Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My name is Peter, and I'm an Aesthete

The "Village Voice" just wrote a really good profile on Peter Schjeldahl. I can still remember the first time I read his work. It was shortly after my mother had given me a subscription to the "New Yorker" for Christmas.

Since I like to leaf through magazines backwards, I ran into his piece first, and was immediately absorbed. Thereafter I would look forward to his pieces with excitement. And though anyone who has ever subscribed the "New Yorker" knows that the magazines inevitably pile up in a "to-read" pile that never sees a real dent (until one summons the force of character to be honest enough to say to oneself, "You are never going to read all of those; get rid of at least half")...I still hoard the magazine and devour his work first.

It's worth noting that my reading of the magazine didn't start at adulthood. When I was little, I used to look through the “New Yorker” for the cartoons. I didn’t understand all of them, but I loved the fact that so many ideas could be expressed through the right combination of pen strokes and verbs. In fact, some of my best memories of growing up are of leafing through a compendium of “New Yorker” cartoons, with my brother, on the daybed in my grandfather’s house.

The never-quite-comfortable itch of the red and black L.L. Bean Hudson’s Bay Point wool blanket that grandfather covered the daybed with, the sun going down across the lake, and the grown-ups talking about interminably boring things like taxes, bills, and health, heightened the sense that my brother and I were doing something that was somehow subversive (not to mention incredibly entertaining).

In the cartoon compendium, there was a marriage of wit, style and occasionally, a bit of grown-up naughtiness that I understood. And it wasn’t until I began reading Schjeldahl that I experienced that feeling on being “on the inside” of the “New Yorker” again.

So it was with real pleasure that I read the “Voice’s” piece. My only complaint? That it wasn’t longer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dreaming of Black Mountain

This weekend I spent some time with a friend of mine, he’s an artist and a professor, and where I tend to be didactic, he sees the humanity in just about everyone. It’s a good lesson to remember; it is easy to slide down a slippery slope into absolutism…especially when dealing with art and artists.

Also this weekend, Dreaming of Black Mountain opened at the Jane Gray gallery in Riverside/Brooklyn. Featuring the work of Kurt Polkey and Morrison Pierce, the name alone raised questions of what it means to be a part of an artistic community. So, I eagerly anticipated the work…and I was curious about the place where the artists’ work would intersect, as they are friends, and in the past have been studio-mates.

Both artists are making work that addresses the art scene in Jacksonville, and both artists have invested in a curiously precious sort of anti-art aesthetic. Pierce’s works, in paint and sculpture share an ethos with that former “bad-boy” of Jacksonville: Lee Harvey. Using crafty materials—a play-do-esque clay, bacon bags, and children’s guns, Pierce’s work made the kind of glaringly obvious points that Harvey once sought to make with his work.

Two pieces leap to mind, “Jacksonville Art Prison,” and another work (whose name I can’t recall) that featured a tiny graveyard outside of an office. The work was about the grinding numbness that office workers inevitably experience. When asked if he is, in fact, an office worker, Pierce answered with a kind of über cool hauteur, that no, he wasn’t. And offered no further illumination.

Polkey’s works vacillated between paired-down, oversized paintings and tiny, tiny, drawings. The larger works, especially those of horses, draw heavily on Susan Rothenburg’s works, and, closer to home—the works of Tod Murphy that were recently exhibited at MOCA.

His landscape, with the word “landscape” stencilled across the sky, recalls Ruscha’s series, “Course of an Empire” which were themselves, related to Tomas Cole’s “Course of Empire.” Cole was the founder of the Hudson River School, and perhaps that is why Polkey chose to paint his landscape with a blue-yellow sky and tobacco/sepia earth. Perhaps too, it explains the decision to shoot the video installation accompanying the show in tones and tints of high yellow as well.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Earthworks for your ring finger

Christine J. Brandt ring

A year or so ago, I was reading one of Village Voice writer Lynn Yeager's articles. In it, she talked about the role that that art plays in fashion, and fashion plays in art. She also made the observation that often; she will prefer a couture gown, or a design from an "outsider designer" to contemporary art. Now, while I don't necessarily agree wholeheartedly, I do think that there is veracity in the idea that sometimes the craftsmanship of fashion trumps that of its artistic counterparts.

So when I saw the jewelry from Christine J. Brandt, in addition to taking my breath away, it struck me as really authentic (authentic meaning thoughtful, articulate and true to a vision) work that balances on the line between fashion and art. The raw material contrasting with the highly realized wood base is (to my mind) reminiscent of earthworks and other installation pieces that can normally only be enjoyed in situ or in a photograph, while this, one can wear. That being said, with prices in the low thousands, it might be the photographs that get enjoyed yet.

And in a delightful coincidence, Lynn Yeager just wrote a piece about a photography show of rockers cum photographers, curated by Lou Reed. I tend to be suspicious of these shows, as its hard to celebrate the artistic vision of someone whose technical skill might be good, but whose vision, is, for lack of a better description: as trite as freshmen college students'.

However, what these shows might lack in artistic merit, they more than make up for in prurience. Unlike the paparazzi shots, or TMZ videos, these shots are composed and intimate, the subjects in a relaxed and informal setting. In this respect they are reminiscent of a suite of images that Warhol shot in the late 70s. They were shown at J. Johnson, and the fact that they were celebrity snapshots, by a celebrity artist made them of passing interest, but not necessarily art...more like artifacts.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rent a Negro

Kara Walker at La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, (the City of Architecture and Heritage)

Interior of La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine

Damali Ayo on Bill O'Reilly

I was just in Miami visiting a friend of mine, Russ. We've been friends since like, the second week of college freshman year. Now he's a NYC police officer. I say this because the school we went to (Clark University) is a bastion of liberal thought, with a small student body and overlapping social groups; nevertheless there was a fair amount of self-segregation between the innermost circles of students (everybody partied together, but didn't necessarily study together).

At Clark, while there were organized discussions of race, class, and gender, there wasn't a whole lot of discussion outside of the classroom...though in a few memorable instances there were fights. Sometimes over racial issues, sometimes over a boyfriend or girlfriend where race and ego played factors.

So it startled me one day when we were out drinking, that he began to talk--in a very candid way--about the inherent societal advantages that I, as a white woman, had over him. It was an uncomfortable and heartbreaking conversation; I was forced to confront my own assumptions and biases, including my never-really-articulated ideas about what his life was like, coming from an upper-middle-class family and having a prep school education.

Since then, we've talked on and off about race and gender, how they've affected our lives, how our own ideas have changed. Then this weekend, he told me about a book he'd read "How to Rent a Negro" by the artist Damali Ayo. In short it talks about the cultural cache of having a black friend, and in fact, how to rent a negro.

The book is satire, but raises intriguing questions about the perceptions of race in America, and the expectations between races: i.e. a white woman making the assumption that is okay, appropriate even, to call a black woman she has just met, "sister," or "girl" when in fact, they are not even friends.

So it was a coincidence that while reading the blog, bronxbiannual.blogspot.com, I stumbled across a short recording of a conversation with Kara Walker about her work which was installed at La Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine museum in Paris.

Walker's work is projected onto a screen and slowly moves over the walls and architectural elements in the room, it's a simple use of technology, but very effective. Though unlike Ayo's work, it does not force the viewer to cast a light on his or her own (racist or not) ideologies. Her work, while jarring and graphic is also startlingly beautiful and because of that beauty, it is initially more palatable.

However, the success of both these artists does imply the question: Where are Jacksonville's black artists? I know that once a year, the Ritz Theatre mounts the show, "Through Our Eyes" --a group show designed to spotlight some of Jacksonville's African American talent, but really, save for one or two people, I can't think of any artists of color participating in the Jacksonville scene.

I wonder what that means.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Je ne sais quois

I’ll be out of town for a few days, but I thought I’d leave this snippet of the most recent Deitch-sponsored art parade for people to ogle over.

The parade, which seems to be equal parts (male and female) nudity and performance work I think espouses a certain overarching NYC aesthetic. I say this, because it isn’t the first time I’ve had this thought…and it seems to manifest itself again and again.

The first time it struck me was the first time I visited NYC, I was eighteen and prepared for a world of blaring black, of arched-eyebrow sophistication combined with a certain gritty je ne sais quois. I was wrong, the NYC of 1993 was filled with glittering club-boys and girls, tromping through the streets in impossible platform sneakers and boots, puffy-jacketed thugs in Timberland boots with insane grills, and neo-hippy, vegan, piercing aficionados.

In short: less sophistications, more neon colors and outré-ness for its own sake. (It might also bear mentioning that as I was taking in these sites my hair was cropped close to my head a la George Clooney, I wore tight boy’s tee-shirts, big jeans, and shoes that looked like Frankenstein’s cast-offs).

Even now though, that hallucinatory ethos seems pervasive: a certain lack of subtlety, an embracement of fake fur in faker colors, glitter, and general carelessness. I see it too in the art, jewelry, and clothing being made, as if every voice is screaming to be heard. And, succinctly: I see it in this video.

Or perhaps I’ve lived in the comparative peace and quiet of Jacksonville for too long now.

That being said, the general absurdity and temporal nature of the parade reminded me of the heyday of the Limelight, the Tunnel, other ridiculous clubs of the day, and of a drag performer I once knew named Soigne; it made me smile.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Your Momma's Fat

(pictured) Mark Creegan installation

The other day, I ran into Kurt Polkey. Kurt has always been one of my favorite people to talk to…he’s hilarious in a very low-key kind of way and he’s thoughtful and humble too. We got to talking about blogs and in particular the post here about the Dan Colen, Dash Snow *NEST* project Deitch.

I had pretty much lambasted it as a folly, transfigured by a voyeuristic youth-worshipping culture into something both greater and lesser than the original premise (tear up a bunch of phone books, take a bunch of drugs, try to be a hamster). But I’d also acknowledged that I hadn’t seen in person--admittedly not the most ideal circumstances under which to review artwork.

Kurt had actually just returned from a trip to NYC. Here’s what he had to say about the work “I read the blog about *NEST*, the show at Deitch. I saw that show! I tried to post a comment, but it didn’t seem to want to work for me today. The show was impressive in person, but not as impressive as others I’ve seen. The word I used on the blog was neat […] The idea I found more interesting was the class of the artists swaying the way the work was seen or understood. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. What if the artist was a woman or a black man? Class, gender, and race in art is a great topic for discussion.”

So I got to thinking about the cultural construct of the artist and how that ideal has changed over the past, say 30 years….but from my in-situ perspective about 10 years. If one uses Jacksonville as a microcosm of the art world, it’s interesting to see how the “players” have constructed and reconfigured themselves. This also falls neatly into place in the wake of *Portent, I said Portent* over at Pedestrian Projects and Kurt's call to arms.

Kurt decried the Jax., scene for being to “nice.” He wants to see blood drawn and he’s even got his own champion, local filmmaker Morrison.

So after a weekend to ponder *Portent* here’s are a couple of things to consider in looking at work (and not just this show):

a. Is the work new? Some of it (I’m fairly sure) has been shown before, or given pretty hefty web exposure. This isn’t a bad thing per se, as the interweb is a great way to connect people, and gain exposure, but in a show that purports to look forward, in a market this small, why exhibit previously shown works?...If all the work is new, maybe the artist(s) should consider the cost of churning out work for the sake of art shows, not for the sake of creative exploration.

b. Self-editing. I believe this is a problem many artists suffer from, and I don’t think it’s entirely their fault—I think the myths and monsters of art history have a great bit to do with this. Auction houses that regularly post sales in the hundreds of thousands for a great master’s sketch feed the myth that everything from an artist’s hand is worth saving and that’s simply not true. Back to self editing, while Kurt’s smaller drawn works were very successful in that they articulate his aesthetic within a finite framework, the paintings were disjunctive in that they were neither the overly simplified, quasi-political pieces of yore, nor a more full articulation of an evolved idea.

BTW Kurt, my champ vs. yours any day.

...Not Pass This Way Again

you will be missed

Monday, September 3, 2007

Elephant Walk

Topiary is quirky; reminiscent of fussy English garden-parties and arch witticisms exchanged over glasses of Pims.

Located on the corner of Osceola and Ernest, there’s an elephant sprouting from the ground. At first glance it seems like a fortuitous mishap; yard trash piled together and with a trick of light, an elephant appears. However, after close observation, it’s obvious that this is a deliberate project on the part of the homeowner.

Subtle, and one assumes somewhat spontaneous, this expression of whimsy and care might begin to capture the spirit of an age that is (hopefully) looking forward to a more responsible stewardship of natural resources and the environment. Crafted of renewable resources, and requiring minimal tending, the topiary elephant is more than a nod to centuries of British tea-parties. It obliquely exemplifies the ways in which humanity can work against the earth and with it—and whether this is a conscious or unconscious gesture, it doesn’t really matter. Plus, the elephant is so out-of-context as to be delightful.