ltd los angeles

WACKing the Piñata @ ltd los angeles reviewed

9 August 2016

The WACKing the Piñata group exhibition, running July 8 to August 13 at ltd los angelescontinues and re-contextualizes the conversation begun by curator Connie Butler and over 100 female artists in the 2007 MOCA group exhibition WACK!: Art & the Feminist Revolution. Director Shirley Morales describes this very title as both a reference to and an epitomization of this new way of thinking about and exploring ‘The Feminine’ in contemporary art. The piñata itself serves as a “celebratory container” which when broken doesn’t represent a destruction, but more a dispersion and altered way of exploring and interacting with feminism.

The press release identifies the main focuses of the exhibition as “the male gaze, the body, ‘The Feminine’ inside and outside of gender, and universality of personal emotion”. Being a show exploring several inherently vague subjects within the works of ten artists it remains surprisingly succinct and concise. Its cohesive aura is one of celebration and outwardly expressed pride in feminist existence and perseverance in art.

WACKing the Piñata (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy ltd Los Angeles.
WACKing the Piñata (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy ltd los angeles.

Alison Veit’s wall-hung molded sand sculpture ‘Untitled’ (2016) epitomizes the female body and echoes the simplicity and straightforwardness of ancient art akin to the Paleolithic Period Venus figurines with eerie simplicity. This atemporal and transcendental sentiment is similarly depicted in her pieces ‘Incubus’ (2016) and ‘Carol’ (2016) as both androgyny and mythology are explored. In celebrating the mythical beauty of ‘The Feminine’ in art, Mira Dancy’s ink and acrylic paintings idolize and enhance all that is feminine and female, placing them into an almost comic-strip narrative that flows over borders and between frames.

Anja Salonen’s paintings take on the male gaze as it is experienced by the female. ‘An extreme form of togetherness’ (2016) depicts slumped nude bodies and exasperated expressions in bright hues, creating an uncomfortable convergence of aesthetic and subject. Enhancing this discomfort, her works exist in non-spaces. Salonen’s ‘Big year for redheads’ (2016) and ‘Make a beauty wish’ (2016) are installed as floating cutouts of a head and a hand holding a mirror, respectively. Taking up a whole wall, they subvert the universal expectation of where and how art is hung.

Similar in installation, Rachel Mason’s ‘Starseeds’ (2014)  appears to descend sporadically over the length of a wall. The piece, referencing the New Age alien religion, comprises twenty dolls hand-made in the likeness of what the artist describes as “Dangerous Women”. These include Frida Khalo, Beyoncé and Ana Mendieta among other notable women. Their small bodies are covered in jagged pieces of mirror, almost asking that they not be handled, but admired and observed with caution.

Rachel Mason, 'Starseeds' (2014). Installation view. Courtesy ltd Los Angeles.
Rachel Mason, ‘Starseeds’ (2014). Installation view. Courtesy ltd los angeles.

‘My Black Ass’ (2016) by Tschabalala Self reiterates the theme of cautious admiration and asks the viewer to consider race and gender simultaneously. Totaling four-seconds, the digital animation rapidly switches between similar drawings of colorful female forms with their legs spread and heads making eye contact with the viewer. Though colorful and pleasingly gestural, the drawings also confront themes of eroticization and fetishization of the Black female body, arguably one of the more important conversations being had in such a modern feminist art show.

Jennifer Chan’s piece includes an inflated air mattress, two pillows and an iPad. The scene feels set in a female teenagers bedroom, as the bedspread on her piece ‘Body Party’ (2015) features various torsos of young male bodies. Their lack of heads anonymizes the figures and very pointedly explores the stereotypical ‘male’ gaze in reverse. The iPad plays a looped video called ‘Boyfriend [Nanyou]’ (2013-2014), a collage of pop music and teenage boys on webcams explaining female perception and things girls do and don’t like.

WACKing the Piñata effortlessly accomplishes the fairly uncommon practice of being both feminist and intersectional —exploring femininity from virtually all angles one could think to look as it further promotes a positive and inclusive dialogue surrounding gender and art politics. In contrast to the more institutional WACK!…, WACKing the Piñata includes a work by male artist Cédric Fargues. ‘botte de paille (bale of hay)’ (2016) is a digitally altered portrait of a large hay bale with a small pink bow across its top like a headband. A clear jab at the absurdity of engendered bodies (or bales). The gendered object is also found in the sculptures ‘Standing Women’ (2014) by Debora Delmar Corp. which adorn the front window space of the gallery as large houseplants wearing bras.

WACKing the Piñata (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy ltd Los Angeles.
WACKing the Piñata (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy ltd los angeles.

Outside of any bodies, human or otherwise, Sarah Faux’s paintings utilize abstraction and color over formal depiction to make their ethereal and observational motives clear. Made up of floating objects and detached body parts, Faux’s work converses easily with the other pieces, and among themselves (as they are installed almost always in pairs).

Mariah Garnett’s ‘Garbage, The City, And Death’ (2010) is a three-scene, eight-minute video depicting the re-imagining of parts of New German cinema film director Rainer Fassbinder’s play of the same name. Garnett and her long-lost, real-life half-sister, Joanna, play the parts of a pimp and a prostitute. The relationship between the two characters in the scenes simultaneously deteriorates along with the increasingly convoluted settings of each shot, starting in a detailed and object-heavy small car and ending in an aphotic and murky void.

WACKing the Piñata is a refreshing and un-intimidating take on a typically hot-button discussion about the many faces of and takes on feminism in art. Existing more in a place of wonder and curiosity than one of resentment, the show is progressive and honest, inviting virtually anyone to partake in the celebration of where feminism stands today, and the multitude of directions it could possibly take.**

The WACKing the Piñata group exhibition is on at ltd los angeles, running July 8 to August 13, 2016.

Header image: Jennifer Chan, ‘Body Party’ (2015). Installation view. Courtesy ltd los angeles.

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FIAC 2014 reviewed

11 November 2014

To write an account of FIAC is to attempt to speak of parts within a necessarily unknowable whole. Were the whole visible from one’s perspective on street level, no doubt it would be truly terrifying. Thankfully, we’re not obliged to be all-seeing, in fact perhaps even the organisers would advise against it. La Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain in Paris designates a four-day event whose object is art, galleries and exhibitions of a sort. Yet when someone says ‘FIAC’ (fyak!), they tend to mean something much more englobing even than the majestic Grand Palais that houses the main stands.

This year, FIAC introduced (OFF)ICIELLE, the ‘official satellite’ fair, whose purported purpose is to “showcase new territories: young galleries and newcomers to the international art scene; emerging artists and those whose historic contribution has been overlooked”. It was noted by more than once that, in actuality, the (OFF) – held in the less grandiose, more utilitarian venue Les Docks – Cité de la Mode et du Design – was a veritable salon des refusés. Which is to say it housed those galleries which applied for the main event but, for whatever reason, didn’t make the cut, suggesting that FIAC had cleverly maneuvered a cash cow on the back of younger, less established clients. That cynicism aside, (OFF) hosted some great galleries and artists, and its energy was slightly more welcoming, less high-maintenance than its older sister.

House of Gaga installation view. FIAC 2014. Courtesy the gallery.
House of Gaga installation view. FIAC 2014. Courtesy the gallery.

It’s worth mentioning, though there’s no space to go into detail, that besides these ‘official’ fairs there was also the fourth annual Young International Artists (YIA) art fair, held at the Carreau du Temple in the Marais. Which, thanks to the appearance of FIAC’s (OFF), became a sort of off-off. Here, works by USA-based Jon Bernad and French artists Loup Sarion and Eva Barto at La GAD (Marseille) were a highlight, as was Barcelona’s The Green Parrot. Each of the three fairs had outdoor or hors les murs projects, as well. There were many, many openings at galleries in Paris during FIAC week, including a great solo show by Latvian artist Daiga Grantina at Galerie Joseph Tang (she also appeared in Tang’s (OFF) booth, accompanied by Adam Cruces, Jo-ey Tang and others). And the ‘Gallery Night’ on Thursday 23 October saw spaces throughout the city opening until 10pm. Everyone makes an attempt to get a piece of FIAC pie, it seems, for you never know when a collector might just swan past and fall madly deeply for one of your stable.

Even the day of rest, Sunday, saw the Belleville Galleries’ Brunch, where the array of young-ish spaces based in Paris’ Belleville quarter opened their doors. For someone who went expecting sweet patisseries and Nutella, the brunch itself was disappointedly meagre, however. Seemingly, everyone was hungover and would rather have been in bed. The Friday had seen the Ricard Foundation’s announcement of their annual art prize at the infamous bal jaune (yellow ball, named after the family’s eponymous pastis, one can only assume). More occasion for what became somewhat of a constant for many people from Tuesday’s (OFF) vernissage onward: drunkenness. Curatorial collective castillo/corrales curated the Prix Ricard show this year, with a fine selection of French artists including Mélanie Matranga, Audrey Cottin and Jean-Alain Corre. The winner was Camille Blatrix.

Laure Prouvost, ‘Wantee’ (2013). Courtesy MOT International.
Laure Prouvost, ‘Wantee’ (2013). Courtesy MOT International.

In addition to all this folly, FIAC had organised substantial parallel programs of films, performances and conversations. The latter were conceived and orchestrated by Paris-based artist Alex Cecchetti under the title ‘Voices of Urgency’, with the final conversation event consisting of New York-based poet Ariana Reines, Paris-based sociolinguist Luca Greco and Slovenian poet Peter Semolič, reading around the topic of ‘desire and revolution’. Earlier that day, Laure Prouvost had given the performance titled ‘Bread, Tunnel, Vegetable’ (2014), which involved a group of children offering tea, bum-shaped cakes, and crisps to the audience sat on the floor, while the London-based French artist dramatically recounted stories associated with her imaginary lost granddad. The performance falls within the expansive Turner Prize-winning project, ‘Wantee’ (2013), the video of which was shown on a laptop monitor during the performance.

Berlin-based artists Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz showed two videos within the films program, ‘To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation’ (2013) and ‘Opaque’ (2014), a film so recently finished that Boudry and Lorenz had not yet seen it projected. A discussion between the artists and French art historian Élisabeth Lebovici followed each film, with some of the primary concerns being non-hierarchical production (in film, and in Pauline Oliveros’ music), the camera as active participant in a performance that couldn’t exist without it, and opacity as resistance against the aggressive act of understanding. The veil is a recurring motif; the artists suggest we don’t need to see everything and it is misguided to think the camera reveals all.

Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, 'Opaque' (2014) 16mm film on HD video, 10 min. Courtesy Ellen de Bruijne Projects.
Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, ‘Opaque’ (2014). Video still. Courtesy Ellen de Bruijne Projects.

If only one didn’t feel the pressure to see it all! At the main event, expensively-dressed people shuffle around with glazed eyes, darting between 750,000€ Isa Genzkens, 9€ sandwiches resembling plastic, and Ruinart champagne. The most interesting booths were ones that pretended to be anything else but a luxury goods stall. Particularly successful were those who allowed one single artist to create a total installation, not only because it gave a more generous insight into the practice, but also because it was such a relief after the endless white. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two Berlin galleries were among the most adept at this technique. Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie’s Wu Tsang installation came directly from the artist’s solo show, A day in the life of bliss, held at the gallery this summer. One of the highlights of the season, they cleverly re-contextualised the work for an FIAC audience, turning the stand into a mirror-like infinity lounge and inviting people to sit and observe reflections of themselves and others – and of course the colourful flashing light sculpture which took prime position in the centre, hanging from above and almost touching the floor.

Meanwhile upstairs, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler’s GCC installation included the HD video ‘Co-Op’ (2014), which ironically promotes a society based on luxury. The flat screen is installed within ‘Royal Mirage’ (2014), where wallpaper depicting the luxurious interior of a multi-billion dollar hotel in the Gulf serves as the background to eight painted portraits, hung in an even line. GCC commissioned a Thai painter in Kuwait to create oil paintings of members of the collective in the same style he paints sheikhs. Depicted in thawb and in a typical soft-focus manner, signs of age or gender become indiscernible, and all eight artists fall under the category of ‘Arab’. Simultaneously a witty comment on the kinds of portraiture Western collectors might hang on their walls, the rising power of the Middle East, and the role of the artist as self-promoting brand, GCC really made the mirage work.

GCC installation view @ FIAC 2014. Courtesy Kraupa-Tuskany Zeilder.
GCC installation view @ FIAC 2014. Courtesy Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler.

Other galleries went for the classic mixed-bag group show model, which inevitably meant the works on display ranged from the merely eye-catching to the quietly stunning, with little way of discerning the two, unless you mustered up enough energy to speak to one of the exhausted looking gallerists. Some gems among the Kapoors included French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar’s dancing pyjamas encased in glass sheets, ‘Live Through That ?!’ (2014), at Kamel Mennour, London-based Eloise Hawser’s two pieces at Balice Hertling, young Romanian Mihuț Boșcu Kafchin at Gaudel de Stampa, Praz-Delavallade’s swathe of LA artists including Amanda Ross-Ho and photographer Matthew Brandt, and Galerie Antoine Levi’s display of Italian artist Francesco Gennari’s spiderweb photographs and US-American Sean Townley’s sculptures.

In addition to all these Paris galleries, highlights from abroad included Mexico D.F.’s House of Gaga, whose pairing of New York-based Sam Pulitzer’s drawings and Mexican illustrator Julio Ruelas, who died of tuberculosis in Paris in 1907, made a link that gave a touch of much-appreciated sentimentality. Unexpectedly seductive, German artist Martin Eder’s painting at Leipzig/Berlin Galerie EIGEN + ART also spoke to the romantics amongst us, while New York’s On Stellar Rays had a wild display of Debo Eilers’ and Rochelle Feinstein’s colourful painting and sculptural works. Austrian-born artist Josef Strau’s tacky fence piece was a highlight at London’s Vilma Gold, and the Latin American stars Adrián Villar Rojas, Abraham Cruzvillegas and Gabriel Kuri at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, were predictably impressive. Meanwhile, Lisbon’s Vera Cortês Art Agency presented artists Joana Escoval and Daniel Gustav Cramer, whose understated pieces provided relief from the bombastic, ostentatious norm.

Joana Escoval, 'Outlaws in Language and Destiny'. Courtesy Vera Cortês Art Agency.
Joana Escoval, ‘Outlaws in Language and Destiny’. Courtesy Vera Cortês Art Agency.

That’s a tiny, we’ll say refined, taste of FIAC before one even begins to rattle off some of the things to be seen at (OFF)ICIELLE. There, it’s worth mentioning Cynthia Daignault’s photographic and painterly meditation on images of the Matterhorn for New York gallery Lisa Cooley; British artist Merlin James’ solo show of his expanded landscape painting practice at Kerlin Gallery, Dublin; London-based Italian artist Salvatore Arancio at Rome’s Federica Schiavo Gallery alongside Jay Heikes; and Jacqueline Mesmaeker’s beautiful photo-sculptural installations at Nadja Vilenne, Liège.

At Galerie Tatjana Pieters, Belgian artist Philippe Van Snick’s ten-colour palette and associated aesthetic limitations proved in reality to allow an ongoing multiplicity of forms and encounters. Andreas Angelidakis’s series of ‘bibelots’, 3D-prints resting atop internally decorated vitrines, at The Breeder (Athens) were a highlight. As was French artist Sarah Tritz at Paris Galerie Anne Barrault, whose work included a trashy fake-hair and bead sculpture and large collage of a seductively angled naked arse.

Last but not least, who could forget the darling, not just of ‘post-internet’, but of contemporary art in general. Amalia Ulman’s solo show at the booth of ltd los angeles was a total hit, making one wonder how the artist could put a foot wrong. One of the large digitally printed tapestries Ulman had produced for the fair seems a good note to finish on. Depicting two African children in school uniform, a girl whispering to a boy, the serif embroidered text reads:

‘What Have You Heard About MONEY?’

‘What Does It Mean?’ ‘How Does It Harm Us?’ ‘Who Can Get It?’ ‘What Causes It?’ ‘How Can We Stop It?’ What Can We Do For People Who Have It?’ ‘Can It Be Cured?’ ‘What Does It Look Like?’ ‘Which Of Us Has It?’


Select arrow top-right for installation photos.

FIAC (International Contemporary Art Fair) is an annual event running at October at Grand Palais.

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