Saturday, March 20, 2010

Swept Behind the Curtain: Doug McClemont’s Magical Ensemble

[“Institute for Turbulence Research (V2)” by Charles Atlas (2010). 3-channel video installation, video mirror unit, transparent screen, & 6 minute loop. “The Chipmunks Genuflect” by Nayland Blake (2010). Rope, fabric, artificial hair, & metal hook (foreground). “Ding Dong (Maggie’s Dead)” by Stuart Semple (2009). MDF, plastic, gloss paint, leather, & electronics on aluminum.]

Using the culturally and emotionally iconic 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz,” as a jumping-off point, curator Doug McClemont offered the viewer a lode of goodies in “Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow,” which ran at Anna Kustera gallery through March 20, 2010. As Saatchi Online magazine's regular New York correspondent and the former editor-in-chief of HONCHO, Torso, Mandate, Inches, and Playguy , McClemont brought to bear a rich array of artists known for their impact. Charles Atlas, Nayland Blake, Sean Mellyn, Robert Gober, Stuart Semple, John Brattin, Kathe Burkhart, Scott Ewalt, Daphne Fitzpatrick, Deborah Kass, Dan Miller, Caroline Polachek, Susanne M. Winterling came forward with works drawing inspiration from the film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel. McClemont appears regularly in such publications as Publishers' Weekly, Library Journal, and Screw. Having written introductory essays for several monographs on contemporary art, he is currently at work on a book of short stories entitled “Little Morticians.”

Importantly, Nayland Blake created a work especially for this show: In “The Chipmunks Genuflect” (2010), he paid plush tribute to lions and tigers and bears everywhere. This Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and educator is chair of the ICP/Bard Masters program in Advanced Photographic Studies at the International Center of Photography. Represented by such galleries as New York’s Matthew Marks and San Francisco’s Paule Anglim, Blake’s work is included in such collections of such institutions as MoMA, the Whitney Museum, the Studio Museum of Harlem, LA MoCa, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the DeYoung Museum. His writing, meanwhile, has appeared in Interview, Artforum, Out, and OutLook. He is the author of numerous catalog essays. In 1994 he co-curated with Lawrence Rinder the exhibition “In a Different Light,” which was the first major museum exhibition to examine the impact of queer artists on contemporary art. In Blake’s contribution to this show, one is reminded of the role played by actor Bert Lahr in the film—in which “his” lion’s tail threatened not only to upstage himself, but the wizard as well.

Robert Gober’s meticulous sculptures—exploring nature, politics, religion, and sexuality—have appeared in five Whitney Biennials. With his work in many museum collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Menil Collection, Tate Modern (London), and Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Gober represented the United States at the 2001 Venice Biennale. He has also had several one-person museum exhibitions including those at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), the Jeu de Paume (Paris), and New York’s Dia Art Foundation. In 2007 there was a retrospective exhibition of Gober’s work at the Schaulager (Basel)—accompanied by a comprehensive book of his sculptures entitled “Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007.” The untitled red shoe sculpture (1990) in “Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow” can’t help but evoke the film’s iconic footwear. Made entirely of a red wax that suggests candy and blood in equal measure, the creation honors girlhood’s very fragility of girlhood.

Filmmaker and video artist Charles Atlas has created numerous works for stage, screen, museum, and television. His work has been shown in the august environs of the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA, Musée National d’Art Moderne (Paris), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk. A pioneer in the development of media-dance, a genre in which original performance work is created directly for the camera, Atlas was filmmaker-in-residence with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company for 10 years. Atlas collaborated with noted choreographers, dancers, and performers such as John Kelly, Diamanda Galas, Yvonne Rainer, Michael Clark, Douglas Dunn, and Marina Abramovic. “Television Dance Atlas”—the artist’s critically acclaimed prime-time event on Dutch television—was a four-hour montage of original and found footage incorporating dance styles as varied as ballet, burlesque, and figure skating. In “Institute for Turbulence Research(V2)” (2010), the video installation for this show, Charles Atlas recalled the terror and excitement of seeking the safety from frequent tornado warnings in his St. Louis-area childhood basement. The chaotic environment created by his spinning objects, radio waves and mirrored projections is as disorienting as it is memorable.

Rhode Island native and Pratt Institute alumnus Sean Mellyn draws inspiration from Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns in his realistic paintings and drawings—usually of happy and wholesome children—in which there is an unmistaken eeriness and bizarre aura. With a surgeon’s precision, Mellyn interrupts the surfaces of his works in various ways. Ambiguity and indetermination often swirl together in his “interventions.” Mellyn contributed “Judas” (2007), an oil-on-canvas of a circumspect young man witnessing a shadowy figure in mid-flight. The subject’s 1970s mirrored sunglasses reflect the film’s nostalgic—if ominous—skywriting event. Appropriately, “Surrender Dorothy!” became the name of the infamous ACT UP/New York campaign to force the resignation or firing of New York City Health Commissioner Stephen Joseph in 1989.

Re-articulating Pop Culture elements into a personal universe of fear, isolation and nostalgia, the drawing, painting, and printmaking of Stuart Semple balance a fabricated, mechanized perfection. Semple has shown his work in London, Mexico, New York, Italy and Hong Kong—and participated in Biennials in Brazil, Mexico, and Britain. Having curated a number of group shows internationally, the surfaces of Semple’s works absorb emotion and collision. Stuart Semple took a literal approach to “The Wizard of Oz”—albeit with a British twist. For “Ding Dong, Maggie’s Dead” (2009) Semple’s heavy house landed on conservative enemy-of-the-arts and homohating purveyor of 1986’s Clause (later Section) 28, the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. As black as a lump of coal, the piece can be seen as just miner’s revenge for Baroness Thatcher’s demise: harking back to the bruising United Kingdom miners’ strike of 1984-85 in which the former Prime Minister and ally of Ronald Reagan cut her razor-sharp teeth.

The show posits that the “wizard” (if there ever was a wizard), wants to remain invisible. While chromatic adventures in the Land of Oz fall dramatically short of its “rainbows and bluebirds” promise, artists can and do cast magic. The ensemble put together by McClemont shows the creating art is like The Land of Oz—promising unseen gifts behind the curtain. In “Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow,” viewers reap a cultural dividend of the heady ACT UP and Queer Nation period of the late 1980s and early 1990s in which McClemont himself participated (along with a number of the represented artists).

Nobody Gets to See the Wizard, No Nobody, Not Nohow
@ Anna Kustera
Through March 20, 2010
520 West 21st Street, NYC 10011

Robert Gober: Sculptures and Installations 1979-2007

Friday, March 19, 2010

Band of Brothers: A Salvaged Legacy

[Third illustration: Unknown, Untitled, c.1972, found photograph]

Scott Zieher discovered a pile of photographs among discarded effects of a recently deceased tenant in the basement of a Manhattan apartment building. Exhibited for the first time in the show “Band of Bikers” at ZieherSmith (and presented in a new publication of the same name from PowerHouse Books), these photographs from circa 1972 offer an intimate and most poignant portrait of a group of gay bikers in both city and forest settings.

This touching sampling of a historical subculture at its carefree zenith brings into focus a brief, specific period of relative innocence, when middle-of-the-road Americans more often than not failed to perceive the homoerotic undertones of their most heterosexual of institutions. With conceptual light cast by issues ranging from anonymity in homosexuality and underground motorcycle chic to vernacular photography’s pop-culture ramifications, a warm and generous spirit of camaraderie pervades this subterranean survey. Like a real-world set for Kenneth Anger’s 1964 experimental film “Scorpio Rising” casually captured by an unpretentious extra, this found cache of old-school, leather party snapshots emanates archeological as well as emotional significance.

While the particular tenant’s cause of death is not known, these recovered artifacts bespeak the irreparable squander and loss of artistic, cultural, and literary legacy during the AIDS epidemic. During the late 1980s and early 1990s it was so outrageously commonplace to come upon trashed remnants of prematurely consumed lives. Isolated individuals (such as Zieher) managed to rescue minute portions of such treasures from oblivion. Happening upon such treasures on nights out with friends and comrades during that period, we would absorb the tragedy by looking through the books, records, and assorted ephemera of our lost brothers. Horrified, we would go through unidentified photos knowing that history and experience were being lost before a proper recording, reckoning, quantification, and qualification. At the same time we mourned for a brother unknown to us as well as the loss of his potential heritage. How we absolutely resented the cavalier decisions by survivors (whom we always assumed to be ultra-homophobic cretins from the "outer reaches") to trash such treasures on the curb!

The original individual photographs, as well as the book, will be available throughout the exhibition. The PowerHouse publication also includes an essay by Scott Zieher. Zieher , a poet, art dealer, and avid collector has scavenged and collected books, photographs, art, paper, archives, and ephemera since childhood. His recent poetry has appeared in Tin House, LAB MAG, The Sienese Shredder, and KNOCK. His first book, “Virga,” was the first of a projected 13 sequential, book-length poems. He is president and founding member of Emergency Press, and co-owner of ZieherSmith with his wife, Andrea Smith.

Amos Lassen has made the following observations about this documentation of three gay biker gatherings from the summer of 1972 (a high-water mark and season illuminated in the must-see documentary “One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern”): “The photos are old and faded but they still show the happiness of the time and the beauty of men. Leather and denim fill the photographs and the men who are in them smile gloriously. They are all happy to be with each other and exude a true sense of brotherhood. Some of the photos are playful and there is a certain sinuosity to others. However, what we see above all else are senses of pride and belonging. Here is a history of a time gone and what we see is the carefree abandon with which some of the gay community lived (and loved). It would be wonderful to know what was going through the minds of the men in the photos but we will have to wait until someone else can supply us with that. Meanwhile we have this wonderful album.” Well said, Mr. Lassen!

Band of Bikers
@ ZieherSmith
Through Saturday, March 20, 2010
516 West 20th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), NYC 10011

Band of Bikers 1962/1972 (Hardcover) by Scott Zieher