Artists Curating Artists

When artists curate works by other artists, it creates a dialogue between artistic sensibilities. Often we are unsure if the artists personally know (or knew) each other, if they were influenced by each other, or if their collaboration was the result of a stimulating first encounter. And we start to look for clues—the visual and thematic links that join the artists in their uneasy union. Two gallery shows up now, Some Artists’ Artists at Marian Goodman and A Machinery for Living curated by Walead Beshty at Friedrich Petzel, provoke these questions of aesthetic preference, lineage, and influence. Similar to MoMA’s Artist’s Choice series, most recently overseen by Trisha Donnelly, the shows present intriguing, frequently surprising, connections between the selectors and selectees, generating an unresolved tension between two artistic practices.

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Installation view of Some Artists’ Artists at Marian Goodman. Photo courtesy Marian Goodman and the author.

Marian Goodman’s exhibition includes 23 international artists from countries spanning Albania, Cuba, Holland, Portugal, Taiwan, and the US. The selecting artists, established figures like John Baldessari, Tony Cragg, Tacita Dean, Gabriel Orozco, Julie Mehretu, and others, were not restricted in their choice of artists, yielding a pool both young and old, known and emerging. Interestingly, the gallery does not reveal who has chosen whom in its press release nor in plain sight in the gallery itself (you must inquire at the front desk). By leaving its curators anonymous, the gallery squashes any direct associations between artists, leaving the work to speak on its own.

There were a few standout pieces. I loved Edi Hila’s series of paintings depicting landmarks from his home country of Albania—in particular, this frothy pink painting of the Parliament building. Almost like Gerhard Richter’s blurry photo-paintings, Hila’s images allude to his country’s shrouded history, and are simply beautifully-rendered paintings.

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Edi Hila, Parlement, 2011. Photo courtesy Marian Goodman and the author.

In Jessica Rankin’s Dear Another, the artist placed cut-up words in poetic juxtapositions against a spongy monochromatic backdrop that was inspired by constellations, and that to me resembles cellular globs.

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Jessica Rankin, Dear Another, 2014. Photo courtesy Marian Goodman and the author.

Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Self-Portrait sculptures are tributes to the traditions of his native Mexico, while also referring to other forms of regional construction that combine generic manufacturing with unique handicraft. Using gravity and weight, Cruzvillegas strikes a precarious balance that represents the gap between local and foreign cultures.

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Foreground: Abraham Cruzvillegas, Tectonic Self Portrait Thinking of the Possible Disappearance of the Baja California Peninsula and Reading Anthonio Gramsci’s “Gli Intellectuali e L’Organizzazione della Culturea”, 2014. Four Edi Hila paintings in background. Photo courtesy Marian Goodman and the author.

Lastly, Thomas Schütte’s startling Glass Heads are comedic takes on the heroic busts of historical sculpture.Image 5 Schutte

Thomas Schütte, Glaskopfs (Glass Heads), 2013. Photo courtesy Marian Goodman and the author.

In his show at Petzel, A Machinery for Living, Beshty, a London-born photographer and writer based in Los Angeles, set out with an enigmatic agenda. Beshty’s own work explores the fraught relationship between photographic images and political issues. Using the camera as a social tool, he has focused on the decrepitude of shopping malls, abandoned buildings, and airports, examining the ways in which fact and fiction intermingle at these controversial sites. And from the first moment you enter the gallery, you get the sense that Beshty’s exhibition leads the viewer on a carefully choreographed journey.

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Atelier EB, Manet. Photo courtesy Petzel and the author.

Atelier EB’s elaborately costumed mannequins are situated in two galleries, imbuing the gallery with a mysterious human presence, no matter how “fake.” The installation was meticulously arranged from every angle. Strange human silhouettes are presented against the purity of Josiah McElheny’s ceramics, angular tables, and the repeated motif of xeroxed hands in works by Jay DeFeo and James Welling. Welling’s chaotic tangle of wire hangers and Rachel Harrison’s whirling assemblage make a marked contrast to the mechanical precision of images like Christopher Williams’ cross section of a camera, and the ordered bookshelves of Thomas Barrow’s black and white photographs.

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Petzel installation views. Photo courtesy Petzel and the author.

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Jay DeFeo, Untitled, 1979. Photo courtesy Petzel and the author.

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Christopher Williams, Cutaway model Nikkor zoom lens…, 2008. Photo courtesy Petzel and the author.

My favorite works in the show were the delicate “jewelry” pieces by DeFeo. Her talisman-like pendants made of wood, metal, glass, and wire dangle in the center of white window boxes that allow for views of the adjacent galleries—again creating mini vignettes that emphasize the graphic interplay of form, shadow, and light in the gallery space.

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Jay DeFeo, Untitled, c. 1953-55. Photo courtesy Petzel and the author.

Instead of producing a traditional press release, Beshty included four statements on everyday life. Referencing class struggle, revolution, uneasiness, subversion, spiritual emanation, and enclosed rooms, the quotes suggest that there is a political charge to Beshty’s curatorial premise. He seems to be advocating for social awareness and activation over apathy and complacency. Just how this conflict is manifested in the art of Beshty’s artists, though, is what compels us to dig deeper and to look closer at their work.

Some Artists’ Artists is on view at Marian Goodman through August 22, 2014.

A Machinery for Living is on view at Friedrich Petzel Gallery through August 8, 2014.

Categories: Artists, Exhibitions
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