Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Houston Reflections

https://my.qoop.com/store/Rice-University-Press-3111075350609104/Houston-Reflections--Art-in-the-City--1950s--60s-and-70s-by-Sarah-C--Reynolds-429617760712.11466348870.xlarge.jpg,262,340,crop
Houston Reflections: Art in the City, 1950s, 60s and 70s by Sarah Reynolds takes on a pretty unpromising topic. Was there art in Houston then? Of course there was, and a lot of what we see today around Houston's art scene was established or massively developed during that period. Now if you go try to buy this book, it's going to run you ninety-something dollars. Astonishingly, the book is available for free online. You can read it here. I just started it today.

The book is a collection of interviews of people involved in the arts during those days. Each one is separate, which has advantages. For instance, I was able to pull read interviews with one of my old art history professors, Bill Camfield, and with the woman I took painting lessons from in high school, Stella Sullivan. That was nice. But I wish instead of this format, Reynolds had gone the Edie route and chopped up the interviews to make a historical narrative. As it is, you can piece together events based on the separate interviews. I wish the interviews had been longer and more detailed.

But these are minor cavils for an amazing resource that anyone can access for free. It's required reading if you are interested in Houston's art history.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Outloud at Philomena Gabriel

This is a little late--forgive me, it's been a busy couple of weeks. But better late than never. A new gallery opened up two weeks ago in Midtown. Philomena Gabriel Contemporary is located in a tiny storefront on Milam. The building is a lovely old brick office/retail building.

Philomena Gabriel Contemporary

The opening show was a group showed called Outloud. It featured work by a lot of very well-known Houston artists (many of whom are shown "courtesy of" some other gallery. Philomena Gabriel's own stable has yet to be revealed, and I will be curious to see who they take.) But for now, this group show is quite good. All the work are word-based objects.

Besides that, a couple of the works are based on taking things on the floor and leaning them against the wall. Whenever I see works like this--if they work--I think of the work of John McCracken. If they don't work, they just look kind of lazy. But in this case, both of the wall-leaners are good, intriguing work.

Kelly Klaasmeyer
Kelly Klaasmeyer, Ennui, acrylic on gator board, 2010

Ennui by Kelly Klaasmeyer tries to embody the meaning of the word. Casually stacked against the wall, it communicates boredom and a lack of interest in doing it "right" (for example, carefully hanging the words on the wall in a perfectly straight line and proper kerning). The ironic thing is that it looks just right as it is. It has a little bit of an Ed Ruscha vibe, but that could be said of many of the pieces here. Word-based art is his baby.

Rachel Hecker
Rachel Hecker, I'm Really Tired, Me Too, acrylic on canvas, 2010

Like this piece by Rachel Hecker. It's hard not to think of Ruscha when you see it. The extreme simplicity of it is striking (two colors, reversed on each canvas). The colors are fleshy skin-like colors, like perhaps the painting on the left is the "white" one and the one on the right is the "painting of color." But despite being of different races, these two have something in common! Really, I have no idea what this diptych is all about except that it is funny.

Gabriela Trzebinski
Gabriela Trzebinski, Matatu Sticks Project, recycled wood and acrylic paint, 2002-present

If you search online for Trzebinski images, you'll find a lot of crudely-painted, expressive paintings, and nothing quite like the Matatu Sticks. The effect is like a highly irregular picket fence. The phrases on them are not meaningless, but are devoid of context. And yet, they seem appropriate for naive, hand-lettered signs. They sometimes have religious content and sometimes feel like graffiti.

Gabriela Trzebinski
Gabriela Trzebinski, Matatu Sticks Project detail, recycled wood and acrylic paint, 2002-present

The cumulative effect is strong. It's funny, then, that each separate plank is for sale--a bargain at $30! But one alone feels meaningless--a collector needs a bunch to get the ideal effect.

Philomena Gabriel is a welcome addition to the Houston art community. Galleries and art spaces in Houston come and go, and as galleries close, it's good to see new ones open, especially ones that show art as interesting as the art here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Fringe Festival continues

You can still the week two programming tonight. Not to mention two more weeks of theater/dance/neo-vaudeville.

I went last night and took these photos of people checking out the art show (if the Fringe festival performances are the "circus," my art show is the "side show"). I hesitated before putting them up on Pan--it's a little masturbatory, you know. Hey look! People checking out the show I curated! But I've never curated a show, and it's still kind of amazing that anyone looks. And gratifying.

Houston Fringe Festival 2010

Houston Fringe Festival 2010



Houston Fringe Festival 2010

Houston Fringe Festival 2010

I love it when people really get down to check out the Woody Golden piece, Terra Antennae Prayer Box.

The most amazing thing happened last night. I showed up late--I don't think anyone knew I was there. Certainly no one in the audience, among whom I was just an anonymous fellow theater-goer. So at the end of the first half, Rebecca French and Robert Thoth came out to announce the intermission and point out some of the "sideshow" things happening. They invited people to look at the art exhibit "curated by Robert Boyd" and the audience burst out into spontaneous applause. So look, I've never been a performer. But after last night, I understand the appeal. That applause made me feel very emotional. I'm usually filled with doubts and regret about my own work, but that was--for a moment--washed away.

Anyway, another "sideshow" event was some crooning by Poopy Lungstuffing (aka Olivia Dvorak, who runs Super Happy Fun Land). She was great!

Houston Fringe Festival 2010,Poopi Lungstuffing

Friday, August 27, 2010

Proposed: Houston Should Have a Comics Art Festival, part 4 of 4

Great job--you made it this far! We're almost done.

(If, however, you have not read part 1, part 2, and part 3, go back and read them now!)

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Why have this festival in Houston? Houston is off the beaten track for comics-as-art. None of the important publishers are here, and few comics artists of note are here. There is a small scene, but it is pretty fragmented. But these are not disadvantages. We want people to travel to Houston for the festival. High quality out-of-town guests will make Houstonians more excited about coming to check out the festival. And artists who travel to Houston to participate in the critique portion spend money in Houston's hotels and restaurants.

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Also, Houstonians have a love of oddball, noncanonical art. We demonstrate this every spring at the Art Car Parade. We embrace things like The Orange Show and Cleveland Turner, The Flower Man. Comics is an artform that has stuck its big toe in the door of art, but it isn’t all the way there. The unrespectable, slightly funky odor of comics might be just the thing to appeal to a Houston audience.

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And once we get the “public”, whoever they may be, into a festival, we start doing something really wonderful. We begin show them comics as art. Comics as a means of personal expression. A very different conception of how they may have thought of comics before. We expand their aesthetic horizons. We blow their freaking minds with amazing examples of comics art. This is the goal of the festival.

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A truly successful comics festival will create inspire people to read more comics, and for experienced comics readers, to try something different. It may inspire a few local artists and writers to put pen to paper and create their own comics. If it could help catalyze a local comics creative scene, that would be mission accomplished. It might encourage critical and scholarly work on comics from local writers and the academic community here. And I’d like to see the art collecting community in Houston embrace this artform as something worth collecting--and in doing so, encourage local galleries to sell comics art and local museums to display it.

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To sum up, what I propose a festival devoted to comics-as-art, structured around art exhibits, critiques, and slide shows, using FotoFest as a general model. This is an idea I want to launch out into the public and see what other people think of it. I welcome your feedback. Thank you.

Proposed: Houston Should Have a Comics Art Festival, part 3 of 4

If you haven't read part 1 and part 2, read those first.

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Could a festival like this work in Houston? We obviously couldn’t count on high levels of public funding. So if we can't look to Europe for a successful model (at least as far as funding goes), where can we look? A highly successful art festival here in Houston is Fotofest. Founded in 1986, Fotofest is a biennial photography festival that features six official exhibits, over a hundred exhibits at “participating spaces”, and a large-scale critique for emerging photographers.

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So if we do an exhibit-oriented comics festival, how do we fund it? Fotofest provides a model for that. Foundations are their largest funding source. Earned income comes from selling prints, but mostly from photographers paying to participate in critiques. Events include parties and galas and auctions. The government sources include the NEA and the HAA, a nonprofit organization owned by the city and funded out of the hotel tax.

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An art exhibit festival needs to have a space where we can display the artwork for at least a month, which rules out a lot of otherwise great locations. Fotofest has used Williams Tower, their own offices, the Winter Street Studios, etc. The participating shows for FotoFest tend to be in art galleries, museums, or public art spaces. A comics art festival would also want to have exhibits in book stores, comic shops, and libraries.

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FotoFest calls its critiques “the meeting place.” They bring over a 100 photographers, editors, curators, scholars, and critics to look at the work of photographers, some aspiring or emerging, others more seasoned. I would like to see a similar thing for the comics festival. In addition to providing feedback about their work, it would be a place where artists could network professionally with top tastemakers in the field.

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One thing I would want to bring over from the academic conference format are slide shows. But I would want the slide shows to be accessible to non-specialists. Pecha Kucha and TED are both good models for this. In fact, a Pecha Kucha night as part of the festival would be an exciting event. However it is formatted, brief, well-illustrated slide presentations would be a key part of the comics-as-art festival that I envision.

Concluded in part 4

Proposed: Houston Should Have a Comics Art Festival, part 2 of 4

This is part 2 of my slide show proposing a comics festival for Houston. Part 1 is here. Read it first.

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Can the dealer’s room model work for comics-as-art? Yes. In fact, it’s been a very successful model. At shows like SPX, MoCCA, TCAF, etc., the “dealers” are either small publisher or comics artists themselves, selling their comics and original art. The environment at these shows tends to be friendly and intimate, giving readers lots of opportunity to interact with artists. The dealer’s room model turns out to be extremely adaptable.

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The dealers room model is popular for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s been the default format for most festivals since the 1960s. It has a lot of tradition, a lot of institutional knowledge, a lot of inertia. Promoters know it can work because it's worked so many times before. Dealer's room models are also self-financing, which is a key virtue. A festival organizer can pay for everything by selling table space--in advance. And, from a comics-as-art point of view, it’s a good way to get often challenging work before the public. As anyone involved in underground or alternative publishing or music knows, mainstream distribution and retailers are often closed off to you. A comics-as-art dealers room is a way around this. In short, the dealers room model has a lot going for it.

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But one alternative to the dealers room model that has popped up in recent years is the academic conference. As academic attention to the artform has grown, conferences devoted to them have come into being and grown alongside the scholarship. These conferences feature scholars presenting papers about comics, panel discussions, and presentations by guest artists. And, as it turns out, if you are going to explain something about comics to an audience, a slide presentation is an especially apt medium. But these conferences, by their academic nature, hold little appeal for the general public.


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The art exhibit model focuses on cartoonists’ original art, displayed in vitrines and on the walls of museums, galleries, and other art spaces. This is not a model that has really taken hold in the U.S. But it's quite popular in Europe. This is the model I want to propose for a comics-as-art festival.

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Perhaps the most famous of these kinds of exhibits is Fumetto in Lucerne, Switzerland, but there are comics art festivals in many countries—Portugal, France, Russia, etc.  The biggest comics festival in Europe, in  Angoul√™me, which combines the dealers room model with the art exhibit model--exhibits are displayed in a purpose-built comics museum. These festivals usually get a lot of state funding—either on a municipal or national level.

Continued in part 3.

Proposed: Houston Should Have a Comics Art Festival, part 1 of 4

Last night was Pecha Kucha 3, and I did my presentation. In the next few posts, I'm going to reproduce it. I hope you enjoy it. This is part 1 of 4.

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This slide slow is a proposition for a festival devoted to the art of comics. This festival will be based around art exhibits, critiques for aspiring (and experienced) comics artists, and slide presentations. In the next few slides, I’m going to tell you why this festival would be a good thing for Houston, and why the format I will proposing will be the right one for the festival.

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The festival will celebrate “comics as art.” These are not the comics that get made into summer blockbusters. Let’s call those “comics-as-entertainment.” Comics-as-art tend to be a lot more personal, more reflective of the creator.  There is a little bit of overlap between these categories, but mostly they are quite distinct worlds. Comics-as-art is where the art of comics truly shines, and this is what the festival should be devoted to.

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Now let’s talk about comics festivals. Basically, there are three kinds; the academic conference, where scholars read papers about comics; the dealers’ room convention, where people come to buy and sell; and the art festival, where comics are displayed as artworks. (Of course, in the real world, these often overlap a little bit.) If we have a comics-as-art festival in Houston, which model would be best?

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The dealer’s room model began because early fans needed to have a way to find old comics to read and collect.  This was before the age when comics were repinted in handy book formats. If you wanted to read an old issue of Two-Fisted Tales, you had to dig one up from a collector/dealer. Comics conventions allowed collectors to sell their comics to each other. This has evolved over the years to the modern comics convention, which are dominated by huge dealer’s rooms.

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We have a good convention like this in Houston now called Comicpalooza. It's been going on for two years, growing every year. It’s very much devoted to comics-as-entertainment, and includes a lot of non-comics “geek culture” stuff as well. Given this, I think a comics-as-art festival should feel very distinct from Comicpalooza. We don’t want to compete with it, but to compliment it.

Comics Art Festival Proposal part 2

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm Presenting Tonight at Pecha Kucha

Houston's third Pecha Kucha night is tonight at Domy. Pecha Kucha is an event where several presenters presnet slide lectures with serious constraints--they have 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide. Each presentation is exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long. The presenters are generally pretty artsy types, although last time around a medical researcher presented some research based on an experiment he had done on the neurochemical effects of alcohol on the brain.

Anyway, this time around, I have a presentation. My presentation is a proposal. A proposal for what, you ask. You'll have to come out to Domy to find out! Be there at 8 pm.

http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/hprofile-ak-snc4/hs646.snc3/27545_140269112660690_9597_n.jpg

Friday, August 20, 2010

The 2010 Houston Fringe Festival Art Exhibit



The Fringe Festival is go! You have one night left to see the first weekend's performances. Do it! My favorite  performances were by the Ratgirls, the CORE Performance Company, and the Nonsense Music Band, but it's all great. (Each weekend in the four week festival is a different program. See them all!)

This video is no substitute for seeing the actual exhibit, by they way. So faithful Pan readers (in the Houston area)--please come down to Navigation Blvd. in Houston's beautiful Barrio Segundo and see what I'm so excited about.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Psst... Fringe is Coming!

The Houston Fringe Festival is opening August 19! In addition to a mind-boggling selection of theater, dance, film, performance, and unclassifiable post-modern vaudeville acts, it features a visual art show curated by yours truly, the writer of this blog. The Fringe art exhibit features work by Francis Giampietro, Marzia Faggin, JIS, Pankaj Wadhwa and Woody Golden.

As the week progresses, I'll say more (and maybe even show a few pictures). Come check it out!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tiptoeing through the Tulips

It's intellectually risky for a dude to approach feminism and feminist art. But I just read Through the Flower by Judy Chicago, and it's really interesting, so I'm going to try to tiptoe through the subject (but will probably end up blundering about). Through the Flower was written originally in 1975, before she finished her most famous piece, The Dinner Party (1974-1979). This one is a new edition from 1993. I found it at Half Price Books, and as luck would have it, it's an autographed copy.

Judy Chicago

Chicago began her career as an artist in the 1960s in Los Angeles. She was one of the L.A. style minimalists, and as such, her work embraced high-tech fabrication, a high level of craftsmanship, and a certain playfulness. Think of artists like John McCracken and the Ferus boys--Ken Price, Craig Kauffman, Robert Irwin, Billy Al Bengston and Larry Bell. Chicago was doing pieces like this:

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago, Car Hood, sprayed acrylic lacquer on a 1964 Corvair hood, 1963-64

You can definitely see the resemblance between what she was doing and what Billy Al Bengston was doing. And there is a high level of craft here. But she had an ambiguous relationship with craft. In Through the Flower, she sees craft as a thing that boys learned as a matter of course (in shop class) but that girls did not. I think this is really arguable, and that in a way, she is seeing craft through male eyes if she sees it that way. There were (and are) traditionally female crafts that few boys learn. Sewing and needlework, for example. I think an issue was that such crafts were not looked at as art--and that is a male failing. That they weren't looked at as craft in the context of Chicago's book is a failing on her part.

In her desire to acquire craftsmanlike skills (above and beyond what was taught to her in art school), she took a class in auto-body painting (the only woman with 250 men in the class) and another in pyrotechnics (!)--which feel totally like "boy" things to learn. Perhaps she felt she had to do these things to compete in a man's world. Certainly the piece above speaks to manly kind of things--custom car culture, in particular. (Custom car culture was a big influence on other artists in L.A. at the time, especially Robert Irwin.)

She tried to fit in with the art scene of L.A. of the early 60s. Now readers of this blog know I have often expressed admiration for the Ferus scene. Chicago--without naming names (damn!)--paints a less attractive picture.
Halfway through my last year in graduate school, I became involved with a gallery run by a man named Rolf Nelson. He used to take me to the artists' bar, Barney's Beanery, where all the artists who were considered "important" hung out. They were all men, and they spent most of their time talking about cars, motorcycles, women, and their "joints."
A piece like Car Hood (which is excellent, in my opinion) was her way of trying to demonstrate to them that she could be a "tough" artist like them. She writes about her work then as hiding her real self in an attempt to fit in (to "pass"?). And maybe so, but look at this piece:

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago, Rainbow Picket, originally sculpted in 1966 and recreated in 2004

Rainbow Picket is awesome! The colors, the angle, the way it fits against the wall. It would stand proudly next to a Sol Lewitt, a Dan Flavin, a John McCracken.

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago, Red Dome Set, sprayed acrylic lacquer on formed acrylic, 1968

This is another really cool minimal piece. But again, Chicago felt like she was hiding from herself. In retrospect, she believes that in these round forms, her female nature is trying to come through, but she didn't want to believe it at the time. She describes how a woman artist from New York (who?) visited her studio and saw these pieces. She said, "Ah, the Venus of Willendorf." Chicago was crushed because she took it as a critical, cutting remark, and also because this woman had seen through her minimalist defenses.

So she embraced feminism. She educated herself on woman artists through history (there is a great chapter here on what she learned looking at their work, as well as studying the great women writers and thinkers). She found other women artists who had seen the sexist environment of the art world and of society in general, and who wanted to do something about it. Chicago befriended an older artist, Miriam Schapiro, and they began to work together on feminist art classes and spaces, including Womanhouse and a feminist program at CalArts.

Chicago and Schapiro eventually split their partnership over an ideological disagreement. Chicago was, essentially, a separatist. She wasn't an extreme separatist (she was married to a man, after all), but she thought there should be an entirely separate art world for women--all woman art classes, women's galleries, etc. Schapiro, rightly I think, wanted to work within the system and evolve it from within. Whatever problems she had with CalArts, she thought it was still worth fighting the battle there. And I think Schapiro was right, basically. The art world, for itrs many faults, is a less sexist place than many other parts of society. (At least, that's how it seems to me--but I'm a guy after all.)

Chicago also rejected abstraction, and started drawing and painting a lot of flowers and vaginas. Also doing a lot more performance--cartoonish plays like "Cock and Cunt," but also shamanistic performance like Woman/Atmosphere.

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago, Woman/Atmosphere, fireworks and painted body, 1971

Despite a change in subject matter towards the real and away from the abstract, her basic painting style--mostly hard-edged with smooth, spray-painted gradations of color, remained the same. (Which reminds of Philip Guston, who around the same time also went from doing abstract paintings to figurative paintings--but his skittery bruch style and his pallet remained constant.)

Obviously her journey of self-discovery was leading somewhere. And we now know where:

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, ceramic, porcelain, textile, 1974-79

This is her most famous work. Generally, Chicago doesn't seem to be a major figure in recent art history. It may be because people see a work like The Dinner Party and feel it is too literal, too obvious. My feeling is, so what? It's so beautiful and so cool. That outweighs the hit-you-on-the-head obviousness of it. But at the same time, I think her early minimal pieces are great, too, and really underrated. (At least, what I've seen of them.)

Feminist art is something I really want to learn more about. Fortunately, there is a movie that I think is going to be key for understanding this movement that is premiering right now at the Toronto Film Festival. It's called Women Art Revolution--A Secret History. The director, Lynn Hershman, has been working on it literally for decades. I saw a short preview of it at the Cinema Arts Festival, and it looks really good.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Brian Neal Sensabaugh at G Gallery

Brian Neal Sensabaugh
Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Feet First, mixed media, 2010

Brian Neal Sensabaugh uses a variety of found material in his pieces in this show at G Gallery. Crutches, tables, doilies, pantyhose, a carboy, wooden chairs, veterinary equipment, etc. He is a clear descendant of Edward Kienholz. He favors two materials over all others--shoes and dolls.

Brian Neal Sensabaugh
Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Bless My Sole, mixed media, 2010

He uses different kids of shoes in these pieces. The shoes arranged in a cross in this piece are "pink jelly shoes." I'm a pretty conservative guy, foot fashion-wise. My shoes are topsiders, dress shoes, leather boots and walking shoes. I had never even heard of "jelly shoes," which apparently are really cheap PVC shoes that were have had several moments of fashionability from the 80s til now. Because they are translucent, they look somewhat spooky when light shines through them.

Brian Neal Sensabaugh
Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Sole Sisters, mixed media, 2010

This one also features  jelly shoes, along with "worn women's shoes." But what jumps out at a viewer are the two dolls in a carboy. (The dolls are resting in the women's shoes.) My first thought was the same as anyone who has seen a ship in a bottle--how did he get those dolls and shoes into this bottle with its narrow neck?

Brian Neal Sensabaugh
Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Sole Sisters detail, mixed media, 2010

One also notices what an imperfect medium for light the bottle is. It is impossible to see the dolls and shoes within without seeing them distorted as in a funhouse mirror.

Brian Neal Sensabaugh
Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Down in My Sole, mixed media, 2010

This one has a bluesy title that turns out to be quite literal. The pink table has a circular hole cut in it. The lamp shines through the hole. Below the hole is a semitransparent cone of sheer nylon hose material (which reminds me a bit of Ernesto Neto). Within this cone are a pile of baby shoes. This piece is, for me, the strongest in the show. You can only see the pile of shoes clearly by bending over the table and looking down the hole. And when I looked down that hole and saw piles of shoes, I was reminded of the unforgettable images of piles of shoes taken from Jews at Nazi death camps. But, at the same time, I saw this stretched out hidden structure--the nylon cone--containing baby stuff, and leading to a narrow pink hole: the obvious conclusion is a visual metaphor for pregnancy. So the piece simultaneously makes me think of death and birth.

Brian Neal Sensabaugh
Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Heel, Toe, mixed media, 2010

The object on the floor here is an antique child's prosthetic leg. It seems like a companion to Feet First--the long spiraling leg features in both. 

Brian Neal Sensabaugh
Brian Neal Sensabaugh, Sooth My Sole, mixed media, 2010

The title notwithstanding, this collection of veterinary medical instruments and a baby doll  is sinister. The pink wall ironically accentuates the sinister quality--black would have been too obvious. Pink seems to be telling you that everything's OK, while the gigantic gun-like syringes say the exact opposite. It reminds me of a specific Keinholz piece, Illegal Operation.

This is a show full of intriguing objects and startling juxtapositions. Sensabaugh's punning titles should be dispensed with, though. The work should speak for itself.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Charles Boucher and Patrick Rosenkranz on Robert Crumb, Carl Barks, and Basil Wolverton

My old friend Charlie Boucher (proprietor of Portland's great shop CounterMedia) and Patrick Rosenkranz discuss the influence of two Oregonian cartoonists, Carl Barks and Basil Wolverton, on Robert Crumb.



(Hat tip to Fantagraphics.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

New Acquisitions--another 20x200 print and a Fort Thunder veteran

Brian Chippendale
Brian Chippendale, untitled (Lets Party), ink on paper, 2010

Chippendale did the densest, hardest to comprehend comics while he was part of Fort Thunder. these have been collected in the book Maggots. He did another book called Ninja. He is half the noise band Lightning Bolt. And he has a great blog where he analyzes mainstream comics with a jaded connoisseur's eye. I saw this piece on the website of Cinders Gallery in Brooklyn, and liked it. This piece is second by a Fort Thunder alumnus (the other is Brian Ralph). That leaves Mat Brinkman, Jim Drain, Lief Goldberg, Chris Forgues and probably a few others I am forgetting.

Ross Racine
Ross Racine, Prairieside Forks, archival pigment print (22 of 500), 2010

This looks like a Google map of suburban sprawl, except the more you look at it, the more odd it seems. In fact, it was drawn by Ross Racine on a computer. No suburb would have a street layout like that--it would be a  bizaare maze. But perhaps no more bizarre than the curvilinear cul-de-sacs, arterials and freeways of our government mandated suburbs, which have helped turn us all into petroleum-guzzling lardasses. This piece is another print from the wonderful 20x200.

One Definition of Art

"The male frog, in mating season," said Crake, "makes as much noise as it can. The females are attracted to the male frog with the biggest, deepest voice because it suggests a more powerful frog, one with superior genes. Small male frogs--it's been documented--discover that if they position themselves in empty drainpipes, the pipe acts as a voice amplifier, and the small frog appears much larger than it really is."
"So?"
"So that's what art is, for the artist," said Crake. "An empty drainpipe. An amplifier. A stab at getting laid."
"Your analogy falls down when it comes to female artists," said Jimmy. "They're not in it to get laid. They'd gain no biological advantage from amplifying themselves, since potential mates would be deterred rather than attracted by that sort of amplification. Men aren't frogs, they don't want women who are ten times bigger than them."
"Female artists are biologically confused," said Crake. "You must have discovered that by now."


...


Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we're in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall, in Crake's view. Next they'll be inventing idols, and funerals, and grave goods, and the afterlife, and sin, and Linear B, and kings, and then slavery and war.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

More Recently Read Art Books

http://content-2.powells.com/cover?isbn=9781933619262
Hand+Made: The Performative Impulse in Art and Craft curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver
This show at CAMH was fantastic. The catalog is also good, but the photos could have been larger. The book is very useful if you've seen the exhibit--it contains a lot of photos of the performances that are linked to the crafted objects in the show. Seeing these photos and reading about the performances helps bring the idea of the exhibit to life. Part of me thinks it is ridiculous that craft has to sneak into the museum under the guise of performance, but the proof is in the pudding--great show, good catalog.

Pen to Paper
Pen to Paper by Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler
There is this school or movement in drawing that relates to Paper Rad and Fort Thunder, along with dollops of illustration and street art and "bad art." Sketch Klubb sort of belongs in this movement. (I missed their show opening last night at the Joanna, dammit!) The artists in this world seem to discover each other through Flickr. This book is a collection of some really interesting examples of this kind of work. It includes work by Sketch Klubb's Lane Hagood, including a piece that I have framed and that is looking at me right now with 100 eyes, Diseased Writer. The text is minimal--a little too minimal. I wouldn't have minded knowing a little bit more about each artist.

Paul Klee
A Piece of the Moon World: Paul Klee in Texas Collections
This little book is a Menil Collection book from 1995. Last year they had a "Paul Klee in America" exhibit that was excellent. Klee can reasonably be considered a grandfather (or great grandfather) of some of the artists in Pen to Paper. That's a connection that should be investigated.

Data Flow
Data Flow, Robert Klanten, Nicolas Bourquin, Thibaud Tissot, Sven Ehmann and Ferdi van Heerden
As our world becomes more awash in data, infographics become increasingly important. We still rely heavily on photographs and video for visual information, but the problem with them is that they are brilliant at showing the particular, but very poor at showing the general or at showing trends. Infographics don't deal with the particular; they deal with data. Consequently, it strikes me that artists and designers need to understand data much better. Data is full of pitfalls. A good handler of data has to know how to pull out the meaningful data out of the data torrent. She needs to know a good deal about statistics and math in general. She needs to be able to take raw data and process it into something meaningful--all before creating the graphic. Unfortunately, this book still shows designers as being purely visual technicians (and highly creative ones at that)--there is no sense that there is a new breed of statistician-designers.

http://www.artnet.com/Magazine/features/finch/Images/finch1-27-2.jpg
Writing About Visual Art by David Carrier
The basic idea of this book is that art writing is "a relatively unexamined genre." And boy does he examine it here. He seems to have read everything, and a lot of this book is writing about what has been written from Vasari to the present. He talks about narratives in art writing, and how narratives fell away to a kind of "presentness." He calls this kind of writing "God's eye views," and while he has a lot of sympathy for it, he thinks it fails. Then he returns to narrative, but what he calls "gallery narratives" and "museum narratives." Suddenly, he's talking about the sociology and economics of art, and he wants this kind of writing combined with the writing about the "present" nature of the art. His ideal is later Arthur Danto. Not a bad book--very interesting ideas presented in a meandering style.

http://content-0.powells.com/cover?isbn=9783791338330
(Non) Conform: Russian and Soviet Art from 1958-1995
This is a big picture book of art from the Ludwig Collection. Ludwig, a candy tycoon from Germany, was a famous art collector but a highly controversial one. He was said to have collected official Soviet art and displayed said art in his private museum as a sop to the Soviets, where he looked to increase his business. This book is full of art both by official Soviet artists and underground artists. There are writings, most of which interestingly come in the form of answers to six questions:
1) Does post-Stalinist art have a chance of being perceived objectively?
2) Which qualitative features characterise "official" art and which "non-official"?
3) Can one count on a dialogue between the two "Soviet cultures"?
4) What role is played by market interests?
5) Does the revision of Socialist Realism influence the assessment of the surovyy stil' ("severe style")?
6) How do you see contemporary Russian art against the background of the historical context?
Most of the answers by the critics here are really boring. They skate around the main issues, in my view. After all, these critics are lending themselves to a very compromised endeavor here. The only responder who seemed completely free of bullshit was Norton Dodge, a famous collector of Russian conceptual art who was collecting it when it was quite dangerous to do so. It is bracing to read non-jargony sentences like this: "...the fact remains that art was subject to central party and government approval and those who did not conform could be subject to punishment." The period covered in this book dates from the "thaw" after Stalin's death to just after the fall of the U.S.S.R. Generally speaking, the "official" art seems fairly bad. But there is a lot of good art (and good pictures here) by artist like Erik Bulatov, Mikhael Grobman, Ilya Kabakov, Igor Makarevich, and others. Also, it seems that art from the Baltic states was top notch.

http://content-2.powells.com/cover?isbn=9780714857572
Drawing Live by Javier Mariscal
Pretty disappointing. I loved Mariscal in the erly 80s, but the Mariscal of that time, who was drawing comics, doing posters, designing nightclubs, designing furniture, etc., eventually got swamped by demand for his work and had to become a studio full of people who, evidently, draw like Mariscal. The work after the Barcelona Olympics is only occasionally interesting, and it makes up the bulk of this book.

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