D30 Ragnar Þórisson: Human Disguise at Reykjavík Art Museum

The Reykjavík Art Museum’s Gallery-D is dedicated to showcasing the work of Icelandic artists who have never mounted a solo exhibition in any of the country’s major museums. D30 Ragnar Þórisson: Human Disguise, the 30th iteration of the series, presents Ragnar Þórisson’s body of psychologically evocative paintings that blur the lines between human experience and myth. These paintings portray states of mind and being with varying degrees of realism, providing numerous interpretations of commonplace sensations and occurrences.

Ragnar Þórisson. Untitled, 2013; oil on canvas; 200 x 170 cm. Courtesy of Reykjavík Art Museum.

Ragnar Þórisson. Untitled, 2013; oil on canvas; 200 x 170 cm. Courtesy of Reykjavík Art Museum.

Ragnar’s work exhibits a clear influence from Expressionist artists while presenting something fresh and unique. The terror and anxiety present in certain iconic Expressionist works is mostly absent, but an aura of uncertainty persists. The hard lines of Egon Schiele and Erich Heckel are apparent, which at times also seems to be a nod toward printmaking. Many of Ragnar’s works, however, diverge from the relatively realistic subject matter of the Expressionists, approaching something that resembles folklore. Though anthropomorphic, the subjects in many paintings don’t seem fully human. The artist employs thin layers of paint to expose underdrawings, with only partial background areas blocked in. His paintings appear intentionally unfinished, resulting in an ambiguous psychological feeling.

The most striking painting (all works are untitled) is large enough to occupy an entire wall, and features an outdoor setting, unlike most of the other works, and a more colorful and varied palette. A single, robed figure stands in a forest, flanked by tall trees with persimmon-colored trunks. This work contains more detail than others, allowing viewers to establish a setting, but not enough detail to establish context. The gender—and even the species—of the figure is unclear, though they stand with a slight hunch. It’s unclear whether this individual reigns over this woodland sanctum, or if they are in a vulnerable state. The sober tones, and the centrality of the figure within the frame, create an atmosphere of importance—this is not a leisurely Sunday afternoon on La Grande Jatte—but the uncertainty persists, and the inability to settle on one of several opposing readings is unsettling.

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Third Space: Shifting Conversations About Contemporary Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art

As university presidents, corporate CEOs, and political leaders on the left and right toss the terms “multiculturalism” and “postcolonial” around in speeches and promotional materials, I am reminded that these buzzwords of the new transnational order have resisted domestication and dilution through the sharp, thoughtful, uncomplacent writing of Homi K. Bhabha.[1] Bhabha’s recognition that cultures must be understood as complex intersections of multiple places, historical temporalities, and subject positions—narratives marked by ferocious forms of intolerance, geographical evacuations, conquests, and ethical conundrums—has impacted the realm of cultural production in tremendous ways. Curated by Wassan Al-Khudhairi for her home institution, the Birmingham Museum of Art, Third Space: Shifting Conversations About Contemporary Art powerfully mobilizes many of Bhabha’s ideas, specifically his concept of a “third space,” or a space that “challenges our sense of historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People.”[2] Through deep encounters with the rapidly expanding and shifting coordinates of global contemporary art, Third Space animates the rich relations and unique specificities at work in the contemporary aesthetic production of the Global and American South. Pushing viewers to think within as well as beyond the limits of national borders, the exhibition shapes a powerful narrative of internationally shared forms of marginality.

José Bedia. Mpangui jimagua (Twin Brothers), 2000; acrylic and conté on canvas with objects; 122 x 355 x 188 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and the Birmingham Museum of Art.

José Bedia. Mpangui Jimagua (Twin Brothers), 2000; acrylic and conté on canvas with objects; 122 x 355 x 188 in. Courtesy of the Artist and the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Entering the newly renovated Jemison Galleries, the viewer is drawn to Cuban-born artist José Bedia’s multimedia installation Mpangui Jimagua (Twin Brothers) (2000), which immediately places ideas of crossings, migration, multiplicity, and exile at the center of the presentation. The son of a sailor, Bedia has lived outside of his home country since 1991. Here he paints a doubled silhouette that stretches off the wall and is pulled into space by the small boat attached to the assemblage. Dynamic and suggestive, the work emphasizes the movement of human capital across bodies of water as an ambiguous journey for those seeking new opportunities and financial security, or those fleeing as refugees or exiles. It is this idea of migration and the terrible contexts bound up in the histories of diasporic communities across the world that continues to appear in the exhibition, articulating culture as something mobile, durational, and thus continually in flux.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: Recommendations for References

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I am often torn when applying for jobs, residencies, and grants when it comes to the references section. Is it better to list the names of people you do not know very well but carry more name recognition, or to list the names of lesser-known people you know well and would give you a very good reference? I often don’t ask people with “name recognition” (that I might know as acquaintances) because I worry they will think I am using them. How much weight does who you know carry in an application? What is the etiquette of asking people to serve as references?

Gerda Scheepers. Taras Bookies, 2009; Installation View at Sprüth Magers Berlin.

Gerda Scheepers. Taras Bookies, 2009; mixed media; installation view at Sprüth Magers Berlin.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who,” the old adage goes. To be honest, I fall victim to this manner of thinking as often as anyone else, even when I’m the one being asked to supply the recommendation. A few months ago, when a colleague asked me to serve as a reference, my initial response was, “Wouldn’t you rather have someone with more clout?” I assumed that she must have far more important people in her corner, and that in the squishy place that we call the “art world”—where social capital outstrips nearly every other cultural marker of success—a tepid reference from a Big Name would count for more than an enthusiastic endorsement from little old me.

As it turns out, I was wrong. I did a lot of research to answer your question, and nearly everyone said  that they’d rather have a strong recommendation from an informed source. My colleague had been right to ask me rather than someone with more name recognition, because she and I went to school together and have conducted studio visits since then, so I’m very familiar with her process and her work ethic. Our long association means that I can speak directly to her growth as an artist, and I can attest to her commitment.

Don’t get tripped up, as I did, by thinking that name recognition is always going to be more meaningful than firsthand knowledge and genuine interest. The Alliance of Artists Communities says, “While some major awards are interested in the who’s-who references, residency programs are interested in your seriousness as an artist, your dedication to a creative practice, and your ability to live in a close-knit community of others. If the program asks for letters of recommendation, ask your references to speak to these points, rather than simply what a wonderful artist […] you are.” Simply put, your recommender should be able to discuss your work performance and speak cogently about your talents and abilities. It’s best if they have a clear understanding of your work and can tell the story of who you are as an artist. Someone who has spent time with you can also talk about your personality and character (your so-called soft skills), which is often important for residency and job applications. Ask for references from the people who can provide an insider’s perspective.

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The Birth of the Author

Today from our sister publication Art Practical we bring you Andrew Berardini’s article published in issue 8.3: Art can’t do anything if we don’t. Berardini finds the place where art and self-expression exist in the face of illicit power. He states, “If it does nothing else, art gives us authorship of our experience. Layers of meaning and exchange, the nuances of aesthetics and economics, and the complexity of history and context all come later.” This article was originally published March 23, 2017.

Rebecca Belmore. Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowen: Speaking to Their Mother, 1991; Presented by the Walter Phillips Gallery as part of the exhibition Bureau de Change, July 12–September 28, 2008. Banff National Park, Johnsons Lake, July 26th, 2008; Courtesy of the Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre. Photo: Sarah Ciurysek.

Rebecca Belmore. Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowen: Speaking to Their Mother, 1991; Presented by the Walter Phillips Gallery as part of the exhibition Bureau de Change, July 12–September 28, 2008. Banff National Park, Johnsons Lake, July 26th, 2008; Courtesy of the Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre. Photo: Sarah Ciurysek.

Your voice matters.

A desperate holler, a drunken song to the moon, a cold and broken hallelujah. A prisoner’s prayer.

The words take shape, the vision becomes a picture, a sculpture, a photograph. This is yours. And it really matters.

Wrapped in the word author of course is authority, who gets it and who doesn’t? Many doubt they have a voice at all.

We live in a frightening time of political crisis. Maybe this truth always depends on where you’re standing. Where does art fit into this, if at all? I have often heard art disparaged as useless frippery, as a distractive entertainment, as a commodity for the rich, or as useful only when hitched to a distinct political doctrine. Art in service of the revolution. Many think art is totally useless, a few even hold up art’s uselessness is its most important trait. An art that advances human rights and an “art for art’s sake” are not mutually exclusive. John Berger wrote in The White Bird (1985): “Several years ago, when considering the historical face of art, I wrote that I judged a work according to whether or not it helped men in the modern world claim their social rights. I hold to that.” But he goes on: “Art’s other, transcendental, face raises the question of man’s ontological right.” Or in other words, our social right to existence, our right to make and explore meaning for ourselves, our right to a consciousness and a voice, no matter what we might say with it.

Read the full article here.


Shotgun Reviews

En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance at SFMOMA

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, Sofia Villena Araya reviews En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance at SFMOMA.

Jacolby Satterwhite. En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance at SFMOMA, 2017. Courtesy of SFMOMA. Photo: Charles Villyard.

Jacolby Satterwhite. En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance, 2017. Courtesy of SFMOMA, San Francisco. Photo: Charles Villyard.

Jacolby Satterwhite, an African American artist well known for his virtual worlds of queer desire, presented a live performance at SFMOMA’s Gina and Stuart Peterson White Box Gallery on March 17 and 18, 2017. My particular account of this event highlights the incongruence of the museum’s conception of safety that disallowed the experimental and community-making aspects of the piece to fully unfold.

Friday, March 17, 10 p.m.: The waiting crowd is invited to take the elevator toward the gallery. At the entrance, a small sign warns that there will be smoke and blinking lights. Inside the gallery, the space feels like a dance club warming up; people are drinking and conversing.

Satterwhite, wearing a futurist black jacket, jumps on stage. People appear amused by the universe-like, immersive quality of the space, made possible by Satterwhite’s double presence in virtual reality and actual space, projections on the walls, the vibration of the electronic music, pinkish lights, and the dense smoke.

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San Francisco

Cynthia Daignault: The Pure Products of America Go Crazy at CAPITAL

Cynthia Daignault is always confounding our ideas about the nature of painting—and asks if it has an essential nature at all. In her latest show, The Pure Products of America Go Crazy, at CAPITAL in San Francisco (a sort of return home for a prodigal daughter educated at Stanford), she has done it again. Daignault has placed seventy oil-on-linen paintings like dinner plates on six tables throughout the gallery space, orienting the viewer to look at the works from above. The idea of painting as a still life with its own subjectivity, as a stand-in for itself as a common utilitarian object, is another radical move on Daignault’s part.

Cynthia Daignault. The pure products of America go crazy, 2017; installation view, CAPITAL, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Artist and CAPITAL.

Cynthia Daignault. The Pure Products of America Go Crazy, 2017; installation view, CAPITAL, San Francisco. Courtesy of the Artist and CAPITAL.

In her past project Light Atlas (2014), a result of a yearlong road trip throughout the United States, the artist explored the social and geographic characteristics of paintings as what she calls “place settings,” or stakeholders—as objects that create meaning from particular representations of claims to space. Daignault’s odyssey resulted in an epic portrait of the country in the form of 360 paintings, which spanned more than 300 linear feet of wall, filling the gallery from edge to edge. Prior to embarking on this project, Daignault realized that she could name over a hundred canonical works that depicted and defined the country, all produced by men: Twain, Dylan, Guthrie, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Evans, Ruscha, Smithson, and so on. Light Atlas is a feminist corrective and as close to a performative as painting can get.

As in all of Daignault’s painting–installations or painting–performances, each painting in The Pure Products of America Go Crazy can be experienced as an individual work or as part of a larger theoretical and optical puzzle. The artist explained that the work was made “100% post-election,” as she was reckoning with the new order of things in a “deep fog,” and the fuzzy images of the series Matrix (2017)—based on front pages of U.S. newspapers that feature headlines and photographs of Trump’s victory—can be read as trembling reproductions of horror.[1] Alternatively, they can be read as the current U.S. condition and in relationship with violent pop-culture icons, such as the machine-gun-toting Rambo or Schwarzenegger depicted on a round plate set on an adjacent table. They prompt the question: Whose dinner party is this?

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Jeff Downer: Handsome Rewards

The artist ordered his friend an undying houseplant as a gift. To contextualize Handsome Rewards, Jeff Downer’s solo exhibition at Duplex, the artist shares this anecdote in his press release: “I found myself flipping through [a] merchandise catalogues…while walking it straight to the recycling bin. What caught my eye was something called a ‘resurrection plant.’ According to the ad, the plant can survive extreme dehydration and can live for several years without a drop of water…I bought it for a friend who is absolutely terrible with plants.” More catalogs for other, vaguely useful objects began to arrive in his mailbox courtesy of Publisher’s Clearing House, a marketing company that tenders large checks to winners of dubious sweepstakes and lottery drawings. To them, Downer was now a potentially returning customer. Would these images compel him to buy more shit? Fortunately, a fluency with images spared Downer from buyer’s remorse, as he instead fixated on the inexplicable ways these objects were staged and dramatized, and the feeling of “What even is this?”

Jeff Downer. Handsome Rewards, 2017; Digital Print. Courtesy of Jeff Downer. Photo: Capture Photography Festival.

Jeff Downer. Handsome Rewards, 2017; digital print. Courtesy of Jeff Downer. Photo: Capture Photography Festival.

Handsome Rewards—which is also the title of the exhibition’s accompanying artist book—re-presents a selection of product photographs culled from such merchandise catalogs. The product images, scanned from the catalogs, are enlarged and pressed against the wall with plexiglas. The products, originally presented to appeal to the behavior of consumers, become images presented for a different onlooker “potentially returning customers” are replaced by an art audience, who cock their heads as they try to discern what they’re looking at, among the friendliness of each image’s colors and the models that demonstrate the products’ use.

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