Friday, August 23, 2019

ART Là-bas: A Short Statement


ART Là-bas



In French Là-bas means not only "down there" (as in a kind of hell), but "over there," "out there," "back there," "yonder." ART Là-bas, edited by Douglas Messerli, will include my essays (and others' works) on art in the U.S. and throughout the world as shown "over there," "back there," and even, if necessary, "down there."


Although this blog will primarily feature essays by me, I invite any interested art writer to send reviews, notes, essays, and commentary on art of any kind, from which I will select suitable essays to post. The copyright for such works will be protected in the name of ART Là-bas, but will revert to the author one month after its original publication.


Suggestions and responses are also welcome, but will be edited for appropriate content.


Douglas Messerli, Editor



All material (c) copyright 2019 by ART Là-bas and the authors.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Douglas Messerli | "Tall Tales" (review of his LA Louver gallery show "The Exact Moment It Happens in the West: Stories, Pictures and Songs from the '60s 'til Now")


tall tales

Terry Allen The Exact Moment It Happens in the West: Stories, Pictures and Songs from the ‘60s ‘til Now / L.A. Louver gallery / I attended a walk-through of the show Thursday, July 18, 2019

Terry Allen’s art is a wild jumble of drawings, paintings, stories, videos, musical albums, radio plays, sculptural figures, live performance, and other works on paper, through the years narratively woven together in large and sprawling groups, represented by what one might describe as symbolic objects in this large retrospective show, The Exact Moment It Happens in the West, at LA Louver Gallery in Los Angeles. As the title of the show suggests, Allen is an intensely “western” artist, beginning with his “Cowboy and the Stranger” series (1969), and moving into his important recording album Juarez (1975), most of the early works relating to his upbringing in Lubbock, Texas, despite his birth in Wichita, Kansas.
        Allen’s work is all about the stories that collect around his works; as he himself observed: “I realized what I really wanted to do was tell stories.”
        Yet Allen’s stories, expressed in so many mediums, are anything but simple story-telling. Even with the limited images and objects displayed in this show, the LA Louver presentation make us realize that his narrative is anything but the standard notion of fiction and moves, instead, into a kind of wry experimentalism that might easily be labeled as inscrutable and even obscurant.
     
While some of the later works from the “Memwars” series (2018-19) such as “The Exact Moment,’ seem visually to create a kind washed-out nostalgia for the western myths that permeate so much of his work, earlier pieces such as the fascinating “Stet Eline (Juarez)” from 1969-75 appear as far more surreal-like collages, with clouds, brain and other organ-like images, and a stream filled with fish and seemingly concrete blocks delimiting their natural movements. A bit like a film-clip out of Dali movie (on the left side and top we perceive the kind of notation, “1 2   3 45” consigned to the frames of earlier motion pictures. But put together it is difficult to create a coherent story or tale in viewing this work. With Allen, the perceiver needs to take in a wide collection of his images, interrelating and mentally combining them, taking the parts and collage-like making of them through mental gymnastics into a whole.
       But then that is not only the challenge of Allen’s art, but its marvel. The stories this artist tells are not gentle fables, but fabulous legends which the viewer and listener must put together to tell the true tale.
       Allen further challenges us by employing so many personal aspects of his life as in the series of “Ring” (1976-80), which explores his marital strife with his long-supportive wife Jo Harvey Allen, ending in a small mock-up of a wrestling ring where two puppets play out the brutal dissonance between the two, which, at times, of course, might be represented as coital intercourse.

      Another of his series, “Anterabbit/Bleeder” is loosely based on a childhood friend, a hemophiliac evangelist/gambler.
      Allen’s large body of work titled “Youth in Asia” (1983-93) represents his memories of numerous friends who served in Vietnam, having been betrayed by the US government or simply destroyed in the process. After numerous paintings, photographs, and sculptures, he closed this series with a music album Amerasia and a radio play, Torso Hell.
       This artist’s work, even in its vastness, let alone its often private and personal allusions, is clearly a tough bone, at times, on which to gnaw. One might have to follow Allen through his entire life and the art through its many manifestations to come to understand him and gain a true enthusiasm for them. I realized that if only I had the time to return again and again to his art, I might realize his true significance. I must admit that first meeting him during a show at another area museum years earlier, I was not impressed. But this time I was. And I think Christina Carlos, who helped bring this show into existence, has done an excellent job in revealing this sometimes rogue artist’s vast output.
      This show lasts through December, and I most certainly will attempt to see it once more before it disappears. I believe that you could visit Allen’s work time after time without knowing fully how to read its narrative. But isn’t that what great fiction is all about?

Los Angeles, July 28, 2019
Reprinted from Art Là-bas (August 2019).

Monday, June 3, 2019

Douglas Messerli | "At the Core" (on the Getty Museum of Art show Reljander: Artist Photographer)


at the core
by Douglas Messerli

Reljander: Artist Photographer / curated by Lori Pauli, Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum of Art / I visited this show with Howard N. Fox and Pablo Capra on May 21, 2019

One of the very best photography shows of the year in Los Angeles was the large Getty exhibition showing of the Swedish born, London-based photographer, who went under his last name only, Rejlander (1813-1875).
      While most of the early photographers attempted to reproduce reality in their photographs, reminding us of the naturalistic focus of early photography and film and carrying on to even today’s “selfie” portraits, Rejlander, using intense studio techniques—costumes, poses, and carefully lit close-ups of his subject’s hands, feet, and facial expressions—created a highly artful sense of photos that remind us today of such various artists as Eleanor Antin, Cindy Sherman, and numerous others. Indeed, the Getty also has accompanied the Rejlander exhibit with a small showing of what it describes as an “Encore: Reenactment in Contemporary Photography,” including the work of Eileen Cowin, Christina Fernadez, Samuel Fosso, Yasumasa Morimua, Yinko Shonibare CBE, Gillian Wearing, and Qui Zhijie  that really might be truly fascinating if it were reconceived to show the large numbers of photographers who really worked with the kind of “artistic” repositioning of the genre from natural and realistic presentation to the manipulation of what the viewer is actually perceiving.
      Rejlander was, in fact, a master of making us believe that the images we saw, mostly recreated in his studio and processed through basically theatrical techniques—the photographer, we are told, actually directed his subjects—constantly on the move—who he had often found on the streets or through casual encounters, insisting on positioning them, carefully lighting them, and spinning around them as a kind of theatrical director to help them arrive at the positions in which he might shoot them. In a true sense, this photographer was like an early studio director, forcing his still-lives to play out stories that would later be seen in early and later cinema productions.
      Although the curator, Lori Pauli, doesn’t precisely say this in her highly intelligent wall commentary of the show, one might almost argue that was a kind of early film director who hadn’t yet found the proper medium in which to present his artistic aspirations.
       Stealing young boys and girls from the streets, this artist froze them into positions that they may, in fact, have experienced in street life: poverty, destitution, despair, and isolation from the society in which they existed, while also offering them up gentle myths of daily family life; yet the worlds he created for them, factual or imagined, were of his own making. He was so clever in his ability to demonstrate their various psychological attitudes, that Charles Darwin, a friend and subject of several of Rejlander’s photos, used his “emotional” portraits to demonstrate his own scientific views of human emotions.

       If today we might well mock him for the tricks of his photography, the melodramatic presentations, some straight out of Dickens, we need only to recall the works of Diane Arbus, presented always as actual societal “discoveries,” but actually representing carefully sought-out situations to fit into the frame of her own slightly perverse and societal concerns.
     If Sherman, perhaps, is a bit more honest in using her own body as the subject of her cinema-like fantasies, is it really that is not so very much different from William Wegman’s clever and charming in-studio portraits of dogs, just as artificially conceived as Rejlander’s street urchins and the beautiful women who posed for him?
      Indeed, it is possible that Rejlander’s work, as studio-based as it was, might have had an effect on social concerns almost as deeply as did someone like Jacob Riss, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, and Doreatha Lange. Their work may have been more “honest”—after all they went into the streets and child labor shops and shot what they saw there—whereas Rejlander made up just such scenes. But I dare to ask whether or not his wonderful “Poor Jo” might not have pulled on the heart strings of its 1870s viewers as strongly as the social realists of the early 20th century?
     Could a scene of a seemingly destitute worker, sitting up through the night next to his wife and daughter not have an important effect on his Victorian audience?
     
And then, there are is numerous nude scenes, imagined orgies—or, at least debauchery—and visions of sexuality long before his contemporaries were able to even admit to them. Rejlander was not a voyeur; he made them up, but in so doing expressed and obvious titillated what every Victorian knew was just below the surface, suggesting a bit of what Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) revealed in his own photographs of young girls—yet with a far greater abandonment that Eleanor Antin satirizes in her large-scale photographic studies. These photographs have something in common with the Baroque and painterly images of the late 18th and early 19th century artists, which take us into another time outside of the world in which Oscar G. Rejlander existed.
      In the end, this large photographic exhibit has to be seen rather than simply talked about, so erratic and broad was the artist’s vision.
Like many things in the 19th century, it was stuffed with historical sentimentality, but also challenged the very boundaries of the studio art in which he created it.
     Unlike some of the pieces in the adjunct show that accompanies his work—although I was delighted by my introduction to it—Rejlander’s art was not simply about gender, or family, or identity, but encompassed a broad view of the human comedy; even if it was all imaginary, created through his own camera and artistic techniques, it spoke to the core of human existence.

Los Angeles, May 27, 2019

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Channa Horwitz | Statement by the Artist


The statement and the photographs were first published in Sun and Moon : A Journal of Literature and Art in 1976.


Channa Horwitz
Statement by the Artist

I have created a visual philosophy by working with deductive logic. I had a need to control and compose time as I had controlled and composed two dimensional drawings and paintings. To do this, I chose a graph as the basis for the visual description of time. I gave the graph a value: one inch became one beat or pulse in time. Using this graph, I made compositions that depicted rhythm visually.
            To compose the visual rhythms, I chose to use eight units. I gave each of the eight units a number, a count equal to its number, and a color. Number one had a duration of one count and was green, number two had a duration of two counts and was blue, etc., on to eight which had a duration of eight counts, and was colored yellow green. I then named these eight units “energies”. With eight energies, each having a duration equal to its number, I made compositions using the same logic. Whatever motion appears in time on the graph is based on the same linear logic. I chose to use a circular sequence for the basis of my logical system for motion. Visually, I accomplished this by having my rhythm follow a count of 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-1-2... or 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, etc. I then thought of these choices or limitations as rules for a game. By limiting my choices to the least number, and questioning each game, I created a separate world of visual rhythm that grew in strength. The more I questioned, the further I was brought in my search for meaning, artistic truth, and for a meaning of freedom.
            I experience freedom through the limitations and structure I place on my work. It would appear that limitation and structure are the opposite of freedom. I have found them to be synonymous with freedom, and the basis of freedom.
            As I see the world, it appears to have grown and evolved through a series of chances. My life and how it evolves appears to be determined by chance; but in reality, it is a structure directed and determined by my desires, both conscious and unconscious. The theory behind my work is that if structure plays out long enough, it will appear to be chance. It won’t be chance, it will only appear to be chance. My life flows as all things in the universe flow, in a cyclical or circular manner. It is as in Lobachevskian geometry, the continuum meets itself in space. The beginning and ending are only one step away from each other. There is no beginning and ending... in the universe. To live for all time, is to live now. My life's duration is all time. I create and control my life out of my desires.
            As controller-creator of my life work, I create compositions that are based on the cycle-circle of a never ending count. Earlier works showed this count or time horizontally, one inch for each beat. To achieve my compositions, I used motion in the form of eight energies (1/8 inch squares) which moved in a circularly sequential, numbered, logical manner. I created visual compositions by playing different number games. After creating a large body of compositions using one inch of time and eight squares depicting motion, I became curious about the possibilities of expanding the one inch of time in a vertical direction, and thereby creating space for the energies to grow. This brought about the expanded energy from eight 1/8 inch squares to eight one inch squares. Each energy grew by 1/8 inch until it became one inch. I then decided to allow the energies to expand even farther in space. To do this I expanded the composition to four levels in space. I then had four levels in space vertically and eight energies in time horizontally with which I could compose.
            After completing this body of work (some pieces were up to sixteen feet), I questioned it. Having a desire to become more complex in my next compositions, I realized that the complexity of the work required miniaturization. I proceeded to reduce the work down to its essence, and to add four more levels. Each energy appeared one per inch horizontally and each level of space appeared one per inch vertically.
            After completing the first drawing in the series, I decided that the completed drawing was the front slice of a volume and that I would slice into this volume eight times front to back, eight times top to bottom, and eight times left to middle. Each drawing would be one step away from the previous drawing; the last drawing one step from the first.
            In doing the next series of drawings called Variations and Inversions on a Rhythm, I started with numbers logically arrived at through eight previously completed drawings. In the first drawing of the set I carried those previously determined numbers forward onto one drawing. On each subsequent drawing I varied all segments of the first drawing by one count. By varying the work in this way, I arrived at the first set of 64 drawings. The set exists because of the possibilities of variations with the numbers.
            The structure of the rhythm within the drawings is the result of a split. The split being that of a primary and secondary motion.
            The primary rhythm is arrived at through the use of the logical number sequence.
            The secondary rhythm is arrived at through the use of an inversion, where a different line on each successive drawing is inverted one space.
            In the first series of drawings this inversion shifts one space back on a different line on each successive drawing, resulting in 64 drawings.
            In the second series of drawings the inversion of one space back is retained on each line on each drawing and one additional inversion is added in each successive drawing, resulting in 64 drawings.
            In the third series of drawings the inversion manifests itself in a reversed direction of one space on each successive line of each successive drawing resulting in 112 drawings.
            The investigation of my original concept has brought me into unknown territory. With each question I search for a visual answer. In this way I have strengthened my original concept and have travelled further into the unknown.

Channa Horwitz
Hidden Hills, California
January, 1976

           reated a separate world of visual rhythm that grew in strength. The more I questioned, the further I was brought in my search for meaning, artistic truth, and for a meaning of freedom.
            I experience freedom through the limitations and structure I place on my work. It would appear that limitation and structure are the opposite of freedom. I have found them to be synonymous with freedom, and the basis of freedom.
            As I see the world, it appears to have grown and evolved through a series of chances. My life and how it evolves appears to be determined by chance; but in reality, it is a structure directed and determined by my desires, both conscious and unconscious. The theory behind my work is that if structure plays out long enough, it will appear to be chance. It won’t be chance, it will only appear to be chance. My life flows as all things in the universe flow, in a cyclical or circular manner. It is as in Lobachevskian geometry, the continuum meets itself in space. The beginning and ending are only one step away from each other. There is no beginning and ending... in the universe. To live for all time, is to live now. My life's duration is all time. I create and control my life out of my desires.
            As controller-creator of my life work, I create compositions that are based on the cycle-circle of a never ending count. Earlier works showed this count or time horizontally, one inch for each beat. To achieve my compositions, I used motion in the form of eight energies (1/8 inch squares) which moved in a circularly sequential, numbered, logical manner. I created visual compositions by playing different number games. After creating a large body of compositions using one inch of time and eight squares depicting motion, I became curious about the possibilities of expanding the one inch of time in a vertical direction, and thereby creating space for the energies to grow. This brought about the expanded energy from eight 1/8 inch squares to eight one inch squares. Each energy grew by 1/8 inch until it became one inch. I then decided to allow the energies to expand even farther in space. To do this I expanded the composition to four levels in space. I then had four levels in space vertically and eight energies in time horizontally with which I could compose.
            After completing this body of work (some pieces were up to sixteen feet), I questioned it. Having a desire to become more complex in my next compositions, I realized that the complexity of the work required miniaturization. I proceeded to reduce the work down to its essence, and to add four more levels. Each energy appeared one per inch horizontally and each level of space appeared one per inch vertically.
            After completing the first drawing in the series, I decided that the completed drawing was the front slice of a volume and that I would slice into this volume eight times front to back, eight times top to bottom, and eight times left to middle. Each drawing would be one step away from the previous drawing; the last drawing one step from the first.
            In doing the next series of drawings called Variations and Inversions on a Rhythm, I started with numbers logically arrived at through eight previously completed drawings. In the first drawing of the set I carried those previously determined numbers forward onto one drawing. On each subsequent drawing I varied all segments of the first drawing by one count. By varying the work in this way, I arrived at the first set of 64 drawings. The set exists because of the possibilities of variations with the numbers.
            The structure of the rhythm within the drawings is the result of a split. The split being that of a primary and secondary motion.
            The primary rhythm is arrived at through the use of the logical number sequence.
            The secondary rhythm is arrived at through the use of an inversion, where a different line on each successive drawing is inverted one space.
            In the first series of drawings this inversion shifts one space back on a different line on each successive drawing, resulting in 64 drawings.
            In the second series of drawings the inversion of one space back is retained on each line on each drawing and one additional inversion is added in each successive drawing, resulting in 64 drawings.
            In the third series of drawings the inversion manifests itself in a reversed direction of one space on each successive line of each successive drawing resulting in 112 drawings.
            The investigation of my original concept has brought me into unknown territory. With each question I search for a visual answer. In this way I have strengthened my original concept and have travelled further into the unknown.

Channa Horwitz
Hidden Hills, California
January, 1976
           

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Lita Barrie | Interview with Enrique Martinez Celaya

Enrique Martínez Celaya at his Culver City studio.
Behind him, the in-process sculpture for the Havana Biennial, The Well, 2014, Bronze, 152 x 65 x 59 in.

I sat with Enrique Martinez Celaya in his studio and discussed the way his background as a physicist and interest in philosophy and poetry inform his art practice.

Enrique Martinez Celaya currently has work on view at Huntington Library, Art Collections. He was recently awarded a two-year fellowship to create two interventions with the museum’s collections. In addition to an extensive body of work in painting, sculpture and photography, Celaya also writes and has a publishing house. He is currently hosting a series of public lectures at his studio in association with the University of Southern California, which reflects his commitment to furthering intellectual inquiry about philosophical issues in art.

Lita Barrie: I’ve always believed that serious painters have similarities with philosophers, physicists, and poets. I’m interested in how your work and your background combine these disciplines.

Enrique Martinez Celaya: Yes, like you, I’ve been interested in those three things for a long time. They try to understand the way things are, to make sense of what is in front of you -- the reality as you experience it. They tend to locate discontinuities in thought, or a certain twist that requires deeper incursion. Other disciplines tend to be satisfied with a more all-around sense of things. So every time there is a small little detail that doesn’t quite fit, that becomes exactly the point of interest, as opposed to thinking, “Well, everything else fits, so let’s just forget about this.” The thinking of these disciplines is, “Well, why doesn’t this fit?” Or, “Why is this slightly twisted or slightly rotated?”

L.B.: It is interesting that innovative thinkers are never self-satisfied either.

E.M.C.: I think that the more you know the less impressed you have to be with yourself. So self-satisfaction means you must not know very much. I’m satisfied only with being in the search that merits the effort but never with anything I accomplish. I always see how short I fall from the things I respect. And that keeps me going. That quest for something that is authentic and not the first thing that comes to mind.

L.B.: Is that why you paint over your paintings so many times? Is that to go deeper and deeper?

E.M.C.: Exactly, the first thing that I start with usually comes out like a first approximation to an idea and quickly reveals itself not to be deep enough, or true enough. Then I paint it over and have no allegiance really to what I have done because I’m not satisfied.

The Landmark, 2016, Bronze, 75 x 100 x 94 in.
Collection of Bianca and Stuart Roden, London. Photo courtesy of the artist.

L.B.: You studied physics at Cornell and Berkeley and also have patented inventions. What drew you to physics?

E.M.C.: I was interested in what was around me, the order of things and how things are organized. I was also interested in literature and art but thought they were things I could do as hobbies. Originally I wanted to be a theoretical physicist but over time I got more interested in lasers and light. I loved the elegance of physics and the beautiful clarity of mathematics.

L.B.: I’ve always thought Einstein wrote beautifully like a poet. And he was a very spiritual man.

E.M.C.: He was also someone who was never satisfied with his own work, and he kept going a little further. He said, “I have no patience for scientists who drill where drilling is easy.” It is very easy to find places in any field where you can drill where drilling is easy, but you get few results that might be impressive to other people. They’re too easy.

L.B.: You also did an apprenticeship as a painter when you were a child in Spain and a teenager in Puerto Rico.

E.M.C.: I draw on my early history quite a bit. Even though I went to graduate art school, those initial interactions with the artist I apprenticed with continued to inform my practice.

L.B.: Do you consider yourself a Latin artist, or are you uninterested in identity politics?

E.M.C.: I’m not really interested in that kind of identity because I draw my influences from all over the world. Obviously some part of who I am -- which is manifested in my work or the way I look at the world -- comes from my background: my history, my family’s history. Not just the fact of being Cuban, but being very active in exile, moving around Spain and Puerto Rico. Interestingly, a lot of people I related to in Puerto Rico were Marxists and very focused on German philosophers like Hegel and Kant. So all the Germanic interest in my work comes from the Caribbean. People in this country tend to think of Latin culture as separate from European connections.

The Gambler, 2010, Bronze, 69 x 30 x 38.5 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo: Deb Miller.

L.B.: How did you transition from being a physicist to a painter influenced by a love of philosophy and poetry?

E.M.C.: When I was doing my doctorate in physics, I was painting all the time and reading philosophy and poetry as a private thing. Then I felt it was time I paid attention to the fact that I had a desire to do something else, so I did an MFA and a doctorate together for a while. Then I left everything and became a scientist for a bit. Then I went back to finish my MFA. In summary, it was a difficult transition, partly because I was so invested in physics at that time. To leave it behind and do something else as unpredictable as art seemed a huge risk. Not just a financial risk but also an intellectual risk. By the time I had patents and published papers, I had a certain confidence in my capacity as a physicist. In art, you can never be certain that you are not just a mediocre hack. Just because you can paint or draw does not mean that you have anything substantial to offer.

L.B.: Who were the artists you admired then and now?

E.M.C.: I thought a lot about Manet and Velázquez at that time. Through my twenties, Picasso was important to me, then Joseph Beuys, then I became interested in Hilma af Klint and German painting from the early seventies.

L.B.: What is it about Moby Dick that led to your recent paintings referencing Melville’s classic?

E.M.C.: The book is very ambitious emotionally and intellectually. I like the whale as a metaphor and the sweeping view. It is such a grand epic effort to hold all of the forces of the universe, while at the same time being so attentive to individual notations of human experience and small observations of character.

L.B.: There is an epic quality to your paintings because you use enormous scale. Why do you love working on such large-scale paintings?

E.M.C.: The balance between the presence of the work and the referential qualities of the work merge best when painting is large. Early on, I tried to make small paintings, just to see if I could harness those things, but it is much easier in a bigger painting.

L.B.: The experience of viewing a large painting and feeling your own body in relation to the work is very different from viewing small paintings. It makes us more aware that we don’t see from a fixed perspective.

E.M.C.: I agree. A small painting becomes too much of a window, and the engagement becomes very mental and intellectual. There is an intimacy to large-scale work because you are involved by it.

L.B.: You also make serial paintings in large scale. Is that to accentuate the epic quality of the experience?

E.M.C.: Yes. And I also construct a model for my exhibitions because it helps me think about what I’m after. I try to create a total experience as opposed to just discrete works -- even though the exhibition model consists of discrete paintings and sculptures. The idea is that when you go into the gallery, you feel the relationship between all the pieces. It becomes more than just a picture show because it is actually an experience.

L.B.: You are exhibiting at Huntington Library to coincide with Frieze Los Angeles, and you have a unique opportunity to work with the library’s collection. What does that involve?

E.M.C.: I get to move among a vast collection of very different works, and that movement really helps me. Even my own paintings all look quite different. I am not interested in producing paintings that look alike. Every painting is a new discovery and has no allegiances except to itself.

L.B.: You also have a unique position as a provost professor at USC, teaching in different departments.

E.M.C.: Yes, I teach in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, and at the Roski School of Art and Design. I am interested in the idea of being able to interact with the university as a whole, and in being able to teach different courses

L.B.: So your teaching is like your artwork: you like to work in different disciplines. They must feed each other like cross-pollination, which is why you are such a Renaissance person.

E.M.C.: I find that rather than being distracting, it is enriching, because it takes me out of a linear way of thinking about things. It kind of derails you and knocks you off your regular patterns of behavior or thinking. You find yourself with an insight you never would have had if you had gone on a straight path. So I have come to depend on the accidental discovery. I need to put myself in positions where these accidental things come about.