Thursday, August 7, 2014

What I Didn't Do This Summer

Robert Boyd

What I haven't been doing this summer is writing. I have an excuse--I moved into a new place, which has been a very time-consuming process. But I've also procrastinated. There have been things I fully intended to write about--the amazing Trenton Doyle Hancock show at CAMH, the ginormous Big Show at Lawndale, the great new artists residency in Navasota and much more--that I just never got around to finishing. Usually I feel consumed with guilt if I'm not producing. But this summer, only a little guilt. And that's a little troubling for the future of the blog. After all, I don't get paid to do this--so without guilt, what's my motivation?

But slightly guilty introspection is not the purpose of this post. Just because I've dropped the ball this summer doesn't mean you need to deprive yourself of quality online art commentary. Obviously Glasstire is still going strong, and recently has been pissing people off a lot, which I like. People getting pissed off means people actually care and engage. Houston's art scene can sometimes feel like a warm soup of complacent consensus (with a lot of "off the record" backbiting, natch). But several Glasstire pieces recently have inspired a lot of contentious comments (which can often be pretty deadly, but I think Glasstire monitors its comment sections to weed out the obvious trolls). For example, check out "How Tight Is Texas for Artists" by Christina Rees, which asks "Why would anyone who is truly creative stay in this city or this state if they could live elsewhere?" Bill Davenport hit one out of the park with his two-fer  "Painting on my Planet" and "The Top Ten Painters In Houston", in which Davenport responds to a somewhat puzzling top 10 painters list in the Houston Press. Davenport proposes that that list is from another planet ("Planet A") while he prefers work from "Planet B." Part of me thinks Planet B should have been called "Planet MFA," but his list was not only pretty good, but it inspired a deluge of reader-generated lists.

But everyone who reads The Great God Pan Is Dead already reads Glasstire, right? What else should you be paying attention to? A new project by Houston artist Brian Piana is Spill Some Stuff. Spill Some Stuff is a podcast, which is a form of internet communication I have to admit that I don't like all that much. My problem is that you listen to them thinking you can be doing something else at the same time, but I can't really simultaneously do anything else and pay attention to the podcast. It's too hard for me to divide my attention. But that's me--obviously there are a lot of multi-taskers out there who can work on some project while still actively listening to a podcast. The success of Bad at Sports proves this.

Spill Some Stuff is very new and has had only two podcasts so far--but they are both pretty meaty. The podcasts last about an hour. Piana has promised that Spill Some Stuff won't be exclusively art-focused, but his first two interview subjects, Emily Link and Elaine Bradford, are both well-known members of the Houston art scene.

Emily Link, Steinmann, 2011

The first episode was an interview with Emily Link, and they discuss Link's art as well as her work with Lawndale Art Center, focusing particularly on The Big Show, which was about to open when this interview was conducted. Piana is a little nervous, and he has a tendency to hog the discussion. The word "awesome" pops up too frequently in this interview. But these quibbles aside, it's an impressive debut. Piana, it turns out, has a fantastic radio voice and is a natural radio interviewer. There's never "dead air"--if he talks a little more than his subject, it's in the service of moving things along. It never feels awkward and he's never at a loss for words.

Elaine Bradford, I See You, 2014, ceramic figures and crocheted embroidery threads (from the Big Show at Lawndale)

And his second interview with Elaine Bradford is even better. They discuss her career and recent work, as well as her work with Box 13 Artspace. And practice makes perfect--Piana's interviewing is even better in this second installment than in the first. This is good stuff. I look forward to hearing more.

Another bit of online art commentary I've been consuming is Art vs. Reality, a series of videos written and starring Peter Drew. Peter Drew is a young Australian artist and critic whose previous claim to fame was to be almost kicked out of the Glasgow School of Art in 2013 for doing illegal street art.

His six-part video series, Art vs. Reality, features him taking on the persona of an extremely pompous art critic doing the kind of "explains it all to you" TV show that reminds one a bit of Robert Hughes. It has a satirical edge, but it aims to address real issues--art galleries (using "galleries" in the English sense of any place designed specifically to show art, including museums), art schools, conceptual art, street art, artists as "geniuses" and art critics. Each episode is followed by a mini-episode in which he responds to viewer mail. (In the first episode, he asks for feedback on the role of galleries today--but warns viewers, "By all means, challenge my opinions, but I warn you: my education cost more than a Blue Period Picasso, I've dined with the world's greatest curators and ruined careers of over a thousand artists. To destroy your argument will be my pleasure... And your privilege. So in other words--let's have a healthy debate!"

This series reminds me a bit of the great series Art Thoughtz by Hennessy Youngman, the alter ego of artist Jason Munson. Youngman and Drew both address their viewers as "internet" ("Wassup internet!"). They both address serious issues of art lightly. Their styles are totally different, but their willingness to use humor to engage the art world marks them as related projects. Given the dour seriousness of much of the art world, they're refreshing.

Here is the first episode of Art vs. Reality:


  1. I was beginning to wonder if everything was alright with the Paniverse, but I also know your move took a big chunk of time. Thanks for including my podcast in this post, and for the kind words. I, too, cannot multitask well while listening to conversation. I simply can’t listen to a podcast while trying to simultaneously arrange words (such as in coding a website or drafting an email), but I really got into them earlier this year while working on some new paintings. Specifically, I enjoy the Nerdist podcast hosted by Chris Hardwick, which is usually a free-from conversation between Chris and his guest for about an hour. That’s kind of my goal for Spill Some Stuff. I am certainly green, but I do hope to get better and correct the many mistakes I’ll make a long the way. Thanks for listening to both episodes, and I would love to have you later this year. Perhaps during Art Fair season?

  2. PS. I had never heard of Art vs. Reality, but just watched the first episode here and might just watch the rest tonight.