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Tino Sehgal: This Doesn’t Make Sense

Thirty years ago I was in the painting studio at school, an undergraduate art student, working away along with my fellow art students, while our teacher D.J. Hall walked through the studio and read from Tom Wolfe’s slim volume The Painted Word. D.J. made photorealist paintings (I especially liked her painting Thanks for the Memories) […]

Thirty years ago I was in the painting studio at school, an undergraduate art student, working away along with my fellow art students, while our teacher D.J. Hall walked through the studio and read from Tom Wolfe’s slim volume The Painted Word. D.J. made photorealist paintings (I especially liked her painting Thanks for the Memories) and in our class she had us try several different painting styles. In the strictest sense, the objective of the photorealist style was to make a painting that looked as much as possible like a photograph. It was considered a kind of “ hyper-realism” given the shared belief that photographs were the ultimate expression of realism.

This always seemed a little strange to me. I always thought of photographs as fictions, like all other ways of making images and telling stories. Some people started making paintings that looked like “ distorted” photographs and that seemed very interesting – to make a very carefully rendered painting of a distorted image produced by a camera. It called into question thereliability of realism. Were such paintings less realistic? But how could that be if they were faithful copies of the photograph?

The Painted Word was a slightly hysterical attack on modern art in general and Conceptual art in particular. It was strange because Wolfe’s earlier book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a novel about San Francisco in the 1960s and the Merry Pranksters – (“ are you on the bus or are you off the bus?”) was so cool. Perhaps Wolfe had started the decent into masculine middle age which often seems to be paved with disappointments, broken dreams, and fear of impotence which is then translated into a longing for a more dependable past when art was art and there were universally-accepted standards of quality, or so they say.

Photorealism appeared at the end of The Painted Word as a kind of realist rebellion against the tide of Conceptual art. It gave such pleasure, an in-your-face revenge for Wolfe to note that “ [Richard] Estes is reported to be selling at $80,000 a crack” in the galleries of New York or London. The greatest artistic absurdity imagined by him would be an exhibition in the year 2000 in which the words of art critics would be reproduced in huge panels in the gallery while the artworks under discussion — by Jasper Johns and Morris Louis — would appear as visual footnotes to the text, little postage-stamped sized reproductions. Actually, that sounds to me like it could be an interesting exhibition, although to tell you the truth I think an exhibition of photorealist paintings could be interesting, or an exhibition of work by Jasper Johns or Morris Louis could likewise be interesting.

The greater absurdity to me is the stratospheric heights of the art market. $80,000 for a painting by Richard Estes sounds so quaint in this moment of hyper-capitalism we inhabit. The auction houses routinely display their latest broken records in the art magazines; a million dollars for this photograph, a few million dollars for that painting – not for “ blue chip” artworks but for recent work by living, younger artists. The magenta heart by Jeff Koons is probably very impressive but was it worth twenty-five million dollars? Who knows, maybe it cost thirty million dollars to produce and the artist and his investors took a five million dollar bath at auction. Not to be outdone, Damien Hirst achieved the coveted distinction of producing (and investing in) the highest priced artwork by a living artist: the diamond-covered skull that sold for one hundred million dollars. Perhaps art has lost its power to shock and the only shock that’s left is the price at auction. I’m waiting for the artwork that will sell at auction for one billion dollars.

A week ago I walked into the Medtronic Gallery at Walker Art Center and encountered a work by Tino Sehgal. A young man, following the directions issued by the artist, was sort of crawling, sort of turning around on the floor of the empty gallery. He was moving his body in slow-motion and had his hands up to his face, sort of framing his field of vision with his fingers while he looked straight ahead or closed his eyes. I asked him what he was doing and he said something, so quietly, that I couldn’t quite understand him. Maybe he said “ I see it there” or maybe he said “ Tino Sehgal” or maybe he said something else, I’m not sure.

I watched him for a while. It was beautiful. It felt like fresh air filling my heart and mind, reminding me of Stevie Winwood’s high, thin voice singing “ Can’t Find My Way Home.”Just when I thought the art market had stolen from art its power to shock, I was shocked by this project. I was shocked by its subtlety, its quietude. Watching the piece was like reading a poem. The poem operates at a different standard of time than the one we normally inhabit. Reading the poem forces us to get out of that normal time and into a slower time. Watching the piece stopped the normal time. It interrupted the normal expectations of what “ should” happen in the gallery, and this was a great pleasure for me.

Why must everything constantly make sense? I loved Tino Sehgal’s piece because it refused to make sense.The piece refused to make sense, and what shocked me was its subtlety, its quietude. I thought of other Conceptual or Performance artworks, other projects that were so different. I thought of Through the Night Softly, performed by Chris Burden in 1973, in which he crawled over broken shards of glass without a shirt and Vito Acconci’s Seedbed from that same era, in which he was hidden under a ramp in the Sonnabend Gallery, masturbating. Such projects seemed to me like the artists had something to prove, kind of an artist-manhood hazing ritual. Chris Burden once said that he wanted to be taken seriously as an artist and having yourself shot in the arm with a .22 is certainly one way to do that.

I saw another piece by Tino Sehgal in the Burnet Gallery at Walker Art Center. I’ve seen this one performed several times, by different women wearing the gallery guard uniform, in which the guard sings sweetly “ This is propaganda.” Indeed, museum and gallery exhibitions are a form of propaganda — all art is a form of propaganda, including the piece by Sehgal which sweetly announces this dichotomy. Again, I loved the work for its quietude, its poetry, its music.

I thought of another project, The House with the Ocean View, performed by Marina Abramovic in the Sean Kelly Gallery in 2002. She lived in the gallery for twelve days without eating or speaking. It seemed to me to be a kind of purification ritual after the horror of the attack on September 11. There is a quiet tension in the work; the self-negation is balanced with an equally powerful self-affirmation. I find the quiet tension in these projects bySehgal and Abramovic to be very powerful.

Our experience of an artwork occurs within the context of our own assumptions and expectations, our own hopes, fears, and ideologies. Perhaps I responded to Sehgal’s work the way I did because of my need to counter the stratosphere of the art market, the hyper-capitalism of this moment we inhabit, the hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives wasted to prove a point that never can be proven because the point keeps changing. There is too much nonsense out there; I need something that doesn’t make sense.

Conceptual art did not overturn the art market, but neither can the art market rob art entirely of its power even as it endlessly absorbs and converts art to higher levels of capital. Tino Sehgal’s work is wonderfully atmospheric and ephemeralbut neither is it immune from the market. It is now entering the market, where it will be bought and sold. Nothing is pure, clean or easy. But the work has the power to shock, in its own gentle, quiet way. It doesn’t make sense and that is beautiful.

Tino Sehgal creates experiences through expression

  When Tino Sehgal has his way at the Walker Art Center, beginning December 12, you won’t find any labels tagged to his work. You also won’t find a catalogue, written biography or paper trail of any kind. Born 31 years ago in London and now living in Berlin, Sehgal has made a quick mark […]

 

When Tino Sehgal has his way at the Walker Art Center, beginning December 12, you won’t find any labels tagged to his work. You also won’t find a catalogue, written biography or paper trail of any kind. Born 31 years ago in London and now living in Berlin, Sehgal has made a quick mark in the contemporary arts by intentionally leaving no mark.

He doesn’t create objects, present video or stage performances (he also doesn’t allow any recording of his work). Rather, Sehgal calls on casts of characters – front-desk receptionists, security guards, tour guides, assorted performers – to play out his “ situations.” For his Walker debut, Sehgal is planning five “ live” pieces involving more than 50 accomplices from the Walker staff and elsewhere. These singers, dancers and other artists will act as interpreters, confronting visitors from the moment they step to the admissions desk until they leave the museum.

Sehgal once commented that his work depends upon “ action/reaction.” He wants people encountering his pieces not only to react in the moment but consider their reactions, hoping his work inspires questions about the creative process and the cult status of object-based art. The New York Times wrote about Sehgal in November. Regardless of your response, Sehgal promises you’ll make a personal imprint on a given piece.

“ There’s no possibility not to act, so everything you do, even if it doesn’t seem like acting, produces an effect,” Sehgal told the online journal Kulture Flash, in January 2007.

“ In its classical form, the museum views you as a subject,” he said. “ There was a democratic process that constructed culture and, when you entered the museum, you received this culture, just as you would receive orders from the king. I don’t think that’s the case in our society. We are constantly constructing culture. So when you enter my work, you are also constructing it.”

Sehgal cut his artistic teeth primarily through dance–he trained a decade ago under the French choreographer Jérme Bel, an association that also exposed him to the minimalist, improvisational dancer Xavier LeRoy and the avant-garde composer John Zorn. Both artists informed Sehgal’s fledgling esthetic, encouraging Sehgal to pave level ground with his performers and his audience. Sehgal has always targeted his work for museum spaces rather than theatrical stages.

“ If somebody is interested in acquiring one of my pieces, they can,” Sehgal told Kulture Flash. “ Museums, for example, could show them for years. It would take a lot of work, but restoring a painting also takes a lot of work.”

MMAA: Minnesota in three dimensions

David Bowen’s Networked Bamboo and Pete Driessen’s White Fleet are among works in the MMAA’s 3D II biennial exhibition. You can drive by the Science Museum of Minnesota every day and be forgiven for overlooking the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the bastion of homegrown visual art that, until not long ago, shared walls with […]

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David Bowen’s Networked Bamboo and Pete Driessen’s White Fleet are among works in the MMAA’s 3D II biennial exhibition.

You can drive by the Science Museum of Minnesota every day and be forgiven for overlooking the Minnesota Museum of American Art, the bastion of homegrown visual art that, until not long ago, shared walls with the jail in the Ramsey County Government Center.

The MMAA’s Minnesota Biennial is the only so-named exhibition in the Twin Cities. Two- and three-dimensional work get alternating showcases — the latest 3D turn, the museum’s first since 2002, opened Saturday. 3D II is at turns bright, trite, engaging, unpolished, unpretentious, flat, fatuous, funny and wholly unique on the local gallery and museum scene. A sole juror — Jennifer Jankauskas, associate curator of exhibitions at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, in Sheboygan, Wis. — winnowed down more than 150 artists to select the 27 in this show. 3D II closes February 3, 2008.

Jankauskas leans to the wry and socially relevant, emphasizing installation over static sculpture, and much of the work begs for direct interaction. At the well-attended opening-night party, visitors easily lost their heads the moment after walking in the door — Julia Kouneski’s pinhole cameras are like hexagon helmets. David Hamlow of Good Thunder, Minn., cast his life between 1994 and 1998 into a giant cardboard ball taped together from every box of cereal, crackers, soap, razors and other products he bought and used during those years. Friends and family weighed in with their own takes of Hamlow, made from the artist’s discarded materials.

My favorite pieces were David Bowen’s Networked Bamboo, an installation carrying deliciously creepy Borg overtones (the water-injected stalks make jerky, pained movements through light and electrical impulses) and an unnamed piece by Todd Severson of Minneapolis, a ceramic artist who created a web of figures in a frozen free-fall. I want to see more work from Pete Driessen, whose White Fleet, a stark comment on African colonialism, traces its influence to the work of Kara Walker.

3D II celebrates artists worth discovering.

No Time Keeping

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR. It is often the norm that exhibitions take a great deal of time to conceive and to organize and very little time to be experienced. This is not the case with the Brave New Worlds, an exhibition that includes more than a dozen of videos and 16 mm and 35 mm […]

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

It is often the norm that exhibitions take a great deal of time to conceive and to organize and very little time to be experienced. This is not the case with the Brave New Worlds, an exhibition that includes more than a dozen of videos and 16 mm and 35 mm films, or to be really precise, 3 hours and 33 minutes and 96 seconds of moving image. While imagining the show, my colleague and co-curator Doryun Chong and I sketched out the floor-plan of the pieces in relationship with one another formally and conceptually but also chronologically, taking into consideration their duration in relation to other pieces. We roughly estimated that it could take at least four hours for a visitor to see the entire show, maybe without reading labels. It might seem like a large amount of time to spend in the galleries but we imagined the exhibition as a journey of investigations, where the juxtaposition between time-based pieces along photographs, sculptures, drawings, and paintings allow for shifting levels of contemplation as one walks through each room.

During the preparation process we switched the location of several pieces all the way until the last minute until we were able to feel the fluidity between the narratives and their movement. Afterwards, Doryun mentioned to me that he understood the exhibition as a musical piece in three movements. I’ve come to see it as a chart of proximities, like the one drawn in the bottom left-hand corner of Jorge Macchi’s collage Liliput (2007), where individual works of art are interconnected with one another in a number of common areas in each of the galleries where they meet and share sightlines, floor and wall spaces, sound, light reflections or a cast shadows from their neighboring pieces. As its title suggests Brave New Worlds is not a swift stroll through one world but a journey through a constellation of worlds, viewpoints, and moving images that range from the open sea to a public park, from a narrow corridor to a deserted road, and from a floating satellite to mesmerizing skies. I recommend to leave your watch at home.

Kara Walker — “The Anti-Oprah?”

Slate, the online magazine, has posted a brief but smart slideshow of Kara Walker. Several pieces are drawn from the Walker collection, with some photos shot from within the Walker galleries by our Gene Pittman. No mention in the accompanying text of Queen O beyond Slate’s headline.

Slate, the online magazine, has posted a brief but smart slideshow of Kara Walker. Several pieces are drawn from the Walker collection, with some photos shot from within the Walker galleries by our Gene Pittman. No mention in the accompanying text of Queen O beyond Slate’s headline.

Frida Kahlo Multimedia Guide

The paintings of Frida Kahlo come to life this month at the Walker thanks in part to a new component of the exhibition–the Antenna Audio XP-vision multimedia player. This new handheld device goes beyond the traditional audio tour by allowing visitors to access archival images and rare film footage as well as audio interpretation and […]

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The paintings of Frida Kahlo come to life this month at the Walker thanks in part to a new component of the exhibition–the Antenna Audio XP-vision multimedia player. This new handheld device goes beyond the traditional audio tour by allowing visitors to access archival images and rare film footage as well as audio interpretation and video interviews. Highlighting works in the exhibition, the tour touches on topics that include Kahlo’s life and times, her personal photo albums, and the importance of Mexican folk traditions as expressed in her art. You will also hear interviews with artists such as Kiki Smith and Dulce Maria Nuñez; singer Patti Smith; novelist Carole Maso; and exhibition co-curators Hayden Herrera and Elizabeth Carpenter, who consider different aspects of Kahlo’s legacy.

The tour was produced by Antenna Audio in collaboration with the Walker Art Center and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The price of the tour is $6 for the general public and $5 for Walker members. Available in English and Spanish.

TOUR SAMPLES

Exhibition co-curator Hayden Herrera on Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas (audio only)

Hayden Herrera

Kiki Smith on Frida Kahlo

Writing on the Wall

As part of the exhibition Brave New Worlds, Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi has created a drawing installation in the stairwell outside of galleries 4, 5, and 6 featuring his incisive commentary in black marker. Gene Pittman took these shots of the entrance to gallery 4. Paul previously posted videos here and here, but it is […]

As part of the exhibition Brave New Worlds, Romanian artist Dan Perjovschi has created a drawing installation in the stairwell outside of galleries 4, 5, and 6 featuring his incisive commentary in black marker. Gene Pittman took these shots of the entrance to gallery 4. ex2007bnw_ins_0411.jpg

Paul previously posted videos here and here, but it is well worth a click to view the videos from Perjovschi’s recent MoMA show of the artist in action.

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Home of the Brave

Thursday morning’s press tour for Brave New Worlds brought out the heavy-hitters in Twin Cities arts journalism—City College News, MinnPost, yours truly. Not sure whether anyone donned the nametags awaiting reps from La Prensa or Arise! Bookstore. What struck me, beyond the ambition of the exhibition (more on that in a bit), were the no-surprise […]

Thursday morning’s press tour for Brave New Worlds brought out the heavy-hitters in Twin Cities arts journalism—City College News, MinnPost, yours truly. Not sure whether anyone donned the nametags awaiting reps from La Prensa or Arise! Bookstore. What struck me, beyond the ambition of the exhibition (more on that in a bit), were the no-surprise no-shows.

One stated reason–the unfortunate collision of timing with the press tour for the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Now, don’t take this as a knock on O’Keeffe, her art or the MIA exhibition, but if you’re a reporter tasked with learning something new, with seeing and hearing a little bit about something you’d otherwise have no chance to see or hear before the public, this is a no-brainer–you bag O’Keeffe and make it to Brave New Worlds.

O’Keeffe’s life and career are well-documented in books, catalogs, Web sites, film and museum and university collections. In short, you don’t need to personally tour the work alongside a curator to know it or get it. The opposite is so with the artists of Brave New Worlds–two dozen of them, from 17 countries–all unknown to most, perhaps everyone, in the Twin Cities to the runup of this show.

And this show is an ideal example of the Walker’s gift to the community. We send two curators–Yasmil Raymond and Doryun Chong–around the world to find living artists steeped in social and political consciousness, then deliver a range of them and their fiery work to Minneapolis. Some are creating new pieces right up to today’s scheduled opening.

It’s rarified and precious, yet crackling with energy and grit, and I feel privileged as an arts journalist to take a sneak peek, meet artists tackling serious issues with such force, grace and wit, and help interpret the work for people who, going in, otherwise have no clue about it.

Multimedia installations and screening rooms abound–installers created a surreal, raked-seating theater for Erik Van Lieshout‘s “ Homeland Security”–but some of the most penetrating work is simple in form and function.

Jorge Macchi of Buenos Aires recreated a world map through a random collage, tossing cutouts of the world’s countries onto a flat surface, then detailing the distances between them on the kind of charts anchoring the corners of traditional maps. One implication is that by, say, the United States’ new proximity to, say, Iran, the world falls under a new pecking order of politics and power.

Fernando Bryce, a Peruvian living in Germany, collects promotional material (i.e., propaganda) from the World Bank, USAID, the Department of International Development, food for peace programs–and juxtaposes their language with pen-and-ink drawings of iconic figures and world leaders. The interplay is stark and satirical, and Bryce has a knack for exposing the hypocrisy and motivational underbelly of organizations that operate under the auspice of world aid.

Gimhongsok of South Korea has reflected on his own rise as a contemporary artist to comment on the financial disparities between artists adopted by museums such as the Walker Art Center and those toiling without income. One of his pieces here is a raft fashioned as a blue boulder, embedded with objects–a fishing pole, lantern, empty soda bottles, books, a small kerosene stovetop, plastic moorings–he has collected along his museum-paid travels. In a brief conversation after the tour, Gimhongsok told me he still sees himself as a “community artist,” and this work represents the street-level survival of his fellow countrymen and peers and the guilt of his own emergence into the realm of pampered artist.

You can’t appreciate this show by just breezing through. You have to stand, take in the strings of images, walk the paths, sit on the rickety chairs, soak up the sounds, take in the text stamped into gold and, in one installation, allow the cold and heat to touch your skin. These artists force you to engage in the work, and if you’re paying attention, you can’t come away without a little better understanding of our own privileged access.

Installing Brave New Worlds

Brave New Worlds opens tomorrow, and many of the artists have been in the Walker installing their work. Photographer Gene Pittman captured some images of the installation in process. There are a few more images on flickr, too.

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Brave New Worlds opens tomorrow, and many of the artists have been in the Walker installing their work. Photographer Gene Pittman captured some images of the installation in process. There are a few more images on flickr, too.

Also in UOVO: Eleey interviews Rakowitz

The curatorial office Latitudes — guest editor of the new issue of the art magazine UOVO, which includes Walker curator Doryun Chong’s interview with artist Haegue Yang — has also made available a wonderful conversation between Walker curator Peter Eleey and artist Michael Rakowitz [pdf]. In his project Return, Rakowitz re-opened the import-export business run […]

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The curatorial office Latitudes — guest editor of the new issue of the art magazine UOVO, which includes Walker curator Doryun Chong’s interview with artist Haegue Yang — has also made available a wonderful conversation between Walker curator Peter Eleey and artist Michael Rakowitz [pdf]. In his project Return, Rakowitz re-opened the import-export business run by his Iraqi-Jewish grandparents in New York, with the plan — which Rakowitz saw as “bad business” that made for “great art” — of importing Iraqi dates. Read the store’s blog.

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