New Langton presents Elusive Materials

New Langton Arts has a 30 year history of presenting some of the most cutting edge arts in the bay area.  A few short blocks and only a short step down the contemporary arts food chain from Yerba Buena Center, New Langton in their building at 1246 Folsom have continuously presented some of the highest quality gallery exhibits, performances, lectures and even web media.  The current show, Elusive Materials, which runs from March 16-April 22, 2006, exhibits the work of ten artists who have shown at Langton over the past three decades.

This show takes over the entire facility at New Langton.  The downstairs venue has been transformed into viewing chambers for a work by Antonio Muntadas entitled “Between the Frames: The Forum”.  The content of this work is a spectacular, close-up look at the 1980s art system.  This work consists of 160 interviews that the artist conducted between 1983 and 1992 that have been edited into eight chapters: the dealers, the collectors, the galleries, the museums, the docents, the critics, the media, and epilogue.  As difficult as any gallery presentation of video is for the casual visitor, this presentation in particular suffers from a an inattention to audio.  The rooms are arranged in a sort of semi-circle with each room’s open door facing an empty wall – perfect for bouncing the sound into every adjacent room.  Even more distressing is that the televisions are mounted into the walls with their speakers completely covered.  The result is a cacophony of chatter that is nearly indiscernible from noise unless you are impossibly close to the TVs, in fact, too close to even see the screen.  I hope that this work will be presented in a web media outlet.  New Langton vodcast anyone?

The works upstairs completely refreshed any distress I picked up in the noisy, dark exhibit below.  Upon entering the gallery the first exhibit presented is Nina Katchadourian’s Surface Spoils: Concrete Music from Europe.  This is a beautiful presentation of found object art in the form of audio tape which is both visually appealing as well as conceptually interesting.  The artist has not only restored the found 1/4″ tapes and burnt them to a CD which one can listen to at an audio stand by the exhibit, but she has also created a gallery trace which shows the locations the tapes were found and even the actual tapes themselves in capsules containing maps on the wall.

On the backside of the sparse, clean audio tape exhibit is Colter Jacobsen’s recreation of his studio.  On the road well traveled of found object art, it is fairly difficult to stand out, and this exhibit is no exception.  The presentation is fun to look at and well laid out but yet another collection of discarded cardboard signs and photos.

Douglas Huebler’s Variable Piece #70 is a photo project to document the existence of every person alive.  This presentation at New Langton was sadly only represented by a handful of pictures but raised a lot of provocative questions.  Is the project a solo endeavor or something that will be maintained by a foundation as an attempt to complete the project like John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible” which was picked up in 2003 by a group of folks who propose 639 years to complete playing the song.  Is it even theoretically possible to photograph everyone or what would be the required number of photo teams to keep up with the current birth rate?  The project rings of a jovial lunacy.

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