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Last night was the opening of "Outpost," an exhibition curated by Ada Chisholm at Smack Mellon (50 Water St, Dumbo, Brooklyn). Highlights were Joe McKay's big screen video game (pics here) where players achieve heights of competitive blood lust in order to...match colors, and Cory Arcangel's power-point-presentation-with-Van-Halen-guitar-solo. In the McKay piece, players sit at a console and work simple RGB sliders (levers raising and lowering the amount of red, green, and blue light). Each player is arbitrarily given a "starting color" and must shift the levers until a "target color"--say, a large dot moving around the screen--is duplicated. When one player hits the exact hue (and it takes some concentration), he or she is declared the winner of that round and the game resets. Each new game has a different "op art" pattern--circles, stripes, spirals--and the color-combinations are often quite dazzling. The installation does something often claimed for color field painting that invariably never happens when you look at it: that is, it teaches you about the physical properties, relativity, and context-specificity of color. A few rounds of the game are equivalent to a short Bauhaus course with Albers and Itten, and I love that the competition is centered around Kandinskyesque harmonics rather than blowing apart zombies or whatever.
Cory Arcangel was also in the education mode last night, giving one of his trademark nerdy laptop slide lectures, but instead of explaining some obscure point of 8-bit computing, he delved into a pop-cultural moment of the type geeks enshrine on the internet in mind-boggling detail: specifically Eddie Van Halen's Paganini-like 1978 guitar solo "Eruption." With amusingly clunky graphics Arcangel explained to a somewhat skeptical, slow-to-warm audience how Van Halen put the pickups from a Les Paul into a Stratocaster body so he could play "up high and nerdy," wired his amps to think they were playing at a lower volume than they were, and got Floyd Rose whammy bar effects with a stock, Strat-style whammy bar. (Simulating the sound on his own guitar, Arcangel momentarily got the wrong vibrato and said "Whoops, that sounds more like Steve Vai.") As the minute fanboy details kept coming and coming, the crowd finally started getting the joke, and then was roused to cheering applause when Arcangel ended his lecture with a blistering note-for-note recreation of the solo. Trips to art galleries should always be this fun.
A quick round of the Chelsea Dead Zone, I mean art district, today. Some people didn't like Liz Larner's show at 303, but I kind of enjoyed it. Ribbons, fake hair braids, surgical tubing, TV antenna cable, canvas strips, and other filaments converge from the walls and ceiling of the back gallery into a "vanishing point," consisting of a big suspended gordian knot of all that stuff. In the front room interlocking colored cubes perched cockeyed on plinths--more of her trademark wacky (but quiet) modernism. I'm glad to see she's sticking to her guns after Ronald Jones attacked her in a recent Artforum for going soft conceptually. I really don't need to see any more petri dishes in the gallery, thanks.
Speaking of modernism, Carol Bove presents another ambiguous tribute to the halcyon days of the late '60s/early '70s, when talk of utopia (social, sexual, artistic) suffused the air. Stacks and shelf-arrangements of period books (Black Rage, I Seem to Be a Verb, People's Park, Solaris, anything by John Lilly) mingle with geometric sculptures and wall drawings of tightly-stretched thread, while wispy inkwash renderings of Twiggy and other bygone beauties stare balefully from white sheets of paper pinned to the wall. The connecting glue is idealism, as reflected in the show's title: "Experiment in Total Freedom." But it's a kind of frozen, museological idealism, in which the Minimalist design trends of the '60s eclipse the wild-in-the-streets, getting naked side of the decade. That's a very fitting metaphor for the way things are right now, with "doin' your own thing" boxed up and, er, shelved by both the p.c. left and the Ashcroft right. (At Team through June 21.)
Larry Clark's show, over at Luhring Augustine, dealt with some of the same themes but might have benefited from Bove's light touch. This is the Shrine-to-River-Phoenix, 45-collecting, total-memorabilia-dump side of the Clark experience, which isn't as strong as his films and photographs. (Bully rules!) Speaking of Total Freedom: the art world allows Larry to do it all, that is, hang out with attractive young people, photograph them, & sleep with them, while oodles of creative people with similar behavioral quirks and yearnings are just going to get crucified in the current climate. I'm not sure where that thought is going so let's just leave it for now.
Lisa Yuskavage tackles polymorphous sexuality from the female perspective in a lovely, rather somber show at Marianne Boesky. What strikes me here is the strange, postmodern dialogue with painting's past--ways of representing women (straight portraiture, in repose, having their hair combed) redolent of Velazquez, Mary Cassatt, Manet, Degas, all mixed up with the Hugh Hefner cartoon, Sex-to-Sexty kitsch sensibility of big-boobed sex kittens. No single painting is either one way or the other. Both in this refusal to pick a period or a tone, and more blatantly, in the women's facial expressions, there's something kind of tortured about the work. Still, a smart show, possibly Yuskavage's best.
Last, a group exhibit at Friedrich Petzel inspired this comment in the gallery guest book: "PAINFUL (IN A BAD WAY)." Perfectly fitting that description are a crude jigsaw-cut crucifixion scene and a tacky multi-armed jackal-headed goddess of stainless steel that probably shouldn't have seen the light of halogen. The spraypainted walls and ceiling by Katharina Grosse had a nice messy graffitioid feel to them, though.
A friend recently said he never liked Tron (which I talked about here and here) because he thought it looked stupid. Yes, I guess that's true, in the same way Fritz Lang's Metropolis and William Cameron Menzies' Things to Come look stupid: all are exercises in worldbuilding somewhat embarrassingly rooted in the eras in which they were made. Tron may be dated by its technology, but it's interestingly dated: many of the effects involve ways of rendering and makeshift solutions that won't likely be seen again (e.g., "simulated wireframe" using backlit kodalith), because digital filmmaking has utterly changed in the last 21 years. But not necessarily improved--are the plasticine universes of Finding Nemo etc. any more significant, really?
A few years ago I wrote an essay contrasting Pixar's drive for visual perfection with some of the grotty, low-tech things artists are doing. I think this still holds up:
As the corporate entertainment world introduces greater levels of "virtuality" into films (Toy Story, Jurassic Park) and computer games (Myst, Tomb Raider II), many artists are headed in the opposite direction, toward a kind of a sublime indeterminacy. Blurred transmissions, imperfect copies, and other waste products of electronic and digital media are the model for this new aesthetic, which is both symbiotic to and aloof from the global information network.
The recent marriage of Hollywood and Silicon Valley has revived the age-old quest for what Norman Bryson calls the "essential copy"--the depiction of seamless reality that preoccupied artists from ancient Greece to the late 19th Century. Instead of complex history paintings full of perfectly rendered figures, the goal of current software writers is to create moving tableaux in which the figures interact, cast realistic shadows, and accommodate changing light sources--all at the click of a mouse.
These discoveries take place within labor- and capital-intensive workplaces like Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic, where employees scramble to top previous levels of verisimilitude. Technical achievement, not humanistic speculation or doubt, is the prime concern in these high-tech factories. Artists, on the other hand, are as interested in the "why" of technology as the "how." Where special effects crews are building images using computer-generated skeletons and fractal outer skins, artists are breaking pictures down into critically nuanced, constituent parts. Increasingly they are gaining access to home equipment that enables unorthodox uses of technology.
So what does this have to do with Tron? Not much, actually. The film's director, Steven Lisberger, is just as rooted in digital utopianism as the Pixar folks; in recent interviews he has spoken of how artists can give inspiring form to new technologies, lamented the failed promise of the internet (he believes it's mainly a haven for gossip and p0rn), and dissed the despairing tone of the (original) Matrix. Yet a lot of artists like Tron, perhaps for the wrong reasons: the provisional, cobbled-together look of its technology; its wonderful mix of formal beauty and supreme cheesiness. Also, readers of William Gibson's Neuromancer inevitably thought about Blade Runner when visualizing The Sprawl, but what movie provided a ready template for the blocks of abstract data comprising Cyberspace? Oh, and speaking of anachronisms, the Pixar short that accompanies Nemo, titled Knickknacks, is pure uncut '80s, from the glossy sheen of the design to the '50s-retro wallpaper to the perky Bobby McFerrin soundtrack that makes you want to run screaming for the exits. Now there's something that's not interestingly dated.
Mark suggests a connection to the Springfield Knowledgeum in my recent (ongoing) painting--"where science is explained with brightly colored balls." I missed that Simpsons episode but it sounds just about right. I also made this "Jack Kirby Mandala" as an aid to help me visualize whirled peas, I mean the painting. I found the image at Comiclopedia (thanks to artnotes): it's from a 1982 Kirby comic and the text brings tears to my post-adolescent eyes: "FOR EVERY INDIVIDUAL LOSS, LEGIONS POUR FORTH!!! THE HIVE BELOW HAS BEEN RESTLESS--MULTIPLYING!"
Jim was over last night and asked for a demonstration of my mouse-drawing acumen on MSPaintbrush. The image below, based on the DVD cover for Kiki's Delivery Service, was drawn freehand while he and Bill watched, so now I have witnesses to this valuable skill-set:
I've started a new painting that's in my typical hybrid (virtual/non-virtual) style of working on the computer: making a drawing in MSPaintbrush, flipping and reflipping the image, printing it out, drawing some more, overprinting (running the previously-drawn pages through the printer again), taping the pages together, adding and subtracting elements with scissors and tape, etc. A step-by-step demo, documenting the process with a digital camera, is going on here.
Carl Scholz at Momenta Art through June 2. I haven't seen the show but this is a great picture. Or maybe just a great car. From the press release: "Titled Cherry, the vehicle has been rendered inaccessible through a flawless body job that replaces and covers all windows, exterior decoration, or any reference to the interior. Scholz is interested in symbols of power, class, masculinity, recognition, and safety." Yes, it's pushing all those buttons for former teen muscle car model-kit builders such as myself.
The artist here is Ina Ettlinger, from Munich. Her pieces start as actual clothing which is dismantled into the weird tendrils you see. She often picks out a section or color of the fabric pattern to 'work out.' Sometimes the extracted bits crawl up the wall, other times travel out onto the floor. No wires involved, just stuffed fabric. The work is by turns whimsical and feminine, creepy and hysterical. (Paraphrased from an email from Courtenay Smith, director of Lothringer13/Halle in Munich.)