Monday, May 23, 2016

Brief Thoughts on Manners



Having manners, being polite, is something that I hold to a high esteem. It is not the glue of social fabric but more like the padding that makes things have less static, less friction. I possibly have an old fashion sense of manners; I think they should be constant, consistent and with little fanfare and should create the least amount of embarrassment and attention.

Manners are a dance. The partnering and the balance of their exchange is what makes them have meaning. The failure, by choice or otherwise, to meet that exchange is painful to both watch and endure. I want to discuss manners because frankly I think that many people (especially in the art world) lack them. I am no Emily Post and have certainly breeched my fair share of good behavior but in the past few days I have bore witness and been told about certain incidents that leaves me tisking at the state of things. Because of this and because I literally have zero time in my day to do anything else, I will give a few judgmental quips on these slips of manners.


Be Actually Nice – Everyone knows everyone in the art world and one day that intern might become your boss so make sure to be nice and be actually nice, like care about what they are saying and doing, versus just patting them on the head.

Don’t Lie – If you say you have jet-lag and you aren’t going out and then you go out to an opening in which literally everyone is there you will get caught. Why lie when you can easily just admit how busy you are and that if you bump into each other just say hello. When someone is lied to, especially someone with access and power, they will not forget. It will bite you in the ass one-way or another even if it’s months/years from now.

Pay Your Part and More if You Need – When people go to a dinner and they leave early and drop a $20 it is just the most obnoxious thing. Everyone knows that if you have a group of over 4 people the bill somehow comes 3x more then what you expect. I hate settling the check, all that money exchanging hands is so tacky, but if you want to be at group dinners and you know it’s going to be split bill at least have the class to stay and see what is due. That is unless you can pay for the whole thing -then you can leave whenever you damn please.

Gossip – There are certain people that you know have the dish on others and that is juicy to hear and mostly harmless but then there are others who seem to make it a form of self identity to be in other people’s business. As soon as some like that that starts mentioning people by name eject yourself asap from that zone. Even if you don’t stoke the gossip just being audience to it makes you complicit.

Respond Back – We are all little Pavlov dogs drooling on ourselves waiting for a ding or buzz of affirmation. There are degrees of timeliness in responding to someone. Text ~3 hours, email ~2 days, direct message FB ~5 hours, direct message Instagram ~2 days. This of course changes in regards to content, context and if it is a friend/professional/or romantic relationship but for the love of god respond! The ability to communicate and to do it in a timely way is essential to having balanced relationships. Most of the time this is easy and fun but sometimes you just don’t know what to say or don’t want to keep playing the ping-pong social relay. Even if you don’t want to it’s always less cruel to respond then to just drop/ghost on someone. It’s sometimes harder but it is nicer and more adult.

Shit Talking – Shit talking is different then gossiping because this is not about something someone did or is going through but a general attack on another’s character. There are some who really enjoy shit-talking. They relish in it and when you call them out on it they defensively say something stupid like, ‘I’m just joking, you know I love them,’ or some other asinine thing. Shit-talkers are someone you should be wary of because if they shit talk their, “close friends” then god knows what they must be saying about you. Beware and keep a tight lip around them because they will the first to drop your name into their shit-talking mix.

Be Gentlemanly/Womanly – We do not live in the Victorian times but a good dose of formality in manners, especially when it comes to romantic interactions, is so appreciated. Holding hands, opening doors, just kissing, touching knees, optimal seating, being prompt, saying how nice a time you had, all these are such little things but they are so lovely and sweet.

Say Thank You – This is literally the simplest most obvious thing in the world but there are so many times when people really just don’t get that this is what one should say in exchange for a favor or deed. Like if you stay at someone’s place as a guest for multiple days you should say thank you in some way. A note, an email, a chocolate bar, a text. Whatever! Your boyfriend saying that you say thanks in passing is not sufficient. It’s so simple and because of that, when it is not done it leaves a bigger check against you.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Jordan Wolfson at David Zwirner


Jordan Wolfson, Colored figure, 2016

Jordan Wolfson’s current show at David Zwirner’s 19th Street Chelsea location is in one word, Wow. This is the word I kept saying over and over again after seeing it this past week and although that word seems limiting, it is more fitting then just expressing a sense of surprise. Like all of Wolfson’s work this is bizarre, complicating and demarcating of tastes and sensibilities. For me though, it is one of the most captivating and unsettling things I have seen and more importantly it reflects more then just art.

What is happening is that there is a figure, entitled, Colored sculpture (2016), that is dangling, thrust and slung around off a gantry that has three mechanized chain motors that moves in three directions and has limited to copious amounts of slack. The figure is reminiscent of a certain archetype, Huckleberry Finn in his attire, Chucky in his disgruntled open mouth sneer. He is red headed and that hair color is a familiar trope of the problem child, the mischief-maker, and his freckly discountenance makes you annoyed with him at the start. He has an oversized head, making him adolescent, and his eyes have sensor detection so at moments his gaze locks onto yours. Uncanny, creepy, and effective. His limbs are a series of articulated joints that allow him to have infinite range and crumpleablity. He looks vacant, annoyed, but his childlike oversized yet weakling proportions taps into our preternatural inclination to empathize even if it just looks like a overgrown cartoon.

The head, hands and one foot are attached to chains and the chains at various speed and velocity lift, dip, and thrash this figure. It can be slow and dragging or relentless and pummeling. The chain makes an evil but functional sound. It creeps and clicks, and you wait for what will happen next. The gallery becomes a torture room and you are made safely a spectator by the metal railing that separates you from the figure. The idea of pain and also sex creates a psychological stench in the room. Yes it’s an inanimate object, yes it’s not actually suffering but you can’t help but feel the simulative connection to this stand in.

Most of the time you just hear the sound of the chains and the adjustment of the directions in the mechanized tracks but there are moments, suddenly, when music starts blaring. Percy Sledge belting out “When a Man Loves a Women,” makes the whole thing even more unbearable. The music also makes the pace and the force of impact inflicted on the figure even more climatic. And as you listen to the song you hold on to the words and they feel twisted and sickening. There are also moments when the figure goes into a possessed state and its interactive eyes become animated. Cupcakes and other animations hop around in the pupil cavity and then Wolfson’s disembodied voice starts counting off a numerical process of engaging with a person, presumably a woman. Then it gets quiet and starts all over again. The figure being dragged, raised, dropped and suspended in contortions. Relentlessly, ceaselessly.

The effectiveness of this work is due to many reasons. First it is Wolson’s ability to impart a simulative response and connection through his use of the body and the inanimate to produce reflexive and empathic relationships. Even though in these actions he can be seen as being manipulative, obvious and perhaps devious, the fact remains that this is being accomplished. The second is his use of materials. This work’s conceptual and visceral impact is beholden to the way it is constructed and in this work there is nothing extraneous. Everything about the way that it is constructed, made, and presented meets a required necessity. The oversized head gives predominate surface area for impact; the scaling of the body is relational to the needs of the pulling machine. The sounds of the chains, the scale of the piece in the room, even the scuffs on the floor and figure create an aesthetic action = result formula. These are all form following function and this makes the feelings the work produces heightened.

This also relates to another aspect and that is money. This work is not like other art out there because the levels of its production are more like seeing something at a tech expo or car show. There’s engineers, mechanics, computer wizs all hidden in its creation. It is high skills and big bucks and the partnership between David Zwirner and Sadie Coles galleries seems to attest to the scale of this. Is this a bit outrageous? This level of production for one artist and one piece? I think not and I think that it is about time as we all know that the art world, and especially galleries like Zwirner and Coles, have immense capital to produce at this level.

So much art today is being hyper produced. There are studios and warehouses and teams of other people building things for big named artists but many times I find that all so unnecessary. Richard Serra, Matthew Barney, okay okay, you may need all that but the way that Wolfson is using the art bank is at least exciting to me because it requires it so explicitly. Seeing Sigmar Polke, sharing the same gallery space in the extra rooms and also at Zwirner’s other location made me feel cheated. Having to again look at too big paintings in a too big space that are priced at ranges that make my brain ooze makes me grumpy and dissatisfied. 

In contrast to the edifying simplicity of paintings in a room, Wolfson has created a spectacle. I kept hearing this word ‘spectacle’ being used by various people in direct and indirect conversations but what’s so surprising and/or bad about that? I have said, and will keep saying, that Wolfson is one of the artists that will be in the books. By that I mean when it comes to twenty, thirty, forty years from now and the kids are taking their Contemporary Art (or whatever it will be called then) intro courses Wolfson will be one of the ones to reflect this generation. My generation. The pre-digital natives that reflect the time in which they came of age and the symptoms and social/cultural climes in which they live. Trecartin will be there too. They are like bizarre twins that both tap into the pathology of our times (even looking like sociopaths in the process) and manically covering our faces in our own repulsiveness.

Spectacle is what we are right now. Helloooo, Donald Trump is literally going to be the GOP nominee. Spectacle is what the art world is right now. Has it ever gotten so close to being as corporatized then it is now? Spectacle is reality. It isn’t the oppressive alternate it is the only thing. We seem to beg for the Nietzchean zero point, the Anthropocene Judgment Day but when something says, here you go, like Wolfson’s work does, some of us pull away and pretend we didn’t want it. It’s too icky, it’s too narcissistic, and it’s too overt. Well we did ask for it. We do want it and right now I can think of no other artist that is making me feel so aware of that doom then Wolfson and that is why I do and will keep saying “Wow.”

Monday, May 9, 2016

Brain Smoothie – The Fall, Lemonade, NADA NY, Visibility



Soooo, it was just #FriezeWeek and my-oh-my did I doozy myself way through it. I didn’t go to Frieze as I was literally too busy to but ya, I’m sure it was fine. Even though I didn’t go I was still in its vortex of friends in town, things to ‘have to go to’ and a general heightened thrumming of Dyonisic revelry aka chickens with our heads off. Needless to say I’m knackered but I have also had time/had to make time to decompress and after doing exercise and taking a decadently long shower I feel revived. Below are some chops and bits of things that are blending in my brain from this past week that perhaps makes no sense at all but as I am in detox mode it’ll have to do. Clean the body, clear the mind.

The Fall – This is a TV show that Netflix produced and it stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan (that guy from Fifty Shades of Grey). I used this as a means to totally check out the last few days as I just couldn’t bare one more drink or one more art opening. I watched its two seasons (6 episodes each) in around 48 hours. Yikes. But anyways, this sort of binge watching made me think about the nature of these types of TV shows and this ‘golden age’ of television that everyone keeps going on about. Binge watching these types of shows are an enticing distraction because there is an almost qualified feeling that this is okay to do. I’m doing cultural research when doing it. I’m analyzing the medium of the moment. I’m gathering information in which I can then be a better linguistic participant. But really, after binge watching like a visual content glutton I feel obese and greasy. It was a decent show to watch, all that psycho-drama and English/Irish accents make you feel all smarty pants and wow Anderson is sucha babe and her outfits, adore, but to be honest the show was just a show and it was indulgent to every degree and a bit annoying. The annoyance comes from the characters and plots. All those pretty Lynchian girls getting choked to death. All that sex-less sex assaulting. The idea of an older, childless, hyper successful women being a cold eyed siren and the killer being an alpha male with a dark past and deadly good looks. Reformulating clichés does not make something better it makes it obtuse and a bit dumb. I watched it all, greedily, but it was because it ticked a little button in my brain that pushed my intelligence both on and off. Now it’s over and thank god because thinking back, it was a complete waste of time but that makes me feel even more annoyed with myself because that is exactly what I was looking for.

Lemonade – Beyonce’s video album came out a week or so ago and I watched it with distracted focus and I had thoughts about it but I also haven’t been able to see it again so my thoughts have been truncated. It was weird, bad, provocative, obvious, dull, sexy, complicating. There is much talk about the politics of it. There is much talk about the art aspects and the culled imagery that is heavy throughout but I’m not sure what type of conversation there really is to be had on it. In essence, did Jay-Z cheat on Beyonce? Does that matter? No, but we can’t seem to stop caring and although it’s really none of our business Beyonce makes it ours cause she is Beyonce. I’ll have to watch it again to do any real justice to it but part of me is dreading doing that because it seems to be sucking you into something you just don’t want to be a part of.

NADA NY – I went there for about an hour or so on Friday, the day when it is dead, and it was okay. I was shocked/appalled that they were charging entry for this. I wasn’t in the US last year so not sure if this is new but regardless for shame! Everyone knows that the collectors/VIPS all get in for free so why not let the plebes do the same?! I didn’t pay, if I had to I wouldn’t have gone but still! For shame! It was nice to see friends in their booths and there were a few little gems, I especially liked Minerva from Sydney’s booth, but there was a general sense of tan and malaise throughout the show. I happened to be there when there was a presentation/video of sorts and that seemed a bit interesting but it felt all a bit slapped dashed as the audio permeated through the entire space. Is that bad? I don’t know but I always think acoustics at fairs are a make or break of the psychological and visual cleanliness of things. I hope the friends that were showing or had booths made money, that’s whey they are there in the first place but ya, another fair, another year, it all felt so same-same. Is there a way to change it? Probably not, but I have a gut feeling that the sense of malaise is not just my regular eye-rolling disenchantment and you can see this in alternatives popping up. There has been an uptick of galleries coming together to do their own offsite things and during this week Off Vendome did such a thing by inviting galleries to share in their Chelsea space. It was one of those to-cool-for-school vibes but that’s what makes it a possible alternative. The ‘you can’t sit with us’ mentality is bread and butter for the art world and I guess that is a bit better then the art fair model because at least it’s being upfront about everything.

Visibility – So I had a very weird interaction the other night where I was with a friend from out of town and we went to a bar and someone came up to me and literally said my full name and asked if that was who I was. They said they read this blog (so if you are reading this you know who you are) and that really embarrassed me because wow, I really hope no one reads this thing, but it also made me a bit gahhhhh in my head because then I realized people might actually read this thing. I’ve been doing this stupid, oppressive, indulgent, boring, lazy, scattered blog for way too long (5 years plus) and I genuinely don’t know why I keep doing it because most Mondays when I sit to write this I literally want to just disappear and sink into the ground but ya, still at it, aka masochist. Anyways, this made me think about the idea of visibility and the way that we control or author it. With the internet and all that stuff attached, there is so much more exposure but also so much more control on how one sculpts their visibility. It is a skill and for some, it is a career where they make bigs bucks directly or indirectly. For me, visibility is a mixture of the personal and the projected and although that produces miles of ego and dejection in turn, it is a tool in understanding yourself through the conception of others. I could/should go on about this in more intelligent, thought out and discursive ways as it is chock full of theoretical and psychological content but for now I just want to throw it out there and poke it. Why do we do this or that thing to reveal ourselves? How does this effect our perception of self and others? How is this altered, manicured and edited and how do those actions produce or negate actual, intended and constructed self? All these and more are pinging in my head almost all the time but for now all I am really trying to say that is if you read my blog, please don’t tell me about it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Zeitgeist and Other Thoughts On Criticism




About a month or so ago various friends were talking about Janet Malcolm, a critic of The New Yorker who covered art. I had not read her before so I started to. The article she wrote that people most talked about was, A Girl of The Zeitgeist, a two-part profile on Ingrid Sischy published in 1986. How can I put this delicately? I did not like it.

I kept asking myself, ‘why don’t I like this,’ as I was reading, and that's an awful thing to do, to be building a wall of disdain for something while you are in it, but I just couldn’t help it. The profile is configured to be about Sischy, who at the time was Artforum’s newly minted editor at the tender age of 27. That’s right folks, 27. Malcolm goes about laying the foundation for the recent history of said magazine in oblique and direct ways via Rosalind Krauss, John Copeland and a slew of others that were a part of the first and then recent incarnations of Artforum. At first it seemed to make sense but halfway through reading the first half of the first section I was left wondering, ‘who is this profile supposed to be about again?’ Ah right, Sischy. But no, Malcolm only inserts Sischy in brief descriptives in small moments. I was perplexed but thought this must have some rational so I stuck with it.

I’m not sure if it was worth it though as the more I read, the more frustrated I became. Malcolm’s diversions into sub-events, such as Thomas McEvilley’s spat with MoMA over a primitivism show just went on and on and on. And after getting to the second section the unbearable use of quotes and sub-printed quotes made me come to the actualization that this extensively long piece was literally ninety percent quotes. I kid you not. It was grueling and I felt like Malcolm was wagging her superiority over me as a reader, a form of endurance testing for a sport with an audience of one, herself. It made me bored and annoyed and slightly pissed off. But then again I thought, okay, there has to be something to this. Malcolm using other’s words was like her being a collagist. She was creating a collage of the time of art at that moment. A time that seems so recent yet so far away. It was only 1986 but then you think 30 years. 30 years is a long time for art these days.

In a way, that is perhaps why my friends so admire this piece as it is a capsule, overly thorough and filled with excessive minutia, but for those that like that sort of thing that might seem glamorous or fascinating. But I’m not one who likes such things.

This piece made me think about the time it was reflecting but also about the concept of the critic. Throughout the piece Malcolm was in her own territory. Writing about artists and art critics while being a critic herself. Maybe that is why she took such a distanced stance and why her words, her actual writing, was so cordoned off. It seems to have been a similar but also a funny time to have been a critic. That time seems more golden then the time we are in now as today there are only a handful of well-known or respected writers in the field. This goes back to nagging questions I often think; where are our young critics? Where are our young voices? Where are our fierce thinkers that have both writing chops and a full brain?

Now-a-days getting a review is like getting a star on your homework. It is a thing to add to the CV, the press kit, to entice and authenticate the veracity of an artist but for what? A sale? There is maybe one, maybe two art writers today who really might sway things one way or another but in truth the critic and criticism is a crippled form.

It is no longer who is writing about the work that matters but who is paying (barely paying) for that writer to have it published. ‘I have a review in Artforum,’ ‘The show was reviewed in The New York Times.’ These are the things people note and want to hear. Who wrote it has very little significance. But that’s the flaw. It should matter. It does matter.

Just because someone writes for something doesn’t mean anything unless what they wrote is fucking well written. I hate to swear but that’s how annoying this has all become to me. There are so many bad writers out there (and also not writers) who get asked to write about this or that show or do some such thing and they are atrocious writers. What is good writing? It’s like asking what is good food or what is good sex, subjective but when you taste it or have it you know exactly what ‘good’ is. When it is bad it’s the same and for me, reading bad writing is like eating a disgusting piece of food. Why are we consuming such terrible writing when it doesn’t have to be so?!

Why is this happening? It’s not that there is a lack of smart, opinionated, well-versed people out there. There are loads and loads, but when it comes to the getting access, getting paid and the edit then you basically have a pittance remaining. The industry doesn’t have time for it (nor the money) and the writers don't either. And when there is a buck or two and some loose editorial control then there is always unspoken rules and expectation. I have actually been told to make articles ‘nicer’ because such and such gallery advertises with them, hence those articles have never been published. Everyone is trying to make friends because friends have money and art is vague so why not trade it in for that.

No. Art is not vague or mere commerce for cultural capital. No, you shouldn’t make things nicer. No, you shouldn’t only review or give ink to people and places, that already have access and power. No, you shouldn’t pretend you are from another time or class or race or gender to make things easy for readers. No, you shouldn’t add esoteric references or quotes to make it look smarter. No, you shouldn’t tell me how you really think about a show or artist or idea over drinks but not in your writing.

So then, what’s the point of all this? I’m not sure myself. All I know is that reading Janet Malcolm’s piece left me upset because I think it is a type of writing that doesn’t have justification to be esteemed the way it is. It makes me upset because my really smart friends think it is good and I think that must make me a dummy. It has me wound up because it makes me think that the state of criticism today is in even poorer shape than back then because at least back then there were people like Malcolm who could swagger and tisk their fingers and people paid attention to it. I’m not sure what to do about it but I can’t help but feel a bit more deflated and worried about how art writing/criticism is and how it will be, today, tomorrow and 30 years from now.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Shows to See – Maggie Lee, Lutz Bacher, David Hammons, Omar Fast


Maggie Lee at Real Fine Arts


Maggie Lee at Real Fine Arts

Maggie Lee is an, ‘it’ art girl but not in the boring Chloe Sevigny way. She is cool while also being aloof but that’s not what makes this show (her first solo) at Real Fine Arts worth seeing. It is her sensitivity and unabashed sincerity that makes Fufu’s Dreamhouse worthy of the trek to the edges of Greenpoint. There are hand made slit pedestals and on them are displays, mostly in fish tanks, featuring Jenny dolls, popular in the 80s, in makeshift other worlds and mini bedrooms. They are bemusing in their slapdashness which perhaps is overly self-conscious, but that doesn’t take away from a sense of tenderness and fun that they posses. Sometimes the gesture of just creating things that makes one happy is sufficient to excavating emotions through art. Does Lee’s uber cool aura assist in her being paid more mind then others who do this as well? Probably, but it stands on its own two feet, even if they are super glued down.


Lutz Bacher at Greene Naftali Garage

What a weird show! What a weird thing to come upon especially when it is nestled in one’s old neighborhood. Tucked away in a small garage (small as in residential not a giant warehouse thing) in Williamsburg’s northern edge is a show full of Bacher’s bizarre objects and tableaus. Commercial plastic strips a la car washes in florescent orange and clear bands announces that you are entering a special zone. Inside there is a large hanging film like sun creating background and barrier. In front of that barrier is REEBOK (2015), which is a scatter of basketballs and other balls with cartoons like Angry Birds. On the other side is a table with shaggy chairs and beyond that two squat rooms, one with a maniacal ginger bread man acting both creepy and facile. The show is utterly Bacher. So cool that is hurts but also so irreverent that it feels refreshing. I’m not sure how I feel about this whole Garage endeavor but if it brings the likes of Bacher to this side of the river then I’ll take it. Also, basketballs. I simply love them and that trend is bouncing (terrible pun but hey) around art so much that one can’t help but notice.


David Hammons – Mnuchin Gallery

Elusive is the adjective for Hammons and in this five decade, mostly self-directed, retrospective in an elegant multi-level town house in the Upper East Side makes that adjective even more precise. There are some wonderful things in there; the decapitated hood of a sweater hung high, the chandelier basketball hoop, the taxidermy cat on a drum. All fantastic to see but there is a sparseness that pervades. It is a selection and one that feels specific but perhaps this also reveals that the grip of the artist on this show might be a bit too tight. Basically, I wanted to see more and while I appreciated the mixing of decades and mediums in its non-chronology, there felt like gaps. But perhaps, (probably), that’s the fault of me as a viewer. We have become greedy things and we want to see it all and then demand more, more more. Hammons doesn’t say no, but rather looks at you dead in the eyes and seems to be asking, ‘what do you really want from me.’ It’s not a question but a statement and this show feels like that stare and I respect it more then I was even aware of.


Omar Fast at James Cohan

If you are planning to see this show (which you should) be prepared to stay a long time and to perhaps take breaks in between. Featuring three films, 5,000 Feet is the Best (2011), Continuity (2012), and Spring (2016), they are dense and long-ish (40 mins at times) so bring some water and wear loose clothes. I was unfortunately not prepared so I didn’t see all three and only saw about 20ish mins of the ones I did but still they stuck with me. Fast is a very specific type of artist. He makes video but it’s not about being a “video artist” he is a storyteller and the concerns for him are about how story, perception, memory and the direction, authorship and narrative of that can be manipulated, unpacked and reshuffled. He works in themes of complex politics like drone warfare and the Middle East but he also works with the interiors of nuclear families. Fast is not for surface dwellers. He goes deep - fathoms deep - in his works and it leaves you both more intelligent and unmoored.