Friday, January 28, 2011

Barnes burner

  I went on a field trip to the Barnes Foundation and was chided by the  trip's matron for not having done my homework - the homework being to watch The Art of the Steal, a documentary on Philadelphia's relocation of the collection despite the will of the founder, Albert C. Barnes. Currently the collection ( well, half of it ) is on view  in Merion Pennsylvania until it is rehung in central Philadelphia come 2012. The new space will be a power structure along the line of many new Death Stars of recent years (The  De Young in SF, Tate Modern, LA's Getty....). Don't get me wrong, I like modernist monstrosities as much as the next art snob but I was happy to see the art in it's intended home. I was also happy to have seen the art free of any political situation - as one might consider if visiting the full collection in the new hangar, ignorant of the guilt the documentary would no doubt elicit. This allowed for a contemplation of the work on it's own, in it's own space, and of course, how it leads back to me and my take on it.
  The collection is mostly famed for it's impressionism era works, but beyond that it is supported by a kaleidoscope of century-bounding randomness. Tintoretto studies shoulder up with small Picassos, 19th century American folk works, and all kinds of curios ( you might yet have to make that guilt-free trek to the new building as the Barne's online collection search is about as easy to navigate as the meaning behind the groupings ). The thing is, it's the oddball corners that actually support the structure of the entire building. Usually each wall "stars" a big wet misty Cezanne or bloated foggy Renoir fatties in the center while the supporting cast does the real work and holds the ceiling up at the edges. The effect is a kind of vaporous expanse energized by the unruly gangs unified framing.  The tension uses the release and vice versa.
  How does this lead back to me and my take on it? It's this kind of situation that made me want to exhibit art that exploits the energy of a space in unison with surrounding art. I'm organizing a pop-up show called Landing Jam on a Greenpoint top floor landing with work that takes advantage of this tension. Of course the show won't be about my tale any more than the Barnes foundation is. My idea about tension will be released by work that doesn't just address the space it is in so much as a portal out. Maybe the rehoused Barnes art will also demonstrate what art does so well, create an experience beyond the room it is seen in.  

Ugly Art Room presents Landing Jam

I'm sure the yogurt was delicious, but where's the rest of the moose?

  Remembering Gabriel Orozco's show at the MOMA last year makes me think that Paul Thek really did have something to share. Thek actually makes stuff and makes it with an encouragement for others to also make stuff. Like Thek, Orozco's show also began with his take on the cube, here in the form of an empty shoebox. The difference is that one container is reliquary and the other is discard. Orozco has run off wearing the shoes and asks us to celebrate our cleanup. The  square box as container really is a great invention, but in this case (NPI) it is has nothing on the conk shell.
  Orozco's famous debut of putting up clear Danon yogurt lids on a gallery wall polarized opinions, mostly for their sheer brashness. The gesture inspired imaginative references to clear plastic emptiness, "O" design entendres, and post-colonial clutter, but all I can think of is the artist enjoying the yogurt in the next room. "Leftovers of specific situations" is what the he calls his art, boring situations. When Dudley Moore, as Arthur, sees a mounted moose head, he asks "where's the rest of that moose?". Orozco riding around on a headless moose? Now that's  a situaton.
  Maybe the banality is the point. I seem to be holding him to task for not prompting my peculiar imagination in a certain direction. Orozco came as one of the burgeoning 'global' artists on the late 80's that seemed to lit up by timely shows like the MOMA's 1984 Primitivism (a show that fueled terms like 'cultural appropriation' and political correctness) and Magicians of the Earth at the Pompidou (is it a surprise that NY had the brutally modernist show and Paris had the inclusively apologetic one?). The time was hot with fashionable political correctness and this did not hurt the new voice of art coming from outside established art capitals. Mexican and nomadic, Orozco would roll his ball of clay across the globe, mundanely indexing the filthy paths we (the colonizers) have laid for him (the exploited). In this sense his work can come off as spiteful and lazy when compared to other artists. Is it 'revenge' art when he takes something back? Rirkrit Tiravanija invited the public to come in to a gallery and eat with him. Orozco taunted musemgoers with oranges across the street. As far as invention goes the work at the MOMA show had nothing on the razor-sharp tactical design and brilliance of David Hammons. Is a trisected Citroen a redesign or a "fuck you"? Why does a whale skeleton need a tattoo? 
  The actual sculpture of Orozco's 'leftovers' show no interest in the elan of Duchamp's refocused tilts,  the wonder Rauchenberg's dusty attic discoveries, or the whimsical twist of Hammons' phoenix imagination. The 'specific situation' holds a grudge. A musician takes a piano and gives us music with it. Orozco yawns on the same piano.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Exemplary Diving

  In a way it doesn't matter if you missed the Whitney Museum's recent Paul Thek retrospective, the dead hippie wasn't there either. Not that it wasn't worth seeing (it was), it's just that the transient and exemplary theme of the artist's work has never really found a place, or wanted it, in the traditional sense of the museum object. The Tomb, better known as "the dead hippie" and perhaps his masterpiece, was abandoned by the maker himself.
  Mortality was a theme of Thek's and the visitor was first greeted by the ghost of the late artist himself in the form of a giant Warhol screen test head. Art history's 60's icon introduces us to history's forgotten underbelly of what it must have been like to actually have been there. It is another collaboration by these two artists that really sets Thek apart from how most textbooks remember the era. Encased in one of the famous fake Brillo boxes tipped on it's side is one of Thek's signature wax meat slabs complete with airhole. This signifies his break from and disdain for the cube that was minimalism's last try at encasing modernist history. Minimalism feared the choices that the end of art's linear trajectory offered and it clung to it's monotheism until the very end. It wasn't just a joke, turning a Judd or Bell cube in to a meat freezer, but a surgical exposure of the flesh that probably better suited the turmoil of the day - more Altamont than White Album.
  The first space of the show, with it's wax meat and cast body parts, makes tombstones of the art object. This gallery preceded a slide show about The Tomb, abandoned when Thek didn't bother picking it up from it's  European exhibition. Essentially a self sepulture, Tomb placed a cast self-portrait in a small ziggurat - an Egyptian burial complete with severed fingers (needed tools of the artist) packaged to follow the spirit to the afterlife. In the context of this show, "dead hippie" becomes a ghost that has risen from the first gallery. Emergence from the grave is already apparent with body parts rising from the first room to another state of meaning. A mouth gasps it's first breath of the afterlife and fingers reach upward, psychedelically colored with the appearance of moisture on cracked mud. 
Not a drawing by Paul Thek
  From here on the show follows Thek's continuing practice in to obscurity with a couple of appearances by his "Gandolf the White" tourguide through the underworld, Diver. Not called "Lander" for a reason, Thek's rubber fish zombie is a buoyed marker through increasingly disposable and suggestive works. Re-and-repurposed found objects (Thek was infamous for reworking older pieces) clutter spaces with flotsam and jetsam madman junkyards. Newspaper paintings line walls around garage-find dioramas. The show ends with Thek's (literal this time) death bed show of low hung paintings with pre-school chairs provided for viewing by children. The next generation is now his audience for art that will be made immortal not for existing, but for the thought it tries to inspire. 

Old fan Mike Kelley on Paul Thek  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On the other hand....

 Everyone should read Dave Hickey and Thomas Frank because they're both right. A few years back the two writers sparred over the significance of Norman Rockwell with Hickey taking the democratic side ("if that many people like him, he must be on to something") while The Baffler editor Frank remained true to his radical 60's call for alternate sources of information ("people only like Rockwell because that's all they know about"). It is the need for both well-stated arguments that make the discourse (and Norman Rockwell) compelling.
 In my last post so long ago I celebrated outside and imaginative public interpretation of art, regardless of an artist's intent, and soon remembered another story.
 During the dot-com boom of the 90's, it made the news that freshly rich twenty somethings were buying up San Mateo county's famed Eichler homes and altering them to the taste of the owner. The new breed of tech moneybags were not making headlines for an interest in art or cutting edge design, but it was still kind of surprising to hear what was being done. Known for their flat roofs, large windows and  modernist atriums, the newly purchased houses were now being adorned with Spanish tiled false A-frames and Roman columns. Upon hearing this, my mother said "I'd do that".