An afternoon with Erica Baum
81 Grand Street between Greene and Wooster is already full of images in my head before even arriving at the address. To my pleasant surprise the reality is not far from the expectations of Erica Baum’s studio in the heart of Soho. Charged with historical baggage, the area doesn’t fall short from its history or its modern-day situation. The Drawing Center, The Swiss institute and Deitch Projects all but a stone throw away from her first floor studio slash living quarters.
After a quintessential New York walk-up to the first floor, via a stairway that seems more like a tilted wall, the smiling Erica greeted us. Immediately a sense of warmth and honesty filled the long corridor and open living loft space. A smell of old books filled the non-air conditioned room and I was immediately confronted with a myriad of things to look at. In the corner of the room piles and piles of boxes with what could be children’s toys or experimental materials.
Organized boxes of markers and Lego next to a children’s size table are as inviting as a first day of Kindergarten. On the shelves, as one would expect, rows upon rows of smelly paperbacks with titles like An illustrated History of the Horror Film, The Couch or Bob Hope’s The Women I Love. On the shelves, beautiful old wooden building blocks next to a collection of CDs, stacks of paper and stacks of vintage vinyl. An old set of camel coloured and well-worn Barcelona chairs are as pleasant as Erica’s personality and immediate charm.
On the wall The Dog Ear series stand proud and quietly, while naked eye is placed subtly between two large pieces from The Piano Roll series. Her work is very true to her living and working space, the book, carrier of language, living in the same space as their cataloguer.
Her work is about language but also about the tactile qualities that modern day technologies threaten to erase. Her space is as intimate as the work from the Naked Eye Series and I begin to feel, even though, invited and welcomed as a bit of a voyeur. Should I be looking at the clutter and corners of her living space? Does she want the main protagonists of her work, the paperbacks, to be looked at out of the context of her work? It is a pleasant surprise and very true to her persona that the only traces of technology are a very old TV with an antenna and a ten year-old PowerBook, which holds so much dust, it’s unimaginable to think it has been opened in the past 6 months.
After speaking with her, it is more than pleasant to realize that her work is done by her and her alone. A relationship between herself, her books, language itself, and Feminism all coexist in her Soho loft, the same way they are elegantly present in her work. She is the personification of an insightful and knowledgeable artist wanting us to look at the photograph, printed matter and language in a very intimate way.
Cristoph Ruckhaberle (at Zieher Smith Gallery)
RICHARD SERRA deserves all caps (at Gagosian Gallery 21)
Existential Conversations Between the Multimedia Artist and Her Fluorescent Friends
What is green, white and only 96 pages long? Book Review: After Art by David Joselit (2012)
What is green, white and only 96 pages long? Critic and scholar, David Joselit’s book After Art from 2012 is short and perhaps not too dense in terms of what it proposes for the future of Art and its discourse. Published as a book, Joselit’s essay poses pivotal questions of the possibilities of Art today. He calls for an age in which Art capitalizes from new ways of “reformatting and dissemination of images in the age of Google” where “connectivity creates power.”
Yes, yes, we all know by now that we live in a global village of real-time technologies in which whether we want it or not we are connected by the web and its global social networks. Perhaps not very different from the way we as humans are all interconnected to the larger system of planet earth. At the same time, we live in a world were images are spread and dispersed into the world almost involuntarily. Where we walk around looking at things through our camera phones rather than through our eyes. Where to visit a museum or a gallery, all one has to do is visit the Google Art Project or James Kalm’s YouTube channel. Along the way of this technological evolution, contemporary art became a form of currency, a commodity: one that according to Joselit can be very powerful if it uses its new visibility appropriately.
Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction” is the basis for Joselit’s argument. Benjamin says that reproduction jeopardizes the authority of the object and its historical testimony. “In even the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence—and nothing else—that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject”. Once a work of art lives in the realms of the web and its social network it not only loses its aura but its context. Joselit attempts to flip the argument by calling attention to the importance of new formats and networks in which to disseminate the work of art. He passively urges us as scholars, critiques and artists to be aware of this new ‘materiality’; only through this awareness can we “exploit its potential powers in newly creative and progressive ways.”
Joselit places an emphasis on images and networks rather than the art itself. When along the way did art become reduced to images, and how does one differentiate art from Joselit’s concept of images? It seems unfair to the history of contemporary art to reduce art to images as a “quantum of visual content”. Could the author be so absorbed by Debord’s feared Capitalist Spectacle that he now feels comfortable throwing around marketing lingo and favoring words like ‘buzz’ over the ‘aura.’
With diagrams designed by Geoff Kaplan, at times the discussion appears more as a disguised marketing plan than a seminal essay on art discourse. There is a passive call to arms that doesn’t seem eager to mobilize future generations of artists to create radical thought provoking work, but simply to exploit the new avenues of technology. Is After Art simply about the reformatting of images and emphasizing of new networks?
He goes on to acknowledge one of the biggest issues of modernity and the postmodern condition “the dislocation of images from any particular site…Images are no longer and probably can never be again site specific”. However, how is the loss of site-specificity to today’s artists relevant or irrelevant? In the example of Ai WeiWei, site is of the essence, the circulation of images through his blog and twitter are essential to his work. Nonetheless, without Communist China as his site, his images and the social condition of his art would not have a place. In this particular case Joselit champions WeiWei as the prime example of a working, living artist who has managed to foster his networks while using them to benefit his social cause. Joselit attributes his release from detention in China to the pressure on the Chinese government due to Ai’s international reputation. “If art has political efficacy in the twenty-first century, it may lie in cultural diplomacy as opposed to the invention of avant-garde forms as new content”. Throughout the book, Joselit puts more emphasis on the format in which the work is dissipated rather than the content of the work itself. Art should not be reduced to a producer of an alternative reality; rather it should fight back its status of producer of spectacle in this saturated environment.
There is no arguing that there is a new materiality and a grotesque commodification of art with things like the rise of the Art Fair, the Biennale, the gallery and the collector, but art must not be celebrated as the new must-have in today’s global economy. Artists and thinkers of today’s generation should continue to fight back by challenging and questioning the system, not just simply assimilating into it.
Joselit’s argument at time is not very different from Bourriard’s relational aesthetics. However, relational aesthetics is the resisting of social formatting while After Art simply calls for new ways of exploiting the new social and virtual avenues of the web. Examples like Rirkrit Tiravaninja, Tania Brugera, Santiago Sierra and Marina Abramovic, described as “artists who explore relations of ‘trust’ that compose art world communities” have already been pinpointed as artists that have been exploring the realms of relational aesthetics with their work.
Towards the end of the book, we lose Joselit to the importance of the scale of the network in his comparison of Tania Brugera’s work and The Guggenheim museum creating revenue for the postindustrial city of Bilbao. He tries to make us see the institution in parallel ways as the search engine. In his opinion a small gesture as Tania’s General Capitalism will not be as powerful as the millions of visitors that will bring revenue to an institution. According to Joselit Contemporary artists should abandon traditional forms of art for networks and platforms that will bring more visibility to their work. This seems like a funny demand from someone who knows that art is not conceived based on its market reach.
His argument attempts to be as seminal as Clement Greenber’s essay “American-type Painting” however Joselit’s call for the harnessing of the power of images seems weak and redundant. There is an eloquent and elegant simplicity, which for the most part, make his argument too easy or passive to the service of art discourse. The state of contemporary art is happening here and in the now and perhaps what is needed is a certain degree of historical distance for a deeper appreciation of After Art. It is true that images hold their own power and agency but I do question whether the real “work begins After Art”.
A new life to Philip Johnson’s Glass House
Philip Johnson’s The Glass House
Located a close forty-nine miles from the hustle and bustle New York City, Philip Johnson’s Glass House is far from a retreat from the city but rather a laboratory for his designs and a sanctuary for his acquisitions. Upon arrival the majestic yet modern mast gate welcomes you into what seems an untouched suburban Utopia. Massive pines surrounded by a carpet of needles give way to long and winding road that leads to a Donald Judd concrete sculpture, a minimalist interruption along the pathway to the delicate glass box that is the Glass House. Along the long winding road on the left, in the distant fields, past a stone wall, there stands Johnson’s own library; a structure so inaccessible to the public as the contents of a safe. However curious one is about other buildings in the collection like the Brick House and the library, the pathway doesn’t fail to lead you with no choice to the Glass House itself. Perhaps, all part of Johnson’s persuasion of direction in his own laboratory.
The pathway continues past the Donald Judd into what used to be the driveway and towards a crisscrossing of pathways. However, in the shimmering distance the iconic box of glass stands the test of Modernist time. As much as the Brick House tickles one’s curiosity, the minimalism of a glass box for a house draws one without distraction. Upon entering the glass and steel structure one can immediately get a sense of art and architecture of different times being married and juxtaposed in an impeccable way. Barcelona chairs from the 20th century live along side a 17th century French Baroque Classical painting by Nicolas Poussin whose horizon seamlessly mimics the horizon behind the glass. In the far distance of what seems as the backyard, one catches a glimpse of yet another two landmarks that seem unreachable and inaccessible but which are all of a sudden indispensable to the backdrop of the Glass House: The Pavillion and The Kirstein Tower.
In the middle of the stark and minimal sitting area and on top of the iconic Mies van der Rohe glass top table a pleasant surprise; an installation; a quiet and fitting interruption from the series Night (1947- 2015) by Jason Dodge titled A tourmaline and a ruby inside of an owl. Night is an interesting sculpture-in-residence program inspired by the historical presence of the sculpture Night by Giacometti. This little gesture towards contemporary living artists is one of the pleasant surprises positioning the Glass House as a living home for installations and a site within a site for contemporary art, rather than a mausoleum of a life well lived. But the tour of the property does not end at The Glass House, it continues into two gems and the guts of the art collection in the traditional sense. Behind the conspicuous and concealed Brick House a playful bridge leads directly to the Painting and Sculpture galleries. These unique structures are not only full of their distinctive characteristics, one resembling a war bunker and the other a sculpture to house sculptural pieces.
The Galleries themselves are full of treasures from his friends; Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman, John Chamberlain, not to mention Julian Schnabel’s welcoming piece into the Sculpture Gallery. Through out the property and during the tour one begins to get the sense that this 49-acre property serves as a site itself for smaller sites within the site. Every building, bridge and even the needles below the tree begin to form a coherent part of a larger collection which Johnson has controlled and curated in the most minute detail.
A continuous game of hide and reveal throughout the property is one of the intriguing qualities of Philip Johnson’s master plan. Called the Glass House but more like a compound of little architectural jewels and art treasures. Upon exiting the property there is one last treat, The Monsta, a building called by a not so kind critic ‘the monster’ and which Johnson himself embraced for his 1990 nod to building as sculpture. The Monsta is currently hosting its first site-specific exhibition SNAP by artist E.V.Day making Johnson’s property even more intriguing and bringing out the qualities of his genius.
Perhaps one would want to see more reveal than hide in the case of the Brick House, which is being restored or the Pavilion, but perhaps one can simply appreciate it through a game of scale and distance leaving a bit of intrigue and personal story to the imagination.