Thursday, December 31, 2009

The State of It

The State of It

The Top 5 Best and Worst of Galway’s Visual Arts 2009

By Jim Ricks


As 2009 draws to a close this evening it’s a perfect time to review the city’s successes and failures in the last 12 months. The year was mainly characterized by the shadow of recession and more specifically Arts Council cuts. Unfortunately, the generally marginalised role of the visual arts in the Galway arts scene was the first to be challenged and see support diminish. The limitations of the Irish system for supporting the arts comes to light, but so does the inefficiency of the previous years prosperity. That is, throwing money at projects, festivals, museums, etc. doesn’t necessarily equate to a healthy art scene, nor a well-thought out regional funding strategy.

In any case, here are my picks for the peaks and the troughs for the last year of the noughties.

HIGHS

1. 126’s new Queen Street location in the city centre. The gallery struggled along in the industrial outskirts of Galway for the last few Tiger years but, after long appeals, a nationally significant programme, the Arts Council and new found backing from the Galway City Arts Office, the artist-run initiative relocated to the heart of Galway. This was long overdue and hopefully demonstrates a change in the City’s strategy for supporting dynamic new initiatives. The new location allows greater access for this voluntarily run and cutting-edge exhibition space. This is a win-win scenario.

2. Sarah Searson as the outside consultant for the City. Artists and groups active in the Community Forum pushed for an outside consultant to draft the Galway Arts Strategy 2010-2013 and got it. Sarah Searson, a visual arts curator, arts officer and tutor from Dublin was chosen. This in itself is a coup for the visual arts, which lags behind other art forms in organisational and institutional representation. It is also key that someone from outside of the region was chosen. After a series of public meetings, lets see where Searson takes this and what the long-term impact will be.

3. The Galway Arts Centre programme continues to exhibit interesting and significant shows. The Arts Officer Maeve Mulrennan knows contemporary art well enough to put together an engaging year round programme.

Showing the work of established artists like Guy Ben-Ner, Aideen Barry, Clare Langan, Lars Laumann, Connolly and Cleary, Cao Fei, Louise Manifold, Dorothy Cross, etc. keep the bar raised for Galway visual arts. The danger here is that the Arts Centre becomes a conveyor belt for artists touring their work around and not a place for new or experimental works and emerging artists. Additionally, as a city venue it has its hands tied for several months of the year and shows a good deal of community based projects or commercial-ish shows that are not of a high standard. What exactly is the Arts Centre’s remit?

4. Tulca Season of Visual Art remains an ambitious and interesting festival. Its continued existence is a huge contribution to the visual arts in Galway. There is something fantastic about making the rounds to different venues on short and wet November days and discovering an assortment of new artists.

Personal gripes aside, there is also a lot of room for structural improvement in this nebulous organisation. If Tulca wants to continue spending a good chunk of public money, they will have to find ways to become more transparent, frugal, accountable and representative of Galway’s unique environment. Significantly, the strength of the programme has been offset by a shift in the last two years away from diverse media and regional artists. Is Tulca just another biennial or can it capitalise on its and the regions strengths?

5. The GMIT Degree Show always proves to be interesting. This year the annual exhibit was limited to only the Cluain Mhuire graduates, leaving 3rd years scrambling for alternative venues. Making a point of arriving early, I made the rounds, saw it all and think limiting the show to graduates makes complete sense. The sculpture department had two particularly interesting, and not particularly sculptural, spaces. Out of that, Ann Maria Healy and Tim Acheson’s works come to mind immediately. Elsewhere, Gráinne McHale’s video work was memorable, but my pick for the show was Eimear Twomey’s subtle and playful installation. The ambition of undergrads is never to be taken lightly. Now, how do we keep them in Galway?

LOWS

1. The absence of a purpose built visual arts centre. Alas, the Celtic Tiger has come and gone. It has left the country with many things, including new purpose built art centres dotted around most counties and cities… except Galway. Galway is a city that capitalises on its creative and cultural industries, but while there are numerous venues suitable for professional level theatre and music, there are none for visual arts. Cavan, Carlow, Cork, Letterkenny, Sligo, Dublin, etc. have all moved forward and invested in their cities' cultural fabric with new purpose built art centres. Galway has not, nor has any concrete plans to. Perhaps this isn’t entirely a bad thing, as we can learn from other’s mistakes. But it is primarily a bad thing.

In the last few years the Arts Festival and Tulca have rented an old hardware shop or cavernous, cold and empty commercial unit behind the bus station. GMIT has no gallery and NUIG might as well not have one. The Arts Centre’s building is simply inadequate. The absence of a landmark arts centre, a Glucksman if you will, is the single biggest issue preventing the visual arts in Galway from moving forward.

If and when the City, NUIG, GMIT and/or private interests decide to move forward they will need to think of this as an investment in the region’s and the population’s future. They will need to move cautiously, ambitiously and intelligently in their plans and they must get local contemporary artists involved from day one.

2. The City Museum remains a regional embarrassment. Due to poor planning and ongoing leadership issues the museum lacks a vision and more importantly a purpose.

Each time I enter this new €6.8 million building I cringe in a new way. Galway is a city that has been incorporated for more than 500 years and was constructed several hundred before that. Yet from the looks of the displays and boat reproductions that dominate the galleries, nothing has been painted, crafted, written, constructed, printed, embroidered, photographed, etc, etc, in this time. So the Museum wasn’t built to museum standards. What are the costs of achieving this?

And finally, the feeble attempts at some type of curated season of art are numbingly bad. What should be a dedicated space for the regions history and culture has turned into a community catch all for some of the most tired and mediocre exhibitions the city has seen this year.

3. The Galway Arts Centre as a visual arts venue is average at best. Occupying Lady Gregory’s listed former residence, it is greatly limited in what improvements can be made. Four fireplaces and storage heaters dominate the various galleries and overused or neglected plugs, switches, cables, fixtures, etc. adorn the walls and ceiling alongside the original architectural ornamentation. Until recently the care taken (or rather lack of) in installation was so abysmal that hooks, tape and unpainted patching were visible throughout the galleries. But, the Arts Centre also lacks staff support: the galleries receive no invigilation or security.

However, the most visible setback was the decommissioning of Gallery 3 on the 2nd floor of the building. This smaller gallery in the past often provided emerging artists with a venue to show alongside large group shows or more established practitioners exhibiting downstairs. It also served as an ideal black out room for video and film works. The decision to convert it into a classroom for theatre students is unwise. No one art form should compromise another. We need to work together to create a more creative and interesting city of culture. The myopicism of this kind of decision is surprising.

All in all, the Arts Centre’s commitment to teaching ‘how to’ classes in its exhibition spaces, its unabashed bias to theatre and often palpable disdain for visual art keep it relegated to mediocrity. Again, what exactly is the Arts Centre’s remit?

4. The Galway Arts Festival tightened their belts this year as private and public funding shrunk and guess what… they cut support for the visual arts. Overall the Festival looked out of touch. The strange and conservative exhibit at the Festival Box Office (McDonagh’s, InStore, Merchants Road, Meadows & Byrne…) featured several interesting artists, but they were crowded into a senseless maze of false walls, with little thought put into the overall layout or relationship of the works on each other. The lasting visual image I have is of the documentary photography of African child soldiers situated next to the crass and commercial Absolut art collection.

Another ongoing issue is the Festivals inclusion of smaller projects under its umbrella. While keeping curatorial ownership of these events, the festival failed to financially support them in 2009, the best example of this being MART. And the Galway Arts Festival completely missed the ball with their failure to support the most significant and talked about visual arts exhibit on at the time: Hank Willis Thomas’ Its About Time, located just around the corner from the Box Office at 126.

5. The press. What can I say? Its bad. Very Bad.

The Advertiser and the Independent have reduced their visual arts coverage, have missed numerous news-worthy exhibitions, don’t give contemporary art enough ink, print incorrect information, don’t do reviews, don’t print enough photos and generally don’t understand visual art. Galway Now offers a pay-per-interview service and the others are good for local Confirmation photos and that’s about it.

‘Ireland’s leading magazine for contemporary art and visual culture’, Circa, remains mysterious to me. How do they decide what is worthy of review? They have missed many of the important shows in the west of Ireland, full stop. Seriously, what exactly constitutes a printable review? The Irish Times’ Aidan Dunne comes to Galway twice a year. First to pick a few highlights for the GMIT degree show review and second to write an upbeat piece on the Arts Festival. In both cases, we are really talking about something that is symptomatic of a larger national problem: the Dublin-centricity of art. But, sure with the new motorway its only two hours to Dublin, maybe things will change for the better.

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Well, there you have it. 2009, It was a roller coaster ride and a lot of hard work, there is a lot to be said and even more to be done. I firmly believe Galway has enormous potential as a city of visual arts and culture. I don’t think it will be easy, but with time and organization, Galway will step up its game and enter a new phase of cultural development. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Brian O'Doherty

Brian O'Doherty, Fort in a Fort, Fort Charles, Kinsale, Co. Cork

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tulca 2009

Tulca 2009

Our need for consolation is impossible to satiate

Curated by Helen Carey

November 6 – 21, 2009

by Simon Fleming

Working my way through this year's video heavy Tulca I couldn't help but think what a strange theme for a festival. How was Tulca going to address this and why is it impossible to fill? And what did it have to do with this year's roster of artists? So, with that insatiable need for comforting in mind I began my tour.

On the Tulca website it informs us that this year's “…festival will put Galway on the map for those looking for a fresh approach to the way they experience art.” I'm not sure in what sense they meant, but I found the festival poorly mapped out and lacking in supporting literature. The pamphlet that accompanied the festival gave only a very brief artist background without specific descriptions of the work shown. This left the viewer at a disadvantage with a lot of the work. I am a strong advocate for the accessibility of art to the general public. Creating an environment that encourages people to interact with contemporary art practices is challenging, but necessary. Artists, curators and organisers need to balance uncompromising work with approachability, even if a point of entry for those without an art background is a tough trick to pull off. For this year's Tulca, it didn’t always work.

Galway Arts Centre

I began at the Galway Arts Centre where four works were being shown. The ground floor had work by Dennis McNulty and the team of Anne Cleary & Denis Connolly. Cleary & Connolly’s RVB is a multi-video installation that touches on a variety of circumstances that surround them while living in a Paris flat. I didn’t see any write ups on the video, but a description here describes the piece as follows:
“This narrative piece, [is] somewhere between home movie, documentary and experimental film... Using a series of loosely connected texts and images, RVB was filmed over three years. The events take place in our home on Boulevard Barbès in the north of Paris. RVB tells three true stories: R is a murder story, V is a nature story and B is a children’s story. Each story takes a couple as its subject: René and Claire, two local shopkeepers; Vera and Igor, two Japanese nightingales; and Bo and Lotti, our twin daughters.”
I re-watched parts of this work from their website (as my experience watching it in the Art Centre was disturbed by one of the staff choosing that moment to do a bit of hoovering… a bit distracting to say the least.) The secretive camera angles allowed the viewer a vague almost distracted glimpse of life at their home on Boulevard Barbes. The fly on the wall viewing reveals a piece that is visually attractive in its layout, and interesting in its narratives. Ultimately, the video was a little like watching a reality TV show or social documentary.

Dennis McNulty's wall mounted location/ translation was a very minimal work in the large front room comprised of photos with audio. The photographic work was presented in a narrow accordion-like display. Headphones hung to the side provide a voice-over of the artist explaining his process. Based on the scope of McNulty's other works and the available space I would have liked to have seen more.

On the 1st floor we find two more video pieces: Second Nature by Guy Ben-Ner and Metamorphosis by Clare Langan. I was enthralled by Langan's polished cinematic piece. Rich cyans, gothic dream-like visuals and a sparse industrial audio composition create a dark, almost post-apocalyptic world. Whether you read that world literally or from the point of view of the video’s lone seated character is up to the viewer. I always feel guilty with accrediting various video work with painterly compliments (Why assume one would want to be like the other?), but there are some beautiful moments here that have a wonderful painterly quality. As it turns out Langan does hand paint some of the filters used in Metamorphosis. This technique creates a rich and layered depth to Langan's empty winter-quiet landscapes.

Guy Ben-Ner's Second Nature was in another room to the rear. It is a single screen projection about the filming of a version of Aesop's fable The Fox and the Crow. Animal trainers, cast (Fox and Raven) and crew (artists as director + camera and sound crew) make up the characters in the original piece. It is punctuated by a reading of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot by the animal trainers.

St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church

“As the Artist in Residence will explore the roles of the ornamental and decorative in establishing the dominion of a spiritual space. Through the processes of drawing and research she will make a series of work reflecting upon the formation of spatial identity”
– Tulca 2009 programme
Unfortunately I failed to see how Kitty Rogers Relic...Artifact reflected the churches spatial identity. I found the installation unfocused and I couldn't see the relationship between the two video works and the drawings. I found the video (I couldn’t find a title for this work) quite interesting, but in a Discovery Channel kind of way. The drawings were lost in the church; randomly stuck to pillars it quickly became a game of hide and seek. I sat with it for a while trying to find those points of connectivity but became more interested in the church’s architecture and left after a short while.

Fairgreen Building

The Fairgreen building had a couple of great pieces on display. The building itself, located a bit off the beaten track is a large, stark and cold unfinished commercial unit. The first one I had a chance to look at was American Theatre by Maryam Jaffri. It is a slide show projection with a sound component. The audio is a recreation of a McCarthy era trial by the US Government House Committee on Un-American Activities. Visually interesting, the viewer gets a power point like arrangement of historical theatre imagery. However, the presentation itself was a little unimaginative and I didn’t understand the placement of the projection nor its relationship to the subject matter of the imagery.

I saw Ann-Sofi Sidén’s In Passing briefly at the opening and noted that I had to come back. I’m glad I did. Sidén's work requires the viewer to stay with it to the end. I'll explain… Upon walking into the darkened room one could be forgiven for thinking unrelated videos are being shown under the same roof. Two separate 2-screen projections operate kitty-cornered from each other, a pillar with monitors mounted in, occupies the centre. Sidén's video travels from one set of projections (dual screen, colour) to another (Dual screen, BW) very smartly. Transferring the central subject matter, a baby, from one video to another via the two monitors located on a pillar in the centre of the room (very clever). This piece does demand a bit of time investment from the viewer, but is well worth it. Although, I wish there had been some seating available. The sense of discovery once the viewer understands what is going on is wonderful, even though the narrative is an all too common real world experience of infant abandonment. The 1st of the two is a beautifully complex video that creates a sense of constant motion through a sliding montage of shorter clips. While the second is security camera footage located in a hospital. The first is organic, fleeting while the second is clinical and controlled.

A third piece displayed at Fairgreen, which seemed a little arbitrary, was a neon piece by Elaine Byrne titled Whistle. Her work was also on display at the University Hospital.

126, Artist-run gallery

126 presented a visual response to the Galway region by American artist Ken Fandell titled Between Me and Galway Bay. The central piece, a digitally stitched together photograph measuring 6 inches by 35 feet, dominates the length of the gallery. A blown up Google map shows North America and Ireland and the inability to provide directions to Galway Bay from the artist’s residence in Chicago. Good show over all, from the postcards of a temporary palm tree near Lake Michigan, to the looped video of a 180º digital spin of a currach from Man of Aran. An overall sense of play permeated Fandell's show while still addressing interesting issues of cultural appropriation and travel.

Nuns Island

I missed the Amanda Coogan performance titled Yellow but had hoped to catch the installation. Unfortunately the installation was only up till the 14th (Tulca runs from the 6th to the 22nd) and I was presented with locked doors at its location.

Live@8

The open submission aspect of this year’s Tulca was reduced to a call for participation in an evening of video screenings at Bar No. 8. Live@8 has for the lat year and a half been an interesting and entertaining place for video and, sometimes, live art. However it is not a good place for quieter or more intimate pieces. It is a bar, people are drinking, and conversations are being had. This one enjoyed a large crowd and exhibited a lot of artists (20, I think). Many were on monitors, but manoeuvring around the crowd proved difficult and I was unable to see most of them. A piece on a monitor, The Rite of Spring, Limerick 2007, by Katarina Mojžišová stood out. The projected works seemed to get better as the evening went on. There was a particularly strong bunch at the end that included Tom Flannagan, Austin Ivers, Stephan Gunning and Áine Philips. Music by Vivienne Dick at regular intervals was also a highlight.

Galway City Museum

The last work I got to see or hear actually was Andrew Dodds audio piece Adrift, at the Galway City Museum. It was located on the 1st floor at a point where one can look out onto Galway Bay. Appropriate, considering the work, which was based on the BBC's radio shipping forecast. Dodds removed everything from the broadcast except the word “Falling” this was then repeated at different pitches in a 16 minute loop.

So, in the end was I consoled or satiated? Over all… No.

A few pieces will stay with me. From Sidén and Langen's video work to Fandell's tongue in cheek take on commodification. Beautiful, intelligent engaging, but they didn't have the ability to carry the festival. I felt there was something missing overall and a couple questions must be asked. With such a small number of works exhibited overall why such a heavy video representation? Where were the emerging artists or open-submission artists? Why they were all at the Live@8 event I don’t know, but I can't help to think it was a last minute "Where do we put them?" scenario. What was the story with the story in the programme? It is pretty unusual for a visual arts curator to insert a short story in lieu of a curatorial statement. Especially one that concludes that refugees should act as guests and put the needs of their hosts before theirs. Is it a political statement?

One has to admire the work that goes into organising a festival of this size, but in the end I believe the continuity certainly could have been tighter, the video bias was too heavy, the accompanying literature a little too light and there could have been a bit more wine at the opening. Next year maybe.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Frieze-ing in London

Frieze-ing in London Part 2: post-face

by Stephanie Syjuco


The second installment of a semi-diaristic series of entries relating to travels and exhibitions in London and New York during October 2009. Read part 1 here
Gahhhhh! Well, I have utterly failed in my attempt at providing intrepid behind-the-scenes reporting from the front lines of the Frieze Art Fair in London, and for that I am woefully sorry. Yes, it came and went (October 14 – 18), and alas, I was not the journalistic gadfly that I thought I would be. I had visions of even opening up a Twitter account to report on-the-spot celebrity art sightings (look! it’s John Baldessari at the champagne counter! OMG, isn’t that Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss with Matthew Higgs at the Gagosian booth? Who knew art and celebrity were so intertwined?!?). Sigh. So many sad emoticon faces to follow up on this one… :( :( :(
BUT! All is not lost. And granted, this diary entry is technically postface, but I think I can relate based on recollection. OK, let’s do it before my brain gets too fuzzy and the mists of my present begin to impinge on the mists of my past…
Below are some general ruminations, a pictorial rundown, as well as a surprising amount of San Franciscan local celebrity sightings at the Fair. Who’s reprezentin’ the Bay? We are! Let’s go, London!
COPYSTAND Production Area, to the left of the Gallery Area. Artists Jim Ricks, Claudia Djabbari, Yason Banal, and Maria Taniguchi all hard at work
Selling out: Nothing over 500 Pounds!
In a nutshell, I presented a five-day long performative parasitic project for the Frieze Art Fair in London called “COPYSTAND: An Autonomous Manufacturing Zone.” I enlisted a team of 3-5 artists at a time to hand-make counterfeits of other artworks found within the Fair, which we then sold for incredibly discounted rates in our own gallery booth space. The production area was in full view to the public and showed the counterfeiting artists live, in action. We wound up knocking-off about forty different artworks ranging from Rirkrit Tiravanija to Philip Guston, a kind of crazy feat considering we were fabricating them under the harsh stage lights of the general public.
Who wants a discount Guston? COPYSTAND artist Jim Ricks in action.
And let me tell you, the figures of attendance are mind-boggling: around 60,000 people came during the course of the Fair, and while I can’t claim to have interfaced with all of them, at the end of the day it sure felt like I had. Somehow I had neglected to realize the enormity of scale and that I would be doing about seven press interviews a day for the Project (NYTimes, the Wall Street Journal, BBC TV, the Guardian UK, and more… OH! and don’t let me forget Lithuanian TV). This on top of acting as general project manager, art handler, art pimp (aka gallerist), and artist stroker (yes, stroking the artists makes them feel good, as does offering cookies and beer when their energy begins to flag).
And yes, we SOLD OUT all of our knock-off artworks. Take THAT, recession!
But then again, how could anyone argue with the fact that nothing in the COPYSTAND gallery booth cost over 500 GBP (about 800 dollars), with the lowest being 10 GBP ($16)? Compared to the insanely priced Ugo Rondinone sculpture (which as they were setting it up we all thought was kind of hideous looking, but then again i guess they’re supposed to hideous, right? hmmm) we were looking mighty good, almost just more than the price of lunch for your average high-end Swiss art collector. And sell to Swiss collectors we did. And Hong Kong ones. And German ones. And British ones. And there were a few Americans in there as well. For god’s sake, who wouldn’t want a nice little Francis Alys painting for only $250???
Hawking artworks to the public. For some reason I thought it would be awesome to wear an all-white outfit.
OSD readers, to sum up my time at the Fair, it was grueling and exhilarating, all wrapped up into one bundle of amazing, productive chaos. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dudes, trust me, I’m not complaining of the opportunity but the scale of it was totally unexpected and it took me a while to get my bearings on the whole thing. I was so stressed out I didn’t sleep for the first five days I was there, lying awake in my room at the Holiday Inn, dead exhausted but obsessing about all the things I had to do the next day and what I could be doing better.
By the fifth day of no sleep I remember floating on an eerie cloud of delirium at the Fair, almost having an out of body experience as I was talking into a television camera. And then the next day my mind and body did a kind of about-face and it was like I was running on pure adrenaline. I think it may have been similar to what people go through when they begin fasting: the beginning is totally all about hunger and pain and then all of a sudden it’s like –poof!– you’re just moving along it and through it and you don’t even feel it anymore. Wowwwwwwww. It was like that.
Calm before the opening storm: The Gallery Area, featuring guest gallerist Steven Wolf (!)
Designer Imposters: Reality Bites
Remember that cheap perfume line called “Designer Imposters” that was really popular back in the 80s? Their slogans were like, “If you love Chanel #5, you’ll love Chantal #8,” or something like that. Basically, they were conscious of their secondary knock-off status but it didn’t matter, since by incorporating it into their taglines they wound up directly addressing the desire that came with it.
For most of my time at COPYSTAND I was a hawker, sitting at the gallery desk and talking up our products like a good gallerist should. I would even fill in a potential buyer about the wonderfulness of the original work we had remade (”Artschwager is amazing — his work is so seductive and all about a kind of translation of essence onto surface. He blows my mind“) and then adding a pitch about our remake (”And our version–just look at it. While the materials are different and we have only contact paper and coroboard at our disposal, I think our surface treatment is an ingenious, sensitive parallel to the original and speaks to a modern day attempt at achieving perfect form, a kind of everyman’s striving for perfection, if you will…). Blah blah blah. It was so fun to pull from my own art history chest of phrases, and the cool thing was that I really meant everything I said. Both works were good. And both works had a relationship that I could talk about in a lucid manner and make a case for. I was pitching for both teams, earnestly and seriously.
On the left: a remake of a Rirkrit Tiravanija work "The Days of This Society Is Numbered," by Jim Ricks, only using papers from the Irish Times instead of the New York Times. Considering that he is generally known for ephemeral activities and dematerialized events, it was surprising to see so much "product" of his for sale at his "real" gallery booth.
During the first few days of the Fair word started leaking out to the other galleries that counterfeiting shenanigans were going on in my nick of the woods and they started sending out people to scope us out. Some gallerists identified themselves, and some didn’t. We had a bulletin board area by a color printer where we would print out a visual “hit list” of things we wanted to work on and it started to feel like it was a race to see what we could accomplish before the end of the event. We would walk into a gallery booth and either furtively or sometimes brazenly take digital snapshots of our chosen items, then upload them to our laptops to print out and use as source material for our remakes.
By the end of the Fair I felt like a predator, roaming the carpeted hallways hunting for a morsel that caught my attention and lending itself in some way to be creatively reworked in paper, cardboard and tape. And it was like I could feel the eyes on the back of my head as I circled, the gallerists’ thought-bubbles blurting out, “oh god, there’s that copygirl and her crew again. What now?”
Guest gallerina and Bay Arean Kuniko Vroman dropped by and wound up volunteering for several days. This lady handled sales inquiries, scheduled my press interviews, and was our go-to girl for running reconnaissance trips to the other galleries and securing valuable information for us. Thank you!
A Critical Rub: Absorption vs. Subversion
OSD readers, I have a paradox to present to you for scrutiny. You could say we sold out in more ways than one. To frame it in a different way: how does the context of a “counterfeiting” space change when sanctioned by the very event it purports to critique? In other words, as a commissioned Frieze Project, COPYSTAND, was funded by an arm of the Frieze Fair itself (albeit a nonprofit, independently curated one), and fell squarely within the confines of sanctioned, and perhaps neutralizing institutional critique.
I didn’t think there was anything particularly “daring” about the project except that it attempted to directly and unapologetically show off a cold logic of capitalism: that wherever you find a market of high-end goods that are economically out of reach of a general clientele, a parallel counterfeit or black market will arise. My view is that COPYSTAND is intrinsically complicit with this logic and the only subversive possibility in it is that it lays this process out in the open, for all to see.
Frieze is considered the biggest art fair in Europe and the blue chip galleries are all in attendance, although this year about 30 galleries had declined to fork over the funds it takes to rent a booth. Word on the gallery street is that sales did better than expected, but then again most folks had lowered their prices to address mindful pocketbooks. Overall, it was an amazing experience and I think this year’s Frieze Projects curator, Neville Wakefield, did an excellent job of assembling a range of artists that directly addressed the economics and structure of the Fair itself. As he stated in his curatorial introduction:
Whether taking the form of grand architectural obstruction or finding new ways of protesting, authenticating or motivating our relationship to the objects we make, look at and buy, this year’s projects create aesthetic opportunity out of the uncertainty that has become the hallmark of our troubled times.
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A Photo Album of Memories that Light the Corners of my Mind:
Production on display: COPYSTAND artists and knock-offers Jim Ricks and Claudia Djabbari during the first day of the Fair
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Foreground: Maria Taniguchi working on a hand-manipulated photocopy version of a large Ugo Rondinone drawing.
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Yason Banal (center) gives direction to two Warholian actor/stand-ins for a video and drawing series.
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An onlooker looks vaguely suspicious of our attempts and proferments.
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Fairgoers perusing the wares. Every day our inventory would change and we’d have to switch up the space with new works to replace sold ones. By the end we had artworks lying on the floor and kind of propped up against each other because we were running out of space and time to hang everything properly. But I think the casual effect was oddly nice and had an almost bazaar-like feel to it.
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A David Shrigley remake, copied off of a digital snapshot taken in a [Danish] gallery booth by Jim Ricks. Upon hearing that Shrigleys were being handmade, a crew from his gallery came by to titter amongst themselves and hover over Jim while he painted it. Not realizing who they were, he exclaimed to them “Can you believe they’re selling this for 4000 pounds (about $6800) over there?” “Yes,” one replied. “We’re the gallerists.” Ooops. Needless to say, a fun time was had by all, with no (or at least, very few) hard feelings all around.
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The COPSYTAND research and development area, consisting of a color printer that spat out reference images of what we would work on. These were culled from furtive snapshots taken while roaming the other gallery booths, spy-style.
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Guest artist and friend Otto von Busch dropped in unexpectedly and made a series of eight mini Dubuffet sculptures and a Francis Alys painting. So cute! The Dubuffets flew off the shelf at only $16 each.
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On the left: a remake of a Rirkrit Tiravanija work “The Days of This Society Is Numbered,” (original cost: 90,000 GBP, or about $150,000). Our version, by Jim Ricks (cost: 500 GBP or about $850), but using papers from the Irish Times instead of the New York Times. Considering that he is generally known for ephemeral activities and dematerialized events, it was surprising to see so much “product” of Tiravanija’s for sale at his gallery booth, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. In a Guardian UK article, Brown was quoted as having a “flat” response to our remakes and later went further to say it had “flatlined.”
He’s no fun, is he? Phooey.
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The giant “I” in the background is a Mark Wallinger remake by yours truly. Sadly, it was the only thing I actually physically made at the Fair. I had so many plans, too little time, and too much management to accomplish. Sigh. Also pictured: work by Bear Lake and Jim Ricks.
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Local art historian and luminary Jeff Kelley dropped by and loitered in the gallery as well! Here in front of an Ugo Rondinone remake (original courtesy of Barbara Gladstone) by Maria Taniguchi.
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Detail: mini sculptures by Claudia Djabbari. So modest, so cute! Made of cardboard, self hardening clay, and tissue, the one in the front is a remake of a marble large-scale sculpture.
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SF-based artist Ajit Chauhan with a little mini-sculpture gift we gave him. Jack Hanley Gallery sent him over to see us after hearing that we were remaking his sandpapered album covers. Ajit’s work was so popular that we sold out (incredibly quickly! a testament to ajit’s popularity!) of the two that we made, and there were requests for more but we needed to move on… Thanks for stopping by, Ajit!
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Randal Moore from Kukje gallery, surveying the mini sculptures being made by Claudia Djabbari that knock-off his artist, Gimhongsok. We wound up giving him one as a gift in the end. I know Randy from his days at John Berggruen Gallery here in SF, and it was a pleasure to see him in London, although slightly disconcerting after realizing we were entangled in a way. His sense of humor saved the day. I think he gave our version as a gift to the artist.
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Claudia Djabbari’s worktable with mini-sculptures in progress. On the second day of the Fair a big article featuring her re-makes came out in the papers and we used it as fodder for selling even more. Now that’s marketing!
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Djabbari’s mini Martin Creed paintings on cardboard. The entire set was 150 GBP (about $24)… a bargain! Other miniatures in her repertoire included Haim Stainbach, Martin Creed, Franz West, Jean Dubuffet, Tal R, Mike Bouchet, and more!
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The COPYSTAND version of a Jim Lambie wall work: colored paper, folded. By Jim Ricks.
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A second David Shrigley drawing and a Richard Artschwager sculpture made of plastic coroboard and packing tape by Jim Ricks. On the floor in front is our version of a sculpture of socks parodying another set of socks being sold by another booth for 25,000 GBP ($40,000). Our re-make: a whopping 500 GBP ($800)– rather expensive for us. This piece only lasted for a few hours until Claudia’s feet got cold and she had to put them back on again.
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The Philip Guston painting all wrapped and ready to go! Sold to Guardian UK art writer Charlotte Higgins, a lovely lady all around.
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On the fifth and last day of the Fair, we had a giant inventory blowout sale. I hastily made painted signs that morning and placed them all across the Production Area, pointing to the Gallery Area. Everything was slashed to half off (!) and as the afternoon progressed, prices were cut even further. I was selling things up until the last ten minutes of the Fair, but everything went out the door, amazingly. The funny thing was that someone asked if the signage I made was part of a Michael Landy installation (Landy being known for his “Breakdown” project and works dealing with liquidation sales signage). I didn’t realize that I had accidentally knocked-off someone. Ha. How appropriate!
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The sign says it all. Last things available: “work” by Dash Snow and Douglas Gordon on the walls above the desk.
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The COPYSTAND list of shame….
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An hour after the Fair doors closed on the last day, we had completely disassembled everything, packing up supplies and collapsing the Production and Gallery Space. It felt sort of melancholy, actually, like a burst of energy and delirious exuberance had been expended during the week, only to completely close up shop forever… COPYSTAND was fleeting and will not be repeated, like a pop-up temporary shop that only existed for the context of the wild and woolly situation that was Frieze Fair 2009. Out with a bang… COPSYTAND has left the building.
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Seen but not pictured: SF collector Robert Shimshak, ever sweet-smiling and dapper during the ultra-VIP preview reception; artist Jim Goldberg squeezed in a visit before his own solo London gallery opening and left me a cocktail at my booth during the (normal) VIP event; artist Jina Valentine, taking a break from her Paris residency to swing by; writer and London School of Economics freshly-enrolled MA candidate Hanif O’Neil; ex-SF artists Anna Maltz and Adam Rompel; Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff; San Francisco Art Institute curator Hou Hanru making the rounds on a buying spree for the Tate (!); Jack Hanley of aforementioned gallery; and then there was that man-about-town and ex-CCA Wattis Gallery curator and current White Columns New York director Matthew Higgs, who walked by me many times and who I saw at numerous fancy-schmancy Cartier and Deutsche Bank afterparties but for some reason didn’t say hi (what is UP with that, man? No Bay Area solidarity?). But seriously, it was so fab to see friendly faces in the middle of the hubbub :)
Special thanks to all participating COPYSTAND artists: Jim Ricks, Claudia Djabbari, Bear Lake, Maria Taniguchi, and Yason Banal. With special guest artist Otto von Busch, special guest gallerist Steven Wolf, guest gallerina and Girl Friday Kuniko Vroman, and guest final day assistant Gail Pickering. And thank you to Frieze Projects team Neville Wakefield, Sorrel Hirschberg, and Samara Aster. It honestly couldn’t have happened without this entire roster :)
G’night for now, sweet sweet readers! I am poooooooped, even a few weeks later.
(re-posted with permission from the author, original appears here)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Alan Phelan

Fragile Absolutes
and Goran's Stealth Yugo (Commission at IMMA's Formal Gardens)

Alan Phelan

Irish Museum of Modern Art

July 22 – November 1, 2009

by Frank Brannigan

On the ground floor gallery off of IMMA’s courtyard, the viewer enters a carefully constructed and haphazard installation called Death Drive (interrupt the circular logic of re-establishing balance because he is the lowest outcast), 2009. The room has plywood ‘strewn’ about it with automobile wheel markings on the surface. The edges of the timber are carefully worked back to give the illusion that the timber has been broken (yet into manageable bits). The piece recalls some of Phelan’s prior work and interest in ‘boy racer’ culture. If the intention is to declare driving an art; that car enthusiasts are artists, then I am reminded immediately of the car advertisement trope declaring a new vehicle ‘like a work of art’ and prominently displaying said vehicle splattered in primary colours on a canvas with corresponding tyre marks.

However, Phelan’s piece, like the advertisement, is an imitation. A tyre or print of tyre treads was applied to new ply and intentionally placed in the first gallery space. There is no sense of danger, risk or thrill in this re-envisioning of night time car activity. This is the product of a studio. It is the aestheticisation of an experience. The clear treads are not the remnants of squealing tyres ‘burning rubber’, but a contrived gesture towards a pre-existing and self-contained subculture. When compared to a work like Rauschenberg’s Automobile Tire Print (1953) or to the dare devil activity itself, Phelan’s installation simply lacks authenticity, veracity and energy.

Following the exhibition into the next rooms, you encounter a space of strange hybrid sculptures constructed of paper-maché and wood. Phelan has a history of creating whimsical historically researched pieces from simple materials. These sculptures, made from texts ripped out of books or newspapers, illustrate historical or literary figures. In Douglas (lacked the dimension of radical Evil), 2009 Phelan devises a clever idea to create a portrait of Generation X author Douglas Coupland with the text of his own writing while small unpainted wooden spikes comprise his five o’clock shadow. But is the viewer moved or challenged beyond that? Further reading explains this is a depiction of the author in his work jPod, in which he plays a character in his own novel. Ermmm… So what? Others include Bent (striking at himself), 2009 a depiction of fictional author Ross O’Carroll Kelly’s legs merged with an unbeknownst-to-me car part. There are more of the same type of ‘illustrative’ works, one with Roger Casement’s head stuffed with wooden jungle plant leaves (what if that was your head?) and another Mosquito Man Arthur, 2007 which is pretty straight forward. These pieces act as a simple metaphors and illustrates them in sculptural form. The 3-D work here could be criticised for the quality of its construction. Paper-maché may not be a ‘high’ material, but when put to use with the text/author theme I am not troubled by this. Ultimately, it is well made paper-maché. However, more importantly, this concept of material-as-metaphor is easily grasped and wears thin after a few pieces.

Moving towards the back room of his exhibit where there is a large installation, one encounters a few different styles of works altogether. Bad Glue, 2006 features a framed newspaper from the day of Milosevic’s funeral. The accompanying description tells us Phelan was on a residency in the former Yugoslavia and that the obituary has been accidentally glued with the wrong type of adhesive and will surely decay. But it has not yet. While this is a very interesting artefact, Phelan’s attempt to imbue the work with added conceptual value through an accident seems misguided and fails to achieve much. Over a fireplace is Hungarian Italian Abstraction (vertigo blue temporal event), 2009, a linear abstract painting of the most generic kind of Bauhaus influence; it is painted on wallboard. The description tells of a journey to the Italian Alps and a stay in a hostel that was covered with such murals. Phelan has recreated one from memory. As we pass through a short passage to the back room, we notice a section of wall the size of the abstract has been cut out. Rather, a careful illusion has been created by the addition of a false wall and then the removal of a section of it. The result is a rare moment of fun and the unexpected.

In the back room is a strange marble hand sculpture The Other Hand of Victory (ontological madness), 2008 which at first glance appears to be giving us ‘the finger’. In fact it is the ring finger that is raised, and oddly all the other fingers have been removed. The result is iconic, ambiguous, vague, as is its relationship to the installation opposite it. With a little reading, the work yields some content. It is based on the marble sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace, C.190 BC on display at the Louvre in Paris. One of its hands is badly damaged and displayed in a vitrine. At last, Phelan’s work reveals itself. Unfortunately there isn’t much material provided in Fragile Absolutes to infer this connection to classical sculpture. I wonder: did most viewers get it?

Dominating the room is World War 1 in Colour (the void itself), 2009, a photographic and plywood installation that covers two walls. The work is randomly tiled, alternating between timber and image. The images are immediately identifiable as about a century old and then more specifically by the subtitles underneath them. Phelan has photographed a documentary of the origins of World War I. Further reading reveals that these images are from a free DVD from an Irish Sunday paper. The scale of the work and the weight of history gives the piece strength. I read the subtitles and wonder how accurate this packaged history really is. The stories the people in the images would tell, if they could, would no doubt be troubling. Knowing that the artist spent time on residency in the Balkans yet has decided to produce a work about the area via a free tabloid insert from home is intriguing. How do we know and how do we receive information? Unfortunately I can’t help but think that the inclusion of World War 1 comes off as an afterthought and not a primary theme of investigation.

Outside IMMA, in the oft-underappreciated Formal Gardens, is a commissioned sculpture that accompanies Phelan’s show. The work is titled Goran’s Stealth Yugo. Goran is the name of the designer of this particular car model. Looking through the exhibition’s catalogue I find old photographs of the factory in the former Yugoslavia. This I find fascinating. Phelan has recreated the basic chassis out of stainless steel, decorated it with pine mobile phone mast camouflage, and placed it on a two-legged stand . . . in a fountain. The result gives the impression of a prehistoric beast raising itself out of a swamp and I don’t know if that is a good thing. Is the leg-like stand part of the piece? Is this supposed to be a creature rising out of the fountain? Or is this to raise the chassis for us to revere? If I were going to camouflage a vehicle in the Formal Gardens, I would get the vehicle and camouflage it, then hide it. Or if I were going to make a statement about mobile phone masts, well I suppose I would use a mobile phone mast. The commission comes off as a mish-mash of illustrative ideas and methodologies, but really fails simply because it is an eyesore.

Phelan’s work dabbles in a range of topics, but is not thorough. Nor is it conceptually coherent. I’m not sure exactly as to why the choice of these specific works or what fundamentally the artist is driven to communicate. Often I feel I’m sorting through unrelated trivia. Is this just bits of odd research that are timely and topical to artists in general or to Phelan in particular? There are many points of intrigue however. The idea and history of camouflage is particularly fascinating. As is Irish ‘boy racer’ culture. I am interested in much of what Phelan peruses, I just wish it was less surface and more focus.



All images courtesy of IMMA.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A long overdue reply to Artist Lee Welch

A long overdue reply to Artist Lee Welch

By Simon Fleming

I received an email from Artist Lee Welch in response to my review of his show at the Galway Arts Centre the other day. You can read my review here, and here is Mr Welch's letter.

Hi Simon, I hope all is well. Just wanted to drop a few lines in regards to At the still point of the turning world. I am not sure what you felt like you were missing? Hitchcock is fairly main stream, no? You might have seen some of his movies. He dealt with suspense and psychological thrillers. This would be the first clue as to where things are going from there. Perec maybe you might not have read or heard about him. If not you should pick up one of his books really great stuff. Jorge Louis Borges will at this stage I feel like I am repeating myself here. All exhibitions have press releases, some artists have books about them. The fact the the more you know about any subject the better your understanding of it will become. So if we take Physics for example we may look at examples of it on a daily basis but if you do not know what to look for then you might not see it? To have a better understanding of Physics you read, study and experience it. I believe this applies to most subjects. You as the viewer expect certain things from an artwork and me as an artist expect certain things from my viewer. I think this is a fair exchange. It is like a conversation. So if I am speaking and my interlocutor is not participating then this is not an engaging conversation. Right? -- Best wishes, ––––––––––––––– Lee Welch

I was happy to hear from Mr. Welch even if he was a little disappointed in what I wrote. I still stand by what I wrote though. I believe that Mr Welch expects a lot from his viewers but what does the viewer get for this high expectation? As one of my colleagues put it, there just wasn't that a-ha moment. And for those who haven't read, studied and experienced contemporary and/or conceptual art, what can they expect? Those viewers who walk into the gallery off the street, the general population, not the students, artists or writers on art, but just regular people. I suspect Mr Welch doesn't care all that much for what the un-read masses get or don't get from his work. Don't get me wrong though, I do not want artists to dumb down or compromise their work for the sake of mass inclusion. Maybe that's unfair to ask of artists, to be all accessible. I am the first to admit a distaste for art that doesn't challenge or engage. So then, what am I asking? Obviously each show impacts the viewer relative to the context one views it in. In the end, I found Mr. Welch's show too vague, lacking substance and failed to provide that "ok, yeh I get it" moment.

Original post here