Nine to Watch

NICK VAN WOERT
By Daniel Kunitz

Nick van Woert, 31, grew up in Reno, Nevada, and studied architecture as an undergrad before heading east to earn an MFA at Parsons. Now ensconced in Brooklyn, he produces sculptures that draw on his architectural background — especially in their treatment of materials — while "hijacking," as he puts it, the art historical past. In some recent pieces, colored polyurethane adhesive covers casts of Classical sculptures, pooling around them, attacking their faces like mutant squids, or blown over them as if by a hurricane. The adhesive (plain Gorilla Glue) is, Van Woert reminds us, "one of those materials that’s in almost everything we buy and build."

 
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Much of his recent work is rooted in his "Haruspex," 2010, which marries the broken bottom half of a nude male statue with a colorfully striated torso or landscape (depending on how one sees it) composed of found materials. In the course of reading about the Etruscans and Romans, he came upon the haruspex, a diviner of ancient Italy. The Etruscans, Van Woert explains, "would find a site they were interested in for a new camp or city or whatever, and the haruspex would go there, find some animals from the area, cut them up, dissect them, and analyze their guts. He would see a direct relationship between the health of an animal’s guts and the health of the land it was found on, which is badass, because it’s totally empirical and almost quantifiable. For my piece, I took a Classical figure, broke him in half, and then built his guts out of material I found outside the studio: gravel, broken bottles, energy drinks, flies, all sorts of things. I like the idea of the guts of the figure being a mirror of the environment in which it was made. So I’ve been working on permutations of that idea." From the Classical casts Van Woert uses, one can, he feels, divine the state of our society. "If you take the whole lineage of figurative sculpture back to the beginning, you’ll see a progression of ideas. And I think you can read in them our priorities, our attitudes toward nature, toward material. Take these casts. At one time they were done in bronze or marble, which shows a certain attitude toward longevity and production. Now they’re just façades of who we were; they reference the past, but they’re made out of fiberglass, this cheap mass-produced stuff. So I like how they reach back yet reflect who we are now."

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They also reflect who he is now. Van Woert made the first of his goo-beset sculptures in 2008 but had to abandon the idea because back then he had a materials budget of only $100 a month. From his solo show in the spring at New York’s Yvon Lambert Gallery and the numerous group shows in the offing, one can easily divine that his fortunes are changing.

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ANNIE LAPIN
By Meghan Dailey

"People are making fun of me for being so literal with my titles these days," says Annie Lapin. Given the ambiguous nature of her work, in which, as the Los Angeles-based artist describes it, "paint strokes teeter between the specific and the arbitrary," that charge is puzzling. A new piece, "Hut Made of Outdoors," may contain some form of structure and some figures — a person, a wolf? — among woolly scumbles of odd colors, but in Lapin’s quirky symbolism, the legibility doesn’t matter. "What’s being described by the titles is not literally possible," she says. Rather the descriptions, as well as the recognizable elements of landscape and figure, are reference points that merely steady the viewer in a sea of ineffability.

Lapin, 32, was born in Washington, D.C., and attended Yale, where she started out as an archeology major before defecting to art: "I realized I wanted to make things rather than study them." She earned an MFA in 2007 from UCLA, where the painter Lari Pittman was an important teacher and influence. In 2008, Angles Gallery presented a solo show of Lapin’s paintings that was quickly followed by two related installation projects, at the Pasadena Museum of California Art and at the Grand Arts, in Kansas City, Missouri. "The canvas can’t always hold the excess I want to put on it," she says. "So I started playing with other objects." Those included quantities of painted Tyvek, cement blocks, tulle, and silver tape that filled the gallery spaces like three-dimensional versions of her paintings. "I’ve experimented with other media and I’ll continue to do that," Lapin adds, noting that she’s been making sculptures that are scaled-down versions of those earlier, room-size pieces. But for her upcoming show, in May 2011, at Honor Fraser gallery, in Los Angeles, the focus will be primarily on painting. Regardless of what form her work takes, she explains, "it’s still all connected to painting. That’s how I think. I can’t do anything else."

What Lapin is aiming for is a contemporary notion of the sublime. "I think of it as a psychological phenomenon," she says. "It’s not about connecting with something higher. It’s an experiential thing." To get there, she loads it on thick — the art historical references in addition to the paint. There are traces of Corot, Manet, and Watteau as well as of Guston and de Kooning. "I’m interested in sensuous eras of painting. I like Boucher, which is kind of embarrassing, partly because he almost makes you want to puke at how sensual he is," she says, laughing. "There’s an element of that in my work. Looking at the paintings can be almost horrifying. I push it to the point where it’s just so ripe."

NEIL BELOUFA
By Coline Milliard

Our willingness to suspend disbelief forms the foundations of the French-Algerian artist Neil Beloufa’s videos, sculptures, and installations. For the Parisian native, the mental apparatus required to accept as true a film or a play echoes the mechanisms that turn an object into an artwork. His pieces bypass the documentary/fiction dialectic to present a third option, an alternative way to engage with the real.

Beloufa’s 2010 video "Untitled," for example, grew out of an anecdote he heard about terrorists who supposedly occupied a modernist house near Algiers for three years in the 1990s and left it in great condition. Intrigued, the artist talked with the landlord, the neighbors, and the gardener and took pictures of the building and its surroundings. Then, using a large paper model of the house as well as blown-up photo reproductions of it, he shot a film based on his interviews, with actors playing the witnesses. As in most of Beloufa’s pieces, the artifice is obvious: When a man leans against the balcony overlooking the swimming pool, he’s clearly leaning on corrugated cardboard in front of a flat image. At the Frieze Art Fair last October, the artist showed this piece within a structure of plywood, cardboard, and bits of found material that was made to be dismantled into a set of individual sculptures. The viewing booth thus swiveled between the functional and the aesthetically autonomous.

Beloufa takes a similarly skewed approach to the political. He tends, as in "Untitled," to pretend not to notice when politics arise. For the three-part video "Sayre & Marcus," 2010, the artist had a dozen American men improvise a scenario in which they had to find the "killer" among them. The music and circling movement of the camera increase the narrative tension and echo the performers’ anxiety as sensitive topics such as the Iraq War crop up unprompted.

Contributing to the conceptual and formal coherence of Beloufa’s work is a series of leitmotifs. One of these, which appears in an ongoing project called "Bliss," is the default Microsoft Windows wallpaper: a banal depiction of rolling hills. His research led Beloufa to claim that it’s the best-known picture in the world. For his project he found a photograph of the location, in Sonoma Valley, California, and has been disseminating it — as postcards stuck to gallery walls and in his artworks — in a Sisyphean effort to render the "original" as famous as its digital cousin. Another staple of the Beloufian vocabulary is the color of the green screens used in special-effects film work. Incarnating the concept of "suspended disbelief," these lawnlike green patches transform his installations into fragmented depictions of recording studios, suggesting that other items may later be superimposed on them. They hint at their own development as never-ending works in progress.

N. DASH
By Daniel Kunitz

"I don’t knit; I destroy," says N. Dash, black-clad in her Brooklyn studio. She’s referring to the series of fabric works she calls "Pocket Sculptures," but creative destruction is an overarching theme for the recent Columbia MFA grad. Her oeuvre distinctively unites cold conceptual rigor with intense sensuality. Indeed, to describe any of her aesthetic activities, one must resort to verbs of touch.

The "Pocket Sculptures" consist of swatches of fabric that Dash, as she’s known, chafes into ravelment in her pocket. She worries the fabric during subway rides, hand thrust into her pants, fingers working rhythmically. The process can easily lead to misunderstanding. On a long trip from Brooklyn uptown recently, she says, "this guy was sitting next to me on the train. He was crunching real-estate numbers, page after page the whole time until, at the end of the ride, he looks at my hands, looks at me, and shakes his head in disgust. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get back to the paper pieces.’" By which she means her "Pocket Papers." For that series Dash folds little slips of paper that she abrades — in plain view — with her fingers, rendering them sculptural.

If the manipulations behind the "Pocket Sculptures" can be misinterpreted, the titles of her various series can be equally misleading. The artist doesn’t actually exhibit either the fabric sculptures she makes so secretively or the heavily petted paper slips. Instead she arranges the worn fragments, photographs them, and displays the photos. The end products are like clouds: shapely masses that suggest different things — coral buds, dueling dragons — to different eyes. Photographing the sculptures and papers not only provides a framing mechanism, imposing a layer of representational remove between them and the viewer, but also protects the artist. As Dash notes, she literally leaves a lot of herself (sweat, skin) on the material she handles, so she’s wary of losing energy or mojo by allowing others to possess the actual fabric or paper. The series "Burn/Dodge" involves another means of recording her touch. In these pieces she rubs parts of her body on photographic paper as it’s exposed to light. The results are ghostly shapes. She points out, however, that the miasmal forms are not abstractions but "traces or indexes of the movement" of her body. They’re also not reproductions. Each is unique. Like the artist.

MARCELO MOSCHETA
By Scott Indrisek

"Art is not the world; it’s how we see the world," says 34-year-old Marcelo Moscheta, an artist based in Campinas, Brazil. Moscheta has a passion for toying with visual perception, whether by presenting close-up photographs of basement dirt as satellite imagery or creating cloudscapes from cotton or graphite. It’s not surprising that he cites the literary games of Italo Calvino and Magritte’s famous "Ceci n’est pas une pipe," pointing out the gap between representation and reality, as inspirations. In Moscheta’s art, we’re never quite sure what we’re witnessing.

Despite these ambiguities, it’s safe to say that Moscheta’s primary focus is landscape. His series of Conceptual drawings "Carbon Copies," on view in the Paralela 2010 exhibition in São Paulo, are re-creations, in pen, of famous masterworks by Courbet and Poussin — but with all human figures removed, leaving only the intricately limned trees and foliage of the backgrounds. In other works Moscheta’s fascination with the natural world expresses itself in peaceful expanses of clouds or extreme terrain, such as detailed graphite renderings based on NASA’s photos of Mars’s surface.

The artist’s fixation on foreboding, occasionally overwhelming landscapes can be traced to his admiration for the 19th-century painter Caspar David Friedrich. Despite the absence of human figures in Moscheta’s works, they’re not impersonal. "For me landscape is like a mirror when you’re alone," he says. "When you go to the Grand Canyon, you’re not alone. You have to deal with your feelings, your fears, and so you start establishing your relations with the place."

It was Moscheta’s grandfather, an Italian who emigrated to Brazil, who provided him with an early insight into the importance of landscape. Although Moscheta never met his forebear, who died three years before the artist was born, he came to know the older man through personal photographs and postcards, many of which are the foundation of a 2004 series. Moscheta reproduced the found imagery using around 10,000 individual colored squares to form massive, pixilated pieces. "It was a kind of travel, in memory, to start building this person whom I didn’t meet personally," he says.

Another stranger — the early 20th-century Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton — pushed Moscheta’s work further. A particular Shackleton expedition (and photographs relating to it) form the basis for the 2010 installation "Ilha Elephant, 24 de Abril de 1916." "To cross Antarctica by foot just to have the pleasure to be the first to do this — it’s a desire that moves a man to go to these unknown places, to find out just who he is," the artist reflects.

THE SALA-MANCA GROUP
By Sarah Douglas

Many artists incorporate nonart activities into their projects. Perhaps only the Jerusalem-based Sala-Manca Group, however, would go so far as to create a fully operational international residency, complete with a selection committee and private support. The collaborative team of Argentinean-born artists Lea Mauas, 35, and Diego Rotman, 37, has made installations, videos, and performance and new-media pieces for a decade, but these days the duo are focused on melding art and life. Two years ago, with funding from the late artist Daniela Passal’s foundation, they created an artists’ retreat, called Mamuta, in Passal’s former house in the picturesque ancient village of Ein Kerem, now a neighborhood of Jerusalem. Residents produce different types of works, from the more traditional, like painting and sculpture, to hybrids like installation, sound, video, performance, and interactive media.

Mauas and Rotman are, as usual, engaged in several projects at once. Under the banner of Mamuta, they’ll launch a four-month series in January of collaborative installations, interventions, and performances, involving both resident and outside artists, that look at the past and present of Ein Kerem in the context of Israeli politics. Strictly as Sala-Manca, the duo is occupied with "Final," which explores the relationship between sports and politics through a symposium, a film, and the reconstruction of a historical soccer game, all of which will appear in an exhibition slated for next year in Amsterdam called "War Zone Amsterdam Safe Haven," curated by Brigitte Van Der Sande.

The two met in the 1990s in Tel Aviv, where Mauas was studying theater and Rotman Yiddish culture and language. They moved to Jerusalem in 2000, during the Second Intifada, and sensing that the art scene lacked community, started a journal called "Herat Schulaym," which translates as "foot on the margins." It combined art, poetry, and politics and organized site-specific projects — in such places as the Tower of David and a disused jail — around each issue’s launch. "Our approach was intuitive," says Mauas. "We wanted to form connections."

Sala-Manca’s artworks are difficult to categorize. In 2006 the pair created a Web site that presents artists’ blogs as artworks. More recently they’ve focused on cinema. For their reinterpretation of a Yiddish film from 1923, they held, and filmed, a casting call for a Jewish Messiah in Gdansk, Poland, the birthplace of Solidarity, whose blend "of capitalism and messianism" intrigued Mauas. "When Polish people read Hebrew in the casting calls, they sounded like David Ben-Gurion and the other founders of Israel," she recalls. They settled on a 40-year-old carpenter named Maria and followed her explorations of Jerusalem with a camera. Although their work deals with social issues, the pair are hesitant to call themselves political artists. "We are political citizens," Rotman clarifies. Last May they presented Sala-Manca’s activities at "No Soul for Sale," a festival for not- for-profits and collectives at London’s Tate Modern. But don’t look for them in a commercial gallery. "Our art," says Rotman, "isn’t commercially oriented."

GEORGE YOUNG
By Meredith Mendelsohn

Like the studies of a seasoned Old Master, George Young’s pictures extract a maximum of expression from a minimum of means, reducing a figure to dabs, swooshes, and dashes — or its most basic geometric forms. His works, rendered in muted acrylics on paper, are not mere drafts, however, but finished products. "I want them to look instantaneous and brief, " says the London-based 29 year old, who is the subject of a solo show at the booth of Hilary Crisp (of London and Los Angeles), his dealer since 2008, at the New Art Dealer’s Alliance Fair (NADA) in Miami in December. "They do as much as they need to, and no more."

The paper Young uses is often the size or shape of a poster, which gives the work a semidisposable feel. And although the artist paints each image — culled from the Internet, magazines, newspapers, books, and other popular media — over and over again on a single sheet, the result suggests a quick process, because, he explains, "the paint is very thin, so each layer obliterates the one beneath." Hazy, flat, washed out, it looks like a thin layer that has been stripped from a more substantial picture.

While he chooses his subjects carefully, Young’s aim is not specificity but the representation of something much broader: progress. "I’m interested in the momentum of ideas," he says, "and how one thing builds upon another" — how images evolve and are colored over time by changes in perspective. Young’s works invoke either tropes for cultural progress — engineers, scientists, religion — or historically significant moments ingrained in our collective memory. The 2010 painting "Frost Nixon," for instance, is based on footage of an interview with the former president. "I’ve done several versions, and sometimes you can recognize Nixon, sometimes not," says Young, who points out that it’s not important to him that viewers recognize his subjects.

Young, who received his MA from the Royal College of Art in 2008, while working for the artist Charles Avery, has won multiple prizes for his works on paper, but his three-dimensional creations are equally integral to his conceptual practice. He often installs his sculptures, which resemble freestanding picture frames reduced to their bare bones, together with his paintings, sometimes leaning against them or blocking them entirely, so a viewer can’t approach or see them clearly. These pieces, says Young, "have a kind of grammatical function, in that they work to separate one image from another." They also subtly direct a viewer’s progress through the gallery — and they represent a kind of progression of form: "They derive from frames and once were frames, but they’ve mutated in the sense of having a more complicated format."

RUBY SKY STILER
By Scott Indrisek

"I’m interested in shifting between these states of high and low," says Ruby Sky Stiler, a Brooklyn-based artist who makes large fabrications, in foam core or concrete, that mimic (and mangle) the forms of Classical sculpture. Epic works like the sculptural urns "An Old Friend from the Future," 2008, and An Earlier Vessel, 2009, "participate in the language of high art and kitsch," explains Stiler, who earned her MFA from Yale in 2006. Her "Partial Nude, in Light," 2010, which was installed this fall at Socrates Sculpture Park, in Queens, New York, displays many of her signature tropes: what the artist describes as "the assuring patina of antiquity," adopted to create "a mood of authority," and the marriage of disjointed shards: "I’m drawn to the gesture of creating a whole, complete form without having all the correct parts on hand." The piece was her first foray into working with concrete, which she found to share with her more usual medium, foam core, a "utilitarian-chic" quality, in that "both can simulate more expensive materials, like marble or ceramic." The imagery on her sculptural objects is often based on archival reference materials adapted using a sort of poetic license. "I’m trying to summon a vibe of specificity rather than being actually specific," she says.

Lest she be typecast as an adulterator of antiquities, it’s important to note that Stiler’s art consists in more than reconfiguring ancient forms. "Old and Cool/New and Boring," 2007 — which looks a bit like an alien football that’s crash-landed in a gallery — demonstrates her firm grasp on materials and intuition for texture. "This piece is funny, because its surface is so tough and aggressive," the artist explains, "but it’s otherwise a very vulnerable form: overweight, no autonomy." For her 2009 solo show at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, in New York, Stiler imported a wooden floor — a stand-alone piece, Attic — to skew the way visitors interpreted the works on display. "I wanted to create a backdrop that encouraged the works to drift freely between high art and a neglected object relegated to the attic," she says. The artist has also been experimenting with two-dimensional forms, including a series of collages that mingle text and image in geometric arrays.

Stiler supplements her practice by teaching in NYU’s art department and assisting the multimedia artist Olaf Breuning. "If you have to work for the Man," she says, "it might as well be a really funny Swiss man." In 2011 she will present new work at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery and in the project room of Derek Eller Gallery, also in New York, as well as an installation at the unconventional artist-run space the Suburban, in Oak Park, Illinois.

THOMAS MAILAENDER
By Scott Indrisek

"The one thing I’m sure of," Thomas Mailaender says, "is that a prank can become an artistic project." The Paris-based artist exploits media that are often neglected in contemporary works: live chickens, for instance, as well as toilet paper and the vulnerable bodies of senior citizens. Mailaender flouts taboos, combining in his pieces social practice with lowbrow comedy, cheap Photoshop trickery, fiction, and Internet-sourced kitsch. "Chicken Museum," 2010, a project for the Théâtre National Marseille on which he collaborated with the firm Juste le Cabinet Architecture, consisted of a simple structure, sited inside the theater’s entrance, that housed five live chickens and was decorated with photographs of "all the most sordid stuff you can find online," he says. The birds spent five days on exhibit, after which he released them on a farm. "One of the chickens died a few days later. The others took some time to recover emotionally," he says. "I went back to see them a few months later, and I could see that they still displayed strange behavior. I conclude that some images can be harmful to one’s health."

Perhaps as a karmic counterbalance to this borderline poultry abuse, Mailaender also undertook a project in which he donated 3,000 rolls of toilet paper to a homeless shelter. "What interests me is the spectacular, almost sculptural, and absurd aspect that certain charitable practices can sometimes take on," he explains, fully aware that some may not be touched by his gesture. "I like the idea of being able to claim the act of allowing homeless people in a French city to be clean when leaving the bathroom for a year. It’s as if each time they flushed the toilet they were participating in an artistic performance."

Other of his projects include photographing acrobatic motorcyclists; Photoshopping his head onto pictures of people holding huge checks from major companies such as State Farm and Shell Oil; sending a robot through the 2010 Armory Show; and placing sad-faced rock sculptures against odd outdoor backdrops. Mailaender cites Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Hans Peter Feldmann, and Bas Jan Ader as inspirations. "I don’t think that my work is not intellectual, but it tries to liberate itself from discourse as much as possible," he says. "It’s hard to play the fool while explaining at the same time that all this is done knowingly, in an intelligent way." Mailaender is currently pondering a screenplay based on the story of a woman in Italy who had the frozen contents of a passing airplane’s toilet accidentally unloaded outside her house."It has all the necessary qualities that I’m interested in: a situation that is both trivial and supernatural," he says, "and offers a strong sculptural dimension."

"Nine to Watch" originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' December 2010/January 2011 Table of Contents.