Posted inPerformance

Men Made of Marble

Every now and then, if lucky, you’ll encounter a mode of performance or an artwork that simultaneously requires and supplies a kind of attention that you didn’t even know existed. Sitting in an otherworldly, attentive, stupor, I had that experience watching marble white humans covered in a thin layer of dust on a stage that seemed to be both as empty as nothing at all and, at the same time, as full as a night sky.

As Sankai Juku begins their recent piece, TOBARI, everything melts into darkness and a lone human form materializes — bald, half-naked, monochrome; the dust looks like it’s marble or bone, maybe a thin layer of atomic ash, and it covers the body, which, for a while, is motionless; a quiet, lunar presence in a dark room.

Posted inArt

Fred Tomaselli’s (Non-Chemical) Influences

One might be excused for mistaking Fred Tomaselli’s solo show at the Brooklyn Museum for a pharmacy. Upon closer look, the collaged paintings, baroquely-arranged magazine clippings coated in a thick layer of resin, are embedded with pills the way a microchip is implanted under the skin. Sometimes the names are visible, Vicodin, Oxycontin, even a few Viagras. More often than not, though, the pills only become pills upon closer inspection. From afar, they just look like another element of Tomaselli’s works. Drugs are synthesized into the artist’s paintings, and though the psychological shock of recognizing a pill name remains, the chemicals form just another ingredient.

Yeah, there are drugs in the paintings. Most of them are probably illegal in such vast quantities at Tomaselli uses them. But though that’s the form of the work, that’s not the content: in this case, the medium is not the message. Aren’t we all done with the drug hysteria and fetish, now that weed is basically legal in California and the cliches of the painkiller-addicted housewife and the coke-snorting, bowl smoking banker are just that, cliches? So let’s giggle and move on. What’s behind the drugs in Fred Tomaselli?

Posted inBooks

Reading Lawrence Weschler on David Hockney

OUR FIRST WEDNESDAY BOOK REVIEW!

Reading Lawrence Weschler’s nigh-legendary book on Robert Irwin, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, inspired me to next grab the New Yorker writer’s other artist-focused book, True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations With David Hockney. As entertaining as they are challenging, the two books are hard to categorize as biographies, though they concern individuals and their oeuvres. Weschler’s works are more like conversations: anecdotal histories formed less by research than by hanging out with an artist, watching exhibitions open and major works develop, witnessing a lifelong artistic practice.

Posted inArt

Is Ornament a Crime?

A small coconut tree grows in the corner of Nurture Art. Simply titled “Coconut” (2009), and created by artist Gudmundur Thoroddsen, the leaves seem to reach towards the skylight. A certain twist makes it art — a few of the leaves are painted pink. It resembles one of Matisse’s colorful trees come to life. A plain tree might boast a simple elegant beauty, but Thoroddsen’s concoction proves that an injection of pink can be such a guilty visual pleasure.

Like this tree, many works in this show, titled Duck and Decorated Shed, start with a bland surface and cover it with visual pepper. Theresa Himmer’s set of videos from 2009, The Mountain Series, zoom in on these humongous sequins that are adhered to the sides of unremarkable buildings in Reykjavik. They glisten with a strange glow. Himmer also pulls some basic film tricks that involve playing with the speed of the film. The end result is that this footage resembles clay-mation. Once again, nature looks cooler when it’s tweaked.

Posted inArt

Felice Varini Is Messing With Your Head

Felice Varini uses nothing but a bit of color, applied to a wall, to shake you from of your routine and, so he hopes, brighten one of memory’s grey spots a little in a moment of world-flattening surreality. In doing so, Varini is not unlike other artists that have sought to place the viewer within the canvas. Like street artist Aakash Nihalani or installation artist Robert Irwinn, Varini is an artist who has moved beyond just using a canvas to orchestrating whole experiences that a viewer can move through.

In a public installation commissioned by New Haven arts nonprofit Site Projects, Varini takes an unremarkable downtown alley in New Haven and stretches an non-intrusive work entitled “Square and Four Circles” (2010) across a few hundred feet of back alley space.

Posted inArt

Taking Another Look at Robert Motherwell

The Museum of Modern Art’s sprawling re-envisioning of Abstract Expressionism, “Abstract Expressionist New York,” inspires a lot of looking. The stately museum’s upper floor galleries, previously dedicated to the slow progress of abstraction in modern art, have been shuffled around to get a better view of exactly how the movement we came to call Abstract Expressionism developed.

It was one particular showing that caught my eye and really caused me to stop in my tracks and rethink where I pigeonholed these artists. Standing sentinel on one back wall were two works that cohered together perfectly, paintings whose muted colors became bright and whose architectonic compositions were like an abstract expressionism slowed down and frozen in time. Upon closer approach, I noticed that the pieces were by Robert Motherwell, an artist I was aware of and respected, but didn’t enormously enjoy. Yet something about these two paintings, “Western Air” (1946-47) and “Personage, with Yellow Ochre and White” (1947) made me reconsider.

Posted inArt

Ryan Trecartin + Tumblr = River of the Net

If you didn’t catch the project’s announcement Tuesday on ArtFagCity, Ryan Trecartin (video artist extraordinaire, Youtube star) and David Karp (founder of Tumblr) have launched riverofthe.net, a crowd-sourced video project that strikes a balance between social media site, contemporary art piece, and documentary archive. The website collects videos ten seconds or less in length, uploaded by users, and crowd sourced. Videos are tagged and aggregated by a maximum of three terms, terms that are collected at the bottom of the site’s homepage in an ever-expanding, lo-fi html list that visually recalls sites like Craigslist.

So far, the list is a kind of Ryan Trecartin-inflected stream of consciousness, complete with everything from “sexy feet” (a video of someone pulling off a sock in a sultry manner), the omnipresent “Lady Gaga,” and “bitches be @ the club,” which links to a video of giraffes fighting, violently. Your guess is as good as mine, but that’s Trecartin’s style for you.

Posted inArt

Designed to Move: Newson as Art at Gagosian

The latest exhibition by designer Marc Newson, titled Transport, at Gagosian Gallery raises some interesting questions about the future of design. Namely, is design art?

Where design exhibitions are normally bogged down by oodles of information and panels of educational materials explaining curatorial choices the experience at Transport is vastly different. Here the design objects stand apart to emphasize their sculptural qualities. We’re obviously meant to approach them with a degree of veneration, and the spatial language suggests you are in the midst of the future … and luxury … and you should buy now.

Posted inBooks

One Bag, One Month, Two Books: Michael Cunningham on Art World Angst & Learning from Las Vegas in Vegas

With a month on a plane, I had boredom on the brain and packed what books I could to feed it. The worst decision I have made to date was to bring Michael Cunningham’s latest novel By Nightfall with me and read it over the first few days of jetting … because the book’s protagonist, Peter Harris, is an art dealer suffering from a crippling bout of nihilism and, when you’re setting out from New York City to look for what’s happening elsewhere in the art world, the least helpful thing to bring along is a book busy interrogating everything that underpins the creation, enjoyment, and dissemination of contemporary art. But I read on, attentive to detail in a fit of masochistic idiocy, and because I had room in my backpack for two books and the other one I brought was Learning from Las Vegas, which I wanted to save, of course, for Las Vegas.

Posted inArt

Letter from Los Angeles: Cults, Cacti, and Crystals

Narcotic-riffing duo Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe have been at it again, creating an immersive drug den abandoned to time and decay. After staging their faux meth labs in Marfa, Miami, and New York, they’ve moved onto a fictional narcotic, Marasa, and an invented cult figure, Dr. Arthur Cook. Like previous projects, this new installation, Bright White Underground, is a serious gesamtkunstwerk, man.