Friday, January 29, 2016

Seriality to Infinity

The Infinite Line written by Briony Fer and published in 2004 is a book dedicated to a fertile period in visual art, the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism during the late 1950's until 1970. In eleven chapters, she offers enlightening discussions about seriality in art, including paintings, sculptures, installations, photographs, movies, through her vast knowledge of artists and their works.
With a dedicated topic for each chapter, Fir presentation stays focused on one subject, "the power and meaning of repetition". Starting with "Picture", moving on to "Series" and "Infinity", the progression smoothly leads to "List", "Mobility", reaching "Utopia" in the last chapter. Through her presentation of artists and their works, she makes the point and her expertise confers a scholarly quality to her discussions. She features numerous female artists like Eva Hesse, Agnes Martin, Yayoi Kusama or Louise Bourgeois and refers abundantly to the Arte Povera movement and its members. Sometimes arduous to read due to the abundance of referenced material, at the same time engrossing because of it, shedding light on Minimalism and its higher mission, the book is also filled with illustrations appropriately spread along the text.
The abrupt ending leaves the future opened to the use of repetition, ultimate mean of capturing infinity, a non-existent entity, and the addition of new chapters written about artists engaged in expressing the invisible.

photographs Wikimedia:
Untitled, Eva Hesse, 1967

Monday, January 18, 2016

Adventures at the Carroll Gallery

For the new year, the Carroll Gallery on the Uptown Tulane campus features one of its own, Aaron Collier, Assistant Professor at the University. Sharing his recent adventures in painting, he is presenting twenty-one of his most recent works. The three rooms of the gallery are filled with paintings, collages and decoys in a judicious display presented by the artist himself for the opening of Something There.
Doom exudes from the large primal landscapes lining up the gallery's main room. Composed while Collier was reading the Book of Job from the Old Testament, the desolate scenery, with earthy tones and blurry shapes, evoke a threatening world in which the undefined becomes the threat itself. Revisitation, created last Summer for the 10th anniversary of the Katrina disaster, includes a wood piece retrieved from a ravaged house with foam still attached to it, like a parasite. Collier's preferred prop for his paintings is an owl, the symbol of wisdom, but also of death. In A Certain Uncertainty, the quiet bird stands guard next to the painting, serene and menacing, adding an ambiguous feeling. The compositions have no focal point and are defined by blurry lines and dark colors. The superimposition of browns and grays creates an effect of depth and subtle "lightning" in some areas of the works, keeping the viewers wandering in the landscapes. The contrast is striking when walking in the two satellite galleries. The pieces of smaller sizes radiate energy, like a promise of happiness. The vibrant saturated colors invade the space, screaming at the viewer their message of hope. Even the three owls perched on a ledge take an harmless turn, disguised in candy colors. However, the artist's message stays focused on doom as we come back to the first room before exiting the exhibition.
In his presentation, Collier refers to Gerhard Richter, Zubarán, John Singer Sargent and describes the conception of his works as an adventure starting with the juxtaposition of photographs of scenes of disasters and minutely decorated interiors. From then on, the images blur, dissolve and reemerge on the canvas, leaving "colors and compositions flow and impose themselves". Chaos versus harmony, tragedy versus happiness, the painter translates his vision of life with colors, constantly shifting between extremes.
To quote the artist: " Paint is the perfect medium for picturing paradox: painting itself is an in-between act, a simultaneous doing and undoing."

photographs by the author

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Art of Coding

Two small exhibitions are triggering deep cogitations about the relationship between art and technology. At first sight, they do not appear to have a connection, one features abstract landscapes, the other figurative pieces, but they both involve computers. B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G from James Hoff and Digital Pictorialism: An Exhibition of Images Produced With Code from James L Dean are located in different areas of the city, the former at the Contemporary Arts Center in the New Orleans Art District and the latter at Staple Goods, a collective art gallery in the Saint-Claude Arts District.
James Hoff's works fill one room on the second floor of the Contemporary Art Center in a traditional display of "paintings" lined up along the four walls. An odd addition is brought up by holes in the walls exposing wooden structures from the building itself. A closer look at the abstract works is a surprise due to the texture of the "canvas" and the consistency of the "paint". The eight numbered Skywiper are chromaluxe transfers on aluminum. David Everitt Howe wrote a detailed critique about the resulting pieces in Art Review . The title of the works are worth an explanation. Skywiper is the name of the virus which after infecting a program produces the abstract landscapes. A wall text at the entrance provides a description of the process involved: "Hoff distills the visual file to code, unearthing a subtext, underlying every image, as well as competing visual field, a linear mapping of signs and alternating color. He then infects that field with contemporary malware, in this case the Skywiper virus". More information is available about the virus and its previous use (politics are involved). The artist who relates to William Burroughs's ideas has previously experimented with viruses in music and now applies the technique to visual art and also architecture. The holes in the wall are designed according to a jpeg picture of the room infected by the virus. Contrasting with the Brooklyn's artist threatening world of viruses, uncontrolled replication, disease, corruption and ultimately destruction, Dean's works bathe in a peaceful atmosphere, filled with bunches of flowers, still lifes or calm interiors reminiscent of seventeenth Century Dutch paintings including a classic memento mori. This time, in the realm of photography, the creation of a program is the key to the production of the art. The process involves several stages described with minutia at the start of the exhibition. A very informative text written by Minka Stoyanova Reading Digital Pictorialism completes the display.
To appreciate the two exhibitions takes some background in computer technology. Did you know that bricking, the title of Hoff's exhibition, refers to "the overload of an operating system when infected with malware, which renders it useless, at least for its originally intended purposes." Nevertheless, the two artists's use of the technology as a new medium to produce visual art is futuristic and inescapable. Abstract or figurative, through the manipulation of images, art is becoming deeply involved with the world of computers and the artist may not need assistants to mix paint or prepare a canvas anymore, but will need coders, developers, engineers...
At the end, can the list of processes used to produce the art be replicated? We all heard: "My child could draw like that" Are we going to hear "My child can code like this". If you are computer savvy, it seems that you can become an artist. The use of the technology is here to stay, the resulting piece of art ultimately will define who is an artist.

photographs by the author

James Hoff "Skywiper No.52" and "Skywiper No.83", 2015
                   "Skywiper No.33", 2015
James L Dean "Haydel-Jones Plantation House in Edgard, LA"
                       "Broad Stroke Chrysanthemums"

B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G till February 28 at the CAC
"Digital Pictorialism: An Exhibition of Images Produced With Code" just closed this week

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Perspectives, Jacqueline Humphreys at the CAC

Jacqueline Humphries, a native New Orleanian now living in New York City is back in town with her latest exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center. The artist is showing exclusively new works, created for the twenty-first century, including large abstract compositions on the first floor and a collection of her black-light paintings on the second floor.
The home-made metallic pigment mixed from aluminum powder results in Humphries's shiny silver signature found in the five paintings downstairs. Generously applied in the background of Alpha, Alpha1 and Alpha4, the "non-color" blends with green, violet or pale blue hues, while rows of black dots fill the foreground. Delicate abstract black drawings float between the two layers, bringing a narrative to otherwise monotonous compositions. The action is initiated by the viewer who activates the works when walking by. The shifting reflection of the light on the silvery coat brings life to the paintings, and the calligraphic patterns become alive with the changing perspectives. Two paintings complete the display, large canvases with the same silvery effect but more abstract expressionist than pop with their sharp lines scratched in the paint. The same concept is involved in the layout of the black-light paintings displayed in the Lupin Gallery upstairs, however the technique differs. This time, ultraviolet light activates fluorescent paint, producing psychedelic colors glowing in the dark. An awkward atmosphere fills the gallery due to the mixed message sent by the conventional display of works aligned under the spotlights and the playful brash colors fit for a Kenny Scharf's Cosmic Cavern.
The combination of Pop art, Op art, Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism in Humphries's works results in a confused message and the mixture of low and high art remains stale, lacking energy and fun.  Humphries's attempt to catch the light with the festive medium falls short of its goal with the large black dots hindering a possible visual adventure. In 2009, Humphries stated in an interview that "Post modernism is supposed to be all about appropriation and cynicism... why not appropriate an attitude of seriousness." Seriousness is taking over her black-light paintings lined up along the walls and transforms them in a conventional display of flashy works.
In the post modern era, visual artists are faced with a question: is this the end of painting? The exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London in 2013 The Show Is Over, gathered artists looking for an answer. Humphries experimenting with new media found her language but delivers a message that stays superficial.

photographs by the author:

"Alpha3", 2014
"Untitled", 2014
"Untitled", 2015