INTERVIEW: Team Macho

 

 

Team Macho is a Toronto-based “collaborative illustration and fine art effort composed of Lauchie Reid, Chris Buchan, Nicholas Aoki, Jacob Whibley, and Stephen Appleby-Barr.”  Their first New York solo show “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller” opened this past Saturday, September 19th at Giant Robot in the East Village.  Their paintings and prints of fancy lies and painful jokes are hung above stacks of their book Fancy Action Now: The Art of Team Macho and postcard book Precious Gems.  I met up with Lauchie and Chris at the opening for a discussion on the sidewalk in front of GR.  Jacob and Nick found their way out a little later.

 

Brandon Johnson: So, uh, Team Macho is…

Lauchie Reid: Five weird dudes who draw together, live together, and are, sort of, inextricably linked.  Like…a dirty family.

B:  A dirty family.  I see.  How did you guys meet?

L:  We met at illustration school.  At this really suburban art college where we all sort of bonded for a mutual disdain of the coursework, well not the coursework so much as the people and the attitude forced on us.  We kind of got together doing that and…yeah, that kind of didn’t work so hot for the other people at the school.  So, we became something of segregated pariahs.  The bond forged in blood is hard to break.

B: So you met each other, hung out, and decided to make work collaboratively?

L: Well, we sort of identified each other as the hard-workers, the people who cared a lot and sort of gravitated towards one another, and we just sort of did our homework together and then we got the idea of trying to work together and it became a thing that felt really comfortable, well it was sort of uncomfortable at first, but it became a thing that was intimidating and fun at the same time.

B: Would consider yourself to be a collaborative…collective…do you have a way of thinking like that?

L: I’d say…I don’t know.  Collaborative definitely, collective not necessarily.  There’s not a huge mission statement.  But yeah, it’s sort of like a…

B: A team.

L:  Yeah, it’s a team.  A team effort.

Chris Buchan: We’re a team without a coach.

L: Exactly.

C: But a team that’s all driven to one purpose.

L: A utopian anarchist collective...just kidding.

B: The extent of my knowledge of Canadian collective / collaborative groups is the Royal Art Lodge, who have had projects in zingmagazine.  So, Team Macho reminded me of that in certain ways, but maybe it’s inevitable as a group of Canadian illustrators…

L: There are elements that are probably similar, and it would be an absolute lie to say that some of us aren’t big fans and really enjoy them a lot.  I wouldn’t say that our work is necessarily informed by it [The Royal Art Lodge]…

B:  But you’re cognizant…

L: Oh yeah, there’s got to be similarity.  I mean, they’re from Winnipeg.  Their whole thing is this weird Canadiana.  It’s amazing stuff, but the intent is very different, the practice is very different, and the content is quite different as well.

B: So would you have any sources of influence that you could identify?  Even if it’s not in the realm of fine art, maybe something outside of it?

L: Everything from Greek philosophy to, I don’t know, Impressionist painting.  Most of us, if you ask us what kind of art we like, it’s pre-20th century paintings, things like that.  We’re pretty classical in our appreciation and understanding of art.  Contemporary art, there’s tons of good stuff, but it doesn’t really work its way into our art-making process.

B: Yes, it [Contemporary art] is very pluralistic.  Would you say you integrate things as you come across them?

L: Yeah, absolutely.  Really we gain a lot of inspiration from each other.  That’s where most of our work comes from.  It’s aimed at one another with a lot of common reference points that we share, that we can use to make each other laugh, or…

B: Yeah, I noticed this humor, it’s a black but colorful humor, that runs through the work.

L: Like a joke that makes you cry a little bit.  But I would like to emphasize the point that we’re not just making work for each other and we’re not trying to make people pay attention to our “cool little gang”.  It’s not that at all.  We make art for each because that’s why we do it.  That might be the jumping off point for why we do it…

B: It’s a good enough reason for me.

L: Yeah, it’s to give people insight into our minds, like any artist would do.  To share our ideas.

B: Right, but at the same time you’re finding your audience.  Trying to identify your audience.  It’s kind of nice that you know who’s receiving it.  You know that the others are going to look at the work.  They’ll have something to say about it probably…

L: There’s a like-mindedness that goes through the work that the people who see the work can identify with.  Pluralistic is a good word for it because it comes through the minds of several people all the time, so it’s not pedantic, in a way, or didactic I guess, it’s just sort of like…here it is.

B: So, now I just wanted to talk about this show, because this is what’s going on.  This is your first solo show in New York.

L: Yes, indeed.

C: In the United States, as well.

B: That’s pretty exciting.  So you’ve mostly shown in Canada…

L: Canada, Toronto.  We’ve shown in Amsterdam.  We’ve participated in shows in the United States, in other Giant Robot locations.  We’ve been in group shows here and other places like France, Berlin. It was an opportunity for us to swoop down and investigate your neat-o city.

B: Pretty neat-o in my opinion.

L: I like it.

B: So for some of you, this is the first time you’ve ever been to New York.

L: Most of us.

B: Wow, that’s kind of amazing in a way, but I suppose not necessarily.

L: I can imagine why people in New York are like “You’ve never been to New York?”

B: Yeah, I suppose being here you sort of forget about other cities.  New York is very self-centered.

L: What, you’ve never been to Toronto?

B: I have been to Toronto, actually.

L: Oh, well never mind then [laughs].

B: [Laughs] Take it back.

L: I will.  I retract my statement.

B: Let this be stricken from the record.  So this show, did it have a concept behind organization?

C: Like a theme?

L: You know what, two months ago, we didn’t even have a show in New York.  It was very short notice.  They [Giant Robot] had a spot to fill.  They called us up and we said, “Well, absolutely we’ll take it.  We can’t say no to this.”  That’s why the show is called “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller” because we’ve been paying attention to Giant Robot.  It’s been a big thing in our lives for years and years, so this was our first chance to participate directly and we wanted to create a nice overview of what we do and the different incarnations that our work has taken over the past five years.

B: So the curatorial thought behind it is like it’s a mini retrospective?

L: Yeah, retrospective slash primer maybe.  We’re sort of like “Here’s the bread, a cross-section of what we’ve done, check it out and see how the work has changed.”

B: An introduction of Team Macho for New York.

C: Yeah.  Here’s some new work, there’s some old favorites.

L: Some of the work.  It’s caught on pretty well.  We’ve gotten good responses via the internet and things and people are like [in a weird voice] “I LOVE THAT”.

B: I like your website.

L: Yeah, our intern designed it.

B: Oh, so you have interns.  Like you have it on your website and people write you…

L: No, no.  I guess it’s because they’re forced to intern for their illustration programs.  So, we’re getting the the status as the guys who are fun to intern for because we’re like “Hey, you wanna make a puzzle?”  Because we’re not exactly the most professional of operations.  We just kind of hang out and help them.  Teach them whatever they want to know.  They’re welcome to come and work at our studio.  They’re more just like a buddy to come hang out, and if we need help lifting something. An extra set of hands.

Jacob Whibley: Actually, our last intern decided to move into the building with some of his friends.  So, it’s like a weird little…

B: Ex-intern situation?

L: Yeah, we primed him and pushed him out.  Like some sort of little mutant.

B: Team Macho, the next generation.  So, one thing that came up earlier was that I first came across your work through my roommate who has a painting of yours of a basketball player breaking his ankle, or something and he was telling me a little bit about what was behind that painting.  If you could re-iterate…

L: That painting is an emulation of my favorite illustrator.  He went by the name Frank Netter.  He was a doctor.  He did thousands of oil paintings of medical illustrations that are like the WORST things you’ve ever seen.

B: So, it’s like Doctor-Horror paintings?

L: It’s just so 70s and really pumped out.  It’s like, “Alright, this guys got a fever, he’s sweating, I’ve got to make a sweat face.”  So these people will have these big lumps of sweat on their faces.  So, he’s like “Oh, now I need another one of that guy.”

B: He was doing it for medical purposes?

L: Yeah, straight-faced medical journals.  He’s considered like the God of Medical Illustration…

C: Anthologies of his work, just documenting it…

L: From an art-practitioner’s point of view, he’s like horribly under skilled, but from a medical perspective he’s God. 

B: But from your perspective, he’s…

L: From my perspective he’s kind of a weird genius.

C: He’s the Henry Darger of the medical world.

B: That’s the new Outsider art.  Medical art.

L: We’re dreaming of curating a collection of his works, because I imagine it’s in an old vault somewhere at a pharmaceutical company.

B: So that painting came from…you copied one of his paintings?

L: Yeah, it came from a study of trying to understand that guy’s process and like, understand what could drive someone to do something like that.

C: There was also the mutant hand.

B: Where did you find his work?

L: There were a pile of his journals on top of a parking meter and we were like  “YES SIR!” because the top one was like mutations and retardations in children and we were like “OHHH!”

B: So, it was just there?

C: Yeah, on this busy street in Toronto.  Like [musical voice] do-da-do.  Oh, yoink!

B: So that was the source for that painting.  Do any of the paintings in this show have a similar story?

L: No, that was like four or five years ago.  That was just a project I was doing on my own and when were given our very first show, I was like “Yeah, I’ll throw in a couple”.  It was probably copyright violation, but…

B: I think in painting you’re in the clear as long as it’s not a person with an iconic image, like Elvis or someone like that who copyright their image.

L: And he’s dead and stuff.

C: You really cleaned those things up.  Made them look a lot nicer than they did.

L: It was an excuse to learn how to paint like a terrible painter.  Like, what were you thinking when you were doing this?  “Neat.  Brown plus white equals skin.”  The pallor on his patients…the guy had no understanding of what looks good.  It was all what works for him.

B: But he’s this huge icon for the medical industry.

L: Yeah, I didn’t know it at the time.  I thought he was some weird guy.  But apparently he’s revered. 

B: When was he working?

L: He died in 2000 or something, but we worked for 50 years, so he was in the last half of the 20th century.  Pretty amazing stuff.  Look it up.

B: An unknown master.

L: Nothing since that has really been appropriated.  We got away from doing that because it’s not really worth it. I’d rather do things on my own.

B: The content of these paintings, drawings, and illustrations are from your own vocabulary?

L: Yeah, they’ll come from a book we’re listening to.  We listen to books-on-tape at our studio all the time.

B: So you come up with images…

L: Yeah, there’s a painting here called “Legacy of the Force” because as we were working on a show we were listening to all the Star Wars novels, so we started incorporating elements of Star Wars.

B: You’re making visual motifs from these books-on-tape.

L: Exactly, that’s the diaristic element of what we do.  So much of it is day-by-day transcripts of what went on with us.  It’s what we did that day or what’s going on that week.  Our latest obsessions.

B: So, you’re all sitting in the studio…

Jacob Whibley: And we enter into a dialogue that eventually reaches some sort of logical conclusion.  Like, “You know what?  That would look good as something. Let’s make it”

B: So, how often are you in the studio then?  Do you keep hours?

L: Everyday.

C: Seven days a week.

L: It’s rare not to see all of us in the studio in a day.

C: It’s also rare to have all five of us in the studio at the same time.

L: We come and go.

B: So, that’s in Toronto.  What part of Toronto?

All: [enthusiastically] The Nox!

B: The Nox?

L: We’re the only ones who call it the Nox.  It doesn’t really have a name.

C: It’s a pretty rotten neighborhood.

L: Toronto is a pretty neighborhoody town, but for some reason the ten square blocks around our studio is just nameless.

B: That’s very Beckettsian.

L: Yeah, that’s why we call it the Nox.  It’s pretty decrepit and bland.

C: In ten years it will be up-and-coming.

B: Is there any Beckett on book on tape?

L: We’ll probably pick some up now.

B: That would be really great to listen to.  The prose is so dense and repetitive.

L: Books on tape are great because you can sort of tune them out and come back to them. 

B: And if not, that’s a good project for someone to do.  Make a book on tape of Beckett.

L: Oh, I’m sure there’s a lot.  There’s a free project online where you can just sign up and read a book.

B: Do you know the name?

L: Can’t remember.  I’ll email you.  They’re terrible.  They’re really bad, almost unlistenable.

B: Do you guys plan on sticking around Toronto?

L: I think so.  Toronto is a good place.

B: What’s so good about Toronto?

C: It’s a lot like New York.  But cheaper.

L: Cheaper. Scaled down.  Not as friendly, oddly enough.

B: Really?

L: I find New Yorkers to be extremely friendly.

C: On the street, maybe, but not in the stores.

B: There are definitely some unfriendly ones.

J: Yeah, Toronto.  We’re going to stay there for now, because it has everything we need.

B: I’m not saying you have to leave.

C: It is a common practice for artists to re-locate.

L: Where we work strongly influences what we do.

Nicholas Aoki: We’d have to establish another hub.

L: Plus it’s hard to move five dudes and spouses, fiancés, and stuff so we kind of…live there.

B: What do you do outside of Team Macho?

L: Two of us teach at the Ontario College of Art and Design, one TAs, Jacob works in Graphic Design, and…

C: I wash dishes.

L: He washes dishes.  We all have solo things that we do that are not part of Team Macho.  We’ve all had solo shows at some point.  You know, we’re not too precious about Team Macho.  We just like doing it because it’s weird and fun.  Gives you a good excuse to try out all kinds of stuff.

B: Brings friends together.

J: It helps you become less self-involved.

L: We’re thinking of expanding our practice out into…

C: Performance art?

L: …just anything.  And naming it the Star-surfer Magic Corporation. So that’s a possibility.

 

The exhibition runs through October 14th at Giant Robot, 437 E 9th St, btw 1st Ave and Ave A.  Visit their website, www.teammacho.com for more.


INTERVIEW: Will Ryman


 

On Friday, Sept. 3rd I had a chance to meet Will Ryman and preview his upcoming show “A New Beginning” at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea. The installation consists mostly of oversized roses, but also includes insects and pieces of trash.  The pieces are quite large, with the tallest pieces at about 6 or 7 feet, making for a “rodent-sized” view of this detritus-filled rose garden.  The show opens on Thursday, Sept. 10th and runs through Oct. 10th.

Will Ryman: It’s a monster installation.  It took a long time.  There are thirty-nine objects, thirty-nine pieces, all of steel, plaster, aluminum, paint, and epoxy resin.  The floor is all handmade steel.  We wanted to put it on a grid to bring the pieces together. When they’re all individual, it’s very formal.  So, what kind of questions did you have?

Brandon Johnson: I just wanted to look at the show with you and talk about it.  I had a couple of questions in mind, but we can discuss whatever.

W: Okay.  I guess I started off wanting to make an urban garden. Like you would see in New York, or any city, where you would see trash.

B: Hence the cigarette butts, crushed Starbucks cups, etc.

W: And I was kind of going towards big corporations.  I wanted to use the rose because it was a symbol of commercialism, Hallmark, you know.  Also, I just love the way they look.

B: Aesthetically appealing, of course.  So, as symbolic objects they sort of represent a thing that’s used in marketing or…?

W: The roses, you mean?  Yeah, that plus the many other meanings attached to them…

B: Culturally…

W: Yeah, and globally.  I wanted to make them look like they’re not so beautiful, you know?  They’re wilted.  There’s something edgy about them.

B: They’re cartoonish, sort of, what’s the word I’m looking for?  Caricatures?  Exaggerations…

W: Yeah, cartoonish.

B: Exaggerations of the actual thing.  The stems are very straight and boxy, and the material is definitely present, which is a good quality, at least in my opinion.

W: Well, most of my work is about process so I always reveal the materials I use, the inner-materials, because I want to show how I made them.  Process is important to me.  Basically, I’m known for doing figures.  So this is a new direction for me.  Things are starting to change a lot.  This is the beginning of the change.  I’m working on stuff in my studio now that is even more different.  It’s evolving.  So, you know, we’ll see where it goes.

B: In terms of influence, for me someone that comes to mind is Claes Oldenburg, with the large scale and cartoon quality.  But obviously that’s a generalization and he’s kind of a hard figure to miss.

W: [laughs]

B: But who would you name, if you had any general influences or for this show in particular?

W: Nothing for this show particularly, but I guess my inspiration comes more from writers than the visual arts.  You know, growing up I was in an artist family, so I was around art. None of it really impacted me consciously.  But old playwrights and philosophers inspired me a lot.

B: You were a playwright and sort of transitioned into visual art more recently?

W: Right, about 5 or 7 years ago.

B: So, you’re taking a very literary angle. I mean flowers are certainly one of the most literary of symbols you can find.  You know, then there’s Baudelaire…these are almost a Les Fleurs du mal with the flies and hint of grotesquery.

W: Yeah, absolutely.  I think I responded, when I was writing, to the absurdists.  You know, Ionesco, Beckett, and I think that is where my aesthetic is, where I was respond to in my visual art.  This is sort of an absurdist viewpoint.

B: Definitely. It has the kind of absurd comedy that Beckett and others had.  Another Irish writer that I like, a fiction writer, Flann O’Brien…

W: Right.

B: He’s very much a black humorist, extreme absurdist.

W: Exactly.

B: But this reminds me of his work because he’s on the more cartoony side of Beckett, and I don’t mean to keep using that word, but…

W: Well, you know the whole concept, the question, is the meaning of life I guess. The meaning of life is sort of absurd. Our role in the world, our role in the universe, is somewhat absurd and therefore meaningless, unless you’re committed to a greater good, whatever that means. You know what I mean? There are no specifics to it. But I always sort of gravitated to that ideology I guess. Not that this is questioning the whole meaning of life, but it’s…

B: Kind of taking it down to a smaller level.

W: Yeah, I exaggerate all the proportions, and nothing is to scale.

B: Right, that Titlest golf ball is enormous.

[Ryman's assistants leave gallery] 

W: Ok, see you guys next week.  Sorry.

B: No problem.

W: My assistants.

B: Oh okay, nice.  Where’s your studio?

W: Brooklyn. Williamsburg, actually.

B: Where at?

W: South 1st.

B: Oh, really?

W: Yeah, do you know Williamsburg?

B: Yeah, I used to live on S 4th and Driggs.

W: My shop is further east, just east of the BQE.  So, if I threw a rock, I could literally hit the highway.

B: Gotcha.  I just noticed the bag of chips over there.  What brand is that?  I didn’t see the label.

W: Wise.

B: This is like walking around in Brooklyn, especially Williamsburg.  It’s something you’d see on the side of the street.  There are a lot of growths, too, like on Metropolitan and Driggs there’s this huge bush.  I can’t believe something would grow that big from a crack in the sidewalk.  But it was just covered in wrappers and trash…

W: Well, just think about the scale of a person, if they were looking down at this.  It would be huge.  If I had a figure standing outside looking at this, with a bag of chips.  It would be great.  But most of my work is about an experience.  It’s interactive.  I like to create environments, worlds that a viewer could walk in and experience.

B: Yeah, this is sort of an Alice in Wonderland, an Alice in Brooklyn.  It’s really nice to have it at eye level.  It’s not overbearing or towering, but it still feels like…

W: You’re “in it.”

B: Yeah, “in it.”

W: You’re the same scale as the trash.  I wanted to go much bigger, to make people feel like bugs, but…

B: That would be a serious amount of work.

W: Exactly.

B: I like the insects, though.  The ladybugs, what’s that black one?

W: A beetle or something.

B: Of course the flies, the bumble bee.  I think it looks really great.

W: Each flower has a bug.

B: Each group?

W: Yeah, each cluster.

B: That’s a good piece of trivia.  Well, thanks.  I don’t want to put you on the stage too much, unless you had something else…

W: I can’t think of anything, unless there’s something else you had.

B: Actually, yes.  I had seen an image of a previous work you had done, Bed.

W: Did you see it installed?

B: No, just an image.  But one of the themes I saw carried over were some of the trash or wrapper items.  That’s one of the things I immediately noticed of this installation, were things like the Doritos wrapper or the Ballantine’s, the art historical wink at Jasper Johns.

W: Yeah [laughs].

B: Which I thought was kind of cool because I was doing this project where I transcribed beer cans, transcribing all the language from the can, making it into a kind of concrete / conceptual  piece of writing.

W: Right

B: And I did Ballantine’s also.  So, it’s like if you’re going to do a can, you kind of have to hit on that…

W: Right, might as well [laughs].

B: But here you continue with the Budweiser, the Coke can.  Anything in particular about junk food wrappers that is of significance to you?

W: Basically, I just wanted to use commercial junk food from corporations…

B: Of course these are the top of the top, Starbucks, Coke…

W: Wrigley’s, Y’s, Coca-cola, Budweiser.  Just that whole thing was tied in with the symbol of the rose in its commercialism as well.  I mean no one would ever get that, and I didn’t necessarily want that to be…

B: So overt?

W: Yeah.

B: It has this regional, even local, realism, with the Wise chips and other specific brands you would find in New York.

W: Right. Realist and also symbolic as pieces of trash with these corporate labels in the gardens.  I was kind of hinting at that, but didn’t want to make it obvious.  I was more interested in making it approachable.  I don’t like it when I see things that are so heavy-handed and obvious, delivering a message that we all know.

B: I don’t feel that it comes off as that.  I think if you recognize the labels that are used, you’re like “Oh, I’ve seen that on the street.”  Literally.  That’s just a fact of a street in New York.

W: Right [laughs].  Exactly.  You know, I try to make stuff that is inspiring and...fun.  You know, approachable.

B: So, this seems like it was a lot of work.  How long would you say you were working on this at your studio?

W: Probably for 8 months.  A lot of it full time.

B: Wow.  And so you have a couple of assistants?

W: Yeah, two assistants.  They help me build these things.  I started off doing it by myself…

B: But realized you were going to need back up.

W: Right.  I try to make things that are from my heart, that are approachable.  Because a lot of what I see is stuffy and a turn off in some way.

B: Like overly cerebral?

W: Yeah, or you have to be at a certain status to even understand this.

B: Well, I think with the size, the general visual appeal, and recognizable objects, it comes together.  Almost anyone could walk in here and be like, “Oh, I get it.”

W: Exactly.

B: Well, thanks for the time.  Best of luck.

 

-Brandon Johnson

INTERVIEW: Clark Richert

 

 

Prominent Denver painter and Head of Painting at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Clark Richert has been at work for over four decades. His studio, housed in Redline Gallery (one of Denver’s premiere contemporary art spaces), is full of scientifically-oriented, yet aesthetically pleasing art projects. In 1965 Richert founded Drop City, an artists' community formed in southern Colorado. The artists (Gene Bernofsky, JoAnn Bernofsky, Richard Kallweit, and Clark Richert) constructed geometric domes based on the triacontahedron and other zonohedra. Inspired by the architectural ideas of Buckminster Fuller and Steve Baer, Drop City  won Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion award for innovative and economic housing construction in 1967. Much was born out of Drop City, including the decoration and pattern-based artists' group Criss-Cross in 1974, and one of the first solar energy companies – Zomeworks, in Albuquerque, NM.  Originally planning to become a scientist, the sight of a Rothko painting caused Richert to change his plans.  I had the good fortune to sit down with Mr. Richert at the studio in Redline to discuss his work, past and present…

Interview by Eryn Tomlinson

 

What an interesting life and career you have had. Are you still in touch with any of the artists that you lived with in Drop City?

Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming out about Drop City. There’s a Drop City documentary being made. Gene Bernofsky, Richard Cohen…I’m in fairly good touch with them.

How would you describe your lifestyle/experience in Drop City?

To me that was one of the most exciting times of my life. It seems like the media wants to show Drop City as a hippy commune, but we always called it an artist’s community. It was a very synergetic and creative place. A lot happened there. The ideas generated at Drop City are still very important to me. The media likes to mis-interpret the Drop City. They think Drop City means “drop out” or “drop acid” but Drop City was before those words were around. It came out of Drop Art [a movement informed by the “happenings” of Allan Kaprow and performances by John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Buckminster Fuller at Black Mountain College].

Do you think being around other creative people helps the artistic process?

Yeah, that goes all the way back to Drop City. Before starting Drop City I had attended several Buckminster Fuller lectures, and he talked about this idea of synergy, which means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts when you have all of these hard-working individuals. But when you have interaction between the people you get a result better than an individual could produce.

You are currently the head of the painting department at Rocky Mountain School of Art and Design. What do you enjoy about teaching?

I like to teach. I never think that "teaching" is the correct word. But I am there and the students are there and they work on their art and I’m looking at them working on their art, trying to nudge them. And I like that a lot. It definitely affects my own thinking and my own work, and there is a little bit of dread of retirement because there would no longer be that synergetic relationship between the students and myself. Although here at Redline [Gallery] there is a lot of the same synergy as in an art department.

Would you consider art to be another form of scientific exploration?

I think “art” is a very big word. There have been paintings done by artists that have been studied where the artist is operating in a scientific mode. But I also think that artists use a lot of mathematics in art. Fractals [fragmented geometric shapes that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole] were pioneered by artists. The geometry of the quasi-crystal was invented by a couple of artists, and one of them was me. As an artist I am free to work with scientific ideas without being bound by the scientific rigor.

There is a certain spiritual/philosophical presence in your paintings that is achieved by exploring the invisible structures and infinite possibilities of space. Are the emotive qualities in your work tied to these explorations, or is there also a more personal level of emotion involved?

Well, I do think that the emotional side of paintings is very important.  A lot of people don’t think of my work as very emotional or spiritual.  I feel like my work in tessellations and patterning often compares to the work done in Islamic Mosques. These artists in 1200 AD Persia were really just as much mathematicians; there was no line between making their artwork and mathematics. When I walk into an Islamic Mosque—and I’m not Muslim—I feel that it is so beautiful that it’s a spiritual experience.

Would you say that the process of making art is both spiritual and mathematical for you, then?

Yeah, I would, especially this working of tiling patterns and tessellations. My decision to switch over from science to art came when I was in high school. I was enrolled in all science classes and then I saw this book that had Rothko in it. Rothko just astounded me and I had no idea that there was something like that that could be called art. This was back in 1958 and I got so interested in Abstract Expressionism that I started subscribing to this Abstract Expressionist magazine called IT IS. Right around when I graduated from high school I went to New York. I went to the Guggenheim Museum and saw four large Rothko paintings. I was stunned by these paintings, and this was the only time that I had been moved to tears by art…So, that was an emotional experience for me…

How would you say Rothko influences your process?

I always considered Rothko to be such an incredible genius when it comes to proportioning and color. I don’t see myself as a colorist. I sometimes call my process ‘color-coding’. I want it to look as good as possible, but I am not a color genius like Rothko. My major interest is in Buckminster Fuller. Fuller said that space is stretched in tension, and I compare that to a canvas which is stretched in tension. I think that Rothko used this tension of the canvas. I say I am influenced by Rothko, but a lot of people look at my paintings and they don’t see it. I see it because I am thinking of this surface stretched in tension, and I try to feel the same way that I think Rothko painted, and I don’t know many other artists that are into that.

How would you describe the personal aspect of your artwork?

A lot of people look at my paintings and they say that I should paint with a computer. But I don’t want to paint with a computer. My feeling is that there is something about the hand-made brushstrokes that is really important, and a computer does not make these kinds of brush strokes.

So the process of using your own hands is personal to you?

Yes, it is all very important to me, I really get into the symmetry between my hand, the brush, and the canvas...although I don’t think many people see that in my paintings... I’m into facture.  Facture in France means the ‘artist’s touch’ and the way a paint surface is constructed. My meaning of facture fuses those two definitions.

Is your exploration of space also an exploration of time?

Well, lately it has been because what I have been working on in the last month has been video work. I use some camera work but mostly I work on the computer using computer animation. It is mostly structures moving in time. I have been working on the relationship between “nothingness” and “something-ness.” More empty space is “nothingness,” so I have been working on animating this transition between “nothingness” and “something-ness.”

Do you believe that all reality is interconnected through seen and unseen structures?

Yeah, that sounds about right. I think that most reality is unseen, that we see a very small part of the spectrum.

It seems like sciences and spirituality sometimes go hand in hand.

Well I like the title of the book the Tao of Physics. That book talks about fusing physics/spirituality.

The use of chance coin tosses to determine the direction of the serpentine lines in your mural at MCD [Metropolitan State College of Denver] creates a very dynamic quality of motion and life. Do you still use any elements of chance in your work?

Yes, but kind of secretively. I still do droppings and I am interested in randomness. I recently put pennies out in the environment to see how long they would stay put, about 20 dollars worth of pennies, I would just lay them out on the pavement, sometimes in arrangements, and it was amazing how long they would stay there and people wouldn’t pick them up.  Also, this was a funny one. I went to a bus stop and I put a little envelope and pasted it in the bus stop, and wrote on it ”Please do not take Charlene’s bus money.” I put some dollars in and then  watched all day long and all these people that you’d think would take it didn’t, until the end of the day some kid took the money. But it lasted a lot longer than I though it would.

 

DEATH OF THE JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN

Over the weekend of August 1st and 2nd, the Starz FilmCenter hosted the Denver premiere of Cannes Film Festival Prize Winner “Tokyo Sonata”, a film depicting the typical Japanese businessman. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, known previously for his horror films, takes on a new kind of horror—unemployment. The film shows the unique effects of the recession in Japan. While unemployment in the U.S. habitually fluctuates in good times as well as bad, Japan is historically accustom to an almost 0% unemployment. Japan’s unemployment is projected to reach 6% by the end of this year.

Our protagonist and businessman Ryuhei Sasaki, abruptly loses his job to downsizing, and (it is implied) outsourcing. Unable to admit his unemployment to his family, he continues to go to work everyday. While looking for ways to fill the hours, he discovers that he is not the only victim of the changing business world. A high school classmate, unemployed of 3 months, shows him the ins and outs of public welfare, how best to spend his time and most importantly, how to hide his situation from his wife. The film isn’t all gloom and despair. Kurosawa shows the comic side of things, as the two go through food lines, and gather around barrel fires along side homeless people in the park. His classmate sets his phone to ring five times a day, which he poses as business calls. “It calms my nerves,” he claims. One scene shows the two passing the time in a library, because it is a place where you can stay and read as long as you want. Surprisingly, the library is filled with businessmen like themselves, in suits with briefcases and continuing the appearance of employment.

As the film continues the audience sees the problem of one man expand into a problem of his country. The film becomes darker and bazaar. At first, the change is subtle, but as the film moves to shots of more long queues at the unemployment office, businessmen in food lines meant for the homeless, and janitors changing back into suits at the end of each work day, it becomes apparent that the problem is an epidemic. At one point, a character asks where the earthquake is to turn the world upside down and essentially make things right again.

It isn’t just the recession. The Japanese lifestyle, including the job for life mentality is disappearing, and altering into a more complex and difficult work field. Much like the American Classic Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the Japanese Businessman finds his traditional way of life crumbling and the life’s work that should have resulted in a comfortable life with respectful retirement instead leads to unemployment, rejection and a feeling of uselessness. An unemployment officer in the film makes it clear to Sasaki that jobs like his are not coming back; these changes are for good. But the recession does not only hurt Japanese income. A country with a strong sense of family pride, diligence, and fear of shame can no longer justify its belief that those who work hard receive reward, and those who don’t are the ones disgraced.

Screenwriter Max Mannix says he intentionally tried to create a family that could be found anywhere in Japan, representing the country as a whole. Still, there are a few deviations from normality; the oldest son joins the U.S. military and the youngest turns out to be a piano prodigy. The last thirty minutes become utterly chaotic but Kurosawa pulls together a neat ending with hope for the next generation.

 

-Rachel DeBoard

"WORKS ON VIEW" AT JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY

“Works on View,” curated by gallery director Katie Rashid, is a diverse show of work by Vito Acconci, Lee Lozano, Sterling Ruby, Michael Snow, and William Wegman. The exhibition highlights a group of works, created from the 1960s to the present, that are prone to interpretation. From Vito Acconci’s stab at transsexuality to Lee Lozano’s diaristic marijuana and masturbation experiments to Sterling Ruby’s crack-pipe burned bench and pink Pelican Bay, the relationship between pieces floats among a variety of themes, including “language, humor, gender, and an underlying tension” according to the handout.

Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is met with a number of early pieces by William Wegman. The group is characterized by simplicity and humor, such as the case of He Lost His Balance (1973), a straightforward description of the slapstick gesture performed in the photograph. Another piece, He Tried on a Wig, It Made Him Look Younger (1971-72), follows with a spin of gender play echoing Vito Acconci’s less subtle Photos From Conversations (I,II,III) (1971), a series of photographs documenting his literal attempt, by burning the hair off his chest with a candle and tucking his penis between his legs, to become a woman.

The Wegman pieces take a turn for the darker in an initially comical short film, Treat Bottle, in which his dog is presented with the rat-maze conundrum of a treat placed inside a glass bottle. The dog paws and noses the bottle across a cement floor for a few minutes, eventually causing it to break, spreading shards of glass across the floor.  This provokes a shudder-inducing scene of the dog licking and biting broken glass with no intervention from the silent cameraman. The relentless action found in the Wegman video is taken up in Sterling Ruby’s video, Cartographic Yard Work: Dog Behavior in which as series of holes are circuitously dug and filled, bringing up the anxiety-ridden Sisyphusian behavior of dogs once again.

A similar sort of activity-related anxiety can be found in Lee Lozano’s Grass Piece (1969).  This experimental study takes the form of journal entries and traces Lozano’s artistic production while using marijuana on a daily basis. Similar experiments from 1969 are included, such as No-Grass Piece and Masturbation Investigation. Self-reflexive text is found again in a Vito Acconci poem from the same year, “I am moving at a normal rate” in which Acconci describes his physical actions, “I TURN TO LOOK STRAIGHT AT YOU. I say, ‘I TURN TO LOOK STRAIGHT AT YOU.’ I TURN TO TALK STRAIGHT AT YOU”—another attempt at pseudo-scientific objectivity (linguistic in this case).

As the themes diverge and intersect, Rashid’s provided entry-point of “simple gestures and concrete actions” is an excellent way to view the exhibition and each individual piece, whether it is Wegman’s slapstick photos or Lozano’s objective-forward studies. This idea works as a simple platform to jump into the complex relationship of media, technology, and theme the exhibition presents while maintaining a view the bigger picture (so to speak). Michael Snow’s varied and progressive work also provides a frame of reference, a structure of visual and conceptual cues to navigate the presented pieces by Acconci, Lozano, Ruby, and Wegman.  A somewhat daunting show at first, these guidelines help flesh out an exhibition worthy of effort.

 
-Brandon Johnson

DEBORAH HOWARD AT EDGE GALLERY

Deborah Howard’s opening at Edge Gallery Friday, July 17, displayed works of melded media: Holocaust imagery paired with haunting photos, encaustics juxtaposed with what perhaps unites us all: shoes. Shoes, the elements that tie the entire exhibition together, are gnarled, painted, and sculpted into art at the hands of Howard; they become relics in her care.

The encaustics and shoes make up the bulk of the exhibit and work together to create a mélange of painting and sculpture that seems to take on a different medium altogether. Encaustic is a painting method where color-pigmented beeswax is melted, applied to a surface and reheated to fuse the paint into a smooth or textured finish. In Howard’s exhibit, she tends to take the textured approach, which evokes something gruesome and striking in her work, especially when the shoes interact with the canvas itself, whether melted into the canvas or placed in front of it, creating a museum-like quality.

Howard, who displayed her Portrait Project of Holocaust Survivors in 2008, calls to mind this past once again, reminding viewers of the extensive shoe collection displayed in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. She has taken her shoes and placed them on display, re-positioning them as works of art. Beautiful and eerie, they nag at us, make us uncomfortable, and beg us to ask questions: Where did they come from? And more importantly, whom did they come from? I found myself wondering if these shoes were taken or given over as pieces of art.

The encaustics react with the shoes most prominently in Celestial Slipper, where the canvases seem to take the place of the human figure. The only human quality remaining are the shoes, and that is enough for the viewer to infer a human. The fact of the matter is, though, that the shoes’ owner (whoever it was) is gone and replaced by material. Finality, beauty, and tragedy seep out from this piece and into the viewer.

Howard heads the painting program at the University of Denver. Her work has been exhibited at Aspen Art Museum, Regis University in Denver, Arvada Arts Center, Peace Museum in Chicago, Tweed Museum in Duluth Minnesota, Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans and City College in New York.

 

-Jessica Hughes

ARTconomy

Artscape Magazine’s Issue #01, which celebrated its launch at Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward on June 19th 2009, chose to focus on the consequences of the current economic climate.  Editor in Chief of Artscape, Juanli Carrión, wrote that the publication hoped to highlight the effects of the economy on artistic creation and production without losing an optimistic tone. Still, he admits that the issue is a portrayal of reality and, if alarming, it’s at least not falsely upbeat.

The article “Art After (The End Of) The Banquets” by Domingo Mestre is of interest, both insightful and disturbing in its investigation of art’s position in the economic conditions. Mestre introduces his piece with threads of optimism, writing, “from the perspective of Milton Friedman and his followers, disasters and catastrophes of all kinds now are not a problem; rather, they are considered to be true opportunities.” He then asks us to consider the concept that art is a zeitgeist of its time. I have always been fond of this concept: it suggests that our creative voices are totems of our age, time capsules constructed from contemporaneous aesthetic. However, Mestre illuminates the negative consequences of this phenomenon by investigating what today’s art is implying about this epoch. His concern? Damien Hirst, the British artist behind infamous pieces like The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (a shark in a formaldehyde-filled vitrine) and For the Love of God (a platinum, diamond-studded model of an 18th century skull, still featuring the original teeth). In addition to the unconventional nature of his work, Hirst utilizes a factory setup – much like Warhol – to produce the desired volume of pieces. This concept of mass-production, paired with the incredible selling prices of his pieces, has led some to consider him as commercial brand rather than artist. Mestre writes, “I think that there is no better way of representing death in our time, in this case the death of art itself as a product differentiated from the rest of commodities. Doubts emerge at the time of asking oneself if other ways of thinking still fit. If there is still a place for thinking about art itself and for itself, after its postindustrial fall into pure financial speculation and the world­wide crisis of that speculation. Said in another way: Does anything else exist, in the business of Art, apart from money?” I had not considered the monetary impact of work, such as Hirst’s, to this extent. While I have been admittedly disturbed by his pieces, I took for granted that he was a natural progression of the avant-garde; he is extreme to breach previous traditions and strive for the ultramodern. But what do these pieces – dissected marine life and diamond-encrusted skulls - reflect about our society? Perhaps we are fearless when stepping over creative boundaries; perhaps we have gone too far to achieve novelty and lost our regard for the sanctity of life in the wake of this endeavor. But with fiscal issues becoming increasingly prevalent, Mestre’s article considers that perhaps contemporary art reflects merely our consumerism. Not only does he entreat us to consider how art will struggle through this economy, but also compels us to wonder if it can be separated from its monetary value, or if it is now merely another commodity.

The FLAG Art Foundation’s current exhibition, Re-Accession: For Sale by Owner, curated by Philae Knight and Amanda Steck, addresses the economy by showcasing work of both established and emerging New York artists who either do not have New York gallery representation or whose representation has been affected by the economic climate. For this particular exhibit, FLAG functions as threshold for the artists, making pieces available for sale directly without receiving the traditional commission a gallery would take. Re-Accession fashions a sense of unity, bringing together artists of different mediums, styles, and degrees of renown to address their common struggle. Upon entering this exhibition, I immediately encountered Devon Dikeou’s What’s Love Got To Do With It? The piece is an arrangement of nineteen lobby directory boards. This series mimics the manual directory boards used by galleries over a decade ago and contain information (title, location, dates, artists) for group shows Dikeou had participated in over the course of her career.  The set that appear at FLAG are from exhibitions that occurred during the last economic slump in the early ‘90s.  In addition to this set, she created a new announcement board for Re-Accession, marking another group of artists in similar circumstances. Other artists in the exhibition chose to address the economic climate more explicitly: Conrad Bakker painted a panel for the exhibition that reads: “LIQUIDATION SALE / GOING OUT OF BUSINESS / EVERYTHING MUST GO.” Laura Gilbert’s The Zero Dollar was also featured.  Fake “zero” dollar bills, which Gilbert handed out in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 2008, suggest the depleting value of our currency.  Also included was a haunting photo drawn over with ink by Sebastiaan Bremer, a red white and blue banner reading “We Finance Lottery Tickets” by Matt Tackett, layered painting by Jay Davis, and photographs from Bill Durgin’s Nudes and Still Lifes series, in which an untraditional nude is paired with a photograph of a simultaneously grotesque and elegant still life. While many of these pieces function as commentary on the current economic climate, they also serve as totems that commemorate the resiliency of the artists who continue to produce art in spite of the rugged conditions.

X-Initiative’s NO SOUL FOR SALE – A Festival Of Independents, which closed on June 28, used the former Dia building to bring together innovative and esteemed “not-for-profit centers, alternative institutions, artists’ collectives and independent enterprises” from around the world. These participants were invited to use the space to showcase work of their choosing, turning the site into a vast collection of art, video, performance, and publication. The festival functioned without partitions, walls, or entry fees, only tape-marked boundaries on the floor. These factors allowed the participants to function in close proximity, without the experience of their work being a commodity. This intimacy removed all sense of hierarchy and allowed viewers to experience the exhibition as a collection of work sans price tag. I was particularly moved by the work of Tel Aviv street artist Know Hope. The nameless character featured in his cardboard world of metaphor, images, and text serves as a representation of both the universal vulnerability and strength of humanity. His combination of illustration, poetry, and iconography lend his work a multi-layered narrative quality - a delicate epic of humanity's struggle. Swiss Institute displayed a dolly bearing a hefty stack of fanzines entitled “Avant Guard,” which – through images and writing - venerates the work of artists who formerly worked as guards at the Dia Arts Center (where X-Initiative is now located). Though the zines were being sold for the price of $1, the dolly was intentionally left unguarded and the viewers, confronted by a Marlo Pascual magenta-tinted husky featured on the cover, were given carte blanche to take themselves a personal copy if so compelled. Many of the contributors displayed interactive pieces, such as Kaffe Matthews’ Sonic Bed_Marfa. The charming yellow mattress invited visitors to climb in, get comfy, and experience their own perception of sound – specifically, a Kaffe Matthew’s composition resounding through a 12-channel system hidden inside the bed. In addition to being an audio-experience, the nature of potentially reclining on a mattress next to a stranger allowed this piece to function as a social experiment and unifying activity. W.A.G.E. (Working Artists in the Greater Economy) also encouraged viewer-engagement, setting up a floor space with stencils and spray paint. zingmagazine Managing Editor Brandon Johnson, who entered the exhibition in a white t-shirt, left sporting a still-sticky customized garment reading “WAGE RAGE” in gold lettering - earning him kudos from a belabored man outside a 23rd St Irish pub who vocally identified with that statement.  Also featured was INABA’s rooftop installation, a  group of pool-noodle structures serving as seating for film viewings; Kling & Bang’s audio-visual presentation of 44 DVDs shown on three projectors, five or so small DVD players, and two flat screens; Galerie im Regierungsviertel’s installation entitled “Elevator to the Gallows,” occupied the former freight elevator and allowed 20 people at a time to experience an imaginary elevator ride surrounded by the work of the featured artists; and  performance/installation piece “Impulsive Chorus” by Martin Soto Climent, in which the public assisted the artist by downing cans of beer to be crushed and arranged into a structure. This performance-sculpture, which took place during the opening of NO SOUL FOR SALE, was an ideal embodiment of the synthesis of art and community: it transformed a common social activity into tangible art.

Regardless of your impression of his sentiments involving the pieces and process of Damien Hirst, Domingo Mestre does raise the valid question of art’s proximity (and submission) to commerce and consumption. Like an answer to his clarion call, the committed individuals of projects such as Re-Accession and NO SOUL FOR SALE have chosen to evaluate the situation and find a new angle by which resilient innovators can maintain their livelihood and make art intended to illuminate current issues and create community: a testament to the belief that art has not become merely a commodity.

 

-Isabelle Bonney

The Generational: Younger than Jesus at New Museum through June 14, 2009

Photos taken at the press preview April 7th, 2009.

Another 24 Hours at Museum 52

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18TH 7:30PM WORLD PREMIERE: BUOY

SEOUNGHO CHO

Seoungho Cho will screen a series of films dating back to 2003, climaxing

with his most recent work ‘Buoy’ (6:21 color, sound).  Seoungho Cho is

a 2008 Artist Fellowship recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts

(NYFA). This presentation is co-sponsored by Artists & Audiences Exchange,

a NYFA public program.  Produced by Namsik Kim, Soundtrack by Stephen

Vitiello.

THURSDAY, MARCH 19TH 6PM – 7PM

MARK & STEPHEN BEASLEY

Mark Beasley is an artist and curator and his brother Stephen Beasley is

an artist and architect.  Past projects include The Propmakers, MOT, London

(with Russell Oxley), Beasley Street at Camden Arts Centre; The Thinking

(with John Russell and LA film-maker Damon Packard) at PS1/MOMA, New York

and Hey Hey Glossolalia at the Stanley Picker gallery, Kingston University,

London. Mark Beasley is currently a curator at Creative Time, New York.

FRIDAY, MARCH 20TH 11AM – 9PM

PETER SIMENSKY - A DAY TRADING

For A DAY TRADING Peter Simensky will host a market in two parts – the

first being a Swap Meet, the second a Neutral Capital / Art exchange. These

two markets will be staged on the top and bottom floors of Museum 52

respectively. The Swap Meet invites all parties to bring art works,

unwanted art supplies, collectables, a song, services, baked goods, etc. to

informally trade between parties. The Neutral Capital / Art exchange

invites artists to sell their projects against Simensky’s Neutral Capital

currency – and participate in an ongoing alternative collection economy.

WEEK TWO: 24th – 27th MARCH

TUESDAY, MARCH 24TH 7PM SCREENING

CHERYL DONEGAN - STOP ME IF YOU THINK YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE

(21 mins. Based on Andy Warhol’s film, ‘Nude Restraint’, 1967).

“I am fascinated with Viva's monologue in this film. I think I talk too

much, especially when I am nervous.  The art world makes me nervous.  I'm

not an actress and I wasn't sure what to say so Viva’s monologue seemed

perfect.  Warhol said her voice was the most mesmerizing and grating he had

ever heard.  So I cast myself as Viva, and my 9-year-old son as Taylor

Mead.  It's just Mom in the kitchen, serving up a hot dish of cool

leftovers.”

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25TH 11AM – 8PM

MICHAEL MAHALCHICK MAKES A MOVIE

Artist Michael Mahalchick invites everyone to help him make a movie in the

gallery over the course of the day.  Participants are encouraged to bring

props and costumes and will interact with each other.  The narrative will

unfold with each new visitor.

THURSDAY, MARCH 26TH 11AM – 6PM

JACOB ROBICHAUX – INVITATIONAL PERFORMANCES

During his solo show at Museum 52 in 2008 Jacob, whose interest in

performance is shaped by his childhood experiences as an amateur magician,

invited friends and artists to perform with one of the four floor-based

sculptures in the show. Participants randomly selected a sculpture with

which they were to perform.  Jacob invited others to explore his materials

and objects with the same compulsive drive to continually generate meaning

through activity and play. His invitational at Museum 52 will follow

similar lines of activity.

FRIDAY, MARCH 27TH 12PM – 9PM

SARA GREENBERGER RAFFERTY & KYLE RAFFERTY - RESPITE AND REFLECTION

Depression Bake Sale: baked goods that are good for the mood will be sold

throughout the day.  Screening Space: will feature an all-day and evening

program of art and non-art videos/films relating to food, comedy, and

reality. Co-programmed by Sara Greenberger Rafferty and Kyle Rafferty.

 

MUSEUM 52

95 RIVINGTON STREET

NEW YORK NY 10002

+1 212 228 3090

nyc@museum52.com

museum52.com