Monday, October 29, 2012

Shanzhai Biennial

Shanzhai Biennial is not a Biennial, although one can never limit the manifestations that a project of Babak Radboy’s can go.  It is a clothing line that is more found then created and is the partnership of Radboy and Cyril Duval.  It is a label that takes the rampant Chinese manufactured knockoffs of mainstream designer lines and re-presents them as haute couture one-liners.  Their first collection was revealed this fall and its campaign is an interesting mix of art, magazine gloss and tweaking social reveals.  Shanzhai Biennial reflects our current time but the way this looks and the tone that it takes is sharper then what most realize and creates a distinct line of who gets it and who doesn’t.

The clothing of Shanzhai Biennial takes brands like Calvin Klein, Armani, Celine etc. and uses their fonts, logos and other brand recognizers but the spelling is all wrong, like Calvin Klien’s “ck” becomes “ok” and Celine become “GELINE” it’s Chinglish without apologies and the duplication is brazen as it is slightly funny.  For their first campaign they feature some of these finds along with inserting their own name as logo worn by Asian models who are posed and hamming in the style of Chinese artist Yue Minjun.  Minjun is widely collected and recognized for his paintings of Chinese men with cartoonishly gaping smiles doing various everyday and recreational activities.  The models also feature this absurd gaping smile and usually have closed eyes making them look plasticky and unsettling.  The duplication of Minjun’s work doesn’t end there though, they also have the models posed and stacked unto themselves in positions and compositions that recall Minjun’s paintings.  This is an effective source to mimic as it suits the content of the project and the overall eerie tone.

This duplication of duplication and the loss that occurs with each result is the crux of what is behind Shanzhai Biennial.  They seem to be embracing these glitches; these attempts are not failures but revelations to the absurdity of it all.  The ‘all’ being everything that resembles the goal of progress, of brand design, of status through objects.  What is interesting is that there is no critique going on, it is just being collected and shown and there is something that feels like a real love and beauty in the way this it is collected and presented by Radboy and Duval.  The counterfeit is more the original then the original in that it shows something more then the signifiers. 

There is something odd about the humor factor in this project though.  There is something a bit mean about it, not mean per se, but something possibly arrogant.  The way that this campaign feels and other fashion presentations of late, like Telfar Clemen’s latest collection, and their uses of the hyper-normal or the hyper-exaggerated smiling and posturing feels off in this iteration.  I know it is this off-ness, this discomfort and the embrace of the normal and the way it is styled is the point but there is something nauseating and disqualifying in this as well.  It somehow reminds me of high school or mean girls or the cool club.  It’s like there is some giant inside joke and if you don’t get it you just don’t get it and if you do get it but you don’t smirk and whisper like all the rest then you are out out out and you are so adorable in your passéness.  The visual tools are being used to conceptual ends for Shanzhai Biennial but there is something terribly too familiar in its similarities to what else is in the cultural air.  Maybe it’s just me though, probably is (always is), maybe it’s the fact that although I’m glad somebody is finding and making faux brands into a real brand and reveling the deformity that is capitalism, somehow it’s just not that interesting or funny to me. 

But it’s not about me (never is); it is about the potential that projects like this can have, and it does.  It is crazy how Chinese manufacturing is taking over everything and brand use, disuse and what that all means is central to talking about everything from economies, politics, fashion, art, all of it.  The embrace of this and the entrepreneurial vision and realization to make knockoffs into the high-end is just down right brilliant.  At the end of the day it comes down to Babak Radboy and Cyril Duval, brands in themselves that can spin culture in any which direction they choose.  It would be interesting to see one day, the person as brand and how this can be duplicated and transferred beyond just labeling or the image or the approval.  How do you source and sell the essence of a person? Shanzhai Biennial, can’t wait to see what they will do next while also feeling like I already know exactly what it will be.  Somehow that is oddly empowering yet also disheartening, I guess this is the new normal now. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Menil Collection: Highlights


Working in the arts sometimes feels like the Groundhog Day movie, it keeps going and going and it feels like one giant loop sometimes.  This is even more so when it comes to art fairs where you go to a city and set up shop so that the local or not so local clientele can peruse and hopefully purchase.  Most times this takes place at the same time of year at the same building and you see the same cast of characters in fair staff and other dealers.  It’s sort of charming in its repetitiveness but it is also strangely atrophying.  I remark on this because I am returning from Houston, where I was working an art fair, as I did last year.  Last year was my fist time in Houston and this is now my second and amongst the work there was a little time for play and that playtime was saved to visit The Menil Collection one of the most impressive collections of art and most certainly one of the classiest ways of presenting it.

The Menil is probably one of my favorite places to see art. I can’t say it enough.  I just love it.  You can read me gush about it from about this time last year on this little blog.  Sadly, this year’s rotating exhibition was not as compelling as last year’s. It was a group show reflecting on the theme of silence, aptly entitled, Silence organized by Toby Kamps.  It was a bit over stuffed and ‘cerebral’ in a not beneficial way, but there were some shining stars nonetheless.  One was Martin Wong’s Silence, 1982, which full disclosure I had the honor and pleasure of working with his estate during my previous employment.  He is so great and sadly under recognized, but luckily this is shifting as there are people in high places and influence that are aware of his work and his life and making sure others do too.  It made me so happy to see it included amongst the bonafides like Beauys and Duchamp and all those likes.  Another great piece in the show was Tino Sehgal’s Instead of allowing something to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things, 2000 which, at the time I viewed it, a slender girl, obviously trained in dancing, was on the floor slowly undulating and writhing and occasionally scuffing the walls with her shoes.  It was really powerful and seeing loud junior high school kids stop in their tracks and silently watch, mouths agape, speaks volumes to the work’s ability to capture.  It was really subtle and powerful.  Another fun work to see was Yves Klein’s Untitled (Monogold), ca. 1960 which was gold and indented with circular forms and it just felt like a wonderful piece to see in real life which in reproduction must lose its soul.

The De Menil’s surrealist collection is just divine, and it was re-hung and there were nice new bits on view and some re-runs that made me think new things.  Last year seeing so many Magrittes in one place made me a bit disillusioned but seeing his The Glass Key, 1959 made me feel very impressed again.  What was really stellar though was a micro exhibit of Claes Oldenburg’s very early collages entitled, Claes Oldenburg: Strange Eggs curated by Michelle White, which shows works from 1957–1958.  These eighteen discreet collages were tucked away in a small room and were of free floating forms sourced from magazines of that time.  The coloring was shades of gray and browns and they were cut up and then sutured together in such ways that it was at times hard to figure out what the original image was and where or how they were attached.  They are very creepy in a way and seeing them in context with the surrealist collection felt fitting with the slight dark energy that surrealism can produce.  Seeing these after recently seeing the retrospective of his work in Cologne has me thinking things but I am not yet able to fully process it.  There is a darkness and a bizarre Frankenstein desire to cut and attach, to cut and sew, to deflate life and to give animation of life to things inanimate or deadened.  The show although small was a giant revelation on Oldenburg’s practice. 

The Rothko Chapel is a snooze to me but this year’s standout in The Menil Collection’s satellite buildings was the Dan Flavin, Untitled, 1996 installation at Richmond Hall.  It is a large wide-open room with multi colored fluorescent lights vertically hung pointing in one angle and then the opposite angel at the half way point.  It felt oddly dated but it was also very festive.  It is the perfect backdrop for a roller skate party or a music video.  That’s probably not the original intention but hey, life doesn’t stop for art.  In the back there was a room with white lights making building like forms and these reminded you that Flavin works with the language of sculpture.  They were very nice to see all together and not acting as a bookmark on the time they were made which they usually feel like in other collections or shows.

So there it is, my mini gush part two on The Menil Collection.  Anyone who is in Houston for a few hours or a few days, must must MUST pay a visit and revel in the generosity of what money can buy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Urge to Purge

It’s that time, it happens around now, when fall begins or the beginning of spring, when you look at your surroundings, your life and you want to just flame throw everything and go far away into some place that has mountains.  I feel this urge to purge and I am starting with the things closest at hand such as my apartment, which I am currently half way through re-painting, my closets, twelve pairs of shoes going to the charity bin, my hair, which I tried dying a bit but failed at since I’m impatient in this whole transformation business.  Sigh.  I have been so busy being busy that I have not seen or been experiencing art the way I want to.  This makes me sad.  This I will change but I don’t see it happening anytime before November, double sad. 

In November I hope to disappear a bit and come back in a month or two transformed and rejuvenated.  I have been trying to do a lot of stuff to make myself refreshed of late.  Acupuncture, meditation, message, facials, nicorette gum… This type of external accessory seems popular now-a-days. Who needs stuff when you can have deep tissue messages?  Anywho, I’m pooped and I have nothing to offer this week since paint fumes and too many carbs are making me want to pass out and cry via self imposed loathing.  Oh the drama, I know.

I hope that you are doing better then me and if not, at least doing something regenerative and productive.  I leave you with this to chomp on until my head and eyes think or see something worth sharing. 

 “The Metamorphosis” Franz Kafka, 1915 (excerpt Chapter 1)

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was lying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

What has happened to me? He thought. It was no dream. His room, a regular human bedroom, only rather too small, lay quiet between the four familiar walls. Above the table on which a collection of cloth samples was unpacked and spread out-Samsa was a commercial traveler-hung the picture which he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and put into a pretty gilt frame. It showed a lady, with a fur cap on and a fur stole, sitting upright and holding out to the spectator a huge fur muff into which the whole of her forearm had vanished! Gregor's eyes turned next to the window, and the overcast sky-one could hear rain drops beating on the window gutter-made him quite melancholy. What about sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense, he thought, but it could not be done, for he was accustomed to sleep on his right side and in his present condition he could not turn himself over. However violently he forced himself towards his right side he always rolled on to his back again. He tried it at least a hundred times, shutting his eyes to keep from seeing his struggling legs, and only desisted when he began to feel in his side a faint dull ache he had never experienced before.

Oh God, he thought, what an exhausting job I've picked on! Traveling about day in, day out. It's much more irritating work than doing the actual business in the office, and on top of that there's the trouble of constant traveling, of worrying about train connections, the bed and irregular meals, casual acquaintances that are always new and never become intimate friends. The devil take it all! He felt a slight itching up on his belly; slowly pushed himself on his back nearer to the top of the bed so that he could lift his head more easily; identified the itching place which was surrounded by many small white spots the nature of which he could not understand and made to touch it with a leg, but drew the leg back immediately, for the contact made a cold shiver run through him.

He slid down again into his former position. This getting up early, he thought, makes one quite stupid. A man needs his sleep. Other commercials live like harem women. For instance, when I come back to the hotel of a morning to write up the orders I've got, these others are only sitting down to breakfast. Let me just try that with my chief; I'd be sacked on the spot. Anyhow, that might be quite a good thing for me, who can tell? If I didn't have to hold my hand because of my parents I'd have given notice long ago, I'd have gone to the chief and told him exactly what I think of him. That would knock him endways from his desk! It's a queer way of doing, too, this sitting on high at a desk and talking down to employees, especially when they have to come quite near because the chief is hard of hearing. Well, there's still hope; once I've saved enough money to pay back my parents' debts to him-that should take another five or six years-I'll do it without fail. I'll cut myself completely loose then. For the moment, though, I'd better get up, since my train goes at five.

He looked at the alarm clock ticking on the chest. Heavenly Father! He thought. It was half-past six o'clock and the hands were quietly moving on, it was even past the half-hour, it was getting on toward a quarter to seven. Had the alarm clock not gone off? From the bed one could see that it had been properly set for four o'clock; of course it must have gone off. Yes, but was it possible to sleep quietly through that ear-splitting noise? well he had not slept quietly, yet apparently all the more soundly for that. But what was he to do now? The next train went at seven o'clock; to catch that he would need to hurry like mad and his samples weren't even packed up, and he himself wasn't feeling particularly fresh and active. And even if he did catch the train he wouldn't avoid a row with the chief, since the firm's porter would have been waiting for the five o'clock train and would have long since reported his failure to turn up. The porter was a creature of the chief's, spineless and stupid. Well, supposing he were to say he was sick? But that would be most unpleasant and would look suspicious, since during his five years' employment he had not been ill once. The chief himself would be sure to come with the sick-insurance doctor, would reproach his parents with their son's laziness and would cut all excuses short by referring to the insurance doctor, who of course regarded all mankind as perfectly healthy malingerers. And would he be so far wrong on this occasion? Gregor really felt quite welt apart from a drowsiness that was utterly superfluous after such a long sleep, and he was even unusually hungry.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Mina Loy: A Study of a Woman in a Boys Club


I am reading Marcel Duchamp’s biography by Calvin Tompkins and while doing this the sense of the time in which he lived is enlivened with stories, characters and moments, some historicized, others privately retold.  One of these characters briefly mentioned is Mina Loy.  I first came across Mina Loy as an undergrad in an intro to poetry class.  I remember being drawn to her since angst love scorned but feisty women have always been beacons for me.  Seeing her name again made me think about her more and to think about the time in which she inhabited and the men she encountered both as peers and as lovers.  The time of the aughts during the turn of the 20th century was fertile for the avant-garde, the avant-garde you think of when you think the word “avant-garde” of Paris, of salons, of Gertrude Stein, and of a budding New York bohemian class. 

This time was the time of men, many whom have impressed their mark into the artistic landscape that may feel dated today but still leave grappling tracks for any who wish to be considered equal to their measure.  In this time there were women like Mina Loy, women who were both muse and artist.   Mina was a beautiful women and she had marriages, romances, and children with men that were of note and influence in this scene.  What is interesting is that there seems to be, through her life, a trajectory that is similar to her male counterparts.  She left her children for new lives, new loves and for freedom of self and her art. She traveled to the places where things were happening and made her presence known.   Leaving her children during these quests is shocking, even today.  When men do it, it is seen as a shame but something that is somehow understandable because it is at the quest of something bigger, greater, more advanced then the necessity of nurture.  I don’t know much about the full reason or results of Loy’s own self-centric quest but I remark on it to contrast how females and males are judged in this act.  The fact that women have artistic and existential drives as strong as males should be recognized.  Sadly, it isn’t.  Even today, the liberations of artistic pursuits are impinged on the mark of your sex and the obligations that it brings. 

I’m not much of a fan of Loy’s poetry.  It is a bit too dramatic for my liking but still, there is force and there is sense of necessity to it, if even only for the writer.  What has affected me the most about Loy is that she is not just another women in the books who is either the passive beauty, bulldog patron, or the admiring fan.  Her merits were earned and they were acknowledged, even if to a lesser degree then her equal or lesser male peers.  In addition, she was a woman and there are no apologies or masking of this in her romantic pursuits or her oeuvre.  This is the source she draws from, which today may seem like an easy pool to tap from but then, as it is still is now, it is as honest as any source.  

Has it changed for women poets, artists, writers, musicians, and all else who have internal creative landscapes who desire to express this in the form of artistic output?  Yes and no. Things are different, as it should be with the efforts of Loy and many before and after, but still there is the reoccurrence of the female archetype in the arts even today.  There is the muse, the girlfriend, the supporter, the breadwinner, the hobbyist...  There is no answer, no set solutions; there is only the honesty in recognizing and acknowledging the things of the past and the situation of the current.  Did Mina Loy want to be in the Boys Club?  I don’t think so, that wasn’t the goal, that never should be the goal. 

Below is Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” from 1914.  Although not all parts are in alliance with my personal beliefs, it is interesting nonetheless to see a marker of that time and a specific articulation of such an immense thing.

Feminist Manifesto (1914)

Women if you want to realize yourselves-you are on the eve of a devastating psychological upheaval-all your pet illusions must be unmasked—the lies of centuries have got to go—are you prepared for the Wrench–? There is no half-measure—NO scratching on the surface of the rubbish heap of tradition, will bring about Reform, the only method is Absolute Demolition

Cease to place your confidence in economic legislation, vise-crusades & uniform education-you are glossing over Reality.

Professional & commercial careers are opening up for you—
Is that all you want?

And if you honestly desire to find your level without prejudice—be Brave & deny at the outset—that pathetic clap-trap war cry Woman is the equal of man-
She is NOT

The man who lives a life in which his activities conform to a social code which is protectorate of the feminine element—–is no longer masculine

The women who adapt themselves to a theoretical valuation of their sex as a relative impersonality, are not yet Feminine

Leave off looking to men to find out what you are not —–seek within yourselves to find out what you are

As conditions are at present constituted—you have the choice between Parasitism, & Prostitution —-or Negation

Men & women are enemies, with the enmity of the exploited for the parasite, the parasite for the exploited—at present they are at the mercy of the advantage that each can take the others sexual dependence—-. The only point at which the interests of the sexes merge—is the sexual embrace.

The first illusion it is to your interest to demolish of women into two classes the mistress, & the mother every well-balanced & developed woman knows that is not true. Nature has endowed the complete functions—-there are no restrictions on the woman who is so incompletely evolved as to be un-self-conscious in sex, will prove a restrictive influence on the temperamental expansion of the next generation; the woman who is a poor mistress will be an incompetent mother—an inferior mentality—& will enjoy an inadequate apprehension of Life.

To obtain results you must make sacrifices & the first and greatest sacrifice you have to make is of your ”virtue”

The fictitious value of a woman as identified with her physical purity—is too easy to stand-by—rendering her lethargic in the acquisition of intrinsic merits of character by which she could obtain a concrete value—-therefore, the fist self-enforced law for the female sex, as a protection of the man made bogey of virtue—which is the principal instrument of her subjection, would be the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity through-out the female population at puberty—-.

The value of man is assessed entirely according to his use or interest to the community, the value of woman depends entirely on chance, her success or in success in maneuvering a man into taking the life-long responsibility of her—

The advantages of marriage are too ridiculously ample—

Compared to all other trades—for under modern conditions a woman can accept preposterously luxurious support from a man (with-out the return of an sort—even offspring)—as a thank offering for her virginity.

The woman who has not succeeded in striking that advantageous bargin—-is prohibited from any but surreptitious re-action to Life-stimuli—-&entirely debarred maternity.
Every woman has a right to maternity—-

Every woman of superior intelligence should realize her race-responsibility, in producing children in adequate proportion to the unfit or degenerate members of her sex—-
Each child of a superior woman should be the result f a definite period of psychic development in her life—-& and not necessarily of a possible irksome & outworn continuance of an alliance—spontaneously adapted for vital creation n the beginning but not necessarily harmoniously balanced as evolution.

For the harmony of race, each individual should be the expression of an easy & ample interpenetration of the male & female temperaments—free of stress

Woman must become more responsible for the child than man—-

Woman must destroy in themselves, the desire to be loved—
The feeling that it is a personal insult when a man transfers his attention from her to another woman

The desire for comfortable protection instead of an intelligent curiosity & courage in meeting & resisting the pressure of life sex or so called love must be reduced to its initial element, honour, grief, sentimentality, pride and & consequently jealousy must be detached from it.

Woman for her happiness must retain her deceptive fragility of appearance, combined with indomitable will, irreducible courage, & abundant health the outcome of sound nerves—

Another great illusion is that woman must use all her introspective and clear-sightedness & unbiased bravery to destroy—for the sake of her self respect is the impurity of sex the realization in defiance of superstition that there is nothing impure in sex—except in the mental attitude to it—will constitute an incalculable & wider social regeneration than it is possible for our generation to imagine.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I Love Raf Simons and Honey Boo Boo

Raf Simons Spring 2013 Ready To Wear collection for Christian Dior is a stunner.  Reading Cathy Horn’s glowing review of it in The New York Times gave insight to the motivations and execution of this line and it also brought up the interesting trend of fashion and minimalism.  The whole fashion and art conversation is, to me, dull and thin  but there is something to that when viewing Simons’ line and thinking about the tendencies currently in art.  This collection has a precise use of tailoring, cuts, color, texture and interesting forms that makes it hyper contemporary.  There is mastery being shown here and also a confidant newness that carries throughout the collection.  The female accentuating, but not feminized, tuxedo jackets and dresses would make any gal feel like boss of the universe.  Also, his uses of future ready sheer colors that are candy hues are just fabulous.  I want to be wrapped head to toe in this fabric.  This balance of accentuating the female form through a constructivist precision while still being sexy is hard to find these days, well at least done this well.   Minimalism has this possibility, it is clear and precise and less is more but in this collection it is not used as a safety, it is pushed to the highest possible level of that reveal.  Lots of contemporary art these days uses the cool gaze of minimalism, as it is a form that grants intelligence in its brazen simplicity.  Much of this new art is just dull though and the distance doesn’t make up for the lack of depth beyond the façade.  Simons on the other hand seems to understand the constraints and the liberty that minimalist form can take and the closer you look at the cuts, folds, and textures, the more intelligent and impressive it becomes.  Yes clothes are clothes and art is art but they both exist in a shared history that parallels as does all forms of creative pursuit.  Raf Simons is a genius with his medium, hopefully art will soon have one as well.

There is a new reality show on TLC called “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” which is based on a family in McIntyre Georgia that consists of June (Mama), Sugar Bear (Dad), Chickadee (Anna), Pumpkin (Lauryn), Chubs (Jessica) and Honey Boo Boo (Alana).  The show centers on Alana who is a 6 year old beauty pageant contestent and her goofy and forthright over the top personality.  The family are self declared rednecks and although they fit the bill in many external and recreational ways they are a very close and tight family and charming in their dysfunctions.  Honey Boo Boo is a ham, a total character that is captivating in her unedited self.  As much as she is charming to watch though, the person I really found fascinating is June, the mother.  She is very genuine and is a very good mom in many ways.  The whole family is interesting and it makes one realize that you can be in the middle of nowhere but if you have personality and a zeal for life and a love of family then life is fun and funny and full of craziness.