Design for the Future in Latin America, Both Past and Present

Installation view of Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978, Americas Society.

Installation view of Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978, Americas Society.

An unlikely but revelatory pair of exhibitions, one on each side of Central Park, is showcasing the long and sometimes idiosyncratic history of design in Latin America. Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978, at the Americas Society (on view February 11 to May 16, 2015), is the more historically-minded of the two, concerned with the apogee of the modernist moment as it played out in three markedly distinct countries. New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America, at the Museum of Arts and Design (on view November 4, 2014 to April 5, 2015), more loosely surveys contemporary trends from the past fifteen years, uniting fashion, furniture, textiles, and ceramics, to name a few of the categories it seeks to dismantle. Indeed, design in both shows seems to know no boundaries and remains nearly impossible to define. Rather than enforcing a taxonomy or otherwise attempting to regulate the objects, however, the curators use this ontological slipperiness as an opportunity to complicate what could be fairly standard narratives of formal experimentation or technological innovation. Beyond their shared subject of Latin American design, the two shows diverge sharply in terms of scope, chronology, and curatorial approach, but taken together they tell the complex, often contradictory story of how design sought—and continues to seek—to shape the identity and the destiny of the region.

The titles of both shows emphasize the new, the modern, and the cutting-edge. “Moderno,” as the introductory wall text of that exhibition explains, signified “ideas of novelty and accelerated development, rather than [being] associated with a particular style or art movement.” It’s an ideological rather than aesthetic framework, and one that pertains specifically to mid-century Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, all of which experienced sudden industrial development and urbanization from the 1940s to the 1960s. Guest curators María Cecilia Loschiavo dos Santos, Ana Elena Mallet, and Jorge F. Rivas Pérez are smart to historicize and localize the terms of modernism by tethering it to burgeoning senses of nationalism that accompanied, and bolstered, this period of development. This context begins to explain why the exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design, focusing exclusively on the twenty-first century, dispenses altogether with the terminology of “modernism.” The term comes from Italian designer Gaetano Pesce—whose work comprises kinetic art, architecture, and furniture design—and refers to the “new territory” in which boundaries of art, craft, and design are blurred in contemporary global practice. Like “moderno,” the phrase is deployed in a somewhat counterintuitive way, describing process instead of geography, but it is also not a stretch to draw the line one step further, from “new territory” to “new world.”

That notion of the “new world”—of the Americas as a land of possibility—is the unstated link between these two exhibitions. Utopian overtones are more obvious throughout Moderno, which situates its nearly eighty objects within a hemispheric context of mid-century developmentalist ambitions, but the very fact that it looks at this moment through the lens of design is noteworthy. Art and architecture usually get the lion’s share of the glory when it comes to visual manifestations of Latin American modernity—think of the immensely photogenic Brasília, the iconic geometry of a Carlos Cruz-Diez Fisicromía, or the future-past architectonics of a Gunther Gerzso abstraction—but design is a crucial and oft-overlooked component of the modernist project in Latin America. In the broader effort to close the gap between art and life, arguably the most successful imbrication of these two realms was realized through design itself: through objects created for utilitarian purposes, their formal rhythms and physical contours structuring and even transforming lived experience.

Installation view of Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978, Americas Society

Installation view of Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978, Americas Society.

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Time Traveling: On Kawara at the Guggenheim

On Kawara—Silence, organized by Guggenheim Senior Curator Jeffrey Weiss with Assistant Curator and IFA PhD Candidate Anne Wheeler (on view February 6 through May 3, 2015), bears the distinct imprint of the artist’s own logic. This is not unexpected given Kawara’s role in determining the exhibition’s structure. Still, following the artist’s death this past summer, viewing Kawara’s work on his own terms is deeply gratifying. Early in the planning process the artist proposed a number of “chapters” or sections that would inform the composition of On Kawara—Silence. Collectively, these chapters include all of Kawara’s artistic production since 1963: notebook sketches known as the Paris—New York Drawings, paintings from the artist’s first years in New York, Code drawings, One Million Years, One Hundred Years Calendars, Pure Consciousness, Journals, as well as the Today, I Got Up, I Went, I Met, and I Am Still Alive series. In the eponymous exhibition catalogue, Weiss explains the genesis of the show’s unique organization: “In choosing these groups of artworks, On Kawara was generously responding to a curatorial proposition: to attempt to represent his practice as a practice rather than assemble a more exclusive selection of individual objects.”[1] In the Guggenheim’s exhibition, hallmarks of Kawara’s practice—repetition and duration—are easily distinguishable, while other connections in and amongst various bodies of work also come to the surface.

On Kawara,Telegram to Sol LeWitt, February 5, 1970, From I Am Still Alive, 1970–2000, Telegram, 5 3/4 x 8 inches (14.6 x 20.3 cm), LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut

On Kawara, Telegram to Sol LeWitt, February 5, 1970, From I Am Still Alive, 1970–2000, Telegram, 5 3/4 x 8 inches (14.6 x 20.3 cm), LeWitt Collection, Chester, Connecticut

From 1966 until his death in June 2014, Kawara assiduously monitored and recorded his own passage through time and space in serial bodies of work, each of which was developed over the course of a number of years. Collectively, Kawara’s work accounts for time in various units: minutes, hours, days, years, centuries, and millennia. The legibility of Kawara’s chronicling activity is reliant upon the repetition of certain activities (mailing, listing, telegramming, painting) according to the self-imposed restrictions and conditions that limited the production of each distinct body of work: a Date Painting had to be completed within the span of twenty-four hours, the maps comprising I Went charted the artist’s movement in a given day, and each page included in One Million Years contained five hundred years typed into a grid formed by rows and columns.

On Kawara, JAN. 4, 1966 “New York’s traffic strike.” New York, From Today, 1966–2013, Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm), Private collection, Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

On Kawara, JAN. 4, 1966 “New York’s traffic strike.” New York, From Today, 1966–2013, Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm), Private collection, Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

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Rauschenberg’s Stoned Moon Lithographs: “Nothing Will Already Be The Same”

The words are Robert Rauschenberg’s, stripped-in alongside a photograph of Apollo 11 clearing its launch tower: “NOTHING WILL ALREADY BE THE SAME.” Oriented vertically, the typewritten phrase mimics the upward thrust of the rocket, setting it apart from all else within the composition of the page; it is one of twenty mock-ups of the artist’s never-realized Stoned Moon Book (1969), on loan from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Conflating past and present by altering the idiom’s familiar uttering, Rauschenberg collapses the extraordinary long game of the space race and its attendant technological advancements with the instantaneousness of the liftoff. A presidential promise, made in 1961, is here loaded into the few anticipation-ridden seconds during which millions of Americans held their breath at exactly the same time.

Rauschenberg was one of them. NASA invited him, along with seven other artists, to Cape Canaveral in July 1969 to observe the launch of Apollo 11. Since 1967, Rauschenberg had been working with Los Angeles-based artists’ workshop Gemini G.E.L. (and making prints elsewhere since 1962). His familiarity with the printed medium and relationship with Gemini allowed him to continue that collaboration to produce an impressive suite of prints that reflected upon his experience—he was granted unrestricted access—of NASA’s astronauts, complex machinery, and sprawling facilities for the occasion of the first manned flight to the moon.

A single-gallery show at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, “Loose in Some Real Tropics: Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Stoned Moon’ Projects, 1969–70” (on view December 20, 2014 through March 16, 2015), exhibits thirteen of the thirty-four lithographs in the series, alongside rarely-seen archival material including photographs of Rauschenberg in the studio, notes he took during his visit to Florida, and twenty of the aforementioned collaged book pages. Taken together, they provide welcome access to the artist’s working process and state of mind. The show benefits from the clear focus of its curator, James Merle Thomas, who enables viewers to hone in on a discrete moment of intersection between artistic production and the shared experience of a monumental historical moment. The lithographs on view, in their varying degrees of abstraction, likewise represent a range of content, intelligibility, and what one could imagine as approximations of onlookers’ sensory impressions. The Stoned Moon works’ relative obscurity makes the Cantor’s a refreshing and gladly received showing, offering an even-keeled selection of the full series’ sensibility and iconography, even if it omits prints in the series that showcase the raw power and dynamism of the liftoff, that snapshot that best conveys the erupting anticipation of the Apollo mission. (It seems, indeed, that excitement was what Rauschenberg was after.) Missed in this regard, then, is a print like Waves (1969), whose vast surface is half-dominated by the enormous force of Saturn 5’s thrusters, surrounded by vapor-like exhaust that Rauschenberg inked in loose, brushy strokes.

Left: Robert Rauschenberg, Waves (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L. Image courtesy SFMOMA. Right: Robert Rauschenberg, Sky Garden (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph and screen print, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L.  Image courtesy SFMOMA.

Left: Robert Rauschenberg, Waves (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L. Image courtesy SFMOMA. Right: Robert Rauschenberg, Sky Garden (Stoned Moon), 1969; lithograph and screen print, 89 in. x 42 in. (226.06 cm x 106.68 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gemini G.E.L. / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; published by Gemini G.E.L. Image courtesy SFMOMA.

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James Elkins in Conversation with Claire Brandon

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Screenshot of draft provided by James Elkins.

James Elkins, Professor in Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, delivered a lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts on February 10, 2015 as part of the Institute of Fine Art’s Daniel H. Silberberg Lecture Series. The lecture, “The End of the Theory of the Gaze,” explored the shortcomings of existing theories about the gaze and presented several aspects of Visual Worlds, the book that Professor Elkins is currently working on. IFA Ph.D. Candidate Claire Brandon spoke with Professor Elkins after the lecture.

Claire Brandon: Your lecture presented the failure of the theory of the gaze in the context of the new book you are working on, Visual Worlds.  Could you talk a little bit about the digital format for this project?  You mentioned that you and Erna Fiorentini are writing and editing this document using Google Drive, allowing for open-sourced authorship in some instances.  How does this process work?  How did you decide on Google Drive as a tool?

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 9.16.06 AM

Screenshot of Google Spreadsheet provided by James Elkins.

James Elkins: Well, we chose Google Drive (link here) just because it’s simple and it includes spreadsheets (which we need to keep track of word counts, illustrations, etc.). I have tried several WordPress sites, Nings (some are quite expensive), and other collaborative tools; they’re useful if you need video conferencing, separate discussion groups, etc.

The co-authoring part of the project works extremely smoothly: we have a document called “What’s new” where we exchange ideas; two spreadsheets to manage the many tasks of accumulating words, images, and arguments; a third spreadsheet for managing word counts; a document that records the Oxford Press “house style” (that’s something authors usually don’t see until the end, but we’re making our own “house style” for citations and usages).

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Sturtevant: The Troublemaker

In early February, Curatorial Assistant Ingrid Langston and IFA MA Candidate Ashley McNelis toured the MoMA galleries. Langston assisted MoMA PS1 Curator Peter Eleey in organizing the exhibition Sturtevant: Double Trouble at MoMA, which runs from November 9, 2014 to February 22, 2015. Double Trouble is timely not just in light of the artist’s recent passing, but also because it is only Sturtevant’s second American-organized solo show since the 1970s. The intervening four decadesin which Sturtevant was largely ignored by the art worldhave afforded her audience the time and hindsight to catch up with her intelligently penetrating vision. Sturtevant: Double Trouble also juxtaposes traditional art historical narratives (represented by works in MoMA’s permanent collection) against works from Sturtevant’s reactionary oeuvre. The exhibition will be on view in the third floor Special Exhibitions Gallery and the fifth floor Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Painting and Sculpture Gallery at MoMA until it heads to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles from March 21 to July 27, 2015.

Ashley McNelis: I understand that Sturtevant actively combated the use of curatorial strategies at other institutions. What was working with her at MoMA like?

Ingrid Langston: Unfortunately, I never got to meet her personally. She was working with Peter Eleey closely and was planning to come out for the installation before she passed away in May 2014. Peter went to Paris every few months to meet with her, but by the time I came on the project she was not really traveling much. So I never worked with her directly, which is a shame, but probably also made my life a lot easier. We did work closely with her daughter, Loren, too, who, along with her gallery in Paris, is the executor of the estate and the co-producer of Sturtevant’s video works.

In starting with the long hallway to the exhibition space that we were given, there is a puzzle right off the bat. It can be a challenge to draw people in and to make them understand that there’s an exhibition at the end. One of the very first pieces that Peter and Sturtevant placed was the dog, Finite Infinite (2010). It’s striking, like you’re literally running along with the dog down the hallway to the target at the end [Sturtevant’s Johns Target with Four Faces (study) (1986)]. The dog runs again and again into the wall; it’s endlessly repeating. It sets up the notion of the frustration of progress, related to how her whole project went against the idea of a straight, progressive narrative of art history.

Here, in Study for Muybridge Plate #97: Woman Walking (1966), she strides in front of the lens like in an Eadweard Muybridge, positioned in front of her own versions of Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and James Rosenquist. It’s a nod to photography, the most “copying” medium. It’s about action, the circulation of images and the frustration of circular motion like this wallpaper of an owl whose head keeps turning. It’s so weird—we’re pretty sure she just grabbed it off the internet for her 2013 Serpentine show. The exhibition is trying to speak to the consistency of her project. It’s almost shocking how she stuck to her guns pretty much from 1964 when she began recreating the works of other artists.

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