Monday, February 28, 2011

Art Project, Powered by Google

Google. It is the Thing that is the Thing, and although I thought Kris Kross would always be popular when I was younger, this too will someday pass. I have nothing against google but its largess is suspicious to anyone that likes to be contrary. It is only because google is “powering” Art Project, a new interactive way to view art works of certain museums around the world, that the project has any relevance. Whatever google stakes its primary colored claim on matters, a lot. There are many things that are b-a-d about Art Project, but surprisingly, there were interesting things too.

Most of the failures of this project are in its presentation, which is supposed to be the entire point, which makes the faults even more glaring. First the name of the artist, title, year and dimensions should be clearly visible at all times, it isn’t, why I have no idea. If you click on the “i” for information icon on the top right corner, a box appears with date, artist, location and other links. This is ridiculously hard to read, 6 pt font in dark gray on a slightly lighter gray. Also some dates were missing and original native language titles were not given in some cases. Very inconsistent. What got me the most were the dimensions. They were only given in cm, which I know is what is used outside of the United States but come on google give us inches too! The additional links were sort of helpful, the location one just showed you a google map of where the museum was located, useless.

The way the images were shown is another notably annoying aspect. It has landscape formatting with black surrounding the image and a very useless information bar/navigation tool on top. On the right lower corner there is a smaller thumbnail version of the entire work and with the mouse you can use a slide bar to zoom in our out. The larger image then reflects the area of increase and the thumbnail would show were on the work you were. This function is supposed to be the big point. See master works like never before! See them close up! 90% of these works do not benefit from this function. The insanely detailed works but the Dutch artists like Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Robert Campin and a few others such as Sandro Botticelli and El Greco really are heightened by such close scrutiny but most of the time this was actually an appalling thing to do.

Zooming in to such extent is unnatural. I’m not sure if google has this idea that to be able to see this close is in some way an approximation of what the artist sees, if so, they are wrong in this assumption. To look this close at a painting is as ghastly as it is to look at your lover’s face and to focus only on the pores. No one needs to look that close and this function does not reveal surface and texture, it does the exact opposite, it flattens and makes it smooth and cold. This being so, I still could not help myself from zooming in then out, then to the left and right etc. There is this impulse to find hidden things when you are given a tool like that. It is usually reward-less but sometimes you see something peculiar. I have to also mention that looking at the images through this project is different then looking at more passive images on the internet. There is a focus required to looking at these images that strains the eye.

Another thing to quickly note is this whole thing where you can “walk through” the museum. This is just not up to par. Please take it away until it is of actual use. I found myself dizzily swirling around in boring pixilated rooms, getting stuck in a corner as I am apt to do in Mario Kart, looking at a wall from an impossible angle and once found myself on top of a silver car in Washington DC with frozen suburban types caught in mid step. Cringe worthy. Installation shots of the spaces and maybe a few people viewing to registrar scale would have been sufficient. Work on it google.

Looking through this whole project, yes I looked at every image, is at first annoying, the whole set up is just not right, but the actual images, they are something to see. Many of these works are of a certain time and certain content. This, I think, has something to do with the copyright issues as well as the intellectual ruling class. The images are from our art history books from college, they are introductions mostly but this is not necessarily a bad thing since everyone is being summoned to this. It is filled with Jesus, Greek Myths, Angels, Madonnas, weirdly proportioned babies, all the Bible story hits. It has other things too, some landscape, some still life, just a handful of things post 1950s.

There is of course a huge predominance of the wealthy, moneyed class. The one word that was revealed to me after seeing all of these works is Fashion. Yes Fashion, it wreaks over most of these images. The clothing of the duchess, the merchant, the child, the villagers, the innkeeper, of Jesus, of Mary, of the angels of everything is impeccable and focused. Seeing image after image of various times, places, classes, there was this presence of this Fashion and of the faces. The faces that had previously seemed like a measure of a bygone era became contemporaries. The sitters were all playing characters, even if of themselves. Botticelli’s model in The Birth of Venus, 1483-85, is in the next frame the Virgin Mother in Madonna of the Pomegranate, 1487 the next frame a Grace in La Primavera 1477-78. She becomes someone. She is most likely Simonetta Vespucci, the recognition of the face over and over again breaks the myth of an artwork. Through many of these artists’ works you see the same people and this then makes everything seem more charming and more relatable. I imagined the artist directing, dressing and posing his friends to play Eve or St. Sebastian. Imagining this process makes all the gilt and religiosity seem more basic. More cigarettes, drinks and chatter filled.

Overall this project needs a lot of work. I’m not sure if it could possibly get better with a touch screen, I’m still in the camp that thinks i-pads and their ilk are equivalents to the Jitter Bug phone, but possibly. There has to be more images. There has to be a much better system to make sense of the timelines, histories and contexts of the images. I know easier said then done, but it is possible to fix the faults that exist right now with what is accessible. I do appreciate that I am able to see so much art of a certain type stringed together in this way but over all for it to be something worth the google buzz and power, doing an okay job is not good enough.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hans Ulrich Obrist : A Brief History of Curating : JRP/Ringier, 2008

It may be gauche to be writing about a book published years ago but what the heck, here goes. Hans Ulrich Obrist has complied a series of interviews that he had with curatorial luminaries that impacted contemporary art. Interviewees include: Walter Hopps, Pontus Hultén, Johannes Cladders, Jean Leering Harald Szeemann, Franz Meyer, Seth Siegelaud, Werner Hofman, Walter Zanini, Anne d’Harnoncourt and Lucy Lippard. It is not quite a page-turner but it is information packed and by the end of it, the concept of curation, of the museum, and of how it all works is made clearer.

Hans Ulrich Obrist in these interviews = HUO. It is extremely funny, to see HUO in ridiculously large font at the beginning of every interview. Every time I would see this HUO I would mentally make an acronym, in the vain of “Hairy Ugly Otter” or “Holy Utter Ogre” this mean little exercise may reflect my undeserved disdain towards Hans. He is Swiss, a director of many things including Serpentine Gallery in London and is omnipotent in the art world. He seems like an alien-levitating-art-god with a massive brain and clammy disposition. He is the ultimate aesthete and he loves curating so much that he made this book so that there isn’t a continuation of an “amnesia”, as he says, to the history of this field. Although Hans’ questions are slim, specific and unflowery, this book is very much him in tone and about what he wants to make sure is remembered. After reading this book my reflexive frown on seeing his name is lessened by his obvious appreciation and dedication to the field of curation.

It will be too arduous for everybody to do a thorough summation of each interview, each should be read carefully, but some highlights will be recalled. The interviews’ general framework is a such; how did you start curating, reference to specific shows that were notable, who were your influences, stories told of certain artists or exhibitions, what next, what’s something unrealized. The general sense one gets, is that the time in which these curators practiced, museums were much different places than they are know. Museums then seemed to be more like today’s smaller galleries, very diy. Then curators were transporting art in cabs, overnight installations, thinking of an idea and just doing it, no meetings, no committees. Those that were faced with stricter limitations used this as a platform for creating something new. It was the 60s, it was the 60s everywhere, including the arts and this must have been exciting and liberating and somehow revolutionary.

The most interesting interviews, to me, where of Harald Szeemann and Anne d’Harnoncourt. Szeemann seems to have possessed innate ability, humor and also sincere curiosity. His shows sound utterly interesting and were shows that required a curator. He defined himself as an Ausstellungsmacher, one that does all involved with an exhibition; the concept, the nails in the wall, the press release the archivist, all of it. His phrases such as, “The best work is always the least reproducible. So you speed from one studio to the next, from one original to another, hoping that someday it will all come together in an organism called an exhibition” are reassuring. d’Harnoncourt was the daughter of René d’Harnoncourt, who was also a very influential curator, and in this interview Hans seemed to loosen up a bit because he was talking to a friend. Her methodology and grace at recall was fantastic to read. Ideas such as, “We shouldn’t forget that in all of our- you might say arrogance- about making the most beautiful or the most effective installation, what life depends on is encounters” gives even greater weight to her early death.

The interview with Anne d’Harnoncourt was one of the only two interviews with women, the other being Lucy Lippard, who is of course great but her selection seemed a bit of a token. I know very well that in respects to the time period this book was focusing on, mostly in the 60s and 70s, women were not as positioned in the arts as they are now, but really, couldn’t there be a bit more representation in this department? Too bad for Walter Zanini as well, he is the only non Euro-American-centic curator, representing all of South America, Sao Paulo specifically. He was also the only person to have “(Laughter)” noted in his interview. The only meaningful inclusion of women prior to d’Harnoncourt’s interview beginning on page 168, is when Szeemann agrees with Beuys’ prediction that “at the end of this century culture will be the province of women.” That sentence made we want to give a big kiss to both of them.

Although this book can only contain so much, hence the title, there where many things that triggered more questions and curiosities. First there were the names then kept popping up. Willem Sandberg, curator of the Stedelijk Museum, seemed to be brilliantly influential, and I wish there was more to read on him. Then there is Kynaston Mcshine, curator at The Museum of Modern Art, NY that also seemed very advanced for his time, and was one of the people that did not want to be interviewed…intriguing. I would love to know the back-story, seems that it could be the counter weight to the curation schmooze fest. And then there is Alexander Dorner, whose mention was the only time Hans had an “!” after a sentence. It was strange how much Hans inserted Dorner’s influence time and again when it was met with recognition but no extrapolation. The most omnipresent artist throughout was Joseph Beuys. Also no MoMA curators were interviewed, even though there were many references to curators from that institution as well as pivotal dissensions.

After reading all the interviews there is not a conclusion to be made, but a more general confirmation that curating, the field, and its history is individual and also that it is very different today. There isn’t a sense of sentimental nostalgia in that these interviews are more like time capsules then guides. This field requires the necessities all things in life do; timing, luck, hard work, curiosity, fascination and most importantly the need to interact and communicate. There is no key to being a successful curator and the way that these curators of the past accomplished all they did is made more possible in this evidence. The curating of today is much different; from the museums, the galleries, the degrees available, to the stakes and costs, all of these things have changed the rules, the starting point. Could the field, the art world be honest about how things truly operate now?

“Curator” is a fraught word and concept, everyone and their dog can be a curator these days merely by appendaging a form of this word to a press release, a blog, a zine, an outfit, a coffee shop display. People self appoint themselves as curators to enable them to foray into the art world glitter ball. It is literally bandied about like a hip accessory and this is sad and annoying because curating does and should still mean something. These interviews are evidence of this and they tell these tales that are truly interesting and there should be many more of them. Anyone who wants to wear the couture of curator should read this book, if for nothing else to be more respectful when you say that word and to maybe realize it is something to be deserved.

*Special thanks to Andrew Russeth who lent me this book

Monday, February 14, 2011

Christian Marclay : The Clock : Paula Cooper, NYC

This exhibition, which will only be on view until February 19th, is a five star affair. Everyone is talking about it, well everyone in the art world, but this is wonderfully a show that should be and can be seen by the big “E” everyone. It is a 24 hour video that has taken scenes from movies past and present and edited in such a way that each hour, minute, sometimes second, is shown, spoken or glimpsed in sync with eastern standard time. The effect is dizzying, exciting and hypnotic.

The show is fortunately/unfortunately only possible to see in its 24-hour entirety on Fridays, when Paula Cooper Gallery has it staffed from 10 am Friday to 6pm Saturday, but any time you can view it, you should. I went at about 9:00pm, be prepared to wait in a line. Once inside, there is a theater, rows of tightly lined cushioned chairs; they were full so I sat on the floor. On the large screen is this video, a video of films, spliced together in a cacophony of images, sounds and plots. There are things you remember seeing; movies, characters, music scores and they open the pupil of recognition and then just as swiftly trigger something new. Even the scenes that you have no specific memory of recall, a familiarity. All of these movies and films are a part of our collective cultural memory one that is more vigorously inculcated then religion, especially so if you are raised in the United States.

The constant movement of scenes does require heightened adrenaline but it is made easier to follow because of the clock. The image, announcement, and notation of the exact time threads each scene and makes what is happening on screen feel even more real. This also creates a strange reversal, the idea of you in a film, the moment you are watching the video as being apart of another film, of you being both spectator and spectacle. It makes the moments seem relevant somehow. This threading of time also creates suspense, maybe more especially at night. It was nearing 9:15pm and the scenes were mostly dark and the stories and the players were of the night. This is a strange time when you either go home or you stay out. As movies tend to be dramatic, there was little evidence that going to bed, well at least to sleep, was an option. The later it was getting the more ominous it felt, the more sexual, the more silhouettes and shadows. I left before things got too sexy or too bloody, but it is something I would have liked to see unfold. Doesn’t 3am sound both marvelous and terrifying?!

The level of sheer success of this piece is undoubtedly its maker. Christian Marclay is just too damned good. He always has been the type of artist that if you like him, you will always like him and I image he’s an artist’s artist as well. There are fewer people who are both as consistent and evolving as he is. He has specific areas that he is known for, music, kinetics, electronics, and he pushes those to a place that is not, or maybe can not even be pushed into an -ism. For this video it has been noted that he had 6 full time assistants cull through films and movies for the time scenes but that he edited the video himself. His specific way of doing that task has resulted in this fantastic experience that is dense, rhythmic and a touch of technical magic that is specifically Marclay.

Dissonance is a word that I think of often when I approach Marclay’s work but not in a pejorative way. Marclay takes that which is seemingly incongruent, unpliant, harsh, and pushes it so far into itself that it transforms into a seamless wave of sound or images. There is a coolness to his work, to his method, formulaic but so direct and to the point in its finish that it is with awe that you track his methods versus annoyed process for process sake cleverness. The Clock is so completely applauded by those who experience it because the final thing, this 24-hour video trip, is masterful and that, in anything, is rare.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures : The Museum of Modern Art, NY

I went to MoMA today with the intention of seeing OnLine, an exhibition of “drawing” as it was the exhibition’s last day on view and also to see the Abstract Expressionist New York show, a re-installation of the title from the museum’s collection, as many critics have been gaga-gooing about it. I did both, diligently but to be truthful OnLine was a massive clutter, and the Abstract Expressionist show was just fine. I know how important ab-ex is but it just doesn’t move me the way that I have been told it should. This task though led me to a gem, Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures, black and white films from the 1960’s that is perfectly installed.

Warhol did everything it seems, and everything he did (at least in art), he did well. I have never seen a piece by Warhol that made me feel embarrassed for him. His films are known and seem to be the type of thing you don’t actually have to watch after it has been described to you but seeing them, especially as exhibited, quickly makes that idea a mistake. There are silver helium square balloons greeting you from above the entrance, there is text and the face of Ethel Scull. Then you enter into the exhibition space and Warhol’s film “Sleep” 1963 is large on the front wall, as you turn your head from left to right you see two monitors, one is of “Blowjob” 1964 and the other is of “Eat” 1964, you don’t know the titles yet so once you do it becomes obvious for one and bemusing for the other.

Next, you enter a larger room; dark with only bright square screens that are framed making them feel like paintings. This room is full of Warhol’s Screen Tests, head on moving portraits of the famous and beautiful within his circle. This includes: Nico, Allan Ginsberg, Susan Sontag, Dennis Hopper, Edie Sedwick and more. They are all stars and through these films you get the sense why. Their larger then life faces are looking at you, not you but Andy, and they are trying to be very still, very obedient. Some fidget, almost constantly in Dennis Hopper’s case, or they shyly smile, aware of the attention being paid to them. Through their stillness the effect of the films vibrates between photograph, painting and halogram. They feel utterly alive and also completely revealed. Through these films Warhol is letting us stare, and the fact that they are of celebrities adds something but it is not really what makes them captivating. What makes them so alluring is the blatant voyeurism, there is nothing to be caught doing though as it is volunteered. Still, you can feel the vulnerability or the undaunted self-awareness that those being filmed posses. Warhol requests those he films to do things for him, in front of him. They let him because he is Andy.

In addition to the Screen Tests there is a room that has been converted into a discreet movie theatre that at the time had “Kiss,” 1963 playing. This too has the same shamelessly fixed gaze. All of the films are elemental. There are no questions being asked or mysteries to be solved they are studies of the most basic things. Things that everyone has done or can do. In this vain MoMA’s exhibition webpage invites anyone to make their own Screen Test and also shares others with you. This to me seems a bit cheesy, but thinking the question “what would Andy want” it seems like it’s a fine little exercise to do. Warhol was probably always the type who observed things and people in a penetrating type of way. We are lucky that he reached a position that he could share this fascination of others with us.