The LA Project: Ryan Trecartin and Alex Israel's Artist Books

Yesterday, I received the artist's books for the current exhibition at UCCA, the Los Angeles Project. The LA Project is an anthology of seven exhibitions of seven contemporary artists from Los Angeles, Kathyn Andrews, Aaron Curry, Alex Israel, Matthew Monahan, Sterling Ruby, Ryan Trecartin, and Kaari Upson. 

It's interesting why the exhibition specifically focuses on the city of Los Angeles. Researching briefly about each of these artists who are specialized in wide variety of media and styles, I noticed that the only obvious thread that ties these artists together is the fact that they are all active in Los Angeles.

But the Beijing and LA are beyond different. Sunny LA and Polluted Beijing. The beaches and the... gray hutongs. There seems to be no commonality between the two cities so maybe that's why UCCA put up the exhibition in the first place. 

So I received seven books in total for each of the artists in the exhibition. Originally, I thought they were normal catalogs that introduce the artworks that are put on display at the museum, but they actually turn out to be "artist's books," something I had never heard of. According to the sources on the internet, artist's books are:

Unlike an art book, catalog or monograph that tend to showcase artworks created in another medium, the term ‘artists’ books’ refers to publications that have been conceived as artworks in their own right.
They are not children’s books
They are not sketch books.
They are not diaries.
They are not blank books.
They are not exhibition catalogs.
They are not reproductions of a body of an artist’s work.
They are not art books(a common misnomer).
However, they may parody or play with any of the above, as well as all other standard categories such as novels, self-help books, non-fiction, cookbooks, operating manuals, manifestos, travel guides, essays, etc. Artist’s books function in the same way as contemporary art: as an expression of someone’s creativity, often with social commentary, but sometimes in a purely abstract way, in absence of words or recognizable imagery.

So interesting. 

(Please excuse the collection of badly taken photos. My camera and phone broke at the same time) 

(Please excuse the collection of badly taken photos. My camera and phone broke at the same time) 

I first looked at Ryan Trecartin's artist's book, "Yet." The front page of the book already is extremely intriguing, because it looks like a badly photoshopped and bordered collage of an image of space and Microsoft's WordArt that reads: "NASA says It Has Found The Most 'Earth-Like" Planet Yet." Now, I have no idea whether that is actually a title of a published article or just something Trecartin came up himself, but it's very, very intriguing.. 

Because I wasn't aware that an artist's book is something very, very different from an ordinary published book, I didn't know how to react at first. Not only did the book not have any text, it was filled with eccentric and somewhat trippy pictures that were just confusing. The whole book was a collage of tinted images that somehow made me extremely uncomfortable. A lot of the images were not properly shot; they were blurry, tilted, and badly cropped. And it was strange to see bad quality photos on a properly published book like this. The subjects of the photos ranged from internet users and random pedestrians to trippy patterns, article titles, and Iphone screen and so many more. There seemed to be no connection between each of the images, and it actually did make me wonder if the artist was trying to show what it is like being on drugs. What's interesting about this book, and artist's books in general, though, is that when I'm looking at it, it actually feels as if I am peeking into someone's head. It's a completely different experience than reading a book written by someone, and I would definitely consider an artist's book as more of a work of art than a book. The only thing really common between a book an artist's book is the media. 

Alex Israel's book was a sticker book. His artist's book was simply called the "Sticker Book," and apparently, it is currently the most sold out of the seven books at the UCCA bookstore. 

It's just a sticker book with a bunch of random stickers and a bunch of random scenes. I don't know why, but I feel like I can sometimes tell that an artist is from Los Angeles just by seeing the pastel colors and the strange juxtapositions. Their works are modern, and I guess, stylish, but they're always so obscure. It's very interesting.

But I love this idea of artist's books. It's like a form of art that the audience can easily access and/or purchase. Maybe for my next IB art piece, I can try making an artist's book- I don't know if that counts as a studio work, though. 

I will be posting up my reactions for the rest of the artists' books soon! I will also be visiting the actual exhibition soon, so I'm very excited to see if the works of these artists are very similar to what I have in mind after reading the artists' books. I'm actually really curious to see what Ryan Trecartin's work is like, but it's probably very... hallucinatory.



Sotheby's Preferred [Sept-Oct 2014]

Xu Bing, the artist who I recently researched about, was on this month's Sotheby's Preferred magazine so I decided to pick it up. 


The article was about the installation the artist did for the Sotheby's exhibition, Beyond Limits, in front of the Chatsworth House in England. The installation is based on a 5th century Chinese fable called Tao Hua Yuan, in which a fisherman discovers a perfect garden, but when he tried to lead his friends to it, fails to find the garden again. With rocks the artist brought all the way from China, Xu Bing created a beautiful traditional Chinese garden in Chatsworth. The garden does not look like real garden in the sense that everything is laid out in the way very similar to what things look like in the traditional landscape that you may find in these scroll paintings. It's a very beautiful piece that I wish I had the opportunity to look at in real life. 

I also noticed that Yue Minjun's work looks slightly different. There are less shading, colors and number of teeth in this piece than the other pieces of his that I'm used to seeing. 

I love this painting.  The dripping paint makes the piece really special and I love the contrast between the Utopian background and the dirty paint drips in the foreground. 

I saw another piece by Xu Bing towards the back of the magazine. I love these pieces so, so, so much. I think they are like bird cages made out of Chinese characters and English alphabets.


I wish I had more time to go through the stash of auction catalogues in my house.. 

Xu Bing's "Background Story"

Picture taken from Google Images 

Picture taken from Google Images 


Knowing my IB art project is due tomorrow, I am still procrastinating on completing my sketchbook and creating my piece. (Sigh) But during the process of looking for my two artist models to research for the sketchbook, I came across a very interesting video of an installation piece Xu Bing did a while back - around 2011 - in the British museum. The video is up on Youtube for anyone who wants to see it. 

During the stay at the British museum as an artist in residence, Xu Bing created a tall light box in the main exhibit hall. On the screen, he recreated the one works of Wang Shimin, a prominent Chinese landscape painter from the Qing dynasty. Instead of using ink like the original artist or any kind of paint, Xu Bing used things that can easily be found in nature- what he called "natural debris. On the one side of the light box was the beautiful recreation of Wang Shimin's langscape painting, but on the other side were crumpled newspaper, fallen leaves and dried plants taped with plastic tapes against the screen. 

The piece is so beautiful. i just love everything about the work - from the appropriation of a traditional Chinese art and the choice of the piece to the surprise the piece brings to the viewers when they realize that the work is actually a shadow, not a painting. He takes something so ordinary and turns it into something beautiful- something that i had been trying to do with my current art project. I love creating things with newspaper, plastic tapes and everything so common and ordinary. I think it puts the subject into a whole new perspective. I can't imagine how challenging and time-consuming it would be to create an "ink painting" out of leaves and plants and in the video Xu Bing seems to do it with ease. He is so talented. I can't get enough of his beautiful clever artworks!!!


Here is the link to the video if anyone is interested.

Featured in Danny Gregory's blog!

My two blog posts about Danny Gregory's visit to Beijing were featured in Danny's blog!!!! At times like this I'm so happy that I blog! 

He also wrote about the artsy cafeteria lady here:

I think people my age tend to think that if we have the set of skills, values, and knowledge to thrive in be successful in this society, things will go smoothly and everything's going to be okay. Reading Danny's books, blog, hearing him tell us a little about some challenges he's faced, learning about this cafeteria lady, I learned that that is not necessarily true. Literally anything can happen in life, and people get challenged and thrown out of their comfort zones all the time. Seeing how well this cafeteria ladies draws, I would have thought she would easily get into a college (although I don't know about the Chinese art school standards..) and she probably was confident, too, until she was told that her spot was taken by someone else who was (probably) as good as her. I think what's truly beautiful is when people face their hardships, struggle, and then find a way to conquer them. It doesn't really matter whether you choose to tackle it by going full-on, or choose to see what happens by leaving it on the side. When people accept their challenges and attempt to make something out of it, (like how Danny began to draw when his wife got into an accident,) beautiful things happen.

So I'm really happy that I got to hear this story from my art teacher and Danny. Next time I'm around in the cafeteria, I want to ask to her about her experiences.