After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Tag: performance

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.

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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.

Take Us Lying Down

by Paul D'Agostino

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Take Us Lying Down: Lisa Levy & Paul Gagner at Spring/Break Art Show

With just the right mix of awkward humor, self-effacement and intelligently irreverent seriousness to evade didacticism while making observations that are both piquant and relevant, Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner poke fun at and gainfully critique artists, the art world, art history, and people in general all at once—implicating all the while, perhaps even principally so, themselves.

Lisa Levy’s performative therapy sessions and related engagements with her audience are funny, to be sure, and at times pointedly cynical. But these same interventions are also sincere attempts at coming to an understanding of how people think, and of why they do the things they do—creative people, primarily though not exclusively. Through actions including a variety of performance pieces as well as her radio show, “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” Levy gets into people’s minds and probes their pasts, not invasively but also not really pulling any punches. Her casually non-clinical approach—she’s not really a doctor, after all—truly caring disposition and well-honed humor are utterly disarming, indeed even charming, encouraging her interlocutors to open up in surprisingly candid ways. At the same time, all this ‘therapy,’ as Levy readily shares with her subjects, is also very much about her—about her own insecurities and shortcomings, about her own creative and social anxieties. In a most literal way, Dr. Lisa’s therapy sessions are also a therapy of the self.

Enter Paul Gagner, a painter whose past few years of output have resulted in scores of similarly amusing, self-reflective, art-refractive works of quasi-clinical criticality. Pictorial analogs to Levy’s practices with performative therapy, Gagner’s abstractly figurative paintings question the viewer’s and artist’s agency and mental stability all at once, yet in a way in which the humor is so blatant as to even factor into the painter’s own self-portrayal in many compositions, as well as in his rather intentionally chunky, at times almost clunky material handling. Most exemplary of these tendencies are Gagner’s paintings featuring ‘books’ that have been ‘written’ by a certain Dr. Howard Moseley, M.D., with disquietingly hilarious titles such as A Beginner’s Guide to Home Lobotomy, Coping With Imaginary Foes, and Do It Yourself Coffins. The absurdity of such titles, and of the goofball ‘book jackets’ Gagner creates for the volumes, make them invariable crowd-pleasers. At the same time, there’s a profound honesty to the works as well, as they must also be read as only subtly exaggerated expressions of Gagner’s own insecurities regarding his capacities as a painter and interpersonal savoir-faire.

Take Us Lying Down will bring the materially divergent yet conceptually linked practices of these two artists into spatial and interactive confluence. The setting will be a therapist’s office of sorts—complete with an obligatory chaise longue—where Levy will offer her ‘expert’ counsel to any and all passers-through who are willing to lie down for a few minutes and open up. Prior to engaging in such ‘sessions’ with Levy, however, visitors will have to navigate a bookstore-like ‘waiting room’ featuring a selection of paintings and faux Moseley volumes crafted by Gagner. Gagner himself will be there too, a kind of strange but friendly receptionist who happens to be surrounded by canvas-bound depictions of himself.

Visitors to Take Us Lying Down will be amused upon entry, then probed in the rear. And they’ll receive bespoke snacks and silly tchotchkes for all their ‘troubles.’ On levels literal and euphemistic alike, this fully realized apparatus of somewhat dark, generally humorous, in part charlatanic, overall sincerely empathic ‘therapeutic’ interactions quite fittingly reflects ‘black mirrored’ notions of self. Care to schedule an appointment?

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Lisa Levy is a conceptual artist, comedic performer, painter and self-proclaimed psychotherapist with a professional background in advertising. Her visual art has been widely exhibited at many venues, including The New Museum, The Bronx Museum, Pulse Art Fair, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Christopher Stout Gallery. Levy also performs live. Her most popular character is Dr. Lisa, S.P., who psychoanalyzes people on screen, stage and on the street, and whose ‘patients’ have even included celebrities such as Joe Gordon-Levitt and Amy Schumer. She currently hosts a weekly radio show called “Dr. Lisa Gives a Shit,” in which she conducts funny, emotionally revealing ‘psychotherapy sessions’ with creative guests.

Paul Gagner received his BFA from the SVA in 2005, and his MFA from Brooklyn College in 2009. He has exhibited throughout the US, including at Halsey McKay, Driscoll Babcock, Lesley Heller Workspace, The Maryland Institute College of Art, the Housatonic Museum of Art, and The Richmond Center for Visual Arts. Gagner has been featured in New American Paintings, Baltimore City Paper, Art 21 and Hyperallergic. The Museum of Modern Art holds a series of Gagner’s collages in its print collection. Paul Gagner lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
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This essay was composed as a curatorial statement for Take Us Lying Down, featuring Lisa Levy and Paul Gagner, on view at Spring/Break Art Show during New York Armory Week, from 28 February to 6 March 2017. Spring/Break Art Show’s location this year is 4 Times Square, 22nd and 23rd floors. Take Us Lying Down is situated in a duplex office setting on the 22nd floor, Suite 2246. More information about Spring/Break Art Show is here.

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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