Monday, July 28, 2014

Michael Ned Holte, Kaleidoscope

Made in L.A.

Originally published in Kaleidoscope 21: Decoding Curating

Jesi Khadivi: You are the curator of the upcoming edition of “Made in L.A.,” a biennial exhibition hosted by Los Angeles' Hammer Museum. I’d like to begin by discussing the exhibition’s curatorial framework. In your review of the 2012 edition for Artforum you questioned whether such a biennial was even necessary in a city like Los Angeles. How did this inform your approach to curating “Made in L.A. 2014”? Do you think the biennial is necessary now, having gone through the process yourself?

Michael Ned Holte: When Annie Philbin invited me to curate “Made in L.A. 2014,” the review hadn’t even been published yet. The first thing I told her was that she should read it before fully extending the invitation. Critically addressing the questions that the review raised was always underlying my research and preparation for the show. The show is important—in part because Los Angeles is truly an extraordinary city. Whether it’s necessary is for someone else to decide. Part of what the show does is register where things are at in a given moment in the city of Los Angeles. There is a constant influx of creative people and the primary constituency of what we describe as an art world or community here changes so rapidly. K-Chung Radio is an example of something that didn’t exist—or wasn’t recognizable—at the time of the last “Made in L.A.” Gabriel Kuri, an established artist who is, by all accounts, a very international artist, is a recent arrival in Los Angeles. He didn’t come to go to school, but because the city is conducive in many other ways to being an artist at his point in his career.

JK: This edition of “Made in L.A.” not only includes emerging artists and overlooked artistic positions, but also a radio station, the above mentioned K-Chung, and two exhibition spaces, Public Fiction and Los Angeles Museum of Art. Can you talk about what influenced these choices and how each will be presented in the gallery spaces at the Hammer?

MNH: Public Fiction, Los Angeles Museum of Art, and K-Chung Radio were important really early on in thinking about the show, in part because we were interested in thinking about the way that artists see the city. Lauren Mackler, who started Public Fiction and arrived in Los Angeles in 2011, is an artist but working in the context of an institution or what I’ve been calling a “micro-institution.” Alice Konitz, who has been in Los Angeles since the late ’90s and has an important presence here as an individual artist, only recently opened the Los Angeles Museum of Art and has been working in the context of a micro-institution exhibiting the work of other artists, particularly her peers.

It was important for my co-curator Connie Butler and me to think about the ways that artists were looking at the city and the kinds of communities that were being formed outside of the larger institutional framework—meaning outside of museums and schools— things that were happening on their own accord because of the ambitions of an individual, but also of these small communities and networks of people. We were interested in bringing those smaller things into the context of something much larger like the Hammer Museum, which is larger in relative scale. It’s not the largest institution in the world, but it’s larger than the Los Angeles Museum of Art, which is about nine by twelve feet. There is a different kind of audience for a show like “Made in LA” than there is for a show at Public Fiction in Highland Park or the Los Angeles Museum of Art in Eagle Rock. We were interested in what it meant to transfer those smaller platforms into this larger platform and introduce it to a much larger audience than they might have had prior to “Made in LA.”

JK: Projects like “Pacific Standard Time” (2011-2012) oscillated between reclaiming lesser-known local histories and making a mark for Los Angeles as an international hub for contemporary art. Further afield, exhibitions such as “Based in Berlin” (2010) drew furor from local critics who believed the exhibition exported the Berlin scene while obscuring local needs, namely more robust funding for the city’s existing non-profits, as well as new venues to show work made by emerging and mid-career artists in the city. I don’t want to write the narrative of one exhibition onto another, but I’m curious as to the resonance of this example. How does “Made in L.A.” navigate the potential tension between responding to a broader civic agenda and to the needs of artists?

MNH: I feel like these kinds of shows mean different things to different people. A show like “Made in L.A.” fulfills a certain function for the museum—perhaps it also fulfills a certain civic function, but it remains, I think, an important platform for the artists in the show. No one that we invited to be in the show said no. So that’s telling, right? And I didn’t say no to being one of the curators, even though I had similar questions.

We were also interested in the fact that L.A. is a city where a lot of artists work, but don’t exhibit their work. Another function of the show would be to show the work that is being made here, but otherwise not being shown here. And for a lot of these artists it’s their first show in a Los Angeles. This includes not only recent art school graduates, but artists like Kim Fisher, who has been living in Los Angeles for ten years, but has never had her work shown in a local museum. An artist like Tala Madani, for example, has exhibited at Moderna Museet and been on the cover of Frieze, but has never exhibited in Los Angeles. We felt there was something very important about showing the work that was being made here and “Made in L.A.” was an important opportunity to do that. I think the show certainly does fulfill certain functions in terms of the Hammer and how the Hammer has situated itself in relation to local institutions. It’s a small institution when compared to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) or the Getty or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But it’s done an amazing job at exhibiting emerging artists in L.A. in the past decade. It has occupied a really important position for younger artists in the city.

JK: An impressive range of curators have made their mark in Los Angeles. Who do you feel has played an instrumental role in developing the arts ecosystem in the city—both historically and today? Also, how do you feel that L.A. will be affected by recent shifts in key curatorial positions, such as the recent arrival of Philippe Vergne and the announcement of Helen Molesworth as MOCA’s chief curator?

MNH: There is indeed serious curatorial talent in Los Angeles, and it's only getting better with the recent arrival of Philippe Vergne and Helen Molesworth at MOCA—not to mention the return of Connie Butler as the Hammer's new chief curator. There have been many others in recent years: Ali Subotnick, Anne Ellegood, Franklin Sirmans and Bennett Simpson are all contributing to the Los Angeles art community as well as the field at large. As you suggest, there is a long history of important curators here—perhaps too long to summarize. But a good starting point would be the significant work Walter Hopps, who was a Los Angeles native, and organized the first-ever retrospectives of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell, among other significant exhibitions, at the Pasadena Art Museum. In the years after I arrived in Los Angeles, the shows that most impacted me and informed my understanding of contemporary exhibition-making were at MOCA. I'm thinking of the defining historical surveys there: Paul Schimmel's "Out of Actions," Ann Goldstein's "A Minimal Future?" and Connie Butler's "WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution" were all incredibly important shows—and not just for me.

JK: Do you think that it’s possible to curate a scene? Are there broader local questions that the exhibition surveys?

MNH: Connie Butler has been using the term “core sample” a lot and I think that’s a good way to look at it. We did hundreds of studio visits and went to lots of exhibitions and had really extensive lists of artists, but there is a sense that it’s kind of bottomless in a way; there is no way that we could have a complete awareness of what was going on. Overall, there were a number of things that we tried to attend to when curating the exhibition. One had to do with micro-institutions, one had to do with artists that were coming out of school, as well as an awareness of certain artists who had been here for a long time and working mostly undercover, people like Michael and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess, who had been making ceramics in their studio in Venice, just off Abbot Kinney, for four decades or more and really aren’t participating in any of these scenes, except that they are artists who are deeply admired and collected by a number of artists that we do think of as important younger-generation artists in L.A. In some ways the Frimkesses have been working in some kind of isolated time capsule, completely oblivious to people like Lauren Mackler in Highland Park or James Kidd’s studio. At the same time, their work is being looked at and taken seriously by a new generation of artists and is entering the discourse again. We’ve also included a show within the show, curated by David France, who is the curator of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archive at the University of Southern California libraries. The exhibition is called “Tony Green Amid Voluptuous Calm.” We asked David to present Tony’s work in a historical context. This approach suggests that the notion of community in Los Angeles is not a new one; it’s actually deeply historical. You can point back to the scene around Wallace Berman in Topanga for a historical precedent. Even in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Los Angeles, there was not one monolithic scene, but a complex network of smaller scenes going on, so an exhibition like “Made in L.A.” made in 1960 would have had to account for the variety of things going on. We also wanted to point to the fleeting or tenuous nature of some of these mergers, an important historical moment that wasn’t really that long ago. How much can change in a quarter-century in a city and its understanding of itself and the kind of work being done there? There’s nothing monolithic about a scene. It’s contingent. I use the metaphor of the microclimate in my essay, but I also talk a lot about Venn diagrams and see the city as a network of gently overlapping, or intensely overlapping, Venn diagrams. This is a more realistic model.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Matter Within: New Contemporary Art of India

Originally published in Harper's Bazaar Art Arabia #2

The Matter Within: New Contemporary Art of India
October 15, 2011-January 29, 2012
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

A restless instability and agitational force pervade the works assembled in the Yerba Buena’s recent exhibition The Matter Within: New Contemporary Art of India. Organized around the themes of embodiment and the imaginary, the artistic and political perspectives in The Matter Within appear more as a constellation of micro-climates than a cogent, distinctly articulated expression of politics.

Indian curator and art historian Chaitanya Sambrani argues that we expect art from the so-called developing world to offer more than the education, entertainment, and “occasional glimpses of a transcendental, redemptive power,” that we normally demand from art. According to Sambrani, regardless of a “non-western” artist’s connection to social change movements, we have often come to expect a sort of oppositional rhetoric from their work. One could add to this that we often expect exhibitions of art from the so-called emerging cultural and economic powers to provide their audiences with a self-referential accounting of their history, politics, and culture. A sprawling and often meandering group exhibition, The Matter Within (curated by Betti-Sue Hertz) commits an offense repeatedly perpetrated by group exhibitions devoted to regional production: the positing of a tautological equivalence between exhibiting art produced in a region and exhibiting the region itself. In this case, the curatorial quest to capture an elusive “Indianess” and over-emphasis on local production creates a didactic framing that effectively mutes Indian art’s dialogue with the rest of the world.

One of the exhibition’s strengths, however, is its treatment of the ascendancy of certain media in contemporary Indian artistic practice, namely video, sculpture, and, most of all, photography. The Matter Within reflected a wide array of photographic approaches ranging from the intimate, almost photo-journalistic work of Gauri Gill to Pushampala N.’s performative enactments of Indian female archetypes ranging from iconic figures and film stars to criminals. Multiple intersections between post-coloniality and queer identity emerge throughout the exhibition, most notably in the work of Nihkil Chopra, represented by photographs and video from his series Memory Drawings, in which the artist takes on various different persona—ranging from deities to dandies—and creates a drawing from the perspective of each. Represented by a number of works in the exhibition, Tejal Shah’s approach to similar themes can be either oblique and poetic or disarmingly direct and disaffected. Documentation of her performance Encounters, undertaken with the artist Varsha Nair, shows both artists swathed in a single white, straight jacket-type tube connected by absurdly long arms. Stretching across great distances, with the jacket’s sinewy appendages extending around corners and through architectural obstacles, the work evokes simultaneous, conflicting associations of isolation, longing, exclusion and a tenuous togetherness.

The theme of crossing between multiple worlds, time periods, and identities appeared again and again throughout the exhibition and found its most sophisticated expression in Otolith III, a video work by the London-based Otolith Group. Unfolding between shifting, non-synchronous poles of history and memory, this gripping film, which was inspired by Satajiyt Ray’s unmade 1967 film, The Alien, resists easy categorizations, and poses many of the questions that the exhibition falls just short of articulating, exploring relationship between image and event and, most succinctly, the idea of the “alien,” as a disembodied, atmospheric force.

Friday, May 6, 2011

What is Out There Waiting

originally published in Border Crossings issue 116

What is Out There Waiting: 6th Berlin Biennale
Curated by Kathrin Rhomberg

Not quite a statement, nor explicitly a question, the theme chosen to frame the 6th Berlin Biennale is at once ominous and open-ended, conjuring visions of the underrepresented, the oppressed, or the ignored lurking in the distance, waiting to be uncovered. Despite the temporal and spatial dislocations the exhibition’s title implies, curator Kathrin Rhomberg claims that young artists are thinking less and less about the future, choosing instead to reinvestigate 20th century concerns. Her biennale seeks to addresses this “new historicism” by presenting works that direct their gaze away from the formal and self-referential concerns of contemporary art and “outward, at reality.” As Rhomberg told Artforum’s Anthony Byt, “it became urgent again for me to ask: Is there a relationship between art and the present moment, and if so, what does it look like?”

A challenging question, to say the least, and one that cannot easily be answered, even within the parameters of a mega-show like a biennale, the very structure of which is poised to respond to contemporary issues. According to Rhomberg, what defines our current moment, or at least the things she would like to direct our attention toward, are art practices that engage with social, economic, and political “realities.” Wisely framing reality in the plural, Rhomberg is also concerned with the attendant gaps or cracks in reality, the distance between how things seem and how they are. Implicit in this question is how the invisible becomes visible, and how anything, whether an individual, collectivity, idea, or act constitutes its own visibility. Indeed, the production of reality is one of the strongest themes to come out of Rhomberg’s thoughtful, though at times maddening biennale.

In her attempt to take on such a slippery idea, Rhomberg strikes a modest tone, limiting the exhibition to forty-five artists and moving the bulk of the biennale’s six exhibition venues away from the bustle and noveau-glitz of Berlin’s Mitte to Kreuzberg. An air of seriousness pervades What is Out There Waiting, which eschews the spectacular site-specific works often commissioned for biennales in favor of more subdued, if not ramshackle installations and a curatorial tempo that tries to be deliberate, but instead often comes off as stilted and heavy handed. The work itself is predictably austere. After dutifully marching through the exhibitions six venues, some hidden on side streets and in unlikely locations, viewers may find themselves wondering, “is this what reality looks like?” The exhibition halls at Kunst-Werke, the biennale’s flagship institution feel practically empty, while visitors to the exhibition’s largest venue, a crumbling former department store on Kreuzberg’s Oranienplatz, are subjected to documentary video after documentary with little space to absorb the information contained therein.

An unfortunate by-product of this approach is that the works seem to seldom speak to each other. Indeed, the strongest relationships that emerge between works are often the most literal, like Renzo Marten’s Episode Three and Mark Boulos’ All That is Solid Melts into Air, though thankfully this does not diminish the seriousness or impact of either. Boulos’ two channel video juxtaposes the frenetic trading floor of the Chicago futures market with the artist’s interviews with resistance fighters in the Nigerian River Delta, where the local ecosystem has been decimated in the interest of foreign oil companies. Between outlining how “no bullet, no knife, no dagger can cut him” and telling the artist never to come to see him again, an elderly Nigerian man sternly commands Boulos, “make them remember us,” a not so subtle reminder of both the complexity and responsibility inherent in image making. This thread continues in Episode Three, Renzo Marten’s controversial 90 minute video which suggests that poverty, like any other resource, it is something that is bought, sold, traded, and exploited. Under the guise of a self-obsessed gonzo artist cum journalist, Marten’s stages a number of community meetings and trains local wedding photographers to document their own misery for profit. The Congolese may be poor, Martens reminds them, but they at least have their poverty itself, which they are giving away for free. To this end, Marten’s introduces a blinking neon sign reading "ENJOY POVERTY" half way through the film as both a directive to the Congolese, as well as a not-so-subtle indictment of Western consumption of "third world" poverty.

While political engagement is one of the leitmotifs of the exhibition, also expressed in the protest videos of Minerva Cuevas (Mexico) and Bernard Bazile (France), politics and history are at their richest and most expressive in works that are less explicit. After navigating the prescribed entrance to the exhibition through Kunst-Werke’s basement, visitors are greeted by a few live hens and a large wooden structure created by the biennale’s youngest artist, the twenty-four year old Kosovo born Petrit Halilaj. Entitled The places I’m looking for, my dear, are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real, the work is created from reconstructed beams from his parents’ home. A minimal and poetic construction, the work is an evocative blend of the personal and political, and one of the exhibition’s few doses of charm and humor.

Three to Watch

Originally published in SOMA's travel issue

The only constant about the artistic landscape in Berlin is that nothing stays the same. Sure, there are common practices in the city: a rich culture of artist-run project spaces, hybrid/mixed-used venues and an unusually high concentration of artists who regularly DJ. However, mostly due to the financial precarity of earning a living here, it’s a city on the move. A large percentage of artists and cultural workers “based” in Berlin keep their studios and offices here while largely earning their income outside of the city.

In recent years, Berlin has become an international crossroads of sorts.

Although the financial incentives to work here are limited the city still possesses a magnetic draw for young creatives, hosting a large, semi-migrant community of young international artists who come here post-MFA in search of an affordable and relatively peaceful place to develop their practice.

Not everyone stays, but the influx and efflux of creative energy combined with the capital’s cultural legacy and strong base of institutions, exhibition spaces and adventurous cultural producers has made Berlin a dynamic hub for contemporary art. SOMA is pleased to introduce three emerging artists whose influence is felt both in Berlin and beyond.

Ariel Schlesigner, Untitled, (Bicycle Piece), 2008

Ariel Schlesinger | Oxford’s English Dictionary defines reverse engineering as “the reproduction of another manufacturer’s product after detailed examination of its construction or composition.” The Israeli, Berlin-based artist Ariel Schlesinger repurposes mass-produced objects to startling and poetic effect. Working with everyday materials like bikes, printer paper, rolls of masking tape and tea biscuits, Schlesinger’s subtle interventions create a mundane sort of magic: two cookies twist in a gentle embrace, a repurposed lighter is transformed into a gaslamp and a paper cup is torn to reveal liquid still contained inside. After two solo exhibitions with the Berlin and Ljubljana-based gallery Gregor Podnar, the artist has been included in a string of solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe. His auto-destructive Untitled (Bubble Machine) is included in the upcoming exhibition Under Destruction at the Swiss Institute in New York City in late June, the artist’s third exhibition in the United States.

Petrit Halilaj, The places I’m looking for my dear are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real, 2010

Petrit Halilaj | At the 6th Berlin Biennale, the work of the 25-year-old Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj’s installation stood out for its subtlety and scale in an exhibition full of heavy hitting political art. A number of rooms at Kunst-Werke were dedicated to the young artist’s work, including his massive installation The places I’m looking for, my dear, are utopian places, they are boring and I don’t know how to make them real, which greeted visitors in the museum’s entry hall. Made from reconstructed beams, the wryly-romantic work was an outsize replica of his parents’ new home, its half-finished quality simultaneously evoking the ruins of their prior home, which was burned to the ground in the Kosovo War. Halilaj’s participation in the Berlin Biennale made critical ripples: Centre Pompidou curator Christine Macel selected him as her pick for Artforum’s Best of 2010 and The Places I’m Looking for… featured prominently in the lion’s share of critical responses to the Berlin Biennale, quite an accomplishment for the exhibition’s youngest artist. Halilaj will present with Chert Gallery at Art Basel’s Art Statements, a section for solo presentations by emerging artists, and will open a solo exhibition at the Kunstraum Innsbruck in September.

Painting competition hosted by Leila Pazooki and Galerie Christian Hosp in Dafen, China

Leila Pazooki| Imagine Manet’s Olympia, her gaze direct as ever. Only this Olympia has none of the original’s brazen directness or nudity, instead she is clothed in what looks like a strange black jumpsuit. Leila Pazooki’s Aesthetics of Censorship, an ongoing research project that documents the censorship of art textbooks in her native Iran is only one facet of a multi-disciplinary practice that explores the elision and transformation of cultural, aesthetic and geographic borders. Pazooki’s neon work Moments of Glory struck a chord with critics at the recent art Dubai, spelling out a catalog of clichés familiar to non-Western artists and curators like “the Iranian Jeff Koons” and “Japan’s Andy Warhol.” The artist’s most recent project, Fair Trade, explores the relationship between artistic production and its reception in a globalized art world. Currently on view at Galerie Christian Hosp in Berlin, the exhibition presents the results of a painting contest the artist held in Dafen, a Chinese village home to factories where local artisans churn out copies of art historical masterpieces for hire.

Alongside a recreation of the London National Gallery’s room 17a, Fair Trade includes 100 copies of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1537 painting, “Allegory Of Justice,” ranging from meticulous replicas to childlike renderings. Look closely and on some you’ll see impressions from bubble wrap on still-wet paint.

Based in Berlin

Based in Berlin
originally published in SOMA's travel issue

With hundreds of exhibition spaces and over 6,000 professional artists, Berlin has grown into one of the most attractive destinations for artists and art lovers in the world. It is no surprise, then, that the city is funding a large-scale temporary exhibition to demonstrate the “treasures the city has to offer.” What’s debatable is whether this show is actually a move towards the kunsthalle locals have been demanding or merely an attempt to sweeten Berlin’s public image at the expense of its cultural producers. At this point, it remains to be seen. But the debate is fierce.

Opening on June 8th, based in Berlin will feature works by 80 artists living and working in the German capital, and is organized by a team of five up-and-coming curators overseen by curatorial hotshots Klaus Biesenbach (MoMA), Christine Macel (Centre Pompidou) and Hans Ulrich Obrist (Serpentine Gallery). Six weeks of talks, performances and workshops will accompany the controversial exhibition, which is set to take place in an empty studio building on the brink of demolition. Site specific architecture will be created for based in Berlin by the renowned local firm Raumlabor, including a modular structure consisting of containers, trucks, prefab houses and other elements.

EYEOUT Rhineland

Accurate, Insider, Up-to-date. Founded by curator Jan Winkelmann and art collector/software developer Ivo Wessel, EYEOUT offers an unparalleled view into some of Europe’s most dynamic art scenes. From museums to blue chips to out-of-the-way project spaces, EYEOUT will help you find what you’re looking for and even what you don’t know you’re looking for.I was pleased to join the EYEOUT team once again for their guide to the Rhineland.

You can find more information here.

Kunsttips von EYEOUT - EYEOUT Art Events

Originally published in the May issue of Mitteschön
Art Tips from Eyeout
Jesi Khadivi

Sterling Ruby
8 April – 28 May, 2011
Sprüth Magers

Beautiful, brutal forms dominate Spencer Ruby’s installations. I Am Not Free Because I Can Be Exploded Anytime is no exception. Taking its title from a collaborative work by Jenny Holzer and the graffiti artist Lady Pink, Ruby’s current exhibition at Sprüth Magers includes painting, collages and sculptures that evoke the claustrophobia and paranoia of America’s cultural obsession with freedom. The main exhibition space is dominated by a palette of reds, whites and blues that alternate between vivid and restrained hues. The formal qualities of the works on view mirror this tension, ranging from brightly colored, organic fabric and fiber-fill hanging sculptures to more somber plinths and spray painted works on canvas. Peacehead, a spray-painted bronze sculpture of a collapsed peace symbol, perfectly encapsulates the exhibition’s mood of a nation’s optimism deflated.

Mie Olise Kjaergaard
Afflicted Fallout
29 April – 10 June , 2011
Duve Berlin

In 1941 the physicians Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg met in Copenhagen to discuss the question of the nuclear bomb. The meeting ended poorly, with Bohr storming out in fury. Mie Olise Kjaergaard’s fascinating exhibition takes the historic meeting as its subject and includes eleven gestural oil paintings that interpret the architecture of the building where the two acclaimed physicists met. Keeping with her intriguing research based and multi-disciplinary practice, the new body of paintings is accompanied by English translations of letters Bohr never sent to his estranged friend and colleague, along with a sculptural work that is also the key to find the location in Berlin where the artist planted Henbane and Belladonna, the two plants most likely to survive after an atomic bomb.

Alon Levin
End to the Grand Gesture
29 April - 18 June , 2011

Alon Levin’s large-scale wooden sculptures reference modernist utopias and social theories about space, progress and growth. Order and its disruption are guiding interests in the artist’s practice and the conflict between the two generate a palpable excitement in the his work. As Levin says himself, “somewhere among the ruins there is the potential for the authentically new.” In his anticipated second solo exhibition with Klemm’s, Levin will create an wooden installation filling the entire gallery space, whose exact details are kept under wraps until its debut at Gallery Weekend.