The city could have
flinched and spent a million dollars on something safe and predictable for the
biggest and most prominent public art commission in the history of Seattle.
Instead, Seattle hired Ann Hamilton.
Hamilton can't say yet what
she'll make. "I don't have an answer," she said. "What I have is
a question: Is this possible? If you felt like you wanted to trust me with that
question, we would be in that question together."
If that quote were all you
knew of Ann Hamilton, you'd think she was a total flake.
The truth is, she's
actually the most accomplished of the finalists, and she could be cocky if she
wanted to be. For more than 20 years, she's been creating ingenious art around
the world while managing to be, as New York Times critic Roberta Smith
pointed out in 2012, one of the most self-effacing of our leading
She won the MacArthur
Fellowship in 1993, the year after she created an installation involving 200
yellow-and-black-striped canaries in Seattle, which people still talk about. In
1999, she was the US representative at the Venice Biennale. She has art in Seattle's
Central Library, underfoot on 7,200 square feet of the fourth floor where first
lines from library books in multiple languages are embossed in the maple. Dirt
accumulates subtly from people walking on it, the letters every day becoming
more like penciled, personal writings.
Hiring Hamilton is an act
of profound trust. She's the only artist of the five finalists interviewed on
March 13 who said she saw this commission as a challenge and an opportunity to
grow. Her canvas is the prime location on the central waterfront: Pier 62/63,
which juts out over Elliott Bay at the base of Stewart and Pine Streets. She
readily admits she's throwing herself at the mercy of the dramatic place—tides,
winds, horizon. Her plan is to harness it, not compete with it.
When you think about it, to
do anything else would be insane or stupid. Making art on the Seattle
waterfront is a triple dog dare. It's a site that wants for nothing whatsoever,
and in a beloved place like that, art easily becomes the antagonist—even the loveliest
of objects risks blocking a view of something lovelier.
For a project as important
as the waterfront, she's a thrill of a choice—she's a calculated risk, with
just the right ratio of calculation to risk.
"She told us straight
out, 'You'd be taking a risk choosing me,'" said waterfront art manager
Eric Fredericksen. "But she's got such a history with big projects,
and a history in Seattle. She's able to do really big things without any
sculptural heroism. People have very intense experiences with her work."
Thousands of people spent
hours with her 2012 installation inside the 55,000-square-foot drill hall at
New York's Park Avenue Armory. It was called the event of a thread, and
you should really look at it on YouTube for the full effect. She hung swings
from the rafters, and people of all ages naturally got on and swung. The swings
counterbalanced a huge white silken cloud of fabric that rippled and swayed
with every swing, each person's movement registering individually but creating
an overall symphony of action on the curtain. People lay on the floor for
hours, watching the fabric and the wild engineered web of strings up in the
interests include the weaving she learned from her grandmother (her earliest
art), reading the dictionary for fun, animal natures (like making people swing,
or feel words underfoot, or share a room with birds), and the question of how
people can be alone, together.
The other four finalists
were Alice Aycock, Giuseppe Penone, Nancy Rubins, and Oscar Tuazon. With the
first three, you'd have been able to foresee the kinds of objects you'd be
getting. Tuazon's approach is more open, like Hamilton's, but he is far younger
and even riskier than she is.
The committee that sent the
final recommendation to the city for approval was Karen Henry (public art
planner, Vancouver, BC), Catharina Manchanda (Seattle Art Museum curator), Alan
Maskin (principal and partner, Olson Kundig Architects), Cary Moon (founder,
People's Waterfront Coalition), and Norie Sato (an already commissioned
Waterfront Seattle artist).
In addition to choosing
Hamilton, they also recommended to the city that a significant commission be
created for Tuazon, and the city agreed. Judging by his past work in Brooklyn,
Seattle, and France, and the compelling presentation he made on March 13,
that's great news for us.
A total of 343 artists
around the world applied for the million-dollar commission. They ranged from
potters in Tacoma to Seattle artists like Iole Alessandrini and Preston
Singletary to figures from art history books such as Chris Burden and Judy
While a million-dollar
commission breaks a barrier in Seattle, it's peanuts compared to big public art
projects in other American cities. Take the "Bean," Anish Kapoor's
popular reflective sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park. Its original budget
was $6 million, and in the end, it cost $23 million (with some private funding
added to the public).
The entire budget for
public art along the Seattle waterfront is projected to be around $5 million,
timed with the construction over a span of seven years. Of that, $1.7 million
is commissioned already to Hamilton, Seattle artists Buster Simpson and Norie Sato,
and sound artist Stephen Vitiello. Almost all is paid for by the $290 million
bond that voters passed last fall to pay for the replacement of the seawall,
including Hamilton's commission.
according to curator Manchanda, the main philosophical discussion centered on
whether to invite an artist to make a freestanding object to be looked at, or
go with artists more like Hamilton and Tuazon, who make subtler inventions.
"She has a way of creating aesthetic experience without necessarily
announcing, 'Okay, it's art now,'" Manchanda said. "It's more a
seduction." It's also loyal to the roots of public art in Seattle—asking
artists to be more responsive to places and people—which grew out of a reaction
against plop art, the mid-to-late-20th-century practice of plopping down any
sort of art anywhere in public, as long as it was sufficiently colossal.
In a phone conversation
last Saturday from her home, Hamilton said Seattle, to her, has become a place
where she feels trusted. She's used to starting from scratch—she also didn't
know what she was going to do before she began creating her memorable 1992 show
at the Henry Art Gallery at UW. Separate from the waterfront commission, she'll
be back at the Henry next year to fill the entire museum with new work for six
months. Given the popularity of her first exhibition, "I'm really
nervous," she admitted, "because this will be totally
Hamilton tends to conjure a
mood that's meditative but a little exhilarating, which is not unlike the effect
of Elliott Bay from the city's edge. A child visitor to the swings at the Park
Avenue Armory told Hamilton she felt wild and safe at the same time, "And
I was like, yeahhh."
They're just initial
thoughts, but Hamilton has given a few hints about her waterfront ideas. She
dreamed aloud about using the hydraulic power of the tides to set functional
elements on the piers (tables, benches, whatever) rising and falling, appearing
and disappearing. She's thinking about motion first, before material. "There
are all these rhythms," she said. "The rhythm of the city. The rhythm
of your walking. The rhythm of the tide, the wind, the light." She also
thinks that art in a massive urban project should "introduce an irregular
hand into something that so often has to be regularized."
At the end of a
wide-ranging phone conversation about past pieces, how durable materials can
strangle delicate ideas, and how far the eye can see at Pier 62/63, she said,
"I am so excited."
She confessed in a recent
radio interview, "I looove huge volumes of space." The Guggenheim,
MASS MoCA, and now Seattle's waterfront—does her site even have edges?
"It's like wanting to fling yourself," she said, "into something
Today's issue of The New York Times includes a review of the 2014 Whitney Biennial by Holland Cotter. The print edition and online slide show include a photograph of Joel Otterson's work. His installation is also featured in Rozalia Jovanovic's article "Handicrafts Carry the Day at the 2014 Whitney Biennial" in artnet News. The New York Times also features Milton Glaser in Randy Kennedy's article "The Trippy '60s, Courtesy of a Master 'Mad Men' Enlists the Graphics Guru Milton Glaser". www.nytimes.com http://news.artnet.com/art-world
In Blue-Chip Precincts, a
Shout-Out for the Undersung
Booths Devoted to Women Multiply at the
ROSENBERG MARCH 6, 2014
In catering to established tastes, art fairs tend to mirror or even exacerbate the art world’s imbalances. And of all the art fairs that visit New York in March, the Art Show, organized by the Art Dealers Association of America, is normally the safest and most blue-chip of the bunch (that is, heavily white and male).
But the 26th edition of the fair is in some respects a corrective. Perhaps mindful of the special section of drawings by female artists at
the Armory Show across town, the association’s member dealers have assembled one formidable booth after another of art by women: 13 of the 38 solo presentations, plus a thematic exhibition, “Women Collagists,” at
Zoubok. That’s not exactly gender parity; percentage-wise, it’s comparable to the lineup for the current Whitney Biennial, which suggests that there’s plenty of room for improvement. But it’s the highest number of female solos to date for the Art Show.
Quality may be more persuasive than quantity: Nearly every one of those booths is a knockout. Great care has been taken by dealers in calling attention to undersung historical material and to contemporary artists presenting brand-new work. Yes, this is also true of many male-artist booths at the fair, which has become known in recent years for the quality of its solo presentations. (Jeff Wall’s early light boxes at Marian Goodman and Phillip Taaffe’s new botanical paintings at Luhring Augustine are among the polished, tightly edited offerings, as is the pairing of Louise Bourgeois and Gaston Lachaise at Cheim & Read.) But in many places, you can sense extra effort by or on behalf of women.
The historical shows are particularly stirring, reaching back as far as the 19th century to recover underappreciated female artists and prompt some sustained thought about the challenges they faced. Galerie St. Etienne, for instance, is featuring the early German Modernist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), who is the subject of a new
biography by the art historian Diane Radycki. Looking at her semi-abstracted portraits of mothers and children, which evoke both the Post-Impressionists and Piero della Francesca, you wonder what else she might have accomplished had she not died at 31 from complications of childbirth.
Also riveting is the Robert Miller Gallery’s survey of Lee Krasner’s dynamic collages, which make use of her own torn-up drawings. Many are as large as her better-known paintings, and every bit as gestural. It ought to be seen in tandem with “Women Collagists,” which includes smaller works by Grace Hartigan, Vanessa German and Perle Fine.
P.P.O.W.’s thorough and absorbing show of older works by a living artist,
Wilson, hould also be counted among the important historical exhibitions. The photographs, performance documents and films on view date from 1970 to 1974, when Ms. Wilson was attending art school in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They find her exposing chauvinism and clubbiness within this conceptual-art center, sometimes posing as a man in drag, and always with wry humor.
In the adjacent booth of
Solway Gallery, the installation artist
Ann Hamilton (who not long ago filled the Park Avenue Armory’s entire drill hall) is in residence, engaging visitors with the sort of interactive project that’s become common at contemporary fairs like Frieze (coming to New York in May) and at the Armory, but that is rare here. Visitors who want to be photographed by Ms. Hamilton can press their faces against a special membrane; only the features that touch the screen will appear in focus. Anyone who participates will receive a small print bearing a portrait.
Sarah McEneaney is also present, in a sense, at Tibor de Nagy; in her precise and colorful egg-tempera paintings, she can be seen lounging with her cats, striking yoga poses in a James Turrell installation and doing the crossword in an art-filled red interior (a riff, perhaps, on Matisse’s “Red Studio.”)
Younger contemporary artists (some already veterans of multiple Chelsea gallery shows — this is the tried-and-tested Association of Art Dealers, after all) also make an impression. Sara VanDerBeek has put together an elegant and mysterious installation inspired by urban transformation in Cleveland; photographs partly obscured by a zigzagging partition show us mysterious details of the cityscape.
At Petzel Gallery, the painter Dana Schutz is showing a new and vigorous crop of charcoal drawings. With their whirling, mechanized figures, they seem to converse with the Futurist works on paper just two stalls away atAdler & Conkright.
And at Yancey Richardson, the South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s black-and-white portraits portray individuals boldly asserting both their African and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identities. They remind you that while the Art Show may be moving in the right direction as far as the gender gap is concerned, a fair that shows the art world its better self would also have to address diversity.
The Art Show continues through Sunday at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, at 67th Street; artdealers.org.