The Brant Foundation Art Study Center
941 NORTH STREET, GREENWICH , CT 06831
May 8, 2016 - October 1, 2016
Jonathan Horowitz Takes on Liberalism, Because It's a Person Too
by Osman Can Yerebakan
Posted by Osman Can Yerebakan
| tags: Hillary Clinton vegetarians Jonathan Horowitz humor politics
Occupy Greenwich, Jonathan Horowitz’s current exhibition at the Brant Foundation in Connecticut, delves into the gnarly path of politics—or being political per se—from its pun-intended title to its promotional poster espousing we all “Go Vegan!” Billed as an era-specific retrospective, the exhibition largely unfolds into the various bodies of works the artist has created since Obama entered the White House, and Horowitz swiftly maneuvers around issues that may or may not intersect in any public debate or referendum—from gay rights to environmentalism to U.S. presidential politics. With signature deadpan humor, Horowitz flips the coin on topics typically deemed solemn or serious, while at other times he offers more earnest attention to subjects considered faddish.
During the walkthrough before the exhibition’s unveiling, Horowitz’s calmness only emphasized the sharpness of his humor. His audience—mostly composed of members of the press—giggled at the incisive sarcasm that bore Anthony (2016), a gigantically blown-up print of the infamous image of naked Anthony Weiner at the House Members Gym, or We the People are People Too (2008), a shelf full of plastic novelty figurines the artist remembers from the ’70s. Testing the audience’s limits for empathy, these cutely kitsch collectibles commemorate the likes of drunk drivers, Sarah Palin, and terrorists—all bearing their unique version of the trademark “so-and-so…is a person too” quote. Enlarged into an almost life-sized doll is Hillary Clinton (Hillary Clinton Is a Person Too, 2008). This statue, along with the immersive 2008 work, November 4, 2008, cannot be viewed without considering the current presidential primary campaign in United States.
Jonathan Horowitz, Installation view of Hillary Clinton Is a Person Too, 2008
All images: Photos: Tom Powel Imaging, Inc. Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT
Blurring the line between artistic commentary and political reportage, the installation presents two flat screens reporting 19 hours of 2008 election coverage from the clashing perspectives of Fox News and CNN. The screens are flanked by perfectly hung C-print portraits of all the American presidents except Obama, whose visage leans on the wall awaiting his victory. Reds, whites, and blues frame the installation in the form of netted balloons on the ceiling and wall-to-wall carpeting. A portrait of Clinton—I, Hillary (2016)—resides in a separate room, speaking to the presumptive nominee’s notorious ambition and public persona—and conceivably foreshadowing the outcome of the current election cycle, just as November 4, 2008 once presaged Obama’s presidency.
Horowitz’s bold introduction of his candidate for presidency—particularly considering the range of vocal criticism Clinton receives within left wing groups, which include many artists—aligns with his handling of other themes around the exhibition. The New York-born and raised artist’s strengths come from the uncompromisingly offbeat methods he employs: particularly humor and his poker-faced use of mimicry—you can never be certain whether the artist is advocating for the subjects he depicts, like Hillary Clinton, or simply describing them as contemporary phenomena. While risking coming off as frivolous, Horowitz draws out the absurdity beneath some of the last decade’s most compelling issues (the current presidential race certainly makes his task a bit easier), and problematizes the hierarchy of values and ideologies that we expect artists should have and be inspired by.
Jonathan Horowitz, Go Vegan! (200 Celebrity Vegeterians Downloaded from the Internet), 2002-2010
Politics, for Horowitz, tread beyond our governing bodies and personalities, and onto the personal choices we make as citizens of the world. The artist’s long-term interest in environmental issues, particularly in vegetarianism, diverges somewhat from the overt socio-political tone of the majority of the exhibition, though he treats the subject seriously, albeit with his signature pop cultural and consumerist lens. Installed along a staircase we find an installation of photos downloaded from the internet, representing two hundred famous vegetarians throughout history. The artist makes an uncompromising call for dairy- and meat-free lifestyle, and his collection of portraits, including Karl Marx, Natalie Portman, and Franz Kafka, suggests distinctive alternatives for social and political engagement. As Horowitz underlined during his talk, a topic deemed too trivial to make art about here emerges in high pitch (guests were served vegan food at the opening reception), initiating arguments about the subjects often underestimated in the arts. Akin to his approach to heavy politics, he merges solemnity with levity, as evidenced by his bringing together weighty thinkers and entertainment figures under one umbrella.
Jonathan Horowitz, Occupy Greenwich, Installation view with Crucifix for Two, 2010
Indeed, through droll acts of appropriation across his oeuvre, the artist merges his activism with irony. Crucifix for Two (2010), two cedar crosses joined as one, pays subtle homage to the twinned clocks in Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Perfect Lovers, yet does not skip the spot-on opportunity to satirize the unsettled encounter between religion and gay rights. Tennyson, Jasper & Bob (2013) builds on the allegorizing of Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed, believed to embody the bed he shared with his lover and peer Jasper Johns, who in response created his drawing titled Tennyson. Horowitz reimagines this history, repurposing its myths and facts adding “Bob” and “Jasper” to where the pillows would be, scrutinizing the familiar convention of the public’s interference into the private and vice versa.
Horowitz speaks instrumentally through his work—be it in the language of art history itself or the visual surplus generated by media and technology today—mimicking the characters, imagery, and circumstances he celebrates, or critiques. Remodeling such excess, the artist holds towards his audience a mirror elaboratley framed by sharp wit and poignant determinism.
Jonathan Horowitz, Occupy Greenwich, Installation view with Tennyson, Jasper & Bob, 2013
—Osman Can Yerebakan
Osman Can Yerebakan is a writer and curator based in New York.
(Image at top: Jonathan Horowitz, November 4, 2008, 2008. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging, Inc. Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT)
Security // An Evidence Locker
by Sarah Rose Sharp
Posted by Sarah Rose Sharp
| tags: Security Guard Rountable museum guards security love Detroit Institute of Arts Arts.Black
Over the coming two months, in partnership with ARTS.BLACK, ArtSlant will be publishing a series of essays on security, guards, labor, and privilege in museum spaces.
Originally, we conceived of this project as a digital “round table” between security guards, artists, arts workers, and those with general interests in arts and culture, considering the theme of security workers à la Fred Wilson’s Guarded View. We quickly realized two things: a) this idea was not new, and b) this idea was politically loaded. As art workers, writers, and people who pay close attention to practices of equity in the field, we are hyper-sensitive to practices of voyeurism and exploitation. The last thing we wanted was for this editorial project to mirror that which we most detested. Indeed, to think broadly about issues of security within cultural institutions means we must think critically about issues of labor, hierarchy, race, and class. And so, as we fleshed out our ideas with ArtSlant Editors Andrea Alessi and Joel Kuennen, what became clear to us was that the conversation we wanted to have, or rather, the questions we wanted to address were about security and security workers in art spaces, yes, but this also was an opportunity to examine collective ideas around knowledge, privilege, and the very notions of what it means to be a cultural worker.
Our five writers address these themes in different yet poignant ways. And we hope that these essays will offer space for your own reflections on such circumstances as they manifest themselves in sites of cultural production and display.
—Jessica Lynne & Taylor Renee Aldridge, Co-editors of ARTS.BLACK
Security: not only the protection from harm, but one’s inherent resistance to it. I studied Aikido, a defensive art, for years, and my sensai offered the concept that the best practitioners of Aikido would thwart conflict before it arises, through love and redirection.
Emotional security: a psychological state that deals not so much in the reality of one’s own vulnerability, but the perception thereof. Emotionally secure people are less likely to be troubled by circumstance, more confident, more stable. Emotionally insecure people are apt to view the world as threatening and most human beings as dangerous.
The longest romantic relationship I’ve ever maintained was 2.5 years, and it is in the process of ending. The person who seemed at first to be such a treasure has become not less loved, per se, but less special. Time with him is not the elevated experience it once was; we are enmeshed in mundane concerns.
To provide security implies threat. One guard said the biggest threat to the Detroit Institute of Arts collection was not theft, but vandalism. After all, he said, there had never been an attempted art theft at the DIA.
I think, unless you count the bankruptcy proceedings, which tried to take it all.
It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. While I cherish my visits to the DIA, even those made in a professional capacity—such as the evidence-gathering mission for this article—it is still a casual relationship. Occasional, intense visits. Long conversations. It still contains surprises—like the secret staircase outside Kresge Courtyard that connects to a gallery of Medieval art. There is still a feeling of much to discover.
However, the security beat is a 9-to-5 engagement with the museum. You have to be there, no matter what the day brings, and not just on autopilot—because you simply can’t anticipate problems and thwart them through redirection if you’re not paying attention. How do museum security guards keep things fresh?
When I asked a security guard posted at the DIA’s little-trafficked Woodward entrance for relationship advice, he said: “Take your time and do some research.”
He has been in a relationship with the DIA for about two years.
I cherish the time that I can set aside to visit the museum—even as the consumption of art and consideration of art spaces becomes an increasingly professional obligation for me. The DIA is so polished, so clean, so orderly. Maybe some people feel constrained by the quiet, the rules, the assignment of deep importance to objects that can be frankly incomprehensible, at times—but not me. I am in love with art spaces. I cultivate a deeper relationship with them, returning again and again.
In this respect, I am not entirely enchanted with newness. I revisit my favorite pieces in the DIA’s permanent collection every time I come to the museum.
- The Fante Asafo flag display in the African collection (it changes)
- The Last Supper (1786) by Benjamin West in American Art (before 1950)
- MAD ELGA #2 (1997) by Jane Hammond in Contemporary Art (after 1950)
Fante Asafo flag. Courtesy of Detroit Institute of Arts
The Fante Asafo flag changed recently, from one that has been on display for a long time, to a new one. The new image features a turtle and snail, a man with a rifle, and what might be a guard of some kind. Exhibition materials translate this image as invoking the Ghanain expression, “If the tortoise and the snail were the only animals in the forest, the hunter would not need a gun,” or put another way, “Drastic times call for drastic measures.”
The Last Supper fascinates me, because although the brightest point of light is the halo surrounding Christ at the table, Judas’s shadowy visage and red eyes in the foreground steal the true focus. The idea of perfect people is alluring, but I find myself more interested in the ones that are conflicted, maybe evil. I once stood in front of it for so long that the security guard observing the room approached me and said, “It’s creepy, isn’t it? I hate to stand in here and have to look at it.”
MAD ELGA II is also one of my partner’s favorite pieces in the museum. It is something we have in common. A nautilus of numbered squares coil throughout the canvas, with imagery reminiscent of Mexican loteria. I find myself attracted to its imagery as I am attracted to, and endlessly purchasing, different tarot decks. Once, in a fit of existential angst over the state of my relationship, I asked my partner to draw a card from a newly-purchased Rider-Waite tarot deck. He drew the Ten of Swords—a man laying facedown, stabbed in the back. Ten swords bristle like crosses from his back.
He is betrayed. I am the Judas.
Jane Hammond, Mad Elga II, 1997, Oil and mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of Detroit Institute of Arts, © Jane Hammond
What, I never thought to ask, are we protecting?
—Sarah Rose Sharp
Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based creative generalist, activist, and writer of arts criticism and philosophy.
(Image at top: Benjamin West, The Last Supper, 1786, Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Detroit Institute of Arts)
Studio Museum in Harlem
144 W. 125th St., New York, NY 10027
March 24, 2016 - June 26, 2016
Three Shows on Deconstructing Main Street, Blackness, and the American Landscape
by Olivia B. Murphy
Posted by Olivia B. Murphy
| tags: landscape performance video-art sculpture painting ICA Philadelphia Studio Museum in Harlem Rodney McMillian
Upon entering Rodney McMillian: Views from Main Street at the Studio Museum in Harlem, brisk piano notes float out over the exhibition space followed by an almost euphoric serenade by Erykah Badu. Her voice is emanating from a video near the entrance of the gallery where a T-Rex puppet bops around a stage singing along, mouthing out every trill with his toothy jaw gaping open and shut. On the puppet-sized podium hangs a banner reading “The Neshoba County Fair Assc.—Giant House Party.” Then the loop starts over, and T-Rex/Erykah Badu is replaced by Dummy Ronald Reagan, whose flat, somewhat nasal voice rambles off canned-sounding refrains about the tragedy of the welfare state and the importance of states’ rights.
This piece, entitled Neshoba County Fair (2012), embodies the delicate dance of humor and horror that runs through the exhibition. Organized by guest curator Naima J. Keith, the show represents over a decade of McMillian’s work comprising sculptures crafted from postconsumer items such as discarded couches and refrigerators, plus paintings and videos. Together these works draw out the vastly disjointed reality of the American “Main Street” today, along with the historical precedents that have lead to such glaring inequalities for the African American community.
Rodney McMillian, Neshoba County Fair, 2012
, Single-channel video, color and sound, 27 pencil on paper drawings by Horace Taylor (1942–56),
TRT 00:06:39, 11 1/2× 8 in. (each drawing). Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
The thread of violence that permeates throughout the sculptures and videos is met with the artist’s dark sense of humor, almost as a way to mediate the unsettling realities of our nation’s past and present. “Humor allows me as a viewer to acknowledge the horror…but that doesn’t at all negate the existence of horror,” the artist said in a recent interview. This is especially evident in the show’s three video works, which use recordings or transcripts of political speeches or interviews, enacted with some sort of play or theatricality. The aforementioned Neshoba County Fair includes a recording of Ronald Reagan’s controversial 1980 campaign speech. Dummies on a Porch Swing (Lee Atwater Interview, 1981) (2012) quite literally depicts two dummies “enacting” a recorded interview of the Reagan campaign strategist discussing the “Southern Strategy,” (employed in the Neshoba County Fair speech) which was at the time a thinly veiled attempt to appeal to white voters with racist rhetoric—and now has become even more salient as similarly coded and implicitly violent language pops up in today’s political campaigns.
Rodney McMillian, Dummies on a Porch Swing (Lee Atwater Interview, 1981), 2012, Single-channel video, color and sound, TRT 00:06:01
Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
While these videos use puppets to address the violence that the white hegemony has tired to downplay (and incite) throughout recent history, other works in the show are the products of explicit violence by the artist’s own hand, like Couch (2012), sawed in half and cemented back together, and Untitled (refrigerator) (2009), with its punctured door. There is also chair (2003), with its innards spilling out of ripped upholstery, which became dilapidated on the street before McMillian took it back to his studio. The destruction and preservation of these used household objects illustrates the corrosive effects of systemized racism in the United States—a system that has used violence both blatantly and invisibly to exclude African Americans from ever really participating in the “American Dream.” The injustices of the recession, foreclosures, unemployment, and incarceration, are all summed up in an abandoned armchair left out on a street corner.
Rodney McMillian, Untitled (The Supreme Court Painting), 2004–06, Poured acrylic on cut canvas, 216× 216 in.
Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
In addition to these sculptures, other works recalling the domestic realm, like Double Double Jesus (2006) and the linoleum-flooring mural Untitled (2006), come together to depict a reality of the state of Main Street. Yet, what McMillian truly offers here is not so much a view of Main Street, real or imagined, but rather a deeper look into what this concept means in the politicized realm. “When I’ve heard that expression [Main Street], I have never believed it referred to me or other African Americans, regardless of our economic station,” the artist has said. And as a vestige to this, Untitled (The Supreme Court Painting) (2004–06), what would be a floor-to-ceiling painting on canvas, slumps with haphazard effect in the center of the exhibition. It is flaccid and dejected looking, the majestic columns crumpling under their own weight—an apt depiction of the true impotence of a system that has neglected so many under its supposed watch.
McMillian’s investigation into racial identity in the US continues with The Black Show at the ICA in Philadelphia (on view through August 14). A Migration Tale (2015) is projected onto a large screen in the center of the exhibition space, placing the viewer almost in the scene as we follow a masked McMillian from a small desolate house in South Carolina, down the steps of the Capitol Building brazenly waving its confederate flag, into the New York City subway system, and finally to a drum circle in the park, filled with people dancing and clapping. In this ten-minute loop we see over 200 years of history depicted in the migration millions of African Americans have made, leaving the South to seek supposed opportunity and freedom in the North.
Rodney McMillian, A Migration Tale, 2015 (filmed 2014), Single-channel video, color, sound, 10 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Maccarone, New York
McMillian navigates through these familiar urban spaces in an alien-like costume, marking him an outsider. In a subway car we stand almost arm to arm with the riders, some looking at the masked man standing quietly by the door, others stealing glances directly into the camera, before quickly turning back to whatever they were doing. This look acknowledges the fact that we as viewers are not passively witnessing McMillian or the reactions he is eliciting with his performance. Rather, we are explicitly present; we are actively witnessing. McMillian—the migrant, the outsider—is looking to either incite a reaction (fear, curiosity, humor), or markedly note the inaction (disregard, ignorance, passivity). However, the presence of the camera makes these bystanders immediately self-aware of how they react. It’s not until McMillian enters the drum circle, where an older woman dressed in white leads him by the arms around the circle, her expression at once full of utter concentration yet totally at ease, that we feel we are truly seeing an unguarded moment, an explicit acceptance.
Rodney McMillian, Many moons, 2015, Latex, acrylic, and ink on paper mounted on fabric, at
Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Courtesy the artist and Maccarone, New York. Photo: Constance Mensh
Overall, there exists between both shows an element of drama, the set-dressing-like paintings of Untitled (The Supreme Court Painting) at the Studio Museum, and Many moons (2015) at the ICA, serving as backdrops to the political theater we can all see enacted on the 24-hour news cycles. With the stage set, McMillian is able to draw the audience’s attention specifically to the Black experience within that politicized realm.
Rodney McMillian, Purple moon, 2014–2015, Latex, acrylic and ink on bed sheet, 96 × 63 in. Rosenau Lowey Collection
With Views from Main Street and The Black Show functioning almost as extensions of the same exhibition, Landscape Paintings at MoMA PS1 is something of a departure. Comprising twelve paintings and one video, the show feels much more traditional; unlike the ICA's more immersive installation, there is no dramatic lighting or music. The viewer has space to consider this concise collection of works on their own.
The paintings, which are all done on “postconsumer” bed sheets found in secondhand shops (many with their $2.99 or $3.99 price tags still in place), recall the work of Rauschenberg with their abstract yet familiar elements. But by utilizing the materiality of latex paint on the soft yet stubborn surface of bed sheets, new forms start to emerge. The paint has movement and weight, the forms it creates at once reading as violent, sensual, or even grotesque. The spills and spreads of each formation become their very own landscape within a landscape. They become horizontal topographies of private spaces, frozen and hung on the wall for our exterior vertical inspection.
Rodney McMillian, Wildseedling: it was already there, 2014–2015, Latex, chicken wire on bed spread, 92 × 74 in.
Courtesy the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
Some works, like Wildseedling: it was already there (2014–2015), with its chicken wire and out-of-the-tube forest green paint on blue sateen sheet directly recalls the vernacular of diorama, bringing to mind school-aged images of Earth. Others, like Purple moon (2014–2015), function much more within the history of abstract painting, utilizing color and texture to create a landscape reminiscent of Rothko with a little Lynda Benglis hovering on the surface.
Behind the far wall in the one-room gallery is an untitled video from 2005. This video is the Landscape Paintings come to life—a dramatically lit performance of the artist as a dancing sheet. Clamp lights give off a spill of yellow towards the bottom of the sheet/figure, mimicking the overflowing compositions of many of the exhibition’s paintings. Although McMillian’s form is present, flashing into view as a belt buckle here, or pant leg there, he predominantly fades into the blackness of the background, leaving only the struggle of the form, the bouncing, dancing, writhing white sheet flooded in light. It’s hard to look away; the energy of the movement is so heightened yet constant, it’s almost eerily calm.
There is an interior/exterior struggle throughout the show, evident in the pull between the violence in the thrashing of sheets and the splatters of paint, and the calm meditation of the installation. The paintings are at once immensely personal, recalling the home—the bed, the place for our most private actions—and completely universal, using postconsumer goods as a way to address the entire economic system that not only produces these items, but so heavily impacts our homes, our lives.
In concert, the three exhibitions show the artist’s tremendous range across mediums and aesthetic voices. What does carry throughout is the disorientation, or rather reorientation of forms and ideas. From political views to abstraction, McMillian takes something we think we know, like a simple bed sheet or piece of political rhetoric, and transforms it into something else entirely, revealing new possibilities for our own understanding; politicizing our view of the everyday in America, of the experience of Blackness in America, of the concept of our own personal landscapes in America.
—Olivia B. Murphy
Olivia Murphy is a writer and editor based in New York, covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in various publications both in print and online, including L'Officiel Magazine, Freunde Von Freunden, Whitehot, Riot of Perfume, doingbird, and Whitewall Magazine.
(Image at top: Rodney McMillian, Couch, 2012, Couch, cement, 32 1/2 × 88 1/2 × 33 1/2 in. Courtesy the artist and Maccarone, New York/Los Angeles)