May 26, 2004
So what are we to make of the latest terror warnings? I have to ask, considering they will not be raising the actual threat warning (thus not implementing the actual protocols meant to respond to an elevated threat level), why the frightful scenarios...
The intelligence... is among the most disturbing received by the government since the al-Qaida attacks of Sept. 11, 2001... "There is clearly a steady drumbeat of information that they are going to attack and hit us hard"
Of special concern... is the possibility that terrorists may possess and use a chemical, biological or radiological weapon that could cause much more damage and casualties than a conventional bomb.
... and, considering Tom Ridge's own insistance that current information that "talks about an attack" is really "not unlike what we’ve seen for the past several years," why now?
And just what the hell am I supposed to do with this information? Is this just the occasional exercise in maintaining Homeland Security's visibility in the public consciousness? ('Don't say we never warned you.') Making the threat present, but instilling confidence in our leaders' ability to thwart it? Ridge: "Americans' jobs is [sic] to go about living their lives as Americans... We'll provide the security, they have to figure out how to have fun themselves."
'Worry not, citizen. We are on a war footing and the FBI is on the case. Still, if you could just do us a solid and keep a watchful eye on those dark-skinned neighbors of yours, we'd really appreciate it.'
Would it be too cynical to point out that Fearless Leader's only positive polling numbers seem to be on the terror front? That may be pushing it a bit far but, for all their obsession with secrecy and opacity, I doubt the decision to come forward with this startling intel received a veto from Rove's office.
But honestly, would this administration really stoop to harnessing fear for political gain?
"McClellan says Americans should be vigilant -- because the nation 'is in a serious threat period.'"
May 22, 2004
Today I received the following email via the Other Group listserv, forwarded from artist Paul Chan [see also: National Philistine] regarding a summons issued by the US Dept of Treasury against Voices in the Wilderness:
Some news, not so good but strangely hopeful nevertheless. On June 4th, I will stand with other members of Voices in the Wilderness at a hearing at the Federal Courthouse in Washington DC. The US Dept of Treasury is attempting to collect $20,000 in fines for bringing medicines to Iraq and the US Dept of Justice is attempting to impose 10 to 12 year prison terms on us if we don't pay. (It is important to note we have filed a countersuit, against the US for maintaining the crime of economic sanctions. Also important to know is that we will not pay, will never pay, and will fight this, tooth, nail, whatever).
This is, of course, on top of the old (maybe new to you) news that Kathy Kelly, co-director of Voices in the Wilderness, along with 5 others, have been serving prison sentences since late April, for their protest work. Kathy will be in for 4 months at the Pekin federal prison in Illinois. Jerry Zarwada got 6. Others, 3.
People ought to know, don't you think, that our government is not only waging a war overseas, but also here, against the very people who are trying to stem the institutional violence that has become the unfortunate fabric of our lives.
Help me. Tell your friends about what is happening to VITW. If you have friends in the media, pass the information on. Tell them to contact me or Danny Muller, who is coordinating outreach for the group. Kathy is available for interviews in prison. Get media to interview her, or reprint her essay that was just posted on www.counterpunch.com (full link below). No friends in the media? How about setting up a media event? There are 5 or 6 of us in the NY area willing and able to talk about Iraq, the war, the occupation, the future, without war. Help us get the word out.
I leave you now with a quote from Albert Camus, VITW's unofficial philosopher: "In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer."
Sign VITW's petition to AG Ashcroft at PetitionOnline.com
May 18, 2004
First a clarification.
Again, overall my comments were more germane to the 2003 show (or at least my memory of it) than this year's. Insofar as they do apply to 2004, it is mostly insofar as they are emblematic of the worst tendencies on show. I honestly did not mean to come off as totally negative on the Stray. There was some great art to be found this year. It's just that I find the inflated pretensions of it all detract from the work. And isn't the artwork what it's supposed to be all about?
And no, Cinque, I don't recall Piwonka's "ETA Good Friday." I seriously don't remember anything from Fresh Up Club's booth. And I worked my way through it, as diligently as I could manage, at least three separate times.
Finally, it's not so much the work that I found to be so gratingly quasi-political in '03 but the curatorial style. This is not to say that these displays were really overtly political or critical, but rather that they seemed to deal in the style of those politicisms or critical truisms that have been the stock and trade of 'edgy' art for decades now. In fact, I think my point is that this stuff is actually decidedly not political, just unnecessarily confrontational. In the end it's a predictable confrontation that settles into something of an irksome sibilant buzz rather than the raucous riot that was probably intended.
Yet as I struggle to wade through the muck, trying to give the art itself the chance it deserves and silently cursing the dissonant strategies of these provocateurs, a little critical voice nags at me: "it's not noise, it's 'Problematization.'" This, I think, is my real issue: the mystification and fetishization of radicality. Frustration for frustration's sake, as if mere frustration were criticality, and further as if criticality were a positive virtue in and of itself.
In a sense it's this paradoxical notion of an institutionalized radicality that has managed to achieve currency in the idea of subversion or criticality in themselves as normative criteria of art that I find ridiculous. To normalize revolt is to ensure its vacuity. The idea of a truly self-critical establishment is laughably idealistic. And insofar as we don't care about the content of such provocations, provided they prove sufficiently provocative, we find ourselves merely plumbing the shallows of a new formalism.
I find the analogy Cinque raises to be utterly spot on: "This is what happens when the status quo learns to manage the very counterculture that would claim to destroy it. It makes room, it provides comfortable chairs, it contains it as a safe little commodity." This is the dilemma of the avant-garde (at least the avant-garde for avant-garde's sake) in the past decades: having achieved some sort of hegemony of its own, or at least finding an establishment capable of capitulating in some respects, what's left for the ensconced radicals but to preach fiery jeremiads to the choir and defend their gate from the onslaught of straw men? Resistance and revolt only have meaning when defined against the status quo.
We hoped to intercept the overtly humane sentiments found buzzing around Goya's lascivious disasters and restore the morbidity of the project, which, in the hands of interested professionals, had become morally cathected. We were attracted to Goya's Disasters of War because their institutional reclamation into the pantheon of progressive art was a pre-eminent example of Modernist retro-determinism. We were curious as to how the polarity of such unbound violence could be reversed and conducted to serve positive ends.
Then, before the 'paradox of iconoclasm' buzzer can sound, he draws back from his claims of "positive ends" (problematic insofar as this might imply the very progressive reclamation he'd like to denounce) to insist the their strategy is merely one of "inertia" (whatever that might entail) with the recognition of the futility of even this: "suffice to say, given the hard-wired redemptive prejudices... it was doomed to fail."
[Update: On review in the sober light of morning, it would seem the interview actually refers to the Chapman's 1994 Goya-derived sculpture, Great Deeds Against the Dead, not necessarily an iconoclastic gesture and probably all the more susceptible to the claims of progressive criticism.]
The point Chapman misses, I think, is that it is the job of the status quo institution to view even such problematic works in a redemptive light. Presented with the legacy of taste that is the accepted canon, each generation picks its horses, lauding some and rejecting others. The former necessitate some form of positive legitimization. Moreover, the status quo is expected to be virtuous. However, while this legitimization certainly might provide an objectionably sanitized interpretation of a work, the institutional version is hardly wholly determinant, unable as it were to be undercut by personal experience. The official 'reading' might be seen to carry the day, but it cannot control, let alone prevent, alternative readings.
One might say that this is precisely what the Chapmans' provide: an alternate, or rectified, reading against the institutionally sanitized version. But, as Jake himself seems to acknowledge, such an act is itself readily subsumable by the very "redemptive impulse" they're trying to "short-circuit." Beyond a mild and brief furor, their fit of iconoclasm settled quite gently into the institutional folds. Especially considering that their strategy of critique through appropriation is hardly an unpopular one these days and that the brothers, all their bluster aside, really are rather status quo themselves, this was pretty much par for the course and ultimately unexceptional. "Oh my, those Chapman brothers are at it again!" No doubt future (and for that matter current) curators and historians will be charged with the task of legitimizing the Chapmans' schlong-nosed toddlers within the comfort of the steady frame of discourse. And yet, for all the nifty contextualization, I doubt future audiences will easily overlook their depraved grotesqueness (consider this a description, not an evaluation).
Quite frankly, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes doesn't need Jake's and Dinos' help. Indeed, if there were ever a work or works of art resistant to such institutionalization mentioned above, whose affective resonance exceeds the limits of historical context and textual supplement, Goya's Disasters would be a candidate. These depictions of the severest corporal brutality require little by way of explanation or elaboration.
Works of art are persistent in themselves, if not in their meanings. However hard we may try to possess them, they will outlive our interpretations and, for that matter, extend far beyond our grasp even at the moment. These sovereign forms enter the web of our experience and achieve significance through engagement with our contexts and the historicity of thought and perception, but they will still always exceed us. They need no rescuing through iconoclastic effacement or supplement, but merely to be approached and looked at again, in the very space they open up before us. This is where the true radicality of the image can be found.
I hope I haven't rambled too inanely. Really, it's way past my bed time.
May 15, 2004
I'd meant to get to some Art Chicago and Stray Show highlights before the shows ended, but I've been slacking a bit on it. (Anyways, I didn't make it out to 1418 N. Kingsbury until Stray closing day last Sunday.) Nevertheless... Real Art Chicago highlights (as opposed to the preview rundown) should be forthcoming, but let's get this started with the Stray Show. (If you haven't yet, do read Caryn Coleman's overview at the Art Weblog.)
For starters (and only a year after the fact) an opening rant about Stray Show 2003 [If you'd like, you can skip this appetizer and head straight for the meat].
As much as some gallerists wish to eschew the "Stray" tag, many of the participants nonetheless seem to enjoy positioning themselves in opposition to the mainstream affair, hyping the show as young, hip and edgy alternative to Art Chicago, something for the outsiders. Frankly such claims to 'underground'-ness would be more compelling were the Stray Show not the step-child of an institutional market behemoth, and, moreover, any claims to 'freshness' might satisfy were the work actually as fresh as the hype is heavy. (But, of course, freshness as a virtue in art, even when achieved, is generally short-lived.)
The plain fact is I didn't see anything at the 2003 Stray Show that I really liked all that much. (While I'm as amused as anyone by it, I found myself quite disappointed when the true highlight of the show proved to be Jimi's jimmy.) My real quarrel, however, was with a more general attitude that was on display. And my negative reaction on this count was quite visceral.
As my memory banks have it (admittedly, my memory has, on occasion, proven an unfair mistress and so my generalizations may be unfair) the show was dominated by the curatorial equivalent of snapshot photography and post-it note conceptualism: an evident push-pin salon aesthetic that wears its casualness as a badge of radicality, but mostly serves to disengage and frustrate.
These were overwhelmingly manic, unfocused and crowded displays that offered, at a glance, all the signifiers of vitality and alterity—haphazard, borderline anti-aesthetic productions that seem to scream, 'we do institutional critique up hardcore.' And in the end, to put it crudely, the theatricality of display foregrounded itself at the expense of art and the artist. Mining the residue of fashionable postmodern thought, these tactics seemed designed to simply try patience and foil attempts to give the artwork the consideration it deserves. And, when the work itself more often than not proves to be of a lazy, throw-away variety that so well matches such a curatorial style, such effort on my part feels ultimately wasted.
It wouldn't have been so bad, I think, if it weren't for the apparent appeals to the notions of authenticity and vitality that always cling to the self-consciously 'underground', the oppositional pose that says, 'we're so much better than all those fetishists down at the Pier'. This is to say, I do not take issue with either such casual or brash approaches to art or display necessarily, but rather with the implicit ideology that promotes such schemes as inherently better, or at least freer, than sedate traditional forms, whether by virtue of some purported critique or pretense of subterfuge, or by dint of a deeper contemporary relevance.
Beyond the specificities of an homage to punk DiY raunch or the aesthetics of ephemera, this is merely the familiar contemporary iconoclasm that trades the fetishization of the well-formed image for the fetishization of display, the fetishization of the whole for that of the fragment (or of the 'moment' or 'gesture'). And, insofar as it offers forth political ambitions, it betrays a classic avant-garde idealism that rarely pans out: if only we could release our art from its frame or from the conventions of traditional display it could be free to wreak its revolutionary havoc all over your bourgeois ass. The diminished remains of '68, I suppose.
The desire behind this, it would seem, is to deny the basic similarity that exists between the Stray Show and Art Chicago. But this is also, as it turns out, to deny the real value of the show: namely, providing a venue for emerging galleries and alternative spaces, and underrepresented artists who might lose out in the marketplace of cash and clout, held in conjunction with, and hopefully benefiting from, the hype surrounding Art Chicago. (Whether this logic pans out, I'm in no position to judge. Still, kudos to Thomas Blackman for continuing to provide the venue. While I certainly don't have access to TBA's books, I'd feel safe assuming that the Stray Show is not the big cash cow of their various productions, either in terms of cash collected at the gate or in terms of exhibition fees. I'd frankly be surprised if they didn't lose a bit on this.) Yes, the artists at the Stray Show are younger, the galleries newer. There's no doubt that many of these represents art's future, if only by virtue of the calculus of age. But to declare it representative of some 'future wave' is to yoke it with far too heavy a burden. Bottom line: it's just another fucking art show, guys. (Of course, if this is the case, why is a totally separate show even necessary?)
Anyways, this all begs the question: where do we stand this year? In many ways, it was more of the same. The busy display of Fresh Up Club's bright kitsch salon, for example, drew me in with high hopes, but I'd be hard pressed to say I liked, let alone remember, anything I saw; I had a similar reaction to General Store. But, generally speaking, it was a rather improved exhibition this go 'round. While the signal-to-noise ratio was often still out of control and a good deal of work was of the rough and ready variety Stray Show 2004 witnessed, at least to my eye, greater variety and depth across the board. And many of last year's Stray offenders, relocated in '04 to the Big Show, also offered up some pretty decent stuff down in Invitational row. Some even had, gasp, horror, framed works on display.
(Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this year's no different from last. Maybe it's just me that changed. But really, how likely is that?)
At any rate, my verdict: though I still had to dig through some noise and fluff, most of the work was reasonably good, some was pretty fantastic (some god-awful), with the real dazzlers (naturally) few and far between. So, without too much further bloviation, a fistful of Stray highlights:
Overheard at Fresh Up Club (Austin)
on the great model protopomo: "Yeah... Duchamp is happenin'"
and how 'bout that Joseph Beuys: "...with all the fat and the felt, he's way out there"
Matthew Suib at Vox Populi (Philly)
It's eyeline match run amok in Matthew Suib's "Cocked", a 10-minute remix of deadly stares, shifty eyes and itchy trigger fingers culled from spaghetti western gunfights. For something as straightforwardly monotonous as this, Suib's video displays a rather sensitive (though limited) development from start to end: the various stages of the showdowns, in all their surprising nuance, are represented by discrete clusters of related shots, both highlighting the sameness of these films as well as illuminating their quiet differences—including, for example, a strikingly subtle series of shots depicting moments where the slightest change in the squint of the actors eyes seems to denote a dramatic shift from a detached alertness to a frightened horror. Again, this is, not surprisingly, a drawn-out and monotonous piece—the only bit of dialogue in the piece is a brief exchange of "Hey"... "Hey"—and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, offers little by way of climax or payoff for all the built up tension (the climax is there, but it remains minimal), but I still found it quite satisfying in the end.
Hideyuki Sawayanagi at Hiromi Yoshii (Tokyo)
To describe Hideyuki Sawayanagi's "Self-contained" is to ruin the surprise that, in part, makes it so wonderful. Nonetheless, a description is all I offer. This is one pristine mirrored object, at first resembling nothing more than a silver Minimalist box. Close inspection reveals a tiny bit of text engraved at its center: "i love me." The moment you get close enough to read this, however, a bright flash bulb fires from behind what turns out to be a 2-way mirror. As you back away, eyes adjusting, you notice an afterimage etched in blue on your retina: "i love me, too."
Czech and Slovak Staged Photography (Brooklyn)
The most cohesive display (though this does not necessarily mean, I hasten to add, the best) was to be found in Anne Arden McDonald's half of a booth split with False Front (Manhattan). This is naturally due to her restricted focus as a dealer/curator of staged and performance-based photography from Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Apparently staged photography in general is a primary interest for McDonald, who found a rather considerable concentration of practitioners of the genre in the former Czechoslovakia. From her website:
Staged photography is born out of boredom or dissatisfaction with the world. The photographer wants to see the world as a place where anything is possible—a place full of more beauty, more meaning, more play, more symbolism. In the face of Communism, these Czech and Slovak artists were escapists and surrealists—dreaming themselves into other realities and making photographic documents of them. Some of them say they are making pataphysical theatre—theatre of the absurd performed for the camera.
Daniel Barrow at ThreeWalls (Chicago)
I have to fess up about cheating a bit on this one. ThreeWalls (not to be confused with Three Walls from San Antonio) was showing some work of their artists-in-residence, including a video of a Daniel Barrow performance (a live animation using overhead transparencies). I inquired specifically about a Barrow piece from their early 2004 Middlemanagement-curated exhibit (their inaugural exhibition?), "We Need to Talk: Uneasy Props and Propositions". The fella manning the booth was kind enough to throw on that very DVD for me, so what follows is more of a belated salute to the highlight from that show.
The video, "Catalog of the Original Trading Cards," is simply a presentation of Barrow's hand-drawn trading cards of the same name, featuring voiceover narration of the text on the cards' versos as well as a fine Casio soundtrack. I find the piece utterly charming. With a clear dandy/queer/kitsch/tragic-outsider theme, the cards feature the likenesses and stories of Dismal Desmond, Scott Thorson, Margaret Keane, Rip Taylor, Wayland Flowers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Liz Renay, Bunny Roger, Kristy McNichol, Little Miss No Name, and Quentin Crisp, and the video is quite fitting. While a tad depressing at points in its brushes with tragedy and death, I'm still not sure what this was doing in a show devoted to "permagoth".
Kim Collmer at Mule (Chicago)
It's hard to know what to make of Kim Collmer's stop-action animations ("Stars of the Lid", "Mercury Moon", "Warm Jets"), and this, I think, is part of their magic. Featuring glittering, undulating sculptural worlds, overwhelmingly blue, these videos evoke vaguely sci-fi spacescapes. They are also somewhat low-fi, but made with a charmingly evident dedication.
Benjamin Moreau at No Fun (Chicago)
Superheroes and comic books are apparently all the rage. My favorite Stray Show inclusion in this motif were Benjamin Moreau's caped, masked self-portrait (I'm assuming) drawings, e.g., "The Invincible Ben Springs into Action."
Track House: a VW van filled with suckers; guess the number of suckers, win it all.
Fahrenheit: "from the collection of Peregrine Honig," a pair of dead fawns; quoth the gallerista, wearily anticipating the obvious: "Yes they're real... yes they're dead."
May 13, 2004
2006 ought to prove a banner year for Denver art institutions.
The Denver Art Museum's new Libeskind-designed Frederic C. Hamilton Building will open then, nearly doubling the museum's current size and promising much more gallery space for Modern and Contemporary. Libeskind's angular design joins an, err, eclectic architectural mix, including the museum's current Gio Ponti building and the public library's odd pastiche, with the neoclassical Civic Center Park just across 14th ave. This will be the first Libeskind creation ever to be completed on the continent.
Also by '06, the MCA/Denver plans to be moving to some legitimate digs, recently charging David Adaye with the new building's design. At a target of 15,000-20,000 sq ft, this new building should double or nearly triple their current space (a 7,000 sq ft renovated fish market).
And, in west-suburban Lakewood, developers of the new downtown have worked with Adam Lerner of DAM to develop The Lab, a new experimental contemporary art center slated for late '05/early '06. It's an exciting prospect for a region that still has some difficulty releasing itself from the taste for that whole western cowboy & injun, landscape and color field abstraction thing.
May 11, 2004
At Newsweek and MSNBC, Jonathan Alter throws out some nice, sane image theory regarding Washington's top image warriors:
The assumption last week in Washington was that the damage from this fiasco in the Arab world will last for 50 years, as Sen. Jack Reed put it. For all the power of the humiliating images to confirm the worst assumptions about the United States and strip away its moral authority, this seems exaggerated. Pictures play powerfully on emotions, but emotions—when they don't involve immediate family—are not often enduring. They can change depending on the next pictures and the next sequence of decisions and events. The images from Vietnam—searing as they were—were ultimately a reflection of the policy failures, not the cause of them, and the hatred expressed by Vietnamese toward the Americans who bombed them lasted only a few years. The same goes for Iraq and the Middle East. Just because the damage is done doesn't mean that it cannot, over time, be undone. The problem is whether we have the right leadership to undo it.
Take one Donald Rumsfeld. First, he and President Bush and the rest of the war cabinet ignored Colin Powell's presentation of the Red Cross's evidence of abuses in Iraqi prisons. Then Rumsfeld went on the "Today" show to say he didn't have time to read the long report on Abu Ghraib (what else was so important?) but that "anyone who sees the photographs does, in fact, apologize." Anyone? Who is "anyone"? It wasn't until his job was on the line and he bothered to finally view the pictures that he delivered a proper apology before Congress. Rumsfeld said that it was the pictures that made him realize the seriousness of the reported behavior—the "words [in Pentagon reports] don't do it." But high-level government officials should be capable of responding to horrible abuses under their authority without audio-visual aids. They're paid to make decisions on words and facts and right and wrong, not just on the emotional punch of pictures—or how something might look if it came out. Character, we know, is what you do when you think no one is watching.
May 10, 2004
Why did the Government of Saudi Arabia frame seven westerners for a series of car bombings they didn't commit?
Those car bombings, which began in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in November 2000, killed three members of the expatriate community and severely injured several others. To Western observers, they were clearly the work of Islamic fundamentalists.
But the Saudis were not about to admit that. So five Britons, a Canadian and a Belgian found themselves arrested, systematically tortured into false confessions and eventually convicted of those bombings.
Since the release of the men from a Saudi Arabian jail last summer, it's emerged that the Saudis were secretly using them as pawns in a bigger game - a game that for two of the men almost ended in a terrible death.
One of those men was Dr. William Sampson, a Canadian who now lives in England.
"It initially started with punchings and kickings, and that progressed from beating me on the soles of my feet to being hung upside down in a position known as the chicken -- with your feet uppermost and your feet and backside exposed, readily available for beating," says Sampson. "And between interrogation sessions, I was returned to the same cell and handcuffed to the door, so I couldn't sit down and I couldn't sleep."
He said that after being beating on the soles of his feet and chained to the door, he stood in agony: "There’s no way you can, I could even kneel down in that position, and so I'd be standing on my feet which were swollen, so badly swollen that they were actually exuding plasma through the skin."
How long did it take before he confessed? "On the night of the sixth day is when I started to confess, when I would, I couldn't take any more," says Sampson. "At that stage, I mean, I used to pray that, I would pray during the beatings that I would black out, and I never did. And by that stage, I was actually praying that I would just die."
"I was sentenced to something called Al-Had, which is the most extreme sanction, punishment, that they have and in that you're fixed to a wooden X, which is mounted in the ground, and you are partially beheaded," says Sampson.
So what do the Saudis say about the allegations of torture? Their ambassador in London was the head of Saudi intelligence at the time the men were arrested. After twice postponing an interview with 60 Minutes in the end, his Royal Highness Prince Turki al Faisal declined to talk with us.
But in a letter to a British newspaper, he denied that the men had been tortured into making false confessions. He says torture is illegal in his country and anyone doing it would be punished.
Hell, they were just blowing off some steam. Cut 'em some slack.
May 8, 2004
A more or less full accounting of the Art Chicago 2004 project spaces, listed in the order I encountered them.
From right to left (east to west) along back wall:
Mike Lash with gescheidle: fork over $100, pick a ducky, win a painting... should you not care for your prize and would like to switch, word has it that a bribe on the order of $10 should take care of things
Nancy Mladenoff with Wendy Cooper Gallery: photos of painted mushrooms
Anne Wilson with Roy Boyd Gallery: "Errant Behaviors"... video installation, thread and hair animation
Sarah Tse and Michael Chu with Art Beatus
Laurenz Berges with Patricia Sweetow Gallery: color photos of empty, sun-lit interiors of former Soviet military facilites
Vadim Katznelson with Roy Boyd Gallery: acrylic paint on squares of mylar
Wim Catrysse with Galerie Kusseneers: "Quartet"... video installation
Jaume Plensa with Richard Gray Gallery: large, glowing fiberglass figure
From back to front (north to south) along west wall:
Frank Haines with Jack Hanely Gallery: "A Night of Invited Guidance"(?) featuring "The Gyromatic Deluge"... video/sculpture installation, utterly, fantastically brilliant and still so dumb
Brian Finke with Catherine Edelman Gallery: football and cheerleading
May 6, 2004
Chicago art's annual Navy Pier circle-jerk gets under way tonight with this year's Vernissage/MCA Benefit. I'll be attending the fair with the rest of the plebes tomorrow. It should prove an exhausting day, as I don't think I'll make it to the Stray Show opening tonight and so will hit that tomorrow as well. Here's hoping for a better showing altogether than last year (Caryn of the Art Weblog, posting from the inside, says the Stray "looks like it’s going to be one amazing show," which would indeed mean a world of improvement over '03). My pre-emptive, nearly fail-safe judgment before the fact: the shows will overwhelm all and satisfy few (but that's really just the nature of the beast).
Submitted for your consideration: a brief and ridiculously underinformed preview. Really this is little more than a batch summary judgment almost exclusively based on first impressions of online thumbnails—far from comprehensive, far from fair, and probably laying out my prejudices a bit too baldly. Consider it my walking notes/hit list for tomorrow. [*Update 5/8/04: fair highlights highlighted for improved perusal value]
Come and run the gamut with me:A word about booth numbers: I believe the exhibition hall will be roughly divided in half, with booths numbered in the 100's to the west and the 200's to the east, and with 4 aisles (designated, from south to north, A-D); chances are you will be entering from the south (I think). For a (nearly) complete listing of exhibitors, see TBA's official list here. Note that, as far as I can tell, TBA's list is itself not quite exhaustive: looking at the Howard House website yesterday [via Carolyn Zick] I noticed that, though they are apparently part of the invitational, they remain officially unlisted. Note also that, though I listed all of the info I could find on this year's Project Spaces (considering a lack of such information on the official site), this list is also, I'm fairly certain, not complete; in the past there have usually been something like 15-20 Project Spaces, I've got only 11 listed.
Greg Kucera Gallery, Booth B235: Mark Calderon, William Kentridge, Kerry James Marshall, Jane Hammond, Ed Ruscha, Kara Walker, Jack Daws(I point to Jack Daws mostly for the sake of mentioning how similar his "Agreement" (a union jack in the colors of the Irish flag) is to Mark Wallinger's "Oxymoron", featured outside the British Pavillion at the 2001 Venice Biennale—as an American, I think I missed the full force of its (anti)nationalist flavo(u)r at the time and so found it rather daft, but apparently it proved provocative for the Brits, so mission accomplished I guess)
Arion Press, Booth A116 (Last year someone at Arion Press seemed to get pissed off at me for having the audacity to suppose that the work they had out was there for viewing, even if I'm not hauling a fat wad of cash. Stop by Booth A116 to waste their time by inquiring about this $5K edition. Arion Press: bear witness to hardcore typographic fetishism at work.)
May 2, 2004
On Friday I took a few hours and finally finished off the Rembrandt show. I could have stayed another hour, and I could have spent that hour just staring at his 1659 self-portrait. Kicked out at 4:30, I grabbed a hot dog and hoofed it west down Washington for a speedy jaunt through West Loop gallery openings, then onward to River North.
Overall, it was a mediocre showing, owing in part, I think, to a preponderance of group shows. Understandably, gallerists seem more interested in presenting a cross-section of their artistic stables to the art fair crowd than in taking the risk of a solo show. There were a few highlights, however. A brief run-down:
Bright and brash urban rococo, infectious chromophilia. With his 10 foot paintings hung at 45 degrees in gilded frames, it would be hard to accuse Kehinde Wiley of subtlety. His high-key pastels and neons and his figures suspended in fields of florid, if ocassionally heavy, ornamentation take the baroque aesthetics of Bling into gentler, more classical territory. While in some respects I found the constrast between figuration and decoration to be at times a bit too obvious, these paintings, on the whole, cohere nicely by virtue of Wiley's overwhelming use of plastic color.
In an area fraught with cliches and recycled politicisms, Friese Undine presents works that are thoughtful, smart and provocative takes on the art of propaganda. (For a counter-example, continue up the stairs to see the archness that is "Advise & Dissent" at FLATFILE Contemporary.) Though they have perhaps an overly studied 'vintage' look, in their harsh 1- and 2-color rigor, Undine's paintings edge towards an intelligent cynicism, featuring mottos such as "Greeted By Lusty Boos And Ardent Bravos," "The Classics Still Deprave Us," "He Instisted That It Was Her Idea," "Our Methods Have Not Led Us To A Precise Destination," "A Center From Which To Gauge Aberration," "Above All I Have To The Best Of My Judgement Convinced Myself," and "Even His Closest Friends Don't Know." These are acrylic amalgams of the social and political that, in the meeting of text and image in an often vague and casual tone, immediately called to my mind Goya's Los Caprichos.
There wasn't terribly much to see early on at Vedanta. Live music performance was slated for 6-9, but by 6:30 they were still fiddling with projectors and whatnot, and I had to hitch the Brown Line up to River North (dead-set on seeing the Hans Bellmers at Alan Koppel). Still, I nabbed a free CD, which I cycled through a couple times on the drive home.
This show is the culmination of a year-and-a-half live tour and video project constellated around ex-13th Floor Elevator Roky Erickson's "You Don't Love Me Yet." As I understand it they will be showing video in the main gallery of various performances and the CD recording session through June 5, so if you're in the mood for time-based work (as I so often find I am not), you can still partake of this extended collaborative work.
The project room is devoted to a small group offering, including an Erwin Wurm photo I found particularly pleasing, as well as (and this merits mention in and of itself) wall labels. Amazingly, I found myself able to find an artist's name or a title of a piece without laboriously crossreferencing a 5-page list.
Among the Surrealists, Hans Bellmer's perversions are probably the most difficult to rationalize away and arguably the most consistent in their articulation. These tiny hand-colored prints range, in their own peculiar way, from somewhat playful to purely grotesque, from intimate to aggressive. Collectors had better come prepared with deep pockets. On a pink card mount, one of these 4+ square inch prints will set you back $50K; $65K on an original mount.
By the time I got to Zg, it proved to be the most cramped party in town, so I didn't get much quality personal time in with the paintings on show. Still, I think this color-heavy exhibit definitely demands a second look, particularly Marcelyn McNeil's work. Also featuring: Martina Nehrling, Jackie Tileston, Molly Briggs.
Thomas Kellner's "In America" at Schneider offers a fractured look at familiar architecture, as the artist photographs structures in a piece-meal fashion and rejoins the individual shots in large contact sheets prints, submiting the muddle of the fragment to the sanity of the grid. Doug Fogelson's "Intersections" at Kraft Lieberman tackles the urban fragment through the chaotic refraction of layered photos. Not all are sucessful, but a few are striking. A needed bit of respite is to be found in the project room, devoted to Fogelson's natural imagery. I'm frankly not sure how far beyond neato trickery either Kellner or Fogelson go, but they're worth a gander.