Thursday, February 26, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
She's a magic woman
SECA: Try to understand — the play is the thing in Desirée Holman's masked wonderlands
By Matt Sussman
SECA ART AWARDS
There is a lot of play going on in the work of Desirée Holman. As evinced by the handmade masks, props, and costumes that populate her multimedia pieces — a family therapy workshop comprised of dolls in 2002's Art as Therapy; a clan of Bigfoot-like sapiens in 2005's Troglodyte; and most recently, the estranged visages of television's Huxtable and Conner families in The Magic Window — an anarchic "let's raid the dress-up box" impulse is often her guiding force. Family sitcoms, pop cultural junk food, and mediated existence in a thoroughly televised culture are her source materials.
From Cindy Sherman's faux film stills and prosthetic body part augmentations to Paul McCarthy's return-of-the-repressed performances using all manner of foodstuffs and costume shop detritus, the act of playing dress-up has its art-historical precedents. While Holman's work superficially brings Sherman and McCarthy to mind (the influence of the former is certainly apparent in 2006's Bucolic Life, where she plays mother and wife to a mannequin family within a series of supposedly candid snapshots), her art is not as routinely fixated on confronting the viewer with the grotesque and abject.
"I can see why people would find my work creepy, but I don't see it that way," laughs Holman over the phone. Judging from the opening night crowd's response to The Magic Window — which takes pride of place at the SECA Art Award show — the most common response to Holman's work seems to be nervous laughter. But when Roseanne Conner resembles Leatherface, it's not hard to see why.
However palpable, unease is just a surface response to Holman's rough-hewn masks and bodysuits. As fellow Guardian critic Glen Helfand noted in an Artforum review of Troglodyte, the empty costumes of the piece's hirsute, apelike creatures "still channel our evolutionary connection to them" — a connection underscored by videos and photographs of the costumed creatures smoking cigarettes and dancing. No matter how funny or scary we find the ape family, we remain inescapably tied to them. Holman's art teases out these strange channels and treats them as invitations to play along.
This invitation to connect beyond familiar comfort zones — even if, as viewers, we are frequently stuck, costumeless, on the outside looking in — is what animates The Magic Window, a project originally conceived for and shown at SF's Silverman Gallery, which is showing work by Holman this April. Comprised of a three-channel video on one wall and colored pencil drawings on the wall opposite, The Magic Window takes its title from a 1939 ad campaign used to sell early, primitive TV sets to American consumers. But the name could just as easily be applied to the sculptural masks worn by Holman and her cast.
The video starts off with parallel narratives loosely modeled after incidents from Roseanne and The Cosby Show, and ends with both families leaving their respective screens to visit each other's homes/sets. For a finale, the two clans come together for a center-screen psychedelic dance-off set in a purely virtual space where everyone glows with a green-screen aura. (This aura effect is rendered beautifully through tensile wisps in Holman's delicate drawings). In other hands, the Huxtables and Conners would be mined for parodic laughs or used for nastier ends (see McCarthy's and Mike Kelley's assault on family life in their 1992 video Heidi), but Holman has a deep affection for her source material. "I personally like both television shows, which were really progressive for their time," she says. "And I really wanted to look at the similarities between the two families."
Holman's collaborative fantasy union — in which one of television's most popular, white, middle-class families gets down with its first-ever affluent, upper-middle class African American kin — could not resonate more with our country's current political moment. The Huxtables are now, in a sense, the First Family, and the notion of a "post-racial America" has never had greater currency or been as thoroughly debated. To wit, Holman recently revealed in an interview with the blog Future Shipwreck that she created the masks for The Magic Window by attempting to combine the facial characteristics of her cast members with those of the actors who portrayed the characters on television.
In light of the recent election and current events, Holman has, understandably, been thinking a lot about The Magic Window. "On the one hand, [it presents] a critique of reenacting something that is already a fiction," she says, when asked about the piece. Then, as if channeling the zeitgeist on cue, she continues, "But on the other hand — and more powerful for me — are the acts of hope that these families act out in the video."
SECA ART AWARD EXHIBITION: TAUBA AUERBACH, DESIRÉE HOLMAN, JORDAN KANTOR, AND TREVOR PAGLEN
Through May 10; $12.50 adults, $8 seniors, $7 students (free for 12 and under)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third St., SF
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
Artists Space, New York, USA
Entering ‘Paper Exhibition’ at Artists Space is like taking a leap through a distorted looking glass - or better through the hole in one of Job Piston’s cocktail napkins Untitled (Etiquette) (2009), included here.
The maze-like collection of lost, found and made-up fragments and artifacts, all of which respond to cryptic narratives, is mesmerizing - but it can also be confusing. Lucky, then, that Judith Braun’s drawing The Line Between Fiction and Reality (2009) functions as a guide to the exhibition. Taking on the longest wall of the central space, Braun’s life-size charcoal work is a response to the curator’s challenge to draw a line between reality and fiction. The wall-piece was drawn simultaneously with both hands, tracing concentric movements that work outwards from an empty centre. Most of the works in the exhibition, about 37 in total, depending on who’s counting and who’s counted (works seem to have the tendency to appear and disappear over the course of the show), linger in a similarly indiscernible centre that evades taking shape. Though not all of the works here are on paper, the uniting quality is an ‘exchange between the literal and the literary’ - as the press release puts it. The divisions between substance and content are floating, as in Mark Geffriaud’s Small World Hobbies (2007), which presents a delicate origami recreation of a crumpled piece of paper next to its original.
‘Paper Exhibition’ is oddly reminiscent of Morten Harket’s struggle between physical and paper versions of himself in the video for a-ha’s ‘Take on Me’ (1985). A similar struggle can be seen in Mariana Castillo Deball’s paper masks that adorn the other wall of Artists Space’s central room. Visage faux (2008) consists of 24 replicas of indigenous masks made from folded A4 paper. The masks originate from the pages of art history books, though all imagery has been erased to leave only blank pages and image credits. These pages were then folded to mimic the shapes of the masks they once depicted, and the captions that once classified the masks according to terms foreign to their original context define the abstract folds instead.
Shifting forms or the unstable essence of material is also a central idea in the work Trong Gia Nguyen’s Flaubert: Madame Bovary (Last Chapter-3062 words) (2009). Nguyen wrote the complete last chapter of the 1856 novel word for word on 3,062 kernels of rice. He collected the rice in a little bag that now hangs in the gallery space. The bag doubles as its own library card and has the information provided by a New York Library card imprinted on its surface. Like a Dadaist word game or the magnetic poetry on refrigerators, every movement of the bag creates thousands of new possible endings.
The collective speculation of curator, artists and visitors that characterizes ‘Paper Exhibition’ is united in a search for the missing masterpiece or the missing link, something that grants a fleeting yet momentarily satisfying feeling of comprehension and legitimization. However, this link might not even be missing, rather just masquerading as something else in the show. The show should possibly be viewed like Gareth Spor’s Dreamachine (2008), with closed eyes - and what counts is not the object but rather its reflection on the retina of the viewer. And to escape from the alluring abyss of confusion and bewilderment that opens up one needs only to open one’s eyes. Still, something stays behind, faintly staining our vision just like the repetitive sounds of Robert Rauschenberg erasing a de Kooning in Mario Garcia Torres’ recording An undisclosed month in 1953 (2007), which remains audible long after one has left the paper space.
Monday, February 9, 2009
February 5 – April 9, 2009
Opening Reception - Thursday, February 5, 5pm – 7pm
Hysteria is an elusive, psychosomatic, even mythical disorder, impinging on our physical, cultural, and moral concerns. It is often characterized as a mercurial state of disturbance that can be manifested in both a psychological and physical sense. The word “hysteria” comes from the Greek work hystera, a term applied to disturbances of the uterus. Addressing this topic, a number of contemporary artists have dealt directly with the work of European medical professionals Sigmund Freud and Jean-Martin Charcot by creating artwork that mirrors aspects of their studies. This exhibition will explore hysteria in relation to gender construction, feminine identity and pathologization, and sheer physical form given to the condition in the imagination of artists.
Artists in this exhibition:
Beth B, Zoe BELOFF,
Tammy Rae CARLAND,
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Strangeness abounds at Angles Gallery these days, where two technically exquisite, darkly fantastic bodies of work are paired. It’s been more than 10 years since Constance Mallinson’s last solo appearance in L.A., and this is Israeli-born Yuval Pudik’s first. The show is noteworthy on both counts, but mostly for its enduring, disarming qualities.
Mallinson’s approach to the natural landscape has long braided the contemplative, critical and collage-like; here she ventures into related terrain, with a more concentrated focus. In her four figurative paintings on paper, measuring up to 8 feet per side, human forms are defined entirely in terms of wood and natural debris: patches of bark, frizzles of roots, slender, twining twigs. The visual gamesmanship harks back to Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s famous composite portraits as well as to the spell-induced transformations of fairy tales, but with a more subversive edge.
One pair of figures is locked in intercourse against a stained white field, a shriveled apple core beside them. Another couple enacts the biblical consequence, expulsion, striding forward naked out of ashen depths. With tremendous acuity, Mallinson renders human anatomy out of the anatomy of trees — gnarled burls, sinuous knots and fungus-blooming bark. The gorgeous offsets the grotesque; homage tempers horror.
The beautiful “Wallpaper” comes as something of a reprieve, invoking far less psychic duress. In direct tribute to the sensual integrity of the dead and dying, Mallinson traces arabesques out of dried branches, split seed pods, faded blossoms and rotted pomegranates. The painting is bittersweet and ravishing.
Pudik’s graphite drawings, in a range of sizes, are a curious mix of the carnivalesque and cartoonish, with a little sexual deviance thrown in for spice. No figure or scene is carried to a logical conclusion. Instead, figures starting out with thigh-high boots and riding crops end up with palm trees for heads or twin cars jutting out of their collars. The rendering is skillful and convincing, a performance that matches the theatricality of the vision.
Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through Feb. 14. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
-- Leah Ollman
Friday, February 6, 2009
Silverman Gallery: Neil LeDoux - The Fountain of Giant Teardrops.
Comment by AB: Neil LeDoux tells me his paintings are based on a vision he had as a young boy. While wandering deep in the Louisiana woods one day, he saw a fountain within a fountain. He hightailed it back to where his friends were playing, took 'em straight back to see it, but nothing was there. With this hallucinatory incident as his guiding pyre, he concocts hauntingly engaging compositional configurations of seemingly disparate elements including the fountains he once saw, Duchamp's urinal, Tibetan wall reliefs, and even a little Jan van Eyck. The good news? They work. Check 'em out. Priced $400-$3500.