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Art Fri Feb 05 2010
The studio of an artist is a visceral, messy and sometimes chaotic fortress of solitude. It's what one would imagine another's inner-most covert thoughts to be, personified into empty paint buckets of brushes, heaves of ripped canvas, macabre pilings of wooden figures, twisted mannequin body parts and presumably meaningless sketches and blueprints. It's horrifying. It's flawed. It's humorous. It's one of those "whoh buddy, too-much-information" moments. But above all it's human.
Production Site: The Artist's Studio Inside-Out is the Museum of Contemporary Art's latest exhibition connecting the artist with the observer. Here, running February 6 through May 30, it's not the product of an artist's endeavor being presented, but the studio as subject matter. Curator Dominic Molon lead the media preview of the exhibit featuring large installations, films, video projections, photographic light-boxes, life-sized fabrications of artist's studios--some literally ripped off their studio walls, sculptures, performance pieces and evolving canvases explained the display as a being a timely exhibition during the current economic downturn, a "reorientation of our celebration of conspicuous consumption that we've seen as a more central topic of aesthetic discourse [and that it] shows a deeper and more serious consideration of production."
While the exhibit displays numerous artists' studios from all over the world and many from Chicago, here are some of the highlights of Production Site.
Chicago artist Deb Sokolow was commissioned to continuously work on the large rectangular canvas in the front lobby during the four-month exhibition. Her evolving piece is a humorous, observational narrative on canvas depicting the surrounding floor plan of her studio space. The prominent placement of this work reminds viewers to not take the exhibition too seriously, but understand this is art in its most literal, raw form. And it's a process.
The first space takes the viewer into a dissection of that process. Local artist Kerry James Marshall examines the lack of African Americans, particularly women, depicted in the studio. "Untitled (Painter)" platforms a dark skinned, vibrantly clothed woman painting a paint-by-numbers self portrait. Alongside this canvas are the raw sketches and transparences Marshall used to create the portrait-within-a-portrait. Accompanying this piece is a mural-sized painting, "7 am Sunday Morning," portraying the Bronzeville neighborhood surrounding Marshall's studio space, reminding the viewer of the important role an artist's surroundings play.
The next room houses a performance piece, challenging gender roles while looking into the studio as subject with Indian artist, Nikhil Chopra. The performance itself, of Chopra portraying fictional masculine and feminine personas in his mock-studio space, will take place throughout the days of Feb. 9 and 10 with the remnants of various props, rotting food, elaborate costumes and obsessive charcoal drawings left around the space for days following. Chopra, who was onsite for the preview explained how the performance will depict how internal anxieties and struggles are worked through. The space after Feb. 10, Chopra said, will display the "residue of the performance," allowing the visitors to view the space as "forensic scientists."
William Kentridge's space next door is a big room of curious wall projections. If there was a way to personify walking into the middle of an artist's restless mind, this room takes you there feeling both terrified and inquisitive. The South African artist's black and white films incorporate many techniques: some playing forward, others backwards, some with various animations and one using ants crawling around a predetermined space to create an image, all paying homage to a form of cinematic history. In his film, "7 Fragments for George Melies," Kentridge films himself (pictured in black and white) in his studio painting, shot both forward and in reverse. Here, curator Molon reminds viewers, "The artist is his first audience of the work he's created."
A few rooms down, Los Angeles artist Amanda Ross-Ho's studio is waiting, the walls literally ripped from her west-coast studio and put on display like large floor-to-ceiling canvases. The nine wall sections, as said by Ross-Ho, who was present at the preview, evokes "what it means to make work in one space and show it in another." The installation, while both structural and conceptual is a display of photographs, pop-culture references, sketches, personal objects, wall hanging arrangements and messy paintings, tell a story of how an artist gathers and hordes inspiration.
The next room was definitely one of the most vibrant, characteristic and personal displays of an artist's studio. Local artist John Neff's multi-layered, complexly intimate and striking instillation, "Pornographic Pantograph with Allusion to Juan Sanchez Cotan (In Progress, Patent Pending)" encompasses mechanical tools, photographs, blueprints, maquettes, documents, sketches and sculptures in a mad scientist-like setting. While plaster and wooden appendages and sketch model mannequin parts echo prominently throughout the space, blueprints and x-ray transparencies analyze the human form of the artist himself (pictured above). It's intimate and private, but eerily isolating at the same time, like walking into an obsessed criminal's apartment to see shrines of their next victim occupying the walls. By closer inspection, the installation is unashamedly pornographic in nature, with depictions of fetish porn, gay erotica, and bondage. The attraction to 16th century Spanish Baroque artist, Cotan can be seen in the ability to make inanimate still life objects, such as plasters of cabbage leaves, seem lifelike in its details.
One of the final spaces takes the viewer into a studio after the artist has left it for the day. Projections of surveillance camera footage (with sound, mostly white noise) on the walls give a grainy infrared video record of New Mexico-located artist Bruce Nauman's studio. The footage of more than a month of activity or inactivity, at some points shows the activity of a house cat, mice and moths that move around the dark, isolated, seemingly lonely place.
The final space at the end of the gallery is colorful and whimsical, definitely a change of pace from Nauman's adjacent room. Local artist Justin Cooper grabs the attention of the visitor, first with a frantic, animalistic and hyper-anxious video flowing through a studio of painting tools, paints and blank canvases. "Studio Visit, 2009" is also an installation of 12 sheets of various-sized pages pined to the surrounding small-roomed walls. On each page is a different multicolored or black and white sketch of detailed whimsy.
The MCA's Production Site is also a part of year-long city-wide collaborative project, Studio Chicago, which showcases artist's studios as subject matter from Oct. 2009 to Oct. 2010 with the Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University Art Museum, UIC's Gallery 400, Hyde Park Art Center, threewalls, and the School of the Art Institute. .
Studio Chicago and the MCA will offer various educational programs and panels throughout the year as well. Production Site: The Artist's Studio Inside-Out will run from Feb. 6 through May 30, 2010 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. For general visitor and ticket information, visit their web site. Curator Dominic Molon will lead another tour of the exhibition on March 16 at noon.
Photos: John Neff, Presentation Figure, 2005-2006. Courtesy of the artist and Western Exhibitions, Chicago. Photo by Clare Britt.
William Kentridge, Video still of Balancing Act from 7 Fragments for Georges Melies, 2003. Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.