The Remains of the Day: Sarah Sze and her Images in Debris

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Sarah Sze, Images in Debris, 2018, MOCA Toronto.
Sarah Sze, Images in Debris, 2018, MOCA Toronto. Courtesy the artist, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (New York and Los Angeles). Photo Toni Hafkenscheid

Entering the back room of the 2nd floor at MOCA from the brightly lit exhibition of Carlos Bunga’s A Sudden Beginning with its network of boxes, the darkness envelops us, a darkness that blinds. Is what we see real or just a mirage that gives the illusion of an installation? The eye and the mind both have to adjust to the magic world of Sarah Sze’s work, a universe in itself.

Images in Debris was created in 2018 and purchased at its only exhibition at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London by Toronto collectors Audrey and David Mirvish who have loaned it to MOCA. It is the younger sister of Timekeeper from 2016, an installation that travelled to some of the world’s pre-eminent museums and is part of the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Their structures are similar, each with a central point from where an abundance of objects and effects is organized on wire scaffolding and the surrounding walls. Some motifs are recurring like a moving image of a running cheetah, a plant, a moon and its pixelated images, pieces of painted and then ripped paper, and the very special handling of light and darkness. 

It is impossible to describe the installation itself – and Sze’s work in general – so everyone who writes about it speaks of a personal journey. As Sze said in Art:21 her goal is to maintain the viewer’s attention and challenge them, so the experience of viewing becomes a discovery. It is more about time and space and our relations to them than about the objects in front of us. Contemporary life is overwhelming and as a result our senses are overloaded, and our memories become fragmented. Time is subjective. Some moments stay with us for decades, remembered vividly, while others fall into the abyss never to resurface. The so-called ordinary moments of our lives stay in greyness forever. What is time, really? The present we live in becomes the past before we recognize it. The past is only memories, and all depends on how we select and store them. The future is a vision or a dream at best. Once Yoko Ono collected little stones on her morning walk and titled them with the exact time she found them to have a reminder of each moment. Sze tries to reconstruct time by keeping and putting together various objects of daily life and images she has searched, found and photographed. As time is never linear, her work mirrors that nature, not telling us her story but leaving us with the opportunity to create our own narratives.

Sarah Sze, Images in Debris, 2018, MOCA Toronto.
Sarah Sze, Images in Debris, 2018, MOCA Toronto. Courtesy the artist, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (New York and Los Angeles). Photo Toni Hafkenscheid

There is no time without space. Images in Debris works with fragments as if trying to reconstruct a building that is falling apart by picking up some stones. Sze is influenced by architecture but she considers her work sculptural. As she said in Conversation with Okwui Enwezor in 2016, “I am more interested is how defining the idea of sculpture leads to breaking it down. I am more interested in the idea that film can be a sculpture, a drawing can be a sculpture, music can be a sculpture.” In Images in Debris she puts all the above together, as video clips and movies projected on the walls and on the objects while an otherworldly, ethereal music plays – like noises from the universe or underwater – that reminds me of the sound effects of Matthew Ritchie’s installation The Morning Line (Andalusian Center for Contemporary Art, Seville, 2008).

All the objects are cheap, ordinary pieces like empty plastic bottles, paint containers, used paper, glass or metal containers – but when Sze puts them in her installation, they suddenly gain value, the value of art. Ripped pieces of painted paper move by means of an unseen fan, while projected images occupy their surfaces, like a running cheetah, a young woman or a pie-graph. Beside a roll of toilet paper a real plant grows in a container, supported by full spectrum lights. Milliards of objects, papers and textiles create a crowded structure. A mirror placed in a container and covered with water goes through a metamorphosis under a sharp light and becomes the frozen ocean in Tarkovky’s Solaris when the astronaut sees the small lake of his youth in it. It also looks like mercury and changes the light effects on the ceiling. The debris in this installation is more than a collection of objects left around to annoy us. It has unlimited possibilities since all our encounters are unique. Our debris tells a lot about us, our tastes, culture, likings, personalities – our entire life is witnessed by those objects and encapsulated in them. They are an important part of our life. Without recognizing it we become intimately and emotionally attached to the objects we surround ourselves with, regardless of whether they are useful or not. It is this mixture of the psychological and physical, where memories share the platform with physical objects, that makes this installation so attractive. 

I was standing in front of the installation, very close. I must have zoned out for a few seconds like when you fall into that half-dream state. Then one piece of painted paper, part of the installation, moved slightly, touching me. I came to with a sudden shock, worried that I ruined the piece. What happened? What might have happened if I had fallen into this installation, like Alice through the rabbit hole? Will I, my being, be submerged into it? Will my remains, my memories become part of it? Does the possibility of it scare or delight me? Are we consuming the art or is it consuming us? It was a strange moment and I knew for sure that the magic had already happened and some invisible part of me remained on the piece of paper I had accidentally touched – and visa-versa. The hidden camera of my mind took a thousand shots and now stores them both in the conscious and subconscious. 

Then a blinding light came out from some hidden pocket of this installation and my shadow suddenly appeared on it. To be precise, the shadow of my lower body, from the waist down. It remained there until, as fast as it came, it disappeared again. Then another shadow of me, this time my upper body, appeared enlarged on one of the walls. So, wanting it or not, being paranoid about it or not, I was becoming part of the installation. You step into it; you step out of it, depending on the light, without your control; reminding us that our mind is not entirely our own. It is impossible not to be aware of your body’s reaction to this work. A panel from the Age of You, MOCA’s previous exhibition, came to my mind about panic and anxiety. Am I panicking as my generation should or experiencing anxiety like the Millennials? This installation is definitely anxiety inducing.

Sarah Sze, Images in Debris, 2018, MOCA Toronto
Sarah Sze, Images in Debris, 2018, MOCA Toronto. Courtesy the artist, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (New York and Los Angeles). Photo Toni Hafkenscheid

Sze’s “sculptures” are very complicated structures, that vibrate with projected images and light that fills them with life, making them a living thing that breathes and moves. Through this metamorphosis, mundane objects from daily life become otherworldly. Scale and size matter, lighting and projections matter. I wonder how something this complex could be created and then re-installed? We only can guess the artist’s thinking process behind it while we try to puzzle out the pieces in the exhibition. The installing of the work is specific and follows the original plan. Two people from Sarah Sze’s studio came to MOCA to install Images in Debris. They also involved some of MOCA’s staff and trained them to be able to maintain the piece as water would evaporate and need to be refilled. Sze was repeatedly in video conversation with the team and she changed certain parts and effects to adjust them to MOCA’s space – so the installation became site specific as well.

One of the best things about this installation is its complexity, its thousand little parts, related or unrelated to each other, their different medias, dark or shiny surfaces, vibrating with life or challenging the eye to see – making you walk around it or step closer to see its details. There’s so much to take in the eyes and ears are constantly multitasking, feeling overwhelmed. When I was a child, I fantasized about being locked in a museum, in my case the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest. To be surrounded by all the artwork in the semi-darkness and have everything right there to discover. Of course, that never happened but Sarah Sze’s installation gave me a real sense of how that would feel and I treasured every moment of it.

Images: Sarah Sze, Images in Debris, 2018, MOCA Toronto. Courtesy the artist, Victoria Miro Gallery, London and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (New York and Los Angeles). Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid

*Exhibition information: February 6 – until further notice, 2020, Museum of Contemporary Art, 158 Sterling Road, Toronto. The Museum is temporary closed.

Melanie Vote’s The Washhouse: Nothing Ever Happened Here

by John Mendelsohn

Melanie Vote, Washhouse Interior, on site, 2019, oil on paper on wood, 9” x 12”

In this time of the pandemic, we resort to the virtual in order to connect. This applies to art, so I will be writing about an exhibition that I have seen only through digital images. The analogue experience of painting seems all the dearer as we experience it once removed.

This sense of what is lost and what remains pervades Melanie Vote’s exhibition, The Washhouse: Nothing Ever Happened Here. It takes us to an old farmstead and shows us imaginal glimpses of the derelict remains of another time. It is as if the artist has teleported herself to haunt an ancestral place (Vote grew up on a farm in rural Iowa) and conjure up visions of it for her and us to hold onto.

The washhouse of the show’s title is depicted in three small plein air paintings of the interior and exterior, but the main focus is on near life-size fragments of the building’s doors, boards, window, foundation and roof. Everything is painted with a kind of loving attention to the peeling paint, the weathered colors, and the clear, strong light that illuminates everything. The trompe l’oeil effect of sunlight and deep shadow has a paradoxical effect: convincing us of the illusory reality of phantom elements of the outbuilding.

Melanie Vote, Middle Left Rooftop, 2020, oil on wood, 36” x 7.25”
Melanie Vote, Middle Left Foundation, 2020, oil on wood, 38” x 9”
Melanie Vote, Left & Right Door Washhouse, 2019, oil on wood , 29” x 64″ and 32” x 64″

The “Nothing” in the title has a double meaning and reflects the dual nature of Vote’s art. It means nothing out-of-the-ordinary, and signals her respect for the wonder of the observable world. At the same time the word leaves us with the uneasy feeling that “something” happened here that cannot be spoken of directly. It may be the hard work that took place in the washhouse, an unspoken trauma, or the disappearance of a whole way of life.

Previously in Vote’s paintings, this sense of unease and ambiguity arises in different pictorial contexts: a porcelain ballerina figurine appears like a colossus en pointe above a farm field. A figure, based on the artist, with eyes closed and holding a bouquet, is seen from above, lying on an Italianate mosaic floor. A naked, mud-covered female figure crouches, hiding in the grass with an empty pick-up truck in the distance.

In all of these paintings, and many more, the surreal and disturbing coexist with everyday reality, at times landing on the dream-like, the weird, or the tragic. In the current exhibition, this unsettling tendency appears both within and beyond the paintings of the washhouse itself. In three works, a toddler’s dress, a pair of denim overalls, and a mason jar, all levitate against a disconcertingly bright blue sky, a recurring motif in Vote’s work. All exist without a human to fill them or hold them, as if the rapture had taken place and all that is left is the evidence of what had been emptied out. This feeling of the tenuous artifact of times past extends to the two paintings of old photographic portraits transcribed in a soft, dusty magenta. 

Melanie Vote, Evidence Jar, 2020, 12” x16”, oil on wood

Nostalgia and sentiment are touched upon in Vote’s work. She, and we, are made vulnerable to what moves us, even if we resist its pull. The American heartland is a contested cultural and political touchstone, but this painter approaches is it in its complexity: as plain-spoken evidence and as lost innocence embodied in symbols to be held up to the light and examined.

The heartland in the personal sense is evoked in the washhouse as a ghostly sculptural installation, framed out in wood, sheltering only a small, conical mound of concrete and salt, like the tailings of an hourglass.

Melanie Vote, installation view
Melanie Vote, Washhouse Skeleton

Vote is a very talented realist painter in the American tradition of John Frederick Peto, Andrew Wyeth, and Rackstraw Downes, devoted to the faithful rendering of the world, which perforce gives way to the unfathomable strangeness of life. The question of talent in Vote’s case begins with her ability to represent the growing world, skies, objects, and figures with a remarkable fluidity and concision. Talent in art is like a magician’s skill, necessary for the task, but in itself not sufficient. Or like the athlete with “a million-dollar body and a ten-cent head”, talent on its own can lead to nowhere. For Vote, her talent leads her to a place where the imagination can live within the image, a poetic transport.

The exhibit was on view at the Equity Gallery on 245 Broome Street in New York City between March 12 to April 18, 2020

Frank Holliday’s SEE/SAW at Mucciaccia Gallery in NYC

by Christopher Hart Chambers

Frank Holliday, SEE/SAW installation view
Frank Holliday, SEE/SAW installation view

In his essay for the catalog of this exhibition, the curator, legendary critic Carter Ratcliff states, “If the painting is non-figurative it does not, by definition, show us any figures and yet it faces us with a human presence.” That is perhaps the most succinct and accurate insight regarding the intrinsic nature of abstract art I have yet come across.

Continue reading “Frank Holliday’s SEE/SAW at Mucciaccia Gallery in NYC”

Gelah Penn: Uneasy Terms at 

by John Mendelsohn

Uneasy Terms by Gelah Penn at Undercurrent
Gelah Penn, Notes on Clarissa, installation view detail

Art is a form of telepathy, a download from mind to mind. It moves through an imperfect medium, whose noise may be the signal, and whose significance is encoded deep within the image. Beyond the drama of emotion or thrill of sensuality, finally it is a consciousness that shines through to us.

Continue reading “Gelah Penn: Uneasy Terms at 

dArt Magazine’s Foldout Insert and Playing Card Feature

by Steve Rockwell

Example foldout for coming Spring/Summer 2020 dArt, measuring 12.5 x 16 inches
Hypothetical example of foldout for coming Spring/Summer 2020 dArt, measuring 12.5 x 16 inches
Images from past dArt magazines trimmed to playing card size.
Images from past dArt magazines trimmed to playing card size.

Every copy of the coming Spring/Summer edition of dArt International magazine will be unique. The projected limited edition of 500 will feature a foldout insert that is a work of art in its own right – not a reproduction. We welcome proposals from artists to have their work displayed as an insert. In addition, dArt‘s new Playing Card feature will showcase the work of numerous artists, each rendered to the dimensions of a playing card and tipped into a hand-cut framed page.

A printed image of the work of Julian Schnabel cut to playing card dimensions by Steve Rockwell from an article on the artist that appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of dArt (#27).

Apollonia Vanova’s Sleepover Gallery in Toronto

by Emese Krunák-Hajagos

Artist Lumír Hladík on left and Darren Gallery’s owner Apollonia Vanova. Photo, Yianni Tongh

EKH: Darren Gallery is reopening after, as you’ve said, a long and painful renovation with a new concept: Sleepover Art Gallery. Where did this idea come from?

AV: The sleepover gallery concept came about from a variety of factors.  It’s difficult to sell art, as it’s not a life necessity and not a surprise when galleries close down after a few years. Continue reading “Apollonia Vanova’s Sleepover Gallery in Toronto”

Points of Engagement

by D. Dominick Lombardi

Irene Rousseau (American, born 1941), Visual Symphony: Stretching the, Space, 2019, Oil on canvas, pen and ink, 36 x 36 x 1 1/2 in., Courtesy of the artist, ©2020 Irene Rousseau

The success of an exhibition, or any work of art for that matter, is its ability to engage the viewer. Engagement can be a bit more difficult to achieve when you eliminate any sort of representation, as with the current exhibition at the Hofstra Museum of Art, Uncharted: American Abstraction in the Information Age. Continue reading “Points of Engagement”

Janghan Choi at the Korean Cultural Center in Tenafly, New Jersey

by Thalia Vrachopoulos, Ph.D.

Human evolution II

Choi’s multifaceted installations employ the abstracted human form in movement as sign language thus demonstrating a relationship to collective memory and Jungian archetypes, and in their essentialized forms, to cave painting also. Human Evolution I, 2019 which a triptych of neutral background with navy and puce colored signs and a central tondo with rune-like shapes, reveals the artist’s interest in pre-historic cultures. Continue reading “Janghan Choi at the Korean Cultural Center in Tenafly, New Jersey”

A Few of My Favorite Things: An Eclectic Show

by Siba Kumar Das

Richard Humann, Sirenic Cauldron

The Elga Wimmer favorites on display in her Chelsea gallery from December 7-21, 2019 are an eclectic group. But they also embody a unifying theme. What unites them is this:  Conceptualism is still an important force but ideas must go hand in hand with physical product.

Richard Humann exemplifies the adventurousness of a neo-Conceptual artist who has taken to the technology of Augmented Reality to push viewers into a new artistic frontier – as The New York Times’ Ted Loos suggested on November 27, 2019 in a review of an AR show projected above the High Line. That projection threw up 12 imaginary constellations in the sky. Continue reading “A Few of My Favorite Things: An Eclectic Show”

High + Low: A Forty-Five Year Retrospective of D. Dominick Lombardi 1975 – 2019

by Antje K. Gamble

High + Low: A Forty-Five Year Retrospective of D. Dominick Lombardi 1975 – 2019, installation view at the Clara M. Eagle Gallery, Murray State University, Murray, KY

Curated by T. Michael Martin, the large retrospective at the Clara M. Eagle Gallery allowed for a deep look at the shifts throughout D. Dominick Lombardi’s almost five decade long career. From the more Surrealist inspired paintings to assemblage sculptures, High + Low engages with Lombardi’s playful experimentation of art and found materials and highbrow and lowbrow visual references.

The installation of High + Low at the Murray State University Eagle Gallery created cross-decade perspectives on developing themes in Lombardi’s work. (For full disclosure, I am on the faculty of Murray State University.) Continue reading “High + Low: A Forty-Five Year Retrospective of D. Dominick Lombardi 1975 – 2019”