30 September 2007

RWB

Yesterday I was whining about the injustices of the world, but now I am pissed! The briefest of summaries:

37-year old black male reporter for the NY Times goes to the south to report on the way police officers treat suspected gang members.

37-year old black male reporter gets his face shoved into the dirt and handcuffed within ten minutes of his arrival, without so much as a "put your hands on your head and lay down on the ground."

Police officers find out that he's a reporter and lives in New York and release his cuffs with no apology, no explanation beyond, "You're in the south. We have different rules here."

Turns out he found his story.

My hat is off to Solomon Moore for his elegant response to such an outrageous assault. What a master of the high road! This piece is graceful and dignified, with its eye trained exclusively on what is important and away from Moore's own ego. If I am ever in a similarly difficult situation, I can only hope to be strong enough to be things like funny and true and light. It is much easier to whine, cry and be wounded.

29 September 2007

Negative Capacity At Capacity

I like to think of this as a fundamentally optimistic little publication... so there is little to report. I am still buried in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. And it is getting more and more depressing. Globalism is just a new name for colonialism, and colonialism is a grand and ugly force.

Speaking of colonialism... The Yes Men were not even questioned for proposing enslaving much of Africa at the Wharton Business School, and to top it all off, I've been sick for what feels like forever. I'll be coming out of my hole when something good happens. Like if my nose stops running. Or if they take back Milton Friedman's Nobel Prize.

27 September 2007

For Once It All Makes Sense

The UN General Assembly means better-than-usual boatwatching at Socrates Sculpture Park, as all boats must go around to the Queens side of Roosevelt Island.

It also means talking about climate change, and leave it to my favorite poet revolutionary to cut right to the meat! In today's Times, Vaclav Havel is calling on all humans to, basically, look at the world with humility and acceptance instead of desire or entitlement.

Really, doesn't anything else one says about climate change just distract us from this perfect description of the problem? We don't really need to invent any new technologies as much as we all need to become less focused on our individual selves and more aware of us, the collective force we exert as a species. It's the ultimate solidarity, the ultimate collectivism.

Interesting times, interesting times! Just when it looks like our world is falling apart, the earth rises and asserts itself as a reason to overcome the greed and desire that's causing nothing but war and death and suffering anyway.

23 September 2007

Michael Cline v. Jules de Balincourt



Michael Cline, I Will Tell You Off, 2007



Jules de Balincourt, Think Globally, Act Locally, 2007

Strategically very similar. But the Cline show seems very full and the de Balincourt show seems very empty, and safe in its emptiness. The Cline images are quite wrong, and I like them that way. They're unabashedly romantic instead of ironically kitschy, closeup and human instead of landscapey and far away. De Balincourt is showing us an empty apocalypse, which does make sense if you are reading the news, but Cline refuses to take such an easy point of view. Cline's meaty brown police state scenes are anti-apocalyptic. They seem to be about the day after the so-called apocalypse, when we all have to get up and figure out what to do next, still full of our filth, history and humanity. Because they don't stop at horror, they are full of empathy and strangeness, and best of all, they make no fucking sense whatsoever.

Except they do. They make their own sense. More art should refuse to resolve itself like this, and more art should be this difficult to pull off. Any one of these paintings could collapse under the weight of its own romanticism, become sweet, get too many or too few chronological references and start reading as a particular time or place, or get all Walker Evans-ey and full of pity for them.

Instead, I left feeling actual, loamy sorrow for us and our time. We should not be afraid to embrace this richness.

Purity

If you have not yet picked up your copy of The Shock Doctrine, stop reading this and run to the bookstore!

This book is particularly interesting to artists because the logic is associative and the crux of her argument is aesthetic. The briefest of summaries:

A Canadian psychologist decided that he could rebuild broken human minds by erasing everything that was there before and finding a pure, blank slate, on which he could rebuild a healthy personality. One small problem: the only way to erase a personality that he could think of was massive quantities of electric shock therapy, solitary confinement for more than sixty days at a time, scrambling mealtimes, constant light and/or constant dark, up to a month of forced sleep, the use of drugs such as LSD and PCP and sensory deprivation.

He would up creating the blueprint for how to "scientifically" torture people.

This blueprint for torture methods wound up being useful in another quest for purity: The Completely Unregulated Market. Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil... turns out nobody really wanted to choose Milton Friedman's beautiful, pure free market in a democratic way, but that brutal dictators and Chicago School Economists = TLA.

I have never read a more beautiful, more sobering exploration into the problematic, illusory nature of purity.

And I know that this is going to seem perverse or minimizing, but reading about hundreds of thousands of people getting yanked out of their houses and shoved into Ford Falcons and disappeared...

...it makes me think of Minimalism so differently.

22 September 2007

Opening Tonight: Up as if Down


Mari Spirito is harnessing the efforts of Shara Hughes, Peter Kreider and Moises Saman to get at what we accept as "real" at Cuchifritos.

Any press release that mentions Oliver Sacks, the Iraq war and "the new normal" has got my attention. I will definitely be there.

Up as if Down
Cuchifritos
East Village / Lower East Side
120 Essex Street, Delancey / Rivington (inside the Essex St. Food Market at the South end of the building), 212-420-9202
September 22 - October 20, 2007
Opening: Saturday, September 22, 4 - 6PM

Is It Just Me



...or is anyone else totally fucking spooked?

Blackwater is the new Brownshirts. And they actively patrol not just Baghdad's streets, but our own.

Andrew Meyer is tased for what, exactly? For getting seriously involved in actually questioning a politician? For getting emotional about the fact that there were serious problems with voting in Ohio? That it appears as if Kerry actually won the election?

Even if Meyer was a total ass, isn't it appropriate to be an ass in this situation? And since when do we arrest people for being rude? Since when does it look good to arrest people for demanding answers to questions at a political venue?

Instead of just answering the questions, John Kerry's blog is chockablock with excuses. Meyer asked good questions, and I want answers too! Why did Kerry concede so quickly? Why isn't anyone taking the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters seriously?

And all the Naomis are cryin'. Naomi Wolf has what she is calling a Blueprint for Fascism, and she's saying that we're following it. Perhaps more interesting is Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. It will be thoroughly digested and regurgitated on this blog in the next few weeks, because it finally answers the most important question: Why Fear?

To top it all off, in case anyone needs any help placing themselves in all this madness, the Times published an interesting story about a photo album that documents how the Other Half at Auschwitz lived.

It turns out you don't stop loving your dog or making friends or playing the accordion when you start putting thousands of people in ovens.

Banality of evil, indeed.

21 September 2007

Naomi Klein: Blank Is Beautiful Demands Artistic Response



Image: Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph des Willens

I am on page ninteen of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine. Klein is wrapping up the introduction of her thesis, which is basically that Milton Friedman's idealism has been unleashed over thirty years, in times of crisis, resulting in Global Corporate Feudalism. I like how she's putting a caveat and the meat in the same paragraph here:

Any attempt to hold ideologies accountable for the crimes committed by their followers must be approached with a great deal of caution. It is too easy to assert that those with whom we disagree are not just wrong but tyrannical, fascist, genocidal. But it is also true that certain ideologies are a danger to the public and need to be identified as such. These are the closed, fundamentalist doctrines that cannot coexist with other belief systems; their followers deplore diversity and demand an absolute free hand to implement their perfect system. The world as it is must be erased to make way for their purist invention. Rooted in biblical fantasies of great floods and fires, it is a logic that leads ineluctably toward violence. The ideologies that long for that impossible clean slate, which can be reached only through some kind of cataclysm, are the dangerous ones.

Yes! And as an artist I have to say that purity and a lack of ambiguity are deep existential motivators, and are legitimately beautiful, legitimately soothing!



Image: Donald Judd

I have written on many occasions that political art is generally a waste of time--because it takes a side, it becomes mere propaganda that preaches to the choir. I would rather argue that all art informs our political lives, because all art takes an existential stance.

Klein argues, and I agree, that we are currently under an existential threat. We are being frightened and bullied into giving up not just our civil liberties, but our government protections and services. And in the face of this specific existential threat, "apolitical" art can do more than political dissent. To imagine a world in which ambiguity is not just tolerable but delicious;



Image: Adam Frelin

to find beauty in imperfection;



Image: Jean Lowe

to dream of a bright future that does not depend on an apocalyptic clean slate and a present in which humanity has the fortitude to bear inevitable cataclysm without collapsing from fear--this is the most important political work an artist can do right now.

Solitarity



This is a moment of qualified genius. And it will result in a diatribe about the Power Of The Individual Actor And The Death Of Dissent As A Rhetorical Strategy...

...but maybe not today. It's a bit of a triple helix. After all, Colbert is savvy enough not to use dissent, but he's using it to to say No to a whole generation of people who are incapable of saying No.

There must be more you can do with this.

18 September 2007

Thomas Lendvai at Winkleman, Or Why Jewelry


Thomas Lendvai started a discussion on this blog about what I said about his current effort at Winkleman. I said that it was about jewelry. He wanted an explanation, and I figured you all might as well. Enjoy!

Thomas Lendvai's Between Boredom and Pain is a specific relationship between some lumber and a room. The room "looks" pierced, but it very obviously isn't. But it isn't lazily accomplished, so that it looks like I am supposed to finish the idea for the artist in my mind. It is painstakingly, lovingly done, and that changes the gesture for me.

To me it feels almost "clasped", but from the inside. My date that evening agrees that the overwhelming gesture is one of "fit."

All this care made the relationship between the room and the wood surprisingly delicate, but organized to look violent. This feels like a jeweler's gesture to both of us. Refined, polite, playing at drama.

The jewelry metaphor seems like the most appropriate way to find meaning in this work for us. The wood is obviously the gold, and the room is obviously the stone, and it's obviously a huge pendant or ring setting. But the ordinary jewlery relationship is inverted in a nice way.

It's not groundbreaking, but it's really nice work. It is not uninteresting to make a huge piece of inside-out jewelry out of rough-hewn lumber. There is something about the piece that speaks directly about how precious and mundane much art is.

17 September 2007

Alex

Alex The Gray Parrot's passing is causing much more media stir than I thought it would, including this sappy piece about his soul in the Week In Review. I have two things to say about this.

A friend of mine who, granted, is a known exaggerator (that's a disclaimer), says he used to work with Alex in his lab. And that they were trying hard to teach him the "Ch" sound, which he found difficult, and to do so they were feeding him Cheerios. The routine, he says, went something like this:

"Alex, what's this?"
"Cheery"
"Good!" And then he got a Cheerio.

Dr. Pepperberg found out what Cheerios are made of and, disgusted, went to the food co-op and bought a box of all-natural cheerios. The result:

"Alex, what's this?"
"Cheery"
"Good!"
Alex took the all-natural cereal in his mouth, chewed on it, and said, "Wood!"

Much of the coverage in the Times of Alex's passing was basically about his existential problem--did he understand death and have a mind. But he has the most to teach us about our existential problem. To stubbornly assert that Alex is that soul-fully different from us in the face of so much You Tube evidence to the contrary does set us apart from the world we live in. How this does anything but heighten our own mortal anxiety is kind of beyond me.

15 September 2007

With A Nod To Tyler Green...

Who doesn't just need to declare five things from time to time? I don't just "think I think" these things, though. I am pretty sure I know them. What I don't understand is their context or usefulness. So here you go:

Five Things I Don't Know What To Do With

1. Sculpture transcends because of what it is. It's not an illusion.

2. Failure is way more interesting than success. Without failure, any good sculptural inquiry collapses into earnestness.

3. There seem to be good ways to fail and bad ways to fail. (Or, No Pressure, But One Can Fail At Failing!)

4. I really, really, really, really, really, really hate to fail.

5. Everything is a negotiation.

12 September 2007

I Know I'm A Day Late, But...



World Trade Center aluminum fa├žade fragment, "Here Is New York: Remembering 9/11" New York Historical Society

How could I let such an inappropriate example of fetishization pass by unnoticed?

10 September 2007

One Great View Of Boundless Internal Space, or Further Evidence That Sculpture Is Hard

Jedediah Caesar's Three Views From Space still pleases me more than any of these shows because one piece does that thing that sculpture does best. It rests, thinkingly and lovingly, on the stupidest, most elemental stuff and gets that stuff to actually change on you. Whatever else the show contains, Caesar manages to make disparate things, like magazines or lemon rinds, into a singular material. And then he manages to insist that the material remains material, even after it necessarily becomes a form.

This is good, nourishing stuff. And for that matter, so is the sweetness and humility of the original gesture of all this work. It is right to look at all the things around us, the trash we produce and the stuff we sweep up, and know that it doesn't go away, that it goes to a place and becomes something else.

I like, for selfish reasons, that this work takes a geological look at our own detritus.

And for all my own prejudices about arriving at form, it is easy to admit that the grid makes this untitled wall piece the satisfying spatial adventure that it is:



It makes the grand idea more than process art. It becomes more like to make and understand peoplerock. Not people rocks, but a monolithic substance that has been sampled from, not made and sliced. Caesar made a series of literal core sample shapes that were, well, literal. The enterprise turned into a too-specific fiction about core samples. The grid works better. It's empirical-looking without being specific. And it's ongoing. You'd want to count a number of circles and interpret what that means in terms of any core samples you've made as a young science student. Those geodey shapes remained objects--geological artifacts. A grid, on the other hand, is known for a fact to be endless. You get a sensation of genuine vastness never before possible with only, oh, I'd guess a few hundred pounds of material. Economical!

That's what I mean when I say that this piece asserts itself as material and not form, even though, duh, it obviously inhabits a form. The thing, though, is that the magic is formal, not the form. Grids and cubes are not simply magical disappearing shapes! The grid solved a particularly evil little problem in an elegant way. Once. On that back wall. Cubes and squares do not fare as well in the rest of the room.

One of the most compelling things about Caesar's work is that it's got this fatal flaw that he keeps chewing on and never spitting out. It's so interested in materiality and internality, and so uninvested in form, that it could become a boring sausagemaking project like that! A dead end lurks around every corner, and Caesar surely knows this. And in the rest of the room, he's casting about for quick answers to hard problems, which is too bad. The prop piece. The potted plant. The crappy chair. Instead of doggedly, carefully insisting on material and material alone, he starts trying to do something with the materials he makes. And when he does this, he closes the door to vastness and geology. The rest of the pieces in the room are more about their form (and their relationship to art history and objectness) than anything else. Their materiality doesn't matter very much.

This is kind of a shame, but it's also par for the course. Sculpture is best when it is impossibly stupid, and it's always a better idea to keep hammering at the unsolvable problem no matter where or when the show is than it is to try to wind up with a decent product.

(I know, I know. Easy to say...)

You can't make something that is inherently bounded read as boundlessly as geology. You can't communicate something as paradoxical as the infinity of internal space using ordinary, physical means... in a small room, even! And that Caesar even does this once with such an improbable process is meaningful.

07 September 2007

I Never Promised Objectivity...

Okay, there will be writing about Jedediah Caesar's show at D'Amelio Terras. But I want to start by expanding my own bias. I don't know an artist that doesn't occasionally get a crush on something another artist says or does. And this crush is never about a better understanding of the crush's work.

It's a crush because it leads you to understanding your work.

I came across these paragraphs, spoken by Jedediah Caesar, in the AiA interviews with 19 LA Sculptors when I was trying to make this specific leap from representing little versions of broken systems to actually breaking shit:

I got to the point where I was completely tired of the process: I was going to Home Depot, buying more material, getting another tool, and then eventually I'd end up with this object. Was it a good object or a bad object?
The rationale for making a better, or worse, object was that there was going to be this new form. It was going to justify all this work that I'd put into it. I wasn't quite sure where to go with that, and I found that I was more interested in histories and the resources that formed the materials.


I read this a few times, and internalized it. And it led me to some specific realizations about form and how one arrives at it, and I want to thank Caesar in writing for that. What stuck with me was this idea of winding up with an object, and then having to figure out whether or not it's good based on what you did. That's a top-down approach in which you tell the sculpture about form. And what I wanted was a bottom-up relationship, in which form is a necessary result, but in which I have little say over what the form is.

That relationship, in which form is not dictated but allowed to happen, seems more like the way life works. It seems more interesting, more about managing the crazy shit that happens to you in the course of a day and less about being the master of anything.

So, reading this was interview was a serious tool for understanding how to not get in the way of making this body of work, that is more about subjecting stuff to traumas of puncturing, torque and weight and allowing the results of that stress to emerge, than it is about anything else. You all remember this stuff:




Twist, 2007, carpet, cardboard and drywall screws over a found auto-body armature

What Caesar is doing has nothing to do with this. He's not interested in form as much as he's interested in volume and internality. And so he needs to start with some sort of form--you have to pour the resin in something--and so he relies heavily on known forms: circles, blobs, and at D'Amelio Terras, the grid.

And, of course, because I invested some energy in using these words for my own purposes, they are full of my own meanings now and so I look at all this grid stuff and feel disappointed, and that's not exactly the Good Foot. It is kind of selfish to hold someone accountable for how you used their words, so I am going to the park to dig some holes and loosen my grip on my own ideas of form, and approach this later.

By the way, there is an opening at Socrates Sculpture Park on Sunday, and you should come. Not only does the park and the Emerging Artists Fellowship show look fantastic, but you can see me and Takashi taking on New Orleans.

06 September 2007

Thursday At A Glance



Jedediah Caesar

I remember four things:

The photographs by Susan Graham at Schroeder Romero were really dreamy--childlike and dark, but not in a world-weary goth way. Instead they were kind of innocent and low-tech and fun.

The opposite of Susan Graham's photographs are at Rare. Jean-Pierre Roy's paintings were probably best described by Shane Hope as disasterbation.

For all the jibjab about conceptual art that it engendered... Thomas Lendvai at Winkleman was more about jewelry than concept, or even sculpture.

Jedediah Caesar at D'Amelio Terras = Grid. Which makes me think I misunderstood that AiA interview.

More on this later.

On Expecting More

Blogs are polemical. Someone says something that gets you all riled up, and then you dispute it, and thus the wheel keeps turning. And there is a danger in this. You could wind up taking a side.

Take the conversation that's (very) loosely turning around Thomas Lendvai's installation at Winkleman. Usually these posts on Ed_'s blog are not commented on, except to congratulate and wish dealer and artist well, but this time a conversation has blossomed that is basically about what viewers expect from the art viewing experience.

This is an important conversation to have, and it's important to separate it from conservative arguments like "I don't approve of site-specific work"* v. liberal arguments like "the more I know about art, the more I can appreciate any artwork"*. Both sides of this argument collapse! To place rules on contemporary artmaking is to ignore the 500 years of art history that pushed us into this uniquely lawless space. And to place the onus of understanding any artwork on the viewer's knowledge and sensitivity is to create an army of gullible Yes Men commenting on the fine quality of the Emperor's New Clothes.

No, no, no! I demand more on this Super Thursday. I demand a way of looking at art that denies nothing and expects much. I demand discussions about art that are as sloppy and unpolemical as art actually is! I demand, in the always lurid and in this case appropriate words of JP Gorin, to be kissed while I am being fucked! Because that is what art is about, that's the transaction.

*almost-direct quotes from the afforelinked-to blogorrhea at Edward Winkleman.

04 September 2007

Life Begins Again On Thursday!


If you are still reading this blog, you might have noticed that I have had very little to say about what other people are doing because, well...

...because I have had no idea what other people are doing.

But that sucking sound is my head pulling away from my ass, and without a second to spare! I am looking forward to a few openings Thursday night. But I am only sitting around on Tuesday night in giddy anticipation of one:

Jedediah Caesar, Three Views From Space at D'Amelio Terras

A long, nerdy review on this blog is inevitable. Jedediah Caesar did some very interesting talkin' in the "LA is for Sculptors" edition of Art in America last year, and I am dying to see some equally interesting product.

That sounds bitchy and like I am throwing a gauntlet, but it's really not like that. We all know that sculpture is impossible, and that all good sculptors fail all the time. I am in fucking love with the way Caesar set himself up in that interview as some Sculptural Superhero, saying that he was all about dispensing with form, that he wanted sculpture as organism.

I buy it entirely! I think that the interview was brilliant and brave! He put his finger right on the exact problem in sculpture right now...

...and I am not just saying that because I am engaged in a similar persuit!

Of course, Caesar's 2006 work was really dependent on form. On perfect forms, like circles, or arbitrary forms like blobs or the volumes of bags. It was poking at this idea of organism, and it was close to organizationally different, but it landed on metaphor when the self-stated goal was more like total structural upheaval.

And yeah, I understand why. As someone who similarly spent 2006 aiming at grand thoughts of total structural upheaval and hitting metaphors and representations, all I can say is that I learned a lot and am still in the game. And I am hoping that Caesar is, too.