Art Seen: National

2013 CARNEGIE INTERNATIONAL

By Robin Dluzen

It may contain a modest 35 artists, but that doesn’t mean that the 2013 Carnegie International doesn’t cover a lot of ground. Work is installed everywhere in the Pittsburgh museum: outdoors, amongst the permanent collections, in the white walled exhibition galleries and the unusual architectural corners and clearings of the building. Besides the appropriate but broad curatorial declaration that “art illuminates everyday life in all its beauty, imperfection, and comedy,” the 2013 Carnegie International Curators Daniel Baumann, Dan Byers, and Tina Kukielski composed this year’s exhibition without a definitive, centralized theme, but instead a flexibility that allows for separation into more easily digestible parts, and the freedom to play with context. However, not every installation thrives under these conditions.

Wade Guyton's installation in the museum's coat room. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Wade Guyton’s installation in the museum’s coat room. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

The 2013 International features only a handful of the usual art market and the museum circuit staples, and is by and large a selection bringing fresh voices into the institution, including two outsider artists. An example of the former, Wade Guyton transformed the museum’s coatroom into a facsimile of his sparse studio, which though a somewhat intriguing concept, resulted in a less than intriguing actualization. Guyton’s work is also installed in the Founder’s Room, which is off limits to the public except for a single hour each day (which frustratingly didn’t overlap with this writer’s visit). With the exception of the pretty, but underwhelming contribution by Gabriel Sierra (he painted the walls of the Hall of Architecture purple), and the rather dull, formalist two-dimensional works by Sadie Benning (we are informed that she created them on an iPad before hand-cutting and painting them), the majority of the showings are strong.

Installation view of Nicole Eisenman's paintings and sculptures in The Hall of Sculpture Balcony. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Installation view of Nicole Eisenman’s paintings and sculptures in The Hall of Sculpture Balcony. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

The Hall of Sculpture Balcony bears a hefty selection of Nicole Eisenman’s paintings and plaster sculptures amongst the museum’s figurative marble statues, though the artist’s brand of classical and art historical absurdities seem tame in comparison to the strangeness of satirical and metaphorical works by Iranian artist Rokni Haerizadeh installed in an adjacent space. Beneath the glass of vitrines, bound in artist books and playing on video screens, Haerizadeh’s narratives of the British royal wedding spectacle and contemporary violence and protest suggest a modern-day Animal Farm-meets fairy tale as the figures within the sourced imagery are each eerily depicted with hand-drawn animal heads on their shoulders.

Installation view of sculptures by Sarah Lucas with paintings by Henry Taylor. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Installation view of sculptures by Sarah Lucas with paintings by Henry Taylor. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

A true highlight is the series of large-scale paintings by Henry Taylor that surrounds a collection of Sarah Lucas’ droopy body sculptures. The Los Angeles-based Taylor’s portraits of African-American subjects mix a vivid palette with a gestural hand and found material. Though the method of working may not be a novel one, Taylor’s combination of emotionally charged content, like the handwritten letter in Homage to a Brother, with bold figure-ground compositions that are alternately iconic and mundane, imbues his paintings with a clarity of vision and an intensity that feels fresh.

Others of note include the aesthetically dynamic and conceptually dense Bobby Jesus’ Alma Mater b/w Reading the Book of David and/or Paying Attention is Free by Frances Stark combining a hip-hop soundtrack with transcribed conversations and take home flyers; Taryn Simon’s Birds of the West Indies features the cars, weapons and women of the James Bond franchise pictured as they are now, meaning that while the objects appear as they did in the films, the women bear the effects of age (some are well into their 60s and 70s), which effectively distances them from the roles they had played by reinforcing the reality and humanity that separates them from the objects amongst them. Croatian artist Mladen Stilinovic’s installation comes across like a mini-retrospective, his whip-smart, often tongue-in-cheek drama and politics taking the form of pieces like a pink banner that reads “AN ARTIST WHO CANNOT SPEAK ENGLISH IS NO ARTIST,” dictionary pages in which the definition of every word is whited out and replaced with the handwritten word “PAIN,” and a manifesto expounding upon the importance of laziness to the artist’s practice.

Installation view of work by Mladen Stilinovic. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

Installation view of work by Mladen Stilinovic. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

To experience all of the work in the exhibition, one must traverse the entire museum, and that includes the half of the museum that is dedicated to natural history. A half a day into my visit, I discovered that I had yet to see the second of Mark Leckey’s video works. A docent guided me along a path towards one of the farthest reaches of the museum wings, winding through several galleries, past the dinosaurs and into the velvety black jewelry box that is the Wertz Gallery of Gems and Jewels. I laughed as I discovered there amongst the rare gems and crystals “Made in ‘Eaven,” Leckey’s video of a room reflected in the mirrored surface of a Jeff Koons balloon bunny. The delightful parallelism in placing an object of such overblown market value as Koons’ balloon animals amongst these objects of natural wonder, themselves luxury objects in much the same way, is one of the best uses of the various contexts the Carnegie Museum has to offer.


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The 2013 Carnegie International runs through March 16, 2014.

Robin Dluzen is a Chicago-based, multimedia artist and writer, contributing regularly to art ltd., Visual Art Source and Art F City. Dluzen is the former Editor-in-Chief of Chicago Art Magazine, and her writing also has appeared in Newcity, Chicago Reader, the New American Paintings blog and The Outsider Magazine.

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