Well, summer is finally here in all its hot, sticky, inescapable glory (i.e. summer, you win). Which means it’s time for a look back at spring 2015 and some of the great things we enjoyed. So grab an ice cold lemonade (preferably with some crushed ice), sit back and enjoy.
In late winter, the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College presented a tightly curated exhibition on art about art called Museum Studies. If you want to sound in-the-know just call it “the art of institutional critique.” Basically, as artists continued to go down the post-conceptual rabbit hole of analysis and critique, they cast a critical eye on the machinations of the museum, gallery and auction house systems—the business and presentation of art. Rather than take the system for granted, artists came to use this as fodder for consideration, looking at things like art-as-commodity, museum politics and leadership, and who decides what artists are worthy of attention and why.
Highlights included Louise Lawler, a personal favorite. Lawler documents the presentation of art through photography, showing behind-the-scenes action like art in storage, in collectors’ homes, at auction and in transit. In the hands of a lesser talent these works might look like just a bunch of boring stuff. But Lawler brings the drama, creating beautifully composed photographs of an ambiguous, ambivalent art world purgatory.
Dan Celendar’s work was a pleasant surprise and seeing his attempts at getting photographic documentation of a museum’s loading dock from its Director was enlightening and amusing. Taking the form of written correspondence, the piece makes clear that certain things have value and others do not—in this case things of function rather than form—even to the typically thoughtful and strategic museum director.
Vik Muniz’s recreations of famous paintings—or rather the backs of them—are interesting comments on authenticity. Each work meticulously replicates a famous work of art like Van Gogh’s Starry Night (see above), including the identification labels, stickers, scratches and handwritten notes that adorn the back of each one. Placed on blocks and tipped forward facing the wall, the pieces are drained of their celebrity status while you’re forced to consider such things as value, authenticity, and celebrity. Yet you still can’t resist looking and thinking, “Is this real?” But at that point, what does “real” even mean? The Van Gogh? The Muniz? Both?
High Museum / Wilfredo Lam
The High Museum of Art in Atlanta had a suite of terrific shows that we caught over Memorial Day. The Wilfredo Lam retrospective, in particular was high—ahem—on our list. I always remember Lam as that guy from art history class that had that one painting that they always show when talking Surrealism. You know, that one painting that’s in MoMA wedged between all the Miro’s and Dali’s and Ernst’s. That one next to Matta. That guy. So it was a real treat to see an extensive selection of his work—from all periods.
That said, it was slow going at first. Lam was an impressionable artist who clearly needed to try out all modes of representation before finding his voice. We slogged through his realist mode, his Cubist mode, his Matisse moment. Not to say it was all bad, just derivative. Either he was really unsure of himself or he was overly ambitious. Typically an artist’s voice is quickly established in a show like this, so we’re not sure of the curators’ motivation here.
But finally Lam comes into his own, and it makes the extensive overture worth the journey. At its best, his work confidently pairs lush, languid washes of color with bold, decisive line work. He had an affinity for print making, too, which really brought his strong use of line to the fore. As Liz noted, “he just couldn’t escape the line.” He was clearly playing to his strengths. He had finally hit his stride and there were many pieces later in the show that hit that sweet spot where color, composition and technique all click.
The Soft Moon – Deeper
On Deeper, The Soft Moon takes the post-punk revisionism of their earlier work and adds a polished production job. That’s the gist here, essentially. The tinny, hushed sound of earlier albums—while quaint in that proper post-punk way—is shattered on Deeper, making way for throbbing bass and all sorts of tricked-out electronics that squall just shy of annoying. It’s a loud, bleak, cathartic affair, but oh so rewarding. There’s more space to stretch and more room to breathe, resulting in a more comfortable and confident effort. “Far” and “Wasting”, in particular, are favorites.
Do you like poetry slams? British accents? British references? Yelling? Then you might just be ready for Sleaford Mods. But hold on to your hat because the words (and the spittle) will fly right by your face. Essentially a dude spouting off loosely associated phrases over minimal compositions of looped bass and drums. Post-punk free verse? Sure, why not? It’s profound, ridiculous and hypnotic. It’s easy to get lost in the words, but totally worth the trip. Give it some time. Repeat listens are even more rewarding. You’ll hear things you didn’t catch the first time. It’s layered. It was made that way.
Metz – II
Our nostalgic hearts beat double-time for Metz’s Sub Pop debut with it’s cache of retro (read 1990’s), post-hardcore freak-outs. Their follow-up II is nearly as good: some great songs if not quite as many as last time. With a lumbering rhythm section worthy of all the Jesus Lizard comparisons and the added 90’s bonus of spazzed-out vocals in the Ian Svenonius/Nation of Ulysses tradition, you could be forgiven for thinking that the day the music died was in 1993. But that’s not all. For all the bombast hurled in your face, you also get some vaguely catchy moments buried beneath the grime; hooks like the ones Nirvana was capable of carving out every once in a while.
David Salle – New Paintings
It’s been a while since we’ve thought much about Mr. Salle. His canvases of the 80’s were great—translations of a pasted-on collage effect in paint on canvas, appropriated imagery and texts cobbled together to create some sort of narrative.
But in the these new works there is an urgency that puts them in league above the cooler compositions of yore—slightly goofy, a little bit unhinged, kinda messy. They seethe like a ham-fisted hissy fit. The compositions are chaotic and claustrophobic, the scale of objects more overwhelming than in earlier works. It’s pure visual stimulation that feels timely in this wireless age of immediate information download and instant gratification. Has Salle been keeping tabs on Jeff Koons? These paintings sure seem to recall his work, but in a rougher, more crude attempt at representation than the gleaming canvases of Mr Koons. There appears to be a nod to the Pop movement of the 1960’s, too, with vaguely familiar pieces of Rosenquist and Rauschenberg, Wesselmann and Peter Saul thrown in for good measure.
More Spring Favorites
Electric Youth – “Modern Fears”
Lakker – Tundra
Youth Code – “Keep Falling Apart”
Martin Gore – MG