The Philadelphia Inquirer
Kim Beck's large graphite drawings […] reorganize the typical suburban and exurban landscape into complex compositions with cutouts. Her surprising, often humorous, juxtapositions of landscape and architecture zap all the ordinariness out of the everyday.
Kim Beck's "Built Futures"—large drawings in graphite, charcoal and cut paper—surveys peripheral and suburban spaces, especially the built environment, which brings "the banal and everyday into focus." In 2008, writing of Beck's work, Libby Rosof praised her exploration of the arbitrary placement of city green spaces. Beck's past projects, such as "Holeymoley Land," have been described as "almost manic…a cacophony of signs, street lamps and architecture…the urban equivalent of a rainforest." There are strong echoes of that randomness in the drawings in "Built Futures." Here, Beck has laid out meticulous representations of progress; beams, planks, and ladders abound. However, the impracticality of the construction becomes immediately obvious. What could have been simple exercises in draftsmanship instead are repetitive, convoluted, and ultimately functionless architectural motifs, Rube Goldberg-like environments of construction for construction's sake. The windows look out on only the blank wall behind them; the viewer is confined to the hectic space, and compelled to make sense of disorder.
New York Times
On a warm, clear Sunday afternoon, many New Yorkers looked up and saw not a cloud in the sky — except for the ones that were talking to them.
Just after 4 p.m., a plane began skywriting short phrases over the Hudson River and the West Side of Manhattan as part of an art project, called "The Sky Is The Limit/NYC."
Some of the idioms were a bit daunting. "Lost Our Lease" read the first batch of fluffy clouds. "Last Chance," puffed the next (though for what, it did not say). The third, "Now Open," was somewhat sunnier.
Kim Beck, the artist behind this chatty skyscape and an associate professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, explained that these phrases were taken from the kind of sign you might see hanging in the window of a store, especially in this economic climate.
"They're advertising messages that are no longer advertising anything specific," Ms. Beck said. " 'Lost Our Lease' can speak to the feeling of being exhausted, and 'Last Chance' is everything coming to an end. 'Now Open' means something else as well."
The project, sponsored by the Friends of the High Line, lasted about two hours from start to finish and prompted a flurry of questions on Twitter. Some wondered if it was an advertisement, or a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. A few people remarked that the clear blue sky and so many people with their eyes fixed overhead reminded them of Sept. 11
On the street, Ms. Beck said, people turned to one another and tried to sound out the words together. That moment of community, she said, and the arch of those phrases, ending with "Now Open," is a nod toward hope in difficult times.
"We don't really know what's happening in our economy," Ms. Beck said. "I'm hoping there's an optimism in that final text, and that it comes together as a bit of a narrative. That's my hope; to think positive."
Most of us live in urban and suburban streetscapes. Yet so much art focuses on more romantic notions of nature, neglecting what the familiar paved zones offer in subject matter and imagery. Work now on exhibit at Pentimenti is grappling with its own take on what these human interventions in space and structure mean.
One that nails it is a piece by Kim Beck who has created a terrific wall installation of a suburban, parking-lot-ish landscape. We don't see the parking lot, just the specimen plantings, a la a James Audubon bird-on-branch specimen in front of the plain, white-paper, unarticulated sky. What we do see in Beck's landscape is an expanse of unarticulated wall dotted with trees and shrubs planted in concrete-curbed bits of earth. The greenery is expressively drawn with graphite on mylar, the shapes cut out and arranged on the wall. The arrangements seem provisional, and we get to envision in our minds' eye the space where the islands may have been planted.
Beck helps us out by using different scale items, to suggest distance. But each of the little shrubs and trees, each given the name Buoy plus an identifying number, can be purchased alone or with others and a new arrangement is as close as your living room wall! The shrubs, especially, remind me of little domesticated critters, so their mobility from wall to wall, position to position, seems just right. They are also just right in suggesting the arbitrary placement of city green spaces, dictated by the architecture in which they are placed, and not by the laws of nature.
You think you've got a garden, and before you know it, some planner comes along and says it's time for a change, for a new design. He cuts and digs up mature plantings. If we're lucky, he plants in some new location puny new, baby greenery. Often, the old stuff gets chopped and nothing takes its place. But without these small salutes to nature, the landscapes we humans have created are grim and lifeless. City trees and shrubs are like people. Sometimes they flourish in the unhospitable environment, sometimes not. The drawing, basic and unfussy and spontaneous-seeming, also seems like a good fit.
Pittsburgh City Paper
Kim Beck's Looked Overlooked, at Artists Image Resource, reminds us that what we often discard, overlook or yank from the ground can be haunting and poetic. In two of AIR's gallery spaces sprout colorful images of silhouetted weeds, while a third is reserved for stark, evocative prints of signs, lampposts and billboards.
Beck is an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and this exhibition is the result of a Heinz Endowments Creative Heights grant. The prints were produced at AIR, in a workshop environment with assistance from its staff.
The main gallery's lithographs duplicate pages from the 19th-century Field Guide to Weeds, which Beck discovered at Carnegie Mellon's botanical library. Colorful, silhouetted weeds are screen-printed over the book's diagrams and text, which reminds us that weeds are "the enemy" and "a plant out of place."
Throughout the exhibition space, a variety of life-sized drawings of fences are stenciled onto walls in brown, black and silver. They add to the lonesome simplicity of Beck's work. No people inhabit this fenced-in world. That's where I come in -- the viewer. The weeds and fences and lampposts are the set, the before and after. My mid-morning musings, passing through, completes them.
In a second-floor gallery room, large panels of Plexiglas bearing the same weed silhouettes are now printed on both sides. The Plexiglas is mounted away from the wall to create a buffer of air and space, so the weeds seem to float within as I amble by.
In the third gallery there are dense, aquatinted prints. Small brown trees stenciled onto the walls are lifted from photos of parking-lot landscaping, and they take on the role of innocent bystanders and add an air of objective hospitality. In silhouette, the black-and-white objects in the prints (highway signs, lampposts, billboards) are often primary geometric shapes -- and evoke a minimalist set for a socialist stage play. I sense something is about to happen -- or has just happened -- and I'm left to anticipate it, whatever it is, or take in the aftershock. In this way, an overt tension is created between art and viewer, as my own anxieties and experiences play out in these scenes.
The prints have been scratched and etched, as though aged, which removes them from contemporary time and makes me wonder about other viewers. This sense that I'm not the first one to venture into this world is, I think, necessary to enter the environment Beck creates -- a modern urban/suburban landscape that is also somehow Victorian in its sensibilities. In examining the unexamined life, Beck is a sublime (sub)urban Thoreau, who instead of walking to the pond, walks out her back door, past the privacy fence, down the alley, to the abandoned, dimly lit parking lot at the end of the lane. We're all the better for it.
Art in America
As part of the reward for being named the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts’ Emerging Artist for 2006, Kim Beck got to install an expansive body of thematically related work in a variety of mediums there. Beck, who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University, used a cluster of three galleries to display a foam-and-cardboard wall installation, a series of charcoal drawings, cutout paper constructions and a hand-drawn animation. The works all stem from a long-running interest in the architecture of the suburban landscape, highway travel and other symbols of contemporary middle-American life.Most of Beck’s work sticks to a black-and-white palette, so the glow emanating from the room-size installation Holymoley Land (2006) was a visual shock. Against the back wall, she built up overlapping layers of hot-pink insulation foam cut into shapes appropriate for a board game about road trips: billboards, highway overpasses, fast-food marquees, road signs, etc. Holymoley Land reached almost to the ceiling and then sloped down to the floor, where these ubiquitous yet easily overlooked emblems of transient existence were heaped one on top of the other, as in a landfill or a livelier, more whimsical Louise Nevelson assemblage. The rest of the piece was subtler, with similar shapes in shadowlike cardboard much more sparsely populating the far ends of two facing walls. In some places, pencil outlines peeked out behind gangly lampposts, giving the work an air of neglect that matched the abandoned lots illustrated in the works in the adjacent gallery.
A series of 13 geometric charcoal-on-paper drawings, each numbered and titled Thing (all 2006, 30 x 44 inches), come from the same sources that inspired Holymoley Land. They include blocky images of empty filling stations, strands of triangular, used-car-lot flags and clumps of overgrown weeds. In Thing #10, two towers of crooked, stacked signs of the kind you might find at the entrance to a strip mall are cut out and “superimposed” over parallel intersecting power lines. The less figurative works in this series resemble some of Barry Le Va’s recent drawings.
Most of the work in a third gallery narrows Beck’s focus to one particular variety of the semi-urban space: the long-term storage locker. The largest and most intricate is Cut Storage (2005), a four-panel horizontal spread, with each panel consisting of two or three sheets of paper layered one on top of the other. The basic architecture of a storage shed, as seen from dozens of angles, is cut out from each sheet of paper. Beck’s construction challenges the structural simplicity of the generic storage shed with a dizzying depth and complexity that do justice to its function as a garbage dump for accumulated personal effects. On the same subject is Ideal Cities (2004-05; also the name of Beck’s Web site), a three-minute hand-drawn animation that unfolds like a live version of Cut Storage. A storage shed is drawn again and again, like an over-active Etch-a-Sketch. The best sequence begins just as a tangle of frantically drawn lines have formed a complete shed, at which point the drawing process reverses and the mess is cleaned up by being slowly erased.
Beck addresses the inhabited landscape, ignoring classical and picturesque elements to concentrate on the banal scenery one navigates while going about daily living.
Sometimes her observations are reductive and stark, as with the graphic series titled "Thing," in which meticulous, large charcoal drawings use as points of departure such items as road signs and power lines. Rather than representationally presenting them, though, Beck provides sufficient information for recognition but alters it, coaxing the effort required to connect the dots between what's visually provided and what's mentally stored.
Other works are almost manic, such as "Holymoley Land," a cacophony of signs, street lamps and architecture, cut from bright pink insulation foam and brown cardboard, that occupies three walls. The objects appear frenzied -- stacked and competitive for space -- the urban equivalent of a rain forest.
Throughout, this exhibition is about drawing and line. Inherent in the cutouts, line also appears among them as marks on the walls. While essential to the works on paper in a supporting role, line is the featured character in an animation, "Ideal City," its alacrity a confirmation of the energy one suspects Beck applies while working.
The lack of figures in Beck's work, which so blatantly references congestion and populated areas, conveys an apocalyptic tone.
Within the positive/negative gas station of "Thing," is there commentary about energy and oil and war? Within the multiples of the "Self Storage" series, is there commentary about the conspicuous consumption or the ever-mobile society that spawned them? Does the amalgam of signage that engulfs the occasional tree reflect environmental concerns?
Whatever her intent, Beck provides fodder for a lively consideration of a world one frequently moves through only unconsciously.
Drawing Notebook by N.F. Karlins (excerpt)
…definitely someone to watch. As is Plane Space’s artist-in-residence, Kim Beck. Her Self-Storage is two long sheets of paper that unroll down a wall in parallel. Reiterated long, low storage building units expand and contract in graphite on the paper sheets and on the walls. Some are cut from the paper scrolls and seem to have escaped and begun reproducing on the gallery walls. Eerie. Buildings as bunnies.
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN
MAX: 03, curated by Beth Venn by Jon W. Sparks (excerpt)
July 20, 2003
Kim Beck, director of the graduate studies program at Memphis College of Art, has a series of what at first resembles five Doric columns made of partially unrolled paper. The rolls are actually milk-carton paper, and the still rolled-up tops soon begin to suggest rollup garage doors the kind you find at thousands of commercial storage facilities sprouting all over.
The classical architectural spin on this most common of functional buildings is a witty take. Beck then projected pictures of storage facilities and cut them out from the paper rolls or used a straight-edge to render exactingly in graphite the characterless structures, sometimes on the paper, sometimes going off onto the wall.
“I started getting interested when, coming into the Memphis airport, I saw a sign saying it was the distribution center of America,” Beck said. “There are so many storage facilities created for individuals and corporations of things not ready. It speaks to how much stuff we accumulate and have to put in these weird nonspaces that all the same: basic and cheap as possible."
Reworking Concepts of Beauty by Cynnie Gaasch (excerpt)
July 10 16, 2003
Subtlety often allows the average to evolve. Kim Beck’s three works come together in an installation titled “Climate Controlled, “ which smartly uses technology and gracefully unfolds into an evocative work of art. At first glance, a floor rug and handheld video monitors are, well, unimpressive. What calls for further investigation are the simply drawn architectural renderings of drive-up storage rental spaces. Overlapping, they become stately as they wrap around a corner and a door in the gallery space. These drawings require you to step around the rug, which nearly fills the floor of the gallery. Walking down the two-foot space allows you time to recognize the strangeness of a stark digital image of an airplane and power lines printed onto an industrial grade carpet.
Strange and lovely, the slightly reflective and rough surface of the rug is as evocative as many paintings, and you can’t help but feel like you’d like to fall into the sky of the image. Rewardign you for the trip down the narrow space are two identical digital video loops, each 10 seconds in length, showing on wall mounted, handheld digital televisions. Here, Beck again captures the ordinary to create beauty. A cloud blossoms upward over and over again, framed by telephone poles, wires and streetlight. Altogether, the room becomes a tribute to our everyday world and elevates it to a space for reflection.
Memphis / Drive by David Hall
“Drive” (Second Floor Contemporary Gallery, March 1-April 5, 2002), a suite of drawings and video installations by KIM BECK, considers society’s mediations of reality, especially relative to the contemporary landscape’s increasing superficiality and dull homogeneity. Unbridled consumerism and suburban sprawl, hastened by escalating population growth and advances in communication and transportation, transform once sovereign and distinct regions into carbon copies of each other. As in Beck’s prior work, each location represented, whether a parking lot, golf course or housing development, is a veritable “anytown-USA,” personifying a transposable ideal more so than a specific place.
The artist’s mode of representation, always twice removed from the source, accentuates further the notion of copy and model, manifesting as image duplication or short, seamless video looks. Beck’s drawings adopt the format of the stereograph, a nineteenth center precursor to the Viewmaster that consists of a pair of near-identical pictures, one next to the other, to give the illusion of three dimensionality. The artist utilizes this orientation to develop image prototypes and their doppelgangers. Sprinklers (2001), the curbside perspective of a cookie-cutter housing development rendered monotonous next to its facsimile, mirrors what the Situationist Guy Debord dubbed “banalization,” the unification of virtual and physical space by self-replicating production and growth, which ultimately destroys “the autonomy and quality of places.”
The omnipresence of public utilities, franchises, malls, bullboards, suburbs, etc. in the built environment habituates one to their presence, such that, while modern life may be inundated with events mediated by images (Debord’s “spectacle”), they often go unrecognized. Lights (2001), depicting a majestic sky at dusk filled with roiling clouds, approaches the sublime, but a lonely utility pole on the horizon returns it to earth. The image is seen from the freeway, a perspective that most commuters would find too prosaic to grant a second look; but Beck finds harmony between natural environment and human infrastructure.
Beck repeats, abridges or obfuscates her judiciously rendered, even delicate, representations to reinforce their reading as signs, as reality’s appearance rather than its essence. When a drawing is obscured by gesso or erased, the image displaces its source; the attenuated remains of the picture function metaphorically as a fading memory or an articulation of nostalgia. The video Flag Wave (2002) seemingly captures the tranquil sight of a vacant putting green where nothing ever happens, but one realizes it consists of a perpetual one-minute loop. In this regard, the artist’s mode of representation typifies what Jean Baudrillard describes as the “liquidation of referentials… substituting signs of the real for the real itself.”
Baudrillard and Umberto Eco have labeled a representation that maintains no correlation to consensual reality yet tangentially refers to something real as a “hyper-reality.” The experience of Fairway Walk (2002), a video projected through a bank of twenty-five droning box fans onto a wall, demonstrates the capacity of mediated structures to define perceptions of reality. Approaching the video of a lush golf course, one sympathetically absorbs the fans’ gusts of air and the sight of swaying branches as a single taste, a surrogate reality shaped by various forms of mass media, especially television and movies, where the image overpowers its referent.
The present age is dominated more than every by forces endeavoring to control representation, an attitude encompassing all facets of human affairs, including technology, economics, politics and media. Beck’s contemplations of image and mimesis (also on view at the Houston community College Annex Gallery September 26-October 17, 2002) underscore the fact that they are, in the end, socially constructed realities; and furthermore, moot.