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» NORTHWESTERN/ART/REVIEW

now what? issue 3 jan

2010

nureview.org


now what?

NORTHWESTERN/ART/REVIEW

Âť

CAMERON HENDERSON publisher cameron.d.henderson@gmail.com

ELLIOT REICHERT editor-in-chief elliotreichert2007@northwestern.edu

GEORGIA MCKAY assistant publisher georgiamckay2007@u.northwestern.edu

SEAN CROW co-director of finance s-crow@northwestern.edu

YANNELL SELMAN co-director of finance yannellselman2012@u.northwestern.edu

MARIA DANGLES co-director of public relations mariadangles2007@u.northwestern.edu

GARRETT OWENS co-director of public relations garrett-owens@northwestern.edu

KARI RAYNER co-director of public relations karirayner2007@u.northwestern.edu

CHRISTOPHER ADAMSON design chrisadamson@christolf.com

MARCY CAPRON webmaster corpuscallosum@marcycapron.com

09-10 Professor Christina Kiaer Professor Hannah Feldman

faculty board members


NAR is a student-produced journal based at Northwestern University dedicated to publishing undergraduate papers on art history and contemporary art trends. If you are interested in submitting a research paper or art review for publication in the Journal, please contact our editor-in-chief at e-reichert@northwestern.edu. If you are an undergraduate at any institute of higher education and interested in contributing in other ways, please contact the publisher at cameron.d.henderson@gmail.com. NAR thanks its sponsors, staff, featured authors, and the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. NAR is a non-commercial, not-for-profit journal. Images are copyright their respective owners, and used from ARTstor.org within their Terms and Conditions. Written material is Š 2010, all rights reserved.


from the editor now what?

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The past century of art production has been marked by a seemingly infinite supply of new forms. Freed from the dictates of overbearing patrons and no longer confined to the finite traditions of painting and sculpture, artists have exercised unprecedented freedom in planning and executing their ideas, pursuing novel concepts and practices that have resulted in the largest diversity of artwork ever created. Abetted by the insatiability of the modern art economy, this multiplicity of forms has reached a point at which no field of inquiry is beyond the scope of the visual arts. Ironically, this seemingly limitless freedom is confined by its own boundlessness. At a time when any and all art is possible,

artists must struggle all the harder to justify their particular practices. As the frontiers of art expand indefinitely, so does the range of territory already conquered, and thus the effort to distinguish oneself as an artist becomes infinitely more challenging. Each of the essays in this issue examines artists who, confronted by this paradox of freedom, have responded with artwork that critically engages the roles of art in our time as well as the potential to alter the course of art history at this crucial moment. Of course, artists of every age have grappled with the fundamental questions of the value and purpose of art, but never with such a self-conscious awareness of the history of

art, its social functions, and its potential for significantly impacting the lived experience at a juncture when it appears to have both everywhere and nowhere to go. The Northwestern Art Review is now confronting a similar dilemma. This issue marks both the beginning of our new biannual publication cycle and the last issue to be published under the leadership of several of its founding members. However confident we are that the journal rests in able hands, we are proud to have seen it through its first few years, and it is not without some hesitation that we let it go. We hope that NAR will continue to provide a forum for undergraduate students of art to exchange ideas worldwide, and


that Northwestern University will continue to benefit from its devotion to bringing the arts to our campus. For this issue and for four successful years, we would like to thank the Department of Art History at Northwestern University, especially Claudia Swan, the Department Chair, and Christina Kiaer, the Director of Undergraduate Studies. We are also incredibly grateful for the support and programming coordination provided by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University. Once again, we owe our compelling design and online presence to Christopher Adamson, as well as our emeritus webmaster Marcy Capron. As Editor-inChief, I am personally thank-

ful for the assistance of Sophia Espinoza, Allison Tawil, Anna Blumberg, Elizabeth Walker, Megan Lee and Nina Lincoff. Finally, I thank all the students who submitted essays for consideration, those whose work we have published, and those who have taken the time to enjoy the product of our labors. Elliot J. R eichert January 2010 Evanston, IL


TABLE OF CONTENTS 1of»art the temporal nature : erwin wurm

by jamie shi, page

8

2forgotten » fred wilson past:

and

mining history

by jamie hoffman, page

a

20

3 » contemporary ukranian art:

r e vo l u t i o n a ry experiments by ksenia yachmetz, page

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4 » beyond the surface: ross bleckner by brittany luberda, page

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the temporal nature of art »

erwin wurm by jamie shi university of california

- berkeley

S

ixteen

tennis

balls.

Directions: “Lie on the balls—no part of the body should touch the ground.” Walking into the gallery space,youfoundprecisely sixteen new tennis balls strewn

haphazardly

across an elevated white platform with the exact print above accompanying an instruction drawing, tacked neatly onto the adjacent wall.

»


one minute sculptures

— Erwin Wurm 1997


— Erwin Wurm 1998, 2001

hold your breath and think of spinoza Looking over to small plaque tied with this artist’s philosoon the same wall, three bolded phy for creating work, beginwords catch your attention. One ning with experimental art seMinute Sculptures. The phrase ries under the title, dating back “One Minute Sculptures” has to 1997.1 Upon first glance, even become the lingo inextricably a cursory one, Austrian-born Er10

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win Wurm’s compositions come across as near-futile attempts in a circus balancing act; however, the raison d’être underlying his work extends beyond an awkward exercise in coordination; he mocks the role of the artist in traditional compositions and


the temporal nature of art:

erwin wurm

the role of the spectator as well. Erwin Wurm delves deeper into the exploration of the transience of a moment as communicated through a brief, yet concrete, physical experience. The “living sculptures” conceptualized and fully realized by Wurm exist through an interplay of positive and negative space, momentary pauses of creation before imminent destruction, and the rapport shared between the participant’s own body in relation to various everyday objects of the artist’s choice—pickles, wooden sticks, a bottle, a flower, a refrigerator. “Using those materials,” he states, “automatically made the issue of the banal part of the work’s content” and brings his work down to the mundane.2 After achieving the stance dictated by the artist, one is immediately imbued with a heightened awareness of one’s own physical limitations and mortality as paralleled to the temporality of your “living sculpture” that will disintegrate

back into its component parts almost as quickly as it was generated, bringing up questions of authorship and autonomy. Such is the work of this artist, who seeks to reverse the status quo and centuries of tradition associating sculpture with the immutable and permanence of an art form that has been used as a means for emblemizing a historical figure with respect to specific location or event. This notion is all but abandoned when he brings the concept of sculpture on par with “Modernism.” Here is where the theories of Modern critics and philosophers, namely Clement Greenberg and Walter Benjamin, have interjected their thoughts on the changing scope of art in relation to a culture founded on mass consumption and technological advancement. The trend towards achieving maximum efficiency in all facets of modernday society have fueled new attitudes towards art—its method, its content, its reception—under the

preponderance of time, a spirit embodied and whole-heartedly embraced in Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures. On display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in from November 8, 2008 to February 8, 2009 was an exhibition entitled “The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now,” featuring artists such as Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Erwin Wurm himself, surveying “how artists have engaged members of the public as essential collaborators in the art-making process.”3 Erwin Wurm fits perfectly into this jigsaw assortment of artists, whose art relies exclusively upon the interpretation and unique reenactment of his instructions by any one who chances upon his installation—no prior experience necessary. Laughter is a desired reaction to his “living sculptures,” which rest on humor and embarrassment to provoke a reaction in its audience. He elabo-


— Erwin Wurm 1997

rates on this concept by saying,

and important, but I find pa-

good at making the easy diffi-

I think it’s a way to look at

thos repulsive. I want to ad-

cult. I’m interested in making

the world. Most artworks try

dress serious matters but in a

the difficult easy. That does

to represent something lofty

light way… Many artists are

not necessarily mean making it light in a stupid way. I’m

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the temporal nature of art:

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not speaking about the surface. I’m speaking about the content. 4

Here we can begin to dissect the thought-process underlying his One Minute Sculptures, which impels the realm of sculpture to its outermost periphery, by adjusting the definition of sculpture to account for our new modes of perception of objects both animate and inanimate, time, dynamism, “hands-on” experiences, and digital media. Additionally, by integrating human figures in his artwork, he adds an accompanying psychological aspect to his work, as not only are we faced with questioning the arrangement of the sculpture itself, but also the emotions overtaking the participant from the first second to the sixtieth. His installation at SFMOMA, aside from the performance works, includes photographs from the artist’s personal collection—a man balancing a felt pen on each shoe, a banana wedged between two cupboards,

a rock perilously resting atop a toilet brush. He captures the immediacy his past performances through the digital mode of photography, presenting a display of his repertoire of One Minute Sculptures as a montage of frame photographs lined in four rows of eight. In summary Erwin Wurm presents a “variety of ways sculpture can be made, understood, and communicated through performance, photography, installation, drawing, video, and text.”5 His art exceeds the norm because he employs “innovative uses for the established conventions of Conceptual Art, Minimalism, and Performance Art to lift his temporary sculptures above the status of mere incident, form and behavior” and onto a level where art as it encounters the “lay public,” dissolves the line between subject matter and audience, teaching spectators themselves what a simple task it is to become a player in the creation of an artwork irrespective of mate-

rials and location, as art that can function both inside and outside the institution of the museum.6 he possibility for sculpture to achieve such versatility of form and function inherently rests upon the willingness and ease of the public in accepting such a radical notion of sculpture; Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures epitomize a trend which began in the late 19th century that was first identified and analyzed by a figure by the name of Clement Greenberg. Perhaps this concept is best introduced with a quick dialogue with Erwin Wurm himself, who was recently interviewed by MUSEO magazine’s Peter Zuspan about his work. MUSEO is the “premier paperless contemporary art quarterly, focused on dialogic forms of writing that mediate between the studio, gallery, and academy.” One such exchange occurs when Zuspan claims, ‘There is something compellingly easy about

T


your work. Through humor, ba- ideological standpoint, the Gersic iconic references like houses man term "kitsch” refers to art or vehicles, or even the simplicity that arose as a by-product of the of the parts that make up some of modernist consumer society that your one-minute sculptures, one has dissolved the boundaries gets it. There’s an immediacy to separating the bourgeois and the it. What value does the easy have proletariat; in an effort to confor you?” Wurm replies, trol the masses, art of “kitsch” I once read that [finding] the has sacrificed and subjugated its short way is the most impor- own standards of “high culture” tant thing. I took this maxim for one that would be universally to heart. For a period of time literate. He champions the verity in my work, I decided to try of avant-garde art with “his dogmatic advocacy of abstraction, to find this short way and exand his distaste for commercial press myself through it. It is a popular culture—what he called reflection of my belief in di"kitsch" in one of his most famous rectness itself. It is the kind of essays ‘Avant Garde and Kitsch’ directness that you can find which denigrates the “passive in comics, which I often use in consumption” of the masses.8 7 my work. Additionally, Greenberg’s rejecThis “directness” that he refers is tion of Pop Art and Conceptuala concept closely knitted to Clem- ism set up the framework for his ent Greenberg’s theories on mod- state of mind when addressing ern art. The main dichotomy that art leading up to the time of ErGreenberg mentions in his writ- win Wurm. ings pits two divergent paths that I would argue then, that art has taken against each other, judging from this perspective, the avant-garde and a new term Greenberg would likewise disthat he coins “kitsch.” From an miss Erwin Wurm’s One Minute 14

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Sculpture as kitsch, because it reduces sculpture to its most basic, fundamental components—demanding, theoretically, no more than one minute to conceive of the idea, one minute to document the idea onto paper, one minute to realize the sculpture, and one minute before its collapse. Art of this nature thrives on the public’s “instantaneous assimilation” with such art forms, which demand no superfluous effort on the part of the viewer in the interpretation of a work, only the brute acceptance of the physicality of the human body and objects in the world that we take for granted. Time is the main factor I wish to address here in this paper, which can be tied directly to the art of kitsch within a culture; the shorter the time interval necessary for relaying the intention of artwork to the public and the public’s responsive understanding of this aesthetic, the more “directness” has been championed over a work that would otherwise demand a greater degree of contemplation, also demanding a greater degree of time. Such is


the temporal nature of art:

erwin wurm

— Erwin Wurm 1997

the art of the avant-garde, which seeks to uncover the sources from which we derive meaning in our lives in lieu of embracing superficiality and accepting the world for exactly as it appears. n the context of rapid modernization, Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures also succeed in taking advantage of the acceleration in both the present-day methods of distributing art to the public and art production itself, relating directly to the claims put forth by Walter Benjamin in one of his best known

I

works “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” Benjamin presents a new theory on the avant-garde building on what Greenberg defined as Modernism, characterizing post-modern art as nearly synonymous with the term “kitsch,” but more importantly driven by the technology of the time. He chooses to characterize modernity in terms of using technological advancements as a barometer for measuring the way we perceive the world around us which fosters new thoughts, new ideas and new directions, there-

fore, changing our very “notion of art.”9 With the onset of capitalism on the brink of completely reshaping social stratification, the mass consumer culture was on the rise as the market for commodities increasingly became an arena for immense profit. Methods for reproducibility, therefore, became critical. Tracing back the history of artistic reproducibility, we mark the beginning at the invention of the woodcut, later progressing to lithography, through to the modern-day printing press and even the existence of web-


sites specifically designed for uploading photographs for the purposes of circulating them on the internet, free for all to view. This transition is mirrored in a change in the artist’s treatment of his materials, where,

tractive, as less and less of the product itself is generated by the hand of the creator. Efficiency, in terms of mechanisms that can accomplish the most with the least effort, subsumes the front seat, completely reversing the photography freed the hand process of traditional art. In an from the most important ar- article written on Walter Benjatistic tasks in the process of min the following was said about pictorial reproduction—tasks this quickened pace of life, solely

The invention of photography

upon the eye looking into a

and film provokes a further

lens. And since the eye per-

speed-up effect, basing repro-

ceives more swiftly than the

duction not on the pace of a

hand can draw, the process

hand that draws, but on the

of pictorial reproduction was

seeing eye in conjunction with

enormously accelerated, so

the machinery of the lens. Cul-

that is could now keep pace

ture’s co-ordination with the

with speech.10

body has transformed. The

that

now

devolved

Once again, the factor of time is indispensable, given how modes of reproducibility which reduced the amount of time spent by the artist in regenerating the work have constantly replaced older, more tedious methods. The physical effort of the artist over time has become sub16

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time of the machine, not the time of the hand, determines production.11

Phrased differently, the photograph can be best described as a “chemical connection to actuality that captures a moment in time and exports it into the future. The photographic object brings

objects closer for inspection, providing an imprint of traces of the world. It reveals traces, not of the potter’s handprint, but of the object modern world.”12 Photography seeks to capture a fleeting moment in time and preserve this image along with the circumstances under which the picture was taken into the future. However, the sacrifice for such an art form is the loss of time the artist spends in physical contact with the finished product, as the final product possesses no unique quality, but functions as a commodity that has been massproduced and impersonalized. Without photography or a camera to film his works, his audience is also limited to those present during that specific interval as opposed to an image that can be reproduced and circulated in mainstream popular culture as a public object for consumption. This new age is seen mostly clearly when juxtaposed to the past; the meticulous effort put into each brushstroke for a painting or chiseled in stone for sculpture could truly only be


the temporal nature of art:

erwin wurm

fully appreciated in person. Once technological reproduction appeared on the scene, the need to experience works in situ falls in importance because the public has now obtained an ulterior method of viewing the same artwork, whilst spending a minimal amount of time in doing so. With relation to the work of Erwin Wurm who has explored both aspects of photography and film extensively, digital media is essential to the circulation of his work on the market, since they are short-lived by nature. It is true also that the photographs he uses to document the sculpture have affected our mode of perception, a perception different from seeing the work in person, because we are forced to peer through the window of the photograph and tend to place ourselves in the positions that the photographs capture human forms and objects, completely altering our sense of space with the reality that has been repro-

duced. Digital media adds an extra dimension to Erwin Wurm’s art because we are viewing what the artist with the camera is letting us view of a sculpture which in turn was viewed differently by its participant which in turn existed originally as a separate view in the mind of the artist. What we see is a compound superimposition of various points of view, at the expense of saving time we do not get to decide what we see. Photographs leave the public one step removed and will forever elude the “here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in a particular place.”13 The specific ties of Erwin Wurm’s sculptures to a specific time and space have been disintegrated for an essentially nomadic art form that can function as art irrespective of location. This is one of the most important concepts proposed by Walter Benjamin, in that reproducibility brings the images to the masses and helps foster greater

assimilation of art to the masses, sharing the same effect as kitsch since when “the technology of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the sphere of tradition. By replicating the work many times over, it substitutes a mass existence for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to reach the recipient in his or her own situation, it actualizes that which is reproduced.”14 It is the “alignment of reality with the masses and of the masses with reality is a process of immeasurable importance for both thinking and perception.”15 Erwin Wurm epitomizes this concept by marrying the idea of reality and sculpture into a “living sculpture” which can then be transposed in different forms—either reenacted personally or seen through a photograph of video recording to the point where “the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for reproducibility.”16 Wurm consciously seeks


— Erwin Wurm 2006 18

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the temporal nature of art:

erwin wurm

to change the relationship of the masses to art, and accomplishes this task by reversing the roles of the artist and spectator and also filters this relationship through the lens of a camera.

truly experience the present moments in living. Erwin Wurm’s juxtaposition of unity and disunity in the ephemeral aspect of his artwork ultimately plays to in the creation and destruction of man with the passing of time. ur perception of time is Though Greenberg himself would now, in effect, gauged by dismiss Wurm’s compositions on the technology available to the grounds of kitsch, one could us per the time period. Although, say that Erwin Wurm is inhersome would argue that the pur- ently commenting on the art that pose of art is to arrest time and Greenberg upholds by parodysuspend our belief in reality, Er- ing the protocol of “true” artists win Wurm’s One Minute Sculp- in the creation of their works. tures accomplishes the contrary. Wurm is simultaneously rejectTime eludes our control, yet art- ing and embracing Greenberg’s ists such as Erwin Wurm seek theories, the result being an amto quantify art in terms of it, a plification of how sculpture can commentary perhaps on how out function in modern day society, lives are prioritized. As Heideg- stepping in, on and outside the gar writes of the importance of line drawn between mass culDasein, we must live and with ture and the illusion of where inevitability of death if we are to mass culture stands with respect

O

to the art world. More paradoxes are apparent in applying Benjamin’s text to Erwin Wurm. The ease of reproducibility enhances the sculpture’s responsiveness to its viewers in so much as it acquires a “user-friendly” aspect, but reflects less and less of the artist’s own technical skill—increasingly replaced by the viewer’s ability to create and imitate the compositions as well. The dichotomies prevalent throughout Wurm’s work, previously stated above, serve to “criticize” the discipline of modern, conceptual art by presenting the all possible types of contradictions that can coexist within a time interval of one minute—contradictions that Erwin Wurm seeks to address one minute at a time. » nar


fred wilson

and a forgotten past »

mining history by jamie hoffman university of southern california

F

or his 1992-93 exhibit “Mining the Museum,” Fred Wilson described, in a 1994 lecture at the Tate Gallery in London, the show’s multiplicity of meanings. “It could mean ‘mining’ as in

gold mine—digging up something rich in meaning—or as in land mine—exploding myths and perceptions. Or it could mean making it mine,”1 he said.

»


cigar store indians

— Fred Wilson 1992


The exhibit, partially sponsored by The Contemporary, Baltimore, granted Wilson uninhibited access to The Maryland Historical Society’s permanent collection in order to create a show of his own design. Wilson employed the found object as the essential piece of his project. Using juxtaposition as his main weapon in questioning history, Wilson turned the often-hidden sides of the museum inside out. To many, museums are a place of security, where objective knowledge is bestowed in a direct line of communication from institution to observer. Once this established network of power becomes disrupted, viewers are often shocked. This notion of the museum’s role in society is problematic. How do museums dispense information? Is the knowledge always objective? Who is being left out in the telling of these stories and by whom? By bringing unseen parts of Maryland’s painful history of slavery of African Americans and mistreatment of 22

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Native Americans to light, Wilson used the Society’s present collection to challenge what the public knew (or didn’t know) about the past. Wilson’s exhibit challenged the subjectivities that arise when one group does history’s retelling for all. The use of the institution’s own possessions to highlight their ignorance makes the show’s impact profound. Wilson forced his audience to see the histories of two groups ignored by popular museum practice. Rather than creating a narrative for viewers to mindlessly consume, “Mining the Museum” forced its audience to recreate that narrative for themselves. Wilson, in keeping with his land mine metaphor, exploded not only the safely buried past of forgotten peoples, but in doing so, also exploded modes of communication between the museum and its many participants. One of the primary goals of “Mining the Museum” was to transform the passive museumgoer into an active participant in the narratives they may have

already been told. To natives of Maryland, this meant their own state history. Immediately, viewers were given agency over their own experience. The show’s curators created a handout to be read in the museum’s elevator. “Mining the Museum” was not in the business of feeding answers to an unengaged public. As Lisa G. Corrin, curator of “Mining the Museum”, explains in her essay “Mining the Museum: An Installation Confronting History”: An educational handout was produced after the exhibition opened. ‘Do you have questions about Mining the Museum?’ was based on questions most frequently asked of and reported by guards, docents, receptionists,

and

gallery-

store staff. Visitors received it at the end of the installation, so that the active questioning process of their experience would not be lost. 2

The exhibit would foster an active mind. In tackling Maryland’s muchforgotten Native American histo-


fred wilson and a forgotten past:

mining history

ry, Fred Wilson crafted the piece Cigar Store Indians. The work is composed of five large sculptures of Native American cigar storeowners found in the Maryland Historical Society’s permanent collection along with five contemporary photographs. The five sculptural “Indians” face a wall in front of them where the photographs hang. Against this wall is a map indicating the locations of various indigenous tribes in and around Maryland. The five sculptures have their backs facing the viewer, and their close grouping prevents the viewer access to any frontal view. Despite only being able to see the back of the sculptures, our limited view of them still gives us clues as to who they are. Each wears an elaborate headdress and colorful, nonWestern tribal garb. They stand on pedestals, some of which say “CIGARS” and “TOBACCO” in large letters. The sculptures are of varying sizes, but all tower over the viewer. These three ele-


ments, photograph, sculpture, and map, are the integral parts of the Cigar Store Indians composition. In opposition to typical historical museum arrangements, Cigar Store Indians is awkward, as none of the components can be clearly

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appreciated from any vantage point. By placing the sculptures against a wall, Wilson robs the viewer of the freedom to walk around the sculptures and fully appreciate their beauty. Their organization near the corner leaves a spatial void in front of the photographs where an observer could neatly fit, but the towering statues form a line of defense keeping the viewer away from the wall. Wilson also denies access to their facial features, which he argued in his lecture at the Tate Gallery, “have no connection to a Native American

physiognomy.”3 The contemporary photographs however, one of very few items not taken from the Maryland Historical Society’s collection, depict modern Native Americans of Maryland that contradict the traditional, primitive image that the sculptures reinforce. In his lecture “The Silent Message of the Museum,” Wilson describes his first encounter with these objects as compelling, but that because his mother is Anglo-Amerindian he couldn’t face them. “They don’t look like any Indians I ever knew,"4 he said. Instead, these sculptures represent a Western view of Native Americans


fred wilson and a forgotten past:

mining history

that only reinforces stereotypes. While the viewer cannot see the faces of these false representations of Native Americans, Wilson could, and when he did, he recognized a disparity between these artistic constructions and his own personal experiences. To prevent the perpetuation of widely circulated stereotypes, Wilson refuses to accept them. By turning the sculptures so that their backs face the viewer, one cannot see the faces of these larger-than-life animations of Native American identity. What they can see however, are the faces of real Native American peoples who look out at them from the photographs. These photographs serve as a foil to the false image the statues perpetuate. Wilson negates stereotypes of Native Americans by mixing modes of representation. The photographs provide an authenticity that the statues, in their oversized caricature form, cannot. The two representations,

one of fact and the other of fiction, oppose one another due to their physical composition. Viewers are denied one image while given another. At the same time, the viewer plays audience to a face-off of two active forces. The conceptual staring contest established by Wilson’s juxtaposition of the figures is a manifestation of the actual forces at play in the reconstruction of Native American identity in Maryland and throughout the United States. As modern day Native Americans try to assert their identity against the cultural hegemony, the unflattering and ugly past of their oppression in this country continues to haunt them. The photographs in the exhibition are literally dwarfed by the large statues the way contemporary Native Americans seem dwarfed by outdated stereotypes. The clarity of the contemporary photographs seems to be an acceptance of one chosen representation, while the turning of the

statues seems to be a negation of another. Even this notion however, is unstable. While we may not be able to see the statue’s faces, their presence in the room is still more profound than that of the photographs. This back and forth between assertion and negation of opposing identities highlights Wilson’s main problems with the organization and its presentation of “objective knowledge.” At his Tate Gallery lecture, Wilson recalled what the Maryland Historical Society told him when he asked for modern proof of Native Americans. “There are no Indians in Maryland,”5 they said. Wilson’s addition of the photographs is a rebellion against the very institution where the exhibit lies. It is a reversal of the ignorance the institution tried to generate with its denial of a minority group. Most of all, it is a reversal of their view of universal truth. Just because the institution asserts a fact, does not make it factual. This claim throws all power rela-


tions within the museum structure off balance. While institutions may profess to dispense universal truth, Wilson proves through Cigar Store Indians that this may not always be the case. Cigar Store Indians not only brings forgotten histories to light but simultaneously “explodes” how, once found, these histories are told. s Cigar Store Indians uses juxtaposition to comment on the forgotten and misleadingly reconstructed Native American past, Wilson’s Metalwork 1793-1880 from “Mining the Museum” uses similar strategies to approach Maryland’s painful past of slavery. At first glance, the piece looks like any other display of historical artifacts. Beautifully shiny silver Baltimore goblets are grouped in a display case typical of any historical museum. In the middle of

A

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metalwork 1


1793-1880

fred wilson and a forgotten past:

mining history

— Fred Wilson 1992

these objects however, is a pair of iron slave shackles that greatly contrasts the beauty of the silver vessels. Metalwork 1793-1880 was part of a larger installation displaying the material culture of the land-owning classes. Here, both the light and dark parts of that ruling class are on display. This figurative dichotomy of light and dark is manifested in the surface texture of the two types of items. The silver vessels shine infinitely under the bright museum light, while the dull and dark surface of the iron shackles remains a dark pile of metal at the front of the display case. While the ruling class possessed such beautiful decorations, Wilson reminds us that these luxury items could not have been possible without another more conveniently forgotten kind of metal. In his essay “Museums and Historical Amnesia�, William H. Truettner explains the institutional interests in keeping decorative and historical elements of


their collections apart, suggesting that they “almost invariably find it safer to present works of art as aesthetic verities, unchanging in their meaning and importance, and uncompromised by historical associations.”6 By promoting narratives of progress through universally understood decorative pieces, the stories of a darker and more painful nature remain hidden. Unfortunately for the cultural hegemony, nothing is safe in Wilson’s exhibits. As with Cigar Store Indians, Wilson simultaneously brings hidden histories to light while attacking the institutions of power that have kept them safely buried. In Metalwork 1793-1880, Wilson digs up the memory of slavery by displaying the slave shackles. Similarly, he challenges the conventional museum practice that would keep such an object separate from other, more aesthetically pleasing, metalwork of the same period. Wilson connects objects the institution would prefer remain separate. Pieces of 28

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aesthetic and those of historical value rarely fall under the same light in museum exhibitions. Here, Wilson denies their difference, but instead asserts their similarity in grouping them together under the title Metalwork. He also gives them a unifying time period, further suggesting their sameness. As objects of the land-owning class, viewers gain insight into what this wealthy elite was really composed of: slave-owners. The luxurious silver goblets represent the glory of capitalism, while the slave shackles highlight the gore it took to achieve it. Wilson’s repertoire of work, namely those within “Mining the Museum”, are a part of a trend kick started by Marcel Duchamp in the early 1900s. He pioneered the use of the found object, a concept that would become the pillar of “Mining the Museum”. These readymades, such as Fountain and Bicycle Wheel shocked the art world by departing from the conven-

tions of the autonomous art object. These objects move into real space, a concept that would later be reinvented by Minimalists in the 1960s and 70s. Hal Foster, in his essay “What’s Neo about the Neo-Avant-Garde?” calls this a “spatial move, to open a new site for work.”7 This new site would develop into a biting critique of institutional power structures with the art of Michael Asher and Hans Haacke in the 1960s and 70s. They began an attack that would continue to characterize post-war art up until the present. Their work questioned museum practices that had become second nature. Sometimes, this meant exposing the physical characteristics within the museum’s four walls. Michael Asher’s installation at the Claire Copley Gallery in 1974 literally exposed this space by breaking down the wall that hid the gallery’s secretarial space from the exhibition space. Similarly, Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube broke down the barriers between a work and its environment by exposing the manipulated aspects of that en-


fred wilson and a forgotten past:

mining history

vironment. Haacke exposed the manipulation of temperature in the gallery as evidenced by the condensation that formed within the walls of his cube. These artists also grappled with the idea of site specificity, a component that holds enormous weight in Wilson’s “Mining the Museum”. The exhibit relies on the Maryland Historical Society and the cultural history of Baltimore for its strength as a comment on the past. Should it be moved, much of its impact would be lost. Similarly, Michael Asher’s installation at the Santa Monica Museum of Art could not be refashioned elsewhere. His use of the blueprints from past SMMoA exhibits became the basis for an installation where each of these plans was reconstructed simultaneously. The physical museum where these plans were derived became a crucial piece to the installation’s success. This notion of site specificity combined with institutional critique began de-

cades ago, but still sees life in the artists of today. As Judith E. Stein explains in her article “Sins of Omission: Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum, "much has changed at the Maryland Historical Society in the years since Wilson’s watershed exhibit. A current exhibition, “What’s it to You?: Black History is American History” grew directly from their experience of working with Wilson. Today the Society has five minorities and 10 women on their board, a significantly higher portion than a decade ago."8 Through the exhibit, Wilson opened a dialogue that institutions had closed on minority groups. He drew upon the practices of predecessors like Duchamp, Asher and Haacke who used found objects, and often critiqued the institutions that housed them. Wilson took these tactics and used them for personal aims. Using his diverse background of African American and Native American ancestry,

Wilson built upon these ideas to bring those histories to light. Wilson’s exhibit “Mining the Museum” holds a special place in the balances between museology and African American/Native American art. Ten years after his exhibit, Wilson would go on to represent the United States at the 2003 Venice Biennale, proving that “Mining the Museum” put him on the map as an important conceptual and installation artist. The exhibit forced viewers to realize, to question, and to rethink their surroundings, proving that seemingly objective knowledge is never safe. » nar


contemporary ukrainian art Âť

revolutionary experiments by ksenia yachmetz new york university

he 2004 Orange Revolution single handedly changed more than just politics in Ukraine.1 It was a force that brought together all walks of life—from pensioners to oligarchs, school children to working professionals. Supporters on both sides of the conflict flooded streets and town squares in protest.

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Untitled Demonstration — R.E.P. happening 2005


From L’viv to Donetsk, the country was in an uproar. It was on this backdrop that activists became artists, and artists became activists. In this paper, I argue that the Orange Revolution gave way to a new generation of Ukrainian artists, who make effective and aesthetic criticism-based political art. Using their respective circumstances as points of departure, these artists make art that comments on society. Grounded in reality, their works aim to incite an immediate response from the spectator, who then holds the power to bring about change. Such art is novel in a country like Ukraine, where, for many years, art was just another word for propaganda. When discussing contemporary Ukrainian art, one must keep in mind several important historical facts. Until 24 August 1991, Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union, which meant that, more or less, its laws and norms were strictly set and under 32

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the control of a higher power. In limit my examples to artists who line with this, artists across the work in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Soviet Union were mandated to While other art communities follow the prescriptions of social- exist and are very active in citist realism. However, alternatives ies, such as L’viv, Odesa, and always existed, most prominent- Kharkiv, they do not have dily in the forms of nonconformist rect bearing on my analysis and and Sots art. By working under- conclusion within the context of ground and exhibiting privately, this paper. artists like Ernst Neizvestny, Vi- According to my research, taly Komar, Alexander Melamid, there are two generations of conand Ilya Kabakov were successful temporary Ukrainian artists— and eventually emigrated to the that is, an older generation that United States. In Ukraine both began making art in the late during and after perestroika, 1980s, and a younger generation artists like Alexander Roitburd of recent art school graduates and Oleg Tistol were some of the who have come to know art in a first post-Soviet Ukrainian art- free and independent Ukraine. ists able to work freely in styles The artists of the older generafrom abstraction to realism. The tion include Alexander Roitburd, forefathers of contemporary Oleg Tistol, Andri Savadov, and Ukrainian art, they faced many Alexander Hnylytsky. They are obstacles in a new country with primarily based in painting and a transitional government that tend to stay away from art of was only democratic in name. a political nature. Most influ Here, I present a case study ential on their artistic idioms of contemporary Ukrainian art was transavantgarde, an Italian based on independent research non-abstract, neo-expressionist conducted in Ukraine during movement in painting popular in summer 2008 and winter 2009. I the 1970s and ‘80s. The methods and practices of this older generation were also strongly shaped


contemporary ukranian art:

revolutionary experiments by the founding of Kyiv’s Center of Contemporary Art.2 For many years after the fall of the Soviet Union, it was one of the few spaces for experimental and non-realist art in Ukraine. Today, many contemporary Ukrainian artists

— R.E.P. happening 2005

of the older generation exhibit abroad as well as in the dozen or so privately owned galleries that exist in Kyiv. Working parallel to them are artists of a younger generation, such as Revolutionary Ex-

perimental Space, SOSka Group, and Anatoli Belov. Having begun their work during and immediately after the Orange Revolution, these young artists look at the art world from a different perspective. It is no longer a plat-

we will r.E.P. you!


R.e.p. party

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— R.E.P. happening 2006


contemporary ukranian art:

revolutionary experiments form just for fame and fortune but also for debate and progress. Unlike their predecessors, they not only produce paintings but also performance pieces, graffiti art, and installations with strong political messages. They use art as a tool for acquiring knowledge and understanding the world. Instead of museums and

galleries, these artists depend on an informal network of art spaces, where social interactions and art-based discourses are as much a part of the exhibition as the actual art pieces. Collaboration, cooperation, and collectivism are the cornerstones of their artistic community. Central to the lives and works of these art-

ists is their environment. Finding inspiration in the media and current events, they are highly sensitive to social, political, and economic changes happening around them. orn on the streets of Kyiv during the Orange Revolution, Revolutionary Experimental Space (R.E.P.) was originally a group of twenty artists.3 According to Nikita Kadan, one of R.E.P.’s founding members, it operated like an “art laboratory” in which each artist worked on his own project while adding to and subtracting from the ideas and works of others. 4 The group’s early projects were made in direct protest to and criticism of the chaos that consumed Ukrainian society during that infamous year of countless reelections. From the very beginning, R.E.P. incorporated itself directly into the public space instead of making art parallel to real life

B


events. In this way, R.E.P. was able “to present art as a part of the social sphere, which is open to the public, much like free health care and education.”5 Two examples of this are the happenings We Will R.E.P. You! and R.E.P. Party that took place in 2005 and 2006, re-

al days, it set up a tent in Kyiv’s Independence Square alongside those of official parties, made posters, banners, and flags, and exclaimed slogans using a megaphone. Albeit a bit overdramatic and amateurish, R.E.P.’s pseudo political party was a success be-

the inefficiency of democracy. It was staged in an empty field on the outskirts of Kyiv one evening in 2005. The members of R.E.P. marched around carrying signs and shouting slogans that were ripped from newspaper headlines. It was deemed successful

spectively. On both occasions, the group adopted the rhetoric of political campaigns and announced itself as an independent political party. Over the course of sever-

cause it became difficult for the spectator to tell the illegitimate party apart from the real ones. Untitled Demonstration is another happening that ironized

by R.E.P. because its actions, neither seen nor heard, had no effect, much like those of corrupt, self-serving politicians. After a yearlong residency at Kyiv’s Center of Contemporary

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contemporary ukranian art:

revolutionary experiments Art in 2006, R.E.P. was distilled to six artists—Nikita Kadan, Lada Na konech na, Lesia Khomenko, Zhanna Kadyrova, Ksenia Hnylytska, and Volodymyr Kuznetsov, all of whom are under the age of 35. Since then, the group has participated in international exhibitions, biennials, and residencies. It makes one product with one voice. Together, the members of R.E.P. work on several different projects simultaneously—giving lectures, self-publishing newspapers, and curating exhibitions. Also in 2006, R.E.P. began Patriotism, an ongoing project and the first by the group based in the private space. In form, Patriotism is a universal language of graphic symbols varying in size and orientation. Designed by the

ational mode of art consumption.”7 Ac c ord i ng to R.E.P., the — R.E.P. 2008 language of Patriotism plays an active role in society. Both a moderator and an instigator, it is used to artists themselves, the symbols transmit “a mass message into a are stenciled onto the walls and cultural situation that evokes in facades of galleries and museums. the recipients, i.e. the audience, a Juxtaposed to one another, they heightened sense of responsibilcreate micro- and macro-narraity.”8 This is accomplished by ustives, which literally breakdown ing symbols that are easily crelocal and global problems. These ated by the artists and quickly monumental pictographs address understood by the spectator. issues such as political corruption, Living in a society where sohuman trafficking, and immigracial initiatives have gone by the tion regulation. Provided with a wayside, the members of R.E.P. dictionary, the spectator is responhave taken it upon themselves sible for reading and decoding the to bring about change. Without narratives.6 In this way, PatrioPatriotism, would be no suftism is more than art; it is a parficient medium through which ticipatory event that “makes [the R.E.P. could communicate their spectator] break out of the recreideas and opinions. Patriotism

patriotism at alphabetical order


patriotism — R.E.P. 2008 38

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contemporary ukranian art:

revolutionary experiments also gives the spectator a chance to play a vital role in instating societal change. In this way, “Patriotism’s visual form is not only a means of showcasing ideas and attitudes, but also something the spectator must overcome in order to perceive them.”9 She must navigate between the narrative’s aspects of “slogan-shouting” and “neutral representation” in order to reach an appropriate conclusion to take away from an installation.10 R.E.P. expressed their frustrations with humankind’s complacency in Alphabetical Order, an exhibition at Index, The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, in 2008. Using the symbols of Patriotism, R.E.P. constructed a timeline of the average person’s life from birth to death. Seen in between are the stages of life: youth, marriage, career building, and old age. Looming over them is a giant comb, the symbol for care. This narrative implies that, like the alphabet, our pri-

orities and, effectually, our entire lives are standardized. When our priorities are predetermined, our perspectives on life become warped. We no longer can appreciate the variety and spontaneity in the world around us. On the next wall, R.E.P. shows us what we are missing. A giant comb hovers over the symbols for animals, freedom of speech, war, history, disabilities, intelligence, health, agriculture, science, culture, sport, and tourism. These aspects of life exist beyond our personal space and perception. Looking at this installation, the spectator becomes aware of the difference between the microcosm of her life and the macrocosm of her world. In every installation of Patriotism, architectural forms directly interact with the narratives, advancing their impact on the spectator. One example is from R.E.P.’s 2008 solo exhibition Patriotism. Checkpoint at the F.A.I.T. Gallery in Krakow,


Poland. Here, the doorway becomes part of the narrative as the people, stenciled across the wall at eye level, move forward and out of the room. They mimic the movement of the spectator who also walks in, across, and out of the room. Dispersed within the narrative are the symbols for intellectual potential, the future, dreams, and fertility. Above the doorway is a change purse, symbolizing the budget, which is, in turn, a symbol of the government and its economic power. Around it swarm sperm, symbols of natural competition. R.E.P. juxtaposes these narratives to illustrate a tension it feels exists in society between bureaucracy, which is run by greed, and its citizens, who have learned to live with and even adopt its ways. In post-Soviet Ukraine, bribery is a common form of corruption that permeates all facets of life. Political leaders bribe constituents for votes; university students bribe professors for grades; shop keepers bribe red-taped government 40

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agencies to stay in business. No longer are people trying to live a good life but rather just trying to survive in what has become a kleptocratic state. ormed in 2005 by Nikolai Ridni, Hanna Kriventsova, and Sergei Popov, SOSka Group is another art collective working to change Ukrainian society through contemporary art. Its original projects organized meetings and exhibitions for young Ukrainian artists in public, abandoned, and unofficial spaces. Crucial to SOSka’s mission is providing a safe and welcoming place, where artists can freely express their thoughts and opinions. More recent projects are also fueled by these ideas. In the video “Lie and Wait,” SOSka member Ridni purposely lies down on the sidewalk in front of the German Embassy in Kyiv. It is daytime, and the sidewalk is busy with passersby. His action represents his anger over the fact that it is very difficult—nearly

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impossible—for average Ukrainians to obtain Schengen visas to Western Europe. The police quickly arrest Ridni for his action, which dangerously stepped over the boundary between art and reality. For another performance, which was captured in photographs and videos, the group members donned masks, depicting the faces of Viktor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainian politicians made famous by the Orange Revolution. They proceeded to walk around the city and ride the metro, begging for money. At first glance, this project looks like a lighthearted parody; however, it is actually a statement of serious criticism. It is a metaphor for contemporary Ukrainian politics, which is poor and rotten. Rendered effectually useless by society, politicians have become meaningless in Ukraine—cast aside and forgotten.


contemporary ukranian art:

revolutionary experiments former member of R.E.P., Anatoli Byelov is an independent artist, who, like his contemporaries, uses the streets of Kyiv as an exhibition space. With a special kind of wax paper, indelible ink, and glue, Beylov creates wall murals that are public responses to what he considers to be injustices in contemporary Ukrainian society.11 His work is evidence of the rising trend in street art activism in Ukraine. In both style and form, Beylov’s art looks like the murals of British artist Banksy; however, in content, it is fundamentally Ukrainian. An earlier series comments on the marginalization of Ukrainian artists as well as other groups, particularly homosexuals, who are living alternative lifestyles in a conservative Ukraine. For it, Beylov combined portraits, some of which were of recognizable Kyivlanyns, with phrases like “We are not marginals.” Last spring, his series Why

A

“lie and wait” — SOSka Group 2005


— A natoli Byelov 2009

why moral? 42

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contemporary ukranian art:

revolutionary experiments Moral? was mounted in various locations around Kyiv’s city center. It comments on Ukraine’s fate in the current worldwide economic crisis. Its images are a combination of nostalgia for old Soviet life, seen in the babushka or grandmother clutching a glass jar of preserves, and distain toward contemporary capitalist society, seen in the man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Each image confronts the spectator with a different reality, arousing questions and mixed emotions. he works of R.E.P., SOSka Group, and Anatoli Beylov are representative of the changes that have occurred in contemporary Ukrainian art since the Orange Revolution. It is safe to say

that, in the coming years, these artists will continue to produce unconventional works that bestow upon the spectator the sole responsibility of exercising art’s power in real time. Below is a photograph from R.E.P.’s exhibition Patriotism. Art as a Present.12 Juxtaposing the narratives of Patriotism with two spectators, it does more than provide

a sense of scale. It reinforces the credo of each of these artists—to make a kind of socially-engaged art that breaks down the barriers between artist and spectator, art and politics, private and public, imagination and reality. » nar

patriotism, art as a present

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— R.E.P. 2008


beyond the surface Âť

ross bleckner by brittany luberda university of chicago

I

n 1947, Jackson Pollock began his first drip painting by rhythmically circulating around a flat canvas on the floor. Films and photographs of Pollock at work allowed the public to visual him meditatively analyzing and

reforming the compositions, constantly moving while letting layers of ordinary house paint fall from his brushes and paint sticks.

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Dirty Clouds — Ross Bleckner 1994


Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is one of his best known works: a chaotic conglomeration of various paints swirled together in an arresting mass. This style of abstract painting was the focal point of a critical dialogue on Abstract Expressionism between Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.1,2 In the 1940’s, painting had reached a crucial turning point as Abstract Expressionist painters rejected European Modernism and Surrealism. Greenberg suggests that Pollock was able to work through the past and finally rise above European Modernism by accentuating the flatness of the canvas through destructing pictorial representation. Modernist Picasso id space was radical and for Greenberg, space and form determined future innovative moments in Western Art. But by exalting form, Greenberg rejects

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the artist’s hand in his own work. In contrast to this, Rosenberg champions both the artist and process. Pollock’s drip paintings were about the dramatic process involved in their construction, not necessarily the final product. The artist is able to free himself from the past and reclaim art on a personal level. The action, the moment’s spontaneity, reveals a unique psychological viewpoint. Abstract Expressionism also liquidates the critic, making the artist no longer a passive figure- importance is re-apportioned to the spectator witnessing the action and defining the work for himself. In 1949, during the height of Abstract Expressionism, Ross Bleckner, a leader of the Neo-Expressionist movement, was born. With his art the debate over an artist’s biographical significance and painting’s originality will reemerge. Far from just appropriating past techniques, Bleckner innovates the process of painting through luminous surfaces that rupture the boundary between

photograph and painting, political and personal representation, and formal aspects in the historiography of art. Bleckner is a principle painter of the 1980’s in America. He graduated from George W. Hewlitt High School and entered the ranks of many successful people in the artistic community from this Long Island high school, like fashion designer Donna Karan and photographer Susan Meiseles. He then attended NYU and California Institute of the Arts in 1973. October Group critic, Craig Owens writes a review of fellow California Instiute alumnus Bleckner in January 1982. In comparison with other graduates, he suggests that Bleckner’s desire to add “hyperbolic literary” supplemental material to his works, for example overarching quotes like: “the problem of artistic creation—is the problem of madness and death,” is Bleckner’s attempt to compensate for something fundamentally lacking in the paintings themselves.3


beyond the surface:

ROSS BLECKNER

the door to Last year

— Ross Bleckner 1981


Harsh as this is, Bleckner’s works benefit from supplementary explanation. Jewish, gay and an avid supporter of the AIDS movements, Bleckner was more than adamant in including references to specific events, emotions, or people in his painting. The personal is all but nonexistent in Abstract Expressionism and, more controversially, Op art, “which had been read by critics at their time of ascendancy as pure form without extrapictorial meaning. 4 However, “Bleckner incorporates representational elements that allude to the personal and the political,” while sustaining a visual language derived from Abstract Expressionism and Op Art.5 Bleckner was first included in a Whitney Biennial in 1975, and later that year he had his first solo exhibition, at the Cunningham Ward Gallery in New York. However, the 1995 Guggenheim Museum’s retrospective of Bleckner titled Memories of

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— Ross Bleckner 1994

Memo


orial I, II Light, which including seventy large paintings by Bleckner, suggests his work reaches its first acme after 1980. Pieces from the year 1981, like The Door to Last Year, 1981, are suggested to be his first mature paintings.6 Bleckner had an uncanny ability to generate luminosity, a quality seen in some paintings as a glow coming from within; the illusion that light is coming from the canvas. When looking at The Door to Last Year the white translucence that appears emitted around the rectangular square in the center of the composition, is this affect. These stripe paintings of “relentless bright-dark contrasts produced a sense of sometimes shimmering, sometimes throbbing” surface light.7 Something about Bleckner's stripes relegates abstract or optical illusionary significance apparent in Op and Representational art of the 1960’s. But, rather than withdrawing into representation, they leap into the realm of cor-

poreal experience. The glare of the clashing colors, or simply of the stroboscopic or, as Stephen Melville put it in 1987, the “shuttering” effect of the rapid intermittency of brightness and darkness as the eye scans through the crowded stripes, approximates a tangible pressure on the viewer's body.8 The spectator and painting are unified, even if just momentarily, in a dissociative sensation catalyzed by this luminosity. The vibrant luminosity of Bleckner's work may even be a shallow acclamation of his work, based on pure aesthetics, in comparison with Thomas Crow’s ambitious analysis of Bleckner’s surface facture. Crow suggests the Bleckner’s paintings display a “markedly different conception of the boundary between physical world and mental image” than all previous painting.9 Because of the new invention of white ground, in the 1880’s the Post-Impressionists were able to use their canvases to create a new

beyond the surface:

ROSS BLECKNER

spectrum of tones. Pigment suspended in linseed oil was standard, but it’s relationship with the white ground transformed the canvas. The effect was an opulent reflection of the white grounds underneath the paint surface in addition to off of the top veneer of paint. One hundred years later, Bleckner retreats from the matte, woven, porous surface that constructed almost all canonical painting since the Post-Impressionists, to a “continuous, sealed sheet of suspended pigment that signals its presence through an unorthodox degree of reflectivity.”10 Bleckner’s surface planes possess a substance of their own, like thickened film or skin, perpetually wet in appearance. The translucent membrane of his oil surface rejects any trace of tangible connection with the quasiabstract representation he has painted underneath the surface layer. His dense translucent topcoat acts a third surface layer and


fourth wall between the canvas, material, image and beholder. Bleckner enters the history of art in an alternate chronology of innovation through which surface constitutes bond between spectator and canvas, but his contribution is found neither in the subject matter of the painting nor the spectator’s psychological state. Bleckner’s originality emerges in his, understated thus far, portraits of social and personal emotion through synthesis of photographic and painterly techniques. It is the photographic semblance of his work and this new third surface layer that ruptures the fundamental rules of painting in all previous history. The even, glossy facade is standard for photographic prints available for consumer purchase. When looking at a domestic photo of, for example, a sunset, the viewer looks directly past the shiny surface to the image and scenery. As Crow dissects, Bleckner

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uses this reflective quality of the photograph in which the viewer impassively looks beyond, and he inverts it to become an interruption in the contemplative process of looking at a painting. On a photograph the viewer is indifferent to the shiny topcoat. On one of Bleckner’s paintings however, the reflective properties of the surface present a dull mirror in which the viewer experiences a vague reflection of their own image actively engaging the spectator in the piece. Photography, continuously condemned for it’s purely “‘mechanical transcription’ of superficial visual experience,”11 attempted to overcome its technicality through manipulations of technique. Crow uses Edward Steichen’s pictorial gum prints as an example. Gum prints turned the surface of a print into a malleable coating that was built by brushing pigmented photosensitive gums. The Flatiron from 1904 exhibits the effect;

the haze, the lack of clarity, the vague ill-proportioned depth not thought possible with in the medium of photography. Edward Steichen, along with the leader of this movement, Alfred Stieglitz, attempted to imitate and then surpass painting through photography. Critics today have re-historicized this photography as an attempt to use technology as a means to maintain pictorial sensibility, to a most negative reception. Bleckner approaches this concept of exalting one form of medium by utilizing it in a different medium, with a generous embrace.12 The paintings of his that use this continuous sheen are the first to attempt to maintain Expressionist techniques in painting, imbue it with personal significance through symbols, and evoke emotional projection from the viewer, all through an unprecedented attention to surface texture. Bleckner’s crucial contribution to the conditions of painting’s


beyond the surface:

the flatiron

ROSS BLECKNER

— Edward Steichen 1904


reincarnation through surface was secondary to several critical political and social examinations of art in the 1980’s. Art Historian Alison Pearlman remarks that true avant garde is courageous in its effort to be original and its willingness to confront society with visions that may risk a less than warm welcome.13 The avant garde currents of the 1980’s were subjected to a profuse amount of analysis and critique. The 1980’s experienced a proliferation of neo movements in the art scene under the umbrella name of Postmodern Art. Struggling after the “death of painting” mentality that plagued minimalist and conceptual art, painting, the traditional medium of art, re-entered art as an avant garde and with a vengeance. W.J.T. Mitchell deciphers postmodernist painting’s tripartite agenda as part religious quest with overtones of iconoclasm (the destruction of mimesis and representation); part scientific revolution (the claim to be opening up a new field of perception 52

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and representation of a deeper reality than mimesis could offer; and part political revolution (shocking the bourgeois beholder with the militant gestures of the avant garde).14 From these three predominant intentions, several strains of art evolved. One of the earliest was Neo-Expressionism, the category often assigned to Bleckner, which entered the American art scene in the late 1970’s from Europe. The Neo-Expressionists began as a reaction to the Conceptual and Minimal art of recent decades. It was about “the legitimization of a mode of painting that exults in the physical properties of the medium, and in its capacity to generate images and stir the emotions.”15 The “figuration, bold color, and energetic gestures” were celebrated by some as the “rejection of Conceptualism and a return of what it repressed.”16 Bleckner states, “I think about the context (of my painting), the painting and all kinds of personal relationships… (my painting)

It’s what you want to be thought of, and your work represents you.”17 For example, his painting Knights not Nights, 1987, is often cited as a commentary on homosexual love. Hal Foster looked at this personal, intimate approach to painting as indivisibly linked to the suppressive brainwashing of the commercial trade of art by the government. Neo-Expressionism promoted the myth that expressiveness comes from the soul, unmediated by material conditions and conventions of representation. Foster calls this the “expressive fallacy” in which the artist fails to see how he or she is blinded by cultural conditioning and its appeal to the cult of personality, the basis of authoritarianism.18 Rosalind Krauss, the preeminent formalist critic, even adds that critical postmodernist art had a duty to exploit the revolutionary potential of art’s reproducibility, called upon by Marxist Walter Benjamin, and subvert the bourgeois “modernist myth of originality.”19 However, upon further examination of both the political mean-


beyond the surface:

ROSS BLECKNER

ing behind artists like Bleckner’s psychological basis for painting and his formal surface facture, it easily apparent that the critics of Bleckner, like the October Group, were perhaps too narcissistic themselves to see brilliance and innovation in the revival of painterly techniques. The October group failed to realize the political constructs of personal art were not economically substantiated simply because there was boom in the art market in 80’s and artists had returned to studio size canvas. By concentrating on the commercial trade of art they overlooked the principal meaning imbued by the artist on to the canvas through representation. Personal identification with a piece is a moving experience, hardly shallow. The piece 8,122+, 1986, for example, is a direct response to the growing AIDS epidemic. The number 8,122, a literal addition to the painting, is the sum of all those who had died of the AIDS epi-

demic as of January 1986. This painting is situated in a group of memorials commemorating the loss of life, often incorporated in to the work are “flowers, urns, doves, fruits, chandeliers, and streaks of radiant light… Bleckner’s elegiac use of an iconography of death and mourning. Borrowing from the past, Bleckner evokes the Dutch tradition of still paintings that served as momento mori, a reminder of life’s brevity and the inevitability of death.”20 His work is reliant upon an understanding of figural art history, but since the paintings are somewhere between narrative, abstract, photographic, and optical it would seem near impossible to comprehend his subject matter—a common criticism of this pluralist outlook on utilizing past stylistic features. Yet, part of the viewer’s ability to respond and connect with this art is a result of our aforementioned avant garde Abstract Expressionism and a tran-

sition in approach to looking at a canvas. Looking at Bleckner’s activist and personal subject matter, his intimate relation between himself and his paintings, should be enough to deconstruct this as a viable critique of his multi-referential pieces. Even the suggestion that his pieces are using the one-dimensional Op Art of the 1960’s in an equivocally devoid of critical meaning technique, is invalid. Elizabeth Sussman, curator of the exhibition Endgame, thinks that Bleckner has appropriated Op Art as a kitsch symbol and transformed it with, what Crow identifies as his most powerful technical advancement, luminosity and surface texture. Overall, Bleckner’s work was and is instrumental in the movement through the end of painting to the imperative new beginning of arts most sacred medium.21 » nar


2» mining history

Like My Time (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2004), 12.

Michael W. Jennings, eds., Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, 253.

6. Ibid., 14.

14. Ibid., 253.

1» erwin wurm

7. Peter Zuspan, MUSEO magazine.

15. Ibid., 256.

1. Peter Weibel, ed., Erwin Wurm (New York: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2002), 120.

8. Paul Barlow, Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), 149.

1. Fred Wilson, “The Silent Message of the Museum” (paper presented at the first conference of the Institute of International Visual Arts held at the Tate Gallery, London, England, April 27-28, 1994).

2. Peter Zuspan, MUSEO magazine (Accessed 24 November 2008) <www.museomagazine.com>.

9. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, eds., Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings (Cambridge, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 251.

2. Lisa G. Corrin, “Mining the Museum: An Installation Confronting History,” in Reinventing the Museum, ed. Gail Anderson (San Francisco: Rowman Altamira, 2004), 248-255.

10. Ibid., 253.

3. Fred Wilson, “The Silent Message of the Museum.”

notes

3. “The Art of Participation,” SFMOMA (Accessed 15 November 2008) <http://www. sfmoma.org/exhibitions/306>. 4. Peter Zuspan, MUSEO magazine. 5. Berin Golonu, et al., eds., Erwin Wurm I Love My Time, I Don’t

54

11. Esther Leslie, “Walter Benjamin: Traces of Craft,” Oxford Journals <http:www.jstor.org/ stable/1316160> 8. 12. Ibid., 9. 13. Howard Eiland and

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16. Ibid., 256.

4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. William H. Truettner, “Museums and Historical Amnesia”, in Museums and Dif-


ference, ed. Daniel J. Sherman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), 354-371. 7. Hal Foster, “What’s Neo About the NeoAvant-Garde?,” in The Duchamp Effect: Essays, Interviews, Round Table, ed. Martha Buskirk and Mignon Nixon (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996), 5-32. 8. Judith E. Stein, “Sins of Omission: Fred Wilson’s Mining the Museum,” Art in America, November 2003

3» REVOLUTIONARY EXPERIMENTS 1. On 31 October 2004, presidential elections were held for the sixth time since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. The result was a two month standoff between the liberal, pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko of Bloc Our Ukraine and the more conservative, business oriented, and pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych of the Party of Regions. Ultimately, Yushchenko was declared the winner after two run-offs and sworn in as President of Ukraine in January 2005. The Orange Revolution was the response of Ukrainian citizens to what became the greatest political debacle and abuse of voting rights in Eastern

Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union. Part of a unofficial grouping of post-Soviet “color” revolutions, the Orange Revolution was named after the color Yushchenko’s party, Nasha Ukrajina (Our Ukraine). 2. CCA was founded by the Soros Foundation in 1993. After the fall of the Soviet Union, George Soros funded the establishment of art centers as well as humanitarian and cultural organizations across Eastern Europe. In 2001, the CCA became independent of the Soros Foundation and is still in operation. 3. In Ukrainian, the group is called Революційний Експериментальний Простір or Р.Е.П (Revoljutsijnyj Eksperymental’nyj

Prostir or R.E.P.). 4. Nikita Kadan, Personal interview, 6 Aug. 2008. 5. Victor Misiano, “R.E.P.: The Art of Multitudes,” Patriotism. Art as a Present (Kyiv: PinchukArtCentre, 2008), 8. 6. See www.rep.tinka.cc for a copy of the dictionary. 7. Misiano, 8. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. Anatoli Byelov, “Novie Raboty,” E-mail to the author, 12 April 2009. 12. It was held at the PinchukArtCentre in Kyiv in 2008.

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notes cont.

4» ROSS BLECKNER 1. Greenberg, Clement. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Partisan Review, 6:5 (1939), 34-49. 2. Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” Tradition of the New, originally in Art News 51/8 (Dec., 1952), 22. 3. Craig Owens. “Back to the Studio,” Art in America (Jan., 1982), 106. 4. Richard H. Axsom “Bleckner, Ross (b. 1949),” An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender,

56

and Queer Culture, Feb. 6, 2004 (Accessed 26 May 2007) <www.glbtq.com/arts/ bleckner_r.html> 5. Ibid. 6. Barry Schwabsky “Memories of light Ross Bleckner, Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York,” Art in America (Dec. 1995). 7. Ibid. 8. Stephen Melville, “Dark Rooms: Allegory and History in the Paintings of Ross Bleckner,” Arts Magazine (April 1987), 58. 9. Thomas Crow, Modern Art in the Common Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 112.

13. Alison Pearlman, Unpacking Art of the 1980’s (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997), 21. 14. W.J.T. Mitchell, What do Pictures Want? (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 223. 15. Pearlman, 11. 16. Ibid. 17. Victor Hsieh, “Interview with Ross Bleckner,” Gagosian Gallery, 1996 (Accessed 28 May 2007), 28 <http://www. birdhouse.org/images/ hsieh/bleckner.html> 18. Pearlman, 15. 19. Ibid., 25.

10. Ibid.

20. Axsom, “Bleckner, Ross (b. 1949).”

11. Ibid., 118.

21. Elisabeth Sussman,

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12. Ibid., 123.

Endgame: Reference and Simulation in Recent Painting and Sculpture (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1986), 51.


PUBLISHER's note Dear Readers, Thank you for reading the Northwestern Art Review’s third issue, “Now What?” NAR has come a long way since its conception three years ago during a cheap pizza dinner shared among strangers. What began as a truly miniscule student group has evolved into a dynamic organization with multiple projects and causes. The founding members of NAR confronted the monumental task of creating a respected journal while possessing no initial capital and lacking the intellectual reputation necessary to be legitimately heralded as an academic journal. Yet, through the efforts of many over the past three years the Northwestern Art Review now exists as an internationally read publication with thousands of viewers. No longer content to only produce one publication a year, NAR now publishes its journals bi-annually, possesses a dedicated following of online

visitors, hosts programming within the Northwestern community as well as in the Chicago area, and serves as a much needed medium for undergraduate Art History discourse. NAR strives to serve as the epicenter of all art history endeavors for the undergraduate community. We are all proud of the progress we have made together. None of NAR’s evolution would have been possible without the generous support of the Northwestern University Provost Office, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum, the Northwestern University Art History Department, and the Northwestern Alumni Association. Through such groups’ monetary support and intellectual guidance the founding goals of the Northwestern Art Review have been accomplished. NAR must now enter the new decade with more fervor

and intensity. Novel ideas must be born and we must position our publication effectively to remain relevant in a rapidly changing era of media and journalism. As the founding members graduate, we look forward to NAR’s future under new leadership. NAR will continue to abide by its founding doctrine and will always provide a forum for young adults to have a powerful voice within the art community. Although, I must admit I am saddened to see my time at NAR come to an end. Yet I cannot be more excited as I look to the future and the talented individuals who will continue the tradition of scholastic excellence and creative passion. To all our readers, supporters, and writers we thank you. Cheers to what the future may bring! Cameron D. Henderson January 2010 Evanston, IL


now what?

NORTHWESTERN/ART/REVIEW

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NAR #3: Now What?  

Northwestern Art Review, Issue no. 3

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