These Three Art Exhibits Tether the Visual to the Written Word
Jonathan Curiel — Thu Apr 4th, 2019 9:54am
Kour Pour, Foreign Traveler (detail), 2019. Acrylic on canvas over panel, 96 x 72 inches.
You never go into an art gallery to read. Of course you don’t. The gaze comes first. The visual is everything. But the visual without the visceral amounts to nothing. And whether it’s wall text, a catalogue, or some other format, the written word can push an exhibit into a special visceral stratosphere.
So it is with two new San Francisco art exhibits. One is from William T. Wiley, the Bay Area’s rascally octogenarian, who nearly always puts puns, quips, poems, or even full stories onto his visual art. The other is by Kour Pour, a 30-something artist in Los Angeles who, besides showing a cascade of new paintings, is handing out published copies of a scathing (and very funny) critique that eviscerates MOMA director Glenn D. Lowry and the New York institution’s 2012 publication, Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art.
Pour’s critique is oh-so postmodern — a damning but “spot-on” assessment (as they say in Pour’s native England) of the jingoism and implicit navel-ism that U.S. museums once trafficked in and sometimes still do. In some 40 pages that he first published in 2017, Pour replicates almost the exact publication of Inventing Abstraction but uses yellow highlights, red handwriting, and red arrows to point out what he says are MOMA’s blatant misrepresentations of art history. Pour argues that MOMA’s book ignores artists who thrived in India and other parts of the non-Western world, downplays the influential art that emerged from Muslim countries, and inadequately details the give-and-take that happens between artists from different cultures. Pour is himself an example of this cross-cultural, hybridized existence, a product of Iranian and British descent who lives in the United States and explores art forms from other countries. And Pour’s art draws from all his major interests, including Japanese Ukiyo-e prints that originated centuries ago in Edo, then the capital.
“It anchors a lot of my thinking around painting,” Pour tells SF Weekly of his publication. “It’s a direct critique about how art is talked about, especially abstraction. The plan is to, one day, go through the whole book and keep adding to it.”
Pour’s exhibit at Ever Gold [Projects], called “Manzareh/Keshiki/Landscape,” is an exhibit of patterns — and patterns of influence. On one wall are a series of new works that resemble Persian carpets. One work, Foreign Traveler, might as well be a brand-new carpet with its intricate floral patterns and panoramic scenes of turbaned men on horses. But look closely, and Foreign Traveler is faded in spots. And it’s paired with two works called History Painting (Fragment) that look like outsized segments of carpets — but have more obviously faded spots. Like Warhol’s paintings of Marilyn and Mao that repeat their faces in different colors and shades, Pour’s carpet paintings play with expectations and the idea of memory. The old becomes new.
But “the old” was never a fixed pattern, Pour says. “Traditions” always borrowed from other traditions, and Pour’s homage to Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, with his new block-printing works like Chopped & Screwed (Kuniyashi), are also an homage to the influence of Ukiyo-e prints on European Impressionists. Pour created his new works using traditional Ukiyo-e block printing, but his art is at a much larger scale. It’s messy, time-consuming work, with inks that have to be monitored, replaced, and waited on.
“I don’t think of my work as ‘identity artwork,’ ” Pour says. “The friends I’ve made [in Los Angeles] are all from other places or have these different cultural backgrounds, but even though our identities may be different, our races may be different, and the languages we speak might be different, we’re all connected in this way of experience. It’s the experience of moving between cultures.
“I grew up with Persian carpets,” Pour adds, “and when I was older, I started to look into their history and how they were made, how the design was influenced by different places. And the more you look, the more you realize this cultural identity breakdown is essentially built from many layers and many time periods and different geographies. Japanese Ukiyo-e prints took a lot from Chinese painting. So this idea of cultural exchange is really important — especially now because of the political climate, cultural identity is this heavy topic, and it’s important to also look to the past and see how people have lived and crossed paths and exchanged ideas. We have the possibility to do that even more with travel and technology. Some people may have a hard time with the fact that I have Iranian heritage but I’m using imagery from other places. I’m trying to find a way to articulate that — whether it’s through artwork or tracing the history of abstract painting.”
Pour has exhibited his art in the very places that influenced him, including Japan (at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum), Iran (at Tehran’s Dastan Basement gallery), Europe (at Berlin’s Gnyp Gallery), and across the United States. And his new exhibit at Minnesota Street Projectcoincides with another exhibit there, “Once at Present: Contemporary Art of Bay Area Iranian Diaspora,” that also speaks to ideas of overlapping cultures. But those cultures can be in opposition rather than harmony. Iranian-American visual artists in the Bay Area — Iranians anywhere in the greater Iranian diaspora — live in exile from the Iran of their upbringings or the Iran they learned about from their parents. That Iran disappeared anyway with the 1979 revolution that imposed a deeply religious system across the country and has subsequently squelched anything — including protests — that it deems oppositional to its clerical ways. Not surprisingly, many of the artists in “Once at Present” display art that addresses the idea of memory and reengaging with the past.
“Manzareh/Keshiki/Landscape,” through May 4 at Ever Gold [Projects], 1275 Minnesota St. Free, evergoldprojects.com.
[The above text is excerpted from the full article, available on the SF Weekly website.]