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An excellent installation by Ryan McGinness occupied the north side of the eighth floor of 129 Lafayette, NYC, from August 16 - 31. McGinness wrote a much-hyped book called flatnessisgod, the how-to angle of which is offputting--it purports to be a design manual when it's essentially just his portfolio--but give him credit for finding a way to get his work out there. The installation appeared in a massive, well-installed group show organized by artist Lin-i Liu (and various invited curators) in an empty Chinatown building, in one of those "the realtors are trying to sell it, let's give it to artists for a few weeks" arrangements; McGinness's artwork filled one wall, spilled onto the floor, and partially covered the windows. The subject matter was corporate logos--perhaps a couple hundred in all, very cleanly rendered in solid colors (in Illustrator?), crisply printed on sheets of peel-and-stick vinyl, and affixed directly to the wall. The pastiche recalls Ashley Bickerton's identity-festooned wall sculptures and Michael Bevilacqua's retro-Pop paintings (without the former's nasty '80s cynicism and the latter's Yellow Submarine grooviness), expanded into a temporary, room-sized installation. Like Bevilacqua, McGinness rotates the labels this way and that, overlaps them, and pays no attention to their "official" scale or color. Most interestingly, he sneaks in a lot of "street content" in form of graffiti and handbill images, which he gives the same slick, high-end treatment. COST/REVS may or may not have made it into the mix, but Andre the Giant did (by the way, has anyone noticed the Andre vs Gary Coleman stencils that've been appearing on sidewalks lately?). Best of all, McGinness painstakingly recreated the huge, semi-coherent block capitals painted by an ambitious street artist on a building a couple of blocks from 129 Lafayette; because McGinness's stick-on version half-covered the windows facing the graffitied building, one could look "through" the corporatized letters and compare them with the originals. McGinness's work invites the inevitable "we're living in a haze of information, blah blah," discourse, but what's most fascinating about the installation is how enticing the logos (and graffitos) are. We're surrounded by these images every day--the Glidden oval, the French's Mustard flag, anonymous "tags" on subway platforms--but McGinness momentarily strips them of their context and presents them as pure, intoxicating design. Even the evil Adobe A looks good.
A few more images have been added to my slide show of low end graphics collage pieces. I've spent the last few weeks writing and revising my article on digital art, and am about ready to send it off. Sample quote: "[D]oubts continue to haunt digital work. New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman questioned its long-term viability in his 'BitStreams' review, fretting that 'today's hardware and operating systems, the digital equipment artists use, will be replaced shortly by a new generation of equipment.' That may be true, although you hear less and less about the doubling of computer power predicted by Moore's Law these days. What Kimmelman doesn't say is that imaging software hasn't changed fundamentally since the early '80s, when Apple added MacPaint to the desktop interface developed by Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). Nowadays, programs are pixel-based (Adobe Photoshop) or vector-based (Adobe Illustrator), they involve either layering (Photoshop again) or mapping textures onto polygonal armatures (a la Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic), but you still have the same combination of drawing board, tool menus, and spectrum bar that you did twenty years ago. Programmers and engineers have refined these basics, added more depth and memory, improved printing and screen technology, but haven't radically rethought how images are made. Until that happens, resolution remains largely a matter of taste, which the best artists know how to use proactively."
Jaro Gielens' collection of over 400 handheld and tabletop computer games from the late '70s to the early '80s is documented in a book titled Electronic Plastic, published by Die Gestalten Verlag, Berlin (available through amazon). The breathtaking design of the book is by Lopetz, a member of the Swiss graphics collective Büro Destruct, who is a game fanatic and Japanophile. Just as the design of the plastic shells and accessories of the games cleverly mimicked their subject matter ("Safari," "Airport Panic"), Lopetz riffs on the colors, logos, and typography of the games, yielding a hybrid experience that is more "now" than nostalgic. To view thumbnails of the entire book, click here.
An online column by Scott Speh called "Hot Commodities" deserves a look. Unusual for an art scene where everyone has an opinions about shows they don't see, Speh actually gets off his ass, goes to exhibits, and then writes frank, funny reports about them. Unlike the art mags, there's no commercial agenda or behind-the-scenes string-pulling, just honest, off-the-cuff opinionmongering. His review of Dennis Hollingsworth's show at Nicole Klagsbrun excellently captures the nuances of this abstract painter's hard-to-nail work:
The Voice said [it] looked like cheesy hotel art at first - this is part of the appeal. Like [Laura] Owens he toes that bad/good line. Plus he can paint in the old romantic sense of pushing colored mud around a canvas. But it's not all intuition and action painting - he does have a strategy, a formula if you will, that gives the work a sort of steely logic keeps me from yawning. In addition to the historical technique, alla prima, a wet into wet impasto type application, he uses a number of signature techniques - he calls some of them monads, bulldozers, flings and pillows - that sees him pulling starburst-like strings from globs of paint, squeezing pigment straight from the tube - then carving a flat edge off the top of these ribbons, and trowelling and excising geometric shapes. I'm a sucker for straight from the tube pure color and juxtaposing high key and putrid, ugly color.Here's another tidbit, from his review of Wolfgang Tillmans' last show at Andrea Rosen:
Artforum describes [Tillmans'] installation techniques as similar to the way teenagers decorate their bedrooms, "scattering unframed photos across the wall, mixing huge and tiny" etc. Oh, I don't think so. Has this writer ever seen a teenager's room? Perhaps he'd like to go home to Ohio with me and check out my 16-year-old sister's floor to ceiling collage - not an inch of free wall space.and last, this quip about Rita McBride at Alexander & Bonin:
Shiny greenish-grey minimalist sculptures cast from video games or ATMs. I told the desk jockey "that one ATM isn't working." She didn't think I was funny.
Several recommended exhibitions on view in Manhattan: "Superimposition" at Caren Golden (especially Matthew Bakkom's vase* made of what looks like miles of tightly-wound, 35mm motion-picture film), "Being There" at Derek Eller (check out Carl D'Alvia's cyborg monkeys!), "Perfunctory" at Team (Carol Bove's room of girl-drawings and bookshelves with '70s feminist texts is understated but superb), and Rebecca Quaytman's solo show at Spencer Brownstone (a tight array of abstractions and photo-paintings obliquely charting the death of an ancestor).
The "Superimposition" show is a grab bag of mostly young or "under-known" artists, assembled by hard-working curator David Hunt (pace yourself, man, you'll get an aneurysm!). Adobe Illustrator obsessive Marsha Cottrell has a couple of elaborate line drawings (Oce prints on Mylar) in the show; to see a detail of UNT, WT5.1, click here.
*Addendum: I've just learned that, per Holland Cotter in the Times, Bakkom's vase is a "funeral urn made of the entire movie The Insider, in the form of tightly wound 35 mm film." That takes it down a couple of notches in my estimation. First of all, because The Insider is lousy. The movie features a hero we can't root for (a big media type) against a villain we already know is bad (big tobacco). The point of the movie? Big media is corrupt. Well, duh.
But I also dislike art with obligatory, "deconstructive" back story. I would have enjoyed the piece just fine as a kind of sleek, Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not craft project: winding and shaping film so it looks like something cut with a laser on a high-tech lathe. Obviously the pearlescent, gem-like surface is film, you can see what look like figures reflected in the emulsion. But do we really need to know exactly what film it is? All that does is provide a helpful soundbite for an overworked journalist, and a one-liner for grant panels. It's so grad-school!
Below is an new piece done with MSPaint, Paintbrush, Adobe PhotoDeluxe, scissors, and linen tape. The title is Compound JA, the dimensions are 22 1/2 X 18 inches, and it's ink on matte paper (the polaroid I scanned makes it look greyer than it is). Since taking this photo, I've added a few more polka dots, but the polaroid changes it so radically the details don't matter much. A close-up can be found in the comments to this post, or in a slide show (in progress) of some other recent pieces I've done.
Days 6-7 Paris
I got back to New York yesterday. My last two days in France consisted of pleasant but fairly conventional tourism. Saturday Dave and I wandered around Montmartre, which is the "artist's district" one sees recreated on sound stages in An American in Paris, now largely a souvenir dispensary. It's still a gorgeous neighborhood of narrow angular streets, built on a hillside topped by the striking, mosque-like Sacre Couer church; historical markers tell you where famous artists and writers once lived. We strolled (actually elbowed our way) around the "artist's plaza," watching tourists shelling out money for street portraits and bad Impressionist knockoffs. The waiter at a cafe there advised me to keep my backpack under my seat. On the steps of Sacre Couer, street vendors with plastic buckets full of soft drinks and bottled water scatter like cockroaches every hour or so to avoid the gendarmes, who make perfunctory confiscations.
Sunday Dave, Trish, and I went to the Louvre, which has been much remodeled since I visited ten years ago. The highlight of my last trip, the collection of outrageous chimerical statues looted--sorry, taken for safekeeping--from Mesopotamia, was unfortunately closed, but the Sackler galleries of ancient Iranian reliefs and palace architecture, refurbished in 1997, are breathtaking. A group of half-men/half-lions, carved in profile into beige and turquoise relief tiles, is as sparingly and tastefully installed as a Donald Judd show, blending ancient and modern sensibilities. In the German painting section, I spent some time pondering Cranach the Elder's weird painting The Age of Silver. In this Edenic scene, all the figures are nude; on the left hand side of the panel, lovely women (for Cranach) cuddle with exquisite, happy looking children, while in the center and right a group of men beat the crap out of each other with wooden staffs. Is the message really as simple as "women good, men bad"? Was Cranach the Andrea Dworkin of his day?
After two weeks abroad, I was surprisingly happy to come back to New York. On the airport bus, everyone was bickering, but at least in wasn't in mandatory French! (I know, my US-centrism is showing.) Also, dirty as our subway cars are, they're so much better designed than Parisian ones. In Paris, half the car space is taken up with a few rows of fore-and-aft-facing seats, allowing exactly 16 people to enjoy a quaint, 19th Century style ride in the car's center while the rabble stands cheek to jowl at either end. Quel merde!
Days 4-5 Paris
Visited "un art populaire" exhibit at the Fondation Cartier. This lavish building (financed by the famous jeweler) featured one of those "we are the world" exhibits frequently cobbled together by Western curators as a kind of mea culpa for First World imperialism. Here the only unifying link appeared to be the word "popular," allowing the exhibit to bring together Western kitsch-quoters (Mike Kelley, Robert Arneson), their Eastern counterparts (Takashi Murakami, the Luo Brothers), and oodles of Third World folk artists. There were nice pieces in the show even if the premise was lazy and uninformative.
"Sinceres Felicitations" at Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. The graduating class of 2001, as juried by Fabrice Hybert, Sylvia Fanchon, and Dominique Gauthier. Lots of future video artists and Biennale-circuit-conceptualists-in-training. Very little painting, but I liked Gaël Davrinche's large canvases convincingly channeling children's art, and a couple of digital photosurrealist images by Vincent Mauger, using Toy Story-like modeling, texturing, and lighting. The confused state of current art was best reflected in Pierre Olivier Balu's installation: a row of not-half-bad paintings along the top of the wall, a row of performance-documentation photographs underneath, and the obligatory video monitor on the floor. All bases covered, all curators satisfied.
"Rodin en 1900" at Musee Luxembourg. This exhibition recreated the "Rodin Pavilion" at the 1900 World's Fair. The artist appeared to have moved everything en masse from his studio--bronzes, plasters, unfinished works, drawings, documentary photos--to the pavilion. The recreation, with its temporary wood floor, inner-lit canvas walls and salon style groupings of drawings and photos, was pleasantly po-mo.
Trip to Versailles to visit the State Apartments, Hall of Mirrors, Gardens, and ticket-taker-attended toilet. It was fascinating to be here after seeing the Mad King Ludwig's digs in Bavaria. Ludwig worshipped Louis XIV, and his castle is in many ways a miniature of Versailles. Interesting that Bavaria's most famous unacknowledged gay modeled his huge, floor to ceiling bed canopy on the Queen's bed at Versailles rather than the King's.