Dividing Tasks and Power
Text by Nicolas Mavrikakis :
Oh, the great epic tale of modern art! It was built by broad strokes of genius! Admittedly almost entirely by white, Western men, living in Paris and New York- but such free spirited, out-of-the-ordinary geniuses, living on the margins of society, sacrificing everything for art! However, the artist Alana Riley gives us a slightly different version of this heroic story…
In her video Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Grey, inspired by a Barnett Newman motif, Riley reinterprets this modern odyssey. In a bird’s-eye-view tracking shot, we see the artist mopping the painted floor in a space for artist residencies. With a humorous approach that I’d dare to call feminist, she shows us how the epic of modern art, which is first and foremost masculine, is still upheld by the work of women. To this day, the occupation of women in museum institutions is limited, for the most part, to conservation or archivist positions… Riley also evokes the work of all the wives who inspired their their genius husbands, and who supported their art often to the expense of their own careers and even, after their husbands’ deaths, continued to defend their work and memory tooth and nail. There were also those artists’ wives who put food on the table so that their spouses could devote themselves entirely to their art. Think of Annalee (Greenhouse) Newman. There were also women artists who were often marginalized by Art History. Think of Pollock’s wife Lee Krasner, Sonia Delaunay who was often overshadowed by her husband Robert, Motherwell’s wife Helen Frankenthaler, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Élaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell (whose work has finally received a bit more recognition over the last few years)…
In another video entitled White Monochrome on the Factory Floor, Riley demonstrates how art, represented here by a white monochrome, isn’t merely an idea. The artwork depends on the social conditions of its production, which art historians must take into account.
With the video In the Studio: Kettler’s Cathedra (at work), Riley goes one step further. She attempts to ruin the rhetoric of this modern epic’s discourse, including abstract painting (here, again, composed of stripes or Newman-style “zips”) in a humorous reappropriation using an ordinary ping-pong table. Must we deconsecrate art history’s narrative? In a certain way, yes, it is necessary.
Translated by Caitlin Stall-Paquet
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