From the Editor
by Wendy Vogel
‘History occurs the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ This oft-cited paraphrase from Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte has been applied to the analysis of contemporary art practices that construct a new reading of historical circumstances. Of course, the mining of history is at the core of postmodern practice. Pop artists of the 1960s and the 1980s Pictures generation appropriationists both defamiliarized received meanings through fragmentation and repetition, the latter through the heavy filter of deconstructionist semiotic theory. Artists today are indebted to these precedents, along with that of the Situationists, who worked through the “catacombs of visible culture” to produce subversive twists on existing media stereotypes. By becoming experts in the language of spectacle and narrative, many of the artists discussed in this issue critically upend the binary between fact and fiction.
The understanding and playful misuse of media and cultural artifice profoundly influences the practice of Johan Grimonprez, who talks with Kelly Sears about his films and videos on view at the Blaffer in Houston. The psychic effects of cinema on the social landscape are explored by Austin-based filmmakers Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler in their latest gallery exhibition in New York, reviewed by Rachel Stevens. And in my review of Nobody’s Property at the Princeton Art Museum, I discuss how contemporary artists take the semifiction as a critical stance in their approaches to land art.
Reconstructions and reframings are also considered throughout this issue. Massa Lemu covers Round 33 at Project Row Houses in Houston, where six California-based artists construct installations based around charged cultural and consumerist fragments. Rachel Hooper reviews Jillian Conrad’s solo exhibition at Art Palace in Houston, where the artist takes on the “dynamic relationship between the observer and the observed” through repurposing mundane and construction materials. Continuing last week’s conversation about Artpace’s exhibition of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ billboards, Leslie Moody-Castro, Andy Campbell and Noah Simblist discuss the performative possibilities of the artist’s installations.
Finally, the way “site” functions as a space of display and knowledge production is interrogated here. In our Artist’s Space, Ursula Davila-Villa charts artist-run spaces in Latin America with a pedagogical bent that proactively address the lack of formal educational programs in the region. And the Chinati Foundation’s new Director, Thomas Kellein, speaks with Richard Shiff about how Donald Judd’s understanding of aesthetic integrity has influenced not only museum practices at large, but also the visitor experience of Marfa as a location with a preserved historical specificity.
On a related note, Erin Curtis’ exhibition on view through February 19 at Champion in Austin, Ornament of Savage Tribes, equally reimagines an aesthetic history: the utopian ambitions of modern architecture. Incorporating schematics and photographic views of early twentieth-century architectural monuments into her hanging wall pieces and drawings that borrow liberally from various languages of textile and tribal design in brilliant Day-Glo colors, Curtis infuses the decorative into modernism. Her works make no apologies for being stylized—the aesthetic energy even spills over into the gallery space itself. Neutrality is compromised as walls are accented with colorful paint, much like a trendy store or hotel. These choices highlight not only the commercial complicity of modernism, but also raise a tension between the autonomy of high art, folk art and mainstream design. While this work does not plumb a specific non-Western tradition of design, it shows how cultures cannibalize one another and how “femininized” practices are underwritten in master narratives. The exhibition is a visually ambitious introduction to her practice, and I look forward to seeing how Curtis can push the critical and textual undertone further in her work.
Wendy Vogel is Editor of ...might be good.
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