Monday, April 30, 2012

Haley Wollen’s Video For Blood Orange’s Champagne Coast

‘What’s the newest of the new’ is the Ouroboros of our culture.  The current standing of this state is still vague but if you want a peek into what is the secret-cool-club watch Haley Wollen’s new video, “Champagne Coast” for Blood Orange. There are more art references and cultural cues than is to be expected and it makes this music video oddly tantalizing and mildly addictive to watch. Wollen’s creation of an interior space, stylized females and the attitudes they possess, is a rabbit hole into a visual subaltern.  In almost five minutes, this video somehow manages to capture a “now” that makes words like “contemporary” seem like intellectual downers. 

I don’t know much about Blood Orange, aka, Devonté Hynes who is a 26 year old musician, born in the US and brought up in the UK, this is my first introduction to his music.  I don’t know much about music in general, I seem to have a persisting stroke spot in that lobe of my brain, but I’m still curious and it affects me just as bodily as the next gal, but needless to say, my way of getting to the video was circuitous.  I saw it posted online and I was like “blah” since there was a prejudice that it would be just another flat, animated, gif vid but it kept reappearing on my online travelings so I clicked and watched and was surprised.

The song on first listen was not my cup of tea; there is an earnest sloppiness that seemed a bit disingenuous and slightly dull.  On second listen though that earnest sloppiness had levels of charm and the whole Prince meets Robyn meets Robitussin vibe felt sort of comforting.  The song is basically Hynes singing “come to my bedroom” over and over again.  It’s a slowish song but one that has enough swag to dance to.  As Hyne’s song is playing you enter into a virtual animated space that culls from Second Life and other video games like Duke Nukem.  They are also composited with images from interior design magazines, teenage girls’ bedrooms and various cultural cut and pastes of art and kitsch. 

The movement of the “camera” is like that of a video game.  There is a pointed center in which the viewer/player travels and there is panning and directional zooming as you travel in this virtual space.  There are distinct rooms and the focus within each room is a dancing girl.  They are in their early to late twenties and are fantastically ambiguous in various ways.  There is an odd non-whiteness to all of the girls, even though some are white.  There is a confluence of styles and trends of the 90s and early 2000s and a mix of Chicana, suburbs and raves (minus the drugs and alcohol.)  The girls are girls but there isn’t a creepy pubescence angle or hyper sexualization.  They are literally dancing by themselves in this virtual world and they look neither silly nor ironic.  The clothes and styling of the girls is what throws things off the most, but in a good way.  There is a mixture of couture pieces with running shoes and a general Euro vibe.  There is a weird sophistication and aloofness to the attire which also has a healthy dose of raunchiness.

The package of the video is what makes it much more interesting than other exercises in these new aesthetics.  The stylizing of the entire piece is something that can only come from being super pro in art direction, which Wollen obviously is.  The interiors are a series of connected rooms that seem to go in a circle.  It looks like an apartment in a high rise in New York circa 1989.  The look of the spaces have a general 90s vibe, everything about the video has a tinge of the 90s.  There are armoires, lounge chairs, entertainment centers, and yes a bedroom.  Sprinkled throughout on the wall are images of art and posters like Manga comics, Covergirl ads, modern and other periods of art, all becoming signifiers but just as quickly flattening out in their contexts.  The spaces are a perfect collage of the real and virtual, there is flatness to these spaces and this flatness has been heightened to create visual affect and mood.  What I loved most was when moving from one room to another, while turning a corner, something that was three dimensional in frontal view became a hovering sliver on its’ side.  

The way in which Wollen composed this interior space made me recall Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage, Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, and also Martha Rosler’s series Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful 1967-72.  Hamilton’s collage is referred to as the first piece of “Pop” art and it ushered in a slew of artists that used commercial consumer goods in their art making practice.  Rosler’s series took the mediation of the Vietnam War and contrasted this to the domesticated sterility and place of womanhood in suburban life.  The time and relativeness of what all of these artists were/are doing and the way in which they were/are re-simulating alternatives is in specific contexts to the time in which they were made and although there are huge differences, the shared affects are interesting nonetheless. 

Wollen has created a private dance party video shared world that may not be overt in its politics but there is still a trigger of social reflexivity in its compilation.  This video, in its own way, reflects a part of the current condition, which has a distanced self-awareness or rather a looseness of specifications in meaning.  There isn’t a “point” being made in this video, it is a fun, cool, and weird alterna-space that has been created digitally but is also being lived by young people today.  Everything is background; everything can be snipped or inserted to create a place that is not a stage for spectacle but a place to chill out with friends and dance.  The signifiers do not signify as much in this world, not in the way that we have been used to at least.  This is what makes the mini world that Wollen has created so interesting and one that we want to exist in. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Investigations on Existence at MoMA PS1 - Frances Stark: My Best Thing, Darren Bader: Images, Janet Cardiff: The Forty Part Motet

There are three very good shows on view at MoMA PS1 at the moment, Frances Stark’s My Best Thing, Darren Bader’s Images and Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet. All three artists are investigating and presenting various forms of work to affirm, give evidence, and at moments, release on the questions and emotions involved in existence. The methods in which these artists do this are extremely different but they all leave a tingle in the same location of the brain that holds the question, “how and why do we exist.”

In Frances Stark’s My Best Thing, there is a room with movie theater seating and a large projected video. The video is actually an animation, which you learn is a pre-designed program that has a female who wares fig leaves over her private parts and a male who wears underpants. They look like odd Lego-Playmobile-cartoon people. These avatars are hovering in a bright computer green and they are talking to each other in this floating space, never touching. The dialogue is the puncher in the piece and it being the dialogue of post-coital camsex makes it even punchier. Stark is the female and the male is an anonymous young man from Italy. Both of their typed chats are dubbed with computer-generated voiceover and only the male’s words are also subtitled. The male is a slacker, lives with his parents but he seems curious and open with Stark and the dialogue seems to be very sincere. Stark is the director, writer and star of this interaction and she seems more forced and transparent in her objectives. This was most notable in her reference to books, philosophies, and studies that were in response to unreferenced thoughts or emotions the male expressed. One such instance was when she recommends David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest to him after they figure out each other’s real names. The male ends up being the son of a filmmaker who won an award in Venice and the character in Wallace’s book also had such a father. This sort of intellectual corralling by Stark took some of the serendipity out of the piece but overall, watching the various episodes and learning more about each person and the bigger back story was interesting nonetheless.

The visuals of the avatars are charming and when they dance during the “Episode” recaps, it is more then adorable. The way that there are close ups on the face, the pupil, and the mouth of the avatars to heighten certain points in the conversation makes watching the video more stimulating. The “Lol”-ing and the “Mmmm” during camsex are very funny as well. Although the post-coital set up is invariably a shock factor it is just sort of odd and maybe unnecessary. The work actually has very little sexuality and at times it feels a bit exploitative to all involved, but somehow not in a damaging way. The work is very smart and captivates the impulse to witness what is supposed to be private and it also shows the desire and strange new ways that humans can connect to one another and how that impulse inevitably remains eternal.

Oh that Darren Bader, he is just the cleverest thing there is. His show entitled Images is a series of one-liners but they are very well written one-liners. The texts that he has written that are on the walls, and on the takeaway pieces of paper are direct, smart, clear and to the point. In the show there is; a glazed ceramic large garbage bucket, a room that is supposed to have three cats (there were sadly no cats when I was there) until they are adopted, a room with an iguana also up for adoption, a room with wooden plinths and various vegetables on top to make a salad on various days of the week, a white marble Buddha, a white marble snowman, a room with a chicken burrito and a beef burrito on a window ledge with the instrumental intro of Bob Dylans’ Like a Rolling Stone on loop. Yes, all those things and more where there to help you make a Conceptual, Relational Aesthetic smoothie in your brain.

The show didn’t give me goose bumps and I don’t feel cooler after seeing it but you have to give it to Bader, the show is good and he is damn clever. There is a toothy smirked glibness to his work but experiencing them in real time and space, reveals that it is not as bad as I thought it would be. There are no methods of pretension or smarminess. All the pieces seem like genuine ideas and those ideas are on display as astutely as they possibly can be. What is most activated through this show and through the type of work he makes, is that it confronts what it means to be an artist, what it means to make something, to think of something and how that functions in the world. This is the direct question/admittance on his introductory wall text and it’s a very sincere statement. Bader is just existing and he happens to function in a thing that existed before him and will exist without him yet he is a part of it and being himself happens to be his only default and it happens to also fascinate a lot of other people as well.

I was lured into Janet Cardiff’s, The Forty Part Motet on the second floor by the sound of singing. I had not expected this show as it is a longer-term installation and didn’t have all the hullabaloo of some of the other exhibits on view. You walk in a small hallway with grayish fabric panels on the walls and then you are in a room, atrium like, that is wide and has windows the length of the room on both sides. There are 40 speakers standing in the room at 7 feet or so on black metal rods and bases. These speakers are split, 20 on a side, and make oblong open-ended semicircles. Out of these speakers comes music, the voices of males, females, the old and the young singing a reworked version of Thomas Talli’s Spem in Alium Nunquan habui from 1575. It is absolutely heartbreaking music. It is transcendent. Each speaker possesses voices, and sometimes just a voice, that creates an undulating cascade of sound. The sound actually feels as if it is sweeping through the room and during certain parts it feels as if there are invisible strings creating radiant lines between you and the speakers. This effect also makes the speakers feel like disembodied tombs, stand-ins for the voices you are hearing. The effect is intense and when the singing begins everyone in the room freezes and there is a sense of internalization. This piece is rare in that it is one of the few things that I have experienced that triggers the word and feeling ‘divine.’ Is this a bit over the top? I promise it isn’t. This work is brutally moving and it makes you think of life, death, love, god, sadness, beauty, everything, nothing.

After seeing this suite of shows I felt refreshed, happy, light. My eyes didn’t burn, my head didn’t feel like a squeezed grapefruit and my belief that art is the most amazing way to investigate our humanness was reaffirmed. It isn’t about liking, not liking or any of that, it’s about thinking, and thinking about thinking, and then wanting to think some more.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lemon Squares and Sun Tea

It’s mid April and it’s going to be 84 degrees today. Wow. This is apparently the warmest month average ever. Hmmm, maybe the Mayans know something we don’t know still. Well in the sunny glow of today’s amazing weather I am baking lemon squares. Why I have the oven on is beyond me but the gooey zesty treats will be reward later this evening. I am also going to make sun tea. Below are those two recipes. I hope that you are enjoying today and doing something lovely with a pal, your special someone or by yourself.

Lemon Squares

Butter for greasing the pan

2½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup powdered sugar, plus more for garnish

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

6 large eggs

2¼ cups sugar

1¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons grated lemon zest

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch square pan. Combine 2 cups of the flour, the powdered sugar, and the salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and blend with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press into the greased pan, pushing the dough all the way up the sides. Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes, then remove and reduce the oven temperature to 315°F.

2. Meanwhile, in another large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Gently stir in the lemon juice and zest. (To minimize aesthetically displeasing little bubbles on the top of the bars, avoid whisking further.) Fold in the remaining ½ cup flour.

3. Pour the egg mixture over the hot crust and bake until the curd is set and no longer jiggles when you move the pan, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting into bars. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.


Sun Tea

Take a generous pinch of loose tea (black is my preference)

Put into cloth tea pouch – these are reusable (alternatively you can you pre-bagged tea, I don’t recommend if avoidable though. Only use 2 bags per half gallon)

Put into clear glass jar with cold tap water

Put outside in direct sunlight or on a window sill with direct sun

Let seep for 12-24 hours

Remove tea bag(s)

In a cup add generous amounts of ice

Add lemon wedges, mint, as desired

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Short Life of Trouble, Forty Years in the New York Art World by Marcia Tucker, edited by Liza Lou, University of California Press, 2008

There are times when it feels like things are colliding in alignment with each other and such a thing is happening with Marcia Tucker and myself, who has recently become a gravitational slingshot in my life. Up to a few weeks ago, I had only known about Marcia Tucker in a vague New York centric art historical way. I knew that she was the founder of the New Museum and that she was well admired by women in the art world. I learned about her “Bad Girls” show she organized in 1994 through artist Portia Munson, who is represented by a gallery I had worked for, and who was in that show. This exhibition then became an anchor point to an exhibition I am organizing which opens this coming Saturday whose title I have hemmed and hawed about but have ended up calling, “Bad Girls of 2012.” During a studio visit for this show, a painter named Gina Beavers, upon my mentioning my influence for the upcoming show, lent me Marcia Tucker’s autobiography, A Short Life of Trouble, Forty Years in the New York Art World. I had heard that she had a biography and it was something catalogued in my mind to look into but luckily cosmic alignments of chance and timing brought it to me.

The book is not the best sample of literature but Marcia Tucker never set out to be that sort of writer, so there is leniency given in this regard. It starts conventionally, at the beginning of her life, about her upbringing, her mother, her father and her brother. It focuses mostly on her relationship with her mother who was a beauty and about the fissures many mother daughter relationships face. It talks of her as a young adult and her tastes of freedom, travel and love in Paris, and the Semitism faced in post WWII Germany. This talks about heartaches and death of her mother from breast cancer and of her first love. This section gives a shorthand chronology of her formative years but with foreshadowing of things to come. Being a woman is the main subject and this remains at the foreground for the rest of the book.

After collage, Marcia is hired to be the secretary to William Lieberman, the head of the Department of Drawings and Prints at MoMA. He seemed like an old school arse. She gets fired from that job by responding to him power-tripping when he holds a cup of pencils in front of her and says, “I thought I told you to sharpen these. They are not sharpened! Why aren’t they sharpened?” she replied with a smile, “Because you’re not doing it the right way. You stick them up your ass and turn hard, that’s what does it.” Ah pure brilliance. Anyone who has been put down upon like that can revel in her moxy.

After this, she worked assisting well off socialites in New York, where she unknowingly brushed up against the intellectual elite like W.H Auden and many others. She was then referred to work for William and Noma Copley. Bill Copley, whose moniker is CPLY, makes paintings of cartoon like, bulbous, faceless men in bowler hats and well-endowed females of the same species. They are fun, highly erotic and more then mildly twisted. I came upon his work first hand while working at my very own first art world job with Phyllis Kind and to this day I have a pair of the thinnest Cognac glasses gifted to her from him and given to me during a move. Back to Marcia, Bill and Noma took her into their universe of highly cultured friends and she applied and strengthened her skill of cataloging their extensive collection. During this time she was also studying at the Institute at New York University and she was in a shaky marriage to a man, who by her accounts, barely seemed to work or have ambition. Soon she divorced and things started to progress into even greater things such as becoming a curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Whitney at the age of twenty nine.

A general constant in Tucker’s life is her great friendships. This is with people whose names are unknown as well as known but a few stand out because they are art world super stars. One such remarkable friendship was with Margaret Scolari Barr who was married to Alfred J. Barr, Jr. Yes the Alfred Barr, who was the first director of The Museum of Modern Art. Marcia’s generous re-telling of her friendship with Margaret (Marga) is revealing not only in the character of both women but also the fleshy tidbits of the art world as it once was. Marcia also worked on cataloging their collection. Those hours, I can only imagine were probably mind meltingly interesting to absorb.

Her tenure at the Whitney, which she started in January 1969, revealed much about what it must have been like to be one of the first female curators at a major arts institution. Her mentor and protector there was Jack Baur, who after this book you want to give a high five or a hug to. Needless to say, Marcia had to deal with a lot of crap and hurdles at the Whitney, being a young women, being a curator of contemporary art, which was just becoming recognized as “contemporary art,” of working with the masculine and sexist dynamics of workers and peers. It is utterly fascinating to read about. She highlights shows she organized like, “Anti-Illusion, Procedures/Materials” which focused on artists who were using materials that were not normally associated with sculpture. Clement Greenberg even swept trough and complimented her co-curator and was seemingly unable to grasp that she was an equal part in curating the show and was not just an assistant. With this show, and many others, Marcia reveals, without bitterness the bad press her shows received. Hilton Kramer said of it, “The exhibition [is designed to] give one much to think about but very little to see.” Throughout the book Marcia is constantly re-quoting some brutal review or another of her shows and there is something very generous about that. One of my favorite lines of the book was this, “I’ve had a substantial career based on really bad reviews of mostly everything I’ve ever done and I’ve also been turned down for every grant I’ve ever applied for personally…” It makes things seem less daunting when someone like her faced so many requests to be a failure.

During her time at the Whitney, she also shares interactions she had with various artists, those that were not as famous then but are now like Bruce Nauman and Richard Tuttle and with women artists like Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell. I thought it fair and hilarious how honest she was about each artist’s personalities and didn’t couch her opinions about them on any position of power or gender. For example she flat out says, “Joan Mitchell was a really good artist and a really bad drunk.” It’s just very juicy stuff to read if you are a bit of an art nerd. Her thoughts on curating in general are great to read about as well. This passage reveals a lot about her method of curation, “There were two ways to curate exhibitions. One was didactic, the other investigative. The first was the gold standard: art historians organized exhibitions to share their expertise with the public, to show them what they were looking at and how to look at it. The investigative model was rarely used because it meant organizing a show in order to learn something, moving full tilt ahead without knowing what the result might be. It’s why artists, if they are not hacks, do all the time: they work without knowledge of the outcome. Why not take a cue from them.”

In 1974 Jack Baur announced his retirement and with that came the tick tock of the chopping block for Marcia. Tom Armstrong became the director and his conservative arts inclination was not going to create new fertile ground for the unconventional shows that Marcia had been putting on. The deal was done when Armstrong told Marcia that her title as Curator of Painting and Sculpture would be changed to Curator of Contemporary Art and then four months later he asked her to resign saying that the direction of the institution would now, “emphasize the permanent collection, and there’s no longer any need for a curator who specializes in contemporary art…” Brutal. If I were Tucker I would have crawled in a hole and waited to evaporate but heroically this is only the mid point of the book and her greatest feats are still yet to come.

Tucker’s telling of the creation and beginnings of the New Museum are like a manual for being a bad ass, dedicated and very lucky person. It seems on reflection that the time and place that was New York in which she lived was a mythic place in some ways but in others there is a familiarity and there is a pulse of the possible that still exists today. She talks of supporters like Henry Luce and Vera List whom she was friends with and whose support helped the organization go from a staff of seven in 1977 to the massive institution it is today. The details are specific and readable and they also talk about the shows, the mission and the hurdles there are at being the head of such an organization. Through it all Marcia is brutally honest about her own successes and failures.

Through all the work and travel and her career there is still an emphasis on love, family, friends and personal pursuits of happiness. She was in singing groups, theatre groups, conscious raising groups, and had an alter ego named Miss Mannerist. This to me confirms an idea that all great gallerists, dealers and curators are artists themselves in some way. She finds true love when she is forty and has a child when she is forty three and the joy she has with all of it is ecstatic not only for herself but also for someone reading about it who feels that life, career, love, and family are mismatched puzzle pieces in the art world. Marcia Tucker had an amazing life. She is wholly rebellious, totally unpretentious, and she seems to have been loved and respected in the most earned and deep ways. I am not one who ever seeks heroes, I find that impulse somehow demeaning to all involved but after reading about Marcia Tucker and her life, both personal and professional, it does have a strong effect. I had not known of her ideas, ways of doing things and all else prior to reading this book and it was oddly reassuring and oddly just odd that in many ways it mirrors some of my own thoughts and impulses. By no means am I measuring myself to the tower that is Marcia but it does make it all seem a bit more possible to become a small tower of ones own.

Marcia Tucker died in 2006.

(Thanks to Gina Beavers for lending me this book)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Art Definitions

I caroused too enthusiastically last night so today I feel like lemon squeezed of all my juice. In lieu of a post on something of import in the art world I can only offer a sampling of definitions from one source or another that pins up and pins down the art world. Language is the essential communicator that transfers and translates what is, has and may come to pass in the arts. Sometimes getting back to the basics, to the core of what things are vaulted upon or thrashed to pieces by is the best way to remember what it is all about.

Abstract: thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances

Aesthetic: of or concerning the appreciation of beauty or good taste: the aesthetic faculties./ characterized by a heightened sensitivity to beauty.

Art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Artist: a person who creates art. / a person who creates art as an occupation./ a person who is skilled at some activity.

Collector: an official who collects funds or moneys./ a person who makes a collection./ an object or device that collects.

Conceptualism: a theory in philosophy intermediate between realism and nominalism that universals exist in the mind as concepts of discourse or as predicates which may be properly affirmed of reality.

Creativity: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.

Critic: a person who tends too readily to make captious, trivial, or harsh judgments; faultfinder./ one who forms and expresses judgments of the merits, faults, value, or truth of a matter./ one who specializes especially professionally in the evaluation and appreciation of literary or artistic.

Curator: one who has the care and superintendence of something; especially : one in charge of a museum, zoo, or other place of exhibit.

Exhibition: an act or instance of exhibiting./ a public showing (as of works of art, objects of manufacture, or athletic skill).

Fine Art: Art produced or intended primarily for beauty rather than utility.

Gallery: a roofed promenade, especially one extending along the wall of a building and supported by arches or columns on the outer side./ a long enclosed passage, such as a hallway or corridor./ a building, an institution, or a room for the exhibition of artistic work./an underground passage made by a mole or ant or a passage made in wood by an insect (as a beetle).

Minimalism: a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

Modernism: modern character, tendencies, or values; adherence to or sympathy with what is modern./ explicitly rejecting the ideology of realism, and makes use of the works of the past, through the application of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody in new form; rejects the lingering certainty of Enlightenment thinking, as well as the idea of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator.

Museum: an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value; also : a place where objects are exhibited.

Painting: the process, art, or occupation of coating surfaces with paint for a utilitarian or artistic effect.

Process: a continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner.

Sculpture: the art of making two- or three-dimensional representative or abstract forms.

Visual: of, relating to, or used in vision./ attained or maintained by sight./ producing mental images./ done or executed by sight only./ of, relating to, or employing visual aids.