Archive for December, 2011

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Quantity and quality are the pleasures and problems of sites that collect and distribute images (like Flickr and others). Confronted with an overwhelming mass of pictures and their equally overwhelming lack of quality, you feel like sitting next to a friend who guides you through 100s of pictures of a recent trip. There are a few exceptions though, and the one I enjoy the most at the moment is It offers some archaeology of every day life and provides a certain context to the pictures, which are accompanied by comments and discussions. But the real pleasure of Shorpy is that it functions like a school for composition. Most of the pictures are based on classical composition schemes; there is an air of solid formal work there and you can learn a great deal why some pictures are more efficient than others.

Out in the Margins

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Just back from the above Walensee, Switzerland, where Swiss curator Roman Kurzmeyer opened a show by young Swiss artist Kaspar Müller (on the right, next to Pedro Wirz). It wasn’t really a show, more a necklace for an old and small haystack surrounded by snow and nature. Roman runs Atelier Amden as an ephemeral institution since 1999 and presented installations by artists such as Polly Apfelbaum, Mai-Thu Perret, Pawel Althamer, or Anya Gallaccio. Standing up there in the snow, it made me realize how much nature has vanished from contemporary art—maybe rightly so. There was a time when artists traveled to remote places, dived into foreign cultures, and exposed themselves to nature and landscape for inspiration and renewal. To escape the city became one of the trademarks of the avant-garde, from Tahiti to the American desert, from Gauguin to the artists of Land Art. It was a research that was as ambivalent as it was fruitful, but tell me about today’s artists traveling to remote places! It’s all about the city where most of the world’s population lives. Yet, there is some stuff going on in the outskirts. Although artists (and curators) don’t get any more inspired by nature and the primitive (whatever this is), they build up structures in the so-called margins: Andrea Zittel’s High Desert Text Sites, Gela Patashuri’s TCCA Museum Without Wall outside of Tbilisi, Georgia, Transformazium’s project in Braddock/Pittsburgh, or Yto Barrada’s Cinéma Rif/Cinémathèque de Tanger in Tangier, Morocco.

James Lee Byars, 1964 Carnegie International

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

In 2010 one of our registrars, Elizabeth Tufts-Brown, turned up a treasure trove in the museum archives: a box filled with postcards and letters (performable objects?) sent by artist James Lee Byars to former Carnegie director, Gustave von Groschwitz, between 1964 and 1967.  Byars’s even, rounded lettering, usually in pencil or China marker, appears across this remarkable collection on everything from ultra thin Japanese rice paper to purple construction paper and newspaper, even cellophane. One was a large circle (printed only with “A White Paper Will Blow Through the Streets”), several were heart-shaped, some were scrolls. One was an entire 119-foot-long roll of cash register tape on which Byars had painstakingly written out a lengthy invite list complete with mailing addresses. Reading through all of these long-forgotten letters was amazing, and sometimes (as Byars undoubtedly intended) required quite a bit of maneuvering.

Many of the letters, which we exhibited as part of Ordinary Madness in 2010, pertained to three performances that Byars staged at the Museum in conjunction with the 1964 Carnegie International, which von Groschwitz curated. The first two took place on November 6, 1964  (1 x 50 Foot Drawing) and January 13, 1965 (A 1000-Foot Chinese Paper). Both were performed by a Catholic nun named Sister M. Germaine, and involved her carrying a folded paper object to the center of the room, then slowly unfolding and refolding it over the course of an hour. A third happening, The Mile Long White Paper Walk, was performed in the Hall of Sculpture on October 25, 1965, by dancer and choreographer Lucinda Childs. For this work, a riveted, 475-foot-long paper form was manipulated through the course of the performance by Childs, who was dressed in an elaborate white ostrich-feather costume. Alternating between each end of the paper form, Childs moved one riveted section at a time toward the center of the room, creating a pinwheel effect on the floor.

In both cases, a “performable object” of the artist’s design dictates the actions of the performer by virtue of its particular folded form, mechanizing her motions as she unravels an ephemeral drawing in time and space. In full habit or feather costume, she becomes a remote and ethereal icon, moving silently across the white marble floor. The Hall of Sculpture (which was constructed in the early 20th century to simulate the interior of the Parthenon) must have immediately appealed to Byars, with his penchant for purity and perfection, symbolism, and drama. Many artists have taken on the space since that time; most recently, Icelandic artist and musician Ragnar Kjartansson staged a long-duration performance there that Byars would surely have appreciated. In the photo above, Ragnar’s nieces recall the Three Graces, as they sing the refrain, “The weight of the world is love…”


Miami Art Basel 2011

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Lynn Zelevansky, the Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art, sent me this about her recent trip to Miami Art Basel to share with you:

It’s always fun to be in Miami Beach—the sun, the ocean, the glistening white buildings. As a gateway to Latin America, Miami has become a cosmopolitan, world city.

Major art fairs like Art Basel Miami Beach are huge marketplaces where browsing, making lists, seeing trends, and buying works are all possible. For me, they are as much about seeing people as seeing art. They allow me to reconnect with collectors, gallerists, colleagues, even artists, although unless they have a specific reason to be there—an opening, a performance, or a talk—most steer clear of the fairs, preferring to avoid the selling of their pieces. Having done a lot of work in Latin America over the years, I particularly enjoy the Miami fair because it provides a great opportunity to meet friends and associates from Mexico and South America. The fair’s reach is global, though, and it is as possible to run into people from Poland or Korea as from North or South America.


Jerstin Crosby and Jasdeep Khaira at Apartment Talks

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Apartment Talk #6: Jerstin Crosby and Jasdeep Khaira / Encyclopedia Destructica

Jerstin Crosby and Jasdeep Khaira co-hosted our latest installment of the Apartment Talks series on Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 at 113 44th Street. Jerstin Crosby, a transplant from Raleigh, North Carolina and a member of Team Lump presented his work to date including a parody of environmentalism in Goth Seinfeld.

Jasdeep Khaira, co-founder of Encyclopedia Destructica gave a preview of the DIY book publisher’s latest project Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities curated by Suzie Silver.

Highlights of the night included a video on alien abduction and a healthy serving of Meat Lover’s pizza.

More on Jerstin Crosby

More on Jasdeep Khaira