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Equivalence: Acts of Translation in Contemporary Art at the Glassell School of Art
Spencer Finch, Detail of Abecedary (Nabokov´s Theory of a Colored Alphabet applied to Heisenberg´s Uncertainty Principle), 2004, Ink on paper. Courtesy the artist and Postmasters Gallery, New York.

HOUSTON, TX.-The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents today Equivalence: Acts of Translation in Contemporary Art at the Glassell School of Art, through February 13, 2009. Equivalence: Acts of Translation in Contemporary Art, curated by Core Program Critical Studies Resident Jennifer King, brings together a diverse body of artwork in different media to explore the notion of "translation" in contemporary art today. The exhibition features video, sound installation, painting, sculpture, and works on paper by nine artists based in the United States and abroad: John Baldessari (American, born 1931, lives and works in Santa Monica), Mel Bochner (American, born 1940, lives and works in New York), Omer Fast (Israeli, born 1972, lives and works in Berlin, Germany), Spencer Finch (American, born 1962, lives and works in New York), Nina Katchadourian (American, born 1968, lives and works in New York), Sherrie Levine (American, born 1947, lives and works in Santa Fe and New York), Jonathan Monk (British, born 1969, lives and works in Berlin, Germany), Anri Sala (Albanian, born 1974, lives and works in Berlin, Germany), and Brooke Stroud (American, born 1957, lives and works in Houston).

As King explains the curatorial premise of the exhibition, "A great deal of contemporary art involves some type of physical or conceptual translation—taking a preexisting thing and transforming it into something else. This exhibition looks specifically at the unexpected and surprising consequences that can result from these kinds of translations. It asks the question: what at happens when you turn this into that?"

Among the artworks in Equivalence are pieces involving language, color, and the reinterpretation of famous works of art. In terms of language, one example is the sound installation Please, Please, Pleased to Meet´cha (2006) by Nina Katchadourian, which will be presented in the Cullen Sculpture Garden for the duration of the exhibition. In this work, Katchadourian asked translators for the United Nations to record birdsongs based on the descriptions and diagrams published in birding manuals and field guides. The resulting soundtracks—of humans "speaking" in bird—can be heard at locations throughout the garden.

Study for Abecedary (2004), by Spencer Finch, explores the translation of language into color. Using Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov´s description of a colored alphabet (in which each letter of the alphabet is experienced, via synesthesia, as a specific color) as a guide, Finch transcribed each letter in selected text—in this case, an excerpt from German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg´s uncertainty principle—into individual droplets of color. The resulting work, with its nod to both literature and physics, plays with the inexactitude of observation that is inherent in all forms of interpretation.

The prints in Sherrie Levine´s Cathedral series (1996) initially appear to be abstract color grids. The works are in fact, however, simplified translations of Claude Monet´s famous paintings of Rouen Cathedral into geometric blocks of color. Akin to Levine´s prints, Brooke Stroud´s pencil drawings, such as Steps to a Shrine (2008), are abstract compositions originating in the color palettes of 19th century Japanese woodblock prints.

Additional works in the exhibition by Baldessari, Bochner, Fast, Monk, and Sala all take language and its possible transmutations as a central concern. Taken together, these works explore such basic questions as: What are the changes in meaning that occur when one attempts to work with language? What are the dangers—and benefits—of mistranslation? How can a translation alter our very perception of what we think we know?

About the Artists
John Baldessari (b. 1931) lives and works in Santa Monica. A seminal figure of conceptual art, he was a professor for many years at the California Institute of the Arts and the University of California Los Angeles. In 2009, his work will be the subject of a traveling retrospective organized by the Tate Modern, London.

Mel Bochner (b. 1940) lives and works in New York. His language-based works were featured in the 2006 exhibition Mel Bochner: Language 1966-2006 at the Art Institute of Chicago. An edited volume of his writings, Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews 1965-2007, was recently published by MIT Press.

Omer Fast (b. 1972) lives and works in Berlin. He is the recipient of the 2008 Bucksbaum Award, given every two years by the Whitney Museum of American Art to an artist in the Whitney Biennial. Solo exhibitions of Fast´s work have been mounted by the Museum of Modern Art, Vienna, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Spencer Finch (b. 1962) lives and works in New York. A mid-career retrospective, What Time Is It on the Sun?, was presented by MASSMoCA in 2007. He is currently at work on The River that Flows Both Ways, the inaugural public art commission for the High Line Park, presented by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line, and the New York City Department of Parks & Parks and Recreation.

Nina Katchadourian (b. 1968) lives and works in New York. She has exhibited at institutions including PS1/MoMA, the Serpentine Gallery, Artists Space, and the Palais de Tokyo. A ten-year survey of her work, All Forms of Attraction, was organized by the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery in 2006. Her ten-song CD, The Marfa Jingles, was recently released in conjunction with The Marfa Sessions at Ballroom Marfa, Texas.

Sherrie Levine (b. 1947) lives and works in Santa Fe and New York. Known for her use of appropriation, Levine was one of the original artists featured in the seminal Pictures exhibition at Artists Space in 1977. In 2005, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston acquired a major sculpture installation by Levine and Dutch artist Joost van Oss.

Jonathan Monk (b. 1969) lives and works in Berlin. In 2008 he was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo and the Musee d´Art Moderne, Paris. His work is represented in numerous public collections including the Tate Britain, London, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Anri Sala (b. 1974) lives and works in Berlin. The first major museum exhibition of his work, Anri Sala: Purchase Not by Moonlight, opens in December at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, and travels to the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati in 2009.

Brooke Stroud (b. 1957) lives and works in Houston. His most recent solo exhibition, Brooke Stroud: New Drawings, was presented by Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery in 2007. Among other venues, his work has been exhibited at Inman Gallery, Houston, Lombard-Fried Gallery, New York, and the Sean Scully Studio, New York.

About the Curator - Jennifer King is a second-year critical studies resident in the Core Program at the MFAH. She is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, and received her M.A. in art history from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. An alumna of the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York, her scholarly writing has appeared in October and Chicago Art Journal, and she is a contributing editor of the contemporary art magazine Art on Paper. As a freelance curator she has organized exhibitions for the Rice University Art Gallery, Princeton University Art Museum, and DiverseWorks Artspace. Prior to her Core residency, King worked in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Art.

The Core Exhibition Program is comprised of three annual exhibitions. The first exhibition is curated in the fall by the associate director of the Glassell Core Program, Mary Leclere, and features work by a contemporary artist who is influencing the practices of younger artists. In the winter, a critical studies resident proposes an exhibition of his or her own; and the program concludes in the spring, when the current Core residents exhibit their own work.

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