Monday, June 25, 2012

A Poem by Martin Kippenberger

I am a bit more than half way through Martin Kippenberger’s biography, Kippenberger The Artist and His Families, (J&L Books, 2011) written by his sister Susanne Kippenberger.  What it thus far lacks in literary grace it makes up for in its density of facts and inclusion of people, places and minor cultural moments.  It is a traveling through a life and time that is specifically German and emphasizes the enfant terrible/irascible genius that was Martin Kippenberger.  As I am only half way through, I do not feel justified in saying more on the book.  What I did want to share though is a poem that Kippenberger recited for his opening at the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum Geneva in 1997, shortly before his death at the age of 43.  Kippenberger was a lot of things, a complicated person who in sense was not more complicated then most but had a volcanic urge and a persistent spastic tick to exercise and transform all of these complexities.  His life seems to have been lived as if he knew it would be reviewed and he took pains to orchestrate this as much as possible in his short but very full life.  There is a desperate sort of genius to that gesture but one that is still fascinating to read about and even more tempting to replicate. 

Kippenberger was never a “writer” although he took mighty stabs at it in various countries.  He of course was a master wordsmith, a comic of language, puns and he had a soft slapping humor with the German language and art world terms.  The below poem is refreshing in light of today’s current art market and structures which has an ever enclosing sense that it is all doomed, irredeemable, or just a giant surface for a logo of cultural attribution.  It is comforting to think of Kippenberger writing and reciting this as he veered toward death.  It makes art seem somehow important, or at least a bit meaningful.

People de la Muse
a typical Artist poem

            FOR BAD ART
Artist of his generation
Collect small & paint big yourself
Collector with 2 1/2 PICTURES INSTEAD OF
Sensitive furniture-moving for art
Art-lovers who hate letting you finish what you’re
            THE WIDE PATH
$10 SPONSORS AND $18500 VOLUNTEER       
            AGAIN NEXT WEEK
            THAN FAIL
Painted-on gray
Attempts at exposing without revealing
            THROUGH TIME
Chatting up conservative preserves qua art savvy

Retouched “I KNOW THAT ALREADY” attitude
Operetta = megapicture
Re-cabling not de-naveling

Enfant-terrible-critics for everything
Reserving 3 pictures (worse than not buying)
Theory-heavy contemporary art


Kippenberger, Susanne, Kippenberg The Artist and His Families, J&L Books, 2011, pp.    197-199.

Monday, June 18, 2012


It’s summer.  It’s going to be 95 degrees on Wednesday.  Get sexy, get tan, get water on your body.  Summer is supposed to slow things down but all I’ve been experiencing a busyness that feels a bit like a whirl but is nice, invigorating, tiring.  (This is a roundabout way to pad the even more last-minute nature of this post.)  Well going on, what has been popping up more then usual is the idea of astrology.  As long as the stars and celestial happenings have been seen, they have been deeply a part of our understanding of ourselves.  There is a level of kitsch to it now as we are firmly bolted into the science-of-modern-man-times but still, it is present in various ways, curiosities and practices.  Living in cities with more light and air pollution which obscures our sight-line to the sky parallels this loss and disbelief in the stars.  There is something profound in being reminded of the whole permanence/impermanence thing on a regular basis.  

Astrology and horoscopes are about time, the mix of chance and destiny, of revelation and of the unknowable.  There is something sexy in its story telling aspects.  It helps to express oneself as an archetype and to be an archetype is to have a sense of the immortal even if it simultaneously makes one void.   Zodiac signs and the implications of that sign are assigned to an individual based on their date of birth.  There are other factors that veer things to various degrees within each sign but in the most general way, the day of birth is the key to unlocking one’s astrologically influenced self.

Below is a quick compilation of zodiac signs and their character traits:

Aries (0-29 degrees longitude) March 21 thru April 20 - Sun sign.  “Aries are always looking forward, they are leaders in ideals and pioneers of advanced thought. They have great mental energy but are inclined to be very headstrong and impulsive. They are always prophetic, and love to predict things that will happen. They can look ahead into the future and foresee things with remarkable clearness of vision. When freed from other influences and not slaves to their personality, they become truly clairvoyant, and are remarkably gifted in this direction. This sign gives extreme ideality, and those born under it are more ideal than practical. They are always full of new schemes and plans, ever exploring and originating. They are fond of constant change, loving novelty, romance and speculation and nearly always live in a world of theory. They are very highly strung, sometimes hyper-sensitive and are remarkable for their perception. They seem to live more in the perceptive region of their brain than the reflective, and they are rarely deceived where perception is concerned.” – Alan Leo

Taurus (30-59 degrees longitude) April 21 thru May 20 - Taurus has been seasonally associated with the flourish of spring. Because the season has settled, astrologers call it a fixed sign, indicating stability, resistance to change, and the ability to 'enjoy the people'. According to astrologers, the sign is governed by Earth, the planet of beauty, procreation and indulgence, which adds the traits of creativity and appreciation of life's material luxuries. The moon is also associated with this sign, which it governs by exaltation.  This gives the characteristics of being reflective, receptive to the ideas of others: typically, a 'thinker' rather than a 'doer'. Taurus is considered by astrologers to be a highly practical sign which is happiest when involved in some kind of creative process. Although generally considered easy-going and placid, as a fixed sign Taureans are likened to the bull in being slow to show anger, but capable of raging if pushed too far. And they take time to eventually act on their anger.  It is also said Taureans enjoy basic 'creative comforts' and don't allow others to disturb them easily, but they don't forgive and forget easily. 

Gemini (60-89 degrees of longitude) May 21 thru June 20 - The sign is seasonally associated with the transition from spring to summer. Because of its association with a change of season, astrologists describe it as a mutable sign with impulse towards change and versatility, and an easy ability to adapt to the demands of the environment.  It is governed by Mercury, a planet noted for swift movement and symbolically associated with the interchange of ideas and fluid responses to circumstances. Gemini is also linked with the element of air that represents the mental and social realms, the ability to formulate abstract ideas and to effectively interpret symbols, imagined concepts and communicative signals.  As the mutable air sign, governed by a planet that is astrologically given to the principle of transmutation and communication, the symbolic focus of the sign falls upon movement, quick-thinking, intelligence, free-flowing expression, and spontaneous reaction. The sign is symbolized by 'the twins', which also presents duality: the ability to relate to opposing visions simultaneously, to possess dexterity and a talent for multi-tasking

Cancer (90-119 degrees longitude) June 21 thru July 21 – A water sign, which signifies a highly emotional nature. Being under the sway of the element of water also makes Cancerians highly caring, generous and intuitive.  They are highly intuitive and make choices based on emotion above rationality. Cancerians are extremely receptive to their environment and the people around them, and will often ‘pick up’ people’s energies, moods and thoughts.

Leo (120–49 degrees longitude) July 22 thru August 22 - Some common characteristics that are associated with Leo are generosity, warmth, brightness, and self-motivation. Leos are sometimes known as the king of the jungle and tend to be dignified and strong. Leos are extremely generous, and expect others to be just as big-hearted and are disappointed or angered if this is not met. Leos want to see everyone doing the best to their ability. To other people, this can look like a bit of a tyrant, asking for more than one can give.

Virgo (150-179 degree longitude) August 23 thru September 22 - Because its period indicates a change of season, it is known as a mutable sign which indicates an instinct towards changeability. There is an ideal balance between ingenuity of mind, and sharp intellect, and the strength of will needed to see creative ideas through to completion. Virgos are reputed to be adept at languages, to possess a love of literature, a deep interest in history and statistics, and a good memory for details.  Virgo is considered a negative polarity or passive (introvert) sign. This gives the characteristics of being reflective and receptive to the ideas of others. This passivity, accompanied by a flair for discrimination and eloquence with words has given Virgos a reputation for civility and good manners. They are said to have a talent for projects that require precision and detail, and to excel at skills and crafts which require patience and exactitude. On the negative, they are highly sensitive to perceived criticism, and can appear to worry unduly about the need to make things as perfect as they can be, though this is often something that others usually do not know because they tend to hide their emotions frequently.

Libra (180-209 degrees longitude) September 23 thru October 22 – Element of air, or the intellect. Libra’s are thinkers and like to tackle problems. Libra is the seventh sign of the zodiac, which refers to relationships of all sorts and their connection to the world around them.  People know Libras as being highly social and their outgoing nature and love of communicating is one of their strength. This communication skill often means Libras are excellent mediators and negotiators. 

Scorpio (210–239 degrees longitude) October 23 thru November 21 - People born with the sun in Scorpio are very determined, reserved, loyal, and secretive. They are firm and somewhat proud, and capable of unmistakable traits of character that cause them to be either very much liked or very much disliked. Their somewhat suspicious nature causes them to be distrustful, but amidst all their apparent evil traits of character, they have that grit and backbone which enables them to make higher attainments than those born in the other signs. The Scorpio's desires are potent and charged with the power to attain the object of their desires; but when their desires are subservient to the will, there are none more powerful or determined. 

Sagittarius (240–269 degrees longitude) November 22 thru December 21 - Sagittarius is seasonally associated to a change of season, and is known as a mutable sign describing an instinct toward change and an easy ability to modify or adapt to the demands of the environment.  The sign is governed by Jupiter, a planet that is symbolically associated with temperate qualities which loosen, relax and expand. Sagittarius is also linked with the element of fire that represents outgoing, action-oriented energy that seeks spontaneous expression. Correspondingly, Sagittarians are reputed to be drawn toward travel and philosophy, and to enjoy social contacts, meeting new people and exploring other cultures. They are said to be highly intelligent, broad-visioned, tolerant in their views, mainly concerned with the "big picture" but with little patience for the details.  Like all the fire signs, Sagittarius can be idealistic in vision but tactless in expression. They are known for their bluntness and are often unaware of their ability to cause anguish in others.

Capricorn (270-299 degrees longitude) December 22 thru January 20- An earth element, Capricorns are down to earth and matter-of-fact. Saturn is its ruling planet and results in being cautious and sometimes shy and lack self-confidence.  Very hardworking and ambitious with their dreams and goal which are usually attained.  Very responsible with money.  Capricorns are emotionally cool and it takes a long time to feel comfortable with others.  Capricorns are methodical, practical and highly resourceful. 

Aquarius (300-329 degrees longitude) February 12 (-14) thru March 8 (-10) – Aquarius’s planet is the electric and progressive Uranus making them forward thinking and self-directed. They are born revolutionary and they take a clear-cut approach on how they want to experience life.  Determined and forceful in dealing with people and express thoughts and feelings openly and with sometimes excessive enthusiasm. 

Pisces (330-359 degrees longitude) March 15 thru April 14 – Water sign that indicates a spiritually developed character. Pisces are suffused with feeling and empathy, the emotions that are characterized by water. They are truly compassionate and unconditionally loving person.  They have a universal approach to the way they live and this is seen in most of their actions. One of the difficulties with their sensitive nature is avoiding making hard decisions at times, especially if it may undermine someone else. With close friends and family members they do anything to help but often forget themselves. Some Pisces are so habituated to this attitude that they themselves end up becoming the sacrificial lamb in their relationships. Because Pisces are highly intuitive they sometimes don’t like to think problems through. Nevertheless their instincts are powerful and more often than not correct. Their ability to foresee things before it actually happens is quite uncanny.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Success of Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman’s retrospective exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art just closed.   It consisted of over 170 works that spanned over 30 years and included rarely seen early pieces from 1974-5 when she was a mere 20-21 year old and also newer works from more recent years.  The show is extensive, thorough and very complete.  There is not much to say about the show really though, it is exactly what you think it will/should be and meeting those expectations makes deep reflection seem beside the point.  There were exhibition highlights for sure though, to be able to see the full suite of her seminal Untitled Film Stills from 1977-1980 was very nice indeed and to see a very early piece from 1974 of her transforming her be-speckled tomboy self to a kabuki silent movie starlet clown was just fantastic.  But overall this show is not so much about a reveal or a revelation, but more about the consistency of a practice and more importantly it makes one think why is Cindy Sherman, “Cindy Sherman?”  What makes her photographs and her so essentially successful in both influence and economies?

First, “commitment to a bit,” Sherman has this down pat.   This is not meant to be disparaging but an assessment of how prolific and consistent she is with her work.  For those that do not know Sherman’s work, it is essentially her taking photographs of herself, (or objects as stand ins on some occasions) and she transforms/alters/disguises herself to be a variety of characters (mostly female) to reflect/highlight/throw back the vulgarity/humor/ archetypes of society.  Although there is a traceable linage from series to series, which is markedly emphasized in the show, this doesn’t result in dullness.  Sherman is too clever by half and the ways in which she undertakes and presents her transformations is an odd type of magic, a slight of hand that reveals the seams but possesses an unknowable but distinct touch.  The formula of how she works at first glance seems obvious but there is such an intense rigor, a lack of shortcuts or flippancy that ensures each image, each series, has weight and import.

Next, Sherman is a not/not feminist artist.  Anyone with half a brain and one eye open can see that Sherman’s work is most certainly coming from feminist lineage and investigative practices but what is brilliant/tragic about the whole thing is that she is not a quote unquote ‘feminist artist.’  It’s all very confusing yes, but basically anyone who is overt in saying/framing/discussing/pushing the idea that their work is feminist is quickly ducked taped hand and feet, put into a trunk and dumped into a far away art ghetto.  Yes, things today are a bit better but the time when Sherman started making her work, the less one had to say in this regard the better.  Instead, Sherman became absent in these dialogues and let the work speak for itself and didn’t throw in the towel or argue in self-defense when others spoke on behalf of her or her work.  This is something that will empower any artist.  Artists make the work, it’s not their obligation to also unravel and historicize it as well.  Leave this to the academics, writers and everyone else who is a bad/failed/want-to-be artist.   I have heard Sherman being referred to as a cipher, like a black hole or a polite head-nodding mute.  I think that is unfair, but it does have a sting of truth.  All women are granted a certain type of power in the eyes of society when they say nothing.  Whether that is good or bad is not to be dissected here, but how to manipulate this is key to Sherman’s success both then and now.

Lastly, Sherman is a mimic.  Sherman makes the most obvious sort of work but the impulses and familiarity of those impulses makes them personalized for all who see it.  The device of mimicry is a powerful tool and is still heavily used by contemporary female artists today. She is also playing dress up in a contained and private way but she also shares the mirrored gaze.  The idea of voyeurism is wiped out because of this.  There is nothing real going on, it is all imagination, she is a prop, and that in itself makes the role of the artist, the idea of ‘who is Cindy Sherman?’ so fraught, so vague and so curious.  We all mimic, it is a socializing tool that is overtly practiced when we are children but the older, more socialized we become, the more called out and discouraged this practice is.  The mimic is not an authentic self and those that are not behaving like their authentic selves are seen as weak, inferior or deceitful.  The mimic in truth though has the power of possibility and of alteration.  People who are actors or performers are explicit in their intensions, they are letting you in on their actions and this knowledge makes both the performer and the viewer safe in understanding what is going on.  The mimic on the other hand does not tell or reveal what it is they are doing or for what purposes they are doing it for.  This leaves an opening for things to get weird, feel uncomfortable and to challenge the safety of expectations.  Sherman’s type of mimicry does this very thing, it is at times humorous, odd, aggressive, sick, bizarre, but throughout it straddles the known and unknown and it makes a mess of things and it makes you even more confused about what you think you are seeing.

There are many more reasons why Sherman is such a phenomenal success and influencer but love her or leave her she is the most significant photographer in our contemporary age.  This isn’t about besting, but the reality of it is that what she is doing, and has been doing, with the medium of photography is at once classicist and also extremely groundbreaking.  Sherman is not redefining, challenging, or usurping the medium but is using it as a tool that best works with her ideas and this is turn clicks on the conversations of so many other ideas and issues.  Cindy Sherman is at times frustrating in her normalcy, but it is this unexaggerated sense of intension and practice that makes her so damn appealing and so very successful.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Remedy for Being Art-ed Out: Fernando Pessoa

Sometimes there is just too much art in one’s life. I am thoroughly art-ed out.  My brain and body have gone kaput.  This is not a bad problem to have but for the rest of the day I am going to turn off my brain, fold laundry and make a decent meal for myself.  Because of this, the only thing I can muster for today are a few poems by the Portugese poet Fernando Pessoa.  For those that like to rue and woo life, he is a comforting fellow who is forgiving in his accessibility.  Also, he uses an intriguingly curious device in which he creates heteronyms, distinct other selves with different names, tones and biographies in which he writes through/with/parallel too.  This is a wonderful idea, to have in possession other-selves within oneself that are unique and distinct.  This is something that should be used in art and life more often.  It would make things wonderfully chaotic and more honest.

I Study Myself But Can’t Perceive – Lisbon, August 1913 (as Alvaro de Campos)

I study myself but can’t perceive.
I’m so addicted to feeling that
I lose myself if I’m distracted
From the sensations I receive.

This liquor I drink, the air I breath,
Belong to the very way I exist:
I’ve never discovered how to resist
These hapless sensations I conceive.

Nor have I ever ascertained
If I really feel what I feel.
Am I what I seem to myself - the same?

Is the I I feel the I that’s real?
Even with feelings I’m a bit of an atheist.
I don’t even known if it’s I who feels.

The Sun Shining Over The Field – August 21, 1930 (as himself)

The sun shinning over the field
Perhaps could be the remedy…
I dislike those who like me;
To be loved is for me a tedium.

I want only the simple kiss
Given by light when it gleams,
And the impersonal, abstract love
Of fields when their flowers bloom.

The rest is people and soul
To complicate, talk, and see.
It robs me of dreams and my calm,
And is never what is seems.

Want Little: You’ll Have Everything – November 1, 1930 (as himself)

Want little: you’ll have everything.
Want nothing: you’ll be free.
The same love by which we’re loved
Oppresses us with its wanting.