Superflex's Power Toilets

Danish collective Superflex looks at seats of power in a new series that replicates key restrooms. In The Netherlands, it’s a replica of the toilets used by members of the UN Security Council in UN headquarters in New York, “one of the most secure buildings in the world.” And in a Greek restaurant on the Lower East Side, the public restrooms are now identical to those used by execs at J.P. Morgan Chase’s HQ.

Anish Kapoor on Ai Weiwei and the art world's need for a "singular voice" on freedom of expression

In discussing his support for Ai Weiwei earlier this year -- he dedicated his sculpture Leviathan to the then-imprisoned Chinese artist and withdrew from a show in Beijing -- Anish Kapoor hits on a point I've been making for years: That part of the power art has in the realm of politics and social justice comes from its ambiguity. That is, because art is difficult to define, it's harder to dismiss as mere protest.

Says Kapoor:
An art work can be nebulous in relation to the politics of its situation. It can indicate a discomfort without actually articulating it and therefore it’s much harder to pin down. It’s much harder to say: ‘This is subversive.’ It’s hard to define what subversive is –– especially in contemporary language and contemporary visual culture. Ai Weiwei, in that sense, is somewhat more articulated towards a series of events — noting down the number of people killed by corruption and maladministration, or collecting and making monuments with marbled doors of all the houses that have been knocked down and land that’s been taken away from the so-called squatters. It’s still nebulous though. If you look at the work it’s just a bunch of marbled doors. It doesn’t obviously say what we infer from it. Though we know what to infer of course.
He also is critical of the art world for its lack of unity on human rights issues:
The art world is extremely fragmented. It is a place that’s also infiltrated by money and other instruments of influence. And it never finds itself in a place where it can shout. I think we need to learn how to do that and find a way to have singular voices. Through the whole period of Soviet repression of artists, which was severe, the art world didn’t say a thing. The avant-garde has held itself away from human rights. It’s been a great struggle for artists of non-European origin. It’s been a great struggle for women artists, quite contrary to the sense that the aesthetic world is an open forum –– it isn’t. It’s extremely doctrinaire and extremely partisan. And I think those battles are still being fought. So it’s not surprising at one level anyway.
I can only explain it by [the fact that] these old instruments of power in the art world are generally male and white, and within a certain aesthetic tradition. All of that has begun to fall apart in the last decade or so. We still haven’t got to the point where, if you like, lone, outsider voices can be properly heard.


Solidarity with Moustache Man

Moustache Man -- New York resident Joseph Waldo -- has friends. After his arrest in June for scrawling the word "moustache" on subway ads, sympathetic graffiti is cropping up -- spelling out in Sharpie the word "solidarity." 


Bits: 09.17.11

STRICTLY AMERICAN, SCARCITY TERMINAL, Erik Brandt, 2011, part of the MCAD show Supergraphics
• In a rare radio interview today, Ai Weiwei said he's considering dropping out of activism. Urged by friends and family to do so, the 54-year old artist and social critic said, "I have to be careful ... because I may lose my life." Detained for 81 days without charge earlier this year, he noted that of thousands of artists in China, "nobody dared ask one question." He advised young artists to leave the country, noting, "This is crazy." On Aug. 31, China's parliament published its plan to make disappearances like Ai's -- detentions without charge or contact with family or legal representatives -- legal.

• Video: Gerhard Richter painting.

• Mike Leavitt's "Art Army" action figure series has some new members, including Ai Weiwei , Barbara Kruger and a sawed-in-two Damien Hirst. [via]

• Kellogg Co. is threatening legal action against a Mayan archeological group for using a toucan image in its logo; company lawyers say the depiction is too close to Toucan Sam, the Froot Loops cereal mascot. Compare the two.

• Minneapolis exhibitions: 2010/11 MCAD–Jerome Fellowship Exhibition: Greg Carrideo, Teri Fullerton, Julia Kouneski, Brett Smith, and Jonathan Bruce Williams, opens Sept. 30, at the MCAD Gallery, and Supergraphics, now on view at MCAD's Gallery 148.

• Your moment of Robert Rauschenberg's chili and John Cage's cookies.

Twin Cities Zinefest, organized by antiquarian photographer and self-described radical librarian Lacey Prpić Hedtke, is next Saturday, Sept. 24, in Powderhorn Park, Minneapolis.

• This week, Modern Arts Notes' Tyler Green asked me what work from the Walker Art Center collection best fits news of the spike in bullying and LGBT suicides in Minnesota's largest school district. Here's what I came up with. 

• Shepard Fairey's art makes a cameo on The Young and the Restless.

Panel tonight: Art, politics, censorship at the Soap Factory

Hope to see you there:
As part of the Soap Factory's fall exhibition of Three Artists: Guo Gai, Meng Tang & Slinko, we present a moderated discussion on the subject of Art, Politics and Censorship.

Speakers are Professor Edward Farmer and Professor Tom Rose from the University of Minnesota, Eric Lorberer Editor of Raintaxi Review of Books and journalist and blogger Paul Schmelzer from the Eyeteeth blog.

The discussion will be informed and wide-ranging, covering the interlocking issues that Meng Tang, Guo Gai and Slinko address in their work: all artists who have lived and practiced under repressive regimes, and have used their work to negotiate and understand their lives as artists in those societies. The central concept is the intersection of art and politics: the speakers will look at how and why visual art can be censored, for whatever reason, across different cultures and what engagement, if any, should art have in issues that disturb the cultural status quo.

Please join us at 7:00pm for an evening of lively and informed discussion, and be prepared to join the debate.
More on Guo Gai and Natliya Slinko. Pictured: Installation of Guo Gai's works at the Soap Factory.


Marx in Minneapolis: Soap Factory, Walker host the iconic beard

For Soap Factory director Ben Heywood, what's most surprising about the installation of Crowd Pleaser -- Ukrainian artist Nataliya Slinko's giant steelwool rendering of Karl Marx's beard -- is how few visitors seem to recognize it. The Soap and the Walker Art Center are currently doing their parts to refresh the cultural memory about the famed facial hair and ideas of the German socialist philosopher and Marxism's namesake.

Slinko's piece -- which is part of a larger installation that includes a crude machine that pounds a shoe heel on a podium, Krushchev-style, and a display of work implements like shovels melded with fabricated bricks and bread -- is part of the current exhibition Three Artists: Guo Gai, Meng Teng, Slinko. Slinko's work hearkens back to her life growing up in the waning days of the Soviet Union. Writes Heywood in an email to Eyeteeth, "The whole project is about working through the memories of the material culture of her childhood and teenage years. In that way the emptiness and façadism of a steelwool Marx beard reads quite easily, as does the title; something to please the masses."
At the Walker, Mexican artist Pedro Reyes is shooting the video series Baby Marx in the galleries and the Walker environs. The premise: "The founders of communism and capitalism, Karl Marx and Adam Smith, have been brought to the future by way of a glitch-prone Smart-O-Wave magic microwave oven." The first two scenes (below) have surprisingly funny and incisive moments: Puppet Marx unimpressed by the Marxist notion of Warhol's 16 Jackies being created at The Factory, for instance, and a deadpan quip about Facebook and the lineup of Jackie Kennedy Onassis' mugs.

Circling back to Heywood's note that few in the younger generation that makes up the Soap Factory's core audience know much about Marx, Reyes' project has an instructive mission as well: According to the Walker's description, Baby Marx is playing with the "potential for mass entertainment to operate as a radical educational tool."

Three Artists: Guo Gai, Meng Teng, Slinko is on view at the Soap Factory through Oct. 23. Baby Marx is on view at the Walker through Nov. 27.