Finding Balance at Paris Photo 2014

This past weekend, photography fans and connoisseurs descended upon the Grand Palais for the 18th annual Paris Photo Fair. Held November 13-16, 2014, it boasted 143 galleries and twenty-six art booksellers representing thirty-five countries. Grandiose and historically rich, the venue provided ideal conditions for viewing photographs: the sprawling dome of the Grand Palais offered abundant natural light, while the tightly-packed booths were simple, cut-to-the-chase affairs, with off-white walls.

The upper level of the Grand Palais functioned as a non-commercial gallery space for recent acquisitions from the Museum of Modern Art as well as for the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts’ collection of early Indian and South Asian photography. Smaller wings displayed works sponsored by Giorgio Armani, JP Morgan Chase, and BMW. These spaces, located at the top of a grand staircase and away from the bustling ground floor, subtly linked the works on sale at Paris Photo with private, museum-quality collections, and underscored the potential for these photographs to act as investment pieces.

The beating heart of the fair was a social space at the base of the grand staircase, which was continually abuzz with visitors flipping through art tomes and awaiting artists’ signatures. Ample opportunity to encounter the artists themselves contributed to the sense that Paris Photo not only stimulates monetary transactions, but also the transaction of knowledge between enthusiasts and a shared passion for the medium.

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Augmented Reality Enters the Conservation Laboratory

On October 22, 2014 at the Institute of Fine Arts, Jens Stenger gave a talk titled “Non-Invasive Color Restoration of Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals Using Light from a Digital Projector” on behalf of his team (Santiago Cuellar, Rudolph Gschwind, Ankit Mohan, Yasuhiro Mukaigawa, Ramesh Raskar, Katherine Eremin and Narayan Khandekar).

Stenger presents the team's target image, the compensation image, a painting's present faded state, and its appearance with the projection in the IFA Lecture Hall. Photograph by the author.

Stenger presents the team’s target image, the compensation image, a painting’s present faded state, and its appearance with the projection in the IFA Lecture Hall. Photograph by the author.

Like many conservation chronicles, this riveting lecture on the recent restoration of Mark Rothko’s storied Harvard Murals had all the elements of a blockbuster drama. The story’s stakes ride not only on the status of the artist—an immeasurable giant of post-war modernism—but also on the works’ conservation history. The five paintings on canvas that comprise the murals were completed in 1962, making these Rothko’s first site-specific grouping of paintings (they were followed by his canvases for Houston’s 1967 Rothko Chapel). The Harvard Murals, as they are known, were made for the boardroom of the university’s new Holyoke Center, designed by Josep Lluís Sert, then Dean of the Graduate School of Design.

The Holyoke Center’s conference room boasted excellent natural light, and over the years the paintings—originally grounded in a deep, winelike crimson of Rothko’s own making, with a different intense hue in each canvas’s foreground—faded abysmally. In the 1980s, a team of conservators determined that the main culprit in the fading was Lithol Red, a highly fugitive pigment that provided the backbone of the murals’ striking crimson. Following this discovery, the paintings were put on public display for the first time in 1988—to general outcry. The paintings that had languished in seclusion during Rothko’s canonization now struck art historians, critics, and the artist’s heirs as withered corpses, shadows of their original glory. After this debacle, the paintings were kept in storage, rarely to be seen again. Until, that is, Stenger’s team proposed a radical new solution.

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EXPAND//FOLD//COLLAPSE// Sculptures by Marta Chilindron: A Conversation with Great Hall Exhibition Curators, Susanna Temkin and Katharine Wright

The following is a transcript of a conversation between IFA PhD candidates Susanna Temkin and Katharine Wright and Master’s student, Caroline Barnett. Temkin and Wright are the co-curators of the Great Hall Exhibition program for the 2014-2015 academic year. The interview took place on October 27, 2014.

Marta Chilindron, Cube 48 Orange, 2014, acrylic, dimensions variable: closed: 48 x 48 x 48 in., Courtesy Cecilia de Torres, Ltd.

Marta Chilindron, Cube 48 Orange, 2014, acrylic, dimensions variable: closed: 48 x 48 x 48 in., Courtesy Cecilia de Torres, Ltd.

CB: So, tell us a little bit about the show. What can we expect to see?

ST: We’re going to be installing a total of eight works by the artist Marta Chilindron, three of which are large-scale. Chilindron creates manipulable sculptural works using transparent and multi-colored plastic-based material. For the show, we are installing works throughout the Great Hall. We wanted to make as much use of the space as possible, so they will be in the vestibule, the lobby space, and on the marble table on the platform right below the staircase. But, right now things are tentative. We’re giving this interview before we do the installation, so we will have to see how everything plays out.

CB: It’s appropriate that the installation is in flux – expanding and collapsing like the title.

ST and KW: Yes!

CB: What were the challenges of curating a show in the Duke House? I imagine it has a lot of limitations.

KW: One of the challenges is the nature of the space…there are a lot of things you have to work around. It’s a place of major circulation; everyone who comes in and out of the building has to go through there at some point – there are classrooms, offices, our lunch room. So that really hinders where you can exhibit things.

ST: This is not a traditional exhibition space. It’s challenging: we had no walls, we had to really respect the building, people have to be able to use it, it’s not climate controlled, etc., etc.

KW: But that’s why Chilindron’s work is so exciting because it dictates that kind of movement and manipulation of space; it can fill it or contract as need be. For example, right now we are involved in discussions about the work, Green Pyramid (2006). Depending on how we choose to install the piece, it can stretch from a hexagonal shape with a diameter of eight feet to a much more condensed, triangular form that uses about half of the floor space.

CB: You can’t change the lighting, can you?

ST: Yes! The building staff will help with spotlights. However, one thing that is important about Chilindron’s art is how the nature of the materials she works with – transparent acrylics and other plastics-based media – interacts with the light effects of the space. I’m really excited to see how the works we install near the staircase will reflect light filtering in from the Duke House’s skylight. For students, I think it will be nice to see how the works change throughout the course of the day or with the weather, for example.

CB: Are you two continuing the program into the spring?

KW: We’ve been tasked with organizing the spring exhibition. I should explain that we’re co-organizers and co-curators of this year’s Great Hall Exhibitions, but Susanna has taken the lead on this show in the fall, and I’m going to take the lead in the spring. We’re still in the process of negotiating what the next exhibition will entail.

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Challenging Gridlock for Gridwork: A Trip to Harlem for Early Charles Gaines

The current exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989 (on view through October 26, 2014), encompasses an era of the artist’s work before he began confronting social content and identity head-on, as in the 1993 exhibition and publication, The Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism, which examined racial determinism in the artworld at that time. Despite the fact that the exhibition catalog and wall texts at the Studio Museum explain Charles Gaines as an artist who explores the “relationship between aesthetics, politics, language and systems,” the political and racial implications seem absent in this period of his oeuvre, or at least buried deep within systematical and conceptual thinking.

Charles Gaines Motion: Trisha Brown Dance, Set #1, 1980–81 Collection of James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects Photo by Robert Wedemeyer.

Charles Gaines, Motion: Trisha Brown Dance, Set #1, 1980–81. Collection of James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach. Courtesy Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Image courtesy the Studio Museum.

One familiar with the aim of the Studio Museum – as well as Gaines’s more contemporary works – might anticipate a different body of work, one that confronts more evidently the “influence or inspiration from black culture,” as per the Museum’s mission statement. Rather, methodology and conceptualism – an influence likely stemming from Sol LeWitt, a major influence in Gaines’s career – come to the fore. The walls of the first room of the exhibition are lined with artworks featuring massive grids, among which are the key series Regression (1973-74), Color Regression (1978), and Numbers and Trees (1986-89). The impressive scale of a majority of the work is tempered by the delicate, precise handwriting that embellishes their grids and margins. But the monumentality of Gaines’s work has less to do with its physical size than the painstaking process that produced it. As the shapes and colors in the Regression drawings vary, it becomes apparent that each is driven by arithmetical operations, building upon each other and constructing systems similar to self-referential fractals.

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Notes from the Street: Charles Simonds at the IFA

On October 7, for this year’s inaugural Artists at the Institute lecture, Charles Simonds delivered an energetic and astute summation of his career to date. He began with his earliest Dwellings—miniature architectural structures, made of clay, sand, and small bits of wood—which in the early 1970s seemed to emerge organically from the gutters, broken walls, and empty lots of downtown New York, springing up wherever the city’s crumbling infrastructure afforded a place for their putative inhabitants, whom Simonds dubbed the “Little People.” Simonds’s rich practice, which incorporates elements of sculpture, architecture, urban planning, craft, performance, conceptualism, narrative fiction, and social engagement, has taken many forms in many places since those early breakthroughs. Yet even today, viewers seem perpetually drawn back to the original Dwellings, which remain landmarks of his artistic practice and of the downtown scene though they exist only in photographs and in memory.

Dwelling, East 6nd Street, New York, 1974, clay, sand and wood. Photo courtesy www.charles-simonds.com.

Dwelling, East 6nd Street, New York, 1974, clay, sand and wood. Photo courtesy www.charles-simonds.com.

There are many reasons for this consistent focus on Simonds’s early work, not least the powerful charm exerted on us by things that are gone. The Dwellings’ loss helps establish them as a kind of founding myth—both for Simonds’s mature work and for the narratives he wove within it. But at play here is also the art world’s typical exhaustion with itself, the self-disgust that has, since Duchamp, drawn art irresistibly toward things it hasn’t yet absorbed. For that reason viewers may think that the Dwellings’ natural habitat is the city, and the white walls of the museum can showcase only taxidermied specimens, removed from both context and life.

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