@richardhawkins01

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“I no longer considered objects from the point of view of their usual purpose but rather from that of friendly anxiety they offered me.”

– Jean Genet (1)

On March 2, 2017, Snap Inc., parent company of the image-messaging application Snapchat, went public and experienced an unprecedented first day market capitalization of $28.4 billion. (2) While some of the frenzy soon fizzled, Snap’s upshot evaluation serves as a reminder of society’s current obsession with social media. Snapchat stands apart from other apps in that it allows its users to share images and videos that self-delete, providing them with a liberated—and in some cases, delusional—sense that what is being transmitted is impermanent and untraceable after having been consumed. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the reasons for Snapchat’s ascent was its capability of transmitting nude selfies and other explicit material “free” from the policing and supposed permanence of other platforms.

Instagram, unlike its ephemeral competitor, is a supremely visual library, in which every post is catalogued along with its relevant comments and likes. As such, it demands that a fabricated persona surround each user, with each post adding to the patina of his or her particular brand of cyber-personality. More specifically, such a trove of sustained visibility enables artists to navigate Instagram’s decidedly image-centric universe, with certain artists employing the app as a legitimate extension of their studio practice. Indeed, the uses and abuses of lasting social media have been explored by all manner of artists, not least of which by Los Angeles-based artist Richard Hawkins.

Materially and conceptually, Hawkins is a collagist. Though he often ventures into painting and sculpture, his practice is foundationally collage-based: an organization of surfaces via the layering of disparate imagery as a means of creating a synthesized and outlined whole. The driving force behind such activity can be described as the aura of mediation. The spirit that mediated imagery emanates—its inherent pull, its production of desire, the unattainable ideal it often evokes—is perfectly suited to the channel of collage, as the coalescing of such imagery forges “an undeniable experience of syntax.”(3)

Richard Hawkins’s idiosyncratic and direct approach to collage is refreshing in its simplicity: a cleanly trimmed pic of David Bowie taped to a reproduction of Francis Bacon’s Two Seated Figures (1979); an image of a Japanese male model tacked onto an inked abstraction; cut-outs of Greek and Roman sculptures that reside alongside the artist’s Romanesque lettering. Such succinct yet fleshed-out relationships translate seamlessly to Instagram, wherein their imagistic strata can be constructed not only statically but also animatedly via gifs and videos. Since ___, Hawkins regularly produced Instagram work under the handle @richardhawkins01. On January 3, 2017, after reaching 137,000 followers, his page caught the attention of the app, and was abruptly deleted.(4)

Hawkins had knowingly (if not stridently) been pushing the boundaries of Instagram’s guidelines for indecency, as his posts almost exclusively incorporated images of virile (frequently nude and less often, aroused) young men, many of them self-promoting social media narcissists. A typical @richardhawkins01 contribution employed similar techniques of layering and superimposition evident in Hawkins’s physical collages. For instance, 2016-05-02 20.57.36 (5) features a shirtless man angling for a selfie surrounded by four Nick Jonas gifs with the word “moist” spelled out in rotating green capitals at the bottom (a spilling white liquid also makes a cameo). Though this relatively straightforward composition echoes the artist’s physical collages RRSPS and SJJSS (both 1993), most entries employed a more intense chromatic bravado coupled with a saturated use of web linguistics such as gifs, emojis, and stickers whose animated and obfuscating tendencies maintained the artist’s penchant for giving and withholding at once.

In his catalogue essay contribution to Hawkins’ 2010 traveling retrospective, Third Mind, art historian and critic George Baker states, “The primary act of collage, for Hawkins, is one of occlusion—covering something up, laying something over, the superimposition of parts and pieces onto a readymade ground, indeed, the translation or transposition of one ground, one image, or one surface into another.” (6)

If such obstruction in Hawkins’ studio work is a twinned source of syntactic image generation and desire production, it is doubly so in his Instagram output, in which animation plays a key role. Take 2015-12-02 05.29.32, in which a white rabbit jackhammers its head against the groin of a tattooed dude, whose semi-erect penis is revealed only when the rabbit rocks its head back in preparation for another blow. Similarly executed is 2015-12-01 15.15.51, which makes use of a muscled bro from thebananablog.com who is not indecent until the Akita concealing his junk winks and slides out of frame only to reappear a second later. (Similar to how dissecting a joke drains it of humor, detailing these posts belies their rampant LOL hilarity.)

Here Hawkins is disrupting the source imagery’s original erotic intent while retaining their apparent provocative qualities. It seems at times the artist genuinely lusts after these men while in others he overtly ridicules them, making it unclear if he wants to humiliate or fellate them—or both. This mirrors the multivalent effect of mediated desire—a distanced yet spectacularized hybrid of magnetism and frustration. As writer Bruce Hainley posits, “Hawkins has come to refer to this coexistence as ‘syncretism,’ which he defines as ‘an attempt to reconcile disparate and even opposing beliefs and attributes of previously separate gods or practices into one, both existing simultaneously.’” (7) This ambiguity, this performance of two tasks at once is a thread throughout Hawkins’ work. Indeed, the title of his 2007 retrospective at de Appel in Amsterdam was Of two minds, simultaneously.

With all the potentials such technology affords an artist, it’s worth pausing to focus on an aspect of Hawkins’s relationship to Instagram that fundamentally sets him apart from another artist, Richard Prince, whose use of the platform has raised many an eyebrow. Prince, for his part, monetized his account by taking screenshots of other user’s pages and then had them printed on canvas. Despite being squarely within the artist’s signature appropriative methodology, Prince’s social media appropriations were fabricated solely for circulation within the art market as luxury good signifiers of his participation within contemporary culture.

Conversely, Hawkins’s artwork was the medium of Instagram itself, and therefore a reflection upon of the very conditions of its own making—the only manner in which one could “acquire” the work was within the confines of a screen. A Prince-style commodification of social media was apparently never Hawkins’s goal, but rather Instagram served as just one of the many outlets the artist has employed to further his career-spanning investigation of mediation. Whether worked through collage, ceramics, painting, or social media, all mediums are equally privileged within the network that is Hawkins’ art; it is the forum of eventual consumption that dictates in what manner his work should be manifested.

Even after realizing @richardhawkins01 was blocked, I foolishly continued to check Instagram to see if the account had somehow been reinstated. Like bygone Snapchat posts, Hawkins’s catalogue had left the realm of tangible experience to enter into the ether of memory. Though each and every one of his works is stored on some server somewhere in the world, their current inaccessibility suggests the ephemerality of the internet; it is more like a pencil than a pen.

Hawkins recently launched another Instagram handle, @richardhawkins02. Interspersed between new and old erotic collages are quick snapshots of his cats, a couple awkward selfies and suggestive imagery framed with texts on current gay rights abuses. In all, its tenor has some of its predecessor’s flair, though it’s quite clear that the objective is not at all the same. When asked if he ever thought of trying to get the original reinstated, Hawkins simply replied, “Rather than fighting to get it back I’m enjoying the idea that it’s just a used-to-be.” (8)

NOTES

1 Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal (New York: The Grove Press, 1964), p. 127.

2 Caitlin Huston, “Snap IPO: Six things to know about Snapchat parent company as it goes public,” MarketWatch.com, Mar 3, 2017. Link: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/snap-ipo-six-things-we-now-know-about-snapchat-parent-company-2017-02-02

3 Rosalind Krauss, “Rauschenberg and the Materialized Image,” October Files: Robert Rauschenberg (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), p. 40. Originally published in Artforum, December 1974.

4 Richard Hawkins, e-mail message to the author, March 29, 2017

5 Due to the original posts’ lack of proper titles, the author and the artist agreed they would here be referred to here by their file names as kept in the artist’s digital archive.

6 George Baker, “Viva Hate,” Richard Hawkins: Third Mind (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2010), p. 45.

7 Bruce Hainley, “Slowly (2nd Draft),” Of two minds, simultaneously (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König,) 2009, p. 17.

8 Richard Hawkins, e-mail message to the author, January 27, 2017

Top Image: Richard Hawkins/@richardhawkins01 Instagram post dated May 2, 2016. Bottom Image: Richard Hawkins/@richardhawkins01 Instagram post dated December 2, 2015. Images courtesy the artist.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Issue 8 (May 2017)

Olga Balema at Hannah Hoffman

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The press release for “On The Brink Of My Sexy Apocalypse”, Olga Balema’s sensuous Los Angeles gallery debut, offers little more than an anecdotal excerpt from Jean Genet’s novel Our Lady of The Flowers (1943). While this sliver of the author’s gorgeous prose beguilingly portends the artist’s preoccupation with fluidity, the show’s title is more telling. Given the importance of liminal ruminations to Balema’s practice, it is fitting that notions of porousness and entropy fluctuate throughout her environmental installation.

Central to this trifurcated exhibition is a large room, its flooring covered with pale green linoleum, displaying several low-lying sculptures, including four mattress-like, PVC bags filled with water in which sundry items of steel, fabric, and paper are hermetically sealed. These works set in motion a course of invisible yet inevitable decay. It’s hard not to consider them as bodies; their internalized systems enacting digestion, absorption, and decomposition. Nestled nearby within a larger Day-Glo installation is the uncanny A thing filled with evil streams (2016), an oblong wooden block apparently supporting a partial ribcage replete with vertebrae. A battery-operated cell phone motor vibrates within a niche in the sculpture’s thorax, as if it were on life support.

The accompanying spaces further this current of corporeal allusion through several loose sculptures comprised of fabric, latex, and steel. These skeletal works exude a poetic force more sensual than logical, though not without their own intelligences. Like all the other pieces in this materially thrilling installation, these works don’t so much occupy space as invade it, as a parasite might attach to a host. And what has penetrated a surface must ultimately affect its interior.

Image:  Olga Balema, On The Brink Of My Sexy Apocalypse (Installation view)             Image courtesy of the artist and Hannah Hoffman.

Originally published by Flash Art, Vol. 49, No. 314 (May 2017), pp. 94-95.

Revalue, Reanimate, And Recirculate: Interview with Cooper Jacoby

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THOMAS DUNCAN: Though your work finds form in a wide variety of ways and continues to evolve, the notion of circulation is evident throughout. More specifically, you allude to systems of circulation and their potential for disruption or blockage: from acupuncture flow charts to drainage systems to bee pollination to the postal system.

COOPER JACOBY: You could say that choke points and clogs are where systems cease to be ambient. The fatigue between input and output, or the waste that escapes its joints, can contour the exchanges, scripts, connections, and scale of apparatuses that typically recede beneath attention. To detect leaks in engine systems—such as a car’s A/C system— manufacturers will inject a liquid dye into the part and then watch for this penetrant to bleed through all the hairline cracks, condense around the pinhole perforations, and pool in blocked valves. I try to approach other systems, other black boxes, in a way like this, looking for the traces of where they strain, what they leak, where they drain.

TD: Your work is dedicated to material as much as it is to concept. Do you set out to find new materials to explore, or do they come to you through your research?

CJ: Most of my focus in materials comes laterally, in non-sequitur ways. It gets redirected by applications, bizarre sub-industries, or histories totally askew of what initially guided my interest. Deliberately or not, a lot of attention is spent tracing how materials categorized as “waste” orbit through after-markets that revalue, reanimate, and recirculate them back as inputs. In following these streams from liquidation back to exchange, a sort of narrative streak becomes intelligible. One material that I’ve incorporated and tracked like this is Fordite—it’s essentially industrial waste made ornamental and wearable. It’s the sedimentary aggregate of layers of excess paint that would encrust on auto assembly lines and equipment when parts were sprayed by hand. After this process became automated and residue-free, many of the people who saved this material (mostly sub-contracted industrial janitors) auctioned it on e-commerce sites, where it’s then shaped into jewelry. Given the rarity of this pseudo-mineral, the speculative price for a limited resource has surged. It finds its way back upstream.

TD: Upcycled.

CJ: Sure. Where an upcycling, cottage industry polishes foul slag into a collector’s item, converting shit into gold.

TD: Further to that notion of materials, do they always harbor particular significations or are they materials that just speak to you? Like the potential toxicity of lead, for example, that you employed in your solo show, Deposit, at High Art in Paris.

CJ: I don’t typically think in those distinctions, but hopefully these two registers—reference and materiality—remain inextricably knotted in the work rather than easily parsed. Materials can be employed as relics, dramatized as raw evidence, somehow more immediate than representation. Or they can be retailed by their technique, like a trade fair demo, where it’s all about an evaporating novelty of, “Look what we can cut, look what we can print!” Often these treatments present objects that are far less potent than their actual counterparts, desaturated by being filtered through art. In the work you mentioned, lead isn’t exemplary as much as it is contradictory. Its total impenetrability against vision, its use as a barrier to the toxic light of radiation, is set against images of total porosity, the deep machinic gaze of X-rays encased within the damaged mailboxes. Consider how its surface slowly leaches a carcinogenic oxide, yet it’s a preventive, medical cladding. In this way, lead upends the polar terms of a “benign” or “toxic” material. These categories for diagnosing the material become even murkier, given the fact that what appears to be the “animate” subject—the living tissue in the dead hardware of the mailboxes—is in fact X-rays of an autopsied mummy.

TD: You mean that the imagery that appeared in those works, of the bones, was actually an x-ray of a mummy?

CJ: Yes. So the figure becomes invested with a sort of vitality as an image, yet it is un-exhumable, fully entombed. When learning that early X-ray technologies were calibrated on plundered mummy bodies, which could essentially be scorched in experiments without impunity, I began to consider how biological life could undergo a sort of reanimating phase change, from historically dead to visibly alive, from tissue to image, and the slippery idea of what’s the “living” substrate here.

TD: I find this relationship between the biological and the man-made a particularly engaging aspect of your work. Can you talk a bit about your more recent work, which is modeled on urban beehives? There’s an intriguing combination of sustainability and control in those works, one that will potentially be further explored and complicated in your upcoming solo show here in L.A.

CJ: Those works stem from an urban beehive prototype that the company Phillips designed as part of a “microbial home,” a luxury domestic ecosystem where the functions of the home are supported by appliances that run on symbiotic “natural processes.” In the original beehives, bees ostensibly fly into a biomorphic glass dome, wherein the apartment inhabitants can watch and eventually harvest the honey that the colony produces. Taking the shape of the optimized honeycomb membrane, I’ve remolded this cavity with scrap materials that have undergone transformations or several states, akin to how pollen is imported, digested, and regurgitated into the architecture of the hive. What’s harvested here is not honey but aluminum. The work composites the hive together as an exquisite corpse of this single material: bonding recycled aluminum foam, casts of hives in impure aluminum, and hexagonal heat sinks. Hopefully, the closed-loop bubble and design fantasy of the Phillips prototype gets somewhat contaminated by substituting the regurgitation of one resource with another.

TD: The systems you explore in your work are ubiquitous (the body, postal networks, doors, electricity). In essence, they offer a nonexclusive entry point into an intellectualized output—anyone seeing your work will already be aware of these systems, even if only superficially, but your work upends them, inverting or subverting them for its own purposes. Specifically, I’m thinking about the disruption of the electrical system in your past show at Kunsthalle Baden-Baden and Deposit at High Art, as well as the flooring context in Stagnants at Mathew.

CJ: The world’s hardware tends to obscure the many frictions that are internal to it. Exerting pressure on these interfaces is a way to raise the vein, so to say, on these sheathed, repeated processes. With both of the works you cited, the space’s infrastructure is stressed into visibility by rerouting different forms of circulation within them. In the case of the lights, it’s altering the input of current to the light fixtures so that the waste mercury calcified at the ends of expired fluorescent bulbs is overheated, glowing again like candles. In the case of the grating, it was approaching the exhibition as a sort of sieve over which people traverse, filtering human traffic as a passing material. Both induce a purgatorial state—either a stuttering between function and failure, or a precarious levitation where one is neither quite fully within nor outside.

TD: Moreover, you work from series to series and do not resuscitate bodies of work; you have a discrete working method, which results in a cohesive yet impermanent output. Is this because each exhibition calls for its own conditions that need not be replicated once staged? And further to that, do you feel the steel grate flooring in Stagnants that we were just talking about—which also appeared in your Frieze NY solo presentation—are two parts of the same output?

CJ: I wouldn’t say that I periodize my work with a sharp cut or approach it through the exhibition form alone, but restlessly shed and shift parts of work before they congeal into a modular template. Maybe because much of my focus is oriented towards how certain materials are digested, I often cannibalize my own bodies of work. Both the mailbox and gutter works are structured around how a diagram of a single anatomical figure—the acupuncture meridian system—extends through infrastructures that process remote inflows and outflows. To your other question, the floor that was originally in the Stagnants show was first used to compress an already small, open-sided space into an image, appearing continuous with its outside since the grating extended from the window to the back. When I found out that the foundations of most art fairs are built from the same type of grated steel platforms, I wanted to double this substructure back onto itself, making the suspension of the fair redundant and nude. By total happenstance, the substrate of the works on the wall—a high-performance paper honeycomb used as a filler in vehicles—uncannily resembled the cheap honeycomb cardboard cores of the fair walls.

TD: Right, art fair walls also employ an interior hexagonal structure, like the kind you find in doors.

CJ: Exactly. So the work created a type of skinned twin of the architecture, like a second glove in a pair, pulled inside out.

Cooper Jacoby (1989, Princeton, NJ) lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. Recent solo shows include Bait at Freedman Fitzpatrick in Los Angeles (2017), Stagnants at Mathew in Berlin (2016), DEPOSIT at High Art in Paris (2015), and White Flag Projects in Saint Louis, MO (2014).

Image: Stagnants (installation view), Mathew Gallery, Berlin (2016)
Courtesy of the artist and Mathew Gallery, Berlin/New York

Originally published by Mousse, April 10, 2017

Chadwick Rantanen at team (bungalow)

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When taking in the work of Chadwick Rantanen, death doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Yet, its currents ripple throughout Alarmer, the artist’s current solo at team (bungalow). Housed within the show are deer and duck decoys as well as fly and rat traps—items designed to facilitate the demise of living beings through attractive, and deceptive, strategies. In reality, though, Rantanen is less concerned with the end of life than in the deceitfulness and potentiality inherent to such objects.

Comprised of just six works that make shrewd use of team’s interior and exterior settings, Alarmer is by turns a continuation and a departure for Rantanen. Works such as Triple Play Motion Doves and Crow Spread (all works 2017) exemplify tactics of intervention and restructuring that have been central to the artist’s practice. These sculptures incorporate bird decoys whose battery components were retrofitted to accept Rantanen-designed adaptors, enabling AAA batteries to operate instead of AAs—an action that frustrates and ultimately deteriorates their intended functionality. To keep them active, the artist’s winged adaptors will need to be replaced by gallery staff and, eventually, their owners—making clear that for Rantanen, his art is not only the interrupted object set adrift, but also the temporal and quasi-site specific activity that it facilitates.

Unlike the artist’s manipulation of mass-produced objects, works such as Hanging Strips (Yellow) and Admitting (Green) are entirely of his own design. A multi-part flytrap and an oversize rat trap, respectively, they offer an abject take on objectified duplicity, even if their hardened glue is incapable of ensnaring vermin. Admitting (Green), the show’s most dissonant and engaging work, commingles allusions to a rat trap and a hospital admitting room, allowing that we are all subjects of deceit as much as we are perpetrators of it. Despite such caustic allusions, moralizing is not the takeaway from Alarmer, but rather it’s that Rantanen’s art renders unseen systems visible, highlighting that potential can be seized even in the most familiar of places.

Image:  Chadwick Rantanen, Alarmer (Installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and team (gallery, inc.).

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, March 30, 2017

Die Kränken at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives

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A form of nostalgia pervades artist collective die Kränken’s multifaceted exhibition Sprayed with Tears, currently on view at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. Its accompanying text states die Kränken (“the sick” in German) “strives for new strategies of queer radicality”—yet, their exhibition is surprisingly dedicated to the past. Sprayed with Tears centers mostly on the history of the Blue Max, a Southern California gay motorcycle club, and their fetishistic garb, ritualized performances, and subcultural codes.

Dominating the downstairs portion of the exhibition is a projection of die Kränken’s captivating reinterpretation of Blue Max’s annual performance. Installed opposite is a decorated bar that serves as an approximation of the Black Pipe, a now-defunct leather bar, and subject of frequent LAPD raids. Illuminating archival biker footage and multiple framed prints round out the installation. The second story mezzanine is dedicated to a suite of 16 adroitly designed bandanas that contemporize the hanky code, an antiquated means of signaling to others, precisely what your kink is via colored handkerchiefs.

That these emblems are of a gay male identity that is either bygone or evaporating as a result of homosexual assimilation into heteronormative society is of apparent frustration for die Kränken. However, their reevaluation here seems less an attempt at actual resuscitation than a stopgap measure against total erosion of certain gay lifestyles. As such, Sprayed with Tears functions more as a self-conscious throwback during an era of widespread gay visibility, and suggests that this very visibility will eventually be a corrosive force for queer subcultures. While die Kränken’s retooling of gay motorcycle club activities sheds light on prior homosexual appropriation of a straight counterculture, it doesn’t assertively suggest what such a model should be today—leaving one asking when does fetishized nostalgia end and new queer radicality begin?

Image: Die Kränken, Black Pipe Intervention (Video still) (2016). Image courtesy of the artist and ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, March 15, 2017

Creature at the Broad

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On the surface, museums dedicated to private art collections seem more like glorifications of investment than valorizations of creativity—though what comprises a collection makes clear on which end of that spectrum it truly is. When billionaire philanthropic and art-collecting duo Eli and Edythe Broad—whose surname appears on virtually every cultural edifice in Los Angeles—announced plans to build a museum to house their own art collection, it was more a given than a surprise. Yet the mystery lay less in the couple’s imminent desire to construct a monument to their art holdings and more in how this collection-cum-institution would actually function in an age of global museum expansion and private foundation proliferation.

At the time of the Broad’s inaugural exhibition, the reviews were almost exclusively negative, with many critics pointing out the installation’s safe, art market-approved homogeny. It is true that the collection is overwhelmingly comprised of blue-chip, auction-sanctioned art; however, “markets always distinguish between what’s salable and what’s not, but they can’t calculate quality.”1 Thus the real question is: Can vital, culturally significant exhibitions be mounted purely from such dedication to art’s established markets? If Creature, the current exhibition at the Broad, is any guide, the answer is probably not.

Regardless (or possibly because of) the collection’s oft-cited limitations, Creature’s thesis seems willfully porous. Its introductory wall text states, “We navigate constantly a fluid zone between our instincts and our learned behaviors,” and goes on to posit that “art can reframe—at times even rupture—preconceived or stale notions about what it means to be human.” Certainly, the conflict between our instinctual, desire-driven selves and the body as a physical, mental and social construct makes for an intriguing and fertile exhibition context. Yet such curatorial succinctness was either unattainable or was simply not the goal here, as the wall text goes on to state, “this exhibition examines the wide-ranging terrain of creaturely life, from everyday animals to extraordinary monsters to human beings.”

With these additional obfuscating layers, Creature becomes a nebulous, rambling display that is essentially split into three commingling divisions: tension between subjectivity and societal systems (Baselitz, Golub, Wojnarowicz), corporeal spectacle (Houseago, Koons, Murakami), and zoological allusions (Balkenhol, Basquiat, Vaisman). Unsurprisingly, the latter two’s respective sensationalistic and non-human qualities irreparably compromise the integrity of the former. For instance, Andy Warhol’s The Kiss (Bela Lugosi) (1963), which opens the show, is an appropriated image from the 1931 film Dracula, in which the titular vampire prepares to feast on his female victim. In this context, Warhol’s screenprint sets an unshakable art-as-spectacle tone, one that is echoed by Thomas Houseago’s monstrous Giant Figure (Cyclops) (2011), Tony Oursler’s suspended cloud Dust (2006), and Takashi Murakami’s inexcusably misogynistic sculpture Nurse Ko2 (Original rendering by Nishi-E-Da, modeling by BOME and Genpachi Tokaimura, advised Masahiko Asano, full scale sculpture by Lucky-Wide Co., Ltd.) (2011). The exaggerated and uncanny nature of these and other works injects the physical aspects found in the work of Kiki Smith and Cindy Sherman—to name just two—with a debased, overly theatrical tenor.

This is not to say that Creature does not incorporate exceptional artwork. In addition to excellent pieces by Georg Baselitz, Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman, and Ellen Gallagher, is David Wojnarowicz’s Late Afternoon in the Forest (1986), perhaps the one work in the show that perfectly ticks all three of Creature’s thematic boxes. It makes sense, then, that it appears both at the beginning and end—due to the show’s circular layout viewers experience this particular work twice. The Broads own at least three of Wojnarowicz’s works and, according to the museum’s website, they were acquired in 1986, a time when the openly gay artist was authoring intensely personal, visceral reactions to the AIDS crisis era in which he lived (he died from the disease in 1992). His work’s inclusion here is an absolute highlight, one that is tinged with the sadness that seemingly very few works of this kind of zeitgeist vitality have found their way into this collection.

Put simply, Creature favors spectacle over substance. As a result, continually urgent issues of race, gender, sexuality, and governmental power that could have been more potently explored are either ignored completely or are dealt with in a sublimated manner indicative of “the synthesis of contemporary art, spectacle and tourism that has already triumphed in much of the world,”2 leaving the show’s potential for examinations of “the body” in any other sense than corporeally largely untapped.

Notes

1 Knight, Christopher, “An early look in the Broad museum reveals a show that doesn’t quite gel,” Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2015. Link

2 McDonough, Tom, “Complacency in Crisis: On Jeff Koons at Versaille,” Texte Zur Kunst 73 (March 2009), p. 156.

Image: David Wojnarowicz, Late Afternoon in the Forest (1986). Courtesy of the Broad Art Foundation and the Estate of David Wojnarowicz.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Issue 7 (February 2017)

Sam Durant at Blum & Poe

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Last fall, Los Angeles-based artist Sam Durant built The Meeting House, a temporary structure that served as the framework for several “lyceums” (lectures, performances and poetry readings) on the history of African-American relations to Concord, MA, where the project was staged. Build Therefore Your Own World, the artist’s current solo exhibition at Blum & Poe, largely stems from the activities that took place during the project’s run. The result is a densely layered, demanding installation in which disparate histories and narratives are woven together to form new, synthesized wholes.

Appearing first is Every spirit builds a house, and beyond its house a world…Build therefore your own world (2017), an enormous, four-part installation in the form of a wooden house that is constructed from the floorboards of The Meeting House. Painted on each partition are texts by four African-American poets that were commissioned for the Concord project, setting the literary-minded and racially-conscious tone of the show. These allusions to the inseparability of race from the written word are repeated elsewhere in the exhibition in works such as Erasure, Appearance (Garrison’s Walking Stick, Thoreau’s Pencil) (2016) and Transcendental (Wheatley’s Desk, Emerson’s Chair) (2016), in which items owned by Concord’s transcendentalist writers penetrate those owned by former slaves, astutely suggesting that the freedom of thought enjoyed by writers such as these and the history of black servitude are inextricably linked.

While Durant’s fused histories successfully underscore America’s centuries-spanning intractability with race, the exhibition frequently buckles under the weight of its myriad literary, cultural, social and historical references. Though these multifarious allusions reflect the complexity and uneasiness of the subjects explored here, reading of the checklist’s didactic blurbs and diagrams is a prerequisite for full engagement with them. As a result, navigating the exhibition can at times be more frustrating than rewarding.

Image: Sam Durant, Build Therefore Your Own World (Installation view). Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Photo: Joshua White.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, February 1, 2017