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3636 Project Opens at Paxton Gate’s Kids in SF Friday, February 21

3636_project

36 antique spoons rebirthed by 36 artists. 3636 Project opens at Paxton Gate’s Curiosities for Kids February 21. Reception 6-8pm. 766 Valencia Street (between 18th & 19th Streets).

The curator of the show, Courtney Cerruti, is always making the world around her more beautiful. She calls herself a maker extraordinaire and that she is. Doesn’t matter the medium (although I believe her heart is happiest dripping in paint) she’ll turn it into something magical. Somehow I managed to sneak an invite to participate in the show. Lucky for me, someone who wouldn’t dare call herself an artist (at least not in front of other artists), Courtney can see creativity in most people. I think it’s because she teaches so many workshops around the Bay Area and can bring out artistic qualities in all her students.

So here I am, with a spoon in the show, alongside 35 extremely talented artists. Here’s a peek at my spoon. Come check out the rest! Some are already teasing us on Instagram #3636project

spoon

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Dijkstra’s Bloodstained Bullfighters

When I think of Rineke Dijkstra’s work, the first thing to come to mind are her beach scenes. Glowing adolescent bodies against eerie blue greys.

What I was not prepared for when I visited Dijkstra’s retrospective at SF MoMA this week was how captivating the bullfighter portraits would be. Not only for the contradictions they exude – a bullfighter should be strong, courageous and other “masculine” qualities, not torn down, dirty, exhausted, relieved – but also for their sheer beauty. These men look like innocent children, almost like dolls with clear skin, dark hair, and soft intricate fabrics. I love the delicate patterns and the rose colored jacket and ties. Even the blood and dirt that drip down their faces and shirts are elegant. If this was supposed to dissuade me from bullfighting, it is not working.

These were hung to juxtapose portraits of mothers holding their recently delivered babies. The viewer is meant to draw comparisons between the two sets. Both went through intense physical exertion and a life-changing event that was also life-threatening. It is supposed to raise questions of what qualities really depict masculinity and femininity. I appreciate this line of questioning, however, the bullfighters on their own confuse masculine/feminine, hard/soft, strong/weak in a wonderful and gently perplexing way.

The show runs through May 28.

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Dolls and Masks in the Meatyard

In an unassuming room with bright white walls and cool cement floors hangs a body of work that is delightfully dark. The nearly sixty black and white photographs taken by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, currently on view at the de Young in San Francisco, call attention to the human body, identity, and family relationships in the most unsettling ways. Even his name connotes viscera: physical bodies, weight, animal, slaughter, tearing flesh apart, clawing, chewing, raw… (what does my quick word association say about me?) Most reviews point to the dichotomies in Meatyard’s work, arguing for example, that he “explores the contrasts between youth and age, childhood and mortality, intimacy and unknowability, sharing and hiding.”

This is true. I find tension even in the act of viewing the work. Because they are dark and extremely detailed, the viewer must get physically close to each photograph to discern all the objects, figures, and settings. Once the viewer is able to read these details, she realizes how troubling some of the imagery is and she takes a step back. Pauses. Thinks. Intrigued, she takes a step forward to get a better look. Back and forth, back and forth, she does this dance between wanting to look, but not wanting to see.

It’s the imagery and composition that are so enticing. What could be more appealing and subversive than small, black and white prints of dolls and masks on family members taken in the 1960’s (think cutoffs and long hair in wide open spaces or abandoned houses)? Dolls are fascinating. Ever since I saw slides of Hans Bellmer‘s work in my first art history class I was hooked on creepy dolls. (Actually, it probably goes further back than that. Back to when Seana and I would get dolls as gifts. For instance, my mom brought us grandparent dolls from Germany. They were made of fabric. The grandma was posed with knitting needles and the grandpa was smoking a pipe, and boy would they freak us out.) Dolls are creepy because they are stand-ins for humans. They are also associated with children which makes them especially creepy when placed alone against decaying architecture or fractured mirrors. Meatyard uses a fair amount of mannequins and dolls as human substitutes in his work, and it gets me every time. It’s somehow easy to put oneself in the shoes of a doll or mannequin, somewhere between human and object. They make the viewer second guess what humanity is, particularly in photographs because they are static images. The expressions and poses of mannequins are just as frozen in time as the human figures’, making it easy to confound the human and non-human. And when the viewer guesses wrong, it’s troubling.

The other tension I felt looking at the photographs was in trying to read their messages. As soon as I started focusing on the imagery, I would start picturing the behind-the-scenes activities that went into setting up the shot. I got distracted by this and could no longer focus on the work in front of me. Meatyard would have family members wear masks and pose for his photographs in dilapidated buildings, mossy steps, backyard spaces, fields, or somewhere else in their “backyard” in Lexington, Kentucky. Knowing this makes me picture the communication that occurs between father and child. “Why don’t you put on this clown mask and perch on that broken step for dad,” I imagine Meatyard saying to his son as he sifts through a pile of rubber faces staring back at him. I love imagining the production behind these scenes and only wish there were more of his work to explore.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard said that masks erased the differences between people. Romance (N) from Ambrose Bierce #3. 1962.

Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Untitled. 1962. Vintage Silver Print. 7″ x 6.75″
This exhibition ends February 26.
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Canceled Exhibit at Artissima Reeks of Censorship

 

 

 

 

 

Arte Povera did not exist. This was the central thesis for an exhibit developed by Triple Candie which was to be included in the Artissima Art Fair in Turin last November. Triple Candie gained approval and developed its concept for months. The entry which was accepted for publication in the art fair’s catalog read:

“There is no arte povera. / It never existed; / As we’ve determined from the evidence, / Which is unreliable, contradictory…We don’t believe Celant. / His story has changed too many times.” Celant is the art critic who coined the term arte povera and had a hand in developing the movement. The exhibit was to include hundreds of photo reproductions and dozens of sculptural “surrogates” of work included in the art movement – but no actual artwork.

ANXIETY

Before Triple Candie was able to execute its plans, however, the exhibit was pulled from the show. Francesco Manacorda, Artissima’s director, who had originally been very supportive of the concept, noted that it could be “potentially very offensive to artists and gallerists who participate in the fair” and “negatively impact government funding of the arts in Italy, and potentially threaten the viability of Artissima.”

The events that led up to the cancelation of the exhibit are described in detail on Triple Candie’s website: http://triplecandie.org/Archive%202011%20arte%20povera.html

The events  that occurred and the emails exchanged between Triple Candie and Manacorda were made into a script and read aloud at California College of the Arts in San Francisco last Thursday, 12/8/2011, with a heartfelt slide show accompaniment to provide context for the messages.

Curators are held to very different standards than artists. We expect artists to push boundaries and take risks and we expect curators to assume the role of celebrating the artist. Most art exhibits do not challenge the viewer. We pat ourselves on the back for visiting art museums and galleries and are spoon-fed artwork in chronological order. Or we pass from one thematic room to the next, moving from landscapes to portraits to abstracts. It’s boring and thoughtless. But when a team such as Triple Candie takes a risk and dares to challenge art, artists, and viewers we can’t handle it. We push back. We destroy, shut down, censor, cancel, threaten, feel threatened, and worry about sponsors, funders, friends…what would they think? We mistakenly assume that critique is negative. I see Triple Candie’s proposed exhibit as a way to revisit the facts, to raise a discussion. They called Celant’s essays contradictory, but they also called him a hero. Being critical and being respectful are not mutually exclusive, and I think Triple Candie sought both in their exhibit. We should be celebrating daring curators. Triple Candie is brave, provocative, and rigorous and I hope we see more from them and more from thinkers like them.