Tris Vonna Michell
Lynn Marie Kirby
Carol S. Eliel
In works of classical simplicity and remarkable psychological depth, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra presents a contemporary take on the genre of portraiture. Whether adolescents, soldiers, or new mothers, Dijkstra is fascinated by people in states of significant transition. Crafting abstract paintings from fragments of the urban environment - permanent-wave end papers, billboard paper, posters, newsprint - Mark Bradford has built a body of work that is richly layered in both material and meaning. The recombination of image and text has seen a surge in contemporary artistic practice: the exhibition Descriptive Acts highlights this phenomenon with a selection of recent acquisitions involving film, video, text, performance, installation, photography and audio.
RINEKE DIJKSTRA: A RETROSPECTIVE
From February 18 to May 28, 2012
From February 18 to May 28, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present the exhibition Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, the artist's first midcareer retrospective in the United States. The exhibition is co-organized by SFMOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The San Francisco presentation is organized by SFMOMA Senior Curator of Photography Sandra S. Phillips. This is the most comprehensive museum exhibition to date of the artist's oeuvre, the first major Dijkstra exhibition organized by an American museum, and the first solo exhibition of her work in San Francisco. The exhibition features nearly 70 color photographs and five video installations, including two new video projections.
Dijkstra has revived and reexamined portraiture in contemporary art for the past 20 years. Her portraits are extraordinary for their complexity and presence. The children and adolescents she takes as subjects possess a remarkable formal classicism and psychological depth. Her method is both simple and classic: she either discovers her subjects in places they frequent—the beach or the park, for example—or she conceives of a type of person she would like to photograph, such as mothers who have just given birth or matadors just returned from the bullring, and goes about finding them. She employs the most direct and traditional of instruments, a 4 x 5 view camera set on a tripod and occasionally a strobe light to provide additional illumination.
Dijkstra's interest is in the ephemeral and the essentially unknowable. Most often, she photographs people in transition, during formative periods in their lives when change is perceivable. Her earliest sustained body of work, Beach Portraits, posed adolescents on the beaches where she found them, centered in front of an almost abstracted space of sea and sky. This intense scrutiny permitted her not only to record the outward appearance of these young people—the kinds of clothes they wear, the way they present themselves to the photographer—but also to suggest their internal selves.
The enigma and fantasy she found in the adolescents led her to examine ideas of emergence and change, sometimes the result of physical exertion (after giving birth or bullfighting, for example) or charted over time, often following the same person for a period of months or years. She realized that new mothers were experiencing change that could be seen and recorded, resulting in her study of these women immediately after giving birth (a day, a week, or hours later). Several projects are studies of the transitions apparent in young people: for instance, her pictures of teenagers entering the Israeli army or her extended portraits of Olivier, a fresh recruit to the French Foreign Legion whom she followed from France to Africa over a period of four years. Perhaps her most concentrated study is the series she made of Almerisa, a child refugee from Bosnia, who transform from looking small and very foreign in the first picture into a self-possessed young Dutch woman.
In the past 10 years, Dijkstra has augmented her studies with video, as in The Buzz Club (1996–97), a moving portrait of kids dancing in a neighborhood nightclub in Liverpool; invited by Dijkstra into an adjacent room to be filmed, they enter a private world of self-absorption. Dijsktra notes, "In the process of photographing, it becomes clear to me what I am looking for. Usually it is closely related to my own experience. In the disco girls I recognize my own desire for rapture." I See A Woman Crying (Weeping Woman) (2009) shows the artist's sympathy and understanding of children—her great respect for their intelligence, sensitivity, and imaginative understanding of the world. The video focuses on a group of schoolchildren and a painting at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, England, Picasso's Weeping Woman (1937). Dijkstra's video shows the depth of her understanding of the emotional and imaginative complexity of this painting.
Her pictures are made with a conscious combination of great empathy and respectful distance, qualities she has found in the work of her important predecessors and influences, the photographers Diane Arbus and August Sander. Her work also directly relates to the projects of conceptual artists who work with series. Furthermore, both the scale of her work and its ambition recall the earlier tradition of Dutch painting: the dignity accorded the individual, the inquiry into many and different personalities, and the inherently democratic implications evident in the portrait painting of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and the Dutch tradition in general has played an acknowledged role in her work.
About the Artist
Rineke Dijkstra has developed an international reputation as one of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation. Her life-size photographs and videos, subtly colored, are celebrated for capturing the essential nature and complexities of youth. Dijkstra's highly nuanced attention to detail, combined with her singular empathy for her subjects, present a human and psychologically intuitive understanding of the complexities of growing up.
Dijkstra was born in Sittard, the Netherlands, in 1959. She studied photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam from 1981 to 1986. Through the late 1980s, she photographed people in clubs for magazines in the Netherlands and worked for corporations as a portraitist. In 1990 she injured her hip when she was knocked off her bicycle by a car. A self-portrait produced during her rehabilitation, in which she is seen having just emerged from a pool, exhausted, sparked a new direction in her work.
Since her first solo exhibition, at de Moor in Amsterdam in 1984, Dijkstra has shown at the Sprengel Museum Hannover (1998), Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (1999), Art Institute of Chicago (2001), Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2005), and the Rudolfinum in Prague (2006), among other venues. She has also exhibited widely in group shows, including the Venice Biennale (1997 and 2001), Bienal de São Paulo (1998), Biennale Internationale di Fotografia in Turin (1999), International Month of Photography in Moscow (2000), ICP Triennial of Photography and Video at the International Center of Photography in New York (2003), Out of Time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2006), and Family Pictures at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2007). She has received much recognition for her work, winning the Kodak Award Nederland in 1987, the Art Encouragement Award Amstelveen in 1993, the Werner Mantz Award in 1994, and the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize in 1998. She lives and works in Amsterdam.
Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated, beautifully bound catalogue, featuring 100 plates, including video stills, and essays by exhibition co-curators Sandra Phillips and Jennifer Blessing. The essays trace the development of Dijkstra's work, the dialogue between her work and the history of painting, and the relationship between her still portraits and her more recent video work. The catalogue includes an interview with the artist, plate entries, and selected interviews with some of the artist's subjects. The 240-page book includes a catalogue of the exhibition, complete exhibition history, and bibliography. The book is co-published by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers in the U.S., and Thames and Hudson worldwide. The catalogue will be for sale in the SFMOMA MuseumStore.
Generous support for Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is provided by Linda and Jon Gruber, and Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. Additional support is provided by a grant from the Netherland-America Foundation.
Following SFMOMA, the exhibition will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, from June through October 2012.
SFMOMA AND YBCA PARTNER TO CO-PRESENT MAJOR TRAVELING SURVEY EXHIBITION OF WORK BY MARK BRADFORD
Sole West Coast Presentation Accompanied by Catalogue and Award-Winning Microsite
February 18 through June 17, 2012
On view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from February 18 through June 17, 2012, and at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) from February 18 through May 27, 2012, in its only West Coast presentation, Mark Bradford is the first major museum survey of paintings, sculptures, and multimedia works by this leading figure in contemporary American art.
Bradford (b. 1961)—a Los Angeles–based artist and MacArthur Foundation "genius" award recipient—works in a variety of media but is best known for his often enormously scaled collages on canvas, which are akin to abstract paintings. Gathering carefully chosen found materials with "built-in history,"
as the artist says, Bradford engages in a complex artistic process that involves both creation and destruction. His intricately made, fractured works often address pressing political issues and the media's influence on contemporary society while cataloguing cultural change and the artist's personal responses to societal conditions.
Bradford's early works incorporate permanent-wave end papers, an influence from his family's beauty parlor in South Central Los Angeles. Later works employ various collaged materials typically salvaged from the street—billboard paper, newsprint, carbon paper, wrapping paper—that the artist layers together or strips apart, and then dramatically manipulates with nylon string, caulking, and sanding.
While striking in its formal beauty and subtle craft, Bradford's art also evokes allusions to the urban landscape, most specifically the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles where Bradford lived as a child and still maintains his studio. His abstract paintings probe the structures of urban society often defined by race, gender, and class. As a result, they resonate with complex social and economic meaning.
Organized by curator Christopher Bedford for Wexner Center for the Arts, this most comprehensive account of Bradford's career to date will open in San Francisco as a co-presentation installed at two neighboring venues, offering more than 50 works spanning 2000 to 2010. The exhibition will be overseen at SFMOMA by Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture; and at YBCA by Director of Visual Arts Betti-Sue Hertz.
"In its refined melding of materials, exquisite surfaces, and exuberant physicality, Mark Bradford's work engages with the rich history of assemblage while achieving exceptional, painterly effects," says Garrels. "His art offers an intensely personal vision that investigates the many contradictions inherent to life in contemporary urban culture."
Concentrating largely on painting—the artist's primary activity—the selection of works captures the development of Bradford's sensibility, which ranges from relatively modest-sized canvases to monumental public projects, and from purely formal investigations of material to engagement with sociopolitical questions.
Organized chronologically at SFMOMA, the exhibition offers a thematic summary of Bradford's art over the past decade, showcasing key pieces from major bodies of work while emphasizing three central aspects of his practice: the palpable energy and physicality of this process; his interest in the specificity of materials and the methods he invents to manipulate them; and the importance he places on producing new work, pushing himself every time he enters the studio. The presentation also reveals how Bradford constantly revisits and repurposes various concepts and techniques, foregrounding the relentless energy that is one of the defining characteristics of the artist and his work.
In addition to highlighting Bradford's work as a painter, the show will feature sound and video pieces, including the new large-scale environmental installation Pinocchio Is On Fire (2009), commissioned in tandem with the survey. Created during Bradford's recent residency at the Wexner Center for the Arts, this three-part multimedia work examines changing concepts of identity relating to the black male body from the early 1980s to the present, with cultural references that include the rise of HIV and crack cocaine, as well as gangster rap, mega-churches, and aspects of the artist's own biography. In this work, Pinocchio is an imaginary historical figure, or as Bradford notes, "an energy," whose journey through three decades reflects Bradford's own attempts to shape a new conception of the black male body through various processes of abstraction.
At YBCA, the exhibition brings the legacy of Hurricane Katrina into sharp relief, featuring three major works by Bradford related to Mithra (2008), his enormous ark-like public art project installed in the Lower Ninth Ward for Prospect.1, the first New Orleans biennial. The title for the work comes from an ancient Roman deity associate with light, justice, and wisdom; this association, combined with the ark's reference to a biblical flood, positions Mithra as both an indictment of the government's failure to protect the citizens of the Ninth Ward and an expression of hope for survival and new life. The artist has said that he "wanted to make something social because the land itself was so socially and politically charged. […] I was making a proposition that humanity would spring from the earth and that life continues."
In YBCA's galleries, Bradford will reconstruct sections of his original Mithra piece to create a new sculpture titled Detail. Also on view at YBCA will be related film by Bradford titled Across Canal, which examines the conception, production, and reception of Mithra; Corner of Desire and Piety (2008), a wall grid of found and reworked FEMA and other merchant posters ; and Rat Catcher of Hamelin (2011), a large-scale four–panel mixed media collage created for the Istanbul biennial featuring fifty billboards collected from all around South-Central Los Angeles that have been sanded and stripped to reveal what lies beneath the surfaces.
Of Bradford's Katrina-related pieces, Hertz says, "For an artist who has lived primarily in Los Angeles to be able to create works in tribute to people in another city, New Orleans, and then link them through his deep commitment to the visual aspects of the urban sphere, is not only manifested through his vision as a chronicler in the most rich and textured language of abstract collage painting, but also in his collaborative work in video, and his ability to galvanize a community through the efforts of assembling a large ark in the spirit of Noah's ark."
The groundbreaking educational microsite (http://www.pinocchioisonfire.org/) provides a rich online experience that allows the public to investigate Bradford's process and background, and to examine select works in the exhibition. The site, developed by the Wexner Center in partnership with Resource Interactive, is named for the installation project in the exhibition, and was shortlisted for a Cyber Lion award at the Cannes Lions 57th International Advertising Festival. In additional to cutting-edge visual and interactive features, the microsite includes video and audio interviews with Bradford, music, images, explanatory text, and more.
The illustrated exhibition catalogue is the first major book on Bradford, tracing his debt to abstract expressionism and how he has dramatically extended the possibilities of contemporary painting. Topics range from Bradford's relationship to the largely unknown history of twentieth-century abstraction by African American artists, to his work as a public artist, to his interest in midcentury European collage and décollage practices. Copublished by the Wexner Center and Yale University Press (cloth, 256 pages; $67), Mark Bradford contributors include Hilton Als, Christopher Bedford, Richard Shiff, Katy Siegel, and Robert Storr, as well as interviews with the artist by Carol S. Eliel and Hamza Walker.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Education Departments of SFMOMA and YBCA will host a full slate of related events, including a public conversation at YBCA on Saturday, March 31, 2012, titled "In the Aftermath of Prospect 1and Hurricane Katrina." For this talk, Bradford, in conversation with writers Ernest Hardy and Sue Bell Yank, will discuss the conceptual framework behind Mithra and how it relates to the examination of cultural regeneration within a post-disaster, urban environment. Other programs—all further exploring themes in Bradford's work such as race, gender, and class, and with a special emphasis on engaging underserved communities in the Bay Area—will be announced at a later date.
Mark Bradford premiered at the Wexner Center in spring 2010, and travelled to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (fall 2010), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (summer 2011), and the Dallas Museum of Art (fall 2011).
Mark Bradford is organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts, The Ohio State University. The San Francisco presentation is made possible through major support from the Mimi and Peter Haas Fund and SFMOMA's Collectors Forum. Generous support is provided by Gay-Lynn and Robert Blanding, Gina and Stuart Peterson, and Thomas W. Weisel. Additional support is provided by the Betlach Family Foundation and Larry Mathews and Brian Saliman. The St. Regis San Francisco is the official hotel of the exhibition. The Wexner Center for the Arts' organization of this exhibition was made possible by major support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Resource Interactive. Significant contributions are provided by The Broad Art Foundation, the Nimoy Foundation, Nancy and Dave Gill, and Toby Devan Lewis.
SFMOMA PRESENTS DESCRIPTIVE ACTS
Exhibition Explores Voice, Text, and Performance in Contemporary Art; Highlights Recently Acquired Works by Dora García, Aurélien Froment, Tris Vonna-Michell
February 18 through June 17, 2012
The recombination of image and text has seen a surge in contemporary artistic practice. The exhibition Descriptive Acts, on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from February 18 through June 17, 2012, highlights this phenomenon with a selection of recent acquisitions by Aurélien Froment, Dora García, and Tris Vonna-Michell, contextualized by contemporary works by Anthony Discenza, Shilpa Gupta, Lynn Marie Kirby, and Li Xiaofei as well as a 1976 work by John Smith. Involving film, video, text, performance, installation, photography, and audio, the works in the exhibition all reflect the artists' interest in process-based and performative practices. These "descriptive acts," shown in two consecutive configurations curated by Rudolf Frieling, SFMOMA curator of media arts, are acts of mediation. Some are presented as performative installations that involve an open structure, others as carefully framed reflections on their temporary identity.
"These artists try to grasp language as a fundamental way of addressing the world, but at the same time they exhibit the futility and precariousness of that effort," says Frieling. The works by Smith, Froment, Vonna-Michell, and Gupta variously use recorded speech in relation to visual representation, while Discenza, García, and Kirby and Li focus on our text-based online presence, hinting at the political and social conditions of our access to online global communication. Whether spoken or written, these artists' uses of text foreground the complex and often fraught processes of description, narration, translation, and communication. They do so using a strikingly broad range of technologies to achieve their ends.
The exhibition also reflects "contemporary and more conceptual concerns with performance and performativity," says Frieling. Vonna-Michell's practice, here represented by GTO hahn/huhn, variation 1 (2010), includes live performance but as part of a larger, ongoing process of documenting, archiving, and time-shifted storytelling. García's Instant Narrative (2006–8) and Kirby and Li's Hello? 你好！(2010) "perform" the development of texts over time: the former in the act of live creation, the latter after the fact, documenting a conversation that gradually evolves into the work itself. Other works, like Froment's Pulmo Marina (2010) and Discenza's Untitled (The Effect) (2010), consider notions of staging, spectacle, and the ways in which methods of display—including museum display—generate effects and construct meaning.
The presentation of the exhibition in two "acts" references the traditional construction of a stage play, but without the sense of narrative progression usually associated with theater. While the works on view will change, the themes will not, and—as in many of the works themselves—the "story" will remain unresolved.
Act I: Aurélien Froment, Dora García, Shilpa Gupta, John Smith, Tris Vonna-Michell
The exhibition begins on the museum's fourth-floor landing with a historic anchor: The Girl Chewing Gum, a 1976 work by Smith. In this dryly witty film, an off-camera voice "directs" the action of a documentary street scene in East London.
In García's Instant Narrative (2006–8), visitors pass a writer typing on a laptop; when they enter the gallery they start reading a projected text gradually posted on the wall, only to discover that they have become part of a narrative: a running description of the space and its visitors is being typed in real time. Instant Narrative will be performed live during museum hours by a series of local writers.
Froment's video projection Pulmo Marina (2010) consists of a single long shot of a jellyfish in an aquarium, with a voiceover drawing attention to the conditions of display. In describing the image, the voiceover borrows lines from high-definition flat-screen advertising, zoological guides, mythologies, and interviews conducted with staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium during the French artist's residency in the Bay Area. Pulmo Marina exists in other formats as well: a 35mm print to be shown as a short at SFMOMA's evening film screenings and a digital version to be presented online, highlighting a shift in contexts and meanings.
Tris Vonna-Michell's installation GTO: hahn/huhn, variation 1 (2010) is part of the British artist's ongoing practice of building and reconfiguring an archive of images, audio tracks, and performance-based narratives. The viewer is presented with an array of slides, photographic prints, and audio materials to explore, including Vonna-Michell's rapid-fire monologue of impressions and urban histories from Berlin and Detroit.
Indian artist Shilpa Gupta's I Have Many Dreams (2007–8) presents a series of four photographic portraits of Indian adolescents accompanied by an audio track in which the subjects describe their dreams of future identities. As Indian society is deeply impacted by the globalizing economy, these fragile portraits resonate with a moment of change.
Act II: Anthony Discenza, Shilpa Gupta, Lynn Marie Kirby and Li Xiaofei, John Smith, Tris Vonna-Michell
In this second configuration of the exhibition, scheduled to begin on April 21, the works by García and Froment are replaced with two works by prominent Bay Area–based artists.
Discenza's sound installation Untitled (The Effect) (2010) compiles a series of fragments of text found online, all of which include a specific phrase like "and the effect is," into a single narration read aloud by a professional speaker and played back in the gallery. The sources and referents of the fragments are not revealed, and the seemingly coherent text moves forward without getting anywhere in its argument—a speech as sound effect that becomes more disconcerting the longer one listens.
Kirby collaborated with Shanghai-based Li on Hello? 你好！(2010), a two-channel silent video projection that documents an email exchange over the course of a month during a time when access to Google search was blocked in China. The texts in English and Chinese have been translated using Google translation software and are projected simultaneously. The resulting conversation in both English and Cantonese thus triggers a sense of gaps, delays, and misinterpretations, but also a sense of unexpected poetry in the communication process. Ultimately, the work also describes its own coming into being.
Over the course of the exhibition, a prominent roster of Bay Area writers will interpret the writing instructions for García's Instant Narrative in their subjective ways. In May, Rudolf Frieling will introduce a program of related films and videos in the Phyllis Wattis Theater.
Image: Rineke Dijkstra, Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992; 1992; chromogenic print; 66 1/8 in. x 55 11/16 in.; Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra
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Opening February 17th
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