Backstroke of the West


Installation view, Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West, MCA Chicago September 16, 2017—March 4, 2018 The invisible enemy should not exist, (2007–ongoing) Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

In 1995, Uday Hussein, the son of Saddam Hussein, established the Fedayeen Saddam, a notorious paramilitary force.  As a devoted fan of the Star Wars trilogy, Uday issued an exact replica of Darth Vader’s helmet as part of the Fedayeen’s official uniform—a bizarre and unsettling instance of life mimicking art.  At Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a Fedayeen helmet sits alongside a Darth Vader helmet as part of Chicago-based conceptual artist Michael Rakowitz’s mid-career retrospective, a show which calls attention to politically charged and revealing instances of cross-cultural exchanges between East and West.     Continue reading

Between Physical and Digital


Set dresser Matt Brooks makes landscapes from found fabrics in Kubo’s cemetery set.KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS ©2016, TWO STRINGS, LLC

In the shadows of the far side of the cavernous space, are rows of faces. Or more precisely, rows of a face. One row of twenty-four tiny faces, formed in plastic by a 3D printer, becomes one face. Each photographed, then pulsed together in a burst of twenty-four frames per second, becomes a single second of film— the illusion of motion depicted in moving light projected onto a screen. Viewed as if pulled back from that film-to-be, the faces on the wall appear as moments frozen in time. The smallest syllables of spoken words, hanging on the small, painted lips of the characters. The subtle topologies of facial expressions, caught in a stasis, so that we might examine them. But they are not moments. Those moments never existed. Continue reading

Fired Up


Installation shot, courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art

The Toledo Museum of Art is ground zero for the Studio Glass Movement of the 1960s, which had modest beginnings in a garage on the TMA’s campus.  Although women were integral to the movement, their work originally attracted less attention than that of their male counterparts.  In recent years, this is no longer the case, and the Toledo Art Museum’s exhibition Fired Up is a celebration of the robust international presence of female glassblowers.   Fifty works comprise this exhibition, the first in America to shine the spotlight on glass art by contemporary female glass artists.  The show isn’t bound by any particular theme, but all the works on view are emphatically aesthetic objects, entirely nonfunctional, and playfully push the boundaries of the medium beyond what many of us are likely used to seeing, revealing the surprising and perhaps under-appreciated versatility of glass.  Continue reading

Ileana Sonnabend and Arte Povera – Edited by Germano Celant

This exhibition catalog reminds us that performance art and some art made from discarded and daily use objects –and ingenuity — began in the 60s as playful investigations of process, concepts, psychology, and aesthetics. I taught intro to Art History for decades when Germano Celant was a star curator in New York and Europe, also often seen in a 20th Century Art film series discussing process-oriented art — for example, Franz Klein painting nude women blue and rolling their bodies on paper – and why this was art. Many artists in the 60s & 70s, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Lynda Benglis, did nude performance art, but it was not necessarily process-oriented. Continue reading

Through the Orbit of Furniture


Installation photos of APEX: Dawn Cerny, copyright Dawn Cerny, photos courtesy Portland Art Museum

I’m walking amongst a display of furniture— in a way. But these are not actual pieces of furniture. Their names often reference furniture: side table, biblelot cart, gray wardrobe, orange chair. But they do not appear to be useable pieces of furniture. They lean to the side, tower precariously, their uneven surfaces coming to drastic angles, not the usual orthogonal angles we are accustomed to from our household furnishings. Continue reading

Why Ai Weiwei Addresses Human Rights

Ai Weiwei sculpture

Ai Weiwei Circle Fence, 2017 Powder coated mild steel, polypropylene netting Courtesy of the artist Photo: Timothy Schenck, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY On view as part of the citywide exhibition Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, presented by Public Art Fund October 12, 2017-February 11, 2018

Ai Weiwei’s Public Art Fund exhibit employs fences as an extended metaphor for increasing barriers around the world. Three large shapes and over 300 smaller art works — bus station shelters, wall art, and lamp post banners — span the five boroughs. One large work, Gilded Cage, is a dome-shaped bird-cage-like soaring structure with about five subway turnstile mini-structures inside. The cage door faces Central Park as its see-through silhouette displays the Plaza Hotel and luxury Fifth Avenue businesses. As we know, even high end companies in Manhattan have entry level jobs for sales clerks and cleaning people. It’s unlikely the lower-paid employees can afford to live in Manhattan. This cage’s transparency reminds us that street vendors and entry-level employees daily work alongside executives and well-heeled customers and clients. Continue reading