Kaz Oshiro: Work, Influences, and Chasing Ghosts

January 22, 2014

“Abstract painting is all art. It’s pure in a way, simply canvas, paint and a brush.” —Artist Kaz Oshiro

Kaz Oshiro was born in Okinawa, Japan, in 1967. Growing up in the 1970s, Oshiro recalls an early interest in contemporary art after he encountered a reproduction of a photorealist painting by Robert Estes. The memory stuck with him as he was left to ponder whether or not the work was in fact a painting or a photograph.

Kaz Oshiro, Lateral File Cabinet (White #1), 2013, photo courtesy Joshua White/JWPictures.com

Kaz Oshiro, Lateral File Cabinet (White #1), 2013, courtesy Honor Fraser Gallery, photo Joshua White/JWPictures.com

With this early encounter, perhaps the seeds for Oshiro’s complex practice were planted. Early in his career, Oshiro became known as a master of deception. He recreated ordinary household objects such as kitchen cabinets, microwaves, mini fridges, guitar amplifiers, and stereo speakers. What first appears to be a three dimensional object reveals itself, upon closer looking, to be a painting on canvas.

Kaz Oshiro, Marshal Speaker Cabinet (pair), horizontal, 2013, courtesy Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong

Kaz Oshiro, Marshal Speaker Cabinet (pair), horizontal, 2013, courtesy Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong

Cabinet Speaker, photo by Steven Hull

Kaz Oshiro, Speaker Cabinets and Gray Scale Boxes, courtesy Honor Fraser Gallery, photo by Steven Hull

Complete with markings resembling ordinary wear and tear endured by objects that figure into everyday life, Oshiro’s works are made using a realist technique, which is so convincing that the paintings can be easy to miss as they blend into the environment. Assembled from stretched canvas, Oshiro’s paintings are complete with painted fixtures, which aid in the deception. The unraveling of deception only happens upon inspection behind the façade and through openings in the back of the work.

Influenced by Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop Art, and 17th-century still-life canvases, Oshiro uses painting to explore spatiality. His practice is conceptually driven, and the resulting work appears to be straightforward and minimal. The complexity of his practice is riveting, as he pushes the confines of painting by straddling the principles of both abstraction and representation. His desire to make discreet paintings is a way to intersect the principles of conceptualism, abstraction, and representation.

Kaz Oshiro, Untitled Still Life, 2013, photo courtesy Joshua White/JWPictures.com

Kaz Oshiro, Untitled Still Life, 2013, courtesy Honor Fraser Gallery, photo Joshua White/JWPictures.com

HF Install Shots, photo by Joshua White/JWPictures.com

Kaz Oshiro at Honor Fraser, courtesy Honor Fraser Gallery, photo Joshua White/JWPictures.com

Oshiro’s latest body of work represents a formal shift from the representational to the more abstract. Moving away from the illusionary tricks employed by trompe l’oeil techniques (seen in his earlier works), the recent minimalist canvases fold the corners of the walls or collapse onto the floor. Here Oshiro plays with the spatial politics of painting, extending the conceptual practice, challenging the conventional two-dimensional picture plane and further objectifying its physical components. These works are what Oshiro describes as “still life of a broken painting.”

I spoke with Oshiro in preparation for the opening of his exhibition Kaz Oshiro: Chasing Ghosts, which takes place this Friday, January 24, at the gallery at Charles White Elementary School.

Kaz Oshiro, Dumpster (Yellow with Blue Swoosh), 2010, gift of Steven Hull and Tami Demaree, Yasmine Benyamini, and Samuel Kashani

Nancy Meyer: Can you discuss the title of the exhibition Chasing Ghosts? Where did the idea come from?

Kaz Oshiro: My motivation to continue my art practice originates from the sense of defeat that I experienced by looking at works made by the great Abstract Expressionist painters such as de Kooning, Rothko, and other great artists in the past. The title Chasing Ghosts represents both my agony and joy of continuing my practice chasing and challenging those phantoms. I wanted to share this idea and also find the process of making art with the students in this exhibition.

NM: You’ve included some influential painters in the exhibition. Are there others not represented in the show that have had a major impact on your practice?

KO: Too many artists to list, but just to name a few, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Ed Ruscha, and John Cage have been great inspirations.

NM: Can you talk about the process of choosing the works in the exhibition and how they work in conversation with your new body of work?

KO: For this exhibition, I needed to choose work that can be made by working with students. The Dumpster is the work that projects my view on both Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism. That sounds a bit academic; on the contrary that’s an accessible object for many people. I liked the idea of painting a Dumpster with students since there is no right or wrong way to paint a Dumpster. If my Dumpsters represent my idea of painting about object, my broken canvases, Untitled Still Life represent my take on sculpture about painting. The directions seem to be completely opposite, but in fact the fundamental ideas are the same. The both are still life paintings/objects or abstract paintings/objects.

     Artist Kaz Oshiro works with a student on a collaborative painting project.

Artist Kaz Oshiro works with a student on a collaborative painting project.

NM: Your work straddles the principles between abstraction and representation. What do you think about how painting is defined in this way? Do you think it’s still relevant to distinguish the two?

KO: I try not to separate abstraction and representation because I think it’s just matter of how we look at it through either macro- or micro-perspective. Probably, the reality only exists in our heads.

NM: This is the first time you have worked collaboratively and with children. Can you elaborate on your experience working with them?

KO: To be honest, I was confused when I was offered to participate in this project with students, because I haven’t had any experience working not only with students but other people much. I usually work alone in my studio without seeing anyone around me, but it turned out to be a very good learning experience. On reflection, I would make some improvements in organizing workshops and exhibitions plan if I have another chance . . . that’s probably a good sign. I enjoyed watching the students having a fun painting with nontraditional tools to create a big mess.

Marc Levoy on Google Glass and Photography

January 21, 2014

On Saturday, January 25, Stanford Professor Marc Levoy will be presenting a talk titled “What Google Glass Means for the Future of Photography” at LACMA. The event is presented in conjunction with the exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection. In anticipation of the event LACMA’s Elizabeth Gerber asked him a few questions for Unframed.


For people not familiar with Google Glass, could you provide a short description?

Some people describe Glass as a cell phone you wear on your head. Like a cell phone, Glass has a display, camera, touchpad, motion sensors, radios, and a plug for charging its battery. I prefer to think of Glass as a new kind of digital assistant. In fact, one typically tethers Glass to a cell phone, and the two work together.

Glass can do things a cell phone can’t, such as taking a picture just by winking, or sending a text message while driving without taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road. And Glass can’t do everything a cell phone can, like sharing a funny video with a friend. (Only one person can look through Glass at a time.)

Google Glass has been getting increased media attention this past year. What do you find most exciting about Google Glass?

I’m giving this talk as a Stanford professor, not a Googler, so don’t expect a marketing pitch for Glass. In my view, the project’s goals were to produce a device that is lightweight enough, unobtrusive enough, fashionable enough, and useful enough, that one would wear it all day. Does it fulfill these goals? Not yet, but it’s getting better with each new release. (And I do wear it all day, partly because it’s also a comfortable pair of prescription sunglasses.)

Everybody who uses Glass has their own favorite feature. My specialty at Stanford is computational photography, and the feature I find most exciting about Glass is its ability to take high-quality, first-person, point-of-view pictures and videos on the spur of the moment—whenever you see something worth remembering. How Glass changes the game for photography is what I’ll be talking about on Saturday.

You teach a digital photography class at Stanford and photograph during your free time. Are there specific photographs or photographers that are inspirational to you?

I teach both the art and science of photography, which I suppose comes from my mixed background in architecture and computer science. So I’m particularly inspired by photographers who deeply understand photographic technology, and by photographs that push the boundaries of what the human eye can see.

Ansel Adams produced beautiful photographs of nature, but he also wrote a three-volume treatise on photographic technique. If he were alive today, I’ll bet he would embrace digital photography.

Harold Edgerton—the father of high-speed photography—is another favorite of mine. He pioneered strobe illumination, and he took some of the most striking and beautiful pictures ever captured. (Think of the milk-drop corona, or the bullet passing through an apple.)

The exhibition See the Light explores parallels between the history of photography and the history of vision science. In your view, what is next in those two fields in the next 10 years?

The principles of photography have remained largely unchanged since its invention by Joseph Niépce in the 1820s. A lens focuses light from the scene onto a photosensitive plate, which records this information directly to form a picture. Because this picture is a simple copy of the optical image reaching the plate, improvements in image quality have been achieved primarily by refining the optics and the recording method. These refinements have been dramatic over the past few decades, particularly with the switchover from film to digital sensors, but they’ve been incremental.

Computational photography challenges this view. It instead considers the image the sensor gathers to be intermediate data, and it uses computation to form the picture. Often, it requires multiple images to be captured, which are combined in some way to produce the final picture. Representative techniques include high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging, flash/no-flash imaging, coded-aperture and coded-exposure imaging, photography under structured illumination, multiperspective and panoramic stitching, digital photomontage, all-focus imaging, and light-field imaging.

As the megapixel wars wind down, camera companies will begin competing more and more on whatever fancy (and useful) computational photography features they can fit into their devices. This revolution has just begun, and it will completely transform photography over the next generation. Except in photojournalism, there will be no such thing as a “straight photograph”; everything will be an amalgam, an interpretation, an enhancement, or a variation—either by the photographer as auteur or by the camera itself—under manual control or fully automatically.

We’ll also see increased experimentation at the boundary between still photographs and videos. Think of cinemagraphs, or Vine’s six-second video clips, or Harry Potter “talking pictures.” Lots of people and companies are experimenting in this space. Some of these experiments will be successful, a few will be beautiful, many will be useful, and some will take advantage of wearable devices like Glass. The fun has just begun.

Marc Levoy is the VMware Founders Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Click here for more information about this talk.

Elizabeth Gerber, Education and Public Programs

A Case of Love at First Sight: A Curator’s Perspective

January 20, 2014

My initial viewing of My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume I was a case of love at first sight. Whatever it was that first drew me to study Islamic art—possibly the unique combination of color and design, the oscillation between abstraction and figuration, and especially the inclusion of Arabic text—is also what attracts me to Hajjaj’s work, which is not only inherently familiar but also terrifically original. It seemed to me that if music videos had existed in the medieval Islamic world, this is how they would have looked and sounded. My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume I merely underscores Hassan Hajjaj’s enormous and universal appeal, making him one of my rock stars.


There is another telling story that goes with the first time I saw My Rock Stars Experimental, which was in 2012 at Rose Issa Projects on Great Portland Street in London. Three teenage boys came in, all of African descent, awkward not only with their newly adult bodies but in being around art, which they explained they needed to see for a school project. They immediately gravitated to the video, relaxed and sat down on Hajjaj’s iconic red plastic Coca-Cola crates, then whipped out their phones and began recording and giggling. They asked and were happily surprised to learn that this was indeed art.

Hassan Hajjaj, still from My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, Helen Venus Bushfire , 2012, Purchased with funds  provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

Hassan Hajjaj, still from My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, Helen Venus Bushfire, 2012, purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

I think they immediately connected with the video installation for a number of reasons: it is a familiar format and medium, it is “really cool” (their words), and all of the performers in the video are people of colorperhaps not what the students expected to see walking into a tony London gallery. When I asked them why they were giggling, they shrugged shyly and one fellow said it was because they liked it. It was their reactions—which I recorded on my own phone—that convinced me we had to have My Rock Stars Experimental for LACMA.

Linda Komaroff, Curator and Department Head, Art of the Middle East

This Weekend at LACMA: Free Workshops at Monterey Park Art+Film Lab, Talks and Events, Must-See Artworks, and More!

January 17, 2014

The Monterey Park Art+Film Lab at East Los Angeles College enters its second week of FREE public programming, including oral-history drop-ins and a screening of Little Fugitive on Friday evening, a composition workshop on Saturday, and an instant film workshop on Sunday. All of these workshops offer area residents of all levels of know-how the opportunity to learn hands-on filmmaking and storytelling skills with professional equipment and at no cost.

Beyond workshops and film screenings, the final component of the Art+Film Lab invites participants to visit LACMA. This Sunday, Art+Lab participants from Altadena, the previous lab site, are invited to LACMA for a free day. Screening throughout the day is Nicole Miller’s Believing Is Seeing, a commissioned video artwork composed of personal stories told by Altadena locals, which demonstrates who and what makes up the city.

Photos © Museum Associates / LACMA, by Duncan Cheng.

Art+Film Lab, Jorge Pardo Sculpture, photo © Museum Associates / LACMA, by Duncan Cheng

Saturday at 1 pm, see the final part of [de]-lusions of Grandeur by Liz Glynn in The Myth of Permanent Material. This time Glynn takes a look at concrete and the challenges posed by the material associated with permanence and stability, like in Donald Judd’s Untitled (for Leo Castelli). Later that day at 2 pm, author James Oles discusses one of the least familiar periods of Mexican art history in a talk, From Mexico’s Forgotten Century: 19th-Century Costumbrismo and the Paintings of Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez. On Sunday at 1 pm, artist Youngmin Lee presents the traditional craft of Korean art in a Bojagi Demonstration. Weekly installments of Andell Family Sundays and Sundays Live round out the busy schedule.

David Hockney, May 12th 2011 Rudston to Kilham Road 5pm, © David Hockney

David Hockney, May 12th 2011 Rudston to Kilham Road 5pm (detail), from Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos, 2011, courtesy of and © David Hockney

In the galleries, LACMA bids a farewell to David Hockney: Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos, 2011 on Monday. Fret not, in a matter of days, Hockney’s video work will return in a different form with David Hockney: The Jugglers. Next door in BCAM, see Murmurs: Recent Contemporary Acquisitions for a look at some of LACMA’s newest pieces. In the Ahmanson Building, explore the fourth floor and see Hassan Hajjaj: My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012 and Princely Traditions and Colonial Pursuits in India. Lastly, on the east side of campus, view the legacy of Mexican filmmaker Gabriel Figueroa in Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film before it closes on February 2. And if we don’t see this weekend be sure to come for Target Free Holiday Monday in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Roberto Ayala

Liz Glynn’s Last Performance: [de]-lusions of Grandeur

January 16, 2014

Artist Liz Glynn’s series, [de]-lusions of Grandeur, closes this Saturday with a final performance, The Myth of Permanent Material, which focuses on Donald Judd’s Untitled (for Leo Castelli) a 1977 sculpture comprising five concrete cube-like forms currently on display near the tar pit in Hancock Park. Glynn’s performance plays around the idea of potentially recreating Judd’s work. Unframed wraps up the performances with an interview with Glynn conducted by LACMA’s social-media manager Maritza Lerman Yoes.

Maritza Lerman Yoes: I’m excited (and sad) to be witness to your final performance as part of your [de]-lusions of Grandeur series at LACMA. How does it feel to be wrapping up this performance cycle?

Liz Glynn: It will be strange not to be at LACMA so often. Over the past year, I’ve worked with a number of people across the staff—security guards, conservators, registrars, and curatorial assistants—and it’s hard to walk across the campus without seeing someone I know.

Rehearsals for Liz Glynn's "The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time"

Rehearsals for Liz Glynn’s The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time

MLY: Can you tell me what you will be doing with the Donald Judd work?

LG: This action, The Myth of Permanent Material (after Donald Judd) delves into the conservation issues surrounding Judd’s Untitled (for Leo Castelli), 1977. This is one of Judd’s earliest works in concrete, and over the time, the material has eroded, and been subject to the typical wear and tear of a sculpture installed outdoors on public view.

In LACMA’s curatorial files on the piece, there has been some debate about whether the work should be refabricated, though this issue proves complicated given Judd’s uneven history regarding the conservation of his work during his lifetime. I have recreated the formwork necessary to recast the concrete piece, and we’ve hired a cement mixer. We will debate the arguments for and against recasting the work, and the outcome of the debate will determine whether the concrete is poured.

MLY: What is the significance of the Donald Judd given that this is your last performance?

LG: Donald Judd’s work, and particularly his early plywood pieces, was one of my first entry points into making sculpture, so personally, it’s a fitting end. On a more conceptual level, I think the question of permanence, and the implications of creating something permanent, is one the most significant issues all of the performances in the cycle have touched on in one way or another.

MLY: How did you pick the five works for your five performances?

LG: The initial impetus for the project was to explore issues of human ambition, monumentality, and permanence through LACMA’s collection. I began by identifying the works in the collection that might qualify as “monumental,” and started researching each through academic journals, catalogues, LACMA’s files, and in conversation with members of the curatorial and conservation staff. Rodin and Calder initially both seemed like outliers, as I had initially wanted to focus on Minimalist works, but the research unearthed some unexpected parallels to contemporary sculpture.

MLY: Why were all five pieces by men who did monumental work?

LG: Interesting, the only “monumental” work by a female artist in LACMA’s collection is the amphitheater by the artist Jackie Ferrara. Many visitors don’t realize the structure is in fact an artwork. I did consider this piece early on, but felt that the issues I was interested in exploring were better expressed in other pieces from the collection.

Artist Jackie Ferrara’s amphitheater. Photo courtesy of Urban Art Commission

MLY: How complicated was it to arrange materials for your performances?

LG: Scale is a logistical challenge, particularly in the cases of Judd and Serra. My initial concept for the Serra work was to bring the weight of Band, 2006, in sand, and work with participants from the museum audience to move this weight to the site where the work was installed. However, no sand and gravel distributor in the greater Los Angeles was able to bring this quantity! I opted to order the weight of one of the ten plates (18 tons), and this still required 2 trucks.

Performance also functions with a completely different sense of temporality than monumental sculpture. While artifacts remain from the performances, such as the plaster sculptures created during The Myth of Singularity or the theatrical props from The Myth of Getting it Right the First Time, the materials must be designed to be mobile.

Rehearsals for Liz Glynn's "The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time"

Rehearsals for Liz Glynn’s The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time

MLY: What did you learn about museum infrastructure?

LG: The museum is a fundamentally social organism, and much of its history is held in the minds of its staff. While the museum appears monolithic from the outside, in fact, it is the product of an incalculable number of decisions made by talented individuals every day. It’s a highly evolved network, and yet few of the rules of engagement are formalized on paper.

A lot of my best research came from conversations with members of the staff.

Stephanie Barron’s Museum as Site show was a significant influence on this project and it was great to get her perspective on how the expansion of the museum’s staff and departmental structure has changed the process of curating and producing an exhibition since the early 1980s. LACMA today has a massive infrastructure, and the curatorial department is only one of many moving parts in the production an exhibition.

MLY: What’s behind the title of the entire series and the individual performances?

LG: The performances seek to disrupt some of the grander ideas about permanence and the artistic genius traditionally associated with monumental work. I wanted the audience to think about not only the process of construction, but also the process of maintenance, and the continued life of a sculpture after it leaves the studio. As a sculptor, I spend most of my time in the world of production, but as a museum visitor, one only access the artwork in its finished state. I wanted to merge the two worlds, and try to forge a continuum between them. I am interested in what happens to these large works physically, what this says about cultural value, and the meaning of an artwork can shift over time.

MLY: What’s next for you?

LG: I’m very excited to be working with José Luis Blondet to document the project in book form. Rather than a traditional catalog, the book will serve as a collection of fragments: images, texts, and interviews compiled from performers, members of the museum staff, and my own research.

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