Buenos Aires

Objeto Móvil Recomendado a las Familias at Espacio de Arte de Fundación OSDE

Is it still important to talk critically about Surrealism today? This avant-garde episode of international art history has been revisited over and over again, from tributes and revivals to critical works and retrospective exhibitions. From a purist, restricted view, Surrealism is reduced to a datable European movement that ended in the mid-20th century. For others, the term is a tradable currency, a flexible category used to label anything that exceeds an “average” or realistic representation of things—a superfluous application that doesn’t consider the historical grounds on which the concept was developed. Between these two poles, there’s a vast area that demands a renewed approach. It is within that space that Objeto Móvil Recomendado a las Familias, an exhibition on Argentinian Surrealism at OSDE Espacio de Arte in Buenos Aires, occurs.

Installation view with artworks by Orlando Pierri, Zdravko Dučmelić, Mildred Burton, and Tobías Dirty. Courtesy of Fundación OSDE. Photo: Tania Puente.

Objeto Movil Recomendado a las Familias; installation view with artworks by Orlando Pierri, Zdravko Dučmelić, Mildred Burton, and Tobías Dirty. Courtesy of Fundación OSDE. Photo: Tania Puente.

Curator Santiago Villanueva states in the first lines of the exhibition’s text that there was no specific outline or agenda for the Surrealism movement in Argentina. The most concerted attempt to establish a Surrealist group in the country took place in 1939 (fifteen years after Breton published the Surrealist Manifesto) with Grupo Orión, a collective of visual artists that couldn’t maintain a stable and unified aesthetic project for long. Their dissolution was imminent. Ambiguity, however, can nevertheless provide a fertile ground for possibilities, and that is precisely what Objeto Móvil Recomendado a las Familias tries to prove: When no one is looking at the margins and without strict limitations on parameters, loyalties, and particular interests, things can be built.

Surrealism never actually left the Argentinian art scene. It coexisted with many manifestations in different stages and moments—at times more visible, while at others, segregated by the indifference of institutions and the art market. Instead of following a chronological order or sticking to an aesthetic script, the artworks included in this exhibition follow a survival model (in the way that Georges Didi-Huberman conceives it), where images gain and lose force in a continuous and anachronistic fluctuation. Their arrangement by the exhibition’s designer and artist, Osías Yanov, asks spectators to take an active place in viewing the works. Yanov installs a series of dark metallic structures that can either frame or disrupt the visitors’ stare, depending on where they stand. With this specific display, what are we supposed to look at? Should we identify similarities and discontinuities? Do these structures gather the artworks into one big picture? The museographic resource challenges the exhibition’s spatiality.

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Interviews

Interview with Hank Willis Thomas

Hank Willis Thomas has long illuminated the histories of racialized labor, Black cultural economies, politically crafted imagery, and their cumulative roads to revolution. His keen examinations of political gesture are steadily outgrowing their categorization as visual art and becoming increasingly discursive projects rooted in actualization. On the heels of his recent exhibition at Savannah College of Art and Design, Willis Thomas offers new avenues for politicizing creative work without the reduction that accompanies art-world trends.

Blind Memory (Indigo), 2017 Image courtesy of the Savannah College of Art and Design

Hank Willis Thomas. Blind Memory (Indigo), 2017; mixed-media installation. Courtesy of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Photo: John McKinnon.

Ashley Stull Meyers: You just opened an exhibition at Savannah College of Art and Design. Can we talk about the installation Blind Memory and the site-specificity of it?

Hank Willis Thomas: The museum at SCAD has a very particular history. It was once a 19th-century railway depot. I did an installation in what were previously loading bays but are now vitrines. They call them “jewel boxes.” We filled them with four commodities that were popular during the era, that would have seen a lot of movement through that space—cotton, tobacco, indigo, and rice—all of which would have been handled by slaves. The containers are twelve feet high, so it’s a large quantity.

ASM: What does it mean for the site to now be a museum? Do you think this history is something that SCAD will always grapple with in public? Or was the exhibition an opportunity to make transparent something that’s treated with hesitation?

HWT: That history will always be a part of the building. Not every artist chooses to make commentary on it when they’re invited, but for the public, that’s part of the lure of the place. A history of slavery is part of the lure of Savannah. So many people and things moved through here that it’s embedded, and I was eager to work with that.

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ABOLISH BORDERS as Revolutionary Futurity

Today, from our friends at Art Practical we bring you Carlos Jackson’s article in issue 8.3: Art can’t do anything if we don’t. Jackson hails artist Gilda Posada’s large-scale billboard installation, ABOLISH BORDERS, located on the wall of Galería de la Raza, as an embodiment of the Chicanx claim, “sin fronteras.” Jackson says of the billboard, “The billboard creates and imagines a generous form of community through its expression of revolutionary futurity, a political engagement that relies on the collective to form a world without violence.” This article was originally published March 23, 2017.

Gilda Posada. ABOLISH BORDERS, 2017; installed at Galería de la Raza, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Artist.

Gilda Posada. ABOLISH BORDERS, 2017; installed at Galería de la Raza, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Artist.

To witness revolutionary futurity—the belief that social transformation is possible, and begins with a transcendence of the self—in a public space that fosters genuine politics, drive up San Francisco’s 24th Street from Potrero Avenue toward Bryant Street, and you will be presented with a vivid example: artist Gilda Posada’s large-scale billboard installation, ABOLISH BORDERS. Galería de la Raza’s “Liberated Billboard” has been the site of oppositional murals for forty-five years. In 1972, Galería de la Raza began a battle with the billboard advertisement company Foster and Kleiser, who owned the billboard attached to the outside wall of the venue. Over a period of three years, Galería artists painted over the billboard’s commercial advertising images with their own artistic political messages. Eventually, in 1975, the billboard owners sent over a truck and a worker to disassemble the billboard. The Galería staff inquired with the worker about acquiring the dissembled pieces and then led the effort to reconstruct the billboard.1 Since, the billboard has been a platform for artists to protest such events and moments as the International Hotel’s eviction efforts in the 1970s, the police brutality and killing of Danny Terviño in the 1970s, and to visualize the Undocuqueer movement in 2013. Through its programming, exhibitions, and billboard mural projects, Galería de la Raza has maintained a space where subjectivity and community self-determination can be produced and upheld—now exemplified by Posada’s piece.

Posada’s billboard—predominantly pink, and covered side to side with monochromatic graphics and three rows of white text—utilizes a pattern that references both indigenous textiles and contemporary digital printmaking, two qualities that stand in opposition to each other, yet together create a striking communication. The billboard sits a foot off the ground and is attached to the exterior of Galería de la Raza, which is housed in a mixed-use commercial apartment building with Mission Revival-style architecture, and is painted a deep reddish-brown. Because of the building’s color, and the muted grays of the sidewalk’s faded asphalt, the brightly colored billboard catches the eye quickly, demanding attention and an adjustment of perception.

Read the full article here. 

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Shotgun Reviews

Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work at New Museum

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Lux Yuting Bai reviews Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work at New Museum in New York.

“Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” 2017. New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work, 2017; installation view, New Museum, New York. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio.

Presenting approximately 800 drawings from the artist’s creative career since the 1970s, Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work at New Museum demonstrates the artist’s obsessive relationship with language and literature in an ambivalent tone that is both darkly ironic and lovingly inspired. In his distinctive caricaturistic style, Pettibon juxtaposes figurative images with fragmented texts throughout all mediums and subject matters. The combination is consistent, despite his almost schizophrenic voices in different series, whether they are celebrating nature, mocking religions, or attacking political figures.

Pettibon’s surf drawings, the most visually captivating series in the exhibition, metaphorically embody his joyful literary fetish. The surfer, represented as a solitary hero exploring and challenging the natural sublime, evokes the Romantic ideal of a creative genius wrestling in the sea of inspiration. (Fittingly, the title of the show is a reference to a Byron poem.) Drawn in brilliant blue shades, the currents’ patterns have flowing, organic characteristics that suggest a visualization of one’s stream of consciousness, or even hints of the rhythms of poetic verse. The figures appear diminutive against the monumental waves engulfing them. The tides carry a sense of increasing velocity; the hero is nearly submerged into the swells and swirls of the blue water. The expansive images with texts allude to the artist’s cumulative, almost compulsive creative process. All of the 20,000 drawings Pettibon has made in his life are captioned; the sheer quantity and the variety of words seem to suggest a form of logorrhea.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Help Desk: Burning Bridges

Today, we bring you a Help Desk column from our archives about doing more harm than good. Bean Gilsdorf’s critique still rings true: “If your activism turns you into a celebrity but does nothing to change the brutality you supposedly decry, your innocent intentions become worse than worldly cynicism.” Submit your arts-related questions anonymously here. This article was originally published on April 30, 2012.

If an artist is attempting to call attention to a particular issue that in some way either oppresses a group of people or includes imagery of unethical actions, is their artwork also unethical if they intentionally include or use oppressive tactics or graphic images to do so?

Eva Lake. Judd Montage No. 13, 2007; photomontage; 5 ¾ x 8 in.

There is no permanent, fixed equation that we can apply to art—especially art that intends to become activism—and I’m not amenable to making an ultimate pronouncement on work that exists as a hypothetical. It’s better to be aware of the concerns surrounding art and activism in general and proffer judgments on a case-by-case basis. An artist who wishes to take an activist stance in regard to an issue must think very carefully through the problem at hand.

I contacted a few artists that are currently making work that intends to be activist, but for the first time in the brief history of this column, not one of them responded. Perhaps they were afraid to go on record regarding the conflicts and contradictions their work presents? In any case, Anuradha Vikram, Curator of the Worth Ryder Art Gallery at UC Berkeley, kindly shed some light on this matter. She asks would-be activist-artists to ponder some art-world assumptions: “When seeking to call attention to any troubling issue, one key maxim to consider is that of the physician: ‘First, do no harm.’ Too often, artists seem to mistake demonstrating a set of conditions for critiquing them. If the work is replicating unethical behaviors, what is the artist doing besides perpetuating those behaviors? Perhaps, if one assumes that the context for art is a neutral one (the proverbial ‘white cube’), then it could be argued that by isolating and framing such actions, the artist makes the critique implicitly. However, if the last forty years of art-world controversy have taught us anything, it is that ‘neutrality’ is often interchangeable with ‘privilege.’ Re-creating oppression within a space of privilege is simply oppressive. A critique needs to go farther than that, and a sophisticated critique does not need to replicate such dynamics in order to unpack them.”

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Hashtags

#Hashtags: The Painting

#representation #WhitneyMuseum #EmmettTill #DanaSchutz #MartinBerger #race #civilrights

So much hinges on the question of audience. Who is presumed to engage with artwork, and on what terms? In the museum, people of color so often feel that we are not the intended audience. The hurt that we experience on realizing that disconnect—that we are here for art but art is not necessarily here for us—has now been made starkly evident by a clumsy gesture that instigated so much debate that it seems to overpower any other conversation. This is a feeling we expect to get at the Whitney Biennial on a regular basis, and it is why so many people were negatively affected simply by the image of the painting as it circulated around the internet. It’s all the more frustrating when one stands before the painting, feeling the weakness of its impact and the pull of the other artists’ works around it.

Installation view of Cauleen Smith, In the Wake, 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 17-June 11, 2017. Collection of the artist; courtesy Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, and Kate Werble Gallery, New York. Photo by the author.

Installation view of Cauleen Smith, In the Wake, 2017. Whitney Biennial 2017, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 17-June 11, 2017. Collection of the artist; courtesy Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, and Kate Werble Gallery, New York. Photo by the author.

Perhaps what surprises most about seeing the painting in person is how small it is. Henry Taylor’s Ancestors of Genghis Khan with Black Man on Horse (2015–2017), on the sixth-floor landing, is many times its size. Nearly obscured in a back corner of a fifth-floor gallery, the now-infamous painting of Emmett Till does not scream for attention the way Dana Schutz’s other paintings on the fifth floor do. If anything, it is not sensational enough—not visceral enough, not cruel enough to do justice to its subject. On a large and busy floor, featuring a dizzying vortex by Samara Golden, Pope L.’s oozing bologna slices, a 3D film by Anicka Yi, and works using the institution to illustrate the operations of capital, from Occupy Museums and Cameron Rowland, the painting seems an ancillary work in the curatorial argument. This is perhaps the biggest indictment, this and its utter lack of resolution. Above these galleries hang several luxurious handmade banners by Cauleen Smith. “Rage blooms within me,” they proclaim. “I am holding my breath.” “We were never meant to survive.” Maya Stovall’s four videos of public performances in the streets of Detroit hang adjacent to the painting. In them, people of color talk about their experiences and their dreams. It is possible to hear their voices while looking directly at the painting of Emmett Till.

Looking at the painting is difficult. The obvious challenge is the subject matter, and how it clashes unnervingly with the candy-like color scheme. Neo-Expressionism’s blend of grotesque and provocative subject matter, combined with the media-saturated palette of Pop Art, makes a style particularly ill-suited for rendering an image of raw horror. Certainly the effect seems facile—if not exactly glib, then more ambivalent and anxious than the subject warrants. Critics of the painting have charged that it violates an innate truth carried in the original photograph. What is that truth, and is it inviolable? Or does it shift based on its framing, what is seen and what is unseen? What does a painting of Emmett Till in his casket need to show us?

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New Orleans

Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen at Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans

For the Chilean-born visual artist, poet, and filmmaker Cecilia Vicuña, the textual and the visual exist and function together in a familial relation, as if the making of objects and the shaping of words into images are knotted together like threads, binding and weaving themselves to form reified constellations that speak of the individual and collective simultaneously.[1] Vicuña’s work has a rich engagement with the materiality of art and life. A charged awareness of historically avant-garde strategies of dematerialization runs wide and deep within Vicuña’s practice, and is emphasized expansively in the artist’s recent exhibition at Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans (CACNO), Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen. Co-organized by Andrea Andersson, Chief Curator of the Visual Arts at the CACNO, and Professor Julia Bryan-Wilson of the University of California, Berkeley, this unique presentation of Vicuña’s multidisciplinary work opens up a wide space of reflection on the role and power of ancestral memory and aesthetic creation to engage with the urgent economic and environmental crises of our contemporary moment.

Cecilia Vicuña. Quipu Visceral, 2017; site-specific wool installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans. Photo: Alex Marks.

Cecilia Vicuña. Quipu Visceral, 2017; site-specific wool installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans. Photo: Alex Marks.

Upon entering the tall, irregular gallery spaces of CACNO, the viewer is invited to read and view simultaneously—a curatorial decision enacted most powerfully in the first juxtaposition of visual and textual representation. The viewer is greeted with the compact elegance of Vicuña’s words: “The first precarious works were not documented, they existed only for the memories of a few citizens. History, a fabric of inclusion and exclusion, did not embrace them… In the void between the two, the precarious and its non-documentation established their non-place as another reality.”[2] The text finds a visual accompaniment in the vertical installation of richly dyed streams of woolen fabric, Quipu Visceral (2017). Made of colored cotton or camelid fibers, quipus (or “talking knots”) played a crucial role in ancient Andean South American cultures as record-keeping or data-collecting devices to gather census figures, monitor tax obligations and trade payments, and mark agricultural changes in seasons; thus, they stand as a form of writing before these regions and cultures were subsumed by Spanish colonial occupation and European systems of time and representation. Vicuña’s quipu transform this ancient practice into a visual metaphor for the collisions of two competing cultures and worldviews: the Andean universe of oral communication spatialized through an embodied, nonlinear encounter with time, and the Western mapping of time through the linear, teleological unfolding of the printed word. Investing herself as the reader–writer of the quipu—the quipucamayoc, or “one that animates or gives life to the knot”—and as a full participant within the Western poetic and visual tradition, Vicuña pleads with us to reimagine and recover our lost relationship to the spatial–temporal as a way to recast our awareness of and impact upon the ecological. Weaving and threading between and within ancient and Western systems, Vicuña preserves indigenous traditions, transforming these lost ways of being in the world into urgent political tools.

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