Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Icon Madonna

 Icon of the day

Untitled Film Still #7

  From one artist to another. John Baldessari recently wrote that sliding glass doors were one of the things he hates most about Los Angeles and I was reminded of my own old Californian backyard entrance. Just as I was picturing it, Cindy Sherman walked through. She had invaded my memory, stumbling out of my San Mateo home just as she did in her seminal photograph, Untitled Film Series #7. That's an icon. One that infiltrates your childhood like a Bladerunner programmed replicant.
  The image comes from a series of self-portraits where Sherman takes back noirish and B movie depictions of women in generally referential tropes. #7 has always stuck out for me not just because I would have loved for this to have been an actual boyhood memory, but because it best captures the re-emergence of the icon taken back. She walks out of the abyss without spilling a drop of her martini, unembarrassed, well prepared for the daylight, and not really bothered by the new audience waiting for her. Yesterday's woman is pushed to the left part of the frame, sleeping with her face covered and dreaming of kissing seahorses.
 The image of Marilyn Monroe was designed by middle-aged men for middle-aged men. The original Like a Virgin era image of Madonna was designed by a young woman for teenage girls.  Two superficially similar styles with significantly different meaning, the second being re-iconed, just as Duchamp elevated the everyday object to icon status after 19th century museums had reduced functionally ceremonial iconic objects to mere "art". 
 As a champion iconographer, Cindy Sherman has done the same thing. She has returned the objectified woman back to religious status.

Monday, February 21, 2011

More real than field

 "Nothing has really happened until it's been described"
                                                                                             Virginia Woolf

  I don't know who first said "art = life", but I'll be the one snoring through their next lecture. That's right, I plan to show up just for the nap. This is meant more as a collaborative comment than an insult. The lecture will be art, the nap will be life. 
  Has anyone said that art is a "take" on life? Brooklyn based artist Patrick Jacobs "take" or takes can be seen at Pierogi in Williamsburg. In Familiar Terrain Jacobs has constructed dioramas of country landscapes behind temporary walls and viewed through small Claude glasses. Looking through the small openings, one sees fish-eyed expanses that confound with a double take of "is it real",  "is it a photograph"? The show has been mostly compared to Duchamp's Etant donnes for the use of diorama and specific viewing situation. The first difference is that Pierogi's multiple peepholes eliminate the creepy one person at a time closet of the Duchamp. Secondly, Jacobs leaves behind Duchamp's wet dream narrative. Or does he?
 The views display varying puns on a distancing from reality. Some are made in black and white, emphasizing the theatrically artificial. One gives us a view through another window, again winking back to Duchamp. The dioramas show fields with signs of civilization in the background and sometimes forefront mushroom bouquets, but more often have circular imprints in the foregound grass field. Etant donnes aims the two tiny eye holes directly at the female opening, but Jacobs' glass circles introduce us to a circle that represents a launching pad - more up from than in to. This infers an elevation to the simulacra of the landscape. Jacobs further "Americanizes" the effect by not envisioning a dreamscape rather than observing the effects of hyperreality.
 "Americanized" for a couple of reasons. The first referring to Umberto Eco's essay Travels in Hyperreality where an ahistorical U.S.A. apes and plasticizes an invented (and partly borrowed) mythology. Secondly, and truly more Americanly, Amercanized for celebrating the very brick and mortar of the effect itself. The punchline of the exhibit is a Penn and Teller style pulling back of the wizard's curtain where Jacob's cuts away a wall to show the model behind the wall - armature, toy landscape, beautifully crafted horizon lighting, and all. The revelation only adds to the awe of the portholes without leaving the viewer feeling duped. I don't think anyone would believe that pigeon footprints on the gallery's floor happened outside of artists' invention either.
  The pieces are successful not just because they are so "wow" illusionistic, but because they are about being so effectively illusionistic. Art is often successful not from channeling the visionary, but observing the granted. I am looking forward to the next time I see the work of the "visionary" William Blake, but I'll take another look, with wonder, at a field I might walk through on the way there.