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As an artist, MC Escher is pretty corny but some of the visual paradoxes in his work are hard to resist. A recent New York Times article describes the efforts of a Dutch mathematician to fill in a mysterious "hole" in Escher's image The Print Gallery. In this picture a man in an art gallery is staring at a picture of a city, which spills out of the frame--in a weird anamorphic swirl--to become the city in which the man is standing. In a center of the image is a blank space, with the artist's signature. Was this a failure of imagination? Biting off more than the artist could chew mathematically? Well, thanks to the miracle of the computer (and retouch artists) we now know what should, logically, have gone in the hole: it's a picture of a man staring at a picture of a man staring at a picture of a man, etc., spiraling down to infinity. Below is Escher's original grid for the drawing (kind of nice, isn't it?), which was the starting point for a process of restoration/completion/meddling described in detail on this website.
I took out a personal ad at nerve.com in connection with the exhibition "Are 'Friends' Electric? - The Art of the Online Personals Ad." My nickname is afe_supertoy (my page is a concept piece, "exploring contemporary mating rituals in the posthuman context"). Here's the blurb from the New Times LA calendar, July 26, 2002: "Is there any single person left in America who hasnít posted their puss in pixels? The concept of cyberdating is ripe for artistic interpretation, say L.A. musician Jody Hughes and New York painter Giovanni Garcia-Fenech, who persuaded 50 artists, writers, musicians and curators to post ads in the nerve.com personals -- which The New York Observer referred to as ostensibly hip but really creepy and soulless -- and explore the commodification of personal relationships and projections of the self in online ads. Copies of the ads and responses received go up tonight at 7 p.m. at arefriendselectric.com."
More press accounts, and comments regarding nerve.com's semi-hostile interview in response to the exhibit, can be found in the comments to this post.
A couple of new pages have been added to my artwork archive: a selection of drawings made with MSPaintbrush, and "Volume Two" of my work from 77-96, concentrating mostly on abstraction. Also, I've added a page for posts on electronic dance music called technodiary. The picture essay I began several months back on "Video Games and Contemporary Sculpture" has been expanded and added to my writing archive.
Here, Let Me Give Your Career a Try.
New York residents may remember an ostentatious and obnoxious ad campaign around 1997 for an artist calling himself Amano. In a move normally used by fashion retailers, entire subway cars were plastered with ads for his first solo show in New York. Over amorphous backgrounds hovered pretentious and faux-mystical slogans: "paint your lunch/THINK LIKE AMANO," "mistrust certain flowers/THINK LIKE AMANO," "refuse to wear your glasses/THINK LIKE AMANO," and so forth. I'm not sure where the show was, but the campaign had "West Broadway" written all over it. I don't know anyone who saw the exhibit. [Update: a friend saw it and said it was in the Puck Building.]
Well, Amano's back, and now he's at Leo Koenig, which shows a number of good artists (Jeff Elrod, Lisa Ruyter, Michael Phelan, etc). Turns out he's a Japanese animation guy making a career change, or trying to, anyway. The work is fine--a kind of Asian Pop version of the flat affectless modernist-style painting that is becoming Koenig's specialty--but the claims the press release makes for his career are a bit of a stretch: that he is "a creator" of Speed Racer and Final Fantasy, and that he "creat[ed] such characters as Hutch the Honeybee, Tekkaman, and G-Force."
Most of that isn't true, but the New York Times bought the hype and stretched it even further. Here's today's listing:
"YOSHITAKA AMANO, Leo Koenig, 249 Centre Street, Lower Manhattan, (212) 334-9255 (through Aug. 3). A superstar of Japanese anime, Mr. Amano is the creator of "Speed Racer," "G-Force" and "Final Fantasy." This show features glossy, cartoon portraits of androgynous young action heroes and a near mural-size painting crammed with every "Final Fantasy" character. Best is a series of brush and ink paintings on paper, each representing a different emotionally excited human eye (Johnson)." [And suggesting an un-arty Raymond Pettibon, I might add.]
Here are the slightly less inflated facts of Amano's career. According to Clements & McCarthy's Anime Encyclopedia, he was a teenage prodigy who lent his design talents to many major anime productions (both film and TV), beginning in the late '60s/early'70s. His first job was with Tatsunoko Productions, at age fifteen. He may very well have worked on Speed Racer, but is not listed in the encyclopedia as one of the series' creators. G-Force first aired in 1972, but according to Clements and McCarthy, only the 1979 Japanese sequel Gatchaman II featured Amano's design work. Hutch the Honeybee premiered in 1970, but Amano did design work solely on the 1974 followup series, called New Hutch. The encyclopedia's entry for Final Fantasy discusses an anime based loosely on the popular game, and the barely-related 2001 film, but Amano isn't mentioned in connection with either (in all likelihood he only worked on the game). Tekkaman, 1975, is actually the only anime cited by the gallery for which Amano was the primary designer, according to this fairly exhaustive reference work.
None of this should matter: Amano's work will stand or fall based on what he's doing now, in the West, and not on his previous career in another artistic ecosystem. Pumping up the resume is an attempt to create mystique for the work--the myth of the genius, from the mysterious East, and all that (not to mention tapping into boomer/Gen X kid's-show nostalgia). We'd be a lot better served by understanding, first, what makes good anime (what role does the designer play, exactly, as distinguished from the director, the writer, or the animator?), and second, how does work produced in that genre transcend its context to speak to the Western gallery world? There's a lot of confusion out there right now: Takashi Murakami, for example, has endeared himself to American curators by appropriating anime and other Japanese design conventions; his is a highly commercial enterprise sold as "Japanese contemporary art," even though Japan itself has no real tradition of the solitary, metacritical, artist. At least Amano has roots in a legitimate cultural sweatshop. Just a little of that is necessary to give his work street cred, though--he doesn't have to be the Japanese Walt Disney.
Update: For the Lisa Ruyter referred to in this post see Francis Ruyter.
Those drawings I did of the Shell girls now appear on the inside of the CD booklet for their new maxi-single, available through mp3.com. More pictures of the duo are here. Sorry about the f**ing popups.
Speaking of product packaging (see two posts back), in the early-to-mid-'90s I was painting directly on product boxes. I did a whole series of "molecules on consumer packaging" and exhibited a few here and there. An example, using Alpen cereal boxes, which I was eating at the time--the cereal, not the boxes--is here.
The polaroids in this post show some more recent efforts, using digital molecules on paper, and glue, instead of paint. The products are a milk bottle, clear packaging for shower curtain rings, and a granola box. The smaller photo shows the same configuration with molecular spheres and struts added; they're printed on heavyweight paper and affixed to the wall with map pins.
For my next piece, I'm going to recreate this buckyball I painted in '93 as a wall-installation. The dimensions will be 6-8 feet high.
The 19th Century romantics used to talk about art "aspiring to the condition of music"; certainly this urge still existed by the time Kandinsky and his circle came along. By the 1970s, though, art had acquired a heavy additional burden that I suppose could be called "signification." The representational art of yesteryear (history painting, say) has been replaced by an underlying, not always obvious narrative about some social or political condition that bothers the artist. I've written about this before. The job of the writer or the curator then becomes decoding the artist's exact political meaning and passing this narrative on to others. The "Tempo" show, which opened a couple of weeks ago at MOMA's new Queens facility, is a good example. The galleries are filled with objects, more or less interesting, on the theme of "Time," and in the exhibition brochure, the curator gives a line or two to what each object means. In all likelihood, if the curator hadn't been able to come up with that soundbite, the piece wouldn't have been in the show.
How is it that music continues to escape this requirement of signification? If Simon Reynolds writes about a house track, he doesn't judge it a failure it if doesn't contain a sped-up sample of, say, George Bush uttering the words "axis of evil." If it did contain that sample, he might note it, but the track is going to stand or fall on the basis of other criteria. For certain he's not going to say, as many curators do about art pieces, that it's "merely formal" if it doesn't have the sample. These days, I'm more and more interested in work that critics would condemn as merely formal. At least I can be reasonably sure that it won't contain some puerile, easily decodable political sentiment.
Another example: a few years ago I took a pair of German dealers on a tour of some New York studios. All of the work was dumb, in-your-face, latter day Op art, but with some material or perceptual hook that made it not so dumb. The dealers looked at the floor most of the time and seemed really embarrassed. Later, on the subway, they showed me pictures of art they'd exhibited in their gallery. I remember one piece consisted of pharmaceutical boxes that had been stuck to cylindrical columns in the gallery with green stripes wrapping the columns at the exact level of the boxes. The piece had a nice postminimal vibe and wasn't far off the things I'd been showing them, but for them the pharm packaging was the absolutely necessary "axis of evil" sample. All it took was one "political" element to validate the work (though they never explained why those particular drug boxes were "political"). I couldn't resist saying: "I think these pieces would be great without the drug packaging," which got me surly looks.