Sunday, December 9, 2012

Art21: a Reverence for Things, a Hope for Tomorrow, and the Invention of Languages

by Drew Martin
Art21 on has a series of 20-minute profiles of contemporary artists they have compiled since 2001. In 2009 I watched everything that had been filmed up to that season and then recently realized there was another batch to enjoy. This morning I finished watching the last one that I had not seen, on Rackstraw Downes.

Downes speaks of reverence for all things, even scratches in raw, concrete floors. Pictured here (top) is a detail of a painting he did in the desert, of stark structures. His attraction to such a place is its simultaneous state as both a ruin and construction site; an abandoned construction site.

"They weren't shapes our culture teaches us the buildings should be in."

He dislikes the label of landscape art, which he says is by recipe, and jokes that the only way a landscape artist can reinvent himself is to move. Instead, he considers himself a painter of his environment. He adds that anytime something three dimensional is interpreted on a flat surface, it becomes a metaphor, and perspective is only an attempt to standardize the perception of space. He also talks about the wandering eye and how a painting unfolds over time.  He says that when he approaches a place there is a literary theme but that disappears in the process of painting, "reason A disappears" and he fixates on shadows and other details.

When my twenty minutes were up with Downes, I finished up where I left off last week with Robert Mangold. I love his comment that romanticism takes us beyond the formal idea. I also reached back to one of the first videos by Art21, on the quirky Andrea Zittel (the "small-space living advocate,") whose work focuses on the efficiency and isolation of space. Pictured here (middle) is one of her projects.

Zittel minimizes her living quarters, has worn uniforms based on Russian constructivism, and even spent a month on a floating concrete island she made in Danish waters. Zittel traces this fascination of small spaces to thrifty family vacations in a Volkswagen Westfalia bus and sailing trips on her family's boat. She never liked sailing but was interested in how the boat was organized for habitation. She offers,

"No one really wants perfection. We are obsessed with perfection. We are obsessed with innovation and moving forward but what we really want is the hope of some sort of new, improved or better tomorrow."

I love Zittel's concluding remarks:

"Things you think are liberating can actually become confining or restrictive or oppressive. And things that you think are controlling can actually give you a greater sense of security and liberation in the end."

I also rewatched the profile of David Altmejd. Instead of using preparatory sketches for his projects, like the one pictured here (bottom), he works directly on them, letting the process and each step dictate the next move. There are many artists I feel very close to, like Zittel, but something Altmejd said seemed to echo my own ideas and approach to art:

"I am interested in science the same way I am interested in art, with a sort of childlike fascination. I realized very early in my studies I wasn't interested in learning a language. I was really interested in inventing languages. I figured out that art would be the perfect place for me because what is encouraged is the invention of languages."

Art21 includes profiles on the following artists:
Marina Abramović, Robert Adams, Ai Weiwei, Laylah Ali, Allora & Calzadilla, David Altmejd, El Anatsui, Laurie Anderson, Eleanor Antin, Janine Antoni, Ida Applebroog, Charles Atlas, John Baldessari, Matthew Barney, Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, Mark Bradford, Cai Guo-Qiang, Cao Fei, Vija Celmins, Michael Ray Charles, Mel Chin, Mark Dion, Rackstraw Downes, John Feodorov, Walton Ford, Ellen Gallagher, Ann Hamilton, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Tim Hawkinson, Mary Heilmann, Arturo Herrera, Oliver Herring, Jenny Holzer, Roni Horn, Hubbard/Birchler, Pierre Huyghe, Alfredo Jaar, Mike Kelley, William Kentridge, Margaret Kilgallen, Kimsooja, Jeff Koons, Beryl Korot, Barbara Kruger, An-My Lê, Glenn Ligon, Maya Lin, Florian Maier-Aichen, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Robert Mangold, Sally Mann, Kerry James Marshall, Paul McCarthy, Allan McCollum, Josiah McElheny, Barry McGee, Julie Mehretu, Elizabeth Murray, Bruce Nauman, Catherine Opie, Gabriel Orozco, Pepón Osorio, Raymond Pettibon, Judy Pfaff, Paul Pfeiffer, Lari Pittman, Martin Puryear Mary, Reid Kelley, Matthew Ritchie, Susan Rothenberg, Robert Ryman, Doris Salcedo, Collier Schorr, Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Yinka Shonibare, Shahzia Sikander, Laurie Simmons, Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, Jessica Stockholder, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Do-Ho Suh, Catherine Sullivan, Sarah Sze, Tabaimo, James Turrell, Richard Tuttle, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, William Wegman, Fred Wilson, Krzysztof Wodiczko, and Andrea Zittel