Matthew Cianfrani | MFA Thesis Exhibition

by Alan Longino

The romance of the body is a difficult position to work around. That’s not the purely sexual or loving idea of Romance, but the Romance of intimacy and nature within the body.

The body is gross. Gross things happen, in every person’s body, and some bodies are especially gross. Before you take someone inside or enter another being, you presumably know most, if not everything, about their body and the things they are, or it is, capable of, but you never imagine their body decaying in front of you. So, you proceed.

The idea of the body where one can intensely repulse and equally attract is where I find Matthew Cianfrani’s work most located. However, beyond all sexual desire or biological nerve, it is the physical space and limits the body inhabits or tests that appear to be his more defined thesis.

In this last semester of his MFA work, Cianfrani has put together a body of work that is literally that: the body. Placing the body in a digital context, a physical context, and working in the agency of charity, the body—his own, that is—takes place as a literal tool (in running the New York City marathon) that acts out assigned tasks where few precedents exist. It would be easy to deem this as performance art, but besides there being no actual performance during the exhibition, the performance, or what I’d like to think of as ex-performance, revokes the now brill tropes of studio and gallery performance. That is, it is outside of performance. The work, his body, has taken place inside the studio and outside the studio, both through technology and on the road.

The work incorporates glitch, or rather net art. In net art, or the novel idea of entropy, there is held the idea of death and the internet. Or, death and technology — through diminishing utility, atrophy, and physical death in the internet. It is impossible to imagine the body, or parts of Cianfrani’s work – particularly the philanthropic portion, where money was raised for returning soldiers – without evoking the idea of death, or severe incapacity. Within the video piece, Cianfrani’s nude body is turned away from the audience. Parts of his body repeatedly die or become victim to technology. Questions arise. Does he have enough to run the marathon? Does he have enough to complete the philanthropic portion of the work? Has he retained enough concentration to succeed in the actual exhibition for his thesis? What we can decide from this ex-performance is that it is not entirely up to us. Cianfrani has not taken the artist’s hand out of the work. He has taken the audience out of the work.

It is outside from the audience, but not outside visual criticism. This ex-performance is a part of the larger artwork, involving his own philanthropy and actual exhibition space, and in this triptych the artist is totally, and irrevocably, humbled.

The work does not face you, but it challenges you. The work does not expect you to rise to its challenges, but it’s certain that the burden is not for you to bear. It is Cianfrani’s alone, and its feat of challenging a human’s capacity, or pioneering, is truer than the Michael Day Jackson show at Hauser & Wirth or other post-humanist cum commercial efforts.

Cianfrani’s work does not boast, nor does it beckon and bemuse, it is straight-forward and without bullshit. In a market and world so saccharine with such, it is refreshing to find an artist, particularly a student, searching not for acceptance and a criticality from the outside, but acceptance from inside.

Alan Longino is a MA candidate in the Art History program at Hunter. He enjoys writing and net art, and takes little with much seriousness or exceeding gravitas. Except writing and net art. Ask him about art.

Chris Burden: “Extreme Measures”

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Porsche with Meteorite (2013)

By Amanda York

Chris Burden’s Extreme Measures fills the New Museum’s five gallery floors. The top floor contains archival materials and narrated videos chronicling Burden’s agonizing performances of the 1970s, and the floors below convey the artist’s initiatives in sculpture and video since that time. As the title implies, the newer works in Extreme Measures are often monumental in scale and heft. A post anchored to the gallery’s floor is a fulcrum for two metal arms in Porsche with Meteorite (2013): a restored yellow Porsche convertible is counterbalanced on the other arm by a large meteorite. Similarly, 1 Ton Crane Truck (2009) is a flatbed truck with a rigging system that dangles a metal cube labeled “1 TON” several feet off the gallery floor. These endeavors initially appear flashy, and some of the materials directly connote luxury. This is especially true of Tower of Power (1985), a pyramidal arrangement of 4 million dollars worth of gold bricks surrounded by a grouping of matchsticks fashioned into tiny men, all encased under a small vitrine. Despite the sculpture’s worth and glitz, viewing it is a letdown after waiting in line, placing bags in lockers, and being permitted to proceed by the ever-present security guard. But was the work really just the sculpture? Or did it also include the guard, pre-viewing process and anticipation, and the resulting awareness of unmet expectations? Every work in the exhibition provoked an immediate reaction—often some combination of violence, power, and aggression—but further contemplation reveals complexity. The works’ initial affronts later dissolve to reveal precariousness: There’s vulnerability in the ongoing gravity-defying suspension of heavy objects. They bring to mind Gertrude Stein’s “continuous present,” with its constant re-evaluation of things anew, coupled with a sense of urgency sparked by conflict (a topic further explored by Burden in other works). However, the works’ nuances are again undermined by the matter-of-fact wall labels drafted by Burden. For example, 1 Ton Crane Trucks’ label explains that the truck has been fully restored and outfitted with new tires; a seemingly irrelevant statement. However, these writings could also fit into the scope of the work, as a type of shop-talk that extends the hard-edged masculinity of his sculptures while glossing over their affective properties.

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1 Ton Crane Truck (2009)

Burden’s performances were distillations—the artist used his body and minimal props (glass, fire, water) to perform a straightforward yet excruciating task lasting seconds to weeks. Contrastingly, Burden’s sculpture is an accumulation of materials and meanings. Compare Burden’s performance Shoot (1971) with his installation A Tale of Two Cities (1981)—in the former, a bullet pierced Burden’s skin in a matter of seconds and exists today only in documentation (and likely a scar), while the other is a 26.5-ton assemblage of sand, boulders, and decorative plants that together function as the setting for over 5,000 toys engaged in battle. Burden’s performances immediately conjure a sense of danger, but his sculptures of slick, mass-produced components initially render the viewer awestruck by their scale, their fetishistic embrace of commodity or rarity, and their restored perfection. A peeling away of these surfaces exposes something horrific beneath. Their structure embodies flux, precariousness, tenuousness, and the employment of found materials (in this case, shockingly, children’s toys) reflects back at us, illustrating how violence is passively ingrained in society, and that the atrociousness of war is somehow distanced through the familiarity of its imagery. Burden’s work demonstrates the absurd cyclical nature of humanity’s basest tendencies, or, has Stein said, the “again and again.”

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Tale of Two Cities (1981)

Amanda York is a first-year MA candidate in Hunter College’s Art History program.

Saccharine-shaded Bodies, Ambiguous Narratives: Christoph Ruckhäberle’s Frühstück im Freien

at ZieherSmith, Oct 10 – Nov 16

by Irini Zervas

Ruckhäberle’s Frühstück im Freien consists of eight large-scale paintings against candy-striped wallpaper. The artist’s solo showing at ZieherSmith is his first in the US since 2006. His paintings of figures that languish upon the grass betray the artist’s penchant for the nostalgic, particularly the lore of an art historical past. Yet, while Ruckhäberle alludes to visual precedent, his irreverent use of the body and mise-en-scène thwart the viewer’s attempts to assign meaning to these bodies and narratives.

arcadia manet

Although there is no food in sight, the exhibition’s title Frühstück im Freien, or Breakfast Outdoors, alludes to to Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1962-3). Manet presents a female body, a courtesan nonetheless, in a moment caught between two forms of consumption: the meal taking place and the gaze of the voyeuristic viewer. Here, Ruckhäberle clearly enjoys toying with visual precedent in his portrayal of women’s bodies. Scenes allude to familiar characters and plots, such as Manet’s Luncheon but also Matisse’s well-known dancers and arcadian vistas. Despite Ruckhäberle’s obvious use of these tropes, he avoids relying too heavily on them and their associated narratives. The sense of wordly harmony conveyed in Matisse’s The Dance is replaced by a sense of absence. The women Ruckhäberle depicts are physically and mentally indifferent, any semblance of intention in their bodies yielding to a psychological distance that pervades the exhibition. Ruckhäberle’s works also do not have the sensuousness of the Manet. They do, however, have the artistic handling seen in Matisse’s dancers’ curved limbs, which bend and stretch according to the artist’s whims.

ruckthreewomenThe gallery’s press release features a quote from the artist in which he comments on his use of art historical references: “Sometimes I suspect myself of trying to paint a whole Louvre of my own. Almost like I have to treat every subject ever treated in art history.” Ruckhäberle has a point: at times, the artist’s appropriation of visual tropes threatens to overwhelm the singularity of his individual voice.

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While these scenes suggest the known, they ultimately diverge from narratives the viewer expects to see. This is perhaps most evident if the viewer chooses to read these bodies as sexualized. Although these women usually appear psychologically distant from each other, at times, the positions of their bodies contradicts this seeming coldness. Walking through the exhibition, it is hard to see how a consideration of the homosocial could not come up. While these are by no means Courbet-level graphic nudity, female bodies contort and tangle, touch and are affected by each other.  Women face each other, knees apart, one with an open skirt and arched back. They do not respond to each other in this particular instant, but the suggestion of their interaction is latent.

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The most striking example shows two women in repose, one crouched in the fetal position, the other half lying, half propped up by one foot. Characteristic of Ruckhäberle’s refusal to provide clear narratives, the women’s relationships to each other are ambiguous. Naked buttocks are exposed in the foreground of one work as the women’s skirt bunches around her waist. There is a suggestion that the woman behind her is pleasuring her. Her mouth is agape in a position that suggests sexual excitement. Yet, we are not witness to any actual interaction, any nudity or caress of the hand. Her green pupils stare languidly upward, contradicting any interpretation of the scene as one of ecstasy. Like Ruckhäberle’s archetypal resistance to the completion of narrative, this image conceals as much, or more, than it exposes.

Irini Zervas is an MA student in Hunter College’s Art History program. Her research interests include depictions of gender and the body, performance studies, and the politics of dress in relation to identity.