Added by ARThood Editor on December 8 2009, at 7:44 pm
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  • ARTHOOD: Congratulations on The Reach of Realism, a beautiful show. I think the inclusion of Gillian Wearing’s series Signs is an interesting selection, because it becomes the starting point of the conversation about realism, and allows you to move beyond the Pictures Generation, yet still referencing their influence on this group of artists. Did you specifically intend to have a post-90s dialogue about realism?

    Gillian Wearing Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (Work towards world peace)
    Courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Maureen Paley, London

    RUBA KATRIB: Yes, I think the Wearing works mark a direction beyond the primarily 1980s conversation about the image in art. In the 80s, it was still somehow possible to distinguish types of images and their contexts, for instance it was radical to use advertising images in art. Today, I think those kinds of distinctions are close to impossible to make -- which is a large premise for the exhibition -- and Wearing’s Signs are a classic work that deals with that conflation between personal expression, commercialism, and art. Also, even though the Signs were done only about 15 years ago, I have been thinking about the Signs as almost a precursor to that kind of twittering/facebook status update type of personal expression in a dictated format that is so increasingly common.

    : Do you think artists are still engaging with a 19th century idea of realism, of creating social commentary, like Courbet or Daumier did, or has the media complicated that approach?

    RK: I think 19th century realism is interesting because it anticipates the media encroachment on the everyday life. Artists today cannot approach their subject matter in such a straightforward way to create social commentary because it would just fall flat, it would resemble the rest of the “noise.” But I think the intentions of 19th century realism are certainly still present, this is a contradiction that the artists in the exhibition are willingly working around. They desire some kind of “truth” and “authenticity” while understanding the impossibilities and implications surrounding this desire.

    : How has the approach shifted?

    RK: Artists today are moving much more freely around artistic conventions, and not just for novelty. I think to achieve a representation now; it’s all about obstructing, hiding and only suggesting that representation or understanding in an artwork. And it seems that the tools and techniques of literature and poetry in creating depictions and narratives are even more useful to artists today.

    Phil Collins, Soy Mi Madre, 2009. Courtesy the artist and Tonya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

    ARTHOOD: It was nice to see such a variety of media in the show, because issues of truth and representation are not necessarily given privilege by the photographic medium. It made me see a lot of the sculptors in the show in a new light.

    RK: That’s terrific that you say that because I think that was one of the challenges I faced in organizing the exhibition. Some of the artists wouldn’t necessarily be grouped together -- when I would read off the artist list to some people, they would seem a little confused -- but I really saw connections in their work and I wanted to explore them. It was important for me to move past medium distinctions and also past the categorization and associations that artists are placed within. I hope it is evident that these artists and their work are far more flexible and can be placed within multiple relevant contexts. They are multi-dimensional complex works.

    Installation view by Martin Soto Climent

    ARTHOOD: I also noticed that there are a lot more layers to these works, for instance in Sara Van Der Beek’s work, there is an implied criticality that isn’t always made explicit, unlike, say in the work of the Pictures Generation or work that was very theory-oriented and tended to wear its critique on its sleeve. Do you find that to be the case with younger artists?

    RK: Absolutely. Again, I think that in the late 20th century there were more distinctions to be made between types of images, their circulation, and contexts than can be made today. I think Sara VanDerBeek is great example of a younger artist who is concerned with making art, not overt criticism. And don’t get me wrong, her work and all of the work in the exhibition is invested in criticality, but they just aren’t so literal. I think they understand that there are more nuances, layers, and angles with which to look at an image and they explore them. They also question how they can be making art under these contemporary conditions.

    ARTHOOD: How do you feel that artists today are approaching criticality in their work?

    RK: Well, I think artists are approach criticality in different ways, but in terms of the exhibition, I think I am more interested in the subtleties of criticality. I think we can look for it in different ways, these kinds of overt critical messages in art have become cheap and easy, they are almost just reinforcing the logic they purport to dismantle. I think I am much more interested in artists who are invested in art and the art making process while retaining criticality. I think this is a far more complex and riskier position than a detachment from art for the sake of criticality. I think that results in that approach are cynical; I am somehow interested in sincerity that retains criticality.

    ARTHOOD: For instance, in the lists of Anetta Mona Chisa and Lucia Tracova, I felt it was almost a parody of criticality. For me it was one of the most celebratory and optimistic works in the exhibition, maybe that came through the humor.

    RK: Exactly, they are really wondering how they fit in, how they can retain their ideals in such a ridiculous art world. They are invested in art, but they see what a bad investment that can be. I think humor is great technique and their approach is refreshing. They use it to dismantle and reveal the absurdities of our value system.

    Ragnar Kjartansson God, 2007
    DVD Installation
    30 Minutes
    Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and Galleri i8, Reykjavik

    ARTHOOD: Ragnar Kjartansson’s video can be approached from various angles. I was struck by his cinematic construction of the lounge singer profession, and the way it dissected the “realness” of the actual profession he was imitating. There was something transcendent about his repetitious refrain, of moving beyond the “realness” of a profession. How do you see the work in the context of the show?

    RK: I think transcendence is a key point to his work. By repeating the same action over and over, you can become something, but also you can become something more. Ironically there is some kind of freedom that is generated by repeating a single action. In that particular work, the words he sings “Sorrow conquers happiness” become very real, but then they become meaningless, or then they regain their weight. It reveals the shifting qualities of meaning and reality which is central to the exhibition.

    Installation view with works by Tom Burr and Elad Lassry (background)

    ARTHOOD: Elad Lassry comments on a lot of issues with his work, from cultural signs and issues of representation to truth and advertising. How do you see his work relating to the media, and his investigation of realism?

    : I think Lassry’s work is key to the exhibition because it really reflects our current condition. It seems he is usually put in relation to the “Pictures Generation,” but I think his work is much more about attraction than critique. He is not trying to admonish the advertising and media world that we live in, I believe he is really questioning why we are attracted to certain kinds of images, why they speak to us and how we can examine their qualities. I like to see his work in relation to Wolfgang Tillmans who is also in the exhibition. He is also invested in creating images while understanding that all the images already exist. So, why and how can he take this photograph and make it his own? I think Lassry is invested in similar questions, what can he as an artist do to create images and also address the visual world we live in.

    The Reach of Realism is on view through February 10, 2010.


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