Ricky Swallow, Killing Time (detail), 2003-2004

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June 1, 2005

The Venice Biennale is one of contemporary art's most glamorous moments, and this year's affair promises to excite. India makes its first appearance in more than two decades; young artists such as Australia's Ricky Swallow and Israel's Guy Ben-Ner step up to represent their homelands; and two art world superstars, Gilbert & George, continue "the shock of the new" at the British Pavilion. Back in the States, we've got a lively mix of show reviews that take you from coast to coast, and into the heartland — from Gregory Crewdson's epic photographs at Gagosian in LA to Kate Shepherd's stylish abstractions at Barbara Krakow in Boston.

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MoMA Makes Monumental Acquisitions
(ARTINFO, May 20)
New York's Museum of Modern Art has confirmed acquisition of the Judith Rothschild Foundation Collection of Contemporary Drawings. The 2,600-piece collection features 640 artists including Philip Guston, Robert Crumb, and Sarah Lucas. In a related story, the museum also announced the acquisition of a "monumental" Robert Gober installation recently featured in a solo exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery.

Varo Estate Locked in Surreal Legal Battle
(LA Times, May 18)
A treasure trove of 39 works by Surrealist painter Remedios Varo currently housed in Mexico City's Museum of Modern Art is now in legal limbo as to who is the rightful owner. The dispute pits Varo's niece against Varo's former lover and Mexico's National Institute of Fine Arts. Varo's niece won a crucial ruling in March, but the decision has been appealed.

Corcoran's Gehry Expansion Plans Crumbling
(Washington Post, May 24)
The director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, David Levy, has resigned after an announcement by the museum board that it will suspend plans for an expansion designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. The Corcoran has had trouble raising requisite funding for the project, and the board plans to focus on the $35-40 million in repairs needed on the existing Beaux-Arts building, constructed in 1897.

"Twat": Racy Tracey at It Again
(The Guardian, May 27)
Tracey Emin is back in the media spotlight in anticipation of her solo show at London's White Cube Gallery. The oft-vilified artist is known for drunken debauchery and scarred, autobiographical paintings. Now 42, she reflects on her notoriety. However, a London dealer is taking advantage of Emin's persona by peddling prints on eBay of a four-letter text message he received from her.

Saatchi steps onto street with graffiti ad blitz more »

An American in Venice: Ed Ruscha readies for the 2005 Biennale more »

Getty Museum curator indicted in Italy for antiquities plundering more »

Versace art sale surpasses $5 million at Sotheby's more »

Chrysler Building celebrates 75th year with recollections from NY luminaries more »

What to do when the light goes out in a Dan Flavin sculpture more »

Trucker nabbed in $1.5 million Basquiat heist more »

Belgian performance artist takes to nest high above Birmingham more »

Gay Israeli artists seek Arab lovers for boundary-busting installation more »

Video game art recognized for its aesthetic merit more »

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[ Killing Time in Venice ]


Ricky Swallow

While Ed Ruscha's preparations for this year's Venice Biennale are purportedly in closed-door proceedings and superpower participant China is revving up for the first time in many years, one thing is already clear: Ricky Swallow, Australia's contender — and sculpture's newest wunderkind — will present visionary work, which embodies both passing mortality and the eternal.

For Swallow, the animal kingdom, pop-culture icons, and memento mori are all players trading places along an evolutionary timeline. Using a wide range of craft and media, the artist bestows an afterlife upon once beloved gadgets relegated to the trash heap, and he immortalizes consumer fetishes for posterity. In Swallow's studio, turntables are refurbished as dioramas that feature slices of contemporary life: a video arcade, a shopping mall, a sci-fi film set. Skulls morph into Apple's iconic iMac computers or sport Adidas hooded sweatshirts; Darth Vader's mask becomes a sphinx-like monument.

The centerpiece of Swallow's Biennale exhibition is an ambitious nature morte, titled Killing Time. Created in six months, the work is a Dutch still-life painting projected into three dimensions, meticulously carved from the light blond wood of the rubber tree. The surface of the table is populated with the kind of sea life Swallow caught as a boy in Victoria. Like an artifact of petrified wood, Killing Time is uncannily quiescent, and invites — in this hyper-jazzed, information-crazed culture — a rare opportunity for contemplation. Swallow's works allow us to reflect on the emotional core of our relationship with technology and the natural world. With a monograph on the artist forthcoming from Thames & Hudson, Ricky Swallow's trajectory is on the rise. (MW)

Ricky Swallow, curated by Charlotte Day, at the Australian Pavilion, Giardini di Castello is open to the public from June 12 - November 6, 2005. Some of the work on view here will be exhibited in a solo show at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center from January - March 2006.

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Kate Shepherd: Puzzles, Cards, and Blocks
Barbara Krakow Gallery
Now through June 14

  Giving color fields a run for their money, Kate Shepherd's latest paintings take on abstraction with parlor-game whimsy and playtime nostalgia. While all her paintings are conceived with bold color combinations, some feature drawn-in contours of building blocks (which Shepherd draws in with white paint or graphite). Others include beveled edges, evoking decks of playing cards and the sunburst iconography of amusements long forgotten. These meticulously stacked works tug at color theory greats like Josef Albers or Arthur Loeb with witty aplomb and touch upon lighthearted Dada-isms with a warm restraint. (ML)

Kehinde Wiley: White
Washington, DC
Conner Contemporary
Now through June 11

  In White, painting wunderkind Kehinde Wiley casts off the eye-popping color schemes of his trademark baroque-meets-b-boy portraiture, rendering instead Renaissance-inspired sidewalk saints in celestial washes of silver and white. If this new, limited palette might seem at first a question of redecoration — trading last year's fluorescents for this year's minimalism — the work also suggests a confrontation with transparency and the blankness that invites projection. Still clinging to the virtuosic temptation of background confections and curls, this work is the closest the artist has come to stripping his art down to its barest elements: the uncommon force of his technique and line. Perhaps White is a reflection of the blinding light that precedes an epiphanic breakthrough. (SRP)

Anne Chu
North Miami
Musem of Contemporary Art
Now through July 3

  Anne Chu's first museum solo exhibition, curated by Bonnie Clearwater, affords a spacious arena for her arena for her figurines, marionettes, landscapes, and watercolors to interact. Referencing a pantheon of courtiers and guardian figures from China's Tang Dynasty, European medieval lore, and even from science-fiction fabulist Philip K. Dick, Chu's works form a vivid universe. Animal presences fluidly morph into human ones, evoking pagan and totemic sources. The vulnerability of Chu's characters is evidenced in hand-hewn wood, exposed armatures, unraveling costumes, and other rustic elements. Their questioning expressions and tethered and static predicaments make them both poignant and tragicomic. (MW)

Trisha Donnelly
San Antonio
Now through July 17

  Trisha Donnelly constructs a series of suggestions that engage the viewer in performative acts. For example: A two-sided drawing joins different rooms with related imagery, but the backside can only be seen upon request; an invented wall of sound compels us to penetrate it; and a thumping CD is played when the viewer seeks the title to a stack of drawings. A photo of the Sphinx's paw becomes a portal to ancient Egypt, and in a projected video, the artist dons a raincoat and makes kung fu-like gestures to summon Canadian Rain. Believing that art has the power of transformation, Donnelly becomes a shaman who poetically squeezes meaning from every creative gesture. (RC)

Gregory Crewdson: Beneath the Roses
Los Angeles
Now through July 1

  The eerie naturalism of Gregory Crewdson's latest series is an illusion, like the strained calm that permeates its seedy, small town landscapes. The artist has challenged himself with this work, letting go of the complete control he enjoyed in the studio tableaux, without losing one bit of the forlorn isolation and inscrutable narrative symbolism he perfected there. With the help of full film production teams, Crewdson's images evoke Hitchcock and Hopper, two visual geniuses who each contorted real life's quiet desperation and potential for violence into graphic depictions of American angst. Though these bizarre semi-stories remain as enigmatic as ever, the real terror rests in their familiarity rather than in their strangeness. (SND)

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[ Guy Ben-Ner ]

Guy Ben-Ner

Modern fantasy worlds can be woefully tidy. Pristine children of their CGI-wizard moms, the average summer blockbuster offers tidal waves and tentacled creatures aplenty, and you never see the strings or the seams.

Low on tech but brimming with ingenuity, the video work of Guy Ben-Ner serves as the perfect antidote to the reigning tyranny of cinematic sleekness. A much lauded standout in P.S. 1's Greater New York 2005 (itself a blockbuster, but certainly not of the seamless variety), Ben-Ner creates short narrative pieces, starring himself and his curly-mopped toddler children, that ape the offhand aesthetic of family home videos. In Moby Dick (2000), currently up at P.S. 1 and previously projected at MoMA QNS, Ben-Ner sets the literary classic in his kitchen, using some rope and a well-placed pole to transform the space into a make-believe ship. Intercut with scenes of Buster Keaton-era slapstick, Moby Dick has the charm, and many of the same camera tricks, of an early cinema classic.

More overtly allegorical are Elia - a story of an Ostrich chick (2003) and Wildboy (2004); the latter is a narrative on civilization featuring his young son as the Caliban in question. Projected in a solo show at Postmasters this past January, and a likely part of Ben-Ner's installation in the Venice Biennale, Wildboy plays with standard movie clich�s of transformation and the enforced normalization that comes with family life. (LG)

Guy Ben-Ner represents Israel in the 2005 Venice Biennale.

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[ Gordon Knox ]

Ranbir Kaleka / Nalini Malani / Raqs Media Collective / Anita Dube

Paul Laster interviews Gordon Knox, co-curator with Julie Evans and Peter Nagy of iCon: India Contemporary for the 2005 Venice Biennale.
AK: How did you become involved in the Indian Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale?

GK: Upon completing the 2003 US Pavilion (featuring artist Fred Wilson), exhausted and satisfied, over a meal and a few glasses of wine, Julie Evans and Peter Nagy and I, and others there, noted that India was and had been sorely missing from Venice for as long as we could remember. We mused on hoping to help create an Indian exhibition for the next Biennale. Julie (ever the optimist) pointed out that at the table was the talent to see it happen, so in a rush of good energy and optimistic irresponsibility, we clinked our glasses and toasted "to India next time."

AK: What roles have you played in the organization of the exhibition?

GK: We have managed — most exceptionally — to really play to each other's strengths. Peter has led the way with the India side of things, the artists and the intellectual direction of the pavilion. Julie has provided clear and wonderful insight on the curatorial issues and has taken a lead role in the details of coordination for the artists in Venice. In some ways, I have focused on event production in Venice and on the production side of the art — the residencies and the team that has assembled and supported the artists while they have developed work for the exhibition.

AK: With worldwide interest in contemporary art from India growing, what were the criteria for choosing artists to represent India at this moment in time?

GK: I cannot speak for my associates, but I was particularly interested in the breadth of contemporary perspectives. There are artists that represent the forward expansion of the '70s Baroda School (Nalini Malani and Nataraj Sharma) as well as younger artists pushing the edges of engaging social commentary through highly intelligent installations (Raqs Media Collective), and artists who are exploring the space between traditional practice (visual or musical) and the possibilities of what the newest technologies might suggest (Ranbir Kaleka, Anita Dube, and Atul Dodiya).

AK: The interest in contemporary art in China is booming. Do you foresee the same future for Indian contemporary art?

GK: Absolutely. The great difference is that China decided some few years ago that advancing its contemporary artists was an important initiative if China was to become an even more potent global player in the world economy. The Indian government has not yet determined that developing this line of dialogue is useful. We believe this is a profound error and our work with the iCon exhibition in Venice is an effort to jump-start a change of heart both within India and with the expatriate Indian community.

Gordon Knox is currently the director of the Montalvo Artist Residency Program in California, an advisory editor at the Paris Review, and consultant to arts foundations in Asia, Europe, and North America. The iCon: India Contemporary exhibition takes place in a 13th-century convent on the island of Giudecca from June 12 - July 30, 2005.

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Gilbert & George: Intimate Conversations with Fran�ois Jonquet
by François Jonquet
Published by Phaidon Press

In a nearly 40-year collaborative career, Gilbert & George have become an institution of sorts — consistently upholding the cheeky side of contemporary British art. Presenting themselves as Living Sculpture, the pair has built a massive body of work, which is discussed in detail in this fascinating book. The interviewer and friend, François Jonquet, quizzes the talented team on their youth, lifestyle, philosophy, interests, the meaning and making of their controversial work, and the reception of it at home and abroad. Their honest and uninhibited answers reveal the importance of their art and why it's so widely embraced. The timely release of the book coincides with the artists' participation in the 51st Venice Biennale, representing Britain. (PL)

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Cover image
Ricky Swallow, Killing Time (detail), 2003-2004
Laminated jelutong, maple
108 x 184 x 118 cm / 42 1/2 x 72 1/2 x 46 1/2 in.
Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection
Purchased with funds provided by the Rudy Komon Memorial Fund and the Contemporary Collection Benefactors' Program 2004
© Ricky Swallow
Photo: Karl Schwerdtfeger

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