Monday, December 26, 2011

CCA Wattis: Fall 2011

Oh, blog, time and time again I fail you like an infidelitous (yes, it's a word- I had to look it up) mistress.  My cheap promises of regular posts betray us both, as well as any reader who has come along for the ride.  With that admission out in the open, let's pretend I do write on a weekly basis at the very least.  

Wattis Institute for the Arts 
"Painting Between the Lines"
With my Christmas lazy pants on I will make up for some lost time, starting with the show at the CCA Wattis Institute for the Arts, "Painting Between the Lines".  Unfortunately, since I have taken so very long to post anything, the show is over and a new one will crop up in time for the Spring semester.   For reference, here is another post about the Wattis from last year, but to save you time let me explain that the Wattis is a world-renowned two-level gallery on the CCA San Francisco campus, curated by art world darling (and snappy dresser/German-accented) Jens Hoffman, who recently curated the Istanbul Biennial and formerly the London Institute for Contemporary Art.  What I have heard about the Wattis is that it is an ideal situation for a curator, which would explain why fancy-pants Jens would take the job; by being both an independently funded, private institute as well as a non-profit, a curator can use a decent amount of funds at their disposal to curate any number of untraditional exhibitions without worrying about box-office income.  Throw in some big names, and the school will get behind it, by giving the participating artists exclusive commissions, as well as residencies and guest teaching spots.  

The premise of "Painting Between the Lines", was a fairly good one, and easy to understand in ways that other consecutive shows like Tino Sehgal's retrospective are more complicated, and a little annoying.  (Tino's current piece runs con-currently with the exhibition, made up of a recurring performance by the Wattis guards who turn off the lights and sing for two minute intervals while people wait for the lights to come back on to view the painting show.  If I sound like I am not really a fan despite his major museum star power, I am not).  
What Painting Between the Lines takes on are several commissioned paintings by some of the art world's loveliest contemporary painters interpreting paintings described in written form through literature, both old and new.  The results were varied and I tried to make notes of which book went with which piece, but often the painting stood on its own.   Jens, not a fan of painting, threw me and the rest of us beauty-inspired people a bone with this simple idea, executed well.    

The signage for the exhibition.
A Fred Tomaselli collage with resin, of Samuel Beckett's Watt
Detail of eye collage by Tomaselli
Raqib Shaw's beautiful enamel painting
Detail of Shaw's enamel and rhinestone-encrusted decoration
All the original books and interpreted quotes were displayed.  I'm pretty sure Shaw worked with a paragraph from this book by Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.
A nice one by Norbert Schwontkowski, (I have never heard of him) , and I'm pretty sure the passage was from  Wilde's  The Picture of Dorian Gray
A weird one by Laura Owens, of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Captain of root beer paintings (I don't know if he does them anymore), Marcel Dzama, of Murakami's Kafka on the Shore
Detail of Dzama's piece with little holes punched throughout- maybe on those old time piano-players paper?
Quite a graphic one from Mission School darling, Clare Rojas, of Marcel Proust's Swann's Way
Oh, Jordan Kantor.  What a difficult guy. (He is a very brilliant professor at CCA).  It just says, "Solitare" in the middle; depicting Camus's Exile in the Kingdom
Laylah Ali's much softer tone with her version of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain
Here is the passage printed on the wall for Ali's interpretation. (Click for larger image)

One thing I really loved about the exhibition was the way the artists honored another form of artistry, writing, and how the two people featured with each presentation seemed to call attention to each other.  And it made me want to read all of those books, because if it is referenced so lovingly, it must be  a great read.

Downstairs was another show I didn't document as much, titled "More American Photographs", which used the famous photographs from the Depression Era's Farm Security Administration commissions featuring pieces by photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange to start a dialog between those pieces and commissions by ten contemporary photographers who traveled the US to bring back images of our current economic crisis.
The only pieces which really impacted me were
Katy Grannan's beautiful large scale color photos of transients in Fresno and Bakersfield.  I LOVVVE her, and one night during the length of the exhibition, was able to hear her speak about her work.
Katy Grannan's watercolor-like photos draped in gorgeous color and light.
The show was hung mostly from these weird, half walls which really changed the way the show looked and gave it a strange amateurish feel, despite the high caliber of work shown.  Another easy idea, (borrowing from art history to create a new show), but not as easily or beautifully arranged and executed as the "Painting Between the Lines" exhibition.

One nice thing about working at the school is being able to take my time in these exhibitions right on campus, and to see blue chip artists communicating with ideas created right here with their commissions.  While institutions have numerous problems that the art world love to try to complicate, there is something to be said for simply bringing in the work and making it happen for us to see.

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