All notes with the topic Contributers | Notes on Looking

The Permission of Mike Kelley, by Karl Erickson

The recent traveling retrospective exhibition of Mike Kelley reveals the artist’s artwork to be generous, permissive, moral and caring; though not kind, gentle nor easy. There also exists in equal measures cynicism, cruelty and negativity. Caring, in that he strove to ruthlessly expose systems of repression in our lives; unkind, in that his withering attack left few beliefs unexposed, and no sacred goats left unshorn. This permission and generosity can be experienced in three overlapping ways: 1) Mike Kelley provides an example of how to make intelligent, critically engaged work. This provides permission to artists to wholly invest in their subject matter; 2) Kelley’s drive to over-stuff his subjects with meaning to the bursting point. This is an act of generosity to the subject while damning our culture of over-analysis; and 3) Kelley’s work is generous in the sense that he served, as the well-known image of him documents, as a janitor, an astringent force working elbows deep in the pus and bile of mass culture to clear out blockages. When I first encountered Kelley’s work in the mid-1990s, l was a young artist living and attending undergrad in Detroit. I had never seen anything like his combinations of images, materials and texts. His art was a revelation that serious, smart, complex work could be made of and from the subjects he worked with: pop culture detritus, weirdos, noise, shit. To a 19-year old in the Midwest, this was mind-blowing; and a very long way from Van Gogh and Warhol. Sure, there was plenty of conceptual and pop art available, but not like this delirious assemblage. Conceptual Art, as represented...

Summer and the movies, by Paul Pescador

1. We’re sitting in traffic. It’s the first day summer. No, thats not true, its the first day that June gloom has burnt off and the heat has set in. We’re sitting in the car stuck in gridlock traffic. It’s Saturday and we’re trying to get to the beach for a birthday in Malibu. We’re dead silent; frustrated and exhausted by the heat and traffic. We sit and listen to Siri read us directions as she sends us on and off freeways. Somewhere between the 101, 105, 405 and the 710 intersection, I remember why I never go to the beach. The traffic is like Godard’s film Weekend (1967): miles and miles of traffic and car accidents. I shout out, “There better be a dead body!” When I think of summer, I think of Jacques Tati’s film, Mr Hulot’s Holiday (1954). Mr Hulot’s Holiday takes plays in a French beach town during a summer holiday. The protagonist, Monsuier Hulot (played by Tati himself), is a fumbling middle-aged man who wanders around with his trilby and pipe. We rarely hear him speak, as his humor is action-based. Hulot is reminiscent of characters developed by silent film stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton: underdogs and outsiders who constantly get themselves into trouble by pestering others. Most of the film’s characters don’t really develop — they are more types than characters: a sneaky kid who pull pranks, a naive shy heroine, and a grumpy waiter who constantly gets frustrated when anything goes wrong at the hotel. Although they are not fully developed as characters, I find pleasure in watching them....

The Orange Sweater, A Painting by Elmer Bischoff – by Dominic Quagliozzi

Bischoff’s states his ambition for these works, of which Orange Sweater (1955) is a part, to achieve “a condition of form which dissolves all tangible facts into intangibilities of feeling.” – Elmer Bischoff, excerpt from Elmer Bischoff: The Ethics of Paint Last week my life was full of facts, figures, and data sets. For this intense week my being was being defined through numbers and measurables; nothing more than that. Images with grids, and tests with decimal points. Everything that was needed to be known about me could be found on a computer file or a in heavy, thick manila folder with frayed-edged paper and black and blue inked notes. Even as I looked inward at my own thoughts, this kind of sizing up of myself through tangible facts began to dominate my identity. I wasn’t really Dominic that week, I was a file that projected a man: 31 years old, of 5 feet 7 inches, with A positive blood and chest measurements of 33” and the breathing capacity of 19%. I was now a survival rate in a hospital brochure. I wasn’t Dominic—I was a candidate for a double lung transplant at Stanford University Hospital. The intensity of becoming data overflowed by Wednesday night. My evaluations were completed and my wife Debra and I sat heavy or light (I can’t even make up my mind) on the bed with a stunned numbness about the whole experience. The emotions of ME, I, of who I am, cannot be found in or concerned with the raw meat of my body. Emotions are not facts. As the sun rose on Thursday...

James Turrell: A Dissent—Part Two: Four Thoughts on James Turrell, or Where is the Body? By Maya Gurantz

1. Look While the Light and Space artists of the 1970s have occasionally been historicized as “California Minimalism,” Turrell’s recent retrospective at LACMA exposed the gap between the two practices.  The West Coast artists manipulated light, space, surfaces, finish. East Coast Minimalism explicitly considered the body. It developed in intimate conversation with post-modern dance. Robert Morris wrote about the art object as being scaled to the human body: no longer a monument looming over the viewer nor the intricate ornament glimmering in her hand. This human scale shifted the site of the artwork to what passes between the body and the object. Despite the experiential and phenomenological nature of Turrell’s work, in his realm, the body is vestigial. Each piece maintains an ideal viewing position, usually seated. The viewer is meant to sit on the chair or bench—and look, and look, and look. The light installations with their layered, textural beauty become living, trembling color field paintings. The visual information vibrates between the eye and perceiving brain without ever once passing through the body. The body becomes the eye. Not only is the body unnecessary, it is actively interruptive, destructive. A security guard cautioned me not to get my shadow on one of the works. The staging of disembodied visual pleasure falls apart the moment another viewer’s body enters the frame of vision or, God forbid, speaks. This in turn instills feelings of contempt within the viewer for the bodies and voices of fellow museum-goers: how dare these humans ruin my looking? We are not meant to acknowledge the existence of bodies. Nor be in our own body. We...

James Turrell: A Dissent—Part One: Refreshed and Energized: Installation, Subjectivity and the Spa Experience by Maura Brewer

In the catalog James Turrell: A Retrospective, Michael Govan describes Turrell’s ongoing artistic inquiry into the gap between “internal” subjective experience and “external” objective phenomena. This idea manifests in Turrell’s light installations as visual experiments that capitalize on the perceptual instability of color. The blue of the sky, seen through an open window, becomes green, purple, or red depending on a changing set of choreographed lighting effects. The inherent variability of color undermines the fiction of a stable, enduring “external” reality, and the consequences are meant to be revelatory: a transcendent merging of self and other, the act of “removing the distance between the perceiver and the object in order to see ‘truth’…”1 Turrell’s work, according to Govan, speaks to the radical dislocation of the perceiving self. His reading of Turrell hews closely to contemporary and postmodern ideas about the relativity of knowledge, and the instability of the subject position. Govan suggests that Turrell is engaged in the production of a kind of strategic disorientation or disturbance of his audience.2 And to be sure, certain accounts of Turrell’s work conform to Govan’s analysis – his museum retrospective in 1980 ended in several lawsuits when visitors became dizzy, resulting in sprained wrists and broken arms.3 But there is another way to understand Turrell – a reading that has cropped up in the press around his exhibitions in LA and New York. This interpretation deemphasizes the dislocating effects of vision, and focuses instead on a kind of holistic immersion, the ultimate aim of which is a therapeutic re-centering of body and mind. In a recent LA Times article, Deborah Vankin describes...

Palm Springs and the Movies – Paul Pescador

I drive into Palm Springs, it’s early January and I’m down to see a friend from high school, someone I haven’t seen in years. I’m also there to see family, as my previous trip home, a quickie which only lasted 48 hours, didn’t go over well with my mother. On my way into the city, I pass by the Cabazon dinosaurs; these large sculptures, a 100 ton Tyrannosaurus rex and a 150 ton Apatosaurus. These structures have been used as backdrops in many films, including Paris, Texas (1984) and The Wizard (1993). I drive by hundreds of windmills alongside the mountains. I used to go hiking up those mountains. The last time I was in middle school and went with my father. We got separated from our hiking troop and were lost for hours. We were eventually found by a park ranger, after a minor search party had been sent out for us. I continue my drive and pass by Toucans, a tropical-themed gay bar, and a California Pizza Kitchen, you know what that is, and I meet my friend on the downtown strip. She insists that we go crystal shopping, so we go. She buys a clear one, which is suppose to help her with anxiety and will cleanse her chakras; and I buy a purple one, because I think it’s pretty. We walk by Forever Marilyn, a statue by Seward Johnson of the actress Marilyn Monroe. Originally installed in Chicago, Seward’s Marilyn and was moved to Palm Springs in 2012. The 26-foot tall Marilyn stands in the center of downtown in her iconic white dress from the...

Closing Soon: Devon Tsuno: Watershed—Presenting Nature as Democratic by David De Boer

Devon Tsuno’s democratic sensibility is apparent on the walls of both the Weingart and Mullin Art Galleries at Occidental College in his exhibition Watershed. Sifting through multiple processes, Tsuno’s exhibition presents two paradigms: The first is a straightforward hang in a white cube gallery of labor-intensive abstract paintings made with spray and acrylic paint on handmade paper. These paintings take on the subject matter of Los Angeles’ non-native vegetation and bodies of water, reminding us that the free sunshine and (almost) free water of Los Angeles creates a generous environment where all can flourish. A second kind of democracy is explored in a gallery that partially simulates domestic space. Here, a homespun parlor (that old-fashioned meeting place of public and private) is simulated in the gallery, using digitally printed wallpaper and a faux fireplace. Over the fireplace, where might be a family portrait, or a photograph of the man of the house, hangs a Risograph print. There are bookshelves in this room too, as there might be in a real parlor, and the volumes that are featured more deeply express Tsuno’s interest in democratic, cooperative action: each of the many books is part of an ongoing collaboration with Oxy Book Art students using Risograph and letterpress techniques. Additionally, handmade wooden milk crates contain 10,000 prints from this same project. Much like exploring the Los Angeles landscape, navigating through Tsuno’s various modes of display and creative process presents the viewer with an artificial division. On one hand we see an artist fully engaged as a sole maker; incessantly laboring over material with the desire to create one-of-a-kind objects. And on the other hand, we...

Between thought and expression, lies a lifetime—John Pearson considers “James Welling: Monograph”

Between thought and expression, lies a lifetime. – Lou Reed (1) Monograph is a survey exhibition of the photographer James Welling’s work from the late 1970s to the present.  My interest here is to consider the artist’s photographs as well as the installation of the exhibition at the Hammer Museum through photographic associations, excerpts of published interviews with the artist, and various, sometimes contradictory, ideas about photography.  Writing about photographs I find myself preoccupied by the world – what the artist makes of it with the photograph, how the photograph informs that relationship.  And this connection built from the index, record, trace that is a photograph is where I find myself negotiating meaning. The photograph, inherently mechanical, inherently systematic, is unique in its alignment with a single unruly and impulsive sense: vision.  And vision’s association with one’s attention suggests that looking at a photograph is seeing the photographer’s attention. You look at what was looked at by the artist.  The photograph offers attention, consideration, and discovery of the artist’s surroundings.  It manifests perception and makes a sense of the world.  I’m thinking about a photography rooted in observation. “No.  I think that, in general–and this includes a lot of what I see in Chelsea even more than what I see from students at Yale–there’s a failure to understand how much richer in surprise and creative possibility the world is for photographers in comparison to their imagination.  This is an understanding that an earlier generation of students, and photographers, accepted as a first principle.  Now ideas are paramount, and the computer and Photoshop are seen as the engines to stage...

Fairfax and the Movies by Paul Pescador

This summer I did a screening in Los Angeles at Cinefamily, a movie theater on Fairfax between Beverly and Melrose which screens independent/cult films. (Paul Pescador, 1 – 9, 2011-2013, presented at CineFamily in cooperation with Human Resources, August 4, 2013) A few years back, before Cinefamily opened, the venue was The Silent Movie Theater, which would occasionally screen old silent films, oftentimes with a live musical accompaniment. I first heard the story about Silent Movie Theater a year ago from a friend over brunch. She started the conversation with, “My friend was shot in the chest in that theater”. I paused and looked up from my burrito. “So my friend worked at the concession stand at the Silent Movie Theater, and the owner of the theater, who was secretly gay, his lover hired a hit man and tried to kill him off.” “Why?” “I guess he had a lot of money and wanted it. The theater was a fun side project for the owner, as he was incredibly wealthy. My friend was a family friend of his, she was in high school and would work the concession stands wherever they did screenings.” “So what happened?” “The lover hired a hit man. The agreement was that the hit man was to shoot the owner and take out anyone else who was close by, making it seem like a robbery. My friend was working the concession stand. She was shot, but didn’t die. “What happened to the owner?” “Oh he died.” “Jesus! How did they tie it back to the lover?” “Well, my friend was ok and was able to identify...

“The Object is Null,” an exhibition by Kimberly Hahn at Design Matters Gallery, by Daniel Rolnik

I care about people. It’s kind of weird. But I think that in order to truly appreciate art you must also care about the people who create it. And what I love more than anything about today’s age is that access to these people, artists, is so easy – all you need is a Wi-Fi connection. A new skill has arisen, which is the ability to get positive feedback from artists when it’s infinitely easier to send messages and inversely impossible to reply to them all. And this skill is exactly what the curator at Design Matters Gallery, Bianca Collins, has been equipped with. Collins saw artwork on the website ARTslant that she liked and contacted the artist who created it, Kimberly Hahn. Within a day or so, Kimberly, who is based in Santa Barbara, responded. This is something that is profound. It’s reflective of the way we process information, with our fingers tumbling through pages of data on Facebook or Instagram at breakneck speeds. Except, the communication between Kimberly and Bianca broke down the wall of anonymity.   What I particularly like about this story is that it shows you can take power away from the establishment. Yes, you, sitting and reading this article, can do whatever you want without following some old rule of how to do things. You don’t need a degree in curatorial studies, or to spend your life savings flying to parties around the world, you can sit in your bedroom with a computer and put together an exhibit that’s truly wonderful and connective in a brand new way. So now the real question is,...

Scary Movies, by Paul Pescador

There is a moment when the summer heat finally calms and fall sneaks up on you. You feel it in the morning, cool and foggy. Different from other parts of the country, the shift in season is more subtle in LA. I notice it in the light as the harsh summer sun softens. I go to Target with Daniel and the back-to-school stuff has been put away and all the Halloween costumes and decorations are now front and center. Glittered bats, fake blood, plastic pumpkins. Fall is here. I hate when it gets dark early, I sit at my office, it’s only 5pm and the daylight is gone. As someone who grew up in Southern California, in the desert of the Coachella Valley, I recognize fall by the crispness in the air, and a wet mildewy smell that reminds me of pumpkins. I grew up in the middle of nowhere; the closest house was a few miles away. My family lived alone on a one-acre plot surrounded by tumbleweeds. When I was a child, no one came to my house at Halloween, as it seemed too scary; and not Halloween scary but murder and rape-y scary. The house was pushed back on the property, and you would have walk up a long, low-lit drive away in order access it. This need for isolation came from my father, who felt that it was the only way for him to find peace and quiet. The rest of us were not as excited by this. In middle school my mom and I would spend weeks decorating the front yard with Halloween decorations,...