Artists Space

Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart: Collected by Julia Ault
Film and Video Program

December 5, 2013 – February 20, 2014

Curated by Jason Simon, with Julie Ault

Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Avenue
New York
NY 10003

Artists Space Books & Talks
55 Walker Street
New York
NY 10013

Screenings are held across both venues
Please check individual dates for location
A figure in a blue denim shirt wearing headphones sits at a dining room table cluttered with papers, bowls of fruit, and colorful candles. The figure
[A figure in a blue denim shirt wearing headphones sits at a dining room table cluttered with papers, bowls of fruit, and colorful candles. The figure's back faces the viewer. A bright and rocky, arid landscape is visible through the many windows that line the walls of the dining room.]

Jason Simon

Many of the artists in the exhibition Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault, volume 2 make films and videos, in addition to their works seen at Artists Space. Others included in the show are themselves the subjects of films, allowing their works to be experienced with the benefit of these expanded records of their process and context. And still additional moving-image works on the social forces affecting artistic production are included in the following program, allowing an audience to bridge individual works at Artists Space to a shared consciousness captured by the filmmakers. In this way a program has emerged as an alternate version of the exhibition, itself drawn from Ault’s long engagement with creative practices.

The first pairing selected for the program was the short video portrait, Martin Wong (1998) by Charlie Ahearn, and the Robert Young independent feature Short Eyes (1977), from the 1974 prison play by Miguel Piñero. For the screening at Anthology Film Archives, Young has graciously loaned his own 35mm print of Short Eyes, which was shot in The Tombs with a mixed cast of actors, amateurs, ex-cons and includes extraordinary musical appearances by Freddy Fender and Curtis Mayfield. The film links directly to Martin Wong’s painting in the exhibition at Artists Space Come Over Here Rockface (1994), and Wong’s relationship with poet and playwright Piñero, and his tales of prison life. While Piñero was a central figure of off-off Broadway theater in New York, Ahearn is well known for his film and video documentaries of the New York art and music scene – beginning with his groundbreaking feature on early hip-hop, Wild Style (1982) – that tell the story of DJs and dancers from the South Bronx entering a bohemia in the midst of its own transformation from the Lower East Side to the East Village. That this history of downtown media, art, film and theater can feel so viscerally bound to the Wong painting, which has been hanging in Ault’s apartment for as long as I have known her, sets a serendipitous standard for the program over all.

As a whole, the videos to be screened are grouped by subject, history, and affinities more personal than the content itself may suggest. Five are from the On Art and Artists series, begun in 1974 by Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield as the earliest efforts of the Video Data Bank, now a foremost distributor of artists’ videos. These include works on Nancy Spero, Andres Serrano, Ault herself (speaking about Group Material), and two with Lucy Lippard from 1974 and 1987. As students at the Art Institute of Chicago, Blumenthal and Horsfield set out to interview women artists operating in the gallery and museum worlds as a feminist counterpoint to art world patriarchy, as well as to accumulate valuable information for their own practices in painting and sculpture. In later years, the University of Colorado at Boulder continued the series under their own visiting-artist program, and subsequent producers have added more titles since. Intended as spare records of artists’ commentaries on their own practices, the now enormous scope of the Databank’s On Art and Artists series is a collective counter narrative for artists to live by.

Past project’s of Ault’s echo in the program here. House: After Five Years of Living (1955), by Charles and Ray Eames, and Supersurface: An Alternative Model For Life On The Earth (1973), by the Italian architecture collective Superstudio, were previously paired in 2000 in Outdoor Systems, indoor distribution, the first collaborative exhibition by Ault and Martin Beck, and a precursor of Macho Man,Tell It To My Heart in its inquiry into culture as proximities described over time. The Eames’s film is a self-study of their own living space, animated by the California light and the completeness of the modernist vision brought to scale there, while Supersurface is a famously proscriptive proposal for living in the absence of architectural boundaries. To this intersection with Ault and Beck’s Outdoor Systems, and its examination of the morphing of culture in public space, Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart adds The World of Liberace, a 1972 public-television portrait of the Las Vegas entertainer and actor, who here conducts a tour of his Las Vegas and Palm Springs homes. The excesses of Liberace are a surprisingly astute design for a Vegas glamour unique to him alone. This visual catalog of his most prized possessions is intercut with highlights of his shows: playfully virtuosic piano renditions, dance routines that are more drag than grace, and hilarious exchanges with his audience about just how rich he is (“You want to see my jewelry? Why not – you bought it!”) are delightful spectacle and an immersion in the sheer passion of an artist-collector.

Three examples of the art-on-film genre appear as exceptional portraits of makers in the exhibition: Kids of Survival: The Art and Life of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. (1996), by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller; Corita on Teaching and Celebration: We Have No Art (1967); and Mary’s Day (1964). The latter two films are by Baylis Glascock, and focus on the art, teaching, and public happenings of Sister Corita. As much portraits of their time as they are of their subjects, these films span the Ault collection’s engagement with art’s claim upon a political voice. Kids of Survival and the Glascock films are centered on radical pedagogies invented by artists Corita (in the 1960s) and Tim Rollins (in the 1980s and ’90s) as the passionate centers of their life-long work with students a generation apart.

The contemporary artists, including myself, whose films and videos accompany their works in the galleries at Artists Space, are a small sampling of Ault’s recent engagements. James Benning, Sadie Benning, Alejandro Cesarco, and Moyra Davey are polymaths that have been subjects of Ault’s writing, teaching, and curatorial work, while each has also extended video’s role in the consideration of current artistic practices to an extraordinary degree. Davey and Cesarco have placed their readings of literary history at the center of their artistic lives, while father and daughter Benning are each, separately, central to any consideration of moving-image practice for their respective generations. Many of the artists in Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart would have fit well in the program for their concurrent video activity. But Davey, Cesarco and James and Sadie Benning are also central to Ault’s critical project of situating authors in the process of redefining their forms.

Two films are direct records of social history that stand here for the political impetus of much of the work in the Artists Space exhibition. Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (which will screen with “Untitled” (A Portrait) (1991), the single, rarely seen video by Felix Gonzalez-Torres) and DIVA TV’s Target City Hall (1989), which screens with the Glascock films on Corita). They share in-the-moment engagements with world-changing events: the mass exodus of Cubans following the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s, and its effect upon a lone character who remains behind; and a key action by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in its most effective and ultimately life-saving activist mode.

Film and video programming at Artists Space is greatly enhanced with the addition of the basement at 55 Walker Street. New audiences may not recognize the affinity to previous incarnations of the institution, but then, as now, a medium driven space positively inflects a generation’s engagement with critical content and alternative forms. Operating there on their own terms also permits a playful and productive relation to such events, and such was the thinking behind the pre-screening shorts grouped under the title Cinema Elaine. Made expressly to precede selected evenings during Tell It To My Heart by myself with Danh Vo, the films record brief encounters with a spirited psychic or a clairvoyant in Maine, the voice of Elaine Ault, suggesting a cinema of foresight and generosity, like all of the relations inscribed between the works in the show.

This project is made possible in part with public funds from NYSCA’s' Electronic Media and Film Presentation Funds grant program, administered by The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes (