New Work Explores Art-Viewer Relationship

Joshua Bienko's painted Louboutins. Photo courtesy of Artpace San Antonio.
Gabriel Vormstein's "The Teeth of the Wind and the Sea." Photo courtesy of Artpace San Antonio

Last night ArtPace San Antonio premiered new work by two very different young male artists, Joshua Bienko (College Station, TX) and Gabriel Vormstein (Berlin, Germany). Artpace, which throughout the year rotates locally, nationally and internationally sourced contemporary art, commissioned the artists to build works specifically for their space. The resulting pieces feature both artists composing on unusual "canvasses" in order to explore two distinct effects of art and the materials constituting it on the viewer.

Vormstein's project, The Teeth of the Wind and the Sea, covers the walls of Artpace's spacious Hudson (Show)Room with pages of the German daily newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The fragility of newsprint has appealed to Vormstein for several years, who has incorporated its impermanent, crumbling qualities into his painting to explore ideas of history, failure and death.

This is the first time Vormstein has worked on such a large scale. He took a romantic approach to the space, imagining his work as a landscape in which the viewer "loses himself." Fragmentary images cover Vormstein's newsprint canvas, including references to several moments in art history (Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Italian Renaissance). A swirl of information results, with the viewer surveying Vormstein's landscape of images and text and never really gaining his orientation. The experience might remind one of the famous Caspar David Friedrich painting, The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, only in this case the landscape is made of media.

Bienko's installation, Ever So Much More So, also uses readymade materials for canvasses, but its effect distances the viewer from the piece rather than incorporating him. It is the first Artpace "WindowWorks" exhibition of 2011, viewable from outside the gallery through the building's front windows. A pair of high heels by the French luxury designer Christian Louboutin hangs on a wall, with their trademark red soles prominently on display. Bienko was inspired by his own feeling of consumer desire when he first learned about these shoes, and decided to locate his next paintings on that "prime real estate."

"Desire" is the theme of Bienko's piece, more precisely, frustrated desire. He hopes that the sight of high-end footwear will arouse longing in the viewers, and because the shoes are not for sale, virtually unobtainable, force them to reflect upon that feeling. Their location behind the window pane has the effect of a retail display full of products one may look at, but not touch.

The shoes are surrounded by strange symbols that resemble brand marks. This is Bienko's LOUIS LE'CON pattern, which he has incorporated into previous work. This pattern was inspired by Takashi Murakami's use of the Louis Vuitton pattern in large-scale pieces. Because of most viewers' familiarity with the Louis Vuitton mark, Bienko believes Murakami's pieces effortlessly evoke desire. Bienko wanted a similar effect, and therefore turned to Jacques Lacan's personal iconography of human desire, which the famed psychoanalyst developed to try to explain psychology through inscrutable equations. Bienko uses Lacan's objet petit a, which represents the unobtainable object of desire, and the Greek letter phi, which represents a phallus or sexual desire itself, to try to evoke a similar consumer longing in his work.

Accordingly, the Louboutin paintings are photorealistic renditions of pieces by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Murakami, artists who have diversely explored consumer desire in their work. The different paintings will rotate throughout the exhibition.

The exhibitions run until May 1.

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