View of “Judith Bernstein: Rising,” 2014.
For the past five decades, New York artist Judith Bernstein has used painting as a vehicle for often shocking, sometimes erotic, always provocative satires of masculine, AbEx excess. The works in her “Fuck Vietnam” series turned graffiti from a men’s bathroom into powerful antiwar statements. Now, with her latest “BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE” paintings, Bernstein places female genitalia at the center of giant Day-Glo canvases. “Judith Bernstein: Rising,” which features newly commissioned variations on her signature themes, runs from July 5 to August 24, 2014 at Studio Voltaire in London.
STUDIO VOLTAIRE is a gallery repurposed from a traditional Protestant church. I couldn’t ignore that fact when planning this show, which feels both spiritual and meditative. There’s a beautiful, large alcove at the head of the chapel, where I will put a BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE painting, depicting the cosmic fluorescent cunt at the beginning of it all—including the double helix and the Big Bang. My images of active cunts have been likened to the iconic images of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the sense that they are large, glowing, mystical presences. The cunt is the mother and the source of the universe—not unlike the Madonna figure. Along the sides of the chapel there are rafters that come down and divide the walls evenly—to perfectly house my large vertical phalluses, my screw drawings, like a procession, like marching soldiers going up to the altar.
I didn’t realize how humorous my work was until I went back to the old antiwar pieces from the 1960s. The screws, the giant phallic charcoal drawings that I made starting in the early ’70s, are a humorous idea, but the end result is extremely heavyit doesn’t have the humor and the lightness that some of my other work has. This latest work was wonderful because I went from a black and white palette to an explosion of colorful energy like the Big Bang. Adding color created an extraordinary explosion, and it was great to make that shift, very liberating. There’s anger in my work, but there is also a lot of play in it, and raw humor. Humor and laughter are cathartic in the way that ejaculation is cathartic.
I’m interested in the vagina being the birth source. That needs to be supremely valued. The result has been this large body of work focusing on the origin of existence—our beginning and our journey. Existential contemplation is very much a part of that. In the BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE paintings, I’m making the connection between our relationships to space, time, and infinity. I’ve incorporated numbers that deal with the age of the universe as well as numbers that are personal to me. I put down 1942 because I was born in 1942; eighteen is kind of superstitious, Jewish people like it as good luck; fourteen, I was born on October 14, 1942; sixty-seven is when I graduated from Yale; seventy-one is how old I am now; and sixty-ninewell, that’s an old standard, and it always works, by the way.
Thomas Fuesser, Hans van Dijk, 1993, C-print, 27 1/2 x 35".
“Hans van Dijk: 5000 Names” is a two-part exhibition that commemorates the pioneering Dutch scholar, curator, and dealer, who was a foundational influence on contemporary art in China and died in 2002. The current exhibition at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing is curated by art historian Marianne Brouwer and examines van Dijk’s life and work through archival materials and artworks by artists to whom he remained close. The show also became the center of a debate when the artist Ai Weiwei decided to remove his works from the exhibition, accusing UCCA of self-censorship when his name was omitted from a press release although his works remained in the show. Here, Brouwer talks about her conception of the exhibition, which is open through August 10, 2014. The second part of the show will run at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam from September 4, 2014 to January 5, 2015.
THERE ARE MANY REASONS to produce a show and catalogue about Hans van Dijk. He was a defining figure in China’s art scene from the early 1990s on, yet until quite recently there was little historical research of his work; there was nothing “official” to describe his role in the history of Chinese contemporary art. The idea to “do something about Hans” was around for quite a while—Frank Uytterhaegen, who cofounded the China Art Archive and Warehouse (CAAW) with Hans and Ai Weiwei in 1998, was among the early initiators of a plan to produce a show and a book on Hans. When Frank died in 2011 the project was in danger of coming to an end. One of the most difficult parts was to find funding for such a big project, as it involves editing and translating four languages (Chinese, German, Dutch, and English), interviewing an enormous number of people in various countries, and researching archival materials at the New Amsterdam Art Consultancy (NAAC) and CAAW in Beijing.
The exhibition consists of three parts: the artworks, the archival materials, and a lexicon of over five thousand artists born between 1880 and 1980, essentially documenting one hundred years of Chinese modern art history, which was discovered on his computer. My curatorial decisions were based on those artists Hans had promoted and “discovered” throughout his career—from his early time at university in Nanjing, where he studied Chinese language and art history from 1986 to 1989, through his later life in China, when he founded NAAC and cofounded CAAW. These artists are now very well known, but Hans’s instinct for good art and his choices at the time remain astonishing: When in Nanjing, he had already corresponded and met with artists such as Huang Yongping, Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, Ding Yi, Tang Song, Hong Hao, and Wu Shanzhuan. Others were given their first solo shows by him or remained close to him throughout his life: Wang Xingwei, Mai Zhixiong, Duan Jianyu, Zheng Guogu, Xu Hongmin, Meng Huang, to name only a few. He supported artists throughout his life with everything he had; any money he made from sales went back into art.
Several participating artists made new works especially for the show, but none of these were commissioned—they arose spontaneously from the artists’ proposals. It was incredible to see how many people had been deeply touched by Hans. Through the writings and photos on display I have attempted to give an impression of the many stories which connect the individual works in the show in a personal way to Hans. As for Ai Weiwei’s withdrawing from the show, I can only say that I came to UCCA to do an exhibition about Hans, which I did to the best of my ability. Like any artist, he has the right to withdraw his own works from an exhibition he disagrees with. I just deeply regret the attention taken away from Hans.
As artist and writer Chen Tong said to me when we were discussing the lexicon, Hans made no distinction between woodcut or photograph, ink painting or oil painting. Only the quality of the work counted and its relation to the historical development from modern to contemporary art in China. I think this is a good summarization of the most important legacy he left us. Hans was convinced that contemporary art in China was absolutely equal to contemporary art in the West. As Ai Weiwei said to me in an interview: West or East—there is only contemporary art. In the exhibition, I tried to follow Hans’s main curatorial decisions as I encountered them during my research as faithfully and objectively as possible. I can only emphasize that even so it has been impossible not to be fragmentary and incomplete. Thus I see this exhibition not as an end but as a beginning of much more research into China’s art in the 1990s and Hans’s crucial role.
The British filmmaker Joanna Hogg has made three intimate, sympathetic features in which vulnerable friends and family members attempt to hide secrets from each other within large houses and open frames. Exhibition (2013) is currently playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, through July 3, and Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2009) will also screen there from June 27 to July 3, 2014.
I MAKE FILMS BUT DON’T LOOK AT THEM AFTERWARD, which means I haven’t seen Unrelated or Archipelago for some time. I feel strong connections between the three films, though. They form a chain, each one linked to the next, maybe because I have difficulties with saying good-bye. After Unrelated I was hanging onto the theme of childlessness, which I had explored through the relationship between the middle-aged character of Anna (played by Kathryn Worth) and her friend’s teenage children. Anna’s dynamic with her offscreen husband had been suggested primarily through telephone conversations between them, and the image of a childless couple still floated around in my mind while I was conceiving Exhibition. When I made Archipelago, I chose to only superficially consider the sexuality of the family’s prodigal son, Edward (played by Tom Hiddleston). The absence from that film of carefully explored sex lives inspired me to develop the erotic life of the female artist D (played by Viv Albertine) in Exhibition and to blur the different roles she plays in her relationship with her husband, H (played by Liam Gillick).
I dealt with the members of an extended family in Unrelated, and then looked at a smaller family unit’s dynamics in Archipelago. It was a challenge for me to reduce a film’s number of central characters to two for Exhibition, and especially challenging for me to turn the focus on myself while doing so. I feel Exhibition to be the most personal of the three films. It forced me to look at my own marriage to another artist, and to deal with my anxieties connected to it, such as the fear I often feel of being at sea in a noisy city without feeling in control of my loved ones.
For instance, there is a scene in Exhibition in which D is working in her study and listens to the sounds of H leaving his office above her to go out into the street. She then hears something close to what I’m currently hearing outside this Midtown Manhattan window—siren wails and people shouting. I’m interested in film sound, even more so than image, because of how sound can engage the imagination. I worry sometimes when I catch sounds I can’t place. I invent dramatic and violent scenarios for them. My fears (much like D’s) usually don’t come true, but in the immediate moment they overtake me. The power of such imagined angsts was one reason why I made Exhibition.
Having said this, I’m also interested in actually observing ways in which people live, and not just imagining them. Even when I am watching films, I look for some version of life that I recognize. I’m not expecting other filmmakers to depict exactly how I see life, but I do want to be struck by some truth in what they’re showing, even if it seems mundane.
We spend much of our lives inside buildings, and the cinema that I like often uses architecture in ways that excite me. The depiction of architectural space is fundamental to my feature films, each of which essentially unfolds within one house. For Unrelated it is a converted eighteenth-century Tuscan farmhouse, for Archipelago a former missionary home on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, and for Exhibition a 1969 postmodernist home in London, very angular like a perfectly square doll’s house, that contrasts with its residents’ chaotic lives. In each case, you can feel a tension growing between what is inside the buildings and everything that has been left out.
I think a lot about architecture, partly because of how I form deep relationships to the places in which I live; they become part of my body and my memory bank. There’s a safety of being within their walls, even as I risk being trapped there. These feelings are hard for me to articulate, so the stories I tell try to do so.
View of “Gabriel Kuri,” 2014.
Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri is known for sculptures that mobilize contrasting dualities. Here he speaks about his current exhibitions in Los Angeles: a solo show at Regen Projects, which is on view until June 28, 2014, and the pieces he produced for the Hammer Museum’s “Made in LA 2014” biennial, which closes on September 7, 2014.
WE LIVE IN A GLOBAL WORLD where it seems like everything is available at the click of a button, yet that’s not exactly the case. Everything that I made for these exhibitions I created in Los Angeles, where I currently reside. That is how I make sense of my life. I adjust my work to fit my surroundings because I want it to have that feeling of actuality, of presentness.
Every place comes together by violent contradictions. This is a cue I’ve taken for the Regen exhibition, which includes my “soft metal” pieces, which are made of silver insulation material, and my “hard metal” pieces, which are made of stainless steel. The pairing of hard and soft has been an ongoing and important aspect in my work. It’s not just in the tactile sense, but also because I like to think of some of the sources of my work as being “hard,” as in hard facts, and others as being “soft,” as in being contingent. For instance, in the sculptural series “Stop Start Exponential Growth,” you could also describe this relationship as fast and slow. There is something about the work’s volcanic rock that is really fast. You can almost see the way it was formed, like the results when pouring polyurethane resin. But the inflated condoms placed in between the rocks are fragile. They have to be replaced every few days because they slowly deflate. While finding a place is relevant to my work, I also think that finding the moment is integral to my understanding of sculpture.
I don’t know how this interest in contrasts began. It most likely has something to do with finding my voice as an individual. The soft gesture could be seen as what comes most from me and the hard element could be what comes from society. There are a few hard geometric abstract forms also in this show. The piece Credit Becomes Retail, which includes eight multicolored, circular disks, addresses society most directly. The disks themselves come from the logos of credit institutions such as Mastercard and Maestro. The disks are placed in a physical act of balancing on each other, with padded blankets wedged in between. The metaphor is not one I have to force upon anyone. The idea for this work came from a piece I made for the 2008 Berlin Biennale—at the time of the economic downturn. The disks were placed in the coat check area of the Neue Nationalgalerie and the audience would check in their garments by hanging them on top of or in between these metal forms. By no means was I expressing that what artists create are mere commercial products or commodity goods. Rather, there is a direct parallel between the way that meaning in art is constructed and the way that value is socially constructed. But in order to see it, one must take it apart or see it upside down.
In “Made in LA,” there is a piece titled Donation Fountain, which is composed of a bent pipe, bird spikes, and a shower of coins. There is another work that is made with Carrara marble slabs, the same marble that is used for the skirting boards and doorway frames in the Hammer. Here, the slabs are placed outdoors on the museum’s terraces with small cigarette butts inserted in between them. There is also a variant of Regen’s piece, Thank You, which includes fireproof waste bins. The contrast in this exhibition is more in the works’ displacement. There is often a bubble of protection that forms around the gallery; in a public institution, my sculptures are forced to cohabitate with the museum’s signage, benches, exit signs, and even fire extinguishers. From this juxtaposition, the work acquires a different accent.
View of “Christina Mackie: Color Drop,” 2014.
Christina Mackie is best known for her layered sculptural installations that evoke the natural world, often probing the relationship between the empirical and ephemeral. Her current exhibition at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, which runs through June 29, takes color and light as its central subject. On June 16, the London-based artist will present a installation at Basel Unlimited. A solo exhibition at the Tate Britain is slated for the spring of 2014.
WHEN MY LAST PROJECT CULMINATED in objects derived from ancient pestles and mortars for grinding pigments, I began to think about paint and color as a conceptual tool and archaic human device. We mine color from our surroundings to use for our magical purposes, and separate things out from the world, refine things, make of color a technology. Thinking about the history of the creation of colors led to my latest show where color is the explicit subject.
The works on tables and panels explore the process of dying, grinding, and evaporation. Panels with carved dips have been coated in chalk, and watercolor pooled in the indentations evaporated leaving sediment. In an allusion to alembics, dying, and sublimation, glass objects contain onionskins and bark held in place by paraffin. They describe the process of connecting the color of one material with the substance of another material. Pottery objects made of different clays with semiprecious rock grinders reference the process of making fine powder color from minerals.
I use these highly worked materials to talk about color as a substance and also the concept of color as a force, and the way that it is embodied in the behavior or qualities of objects in the material world. Force is something that can be deduced from observation and also can be represented. What sets things in motion? The world is in a transitory state of animation, the visible manifestation of invisible forces.
The second part of the project is the large filters. Light is filtered by objects to reveal specific colors, and a filter stands between us and the world. In the three large central filter objects, I wanted to capture the idea of filtering and also illustrate the insubstantiality of light. The height of the nets draws the eye up and simultaneously casts the viewer down in scale and to a level symbolic with the base, as though the net were trawling from a surface far higher than where we stand.
Everything has to be prepared beforehand, all details thought out in advance, and held in mind. The whole filter weighed just a few ounces. Ropes, swivels, and pulleys allowed the raw net to be dipped into large pans of dye and pulled back up the thirty feet to the ceiling. The show changed over time as the dyes dried differently in their large dishes, the black intensity ending up crystalline or lichen-like or pale as a salt pan. Around the pans, large polished shards of colored glass reflect and consolidate the dyes. Until I do the action, in this case dipping, I don’t know what effect will result; it’s not something specified beforehand, rather a suspicion and a curiosity about what that invented place might feel like.
The Los Angeles–based artist Caitlin Lonegan creates abstract paintings that are concerned with perception and illusion. In addition to participating in the “Made in LA 2014” biennial exhibition on view at the Hammer Museum from June 15 to September 7, where she will show a range of large- and small-scale work, Lonegan will also publish her first-ever artist’s book with Laxart later this year. Here, she talks about the new role of narration in her work, as well as the importance of her studio as a site for experiencing her paintings over time.
FOR “MADE IN LA,” the curators and I decided to do an installation—and to use the space in a way—that reflected what I was doing in the studio. What was interesting about the last year is that I shifted my working method and how I share the pieces. There’s been metallic paint that I used to work into the middle layer of my paintings to get a certain surface. When I moved into my new studio, the light bouncing off the metallic areas became so striking that I just started working with it. Almost out of indecision, I started making changes slowly, to the point where I’d make changes to each painting over the course of the day. Later, it became clear that process adds a durational component to the pieces, and I started to realize how important it was for people to experience the works durationally.
Over this past year, a lot of people have come by, and the studio just sort of became the site of the work. Friends would come over, and we would set up a little camp kitchen, and I would make food, and we’d have coffee, and they’d experience the paintings here with me as I was sitting with some finished works, thinking about what to do next on the works in progress. People started telling others to come over. It started with friends who were artists, and then it became artists and curators I didn’t know. Usually the studio visits end up lasting about two to three hours. Now that I had more down time between decisions, people would come over for a whole afternoon. I’ve been doing it that way for about a year now, talking with visitors about the thinking that went into the work, which in turn was usually influenced most by what I was reading.
Literature informed my earlier work in the sense that I used it to help me think and explain the work to others. Those paintings played with a combination of optical effects and honest mark-making (even though people often think of it as process oriented). That tension between fact and fiction in my work—particularly as I started to move more heavily into constructed illusions—is what led me to reading fiction. I’d previously been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf and a lot of essays, and when I reread one short story by Woolf, “The Mark on the Wall,” it struck me as a great parallel to what I was doing in the paintings. It’s a story in which a woman, sitting in a living room, stares at a scuff on the other side of the room—told as if the woman’s speaking, speculating on how the mark might have gotten there. Her imagination is elaborate, and she projects that a portrait must have hung there, and constructs a story of the woman in it, and keeps going until later she realizes the mark is a snail. I felt like this story spoke to my work because I’m often constructing illusions of processes, and I like the perceptual confusion of reading a fictional short story that mimics a first-person essay. I am attracted to this sort of rupture and simultaneity. This is also the seed of the durational element of my work: The paintings from that body of work look like facts of process, but if one spends time with them, one realizes it’s constructed, and it unfolds.
The new work is a shift of sorts away from illusion and towards narrative. While making it, I was reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which has a crazy narrative shift of its own that really resonated. It portrays a totally convincing fictional world with amazing characters, told by an omniscient narrator—but every once and a while the form sort of breaks, and the narrator says “I,” which becomes really striking and disorienting. I think when we look at paintings, there’s often this assumption—against our better judgment—that the work is a stand-in for the artist. But for me, I think a lot about where the “I” is in the painting. What’s the position? What’s the voice? What’s the narration?