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Oliver Herring

Posted: 02/25/2009

Artworks by the internationally recognized artist Oliver Herring are now on view in an exhibition titled Me Us Them, running through June 14, 2009, at Skidmore's Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery. The German-born artist is known for weaving together elements of portraiture, narrative, performance, dance, photography, and video, in unlikely and insightful ways.

Based in Brooklyn, New York, Herring has been widely exhibited and critically acclaimed for work that “characteristically opts for some form of tour de force that extracts an extravagant effect from a humble craft-oriented cause” (The New York Times). His work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, among others, and Herring himself has been featured on the PBS series Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century.

The Tang’s Wachenheim gallery showcases a 15-year survey of Herring’s work, including the large hand-knitted sculptures made of sparkling Mylar in long hours alone in his studio (representing the Me component of the show’s title); experimental videos and photographic works made with friends and acquaintances (Us), some showing people dancing or spitting food dye on themselves; and documentation of the improvisational community performance event, Task, that Herring creates with large groups of strangers (Them). Last fall, at a Task party held in Case Center, hundreds of Skidmore students undertook such “tasks” as making a cave out of brightly colored lengths of bubble wrap, chalking an art masterpiece on the brown-paper-covered floor, indulging in face-painting, wig-donning, song and dance, and a wide array of high-spirited performance hi-jinks as Herring documented it all, with digital camera in one hand and a video camera in the other.

An upcoming Task will be open to residents throughout the Capital District. All are invited to join Herring’s newest artwork-in-progress, either by signing up to participate or dropping by to watch as it unfolds from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs. (This Task will be an integral part of the Tang’s March 20-22 YES Symposium: The Persistence of Optimism.) Audience admission is free; applications are required in advance for those interested in taking active part in Task itself. For the Saratoga Springs Task, Herring is seeking to gather a diverse group of 35 individuals ranging in background, profession, and age (from 14 years old or older) who are interested in participating in the daylong performance. Applications and more information can be obtained by calling or e-mailing Tang curatorial assistant Megan Hyde at 580-5066 or mhyde@skidmore.edu. Applications must be returned to the Tang by March 6 to be considered.

To generate Task, Herring needs only his cast of volunteers, a designated space, and a selection of everyday props and materials (cardboard, plastic bags, pencils, tape, markers, ladders, etc.) “I write a bunch of simple tasks in order to get the performance going,” the artist explains. “Each is put in a task pool, and the performance starts with each participant taking an envelope, opening it and trying to fulfill that task. Once they’re done, they each write a new task, put it back in the task pool, grab a new task and go on with business. After the first five or 10 minutes, the performance is entirely self-perpetuating.” Self-generating and spontaneous, Herring’s videos and Task performances allow participants, as noted in Art21, “to explore aspects of their personalities through art in a way that would otherwise be unlikely or even impossible.” Videos, photos, and other documentation of past Task events, including last fall’s Case Center party, can be seen at Herring’s blog: http://oliverherringtask.wordpress.com/.