Saturday, February 27, 2010

New Acqusition--Mauricio Lazo photograph

Maurico Lazo
Mauricio Lazo, El Diablito, photograph, 2009 (?)

I was at the Blaffer student show last night, and a group of junior photographers were selling prints. (The group calls itself Fourteen11 because there are 14 of them and they graduate in 2011.) Mauricio Lazo had a great piece in the show of photographed versions of loteria cards. And he was selling one of the prints at the Fourteen11 table.

Check out the Blaffer show--it's quite good.

Algorithm Art by Andrew Zukoski

Andrew Zukoski is (I assume) a student at Rice who has art up in the new student gallery on campus, the Matchbox Gallery. His work is electronic and time-based and is displayed on little video monitors. Here is an example (a video I took of one of the monitors):

The gallery was pretty dark to allow for maximum viewing pleasure. There were three small monitors on one side, and on the other side was a chalkboard that described (sort of) how these images worked.

Andrew Zukoski
Andrew Zukoski, Viral Ox Added installation detail, video and chalkboard, 2010

If I am reading this right, here's what I think Zukoski is doing. He has layers of images. Starting from a black screen (the "top" layer), each pixel will change color to the pixel underneath if certain conditions are met. So when we start with the top image (a black screen), the way it creeps outward shows the algorithm cycling through over and over. I suspect the algorithm looks at every visible pixel and then looks at the pixels underneath and/or adjacent to it, then decides whether to change the pixel to the one underneath.

This reminds me of the Game of Life. In this "game," grid locations (which can be pixels on a screen) are either on or off. As the game cycles through, they change state based on the on or off-ness of the adjacent grid locations. (The grid is Cartesian, so any "cell," as they call it in Life, has eight adjacent cells.) It turns out that you can create interesting forms that as the game cycles through, can give "birth" to other forms. This was invented as a mathematical exercise, not as an artform. But it is hard not to see Life as an artistic medium.

Why this needed to be explained on the chalkboard, I don't know. And mentioning that this type of  algorithm has been used to simulate physical and social phenomena seems trivial and irrelevant. What may have been more interesting would have been to know the actual rules for changing pixels.

Friday, February 26, 2010

New Acqusition--Gilbert Hernandez

Gilbert Hernandez
Gilbert Hernandez, "The Laughing Sun" part 2, page 3, ink on paper, 1984

I started reading Love & Rockets with issue two. I had missed issue 1 somehow. I was blown away and an instant fan of Jaime Hernandez. Gilbert Hernandez seemed like the less interesting of the two brothers initially. But then in issue 3 (I think!) he started telling a story about Palomar, a small town in rural Mexico or Central America. (Later you learn that it is in a fictional Central American country, but that wasn't spelled out at first.)

The first few stories featured five teenage boys--Heraclio, Israel, Satch, Vicente and Jesus. As readers of Love & Rockets devoured each new issue, the story skipped ahead and we saw Heraclio suddenly as a young adult. And in "The Laughing Sun," all of the boys we had come to know were now men. Jesus is married and has a baby. On an especially hot day, he snaps, wrecks his house, and hurts his wide and baby (neither seriously, though). He then steals a car and heads up into the mountains. Heraclio convinces the sheriff that he can retrieve Jesus--he's afraid that there may be violence but he believes that if he can talk to Jesus, he can avoid it.

Heraclio calls up Vicente, Satch and Israel, all living in other towns now, and they set off on a tense journey filled with flashbacks. It's a great story, one of Gilbert's best. With the Palomar stories, Gilbert proved himself to be a great comics artist--one of the all time greats as far as I am concerned. I was thrilled to be able to buy this page.

Gilbert Hernandez
Gilbert Hernandez, "The Laughing Sun" part 2, page 3, ink on paper, 1984

Here is the pages scanned as a color image. You can see Gilbert's paint-strokes in the solid black areas--he knew they would not be visible when the piece was reproduced. Otherwise the art is extremely clean (in the sense that it looks extremely close to the final printed page).

You Must See This Show

I reviewed the Maurizio Cattelan show over at 29-95.

Maurizio Cattelan
Maurizio Cattelan, untitled, taxidermied horse, wood, paint, 2009

This is much creepier in the Menil--it's in a cramped dark room with Magritte paintings.

"Like Bricks of Wine"

Jim Woodring

Jim Woodring sketches in his Moleskine notebook.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cody Ledvina & Matthew Rodriguez at Rudolph Projects

I have a new review up at 29-95. Please check it out. I was a little late off the starting line with this review, so if you are interested, check out the show as soon as possible. It closes March 6.

Here are some images from the show that didn't make it into the review.

Cody Ledvina
Cody Ledvina installation view

Cody Ledvina
Cody Ledvina, Looking at myself with a marriage hat, acrylic, sea sponge and mirror on wall, 2010

Cody Ledvina
Cody Ledvina, What if you found this on the ground, acrylic, sea sponge and mirror on wall, 2010

Cody Ledvina
Cody Ledvina, 100 Club Painting, acrylic, sea sponge and mirror on wall, 2010

Matthew Rodriguez
Matthew Rodriguez, No Cop No Stop, silkscreen on paper, 2009

Matthew Rodriguez
Matthew Rodriguez, Sesame Street Counting Song, acrylic on wood, 2009

Matthew Rodriguez
Matthew Rodriguez, Toughest Neighborhood in San Francisco, baby shirts

Note on Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art by Tony Godfrey

I don't have much to say about this highly accessible book about the least accessible of artistic movements, conceptualism. If you have any familiarity with art from about 1960 to the present (with a little pre-history courtesy of Duchamp, Picabia, etc.), most of this won't be startlingly new. A few new details will be sketched in.

But where it excels is in discussing conceptualism outside the art capitals, particularly the work of Russian conceptualists. Godfrey points out just how different the basis for creating conceptual art was in the Soviet Union when compared to the West. There is a danger of seeing the Russians as heroically creating dematerialized art in the face of a totalitarian system, compared to decadent Westerners. It's an appealing vision of heroic victims. But that is unfair to the artists. Their work and its basis are too particular to be reduced this way. This is one area I want to learn more about--particular about the place of Russian conceptual artists in the broader stream of "unofficial" Russian culture of the 60s and 70s.

There are also good chapters on feminism and photography.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lawn Art and Plop Art Photos

I took a few photos of public sculpture this weekend. None of these wow me, personally, but I like the fact that they exist. I'd rather have them where they are than not have them there.

Anyone who has ever had coffee at the Art League has probably noticed this abstract piece in front of apartments at the corner of Montrose and Bomar.

Montrose Apartment Art

Here is another view.

Montrose Apartment Art

Does anyone know who the artist is or what the sculpture is called?

Up in Stude Park is an enormous metal sculpture that probably everyone driving west from Downtown on I-10 has seen.

Mac Whitney
Mac Whitney, Houston, steel and paint, 1981

It is called Houston and it's by an artist named Mac Whitney.

Mac Whitney
Mac Whitney, Houston, steel and paint, 1981

Finally, at the corner of  Bayland and Morrison up in the Heights is a piece of metal lawn art.

Bayland and morrison

It's kind of a curving broom-like structure on a tripod with a spring around its base.

Bayland & Morrison

If anyone knows what this is called or who the artist is, please let me know!

More Jim Love

I photographed Jim Love sculptures at Rice University and in Hermann Park. Here's another public Jim Love. It's at the Menil Museum, specifically along the walkway between the parking lot to the museum.

Jim Love
Jim Love, Jack, steel pipe and steel caps, 1971

Jim Love
Jim Love, Jack, steel pipe and steel caps, 1971

Heh, I didn't realize how obscene the second photo would be when I took it.

There is also a very small Jim Love piece, I think Figure from 1961 (kind of a grenade with a steel brush on top), up at the Moody Gallery right now.

A Note on End Game

I went to the MFAH "loading dock" sale yesterday. This is a clearance sale that is open to members of stuff from the bookstore. I bought a few ultra-inexpensive books, including End Game.
This is the catalog for a show at MFAH from 2008. It was a show of YBAs (young British artists) from the "Chaney Family Collection." I recall seeing it at the time and not being super-impressed. I loved "A Little Death" by Sam Taylor-Wood (which I had already seen at CAMH) and I always like Rachel Whiteread. But the rest didn't hit me very hard.

Sam Taylor-Wood, A Little Death, video, 2002

So why am I writing about the catalog today? What I didn't think about when I saw the show in the museum was its provenance. This is from the collection of the Chaney family, who are the late Robert Chaney, his wife Jereann and their daughter Holland. Chaney had run a small oil E&P, and after it was bought, formed a venture capital firm, R. Chaney & Partners.

Museums obviously have relations with collectors, and always have. For contemporary art, this relationship is very important for a couple of reasons. First, museums may be reluctant to buy contemporary art because history has not rendered judgment. They may end up with a bunch of junk that had only transitory esteem. But if they work with collectors, they can allow the collector to take the risk. The other reason is that presently, contemporary art is outrageously expensive. Museums must work with wealthy collectors if they hope to acquire any of these works.

But these relationships are controversial, especially now. Here is what Tyler Green wrote in The Art Newspaper.
These shows are unethical, improper and raise questions about the museums’ adherence to guidelines the US government lays down for non-profit institutions. (It is important to note that I’m criticising only exhibitions of private collections, not exhibitions of works donated to museums by collectors.) I’m especially disappointed that the New Museum has planned such a poorly considered show and series. It has a unique history as a feminist-created, experiment-driven, alternative space. Its decision to exhibit private collections turns the museum from a kunsthalle into a vanity space.
There are two main problems with these exhibitions. First, and most importantly, they diminish the role of curators as independent scholars, historians and discerning, informed selectors in favour of the consumerist whims of the richest guy in the room.
Through scholarship and curatorial consideration, museums and their curators determine what work has value to a society, a value that is beyond the mere monetary. These kinds of shows do nothing but exhibit and pseudo-validate the spending habits and taste of influential collectors, indicating that someone’s access to an American Express Platinum Card is as meaningful as a curatorial staff’s expertise. Unfortunately, these exhibitions inadvertently reinforce the notion that art is trophy owned by the privileged few, rather than a means through which intellectuals engage communities and nations in a broader discourse.
I am not suggesting that wealthy individuals should not share their collections with the public. In many places, most notably in Miami, collectors have shown their art in spaces controlled by themselves or their family-controlled-and-funded foundations. This is an honourable thing. That is how private collectors should, if they choose, share their art with the public. If a museum director is asked to exhibit a private collection, that director should remind the collector that a museum is more than a trophy house, that the director has too much respect for the museum’s curators to tell them that they are superfluous, and they should point them toward the Miami model. (Tyler Green, The Art Newspaper, November 11, 2009)
This was in response to an exhibit at the New Museum from the collection of Dakis Joannou, a trustee of the museum. Part of the controversy has to do with the extreme cost of the work. The collectors sometimes buy and sometimes sell. I'm sure Robert Chaney, in his business, was all about getting a maximum return on his investments. Why should his art collection have been any different? I'm not suggesting that the Chaney Family Collection is an investment, but if they were to sell any of the pieces for whatever reason, they would want to sell them for a good price, especially considering what they paid for them. Ditto with Joannou and so many other collectors of blue-chip contemporary art. When you buy a piece, you may be thinking that you love it and will live with it forever--but things change. In the future, you might fall out of love with the piece, or need to raise money, or may have too much art in your collection--and decide to sell.

Given this, what's the best way to guarantee that one's collection retains its value? A museum show might be the ticket--it legitimizes art. And, as Don Thompson wrote, it "brands" the art.

It would be difficult to prove this is the case, but one can't help but wonder. In any case, I am not ascribing bad intentions to the Chaneys--but I am indeed suggesting that whatever other motivations they may have had, the collection-legitimizing aspect of a major museum show may have been in the back of their minds.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Good Bad Review

Something I feel bad about, a little guilty about, is that I almost never write bad reviews. Partly because, if I am going to go through the trouble of writing a review, I want to write about something I like. But also because I am a wimp who hates to hurt other people's feelings and especially hates it if people get mad at me.

I'm reading a book about art criticism now and one of the things it said about the state of art criticism in the U.S.A. is that there aren't a lot of bad reviews. For a bunch of reasons. One of which is a kind of boosterism. I mean, here we are in Houston, it's hard to get people interested in contemporary art and we maybe feel that what we have here, the scene that exists, is too fragile to endanger with bad reviews, with tough-minded criticism. I'm not saying this is the right way to think, but it's an impulse that affects me as a critic.

All this is a lead in to a really nice bad review by Douglas Britt of the Chronicle. Britt is someone I have mostly thought of as a booster-type reviewer (like me). But check this out.
You should make a point of heading to DiverseWorks by Saturday to catch The New Normal, for reasons both straightforward and perverse. The traveling group exhibition addresses how boundaries between the public and the private spheres have blurred in the post-Sept. 11 era.
The straightforward reason, of course, would be to see good art. Though there's not nearly enough as there should be, just enough cream rises high enough to justify a visit. More on that later.
The perverse reason is that the most fascinating thing about the show is the yawning gap between the juiciness of its premise and the dry, chewy nature of the work meant to illustrate it.

Curated by Michael Connor, The New Normal is a case study in squandered potential -- or how an exhibit's introduction can jack up expectations only to have the underwhelmingly bland contents send them crashing back to earth. (Douglas Britt, The Houston Chronicle, February 17, 2010.)
That was my reaction exactly! Why didn't I have the courage of my convictions to write it down? Well, thank goodness Douglass Britt did.

New Acqusition--Sam Henderson

Sam Henderson
Sam Henderson, Cartoon Symbols in Other Countries

Sam Henderson is a very funny cartoonist who does a comic called The Magic Whistle. His drawing skills are somewhat rudimentary (but adequate to the task!)--his main talent is for writing humor (and he has indeed written for television--my nieces and nephews would be thrilled to know he wrote for Spongebob Squarepants, except that they are probably too young to realize that cartoons have "writers").

I liked this cartoon in particular because it expressed in a characteristically pithy way an important post-modern idea. This idea is that there is no essential quality of an artform. When we think of modernism, we think of a progression towards a pure, uncluttered expression of the essential qualities of the art in question. Painting for example became arrangement of pigment on a flat surface--anything more than that (like recognizable images) was mere illustration. Obviously, such a puritanical aesthetic meant that there could not be any national or regional differences. One thinks of the International Style in architecture, for example. (This puritanism is a caricature of modernism as it was actually practiced, though.)

Of course, post-modernism reacted strongly to this. One aspect of post-modernism was the notion of multi-culturalism, that different cultures may value things differently, and that in aesthetic matters at least, who is to say what's right? Regionalism is allowed once again to flourish.

Modernist theory (especially of the totalizing essentialist variety) never took hold much in comics, but there have always been those who sought to boil comics down to a particular essence. These are the great definers. I'd count Scott McCloud as one, although a pretty benign one.

What I take from this Sam Henderson cartoon is the futility of trying to pin down the essence of comics.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gary Panter on Modern Painting

Love this lecture by Gary Panter. Anyone who is interested in the interplay between comics and modern art will probably already be familiar with the artists that Panter discusses. (And he does get some minor art history facts wrong--as he warns at the beginning.)

He mentions that many of his cartooning peers have a really low opinion of modern art. This lecture is, in a way, a way to counter this distrust. Part (but only part) of the bad feelings cartoonists have towards contemporary art has to do with the condescension that the art world has expressed for comics. This condescension is expressed in many ways--artists who appropriate the work of comics artists, and in doing so deny the cartoonists the personhood that is implied by being a creator of a piece of art; museums and galleries that display art inspired by comics, but never display comics art; art critics who are unwilling to take the effort to distinguish between artistically interesting comics and commercial hackwork (after all, it's all just spectacle, just precession of simulacra).

That is one reason I do this blog--I want to consider art (primarily contemporary art) and to consider comics as a subset of art. I want the two worlds to overlap. Gary Panter is an exemplar of what I'm talking about.

(Hat tip Gene Kannenberg.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Recently Read Comics
From the Ashes by Bob Fingerman. This originally came out as a comic book series, but since I almost never buy individual comic books anymore (too hard to keep track of!), this is my first time seeing this. This is a fictional memoir of Fingerman and his wife Michelle living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Fingerman uses it to rail against people he hates (the "God Hates Fags" people, Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly). He meets nice zombies and mutants (they usually get such a bad shake in horror fiction). Basically in a world where six billion people died, Fingerman couldn't be happier! It's funny that he revels in the death of humanity with a general "people are no damn good" attitude--and yet chooses to live in the human anthill known as New York City. Anyway, this was actually one of the funniest and most entertaining Fingerman books I've ever read. I loved the pencil art. Fingerman's art can seem too controlled and a little stiff. By drawing in pencil, he gives the work a nice casualness. The coloring is really interesting too.
Abandoned Cars by Time Lane. Lane is a great artist who gets too much into the mythology of working class America and "the road." He wears his Bukowski, Raymond Carver and even Bruce Springsteen on his sleeve. But sometimes the stories work--so overall I would recommend this collection. Uniformly great artwork and occasionally terrific stories.
Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry. Britten is a private detective in early 20th century London. I won't say who Brulightly is--it'd spoil it. This is a somewhat surreal detective story that got a lot of praise when it came out. I don't get it frankly--the art feels very clumsy compared to its continental cousins (Blacksad, for example) and the story seemed run of the mill for the genre.
Tales of Woodsman Pete by Lilli Carre. Clever stories, but not as good as her more recent work, such as Nine Ways to Disappear, which has both better drawing and cleverer stories.
New Engineering by Yuichi Yokoyama. Absurd, ultra-geometric stories. Kind of an art student's idea of good comics. Interesting but not something that lingers much after you read it. (The publisher and author speak of Sol Lewitt in an interview afterward. What is it about Sol Lewitt that so many cutting edge comics figures like so much? Don't get me wrong--I like Sol Lewitt a lot. But I don't rank him higher than, say, Robert Morris or Michael Heizer or Richard Serra, to name some of his peers. What's with the Lewitt love?)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Austin Caustic from Concrete Violin at the Temporary Space

This is kind of tangential to art, but I did see this guy play at the Temporary Space while looking at art.




That's Austin Caustic of Concrete Violin. His music? Gales of ear-splitting white noise.

Fantasy Art Auction League

I was at the Temporary Space last night and got into a conversation with one of the exhibiting artists, Terry Suprean. We were talking about sports and how sports fans have to become really knowledgeable about their sport--that watching a football game wasn't comprehensible the way a movie was unless you had lots of hard-won prior knowledge. This was as an analogy for contemporary art--that the average person coming into an exhibit of contemporary art might feel perplexed or even intimidated, but with a little knowledge--a class you took, or maybe watching Art:21 on TV, or most likely, experience going to exhibits--you would be like the knowledgeable football fan watching a given game.

This lead us into a discussion of fantasy football leagues and fantasy baseball leagues. We wondered if such a thing could be done for art.

Now thinking about it, I think it could easily be done for art. You pick a time of year before the big auctions begin. You have a list of auctions (Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips de Pury, etc.). You have the names of the artists (we'd concentrate on contemporary artists, but I guess you could expand it) whose work sold in the previous year (and all pevious years, I suppose) and their annual total through these various auction houses.

Players pick one or more of the artists on this list or, if you are really daring, off the list. The process of picking may be a draft--you draw straws to see who picks first, and then you go round robin until each player has, say, 10 artists on his or her "team."

Fantasy Art League

The goal is to have the highest cumulative auction results by the end of year.

I'd play Fantasy Art Auction League. Anyone interested?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Review of Not the Family Jewels

Emily Sloan is really on the scene in Houston--doing her own art, natch, but also curating shows for other folks. I wrote a review of her group show "Not the Family Jewels!" at Please check it out. And check out the show--it's a good one. And finally, here are some images from the show that didn't make it into the review.

Natalya Pinchuck
Natalya Pinchuk, Brandish 9249

Gabriel Craig,Amy Weiks
Amy Weiks and Gabriel Craig, Eco-Gems

Gabriel Craig,Amy Weiks
Amy Weiks and Gabriel Craig, Eco-Gems

Gary Schott
Gary Schott, Eskimo Kissers

Edward McCartney
Edward McCartney, Fishing Necklace

Arthur Hash
Arthur Hash, rings and bracelets

Best Comics of 2009 part 3

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am trying to catch up on some of the comics that were considered the best of 2009 that I never read. My main reference for this is the meta-list compiled by "I Love Rob Liefeld," which combines 130 "best of" lists into one.

My overriding goal here is to read certain comics that I managed to overlook last year. But I am also interested in seeing if these comics would have made it onto my own personal top 15 list, which I presented at the end of last year.

So anyway, here are a few that I read recently.
The Bun Field by Amanda Vahamak (ranked 75 on Liefeld). (The letter "A" in Vahamak has umlauts, but I don't know how to insert them in Blogger.) A bit slight, but really good. A surreal story of young girl (I think--she's young enough that she could be a boy)--it reads like a dream or bits of various dreams strung together. The pencil art is really powerfully good.
Driven by Lemons by J.W. Cotter (ranked 21 on Liefeld). Another surreal comic, it reminds me a bit of Lewis Trondhiem and a bit of Joakim Pirinen. I don't know exactly what to think of this one. I think it requires rereading. But I was entertained reading it, and amazed by Cotter's technique and imagination.
Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan (ranked 69 by Liefeld). Pretty dumb. Visually, it seems like watered-down Kaz, and story-wise it falls way short of the similar (but less gruesome) Muti-Force by Mat Brinkman. It has its funny moments--like the first two chapter names: "Fucked" followed by "Mega-Fucked."
Monsters by Ken Dahl (ranked 6 by Liefeld). That ranking seems absurdly high, but that isn't to say that Monsters is not a very good book. This unexpected story of herpes and anxiety really worked. The sense of dread hanging over the author's head--for years, it seems--is quite powerful. Dahl is a hell of a cartoonist. I may have ranked him in the top 20, but probably not the top 10.
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (ranked 13 by Liefeld). I'm guessing this got ranked so high partly because of it's subject matter. It's a very handsomely presented book, and the coloring is quite attractive and innovative. But I don't think it's really all that great. It all seems a bit flat. Neufeld has never had a particular dramatic comics style--in a way, it's best suited for non-fiction, just-the-facts kind of stories. But these stories had an inherent drama to them that feels drained away when you read them here. It's a noble, well-crafted work, but not one that connects with me.

At this point, I've read 35 out of the top 100 on the Liefeld mega-list. That's it for me as far as deliberately seeking out these works. I feel certain that there are other good comics on this list, but it's 2010 so time to leave 2009 behind.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Caras y Caretas

Nau-Haus has a show of masks by Richard Soler. I really liked the installation. Here are some photographs from the opening reception.

Richard Soler

Richard Soler  Richard Soler

Richard Soler

Richard Soler

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Last Night at Skeez181's Art Exhibit

Graffiti artists have categorically different (i.e., more fun) openings from other kinds of artists.

Another Robert Boyd Who Is Not Me
Robert Boyd, from Xanadu, C-Print diptych, 2007
Robert Boyd is an interdisciplinary artist working in the areas of video installation,
photography and sculpture. His work has been widely exhibited at venues such as P.S.1
Contemporary Art Center, New York; Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong; Pinchuk
Art Centre, Kiev; 303 Gallery, New York; Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art,
Indianapolis; Participant Inc, New York; Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf; Wesleyan
University, Middletown, CT; Kunst-Werke, Berlin; Artsonje Center, Seoul; Context
Galleries, Derry; Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City; and Smart Project
Space, Amsterdam.

This is some other Robert Boyd. Weird, huh?