Monday, October 31, 2011

Lake Erie Ramblings

I was going to write about Nan Goldin’s new exhibition at Matthew Marks this week but I was only able to see it for a brief time and the slide/audio show for only a few minutes and this is just not enough time to do it justice so it will have to be next week. Apologies. I am already apologizing because now you will have to suffer reading my unfocused rambling (more than usual). These particular ramblings are set at Lake Erie, where I have spent the last few days. You have been warned; you can click off from this point, as what is to follow is a real piñata of my dehydrated mind.

Briefly On Nature and the Visual Experience: When walking in the woods, (not a neat path in the woods), one must always look down. Looking down is required so that one does not fall or misstep. On occasion, one must look up to see what is coming ahead in the near future in regards to terrain and to avoid any branches, protrusions, animals and other human beings. The scope of sight is very focused and is 80% focused within 1-5 feet, 15% within 5-20 feet and 5% to the full extent of visibility. Because of this acute focus there is no time to look out and contemplate on what is around unless one purposefully stops. This may be why most people who partake in hiking and walking in the woods have a goal to reach; a top, a vista, or a certain spot that is considered the best visual field. This is in contrast to a setting like a beach or a meadow or another similar place that is more flat and the typography is more even. This allows for less focus on the immediate visual range and more to the horizon. This can result in a more contemplative experience with nature, as the focus is more circumferential then it is pointed. The passivity of the eye can be seen in both unstable nature and stable nature. The psychology of the person within that terrain is in the end the most influential factor of the visual cognizance of any given natural space. The elements as sound, temperature, precipitation and other factors that effect the physical experience can have much if not total dominance over the visual experience.

Briefly On Quaint Towns: The idealization of a small town in the United States is due to the need for authenticity that can be sometimes found in nostalgia. The ideal town consists of a Main Street and off that street are various businesses and community buildings that are the primary meeting places for the town. This town refers to a period of America that dates from 1940-1970, the architecture is a third incarnation of the Victorian style but its construction is prefab and it is made of almost all synthetic materials. Those that participate in reconstructing a small town in this manner are 99% white and are from incomes that range between $30,000 - $150,000 per household. Both the very poor and the very wealthy do not have impulse or desire to be apart of this idealized town. This may be due to the lack of the need to search for a nostalgic authenticity as both the poor and rich have other forms of this realized authenticity. Towns that are constructed from scratch to resemble this referred town will not flourish past 30 years. Towns that have a history and are re-built or expended upon can possibly last through multiple generations.

Briefly On Pie: There is place located in Westfield New York that makes the most superb, the most perfect, the most delicious pies ever to be made. They are called Portage Pie, named after the street in which their modest shop is located. This statement is not partial, as in truth, this writer does not even like pies very much. These pies are made by a woman named Connie and her husband, whose name is not known to writer. They have large sized pies and also small pies. Each pie is perfectly delicious because it accentuates the flavor of the filling, be it fruit, such as; apple, concord grape, peach, sour cherry or more cream based. Each flavor is perfectly clear on the palate yet never overly sugary. The crust is consistently moist, flaky and gently salted. This more savory crust highlights the pie fillings’ natural sweetness or tart. The pies are very economically priced and can last up to a week on the shelf. They should not be refrigerated. Also, the bakers pick the fruit seasonally from local farmers but not in a highfalutin way. This writer is not a dessert enthusiast nor has a sweet tooth but when something is perfectly made, as these pies are, they transcend being an edible treat but a form of art. These are the most perfect pies one can eat, if you happen to ever be in or pass near Westfield New York it would be derelict to not sample one or many of these delicious pies.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hello Houston

There was a time when I thought Texas and I would never meet, but we have and Houston is a city that has disarmed any assumptions I may have had of this state. It is surprising how geographically disengaged I am with the America; I have been to more foreign countries than I have been to states. Is this out of snobbery, laziness, and the impulse to only seek the obscure of the cosmopolitan? Yes and no. You go to places for one reason or another and I never had one for Texas on my own, but business has brought me here and I’m lucky for that because Houston is a very fine town.

What takes the socks off Houston is The Menil Collection. Oh My Goodness. Now this is a collection well acquired and handled. To learn about the de Menil’s and their “passion” for art go to their website, they have more detail and fervor in this tale then I want to be responsible for. But anyways the collection of Dominic Schlumberger and John de Menil is a wowzer affair. First the building that it is housed in is an exemplar of unassuming, tranquility inducing, Shaker aesthetic. It has the lushest grass and also the fattest, daring, brown squirrels I’ve ever been acquainted with. The building is, thank goodness, made of wood and is painted a periwinkle blue. If I have to see another hideous brushed-steel building I may just have a minnie seizure. The space inside is minimal, quite, and straightforward with a lobby at center and galleries to the left and right. The rooms are generous and well proportioned allowing the objects in the room converse with each other versus having to merely exist in the same space. The feature exhibition was Walter de Maria’s Trilogies. The room with the three perfectly preserved Chevy Bel Airs with a stainless steel rod piercing through them in the triangle, rectangle and circle forms was an impressive feat of human energy. That’s all I have to say about that.

The most “oh my goodness” factor is the amazing Surrealist collection. Apparently, the de Menils have the largest and most comprehensive collection of Surrealist works and this installation shows so many hits that it makes the heart lurch. Seeing things in real time and space is more then important, it is essential in the arts. Due to our digital reality there has been a trend of separating the idea of an artwork from the artwork itself. Yes, art is about the ideas, art is the memento mori of our collective conscious and history but it also self-specific and functional outside of a placeholder or cue. Seeing René Magritte’s, C’est nes pas une pipe at this collection reaffirms this idea to me. It is just a thing; another thing amongst things when you get down to it, but it is more then just a reproduction of itself. Its presence has meaning beyond just a scavenger hunt for our recent cultural feats. In addition to this zinger was a catalog of all the masters of Surrealism, you name it they were there, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Man Ray, Georgio de Chirico, Yves Tanguey… I have always had a soft spot for Magritte but seeing so many of them at one time somehow made me a bit embarrassed about this affection. I may be turning a new corner with him, there is something very dull about some of his works, or maybe I’m projecting on who I image him to be as a person. Time will tell. What was stunning to see were the Georgio de Chiricos. His work is much more alive in person then as reproduction. But the biggest zinger of the group was Dorothea Tanning’s Cousins, 1970. Fury, hugging, entwined, faceless brown creatures that are both endearing and creepy. There is now a distinct visual marker for me, the time before I was introduced to Tanning’s sculptures and the time after. Really remarkable.

In addition to this intimidating possession of works there was a small room with artifacts, objects, masks, toys, rocks, and various other curios and tribal wonderments that was accumulated as a showing of objects that the Surrealists either personally owned or was in the spirit of the things they owned. This was, I think, a thoughtful and insightful inclusion. This accumulation of objects also triggers this unsettling realization that all that is in this room is vacuumed sealed of its potency and its self-possession. There are still clinging reverberations of spirit, or whatever you want to call it, in some of the objects though. In the end it is sad to witness but also rewarding to one’s mental map of visual culture.

There were other remarkable works and a breadth of discerning taste evidenced in the other galleries. It is stunning what money can buy. It feels a bit unfair in a way but better for us that it is on view and accessible to all versus above a couch or a toilet. Anyone who happens to be in Houston must must go view this collection. The Menil also claims the Rothko Chapel, which is a big to do. It is very Rothko-y. There was unfortunately a cluster of black folding chairs cramped in the space. I think that is a pity of my timing. In the room with me was one balding, pony tailed, white male on the floor in lotus position and also an attendant, a black women in her fifties who was looking over the circulars. There is a Rothko Chapel office next door in a charming house. There were lots of cats eating from small piles of cat food on the porch. I enjoyed watching the cats. That’s all I have to say about the Rothko Chapel.

Houston is a very nice town, and I mean nice. Everyone is so pleasant and friendly here. Not in the exaggerated way I thought they would be but in a very honest way. There are young, stylish, hip people and if there are those types there must be a thriving art scene somewhere about. This seems like a place that likes being exactly the way it is. It is a car town for sure but the largess of the city allows for un-trafficked flow. The week I was here was apparently the best weather week almost all year, mid 70s to 80s, low humidity, clear skies and bright sun. This is something I am most enamored with about Houston. Its big flat sky and the sun is as bright and warm as its shaded areas are clean and cool. It has the hint of same sun as LA but the air here is cleaner so the light is more penetrating. Also it has the most fabulous springing from the cracks flora and fauna I have seen. Oh and the birds, they have these kooky black birds that strut and make vocal undulations that are hilarious. I could never call Houston home but it is just as nice to visit as any place I’ve visited before.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Trending: Craft, Nick Cave: Line, Richard Serra

Trend this, trend that, there is a veritable golden ladder of making the quippiest pick or insight in what is “in” for art, culture, fashion, music, and all else that keeps us occupied with our time and money. It is the industry that makes the industries and within art there are various groups of trendsetters. This includes artists, curators, dealers, specific collectors and critics, their influence in that order. What is most unrecognized and or under spoken about is that it is really the artists who make the rules. This is, let’s not forget, the art industry and it still happens that artists make the goods. This fact gets lost most of the time because to be frank there are just too many artists (well too many bad ones) and sometimes it is shocking, annoying, and downright puzzling how some great artists get ignored and how some not very good ones get museum shows and million dollar tags. Still, this is how it has been since modern/contemporary art has been around. This is why the trendsetters, the tastemakers, the oracles of what is to come in the arts are needed, necessary and have effect. The art world is a whirlpool, you can’t stop its momentum but you can make it go faster one way and with enough effort you can make it spin the other.

Just on 24th street alone in Chelsea the incredible evidence of the trend of craft is astounding. Yes, the whole craft and art, art and craft dialogue has been had and re-had but this time around it feels different. Fine art most commonly uses craft techniques as a form of subversion. Now it feels like a tool to enforce validity. One such example is Nick Cave’s giant ritual, voodoo, monster, shamans that are at Mary Boone (there was also a related show at Jack Shainman). I have never found Cave’s work very engaging, yes they are impressive and masterfully built but they never did the thing they were implying, at least to me. This new batch is much more of the same but even so, there is something undeniable impressive about it all. The closest thing to animism was the twig suites. They are dense and hairy and make the skin prickle with bumps. Most of the others are Liberace meets Gaga meets rocket ship. They are nice. Pretty. Well made. Now, how is Cave using craft to validate? For his suits, Cave is using the history, imagery and ritual of technique and folk tradition to authenticate the necessity of the objects he is making. Things that are made as craft objects have a history of tradition, of passed on knowledge, a form of necessity in its methods of production. Cave takes this even further by injecting this assumption into his suits, making them more than just intense couture.

Other artists that are using craft in similar ways are Mindy Shapero at Marianne Boesky and Olaf Breunning at Metro Pictures. Shapero’s show is not the best in town, it has lots of puffy paint, flowers and mild op illusionistic profiles and faces but the sheer brazenness of these afterschool techniques in this well appointed space is ballsy to say the least. Olaf Breunning’s small show at Metro Pictures is perfectly Olaf, albeit in a much too small space. They are of mostly nude women, some men, in their ripe age of mid to late 20s and they are painted as artists in the style those artists painted in. Just think Murakami, Basquiet, Beuys and you will get it. The whole finger paint, diorama, dress up, costuming, primary colors works here although the results is more a bemused chuckle than any sort of conversation to be had. But that’s okay; art can just be fun and silly sometimes. Both Shapero and Breunning apply the techniques of craft in not the same way Cave does, but its close. Cave seems to take himself much more seriously, but in each case, these artists use craft as a means to an end. And that end is big A art.

The next thing is not a trend per se but it is something that has been sticking with me. The current de Kooning retrospective, which I go into flutters about a few weeks ago, is just marvelous. Although that show is clearly about painting, there is also the line. Drawing and painting are different breeds entirely, but there is something so basic about drawing, that it is difficult, prey impossible to separate drawing from other art forms. Is that a stretch? Not at all in my book but it is not obvious or necessarily that important a fact in most situations. But in the case of de Kooning, the line is pertinent and this is also true for Richard Serra’s new installation at Gagosian. Called Junction/Cycle, this exhibit features two new sculptural installations that are at first expectantly Serra but once inside the sculptures, something happens, things get interesting.

The passages in both works are languid, they are sweeping and the walls curve and bend in the same way his other labyrinthine works do but here, there is no ominous compression. Instead the movement, flow and slight curve of these wonderfully ochre chalk walls is positively lyric. In addition, looking up is just as important as looking ahead in these works. As you do this there appears ribbons of light, of the ceiling and those slivers become liquid and shift with your body. These lines are leading you to the rest of its form as you move within the passageways. Maybe I am thinking about Serra in different terms after seeing his very fantastic drawing retrospective at The Metropolitan Museum of Art this past summer. The conversation regarding the line in respects to Serra’s work has been hashed out, you can see it repeated in his works on paper, his sculpture and his videos. This new show makes this point firm in my comprehension of his work. Also, seeing the works from above, which only those with a crane or a plane can see in real time, but we all can see as reproduction, evidences this lyric form of line. There is something very gentle about these new sculptures. Gentle and Serra, things are more possible then one could ever think these days. This idea of the line as the source but not the fixation is quite a challenging idea, very simplistic but a very abstract common dominator.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Week in Review : Steve Jobs, Occupy Wall Street, Cheever – Falconer, Yankees, Chris Christie

Can you believe it? It’s already October, wonderfully though, summer weather has lingered for a wee bit more making the transition into fall seem faint. What has this first week of October brought? Lots. There are things in politics, culture, and the personal that will effect the weeks and months to come. Below are a few tidbits, reveries and espousals.

Steve Jobs died on October 5th at age 56. For those living in a cave, he was the co-founder and zen master guru of Apple (and Pixar) and he made home computers and portable devices sic in design and function that made everyone, and literally their moms, have to have one, or two or five Apple’s products. There is no doubt that Jobs was one hell of an innovator but the memorializing following his death was a bit much. Jobs was the Neo of the tech industry. With him gone there is a question of “will there ever be anything so cool again?” That anxiety is understandable but people, people, the crying and the i-pod/touch candle light vigils? Come on people, get it together! Also, Apple does a bulk of its manufacturing in the Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision Industry (Foxconn) which is notorious for very poor labor practices and also a rash of suicides by its workers. You can read more about this in Ben Davis’ article on Art Info entitled “Think Different: Why Steve Jobs Doesn’t Deserve Your Tears.” Now, while I do not hold as much aggression towards Steve Jobs as Davis does, the point is taken and should be aired. Apple is the über brand, it surpasses Coke even because it is both for everyone but also a status symbol. And there is a reason for this success; Apple products that Jobs so rigorously refined are beautiful instruments for creating and communicating.

Occupy Wall Street has been going on for four weeks now but no one really started giving a hoot until about a week or so ago. Stationed at Zuccotti Park in the Financial District, the university students and full time agitators have been strengthened and validated by the accumulating support of labor unions like teachers and post office workers and fellow citizens. The mix of the working class and the early activists has made Occupy Wall Street into more then just a pot luck street parade. Do the Wall Street bankers need to be shamed? Yes. Does something have to radically shift in policy, accountability and punishment for banking and investment sectors so that they can’t ruin everything for everyone? Yes. The whole thing is impressive, it truly is, but I have an unsettled feeling in my guts, I have an auto-reflex of cringing at the revelry of the spectacle in all of this. Evidence of your time at Occupy Wall Street is the hippest thing to post on social media sites. There is this clinging to be a part of history, of a movement, of something, anything that feels intense, real, and meaningful. Is that a bad thing? No. Perhaps I am a bit jaded, perhaps a bit resigned. Will this change things on Wall Street? No, not unless it gets gawd awful big and that really won’t happen unless the cops start being agro again. Will this defeat Capitalism? Not at all. I only hope that those who are “in it to win it” also reflect not only on a big, bad, rich target, like Wall Street but also look at themselves as well; the way they personally function as consumers with food, clothing, travel, all of it is always entwined. That’s the change that will have the greatest effect. Wall Street needs a Nuremberg style judgment day; will that come from these actions? Probably not, but at least not everyone is playing dead.

John Cheever is really good. I just completed my first novel by him entitled Falconer, 1977. It’s about a guy named Farragut who was a professor but also a drug addict, (heroin), and he was charged with killing his only brother, which he recalls as an accident. He is sent to prison, called Falconer, and there you learn about him, his inner and outer monologues and the people around him. Cheever is a generous writer. He is selective and tight but not razor sharp. He has the feeling of a heavy warm blanket or a piece of pound cake on a plate. His shifting of past and present in the form of memory is impressive in its lack of explanation. His characters are characters, distinct but functioning in roles. Issues like heroin, suicide, gay prison sex, and other subjects that seem easily susceptible to dramatizing or cliché are masterfully re-contextualized. There are no tricks in the way Cheever writes. It is a thing he obviously enjoyed doing, and enjoyed doing it well. I highly recommend Falconer, albeit the ending, I thought, was a bit too tidy, a bit too neat.

The Yankees are out of the running for the World Series. Thank goodness. I hope Detroit gets it this year, god knows that town could use a hurrah.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has officially declared he will not being running for the 2012 Presidential Election. Good, but he’s a man you have to keep an eye on. He’ll be back. And yes, he’s a physically large man, but it’s mean to make that the go to joke. If he were as big and black, no one would say a thing. If he was as big and a women, he would never have made it past Supervisor of Schools. He is definitely not someone I want as President, but he is frankly the most fascinating politician to watch at the moment.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Los Angeles California conjures many things and those things are specific, intense, and firmly decided. For an East Coast gal, LA is an idea as much as it is a geographic location. On my second time here, I have come to the conclusion that this is a swell town. I wouldn’t choose to live here, but if I had to, I’m sure that I would love it as much as I do New York in time. It is an interesting two-step, the LA, NYC bicker. One zone is always proclaiming itself in comparison to the other, but to what end, to what purpose? It’s like comparing apple to lemon trees. It’s an absolutely unnecessary conversation to be had. Visiting LA this time was due to business but in between work there was fun to be had, things to explore and impressions made.

The big art thing about town is Pacific Standard Time, an encyclopedic survey of art from LA between1945 – 1980. There are over 60 institutions and organizations that are focusing on this wide, yet specific focus. This massive effort was initiated by the J. Paul Getty Museum and it is here that I visited one bright, perfectly LA day. The Getty is like a Mensa compound, it is idyllic, perfectly proportioned, manicured and epicurean. It is unnerving in its serene perfection but the effect is more then mildly impressive. The exhibitions they had up in regards to Pacific Standard Time was Greetings from L.A.: Artists and Publics, 1950-1980 and Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950 - 1970. The first was a scrapbook of certain movements, notable events and remarkable artists. There were a lot of ephemera like posters, invitations, and photographic documentations. These were lovely to see, lovely to learn from but there was also this nagging feeling that this is how things get qualified in history. If you save enough detritus, if you record things consistently, eventually this can be used as evidence to a greatness. I am not implying that these things are not, but there seems to be a strange effort in making sure it is proven. Amongst this display were the TV commercials by Chris Burden. He paid for 10-second slots during prime time and he did various visual/audio subversions. These are just the best things. In the Crosscurrents exhibition, there was a sweeping collection of artists and their respective sub-movements in painting and sculpture. This was inclusive but a bit packed together. There were delights for sure though; David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, 1967 is mind boggling in it’s perfectness, John McLaughlin is smart and tight, early Vija Clemins are surprising and Ken Price proves his chops once again. Both these shows are educational and an introduction to the LA art scenes but the surprising and most detrimental aspects of these shows is how small they were. The spaces that these exhibitions were provided does no justice to the idea of the initiative this institution heralded, especially when The Getty obviously has so much capacity in both space and wealth. It is what it is though and it was a delight, albeit truncated.

More art was seen at a scatter of galleries in Culver City. The way LA galleries are spread out in these virtually uninhabited places with stretches of fast moving cars is absolutely unbelievable unless seen by one’s own eyes. This set up in a way confirms certain things about art and the requirements of the gallery space. Although I am sure these spaces have less attendance in a month than a gallery in Chelsea gets in a week, it makes no difference in the fiscal end. It matters less how many people visit as two the financial capability of those people. David Kordansky is one of my favorite galleries and the current show with Richard Jackson, although not my cup of tea, is still impressive in its production. I would love to attend an opening for the galleries in LA, they seem like they would be a hopping good time in a way that Chelsea openings are an annoyance.

In the end, it is had been decided; I really like LA. I really truly do. The traffic, the smog, the lack of mass transit, yadda yadda, are all more then valid points of complaint but this is exchanged by blissful sunny dry days, the idea that time is slow moving, that punctuality is bracketed by half hour to an hour understandings. The people are odd, they are polite drivers, and there is a mellowness and enjoyment of fresh air. Most interesting, the features of nature shape understanding of space, time, and movement. There are mountains, there are hills, there is the ocean’s vastness and the impossible palm trees and dry hills of bramble. The west coast sun is different than the east coast sun, there is more sky here, there is more sun here, and this allows for you to behave differently, think differently and slow down. LA art, NY art, it’s all just as important as the other, there is a difference of course but this is the point. No one wants to play patty cake with a mirror.