Sunday, November 22, 2009

Without Saying a Word: Jiří Kolář’s Poetics of Silence

[“Charles Baudelaire: Beauty” (1972), collage on board. “Charles Baudelaire: Hymn” (1972), collage on board. “Untitled (Movie Series” (1970s), collage. “Dialogue Between Mr. B & Mr. R in Heaven” (1973), collage. “Untitled (Madonna of the Rocks)” (1960s), collage.]

First introduced to American audiences through retrospectives at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery during the late 1970s, the work of Czech collagist and poet Jiří Kolář (1914-2002) will be presented in a solo exhibition by Pavel Zoubok Gallery through December 19, 2009. Kolář’s work—both as a poet and visual artist—emerged from the politically charged atmosphere of the Central European avant-garde during the 1950s and 1960s. Standing as a powerful symbol of resistance, Kolář’s work was forged through the ordeal of social and political repression.

Kolář railed against abuse and degradation of language by the nomenklatura of the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Defying the ruling elite of that “people’s democracy,” Kolář developed numerous collage techniques to establish a purely visual expression called “the poetry of silence.” Despite his auspicious beginnings as a young poet, translator, and designer, political circumstances were to intrude. By the late 1960s, Kolář became more widely known as a visual artist.

Jiří Kolář’s was profoundly influenced by the writings of Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986), the first and only Czech writer to receive the Nobel Prize for literature; Futurist Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944); Irish novelist James Joyce (1882–1941); and the politically controversial Ezra Pound (1885–1972). Additionally, he participated in a number of edgy cultural circles in Prague. The best known of these was Group 42, which was enchanted by technology and influenced by Civilism, Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and—to a lesser degree—Surrealism. Though Group 42 was established in 1942, its development began in the late 1930s and it had pretty much formed by 1940. It ceased to function upon the Communist assumption of power in 1948’s February coup, but its influence upon Czech culture was palpable for decades.

Kolář supported himself in a variety of jobs such as cabinetmaker and bartender until he became a full-time writer in 1943. Communist Party membership for him was a revolving door—in and out in 1945. Since “former Communists” drew the greatest ire of the nomenklatura, Kolář was forbidden to publish after their takeover. From the terror engulfing Czechoslovakia during the dark Stalinist years (especially in the wake of 1952’s bogus Slánský Trial) and then through the 1960s, Kolář moved progressively away from literary expression toward one more purely visual. He had great incentive to do this: When authorities uncovered a manuscript of his work “Prométheova játra,” he was arrested in 1953 and spent several months in prison.

As his homeland settled into a “milder” Stalinism, he led a group of poets including Václav Havel. The 1960s found him writing experimental poetry before visual art became his primary focus. When 1968’s Prague Spring and reforms for “socialism with a human face” initiated by Alexander Dubček (1921-1992) were brutally suppressed by the Soviet Union, Kolář found himself again afoul of the nomenklatura. Along with a cross-section of 1,200 citizens of the Czechoslovak “people’s democracy,” Kolář signed Charter 77—calling for respect for human and civil rights. That dictatorship’s authorities reacted swiftly and relentlessly: Supporters of the document faced harassment and arrest. Despite this, Charter 77 “monitoring groups” periodically issued reports on the Czechoslovak government's human rights violations. The efforts of Charter 77 were fueled by the Helsinki Accords—adopted in 1975—and aided by Human Rights Watch. Such events hastened Kolář’s emigration and exile.

Jiří Kolář gradually developed his unique and formal vocabulary (Crumplage, Rollage, Chiasmage, Ventilage, Razor Poems to name just a few of his techniques), which allowed him to combine various layers of meaning and order. These were first published in his “Dictionary of Methods” (1986). However, it must be remembered that Kolář exhibited visual art from 1937—and his collages could be found in those earliest exhibitions. After the success of 1989’s “Velvet Revolution,” Kolář spent increasing lengths of time in his homeland—eventually spending his last years in a Prague hospital.

Although Jiří Kolář’s presence on the American scene diminished following the “burst” of his New York retrospectives, his work has continued to be exhibited in museums and galleries internationally. “The Poetics of Silence” features over 40 key works from the 1960s-1980s and explores a broad range of themes (nature, art history, language, memory) that collectively articulate Jiří Kolář’s unique contribution to the theory and practice of collage.

Jiří Kolář: The Poetics of Silence

Through December 19, 2009

@ Pavel Zoubok Gallery

533 West 23rd Street, NYC 10011

Friday, November 20, 2009

To Cut Out: Daniel Buren's Situated Works (1969-2009)

[Various situated works by Daniel Buren (2009), MDF, Alupanel, vinyl, & paint.]

Daniel Buren’s second exhibition at Bortolami Gallery—“To Cut Out: Situated Works 1969-2009”—will be up through December 22nd. This conceptual artist—most often classified as an Abstract Minimalist—has challenged the accepted canon and prescribed experience of art since the mid-1960s. To this end, he has coined a number of neologisms that have redefined art.

“Work in Situ” is work made for a particular site, for a particular time, and exhibited in this particular site—thereby not germane to another place. Buren has identified as an artist living and working in situ. From his perspective, this indicates a concept going far beyond painting, sculpture, and other media—emphasizing art as an experience, life, or weltanschauung.

“Situated Work” is that inspired by a particular location, but made with the intention that the very same elements of the original work can be reinstalled in different sites following a series of rules—evolving each time in response to the venue. Correspondingly, the venue is altered by the work. This includes Buren’s works from 1969 found in this show.

“Cabane Éclatée” or “exploded cabin” is a painting environment that has been “exploded” by turning a would-be two-dimensional work into a disparate three dimensional encounter. These evolved into the colored Plexi works that Buren has shown internationally in site-specific installations for two decades—and outside Bortolami in 2007. They have also snowballed into the “Zigzag” sculptures made of MDF to join Buren’s creative aggregate.

“Visual Tool” functions as a standard or measurement unit of formal properties in Buren’s work—an intended sign serving as a constant within wildly variable parameters and juxtapositions of any and all “in situ” and “situated work” accomplished by the artist since 1965.

When Buren created a sculpture in the great courtyard of Paris’ Palais Royal in 1986, he triggered an intense debate over the integration of contemporary art and historic buildings. But then Buren—like many in the French intelligentsia was highly affected by the outbreak of France’s May 1968 worker-student rebellion emerging out of the Sorbonne extension in Nanterre. Very little of cultural import was left static in its wake and nothing remained sacred. Buren himself was influenced by deconstructionist philosophies that gained ground in the aftermath. He began creating unsolicited public art works with striped awning canvas—inviting viewers to analyze traditional artistic boundaries and ideas. Hundreds of striped “panels” appeared around Paris, and later in more than 100 stations of the Métropolitain—forcing a public appraisal of artistic boundaries through this “extra-institutional art.” In another burst of “guerrilla installation,” Buren used stripes to block the entrance of the gallery conducting his first solo exhibition.

Amazingly—despite periodic controversy—Buren has deftly managed to balance his audacious interventions and philosophies concerning art with the milieu of the museum and gallery system. Indeed, there has been much demand by that system to show his art. Buren deserves his place with “Institutional Critique” colleagues Michael Asher, MacArthur recipient Fred Wilson, Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976) of the Groupe Surréaliste-revolutionnaire, performance artist Andrea Fraser, and installation artist Hans Haake—all of whom comprehensively critiqued the structure and very assumptions of institutions within the art arena.

Buren’s work has been exhibited in the following venues: Palazzo Grassi (Venice), Armory Center for the Arts (Pasadena), Neues Museum (Nuremberg), Documenta (Kassel), Place de la Justice (Brussels), the Guggenheim, Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Venice Biennale, Lyon City Hall, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, ICA Nagoya, and Museum of Contemporary Art (Tokyo).

To Cut Out: Situated Works (1969-2009)

By Daniel Buren

Through December 22, 2009

@ Bortolami Gallery

510 West 25th Street, New York City 10001

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Free Speech Movement at Berkeley: 45th Anniversary of the Sproul Hall Sit-In

When asked by campus police for his identification on October 1, 1964, former UC Berkeley grad student Jack Weinberg refused. Tabling for the civil rights organization Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) on the “advocacy strip” at the corner of Bancroft and Telegraph just outside the main gate of campus—an area considered the jurisdiction of Berkeley rather than the University of California—Weinberg was arrested.

This incident occurred in the period immediately following Freedom Summer—launched in June of that year—when the highest possible registration of African-American voters in Mississippi was attempted. CORE was part of a coalition taking on Mississippi, a state that had—until then—nearly excluded black voters. That coalition, Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) also included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC, which came into national consciousness through their lunch counter sit-ins throughout the South in the early 1960s, was the lead group –with SNCC field secretary Robert Moses co-directing COFO and directing Freedom Summer.

Jack Weinberg wasn’t alone on this strip, which had come under the scrutiny of UC Berkeley Dean Katherine Towle who announced regulations prohibiting advocacy, recruitment, and fundraising for political causes and student organizations in that area. Empowered by the previous summer’s organizing in Mississippi, fundraising for groups like SNCC proceeded apace. It was also the middle of a Presidential campaign, and student organizations supporting Democratic incumbent Lyndon Baines Johnson and Republican challenger Barry Goldwater –in turn—sought support from students on this flagship campus. In this politically charged situation, students spontaneously surrounded the police car in which Weinberg was to be transported. That car did not move for 32 hours. Within the intervening hours, approximately 3,000 students surrounded the car, which was used as a speaker’s podium. Public discussion there ensued until charges against Weinberg were dropped.

This was just the opening salvo in the volatile political situation at Berkeley—one that would define the situation on U.S. campuses for another decade and not relent until the U.S. pullout from Vietnam and resignation of President Richard Nixon in the wake of Watergate in the early 1970s.

One of the people who climbed onto the car bearing Jack Weinberg to rouse the students blockading it was barefoot Queens, New York junior Mario Savio (1942-1996) who managed to talk the crowd down and get them to leave “with dignity” after reaching an “understanding” with UC President Clark Kerr. The previous summer Savio had participated in Freedom Summer in Mississippi–doing voter registration of African-American citizens and teaching at a “freedom school” for black children in McComb. In July 1964 he, another white civil rights worker, and a black acquaintance were attacked by two men in Jackson. [This took place during the frantic search period to find the bodies of the martyred James Chaney (1943-1964), Michael Schwerner (1939-1964), and Andrew Goodman (1943-1964)—whose deaths were presumed by federal authorities.] Savio returned to Berkeley that fall intending to raise money for SNCC organizing and was horrified to learn that UC Berkeley had banned all such activity.

By the first week in December 1964 the situation leading to the arrest of Jack Weinberg still had not been resolved: The university administration was adamant in pulling the plug on public political involvement and activism on campus. On December 3rd, nearly 2,000 students assembled at Sproul Hall to order school administrators to negotiate on these sensitive issues of campus restrictions on political speech. While those left and liberal on the political spectrum predominated, students from groups like Young Republicans and the right-wing Young Americans for Freedom also chafed under campus restrictions and demanded the right to organize and do outreach on campus.

A day earlier on December 2nd, Savio electrified the crowd at Sproul Hall with his important “Put Your Bodies Upon the Gears” speech: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it—to the people who own it—that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” For years after his involvement, Savio would be hounded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which continually violated his Constitutional rights.

Those students engulfing Sproul on December 3rd also protested disciplinary actions against four student leaders: brother and sister Art and Jackie Goldberg (both leaders of the student United Front), Mario Savio, and Brian Turner. (All had spoken from the car holding Weinberg.) With many of the students toting sleeping bags, the demonstration was orderly. During this famed sit-in students studied, others watched movies, and still others sang folk songs. Joan Baez led the singing and offered support. “Freedom classes” on a variety of issues were held by teaching assistants on one floor. Occurring as this action did during the Jewish festival of Chanukah, students observed the holiday by lighting a menorah.

Alameda County deputy district attorney—later Ronald Reagan henchman and censorious U.S. Attorney General—Ed Meese got the “OK” from Governor Pat Brown to remove the students from the Sproul Hall in a mass arrest. Cordoning off the building in the early hours of December 4, 1964, the police stormed the building and arrested nearly 800 students. (This was the largest mass arrest of students in U.S. history up to that time.) Most of those arrested were released on their own recognizance after a few hours at Santa Rita Prison. Gluttons for punishment, the UC administration proceeded to bring charges against the “almost 800”—which led to an even larger demonstration by students, which closed the university!

While outrageous disciplinary actions were continued against the involved students, UC officials finally started to back down. In early 1965, new regulations were promulgated by the Berkeley administration that permitted tabling and other forms of political activity subject time restrictions.

While there was a backlash following the Free Speech Movement that catapulted Ronald Reagan to the California governorship in 1966, the tradition of political organizing continued at Berkeley unabated. Reagan—who demanded that “the mess” in Berkeley be “cleaned up”—immediately directed the UC Board of Regents to fire President Clark Kerr who was considered by him to be “too soft” on the students. The fact is that Clark Kerr was irrelevant. Students who had confronted the horror of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the brutality of Mississippi racists, outrageous mandatory ROTC training, and backroom tactics of East Bay business interests (who loathed student support for a “fair housing ordinance” and the Woolworth/Kress boycott) were not going to be stopped by university administrators. The Free Speech Movement would be followed in 1965 by the instrumental Vietnam Day Committee, which helped to set the tone of the mass movement in opposition to U.S. policy in Vietnam.

An instrumental spokesperson for the Free Speech Movement was red diaper baby Bettina Aptheker, who cut her teeth on the “Old Left” politics of her family—notably the Marxist historian and Communist Party theoretician Herbert Aptheker. Having met luminaries such W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Robeson while growing up in Brooklyn, she was an important bridge between progressive political currents and tendencies. In the early 1970s she championed the release of political prisoner, childhood friend, and fellow UC professor Angela Davis. Aptheker has taught in the UC Santa Cruz Feminist Studies department since 1980. She has the great honor of having been included on the list of right-wing naysayer David Horowitz’s “101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” (2006). Brian Turner—a scion of a trade unionist family—went on after graduation to do important research on employment and union issues. Jackie Goldberg was the first openly LGBT elected member of the Los Angeles School Board and City Council. She later served in the California legislature until term limits kept her from running for reelection.

Mario Savio’s “Put Your Bodies Upon the Gears” speech

Berkeley Free Speech Movement Archives

Free Speech Movement Photographs

Free Speech Movement Digital Archives

The FSM: An Historical Narrative (by Bettina Aptheker)

In Memory of Mario Savio (by Bettina Aptheker)

The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (by Robert Cohen & Reginald E. Zelnik)

Essay by Jo Freeman (published in “Encyclopedia of American Social Movements”)

Narrative Summary by David Burner

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Irreverent Object: European Sculpture from the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s

[“Il Fascio della Tela” (1980), Michelangelo Pistoletto, painted canvases & string. “Avenza,” (1968-1969), Louise Bourgeois, latex & fiberglass. “Schlitten (Sled)” (1969), Joseph Beuys, Sled, felt, belts, flashlights, fat and rope.]

“The Irreverent Object,” a group exhibition of European sculpture from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, is up at Luhring Augustine through December 19, 2009. Including work by Arman, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Broodthaers, Lucio Fontana, Georg Herold, Martin Kippenberger, Jannis Kounellis, Piero Manzoni, Mario Merz, Reinhard Mucha, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gerhard Richter, Dieter Roth, Jean Tinguely, Rosemarie Trockel and Franz West, the exhibition examines the subversive nature of sculptural practice employed by European artists from the 1960s through the 1980s. These artists expanded historically limited expressions of the sculpture creation by elevating nontraditional media and rebelling against the accepted canon. Unorthodox construction, diverse pairings, and alternative materials blurred conventional distinctions between aesthetic and utilitarian forms—opening floodgates for unprecedented appropriation and giving rise to dynamic new formal vocabularies.

Bucking tradition through recontextualization and display of recognizable objects, artists such as the highly literate and witty Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976), Arte Povera sculptor Giulio Paolini, kinetic Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), and passionate and influential Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) referenced and bypassed the playful and infamous ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Especially incorrigible was the work of Tinguely, which satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in advanced industrial society.

Besides Paolini, other “practitioners” of Arte Povera appear in this exhibition. The works of Mario Merz (1925–2003) revealed prehistoric and tribal features hidden within limitations of time and space. Additionally, his neon words are hallmark in their transcendence. Michelangelo Pistoletto—a prime mover in Arte Povera—issued “Progretto Arte,” a manifesto proclaiming creative and socioeconomic unification of the entirety of human existence.

Broodthaers' wall piece, “Moule,” presents a dense group of empty mussel shells affixed to board, and Paolini's “Intervallo (Torsi)” divides the classical plaster cast of a figure emerging from opposing walls. Disparate mechanical parts appear functional in Tinguely's ultimately impractical floor and wall sculptures, and Joseph Beuys’ “Fluxusobjekt” is a grouping of intentionally arbitrary elements such as a cardboard box, fat, oil, a rubber ring, and a child's toy. By removing ordinary items from their familiar context, these artists often use humorous presentation and language to accomplish a dormant artistic potential within objects around us. “Emas Bluse,” was created in 1961, the year that Gerhard Richter fled from the German Democratic Republic and relocated to Düsseldorf. A significant turning point in the artist's career, the work marked Richter’s abandonment of the Socialist Realist style officially sanctioned by the former GDR. Immediately upon arrival in the German Federal Republic, Richter confronted and absorbed Abstract Expressionism.“Emas Bluse” marks a transition toward the artist’s eventual (and signature) destination of photo-based painting.

Finding inspiration from her childhood in her works, the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois incorporate a sense of vulnerability and fragility—often with a sense of sexuality or downright eroticism. German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel studied from 1974 to 1978 at Köln’s Werkkunstschule—then heavily under the spell of Beuys. Trockel is known for her knitted works—ironic comments of the traditionally feminine occupation placed in a context of mass production—as well as her overall feminist themes.

Other artists in “The Irreverent Object” employed everyday items to address existential notions of mortality. Swiss-German Dieter Roth (1930-1998)—sometimes known as Dieter Rot for using rotting foodstuffs in his sculptures—reflected a somber perspective in “Motorcycle Driver's Misfortune,” with its implied demise of the titular character and the decaying composition of the organic materials making up the work. Similarly, the prolific and provocative Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) used dark humor in “Baby Püppi” to address issues of mortality and artistic legacy. His absurd juxtaposition of a baby stroller and a bronze cast of a pig leg in place of a child elevates the sculpture to an object of high art and, in a literal replacement of progeny, suggests that his artwork provides a kind of immortality.

The Irreverent Object: European Sculpture from the ’60s, ’70s, & ’80s

Through December 19, 2009

@ Luhring Augustine Gallery

531 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011