Monday, November 25, 2013

Tabor Robak, “Next-Gen Open Beta,” at Team Gallery, New York

Tabor Robak, 20XX, still, HD video, real time 3D, 10 minutes, dimensional variable

Being away from New York for two months is a funny thing.  You feel like you missed a lot but really you didn’t.  That’s the myth of New York, everyday it feels like there are all these must dos, but in the end you are really not missing out on anything.  This is true but there is something to be said about the amount and variety of so much art, good art, in one place.  I literally made a list of shows currently at galleries and museums as soon as I got back that I am just dying to see.   Never before has this list been so long and so full of potential visual/brain reward.  One of the top shows on this list is Tabor Robak’s Next-Gen Open Beta at Team Gallery, which I was able to see last night.  It is his debut there and it also signifies something else, a shift in what is and will be shown at top galleries in New York and elsewhere.

Robak works with computers and uses advanced programs, software and programming to make worlds and displays.  For this show, there are five discreet pieces that are essentially screens or a set of screens.  There is an overall dystopic tone to the show but each piece depicts something specific.  There is a two-channel video entitled Algos, which has you as the central player/eye, traveling on a never-ending roller coaster that zips and hurtles through abandoned cityscapes and a post-apocalyptic forest.  It is as nauseating as it is hypnotizing.  It visually stimulates the intended emotional response of this environment.  Another work is Xenix which has multiple screens placed in a way that recalls alter panel paintings.  The coloring and the prismatic detailing of imagined high tech weaponry is like a digital stain glass. 

A more abstracted work is his Free-to-Play, which is like those game apps like Bejewled.   Here, Robak has generated a set of icons and has them self playing, deleting and re-generating.  It is subtle and the shift of color and movement is like seeing an organism, or a slow moving colorful river.  It feels very alive somehow.

My favorite work was 20XX, which was alone in the back room.  It composites cityscapes and metropolis views in a strangely seamless way.  You believe it could be real even though you know that is impossible.  There are moments when there is a splash effect, as if you are seeing through a window and it is raining outside, you are moving but it all feels very calm and still. 

This might be the most impressive and surprising thing about this show and of Robak’s work.  One thinks that going to see a show with only screens and it being about the virtual, the future, technology etc. would result in visual cluster but it isn’t like that at all.  The works have this vibrant intensity but it is not harsh, nor does it feel like ‘new media.’  The word that I kept thinking about while looking at this is ‘painting.’  These feel like paintings to me.  Yes, of course there is a difference but the way that Robak treats color, form, space, and narrative cue is most definitely sourced from a same set of questions used by the traditional later.  This may be so successfully done because even with the animation or the movement, the idea and the place of the surface is key.  The way in which these works are constructed is masterful as well.  This is not so much about showing what technology can do but using technology as a tool to do what you want it to do.

I was nervous for Robak when I heard he would be showing with Team.  I was thrilled to hear it but I was nervous that maybe it was too soon.  Too soon for this form of art to be in this context.  I was foolish to ever be nervous after seeing this show and am excited to see other galleries of a certain caliber to step up to these new forms.  It is already happening, you can see it in the upcoming show announcements and in the conversations being had amongst friends.  Whether it is good, bad or ugly is still to be determined.  In the end though, as it always is, the cream rises to the top and Robak is most certainly one of the best of our generation. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Boychild / Jumex Museum

Boychild – Boychild was in DF to do a show plus other things (not to be disclosed yet).  Her performance for Cancha, run by Night at Salón de Baile Caribe last Monday was in one word: incredible.  Those who have seen Boychild perform will understand what I mean by this.  Those who have not, you have to as soon as you can.  Boychild performs, more like transforms, herself with movement and music.  For this presentation she had white paint over her head and torso.  She was bare from the waist down, had black light contacts in her eyes and flickering lasers in hands and in mouth.  As the music played Boychild would mouth, move and gesticulate to create a surreal experience.  The way that she moves her body reminds one of kabuki and other precision and mastered forms of movement of the body for expression.  It felt like tapping into something deeply forgotten, something that we all know in an, ‘in the guts way,’ but has been forgotten with the ages.  The music and all else are devices.  It is plot, it is setting, it is backdrop.  It heightens and accentuates Boychild’s performance to maximal visceral and reality altering state.  I wish there was another word then ‘performance’ for what I saw Boychild do that night.  It seems so limiting in a way.  What it did do is literally leave me with my mouth open in sheer fascination and wonder.   

Jumex Museum – This is a museum owned by Eugenio López who owns the Jumex juice empire and has purchased himself a Grade A contemporary art collection from these proceeds.  This new museum opened this weekend and wow, was it a shit show.  Not the museum itself.  It is actually very nice in a lot of ways.  Firstly, the architect David Chipperfield did an elegant job with the space itself, think New Museum but better and with sandy colored marble all over the place.  The things inside were also fine as well.  All the hits and expected ‘best of’ roster from the past few decades are on view.  What it may lack in collection concept it makes up for in rigor of installation.  Forms, colors, and basic themes are masterfully displayed in a form of art-interior-design.  There was also a comprehensive exhibition of James Lee Byars, which gives a flavor of the possible curated exhibitions to come.  Also, the use of the garage, albeit a one time thing purportedly, was funky enough to make the place feel larger then it is. 

Back to the shit show part.  What made this a shit show was the Mecca like convergence of the international art elite to Jumex.  Everywhere you went, every corner turned they were there.  They being famous curators, collectors that you can spot from a mile away, not only by that certain way a cardigan rests on the shoulder but also from the actual gaggle of them, the hot, über artists and every Jane, Dick and Harry that is the tertiary admin and PR spinner in this strata of the art world. 

The convergence actually broke my soul a little.  I know that it (it = the art world) is what it is.  I have said this many times.  I say it and believe it.  I know it.  But seeing it manifested.  Seeing DF being swarmed by those that function in this way, come to a city, stay in tight groups, party with the same people they party with in New York, London Miami, etc, and to have it happening in Mexico City somehow made this knowing, this ‘getting it’ somehow more despairing.  I said this to anyone who would listen while it was happening and I’ll write it here: This thing, this type of context, these types of people, this setting, THIS is the goal.  It is the goal and if you don’t want or try for this goal you are doomed.  It’s true.  It sucks, a lot, but it is the truth.  Crying myself a river.  What is one to do? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mexico City – A to Z

Yes, I’m still here.  Below is an A to Z of this fabuloso city. 

A – Altitude, DF is higher in altitude then most cities.  Some ask if I am sleepy, or have vivid dreams or other physical ailments that may be due to this.  I have to admit yes to all of the above.  

B – Bueno, here they say “bueno” when they answer a phone or a door.  Seems cute.

C – Cabs here are a necessary annoyance.  Post 10pm, it is wise to use a cab.  Being an obvi foreigner with very little Spanish skills, they can take you in a round about way, sometimes not at all to your destination even after you show them a google screen grab of your location.  They are cheap though, about 50 pesos/ 4 dollars for a 10-15 min ride. 

D – Dogs, DF loves their doggies and they are all mostly well-behaved and very people friendly.

E – Enchiladas, there really are not a lot of enchiladas here fyi.

F – Food is everywhere and can be insanely cheap.   There is a strong street food culture here and a lot of places open late night for the preventive taco hangover cure.  The meals I have enjoyed the most are 3-4 course lunches, which peaks at about 4pm.  You get soup, rice, salad, main, drinks and never ending sides/condiments.  It costs about 50 pesos/ 4 dollars and it is fantastic way to spend a leisurely hour or two. 

G – Garbage pick up is done by listening for this pleasant sounding bell from outside and then taking your garbage down and tipping the garbage person 5-10 pesos / 40-75 cents. 

H – Height, people are on average much shorter here.  Being short myself, I feel like a giant at times.  To see a person 6 feet or so is a stand out. 

I – Illegal, things that are illegal here like, prostitution, drinking in public, etc. are not really enforced.  There are things that seem like they should be illegal, like a child doing acrobatics on two adult shoulders stacked at a red light on a busy road or 15 cops riding in the back of a pick up truck, while moving very fast.  It’s surreal this aspect of things. 

J – Juice, DF loves its juice.  There are these nice small juice stands/carts that squeezes them fresh.  Not a juice fan myself, but yeah, juice.  Here they buy so much of it that a juice company can buy lots of contemporary art and can have a giant foundation/institution from the profits. 

K – Kisses aka ‘besos’ is done on one cheek only when you say hello.  Usually it’s one of those air kiss, cheek smoosh ones.  If you kiss both cheeks like in EU, it means you are flirting.  Careful now. 

L – Language, how I know so little Spanish living in the US is a gawd damn shame.  People are nice about it though.  They don’t get mad at you because you are an arrogant isolationist like me. 

M – Metro, the subway/metro system here is really good in that is connects to the various neighborhoods of the city and this is necessary as DF is wide and spread out.  There is a lack of verticality in buildings because of this wideness.  The metro is easy to use and only 25 cents a ride.  Amazing.  What is not so amazing is that during any sort of rush hour the cars are packed, I mean bodies crushed packed. Trying to get in our out at this time is comical and mildly terrifying.  Never will I complain about the L train or any other NYC rush hour train.  Words cannot express the density in a DF metro at 6pm. 

N – Noodles, not many noodles here but one ubiquitous thing is Cup Noodles which are in every small shop and often at food vendors too.  Strange choice. 

O – Oaxaca Cheese, so good, can get at the convenience store, yummy melty.

P – Pesos, 13 pesos = 1 dollar.  Seeing $100 for some small thing is like omg at first but then you realize that it’s only $7.50.  Love the pesos.

Q – “Quanto questo?” All day everyday.

R – Respect, people in DF are very polite, kind and respectful.  Very nice.

S – The letter ‘S’ abounds in Spanish and it is something you have to embrace and roll like a hiss, sing song like. 

T – Tacos! All day all night.  So good, so cheap, so healthy.

U – Used clothing, the general majority of the population wears a quick dash mix of clothes that seem used in a way.  Lots of minor reference graphic tees and other clothes with small town and business logos that are probably from the US.  Personally found some gems at a marcado, which are all amazing, and worth the human scaled clutter of it all.

V – Vehicles.  This is a driving city even though it has a great metro system and it is fine to walk in a small scale.  Again, the wideness of the city lends to this sprawl metropolis.  The smog from the cars is terrible and visible but luckily most of the driving is done on main wide roads and not in the middle of where people live.

W – Weather, someone from here said that DF has two seasons and they happen to be in the same day.  Mornings are chilly and a bit foggy, afternoons can be hot then cold, then hot again.  Nights are cool to downright cold.  Layers are key here.

X – ‘X’ here will stand for the ladies of DF.  Women here are super strong in a psychic, made of the earth sort of way.  They have this dominating yet graceful way about them without having to say one word.  Super hawt.

Y – ‘Yes’ aka ‘Si’ to life.  People here say yes to most things.  Yes to drinking more, yes to getting drugs, yes to partying more, yes to food, yes to going to a random place, yes to adventuring, yes to taking a nap, yes to bringing more friends.  It’s a sometimes hectic but very positive way of living.

Z – ‘Z’ will be for the general underlying, unnamable vibe that permeates this city.  The history of the indigenous people and of the long history since still seems to soak the air and ground here.  There is a sadness or something like this which is possibly limited by language to describe.  Many have talked about this here.  This weight and pressure of a history that seems to still be present.  It is complex and something I know so little about and it is very constant and felt.  It is extremely honest in a way though.  I am not sure if it is something that will ever abate.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mexico City: Art Scene Part I - Artists

I have been in Mexico City aka DF (Distrito Federal) for a week and five days and I have been here long enough now to give some (very little) but some say so on the art scene here.  Why did I come to DF after LA?  Because I have had this tingle of a prediction that Mexico City will be the new Berlin, the new hot spot where young internationals and returned natives will come and they will change the landscape of art from within and world wide.  I came to get a first hand sense of this tingle, to see if my intuitions were on mark and in the short time I have been here I can only say that yes, they are correct. 

There are many reasons why DF is fertile ground for a new wave.  Most obviously is the cost of living.  You can easily live here, very well, for $700 a month.  Head to toe living.  You can slum it, be creative, as all artist-(like) people are and you could probably do it for $400-500.  If you have more then $1000 month income you are living large.  It is really incredible this is possible.  This cost of living also means you can have larger spaces and studios.  Going to homes here induces a jealousy of habitat that makes you understand how those artists in 70s Manhattan lived the dream.  Studio spaces are odd and eccentric too.  I have been to apartments with special areas for this use, sheds on buildings, a library as studio, a room in an old mansion and I know more strange spaces will be adventured into as the weeks pass.  This visually stunning possibility of space does something to people.  Architecture affects the psyche and here it is like a scalp message.

Speaking more of the studio practices, finding artists is even tougher then I imagined, but this is picking up and the way people work is very nice to witness.  There is a slowness here that is similar to the LA scene but it is even slower, believe it or not.  This slowness is more about pace though.  Artists seem to work at a consistent, daily pace that seems purposeful.  Almost all the artists I have met with thus far are working towards a project aka show, or just completed one.  There is a goal orientation here that seems to be benefited from the ability to spend many hours in the studio.  Most artists here seem to make the work themselves.  Their hand in a work seems more vital and specifically considered.  There is use of computers to a degree but trends of painting, sculpture and unexpectedly drawing, abound.  There isn’t the sleek, factory fresh feel here that there is in NYC and even in LA.  It is not about irony of form and commodity but about surface.  This is probably the key-est word I have come across, ‘surface.’  A close second is ‘psychology’ but that is for another time.  ‘Studio practice’ here is more like living practice.  Most artists I have met do not have day jobs.  They show, sell their work and can live off this.  Amazing but true. 

As I briefly mentioned, the artists seem to be of two camps.  One are the internationals, young people from the US or Europe.  They have come here for the deliriously cheap cost of living as well as the speed, tone and vibe of DF, which can sedate as well as liberate.  The other camp are those that are Mexican, grew up here, may or may not have gone to undergrad here but all have left for a time to the US or to Europe, and now they have returned.  This new breed of returned young DF natives is to me the most interesting and promising.  They seem to have a thirst to expand the scene here with their internationally relocated peers but also with themselves.  They are a new generation that has the weight of the city’s history and set ways but they know they can and want to change this because they have seen how this works and happens outside of DF.  I think this is the flowerbed for a soon to be boom.  

These native DF artists and internationals also have a smaller pond to swim in.  There is a slight whiff of competitiveness but the pool is so small it can quickly becomes that phrase ‘don’t shit where you eat.’  There are mega gallery spaces, which seem to have an obsessed Eurovision in their programming, but there are a few new spaces that seem to be reaching out towards those that are right here right now.  There are also institutions here and coming that will pump up the money fountain and this will benefit the upstarts financially and also curatorially.  The art world is bored with itself, whether it wants to admit it or not.  Curators, dealers, gallerists, collectors et al. are desperate for new blood, new energy and anything to flavor the blandness that permeates art today.  DF with it’s old money desire to be cultural ballers and this new influx of hot young art things will make this small pond over flown.  Just you wait and see.