conceptual art

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Which One’s Oscar?

Posted by aaron on 18 Jul 2010 | Tagged as: art paparazzi, conceptual art, coverage, image & sound, performance art, politics, sound art, video/film

Our own correspondent is sorry to tell
Of an uneasy time that all is not well
On the borders there’s movement
In the hills there is trouble
Food is short, crime is double
Prices have risen since the government fell
Casualties increase as the enemy shell
The climate’s unhealthy, flies and rats thrive
And sooner or later the end will arrive
This is your correspondent, running out of tape
Gunfire’s increasing, looting, burning, rape

– Wire, “Reuters”, 1977.

Seeing an art show at a nightclub has its drawbacks, but one thing I took away from seeing the one-night only six-man show Oscar Mike at was the idea that more galleries should paint the walls black. With proper lighting, it can be a natural neutral framing device which highlights the work and renders negative space somehow richer.

The line-up of the show drew me out of what has become, in my advanced years, a somewhat habitual avoidance of loud and smoky music clubs (note to San Antonio: in NYC, the smoking ban in bars seems not to have had any effect on the level of trade and sure makes it more comfortable for everyone, smokers included.) San Antonio-based artists Albert Alvarez, Jimmy Canales, the brothers Ruben and Rigoberto Luna, Miguel Nelson, and part-time Angeleno Vincent Valdez came together after the experience the first four had of putting together the possibly-someday-to-be-considered-seminal group exhibit Techjano/a: Hybrid Logic this spring at el Museo Alameda. The germ of the idea for this new show came from Valdez and developed after Rigo Luna introduced him to brother Ruben (who had curated the Alameda show.) A fast friendship and evidently an effective creative alliance was quickly formed, although Rigo is quick to point out that “Oscar Mike is a show, not a collective.”

The basis for the work in the show is the participants’ shared boyhood love for the 80’s iteration of G.I. Joe. A running theme of the youthful acceptance of the glamorization of war represented by the action figures, comic book and cartoon series – one of the early pioneering brands which synergized toys and media in an attempt to saturate children’s imagination and desire – is contrasted with the now-adult artists’ deeper understanding of the full ramifications of organized violence, and their rejection of the pop culture romanticization of the warrior myth.

Speech Object (updated)

Posted by ben on 18 Jun 2010 | Tagged as: conceptual art, performance art

Greg Allen, one of my favorite art bloggers, has a recent post up about Ian Wilson, whose art consists entirely of oral discussions (at least for a certain period of time it did; later he published books, among other things). Allen quotes from a catalogue describing Wilson’s “search for an art in which no evidence of physicality would intrude.” I thought this was an odd thing to say about oral communication. I don’t know if this is the kind of language Ian Wilson himself would use to describe his work*, but it reminds me of this passage from the introduction to a book on sociolinguistics I picked up recently (Asif Agha’s ““):

If human beings are artifact makers, the artifacts they most readily make are enacted representations, including utterances and discourses. As individuals, we do this countless times a day and think nothing of it; but those patterns of individual activity that we call institutions to it in a more complex, sometimes puzzling way, and often with far greater consequence. It is therefore all the more important to see that utterances and discourses are themselves material objects made through human activity — made, in a physical sense, out of vibrating columns of air, ink on paper, pixels in electronic media — which exercise real effects upon our senses, minds, and modes of social organization, and to learn to understand and analyze these effects. It is true that that utterances and discourses are artifacts of a more or less evanescent kind (speech more than writing). But these are questions of duration, not materiality, and certainly not of degree or kind of cultural consequence…. I reject the privileged status typically accorded in contemporary discussions of materiality to the narrow special case of durable objects. Such an emphasis, which fixates on the physical persistence of the durable object, obscures the processes through which its sign-values emerge or change. Last year’s hat doesn’t make the same fashion statement this year. It’s the same hat. Or is it? Everyone agrees that fleeting signs (such as spoken utterances and gestures) acquire contextual significance from their more durable physical setting. It remains to be seen that the semiotic values of durable objects (the kinds of things one can put on the mantle-piece, or trip over in the dark) are illuminated for their users by the discourses that appear evanescent even when their effects are not.

So, without knowing the intentions of Ian Wilson himself, one would wonder whether his work is an attempt to remove the physicality from art, or to make more apparent the physicality of spoken language. I think the latter interpretation has many more interesting implications than the former.

* UPDATE: After posting this, I found a panel conversation printed in Lucy Lippard’s “” in which Wilson describes his approach rather succinctly:

I certainly am not a poet. I’m a very bad writer; probably that’s why I’m talking about oral communication. I’m not a poet and I’m considering oral communication as a sculpture. Because, as I said, if you take a cube someone has said you imagine the other side because it’s so simple. And you can take the idea further by by saying you can imagine the whole thing without its physical presence. So now immediately you’ve transcended the idea of an object that was a cube into a word without a physical presence. And you still have the essential features of the object at your disposal.

Isn’t it incredibly strange, in a sense, that Wilson considers the oral communication as a sculpture, and yet still denies its physicality without blinking? But then if I hadn’t just been reading Agha, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

Image vs Language: Language is not Transparent

Posted by ben on 08 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: conceptual art, video/film, vs., wordy

Conway’s Game of Life translated into one line of APL.

Rules of Inference (Mel Bochner)

“Rules of Inference” by Mel Bochner

Busy Weekend

Posted by ben on 22 Oct 2009 | Tagged as: art + bikes, arts organizations, celebrations, conceptual art, free food, graffiti, public art

This is a little reminder of some of the art events on this busy weekend.

  • Mel Bochner is showing recent work at Lawrence Markey gallery on Friday night, 5-7 pm.
  • For those of you who dig theory, the Land Heritage Institute is hosting an art-sci symposium, “The Nature of Place,” full of important thinkers, from Lucy Lippard, Sandy Stone, and Joan Jonas to Anjali Gupta (editor / director of Art Lies) and Leslie Raymond (head of the New Media Program at UTSA and one half of Potter-Belmar Labs). This is on Saturday & Sunday. It’s free, but you have to register.
  • For some more family-oriented fun on Saturday, check out the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center’s Family Day, with free workshops, demonstrations, food, drink, and live music. There’s even a bike rodeo and free silk screening if you bring your bike & t-shirts!
  • Saturday night the Martinez Street Women’s Center is having a fundraiser at Artpace called the Bling-Bling Fling. Should be a blast. Tickets are $25.
  • The street art festival Clogged Caps is going on all day Saturday, with top-notch aerosol artists & DJs.

Don’t miss any of this stuff! Seriously!

Define “post-contemporary”

Posted by ben on 21 Aug 2009 | Tagged as: art + bikes, conceptual art, coverage

In my first post in a long time over at Glasstire, I call out Elaine Wolff for her characterization of Daniel Saldaña as “post-contemporary.” I like the pieces he has on display at David Shelton Gallery, but her implication that his art is at odds with current art-making trends is a stretch, and I think a misreading of what’s happening in the art world.

Pacin’ it up

Posted by ben on 24 Jun 2009 | Tagged as: arts organizations, books, conceptual art, coverage, design, photography, responses/reviews

Dan Goddard, the Express-News’ long-time art critic who was recently canned in a round of layoffs, has just published two good articles dealing with Linda Pace properties. In the San Antonio Current, he discusses the fate of Pace’s storied art collection, and it’s forthcoming permanent home. Designed by British architect David Adjaye specifically for the Pace collection, the project is on hold due to the economic downturn. Apart from that news, which I’ve been hearing unofficially for a while, Goddard reveals many interesting tidbits about the collection, Linda’s personal relationships with various artists, and the ongoing activities of the foundation. I was excited to learn that the Linda Pace Foundation is funding a public work by Jesse Amado to be installed at the downtown library (it will surely be a welcome contrast to their Chihuly).

On Glasstire, Goddard reviews Jonathan Monk’s “Rew-Shay Hood Project Part II” at Artpace. There’s some good context here for understanding the subtleties of the show, from Monk’s history with appropriation to Rucsha’s Catholic background, right down to curator Matthew Drutt’s obsession with vehicle-related art. That Goddard brings up Dave Hickey’s discussion of Ruscha is interesting, given Hickey’s interest in custom cars as an artistic medium. Some people I’ve talked to about the show come away with the impression that Monk is having the Ruscha photos painted on car hoods from the same period; Goddard points out this isn’t the case, the hoods come from one or two decades later than the photos. Perhaps what’s going on here is a contrast between the beginning of the idea of an “artist’s book” (the move away from the artist creating singular, unique objects) and the end of the era of the custom muscle car. As Goddard points out, the push for more efficient, less polluting cars using computer technologies pushed out custom car hobbyist culture to a large extent. But the rise of these computer technologies also empowered artists to move into their own mass production, at the same time allowing the kind of appropriation that Monk himself uses. Although Ruscha wasn’t using computers to produce Twentysix Gas Stations (and I don’t know if Monk used them in his reproductions), they are the descendents of the mass-production technologies that printed Twentysix Gas Stations, and Monk’s relevance certainly has a lot to do with them. Thus in the show we have the suggestion of a kind of ebb and flow, technology and the markets at certain points inspiring very personal expression, at other points depersonalizing art even to the point that it becomes design. And isn’t Monk here acting more like a designer than an artist, if by design we mean depersonalized visual communication?

On Kawara is not On Twitter

Posted by ben on 27 May 2009 | Tagged as: conceptual art,

I noticed today (via AFC) that there’s an On Kawara Twitter account which announces “I AM STILL ALIVE #art” every day. Then I noticed that the announcement is made every day at 11:55 AM, and that it is posted via a Perl script (Perl Net::Twitter). As it happens, last night I was flipping through , and I came across On Kawara’s postcard project, in which he sent the time he woke up each day stamped on postcards (this went on for 4 months):

Nov – 1 1969 I got up at 4.28 P.M.
Nov – 2 1969 I got up at 3.13 P.M.
Nov – 3 1969 I got up at 1.15 P.M.

Given the personal nature of this work, I figured either this isn’t On Kawara’s Twitter account or he is seriously changing up his working methods. A Google search later, I find the confession:

The conceptual artist On Kawara has 101 followers on twitter at the time of this writing. I have only 20-something. But I am On Kawara on twitter. Or rather, On Kawara on twitter is a Perl script that gets automatically run once a day on a server in a cabinet in my living room. I haven’t done anything to publicize his activities on twitter. All he does is announce, “I AM STILL ALIVE” once a day. He doesn’t follow anyone. Yet, somehow, it seeped out into the twitter community. The “Perl Net::Twitter” client name should be a dead give away.

The interesting thing about this (and my original reason for launching it) is that it blatantly negates the whole idea behind On Kawara’s “I AM STILL ALIVE” messages. Whereas those did indeed confirm that he was still alive, this doesn’t. It’s an automated process that he doesn’t even control. Were he to die, he would continue to announce “I AM STILL ALIVE”, everday, on twitter. So it really does two things; by falsely confirming that he is alive, it casts doubt on the issue but it also keeps the notion of him actively announcing that he is alive, alive.