Monday, March 25, 2013

Inna Babaeva

Visiting Inna's otherworldly Long Island City studio feels like stepping into another time and dimension!!
Inna's piece reminds me of those wonderful Daumier caricature sculptures, both in its playfulness and anthropomorphic grotesqueness. During my visits to the Art Institute of Chicago as a child, the Daumier sculptures were always among my favorite things in the museum's collection.
There's some serious Simulacra and Simulation going on here!! In the act of photographing Inna's image of an image, I'm perverting reality further, accessing semiotic hyperreality full on, and widening the gap even more between us and the true nature of being. Baudrillard would be overjoyed to witness this moment if he were still alive today, and especially if he happened to be guzzling down some of that choice whiskey of his!!
Inna and I discussed the idea of taking a utilitarian object and robbing it of its usefulness. Furniture legs, music stands, buckets, industrial pipes, and wine glasses are just a few of the objects that are stripped of their function and that undergo a metamorphosis in Inna's unabashedly ebullient work. She combines these objects with spray foam that she later spray paints.

Our conversation reminded me of Oscar Wilde, since he was an advocate of making useless things out of an entirely Hedonistic desire. I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray over a decade ago, and the book's unapologetic and antiauthoritarian attitude still resonates with me. The juicy descriptions in which Wilde objectifies beautiful men are also memorable and gratifying! I wrote this passage down and hung it on on my studio wall while I was still studying at the Art Institute:

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.
 Inna also takes photographs of both found images and scenes of everyday life. These are stills from Godard's Pierrot le fou that she plans on using in a future project.

This is another ongoing series of sculptures that Inna has, and this body of work operates in an entirely different way conceptually from her foam sculptures. The foam takes on an expressionistic quality in its organic, boundless form, and also has a relationship to Surrealism in its unearthly and bizarre color and shape. The way in which the foam pours out of the can and resists being entirely controlled as a medium, seems to metaphorically reference the parts of life that can't be neatly categorized or understood using the faculties of reason alone.

These wood and plexiglass sculptures have more of a relationship to Minimalism and seem to be more accepting of clearly defined boundaries and parameters, in their carefully measured, hard-edged, geometric forms. 
All of the sculptures in this series are modular and can be arranged in an endless amount of ways.   
Inna's signature exuberance and lively sense of mischievousness shows up in various moves, like attaching this bicycle mirror to the sculpture. The sophisticated sense of play and non sequitur decisions imbue Inna's work with a feeling of spontaneity and fun.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rachel Schmidhofer

Is it Christmas in March?!! It's actually Christmas all year round in Rachel's studio.
Pussy in a tree!!!
   Rachel never had Christmas trees growing up since she was raised Jewish.The cultural lens each of us looks through can effect the way we interpret the meaning behind something even as banal as a Christmas tree. The compulsion driving Rachel to paint these trees is intriguing, and her project would take on an entirely different meaning if she were Christian, but by having grown up in a different tradition, Rachel is removed and detached from the original cultural connotations of the iconography she borrows from. On the surface, these Christmas paintings seem to contain a celebratory feeling of pleasure and delight, but there is also a somber sense of an outsider looking in, just as in a Toulouse-Lautrec painting; the artist is not participating in the joviality but instead depicting it.
     Rachel's paintings reminded me of Klara Lidén's installation of discarded Christmas trees at Reena Spaulings last year. Lidén filled the entire gallery with trees that she had picked up off the streets of New York and placed a couch in the space for the viewer to breathe in the heavy smell of pine and to ruminate over the evergreen funeral ground. My friend Brent, recommended I go see that show, and it turned out to be one of the most haunting shows I saw all year. I felt uneasy being surrounded by these dying, beautiful trees that had been flippantly cut down for a few weeks of folly. How easily the entire room could have gone up in flames with a mere flick of a lighter! My thoughts surrounded the anticipation and hopes for happiness that so often go unfulfilled during the holiday season, and the resulting anticlimactic sadness after the holidays. Joy always seems to happen spontaneously, it's never anything anyone can go looking or planning for. 
Rachel's objects reinforce this almost childlike sense of wonder and magic present in her paintings, which reminds me of Karen Klimnik's paintings and installations. In all of Klimnik's work the lifeless cult of reason is suspended, and the rules of fairytales are instead favored. Rachel's objects perform similarly but often contain a more surreal, and internalized logic, unlike Klimnik who references folklore, pop cultural icons, and whose work abounds in art historical references. 
Much of Rachel's work integrates rococo opulence with everyday objects. There is a welcoming populist accessibility within this all this decadence and it doesn't seem to be concerned with ivory tower exclusivity. Here, Rachel combines two separate puzzles with different images printed on them, that share the same pieces as well as amount of pieces, and creates an entirely new image out of them. Although in theory all the pieces should fit perfectly into this new puzzle, some pieces refuse to fit so seamlessly or even fit at all, just as in life.

Aside from being a clever conceptual idea, there is a potent metaphor that emerges within this series that addresses the complexities and mysteries of existence that go beyond the limitations of our own level of understanding.

This poignant sculpture was my favorite object in Rachel's studio. Rachel found this damaged lawn ornament and reassembled it. Through the act of picking up a broken and discarded object and giving it a new life, Rachel imbued the piece with heart wrenching beauty.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Joshua Abelow

The genius at work!!!
Joshua came into my life when I was still a fledgling student at Cranbrook! He quickly became an important mentor figure for me. Joshua taught me how to fly, and then immediately after, he stole all of my ideas!! When I confronted him about it in his studio, all he could say is, "Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal!" What can I say? He stole those words, too. 
Although Joshua's paintings are great in and of themselves, his highly methodical and intriguing process does add yet another dimension to the work.  There is something in the intricate systems he employs and the emphasis that he places on the importance of the idea of the painting before it is made that is redolent of Sol LeWitt.  Only, unlike Lewitt, Abelow is a one-man operation and he has no qualms about reintroducing the artist's hand once he's achieved his initial plan, allowing subtle drips to rupture the seamlessness of the hard-edged abstraction.
Joshua told me that when he was a student at Cranbrook he was very frustrated with his work and wanted to start over from scratch.  He said the best way to get started was simply to squeeze out different colors, mix them together, apply them to the canvas, and record the results.  He made many paintings by layering paint this way and filled up a number of little black notebooks with the results.  “It was very trial and error. “  After graduating in 2008, Joshua moved to Berlin and began using these notes on color to make small abstract paintings.The Berlin work culminated in a series of “gold paintings” which he told me he made because “gold is a good investment in difficult economic times.“
 René Magritte
The Subjugated Reader, 1928

Joshua bought this postcard while he was visiting the Magritte Museum in Belgium. He enjoys having it up because of the connection between Magritte's painting and the relationship to language in his own work.
These paintings are going to be part of a new installation of cell-phone number paintings titled, “Call Me Abstract.”
Mr. Smiley Face!!! Doesn't he look dashing in his top hat? How can he be so hateful lookin so stylish, especially with all them endorphins coursing through him?! I love how it looks like Josh, painted Mr. Smiley Face using ketchup and mustard! The smiley face is a lot like God, in that if the smiley face did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Harvey Ball invented the smiley face in 1963, and he was paid $45 for it. This is yet another example of an artist’s ideas being shamelessly stolen by a certain SCHMABELOW!
Life is Art and Art is Life. Do the paintings inform the Cheerios or do the Cheerios inform the paintings? The way in which the separation between Joshua's art and his own life often seems indistinguishable reminds me a lot of John Dewey's Art As Experience. Dewey believed that experience is our most important way of engaging with the world and he was against any attempts at elevating art above every day reality. If John Dewey were alive today I imagine that he would be a huge fan of Joshua's paintings, and that the two would become best buds!
Joshua also runs Art Blog Art Blog, which he updates daily. Thanks to his fresh perspective as well as his encyclopedic breadth of knowledge about art, his blog regularly draws a huge and growing following. BLOG HIM HERE
  No, really.  
This fantastic little painting is by Gene Beery, whom Joshua interviewed recently.  Before our studio visit, Joshua suggested we do some role-playing and read the interview aloud.  Joshua played the role of Joshua Abelow and I played the role of Gene Beery. Since we are both such great actors, it was an exceptional performance!!
Two relics from the past!  This beautiful ceramic jar is a birthday present I bought Joshua while I was camping down the Pacific Coast Highway with my friend Julie over five years ago. The jar possessed a certain je nais se quoi that immediately reminded me of Joshua.  It was VERY expensive, but Schmabelow is totally worth it!! The detail of the painting in the background is a nude painted in 1995 when Joshua was eighteen.  Notice the striking similarities between the two works of art!!
Joshua's drawings are so different from his paintings, but both are indicative of his methodical and unconventional mind. The drawings are organic and more intuitive than his highly systematic, geometric paintings. Although he starts out with a specific intention in both mediums, the one-shot process he follows in the drawings imbues them with a sense of spontaneity and risk. He never erases, so if a drawing isn't successful, he just throws it away.

Pictured above, we have the ultimate orgy; A couple of sexy ladies, Jackson Pollock, and some dapper gentleman wearing a top hat, a pipe, and a hard-on!
Joshua's recent drawings have become more layered and surreal. There's an ebullient energy springing from his expressive line that makes these drawings very enjoyable to experience first hand. The infectious pleasure and amusement that Joshua derives in making his work also makes these drawings so rewarding to look at.