"Art making is a form of alchemy, in a way, because you are trying…to make gold from nothing. When it works very well is when you manage to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary."
From "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 4 (2007)
The artists in this episode investigate the boundaries between abstraction and representation, fact and fiction, order and chaos. Creating juxtapositions that are at times disorienting, playful, and unexpected, these artists engage with the uncertain and plumb accepted assumptions of meaning in art. “Paradox” is shot on location in New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; São Paulo, Brazil; Warsaw, Poland; Paris, France; and Avignon, France.
“My practice is both collage and décollage at the same time,” says Mark Bradford. “Décollage you take it away, and then collage, I immediately add it right back.” Using a combination of signage from the city streets, including business advertisements and merchant posters, twine, and glue, Bradford produces wall-sized paintings and installations that are a reflection of “the conditions that are going on at that particular moment at that particular location,” he says. In one installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bradford uses video to juxtapose two events—a celebratory Martin Luther King Day parade in Los Angeles, and a busy Muslim marketplace in Cairo.
Despite a family background in the visual arts (her mother worked at the famous Los Angeles-based Gemini G.E.L. print studio), Catherine Sullivan was drawn to acting and the theater. “I was always interested in the body’s capacity for signification,” she says. “What was this kind of potential for infinite transformation?” Her interests turned to stagecraft, and eventually evolved into the merging of live theater and filmmaking. Viewers follow Sullivan from a workshop with actors and students in Poland, to an exhibition space in Avignon, to a Polish-American social hall in Chicago to observe her performance-based films, many of which are influenced by popular film, real-life conflict, or ritual.
Growing up in Nashville, Robert Ryman had a strong interest in music. A bebop musician in his youth, Ryman’s musical knowledge influenced his work as a painter. His approach to learning an instrument was applied to painting: “I thought the painting should just be about what it’s about…” He says. “In all of my paintings, I discover things. Sometimes I’m surprised at the result, but I know what I’m doing.” Ryman does not use assistants and prefers to work alone. Using white paint on square forms, he creates works such as “Philadelphia Prototype,” highlighting the subtle nuances of a surface and exploring the role that context and perception play in a visual experience.
“It’s kind of an excuse to research something,” says Jennifer Allora of the work with her collaborator since 1995, Guillermo Calzadilla. “It’s this chance to learn more about something in the world and be able to formulate some kind of response.” In their segment, the pair, often arguing and questioning each other’s ideas in order to reach common ground, explain two projects that took place on the island of Vieques, previously used as a bombing range by US military forces and only recently returned to the jurisdiction of Puerto Rico. “This frustration with absurdity, this nonsense, this paradox, all these things constitute part of the meaning of the work,” says Guillermo Calzadilla.