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.
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
Foreground: Maria Taniguchi working on a hand-manipulated photocopy version of a large Ugo Rondinone drawing.
Yason Banal (center) gives direction to two Warholian actor/stand-ins for a video and drawing series.

An onlooker looks vaguely suspicious of our attempts and proferments.
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.

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.
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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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!

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.

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!

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!

The COPYSTAND version of a Jim Lambie wall work: colored paper, folded. By Jim Ricks.
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.
The Philip Guston painting all wrapped and ready to go! Sold to Guardian UK art writer Charlotte Higgins, a lovely lady all around.

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!
The sign says it all. Last things available: “work” by Dash Snow and Douglas Gordon on the walls above the desk.

The COPYSTAND list of shame….

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.
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