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Wim Delvoye, Louise, 2004

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Art and Commerce
August 6-19, 2008

Last year, an anonymous buyer purchased Piero Manzoni's Merda d'artista (Artist's Shit) for more than $160,000 — a clear sign that the art market is happy to canonize even its most ardent artistic critics alongside those who embrace the industry. In this issue of Artkrush, we examine the commercial inspirations of pop-art pioneers, such as Claes Oldenburg, and more recent contributors including Hank Willis Thomas and Mika Rottenberg. We take a close look at Josephine Meckseper's storefront installations and photographic works, which embrace the vapid gloss of advertising. Meanwhile, Artkrush editor Paul Laster interviews Tom Sachs about his work and process, which sees him recontextualizing everything from the House of Chanel to Hello Kitty. For our media pick, we recommend the monograph Rachel Harrison: If I Did It, and on the gallery circuit, we direct your attention to Gillian Wearing's two-part solo exhibition in LA and a host of Laotian children looking fierce and ready for battle in Geneva, courtesy of Marina Abramovic's imagination.

Spotlight on China's Female Artists
(New York Times, July 30)
Male artists from China may be the ones making headlines, grabbing commissions, and inspiring bidding wars, but women are creating some of the country's most innovative work. Even though the Chinese art scene is booming, it's rare to find female artists enjoying the spotlight in any of the hundreds of galleries in Beijing or Shanghai, and female-led solo shows are nearly nonexistent. In a roundup of China's lesser-seen, but nevertheless provocative female artists, the New York Times focuses on self portraits and white soft sculptures by Lin Tianmiao, Yin Xiuzhen's mysterious Fashion Terrorism installation, meditative works in silk by Lu Qing (the wife of Chinese art superstar Ai Weiwei), and Cui Xiuwen's simultaneously dreamy and disturbing depictions of schoolgirls.

Starchitects Fashioning Designer Cities
(Wall Street Journal, July 25)
It used to be a point of pride for a city to have a monumental building by an internationally renowned architect; now, governments are relying on those architects to design entire urban centers. Pritzker Prize winner Zaha Hadid has created a master plan to redevelop Istanbul's industrial Kartal area. Hadid also has a large-scale project planned for Bilbao. Over in Dubai, Rem Koolhaas is designing Waterfront City on an artificial island. Daniel Libeskind, meanwhile, is planning downtown Orestad, south of Copenhagen, and reimagining Milan's former fairgrounds. While critics of these projects worry that aesthetic impact seems to have superseded traditional urban-planning concerns, such as infrastructure, Libeskind sees the trend as resulting in "a renaissance of cities."

Chapmans to Judge Painting Prize
(Times, July 24)
They've reworked images by Goya and watercolors by Hitler, and now bad-boy brothers of British art Jake and Dinos Chapman are part of a team judging the John Moores Contemporary Painting Prize. Not everyone welcomed the new judges of the most prestigious painting award in the UK; one critic said that the Chapmans were not up to the task, and that their reputations "will have deterred a great many serious painters from entering" the competition. Another unhappy critic bemoaned that the Moores shortlist — which includes Tim Bailey, Stuart Pearson Wright, Georgia Hayes, and Neil Rumming — "has reduced painting in modern Britain to a stale, repetitive, self-parodic eunuch."

"Functional Sculpture" in Demand
(Independent, July 27)
Forget furniture — "functional sculpture" is the new must-have fixture for moneyed art lovers. The demand for these one- (or several-) of-a-kind works by artists and designers is so great that auction house Christie's will stage its first-ever sale devoted solely to contemporary design this fall. The auction block will include work by Maarten Baas, a polyurethane table by architect Zaha Hadid, and a polished steel sofa by Ron Arad. Celebrity supercouple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich are said to be fans of the costly furniture, which can fetch prices well over six figures. In a related story, last month's Design Miami/Basel provided the largest showcase yet for the artists and collectors behind the genre some are calling "design art."

Multimedia provocateur Terence Koh draws lawsuit with erect Jesus more »

Zaha Hadid's spacey Mobile Art pavilion to land in Central Park more »

Curator Dan Cameron talks up his upcoming New Orleans biennial more »

An interview with top Chinese contemporary collector Guan Yi more »

Post-divorce, Kay Saatchi shows London art scene how it's done more »

Installation artist Robert Irwin reflects on ten years of his Getty garden more »

Curator Alison Gingeras flaunts "ugliness" at Gavin Brown's enterprise and Maccarone more »

Fame and influence still growing for outsider artist Henry Darger more »

Artists do the can-can at aluminum show more »

Edinburgh's Ingleby Gallery looks to the future with expansion more »

Electronic-art show takes on disability more »

Who really designed the Beijing Olympic architectural projects? more »

Prolific polymath Mike Mills talks Beautiful Losers more »

A critic's ardor for painter Chris Ofili wanes more »

SF's Presidio museum sparks more debate more »

Guggenheim gets into the black with Ad Reinhardt show more »

Digital artist wins $100,000 sports art prize more »

San Francisco moves to criminalize art that harms animals more »

Swiss artist Christoph Büchel stirs up controversy at Reykjavík Arts Festival more »

NYC cools off with Icelandic, Scandinavian shows more »

Shigeru Ban discusses design for new Aspen Art Museum more »

Royal Academy to show off Anish Kapoor, plans for new annex more »

Art collector and dealer Hildy Beyeler dies at 86 more »

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

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[ Critiquing Capitalism ]


Hank Willis Thomas / Barbara Kruger / Bert Rodriguez

Art and commerce are ever more visibly intertwined; today's savviest artists know that it pays to critique capitalism — and that getting paid can be its own critique. Andy Warhol paved the way in the '60s, selling paintings of Campbell's Soup cans and silk-screened Brillo boxes, "mass-produced" in his New York Factory. His Swedish contemporary Claes Oldenburg took a similar tack, building his career on monumental sculptures of mundane multiples, such as clothespins and tubes of lipstick.

Warhol and Oldenburg's pop legacy begat enfant terrible Jeff Koons, who gained renown in the '80s with Hoover vacuum cleaners encased in Plexiglas and liquor bottles cast from stainless steel. Still rendering the most banal of products high-gloss, Koons seduces serious collectors into paying a pretty penny for such "rarities" as the steel-cast pool inflatables and metal trashcans in his more recent Popeye series. Across the pond, Damien Hirst has always gone the extra mile: his 1992 installation Pharmacy commented on Western society's penchant for prescriptions by recreating a drugstore stocked with colorful, empty canisters in the gallery space; Xu Zhen pulled a similar stunt at last year's Art Basel Miami Beach, dutifully replicating a Chinese convenience store to sell packages, bottles, and boxes devoid of all content at their original asking price. Hirst's latest claim to fame is a piece that literally puts a price on one's head: a diamond-encrusted human skull that sold for $100 million.

Other well-known artists engage the mass market by collaborating with fashion brands looking to add some creative currency to their products. Chanel recently tapped installation artist Sylvie Fleury, whose works have featured scattered shoes and crushed makeup, to produce a piece inspired by its vintage 2.55 handbag; the final work is now being exhibited in a traveling art pavilion-cum-advertisement designed by Zaha Hadid. The success of his quirky Louis Vuitton purses made Japan's Takashi Murakami a household name, and this February, veteran troublemaker Richard Prince unveiled his own line for the French fashion house. Prince first stirred up controversy nearly two decades ago when he rephotographed Marlboro ads to critique their depiction of a mythical American West. Many years Prince's junior, Hank Willis Thomas echoes that appropriation by unbranding ads from the '70s to expose their racial politics, or virtually imprinting corporate logos such as the Nike "Swoosh" onto black men as a visceral emblem of exploitation.

Barbara Kruger pioneered the strategic reuse of advertising's vocabulary. Her eye-catching and oft-quoted Untitled (I shop therefore I am) lured viewers into contemplating the emptiness of excess. Bert Rodriguez takes a blatantly self-promotional tack — he plugs his own performances with billboards and sells gallery space to advertisers to prove that Advertising Works!. For this year's Whitney Biennial, Fia Backström foregrounded Artforum's commercial foundation by rearranging the internationally circulated magazine's ads. Stringing similar images together, she revealed a publication governed as much by its commercial forms as by its editorial content.

Wim Delvoye derides the mercantile art market with his expansive Cloaca machines, which generate feces to be sold as sardonic objets. Mika Rottenberg is similarly fascinated by assembly-line logic; her video installations depict human laborers engaged in robotic production processes, all to proliferate meaningless items such as Tropical Breeze tissues. But where does this factory philosophy originate? Perhaps in the boardroom of Atelier Van Lieshout's SlaveCity, where only the principles of rationality, efficiency, and profitability hold court.  - Sarah Kessler

Barbara Kruger has a solo show at Stockholm's Moderna Museet through September 1; Richard Prince has a retrospective at London's Serpentine Gallery through September 7; and Jeff Koons has a retrospective at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art through September 21 and a solo show on the roof of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art through October 26.

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  Zheng Fanzhi: Tai Ping You Xiang

Now through September 2

In his current exhibition at ShanghART Beijing, Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi — best-known for his Mask series — presents five large oil paintings, each nearly two meters in length and depicting dense, overgrown forests. Tai Ping You Xiang, the title of both the show and a square canvas of a white elephant in a tangled grove, is inspired by a poem by the Song dynasty poet Lu You; loaded with auspicious meaning, it connotes peace, stability, and happiness, and is also a pun on "xiang," meaning either "good harvests and peaceful times to come" or "elephant." Despite their long and chaotic brush strokes, Zeng's paintings evoke a sense of serenity. As the viewer is drawn to the shades and colors of light between the dense branches, a subtle social commentary on traditional Chinese culture emerges: despite the vain ambitions of contemporary society, one will always return to one's roots.  - Juliana Loh

  Gillian Wearing: Pin Ups and Family History
Los Angeles

Regen Projects
Now through August 23

Showing concurrently at Regen Projects' two LA locations, Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing's Pin Ups and Family History explore the media-driven creation of personal identities. At the original West Hollywood gallery, Pin Ups features seven paintings of scantily clad models rendered photorealistically, but with a supple, airbrushed sheen. Each frame opens to reveal photographs and handwritten notes from the work's subject, juxtaposing Wearing's sexually glossed image with the model's real-life appearance and personality. To a similar end, the artist screens her two-channel video installation Family History at Regen Projects' new outpost. One screen shows an interview with a former star of 1974 British reality show The Family; on the other, an actress playing Wearing as a teenager watches the show, exposing the manipulated, yet personal nature of on-screen drama.  - Mallory Farrugia

  Ciaran Murphy

Kavi Gupta
Now through August 20

Young Irish painter Ciaran Murphy's 12 small-scale paintings at Kavi Gupta present simple renderings of natural forms, such as a floating stick or a fallen tree, isolated against monochromatic backgrounds. The canvases bring to mind an artist in the wilderness, sketching whatever catches his eye. The strangeness of certain details — a monkey wearing pale-blue eye shadow, for example — signal Murphy's strategy of collecting and reworking found images. As motifs emerge, the suite of paintings sets up a discreet interplay between a sense of stillness and the intimation of violence. Murphy's pared-down style and palette recall the influential and cryptic work of Luc Tuymans, but Murphy has different aims: to underscore the act of looking, and the intrigue of discovering visual patterns — albeit at the risk of a dismissive glance.  - Karsten Lund

  Hans Scholten: Urban Future #2

Huis Marseille
Now through August 24

Hans Scholten's Urban Future photography project investigates the rapid, chaotic development of large cities in Asia and the Middle East. Shot in bright daylight, his formal, black-and-white compositions offer a bleak view of China's modern skyscrapers — as in Shanghai, from 2005-07 — and traditional, nondescript housing — Tehran, nr.2, taken during the same period — in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Azerbaijan. Built wherever developers desire, these buildings share a disregard for organized city planning and infrastructure. A former sculptor, Scholten lends a sense of order to his vision of urban anarchy with a dynamic display in Amsterdam's Huis Marseille, a renovated 17th-century canal house. Larger prints are pinned to the walls, while smaller photos are placed in sequential grids on a giant table and a suspended wall, both constructed from raw plywood. Pitting order against chaos in an ever-changing world, Scholten makes one wonder what the future of all cities might be.  - Paul Laster

  Marina Abramovic: 8 Lessons on Emptiness with a Happy End

Galerie Guy Bärtschi
Now through September 12

Questioning the role of media on violence in society, performance-art doyenne Marina Abramovic's latest project poses Laotian children — symbols of innocence — costumed as soldiers in various warlike scenarios, all against the backdrop of a region known for spirituality, but also conflict. The Family, a series of large color photographs, includes one of the artist-as-mother surrounded by her military clan of uniformed children. In The Family XI, Abramovic evokes a guerilla goddess by brandishing several weapons in her folded arms; in The Family IX, two blank-faced teenage girls stand on an oversized chair holding rifles. Downstairs, the exhibition's title piece — a video installation on five screens — intercuts Abramovic's faux war scenes with serene Laotian landscapes. Powerful in its imagery, this stunning show leaves viewers with a feeling of emptiness at the futility of war.  - Marlyne Sahakian

A comprehensive catalogue is available from the gallery.

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[ Josephine Meckseper ]


Josephine Meckseper

People walking past New York's Elizabeth Dee gallery this past May likely wondered whether multimedia artist Josephine Meckseper had crafted an art installation or a boutique display. Adverting to the deepening US economic crisis, Meckseper's transformation of the gallery into a politically charged emporium came complete with rotating shelves, mannequins, and found objects. Working at the intersection of politics, consumer society, and the iconography of advertising, Meckseper is as intrigued as she is ambivalent about the interdependence of art and commerce in late-capitalist society.

Born in Lilienthal, Germany, Meckseper studied at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin before getting her MFA at CalArts. Her past exhibitions include solo shows at Galerie Reinhard Hauff and Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, and group shows at the Walker Art Center, the Tate Modern, and the 2005 Lyon Biennale. Meckseper runs the gamut of sculpture, photography, and film in her work, and outside the strictly visual arts, she was the founding editor of the irreverent FAT magazine. The unifying aesthetic underlying Meckseper's practice is a surrealism of the storefront; by juxtaposing consumer products, she reveals the absurdities, inconsistencies, and illusions inherent to commodity fetishism. She asserts that this retail reality infects all spheres of social life — from political process and activism to public affairs.

In her installation The Complete History of Postcontemporary Art, which was exhibited in the 2006 Whitney Biennial, pinups, plungers, perfume bottles, and protest imagery coexist in a stew of sexual, class, and political connotations. Meckseper cultivates two opposing photographic miens: straightforward photojournalism documenting social uprising, and staged glamour portraiture of bored, bourgeois sirens. Ultimately, Meckseper's art succeeds in showing the totality of the marketplace and the profound delusion it has put into place — that relationships among products trump those among men.  - Cynthia Lugo

Josephine Meckseper's work is currently on view in That Was Then...This Is Now at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York through September 22. Her work will also be on view in New Photography 2008: Josephine Meckseper and Mikhael Subotzky at New York's Museum of Modern Art, a solo show at Arndt & Partner in Berlin, and PROSPECT.1, the inaugural New Orleans biennial.

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[ Tom Sachs ]  

Tom Sachs
View more images »
A bricolage tinkerer, Tom Sachs recreates objects with found materials and brand-name icons to subvert their original meanings and values. Equally invested in concept and in craft, Sachs' provocative work has rough edges, revealing how each piece is made. Artkrush editor Paul Laster interviewed Sachs about his working process and current shows in New York and Aspen, Colorado.
AK: After studying architecture in London in the '80s, you worked for industrial designer Tom Dixon and architect Frank Gehry. What did you learn from them that you later applied to your own practice?

TS: Tom taught me about stealing, which he called "salvage." Back then, there wasn't a lot of money in London, or in my pockets. We'd break into an old building, rip out the parquet, and install it in his studio. I also stole food so that I could buy welding rods or parts for my motorcycle. I was learning about the importance of being outside the economic system; to be an artist, you have to be willing to break the laws of economics. When I first started my own studio, I was doing a lot of welding-repair work. I could get $50 an hour, so I was able to leverage the hours of my day job, which gave me more time to make art.

My experience with Frank was more like The Karate Kid — "Wax on, wax off." I mastered one very, very simple task — cutting a piece of maple down to two inches and sanding it perfectly — and by repeating that task over and over again for a year, by streamlining my actions and honing my craft with this one repetitious task, I was able to then transfer that same kind of focus and expertise to all other aspects of my life.

AK: How did you come up with Allied Cultural Prosthetics as the name of your New York studio, and how does that name relate to your practice?

keep reading the interview »

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  Rachel Harrison: If I Did It
John Kelsey, Heike Munder, and Ellen Seifermann
JRP Ringier

Just 42 years old, with nearly 20 solo shows, a Whitney Biennial, and Artforum and Parkett covers under her belt, mixed-media artist Rachel Harrison beguiles a growing audience with her signature stucco encrustations. Deftly marrying high-art semantics and pop citations, her plinth-centered sculptures juxtapose found materials, drawing on the tradition of the two Marcels: Duchamp and Broodthaers. Borrowing the title of O.J. Simpson's hypothetical exercise in poor taste, Harrison's new monograph — published in conjunction with a 2007 traveling solo exhibition — documents both her most recent projects and standout works since 2003. The layouts range from sweeping installation shots to tightly framed close-ups, providing a dynamic visual experience somewhere between a museum tour and a miniature-golf-course run. A smart trio of essays expounds on the works' connections to topics such as 99-cent stores and drag, while the photographic series Voyage of the Beagle rounds out Harrison's evolution of sculpture with its droll taxonomy of storefront busts.  - Catherine Krudy

Rachel Harrison's solo show Lay of the Land is currently on view at Le Consortium in Dijon, France, through September 21.

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Cover Art
Wim Delvoye
Louise, 2004
Stuffed tattooed pig
23 x 14 x 45 in./9.1 x 5.5 x 17.7 cm
Courtesy the artist; Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris and Miami; and Sperone Westwater Gallery, New York
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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H.G. Masters

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Jennifer Y. Chen
Erin Cowgill
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Sarah Kessler
Doug Levy
Andrew Maerkle
Marlyne Sahakian
Peter Stepek
Sarah Stephenson

Mallory Farrugia
Catherine Krudy
Juliana Loh
Cynthia Lugo
Karsten Lund
Lauren McKee

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