673 N Milwaukee Ave
January 23March 5
Alex Chitty, The Sun-Drenched Neutral That Goes with Everything (Unit 1), 2015–16, powder-coated steel, blackened steel, walnut, oak, mahogany, glass, bronze, Marine worm shells, DuraCal, brass, paper towel roll, lucite frame, photograph, porcelain, glassware, twine, cotton ribbon, 80 x 49 1/2 x 31 1/2″.
As the term “intelligent design” already has a use, we should appropriate it for art. It could describe the way artists assign consciousness to designed objects and the way consumers implant personae into mass-produced items. Alex Chitty’s still-life sculptures are sprinkled with this kind of metaphysical power, animating ceramic jugs, mugs, tools, trinkets, and other artifacts. Common and rare, old and new, and natural and faux objects are mounted on shelving in Chitty’s museum of material history—domestically scaled but conceptually aiming to tickle the fourth dimension.
Six modular sculptures were born out of one, the mother object, titled The Sun-Drenched Neutral That Goes with Everything (Unit 1), 2015–16, which gives shape, proportion, and suggested function to a set of furniture—their compositions accumulate into clever riddles. It is initially unclear what is handmade and what was found in the desert, but the question—and the visual quest—is part of the installation’s charm. It turns out the metal shelves were welded by the artist, who carved their walnut and oak drawers in a mimicry of high-end furniture and cast in concrete, brass, and bronze the flower stamens and coral. The material reversals have a kind of delightful irony sans cynicism. Some broken things, like a mug’s handle, are repaired while others, such as a splintered wood skateboard in The Sun-Drenched Neutral That Goes with Everything (Unit 6), 2016, are displayed like souvenirs. These curated displays weave a modern folklore about why certain objects come into our lives and how we preserve them with stories.
The furniture and knickknacks here reference lifestyle catalogues, where things insist they have a role in your life, re-coded by Chitty in an algorithm of intention and taste we might call intelligent design.
CONTEMPORARY ARTS MUSEUM HOUSTON
5216 Montrose Boulevard
December 12March 27
Jennie C. Jones, Score for Sustained Blackness Set 2, 2014, acrylic paint, collage, and pen on paper, 20 x 16″.
Amplification, absorption, reverberation, tone, displacement, diffusion—any encounter with the work of Jennie C. Jones demands that a viewer repeatedly wrestle with transmutation, the vocabulary from the science of sound doing double duty in the service of ekphrasis. And the rabbit hole goes deeper, as those keywords also describe the dynamics of social change and race. Indeed, Jones encourages such readings with her punning titles, Solo, Vertical, into Crescendo (Light), 2013, or Score for Sustained Blackness Set 2, 2014. Such is the sparkling noise of the artist’s first mid-career survey, as curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver.
For all the sound, and talk about sound, though, it’s a quiet show—a concerted, almost hermetic succession of series and suites. Jones’s ongoing 2011 series “Acoustic Paintings,” constructed with acoustic paneling, are well represented. Much is gained in viewing the artist’s conceptually ambitious works in the context of a broad retrospective, as their sum total deftly knits together an array of sometimes convergent, but more often divergent, social histories of avant-garde musical and visual traditions. Like the fabric used for pop filters and speaker grills, Jones’s works sieve out particularly resonant sounds and materials. The effect is often a shimmy shake between critique and adoration. For example, the staccato scatting of Ella Fitzgerald is stretched to a high tone and capped with an almost campy canned sound of breaking glass in the audio collage Ella, Scat, Shatter (Short Version), 2008. It references an almost certainly campy 1972 commercial for Memorex audio cassette tapes, wherein Fitzgerald hits a glass-shattering note at the end. Add fidelity to that list of words. Also: rarefaction (or what an artist does for a payday).
Shatter the glass again, Ella; play me out, Jennie.
WALKER ART CENTER
1750 Hennepin Avenue
November 21April 10
View of “Andrea Bttner,” 2015–16.
For her debut solo exhibition in the US, Andrea Bttner presents works—be it video, philosophy book illustrations, growing moss, prints, or a fabric-based installation—that highlight her willingness to follow an idea to whatever medium it needs to take. Large walls mostly covered in vibrant blue cotton fabric—typically used for British service workers’ uniforms—radiate in the gallery, providing a richness that contrasts with the cold white of the rest of the space. Indeed, Bttner’s work can feel as if it is all about contrasts and opposing ends: The lofty philosophical concerns taken up in eleven large panels of images that illustrate Kant’s 1790 Critique of the Power of Judgment are counterbalanced here by two large woodcuts of a huddled panhandler in Beggar, 2015, with his hands reaching down, demonstrating the lowly vow of Franciscan servitude.
Bttner’s art, in fact, occurs between two extremes—through tension, certainly, but also through meandering in the poetic space of contemplation that is left open between the edges of high and low. In the video installation Piano Destructions, 2014, watching and listening to nine women play grand pianos, projected on one wall, while mostly male avant-garde performers violently bash the instruments with axes and sledgehammers on four screens on an adjacent wall feels brutally gendered and unjust. Though the piece was commissioned by the Walter Phillips Gallery and Banff Centre in Canada, this exhibition adds another layer of profound dissonance, as every male artist—from George Maciunas to Nam June Paik—in the destruction performances has work in the Walker’s permanent collection. The stellar departure in this show is Bttner’s series “Phone Etchings,” 2015, wherein the intimate brush of a fingertip on her phone in search of something is recorded, enlarged, and etched to become expansive gestural strokes in search of expression.
NERMAN MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
12345 College Boulevard, Johnson County Community College
October 15March 20
View of “Andrzej Zieliński: Open Sourced,” 2015–16.
Andrzej Zieliński’s totemic paintings and sculptures mostly elide the pitfalls of a slew of recent work glorifying the kitsch vestiges of tech’s recent past, and instead imbue their subjects with a psychic (and literal) weight. In “Open Sourced,” two galleries—one with paintings depicting Mars rovers and the other filled with (earlier) canvases of technological devices just past their moment of ubiquity and soon to be scrapped, such as paper shredders, scanners, early aughts laptops—accompany a standout array of sculptures. Loosely modeled after desktops, Razr phones, and boxy keyboards, the sculptures display a subtler virtuosity than the artist’s effervescently facile paintings; the three-dimensional forms are seemingly haphazardly formed but in fact meticulously crafted from hewn rock, cast and welded bronze, sculpted marble, alabaster, and a variety of specialty woods. (While the paintings will be taken down on January 17, Zielinski’s sculptures are on view through March 20.)
As objects’ windows of utility grow ever narrower amid constant updates and overhauls, a gray zone has emerged for apparatuses that are still kind of useful—the Blackberries, dongles, and mice no longer in daily rotation, which fill our bottom drawers and closets until we toss them in a burst of KonMari purging. For the moment they linger, subsumed in what Walter Benjamin described as the utopian glow afforded to technological devices in their final hours, freed from the constraints of commodity value—at leisure and ready to have their portraits taken.
1216 Arch Street, 5A
February 5March 26
Jennifer Levonian, Jewelry Box, 2016, digitally printed cotton, batting, and thread, 72 x 53″.
Jennifer Levonian’s short, surreal cut-paper animation Xylophone, 2015, muses on the everyday clichs and complexities of gender, gentrification, and creative living in transitional urban spaces. Wryly referencing Philadelphia’s rapidly changing neighborhoods and rendered in swift, fluid watercolor marks, Levonian’s leafy farmers’ markets, tastefully rehabbed row homes, and yoga-studio lofts adorned with “Breathe in love, breathe out peace” posters glow—uncomfortably brightly, perhaps—alongside shuttered payday-loan places on derelict blocks. Seemingly trapped within this environment, a sleep-deprived, voluptuously pregnant quilter stitches swatches of fabric, exercises awkwardly with other moms, and entertains a rambunctious daughter—whose antics eventually lead her and her mother to climb atop a street-corner billboard platform where, wind coursing through their hair, they escape into a kind of psychic freedom. Three quilts by Levonian, hung directly outside Xylophone’s screening room, echo both her protagonist’s practice and mental state, as well as the repetitive labor of animation. One, Jewelry Box, 2016, features a grid of linear drawings of exaggeratedly confused and despairing faces surrounded by cursive phrases that indicate either disappointment or frantic explanation, such as “I’m not mad . . . it’s just that . . .”
The textiles share gallery space with a second solo presentation of Sarah Gamble’s densely layered mixed-media paintings. These semiabstract works also foreground powerful mental and emotional states, but they do so by evoking murky inner worlds. Central to Untitled, 2015, a small, square work, is a rough, black oval whose thick, matte paint stands in relief against the canvas over a starburst of muddy pinks, oranges, and yellows. Many other works, such as Grief House, 2016, feature multiple pairs of eyes integrated into their backgrounds. Like Levonian’s faces, they appear to watch the viewer watching them, provoking thorny self-reflection.
1501 SW Market Street
January 15March 5
Mike Bray, Day for Night, 2016, light stands, wood, steel, aluminum, 78 x 96 x 78″.
For his exhibition “Light Grammar/Grammar Light,” the Eugene-based artist Mike Bray pushes the generally out-of-frame mechanisms of image production into the spotlight, recasting camera optics, scrims, and cutter flags as sculptural materials and formal touchstones, rather than tools. Yet these functional objects aren’t used in the service of puncturing film and photography’s capacities for artifice. Instead, Bray’s sleek and minimal works produce mesmerizing illusions of their own.
The video Angles of Refraction (all works 2016) is based on an Eadweard Muybridge motion study in which a pair of hands alternate gripping a baseball. In Bray’s take, the ball is replaced by a sculptural replica of a pentaprism—a five-sided prism that directs the light path in a camera’s viewfinder. As hands enter the frame and slowly twist the object to reveal all sides, it glitters like a jewel in a depthless black expanse, bringing to mind both a magician’s sleight of hand and a product close-up on TV shopping channels. But our ability to see the object is continually thwarted, since it absorbs and reflects the hands’ skin tone, hot whites lights, and the studio’s rafters overhead.
In Day for Night, Bray arranges a quartet of light stands in a tight cluster, so that three circular mesh scrims and two partial ones collide, conjuring phases of the moon. Instead of filtering projected light, the shapes become subjects themselves. This plain display of equipment produces another unexpected effect: When a viewer circles the sculpture, the scrims overlap to create restlessly flexing moir patterns. It suggests these functional devices aren’t merely illusory images but contain some magic themselves.
PORTLAND ART MUSEUM
1219 SW Park Avenue
November 5April 20
Paige Powell, The Ride, 2015, three-channel digital projection, color, sound, 18 minutes 42 seconds.
For more than thirty years, a treasure trove of photographs and videos lay dormant in the nooks and crannies of the home of native Portlander Paige Powell, a former publisher at Interview magazine, Andy Warhol’s confidante, and girlfriend of Jean-Michel Basquiat. This two-part installation is Powell’s first museum show displaying the intimate archive she created of the 1980s New York art world. As part of Warhol’s circle, she was surrounded by spectacular personalities. Yet many of her images in the exhibition depict quotidian reflective moments—conversations over dinner, workplace diversions, and artmaking—suggesting that Powell was more interested in her subjects’ inner lives than in their public status.
The largest work in the show—The Ride, 2015—presents three newly unearthed videos that include footage of both Warhol and Keith Haring. Each video is projected onto one of three identical, and abutting wall-covering images of Basquiat sitting in the back of a limo watching television. The videos are aimed to make it appear as though they are what Basquiat is watching, though in the original photograph he’s watching the movie Goldfinger. Framing these within the limo speaks to the explosion of home videos and cable television during the 1980s and references Warhol’s ever-prescient vision of America’s narcissistic media obsession. The most compelling of the videos depicts Haring painting black designs on a large white sculpture of an elephant. It’s mesmerizing to watch Haring work, his brush gracefully arcing across the surface of the sculpture without spilling a drop of paint. His elegant gestures are a stinging reminder of all that would soon be lost.
HENRY ART GALLERY
15th Avenue NE & NE 41st Street
October 31March 6
View of “Franz Erhard Walther,” 2015–16.
With its 300 works, “Franz Erhard Walther: The Body Draws”—the first American survey of the pioneering German artist—offers an interesting reassessment of his work. As the title suggests, the show is intended to consider the extent to which drawing—broadly speaking—has always been at the core of the artist’s practice. Focusing on works on paper, the extensive exhibition foregrounds the importance of the line, in a body of work at the crossroads of painting, sculpture, architecture, the conceptual, and the performative.
In the main room, Walther’s cornerstone piece, 1. Werksatz (1. Work Set, 1963–69), sits in the same state it occupied while in storage, letting viewers imagine what lies within canvas bags, within folds. Along the wall, videos show the unfolded fabric pieces being “activated”—a term Walther uses to describe the moments when these works are brought to life by being solemnly held or worn. Daily, volunteers activate some of these elements as well, as when a duo formed a line with the help of one of Walther’s long strips of fabric connecting the tops of their heads, or when four people quietly unfolded a cruciform piece of fabric. These activations remind viewers the work should be experienced with their participation.
In the 1970s, the artist revisited this iconic piece, through very realistic renderings of these activations, which are presented in the same room. Be it abstract or realistic, drawing is Walther’s way to remember, revisit, plan, or re-embody a work—and to expand a practice where the conceptual is absolutely incarnate. Through the exhibition’s seven rooms, the works on paper constantly dialogue with the sculptural elements, allowing viewers to sense—and take part in—Walther’s practice at its closest, to witness what the artist calls his “inner modeling” and be reminded that, as Michel Foucault put it in 1966, “the body is the zero point of the world.”
1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
November 13July 10
Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, 2015, thread, wood, hooks, steel, 19 x 48 x 12′.
The nine large-scale installations for this show prompt us to “wonder” at the alchemical transformation of fairly quotidian materials into art. Though the labor of producing these works leaves a few visible traces, the emphasis here is less on process than on the result: a conversion of the Renwick’s galleries into sensual environments.
It’s a fitting way to reopen this museum, which houses the Smithsonian’s craft and decorative arts collection, after a two-year renovation. In the first gallery, Gabriel Dawe’s Plexus A1 (all works 2015)—two ethereal planes of rainbow-colored thread—hang between stark-white Corinthian columns. Nearby, Leo Villareal’s Volume (Renwick), a twinkling galaxy of 23,000 computer-controlled LED lights, illuminates the freshly gilded grand staircase. These approximations of natural phenomena are consistent with the show’s preoccupation with the anthropogenic environment. Further, Chakaia Booker offers a labyrinth of recycled rubber in Anonymous Donor, while Maya Lin’s Folding the Chesapeake, an installation of thousands of green fiberglass marbles, suggests the fragility of topographic forms.
The imbrication of the natural and the technological signals that for today’s artists craft is not a retreat from technology but a means to “live differently in the modern world,” as the show’s curator, Nicholas Bell, puts it. Judging by the works here, living differently means responding to even low-tech, handmade forms with the same sense of wonder that typically greets new technologies. But perhaps living differently might also mean wondering if our insatiable appetite for amazement is as innocent as it seems. At first glance, Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig, a room full of towering, nest-like forms of molded tree saplings, invites us to play; its vertiginous curves and arabesques exhilarate the eye (and elude the camera). But the work also is imbued with the tension of the struggle between man and nature, and its shadows are a nightmarish thicket. Like wonder itself, it entices but threatens entrapment.
Bajio 231, Colonia Roma, Cuauhtemoc
February 6April 3
View of “Manfred Pernice,” 2016. From left: Vita Activa (Garbage Can), Vita Activa 1 (Cylinder with Metal Tree), Vita Activa 2 (Prism with Display Case), Vita Activa 3 (Cylinder with Box and Book), all 2016.
This gallery inaugurates its expansion with a show by German artist Manfred Pernice. His first solo exhibition in Mexico City is rife with bright colors, found objects, and construction materials, which together result in ambiguous spatial constructions evoking Mesoamerican architecture with a modernist flavor. This manifests best in Cassette Lumex, 2016, an installation that recalls an ancient ball court with four trapezoid-shaped MDF bench-like structures—some trimmed with images of the artist’s works—that frame three rubber balls and the floor. This piece, which avoids the neatness of the white cube, given the marks of previous shows left around it, induces the feeling of being immersed in a playground but also in one of the artist’s signature “Cassette” works. Hung in the foyer of the gallery, one of them, Cassette # 55 (Green), 2016, consists of metal mounts with a glass covering containing printed material such as a German newspaper clipping and Mexican art postcards—all loosely pasted.
In the second and newest room of the gallery, the four-particleboard sculptures of the series “Vita Activa,” 2016, have a fuzzy function: Some act as display cases, others as trash cans, but all are full of surprising secondhand items. Their forms bring to mind the Giants of Tula—monumental figures built by the Toltec culture in Mexico during the tenth to the twelfth centuries. Besides these containers, found immediately after walking through the gallery’s entrance, there is nothing in the rest of the room, fostering a link between the street and the exhibition space. Pernice’s droll and unfussy exhibition continues his ongoing explorations of vernacular architecture and display design, assembling a chain of associations and confrontations between place, history, and objects.
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