Secret Sister at The Pit

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Secret Sister, The Pit’s current two-person show featuring sculptor Jessica Jackson Hutchins and painter Rebecca Morris, is reciprocal sentiment made manifest. The affinity felt by both artists when they met in 1996 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has, until now, never been materially explored.

The exhibition often yields interplay between chosen mediums—within the proximity of Hutchins’ sculptures the golden grid in Morris’ Untitled (#10-17) (all works 2017), for example, is supremely tactile. Likewise, the glazes in Hutchins’ Drawn Onward, with their brushed, gestural application, read as paintings embedded in ceramic.

Within this symbiotic backdrop, Secret Sister doles out connection and discord in a pleasingly uneven ratio. The most glaring convergences are found between Hutchins’ freestanding glasswork Writing not Writing and Morris’ Untitled (#09-17), especially in their collision of color and form. Hutchins’ fused contours of white, crimson, and cerulean glass echo the nebulous juxtapositions of the latter—pink and white protozoa shapes here, red and white morel patterning there.

Upending this thread of compositional simpatico are Morris’ Untitled (#10-17) and Hutchins’ Stranger’s House. The former, a watery abstraction of white turpentine-thinned oil paint sandwiched between a black background and its textured grid is countered by the latter, a wall-mounted, blue ceramic sculpture crowned with white and sienna cylindrical forms.

Just as veritable siblings often bear superficial similarities that belie internal differences, Secret Sister is a story of overlaps and divergences that resists simple encapsulation. Importantly, the artists themselves selected the exhibited works, and are hence authors of the weaving of their physical and compositional registers. At times, the narrative that fuels Secret Sister is almost as engaging as the work itself, but is ultimately a patina on the material prowess these artists possess, regardless of any affiliation.

Image: Secret Sister (2017) (installation view. Image courtesy of The Pit. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, January 31, 2018

Vivian Suter and Elizabeth Wild at Karma International

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From a distance outside Karma International I could already discern a floating composition of yellow and sanguine red cocooning a cerulean blue. Upon entering the gallery I brushed against the imposing canvas, its lower edges draped unavoidably close to the doorway. Like this painting, the remainder of the works were similarly suspended from the ceiling or otherwise layered over one another on the walls.

Since 1982, Vivian Suter (b. 1949) has lived in Panajachel, Guatemala. The tropical climate and sweeping vistas of her lakeside residence do not so much inform as perform themselves in her work. Suter produces her paintings on stretchers, then un-stretches them. Liberated from constraint they bear the traces of their literally wild plein air creation.

In a comparatively moody composition (all works Untitled, 2017) one can easily make out a horizon split by verdant waters and triangular mountains, while others are monochrome washes that evoke sunsets, tree bark, or avocado flesh. Installed upstairs are four vibrant, adamantly geometric collages by the artist’s mother, Elisabeth Wild (b. 1922), that provide a structural counterbalance to Suter’s gestural methods. Compositionally diametric yet chromatically in synch, the juxtaposition is somehow blunt and subtle, as if to remind the viewer that the artists and artworks are genuinely related.

As I made my way back downstairs I noticed an incoming visitor was holding the front door open for someone. The sudden rush of air made the entire installation flow—canvases undulating, fleetingly lifting their edges to reveal otherwise hidden compositions. The movement of the paintings made tangible the invisible breeze, and with it the tropical flora represented in them. Just then I was there, in Panajachel, if only for an instant.

Vivian Suter and Elisabeth Wild runs September 15–November 11, 2017 at Karma International (4619 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016).

Image: Vivian Suter and Elisabeth Wild (2017) (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and Karma International, Los Angeles. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, October 25, 2017

A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace at Park View

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The varied forces composing A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace dovetail in a refreshing, intimate press release penned by its curator, Paul Soto, owner of Park View. The show’s invisible but omnipresent muse is Miguel Adrover, an ingenious turn-of-the-millennium fashion designer whose professional downfall was due, in part, to his inability – or unwillingness – to properly navigate the “noise” of financial, social, and political interests. In his text Soto relates the adverse effect that similar noise has recently had on his own art and life. He also concedes that art objects simultaneously perform philosophical and commercial roles, and are, as such, conflicted.

Correspondingly, many of the works here merge unrelated or incongruous elements, none more germanely than an untitled jacket by fashion house Gypsy Sport (2017). Casually hung in the gallery’s closet, the work is an amalgam of upcycled black mesh, oxblood nylon and common grey sweatshirt material. Nearby, Victoria Colmegna’s volubly titled wall vitrine* overlaps adroit sketches and an exquisitely rendered graphite and pastel self-portrait. Similarly synthesized are Dena Yago’s site-specific vinyl text works (REGRESSERGNI, INGRESSERGE, and EGRESSERGER, all 2017). Installed atop three of the space’s doorway arches, these word collisions enact a heightened self-awareness while traversing Soto’s apartment-cum-gallery. While additional contributions by Catharine Czudej, Dardan Zhegrova, Paul Heyer, Heji Shin, and Sam Grossinger echo these notions of fused imbalance, the diverging media and varying execution of the remaining works deliberately rattle this continuity.

Comprising 26 works by an array of 16 contributors, A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace often dips into cacophony, burying decipherable resolution within its myriad folds. Ultimately, though, this decidedly discordant operation mirrors the chaos-induced sentiment of Soto’s relatable words, leaving the feeling that an easily consumable and cohesive exhibition was never really the point here. Unlike Adrover’s clothes, Soto’s exhibition achieves a liberated and reflexive dialogue about the collective “noise” we must acknowledge, both within and outside the realm of art.

*Victoria Colmegna, #229. Super Senior Series: Schiller Schuller in Floral Selfhood Valley, 2015; #62: Who´s Who?: Will the real Jessica please stand up?, 1990; #35.Out of Control: Will Aaron Dallas destroy Elizabeth’s and Jeffrey’s happiness?, 1987; #66. Who´s to Blame?: Elizabeth is running away!, 1990; #41.Outcast: Will anyone speak to Molly Hecht again?, 1987; #17.Boys against Girls: Elizabeth and Jessica team up to fight there worse enemy, Boys!, 1988 (2016). Pastel, graphite, and pen on velvet and paper (commissioned portrait and original sketches by Jimmy Mathewuse, illustrator of the “Sweet Valley High book” series book covers); glass, steel, and PVC vitrine with lock-and-key, 26.38 × 35.75 × 3.75 inches.

A Spaghetti Dress for World Peace runs September 2–October 21, 2017 at Park View (836 S Park View St #8, Los Angeles, CA 90057).

Image courtesy of the artist and Park View. Photo: Jeff McLane.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, September 12, 2017

Mark Bradford at the U.S. Pavilion at The 57th Venice Biennale

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A heaving, distended mass. Muted collaged canvases. Menacing, intestine-like forms agglomerated or snaking up a rotunda. Monumental, crimson- inflected paintings. A video of a sashaying, anonymous figure. Thus comprises Tomorrow is Another Day, the trenchant and pensive odyssey that is Mark Bradford’s representation of the United States at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Stepping inside the Monticello-inspired U.S. pavilion, the viewer immediately negotiates Spoiled Foot (2016), a suspended room-sized, bulbous construction made from canvas, sheeting, and paper. Seemingly on the verge of buckling under its own weight, the work is held together by countless screws and washers, and resembles an inverted mountain comprised of lacerated flesh. The work’s title alludes to the deformed foot of the Greek god Hephaestus, who was rejected by his mother, Hera, because of his deformed limb, and thrown from Mount Olympus down to earth. This allegorical play reads as ironic, as Bradford’s relationship with his own mother was a vital and positive force.

Mythological allusions continue in the following gallery, which houses three massive, ink-hued paintings—Raidne (2017), Thelxiepeia, and Leucosia (2016)—whose compositions are made up of hundreds of collaged permanent-wave end papers. The material’s use lies solely within hairstyling, an occupation familiar to Bradford, who worked as a stylist in his mother’s salon before and after his CalArts education. His return to this form is a recuperation of personal language, retooled here to conflate what once was with the uncertainty of what’s to come.

Installed in this same room is Medusa (2016), a heaping mass of tangled paper, paint, caulk, and rope that frustrates the serenity brought about by the neighboring canvases. According to Bradford, Medusa is an allusion to the objectification of the black female body—she’s not a monster by nature, but made one at the behest of male desire and oppression. (1)

The site-specific installation, Oracle (2017), is situated in the pavilion’s central rotunda, functioning as the exhibition’s literal and figurative pivot. Materially congruous to Medusa’s serpentine cords, Oracle makes a nest out of the Jeffersonian architecture’s inherent slave-owning associations, writhing up its authoritarian columns, swirling around its dome, and occupying it almost beyond recognition. Any divination from this oracle is an upending of our nation’s history.

Dominating the fourth room are three monumental paintings, each a product of the densely layered and sanded-down technique for which Bradford is best known. Their exhumed crimson layers imbue a sense of dread or witness to malevolence—loaded associations of physical violence pervade Go Tell it on the Mountain (2016) in particular. The eponymous Tomorrow is Another Day (2016) centers on a black orb set against a dusty background, accompanied by smaller spheres and incised striations that elicit both molecular and stellar associations.

The exhibition’s final room hosts a single video, Niagara (2005), a slow-motion, static shot of a young black man in bright yellow shorts and a white tank top making his way down an unpopulated, littered Los Angeles street. His walk is flamboyant, and determined, situated between a hurried strut and a rebellious sashay. We never know who he is or where he’s going.

Beginning with mythologized personal narrative, moving towards adversity and courage, culminating with defiance and self-possession, Tomorrow is Another Day is a journey of determination that progresses while gazing in the rearview mirror. This doubled action functions as a mask, something that conceals as well as reveals, for “a mask is not primarily what it represents but what it transforms.” (2) Thus the power of Tomorrow is Another Day is cumulative; its layers shed themselves to reveal not only the artist’s uniquely American history, but how it can be applied to that of others from the periphery still finding a voice.

The exhibition title’s iconic words are also the last four that are uttered in the film Gone with the Wind (1939), a tale with not insignificant parallels to our day: a story of America at a crossroads; an era in which the country was unsure of its future, a time that witnessed the population at war with itself. Exploiting the ambivalent nature of the quote, Bradford mobilizes his Venetian Monticello to recondition his past, and in doing so, brings to task the duplicitous pretense of democratic inclusion. It’s no wonder then that he turned to Greece—birthplace of mythology and democracy alike—through which to filter what is inescapably American.

Notes
1 Bedford, Christopher. “Like A Loose Shawl.” Mark Bradford: Tomorrow is Another Day. Hatje Cantz, 2017. 121. Print.
2 Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Way of Masks, tr. Sylvia Modelski (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982), 144.

Image: Mark Bradford, Tomorrow Is Another Day (2017) (installation view). Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joshua White.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, Issue 9 (August 2017)

 

Blackout at Ibid

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Blackout, the three person exhibition currently on view at Ibid Gallery, is an exercise in imagistic complication. While these artists—Richard Hamilton, Carlo Mollino, and John Stezaker—have only minor overlaps as cultural and philosophical practitioners, the exhibition tugs at the common, if sometimes tenuous, threads in their work.

The show’s title dually refers to media suppression and memory failure. Though, largely dispensing with these literal definitions of the term, Blackout instead refers to obfuscations at play in each photographically-informed work; every artist can be seen here as a maverick interrupter of image legibility. This conceit is best seen in Stezaker’s collages Double Shadow LV (2015) and Shades (2016). Both consist of an upside-down image onto which a silhouetted photograph has been superimposed—a terse gesture whose use of the figure/ground relationship all but collapses it.

A painted city skyline occupying the gallery walls grafts a notion of architectural facade onto the show but undermines the interiority found in many of the works themselves. Richard Hamilton’s Italian Baroque Interior(1979), for example, is a collage wherein photographic and painterly representations of interior architecture converse and coalesce into a luminous, amber-hued whole. This emphasis of domesticity is echoed by the work of architect Carlo Mollino, whose inclusions, somewhat ironically, are not images of his angular buildings, but rather are portraits of women posing in various states of undress.

Seemingly the show’s outlier, Mollino’s images initially appear as the result of straightforward fashion shoots, yet the relationship between maker and model is anything but easy to parse. Indeed, the inability to easily unpack Mollino’s photographs, along with the associative collages of Stezaker and Hamilton, leaves a residue that is as vague as it is specific, as seductive as it is cerebral. Like desperately trying to recall a memory after a blackout.

Image: John Stezaker, Shades (2016). Collage, 9 1/4 x 11 5/8 inches (unframed). Image courtesy the artist and The Approach.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, June 21, 2017

Dianna Molzan at Kristina Kite

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Despite their spatial tendencies, the ten contributions in Dianna Molzan’s solo exhibition at Kristina Kite Gallery are securely anchored within the language of painting. While maintaining this medium-specific position, Molzan employs a flirtatious relationship with sculpture as a filter through which she can extract painterly potential, ensuring its dimensional aspects never stray too far beyond the canvas.

Such enterprise is most evident in a trio of totemic, vaguely cruciform works (Untitled, all 2017) installed on the main gallery’s west wall. Each is comprised of a monochromatic vertical substrate on top of which a gesturally painted pillow-like form rests, making for dramatic interplay between two opposing surfaces. Corporeally suggestive, each protruding “face” intently meets the viewer’s gaze.

Bulbousness is an oft-repeated motif in Usurpico, making appearances in all but three of its works. For instance, Untitled (2017), is painting at its most straightforward—oil on canvas—yet here morphs itself into a wooden frame supporting two green and lavender pillows onto which vibrant, magnetizing compositions have been brushed. Balanced, clean, frivolous, awkward, confrontational, and utterly accessible, this work, like its companions, manages tremendous potency with the simplest of materials.

Molzan’s simultaneous dedication to painting and seizure upon external material and conceptual realms makes for open ended resolution. As such, each painting exudes a sense of conflict—a comfortable unease with being at odds with itself. This is not to say that these works suffer from any lack of intellectual framework, skillful execution, or status as discrete objects—quite the opposite. Usurpico commands viewers to engage with its expansions and contractions, imbrications and dualities, and ultimately, with the very activity of painting itself.

Image:  Dianna Molzan, Untitled (2017). Oil on canvas with poplar. 30 x 35 x 7 inches. Image courtesy Kristina Kite Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Brian Forrest.

Originally published by Contemporary Art Review Los Angeles, May 25, 2017

@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. Beginning in 2015, 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’s 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’s 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)