Iconoclasm (Arnix and Max Papeschi), The McLoughlin Gallery

The McLoughlin Gallery is currently hosting a two-person exhibition marking the American debut of artists Arnix and Max Papeschi called Iconoclasm. As the name might suggest, it’s a somewhat quirky and unusual show, and is not subtle in its critiques of power and popular culture.

Both artists take satirical and deeply critical looks at power, the people and institutions in power and how power is communicated through propaganda and pop culture. Arnix (aka Arnix Wilnoudt) takes aim directly at seats of power in religion, the military and politics. His harshest and strongest work is reserved for the Catholic Church, including hypocrisy around sexuality and power and the continuing sexual abuse scandals. He is steeped in knowledge of the Church’s history, theology and rituals, and uses those as the framework in which he places images of human sexual organs, silicone heads of pigs and other elements.

[Arnix, The Forbidden Fruit. Mixed media, 1870 chapel brass and silicone. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

The pieces can be challenging to look at, but also quite strong both visually and in execution. The artifacts, such as the 1870 chapel brass in the piece The Forbidden Fruit, shown above, were rescued from a church in The Netherlands. The pig head is cast in silicone, but using actual pig hides in the casting process to give it an eerily realistic texture. These elements, along with the human sexual organs (both male and female) recur in many of the pieces. Rescued artifacts, including angel statues and ash cups are prominently featured in the largest piece of exhibition, The Last Judgement: The Revelation.

[Arnix, The Last Judgement: The Revelation. Mixed Media Installation. (Click to enlarge.)]

The bright, airy space of the gallery and the reflective surfaces of the metal components makes the piece seem very open and inviting and belies its darker qualities around trauma, another theme in Arnix’s work. However, he doesn’t reserve all his criticisms for religion. In Known Unto God, an installation that includes an audio element, he criticizes both the loss of life in war, and way populations remain silence in the face of their leaders’ misadventures.

lg_1394824126WIL_KnownUntoGod-_inside_LR (1)
[Arnix, Known Unto God. Brass, Mixed media, Audio. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

There is humor in his work as well. His series of panels depicting the “seven deadly sins” are quite fun, both with the individualized pigs and the modernist iconography that leaves one guessing which sin is being depicted (I managed to get them all right).

[Arnix, Seven Deadly Sins. Installation Print on plexiglass and silicone pigs. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

Humor is Max Papeschi’s work. He brings together powerful political figures from history, images of disasters, and commercial or pop-culture icons in unexpected ways, and in doing so takes aim at both commercialism and propaganda, i.e., the idea that we can sell anything. Perhaps the most stark example is the use of Mickey Mouse to “sell” Nazis.

[Max Papeschi, NaziPinkieMouse. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

A major part of commercial culture is product placement, sometimes inappropriately done, as in this advertisement for Coca Cola in the World War II bombing raid.

[Max Papeschi, Product Placement 2.0. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

The humor is a little less dark in his series where famous (or infamous) leaders are placed on familiar figures from entertainment and pop culture. Indeed, a few of these were a lot of fun (Saddam Hussein has a disco dancer is particularly amusing).


[Max Papeschi, Vladimir & Joseph. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

[Max Papeschi, Ramadan Night Fever. Digital collage (Edition of 7). Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

These digital collages are not at all done to disguise the editing, indeed the Photoshopping is quite obvious. But that is probably the point, the bluntness and obviousness of the image. They stick with the viewer even after leaving show.

Iconoclasm will be on display at The McLoughlin Gallery (49 Geary St, San Francisco) through Saturday, May 31.

Desire Obtain Cherish, #sideffects, The McLoughlin Gallery

For us at CatSynth, the summer is usually a time of intense musical focus, and this one more so than most. While I keep up with the visual arts as best I can during these periods, it often takes something strong and unusual to get my attention for these pages. #sideffects, the solo exhibition by Desire Obtain Cherish (DOC) at The McLoughlin Gallery, is one such show.

DOC - Blood Sugar High

The cover piece of the exhibition, shown above, along with the title itself, gives the viewer an immediate sense of what the show is about. The piece combines several banal and commercial elements, a store mannequin stuffed inside a replica of a familiar peppermint candy. These materials fit perfectly with DOC’s use of commonplace materials and tropes, but they are also provocative, pointing out the association of the female figure (particularly Asian female figures) with a commoditized “sweetness” and sense of possession. Clearly, we should expect to have our sensibilities tweaked a little bit as we progress through the exhibition. At the same time, the title with its hashtag and the written style tell us that along with the art, we will be subject to a bit of the artist’s written opinion, whether we want to or not. Indeed, the gallery layout for the show juxtaposes groups of similar art pieces with written thoughts from the artist, titled with a hashtag, an organization I found fun and creative.

The entrance to the exhibition is dominated by a piece featuring a “red carpet”, which was particularly amusing for the opening.

DOC #sideffects opening reception
[Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

The cartoon hands at the end of the carpet are sweeping something in some direction, but it’s not clear if it’s the carpet or the gold bricks that lie beyond it. The gold bricks, which were simultaneously part of the larger installation and individual works in their own right, bore DOC’s official designer monogram, if one imagined such a thing existed outside the confines of an art gallery.

Desire Obtain Cherish gold bricks

The resemblance to certain well-known designers’ monograms is clearly not a coincidence. Indeed, the monograms of actual well-known designers featured prominently in the series Designer Drugs:

DOC Designer Drugs, single set
[Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

A sardonic and somewhat dark sense of humor permeates much of the work, with an emphasis on twisting commercial or pop-culture references. There was a series of crucifixes made from flavored chocolate bars emblazoned with the brand-name “Heresy”. (Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the artworks, they were not made of real chocolate). The theme was most strongly present in the series of “pill portraits” featuring iconic images of celebrities who died from drug overdoses, assembled meticulously from thousands of individually wrapped pills. The subjects range from movie legends like Judy Garland as Dorothy to artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat.

DOC - Judy's Purple Poppies
[Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

Despite his open ridicule of commercial and celebrity culture, Desire Obtain Cherish – whose real name is Jonathan Paul and was refreshingly down-to-earth when talking with visitors to the opening – is not without humility about his own role as an artistic provocateur and his history in Los Angeles street art. Indeed, one of the most fun parts of the opening was an installation in which visitors were invited to grab hold of a paintball gun and shoot a hanging figure directly mocking street art heroes including Banksy.

DOC paintpall street art installation

I did of course try my hand at the gun, which is quite an experience for those of us not immersed in so-called “gun culture.” It did splatter not only on the figure and the surroundings, but some bits rebounded back out into the main gallery dangerously close to myself as well as innocent bystanders.

It should also be noted that Desire Obtain Cherish, who was trained at the Parson’s School of Design, still retains his knowledge of art history and practice even as he openly rebells against it. This was particularly noticeable in his riff on Dali’s famous “melting clock” piece. In a contemporary play on the original piece’s title, DOC’s is called “Short Term Memory.”

DOC - Short Term Memory

Overall, this was a strong show, and a coup for a gallery that I have been following since its inception about two and a half years ago.

Desire Obtain Cherish, #sideeffects, will be on display at The McLoughlin Gallery through August 31. If you are in San Francisco this week, I strongly recommend checking it out.

STILL, Pia Maria Martin, McLoughlin Gallery

Today we look at STILL, a solo exhibition of video and animation works by Pia Maria Martin at The McLoughlin Gallery in San Francisco. It is the first US solo media exhibition for Martin, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany. Martin’s work involves elaborate stop-motion films assembled meticulously from countless photographs. Stop-motion animation assembled from photographs is currently a strong interest of mine and an art-form that I have been exploring in my own recent work with silent video and live music, so I was quite excited to see this show and meet the artist. Upon entering the gallery, one is greeted by a large triptych featuring a procession of plastic red chairs.

The piece, entitled Zum Appell!, can be a little jarring with its inanimate objects marching in lock stop, but it is also playful for the exact same reason. I also like the mid-century modern chairs against the weathered concrete interior. The surreal animation of the chairs and design elements are both enhanced by the nearly life-size presentation.

[Pia Maria Martin, Zum Appell! Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

The elements of both play and unexpected animation are apparent in many of the other pieces as well. Für Olga tends towards the more abstract with mechanical and industrial elements that defy gravity, as do her most recent pieces such as Scherzo with brightly colored ribbons curling and “dancing” in a stark white industrial space.

[Pia Maria Martin, Scherzo. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

Kalekeitos takes the animation of fish in a more playful (albeit morbid) direction.

[Pia Maria Martin, Kalekeitos. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]

As someone who tends to anthropomorphize animals, I found the dancing fish in Kalekeitos quite endearing. But of course the fish (which are in fact already dead) are ultimately dancing towards their destruction as part of a soup or stew. Death and decay appear as subjects in several of Martin’s animations, with natural elements falling apart or becoming reanimated. It also plays into her piece XI which features a house demolition in progress. The simple geometry and gray quality made it more captivating than a simple chronicle of demolition and gave it the more abstract quality found in some of the other pieces such as Scherzo. This particular work was also great example of pairing music with the silent animation. Music plays an important role in Martin’s work, not only as an accompaniment to the visuals but as an organizing principal. XI featured Arnold Schoenberg’s Die Jakabsleiter performed by Pierre Boulez and the BBC Orchestra and Singers, which reflected the geometric nature of the visuals. In Scherzo, the second movement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 is used as a “non-audible score”, although the actual music is performed by the artist friends (as described here). Once again, my own artistic interest in the silent-animation medium intercedes as I would love to do a live musical performance to one of her films someday.

Pia Maria Martin was able to be in San Francisco for the opening. In addition to introducing her work, she participated in a more general discussion of video and animation.

The lively and far-ranging discussion included the artist’s techniques and inspiration, as well as more general topics such as what it means to “collect video art” in this day and age. On a practical level, the pieces in this and other video shows are authoritative limited editions, much like photographic prints. Some of them are also objects that include the means of display (e.g., a flat panel screen and DVD player). But for a local art collecting community that tends to be a bit more conservative in its acquisitions, the idea of an art piece to be displayed on a TV screen or projected onto a wall and which requires media intervention to perceive is a new one. But we hope video art continues to make its way into collections.

The exhibition will remain on display at The McLoughlin Gallery through May 30.

No Fooling, We Mean It! – McLoughlin Gallery

“No Fooling, We Mean It!” at The McLoughlin Gallery is a show that is simultaneously playful and serious. The cavernous space of the gallery plays host to several large-scale works by sculptors David Middlebrook, Jeff Schomberg and Doug Thielscher. Each of the sculptors has a different focus, Schomberg on metal, Thielscher on stone, and Middlebrook on mixed materials. But all three present very serious well-constructed and polished piece (“no fooling”) with a sense of humor and fun (“fooling”).  Additionally, all three are local artists, working and residing in the extended Bay Area.

The overall presentation has a sparseness, with lots of empty space and exposure of the gallery’s bare concrete walls that make it easy to focus on a single piece at any given moment. Even the larger stone works are not crowded and blend with structure of the space. I was most immediately drawn to Schomberg’s metal work, and in particular his pair of geometric wall pieces, Hinged and Unhinged.

[Jeff Schomberg, Hinged (2009).  Found metal objects in steel frame.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery.]

[Jeff Schomberg, Uninged (2009).  Found metal objects in found frame assemblage.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery. Click to enlarge.]

The rectangular frames serve as a boundary between the space of the gallery and the empty space within the pieces. Inside, each object is given room to be seen separately, such as the large circle in Unhinged or the intricate thin metal lines in both pieces that remind of my street maps. Indeed, the combination of geometric elements and metal coincide with my own focus on urban landscape and infrastructure. (See the similar elements in yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday post.) The circular elements seem particularly prominent in contrast to the mostly straight-line shapes of the found-metal components. Still other objects manage to retain their original functional shape and industrial history from before they became art. His mixed-media piece Trumbull takes the industrial theme one step further. An old rusted fuse box has been combined with a video of a fireplace and reassembled into a new piece of machinery. It is futuristic, in that delightful dystopian sort of way, even as it looks back on earlier electrical technology.

[Jeff Schomberg, Trumbull (2011).  Fuse box with video.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery.  Click image to enlarge.]

These pieces, however, do stand apart within the overall exhibit. If there is one theme that cuts across all of the artists, it is “human-like forms that really aren’t human.” Among Schomberg’s metal sculptures are a series of small human-like figures with heads shaped like pipes or other pieces of hardware – probably the most humorous of his offerings. David Middlebrook’s assemblages have an organic look about them and some such as King of Things seem like they could get up and walk around. Think of Terry Gilliam’s cartoons or some of the creatures from the 1970s animated film Fantastic Planet.

[David Middlebrook, King of Things (2010).  Bronze, aluminum, Indian gibble, cast expoxy.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery.  Click image to enlarge.]

The bronze box that serves as the base for the large stone egg in Middlebrook’s Carbon was an interesting touch. Doug Thielsher’s stone sculptures are the most directly figurative, but even here the figures are quite distorted, as in the two marble heads of The Ninth Circle that melt into one another. Thielsher’s sculptures were most noticeable for their use of the gallery space. From a distance, they seem like well-placed classical sculpture in a traditional art museum – and indeed they all draw from biblical or mythological themes. Up close, one sees the more surreal and humorous nature. Again, the one that most resonated for me was the most geometric. In Cain #3, the detached hand is almost lost underneath the large white cube and the black dot.  Similarly, the hand seems to disappear into the large black cube of Cain #1.

[Doug Thielscher, Cain #3 (2006).  Carrara and Belgian black marble.  Image courtesy of McLoughlin Gallery. ]

The exhibit opened, appropriately, on April 1, and will remain on display though May 21. For more information about the exhibition and visiting, visit the gallery’s website.