An open-ended look at contemporary art – both inside the Walker and out – as framed by our Visual Arts curators.
Since the early 1990s, New York–based artist Liz Deschenes has produced a singular and influential body of work that has done much to advance photography’s material potential and critical scope. Making use of the medium’s most elemental aspects, namely paper, light, and chemicals, she has recently worked without a camera to produce mirrored photograms that […]
Since the early 1990s, New York–based artist Liz Deschenes has produced a singular and influential body of work that has done much to advance photography’s material potential and critical scope. Making use of the medium’s most elemental aspects, namely paper, light, and chemicals, she has recently worked without a camera to produce mirrored photograms that reflect viewers’ movements in time and space. Her carefully calibrated installations of these pieces have probed disparate histories of image production, abstraction, and exhibition-making while also responding to a given site’s unique features.
On November 22, the Walker Art Center opens its newest exhibition, Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, with a gallery talk and reception at 2 pm co-hosted by mnartists.org. For this yearlong installation, Deschenes has transformed the space of the Walker’s seventh-floor gallery with a photographic intervention. Eliminating the room’s temporary architecture to reveal its east-facing windows, she has allowed natural light into the space and installed a series of free-standing rectangular panels. These large-scale abstractions, which occupy the space of the viewer more than the conventional space of the photograph, result from the artist’s distinctive silver-toned photogram process as well as her new experiments in digital pigment printing on acrylic.
Deschenes produces her photograms by exposing sheets of photosensitive paper to the ambient light of night before washing them with silver toner—a process contingent on temperature and humidity. The resulting images offer a foggy, mirrored cast, reflecting the viewers who encounter them as well as the spatial context of their display. Since these materials are prone to oxidation, her photograms “develop” slowly over time, changing color and sheen.
More recently, Deschenes has begun to employ digital pigment printing on acrylic to produce large blue monochromes that can be viewed in the round. Her chosen colors are derived from the printing industry’s Blue Wool Scale, a professional standard used by conservators to gauge the lightfastness of pigments ranging from textile dyes to oil paint. With a surface not unlike the texture of ground glass, these new pieces capture and refract incidental light, suggesting a photographic calibration of the gallery’s space.
The temporal and spatial implications of these two imaging processes—one alchemical and reflective, the other digital and absorptive—find a particular context within the history of the Walker and its seventh-floor gallery. Her title for the exhibition, Gallery 7, which is the former name for the current Medtronic Gallery, orients us toward the past. Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes’s original designs for the Walker’s 1971 building and curator Lucy Lippard’s 1973 group show c. 7,500, featuring work by an all-women roster of conceptual artists, were important points of departure for Deschenes’s intervention here. Finally, the artist has chosen to fit the space of her installation with a picture-hanging rail system reminiscent of the one used in the Walker’s now demolished 1927 building, further collapsing the institution’s spatial histories of site and display.
Recently described by the New York Times as “one of the quiet giants of post-conceptual photography,” Liz Deschenes has exhibited her work regularly since receiving her BFA in 1988 from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. She has recently mounted exhibitions at Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York; Campoli Presti, London and Paris; Secession, Vienna; and Sutton Lane, Paris and Brussels. Featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, she is most recently the recipient of the 2014 Rappaport Prize awarded by the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Her work is represented in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Since 2006, she has been a member of the faculty of Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.
In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here artist Rosy Keyser presents a new video documenting her life and work in Medusa, New York. Rosy Keyser was born 1974 in Baltimore, Maryland, and lives and works in Brooklyn […]
In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here artist Rosy Keyser presents a new video documenting her life and work in Medusa, New York.
Rosy Keyser was born 1974 in Baltimore, Maryland, and lives and works in Brooklyn and Medusa, New York. She received her BFA from Cornell University and her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include Medusa Pie Country, Peter Blum Gallery, NY (2013); Pink Caviar, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark (2012); Science on the back end, curated by Matthew Day Jackson, Hauser and Wirth, NY (2012); Immaterial, Ballroom Marfa, TX (2011); and Promethean Dub, Peter Blum Gallery, NY (2011).
In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here New York–based artist Joseph Montgomery discusses how 3D modeling — both actual and virtual — influences his thinking on exhibition making. My day jobs during and after graduate school were always […]
In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here New York–based artist Joseph Montgomery discusses how 3D modeling — both actual and virtual — influences his thinking on exhibition making.
My day jobs during and after graduate school were always in the art handling, exhibition design, and fabrication fields. I had the opportunity to work for an array of employers in the art world, both commercial and nonprofit, laying out and installing exhibitions. This taught me about the exhibition process and timeline for artwork after it leaves the artist’s studio.
One specific lesson from these jobs was that digital visualizations of gallery spaces could increase communication by better engaging the artists, curators, art-handlers, and fabricators throughout the installation.
It is common practice for institutions to create visual prototypes or surrogates of both space and art. Museums often use foamcore models – as the Walker, SFMOMA and the Getty do – although some create more permanent models (the Menil Collection in Houston, for instance, created models complete with periscopes to view the miniature galleries at eye level). The process of laying out the shows, moving artwork from wall to wall, is deeply satisfying.
To further explore the potential iterations of an exhibition’s design, I began using Google’s 3D rendering software, SketchUp, on a repeated basis. Such digital layouts of a space can be both helpful and absurd.
One of the reasons I make paintings the way I do is to render a representation of abstraction. This reasoning extends to the titling of the finished painting: “Image” + a number indicating its place in the progress of the studio project.
Interestingly, the painting is least like itself when it is photographed: dimensions are flattened, textures are approximated as pixels. These transformations complete the image but question the veracity of the representation.
The photographic image creates expectations or assumptions about the object. 3D rendering plays with both functions; a flat image stuck on a 3D rendering of a box poorly describes a physical interaction with the work, but it is also useful. It is sufficient with nearly the least amount of information, and that economy is satisfying to me and amusing, much as the layering and materials of a physical collage are disguised and poorly rendered by a photographic image and yet the flat photographic image is assumed to be the pinnacle of description.
Here are two different images of one of my paintings:
And here it is in the SketchUp world:
I have used SketchUp earnestly to expand some of the ideas in my work, particularly the shims. It is useful for imagining scale shifts and the extension of lines:
Before using this free software on my own projects, I discovered it while working on exhibitions for other artists. For example, here is my rendering of a Dan Flavin installation:
And here’s the layout for Christian Marclay’s first New York showing of The Clock:
My absolute favorite person to work with, Sherrie Levine, used SketchUp to help visualize her recent show at the Whitney. We had fun with the layout and made an animation from the perspective of someone walking through the third floor of the museum:
As my exhibition opportunities have grown and I no longer work for anyone but myself, I have begun using SketchUp as personal layout tool.
For my recently opened exhibition Five Sets Five Reps at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, I have measured and built the digital version of the Brown Gallery, which is in the northeast section of the museum campus.
Here are three animations, the most recent layout being the last animation.
As you can see from these layouts, I like to mix the types of work together. While we could have laid out the show categorically (shims, collages, canvases, cardboards) and segregate the galleries by type, we instead decided to communicate the fact that each genre’s process, forms, and materials overlap. The differences in the genres exist because there are myriad ways of constructing an image that represents abstraction. I use the processes that both originally excite me and precipitate from progress in the studio. We intend Five Sets Five Reps to provide not a timeline but the paintings in context with each other as fluid catalysts.
The three pieces at the Walker are a miniature version of this kind of installation: three different iterations of the wedge, the shim, play roles in the assembly of three different abstract images.
When I make a 3D version of one of my pieces, I usually just make a rectangular box of the same dimensions and depth and stick the flat image on top of the box.
Here’s a grid view of all the potential work for the MASS MoCA show grouped by type of work (shim, collage, canvas, cardboard):
And here’s how the three pieces in Painter Painter at the Walker would look in SketchUp:
In the end, the physical movement of the work throughout the gallery space of MASS MoCA trumped any sort of digital planning. You can see in the installation shots below that not much of the digital starting point remained.
Here are a two install shots. For the rest you will have to see the show yourself or just imagine it. I number the galleries beginning with the blue wall as 1, 2, 3, 4, as you walk walk into the space:
The long views from gallery to gallery, the color of the floors, the change in lighting from the windowed room to the halogen bulb–lit rooms all modified what paintings functioned adjacent to each other and what paintings did not belong in the show at all.
While somewhat quixotic, the SketchUp model still has longevity for my studio practice. I look at it occasionally not as folly but as an interactive relic of decision making. It is very much like collage; the parts are moveable.
In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here Los Angeles–based artist Alex Olson converses with exhibition co-curator Eric Crosby. Eric Crosby To begin, let’s start with appearances. Whenever I encounter one of your paintings, I learn something new […]
In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here Los Angeles–based artist Alex Olson converses with exhibition co-curator Eric Crosby.
To begin, let’s start with appearances. Whenever I encounter one of your paintings, I learn something new about paint—its materiality, its consistency, its presence as image and surface. What is paint to you, and how do you describe your use of it?Alex Olson
I’d say there are two main qualities of paint, specifically oil paint, that especially appeal to me. One is its enormous range as a material. Depending on how it’s applied, it can read from graphic to visceral. Most of my paintings take full advantage of this quality, incorporating a variety of tools and marks to arrive at the finished piece. The second quality is its extensive history. It’s impossible to make a mark at this point that doesn’t come with a historical referent, but this is actually a huge benefit. You can pull from art history’s enormous catalogue and build off of a past meaning, re-situating it in the present toward a different end. In doing so, it’s important to understand how a specific mark or idea functioned in the past versus now, and to consider what using it now would mean, but this creates even richer possibilities to choose from.Crosby
And do you think of your paintings as abstract? Does that word have any currency in your practice?Olson
While I don’t mind using “abstract painting” as a short-hand to describe what I do, I don’t think in terms of “abstraction” or “abstracting.” In fact, the way I approach painting is almost the opposite in that nothing is an abstraction of something else: it literally is what it is. A brushstroke will read as an image of a brushstroke and as a physical brushstroke. The overall look of one of my paintings is never precisely identifiable, but it isn’t an abstraction of something else either. It’s its own thing.
When Bart [Ryan] and I visited your studio back in February, we talked at length about issues of surface and process, which stemmed from your interest in painting as a kind of language.Olson
I do think that painting is a language, as all marks are referential, but that’s just one element that comes into play for me when making a painting. My focus is on choreographing these marks in ways that prompt a desire to read, but without providing precise language to do so. It’s about suspending the act of looking and judging for the viewer, and hopefully encouraging a constant reassessment of these judgments.Crosby
Yet each gesture, each discrete mark, feels entirely available. Your paintings don’t seem to hide any aspect of their making. Is this an important part of your practice?Olson
Yes, you can excavate my paintings into the parts used to build them, although it might not always be easy to tell the order in which they were laid down. I want the paintings to be very self-evident in their construction, so that there is a transparency for the viewer in the architecture of the works, rather than something virtuosic with the paint. I tend to favor blunt, indexical, familiar marks. My goal isn’t to transport the viewer; it’s to offer up everything on the surface for the viewer to parse out, no additional text required.Crosby
It’s interesting that you position the work against the idea of virtuosity, which of course has a long tradition in the history and criticism of painting. The word conjures a very specific, even heroic image of the work of a master painter.Olson
The values that are associated with virtuosity in paint are ones that I’m just not interested in. For instance, I never want my work to read as heavily labored, so that the labor overrides the rest of the work. Instead, I’m trying to make clear, accessible paintings, built using deliberate marks. Generally, I choose marks that have the ability to behave as stock signage—meaning that they act as a sign but remain unattached to a singular definition—such as a dash or an “x.” They are very flexible, and can conjure up associations without delivering one precise read.Crosby
Can painting be a space of illusion for you, or is that something you actively deny in your practice?Olson
Illusion rarely comes into play in my work, and when it does, it’s made in a flat-footed, obvious way. The paintings are very present and external, and all the marks are to the scale of the tools used to make them and to the hand. The scale of the paintings is also in relation to a viewer’s body, ranging from portrait-size to person-size, so that they remain discrete viewing experiences rather than overwhelming or miniature.Crosby
Yet in surface and support, they can take on a close relationship to the wall.Olson
Yes, I work on very thin stretchers, since it helps to bring attention to the surface of the work and the experience of engaging with it. Thicker stretcher bars encourage a read of painting-as-object, while painting directly on the wall causes a conversation of painting-as-architecture. Instead, I want the work to exist in this other zone, neither sculpture nor stand-in, but more like a proposal. It offers a contained visual experience that presents a set of signs on its surface for negotiation, which involves a greater amount of projection than would a more spatial experience.Crosby
There’s also a strong temporal aspect to your work. I’m curious about one painting in particular—Mark (November 2011–February 2012)—which you included in your last exhibition at Shane Campbell Gallery in Chicago.Olson
The painting you’re referring to looks a lot like my studio walls, which I am constantly wiping my fingers on, either from touching a wet painting before it’s dry or from mixing paint, or just from general studio messiness. For this last show at Shane Campbell Gallery, I decided to record all of these swipes onto a single painting, thereby giving some indication of the choices that went into making the show. You can find evidence of ideas that stuck and those that were edited, and I think this helps to highlight the fact that the paintings are not predetermined but are built through a process of call and response. This particular painting, therefore, became like a diary or a calendar, and served as an introduction to the other works. I also liked how it so obviously demonstrated a touching of a surface, since most of the other works involved a grazing, scraping, stroking, or carving in order to point back to their own surfaces.Crosby
It sounds like you’ve developed a complete mental catalogue of all possible marks!Olson
I don’t think the catalogue is complete by any means! But I do experiment a lot with mark-making and testing new tools in order to see how different marks can read. One way I try out new marks is by making works on paper that aren’t studies but instead are more like aids for thinking through the paintings. These works live on my studio floor and I treat them as utilitarian while they are active, grabbing one that might have a part on it that will assist me at a particular time, but then perhaps weeks later, using it again for a different idea. These then gather aspects of multiple paintings over the course of a body of work, becoming a record for the work’s development as a whole.Crosby
So your paintings develop in a very relational or dialogic fashion in the studio? I think this is a concern shared among many of the artists in our upcoming show Painter Painter.Olson
Yes, the paintings are created simultaneously or in response to one another. When I’m making a show, I consider how each painting will perform a different role, offering a range experiences: some are quieter than others, some more pronounced, some are tangents, and so forth. However, while each painting is distinct, they often overlap in the types of marks used to construct them. Two paintings might begin with the same infrastructure but take different paths to their conclusions. For instance, in Proposal 1 and Proposal 5, both began with a ground of the same curving marks, but then each diverged into its own unique form, with the initial marks reading extremely differently by the end.Crosby
And when does the process of naming come into play? Your titles generally specify roles or job functions (e.g., Editor, Archivist, Orator) as well as aspects or instances of language (for example, Shorthand, Turn of Phrase, Announcement, Score). Why is that?Olson
Generally, I title paintings once the work is done. I pick titles that embody the function of the paintings rather than what they look like. I also favor titles that have more than one meaning, or serve as multiple parts of speech. The goal is to highlight how the painting is active or in constant flux, without being too illustrative.Crosby
It sounds like a balancing act, yet some of your paintings feel more outwardly referential than others. As images, they participate in a vast visual culture and inevitably come into contact with other contexts. What visual contexts outside of painting interest you?Olson
While I would never want a painting to appear as a depiction of something specifically, the work definitely pulls influences from painting’s history as well as from sources outside of art altogether. I keep files each month of images that interest me, through scanning websites and blogs. Along with art references, these images usually include textiles, architectural surfaces and façades, graphic design for its ability to have marks embody ideas, and just general odd collisions of visuals wherever they might crop up. I am looking for things that are subtly elegant and simultaneously absurd, things that sneak up on you as baffling or as a contradiction and cause you to reconsider them.Crosby
And is this also true of what you find compelling in art history?Olson
Yes, I tend to respond to work that goes beyond a one-liner or extreme craftsmanship. I have a rule for my own work, which is no solving-by-decorating, meaning don’t just add things if they aren’t performing a function. That being said, I’m drawn to simple solutions with expansive impacts. Some of my favorites artists who excel at this include Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin, and Lucio Fontana. I also look at work that embodies an idea in lieu of explicit content, such as the work of Jo Baer, Joan Mitchell, Philip Guston, Lee Lozano, and Mary Heilmann. I love an artwork that has an element of tangible creativity in it, so that I didn’t see that particular solution coming. Richard Tuttle is a master at this, Jasper Johns and Moira Dryer, too.Crosby
Sometimes I feel sorry for contemporary painting because everyone is so eager to historicize it (myself included). From your vantage point, what’s at stake? What exchanges or dialogues are you having with the medium’s past?Olson
I don’t necessarily feel part of a specific movement, but I do feel like there are kindred spirits out there among my peers. What’s at stake is that each generation has the opportunity to reevaluate narratives of the past in a manner that makes sense in the present. Ideas tend to recirculate, but they might mean something completely different in today’s context. It’s important to restate them in new ways in order to better communicate them, and to engage with them not always in opposition but in response.
Specifically, I consider myself to be coming out of and responding to the Robert Ryman camp of how-to-paint over the what-to-paint. The BMPT group [Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier, Niele Toroni] was very significant to me in grad school, as well as Supports-Surfaces. From these artists, I took away an understanding of painting as an apparatus that could be dismantled and rebuilt toward new meanings. I was also influenced by many of the artists featured in the exhibition High Times, Hard Times. Artists such as Ree Morton and Howardena Pindell were a revelation for their insistence on experimenting with materials and injecting subjectivity into the work without turning out overtly historic, expressionistic artworks. I see myself as building from all these perspectives, not just one singular history.Crosby
Tell us about your current show at Lisa Cooley in New York. What new concerns are emerging out of that work?Olson
My concerns tend to remain consistent, as do the parameters that I work within, but how I approach making the paintings shifts between bodies of work. Usually new paintings are built in response to the last. For my show at Lisa Cooley’s, each painting is loosely based on an idea of a pairing that either collaborates with or contradicts its counterpart. For instance, a graphic version of a brushstroke will conjure up one particular read, but then it will be competing for attention alongside a much more textured, bodily version of itself that points to a different story. I’m trying to propose surfaces whose signposts aren’t always in agreement, and then see how the brain might privilege one indicator versus the other. The show is titled Palmist and Editor, as these are two professions that both derive information from surfaces, one in the form of texture and one in the form of text.Crosby
Palmist and Editor… I can’t wait to see it. What about painter? Do you identify with that title?Olson
Thanks! Yes, I do identify as a painter. The ideas I am interested in work best for me in the form of paint on canvas. I also think painting is in a very generous position right now, in that its greatest asset is that it has no function other than as an art object. It isn’t fooling anyone: it’s extremely clear about what it consists of and what it’s offering. Viewers can then approach it as a site created for the sole purpose of delivering signs for visual engagement. This is an optimistic state, and one that I can’t ever see exhausting in favor of another form.
Alex Olson lives and works in Los Angeles. She received a BA from Harvard University in 2001, and an MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 2008. Recent exhibitions include Made in L.A., Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Laura Bartlett Gallery, London; Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Her exhibition Palmist and Editor at Lisa Cooley in New York will be on view through October 28, 2012.