On Monday 22nd January 2018 I was listening to Andrew Marr’s Start the Week radio show where the subject was art and its economics. At one point the art economist Don Thompson, stated that a mere 500 artists of the 80000 living in London and New York lived off their work. A shocking statistic. How could it be that the so-called example of creative freedom was delivering such bleak figures of success? Especially as the term “creative” and the phrase “creativity” are very much buzz words within many industries today.
There is nothing more crushing than receiving a rejection letter with the opening phrase Dear Applicant. After the painstaking time spent writing a proposal, studying the institution (or company) you are applying to, for them to write back without your name compounds the depersonalisation of these procedures. And yet artists will tell you they spend day in day out writing these applications, looking for opportunities, looking for work, hoping to gain some footing in their chosen field.
In the autumn and winter of 2017 I must have written over 300 hundred applications. I received one worthwhile response, and whilst this response was detailed, elegant, and sincere, it could not balance out the abjection and diminishing confidence I was feeling. You realise when your confidence is at its lowest point that you begin to barricade yourself in. You tell yourself there is a systematic order to things, that you should pass through this process or that process to get somewhere, you lose track of what you want from anything, let alone your career, or future. Everything you’ve learnt in education becomes irrelevant and self-doubt manifests itself in unpleasant ways; you project the anger you feel towards yourself onto others, you hide away at home, watching TV you watched when you were young as if the answer to life lies somewhere deep inside the romantic, unerringly coincidental fortunes of those stories. But most of all you defend your integrity. And here in lies the obstruction, one’s integrity.
As artist’s there is a kind of unwritten code, that the seriousness and purity of your work lies in being authentic and maintaining your integrity. Selling out is the greatest taboo. Marketing oneself the next. Yet these two things are fundamental essences of what could change the 500 from 80000 statistic. When Marcel Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time he paid for reviews he had written to be published, to increase sales and the publicity of his, as he wrote, “little masterpiece”. * Proust risked his integrity so he could get his book into the world and seen as a success, and it is now considered one of the great classics. Of course, this information only came to light recently, but one wonders had the public, or literary crowd of his time known of this would he have been considered a fraud, devoid of integrity, and thereby destroying the authenticity of his work?
Yet to be authentic is perhaps one of the most difficult and complicated challenges that faces an artist. It seeps into everything you try to achieve. Writing those application letters, I tried to distil my most authentic self into 300 words, giving the stranger at the other end a picture of my totality. Knowing full well that that task is impossible. And that every single other person applying was attempting to do the same. Whilst those reading the applications are most likely looking for someone who ticks the boxes of their requirements. You begin to think that perhaps there has been a breakdown in our ability to communicate. That in the search of getting to the quickest result you skip some of the most detailed, and interesting parts of the story. And in the end, as it has always been, is the story not that which defines our authenticity?
One thing is for certain, for every great example of success there are plenty of others desperately trying to piece their future together. Yet perhaps part of the “integrity” and “authenticity” questions lies in this exact concept. The struggle for existence as someone who seeks to make art becomes a defining period of work. It’s the period where you really question your motives. Not only do you think about the work, but you ask yourself, maybe I’m not good at this? Maybe I it’s too hard? You find jobs that might not benefit your future, you have very little money, you sit around asking yourself what’s the point, why bother? Of course, you make work. For many it’s the point where the ideas really begin to form as solid components, for others its total misery.
Many examples of this struggle exist throughout art history, none more so than the famed story of Van Gogh. But I can’t help finding this glamorisation unnecessary, a kind of self-presenting philosophy. What I mean by this, is that whilst there is a certain difficulty in achieving one’s ambitions in the arts, where funding and support are minimal, it does seem that perhaps we too have been trained to think in a singular, linear direction. Pigeon holing oneself, rather than expanding. By expanding I mean looking at ways to use the tools at your disposal to earn and live, breaking with the so-called regular outlets for the work, and even potentially finding audiences one did not know existed for the work.
Later on, in the radio show the critic Andrew Graham Dixon detailed the extreme conformity of the major art institutions, the lack of challenge to the big artists and the use of art literature to maintain a kind of conservatism and popularism within the arts. This was a blunt and scathing attack, but deeply honest opinion. Folded into it was the question do the institutions of art do enough to support the body of artists living today?
Perhaps they are not. After all a large number of exhibitions in the major cities appear to be of ‘big name’ artists, which have huge crowds, but also leave residual effects on the emerging artists. Take the freshly reopened Hayward Gallery, which chose to show Andreas Gursky as its big opening. Here was an opportunity to make a fresh start; a new look, a new identity, instead it felt very much more of the same old.
What then could be done? Perhaps one method of exploring new artists and at the same time maintaining the big crowds, would be to have an ‘opening act’, as is used at a music concert. A small room before the big room so to speak. But then who decides who is worthy of this space. Would it not also be more effective for artists to reclaim their agency? To run their own spaces, to promote themselves in inventive ways and expand.
Morgan Quaintance, the curator, writer and radio host wrote “If radical progression and a separation of art from systems adversely effecting people across London and the rest of the United Kingdom, is to stand a chance, then it has to start with a reclamation of agency from actors who have been conditioned to believe they do not have any. Replace, or at the very least augment, the impulse to engage and reform with a robust effort to withdraw and rebuild.” It would appear to me, that by breaking with our integrity and authenticity, which are seemingly learned attributes, we may just find ways of shedding the belief of self-doubt and thereby change our fortunes in terms of living, success and the work itself.
Works by Jose Dávila, Nathan Hylden and Andreas Schmitten
Hyun Jin Kwon
Jonathon Levine projects
DIVERSEartLA Curated by Marisa Caichiolo
With works by Edgar Plan, Miguel Macaya, Bruno Ollé and Lídia Masllorens
Harmonia Rosales & Aldis Hodge
Ciprian Mureasan was born in 1977 Mureasan lives and works in Cluj, Romania.
Ciprian Muresan’s allegorical artwork respond to the post-communist eastern Europe and questions artistic production. In his drawings every image from a given publication is hand-traced in overlapping layers of graphite pencil onto a single sheet of paper. On close inspection, images of old master paintings are intelligible.
Andrew Gilbert was born in 1980 lives and works in Berlin
Gilbert critically mocks colonialism in his work. He draws in a unsophisticated manner, using British Empire emblems and stereotypical native people. Fabricating soldiers dressed in over the top garish uniforms. So satirizing the racism and tyranny of occupation.
Fernando Bryce was born in 1965 Bryce lives and works in Lima and New York.
Bryce investigates and reconstructs the ways events were represented in old books, magazines and newspapers. His process involves going through the archives looking for advertisements, news bulletins and propaganda to attentively recreate chosen subjects in ink on paper.
Jerome Zonder was born in 1974 lives and works in Paris.
His drawings are mainly rendered in graphite and charcoal, often on a large format or as part of an installation. He refers to classic art, current affairs, family photo’s, comics, and popular culture. Innocence appears abreast of cruelty his in narrative compositions that are often frightening.
Witte Wartena was born in 1976 lives and works in Amsterdam.
His drawings executed in pencil and watercolor may appear as mere documentation, but on closer inspection reveal multiple layers and deeper meanings. His compositions concentrate on (group-) portraits, cityscapes and still lives. He shows his influences but also takes his lack of inspiration as the subject for his work.
Jockum Nordström was born in 1963 lives and works in Stockholm.
Nordström’s very detailed collages, watercolors, graphite drawings seem improvised. He often refers to them as “stills”. In a seemingly naive hand he shows of a world awry with naked bodies and sex. His fantastical settings are populated with figures seemingly pulled from different eras.
Paul Chiappe was born in 1984 and lives and works in Edinburgh.
Chiappe creates painstakingly drawn tiny drawings that are based on photographs. He explores memory and loss. Mysterious subjects stare back at the fewer to reveal something and nothing all at once. He is interested in the relationship between adults and children and the Catholic faith.
Sara Hurley was born in Tehran lives and works in Berkshire, England.
Hurley is interested in the interaction the fewer has with her work. Many of her drawings depict visitors of museums and galleries. The spectators them self become the subject of the art. She makes her work using digital media and is inspired by Persian miniatures.
Rinus Van de Velde was born in 1983 and lives and works in Antwerp.
Van de Velde draws monumental drawings, usually with charcoal, based on found photographs or of self-built staged scenes. His work revolves around identify blurring fiction and reality. Often inserting himself in the work posing as an artist, musician, athlete or scientist.
@ Foundazione Prada
The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied. was Foundazione Prada’s addition to this year’s Venice Biennale and was without doubt one of the most exciting shows of the year. Combining the feeling of being lost with an unsurmountable joy and hope the show brought together the particular crafts of Thomas Demand, Alexander Kluge and Anna Viebrock, who, combined, articulated something necessary, political, historical and metaphorical. This show gave the artists the license to add to one another, building an enigmatic labyrinth for their us to move within.
Placed in what the curator Udo Kittelmann called “a trail of clues and signs” the artists situated the viewer as the lead detective in a historical retelling of a serious crime, and it is this expansive uncovering act that consumed me. There is a very serious tone to all the work, Thomas Demand’s reconstructions of political spaces, miniaturised then enlarged, devoid of the human, are mesmeric and precise. Whilst Kluge’s videos are confusing and fascinating, in a reconstructed court room we sit as judge, victim, opposition lawyer, and members of the gallery, as the tale of an unfortunate misconduct on a woman is retold. Meanwhile Viebrock gave a masterclass in set building, housing the other two artists’ work in a manner that speaks both of domestic and public spaces, displaying an exceptional empathy for the intricacies of politics and the family, constantly reminding us, this is a set, it’s not real, only a theatre by which to examine reality through.
Of course, the kind of bewilderment experienced is supposed to lead us somewhere. Being inside the metaphor only furthers the meaning, using our lostness as a tool. The accompanying essay for the show speaks of an awareness of the stormy times we are in, whilst the title, a reference to the Leonard Cohen song Everybody Knows, 1988, also points toward something more. So, what is it that we are experiencing? What are being asked to take away?
The first thought, is the “captain” pertains to the “leader of the free world” and the sadness and accompanying mania following Trump’s inauguration as President. Yet this show is mostly based in a European rhetoric, the films are in German, the architecture speaks largely of Europe, although Demand’s image of the Oval Office is submerged deep in the show, and I would go as far as to say that the artists are indicating that whilst there’s political turmoil our domestic, national and continental cultures are undergoing serious upheaval. Through the vehicle of past architectures, The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied. stands as a symbol of the façade of the past century, as it comes to terms with the new century, with its immense powers of interrogation, surveillance and desire for truth and simultaneously fiction leading us towards a spiral, or a maze, as innumerable shames and secrets are revealed. During such times the only voice we can listen to becomes our own, and as moving throughout this show, where some doors work and others don’t, we are left piecing together a story of distress and hope. And here in lies the necessity and pleasure of this show.
Bilder Bidet @ ADA Gallery, Richmond, VA Nov 2017
In the exhibition Bilder Bildet at ADA Gallery, Utah born artist Jared Lindsey Clark presents 13 sculptures and paintings, though many seem to be both at the same time. Most of the works in the show are what the artist calls Kitschbilds. They are composed of an assemblage of pre-made commercially available ceramic figurines which are tightly grouped together, attached to a simple raw wooden support and then submerged under multiple layers of poured pigmented epoxy resin. The resulting work is then either hung onto the wall, seated upon a chair, in one instance, or placed on plinths.
A surprisingly wide range of rich color palettes is used throughout. Some of the pigmented epoxy resin pours are muted earth tones not unlike the bejeweled hard dime store candy of lollipops, others are suffused with bright pastel hues akin to cake or cupcake frosting, reminding one of Wayne Thiebaud’s pastry paintings, while others read like human flesh or even exposed viscera. In the work, Kitschbild: Oso Negro, the color palette is reminiscent of recently melted chocolate, carob or molasses that is now solidified; or perhaps dried blood or some other bodily fluid.
Clark also exhibits three medium sized unframed gauche paintings on canvas hung on the wall in the traditional manner, as well as three smaller framed works on paper. These paintings all seem to reference the style of the mid 20th Century abstractions of Arshile Gorky and other similar artists work of that period. There is a visual formal overlap throughout the show, in the use of the poured epoxy resins and the abstracted organic forms that result or in the case of the paintings, in the painted curvilinear forms.
Three works include wooden chairs which have had, upon almost all of their surfaces, either resins poured upon them and/or a myriad of mostly unidentifiable objects attached to them. These objects form metaphorical cityscapes, that may or may not be constructed out of Lego like plastic game pieces. In one chair that is placed face down, there is a checkerboard of Rubiks Cubes, placed within the ends of the chairs legs, which can also be perceived as a cityscape or, when seen from the other side, as a multihued digitized array of luminous squares. In the third chair, which is upside down, there’s an abstracted set of domino-like game pieces that are also placed within the ends of the chairs legs.
Pop imagery abounds, with that most universal of American pop culture icons, Mickey Mouse, next to more commonplace, but equally archetypal symbols of Americana. Ceramic figurines representing saccharine sweet angels, cute cats, cuddly bears, sad clowns, sleeping chickens, anthropomorphized pet dogs and others of this type are used throughout the works. With multiple figurines in nearly every work, there is the idea of the mash-up, of sampling or of the mixed up world of the panoply of items one sees compiled on an urban or rural junk shops shelves, at flea markets or at yard sales. These have been carefully curated by the artist to arrive at a formal visual unity within each work, but there does not seem to be any simple or coherent message inherent in his combinations. In fact, in most of these works, the layers of poured pigmented epoxy resin either so completely cover or submerge any recognizable details, that they block out our ability to identify the basic content of these icons in any clear way.
In one piece in which the ceramic figurines are fully recognizable, Kitschbild:Sleighing/Indians, American Indians with their attendant horses are arranged upon both sides of the work, while at the center sits Santa Claus with his Sleigh. In this work, as in many others, most of the figurines are upside down, with their bases thus, counterintuitively, presented outwards, ie. bottoms up. It is within these exposed bottoms that Clark’s multicolored pigmented epoxy resins have been poured, resulting in – when looked at straight on – a set of brightly colored pastel circles resembling a visual reference to passages in any number of 20th Century paintings – from Klimt, to Klee, to Hirst, to Lichtenstein. While none of these artists are in any way literal or even tangential reference points in Clarks work, there is still here visual echoes of these artists similarly highly aestheticized abstract forms. One does see, in Clark’s work, echoes of Paul McCarthy’s sculptures of modified American kitsch or Jeff Koons fascination with the saccharine sweet iconography of Disney and other mass cultural pop icons and brands. Also, there is a distinct similarity to the mutant sculptural assemblages of the Chapman brothers and elements that recall the works of Niki de Saint Phalle and Claus Oldenburg.
The longer one looks at these works the more mysterious or convoluted the narrativeless forms become. The visceral textures, colors and the glowing warmth – as if lit from within – of the pigmented epoxy resins poured surfaces, with the few details of the cute ceramic Americana figurines still perceptible from underneath all those oozing flowing layers coming through, invites and entices the viewer towards further examination. As one ventures deeper and deeper into their organic but man-made artificial passages, one senses a sickening sort of annihilation being revealed and an urging towards a realization of a pure beauty in the media and in the resulting abstraction. A natural emotional response which comes out of these rising ambiguities leads to a sort of vertigo; not unlike the nausea at the center of a David Lynch film, or conversely, to the kind of giddy light headedness that one gets from Nitrous Oxide or to being in the full glare of the white hot sun. There is in these works a multiplicity of diverse, even paradoxical responses available, and that alone makes them uniquely potent works of art.
As is so often the case with truly great art, stereotypes, the predictable, various categories of cliches of the status quo are subverted, stood on their head, inverted, questioned and subjected to alteration in ways that force the viewer to re-engage with accepted ideas and to see things in new, different ways. In Clark’s Kitschbilds, the commercial ceramic figurines, that are such basic icons of modern American culture, are at the heart of his formal concern. They are ubiquitous carriers of the ur-message of contemporary western social and capitalist global hegemony and here they are literally stood on their head. In fact, they are twisted and turned as well, intertwined, submerged and obfuscated in poured layers of brilliant color and flowing exuberant texture, such that their flag waving, standard bearing messages are both lost and found.
Clark is from Utah, a mormon state. Clark is himself mormon. Could this in fact be at the core of his act of subversion ? Do these icons of Americana, these icons of the West, that he has so successfully found ways to reinvent and reify and reject, represent his reaction to the stultifying social and political realities of his middle American upbringings central conservative socio-political religious world ? Through his unique formal practice and his use of mysterious narratives or anti-narratives Clark makes work that is cunning, original and which draws us in with the promise of a resolution, but once examined from all sides, ultimately leave us simultaneously both satisfied and unsatisfied; sincerely intrigued, but at the same time at a loss for words to explain exactly what is going on, caught up in the ambiguity. These are essentially intoxicating works that continually subvert the desire to know them and to look within them for simple or clear answers.
-Nikolas Soren Goodich
With Patricia Treib
Pilar Corrias gallery
With Mary Reid Kelley and Patrick Kelley
With Donna Huanca and Beth Letain
Gavin Browns enterprise
With Arthur Jafa, Thomas Bayrie, Jonathan Horowitz, Mark Leckey, Sturtevant, and Alex Katz and Joan Jonas
Stephen Friedman Gallery
With Melvin Edwards
Fons Welters gallery
With Jennifer Tee and Evelyn Taocheng Wang
The Sunday Painter
With Emma Hart
Richard Saulton Gallery