“Pulp”, one of the images in Marclay’s exhibit. The first section of Marclay’s exhibit contains various screaming faces and cutouts that Marclay arranged to create mask-like photographs. (Dan DeJesus / Golden Gate Xpress) (Dan DeJesus)
“Pulp”, one of the images in Marclay’s exhibit. The first section of Marclay’s exhibit contains various screaming faces and cutouts that Marclay arranged to create mask-like photographs. (Dan DeJesus / Golden Gate Xpress)

Dan DeJesus

Fraenkel Gallery features acclaimed visual artist Christian Marclay

The exhibit’s incorporation of facets from pop culture creates varied art that reflects the frustration and anxiety many have experienced between the pandemic and the political climate

March 22, 2021

The Fraenkel Gallery is currently showcasing an exhibit by famed visual artist, Christian Marclay until March 25. 

Marclay is famed in the art world as a pioneer in the usage of sampling to create and construct meanings in his sound collages. 

One of Marclay’s most popular works is his 1995 piece titled “Telephones,” which edits in various scenes from different films of characters using telephones. 

The piece is considered a landmark in the visual arts world, as Marclay edited in various movie clips from different time periods of people using telephones and created a piece that reflected at the time, “how we immediately — and often involuntarily — process information and entertainment in our media-dominated world.” 

Born in San Rafael and raised in Switzerland, Marclay’s body of work has been on display internationally since 1987, yet Marclay’s newest exhibition takes place in a time where congregating in an art gallery with fellow patrons has been restricted. 

Marclay’s exhibit at the Fraenkel Gallery features various pieces meant to convey feelings of anxiety and contempt for the ongoing pandemic and political crisis of the past year. 

One aspect of the exhibition features various photographs of screaming faces that have been composed of fragments taken from comic books, movie stills and images found on the internet. Marclay’s piece, “Crying,” features a blue face behind a red background.

In a statement provided by President of the Fraenkel Gallery Frish Brandt from Marclay, he describes how he came to create the screaming faces collages.

“The collages were made with fragments of comic books and/or magazines, cut or torn from the actual paper magazines, and glued or taped to my computer screen, such as “Crying,” the temporary collage was then captured with the iPhone 11 and made into a print,” Marclay wrote. “The blueish part is a digital image found on the internet, seen through a torn magazine page, so what you see is part of the screen with paper fragments taped directly onto it. The red tear is made with my [Marclay] leftover Korean lunch hot sauce.” 

The exhibition features images curated from comic books. The comics all come from Marclay purchasing second hand copies of various British and Marvel comics from the ’80s and ’90s, either in-store or online.

Other parts of the exhibit include the premiere of Marclay’s most recent work “Fire,” an animation that features a continuous loop of fire; as well as “No!” a set of 15 original collages that are read as music notes meant to be sung by a performer. 

“Fire” is a continuous loop animation taken from 1,500 illustrations of fire that are then shown in succession to resemble the feeling of flipping through a picture book. The animation evolved into “Raging Fire,” a collage in the exhibit that contains cutouts of fire from comic book illustrations.

“He took these images of fire and created that feeling that fire is abstract, it’s never still, and this feeling of how the flames; manifest themselves, disappear and interact with air,” Brandt said. 

“No!,” the last part of the exhibit to be covered contains various cutouts from comic books of facial expressions, body movements and vocal inflections. The combination of those cutouts is then arranged to read like a music sheet for a singer to sing along to. A performance by London-based vocalist Elaine Mitchener premiered on March 4, online at the Fraenkel Gallery that showcases how a singer would read the 15-page collage. 

According to Mitchener, the two met through a mutual friend in 2011 in Cafe Oto, a venue located in London, during a performance of Marclay’s piece “Manga Scroll.” Mitchener later performed “Manga Scroll” in 2012 at the Suffolk based arts festival Aldeburgh Festival during a day dedicated to Marclay’s work. (The video linked is of a different performance Mitchener made of “Manga Scroll” at the Wessberg MOMA in Bremen; it is not a performance of the piece at the Aldeburgh Festival.)

The two first started work on “No!” in early 2020 before the lockdown took place. 

 “I went to see him at his studio and we had a chat about it,” Mitchener said. “He showed me the development of the work and I was excited by what I saw. We just needed a context. At that point the premiere was due to take place in Japan later in 2020 by Makigami Koichi.” 

When describing the creative process, Mitchener noted how Marclay trusts the improvisational skills of his performers and is typically hands off when collaborating with them. 

“He is very hands-off and trusts the performers he works with and their improvisatory skills, what we can bring to the work in terms of reanimating and communicating it for the listening [audience]. By complete absorption of what we are seeing on the graphic score,” Mitchener said. “Christian’s not prescriptive or controlling; he does however have a very clear idea of the graphic scores he creates.”

The exhibition is on display until March 25, where attendees can schedule an appointment with the Fraenkel Gallery to visit. Visitors can either schedule an appointment to walk the gallery by themselves or have a one on one tour with president Frish Brandt where she goes over elements of each piece.

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