Daily Archives: December 8, 2013

But, what about the art?

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I’ve been doing my best to attend all of Basel Miami art fairs from the comfort of my laptop all week. It’s been nothing short of disconcerting that over half the content that I’ve seen on websites such as hyperallergic, ArtForum and Arrested Motion seem to be paying more attention to the fuss of money than the art itself. Obviously, there are plenty of “highlight” reels that can be found in regards to a number of the fairs (Pulse, NANA, Basel (main), Scope, to name a few). In a week of events that is all based around the importance of art, it would seem the conversation of how damning Ferrari CEO, Mr. blah blah going to “X” party is to the discourse of contemporary art, seems like a perpetuation of the problem then trying to relegate the perceived issue. Maybe I want to be naive, maybe I just want to look at art; either way it’s left a lasting bad taste in my mouth. 

Dave Hickey’s “The Invisible Dragon”

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After reading “Air Guitar” earlier this semester I was curious to read what else Hickey had put into print during his tenure of shooting from the hip criticism. When originally published in 1993, the concept of beauty could easily have been described as naive. Hickey takes a strong stance to the value of the very concept, while adorning such work as the, then, controversial photos of Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s a super quick read with a mere 4 essays. It’s worth a read.

“The Tyranny of Good Taste”

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I like excess.  I have been drawn to excess ever since I fell head-over-heals in love with Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge in middle school.  Excess, repetition, multiples, collections, accessories, supplements–in short, the “more is more” mentality makes sense to me.  Which is why I was surprised that my first thought, when walking into the “The Tyranny of Good Taste”, a group exhibition at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery  was: There is way too much work in here!  The space is small, but big enough to avoid clutter if interested.  Clearly, clutter wasn’t an issue for Danny Orendorff who curated the group show of 15 artists from around the country, exploring themes of low-brow materials,  junk food, maximalism, craft store crap, left-overs, awkward composition–the list could go on, (in keeping with the exhibition’s flowery delivery).

I admit, I didn’t put two and twotogether until a few days after seeing the exhibition: I actually attended a lecture by Danny Orendorff several months ago.  The lecture was centered around his 2012 exhibition, “All Good things become Wild and Free” at H. F. Johnson Gallery in Wisconsin.  This connection makes perfect sense–the taste is the same, the exhibition is a high-concept show bursting with a variety of materials.  In fact, the combined material list, alone could paint a pretty accurate picture of Orendorff’s taste.

In his current exhibition, Orendorff seems to challenge the artist’s in a competition for superlatives such as “most over-the-top”,  “most ugly”, “most likely to be found in your grandmother’s miscellaneous kitchen drawer”, etc.  These works are the misfits and the picked over pieces in an artist’s storage closets, in their unglamorous presentations and haphazard constructions.  And yet they elicit some degree of comfort through their familiar materials or nostalgic feel.  Jack Henry’s Core Samples offer us a literal conglomeration of child-of-the-90’s memorabilia, while Dean Roper’s busy installation of gaudy odds and ends clutter a clearly self-constructed shelf, hovering over an equally makeshift foot stool.

The work is strong in its ambition to be crafty and abject, and its interest in being so ugly it’s mesmerizing.  I only wonder about the layout of the exhibition.  Most artists exhibited three or four pieces, adding to the claustrophobic feel of the space.  Although I appreciate getting a taste of a collection of pieces by a single artists–as it is often difficult to get a real idea of the artist’s work in group shows through a single piece–the grouping somehow feels slightly juvenile or commercial–each pieces with a label,  each artist crammed on a small section of wall.  If the point is to overwhelm the viewer with a huge volume of work, I can understand exhibiting more than one pieces by each artist.  However, I think it would only heighten the chaotic feel of the space, if it was not divided up by artist, but rather by shape, or by content, or by nothing at all–just a hodgepodge of hodgepodges. Clustering the work by artist, adds a touch of logic which seems to undermine the intended excessiveness.

The exhibition left me with questions of intent.  Considering the title of the exhibition, the work references itself in a slightly ironic way or, at least, tongue-and-cheek flavor.  When is “bad” taste so bad it’s “good”?  Is there a trend-factor or cool-factor, hipster-factor or style-factor to this good “bad” taste or bad “good” taste?  It makes me wonder if these artists are intentionally trying to make work with “bad” taste, or if they are actually just falling short in a mission for “good” taste?  In an interview about doing a creative work, Ira Glass stated that we get into creative work because we have good taste.  But, he says,  there is usually a gap in the first few years of making things, in which our “taste is still killer” but the work falls short of our ambition.   It is only in making a huge volume of work, that we can begin to close that gap.  The exhibition makes me wonder: what if our ambition is not to make work with good taste?  Does this mean the work is successful from the beginning by default, or is does it take just as much persistence (or more) to make “bad” taste work as it does “good”?  Considering the subjective nature of these questions, this exhibition clearly doesn’t resolve the differences between these two camps of art-making, but it does attempt to challenge the hierarchies of taste and value to the extreme.

Beatriz Milhazes Lecture

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Visiting Artist Programme
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
December 3, 2013

Expecting a huge turnout, I arrived a little early at the Columbus Auditorium to bag a seat, only to find I was one of the first to arrive. Obviously, SAIC students aren’t as enticed by Beatriz Milhazes work as they are by Andrea Zittel or Janine Antoni who both spoke to full houses. She is probably less known in the US, exhibiting in New York but with projects primarily in Europe and her native Brazil where she still lives and works. 

Andrea Green, Director of the Visiting Artist Programme, made the initial welcome, followed by a croaky biography and introduction by Terry Myers who is Chair of the Painting and Drawing Department. He described Milhazes work as ‘hybrid, in the best possible way’ which was a fitting explanation of her distinctive mash-up of painting and collage.

I was first introduced to Milhazes work by accident in the Spring of 2009; coming across her solo show at the Fondation Cartier contemporary art gallery whilst looking for a patisserie in Montparnasse. The vibrancy of her palette, the surface qualities of her acrylic transfer technique and the intriguing vinyl window installation was compelling and refreshing. I was hoping she would be as captivating and exuberant in person.

Keeping in mind that she is not a native English speaker, Milhazes speech was far from fluid and at times she struggled to find the right words and sentence structures. Initially it felt jarring and hard to follow; but as the talk progressed, I came to enjoy her matter of fact descriptions and unique turn of phrase. Her slides were organized sequentially and all the titles and work descriptions were in Portuguese, with dimensions in centimetres. I felt she could have taken the time to translate this to suit her US audience, especially as this is such a prestigious honour and well-paid gig.

She began by speaking about work from the early 1980’s, and continued through the decades noting shifts of focus in her work, some of which were imperceptible. She concluded with an impressive array of large-scale international site-specific projects as well as a series of silkscreens created in collaboration with Durham Press, set design, some decidedly Jacob Hashimoto-esque mobiles and two artist books.

Generally, Milhazes spoke about the formal qualities in her work, siting herself as a geometric abstract artist who is focused on making order by organizing forms and colour into structures. She sited Surrealism, Op art and Pop art as influences and the Rio Carnival, Brazilian music, plant forms and lace as inspiration. I got the feeling she has been largely self-directed in her practice; she certainly knows where she is headed and must have been a demanding co-collaborator on her silkscreen projects. I appreciated the emphasis she placed on the hand, not getting enticed into the digital world even though her work embodies that aesthetic, and how she prefers to work alone in her studio with studio assistants only assisting with documentation and computer translations for site-specific work.

A couple of comments stood out for me amongst the somewhat chaotic organization of her thoughts. Milhazes advised artists they can have as many sources as they like, but they must forget these interests in the studio in order to actually create a tangible structure. I agree wholeheartedly and have seen proof of this in my time at SAIC where the idea can mask the actual visual output.  She also kept referring to the fact that she doesn’t ever draw, and instead works straight onto the canvas with no preparatory sketches or layouts. As much as I value drawing as a research and planning tool, it makes sense that Milhazes doesn’t – patience and groundwork aren’t high on her list of priorities.

I concluded that Milhazes is indeed like her paintings; vivacious yet set in her ways and full of drive and genuine love for what she does.

Janna van Hasselt