Rants & Raves

Thinking & Touching Time

April 11, 2015 |

Editor’s Note: This article is courtesy of first-time contributor, Brooklyn-based artist Eleanna Anagnos.  The video companion is a collaboration between Anagnos and Zahar Vaks, Brooklyn-based artist and curator of this show. They are both active members of Ortega y Gasset Projects. Enjoy!
Paul Demuro & Nicholas Sullivan(L-R) Paul DemuroNicholas Sullivan

Thinking and Touching Time is an exhibition curated by Zahar Vaks for Ortega y Gasset Projects. It is the inaugural exhibition in Ortega y Gasset’s new exhibition space at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The exhibition opened on March 13, 2015 and will run until the closing party on April 12 (this Sunday!). The accompanying video (below) serves as a teaser for the exhibition and gives us an idea of how Vaks would like us to explore the exhibition – by sitting with the work and letting it take you somewhere new.

This exhibition is about looking. Really looking at something, studying it, taking it in, and consuming it requires time. Today, no one’s got enough of it. It’s radical to spend time making non-functional, non-narrative work like those included in this show. It’s even more radical to ask someone else to spend the time looking. The work in this exhibition is the antithesis of fast art, easy art or entertainment. It’s contemplative, complex and can’t be digested, felt, consumed or appreciated in two seconds or even thirty, which is the average amount of time someone looks at an artwork – depending on your source.

Dona and Austin's Gaze(L-R) Dona Nelson, Austin Lee

We, as a species, can’t seem to communicate with each other fast enough. The world today emphasizes speed, even in visual languages. How fast can the product, idea, or art be consumed and turned into sales and revenue?  The Slow Movement (which started in Rome in 1986 in response to a McDonalds opening by the Spanish Steps) represents a cry for an intentional cultural shift towards slowing down life in order to do it well. The emphasis here is on quality, not quantity. It is a call to savor the experience of pleasure and joy.

Like the Slow Movement, the works in this exhibition are about being present and slowing perception. The show celebrates the contemplative creative process, outside of mainstream consumerism. The crux of the works, and the dialogue between them, revolves around the slow burn. It’s meditative, philosophical, and romantic even. It is deep and it takes your time. It’s demanding, to put it simply. The more time you spend with the work, the more it gives to you. Thus, the exhibition highlights how one creates and consumes a work through the passage of time.

Yevgeniya untitledYevgeniya Baras

Zahar Vaks’ curation of the show has the same intensity and instinctive rigor with which he makes his own art. To some extent, each of the artists represented in this exhibition offer a kind of making the way Vaks does. Through the use of time as a transformative element, by layering, breaking down, and then building-up again; through the immediacy of touch and raw material, each artist offers layers of meaning. It is up to the viewer to peel back those layers one at a time. (more…)

Where Do We Go From Here?

October 30, 2014 |

On Thursday, October 23rd I went to a talk at the Jewish Museum titled “What’s at Stake for Abstract Painting Today – and Where Do We Go From Here?” The panel piqued my interest because of the lineup of artists whom I respect and admire from near and far: Joanne Greenbaum, Philip Taaffe, and Stanley Whitney.  This panel was rounded out by moderator Bob Nickas, a curator that I was not privy to prior to the event, (although through my post-panel research have come to realize that I know, respect, and love some of his curatorial work and the artists that he has advocated throughout his career).

JewishM_Abstraction_05_760px(Above photo courtesy of Roger Kamholz, The Jewish Museum)

I was entering the room with relatively high expectations, only because a few months ago I went to a similar artist panel at the Jewish Museum on painting that was thought provoking and exhilarating, (it’s the little things). I learn primarily from other artists, and I attend panels and talks to get outside of myself and think about ideas beyond my own practice. I expected that this panel would be nothing short of thought provoking, as I had a deep investment in nearly every component making up the framework for this discussion. However, by the end, I left feeling unsure if I was angry, offended, or simply disheartened – so I knew I needed to sleep on it and write it out.

Perhaps I was being completely unrealistic by assuming that this panel of painters would be talking about abstraction – perhaps referencing at length their own paintings, their history with abstraction as it is rooted in art history, and their opinions, (good and bad), of what is happening in painting today. While these topics were touched upon sporadically, they were often cut short by Nickas, who prompted the pendulum of questioning to swing further and further away from my painterly preoccupations, toward sore topics that, on this evening, rubbed me the wrong way. The topics that would soon drown out any compelling conversation, in this painter’s humble opinion, were the age old conversation about the over-inflated and exclusive art market, the abundance of conservative institutions and curators, and the overwhelming amount of entitled young artists that inhabit these worlds despite their lack of credibility or validity by the standards of this panel.

To be completely honest, this was a difficult conversation for me to listen to.  It is possible that I take it too personally when people are speaking about young artists as a whole, but I am a strong believer that generalizations are never a wise idea. Age is also not the most accurate measure of value, intelligence, or heart. Perhaps what really turned me off of this conversation was the disclosure that Nickas considered having a “young artist” on the panel, but didn’t want them to be “eaten alive.” I found this to be a distasteful comment.  Why not just have a candid discussion featuring amazing painters in conversation about painting? This seems like the most likely formula for success, rather than pushing artists to speak about art as commerce and restrictive institutions for the millionth time. Furthermore, it was a bit surreal to hear a curator on stage at a major institution speak about the faults of curators and institutions, as if there was nothing he could do about it.  As an audience member, imagine how powerless that made me feel!

Listening to Nickas continuously insult and undermine the validity of “young artists” and laugh with a pleased tone left me appalled. His broad strokes across a generation were genuinely shameful– and the laughter from many in the audience around me was equally disturbing. It reminded me of that omnipresent moment while in a movie theater, watching a horror movie, you see someone’s neck sliced open. And then people cheer. And then you wonder if you are the only person that is still human in the room.

Not every young artist is positioned in this idyllic gallery land of milk and honey – and most understand this.  I would rather go to a panel where, instead of complaining about the hot shots, (let’s call them the 1%), the issues facing every other young artist hustling in New York City, (the 99%), would be discussed. Why not be proactive, have a panel with artists speaking of how they made it where they are today, what they had to sacrifice, or perhaps they didn’t have to sacrifice at all? There is no clear manual for being an artist – it would be wonderful to not always have to learn via trial by fire. Everyone has a different story, and that is where I believe these generalities about youth truly mucked up this panel – a panel that could have gone in a completely different, (and far more productive), direction.

There are always going to be “young artists” who don’t work “hard” but get all of the glory – I’m sure this has been going on since the world was round.  However, I’d like to keep the faith that those of us genuinely invested in the love of painting/making are always here, no matter what generation, or what amount of “success,” if that is some sort of quantifiable measure. And hopefully we all want to learn from each other – no matter what age gap may or may not stand between us.

In Belated Advance: Jan Verwoert’s, ‘Cookie!’

June 16, 2014 |

By Calvin Siegel

Another mode of performing the ‘I Can’t’ in the key of the ‘I Can’ that art and poetry have always used to great effect is to create moments in which meaning remains provocatively latent. To embrace latency goes against the grain of the logic of high performance. The appraisal of latency  restores dignity to the unsaid, the unshown, and everything that can’t be dragged out into the open in the rush of high performance when the value of all our potentials appears to depend entirely on our capacity to actualize them right here, right now.

-Jan Verwoert, Exhaustion And Exuberance-Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform, 2008


In today’s high-performance society it has become too easy to not only exchange the big picture for the necessities of the moment, but to use the caustic tools of irony and skepticism to mock its scope in general. In many of our art-related dialogues, we have become our own little islands, firing on all cylinders toward a goal that, perhaps we have misunderstood from the get-go.

Enter Jan Verwoert, the fresh faced, young scholar hailing from The Netherlands’ Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam. Verwoert applies a surgeons analytics to such fundamental topics as the pressure to perform, love and relationships, and why criticism hurts.  His self-inspective style of writing and broad choice of themes serve as both a magnifying glass and a telescope, focusing intensely on basic, overlooked moments while connecting them to a bigger, more thorough picture than we have yet seen.

Jan Verwoert has a new collection of essays out called, Cookie! published by the Piet Zwart Institute and Sternberg Press, who also published his previous collection from 2007 titled, Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want.


The Subjective Nepotist: Shanna Waddel

April 1, 2014 |

The Subjective Nepotist is a bi-weekly column where I am going to write about the art/artists that move me. It is in no way attempting to be objective or democratic, but it will be thoughtful and hopefully direct. I don’t think I am alone in saying that I am deeply moved by my friends’ artwork. Nor do I think it is a stretch to think that this is a factor in why I am friends with these people.  I am writing this preface as a way of absolving myself of any journalistic responsibilities because I am not a journalist, I am an artist. I am going to do my best to convey what excites me and why it does so. And don’t worry- I have a lot of friends and am always making more. -Dustin Metz


Untitled (Kurt Cobain) 2013. collage

Imaginations are usually based or at least birthed via reality- like when you are daydreaming your mental wanderings jump off from solid ground to the fantastical. Maybe it’s what surrounds you at the moment, or a news story, or some kernel of pop culture you’ve been rolling around in your head- What would Kurt Cobain look like as a fairy/nymph? How do you think Susan Atkins sees herself right now? What does Satan see when he looks at Nude Descending A Staircase? Holy shit- WHAT IF HEAVEN’S GATE WAS RIGHT!?! Shanna Waddell wonders theses things aloud- and then onto a canvas.

Death Bed (Heaven's Gate).2012.Oil and Acrylic on Canvas

Yes, all of these daydreams and rabbit holes are pretty grim, but you wouldn’t know it when you look at Shanna’s paintings. She is taking these subjects, deemed ‘heavy’ in tone by the media, and has fun with them. Well, maybe fun is the wrong word- because art and death and religion are serious stuff. But then again, fun seems to be the perfect word. These paintings revel in material exploration, (paint, glitter, wrapping paper, etc.), while simultaneously unleashing a wild imagination to run amok with the subject’s logic. And that does sound sort of fun! Shanna does this by embracing the possibilities that paint allows her to invent and depict the impossible.

Susan Atkins As Angel (Susan Atkins)2013. oil, gift warp, spray paint, paper, canvas on cloth

When I look at Shanna’s paintings I am usually both smiling and hitting myself upside the head, thinking “Of course! You can do whatever you want to whatever you want in a painting!” It’s one thing to make up a painterly logic inside a decidedly abstract painting, it’s a whole other can of worms to depict an interaction between recognizable images and abstract ideas. And what’s most exciting about this is the sense that the artist herself doesn’t know what this interaction would look like until she is in the painting!

The paintings are built as you look at them, shapes appear and dissolve just as quickly as you find them. At her last show (“Misshapen Chaos of Well-seeming Forms” @Thomas Erben Gallery 2/17/11-3/19/11) I wrote the following in a sketch book planning to send it to Shanna in an email that was never actualized:

The form is not dictated or held back by the subject matter- hands are hinted at but not drilled into being, this give room to what a “hand” can be or rather the shape of the hand is now another space (yet it still retains the integrity of both ‘hand’ and ‘window’). This permission of use of form/content allows the paintings to take a life of their own – they forcefully dictate their presence and give you the rules in which to view them, rules that may not be verbal or even literal but maybe visually guttural.

Untitled (Prince of the Air) 2010. oil on canvas

Sometimes forms just need to come into being.

The paintings Shanna has made since that show are similar in their forceful dictation of presence but have smoothed out any hesitation of the viewer by well earned confidence. Confidence in Shanna’s case does not have the pacification effect that has plagued many artists before her, but rather acts as a turbo boost past dilly-dallying uncertainty into the stratosphere of the unknown.

See more of Shanna’s work here. Dustin Metz is an artist currently living and working in Los Angeles, see his work here.

Opinion: Toward a Better Understanding of High Auction Prices for Young Artists

March 17, 2014 |

By Calvin Siegel

A strange man walks into a bar. He knows no one. No one knows him. He approaches the bar and the bartender acknowledges him. The man orders a drink, and the bartender initiates conversation, “I don’t recognize you from anywhere, do I?” asks the bartender. “No, no,” says the man, “I’m in town on business.” “What kind of business is it that you are here for?” asks the bartender. “Well,” the man says, “it’s kind of hard to believe, but I earn a living traveling around and making crazy bets.” This piques the bartender’s interest; “what kind of bets are we talking about here?” The strange man looks around the bar aimlessly before answering, “Ok. For instance, I bet you ten dollars that I can drink ten shots of whiskey in ten seconds.”

Knowing full well that no one could accomplish this task, the bartender agrees and lines the shot glasses up on the bar, looking at the man as he pours them out. The bartender then lays ten dollars on the table to which the strange man reciprocates. They both look at the clock and the bartender says, “GO!” The man, looking all of a sudden uninterested, drinks three of the shots, wipes his mouth off and gives up. The bartender is a little perplexed by the situation, but collects his money and shakes the man’s hand.

The night goes on. The strange man stays for a long time and talks to all of the various people at the bar until it is time to close. After the bartender makes his last call, the man approaches the bar. “I have one more bet for you, if you are at all interested” says the strange man to the bartender. Charmed in a strange way by the strange man, the bartender agrees to hear him out. “I bet you,” says the man, “one hundred dollars that if you line up another ten shot glasses in the same formation as before, that I can stand at the other end of the bar and piss into every one of those glasses until each is filled perfectly to the brim without spilling one single drop, anywhere.” The bartender weighs this for a moment; one hundred dollars is the most money he has ever made at one time, but what has this man got up his sleeve? Deciding that the man, although strangely cool, must be a little bit off, the bartender nods his head and begins to set up the glasses, again.

high auction prices (opt 1)

The strange man walks across the bar, and as the bartender finishes setting up the glasses and steps aside, he turns around, drops his pants down to his ankles and begins to piss all over the bartender’s entire establishment. This goes on for about thirty seconds as all of the people in the bar stare in amazement. Ecstatic at his grand new acquisition, the bartender leaps into action with rag in hand and starts wiping the mess up. The strange man slowly pulls his pants up, zips his fly and buckles his belt. “So,” the bartender asks the man with a smile, “What was that about?” “Well”, the man says calmly, “I just bet everyone else in this place one hundred dollars each that I could piss all over your bar and you would just smile and wipe it up.”