Chelsea Galleries September 2017

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There are plenty of strong exhibitions in Chelsea this September into October. And the fancy blue chip galleries are presenting a racial and identity social consciousness as black artists receive recognition at at least a few major galleries. Here are a few that I enjoyed this past weekend.

Sanford Biggers: Selah, Sept 7th through October 21st at Marianne Boesky Gallery.

Kara Walker at Sikkema Jenkins & Co

Mark Thomas Gibson at Fredericks & Freiser through October 14, 2017

Calder & Oiticica at Whitney Museum

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If you enjoy work that breaks the norms of fine art; work that invites the viewer to participate, this is a great time to visit the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Through the remainder of the month, on the 8th floor, one may see Museum employees activate Alexander Calder sculptures. With slight touches and hand gestures, Calder’s work is set in motion as it was meant to be enjoyed. Several pieces on display are motorized, unfortunately they do not appear to be plugged in or at least when I was there I did not see them in motion. However, the ones that are activated by human touch are beautiful to see in motion. One may immediately capture the great care that Calder took in combining form and weight to create compositions that have expression through movement. The works are simple and delicate but when they are put in motion they appear to have their own life due to the joints and careful balancing of the pieces assembled to make the whole.

Work your way down the museum and I believe that it is on the sixth floor that one will encounter “An Incomplete History of Protest”. As problematic as the labels “Protest Art” or “Political Art” may be, many of the works in the exhibition were not made in the studio for the gallery, but were realized through collaboration and enjoyed public manifestation on the street in the midst of protest. I tend to consider such art as genuinely “political art” or “activist art”. The exhibition does a reasonable job of presenting an overview of such work over the last fifty years in the United States.

Further down the building, perhaps on the fifth floor is “Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium” which to me is the most fun of all the exhibitions on view. It is unfortunate that the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica died at 42 as he was prolific and realized work that is at once provocative, social and contemplative. Several of the galleries, allow the viewer to walk through the work or even wear the pieces as Hélio Oiticica meant the work to be! This is great as it is not uncommon for work originally designed to be tactile has been removed from the visitor’s reach, not so with Oiticica’s exhibition. One gallery even features clothing designed by Oiticica hanging on a rack, for visitors to try on and model in front of a mirror. A walk through the installation “Tropicália, 1966–67” alone is worth the trip to the Whitney. As one winds through the installation, visit the two large parrots in a white cage and if you go around 3pm when they are fed by their handlers you will enjoy their sounds resonating throughout the exhibition.

Written by ricardo

September 4th, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Realidad VE

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Realidad VE

Realidad VE is a virtual reality experiment in combining documentary material with a virtual space

Realidad VE is a small experiment that attempts to combine documentary material with virtual space for VR presentation.

Last fall I had an extended interview with José Bergher a retired professor and classically trained musician from Venezuela who was the director of the Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Throughout his professional career he worked between New York City and Caracas and the reason behind the interview was to learn about that dual citizenry – about living between cultures and floating from one part of the world to the other. However as the interview progressed, I asked José about the current state of Venezuela – politically, economically and the common problems that people face day to day. He replied with a 20 minute discussion of the rise of Chavez and the current power-grab by Maduro and the lasting influence of Fidel Castro.

I knew that this discussion would not be appropriate for the project that I was working on, but I appreciate his first-hand perspective and given the last several weeks in Venezuela, I wanted to present his voice in a unique format. Entirely based on my news consumption of current protests, clashes and seemingly general instability in Venezuela, I created a blank world with the exception of dead trees and abandoned drilling rigs. The world is populated by men and women running across the space. A boy sits against a tree taking in the world around him. At another spot a young couple argues and elsewhere two friends are in discussion. Along the entire perimeter paramilitary troops stand guard and watch the space. At a couple spots trios of soldiers have friendly discussions. In this world, the military is at ease, though watchful whereas the people appear frantic.

I’m interested in combining documentary material such as the interview with José Bergher with virtual space and employing virtual reality as a platform for documentary. Jose’s discussion of current Venezuelan politics presented an opportunity for experimentation. Pictured above is the project for installation that features an animated José Bergher above the virtual space, the project is online with out Bergher’s video, only his voice accompanies the virtual space as the inclusion of video made an already long load time much longer.

“Once Upon a Place” at Time Square

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“Once Upon a Place” by Aman Mojadidi at Time Square

Repurposed public phone booths are a poor vehicle for the sharing of immigrant stories. As an artist largely dedicated to reflecting upon migrant populations and cultural dislocation, as soon as I heard about Aman Mojadidi’s “Once Upon a Place”, installed at Time Square, I knew that I needed to visit the project. I worked out a deal with my son and hauled him up to Time Square. Upon entering Duffy Square, we encountered three old phone booths sitting on red and blue carpets with phrases such as “Global Stories” along the circular perimeter.

The first one I entered did not appear to function. I picked up the receiver, put it to my ear and heard only silence. I searched for instructions on the phone as I pushed the numerical keypad, nothing. I pulled out the phone book hanging below a steel shelf, but there was no information as to how to activate the phone. I considered putting coins in the slot, but didn’t have any. So then I stepped out, and read the signage for the project, still no instructions. At this point, the other phones were empty so I tried a second phone booth.

Upon putting the receiver to my ear, I heard the voice of a woman. She was from Mexico and she was describing the hardships and poverty of her home town. The story was brief. She was followed by a man from West Africa, I do not recall the country. He has well explained his desire for a new life due to the intense poverty of his upbringing. The next man, if I recall correctly was Dominican and he explained how his entire family had immigrated to the United States. He was left alone in his country, so he felt that he had little choice but to migrate to the United States…

I believe that the reason that I don’t recall details from these personal stories, besides the fact that it was hot and uncomfortable in the phone booth, is that they were not very interesting. The use of the repurposed phone booth to share immigrant tales is clever (though I don’t recall and can’t imagine a phone booth ever being a popular means to call family across borders), but the framing and presentation of the content does not make the work compelling. Ultimately, the work relies on the strength of the subjects the artist has captured and the artist’s capability to steer the conversation or interview and stir nuance from the subject. The three subjects (of 70) that I listened to were not engaging story tellers. Their experiences were sad and clearly state the need to escape a harsh reality and yet they did not summon empathy or any emotional reaction in me.

However, my time with the project was cut short, by a bored nine year old, who started tapping down the phone’s hookswitch and with each tap the voice from the receiver would go silent. The recording would not pause as when he lifted the hookswitch and I heard the voice again, it did not begin from the stopping point, but rather the audio was continual. So once we were both frustrated, I relented to his desire to move on.

We sat in the stands over looking Duffy Square and ate lunch. I continued to observe the installation. Sadly there was very little interest in the project from the throngs of tourists on a summer Saturday afternoon as the phone booths remained largely empty. Occasionally a curious tourist would poke her head in, listen for a few seconds and then walk out.

My take away from interacting with the installation and observing the public interest: a multitude of stories or interviews, apparently a total of 70, does not generate an interesting project. A single compelling story teller is more significant than many interviewees. Secondly, I found the combination of the immediate surroundings and the heat within the phone booth too distracting to focus on the audio for very long. Time Square is not a good location for audio installations that rely upon focused engagement. Lastly, I’ve got to stop taking my son to see art work that I wish to engage with for any extended period of time. Perhaps, I’ll go back at night by myself and have a different experience.

Aman Mojadidi's

Sharing the phone at Aman Mojadidi’s “Once Upon A Place”

The installation commissioned by Time Square Arts will continue to be available until September 5th at Duffy Square – West 46th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Defend Net Neutrality

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Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE FCC.

Trump appointed US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has spearheaded an FCC vote to end net neutrality rules. It was just in 2015 that the FCC with support of the Obama administration introduced new net neutrality regulations that put internet service providers (ISPs) such as Verizon, Comcast, AT&T in the same category as other telecommunication companies. ISPs currently are not allowed to favor the speed of some sites over others, all data on the internet moves at the same speed.

The FCC was first created to protect radio from commercialization and to ensure that it remain a public service. Given that on FM non-commercial stations have been shoved to one side in favor of powerful commercial media corporations, it seems merely a matter of time that the same occurs to the internet. However, perhaps at least for now, due to the nature of the internet as a social medium, net neutrality may be temporarily protected. Since the Clinton administration, the FCC has favored deregulation and corporate monopolization of the media, can this course of increasing corporate control of our media content and in general our culture be slowed down? SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE FCC.

Written by ricardo

July 12th, 2017 at 7:14 am

“Hansel & Gretel” at Park Avenue Armory – Save Your Money

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Hansel & Gretel at Park Avenue Armory

The “Hansel & Gretel” curatorial statement describes the installation as a space that brings together Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Ai Weiwei combined interests in

the psychological impact of architecture and the politics of public space; creating a playful, strange, and eventually eerie environment with different layers of reality revealed to the visitor… Hansel & Gretel is a dystopian forest of projected light where the floor rises up, as if lifted by an invisible force, and visitors are tracked by infrared cameras and surveyed by overhead drones as they systematically capture the parkgoers’ data and movements…

Unfortunately, the only portion of this description that resonates is the playfulness. Indeed Herzog, de Meuron and Weiwei have created a dark environment in which visitors may skip around and play with light traces of their image. However, the installation lacks strangeness, eeriness, politics or any psychological reverberation.

Other than the initial moment of discovery that one’s image is being projected on to the ground after it is periodically taken due to on one’s movement in the space, the installation presents very little that is interesting. The drones may have been a neat prop had they not been tethered.

The second part of the installation is a didactic revelation of what the installation is trying to allude to – that we are objects of surveillance. As far as a critical art installation regarding surveillance, there was much more interesting work done 15+ years ago. Perhaps the theme of surveillance has been so overly investigated and picked apart by art previously and by entertainment today (“Black Mirror” for example) that such an installation seems trite and naive. There is so much of our data being captured today, that building an installation that merely plays upon facial recognition and motion sensors is just kind of dumb, but it is playful. So if $16 is worth the cost of running around a huge dark open space and playing with light projection, check it out.

Hansel & Gretel at Park Avenue Armory

A second perspective: Playtime at the Armory
Once again discovering what this city has to offer, there I was with Ricardo walking into a venue called the Armory near Hunter College, a place I had never been before to see a new art installation called “Hansel & Gretel”. He had been keen to check this out for a few weeks, and like the curious creature I am, I followed along.

We received a quick intro and were instructed to read a phase on the wall before entering -which i forgot- and then allowed to enter. We walked into black nothingness. My immediate reaction was to scramble for Ricardo’s hand. I didn’t realize the massiveness of this place until my eyes adjusted from the summer sunlight to the darkness inside of the Armory. It was only eerie the first few minutes because I had no idea where the hell I was walking. There were a few cameras far above us hanging from the ceiling and lights that would follow us. As we continued to walk, our movement was detected, grid lines would appear and cameras would be activated to capture our moves. Suddenly, it was playtime! It was fun to pose in different positions to watch the resulting snap shot of yourself illuminated on the black floor. At one point my sweater and shoes came off and I really got into it.

Ricardo noticed two drones hovering on one side of the space living poor unfulfilled lives- tied onto leashes without free movement. It would have been more interesting if they were chasing people around. After exhausting our ideas for poses, the novelty wore off and we were ready to enter part deux of the installation. For that, we had to exit this part of the Armory and enter from another entrance on the other side of the street.

After pausing in front of a camera you were allowed inside. There were many ipads on long tables with apps. You could elect to have your face identified and then search the cameras for your photo which was taken in the first part of the installation. That was cool. You could read about the history of surveillance, or access cameras to spy on others walking into the exhibits. The Armory itself was impressive, the installation not as much. It was a new, interesting experience- a fun activity for kids, I would say. I didn’t leave with the feeling that I had witnessed an impressive statement against today’s constant scrutiny and monitoring that we are all under. I didn’t feel intruded upon. There wasn’t anything menacing or fantastical as is described in the program leaflet. It was just pretty cool and fun.

Perhaps the work behind the installation was complicated, but with my lack of technical know-how, I failed to appreciate the amount of effort involved. To have truly made an impact, more could have been done to confuse or play with the audience with the intention of throwing them off or perhaps even scaring them. Coupling that with the sound of Russian men having conversations in the background (that felt clandestine in nature), and I would have possibly left quite feeling differently.

Hansel & Gretel at Park Avenue Armory

Reflections on “Arlington”

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Imagine a sterile white waiting room with a row of three plastic blue chairs to the far left and a tall narrow window to the far right. At the back, to the right is a wide fish-less aquarium, to the right of the aquarium on the wall a paper cup dispenser and nearly at the right corner the only door to enter or leave the waiting room. It is a narrow and tall door. On the drop ceiling are four surveillance cameras and mounted on to the wall behind the plastic chairs a microphone on a gooseneck. On the other side of that left wall, is a control room with a desk and many small monitors all about the room.

In Enda Walsh’s “Arlington” the waiting room is at once an isolation room and an observation room but more importantly a psychological prison. I went to the play (currently at St. Ann’s Warehouse) because I was interested in seeing how the piece melded multimedia with the actors on the stage as I had read it was quite successful; I was not disappointed.

The play that combines theater, dance, video, music and lighting effects to create a work of speculative fiction that delves in to existential reality based in contemporary, first-world society. Initially the play brought to mind Calderón de la Barca’s “La vida es sueño” (Life Is a Dream) (1635) – “Man dreams what he is until he awakens…” I read the play over 20 years ago and what I recall is that a prince, Segismundo is imprisoned in a windowless tower since his childhood. He is given a tutor to have a formal education. When he dreams he recalls his life before imprisonment – playing feely as a child. He confuses his dreams with his reality – to him his dreams that recall freedom are his reality and the time spent in the tower alone or with his tutor is sleep time. The play popularly considered a masterpiece of the Golden Age of Spanish Theater brings to the forefront questions of free will versus fate and whether life is a dream or a reality. Similarly, Isla, the main character in “Arlington” is imprisoned and has one individual to communicate with – the 32 year old technician that sits on the other side of the wall and observes her. As with Segismundo, it is unclear how long Isla has been in this waiting room and like Segismundo the waiting room is at the top of a tower.

At one point there are allusions to her having supernatural powers as she is the one constructing the towers that rise outside, beyond the window. As the piece progressed, it brought to mind Netflix’s “The OA” – an 8 episode series that also presents imprisonment, torture, the question of reality versus psychological construction. And as the combination of video projection and light effects were woven into the play, I couldn’t help but also think about Netflix’s “Black Mirror”.

There is a middle section in the play, following the freedom of Isla, when a new woman is inserted into the waiting room. This section is gripping due to her movement. The character has no words, but her dance choreographed by Oona Doherty speaks clearly of anger and resistance.

The final character to be inserted in to the waiting room is the 32-year old technician who apparently freed Isla from the room. As with Isla, he recalls elements of his childhood that appear to have left psychological scars.

There is one sequence of the play in which immense faces are projected onto the far wall, one after the next – a portrait of the audience and the accompanying narration is a philosophical reflection on the society that we have constructed. I need to find the entire play, in particular this narration.

I attended “Arlington” with my friend Erica and she shared her thoughts with me:

I walked into Saint Ann’s warehouse blind. I had no idea what kind of performance Ricardo had invited me to, but I was excited and my feeling was that it would be a simple yet creative production. Just moments after finding our seats, perfectly situated a few rows up towards the middle, the dimly illuminated theatre went black. The curtains opened up to the sides and the stage lights lit up revealing a very basic set depicting a waiting room. Nothing out of the ordinary. All the items were typical of what you would expect to find – a coat rack, three plastic chairs, a waiting ticket number dispenser, a fake plant and an aquarium. However, everyone’s attention was on her- a plainly dressed young woman who was waiting for her turn in what seemed to be a doctor’s office. Something felt odd though. She was staring out of the one window in the room. She seemed confused or lost in a thought. It didn’t take long to grasp that this was not your standard waiting room scenario. For one, there was a mike on the wall like the one used by the fast food drive thru operator. And second, there were four cameras in each corner of the room monitoring the girl. Third, and the weirdest, there was a nervous nerdy guy in a small room next door full of monitors watching and talking to her as if he were her watch guard.

She was obviously not mentally stable and in need of attention. He was definitely a geek who was lonely. Both establish an awkward relationship without ever seeing one another. There are many extensive monologues. It was difficult to ascertain whether the world she was describing is the real environment in which the story is set, or if she is nuts and has concocted a world where everyone is living in waiting rooms like hers and jumping out of windows when they can’t stand it any longer. Am I like her? If so, to what degree? I couldn’t help but think about my own sanity. Within 30 minutes or so, she has stolen his heart and he finally opens the door to let her out of the waiting room. She presumably is freed.

The next scene was the most difficult to sit through. I was literally so uncomfortable that at one point I had to look over at Ricardo and establish eye contact with him in order to feel that this was just a performance and I was not part of that world. Once he looked back at me, this was enough to confirm that we still belong to our crazy world that we’ve normalized and not the unfamiliar, insane world on the stage. The woman before our eyes was clearly in pain. For what seemed like forever, she was banging her chest, slapping her thighs, hitting the floor, throwing her shoes, running and twirling about the waiting room in such a chaos. There was a series of images and music throughout that at times made me feel disoriented. This woman didn’t say a word and she didn’t need to. The choreography was great. The emotions it stirred inside of me, disturbing. I felt she was going to be one of the falling leaves the previous girl had described in one of her monologues. At the end, sure enough, this leaf fell- right out of the window.

The last scene begins with the pathetic watch guard nerdy guy being thrown into the waiting room. He was bloody, and it’s unclear what the hell he’s done. From above, like an omnipresent god, a woman invoked his childhood traumas, and interrogated him not letting him sleep until he confessed what he saw. Apparently when he opened the door to let the woman out, he followed her into a forest where either he killed her or found her dead. How is this known? By a huge projection of her walking in a forest that was shown behind the wall of the waiting room. By the end of his psychological torture, the woman appears to him and reassures him that once “this is over” they will be reunited. They embrace briefly, he falls asleep, and she disappears.

Written by ricardo

May 18th, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Cuba Visa Services Scam

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Last month I travelled to Cuba to present an art installation at the 7th International Video Art Festival of Camaguey. Ahead of my visit to Cuba, I wanted to make sure that I entered the country with the correct visa. As I’d be traveling with equipment, I did not think it would be appropriate to travel with a tourist visa which is available from the airline that I used for $50.

So I searched online and immediately found the Cuba Travel Services site (which has ads on Google, so it comes up immediately). I used their site to apply for the “Educational People to People” visa category as that seemed the most appropriate visa for my participation in the art festival based on my research. (The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control – OFAC – specifies 12 different categories for travel to Cuba which do not include tourism.) I fill out the Cuba Travel Services form and pay them $110 and a week or so later, my visa promptly arrives. However, what they sent me was a tourist visa, the same exact visa I could have purchased at the gate on the day of travel for $50! I call Cuba Travel Services to tell me that they’ve sent me the wrong visa as I had applied for the “Educational People to People”. They respond that they only sell the tourist visa and that my money would not be refunded.

I was outraged at the fact that I had paid more than twice the amount $110 for a $50 visa. So if you are traveling to Cuba, do not purchase a tourist visa from Cuba Travel Services! They will send you a tourist visa, but it’s a scam as you can purchase the same visa for less than half the price from your airline.

Written by ricardo

May 8th, 2017 at 9:02 am

Trump Administration Fantasy League

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Donald Trump Paul Ryan Jared Kushner

I don’t play fantasy sports, not because I wouldn’t enjoy it, but more so because I’m not enough of a sports fan. I am however a measured political junky, so when I learned about the Trump Administration Fantasy League, I discovered a fantasy sport that I could find the time and interest to join! Join the Trump Administration Fantasy League by using the site’s random number generator to draft seven unique players from Trump’s administration that includes a selection of 29 players. Then track the league news via Twitter and see your players gain points! The creator of the site Matt McCaleb has been closely monitoring the latest news on the Trump administration to maintain up to date player stats!

Currently former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn is at the top of the score board at 100 points. Devin Nunes is a far second at 65 points. Trump needs to up his game as he’s only fourth at 35 points. If he launches a war against North Korea, I’m certain he’d win hands down (although I don’t see launching a war as a possible stat). The stats used to measure the value of the players include:

  • Arrested / Arrests another player 100
  • Dies / Kills another player 100
  • Resigns / Is fired 75
  • Flees jurisdiction 75
  • Turns state evidence 75
  • Prosecuted for a crime / Prosecutes another player for a crime 75

There are many more stats and some that I question the low value of such as “Fabricates information/Reveals another player’s fabrication of information” as only 10 points. The fabrication of information can of course lead to overwhelming consequences, so I feel it should be worth more. Or perhaps in the new world order, information fabrication is far too normalized to be worth much…

It’s tough to select a team, do you go for the most outspoken that may be out of the game sooner than later such as Bannon or the sleazier ones that may play the long game such as Devin Nunes? And why are Eric and Donald Jr Trump one figure?

With the current 29 players, I would select the following seven:

  1. Steve Bannon
  2. Kellyanne Conway
  3. Devin Nunes
  4. Jared Kushner
  5. Rex Tillerson
  6. Vladimir Putin
  7. and Donald Trump himself

FRANKLIN FURNACE @ 40

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Help the Franklin Furnace continue to make the world safe for Avant-Garde Art (the really weird shit that the NEA is afraid of). The Furnace has turned 40 and is now relocated in Pratt Institute, however, in order to re-grant money to artists that challenge the norms of our society, the Furnace needs financial help. Anyone can donate to the Furnace anytime, but at this time the Furnace is holding a benefit art sale and you can participate via Paddle8!

Exhibition, Friday-Saturday April 19-22, 10am-6pm
Reception and Live Auction of Five Works, Saturday April 22, 5-7pm
Metro Pictures, 519 West 24 th Street, New York, NY 10011

FRANKLIN FURNACE @ 40 Honorees
Yoko Ono, Artist
Thea Westreich Wagner & Ethan Wagner, Collectors
Marian Goodman, Gallerist

FRANKLIN FURNACE @ 40 offers for sale original art by:
John Ahearn, Eleanor Antin, Ida Applebroog, Judith Bernstein, Patty Chang, Nicolas Ceccaldi, CRASH, Kate Gilmore, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ann Hamilton, David Hammons/Clifford Owens, Mona Hatoum, Jenny Holzer, Joan Jonas, Barbara Kruger, Suzy Lake, Louise Lawler, Maggie Lee, Robert Longo, Ana Mendieta, Franco Mondini-Ruiz, Portia Munson, Lorraine O’Grady, Lady Pink, Pope.L, Ed Ruscha, Carolee Schneemann, Dread Scott, Michael Smith, Anton van Dalen, William Wegman, Lawrence Weiner, Martha Wilson, David Wojnarowicz, Martin Wong.

FRANKLIN FURNACE @ 40

FRANKLIN FURNACE @ 40