CAM Spotlights New Work With 2016 Opener
Jan. 15 marked the opening of The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis’ spring season. In addition to the diptychs and triptychs of Lisa Yuskavage, visitors and members turned out en masse to see a remarkably diverse group of artists including Tala Madani, Arlene Shechet, Peter Sutherland, Ned Vena and The Propeller Group. CAM also stayed local by featuring artwork created through their ArtReach program.
The core of the exhibition rests on two concurrent themes: the role of figuration and the role of industry and its relationship to nature, both of which instill a sense of contemplation about how we interact to the world around us.
At the center of everything is “Urgent Matter” by Arlene Shechet. Holding court in CAM’s main lobby, the work offers visitors the opportunity to view a hybrid of free-standing sculptures and new works from her heralded 2012 “Parallel Play” project at the Dieu Donne Paper Mill in Hell’s Kitchen.
Having spent the last 10 years developing a reputation for pushing the limitations of sculpture, her ceramic work has developed its own visual language, straddling a line between the beautiful and the grotesque by contesting the definition of shape and structure by making lopsided, topsy-turvy pieces that disobey surfaces, contours and gravity.
Although she uses the traditional materials of porcelain, plaster, clay and paper, it is her unorthodox methodology of throwing out the rulebook by using glazes in new way, firing clay at anomalous temperatures and taking used bricks from her kiln and incorporating them into the framework of sculptures. It is the earthenware equivalent of a band recording the second side of their album first.
The New York artist was recently recognized with an Artist Award for Distinguished Body of Work by the College Art Association (CAA), which annually honors artists, art historians, critics and conservators for their contributions in their fields.
Iranian-American Tala Madani makes her debut in a US museum with “First Light,” a collection of animation, drawings and paintings that build on traditional figuration by using playful and ironic representations of men to illicit an uncomfortable conversation about stereotypes and masculine power. “First Light” also features two stop-motion videos, “The Dancer” and “Eye Stabber” to express her sense of irony and deadpan social commentary. “Love Doctor” sees her revisit a recurring motif in her paintings: a disturbing smiley face persona committing heinous acts of violence, which jar the viewer into thinking about how humans interact.
Madani also uses religious iconography and interrogation as recurrent themes to underscore her unwavering discourse on representing cultural and sexual identity by expressing herself across multiple forms.
Displayed adjacent to the work of Lisa Yuskavich in the Main Gallery is “Not Human,” an assemblage of kinetic sculptures by Arcangelo Sassolino who celebrates his first major American presentation with mechanized objects that breathe, explode, punch and crush. By simulating these actions, he questions what it means for an individual to be human.
CAM’s Chief Curator Jeffrey Uslip commented on why this work is so vital. “He is breaking through the legacy of minimalism and also our shared history of minimalism, allowing us to see works of art in a new way. So really, Arcangelo’s very much interested in taking the limits of these industrial works of art to their breaking point.”
On view are “Macroscopic and domestic,” which feature a compression tank that simulates breathing by inflating a plastic bottle on the floor. The prominently displayed “Figurante” features a gruesome-looking steel head that is ‘fed’ a cow humerus each day. Then over the span of three hours, it bites down and crushes the bone, smashing it to bits. “Untitled” is composed of a finished fabricated housing that releases a hydraulic piston, which subsequently uses blunt force to split a block of wood in two, and emits a gunshot-like noise.
Chief curator Jeffrey Uslip explains Sassolinio’s key themes: “Arcangelo is very much thinking about how these machines allow us to understand our own human condition a little bit better. He’s using the vocabulary of industry to push materials beyond what they can do.”
Also debuting in a solo show is Michigan-born Peter Sutherland whose “Forests and Fires” occupies CAM’s Project Wall with one continuous scene extended with two tetraptychs that evoke emotions of wonder, fear and the sublime. They are interrupted by a gap that serves as a symbolic crossing point between them.
His installation integrates elements of photography and painting by digitally inserting images onto perforated vinyl and then placing them onto four OSB boards, which in turn are sealed with an acrylic gel. This process gives the pieces an atmospheric quality and pixelated appearance. He also makes use of the spacious adjoining courtyard by placing images of a large roaring fire on strategically placed boulders cut from a quarry in Las Vegas and then sliced into cross sections. The resulting effect is that these deadly flames are impinging on the tranquility of the landscapes, driving home Sutherland’s thought of how nature and industry struggle to coexist.
Upstairs, above the performance space is Ned Vena’s “Paintings Without Borders 2,” which was specifically made for this solo museum exhibition debut at CAM. Influenced by Frank Stella and Kazimir Malevich, Vena’s monochromes and abstract arrangements suggest the redundancy of an assembly line.
The New York-based artist’s process involves using shaped canvases and then covering them with industrial techniques and materials—like Rust-Oleum paint—that are not specifically designed for this purpose. This repurposing is topped off by the addition of rotary cut vinyl stenciling. Each painting is then given its own identity with the addition of nuanced indentations and brushstrokes.
One of the trademarks of his recent work is his inclusion of the letter ‘G’ as a starting point for a repetitious cycle that conjures the imagery of a chainlink fence while also serving as what Vena calls a ‘concrete poem.’
The Propeller Group
“Street Views” is an ongoing series highlighting essential new work in multimedia mediums. In its newest installment, CAM hosts the very first public art project by The Propeller Group. Founded in Vietnam in 2008, their creation fills the 60-foot facade of the museum with their most recent production, “A Universe of Collisions.”
The collective uses digital tools to explore the interactions between culture and politics. Applying the slickness of contemporary advertising with high speed motion, they have taken footage of two colliding bullets—from Russian and American guns respectively—and then speed it up and slowed it down to effectively focus on the dialogue caused by this imagery, and thereby making a statement about both ongoing gun violence and a specific analogy being paid to the battle of political ideologies surrounding the Vietnam War.
In addition to showcasing the contemporary and innovative, CAM employs an educational community outreach program with local public, middle and high schools to foster an appreciation for artistic development in and outside of their walls. “ArtReach: Entwined” embodies the fruition of this program over the last year in various workshops in conjunction with thirty separate art classes and eight community organizations.
Influenced by the last year’s exhibition, “Ulla von Brandenburg: Wagon Wheel,” the artwork created stems from a curriculum whereby students apply the fundamentals of quilting with historical narratives to create individually crafted squares, each depicting a story, event or experience that has affected them. The frames are then brought together and woven into one quilt, symbolizing how shared stories intertwine to become a visually coded representation of a diverse society.
With so much interplay among the various artists and their ideologies, Uslip succinctly summarized the main themes of the Spring 2016 assemblage:
“All of these artists are extending the possibilities of what these materials and these genres could have done and could do.”
For more information, visit camstl.org