Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Closing this past week was Oscar Tuazon's NY gallery debut at Maccarone. Demonstrating sizable ambition simply through physical scale, just three works occupied the entirety of Maccarone's arbitrarily deigned "viewing room"--in truth half of the labyrinthian gallery. The largest was a skeletal construction of concrete, aluminum studs, rigging, wood and other things whose hard hat vocabulary escapes me (correct me with the picture...). Only truly apparent after seeing it spelled out in the press release, Tuazon had incorporated in situ trash as a central formal element for his barely-standing environmental work, making the Home Depot fetishism on display a potentially more calculated conceptual gesture. After realizing this, I had to second guess that a crumbling concrete partition wasn't in fact an unsold Carol Bove pulled from the gallery's notoriously messy closet.
Tuazon's interest in what can be roughly called in situ formalism is not a singular method, but rather a popular mode of production for contemporary artists--so obvious is its popularity it's almost embarassing for me to have to pont it out. This trend is greatly (and infamously to some) demonstrated by the subject of my last post, Gedi SIbony--not to mention a whole "new" museum dedicated to such pursuits. While Sibony's in situ formalism demonstrates a shabby chic/corporte zen attitude to the flexibility of the contemporary art commodity, Tuazon's (whose schooling includes the impeccably elite hippie manland, Deep Springs College, a bit different than Sibony's Ivy League jaunts) approach to preexisting space and material is much more flamboyant and "expressive" in its physicality, bringing the work's tone closer to the nauseating neo-expessionist bad boy interpretation of minimalist theatrics found in the works of Banks Violette and Sterling Ruby--both just serving as prominent examples of what I hope is a dying trend...cross my fingers. I can only think of an interview where Violette pugnaciously asserts, in a rough paraphrase, that "Will & Grace" did more for Gay Rights than any form of activism. Hence my nausea...
Tuazon, however, didn't quite make my stomach hate itself. Yes, it's true he has approached his work a little too seriously, with emo-lite references to the failure of the modern and the subsequent birth of a squatter lifestyle (see his hobo-inspired-and sophomoric!-Buckminster Fuller domes. Perhaps it's just that he's a "Quintet" fan?). But with this just-closed show, Tuazon's work was far more able to positively broach effective social metaphors than that of these unmonumental types. Perhaps the best tactic to his credit was the bleak, nearly "artless" appearance of the work, an important difference from both the finish-fetish of the Violette/Ruby faction (even though the one small work veered in this direction, a McCracken-esque sheet of what could be compressed Stella Artois bottles ) and the Sibony "sensibility" of (semi-) fashionable absence, more effectively linking the work to some of the more socially adventurous post-minimal works, notably Gordon Matta-Clark or anyone in sculpture's "expanded field." This "expanded field" has been the subject of some deeper curatorial excavation as of late given the Whitney's retrospective of Matta-Clark and, more interestingly, the Sculpture Center's summer show, "Decoys, Complexes and Triggers: Feminism and Land Art in the '70s" (Tuazon is currently included in a group show there, coincidence or not). However, this art historical reconsideration is most prominently on display at MoMA where a vintage Alice Aycock (a central figure in "Decoys...") is the center piece of its recent acquisition showcase, "Here is Every: Four Decades of Contemporary Art." While this work is not a new acquisition, it's inclusion in the show as a complement to recent purchases only further exemplifies the curatorial desire to reinsert/reinscribe such an approach as a discursive episteme to the practices of today's art. Aycock's "fourth world" (to borrow Jon Hassell's word for his groovy, "tribal" minimalism, which, furthermore, brings up a whole range of topics that I unfortunately do not have the time to discuss within this post...) take on post-minimal structures now has this MoMA re-certification to its credit as it seemed like the once-celebrated work of Aycock and her peers (ranging from Mary Miss to Anges Denes, to the later work of "great" conceptual artists like Dennis Oppenheim and Vito Acconci) had been sequestered for those same past 4 decades to college quads and regional sculpture parks (a discursive ghetto-ization due no doubt to the image-based concerns of eighties corporate art).
Now of course this is miles away from what I was beginning to write about Tuazon's "effective social metaphors", in fact it only raises a deeper (and problematic to my eyes) affinity between an art institutional agenda and the commercial interests of a thoroughly opportunistic gallery. Now I don't mean this statement as criticism to be levied at Tuazon, but rather at a gallery who mixes commercial prospects with art historical ones, all the while never managing to pay their artists. As for Tuazon's prospective interests in this particular history may have more to do with the agenda fostered by another branch of his schooling, the Whitney Independent Study Program. Like many others who preceded him in the program, Tuazon's work aggressively recasts these earlier ideas into a structural matrix better described as sculpture in the "abandoned" field, as the work pushes this once expanded art's into broader and unfixed relationships with the social and economic, with abject political speculation thrown in (abjection being another idée fixe of the ISP). Not that this expansion is novel by any means nor does it unfold in the literal manner of the work of such ISP predecessors as Renee Green or Mark Dion, yet I do find the suggested social engagement, to put it blandly, endearing for its potential. In terms of art as social activism, Tuazon's work may be on par with volunteering once for an unmotivated Amnesty International letter writing campaign; political commitment as an after thought, rather than the head-on engagement with such issues (see David Joselit and Rachel Harrison's conversation with Peter Fend in the recent "October" for a prime example of such a committed practice), but at least there is some trace of it within the work, a potential line of flight from the downtroddenly fashionized NY art world.
Friday, October 3, 2008
The yoga instructor of the construction site, the Todd Oldham of the absent, Gedi Sibony has a new solo exhibition currently on show at the reasonably classy and delightfully gay Galerie Neu in Berlin. For Sibony, this new show is a bonafide hat trick, a triple shot at early retirement, rounding out a year with not one but two other solo exhibitions, one at Galleria Zero in Milan and the other at NY's stanchion of Pat Hearn worship, Greene Naftali. Galerie Neu--with its fey, xanaxed romanticism guiding it's artist program (interrupted at points by a handful of neo-90s conceptualists)--is stepping out into slightly new turf by showing New York formalist Sibony. There are at least a dozen other profoundly juvenile internet scribblings out there fettered with outrage over Sibony's heavily mannered and over-considered sculptural casualness (The sad truth is that no one sees how stoner-y it all is...). What exactly incites this rage? For some, his elegant refuse barely coalesces into art, bringing to mind the most sophomoric "what is art" debates (Let's hope he never gets a federal grant). For most I imagine it is just a matter of envy of his somewhat prominent place in the NY art world, his privileged education (Brown undergrad, Columbia MFA and Skowhegan thrown in as well) and his autonomy as a contemporary artist. This autonomy is certainly the most insulting to many as it ensures that his work is able to defy common expectations between labor and value, the cliche-ist of all cliches dating back to Ruskin v. Whistler, where an unaltered swath of carpet sells for upwards of 40 grand, depending on its size.
While swaths of carpet don't necessarily offend me, I'd like to put all of this beef aside and focus on what the most unsettling question I find in Sibony's work: what ideology (political and otherwise) is enacted through his new age-y/autistic application of postminimal-cum-converted loft phenomenology onto standard construction supplies--the physical remnants of the current housing crisis?
While a press release (see Greene Naftali's description of his work) or any number of reviews will invoke a range of postminimalist artists from Richard Serra to Richard Tuttle to Lawrence Weiner (see his titles) to even Robert Smithson to historicize his sculptural inclinations, rendering him relevant to collectors confused by the work's questionable existence. One problem in this potential history is that many of these post-war artists were able to rework modernist formalism through certain semiotic and phenomonological macguffins, opening up the work to an allegorical political engagement. While this is most explicit in Smithson's work and its subsequent scholarship, Serra's works from the 60s through Tilted Arc inadvertantly exhibit a similar "allegorical impulse" in their threatening formal qualities of physical largesse and latent tension. These two qualities readily enact a series of relations with the viewer comparable to the affect of the Cold War psychology and the emergent political presence of the military-industrial complex on the same viewing subject. Sibony's approach may inadvertantly touch upon such an interpretation; the work's frailty seems to invert Serra's threat to the viewer as one is always on guard to not to topple an invisible plexiglass construction, potentially reminding one of the newfound sensitivity to invisible laws enacted in the wake of 9-11 (more on this later...). Yet such interpretations are quickly subsumed in part by Sibony's nauseatingly gentrified-Brooklyn-clever titles ("It's Origins' Justify It's Oranges" from his Greene Naftali show), but more by the preemptive strike of the show's press release, a thing that Sibony warns I stay away from before feeling the orchestration of his work. Yet that is the exact problem that I find in Sibony's work: the necessity for the viewer to "feel his orchestration."
This request of Sibony's is close to asking the viewer to assume qualities not dissimilar from those consigned to the social diagnosis of the "autistic"; deliberately reducing the viewer's role to a quasi-cognitive, non-circuituous state, leaving them to fixate on certain, prearranged sensations in a grey zone beneath effective language and perceptual sensation. While characteristics that are deemed "autistic" can be an affective ideological tool to undo received information and ideas (see Christopher Knowles poetry), in Sibony's case, autistic engagement is deployed as a consoling and controlling aesthetic strategy, a fetishistic method of reconciling the possibility of the abject to leap out of the work/garbage and spill all over the viewer. And this psychologically unifying aspect of Sibony's work is one of the more troubling in today's social and political context. The aesthetic recontextualizing of the lumpen into a commodity has been the same motivating factor for the unchecked gentrification of Sibony's shabby chic Brooklyn.
As is the case with the repressed, Sibony's request/demand to "feel his orchestration..." is just plain insulting to the autonomy of the viewer. Beyond the "autistic" aesthetic gloss active in the work, is the closed power relation between author and subject that Sibony desires, thus bringing the viewer closer to a Terry Schiavo-esque state: just a body into which things go. This reduction of one's subjectivity to a series of biological functions that are "orchestrated" by an unseen institutional apparatus is an easy fit (or even my mention of Terry Schiavo) for anyone who's a fan of political philosophy buzzwords: biopower and biopolitics. While it is peversely to Sibony's credit that he is capable of generating the context and conditions for such an idea to emerge (even though such conditions are present in any decisive act--be it an expression reconstituting/challenging such a power relation or a recasting of institutional domination in novel language, i.e. Sibony), it is not within his intentions to productively unwork his inscribing authorship and effectively challenge the status of the viewer's body as a vehicle for institutional power, no semblance of parrhesia/civil disobedience in the daintiness of his signature materials. Even the interpretation of his work as "green," given the status of his materials and gestures, such an idea in this authoritarian context is as radical as the capitalist spirit that coin the term. Instead through Sibony's orchestration, the viewer must remain fixated on the aesthetic festishization/conciliation of their own politically compromised and exploited condition, surrounded by the abandons of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Halliburton's war and the psycho-political political vacuum that is life during terrorism.
NEXT POST: OSCAR TUAZON @ MACCARONE
Tuazon might like the same things as Sibony, he just likes them better...
I suppose it would be great to announce my intentions with this blog, but instead I will let the forthcoming entries speak those intentions for me. But as a simple matter of clarification, this will be a blog hosting, mostly, writing on contemporary art going on in NYC and elsewhere. Here's to looking on the upside!
- ► 2009 (48)