Posts Tagged ‘Contemporary Art’

Review: Jason Hackenwerth at AXA Art/Artopolis

April 28, 2009

By now, you’ve heard some variation of this joke: A young ingenue mingles with a group of big-wigs at a social luncheon of sorts on the Upper East Side. At some point she is asked by some of the attendees if she is in a relationship. She truthfully responds that yes, she is. Curious, the attendees ask her what her boyfriend does for a living. She responds that he is an artist. “Really?”, the guests lean forward and smile, “at what restaurant?”

Yep, artists have it hard, really hard, and it’s not surprising that many (many? more like most) have to resort to cleaning houses, busing tables, bartending, and if Illinois’s history is anything to go by–run for governor, until they make it in the field. But pulling balloon tricks as a clown in Times Square?

That was the reality for Jason Hackenwerth, who, after nearly 20 years of shaping balloons into poodles and kittens, has turned his skill into an art form, and a most exceptional one at that.

Using nothing but his lungs to inflate his large-scale installations, Jackenwerth turns the balloons into majestic compositions that are part Venus Fly Trap and part underwater amoeba. Despite their grandiose size, the pieces are light as a feather, intimidating as they are mesmerizing.

The simultaneous occupation of the pieces as objects of desire and and subjects of fear allows them to circumvent an immediately recognizable space. They are as organic as they are lifeless, soothing as they are unnerving.

Hackenwerth cleverly taps into a style popularized by Yayoi Kusama and Louise Bourgeois in the 1960’s, producing artwork that refers to the body (or “a” body) without any didactic references to a body part. You want to caress the installations as much as puncture them. However, as opposed to Kusama or Bourgeois, Hackenwerth’s works are also ephemeral by nature, highighting their fragility and heightening their dramatic effect without going over the top.

Simply put, Hackenwerth’s work at AXA Art should be one of the best at this year’s Artopolis. Nothing to clown about here.

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Artist Jason Hackenwerth

Review: Jenny Holzer at the Museum of Contemporary Art

November 12, 2008

Jenny Holzer‘s alarming show at the MCA is aptly titled “Protect Protect“. The emphatic duplication of the verb in the title engenders a sense of urgency, and vicariously alludes to a growing sense of frustration. Holzer first came to fame with her Truisms in the late 1970’s, where a series of banal phrases were flashed across a small screen with LED lights. The flashing texts revealed schematic associations, especially in relation to the body, relationships, and interpersonal interactions. Without ever relinquishing her former affinity for the body (both the personal and the collective), Holzer has tweaked her messages somewhat (to say the least) by boldly referring to the current political landscape.

A vociferous speaker against the current administration, Holzer added several series of paintings to her repertoire, each concerned with methods of corporal punishment (“Wish List”), fatal torture (“Homicide”) and reports from prisoner camps (“Findings”). Interestingly, each series (all arranged in a militantly precise grid) consists of actual declassified war documents that Holzer blew up and set against a jarring electric color. The act of enlargement speaks of the monumental brutality (equally buttressed by the paintings’ high–as opposed to eye-level–positioning), which–combined with the color–create the same visual shock that Holzer’s flashing LED works in the next rooms produce.

Each of the LED installations–severely more complex than any of the work seen in her Truism series–is multi-layered and intimidatingly oversized. The flashing colors, the all-around positioning of the works in the gallery space, the angles at which the LED texts appear to be swallowed into the blank wall, and the varying speed at which the messages flash, all create the illusion of a nightmarish technological oasis. Resembling the neon luminescence of a gas station at midnight, together with the hypnotic (if vertiginous) effect of Vegas’ casino lights and the informational bombardment at Time Square, the works are meant to create the feeling of frustration, of missing out, of drowning in, and losing control. Given the current economic upheaval, the exhibition feels perfectly germane.

My only concern? The show is not a retrospective, and emphasis on almost all contemporary work becomes more of a gallery show than a truly academic endeavor. With no background on her Truisms and no inclusion of her Projections series, the exhibition feels a bit deficient.

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Jenny Holzer, Mind Your Own, from Truism

Art Review: Reena S. Kallat : Subject to Change

September 12, 2008

The duality of the term “subject” (as pronoun and verb) reflects Kallat’s subtle insistence on ambivalence. Lunar Notes—a screen comprised of hundreds of strung marble beads depicting the Taj Mahal—takes on a radically new meaning when inspected up close. The meticulous hand-casting of the beads is revealed by the different names of real and mythological lovers on each individual bead. In lieu of becoming an ode to the greatest Indian monument of love, the screen becomes a more quiet and intimate meditation on the uniqueness and complexity of love, and the light swaying of each string of beads further reinforces notions of fragility and ethereality.


Kallat is clearly fascinated by names and their ability to act as surrogates for both national and personal identities. Synonym is a series of seven oversized portraits made up of painted rubber stamps—each one bearing the name of a missing person in India. The beauty and awe evoked by the distant viewing of each portrait (mostly of young, smiling children) gradually diminish as viewers get closer. The clarity of the subject matter is consequentially compromised with each step, and the portraits morph into heartbreaking memorials of loss. It is impossible to remain unfazed by such a gently devastating body of work.

Reena Kallat’s work is showing at Walsh Gallery through October 11, 2008. Her work is collected internationally and can be found anywhere from the Shanghai Zendai Museum of Modern Art to Chicago’s very own Cultural Center.