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- 09/06/14--05:13: _40 Jewels at the 20...
- 09/06/14--09:09: _An Opening Receptio...
- 09/07/14--04:00: _Q&A With Sculptor R...
- 09/08/14--04:00: _Dan Colen Believes ...
- 09/08/14--06:53: _New York
- 09/08/14--07:02: _Miley Cyrus Now a S...
- 09/08/14--09:13: _VIP Opening for Bro...
- 09/08/14--13:18: _23 Questions for Hi...
- 09/08/14--14:21: _“Doctor Zhivago” Pa...
- 09/08/14--23:40: _Park Hyatt New York...
- 09/09/14--06:14: _Brie Ruais Gets Phy...
- 09/09/14--06:46: _Sneek Peak: La Bien...
- 09/09/14--06:59: _New Bond St
- 09/09/14--06:59: _Hinde St
- 09/09/14--07:12: _Gago Opens Sushi Jo...
- 09/09/14--08:21: _Slideshow: Brie Rua...
- 09/09/14--09:56: _In "The Disappearan...
- 09/09/14--11:34: _Art Production Fund...
- 09/09/14--14:36: _New York
- 09/10/14--04:00: _In "10:04," Ben Ler...
- 09/06/14--05:13: 40 Jewels at the 2014 Biennale des Antiquaires
- 09/07/14--04:00: Q&A With Sculptor Richard Nonas
- 09/08/14--04:00: Dan Colen Believes in Miracles
- 09/08/14--06:53: New York
- 09/08/14--07:02: Miley Cyrus Now a Sculptor, Gurlitt Trove Reveals Monet, and More
- 09/08/14--13:18: 23 Questions for History-Inspired Artist Sam Durant
- 09/08/14--14:21: “Doctor Zhivago” Pays a House Call
- 09/08/14--23:40: Park Hyatt New York Ushers in New Era of Luxury for Manhattan
- 09/09/14--06:14: Brie Ruais Gets Physical With Her Material
- 09/09/14--06:46: Sneek Peak: La Biennale des Antiquaires
- 09/09/14--06:59: New Bond St
- 09/09/14--06:59: Hinde St
- 09/09/14--08:21: Slideshow: Brie Ruais Gets Physical With Her Material
- 09/09/14--14:36: New York
Richard Nonas makes poetry out of wood and metal. Originally trained as an anthropologist, Nonas fell into sculpture rather circuitously, and without any formal training. He’s been quietly making minimalism for decades, headquartered in a live/work space in Tribeca that resembles an industrial workshop and kayak-building facility as much as it does an art studio. Scott Indrisek met Nonas there earlier this summer to discuss his upcoming show at Fergus McCaffrey, which opens at the gallery’s new 514 West 26th Street location on September 10.
How will you approach the show at Fergus McCaffrey?
I have a good sense of that space—a good sense of what Fergus thinks that space is, not necessarily what it is to everyone else. It is a space I have already done a lot of research on, and I have a good sense of what it can be if it is handled one way, and what it can be if it is handled another. And when I say what it can be, it’s how it can be changed by what’s put in it, how it can affect the people who pass through it. And that’s what really interests me.
In an exhibition like this, are the pieces discrete objects, or all part of one large group or installation?
The show is the piece. It is one thing made up of parts: a partless whole made up of parts that are also partless. And that formula is an interesting one. Another way of saying it is that each part is a tool used to make the next one. Let’s say that pieces of steel make up one sculpture downstairs—parts that make the whole. But then that sculpture has to be a single thing; in a real sense it has to feel like a single thing for me. But at the same time, you start to see a connection between the wall pieces and the floor pieces. The wall piece and the floor piece are tools to make something else happen. They are parts of another whole. What I want is a kind of low-level, biting ambiguity.
You began your career as an anthropologist—what did that teach you?
I was an anthropologist with no training in art. At one point I lived in a village of 50 people for two years in a desert in Mexico. At first, in a very real way, nothing made sense. But it made perfect sense to everyone else who was there. I was writing a book about how I noticed that special clues, special metaphors were much more central to the way these people put their thoughts together. As we were walking on a road in the desert, it was as if we were walking through separate rooms, but there were no markers that I could see. These rooms were marked by the cactus or by the knowledge that that was the place so-and-so’s grandfather fell off his horse and broke his leg. There is a kind of meaning-pattern that functions as architecture. That really interests me, so I tried to write about it. But the only way to write about it was indirectly, and I found myself writing details of peoples’ lives, things I wouldn’t want anyone to write about me. It wasn’t comfortable, it was nobody’s business, but it was the only way I could get to that way of thinking.
When you travel in a country where you don’t know the language, we have all had that experience, where we get off the train and we know that’s a car, that’s a bike, but we’re not sure what else. I remember once being in Tokyo, I was walking down the street, and I was walking one way, and everyone was coming the other way. A completely different type of crowd than a New York crowd. Not in the number of people, not necessarily more people, but the density of that crowd was different. I was the only one going that way, and I was uncomfortable, so I turned around and walked in the other direction—but the same thing was true in the other direction! And that’s the kind of confusion that none of the people in Tokyo were feeling, they were feeling something else. It is interesting in the way art is interesting. It is interesting because you say, “Wait, this doesn’t make sense! Why doesn’t it make sense?” What is it about walking down the street that doesn’t make sense? That’s what I think art does.
So that’s the kind of experience you try to provide?
No. Language and culture are tools to take a complicated world and make it understandable, break it up and categorize it, understand it. But there are things language can’t say easily that I feel the need to say. So in every culture we find that there are built-in escape valves: religion on one hand, art on the other. The production of art, in my mind, thinking as an anthropologist, is a way of saying the things that can’t be said directly, or evoking the complex emotions between the named emotions, or combinations of the named emotions that themselves don’t have names. Perceptions and emotions, those are categories that need to be broken into, or skewed, and art is an acceptable way to do it, a way that you are not punished for. The only visual art that interests me is the art that is conveying something that it would not be able to convey directly with words.
When was the first time you had the impulse to create an object that conveyed something without words?
Before I worked in Mexico, I was in north Canada. I brought back a sled dog. And I found myself picking up pieces of wood for him to play with. One day I picked up two pieces of wood, and there was real emotion there, and no story, no narrative, no reason for that emotion. I could describe the emotion, not in a single word, but there was real emotion. Not fake, not conceptual. But it was just two sticks. I thought, Wow, maybe it’s possible to communicate abstract ideas directly with objects, in a way you can’t with words. I got really excited, trying and making things, but I never thought about art. Then, two or three months later, a friend of a friend came to my apartment and said, “You idiot, it’s called sculpture!”
Did you have them hung on the wall?
Some were on the wall, some were just around. I was just trying to figure out what was going on.
When your friend labeled it sculpture, how did you react?
I thought two almost simultaneous things: first, that I had to find out more about this, that I had to figure it out. And second, that I was never going to be a graduate student again. I am not going back to school. I’m not going back to be an art student. So I had to figure it out myself, and that is what I tried to do.
Before that point had you seen a lot of art? Had you engaged with it?
I grew up in Brooklyn, I was interested in the world. I knew modern art, I knew names, but it didn’t mean much.
So was it an instantaneous change, from being an anthropologist to being an artist?
Pretty much. I thought that I would go live in Europe, where it was cheap to live, where I could look at art and just figure this out. I was teaching anthropology part-time at Queens College. I needed an excuse, so I decided I would go to Europe to see how much of the Mexican and Indian stuff was actually Spanish, so I decided to go to Spain. Then I very quickly decided I wanted to be in a big city, so I went to Paris, where I stayed for two years. I met a lot of young artists and I talked to everybody. I bought some tools and tried stone carving. But it was 1968, there were all kinds of wild things happening. I was learning about life as well as art—more about life than about art. The reason I became an anthropologist was that I realized I was a “first-class noticer,” as Saul Bellow said. And there was a lot to notice in Paris in 1968. I also realized that there was a way to use the stuff that I had noticed that had never occurred to me before, which was just to push one thing against another, like two sticks.
“Stuff,” meaning people or materials?
The way the French police would behave; the way the crowds would behave; just things that would be small parts of a novel, but without making a story of it. Something could be communicated, and it might be something that—in words—could only be captured with 10 paragraphs, by making five comparisons and using three metaphors. Creating a situation where people look at two different things at the same time, which starts a process in their heads that is really interesting—and all I need to do to make that happen is to put two things together in a way that makes it difficult for you to separate them.
I came back to New York for a short time, planning to go back to Paris, but that first day in New York I met the sculptor Mark di Suvero. We went out for a drink. Two guys are sitting next to me, and they are arguing about sculpture. So I joined in and told them they had to come to my studio tomorrow, and they both said yes. Two years in Paris, the same group of young artists, we had a beer or a glass of wine together at the end of the day. But no one ever went to anyone else’s studio, because if you invited someone to your studio they would steal your ideas. I thought, wait a second, why do I want to go back to Paris? Everyone was so much more open in New York, and there was so much going on in terms of art. The way of approaching art in 1969 was so much more direct and undecorated by leftover 19th-century embellishments. Things happened so much faster, so much more clearly, you could have a real conversation with almost anyone immediately. You might get insulted, they might come to see your work and tell you it’s shit, but it doesn’t matter; they would come and tell you what they thought, and you could do the same.
You mention that in Paris you wouldn’t visit each other’s studios because people would steal ideas. Didn’t that happen here, too?
But the idea here was that you can’t steal an idea, because the idea is nothing, it’s what you do with it. Any of those stealable ideas were already in the air. Any idea that you would steal, you probably would have thought of in the next two days anyway. That was a very strange kind of time, and I quickly found myself involved with a group of friends whose work was different but playing with the same ideas. And the fact that I use the word playing is important, because none of us knew very clearly what we were doing, but we knew the direction we wanted to go in. Very quickly we solved our own problems; we needed showing space. Alanna Heiss was part of that group, she was a part of that discussion. And one day she said, “I’m so tired of hearing you guys complain about not having places to show, or big enough studios. This city is full of empty spaces, go talk your way into one. That’s all bullshit.”
You’ve stayed in New York from that time through the present day. To say something like what Heiss said now would seem slightly ludicrous here in the city.
Well, except it wouldn’t. In a way what [venue owner] David Sklar is doing in Knockdown Center is similar. That building was open to him, and he had the money to do that. It is some version of the thing that Alanna was doing, what we were doing. The constraints are different, but the thoughts are the same; you have to figure out which rules you can break.
Some people think New York is exhausted, that the next step for an alternative is someplace outside of the city.
I see different problems: Everything has more zeros on it. But both ends of the equation have more zeros. That is, everything costs more, but everything sells for much more. It’s very interesting doing group shows with young artists, because the prices young artists put on their work are higher than the older ones, significantly higher. That’s what they learned in school. The main difference between now and 1970 is the money. Nobody had any. Well, a few people did, but the ones I knew felt guilty about it and were very generous. They gave money to people they believed in. Nobody was trying to be a rock star. That was nobody’s plan. We watched certain people’s careers blossom, and go up and down as well, but the point was to make the work. The point was to keep working, to keep pushing, and then by the ’80s it changed. By the ’80s it was about money. And by that point in the art schools, you were trained to be a rock star. That was one of the reasons people became artists. When the career becomes more important than the work, that’s a change. And the fact that that exists as a possibility is worth notice. There have always been people who care about the status of being an artist and people who don’t. And you work your way through it.
What is your practice like on a daily basis in the studio?
The main purpose of my studio isn’t actually to make things. It’s to force myself to look at old work. And that’s why I have so much shit. I need to be in a situation where I can’t not see the work. I’m seeing it in the worst possible way, I understand that, but what happens is, if we are talking now and someone knocks on the door at the other end of the loft, and I’m rushing over there to answer the door, out of the corner of my eye I see something on the wall, and I think, I hate that. It could be something I made 10 years ago, it could be something I made yesterday, and I stop, look at that thing, and figure out what’s not working. I’m totally willing to take a piece apart, to change it, to throw it out, to break it, to make something else out of it, because the point is to figure out one way to say this, to refine a vocabulary.
If these sculptures are tools, what can you do with them? What can this tool get me to do? What can this tool do for me that I would be unable to do without it? What can it make me accomplish that I couldn’t accomplish without it? Then the next thing is, do I want to accomplish that? If the answer is no, then OK, forget about it. If the answer is yes, let’s go further with this, where does this go next? So it’s that process that’s been going on for 40 years, and I can say without any hesitation, that if I could think of anything more interesting to do, I’d be happy to do it. I’m not committed to the act of painting or making sculpture. I’m committed to an exploration of ways to say things that I didn’t know I wanted to say until I found a way to say them.
A version of this article appears in the September 2014 issue of Modern Painters magazine.
Dan Colen is feeling good. The nine large-scale canvases in “Miracle Paintings,” on view at Gagosian Gallery in New York through October 18 — all roughly based on semi-abstract stills from the 1940 Disney film “Fantasia” — are, he said, “the culmination of the last 10 years of my work.” The concise focus of the exhibition might come as a shock to anyone who visited “Poetry,” his 2010 exhibition at the gallery, which included conservator-thwarting paintings made of gum, a sculpture composed of a row of motorcycles, and a full-size skateboard half-pipe turned into a readymade. (That show wasn’t “even fun in the way that, say, a Damien Hirst show can be, as a train wreck of attention-getting desperation,” gnashed Jerry Saltz in New York magazine. “Colen shows not a lick of spontaneity.”) For his part, Colen said that he stands by that 2010 outing, which was a personal catalyst for many developments in his practice. And while “Miracle Paintings” speaks in a much quieter, reverent voice, it’s not like the artist has abandoned bold, what-the-fuck gestures (see his cut-in-half-truck sculpture, “At Least They Died Together (After Dash),” which was installed on the lawn at the Brant Foundation Art Study Center earlier this year).
Discussing these recent canvases, Colen frames himself as something of an equal collaborator with the oil paint he’s employing — as if he’s along for the ride, marveling at the effects and techniques that the material can conjure. “Usually my paintings are about me trying to control the paint,” he said, likely referring to his crisply detailed, highly realistic “Candle” works. “These were about me learning from the paint and seeing possibilities that are beyond me. As opposed to putting too much confidence in myself, or in an image or a scene or a set of brushes, I really want to allow the oil paint to perform, to show me the things that it wants to do, beyond my imagination.” Hence the “miracle” of the exhibition’s title: Not a cheeky boast about the artist’s own inherent genius, but rather a nod to the alchemical twists and turns that enabled the paintings to develop over the span of a few years, layer by layer. The process of their making, as he described it, involved myriad experiments, “gallons and gallons” of oil paint, detailed calculations of the drying times of particular materials — and more than a bit of faith. “At the end of the day, you can’t have a vision, you have to have a hope,” Colen explained with a refreshing earnestness. “This is where the miracle comes in.”
O, Fortuna, 2013 by Dan Colen
No recognizable characters appear in any of the paintings, which would probably not be readily identified as coming from “Fantasia” if one didn’t know this was the case. Colen said that he conceives as them as landscape paintings, more or less, that are all “pictures of creation”: One he sees as a Big Bang eruption; another is a womb; another is more like a cumshot (Disney would be proud). The colors and textures include explosive rainbow arrays, a sponge-like, intense red, and ghostly blue-greys. After some initial brainstorming about sculptural installations or ways to alter the space itself — including covering the entire exterior of the gallery with a fabric “somewhere between what a magician will put over a box before the bunny rabbit disappears, and the cloth that covers Mecca” — Colen quite rightly decided to let these massive paintings work their own spell. “I don't need people to think the art is good, but often the discussion is about other things,” Colen explained, alluding to his famously divisive mega-dealer and the flack that his stable can often encounter. “In that room I’ve created a situation where it’s impossible to talk about anything else but the art.”
— Miley Cyrus Is Now a Sculptor, Apparently: Disney tween turned controversial pop star Miley Cyrus has now officially entered the art world, creating sculptures from her tour memorabilia — e.g., a joint glued to a vibrator. “I just sit around and smoke weed anyway, so I might as well sit around, smoke weed, and do something,” Cyrus explained to V Magazine, who will be hosting her work at their Manhattan offices on 11 Mercer Street, in a show titled “Dirty Hippie.” “They say money can’t buy happiness and it’s totally true,” she said. “Money can buy you a bunch of shit to glue to a bunch of other shit that will make you happy, but… obviously the shit you buy doesn’t make you happier because I’m sitting here gluing a bunch of junk to stuff.” [The Guardian]
— Gurlitt Trove Reveals Monet: The group of experts tasked with investigating the provenance of the 1,280 of works found in deceased art hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt’s possession have announced the discovery of a Monet landscape. The work was discovered in the suitcase that Gurlitt took to his final trip to the hospital this past May. According to taskforce member Matthias Henkel, the painting resembles a Monet painting of Vue de Sainte-Adresse from 1864. [The Guardian]
— High Line's Final Section Opens Soon: The final section of the High Line is slated to open on September 21. The new stretch will include many of the same design touches as the existing areas of the park, but with a “wild, untouched section.” “We haven’t pruned a thing,” said director of horticulture Tom Smarr, the director of horticulture. “We’re going to do very little here.” [NYT]
— Picasso Leaves the Four Seasons “Le Tricorne,” a 1959 work painted on a stage curtain, was successfully, if painstakingly, extracted from its home of 55 years. [NYT]
— Margaret Atwood Adds to “The Future Library” Author Margaret Atwood is the first contributor to Katie Paterson’s conceptual art project “The Future Library,” a collection of written works that will be produced in 2114, printed on paper from 1,000 trees Paterson planted near Oslo. [ArtNews]
— Tomorrow Gallery Moves to NYC Toronto’s Tomorrow Gallery marks its new Eldridge Street location with “Eternal September,” a show exploring the “the current climate of endless, continuous expansion of the Internet,” explained director Tara Downs to Art in America. [Art in America]
— Pop artist Marjorie Strider has died at age 83. [NYT]
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Name: Sam Durant
City/Neighborhood: Los Angeles
Your new body of work at Paula Cooper shines a light on a number of overlooked Surrealists who were from the Francophone colonies. What sparked your interest in these artists?
Historian Robin D.G. Kelley’s work opened the door. In his introduction to poet Aimé Césaire’s famous essay, “Discourse on Colonialism,” Kelley links Césaire’s work as a surrealist to the anti-colonial struggles erupting around the world, especially in the francophone colonies. Kelley also discusses Césaire’s influence on fellow countryman Frantz Fanon, who became a psychiatrist, eventually becoming head of the main psychiatric hospital in Algiers. In addition to becoming part of the Algerian struggle for independence, he is seen as a primary theorist of the psychological effects of imperialism. This made so much sense in terms of the surrealist’s focus on the unconscious and psychoanalysis.
In what ways did the practices of these artists change your conception of the movement?
Their practices were more overtly political, many were involved in national struggles for independence and racial justice. And this was always about total liberation, both individual and collective. The mid-20th century was a very dark period and yet these artists struggled for beauty and freedom, toward the marvelous, toward life force, eros.
For this show you also use “trench warfare objects” such as artillery shells to construct wind chimes or lamps. What does it mean to turn these objects into art in the form of common household items?
The use of “Trench Art” functions as a reminder of the inextricable link between war and art, violence and culture. I made two sculptures which involve war material. One, a large wind chime, uses artillery shells as the bells, which might actually qualify the piece as Trench Art. The other work is a collection of various examples of Trench Art, which I accumulated over the past several years in my research. The artifacts represent a variety of different forms of Trench Art from different conflicts throughout the 20th century. They are arranged into a unified composition that is a cross between modernist and anthropological artifact display conventions. Trench Art as a recognized form developed during World War I as soldiers trapped in the trenches for weeks and months on end began to use what was at hand to make things: lighters, vases, ashtrays, little sculptures of tanks, animals, planes, people, and so forth. The tradition has carried on from WWI to WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and on and on and on. I imagine there is Trench Art being made in Syria, Iraq, Libya, perhaps even in Gaza right now.
What project are you working on now?
The future is unpredictable, hopefully some things will come to fruition and you will hear from me again.
What’s the last show that you saw?
Selasar Sunaryo Gallery, which is something like the Noguchi Museum except there is less of Sunaryo’s work and quite a collection of artists from the Bandung region.
What’s the last show that surprised you?
“Edo Pop,” an exhibition at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. A beautiful selection of Ukiyo-e prints, landscapes with extraordinary details, maternal imagery, mothers nursing and playing with children, and several instruction manuals for making shadow hand puppets.
Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.
There really isn’t one; each day is different. I am frequently stunned at how lucky I am.
Do you make a living off your art?
I teach art at California Institute of the Arts. This gives me a degree of freedom from the art market.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
In “Asia” and also in books.
Do you collect anything?
What is your karaoke song?
“A Spoonful of Sugar” from “Mary Poppins.”
What’s the last artwork you purchased?
A work by Gala Porras Kim depicting whistling languages from Central America.
What’s the first artwork you ever sold?
Probably one of the Abandoned House models.
What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
Psychic TV — they really shook me up in 1983. I still remember it.
What’s your art-world pet peeve?
The predictability of it.
What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
I try to get out every month and see things.
What’s the last great book you read?
“Europe in Sepia” by Dubravka Ugresic.
What international art destination do you most want to visit?
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
Project Row Houses in Houston.
Who’s your favorite living artist?
What are your hobbies?
I don’t really have any but your question makes me think perhaps I should.
If Leo Tolstoy can make it to the musical stage — “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” — why not Boris Pasternak?
A long-aborning musical version of “Doctor Zhivago,” based on the 1957 Pasternak novel about a love triangle set against the Russian Revolution, will arrive on Broadway this spring. The show received mixed notices when it had a tryout run at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse, but after substantial revisions, it reemerged five years later in Australia, where it toured to strong reviews and good box-office.
I saw the La Jolla production and was impressed with Des McAnuff’s sleek direction and the strong score by Lucy Simon (“The Secret Garden”) and lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Powers. The problem was Michael Weller’s libretto, which seemed hamstrung by the challenge of cramming so much event and character into a manageable length. The celebrated 1965 David Lean movie, starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, ran three and half hours and the paperback of the classic novel is a doorstop at 600 pages.
According to the reviews in Australia, Weller has wisely chosen to concentrate on the love story rather than the turbulent politics of the era — something which “The Great Comet of 1812” was able to do in adapting a section of Tolstoy’s unwieldy “War and Peace.” The creators of “Les Miserables” also showed that it was not an impossible task to take source material with epic sweep and boil it down to its emotional essence.
In this case, it is about three disparate men in love with the same woman, the beautiful young Lara: Yuri Zhivago, the poet and doctor; the cold-blooded lawyer Viktor Komarovsky; and Pasha Antipov, an idealistic reformer-turned-violent revolutionary. In turn Zhivago is loved by two women, Lara and Tonya, with whom he grew up and eventually married.
While Ivan Hernandez played Zhivago in San Diego, Anthony Warlow assumed the role in the 2011 Australian production and is more than likely to reprise it in New York. Warlow received excellent notices for his Daddy Warbucks in the recent revival of “Annie” and may well finally receive the Tony nomination that eluded him then.
What I most recall about the La Jolla production was its startling beginning. A young woman, Lara, wends her way through a crowded Christmas party for the elite, takes out a gun, and shoots one of its elegantly dressed guests, her lover Komarovsky.
I’m told it no longer opens that way, but it was arguably the first time a musical ever began in such a manner. And it certainly seemed a good portent for the things to come. It’ll be interesting to see how the revised musical can top it.
Brie Ruais has a practice animated by action verbs: kicking, cutting, folding, cinching, stretching, pushing, pleating. Her ceramic sculptures bear countless finger and footprints, the tangible result of how the artist physically manipulates the clay, often using different-colored stains or finishing the pieces with a glaze that gives them a quasi-futuristic metallic patina. “I don’t fuss,” said the artist of her process, which she likens to a form of Earth Art, albeit one that takes place in her studio. “There’s this sweaty, hazy moment where it’s just me and the material, and I’m not thinking about the form or what it looks like.” In order to rein in the limitlessness of spontaneous gesture, Ruais gives herself rules for each piece. That generally means a basic shape, form, or action — removing the center of a rectangle, for example, or pushing clay up the wall — and a set amount of material, reflective of her own body weight.
Ruais came to ceramics by making vases and other vessels; she still makes these smaller pieces, dubbed Affirmation Pots — lumpy and awkward containers covered with cheekily uplifting text (“Good choice” or “Lucky you”). A period of frustration in grad school at Columbia led her to a larger ceramic sculpture, called “The Big Push,” for which she “had this nonsensical desire to shove and spread the clay up the wall as far as I could.” Since then, Ruais’s methods have been intensely physical — she cites forebears like Kate Gilmore and Ana Mendieta, along with ceramicists Betty Woodman, Arlene Shechet, and Jessica Jackson Hutchins. But her work also has much in common with Bruce Nauman’s early explorations of his body in the studio, as well as the rule-based drawing practice of Sol LeWitt.
In late August there were several finished works in her Sunset Park, Brooklyn studio. One was a raw, wood-fired sculpture that has since been installed as part of the Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens. The rest were destined for a forthcoming show at Lefebvre & Fils gallery in Paris, on view October 22 through December 20. (The exhibition is titled “Dugout,” a reflection of Ruais’s recent interest in tunneling and mining, as well as the phrase’s application to baseball, where “the term for the thing is literally describing the action used to make it.”) The largest sculpture is in two parts: a rectangle on the wall, its dimensions roughly modeled on an average area rug, with a circle of clay removed from its center and placed on the floor. The piece is composed of around 300 pounds of clay, which is the combined weight of Ruais and her boyfriend. She started with blobs of different-colored clay, which she then flattened and massaged into shape.
Tonally, Ruais is generally nodding backward a few decades — “I look at Lee Krasner’s paintings and Abstract Expressionism for colors” — though the gestural marks themselves are unplanned, simply the result of what is required to push the individual masses of clay together into the desired shape. Before it’s fired, the entire piece is cut into small, square sections — simultaneously a technical and an aesthetic choice. The segmentation was “guided by logistics but evolved into having its own function, its own meaning, which relates back to the body and how we measure space,” she said. “The piece is made in a very spontaneous way, and then the grid itself imposes a certain amount of control over it.”
In the corner of Ruais’s studio, there was another new work, “Corner Push, 132lbs (Metallic),” made by kicking clay while wearing hiking boots — and then kneeing it and manhandling it — as high up the wall as she could reach. It’s finished with metallic glaze, making it a less biomorphic, less bloblike cousin to certain pieces made by Lynda Benglis in the 1960s and ’70s. “It has a molten surface,” the artist said, “which is what I like: It recalls the history of the material, which used to be soft.” Other works pair that “Terminator”-like sheen with the rawness of unadorned terra-cotta. For “Dugout,” the emphasis is on excavations: cavities, holes, absences at once violent and beautiful. In general, Ruais is “thinking about very mundane gestures that we approach materials in our lives with: folding and pleating and cinching and these simple gestures that are really just part of our muscles’ memory.” The clay retains its own record of these manipulations, though not always without a fight. “All the time it’s me trying to push it beyond its capabilities, and then backtracking a little, so that the work is possible,” she said. “I’m always negotiating with the material: What can you do? What do I have to do to let you do that?”
Click here to see highlights from Brie Ruais's collection of sculptures.
— Gagosian Goes Fishing: Ever keen on expanding, Larry Gagosian has partnered with sushi chef Masa Takayama to open restaurant Kappo Masa in the basement of his Madison Avenue location. It’s not the first time the gallerist has invested in refreshments: Moomba, a club he co-owned with the likes of Laurence Fishburne and Oliver Stone, had its heyday in the ’90s (according to Gagosian, it was Leonardo DiCaprio’s answer to Studio 54), but folded soon thereafter. This time, however, might be different. “Masa’s an artist,” Gagosian assured the Wall Street Journal. So expect some decidedly blue-chip yellowfin. [WSJ]
— Bloomberg Funds Museum Tech: Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is expanding his philanthropic organization’s grant program, Bloomberg Connects, to include an additional $17 million for digital advancements at cultural institutions across the globe. “Each of the institutions we’re supporting is using technology in different ways to engage, educate, and immerse their visitors — and to make their world-class resources available to a greater number of people, more of the time,” Bloomberg said. So far, grant recipients include the Brooklyn Museum and the American Museum of Natural History, as well as arts institutions such as MoMA, SFMoMA, the New York Botanical Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose app launched last week. [WSJ]
— Hofman Moves on to Rabbits: Not so long ago we reported that Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who is best known for creating an enormous floating duck, had debuted a giant hippopotamus in the UK. Looks like the animal sculpture commissions keep on rolling in, because Hofman has just unveiled a gigantic white rabbit in Taiwan — and it’s already a hit. “The number has beaten our expectations, we expected up to 200,000 visits a day,” said an anonymous government official. [AFP]
— Man Ray Sale Hits Paris: The largest Man Ray sale in 20 years will feature 300 lots at Sotheby’s Paris this November. [Art Market Monitor]
— Today in Restoration News: Here’s a look at Stonehenge’s nearly finished $44 million revamp. Oh, and the Smithsonian’s George Washington portrait is also getting restored. [NYT, Reuters]
— On the Cultural Destruction in Syria: “The nation’s heritage has been used as a weapon to finance bloodshed, to settle sectarian scores and to erase entire chapters of the country’s past in the expectation of radically reshaping its future.” [WSJ]
— You probably know that Okwui Enwezor is curating next year’s Venice Biennale, but did you know that the international curator wears bespoke suits? [WSJ]
— New app Vango promises to transform the San Francisco art scene by demystifying the auction process. [DailyCal]
— The art market boom in India proves profitable for Dehli’s elite. [Newsweek]
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“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” is a classic narrative detailing the pain of modern romance wrapped up in a deceptively modern bow. The film, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on September 12, represents a hybridization of two separate films — “Him” and “Her” — both of which screened at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013 and tell the story of the relationship between the title character (Jessica Chastain) and Conor Ludlow (James McAvoy) from their own very different perspectives.
Despite the fragmented construction of the new version, which takes the viewer through the aftermath of the couple’s breakup with assorted flashbacks and quietly revealed details sprinkled audaciously throughout, writer and director Ned Benson is not shy about nodding to the simplicity at the core of his film. Look closely and you’ll notice some telling, if trivial, references — a poster for Claude Leloach’s “A Man and a Women” (1966) adorns Eleanor’s childhood bedroom, while a poster for Jean-Luc Godard’s “Masculin Féminin” (1966) is seen hanging over the couch in the couple’s former apartment. “Eleanor Rigby,” while not necessarily resembling those two films in formal or narrative ways, is using their titles to highlight its main concern: the disparate male and female experiences.
Maybe the two longer, original versions of the film played back to back would have highlighted this more interestingly. As it stands now, “Eleanor Rigby” appears to be a compression, and the result leaves the film seeming more conventional than it may have originally intended to be. We don’t feel the weight of time that the two separate films would have produced. Not having seen the “Him” and “Her” versions, my guess is that the film suffers from a unique problem — the transfer to one film was too seamless. It smoothed out the rough edges and merged the two perspectives into one. What we’re watching is not the agony of post-relationship life told from two different angles, but one, which in a sense is every other movie about life after love.
Knowing that there are other, more challenging versions of this film that exist (and hopefully will screen for the public), it’s hard to watch this newly crafted merger and not imagine what was left out, or what would have been better. There are lines of dialogue that are extremely silly (“There’s only one heart in this body, have mercy on me”) and an aimless subplot featuring Viola Davis as a sarcastic Cooper Union professor who warms up to Eleanor and offers guidance (scolding her for being part of the “generation of too many choices”). In its duel-perspective original, maybe these elements were presented less as fact and more as the product of a shaky memory. We all look back on relationships through a hazy lens, remembering and misremembering most of what happened. Maybe Conor remembers his relationship with Eleanor as being filled with joyful runs through the park and cheesy lines of faux-poetic reverie, and maybe Eleanor remembers that those lines of dialogue were cheesy and left her annoyed.
“Eleanor Rigby” is now something different. It’s a very sad movie (a few people were openly weeping during the screening I attended), and you can imagine that the studio wanted to cut down on some of the more depressing aspects, or at least rein in those already in place. But in the process, it seems that they’ve stripped the film of its most exciting attribute. We’re left with the story of one, which is something we’ve all seen and experienced. We don’t need to see it again.
Ben Lerner’s “10:04” is a slim, smart piece of meta-fiction about storms, health conditions, children, the publishing industry, and the art world. The novel’s opening line sets the prevailing tone: Lerner and his agent are strolling the High Line “after an outrageously expensive celebratory meal in Chelsea that included baby octopuses the chef had literally massaged to death.” What they’re celebrating is the sale of what will become “10:04,” building on Lerner’s meteoric rise to cult stardom following his debut novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station,” and a short story in the New Yorker. This inherently navel-gazing conceit never becomes too obnoxious, mainly on the strength of Lerner’s prose, which shares with Tao Lin a certain obsessive self-criticality, minus the latter’s disaffected flatness. Another close cousin might be Chris Kraus’s “I Love Dick,” a book that’s similarly a long, idiosyncratic essay masquerading as a novel.
Lerner’s tactic in the book is to lay bare the mechanics of his craft by flip-flopping between chapters in which he appears as a first-person narrator and as a third-person entity, “the author” — the idea being that we’re suddenly privy to the elisions, adaptations, and reality-tweaks that go into crafting fiction. This tactic works, more or less, but also feels unnecessary at times, because the real joy in “10:04” is its observational asides — on things like the aforementioned octopus, Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” the volunteers at the Park Slope Food Co-op, or Lerner’s own future as a possible sperm donor for his best friend. The novel mixes the overwrought and the colloquial to great comedic effect, and is equally democratic with its cultural references, from John Ashbery to “Back to the Future.” (Watching Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” famous for its extreme close-ups of the lead actress, makes Lerner feel as if he’s “Skyping with Falconetti.”) And Lerner isn’t afraid to overshare — about his sex life, or his finances: from “10:04” he “would clear something like two hundred and seventy thousand dollars,” he marvels, akin to “around four Hummer H2 SUVs. Or the two first editions on the market of ‘Leaves of Grass.’”
Unfortunately, the novel falls a bit flat in its final chapters, in which Lerner travels down to Marfa, Texas for a writing residency. He sleeps during the day, ruminates on John Chamberlain and Donald Judd, snorts ketamine at a party. There are some sharp moments, for sure, including these lines on the famous American Minimalist: “I had never had a strong response to Judd’s work, not that I was any kind of expert. I believed in the things he wanted to get rid of — the international compositional relations of a painting, nuances of form. His interest in modularity and industrial fabrication and his desire to overcome the distinction between art and life, an insistence on literal objects in real space — I felt I could get all those things by walking through a Costco or a Home Depot or IKEA; I’d never cared more for Judd’s ‘specific objects’ than any of the other objects I encountered in the world, objects that were merely real.”
But for whatever reason, Lerner — who was an accomplished poet before the success of “Leaving the Atocha Station” — chooses to incorporate long chunks of verse into this section, much of it simply recasting observations he’s already made in prose form. At this point “10:04” starts to feel less like an intentionally diffuse, self-conscious novel and more like a sketchbook of ideas and recollections, culminating in the urban ruin of Superstorm Sandy. Yet it’s ultimately hard to fault this novel for its failures, since it folds back on itself, becoming a novel about the struggle to create something so anachronistic as a novel in the first place. And while “10:04”’s overall structure may be a bit rickety, Lerner proves himself an adept guide to this uneven territory: chatty and cerebral, self-absorbed but also highly empathic, keyed in to the “majesty and murderous stupidity” of our world.