Ed Bereal, Miss America Presents Domestic Terrorism, 2003, graphite on paper, 45 x 48 1/2”.
In the 1960s, the Los Angeles art world’s detachment from the violent tumult of the Watts riots politicized Ed Bereal’s practice, propelling him toward a critical focus on multifarious forms of social inequality. He abandoned studio art in favor of guerrilla street theater, and later a satirical TV series for PBS. Both were ultimately deemed too radical for the general public’s tastes and shut down, and Bereal in 1990 returned to making what he calls “political cartoons,” which took the form of painting, sculpture, and assemblage. His latest exhibition, “Ed Bereal: Disturbing the Peace,” is on view at Harmony Murphy Gallery through April 2, 2016. It is his first solo exhibition in LA, showing works from 1963 through 2011, including footage of his performances with the theater troupe Bodacious Buggerilla and clips from his short-lived show on PBS.
IN THE 1960s, I was living a privileged life thanks to Bob Irwin and a few of my elders who had positioned me very well in the art world. Dwan Gallery was paying me to stay in my studio, and that was working pretty well until 1965. One morning during the Watts riots, I walked out of my house and there was a jeep parked across Venice Boulevard that just so happened to have a machine gun pointed right at my door as I opened it. I can remember looking at that National Guardsman and thinking, If I put all the articles that were ever written about my work and Irving Blum and Walter Hopps in front of me, that bullet would go through all of them. Those things had no real meaning.
During the riots, you could go into the Hollywood Hills and still see smoke everywhere. You could smell it. And the art world didn’t take notice. I began to realize that I was alienated from a place that had at one point informed me. I left my gallery and started writing things that turned into plays. My former students at UC Riverside and I made this monster called Bodacious Buggerilla, doing street theater about racial stereotypes, performing in bars and laundromats and on church steps. We got so good that we drew the attention of the FBI, who were investigating the Black Panthers, New Africa, paramilitary groups, the California grape pickers with Cesar Chavez—we were all in the same bag, as far as they were concerned. They started making it impossible for us, the students’ scholarships were put into question, and others were interrogated at their jobs. We morphed into Bodacious TV Works, a three-color-camera studio, and PBS accidentally let me through the door—then they shut it. That happens periodically to me, and then I find another door. We did a satirical game show called “Pull Your Coat,” which is a ghetto term for a warning. We disseminated information on there that the media wouldn’t share, using stereotypes of an egghead, a church lady, a black valley girl, or a guy shouting “Kill the Pig!” It was on national television for ten days, and then the management went, “Hey, shut that shit down.”
I’m not into art for art’s sake. I’m not into entertaining wealthy people. I think art can instruct, and I think it can destruct—it can be a weapon. Bob has a good eye, and we agree on a lot from a technical perspective, but once my stuff starts drifting into that idea of art as a weapon, he starts to back away. Bob comes from a different perspective in that way. I adore him. And you’ll never find a sweeter person than Ed Ruscha. But I don’t know if they understand me, and I don’t push it. I enjoy with them what I can enjoy with them.
I like some of what’s happening now—I love what Beyoncé did at the Super Bowl, it was something the mainstream media does not want her to do. I cosign that. But I did get a beautiful criticism from a young guy, one of my collectors’ grandsons who was in my studio. I told him, “I would like my stuff to have a conversation with people your age.” He said, “What’s your website?” I said, “I don’t have one,” and he said to me, “I thought you wanted to talk to us.” He’s absolutely right. I’m an old fart, but I’ve got to keep up the conversation.
Rosalyn Drexler’s life and work appear allergic to the word dull. Over more than five decades, she has made paintings (politically electric Pop compositions incorporating collaged figures from movie poster and newspaper images isolated in bold, graphic space) and penned multiple plays, novels, and articles. She also has several Obies and a book adaptation of the film Rocky under her belt—not to mention a stint wrestling as Rosa Carlo, the Mexican Spitfire. Here, on the occasion of her retrospective at the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Massachusetts, she discusses her exuberant love of art. The show will run from February 11 through June 5, 2016.
IT’S WONDERFUL to be having a retrospective, like being a star again! Of course you also want to just run away.The show belongs to the people who created it now. It’s going to be wonderful, and then it’s going to be past, like all things. I’m going to try to be in the moment. Some of these artworks have been gone from me for fifty years. I’ve seen reproductions of them and wondered who did them, and thought, That’s pretty clever! So to see them all together will be incredible—one painting referring to another emotionally, and what was happening in my life at the time.
I don’t think my paintings were seen much back in the 1960s. It was the time for Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism; Pop was just beginning to rear its huge, glittering head. My work was a secret kind of thing. I was very close to the Abstract Expressionists, and to the women I worked with when we started Women in the Arts—but no one realized I was a painter because I was writing about painting. I was happy being productive and having good friends and being ignored. But now I’m getting angry about it, looking back!
I never thought about careers. I was even a wrestler for awhile. I learned how to look ominous and on top of things as I strode around the ring from corner to corner. But the truth is I hated it. I thought, Well, the experience should not be wasted—I should at least get a book out of it. I was also a waitress, cigarette girl, hatcheck, masseuse, anything to earn a living. And in between it all I was giving birth, writing books and plays, doing paintings, and going to parties. I met my husband Sherman when I was eighteen, married at nineteen, first kid when I was twenty and I was off to the races. I was married for sixty-nine years.
Rosalyn Drexler discusses her show at the Rose Art Museum with artforum.com.
Our closest friends were Franz Kline, and Bill and Elaine de Kooning, and they used up all the oxygen in the room, they were such heavy hitters. I thought painting was serious and wonderful, but I couldn’t put myself in that class. I was divided; I must have really thought of myself as a writer. My books were doing very well, getting published and critiqued. And there wasn’t a lot of interest in my painting, so I didn’t have that same kind of encouragement that I think you need. And I had no idea that what I was doing would interest anybody deeply.
I never studied art. But my parents exposed me to it from an early age. A newspaper had a special: For twenty-five cents you could get art posters and books, and my mother bought me Turner seascapes, Dickens, Twain. And my father took me to a museum once and showed me a Chardin peach. I couldn’t understand how wonderful that peach was. Later, my husband would take me by the shoulders in a museum, and we would exchange ideas.
I’m still painting. My husband was dying in 2014, and I was with him almost all the time, and then I would go into my studio and start a painting. He was a great critic, and I was able to share the making of these works with him. And now I have to get over the mourning, the sorrow, and I suppose that will bring a whole new kind of work.
There’s a narrative thread going through all my work. It may not be seen but it’s in my head, like a kind of music. I get an idea to paint, and then I get ideas by painting. Some of the works do tell a story, but it’s not like sitting down and telling a story, or even using one word, like some artists today. I don’t use words in painting because I use words in books and articles.
My love of art—an exuberance and a feeling that I wanted to do something, that I wanted to express myself—comes from when I was young. I wanted to be a writer even though I had only written one paragraph. A friend introduced me to a publisher who said, “I like what you’ve written so far, and I’m coming back in two years—give me a novel.” To start, I told myself: Just be honest, say something that means something, and amuse yourself. Well, how do you do that? So I had to find out.
Pablo Castaneda, Simulacro 48: Pueblo en llamas (Simulacrum 48: Town on Fire), 2012, oil on canvas, 20 x 24”.
I first encountered Pablo Castaneda’s work during a visit to Mexicali in 2011, where one of his paintings, Simulacro 15: Carretera imposible (Simulacrum 15: Impossible Highway), 2009, was featured in the Bienal de Artes Visuales del Noroeste at the Centro Estatal de los Artes. Later, I visited his studio and was overwhelmed by the range of his work: figurative paintings in muted colors as well as black, white, and gray monochromes that render familiar sites in this desert city newly strange. Sexy and violent, vulgar and tender, his paintings depict an everyday life enhanced by the presence of haunted faces and fantastic creatures. Born in 1973, he is part of a generation of Mexican artists living along the border who are equally influenced by Latin American fabulism and US mall culture. Six of his paintings are currently featured in “La Colección Elías-Fontes,” an exhibition on view at Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) through April 3, 2016.
THE FIVE PORTRAITS in this exhibition all feature close-ups of faces as they would appear on a film screen, boiling with expressive power. For instance, the eyes are all highly defined. This technique is used sometimes in murals, but that’s not where I sourced it. All of my work is based on photographic material. Since discovering photography as a source, I’ve looked at photography books, art magazines, newspapers, National Geographic, etc., and also at museum photography exhibitions. I love the work of Cartier-Bresson, Jeff Wall, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Thomas Struth, and other photographers. I also take photographs of landscapes and scenery in the nearby Rumorosa Mountains. Taking and collecting photographs is a way of keeping a diary. And then I construct and reconstruct these found images in my paintings. I’m interested in aesthetic forms that relate to actual problems with a mixture of reality and imagination.
The five portraits currently on view in Tijuana are part of “Simulacro,” a series I began in 2008. The paintings are neofigurative, combining gestural force with the rational impartiality I find in Conceptual art. Since beginning the ongoing series—which so far comprises about fifty-seven paintings—I’ve used different techniques, sizes, and formats to depict the personality of each face. Throughout, I’m interested in a dramatized and documentary figurative style.
For example, Simulacro 48 depicts a young woman turning away from a fiery building after an explosion. A police officer in a black balaclava holding an automatic weapon stands behind her. I come across these kinds of newspaper images of drug war violence practically every day. But the tension between the depicted elements in the work suggests a narrative, so it’s no longer clear whether the image is fictional or documentary.
The only painting in the show that isn’t a portrait is Picture 8: Playa. It’s based on a photograph of the old wall in the Pacific Ocean along the northern border between Tijuana and California. It’s a black-and-white painting of a crude sea that shows the exhausted partition and a stray boat merging in turbulence. I’m drawn to realistic scenes suffused with a tragic or mysterious ambiance. For me, such images generate paintings where reality seems almost imaginary: the heightened sense of an allegory, but drawn from contemporary themes.
It’s nice to be in this show because Alonso Elias has collected my work since 2011 and almost all of the artists in his collection are based in Mexicali and Tijuana. He’s an unusual collector: Not only are art and culture a big part of his life, he sees them as a means of constructing a better future. Originally he was drawn to my work because it reminded him of art that he’d seen in New York, in the East Village during the 1980s. Border art, including the work being produced in Baja California, is advanced in the way that it mixes artistic tendencies. Latin American and Chicano art have different aesthetics, but they are influences, too. As a border artist, I’m excited by the imagery around me, and inspired by all of the arts. I think this position collapses the distance between different countries.
Translated from Spanish by Marco Vera.
The photographs in Gregory Crewdson’s first solo exhibition in New York City in six years are an extension of his hallmark depictions of eerie encounters in American homes and neighborhoods, yet the new works are set in more rural forest environs than before. Their soft glow results from his large-scale, cinematic-style productions and extensive postproduction. Here, Crewdson speaks about working on “Cathedral of the Pines,” which will be on view at Gagosian Gallery in New York from January 28 through March 5, 2016.
THIS BODY OF WORK is titled after a trail in the wilderness of Becket, Massachusetts. What caught my eye about Cathedral of the Pines was how beautiful it was and how it reconnected me to my past; it reminded me of my childhood and when I used to cross-country ski. There is definitely some spiritual endeavor in the pictures for me—of trying to reconnect with nature and myself. The relationship between solitary figures and nature plays a pivotal role in the pictures.
My axiom is that every artist has a story to tell and always winds up being concerned with the same core issue. My intention was to try and make the most enchanting pictures possible, but of course in the end they also have a sense of sorrow and disconnect. I can’t help that. That’s what I do. My practice is introverted; not much happens on the surface of things, intentionally. Yet there is always a sense of longing and desire, disconnection and quiet unease.
Gregory Crewdson discusses his show at Gagosian Gallery with artforum.com.
The pictures also entailed an extended process of postproduction. I printed them in my studio and have spent two years in postproduction, printing them again and again, painstakingly pushing pixels around until it feels like something nearly transparent and almost naked. The work also has a heightened quality. Everything is hyperfocused and the colors all create a kind of plasticity. You can’t really name it. It’s just an overall sensibility.
I find my pictures are returning back to the use of color, lighting, and the cinematic approach in my previous series “Beneath the Roses,” but in a much quieter way, and only on locations away from urban situations. Unlike my previous output, a hallmark of this new series is that we didn’t work on sound stages or on populated streets. The scale is also relatively intimate; they are not enormous pictures, they are more intimate, with a lot of bodies and a lot of flesh. I also always work with a team of people, including my longtime director of photography Rick Sands, among others, who are well versed in the conventions of cinematic production. But this time I’m trying to use color and light in a way that feels more painterly than cinematic.
In the end, though, it’s crucial that these are photographs and not paintings or movies. My first alliance is to the photograph. Unlike a painting, a photograph will always and forever have that connection to the real. No matter how manicured it is, it’s always rooted in a moment that actually occurred—as a trace, a document. I love that photographs have a connection to real life. And of course, unlike a movie, a picture is frozen and mute and has no beginning and no end. There is a privilege in trying to make that moment as beautiful and extraordinary as possible.
Left: Cover of Jennifer Tyburczy’s Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display (University of Chicago Press, 2016). Right: A view of the Leather Archives and Museum, Chicago.
Jennifer Tyburczy’s book Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display (University of Chicago Press, January 2016) proposes that all museums have the potential to be sex museums—if a visitor approaches them right. An assistant professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Tyburczy was also the curator of “Irreverent: A Celebration of Censorship,” which was on view last year at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Here, she discusses the genesis of her research and some of the unexpected surprises that come with doing work in sex museums.
ONE OF THE MAJOR THINGS that queer theory has done for my personal and political life, as well as my intellectual life, is to make that which is background, foreground. All museums are already sex museums in the sense that if you walk in with a queer theoretical perspective, you will take note of all of the hidden-in-plain-sight messages. You can create a queer choreography in relationship to both the space and the objects the space holds. I’m interested in what happens when this constrained genre of experience we call a museum communicates a sexual experience beyond the visual. Sex happens to all of our senses.
While I was in graduate school in Chicago, I wanted to think about the relationship between objects, spaces, and people coming into their sexual identities and sexual repertoires. And so I started to think about sex museums, which gave me a way to be in the archives and deal with boxes of treasures and dust, and also granted me the opportunity to connect with museum staff and archivists. Someone said to me as I began this project, “Do you know we have a sex museum in Rogers Park?” They were talking about the Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M), which is dedicated to sadomasochism, fetish, and leather culture. So I went one day with my very vanilla-looking self, and showed up at the door of Rick and Jeffrey Storer—the museum’s executive director and director of operations. Over the course of six years I worked with them, first as a volunteer and then as director of programming, immersing myself in all of the fabulous and initially incomprehensible artifacts. I didn’t understand at first all the codes and symbols that gay leather culture is so rich with. As I became really involved with the LA&M and saw all the things that go into making a sex museum, that, more than anything, opened up the space for the book. At the LA&M I eventually settled on dealing with a particular kind of material that we call realia, which I like to think of as the grit of a culture, the everyday, banal things that usually don’t get saved. I focused on realia because it was kind of a metaphor for what the museum itself is—an archive for so many things that were thrown away, especially during the ’80s and ’90s as AIDS was ravaging our communities.
The big surprise, though, was that as soon as I started to write about sex museums, they started to close. The latter part of my book is dedicated to an ethnography of these spaces. It was disconcerting when I would plan out a visit to Los Angeles to see an erotic museum that then closed mere months before I could make the trip. Part of the book became about the failure of these ventures, and I don’t mean in a Jack Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure kind of way. Ultimately, many of these museums could not provide what visitors wanted, which was a really raw experience with sex drawn from the archive and arranged in displays. A lot of the museums I discuss—whether in New York, Denmark, or Spain—had an ingrained idea of who their normative visitor was and where their threshold of shock was located. Without fail, they always set the bar too low. People wanted more! The demands of being a twenty-first-century museum taking on the onus to display sex overwhelmed a lot of the museum planners. Typically they censored themselves in some way that visitors noted. The heartening message here is that we shouldn’t assume that people will be shocked and turned off by displays of diverse sexual cultures and people. Museum visitors are smart and savvy, and ready and willing to have that experience. My work makes an argument for the emotional and sexual intelligence of a viewer.
Aura Satz, Between the Bullet and the Hole, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes 35 seconds.
Spanning film, sound, performance, and sculpture, Aura Satz’s historically anchored projects often celebrate the achievements and inventions of women. “Her Marks, a Measure,” Satz’s solo exhibition at Dallas Contemporary, presents two recent works—the dual slide projector installation Her Luminous Distance, 2014, and the film Between the Bullet and the Hole, 2015—which focus on women who compiled data as so-called human computers, enabling advances in astronomy and ballistics, respectively. The show is on view from January 17 through March 20, 2016.
ALL MY WORKS explore diagrams and traces; these become abstractions of presence. My previous projects looked at traces of voices, sound inscriptions, and writing techniques. I am primarily interested in traces that look nothing like their source and that give materiality to what is ultimately immaterial or imperceptible.
Between the Bullet and the Hole came about after I found some amazing images of bullet sound waves and early experiments in what’s called Schlieren photography in a book by Dayton Clarence Miller titled Sound Waves: Their Shape and Speed from 1937. As I started looking into ways in which ballistics are abstracted in diagrammatic form, I came across forensic examinations of microscopic scratches on bullets, markings made by the barrel of a gun, as well as other traces that can be read forensically.
The film takes as its starting point the role of women studying ballistics during World War II and their remarkable contribution to early computer programming. What they were doing was interpolating the trajectory between the bullet and its target based on data from firing tables. Between the Bullet and the Hole is in itself an act of interpolation between images of bullets and holes, punch cards and computer diagrams, rulers and sound waves of explosions featured in the film. The work challenges the viewer to question how one might decipher such data and take in the indigestible forensic aftermath of violence.
Her Luminous Distance is a companion piece about a group of women astronomers, also known as “human computers.” Beginning in the 1890s and well into the 1920s, they worked at Harvard University on painstaking astronomical observation and classification, mapping the stars and calculating their positions. Women who were good at math were brought in to do this work. But it was considered a somewhat tedious clerical job, and although some made significant scientific discoveries that led to publications, they were essentially conduits for data to be collected and stored.
The task of all these women was to measure. That was their primary role, their labor: measuring the distance of the stars to the earth, between a bullet’s starting point and end point. In doing so, they were also making their mark in history by contributing to astronomical discoveries as much as computer programming.
Many of the works I’ve made about women and technology are concerned with putting them on the map, making them visible. In Her Luminous Distance, I included slides of craters on the moon named after women astronomers, which are quite small and, for the most part, on the dark side of the moon. One of them is called Leavitt, after the deaf astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt who discovered that some stars have a variable light instead of a regular pulse. The fact that she was looking at variable stars and the idea of women’s names being associated with imperceptible craters on the moon seemed an apt metaphor for women having a moment of slight visibility and then receding in the distance of history.
For these two projects I wanted to use the language of a blink comparator to try to reenact the kind of looking that these women were doing. A blink comparator is a perceptual device that enabled astronomers to spot tiny differences between photographic plates by putting them on top of each other and making them blink. Her Luminous Distance is not quite a film; it’s two static frames flickering in a dual slide projector installation with a shutter that creates a blinking effect. Likewise, the images in the Between the Bullet and the Hole appear like a Ping-Pong game: They flash back and forth, side to side, making your eyes look harder. Similarly I wanted the sound (composed by Scanner) to be constantly rattling, like metal striking another metal, a ricochet sound.
The title of the show, “Her Marks, A Measure,” is a play on words. I think of the film on ballistics particularly as being about people whose job it was to measure, but for me it’s also a measure against a certain impulsive acceleration of violence. There needs to be a space for thinking about and measuring the impact of gun culture.