Wednesday, October 4, 2017


Robert Boyd

The Art League selected Trenton Doyle Hancock as their artist of the year this year. Because the Art League's building was damaged by Hurricane Harvey, Hancock's exhibit was held in the former Rice Gallery.

 Trenton Doyle Hancock, Letting, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2015

The opening was an big event--the artistic elite of Houston showed up. Hancock was mobbed by fans.

Trenton Doyle Hancock drawing a dédicace in my copy of the catalog for the show

Among the attendees was artist Bill Davenport. He asked me what I thought about the comics influence on Hancock. I said it was fairly obvious and that Hancock had done comics-like pieces, like Epidemic! Presents: Step and Screw which was shown in Hancock's 2014 exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

But, I told Bill, I think the main thing that Hancock gets from comics is the idea of characters that he uses over and over again. He has created a mythos inhabited by a group of characters that he draws and paints repeatedly. This is not unlike the mythoi of Marvel and DC comics. Superman and Wonder Woman live in the same "universe", and Spider-Man and the X-Men live in their own separate universe. The people who write and draw these comics must make their stories conform to the rules of those universes and the norms established for those characters. But these characters are quite mutable. A character who is a super-hero can turn bad or change his costume or even change her gender.

So what Hancock and some other contemporary artists do is the same. Hancock has this whole universe of the "Mounds" and the "Vegans", and has his own superhero alter-ego, Torpedo Boy.

Trenton Doyle Hancock, Torpedo Boy toy

For Hancock, the idea of making characters involves the whole universe of modern capitalist trademarked characters. That includes making toys of characters; Hancock is a devoted collector of toys.

As I talked to Davenport, we both realized that for most of art history, artists had a bunch of characters they could use over and over. Biblical characters are obvious choices, and mythological characters, and historical figures. What is different about those characters and modern corporate characters is that no one owned Jesus or Zeus. Disney owns Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man. Warner Brothers owns Batman and the Teen Titans. And artist can use these characters once or twice, but if they try to create involve bodies of work using these characters, they'll get legally shut down. Spider-Man is just too valuable to Disney to let Trenton Doyle Hancock or any other artists to do with it whatever they want.

And Disney and other copyright holders have worked mightily to make sure that no one can make their own Mickey Mouse artworks. Prior to 1976, copyrights lasted 28 years and then could be renewed for another 28 years at which time the work would return to the public domain. In 1976, that 56-year term was extended to 75 years. Then in 1998, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the copyright to 95 years. This law was created after a a decade of intense lobbying by Disney. And we can assume that Mickey Mouse will never enter the public domain--Disney will always lobby Congress to extend copyright.

So today's artists who want to use characters in their art will need either to do what Hancock did--make up their own mythos--or use characters that are in the public domain by virtue of being quite old: the old standbys (biblical characters, mythological characters, historical figures) or characters from literature or art from the 19th century or before.

All of which begs the question of why artists might want to use characters at all? Most artists in the past 100 years have been more than capable of creating their art without repeatedly using characters. I don't have a theory about this--someone should talk to artists who work with characters what their motivation is. In any case, it's a thing and unfortunately artists can't use Mickey Mouse or Wonder Woman or Captain America, because of copyright laws that are written for the benefit of large media companies.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Real Estate Art: 1046 Bayou Island

Robert Boyd

It's been a while since I did one of these. This house, at 1046 Bayou Island, is just south of Buffalo Bayou on a little subdivision off of Gessner Drive. A lot of houses off of the bayou near here were flooded when they opened the sluice gate at Addicks Dam upstream to keep the Harvey storm waters from overtopping the dam. Fortunately for the people on Bayou Island, when their houses were built they were elevated a few feet. So they never flooded, despite being right on the bayou.

My brother is a realtor and he knows I'm interested in houses with art in them. So he sent me the following photos.

These are by George Rodrigue, the late New Orleans artist who specialized pictures of a particular blue dog, beloved of suburban art lovers.

More George Rodrigue. His work was the only work I recognized. From here on out, I have no idea. Anyone out there know who is responsible for these paintings? Let me know!

Any art lovers out there recognize these paintings?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Summer Reading

Robert Boyd

Summer reading is always advertised as light reading, but a better description is "reading for pleasure". For me, all reading is for pleasure--I haven't read a book because I had to since I left grad school. My reading this summer has mostly fallen into various long-time interests of mine. And because I continue to be unemployed, I've had plenty of time to read. (Any job leads would be much appreciated, readers!)

I'm arranging my reading by category below. I always have a group of subjects that interest me at any given time...

  • Soviet history

For most of my life, I thought the Soviet Union was a boring place. How do you have an interesting history or society when every move you make is regulated and controlled by a central state, eager to suppress any personal feelings you might have? I had read some Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in high school, but never delved deeper until much later. I was 29 when the Soviet Union fell, and that seemed to me like a good moment to never think about it again.

But shortly after that, I became interested in the nonconformist Soviet artists who arose mostly in the 1970s. For example,  Ilya Kabakov and Erik Bulatov. In 1994, a really good book, The Ransom of Russian Art by John McPhee, was published. It was about how economics professor Norton Dodge started buying art by nonconformist artists on his many trips to the USSR (his academic specialty was Soviet economics). His story was exciting. But it left me with a lot of questions. What had happened to Soviet culture that had lead to these artists doing what they did? I started investigating. And culture couldn't be separated from history, and the history turned out to be fascinating. And since perestroika, lots of previously suppressed historical information has become available. My interest in the Soviet Union has kind of snowballed ever since. This summer I read:

Who Killed Kirov?: The Kremlin's Greatest Mystery by Amy Knight (2000).  Sergei Kirov was the Communist party boss of Leningrad. He was assassinated in December 1934, an event that precipitated the Great Purge, in which Stalin had thousands of loyal Communists (aka "old Bolsheviks") executed. This book makes the completely circumstantial case that Stalin was behind Kirov's assassination mainly by showing that Kirov had gotten on Stalin's wrong side. This thesis seems plausible but is unproven. The value of the book is in its biography of Kirov--what did it look like to be an important young Bolshevik before and after the rise to power of the Bolsheviks in 1917? And its detailed description of the political intrigue just prior and just after Kirov's death is fascinating. The trajectory towards death of three of the most important old Bolsheviks, Zinoviev, Kamanev and Bukharin, is particularly interesting. Very readable, but expect to be snowed under by lots of Russian names.

Ernst Neizvestnyi, gravestone of Nikita Khrushchev, 1995

Khrushchev: The Man and His Era by William Taubman (2004). There are a lot of good books about Stalin, but this is the only one I know about his successor, Khrushchev. I was particularly interested in Khrushchev because he undid so much of what Stalin did--the so-called Khrushchev Thaw. He denounced Stalin in the "secret speech" in 1956 and emptied out the gulags. Under Khrushchev, there was a general liberalization of the arts. Khrushchev personally permitted  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to be published--it was the first literary account of life in Stalin's Gulag published in the USSR. But Khrushchev also suppressed Doctor Zhivago. The fact was that he wasn't a particularly cultured person and allowed himself to be influenced by the "experts", some of whom were progressive and some of whom were reactionary Stalinist holdovers. But of course, this is only a small part of his life and political career. More interesting is how a member of Stalin's inner circle became a reformer who ran the USSR for 10 years before being replaced in a coup by neostalinists lead by Leonid Brezhnev, who had been a protege of Khrushchev. The neostalinists would rule the Soviet Union from 1964 until 1985. (Interestingly, Kirov and Khrushchev were both avid hunters.)

The image above is an example of the ironies of Khrushchev's reign. The sculptor, Ernst Neizvestnyi, had been in a verbal altercation with Khrushchev in an exhibit in 1962. Khrushchev was tricked into attending an exhibit of modernist artworks and had no clue what to make of them. Neizvestnyi was in attendance, and Khrushchev called Neizvestnyi a "faggot." The two men argued vociferously. But Khrushchev was no Stalin and there were no repercussions for Neizvestnyi. After he died, the Khrushchev family commissioned Neizvestnyi to design Khrushchev's headstone, which places a naturalistic bust within an abstract, modernist design. Fitting that an artist who stood his ground before the leader of the Soviet Union should be given this commission.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (2013). Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2015, but she is what most readers would call a journalist. She is best known for creating astonishing oral histories. This book consists of people talking about their lives during the period just before and just after the end of the Soviet Union--the 80s and 90s mostly. We read accounts of life under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and the resentment that so many had over the economic depression caused by acting Prime Minister Gaider's "shock treatment" approach to market liberalization. Particularly older Russions who worked their entire lives in a shitty factory and suddenly found their pensions worth nothing. But the text is complex, and public opinion as revealed by Alexievich's interviews is full of contradictions. One of the interview subjects points out that half the impoverished pensioners were former NKVD  informers, camp guards, etc. They had been willing participants in a system that ground up and tortured millions. But many of the interviews are with people who survived that system just barely.

Khrushchev makes an appearance in a surprising way--in the "Khrushchyoykas," cheap apartment blocks that Khrushchev started building in the 50s which by the 90s were badly deteriorated. They may have been crappy, but had the benefit of giving many people their own private apartments for the first time. We think of the dissident movement of the 60s and 70s as having grown out of the Khrushchev Thaw, but perhaps just as much it grew out of the Khrushchyovkas, where people could gather in the kitchens to discuss subversive ideas. It seemed that everyone read samizdat and illegally imported books (like Dr. Zhivago) and discussed these ideas in their kitchens. But with the fall of the USSR, ideas were exchanged for stuff. All those kitchen intellectuals became irrelevant after 1989. Russia had no Vaclav Havel.

The hardest account to read was one by "Anna M.", whose mother was pregnant when she was arrested. Anna was born in a camp in Khazakstan and from the age of 5 to 16, lived in an orphanage. Her descriptions of her young life are devastating--I had to put the book down and walk away. She was 59 years old when she was interviewed by Alexievich. There are also shattering first-person accounts of the wars that broke out in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union--for example, the war between Georgia and the separatist Abkhazians, or between Azeris and Armenians. This book is almost encyclopedic. People who hated Gorbachev, who loved him, who loved Yeltsin, who were nostalgic for Stalinism, etc. A truly great work of journalism, and a great example why journalistic and non-fiction works should be considered for literary prizes.

  • Comics

I have loved comics since I was a kid reading B.C. and Peanuts in the paper, and that love has had its lulls but has never died. All of the comics below are relatively new graphic novels.

Emil Ferris, 2-page spread from My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris. A powerful new graphic novel by a cartoonist who seemingly came out of nowhere. A swirling, colorful work, drawn in ballpoint pens and flair markers, it details the life of a 10-year-old girl, Karen. living in a rough part of Chicago in the 1960s. There is a murder in her building, and Karen is determined to solve it. This makes it sound like a Nancy Drew mystery, but it is much stranger and more personal. Karen's brother, Deeze, is an artist and takes Karen to the Art Institute where she loves the weirder paintings, and many of the visuals in the story quote the paintings. The art is unlike anything I've ever seen in a comic book, and I've seen a lot. The art and story are obsessive and beautiful and sad. This is maybe the best book I read all summer--definitely the best comic. (I think Secondhand Time wins the "prize" for best book.)

The Customer is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond. This is a sequel to her quasi-autobiographical graphic novel Over Easy. The main character is an art school drop-out working at a hip restaurant in Oakland in the late 70s. This is pre-AIDS and pre-Reagan, so there is a lot of sex and drugs (specifically copious cocaine use). It's a very entertaining and sometimes moving vie de bohème.

Demon volume 3 by Jason Shiga. This is the third volume of four volume series. Shiga is well-known for creating works that incorporate puzzle-like structures, and the Demon series is no different. The main character is a man who can't die--whenever he dies, he wakes up in another person's body, the person who happened to be closest to him at the time of his death. A series of incredibly violent adventures ensue. Not particularly deep but totally entertaining.

Seth, p. 29 of the last chapter of Clyde Fans

Palookaville 23 by Seth. Seth has been publishing his solo comic book Palookaville since 1991. It started out as a black-and-white comic book, then in 2010 turned into a hardback which was published approximately once every two years. This volume has the final chapter of Clyde Fans, a graphic novel that Seth started it in 1997, along with a longish autobiographical story and a selection of paintings. The end of Clyde Fans is kind of an epochal event in Seth's career as a cartoonist--the ending is very contemplative and somewhat melancholy. But the other story, "Nothing Lasts," is really good, too. A great work by one of comics' greatest artists.

Ron Regé, Jr., What Parsifal Saw p. 73, from the story "Diana"

What Parsifal Saw by Ron Regé, Jr. Regé has been one of my favorite cartoonists since I lived in Massachusetts 20-odd years ago and he was self-publishing comics in Boston. Since then, he has moved to L.A. and become a serious new ager, heavily invested in the study of alchemy. A major portion of this book is composed of illustrated texts from Madame Blavatsky, the founder of a "religion" known as theosophy. I find theosophy and new age beliefs to be utterly ridiculous, like believing in astrology. But these beliefs are seriously inspirational for Regé, and Blavatsky's writing has provoked him to produce a lot of very cool, cosmic drawings. This book also includes his retelling of the origin of Wonder Woman, which Regé describes as a "parody" of the original comics by William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter. But it's not really a parody; I think Regé was just covering his ass by calling it that. Instead, it reads like a straight-up retelling, lovingly re-drawn in his own style.

Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell. I've written about Bell before--she's an artist I've enjoyed for years. A lot of her stories are somewhat cynical takes on urban life, but this one is quite autobiographical and seems deeply felt. It's about how her eccentric mother's cabin burned down and how Gabrielle helped her get back on her feet with the help of people in her Mom's rural Northern California community. I miss the urban cynic somewhat, but it seems like habitual cynicism is something Bell has grown out of as an artist.

Fante Bukowski Two by Noah Van Sciver. This is a sequel to a small book published in 2015 about an writer-manqué whose ridiculous pen name is Fante Bukowski. The first book was a small comic gem. 80 pages was the perfect length for Fante Bukowski. The second volume is substantially longer and the additional pages don't help. Van Sciver tries to make is a satire of the publishing world and is only somewhat successful. But he's great at depicting lowlife. The disgusting hotel that Fante Bukowski lives in is a comic masterpiece of total degradation, as is the recurring hooker character. And Van Sciver has a gift for funny lines. My favorite (in my current unemployed state) was when Bukowski gets cut off by his Mom. "Okay, think, Fante, think! You can't get a job! Jobs are for quitters!"  Van Sciver's art is perfect for the content--grungy, lively cartooning.

  • Art
I am always interested in art, especially art that happens here, as readers of this blog will certainly know. Three of the books below touch on art here in Houston, but I have a general interest in the subject. I enjoy reading about art, especially art history.

Houston Reflections: Art in the City, 1950s, 60s, and 70s by Sarah Reynolds (2007). I've never seen an actual printed version of this book, but the entire book is available for free online. It consists of transcribed oral histories of early Houston artists, most of whom are still alive today but quite old. I had read bits and pieces of it in the past, but decided to read the whole thing finally. It's a key text in the art history of Houston--how did artists do their thing in a city that for the most part couldn't care less? Especially, how did African American artists make a place for themselves in a segregated Houston?

Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: Expanded Edition by Lawrence Weschler (1982/2008). I first read this excellent biography of Robert Irwin in the early 90s (the first edition was published in 1982). This expanded edition was published in 2008. The new edition has 87 extra pages and disusses his big retrospective at MOCA in LA, his design of the garden at the Getty Museum, and his big installations at Dia. Irwin was born in 1928, which makes me wonder if there will be more expanded editions in the future. But since the publication of this edition, Irwin completed a major work in Marfa, Texas. It opened in 2016, so there is at least one more chapter to write. It is said to be Irwin's largest work to date--and if it's larger than the garden at the Getty, it must be enormous indeed. It is interesting to think that a biography of an artist would need to be continually updated due to the continuing fecundity of its subject. But that seems to be the case with Irwin.

Earl Staley, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1992, acrylic on canvas, reproduced in Contemporary Art in Texas.

Contemporary Art in Texas by Patricia Covo Johnson (1995). Johnson was an art critic for the Houston Chronicle (which like most daily papers, no longer has a full-time art critic). This book is a survey of the scene in Texas at 1995, artist by artist. There is a little overlap with Houston Reflections, but not as much as you would think. By 1995, the art scene in Texas was quite different from what it had been in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Johnson was looking at art from all over the state, but if she seems to focus on Houston art, one can hardly blame her. Houston's art scene was very dynamic at the time--it dominated the state. (I wouldn't make that claim now.) Plus, she was located here and had access to all the artists in Houston. She was married to to a well-known Houston artist, Lucas Johnson (1940-2002). The texts for each artist is fairly slight--it's not a heavily critical book--and most of the illustrations are black and white, unfortunately. Despite this, it's a useful document of the times. The introduction is by Walter Hopps (see The Dream Colony below).

The Contemporaries: Travels in the 21st-Century Art World by Roger White (2017). The description of this sounded right up my alley--a journalistic exploration of the art world as it currently exists. I was thinking it might be like Sarah Thornton's excellent books. It was OK and highly readable, but not particularly memorable. White found several interesting subjects to write about, including a mostly forgotten conceptual artist, Stephen Kaltenbach, but the book as a whole never coheres into a worldview. It feels like a series of somewhat related magazine articles.

Edward Kienholz, Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps, 1959

The Dream Colony: A Life in Art by Walter Hopps, Deborah Treisman and Anne Doran. This is sort of an autobiography of Walter Hopps, except that Hopps didn't write it. It's based on a series of edited interviews with Hopps. The interviews were conducted by Anne Doran, and the plan had been for Triesman and Hopps to work together to form it into a narrative. But Hopps died in 2005 and the project died for a while. The problem with it as a memoir is that it doesn't really cover his last few years in much detail, which is a bit of a disappointment to those of us here in Houston (Hopps was the first director of the Menil Museum). It also has the problem of reading like an interview instead of a written memoir. I prefer my prose to read like prose. But still, the richness of Hopps' life is amazing.

Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy by Scott Bishop, Robert Ekelund, Danielle Mohr Funderburk, Dennis Harper, J. Andrew Henley, Jessica Hughes, Marilyn Laufer, Paul Manoguerra, Daniel Scott Neil, Heather Read, Sunny Stalter-Pace and Mark White (2012). After World War II, the State Department started compiling a collection of modern American art with the specific intent of showing it abroad. The idea was to show what free American artists could produce, unlike art from the Soviet Union, which was backward looking socialist realism enforced heavily by the government. The collection was successfully exhibited in Eastern Europe and Latin America but scuppered by reactionary forces in the U.S. The collection was sold off as war surplus in 1948. This book details the work in the collection and talks about the political situation that ended this experiment. Subsequently, the CIA (working with MOMA) secretly funded exhibitions of avant garde American art in Europe and South America. The essays in this catalog are very repetitious, and the collection is not first rate (the buyer for the State Department had middling tastes), but many of the pieces are great and the story is incredible and full of irony.

Hans Namuth,  Julian Schnabel, 1981

Hans Namuth Portraits by Carolyn Kinder Carr (1999). Namuth (1915-1990) is mostly famous for one thing--photographing Jackson Pollack at work. And they are great photos--they really give one an idea of what Pollack was doing. But he made a career out of photographing accomplished, creative people, including most of the other abstract expressionists and various New York School personalities in all arts: composers, architects, writers, etc. One hilarious photo of Julian Schnabel mimics his famous Pollack photos, but Schnabel is wearing a spotless designer shirt. It really typifies that era. Namuth wasn't a great photographer, but he was a good one, and the personalities he captured here make it worth it.

  • Science Fiction
I used to be a devoted reader of science fiction, and I still read it from time to time. I only read one science fiction book this summer, though.

Earth by David Brin (1990). Brin is a writer of sprawling science fiction epics with tons of characters. He is most famous for The Postman, which got made into an infamous flop starring Kevin Costner. But the book was really good. Earth is about Earth on the verge of total environmental collapse and the many people who are trying to prevent it. There is some science fictional stuff about black holes, and millions of characters (which is typical in a Brin novel). And lots of stuff about the culture of the world that humanity finds itself in. In a lot of ways, the book is remarkably prescient. But I found it kind of boring--eventually I lost interest in whether or not the world got saved.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

''If that's art, I'm a Hottentot''

Robert Boyd

Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Circus Girl Resting, 1925, Oil on canvas, 38 ⅖ x 28 ½ in.

The title of this blog post is a quote that President Harry S. Truman made in 1946 on seeing the painting Circus Girl Resting by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, reproduced above. It was part of an exhibit of art purchased by the State Department. The exhibit was called "Advancing American Art," and its 117 pieces showed some of the modernist trends in American visual art. It had been assembled partly as a propaganda exhibit, to demonstrate to viewers overseas that the USA wasn't just a bunch of uncultured rubes with A-bombs and Hollywood. The show had traveled to Eastern Europe and Cuba before the reactionary Hearst newspapers and Look magazine attacked it. Look ran a headline "Your Money Bought These Paintings"with a selection of photos of some of the most inflammatory examples.

This episode was a key moment in the history of American art. The State Department was forced to sell its collection, but the mission of showing our allies (especially in Western Europe) that the USA was a free nation that tolerated and even encouraged avant garde art was still considered important; the baton was taken up by the CIA, which with the collaboration of the Museum of Modern Art began to secretly sponsor exhibitions of advanced American art in Europe and Latin America.

There is so much to unpack in this little story--the life and career of Yasuo Kuniyoshi is fascinating, and the history of the CIA and Abstract Expressionism has become a kind of conspiracy theory all its own. But for the purpose of this post, I want to reflect on Harry Truman's statement. It's exciting and flattering to artists if our leaders have sophisticated tastes, like Kennedy and Obama apparently did (or at least they successfully faked it). But most presidents, prime ministers and premiers don't. Being an art lover is hardly a prerequisite for a politician. In the USA, that's usually not an issue--for the most part, politicians have no say and no interest over what art gets produced. Occasionally an issue bubbles up and politicians try to make hay over "obscene" art. See Rudy Giuliani, for example.

But in countries where the government is the primary market for art and has a strong ideological motive for controlling art, that's not the case. The example of the Soviet Union is instructive.

Under Stalin, socialist realism became the official state-approved style in 1934. Artists who resisted this risked imprisonment or death. Stalin died in 1953, instituting a period called "the thaw." In various arts, it became acceptable to do things that had previously never been allowed. The Soviet Union's post-Stalin leader, Nikita Khrushchev, emptied the gulags of political prisoners and removed the terror that kept artists in line. There would be no more Osip Mandelstams, who was killed for writing a poem critical of Stalin. Khrushchev personally approved the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which was the first honest depiction of life in the gulag.

Despite this, abstract art was a bridge too far for Khrushchev. There is a remarkable account of his encounter with several abstract artists at an exhibit in 1962 in the book Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. A little background is necessary. Artists and writers in the Soviet Union were very much encouraged by the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and artists had been given a chance finally to see the modernist masterpieces owned by the state that had been in storage in the Hermitage museum for decades. But there were still plenty of conservative artists still in positions of power.

There was an exhibit at the Manezh Exhibition Hall across from the Kremlin entitled "Thirty Years of Moscow Art" consisting of traditional socialist realist works. Then, mysteriously, a section of modern work was added--essentially an unofficial apartment show was moved into the Manezh Exhibition Hall. The artists were thrilled--it was as if suddenly the state was recognizing their work. But it was a trick--the head of the Artist's Union and the Central Committee Secretary--two arch-reactionaries--told Khrushchev that these artists were mocking him. So Khrushchev went over to check it out.

He walked in and was shocked by what he saw.
The artists applauded Khrushchev, but among the first words he uttered were "It's dog shit!  . . . A donkey could smear better than this with his tail." He shouted at a young artist, "You're a nice-looking lad, but how could you paint something like this? We should take down your paints and set you in a clump of nettles until you understand your mistakes. You should be ashamed. Are you a faggot [pideras] or a normal man? Do you want to go abroad? Go then; we'll take you as far as the border. . . . We have the right to send you out to cut trees until you've paid back the money the state has spent on you. The people and the government have taken a lot of trouble with you, and you pay them back with this shit."
Imagine how terrifying it must have been to be on the receiving end of that tirade.
Khrushchev demanded, "Who's in charge here?" [Eli] Beliutin was pushed forward, along with [Ernst] Neizvestny, a gruff, husky paratrooper before he turned sculptor. Neizvestny too must be a homosexual, Khrushchev shouted. "Nikita Sergeyevich," the burly sculptor shot back, after excusing himself to Minister of Culture Yekaterina Furtseva, "give me a girl right here and now and I'll show you what sort of homosexual I am."
But Khrushchev was no Stalin. There were no repercussions from this. No artists were arrested. He recognized later that he wasn't really competent to judge avant garde artwork. When Fellini's 8 1/2 won the top prize at the Third International Film Festival, it was shown to Khrushchev in his dacha. His son Sergei tried to convince that Fellini was a genius. Khrushchev told Sergei, "I don't understand a thing, but the international jury has awarded it first prize. What am I supposed to do? They understand it better than I do; that's what they're there for. Why do they always palm these things off on me? I've already called Ilychev and told him not to intervene. Let the professionals decide."

But in 1964, Khrushchev was overthrown in a coup. The neo-Stalinists were back in power and they clamped down on culture. The Thaw was over. It was impossible for avant garde artists to get official support, and many were oppressed. The most infamous example was the closing of an open-air exhibit of "unofficial" art in 1974 (so-called because the artists were not officially part of the Artist's Union, which would have allowed them to make a living from their art) by police who destroyed the art with bulldozers. However, by this time Russia was open enough that this incident embarrassed the government. Nonetheless, the world of unofficial art moved decisively underground. Artists had exhibits in their apartments and studios, careful only to invite trusted friends.

As for Ernst Neizvestny, he had a long career as a sculptor. He was ironically invited to design Khrushchev's grave four years after Khrushchev's death (it took that long for the family to get official permission to mark his grave).

Ernst Neixvetsny, Nikita Khrushchev's grave marker, 1975

Ernst Neizvetsny, Nikita Khrushchev's grave marker, 1975

(These photos are by Russian translator and scholar John Freedman from his blog, Russian Culture in Landmarks. )

Ernst Neizvestny was on the outs as an official artist until 1966, when he won an important sculpture competition by entering anonymously. In 1976, he either voluntarily left or was forced into exile (accounts vary) and moved to the U.S., where he taught sculpture. He died in 2016 in Stony Brook, New York.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Real Estate Art: 4302 Colony West Dr., Richmond, TX

by Robert Boyd

This listing has been circulating around my internet for a few days. Multiple acquaintances have posted it on Facebook. The house seems nice, but it's what's in the house that interests us.

Richmond was once a charming small town southwest of Houston, but in recent years it has become a suburb of Houston. This huge house was built in 2000. The listing says that it was owned by an artist, and it is crammed with art. But I can't identify any of it.

I can relate to this owner because of the clutter, the hoarder-like horror vacui. My apartment is much smaller and less elegant, but is also crammed with stuff. I've always admired people who manage to have elegantly empty homes, with one or two really striking objects or pieces of artwork in any given room. I could never do that, nor it seems could the owner of this place.

I obviously don't know for sure, but I'm assuming that these thick canvases on the wall are by the artist who lives here. They seem energetic and similar to art I've seen around town but are unfamiliar. So I throw the question out to whatever readers remain for this mostly defunct blog--who is this artist?

I like clutter, but this seems closing in on pathological. Amazing that they'd use this photo in a real estate listing. Note the mannequins. The house is inhabited with mannequins, some dressed and posed, others waiting. I've known artists who have mannequins--it's a little like having a realistic, life-size doll that you can dress however you like. It gives you yet another reason to hit the thrift stores.

Here is another mannequin--one of several that are mounted on the ceiling. And I love this library!

Another great library wall. But it seems like it's a little hard to get to stuff. That's the problem with clutter.

As far as I can tell, the two people here are dressed up mannequins. Below are a bunch more photos. And check out the actual listing for 4302 Colony West.