For Those About to Rock We Salut a Review

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Photo courtesy of the School of Visual Arts

For The Record: The Art of a Song

On a late Friday afternoon, I was rushing to the School of Visual Art’s main building to run an errand for my student account before the building closed for the weekend. I was especially flustered because I had made a goal of visiting the Met immediately afterward to write a review for a class. I entered the building in a huff, throwing off my coat, flashing my ID to the security desk, and whirled around only to be stopped in my tracks. The gallery space that stood before me looked like a vibrant combination of a Williamsburg record store, an infrared Guitar Center, and what I’d imagine Alice Cooper’s basement to look like. It was as if The Hard Rock Cafe had decided to franchise an art gallery.

Immediately in front of me, a six foot tall, neon guitar gleamed an invitation like a box office “Open” sign. Next to it, two guitars leaned against a stack of amps, setting the scene as if this was a theater set. The walls have been painted a fire engine red and Prince purple. One wall was corner-to-corner with show posters, and another, a perfect grid of famous albums from music legends; The Ramones, David Bowie, Nirvana, etc.

Placed along the walls and clustered in the center, sixteen reimagine guitars stood like trophies on metal pedestals, all paired with a classic album, framed to the side. They had been created by students of the 3D Design program at the school. Each student had been given a guitar and then selected a hit album of the past on which to base a reinterpretation of the instrument. The goal was for the artists to express how they felt when listening to a song that particularly spoke to them through the aesthetic remodeling of the object. The results were, ahem, so metal.

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My favorite piece stood front and center. Based on a Kiss album, the guitar was a metaphor for a woman’s silhouette from behind. The body of the instrument was coated in a silky black cloth, the narrow area of the body meant to be a woman’s waist and the strings were the laces of her corset. A plump booty even popped below the bridge of the guitar. Sexy shoulders and arms had been molded from halfway down the neck, painted a striking neon pink. The arms were placed in a sultry slump, one near the shoulder and one on the hip, while the hands pulled the strings of the corset closed. This piece slaps the image of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll across your face. You can just hear Kiss singing, “Hotter than Hell.”

I mean, you can literally hear Kiss singing, and all the other famous musicians as speakers pump out the chart-toppers to get you in the mood. The next room, in addition to another sixteen artworks, displays three walls of projections of performances and music videos along with the music, throwing you back in time to when they were played live.

For the Record is a wonderland for anyone who has enjoyed basically any music previous to the mid-90s. It takes you down the rabbit hole with the nostalgia of show posters and albums, awes you with the creativity and sometimes, hilarious or poignantly accurate interpretations of the guitars, and has something to offer every fan from the Beach Boys to Salt N Pepa.

My only stumbling point with this exhibition was at first sight; I searched around in delighted bewilderment for the oasis of the standard wall text to explain to me how this conglomerate of rock-and-roll paraphernalia came to be. No explanation was offered. I had to search on my phone to gain insight into the concept. That is undoubtedly due to its size. Being an exhibition held in a college’s lobby and adjacent, the modest gallery does not afford the space to do this exhibition justice. The pieces are placed tightly together, causing me to stifle my curatorial urge to create some breathing room. The show is so enthralling that I want to find it a large home so it can be large and loud for the greater public to experience. However, the slightly cramped nature does lend itself to the feeling of being in a backstage dressing room full of equipment.

I had been so swept up with For the Record. The atmosphere and design of the space were so captivating but still took a backseat to the ingenuity of the artist for their righteous creations. By the time I had finished playing my part of Alice in this Wonderland, all the school offices had closed. I didn’t even bother going to the Met.

 

For the Record: The Art of a Song
School of Visual Arts Gramercy Gallery
Saturday, January 14 – Saturday, January 28

Here is a link to the details I had to find on my phone in the gallery:
http://www.sva.edu/events/events-exhibitions/for-the-record-the-art-of-a-song

I didn’t realize I saw this exhibition on its second to last day. So, I’ve included the photos I took.

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Fearless Female Fiber Artist: Françoise Grossen Selects

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Photo courtesy of the Museum of Art and Design

 

The Museum of Art and Design currently hosts the exhibition Françoise Grossen Selects. The exhibition celebrates the works of Françoise Grossen, a fiber artist who has been producing since the 1960’s. The exhibition consumes two-thirds of the museum’s second floor. The pieces in the show were selected by Grossen from the museum’s permanent collection. The artworks are 75% Grossen’s and 25% of other artists chosen to compliment her creations.

The exhibition aims to give acclaim to the long career of this pioneer of fiber arts. The show succeeds by adeptly complementing the art with the methods of display. Once the elevator doors open, the viewer is instantly met with a wide-open gallery with an array of enticing large-scale works. Two impressively-sized braided works lie on low pedestals at one’s feet. The pedestals are painted the same slate gray as an accent wall, linking those areas together and giving contrast to the light nude colors of the work. The wall text is immediately presented as an easily-recognizable beacon to the viewer. Although it affords enough space to not induce crowding, it is positioned in the center of the space, causing the spectator to make a figure eight when walking through the exhibition.

Until one reads the text, it is not clear the exhibition is a mix of artists. Three large works hang in succession along their own wall and on one adjacent, stands a broad display case of nine more, all from artists other than Grossen. They fit in well with Grossen’s work and add variety but are completely separated. This creates a disjointed juxtaposition that may have been remedied by incorporating the pieces throughout the whole of the exhibition.

In the other direction, one encounters Grossen’s works, all over six feet tall. They are expertly hung by slight, silver rods or wires. Everything is precisely level and very minimal. The methods of hanging disappear behind the presence of the works, making for a seamless viewing experience. The pedestals on the floor have been made to fit the dimensions of the art excellently. The viewer is also engaged in all areas of the space from high to low.

At the end of the exhibition plays a video of an interview with the artist. The sound is loud enough to hear comfortably, but not overpowering as to distract the viewer from interacting with other pieces. A bench sits nearby so one may rest and view the 15-minute, looping video. The bench lies just off center of the space, allowing one to sit in any direction to view the pieces from slightly farther back. This is a helpful tool for prolonged viewing and thoughtful of accessibility for the spectators.

Overall, Françoise Grossen Selects is a successful exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design. The precision of the hang brings out the best in the art displayed. The curators utilized all possible areas of display in an efficient, yet attractive manner. The viewer will seamlessly experience an exemplary fiber art exhibition.

 

Françoise Grossen Selects
Museum of Art and Design
October 18, 2016 to March 15, 2017

 

The world needs more exhibitions about female pioneers in the arts. It is really worth your time to read a biography on her:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7oise_Grossen

Also, here is a lovely video of Grossen talking about her work:

Maintenance Art May Need Some Maintenance

102_tsp_composite_020_hr-e1461615216348.jpgPhoto courtesy of the Queens Museum

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art is now on view at the Queens Museum. This exhibition focuses on presenting documentation of performance work that began in 1978 where she set out to humanize the often unseen maintenance workers of New York by interacting with each individual on the workforce and documenting their daily job routines. This is the first survey of Ukeles’s work, with documentation and artwork spanning over 36 years. The exhibit includes hundreds of photos, dozens of videos, reams of documents, and a handful of collages and sculptures.

The Maintenance Art exhibition is quite large, only slightly smaller than a basketball court. It expands over the museum’s main platform in the center of the building. On either side, a line of four smaller galleries stand linked together. The flow of the layout is standard and easy for any layman to follow. One walks in a square formation through each gallery, skirting the main area. In the middle of the central, spacious area sits a circular table with a dozen chairs, which private parties can reserve the space to hold community-related discussions. Every room focuses on one facet of the artist’s work, revolving around each theme. The center area also displays work around the perimeter, with every surface fully utilized.

In addition to the common-sense layout, the rest of the display is just as straightforward and typical. The walls inside the gallery are all standard white, with the exception of a single room dedicated to video, in which the walls are a dark gray. The photos and documentation are hung in perfect grids; minimally unframed under plexiglass. Pedestals, display cases, and video screens are all interspersed through the exhibition in a methodical, predictable cadence.

The wall text in each gallery was incredibly distracting. The lengthy explanations are typed on two-foot long pieces of paper and held to the wall by tiny magnets in the corners, causing the edges to curl up and the centers to bow in and out. This causes them to be difficult to read and looks completely unprofessional. It is astonishing this has not been remedied when an easy and inexpensive solution could quickly be obtained.

Even when visitors summon up interest in the work by looking past the dismal display methods, they are hardly able to see the pieces! The lighting was unnecessarily dim inside the galleries. This is apparently meant to counteract the amount of natural light coming in from the skylight in the central area. However, the dimness completely overcompensates and leaves the work overcast in shadow.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art is a large project befitting of its almost 40-year span of work. The curator is lucky the project is so unique that it saves the exhibition from being completely mediocre and unremarkable. Curators sometimes aim for the installation to be seamless and transparent. In this case, it seems that the curator was totally absent— absent of any creativity or inspiration to benefit the art in the implementation of this exhibition.

 

Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art
Queens Museum
September 18, 2016- February 19, 2017

Looking Back: Paul Klee at the Met Breuer

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Photo courtesy of the Met Museum

Humor and Fantasy— Berggruen Paul Klee Collection was on view through January 2nd at the Met Breuer. The exhibition included two galleries that contained seventy works. This spanned the artist’s career entirely, from a drawing he made at age thirteen to his final piece before his death at age sixty.

Originally, I was prepared to write the curation of the exhibition off as normal or dull. It appeared like something meant for the Met on Fifth Avenue, not the modern and contemporary space. However, upon allowing myself to enjoy the artworks themselves, I realized the curation was masterful in the way that it facilitated the best means of viewing the art.

Humor and Fantasy was hosted in two large galleries, almost the entirety of the fifth floor. The walls were painted a pale robin’s egg blue that borders on a light gray. This was a keen color choice. It was not overpowering but complemented the colorful works of Klee. Leaving the space white would have been too harsh, while a bold color would have conflicted with the pieces. The hue also seemed indicative of a color that would have been popular in a living space during Klee’s lifetime, the early 1900s.

The lighting was handled with perfect precision. Each work was highlighted individually, yet the entire gallery also contained an even wash of lighting as a whole. The balanced effect was aided by the uniformity of how the pieces were hung. The works were close in size, around an A3-sized piece of paper. They were spaced apart completely evenly around the entire room. Some smaller works were paired, one atop the other, while still maintaining the horizontal rhythm.

The most exemplary asset of this exhibition was the handling of the labels. The labels were printed in a blue-gray vinyl, a few shades darker than the wall color. They were placed at the same level all the way around the rooms to the right of the art, keeping a steady visual line. At each corner or doorway, the label was placed to the left, with the text aligning left to match. This kept visitors away from craning to see into corners or pausing near doorways to read the labels. This detail was seamless, yet effective for optimal label-to-art relation.

The one fault I found in this exhibition was a small, empty room off to the side of the first gallery. At first, I wrote it off, assuming it was under installation, which is just a natural occurrence of an art space. But, upon further inspection, I realized that there probably wasn’t enough space to fill the extra gallery with Klee works so, it was left dark. This is an understandable solution. However, it was being used as a storage space. Peering in, which many visitors did, one would see trash bins, brooms, tables, chairs, and boxes heaped together in a jumbled mess. The rest of the exhibition is so pristine, it is disappointing to see such a careless treatment of the excess space.

 

September 1, 2016- January 2, 2017

A Recent Closure Review: Diary of a Madman

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Photo courtesy of the New Museum

The New Museum recently closed Chen Ran’s exhibition, Diary of a Madman. The installation featured thirteen screens of video work, most accompanied with sound. The screens were various sizes, hung at sporadic intervals along the wall. This method was a deliberate choice, causing the viewer to adjust their perspective actively from piece to piece. They hung far enough apart that one may have focused on each narrative. The accompanying speakers loomed in pairs at fixed distances along the ceiling, directed toward the center, where a spectator would most likely have stood. However, the sounds bled through the air while the ear must have tuned out whichever is commanding the most auditory attention at any one point.

The installation stood in the museum’s lobby gallery, a shady getaway from the bustling entry point. The glass wall that sections off the space was tinted into a one-way mirror. This tactic filtered the light, leaving the gallery dimmed to accommodate an atmosphere akin to a theater. This darkening treatment hindered the ability to see inside from the lobby, but those within the exhibition could have clearly seen outward. Three screens were mounted on the glass wall, creating a distracting background for those facing toward it. However, the treatment succeeded in filtering out the sound from the commotion outside.

The rest of the space was painted the standard white, a disruptive element to the dusky room that would have been better suited in charcoal gray. The spacing of the videos in the rectangular area allowed for adequate traffic flow. A sole column had been erected in the middle of the space, bearing four screens. A clustering of bodies occasionally occurred here in the oblong room, interrupting the journey of those following along the wall. The screens were placed near enough to hold their own attention while the viewer is still aware of the next in their peripherals, guiding them to the following piece.

Clearly, wires were a hurdle for this exhibition. Power cords were installed behind the walls, with only a small hole just above the floor, allowing a cable to run out. This approach created minimal interruption but formed a distracting pattern along the floor to the downward glance. Two screens had headphones attached to them. Their cords were excessively long, lolling about the floor. They were hung either on L-hooks or draped haphazardly atop the screen itself. Rendering themselves useless, the headphones did not provide any help in filtering out other sounds emitting from the rest of the room.
This exhibition could have easily been more successful with more attention to detail. Two of the screens were not even functioning, with one bouncing the manufacturer’s screensaver cross its surface. The doors were fixed wide open, casting fluorescent light onto the first three pieces, diminishing their contrast. The wall text was slightly lengthy and could have been edited to cause a shorter reading time in the visitors paused outside the door. A modest amount of polishing would have elevated this installation to expected museum standards.

 

Dates: 10.19.16-1.15.17

Like Smoke: A Retrospective Review

likesmoke-page-001Photo Courtesy of Un Chant d’Amour and Equity Gallery

Like Smoke
Equity Gallery
Lower East Side, New York

The exhibition, Like Smoke, examines the presence of absence in the human experience of longing. Its title is inspired by the black and white, silent film from 1950, Un Chant d’Amour, which translates to, “A Song of Love.” The story revolves around two prisoners, who are also lovers. The antagonist is an abusive, yet voyeuristic male guard who treats the prisoners harshly, yet spies on them as they perform masturbatory sexual acts. Deprived of physical contact, the two find solace in blowing cigarette smoke upon each other through the cells, in substitution for tender touch.

The exhibition reflects the dismal, yet romantic hues of the film. Set in a railroad-style gallery space, the minimal curatorial execution mirrors the narrow jail cells which pervades the film. The space maintains its white walls and invisible hanging methods, mirroring the barren set of the prison. The majority of the artworks are black and white or offering sparse, faded colors, akin to the black and white film.

The artworks explore how textured surfaces and abstract imagery can mimic flesh and represent the body when the actual human form is absent. The works also examine the portrayal of queer identity marginalized in society, as something needed to be reprimanded and lock away.

In Like Smoke, the visitors are the voyeuristic prison guard. They walk along the cell walls in the nearly black and white world. They peer upon the artistic representations of longing for physical contact when none is near. One may reflect on the fleeting nature of corporeality and how easily the lingering sensation of affectionate touch may so easily dissipate, like smoke.

 

Curated by: Osman Can Yerebakan
Artists: Dan Fairbanks, Carl Ferrero, Daniel Greenfield-Campoverde, Hermes Payrhuber, Eric Rhein, Gwen Shockey, Pacifico Silano, Quay Quinn Wolf, Lindsey Wolkowicz, and Jade Yumang

This show was on November 4 – December 4, 2016

Here is a link to the film via Youtube: