Postcard from London

August 4, 2010

Recently I was in England for the glorious wedding of my son in a small Hampshire village’s Registrar’s Office, followed by a lovely garden party on a bright English summer day. And, for another wistful moment, I found my way over the silver “wobbly” bridge, as the locals call it, to the Tate Modern. The sheer grandeur of the old power station transmuted to this massive palace of art is revelation in itself. Knowing that Pure Beauty, John Baldessari’s retrospective, was just there and is now at LACMA, gave the whole visit a kind of piquancy for me.

The Tate had wonderful and extensive shows, one a Francis Alÿs retrospective called A Story of Deception. LACMA’s small but moving taste of Francis Alÿs’ socially committed and deceptively diverse imagination with his Fabiola exhibition, on view last year, and works such as his The Green Line (owned by LACMA,  on view in the Tate exhibition) and Gun Camera conditioned me somewhat for the depth of these socially compelling filmed “acts” and the amount of painting and drawing that support this extraordinary artist.

Francis Alÿs, “The Green Line (SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POETIC CAN BECOME POLITICAL AND SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POLITICAL CAN BECOME POETIC),” 2007, LACMA, purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund and the Michael and Dorothy Blankfort Bequest by exchange

As one veers from the seemingly absurd to bafflement and tragic profundity, to almost slapstick humor and onto the creation of social myth, and the fixation on ordinary children’s games, one finds this artist disentangling pathos and farce with an indomitable affection. There is mention of “allegorical suggestions,” “absurd expenditure of effort,” and “a precarious optimism in Alÿs’ practice.” For instance, there is Paradox of Prazis, in which Alÿs pushes a large block of ice around the city until it has totally melted. The subtitle of the work is “Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing.” Elsewhere there is the symbolic act of leading sheep around a flagpole, known as Patriotic Tales, or the rather refreshing concept of myth creation by getting 500 Peruvian students in Lima with shovels to dig in small amounts up a giant dune and then down and remain in a straight line throughout in When Faith Moves Mountains. Afterward, in spite of the dust and heat, many claimed that as a result there was a strange and exhilarating feeling of achievement that they were surely to pass on.

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Cuauhtémoc Medina and Rafael Ortega, still from “When Faith moves Mountains (Cuando la fe mueve montañes),” Lima, 2002, private collection, © Francis Alÿs

Probably the most unusual and strangest of them all, Tornado, sees the artist runs into a fairly large dust tornado over and over, later to be questioned, “Is he recognizing the vanity of poetic gestures at the time of calamity?”

Hylan Booker



Tad Beck on his Installation, Palimpsest

August 2, 2010

Inside the exhibition Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins is a gallery of works by contemporary artist Tad Beck, whose exhibition Palimpsest, works in dialogue with Eakins’s paintings and photographs. We asked Tad to guest blog on Unframed today, connecting the dots between the two shows.

During the installation of my exhibition Palimpsest, I was able to have my own private exploration of Manly Pursuits. I had never seen many of these works in person, though Eakins has been one of my primary influences since parallels emerged with my own practice. The first similarities appeared between my video installation, Roll (2003) and Eakins’s painting The Swimming Hole (1884–85). Both Eakins’s and my own work focus on nude models. The locations look very much the same, and both Eakins and I are treading water. There was even similar passion for creating axis. While none of these parallels were intentional in Roll, they became definitive and almost seemed beyond coincidence.

Thomas Eakins, The Swimming Hole, 1884–85, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, Purchased by the Friends of Art, Fort Worth Art Association, 1925; acquired by the Amon Carter Museum, 1990, from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through grants and donations from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, the Anne Burnett and Charles Tandy Foundation, Capital Cities/ABC Foundation, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The R. D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Foundation and the people of Fort Worth

Palimpsest was created in part to examine my connection to Eakins, to make the parallels a primary issue in my creative process. Brian Allen of the Addison Gallery of American Art had given me reproductions of the Circle of Eakins’ Grafly Album, which provided me with images that evoked an artist/model dynamic I was very interested in. I shot the Palimpsest models in my own studio, simulating the light of Eakins’s studio and reenacting the poses of Eakins’s models. My models were then digitally inserted into Eakins’s studio.

Despite the consuming installation of my own photographs, I was struck by one of Eakins’s works in particular—Male Clothed, Standing, and Male Nude Named J. Laurie Wallace Nude, Reclining on Platform in Wooded Landscape (1883). This photograph is a study for The Swimming Hole, but it was not shot at the swimming hole; rather at an entirely unrelated location and time with the figures posing on a constructed stage that simulated the perspective and lighting of the location in the painting and other photographs.

Thomas Eakins, Male Clothed, Standing, and Male Nude Named J. Laurie Wallace Nude, Reclining on Platform in Wooded Landscape, c. 1883, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Charles Bregler’s Thomas Eakins Collection. Purchased with the partial support of the Pew Memorial Trust, 1985.68.2.476

One of the model’s poses in this image is seen in the painted Study for Swimming Hole. While it is clear that Eakins used photographs to paint from, this photograph represents the more complicated strategy of a self-aware cinematic or fictional use of photography that really came into critical discussion in the Pictures generation. It is not just a photographic moment to be reproduced in paint. In ways it resembles the photographs I initially shot before I digitally inserted my models into Eakins’s studio in Palimpsest. The figures are engaged in an activity that does not match their background or their time, primed for insertion into a fictional or constructed scene made up of various other photographic moments.

Although some may have issue with Eakins painting from photographs, I have no qualms with it, rather I celebrate him for it. My real interest is in Eakins’s relationship to what photography does, to what the choreographed and assembled reality that photography provided him. Surprisingly I found myself even more closely aligned with Eakins because of a contemporary method that requires the artist to unify a variety of moments into one realistic composition. As viewers, we are able to embrace the fiction of that warm afternoon swimming, but also the reality of each ingredient of the composite seen in the accompanying photographs. This duality is at the heart of Palimpsest and apparently The Swimming Hole as well.

Tad Beck, Palimpsest One, 2009, courtesy the artist

Tad Beck



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