et signes démonstratifs (The Art of expressing dance through demonstrative characters, figures and signs), a rare book by Raoul-Auger Feuillet—there are only three known copies in the world—filled with notations diagramming Baroque dance sequences. To help Louis XIV learn and remember dances, Feuillet had invented a unique written language, which struck me in particular because the curvaceous script-like notations resemble forms that I have been using in my sculptures for quite some time. Once I saw this book, the idea for the fountains at Versailles became quite obvious: the Sun King dancing on water. It was natural for me to relate to Feuillet’s forms, to redraw them, to imagine them as sculptures, and give them a contemporary presence.
The sculptures are made of nearly 2,000 large glass beads and four blue glass orbs. Glass has a magical quality in the way it imitates water and I’ve been working with this material for many years. But what’s new in this project for me is the element of movement. In addition to the jets of water that spray out from Les Belles Danses, the glass beads themselves have a sensual quality that evokes the once-liquid state of the glass. The material is also very appropriate for the setting because there is an important history of Murano glass at Versailles. The splendid mirrors in the Galerie des Glaces were made by craftsmen from Murano, the Venetian island known for its glassblowing workshops. Upon recognizing this historic link, I decided that the four orbs needed to be fabricated in Murano.
For the beads, I worked with an artisanal glassblower in Basel. The technique of glass blowing has not changed much over the past 2,000 years. But what has changed are all the technologies around the technique, which permit us to optimize the quality of the material—to make it less fragile and more stable in terms of color. When you see chandeliers from the time of Louis XIV, they appear yellowish because at that time they hadn’t yet mastered true transparency. Today we can easily make glass that will not change color with age. We can also design a glass object using a computer that draws very specific, scientifically calibrated curves that make the glass pretty much unbreakable.
Before Les Belles Danses was installed, the most recent sculptures in Versailles dated to the seventeenth-century, so it’s really incredible to add to that collection. I’ve worked on other large-scale, site-specific projects before: glass bead necklaces for a tree in the sculpture garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art or the entrance to Paris’s Palais Royal metro station. But whereas in these cases I was not so concerned with the history of the site, at Versailles I was hyper conscious how my work would enter into a dialogue with the past. The focus became about much more than my own delights and obsessions.
With Les Belles Danses, I tried to create a link between the Versailles of Louis XIV and the Versailles of present day, all while looking towards the future. After this there may not be other opportunities for contemporary permanent art installations at Versailles. For me it’s a bit like a fairytale; like the garden in Beauty and the Beast that opens once and then closes right behind you.