Enter Dreamland at the Whitney

Dreamlands was overwhelming and enveloping, eclectic and haphazard. Everything overlapped and bled together – conflicting sounds and light grew muddy and undistinguishable, truly creating this immersive, overpowering, deeply engaging environment. It was a sprawling show, a rambling, serpentine labyrinth that meandered and spread about, into wide, bright white spaces, hazy dim corners, and dark cavities. Those black holes that forced you to cautiously, carefully, feel your way in I found most interesting. Especially Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone and Dora Budor’s Adaptation of an Instrument. I was drawn to McCall’s piece immediately by the familiar, clammy smell of artificial mist. The mist, the blackness, the sharp light projecting and slicing, the vague, almost ominous forms of other viewers – it was like I was a child again, playing laser tag in the basement of my neighborhood bowling alley. People darted back and forth through the filmy beam of light, edging their fingers in, carving shadows with an arm, a head, making the light waver and dance. Maybe it was because the image was flat and dull and boring, but I wasn’t compelled to sit and watch the circle gradually appear on the wall – rather, I was engaged by the light itself. McCall challenged the traditional definitions and confinements of cinema – the viewer was no longer passive and quiet, but active and participating.

Budor’s piece was also impressive. I was initially intrigued by the heavy, slick, box in the middle of the room, it seemed so bizarre and out of place. The constructed environment felt slick and slippery and slimy. Green and alien. I walked through thick ribbons of plastic that felt wet and greasy. Inside felt moist, the air thick and damp, like you were within the insides of a living, sweating organism. This organism knew you were present – the veins of the walls light up when you walked about, making the space pulse and vibrate. The inclusion of the frogs – foggy forms that stuck to the glass like dead insects in panel lights, threatening to rain down – created a direct reference to the film Magnolia, as well as created a link between organic and technological elements.

Oskar Schlemmer is one of my favorite artists, so I loved how the exhibit began – with a large projection of Das Traidische Ballett. Last year I saw the ballet The Most Incredible Thing, the costumes designed by Marcel Dzama, who drew inspiration from Schlemmer. It’s interesting to compare the two ballets, for some of the costumes in both are strikingly identical, yet the underlying stories of the dances are entirely different.

By using costume Schlemmer transformed the body into a mechanized, abstract form, from organic and fluid to stiff, strict machine. Everything was reduced and flat and graphic and artificial. Blocks of color, geometric shapes, straight lines, sharp angles. The music perfectly timed, everything had to be exact. Yet, I still found emotion in the dance and the music and the costumes, even though they were so mechanical. Schlemmer sketches of the costumes for this ballet are wonderful. As well as the posters.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Redefining Movement with Art – Robert Breer

Is Robert Breer’s work Neoplasticism? Reminds me of Mondrian. Also constructivism and Bauhaus. Minimal, geometric, slabs and cubes, few colors. Making the viewer an active participant. Even Dada. Finding meaning in the nonsensical, or conceiving meaning from the nonsensical. Maybe that’s why I liked Kamikaze so much. Robert Breer did it all.

Nothing that Breer creates is fixed, or static, yet, it is. It stops time. Activity as fixity. Objects and images that seem stationary, challenging the definition and our perception of movement. How does time and space interact? How do we fit in? Time travel does exist.

The motorized sculptures were my favorite. Moving slowly and ever so slightly that it takes a moment to realize they are in motion. A piece of Styrofoam and crumpled, puckered plastic just floating around the space, with us, without us. Autonomous and independent. They are alive! Barely. But I can hear them breathing. Softly. It’s the hum of a motor. Does the sculpture look better here, or here? Doesn’t matter…they will decide for themselves.

I did not find the motorized wall exciting or thrilling. I found the smaller objects to be because they rolled about at inconspicuous, imperceptible speeds, and they were very low to the ground, crawling around your feet. Like prefabricated, industrial, antisocial insects. It felt like I was in on their secret, once I realized they were moving. The wall was obtrusive, intrusive, and obvious. Overkill. But perhaps that was the point.

The animation 70 also challenged movement – images so sudden and tumultuous they become motionless, one picture. The frames themselves as paintings, multiplying, stretching, expanding, forming a single image, a single story. The film was violent, the geometric shapes forms blobs rough and jagged, bleeding and dissolving into harsh flashes of color. Yet, I could not stop watching, no matter how painful, no matter how unsettling. It was mesmerizing and absorbing– like the motorized sculptures. I needed to know what was going on. After I visited the show I looked up more of his films, and they were all very inspiring, very cool. I am in a stop motion class, and it’s encouraging to know that he created these animations with only hand drawn index cards. It’s sometimes intimidating and overwhelming to see work in galleries or museums or any institutional setting, for it seems so inconceivable to be at the level. At least, to me. Discovering and learning about the process or history of an artwork sometimes grounds an artist, and makes a goal more realizable.

Even the painting Time Out insinuated a sense of motion, a wobbly, wonky, waver in rigidity. Disrupting what is emblematic of a painting, to be flat, to be fixed, to be a suspended image. Breer makes the black lines uneven, Breer makes the black lined square itself appear askew, slightly leaning, slightly faltering. The blocks of color are inconsistent, curving and warping the image. It’s awesome! It’s kind of boring but still awesome.

I liked his handwriting as well. Inspiring show.

 

 

Matt Johnson Wood Sculpture at 303

Matt Johnson’s Wood Sculpture – wow. Walking into the show I was immediately reminded of Duchamp and the Readymade – the sculptures appeared to be prefabricated, everyday objects, elevated to the dignity of artwork merely by Johnson’s decision to remove the objects from their former fixed context and display them in a gallery setting. These objects were suspended in states of uselessness and defection – crumpled, dented, fragmented – as if they were depressed by their loss of utility. Unwanted remnants of waste and junk were now raised on a pedestal, gracefully balanced and poised, sometimes twisted and curved, as if emulating a human form in contrapposto. Was Johnson finding beauty in the mundane, in the expendable, in trash –piecing together discarded, broken refuse to create a newfound context? Then I realized every sculpture was carved out of wood. Then these commonplace objects became incredible. Funny how that happens – a sudden detachment, aloofness or isolation from the ordinary and expected (or mass produced) makes something ten times cooler. The objects became individuals. The dynamism and fluidity and stasis of each piece was now even more impressive; these sculptures weren’t yielding like plastic or cardboard, but were solid, firm wood. Yet, knowing they were carefully carved sculptures made them seem even more fragile and delicate than brittle Styrofoam or drywall. Although the show was very straightforward, frank and bare, including the titles of the pieces and exhibit, once realizing that Johnson underwent the painstaking, laborious process of studying every object and replicating them so exactly that the distinction between genuine and copy (art and life?) is blurred, makes the exhibit elaborate and ambitious. And humorous. All that work, to create an El Pollo Loco cup, a shard of drywall, a pizza box. Something so temporary and disposable and cheap, now permanent and upscale. The wrinkles on the bags of concrete, the indented rings on the roll of tape, the Styrofoam pellets, every corrugate on the cardboard – so over the top and ridiculous, but because the exhibit was only called Wood Sculpture, I thought it was okay.

Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images – Ceci n’est pas une pipe came to mind. Is it a bag of concrete, or a representation of a bag of concrete? Vija Celmins’ To Fix the Image in Memory as well. The juxtaposition between model and depiction, nature and artifice. Exact imitations indistinguishable from the original, making the viewer uncertain, unsure, hesitant.

I also loved the drywall titles. Including the name of the paint color heightened the witticism of the show. The drywall sculptures also reminded me of Franz West’s sculptures – pastel colored, patchy, oddly shaped.

Matt Johnson is an allegorist. His work is appropriated imagery. He lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter. The image transforms and becomes something else. He does not restore an original meaning that may have been lost or obscured; rather, he adds another meaning to the image. Pretty cool.

EJ Hauser ME+YOU at Regina Rex

A while ago I saw Inventing Downtown at the Grey Art Gallery, a show revolving around the East Village artist-run galleries that emerged and flourished in 1950s, between the peak of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop Art and Minimalism – a special lacuna in the art historical narrative. Tired of the art scene lockstep, artists tore away from what was timeworn and flat, and created their own. These galleries were inclusive, innovative, rough around the edges. I found the show incredibly enlightening – works from women, from artists of color, previously omitted from the canon, on display. It’s uncondensed, honest, inspiring. It illustrates a time that is terribly foreign compared to now, when the constructs of the art world have hardened, solidified. Art feels compartmentalized yet singular. Art feels commercialized and too clean. It feels dead, or playing dead.

That is why I like Regina Rex, and all other artist-run galleries that predominantly feature under-represented and overshadowed artists. The are reminiscent of what used to be, and evocative of what can be.

I liked Ej Hauser’s show. Obsessive, compulsive, repetitive art. ME + YOU. Me needs You to look at her art, You needs Me for art to look at. Exploring the relationship between artist and viewer, art and viewer, what is lost, what is created. Uninspired title, cool work.

I was interested in her paintings because they reminded me of the glitchy, pixelated drawings I would create on Microsoft Paint – random fills of color, text boxes, jagged, boxy lines, ugly color palette. Same image, multiple versions, either as separate pieces, or layered on top. Everything is fast, shifty, and skittish. Simple. Her brushstrokes exhibit speed and eagerness, a childlike haste. The making of the mark becomes the identity of the piece. It’s not what the text says, it’s what the text looks like, what forms the letters make. Like Xu Bing. Her brushstrokes have an erratic, loose quality, yet they seem intentional, and calculated. There is still structure and decision in her paintings. Although decay and disruption is conveyed through the glitch and flux of paint, it’s an instigated instability. This is where my childhood Paint master-messes differ from Hauser. I don’t feel a sense of discovery in her artwork – whereas Paint was entirely exploration and invention. But this doesn’t matter.

Perhaps it was Hauser’s intention, to reveal the intersection of hand and machine. Mechanical repetition, human manipulation. The superficiality and artificiality of the digital, the mass-produced, coinciding with the handcrafted. Attempting to create a cohesive image with discursive, disparate elements, both formal and conceptual. Very interesting, but an exhausted concept.

“Imagining Delphi” was like a crude rendition of Marsden Hartley’s work – “Portrait of a German Officer”, or “Himmel” – channeling that coloring book, fill in the fat black lines with fat blocks of color, style.

Her paintings remind me of weavings as well. Especially the looker series. Moroccan Berber rugs. Jonathan Joefsson’s rugs. Strokes like thread, chunky and square, knitted together and composing loopy, lacey shapes. Or like the insides of a sushi roll. Compact blocks of color, but in Hauser’s case, allegorical like an emblem, resembling stained glass.

I want to see/make work that doesn’t make me think of anyone else though.

Her sketches/paintings on paper were interesting – they were successful ass archive/collection/mass of mess. I would not have found them as interesting if they were displayed as singular, separate pieces. Is sketchbook art a thing now?