Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Swipe File

Many, many years ago, when I worked for The Comics Journal, I created a feature called "Swipe File." In it, we exposed examples of when one comics artist had swiped an image from somewhere else (usually another comics artist). This is a really common practice. Sometimes it's just a matter of using a striking visual solution that another comics artist came up with instead of trying to come up with one of your own. (Deadlines often cause comics artists to resort to such matters.) But sometimes, the swipes were deliberate homages to artistic influences and inspirations. In the art world, this is called appropriation, and there are all sorts of theoretical justifications for it. Not so much in the comics world--it's considered a misdemeanor at worst, and is generally slightly frowned on. Anyway, Swipe File was our response to the phenomenon. So when I noticed this (see below), I decided to revive Swipe File.

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left: Matt Messinger, Popeye, Black and white gesso and charcoal pencil on found linen on canvas, undated. right: Tom Neely, Doppelganger excerpt, page from a 16-page minicomic, undated


I saw the Matt Messinger painting at a show earlier this summer. We know this painting must therefore date from July of this year or earlier. Tom Neely is a very talented and creative cartoonist, but I have no idea when he drew this comic. I can't tell, therefore, if Messinger copied Neely, or if Neely copied Messinger, or if the two of them copied some third party. (It seems pretty unlikely that they both came up with this concept individually--the drawings are too similar for that.) So someone committed the artistic misdemeanor of swiping--but the question is, who?

UPDATE: I ran into Matt Messinger the other night and asked him the origin of the Popeye "tornado of arms" image. He told me it was from one of the old cartoons (presumably the Fleischer Bros. cartoons. So it appears that both Messinger and Neely "swiped" this image.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ceci n'est pas la neige cône

by Dean Liscum

I like art that makes me think. My thoughts about the works don't have to be pleasant or agreeable. Given the idiot-syncracies of my personality and thought processes, more often than not I am drawn to the works that I find disturbing and disagree with.

Matthew Gorgol's work Third Ward Sno-Cones, which is part of Project Row Houses 2011 Summer Studios, is a performance piece that did just that. Basically, the artist rode around the Third Ward on a bike giving away free snow cones.

Mathew Gorgol's Third Ward Sno-Cone delivery device
In the show's statement, Gorgol writes "This idea arose from the recession in America and the continuing heat in Houston. I have always wanted to be able to give something away...This exploration into the act of giving has initiated conversations ranging from the difficulties of being health-conscious to the economics of generosity."

The conversations that Gorgol experienced and alludes to may have been recorded, but they were not transcribed or displayed at the opening nor presented at his slide presentation on Wednesday, 8/24/11.

No worries.

I've taken the liberty of listing some conversation topics that this work inspired for me and listed them in the order in which they came: random.
  • Is a small act of charity insignificant or even a false act of charity in that it makes the giver feel as though s/he has made a charitable contribution while the receiver does not experience a significant benefit?
  • Is superficial charity false charity? 
  • Can a snow cone be an agent of oppression?
  • Can a snow cone be a weapon against oppression?
  • Is giving free snow cones to an individual in an economically oppressed neighborhood an act of kindness?
  • Could you kill (or at least starve almost to death) with kindness as an act of art?
  • What is the nutritional value of a snow cone (refined corn syrup and water)?
  • Who benefits (emotionally, socially, psychologically, financially, nutritionally) from free servings of non-nutritional food to economically challenged individuals, the server or the receiver?
  • Could a nutritionist accuse the artist of distributing false hope in the form of seemingly innocuous non-food under the guise of charity or refreshment or relief? 
  • Would s/he have a case?
  • If the giver doesn't realize that s/he is harming the receiver (if only in social-historical context), is the giver absolved of any and all responsibility?
  • Would you advocate putting the non-nutritonal food peddler in a room with a raw food zealot, 20 lbs. of veggies, and a juicer?
  • Is it art if the participants are not aware that they are participating in art? Is it art-exploitation?
  • Is this\are these vacuous, meaningless, empty gestures (of which art is often accused of being) that serve to distract/dissuade/deter individuals from seeking real change? 
  • Can one be pacified by a snow cone especially if it's rainbow flavor (...after all it's got everything you could possibly want)?
  • Can your refresh and oppress simultaneously?
  • Is a snow cone ever just a snow cone?
  • Is a question ever just a question?
Mathew Gorgol serving sno-cones at the opening

Gorgol rides the same route through the Third Ward every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday starting around 1 p.m. The route is posted in the exhibition space if you're so inclined to judge for yourself whether "Ceci n'est pas la neige cône."

...and if you have questions, you can always post the in comments to this blog.


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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

And The GGPID curator of the year award goes to ...

by Dean Liscum

If you don't "do art" and you're not blowing up your dictionary app every time you come across a word you kinda know, you probably have an idea of what a curator does but you're vague on the details. Essentially, a curator is a creative director and a manager for an art show. The curator decides what to show and brings that what together at a certain time in a finite space. Voila! The art exhibit.

Simple enough...Yeah, like herding cats... cats that just happened to be very focused creative types who don't always play well with others or take one for the team (or even know that there is a team or that there are others). Needless to say, it's a job. As with any other task, some do it well and others not so very. In order to recognize those that excel in this endeavor, I created an award...like spontaneously...like just this second...like pulled it out my ass (and thus a picture of the award will not be available for download). The GGPID Curator of the Year Award is also called the "Gilded Goat" because if you took gold spray paint to what I extracted from ass and it sort of resembles a golden goat.

In the future, we'll have a call for nominees, an impartial judging panel, a lavish ceremony, and a ginormous party at the MFA Beck building with lots of glitter and jello shots and house music. For now, you've got me, jello-less shots, lots of glitter (I thought I'd make it festive), and tears (glitter in your eyes has got to be a Guantanamo interrogation technique).

And the winner of the Great God Pan is Dead award for curator of the year is...

Paul Middendorf
I know what you're wondering...

Well, it's not for his "they call me peewee" bow tie or his cowboy boots or his curatorial selections (well kinda), but rather for his artistic principles.

Let me explain. For his show, SOUTHERN/PACIFIC, at Lawndale, Middendorf (say that three times fast and then click your heels) did his curatorial due diligence. He devised an organizational principle, found artists whose work satisfied its criteria, and then invited them to participate. They all accepted the invitation and then asked about details such as timeframes, logistics, and shipping expenses, etc. Now Lawndale is big for a non-profit art space. However, it doesn't have a shipping budget, which I learned in a very unscientific survey, is fairly typical for local\regional non-profits.

So a couple of the artists asked, "Can you come and get it?"

At this point in the conversation, I (and presumably all the other curators who failed to win this prestigious award) would have restated the request for clarity and emphasis. "I can include your piece in my show if I drive hundreds of miles in the Texas heat, pick it up and drop it off after the exhibition, and promise to cherish love and obey it while it's in my possession?...Uh huh." I'd have taken a long pause before I replied in a voice shaky from incredulity. "I cannot in good conscience deny the feral dogs of Luckenbach of that artistic experience." Then I would have called the next artist on my list. Only I'd have begun that conversation with my best Ed McMahon intoned greeting, "you MAY be a winner."

Actually, I'm not giving him the award for his principles because...
  • He's poisoned the well for ever other sane curator, "What do you mean you won't drive 8 hours in the Texas Heat to pick up MY work? Middendorf would do it"
  • You know there will be bracelets - WWPD (What Would Paul Do) or (Middendorf for Me! I'm an artist!)
  • Gallery's will work "Middendorf" clauses into their curatorial contracts - You want it here. You Middendorf here.
  • Some even worse, unforeseen consequence will arise from this, I can almost foresee it.
If this award was endowed, we could provide security to the winner. But it's not so he's totally on his own. Albeit, the threat-level is not real high. We are in fact talking about artists and lovers of art, a.k.a. curators. (What are they going to do. Spatter his thrift-shop threads with acrylic paint. Have you priced acrylic paint lately?)

Ultimately, I bestow this completely fictional and totally worthless (financially, professionally, psychologically) award on him because that kind of irrational, financially and personally irresponsible action is kind of endearing while remaining completely asinine.

Oh. And did I mention he's gonna return the art work to the artist only to later travel back at a later date, pick up the artwork, and transport it to Portland, Oregan for the northwest debut of the show? Details are sketchy but his friends and loved ONE (he's got one, but that was at the time this was published) insist that there will be an intervention.

If doesn't work, I'm sure I could pull another award out of my...


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Monday, August 8, 2011

The CAMH speaks in the vernacular

by Dean Liscum

On Saturday July 30, 2011, Darsie Alexander did some plain speaking about the "The Spectacular of Vernacular" exhibit, which she curated at the CAMH.

I don't think the talk had a formal title, but if I had to label it I'd call it "The art of everyday things." Alexander started her spiel off with the historic origin of this style of low-brow art. It, like Warhol's Pop art, began as a reaction to the abstract expressionism of the 50s, as practiced by Pollack and De Kooning. Having been told that representational, narrative art was dead, a group of artists immediately sought to revive art-life relationships in their works and inform it with popular culture and media imagery. Next, Alexander provided the definition of the vernacular that she used to develop the show in which she emphasized its linguistic origin and idiom and dialect, but also acknowledged its use in architecture to highlight regional-geographical trends.

Placing the show in the contemporary context, she noted the irony that the more global we get as a society, the more interested we are in local activities and aesthetics. This localization of aesthetic constitutes another facet of pop art. Not the mass production of media images à la Warhol, but the popular, amateur, naive aesthetics made by regional population's approaches to issues of lose, grief, remembrance, celebration, exaltation. This type of pop art is characterized by inherited histories passed along through domestic artifacts, extremely detailed works, craft-ish media.

Alexander then conducted a brief tour discussing selective works from the exhibition and discussing how each embodied the vernacular aesthetic.

The first pieces that she drew the crowd's attention to was Faith Ringgold. Her large fabric piece is a patch work quilt with images of women painted or silk-screened on. These possess the spirit of femininity, but are no less feminist. Working in vocabularies of the domestic sphere, they are cogent in their insistence for equal rights for women.

Next, she highlighted two piece from Kara Walker's pieces from her Selections from Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) (different from those in the catalog because some of the pieces did not make it from the original show at the Walker Art Center in Minnesota to the CAMH). Walker imposes silhouettes, which were popular among the bourgeoisie in the 18th-century, over Harper's illustration of the civil war. In combining these two popular media, Walker re-purposes an iconography that's lost its original meaning and power to question (although the meaning is sometimes ambiguous) the social values associated with both.

Selections from Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)
Mixed Media, 2005
Kara Walker

As I mentioned, this show debuted at the Walker Art Center where Alexander is the Chief Curator. When she assembled the show she pulled included two pieces from Minnesota native Aaron Spangler. His works draw from woodcarving tradition of that region. Spangler's technique draws from native american traditions in the area as well as chain saw art of the local logging culture. His work celebrates the regional culture but he also injects into these tapestries violence and strife that constitutes such a life.



I Owe My Soul To The Company Store, 2009-2010
carved and painted basswood graphite on welded steel base
Aaron Spangler

Dario Robleto attended the talk and Alexander asked him to comment on his piece, Demonstrations of Sailor's Valentines. He echoed Alexander's sentiment that this work came out of the tradition of  the momento mori, which was a popular means for people to express and deal with loss. After 9/11, he turned to this vernacular folk art of the 19th century as a creative/therapeutic response to loss. As an artist he finds in the language of craft and its meticulous craftsmanship and labor an expression of love and hope.

Demonstrations of Sailor's Valentines, 2009
cut paper, various seashells, colored wax, cartes-de-visite, silk, ribbon, foam coare, glue
Dario Robleto


Butt Johnson was also in attendance and he echoed Dario's sentiment about the importance of the labor intensive process. Using the technique of pastiche, he combines the trope of engraving and 19th century floral motifs in his two works. Each piece references a flower from Georges Bataille's essay "The Language of Flowers" but more importantly and indirectly to reference those flowers that are emblematic of human emotion. In his handling of popular symbols and techniques, the works equate to today's mashups.

Untitled Floral Pastiche (Waterlily), 2009
ballpoint pen ink on paper
Butt Johnson


Mike Kelley's contribution looks anything but vernacular. Although the Walker Center version of the show featured his Afghan quilts (which are pictured in the show catalogue), the Houston installation substitues a mobile that looks more like a constructionist sculpture. Alexander deconstructs the mobile, revealing the autobiographical inspiration for each part of Kelley's work. A nest of wires refers to a bush from his high school that students would go behind to make out. Other shapes represent classrooms and public spaces in the school. At least one member of the crowd questioned if these referents for abstract work from the cannon made it "vernacular." Alexander acknowledge the point and added that Kelley works from an Irish belief/custom that to give something personal, something made by hand and unique, can never be repaid.  The specificity and uniqueness of the object make it one of a kind, something that can never be repaid. Kelley has further stated that he looks to always make his work highly personal.

Part of the vernacular is the impulse to collect, Alexander revealed that many of these artists are self-professed "voracious collectors." They then reuse these collections and create from what the culture casts off. In Rachel Harrison's series, Voyages of the Beagle, she collects portraits of the culture by photographing busts of high- and low-brow figures (classic sculptures to cartoon characters). She then scales and presents them all equally, democratically editing the photos to be uniform in size and orientation.

From Voyage of the Beagle, Three 2010
pigmented inkjet prints
Rachel Harrison
From Voyage of the Beagle, Three 2010
pigmented inkjet prints
Rachel Harrison
Moving west, Alexander addressed the California quotidian as not maple trees or mason jars but massive messaging. She indicates that visual pollution/seduction pervades the landscape. In Larry Pittman's piece, he chooses to play with it both criticizing and co-opting the aesthetic.

Alexander concluded her talk with anecdote that illustrates how interest in and inspiration from the vernacular spans generations. A few Walker Evans photographs are in the exhibit. Alexander drew the crowds attention to model of a small scale replica of a country store in the deep south by William Christenberry that resembles the photographs. The store does not mimic the photographs by accident. Christenberry's family owned some of the buildings that Walker photographed. Christenberry saw the photos in one of Evan's books and contacted him. The two then revisited several of the sites and visit inspired some of Christenberry's art work.

To summarize her curatorial approach, Alexander stated that these artists and this show is a rejection of minimalism and conceptual-ism in the great conversation of art. That may be true, but it's also full of humorous salvos in that spirited debate. Being a child of the cold-war, Jeffrey Vallance's pieces tapped into childhood-angst and made me erupt with nervous laughter.

Blinky Bone, 2006
mixed media
Jeffrey Vallance

Vladimir Lenin: Relics of the USSR, 2006
mixed media
Jeffrey Vallance
The exhibit runs through September 18, 2011.


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Friday, August 5, 2011

Self Portrait #1

by Robert Boyd

Photobucket
TouchGraph visualization of all my Facebook friends

Portraiture is constantly being redefined. I remember in an art history textbook in college seeing two portraits of a 19th century Maori; one by a European artist and one by a Maori artist. The European artist depicted the Maori man in a three-quarter view, in a naturalistic style. His facial tattoos were drawn in detail, but as a pattern on a solid object--his head. The Maori artist drew the Maori man's eyes and mouth in a somewhat simplified way but drew the pattern of the tattoo exactly. Because the two artists had different ideas about representation and identity, they approached their shared subject in vastly different ways.

One way of depicting a person is to present data about that person. Therefore, a data visualization could be considered a portrait--at least at this point in Western cultural history.

The image above is a visual depiction of all my friends and networks from Facebook as calculated by an app called TouchGraph. TouchGraph looks at all your friends and how they relate to all your other friends. It tries to color code them according to certain associations. How this sorting works is kind of mysterious. For example, the light blue group is mostly family, but also includes a guy I knew in high school. The green is a lot of people from Houston (if not currently in Houston) and includes some people I went to high school and college with, others I know from here and there, and lots of people in the Houston art scene. But the orange group is also people from the Houston art scene, as is the little two-person magenta group. The red group are mostly people who come from the world of comics, but also includes a large subset of people I went to college with. The dark blue group is mostly people I worked at Dark Horse Comics with--why, of all the places I worked, they would be lumped in their own separate group, I don't know. Probably the least confusing grouping are the purple people, all of whom I went to business school with.

This is free, off-the-shelf software, so I can't say I'm being particularly original in this information-age self-portrait. But I nonetheless think it is valid--as much so as a photographic self-portrait would be.


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