Spotlight Series

Spotlight: Art Practical

This summer, Daily Serving is shining a light on some arts publications that we regularly read and love. We’re excited to partner with publications such as Reorient, ARTS.BLACK, Contemptorary, and others, and will highlight the work of a different site each week. To begin, we’re proud to shine our light on some recent work at our sister site, Art Practical. Today we bring you Anne Lesley Selcer’s essay “What Imaginary Thing Is a Museum?” Selcer poetically unravels the broader implications of museums that represent (via their collections) or mount exhibitions of work by Ana Mendieta in relationship to work presented by that of her former husband. The questions she raises go beyond the personal narrative of two artists to probe the lack of social responsibility employed by art institutions. This article was originally published on May 4, 2017.

Ana Mendieta. Creek, 1974 (still); Super 8 film, silent.

Ana Mendieta. Creek, 1974 (still); Super 8 film, silent.

Two distinct rooms in two different Bay Area museums from early November 2016 to mid-February 2017 displayed the work of two major artists, one of whom killed the other. One was male and one was female, one was born in 1948 in Havana and one was born in 1935 in Quincy, Massachusetts. One showed at the Guggenheim, one won the Rome prize. Although these identifiers are in some ways useless, they put these differences into dialog. In 1988 Carl Andre was famously acquitted for the death of Ana Mendieta, his wife with whom he had been fighting with loudly just before she fell thirty-four stories. This tragedy holds resonant meaning for many people, but none of it gets carried by the museums and galleries who support Andres work. The ruling was based on insufficient evidence but is countered by many facts; it is contested by a significant number of people and not currently accepted by Mendietas family and friends, or by many fellow artists and curators. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art displays a room of Andres sculpture on their fifth floor. Ten of his works are owned in their collections, as well as three of Mendieta’s. The Berkeley Art Museum exhibited the luminous exhibition Covered in Time and History: the Films of Ana Mendieta last winter. The museum holds six of Andres works in their permanent collection and one of Mendietas. Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place recently opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the retrospective Dia: Beacon exhibited in 2015 to hearty protest. An action protesting the exhibition includes many Los Angeles curators, one of whom is a former curator at the museum itself.

Mendieta’s death occurred during roiling aesthetic, political, and intellectual struggles in the art world. In the 1970s and ’80s, art emerged as socially confrontational and performative, and at turns conceptual and semiotic. The context of an emerging international contemporary art market attenuated these differences and raised all stakes. A few years earlier, Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964) opened new possibilities for the body in art; its messy, anarchic conglomeration of bodies answered male abstract expressionism. In 1976 Lucy Lippard published the book From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art. Film theory propagated new feminist logics and lexicons. In her writing and performance, conceptual artist Adrian Piper parsed racism and worked through philosophy. Mendieta used her face and body as a Bataillean challenge, and later developed an articulated decolonial praxis. From her lecture, “The Struggle for Culture Today Is the Struggle for Life,” Mendieta writes, “The U.S., the greatest imperialist power, rich in material as well as technological resources, maintains some of the most shameful, hurting, and inhuman forms of racial, economic, and social descriminations [sic] amongst its own people. The overflowing of its frontiers, aggressions, and military occupations, and colonial and neo-colonial politics of the United States imperialism, have denaturalized and violated cultural and artistic tradition of other peoples as well as within the U.S. itself.” Her death was imbued with an uncanny feeling. Their fight in the New York high-rise apartment was about the minimalist Andre getting (in his words) “more exposed to the public” than Mendieta.

Read the full article here.



Loud. Black. Resident Part I: In Conversation with Dr. Omi Osum Joni L. Jones

Today from our friends at ARTS.BLACK we bring you Arielle Julia Brown’s interview with Dr. Omi Osum Joni L. Jones. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones is an artist, scholar, and an Associate Professor in the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Jones states, “My desire has been to transform predominantly white academic spaces into places where Blackness reigns. That is done with Black bodies.” This article was originally published October 2, 2016.


Arielle Julia Brown: What is your name? Give us a bit of an overview of your work.

Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones: I am Omi Osun Joni L. Jones and I am an artist scholar.  My work has focused on several areas that overlap. I am interested in Black performance, more specifically Black Diasporic performance. I’ve been most interested in Yoruba-based areas so, of course, Southwestern Nigeria, but in addition to that, spaces where Yoruba aesthetic and Yoruba spirituality are prominent, so places like Cuba and certain regions of the United States.

My work as an artist has often been connected to the ways that art can prod us to think, feel, and know more deeply, and create contestation even amongst the audience witnesses.

The scholarly work that I do attempts to make the scholarship itself embodied on the page so that I encourage a different reading practice rather than a linear reading practice. That kind of scholarship is made most clear in my book, Theatrical Jazz, Performance, Àṣẹ, and the Power of the Present Moment.

Read the full article here.



Shotgun Reviews

Larry Sultan: Editorial Works at Casemore Kirkeby

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, Courtney Trouble reviews Larry Sultan: Editorial Works at Casemore Kirkeby in San Francisco.

Larry Sultan. Paris on my Parents' Bed, 2007; archival pigment print; 30 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Casemore Kirkeby, San Francisco.

Larry Sultan. Paris on My Parents’ Bed, 2007; archival pigment print; 30 x 40 in. Courtesy of Casemore Kirkeby, San Francisco.

Banality masquerades as sensationalism in the San Fernando Valley, a factory town for the entertainment industry. Having grown up there, Larry Sultan knew this well, and his theories exist around framing the mundane and seeing things before they register with our socialized meanings. Editorial Works, on view at Casemore Kirkeby through June 10, features Sultan’s works that collude with his current exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and at Minnesota Street Project. The series shows the spectacle of commercial industry and, ultimately, the art that Sultan brought to his creative commercial endeavors.

The Valley, his collection investigating modern design through pornography production sets, was born in the throes of an assignment for Maxim called “Great Jobs.” [1] It was a small assignment on daily life in porn production, which often utilizes rented mansions in Glendale and Calabasas. After realizing he was shooting four blocks from his high school, he stayed in the region and began shooting the interiors of these mansions, often with the ephemera of porn included as ordinary details. For instance, when Wallpaper Magazine contracted Sultan to shoot a line of modern furniture, he insisted on shooting at the porn studio Vivid Entertainment, located in Studio City. [2] In Vivid Entertainment #2, a box of tissues and a teddy bear threaten a salacious story, but live as still life next to a mirrored table and a white leather couch with a very warped cushion. A warped sense of glamor and a twisted tale are common tropes of commercial photography, but instead of lounging in the sensationalism of sex and success, Sultan’s images fester in the postproduction of the spectacle.

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Shotgun Reviews

Step of Two at Royal Nonesuch Gallery

Step of Two, the current exhibition by Emily Mast and Henna Vainio at Royal Nonesuch, tenderly complicates ideas of action versus inaction. Two freestanding sculptures by Vainio have an immediate presence, with bright colors and abstract forms that suggest human postures. To make them, Vainio pours pigmented plaster into corrugated-cardboard cylindrical molds, which collapse and bend under the weight of the plaster. Once set, the plaster becomes a record of crinkling and crushing—a record of the shape of the variegated cylinder and of the plaster’s violence against it. The tall, imperfect columns are clearly figural, and the plaster forms, like human bodies, carry records and marks of their own creation and unwieldiness. The difference is that the plaster is frozen in a moment of aggression, whereas we can hope to become gentler, kinder, and more mutable.

Right: Henna Vainio, Legs (orange), 2017; plaster, pigment, fiberglass, steel; 78 x 8 x 8 in. Left: Emily Mast. ENDE (Like a New Beginning), 2014 (video still); HD color video with sound; 7:30 sec. Courtesy of Royal Nonesuch Gallery. Photo: Dana Hemenway.

Right: Henna Vainio. Legs (Orange), 2017; plaster, pigment, fiberglass, steel; 78 x 8 x 8 in. Left: Emily Mast. ENDE (Like a New Beginning), 2014 (video still); HD color video with sound; 07:30. Courtesy of Royal Nonesuch Gallery. Photo: Dana Hemenway.

By incorporating pigment directly into the plaster, Vainio instills the objects with authenticity; the color and material are consistent down to the core. Also, by incorporating chance into her process, Vainio lets the sculptures have a role in their creation.
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!Mediengruppe Bitnik: Is anybody home lol

Although the “lol” in the title of the exhibition at Berlin’s EIGEN + ART Lab, Is anybody home lol, might suggest that the themes of the works on view are casual and playful, the four works by !Mediengruppe Bitnik (the duo of Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo) are anything but. Each asks salient questions about contemporary human relationships in today’s increasingly digitized landscape. !Mediengruppe have been using the internet to conduct interventions within digital and physical domains since the 2000s. In their show at EIGEN + ART Lab, they expose and deploy cracks within the system to ask what kinds of power dynamics and intimacies exist through networked realities.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik, Solve this captcha: Is anybody home lol, 2016. Neon sign, 8mm glass tubes, transformers; exhibition view. Courtesy of the artists and EIGEN + ART Lab, Berlin. Photo: Otto Felber.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik. Solve this captcha: Is anybody home lol, 2016; neon sign, 8mm glass tubes, transformers; installation view. Courtesy of the Artists and EIGEN + ART Lab, Berlin. Photo: Otto Felber.

The juxtaposition of seriousness and playfulness is literally glaring in the neon light sculpture, Solve this captcha: Is anybody home lol (2016), from which the exhibition’s title is based. In this work, the words are spelled in a twisted and goofy typeface typical of captchas, whereby computer programs distinguish humans from computers by their ability to interpret the distorted lettering. !Mediengruppe’s captcha directly asks viewers whether they are human or machine—whether they are present and aware, or automated and mechanical, in their perceptions. The distinction may not always be so clear.

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Washington, D.C.

Visual Art and the American Experience at the African American Museum of History and Culture

In the art world, we don’t talk often enough about the ways in which class defines museums—in particular, art museums—in that their contents are largely formed by the tastes and investments of the rich. There is no other conceivable explanation for the way institutions continue to represent the nation’s art largely as the work of individuals who are White and male.

Visual Art and the American Experience, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography

Visual Art and the American Experience, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.

It is in this context that the visual-art component of the brand-new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) plays a crucial role, not only for the institution itself, but as a historical corrective. The NMAAHC, a spectacular addition to the many museums on and around the Mall in Washington, D.C., is this country’s largest cultural destination “devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting, and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history.” As such, it covers a lot of historical and cultural ground between the 15th century and the present in almost overwhelmingly rich displays of text, image, video, and artifact, from the enslavement of Africans to all aspects of African American life.

The suggested route for visitors begins at a deep, subterranean level—its confines evoking the narrow space of a slave ship’s hold—and progresses upward through multiple levels to the Culture Galleries located on the top floor. There, a complex, circular multimedia exhibition fills the floor’s center, introducing five aspects of African American and African diasporic culture: fashion, food, craft, literature, and movement. Three large exhibitions fill the remainder of the floor, chronicling the history of African Americans in theater, film, and TV; in music; and in visual arts.

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Hashtags: The Body Without Organs

#embodiment #performance #fashion #commerce #beauty #ReiKawakubo

Given their constant presence in our lives, we think surprisingly little about our bodies. When we do, we are often thinking of ways to make them less body, more commodity. For women in particular, the body is the site of our social acceptability and our abjection. Fashion is how we navigate that landscape. Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah has proposed that the true challenge of the present cosmopolitan landscape, in which many disparate groups must adjust to living together, is not in navigating “difference” but in negotiating disagreements around the relative importance of a set of values in relation to one another: “Even if we share a value language, and even if we agree on how to apply it to a particular case, we can disagree about the weight to give to different values.” [1] If, as described, the prevailing values of fashion idealize and commoditize the female body, Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo emphasizes material and formal investigation, interaction with the body through movement, and building self-esteem. She takes this commercial, aesthetic medium and uses it sculpturally, advancing difficult ideas about beauty, embodiment, and access. Kawakubo’s radical reshuffling of clothing’s function, purpose, and form is the work of an artist, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition, Art of the In-Between, demonstrates.

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between. Gallery View, Clothes/Not Clothes: War/Peace. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rei Kawakubo. Clothes/Not Clothes: War/Peace; installation view, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, 2017. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Beauty, for women, is a devil’s bargain. Little can be accomplished without it, given that society values women’s bodies most as decorative objects and least as active agents of consciousness. Though few women can conform to the strict social expectations of beauty, all are consistently encouraged to spend significant resources of money and time on beauty products, rituals, clothing, and accessories. Enter Kawakubo, whose creations show that rethinking the values that traditionally govern fashion and commerce can produce subversive results. Her clothes operate in the reified realm of desire as couture objects while making the female body “ugly” in every way imaginable. They quote copiously, and hilariously, from the history of aristocratic fashion, annihilating conventions of idealized physical form to instead dwell on the extreme, unexpected, and grotesque. If the expected relationship between the body and fashion requires both to submit to a regime of commodity fetishization, the relationship between the body and Comme des Garçons is one of symbiotic augmentation, two parts that make a greater whole.

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