Monday, December 21, 2009

Donut Holes and Art Basel

This December I finally made it to Art Basel, Miami. For the past five or so years I have been traveling when Basel comes to town, so I missed it. Heading down south this first time, I must confess to a kind of country-mouse-going-to-the-big-city-nervousness. I must also confess that I fully expected I95 southbound to be clogged with travelers headed south to Miami. But then, a friend reminded me that as important as Basel is, it is still “just art…” Suffice to say my assumptions were incorrect on both parts.

The main reason I wanted to head south was to goggle at Jenny Rubell’s donut installation. I’d read about her food/opening/installation for the Performa 09 Biennial: an “interactive culinary experience,” based on the book of Genesis. The goal was: Five hundred guests moving through three floors, eating a course on each. Honey will drip from the ceiling onto 2,000 pounds of barbecued ribs (think: God creating woman) and guests were asked to destroy and consume chocolate facsimiles of Jeff Koons's bunny sculpture (made by Jacques Torres).” Interspersed in the exhibit were 1,000 lbs of peanuts in the shell, drinks served in assorted Mason jars, and full-sized apple trees felled for the exhibit.

When I first read about this great festival of consumption and destruction, several thoughts occurred rather simultaneously:

1. She’s using food that though uniquely American, is regionally Southern. Ribs, peanuts, Mason jars, even honey evoke a specific image of a non-specific place.

2. It’s the time of year when people turn towards large, communal feasts…the desire to dress in spangles and glitz at odds with the primary activity of the season: eating and drinking.

3. The communal, almost primitive nature of gnawing flesh of ribs, of licking honey of fingers, melting chocolate in hands and bits of peanut clinging everywhere as in direct opposition to the “white walled” gallery.

When considering these elements, I really like (there’s no other word for it) the concept. My only objection (and this probably reveals more about myself than the artist or the work), is the point of departure. That is, I feel as if the use of Genesis as explanation is a little on the nose. The use of food often associated with the Bible Belt, to evoke a deeper sense of Americana seems like it might not need the added presence of Genesis. But, I wasn’t there. And Rubell’s own statement, “the idea of being human is more important than the idea of being perfect,” is elegant and inherently forgiving…perhaps seasonally appropriate?

So it was with great excitement that I scurried into the Rubell collection, and upon spotting the donut installation, “Old Fashioned,” at the back of the space, headed in that direction, in the process almost bowling over Val Kilmer, to snatch my piece of interactive installation glory. The donut was kind of stale. And I liked the back of the exhibit better than the front.

Though “Old Fashioned” had a kind of digital gridlike appeal, balanced against the myriad imperfections of the donuts themselves…it lacked the oomph I was hoping for. However, I can’t be too dismissive, Rubell had fresh donuts brought in every day before the collection opened to the public, and had to find an edible solution to a problem that included Miami heat, the hoi polloi, and blue-chip art. So though it may have lacked the pomp and circumstance I was looking for, as a kind of gentle, sideways nudge in her NYC direction, it was successful.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Printed v. Posted...a few rambling thoughts

I’ve been thinking a lot about how blogs function…more specifically, the people for whom they function. When I was working full-time in an office, my blog—and the blogs of others were a way for me to feel connected to a greater community, to feel like I wasn’t actually isolated in an office, but instead, thinking important thoughts about interesting things. Then to use the online forum as a way to sort out my thoughts, or to post observations I’d made at shows.

However, since I no longer work in an office setting, my connection to the online world is more sporadic. When I write, I of course spend time scuttling back and forth between the job at hand and, say, the NY Times. But as far as reading material goes, I find myself returning to the printed word. To those items you hold in your hand, mark with whatever paper is handy, and perhaps jot down notes.

Then, when Josh Jubinsky began creating a Zine collection for the library, I was forced to consider the matter of the printed word vs. the online word. And though I’ll never decry the ease, convenience, and speed the interwebs grants us, I must confess to a knee-buckling weakness for the printed word.

Even Zines, with their often scrawled, hyper-articulated screeds are inherently more interesting and successful than the most erudite and elegant web page. And not just because it is something you hold in your hand, but because it takes a kind of fearlessness and confidence to commit things to the printed page. Especially, when it’s a self-funded project printed by a Xerox machine on hot pink paper, accompanied by shaky line drawings.

I’m curious to see if, in the following few years, we (as a culture) see a ressurange in self-published documents and manifestos. Then again, I might be romanticizing the whole thing (and Kindles will take over the world).