ACT OUT

May 11, 2008 - May 25, 2008
CCS Bard Galleries

The seven video works in Act Out play with the overlap between the artist’s body, intention and public persona. The exhibition presents a set of closely related works, in which artists react directly to other artworks and make explicit use of another’s art to stake out territory of their own, complicating the understanding of how artists react to one another.

In her two-monitor video installation, Dark Threat of Absence (2002), Sturtevant includes repetitions of selections from Paul McCarthy’s video performance Painter (1995) in which he performed a caricature of a third-rate painter who wished he could be a famous painter. McCarthy’s “painter” went through the motions of “being an artist,” worrying about how to paint and making money.“Repeating” is what Sturtevant calls remaking a work of another artist by recreating their methods. She presents the repetition as her own, divorcing the work from its origin. From 1965 through the late 1990s, all of her works consisted of repeating works by other artists. Dark Threat is a singular work in Sturtevant’s oeuvre in that the work also includes imagery taken from mass media. She creates juxtapositions between this imagery and her repetition of McCarthy’s work in order to expose the workings of art and culture at large.

In Through the Large Glass (1976), Wilke draws on her reputation as a flirtatious woman. She imitates the familiar gestures of fashion models, in the way they shift between poses, while she strips behind Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even or The Large Glass (1915–23). Wilke makes literal what was restricted to the imagination, performing—or acting out—Duchamp’s written notes about an imaginary bride and her bachelors. She lures the viewer’s gaze through his work to her body, which is the locus of her work. In her bid for feminine power and expression, she plays with a male way of looking, the kind of looking she expects. The material and associative interference of The Large Glass reinforces the plane that separates viewer from performer. It simultaneously allows Wilke a space to perform irreverently and reinforces her determination to resist being objectified by the viewer.

Vito Acconci’s videos in the early 1970s cultivate a psychological connection and tension between himself and another person. In Pryings (1971), he tries to open his partner’s eyes, while she resists him. The camera focuses on her face, but she refuses to open her eyes, so the viewer and performer’s gazes cannot meet. Her emphatic resistance emphasizes the viewer’s inability to connect with her. In Theme Song (1973) Acconci lies on the floor facing the viewer. The camera focuses closely on his face. He plays songs from a tape player just out-of-frame. He sings along with these songs then breaks off into a tangent initiated by the lyrics. In these tangents, he addresses the viewer (whom he imagines) directly, luring the viewer into his spell.

Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s Fresh Acconci (1995) responds to Acconci’s videos and also to what they see as a trend in video art in the early 1990s. In this video, nude B-movie actors and actresses play shortened versions of Acconci’s Contacts,Focal PointClaimPryings (all 1971) and Theme Song (1973) in a house in Hollywood Hills, a setting notorious for its homemade porn flicks. By using stock pornographic shots and set-ups, Kelley and McCarthy mock the practice in the early 1990s of young artists who use blatant sexual behavior and suggestion as a device in their work and who seem to borrow indiscriminately from early video artists like Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci as a model for this kind of practice.

In Head (1993), Cheryl Donegan, for example, precisely positions a Day-Glo green bottle in a composition that recalls television product endorsements. But instead of selling the product, Donegan sucks the milky liquid up and then spits it out when the flow is running dry. When she exits the wall looks stained, like sheets, or a drip painting. These actions pay homage to Bruce Nauman’s influential conceptual work Self-Portrait as a Fountain (1969) and, in a gendered critique, mock Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.

Paul McCarthy’s Pinocchio Pipenose Householddilemma (Party Pack) (1994) requires viewers to put on a Pinocchio costume in order to enter the video viewing room. He creates a social game out of what was originally his performance and installation. His costume requirement usurps the viewer’s control. He renders all viewers, at least in appearance, identical to his character in the video, forcing them to mimic the fiction he performs. An artist, McCarthy suggests, creates a fiction about himself in an effort to affect the public’s understanding of him and his art. When this fiction is reduced to costume—or, to something as easily available as the clothes we buy and wear, McCarthy asks here, how do we manage to make distinctions between our stories? What happens when everyone has long noses?

The works in Act Outdraw out threads of influence and desire as they can manifest in bodily expression. Because these works are closely interrelated, other strands emerge as well, like challenging the viewer’s integrity and critiquing American culture.

 

THE ARTISTS

Vito Acconci
(born 1940 Bronx, New York. Lives and works Brooklyn, New York) 
Vito Acconci achieved international recognition for his 1970s body performance works, which were presented via video, film or in person, almost immediately. In video works in 1970-72, he portrayed a psychological intensity in interpersonal and physical relationships between people on screen. His most famous work at the time, and arguably still, was Seedbed (1972), in which he masturbated for hours at a time beneath the platform at Sonnabend Gallery, while talking to himself and visitors. In his performance for video, Theme Song (1973), he addressed the viewer directly, seducing the viewer to come into his space, even though piercing the barrier between his and the viewer’s spaces is impossible. His investigation of the body in space, in relation to viewers responded to Minimalist sculpture and what became known as the charged space between the viewer and the object. He protested the swift reification of these artists by taking the object (expensive-to-produce sculpture) out of the equation, shifting the focus instead on his body in relation to the viewer or participant’s body. He was closely associated at the time with other New York artists who responded to one anothers’ works: Dennis Oppenheim, Bruce Nauman, William Wegman.

An indication of the immediacy of the reception of Acconci’s work is that in 1972 he was already invited to participate in Documenta 5, an international exhibition which opens every 5 years in Kassel, Germany. He had a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1978. His influence continued even as his practice shifted; he participated in Documentas in 1977, 1982 and 1997. Gradually, the way his work demonstrated concerns of the time fell away from the discourse around his work, giving the impression to students and other people new to contemporary art that he was singular, unique, even genius. Although he continued to be interested in relating a psychological intensity to bodily experience, he stopped using his own body in performances. Instead, in the eighties Acconci shifted away from video, performance and body art into work that investigated how the built environment can manipulate the viewers behavior and thereby the viewer’s psychological and physical experience.

Cheryl Donegan
(Born 1962 New Haven, Connecticut. Lives and works New York) 
Cheryl Donegan’s work demonstrates the concerns and modes of a generation of artists, many of them women, who began to use conceptual strategies in the early 1990s to question the hegemony of canonized artists, many of them male. Both a painter and a video artist, she began to work out problems she confronted in her painting practice in her videos. In these early videos, she performs studio-based experiments to expose ridiculousness in modes of expression usually considered “serious”. Donegan uses provocative gestures, verging on physical comedy in order to paint, draw or sculpt something simple, like a flower, a fountain, a star. She thereby unsettles established modes of expression – performance in studio, painting, drawing and sculpture – with sex, gender and physicality.

Her 1993 solo exhibition at Elizabeth Koury Gallery, New York marked the moment when her work became subject to international attention, demonstrated by the discussion of the show, especially Head, in many of the major art periodicals.

Another indicator of her work’s timeliness was its inclusion in the 1993 Venice Biennale and the 1995 Whitney Biennial in New York, as well as a proliferation of other group exhibitions concerning body, performance and/or video at international venues in that 15 years. There was a retrospective of her work in 1997 at Basilico Fine Arts, New York. She has had solo exhibitions at galleries in New York, Paris, Milan, Berlin and Nice. In 2000, she had a solo show at White Columns in New York.

Mike Kelley 
(born 1954 Detroit, lives and works Los Angeles) 
Considered a second generation conceptual artist, Mike Kelley has a widely multivalent art practice – in installations, sculpture, painting, performance, video performance, writing, collaborations, music – his band “Destroy All Monsters”. Many of Kelley’s main concerns come from the contrast of his youth in Detroit, where he was good at art, watched ground-breaking punk concerts, worked in service jobs and grew up in a working class Catholic family, and his observations of the art world. His works navigate minefields of desire, fear, regression and the abject in everyday life, often by creating a hybrid of high and low art. With poker-faced humor, he subverts assumptions of innocence in his arrangements of childhood toys, kitsch, and ordinary objects. He often collaborates with artists such as Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon and Tony Oursler, to make video works that reflect on the American cultural landscape. Kelley brings to these projects an ironic sensibility and stringent conceptual processes, tending to layer the accepted high-art practices like painting with craft, working class and popular culture references. He often associates service-based hourly working class jobs (he was once a janitor) with his societal role as an artist. Kelley has altered the landscape of contemporary art, pushing the high-low discussion into more nuanced registers.

His first mid-career survey “Catholic Tastes” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1993 was a marker of his reception and influence in the early 1990s, while his contribution to Sonsbeek 93 – an exhibition called “The Uncanny” – demonstrated his acumen for creating a critical curatorial framework. In this exhibition’s catalog Kelley published an extensive essay exploring aspects of the Uncanny vis a vis Freud and other theorists, as well as meditations on the uncanny’s relation to alienation, loss of use-value , surrogacy and fetishes.

Paul McCarthy
(Born 1945 Salt Lake City, Utah. Lives and works Altadena, California) 
Paul McCarthy was an influential performance artist and teacher in the Southern California art and performance scene in the 70s and 80s. He regularly gave performances to public then private audiences in Los Angeles(once reactions to his extraordinarily visceral work became too overblown in general audiences), he was also a principle promoter of Los Angeles and Southern California art scene on Close Radio, a station which broadcasted artist interviews, discussions with scholars like Marshall McLuhan and Gene Youngblood. In the 70s, he believed in the potential of creative programming in the media to counter the consumptive mode actively germinated by major studios, most of them operating out of Los Angeles.

McCarthy’s performance work in the late 1970s delved into the primal limits of initiation rituals, subjecting his own body and sex as well as dolls and condiments to regressive, sometimes violent action. His performances’ raw intensity often included the graphic acting out of taboo ideas and behaviors, acting out against the imposition of cultural norms by television programming, Disney. The tone and aesthetic of his work is imbued with the paradoxes of Los Angeles.

In the late 1980s McCarthy began thinking about alternatives to performing live – he began to think about his video documentation strategy, about its conceptual prospects. McCarthy exhibited these video performances with the sets and props with which he had made the performance. For example, Painter (1995) was performed in a set in an exhibition at MoMA, NY. The exhibition version consisted of the “stage set” in which the performance had taken place, the props which were used, and the video of the performance. Another variation of the way he used props from the performance in his exhibition version of a performance is seen in Pinocchio Pipenose Householddilemma. McCarthy first performed this work at his exhibition at Villa Arson in 1994, and then presented it later as an installation in which viewers had to put on costumes like those in the performance video in order to enter a room to see that video.

Despite his active and leading role in the development of the West Coast art scene, his work did not garner widespread institutional recognition until his participation in Helter Skelter, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s 1991 group show of LA artists. Soon after, the reception of Heidi (1992), a collaboration with Mike Kelley, reinforced an interest in his work. Major exhibitions quickly followed: a solo project at Villa Arson, Nice, France (where Pinocchio Pipenose Householddilemma debuted) in 1994 and at the Museum of Modern Art in 1995 (as mentioned above), and participation in the 1997 Whitney Biennial and in the 1999 Venice Bienniale (in collaboration with Jason Rhoades). In 2000, he had his first retrospective which began at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and then traveled to the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Solo shows since then have included: Tate Modern in 2003, Whitechapel, London in 2005, and Moderna Museet, Stockholm in 2006.

Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley
Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley began working together in 1987 on Family Tyranny, a performance in a mock television stage set, videoed, and then presented as video in the set. They were both interested in the ways family and society shape individuals and in how individuals react to and/or accept these impositions. They first received international critical acclaim for their dis-topic video, sculptural and architectural installation Heidi in 1992. Fresh Acconci (1995), which is in Act Out, was a response to the tone of video art in the early 1990s; they therefore gave contemporary art’s eager public a work which epitomizes and exaggerates the contradictions of art at this time, by sandwiching conceptual art posturing with the style of B-movies and skin flicks. Other notable collaborative projects include An Architecture Composed of the Paintings of Richard M. Powers and Francis Picabia (1997) and Sod & Sodie Sock (2003).

Sturtevant 
(Born 1928 or 1930, Lakewood, Ohio. Lives and works Paris, France.) 
Since 1965 Elaine Sturtevant’s work has delved into notions of the original, the fake, authority, exposition. Setting the tone in her first exhibition at Bianchini Gallery, New York in 1965, she installed replicas of works by her peers: Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and George Segal. Her method of installation was as much a part of her work as the objects themselves. Although often perceived as only replicas or fakes, her works are the result of a consideration of both the material and conceptual choices in its model’s making. In repeating not only the look of the works, but also the steps it took to achieve them, she provokes the viewers to question their experience of art and how much the change in authorship, place and time change the meaning of the work. The reception of her work in the United States was colored by a moral polemic, often categorizing her work simply as fake. After the vitriolic reaction to her repetition of Claes Oldenburg’s Store, she moved to Paris and stopped making art. In the 1980s, she returned to the art scene at the same time critics and curators were forming a discourse around the Appropriation Art of Sherry Levine, Lois Lawler and Cindy Sherman, to name a few. The public at this time tended to classify her work as only related to this discourse and also attempted to align her work within feminism. Indeed, even though Sturtevant denies that her work engages in a feminist critique, that she has always repeated the work of iconic male artists is an essential part of her practice. Since this time Europe proved a better context for her work than the US; as a result, the majority of Sturtevant’s major exhibitions have taken place there.

Her first major retrospective took place only recently in 2004 at Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and traveled in 2005 to the MIT List Center in Boston. She was included in the Whitney Biennial for the first time in 2006. She began departing from the repetition model (repeating a work using its original material, scale and working method) in the videos she made beginning in 2000. In these videos she used editing to depart from her strict repetition model. In Act Out, Sturtevant is the artist who has been engaging with the critical possibilities of repetition for longer than any of the artists in this exhibition.

Hannah Wilke 
(Born 1940, Lower East Side, New York, New York. Died Houston, Texas 1993) 
Even while in art school in the mid-fifties, Hannah Wilke already honed in on a sculptural vocabulary that employed organic forms that suggested female form and genitalia. In the 1970s she began to supplement sculpture with work that emphasized the performative element of her sculpture. Performance, and photographic and video documentation of it, became a major part of her strategy, which was always directed by her goal to free the women’s body from its use as a tool for male expression and object of male desire. She sought to take back her own body, her woman’s fleshy body and use it to service her (Woman’s) expression, to call into question the hegemony of male vision in art history and popular culture. For instance, S.O.S. Starification Object Series (1975) presents a photographic series of Hannah Wilke posing like a fashion model while wearing her gum vagina sculptures like scars on her skin. By imitating a typically male way of representing the female form in order to elicit male desire, to steal and hold their attention, Wilke confronted fierce critique, mostly from other women, who believed Wilke’s work undermined the feminist project. Her work from this period has come to stand for this reaction, the raw nerve that the work hit dead-on. Because of this, her work continues to expose the ambiguity of categories we would rather avoid, embodied in the naked, ambivalent truth of her female body.

During this period, Wilke embarked on a sustained engagement with and against the work of Duchamp. Her affinity for his work arose from her appreciation of his word play, his alter-ego Rrose Selavy, and his work on the relation between art interactions and sex. Her works Through the Large Glass (1976), which is in Act Out, and I Object: Memoirs of a Sugargiver (1977-78) both reacted explicitly to Duchamp’s ambivalent relationship to femininity and to the way the public tended to ignore the misogyny of the works she referenced. During this time she also used and turned the work, words and bodies of other men in her life and art toward her own purpose. Intercourse With… ((1977) and So Help Me Hannah! (1979-85) are both examples of this. Most of these performances exist today as video and photographic record.

While her career flourished in the 70s and 80s, with solo shows, performances and significant projects all over the country and a few significant shows in Europe, Wilke did not have a retrospective until 1989 at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. She had another at Genovese Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts in 1990 and at the Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center, Copenhagen, Denmark in 1998. After her death, her work continues to be very popular in group exhibitions, many of them dealing with video, the body and sometimes her sculpture.

Act Out was organized by Tyler Emerson-Dorsch as part of the requirements for the master of arts degree in curatorial studies.

 

CCS Bard student-curated exhibitions are made possible with support from the Rebecca and Martin Eisenberg Student Exhibition Fund, Mitzi and Warren Eisenberg, and the Patrons, Supporters, and Friends of the Center for Curatorial Studies.