Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Studio Visit: Libby Black

Studio Visit with Libby Black
Berkeley, CA

Libby Black, an artist from Toledo, Ohio and a CCA MFA 2001 graduate, is a good friend of mine and a great artist, and plus, you might have even heard of her!  Her resume boasts some pretty impressive exhibitions, including solo shows at Marx and Zavattero in SF, Charlie James in LA, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.  She was also included in the Bay Area Now 4 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF, the 2004 California Biennial in Orange County, and exhibitions at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio,TX, the Oakland Museum of California, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, and Peres Projects in LA, to name a few!  

Libby and I met while she was working as the Studio Manager at CCA and I was a student.  Now she is a professor there and I have her old job! (Congrats to both of us!)  We are friends because we like to draw, scour fashion magazines, talk about nothing, and drink wine.

We have also shown together twice in 2011, at Marx and Zavattero in SF and at Underline Gallery in NY, partly because the themes in our work are similar (fashion and fantasy), and partly because we are both women making drawings and paintings which are decidedly more feminine than the traditional man art of that bygone but still popular age of Modern Art.  You would think this work would be fairly normal in contemporary art, but as the trend pendulum swings constantly, "female" art like drawing comes in and out of fashion, and leaves those of us doing it as the last of the old guard or the pioneers of a new age, depending on how you look at it.  

In addition to drawing and painting, Libby makes paper sculptures, which she is most well known for. I posted my visit to her San Jose ICA show here, where she made an entire weight room out of luxury work out gear.  Her sculptures make a strong statement, easily recognized; a painted, handcrafted version of a coveted item questions the fetishized associations with these high end items, like a stack of Louis Vuitton luggage or even a Chanel canoe.  Seeing a paper version brings a bit of humor to the concepts of classism and greed, but also leaves ambiguity for the artist.  Is she for or against these things?  Maybe it's both.  In fact, I know it's both, because we talk about it all the time!  

Recently Libby has become much more invested in her paintings, so we spent most of the studio visit checking out her new work on canvas and paper.  The images she chooses to paint are more complicated for the viewer, which makes them all the more interesting for her to make and to discuss. It makes one wonder, too, how much the economy plays a part in how we perceive tropes of wealth, and perhaps like the fashion of art, the pendulum swings away from sore subjects like money for now.  Libby will be showing at Charlie James and Marx and Zavattero in the coming year.

Libby shares studio space in a brightly-lit building with a number of other Berkeley artists.
Peering inside
A real bike and a paper bike, and above a painting of Warhol's paintbrush.
Working on a new drawing
Her Marc Jacobs animals, a little painting, and an encouraging postcard from her  friend, Anne.
Some paper sculptures in the works, and some from the "Work Out" show.

Some new Manet-inspired flower paintings, and a Westwood penis shoe.
Work in progress- an awkward lesbian kiss from the movie "Desert Hearts".

A sculture Libby made as a kid and here she is in clown face paint!

I love this skeleton drawing.
Just some flowers, a flamingo, and a lady crotch.

Success!  Checking out her finished piece.
Thanks Libby!

(image of vanity case from her website)

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.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

CCA in the Hallway

One of the things I do at work at an art school is hang a weekly show of student artwork from different painting classes in the nave of the building.  It's just a hallway, but it gets a lot of traffic so it can be exciting to open up what's going on in the Painting Department to the rest of the school.  What has been surprising to a lot of people is the quality of the student work.  I happened to take some pictures of the mostly graduate work from an interdisciplinary summer studio class in New York led by Jovi Schnell and I thought they were great pieces to post.  The hallway doesn't do them the justice a gallery wall would, but you get the idea.

Paitning by Rebekah Goldstein
Some awesome figures by Bruna Massadas 
An embroidered and beaded sculpture by Max Esplin and a small painting by Jake Ziemann
Little black paper box/paintings by undergrad Meg Kenny and a smart abstract "painting" by Melissa Dickenson which is made up of wrapped clear plastic over stretcher bars to create the illusion of an a painted surface.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Courtney Johnson at Park Life and Zughaus by Sarah Hotchkiss

Park Life, San Francisco
The other day I visited my good friend, Courtney Johnson, as she gave me a tour of her first solo show, "See You Next Tuesday", (slang for C.U.N.T. if you didn't know- it took me a while!), at Park Life in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco.  You might remember from my studio visit with Courtney in 2010, her acrylic paintings of wild and feral women.  She has taken the work she was doing in school during our thesis exhibition and taken the crazy to another level.  We also used the photo session as an excuse to get some coffee and chat together after a summer apart since graduating from CCA's MFA program.  I was so happy for her and so excited to see the new work!

The neighborhood is quiet and homey.  The handle-shaped thing sticking out of the building is a piece by Andrew Schoultz.
Here's Courtney outside of Park Life, which doubles as an store full of art books and paraphernalia, including the infamous Jeff Koons balloon sculpture knock-off bookends, (which made the news when Koons sued Park Life for selling them, even though they are made by a company in Canada).
The store full of goodies
In the back room is a wide open gallery space where Courtney's show was hung.  Unfortunately, I brought a super-fancy camera from school and I didn't notice that the only picture I took of her was with her eyes closed.

Love the reflection mirroring!
Zughaus, Berkeley
Later that evening Courtney and I met up again in Berkeley to see the opening of a show curated by our friend, Sarah Hotchkiss, and featuring work by our buddy Maysha Mohamedi at Zughaus Gallery.  What they didn't tell us was that Zughaus, a gallery-in-the-house dealie, was located on a tiny strip of street located directly next to the train tracks.  It was lovely inside once we found our way, and one more adventure to add to the art quest list.
Courtney and I walking in the dark on a gravel path next to the train tracks trying to find our way to the destination with our phones.
We found it!
Inside, it was a lovely, architect-designed gallery within a home, where they dedicate the space next to the kitchen to an art space.
A Masha Mohamedi painting.  You might remember her from the CCA thesis exhibition, too.
Masha and Sarah in the cute little kitchen.
Unfortunately, I didn't take enough photos of either show.  Courtney's show ends tomorrow, Dec. 4, and I'm not quite sure when the show Sarah curated ends (it's not on their website).
What may or may not come across in the photos I did post is the warm fuzzy feeling of continuing to see my MFA friends and their work now that we have been out in the world outside of school for about six months.  It's ever the more sweet to continue an art dialog as we were so used to having on a daily basis last year.  Here's to the community we created, even if it takes a little more work getting out the calendar instead of walking down the hall through the studios.