Monday, February 5, 2007


Hi. It’s bittersweet to be unfinishing! My place . . . has become part of my daily routine now; I always check the blog even if I don’t contribute to it, and the whole constellation of experiences I’ve had with this show make it feel like permanent part of my life.

As Anne has pointed out, My place . . . has catalyzed new connections among people who’ve been delighted to meet each other and might not have otherwise. We’ve been communicating by any means necessary, using whatever technologies are at hand: whether face to face in the gallery and offsite; online via email and the TART Journal; by phone; by reading each others’ writings and viewing each others’ work on video or as printed images. We’ve discovered unexpected mutualities of interests, exchanged ideas, pursued lines of inquiry that took us to new places, even explored possibilities for collaboration.

Something wonderful was started here. I believe this network will continue with a life of its own, if only in the altered consciousnesses of each of us who’ve become enmeshed in the connective tendrils of Anne Colvin’s far-reaching web. I feel honored to have been one of the two people Anne chose to help germinate the piece.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Last Thursday I showed up at Mills College for a My place field trip to see Take 2: Women Revisiting Art History, a group exhibition at the Mills College Art Museum of work by nine contemporary women artists, organized by SFMoMA curator Janet Bishop. While the field trip didn’t quite pan out as planned and serendipitously turned into something else better than imagined (more about this later), the show -- up through March 15 -- was definitely worth the trek to Mills’ Oakland campus. The pieces, all from SFMoMA’s collection and Bay Area collectors, are scrupulously chosen and sensitively installed in Mills’ glorious gallery space (the skylit ceiling is a work of art in itself), and their quality is uniformly high. There’s an excellent, not too expensive ($20) catalogue of the exhibition with good reproductions.

My favorites were the two compelling videos by the English artist Sam Taylor-Wood: One’s based on a Chardin still life, the other is an updated meditation on a generic 19th C. French café scene. You should see them if you haven’t already.

Janine Antoni’s body-based conceptual work here is almost too sensually seductive and infused with autobiographical content and personal emotion for me although some pieces (e.g. Umbilical, 2000) reflect a mischievous sense of humor and Dadaist sensibility, and possess a formal rigor and visceral imagery, that rescue them from bathos. I’m generally a fan of Antoni’s work, btw.

It was also heartening to see works by Kara Walker and Stephanie Syjuco that I had championed early on and included in exhibitions I organized. Two of the Walker black paper cutouts were in Shadow Play, 1996, at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art; Syjuco‘s wonderful Comparative Morphology prints were in LifeLike, 2001, at New Langton Arts.

Take 2 is definitely about a revisionist art history in which contemporary female artists co-opt the master’s tools to remodel and enlarge the master’s house, if not dismantle it. So it’s interesting that Janet Bishop doesn’t actually mention the word "feminism" in her otherwise informed and informative catalogue essay.

Instead, she writes:
The works in Take 2 . . . present and represent acts of aesthetic renewal; they write and rewrite art history as they engage issues as varied as self, gender, race, mortality, and religion, often with both humor and gravitas. While work that is substantially about the adaptation of existing material is hardly the purview of women alone . . . it is perhaps productive to consider this topic with regard to women, particularly in light of the disproportionately miniscule place within art history that they occupy, not to mention their anonymity within non-fine art traditions, since these situations are in turn part of the context within which they operate.

The art of elegant, eloquent circumlocution may be a pre-requisite skill for an institutional curator. Feminism is obviously still the F-word in those circles (although why at Mills?). Similarly, none of the works in this exhibition -- apart, maybe, from Taylor-Woods’ A Little Death, 2002 and Walker’s exquisitely brutal Untitled, 1998 -- are going to shock or really challenge any mainstream sensibilities. Beautiful as the exhibition is, and superb as many of the pieces included in it are, to me it’s oddly inert, lacking in vitality. That’s partly because we’ve seen most of these works exhibited before, if not contextualized in this particular way. Still, it’s a decorous display, polite, careful to avoid offense. A show like this should be an explosion!

That’s what I think. If you’ve seen Take 2, what’s your take?


PS: Janet Bishop is speaking with one of the Take 2 artists at Mills next Wednesday, Feb. 7. @ 7 pm in Danforth Lecture Hall in the Art Building. It’s free.

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