Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Must Reads!

Offered here are a few recommended essays that have helped inform my humble thoughts....

White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art by Many Farber 
The touchstone source for the content vs form debate and a prophecy for the return to the DIY work ethic.

Travels in Hyperreality by Umberto Eco 
Meta po-mo and why it's so American.

On the new by Boris Groys 
October's series on the contemporary fall like dominoes after this zeitgeist shout out. 

After the End of Art by Arthur C. Danto 
A schooling on, well the end of "art", by one of the most imaginative of art "explainers".

Red Grooms by Arthur C. Danto 
Super-smart philosophy professor compares the ruckus roustabout to Jesus!

The Avant-Garde and Kitsch by Clement Greenberg
Hilton Kramer's grumpy older sister on stuff he pretends he doesn't like.

Prom Night in Flatland by Dave Hickey 
The most applicably needed piece from Dragon.

A Life in the Arts by Dave Hickey 
One of the best and most human arguments for democracy against the experts.

The Fall of Art by William S. Burroughs 
He had to have an opinion.

My Own Business by William S. Burroughs 
Dated? Or a great essay on pre-PC leftist tolerance.

Secret Skin by Michael Chabon
An essay on unitard theory  turns out to be one of the best on articulating aptness of form.

Prankster vs Joker

 One element that can cross the divide between "I don't have a studio, I have a cell phone" productionism and DIY craftiness is a smart sense of humor, and examples of both styles of practiced funny are on display with David Shrigley's show at Anton Kern Gallery and Rob Pruitt's at Gavin Brown's Enterprise and Maccarone (both here in NY - I flatter myself towards anyone that might read this outside of Brooklyn). 
 Both are veteran comedians addressing the madness of modern life and art through articulate cheek. (who is it who said all humor is neurotic?) One expands his oeuvre (stick with me, this word is apt) through mass-consumerable design and distribution. The other hones his craft through hand-made contemplation.
 David Shrigley has hung a banner outside the gallery reading "It's all going very well, no problem at all" in his familiar rough jotting. The back wall is lined with his (also familiar) childlike drawings depicting characters or things often ruminating on their own situation. The artists works are often asked to pass the "how are they not New Yorker cartoons?" test and they do. But with the New Yorker allowing it's readers to contribute limp punchlines to readymade professional spots, Shrigley's efforts have more in common with Gary Larson's The Far Side. Both share a manner and depiction that perfectly fuse the meaning and thingness of their product. The Far Side is wholly and hilariously appropriate as a reduced, one-line, one-panel, comic. It would never work as fitly as an SNL skit, a written story, or a more elaborate drawing. Shrigley compounds this suitability even further with his faux clumsy synergy of hand, wording, and ink on paper materiality. All funnier and more real in it's sadness and immediacy.
 Across the space is a collection of useless ceramic wall hooks and poops. In the center of the room is a series of ceramic Fearless Leader boots, far too fragile for door-kicking or goose-stepping. Placed on the floor close by is a rib cage not doing it's job of protecting vital organs - asking to be tripped over, but in no danger from the Nazi brogans.
 Finally, in the back room,  is a coarse, flash projection of a mother's hand writing an excuse note to a teacher. "Epstein's Mom" never wrote in such fits and starts, and the scratching of the pencil, again, is roundly fitting with the simple inking and desk top animation.

 I had the opportunity to meet Rob Pruitt some years back and he was a very thoughtful and helpful artist to talk to - sharply summing up the difference between the LA and NY art scenes  to someone still deciding. I was already intrigued by his un-PC and provocative legacy and am still a fan of anyone that has a body of work where a twenty foot line of cocaine leads, career-wise, to (cocaine?) glittered pandas.
 At the two gallery show Pruitt continues a hands-off, management-on-acid, sense of clownish distribution. The collection is a circus of assorted objects, installation, and wallpaper, but only spray painted Amish "quilts" and big-eyed trash monsters seem like they were made by Pruitt himself. Rows of silver taped chairs move quickly from a handiwork feel to more of a subbed-out labor dictation. Stacked tires offering assorted candies make cynical truckstop opiates of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' proletariat gifts.
 Cartoons here are not innocent scribblings but massive jet-printed stick faces over Peter Max purple hazes straight out of a T Magazine (which I love, by the way) retro design spread. All is overseen by portraits of the artist himself, passive aggressively depicted in a series of exquisite corpse prints.
 Leaving the building my friend commented that the exhibition's audience isn't other artists but "people with lots of money that want to buy things". It's hard to think Pruitt would argue with this. A grid of graphic T-shirt designs reveal both the joke that perhaps art today isn't any different from online hipster product, and what this show really is - an audition for an actual career in product design. 
 The Amish reference is a clue to the show's Rumspringa theme. Like a teen amongst the "English", Pruitt is sewing his wild oats before moving on to the more serious responsibility of commercial engineering. Being accused of panda plagiarism (as is being done by threadless t-shirt designers Jimiyo and AJ Dimarucot) might be part of the show's bigger intention of the jester moving to the boardroom.

 The October 2007 Artforum  was a themed issue titled The Art of Production, but nowhere in the impressively grouped roundtable discussion was it mentioned that productionist art, that is, art on a grand scale, organized and directed by, but not made by the artist, is the art of a post-industrial society. This is what Rob Pruitt represents with the ambition of his project. An upper management position is the trajectory many artists have been aiming for ever since artisan became a dirty word. David Shrigley, on the other hand, represents a timelier example of a return to what Manny Farber called termite art, as opposed to Pruitt's white elephant. The artist returning to the practice and study of his or her craft. Both artists are known for their sharp sense of humor, but, if you'll allow for a mix of wild kingdom metaphor, there's something funnier about the old mouse running around the feet of the new dinosaur.  


Duality! Sir! Three!

 A good example of art talk comes in the second half of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket when a blustering General asks Matthew Modine's Joker how someone can have "born to kill" written on their helmet while also wearing a Peace button. The exchange rings of an awkward and oversimplified introduction on the contradictions and peculiarities of contemporary art from a pierced teenager to his cranky grandpa. "Is it supposed to be some kind of sick joke?" is answered with "Something about the duality of man, SIR!". One offering is dismissive, the other earnest if unformed. The contrary symbols are beautifully provocative and the resulting ire welcome and lively.
  Po-mo plurality currently hums in a kind of icon/index/symbol Mexican standoff. A healthy resurgence of artists actually making stuff holds the icon corner, but maybe this is only noticeable against the persistence of post studio work.
 Contradictions are needed and can be quite electrical in exchange when arguing matters of form (even when gaudy and rough) and content (even when austere and antiseptic). Everyone should read both Dave Hickey and Thomas Frank, particularly in their duel over the worth of Norman Rockwell, because they're both right! If the Peter the Great monument is indeed removed from Moscow, it's phantom space might inherit a double meaning, like the ghost of an Afghan Buddha. It's a glorious world where the world's eighth tallest monster chotskie can infuriate people as much as Richard Serra steel wall.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Duality - SIR" part 2

 Having a rooted fondness for lowbrow, or at least kitsch, representation, I have had to defend against more than smug deadheads. Chiefly, my own sense of smarter palate, open-mindedness, and learned catholic guilt (if you don't feel at least a pang of guilt for your bawdier pleasures, where's the fun?)It can be a trick to argue for soupier formalities without making a mere sugary dessert of them compared to deep-dish concept and content. 
 Nor does it help that some of my retro-fittingly illustrative "high art" faves can still disappoint. I probably had my hopes set too high for the recent Whitney look at Charles Burchfield and found the collection to be physically thin and imaginatively lazy (at least in the manner that attracts me to stranger visions), getting more out of the conceptually intangible Christian Marclay exhibit and throwing in to question my whole stance. (Or does it? Marclay's work exploits a colorful wackiness.) And a long held undergrad crush on Larry Rivers, born from the discovery of a magazine/gallery art hybrid, has withered greatly after Manny Farber singles out the artist as the visual example of stylized mediocrity in his 1957 essay Hard-Sell Cinema. Stories of a creepy fixation on his daughters breasts don't help looking at his already dusty work either.
 Farber's essay is not just talking about painting (Dave Brubeck and Saul Bellow are picked on in their fields before moving on to film), but he does well to site the problem offered by the continuing practice of the kind of work I am championing. The hybrid illustrator-artist must use skill for more than acrobatics. When I like a work that might be dismissed as kitsch, or sensational, or just plain old-fashioned in it's function and literalness, it is usually because there is an aboutness to it's idiosyncrasy. Tony Oursler doesn't just use Disney projection effects, his mad creations are about projection. Robert Bechtle's work doesn't just deftly reduce and render photography to paint, it is about the hand's personal reaffirmation of the strangely familiar. And crazy, so-bad-they're-good, neo-mainstream catastrophes don't just display labor amok, they are about some of the most volcanically literalized exaggerations a person can stumble across.    

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Something about the Duality of Man - SIR!" part 1

 Before going on to an art review, or a critique, or something astounding to say about something, maybe I should say a little something about where my point of view, or "taste", or "eye" comes from..... 
 The hatred for, and possible removal of, Moscow's drippingly gaudy monument to Peter the Great ( Zurab Tsereteli, iconographer of some of the gooiest effigies this side of Stanislav Szukalski's  fascist splendor)  making the news this week, brought a smile to my face. Firstly, because it actually made news. Secondly, because I think I must be the only person with a formal art education from the last few years that actually likes it. I like it because it comes from a place that made me like to look and laugh before I had ever even heard of Marcel Duchamp. My original interest in "Art" comes from an early encouragement of drawing, an interest itself stemming from Marvel comics, magazine illustration, and a generally populist idea of western figurative art ( later stained by wilder underground and European comics and  a sophomoric understanding of abstract expressionism). Then I went to art school. 
 Art school is widely seen as one of the biggest "F you" to parents outside of a career in pornography. It is however a proper and real education, and I am proud of both my degrees. The real scary thing about this kind of schooling, if one does get a good opportunity, is the idea of the cult-like breaking down, and re-education of the attitude towards the creative process. That's what a contemporary education in the arts attempts to do. It is a cleansing of the habits and prejudices of what made you think you were an artist beforehand. 
 This isn't to say that art grads are emerging from Waco compounds muttering "year zero" mantras. Nor does it mean they are blank slates to be molded into boot camp graduates. In fact, more artists are addressing their previous lives and interests in a healthy confidence that uses their education towards a more personally edifying  practice. Without the "burden" of advancing art history, (a very timely situation) much work is being applied towards more honest, often more pleasurable, and individually particular results. (linear pursuits were just leading everyone to the same annual Armory show milestones anyway) I myself am guilty of a particular kind of guilty insistence.
 Already after undergrad (back when The California College of Art still had "Craft" at the end of it's initials, I still miss calling it "Cee Cack") I was happy to endorse art that appealed to less refined tastes. After recommending a series of traveling Fernado Boteros (neo-classical Romans and busts puffed to his typical cartoons) to a group in front of a Nice youth hostel, a hippie ( random childhood quote from my Mom - "You don't have to call them hippies anymore, you can just call them bums") stopped strumming his guitar, chuckled to himself, and said "You musn't know much about art". Well I did, and I chuckled to myself and let him stew in his ignorance. I had taken him as the sophomore, with the usual assumption that the boisterous and silly can't be advanced. And I still feel that way. I still have a deep seated adoration for, be it intentional or not, the robust, sensational, kitsch, and most wantonly, the meaningless.......

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Artist I

 "Having been a painter" is a great thing to have on a resume (meaning, your directing career has started), so, having been a painter, I can move on to talking about the other things I like to look at.
 Not to dismiss my stuff - in fact, I really am proud of the feeble body of work produced in my seven years now in New York. And let me tell you, my efforts have taken their licks. My attempts at acrylic and sculpture have been booed, punched, kicked, and have had opening night wine thrown on them (deliberately), by drunks, scholars, children, and lunatics. One of the biggest compliments (?) I've ever received, is that my artwork is "hard to say 'Fuck You' back to".  I know there's a tone here that could be taken as braggart in some sense, but I've quite literally just walked back from duct-taping the shoulder of an injured Indian bust in a Brooklyn beer hall. I'm just glad his Disney-effect-meet-your-eyes-around-the-room-wherever-you-go-eyes weren't damaged. But more about me and mine later......
 Point being, the observations following will be from that of a lazy maker with more than a little interest in the skewed human filter of stuff. Who doesn't like to walk around and look at things and then have an opinion about them? Maybe some stories are worth sharing, maybe even with some kind of relevant cultural interpretation (I have a book called 'Hegel In 90 Minutes' - haven't read it),  maybe not all of what I'd like to write about will be too annoying (don't get your hopes up), but I promise my interests and thoughts will be, if a bit peculiar and idiosyncratic, well worth a read..............