February 26, 2004
More quality surfing:
The Art Newspaper on the trend of global representation
At Artnet Michele C. Cone reviews resident analyst, Donald Kuspit
Michael Blowhard: Gehry heats up LA
... and finally, who thought it would come to this: Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders All Citizens to Gay Marry?
A must-read at Tom Moody: Show Us Your Gnomes
February 24, 2004
We Love the Spongmonkeys: at Slate, Seth Stevenson celebrates Quiznos utterly brilliant new advertisments... Quiznos around the web: first go right to the source, then see Bob Garfield at AdAge, Chris Heathcote at anti-mega, and elsewhere via the david lawrence show
The Compact Disc Minimum Advertised Price Antitrust Litigation Settlement: [see here]... I got my 13 bucks in the mail yesterday, how about you?
Housekeeping: RSS 1.0 and 2.0 feeds are up and running... go here (if your into that kind of thing) and syndicate this puppy... I promise to keep a respectful distance
"Freakish beasties, phat cash and two shiny new feeds"
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Rehashing Currin, Gauging the Fuss.
Now that the curtain has dropped on the Currin show at the Whitney, and well beyond the end of its stay here in Chicago, the time is ripe for some shallow reflections. (Note: exhibition organized by the Whitney and the MCA along with Serpentine Gallery.) Here's a bit of a survey of critical response to the show, with some minimal personal sophistry towards the end.
Let's start things out via Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker:
I hazard that in Currin's art manifold pleasure disarms revulsion-without eliminating it. He demonstrates the power of the aesthetic to overrule our normal taste, morality, and intellectual convictions... Currin hooks us by rewarding capacities for knowledge and experience which most major art of the last half-century repressed. Why that long reign of austerity was a good idea is increasingly hard to remember.
Hear hear, Peter... Onward:
Currin, like two of his contemporaries, the exciting figurative painters Elizabeth Peyton and Lisa Yuskavage, dispenses with irony-the nervous signal that, of course, one is smarter than some antique or vulgar material at hand would suggest. Currin is sincere. His motive in a given work may be palpably sentimental, hostile, slaphappy, self-loathing, or otherwise miserable. It doesn't matter, as long as his artistry takes over.
Oh come now. "Sincere"? Currin is nothing if not a smart-ass. There was a time, in fact, when one might have argued that while an artist like Currin caters in cliche, kitsch and crap, it's alright: he's clearly being ironic. Now it seems that the company line is to note that, although he may be trafficking in allusion, caricature and mannered deformity, it's alright cuz he's ever so earnest. Critics these days, it would seem, are doing their damnedest to will the death of irony. (The greatest recent push against irony was undoubtedly in the aftermath of September 2001 when we hardly went a day without a eulogy from cultural commentators of every stripe; note: it didn't take. An odd digression to make a point: Berkeley Breathed on the rebirth of Opus: "The world went and got silly again. I left in 1995 with things properly, safely dull, and couldn't imagine why anyone would feel it necessary again to start behaving ridiculously. It would have been at least courteous of the Republicans to warn a few of us inclined to retire our ink-swords that they had King George waiting in his zoom-zoom jetsuit aching to start the Crusades again.") Perhaps, though, this will prove to be one of those truisms that, given sufficient critical mass, will accept a luster of fact (eg, precession of simulacra, death of the author, death of painting, death of [...]), until we sober up a decade hence.
So then... Ironic or sincere? Clever or earnest? The distinction just crumbles in the face of the baroque perversity in which Currin is drenched—a tradition which is capable of wallowing in resplendent sensual excess while simultaneously turning on itself with a knowing and incredulous smirk; sensual authenticity and mannered artificiality at once. (My admittedly cursory look at the work of Currin's wife, Rachel Feinstein, would place it in a similar context.) Which brings us to...
...as with the war in Iraq, an inversion has taken place around Currin: He's often represented as doing one thing when he's doing the exact opposite... Currin is sincere the way pornography is sincere: The line between what's feigned and unfeigned is blurred. When he's on, Currin opens a fascinatingly disquieting psycho-visual space. As with pornography, when he's off, his work turns unintentionally silly... His paintings are like clowns: comic, creepy, tacky, freakish. Think of the "feel-bad" comedy of Larry David-the discomfort, exaggeration, and misanthropic obnoxiousness. That's the dodgy place Currin's best work edges into.
We move along and take our negativity full-throttle with The Polsky Smackdown over at Artnet:
In terms of esthetics, John Currin has surprisingly received universal praise from the art world press. There has been all sorts of talk of how expertly his works are painted, coupled with a lot of psychological nonsense about the human condition.
To my eye, all we have here are intentional kitschy, thrift-store portraits of people with exaggeratedly wide eyes. Sure, they're skillfully painted, but why shouldn't they be? In this day and age, the art world considers being a good draughtsman and having a command of color and composition to be something remarkable.
... to which Artnet's Charlie Finch reacts thusly:
Currin is that rare and special brand of artist from whom each individual piece incites a special lust from each individual collector; in his generation, he is matched solely in this regard by Elizabeth Peyton... Currin is conservative in the best sense of the world [sic]: he seeks to perceive what is authentic within the purview of his bent vision, and what is authentic to Currin is the unclassifiability of desire and the conviction that all life is essentially erotic.
At New York Metro, Mark Stevens rants on about clever boys, but steps back a bit in the end:
There is one respect, however, in which Currin differs markedly from most contemporary cutups: He is genuinely interested in the actual art of painting. He clearly loves the masters, intending praise as well as parody. Not surprisingly, he is particularly attracted to a luscious surface and to virtuoso effects. He seems to reach for a compliment when, for example, he gets the pallor of turkey skin just right.
(A brief aside: note the mildly amusing juxtaposition of advertising and content that greeted me upon reading Stevens' article at New York Metro (a screenshot... the painting is Currin's The Bra Shop); also see Ariana French re: "the accidental commentary of Akamai" for something similar but far more interesting.)
Over at Slate, Mia Fineman too comes off as rather reserved in both praise and criticism. First, regarding Currin reputation as virtuoso:
Ultimately, though, the critical focus on Currin's "technical virtuosity" is a red herring; his technique is notable mainly because of lowered expectations in the most fashionable quarters of the art world.
...and ending with a take Currin's play-it-safe stratagem as well as a parting equivocation:
It's not that he doesn't take risks-he paints what he likes to paint, even if it means weathering accusations of misogyny, sexism, ageism, and homophobia. But he also injects just enough irony into his work to inoculate it against the possibility of debilitating failure... When one of Currin's paintings goes wrong, his sly humor, perversity, and bad-is-good sensibility come running to the rescue. All of which makes Currin's work easy to like, but hard to love.
If only the American art world could find a realist painter who also somehow counted as avant-garde, it would have a sure-fire, across-the-board winner on its hands. Enter John Currin, educated in the prestigious painting department at Yale, with all the right contemporary contacts, and yet still proud to champion reactionary ideas and techniques. Behold painting's Redeemer... He twists his subject matter out of true -- toward surrealism lite and caricature -- so that he can claim to be interested in more than empty craft. And that makes him close kin to a throng of other American realists, who've all heard that high art is supposed to involve a personal vision and a dollop of weirdness, even a touch of social commentary, and so make sure to throw a bit of each into the mix. It's the standard fare at third-rate commercial galleries across the country, so it seems strange to have a single purveyor of it picked out as special enough to warrant a major Whitney show.
How 'bout some older fare?
Originally published 2001—David Cohen, editor of artcritical, seems to agree with Gopnik:
What does it portend if instructors at prestigious Ivy League Schools, and not a few cognoscenti elsewhere, genuinely extol the painterly technique of so disingenous [sic] and meretricious a hack as John Currin?... the vast majority [in a 2001 solo show at Andrea Rosen] were Rockwellian romps of phoney narrative, rehashes of big busted illustration-book beauties, more Reginald Marsh than Rubens, and gaudily-framed beaux-art parades of dexterous caricature, in no wit superior to the dashed-off efforts of street portraitists at London's Leicester Square or New York's Central Park.
People expect, for instance, that an Ivy-educated SWM like Currin would only paint women out of a desire to critique stereotypes, to deconstruct the male-dominated tradition of which he is a part: maybe his paintings of young girls in high school yearbook pictures were ironic, distant, a gambit on the very impropriety of a macho guy painting vulnerable girls. But Currin followed those up with paintings of older women, then paintings of women in bed - as if deliberately leading one to ask, where else would a straight guy want to depict women than in bed? Lately, he's even started to do nudes along the lines of 1950s and 60s sexploitation pics. How much credit can you advance him as a feminist in wolf's clothes before you see what's really happening: it's the return of the repressed. Why would an Ivy-educated SWM (Straight White Male) like Currin want to paint women? Well, why wouldn't he?
Upon further review:
The 'general reaction' to this show, as far as I can tell, could hardly be more uncertain, if ambivalently positive. And yet there seems to be general agreement that the Universal Critical Opinion on it is overwhelmingly glowing; and one gets the sense that the artist's detractors all imagine themselves lone crusaders, voices of sanity and difference fighting the good fight. Granted, I haven't read Kimmelman's take (nor do I feel particularly inclined at this point to tracking it down, though the implication seems to be that it was quite positive), I haven't even glanced at the reactions in the glossies, nor can I recall if there was any substantial coverage here in Chicago—that is, beyond a one-paragraph blurb in the Reader (pause to laugh with me at the sorry state of Chicago "art coverage"). But out of those critical responses I have read—with the exceptions of Schjeldahl's review and the normally ornery Charlie Finch's response to Polsky's piledriver—I find little more than skepticism and only slight, measured praise. Whence did the apparent buzz originate? There's certainly a backlash, but is the critical consensus it strikes at real or imagined? Or is it really a buzz of the agora to which our critics react with skepticism and contempt?
Contrary to the myth of the monolithic hegemony of the Universal Critical Opinion, Currin's work in fact elicits a whirlwind of varied responses; there seems to be very little agreement as to just what the guy is up to. Schjeldahl perceives sincerity. Fineman sees irony. Saltz, pornography. Stevens, a clever-boy/virtuoso. Franklin Einspruch, cynicism. Roberta Fallon, anger. Russ Meyer, Juggs, Botticelli and Cranach. While most take great pride in numerating Currin's classical references and hold him up as a contrarian aesthete with traditionalist tendencies, many hold him to be worse than Rockwell (after all, Rockwell knew his place), and David Cohen files him squarely within the modern anti-aesthetic tradition: "Bad Painting with quality technique." Currin, it would seem, is all of this and then some; he runs the gamut and beyond, for better (Schjeldahl: "But these add up to less than the whole of the work's effect. Something is left over that calls for one of the grand old terms of aesthetics: mystery, sublimity, transcendence") or for worse ( Cohen: "His desire to have his cake and eat it, to exhibit painterly facility but all the while subscribe to fashionable anti-aesthetic postures, is not a split intention so much as one that is nauseatingly over-focused - on success"). Everyone acknowledges that he paints circles around our discourse, but to what effect? Pedestrian realism, heavy-handed satire, studied buffoonery, prurient fantasy, reactionary conservatism, cheerful candor, ostentatious mannerism, bitter cynicism, vulgar kitsch, vacuous academicism...? Sincerity or irony, earnestness or cleverness, seriousness or frivolity?
My own thoughts? Typically ambivalent. At times I see a beauty that belies the simplicity of Currin's obvious and cloying juxtapositions, but just as often I feel caught in a surface without depth. I can tell myself that I see through his ploys, and even get irritated, so long as his paintings continue to leave me cold. But all this is rendered moot once I discover those places where a surprising graciousness shines through, as in the smug domesticity of Homemade Pasta or the dynamic awkwardness of Ms. Omni or the otherworldly elegance of his Cranach-inspired Rachels who focus their wide-set eyes in the distance beyond the viewer—once I witness a presence I would not believe if I couldn't see it myself. Liking what I like here is beyond rationalization; likewise for what I dislike. The very utility of rationality goes out the window with an artist who over-rationalizes his own work in fifty different directions at once.
Anyone who strains too hard to articulate profundity from Currin is likely to wind up with something bizarre and overreaching. This is not to say that these are not works of complexity or that they don't raise serious issues, but simply that we're dealing with paintings that, through their own insistence, undermine any such serious propositions. Certainly as a relentless joker, Currin is the stuff of the Serious Art Corps' nightmares. But neither is he terribly kind to his defenders, resistant as his works are to the circumscription that is criticism's stock and trade. As Schjeldahl astutely notes, Currin "announces a situation in which artists, wielding art, trump critics who enforce ideas." Uber-discursive and incestuously recursive, this Jack of all isms offers us both too much and too little to discuss. Perhaps all that's left is to look and laugh. (And is that so bad after all?)
I very much like Fineman's formulation, "easy to like, but hard to love," to which, however, I'd add: (for myself) impossible to hate. But I leave the (next to) last word to Ariana French's "John Currin, Bea Arthur, and gigantic nipples": "Richard Polsky disses John Currin. How can you begrudge the phenomenal success of an artist who did such a magnificent portrait of a naked Bea Arthur?... on the other hand, maybe he has a point."
At the end of the day I found myself and a friend standing in front of "Bea Arthur Naked" (hung prominently at the gallery entrance), giggling like a couple of gas-huffing retards. Take it for what you will—those things are huge.
February 21, 2004
This past Thursday was going to be a big time Art Day for me but I managed to sleep past noon (standard operating procedure for days off). I did, however, get out in time to squeeze in an hour and a half viewing of the Rembrandt show at the Art Institute before closing, giving about two-thirds of the exhibit a good looking over, so I'll try to cobble together some preliminary stray thoughts.
The exhibition is all but exclusively devoted to Rembrandt's masterful output in etching, drypoint and engraving. I expected a wealth of comparisons between the artist's painting and his prints. I was pleased to find that, to the contrary, the print work is allowed to virtually stand on its own, while many of the paintings in fact function more as signposts than as critical foils. Much more instructive comparisons arise between the prints and the drawings. The handful of brown ink drawings included in the exhibit are almost without exception executed in the manner of loose gestural studies, even when they are expressly not such. Beside the etchings, a clear contrast is presented; while clearly drawn with the same fluidity and sensitivity of the draughtsman's hand, the etchings evince far more care and attention—as much as, if not more than, do his paintings. In the hands of Rembrandt (as in those of such greats as Durer, Goya, Hogarth, Blake, etc), printmaking steps out of the shadows of the discourse of reproduction to assert itself as art in its own right.
While I can't at the moment recall exactly which writing it is I'm thinking of that keys the history of painting to the developments of reproduction, a brief jaunt into the land of Walter Benjamin might be adequate to get at my point. Benjamin, as I'm sure we're all well aware, imagined great progress for art in its loss of aura through the development of mechanical means of reproduction (he concentrates cinema in particular). Though his criticism may be on target, his ambitions and expectations were perhaps overshot. This begs a comparison to the Marxists' similarly Sisyphean task of stripping our world of all ideology and false consciousness: the aura is not so easily done away with as he might have hoped. Of course, the aura Benjamin wrote of was rooted in a very specific (if at times downright legalistic) conception of authenticity, so it may not really suffer in the hands of a more generalized account. While it does hint towards issues of reality, signification and mediation, the critique is for the most part social and institutional, rather than primarily aesthetic—and he certainly doesn't seem concerned with any phenomenal basis for aura. The true criticism falls, as is so often the case, more squarely on the disciples of Benjamin than on the man himself—those who dilute his vision beyond its own critical utility, taking the mere grounds and starting point of his critique, namely the growing ubiquity of the products of mechanical reproduction, to be the very proof of his conclusions. Over-cited and overextended.
Perhaps he had attempted to isolate the sole essence of traditional aesthetic worth, perhaps not. Either way it's kind of beside the point because after all, even if we accept his critique we need not accept the eidetic reduction (if it is indeed such) as necessarily decisive: Benjamin's "authenticity" need not be the only source of auratic force. As a matter of fact, all of my encounters with film, photography and other reproductive technologies (mechanical or manual) indicate that, even if Benjamin is correct in his assessment of the decay of the aura of singular authenticity, reproductive media partake of an aura of their own, distinct from but comparable to that which he described. Indeed I suspect that Benjamin's criticism provides only a partial account for the auratic or qualitative power of painting itself. This power goes by many names: expression, efficacy, qualitas, beauty, sublimity, vision, etc; and though Marxist criticism may be quick to denounce this as irrational fetishism and commodification, imputing such power to our objects is, in my opinion, a defining condition of art.
This somewhat labored digression notwithstanding, my point is a simple, and perhaps obvious, one: prints such as these are artworks unto themselves. Maybe this is made clear only in an exhibition such as this one, dedicated as it is to such works, whereas normally they might recede into the background of our consciousness (or, in the case of the Art Institute, be merely brushed past in the hallway on the way to the galleries), but I would resist such simplification and skepticism. (I am also reluctant to attribute it to the fact that etching and drypoint actually provide rather poor means of massive reproduction and are thus more "artistic"; these observations, I think, apply equally well to engravings, woodcuts, lithographs and photographs.) As I strain to look closely at a finely etched print on a delicate piece of warm-toned Japanese paper no larger than a pack of cigarettes, I find that this work—this dead object, somehow exhibits a power over me—I care about it and I desire it. This it achieves in spite of its obvious reproductive capacity—its lack of claim to authentic uniqueness. And this is the point: as far as I am concerned, as a viewing subject, it matters very little in the end whether a particular aesthetic object is a unique, singular object or just one among a million copies because in either case I find myself, here and now, confronted with a single discreet object of direct and undeniable power.
February 18, 2004
From the Tribune (requires free registration): Alan Artner on artists, curators, audiences and aesthetic control...
also: "Art Institute adds department just for contemporary works" (Is 'contemporary' going the way of 'modern'?)
From the Sun-Times: Margaret Hawkins on the Lee Bontecou retrospective at the MCA...
From the Times: Deborah Solomon with Robert Rauschenberg...
Ladies and gentlemen... We got him.
February 14, 2004
75 years ago today in Chicago... submitted for your edification:
read an account with the backstory...
visit something of a photo payload courtesy of Mario Gomes' Capone Museum...
the ultimate resource is probably Al Capone Museum (similar, if not identical, content as the above)...
finally, masochists can investigate further: take a peek at the FBI files when FOIA gets all primary-source on your ass
February 13, 2004
How lovely to check my site stats today.
Opening tomorrow at the Art Institute—Rembrandt's Journey:
With more than 200 works from all periods of his long career—approximately 20 paintings, 30 drawings, and 150 prints drawn from major collections here and abroad—this is the first American exhibition to explore Rembrandt's astonishing range and variety of activity as a brilliant etcher seen in the context of his paintings and drawings.The show's ticketed so it looks like I'm gonna have to dig deep and actually pay to see this one.
From Flash Art—"Coerced Confessions: Snapshot Photography's Subjective Objectivity":
To separate the good snapshots from the bad, the comparison to haiku is helpful, for what distinguishes successful snapshots is also what makes good poetry: sensibility. Behind all good poetry lurks a distinctive sensibility, someone with a knack for artfully arranging the details of lived experience. Both mediums' strength (and, often, their weakness) is their brevity, because it renders them an ideal outlet for half-formed emotional impressions. But just as online "photo blogs" continue to multiply, so too is there no sign of a decrease in the world's supply of terrible poetry.
Dueling reflections on German photography from InterReview.org:
It is the same forest floor that still has craters everywhere, from bombs that fell during the heavy bombardment of the country from 1943 to 1945 -- Adorno speaks of a bombed-out consciousness. Leib makes it visible, and the surprising thing is: it is beautiful. Germans are not bad guys anymore. They have the blues. They are romantic, fashionable and silly all at once.(Note that elsewhere Ohler aptly illustrates one of the more refined tendencies in contemorary art criticism—ie, when in doubt, write about cocks and jerking off.)
When I recently saw Wolfgang Tillmans at a London gallery opening, I was tempted to go up to him and say, "aren't you Jurgen Teller?" He might not have laughed as hard as I did over the joke, but it was an expression of the ease with which all of these hot young German photographers can be confused with one another. Or rather, that they are all such a group, such a lumped-together lot. Their names jump from one to another so easily -- Ruff, Struth, Demand, Gursky, Teller, Tillmans.... Is it merely the simple fact that most of them studied under Bernd and Hilda Becher?
Worth a look, from Bridge Magazine—"Not Known Until Named":
It is this action of retrogressive reading that can contextualize historical positions, not only for science, as in Kuhn's case, but also in an aesthetic experience. Context can equally enhance or burden aesthetic experience. Can one approach "Morning" and have an experience outside of a context predicated by either art history or critical writing that is read historically? Where is the line drawn that defines something as historical writing or critical writing? Will Roberta Smith be read in three hundred years to drag people to dusty Matthew Barney artifacts? Is a Vernet review fodder for history?
Finally, get your Daily Dose of Ridiculous Theory...
What better way to flatten our discourse than by a Critique of the Tyranny of the Spectacle? Follow along with Annette Ferrara in "Representing Simulacra (After Debord): A Case Study"—with stock reference to Benjamin and Debord (but, mercifully, no Baudrillard)—and feel ashamed, dear artist, for not heeding the warning of the soixante-huitarde: "Debord warned us about the specter of the spectacle, but artists, it seems, still can't seem to get enough."
... with a mild palliative:
"Picture Making Meaning: An Interview with Jeff Wall" by Jan Estep:
I think this "control" idea has become a kind of cliche about my work. I don't think I control anything anyone else doesn't control, or want to control. Art inherently involves artistry. I prepare certain things carefully because I believe that's what's required. Other things are completely left to chance. Anything that is prepared, constructed, or organized is done in order to allow the unpredictable "something" to appear and, in appearing, to create the real beauty of the picture, any picture. You are suggesting also that I am controlling the meaning of the work. I am talking only about the work of making it. Meaning does not interest me and has almost nothing to do with my decisions or judgments.
February 9, 2004
The last time I visited the MCA I spent most of my time in the Kerry James Marshall exhibit up in the main galleries (really an unfortunate decision as it were) and so only caught a casual and weary glimpse of the current permanent collection exhibit upstairs—and I was underwhelmed. When I raced down after work last week for an hour and a half's worth of hot Free Tuesday action, with the Lee Bontecou show still being installed, it was all that was on offer. Titled Strange Days, it purports to address "unsettling aspects of contemporary life and [offer] unexpected representations of everyday phenomena". A rather selective list of highlights as deciphered from notes I scrawled on a museum visitor's guide, taken category by category:
A dangerous and expanding world, humanity uprooted:
Andres Serrano Nomads (Payne) (1990)—An artful street portrait of a man Serrano describes as among the 'hard-core homeless' of NYC, enlisting more than its fair share of art historical reference. Considering Serrano: back around Thanksgiving I had a rather extended discussion with a painter who mentioned (and I don't recall the context of these particular comments) that years ago she'd had some sort of association with him, and her opinion of his work seemed rather negative—considered as it was principally from her particular moral standpoint. Looking at this haunting but luminous and humane portrait led me to wonder again how she could consider Serrano's photography degenerate or exploitative. He has certainly tackled several projects with plenty of potential for an exploitative approach (and the man certainly has his detractors), but all of the photos of his I'd ever seen had been handled with the utmost of careful grace and humanity. Of course the works I was familiar with were his Morgue and notorious body fluids series (and add to that now the Nomads)—case studies for the dignified portrayal of the most unsettling faces of human existence. After poking around a bit I've decided that perhaps she had something more like this in mind, certainly something a degree less graceful.
Groping explorations of strangeness in the familiar:
Hiroshi Sugimoto Saint Benedict Chapel (2000)—Haunting and monumental. In Sugimoto's imposing image, the chapel looms like a monolith, dark and obscure, but undeniably present. That so simple and austere a work can be so powerful is something I still find quite remarkable. This is from his Architecture series, the subject of a fantastic exhibition in 2003, more on which sometime soon.
Gordon Matta-Clark's Circus or The Caribbean Orange (1978) is a set of photos documenting a project in which he gutted a townhouse, "peeling" entire sections of wall, ceiling and floor in circles and spirals like... well, like an orange. The shots are disorienting to the utmost.
Aida Ruilova Oh No, You're Pretty, Almost, Do It, Come Here, and 3, 2, 1 (videos, dates ranging from 1999-2002)—Together these six videos together clock in at under 4 minutes. Ruilova (often working with explicit musical metaphors) has given us the visual equivalent of 3-chord verse-chorus-verse form, reduced to manic barrages of choppy, repeated montage cuts—ritualistic, claustrophobic and bizarre.
Visions drawn in the shadows of utopia:
Jeff Wall Forest (B&W photo 2001)—You can chalk it up to Wall's deliberate production methods and calculated ambiguity or just to the typical effect of any such vast and densely detailed surface, but I can always lose myself in one of his photos. Unsettling, but enveloping.
Tony Tasset Cherry Tree" (oils, wax, steel armature 1999)—In spite of the knee-jerkery exhibited in the wall text's insistence that this counterfeit tree critiques the way 'natural beauty is largely mediated' by art and culture, I was pretty impressed by it once I actually stopped to take a look. I've grown generally weary of the quotidian in art and the trite but inevitable claim to Duchampian pedigree and appeal to the institutional theory. And yet (and actually in spite of its rather elegant form), like a specimen out of some kind of mundane suburban Madame Tussaud's, something about the achieved verisimilitude of this object (whether it's the fresh, waxy buds or just the impressive dedication such a creation would demand) is downright perverse.
Also: Rene Magritte, Les Merveilles de la Nature (1953); Ana Mendieta, photos from the Silueta series.
The elegiac, the dejected and the just plain severe—memorializing loss and acknowledging our inability to control the world without:
Rosangela Renno (Brazil) Untitled (Hangman), Untitled (Shy Man), Untitled (Tree Man) (all 1996/2000)—On examination, these commanding near-monochromes reveal astoundingly subtle photographs, as if emerging from fog. Broad swathes of retina-blasting blood red, my immediate association was to Richter's red mirrors, both from yards away as well as inches, as my eyes strained to find the images—in this case not the faint, the tinctured likeness of my own reflection but those of various nameless soldiers. It's a simple and perhaps shop-worn gesture, making it that much more remarkable when prolonged looking seems to prove rewarding (in these respects similar to the Sugimoto).
Gillian Wearing Trauma (2000)—Wearing's video project in which people hidden anonymously behind bizarre, almost affectless masks relate in detail the traumas from their childhood. Shown in a claustrophobic confessional-like enclosure, the video is direct, depressing, and almost oppressive to the point of unwatchability (this is, of course, not to say that it is necessarily bad).
Included here for good measure: Joseph Beuys, Felt Suit (1970); Anslem Kiefer, Banner (1990); Andy Warhol, Jacqueline Kennedy (1964)—black and gold; William Kentridge drawings from History of the Main Complaint and others; Christian Boltanski Monument: Les Enfants de Dijon (1985).
Tucked into a side gallery, paying tribute to the forces within:
Balthus, Rineke Dijkstra, Robert Mapplethorpe—In what is probably the finest bit of curatorial judgement in the exhibition, we find a striking trio of images: the typically erotic Balthus painting, Two Young Girls (1949)—an interesting title in that it strikes me that a theme of much of Balthus' oeuvre, if you'll indulge me a bit, might be one of too young girls; meets the dispassionate Hel, Poland, August 12, 1998, from Dijkstra's beach series; beside the disconcerting kitsch of Mapplethorpe's Thomas, a portrait in crisp, glowing detail of an impressively-hung man holding a cat. (A more extensive reflection on the Balthus should be forthcoming.)
Tony Oursler's Guilty (1995)—As always with Oursler's grotesquerie, this video/sculpture installation is unsettling to the nth degree (and nearly as unwatchable as Wearing's Trauma).
Further: Claire Zeisler, Rosemary (fiber 1968); Cindy Sherman; Jim Nutt.
Labor, vocation, technology and accommodation in a changing world:
Chuck Close, Cindy Sherman (1988); Sharon Lockhart, On Kawara: Whole and Parts, 1964-1995 (1998); Daniela Rossell, Untitled (Ricas y Famosas) (rooftop) (1999); Joao Onofre (Portugal), Untitled (Vulture in the Studio).
I approached this exhibit somewhat reluctantly. Between the title of the exhibition (with corresponding Doors quote) on the wall and what struck me initially as pretty hollow thematic grouping in the galleries, I anticipated either something critically over-extended or, alternately, some vague and clumsy excuse for a survey of permanent collection holdings (perhaps something like the nonsense that was Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain—if you insist on running the gamut like this, just forgo the arch wall text and let the art speak for itself). At any rate, the most I expected was a heaping of weak sophistry and some decent art. Yet something genuinely interesting and coherent, if occasionally spotty, fell into place.
A significant (though far from inclusive) motif of those works that stood out to me might be something I'd describe along the lines of religiosity, if slightly askew: the articulation of (loosely speaking) sacred, meditative or memorial space (Wearing, Boltanski, Wall, Tasset, Mendieta, Sugimoto, Onofre); the presentation of significant objects, of icon-like images (Serrano, Warhol, Mapplethorpe), totems (Beuys, Kiefer, Zeisler, Mapplethorpe[?]) and various memento mori (Renno, Kentridge, Boltanksi, Sugimoto[?]). Perhaps this speaks more to my tastes than to the exhibition itself (indeed it's a selective viewing, omitting for example some crap by Chris Burden and even ignoring whole categories which I just can't recall). Nonetheless, considered in the terms put forth by the curatorial team, I would put these works forward as representative of a strategy and a vision of art seeking not to circumscribe or exhaustively comprehend our uncertain world, nor necessarily to provoke or 'problematize' it, but rather one which looks to cultivate memory, sensitivity and reflection as bulwarks against it, established in the shared materiality of culture.
February 7, 2004
The Lyric Opera's gone fluff, raising heckles here and there with their latest production, that Savoy staple The Pirates of Penzance. I attended last night's performance with great anticipation, prepared to intoxicate myself on a topsy-turvy Gilbert concoction and lilting Sullivan melody, and I left feeling all but completely sated. I must admit to an enormous soft spot for Gilbert and Sullivan. Having parents who performed in a local G&S group, I was infected by this vice at an early age. Summer evenings were spent in rehearsal, splitting my time between my crayons and casual study of the choreography. I even donned the tights and cake makeup myself on a couple of occasions, pulling duty in the role of townschild (Ruddigore and Yeomen, for the record). So maybe I'm susceptible to bias. And maybe I'm something like the poor sap who, raised on Velveeta, retains a taste for the stuff all their life even in a house of Brie and Camembert, but I'd like to think there's something more to it.
It seems there have been some alarmist cries and consternation over this low-budget replacement for more daring fare. While I expected some sort of defense of the merits of operetta—appeals to recognize the vocal demands of Sullivan's music or the dramatic pedigree of Gilbert's libretto—in the program (and it did not disappoint), the best apologetics were reserved for the Major-General's patter-song, with the addition of a verse touting the virtues of British culture but acknowledging that the show was indeed merely 'a replacement for Berlioz'. But that's all just a matter for the uptight skeptics; and judging from the refined operatic head-bobbing and foot-tapping, skeptics were in short supply. (At any rate, the skeptics need not fear, as apparently not all companies are as cowardly as the Lyric... Watch Anthony Tommasini brandish his rhetorical foil: the San Francisco Opera is only reluctantly 'shelving' two company firsts, contra the 'play-it-safe' Lyric which is 'dropping' theirs for plebeian dreck; note the boldness with which heroic San Francisco is credited for premiering John Adams' new Doctor Atomic in 2005-06 while the sad, sad Lyric won't stage the co-production till 2006-07... I guess we all need our straw men.)
Neal Davies and Peter Rose are outstanding as Major-General Stanley and Sergeant of Police respectively. By far the highlight of this altogether captivating production, however, is the performance of the show's female lead, singing in the role of Stanley's daughter and young Frederic's sweetheart, Mabel—something beyond glorious. I couldn't help but think that, Serious Music's defenders be damned, if I'd needed any proof of the value of a "high" production of this Victorian operetta, her performance was it. Only afterward did I consult my playbill to see just who this soprano might be: Elizabeth Futral, so... 'no shit', right?... of course she was marvelous—the woman is hardly in need of my endorsement. Really, what's so wrong with having such phenomenal talent perform such wonderful music?
I'll stop before I begin to gush too much more, but only after elaborating further that if there's ever any prospect of redemption or validation for "light opera" I strongly suspect that "Poor wand'ring one!" must be involved in some respect.
February 2, 2004
Recent brilliance culled (stolen) from my current faves (at right)
Michael Blowhard of 2 Blowhards, regarding John Kacere, painter of the female butt:
Was he a cheesecake artist or a respectable photorealist? He explained his work this way: "Woman is the source of all life, the source of regeneration. My work praises that aspect of womanhood." Sigh: once again I'm struck by the thought that I went into the wrong field.
spotted in See-Thru Panties
Following the bouncing ball with Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo:
Richard Perle tells the Times that the CIA did indeed sell the president a bill of goods. "The president is a consumer of intelligence, not a producer of it," Perle told the Times. "I have long thought our intelligence in the gulf has been woefully inadequate."
Right. Perle has long been a staunch critic of the CIA. His argument was that they understated the scope of Saddam's WMD programs, naively discounted his ties to terrorist organizations and had an overly pessimistic vision of post-war Iraq.
In other words, if the CIA is all wet, Perle is all wet squared. Or probably even cubed.
ripped off from A pearl. Lapidary...
The Daily Howler chats up a clowning Mickey Kaus and dishes it to a ragin' Chris Matthews:
Hail to thee, O Manchester, New Hampshire, frozen Queen City by the Merrimack! We enjoyed our barroom chats with Mickey Kaus, in which the Angelino took back every word he's ever written. Well, we think that's what we heard Mickey say. You know how it can be in those bars! There was the usual ambient noise, so we're not really sure what our pal really said...
And hail to Riley Yates, of the Manchester Union-Leader, quoting our own incomparable critique of the press corps' attacks on Howard Dean. (Yates reviewed Sunday's comedy concert.) "When Chris Matthews is complaining about 'red-faced rants,' hasn't justice been turned on its head?" we had asked. Continuing: "Message to Chris—you may not be the person to decide who is 'manic.'" And yes, we did the thing with our fingers, showing which words came in quotes.
as seen in HAIL TO THEE, O MANCHESTER
East London is a marvellous place, strangely neglected by contemporary tourist guides to the capital. If you've never been there, and I am pretty sure you won't have, here's what you've been missing (...)
witness the golden touch of Eurotrash for yourself...
Listening in at In Passing...
"Yes, I would love you even if you looked like Hamlet. Believe me."
--A woman talking on a cell phone, walking past the Nomad Cafe
from 18 November 2003
"Angora does say 'I love you, honey,' more than cotton."
--One teenage girl to another, shopping at American Eagle
"I don't know, it's hard to put it in words."
"Too much Chex, not enough mix. That's your problem."
"Ok, I guess it isn't hard to put into metaphor. Just words."
--Two girls talking outside Ross
...and not to neglect the AJ art blog troika:
ARTOPIA's John Perreault writes:
Photos and texts removed from books and placed on museum walls or refashioned as hand-outs assume more importance than may have been intended. Here the presentation implies that El Greco was great because Jackson Pollock made drawings of his paintings and that earlier the master's Opening of the Fifth Seal, apparently misinterpreted, inspired Picasso's Les Demoiselle d'Avignon (now being cleaned and repaired at MoMA). Wouldn't El Greco have been a wonderful, sometimes daring painter even if Picasso and Pollock had never existed? I blush at the number of times I have used the same defense of this or that artist: the reflected glory of influence. Nevertheless, perfectly awful or merely minor artists have influenced some great ones. Great ones have influenced hordes of schlocky paint-pushers. Influence is interesting, but not conclusive. Of course, the Pollock El Greco studies are available in three beautiful, facsimile notebooks for $750 at various Metropolitan Museum of Art checkout counters.
At About Last Night, Terry Teachout's Almanac Entries alone are worth the price of admission... to wit:
"Important! Fearful contemporary word, smacking of the textbook, the lecture-hall, the 'balanced appraisal.' So-and-so may be readable, interesting, entertaining, but is he important? Ezra Pound may be pretentious and dull, but you've got to admit that he's ever so important. What? You haven't read Primo Levi (in translation, of course)? But he's important. As the philosopher J. L. Austin remarked in another context, importance isn't important. Good writing is."
Kingsley Amis, Memoirs
found in TT: Almanac (January 26, 2004)
and finally, MAN, where Tyler Green opines:
Speaking of SFMOMA, arts organizations should know better than to come between patrons, their alcohol and their parties. Say it ain't so: SFMOMA has cancelled its Valentine Ball.
The real reason for the brouhaha is that SF's socialite class apparently has nowhere else to pick up taffeted boink buddies: "What they didn't take into account was how many people had counted on the ball," one donor told the Chron. (Of course a good man in the SF collecting class can skip regionalist balls and find dames on 57th Street.)
Or, an alternate translation: There are a lot of SFMOMA men whose wives don't know that they hang out at The Loading Dock and Daddy's and those men had promised to take their boys to the ball. Or maybe it wasn't about their boys, it was about their toys... after all, SFMOMA isn't all that far from California Hall...
skimmed off the top of Don't... take... away... our... parties