I finished my spring grading in the wee hours last Friday morning, so I celebrated by dedicating the whole day — after waking from my first serious sleep in months — to various aesthetic pursuits. I started at the New Museum, which currently features four floors of shows that are right up my alley. Jeanine Oleson, Roberto Cuoghi, and Ragnar Kjartansson are all working with sound (as is Hannah Sawtell, in her lobby exhibition — which I somehow missed). Cuoghi’s primitive soundscape, played at high volume, in an immersive, darkened room, evokes ceremony and ritual; it was certainly entertaining — but when, on my way out, I read the supremely overwrought wall text, I was turned off by the pretension.
I found Kjartansson’s Take Me Here by the Dishwasher to be particularly captivating. The artist has hired ten musicians to be “in residence” at the museum, where they hang out on second-hand couches, lounge on mattresses, curl up in the corners, walk around in their underwear, drink beer — and, all the while, play a ten-part polyphony composed by Sigur Rós’s Kjartan Sveinsson. There’s an interesting autobiographical story behind the film clips projected on the east wall, but I don’t feel like getting into it. What was more interesting to me is the dynamic sonic space and the domestic “ambience” for performance. Visitors can walk amongst the moving musical parts — these ratty Brooklyn-model troubadours — so the acoustic and visual experience changes depending on where you’re standing. It reminded me a lot of Janet Cardiff’s 40-Part Motet, except Kjartansson’s piece is way more Fleet Foxes then Renaissance. This idea of “spatialized sound” was also central to his The Visitors, which I saw — and absolutely loved (as did nearly everybody in the universe, it seemed) — at Gagosian last winter. [Update: see also Roberta Smith’s similar comments in the 5/23 Times.]
And on the 2nd floor, Camille Henrot examines the aesthetics of classification, epistemology, and ontology. As should be obvious, she’s my kind of girl. Hers was the most exciting show I’d seen in a long while. I’d read about her Grosse Fatigue, the video that was a centerpiece of the exhibition, last year in Artforum, and I was thrilled to finally be able to see it in-person. As I tweeted on my way out of the museum, “we’re gonna be all over Henrot in my Archives class this coming fall;” her work is a perfect case study for so many of the themes that are central to the class.
In “Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers?”, the museum explains, she “translates books from her library into ikebana arrangements, connecting the languages of literature, anthropology, and philosophy with the equally complex language of flowers.” In another piece, “Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan,” Henrot displays pressed flowers atop the pages of a Christie’s catalog featuring, well, the jewels of Princess Salimah Aga Khan. As Henrot explains on her website, “Like herbarium sheets, the 135 plates featured in Camille Henrot’s piece Jewels from the Personal Collection of Princess Salimah Aga Khan present various botanical specimens — plants and flowers — gathered by the artist from the private flower-beds decorating building entrances on the Upper East Side, New York City’s wealthiest neighbourhood.” Here she’s playing with markers of wealth, beauty, femininity — and differential access to those symbols.
In both of these pieces, flowers — which are themselves subjected to classification and tagged with heavy Latin names — are used to function as a more evocative, aesthetic, symbolic language. As the museum writes, “Through translation as well as archival research and the creation of hybrid objects — apparent throughout the artist’s videos, sculptures, and works on paper — Henrot demonstrates how the classification of artifacts and the production of images structure the way we understand the world.” Her work is beautiful and deliciously cerebral — and I’m so glad to know more about it.
I then moved on to Chelsea, where I started with Robert Heinecken’s and Heimo Zobernig’s shows at Petzel. Eh. Then I stopped by David Zwirner for Oscar Murillo’s A Mercantile Novel, for which the artist has partnered with Colombian candy company Colombina — where generations of Murillo’s family have worked — to recreate a chocolate factory in the gallery. The company’s signature Chocmelos are free for the taking.
As Murillo explained to the Times in March,
[He] hope[d] to import 13 factory workers from Colombina…. The visitors would stay in two rented houses in Queens and commute by subway to the gallery to make chocolate, producing it on the same kind of assembly-line machine used back home. (Mr. Zwirner has agreed to buy the gleaming stainless-steel contraption from a German manufacturer.) But the workers need visas. ‘This goes beyond the art world,” Mr. Murillo said. “If they don’t get visas, then it changes.”
And according to the press release, “by turning the gallery into a fully operational production site, he opens up for considerations not merely about trade and globalization, but also about individual relationships and communities, roots and immigration. As such, the Colombina factory becomes a catalyst for a consideration of socio-economic conditions in the United States, Colombia, and beyond, while also inviting visitors to reflect on the nature of societies, both personal and universal.” I wonder how much reflection was going on. When I was there, the gallery was packed with people stuffing their faces and pockets with rather flavorless chocolate. I overhead a tour guide explain to his charges: “I’m sure the workers are thrilled to be here in New York!” The whole thing felt fetishistic and gimmicky to me — particularly because we couldn’t see into the production area, with all the pallets in the way. Instead, we watched the production line on videos in the gallery’s foyer — at a remove (even if only 50 feet or so) from the site of labor. The chocolate smell was really the only sign of immediacy; aside from that, the production might as well have taken place back in Colombia.
I then stopped by Andrew Edlin for Tom Duncan’s Portrait of Tom with a Migraine Headache, which features as assemblage of (auto)biographical sculptures. They’re like psychoanalytic graphic novels in 3D.
After that, I was off to Elizabeth Dee for Adrian Piper’s Probable Trust Registry. Just as Duncan’s sculpture invited us to peek inside his own brain, Piper invites us to examine our own conscience. We find three corporate reception environments, each representing a pledge: I will always be too expensive to buy; I will always mean what I say; and I will always do what I say I am going to do. If visitors can pledge to live by these rules, they sign a contract — one copy of which is to be kept, sealed for 100 years, in the Adrian Piper Research Archive in Berlin, and another copy of which goes to the signatories. At the close of the exhibition, all those who’ve signed pledges will receive copies of all the other signed contracts for that particular pledge. The only rule that I was certain I could live by was the first: I will always be too expensive to buy.
Then for a complete change of pace — from introspection to projection — I visited Peter Buggenhout’s Caterpillar Logic II at Gladstone Gallery. As the press release explains, Buggenhout “take[s] as his medium what he describes as abject matter — everyday materials that have been disassociated from their original uses and purposes,” and creates “looming structures, whose formal complexity and clear, predetermined internal logic, [are] revealed only upon closer inspection” (man, somebody forgot to proofread this press release!). The two pieces on display here — both called The Blind Leading the Blind, as is all of his work (in homage to Pieter Bruegel the Elder) — consist of old building and industrial materials and lots and lots of dust. The whole gallery had a very earthy, perfume-y, just-after-the-rain scent — which allowed me to project myself, or myself reimagined as a caterpillar, into these abject spaces, and imagine them as caterpillar architecture.
At Tanya Bonakdar, Meschac Gaba created another “projective” architecture: a global exchange market. He created market stalls featuring various forms of currency, symbolic objects, and raw materials — each representing its own system of valuation. I couldn’t help but wonder how we translate between these systems: how many gold nuggets for a cell phone, for instance? And how many devaluated African banknotes for a bag of cotton balls?
Global trade and abstraction of value were clearly central themes here. It seemed only fitting then, to enter Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery and find myself engulfed in vectors of string — abstract representations of flow. Robert Currie’s Viewpoints, according to the gallery, plays on chaos theory and complexity theory. What a wonderful coincidence that, when I was there, someone — maybe Currie himself — was “tuning the strings.” Installing this work was obviously highly labor intensive; what’s more, each of those acrylic strings, the gallery explains, is hand-painted. We thus see the persistent presence of the human hand, of manual labor, in these abstract “scapes” — both here, in Currie’s geometries of string, and in Gaba’s global exchange. Our view of those scapes and vectors also depends upon our vantage point — whether in the developing or post-industrial world, or, in Currie’s case, depending upon where we stand in relation to the installation: the vectors morph into different geometric forms as one walks past or around each piece.
And in keeping with the “capital” theme, I then saw Mika Rottenberg’s Bowls Balls Souls Holes at Andrea Rosen. Rottenberg, according to the gallery, has long investigated “the production of objects, units and value” — themes exploresd through Henrot’s, Murillo’s, and Gaba’s work, too. Here, she traces vectors — aligning her with Currie — between forces as seemingly disparate as “quantum entanglement, magnetic fields, global warming, and the production of luck.” Her work, for me, embodies the Butterfly effect: how might a drop of water hissing in a frying pan later impact a roll of the dice in a casino, or the selection of a numbered ball in a bingo hall, which in turn has the potential to radically transform an individual’s wealth — which in turn ripples outward to have potential implications on a global or intergalactic scale.
And speaking of the ascription of value — and mythical significance — to objects: consider Tunga’s From ‘La Voie Humide’, at Luhring Augustine. According to the gallery, the artist is “following in the tradition of Joseph Beuys’s ceremonial environments” — much like a bingo hall? — and relies “on a repeated use of symbolic materials such as crystals, sponges, rubber, wood, bronze, glass vessels, and ceramics.” He makes beautiful, anthropomorphic/talismanic, organic sculptures.
Similarly talismanic are Tara Donovan’s sculptures — one, an eight-part “stalagmite forest” (my term) composed of index cards; the other, a huge translucent, mutant koosh ball made of thousands of acrylic rods. “As in all of her work, Donovan spends months or even years searching for a method of assembly that allows the simple and immutable characteristics of the chosen material to generate complex, emergent phenomena which keep the viewer cycling between perception of the parts and the whole[, and] between the forms themselves and the light that surrounds and divides them.” Playing with accumulation and perspective, as was Currie with his strings.
And speaking of accumulation! Check out Fred Tomaselli’s Current Events at James Cohan. His paintings frequently depict a flood of consumer goods or media products, and his New York Times collages serve to differentiate the endlessly repeating iconography — the masthead, the lead photo, etc. — of the paper’s front page.
Jorinde Voigt also paints in response to existing texts — but her chosen textual references are more philosophical and theoretical. Her Codification of Intimacy represents her attempt to visualize — in forms resembling musical scores or scientific diagrams — the essential themes in Niklas Luhmann’s Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy.
(Almost) finally, to round out the day, I stopped by Rebecca Horn’s The Vertebrae Oracle at Sean Kelly. I hadn’t been to Kelly’s space since he moved from 29th Street; this new space is massive. The show consisted of kinetic sculptures, melding the mechanical and the sensual; and delicate paintings, whose marks look as if they could’ve been made by the sculptures’ moving appendages.
And speaking of object-based performances: I then joined Penny and a friend at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts for (O) and ((), Sometimes Played in Unison — a program consisting of John Cage’s “But What About the Noise of Crumpling Paper” and an original composition that asked the question: what sound does a circle make?
Other stuff that I’m not going to talk about because, let’s face it — this has gotten ridiculous: assume vivid astro focus’s kaleidoscopic paintings — appropriately titled adderall valium ativan focalin (cantilevering me) — at Suzanne Geiss; Richard Wentworth’s motes to self — photos that capture evidence of human life in urban landscapes — at Peter Freeman; Lee Bul’s futuristic sculptures and installation at Lehman Maupin downtown; Sam Moyer’s More Weight — stone slab installations and “wall works” — at Rachel Uffner; and Anicka Yi’s multimedia work — a washing machine scent installation! CDs dripping with honey! what?! — at 47 Canal.
Finally, on Tuesday night, Ran and I went to hear / see Elmgreen & Dragset at The New School.
And that is all. Holy Mary, Mother of God. I’m exhausted.