Monday, August 27, 2012

JEFF KOONS. THE PAINTER (Schrin Kunsthalle Frankfurt) / JEFF KOONS. THE SCULPTOR (Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung), Frankfurt Germany

Jeff Koons, the name conjures it all.  You envision colorful kitsch in a grandiosity of scale that takes fanciful thoughts executed with a precise perfection.  It’s such a boring idea to dislike Koons, or to try to have a conversation of what he means or reflects in the state of art because he is already built into the art books, (minor as that signification truly is), but nonetheless he is ordained.  Koons has been doing his brand of art for over thirty years and his impact, although not enough to garner an “ism”, has had seismic effect in the visual arts.  Currently, there are two fantastic shows on Koons and his legacy at two locations in Frankfurt Germany.  One focuses on his paintings and is at the Schrin Kunsthalle and the other focuses on his sculptures at the Liegieghaus Skulturensammlung.  They are respectively entitled JEFF KOONS.  THE PAINTER and JEFF KOONS. THE SCULPTOR. If there was ever a title(s) to encapsulate the ego, these are it.  Regardless of the title, these shows are very good, one more then the other, but nonetheless, they evidence an artistic practice, evolution and thought that is beyond just impressive production.  They show an accessible intelligence and also the impossible yet persisting relevance of visuality.

The Shrin Kunsthalle is a more typical exhibition space that presents the painting portion of this two-show affair.  It is modern and white and has the lighting and static air that makes anything within radiate seriousness and importance by merely being fastened to the wall.  The space has a feeling of a long corridor.  You enter at the middle of the space and at the beginning of Koons’ investigations into consumable goods and pop-culture images.  The painting component, as well as the sculptural, picks from his various series executed over the years such as, “Celebration,” “EasyFun-Ethereal,” “Made in Heaven,” “Luxury and Degradation” etc. (all are graciously viewable on the artist’s website).  There is a concise sampling of all of his series that must be credited to the exhibition’s curators, Vinzenz Brinkmann, Matthias Ulrich, and Joachim Pissarro.  Kudos!

Paintings always reveal the human touch and although this also holds true for Koons, he gets damn close to erasing this.  This quest to devoid painting of expressive gesture is fascinating in its execution.  The subject matter used to achieve this are things like, consumer products, cartoons, porn, fashion, advertisements, and a slew of other materialized vices that makes the paintings visual confection.  There is an activated familiarity with using these types of images that makes what’s happening with them, to them even more befuddling.  There are two particular works from his “EasyFun/Easy Ethereal” series that were gems to see, Bagel from 2002 and Lips from 2000.  Here collage and the cut-up are oddly familiar in both past use ways like that of Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art and also in now/future ways like digital paintings and 3D interiors and imagined virtual spaces.   These two works in particular also touch on a general vulgarity that permeates all of Koons’ works, most especially his paintings.  There is the more direct evidence of this as in of his “Made in Heaven” series which predominantly features him and his ex-wife, Cicciolina, having sex and exploring orifices.  These works gets to the point quickly but there is also this other use of parts of the body, usually female, that has a bizarre charge of sexual obsession, dislocation or to be frank a juvenile focus.  It is sexual but not sexy.  There is a distanced gaze and perversion of sensation that can be blinked away as awkward pubescent unknowing.  

The sex issues can go one for chapters but back to the show.  The works are like measuring tapes of various techniques, images and themes that seem to have peeked a curiosity with Koons and with each successive year the compositions and the way in which they are executed become more and more complex.  It’s like watching a video of a child go from toddler to highschooler, fascinating, awkward, and easy to believe.  Newer paintings from his “Popeye” series are just mind-boggling in their flatness and his use of cartoons and child toys abound through this series as well as others.  These cartoons should conjure an easy-breezy-mass-appeal feeling, but seeing them all together there is something very off, even possibly sad. 

Some of the more seductive works are newer works are from his “Antiquity” series, such as Antiquity Dots 2, 2009-2012 which has a Betty Page-esque women straddling an inflatable dolphin and she is about to kiss an inflatable money.  The backsplash of bindi dots, the child marker doodle overlay and the stone figures from antiquity, one with a massive erection, makes this painting so “now” it is oddly grimacing.  The digital-ness of the collage is also so obvious and seemingly so meaningless but it is this digital touch that makes all the difference.  The mechanical annihilation of the painter is in full effect here.  Truly, the only way these newer works reveal themselves as oil on canvas is getting nose close to the surface and seeing the canvas’ tooth. 

Next, down the way towards the river and to the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung which hosts  the sculptural portion of the show.  It is here that things get very interesting.  The Liebierghaus is the type of building you think about when you think “Europe” in an old fashioned way.  It was built in 1909 and is houses works spanning 5,000 years from Ancient Egypt to Neoclassism.  It is stone and marble and wood and dim.  For this show, sculptural works by Koons, forty-four precisely, spanning 30 or so years are interspersed through the permanent collection of rare and ancient artifacts and works of art.  Such an ego-maniacal thing to do right?!  Well yes, but no.  There is a startling bravado to this act, placing his Ushering in Banality, 1988, which is made of ghastly colored polychrome wood and has cherubs and a boy pushing along a pig with a green bow next to relics and crosses and crying Virgin Marys from thousands of years ago, is just audacious but also a moment of ah-ha.  The act of considering oneself as equal, as rare, as historical as these more ancient artifacts is appalling, downright tacky really, but the more one goes through the exhibition, it weirdly makes sense.  Koons' work does not gain in signification due to the context but it being installed there together makes all of it, the old and the new equal in their significance and nothingness.

There are some pieces that work better then others, the polychrome wood sculptures that have a folk twist are just not interesting and the plastic porcelain pieces have always felt off like Pink Panther, 1988 but there are others that are so fantastic and possess this feeling of belonging such as Rabbit, 1986, Wishing Well, 1988 and even the more cartoon works like Titi Tire, 2003 which has inflatable Tweety birds made of aluminum and a rubber car tire in one of the top floor’s octagonal rooms that house rare books and artifacts. It’s funny, absurd, but seems just fine.

Some of the most successful selections were the new metal works from his “Antiquity” series and the Hulk sculptures from his “Hulk Elvis” series. One of the new “Antiquity” works utilizes Koons’ signature use of balloon animal/forms, this one entitled Balloon Venus, 2008-2012, that is a massive, eight and a half feet in height, and is a metallic fuchsia, Zen posing balloon women reminiscent of the Venus of Willendorf and other archeologically excavated female carvings.  There is a bulbous fertility in the form that was clearly modeled from a latex balloon.  The placement of this work and all of its symbolic references conjures timelessness.  The other work from this series, Metallic Venus, 2010-2012, is super wow.  It was in one of the building’s alcoves with walls painted bright red and had bright overhead lighting.  It is a metallic aqua blue of a self-revealing woman whose head is tilted back till the point of dissolving its form and a draped plinth next to her with a vase with live flowers.  The material of this sculpture and of Balloon Venus is “high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating” and it is this material and the way it is used that make these works in particular seem like the future.  The liquidity of the material, the smoothness and the way the surface reflects and bounced light and mirrors is like nothing seen before.  There is a lightness in these that are quoted in the earlier metal works like in Rabbit but here it is taken to a very different place of actualization and feeling. 

In the “Hulk Elvis” series’, Hulk Friends, 2004-2012 and Hulks (Bell), 2004-2012, also show this next phase of material realization.  Both Hulk sculptures use inflatable(s) of that character in the scale that it could originally be purchased at a toy store.  The Hulk Friends is located at the bottom of the stairs and it is like this odd sentient waiting for you to enter. On his shoulder, he has a crew of smaller cute critters that look like an aural entourage.  Both the Hulk and his pals look like inflatable plastic toys.  They look like they are filled with air and their little plugs look like you can pop them open and let all that air out.  There are crinkles on the Hulk’s purple pants that are from being pressed into a box before inflation.  It all looks so like what you think it is.  But of course it isn’t plastic and air, instead it is polychromed bronze and probably weighs a gagillion pounds.  This is also true for Hulks (Bells), which are also unbelievable in their illusions.  In this case the context of being in a room with art from Asia that show demons, Buddhas, Vishnu’s and yogi’s makes it all seem very interchangeable.  It is here that the sense of connection and belonging really hits home.  There is a reason why the Hulk is the Hulk, he wasn’t created from nothing, he is another character, another embodied symbol that is as significant and insignificant as any other interpretation of character or tool to tell a tale.

The show being in Frankfurt Germany and at these institutions assists in the subtly of what it means to paint, what it means to sculpt, and the relevancies and historical arc of making pictures and objects to reflect a time.  In these shows and throughout his career, Koons seems to make an unapologetic claim to significance that is too brilliant and ballsy to disqualify.   His work in singulars are many times flawed, dull and regurgitative but there are moments, very clear moments, when they get to the place it was meant to go.  There seems to be something distinct happening in Koons’ atelier in 2012 that is changing the game in how material can be pushed, not in the conversation of “materiality” but getting to an alchemically transformative zone.  It’s going to blow our minds for sure.  Some think Koons is a one trick pony.  Sure there is a besmirched mischievous twinkling gleam in his eyes when it comes to his art but there is much more then one trick up his sleeve.  He’s more like Santa Claus and he makes magic toys for the art world and we are all greedy-greedy children.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Things to Remember to Write About Once I Get Over Jet Lag

I’m still in Germany as I write this (Friday).  I am at a hotel that has seen better days.  It is in the Black Forest.  There is a castle from the 1300s a few hundred feet away.  I walked in the forest for three to four hours.  I am now on the bed and looking at emails and looking at social media and thinking not very deep thoughts.  Anyways, only two more nights in Germany left and then I will be back in NYC with my cats, my condiments, and the high quality upstate tap water.   The thought of doing a post right as I wake up from what I know will be a hellish sleep state makes me want to die a little inside so instead I am writing a list of things and some key descriptives to help remember what it is I am supposed to be remembering when I eventually write something/anything that is not this garbage. 

Sorry for being such a lazy baby on this post but meh, life happens.  I hope by the time this is posted I am snoozed up and able to face the busy, crazy, zany things to come in the next few weeks.   Live hard, die in your 80s.

Jeff Koons – Frankfurt, Artist as Painter/ Artist as Sculptor, “Pam”, “Bagel”, Rosenquist, Hyper real, digital collage, canvas tooth, Classicism, Sculpture, Folk, Wood, Fables, Liquid Metal, New Better, God Complex, Kid Complex, Sex Complex, Michael Jackson Face, Money, Cartoons, Asia

documenta13 – Bad, Curators, Ethnography, Anthropology, Nazi, Project Based, No Aesthetics, Sprawling, Whiteness, God Damn Huts, Trockel, Cardiff, Too Much Time, The Other, Illuminati, Books, Arabic Text, India, Singing, Plato’s Cave

Kolombo – Amazing, Architecture’s Effect on Installation, Medieval, Vision, Lighting, Good Job, Institutional History, Who’s in Charge? Perspectival Drawings, Monica Borthelami (sp?), Minimal Install Without Being "Minimal Install," Rosary Beads, Skulls, Gothic Rules

Museum Ludwig – Kasper Konig, Good, Large, Expansive, Claus Oldenberg, Comprehensive, Small Objects, Drawings, Obsessed with Penis, Women Hater, Pop Art, Bad Hanging, Bad Lights

Koln – Kolsh, Short Buildings, Kiosks, Daniel Buccholz Galerie, Small City, Dom

Black Forest – Woods, Walks, Fountains, Nice Homes, Children, Jews, WWII, Family Business, Pom Pom Hats, Grasslin Sisters Rule, Gunter Forg, Kippy

Curation – What’s Going On? Schools of Thought, In It To Win It, Prevailing Trends, Stacked Deck, Possibilities for Change

Installation – What makes an installation successful or not? Institutional Think Tank, Napoleonic Leaders in Charge

Monday, August 13, 2012

Germany Days 1 - 5

I’m in Germany right now.  It is my third time here and the most times that I have visited a country outside of the US.  The first time was right after I graduated high school and I went with my mom and dad and the boyfriend I had in high school.  We went to Frankfurt and towns on or near the Rhine Valley; they all seemed to have “Bad” somewhere in their name.  It was nice but also difficult since the older German ladies apparently disapproved of me and I was even more hyper sensitive than I am now. I remember lard butter, pigs, bombed castles, large blonde colored beers and good Italian food. 

I went next in 2010 to see an exhibition that an artist, who was represented by the gallery I worked for at that time, was having in Berlin.  He is deceased so I came in his stead.  It was my first time in Berlin and I went with an ex-boyfriend.  I loved Berlin almost immediately.  It was so cheap, the trains were so nice and everyone spoke English and no one was uptight when I spoke the only two words I know (Danke and Bitte) in poor German.  I met artists, went to cool bars, and everyone was young, beautiful, nice and smart.  I went to flea markets, to studio visits and tried to see as much art, sights and to eat as much food as possible even in the rain and cold.   After that trip I understood what all the fuss was about Berlin.  It was super cheap, super accessible and everyone was an artist in a good sort of way.  Things felt looser which was a bit hypnotic at first contact.

Now I am back, age 30, without a boyfriend in tow and it has been different in both good and not so good ways.  For this trip there is a theme and that theme is around Martin Kippenberger.  This trip is to be a quest for him, for the spirit of him in the haunts and in the air that is Deutschland.  This quest was set out with earnest but things are happening along the way that are bigger then intensions.  It is only about half way through, not even, so much more will come and much more will unravel, or maybe completely unravel for good, but one can not push time along to a resolution most or least desired.  I’m sure the project will manifest itself in someway, somehow in the end though.

Of the days that I have spent 1 has been in Frankfurt, 2 in Berlin and now I sit in Kassel to get decked in the head with all the art piled in this town for documenta13.

Frankfurt has amazing Jeff Koons shows up, one is of paintings and the other is of sculptures, I will go into detail on these shows at a later time.  They really took the roof off my mind and I need time and thought to do it justice.  Also there is Portikus, my new favorite art place where I want to have a job and live in.  Also Frankfurt has apple wine, it will leave you swimming in the morning. Oh and the vertical public art sculptures that are all over the city are really fascinating studies in the city’s sexual psychology.

Berlin is still full of the lovely art kids, really everyone is super nice, attractive and smart in an above average way.  There is a collegiate conviviality that seems like a mirage.  It is also a bit odd, all that suspension of time and space.  All that possibility and liassez-faire seems possibly contaminating.  I’m also an old fart so no one should pay attention to what I’m dithering on about.  Regardless, it is super packed and fun and lovely in Berlin art land.  My best experiences, as was the last time I was here, were the studio visits I was able to have.  The visits were with artists Oliver Laric, Jaako Pallasvuo and Lindsay Lawson.  Look them all up, they are all super.   The conversations and the art seen with/by each artist had me re-affirming that art is still the best thing ever, really truly, and that it makes me actually 'happy' in the big H sort of way.  Also another nice treat was the happenstance of going to a bar called Times which seemed destined in the stars before I ever knew of its existence.  It will be closing in September which feels like a shame but also brilliant.  It was opened, run and managed by three artists, including Lindsay Lawson, Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff.  It is not very large but has a nice understated décor, no crushed red velveteen or tin ceilings here. It was full of art kids and also art insiders.  Everyone was cool but not “too” cool and a lot of people seemed like they were just arriving or just returning to Berlin.  It was chatty, smoky and didn’t have the off-putting vibes that some of New York’s scenes can radiate.  I also saw an old friend that I hadn’t seen in two years and who I hadn’t been in touch with for a long time.  It made me feel like the universe was giving me a giant high five.  It was a perfect way to end the mini visit to Berlin and although it will be razed to a memory the next time I probably make it to Berlin, drinks at Times will be one of the nice little dents that makes me want to keep coming back to this never-never land. 

I have only been in Kassel for half a day as I write this (Sunday) but I have already chunked my way into some of the main parts and it is very-very surprising in tone, intention and execution.  It is all just starting so a full update will come at a later date.

So all the above is not really saying all that much about Germany but once I land in the US of A and get a good connection to the internet (this trip has taught me mightily how I’m a first world slave to the internet), I will give juicy details of all that Germany has to offer in art, people, sights, experiences and other wonderful or not so wonderful things.  Till then Tous!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jon Rafman and His 9-Eyes .com

It seems almost dated to be writing about Jon Rafman’s 9-Eyes .com project a.k.a. The Nine Eyes of Google Street View, as it is a project that started in 2008 which is time×infinity² in internet world but it’s back on stage in the formation of a real time and space exhibition currently on view at The Saatchi Gallery in London.  There is something interesting about the distance of time that makes 9-Eyes .com seem more pertinent for review.  The thickness of the time that has passed and the degree of accumulation of these images gives the entire project another spin that most internet based projects often lack. 

The formulation of the project seems simple but so is most art.  Google (the world dominating internet search and products provider) wanted to increase the scope of their GPS location capabilities by gathering pictorial shots of every possible location accessible to motorized vehicle.  This project is called Street View.  In 2007, cars stared scuttling through the lands and on top of these cars is a globular encased camera with 9 lenses on various sides and angles.  This camera automatically takes photos approximately every 30 to 60 feet.  The result is the compilation of the architecturally informative and mundane but also along the way it captures the happenstance of life.  It is from this collection that Rafman selects images for inclusion in 9-Eyes .com.

It is the oddities and the bizarre flashes of nature and human life that Rafman seems to be collecting.   He is making a sort of scrapbook or a travelogue of imagined vacations and sights seen that reflect the weirdness that is life.  There is a nostalgic tint to many of the images in both the tonal values and subject matter that enhances this picture album feel. The coloring and the hues remind you of photos taken in the 60s and 70s or of the Instagram-ming toning filters popular today.  Compositionally, there is often dramatics of zooming in on a figure and many of the shots taken in nature are wide and have an expansive quality to them. 

There seems to be various things that catch Rafman’s eye such as; animals in the wrong place, people in the wrong place, accidents, fires, the solitary figure, building facades that give evidence of human hand, light, prostitutes, children, long roads, and much more.  Throughout, there is something categorical in the way he seems to select his images.  As much as one would think that such a massive source that is the Street View project could easily result in an overwhelming overcompensation of images, from what I have seen, this has not occurred.  This skillful editing gives evidence of Rafman’s astute eye and consistency; this isn’t just a clever idea being studiously updated.  In this way, 9-Eyes .com is just as much about what the images are showing as to who is selecting them.

What is actually being shown in the images triggers fantastic mind exercises.  They propel you to think about time, space, history, coincidence and the accidental act of immortalization.  The 9-sided camera is a stand-in for all of us, yet it is devoid of conscious inquiry. It’s robotic-ness makes the taking of these images somehow okay.  The robot-camera cannot be a voyeur, but since it is functioning as the stand-in, it becomes this.  The fact that what the images capture is un-authored makes whatever is captured collectively ours.  The tree, road, building, dog, child, old man, etcetera, all just happen to have existed in the moment that the mechanical eye blinked and saved but now that we are seeing it, it is ours.  As the viewer, this is at once a freeing and empowering place to find oneself but it is also a touch sinister. Everything and everyone in the captured frame is devoid of authority over themselves of that moment and of the permanence of what is being captured.  Also, in turn we the viewers are captives to the unintentional image produced.

Both Street View and 9-Eyes .com are forms of photography that takes the language, history, and framework of ‘what is photography’ and makes it do back flips into a bottomless pool that is shaped like a U.  Additionally, it opens cans upon cans of worms on the ongoing conversations on what is public, private, mediated reality, converted reality, structures of containment and restraint, etcetera.  It really is brutal to think about in depth but that’s where the challenge/fun lies.  The more things are documented and the constant act of archiving, capturing and disseminating images has changed the fundamentals of how we are seeing/looking and how that a/effects internal and external realities. Street View is a fully funded, purpose driven, globally realized project that doesn’t ask the conceptual ideas on what this image dissemination means or challenges.  It just does what it set out to do and shows it as result. 

Even though the Street View project is a formula for optimal results with specific ends, it unwittingly captures this planet, its human beings and the structures built by humanity in surprising, diverse, and many times highly humorous ways.  I know it is possibly the cheesiest word in the world but many of the images are actually quite ‘inspirational’ and are testaments of this amazing thing called Earth and our crazy species called human.  Some are also sad and scary and revealing in economies lived but there is something comforting in the brutal honesty of this as well. 

Rafman’s project is a project within a project and both projects reflect and investigate various questions at various levels.  It is a stack of sociological, anthropological, capital, globalizing, aesthetics, and existence conundrum, question-cards that are piled up to an invisible sky.  It is dizzying to think about for long periods of time, like ping-pong balls being bounced in your head and your ears are the paddles.  This is a good thing though and the way in which Rafman selects the images for 9-Eyes .com makes the thinking process within all of it a bit smoother, enjoyable to see and much more funnier then expected.  The use of humor in subtle, black, and exaggerated moments is a thread that seems to keep things somehow bound to each other. 

Google’s project keeps moving along and Rafman’s does as well.  The syncopation of them will be interesting to see, will the patina of the images change as the camera and lenses advance?  Will it ever loop back over already treaded trails and show the changes or the stasis of a particular place?  What Rafman does exceedingly well is to select images that trigger stories, but not just any story, they are fantastic and strange and will change the setting in which they are taken, even if for only a moment or two.  This is the difference and the clear separation of the robotic 9-eyed mounted camera and the screen staring eyes of one human being.  These images mean something, prove something, show something and the act of caring at all about any of that is innately human.