Category Archives: gifting-abstraction

Thank you, Karen, again, for your generous help during installation, and now for your “Tweet.” Though I’m the proud owner of Schiff’s work, all this month I reveled in the thought of living with any of the wonderful gifts in Gifting Abstraction. Thank you all for your contributions – art, posts, emails, installation help, suggestions – and above all, for believing in this experimental curatorial project.

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Respond, sense, air

Gifting abstraction did a few things for me:

It kept my interest up to see how people would respond. Obviously more people responded to the real than on the blog, but still, you could get a sense of it.

The layout and movement of this show gave me ideas for another show. It was beautifully conceived. Despite not really getting it from the onset I ended up getting it, I think, through the actions, the posts, and the participation.

Ownership, or ‘new ownership’ was discussed. I sensed, with some of the blog posts, a slight resistance to giving up one’s own work.

Concepts of ‘gift‘ were aired. I didn’t think the gift was in the thing, though I personally had hoped that the participating artist who got my ‘art’ wanted it and saw it as something ‘free of dept’, ‘full of beauty’, and ‘giving’.

There were a number of pieces I wanted. But you can’t have everything.

Thanks so much, Mariángeles. Thank you all!

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This indebtedness thing is tricky, and I can see the negative valence it has. But as with Karen’s potlatch example and Mariangeles’ musing, I think there is a positive valence to play out too. I can speak for myself and say that when I have received a gift that is freely given with no strings attached, I do not feel indebted–I feel gratitude and the affirmative desire to reciprocate the generosity. And here’s some utopian thinking: when a gift is given freely without anticipating a return, that desire to reciprocate does not necessarily make a straight path right back to the giver, but can spread out in any direction; we’re talking a rhizome of random acts of kindness, and all that.

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My gift to you

So, finally, at the eleventh or 23rd hour, here is an image of the piece I gifted to Gifting Abstraction.  It is made with layered, semi-transparent adhesive tape on a wood panel, for all who did not see it in person. 

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The Gift Must Always Move

When I was young, my parents subscribed to the CoEvolution Quarterly, and I recall an article I was quite taken with, “The Gift Must Always Move”. At the time I did take it literally and passed along a gift at a birthday party that I’d received from someone else. I’m not sure that it was a  hit, but now I take this idea of the gift as moving within a group metaphorically. (By the way, I looked up the author of that article, it was Lewis Hyde, whom Karen Schifano mentioned. His original article was subsequently turned into the book “The Gift”. I have read his book on the trickster myth, but will have to check this one out).  At any rate, what moves me to write this is the idea that we now have a bond between us as a result of this exchange… not only because of what we’ve given and received, (I shall cherish my Ann Tarantino painting, and won’t pass it along!) but because the gifts stand as a set of signifiers that tie us together as a whole, beyond the objects themselves.

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Circular Exchange

To me the transaction of the exhibition is not about the gift, but the interaction of the gift given and the gift received, which is not really gifting in the same sense to me, (implying some sort of net material loss for the giver in order to produce meaning), but rather exchange.

But what are the implications of the exchange as configured? For me, the really interesting thing in the show is the way it arranges the relationship of the artists into a circular form (of exchange) rather than along a line, each one counterpoised on a economic level as competitors, as we normally are arranged in a group show.

But the circular exchange paradigm has certain limits too, and to truly follow the ‘utopian impulse’ we should seek the idea’s scalability to operate as a larger model. And through our economic relation as artists participating in an art market, and that artists can sell their own work at a premium compared to the value of owning another person’s work (everything else being equal), so in gifting and receiving, there is an “opportunity cost” (of losing the sale price of one’s own work). Which in effect, becomes equivalent to the purchasing of the other person’s work. This is not a comment on quality or my contentment with my choice (I chose Brent Hallard’s wild jumpy flat metal filing cabinet painting incidently, which was the one I wanted most from the website—thanks Brent!!), just understanding the implications of the idea from all dimensions.

How would a gifting exhibition of multiples (photos, prints etc..) work under the same rules, the economic question noted above falls away, but then perhaps the stakes are less too.. The nature of abstraction in relation to the gift exchange action seems critical, and also thorny, as there is a divergence of vectors pulling in opposing directions, isn’t there? Gifting invokes the dynamic exchange relation between parties (economics) and abstraction, to me, is anchored intellectually in the concrete of immanent (self-sustaining) meaning, needing no reference to an exterior source for meaning. Does the abstraction transcend the exchange process, or does it align it more easily for comodification?

I ask this because these are issues I am struggling with in my own work, tacking between painting and urban interventions projects– social meaning and aesthetic satisfaction– can one inform the other?

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What’s more abstract than a rock (except maybe a cloud)?

The second thought I wanted to bring to the fore (see my previous posts here and here) is the issue of the empty square on the wall. I was not privy to all of the correspondence and decision making process involving Leah Raintree’s lack of participation in the exhibit. My comment is not about this. But her absence brings up an interesting issue as her recent work involves photographs of rocks, which I understand she had submitted to the exhibit. Naturally something relatively specific is implied by the use of the term “abstraction” in the title of the exhibition but I don’t recall any specification as to the degree of abstraction in our correspondence prior to the exhibit. It seems to me her submission is a really interesting move toward parsing (or blurring) the line between representation and abstraction.

This, like the previous thought, is still rolling around in my head and will probably stay with me for a while. With that in mind, I’m not sure that there is a train of thought to what follows, so bear with me.

There is something to the fact that my beginning drawing students struggle to draw common objects such as a bottle but I can give them a rock or a crumpled piece of paper, objects whose varying and unfamiliar forms defy simplification, and they are forced to see anew.

This issue is probably also on my mind in light of the Taking Shape show at Standpipe Gallery, a small group show that deals with this very issue. All of the work in the show calls on representation and abstraction, much of them never falling to far into one.

Much of the work in Gifting Abstraction seems on it’s surface nonrepresentational but as I’ve thought about this issue I’ve realized just how much many if not all of the works rely on this balance between, if not representational, at least what is definable and what is ambiguous or unknowable. The bow in Melanie Crader’s work acts as an abstract gesture and a real thing. The hammered out void in Matthew Deleget’s panel liberalizes the abstract blackness that may have existed prior. Brent Hallard’s painting is derived from a perspective drawing of a cube. John Hawke’s painting reminds one of a landscape in an 80’s arcade game or perhaps the lines on the court of some unknown variation of basketball. Among others.

I guess I’d be curious to hear from others about how they navigate what increasingly seems to me to be a spectrum rather than a dichotomy between representation and abstraction.

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What’s so Relational about a group show?

As mentioned above, I don’t have much time to flesh out thoughts on the show but I’m going to try to summarize the things that have been going through my mind in the last month, or at least the most important two thoughts.

The first is more or less a rumination on the Relational Aesthetic of this show in contrast overall trend of the proliferation of artist generated group shows in NYC right now. (and perhaps elsewhere too?) It’s hard to make a point in the few hundred words I’m going to write here, especially since I don’t know if I have a point, but I’ll leave some discussion points in the order they come to me.

  1. Relational Aesthetics seems to me to be more about distribution than production. In fact, I’m not sure what, if any, connection RA has on the production of art (excepting practical considerations which are often sometimes to the determent of the thing itself) and as a means of distribution is mostly a secondary concern, at least to object makers such as the participants in Gifting Abstraction. Or am I being too romantic?
  2. The institution of the Secret Santa/White Elephant gift exchange idea as a structure for an exhibit is an exciting prospect. But those games always result in participants going home with gifts they don’t want. Though I’m happy with my choice, I wonder if anyone would admit to feeling cheated. In my deliberations with my wife about which work to choose we jokingly wondered what it would mean to choose my own drawing (I am going to miss it, I didn’t realize until after I offered it). At the same time (this is where my shaky grasp of economics is revealed), by artificially enforcing a spirit of fairness (everyone goes home with a gift) the exhibit may actually devalue all of the work by the neutering market forces (i.e. human desire) that create value. I’ve been trying to think how a follow-up exhibit would resolve this but I don’t have any viable suggestions.
  3. At the same time, the qualities of group exhibitions that seem to be to be truly “relational” were largely absent from Gifting Abstraction. Despite the internet, geographic proximity still trumps all when it comes to generating communities. Some type of private party and/or public opening should have accompanied the exhibit (I know there were scheduling conflicts). The trend of proliferating artist generated group exhibits is enabled by social networking but it’s inspired by the rich communities enabled by the interaction of face to face meetings at openings and social networking connections.

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Squeezing in thoughts before the end of Gifting Abstraction

I’ve had some responses to the show brewing in my head but simply haven’t had the time to get them down. Here at the end of the month, it seems I’ll have to leave them in abstract form (pun intended!) rather than flesh them out. They also probably fall more on the side of criticisms of the show, which I was hesitant to air but Mariangeles invited us to discuss our thoughts and doubts on the show. The truth is that these are interesting thoughts and doubts I would not have had were I not invited into this experiment. For the invitation and opportunity to participate I’m honored.

I’ll try to summarize the two main thoughts in posts to follow so that people may comment on them separately.

Update: Like I said, I’m rushing these thoughts in. “Criticisms” is the wrong word. What I mean is that the show is an experiment. The results of the experiment brought questions that I didn’t know if it was okay to ask. I hope that makes more sense. I’m happy with the show.

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As of Saturday, October 22, 2011


Left hand wall

Main wall

Right side, close to center wall

Center of wall, right side


End of right wall, back wall


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There is a kind of “transcendental illusion”, to use Derrida’s term, that can permeate the gift. I could well be accused of suffering from that. I am a firm believer in the energy that utopian impulses and generosity can bring. But I also recognize that the gift can carry negative trappings, such as debt. For Derrida, as soon as a gift is manifested, recognized and identified, it ceases to be one. The gift for Derrida interrupts the economy of exchange – it cannot carry reciprocity, exchange, or debt. There is a kind of aporia or impossibility inherent in the gift for him. I otherwise enjoy reading Derrida, but found myself in disagreement with his deconstruction of the gift. I’m not sure to what extent I attribute this to familial, philosophical or cultural difference.
Any your thoughts on this, in general, or as it relates to your participation in Gifting Abstraction?

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Gifting Abstraction shifts

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Evolution of the exhibit

I’ve been to the exhibit 3 times now (opening, a little over a week later and yesterday). It was interesting to go back and see the show at this stage – half the pieces on one side, and half on the other. The outlines of the blue tape add a unique quality to the exhibition – space within space defined for unique purposes, setting up guidelines and directing focus, framing the pieces and the groups of works, the sense of a game and something with intention, but the intention is only suggested and the viewer is required to look deeper for more definition.

It is at an interesting phase having half the show in the grouping with the numbers and the other have in the group with the subtle outlines in pencil.  As the exhibition has evolved, more and more of the concept is revealed and the dynamic aspects of the project surface. With this current juxtaposition of work, pencil marks, screws showing, emptiness and outlines of blue; the sense that something is under construction is conveyed.

Importantly, each work holds its own as the larger context shifts, this says a great deal about the individual pieces and the overall curation. The viewer can navigate through the larger framework and land on each piece to examine them individually, in relation to each other or in the context of the whole. Since the viewer might already be engaged in deciphering the larger context they are potentially prepared to investigate the nuances of the individual works themselves – the reverse would also be true.

I was left with more impressions regarding the gifting aspect and the idea of continual installation, but will have to write more later.

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“The Other Side of the Story”

Feeling extremely lucky to have been able to select Jessica Snow’s “The Other Side of the Story” – many thanks, Jessica.

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Abstract Gifting from Berlin

I’m sorry I am not able to come to the exhibition; I’m in Berlin right through the end of the year. However, I would like to offer all of the participants in the show the opportunity to receive a postcard piece from me. If you would like one send me your snail mail address to me at and I’ll get it in the mail.


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More installation photos (thanks to Peter Jacobs)

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This Thursday?

Hi All, I’ll be in New York and stopping in at the gallery on Thursday afternoon. Will anyone perhaps be around then? I am looking forward to seeing the show (and selecting my gift of course) and thought I’d see if I could also meet one or two of you if anyone will happen to be in the area around lunchtime.

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Image of my (Melanie Crader) piece

Hi everyone,

Here are some images of my piece. My work is next to the wall text.


The Bow in Powder Blue from the series The Basics. Latex paint & fabric on wood panel. 36” x 16

The show looks great. Many thanks to Mariangeles and all that helped with the installation. I hope the opening and the gathering afterwards was fun.

Cheers! Melanie






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One more from opening – thanks, Noah

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Images from tonight’s opening


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Image of my piece

Hi, Gifters —

Here is a scan of my piece (9″ x 11″), which is on the left-hand wall in the big photo. I figured it might be useful for those of you far away…

’til tonight,


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From Rob


This is great – I love how you’re creating such unique interaction with the work, space and artists – also the evolving quality of the exhibit as it morphs over the course of the month and the multiple concepts at  play.

Thanks, Rob

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Update > How to claim your gift

PDF for gifting artists > How to claim your gift

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Thank you & a few installation photos

A warm thank you to all the artists who made suggestions over email and to those who helped install on Saturday: Karen Schiff, Karen Schifano, Claudia Sbrissa, Leah Raintree, and a highlighted special thanks to Karen Schiff, whose precise eye and generous gift of time made an enormous difference at 2am both Saturday and Sunday.

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Installation at Soho20 Gallery

Installation at Soho20 Chelsea Gallery
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My submission: a Color Chart

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These are all small paintings, no larger than 12×12 in. I need to ship it today. Who can help?

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or this one

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The Pink Elephant in the Room

I’m trying to decide between this…

Mariángeles Soto-Díaz
The Pink Elephant in the Room Ruminating on the Order of Things
Paper, ink on Duralar
16″ x 19″

and this…

Mariángeles Soto-Díaz
The Divine Geometry of Chocolate
Oil and ink on Canvas
15″ x 20″

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The Other Side of the Story

I just shipped my painting to Soho20 yesterday, here it is:

Jessica Snow
The Other Side of the Story
, 2011
Acrylic on Linen
20″ x 24″

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thinking of exhibiting a “fold”….might make a new one this week and document its construction….Great concept Mariangeles…thanks for including me.

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The invitation to participate in this show–coming out of the blue, from someone I’d never met, and offering a chance to show alongside artists whose work I admire–was itself something of a gift. I am particularly taken by the idea of giving a gift to someone I may not know, and may not have the chance to meet. It feels like such a genuine gesture, in such a competitive and busy world, and something that connects us all through our creative practices.

Looking forward to working with all of you!

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Thanks back to Mariangeles!

I’m really looking forward to the process for this show, a first of this kind for me. My initial thought, when I was pondering what I might put into the show, was “I wonder if anyone will want this piece?”, thinking of myself as the last person left when teams are chosen in gym class. It’s interesting how something new produces fear, even with such a generous premise!

There’s so much to talk about in relation to alternate economies, the idea of producing work for a different context – it seems that these ideas and utopian impulses are very much in the air (from what I can tell from all those e-flux emails). There’s a new show opening soon about feeding people as art, and another one in a gas station at the edge of Chelsea which will still function as one during the week, art and all. And then I just received an email about “the artist as entrepreneur” with workshops on pop-up galleries and business investment.

Also am wondering if anyone has read The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, an amazing book I discovered last year.

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double stitch (Blinky)

Hi all, here is what I’m most likely to send.

It’s small, details as follows:

Brent Hallard
double stitch Blinky
13 x 11 x .09 inches
acrylic on aluminum

I’m interested to know the process of the gifting/transaction, hopefully getting to know you, and look forward to seeing everyone’s work that will end up in the show.


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Thank you, Mariangeles, for inviting me to participate in this show!  Promises to be a     cool visual dialogue, an open book, blank pages, remaining to be filled..

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Welcome to the blog!

And welcome, Gifting Abstraction artists,  who will be posting here soon. This is my first curatorial experiment and the third project I’ve done as part of my Abstraction at Work series. I’m thrilled to have such a great roster of participating artists in the exhibition, and look forward to what I hope will be a fruitful dialogue.

Mariángeles Soto-Díaz
Abstraction at Work

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