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We shouldn't do something because it's right but because scientists have learned monkeys do it. That seems to be the gist of Adam Cohen's editorial in the NY Times today (liberated-from-the-archive version here). The essay argues: Capuchin monkeys are apparently "hard wired for fairness" in food distribution, etc. Humans are like capuchin monkeys. Therefore, our legal system should be more fair.
Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal, researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, chose capuchin monkeys because capuchins are among the few primates — along with men and chimpanzees — that hunt cooperatively. Team hunting has evolutionary advantages, allowing a species to capture prey, like squirrels, it otherwise could not. In many monkey societies the dominant male eats what he wants, and the others fight over the scraps. But in societies like those of capuchins — and humans — in which hunting is done cooperatively, food is more equitably distributed.Here's where the logic gets dicey: "The dominant male eats what it wants and the others fight over the scraps" isn't just a paradigm of "many monkey societies" but many human societies as well. Didn't we just depose a dictator who "built palaces while his people starved"? Didn't we just give a huge tax break to the top 1% of income earners in this country? We may all have an instinct for fairness, but whether it's expressed in our behavior--and our laws--is culturally determined. So why the appeal to evolution? Why does Cohen look to the lower primates for role models when there are libraries of legal, religious, and philosophical thought addressing issues of equity and fairness? Answer: because he's a sentimental sap. "Aw, look at the cute monkeys."
Three exhibits currently up at 526 W. 26th in Chelsea take major steps in the ongoing project of materializing 1s and 0s (art world department). The installation view at top is Millree Hughes at Michael Steinberg (9th floor). No static picture could do this show justice because every surface is lenticular printed plastic (a kind of pseudo-hologram often seen on gag postcards) encoded with five distinct abstract paintings. Each painting reveals itself in turn as you walk past the piece, and you are always looking at a "transition state" where 2 or more paintings are visible. This idea was done in a very obvious way by the Op artist Agam in the '60s (using ribbed, painted panels), but Hughes' layering of multiple viewpoints is much more shimmery and fluid--like a screen dissolve in tangible form. Miraculously recuperating Spencer Gifts technology, the show rethinks how painting can be experienced, making the spectator a participant, much as in an exhibition of Minimalist sculpture. (The floor-pieces aren't sculptures, per se, but rather paintings in a variety of elevations, orientations, and groupings.) The tangles of abstract expressionist silhouettes are done in a Flash program, very much informed by old-school paint-handling but with stretching, resizing, and color-tweaking features unique to digital programs.
Claire Corey's show at Ten in One (3rd Floor) makes us question our commitment to touch and spontaneity, supposedly the last remaining hallmarks of painterly as opposed to photographic practices. At what point do we stop caring about "the hand" and "humanity" when machines can perfectly duplicate drips, smears, and other signifiers of studio passion--that is, when we can no longer trust our senses to connect us to another's experience? Abstraction has no equivalent to portraiture's "uncanny valley," where heightened similarities make us concentrate distractingly on differences. Corey also has a show up in Germany right now, with an essay well worth reading, placing her work in the context of postmodern AbEx and explaining how she removes it one more step, from imitating a machine look with paint processes to actually using the machine to make art. Shirley Kaneda & Co., watch out: the bar has been raised.
Ditto ChanSchatz, at Massimo Audiello (5th Floor). Thinking this work was done like Corey's, all with the computer, I was disappointed to learn they cheated and used paint. What I thought were airbrush and stencil effects are apparently just airbrush and stencil (if I'm wrong about this, please leave a comment). Even worse, they've got that damn conceptual back story, obligatory for all recent Columbia MFAs: They didn't just make paintings, they're quick to explain, they gave their friends* preference sheets and had them check off favorite shapes and color combinations. Their aversion to the Individual Genius Author is laudable, but at a certain point decisions have to get made, and I'd guess these paintings lost their committee involvement fairly early in the process. They're intelligent and compelling images (except for the cheesy portraits) in which the computer is obviously integrally involved at the design stage; they don't need to be legitimized with all the discourse about "information management," corporate branding, blah blah.
*A who's who of New York curators, critics, and artists. What a coincidence! Also the friends' names are in the titles of the pieces. Touching. *retch*
Ludwig Schwarz, oil on canvas (approx 50 by 50 inches), at Angstrom Gallery, Dallas. Schwarz, whose video piece "3 Minute Cure" has a cult following here in NY, made this painting by sending a collage to a company in mainland China, which hires by-the-hour painters to render basically anything as an "original oil." This was my favorite--don't know the title yet. An earlier piece I like (not part of the painting series) is
Untitled (Ludwig Schwarz Indian Cuisine), 2001, vinyl banner, 22" x 216"
Bloggy and Travelers Diagram both mention a Herbert Muschamp article in the NY Times about the Ellsworth Kelly "proposal" for the World Trade Center site: a simple collage with a solid green trapezoid pasted over a photo of the site, connoting green space. Of course nothing of the kind will ever be seen in the real world, but the Whitney has acquired the collage and is treating it like a major statement (it is a nice piece). Muschamp's support makes me roll my eyes, though. Here's a comment I wrote on bloggy's page:
Absolutely, a large greenspace would have been the most poignant and elegant solution. As if! (Land values must be utilized! Investments recouped!) Muschamp is getting all mushy about minimalism here but let's not forget he's a prime exponent of delirious maximalism, as embodied in the work of Rem Koolhaas and the execrable Frank Gehry. The Kelly tribute is more than a little disingenuous considering Muschamp's role in promoting "more is more."What happened was, two years late for the collage to be considered as a serious proposal, Kelly sent it to Muschamp in a Fed Ex box as a ...gift? (Not sure exactly). Muschamp writes himself into the story as the noble fellow who felt the design too profound and important to keep and who arranged for its acquisition by the Whitney. Then he pens a tribute that seems both untimely (where was all that research on burial mounds two years ago?) and patronizing (since Muschamp supported the rather busier designs of both WTC finalists at one time or another). Perhaps after Muschamp's embarrassing flipflop on the Libeskind proposal, this is his way of just not thinking about the whole thing.
Eric Fensler "remixes" GI Joe cartoons from the mid-'80s to make hilarious Quicktime movies. Using overdubbed sounds and cretinous adlibs, he turns the bland, conventional narratives of the cartoons into little spasms of dadaist nonsense. Part of the kick is the brevity; the clips are under 30 seconds and after some bit of barely comprehensible business, each ends with the same lame sample of studio vocalists singing "GI Joe!" Spliced-in street talk subverts the original cartoons' icky Hollywood multiculturalism (employed in the service of selling war toys). The cut and paste style and mock-ghetto ambience recalls the clip art ferocity of David Rees' Get Your War On, except this is much weirder. A Fensler interview with more GI Joes is here. (hat tip to Brian Turner)
|Kids fry for no reason. (Click on images to load Quicktime movies.)|
|A surprise serenade leads to cross cultural understanding. (Caption on bottle: "Adult dosage.")|
|A Native American interrupts an argument.|
My uncle Roy Pickard is a model railroader, and by models we're not talking the ones on tabletops but a working 1/8 scale system consisting of over two miles of track, switches, bridges, trestles, and signage. The tracks are 7 1/2 inches wide, and the gasoline powered trains (replicas of actual steam and diesel engines) move people and cargo. Twice a year railroad enthusiasts descend on his property, tucked away in the central Texas ranchland west of President Bush's photo-op farm, and conduct "meets." At these weeklong gatherings, a couple of dozen trains (as many as 28) operate on the track at once, in carefully timed simulations of a full-scale operating railroad. Engineers communicate by radio and dispatchers monitor the movements of all trains; the idea is to move cargo, avoid collisions, and keep trains evenly distributed around the track. Anyone who screws up is roasted in a mock trial at the end of day's operations.
I took the top four pictures while walking the entire line (the original "Comanche & Indian Gap" plus newer sections of track--see map below). Roy gave me the photo of the two men riding trains, attendees at a meet last year. Roy has been working on the railroad since 1973, and in its intriguing combination of scrupulous realism and fanatic worldbuilding, it makes me think of some enormous conceptual art project, along the lines of William Christenberry's facsimiles of Alabama architecture, Michael Ashkin's and Chris Burden's industrial miniatures, Duchamp's rustic diorama, Smithson's earthworks... I could make a philosophical comment about the shrinkage to Lilliputian scale of the domain of the great 19th Century robber barons, but the more interesting story is the preservationist instinct in the face of rail's increasing mechanization and depersonalization. Besides taking a back seat to less fuel efficient means of transportation (evil trucks, nasty jets), trains in the U.S. are suffering the ultimate indignity of losing their romance. (More pics still to come.)
(Scan of map from Model Railroader magazine, July 1997, pp. 76-77. Thanks to Roy and Marilyn Pickard for all the information and hospitality.)
9/7/03. I saw this girl in Dallas, having lunch at the Z cafe on Henderson with a bunch of alternative looking 20somethings. She was wearing some kind of taffeta party dress and heels with a jean jacket or some other casual top. I didn't draw her in situ but from memory the next day, sitting in the Houston airport. Is it possible for clothing to be stupid and sexy at the same time?
9/8/03. Two-hour layover at the Atlanta airport. A nightmare.
What is with the Democrats and all this "now we're in Iraq we have to pour it on and win the war" crap? First Dean did a 180, and as I was sitting in the airport listening to mandatory CNN I heard Carol Moseley Braun on Crossfire spouting the same nonsense. How about supporting the troops by airlifting them out?
How about 87 billion for schools?