Friday, October 27, 2017

Smoke, Nearby: Tania Pérez Córdova

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When Tania Pérez Córdova borrows something, it becomes art. She borrowed a SIM card from a friend and placed it in a porcelain block. She borrowed two black piano keys and put them into a chunk of orange foam. A guitar string is attached to a marble structure and one stylish Swarovski earring is dangling on display. This leads to a ‘pausing’ process on the part of the lender of the object, and thus, through this process, the artist becomes a type of disrupter. She made it more difficult, temporarily, for the pianist or guitarist to ply his trade. The musicians were forced to pause, assess the significance of the loss of the objects borrowed and take deliberate measures to return to normal, if they so chose. In regard to the loss of a SIM card or a nice earring, one loses a bit of his/her social capital and pauses to reflect on whether to take deliberate action to replace that.

There are, after all, people who live without SIM cards and Swarovski earrings – the marginalized poor of the world. To me, the artist could be asking those she borrows from whether they are willing to live like ‘them’. After all, Pérez Córdova comes from Mexico City, a city filled with thousands of homeless ‘street’ children in a country with the 13th strongest economy in the world. An important token of one’s social capital disappears and, I would guess, one invariably races to replace it. The mere inconvenience shows how embedded one is in an economic class and how one’s priority might be to maintain status more than see to the needs of economically deprived others. Is it truly possible to be of any service while our priority is pursuing our own excellence and ease? What type of society would it take for a person to excel without neglecting responsibility to others?

Like Duchamp, Pérez Córdova renders objects useless but she is unlike Duchamp in that his ready-made pieces could conceivably be reclaimed by those in the real world – as was the case when a custodian inadvertently took one of Duchamp’s shovels from a museum exhibit to remove snow from the sidewalk outside. The mere placing of an object in a gallery does not, then, entail a change of interpretive meaning for Pérez Cordova’s pieces (as it does for Duchamp’s); the act of disruption itself and our being able to put ourselves in the places of the disrupted becomes key.

Compulsively rendering significant, personal things useless, thus complicating a person’s life and nudging one toward contemplation of that life, its value and the economic, technological, social and psychological forces that have created one’s life, imputes meaning to the work as does the realization that the person whose borrowed object we look at exists outside of the gallery. We witness relics of personal disruption and imagine how the other was affected, thus establishing a fellow feeling and awareness that we are, basically, these folks. The artist derives her aesthetic value and the economic value of the art from her capacity to disturb the smooth flow of life and compel a person to question, even for a short time, the practical reality and status of his/her life.

The gallery for these pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago has been made to look like a movie set with scenery scattered around. Brecht wanted his theater productions to betray the artificiality of the artistic process to keep people awake to their responsibilities outside the theater and that is what we get here – a deliberately artificial backdrop with real stuff belonging to real people who are still alive somewhere out there, outside the gallery. The artistic subject thus disappears and we are drawn closer to the other. The wall between viewer and viewed which is often the case in a gallery or museum is dissolved and by examining the other in a gallery I no longer reinforce my egocentric supremacy, I become more humane and connected.

In another part of the show a ceiling fan spins in an agonizingly slow manner, utilizing the motor of a disco ball, like a slow-motion scene in a film. Pérez Córdova places a lime green marker in a cup of water and the water slowly becomes more and more green. Incense slowly burns. Styrofoam slowly turns yellow. A disrupter is perhaps needed because the rhythm of our lives is often geared away from a deeper rhythm of incubation and self-development. Why do slow processes look so absurd to us? How badly have we been corrupted?

Pérez Córdova has also painted two patterns taken from a dress and a shirt of Chicagoans who will periodically drop by the show in the actual clothing from which the patterns were taken. We are invited to imagine the thought-processes of these folks as they made their choices and we become aware of the vulnerabilities and desires involved in our own choices as to how we are going to present ourselves.

We see ashes from a cigarette from a man who wants to stop smoking mixed among bird droppings in a beautiful marble container - a remnant of his failed struggle for him and us to consider. Pink foam with a muscle indentation of a man’s bicep becomes another remnant of the actual, real and physical. In this evidence of processes, like the evidence of ‘smoke’, we recognize both the lack of agency and the demonstration of agency, while seeking more than the ex post facto, hoping to reach beyond remnants of experience to get to possibilities for personal transformation in the ex ante.

Twelve necklaces hang from the ceiling attached to each other end-to-end - apparently eleven cheap ones and one gold one – bunching up inside a rough container on the ground. Marx’s trickle-down theory of ideology? The rich create, the poor emulate? Everything we do is a part of a competitive process to emulate members of a specific social class? Is the Swarovski earring an object of our desire or an object of our contempt? What should it be? The artist places makeup in black marble bars - two forms of the purely decorative – makeup is used to disguise possible skin flaws, to leave one beyond reproach, to make one look like everyone else, to make oneself an object of desire.

Prescription contact lenses have been abandoned. Is this person suffering or is this person now looking inside instead at what has been truly motivating him/her? Has this person completed a satisfactory view of the outer-world allowing the appropriation of objects as symbols to now investigate inner reality? There is curved glass surrounding a purple bag of miracles – glass allows one to safely look at but not engage something. We safely look at but do not meaningfully engage the world? Windows are bringers of light but keepers of distance - the essence of art: look, don’t touch. Bronze window frames are there to aggrandize or commemorate the looking outward process?

This was a risky and provocative show requiring active imaginative engagement and concerted self-reflection from the participant-viewer. The show would have been better had the MCA provided a little more in the way of background material for people to read while looking at the pieces. This was really a show where you needed some background info in order to appreciate the pieces, in my humble opinion. So, to this extent, I feel the MCA failed in making the show as accessible as it could have been to folks. I was fortunate enough to have been given the show’s catalogue and did a great deal of research on the artist and previous shows – most folks were not able to do this and may not have been fully engaged by the work.

Reposted from

Interview with Beth Carter (reposted from

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Beth Carter’s work was always a big Chelsea favorite with New Yorkers who flocked to the late Bertrand Delacroix’s gallery to see her amazing sculptures and drawings. Some of her most arresting work has dealt with human/animal hybridizations which seem to betray remorse while reflecting on natural drives and predispositions. Indeed, the extent to which we possess freedom and the extent to which we are capable of meaningful transformation seem present in much of her work. She has also worked with the concept of duality, revealing aspects of vulnerability and power, intellect and instinct, innocence and corruption. She is now represented in NY at Hugo Galerie in Soho. Beth Carter lives in Bristol, England.

You mentioned your new project involves your ancestors. What's this about, how did you get there and is it much of a departure from what you've done before?

My father died 5 years ago; this new work stems from thoughts and feelings about where people go after they die, and more specifically how their spirits or energy carry on through the living. I’m still in the experimental stages gathering materials (mainly bones) so it’s hard to say at this early stage how or if this work will depart from my usual work.

Your father was an artist and you were close to him - how did he impact you?

My father was a very influential figure in my life, he was a complex and unconventional character often deeply troubled by anger and depression. Despite or maybe because of this, he had huge creative energy and an expansive imagination. He encouraged and inspired me from a very young age, he also worried and scared me at times. He valued art, beauty and craftsmanship highly and passed these things on to me, he also showed me it’s vital to believe in illusions…‘Therefore trust thy heart to what the world calls illusions’ was a favourite quote of his…and mine.

You once jokingly mentioned to Bertrand Delacroix that a good title for one of your shows would be: ‘Tales to Kill Sorrow'. You said he liked it but explained that having 'kill' and 'sorrow' in the same sentence was too much for New Yorkers as they needed something a little more upbeat. Did you agree or disagree? Are New Yorkers maybe a little too exuberant and optimistic compared to Europeans?

After living in New York for 18 months, I definitely think New Yorkers are more upbeat than Europeans generally speaking, and, happily, it's a contagious thing! Although Bertrand was French he had been in New York for so long he'd definitely gone native...I love the title 'Tales to Kill Sorrow’ for an exhibition, I think it's upbeat! (I read it somewhere but I can't recall where.) We ended up calling the show ‘Dancing with Morpheus’.

I love your little sculptures of Minotaurs reading books and when I asked you what they read you jokingly said, "Probably ghost stories with lots of pictures." OK, seriously, what do Minotaurs read? In your sculptures they seem to be using their leisure time to engage in the examined life - trying to come to grips with themselves, trying to Seriously, are you telling me these guys are just whiling away the time on ghost stories?

My Minotaurs have surprisingly varied reading tastes; I’ve found them reading 'Essential Surrealists' and 'Metamorphosis' as well as some poetry by Ben Okri, Lorca, and Ted Hughes, but mostly they are obsessed with the writings and drawings of Andreas Vesalius, because (I think) they are both fascinated and devastated by the human body in its pure un-hybridised form, the drawings and descriptions keep them painfully aware that they can never undo their origins... Minotaurs are not at all interested in Greek mythology!

In one of my reviews of your work I focus on a human body with the head of a wolf as it carries a dead deer. The body language of the creature seems to indicate he/she is grieving for the deer. Interestingly, it looks as if the very first moral problem ever addressed by religion was how we can live with or justify our hunting of other sentient creatures for our own survival. Shamans used to make spirit journeys to get the OK from the Master of Animals before hunts. How extensively have you studied mythology/religion and what's your relationship to it in your art?

I have not studied mythology or religion in a formal way. I approach my subjects intuitively as opposed to academically, I feel drawn towards a subject rather than consciously researching and selecting one. I'm interested in the symbolism of animal imagery because it speaks of human concerns so poignantly. My sculptures often seem to exist in the conflicted space between their instincts and their more civilized impulses, our relationship to animals is a complex and fascinating one, animals are powerfully interwoven into our human psyche. As I work, I do sometimes dip into some myths or folklore, I’ve always been a magpie selecting and using anything which appeals to me and which corresponds to a more personal subject or myth I'm trying to express. Myths are just stories to help us explain our world to ourselves.

Spinoza once wrote that people believe themselves to be free merely because they are conscious of their actions. Do you think some of your creatures have read Spinoza? (Some seem to be aware of the limits to their freedom, understand their biological drives and predispositions but don't seem to be too enthralled by all this.)

The human element to my creatures is constantly trying to reconcile its animal element and vice a versa, they may have read Spinoza (!) they are not free, as you say they are too aware of their limits, predispositions etc… I think they are more concerned with transformation than freedom.

I recall a work I saw at Bertrand Delacroix's gallery called ‘Free Reign’. A human figure with the head of a horse is kneeling and haplessly holding his own reigns – as if a creature who theoretically moves beyond drives and desires and gains freedom might actually be lost. You sometimes have characters being led by others, some characters riding on top of others - what are you doing here?

The 'Free Reign' figure is at a loss as to what to do with his own freedom and choices… where to lead himself… I often play with the balance of power between two or more figures - in my piece 'Leading the Giant' a small girl leads a much larger figure with a thin piece of string, it is the giant who appears lost and vulnerable not the small girl. Some other examples of this dynamic in my work are, 'Grinders Monkey’, 'Rag Donkey ' and 'Monkey and Hare'. The main themes, which reoccur, are of vulnerability and power, intellect and instinct, innocence and corruption.

After you finished your formal education you traveled to Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Mexico, Gambia, Kenya and Tanzania. How did this help you develop your work?

Travel for me is like replenishing my library of images to be used sometime later. I had a 3-month residency at a bronze foundry in Mexico, which was one of the richest veins of imagery for me. Mexico is a very visual culture with powerful symbolism; the life there seems to make religion, death, surrealism and comedy into a living everyday theatre.

Sisavahn Phouthavong-Houghton: Recalling the 'Secret War' in Laos

Agent Orange

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Few Americans realize that, even before the Vietnam War, the United States was involved in a horrific military conflict in South East Asia. Indeed, during the 1960s and 1970s Laos became the most heavily bombed country in the history of the world (260 million bombs were dropped, of which 30% did not immediately explode). Bombing campaigns funded by the U.S. on behalf of the Laotian government and Soviet military support of the revolutionary Pathet Lao displaced more than 1 million people in a country of 2.5 million, in a civil war that would ultimately be won by the Pathet Lao.

UXO - Laos
To this day Laotians suffer from the effects of this war – 20,000 people have been injured or killed from explosions of previously unexploded bombs (50% of them children) and babies are still born with physical and cognitive disabilities due to Agent Orange. The country remains severely underdeveloped (75% of the 6.7 million citizens of Laos are either poor or subsistence farmers). Laos was the first domino to fall in a situation that did not yield the cataclysmic results for international freedom and capitalism feared by President Kennedy; yet, the adverse results for the people of this country have been substantial and long-lasting.

Ho Chi Minh Trail
Sisavanh Phouthavong-Houghton recently had a show at Tinney Contemporary Gallery in Nashville, Tennessee dealing with the legacy of this war. Phouthavong-Houghton’s father was targeted by the Pathet Lao for execution, as a doctor working for the American-funded Red Cross, so he escaped with his family from Laos through Thailand, finally coming to the U.S., being accorded asylum by the U.S. government. In the USA, to support his family, he was forced to do factory work for the rest of his working life. Phouthavong-Houghton arrived as a 4 year old refugee with her family, is now married with two daughters and is Professor of Art-Painting at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Legacies of War

Phouthavong-Houghton had wanted to address the issue of the Secret War in her work and had gone as far as attempting small works based on drawings made by the victims of the bombings, but this never worked out to Phouthavong-Houghton’s satisfaction. A turning point and impetus to finally address this topic, head on, came after she met Channapha Khamvongsa, founder of Legacies of War, at the LAO Writer’s Summit in May of 2016 in San Diego. The genesis of this current series derived from how Houghton was affected by the sharing of her Laotian heritage with numerous other Laotian professionals passionate about a cause meant to help the Laotian people, even though most at the conference had been raised outside of Laos.
Lost Chronicle

Phouthavong-Houghton told me, “This work does explore the challenges of being a refugee and an immigrant, no doubt about it, from the gestures, movement, hard and soft edges, imagery and traditional Laotian colors.” Her current work, to me, represents both a fragmentation of landscape and experience due to the imposition of a type of utilitarian logic which justifies cruelty and brutality in the pursuit of dubious political ideals.
Ho Chi Minh wanted a unified country and was willing to take massive loss of human life for that ‘greater end’. The Pathet Lao gratefully accepted North Vietnamese aid to create a horrific civil war to bring a type of socialism to Laos which has limited the country’s participation in the global community. President Kennedy feared that Asian countries would fall to Communism like dominoes and supported a massive bombing campaign in Laos at the same time he propped up a corrupt government in South Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson faked a crisis at the Gulf of Tonkin to convince the Congress an escalation of war was necessary.

Plain of Jars
Everyone had a reason to displace and slaughter hordes of people who wanted nothing but to live peacefully with their families. Phouthavong-Houghton’s work is, therefore, relevant for today in that this same type of logic is still applied to foreign policy decisions yielding the same inhumane and unacceptable results. Was it really necessary for the US to support a civil war in Syria which has led to 400,000 dead and another refugee crisis? 12,192 bombs were dropped by the U.S. in Syria in 2016. Did our leadership attempt any novel or humane solutions, or did they just resort to this same type of anachronistic approach, which always seems to yield inhuman and barbaric results?
If we look at the best anti-war art, we see a lot of what Phouthavong-Houghton is doing, with the big difference that she has had the courage and integrity to take the next step straight into pure abstraction, leaving explanatory figuration for the abstraction behind. While looking at her work I realized, for instance, that if we look at David’s Oath of the Horatii, a strong anti-war piece, it is dominated by sharp, piercing angles formed through the three dangling swords and rigid arms obliquely elevated in a pledge to engage in senseless battle. We see this piercing fragmentation as well in, for example, Otto Dix’s Das Geschütz (1914), in which he presents a massive piece of German artillery (looking like a converted piece of industrial machinery) surrounded by acute abstract patterns.

Interestingly, Kandinsky’s Improvisation #30 (1913) is not pure abstraction either, in that it presents two canons in the lower right corner as the source for a crumbling of figuration in the apparent depiction of a battle affecting a city and a group of people. The war pieces by Leonard Rosoman and Paul Nash sometimes have this characteristic splintering and rending of figuration through recourse to figuration, which we also see in the ultimate piece of anti-war art – Guernica. These are the cold, sharp, shattered, disunited angles generated by the type of logic that is continually employed to wreak destruction on populations for an allegedly higher end.

Unthinkable Randomness
While discussing this, Phouthavong-Houghton commented, “Yes, it seems fitting that you bring up Picasso’s Guernica. The tension, broken up planes and abstracted figures is similar to the way I am working with landscape. Also, my hope for the viewer is that even if he/she does not know anything about art, the viewer will get hit in the face with bright colors, chaos, movement, confusion, become discombobulated because that is how my family and all refugees and immigrants feel when they move to a country where they don’t speak the language, know the terrain or even the culture. Most step into darkness hoping to find their footing and a path that will lead their kids to safety, hope, and opportunities they could not provide them in their own native war-torn country.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lower East Side Art Galleries - Street by Street Guide

A lot of engaging art is moving down to the Lower East Side, but it is kind of hard to meaningfully navigate the galleries there. In Chelsea it is easy because everything is within one rectangle bordered by 20th street to the south, 28th to the north and 10th and 11th avenues east and west. On the LES everything is scattered around.

So, for my own benefit, I decided to better organize the addresses of the galleries a person can find on the LES. I do this street by street. I literally have index cards per street when I go trekking down there. I see Grand Street and I pull out the index card for that street and visit its galleries. I see Hester Street, I pull out that index card. 

Basically, even though this might be an incomplete list, it gives you places to go to, and you'll see other galleries on the same street or nearby.

The street is highlighted, the gallery name comes first, then the numerical address on the street. I hope this helps you - use the index card system!

Magenta Plains - 94
Freight+Volume - 97
1969 Gallery - 103
bitform - 131

Cindy Rucker - 141
Ulterior - 172

Bridget Donahue - 99
Simon Subai - 131
Pop International - 195
Edlin - 212
On Stellar Rays - 213
Salon 94 - 243
ICP - 250
Sperone Westwater - 257
Westwood - 262

Sargent's Daughters - 179 E.

Equity - 245
Catinca Tabacaru - 250
Castor - 254
Denny Gallery - 261
Simon Preston - 301
Jack Hanley - 327
Nicelle Beauchene - 327
Whitebox - 329
Canada - 333
S. Artspace - 345

Lodge - 131
Buddy Warren - 171
11R - 195 
Kristen Lorello - 195
Lehman Maupin - 201

Callicoon - 49
James Fuentes - 55
Mitchell Algus - 132

yours, mine & ours - 54
Company - 88
David Lewis - 88
Miguel Abreu - 88
Invisible-Exports - 89
Downs and Ross - 106
Essex - 114
Woodward - 132A
Station Independent - 138

Moe's Meat Market - 237

Cuchifritos - 120

Lyles and King - 106
Hionas - 124
Dutton - 124
Steven Harvey Projects - 208
212 Window - 212

Cuevas Tilleard - 291
Gavin Brown -291
James Cohan -291
Nathalie Karg - 291
LMAK - 298
Marc Straus - 299
Avante Garde - 319
Marinaro - 319
Y Gallery - 319
Shin - 322
Ramiken Crucible - 389

Fierman - 127
Lazy Susan - 191
Shrine - 191

Front Room - 48
Ashok Jain - 58
XY Atelier - 81

Central Booking - 21
Rubber Factory - 29C
Goethe Inst. - 38
Klaus von Nichtssagend - 54
Romeo - 90
Con Artist - 119
Anastasia Photo - 143
Richard Taittinger - 154

Amy Li - 166

Thierry Goldberg - 103
Chesterfield - 109
Brennen and Griffin - 122
junior projects - 139
Angel Orensanz - 172

Causey - 29
Kerry Schuss - 34
33 - 33B
Room East - 41
Art d'Aurelle - 52
Leslie Heller - 54
McKensie - 55
Pablo's Birthday - 57
Site 57 - 57
Foley - 59
Storefront Project - 70
Muriel Guepin - 83
Artifact - 84
Castle Fitzjohns - 98
Galerie Richard - 121
Participant - 130
Krause - 149
155 Project - 155
Van Der Plas - 156

Parasol - 2
Betty Cunnigham - 15
Feature Hudson Foundation - 87
Danzinger - 95
Gallery 128 - 128
Lichtundfire - 175

frosch&portman - 53
Kai Matsumiya - 153 1/2
Totah - 183

The Clemente - 107
Pierogi - 155
Rachel Uffner - 170