View current page
...more recent posts
I recently took a respite from thinking about technology and the n-grams it plants in the creative brain and read a book about America at the turn of the last century. In The Iron Baby Angel, 1954, Washington and Lee University law professor Charles R. McDowell chronicles three months in the life of a small town (Danville, KY), seen from the perspective of precocious 9-year old boy. The story looks back to a time when every town had a street intersection with a horse-drinking fountain, which served as a nodal point for the exchange of news and gossip, much like the modern-day portal site or weblog (oh well, so much for that respite). With a gift for high-flown Southern gab reminiscent of Mark Twain's, McDowell takes us into the nerve center, introduces us to the "loafers" who hang out there (street-intellectuals all), then fans out via the boy's peripatetic wanderings to explore the town's back alleys, freightyards, schools, mansions, and ruins. Unlike Twain, who wrote about his own time, McDowell is looking back to his childhood, and seems very concerned to nail down every aspect of a world he knows has vanished (significantly, the "hoss-drinking fountain" is knocked down halfway through the book). Lacking any primary conflict or sweeping narrative arc, The Iron Baby Angel--named after a cherub from the fountain--presents an exhaustive, anecdotal, but always entertaining catalog of the customs, speech patterns, clothing, and industries that prevailed in America circa 1909. In its vernacular humor and total-immersion approach to its subject, the novel bizarrely reminded me of V. S. Naipaul's early novels, in particular The Suffrage of Elvira, which takes place in Trinidad in the '50s. Both McDowell and Naipaul wrote in depth about the worlds they knew, intelligently and without cynicism: it's interesting that they resemble each other, but even more interesting that they should speak powerfully to an urban, electronically-augmented present. The appeal isn't nostalgia or escapism but actually the comfort one finds in realizing that life in the apartments, parking lots, and cubicles of latter-day America isn't all that different.
The image below is from a series of "rave video stills," which I've been photographing off the television, developing at a moto-photo place, scanning, and printing on archival photo paper. The idea is to freeze the flow of a video that is in constant morphing motion, using the pause, advance frame, and reverse frame buttons on the VCR to nail the most intriguing still image. Is it art? appropriation? curating? stupidity? All of the above, I think.
A short history of Mel Ramos.
Mel Ramos's pictures of babes posing with giant Coke bottles and spark plugs were considered Pop in the '60s, so he became a canonical artist early in his career. Then he did a series of women posing with animals, which were considered "bad taste." Then feminist theory came along, equating the admiring gaze of a man with rape, and suddenly his whole oeuvre was suspect. By the early '90s, Arts magazine disgustedly wrote off his paintings as "masturbation plates." What's awkward is, he's Hispanic, and by the early '90s the (white, elitist) art world was bending over backward to be "multicultural." What do you do when the culture you're fetishizing fetishizes women? Best to just ignore him. Then lesbian artist/critic Collier Schorr wrote a review in Artforum proclaiming that she always considered Ramos's babes to be "hot." Then some Euro-conceptualist did a performance piece with a live nude girl posing on top of a Ramos-esque painting of a raccoon. Then John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage made careers out of painting tacky female nudes. By 2000, a Ramos nude-with-cow was hanging proudly in a group show at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York.
And Mel lived happily ever after.
Mel Ramos, Young Girl Before a
Mirror #2, oil on canvas, 48" x 35"
"The exhibition 'Compression' (Feigen Contemporary, December 2 - January 12), curated by Tim Griffin, a founding editor of artbyte magazine (and currently art editor for Time Out New York), attempts to link the art and cyber-discourses by asking: 'What kinds of depicted space do we encounter when digital materials enter the picture?' Even with the collapse of the dot-com economy, this is a timely inquiry, since our living environments, work habits, and media views of reality continue to be shaped by software engineers, and artists are well-equipped by training and temperament to look over their shoulders and ask--from a conceptual and design standpoint--exactly what the hell they're doing. Although Griffin included a range of high-, low-, and no-tech work that purportedly addressed the question, unfortunately too many of the pieces required theoretical uploads (from his exhibition essay) to be relevant."
--from my review of "Compression" (featuring Asymptote Architecture, Jeremy Blake, Stephen Hendee, Diti Almog, Susan Goldman, Michelle Grabner, and Dike Blair), in Art Papers, May/June 2001. For full text, click here.
The Doris Piserchia website has been updated recently (click on link above). Joanna Pataki sent the text of "Rocket to Gehenna," DP's first published story, and that's been added to the Short Stories page. I rewrote the introductory remarks on the Contents page (incorporating some arguments from this log) and finally launched the Excerpts page, with a couple of chapters from Doomtime, one of my favorite of her books. It's difficult to find individual passages that do the author justice. She doesn't make speeches, but plunges you right into the story, adding one strange detail at a time so the weirdness is cumulative. One of the best essays I've found on her work, discussing I, Zombie, laments the absence of explanation in her writing, but also gives her credit that this is what she intended--letting the reader make the big interpretations.
Two plays by Nora Breen debuted at Pete's Candy Store in Williamsburg last night. Both were off-Broadway-calibre productions, and very funny. In the first (a one-act), two obsessive/compulsives meet in a shrink's waiting room. He's a neat-freak who straightens everything in sight; she has a thing about germs. They flirt, they fight, she unstraightens, he touches--it's David and Lisa played for laughs. In the second play (a reading only), a woman comes to stay at her sister's apartment for a week to avoid her mother-in-law, convinced that the prim-and-proper old lady is trying to kill her. The sister with the apartment thinks the sister with the in-law has parent issues, but it turns out they both do: the question is, did or didn't their father strangle the family dog?
Missing Chuck Close Discovered
May 10, 2001 (AP)
An important early painting by American photorealist painter Chuck Close, stolen from the artist's studio thirty years ago, was recently discovered in a Westchester County basement. "Harry," measuring 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide and painstakingly rendered in acrylic on canvas, is described by Museum of Modern Art curator Robert Storr as "a striking example of Close's early style." Close himself has authenticated the painting, saying, in a phone interview from his Manhattan loft, "It's Harry, all right. I feel as if I've gotten an old friend back."
Artforum magazine's website has recently gone interactive; there's a "talk back" feature that allows you to comment on its articles and reviews. So far people aren't being shy (except about using their real names)--there is currently an entertaining thread about Tim Gardner's show at 303. First, we read Frances Richard's Critic's Pick, which is the magazine's typical, nicely written rubberstamp, followed by this fairly amazing post by "Skull," defining Gardner in terms of local (NYC area) grad-school politics:
"If Tim had gone to Y[ale] instead of C[olumbia] his work would have been enormously different because of Mel [Bochner]. Tim did not get accepted even with a positive nod from Catherine [?] and Sylvia [?]. Mel didn't get accepted either. Dick [?] was responsible for this, who coincidentally was Joseph [?]'s TA. Pedro [Barbeito] was Dick's TA at Y but Mel was the big rooster by that time and it made no difference that Dick was no longer the stupid brother among the grumpy old men.There may actually be a theory in there somewhere, and I confess I'm too blase to fill in all the names (anyone is welcome to flesh out the list with the anonymous, add-a-comment feature below). Nevertheless, the post is amusing because it cuts against the official, authoritarian voice of the magazine and (inadvertently) raises the question of how a recent MFA comes to be showing at a high-profile Chelsea gallery (aside from genius, of course). Artforum may soon wish it hadn't opened the Pandora's box of interactivity, but I'm glad it did.
"Ron [Jones], who was formally the big rooster at C while Tim was there, was henpecked out by Archie [Rand]and the older hens; Mathew [?] and Carroll [Dunham] could not help out their fellow rooster. Jessica [Stockholder] now controls the S[culpture] house at Y. Ron has gone west and with a middle-age move Jerry [?] now has finally decided to [stop] switch hitting and is settling at C. He was not allowed to go back to Y in the P[ainting?] program anyhow. The Ph[otography] program is different with Greg [Crewdson] directing. And with all the players acting so independently, the three artists share philosophy that has sentimental found-object photography influencing their paintings. Mel and Pedro with Johns; Tim with Wyeth."
Tim Gardner, Untitled (Val & Flamingos), 2001
watercolor on paper mounted on panel, 5" x 7"