Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Revisiting Old Favorites at the Museum of Fine Arts

 Robert Boyd

I went to the Kinder building at the Museum of Fine Arts here in Houston last Saturday--the first day it was open to the general public. For many viewers, what was exciting was that they pulled so much art out of storage. Some were things that had never been on permanent display before (and some piece may never have been displayed before). For me, that meant that a few old favorites that I had not seen in a long time finally got pulled out of the garden shed to be seen again. 

Claes Oldenburg, Giant Soft Fan -- Ghost Version, 1967, canvas, wood, polyurethane foam

 This sculpture by Claes Oldenburg used to be in the front lobby of the Caroline Wiess Law Building (the curved part that faces Bissonnet , designed by Mies van der Rohe). I saw it many times when I was was in high school and college. Ironically, it seemed like part of the furniture there. Always waiting for me to walk in and see it. But sometime in the past 25 years, the museum moved it into storage.

Claes Oldenburg, Giant Soft Fan -- Ghost Version, 1967, canvas, wood, polyurethane foam

 Aside from being an amusing and ironic piece of art, it reminds me of when I was a baby art-lover. The entryway to the Mies building is a spectacular space and seeing this classic piece of pop art made me feel at home. I know it's meant to be an oscillating fan, but the base always reminded me of a antique phone receiver. Because the blades of the fan are drooping, that conical shape is kind of the dominate shape. 

Claes Oldenburg, Giant Soft Fan -- Ghost Version, 1967, canvas, wood, polyurethane foam

 I know Oldenburg was creating what to him seemed like ordinary household items, but many decades later, it feels like Oldenburg is depicting antiques. Who uses an oscillating fan anymore now in the age of air conditioning? And I am starting to feel like an antique, too. Perhaps that is why I was so moved to see this piece again.

Another piece that used to be displayed in the Caroline Wiess Law Building that was pulled out of storage is this huge Louise Nevelson wall. In the new Kinder building, they have it displayed in a hallway where it is impossible to back up far enough to fit it into a photo on my phone. That isn't really a criticism of how they are displaying it--just a comment on how big it is!


Louise Nevelson, Mirror Image 1, 1969, painted wood

I've always liked how Nevelson stacked up wooden boxes in a way that announced, "This is art." The materials seem so humble--literally wood scraps. According to the information card, she reused wooden boxes that had once been pedestals. A little band saw, a few nails, some black paint and you have an art! Even as a young guy I was impressed.

Louise Nevelson, Mirror Image 1, 1969, painted wood

My photos lighten the color of the piece. It is much more black than it appears in these images. 


Louise Nevelson, Mirror Image 1, 1969, painted wood

Looking at this piece after so many years reminds me of Nevelsons I have seen since. There is a huge public Louise Nevelson a few blocks away from my apartment (cast in metal). I am also reminded of a short story by comics artist Megan Kelso called "Queen of the Black Black" from 1997. When she did her first book collection, she titled it Queen of the Black Black. It was an entirely fictional story about Louise Nevelson as an older woman lording it over her servants whose job it is to clean her dusty sculptures and otherwise assist her--and listen to her stories about how she was a young, beautiful, promiscuous New York artist. In an afterward, Kelso admits "it is not in any way biographical." However, it works as a story, and keeping Nevelson's sculptures dust-free must be an on-going nightmare for museums.

Megan Kelso, Queen of the Black Black cover, 2011

This issue of keeping Nevelson's sculptures clean is the subject of Kelso's cover to her collection.

Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Tar, 2009, Latex, acrylic, and ink on paper
This one was hard to photograph because it was under glass. I've only seen it displayed in the MFAH once, and it was in a show of black art. But what they do in the Kindle building is to literally integrate the "black art" with the rest of the collection. It is no longer relegated to token status. 

Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Tar, 2009, Latex, acrylic, and ink on paper
This image is from the MFAH's website. It's not a great photo, but at least you don't get the glare of the glass.

Dawolu Jabari Anderson is, as far as I know, living in Houston, and I've seen his work several times over the years. But I haven't seen anything from him in the last few years. Has he moved away? Stopped making art? I don't know. I would love to see what he is working on. I love these pastiches of old comic book covers combined with African-American folk characters. He was a part of the collective Otabenga Jones & Company (which was in a Whitney Biennial a few years ago), and like a bunch of African American artists about his age from Houston, he's obsessed with comic books. But where is he now?

 The next few images are not artworks that have been in storage for decades, like the Nevelson and the Oldernberg. They were, until a few weeks ago, over in the Beck Building with other 20th century artworks--many of which have moved to the Kinder Building now.

Lyonel Feininger, Self-Portrait, 1915, oil on canvas

Feininger was apparently living in Berlin when he painted this bilious, cubist self-portrait. The wall card describes him as being an "enemy alien" at the outbreak of World War I, but I think that is an error. Feininger was born in the U.S.A., and the U.S.A. didn't enter the war until April 1917, long after this painting was done. But it does raise the question--what did Feininger do between April 1917 and November 1918, during which time he really was an enemy alien? I don't know, but as soon as the war was over, he became one of the first teachers hired by the Bauhaus.

I became a fan of Feininger because of his short-lived comic strip, The Kin-der-kids, which was exceptionally well-written and beautifully drawn. Feininger had been working as a cartoonist in Germany and France since 1894, and his studies of avant garde art leaked into his cartooning. The Kin-der-kids was the first cubist comic strip. It was collected into a book, The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger: The Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie's World,  by the defunct Kitchen Sink Press, and apparently reprinted by Fatagraphics. But what hasn't been collected (in English, at least) are his German and French cartoons. I would buy that book, if some publisher wanted to publish it.

 Elie Nadelman, Tango, c. 1918-24, cherrywood and gesso

I don't really know much about Elie Nadelman. This sculpture was always kept in a gallery of 20th century American art in the Beck building, but now it lives in the Kinder building. It looks like a piece of folk art, but it's not. Nadelman had studied art in Europe and knew avant garde artists there, but moved to the U.S. and became interested in folk art. His own work melds his training and his interest in folk art.

 Elie Nadelman, Tango, c. 1918-24, cherrywood and gesso

This sculpture has long charmed me. The thing about an educated artist like Nadelman imitating a folk style is that he can never be truly naive. But so what? It works and is lovely--what else do we need?

Monday, November 23, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: I, René Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB: After the War

 Robert Boyd

Today's report is on I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War at Stalag IIB Vol. 3: After the War, the third volume of Jacques Tardi's biography of his father as a soldier and prisoner in World War II. I've reviewed volume 1 and volume 2 earlier on this blog. Here is everything I've written about Jacques Tardi on this blog.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: The Super-Fun-Pak Comix Reader

 Robert Boyd

Today I look at The Super-Fun-Pak Comix Reader by Ruben Bolling. This is a collection of occasional strips that run in his weekly comic strip called Tom the Dancing Bug, which can be read online in various places. One thing I didn't mention in the video is that I read ever single page of this book on the can. It turns out that an anthology of clever but light-hearted short comics is a prefect counterpart to shitting. Who knew?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Grip

 Robert Boyd

Today's book report is about Grip by Lale Westvind. I found out about this book from the podcast Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, where they ranked the then unfinished work as one of the 10 best comics of 2020.

(Addendum: Someone told me that Lale's name is pronounced La-Ley and that Westvind uses they/them pronouns. So given this, I mispronounce their name throughout and misgender them--for which I apologize. What can I say? It's hard to find information about Westvind online.)

(Addendum 2: Westvind responded below and writes "I do not use they, them pronouns... And my name is pronounced Lah-leh.")

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Pinko Joe

 Robert Boyd

This video is about Pinko Joe, by Christopher Sperandio. Sperandio has made guest appearances on this blog on several occasions. He is a professor at Rice University and frequently partners with English artist Simon Grennan on projects--including a remarkable series of comics. (I wish I could link to a place where one can buy these comics, but I don't find any such place on the internet--Chris and Simon, you need to correct this!) They have an excellent blog about their partnership, but I wish it included a shop. I reviewed Simon's solo graphic novel Dispossession a while back and I'm glad to be able to do the same for Sperandio.

(Also, please note that in the video, I fault Sperandio for not giving credit to the original artists whose work he appropriated. However, he did--on page 92 of Pinko Joe. he lists the issues of old comics he used as raw material and, where possible, credited the artists. For the record, the artists were Fred Guardineer, Ralph Mayo, Alex Schomburg, Louis Zansky, Leonard Starr, Murphy Anderson and Jim McLaughlin. And work from three comics where he could not identify the artists.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Haiku

Robert Boyd

Today's book report is about Haiku, written by Diane di Prima and illustrated by George Herms. Haiku was published by X Artists' Books, which has it's own interesting story.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Yves the Provocateur

 Robert Boyd


This week I read Yves the Provocateur: Yves Klein and Twentieth-Century Art by Thomas McEvilley. McEvilley was a professor of mine when I was an undergraduate at Rice University, and I've written about him before. I wrote this post when after he died, and it is good introduction to his writing (if I say so myself). I have mentioned him in several other posts.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: The American Mainstream

 Robert Boyd

Matt Seneca is one of the hosts of the podcast, Comic Books Are Burning in Hell and has written for The Comics Journal. Unfortunately, The American Mainstream appears to be sold out, but perhaps Seenca will print some more.I have written in the past about Jack Kirby, but not about Wally Wood or Elex Toth.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: It Has Only Just Begun

 Robert Boyd

This book, It Has Only Just Begun, is basically a pamphlet published by Printed Matter. It contains a panel discussion held at the Art Book Fair from 2008. The introduction is by A.A. Bronson, the interviewer is Hans Ulrich Olbrich, and the interview is with Joseph Grigely and Rirkrit Titavanija.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Robyn O'Neil Reading Stuff

Robert Boyd

Many of my readers are probably aware of artist Robyn O'Neil. O'Neil is an artist who I think of as a Texas artist, but she's actually from Nebraska and now lives in Washington State. She does large, spare drawings. She is one of the remarkable group of artists who studied at Texas A&M Commerce. She had been a student of the estimable Lee Baxter Davis, who also taught Georganne Deen, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Lawrence Lee, and Gary Panter. I've always found that confluence of art students (obviously over a longish period of time) and one great art professor at an obscure school in a small Texas town to be amazing.

O'Neil has had lots of exhibits in Texas, including a museum show last year at the Fort Worth Modern. I didn't see it, which I regret. But she did have a solo exhibit through Deasil (the roving successor to one of my favorite galleries, Art Palace) in 2018 in Houston, which I did see and which I loved. As you can see if you click through, one of O'Neil's subjects is rough-hewn headstones. 

Robyn O'Neill, It Could Have Been Worse, graphite on paper, 2013

I follow her on Twitter, and a week or so ago, she posted this image:

 She said that she had turned it into cards which one could order from her website, so I went to her website and ordered two. 

It was there that I discovered she does a book podcast called Me Reading Stuff. She refers to her podcast as "show and tell." She doesn't so much as describe or judge the works she's reading as just read them with a little bit of introduction. She talks a lot about her own day to day life as well. It's weirdly compelling, and she does a really good job of it. She mostly reads poems but occasionally reads prose pieces. I've been dipping into it for the past couple of days.

You can see why I would be interested in this given my own recent project of doing "book reports". But as far as I can tell, she's been doing it since 2015 and has done hundreds of them. She has a smooth delivery that I envy. (In general, when I listen to podcasts, I am always envious of podcasters smooth, unruffled deliveries. Anyone who watches one of my book reports gets to see me stumble on words, mispronounce names, and fruitlessly search for the right word...) And it's not smooth like a newscaster--it always comes off as if she was a friend talking to you on the phone about some poem she liked--it's personal and warm.

I sent her a note saying how I liked that she, a visual artist, had this obvious affinity for a totally different art form and how that kind of cross-medium linkage seemed rare in the local art scene. (Which might be an unfair judgment on my part--maybe those linkages exist, but I just don't see them.) And she wrote back the following:

AMEN!!! Yeah there are a number of my Heroes who adhere to the notion of researching outside your own field. It’s just more powerful that way. If someone asked me to do an art podcast with them (and they have), I say that I have zero interest. A food podcast? Sure! An accounting podcast-ok! But art? Nope. I can’t wait to check your book reports!! Thank you for subscribing to the podcast-it’s my real love.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Museum of Terror: Tomie volume 1

 Robert Boyd

Today I look at a horror manga called Museum of Terror, Vol. 1 by Junji Ito. I also mention his classic book Uzumaki as well as Mark Danieleski's horror novel, House of Leaves.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Artforum

 Robert Boyd

It's not a report about the magazine Artforum, but about the book of short stories by César Aira called Artforum. It did prompt me to reflect on Artforum the magazine a little and on the Ruth Benzacar gallery, which is mentioned in the review.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Alice Neel Painted Truths

 Robert Boyd

Today I review another book that is mostly pictures, Alice Neel: Painted Truths. As far as I can tell, I've only mentioned Alice Neel once before on this blog. But I have written about Gregory Battcock.And of course, I did a book report on Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book report: Mel Ramos: 50 Years of Pop Art

 Robert Boyd

Today's book report is on Mel Ramos: 50 Years of Pop Art. I have written about him in passing once before, after seeing some of his work at an art fair.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: I Want You

Robert Boyd

 This episode of my ongoing series (which will continue at least until I get a new day job) is about I Want You, the new book (reprinting old material) by Lisa Hanawalt.  It's a collection of her 2009 series of comic books, also entitled I Want You. I reviewed an issue of I Want You back in 2010.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Meditations in an Emergency

 Robert Boyd

This book, Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O'Hara, was published in 1957. O'Hara was a leader of the so-called New York School, which included such poets as Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Ron Padgett, Ted Berrigan, and James Schuyler. I mention the book Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art in my report, and I refer to the poem, "The Day Lady Died", in the report, even though it was not included in Meditations in An Emergency.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Core Program 2010/2011

 Robert Boyd

This is the latest book report. It's the book published for the Core Program from the 2010/2011 class. I wrote about this group of Core fellow's art show in 2016 here. Here are some links to the artists mentioned here:

Kelly Sears

Gabriel Martinez

Steffani Jemison

Clarissa Tossin

Nick Barbee

Friday, September 18, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Kent State

 Robert Boyd

Today I'm discussing Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio by Derf Backderf. This graphic novel just came out and I recommend it highly, But I slightly resent it because he stopped working on his webcomic "The Baron of Prospect Avenue" to complete it. You can read this incomplete comic here. It's a sequel to his first book, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. I've reviewed some of Derf's work in the past, including My Friend Dahmer and Trashed.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Ganzfeld 7

 Robert Boyd

Today, my book is an old one (published in 2008): Ganzfeld 7 edited and published by Dan Nadel. I've reviewed Nadel's books and exhibits in the past, including his work on Hairy Who, his exhibit at RISD, What Nerve!, The Brooklyn Comics & Graphics Festival, and reviews of various books published by Nadel's own publishing house, Picturebox.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Report 3: Evil Geniuses

 Robert Boyd

This week I'm talking about Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History by Kurt Anderson. There are a lot of awkward jump cuts where I edited the video. This is the first review in this series that has zilch to do with art, but it won't be the last. But no worries--I return to art in my next review.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Reports 2: The Mystery of Rio

 Robert Boyd

I read another book this week, and talk about it here. The book is The Mystery of Rio by Alberto Mussa.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Robert Boyd's Book Reports: 3 New York Dadas + The Blind Man

 by Robert Boyd

I decided to start using my free time (being an unemployed guy whose job was ended by COVID) creatively. I've been reading a lot, so I decided I would record brief reports of books as I read them. This is my first attempt (which I think will be obvious when you watch it). The book being discussed is 3 New York Dadas + The Blind Man.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

A Coronavirus Dream

Robert Boyd

“What is common in all these dreams is obvious. They completely satisfy wishes excited during the day which remain unrealized. They are simply and undisguisedly realizations of wishes.”
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams

I had a dream last week that illustrates this theory.

I was at an art exhibit’s opening night. It was in a non-art space, a large room that seemed like a cheap banquet hall with wood paneling. It was a casual group show as opposed to a curated show. The vibe reminded me of Houston’s great defunct art space, the Joanna, but the space was much larger than the Joanna had been.

There were two huge stone and metal sculptures—they were roughly ovoid-shaped boulders wrapped with bands of a shiny yellowish metal. As I looked at them, I wondered how the organizers transported them into the space. They looked like the weighed tons. I was wondering if the floor was sturdy enough to support them. I walked over to one of them and it disappeared, turning into a energy bar in my hands. Somehow I didn’t question this remarkable transformation and instead unwrapped the energy bar and ate it. But almost instantly I felt guilty for eating the art. Hanging next to the remaining boulder were a couple of crudely made sculptures. One was a model of plane, like a really old Cessna. But it was not perfect—it was kind of rough and lumpy, as if it had been made of papier-mâché. It reminded me a little of Tom Sachs’ work. Brandon Zech was standing nearby and I asked him if he knew who the artist was. He shrugged his shoulders.

 Tom Sachs, Crawler, 2003, foamcore, thermal adhesive, wood

There was a table with a variety of artworks on it. It was a folding banquet table, the kind you might see at a zine festival. And like that kind of table, it was strewn with small objects for sale. Some were three-dimensional, and some were small drawings. One pile attracted my attention. They appeared to be watercolors of faces, mostly of well-known people. They had a savage quality without being out-and-out caricatures. There were several pictures of Ronald Reagan. I wondered who had made them. I looked on the back for a signature and saw only a penciled price. They were all really inexpensive: twenty six dollars and some cents. It was a weirdly specific price and well within my price range.

I decided to buy two Reagans, then I noticed another artist had also painted a Reagan on paper. It was different but also appealing. I decided to buy all three. I explained to someone there that I thought Reagan was worth memorializing because it was his presidency that had started the USA on a dystopian libertarian downward path. By the end of the dream, I had also picked up a video with a Reagan theme. Why was Reagan in my subconscious last night? I don’t know. Then I woke up.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Archive Art

Robert Boyd

Just before coronavirus shut everything down, I went to San Antonio for Novel Ideas, Blue Star Contemporary's art book fair. The keynote speaker was Julie Ault, who had been a member of the art collective Group Material from 1979 to 1996. Group Material is probably best known for the AIDS Timeline produced in 1990. They produced research-based artwork, usually very political. Listening to Ault speak got me thinking about this kind of art. I've seen examples of it many times over the years, but for whatever reason, Ault prompted me to think of it as a specific genre of art. A kind of art that doesn't, as far as I know, have a name. I've been calling it "archive art" in my mind, but if any of you know an already existing name, please let me know.

I stumbled across a workable definition while reading America Starts Here, a big art book about the work of Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler. It's been on my "to-read" shelf for a long time, and this quarantine moment seemed like a good moment to crack it open. The first essay is by Bill Arning, written before he moved to Houston to become director of the Contemporary Art Museum. In it, he wrote:
The list of strategies Ericson and Ziegler used to make artworks seemed very unusual at the time, though today's young artists regularly employ these methods, which include the following: 1) Researching arcane areas of knowledge and pursuing a passion for the aura of the archive; 2) Using mapping and other similar ways of schematizing life; 3) Creating a system that dictates all significant visual decisions about a work's presentation; 4) Employing found elements rather than causing something new to be made; 5) Viewing the entire country as a text to be read, engaged and decoded; 6) Using natural materials, like stone, leaves, and water, as they are inflected or coded by culture; 7) Critically engaging decoration and architecture for what they reveal about society; 8) Using Americana as topic, material, or motif; 9) Engaging cultural institutions, museums, and monuments, such as the Supreme Court, libraries, and universities; 10) Investigating governmental decisions about urban space and making them public; 11) Collecting and collating found language, which can subsequently function as a kind of found poetry; 12) Using the practical business decisions of others as a structuring device for works; 13) Designing projects that exist in multiple states, each of which creates meaning; from the first research to the final use of materials; 14) Insertting delays into a process that unnaturally extends the in-between period of a simple task such as landscaping or cleaning, rendering otherwise invisible processes conspicuous and examinable; 15) Allowing works to disappear through transformation, making them cease to be "art" and instead begin to fulfill a useful function; 16) Cooperating with people outside the specific disciplines of the art world in a way that gives them a non-artistic way to participate; 17) Choosing to work with each other as collaborators.
That is quite a list! And really, I think the totality of this list only applies to Ericson and Zeigler. But I think big portions of the list apply to many of the artists who create "archive art," like Group Material.

In 2012, artist Robert Gober produced a notable example of archive art for the Whitney Biennial. He created a mini-exhibit of work by Forrest Bess. The archive part of came in vitrines devoted to Betty Parsons (Bess's gallerist) and John Money, a researcher who studied sexuality and who corresponded with Bess. This doesn't exactly fit into the approach outlined by Arning, except maybe 1) and 4). But it did require original research on Gober's part. This micro-exhibition was expanded into a major solo exhibition by the Menil Museum. Gober is not typically an archive artist--he is best known as a maker of intriguing, enigmatic objects. But he totally stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park in this project.

Two years later, the Biennial had another notable piece of archive art, The Gregory Battcock Archive by Joseph Grigely. Grigely serendipitously discovered a bunch of Battcock's papers in the building where he had his studio in 1992. Battcock was an art critic who appeared in several Andy Warhol films over the years and was the subject of a notable Alice Neel painting. He was murdered in 1980; the murder remains unsolved. In his statement about the work, Grigely describes the archive as a kind of portrait of Battson: "A document is both a material artifact and a node within a network of human relations. We both draw and draw out Battcock from these relations--the artists he talked with, the critics he argued with, the meals he shared, the students he taught, and the tricks with whom he had sex--they are all here, some with names, some with pseudonyms." I remember being fascinated by The Gregory Battcock Archive when I saw it at the Biennial--it was perhaps where the idea of "archive art" first lodged itself in my mind as a distinct category. That said, the problem with such art is that it doesn't have much visual interest. I'd much rather see an Alice Neel painting.

Alice Neel, David Bourdan and Gregory Battcock, 1970

The lack of visual pleasure is the biggest failing with this genre of art. But Kate Ericson and Mel Ziegler are exceptions to this airless approach. The work they did fits into Arning's schema while also being visually beautiful.

Carrie Schneider, installation at the CAMH, 2014

One local artist who has long engaged in this kind of artwork is Carrie Marie Schneider. Her exhibition, Incommensurate Mapping, at the CAMH in 2014 was a perfect example. She studied the CAMH's archives and used them to critique the CAMH in an amusingly subversive way. I wrote about this exhibit at length when it came out in two posts for this blog.

There have been other notable examples of this kind of art (loosely defined) in Houston. For example, City Council Meeting, a semi-theatrical piece of participatory artwork put on by Aaron Landsman, Mallory Catlett and Jim Findlay under the auspices of DiverseWorks at the El Dorado Ballroom in 2012, or Liz Magic Laser's Tell Me What You Want to Hear at DiverseWorks in 2012. Or Ericson and Zeigler's Red House (1979) and several other projects from the same time in Houston, as well as an installation at DiverseWorks in 1987. Obviously, DiverseWorks has been a major venue for this genre of art for several decades.

For me, this work sometimes is remarkably good. The idea of researching and presenting one's research has a natural appeal to a bookish person like me. It depends on how well the artwork is constructed and how much the artists' obsessions line up with my own. In the case of The Gregory Battcock Archive and Incommensurate Mapping, they worked for me very well indeed.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Go Read My Review of Patrick Renner's Current Exhibit

I wrote about Bounty, Patrick Renner's huge new installation up not at Redbud Gallery. The review is up at Glasstire.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

An Apocalyptic Dream

Robert Boyd

I dreamed I was living through a societal collapse. Things were breaking down and not getting repaired, and people were just dealing with it as well as they could. A slow-motion apocalypse. In this environment, I was trying to organize my various family members into a string quartet. Why this seemed like an important thing to do, I don't know. It was a bit of dream logic.

But when I thought about it, I was reminded of the story of Quatuor pour la fin du temps by Olivier Messiaen. He was interned in Stalag VIII-A after being captured at the beginning of World War II. He composed this startling music in the camp and premiered it there in the rain before an audience of prisoners and guards. It must have seemed to listeners like a tiny piece of culture in the face of the end of civilization. As the USA continues its slow motion collapse, we still need art to be created, even when is seems at times like a frivolous indulgence.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Man Without Talent

Robert Boyd

Yoshiharu Tsuge, The Man Without Talent (2019, New York Review of Books)

Yoshiharu Tsuge, "Red Flowers" published in RAW 7, drawn in 1966, published in English in 1985

Back in 1985, Yoshiharu Tsuge's "Red Flowers" was published in RAW number 7. It was published as an inset booklet inside RAW's oversized pages. It was for many art comics readers our first encounter with the work of this genius. RAW published another Tsuge story in 1990. I have been waiting over 30 years for a book of Tsuge's work to appear in English. When the flood of translated manga started being published in English in the 90s, I felt certain some publisher would step up. But for some reason, Tsuge was reluctant to allow it. (The story of that reluctance would be worth knowing. I had heard that he had given up comics to spend his life fishing, but reading Ryan Holmberg's essay in this volume suggests a psychological reason.)

In any case, he stopped drawing comics in 1987 and withdrew from public life until he drew this book in 1998. It may have felt a bit like Marcel Duchamp withdrawing from art making to play chess, only to return with one final work, "Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau / 2° le gaz d'éclairage" (1966). Tsuge returned with this book in 1998. But while Duchamp was officially involved with chess, Tsuge's withdrawal seems to have been fueled by depression.

This book is a first person novel that is quite autobiographical, although the primary activity of the main character, Sukezō Sukegawa, is selling stones, something that Tsuge apparently never did. (Tsuge's life is described in the introduction by Ryan Holmberg, who also translated the book.) Even though Sukezō had worked as a comics artist, for some reason he has given that up. He and his wife and son live a precarious existence of abject poverty as Sukezō comes up with various improbable schemes to support his family. He briefly has a little success buying and repairing old cameras he finds at flea markets (something Tsuge did), but when the fad for buying old cameras fades, so does this source of income. In the meantime, he encounters a variety of equally pathetic entrepreneurs scrapping together existences on the margins of one of the richest capitalist economies on Earth. 

 Yoshiharu Ysuge, The Man Without Talent p. 166

In this page, we can see that he has given up his old profession, dramatically demonstrated by the fact that his ink has become moldy. (Note that the pages are designed in a mirror image of how western comics pages are design--right to left.) You can see that his art is not flashy. It is simple and unadorned, without flash. It is basically realistic, but the figures are undeniably cartoons. This somewhat stripped-down approach typifies Tsuge's work, although he has a gift for drawing beautifully detailed scenes of nature. But his bitterness towards art comics--of which his work is a shining example--is understandable. There are few art forms as labor-intensive and unremunerative.

He meets a bookstall owner, Yamai, who is like himself. He, too, strives to vanish from society by being useless and invisible. He gives Sukezō a book of haiku by a 19th century poet Seigetsu Inoue, who appears to have been a real person. In reading about Seigetsu, Sukezō seems to have found an earlier avatar of people like himself and Yamai. Perhaps that is Tsuge's intent--to describe a class of people who by their very nature choose to become invisible, to fade out and vanish. Apparently Tsuge has done this frequently throughout his life. Though the book doesn't say overtly that this a result of mental illness, a reader could conclude it. The Man Without Talent is a profoundly sad book, but there is a kind of embedded hopefulness in it. Tsuge did, after all, write and draw it. He could have just vanished instead.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Pictures of Artists

Robert Boyd

Last weekend, Jack Massing hosted a one-day only exhibit dedicated his recently deceased partner Michael Galbreth. (They were the Art Guys.) The entire Houston art community showed up. I decided at some point to take phone photos of as many of the artists, collectors, etc., who were there. I missed a lot of people I wanted to photograph, but I got a few. And here they are.

Britt Thomas. Thomas has an exhibit up at the Galveston Arts Center through April 12, 2020.

Clint Willour

David Aylsworth

Dean Ruck. I've written about Havel + Ruck projects several times over the years.

Debra Barrera. Here is a post that Dean Liscum wrote about a Debra Barrera exhibit.

Dennis Nance.

Elaine Bradford. Here's a post I wrote about Elaine Bradford.

Emily Peacock. I've written about her several times over the years.

Emily Sloan. Emily Sloan was one of the first artists in Houston I ever wrote about.

Iva Kinnaird.

Jack Massing.

James Surls. I've written about this giant of Houston art several times.

Jim Pirtle. Jim Pirtle has appeared in this blog many times.

Joachim West.

Julon Pinkston. Julon Pinkston has had several appearances on this blog.

Neil Fauerso.

Paul Kremer (l) and Phillip Kremer. I wrote about Paul Kremer's former collective (maybe it would be better to be call it a club), I Love You Baby.

Paul Middendorf. Runs Space HL (formerly Gallery Homeland).

Peter Lucas.

Scott Gilbert.

Sharon Kopriva (center) and Brad Barber (right)

Susan Budge.

Travis Hanson.

Tudor Mitroi.

William Camfield.

Xandra Eden. Director of Diverse Works.