Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects (New York)
Curated by Christopher Eamon
Accidental Modernism is an exhibition of works in which chance is employed in direct contrast to the willed control of the artist.
Wayne Atkins, Ann Craven, Devon Costello, Vishal Jugdeo, André Masson, Adam McEwen, Bill Morrison, Richard Pettibone, Dieter Roth, Daniel Spoerri, Josh Smith, Rudolf Stingel, Agathe Snow, Jean Tinguely, Keith Tyson, Robert Watts, and the Otra de Vaqueros Edition, a collaborative work by Artemio, Allora & Calzadilla, Bernadette Corporation, Jay Chung & Q. Takeki Maeda, Minerva Cuevas, Jeremy Deller, Claire Fontaine, Mario Garcia-Torres, Karl Homqvist, Bruno Serralongue, Sean Snyder, Reena Spaulings.
The incorporation of accidental forces at the heart of the modernist project began in the early twentieth century with such works as Marcel Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages (1913–14), which was formally determined by the chance placement of strings, and with Dada-Surrealist practices such as frottage and automatic writing. By mid-century, a western aesthetic had arisen in which the artistic self was submitted to Zen notions of chance, participation and an existential sense of the absurd. In the 1960s, Daniel Spoerri, associated with the Nouveau réaliste and Fluxus movements, created his signature series of Tableaux-pièges by affixing the remains of various meals to the tables on which they were served and Jean Tinguely created his “Meta-matic” machines to produce drawings and paintings independently of the artist’s hand and eye. A resurgence in the embrace of the accident and the found object in much recent art suggests a relationship with history that is as ambiguous as it is fertile. As many of the pieces in the exhibition, were created during the Modernist period (e.g., drawings by Masson and Tinguely; sculpture by Spoerri and Dieter Roth), their inclusion details a blurring within that history. Among the works on view are Robert Watts’s For Alice (a.k.a. Snake Boxes) (1965), an homage to the Three Standard Stoppages, and Richard Pettibone’s appropriation of that seminal work in miniature; Bill Morrison’s Light Is Calling (2004), composed of decayed 35mm film footage that has been transferred to video; Agathe Snow’s Paper General (2007), an assemblage of objects and debris, found near James Fuentes’ Lower East Side gallery where it was first exhibited; and a series of prints created last year by the artists who participated in the Otra de Vaqueros residency and exhibition project in Mexico City, described as an “altered reiteration” of Francis Picabia’s Cacodylic Eye (1921), which challenged the authority of singular creation by featuring numerous signatures.
Christopher Eamon is Director of the New Art Trust, San Francisco and Curator of the distinguished Pamela and Richard Kramlich Collection, San Francisco. He was previously Assistant Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and has curated shows of video and new media art at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; P.S.1/MoMA, New York; the Institute of Contemporary Art, London; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and other major institutions.
Roberta Smith (New York Times):
As its title suggests, “Accidental Modernism” meditates on the use of chance in art — a basic strategy employed at least since the first collage. The show was assembled by Christopher Eamon, a curator and director for the New Art Trust, a nonprofit foundation for media art in San Francisco, and the works here are of recent or not-quite-recent vintage. Most of their accidents are painterly, which gives the show a lush and surprising visual coherence. One of Rudolf Stingel’s sgraffitied aluminum-Celotex paintings, incised by the public, serves as a kind of pivot for several works, including Adam McEwen’s gum painting; Devon Costello’s bare canvas, lying on the floor and accumulating visitors’ footprints; Keith Tyson’s gritty tabletop (installed as a painting, legs and all) that the artist has lavishly marked up; and a silkscreen of a banged-up door, signed, burned and drawn on by a group of mostly hip young artists when they shared a residency in Mexico City. (It echoes the group effort of Francis Picabia’s “Cacodylic Eye” painting from 1921.) But randomness doesn’t necessarily take more than one person. The Ab-Exy brushwork of Josh Smith’s little canvas accrued while Mr. Smith used it as a palette. The brushwork finds an apparently accidental, nearly identical, echo in Ann Craven’s latest paintings of moonlit clouds and, more loosely, in Agathe Snow’s messy gold-flecked assemblage made from materials found on the street. A precedent for the Snow piece is Dieter Roth’s “Lauf der Welt (That’s Life),” from 1969, with its flattened, much-decayed foil-wrapped chocolate figures. And decomposition figures prominently in Bill Morrison’s “Light Is Calling,” an eight-minute video loop of a heavily oxidized piece of a silent movie; the celluloid itself appears to be writhing in flames, intensifying the stagecoach drama in the movie. More-controlled homages to chance are provided by Wayne Atkins, and by Robert Watts and Richard Pettibone. The last two offer works that reach back to the prime mover of chance, Marcel Duchamp.