Archive for May 15, 2012

Last splash for “Performing for the Camera”!

As a university art museum, we benefit enormously from the presence of talented and committed ASU faculty. To help curate the exhibition Performing for the Camera, for example, a stunner that the Arizona Republic calls “delicious,” Senior Curator and Associate Director Heather Sealy Lineberry called upon artists and faculty members Betsy Schneider and Julie Anand, who worked with her and Ann Sanchez, curator of Stéphane Janssen’s extraordinary collection.

In this post, Anand, who is a Senior Sustainability Scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability as well as an assistant professor in the School of Art in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, writes about the experience of co-curating Performing for the Camera.

The exhibition closes this Saturday — if you haven’t seen it yet, make a point of stopping by this week. The Museum is open from 11 a.m. til 5 p.m. every day except Sunday and Monday.

Last fall I was invited by Senior Curator Heather Sealy Lineberry of the ASU Art Museum to help curate images from Stéphane Janssen’s collection for the exhibition Performing for the Camera, which brought 50 works to the public.

As a teacher, I was thrilled to give access to the immediacy of objects that my students typically encounter as digital projections or small reproductions in textbooks. Artists creating imagery with such labor-rich and elaborate processes expand students’ expectations of photography in important and healthy ways. As an artist myself, being a curatorial consultant offered a window to see into both a collector’s passion and service, as well as the vital skill sets and perhaps best part of a day in the life of a curator.

The ASU curatorial team arrived at the warehouse, greeted by the insightful and gracious curator of the Stéphane Janssen collection. Surrounded by racks of crated works, we sat around a table poring over massive six-inch thick binders of small thumbnails of photographic artworks. The collection is particularly deep in terms of work that can be described by several terms — tableaux, staged, directorial mode and constructed. Often there were several pieces by a single artist/collective to choose from.

We each took notes as we moved through the binders individually, noting relevant artists, considering which works by those artists were most powerful and or thematically appropriate, and whether singular or multiple works, if available, were needed to represent projects. Conversation organically bubbled to the surface during this process as we couldn’t contain our excitement over discoveries, and as larger questions of thematic scope emerged through the details. We were also spontaneously treated to the unwrapping of Liu Bolin’s Roadblock image, which had arrived just days earlier. I appreciated for a moment the demonstration of direct support for artists this purchase represented and the creativity involved in pooling together artworks over the course of a lifetime for the ways that they make the heart quicken.

As curator, Heather described her goal of having the exhibition’s thematic premise be clear, but not airtight, allowing room for conversation. We agreed to attempt to distinguish gleaned photographs connected to the documentary tradition from crafted cinematically charged imagery — a distinction that artist Jeff Wall calls “hunted” and “farmed” imagery. Yet given that images are heavily influenced by their makers whether they appear to be so or not, and most image-makers’ processes function somewhere between these false dichotomies, this distinction was occasionally provocatively murky. Work by the artist Sally Mann, for example, though she directs her children as subjects, was deemed closer to the vernacular traditions of photography than to the staged end of the spectrum for the purposes of this exhibition.

We also agreed that we wanted to distinguish works created as art for the camera from primarily live art performances or embodied installations that had a secondary gallery life as photographic documents. In some cases, that distinction was somewhat nebulous in interesting ways; for example, both Shirin Neshat and collaborators Birchler and Hubbard make large-format still images that interpret their own video works.

Finally, as a variety of strategies within the staged theme emerged, we entertained the question of whether certain artists’ processes were so elaborate as to constitute performance outright in the absence of narrative, costumes, characters or pictured performers. The art practice of Vic Muniz, with his elaborate collaborative portraits made of garbage seen from far above, raised this “process as performance” question and was ultimately considered an outlier for the edit — although, like documented performance art, Muniz’s work may have raised interesting questions about where the “art” in artworks lives.

At the end of hours of thumbnail browsing and discussions around photographic cultures, I felt sated and fat as a tick, as when one leaves a museum surprised by the complete exhaustion that results from so much seeing.

These conversations eventually became the show, through Heather Sealy Lineberry and her museum team’s logistical feats and vitally sensitive placement decisions. The show includes works by artists from China, Brazil, the Netherlands, Russia, France, Australia, Japan, Iran, Norway, Germany and the United States, covering a wonderful international scope. Most of the objects are printed in saturated color, quite large with shiny finishes, a sumptuous visual feast that puts the viewer’s body in a 1:1 relationship with the crafted illusions.

Beyond providing sensual delight and exposing a range of directorial photographic art strategies from the 1970’s through the present, a rich subtext of the resulting exhibition is the fluid potential of identities and the body as a site of agency. We find Shirin Neshat’s image of a large group of Iranian women “searching for their own nature” near the deceptively seductive while entrapped Bride images of artist Kimiko Yoshida, who left her native Japan because of its “mortifying voluntary servitude.”

On the same floor, Yasumasa Morimura playfully and with absolute veracity becomes icon Brigitte Bardot, slipping into another gender, Western popular and fine art cultures like so many soap suds. Arno Minkkinen and Liu Bolin enact durational performances that dissolve their figures into charged landscapes — the former becoming buds and rock arches like a Nordic god; the latter, a yogi of non-violent protest under a repressive regime.

Upstairs, works by Zhang Huan and by Kwong Chi Tseng explore the artists’ own bodies in relation to globalization. Charlie White sublimates male insecurity through his character Joshua, while adjacent Pierre et Gilles ejaculate spectacle with fanfare. Their glitter-framed portrait mash-ups of religiosity and soft porn create a world where the Carlson twins and Saint John the Baptist occupy the same place and time. The exhibition beautifully illustrates Yoshida’s poignant statement that “art is above all the experience of transformation.”

Images, top to bottom:

Installation shot of the exhibition Performing for the Camera. Photo by Craig Smith.

Liu Bolin (b. 1973), Hiding in the City #51, Roadblock, 2007. C-print, 49 ½ x 61 ½”. Courtesy of Stéphane Janssen.

Kimiko Yoshida (b. 1963), The Silver Berber Bride, Morocco, early XXth Century, 2005. C-print on diabond and diasec, 47 ¼ x 47 ¼”. Courtesy of Stéphane Janssen.

Installation shot of works by Pierre et Gilles in the exhibition Performing for the Camera. Photo by Craig Smith.

May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment


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