Archive for April, 2011

Yellow Monochrome, or Almost Easter

Friday, April 15th, 2011

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Another BB

Friday, April 15th, 2011

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From Frieze:

Bill Bollinger at Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz

‘Bill Bollinger’s last real exhibition was in January 1970… The exhibition was a kind of mini retrospective. The invitation card documented one of the works: we had taken a long piece of wood, driven to the banks of the Rhine, thrown it into the water, and taken a photograph of it. I have always closely associated that black-and-white image of the floating wood with Bollinger.’

This pensive, penetrating reminiscence is by Rolf Ricke, the storied German gallerist and collector who famously championed American Post-Minimalism and Process art at his Cologne gallery in the late 1960s (with artists including Eva Hesse, Lee Lozano and Richard Serra, among others). Ricke’s thoughtful tone suggests the tragic arc of the New York artist Bill Bollinger’s career, which began with terrific promise and ended too quickly. But it is his evocation of that ‘floating wood’ that so strikes me. As I wandered the bright, boxy galleries of the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, where Christiane Meyer-Stoll has assiduously mounted the first survey in four decades of Bollinger’s forgotten oeuvre, the feeling that emerged from the approximately 80 works was of inexplicable buoyancy. Though the materials – chain-link fence, oil barrels, pipe, rope, graphite – and the unmitigated forms they took recalled Bollinger’s peers like Serra and Carl Andre, the works had none of the macho heaviness that one would expect. Instead, his pieces seemed to ineffably float atop some invisible body of water, skirting the ground even when they rested upon it.

This tendency might be traced back to the artist’s undergraduate studies in aeronautical engineering in the late 1950s at Brown University, before he moved to New York and started painting. Gradually he morphed into a sculptor, and in 1966 his career began in earnest with his first New York solo show at the Bianchini Gallery. The extent of Bollinger’s early accomplishment and recognition is difficult to overestimate. He took part in nearly every fabled exhibition of that time, from ‘Nine at Leo Castelli’ in 1968, to ‘Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials’ at the Whitney Museum, and ‘Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form’, at the Kunsthalle Bern, where Serra installed Bollinger’s works for him. In 1970, perhaps unsatisfied, Bollinger rented a loft overlooking the Hudson River in the Starrett-Lehigh Building to mount a huge exhibition that financially ruined him and ended his working relationship with Klaus Kertess and others. In the years following, he moved upstate and fell out of the art world, though he continued making work. In 1988, he died of alcoholism, unremarked.

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The Vaduz retrospective concentrates on the artist’s production from 1966 to 1973, though most works are gleaned from a cogent, wildly productive three-year period. Bollinger’s interest in what he called ‘the fact of the form’ is clear in the show’s opening work, Cyclone Fence (1968), a long, fluid, six-by-fifty-foot fence that rises like a wave from the floor before laying flat again. The work is simple, clean, faintly sensual, mostly non-expressive; it exemplifies the very ‘fact’ that so concerned the artist. Elsewhere, its watery metaphor is manifested in an evocative series of floor works of transparent plastic hoses filled with water and draped in austere lines or circles, their ends simply tipped up to keep the liquid from spilling out – a sensitive and yet entirely sensible gesture that marks Bollinger’s touch – as well as bleak, buoyant pieces featuring water-filled barrels, dark plastic hoses slithering atop and into them. Untitled (1970) – two wheelbarrows filled with water positioned side by side – evokes the irreducible modernism of William Carlos Williams’s 1923 poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” as well as the poet’s working philosophy: ‘No ideas but in things’.

If Bollinger’s rope works bolted to the floor in clean lines or winging it off the wall recall Fred Sandback’s delineation of space through line, his fence pieces – which might lay flat across the floor or hang like paintings on the wall – locate the grid in material alone. Like his peers, Bollinger thought in modules, sequences and site-specificity: ‘Piece to consist of a minimum of two modules, or as many more as wall space permits’, reads one 1968 plan. His myriad works on paper, conversely, often consist of a horizon line smudged with colour or shadowed with brilliant gradations of sediment-like spray paint, their colour and lineation suggestive of Georgia O’Keefe’s brilliant abstractions as well as Brice Marden’s early works.

To that end, it is difficult to see such remarkable and remarkably curtailed work without drawing artistic parallels or noting their influence (his 1969 Droplight and graphite floor parent Felix Gonzales-Torres’s later works, his 1968 Water Pipe proves prescient of Alicia Kwade’s sculptures), just as it is hard to disregard the dark wave of biography looming over this retrospective, where story must substitute for artistic growth. In a letter to Basel dealer Felix Handschin, Bollinger wrote, ‘[I]t is all very easy to execute, does not exist until it has been executed, ceases to exist when it has been taken down.’ Perhaps viewers of Bollinger’s work should take his lead, letting it simply exist in its ‘fact of form’ while it is up, and not letting the tragic wave of his story take you – or the oeuvre itself – down.

—Quinn Latimer

Focus

Friday, April 15th, 2011

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From Frieze:

Lili Reynaud Dewar: Avant-gardism and Black Power; Sexual Injustice and Radical Italian Design

‘I have always wanted to be in conversation with Sun Ra, but I have decided to talk to my mother instead,’ Lili Reynaud Dewar deadpanned mysteriously in an interview with curator Alexis Vaillant last year. The French artist’s strange equivalence of these two distinct personages – one, an Afro-futurist free jazz bandleader, poet and activist-philosopher; the other, Mireille Rias, Reynaud Dewar’s mother and frequent collaborator – is emblematic of her esoteric oeuvre. In it, her personal biography becomes both mirror and skeleton key to a larger history of avant-gardism, Black Power, gendered labour practices, radical Italian design and various speculative fictions that attempt to subvert issues of racial and sexual injustice. More specifically, though, the Paris-based artist was addressing the show that she was then preparing at Kunsthalle Basel (entitled ‘Interpretation’, it opened that April), which would comprise an inspired meditation on both her mother and Sun Ra.

Though based on historical research, Reynaud Dewar’s works often evoke the feeling that one has stepped on to some riotous new planet where time and space are anything if linear. Fittingly, ‘Interpretation’s centerpiece, Interpretation Structure (2011), evoked a Suprematist-shaded spaceship. Against the wooden structure’s mirrored interior, a video projection showed a striking older woman in carnivalesque dress, seated on a throne-like chair whose jarring geometry referenced Ettore Sottsass’s Memphis Group furniture. After Rias theatrically told the story of attending a Sun Ra concert in France in 1970, she began dancing slowly around the throne – placed in the same gallery that the viewer stood in now – to the fractured, frenetic Sun Ra concert itself.

This moving, séance-like scene was accompanied by pencil-on-cardboard ‘Interpretation Drawings’ (2011) featuring stencilled simulacrums of Sun Ra’s 1950s-era pamphlets like ‘A Spook Sho Is a Dragg Man, He’s a Dragg.’ The throne was there, too, it’s geometric forms deftly dressed in African patterns from Paris markets. Taken together, the exhibition explored notions of identity, performance, design, and, clearly, origins: Sun Ra famously insisted he was from Saturn (slyly undercutting those who would associate him with the lineage of slavery); Rias, in turn, is the artist’s originator, though here she took on an otherworldly identity far from cool, hippy mom. Nevertheless, the equilibrium Reynaud Dewar achieved with these disparate histories was discomfiting. That the show’s very power came from this disquiet, however, has long held true of the artist’s work.

After studying ballet and law, then pursuing art criticism, Reynaud Dewar made her first real art works in 2005. This series of geometric sculptures – formally indebted to Suprematism and Sottsass – employed the Rastafarian flag’s colors: red, gold, green, black. The works’ weird power came from their commanding forms, but also from their odd Rasta referents. That the works didn’t feel exploitive didn’t squash the idea that they might be. ‘They were really my manifesto of “illegitimity”, and of identity misplacement,” the artist told me. “My intention wasn’t to capitalize on those cultural signs, but to put myself in a situation (symbolic in the beginning) of identity loss.’ That one needs an assigned ‘other’ to create that loss is problematic, as Reynaud Dewar acknowledges, yet it is in the transgressions of her works – which glean the fields of her history as much as of others – that their strength lies.

Since then, the artist’s works have become evermore formally and conceptually elaborate. Black Mariah (2009) investigated cinematic beginnings via the titular 1893 film studio. Thomas Edison’s tar-papered studio mostly filmed vaudevillians and burlesque performers; likewise, Reynaud Dewar’s work engaged a quartet of costumed (and some black-faced) female performers. The Power Structures, Rituals and Sexuality of the European Shorthand Typists (2009–10), meanwhile, investigated technological obsolescence married to sexualized labour. In the film, Rias teaches this “skill” to two young woman in a marshland, itself a morphing landscape of elimination. The recent Cléda’s Chairs (2011), in turn, contrasts the artist’s grandmother’s history with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Notes for an African Orestes, which endeavoured to transpose Aeschylus’s Greek tragedies to Africa – an attempt notable in its similarity to Reynaud Dewar’s palimpsestic methods. The film shows Cléda packing up her antique-filled house, as she prepares to retire to a Modernist condo. As she talks about her life, two white girls in blackface enter the house and begin to cover two Louis XII chairs with black polish; in the background, Pasolini’s 1970 film plays on a TV. The charged congruence of different threads – Reynaud Dewar’s matrilineal lineage, furniture design, postcolonial black history intersecting with the avant-garde – is startling indeed. Yet the investigation of difference as defined by surface (skin, design, economic, filmic, sexual) is nuanced and compelling.

Reynaud Dewar’s primary interests and methodologies – research and performance – abound in contemporary art. But she does not employ history as either stationary formal device or nostalgic lens; instead, she transforms myriad histories into new works that walk directly into the (or some) future. Similarly, her investment in a kind of politicized vaudevillian theatre – an anachronism in today’s art world – sets her apart. It makes sense, then, that her work evokes literary and theatrical predecessors. Her twining of technology and racial and sexual politics conjures the speculative writing of Donna Haraway and Octavia Butler, who use science and science fiction (as Sun Ra did) to transcend issues of injustice. Reynaud Dewar’s theatrical roots appear to lay with Bertolt Brecht and Rainer Werner Maria Fassbinder, after whose rebellious ‘Antiteater’ troupe she named an exhibition. But despite these influences, and the complicated histories they limn, the artist’s works – complex, dauntingly expert – appear to travel relentlessly forward, prescient preambles of we know not what.

—Quinn Latimer

But the walls are cool

Monday, April 11th, 2011

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And, in the end, they totally were.

Last week, artists Raphail Julliardo and Martina-Sofie Wildberger held their fourth exhibition at Galerie J, the gallery in their apartment in an ’80s-era ship-like, concrete-and-glass modernist building block in Geneva. The exhibitions are made like so: They invite three or four curators or art-minded folk to dinner. Each person brings an artwork or an artist. Once assembled at their home, the works are presented, installed, and then dinner is served. The show stays up for a month or so, open to the public on weekends.

For the latest edition, they invited curators Julie Enkell Julliard, Fabrice Stroun, and Annette Amberg; dear Annette brought a Danh Vo work that he gave her in 2009, and me. I read a selection of poems between dinner and desert, slightly sauced. Still, they went over okay, I think, particularly the poems about Southern California brush fires, which seemed somewhat exotic read in French Switzerland next to Lake Geneva and the snowy Alps glistening blue across the water.

We were all supposed to collectively come up with a title for the show, but Raphail ending up using a line from my poem “Fuel,” since it seemed to address the fact that the assembled work was all, weirdly, in sober black-and-white, from Danh’s grandmother’s casino card remade in Carrera marble, to Grant Morrison’s proofs for his comic book The Filth (a frame of it is above), to Ante Timmerman’s sketchy, architectural drawings.

So, the show:

“But the walls are cool,” Galerie J, Genève

Julie Enkell Julliard (Musée Jenisch, Vevey) a invité Ante Timmermans qui est venu avec deux œuvres, 24/2009 (untitled) et Systeme, 2011.

Annette Amberg a invité Quinn Latimer pour une lecture de ses poèmes, dont le titre de l’exposition est tiré, à paraître en automne sous le nom Rumored Animals. Elle a par ailleurs amené une œuvre sans titre de 2009 de Danh Vo.

Fabrice Stroun, hardat Genève, a amené deux planches originales tirée de The Filth, 2002 de Grant Morrison & Chris Weston.

L’exposition But the walls are cool se trouve à l’avenue Sainte-Clotilde 18 et se visite sur rendez-vous, jusqu’au 4 juin 2011.

Les expositions de la série At Home se construisent de la façon suivante:

Trois personnalités du monde de l’art sont invitées à venir partager un repas dans un appartement et à

– venir avec une œuvre à laquelle ils ont accès, mais dont ils ne sont pas l’auteur

ou

– inviter un artiste à venir avec une de ses œuvres.

And the poem from which the title was gleaned:

Fuel

Let it burn. Get rid of the fuel.
The house is warm but the walls are cool.
To the touch, to the touch,
The hand like a match, the body
Like a screen, the cheek a pool, whatever may be
Behind the door: fire, fever, love her,
Leave her, but not to fire, not to fire,
Your thoughts that hurry
Towards her, steps so light like leaves
Whose shadows are blurring, but your ankles,
Thin as tinder, they’re burning, and the sand
It slows the long season of you, unfolding,
While the water it pulls you, and the mountains
Fever and flower wide crimson
Petals, sharp orange pistils, yellow buds that mouth
They love you, they love you,
As they score the foothills, writ them
With ash, black cursive letters that thrall
That kill you, such tall letters,
They read as tombs to the trees buried
Beneath, also borne beneath, also borne above
In ash that fills the sky like tears, that fills
Your face “like tears” like leaves
Gray and burning, blurring
The cool slide of your cheek, empty
Pool, concrete and absence, and the children
Who rest, at the bottom, they watch
Orange flowers flaming above like heaven,
This brother and sister, their mouths are closed, eyes
Are open, language has left them
Like a lover, like a mother has
Fled them, so they roam but not resist
A concrete floor, no, not to rise, not to rise,
The walls so steep, so curved, so round
As a mother’s body in sleep,
Her “female nude” her heavy modernity,
But she is not still nor here she walks
The fire-flowering hills, scorching their sides
With her black poems, and far
From her heavy steps, and below her world
Of ash, it’s here they live now, waiting for flood
Or fathers to find them, but alone, alone,
While her words whisper across the still:
Let it burn. Get rid of the fuel.