Women on the Plinth Catherine Wagley
Us & Them, Now & Then:
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The Offerings of EJ Hill
Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Interview with Jenni Sorkin Carmen Winant
Letter to the Editor Lady Parts, Lady Arts
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Broken Language
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Artists of Color
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Anthony Lepore & Michael Henry Hayden
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by Simone Krug

Analia Saban at
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Kanye Westworld Travis Diehl
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Support Structures: Alice Könitz and LAMOA Catherine Wagley
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Exquisite L.A.
taisha paggett
Ashley Hunt
Young Chung
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Letter to the Editor
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Jennie Jieun Lee
by Stuart Krimko

Trisha Baga
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Jimmie Durham
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Parallel City
by Hana Cohn

Jason Rhodes
by Matt Stromberg
Catherine Wagley
Put on a Happy Face:
On Dynasty Handbag
Travis Diehl
The Limits of Animality:
Simone Forti at ISCP
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Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
More Wound Than Ruin:
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Jessica Simmons
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Brenna Youngblood
Todd Gray
Rafa Esparza
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Karl Haendel by Aaron Horst
Wolfgang Tillmans by Eli Diner
Ma by Claire de Dobay Rifelj
The Rat Bastard Protective Association by Pablo Lopez
Kenneth Tam
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Travis Diehl
The Female
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Catherine Wagley
The Rise
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Art Witch
Amanda Yates Garcia
Interview with
Mernet Larsen
Julie Weitz
Agnes Martin
Jessica Simmons
Launch Party Carla Issue 6
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Analia Saban
Ry Rocklen
Sarah Cain
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Doug Aitken Electric Earth

Jean-Pascal Flavian and Mika Tajima
Mark A. Rodruigez
The Weeping Line
Molly Larkey, Aaron Horst,
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Catherine Wagley
The Art of Birth Carmen Winant
Escape from Bunker Hill
John Knight
Travis Diehl
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Art Advice (from Men) Sarah Weber
Routine Pleasures
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Jonathan Griffin
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Fay Ray
John Baldessari
Claire Kennedy
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Walk Artisanal Jonathan Griffin
Marva Marrow's
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Anthony Pearson
Mystery Science Thater
Diana Thater
Aaron Horst
Informal Feminisms Federica Bueti and Jan Verwoert
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Lita Albuquerque
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Interiors and Interiority:
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Char Jansen
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Matt Stromberg, Hana Cohn,
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Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi
Le Louvre, Las Vegas Evan Moffitt
iPhones, Flesh,
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Lindsay Preston Zappas
Women Talking About Barney Catherine Wagley
Lingua Ignota
Faith Wilding
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A Conversation
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Char Jansen
How We Practice Carmen Winant
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Share Your Piece of the Puzzle Federica Bueti
Amanda Ross-Ho Photographs
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Hot Tears Carmen Winant
Slow View:
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Anna Breininger and Kate Whitlock
Americanicity's Paintings
Orion Martin
at Favorite Goods
Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal
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Junkspace Junk Food
Parker Ito
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Dora Budor Interview Char Jensen
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Travis Diehl
Art for Art’s Sake:
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Anthony Pearson
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Erik Morse
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Nora Slade
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Slow View:
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No Joke
at Tanya Leighton
(L.A. in Berlin)

No Joke (installation view) (2015). Image courtesy of Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

No Joke (installation view) (2015). Image courtesy of Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

What is the difference between the drunk bus and a joke?

… Berliners can’t take a joke”

—Stephen Kent (can we let this be anonymous?)

No Joke, a recent exhibition curated by Sanya Kantarovsky at Tanya Leighton, included works spanning the last 75 years. Seminal works by the kings of artistic comedy are central to both the original gallery with its iconic gray stairs, as well as the newly-minted addition directly across the avenue.

Michael Smith’s How to Curate Your Own Group Exhibition (Do It) (1996), is a deadpan step-by-step instructional video; a now all too familiar Saturday Night Live-like sketch which trains the viewer on the “transferral of curatorial responsibilities into the hands of the artists,” as well as on being “an artist who simply wants to get into more group shows”[1]. A collection of rantings and ravings could be found in Ad Reinhardt’s Selected Comics (1946-61), which witfully call into crisis art world tropes. The works were positioned squarely in the entrance of the second gallery space, reading as a central subtext of the exhibition. Herluf Bidstrup’s energetic cartoons and Saul Steinberg’s photographs cleverly utilize visual puns as an accessible platform for illustrating the systemic ethos of the artists’ contemporary moment.

Herluf Bidstrup, Masterpiece (1967). Silkscreen on wall, 47 1/4 x 33 1/2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

Herluf Bidstrup, Masterpiece (1967). Silkscreen on wall, 47 1/4 x 33 1/2 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

Soaking with complex, juicy, and satirical irony, these works required some healthy time to digest; with the artists witfully splashing and jabbing in order to keep their heads afloat in an ocean of sink or swim reality. While these seminal works in the exhibition display a persuasive poignancy through narrative gumption (that could turn an apple into thinking it’s a pear), they also give way to their surrounding generational offspring. The work by contemporaries that shared the stage with these canonized compatriots seemed to stem from an incestuous birth of Uncle Satire and Auntie Irony: a coupling that results in constrained formal paintings that are too inbred to make fun of anything but themselves.

Math Bass’s Newz (2015) paintings punctuated both gallery spaces. Her mindless but mesmerizing graphic compositions slowly reveal nuanced semiotics that straddle pure form and raw symbolism. Laeh Glenns Eyeballs (2015) and : ( (2015) are extremely reduced but highly stylized paintings that unabashedly represent facial expressions; a declaration of painting as a mirror and a forced empathetic player in the portrayal of the human condition. While these newer works demonstrated a highly constructed humor, their jokes often seemed to be missing, unless the joke was (though hopefully not) on painting itself. Perhaps this is where Kantarovsky’s “tragicomic self-reflexivity”[2] enters stage left. After all, “It takes a degree of solipsism to be an artist.”[3]

The exhibition demonstrated a marked split: the younger works lacked the specific jestful aggression of their forbearers and instead offered a dryly sophomoric regression highlighting their own awkward, ambiguous existence—two dimensional freaks turned thespians. Set against the dogmatic works of Reinhardt, Herluf, Kelley, and Grosz, there seemed to be something missing within the work of the younger artists presented—be it risk, conviction or necessity—and they hung on the edge of one-liner formalism. After all, “humor is not resigned, it is rebellious.”[4]

Allison Katz, Janus (2011). Acrylic on linen, 17 x 13 3/4 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

Allison Katz, Janus (2011). Acrylic on linen, 17 x 13 3/4 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

Luckily, a few of our youngsters spanned the gap between seasoned complexity and tender-footed vacancy. Sean Landers’ Dark Trees (Hello!) (2014)—a trompe l’oeil canvas scribbled with melodramatic, desperate, and sometimes nonsensical tree carvings—contrasts between humor’s power to postpone the thought of our inescapable death and our attempts to leave a lasting impression (both physically and culturally). Allison Katz’ Janus (2011), paints two tragedy/ comedy masks frozen in a mirrored state of neurosis, melding the two traditionally disparate emotions into a stasis of skeptical optimism.

No Joke oscillates between subversive discourse and nonsensical nihilism, and Berlin is no stranger to either. From Berlin’s cultivation of German philosophy and literature to its Weimar-Era Dadaism, the existential attitude for the Berliner is a natural one, and is almost required for all outsiders requesting a visa. But this attitude is not known for its nonchalant self-reflexivity. The actors in No Joke performed with a refreshing (and much needed) air of capriciousness, yet the overall emphasis on cool-kid formalism and blase humor ran the risk of missing the punchline when it comes to German ethos. So which is more solipsistic, the one who tells a joke in the wrong context or the one who refuses to get it?

“No joke but art joke. So at best one may be in on the joke.”[5]

-Vanessa Place

[1] Michael Smith, How to Curate Your Own Group Exhibition (Do It) (1996).

[2] No Joke press release.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sigmund Freud, On Humor (1927). Page 162.

[5] Vanessa Place, Art is a Joke (28.2.2013). UC Irvine (lecture).

Laeh Glenn, Eyeballs (2015). Oil on panel, wood frame, 16 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

Laeh Glenn, Eyeballs (2015). Oil on panel, wood frame, 16 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Tanya Leighton, Berlin.

No Joke runs from May 2–June 27, 2015 at Tanya Leighton.

Originally Published in Carla Issue 2