Friday, April 22, 2011

Anish Kapoor

We all know the famous Cloud Gate (or "The Bean") that is just up the street. We have probably all seen thousands pictures that look exactly the same that shows the warped reflection of blue sky, the surrounding buildings and the group of tourists all standing around in amazement. Unfortunately, due to the extreme abundance of imagery, this sculpture has turned into nothing but white noise to most of us living in this city. Despite all of this, I am going to write about Anish Kapoor. Most of Kapoor's work is not outside in the public. Here are a few of his works that I was unaware of until now:

Svayambh, 2007. Wax

untitled, 2010. stainless steel and resin

Yellow, 1999. fiberglass and pigment

As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming With Red Flowers, 1981. wood, cement, polystyrene, pigment

Although none of this really has much to do with the city in a direct way, he takes this way of working and brings it outside into the public space.

Sky Mirror, 2006. stainless steel

Cloud Gate, 2004. stainless steel

Tall Tree & The Eye, 2009. stainless steel over carbon

Kapoor's public works have a great deal of ambiguity to them while simultaneously consisting of primarily their surroundings. The public space directly affects the work. I am particularly interested in the back side of Sky Mirror. While the front is angled towards the sky and gives the viewer a disruption of the urban space and a intrusion of the sky, the back side is directed towards the viewer offering a view of the public space.

This idea of a commissioned art work designated for the public space is very intriguing. Kapoor's public works are much more pleasing and entertaining than his works that are not outside. The public works are more theatrical and are attractive to a very wide audience. The direct use of the mirror reflects the idea of the homogeneous public. What can be more homogeneous than a mirror? It shows what is already there in a matter-of-fact form. His public works would probably have a much more diverse response had he replaced Cloud Gate with Shooting Into the Corner or Hive.

Shooting Into The Corner, 2008-9. base frame, barrel, air receivers, compressor and air lines, projectiles

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New York, Beside Itself

This reading looks at how contemporary artists use the city as a space as an existential being. They use it similar to a human being in that it is a living, breathing entity that also has "physical and emotional expressions". Johanna Burton begins the essay by addressing a writing from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describing her experiences of walking through Manhattan after 9/11. The writing described how Sedgwick felt shame every time she would turn in the direction of where the towers once stood. The artists that were written about in this chapter not only use the city as an existential being but also look to the history of significant events within it.

There is very little documentation from Joan Jonas's Delay Delay, a performance done in 1972. There is one image, however, in particular that has captured the attention of Burton and has changed her view of Manhattan ever since. I think that what Burton is describing is that through Jonas's portrayal and use of Manhattan, Burton's view of the city is altered. The image that Jonas created is considered in experiencing the actual city.

Another artist that was brought up in the reading was Tom Burr. In Burr's Deep Purple, he references Richard Serra's Tilted Arc, a 1981 steel sculpture installed in Federal Plaza in New York City. After a big controversy, Serra's sculpture was removed because it was a 120 foot long wall in the middle of a public area and people did not want to have to walk all the way around it. Regarding the complaints of Tilted Arc, Serra stated "The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer's movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes." (

Richard Serra, Tilted Arc. 1981.

Tom Burr, Deep Purple. 2000

Burr's Deep Purple is made of wood and is much more movable. Unlike Serra's piece, this one is not site specific. This piece is not necessarily as interested in obstructing the viewer's path (though that is still a part of it) but is more concerned with presenting a shield, which may or may not have illicit activities going on on the other side. It is about the visual uncertainty of what lies ahead within the public realm. In Burr's In Loving Memory of: An American Garden (for Frank O'Hara, "meet me in the park if you love me", addresses his unhappiness with the consistent ending of public cruising zones. Here he has collaged paper and photographs and under plexiglass, adhered them to a wooden box.

Tom Burr, In Loving Memory of: An American Garden (for Frank O'Hara, "meet me in the park if you love me"). 1993/2007

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Urban China

In 1989 citizens of China were seeking social reform with aspirations of a more free society. Doctors, journalists, mothers, students, migrant workers, etc. were demonstrating. They wanted to encourage free speech. In response, the Chinese government sent a large number of military troops to control the demonstrations. After the troops started to physically ram the barriers made from buses, cars, or any other obstruction that the citizens placed in the streets to keep the troops from getting in to the city, chaos began to erupt.

The military troops began to open fire on unarmed citizens leaving thousands killed. The Chinese government was killing its own citizens in order to maintain control and authority. After all of the commotion from the night died down, parents of the students involved in the demonstration all came out to confront the military who were still heavily patrolling the area. That morning, once again, the military began to open fire resulting in people running for their lives. The military killed anyone who was not a part of them, including ambulance drivers. 

While all of this was taking place, Chinese officials were very adamant on maintaining control of not only the people, but the imagery as well. The military were very persistent to make sure that the amount of imagery documenting the events was kept to a bare minimum. The way that the government officials treated imagery is reflective of the way in which China divides itself into sections. As shown in the exhibition at the MCA, Urban China, China sections itself off from the world to a certain extent. Within this gated off country there are also numerous, smaller, sectioned off zones.

Great Wall - Sections off China from the World

Guangzhou wall - Sectioning off the City

Courtyard Houses - Sectioning off Private Life

This way of sectioning off and dividing public from private space is both part of the physical environment of China as well as the political ideology. The Chinese government controls imagery in order to maintain control. The government officials did not want people taking photographs or making videos during the Tiananmen Square massacre because imagery of the events would disrupt the wall separating citizen from government control, in that, the imagery can be used as a sort of ultimate moral police. The Chinese government did not want the use of imagery because this way, they could do whatever they felt was necessary to control the situation while still maintaining the position that the government is doing what's best for its people. Imagery is a sort of evidence that can later judge the actions of those in control to supersede their decisions. The image gives more power to the citizens which the Chinese government views as a threat. 

This idea of control and censorship is still happening today. The web censorship in China has recently increased based on the protests that have been happening in the middle east. There is an article here: that talks about Google's current relationship with Beijing and censorship issues. The Chinese government is still controlling the information and imagery that enters the gates of the country while simultaneously constructing gigantic megalopolises within. 

Within these walls, there is something that is very odd about the economy of this country. The country is divided into China A (the upper class) and China B (the lower class). There is no middle class. Major cities are constructing and developing at an incredible speed of about 9% every year for the last 10 years. Although all of this growth is taking place, why is it that the majority of the country is working for such small wages. China's economy is booming but it is because of the large amount of workers that are willing to work for incredibly small wages. If the wages increase, the U.S. and Europe will start sending business to a different country thats willing to work for even smaller wages.


With all that has been happening in China since the Tiananmen Square Massacre (booming economy, rapid urban growth, digital imagery and information censorship), it is interesting to view the contemporary Chinese art within context. 


Zhan Wang's rocks are copied from original rocks that he finds outside specific locations within Beijing. He then makes a replica of the rock using stainless steel and buffs the surface to give it a mirror-like effect.

Xu Zhen - In Just The Blink Of An Eye

Xu Zhen made a performance/installation piece titled In Just The Blink Of An Eye in which he creates the illusion of migrant workers tilted to where it looks as though they have completely lost balance and are just about to hit the ground. These are actual migrants from Chinatown who lay on a hidden steel frame which supports them. The piece creates the question of if this person will ever stand up or will they eventually fall and relates it to current issues regarding the state of migrant workers in China.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Performance & Intervention II

The readings for this week were generally regarding how artists intervene with the public space of the city. This tactical way of working is a form of disruption within social order. It is slightly manipulating the strategies of the urban planners, in that it alters the image of the city based on the ideas of those who dwell within. The most direct ways to alter this image is through graffiti. In this way of working, the artist's marks literally remain on the public space until someone else intervenes by removing or painting over it. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat's graffiti art is a form of protest by using the public space as his own to exclaim a message.

Here we have a very direct message addressed to the public. Basquiat was specifically addressing the "hegemonic forces within the art world" and uses the public space as his way of protesting. The images we see of Basquiat's art are simply representations. The work is intended to be seen by the general public. 

While Basquiat's graffiti art is more about the message and its actual space, Robin Rhodes interventions are more about creating the image.

Robin Rhode intervenes and interacts with the public space to create an image. Without the presence of the artist in the photograph, the drawings on the wall would not make any sense. While this form of art making is similar to graffiti, it is less concerned with making a statement to the public and more about using the public space as a canvas to create an image with. Here is an image by Rhode, with bad photoshop representation of what the space might look like after he is gone.

compared to:

Once Rhode is not in the space, it becomes entirely different. Rhode's art is primarily the image; it is the documentation from a specific perspective to represent his interaction with his drawing. This would be related to more of a counter culture than a protest culture. Rhode is not using the public space as a way of making claims or statements to the public. Unlike the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, there is not a direct or confrontational message that remains on the space after the artist has left the site. 

Rhode uses the literal public space, performance, and the photograph to create his work. Another form of intervening with the imagery of the public space is through Andy Warhol's Birmingham Race Riot in which he mass-produced an image of police setting their dogs on protesters.

It is still a form of intervention within the public space but it is through wide-spread imagery and not the literal, physical public space. The public space goes beyond the sidewalks within a city. Warhol is intervening with the image-circulating public space of news and media. In relation to the distinctions between the protest culture and the counter culture, Birmingham Race Riot seems to be a part of both. The way in which Warhol mechanically produced the work would relate more to a counter culture, in that it is an art making practice that, at the time, was very oppositional since the artist was not physically creating the work. The content that Warhol is working with, however, is at the top of protest culture - an actual protest that has led to violence.

In attempt to further understand the differences between the protest culture and the counter culture through performances and interventions of the public space, I have made a diagram including some of the artists in these readings and where I think they would fall in these categories.

In the more performative works such as David Wojnarowicz and Nikki S. Lee, there is a difference between intervening with the public space and the public audience.

Although there may be other people in the images or around the masked figure, Wojnarowicz is much more concerned with the space than those who are in the space. The figure is not addressing the public audience but is addressing the camera. The two-dimensional mask is clearly aligned with the camera. Similar to Robin Rhode, Wojnarowicz is making an image where he is using the public space, he is not confronting public space when the image is made.

In Nikki S. Lee's photographs, the artist is interacting and intervening with an unknowing public audience. This performance, though still not directly confrontational, would be closer to the protest culture because it is directly including the public audience. This is similar to the graffiti art of Jean-Michel Basquiat in that it seems to be less about the construction of the image and more about the performance and the relation with the public audience. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011


The Pacyga reading about the history of Chicago was split up into primarily 3 sections. After giving an introduction to the new mayor, Richard J. Daley, the reading goes on to address the racial issues and public housing issues during the 1950s-1960s. Public housing started in Chicago in the late 30's and early 40's with the Jane Addams Homes, Julia C. Lathrop Homes and Trumball Park. These were very small because they were built during the depression.

Jane Addams Home

Julia C. Lathrop Home

The next set of public housing was Cabrini, Lawndale Gardens, Bridgeport and Brooks. These were built primarily for war workers. The majority of people moving into these homes were African-American which caused the white working class people to move out to the suburbs. During the 1950's, the suburbs of Chicago started to develop. There were a lot of concerns around this time as to if city funding should go to development in the suburbs or high-rise public housing. High rises began construction. There were many low income families living in the public housing, causing dense populations and over crowding in not only the homes but schools as well. 
Taylor Homes

The second main section of the Pacyga, addressed the construction of the highway system in Chicago. Daley and city planners planned for a major highway to cut straight through the south side of the city, which would in turn demolish many homes, churches, and schools. The influence of creating the highways came from a larger movement in America around this time to provide more significant use of the automobile. Constructions of the Dan Ryan Expressway, the Eisenhower, the Kennedy, and the Stevenson dislocated thousands across the city. In addition to the highway expansions, the CTA offered extended rail service to provide opportunity for private or public transportation to and from the city. 
Dan Ryan Expressway

The final section of the Pacyga reading addressed racial and civil rights issues around Chicago. Much of the problems arose from public schools. Schools, at this time, were divided as white and black schools. The back schools were incredibly over-crowded which led to many problems. Around this time, Daley was caught in a tough situation. If he pleased the African-American community too much, then he would lose support of white voters, and vice-versa. Neighborhood protests started to erupt. African-Americans would boycott public schools and 225,000 would stay home from class. With all the protests going on, the city drew the attention of Martin Luther King. King made Chicago a center target far the civil rights movement addressing the Chicago Freedom Movement which was about fair housing and equal rights in schools and the workplace. King led a huge rally at Soldier Field that led to a riot 2 days later. 

1968 was when everything really started to get out of control. On April 4, Martin Luther King was shot and a surge of riots broke out in Chicago and across the nation. Daley struggled to keep everything under control and suffered much criticism after he gave orders for police to "shoot to kill" during the riots. Another large demonstration happened in Grant Park after the Democratic Convention. Police intervened and once again, the violence spread throughout the city. 

Richard Nickel - Carson Pirie Scott Building

The reading about Richard Nickel addressed his photographic practices during the late 1950's and 1960's. Nickel was an architecture photographer who was more interested in documenting certain buildings in a more stylized as opposed to neutral way. He was very drawn to Sullivan architecture which was being demolished all across Chicago because of the construction of the highways. Here, it is very interesting to see another side of the highway construction. While the city as a whole is improving and moving forward, here is Nickel photographing these buildings "as if they were on death row." Nickel is portraying these places as if they are people and is convinced that they are entirely necessary to photograph. In the reading he is compared to Dorthea Lange and her photographs of the depression.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ed Ruscha and the Image of LA

Los Angeles in the 1960's was developing into a city similar to New York or Chicago, however, much more vehicular. Naturally, artists reacted to this idea by making work influenced or critiquing this culture. The car, and anything in direct association with it (gas stations, roads, motorcycles, etc.) was the icon of Los Angeles. Judy Chicago painted on car hoods, Vija Celmins painted the view from a car windshield, and Dennis Hopper made photographs while driving.

Because Los Angeles was so "spread-out" it was a failure in the sight of Kevin Lynch. The "mental map" that Lynch presents consisting of the path, edge, landmark, node, and district was far more challenging for the urban dweller to create because of the sprawl. The Los Angeles dweller experienced the city primarily through the windows of the moving car. In this way, the flaneur is much more prevalent. When separated by windows and speed of travel, the flaneur in the car is even more detached from the city and just as, if not more, observant of it. The flaneur in the car sees a building, but only for a second or two before it is gone. Driving around the city is similar to watching a film. Just sit back and enjoy watching.

Ed Ruscha's Every Building on the Sunset Strip is a great example of the flaneur in the car. In one regard, Ruscha has reenacted the flaneur experience while driving down the Sunset Strip. By having the camera automatically make the pictures as Ruscha was driving, this group of photographs is a documentation of observing the city through the car.

Ed Ruscha Every Building on the Sunset Strip. 1966, accordion-folded book. 

Every Building on the Sunset Strip is twenty-four feet long. The viewer has to move through it just as they would have to move through the city. While moving through it, one notices the consistency of the building facades. Most often two story and very similar visually. The viewer can refold the book to alter the city scape, but it will not look much different. This parallels the drivers experience of the city while driving down the street and seeing building after building.

In addition to the image of the city and the reaction to vehicular culture, the perceptual experience of the viewer was something that Ruscha was very interested in and was a large part of his work.
Ed Ruscha Standard Station with Ten-Cent Western Being Torn in Half. 1964, oil on canvas

In Standard Station with Ten-Cent Western Being Torn in Half, Ruscha has incorporated many of his interests into the single piece. The content is the Standard gasoline station - an icon in direct relation to the car culture of Los Angeles. The gasoline station appears to be massive and very powerful or dominating. The majority of the content is located on the left half of the canvas (wide like a windshield) which relates to the view of the driver. While Ruscha used paint to make the image, he is clearly interested in it as an object as well. The object is 5ft x 10ft and replicates the billboard. The emphasis on the viewers perceptual experience of the piece is found in the painted torn comic book in the upper right corner. Here, Ruscha disrupts the image and draws attention to the piece as an object. The realistic comic book is painted in a perspective that appears as though it is resting on top of the painting. The placement of it in relation to the massive gasoline station encourages the viewer to move from a far distance to a closer one and from side to side. 

This technique of conceptual imagery paired with the viewer's relationship to the object is very interesting. Ruscha's work appropriates ideas of objectivity from minimalist sculpture and compiles them with indirect, referential imagery. Here is a diagram of some of the pieces in the Ken D. Allan article and how they blur the lines of medium specific art:
How do we define the work of Ed Ruscha? Is it painting, sculpture, photography, or all of the above? While this work includes imagery referencing something else, it is all still dependent on the viewer's experience of the work. In relation to ideas of Michael Fried, the work is theatrical yet absorptive. Art that is referential to the vehicular culture of Los Angeles during the 1960's, while entirely dependent on the viewers physical participation in experiencing the art object is in a direct relationship to anyone experiencing the city of Los Angeles. The city is dependent on the participation of the individual driving through it (in order for the city to exist), while paradoxically the image of the city is a reflection of the car culture. The image of Los Angeles is roads, gas stations, similar two-story buildings sprawled across the land, and of course: cars.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Art and Spatial Politics

The readings from this week led me to reconsider public space within the city and specifically the role of public art. The urban public space is anything from a neutral zone. In our capitalist democratic society, our public art is advertising. Billboards flood the city displaying text and images directly leading to a specific, understandable, and often thoughtless meaning. The vast majority of modern public art is comprised of abstract or minimalist sculptures. Two examples in Chicago are the Richard Serra sculpture in Grand Park and the UIC Skyspace created by James Turrell.

Richard Serra

James Turrell

Here we have public art works that are very ambiguous and non-threatening to the public viewers. These art works are visually pleasing and were probably funded by the city of Chicago or, in Turrell's case, the University of Illinois in Chicago. These pubic art works work in a similar way to urban public parks. They are made for people to enjoy. They are a step away from the fast pace, utilitarian functions of the city. They add beauty to the city. On very few occasions is public art threatening.

Here we have public art by Barbara Kruger. While this work was far from being commissioned by the city, Kruger has taken the advertising space as a way of bringing her highly confrontational art into the public space. I am not sure why more have not followed Kruger's approach to bringing her art out of the confines of private spaces and displaying it for all to see. Why is critical art so absent from the public space? 

One aspect of this that was not mentioned in any of the readings was that of public and government funded art programs and institutions. Most art is, in some way, funded by the public and/or the government in some way. Whether it was a commission or the publicly funded grant that the artist received at the beginning of their career. There are somewhere around 109,000 non-profit art organizations around the country that are publicly funded. The problem with critical art in the public space is that it becomes potentially hazardous to the ability that artists have to continue and further their work. One of the most recent and popular examples of this is the notorious examples of this is the David Wojnarowicz and Smithsonian ordeal. 

Still from Wojnarowicz's A Fire In My Belly

When Wojnarowicz's video A Fire In My Belly was removed from the Hide/Seek exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, it appeared that the largest issue that made the controversy so complicated, was the fact that the Smithsonian is largely a publicly funded institution. From what I understood, it seemed like the Smithsonian was caught in a complicated dilemma. If they were to remove the piece, the Andy Warhol Foundation stated that they would cut all funding to the NPG in the future, also stirring up commotion about art censorship, but if they allowed the piece to stay in the exhibition they would put their federal funding in jeopardy. In regards to art within the public space, I think that G. Wayne Clough made the right choice in the removal of the piece. By doing so, the Smithsonian secured further federal funding while simultaneously drawing a massive amount of attention to the piece, and Wojnarowicz's work in general. By removing the video from the museum, the video was brought into the public space, largely through the internet, that probably saw far more public attention than the projects at Pier 18, even though all of them were outside in the public space. 

Images of Gordon Matta-Clark's Day's End

Gordon Matta-Clark's Days End is another unique approach to public art. Here the site-specific "installation" (or maybe "modification" is a more appropriate term) is in an abandoned pier in the Hudson River Harbor. He stated that he " make it possible for people to see it" and wanted it to be non-threatening to visitors. Matta-Clark related this work with homeless and workers. Here is art that is not confrontational while also not commissioned by the city. It is not work that is intended to improve the image of the city while it is also not meant as a critique of mass culture. It is not federally or publicly funded. This work, in a way, seems to remove itself from any sort of politics within our capitalist democracy while making a unique and original use of public space.