THE LIMITS OF LICENCE AT SAM
Artist-cum-security-guard Amanda Mae has caused a stir in Seattle after she pushed the limits of a participatory Yoko Ono piece at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). Ono’s seminal Painting to Hammer a Nail is a small panel with a hammer hanging next to it, and a wall label that encourages visitors to "pound a nail into this painting" (the very artwork that, according to legend, brought Ono and John Lennon together). Hammer a Nail is featured in "Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78," June 25-Sept. 7, 2009, an exhibition that showcases works that "deconstruct painting in order to usher in a new way of thinking" -- though, apparently, this new way of thinking has some strict limits of its own.
At SAM, someone had the idea -- whether it was a museum official or a member of the public is disputed -- of using the license granted by Ono’s work to nail a piece of paper to the museum wall next to it. In short order, the piece was surrounded by a dense ring of announcements, receipts, business cards and other detritus that visitors had posted, all under the museum’s approving gaze. Informed about the paper-hanging, Ono stipulated that it was acceptable as long as the scraps were preserved as part of the work, and returned with it.
On Aug. 20, Mae -- who in addition to working at SAM, also makes performance-based photo art, and is about to start a graduate program in museum studies at the University of Washington, according to Stranger art critic Jen Graves -- decided to take things a step further. She set up in front of the work and began to remove all of the pieces of paper, categorizing them in neat piles for archiving. Mae dubbed her own performance Yoko Ono Excavation Survey, or Y.E.S. After a half hour, SAM curator Michael Darling arrived, and ordered Mae to halt. The next day, she was fired.
Though Mae’s termination is probably to be expected -- she was clearly exceeding her brief as a guard -- whether or not her intervention is acceptable as a part of Painting to Hammer a Nail is a more intriguing question. The museum’s reasoning, that "altering a work of art hanging on the wall of a museum is never really an okay thing to do," seems a little odd given the fact that the piece’s own label calls for "bringing others besides the artist into the creative act."
Mae, for her part, researched the history of Yoko Ono’s work before intervening, and describes her gesture as an attempt to "unearth" its original state, cutting against the "self-congratulatory attitude" that surrounded the museum’s presentation. "I am not shocked at the institution's decision," she is quoted as saying, with respect to her firing. "I am however disappointed at the narrow interpretation Darling has for the artworks he traffics in."
As a footnote, Graves has posted a surprisingly pious letter from Jon Hendricks, curator for Yoko Ono Exhibitions, addressing Mae’s interpretation of Ono’s work. Apparently Mae had written to Darling explaining the rationale for her intervention, and Darling forwarded the letter to Hendricks, who admonishes Mae, "you have to consider art in a much deeper, more profound sense than you do," encouraging her to have "greater respect for the artist" -- all of which sounds strangely academic in the context of a show about artists questioning tradition. Hendricks does concede that because Painting to Hammer a Nail is a participatory work, "one could argue that your participation was just as justifiable as anyone else's participation."
In the end, Hendricks’ holier-than-thou letter is particularly ironic considering that he is co-founder of the Guerrilla Art Action Group (GAAG), which did its own share of unauthorized art interventions back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. GAAG is probably best-known for storming uninvited into the Museum of Modern Art lobby in 1969, covered in blood, and protesting in front of Guernica at MoMA in 1970.
ARTISTS HEAD TO GARBAGE PATCH
Seattle artist Chris Jordan, who tends to focus his art on consumerism and its attendant garbage, has embarked on a voyage to the so-called Pacific Garbage Patch to make art with a team of four other artists: Bill Weaver, Jan Vozenilek, Victoria Sloan Jordan and Manuel Maqueda. The immense, diffuse floating mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean -- nobody knows exactly how big it is, but no one disputes that it is much larger than any country in Europe -- has reveived a lot of press attention lately, and Jordan and Co. are heading to Midway Atoll to document the Patch’s effect on albatrosses, which are apparently dying in large numbers from exposure to the trash. The goal of this consciousness-raising art expedition, Jordan says, is to "film, photograph and write about what we find there and bring that back to you via the web, blogging, videos, photos, poetry and a documentary film." Follow the trip at www.midwayjourney.com
TRIPLE BLOWOUT FOR HAUSER & WIRTH DEBUT
Arguably the hottest ticket of the fall art season is the New York debut of the international gallery powerhouse Hauser & Wirth, which opens in the East 69th Street space formerly occupied by Zwirner & Wirth with "Allan Kaprow: Yard," Sept. 24-Oct. 24, 2009. But in addition to a display of Kaprow’s sketches and other material documenting his seminal 1959 Happening, the gallery has enlisted Harvard curator Helen Molesworth to organize, in collaboration with the Kaprow estate, three "reinventions" of Yard by three contemporary artists: William Pope.L, Sharon Hayes and Josiah McElheny (none of whom are represented by the gallery).
On site at 32 East 69th Street is Pope.L’s To Harrow, which occupies the building’s ground floor with more than 1,200 tires, walls of body bags and a lot of other elements. McElheny’s reinvention of Yard takes place at the Queens Museum of Art, Sept. 23-27, 2009, and involves an installation of an aerial photo of the tire junkyard at Willet’s Point on a huge billboard. And Hayes’ version of Yard, to be installed in the New York Marble Cemetery on Second Avenue on the Lower East Side, Oct. 1-3, 2009, features hand-made yard signs inspired both by Kaprow’s own hand-painted sign for his 1961 version of the work and the larger political landscape of American suburban yard signs that convert private space (one’s own yard) into a public forum (via real estate signs, political signs, etc.). For more info, click here .
ARTIST TAKES OVER FASHION RUNWAY
New York knotted-rope artist Orly Genger, who has already collaborated with designer Jaclyn Mayer on a popular line of sculptural jewelry, is kicking it up a notch this month during "fashion week" in New York City. In collaboration with fashion designer Victoria Bartlett, who launched her VPL line in 2003 -- VPL stands for "visible panty line," and involves "utilitarian-chic" garments with "a simple concept of drawing the innerwear out" -- Genger and Mayer have elaborated their jewelry designs into entire body sculptures. The works are presented as part of Bartlett’s "Atlas of Anatomy" collection, which hits the runway at Chelsea Piers on Sept. 12, 2009. The catwalk also features Genger’s 12 x 12 ft. sculpture of knotted and layered black-painted rope, a behemoth dubbed Arnold. Originally installed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the work is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, and is one of a series of neo-Minimalist sculptures named after winners of the Mr. Universe competition.
WOLGIN PRIZE IN PHILLY
Announced last month, the new $150,000 Jack Wolgin Fine Arts Prize has a number of significant things about it. For one thing, organizers claim that it is the "largest given to a visual artist in a juried competition." For another, it is the only significant art prize in the U.S. to be associated with an art school, which certainly adds to the growing cachet of Philadelphia’s Tyler School of the Arts, which also debuted a new 234,000-square-foot Carlos Jimenez-designed facility early this year.
The prize money is endowed by Jack Wolgin, described as a "real estate developer, banker and philanthropist," and probably most famous in Philadelphia’s cultural life as the man behind the installation of the iconic Claes Oldenburg Clothespin sculpture in Centre Square plaza. Tyler foots the bill for the exhibition of work by the finalists, Oct. 1-31, 2009, and the various programming that goes along with it.
The three finalists have already been announced, and they are a distinguished bunch: Sanford Biggers, Michael Rakowitz and Ryan Trecartin (the latter, of course, is Philadelphia-based). Candidates were selected by a three-judge panel: Asia Society director Melissa Chiu, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art advisor Paolo Colombo, and Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia curator Ingrid Schaffner. All three of the finalists are required to lecture at the school as part of their selection.
The inaugural Wolgin Prize winner is to be announced on Oct. 22, 2009. At a press lunch last week, juror Melissa Chiu said that the decision had already been made, and that it was a fairly "obvious" one to the judges, based on the award’s brief. According to press material, the Wolgin was established to honor an "emerging artist with a significant studio practice who critically and creatively engages with existing histories and images, and whose work transcends traditional boundaries" -- so guess for yourself who the winner is.
KARA WALKER’S MY ABSENCE AND MY SHAME
Celebrated for scabrous works about the legacy of racism in the U.S., Kara Walker is not exactly known for her comedic touch. Her participation in the recent one-weekend-only "Whitney’s Biennial," Aug. 28-30, at Brooklyn’s C.R.E.A.M. Projects, however, does show a definite sense of mischief.
Walker’s name stood out amid the list of artists participating in the event, who were mainly worthy early-career types. The curious visitor to the Greenpoint space, however, found only a display of email correspondence between the famous artist and exhibition organizer Davida Nemeroff, documenting the attempt to procure an artwork for the endeavor from Walker.
Officially, this display of emails is attributed to "Whitney," but it stands as place-holder for Walker’s promised work -- supposedly a postcard -- which never arrived. It also provides a history of Nemeroff’s attempt to pin Walker down. First the curator proposes that Walker participate, using the presence of hip artists Roe Etheridge and Fia Backstrom in the show to establish credibility. Nemeroff adds that if Walker "for some reason" didn’t want to be in the show, "How would you feel if we did some kind of piece where we printed out the Facebook profiles of all the other Kara Walkers on Facebook?" Walker responds that she would "rather contribute her own self-parody than be represented by someone else’s." A few emails later, Walker, writing from vacation, suggests that she send in a copy of her own birth certificate, "or barack obama’s," before settling on the idea of contributing a postcard, which never shows up.
"Your name is still on the flyer and everything," Nemeroff writes in the final exchange, dating from the day of the show’s opening. "People are going to ask questions since they thought we were lying in the first place." Walker responds from her Blackberry: "Too bad. Been up since 4am. My Absence and My Shame is my piece. I have never flaked on a show like this. Best wishes tonight. K"
BARRY FLANAGAN, 1941-2009
Barry Flanagan, 68, Welsh-born British sculptor celebrated for bronze sculptures of frolicking hares and other animals, died of ALS on Aug. 31. After studying with Anthony Caro and Phillip King at St. Martin’s art school in London, Flanagan had his first solo show of Arte Povera-style works at Rowan Gallery in 1966. In 1975 he joined the Waddinton Galleries, and had an early survey show at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in 1977. More recently he has had major exhibitions at the Fundacion La Caixa in Madrid (1993), Tate in Liverpool (2000) and at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (2006).