Monday, January 30, 2012

I am a VH1 Reality Show Addict

It’s sad, it’s true. I am a VH1 reality show addict. There. I said it. Maybe if I shame myself publicly it will curb my cravings but that probably won’t happen, well at least not this week. I usually don’t have a compulsive personality but there are moments in my life, every fourteen months or so, when I spiral into fixation with one thing or another. Oddly, it appears that VH1 (Video Hits One) has formulated a way of creating reality shows that hits this addict nerve in my brain.

How did this all start? Innocently enough it was during a business trip in Houston and I was killing time in my hotel room and I was flipping around on the TV (which I indulge in at hotels since I don’t have one at my home) and I came upon the VH1 show, Basketball Wives LA. It is about wives (well actually more were ex’s and girlfriends) and the inner circle of catty ladies and the drama that ensues from putting that many women in the same room with cameras on. It was drama, drama, drama and I was immediately hooked. In addition to Basketball Wives LA, I have watched, Basketball Wives, T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle, Love & Hip Hop, Mob Wives, Baseball Wives, and Celebrity Rehab. Wow, I should really be using my time more beneficially but like my other kicks, I have to just let it take its’ course and hopefully by the end of it I will have learned something, anything.

As I said, Basketball Wives LA was my first dip into this TV pool and it was the character Dreya that had me the most intrigued. She is a stripper and has had relationships with a few basketball players. She is first seen as the groupie and is targeted by the older ladies in the group. Dreya looks very strange, but in a fascinating way. She has a very curvy body and her facial features throw you all over everywhere, but never really able to determine what her background is. I like her personality and she says funny things. She was also the underdog of sorts out of all the girls and I have always been partial to underdogs. I hope she becomes successful and that she doesn’t get treated poorly or misuse her body to get there. I liked seeing different parts of LA, the restaurants and clubs and other venues. Lesson learned: Stay away from older crazy ladies with wobbly necks.

Basketball Wives is apparently the original of the “Basketball Wives” franchise and it is set in Miami. Again there is a group of “wives” ex’s, and otherwise, that are friends with each other and you peek into their recorded lives. Shaunie O’Neill, Shaquille O’Neill’s ex wife, is the queen bee and she seems very mature and grounded. She is also a producer of the show. Smart gal. The most volatile character is Evelyn and she was to be married to a basketball player whom she was with for 10 years but she left that. She is very pretty and well frocked and locked. She seems like a not bad person but I found her to be sort of boring even though she was feisty. Miami is a weird town, having been there a few times its odd to see places you have been before and how when it's on TV, it doesn't look as crappy. Miami is sort of a sad town but I bet if you were as wealthy and connected to the basketball world as these ladies are things would be much more exciting. Lesson learned: Wear big hoop earrings at all times.

I love T.I. and Tiny. Their show, T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle is about them and their eight kids (I thinks its eight). Some of the kids are T.I. and Tiny’s together and others are from their previous relationships. They live in a newer- style mansion in Georgia and the episodes focus on the family and sometimes a child in particular. T.I. is a rapper and has previously been incarcerated, once for weapons and another for drug possession. Tiny (Tameka) was in a platinum selling girl group call Xscape and also won a Grammy for writing the lyrics for TLC’s No Scrubs. T.I. is incredibly handsome and very charming. He is very southern in manner and tone and he is very sweet and responsible for his kids. Tiny is not the prettiest girl, and at first it is surprising that she is married to T.I. but the show reveals how funny, smart and cool she is and it all makes sense. I really like T.I. and Tiny’s personalities and am happy to see such a complex family structure with usually misperceived rap and music culture being portrayed so positively. Lesson learned: Talk calmly, directly, and nicely to children in a quite voice.

Love & Hip Hop is about a group of ladies and their relationships with rappers or their struggle to make it in the industry. Chrissy is the girlfriend turned fiancĂ© of Dipset rapper Jim Jones. I was shocked to see Jim Jones being a part of a reality show. Shocked. I am not a rap or Dipset head but I do like Jim Jones and his style of rapping. There are a lot of fights, hair pulling and drama. I love Nancy, Jim Jones mother, she’s crazy, but in a good way. The setting is New York, but also a lot in New Jersey, it seems everyone lives out in North Jers (Represent). At times the sequences/editing was a bit weird, like some moments were highly stylized and filmed so that it looked like a music video. Not a good idea. Anyways it’s weird to see Dipset rappers on reality TV. Lesson learned: Make him put a ring on it, a giant sparkly ring or leave his ass.

Mob Wives is again, a group of women but the twist is that these women are tied to the mob, (Italian) through marriage, or family. They live on Staten Island and this show proves that that place is very very odd. Drita is Albanian and she likes to fight. There is a war between her and Karen (Sammy the Bull’s daughter) at the moment. Karen sucks. She reminds you of those girls that like to fight in high school. Renee is older and very dramatic and loves plastic surgery. She makes me cringe to watch but she seems like a nice person. Lesson learned: Wear your hair in a tight bun if there is a chance you will get into a fight.

Baseball Wives. Totally not very interesting. Lesson learned: Shows with regular white girls are boring.

Celebrity Rehab is with Dr. Drew and it stars has-beens in the movie, music and TV industry who come in for treatment with other addicts. This show crosses so many lines on what is ethical to have on TV. I think it’s very exploitative on Dr. Drew’s part. It’s sad to see people damaged and sad. Lesson learned: Don’t do drugs.

Well that’s my own detox and although watching these shows and spending so many hours doing so is essentially a waste, I hope that in the end there are things I learn about society, culture, visual formulations and myself. At the end of the day, what I really want most is to be on a reality TV show. Have your people call my people.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Met is my favorite place to look at art, the type of art that reminds you why art matters. It is not the art of our recent century that I seek here, although with all the re-structuring that is going on within the contemporary department, who knows… I go to The Met to do a visual cleanse, a purge, to sweat out all the goop of everything else I absorb through these orbital organs called my eyes. For this visit I had two places that were must sees, one was the newly renovated Islamic wing, which is very wonderful indeed, and second the exhibition, The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini which features around 160 works from 15th century Italy. Both are must-sees, but the portraiture exhibition is one that you should dash to as it closes in March.

The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini features the works of masters such as; Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Pisanello, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, and Antonello da Messina. There is a wide range of materials and methods, like; coins, busts out of stone or metal, drawings and illuminations in books but the zinger for me were the paintings. There is a lot of emphasis on how portraiture was once for royalty and courts only and how this exhibition shows how the influx of wealth to the mercantile class made commissioning a portrait affordable and in vogue. All that is fabulously relevant in historical context of course, but for me, the increase of portraiture also reveals another wonderful human impulse, that of inventing and controlling one’s image, persona, and legacy.

Most of the portraits are flat direct profiles to recall Greek and Roman art. There is a linear quality to these paintings, the most important one being the single line that creates the person’s profile. This line contains so much information and it is subtly adjusted to highlight the sitter’s personality. The rest of the features are very tightly controlled as well, such as the ear and the hands when shown. These portraits are instances in which every line counts and the heightened flatness almost becomes an abstraction in its severity. It is rare that one looks at someone’s face in direct profile only, but in the case of these portraits I think it is a stunning formula, and one that I wish were done still. The person’s face becomes a space. They become somehow flattened and all that is around them is flattened. The emphasis on the hair, clothing, and jewelry revels even more when the sitter’s pose is frozen and it gives those elements even more life and impact. The portrait of Lucrezia Landrian by Domenico Veneziano is one such amazing example of this. Her profile is exquisite and her hair is in the fashionable style of forehead bare and braided with a fabric-capping crown. Her dress has gorgeous embroidery of brocade flowers and is red capped. The detailing makes you realize that what we consider fashion these days are mere drab rags. What also heightens the captivating aspect of this work is how she is leaning, which is slightly tilted back. There is such a subtly of mood shift in this lean and with the exposure of the neck and upper back of Lucrezia, she is made vulnerable, alluring and fleshy.

These strict profiles were not the only types of paintings featured as around 1450, Italian Renaissance painters started working with the three quarter view of the sitter and this introduced that hypnotic thing called “the gaze.” Now the sitter is able to look back at the viewer. This makes things more electric but also it requires more from the sitter and the artist, as they have to stand up to the viewer’s gaze. Because of this, the hands, the tilt of the head, especially with the male subjects, are firm, confident and at times cavalier. In some instances the sitter opts to not engage directly with the viewer and instead skews the glance heavenwards or off to the side. The most fascinating example of this type of view was that of Giuliano de’ Medici, by Sandro Botticelli. The Medici family was the ruling clan of Florence from the 15th to 18th centuries and they immortalized their rule through their art patronage. Guilano, the son of Piero de’ Medici, was assassinated in 1478 and to commemorate him, portraits in the form of busts and paintings were commissioned after his death. In this exhibition there were two Botticelli paintings that looked nearly identical. Both were based on the death mask of Guilano, which the Met, in all its scholastic merit, had a cast of on view. This cast was eerily fascinating to look at as it revealed Guilano to be a large man with a bent nose and a huge presence. To see this translated in Botticelli’s portraits is a fascinating study into human beings capacity to empathize and to imagine one’s self in the presence of another.

Sticking with the death theme, there was one magnificent gilded bronze bust by Donatello of Saint Rossore c. 1424-27 which was created to hold the skull of the martyred saint. This head sticks out, in more ways then one, but the concept of this coffin decanter was goose bump worthy. The face, scholars think, is that of the artist, but either way, there is an unnerving sense that the face and chest are breathing and at any moment it will slowly pick up its slightly bent head and stare at you. It is very odd be in the same room with this bust. After this unnerving thought, I realized that all these people are dead. All the portraits, and all the artists are no longer living, yet everything is still so undeniably pulsing with life. This is where I will get back to the idea of these individuals creating an external persona and how the lives of these people were utterly fascinating. The stories of their lives, their lovers, the deceits, the assassinations, the exiles, they are the juiciest type of stories. These stories are what connect us to them, they are the TV and movie stars and sub-stars, the celebrities, they represent the fame that humans crave and desire throughout time immemorial. The portraits these artists created were at a height of certain styles and the support to explore this and to develop new methods was enabled by this moneyed class. What we are left with are wonderful capsules and images that contain the history of an era and also of a life unimaginable but also relatable. There is something unexplainably fascinating about these portraits and the faces feel more alive then the digital photos of even myself from a week or so ago. They stick with you and you want to know more about them and their makers. This is the greatest magic of art, it reminds us that we all love gossip, beauty, stories, and that we are all just human.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ben Schumacher: Register of Documents 1974-, James Fuentes / Gerald Ferguson: Work, Stencil Through Frottage From 1968, Canada

Ben Schumacher: Register of Documents 1974-: James Fuentes, 55 Delancey St, New York, NY

I really like Ben Schumacher’s work, and this is why it is unpleasant for me to say that his current exhibition at James Fuentes is disappointing. The show is entitled, Registrar of Documents 1974-, and it suffers from its density. I’m actually not sure if it is an installation, maybe it’s a gathering of related sculptures, in any way; at first contact one is presented with a lot all at once. There are thirteen named pieces and they resemble a mix between just shipped futuristic car parts and computer chips for giants. They are on the floor, off the wall and there are also big fruit things hanging from yellow netting in various places. The materials list consists mostly of; aluminum, glass, perforated adhesive vinyl, and screws. You get a sense right away that it is the materials that matter. As you look at the surfaces, you see that there is more going on here. There is text, there are images, there looks to be what is a necktie. This is the cue for you to read the press release to get a better clue on what the heck is happening, unfortunately, doing this only creates more problems. The press release is nearly three and a half pages long, a Moby Dick of PRs compared to most. It tells you about the Berlin Wall, about the origin of the word window, of people trying to escape for East Berlin. It speaks of the Samizdat or “Russian unofficial literature,” and how it was a primary tool for disseminating dissident ideas. It tells how this exhibition consists of the complete writings of the samizdat publications from 1974-on that is in the holdings of the New York Public Library. It then goes on to touch upon the ideas of circulation of ideas via non-circulating objects and also the implications of the act of “registration of a quantum event” which seems to be the point of it all, this idea of the quantum phenomenon. Did I lose you? Well if you’re not, I am. It’s not that I can’t grasp the concepts; it’s the way in which these concepts are clipped up and written like a dossier for my visual comprehension. The problem is not in the works themselves, as some are subtly fantastic ones like the cement paintings such as Bevel B or the standing sculpture that was in the middle of the room with holes in the aluminum surface’s of two pieces that had overlaying elements that made it do optical eye tingles, these were very good indeed. What seems to be at issue is that both the installation and the press release should have been edited down. Having too much of everything to get a point across can be as fatal as the crutch of minimalist heady installs. That’s just my take on it, maybe it was all meant to be an intellectual joke, if so, over my head obviously. Maybe I’m too dense to get much of anything but to me, the exhibition seems to have failed through its attempt to be non-negotiable in its proof of evidence.

Gerald Ferguson: Work, Stencil Through Frottage From 1968, Canada, 55 Chrystie St, New York, NY

I had never heard of Gerald Ferguson until I happened upon his show at Canada gallery in the Lower East Side and for that I am mildly embarrassed but more so, happily introduced. Ferguson was a conceptual artist that was American born but lived and taught in Halifax Nova Scotia. He died in 2009 and this show features a retrospective of works, curated by Luke Murphy, that includes earlier works from 1968 and up to 2007. There is an astonishing consistency of investigation in his works, which are paintings that are predominantly on raw tannish canvas with black oil paint. They at first glance feel like exercise paintings with a formula to follow. Some fall flat on that structure but others start doing something else entirely. His 1 Mile Clothesline, 2000 is one of the larger works at 60 x 108 inches and it has layers of fluid black lines that recall all those things about “drip painting” but is obviously not one of them. There is a sense of control and skill that is translated on this seemingly spontaneous painting. The interplay of line and negative space of the tan canvas makes the entire piece feel like it is cutting up and into space in flickering reconfigurations before your eyes. Other subtleties can be seen in his paintings that look like they are an accumulation of minimalist stamps. An L shaped square, a box with dots in the left corner. These forms are gridded unto the canvas until the space is all used up. When this is done, some possess a certain something and they are just wonderful to look at. There is poignancy in a certain touch that Ferguson’s work possess. There is a quality in his paintings and the marks are the source of this. The forms feel like a necessary parameter as much as the canvas and the black paint are. I most enjoyed the works where there was a rub of blue or red, almost like a mistake but obviously very much intended.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fashion Trends in 2012

The year has begun and with it comes the desire to purge, cleanse, re-invent, and start anew. Most things in life take time and patience for change, and when you have the itch for change and can’t do anything about the big things right away, focus on the small. One of the easiest things to control and to experiment with is fashion. To me there is “Fashion” and then there is fashion. The small “f” fashion is what I’m talking about here. It’s about style, attitude and mood shifting with minimal effort and maximal results. I have been looking around this fine town, and have noticed some things that are good, bad, exciting and perplexing and want to share these observations with all you classy lads and lasses.


Moustaches – A new kind of moustache, not faux old timey curled ends or full of irony though. These new moustaches are full, flat and sort of like your dads but not “dad” like. Good example is all those fine looking Pittsburg Penguins.

Mid-Neck Bobs – Forget the long hair ladies, the new hair trend is the full, soft, mid-neck bob that is about 2-3 inches off the shoulder. It’s like a 50s bob but without the hair products.

Sneakers – High Top sneakers worn by both men and women will be the new fun trend. Some will be designery like Y3-esque but others will be straight up high tops circa late 80s early 90s. Some of the older Air Jordans are super cool.

Slacks – For both men and women the slacks are back. No more of this skinny jeans thing, it will be looser, tailored and in various materials and colors. Comfort is key but no more harem pants please.

Sweatshirts – The sweatshirt is no longer just for watching Masterpiece Theatre and eating chips, it will be getting gussied up by young designers in interesting cuts. The bigger and baggier the better, it will be like a poncho for the design elite.

Orange – A bright tangerine orange will be in fashion. The orange thing seems so over, but we need some zing sometimes for our visual scurvy.

Shoulder Pads – Already rocking them, you should be too! It changes your dimensions without surgery and you can use them as mini pillows when you are watching another boring blockbuster flick.

Earrings – Big glittery hoop ones for the gals, studs for the boys.

One Piece Bathing Suits – The bikini is out for this coming summer, yay! More pasta!

Book Bags – So not into this, especially the woodsman meets hipster in the forest ones. If you have to use a backpack I recommend anything you may have used in grades 6-8.

Overalls – Just wait for it.

Big Boots – Even the skinniest male model boy is sporting workman’s boots, unlaced on top, loose.

Wigs – Why the heck not, it’s like a hat but it just fits better and can make things fun in the boudoir.

White – Like in the “I’m going to be a Santeria priest(ess)” sort of white.

Socks – Makes boring pants and not very interesting shoes into a party!

Collars - Detail will be everything and interesting collars will be a key to how alterna-hip one’s shirt really is.

Skirts – It’s a tube that goes over your legs, fabulous!

Rugby Shirts – The ones with the rubber buttons.


Tote Bags – No more friggin tote bags please.

Anything with animals – Owls, squirrels, turtles, unicorns, dogs, all of the menagerie put to pasture (except cats and possibly bunnies).

Goth – Sorry kids, no more upside down crosses for you (the real authentics will always be in style though).

False Eyelashes – What are we on T.V?

Knee Boots – Keep them low or thigh high.

Clogs – Comfort doesn’t have to come with a cost of ugly.

Fur – I know that fur this year is actually very popular but people, come on! If you don’t kill whales as your winter supply of protein then you don’t need to wear fur.

Blush – White pallor is in.

Shoes That Have Elastic Elements – Never ever.

Zippers – Unless for pants.

Nail Art – It was fun but now it’s getting into cupcake trend territory.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lives of the Artists by Calvin Tomkins : Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2008

Calvin Tomkins is a writer whose distinguished profiles of artists and its various other characters have been published in The New Yorker since the early 1960s. He is well regarded and beloved in the arts community of a certain age and stature and his ability to write well should also not be overlooked. He was recently honored at the 2011 Whitney Gala and with his salt and pepper hair and New England good looks it would be no surprise if this Americana gentleman has been to more artist’s homes and dinner tables then possibly anyone else. In his compilation of profiles on various artists that were published in The New Yorker, entitled Lives of the Artists, one gathers a succinct understanding of Tomkins’ writing style as well as his method of presenting certain artists. For this, he chose to re-feature; Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Julian Schnabel, Richard Serra, James Turrell, Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and John Currin. This list, I think, reveals the drift and tone of the book.

Tomkins works in the classic New Yorker formula: Give present day specific introduction of subject, describe in brief what makes subject a person of interest, describe in cursory terms the subject’s physicality (quirks most pointedly described), talk at length about biography (especially childhood and relationships with parents or other family members), discuss first budding of inclination towards the subject’s field of interest, describe failures in early attempts, describe ascent, climax on their mastery of field, talk of what is to come next. This is the formula, the foolproof recipe to make any profile lop and loll with guaranteed readers’ satisfaction. If this a bad thing? No. Possibly it is boring, but the truth of it is, is that it works and it works exceptionally well when one has the ability to write well, which Tomkins does.

Tomkins, to me, is not a very interesting writer but he is very proficient. The way he can get in a lot of information with optimal speed yet with words and sentence structure that does not pummel or tire the eye is probably the best I have seen in art writing. What also makes his work so successful is the distance of his own opinion or thoughts in them. Tomkins is not so much an art critic as he is an art documentarian. Like a film documentarian, of course he has a certain style, a certain edit, and way to cut things but the end point is to reveal and show versus to breakdown and tell. He is not giving an opinion about any of the artists he writes about but merely introduces them to you, but with Tompkins as the director and script writer, he does it in the most personal way possible. He grants you entry into artists’ lives and thoughts as he himself experiences them. This entry is key. Tomkins is not a journalist, he is not neutral, he is not outside of anything. His interactions with artists are through extended periods of time; days, weeks, years. He is invited to Thanksgivings, as with John Currin’s family, or to see the unveiling of a long awaited sculpture seen by the artist for their first time, as with Cattelan and Koons. He knows the families and the love lives of Schnable and Sherman. Most essentially, he is a collector of artists’ lives and his access and his politeness towards them continues the "this request granted" on the part of artists.

As mentioned, his exposĂ©s are packed with biography and because of this you are helpless in attempts to not like most of these artists, for me only Cattelan and Currin can still take a hike. You do get to see these artists who are the elite, when it comes to living artists, become more relatable, likable, and flawed. The feature that was most educational was that of Matthew Barney. Tomkins really broke down Barney’s Cremaster Cycle in such a way that I feel like I actually sort of get it. Also the way that he presents Barney’s ideas of restraint being the tool for growth was like watching a master sensei with words to thoughts. In this profile too, you can see that he is not about just pumping people up for the accolade of the art illuminati, but that he really can get to the point of an artist, of their practice or intent and spell it out for you but without being rude of mean to either the subject or the reader. To me the worst profile to read was of John Currin, what a charade he appears to be. Maybe he was just nervous, who knows, who cares, but it is a bit unnerving how flat Tompkins opinion about him, or anyone, is. It’s as if he refuses to be critical, which, is possibly why he has such longevity and such a good mass of hair.

This is what I learned most about reading this compilation, that you can be very successful for a very long time if you play the game right. For me, this is not very appealing but I can understand its value and necessity. No one can have influence by throwing shit on the walls. There were things that irked me in other ways too though, he always seems to bring his wife, Dodie Kazanjian, who has high culture cred of her own, but he always inserts it in, the “my wife,” “with my wife,” etc. It felt infantilized in a way but this may also be relayed to press upon the fact that this is his world, these are his intimate spheres and he has been lucky and gracious enough to invite us in on it, but it's still his world and he can bring his wife if he damn well pleases.

Lives of the Artists is undoubtedly a very good book to read for those that may want to know more about any of the artists listed above. It really does its job and does it well, he doesn’t write for The New Yorker for nuthin, but still, there is a grating tinge of exclusivity to the whole thing. It’s like he drank the Kool- Aid (well in this strata a minted unsweetened iced tea) and then says, "come to the party, you are invited, isn’t it all so delightful?" Then in turn this is also what makes him and his cadre so above it all, he really isn’t seeking any acceptance by anyone else besides a very rarefied field and the elites in that field. For goodness sake he only included one women, Sherman of course, and that probably doesn’t even phase him. In that way, I have to give “keeping it real” points to him because unlike others who force politically correct agendas and thus make those agendas more encumbered for failure, he just shrugs it off, he’s a white guy writing about art and it is white guys who rule that roost still. Whatever you’re opinion about that whole matter is, that’s for another time, but to wrap it up, one should read this book but only if you really want to know more about certain artists and you want to further imagine that you are with them on the Rivera having a swanking good time.