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Weekly Update – ICA’s new formalism


This week’s Weekly includes my review of the ICA’s Gone Formalism. Here’s the link to the art page and below is the copy with some more pictures. For a more complete view of the ICA’s current crop of shows see my flickr set. And here’s Libby’s posts on the ramp project and on the Ben Franklin installation.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart
Six artists tackle chilly formalism, but with heated anxiety.

The Institute of Contemporary Art‘s “Gone Formalism” is an exhibit of antisublime works by six out-of-town artists (two of whom, Liz Larner and Mark Grotjahn, are in the Whitney Biennial). Like the Biennial (more on that next week), the exhibit is forlorn. With art made of scavenged or low-art materials like papier-mache, the show’s sensibility is if not nihilistic then at least highly negative about the world we live in.

Gitte Schafer’s totems and other found object works were put together in part from local thrift shop trips she took with ICA’s Associate Curator Jenelle Porter, according to Jenelle.

This forlorn inward-looking work is being made in Philadelphia as well as in Los Angeles, New York and Berlin. M. Ho and Shannon Bowser are two local artists whose works share commonalities with what’s here. This stream of art doesn’t produce pretty pictures-like Goya, these artists voice their worries about the state of the world.

Gitte Schäfer‘s corner of the show epitomizes how many of these artists seek dialogue with art of the past as well as with contemporary culture. Schäfer’s columns of recycled poles, lamp bases, hat stands and other cast-offs evoke Brancusi. Yet the aesthetic is less high art and more like grandma’s house before the estate sale: Art is a quaint discard.

Liz Larner’s Untitled (wall)

Liz Larner‘s metal cubes wrapped in painted papier-mache raise notions of nothingness and false promise. Larner’s delicate shapes-mere outlines of cubes that evoke Sol Lewitt, or pipe cleaner sculptures from kindergarten-are more air than substance. Even when stacked 63 inches high by 19 inches long and 87 inches wide, as in Untitled (Wall), the cubes contradict themselves-they’re building blocks, but they’re delicate and ephemeral.

Several Mark Grotjahn butterfly drawings with Liz Larner’s ephemeral cubes on a pedestal in front.

Mark Grotjahn
‘s untitled drawings all have the same motif: a zip down the middle with radiating lines or stripes from a central point at either side. The obsessive and urgent works are like drugged-up Barnet Newmans. There’s no peace here, no glimpse of the infinite in works that are noisy, surfacey and as insistent as a 2-year-old. Grotjahn calls his works “butterflies,” but to me these butterflies sting.

Eerie shadows cast by Charles Long’s sculpture made the piece doubly resonant.

Charles Long‘s totemic sculptures are like drawings in space. Made with objects pulled from the Los Angeles River and held together with steel bars, the work seems Joseph Beuysian except for its cool impersonality. Jessica Jackson Hutchins and Evan Holloway round out the show with works in papier-mache that debunk the romanticism of nature beauty (Hutchins) and propose that life is an infernal merry-go-round (Holloway).

Formalism of yore was chilly and impersonal, and so are these works. But their subtext of anxiety about the world is white hot.

Holiday Home by Caroline Bos and Ben van Berkel, upstairs at ICA.

For a complete change of pace, check out the ICA’s upstairs shows: the Pepto Bismol-pink “Holiday Home” installation by Caroline Bos and Ben van Berkel,

Inside Holiday Home everyone’s in the pink. Here, Caroline Bos is speaking (right) and ICA’s Claudia Gould is listening (left)

the graffiti-influenced ramp painting by Ingrid Calame, (below) and a Ben Franklin portrait by Brian Tolle. (not shown)

Ramp project by Ingrid Calame seen from the outside. Calame lined up the rectangular paintings to echo the ICA’s windows. From this vantage point outside the paintings seem perfectly framed by the ICA building.

“Holiday Home” is a standout. More like a James Turrell color projection made concrete than like a real home, the walk-through space is a sublime color immersion. The various shows work well together, making the experience of hiking the museum like climbing a mountain: Work at the bottom is rewarded with great views at the top.
“Gone Formalism”
Through March 26. Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St. 215.898.7108.