Friday, May 16, 2008

Bitter People Hate Art, Life

On this ex-treme-ly rainy, blustery spring day in New York--really, just the kind of weather I enjoy, especially for gallery hopping in Chelsea--I find my sensibilities regarding the life-affirming power of Art under assault.

First at the Yoko Ono installation at Lelong, in which viewers are invited to take a Polaroid of themselves limb-f*cking a perforated canvas. In a way, also, mourning the death of the Polaroid, what a bummer!

In need of refreshment with a snack and magazine, New York Magazine informs me that 1 in 10 people who kill themselves in New York come from out of town specifically for that purpose, in this article on Suicidal Tourism. Yo, Gypsy wasn't that bad! At least now I have 'The SuicideTourist' as a name for my autobiography. Ta for the title.

Finally, a scary xerox clown-head warns aspirational pedestrians against art school...(click to view larger).

New York is trying to tell me something, but the message arrives too late!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

All Those Beautiful Boys

Speaking of boring gays and expensive art (see previous post), here are some musings about shows that all opened in the same time-frame last month in New York, representing a spectrum of high-end/low-end art production models and art world fagiolis in general..

Ryan McGinley @ Team!
The best part of Ryan McGinley will always be his openings---eww, no, that's not what I mean! I mean all the fabulous skinny giraffe boys and artfag mafia that attend his openings (and star in his photographs). This current body of work was miles ahead of the puzzling and unenjoyable Morissey concert photos of his premiere Team offering. Ryan toured the country with a group of beautiful nude ectomorphs of both sexes (embodying such an otherworldy level of litheness and lethargy, perhaps more like a hipster third sex of some kind..). Such an envious proposition resulted in less joy than you might think: his romantic posings, alternately leaping, running, or in repose, are rendered with a kind of affectless flatness which I find characteristic of his photos; slightly distanced, the figures dissolving into the landscape like a Natural History Museum diorama, these post-sexual gazelle-like children always fleeing, flying, the exact opposite of the cum-shot confrontations of, say, Terry Richardson (who was there, of course). The NY Times critic's review of the show discouraged his use of fireworks (a recurrent motif) in which nude figures are suspended in a nimbus of pyrotechnic energy, but I disagree, they lend a supernatural exuberance which counterbalance the few shots that threaten to disappear into their own indolence...

Scott Treleaven @ John Connelly Presents!
This show was so charming and sexy I wanted to buy half-a-dozen pieces on the spot, but settled for a catalog. Scott makes very mannered, adorational photo-collage altarpieces in the spirit of xeroxed gay-punk zines, Derek Jarman, or a more occultish, back-alley Pierre & Gilles...the naked punk youths in his stark pictures usher the viewer into a baroque reliquary in which the sophomoric symbology (skulls, floral japonisme, wolves, the occult, human sacrifice) does seem to somehow work in summoning up my inner goth-punk buried deep down inside forgotten queer teenage feelings...

Murakami @ Brooklyn Museum
It just wouldn't be complete if I didn't include this surreptitiously snapped shot of the infamous My Lonesome Cowboy, Murakami's sole nod to the explicit gay manga subgenre (a medium not short on other deviant sexual behaviors like misogyny, rape, child porn, psycho-sexual torture and other family-friendly fare). In fact I really can't believe the number of strollers and kids I had to dodge around at this opening, granted it was the first-friday free-family day-care center at the museum, and the work is awfully bright and full of festive cartoon figures, but a little research ahead of time might have saved parents a lot of embarrassment and awkward explanations about Murakami's scatalogical, putrescent and somewhat alarming artwork.
I loved Peter Schjeldahl's frank statements about the show in the New Yorker:
"I don't like Murakami's work, but my dislike, being moody, feels out of scale with the artist's terrific energy and ambition...His aim is to control and standardize aesthetic experience, forcing viewers into an infantile mold of rote response. Warhol, with his..color and catchy evidence of manual touch, is Rubens by comparison. But Warhol as marketer, not as artist, is Murakami's lodestar."
Also: "Murakami seems averse to a cardinal obligation that Warhol, Koons, and Hirst accept: the duty to seduce. But to actively woo the eye and tantalize the mind implies the possible existence of resistant viewers." If an underwhelmed Scheldahl found solace in the naked avarice of the built-in Vuitton boutique, I admit to being sucked in, seduced, and twirled around like a lariat of semen around that maniacally grinning boy's head.
REBLOG update (posted by Ed Winkleman, May 15):
My Lonesome Cowboy... "inspired by a Japanese video game hero with a swirling semen lasso, fetched more than five times its $3 million low estimate. At $15.2 million, it may be the most expensive ejaculation ever auctioned. (A Sotheby's spokeswoman said that's one category they don't track.)"

Expensive Art, Boring Gays: Credit in the Straight World

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a certain favorite gallerist of mine in which he bemoaned the loss of an interesting, radical queer culture in favor of the current assimilationist, overly-capitalized attitudes of the gay scene. Always one to carry on two conversations in my head, the other one concerning the 'Art and its Markets' issue of Artforum, I chirped at the parallel developments within the gay movement and the art world since the 70s or so. In both scenes, early optimistic attempts to create team-oriented utopian social alternatives fizzled fairly quickly and gave way to a highly market-driven, consumption-oriented practice. Or did it? After a tumultuous decade in which art and queers (and usually, queer art) had to continually defend itself against public and governmental exhortations to 'prove its validity in the real world', it turned around and did exactly that. The Market (or rather, success in the Market) is the sole autonomous zone of invulnerability in this country. So now, the art market has become an inflated parallel universe of hyper-capital, and there are more gays boringly getting married and going to church than ever before. The positive side of this being: a rising tide has the potential to lift all boats. As if!!

As Gregory Sholette notes in his article 'State of the Union' from the afore-mentioned issue of Artforum, this process of radicalization and then normalization seems to be cyclical. There was a period of collectivity, organizing and attempted unionization of artists following the Depression and the WPA projects, followed inevitably by a postwar clampdown in which 'radicals were purged from unions and artists began to abandon picket lines for their studios.' It wasn't until the 60s and 70s that artists "again took up militant self-organizing", obviously in parallel with the other social movements of the time, including the post-Stonewall politicization of the Gay Lib movement.
Sholette: "But as we well know, the conservative 'revolution' of Reagan and Thatcher soon followed. After experimenting with ideas, politics, unions, and other not-so-marketable practices, artists began to paint again." (And freaky expressions of sexuality in popular culture went back in the closet to a certain degree, or at least hid beneath a veneer of a coded normative heterosexuality, as in certain music videos of the period...) "East Village artists of the 80s surrendered themselves to the means-end rationality of the marketplace" while mimicking the subaltern culture they were helping to displace. Nevertheless, some artists continued to self-organize for greater equity at a time of rapid defunding of the public sphere through targeted cuts in nonmilitary state expenditures."

Conceptually speaking: "further complicating the status of artistic production is the 180-degree shift in the profile of the artist, from marginal outcast to a fetish figure for the creative networked economy...the new spirit of capitalism calls on all of us to think like an artist: outside the box." The image of the Gay, likewise, is of the ultra-efficient, socially networked glamazon, ready to decisively improvise a fabulous makeover, deliver sharp advice and generally help straights get their life together. When you have to work twice as hard for half the reward, after all, you get
good at it. The new spirit of reality-tv pop culture calls on all of us to think like a homo: outside the closet!

Of course that works great for those art stars & fagiolis who are at the top of the food chain; the social reality for the proletarian majority continues to be precarious. We all love the idea of being poor, underground, radical and sexy. Lots of great art and great sex has happened in that zone, but then we, like a society in general, has to grow up. The presence of an expanded market thanks to Hirst or Koons or Gagosian or Broad doesn't
prevent new collectivities and radical schools from forming. Twenty-year old republican gays getting married doesn't stop freaky punk-tranny-rock star hustlers from coming into being and converting your kids. Like I told my gallerist compadre at the end of our conversation: You sound like every other old guy who complains about things becoming too mainstream...the rad art, music and sex is still going on, but it's happening in the underground where it belongs, and its not for you (or me either for that matter) anymore. Sorry.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Volta Video from my phone!

One of the neat things about Volta is that galleries are allowed only one artist per installation. This makes it feel more like an exhibition and less like a trade show. From the viewer's perspective it certainly eases the fatigue of art-fair visual overload, and hopefully it presents the taste level of the gallery in a more accurate light which ultimately attracts longterm collector interest---right? This may have been the reasoning behind the galleries that chose to display, er, shall we say non-commodity oriented work.

There was a cool 'contraption' aesthetic to a lot of the work--and a lot of really great video installation pieces. Here is a look at some of them. I shot the video with my cell-phone which accounts for the appalling production values.

Ian Burns @ Spencer Brownstone

Ian Burns creates inventive, self-contained cinematic scene-generators made from kitchen-sink contraptions comprised of ironing boards, folding chairs, dirty plastic cups, electric fans, spy cameras and other off-the-shelf consumer junk. The sculptures are hilariously unwieldly mechanical assemblies that are notable in their use of plastic bags as a visual stand-in for arctic landscapes. Can you see the model plane 'flying' through the clouds?

Peter Sarkisian @ I-20

'Extruded Video Engine' is a rear-projection piece ingeniously mounted and seamlessly presented; it consists of hundreds of clips composited together to intelligently conform to the contours of a 3D vacuum-formed sculpture. It had a retro, slightly carnival-esque Dada feeling, like peering into the workings of a 50s sci-fi mechanism or behind the curtain of the Mighty Oz; the pistons, gears, and whirlygigs are obsolete gadgets that were allegedly filmed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Another crowd-pleaser here.

Pietro Sanguineti @ Nusser&Baumgart

These videos really caught my eye. Sanguineti incorporates the style of broadcast graphics to create time-based explorations of single word imperatives (which he also creates as text-based sculptures, see side); in the central, newest piece, he cuts snippets of computer-generated footage from video-games, commercials, and other sources to comment on the complex representations of 'nature' in our heavily mediated visual culture.

One more...

David Ellis @ Roebling Hall

Brooklyn action-graffiti painter David Ellis does a 180 from the Barnstormers work we know and love and presents these fascinating junkyard honky-tonk percussion sculptures. Tom Waits should be howling over them, I think. I didn't get a good shot of the clanging mound that the large bird is flapping in front of, but it's actually a giant craft-fair owl formed from beer bottles and metal mesh. The video loop is a teaser of an upcoming film of slow-motion paint spilling, I thought it was a long form computer rendering of fluid dynamics. Speaking of which, David is doing a week-long live painting performance at the Theory flagship store in the Meatpacking District, check it out til April 3rd.

Art Fair Roundup 2: Volta!

Here are some highlights from the Volta fair, which everyone--quite justifiably--told me to attend after the somewhat dull viewings at Scope (don't get me wrong, there was a lot of really nice work on view, it just didn't feel like--well, like art was happening).

Above, Jacin Giordano's fabulous toilet seat cover column and glitter painting at Baumet Sultana.

Above, these sculptures from Kevin Francis Gray (at Goff & Rosenthal) were real crowd pleasers. A combination of cast resin, bronze and automotive paint that filtered a smart classicism through a contemporary filter, or is that the other way around..? Sex, death, glamor, drapery, and the artist himself, a big, bearded, beaming Irishman...
It made me think. No one in New York is making work like this, except Koons, but he's on his own trip--but it may have more to do with access to the resources necessary to make this kind of work. This kind of work is expensive, time-consuming, and craft-conscious, not exactly three things in the toolbelts of most NY artists, but is that an aesthetic choice or are the means of production limited by the difficult realities of living here? The junk/assemblage aesthetic certainly seems to rule the scene here. I'd be interested in your opinion on this.

Art Fair Roundup!

Assume Vivid Astro Focus at the Armory! Yay!!
This is about all I paused to enjoy at the Armory show, after sneaking in--kind of--thanks to the good grace of my friend from VideoArtWorld who was in town to host a series of really interesting panels and screenings at Whitebox for DiVA (the Digital Video Art Fair, now revamped as a series of individual installations in several shipping containers scattered around Chelsea--MUCH preferable to a cramped hotel presentation, though probably not for the poor gallery attendants who had to sit in the containers all day in the cold & rain!).