Monday, March 26, 2012

Hernan Bas, Lehmann Maupin: Catherine Opie, Mitchell-Innes & Nash: Roy Lichtenstein, Gagosian: "The Spirit Level," Gladstone

Hernan Bas, “Occult Contemporary,” Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York NY

The thematics of Hernan Bas’ current show at Lehmann Maupin is a bit contrived but at least it is transparent. He is apparently responding to the prevalence of the occult in mass culture of late and giving his own take on things. Now, being an artist and not just another occult mass-producing-creator, the references for his paintings are sourced from headier things like the composer Guiseppe Tartin and Baudelaire. Regardless, these intellectual footnotes are useful and it results in some interesting paintings. They are refreshing to come upon in the sea of design-minimal-abstract-jpegy-swishy-swash that has become the safe-success train in contemporary painting. His painting style, method, color and subject matter satisfy the itch for narrative, form and figuration. There are nine paintings total, three very large, three a bit smaller and then three that are much smaller. The larger sized works have fantastic settings and a specific moment is being rendered in browns, greens and super natural reds and blues. They take place in singular locations, in front of an abandoned house, under a bridge. There is a sense of abandonment throughout as if it were right after an earthquake, avalanche, or a bombing. Bas’ painting abilities to depict this is his greatest strength; there is sheer aptitude, oddity and enjoyment in creating these settings. Throughout these works, there is a clutter that is stacked onto itself effecting abstraction but not in an easy shortcut sort of way. Within all of the paintings there is a lone young male figure but these feel odd as they are so static. They look to have been plucked out of high fashion men’s magazines and then clip-art-painted into the scene. This must, I hope, have been planned. Either way the figures are generally unconvincing and veer the works to cartoon land but luckily Bas’ skill and depth as a painter saves the day. The way that he successfully conjures stories of ghosts and nastiness like Grimm’s fairytales makes these paintings into portals to this other place with only minor requirement of suspension of disbelief.

Catherine Opie, “High School Football,” Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York NY

Something happened to me between being an undergrad in photography and today that has made my once bona fide acceptance of Catherine Opie’s work to one of “meh.” Her current show at Mitchell-Innes and Nash is the first with this gallery and it is sort of dull affair. It is classic Opie, it has fresh, vulnerable young things, this time around it is young male football players. They cradle the line that is pubescence, manliness, boyhood, and mostly they project “America.” They are posed like modern day Davids and “chiaroscuro” is the word of the day. The photographs in themselves are beautifully done, Opie is a master technician. Besides being Catherine Opie photographs, there is not much more going on with these photos. Also, the lighting, reflective glare and the installation as a whole didn’t help to ward off the show’s air of snooze. There were a few portraits that were just perfect, and a few action shots that show the landscapes behind the football field, like the one with a large mountain behind the bleachers, is very beautiful. But nonetheless the show has you feeling happy that an artist is so consistent but also sad about it too. Oh well, not everything can be a game changer.

Roy Lichtenstein: "Landscapes in the Chinese Style," Gagosian Gallery, New York NY

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of money churning. Just when you think that the Gagosian Gallery has no shame, it slaps a new high mark for you. After the hoopla and wonderbust that was Damian Hirst’s world wide Spot painting extravaganza, which I actually thought was just fine, Gagosian can’t let the circular ball drop for one moment and sweeps in a discreet little show (by Gagosian standards) of Roy Lichtenstein’s Benday dot musings on Chinese landscape paintings that he made in and around 1996. The paintings are nothing to bend your head around; they are exactly what you think when you think “Lichtenstein” and “Chinese landscape paintings” at the same time. Given that, there is still a want for some reward and this is given with the creases, bumps, cut lines and pencil marks that can be seen on the surfaces of these various works. The most interesting part of the show were these sculptures that were two feet or so high of overlapping amorphous shapes that were first drawn with pencil, then modeled with cardboard and then fleshed out in cast and painted steel. They are really charming, I think they were supposed to recall those craggy mountains in Chinese vistas. Mini Dubuffets without all the angst. Other then that, I have to say that this is an investigation that could have been left uninvestigated. If/When Gagosian makes some of these works into shower curtains and wallpaper, count me in, everyone needs a little Roy in the abode.

“The Spirit Level,” curated by Ugo Rondinone, Gladstone Gallery, New York NY

I’m not sure what is really going on in this group exhibition but I like it. It is strange to see this type of show at a gallery like Gladstone, there is something very unbridled and un-severe about it. Ugo Rondinone is a Swiss artist that has a healthy dose of humor mixed with Jim Henson curiosity. Most will publicly remember him by his “Hell Yes” rainbow sign that initiated the New Museum’s façade at it’s current address. The exhibition is in two locations; I only meandered to the 24th street outpost. This was a scene of a séance gone wrong, skinned rugs glued to the floor, giant monolithic, bright peachy-pink penises by Sarah Lucas, decapitated head relics by Andrew Lord, a colorful scalp by Kim Jones amongst many more works. It was all very paranormal and sacramental. The press release is a delightful two lines followed by a list of the participating artists which numbers eighteen. There was a checklist at the door but nothing online so alas, most of the names for the other works escape me. This lack of press-release-y statements is a catching trend. I like it so far. Anyways back to the show. It was doing whatever it wanted to do quite well, what that is specifically I’m not sure and I don’t think it was that big of a deal to those involved. The selection is varied yet works well together and mostly it seemed like it was a fun thing to do. Nothing to harmful in any of that.

Monday, March 19, 2012

How To Get Out Of A Creative Rut

I’m in a slump. I feel it in my bones, my teeth, my guts. The saying, “get busy living or get busy dying” spins around my head day and night. What do you do when you are faced with the Wall of Life? The question is rhetorical. There are methods, systems, rules, and formulas to break out of a rut but the challenge is ceaseless. I am not an “artist” so the manifestations of my ruts are different then those that produce things visually or in another medium that operates in a certain determined way, but nonetheless, I am a doer and a shaker, (of what, who knows, that’s another crybaby sandwich), and I feel the leakage of creative will and want just as acutely as others do. Faced with that, there must be actions taken, a personalized regime to get it together, because if it is not resolved, it will produce mental and emotional entropy.

Below are a few tips on how to shake the creative blues. I will be employing a few myself in between my ranting of just wanting to be done with this whole thing. The “thing” being the art world, the hustle, the boring conversations, the feelings of superiority, inadequacy, jealousy, the awareness that it all is a farce, an inside job, of the money, greed, power, of colonialism, imperialism, neo-liberalism, of all the sour grapes, bad artists, angry artists, boring artists, of all the sex in exchange for access, of the authority, of validation, of wanting to be something other then a speck, of naming things in the quest to be remembered, of the sub-genres trying to impeach others, of rich girls and boys, of using art as social capital, of money being funny, of nugget sized politics, this that and more are the ingredients to make a very bitter person in the world. But alas, breath, relax and close your eyes and remember that art, Art, is a thing that is beyond the tackiness and control of human beings. Maybe it is silly, novel, or melodramatic but I don’t care. Art is the thing that makes ideas, life, and other human beings utterly fascinating.

So when you feel like you just can’t stand one more minute of the bull shit that is life and you want to get yourself out of the hole or the dirty pajamas that is your creative slump, try doing a few of the below suggestions.

Wash comfy, cotton clothes in a hot dryer for a long time and then put on all clothes immediately.

Write a poem. With a pencil or pen.

Walk towards a body of water. Stare at water for at least 10 minuets, walk back home.

Ride a bike to a neighborhood that does not have mass transit close by.

Draw a picture of Garfield from memory.

Paint a picture of Bart Simpson from memory.

Take a shower, but very slowly.

Eat something with a blindfold on.

Make a video of yourself singing, incorporate pet(s) if possible.

Sew something, anything. If no ideas, sew an elephant.

Write a letter to a grandparent. If all dead, write a letter to your dead grandparent.

Doodle, a lot.

Make a mix CD, tape, whatever, give to someone, ask them make one for you.

Eat something very spicy.

Make something from clay or clay-like substance, if not sure what to make, make a bowl.

Paint flowers with watercolors.

Go through jewelry and repair.

Clean out closets.

Don’t watch TV.

Don’t go online.

Don’t eat food heated in a microwave.

Delete all of your online presence besides your email.

Don’t talk to anyone for 48 hours.

Make a dessert from scratch.

Invite 3 friends over for dinner, play charades.

Build something, if not sure, build a box.

Do something with dirt.

Go through past writing, art, music, whatever you produced before.

Spend a lot of time alone.

Make something for a friend.

Try to make a color with paint, pastel, or whatever to match the sky that day.

Don’t stay in apartment/house/room between 11am to 7pm.

Read a biography of an artist or someone else you admire.

Stay up for 48 hours and record thoughts, dreams the next day.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sam Cooke in March

Art Fair week (well at least round one) has just ended in New York and it was jam packed with art, events, parties, this and that. The economy has perked back up and that means sales are up, which puts everyone in a good mood, and the weather is twinkling in the high 60s at times. It’s March Madness in sports, weather, love and art and it feels like the beginning of things to change. Is it always like this? Every year as it warms up in New York do things always feel so alive with potential? I’m not sure, maybe getting older makes time loop in funny ways. For me, I’m glad I survived this week, although with a sore throat and a few torn fingernails. Today I did a bit of spring-cleaning to embrace the coming warmth and the extra hour of sunlight. I moved plants outside, threw some dirt around for abstract sprouting, swept the floors and cleaned this space and that. I feel tired but satisfied; cleaning always has the ability to be minorly strenuous but evidentiary in reward of that strain.

I haven’t had a second to think about today’s post, all I can think about it making a sandwich on a fresh baguette. So with that I leave you with the lyrics of some of my favorite songs sung by Sam Cooke. He is the perfect reflection of my mood and delight at being able to start anew and re-invent myself once again.

(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons, (1945 song by William “Pat” Best)

I love you for sentimental reasons
I hope you do believe me
I'll give you my heart

I love you and you alone were meant for me
Please give your loving heart to me
And say we'll never part

I think of you every morning
Dream of you every night
Darling, I'm never lonely
Whenever you are in sight

I love you for sentimental reasons
I hope you do believe me
I've given you my heart

I love you for sentimental reasons
I hope you do believe me
I've given you my heart

Ain’t Misbehavin, (1929 song by Thomas “Fats” Waller, Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf)

No one to walk with, all by myself,
No one to talk with, but I'm happy on the shelf.
Ain't Misbehavin', I'm savin' my love for you

I know for certain the one I love
I'm thru with flirtin', it's just you I'm thinkin' of,
Ain't Mis-be-hav-in', I'm savin' my love for you

I'm Like Jack Horner in the corner,
I don't go nowhere, what do I care,
Your kisses are worth waitin' for, believe me

I don't stay out late, no place to go
I'm home a-bout eight, just me and my radio
Ain't Mis-be-hav-in', savin' all of my love for you

Monday, March 5, 2012

Whitney Biennial, 2012: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York NY

Usually I don’t end up visiting the Whitney Biennial until the last week it closes. The unplanned reoccurrence of this has in time become tradition. It was oddly self gratifying to hear all the hullabaloo about Biennials in the past and to nod at the complaints or praise but not having to engage in conversation because I had not yet seen it. It’s similar to not watching a hit movie; it’s a novel device in trying to remain above the fray, which is absurdly pedantic in practice but regardless, I have been one of those people in regards to the Biennales of past but for 2012, things changed. I went yesterday, the first weekend of its opening and it had a line wrapped around the corner, luckily my dear friend did that dirty work, and I was let in without delay. I came this first week because 1) someone I knew I would enjoy seeing it with invited me to and 2) the buzz around town is that this Whitney Biennial is like none before it. In obvious ways one Biennial to the next is always different, different artists, curators, themes, lack of themes, politics, economy, time, space and all the rest but all the buzzing bees have it right on this one, it really is a creature born of another beast. The Biennials of the past, well the half dozen or so that I have personally experienced, are usually bad. It’s like bad sex, all that excitement and effort for what? And with that bar so low, there is a general expectation that all other romps will also be so but alas, this go at it was actually not very bad at all.

Elisabeth Sussman, a curator in the Whitney’s Photography Department and Jay Sanders, an independent curator, are the 2012 Whitney Biennial curators. In addition, they worked with Thomas Beard and Ed Halter for the video and film portions of the show, which are plentiful. Sussman and Sanders are curator’s curators and their respective past shows reflect the tenor of show. There isn’t a theme and there is no tome of curatorial theorem for the show. Sussman and Sanders impress upon that point even in their video introduction on the Biennial’s page on the Whitney’s website stating that they are too immersed in the process to possibly tell what it is supposed to be about. That distance is possibly a safe place to position oneself but it also is probably the most honest as well and the show does have a certain air to it, installation wise and also conceptually.

This is the least cluttered show that has been held in The Bauer Building, which the Whitney will move out of in 2015 to a new location in the Meatpacking District. This Biennial feels like one giant, well-considered exhibition. There are general shared themes, ideas and medias but these are not forced or spelled out, there is a certain aesthetic aplomb, expertise and intuition that can be seen in the selection of artists and the works by those artists. This general consideration and security of choice resonates throughout the show and although not all artists or works are the top banana, they all make sense and you understand why they are there. Themes in any show are fraught, possibly suicidal for a curator’s concept, and having them for the Biennial, is like wearing a fire fighter’s uniform but all the time just in case there is a blaze. That blaze being critical backlash, but the lack of a theme results in not having to enforce ideas onto the public and that is gracious and smart on the part of Sussman and Sanders.

Although there isn’t a set theme there are some trending ideas, processes, and points of interest that do crop up over and over again. For me, this show was like an archeological archive and tool kit for the possibilities to create a new future in art and human existence. There were many artists that were creating devices of coping with the sense of time, self and objects and also others that created environments for investigating and presenting one’s self. The later is seen in the work of Dawn Kasper, who brought in and re-creates her studio and home and will apparently work in there for the next few months. Another is Wu Tsang, whose videos about subcultures within queer culture are in a lounge, dressing room type area with props and wigs. Kasper’s work is not very compelling to me; I find the exposure of the studio and the home in that way to be mildly diaristic (in a bad way) and boringly voyeuristic. For Wu Tsang there is more necessity to the space, although a bit too set designy for me, it does serve the work though and it gives it more presence and time to be experienced. For the artifacts of a future archeology department, the most goose bump worthy was Sam Lewitt’s creepy crawling synthetic black goo, magnets and computer-generated motors on sheets of plastic. It looked liked a mini primordial tar pit that had small fans blowing on these magnetized and computer integrated black substances that formed mitochondrial wormy-bug-virus forms that moved and wiggled with spiky phalangeal feelers. It made the hairs on my neck crawl.

Another surprisingly resonant theme was puppetry. Who knew the art world had such a thing for puppetry? I sure didn’t but apparently it is all the rage, and with closer inspection you see that “puppetry” expresses themes of the body, role-playing, performance, masking, revealing and stories, all things the art world loves. As technology creeps into the everyday, there is solace to going back, keeping things tactile, scaled to humanity and created by the solitary tinkerer. One example was the puppet installation by Gisèle Vienne, whose piece is in collaboration with Dennis Cooper, Stephen O’Malley, and Peter Rehberg. This consists of a white three walled room that has a grid of scratched drawings on paper which are gridded directly to the wall and in the corner stands a blond, white paint faced boy about ten or so, wearing a blue hoodie and in his hand is a miniature version of himself in the form of a puppet and that puppet is moving and talking in a male voice which is telling a distressing narrative. I actually saw this work in the form of a play with a puppet master performing and telling the story of sex, mutilation and murder that was based off a true story. It was surprising to see at the Biennial but in a way it does touch on many shared things, not only the puppet theme but also about sex, queer culture, mutilation, the body and tales told. In line with this, but not the same tenor, is the inclusion of Luthar Price, George Kucher, Charles Atlas and Forrest Bess. Continuing on the theme of puppetry there was the work of Tom Thayer, who I was delighted to see included as I saw his work some time ago at White Columns and his work made me happy. The installation here is a bit lifeless compared to what I know he can do but still, I feel glad for him and his art.

There was another strain of this puppetry and the thematics that are involved with this in the work of some painters and drawers. Nicole Eisenmen’s contribution to the show is just great. It is a series of characters that look worse for ware but ooze with personality. There are two gridded walls of them, some re-occurring but the cartoonish features and emotions they expressed reminded me of a back stage to a carnival show, they seem to be waiting to perform their bit for you. In addition to these works there is one of my favorite pieces in the show by Charles Desmuth from 1917, (which is not on the list online for some reason but I am certain it is in the show), that shows two people in the foreground, a man and a women and she is sitting on a bed with her head down, her hand on her head and there is a man, probably her husband in his undershirt and boxers and he looks to be trying to console her. And then most oddly in the far right there stands a nude in the bathroom at the sink, presumably male as there is a top hat, a bowler hat and two scarves about the room. The subtly to this piece and the narrative quality to what is occurring or what may have just occurred and the way in which it is drawn, painted and staged encapsulates much of the Biennale’s overall tenor and interests.

It is not all nostalgia in the show, there is a hearty number of artists that are traversing the artscape in newly considered ways, one is the emphasis on performance art, which also is strung along the puppet theme but here it is given capacious space and impressive staging on the Whitney’s fourth floor. I am sad I wasn’t able to see Sarah Michaelson’s “residency” the other day but I am pretty sure that it would have been awe worthy. The inclusion of this and other elements in the show such as screenings and lectures, gives the Biennale an air of academia, an acumen of practice, and this slows things down a bit and lets the audience know that there is more to this art thing than it appears. Not only that, the curators invite you to slow down as well and to learn more and to see and to participate. That’s the funny thing about this show; it felt less like a, “who’s hot list” and more like a small conference on the arts. It didn’t make me angry, it didn’t make my eyes roll (not once), it also didn’t make me giddy or swoon or want to run into some bushes afterwards but it did make my brain hum a bit and it was all very pleasant and fine. My friend had already been to the show and said that they would probably go six or seven times total before the Biennial closes. I laughed at that and told them they were nuts, but it does seem reasonable now, thinking back on it today. It was really a show that was enjoyable to be inside of, surrounded by. Now, I dear say six times is entirely too much for a gal like me but maybe I’ll go once or twice more, see how things change with the immersive interactive elements, or try to see a performance or two. It is the most surprising of things, but this Biennial is not about being “not as bad as those before” but it actually veers toward very good all on its own.