Monday, October 27, 2014

Art Walkabout, Whitechapel – Raven Row, Union Pacific, Whitechapel Gallery, Carlos/Ishikawa

 Korakrit Arunanondchai at Carlos Ishikawa

During my very first week in London I first went to the Whitechapel area for a Jack the Ripper tour. Yes, silly I know but I have always had a slight fascination with him and it was something to do. The tour was interesting to degrees and tedious at times but more then anything it makes you have a narrative context to how old and how seeped in history London is. Of course the era of Jack the Ripper is so recent comparative to London’s very-very long history but you get the point. The streets, the alleyways and the buildings are much more intact then could be imagined. There is a dense, eerie sort of history in the city that gives it weight as well as beauty.

Well back to the point. This past Saturday I went to Whitechapel for a second time with the purpose of seeing art in the renowned and newer galleries of this area. It was a refreshing sort of day.  One of those days in which things felt accomplished and that is very much due to the stellar quality, diversity and downright surprises seen on this walkabout.

I started off at Raven Row, which has a dense, and thorough show of the artist KP Brehmer.  I was unaware of Brehmer’s art but was very well introduced to it after seeing this exhibit. Brehmer was (he died in 1997) a political artist in that he visualizes via charts, graphs, and systems of information coding to thus reveal capitalist structures and systems. Don’t roll your eyes yet though. Brehmer’s type of art is perhaps vaguely overthought but there is actually a poetry to it. Perhaps this is due to Brehmer’s proclivities towards music, that most liberating of formula based creation. 

The coding, graphing, mapping and symbols via stamps, flags and a variety of other things in Brehmer’s earlier works was a means to express Capitalist Realism, a now decontextualized movement in which the likes of Sigmar Polk, Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg applied to reflect upon markets and consumerism. Oh the 60s, how fruitful they seemed.  Through these systems Brehmer had formulas in which to create abstractions of line and color as well as incorporation of text.  What relieves some of this headiness is Brehmer’s incorporation of the everyday in his works. This comes thru not only in politically pointed pieces such as when he graphs workers’ happiness and other emotional levels in large scale but  this can also be found in his video works that seems ephemeral, diaristic and loose.

Brehmer’s work may not be your cup of tea but it is something that felt important and frankly refreshing to see in its considerations and attempts to make some sort of change even if it seems idealistically preserved in contrast to this day and age.

Next was a visit to Union Pacific, a very new space, a short walk from Raven Row. On view is a group show. This includes, Olga Balema, Adriano Costa, Jan Kiefer, Aude Pariset, Max Ruf, Yves Scherer, Julie Born Schwartz and Pedro Wirz. The theme is something to do with the Union Pacific train, the I-Ching, and Magellan.  But seriously they lost me right away with their PR but onto the show.  It is one of those shows that feels like other shows you have seen numerous times before. A certain cadre of artists in a room together and it is ‘cool’ so who cares if it is ‘good.’ Well I don’t have much time for shows like this but going downstairs there was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment with the video projection by Julie Born Schwartz. Entitled, Love has no reason, 2014, this 18 minute video was engaging and conceptually full.  There are masks, there is an accented older man talking about masks, there are bodies practicing, there are questions about what it means to be happy to exist, there is opera. There is a something that seems not quite there yet with this piece but there is richness, and a potential of even deeper and more visual abilities with just a little more time and budget.

The show is sadly not on view anymore but seek out Born Schartz’ work and pop into Union Pacific for their next show. I’m curious to see which way the wind will blow this gallery.

Then off to the big space in town, Whitechapel Gallery.  This is a revered institution and London loves having their institutions in big old buildings with fabulous cornices, wraparound stairs and wood everything. I love how it feels in these spaces. Anyways, I came to see the Richard Tuttle show, Richard Tuttle: I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language. I liked it. Well, I know that's an easy thing to say but it actually was an A-ok show.  Sure there are things to complain about, like for me, the second floor was too cluttered and some of Tuttle’s poems were just too embarrassing to bare but hey, it’s Tuttle, that’s his thing, and he is certainly allowed to be himself at his own show. I really loved the smaller works right to the left in the fist floor galleries. They are from his Section VIII series from 2007 and they are almost hand-sized works that slightly jut out from the wall and have miniature assemblages of fabric, wire, mesh and wood. They were downright endearing. They also reminded me of John Chamberlin’s small early collages of paper and thread that I saw at his retrospective at the Guggenheim. Both of these instances were surprising and a breathe of fresh air.

The Tuttle show was a nice thing to see indeed and to have an even more fulfilling visit to this institution, I was treated to Kadar Attia’s Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs Ladder as well.  Here Attia takes his system of gathering and arranging books on industrial shelves and in this case he used the materials of Whitechapel’s library to create an infinity box of sorts with mirrors and light in a surround of these books. It was a little ba-duh-dunt but hey, Attia still has lots of cred in my book for he had one of the few works at Documenta 13 that I enjoyed.  Attia’s work and the Tuttle’s show made me impressed and satisfied with Whitechapel’s international aplomb.

Lastly I did a small walk over to Carlos/Ishikawa to see Korakrit Arunanondchai’s 2557 (Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2) (with Korapat Arunanondchai). I really didn’t know if I was going to like this show because to be honest I am not a huge fan of the general aesthetic and trendiness of Arunanondchai’s work. I came in with that suspicion in tact but openly suspended and I have to say (admit maybe) that I really actually enjoyed the show. 

You walk into the gallery from a work yard muddy space and there is music (well at least when I entered) playing.  In front, almost aggressively so, there are mannequins wearing outfits of what is now trademark Arunanondchai textiles and design; denim, bleached denim, fire. The colors red, yellow, white and blue abound.

Then there is a large room and here there are more mannequins.  A cluster in front is wearing red Manchester United jerseys and they are pointedly watching a low, large flat screen TV that is playing a looping video piece. Additionally, there are other mannequins standing more to the periphery and to the back and they have an assortment of outfits that will re-occur in the video. There is a wraparound of paintings that are also cued back into the video and finally there are piles of beanbag and large square pillows covered with the same familiar trademark patterning. This seating is conflated by the presence of a deluxe massage chair, which is also covered in the bleached denim textile.

So there is all this stuff in this room but this is just background, surrounding, ambiance which has deeper narratives of consumerism and life as set design but for now let’s focus on the actual interesting part of this show which is the video. There are three parts to it and it is of Arunanondchai and his twinsie-more-norm-other and their mini journey to some sort of self-actualization. They go to a music festival, they go to a temple, they make paintings together, they plant a plant. Then there are other parts, parts that feel made at other times, maybe months or years apart. These include recording of performances, other shows, going to the hills, floating on water. Then there are interspersed edits of pop and current events like earthquakes, news casts and painting displays.  These are looped together and they seem awkward because there are degrees of successes and failures within each that might have been better separated. This build-up loop though seems to be important to Arunanondchai because it feels like some never ending cacophony. Which is sort of like how life is and definitely like his other aesthetic proclivities.

There is faux poignancy, faux ecstatic, faux coming of age. In this complete fakeness there is a self-reflexivity, a knowing of this and by knowing, being, embracing, and in becoming this cliché there might actually be a point of freedom. Maybe. I might be being too generous in my reading of this video, of this show but it took me to all these places of dislike, like, emotion, resentment, boredom and in the end I felt okay about it and about any grudge toward the baggage that comes with Arunanondchai’s type of art. At one point in the video Arunanondchai (talking in Thai) says through a series of clips reflecting on his art and how he may feel about it in the future that it is, ‘Sad, funny, ironic, this is all I have.’ Simple, yes, redundant yes, but there is something refreshing in being so able to be captivated by this whole mess we live in.

For those who like Arunanondchai’s work I recommend seeing this for those who don’t or are on the fence, give it a try. It is the first instance in which I feel he got to do what he wanted which is really for the viewer to spend time with the videos which are not the best things I have seen but have much more to them then expected. Also, use that massage chair! It’s really relaxing and it makes the absurdity of the show extra ironically sublime.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Survived Frieze Week And All I Get Is This Tote Bag

I have been around the art fair block a few times so experiencing Frieze and happening to be living in London has not changed much.  But as always, being somewhere new puts things into perspective or at least accumulates things. These things include the purpose, tone, vibe, scene and a general scalding temperature gauge on what is going on in the art world in both market and aesthetics.  I was working the fair which is a whole other bag of crazy but in the little spare spaces of time and focus, I did catch a few things that may be called ‘trends’ or maybe more accurately observations.

This will be quick as I am off to join my feminist think tank to stir up and plan world domination. Aka, this is sloppy brain seconds but hey, I’ll be here for a while.


So so so so so much black and navy. It is all over the place. Black and navy, everything. Everywhere. Once you notice it you realize everyone is wearing black and navy.  I’m not sure which design house set this trend but it’s working. It is something that is not supposed to be done, matching those two colors used to equal you had bad lights and couldn’t tell the difference. Now, it’s all about poopoo-ing old timey rules like that.  Think the whole all white craze we are teetering out of from Margelia’s influence. The novel idea of no white past Labor Day is so suburban passé. I don’t know about the navy and blue thing but hey, rich looks good in any color combo.

Speaking of rich, art fairs are full of them (obvi). It doesn’t matter what race, age or sex you are. There is a certain level of rich person that is just a species of its own. Somehow their hair is better, their skin is cleaner, their clothes are comfortable yet costs more then a year’s worth of rent. They are quite, they have distinct bag and shoe cues (men have their watches).  It’s like they just smell better. Cause they smell like money. It’s both repelling and hypnotic to see rich people in their art shopping setting. And to be very honest about it, some of them are the nicest people I have met.

Other fashion notices: slacks vs. jeans, half up half down hair, large black bags, very demur accessories or tacky large items, high heels and strollers, solids, very few prints.


So I have learned from this week that Performance Art at art fairs is probably the worst thing ever. Ever. Ever. Please. Please. Please. Stop.  This is such a cop out. Fair organizers, dealers etc. like this idea because it is seemingly subversive. It’s not. The art fair is a mega money making monster and to have some sliver of ‘subversion’ in it is just so self gratifying. Also, it is truly just spectacle, a side show that makes audience and participant feel like there is alternative, authenticity, weirdness somewhere in this vortex of art commerce.  Performance Art is symbol for some sort of  alternate other but in this context it is just a token.

Water was everywhere. Maybe it’s our subtle shift in realizing the earth is doomed or maybe this also touches on the subversion of material as touched on above. Water is an apparent no-no inside with art but there were many instances where this uncontrollable element was displayed. A little meh for me but hey, gotta do what you gotta do. Now let’s see how they handle fire. Fire is actually really scary.

Metal has replaced the former white plaster craze. It comes in all forms, large, small, smooth, textured, rough, it’s metal so it has that infinite possibility. Bronze, aluminum, steel, you name it, it was at the fair. Maybe artists are retreating back to the earth, elements as above mentioned in some deeper way that is vibrating throughout art practices. I think it’s cool, it’s a tough thing to do, it’s time consuming it’s labor intensive and the cost is very high. Jeff Koons might have more to do with this then we think. Ah, that mighty mighty dollar.


I basically hid in my room the whole time if I wasn’t working. Every night there were parties, multiple ones. There is this thing where people say ‘what are you doing tonight?’ and then you respond and they respond and then it’s a comparison game of who knows what and who has access to what and blah blah blah.

All I gots to say is that I left New York for a reason. Buh-bye.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Let’s Talk About Amalia. Let’s Talk About Tracey.

Amalia Ulman at Evelyn Yard

Tracey Emin at White Cube

There is a bounty of shows on view in London and I have only gleaned a small portion of these. Out of those that I have seen, two have particularly stuck with me, the first being Amalia Ulman’s, The Destruction of Experience at Evelyn Yard and the second being Tracey Emin’s, The Last Great Adventure is You at White Cube. They have stuck with me for a variety of reasons but mostly because they surprised me in ways I did not expect and they also have a linkage to each other that bespeaks a much larger issue.

Let’s be fair. Ulman is young (b.1989) and I only specifically point this out because it is so largely a part of her ‘art’ and her ‘identity.’ Her youngness is also a way for me to couch maybe the depth of dullness that is her current show. It is an “immersive installation” and it does achieve this quite well.  There is high production going on with blue linoleum flooring, whispy curtains and pearl bedazzled frames of calendars, amongst other baby blue and white tchotchkes. It is certainly full and seems to have been done exactly as desired in context to space and time. This completeness is why it surprised me in being so utterly boring.

Up to this point I had only seen singular works of Ulman’s along with casual updates of her performative practice via online feeds. With that in mind I was fully aware and lenient about my opinion about her work because I knew that my contact with it was stilted. But seeing this show, in its very realized state, it left me baffled to her persistent notoriety as an artist. This is harsh I know. I know that being a young artist and having your first show(s) is tough and it takes some time to get there with your work but I must remark on it and more then anything I feel bad for Ulman. Her support by the 89plus structure has promoted her and fast tracked her into the limelight and the leaching machine of scooper uppers in the art world. This trajectory is beneficial because it generates attention, money, opportunities and access but it has also resulted in making work, showing work and creating identities that have not had time to incubate, to be fostered, or worked out. 

I now hop over to Tracey Emin and her show at White Cube. One word. Fabulous. It really is a wonderful show and one I think is a must see if you are in London. It is her first in five years and it has a lot of her signature parts. Literally, there are a lot of nudes and the body is site and central.  There are quick line drawings of a nude woman made of gouache in slight varieties of repose that line the corridor walls. I am assuming they are of her, as is everything else in the show. These small drawings are translated into large scale embroidered works, which felt unnecessary but highly sellable.

Then there is the main gallery and within there are small paintings, gouache on canvas, of more firmly formed but still sketched nudes, copulation and extremely abstracted penetration. There is a long table with plaster and shellac lion and lamb at either end and there is more sculpture around the bend made of bronze, some of bodies disintegrating and of forming and others of things like birds.  In addition there are larger scale sculpture and painting as well as a few of her highly familiar neon text pieces. 

There is a lot here but there is a sparseness in scale and a beauty in intimacy. This is the thing that surprised me. I felt like seeing this multi-part and diverse show made me finally ‘get it’ about Emin and her work. The show is so personal but in the very best way. You can feel the feelings because they are about the most human things, love, relationships, the body, time. You also are granted entry into these works by her awareness of the viewer. The nudes and the sex scenes seem like they have been photographed, there is a third party in the room watching or a mirrored gaze reflecting itself. Through this device everything feels very close and more involved.

I can gush on about this show but let’s get back to why I am talking about Ulman’s show and Emin’s show at the same time. They are seemingly very different and they are (obviously) but they share a lot. One is at the beginning of her artistic practice, while the other is firmly established but both of these artists are products of something larger then themselves, currently and in the past.

Emin was apart of the whole YBA stampede and at the time of its arrival everyone loved to hate it and many directed their dislike and anger of its success and hype onto Emin because she is a women and a sassy one a that.  Ulman, as before mentioned, is a part of the trend where very young artists are being plucked by curators and other older males in positions of power to accelerate careers, create a new aesthetic context and to ride collector and press agency trend chasing. A lot of people are very into this new model but many also really dislike it (although most do not talk about it for fear of being shunned out of it). A lot of people who do express their disdain target Ulman because she is the most visible female in this new gang.

Because of these reflective situations, it does give me pause about my own attitude to it all and makes me wonder about how art functions, how things become established and who is gatekeeping all this. In the end am I just liking Emin’s show so much because it happens to have had enough time to get there? I am just disliking Ulman’s show so much because it is at the beginning of an artistic practice which probably shouldn’t yet be seen by the public? I am not sure but it seems impossibly set and I know that there will continue to be artists who we love to hate and some will fade but many will stay around and become more then just hype.

Monday, October 6, 2014

What They Don’t Tell You About London

Been in London for about a month, it has been one crazy month and I’m still vagabonding it (one more day!). I’m exhausted and at the library trying to read some queer theory, eek I know. But as I am taking a lil’ break (aka just realized it was a Monday), I will use this time to chat about some stuff I have learned about, and is particular to London over these few weeks.

Limescale – WTF is that?! Exactly my reaction when first learning about good old limescale.  It is in the water.  The tap water and what you do your dishes and laundry with. It means that the water is ‘hard’ and it leaves this white chalky, build-up residue that can get all chunked up and make your appliances all wacked out if you don’t use tablets and such to counteract the limescale accumulation. It apparently doesn’t hurt your body but it’s a bit off to think about it when/if you drink from the tap. This girl says, ‘no thank you’ most of the time to ingesting it but hey, sometimes you just gotta drink from the tap.

Fashion – It’s varied obviously because it is a mega city but the thing that I want to remark upon is how the ladies on London, specifically arty ones, dress. They dress in supreme comfort and total affordability. Baggy is in, department store off the rack is in, soft is in, sweats (tops and bottoms) are in.  Cheap-o shoes are in, sneakers (trainers) are in, doing your makeup on the train is in. I don’t know what to call it. How to pin it down but there is a casually lazy but indeterminately cool vibe being produced by all these parts. Maybe it’s because they are just so damn comfortable. Who knows but I have most certainly embraced this and have been wearing boys sweat pants for four days strait.

Rocket – Yo, but for real. They call arugula, ‘rocket.’ Mind blown.

24 hours doesn’t exist – So you are out someplace far or even sorta not that far and you are having fun and talking and drinking and making new friends and then it’s like holy crap it’s 2/3am and omg all the trains are done-zo for the night. So you have to try to find a bus and try to get home on a series of these and then somehow you make it home but it took you a good hour plus to do it. Sobering. Infuriating. London does not like 24-hour transport. This is going to be a very awkward year.

Middle Eastern/Muslim Population – Maybe people know about this but I didn’t know that London has a HUGE population of Muslims and Middle Easterners. I have only been to a few areas but in all those I have been to, this is very noticeable and it is fab for the food and complex demographic influences. It’s relative to New York’s Latin/Mexican/Central America population and their presence and effect on commerce, food and conversations about race, politics and economies. Fascinating to see.

School is basically free, except PhDs – So school is like insane cheap for UK/EU citizens. Yes, yes I am sure things have gotten more expensive and changed over the years but compared to America it is nearly free. Amazing. I think that changes a lot of the potential and mentality people have here re: higher education and also the pursuit of degrees that will probably leave them with a middling income at best. On the flip of this, what is very surprising to learn is that PhD programs are not funded in the way American programs are.  Not only do all PhD programs in the states have their tuition funded but here is additional monies for living expenses. Maybe all those years of cheap schooling has a final price to pay.

Buses – You are always, always, ALWAYS on a bus. Aka dying.

Political – People, artists, students are very political. Very. Seriously.

Change – I think that London is actually trying to bury me alive with change. They have so much change! It is heavy and all sorts of sizes and they look all different and you literally get ‘change’ when you get ‘change’ like 10 pounds worth of change in one transaction. Dying. Need a coin purse asap before my wallet explodes.

Credit/Banking – I feel like I’m in the year 2000 with the banking and credit/debit use here. My US debit card is not signed, never has been. This is a MAJOR problem every time I use it because they literally check your signature to the receipt you sign. Every time. And then they don’t believe it and then you get into this fight.  You don’t use a pin, you literally have to write your name exactly the way you wrote it that one time. Nuts. Also to check my UK bank account online and to do any transfers etc. I have this secure key that I have to put all this stuff into and codes for each step. I have no idea why they are so remedial in banking. Seems possibly indicative of other traits.

Plants, Shrubs, Flowers – I can’t get over how cute and quaint and charming many neighbourhoods of London are.  They are adorable! People from here sorta roll their eyes at me when I express this but really, it is super clean, (have yet to smell urine in the streets/ while using transport). There are lovely roses, and flowers, and shrubs and bushy flowers all over the place. Also, this is a wide, short city so you can see the sky and clouds. Being able to do this makes even the sombre, rainy days feel at least brisk and fresh.  I’m sure I’ll get over it soon but seeing sky is something sorely missed in New York.