Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My art review: Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller: Situations/S(h)ituations

"The Mascots" Wood, paint, safety cone, "old pink potty chair" and behind that "Entrance" and "Structure No. 2"

The contemporary art world is becoming infiltrated with talented musicians showing off how much more cool they are than visual artists. (Ever think about how funny it is how some colleges try to claim their bastard spawn ex-students once they drop out and form a successful band? This blog is not about that.) I'm talking though about a trend of musicians utilizing the gallery space as a kind of prop to support an album release, like the Ssion and Jay-Z. And for some reason I've been thinking a lot about the confusingly successful melding of new and old with Bob Dylan's newest music video. That music video also gets at the point of where the concept of making good music and good art dissolves, whatever it is, it should entice multiple readings, multiple plays to appreciate how profound it is in its expansiveness.

Seeing Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller's show twice is a good idea.

Nicola Kuperus presents Adam Lee Miller for the cleanest show one might find concerning feces. As a follow up to the process based John Cage show at the Center Galleries, S(h)ituations is highly controlled, sometimes neurotic, but tightly executed. Their reputations precede them as these two have worked hard making a name for themselves as the addictively abrasive musical cult ADULT. Nicola in particular is well recognized for her stylistic photography which grew well into collaborative slasher video works. My favorite piece of the show comes out of her newest development into creating self-referential pieces, one in particular where she becomes a very large terse red bow, perfect for the holiday season.

"Angry Bow" (ed. 1 of 5) 

I am deeply intimidated by them when I see them as Musicians. They recently won a Knight Foundation matching grant to bring in guest musicians from around the world into their home as they cram 75 or so days, possibly in a row, to whip out a new album. They are quite the masochists. 

Closeup of "Billboard"

I believe I was talking to the Scottish visual artist Tessa Lynch in regards to her partner Owen who is a drummer, about the jealously that bubbles up when I think about how much fun he looks like he's having while playing drums. (Broad generalizations here about musicians) There also seems to be less assumptions that anything truly "new" is supposed to be created, it is easy enough to jam with a group of people on a whim even if proper instruments aren't handy, and it would not be unusual for ones career to consider going abroad from city to city to showcase their talents. The best part however, is that for most artists that dabble in music and vice versa, you generally find people that are willing to not take themselves too seriously.

"Pulling Wool" (ed. 1 of 3) Looping Video

Looking solely at their visual work I get the feeling that as accomplished as they are in their careers it would seem that they are trying to get their bearings again as visual artists. Besides the one-point perspective in all of the paintings all the pieces are centered. The work is focused and concise, all the subjects are contained. If a piece seems to be edging too close to being a one-liner it may be because it is evident that some of the works are made as efficiently as possible and partially dictated by Home Depot's stock of construction materials. One of them mentioned that sometimes doing art helped them to get out from becoming too burnt out as musicians, I think Jimmy Edgar would suggest that they try some meditation. The only piece that did not have a singular vantage point of sorts was "Vista Point", a fabricated urinal with steps on the side that were not actually meant to be walked upon. It provided them with the joy of watching people climb their sculpture, hear the viewers' disappointment, and come back down to be called out as a Pervert by the artists. There is the sense that they've always wanted to call everybody else out for being weird, and this is something I wish they could have explored even more through their exhibition because the element of alienation works so well in their music, why would they stop there?

They also talked of being more conscious to make the time to see museum shows while they're out touring as a band. I wonder if Nicola has seen Erwin Wurm's one minute sculptures even though some of her photos reminded me more of Abu Ghraib yoga, or if Adam knew that the city of Glasgow has given up on taking down a cone from the Duke of Wellington's head in Glasgow as subversive acts by the public. I wanted to tell them that after seeing an image of work done at the Mattress Factory they'd really love the work of Scottish artist Anthony Schrag

"Table Top (Maine)" (ed. 1 of 3)

As they said in their artist talk they are attempting to find out if this absurd experiment is going to work. They are a married couple trying to marry together all of their interests. Some tensions that were thrown around included:

The Serious vs. Ridiculous
The Individual vs. Collective
Serendipity vs. Branding
Setting something up to be a reversal vs. balance
dehumanizing elements vs. something personal 
working harder vs. anxiety of not working hard enough (but curiously no mention of working less hard)
Barriers vs. Corrals
producing a twist like a magic trick vs. multiple readings

"Vapor Corrals" Acrylic on canvas over panel (triptych) and "Table Top (Maine)" (ed. 1 of 3)

The best work appeared to be neither a reference to their dark aesthetic nor visual supplements to their records, but some of the simple pleasures of being foul. I did actually feel vulnerable staring down into a urinal when I realized that if someone else took a photo of me and cropped out the steps, I simply can't think of a believable explanation. Also again the swearing bow tickled me pink, and the way it shook, it could have been lampooning a cute Pixar character or any number of invented digital characters selling us car insurance.

There is something overly cautious about many of the works needing to be well crafted, or at least fabricated by them, when the previous John Cage show critiqued the space as a neutral white cube. If the paintings were so interested in commenting on the path of the viewer within a piece, wouldn't the next logical step be to actually mess with the viewers and go beyond setting everything up to be a stage for them to enact ridiculous scenarios to be seen by onlookers? The vantage point one sees when immediately entering the gallery seems to the dominating vantage point for the whole time you are in the show. Also, why do they get to have all the fun?

"Suggestive Floor Plan" Acrylic on canvas over panel next to "Vista Point" Wood, fake tile, paint, commercial restroom stall, toilet, toilet paper

Or what if they decided to go off the deep and just go straight dark and make some truly absurdly helpless works of art in lieu of the Bankruptcy? The city has officially been ok'ed to tactfully axe thousands of pensions, to consider selling off works from the DIA (if it can be combined with larger cuts since it's still not enough money) and do whatever it takes to square the city with the banks and creditors. All of this is paving the way for every other American city to follow suit. Someone I can't mention (since I haven't asked them if I can post this information) has said that their pension has been cut in their city by 80%. I didn't want to press the artists more on the issue, but I asked them about advice they would give to all the other artists in Detroit (since Adam also mentioned in their artist talk that one of his paintings was in part of the tiresome masculine painting) and they mentioned a conversation that hangs in the air that artists here sometimes complain about the unromantic side of being an artist: the grant-writing, the failed proposals, dealing with our own personal impatience, but also about accepting having to work really really hard. I think that "hard work" needs to be parsed here. Creative Capital is on point when they say that one needs to work smarter not harder and I would like to see everyone in Detroit more committed to professional development that considers the fluid global art scene. I don't mean that professional development in the stereotypical sense of building a solid "career", but finding a way to do justice to the vision embodied in your practice (or your personal life) and being committed to continually take risks.

This might just be me, but I felt like I saw Nicola seemingly berating herself for being on the internet for too long and having an inner voice telling her to work harder, which is kind of how I see myself, right now, fresh out of graduate school beating myself up in the same way. Nicola mentioned that they already have their own shit to do deal with, so taking a stab about thinking about the greater art context is a bit too much, but I would argue that it's precisely the kind of work that is necessary and it involves exploring a kind of vulnerability that I don't think that they venture into in their musician personae (they only exude badass), as ADULT, but it's the kind of visual work that she's leaning towards. It's beautiful and important and personal and it doesn't come from putting more hours in at the office...

I also read somewhere that if you're wasting time and having fun, then you're not exactly wasting time. 

"Dead End (with Ceiling Fan)" Acrylic on canvas over panel

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