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.


Monday, April 18, 2016

This Past Week…(Dying)



Sometimes there are weeks when you think, ‘how in the hell did I get through it.’ This past week was one of those weeks. I feel like a layered cake that has been rolled into a pile of goo. I don’t know how people with actual lives like 40-hour jobs and kids do it. My little dilettante self is woozy with self-imposed novelty but yeah. I think this a symptom of NY though. Being here makes one think that one must do-do-do a ton or somehow it (whatever ‘it’ is supposed to be) will somehow slip away. Anyways, I’m going to do a short re-cap so that I can get this post over with and then I can sit in the sun and unwind a bit before the blur of this coming week commences.

Monday – Did laundry and cleaned apt then went to Co-op (Park Slope) to do shift and buy food. Lugged entirely too many groceries home then made roasted chicken and salad for gallery partner and chatted about stuff and drank wine and rice wine and passed out by midnight.

Tuesday – Worked and then went home and laid in bed for an hour and then my friend picked me up and we had Thai food in Woodside. It was good. Tried a thing called larb for the first time. Felt moments of sadness and almost cried while eating dinner cause I sometimes get that way with this friend. Friend drove me home and I passed out by midnight.

Wednesday – Went to work and then had meetings from 4- 8pm. Then got drinks with co-worker. Took train home and listened to my new favorite podcast, Myths and Legends, and then chatted with friends online and then passed out by midnight.

Thursday – Went to work and then went on a new friend date. Went to bank first and got quarters for laundry. Walked to Swiss Institute. Drank beer and talked to new friend and other friends. Drank more beer, smoked cigarette. Went to after party at some overpriced place. Bought drinks and drank too much. Talked to friends and then some other people I didn’t really want to talk to. Didn’t eat anything for dinner so very tipsy. Left bar and walked to subway. Hungry. Listened to music on train and walked home. Ate some leftover rice and kimchi and went to bed.

Friday – Ran around doing some form of chores, can’t remember, met up with artist at 5pm and then went to bar to meet another artist at 6pm. Had two drinks and a kale salad. Went to Lincoln Center to see Mahler’s 9th symphony. Late, almost don’t make it in. Go to American Medium for a b-day party. Drink more, talk to two not-right-in-the-head girls, think ‘at least I’m not that bad.’ Feel annoyed and talk to other people. Play/harass cats then take an uber home. Pass out time idk.

Saturday – Work and then go to gallery for b-day drinks. Feel hung over and stomach not balanced since haven’t eaten proper dinner in a few days. Go to Kimberly Klark opening. Buy beers. Very crowded so stay outside and drink. Go to Gottscheer to meet friends watching basketball. Drink beers. Eat potato pancakes and pretzel. Drink more beer. Go to after party at Paradise. Drink more beer. Feel woozy. Talk to people. Feel like I’m acting like a cartoon character. Talk and feel sleepy. Get a ride home and pass out, idk the time.

Sunday – Lay in bed for hours not wanting to move. Get up and wash sheets and make up bed for friend who is coming into town. Clean room. Go to meeting at gallery with an artist at 1pm. Finish meeting and bring back clothes in big bags. Get cat litter. Go to pharmacy. Take a shower. Lay in bed and listen to podcast for 2 hours. Go on a date at 9pm. Drink 2 drinks. See a bunny outside. Talk and semi-flirt. Walk to train and listen to podcast. Eat rice and kimchi at 1am and then pass out.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Guide To Staying Young Looking



Hello my fabulous readers (is there anyone still out there or is this just the echo chamber of my mind?) Ha! But seriously, this week I was thinking that I would write about the new Met Bauer but then I was up late last night binge watching Netflix, drinking Modelo and eating pickles and as I was falling asleep (not still consuming said above) I thought about youth. Well not youth but looking young.

I thought about this because in the past few weeks it has been a re-occurring topic in conversations, books being read and movies watched. This of course made me think about me me me. I am a 34 year old women who hangs out with usually much younger people, median age 27 but some 23ish, and while that isn’t that big of a deal (unless you are single and trying to date which = stab self in eye) it becomes a topic because when people find out my age they always say, “well you don’t look it.” I know that’s meant to be a compliment but I can’t help but think, ‘Why does being 34 = old?’ But let’s be honest, being a woman always makes age relevant until you blissfully get to be 80 but until then age does matter and it matters a lot.

In the art world – as in all cultural industry– the fetishization of youth is de rigueur. Lucky for us the recent peak of this, i.e. 89plus and the 25-year-old burn out artist trend has eased up. Now it is not so tragic if you are 27 and you haven’t ‘made it’ yet. That trend now seems dangerous and thankfully is being viewed as tacky for all involved. Phew right? But this little dip on the art/youth thing is just that though, a dip, and in another 3 years (it cycles about every 5 and we are in year 2 of the youth recession) it will swing back up.

For someone like me who has been in the art world gambit for over ten years I feel like a veteran. I have seen the waves, the trends, the hot flavor of the month and as my fellow art travelers get all clamourey about one thing or another I usually just smile and think the old adage ‘this too shall pass.’ I’m not being smug, just honest. I learned the power of passing fads early on when Kris Kross was literally making kids in school wear their pants backwards and how that ridiculous trend so quickly became a marker of if you were a follower/hanger on/completely silly. After comprehending the power and fickle nature of trends and what they could signify, I knew that I never, ever, ever wanted to be seen as a follower.    

Trends and art fads are a dime a dozen but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the potential to be influential. Most of the things in the modern/contemporary art history books are made up of cliques and factions that only existed for a few years but the right mix of nepotism and narcissism has made them epicenters of artistic change. Within that potential though there should be some clarity to what it also reflects which is human nature’s obsession with the new and that is often times linked with youth.

Crusades, alchemy, quests and thousands upon thousands of pages have been written about and spurned by our desire for youth. Whether that is in the form of a fountain or pill, we seek it relentlessly.

Being in my mid 30s (gasp) I know that I am still “young,” but in the art world and the circles I reside I feel like some sort of imposter. I feel that I ‘pass’ for being younger then I am all the time. That is not always bad as having flexible perceptions of self is probably the most liberating and amusing thing but it is also negative, like having to overcompensate to be taken seriously and being marginalized or sexualized.

I can’t complain though. I know that ‘looking young’ is the golden ticket to many things and damn it, I do use it to my advantage. It’s a terrible thing to be aware of and yes, straight up arrogant to admit but hey, it is how it is. With that in mind and a long ramble later I will quickly give some tips on how to stay ‘young looking.’ Who knows how long it will last. Does it matter? Yes in the small ways, no in the big ways. All I know is that I would rather be thought of as a lot of things versus ‘looking young,’ but hey I’ll take it while I can.


Be Asian – Sorry, but yeah.

Sleep (A lot) – Sleep is the best for staying youthful as it rejuvenates and heals your body. I get about seven hours a night.

Pickle Yourself – I drink more then I should and I know that is bad in many ways, all those cringe text messages and bad decisions, but I think all my years of doing this has contributed to looking young aka unwinding, being absurdist, Dionysiac revelry.

No Anxiety – I know that this is a real thing but I have never understood anxiety as a thing. Of course I get anxious in certain situations but the thing of ‘having anxiety’ as a day-to-day is hard for me to understand. I feel bad for those that do because that constant state must ware you down like sharpening a rock with a spoon.

No Regrets – Ya, we all regret things but let – it – go.

Spicy Food – It increases your metabolism and makes you sweat. Yay pores!

Eye cream – Everyone who is over 30 should use eye cream every night. I use Mario Badescu ceramide eye cream. It’s eye magic.

Face Regime – Like the above this should be a twice a day, without fail routine. Never ever skip it. No matter how drunk, how tired, never ever miss it. Also moisturize! (And SPF in the summer).

Be Alone – Alone in the sense that you can do things, be just by yourself for short or long periods of time. It’s not a task but something you should look forward to.

Party Hard – Dancing, laughing, having a blast or even a mild blast will make you realize life is just one giant ride so might as well have fun while we are all strapped into it.

Style – It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be trendy but for the love of god one must have their own personal sense of style.

Read A Lot – Big brain = bright skin.

Have Mentors – Acknowledging and having mentors who are older (and preferably the same sex) are invaluable in developing character and understanding the big picture things. How this effects looks, idk but somehow I feel this is linked and important.

Greens – Look down at your plate of food. If half of it isn’t green veg you need to go back to the store and get more green veg.

Recreational Drugs – Having a night or two of drug-induced fun once in a while is fine but having a habit of it is just the worst for looks. Any sort of habit is gnawing and energy sucking so yeah not having a drug problem is a good look in all ways.

Nicotine – Smoking is terrible but I’m a nicotine addict and have been for 20 years. Constantly sucking on an e-cig at the moment cause I don’t want to have tar wrinkles/real cigs will kill you but yeah, love my nicotine.

Makeup but no face makeup – Having fun with makeup is fab but wearing concealer/foundation and eeekkk contouring everyday is not cute. Healthy skin is key and although I certainly don’t have clear skin (hello acne) having clean/uncaked skin is #1.

Don’t look in the mirror too much – One to three times a day is all you should gaze upon yourself. The more you look into the mirror the more existential doom and flaws will surface. You look good baby, work it, own it, get out of the bedroom and go show off that fab face!  

Not Giving A Fuck – Care about the things that really matter. Love, friendship, family, personal/global politics but all that other stuff who cares! As I’ve said so many times on this blog – we live and then we die – so why not have the best possible time while we are still on that being alive part. 



Monday, April 4, 2016

Chris Kraus, I Love Dick




How many people have written about Chris Kraus’ book I Love Dick (1997, Semiotext(e))? Probably hundreds/thousands if you include all the research papers and syllabi that have probably added it to their reading lists. It took me a while to read this book/want to read this book since it has felt like some sort of ozone that hovers in the art world/feminist lexicon. It’s the type of book that insists on being read and even though I was reluctant, I’m happy and relieved that I did.

So essentially the book centers on Chris’ infatuation with ‘Dick.’ It is about obsession, fantasy, survival, and catharsis. It is all too real; Chris is Chris, Dick is supposedly Dick Hebdige and sprinkled throughout are tellings of real people and real interactions including Sylvère Lotringer, Kraus’ husband. This book reads as a diary, manifesto, an open wound, but it is a ‘novel’ and it is unlike any that you have encountered before.

Various parts build it up. The beginning is the game of unsent letters that both Chris and Sylvère write to Dick. This was at first a bit annoying for me as the book I just finished reading, Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, has a similar formula of diary-esque entries of time, place, structuring and I was a bit overdosed on it. In another way Kraus’ writing initially rubbed me the wrong way because she is not what one would consider a ‘good writer.’ Her use of words, sentence structure, objective of content is scattered, clutching and at times overwrought. But as you keep reading this becomes less hampering because of what she is writing about and the brutal force in which she does it.

Kraus, at the time this is set, is a 39 year old women who is a basically failed artist who is in the art/intellectual world by her own right but is also appendaged into it by her marriage to Lotringer. Kraus divulges into the awareness of that positioning in stark truths and being likewise a women in the arts and possibly a failure in many ways, those truths are all too familiar. The way that Kraus unravels and exposes herself, her mind, feelings, and body, is unrelenting and every time she did this it made me think, ‘Oh my god that is me.’

How many times have I convinced myself that I was in love with someone just because they didn’t love me back? How many times have I made irrational choices to just hurtle myself to point zero? How many times have I forced or willed myself into a story that never asked me to be in it? How many times have I felt at the edges of sanity risking self, body and mind to have a moment of truth or beauty? All the time, too many times. This is the thing about this book. Kraus is you/every women and the universality of that makes you think, ‘the world must be fucked and crazy not me.’

This book is more about the condition of being a women then it is about ‘Dick.’ Being someone’s ‘wife’, ‘mother’, ‘lover’, ‘one night stand’, is constructed onto us and the weight of that and the conditioning of that makes us all crazy. Kraus talks directly about ‘crazy’ in relationship to schizophrenia. This beloved focus of theoretical thinking is a bit cliché for me but I couldn’t help feeling that I knew what she meant when she was talking about how things are relational and linked. That connections and synchronicity is the schizophrenic’s constant pastiche and I had reoccurring moments of this while reading this.

First it was the Bolaño link, then she writes about Jane Eyre – I just watched the version with Fassbender that same night. Then her and Sylvère refer to themselves as Emma and Charles from Madame Bovery – I just watched that movie as well. This link with the romantic genre and the connections with being insane and being a woman felt all too strung-up together. We are clichés incarnated but does that reflect the female condition or is it the constructor?

As the book progresses Dick is no longer the purpose. He was the ignition switch for Kraus to allow herself to let it all go and give herself permission to be Chris. This is formally a bit weird to read. She is at first a diarist, then a confessionist, then an art critique, then a cultural critique, and throughout she is a self-taught philosopher inserting quotes and references but this is all done without pagination. There is a battle going on by Kraus against herself. She is trying to usurp the formulas of writing but she also seems to use these very things as a crutch. She’s being punk about it all but also wants to make sure that you know that she knows what all of that means, which is frankly very unpunk.

Though there were flaws, this is a book that literally kept me up at night. It made me at times want to slash and burn my constructed self and drive cross country, have sex with whomever I wanted, hop on a plane to someplace I have never been and not tell anyone. Her talking of herself was like having a conversation with your closest friends. The vault of secrets and confessions that only lose their control over you once you say them aloud. I think this is the book’s purpose. To get you to see Chris and in turn yourself. It is harsh, embarrassing and at moments queasy but afterwards you feel different, liberated, less insane.

The book ends with Dick sending Chris final letters to her and Sylvère. The letter addressed to Sylvère she reads first and it talks of general things and then of the situation of Chris’s infatuation with him. The letter addressed to her is just a copy of the letter that he sent to Sylvère. The ruthlessness of that gesture, the erasure of the female self but the acknowledgement of the male is a slap to the face but one whose sting is oh so familiar.

If you are over 25 and female you must read this book. It can be a handbook on how to cope with being in a world where you have no choice but to be crazy so you might as well do whatever you want, however you want. That's the bravest thing about this book, Kraus' accolades opens up permission to a new form of writing and also makes it okay to acknowledge that love is the only thing we have to save ourselves.