this is the barn.
those are some paintings i made.
those are lights and a carpet i changed.
more to come.
a moment in the sun.
nomadic nights: cole sternberg, los angeles nomadic division (LAND), los angeles
art Works, e105, berlin
trade theories of an obsessive state, primary projects, miami
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all his strength was concentrated in his fists, including the very strength that held him upright
by shana beth mason
exhibition critical essay
Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin’ lazy circles in the sky.
For Franz Kafka, the American fantasy culminated in the liberation of the body and psyche amidst amber waves of grain and a world isolated from its polluted, machinist urban jungles. His incomplete novel, Der Verschollene (literally translated as “The Stoker”, published posthumously as Amerika) abruptly ends with its protagonist, Karl, leaving New York to take up a position as a “technical worker” with the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma; traveling by train, the open arms of the mountainous frontier, itself, becomes a house of spectacle, a theatre. For the Postmodern observer, it is unironic that Kafka’s vision of that arena “has some bearing on the truth of how the United States of America was actually functioning as a social system.”* For artist Cole Sternberg, this state of socio-economic disarray is rendered in a series of re-worked photographs (pushed to the last possible outpost of figurative imagery) intimating a simultaneous refusal and communion with such a fine madness. Pulled directly from Kafka’s text, Sternberg’s new exhibition is titled all his strength was concentrated in his fists, including the very strength that held him upright. Spoken through the mouth of enlightened disillusionment with The American Dream, Kafka (and now, Sternberg) have witnessed free pursuit funneled into an impenetrable system, a struggle with each and every reward in the slippery hands of a middleman, and the pulp fiction imagery of wide open spaces perpetually tarnished with bloody histories and deeply-concealed injustices.
Sternberg’s consideration of Kafka as primary source material is informed through his experiences as a creative instrument and an instrument of the law. With a B.A. from Villanova University and a J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law, Sternberg approaches the tangled mass of Kafka’s work (to date, its intended conclusion and aims upon publication remain shrouded in mystery) using a scientific method solidifying formal examinations of justice and moral axioms (as a lawyer might do) and an experimental set of painted and written strokes possessing delicate, almost invisible bonds to those ends (as artists do and continue to do). He offers viewers a sense of what displacement, paranoia, persistence and aggression might look like if it inhabited a flat surface. Heavily applied acrylic paint in short sweeps coupled with angry, shorthand-like scrawls across wood panels and inkjet photographs serve as the tangible presence of these impossible concepts. These are not works that Kafka, himself, would have produced were he known to engage in art-making. They are tactile simulations of Kafka’s inability to find solace or belonging in his surroundings, opting for the protective shell of his own work. To shield the coherence of his craft (and of his consciousness), Kafka experienced his own activity of writing as a mournful necessity to which he was bound in the same manner as a madman is bound to his delirium (sein Wahn): “were he to lose it, he would become ‘mad,’” as he says in a letter...**
Sternberg’s studio production values run closely parallel to this psychological balancing act. While this ‘mad genius’ persona has been widely discredited as nurturing an artist’s most significant output, Sternberg focuses on the middle ground between despair and hope for Kafka’s literary hero: rage. There are hints of Romanticism with Sternberg, as he often presents transcriptions of classic and stream-of-consciousness texts laid out with the fearful passion of a conspiracy theorist. But Sternberg does not, for a moment, exhibit symptoms of suffocating sensibility in initiating a dialogue with his viewers. Poetic scribbles and nostalgic photography notwithstanding, Sternberg maintains a safe distance from emotional immersion by selectively arranging abstract elements alongside literal gateways.
Sternberg’s new work is an exercise in the bending of time to unite two artists harboring very similar suspicions and hostilities against an often bureaucratic, industrialized world that transforms flesh and blood into pithy articles of total insignificance. Lightly treading the territory of the embittered hermit, Sternberg elects to present his work with a keen awareness of its explicit and implicit effects. This stark realization is no different than that of Kafka, who seems to have dwelt at the threshold between sanity and a kind of illuminated non-sanity.*** Too young to be historic and/or too old to be innocent, Sternberg amalgamates collage, graffiti and painting with each respective technique exhibiting traces of Twombly, Prince and Basquiat. For the first time in the course of his practice, Sternberg fuses traditional wall paintings with video into an installation fully integrated into the gallery structure. After early trials with video and live performance (most recently in his project you’ll miss your riding lesson tomorrow (2012) in collaboration with Primary Projects, Flaunt Magazine and David Caruso during Art Basel Miami Beach), Sternberg initiates this latest setup with substantial confidence and less external distraction. Anchored with the existential severity of Kafka’s unfinished immigrant tale and the ever-treacherous, ever-evolving platform of digital technology, this exhibition explores the realm of the highly intellectual, highly volatile artist with new rigor and vision.
For Franz Kafka, his “Amerika” was always beyond his reach, leadened with a belief that those who sat in the thrones of power were the gatekeepers to scenes of majestic freedom in a limitless democracy. The grandeur of an unfettered life was, for him, unattainable and undeserved. For Cole Sternberg, “Amerika” accelerates its cycle of alienation, drowning in digital data and eroding the core of the human being, altogether. For both men, separated by nearly nine decades, “America” is a manufactured dream. “Amerika” is the face of greed, corruption and mistrust…to the Republic, for which it stands.
* Dix, Douglas Shields. “The Man Who Disappeared: Kafka Imagining Amerika”, The Kafka Project. Accessed 2013/02/27 - 20:19, http://www.kafka.org/index.php?id=195,239,0,0,1,0
** Spurr, David. “Paranoid Modernism in Joyce and Kafka”, Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 34, No. 2 (Winter 2011), Indiana University Press, pp. 178-191. p. 184
*** Spurr, David. ibid. p. 186
a moment in the land of the Vote Sternberg campaign
by andrew cole
The sun is going down and Cole is deleting ‘Obama – Biden’ on a digital rendering of a bumper sticker and replacing it with ‘Vote Sternberg’. We’re surrounded by paint, spray, oil, acrylic, in no apparent order. Huge canvases are emblazoned with layers of gestural paint and dramatic ‘One Day’ monikers. I think he lives here too. At least there is a bed at the end of the room.
He’s older than I thought. He’s lived a couple fast lives already. He was an attorney for a minute. But for the past few years he’s more focused, using his legal, political and textual knowledge in an elegant way. On a strange never-ending campaign, Sternberg interweaves political statements and Kanye, Kafka and legal texts, the Geneva Convention and Bukowski, Nietzsche, Rick Santorum, Kim Kardashian and Sean Hanity. His works address where we find ourselves now, in an age of content overload, government control and the traditional hallmarks of good and evil humankind, from torture to consumption to hope. On one hand it is obsessive, scattered and messy, on the other it somehow comes together in sweetly subversive statement about all of us.
He’s working in a variety of spaces. A sail designed for a ship to be unveiled at Art Basel Miami Beach has just been completed as has the print series that accompanies his upcoming performance exhibition, strip mall, shopping center, outlet mall, mall of america. The exhibition focuses on his theory that Americans relate ‘freedom’ to consumption as a result of the progression of media, politics and technology over the past century. This performance, like ‘Vote Sternberg’ is an on-going journey for him. “I want to create a dialogue that continues past exhibitions and individual performances and into the societal framework,” he notes.
The dark vulgarity of gluttony is found in the upcoming performance. Every minute a baseball pitcher will throw a glass black beer bottle into the gallery from the street, while above his head a projection streams twitter comments transcribed in Sternberg’s writing from companies like Walmart and Papa John’s. The bottles smash against a cinder blocked space, missing a fourth wall, but resembling a tiny jail cell. “The glass will form an elegant yet decaying slope. We do have the Grand Canyon and John Boehner,” Sternberg explained.
Sneaking past the flying bottles, the viewers will find a selection of flat works. These are sitting in the studio and Sternberg pull them out enthusiastically. His permanent smile contradicts the words and the visuals. Perhaps they are his psychological outlet and now he’s happy.
Eight small works are actually the screens used for the print series. They haven’t been cleaned so a black layer of paint coats each, but the images underneath are still viewable. They are photographs Sternberg has taken over the last year. He sees them a collective overview of America idealism and wrong turns. They include images of winning a progressive poker jackpot, a shady ‘spa’, the sky, and the water. The screens themselves become the work as a further nod to production and consumption.
Enough about the show, back to the studio. There are a bunch of notes. He’s writing poetry and scratching it out and writing it again. A new version of editing. He stacks up the notes on the table as our eyes catch. Maybe he’s embarrassed, maybe he’s a spy. He’s definitely worried of a forthcoming collapse, but there is still a chance at success, at resolution. “I’m hoping I can at least create some awareness while also staying true to the visuals I find the most compelling,” he adds.
It’s an interesting journey through his world. Thus as he recommends, I end this article with ‘Vote Sternberg.’
i look forward to a day when our lives won't be printed on dollar bills. -clifford odets