Saturday, May 31, 2008

David Altmejd

525 West 24th Street
May 3–June 14

Reportedly, American men are on average three inches taller and fifty pounds heavier today than they were one hundred years ago. In roughly the same amount of time, the average Dutchman has grown seven inches. Our anthropometric history might not have been on David Altmejd’s mind when he assembled the nine splendid colossi that make up his second exhibition at this gallery (he was probably thinking Goya and Rodin), but standing amid his forest of giants, one can’t help but imagine them as heirs to our strengths and follies, strange emissaries from a future race raised on steroids.

Altmejd’s 2004 debut at the gallery was a dark, lubricious labyrinth filled with decapitated werewolves and allusions to Robert Morris and Sol LeWitt; while many of the themes (vulnerable, fractured figuration) and materials (broken mirrors, twine, sundry bibelots) are present in his current exhibition, he now works vertically rather than laterally, making statues using the same surreal architectural habits that informed his prior, installation-like work. The variation between each piece is astounding. From the look of it, Altmejd works heuristically, deciding on the shape and form of each being intuitively as he builds. (A rejoinder, perhaps, to the polished, overspecified, and overproduced statements of other contemporary sculptors.) As if to hammer home the point, the artist’s hand is evident everywhere. Literally. Plaster casts of hands peek out from anuses (The Spiderman [all works 2008]), grasp throats and fondle testicles (The Center), or cluster along the entire surface like some sort of florid, Freddy Krueger nightmare (YOU). Sometimes his beings don’t resemble beings at all, as in The Cave, an awesome, mirrored obelisk, or another boxy, reflective figure, The Quail. (“The Balzac piece,” as a friend put it.) Then, to throw you off again, there’s Love, a hollow, spindly, barely there bit of agita. Circling the sculptures, the viewer is repeatedly frustrated by the impossibility of a full view. One imagines secrets in every piece; they resist, and thus incite, scopophilia.

—David Velasco

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Steve McQueen opening Cannes Film Festival arthouse Movies

Steve McQueen

"When I was in art school, I wanted to be in film school. When I was in film school I wanted to be in art school," says Steve McQueen, who now comes full circle - an artist taking his film to the world's biggest film festival. As we speak, French subtitles are being hurriedly added to Hunger, his drama set in the Maze prison during the weeks Bobby Sands and nine other republican prisoners went on hunger strike. Of course, McQueen has made films before. He won the Turner prize in 1999, in part for his video Deadpan, in which he recreated a legendary Buster Keaton stunt, standing still in front of a building as it collapsed around him. He has filmed New York from inside barrels (Drumroll), ventured two miles inside a South African goldmine (Western Deep), and far into the Democratic Republic of Congo (Gravesend). None of them count as features though, which means that Hunger will be in the running for the best first film award.

McQueen explains that, when he was 11, he had something like a coming-of-age moment watching the news in spring 1981. There were the hunger strikers and, closer to his home in Ealing, the Brixton riots. A picture of Bobby Sands, the first of the strikers to die, has stuck with him ever since: "It was always in my head, that image." Hunger will now join an ever-growing canon of films about the Troubles, which have, in recent years, tended towards docu-drama - the urge to lay down history or, in some instances, to correct it. That, McQueen says, is not what he was going for. "I just want to examine what is at stake here. Why would you put yourself on the line in such a way - in the most painful way - for your beliefs? Where have you got to?" He was struck by the idea of the unshakeable convictions of young men (Sands was 27 when he died): "That feeling of youth and the feeling of being right, the feeling of that kind of passion, really."

Does he think the film will be controversial? "It's called the Troubles for a reason. It's troubling - it continues to be troubling," McQueen says. He's more interested in his audience than the press, and talks with a total and sincere respect about the people who watch his work. For him, films - art or movies, what's the difference? - act as a mirror. "What gets projected on to the surface of the screen is the audience's reflection. Do you agree with what Bobby Sands did? If you do, there is always doubt. If you don't, there is doubt. It's a difficult thing to think about. And that's why film-makers should be making films."

Others in the McQueen camp seem more jittery about the film's likely reception. Ken Loach took a lot of criticism when The Wind That Shakes the Barley won the Palme d'Or in 2006, but Steve McQueen OBE may prove a trickier target. He was the UK's official war artist in Iraq. (He is still furious that his stamps featuring British soldiers killed in action have not gone into production: "The Royal Mail still haven't come back to me with a definite answer.") His films are reflective and resist simplification. The rights and wrongs of the hunger strikers are thrashed out in a moral argument between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and a priest (Liam Cunningham); McQueen likens it to a philosophical game of chess, or a McEnroe/Connors Wimbledon final.

Working on Hunger was the first time McQueen had been on a film set, or worked with a crew and actors: was it a difficult leap to make? Last year, he went to the Congo to make a film, he says. "Fifty kilometres into the bush with armed guards." Hunger was a breeze by comparison. "If you want a cup of tea, some geezer gives you one. Before you finish it, another guy takes it away. What's there to complain about?"
Cath Clarke

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

i.m. Robert Rauschenberg

The US pop art pioneer Robert Rauschenberg has died at the age of 82, his gallery said today.

Rauschenberg - described as a "titan" of American art by the New York Times - died on Tuesday, Jennifer Joy, of the Pace Wildenstein gallery, in New York, said. He had been ill for some time.

The artist was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1925, and spearheaded a style called the Combines in the 1950s.

The style incorporated aspects of painting and sculpture, and Rauschenberg eventually moved on to include objects such as a stuffed eagle or goat and street signs. He became one of the most influential artists reacting against abstract expressionism.

In the 1960s, he responded to the work of his pop art contemporaries - including Andy Warhol - by incorporating up to the minute photographed images in his works, including pictures of John F Kennedy.

Rauschenberg began silk-screen painting and embarked on a period of more collaborative projects including performance art, choreography, set design and art and technology combinations.

Among his most famous works was Bed, created after he woke up in the mood to paint but had no money for a canvas. His solution was to take the quilt off his bed and use paint, toothpaste and fingernail polish.

In 1970, he established a permanent studio on Captiva island, off Florida's Gulf coast, where he made his home.

He demonstrated the diversity of his work when he won a Grammy Award in 1984 for best album package for the Talking Heads album Speaking in Tongues.

"I'm curious," he said in 1997, in one of the few interviews he granted in his later years. "It's very rewarding. I'm still discovering things every day."

Rauschenberg's more than 50 years in art produced a varied and prolific collection that that filled both Manhattan locations of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum during a 1998 retrospective.

The Time magazine art critic, Robert Hughes, called Rauschenberg "a protean genius who showed America that all of life could be open to art ... he had a bigness of soul and a richness of temperament that recalled Walt Whitman".