Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


July 3, 2008
I haven’t posted now for several days because I’ve been in Verizon DSL hell, whence few mortals ere return. The Verizon voice prompt, the most annoying in the world with the tones of some supercilious kindergarten teacher/drill sergeant, doesn’t understand the words “repair” “tech support” or “fuck!” but demands I say the 3-digit number on my bill after which it insists on reciting to me the particulars of what I’ve paid and what I need to pay and the due date and when I—somehow—get to a place where I’m finally asked what operating system I use (whew! almost there) I’m put on terminal hold and forced to listen to a power-down-power-up message (“it will fix most problems”) and told how I can also get help at Verizon Online, which only adds insult to injury when the problem is that I can’t get online—and then—and then—I get a message saying that “Due to unusually heavy call volume all representatives are helping other customers, please call back later.” I go through this so many times that when I finally get to the guy in Bangladesh (conveniently named “Robert” or “Ed”) who’s supposed to help me, I feel guilty because he’s probably a really nice person who’s trying his best and I’m a raving maniac. But today I decided to screw Verizon and sign up for cable, so got on another computer and went to the Time/Warner site (“order online in only 4 minutes”) where I type in my address and zip code only to get the message… “Sorry, the address entered is not a valid address…”

But I'm going to beat this. I can do it. I promise.
June 28, 2008
[Via] Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly likes to distinguish between what he calls “Patriots” and “Pinheads”. “Pinheads” must be in short supply, because last week he decided Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin was one because of a reference to a fox on one of his songs, which O’Reilly sees as one of many “cheap shots” Coldplay regularly takes at the Fox Broadcasting Company. The lyric:

It was a long and dark December
When the banks became cathedrals
And the fox became God

O’Reilly appears not to know that the word “fox” also refers to a canine animal who lives in the wild and is part of the mythology of almost every culture.

In my Animal Speak reference, I found this: Probably the fox’s cleverest hunting technique is ‘charming’ [where] the fox is seen near a prey, performing various antics. It will leap and jump and roll and chase itself, so that it charms the prey’s attention. While performing the fox draws closer and closer without its prey realizing, as it is caught up in [the fox’s] seemingly non-threatening antics. Then at the right moment, the fox leaps and captures its prey.

This fox, however, looks as if it’s just having fun:

June 25, 2008
James Turrell's Roden Crater

Thanks to “Pretty Lady,” “Spatula,” and CAP for comments on my last Whitney post that are worthy of being posts in themselves. While, CAP, I was perhaps too casual in saying “anything can be art,” I actually do believe that, at this point in time, anything someone makes or designates can be (note I said can be, not should be) considered art, and that recognizing this was a necessary step to get us away from the painting-on-a-wall, sculpture-on-a-pedestal mindset that pervaded the first half of the 20th century. I do not agree with “Spatula” that “we have gone too far in deconstruction” since I’m one who delights in art that uses an economy of means (Irwin, Turrell, Eliasson, and a moment of silence in a Sigur Ros concert) to achieve great ends.

However along with deconstruction, we lost our ability to discern. We went rollicking off in the other direction, making deconstruction an excuse for sloppy thinking, sloppy execution, sloppy everything. And I lay much of the blame for this on the proliferation of art schools who profit by making everybody think art is easier than it is, who in order to exist, need the majority of students to come away with a positive experience. I remember a final graduate crit at SVA, when I said to a student about her sculpture, “There’s a lifetime of work to be mined from this”—thinking that I was giving her my highest praise—and she burst into tears because to her mind, she was finished. This was it. What, she’d have to do more?

However I believe the resounding failure of the Whitney Biennial marks the beginning of the end of a too-long era. It goes along with the political scene. We want substance. As with the Iraq war, SUVs, and Froot Loops, we’re not inclined to think something is good for us just because the powers that be say it’s so. I’m encouraged by the fact that I’ve seen more good art in the past six months than in the last ten years put together—and that we’re having these conversations. Before when I saw stuff like Fritz Haeg's Animal Estates or the Whitney’s publicity I thought that I was the only one who thought it was ridiculous. It’s a relief to learn that I’m not alone.
June 22, 2008
Installation view, "Who's Afraid of Jasper Johns," at Tony Shafrazi Gallery.

I’m catching up on my reading, plowing through the magazines that accumulate on my kitchen counter (I swear they reproduce overnight—I come down in the morning to find ten magazines where there was only one the night before). Not to be missed is Peter Schjeldahl’s summing up of Jeff Koons in The New Yorker (June 9 & 16) on the occasion of Koons’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which begins, “There’s something nightmarish about Jeff Koons” and ends with “We might wish for a better artist to manifest our time, but that would amount to wanting a better time” yet acknowledges the “material mastery, conceptual perfect pitch, and idealistic beauty of the objects on display in Chicago.” Yup, sometimes Koons fakes it and other times he makes it. Schjeldahl doesn’t make sense of the Koons phenomenon, as if anyone could, but for the first time I found myself reading about Koons while nodding my head in agreement.

Then there’s Jerry Saltz’s review in New York (June 25) of the Gavin Brown/Urs Fischer conceived “group show” entitled “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns” at Tony Shafrazi Gallery (through July 12th), a mishmash of authenticity, appropriation and reproduction that Roberta Smith called “demonically aerobic to brain and eye” and Saltz wrote is “like some mad replicating vision machine, or a walk-in Louise Lawler” that was intended to “set art free from the context of the white box.” I’m as weary of the “white box” as anyone, but I don’t find the tag sale aesthetic of “Who’s Afraid,” where every image seems to cancel out every other image, a viable replacement. Howard Halle, in Time Out, called it a “deeply cynical meditation on the deeply cynical nature of the contemporary art world.” To me it felt toxic, was toxic—given the out-gassing fumes from Ron Pruitt’s plastic bag “waterfall” and Rudolf Stingel’s new but visitor-smudged white wall-to-wall carpeting—an environment to be exited as soon as possible.

The back-story is much more interesting. I mean if you were to write a novel about a guy who sprays paint on Picasso’s Guernica at MoMA and then goes on to fame and fortune as purveyor of graffiti-based art, it would be just too cheesy. It’s a story that I've always felt revealed the rotten core of the art world. But to bring it up-to-date, here’s Shafrazi, 34 years later, at the after-party for ”Who’s Afraid,” being presented with a birthday cake that’s a giant replica of the Guernica.

Saltz writes: Brown climbed atop a table and, amid much yelling, toasted Shafrazi. He then thrust a cake decorator filled with red icing into Shafrazi’s hands. As the crowd screamed, Brown implored, “Write, Tony, Write!” Shafrazi started moving the device over the cake. Slowly he wrote the words I AM SORRY. Time stood still. It was like an angel of redemption had entered the room to take away Shafrazi’s guilt. The room went silent. I was shocked. The Shafrazi began writing again. He wrote one more word: NOT! It was like the Sopranos finale. Just as you thought everything was going to change, everything became more of what it already was.

And that sums up the exhibition: something that purports to be new and different but is really just more of the same old.

June 18, 2008
"Anonymous" comments about the video that spoofs Biennialist artist Fritz Haeg in my last post: "Oh, it's actually a response to this video... now tell me this is not funny... THIS IS THE REAL ONE!"

Anonymous is so right, it's almost word-for-word. But you have to grit your teeth to watch it.

And "Spatula", commenting on Haeg's Animal Estates admittedly treads on the “dangerous terrain of discourse” in wondering how it can be construed as art, but I will take it on. My definition of “art”—since Duchamp made sure that it can be anything, which to my mind, was a necessary step—is something where execution and idea merge so completely that we’re unaware of either and taken to a place beyond words. That’s what music does for me (thank you, Jose Gonzalez, who I saw at the Iron Horse in Northampton last night) and that’s what I want art to do. That’s what I get from Olafur Eliasson’s endeavors: a place of new experience. Indescribable. Therefore, when I see something that sends my thought processes away from the piece at hand, when instead of being immersed in it I'm congratulating myself for having been so precocious as to realize—even in Mrs. Egbert's first grade— that it was stupid to go around in a group pretending to be squirrels, then it’s not art.

June 16, 2008
The Whitney Biennial is now over, but clearly there's no limit to the fun we can still have with it. Reader Judi Collins sent this, The Cat Condos Project by The Infinity Lab:

which was inspired by this (after a brief commercial):

Do share your thoughts.
June 15, 2008

Statement by John McCain on the Midwest floods:

"Our thoughts abd orayers go out to all those impacted by the flooding throughout the Midwest. Cindy and I would like to extend our sympathies to all those who have lost loved ones, and stand ready to help those in the Midwest to recover and rebuild."

June 15, 2008
We’ve already established that Anthony Lane in The New Yorker took everything waaay too seriously in Sex and the City, thinking of it more, perhaps, as a documentary about four women than a farce. Lane is horrified by their political incorrectness, as in what may have been the funniest line in the film, which he describes as “Miranda’s outburst as she hunts for an apartment in a mainly Chinese district” where she says “White guy with baby! Let’s follow him!” He follows with the comment, “So that’s what drives these people: Aryan real estate”—although you’d have to be pretty cloistered in your own Aryan ivory tower not to know that the “Chinese district” is called Chinatown.

I’m all for political incorrectness if it’s an agent for social change which, strangely, “Sex” is, in the way the film emphasizes real values behind a façade of exaggerated consumerism. But I guess there will always be people who have trouble making the distinction.

A case for distinction was made the summer before last in Berkshire County, the third bluest in the nation, when filmmaker Mickey Friedman became annoyed that the drivers whizzing past him to shop at the most politically correct grocery store ever, the Berkshire Coop Market, weren’t joining him in his weekly protest against the Iraq war in front of Great Barrington’s town hall. That they might honk to show that they agreed just made it worse. He complained to his friend, Rudi Bach, who suggested that perhaps Mickey and his signs had become part of the scenery, and promised to do something about it.

The following weekend as Mickey was taking up his lonely post, he saw another protest forming across the street, a group dressed in combat fatigues holding American flags and beautifully lettered signs with slogans such as “Screw Peace,” “Gandhi was a Wimp,” “Peace is for Losers,” “God Supports US, not Them,” and my personal favorite, "It's Our Oil." Rudi and his friends took vigorous abuse from the pro-peace ranks, who gave them the finger or yelled from the windows of their Subarus and Volvos, but within a few weeks Mickey had all the company he wanted.

In the end, a returning soldier took offense at the counter-protest and introduced himself to Mickey, who ultimately made a film about his experience: Spc. John Flynn’s War in Iraq.