Friday, September 19, 2008

International Adventures

I'm headed East - first to Pittsburgh, where I'll visit the Carnegie International, then to Minneapolis, where I'll catch up with my dear friend Steve Dietz at his new venture, Northern Lights. All that's a run-up for my trip to India, where I'm spending four weeks working with New Delhi-based gallery Nature Morte and some of their artists.

I'm hopeful that the internet in Delhi has become as ubiquitous as some say, but really have no idea what connectivity is like over there as I haven't been back since 2001. I'm planning to check out the brand-new Devi Art Foundation and catch up with the brilliant folks at Sarai, and otherwise go with the flow. Hope to post from there, and at the very least I'll be posting tons of pictures when I get back in late October. Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection at Berkeley Art Museum

The collection of Uli Sigg is considered to be one of the most comprehensive in the world with respect to contemporary Chinese art. Sigg is the founder of the Chinese Contemporary Art Awards, and has been following the Chinese scene since its early days. If the exhibition currently on view at the Berkeley Art Museum reflects Sigg's interests, it can be said that he is more deeply concerned with the Chinese context for contemporary art than he is interested in work that implicates the global community (or the viewer) in its critique. Perhaps this is reflective of his observations about China, a nation whose focus remains profoundly introspective despite its substantial presence on the world stage. The prevailing concerns here seem to be the infiltration of American marketing into all corners of life, and the stifling presence of the Party within the home.

Luo Brothers, Untitled, 1999

This is a different approach from that of previous shows like Inside Out: New Chinese Art, Asia Society's seminal 1999 survey of the contemporary Chinese art scene. Despite some overlap, the focus of the previous exhibition included more performative works and documents that presented a body-conscious and confrontational methodology. The current show at BAM moves away from that precedent, perhaps because Chinese contemporary art has become so strongly identified with performance, photography and video that it seemed necessary to provide a different perspective.

The curatorial premise centers on the politics of the image under Communism, tied to propaganda that governed the appearance of everyone from Chairman Mao to the average peasant. The artists in this show have largely remained in China, and they experience subtle forms of expression management on a daily basis which they spotlight and lampoon here. The one-child family, the forced smile of the meager proletarian, and the faux-casual demeanor of the Party leadership are all on view. As an investigation of image as propaganda, the show is quite fascinating, the wall texts run through with intriguing facts about Communist thought-policing tactics.

A single viewing of this massive exhibition was not enough to generate a thorough assessment. I hope to return before it closes on January 4 and post a more in-depth account.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Stuff to See Tonight

The first Thursday after Labor Day marks the beginning of the fall art season. Why do we all still live by the semester cycle? Anyway, some good stuff is happening tonight in the Bay Area. Here's where I'll be:

Bayete Ross Smith

Bayete Ross-Smith and Jonathan Burstein
Patricia Sweetow Gallery
77 Geary Street, Mezzanine, San Francisco
5:30-7:30 pm

David Maisel

David Maisel: Library of Dust
Cheryl Haines Gallery
49 Geary Street, 5th floor, San Francisco
5:30-7:30 pm

Jillian McDonald

Jillian McDonald: Movie Stars and Monsters
Headlands Center for the Arts
944 Fort Barry, Sausalito
7:30-9 pm

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Wizard of Oz at CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art

Last night was the opening of The Wizard of Oz at my alma mater, California College of the Arts. Like always at the start of the semester, it was a full house, and the subject matter was well-suited to Wattis Director Jens Hoffmann's theatrical approach. The path of exhibition, which juxtaposed works by several notable international artists with ephemera from the titular novel and 1939 film, followed a narrative arc loosely based on that of the source material.

Walker Evans, Part of the Bedroom of an Alabama Cotton Sharecropper,
Hale County, Alabama
, 1935

The show opens with multiple beginnings. The American Midwest, where the story begins, is represented here by Walker Evans' powerful photographs of threadbare farm houses, which date to roughly the same time as the MGM film starring the teenaged Judy Garland. A large wall installation by Donald Urquhart chronicles thehistory and the dark side of the film's creation in a style derived from cheery children's book illustrations. Between these is a first edition of L. Frank Baum's novel, accompanied by reprints of early reviews, representing the start of a long cultural engagement with the book.

Clare Rojas, Woman in Yellow Dress in Poppy Field, 2008

Works such as Clare Rojas' drawings of women playing in a field of poppies, Evan Holloway's ax poised to chop, or Felix Gonzalez-Torres' images of birds flying through cloudy skies, can be read literally within the context of the story. Other works such as Bruce Conner's film Valse Triste have more subtle connections to the theme. Rivane Neuenschwander's installation Eu desejo o su desejo (I wish your wish) casts gallery visitors as Dorothy and her entourage, wishing for respite from the difficult journey ahead. Film originals include a first-run print, a Gramophone playing a recording of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and a pair of genuine Ruby Slippers.

The culminating work in the show is Steve McQueen's Once Upon a Time, in which images collected by NASA as indicators of human society and sent into space for alien consumption have been strung together and accompanied by a soundtrack of people speaking in tongues. The effect is wonderfully evocative of the Great and Terrible Oz - both ridiculous and full of hubris. Though traces of those characteristics can be found throughout the show, the negatives are outweighed by the strong use of space to describe a narrative, the visual interest of art mixed with cultural artifacts, and the iconoclastic takes of several artists on the literary source material.

The show runs through December 13.