March 21, 2009

Trends in Works Shown at the 2009 NY Art Fairs

Not necessarily deep observations, just hastily-noted, over-simplified trends -- some old, some not so old -- and partly informed by art I've seen elsewhere. My original posts on the fairs are here: Armory (more pics and vidis starting here), Pulse (more pics and vidis starting here), Scope (more pics and vidis starting here), Volta (more pics and vidis starting here) (all visuals were shot by me with the permission of the galleries).

I should perhaps mention I was somewhat disappointed not to see even more work that was media-based and/or dealt with the grittier media or technology-related concerns (e.g., re- how our relationships and mentation are being affected -- seriously -- by our immersion in new technologies, or re- our dependence on the "Cloud" and the power thus ceded to online facilities over which we have no meaningful control); and although the influence of tech visuals was pervasive, I don't recall any work I'd actually call 'net- or even computer-based {although Jon Kessler may have had a computer running his wonderfully gonzo contraption?}). Of course, fact of our capitalist life, the galleries sometimes have to show what they think they can sell.

That said, on to what I did see.

Maybe it's just me, but after living for eight years under an administration with no apparent regard for history, science, or reality in general, I'm seeing a desire among artists to recall our attention to all of the foregoing.

The artistic project is, of course, not just to retrieve lost knowledge, though that alone is valuable, but -- potentially more exciting and more fun -- to translate the all-but-lost into the present.

One term I'll use below is "nostalgia," but what I mean is really broader. It is NOT an uncritical sentimentality toward "the good old days," although it may involve an appreciation of something we're on the brink of losing. It's rather a concern to critically understand just exactly what it is that we stand to lose -- what media, what modes of expressing meanings that perhaps cannot be precisely and fully expressed any other way, and hence what bodies of knowledge.

All of the works referred to below utilize multiple strategies and could be categorized in any number of ways. And as I've mentioned elsewhere, except as specifically noted, pls don't infer any judgment from inclusions or omissions -- there was stuff I just didn't get to, and stuff I include below mainly to illustrate a point.

Clicking on an artist's name below will bring you to an image of the piece I have in mind. There may be additional pics or vidis of the piece linked to; click "next" and "previous" for more. Again, sincerest apologies for instances in which I failed to get the artist's name; again, any comments supplying the missing info will be much appreciated.

History: Importing/Transforming the Past into the Present.

Whose version of history, whose curation of what should be remembered and how, gets airtime/linked to? For me, one of the most interesting recent art works concerned with history is Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 13 (seen elsewhere). Barney, meticulously impersonating General Douglas MacArthur, presented a scene reminiscent of two critical moments in WWII, both of which were carefully staged and documented by MacArthur to begin with. Barney's version of these scenes differs from MacArthur's productions in important ways, however, with the result that his importation of the past into the present transforms our understanding of both. (More on DR 13 here; see also Barney's DR site.)

Other artists also seem concerned to explore connections to historically important people, events, or bodies of knowledge and to translate them into the present. Seen at these fairs:

In Laurina Paperina's animated cartoons, contemporary art stars are squared off against greats from the past, to the detriment of the latter (fun!)
R. Luke DuBois's "State of the Union address" tag clouds-cum-eye exam charts. (I can't help but wonder whether artists would feel less motivated to do work like this {or Mark Lombardi's!} if journalists et al. were fulfilling their proper function.)
Nicholas & Sheila Pye's photographs look like escapees from an Old Master's painting, grittily yet lusciously de-idealized.
Debbie Han's images of eerily-neo- Greco-Roman statues.
In a painting by Gino Rupert, a Paris Hilton-type meets Photoshop meets Medieval art, on location with palm trees.
Vik Muniz translates group photos from the past into a chocolate-y present.
Work shown here (sorry I don't have the artist's name): "grocery store"-style signage featuring quotes from Hippocrates, Bertrand Russell, Bertolt Brecht, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Oscar Wilde et al.
Enoc Perez's "Flash Forward" screenprint of a vintage Pan American Airlines terminal.
Nostalgia for Old Media (Including Words).

"The medium is the message": an (extremely useful) over-simplification (by Marshall McLuhan; some great video of him here).

Artists have always known the distinction between form and content is specious: it's simply impossible to express the exact same content in any one medium fully and perfectly in another.

This perhaps partly explains why artists are so often not only the first to explore new media but also the last to forsake media abandoned by everyone else -- there are still artists hand-illuminating texts, hand-weaving, spinning vinyl, deploying pinhole cameras, etc. etc. No surprise, then, that no sooner was the death of print foreseen than artists began exploring what, exactly, we might be losing.
Nostalgia for Words, Books, Newsprint, Magazines:
I hesitate to include Jenny Holzer here, since her use of words is so obviously so very complex; but certainly it involves an appreciation of what can be done with them that cannot be accomplished by other means. (Similar concerns re- my own over-simplification pertain throughout this post.)
Airan Kang's electrified "books" -- how did he select the titles? (Who'll get to select which ones we read in school, translate into electronic or other media -- will "controversial" material be included?) (This could definitely go into the "History" section above.)
Alina and Jeff Bliumis's portable library of foam-and-acrylic-fabricated "books" installed and photographed in a series of locations.
The Center for Tactical Magic's book containing nothing but hundreds of Tables of Contents from other books on magic.
Dmitry Gutov's painterly transcriptions of Marxian truisms.
Fahamu Pecou's simulated magazine covers featuring himself.
Gordon Cheung's painting on newsprint stock market reports -- although I think he may have done so mainly for other purposes.

Nostalgia for Painting:
Sabine Dehnel's use of old paintings as an element in photographs (this work could definitely go into the previous section on History).
Yum Joongho uses video to transform what looks like traditional asian painting or writing into a moving, real-time landscape encompassing viewers.

Nostalgia for Handwriting:
Michael Waugh's paintings consisting of handwriting (you probably have to like handwriting to make this work).

Nostalgia for Old T.V.:
Erica Eyres' Male Epidemic (which gets even funnier after my clip ends).
Simulating Simulations . . .

i.e., one or more media masquerading as one or more others, exploring, among other things, how new media are affecting our perception and cognition:
Jasper de Beljer's re-photographed cut-and-pasted photographs (sort of like Oliver Herring's work, only 2-D. {B.t.w., I have to mention, at first the visual impact of Herring's sculptures seemed to me so stunning that I wasn't sure their substance could live up; but judging from the myriad references and implications seen in other artists' work, his work clearly has been very important.})
Vik Muniz's re-photographed paper cut-outs (the same artist who used chocolate sauce to simulated old photos).
Patrick Hamilton's actual collage masquerading as a photoshopped photo.
Mike Bayne's highly photo-realistic paintings.
. . . Including Some Especially Obvious or Deliberately "Bad"

Now that our ability to fake reality is virtually complete, obvious fakes seem more "real," at least initially:
Lossy Data Lab's laptop and other machines made of cardboard. But their work was also relational: visitors were invited to complete a survey (the attending scientists' analysis of my answers indicated the presence of lossy data, described as both good and bad).
Work shown here: hand-drawn screengrab of YouTube video, "How Not to Be Seen."
Francisco Valdez's painting of a video still of a "Star Wars" helmet.
Dasha Shishkin's painted-on wallpaper. Several artists made enjoyable wallpapers, presumably using Photoshop or the like; Shishkin took real or fabricated wallpaper and added hand-painted modifications -- I'm hoping partly as a comment on the other, computer-fabricated wallpapers.
Consumerism vs. DIY.
Amanda Ross-Ho's quilted Pregnant Again! and Again! and Again!
John Bock here and esp. here.
Ryan McGinley's Hi 5 on 5.
Tanja Boukal's trompe l'oeil knitted couch throw.
Among other examples; with Liliana Porter's teeny knitter of a mountain of blue knitting offering a possible last word.
Environmental Concerns: Nostalgia for Earth as We've Known It, and Animals Are People Too --

or at least, they can't stop us from anthropomorphizing them.
Olaf Breuning. (I'll probably regret mentioning, this piece was a little too dogmatic or whatever for me.)
Gimhonsok's big, reclining bunny.
Work shown here (I've called this, "enough with the deer"; but then, sometimes I'm done too soon).
Fu Jijang's clay critters.
(There were additional pieces evincing environmental concerns, some of which may be referred to in other categories in this post.)
Some Notables in the Race to Re-Purpose Media.
Tom Molloy modified a screengrab of Google Images search results on "mohammed" by cutting out M.'s image.
Irene Presner's tattoo gunning-cum-flocking in a "wallpaper" design features Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Taro Izumi used paint to fuel "rocket"-propulsion.
Fernando Mastrangelo: well-lit cocaine glows! (some of you knew that).
Some Personal Faves that Might or Might Not Have Fit into the Foregoing Categories:
William Pope.L's amazing pseudo-sauvage assemblage totally deserves in-depth study.
Michael Joaquin Grey's "Self Organizing System: Artificial Muscle Contraction" of the proteins actin and myosin inside a test tube, shot with micro video." (I was sorry not to see more work actually utilizing bio-tech.) More of his work at bitforms gallery.
Jon Kessler's contraption demonstrating, among other things, how little technology it takes to fool us.
The fun and funny, relational project, Lossy Data Lab; see discussion, with link to pics, here.
Alex Rose's amazing collages (lots of pics in "previous" and "next," though none do the work justice).
I also loved pretty much everything in the Parkett booth, John Bock's sculptures, Ryan McGinley's work, Jim Campbell's work, Gino Rupert's paintings, Li Wenqiang's work, Nicholas & Sheila Pye's work (yummy), Zhou Jun's painting, EVOL's paintings on corrugated cardboard, and Alexandro Diaz's hilarious sculptures.
More NYC highlights of other kinds here.


  1. Thanks for the report - it's the next best thing to being there! ;)

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Great coverage.
    Thanks for posting all of the images as well.