The Brooklyn Rail reviews RC Baker’s solo exhibition, “…and Nixon’s coming” the draft

Brooklyn Rail June 2009 cover

by Emily Warner

Zone: Contemporary Art, April 2-May 30, 2009


Kirby Holland, the fictional protagonist of R. C. Baker’s ongoing novel-cum-exhibition, explains his art-making process this way: “I put…these collages…together as grounds, the surface you paint on,” before laying the abstract designs on top: “I need some grit, something to hang my compositions on.” That description is a fitting one for Baker’s project as a whole, a collage-like, multimedia narrative that uses the structures of history as the grit for its fictional tale. The edges of the story emerge like pieces in a puzzle: chapter headings line the gallery walls (“Part i: The Fractured Century”), and scribbled notes and studies sketch out forms fully realized in paintings across the room. As a writer, artist, graphic designer, and art critic, R. C. Baker is a polymath, and his current project is a testament to the richness of overlapping artistic modes.


In its present installation, “…and Nixon’s coming” lives in two places, Baker’s in-progress novel draft (available for perusal and purchase at the gallery) and the exhibition. Neither is definitive. In fact, what makes the project so compelling is the detective work the viewer must do to fill in the story’s gaps, linking motifs from work to work, and from text to image. At the center of the narrative is Kirby Holland, to whom all the work in the show (made by Baker over the last few decades) is attributed. Written in the novel in a jaunty third-person, Holland seems more stock figure than fleshed-out character. It’s in his putative drawings, studies, and paintings—intimations of an inner personality and a set of working artistic concerns—that we really catch a believable glimpse of him.


That glimpse plunges us into a cultural and art historical tangle: in Holland’s oeuvre are references to Eakins, Hopper, comic books, Abstract Expressionism, war, and nuclear disaster. These references are constantly edited into new combinations and overlaps. Nothing is ever final in Baker’s project, and a sense of textural, pulpy accumulation—the accretion of drafts, collage layers, galley pages, reworked storyboards—runs throughout. A few pieces are executed directly on printing-press waste; in another series, flung drips of paint are outlined with careful, colored contours, lending high painterly abstraction the printed oomph of a comic book splat. It’s the visual slag of American history, and the manipulations and rewrites to which we subject it, that forms the real subject of the exhibition.


This reworking is not just an aesthetic project; the pithy (if dizzyingly self-referential) “After Krivov, Rockefellers, and Warhol” takes us into more pointedly political terrain. Caked gouache, splotched onto a woolly black xerox of Andy Warhol’s infamous “13 Most Wanted Men,” blots out the face of each mug shot. The work alludes to the whitewashing of the original 1964 Warhol mural by Nelson Rockefeller, and also to the actions of N. A. Krivov , a fictional Soviet filmmaker we meet in the novel as he peruses Stalin-doctored photographs with their unwanted members airbrushed out of the scene. Reproduction and erasure, Baker suggests, are dangerous if creative prospects, and we find them in the paranoid machinations of Soviet Russia as often as in the bourgeois mores of capitalist America.


Of course, the question remains: how effective is Baker’s occasionally bizarre project? For it to work, you need to be curious enough to follow up on its disparate threads. Many viewers may stop here, uninterested in penetrating its rather insular depths. Other authors have used a non-fiction model as the structure for their fictive worlds and characters (John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy and William Boyd’s Nat Tateboth come to mind), and yet Baker’s project stands somehow outside of this vein. His characters lack the practiced interior nuance of properly literary personages and the writing, while always vivid, can be heavy-handed. Indeed, thinking of “…and Nixon’s coming” as a literary project may be the wrong way to go. It’s more a purely visual narrative: the paintings, the sketches, the space of the show act as vignettes, imagistic moments taken from a shifting storyline.


The rewriting we see in the visual works is directed in toward the author, too: Baker has sampled from pieces completed long ago in other contexts, assigning them new authorship and meanings. Krivov, lying in the snow at the feet of Soviet interrogators, performs his own kind of interior rewrite, a cinematic fade-out of the scene around him: “Ah, look how the sun turns that scrub tree into black tendrils…You could fade into a witch’s claw or the Devil’s hand from that,” he thinks. “But that’s stupid and obvious.” There are moments in Baker’s project that feel obvious, too. But it’s nevertheless a vivid evocation of postwar America, and a compelling meditation on the politics of reproduction and appropriation. Eminently fluid and rewritable, Baker’s draft implies that making art is always a form of manipulation, and at times a dangerous one. His project speaks eloquently to the attempt to forge something real—to pick out a storyline—from the mess that is lived experience.




RC Baker: Noise for Signal

R.C. BAKER: Noise For Signal

May 24 - June 30, 2018
Artist Talk with RC Baker

Artist Talk with RC Baker

Baker's talk ranging from Old masters to comic books, political echo chambers and the joys of dissolving 60s protest posters into psychedelic abstractions
June 16, 2018
RC Baker, "...and Nixon's coming | the Draft

RC Baker “…and Nixon’s coming” | the draft

Artist Talk and Reading
April 18, 2009

Categories: news




Zhang Hongtu’s works were shown at Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, October 6, 2017 – January 7, 2018.


Click here for Zhang Hongtu’s interview with CNN about the exhibition, from 05:58


Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World

Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

October 6, 2017 – January 7, 2018


Categories: news


International artist Zhang Hongtu debuts first solo Midwest show at K-State

Zhang Hongtu




September 22, 2018


Zhang Hongtu, an internationally acclaimed artist, will debut his first solo show in the Midwest on Tuesday at Kansas State University.


The exhibition, titled “Culture Mixmaster Zhang Hongtu,” will be installed in the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art through Dec. 22.


The exhibition brings together early and recent works highlighting Hongtu’s expressions of his hybrid cultural roots.


Hongtu grew up in China as a member of its Muslim minority, suffering persecution for his religion and his political beliefs under the regime of People’s Republic of China founder and Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong.


Hongtu traveled around China as a young artist and was heavily influenced by his study trip to Dunhuang in the western province of Gansu.


Dunhuang was an important stop along the network of trade routes known as the Silk Road, which connected Europe and Africa to the Middle East and Asia. Through the Silk Road, Buddhism traveled from India to China, resulting in the establishment of Buddhist cave temples around Dunhuang between the fourth and 14th centuries. The cave temples featured painting styles different from what Hongtu learned in art school and showed signs of the mural artists’ awareness of European painting.


In 1982, Hongtu moved to New York City to study art.


His works show a lifelong interest in the cycle of travel, immigration, transmission of ideas and cultural cross-pollination.

Included in the exhibit are an oil painting applying the signature style of Vincent van Gogh to a landscape scene from a famous Chinese ink painting, and a Ping Pong table that requires players to avoid letting the ball fall through cutouts in the shape of the head of Chairman Mao.


Hongtu will speak at K-State at the Art in Motion festival on Oct. 6. He also will speak about Buddhist cave temples along the Silk Road on Oct. 9 at the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus.


The Beach Museum of Art is free to the public, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.




Categories: news


Zhang’s “Mixmaster” exhibit blends his Chinese, American backgrounds

Zhang Hongtu by the Mercury News

By Megan Moser, The Mercury, Manhattan, Kansas, October 7th, 2018


Zhang Hongtu seemed genuinely excited to be in Manhattan on Wednesday.


The New York City-based artist and his wife, Miaoling, were in the Little Apple for the opening of his exhibition Culture Mixmaster, which is at K-State’s Beach Museum of Art through December. Zhang’s It’s his first solo show in the Midwest.


During a preview last week, Zhang, a youthful septuagenarian with white hair and trendy glasses, said he was thrilled with the way the exhibit had turned out.


“With this show, I didn’t come here to see the process of installation,” Zhang said, complimenting the museum’s curators. “It’s beyond my imagination. It’s still my work, but under a different concept of installation, lighting.”


Zhang’s work, like his life, is a blending of the East and the West.


Zhang grew up in China but has lived in America since the 1980s, so he’s now been in the U.S. as long as he had been in China. He likes to say he’s 100-percent Chinese and 100-percent American.


“When you see the show, you’ll see works that mix the tradition from Western European painting with classical Chinese painting,” curator Aileen June Wang said. “And all of his life, Hongtu has been thinking about this question and celebrating the richness of cultural exchange and cultural mixing.”


The pieces on display show a playful combination of influences and represent Zhang’s interest in the effects of travel and migration on culture.


The works include classic blue-and-white Chinese ceramics in the distinctive shape of Coke bottles, and a self-portrait that blends the styles of Pablo Picasso and Leonardo DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa.” That portrait was first made on the computer with Photoshop, and printed with an inkjet printer Wang said. Zhang later painted a version of it, so the printed version that’s on display at the Beach is actually the original, she said.


One entire gallery is devoted to a reimagining of Vincent Van Gogh’s 39 portraits as those of the Zen Bodhidharma.


Perhaps the most fun piece is an “interactive sculpture” called “Ping Pong Mao,” a table tennis table whose surface features cutout silhouettes of Chairman Mao Zedong.

On Saturday the museum staged a tournament using the table.


Zhang said the experience of playing on it — and trying to keep the ball from falling through the cutouts — is similar to the experience of living in China after the Cultural Revolution.


“The situation in China is still like this,” Zhang said. “You can criticize someone else, but not political leaders. So nothing changes, politically.”


He mentioned that his wife was a ping-pong champion at her school when she was a girl. Miaoling shook her head furiously, embarrassed by the attention.


Ping pong was an important tool in diplomatic relations between the United States in China in the 1970s. The use of the ping-pong table is another example of east-west culture exchange.


Zhang grew up in China as part of the Muslim minority. Because of his family’s religious and political beliefs, he said they suffered persecution under Mao, and he often felt like an outsider.


His family relocated many times between the Chinese Civil War and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. At that time, he saw the political movement as edgy and was eager for change, so he supported it. He began to have doubts, though, when he saw the violence that arose from the revolution. He said he felt he had been fooled by someone he believed in.


He attended art school in China, where anything the students produced had to fit within the narrow scope of communist ideals, and there was a heavy emphasis on depicting Chairman Mao.


After college, Zhang continued to travel and immigrated to the United States in 1982 to find artistic freedom. His wife followed in 1984 with their son. Zhang and his wife now live in Woodside, Queens, a diverse neighborhood where Zhang told The New York Times “I’ve never felt like a foreigner.”


He got early attention for works like his 1989 “Last Banquet,” a version of “The Last Supper” that substitutes 13 Maos for Jesus and his disciples, a work that was part of a Guggenheim exhibit last year. Ironically, that piece was censored, though Zhang said.


Though he hasn’t lived in China for 30 years, Zhang said his view of China is still relevant today, as Mao’s influence persists. That said, he moved away from using Mao’s likeness in the 1990s.


Certainly the most attention-grabbing piece in the exhibition is the 45-by-12-foot “Great Wall with Gates III.”


Zhang made the first version of that work in 2009 for the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.


He made the current version especially for the Beach exhibit. It’s a digital image of the Great Wall of China altered with Photoshop to include a number of gates.


“I used the Great Wall not only about China, but basically about walls. Walls always divide, always stop people (from) going through,” he said. “I picked the image of the wall but with many many gates to change the function of the wall. Make it playful, not to block anymore.”


The exhibit’s title wall features a reproduction of a painting called Two Monkeys. Beach Museum curator Aileen June Wang said she asked Zhang whether the monkeys in the painting represented him, and he handed her a card that said, “You can ask me anything except about the monkeys,” she recalled, laughing.


But Wang said she and museum director Linda Duke have a theory. In Chinese literature there is a classic called “Journey to the West” about the adventures of a monkey god who accompanies a Chinese monk as he travels to India to get sutras and bring them back to China to contribute to the study of Buddhism.


“The journey of that monkey god is similar, or Hongtu feels some affinity, to the adventures of that character,” Wang said. Zhang smiled as she explained this but neither confirmed nor denied the hypothesis.


Artist talk by Zhang Hongtu

5 p.m. Tuesday

Zhang will share his experience of traveling to Dunhuang in western China, a town known as a hub of cultural exchange connecting Europe and Asia.



Categories: news


The New Yorker on “CAGE NAM JUNE: A Multimedia Friendship”


The New Yorker, Nov.6, 2006, p. 25

“CAGE NAM JUNE: A Multimedia Friendship”


Once, when asked what he would most miss if he dies, John Cage replied, “The conversation with Nam June Paik.” The two met in 1958 at a composers’ festival in Germany and instantly disliked each other’s music, but skepticism grew into a challenging and fertile friendship that lasted thirty-five years. Works by both are presented, including some lovely, simple prints made with aquatint and smoke by Cage and a short video interview with Paik, in which he reminisces about an infamous action in which he interrupted a performance by cutting Cage’s necktie in half.

Through Nov. 3. (ZONE: Chelsea Center for the Arts, 601 W. 26thSt. 212 255 2177.)




Categories: news


Time Out New York recommends “CAGE NAM JUNE: A Multimedia Friendship”


Time Out New York, October 19-25, 2006 Issue 577, p. 104


ZONE: Chelsea Center for the Arts


601 W 26thSt between Eleventh and Twelfth Aves (212-255-2177). Tue-Sat 11am-6pm.

*Cage Nam June: A Multimedia Friendship”

An exhibition of videos, installations, music, photographs and more celebrating the 35-year association between Nam June Paik and John Cage.

Through Nov 3.





Categories: news


The Village Voice reviews ” Molly Davies”

The Village Voice


Molly Davies

By R.C. Baker


Since the ’60s, filmmaker Davies has been collaborating with such luminaries of sound and movement as John Cage and Merce Cunningham. As in the novels of Virginia Woolf, her multichannel videos coalesce a larger narrative from the closely examined particles of moments in time. Additionally, sculptures that enclose rings of fluorescent light within apple baskets and vegetable crates add earthy grit to these illuminating installations.


Categories: news


The Villager interviews Molly Davies

The Villager logo

"Redefining the ordinary", January 18 -24, 2006, Vol. 75 No. 35

Molly Davies

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Film and video artist Molly Davies


The Villager

Redefining the ordinary

By Nicole Davis


At first glance, the group of crates, piled haphazardly in a corner of this Chelsea gallery, looks nothing like the rest of the work on view at Molly Davies’ first New York retrospective of her forty-year career. She is, after all, a film and video artist, so stumbling upon these Chinese produce crates, which house illuminated scenes from parks in Paris and Berlin, and emit, from some speaker somewhere, a chorus of tree frogs, seems like a curatorial mistake. In fact, the installation, titled “Dislocation,” may be the most symbolic of Davies’s signature style — changing the meaning of the most ordinary things through some savvy repackaging.


Five video installations over three decades show the many sides of this meditative video artist, who says she often films first, and decides on the structure later. One of the least visually arresting works in the show, “David Tudor’s Ocean,” has perhaps the best back-story. Its inspiration sprang from a conversation with Nam Jun Paik, commonly called the godfather of video art. He told Davies she should make a documentary of David Tudor, a friend and avant garde musician for whom John Cage created piano and electronic compositions.


“But I don’t do documentaries,” Davies explained.


“Just shoot his hands,” Paik told her.

So she did. She filmed hours and hours of footage of Tudor setting up and creating the music for a Merce Cunningham dance performance that Tudor, then the company’s music director, scored with a half-finished composition by Cage called “Ocean.”


“I shot it in 1984 — and as always, it took three years for me to figure out what to do with it,” says Davies. She ultimately decided to split the footage between the slow, methodical act of preparation and the seamless, seemingly effortless process of performance. Three of the six screens in the installation show Tudor setting up for the 90-minute show — one for each day of set up. Every so often one of these screens flashes, which signals where the film was cut. On the other three screens — one for each day of the performance — there are no edits, and hence no flashes, only a continuous loop of Tudor as he plays (or programs) the electronic music from the pit while the dancers move on stage.


“It’s a portrait of the working process through detail and accumulation,” says Davies, a statement that applies just as well to her collected body of video art. In “Sea Tails,” for instance, we see her collaborative style at work. “I almost always work with friends and family,” says Davies, who fortunately knows some very talented people. Filmed over a week in the Bahamas, it brings together the underwater kites created by friend and artist Jackie Matisse and the music of David Tudor, who stayed on board and recorded the marine sounds while Davies filmed the billowy, colorful movement underwater. There is a method at work in the finished product: At all times, a pair of screens — there are three pairs, or six screens, altogether — displays the kite’s movement in unison as three different speakers play a different Tudor composition simultaneously. That may be much to grasp on paper, but in person it gels beautifully as the kites flow like seaweed to the sound of the snaps and cracks beneath the aquamarine water.


This multi-layered approach is echoed in “Dressing,” where we see her partner of 16 years, dancer Polly Motley, performing the simple act we repeat each morning, on three different screens. “It’s basically just putting appendages through holes,” says Davies, but through her multi-monitor-lens, as we watch Motley slowly button her shirt and zip her slacks, this quotidian chore becomes sensual, even erotic.


Davies, who has lived in her loft at Broadway and Great Jones for the past 20 years, began making films in the late 60s to document her friends and family.


“I was hanging out with the great documentary makers” — the ones responsible for bringing cinéma vérité to the New World — “DA Pennebaker and Richard Leacock, and I was so struck by their ability to get those everyday moments.” She continued making films and teaching when she moved to St. Paul with then-husband, conductor Dennis Russell Davies. There, she met dancer Sage Cowles, and began what would become a ten-year collaboration on performance pieces that featured multiple screen projections of Cowles while she performed on stage. (Last spring, for Cowles’s 80th birthday, they reconstructed their seven-piece oeuvre at Dance Theater Workshop and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.) Davies says she ultimately embraced video installations because it freed her from the constraints of live performance. “I wanted the time to construct something in the way I wanted to construct it,” she says.


When Davies returned to New York in 1984, she also took time to raise her life’s other important work: her children, three from her marriage, along with two of Polly’s. It is one reason she did not stay in the forefront of video art like a contemporary of hers, Bill Viola, who is actually a few years her junior. “It’s a crucial time — between 40 and 50, if you’re not out there in New York, you kind of drift off the map. I’m probably better known with the dancers,” says Davies, who, despite her 62 years and two grandkids, sports a spiky haircut and stylish threads that make her one very hip grandmother, with plenty of fire left.


It shows in the other work on view, like “Desire,” in which a playful conversation among friends takes on sexual undertones, and in “Pastime,” a multi-layered work that turns a simple summer afternoon of play with mother and son into something downright Oedipal.


“I shot it because of the absolutely riveting beauty of the afternoon light,” she said, unaware of how provocative the scene was at first. But somewhere deep down she picks up on these intimate undercurrents that run through the most innocent of scenes.


“You don’t always see the significance of these moments initially. But then you go home, and go into the studio, and it reveals itself to you.”


Categories: news


The New York Times selects “Molly Davies”

Molly Davies The New York Times Ken Johnson
The New York Times
February 10, 2006

By Ken Johnson

Feb. 10, 2006


This expansive show features major works from three decades by a veteran
avant-gardist film and video maker. Ranging from near-abstraction to
dreamlike allegory, the video installations of Ms. Davies call to mind
artists as various as Gary Hill and Bill Viola. Some involve collaboration
with musicians and dancers, and the esteemed poet Anne Carson stars in a
sensuous and stately three-screen production from 2002 called “Desire.”


Categories: news


The New York Times includes “Molly Davies” in The Week Ahead

Molly Davies The New York Times Sulcas
The New York Times
January 22, 2006
The Week Ahead: Jan 22 - Jan 28

By Roslyn Sulcas

The film and video maker MOLLY DAVIES is one of a slowly fading breed of downtown artists who came of creative age in the graffiti-covered, unfashionable SoHo of the late 1960’s, and she has worked with the best of that generation. Ms. Davies has always been interested in dance, and her current exhibition features a fascinating six-screen piece, “DAVID TUDOR’S OCEAN,” which documents three performances of the same work by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The focus is more on the composers – Mr. Tudor and Takehisa Kosugi – than the dancers, but it’s a compelling and extensive look at the fabric of an artwork. Also on show is the premiere of “Desire,” with text by the poet Anne Carson. Through Feb. 18, Zone: Chelsea Center for the Arts, 601 West 26th Street, (212) 255-2177.


Categories: news