“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

ASCO, Asco (1975)

© 1975 Harry Gamboa Jr

© 1975 Harry Gamboa Jr

Patti Smith, writing in her memoir Just Kids, says that by walking a city you can come to own the very streets. She and lover Robert Mapplethorpe attempted and achieved as much in New York City.

But that was Manhattan and, to point out by way of a cliché, nobody sane walks anywhere in urban sprawl Los Angeles, home of East Coast art ensemble Asco.

Here you see a daring alternative strategy for owning a boulevard. Put bodies on the line, spell out your collective identity, and shoot the entire scene with a cinematic gloss.

Of all the photos shot by Asco in the 1970s, and 1975 is a peak of sorts, the one above is perhaps exhibits the most exemplary mix of horseplay and bad attitude.

And in the same way we project ourselves into certain movies, an Asco photo can make you want to be there. Oh to be young, glamorous, and at large among the bright lights.

But at the time of making, Harry Gamboa Jr., Patssi Valdez, Gronk and Wilie F. Herrón III and their associates were anything but superstars. In Hollywood, Chicano superstars did not exist.

In response Asco made promotional stills for movies that did not exist. The photos, dubbed No Movies, press the same buttons as the real thing. This is conceptual art with magic dust.

Yet the word spelled out above, Spanish for nausea and disgust, becomes a real spell. Here where they own the city, where they own the night, who can say what reconfigurations are taking place?

We now have Chicano A-listers. Uma Thurman, Jessica Alba and Salma Hayek are all of Mexican descent according to IMDB. Say, they would really be great in an Asco No Movie.

ASCO can be seen in Asco: No Movies at Nottingham Contemporary until January 5 2014.


12 pieces of conceptual art that would probably work as tweets

From the 20th century onwards, the beauty of much art is it has no need for the eye of a beholder. Conceptual works, in theory, place as much importance on the idea as the finished visual object. And while lots can be said about the dozen pieces below, the kernel of each is a thought of no more than 140 characters.

This is not to assume that simple ideas are the best. But it is possible that in a time of information overload, and web-based attention spans, they are the ones that travel best. If these artworks translate into tweets, it is only a sign of their power.

  1. Benjamin Peret, Insulting a Priest (1926):
    “A black and white photo of a surrealist poet harranguing a man of the cloth, as featured in a 1926 manifesto for the liberation of desire”
  2. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953):
    “After six weeks of careful erasing a heavily worked drawing by Willem de Kooning becomes a gold-framed piece of near blank paper”
  3. Marcel Broodthaers, Femur of a Belgian Man and Femur of a French Woman (1964-5):
    “Two human bones, one from Belgian man, one from a French woman, each painted in the colours of the flags of their respective nations”
  4. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs (1965):
    “A folding wooden chair, a photo of the same (not by the artist) and a blown up definition of the word chair to be displayed as one piece”
  5. Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (1969):
    “A white-walled Rome gallery became a temporary stable for 12 quite mucky and fairly noisy live horses”
  6. John Baldessari, The Commissioned Paintings (1969-70):
    “Out on a walk, the artist took close up pics of a friend pointing at interesting things, then asked 14 sunday painters to paint the photos”
  7. Adrian Piper, Untitled Performance for Max’s Kansas City (1970):
    “The artist wears blindfold and gloves and pays a visit to a New York bar where the art world generally go to see and be seen”
  8. Jørgen Nash, Decapitated Little Mermaid (1972):
    “The head of Copenhagen’s most famous statue is cut off by (it is said) the Second Situationist International. The artist is a member”
  9. Hans Haacke, Manet-PROJEKT 74 (1974):
    “A proposal that a Manet painting be displayed next to panels giving details of all the work’s previous owners and their business activities”
  10. Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974):
    “A suburban house is cut down the middle and undermined causing it to split and thereby open a rift in the social fabric”
  11. Gavin Turk, Cave, 1991:
    “For his degree show, the artist leaves nothing in his studio but a blue plaque with the words: Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here 1989-1991”
  12. Sherrie Levine, Fountain (1991):
    “Marcel Duchamp’s infamous urinal readymade has been recast in bronze to give it, at last, some respectability”

By now you should be convinced, some of the most important works of modern and contemporary art lose little from a lot of distillation. They might even work as tweets, albeit ones with plenty more to say.

More details on the 12 artworks can be found in Conceptual Art, by Tony Godfrey (published by Phaidon), which contains hundreds more like them all discussed in considerably more depth.


Giorgio Sadotti, Went To America Didn’t Say A Word (1999)

A 24-hour recording of ambient city noise is, on the face of it, boring. Few people will ever sit through all of the 1999 Giorgio Sadotti piece currently on show at Milton Keynes Gallery.

Behind the soundtrack, however, is an amazing story. Sadotti flew from London to New York, stayed overnight, and came home the next day without speaking to anyone. And that has the makings of an urban legend.

Now simply by hearing about the artwork, you can experience it. It can be easily shared, at no cost, between friends, over a drink. Never mind the lengthy audio documentation. The anecdote, surely, is just as much the artwork, as the tapes from across the Atlantic.

You may wonder how it was possible, logistically, to do such a thing. In its invisible way, the piece is as remarkable as a tromp l’oeil ceiling or an ornate manuscript. It must have been solitary, dogged work to produce.

The next question is what he might have said. The title implies withheld judgement or perhaps a kept secret. It draws attention to what Sadotti was thinking and the recording offers no clue. This gives the piece an essential and age old mystique.

In an attempt to demystify Went To America Didn’t Say A Word, I went to my local shop for a pint of milk and maintained a strict silence. Here is the documentation. You won’t find it in a gallery: Went To The Cornershop Didn’t Say A Word.wma

The The Things Is (For 3) is at Milton Keynes Gallery until 12 September


Ignacio Uriarte, The History of the Typewriter Recited by Michael Winslow (2009)

Skill and accomplishment are at the forefront of this unusual work. But instead of technique with a brush or a chisel, we are treated to the novel and maybe useless vocal imitation of 32 typewriters.

This is representational art of the highest order. Each sequence of hammer strikes does sound, it must be said, just like a typewriter and a different one each time. With no immediate sources to refer to, the performance is taken on trust. As with Mona Lisa or Dora Maar, there is little point in questioning resemblances.

But while Da Vinci or Picasso went all out to capture beauty or its opposite, Ignacio Uriarte has gone in for precise realism in an area which, unlike a model or a landscape, has marginal interest. The 21 minute film, in which we hear the same phrase typed over and over, is mono-manic.

But that 56-character phrase, The History of the Typewriter Recited by Michael Winslow, is also the title of the film. So in a sense, the sounds you hear refer to nothing more than the sounds you hear. The virtuoso performance with all of its mimetic skill is little more than a sideshow. It is fitting that Winslow is a comic actor and he cannot resist a good many gestural asides throughout the film.

Be dazzled by all means, but rather by the force of its creation. not the means of its execution.


Artist's Statement: Oliver Beer on Deep and Meaningful

Here’s the first of a series of new features in which artists talk about their own work. This is what Oliver Beer had to say about his film Deep and Meaningful:

“For some time I had been quite fascinated by the structure of hidden architectural spaces, but also I read about these urban explorers. They break into sewers in London or all over the world and explore underground. I think considering all the ends of the earth have been explored, there’s actually quite a lot to explore under your feet. Then I found out that on occasions Southern Water let people into Brighton sewers and it’s an incredible space…”

Read more on Culture24.


Oliver Beer, Deep and Meaningful (2009)

Three locations are evoked by the film Deep and Meaningful by Oliver Beer: the sewer in which the original choral performance was filmed; the type of church where you might expect to hear such a thing; and the gallery environment in which it might end up.

The correspondence between church and art gallery is self-evident. To many both are sacred spaces. Both offer a place to reflect. Visitors to either may hope for revelations or the appearance of truths.

But the links between church and sewer are less clear. There could be straightforward blasphemy in the work. Or perhaps it is that both perform perform civilising roles and both absolve the user.

Finally this piece brings the sewer into the gallery. In a more polite way, it is a similar gesture to that of Duchamp and his urinal. It could suggest art is a functional and dirty business.

Seven well-trained voices join in harmony for the performance. Their song is pitched to vibrate with the sewer and echo around the gallery. It elevates the former, and raises questions in the latter.

The church is conspicuous by its absence. ‘Amen’ is sung without an obvious referent. It could be affirming Victorian architecture or possibly contemporary art. But you can find religion in both.

Oliver Beer, Deep and Meaningful, is currently on show upstairs at 20 Hoxton Square Projects until 24 July 2010.


Diane Arbus/Chicks on Speed/Arabicity/July must-sees

Here’s another round up of stories written in the past week for Culture24:


Whitstable Biennale/Persistence of Vision/Wolfgang Tillmans

Here’s another round up of my week’s output for Culture24. Happy reading…


Francis Alÿs/James White/Clare Twomey/Surreal Friends

Here’s a round up of the pieces I wrote for Culture24 last week. Enjoy!


Preview: A Horse Walks Into A Bar at Castlefield Gallery

Exhibition: A Horse Walks Into A Bar, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, June 18 – August 8 2010

That a non-domestic animal in a pub should occasion hilarity tells us something about our relationship with nature. The proverbial horse in a bar is an old joke.

Perhaps the nine artists in this group show at Castlefield Gallery can persuade us that we should take animals more seriously, or at least supply an original punchline.

Using video, painting, photography, sculpture and performance, the show promises to work away at the boundaries between the human and non-human living worlds.

The role of animals is here considered in many spheres, such as regal portraits, mass produced imagery, the entertainment industry and myth.

Contributors include Turner-prize winning artist Mark Wallinger, who once dressed as a bear to roam the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin for one of art’s better gags.

Meanwhile two photographers on show include Corey Arnold, who worked in Alaska as a fisherman, and Richard Billingham, whose unflattering family snaps caused controversy at the Barbican in 1994.

The response from art collective UHC is also no laughing matter. They have invited 100 members of the public to get unique tattoos of the 100 most endangered species in the UK.

Other artists to feature in this intriguing bestiary include Andrew Bracey, Lorraine Burrell, Maddi Nicholson, Dan Staincliffe and Chiz Turnross. So surely one can tell us, why the long face?

Written for Culture24.