What: Writer and editor focused on culture, politics, history, and design.
Where: Art Practical, Huffington Post, Wilder Quarterly, DailyServing, and others.
Why: Élan vitalMiscellaneous: I'm currently working on a new, more readable website. Look for it soon. I can be reached here: mhtedford [at] gmail [dot] com
Zena Adhami’s 2012 Design MFA thesis presentation
She decided to make it the subject of her CCA graduate thesis: an examination of the specific media and technologies that were making it possible for her to stay informed from halfway around the world.
This time of upheaval also represented a culmination of Adhami’s efforts to reconsider graphic design as a more politically engaged pursuit. “Every once in a while there’s a degree of social consciousness among designers, but usually I feel that they’re talking to themselves, and that’s a failure of design intelligence,” she opines.
This confluence of massive social change happening in the world, her own moment of being in a rigorous academic situation, and her own status as an insider-outsider (a Middle Easterner currently living in San Francisco) came together to make her see her profession and the world in entirely new ways.
I once saw a documentary on Jeff Koons. Though I never gave much thought to Koons before watching the film, I held a vague and prejudicial negative reaction to the artist. I don’t remember much about the film, but something about it made me appreciate Koons in a new light. Maybe it is Koons’ irreverence towards the art world; maybe I find pleasure in knee-jerk postmodern rejections of postmodernism; or maybe I’m just an aesthetic nihilist, enthralled with the signifiers of late capitalism.
It is likely for one of these reasons that I enjoyed SuperDeux’s (aka Sebastien Roux) exhibition, I WISH I COULD TALK, at Peek Gallery located in The Summit coffee shop in San Francisco. The brightly colored, cartoonish screen prints and sculptures make no reference, on first glance at least, to a transnational queering of the fundamentally alienating nature of the spectacle—this is refreshing and even subversive. Moreover, these works are just fun to look at. I like to look at things that make me happy. Sometimes I Google “funny pictures of bears” for no reason whatsoever. It’s a delight; try it.
Kurt Schwitters: Mz 601, 1923; paint and paper on cardboard; 17 × 15 in.; Sprengel Museum, Hannover, loan from Kurt and Ernst Schwitters Stiftung. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.
But when I stepped closer to these works I saw something more important to me than technical skill and inventive color theory. I saw life. I saw affirmations of life as art. The subjects and material Schwitters chose for his collages and assemblages made these affirmations apparent. One particularly striking piece is Die heilige Nacht, von Antonio Allegri, gen. Correggio, worked through by Kurt Schwitters (1947). The medium-sized, 20 by 15 inch collage is a very Schwitters-esque cousin of L.H.O.O.Q. (1919), Marcel Duchamp’s infamous mustachioed appropriation of a Renaissance classic, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Correggio’s sixteenth-century The Holy Night serves as the collage’s base. Most of the painting is obfuscated, however, with only an infant Jesus being cradled by his prepubescent-looking mother left visible. Envelopes, photographs, a ribbon, a ration card, and other ephemera from Schwitters’ life supplant the shepherds and angels from the original painting. Though by 1947 Schwitters had already become a figure in the international art community, this gesture conflates the work of a Renaissance master — and even the life of such a historical figure as Jesus of Biblical fame — with the mundane details of this artist-in-exile. Part of a photograph of two soldiers (nationality and rank unknown and unimportant to me) occupy a space just inches above the head of the savior of all of humanity. Are these subjects modern-day compeers? Is the nameless and forgotten photographer just a more high-tech Correggio? No answer is provided, but the “yes” is resounding for me.
(Source: The Huffington Post)
Kadist Art Foundation Reading Room. Photo: Matthew Harrison Tedford.
So here I am, a lifelong admonisher of superlatives and rankings, writing a “best of” article. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not rankings (noun) that I have a problem with, it’s ranking (verb). There’s a responsibility that comes with dubbing something the “best.” Primarily, it suggests that I know what I’m talking about. I fear this.
I thought of a couple of potential categories for this piece: Best Gertrude Stein–Inspired Exhibit on the Corner of Mission and Third. Sure, it’s a cute category, but there’s a problem: it was not until far too long into the publication schedule that I was able to see both exhibitions, and by that time I had already written about one of them. I also fear redundancy. “Best Art Fair on the Weekend of May 19 to 22” was also dashed by the fact that I only attended one of the three. What I’m trying to say is that it would be prudent not to view this so much as a “best of” but rather as a suspiciously categorized list of things I like.
Man Ray, Gertrude Stein posing for Jo Davidson, 1922, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, © 2010 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
It has been proclaimed the “Summer of Stein” in San Francisco. With two museum exhibitions and several events dedicated to Gertrude Stein this summer, the label seems to fit. As a Jewish lesbian émigré from Oakland who flirted with Fascism, Stein may just be confused enough to represent the anomalous Bay Area.
Though neighbors on the same block of the city’s South of Market district, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Contemporary Jewish Museum aim to tell different stories about Stein. SFMOMA’s The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde, the blockbuster exhibit of the summer, focuses on the collecting practices of Stein, her brothers, and her sister-in-law. The CJM’s arguably less sexy Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories takes an intimate look at the life of Stein, her lover Alice B. Toklas, and their life as artist-friendly Parisians. Like San Francisco, the CJM has been overshadowed by its older, more popular brother. The gulf of Mission Street between the CJM and SFMOMA could be the Continental Divide between San Francisco and New York. But like our little city, what the CJM lacks in popularity, it makes up in tenacity and inspiring intimacy.
(Source: The Huffington Post)
Image: Linda Mary Montano. Handcuffed to Tom Marioni for 3 Days (still), November 2–5, 1973, Museum of Conceptual Art, San Francisco. Courtesy University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; gift of the Naify Family.
A July 1986 People magazine article dubbed performance art the year’s “hippest form of expression,” and San Francisco as its home.1 The article mentions artist Tom Marioni’s Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA) as foundational to the initial nurturing of a San Francisco performance art scene. The museum, however, had closed down two years before the article was written, and performance art was nothing new to the city in 1986. The article represents one of the few mainstream references to one of San Francisco’s—and the country’s—most important and pioneering, but often forgotten, art institutions.
Marioni states that as an artist he stopped making objects by 1968. Instead he began thinking about the body and working with sound. He sees a linguistic dimension to Conceptual art in New York at the time and an emphasis on light in Los Angeles, but sees a focus on the body in San Francisco. Marioni understands San Francisco’s perspective on performance as coming from “free speech, free love, the hippie era of drugs and rock and roll.”2 The art is tied to the land and the political turmoil and radicalism of the era.
“Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) 1991
The late conceptual artist Félix González-Torres is well known for his “take-away” sculptures. For many, the only artwork they will ever own is the González-Torres poster they grabbed from a stack of identical posters on the floor of the Museum of Modern Art. I have two hanging on my walls. And both times, the acquisitions felt akin to a museum heist. Even knowing the concept and the legality of my actions, I guiltily looked over my shoulder, grabbed the poster, and made my exit to the next gallery. The only thing missing was George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
González-Torres’ concept is simple: the potential of his sculptures is only fully actualized when the viewers slowly but surely destroy the work. Destruction here is creation. The viewer is artist. Torres’ 1991 “Untitled” (Placebo) takes this approach even further, turning the viewer into artist and art. The sculpture comprises tens of thousands of pieces of silver-wrapped candy. The ideal weight is a stunning 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. Like the take-away posters, viewers of this sculpture (which is continuously replenished) are encouraged to take and eat a piece of the sculpture.
At the opening night reception of A Sensory Feast, an exhibition at San Francisco’s SOMArts, the curators asked the question: Are you what you eat? The question, however, was not that of a nutritionist or a concerned grandparent. The question was a cultural one, and the ten exhibiting Asian American artists explored the relationship between what they eat and who they are as individuals and as Asian Americans.
Installation artist Amy M. Ho offered a wardrobe full of wearable food sculptures. Attendees stripped out of their winter coats and enacted the roles of their favorite foods, including strawberries, raspberries, and durian. As participants posed for the opening–night-only photo op, food became fashion, an undeniable signifier of identity. These costumes suggest that when one eats durian, a slice of her identity is revealed in the same way that a slice is revealed when she wears a Donna Karan dress. The food that we eat, then, is not just a passive means to nutrition, but something we wear on our sleeves, figuratively and, at the opening, literally.
As an arts writer, I found Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art to be a surprising challenge. Unsatisfied with the lack of breadth in my own arts coverage, I intended to approach this exhibition as any other hip and orthodox contemporary art show. The problem is that, feeling oh so progressive and inclusive, I did just that.
One of the works I was drawn to was HaeHong Chang’s Black Project, 10-1 (2010), a nearly six-foot long bojagi, traditional Korean wrapping cloths that are the subject of the exhibition. The mostly black cloth is neither clearly abstract nor clearly figurative. Divided into either similar or identical segments, I could only process this piece as resembling a strip of film picturing what might be a tree. My brain scoured its archive for references to Bazin, Benjamin, and Eisenstein before moving on.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: San Francisco is not a world-renowned tourist destination because of our rolling fog, drizzling summers and frigid ocean. It is the city’s cultural assets that beckon millions of visitors every year. People traverse the entire globe to visit our museums, witness our engineering feats, watch our ballet, inhabit our architecture, and eat our food. According to the 2007 San Francisco Economic Strategy Report (pdf), the City and County of San Francisco has approximately five times the number of art organizations per capita than San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties. The city is a cultural juggernaut only rivaled in this country by Manhattan. In a debate at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on August 23, nine candidates vying for the mayor’s office were forced (a less cynical commentator might say “allowed”) to address the eminence of the arts in the city’s tourism economy.
Wafaa Yasin. Imaginary Houses of Palestine, 2010 (still); video. Courtesy of the Artist.
A lot has changed at Art Practical since the editors last wrote this column one year ago. It has been a great time of experimentation and development. We have pushed our content out of the digital and into the corporeal with public programming at various museums and galleries. We have expanded our pool of editors and writers. And we have broadened the scope and form of our writing. One important site of this experimentation has been our semiannual thematic issues. With these, we have allowed significant departures from our normal conventions for content and form.
Pors and Rao. The Uncle Phone, 2004; plastic, metal, and electrical; 4 x 6 x 78 in. Courtesy of the Artist and the San Jose Museum of Art. Photo: Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi.
Let’s start with the basics: non-Indian, Urbana, Illinois native Nina Paley’s 2008 animated film Sita Sings the Blues was the alpha and omega of my knowledge of contemporary Indian art. Posing a threat to this ignorance about the art of one-sixth of the world’s population is the San Jose Museum of Art’s Roots in the Air, Branches Below: Modern and Contemporary Art from India. My ignorance, however, served me well there. I was able to approach the exhibition free of preconceived notions of the genre, not even sure of whether a coherent genre existed or not.
To my pleasure, I found that the exhibition offers its audience no such “Indian aesthetic.” This is not to say that one who ignores the wall text and press materials will not know that she is viewing an Indian art exhibit. Many of the works employ recognizably Indian and Hindu symbology, but just as many do not. The gallery devoted to contemporary works displays a dizzying array of bright colors and could just as easily have been an exhibit on Pop Art. A standout piece is Valay Shende’s 2007 untitled sculpture. The statue is of a man who is completely covered in faux-leopard skin and wielding a copper rifle while standing upon a copper lotus-flower pedestal. Though the Indian influences are clear in this setting, in another, I would not be surprised to find the name Jeff Koons attached to it. Potentially representing either an Indian revolutionary or a member of a British hunting expedition, this work reflects India’s torrid colonial history. But the process of revealing this history occurs through an unraveling of the context, not through a reliance on a style that, as with any style, has the potential to over determine the form of the works.
Varese Layzer. Lazy, 2010.
A minor controversy recently erupted in the highly-caffeinated Mission District of San Francisco. The work of photographer Varese Layzer was prematurely removed from the walls of Ritual Coffee Roasters, a café that regularly exhibits artwork. Layzer posted online an e-mail from Eileen Hassi, Ritual’s owner, explaining the censorship. The works in question are innocuous photographs of suitcases, dogs, and windows, but there was an accompanying artist’s statement, which related these images to the death of the artist’s mother. Hassi, who was out of town when her soon-to-be-fired curator installed the photographs, claims in the e-mail that Layzer’s work is “too serious for the cafe.” She then proceeded to tell Layzer, and thus the world, what is appropriate art for a café: “The art that belongs in a cafe is fluffier stuff, stuff that doesn’t make people think about the tough questions in life.”
For well over one hundred years, the San Francisco Bay Area has played an important role in the political theater of the United States. The Sierra Club was founded in San Francisco in 1892. The free speech movement of the mid-’60 erupted on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. The Diggers experimented with alternative economies in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The Black Panthers arose out of the ghettos of Oakland.
This long history of political activism extends well into the modern day. The region became a battleground for human rights in the struggle to overturn Proposition 8. Students at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and San Francisco State University fight back as they witness the twentieth-century experiment of public higher education wither. The 2009 murder of Oscar Grant, an unarmed civilian, by a BART police officer sustains local efforts to combat police brutality while supporting racial and criminal justice.
None of this is lost on local art production.
Ana Teresa Fernandez. Untitled (Document of a Performance) (hair piece), 2011 (video stills); video installation. Courtesy of the Artist and Galería de la Raza, San Francisco.
La Llorona (the Weeping Woman) is a pan–Latin American legend of Mexican origin. Versions of the folktale recount the story of a woman who, in a state of sadness, drowns her children. Her celestial punishment is to spend the eternity of death wandering the earth searching for her fallen children. Weeping, her specter haunts brooks and riverbanks. On view at Galería de la Raza, La Llorona Unfabled: Stories to (Re)tell To Little Girls utilizes this parable to re-examine Latina archetypes and posit strong, confident, if still melancholic, subjects.