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October 27, 2004

Rhymes With Blow

Lately there's been some local ink devoted to international art stars and part-time Bridgeport residents "the Zhou (Pronounced 'Joe') Brothers" on the occassion of their dual exhibitions at the Elmhurst Art Museum and the Chicago Cultural Center. Alan G. Artner of the Trib says, Finally they're a phenomenon and Mark Athitakis from the Sun-Times has us Getting in sync with the Zhou Brothers, while Michael Workman of Newcity is busy getting down with the Big brothers.

All detail the brothers' fascinating partnership. All chronicle their fabulous journey from East to West and back again. Workman, for his part, really gets out of hand with the poetic description, captivated as he is by Benzos, Appletinis and the Zhous' "flowing black manes." Remarkably absent from all of this, however, is any real discussion of the art. But I suppose this is just as well; their paintings are cold and formulaic, and I suspect these writers know it. But assignments beckon and so we're treated to the lovely bios of these supposed neglected local heroes.

Check Athitakis:

"...When we came to this country, we were looking for a bigger stage. We had come to this country by invitation, but we came here to start another dream—for the biggest international stage that we could have."
That mission has been accomplished—at least overseas and in the international art market, where one of their paintings or sculptures can sell for $250,000. But esteem within Chicago has sometimes been stingy. Obligations overseas take the Zhous away from the city seven to eight months a year, and the Zhous are well aware that neither the Art Institute of Chicago nor the Museum of Contemporary Art owns one of their works.
"In Chicago for the past 10 to 20 years, they've only had smaller gallery shows—nothing that really speaks to their reputation," said Lanny Silverman, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs' curator of exhibitions and one of the Zhou Brothers' exhibit's organizers.
Opinions vary as to why. "I think that their earlier work, which is very visceral, almost caveman-like, wasn't something that was popular here," said Scott Ashley, assistant director of River North's Perimeter Gallery, which is exhibiting some of the Zhous' most recent paintings through Oct. 19. "Here, the interest was in more formal abstraction, or things that were more poppy."
"They're unique in that they've had this ability to move from culture to culture in their work," said Dr. Wu Hung, an art history professor at the University of Chicago and co-curator of the MCA's current exhibit of contemporary Chinese photography and video art. He notes that such flexibility, however, makes the Zhous somewhat out of step within contemporary Chinese art. "They're more like Western artists. For some people, they're hard to place."
Silverman suggests that another issue may be simple jealousy. "Some people might resent their success," he said. "But as good as they are at playing the art game, they're also good at being supportive of other artists."
Da Huang is diplomatic about the matter. "We have many pieces in many other museum collections, and if in Chicago they don't have our paintings, they must have their reasons," he says. "But that's not our concern. Our concern is with what we're going to create."

Peep Workman:

None of this commercial luxe deters either Da Huang or Shan Zuo from a heady stream of socializing, both decked out in tuxedos, effortlessly trading one conversationalist for another. As deft at the art-world game as they are with a brush, their canvases and sculptures now command as much as a cool quarter million. And no wonder. As they're talking, they move a circle of admirers downstairs, into a massive room where their work hangs for them to "live with it for awhile," as Shan Zuo explains. It's absolutely packed; even the DJ's wearing a suit. They stroll through the throng of guests, past servers wielding trays of crème brulee in silver spoons, past piles of empty martini and champagne glasses. It's definitely a party, but also a celebration of their art and the brothers love every minute of it. No doubt they'll also love every minute of the retrospective "Zhou Brothers: 30 Years of Collaboration" going up simultaneously at two Chicago institutions in the next few weeks.

Now sober up with Paul Klein, who offered a more honest (if typically gentle) take on the Zhous at Perimeter last month:

And as much as I am a sucker for things Chinese this show by the Zhou Brothers is not one of them. They make competent abstract paintings that feel like high-decorator to me, just plain void of emotion, feeling, or meaning. The Zhou Brothers themselves are fascinating individuals working together as a team with a great studio space. And a lot of people like their work.

"Rhymes With Blow"
Posted by Dan at 05:49 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (0)

October 25, 2004

Farewell, Mr. Darger

A tidbit garnered from my gallery hop last Friday...

Carl Hammer Gallery recently learned that last month's Henry Darger exhibit would be the last gallery show of his work on behalf of his estate. From what I could gather, Kiyoko Lerner (widow of photographer Nathan Lerner), who administers the estate, wishes to take a step or two back from the hubbub of the market to reassess the future of what remains of his body of work.

All told, Darger produced less than 300 illustrations to accompany his 15,000+ page text, including only 87 of the large tableaux that most of us are probably most familiar with. 30 works went to the Collection de l'Art Brut in Switzerland, 22 were sold in 2000 to the American Folk Art Museum in New York (along with most of the written material) to add to the four they already owned, and there are fourteen scattered locally between the Art Institute, the MCA, the Smart Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum (and more elsewhere, including several pieces reportedly accessioned by MoMA). And considering the fact that the Lerners have been selling his work since 1979, I'd imagine quality Dargers are in increasingly short supply. I would imagine (hope), too, that Kiyoko Lerner retains the desire to keep some remaining portions of the oeuvre intact. Perhaps there will be a push toward more museum acquisitions.

Although the Darger show ended a few weeks ago, a number of the works remain on display in Carl Hammer's upstairs space, where I'm told they'll stay through the end of the year. So pay a visit to the Vivian Girls while you can. Unless the Art Institute, the MCA or some inspired moneybags suddenly realizes what kind of local treasure we have in Darger, it may be some time before the war clouds of Jennie Richee darken the skies around these parts again (though, keep an eye trained on Intuit).

Books on Darger...:

The Old Man in the Polka-Dotted Dress: Looking for Henry Darger by C. L. Morrison
Henry Darger : Art and Selected Writings by Henry Darger and Michael Bonesteel
Darger: The Henry Darger Collection at the American Folk Art Museum by Brook Davis Anderson and Michel Thevoz
Henry Darger: Disasters of War by Henry Darger, Klaus Biesenbach and Kiyoko Lerner
Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal by John M. MacGregor

...and much, much more:

In the Realms of the Unreal, a feature documentary that premiered at this year's Sundance
Salon.com review of MacGregor's Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal
NYTimes: "Folk Museum Gets Works of a Self-Taught Artist" (Oct 4, 2000)
Art in America: "Thank heaven for little girls" (Jan 1998)
Chicago Tribune: "Henry Darger Moves Out" (December 17, 2000)

"Farewell, Mr. Darger"
Posted by Dan at 11:30 AM | Referenced URL's | Comments (1)

October 19, 2004

Playoffs been very very good to me

Posting has been light and may remain so as I've been snared in the neon claws of playoff baseball. This is a surprise considering that my dogs aren't in this fight, not to mention my general reluctance to buy into the Yankees–Red Sox hype shoveled from out East. Yet here I find myself, watching literally hours upon hours of baseball and bearing more ill will towards total strangers than would ever be considered healthy. And, as they rage back on the bat of Big Papi Ortiz, should Boston somehow manage the historic comeback to advance, I'm certain to be out of commission for a while longer.

Last night over in the NLCS, while awaiting Jeff Kent's bottom-of-the-ninth bomb that gave the Astros a 3–2 series lead, I found myself comparing in my mind's eye Houston's current, relatively sedate look to those unmistakable unis of yore (God bless the Wayback Machine). Tuning in to Coudal today we find Jim and Co. beeming with pride (and showing us where these Chicagoans' loyalties lie):

We have very good friends at the Astros. Dedicated, smart, nice people who deserve success. We love the way the team plays. We've been fans of Bags and Biggio for just about ever. We love that Rocket came home to play. But most of all, we love the fact that the logo and uniforms we designed might be heading to the World Series. Go Stros!

"Playoffs been very very good to me"
Posted by Dan at 05:43 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (0)

October 14, 2004

Paul Klein's Latest Venture

At the beginning of September, Paul Klein (formerly of Klein Art Works, which closed up shop this past May) started up Art Letter, through which he will offer regular run-downs of current and upcoming Chicago gallery offerings in the form of an email newsletter with web archive:

Here’s the idea. I have asked the 67 galleries in Chicago I like the best to send me information and images about forthcoming exhibits. If I can embrace an exhibit I will send an email to you letting you know and encourage you to see it.

True to form, Klein also hosts a message board (with space for discussion as well as press releases) and reader-submited reviews.

If his letters to this point prove typical, I can say that this could easily become my go-to source on Chicago gallery happenings. Check it out and subscribe today.

* * *

Here's a plea that closes out his current letter:

Chicago galleries need our support. With no cover charge, they are doing their damnedest to enrich our lives and we stay away in droves. It is often a struggle for galleries to make ends meet. To garner our attention, they take risks. Sometimes we notice and care—sometimes we don't. As you can easily tell, I am interested in growing Chicago's already strong art community. I encourage you to do so too. I know how pleasant it is to buy art on your vacation, but I also know how much better it would be if we stashed that urge and shopped at home. Chicago's galleries are making your life better, even if you never ever step foot in that gallery. Please do what you can to reciprocate, support them, nurture them and encourage them, even if it is only to attend an exhibit and in leaving say "thank you."

"Paul Klein's Latest Venture"
Posted by Dan at 04:17 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (2)

George Bush, Art Lover

If you're like me, you were impressed last night when Bush led off his closing statement with something of a mini-crit on a work of art by an El Paso artist named Tom Lee Tom Lea, "a West Texas painting, a painting of a mountain scene." Turns out Fearless Leader is a lover of pictures. Who knew?

[*Update: Cynthia at Fresh Paint sets me and the White House steno pool straight on the spelling of Mr. Lea's name. She also points to the picture Georgie speaks of (on loan from the El Paso Museum of Art), as well as one he didn't happen to mention (or try this one on for size, more on which here). Light From the Sky, a Tom Lea retrospective, is currently on tour and is up in Wheaton, IL through October 20.]

Here are some expanded remarks from January 9, 2004 (note the courageous stand this President took against foreboding rugs):

And so if you were ever to come in the Oval Office, I want you to recognize that the office itself represents something bigger than people, bigger than an individual.
The first thing you'd notice there, I think, is a rug. It turns out each President designs his own rug. Being the delegator that I am—and I think if you were to ask any Cabinet officer and/or member of my administration he'd say, President Bush is a good delegator. Well, I delegated the design of the rug to our fabulous First Lady. (Applause.) Her taste is better than mine. (Laughter.)
But as a Chief Executive Officer should, I gave her some go-bys. I said I want people, when they walk in this office, to feel optimistic. Whereas, I didn't want the rug to be foreboding, I wanted it to be open and light and bright. And so when you come in there, you'll see that the rug looks like the sun, the rays of the sun. And that's how I feel. As a matter of fact, that's how any leader of an organization should feel. You shouldn't be leading an organization if you don't see the world as a better place. Imagine me standing up in front of the country and saying "Follow me, the world is going to be worse." (Laughter.)
I don't have to fake it though. I believe so strongly in what America stands for that there is no doubt that so long as we take the lead in matters of peace and freedom, the world will be a better place. (Applause.)
The President gets to put pictures on the wall, paintings they call them—pictures in Crawford, paintings in Washington. (Laughter.) Let me describe some of the artwork that we have on the wall.
First, there's a lot of paintings from Texas. The San Antonio Museum of Fine Arts loaned us the picture of the Alamo, of course, and Scenes of West Texas, the fabulous painting from my friend Tom Lee [sic], an El Paso citizen. And by the way, Laura's mom was raised in El Paso, and El Paso has always had a special place in her heart as a result of it. Tom Lee—it's a West Texas painting, scene. It's that part of West Texas where there's actually relief. The part of West Texas where Laura and I were raised, there's nothing but flat. This is a place where there's mountains.
Here's what he said, he said "Sarah and I live on the east side of the mountain. It's the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It's the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that is gone." That's what that piece of artwork said to Tom. It says to me every day I went in there. It kind of mirrors what I was talking about, about the rug.

"George Bush, Art Lover"
Posted by Dan at 11:57 AM | Referenced URL's | Comments (1)

October 13, 2004

A More Virtuous Circle

One glance last Tuesday at the layout of Fiona Tan's Correction at the MCA turned my thoughts immediately to Jeremy Bentham and his notorious model of surveillance and control, the all-seeing Panopticon:

The essence of it consists, then, in the centrality of the inspector's situation, combined with the well-known and most effectual contrivances for seeing without being seen. As to the general form of the building, the most commodious for most purposes seems to be the circular: but this is not an absolutely essential circumstance. Of all figures, however, this, you will observe, is the only one that affords a perfect view, and the same view, of an indefinite number of apartments of the same dimensions: that affords a spot from which, without any change of situation, a man may survey, in the same perfection, the whole number, and without so much as a change of posture, the half of the whole number, at the same time...

Correction is installed as a circle, with six rear-projection screens positioned around a central group of viewing benches. Projected on each screen are a series of brief video portraits featuring inmates and guards from four prisons in Illinois and California shot in their institutional environs. As the portrait subjects stare stiffly out at us, in static poses recalling the long exposures of early portrait photography, we also hear the ambient din of their surroundings through a small speaker above each screen.

As with the Panopticon, this setup offers a "perfect view" from which one may efficiently survey the scene from one's seat with little more than a turn of the head. And, considering the subject matter, Bentham's prototype penitentiary certainly suggests itself as an appropriate point of reference, if not properly a model (while none of the statements or written materials make mention of Bentham, I notice that according to the MCA press release the exhibition catalogue contains, among other things, "historical prison photographs, early drawings of the panopticon, and examples of prison architecture"). Might it be said that Tan's project further echoes Bentham's in its coercive structure, intrusively subjecting these people, as it does, to the camera's eye?

I find this particular parallel unconvincing beyond casual comparison. Leaving aside the fact that the work does not come off as exploitative in the least, we'd still have to acknowledge that these individuals are not being surveilled in any real sense. The "eye" that captured them was neither invisible nor ubiquitous but a merely temporary and rather conspicuous intrusion, and so the form of control that it embodies differs dramatically from that of Bentham's inspector's lodge, which depends for its power on, above all, a perceived sense of the inspector's perpetual presence:

It is obvious that, in all these instances, the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose X of the establishment have been attained. Ideal perfection, if that were the object, would require that each person should actually be in that predicament, during every instant of time. This being impossible, the next thing to be wished for is, that, at every instant, seeing reason to believe as much, and not being able to satisfy himself to the contrary, he should conceive himself to be so.
You will please to observe, that though perhaps it is the most important point, that the persons to be inspected should always feel themselves as if under inspection, at least as standing a great chance of being so, yet it is not by any means the only one. If it were, the same advantage might be given to buildings of almost any form. What is also of importance is, that for the greatest proportion of time possible, each man should actually be under inspection. This is material in all cases, that the inspector may have the satisfaction of knowing, that the discipline actually has the effect which it is designed to have: and it is more particularly material in such cases where the inspector, besides seeing that they conform to such standing rules as are prescribed, has more or less frequent occasion to give them such transient and incidental directions as will require to be given and enforced, at the commencement at least of every course of industry. And I think, it needs not much argument to prove, that the business of inspection, like every other, will be performed to a greater degree of perfection, the less trouble the performance of it requires.
Not only so, but the greater chance there is, of a given person's being at a given time actually under inspection, the more strong will be the persuasion—the more intense, if I may say so, the feeling, he has of his being so.

Absent this consistent, watchful presence, and with the subjects of these portraits captured only within the bounds of a clearly delimited window of attention, what is achieved is a representation almost precisely opposed to the apparently candid reality rendered through surveillance. As they blink, flinch or struggle to hold back laughter, these individuals' various self-conscious poses reveal themselves as such, frustrating any desire for authentic engagement. In a certain sense Tan turns the Panopticon inside out, reversing the dynamic of inspection and leaving us, the viewers, the objects of an opaque gaze that confronts while offering little more than a staid mask in return. Of course this is to exaggerate somewhat, but it gets at an essential point: the peculiarly reserved visibility Tan's work offers her subjects.

* * *

Concerned though he is with systems of seeing and being seen, something Bentham only briefly addresses is the enforced social invisibility imposed by the correctional system. Offenders are isolated and hidden from the view of healthy society, literally behind the walls of the institution and figuratively behind a screen of social stigma. In Bentham we find them hidden from one another:

In the condition of our prisoners (for so I will call them for shortness sake) you may see the student's paradox, nunquam minus solus quam cum solus, realized in a new way: to the keeper, a multitude, though not a crowd; to themselves, they are solitary and sequestered individuals.

This is where Fiona Tan might offer her own correction (so to speak). Exhibition materials inform us of her interest "in making visible a distinct segment of society that becomes invisible within the walls of correctional facilities." Elsewhere we are further told that she feels that "with a filmed image, we 'become less aware of the image and more aware of the person as an image, the person within, or even behind, the image.'" But this awareness of the person "behind the image" is achieved not by a penetration below the surface of the image, but by that surface's very resistance to our efforts at breaching it. If we are made aware of such a presence it is not to say we know or understand it, but rather that we are haunted by a presence we are obliged to acknowledge but cannot apprehend.

These men and women remain at a disinterested arm's length, resistant to our every interrogation. If we come to Tan's work wishing to peer into their souls, this deliberately restrained presentation urges us to temper such expectations. However, this aloofness is less a matter of their disposition than of Tan's approach to them. Engaging in specific pictorial conventions and devices in terms of framing and pose, with expressed reference to historical aesthetic forms, she seems to deliberately foreground the image as an image (despite claims to the contrary). The images appear, if not mannered, then at least formally well-considered. And so we find the wall of the prison replaced by that of aesthetic mediation.

Such aesthetic distancing often gets a bad rap in the corridors of Theory (where some may call it "violence"), perhaps on account of its core of moderation. It does, after all, express a liberal agnosticism that renounces immediate passions for the apparently secondary appeal of remote impartiality. Yet, while it might be argued that in imposing her own aesthetic prescriptions upon her subjects Tan betrays their existence for a contrivance, I think her approach is ultimately (maybe ironically) fostered by a deep respect. Though she has no doubt applied a mask of her own making to those she represents, I would call it one of epistemic modesty: it's a mask that in its visibility both attests to the presence of its wearer and reveals the limits of our vision, offering in its recognition of this fundamental ignorance a deference to the unknowable depths behind it.

It bears forth the basic proposition that, though we may read their badges or count their tattoos, we cannot know these people in themselves. Filmed just as and where they live, yet divested of their customary social identifications, these individuals appear to us neither saddled with the labels of their institutional status nor simply ripped from their realities to play the empty avatars of artifice. And, notably, they are not marshaled expediently towards any explicit proposition or ideological conviction. These portraits simply bear witness to their humanity, with a respect for their individual sovereignty and a check on the arrogance that desires to lay its claims to them.

It is invisibility transformed—a monumental silence that speaks to a most human dignity.

* * *

The question of who these men and women are, in themselves, excedes the horizons of any understanding. The dispassionate surfaces of the images bear this fact out in their very omissions. And yet the possibility of visibility rests on a convergence of horizons, where the surface of the image intersects with the surface of our vision. Such a convergence without domination carries with it a renewed sense of the reciprocity of vision, that conjunction of seeing and being seen that Jeremy Bentham sought to undermine for the sake of "obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example," through an architectural partition that relegates the seen to the periphery and the seeing to the center. As we jetison such hubris and reunite these mutual bases of vision, center and periphery collapse and a more modest vision of the circle prevails.

The first of three commissioned works created through The Three M Project, a joint venture of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York) and the UCLA Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), Fiona Tan's Correction is on display at the MCA from October 2, 2004–January 23, 2005.

"A More Virtuous Circle"
Posted by Dan at 03:58 AM | Referenced URL's | Comments (0)

October 11, 2004

Getting to Know You

The results from the art blog readers survey are in. 198 readers responded, 15% of whom read this here weblog on at least a weekly basis (9%, or 17 respondents, once or more daily). But there are so many figures to sift through I don't know where to begin. I could really use someone to Tufte-ify this stuff for me—I am a visual guy for Christ's sake. Nonetheless, some quick first impressions...

Just for the sake of solidifying Tyler Green's status as Art Blog Dean, let me note that MAN rather unsurprisingly runs away with the frequency-read stat, blowing away the competition with 62% of readers (114 of 185 respondents) checking in once or more daily (and, I believe, his is the only site that the majority of all respondents read more than "occassionally"). Tyler's nearest competitor checks in with 28% (47 of 168) reading once or more daily, with third place at a healthy 22% (35 of 157). (Note that a few listed weblogs that most certainly should've ranked with MAN, notably greg.org and About Last Night, did not advertise the survey themselves and so are probably not effectively represented here.)

Moderately surprising stat (to me, anyway):

How old are you?
30–39 (40.9%), 40–55 (27.6%), 19–29 (24.9%), 56 or over (6.6%), 18 or under (0%), with 17 readers skipping the question

Truly outstanding stat:

How often do you travel outside your home region specifically to see art (e.g., a museum’s permanent collection or a special exhibition)?
2–4 times a year (38.3%) + 5 or more times a year (20.2%) = 58.5% (107 of 183 responses, only 15 abstaining).

Some comments excerpted—grist for the mill:

"My biggest problem with most art blogs is that they don't post enough... As a contemporary art collector in the lower midwest, I really want/need more interaction with people who care about the same things I do."
"The first list of blogs that were provided, many of them i had to say that i read only occassionally or not at all, not because i dont like them, many of them i think are fantastic and would read everyday, but sadly they are updated so infrequently that i dont even bother to check for new content anymore."
"I am most rewarded in reading the art blogs when I find myself wanting to go see whatever the writer is referring to, or nodding my ehad [sic] in approval or disapproval with whatever is written. All of you, keep it up. It's a great service and I hope more people start doing it. Thanks."
"The major cities ought to have Better artbloggers."
"Too many blogs have names that sound the same."
"OK. What the fuck. I can only read artblogs and see art, for that matter, because I make a point of NOT doing surveys like this -- which are usually put out by corporations in search of some way to better sell something I don't want."
"My only request of art bloggers who visit commercial galleries, when possible, is to try and list prices."
"Maybe a consortium of artblogs?"

More from Todd, Todd and Caryn.

"Getting to Know You"
Posted by Dan at 02:19 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (3)

October 9, 2004

Need some wood?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I own a timber company? That's news to me. (Laughter.) Need some wood? (Laughter.)


LTSF, LLCLone Star Trust (50% share) → George W. Bush.

LSTF, LLC, a limited liability company organized on 02-10-03 for the purpose of the production of trees for commercial sales. Company is owned equally by The Lone Star Trust (George W. Bush, Grantor) and John Taylor. No commercial sales are anticipated until the year 2007.

It turns out that the $84 in 2001 income Kerry refered to, which qualifies Bush as a small business under BC04's generous definition, did not in fact come from this commercial tree business that Bush apparently hadn't realized he owns a 50% share of (I suppose it is held through a blind trust). Rather, it came from (where else) the oil industry.

"Need some wood?"
Posted by Dan at 11:31 AM | Referenced URL's | Comments (0)

October 6, 2004

Getting All International On Us

Brian Sholis (apparently just back from Chicago) points to Time Zones: Recent Film and Video opening at the Tate Modern, which he says "has a spot-on selection of young artists who are just now receiving their first US museum exposure".

Something notable in this respect, at least from this midwestern vantage, is that 3 of the 9 artists in Time Zones have projects at Chicago museums this month, two of which feature newly commissioned works: Yang Fudong (China), currently showing at the Renaissance Society, with one film, Liu Lan, also included in the MCA portion of Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China; Fiona Tan (born Indonesia, works Netherlands), whose Correction (a joint commission between the MCA, Hammer and the New Museum) opened last Saturday; and Anri Sala (born Albania, works France), who has an Art Institute commission appearing there towards the end of the month.

"Getting All International On Us"
Posted by Dan at 03:41 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (0)