Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Other random stuff

random group of quotes I liked on Eyeteeth.

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.—Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Thought-provoking entry from Edward Winkleman on potentially offensive art and Islam.

Now in the political blogosphere I'm fairly well known for blasting any even remotely biased anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I'll most certainly do so in the future, but I'm personally sick and tired of Western art institutions getting this so spectaculary wrong. If you're going to scrap exhibitions for fear of offending Muslims, you MUST, MUST, MUST also scrap exhibitions for fear of offending Christians (e.g, the Offili piece in the "Sensation" exhibition), or Jews, or Buddhists, or whomever. Full stop. It doesn't matter if they're less likely to resort to violence in their protests, the only honorable rationale for censoring work that critiques Islam is that you, as an institution, consider all religion off bounds.

Now, I would disagree that there is something inherently more violent about Islam than other religions, but otherwise I think this is a great point. It just smacks a little of "I'm not racist, but...". The discussion in the comments is good too.

Edit: See comments. I didn't mean to imply that Edward was racist! Just that I was uncomfortable with the way his statement was formed.

Related article at Common Dreams : West Cowers From Defense of Dane's Liberty to Draw . I think this article makes a clearer arguement.

New (to me) artist : Lari Pittman. Wow, are these paintings full of ... stuff. I'm fascinated. It's like a post-modern hallucination. Pop art on acid. Graffiti gone baroque.

Lorna Simpson / Claudia DeMont

If you missed the Lorna Simpson lecture at the Hirshhorn, there's a podcast of the lecture up at the Hirshhorn site, along with podcasts featuring Glenn Lowry, Janet Cardiff, curator Valerie Fletcher... go check it out. Hirshhorn Podcasts.

In addition there will be a lunchtime talk with associate curator Anne Ellegood on Simpson's work next Friday, February 10th at 12:30.


An exhibition on Claudia DeMont opens February 8th at the Art Gallery at the University of MD. A related lecture by Valerie Cassel Oliver, Associate Curator, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston on February 8, 2006 at 5:00 PM in UMD's Room 2309 Art-Sociology Building. Oliver's talk, titled Radical Presence: Blacks in the Conceptual and Fluxus Art Movements, covers "the participation of Black artists in the Fluxus Art and the Conceptual Art movements of the 1960s, and their influences on current contemporary practice."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

busy busy busy

It's been a jam-packed week. As my lack of posting reflects.

Sunday had a long meeting. I'm on the board for my non-profit studio complex and we're trying to hack out some major issues. It's exausting and sometimes frustrating work, but it has to be done. Democracy can be tough.

Talked to a PhD student from UMD about the art history program. I'm thinking of grad school... probably not a doctorate, don't know if I have the stamina for that.

Went to the Hirshhorn's Meet the Artist lecture. Lorna Simpson was a great speaker, articulate and funny and gave a coherent slide lecture. Believe me, not all artists, even major, successful ones, can do that much.

Friday went to a brown-bag lecture of a visiting scholar at the American Art museum. Not sure if these are open to the public?? Anyway, she spoke about Joseph Cornell's interest in astronomy, the cosmos, and spirituality. Great, dynamic lecture. I'll have to find her name, she's writing a book about the subject I think should be very good. If you're interested in the lectures let me know and I'll try to find out if they are open to the public. The next one is on Walter de Maria.

Hope to see more art this weekend.

Probably won't go to the Cezanne show yet, will be mega crowded on Sunday I'm sure.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Art for Earth's Sake

snagged from Eyeteeth.

Art for earth’s sake: Move over Tracey
The new wave of artists are subversive shamans, subtly challenging us to live less destructive lives, says Hannah Bullock. But when sustainability becomes the message, does creativity get smothered?

By blurring boundaries between science, art and politics, says curator Anne Eggebert, such pieces can be useful “testing spaces” for ideas. It’s what Malcolm Miles, cultural theorist at Plymouth University, calls “demonstrating the possible... helping people imagine what doesn’t yet exist”. By offering a vision of where we might want to be in the future, artists can help us work out how to get there – as long as we’re prepared to think outside the box.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm baack

Sorry, I had a rough week and didn't really feel arty. Playing catch-up now.

Interesting stuff:

Eyeteeth on Mel Chin, eco-art.

NEWSgrist on Koons and copyright.

NEWSgrist again, on the continuing case of the artist arrested for bio-art.

New DC gallery : nowuno, 403 Constitution Ave NE, grand opening tomorrow at 7pm

If any of you out there have experience with non-profit arts organizations and their boards (or really any non-profit board), would you email me or post a comment?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Danto on Schiele

At The Nation - Live Flesh - Arthur Danto on Egon Schiele.

Eroticism and pictorial representation have coexisted since the beginning of art, and many great artists have a few erotic images in their "X Portfolios" (to use Robert Mapplethorpe's term). But Schiele was unique in making eroticism the defining motif of his impressive if circumscribed oeuvre. He was also unique in that drawing was his chief medium. Willem de Kooning said that flesh was the reason oil painting was invented, but Schiele demonstrated how remarkably fleshly thin transparent washes of pale color can be.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Random weirdness

A Manifesto...
We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

DC favorites of 2005

Favorite gallery show: Renee Stout at Hemphill. I wasn't familiar with Stout's work until I saw this show, and though some of the pieces seemed awkward, I was seduced. Especially loved her drawings. The mark of a good show to me is if I'm still thinking about it months after it closed, and so many shows I see (and even like at the time) quickly fade. Stout's work stays with me.

Favorite museum collection: well, not too hard to guess. The recent installation of the permanent collection at the Hirshhorn is thoughtful and gorgeous. Posted here about it back in October.

Favorite guerilla art: Yes, Borf. I love Borf, so sue me.

Favorite soon-to-be-ex DC gallery: Fusebox. I just saw it was closing on DC Art News. I loved the Kendall Buster installation. No matter who moves into the space, DC will be less for the loss of this gallery.

Favorite alternative art space: The Warehouse. I hope they continue their local focus in 2006.

Favorite image:Spirit by Joseph Barbaccia. Seen to the left. Thanks for sharing your work with me, Joseph.

Friday, January 06, 2006

not art

but important. They Shoot Helicopters, Don't They? Snagged from Crooked Timber.

more favorites of 2005

Favorite piece of my own writing: my review of Sacred Wild at apexart. It's one of the first things I wrote for this blog and I still like the ideas it generated for me.

Favorite museum show: Basquiat at the Brooklyn Museum. Here's my blog entry, No Mundane Options. Runner-up: Visual Music at the Hirshhorn.

Favorite art writing (published): The American Sublime by Arthur Danto.

Favorite art writing (online): Tyler Green on Shirin Neshat. Technically I don't think it was written in 2005 by it was posted on line in the past year.

Favorite art satire (online): George W. Bush as Performance Artist.

Favorite art satire (television): The Gates on the The Daily Show. Go here to view the video, and a transcript is here. Somebody on the Daily Show's staff sure has read some pretentious art writing to get this skit so right.
Stewart: So, you believe that shrouding these walkways in these orange curtains will somehow change our lives in New York?
Stephen: Oh, it's happening already Jon. Just today I saw an installation artist take a sandwich and ... and wrap it in a paper like substance, almost waxy in texture, and he kept wrapping it, and I'm not doing it justice here, he kept wrapping until he visually achieved 'not-sandwich', then, this is the genius part Jon, at the last minute he cut it in two, in a final act of 're-sandwichment'.
Favorite non-museum art: This art wasn't created in 2005, but that's when I saw it. Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, by Alex Grey.

Favorite Top-Ten list: James Bailey, on DC Art News. Good God, but that man can spill out the words.

Favorite Blog: Eyeteeth. I like the eclectic mix of politics, culture and art.

I could go on forever. I will probably have one or two more, but that's it for now.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

On Kuspit's introduction

As after reading this post from Edward Winkleman, I took a quick look at Donald Kuspit's IntroductionTwentieth Century Art: An Overview of Critical Opinion. Happily, it's easier to read and digest than some of the other Kuspit works I've read in the past, and raises some interesting ideas.

Quick notes, since I haven't had time to really think about it yet:

  • If I had written this, my undergraduate professors would have got on my back for numerous run-on sentances of doom such as:
    How can a "movement formed in part or in whole to agitate against something or someone,"(27) suggesting its "spirit of hostility and opposition" -- the "antagonism" that becomes a "permanent tendency. . . of the avant-garde movement," and eventually a "transcendental antagonism," which "finds joynot merely in the inebriation of movement, but even more in the act of beatingdown barriers, razing obstacles, destroying whatever stands in its way," finally driving itself "beyond the point of control by any convention or reservation, scruple or limit," and thus becoming a kind of totalitarian or tyrannical nihilism -- be anything but self-defeating and spiritually and socially bankrupt, however much it may rationalize itself by a pseudo-pious attitude of agonism?
  • Also, as obvious from the previous quote, much of the first half of this essay relies on stringing quotes together. To a ridiculous extent. The information Kuspit cites is illluminating, but it gave me the feeling that I was reading someone's note-cards. Yes, it's a literature review of sorts ("overview") but geez.

  • Oddly, the critical opinions Kuspit reviews are without exception fifteen years or older - comeon, hasn't there been any decent criticism on this subject in a decade? Moreover, the majority of the works he cites are from the 1950s and 60s. I wouldn't quibble (everyone has their favorite sources) but he claims in the title that this is a overview of the subject. One might think from his essay that critical thought on Modernism ended in the Seventies.

Once he gets over his initial quote-dropping rampage, the essay gets more interesting. One point I admired was

...on the one hand modern art is healing and enlightening, for it teaches us to recognize and accept the contradictions that abound in society and human beings, and to resolve them artistically.... But on the other hand modern art enslaves us to our most infantile, destructive, anti-social attitudes... encouraging us to remain emotionally immature.... It is simultaneously facilitating and debilitating.
Another insight is

In their different ways, Barzun and Bell are saying the same thing: that avant-garde art -- art at its supposedly most "advanced" -- does not speak to the problem of being human.
He doesn't really come back to that point in the introduction, and I think it's a vital one.

I kept thinking again and again of Suzi Gablik, who at first glance seems diametrically opposed to Kuspit's high academia theorizing. However, deep down, aren't Gablik and Kuspit asking some of the same questions? Twenty years ago Gablik published Has Modernism Failed, where she addressed many of the issues in Kuspit's essay, albeit in a less rigorous fashion.

I'll have to read Kuspit's essay again. It can be hard to follow his point among all of the quotations.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

a few of my favorite things...

Not organized enough to do a Top Ten list for 2005. So instead, briefly, some of my random favorite things from the year.

Favorite album of 2005: Lullabies to Paralyze - Queens of the Stone Age
I'm not usually a hard rock fan, but these guys are not your typical hard rock band. The album is downright chthonic, scary - but not in an evil way.

Favorite movie of 2005: well, anyone who knows me outside the blogosphere can guess this one - Serenity. If you didn't see it in the theatre (and most of you didn't) you must rent it. Don't judge the DVD by the cover (who designs these things??). The best sci-fi/dystopian/wild west/noir/zombie movie ever. What impressed me most was that the story unfolded in a way that neither the audience nor the characters knew the full deal until the final scenes. So refreshing after so many inanely predictable plots this year. Fun and heart-wrenching and thought-provoking and witty... I can't say enough. So I should probably shut up.

Favorite tv of 2005: My Name Is Earl. Just when you thought television had lost all sense of whimsy. Somehow this manages to be both absurd and sweet all at once.

I promise, I'll get to art (in the more traditional sense) tomorrow.

Interviews and talks online

Podcasts from the Hirshhorn Museum... check them out.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

more art and spirituality

Wow, second post related to this topic in two days.

Edward Winkleman weighs in with a very honest post : God or Me: One of Us Might Have to Go
Yes, given my position and passion, it seems natural that I should just turn to art for spirituality, but let's face it, looking for the spiritual in contemporary art is often like looking for a trenchcoat you like in your size at Century 21. Even if you find one, there's bound to be some imperfection in it that makes you shake your head and move on.
He refers several times to the introduction to A Critical History of 20th-Century Art by Donald Kuspit, published on artnet.com, which is quite long. I'm going to have to set aside some time to read it. I usually don't like Kuspit's writing style (I've often found him needlessly obtuse) but the pieces Edward excerpted were interesting.

Anyhow, as with many of Edward's posts there is a great discussion that follows. James Leonard writes
And this somehow cycles back (at least momentarily) to why this is a fitting topic for a contemporary art blog. There is a sensual aspect to all spiritual practices. Successful works of art often tap into a similar sensuality. For the past year, with this blog, Ed has displayed a keen ability to evoke insight on what is lacking in most contemporary art.

So Ed, connect the dots for me, where does this all lead? What's missing in today's art (/art world) for you? Gospel? Church? Soul? Something else?
These are the very questions I've found myself asking this past year.

More interesting art bits

Over at the Brooklyn Rail:

Interview with art writer Dore Ashton.

Rail: But wouldn’t you agree that his book, The Dehumanization of Art, is a somewhat hostile view of modern art?

Ashton: I don’t think that he was against modern art per se. He said something very important, which was that modern artists don’t believe in art any more. I think he was absolutely right. It was a great turning point in modern history, in 1948. And there was a lot of evidence that many modern artists didn’t think there was much to be said. And that was their problem and their dilemma. So he was misread. He wasn’t attacking abstract art. He was simply saying that in this terrible century, artists have lost their faith.

and also

Rail: What do you think about the Post-Modernist theory that was imported from the French in the late sixties, which became so popular in the States in the eighties, especially in academia?

Ashton: First of all, I want to remind you that the Greek word “theoria” for theory really means “to view, to look at,” not about all of that a priori theory. So I was and I still am hostile to theorizing. Secondly, I believe that they took a certain formula like a grid and they put that grid on everything. ... But the appeal in general is quite simple: giving the interpretation a greater prominence than the actual work of art itself thereby removing all the sensual aspect from the seeing experience.
Article on one of my favorite artists, Nancy Spero.
What persistently evades both the fictional and factual portrayal of artists is the intricacy, rigor, attentiveness to detail and facture—the work of the work of art—that characterizes individual practice and the relationship between artist and assistant.

This is a complex event that inevitably touches upon questions of authorship. The long history of gesture and trace as the genesis and primary signifier of artistic intention and identity is, as it were, placed in parenthesis by working practices that favor concept and process over action and expressiveness, a connection that carries the memory of the Duchampian Readymade as the paradigmatic performative act of modernist aesthetics. In this respect, Nancy Spero’s installations are performative events. However, watching her attentive engagement and directorship of the realisation of each printed image, there can be no doubt over her authority in determining both the overall structure and the detailed relationships of part-to-part and part-to-whole. She wants it just so, precisely and definitively, and whose hand leaves the final impress is secondary to the effectiveness of the dialogue between instructor and maker. It is a matter of interpretation and translation, and an exercise in a very particular form of communication which, perhaps, alludes more to film and the character of the mise-en-scène as the mark of directorial sensibility.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Another bit on criticism

This blog has become something of a collection of semi-related ideas rather than original writing lately, sorry about that. Hope to get more in-depth in the new year. Thanks to everyone out there who has been encouraging me about my writing!

Anyhow, Jeffrey Cudlin of the City Paper has this to write about his view of art criticism, and I found it a solid, straight-forward statement...
Let me explain myself: For me, part of art criticism should be an investigation into the difference between what a work claims to be and what it actually is, to the best of my approximation. So many artists make a career out of positioning and public relations, making their art as much an attempt to shape perceptions of their connections to the art world as an attempt to shape our perceptions of the world at large. Untangling the misdirection and hubris that’s often attached to that pursuit can be a messy business. Add that to the usual critical duties of judging skill, evaluating ideas, and teasing out meaning, and a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down becomes pretty difficult to bestow.
From here. Thanks to DC Art News for bringing it to my attention.

I completely agree with Cudlin. My own reviews (scattered as they are) always incorporate the good with the bad, even in shows that I loved. I don't see the point of merely being a cheerleader or a narrator when it comes to art. It's not what I'm interested in. When I look at a show I can't help but look at the whole (the installation, the curatorial intent, and for lack of a better word the ambiance) as well as the parts (the success/meaning of individual works).

I'm perfectly aware that this art game is very subjective, and I hope that readers realize that this is opinion - I don't believe I have the "correct" take on anything I write about. I think this is the hardest thing to convey. Writers are too afraid of being wrong sometimes, and also I don't think enough credit is given to writers who aren't afraid to change their minds - there was a discussion on this regarding Jerry Salz recently and I can't recall where right now.

Enough rambling. Bon annee.

Kiki Smith

Over at Eyeteeth (fast becoming one of my favorite blogs) is a few links to interviews with artist Kiki Smith, where Smith discusses the relationship between Catholicism and her art.
But it’s true, you have to live to know what is happening in your neighborhood and in your realm of consciousness. What you’re thinking isn’t particularly unique to what other people are thinking. That’s why you can recognize things from two thousand years ago because it’s not radically different. How you’re thinking about them might have slight variations, but basically everybody has a body and they experience in them very differently, but physiologically there are certain things happening and so it’s no wonder that people think about lots of the same things.
And from another interview linked on Eyeteeth:
Skin is the surface, or boundary line, of the body's limit. The skin is actually this very porous membrane, so on a microscopic level you get into the question of what's inside and what's outside. Things are going through you all the time. You're really very penetrable on the surface, you just have the illusion of a wall between your insides and the outside.