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Michael Minelli

Michael Minelli Curated by Sowon Kwon January 26 - March 10, 2012

CUE Art Foundation is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to promoting culture by supporting the creativity of under-recognized visual artists by offering comprehensive arts education programming for artists and students, and interdisciplinary arts events for public audiences.

Board of Directors


curatorial Advisory Council

Gregory Amenoff

Executive Director Jeremy Adams

Gregory Amenoff, William Corbett,

Development Director Marni Corbett

Lari Pittman, Thomas Roma, Marjorie Welish,

Theodore S. Berger Sanford Biggers Patricia Caesar Thomas G. Devine Thomas K.Y. Hsu Vivian Kuan Corina Larkin Jan Rothschild Brian D. Starer

Programs Director Beatrice Wolert-Weese

Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jonathan Lethem, Andrea Zittel CUE FELLOWS

Programs Coordinator Ryan Thomas

Gregory Amenoff, Polly Apfelbaum,

Development Assistant Alexandra Rose

William Corbett, Michelle Grabner,

Gallery Assistant Jessica Gildea

Corina Larkin, Jonathan Lethem,

Theodore S. Berger, Chair, Ian Cooper, Eleanor Heartney, Deborah Kass, Rossana Martinez, Juan Sรกnchez, Irving Sandler, Senior Fellow, Carolyn Somers, Lilly Wei


We are very honored to show the work of Michael Minelli, generously curated by Sowon Kwon. Minelli’s work raises relevant, provocative questions related to mass media consumption and 24-hour news culture. As we continue to strive to meet our commitment to both emerging artists and the public, we are extremely proud to be the first venue in New York City to exhibit Minelli’s work. At CUE, artists like Michael Minelli and emerging writers like Megan Hoetger, who wrote the young art critic essay found at the back of this catalogue, are given a platform to share their unique and worthy talents with the public, fostering an environment for mutual enrichment and dialogue.

—CUE Art Foundation Staff


Michael Minelli When I started making work in the 1980’s, Richard Gere was rumored to have been compromised by a gerbil (or vice versa), actor/President Ronald Reagan was in office and the internet was in its infancy. Twenty plus years later, the politics between fantasy and spectacular culture are still in play, but now the landscape of how one speaks and the audience(s) to whom one is speaking lend a whole new level of feedback to the mix. Whether speaking directly to the camera, modeling raw plasticine or rolling paper into vacant microphone stands, my work is an investigation of what it means to understand something through the process of making it. I’ve always seen that activity as an open proposal; one where a direct engagement with materials is an opportunity to challenge notions of mastery, totality or spectacle by resisting their implications with respect to agency. Few of us as artists can fully anticipate the conditions under which a work may be seen or understood, but we can approach that making with an awareness that such a moment will come. The works in this exhibition offer me an opportunity to explore how meaning is informed through labor, memory, narrative and material content; all constituent parts that make up America’s matrix of pleasure and conspicuous consumption. My practice is an attempt at shaping the shit that passes through our homes and through our heads into a response.


Biography Michael Minelli’s practice is sculpturally based, insofar that he believes meaning is both created and informed by the material relationships we encounter within our daily lives. Minelli’s work includes object making, drawing, writing, photography and performance; all with an eye upon the prickly alliance between popular media discourse and the individual subject. As a member of the artists’ collective REHAB, Minelli’s video and performance work were part of a weekly broadcast on Manhattan Public Access Television from 1987-89. In 1993, Michael participated in the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program and went on to receive his MFA in Sculpture at UCLA in 1999. Minelli has exhibited his work in the United States and in Europe since 1987. In 2006, he was commissioned by The Wexner Center for the Arts to create a unique work for the exhibition Shiny. This work was exhibited in the 2010 international exhibition entitled Only Now at the Design Museum of Holon in Israel. Minelli is a founding member of WPA in Los Angeles—a collective exhibition space formed in 2009 in response to the rhetoric and reality of fiscal depression. His recent exhibition Black Boxes opened at WPA in November 2011. This marks Minelli's first solo exhibition in New York City. For more information, visit and


Sowon Kwon Michael Minelli's work is carefully and singularly made, hand made for the most part. Its modesty in this regard is as purposeful as its engagement with the big, the bang, the speed, and polish of our world as mediated by mass culture, is ambivalent. His work lays bare the extent to which we are irrevocably made, remade, and struck dumb in mass culture's wake. But at the same time his efforts offer up individual subjectivity, vulnerable and imperfect as it is, culling along and giving it a go anyway. His work counters consumerist spectacle and bombast without reproducing it (a neat trick), and without cynicism, sanctimony, or panic (well, maybe a little bit of panic). Along those lines, Minelli’s embrace of material culture, high and low, strikes me as incredibly honest, i.e. we live here, most of us. This taste for breadth and complexity makes for an ambience around the guy as someone you could talk to about most anything. I can draw a line from the Carpenters’ Kind of Hush to the Bread and Puppet Theater, to the nuances of signification in Mira Schor’s paintings, to Viktor & Rolf dress shirts, to the best Bela Lugosi impersonations, to punchy reminiscences of 1990s Soho to inevitably, grief and mourning. Start another line from the tickling fact that the father of Samwise is Hamwise Gamgee and go to (speaking of patrimony and mourning) Sculpture with a capital S, for Minelli is not without erudition. Follow that line from objects specific to fields expanded, to projects continuous, to critiques institutional, to aesthetics relational (for we teach) and rest at sculpcha. Sculpcha boils down to something like faith in the curiosity and cognitive intelligence it takes to push materials to do stuff viably if unexpectedly (for we teach). How do you fuse sequins and puka shells to cast urethane and Dr. Kevorkian or is that Rupert Murdoch? Apes in uniform to Pippi Longstocking? Or what mass/ volume/weight the plaster, so that the talk bubble hangs just so—too low to hug, too genial to kick? How to roll then unfurl paper, unfurl and roll again so that it might speak, or at the very least hold its own amidst other self-respecting and/or more load bearing vertical bodies in the room? Maybe some color. What color is "pathetic glamour"? Which black (waxed matte as in Mike’s mics, or gaffer tape shimmer in the wonky boxes) invites the possibility of a public sphere, or perhaps even an eleventh hour rescue? At what angle to jut tubing so that we peer in and around it in situ, but also duck at its photo? How to make the word (or the song lyric) flesh? All of this is not easy. And all of this is to say that for its spinning and seemingly arbitrary matrix of connections, Minelli’s work is precise. I mentioned teaching earlier. I have noticed many a young art student completely at ease with speedy digital interfaces and time-based pro editing tools who also seek out other kinds of intelligences. If the growth of small DIY initiatives and industries and the interest and desire for craft and craftsmanship in art schools are any indication, Mike's work heralds much. His work also teaches me perhaps paradoxically, that there is a life and material logic in art that is distinct from that of the artist. This potential should be respected, celebrated.


Biography Sowon Kwon works in a range of media including sculptural and video installations, digital animation, drawing, and printmaking. Her recent work explores portraiture, perception, and historical memory as our bodies are increasingly submitted to and made accessible through technology. She has had solo exhibitions at The Kitchen in New York City, Matrix Gallery/Berkeley Art Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris (now Altria). Her work has also been featured in many group exhibitions in the US and abroad at: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, ICA Boston, MOCA Los Angeles, The Queens Museum, The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Artist Space, The Drawing Center, Artsonje Center in Seoul, Korea, the Gwangju Biennale, the Yokohama Triennale in Japan, and San Art in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She is a recipient of grants from The New York Foundation for the Arts in Sculpture, The Asian American Arts Center, and The Wexner Center for the Arts in Media Arts. Kwon has taught at The Cooper Union, Princeton University, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has an upcoming solo exhibition at Gallery Simon in Seoul, Korea in the fall of 2012.


Michael Minelli



Michael Minelli: Both/And Megan Hoetger

A pair of men’s briefs that fit on a pinky finger; that quintessential comedic prop, the banana peel; a little bust of the cartoon character Olive Oyl mounted on a spindly wire; the still-shocking hooded figures from the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal; a miniature car battery rigged for electrocutions; the small frame of eleven year old Kim Phuc burned by napalm; naked devil men; a minute vignette of two men in a life raft; a mini Michael Jackson striking his well-known moonwalk pose. This is only a sampling of the subjects that Los Angeles-based artist Michael Minelli has included in his most recent body of work, Souvenirs (2011). All miniaturized and able to fit in the palm of your hand, these objects are hand-modelled from a colorful array of Sculpey brand polymer clay and evoke a range of emotional responses. From the serious to the comical, the sacred to the profane —what do Minelli’s objects even mean? Are they ironic or genuine? Funny or tragic? Pathetic or profound? The answer lies, perhaps, not in trying to determine the status of Minelli’s objects as either/or, ironic/genuine, funny/ tragic or pathetic/profound, but instead, in the open-ended possibilities of both/and. Devoted to a practice of making objects, Minelli orients his work conceptually around the logic of the selected material, such as its physical properties or scale. It is through this exploration of materiality that he opens up an investigation into the possibilities of and for communication. The materials, thus, play a key role in unpacking the both/and relation embedded in the intimately scaled figures of the Souvenirs series. As in his 2004 series cannibals & christians, in which he used the format of bust portraiture to evocatively describe “types” of people in contemporary society, Minelli employs Sculpey clay, a 25

Michael Minelli: Both/And

low-budget, oven-baked material reminiscent of childhood arts and crafts, as well as beloved clayanimation figures such as Gumby and Pokey. The material associations are whimsical ones, and yet much of the culled imagery in Souvenirs (and in the previous series) is disruptive because of the topical political references (torture and war) indiscriminately mixed with banal cultural sources (the banana peel and Olive Oyl). Moreover, their miniature size alludes to the scale of 18th and 19th century folk figurines, which were famously described as the “rearguard” by Clement Greenberg in his essay, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” 1 Minelli’s objects are not created as kitsch though. Lacking the sentimentality embedded in that popular middle-class aesthetic, the objects in the Souvenirs series derive from the excessive array of media imagery and information that circulates at dizzying speeds in today’s culture and through the contemporary psyche. By employing a “low” material like Sculpey in a small, un-heroic scale, is Minelli suggesting that such media-derived imagery is kitsch for the information age? Or that the saccharin attitude traditionally coded as kitsch is perhaps more complex than we understand it to be? Again, in attempting to pin down meaning in Minelli’s objects in terms of an either/or relation, we arrive at the perplexing position of both/and. The slippage between traditional contexts and present-day re-contextualizations, at the level of both material and form, is analyzed at length in Martha Buskirk’s The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art (2003). In her examination, Buskirk describes two sets of choices facing the contemporary artist: first, selecting the material, and, second, navigating the conventions associated with that medium. These two choices, she continues, may fail to coincide as artistic production moves increasingly away from a medium specificity in the Greenbergian sense to a contextual engagement of medium as one element among many in the production of meaning. 2 In other words, as these sets of decisions become more explicit and intentional the site of meaning production becomes dislodged from its conventional locations. Buskirk’s words resonate in Minelli’s body of work, which through his material choices consciously references public and private space, play and work, low and high culture. In playing these traditionally understood opposites against each other in this both/and relation, Minelli deflates sculpture’s still-expected sense of monumentality. Instead, the tiny objects of Souvenirs perform this monumentality through a weightiness of a different, more symbolic sort, proposing that through the small we may get at the large. In the unassuming space of Minelli’s miniature figures, there lies the potential for an experience of both illogical humor (the tiny underwear) and intense empathy (Kim Phuc), which can co-exist in a continuum. Thus, although miniaturized, many of these representations 26

carry a psychological and intellectual gravity, referencing events, scandals, and iconic figures with which we are still culturally and ethically grappling—from the Vietnam War to Abu Ghraib and the King of Pop. In a conversation in his studio last September, Minelli explained that each material offers a proposition, demanding or suggesting a certain use. 3 What he looks for in materials is the resistance that their physical qualities offer and, in many cases, the counter-intuitive associations that they may evoke. Minelli’s approach orders the logic of several series. For example, in not by everybody (2006), the artist crafted twelve small porcelain composite figurines engaged in familiar scenes of both leisure activities and moralizing tales from history. Working against the now-common production model of outsourced fabrication, Minelli cast the figurines on his own, contending with the extreme laboriousness and volatility of the material, which lead to numerous but interestingly charged imperfections. Minelli used a similar tactic in his installation, I Know Where You L (2009), which included objects constructed of rolled paper, ranging from microphone stands to partially obscured text signs reminiscent of activist posters. In that work, it was the inability of the fragile paper materials to hold a sturdy, sculptural form that attracted the artist. The installation transformed the gallery space into something like a disengaged recording studio-cum-activist tent. There, Minelli introduced ideas about hindered communication directly in the representation of the mic stand, a ubiquitous signifier of speech and debate in our media culture, missing its microphone. 4 In the Souvenirs series, what has engaged Minelli is the immediacy offered by the Sculpey clay, its ability to be molded with only a few squeezes of the thumb and forefinger, and its resistance to conventional notions of the monumental. The small pieces require anywhere from just a few minutes to a few days to construct. This quickness of making aligns his sculptural process with that of drawing. If we understand the latter to function as a problem-solving space within artistic practice, then these objects operate for Minelli like sketches, wherein he can quickly work through visual imagery that resonates at certain moments, both private and public. The confrontations and conflicts within Minelli’s choice of material metaphorically extends outward for the artist, representing the conditions within social space. In a culture whose contours and subjects are defined by information exchange including a continuous flow of visual imagery from the media, attempts to resist the dominant discourse and communicate alternative attitudes are easily lost. One can think here of the many voices simultaneously struggling to be heard on various virtual platforms, from YouTube and Flickr, to facebook and Twitter. On all of these sites, as the artist suggested in conversation, it is the desire to speak and be “seen and heard,” rather than the specifics of what is being said that becomes most important. 27

Michael Minelli: Both/And

What drives Minelli’s inquiries in the Souvenirs series is this collective desire to be paid attention to in the face of an overwhelming media landscape —despite the speakers’ lack of anything particularly significant to say. How and where can we have meaningful, politicized exchange today? Asking questions such as this, the artist uses his form of “drawing,” the modelling of small figures and objects, as both a deeply personal and publicly engaged problem-solving tactic and course of intellectual work. Asserting a both/and logic at multiple levels, Minelli’s objects represent, perhaps more than any one single image, the inability to fix meaning. If one extrapolates further to the artist’s metaphorical social proposition, they also signify the lack of possibilities for substantial exchange in contemporary social space, recalling the well-known phrase from the movie Cool Hand Luke (1967), “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The artist’s body of work shares with that classic film an exploration of social alienation and the fleeting spaces or isolated instances that the individual can inhabit to counter dominant systems of power. The poetics of Minelli’s resistance appear to us as a quiet reminder of our collective situation at a turbulent time in the United States, when the limits of resistance and politicized exchange are being tested by thousands of citizens in the Occupy Together movement. What began with Occupy Wall Street quickly spread to numerous cities across the country and revealed the many, long-running cracks in the foundation of the American Dream. The questions Minelli raises are perhaps questions we should all be considering as we look toward the future. Where can both our sense of activism and our insatiable desire to be “seen and heard” go once the protests, as public interventions, come to an end?

1 Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” in Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 539-549. 2 Martha Buskirk, “Medium and Materiality” in The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 107-158. 3 This idea as well as all other references to the artist’s process are drawn from a conversation with the artist, which took place at his studio on September 19, 2011. 4 The disconnect between the props around communication and the actuality of exchange is also present in Minelli’s Black Boxes (2011), another recent body of work, which was recently on view at WPA, a gallery space run by an artists’ collective in Los Angeles of which Minelli is a member.


The writer, Megan Hoetger, is a Los Angeles-based historian, critic, and curator. Hoetger recently completed her MA at California State University, Long Beach where her thesis, Playing the (Visual) Field: Examining the Site of Performance in Kurt Kren and Otto M端hl's "Mama und Papa" was awarded Outstanding Thesis of the Year by the College of the Arts. Hoetger has presented her research throughout the country and most recently was awarded The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) grant to study and undertake research in Kassel, Germany. The mentor, HG Masters, is a writer and editor with a focus on arts from across Asia. He is editor-atlarge for ArtAsiaPacific magazine. ................................................ This essay was written as part of the Young Art Critics Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE Art Foundation, which pairs emerging writers with AICA mentors to produce original essays on a specific exhibiting artist. Please visit for further information on AICA USA, to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA's Coordinator for the program this season. For additional arts-related writing, please visit


Image list: All Souvenirs made from Sculpey III and wire, 2007 – 2011 All Dimensions (l x w x h) Podium, 1 3/8" x 1" x 5" Flamethrower, 2 1/2" x 1/2" x 1" Jack-in-the Box, 1 3/4" x 1/2" x 1 7/8"

CUE wishes to acknowledge the Los Angeles County’s Center for Cultural Innovation and their generous support of Mr. Minelli’s exhibition through their ARC Grant program. The artist would like to specially thank John Pearson for his assistance in designing the layout for the image pages.

Devil 1, 1 3/4" x 2" x 3 3/4" Devil 2, 2" x 2" x 3 3/4"

Cover Image: Napalm girl, 2 1/2" x 2" x 3 1/2"

Life raft, 3/4" x 1/2" x 1/2"

All artwork © Michael Minelli

Tarbaby, 2 3/4" x 2 1/2" x 2 3/4" Video Camera, 2 1/2" x 3" x 5 3/4" Sponge, 5/8" x 5/8" x 3/8" Alprazolam 0.50mg, 1/2" x 1/2" x 1" Red car, 3/4" x 3/8" x 3/8" Microphone, 1 1/2" x 1" x 1 1/2" JFK Jr., 1 1/2" x 1 1/4" x 3 3/8" Genie Bottle, 3/4" x 3/4" x 2 3/4" Banana peel, 3 1/4" x 2 1/2" x 1 1/2" Napalm girl, 2 1/2" x 2" x 3 1/2" Buzzbox, 2 1/4" x 1 3/4" x 2 1/4" Land line, 3/4" x 1" x 2" Michael Jackson, 1 3/4" x 1 3/4" x 4" Beehive, 3 1/3" x 2" x 1" Briefcase, 1 1/4" x 1/4" x 7/8" Charlie Brown, 1 1/2" x 1" x 1 1/2" Kitty with yarn, 2 1/2" x 3" x 2 1/4" Axle, 2 1/2" x 3/4" x 3/4" Bomb, 1 1/4" x 1 1/4" x 2 3/4" Underwear, 1" x 3/4" x 3/4" Rubber chicken, 2 1/2" x 1" x 1/2" “Black Sunday” Camera, 2 1/2" x 2" x 3 1/4" S/M figure, 1 1/2" x 3/4" x 1 3/4" Lotto balls: #4, #27, 3 1/4" x 2" x 1 3/4" Pinocchio, 3 1/4" x 1 1/4" x 3 3/4" Hazmat gloves, 4" x 4" x 1/2" Doomed flight, 1 1/2" x 3/4" x 2 1/2" Tool bag, 2 1/2" x 3" x 1 5/8" Detainee 1, 2 1/2" x 2" x 2" Transistor radio, 1" x 1/2" x 1 3/4" Black saint, 1 3/4" x 1 3/4" x 5 1/2" Rabbit, 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" x 2" “I Love You This Much”, 3" x 1 1/4" x 3 5/8" Gatefold: Black Box 1 [detail], 2011 Paper and ink on cardboard, Dimensions variable 30

ISBN: 978-0-9832853-4-2 Catalog design: elizabeth ellis Printed by mar+x myles inc. using 100% wind-generated power

CUE Art Foundation’s operations and programs are made possible with the generous support of foundations, corporations, government agencies, individuals, and its members. Major Programmatic Support: Accademia Charitable Foundation, Ltd., CAF American Donor Fund, The Viking Foundation, AG Foundation, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, The Greenwall Foundation, The Greenwich Collection, Ltd., William Talbot Hillman Foundation, The Koret Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Inc., The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts (a state agency)

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2011-2012 511 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001 212-206-3583 |

Michael Minelli: Curated by Sowon Kwon  

Catalogue accompanying January 2012 exhibition

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