Justin Lieberman – My Name Is Justin Lieberman Valet Of The Infinite
New Galerie – 2, Rue Borda – Paris
With Justin Lieberman, Mariah Robertson, C. Spencer Yeh, Rochelle Feinstein, Dana Frankfort, MarianneVitale, Colleen Asper.
For the new exhibition at New Galerie, Lieberman pushes the boundaries of that we can define as a solo exhibition or a group show, re-writing the meaning of the collaboration, highlights the process of making art and discusses the position and the role of the artist. Below you can find an interesting web discussion between Stephanie Weber and Chris Sharp about the main topics tackled by Lieberman in this show.
The exhibition includes:
Twenty paintings made by Lieberman and two assistants from a roll of twenty-four photographs showing the interior of his studio and details of a sculpture, «The First Tower».
Four paintings made by the artists Colleen Asper, Rochelle Feinstein, Dana Frankfort, and Marianne Vitale, after prints made from unused negatives at the end of the roll of film.
A photograph taken in the gallery by the artist Mariah Robertson documenting a curatorial assistant from the Museum of Modern Art’s department of media and performance, enacting a scene from the opening chapter of Georges Bataille’s 1928 novel The Story of the Eye.
The props from the performance : A 1994 stainless steel Alessi reproduction of Marianne Brandt’s 1928 Bauhaus work, Shallow Bowl, filled with organic milk from a local farm.
A sound work produced with the artist C. Spencer Yeh, which is a rendition of The Side of Man and Womankind by Tony Conrad and Faust, 1972. Lieberman performs percussion on his sculpture, «Jon». Yeh, who has performed with Conrad on numerous occasions, plays a violin not present in the exhibition.
A pair of modified «I Love Cincinatti» bumper stickers by C. Spencer Yeh. This work, previously exhibited on Yeh’s refrigerator, has been transposed into a set of acrylic magnet frames, designed by Nicolai Canetti in 1994 and available at the Museum of Modern Art® design store in NYC.
Three additional sculptures by Lieberman will also be on view,
«The First Tower»
«The Audience as Ego-Ideal»
CHRIS SHARP AND STEPHANIE WEBER DIALOGUE
Stephanie Weber: Did you read Justin’s long email regarding his show? Part of the show will be a bunch of smallish paintings. You probably know the back story: Justin wanted to make work that exemplifies the amount of labor and boredom going into it. But then he got so bored working on these paintings that he hired one, then two assistants to make them instead. One day he said, very much the Artist: Shoot, this isn’t going fast enough. I don’t know if I will have 36 paintings by January (note from end of December: he won’t. There will be 24 paintings) to which I replied, very much the Art Administrator: Well, if you hire one more assistant and each of them makes two paintings a week, it’ll work out. Justin thought it was an extraordinary way to look at the problem whereas I thought: What? How else would you go about it? Now, he says he “cracked the whip” at his assistants who can easily make a good painting in three days. However, this is just a side-note. The part of the show that keeps on upsetting me is his hierarchical pyramid idea. Although I sense this has to do with me being his girlfriend. But who knows, maybe you feel the same way. That might be a good point to discuss.
Chris Sharp: I’m interested in what you say about hierarchy, but another thing that interests me is Justin’s practice about practice, or art about art (like Bruce Nauman, or even better, Mike Kelley). This seems to be something that he almost takes for granted, by which I mean assumes the viewer’s familiarity with such issues as fundamental if not to art in general, then his practice in general. And these issues seem to be very much at play here, no? Maybe it’s a no brainer, but personally, I feel sometimes Justin’s work is somehow breathless, so frontally rich and complex (visually and conceptually) that I myself as a viewer am almost overwhelmed by a direct approach. Perhaps addressing this question could provide a lateral entry, function as a kind of side door, and then allow us to move around the show with relative ease (although I know that is not necessarily what Justin intends).
Stephanie Weber: I liked what you wrote about Justin’s approach to referencing the making of and the practices of other artists. I remember at times being slightly overwhelmed by his work. There were obviously references or allusions that seemed to escape me. Initially, I thought it had strictly to do with my missing references of American subculture (and it turned out I was partly right), but I realized when talking to Justin about it that there were all these convoluted references to other artists, or not even references, but a way of hinting at some of his heroes or making allusion to an anecdote involving them: Paul Thek, Dieter Roth or Martin Kippenberger, or Slavoj Žižek. Instead of explicitly referencing anyone, he considers the explicit as ‘always already implied’. He does take a certain familiarity for granted; I would even say that he is sometimes not entirely aware that he is using rather complex set of connections that people might not be able to read. He is confident that whatever he knows, everybody knows. Out of this comes his tendency to develop such complicated narratives for his shows; it is a fear of being too obvious.
For the Paris show, he actually does refer directly to another artist: Robert Gober and his piece Slides of a Changing Painting. Do you know that piece? Gober worked for about year on a painting, over painting it again and again, and taking photos of its changing states. In the end, the art work is a slide show of the photos documenting the process, not the painting. Justin thought of this piece when working on one of the sculptures and the small paintings. They are made after random snapshots taken in his chaotic studio. He incorporated several objects that appear in these snapshots into the sculpture—a tall sort of crappy skyscraper. Coming back to Gober, the inversion that has taken place is that the most laborious part of the project—the paintings—have taken the position of the documentation of the sculpture which is, in Justin’s words, “a pile of junk.”
Chris Sharp: As for your response, yes, I agree. But I was speaking not so much about reference as much as the politics of art making. Not art as political practice. But art about art. Art about making art. About conventions. Expectations. Clichés. Self-referentiality, etc. I see Justin as participating in a specific tradition, which is continually, self referentially engaged in an analytical deconstruction of artistic conventions on every possible level (formally, psychologically, socially, historical-materialistically, etc). Of course, many artists do this, or superficially claim to do this–they are expected to, beholden as they by this residual avant-garde legacy—but many of them manage to save face while doing so. Justin’s work makes no attempt to save face. Everything but, in fact. Thus if the work ever seems hermetic, it is probably because it takes the existence and a certain familiarity with this tradition for granted. But now re-reading Justin’s original email, I can see where you are coming from, where we are both coming from.
Why don’t you tell me a bit about his hierarchical pyramid idea– which as far as I am concerned seems to be a parody of the sacred (art) system aping a profane (quotidian, non-art) system/mode of production to which it is supposed to be an alternative—and why it upsets so you much?
Stephanie Weber: Ah, I see. We were speaking about different things, but I believe that both Justin’s allusions to other artists and his self-referentiality come into play in this particular project. As far as the politics of art making go, I notice that he is often bothered by the fact that the process of making looks like too much fun. He wants the labor to be apparent, but then he has to admit that he really doesn’t enjoy the boring parts of his work so much. He wants to do away with the myth of the artist being different from, say, an office person or any sort of employee, but it’s hard to do, since, sorry, it’s simply not true! We often quarrel about this and I try to prove to him how much less boring his work is than mine. He argues that his day–often including a nap, a walk to his favorite café, discussions with his café pals, watching a film or episodes of Law and Order—is as boring as my endless creation of spread-sheets, but well… I am not entirely sure this means that he is attempting to deconstruct artistic conventions.
What makes you think that?
The idea of a hierarchical pyramid started with Justin’s longing for collaboration with other artists. As you know, it is not that easy for him to find other artists to collaborate, which is especially true in New York where most people are acutely aware of their ‘brand’. The Paris show will be a collaboration on different levels: There will be a photo piece by Mariah Robertson, I am in the photo, Spencer Yeh is working with Justin on a sound component for the show, four of Justin’s female painter peers Colleen Asper, Rochelle Feinstein, Dana Frankfort, and Marianne Vitale will contribute a black painting, you and I are writing, and Angie and Reiner are Justin’s assistants working away on the small paintings. Obviously, once Justin hired the assistants, the question of the relation of artists and assistant came up: Is the assistant to be credited, and what are Justin’s ethics if he or she isn’t, the assistant is paid $12 an hour, is that exploitation, should it be mentioned in the press release, and so on.
From there, it seemed to me that he tried to radicalize or pervert his own wish for collaboration and turn it into something more evil and ethically immoral. Here we come back to the pyramid: He positions himself at the top of the pyramid, followed by his allies Mariah, Spencer, and the four painters who, though invited and instructed by him, contribute their own creative work. Then follow the unnamed female Curatorial Assistant working at MoMA (me) appearing in Mariah’s photo and–in reference to Bataille’s Story of the Eye—lifting up her work outfit and dipping her bare ass in a bowl of milk. The unnamed assistants belong to the same low level of the pyramid. As you might know, Justin has been particularly enamored with Nicolas Guagnini recently. Guagnini is a collaborator but also a leader. (Mis-)Using a statement by Guagnini regarding a group show he put on, Justin answered my question about why I should be the one dipping my butt in milk with “I have you do this, because I can.” I told him that he could dip his own ass in milk. It took us a while to get over that one. To summarize: Yes, the pyramid here it is a parody of the actual art system, its hierarchies and hidden laborers; at times Justin’s position towards this hierarchy was not quite clear to me though.
Chris Sharp: I’ll respond by answering your first question about deconstructing artistic conventions first. Perhaps that is not strictly speaking true, perhaps it would be better to say that Justin is putting pressure on them, or challenging them. But I am led to think this by virtue of, well, first of all, how hard it sometimes is to look at the work. Justin is by no means catering to any kind of conventional notion of beauty. If there is a beauty to what he does—and there is, as far as I am concerned—it is in the complexity of the thought that engenders and accompanies it. That and well, the fact that it does look like a lot of fun.
Otherwise, what you say about his wanting “to do away with the myth of the artist being different from, say, an office person” seems like a pretty good example and/or defense of what I am trying to say. That said, I think I agree with you (about the difference) for a number reasons, the first and foremost being the word “creative,” and everything the use of that word implies. It would seem to exist in the vocabulary of one profession and not exist in the vocabulary of the other. That is because in one, its would-be necessity issues from a lack, while in the other, its presumed non-existence issues from a tautology, a kind of essential pleonasm. That reflection is probably a lot more utopian than it initially sounds.
As for the question of hierarchy and Justin’s attitude toward it, I see what you’re saying. But I wonder if the two issues we are discussing aren’t inextricably linked? Which is to say, in order to fully banalize and deflate any myths of artistic production, its replication of hierarchical and therefore exploitative systems of production must be as faithful as possible. Were it to be otherwise, say, symbolic or rhetorical, it just wouldn’t have the same impact. I am not saying agree with such a mode of operating, but I can see why in order not to degenerate into mere rhetoric or symbolic chest beating, Justin’s attitude must conceal itself behind a kind of hideous jusqu’au boutism.
Image above: Installation view.
Valet of the Infinite, 2012
20 paintings (oil on canvas), 1 painting by Rochelle Feinstein (enamel and crystal on cashmere), 1 painting by Colleen Asper (oil on panel), 1 painting by Dana Frankfort (oil on canvas), 1 painting by Marianne Vitale (reclaimed lumber and shotgun slugs), perforated mineral water advertisement
160 x 321 cm
The First Tower, 2012
mixed media, electricity, timer
227 x 106 x 120 cm
cameras, taxidemied crabs, EX74, stool, hat and scarf
160 x 40 x 40 cm
Mariah Robertson with Justin Lieberman and Stephanie Weber
Justin Lieberman, you are my friend and I trust you. I trust that your intentions are honorable and your ideas worthy of exploration. And you have been there for me when I very much needed a friend. So for these reasons I have endeavored to fulfill your request by making a piece which is outside my zone of interest and possibly a violation of my adult life project. But having an interest in critical analysis of systems, I am willing to invert or violate those of my own in the spirit of open experimentation, 2012
unique C-print on mettalic paper, stainless steel bowl, organic milk and bottle
photo: 70,5 x 55,3 cm, bowl: 7 x 28,5 cm (diam)
Justin Lieberman and C. Spencer Yeh
The Side of Man and Womankind, 2012
continuous sound piece (on C.D.), audio equipment
12 min (looped)
The Audience as Ego-Ideal, 2012
plexiglas walls, haidressing practice heads
All the images: Courtesy New Galerie