by Colin Dabkowski
Once visitors reach the second floor, they’ll encounter a group of what appear to be lab techs dressed in white coats and sunglasses, surrounded by metal racks brimming over with wrinkled receipts. It’s part of a guided, tongue-in-cheek shopping experience devised by artist Liz Rywelski that has to do with the strange way American culture has tried to formalize and systematize human desires.
That is actually a perfect lead-in to the fair, which was designed by its founder E. Frits Abell in part to encourage more people to think of art as a commodity and to whip out their wallets to purchase it.
by Gerald Mead
Return Policy by Liz Rywelski, on view through May 24 at the UB Anderson Gallery, is an extraordinary example of one those MFA thesis exhibitions that you should make a point to see. This exceptionally well conceived, diverse body of work occupies the entire second floor of the gallery. Rywelski is a native of Long Island who studied and worked in Philadelphia before coming to UB in 2010. The focus of her work over several years is deceptively simple. All of her photographs, large-scale prints, web-based media, games and performances reference shopping, or more accurately, the “culture of consumerism.”
What is so fascinating about the artist’s multi-disciplinary investigation into this subject is how Rywelski has thoroughly analyzed the strategies and “visual language” of consumerism and used that language to introduce a dialogue about how we construct our own identities. The notion that “buying makes us who we imagine ourselves to be” is a very fertile subject and Rywelski explores that concept with insight and wit.
The exhibition begins with the most ubiquitous artifacts of the shopping experience—cash register receipts.
Title Magazine RRRSONA
By Abby King
” It is easier to spot the pastiche in the workout videos, where artists Bunny and Petra mimic clichés of toned tan women, but the videos speed up or slow down to comic effect. However, the difference between parody and life isn’t always so obvious. The most intriguing videos are the ones so adept at simulation they appear sincere. Baudrillard writes, “Simulation threatens the difference between true and false, between real and imaginary”, and one video by Liz Rywelski crosses this threshold. In the piece she cries while watching the Obamas slow dance to a Beyonce performance. Unlike the other highly sexualized dances, this video brings up questions about the public personas of our politicians and pop stars and how they elicit emotional responses. Rywelski is responding to a video while watching herself, creating a loop of endless spectatorship blurring the line between sincerity and simulacrum.”
Title Magazine: Google Hangout with Beth Heinly
On Saturday, MoMA PS1 stole the show with Dis Magazine’s Kim Kardashian look-alike contest held at the Mondrian in honor of the artists Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin. Guests were greeted by Kim, or Kim, or Kim, or Kim — all imposters, and several of whom, regardless of race or biological gender, bore uncanny resemblances to the former Mrs. Kris Humphries. The Buffalo artist Liz Rywelski entered the competition as an addled, bathrobe-wearing Kim just after her sunglasses sunburn accident. Another character burst through the line-up as a convincingly coiffed Kris Jenner. Flummoxing her competition, the New York personality Lauren Devine sashayed out as Kim’s W Magazine cover, wearing a nude Margiela bodysuit and replicas of Barbara Kruger’s clever cover lines: “It’s all about me” “I mean you” “I mean me.” The winner, however, was No. 4, a Miami-based Kardashian doppelgänger, a good indication of the site-specific nature of the entire spectacle.
By HOLLAND COTTER
The New York Times, Published: August 19, 2005 VIEW
Mall culture, with its peculiar poignancies, is the theme of ”Precious Moments,” a smart, sad five-person group show organized by the artist Josh Kline. Liz Rywelski, a member of the Space 1026 collective in Philadelphia, sets the tone with two large series of photographic portraits, of which she is the subject. She had the pictures taken in photo studios of Kmarts and Wal-Marts across the country. At each store, she told the staff a story, real or invented, about her life, then let them style the image they felt was most ”her.” In some, she looks like a schoolgirl, in others like a matron, in still others like a country-western star. And in all of them, she is a passive screen on which other people can project tastes, expectations and fantasies. Brian Belott deals in found-fantasy, too, but in a more hands-on way. He collects packets of lost or abandoned snapshots from junk shops and trash bins, chooses those that interest him, and arranges them in cheap albums by theme: dozens of pictures of televisions, say, or middle-American dining rooms decorated for holidays. Although there’s an occasional hint of a narrative, people rarely appear; he lets their snapshots of the things they value, and an illusion of individuality common to us all, speak for them. Shana Moulton raises illusion to the spiritual plane in a video titled ”Whispering Pines No. 5” (above), in which she plays a New Ager named Cynthia, who performs rituals of regeneration while wearing an American Indian blanket. Or rather an electric blanket — mall-bought, no doubt — printed with American Indian motifs. But for true mall realness, you must turn to two other artists. From Walead Beshty comes a picture of a boarded-up ”dead mall,” only a few years old and already killed by the competition. And from Michael Smith, the show’s senior artist, there is an unnerving document of a mall of yesteryear. In his photographic cartoon strip, ”The Biggest Building in the World,” dated 1982-2005, the artist appears wandering through an indoor plaza, in a self-contained and inviting commercial ecosystem, that turns out to be the main concourse of the World Trade Center. (Joymore, 236 Grand. Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, (646)270-0376, through Sept. 10.) HOLLAND COTTER
Getting Closer Pittsburg Tribune Arts Review by Kurt Shaww VIEW
Nevertheless, the real standouts in this exhibit are the works that are most closely aligned with romantic relationships. Take for example “The Re-Gift” by Liz Rywelski, a first-year graduate student in the visual studies/emerging practices concentration at the University at Buffalo.
The piece is a performance of sorts that takes the form of about half a dozen pre-paid cell phones available for the public to take. Each pre-paid phone is paid for one month, and during that month the holder of each phone will receive a few SMS text messages every day sent by the artist.
However, the texts weren’t written by her. They were written by a former boyfriend with whom she had a brief relationship lasting about one month. According to Rywelski, this former boyfriend had quite a gift for texting.
“These SMS are the same ones my lover once sent me,” Rywelski says. “The text on the phone asks the viewer to respond to the SMS if they are inclined to. It also says it’s OK to share this phone or leave it places. And the text on the phone asks the holder of the phone to return the phone after a specified date, though this is not mandatory.”
Though the mere act may seem like the work itself, Rywelski says, “The final work is a compilation of all the original SMS and varied responses received. It answers the question of, if I were a different person, if I had responded to these original texts differently during our relationship, would we still be together?
“I know that’s a bit ‘crazy girlfriend’ talk but that’s how I felt at the time, like who do I have to be for you to love me?” Rywelski says. “These responses also render an answer to how ‘crazy girlfriend’ that question is, but (it’s) also totally a relatable question. Sometimes, we find brilliant insightful answers to the most ridiculous questions. I like the idea that this work looks to the public to render answers to this question without using anything but a cell phone.”
Read more: Artists consider ‘Getting Closer’ on the Web – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/ae/s_720326.html#ixzz1ZMy7RepZ
Burket, Brent, Joy Found In Williamsburg, August 2005 VIEW
As much as I enjoyed Bellot’s work the real highlight of the show is Philadelphia artist Liz Rywelski. Oh, man. Deep and empty. Her idea is so good it would have killed even if the execution had fallen short. Not to worry. She nails it. Rywelski went to K-Marts around the country to have her portrait taken by the in-store Olan Mills photographers, using a $100 gift card to buy her wardrobe at the Big K. Sharing made-up stories about her life with the store staff she enlisted their help in choosing her “look”. By doing this Rywelski addresses the flattening of taste and culture with a sense of sadness, anger, and compassion. The void is not below us. It’s right here, in the middle. (image above and next two are Rywelski in the Olan Mills photos installed at Joymore)
In comparison to lesser artists mining a similar vein her deft touch reminds me of David Mamet‘s exquisitely brutal mirror in contrast with the ham-fisted finger-pointing of Neil LaBute. Like Mamet, Rywelski seems to be saying, “Pay attention. This is who we are, just in case you weren’t looking.” Also like Mamet, she doesn’t quite go so far as to ask, “Now what?” The viewer might walk down that dark hallway on their own, but they’ll do so without the bossy insistence of an artist god pushing them along.
This is where compassion enters the room. The image of the artist dressed in a business suit holding a beach ball is wicked and surreal, but it is also touching. I couldn’t help but think of the people who believed Rywelski’s story that day, how they made the decisions that led to this photo. Not every picture is this internally incongruent, but all the works draw the viewer in like that. How did we get here? This is not my beautiful wife.
Nope. Not at all. She’s at home taking pills; chasing the gauzy distance of the middle, far away from the edges of feeling, thought, and memory. These are the things that move us forward as a culture, and they’ve been bought and sold. The world isn’t going to end in fire or ice. It’s going to end in a store with low prices and bright lights. At least—thanks to this fine show—we’ll have pictures.
[Ed. note: Precious Moments was curated by Josh Kline aka Josh OS (see post and post). Kline often collaborates with Rywelski on projects -- like the Apex Art project they did for the Mauritzio Couldn't be Here show (they did a lecture for the Harrell Fletcher Come Together day]
–Brent Burket, artblog‘s New York correspondent, is a writer and art collector based in New York. Check out his blog Heart as Arena for more New York art commentary.
Rice, Robin; Shiny Happy People, The City Paper. August 26, 2004 VIEW
Elizabeth Rywelski deferred taste issues in her many portraits taken at Kmart’s Olan Mills Portrait Studios to the store’s shoppers and salespeople. On their suggestions, Rywelski purchased clothing and accessories, put them on and had her photo taken in this disguise. (She also bought the installation’s wallpaper and paint in imitation of customers at Home Depot.) She told fellow shoppers, as well as salespeople and photographers, different stories to contextualize each portrait: a gift for a distant soldier boyfriend or for her child’s birthday.
There’s really no getting away from making decisions in making art. The question is, when are the decisions made? Rywelski’s process seems to me to be arrogant and verging on unethical. She offers up others’ taste for our amusement. Maybe that’s acceptable; they’ll never know. But she imposed on people who did their best for her, and she responded by returning things she’d purchased from them. Salespeople aren’t overweening, soulless Kmart; they are individuals. Rywelski even plans to return the picture frames she bought for the show at Moore. It is funny, but isn’t it a kind of Soylent Green?
The Philadelphia Independent, The SEPTA Letters, Issue 14-21
Budget Living Magazine, August/September 2004 (with illustrations)
Kitty Sheehan remembers Budget Living: http://www.kittysheehan.com/2009/08/liz-rywelski-as-seen-by-others.html
Philadelphia City Paper Choice Awards 2008 VIEW
Master of Mediocrity
The scariest thing about Liz Rywelski is how innocent she appears (that face!). The Space 1026 artist, who masquerades as bewigged, banged, cross-eyed vixen Bonnie Showcase (Lucky Lucy Cabaret), has carried out “the art of mediocrity” to the hilt in her photos and appeared in performances throughout the city where her unbound energy and painted face (is that gold gild??) remain hidden until she springs like a lemur. —A.D. Amorosi