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Inka Essenhigh, Born Again (detail), 1999-2000

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Art and Comics
January 10-23, 2007

The bright colors, dark lines, and stylized forms of comics have influenced a new generation of contemporary artists who mix graphic flair with fine-art media. Genre-benders like Inka Essenhigh and Chiho Aoshima create elegant, swirling scenes, while Trenton Doyle Hancock and Gary Panter cultivate grittier narratives. We spotlight California native Taylor McKimens, whose pastel comics and installations depict derelict structures and forlorn homebodies, and we interview Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, about the current Africa Comics exhibition. Branching out to animation, we review Paper Rad's retro-assemblage Trash Talking video, and survey shows around the world by other cultural appropriators, including Yinka Shonibare and Kelley Walker.

  Adobe's new online experience takes you inside The Creative Mind to explore all that Adobe Creative Suite 2.3 has to offer. Navigate three animated worlds while learning about the latest tools and features. Listen to cutting-edge designers talk about how the suite assists their creative process. And try out CS2.3 for yourself. All within The Creative Mind.

MoMA Gains Exhibition Space
(New York Times, January 3)
The Museum of Modern Art sold a vacant Midtown lot to Hines, an international real-estate firm based in Houston, for $125 million. Hines is expected to construct a mixed-use building on the site, which will connect to the museum's second, fourth, and fifth floors, providing MoMA with an additional 50,000 square feet of exhibition space. The new space may help deflect criticism that MoMA's recent $858 million Yoshio Taniguchi-designed renovation has resulted in too little display of the museum's collection. Roughly $65 million of the sale will go towards the museum's $650 million endowment and will be spent on acquisitions and care for the collection.

Edie Reclaims Spotlight With Film
(Reuters, January 1)
Plagued by last-minute reshoots, the threat of a lawsuit by Bob Dylan, and bombshell revelations, George Hickenlooper's Factory Girl, an account of Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick's meteoric rise and tragic fall, is being screened, again (a rawer cut was shown earlier in December), for critics. Sienna Miller is receiving high marks for her performance as model Sedgwick, who left her troubled blue-blood family for the glamorous and drug-fueled world of Warhol's Factory. Guy Pearce's cold-blooded portrayal of Warhol and Hayden Christensen's performance of an unnamed — but clearly Dylan-esque — musician have also received praise.

Opposition to French Museum Expansions
(New York Times, January 1)
News of the Louvre's plan to create a satellite museum in Abu Dhabi and the Centre Pompidou's proposal to create a Shanghai branch have drawn criticism from the French media. While the museums' closer-to-home plans for expansions in Lens and Metz, respectively, have been celebrated, the idea of exporting France's cultural heritage overseas in exchange for millions of dollars has ruffled the feathers of the newspaper Le Monde, which recently ran an editorial by Jean Clair, former director of the Picasso Museum, Roland Recht, an art historian, and Françoise Cachin, former director of the French Museums organization. "From a moral point of view," the authors wrote, "one can only be shocked by the commercial and promotional use of masterpieces of our national heritage."

Best Online Art of 2006
(Art Fag City, January 2)
Art blogger Paddy Johnson compiled an eclectic set of online-art highlights from 2006 on her site, Art Fag City. Among those included in Johnson's top ten were the Fishyawa's animutation, Bagagaga Bop!, digital pogs, a David Cronenberg interview where the director discusses the future of online film, and ArtCal's weekly email of art-world openings and events. Cory Arcangel's punk rock 101 claimed the number one spot; the artist's pairing of Kurt Cobain's suicide letter with Google AdSense conflates celebrity with Internet commerce.

UK Arts Council collection goes online more »

Pompidou pays homage to Tintin cartoonist Herge more »

Steven Holl on the architectural rebound more »

Robert Hughes discusses memoir, car crash more »

Teacher who paints with his posterior is suspended more »

The High Line shows accelerated pace of NYC development more »

Florida Marlins owner donates two monumental sculptures to MAM more »

Gehry talks about architectural process and death more »

Spotlight on sculptor Ruth Asawa more »

First steel columns rise at Ground Zero more »

Rudolf de Crignis, abstract painter, dies at 58 more »

Note: Some online publications require registration to access the articles. If you encounter a registration screen, try akreader1 as the username and password.

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[ Comic Release ]


Chitra Ganesh / R. Kikuo Johnson / Trenton Doyle Hancock / Gary Panter

Thanks to increased press coverage, skyrocketing sales of Japanese manga, and blockbuster film adaptations, comics are enjoying a surge in cultural prominence. The art world is also intensifying its engagement with the medium, both on the levels of production and exhibition, bridging the gap between graphic novels and galleries.

Comics have influenced contemporary art for decades. By appropriating imagery from comics in the early '60s, pop artists Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Mel Ramos equalized high and low culture and helped establish four-color characters as viable artistic subjects.

Today's artists rely less on direct reference to comic-book imagery in favor of a more discursive visual style in which comics comprise one star in a dense constellation of cultural references. Trenton Doyle Hancock combines late Philip Guston with Hieronymus Bosch and a dollop of the Garbage Pail Kids to create narratives encompassing autobiography and lysergic fantasy. Julie Mehretu constructs psychic maps whose topographies includes comics, graffiti tags, baroque engravings, and elements of Japanese landscape painting, while Chie Fueki uses collage, paint, and colored pencil to limn the relationships between athletes and superheroes. Laylah Ali's gouache-on-paper Greenheads series is a comical meditation on race relations, and Marcel Dzama's equally delicate pen, ink, and root-beer wash compositions flirt with narrative and unusual superheroes. Takashi Murakami's Kaikai Kiki studio has nurtured several Japanese artists who employ a hallucinatory manga style, such as Chiho Aoshima and Aya Takano, and Indian-American Chitra Ganesh uses collage, assemblage, and digital manipulation in a cross-cultural stew that includes Greek and Indian mythology, comics, and Bollywood posters.

Other artists seem equally comfortable moving between the milieus of art and comics. Gary Panter, a polymath whose messy "ratty line" style has strongly influenced current indie-comics creators, produces paintings, sculptures, and light shows in addition to more traditional sequential art. R. Kikuo Johnson, whose autobiographical graphic novel Night Fisher was one of the most highly lauded comics debuts of the last year, is now exhibiting at galleries, while Brian Chippendale, drummer for Lightning Bolt and member of the Fort Thunder art collective, recently released the oversized Ninja, a dense graphic work five years in the making.

The interrelation of art and comics also appeals to publishers such as Dan Nadel, whose PictureBox releases beautifully realized art comics by the likes of Sonic Youth and Paper Rad. Sammy Harkham and Buenaventura Press' Kramer's Ergot, the leading anthology of avant-garde comics, rejects orthodox notions of sequential storytelling in favor of a diverse mix of narrative and non-narrative, figurative and abstract, and pen-and-ink and mixed-media comics.

Comics and comics-oriented art are also finally receiving their institutional due from museums. Cartoonist Chris Ware's work was featured in the 2002 Whitney Biennial, while the traveling Masters of American Comics show celebrates the talents of sequential-art pioneers such as George Herriman and Will Eisner. MoMA's forthcoming Comic Abstraction: Image-Breaking, Image-Making, ensures that the comics/art nexus will continue to garner new fans and new practitioners. (GZ)

Masters of American Comics continues at the Jewish Museum in New York and the Newark Museum through January 28. Comic Abstraction: Image-Breaking, Image-Making is on view at New York’s Museum of Modern Art from March 4 to June 11.

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Pipilotti Rist: Wishing for Synchronicity

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Now through January 14

  Comprising 15 works, this exhibition is the first US survey of Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist. Selfless in the Bath of Lava consists of a tiny LCD monitor placed in the floor, depicting the artist writhing in a pit of lava while viewers crouch and watch, god-like yet powerless. Ever Is Over All whimsically challenges societal norms through two wall-sized projections: the first shows a field of red blooms and the second follows a woman gleefully smashing car windshields with an iron flower as she walks down the street. In an early single-channel video, I'm Not the Girl Who Misses Much, a fuzzy image of a bare-breasted Rist dancing offers a playful perspective on female self-representation. (LLP)

On-Site: Today's Spanish Architecture

Pabellón Villanueva in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid
Now through January 14

  In the post-Franco era, Spain has actively funded cultural growth, commissioning designs from VIP architects including Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Jean Nouvel, Rafael Moneo, and Thom Mayne. Responding to this recent architectural boom, On-Site, co-organized by New York's Museum of Modern Art and PromoMadrid, surveys 53 brand-new projects on the Iberian peninsula, pairing detailed models of 35 projects currently under construction with Roland Halbe's lush photographs of 18 recently completed buildings. Mansilla+Tuñón's vision of the Museum of Cantabria as a concrete mountain range and the mushroomy canopies of Jürgen Mayer's Metropol Parasol arouse anticipation and confirm Spain's self-generated status as a destination for design. (BR)

Yinka Shonibare: Flower Time

Stephen Friedman Gallery
Now through January 13

  British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare has caused controversy with his witty reinterpretations of European masterpieces, such as his sculptural version of Fragonard's The Swing featuring a headless woman. His new exhibition, Flower Time, is no less startling, probing themes of class, politics, and exploitation. The show's titular piece is a somber floral arrangement constructed through Shonibare's trademark use of Dutch-produced Indonesian fabrics. Ballet offers new inspiration, featuring both in the video Odile and Odette, which reinterprets Swan Lake through racial difference, and the sculpture Flower Cloud I, which depicts a decapitated ballerina mannequin pirouetting on a black-resin mushroom cloud. (LCD)

Kelley Walker

Galerie Catherine Bastide
Now through January 27

  Combining pop and postmodern approaches, Kelley Walker explores questions of authenticity and taste by daring to appropriate the language of popular advertising. Anchoring the exhibition, the triptych Black Star Press (Rotated 180°); Star depicts three versions of an image of a black man grappling with a white policeman, here rotated upside-down and overlaid with silk-screened chocolate against a fiery Coca-Cola red background. Elsewhere, a chocolate disco ball hangs from the ceiling, toeing the line between art and craft. At the entrance, stacked posters riff on a classic Braniff Airways TV spot that incongruously sat art icon Andy Warhol and troubled boxer Sonny Liston together. Embellished with bright stars, the posters both honor and undercut Warhol's inescapable influence. (JC)

Mungo Thomson: Negative Space Variations

Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo
Now through February 25

  Mungo Thomson uses any medium necessary to extract unexpected revelations from the detritus of pop culture. In this exhibition, his first at an Italian institution, he takes an esoteric approach, reversing the polarities of space photographs captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and printing them as murals along GAMeC's corridors and ceilings. This simple gesture aligns the newly white void of space with the whitewashed void of gallery walls. Stars and other spatial phenomena become oddly colored patterns in black, brown, and blue hues, emanating from blankness. In a darkened room concluding the show route, a sound installation Thomson created by tapping his fingertips on crystal wine glasses leaves visitors with an ephemeral, enigmatic last impression. (CG)

A book, Negative Space, simulating the look and feel of National Geographic, accompanies the exhibition. A specially designed Negative Space font can be downloaded here.

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[ Taylor McKimens ]

Taylor McKimens

Based on his first comic book, The Drips, Taylor McKimens' recent solo show at Clementine Gallery brought to life a noxious world of pastel, sagging characters. Remixing imagery from the 24-page book, McKimens affixed drawings to a stylized fence, creating a room-sized installation. The cohesively creepy structure, resembling a ragged city block, transported the artist's cartoon world into the gallery space.

Balancing diametrical opposites, McKimens' work serves up the repulsive with an attractive, soft-hued aesthetic. In both drawings and installations, he transforms the most quotidian subjects into surrealist visions of decay. In the three-dimensional Sorry Truck, a broken-down cartoon pickup sprouts cacti, and in Leak, a ceiling dripping faux water fills up stylized pots and pans.

Born in 1976 and brought up in the tiny town of Winterhaven, California, McKimens drew inspiration from comic books and daily life in the Southwest. He crystallized his style while studying at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. In 2000, he moved to New York City and has since shown at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Deitch Projects, and Art Rock 2005 at Rockefeller Center.

In 2005, McKimens curated Stranger Town at Dinter Fine Art, commenting on the gulf between the New York art world and the illustration and manga scenes. He and partner Misaki Kawai are currently participating in Boroboro Dorodoro, a two-person show whose title roughly translates as "dilapidated melting," at the Watarium Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. (AC)

Boroboro Dorodoro is on view at the Watarium Museum of Contemporary Art through January 29. The limited edition comic book The Drips is available through PictureBox for $8.

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[ Thelma Golden ]


Mendozza y Caramba / Tuf / Kola Fayemi / Cisse Samba Ndar

Paul Laster talks to Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, about the museum's current Africa Comics show.
AK: What is the premise of the Africa Comics exhibition, and how was the work selected?

TG: The premise of Africa Comics is to provide a primer on contemporary artists working in comic and graphic form on the African continent. This exhibition came about for me, curatorially, in a somewhat funny, serendipitous way. In 2000, Africa e Mediterraneo, an organization dedicated to bettering European understanding of African culture, decided that comic art was a project that could reach out both to African communities in Europe and communities on the continent. They began to offer prizes for the best unpublished African comic art and have published, in the last six years, individual and anthology volumes. They never had the opportunity to show the work in America and came to me for advice; I immediately saw the opportunity for an exhibition. The challenge of bringing the works to an American audience was that while they were picked for both aesthetic and narrative content, many of them are not in English. Given the complex colonial histories of Africa, "native" languages may combine French, Portuguese, and Afrikaans with Wolof and Swahili.

Africa e Mediterraneo and the museum worked together to curate a selection of work and then took on the task of translating them into a handout for visitors to take with them, so that they could not only appreciate the incredible graphic diversity, but also the content, which really gives a more personal window into the daily lives of contemporary Africans.

AK: Were you a fan of comic art before organizing this exhibition?

TG: Like most people in the art world, I appreciated the incredible synergy and connection between comic and visual art and didn't want to make a distinction between them. I had seen the work in the Masters of American Comics exhibition and knew many of those artists, but as a curator, I wasn't someone who had a particular expertise in the form. What drew me to this show were colleagues who had comics expertise and who advised me that we had a great opportunity to show a little-known body of work, which is so much a part of what the Studio Museum has always been about. When I spoke about the project with other curators who had done great work with graphic and comic pieces, they were amazed and said, "Wow, that's really a treasure."

AK: Did you schedule this show around the time of the Masters of American Comics exhibition?

keep reading the interview »

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  Trash Talking
Paper Rad
Load Records

After producing videos for gallery exhibitions, the Internet, and bands such as Lightning Bolt and Beck, and a comic volume for PictureBox, the DIY collective Paper Rad confounds and entertains us further with this hourlong DVD. Psychedelic and silly, Trash Talking presents a trippy montage of colorful cartoon imagery, found television footage, and animated gifs. Paper Rad takes the viewer on a lo-tech visual roller-coaster ride of nonsensical proportions. It starts with a tech-talking triangle — resembling an animated computer CD/DVD-drive eject button sporting a smiley-face mouth — that struts to a digitalized version of the Bee Gees' Jive Talkin', and ends with a bizarre audiovisual remix of Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy. In between, you get robots, troll dolls, wizards, aliens, and Garfield — along with scores of other crazy characters, a hilarious cartoon pilot, and numerous funky beats. (PL)

A new Paper Rad book, Cartoon Workshop/Pig Tales, is available from PictureBox.

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Cover Art
Inka Essenhigh
Born Again, 1999-2000
Oil on canvas
7 1/2 x 6 1/2 ft./ 2.28 x 1.98 m
Courtesy Tate Collection, London
© Inka Essenhigh, 2006
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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Artkrush is a twice-monthly email magazine, featuring current news, people, and events in the international art community. All stories and links are pure editorial, never paid advertisements.

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