Bronx Museum of the Arts: Gordon Matta-Clark, Susannah Ray, Angel Otero

I make a point of dropping in the Bronx Museum of the Arts when I’m back in New York. This most recent visit did not disappoint, with three strong exhibitions of arts with connections to the borough and New York City at large.

Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect turns familiar notions of architecture upside-down with many projects featuring cuts, holes, and other modifications to derelict and abandoned buildings in New York and beyond. The Bronx of the 1970s was one of his main canvases and the point of departure for his practice. His series featuring the iconic graffiti of the borough’s subway trains and facades leads the exploration, with Matta-Clark observing the built environment as it is.

Gordon Matta-Clark Subway and Graffiti series

The next level of his work modifies the built environment by adding his own elements, or rather removing parts of existing architecture. In his Bronx Floor series, Matta-Clark removes a section of the floor of an abandoned building on Boston Road. This serves as a setting for installations and photography.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Bronx Floor
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Bronx Floor]

Like Matta-Clark, I find these spaces of the Bronx of the 1970s quite inspiring on an aesthetic level. My enjoyment of this often overlooked aesthetic is a bit tempered by the notion that these buildings ended up this way through a variety of bad circumstances: neglect (sometimes deliberate), poor city planning, rising inequality, etc.

From the foment of the South Bronx, Matta-Clark took his concept to Manhattan. In his 1975 project Day’s End, he cut large holes into the abandoned Pier 52 along the Hudson River (I remember the derelict piers that used to line the lower West Side all to well from the 1970s and 1980s).

Gordon Matta-Clark, Day's End
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Day’s End (Pier 52 in Manhattan)]

This served both as a sculpture and installation in its own right, but also as a performance an exhibition space. Interestingly, the authorities did not notice the initial work cutting out a piece of the building, but they did find out about the performances and happenings, and were none too pleased by this. Eventually, the city dropped charges while he was working on a project in Paris.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect
[Gordon Matta-Clark. Conical Intersection (Paris)]

Conical Intersect cuts out a section of a partially demolished mansion in the Les Halles district, adjacent to the still-under-construction Centre Georges Pompidou. This was the setting for film and still photography projects, as well as performances and happenings (including “including roasting 750 pounds of beef for passersby on the Pompidou plaza” [
[Susannah Ray. Hutchison River and Co-Op City, 2015.]

Seeing Ray and Matta-Clarks photographs in the same visit shows the evolution of the Bronx, and in particular how the natural spaces have improved since their nadirs in the early 1980s. The lower Bronx River was once a disaster but is returning to new natural-urban balance in recent years.

Susannah Ray.  Canoes, The Bronx River, 2013
[Susannah Ray. Canoes, The Bronx River, 2013]

You can read more about the revitalization of the lower Bronx River in this 2016 article. Again, we find beauty in these spaces and admire the work that Ray and others are doing to share it.


The final exhibition takes a decidedly inward turn compared to the explorations of Ray and Matta-Clark. In Elegies, artist Angel Otero explores the long history of painting. His large “deconstructed” paintings bring together traditional practice, abstraction, and collage.

Angel Otero.  The Day We Became People, 2017
[Angel Otero. The Day We Became People, 2017]

The exhibition is organized in relation to Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic series and includes stark black-and-white pieces from Motherwell, sometimes with statements on art and painting.


[Robert Motherwell]

Otero’s work stands apart from Motherwell’s in its vibrant colors and relation to space, as well as its unique use of material. Although titled Elegies, the paintings are not really elegies at all – or at least not in the typical sense. There is an optimism in his work.

The paintings were all created specifically for this Bronx Museum exhibition.


Our visit to the Bronx Museum was also the subject of a recent CatSynth TV episode, which also took us a little further south to visit our friends at the Bronx Brewery in Port Morris.

MoMA Part 2: Stephen Shore, Thinking Machines, Max Ernst, Is Fashion Modern

Our initial report from MoMA focused on the current exhibition of print and 2D works by Louise Bourgeois. But in November, the entire museum was a trove of intriguing exhibitions – even with the current construction – and today we look at four more of them.

We begin with Max Ernst: Beyond Painting, a survey exhibition built around the celebrated Dada and Surrealist artist’s frequent description of his own practice as “beyond painting.” It does actually include paintings, but also is many early drawings and works on paper as well as his sculptures and early conceptual work.

Ernst first came to prominence as the founder of the Cologne branch of Dada after World War I (in which he served in the German army). Like other in the Dada movement, much of his work was deliberately provocative and low-fi and went outside of traditional artistic practice. One of the seminal works from this early period was the portfolio Let There Be Fashion, Down with Art, which mixes technological drawings, equations and other elements in absurd and non-sensical ways. Despite the tone and organizing concept, some of the individual illustrations are quite beautiful.

In the above page, we see a feminine figure juxtaposed with geometric and architectural elements. It could have easily been one of Louise Bourgeois’ drawings from three decades later! It also reminded me of the composition in some of my photography.

“Beyond Painting” did include paintings, particularly from Ernst’s surrealist period after relocating from Cologne to Paris.


[Max Ernst. The Nymph Echo (La Nymph Écho). 1936. Oil on canvas.]

The hard-edged lines have given way to the dreamy organic shapes frequently employed in surrealism. But Ernst’s renderings have more of a biological feel – there is abundant vegetation, and some elements appear as microscopic life forms but on a human scale.

Despite his reputation as a provocateur within the often dark worlds of Dada and surrealism, Ernst’s work often has a very playful quality, even endearing at times. That comes out most in his sculptures, some of which can even be described as “adorable”

Max Ernst Sculpture
[Max Ernst. An Anxious Friend (Un ami empressé). 1944 (cast 1973)]

This one, in particular, is worth walking around, as there is another figure on the back side.

The exhibition culminates with 65 Maximiliana, an illustrated book co-created with book-designer Iliazd.
[Max Ernst. Folio 10 from 65 Maximiliana or the Illegal Exercise of Astronomy (65 Maximiliana ou l’exercice illégal de l’astronomie). 1964. Illustrated book with twenty‑eight etchings (nine with aquatint) and six aquatints by Ernst and letterpress typographic designs by Ilia Zdanevich (Iliazd). Page: 16 1/16 × 12 1/16″ (40.8 × 30.7 cm). Publisher: Le Degré 41 (Iliazd), Paris. Printer: Georges Visat. Edition: 65. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of David S. Orentreich, MD, 2015. Photo: Peter Butler. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.]

In addition to Ernst’s aquatint illustrations and Iliazd’s fanciful typography, the book also features a completely invented hieroglyphic script by Ernst. It brings his career full circle to those early Dada books from Cologne.


As described above, beauty and artistic interest often originate outside traditional artistic practices. The exhibition Thinking Machines explores the artistic ideas that emerged alongside early computer technologies as well as the beauty of the devices themselves.

It is easy in the age of ubiquitous, distributed, and often invisible computing that the most powerful computers were singular and central elements of many workplaces and institutions. The Thinking Machines CM-2, made in 1987, both fits in the emerging dystopian future imaged in the era but also collapses complexity to beautiful patterns in the red LEDs against the black cubic casing. Apple has always been known for their design, and some of their early offerings were featured, including the Macintosh XL (successor to the infamous Lisa).

While the machines themselves were works of art, artists immediately saw their potential for exploring new ways of creating – we can only imagine what Max Ernst might have done with these technologies! But we don’t have to imagine with others, such as John Cage. Here we see both the score and record for HPSCHD, his collaboration with Lejaren Hiller that featured computed chance elements and computer-generated sounds on tape alongside live harpsichords.

The intersection of music and technology is at the core of what we do at CatSynth, but we have also long been interested in technology in other arts. The exhibition included samples of sonakinatography, a system of notation for motion and sound developed by Channa Horwitz.

Chana Horwitz

The notation system uses numbers and colors arranged in eight-by-eight squares and can be used to represent music, dance, lighting, or other interpretations of motion over time. The notation and a proposed work were submitted by Horwitz for 1971 Art and Technology exhibit at LACMA – although the proposal for the piece with eight beams of light was included in the catalog, it was never fabricated. Horwitz work was buried beneath the work of male artists and she was not invited to speak or meet with industry representatives collaborating on the exhibition. This led to an outcry about the exhibition’s lack of women, a problem that echoes to this day in the world of art and technology. Fortunately, women were recognized in this MoMA exhibition of early technology in art. In addition to Horwitz, we saw work by Vera Molnár, a pioneer of computer art. In the print below, she digitally riffs on a drawing by Paul Klee.


Surprisingly, MoMA has rarely delved deeply into fashion in its exhibitions. For a long time, the biggest major exhibition the museum held for this medium was Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 exhibition Are Clothes Modern?. But the museum is revisiting the topic in a major way with the current Items: Is Fashion Modern? a deliberate play on Rudofsky’s original title. The exhibition includes 111 garments and accessories and places them in both conceptual and chronological organizations. There are of course mainstays of fashion such as the “little black dress.”

It is hard to look at a fashion exhibition without thinking “Would I or would I not wear this?” In the above example, the dress on the left is something I would wear, while the one on the right is something I would not (except perhaps as a costume for a film, etc.). But side by side they show a range of tastes and styles and how they shape and reflect our images of our own bodies. The most intriguing design in the “I would wear this” category was this dress from Pierre Cardin’s “Cosmos Collection”. Even if this was intended to represent “the future”, I could see it easily working in the present, whether the present is 1967 or 2017.

Cardin Cosmos
[Cardin. COSMOS]

The exhibition did also touch on new technologies and innovations, such as with this dress that uses 3D printing technology.


[Jessica Rosenkrantz and Jesse Louise-Rosenberg. Kinematics Dress. 2013. Laser-sintered nylon.]

Of course, not all fashion is “high fashion”, and the exhibit deliberately covered both. There were the ionic baseball caps of the New York Yankees and their evolution over the years (someone had to design each one of them). And even a display of Jewish kippas, ranging from the simple to the whimsical.

Kippas

I was particularly amused to see the Yankees-themed kippa. It was two “religions” colliding.


Our final exhibition is the MoMA’s large and comprehensive retrospective of works by photographer Stephen Shore. I have to admit, I was not particularly acquainted with Shore’s work, and after touring the exhibition I realize I should have been. In many ways, Shore’s work is photography writ small, often employing simple camera technologies, including a novelty Disney toy camera from the 1970s and Instagram on an iPhone in his current work. And his subjects range from the foment of 1960s New York and Andy Warhol’s Factory to stark rural landscapes.


[Stephen Shore. New York, New York. 1964. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/8 × 13 1/2″ (23.2 × 34.3 cm). © 2017 Stephen Shore, courtesy 303 Gallery]

Steph Shore
[Stephen Shore. U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976. 1976. Chromogenic color print, printed 2013, 17 × 21 3/4″ (43.2 × 55.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the generosity of Thomas and Susan Dunn. © 2017 Stephen Shore]

I particularly like the “ordinary” nature of some of the settings, main streets, highways, abandoned booths. The juxtaposition of New York against the small town and rural landscapes feels quintessentially American. Shore was also known for working in color, especially after leaving New York – this was something that wasn’t done so much in the world of art photography at the time. He also deliberately subverted the idea of art photography at times, including in his 1971 exhibition All the Meat You Can Eat, which was composed mostly of found imagery (commercials, postcards, snapshots) in dissonant arrangements that were more theatrical than anthropological.

Shore also did commission work. A few of these took him abroad, including to Israel, where he combined his interests in photography and archaeology. His most recent work fully embraces the modern technology of Instagram sharing – you can follow Shore’s Instagram account – and on-demand printing. The subject matter is varied, often focusing on small-scale or interesting framing of everyday items, but there are also occasional snaps that wouldn’t appear out of place on a tasteful personal account.

It’s not uncommon for me to be inspired to pursue my own work after an exhibition. This was certainly an example, as Shore’s photography mirrors many of own work in the medium, particularly focusing on place and texture, as well as traveling the country to pursue one’s art. Indeed, the inspiration was a bit more poignant because wondering the images I felt that this was exactly what I should be doing. It perhaps that realization that led me to tear up a bit as I left.

Anne Marguerite Herbst at Far Out Gallery, San Francisco

Far Out Gallery in the Sunset district of San Francisco is currently hosting a solo exhibition of works by Anne Herbst, and we were on hand to see it and cover it on CatSynth TV.

Of course, the cat-imagery particularly caught my eye, but there are many layers beyond that. Even in the cats, one can see some of the other elements that permeate Herbst’s art, including undulating lines and traces of her body that are used both as textures and bounding elements.

There are also the frequent connections to her personal history in the inclusion of faces and hints of other people. The connection to blood comes up both in the use of color, imagery, and the context of a couple of the paintings. It features in a self portrait as well as a piece for her father’s 90th birthday, both of which are featured in the video.

Anne Herbst

Herbst took the personal history to a new level for this exhibition by re-imagining childhood drawings with her current artistic style and practice.

We see the lines, shapes, and character of her current work brought to the original cat figure from the drawing. One can also notice the blood-like elements and color in this piece.

Creatures of all sorts abound throughout. In addition to the cats, the turtle seems to be a recurring animal, and was featured prominently in the work we most associated with the exhibition title “Ripples.”

Far Out Gallery has been a great discovery for us, a place connecting us more deeply to that sometimes remote western edge of San Francisco. We are happy to have been there for both Anne Herbst’s show and Kasper Rodenborn’s earlier this season. We hope to see more in the future.

Kasper Rodenborn, Art for the Naked Eye. Far Out Gallery, San Francisco

Today we look back at last weekend’s opening of Art for the Naked Eye at Far Out Gallery in San Francisco. The show covers twenty years of work by local artist Kasper Rodenborn.

You can see and hear a bit about Rodenborn’s art in his own words in our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

Rodenborn’s work falls into several periods and categories. First, there are the more traditional paintings, with surrealist quality that particularly reminds us of Yves Tanguy.

Kasper Rodenborn.  Installation View
[Installation view]

Many of the works feature wildstyle, an homage to Rodenborn’s early days as an underground graffiti artist. But he combines this with other elements, including some that project out of the canvas in the sculptural realm, as in the Rauchenberg-esque elements in Aside from Concrete Existence displayed below.

Aside from Concrete Existence
[Kasper Rodenborn, Aside from Concrete Existence. This piece will be hanging in CatSynth HQ after the show!]

Over time, we observe his work to move in the direction of collage and ultimately assemblages, as in these intricate pieces.

Kasper Rodenborn Collage and Assemblage

The most recent works are a return to flat surfaces. But these flat pieces have depth and motion, as they respond to changing light colors. They were displayed illuminated by rotating-color LED bulbs.

Light-moving painting

It was a strong exhibition, we are glad to have attended. And Far Out Gallery was an excellent discovery in the Sunset District of San Francisco – we expect to be back for future shows.

MoMA: Francis Picabia, Kai Althoff, and more.

For us at CatSynth, coming back to New York almost always means a visit to Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It’s a place that is always safe, inviting and inspiring. It’s also a change to spend time with some old friends, like Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, a painting that for me has an almost religious significance.

Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie

There are of course, many special exhibitions, and we discuss them below.


Much of the top floor of the museum was reserved for a retrospective of the work of Francis Picabia, one of the less-well-known of the great modern artists from the first half of the 20th Century. Though known for his association with the Dada movement, his oeuvre includes many other ever-changing styles. Indeed, the exhibition begins with his early works in an impressionist style. Though very well executed, they are not particularly exciting other than the provocative nature (for the time) of using photographs as sources. However, after this initial period, his work explodes with large abstract canvases.

Picabia,Francis (1879-1953)
[Francis Picabia. Udnie (Jeune fille américaine; danse) (Udnie [Young American Girl; Dance]). 1913. Oil on canvas, 9′ 6 3/16″ × 9′ 10 1/8″ (290 × 300 cm). Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne – Centre de création industrielle, Paris. Purchased by the State, 1948. © 2016 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI/Georges Meguerdtchian/Dist. RMN–Grand Palais/Art Resource, New York.]

The painting shown above, Udnie (Jeune fille américaine; danse) (Udnie [Young American Girl; Dance]) is exemplary of this period of his work. It is huge, almost 10 feet by 10 feet square, and features bright industrial colors with large curving lines. This painting had a colder and higher-contrast palette than its neighbors, so it particularly attracted me. There is also the fact that the title reminds me of the David Bowie album of similar name.

Picabia became a leading artist in the Dada movement, producing many paintings and drawings of industrial and manufactured objects, some featuring bits of text that he found from encyclopedias and other sources. They have the sparse, sometimes sad quality of readymades, but also show steady and disciplined hands at work to create these pieces.

20161122-img_2654

The centerpiece of the Dada sections of the exhibition was a recreation of one of his Paris exhibitions, with drawings arranged in a linear fashion and rugs along the gallery floor. The pieces were a mixture of Dada, abstraction and figurative images (mostly of Spanish women). These demonstrate the artist’s desire to not be stuck in one style or even just one movement.

Picabia went through a period of more figurative painting in the years leading up to and during World War II, including a somewhat odd set of photorealistic paintings from soft-porn images that he created while living in under the Vichy regime in southern France. After the war, however, he returned to abstraction until his death in 1953. Many of these late works have a somewhat minimal quality, including a series consist of large dots on a monochromatic background


The other major exhibition on the top floor featured a full-gallery installation by Kai Althoff entitled and then leave me to the common swifts (und dann überlasst mich den Mauerseglern). The space itself was the artwork in which the viewer was invited to wander.

00020003
[Installation view of Kai Althoff: and then leave me to the common swifts (und dann überlasst mich den Mauerseglern). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 18, 2016–January 22, 2017. Photograph © Kai Althoff]

The labyrinthine installation is a seeming clutter of objects, looking more like a messy artists’ studio. However, on closer inspection, one sees that there are a lot of older works from the artist in various states of integrity among found objects like dolls and clothing. The artwork fragments included heads with strange expressions. Overall, it was one of the more confounding exhibitions I have seen. I am not one to necessary require “meaning” from art, but I do tend to look for lines, shapes and patterns. But being challenged by an exhibition is not a bad thing.


In addition to the hunt for old favorites in the permanent collection, an entire floor was dedicated to works from he 1960s, arranged one room per year. The detailed view shows just how rich and varied the art of that decade was, and how art transformed into what we think of as contemporary in the early 21st Century. Among the works on display was a set of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher. We have discussed them before, as their work is very influential for my own art photography.

20161122-img_2668

The video work of Nam June Paik has also been a major influence. The exhibition featured a very minimal work of his, essentially reducing analog video to a single line.

20161122-img_2666

Yayoi Kusama is enjoying a lot of attention of late. This work, which appeared to be a chair of penises, was featured prominently. The description of the piece confirmed my phallic interpretation.

20161122-img_2665


The second floor also featured multiple special exhibitions, including the provocative “architectural” show on displacement and shelter, focusing on migrants and refugees in the modern world. It included a full-size refugee tent shelter, as well as overhead images of a sea of such shelters. There were images from camps that have been in the news lately, such as the large one in Callais, France. There were also some art pieces on the same theme, such as lightboxes with images of war zones by Tiffany Chung.

tifanychung_lightboxescrop
[finding one’s shadow in ruins and rubble. Tiffany Chung, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art]

There was also a large world map with strings representing patterns of migration, along with sound and visual elements. Not surprisingly, a great many of those lines led to the United States.

20161122-img_2682

It’s a reminder that the U.S. has always been a welcoming country for refugees and immigrants, and will hopefully remain so.


There is always more that I saw and resonated with an I can fit in such an article. Please visit us on Instagram to see more of our latest visit to the MoMA.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015)

We lost another of our art heroes yesterday. Ellsworth Kelly, known for his iconic works composed of color fields, passed away.

Luna with Ellsworth Kelly book

The above photo features the catalog from his large-scale solo show at SFMOMA in 2002-2003. The exhibition was a bright spot, both aesthetically and emotionally, in an otherwise depressing period of time and made quite an impression. I kept intersecting with his work during my numerous art adventures in California. His paintings featured large color fields, sometimes combined together into a single whole, while other times separated, as in Blue Green Black Red (1996) on display as part of the Fisher Collection at SFMOMA. I had the opportunity to see a large retrospective of his prints and paintings at LACMA in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. This, too, was revelatory as it showed other aspects of his work, including black-and-white pieces and connections of his abstract style to nature.


[Installation view. Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings. January 22-April 22, 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo (c) 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA]


[Installation view. Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings. January 22-April 22, 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo (c) 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA]

 

It is still, however, the color fields that I most instantly recognized as his.


[Installation view. Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings. January 22-April 22, 2012. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo (c) 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA]

Kelly himself resisted being described as “abstract” or “minimal” or any other label that intersected with his career.  But I think this statement quoted in the New York Times obituary describes his art very well, and is a fitting conclusion.

“My paintings don’t represent objects,” he said in 1996. “They are objects themselves and fragmented perceptions of things.”

 

28 Chinese, Asian Art Museum.

Last week I finally had a chance to see 28 Chinese at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It was in many ways an inspiring exhibit and I had been hoping to write about it earlier than today – a series of unfortunate personal matters have gotten in the way of that. But it is nonetheless worth reading about, and seeing if you can this afternoon or tomorrow before it closes.

28 Chinese presents the work of 28 contemporary Chinese artists working in a variety of media. It ” is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of exploration and research by art collectors Don and Mera Rubell,” who met with 100 artists in China between 2001 and 2012 to learn about them and assemble works from their collection. The exhibition features famous artists like Ai Weiwei, but also up-and-coming artists such as Lu Wei, whose large-scale oil-on-canvas work Liberation No. 1 was among my favorites in the show.

Lu Wei.  Liberation No 1. Oil on Canvas
[Liberation No. 1, 2013, by Liu Wei (Chinese, b. 1972). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Liu Wei.]

It depicts a colorful and unfathomably dense urban landscape, even beyond what I experienced in Shanghai in 2009. It might be disquieting to some, but I find it welcoming. Lu Wei used computer software to generate the patterns which we then rendered as oil on canvas. Another work that made use of mathematical processes to direct traditional painting practice was Shang Yixin’s acrylic work 1061.

Shang Yixin.  1061.  Acrylic on Canvas.

[1061, by Shang Yixini (Chinese, b. 1980). Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Shang Yixin. Photo by CatSynth (Instagram)]

The artist uses the the square as the fundamental building block in all of his paintings. He uses precise rules to generate the patterns of colored squares, which result in different images each time. It seems he must be using stencils or edges to get such precise shapes and textures from acrylic.

An equally modernist but very different type of painting could be found in Zhu Jinshi’s Black and White Summer Palace – Black. The paint was applied using trowels to create a thick and presumably quite heavy topographical structure. It brought to mind the incredibly heavy painting The Rose by Jay DeFao.

Black and White Summer Palace – Black by Zhu Jinshi
[Black and White Summer Palace – Black by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Image from The Asian Art Museum’s Tumblr.]

There were quite a few interesting sculptural and conceptual works in the exhibition. One of the highlights was Zhu Jinshi’s monumental installation, Boat. It composed entirely of layered calligraphy paper and bamboo rods suspended from the ceiling. It was over 40 feet long, and visitors could walk inside of it.

Boat, 2012, by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Xuan paper, bamboo, and cotton thread
[Boat, 2012, by Zhu Jinshi (Chinese, b. 1954). Xuan paper, bamboo, and cotton thread. Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Zhu Jinshi. Photo by CatSynth (Instagram)]

Not as large in size, but also quite monumental in its weight was Ai Weiwei’s conceptual sculpture A Ton of Tea, which literally was a ton of tea compressed into a cube.

A Ton of Tea, by Ai Weiwei
[A Ton of Tea, by Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957). Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © Ai Weiwei. Photo by CatSynth (Instagram)]

The setting for this piece and many others was inventive juxtaposition by the museum of works in the exhibition with the more traditional pieces from their permanent collection. The contemporary works stood quite a part from the traditional, but was interesting to see a few thousand years of Chinese artist practice all together.

One more surprising and intense conceptual work was He Xiangyu’s installation Cola Project, in which he boiled down 127 tons of Coca Cola to create a highly corrosive black residue. He used this as an ink to create traditional Chinese ink-on-paper drawings. In addition to the drawings, the installation featured a case of the rather disturbing substance, and the even more disturbing photos and videos from the worksite where large industrial cauldrons were creating it. The scene suggested a poorly regulated industrial site, and the room was filled with an odor of burnt caramel (probably emitted from the drawings). It was a rather intense work. And fortunately I am not fond of cola.

Like any good exhibition, this one inspired me in my own artist ideas – especially the two-dimension works. It also made me reminisce about my adventures at galleries and art districts in urban China, such as Shanghai’s Moganshan Road, which I’m sure has changed in the 6 years since I was last there.

28 Chinese is on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco through tomorrow, Sunday, August 16. If you are in the area I recommend checking it out.

Back Door! and Romanowski at Fabric8

Two concurrent shows at Fabric8 in the Mission District of San Francisco touched upon topics that frequently come up here at CatSynth, highways/transportation and modern geometric design. They also followed two artistic styles that I associate with contemporary urban art: cartoonish humor and street art, and geometric architectural elements.

In Back Door! at Fabric8, artist Andy Stattmiller “visually expounds on the subject that San Franciscans love to hate: the MUNI transportation system”. And it is true, we do have a rather strained relationship with transit system we depend on in the city – there have been numerous times I have opted to walk because I felt is was more reliable. On the other hand, MUNI is a place where the colorful residents of the city cross paths and sometimes get squished together, and where one can observe the contrasts among neighborhoods and streets.

[Andy Stattmiller. 14 Mission.  Image courtesy of Fabric8.]

Stattmiller’s canvases featured individual lines from the MUNI system, mostly busses, which he populated brightly colored cartoon-like figures that simultaneously seem like real denizens of the city and creatures from other planets. The larger heads on the bus drivers were particularly fun. The busses themselves and the surrounding space take on different character of the lines and the neighborhoods that the serve. There is even a triangular canvas representing one of many steep inclines.

[Andy Stattmiller. 67 Bernal Heights.  Image courtesy of Fabric8.]

This was very much an show for locals, who could identify, and identify with, the individual busses and metro lines featured. People did seem to enjoy finding the piece that featured the lines they often use, whether part of their daily routine, or a particularly memorable misadventure. I did find a couple that I have frequented.

In contrast to the chaos and humor of Back Door!, Romanowski’s pieces in the concurrent show Bees and Things and Flowers had a very serious and ordered quality, and was quite calming.

[Romanowski. Le Roy. Image courtesy of Fabric8.]

Although several of the pieces are assemblages of found objects, they give the appearance of abstract sculpture or even painting. Indeed, one can see similarities in the patterns of the found-object pieces and his Installation of stencil on paper.

[Romanowski. Installation (stencil on paper, framed). Image courtesy of Fabric8.]

 

Some of the more intricate pieces, such as Le Roy, remind me a bit of Lousie Nevelson’s sculptures. However, while the abstract geometric designs feel modern, the use of mostly wooden found objects gives them an older feel. And as such, they seem to get in touch with the older architecture in many parts of the city.

Bees and Things and Flowers closed yesterday (September 5). However, Back Door! remains open at Fabric8 until September 12.

Angela Oswald, Hilla Heuber, Valerie Scott at SoCha Cafe

A few weeks ago I attended a group opening at SoCha Cafe. It is in the far southern end of the Mission District in San Francisco (or at the edge of Bernal Heights). I usually don’t find myself in this area unless I am on the short San Jose Avenue Freeway, but that’s a topic for another time.

One of the artists whose work I specifically came to see was Angela Oswald.

[Angela Oswald. (click image to enlarge)]

Her paintings have a surreal quality, organic but other-worldly. She also tends to use dark colors with a few light elements, a palette that was quite apparent in her pieces in this show. The painting in the image above also evoked an underwater landscape. These themes can be seen in her other work as well.

I was immediately drawn to two very geometric architectural-themed paintings by Hilla Hueber.

[Hilla Heuber. Blue Moon (2008).  (click image to enlarge)]

I like the clean straight lines of the images, and how they evoke structures and spaces within an imagined city. There are small details beyond the abstract shapes, like the standpipe in Blue Moon that add the sense of an urban setting. At the same time, she uses the color and geometry to play with our sense of space – they seem to be simultaneously interior and exterior views. (Indeed, the title “Inside Out” suggests that this ambiguity is deliberate.)

[Hilla Heuber. Inside Out (2008).  (click image to enlarge)]

Although not included in this show, Hueber also does photography. I liked her “remixes” of Richard Serra’s sculpture in Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park as well as her images of the photogenic Contemporary Jewish Museum here in San Francisco.

I was also introduced to Valerie Scott, who presented several large-scale paintings in the front room of the cafe. Her paintings were very abstract but intended to convey her “joy, depression and sorrow”.

[Valerie Scott. Untitled.  (Click image to enlarge)]

Her largest piece Untitled featured amorphous areas of primary colors (red, blue and yellow) with fuzzy edges. Although it appears vertically online, it was hung horizontally at the show. By contrast, Can’t See the Forest For The Trees focused on shades of green and more minimal gestures.

[Valerie Scott. Can’t See the Forest for the Trees.  (Click image to enlarge)]

Although the shapes were more sparse, the painting itself had a strong texture. It looked a bit like an areal view of a landscape. Some of Scott’s newer pieces (such as Mo and Blowin’ in the Wind, which I don’t think were part of the show) are quite different, and have much more defined shapes and sharper contrast.

Four Squared, Arc Studios

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Four Squared exhibition at Arc Studios and Gallery – I attended the opening and also visited again later when it was quiet. I present some of my thoughts and observations before the exhibition closes tomorrow, September 18.

The basic idea of the exhibition is that each artist contributes 16 pieces, no larger than 10 inches apiece, that can arranged in a four-by-four grid. The pieces stand on their own as individuals or as a whole, but in each case they 4×4 collection follows some coherent theme. Keeping the numerical theme going, there were a total of 16 artists, so there were a total of 256 (4 x 4 x 4 x 4) pieces in the exhibition.

There were artists whose work I was already familiar with, such as Silvia Poloto, Kristina Quinones and Rebecca Fox, and others who I discovered for the first time. Among the discoveries was Sidnea D’Amico:

[Sidnea D’Amico, installation view.]

Her pieces feature high contrast color and iconic elements representing household items, female figures and firsts.  Keep Out, Private, which its geometric and urban feel, particularly caught my attention, as did Still Life 4 for its simple shapes and color.

[Sidnea D’Amico. Keep Out, Private and Still Life 4 (2010)]

The pieces among D’Amico’s set that I particularly liked shared a sense of color and contrast with the purely abstract pieces by Silvia Poloto, whose work I have followed for many years.

[Silvia Poloto. Abstraction in Motion series (2010). Installation view.]

Hers were among the smallest in the exhibition, each one a miniature version of the elements that appear in her larger works such as concentric circles, soft-edged color fields, and tangled lines. The were very inviting, and I had to resist the desire to simply take one and put it my pocket. I doubt I would be invited to any more art openings if I did that.

Rebecca Fox is another artist who usually works on a larger scale. Her large metal sculptures have both a strength and simplicity, with the geometric shapes and smooth textures. Like Poloto, she has brought the quality of her full-scale works to these miniature panels:

[Rebecca Fox.  Installation view]

Each panel focuses on shapes that are round but not perfectly circular – both organic in terms of curved shapes but also mechanical in terms of the metalwork.

Molly Meng’s work in the exhibition is about as contrasting to the previous artists as one can get. Her mixed media panels feature found objects with a weathered quality, placing intimate personal objects, photographs and clips from newspapers and magazines, inside of weathered wooden boxes:

[Molly Ming. La Premier Phase #3, Phase Deux #3, and Phase Deux #4.  Images from Arc Studios website.  (Click to enlarge.)]

Meng used the arrangement of the grid to form a narrative, with each row representing a different phase of life. Each of the three images above were from a different phase.

Mitchel Confer’s series, entitled “IOU or not”, also is focused the stages of life, and in a very serious way. This summer, while preparing for the exhibition, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and the focus of his life changed to focus on taking care of himself and spending time with his family. He abandoned his original plans for the exhibition, and instead created 16 blank wooden panels:

[Mitechel Confer. IOU or NOT.  Installation view.]

Each panel is an “I.O.U.” of sorts. The buyer may keep the panel as is, or exchange it at a future time for a completed panel based on a series of sketches. If he does not recover, the panels become his last works of art. There is a very morbid quality to the project – but one I am not in a position to judge given where I am in my own life. But one cannot help but reflect on life after seeing it. I did like the sketches he did present, with their urban architectural elements.

[Mitchel Confer]

I went to review his website and saw that architecture and cityscapes are a prominent theme in his work. He also did a series based on freeways. Seeing that his visual interests seem to have so much in common with mine makes this story all that more poignant.

Other series that I did notice in the exhibition were those by Brian McDonald and Fernando Reyes. Both artists mentioned dreams as an influence and although quite different, their work immediately brought cartoons and comics to mind.

[Brian McDonald. Slippy (2010).  (Click image to enlarge.)]

[Fernando Reyes. Details XIII (2010).  (Click image to enlarge.)]

There will be a closing reception and artists’ panel tomorrow, September 18, at Arc Studios, 1246 Folsom Street, San Francisco, between 10AM and 3PM.