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Season 4 of "Art in the Twenty-First Century"Trailer
Trailer for Season 4 of the Peabody Award-winning series, Art in the Twenty-First Century (premiered Fall 2007 on PBS).
Featured artists include: Robert Adams, Allora & Calzadilla, Mark Bradford, Mark Dion, Jenny Holzer, Pierre Huyghe, Alfredo Jaar, An-My Lê, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Judy Pfaff, Lari Pittman, Robert Ryman, Laurie Simmons, Nancy Spero, Catherine Sullivan, and Ursula von Rydingsvard.
Season 4 episodes include the themes of Romance, Protest, Ecology, and Paradox.More information
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Alfredo Jaar creates installations, photographs, films, and community-based projects that explore the public’s desensitization to images and the limitations of art to represent events such as genocides, epidemics, and famines. Jaar’s work bears witness to military conflicts, political corruption, and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations. Subjects addressed in his work include the holocaust in Rwanda, gold mining in Brazil, toxic pollution in Nigeria, and issues related to the border between Mexico and the United States.
Collaborating since 1995, Allora and Calzadilla approach visual art as a set of experiments that test whether ideas such as authorship, nationality, borders, and democracy adequately describe today’s increasingly global and consumerist society. Their hybrid works—often a unique mix of sculpture, photography, performance, sound, and video—explore the physical and conceptual act of mark-making and its survival through traces. By drawing historical, cultural, and political metaphors out of basic materials, Allora and Calzadilla’s works explore the complex associations between an object and its meaning.
An-My Lê’s photographs and films examine the impact, consequences, and representation of war. Whether in color or black-and-white, her pictures frame a tension between the natural landscape and its violent transformation into battlefields. Suspended between the formal traditions of documentary and staged photography, Lê’s work explores the disjunction between wars as historical events and the ubiquitous representation of war in contemporary entertainment, politics, and collective consciousness.
Catherine Sullivan’s anxiety-inducing films and live performances reveal the degree to which everyday gestures and emotional states are scripted and performed, probing the border between innate and learned behavior. Sullivan’s appropriation of classic Hollywood filming styles, period costumes, and contemporary spaces such as corporate offices draws the viewer’s attention away from traditional narratives and towards an examination of performance itself. Unsettling and disorienting, Sullivan’s work oscillates between the uncanny and camp, eliciting a profound critique of “acceptable” behavior in today’s media-saturated society.
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s technologically sophisticated sculptures and video installations use natural forms such as clouds, icebergs, and DNA as metaphors for understanding social issues such as immigration, gun violence, and human cloning. In collaboration with astrophysicists, meteorologists, and medical ethicists, Manglano-Ovalle harnesses extraterrestrial radio signals, weather patterns, and biological code, transforming pure data into digital video projections and sculptures realized through computer rendering. His work is attentive to points of intersection between local and global communities, emphasizing the intricate nature of ecosystems.
Whether questioning consumerist impulses, describing torture, or lamenting death and disease, Jenny Holzer’s use of language provokes a response in the viewer. While her subversive work often blends in among advertisements in public space, its arresting content violates expectations. Holzer’s texts—such as the aphorisms “Abuse of power comes as no surprise” and “Protect me from what I want”—have appeared on posters and condoms, and as electronic LED signs and projections of xenon light.
Balancing intense planning with improvisational decision-making, Judy Pfaff creates exuberant, sprawling sculptures and installations that weave landscape, architecture, and color into a tense yet organic whole. A pioneer of installation art in the 1970s, Pfaff synthesizes sculpture, painting, and architecture into dynamic environments, in which space seems to expand and collapse, fluctuating between the two- and three-dimensional. Her work is a complex ordering of visual information, composed of steel, fiberglass, and plaster as well as salvaged signage and natural elements such as tree roots. She has extended her interest in natural motifs in a series of prints integrating vegetation, maps, and medical illustrations, and has developed her dramatic sculptural materials into set designs for several theatrical stage productions.
Inspired by commercial advertising, folk art, and decorative traditions, Lari Pittman’s meticulously layered paintings transform pattern and signage into luxurious scenes fraught with complexity, difference, and desire. Pittman uses anthropomorphic depictions of furniture, weapons, and animals—loaded with symbolism—to convey themes of romantic love, violence, and mortality. Despite subject matter that changes from series to series, Pittman’s deployment of simultaneously occurring narratives and opulent imagery reflects the rich heterogeneity of American society, the artist’s Colombian heritage, and the distorting effects of hyper-capitalism on everyday life.
Laurie Simmons stages photographs and films with paper dolls, finger puppets, ventriloquist dummies, and costumed dancers as “living objects,” animating a dollhouse world suffused with nostalgia and colored by an adult’s memories, longings, and regrets. Simmons’s work blends psychological, political, and conceptual approaches to art making—transforming photography’s propensity to objectify people, especially women, into a sustained critique of the medium. Mining childhood memories and media constructions of gender roles, her photographs are charged with an eerie, dreamlike quality.
Mark Bradford transforms materials scavenged from the street into wall-size collages and installations that respond to the impromptu networks—underground economies, migrant communities, or popular appropriation of abandoned public space—that emerge within a city. Drawing from the diverse cultural and geographic makeup of his southern Californian community, Bradford’s work is as informed by his personal background as a third-generation merchant there as it is by the tradition of abstract painting developed worldwide in the twentieth century. Bradford’s videos and map-like, multilayered paper collages refer not only to the organization of streets and buildings in downtown Los Angeles, but also to images of crowds, ranging from civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s to contemporary protests concerning immigration issues.
Mark Dion’s work examines the ways in which dominant ideologies and public institutions shape our understanding of history, knowledge, and the natural world. Appropriating archaeological and other scientific methods of collecting, ordering, and exhibiting objects, Dion creates works that question the distinctions between “objective” (“rational”) scientific methods and “subjective” (“irrational”) influences. By locating the roots of environmental politics and public policy in the construction of knowledge about nature, Mark Dion questions the authoritative role of the scientific voice in contemporary society.
Nancy Spero is a pioneer of feminist art. Her work since the 1960s is an unapologetic statement against the pervasive abuse of power, Western privilege, and male dominance. Executed with a raw intensity on paper and in ephemeral installations, her work often draws its imagery and subject matter from current and historical events. Spero samples from a rich range of visual sources of women as protagonists to create figures that co-exist in nonhierarchical compositions on monumental scrolls, visually reinforcing principles of equality and tolerance.
Employing folly, leisure, adventure, and celebration in creating art, Pierre Huyghe’s films, installations, and public events range from a small-town parade to a puppet theater, from a model amusement park to an expedition to Antarctica. By filming staged scenarios, Huyghe probes the capacity of cinema to distort and ultimately shape memory. While blurring the traditional distinction between fiction and reality—and revealing the experience of fiction to be as palpable as anything in daily life—Huyghe’s playful work often addresses complex social topics, such as the yearning for utopia, the lure of spectacle in mass media, and the impact of Modernism on contemporary values and belief systems.
Robert Adams’ refined black-and-white photographs document scenes of the American West of the past four decades, revealing the impact of human activity on the last vestiges of wilderness and open space. Although often devoid of human subjects, or sparsely populated, Adams’s photographs capture the physical traces of human life: a garbage-strewn roadside, a clear-cut forest, a half-built house. An underlying tension in Adams’s body of work is the contradiction between landscapes visibly transformed or scarred by human presence and the inherent beauty of light and land rendered by the camera.
Robert Ryman’s work explodes the classical distinctions between art as object and as surface—between sculpture and painting, between structure and ornament—emphasizing instead the role that perception and context play in creating an aesthetic experience. Ryman isolates the most basic of components (material, scale, and support), enforcing limitations that allow the viewer to focus on the physical presence of the work in space. Since the 1950s, Ryman has used primarily white paint on a square surface while harnessing the nuanced effects of light and shadow to animate his work. Neither abstract nor entirely monochromatic, Ryman’s paintings are paradoxically “realist” according to the artist’s own lexicon.
Ursula von Rydingsvard’s massive sculptures reveal the trace of the human hand and resemble wooden bowls, tools, and walls that seem to echo the artist’s family heritage in pre-industrial Poland before World War II. She builds towering cedar structures, creating an intricate network of individual beams and sensuous, puzzle-like surfaces. While abstract at its core, von Rydingsvard’s work takes visual cues from the landscape, the human body, and utilitarian objects—such as the artist’s collection of household vessels—and demonstrates an interest in the point where the man-made meets nature.