Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Non More Black: a studio visit with Dick Evans

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on December 8, 2009

Without any artwork or a laptop to show images, the studio visit with London artist Dick Evans was all talk of the past, the possibilities, and production. Now, a meeting with an artist without any actual art could seem lacking or perhaps even terrifying, but this space created by the absence of realized work can allow budding ideas to flourish. It also lets the artist and the curator the chance to get to know each other.  And it’s this dialogue of what comes before the making that opens the realm of understanding in such an inclusive way that when Evans’ thoughts eventually do become things, they will be all the more personally intriguing.

Of course, there were still things to see. The studio itself, housed in the back corner of a warehouse behind the VW car dealership on Old Kent Road that’s shared with an artist-run space, is an ideal house of contrasts: the sharp lines of welding materials, electric saws, and metal mesh with the softer qualities of a Victorian-style chaise and stool, portraiture painting books, and even a model of a British ship. But this makes sense. Evans’ previous work exists in polarity, taking urban and cultural references and turning them into a slightly dark gothic narrative, one in which the works have feeling. Take for instance his recent work at URA Gallery in Istanbul, The Swan and the Spectre, where he reconstructed Cinderella’s castle as depicted in Diane Arbus’ A Castle in Disneyland, CA (1962). The black volcanic three-dimensional castle intertwines Disney’s fairy-tale with Arbus’ representation of the marginalized to reflect a darker narrative about the ruin and the failure of such a utopian ideal.

After a yearlong break from working, it’s taken Evans six months to get to the point where he can discuss three new concepts for pieces he’s conceiving. These include a large-scale ghost ship and two-dimensional series influenced by ballet that are visible only as sketched in a notebook or as a skeletal beginning framed on the wall. Still, that’s enough to grab attention. Not surprisingly the color black comes up a lot, questioning its cliché-ness or it being over-played, but it simply feels to integrate best with his work. It’s not metal like Banks Violette, it’s more of a haunting tale that casts darkness onto a familiar image. It’s also a useful strategy that cohesively binds the elements of the work.

Evans seems to be an artist who’s learned from success in his twenties. Slightly jaded he’s had experiences that are enabling him to make the necessary changes to let his practice develop and that allow the work to become something more than a saleable one-trick-pony. His usage of Romantic notions, aestheticism, and form are perhaps are more acceptable now than ever before but he’s still pushing, testing the boundaries of what he wants to do. Hearing of an artist taking some time to do this is refreshing and having a studio visit reveal the initial stages of the next chapter, it should be worth the wait.

Image: Dick Evans, Swan and the Spectre, 2009.

Walead Beshty ‘Production Stills’ at Thomas Dane Gallery

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on November 17, 2009

Walead Beshty’s first solo exhibition in London, Production Stills at Thomas Dane Gallery, shows that he is the art world’s Wizard of Oz. The young British artist who lives in Los Angeles effectively pulls back the curtain to reveal how his art is made, installed, sold, processed, and shipped; rendering the prestige of the final art object obsolete.

Production Stills includes Beshty’s familiar clear shatterproof glass cubes exactly measured to fit inside a standard Fed Ex cardboard box for shipping to their intended destination. The result is a fortuitously damaged object with varied web-like crack formations throughout the exterior of the work. Situated on top of the cardboard box from which it was contained, complete with the shipping label, Beshty creates the anti-pedestal while adhering the history of its journey to display. The exhibition also debuts his copper boxes (20-inch Copper and 24-inch Copper). Similarly contextualized, these are shipped with the label affixed directly onto the piece meaning that the elements it encounters, ranging from the handler’s handprints to water to dirt, create a stunning random visual pattern of stains, bumps, dents, and patina.

In all their forms, Beshty’s wall works provide a literal background for his boxes rounding out the differing ways we can interpret art production. Slightly less obvious than the former, his brightly colored large-scale photograms anchor each room. Created by randomly folding paper to manipulate the design caused from light exposure, his two-dimensional works equally render and represent elements of chance. However, a more tactile approach is apparent in his Selected Works, 2008-2009 where a pulpy mass of paper remnants and a hidden button down collar shirt are shaped into a neat rectangle. Two ink jet print photographs are also featured, one showing Bard College (showing where art is made and discussed) and the other a clever image of his laptop placed underneath an Elsworth Kelly painting at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (showing where art is displayed and discussed).

In his recent solo exhibition at the Hirschhorn, Hans Haake’s Condensation Cube sat in the nearby sculpture hall where the conclusion could be drawn that Beshty is part of a historical lineage of accessible, factory-made, conceptually intended cubes of made by Haake, Donald Judd, and Joseph Kosuth. Beshty is also situated amongst Allan Kaprow who would establish a set of rules for participants of his happenings and projects to enact at their own discretion.  Each artist exercises an authoritarian role while relinquishing control and it’s this tension between the controlled and uncontrolled elements inherent to Beshty’s process that makes the work truly alive. Importantly, his work is still firmly planted in the now by incorporating the familiar and superfluous materials such as fellow LA artists Jedediah Caesar and Kaz Oshiro.

Walead Beshty’s work is simultaneously abstract and minimal, constrained and free, rubbish and art, static and evolving. There are no bells and whistles here, no glamour involved in the artistic creation. Instead his work is the culmination of a controlled system that has uncontrollable circumstances purposefully built in. This results in an object without the obvious touch of the artist’s hand and one whose structure is intended to represent ‘what remains’ yet still holds a powerful aesthetic appeal.

Robert Frank – “The Americans”

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on February 28, 2009

 

7808164_p2copyRarely is it that flipping through a book is a more rewarding experience than seeing that art in person. However this is exactly what happens with Robert Frank’s book “The Americans” versus the 50th anniversary exhibition at the National Gallery.

I first came into contact with this book nearly a decade ago while researching supplemental material for an Ed Ruscha retrospective at the MCA in Chicago. What I remember most was that it was damn hard to find. In fact, getting the book proved so difficult I believe we ultimately wound up borrowing it from Ruscha’s own personal library. Fortunately with its re-issue in 2008 this is no longer the case. Now I am able to conduct my own inspection – with the turn of each page my nose nearly touches the paper as I examine Frank’s careful consideration in image selection, cropping, order, the vibrant contrast of the whites, black, and grays. And I realize how this experience – with the book acting as object – is so much more intimate and personal than standing in a gallery room full of drifters.

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Dan Colen – “Allegory of Faith” @ Gagosian

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on February 9, 2009

picture-7-767070A lone bench sits isolated amongst a lush purple-and-blue haze forest at dusk, it’s warmly inviting but also a bit scary. This concrete crystal ball beckons alluringly to all those who approach to peer into the past as well as glimpse into the future; to see who has come before and who has yet still come to pass. For this particular scene we see the dust lingering from Cinderella recent departure thanks to her fairy godmother but for the rest of us we remain fixed. Standing in front of this moment captured in Dan Colen’s painting Untitled (Allegory of Faith), one that both freezes and transcends time, the bench becomes a clear marker of our own past, present, and future.

Colen has produced a surprisingly immersive environment in his debut solo exhibition Allegory of Faith at Gagosian’s oblong glass-plated storefront on Davie’s Street (where visitors easily become as viewing accessible as the art). The show is comprised of three components: the aforementioned painting, drawings, and a photography booklet. All three merge together in regards to issues of absence, solitude, and time. On one end of the room sit the sketches Colen hopes to realize into future artworks and on the other end of the room, piled on a plinth, are the stack of booklets featuring photographs of similar park benches to the one in the painting. It’s all very nice but it’s the painting that truly succeeds. Like a visual vortex it practically renders the other two elements nearly invisible and superfluous. It’s a brilliant moment when one painting is all we need.

So the fairy dust came and transported Cinderella away (where we do not know). As for us, the setting sun transformed Colen’s pieces beyond static works in the gallery into a vibrant and living entity. Unquestionably they are dark with a tinge of wistful sadness. And yet they are charged with the possibility of, well, the possible. Really, who knows where life may take us, who we’ll meet along the way, and how it will unfold? But alone in the proverbial forest, absent of any figures but full of life, is magic symbolic bench where anything is possible.

Dan Colen – Allegory of Faith
December 18, 2008 – February 7, 2009
Gagosian, London (Davies Street)
Image: courtesy of Gagosian

“Panza Collection” @ the Hirschhorn Museum (Washington, DC)

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on January 29, 2009

image_1_175Bathed in the immersive humming blue light emanating from Doug Wheeler’s Eidhoven, Environmental Light Installation, the passion Guiseppe Panza had held for contemporary art for well over fifty years becomes glaringly apparent. Wheeler, a California artist who has still not received his full due locally alongside contemporaries such as Robert Irwin and James Turrell, stands quite powerful amongst the strongholds of Environmental, Minimalist, Conceptual, and Light-and-Space movements shown in the Hirschhorn exhibition “Panza Collection.” It begs the question – just how did an Italian art lover come to know of Wheeler adn subsequently amass one of the thoroughly best collections of traditionally difficult, and most American, art?

Quite simply, the answer lies in Panza’s acceptance and keen interest in an age when artists were dismissing traditional values and models of creating art. In a recent interview Panza expressed that the success of his collection of these artists was due to a very focused approach, one that involved in-depth collecting of a certain period of time. Essentially, he embraced artists who were bucking against popular artistic conventions. Leaning towards a more experimental and conceptual, artists such as Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth, and Hamish Fulton (all in this exhibition) were making up new rules of how art is conceived, created, displayed, and read. 

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James Aldridge “Blackened” @ David Risley Gallery

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on January 16, 2009

aldridge-blogTwo skeletal arms reach up from the bottom corner of Sacrifice, stretching upwards into the heart of the canvas. They look gruesome, as if they recently unearthed themselves from their grave. Acting as a guide, these bone-y hands lead us through the visual mash-up of James Alridge’s work where symbolically rich animal imagery such as the crow, the wolf, and a goat’s head are layered with trees, branches, and a myriad of skulls. By constructing this layered symbolic world, Aldridge eludes to contemporary society’s displacement and disconnection to nature. It’s a new kind of landscape: one the embraces the inherent terror and the beauty, the strength and the vulnerable, the light and the dark. Consider this the new Gothic Romanticism. 

Four black-and-white paper-cuts are juxtaposed with three large-scale acrylic paintings in Blackened, Aldridge’s second solo show at David Risley and the last exhibition at the gallery before it relocates to Copenhagen in early 2009. The paper-cuts are stark and precise; a combination of the romance and eeriness of Victorian-era silhouettes/paper cuts with a contemporary graphic sensibility. For instance, Dead Raven could quite possibly be the death of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Nevermore” raven who slowly taunted its host into madness. The Black Goat, a stand-out in the show, prominently features the legendary pagan symbol of the goat’s head in the foreground amongst flocks of ravens, spider webs, and two menacing skulls. In his paintings, Aldridge incorporates sweeping painterly, often abstract, gestures with the same graphical quality seen in the paper pieces. These gestures and imagery layers break apart the perspective to create a complicated landscape. The usage of bright colors illuminate the somber imagery. In Black Mouth the bone-hand tour guide resurfaces again, pointing us to a long-haired skeleton whose eyes emanate a pink seducing mist. The aforementioned Sacrifice is a contemporary Danse Macabre.

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Andy, You’re a Star :: Andy Warhol “Other Voices, Other Worlds” at the Hayward

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on November 26, 2008

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In one of Andy Warhol’s rarely seen films, a drugged out Paul Johnson makes a poignant rant about addiction resulting from excess consumption of everything from pills to soda. Amongst a sea of film, video, audio, and intense visuals it is this statement that provides a poignant synopsis to the Hayward’s “Other Voices, Other Worlds” as it highlights the awe-inspiring excess of Warhol. It’s a unique exhibition for an artist who you’d think there weren’t any stories left to tell or any new ways to tell them. Indeed, what we get is hardly the same old Warhol retrospective. Instead, amongst the visual bombardment of pop-culture celebrities, wanna-bes, and events what clearly emerges is a portrait of the man himself. It’s a refreshing insight considering how arguably Warhol’s fifteen minutes were up a long time ago.

The eternally fascinating “Screen Tests” loom large in three hanging scrims showing static versions of Salvador Dali, Lou Reed, an anonymous girl, and thirty-seven others. The surrounding backdrop of Warholian wall-paper (that continues throughout on the exhibition walls) and glass vintrine “time capsules” containing everything from record sleeves, Interview magazines, photo-booth photos, letters, and artist quotes over-stimulate with an almost Hard Rock Cafe vibe. This feeling is compounded as the seminal songs “I’ll be your mirror” and “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground psychedelically waft continuously through the air from the nearby 20-minute film by Ronald Nameth called “Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” It’s groovy cool at its best.
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Robert Irwin’s Light and Space @ White Cube’s Mason’s Yard

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on October 26, 2008

Robert Irwin delivers such a visual one-two punch with his Light and Space exhibition at White Cube that the persuasive forces of light versus dark are all encompassing. His two new pieces, Black³ and Light and Space II, are each very different in quality and tone yet both are spectacularly inclusive environments.

Standing in the midst of Robert Irwin’s Black³ provides the ultimate play on space and perception. You literally expect to see yourself reflected in this seemingly infinite repetition but the viewer is absent; this is not a mirror, only painting. Six square scrims with painted black squares hang from the ceiling to floor in a neat row. On opposing sides of the wall are two pitch-black aluminum square paintings that act as bookends. The piece reveals itself slowly via the transparency of the scrims in that the mirrored quality is an illusion, simply echoed by the paintings themselves. There is something quite profound in looking into an image of the infinite, getting darker and more deep, where you can’t help but still catch a glimpse of one’s self.

If Black³ offers a glimpse into the abyss then downstairs Light and Space II provides the enlightenment. Numerous fluorescent tubes are placed at right angles to each other on either side of the large exhibition room. They envelope the viewer and look similar to a pattern one might notice on a steel toolbox. These are clearly tubes you could buy at the local hardware store yet they transform the space into a visual wonderland. Playing with light as visual perception, Irwin creates color and illusion: the longer they are stared at the more they appear to move, creating shadows that deepen the object onto the gallery wall.

As a friend recently said to me, “When you can ponder Bob Irwin, things could be much worse.” It’s true – thinking of how Irwin creates something so grand via very quiet means is a luxury. It’s a little shocking to think that this seminal artist from Southern California is only now having his debut U.K. solo exhibition. In the 1960s he famously abandoned his traditional studio painting practice for a more installation-based approach to creating works becoming a founder figure in the “Light and Space” movement. His interest in manipulating perception through means of light, space, and scale as well as having the site to inform the piece is as evident today as ever before. Irwin messes with our minds, challenging what we think we’re seeing, but we enjoy every second of it.

Robert Irwin – Light and Space
@ White Cube Mason’s Yard
September 17 – October 19, 2008

Sinta Werner’s Grey Areas at Nettie Horn

Posted in Reviews by caryncoleman on October 8, 2008

Walking into Berlin-based Sinta Werner’s Grey Areas, her debut UK solo exhibition at Vyner Street’s Nettie Horn, visitors are greeted with a visual conundrum – where am I and what is it exactly that I’m looking at? The 2007 MA Goldsmiths graduate has subtly disrupted the gallery space with the “in-situ” installation, also titled Grey Areas. This built stage acts as an architectural mirror of the room so that when standing in a certain position you feel a sense of grounded place; it simply looks like an extension of an empty gallery. However, it doesn’t take to long for the wave of optical disorientation to hit after realizing that you are not actually visible in this “mirror.” Paying attention to the man behind the curtain reveals the truth: exposed framework, evidence of the normal gallery walls. You realize you’re experiencing a constructed environment. And then everything changes.

Yet Grey Areas is not mere trickery. It’s a transforming of space, reconstructing through destruction. The installation involves the viewer in its visual play by pulling us, through exploration, into ideas of space, time, and placement. Werner’s continued interest in the flattening of the architectural space and the theatrical is evident with this new work; she’s created a stage in which we are both the audience and participants. Of course, discussions of the white cube and breaking beyond it are central to the course of art history. Artists such as Richard Serra and Gordon Matt-Clarke’s “building cuts” uniquely utilize space through division to question our notions of what constitutes architecture and place. Perhaps not as radically invasive, Werner continues with this tradition through her illogical environments.

On a smaller scale, the gallery annex features a new series of collages and sculptures by Werner that further re-enforce fragmentation of place and utilize our ability to identify what it is that we’re seeing. While the installation uses the viewer’s reliance on what constitutes normality, these works cull from our relationship to memory. She continues to dissect images we’re familiar with through photography and everyday elements such as a soap dish, mirror, and a bathroom sink. By literally breaking down these elements and putting them back together in unconventional ways they are simultaneously recognizable and something new; becoming re-constructed relics of memory. For instance, the sculptural work Drill Core IV depicts a partial photograph of a young girl within a broken picture frame integrated with a semi-circle made of bricks and plaster. We have some relationship to the visuals and, yet, it’s unfamiliar as well. It’s this collision of the architectural and the personal that provide the undercurrent to Werner’s work.

Traditionally, galleries and museums function as the facilitators of framing how viewers read and navigate exhibitions. So when the perception of space is called into question, when the familiar and comforting standard notion of the white cube becomes distorted, destroyed, and altered, it quite literally changes the ways of seeing. The art world needs this breaking down of what has become “the norm” into something less easily identifiable. Whether via overt aggressive destructive means or more subtle interventions, the adaptation of how we process art and the institutions that house them is necessary to further challenge what constitutes space and our place within it.

Sinta Werner’s Grey Areas
September 5 – October 5, 2008
Nettie Horn :: 25b Vyner Street, London