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A short history of Mel Ramos.
Mel Ramos's pictures of babes posing with giant Coke bottles and spark plugs were considered Pop in the '60s, so he became a canonical artist early in his career. Then he did a series of women posing with animals, which were considered "bad taste." Then feminist theory came along, equating the admiring gaze of a man with rape, and suddenly his whole oeuvre was suspect. By the early '90s, Arts magazine disgustedly wrote off his paintings as "masturbation plates." What's awkward is, he's Hispanic, and by the early '90s the (white, elitist) art world was bending over backward to be "multicultural." What do you do when the culture you're fetishizing fetishizes women? Best to just ignore him. Then lesbian artist/critic Collier Schorr wrote a review in Artforum proclaiming that she always considered Ramos's babes to be "hot." Then some Euro-conceptualist did a performance piece with a live nude girl posing on top of a Ramos-esque painting of a raccoon. Then John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage made careers out of painting tacky female nudes. By 2000, a Ramos nude-with-cow was hanging proudly in a group show at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York.
And Mel lived happily ever after.
Mel Ramos, Young Girl Before a
Mirror #2, oil on canvas, 48" x 35"
"The exhibition 'Compression' (Feigen Contemporary, December 2 - January 12), curated by Tim Griffin, a founding editor of artbyte magazine (and currently art editor for Time Out New York), attempts to link the art and cyber-discourses by asking: 'What kinds of depicted space do we encounter when digital materials enter the picture?' Even with the collapse of the dot-com economy, this is a timely inquiry, since our living environments, work habits, and media views of reality continue to be shaped by software engineers, and artists are well-equipped by training and temperament to look over their shoulders and ask--from a conceptual and design standpoint--exactly what the hell they're doing. Although Griffin included a range of high-, low-, and no-tech work that purportedly addressed the question, unfortunately too many of the pieces required theoretical uploads (from his exhibition essay) to be relevant."
--from my review of "Compression" (featuring Asymptote Architecture, Jeremy Blake, Stephen Hendee, Diti Almog, Susan Goldman, Michelle Grabner, and Dike Blair), in Art Papers, May/June 2001. For full text, click here.
The Doris Piserchia website has been updated recently (click on link above). Joanna Pataki sent the text of "Rocket to Gehenna," DP's first published story, and that's been added to the Short Stories page. I rewrote the introductory remarks on the Contents page (incorporating some arguments from this log) and finally launched the Excerpts page, with a couple of chapters from Doomtime, one of my favorite of her books. It's difficult to find individual passages that do the author justice. She doesn't make speeches, but plunges you right into the story, adding one strange detail at a time so the weirdness is cumulative. One of the best essays I've found on her work, discussing I, Zombie, laments the absence of explanation in her writing, but also gives her credit that this is what she intended--letting the reader make the big interpretations.
Two plays by Nora Breen debuted at Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg last night. Both were off-Broadway-calibre productions, and very funny. In the first (a one-act), two obsessive/compulsives meet in a shrink's waiting room. He's a neat-freak who straightens everything in sight; she has a thing about germs. They flirt, they fight, she unstraightens, he touches--it's David and Lisa played for laughs. In the second play (a reading only), a woman comes to stay at her sister's apartment for a week to avoid her mother-in-law, convinced that the prim-and-proper old lady is trying to kill her. The sister with the apartment thinks the sister with the in-law has parent issues, but it turns out they both do: the question is, did or didn't their father strangle the family dog?
Missing Chuck Close Discovered
May 10, 2001 (AP)
An important early painting by American photorealist painter Chuck Close, stolen from the artist's studio thirty years ago, was recently discovered in a Westchester County basement. "Harry," measuring 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide and painstakingly rendered in acrylic on canvas, is described by Museum of Modern Art curator Robert Storr as "a striking example of Close's early style." Close himself has authenticated the painting, saying, in a phone interview from his Manhattan loft, "It's Harry, all right. I feel as if I've gotten an old friend back."
Artforum magazine's website has recently gone interactive; there's a "talk back" feature that allows you to comment on its articles and reviews. So far people aren't being shy (except about using their real names)--there is currently an entertaining thread about Tim Gardner's show at 303. First, we read Frances Richard's Critic's Pick, which is the magazine's typical, nicely written rubberstamp, followed by this fairly amazing post by "Skull," defining Gardner in terms of local (NYC area) grad-school politics:
"If Tim had gone to Y[ale] instead of C[olumbia] his work would have been enormously different because of Mel [Bochner]. Tim did not get accepted even with a positive nod from Catherine [?] and Sylvia [?]. Mel didn't get accepted either. Dick [?] was responsible for this, who coincidentally was Joseph [?]'s TA. Pedro [Barbeito] was Dick's TA at Y but Mel was the big rooster by that time and it made no difference that Dick was no longer the stupid brother among the grumpy old men.There may actually be a theory in there somewhere, and I confess I'm too blase to fill in all the names (anyone is welcome to flesh out the list with the anonymous, add-a-comment feature below). Nevertheless, the post is amusing because it cuts against the official, authoritarian voice of the magazine and (inadvertently) raises the question of how a recent MFA comes to be showing at a high-profile Chelsea gallery (aside from genius, of course). Artforum may soon wish it hadn't opened the Pandora's box of interactivity, but I'm glad it did.
"Ron [Jones], who was formally the big rooster at C while Tim was there, was henpecked out by Archie [Rand]and the older hens; Mathew [?] and Carroll [Dunham] could not help out their fellow rooster. Jessica [Stockholder] now controls the S[culpture] house at Y. Ron has gone west and with a middle-age move Jerry [?] now has finally decided to [stop] switch hitting and is settling at C. He was not allowed to go back to Y in the P[ainting?] program anyhow. The Ph[otography] program is different with Greg [Crewdson] directing. And with all the players acting so independently, the three artists share philosophy that has sentimental found-object photography influencing their paintings. Mel and Pedro with Johns; Tim with Wyeth."
Tim Gardner, Untitled (Val & Flamingos), 2001
watercolor on paper mounted on panel, 5" x 7"
Jed Perl, art critic for the New Republic, is a scold in the old Hilton Kramer, "art's-going-down-the-toilet" mold, but reactionary criticism can be useful for focusing your thoughts. He gives "BitStreams" at the Whitney serious consideration, and then comes to the same conclusion that the NY Times and Village Voice did: so-called "computer art" hasn't arrived yet. Here's his pitch: "Art has for centuries now been more or less a realm unto itself, dominated by technologies which are distinctive precisely because they are throwbacks to a time when just about everything was handmade. The computer artist means to merge two distinctive modern sensibilities, two very different ways of thinking about creativity. Artistic thinking is cyclical. Scientific thinking is progressivist. The desire to bring technologies derived from the fast-forward world of science into the world of art is a perfectly understandable one, but it is a utopian desire, a desire to reunite what was long ago broken apart. Computer art remains a sort of pipe dream. It's the pipe dream of the moment." Perl is confusing artistic motivation with curatorial aspiration here: if you read the hype on "BitStreams," it's full of future-centric utopian claims (that's what my satirical 1969 news clipping makes fun of), but if you look at the art, you find that most of it is neither forward nor backward-looking, but focused intently on the present. My main problem with the show, in fact, is that it's too full of sound-bite-friendly, grad school-style critiques of "power relations" or "the media" (an eternal '80s nightmare from which we can't seem to wake up). Having said that, however, I don't think you can accuse the artists of using the computer just to be current. Most of them are doing so because it allows them to say things they couldn't say by more antiquated means. Worshipping the future may be problematic, but saying that art must always cycle back to the cave painting era is just as obnoxious.
Back up to the Whitney tonight for a panel on digital sound art. (I'm working on an article on "Bitstreams" and other recent digital shows, so a lot of the notes are going here). The panelists played excerpts from their work and/or performed, and then fielded questions.
Elliott Sharp used a small microphone attached by a cable to his laptop to make a pocket symphony of white noise/metal machine music. He held the mike in the air to pick up room sounds, twirled it like a lasso, dangled it over the keyboard, and hummed into it, but the sounds coming out of the speakers bore no resemblance to the sounds you'd expect to be produced from such activities. He constantly clicked buttons on the laptop, changing the texture of the sounds as he performed, from clicks to roars to feedback honks--all very downtown and "no wave" and enjoyable.
John Hudak presented "nature sounds as minimalist music": field recordings of crickets time-stretched into ambient washes. The lecture part of his segment was so timid and halting that I noticed the critic next to me writing "MINIMALIST SPEAKER" in her notebook.
The highlight of west coast artist Pamela Z's segment was a brief demonstration of the "body synth": a group of sensors attached to her arms that turned muscle flexion and extension (i.e. dance movements) into synthesized hiccups, trills, and Art of Noise-style vocal stabs. This could have been bad, but it was quite charming and unpredictable. Marina Rosenfeld played a live recording of her 17-woman band Sheer Frost, consisting of 12 guitar players (hitting the fretboards with nail polish bottles in accordance with a strict score of basic "moves") and 5 laptop players reinterpreting the performance in real time. This wasn't so good--it reminded me of Fred Frith's late-'70s experimental period when he was using a light bulb as a slide and refusing to do anything virtuosic.
Last, the inevitable DJ Spooky (with shaved head) treated the audience to a mad whirl of self-promotion (passing out stickers and LPs), name-dropping of French critics and American jazz musicians, and video-game style graphics from his laptop. The guy really talks the talk--"the net mirrors the street; as above, so below," "architecture is frozen music," and so forth--but does he walk the walk? I liked one loop where a brief flurry of typography on the screen was accompanied by steroid-enhanced Smith Corona sounds, but I was not convinced by his manifestation of "dub architecture": wireframe images of a 3-D graffiti tag writhing above glass-and-aluminum balconies. He brags about his club dates but he's really a creature of museums, wowing curators with drum-and-bass and hip-hop quotations. I would have enjoyed him more if he wasn't so pedantic: "Have you ever heard of [so-and-so]? You haven't ? Well, he invented the record sleeve!"
I made my debut at the Whitney Museum today. Well, in the sense that anyone could who attends the "Data Dynamics" portion of the "BitStreams" exhibition. Maciej Wisniewski's netomat (TM) wraps around three walls and projects large, floating, overlapping images (and text fragments) on a floor-to-ceiling scale. You sit down at a keyboard and type in a word or phrase, then netomat searches the web, pulls up words and pictures corresponding to what you typed, and blows them up to enormous size on the darkened gallery walls. This is real Exploratorium, Montreal Expo '70-type stuff, of limited artistic interest but fine for fifteen minutes of farting around. The brochure describes the software as "a new audio-visual language designed specifically to explore the unexplored internet," but that's just hype. Essentially netomat is a search engine, not that different from Google; instead of giving you a list of "hits" it goes directly to the sites and starts grabbing words and pictures. The program then enlarges the sampled content, colorizes it, layers it over other content, and causes the sampled snippets to creep inexorably around the walls. Also, there is another terminal nearby, so it's possible for you and another viewer to display two sets of information and have a slow-motion "image duel" (which sounds exciting, but it isn't really). When I came in, the walls were full of Jennifer Love Hewitt photos and various unrelated ad banners. I lamely typed in "Frankenstein" and about four minutes later, pictures of Boris Karloff and Gene Wilder began to surface (the program also found a really poorly-rendered boltneck that reminded me of a Jim Shaw drawing). The woman next to me didn't speak English well but quickly caught on, typing in "Wharhol." I suggested deleting the "h," and soon images of Andy appeared, superimposed over Boris. Opportunistically I typed in "'Tom Moody' +artist," hoping a choice pic might show up; instead I got the words "Op Art in the 90s by Tom Moody (originally published in VERY Magazine #3)" (which I recognized from the Abaton Book Company website), printed in purple and emblazoned across thirty feet of wall. Unfortunately the museum was closing up, so I didn't get a chance to use "katie holmes nude naked no clothes" (an actual search request from a site that logs such things) to test the kidproofing software.