Material Matters Catalog Essay

A few months ago I wrote an essay for an upcoming exhibition at Northeastern Illinois University, titled Material MattersThe exhibition includes Tim Bergstrom, Samantha Bittman, Daniel Bruttig, Kristin Haas, Matt Irie and Scott Wolniak, and opens this Monday, August 25th. Here’s an excerpt of the essay included in the catalog, available at the gallery.

The artists in Material Matters belong to the contemporary field of painters who find the medium open enough to sustain their creativity and express their interests. Painting is still, for the most part, a game of surface and materials, and these artists take dramatically different directions in both, by blending concepts from other mediums, experimenting with processes and the physicality of paint, and testing the visual opportunities presented by ordinary objects and nontraditional materials. Like all artists in today’s contemporary art world, they try to do what all artists do: produce works that prove their place, and earn our attention, by compelling us at the level of sight, presence, and thought. 

Matt Irie, Cold Caucasians (detail)

What You Should Have Noticed in July

My edition of this month’s What You Should Have Noticed article for Bad at Sports included the following headlines: At Julius Caesar, Torches Pass to New ManagementBlackest BlackGenesis Art Supply MovingPeanut Gallery MovingObituaries: On KawaraChicago Cultural Center Unveils DCASE Residency, and Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Artist Housing Open for Applications.

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You can read the whole article here.

 

What You Should Have Noticed in June

I wrote a wrap-up of June’s biggest art news for my regular Bad at Sports column, with headlines: We Wanted to Believe: Marilyn Monroe Sculpture Found! in Chinese Dump, New CTA Art Announced for Red Line Stops,  Lucas Museum Coming to ChicagoJeff Koons Ass Opens at the Whitney, and Abstract Painting, Still Crazy After All These Years.

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Check out the full article here.

What You Should Have Noticed in May

My monthly column at Bad at Sports includes mention of late Whitney Biennial drama, the Glasgow School of Art fire at their Mackintosh Building, the Artist Congress at the Block Museum of Art, and more. Read the rest: What You Should Have Noticed in May.

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David Schutter @ Rhona Hoffman Gallery

I reviewed David Schutter’s show, What is Not Clear is Not French, up now at Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

David Schutter. AIC G, 2014; oil on linen; 16 x 14.5 in. Image courtesy of Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

David Schutter. AIC G, 2014; oil on linen; 16 x 14.5 in. Image courtesy of Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

The strongest tension in David Schutter’s paintings is between their historical referents and their contemporary interpretation. While the abstract drawings wear their history plainly in academic marks and moves, it is impossible to see Schutter’s paintings without the deep-set history and theory of monochrome abstraction—our own academy, perhaps, in which the flattened, negotiated space of Agnes Martin or the emotional deadness of Mark Rothko’s later works both feel nearer than anything in the salons of 18th-century Paris. Yet Schutter’s paintings insist on their history. Each is painted in memory of a specific art-historical work, and even made to the same scale, though the specifics are only suggested. We are asked to trust that the warm blacks of AIC G (2014) come from some work—a Corbet? a Corot?—as it was seen by the artist at the Art Institute of Chicago faithfully interpreted through his desaturating memory; likewise, we can assume that NGS C 3 (2009) originated at a different point of contemplation, perhaps in the National Gallery of Scotland. Unlike many other artists’ abstractions, our interpretations here are not entirely free.

You can read the full review here.

Evan Gruzis @ The Suburban

Daily Serving has just published my review of Evan Gruzis’ new show, Shell Game, currently up at The Suburban.

The works in Shell Game represent a major departure for Gruzis, whose earlier work used intensive ink washed to create hazy, funky riffs on the objects and places that make up a kind of pop-culture landscape by way of Los Angeles. These new paintings not only feel different—more sober, more serious, more contemplative—but look dramatically different as well. Using fabric-dying techniques rather than brushed paint, Gruzis has layered these medium-sized paintings with nesting frame shapes, or splayed radiating lines across the paintings’ surfaces against tie-dye patterns in smoky purples, blues, and icy grays. The effect is mesmerizing, and while dealing less in signification than visual intensity, Gruzis’ new body of work describes a double movement. In one direction, the paintings reintroduce the fades and drop shadows typical of post-internet aesthetics into the familiar tensions in optical abstraction; while at the same time, the works seem to be abstractions of earlier paintings by Gruzis, selecting from his own history and giving former stylistic effects—such as the fade behind a landscape in silhouette, the splash of color across sunglasses—room to operate on their own.

You can read the whole review here at Daily Serving.

Evan Gruzis @ The Suburban

Evan Gruzis @ The Suburban

 

What You Should Have Noticed in April

You can read my wrap-up of this month’s art news and discussions at Bad at Sports: What You Should Have Noticed in April.

Judith Scott

Judith Scott

Extinct Entities: Alternative Myths

This winter I was invited to contribute an essay for the Extinct Entities festival’s short-run book. My essay ran along-side essays from Jason Foumberg, writer for Chicago Magazine and art editor for NewCity Magazine, Thea Liberty Nichols of ArtSlant and Bad at Sports, and Erin Nixon, former co-curator for Noble & Superior Projects and who (along with Anthony Romero and Anthony Stepter) co-curated the Extinct Entities festival itself. The book was designed and screen-printed by Melisa Morgan with help from Nathan Deli, though only in a run of 100; and, for this reason, I’ve decided to make the article digitally accessible and publish the article below.

By way of an introduction, the following article, Alternative Myths, was written in response to a video piece by Christy LeMaster, titled We Are No Longer Brave Enough to Leave, which was screened on the very snowy evening of January 20th. In the article, I hoped to address the issues present in the piece, which knit together the radical political history of utopian movements with the more ambiguous ambitions of artist-run arts organizations, as well as explore the topic of the festival itself: alternative and artist-run spaces.

Links Hall. Site of Extinct Entities, 2014.

Links Hall. Site of Extinct Entities, 2014.

Alternative Myths

by Steve Ruiz

Like many artists, Christy LeMaster’s personal work is somewhat overshadowed by the reputation of her institutional involvement. In 2008 LeMaster founded the notoriously independent microcinema The Nightingale. A staple in Chicago’s visual art community, The Nightingale has done so much for experimental, underground, and avant-garde film and video art in the city as to nearly define its display and stage its consumption. The co-operatively run theater, operating on donation, generosity, and gift, is a sterling example of the do-it-ourselves, do-it-better, community-building ethos which founds the utopian myth of the alternative or artist-run space in Chicago.

During the Extinct Entities festival, LeMaster screened a new and evolving work of her own, titled We Are No Longer Brave Enough to Leave, which explores this myth and the politics of utopia in art.

LeMaster filmed We Are No Longer Brave Enough to Leave during the 2012 Summer Forum for Inquiry + Exchange, a week-long residency in New Harmony, Indiana. Founded by Sara Knox Hunter, the Summer Forum evolved into a discussion seminar on the topics of community, utopia, and the individual. The thirty-four residents included artists of many kinds, as well as historians, musicians, theorists, and others. Coffee was brewed, jaws were unhinged, concerts were played; and, at least for a few hours, everyone dressed in 19th century period costume and reenacted scenes from New Harmony’s utopian past.

I want to follow LeMaster’s connections between alternative arts organizations (extinct or not) and utopian experiments like New Harmony, and to examine the mythic force behind these spaces and projects that continue to engage us. But first, a brief summarization of several Wikipedia articles:

The 19th century was a laboratory for modernism. As industrialization swept huge populations into new configurations of labor, innovative forms of social organization were necessary to replace out-sized traditional institutions. The question of how humans should live and work together was left dramatically unanswered and new ideologies began to bubble in answer. At the same time, in the evolving American frontier, each new settlement offered the freedom to implement reform and revolution at the foundational level. Utopian and intentional communities were founded by secular and religious groups alike, whose members abandoned their homes and lives for the sake of grand experiments: social organization on a most radical scale.

New Harmony was home to two such experiments. In 1814, a religious movement under the German prophet Georg Rapp founded the town of Harmony after selling their initial Pennsylvania commune to Mennonites. United under Rapp’s radical religious leadership, the town stabilized but suffered from poor geographical placement. Rapp soon arranged to return his flock to Pennsylvania, settling Economy in 1824 and selling Harmony to a new visionary: Robert Owen.

Robert Owen came to America in 1824 riding on the wealth and fame of his reformed cotton mills in New Lanark, Scotland. Having proved both the social and economic advantages of industrial welfare in New Lanark, he planned his new settlement in New Harmony as a site for application and extension. Like many reformers, Owen believed that a worker’s environment shaped his character; and so, anticipating urban planners like Sabsovich, Le Corbusier, and even Chicago’s own George Pullman, Owen sought to fit his population into a life rigidly organized for their own benefit.

New Harmony was a stage for Owen’s proto-socialist egalitarian imagination, operating from the top down to recreate man through superior circumstances. Citizens lived for free, but did not own property. Work was a community service, and workers were paid in purchasing credit at community stores rather than wages. Education, food, and provisions were evenly distributed. The community that began with a population of 3000 failed after only two years, owing its decline in part to the lack of skilled labor among its mixed members, in part to the poor placement first noticed by Georg Rapp, as well as reported dissatisfaction with the equality of remuneration. The community splintered and reorganized several times before dissolving in 1929. Owen bought the town and its debts entire, passed ownership to his sons, and left for new experimental prospects in London.

How many of our best initiatives have come from frustration?

Especially in a city like Chicago, where neither art market investment nor local institutions are equipped to sustain the ambitions of local artists, it is often the artists themselves who take over key roles in place-making, administration, criticism, and especially exhibition. In effect, these artists build the infrastructure and networks needed for their own creative practices to gain traction and thrive. However exhausting for the artists working behind the scenes, Chicago’s culture of mutual self-interest remains one of the most attractive arguments for the city as a place to make and see art.

And as a city for art, artist-run institutions are part of Chicago’s myth: they provide a utopian narrative rare within the increasingly globalized and corporatized contemporary art world, even if this myth is only partly, rarely true. Far from being heroic flights from the ordinary order, many artist-run spaces operate no differently than their commercial counterparts, and serve primarily as proving grounds for younger artists who anticipate the mainstream art market both in their work and in their exhibition designs. Even where non-profit thrives, the structure is no guarantee of creative programming. Artists-as-curators or artists-as-writers often deliver exhibitions or essays that neither suffer nor benefit from their mixed origins.

And yet the exceptions to this routine— those spaces that rethink art at the level of the gallery, the cinema, the magazine, or the institution—prove the potential of artist-run, self-funded projects to exercise autonomy in radical ways. It is this potential, as much as any instance of its realization, that make up the myth of the Chicago utopian alternative. Cut off from capital, denied access by our local museums, marginalized by media, a small enclave of Midwestern artists create a community for themselves. Lit with these dramatic floods, every artist-run success can feel like a win for something bigger, and many of our best organizations are artist-run with artistic critique embedded in their mission statements.

It is the politics of this myth that LeMaster’s project addresses. While artist-run spaces can provide a comfortable break with the normal order, they exist easily within that order. At worst, such a space might operate without a business license or breach lease agreements or bother neighbors, but at the end of the night the state has nothing to fear from apartment galleries, artist-run non-profits, and independent presses in themselves. Like academic departments, alternative art activities can foster communities of soft rebellion where dissent can be safely channeled into symbolic gestures and aesthetic critiques. When politically engaged and progressively organized, these projects can be a necessary point of gathering for the politically sensitive for whom utopia and revolution are goals no longer taken seriously.

The title of LeMaster’s film, We Are No Longer Brave Enough to Leave, challenges us with this pang of recognition: with rare exception, anything even as radical as dropping out is off the table. When invoking the myth of the alternative, are our second-studio, basement, spare-bedroom utopias connected to larger, more real political action, or are they merely therapeutic retreats? Does it matter if they are? The film is still evolving, with additional chapters due in the years to come, but so are alternative spaces and the politics of art and artists. Their place within our culture, and our lives, is still being determined.

What You Should Have Noticed (in February and March)

This year I’ve been invited to start a new column at the Bad at Sports blog, titled What You Should Have Noticed, in which I round up each month’s highlights, big events, and those debates and conversations that stood out from the rest. The first article for January covered CAA, The University of Chicago Labratory school’s new arts addition, the death of New York dealer Hudson, and more; the second, for March, follows the Whitney Biennial, a media discussion about the Gay Mafia and queer art community, a look at the Post Family‘s month of programming at Logan Square’s Comfort Station, and some updates on residencies.

Hilton Chicago Ballroom. Site of 2014's CAA Conference in Chicago

Hilton Chicago Ballroom. Site of 2014′s CAA Conference in Chicago

 

These articles will be forthcoming each month at the BAS blog, but I’ll be linking to them here too for record.

Seven Artists of the Week: Allison Kilberg

This week’s picks from Allison Kilberg, curator and arts administrator, and former associate director at LVL3 Gallery. Check out her blog here, and keep an eye out for her projects in Chicago and beyond.

Jade Walker, Puberty

Jade Walker

Olivier Kosta-Théfaine

Olivier Kosta-Théfaine

Ryan Fenchel

Ryan Fenchel

Eric Zimmerman

Eric Zimmerman

Seth Adelsberger

Seth Adelsberger

Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin

Dianna Molzan

Dianna Molzan

Thanks, Allison!

Seven Artists of the Week – Danny Volk

This week’s picks from Danny Volk, artist and current MFA student at University of Chicago. Keep an eye out for his work come thesis season – it’ll be worth the trip south.

As always, click on images for more from that artist.

Michael Portnoy

Michael Portnoy

Cody Critcheloe

Cody Critcheloe

Marilyn Volkman

Marilyn Volkman

Laura Letinsky

Laura Letinsky

 

Ton Do-Nguyen (aka kkpalmer1000)

Ton Do-Nguyen (aka kkpalmer1000)

Michael and Alan Fleming

Michael and Alan Fleming

Mark Beasley

Mark Beasley

Thanks, Danny!

 

 

 

 

 

Review: John Sparagana @ Corbett vs. Dempsey

Last week I reviewed John Sparagana‘s exhibition, Crowds & Powder, still up for a few more days at Corbett vs. Dempsey.

With their reliance on grids and fascination with images, Sparagana’s collages have much in common with the optical intensity of digital distortion or algorithmic abstraction, yet the artist adapts his images with the kind of diagrammatic storytelling more fundamental to collage. They are artworks that take their start from mass-market media, but they are also responses to those original images, as much interpretations as adaptions.

You can read the whole review here at Daily Serving.

John Sparagana, The Revolutionaries

John Sparagana, The Revolutionaries

Sofia Leiby @ Devening Projects + Editions

Last week I reviewed Sofia Leiby‘s show at devening projects + editions, which ran from December 15th through January 18th, alongside Peter Fagundo‘s Model Questions for the Sun, the See, and Other Things....

Here Leiby’s impulses, if not her paintings themselves, enter into the active discourse on postindustrial labor as experienced in today’s network economy. Creative professionals are particularly tasked with the deeply alienating and bizarre responsibility for oneself as a brand, a personality, or otherwise marketable chunk of human capital. As more of our social and entertainment activity is mobilized for either our own or others’ interests (for example, when networking invades personal relationships, or when our hobbies or diversions are capitalized to generate valuable online content), one can find it a complex challenge just to trace the blurring line between productive labor and unproductive leisure. With so much else in an artist’s life productively structured, purposefully performed, and in general feeling like work, what could be more radical than insisting that the center of an artist’s practice—the work itself—is something else entirely?

You can read the whole review at Daily Serving.

Sofia Leiby @ devening projects + editions

Sofia Leiby @ devening projects + editions

Seven Artists of the Week – Ryan Travis Christian

This week’s picks from Ryan Travis Christian, who (as described last week) was the inspiration for this feature back in 2009. Ryan is currently working on his upcoming solo show at Western Exhibitions; recent highlights include shows with Guerrero Gallery in San Francisco and a museum show at CAM Raleigh in North Carolina.

As aways, check out Ryan’s picks below, and click through each image to check out more from that artist.

Nate Bernot

Nate Bernot

Jonah Olson, Avalanche Drinking

Jonah Olson, Avalanche Drinking

Kinke Kooi, Under the Surface

Kinke Kooi, Under the Surface

Austin English, 29 Guys

Austin English, 29 Guys

Suzanne Doremus, Pattern #2

Suzanne Doremus, Pattern #2

James Ulmer, New Drawing

James Ulmer, New Drawing

Mr Oizo 3000

Mr Oizo 3000

Thanks, Ryan!

Seven Artists of the Week – Magalie Guérin

It’s been a while since I’ve ran this feature, so let me quickly reintroduce Seven Artists of the Week: a weekly post where I ask one artist, curator, or other member of our beloved Chicago art community to select seven artists to be featured as a group. We’ve had some great lists (all of which you can browse here) from such local luminaries as Eric May, Zach and Holly Cahill, Marc Fischer, as well as plenty from both myself and Ryan Travis Christian, who inspired this feature with his artist of the day Facebook posts back in the heady years of 2009-2010. Whether used as a platform for hyping other artists or as a snapshot of professional tastes, here’s hoping 2014 can be a banner year for Seven Artists of the Week.

This week’s picks are from local painter friend Magalie Guérin, who recently exhibited work in Glass Curtain Gallery’s Slow Read, and was interviewed last fall by Bad at Sports’ Caroline Picard.

Check out Magalie’s picks below, and click through each image to check out more from that artist.

Philip Guston

Philip Guston

Llewyn Davis

Llewyn Davis

Dana DeGiulio

Dana DeGiulio

Ken Price

Ken Price

Sangram Majumbar

Sangram Majumdar

Kyle Staver

Kyle Staver

Thanks, Magalie!

Haim Steinbach: Travel @ White Cube Gallery, London

The exhibition of found objects can take two forms: either the DuChampian invasion of the “real” into the unreal spaces of art, ironically short-circuiting our expectations and behavior toward both realms of objects; or the museum-like display of found objects as cultural documents or relics, representing their origins and functions in an anthropological matrix. Like many artists working today, when cultural discourse is generally more interesting than art discourse (especially for artists), Haim Steinbach‘s interests lie in the second form, where objects as disparate as Star Wars action figures, bottles of Fiji water, and Chinese headrest can speak in harmony to a globalized movement of things. There is even room for DuChamp’s famous bottle racks, humorously restaged in the form of a custom bookshelf available from OneStar press.

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason's Yard, London

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason’s Yard, London

Steinbach’s latest exhibition, Travel, on this last autumn at White Cube‘s stunning Mason Yard gallery space, involved a substantial amount of architectural innovation. The exhibition staged each object in a display box along a span of custom built walls, each built at angles in the gallery, and each revealing various levels of inner construction, skinned at some places to their steel frames and at others patched but unpainted. The rawness of architectural form is a hallmark of Steinbach’s conception of objects in relation to, and structured by, architectural conventions.

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason's Yard, London

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason’s Yard, London

At White Cube, Steinbach’s ad-hoc construction undercut the stability of the museological conventions used to exhibit his collection. Despite the use of ordered, sharply detailed vitrine displays, Travel‘s objects hung with evident temporality, as if their international shuffle had been frozen for momentary examination. Steinbach’s interest in material and architecture is seconded by the inclusion of five wall works in the lower ground floor lobby: the artist’s reconstructed Linopanel series (1976) of geocentric abstractions built from flooring materials.

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason's Yard, London

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason’s Yard, London

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason's Yard, London

Haim Steinbach, Travel @ White Cube Mason’s Yard, London

However, the primary work in Travel remains the dozen plus objects displayed throughout the exhibition’s main spaces. Much has changed in the world of art since Steinbach’s first deployments of objects and collections in the 1980s. As the anthropologic potential of objects has been joined to the anthropomorphic uncanniness of things, new questions are being asked about the agency of things, their status as pseudo-entities, and the interface between humans and the stuff around them. While time will tell whether this passing theoretical fad (the literature often borders on the atavistic or absurd) or yet a third way to imagine the ready-made, it is impossible to look at an exhibition like Steinbach’s without wondering about the objects themselves, not only as evidence of international commodity exchange, but as uniquely affective migrants, produced for export and human desire. Unlike many earlier exhibitions, Steichbach’s objects on display in Travel are behind (plexi-) glass, a minor gesture of separation, but just enough to allow for – if not encourage – this sort of reimagining.

Haim Steinbach’s Travel was on display October 2nd, 2013, through November 16th, 2013, at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London.

An Unnatural Theatre @ Aid & Abet

When I first planned to spend six months after graduate school in the United Kingdom, I expected to be living in London or commuting there regularly. However, with train fares nearly five times the cost as in the US, I quickly faced a deflated travel budget and few choices for art in my base in the university city of Cambridge. The area does offer some options: there is the nearby Wysing Art Centre, a residency and project space with the occasional open house; the Kettle’s Yard compound, which includes the former home of Tate curator Jim Ede (now operated as a museum of the Ede collection) and a second on-site white cube space; and then there is Aid & Abet, an artist-run space located in a former workshop and equipped with partitioned studios, a film room, library, large project space, and – like so many of the art spaces in the UK – adequate funding through Arts Council grants. Yes, even their tense rounds of grant negotiations are enough to make a Chicagoan pace with envy.

Aid & Abet, Cambridge, UK

Aid & Abet, Cambridge, UK

The first show I saw at Aid & Abet was titled An Unnatural Theatre and was a four-person group show examining performance and sculpture. Four years in and already we can say that ours is a decade devoted to negotiating the aesthetic boundary between performance and literally anything else – painting, sculpture, writing, reading, texting, fucking, voting, drinking, whatever – and with good reason: the critical perspective has long involved the meaning and significance (energy?) in an art object with the act of producing it, and artists have been catching on. The social position of the artist at the time of making, together with the auratic point of contact between the everyday and the aesthetic, can combine to create powerful impressions. The risk run is heroic banality, or an exaggerated importance given to gesture and display, at the cost of complexity on the level of artifact. Robert Morris letting things fall at the Whitney in 1970. Jutta Koether grooving around her painting at Reena Spaulings in 2009. Georges Mathieu on stage, whipping paint; Yves Klein, rolling women; Pricasso – well, you get it.

Spread between three gallery spaces and one film screening room, An Unnatural Theatre was plenty of work. In the main space, a trio of televisions on pedestals played Sophie Clements‘ There, After (2011). The three films were composed of rapid-edit moments – a firework going off, water splashing, lumber crashing – which the artist had repeated and rephotographed from different angles. Run at speed, the films seem to preserve these events as if each were a static climax, stuck in time at the moment of greatest action and unresolved tension.

An Unnatural Theatre @ Aid & Abet

An Unnatural Theatre @ Aid & Abet

Sophie Clements, There, After (2011)

Sophie Clements, There, After (2011)

In the same room, Jorge Rivera‘s Remains/Clay (2013) told the tale of its creation: the artist had thrown handfuls of clay at a pedestal until it piled up, weeping slip and looking like shit with fingerprints. The building of this work features in Rivera’s film, In the Skin of the Bull (2009), projected in the film room nearby, which had the sand-covered floor and wooden crate seats of an arena, a fighting pit, or an alternative art center film screening room, depending on interpretation. Themes of power, ritual, violence, and embodiment joined the physical process of art-making and bronze casting in an unabashed ecstasy of weird dude energy.

Jorge Rivera, In the Skin of the Bull (2009), Video Still

Jorge Rivera, In the Skin of the Bull (2009), Video Still

CJ Mahony converted a rear space into a nightmarish crevice, with the white gallery walls pinched into a restrictive path forcing viewers to wedge through and twist along its path. This must have been absolute hell at the event’s opening, with wine glasses tipping and claustrophobic classmates hyperventilating, but I found it a brief but ambitious installation, more in the tradition of phenomenological theme park rides than sculpture or performance, but perhaps more quirky than the artist intended. The path is so tight, with such oppressive white-cube universality, that it was a real shock when I was deposited outside, in a back alley of a crumbly light industrial district in England.

CJ Mahony, The Trouble With Time (2013)

CJ Mahony, The Trouble With Time (2013)

Alice Walton‘s sculptures occupied yet another room, though this one small enough not to overwhelm the work’s reduced scale; she also took an easily-missed corner for additional works, ostensibly for the same reason. Up close, her arrangements of reflective geometric shapes with black and white printed photos suggested an interest in archives and imagery (especially found images of the female body) but many felt uncomfortably close to tumblr collages, where, pulled from their historical context and juxtapozed, historical images are free to look cold and creepy and that’s it. Though these pictures twisted and turned as the viewer circled them, I kept thinking their scale and number prevented any stronger impressions, and there wasn’t enough in the image selection to prompt deeper engagement. I found her wooden wall-works more interesting in terms of form and material.

Alice Walton, Untitled (2012)

Alice Walton, Untitled (2012)

Alice Walton, Untitled (2012)

Alice Walton, Untitled (2012)

Overall, I was impressed by the scale of the gallery and the huge amount of space it gave to these four early career artists. While the theme of An Unnatural Theatre provided a frame through which to think about this work, it wasn’t stifling, and there was plenty of other considerations at the corners. I was happy to see investment in the objects and artifacts, especially in Sophie Clements’ video works, which seemed to best blend the performative immediacy of experience with the passive quality of sculpture.

Ian Hetherington, Owen Piper, & Jacob Kerray @ CCA

While Glasgow’s The Modern Institute is still more of a gallery than an institution proper, and though the Glasgow School of Art is key for student life, I found the Center for Contemporary Art at the heart of the city’s support structure for professional artists. With three galleries, studios, a library, performance rooms, and discussion halls, the CCA was a powerful resource for artists in the region, both in terms of education and exhibition.

However, all that hard work and professionalism at the institutional level knocked strongly against the artwork exhibited, especially in the three-man painting show in one of their two ground-floor spaces – the other being a performance-fiber-sculpure-and-video exhibition by the artist Shelly Nadashi, which I will review another day. These three artists, each early career graduates of Glasgow School of Art’s MFA program (Kerry and Piper 2003, Hetherington 2004) and all three primarily painters, displayed work with a distinctly alternative approach to production and even professionalism.

I’ll give some brief introductions.

Jacob Kerray @ CCA, Glasgow

Jacob Kerray @ CCA, Glasgow

Jacob Kerray‘s blend of absurd historical masculinity – plenty of sports, racial sterotypes, and the odd dick joke – looked like, in terms of Chicago’s painters today, the most ultimate unlikely pairing of Kerry James Marshall and Ethan Gill, with a little of Jake Myers‘ performance at the edges.

Iain Hetherington @ CCA, Glasgow

Iain Hetherington @ CCA, Glasgow

Iain Hetherington was Phillip Guston with a lighter touch, where gentle appropriation of cartoon imagery dissolved into fields of abstract action. They were layered, composed paintings, with an effective sketchiness hard to achieve at their scale.

Owen Piper @ CCA, Glasgow

Owen Piper @ CCA, Glasgow

Owen Piper, meanwhile, is a constructed canvas factory: his excessive production churns out dozens or even hundreds of banal formalism, sculptural one-liners, canvas collages; and, though his practice isn’t really “painting” enough to be “shitty painting,” Piper makes plenty of shitty paintings.

Together, the three artists (and, I assume, friends) display a lack of confidence in painting at the level of seriousness. While Hetherington and Kerray lampoon the canonical expectations of painting, replacing their subject matter with absurdity, emptiness, or “exaggerated lameness,” they’re still tied to the medium. They’re still making paintings – large paintings – for exhibition and display, even if there is a healthy doubt that this is Important Cultural Work. Piper, meanwhile, seems to have given up the ghost more directly by allowing that doubt to inform his production. They’re hardly alone: my generation of painters is notorious for making quick work, photographing it for distribution online, and recycling the stretcher bars. It isn’t a failure of spirit, but a response to changing markets. The cultural capital flows more freely in an economy of images online, and without access to a physical economy where big paintings can be brought to market, or even a critical environment where painting has the power to make much meaning, all those canvases – all that work – can seem utterly absurd. No one wants to be the last person caught believing.

CCA, Glasgow

CCA, Glasgow

Which is why it was so striking to see the confidence of the CAA so contrasted with the confidence of the work exhibited within it. This is more than just a Glasgow concern. It is a concern for emerging art today, when artists (and not just painters) learn at many different levels that the structures containing (or producing) art are more important, more meaningful, and more interesting, then the stuff of art that moves through them. I left feeling that the Important Cultural Work was in curation, not creation, which is a sorry attitude for painting as a studio tradition.

Manfred Pernice @ The Modern Institute

The Modern Institute is a must-visit gallery in Glasgow, Scotland. With ties to artists as diverse as Chris Johanson, Urs Fischer, or  Cathy Wilkes, the Institute hosts quarterly exhibitions with enough hands-off curation to allow real focus on a single artist’s crafted imagination. When I visited the city in August, I was able to see Manfred Pernice’s «anexos»LOCAL, a one-room installation of sculptures and collages, each part of a larger interest in containers – shipping containers, design wrappings, commodity packaging, and so on. Pernice’s sculptural inquiry took the form of designs that seemed to peel open to reveal the fuzzy boundry between their insides and outsides, conflating the material qualities of what is contained with those of what contains it. The sculptures were rich with detail, common in material, and with plenty of pre-fab nods: some looked like half-constructed IKEA furniture, others like woefully abstract senior design projects.

Manfred Pernice, «anexos»LOCAL

Manfred Pernice, «anexos»LOCAL

While the eleven wall-mounted collages suggested diagrams, plans, or sketches, the floor works skated narrative as (rather tired by now) relation-of-objects tableaus. In one “cassette” (Pernice’s word for the bisected pallet-like structures evenly placed along Institutes ground-floor gallery), a low step-pyramid of carefully hewn plywood offers up a few bottlecaps, colored blocks, and a dented can on one side; on the other, a stack of boxes half-painted and half-plastered with Spanish news articles, detailing the disposal of trash. Even with the “moment” quality of the work in time – either having been opened, or in the process of some construction – these narrative qualities were too extraneous, and not clear or significant enough to move my attention from the materials or forms. What these objects did do, however, was introduce value: what was so significant about these random objects, and what kind of value did they have to the artist (or the viewers), to require such an elaborate container?

Manfred Pernice, «anexos»LOCAL

Manfred Pernice, «anexos»LOCAL

Manfred Pernice, «anexos»LOCAL

Manfred Pernice, «anexos»LOCAL

As much as I enjoyed this work by Manfred Pernice, I was also impressed by The Modern Institute’s role in the region’s contemporary art economy. While not a large space (though the Institute has a second nearby), it seems to provide the opportunity for well-known artists to experiment with exhibitions, perhaps in a more liberal way than a museum would require, and in a manner unusual for commercial galleries. I can’t quite nail it down, but there was an attitude of consolidation rather than advocacy, letting formerly established artists exhibit not just the work that earned their notoriety, but their ability to invent and create.

Minna H. Lappalainen: Notes on Architecture @ Tegnerborbundet

Who doesn’t love Modernist architecture? Earlier this month I wrote about Cyprien Gaillard’s meditations on this font of  relevancy, looking back on a time when it was believed that, in Dominic A. Pacyga’s words, “good planning, big government,  and modern architecture could solve the problems of [a] city”. Immediately historical, hubristic, and utopian, these structures are a visual shorthand for lessons learned.

Minna H. Lappalainen @ Tegnerborbundet

Minna H. Lappalainen @ Tegnerborbundet

Minna H. Happalainen is a Norwegian artist whose photography-based paintings and drawings took a compositional turn with Notes on Architecture, carving her subjects into what looked like layered five-by-sevens, or abstracting corners or fades in separate works. The graphite drawings had plenty of penciled handworking, with vibrating shadows and sharp contrasts, and were satisfying on the eye. In extraneous but minimal sculptural gestures, three pedestals held up abstract drawings sandwiched between concrete and glass; and, beside a framed drawing, a tiny staircase crawled into a corner.

Lappalainen’s work was a welcome surprise as I crawled through Oslo’s galleries – most of which were closed or ghosts. While conceptually familiar, the interaction between architecture, photography, and drawing brought enough form and craft to keep me impressed.

Minna H. Lappalainen @ Tegnerborbundet

Minna H. Lappalainen @ Tegnerborbundet