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Was Ernie Bushmiller's "Nancy," a cartoon strip that ran in the daily papers for decades, any good? I googled "Ernie Bushmiller Nancy" and came up with mostly positive comments from hip cartoonists. The strip made Matt Groening's list of Top 100 Things; Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith likes it; somewhere Art Spiegelman said he liked it. The praise is always curiously mixed, though. Griffith says "I think that most people who claim to love [the strip] do so...in a slightly condescending way," before proceeding to bestow his own condescension on Bushmiller: "[He] was like a primitive artist, a kind of naive genius, who had a lot more depth then even he or his audience understood." Griffith calls the strip "zen." Curiously, even Nancy's detractors talk about it in a kind of zen way, as exemplified by Wally Wood's quip "It takes less time to read Nancy that it does to decide not to read it." This supposedly delphic, near-mystical quality is no doubt what endears the comic to the art world: Andy Warhol, Joe Brainard, and Ray Johnson all referenced it, and Nayland Blake included some Bushmiller panels in a Matthew Marks group show he curated a couple of summers back.
I found a great essay recently that eschews the zen party line and argues that the strip is in fact a tightly-constructed gag machine. Where others find slippery mysticism these authors, Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, see cold hard mathematics:
Ernie Bushmiller had the hand of an architect, the mind of a silent film comedian, and the soul of an accountant. His formulaic approach to humor beautifully revealed the essence of what a gag is all about - balance, symmetry, economy. His gags have the abstract feel of math and Nance was, in fact, a mini-algebra equation masquerading as a comic strip for close to 50 years.The authors do a close analysis of several panels to show how focused Bushmiller's thematic and design strategies were. This step by step exegesis, explaining how the eye moves through a sequence of subtly different panels, largely undercuts the thesis of another web page, much linked to by bloggers, which says Bushmiller's images are so generic and interchangeable you can play a card game where players "create their own Nancys." What many commentators call "zen" Karasik and Newgarden call "incongruity," which was just one of the many comic devices Bushmiller used (in addition to puns, inversions, misunderstandings, and slapstick). Yet even these authors stop short of completely endorsing Nancy: "To ask whether Nancy is really funny is again to miss the point. No matter how far Bushmiller reached to excite that 'gag reflex' he could never gag it down all the way. Humor is subjective and a true common denominator cannot exist. Ernie Bushmiller, however, probably came closer than anyone in his one-man crusade to find it."
Based on the strips on the pages I've linked to (and this page, from an online "history of Nancy"), I'd say the sound of one hand clapping isn't the driving force behind Bushmiller's cartoons, but rather that they're straightforward, ha ha funny. I just ordered a pre-owned copy of The Best of Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, though, and I'll give an update after I finish it.
More Hayao Miyazaki stills: These are from Kiki's Delivery Service, a film that could turn the most hardened cynic into a blubbering puddle of goo (at least at did this one). Honestly, the movie's so lovely it almost has no place in our world. Miyazaki based the settings on an imagined "perfect Europe" where no wars had ever been fought--one critic described the urban setting as "Stockholm located on the Mediterranean." It's not Disney treacle, though; in fact it's kind of subversive in that it depicts a girl leaving home at age 13 and overcoming obstacles to start a successful flying-broomstick delivery business (she's a "good-witch-in-training"). The perils of the small biz capitalist making her way in a strange town provide some surprisingly gripping moments. Oh, yeah--the drawing of the crow is by an artist Kiki meets on the job--another of Miyazake's many independent female characters.
Before Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazake made some kickass adventure films; Disney owns the rights and they're gradually coming out on DVD. Castle in the Sky (1986), also known as Laputa, is available this month (no more links to amazon since they censored me). This is non-stop excitement and breathtaking art! The designs are straight out of Jules Verne and the scenery is based on Welsh mining country, where Miyazake took his animators for a sketching trip. In the scenes below (top to bottom), (1) a military airship docks at a castle before a fateful journey to the cloud city Laputa, (2) a gang of air pirates rides dragonfly-winged vehicles to rescue Princess Sheeta from the castle, (3) Sheeta awakens a dormant, damaged Laputan robot, and (4) discovers the crystal she's carried since childhood bonds her to it.
Here's an amusing essay by Choire Sicha called The Complicated Art of Chelsea (thanks, Linda), wherein he describes a recent gallery crawl with a non-art-appreciator who turns him from loving the neighborhood to hating it in one afternoon. I made the the rounds the same week, also with a non-fan of much of the art, but I didn't start out enthusiastic so I didn't have as far to fall. Sicha's too kind to mention most of the art he's criticizing by name, but I'm not, so let me say the "rather Harmony Korine-esque mockery of people with Down's syndrome" he mentions is a group of photos by Sharon Lockhart, at Barbara Gladstone, depicting museum preparators installing Duane Hanson sculptures. The people he thought had Downs turn out to be Hanson's slightly waxy but lifelike figures--I knew the sculptures but still had to look closely to make sure they weren't reenactors.
An essay needs to be written about the tendency of artists who hit the big time to suddenly start riffing on art history (think Lichtenstein's and Sean Landers' Picassos, Jim Dine's Greek statues, etc etc). Lockhart's '90s photos of kids kissing or leaning on car hoods were nice but hardly theoretical. Now she seems to be straining to be conceptualist, doing art-world-behind-the-scenes shots a la Louise Lawler and Tina Barney combined with the ever-popular perceptual brain teaser. Duane Hanson is one of those "iffy" artists with just enough critical support to keep him out Madame Tussaud's, but still a crowd pleaser, so in a sense Lockhart is getting a free ride on the fun technical prowess of his sculptures. Anyway, I agree with Sicha that "these photographs [a]ren't good."
Dorota Kolodziejczyk at Joseph Helman, March 7 - May 3, 2003.
Painters Monique Prieto and Laura Owens, of "return to color field" fame, essentially just goofed on the Washington Color School. It's easy to do: stretch up a big expanse of cotton duck, pour paint in cartoony shapes, add fake seagulls or bunny ears, and Voila!--critic Lane Relyea pronounces it a movement. More interesting (and courageous) is what Dorota Kolodziejczyk is doing: chucking the irony and tackling "post-painterly abstraction"
as a serious project, with problems (remember those?) still to be solved. Her show at Joseph Helman actually puts the painterly back in post-painterly, in that the canvases aren't merely stained, but involve an intricate play with layers--thick over thin, hard-over soft--not visible in reproduction. Already I'm sensing the pomo types drumming their fingers and saying "but that's just formal." AAAGH. Yes, that's how we talk about this type of work. Yet Kolodziejczyk's intentions stray pretty far from the wishy-washy pastorale of say, Helen Frankenstein, I mean -thaler (I swear I typed that inadvertently): this is Mountains and Sea seen from the window of a speeding car. Or the pinstriping on the side of the car. Or the topographical readout from the Global Positioning software on
the dash of the car. Or the artfully banally-colored electroclash graphics on the CD cover lying on the front seat of the car. Or...you're hopefully getting the idea. Most of the canvases employ a fairly straightforward method: the paint is poured vertically, then the canvas is rotated 90 degrees so the stripes run horizontally. Quite a bit of over-and-underpainting and brushing and other manipulation goes on, too: the work is not as methodologically pure as say, Morris Louis's. Each canvas employs the pours to a slightly different end, creating its own unique content-vector; I'm reproducing several pieces on the page so you can see a range. You'll get a lot more out of the work in person, though, so go see the show.
From Al Jazeera: Rumsfeld Cracks Jokes, But Iraqis Aren't Laughing
If ever an Oscar was deserved for minimizing catastrophic reports coming out of Iraq with jocular "henny penny" disbelief, then Rumsfeld has a date with Hollywood.
"Television is merely running the same footage of the same man stealing a vase over and over," he joked, adding he didn't think there were that many vases in Iraq. [Need to confirm--did he actually say "There can't be that many vases in Iraq"?] The US may be the strongest nation in the world, but their history is incomparable to that of Iraq – a region that has been described as the cradle of civilization.
Flippant remarks cannot replace priceless artefacts that have disappeared from the National Museum in Baghdad, or the books of the University of Mosul – one of the oldest and best universities in the whole of the Middle East.
The NY Times report on the gutting of the National Museum is just unbelievable. Why wasn't this immediately secured by "coalition" forces--if for no other reason than to protect a multimillion dollar asset? Is it farfetched to imagine that professional art thieves participated in the "looting"? This really goes beyond Bush and Co being a bunch of art-hating philistines. It was gross negligence.
Artist Jack Goldstein recently died at his home outside LA, sadly a suicide. Jim Lewis has a tribute in Slate (the slide show is also worth a look). He writes "Goldstein is probably best-known for his early film segments. In [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1975], the MGM lion is isolated on a red background, his roar looped over and over, until it attains the status of an annunciation that heralds nothing but its own presence." Those are beautiful words, but if we think of the clip as an annunciation it's because of information extraneous to the work itself: that the lion comes before the movie. Except, we don't think of that knowledge as extraneous because it's so ubiquitous in our culture. That's what the piece is about: what Craig Owens meant (I think) when he repurposed the term "allegory" for the "pictures generation" of media-savvy artists--a code instantly recognized by everyone, which would be discussed in the '00s in terms of memes or branding. "Heralding nothing but its own presence" probably also doesn't get at how annoying the loop is if you stay in the gallery longer than five minutes. Like the techno or industrial music that followed, meaning is reduced to pure noise, which becomes a new kind of meaning.
Also, I suspect (hope) Lewis is just trying to ingratiate himself with Slate's conservative readership when he calls the words spectacle and simulacrum "risibly dated." As our recent experience with shock-and-awe bombing and staged statue-toppling shows, the concepts are very much alive, and no better buzzwords have actually come along.
On that subject, here's a later work by Goldstein, one of the photorealist paintings from the '80s (still checking on the particulars):
The two posts previous to this one--drawings titled Starfish Disaster and Melting Appliance--are my first (official) stabs at Pixelist art. I used to enjoy the pixel contests on the sadly-defunct word.com, and was intrigued to find "pixel art" listed as a genre at deviantART, an anyone-can-post visual art site. You draw these things mostly in the "fat bits" or zoom mode of a simple paint program and the finished product is meant to be a low-res understatement. Some works still manage to be over the top: this piece by gunstar-red, Edge Retro Cover, is a tour-de-force crammed with myriad pop-culture references, neatly arranged in a kid's isometric playroom. Other drawings are more concise, sometimes gems of miniaturization:
Cute Little Cube (Rubik's)