After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: catalog essay

Rogues Gallery: Monsters, Villains & Hellbent Politicians

by Paul D'Agostino

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Rogues Gallery: Monsters, Villains & Hellbent Politicians

Before you are so many faces you’ve seen so many times before.

You recognize some of them. You might recognize most of them. It’s unlikely for you to recognize all of them, for some of them have facial features that have shape-shifted in certain ways that leave them partly morphed — if not gradually, strangely ever-morphing — into arguably more monstrous, more horrid, more day-glow lurid, or simply weirder versions of themselves via physiognomic hybridizations with the visages of others of kindredly villainous ilk.

They are a rogues gallery of proverbial good, bad and ugly, albeit by and large lacking any and all good.

This somewhat humorous, somewhat serious, somewhat shocking, altogether creepily ominous merging of murkily meta-facial imaginings is what came about when Thai artist Tawan Wattuya brought into conceptual confluence two of his most enduring interests and sources of inspirational inputs in a search for subjects for his solo exhibition at The Lodge Gallery, the artist’s first solo show in the United States following many others in Thailand and elsewhere.

So then, his interests and inputs? The monsters and weirdos of primarily classical cinema, and the monsters and weirdos of contemporary politics. In this semantic context, only for the latter group, the politicians — most especially those who have most atrociously invaded our minds and newsfeeds in 2017 — does the expression ‘monsters and weirdos’ rank as understatement, if not indeed a generously kind one. In contrast, in this bizarre visual and thematic context, the ‘monsters and weirdos’ of cinema — here facing off against the more consequentially despicable characters with political mandates — begin to seem awkwardly friendly, maybe even lovable.

Considered collectively, however, Wattuya’s rogues begin to seem endlessly, newsworthily questionable.

For example, who appears more ‘dracular’ here, a draconian despot like Bashar al-Assad or Dracula himself? Who better embodies sliminess and living death, a blood-sloppily reptilian zombie or Robert Mugabe? Who seems more childishly, lethally maniacal, ‘playful’ little Chucky or ‘Rody’ Duterte? Who might be better at encouraging local populations or entire geographical regions to hide in fear or flee: King Kong, Frankenstein’s Monster, Freddy Krueger or Aung San Suu Kyi?

As you continue to look around and pose yourself such questions, you begin to realize that the politico-cinematic monsters whose likenesses are most fully converged are the ones who seem most hellishly denatured, repulsively demonic, devilishly absurd.

And of course, once you’ve fully examined this lineup of rogues so totally bereft of do-gooders, you will have recognized quite immediately, and many times over, the face and coiffure of a certain world leader who has spewed Godzilla-tons of fire this year.

And you’ll recall that we’re all in hell.

Or, to be a bit less alarmist, we’re at least pretty close.

And by that I mean that in this chaotic meantime we all share and perhaps collectively abhor, we might at least find an aesthetically pleasing sense of darkened joy in Wattuya’s wonderfully imagined, crazily populated, jubilantly colorful, comically hellbent limbo.

Limbo?

Yes.

Sad!

________________

This essay was composed for Rogues Gallery: Monsters, Villains & Hellbent Politicans, Tawan Wattuya’s solo exhibition at The Lodge Gallery, on view from 10 January to 4 February, 2018. More information about the show can be found here. Grid of images courtesy the artist and The Lodge Gallery.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

by Paul D'Agostino

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Calling All Sorts: Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes

One artist’s operative modes, procedural preferences, concepts and contexts, and embedded or openly conveyed metaphors and meanings might be many and varied, and might change significantly over time or from one body of work to the next. Another artist’s perhaps less stratified or ranging approach to artmaking might appear to be far more focused, resolved or streamlined, its ultimate overall yields of ostensibly greater formal or material cohesion.

One artist, in other words, might seem to be all over the place, or to feel most inspired or challenged by working as such, while another might seem somewhat devoted to a specific creative locus, process or directional sense.

One artist’s creative output might look like an explosion. Another’s, hermetic and meticulous.

One’s work might seem nearly nonsensical. Another’s, resolutely rational.

One artist’s personality might be described as Type A, or whatever that’s called these days. Another’s might be described as Type B, or whatever that’s called these days. One artist is introverted, the other extroverted. One is left-brained, the other right-brained. One is instinctive, shoots from the gut. The other painstaking, pensive, cerebral.

And yet, such labels might serve little purpose. Personalities are far more nuanced than such descriptors generally allow, which is particularly true when it comes to discussions of artists—and when considering how and why they do what they do as agents of creative endeavors, as creators of cultural products.

Moreover, artists are rather contrary to being labeled. And rightly so. Who wants to be put in categorical boxes? Artists of all sorts, after all, are the people whose specialty is to think outside of them—much of which derives from posing good questions to answer, and finding good problems to solve.

In other words, to be an artist is to maintain an ever-inquisitive, problem-solving mind and creative disposition. For some artists, this is almost a passive act. For others, a firmly conscious, decisive one. Some artists pose questions and problems in a way that gives them rules to follow. Others throw rules out the window—perhaps even as a rule.

Some of the questions and problems leading eventually to artworks are veiled, implicit, unstated—so inherent to the creative process, even, as to be easily forsaken. For instance:

How would that field look if rendered in watercolors or graphite?

The other aspect of this particular idea about sexuality and art history has never been explored.

Can I carve a cloud with pink lining from a slab of marble?

The art world lacks and therefore needs my parodical video piece on the preemptive museumification of post-nuclear sound art.

Other questions and problems, meanwhile, are explicit, blatant, overt, perhaps even inscribed into the work itself so as to engage a viewer, if not society at large, directly. To be sure, such questions and problems can be of variable complexities, and they might well have no real answers or solutions.

What, then, of all this?

Most simply: It takes all sorts.

All sorts of artists, all sorts of artworks, all sorts of creative personalities, all sorts of approaches, all sorts of introversions and explosions, and of course, all sorts of questions and problems.

What has charmed me the most about working with the inspired and inspiring group of MFA students at Queens College is that they quite literally are, in a collective sense, all sorts. Some work in traditional media and processes, others in advanced technologies and social practice. Some dig into personal narratives and experiences to address complex issues of sexual, racial or national identity; others take creative cues from more directly visual sources, including urban environments, nature and folk traditions. Some seek to create active exchanges with their viewers, or to compel them to regard themselves as ‘other’ to foster understanding; others aim to inform or disarm their viewers by presenting themselves intimately, sincerely, provocatively.

Indeed, the wide range of inputs and pursuits relevant to this group of artists is readily conveyed by the terms they came up with themselves when asked, individually but within a group setting, to try to sum up their respective creative practices in just one word. Here’s what they offered:

chaos, exploration, pattern, connection, empathy, bound, experimental, digestive, emotional, nostalgia, descriptive, poetic, schizophrenic, narrative, weird, understanding, stillness, scientific, cliché, quiet, dignity, hungry

It was from the content of that initial discussion, and from a great many deeply enjoyable and reciprocally enriching studio visits, that I developed the ideas for Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes, an exhibition that I hope does as much to showcase the breadth and quality of the artworks produced by this talented MFA class, as it does to incorporate its viewers into its intermittently audience-inclusive fold. To that end, what you’ll find in the show and in these pages is an array of variably mediated, often interdisciplinarily informed artworks that I have dared to describe loosely as ‘gestural’ and ‘junctural’—created with painstaking care or palpable explosiveness by one of the most driven, creatively variegated groups of art students I’ve ever encountered.

What you’ll also find in these pages are questions these students would like to pose—to themselves and to you—and quotes they’ve selected—for themselves and for you.

And now, for you, a note of advice with which I’ll conclude:

Don’t keep an eye out for these artists. Keep your eyes on them.

________________

The above text is my catalog essay for Gestures & Junctures, Questions & Quotes, an exhibition I curated for the CUNY Queens College MFA Program, on view at Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from April 7th-30th, 2017. Featured artists: Arbër Dabaj, Alejandro Salgado Cendales, Alix Camacho, Amy Cheng, Edward Majkowski, Effi Ibok, Eliesha Grant, Erin Turner, Floor Grootenhuis, Jeff Kasper, Jenna Makuh, Julian Phillips, Len Antinori, Maria K. Karlberg-Levin, Michael Ferris Jr., Nancy Bruno, Paula Frisch, Pedro Ventimilla, Tara Homasi, Uno Nam, Zaid Islam.

Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.

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