Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Posts Tagged ‘photography

Four Facts: Light Years at the AIC

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I’m going to experiment with a new, more regular (hopefully) feature to summarize the exhibitions I come across.  (I still plan on a series of posts about private collectors who build museums for their collections, because “that shit cray.”) Also meet my colleague and art world partner in crime: Bonnie O; she’s going to be blogging about her art adventures (of which she has many).

Trying to get a few more days out of my leather Jacket.

This Week’s Four Facts:

Light Years: Conceptual Art and Photography, 1964-1977
At the Art Institute of Chicago, through March 11

1 – Early Eleanor Antin work is in the show, and it’s great to see something other than her historical tableaus.  Although a personal goal of mine is to be in one of those photo shoots.  I look great in a toga, Eleanor! Read the rest of this entry »

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Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

As promised, part two of the “gay” shows at LACMA.  But first, let’s discuss the gift shop that bridges the Eakins exhibition with the Opie exhibition.  LACMA, it seems, has been getting more and more brash with their gift shops, Pompeii’s gift shop was a smorgasbord of Italianate tourist crap, at least the Baldessari giftshop had some integrity with those clever erasers.  Let’s let the pictures speak for themselves.

Porn set or museum gift shop?

Okay I’m not really going to let the pictures speak for themselves; just look at those lockers! This is no longer a museum giftshop but a cheap set from a gay porn that takes place in a lockerroom.  Yes you can buy some related books on the two artists, and yes you can purchase some limited-edition Opie prints, but you can also buy LACMA jerseys and LACMA gym bags (sorry you can’t buy them online).  Why would anyone want to buy these items, especially when they don’t even have Baldessari’s logo on them?  When I asked the giftshop attendant if anyone had purchased a LACMA jersey, she said that to her knowledge no one had.  Hope they didn’t order too many of those LACMA jerseys.

Figure(s) and a landscape.

Out of the gift shop one enters into the Opie exhibition.  I don’t know whether I came in through the end, or should have gone through the other way, but I don’t think it mattered.  The first landscapes I saw were a series of surfers from 2003.  Several large framed photos were hung together to create a long horizon; the images practically disappeared into the muted blue walls of the gallery. In another gallery, sunlight (through glass bricks, a building material I think is SO eighties, but is apparently LOVED here in Chicago) illuminated the space and several river and forest landscapes. Sort of boring, where’s the gay stuff?

Contemporary symbols of masculinity waging battle.

In the last room, a cavernous space in the Art of the Americas building, which is usually arranged with temporary walls, was the “gay” stuff: photographs of football players.  High school football players, so let’s be careful because some of these jocks are still jailbait.  This is the major content of the show.  Wide compositions of helmeted players attempting firstdown look like epic battle scenes in this scale, especially compared to TV coverage of games which is usually areal views.  These large landscapes (with figures in them) are punctuated in the room by close up portraits the young men.

My friend who accompanied me (and who also has a thing for highschool football players) was torn between his attraction to these young men with their virile athleticism, and the fact that most of them had disgusting braces, and bad cases of acne.  I wondered if the subjects of these portraits know who Catherine Opie is, that she’s a lesbian, and that she had turned them into objects of homosexual desire, or at least objects of my friend’s homosexual desire.  Like a good blogger, I also wondered where all these photos had come from.

Hot and on loan: Tyler and Sean J.

Tyler (2007) and his farmer’s tan had come from across town, from the Hammer, many of the photos were here courtesy of the artist and her gallery.  Two of these portraits are on loan from private collectors.  The Justin-Bieber-haired Dusty (2007) had been loaned from Gerry Rich, and the ab-displaying Sean J (2008) had come from Eugene Sadovoy. Here is a funny headline about Rich considering this discussion, as well as some shots of his abode.  And Sadovoy seems to like California artists despite being an Eastcoaster who works for the Guggenheim.

The exhibition was curator by the still-new-ish Wallis Annenberg Photography Department curator Britt Salvesen.  I must say I much prefer this show to some of her previous work at LACMA.  Compared to New Topographics the scale of the works compared to the scale of the space is much more appropriate.  No tiny black and white photos on huge white walls here.

– H.I.

Dennis Hopper: Double Standard

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Museum of Contemporary Art

Title work, a visual pun

It’s been a long while since we (yes, the royal we) posted about a MOCA exhibition, which is sad since it was the museum that was closest to where I used to live in LA.  A lot has happened since Collection: the First 30 Years opened not so long ago.  MOCA is under new management, Jeffery Deitch from New York.  Changes are afoot, and Deitch wasted no time organizing new exhibitions. The show is curated by (non-MOCA employee) Julian Schnabel, who like Hopper, is also a director slash artist.  The show is, of course, Dennis Hopper: Double Standard.  The show was being organized while the famous director/actor/artist? was still alive, but sadly Hopper passed before the show opened in the beginning of July.  The show is presented at the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo.

You enter the space down a flight of stairs and immediately see the ass of a large colorful sculpture of a man in a sombrero.  This retrospective is not organized chronologically which I actually don’t mind in the slightest, the groupings are thematic or organized by medium.  There is a combination of large-scale sculptures, photographs and other media in the first room—an introduction to all the kinds of media that Hopper dabbled in.  As previously mentioned, the first thing you see is the ass of Salsa Man (2000) a massive pop sculpture of a mustachioed man holding a tray.  You have to walk around the man to see him frontally which is the kind of curation that demands movement.

Salsa Man’s big ass.

This movement gets visitors to the wall text, which is actually chalk full of information, but is still all the info provided for the whole show. Some things at MOCA will never change.  Other than thanking the sponsors (duh the Broad Foundation, which doesn’t own any Hopper works), the intro walltext also gives a concise rundown on the works in the show.  It explains Hopper’s interest in AbEx, how all but one of his AbEx paintings were destroyed in a fire, which begs to question: Where is this one painting MOCA?  It also explains the gap in Hopper’s artistic production from the end of the 60s until ’81.

Salsa Man is paired with a sculpture on the same scale Mobile Man (2000), both face out away from the rest of the exhibition towards the large garage doors of the gallery space.  This seemed odd to me, until I looked at photos from the opening reception where the garage door was open and people entered the exhibition that way.  This enforces speculations about the purpose(s) of this show, is it really to promote this artist?—Or to be attendance booster? And what kinds of people (Hollywood types) is Deitch trying to get involved with MOCA? Regardless the garage space in interesting considering its similarity to Hopper’s mixed-use home/workshop space out in Venice.

Can I get away with the word “Bomb” on my blog?

The second room is dominated by Bomb Drop (1967/68/2000); I have no idea what the slash in the date is for (maybe it is a recreated piece) thanks for the explanation MOCA.  The piece is very reminiscent of that Oldenberg Swiss Army Knife Boat (that wonderful prop).  This is pretty much characteristic of Hopper’s work, it was obviously inspired by other artists, many of whom he was besties with.  This room seems to be devoted to Hopper’s dabbling (yes I’m going to use this word multiple times) with Pop Art.  A Coca Cola Sign (1962) hangs in this gallery.  It is labeled as a “found object,” which begs to question the authorship of the piece, did Hopper even consider this one of his works, or was it something he had in his house that he hung on one of his walls?

I’m not sure you’re telling me this is art MOCA.

The next two rooms, and my favorites, were all about photographs.  The curators used the whole length of the walls and hung works on high and on low (much more stimulating than hanging them all in a row at the standard level).  The photographs were clustered into themes: Pop Images, Civil Rights, Spain and Bullfighting (very Manet), Celebrity Friends, Artist Friends…Instead of having labels on the wall visitors were provided with laminated cards attached to a ring (kinda cheap) with all the info listed there.  It was a fun game (for a while) to focus on one photo and attempting to find its label on the laminated sheets.

Hopper’s sexy celebrity friend, Paul Newman.

The most telling clumping of photos was the ones of Hopper’s celebrity artist friends.  Present were: Larry Bell, Bill Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Allan Kaprow, Craig Kauffman, Ed Kienholz, Claes Oldenberg, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol.  (Notice a lot of big LA names—who’s looking forward to PST?—I am!)  This wall of famous artist friends is very telling about the kinds of people Hopper surrounded himself with, and makes a lot of sense when examining his artistic practices.

Big paintings?

Following the two photography rooms, was a room with three humungous paintings.  All of them were blown up versions of photographs from the previous room.  The title work Double Standard (2009) was accompanied by Biker Couple (2000) from a ’61 photograph, and Rope (2003).  I wonder if Double Standard was commissioned specifically for this show, it’s unclear how these works were executed, and whether Hopper actually painted them himself, or if they were just printed on huge canvases.  No collection or other notation is mentioned on the labels for these works.

At the back of the gallery is a dark theater with seating where there is a selection of movie clips called “Excerpts on Freedom” edited by Julian Schnabel.  It features clips from movies Hopper either acted in or directed: Easy Rider, The American Dreamer, Out of the Blue, Apocalypse Now, Giant, The American Friend, True Romance (damn that’s a lot of imdb links).  This theater acts as a kind of footnote: oh yeah and Hopper was an actor and director.  But wait, that’s what he is actually most known for, you’re trying to convince me he was an artist remember MOCA.

Warhol hiding behind a flower.

Another wing of the exhibition features additional large scale photorealistic paintings.  Henry Geldzahler (2009) form the Met, and Lichtenstein (2000) no collection mentioned hang with Warhol with Flower (2004) from a ’63 photograph in the other room.

The exhibition as a whole was much better than expected, I thought that the curators might attempt to deemphasize Hopper’s influences (his artist friends) and promote Hopper as more original then he really was.  The show is very honest; the writing is on the wall: in the form of Hopper’s portraits of his famous artist friends.

And now for your delight I present a complete waste of money spent shooting and editing a girl flipping through the Hopper exhibition catalogue.  Really? Really!  Is this necessary for any reason MOCA?

Thumbing Through Hopper from MOCA on Vimeo.

– H.I.

Oh and in case you missed it, MOCA has a blog. Who knew.  The curiously titled The Curve looks like it is fairly old, but didn’t go public until fairly recently. And look they do posts just of installation shots (I’m sure a lot of work went into crafting this post).  Now you don’t even need to go see the exhibition.

New Topographics: Photos of a Man-Altered Landscape

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

LACMA’s New Topographics, which runs through January 3, is a recreation (but actually a curation of a curation) of a show that was originally presented in the Rochester New York at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, in 1975.  Apparently the originally show drew a limited amount of viewers: it was winter, and there was a lot of snow…The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson decided this show was so pivotal that they wanted to recreate it and bring the show to several venues, one of which was LACMA.

The show at LACMA was curated by Edward Robinson, but Britt Salveson probably had a lot to do with the shows incarnation at LACMA as well.  Salveson was the director and chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography.  Somewhere around the time of this show coming into existence Salveson was sucked up into LACMA and is now the head of both the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography and the Department of Prints and Drawings. Check out an interview with Salveson here.

LACMA has spent a lot of time and effort on this show, as is evidence to the mini webpages devoted to each of the ten artists in the show found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Further tribute to the importance LACMA now places on photography is the space that New Topographics inhabits.  The second floor of the BCAM is half taken up by New Topographics, the other half photographic self portraits (this is the first time the whole second floor of BCAM has been all and only photography.)

The space is actually immense when considering the size of the exhibition.  LACMA brags that the two thirds of total work from the original exhibition is in this reincarnation.  This is an impressive number; however LACMA has two times as much gallery space compared to the Eastman House.  Yikes, this means a lot of white wall.  The many colored walls of Your Bright Future have been reformed back into the blinding white cube.

White cube diagram of New Topographics

Despite the several issues with labeling, and the issue of curating an already-curated show, I mush say I think the curator was very creative in dealing with the issue of massive space and a smaller amount of content.  In some rooms this was done better than in others.

Room 1:

Rows of homes: Adams, “Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973”

This room was given to Robert Adams.  A single line of same sized photos hugged two walls drawing the eye along from left to right.  Several vitrines had an awkward presence in the room.  These vitrines were there for context apparently, Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, and several other Rucha books were included to show how the design of these books influenced the exhibition catalogue of the original New Topographics.  These vitrines seems like a bad way of filling an otherwise sadly empty room, and the things inside the cases were not clearly defined as not being part of the original exhibition.

I love you, but why are you here?--Ruscha’s “Every Building”

Room 2:

Modern city: Nixon, “Buildings on Tremont Street, Boston, 1975”

This room was very evenly spaced: two walls each for the two artists, Nixon and Gohlke. These photos weren’t in any particular dialogue with one another.  I thought the Gohlke spoke more to the Adams in the previous room or to the Wessel in the following room.  Nixon’s photographs of Boston were some of my favorite works in the show, clean and new and seemingly promising.

The Gohlke works brought up an interesting point about the information provided. The work below on the right had a caption which said the photo was taken in ’74, and that it was printed in ’75.  Was LACMA bragging about having one of the original photographs?  I noticed that the curators were irresponsibly inconsistent with providing this information and distinguishing the dates these photos were printed, and informing the viewers what was an original print.

Concrete Jungle: Gohlke, “Landscape, Los Angeles, 1974” x2

Room 3:

Freakishly Empty Los Angeles: Wessel, “Hollywood, 1972” x2

The Wessel photos in the next room spoke volumes to the Gohlke not just because they both featured barren Los Angeles Landscapes.  These amused me for a while trying to figure out their locations, they are all so seemingly familiar, and also very nondescript.

Barren landscape: Baltz, “South Corner, Riccar America Company, 3184 Pullman, Costa Mesa,” From the series New Industrial Parks, 1974

Baltz’s work was also in this room across from Wessel.  His series of buildings from industrial park in Irvine were clustered together in a grid in the center of the wall, which for a minute almost distracted me from the inappropriately high white ceilings.

Lying about their size: Shore, “Proton Avenue, Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, August 18, 1974”

The third photographer featured in this room was Shore.  These photos stood out because they were the only in the show that were color photographs, and they were big.  I was informed that at the time these photos were originally taken such large-sized color photos would not have been possible to print, so clearly these were printed more recently, a fact that LACMA curators did not point out.  Nor did they point out the fact that they had changed the scale of the photos which dramatically impacted my reception of the work.  Shame shame.

Room 4:

Not enough views to fill the space: Deal, “Untitled View (Albuquerque), 1974” x3

Deal’s many untitled views of Albuquerque attempted to flood an entire wall in this room, barely managing to fill the space. And then finally a successful attempt at filling the space.  The curators attempted the same corner-hugging line of installation used in room one with the photos by Schott.  These photos were all from a series where Schott documented Motels along Route 66.   The crazy architecture of these buildings flows from image to image around the corner like following an arrow-shaped street sign.

Kicks on Route 66: Schott, “Untitled,” from the series Route 66 Motels, 1973 x3

Room 5:

This room was entirely used for the husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher, artist nine and ten.  The series of mine architecture and coal manufacturing plants were hung in groupings.  One of the works in this room was from the original New Topographics (the tarnished silver frame signified this) was actually a series set into a grouping in the same frame.  All the other works in addition to being hung on high, stark white walls, were also framed with in white frames.  Oh the little details like frames!

Serial photos: Bechers, “Loomis Coal Breaker Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, 1974”

After this last official room of the works from the original New Topographics came two other (what LACMA would say were) contextualizing rooms.  In the one room with windows opening up onto Wilshire Boulevard were works by Smithson, Graham and my favorite Turrell.  The Turrell piece was a sort of ephemera from his Roden Crater project which makes me go crazy whenever I think about it.

In the final room, which was a kind of screening room was the space created by the Center for Land Use Interpretation.  On the far wall was projected a commissioned piece about oil and landscape with a bench set in front of it. Along another wall were two computers for viewing the Center’s website. Plastered above the computers where poster for some of the center’s previous exhibitions which looked like a college student’s dorm room.  And obnoxiously there was another living room type space.  I mentioned this in the Beuys inquisition were LACMA curators set up an awkward sitting area with cushy chairs and reading materials.

So final conclusions:  The photographs in the exhibition spoke for themselves; there was no need for all the extra stuff that was supposed there for context. Sure there was a lot of white walls, but if the curators had just embraced the white expanse full heartedly instead of half-heartedly the installation would have been far superior.

– H.I.