Monday, February 27, 2012

Over One Year of YaYaYa and Things To Come: Cindy Sherman, The Whitney Biennale, Art Fairs

Ahhhhhhhhhh, it’s been over a year since I began YaYaYa, this will be post 56! AHHHHHHHHHH, so nuts! Thank you to those who have read some of my dawdlings on art, life, culture and other nonsense. It has been interesting to say the least. Every week, usually on Mondays, but sometimes Sundays, I sit at my black kitchen table and breast pump my brain on one thing or another. Usually I haven’t a clue till I sit and thump at the keys, like this one. While transferring from one mode of transport to another on the ever annoying non-functioning L subway line, it hit me that it’s been over a year of this thing and it made me think “oh my, I must be nutters” but it also gave me a pinch of pride, to stick to something, anything, always has reward. The past year in the arts has been incredible and there is so much more awesomeness to come. So in anticipation of this, and what is in the horizon and beyond I have written about a few things that I am looking forward to. March is when the art world really wakes up in New York. Miami you can have December, with all those vodka sponsors and bouncers. New York in the spring is what it is all about.

Cindy Sherman at MoMA – FUCK YEAH CINDY SHERMAN AT MOMA. Now, relax, this is possibly the most “about time” show at MoMA and it will probably be exactly what you think it is going to be, but regardless, it’s all very fantastic. Roberta Smith wrote a very concise and articulate (as always) about the show and some of the installation and curatorial shortcomings recently in The New York Times. The review has me even more super amped to see it. Cindy Sherman, she’s like an adjective to me. Anyways, more on her/women/photography/mimicry etcetera to come but until then I will whittle away the days until I see this show.

The Whitney Biennale – This is still a Biennale that has meaning, well sort of. It is the Oscars of American Art, well maybe more like the Golden Globes, regardless; it is like an award show. It makes you say “ohh” “ahh” and “huh” all at once. It is the barometer of relevance ordained. It is risky, it is young, it is the who’s in and who’s out of the art world. We all love these sorts of things, if we don’t have people telling us this type of thing every two years how in the hell else are we supposed to know what is significant for goodness sakes? We obviously can’t be trusted with our own two eyes and brain. The curators for the Whitney Biennale are as much stars as the artists they select. This year it is Eve Sussman, Sondra Gilman and Jay Sanders. Very safe bets here, no wild cards or under 30s (good). Whenever I go to the Whitney Biennale it makes me feel as if I am at a mall, or an airport. All that buzzing, all this art packed in, all the deference, reference and indignation. It’s a bizarre, possibly dated act but it creates this necessary stir in the art world. We all need oracles, some way of knowing that things are proceeding along nicely in this art continuum. Also, word of advice, wear comfy shoes.

Art Fairs – I have been thinking and saying for years that art fairs in New York are a waste. Well, I still do, but at least there will be some drama to it this year around. Armory Week, as it is corporately branded, will be as usual in March from the 8th to the 11th. This includes The Armory Show, the ADAA’s The Art Show, Independent, and a few other satellites this way and that. The Armory is rumored to be collapsing on itself, the organization not the building. There is also buzz of demise of a certain someone’s gallery that is a part of Independent, meh-hem and the ADAA is and always has been for upper-east-siders, so that will do just fine but meh. In addition to the internal dramas of these fairs in March there is the mega black cloud that is the Frieze Art Fair. This will be in May from the 4th to the 7th on Randell's Island. Frieze has the whole, “We are English, our accents make us sound smarter, and we are smarter and we are refined and cool and if you stop being a vulgar American then you can possibly sit at table near me at a benefit event,” down pat. Oh those Brits, they may have lost the war but they still have us Americans in a tizzy when it comes to being intellectually elite and emotionally deplete. I can’t wait to see it! Really, most excited I’ve been for an art fair. I hope it’s not too heady or too corporate, either way, count me in. And of course when there’s blood aka money in the water the other fairs come to feast, and that will include NADA and Pulse. NADA is still the slacker boyfriend you still pine over and Pulse is the guy who invites himself over but nobody wants around, regardless they will be there and it will be interesting to see if there will be pudding from the big crumpet. This new structuring and timeline for the New York fairs will shift this whole thing and anything will be better then how has been.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jeremy Lin – Changing Asian American Stereotypes through Sports Media Culture

Until about two weeks ago, the idea that an Asian American man would be the new star of the NBA was laughable. Then came Jeremy Lin, a 23-year-old Harvard Economics graduate who upon his graduation was not drafted by the NBA and when he did get to the league, was dropped by two teams. He was picked up by The New York Knicks at the end of January then was sent to the D-League, played a few games there, did well and was recalled to the Knicks on January 23rd. The Knicks were a loosing team and this streak was going further down hill due to Knick injuries, including one of their stars, Carmelo Anthony and also personal loss by Amere Stoudemire. The Knicks couch, Mike D’Antoni was near the career chopping block as his strategies and ability to lead the team were failing. In desperation, D’Antoni put Lin in the game on February 4th against the New Jersey Nets and he scored 25 points that game and it was obvious that his presence on the court with D’Antoni’s type of strategies was game changing. Since then, Lin has started in every game and had a 7 game winning streak, one loss against the New Orleans Hornets followed by a win against last years champions, the Dallas Mavericks. Because of this there has been an influx of puns using his last name, such as “Linsanity” “Linning” “Linstopable” and so on. Jeremy Lin has become the star that the NBA never could have scripted and it is his story that makes him so appealing. It is truly a Cinderella story; an underdog tale that resonates even though sports’ narratives have been soap opera like in their mythologizing. In addition to the story, another important aspect of the Lin tale is how issues of race and stereotypes have been put into the spotlight a well.

Being an Asian American is not easy. Most non-Asians think that we (yes, I am Asian) have it pretty good when it comes to stereotypes as we are considered to be apart of the “Perfect Minority.” The Perfect Minority consists of Asians, and South East Asians and it reflects high intelligence, dedication to school, work and family, silence, non-confrontational, and the desire to please others. For Asian females, many times there is a fetishized sexuality that has them playing the role of eager, obedient concubine or non-verbal sex toy in the form of a prostitute or a schoolgirl. In turn, Asian males are stripped of their sexuality and are the most feminized group within American culture. They are less male then even women and their penis size and sexual ability is reduced to nothing and their ability to stand up for themselves or for anyone else is non-existent, unless they inhabit the role of a kung-fu master with dubbed voice over. With every stereotype there is a grain of truth; yes, there is a focus on schooling and family within Asian cultures, and the wars with Vietnam, Japan and Korea have made the female a sexualized object and the men a source of physical satire. The sources do not make any justifications for the continued racism that is directed at Asian Americans and South East Asians in America today though. The introduction of Jeremy Lin to the public is the best thing any Asian could have hoped for to try to amend some of these issues.

Racial slurs, jokes and imitation of Asians are made and done all the time not only by jerks in elementary and high school but throughout all groups and tiers in American society. It is not only tolerated but also rewarded by laughter and it is shielded as a “joke.” Some of my personal favorites are; bowing (always), “sucky sucky long time” (this is international, I have had this said to me in many different countries) “me so horny” (same as sucky) “are you related to Bruce Lee?” (all of school) “Chink” (always), “Gook” (older white guys), “Go back to your own country” (middle aged white women) “You must be good at math” (white teachers) “Pork fried rice” (in an Asian accent, males of any race), slanting of eyes (everyone) and many more. These are just some lovely slurs I have received, I’m sure each Asian has respectively gotten their fair share of these and others, but the oddest thing about this, is that it is okay for it to happen. Of course it’s not “really okay” but 99% of the time if something like the above is said in public there isn’t a public outcry or defense or requirement for apology, most times it is met with smirks, laughter or silence. And if you defend yourself, which I always do, that makes things even worse.

This reflex that it’s okay to be racist to Asians because it is all a “big joke,” is also happening to Jeremy Lin. There is the bowing, which some do with respect, others to be asses, there are endearing “Lin” puns but also some that are on the verge of “what the heck.” And then most glaringly was the ESPN headline that was published on their site that read “Chink in the Armor” after Lin’s first loss after 7 straight wins to the Hornets. Really? Really? Did that just happen? In addition, an ESPN anchor also read that same headline on TV. Really? Really? You’re a professional sports anchor? The writer of the headline is now fired and the anchor was fined but who in their right mind would ever even think that was okay? Another offensive thing was from the Knicks own arena, Madison Square Garden, which had Lin’s face popping out of a fortune cookie that said “The Knicks Good Fortune” maybe not as shockingly awful as saying, “Chink” but who the hell thought that was okay? If any black basketball player’s head popped out of an African American associated food, all hell would have broken loose. Issues of this double standard, this idea that it is funny and harmless to be racist towards Asians has largely been the norm until Lin. This is because up to this point, there has been no major public figure or platform to address these issues. I’m sure that this will get even more intense and if Lin losses games, the ferocity and unfettered racism of headlines, talking points and all else will be greater still.

Why Lin? There are a few key reasons why Jeremy Lin is the fist person in American media culture to bring these issues to the fore. One, his underdog story. America loves narratives of trial, perseverance and never quitting. He has all of this in his ascent to his position in the Knicks. From being dropped, put into the minors, and overlooked, his is the story that is the American fiber of re-invention, luck and hard work. Two, he is a “perfect minority.” Lin is a smart young man and he has a humility to him that is loved by the sports community and also by Americans. He went to Harvard for Economics so we know he has brains. He is a devout Christian and listens to Christian rock music, wants a Christian girlfriend and he is proud to be Asian but doesn’t talk excessively about that or himself. Three, he is an Asian man in the NBA. The NBA’s players are predominantly black and although there have been a few Asian players in the league, most notably Yao Ming, Lin is different as he is the first Chinese(Taiwanese) American born player ever to be in the league. The fact that Lin is playing in this highly masculine sport dominated by black men, who are still stereotyped to be the most potent sexually in American culture, gives Lin more credence as being masculine and being sexual. Breaking down this most dismissive stereotype of Asian men being inferior to other males is incredibly important. Also, this role has even more impact because it is not proving masculinity in a separate, foreign sport such as marital arts but within an American institutionalized sport with a mass audience.

Sports have always functioned as a means of social integration, acceptance and conversation. America has a full history of these confrontations and it is from this linage that Lin’s story is also a part of. Sports are a funny thing in that they function in many ways. Some think that it is a mere opiate to the masses, some brain-draining drone of spectacle, savagery, unnecessary minor accomplishments but I think that is a closed way to think about it. Sports are like everything else that humans endeavor upon to measure skills, abilities, awareness and progress as human beings. The components of physical ability and mental and emotional will that are required by athletes are incalculable but there is a system that measures performance of an athlete and through this validation occurs. It is with this validation and proof of merit that spectators accept and praise that athlete. There is a beauty to sports that I have never and probably will never see in the arts. Jeremy Lin has made more progress in confronting issues of race faced by Asian Americans than any book, painting, poem, song, video, film or any other art form that I have seen in my lifetime. Why that is probably has to do with the audience, big issues need big audiences. Race relations in this country are still very unresolved and although some may not like it, if it takes sports to get that conversation started, bring it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chris Martin, Mitchell-Innes & Nash: Jason Fox, Peter Blum: Shirin Neshat, Gladstone Gallery: Damien Hirst, Gagosian

Chris Martin, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York NY

Chris Martin’s collago-paintings at Mitchell-Innes & Nash are somewhat annoying in their appeal. They are mostly newspaper grids, very recent NY Post headline zingers, mostly from 2011 and 2012 (he’s so daring in his relevancy!). They are then painted, sometimes possibly squeegeed, with Caribbean shades of oranges, greens, yellows and reds. They sometimes have large holes cut out, revealing a canvas bar or another layer of the same. Sometimes these holes are not cut out but made with paint. There are larger works that have variance from the gridding, like Reverend Al In Mourning that has one newspaper page surrounded by a large field of tin foil. It is actually one of the best tin-foil-art pieces I have seen. It also recalls Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe from 1962. What goes around apparently never finished coming around. This is the thing about Martin’s work. It is utterly “now” in all the bad ways but it has this charming quality of actually being very good, smart, and humorous art. It is on the positive spectrum of what I have been seeing a lot of lately which I am calling, “Yup Art” as in “yup, that’s art” or “yup, I made this.” Almost always, Yup Art is as exciting as getting asked to join the kids in the weed smoking room, but on occasion, after the peer contact high, there can actually be something not all that bad about it. Also, Martin’s work has a detachment to the cleverness of using pop images, newspapers, glitter, tin foil, and Africana invocation in his paintings and if those themes are going to continue to be tread, then it might as well be Martin who does it.

Jason Fox, Eating Symbols, Peter Blum, New York NY

As mentioned in Chris Martin’s bit, “Yup Art” can be seen in Jason Fox’s exhibition, Eating Symbols at Peter Blum but in the negative skew. There is a mixture of portraits, geometric color stains, animals, and quasi-religious paintings. They are swiftly painted, and the colors are a standard set of primaries and secondaries. Fox’s coloring and painting technique is appealing, there is clearness in his use of color and overlay. What is distracting and takes away from his paintings is the imagery. The portraits recall a tripped out morph of Jesus, Obama, Andrew WK and that creepy longhaired hippie guy. The religious intonations of crosses, snow angles and other such symbols are pre-teen in their gesture. The animals are supposed to summon old-timey New Yorker cartoons but they just look unnecessary. I really don’t know what to make of this show. There are just too many art school ideas jammed in here. He too uses tin foil, but in a “really, tin foil?” type of way. Maybe I lack a sense of humor, or I am not rock n’ roll enough but this exhibition is discouraging because I know we will be seeing a lot more of this type of work for many more years.

Shirin Neshat, The Book of Kings, Gladstone Gallery, New York NY

After I write this and if no one hears from me for a few weeks than you will know that the art world illuminati has kidnapped me and I am being made to re-enact durational performance art pieces under the guard and enforcement of Klaus and Marina somewhere upstate (call my mom). Anyways here, goes. The new series of photographs by Shirin Neshat at Gladstone gallery entitled Book of Kings, is in reference to Shahnameh an ancient epic poem of tragedies written by Ferdowi c. 977-1010 AD. These photos are head-on portraits of contemporary Iranian and Arab youths and they are astonishingly well photographed, revealing the sitter’s face and sometimes shoulders and chest. There are a variety of sizes and they are broken into three groups, the Masses, the Patriots, and the Villains. Over their faces and bodies is hand drawn Arabic calligraphy and at times drawings that refer to the Shahnameh and also contemporary stories. This series is a pleaser show. It is pleasing to the masses as it is beautifully done and also is accessible. It is pleasing to the art world as the art world needs and loves a hero/heroine that embodies political validity and participation. It pleases everyone that likes to check the box that says, “we care,” “we are radical,” “we stand in solidarity.” This is all well and good; this is all very wonderful and rewarding for everyone, truly, but for me it is just too much. It is vulgar in its excessive political and emotional employment. Yes, of course what is happening in the Middle East is something that must be seen, learned about and to engage with but there is something about this series that makes me feel that it is being used as a check on the art world’s To Do List of political engagement. This is the work that Neshat makes, it has always been the type of work that she has made and of course it has a place and of course it has merit and quality but I feel that she is sadly also being treated as a mascot for this type of work, and the issues of identity and politics in the Middle East, and to me, using art or an artist in that way is always ghastly and suspicious.

Damien Hirst, Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011, Gagosian, New York NY

The title says it all. Hirst is James Bonding the art world with a startling show of bravado, calculated genius and death defying maneuverings of self relevancy by showcasing all, over 300, of his spot paintings in Gagosian’s world dominating 11 galleries. Hey, we ask for spectacle, don’t complain when we get one. Unlike some, I most certainly will not be seeing all 11 habitations of Hirst’s spot paintings but the one I have seen at the flagship Gagosian gallery on 24th Street in Chelsea was enough for me. Hirst is quoted to have said, “I was always a colorist, I’ve always had a phenomenal love of color…” and with that his motivation of making his spot paintings can’t be held against him, as they do make you think about color. His spot paintings are a simple formula; you or an assistant makes a circle, colors this in, measure an equidistance of first circle, leave this allotment white and then make another circle of same size as first and color in a different color, repeat until surface is filled, never repeat same color twice. This installation had samplings of small, medium and massive dots that were inches to a few feet tall. They were on small, medium, very large and circular canvases. They make you feel like you are going into a candy store, Willy Wonka’s private art collection, a rich kids bedroom. They are appealingly light and the color is very candy. There is a lot of optics at play as well, they move, buzz, shimmy, and pop up and down. Some spot sizes to canvas size was more beneficial to this optical dance but regardless it is just fine that these paintings were made and exist and are being show at a contemporary art gallery in New York and world wide. Hirst makes the work that everyone wants, is that bad? Is that good? Is that manufactured? I’m not sure nor do I fidget about it. The hoopla around this show is not about the work but about him and about Gagosian. They represent something, and that something is for some, very unsettling, anger inducing, annoying, capitalist, bad boy, obnoxious, whoring, etc. Now, this is of course more then valid, Hirst and Gagosian get negative reaction because they incur it from their practice and public stance, but at the end of the day, these spot paintings are neither the best nor the worst of what is being shown, touted and institutionalized at spaces small, medium and board approved. Yes, art is about the culture, yes it is the point of entry to talk and to analyze what it means to be human and how it reflects of our society. That conversation more then anything else is the biggest art aspect of this whole thing and honestly, that is very impressive. Lines in the sand have been drawn and about time.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Things That Happened This Week: Mike Kelley, Dorthea Tanning, Knicks vs. Bulls, Reading

It’s February, how boring is that? Well we have been lucky in NYC as the weather has been mild, down right spring like some days, so I guess there isn’t too much to complain about but still, it’s February the blah-est month of all. This blah seeps into everything, the brain, emotions, pallor, outfits, all of it. The idea of zesting things up, one way or an other won’t solve much as sometimes it is necessary to surrender to the dullness of life and embrace the chalkiness of it all. Alkaline for the doers and shakers of this fair city. Although this blah is stacked upon me, life is still happening and sometimes taking stock into one week lived is the best way to realize certain things or to assess what was and what is to come. Below are a few things that happened inside, outside and all about this past week in this spec of a thing called my life. I hope you had an interesting week as well and hope you too will endure the blah until its lounge in the sun time.

Mike Kelley died this past week and it felt like a sucker punch. He was a fantastic artist that had a bit of punk, a bit of nasty and a lot of humor and heart. He committed suicide, a gesture that is still shockingly tragic in our culture. This act makes one think, how is it possible that someone so cool, so talented, so on top of his game could feel so much a certain way that they would end their life. Suicide is a tricky idea, one that is too intensely private to ever justly analyze. What suicide does do is make people pause and to question oneself in respects to mortality and to contrast oneself to the person who decided to take their life. It’s an unsettling but natural reflex. Mike Kelley was a force and luckily he lived an immensely rich life that he shared with strangers.

Dorthea Tanning also died this week but of natural causes. She was a glorious 101 but her death was eclipsed by Mike Kelley’s which was on the same day. I was only first introduced to her sculptures this past winter when I saw her Cousins at the The Menil Collection in Houston but since then I have been incanting her work in my visual searching. Her death, and her life bring up issues of some hurdles of being a woman. She was married to Max Ernst and like most women then and also still today, her partner’s success was much more dominant over her own. She was also a writer, amongst many other things, and although she had a voice, it has been dimmed with time and lack of institutionalized scholarship. I hope that people don’t forget her or her work, she is just too brilliant a person to let fade away.

I went to the New York Knicks versus Chicago Bulls game this past Thursday. These two teams have a longstanding rivalry and with the recently resolved league standoff, there is an insatiable want of basketball and a face off like this. The Knicks have star players like, Carmelo Anthony, Amere Stodemire, Landry Fields, etc. that bring buzz and higher ticket prices but until some of these recent trades, the Knicks have been a losing team. They have improved but they are not quite there yet. The Bulls are doing very well this shortened season and are number one at the moment. I was thoroughly impressed by the Bulls player and also MVP, Derrick Rose. He is short for basketball height but he gets all Matrix-like when he has the ball and seems to slow down time and space. He is superb to watch. Anna Wintour was at the game, wearing Knicks’ orange and at center court, first row. She left after the first half. Ah, the spectacle of it all.

I’m trying to defrost my brain from all the reality TV I have been watching as confessed last week. To do so, I have been checking out books left and right from the library and also borrowing a few. I recently read Alfred Tennyson’s Enoch Arden. I found a very old print of the book from 1865 and it is just the most beautiful object. Sadly it is stained hence my ability to buy such a gem. Enoch Arden is a perfect poem of a sailor and his family and Tennyson’s writing is lyric and hooks you in. Reading a book with the quality of paper and letter pressed type of the time it was printed is the ultimate cleanse for the eyes. I have also started reading Jean Baudrillard’s Fragments. It is a collection of thoughts, whims, statements and mind farts by Monsieur Baurillard. Some of them zing with legitimizing quote-ability while others are just eye roll worthy. Either way it’s like doing squats for the remedial philosophy muscle in the brain. Lastly, I am reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It is fabulous. Really truly, juicy stuff. I love the Weird Sisters aka Three Witches. Weird Sisters equals best all girl band name ever. Reading is the illest and I think it is the best distraction to the blahness of anything life may throw you.