Sunday, April 29, 2007

Incognito Ergo Sum (Show Me the Money)

28 April 2007

Alright I’m going to cut right to the chase. ‘Show me the notes,’ you say. Well, I’m not the only one smithereened over the parking lot in semi-inebriated visual and intellectual exhaustion. Let’s start with what we know. Raymond Pettibon is a visionary poet and iconophage who almost can’t help driving to the dark heart of the American nightmare. He’s the living lifeline out of the burning cultural-political tarpit the assholes of this country (rich and poor alike) have allowed us to sink into. Three drawings are enough to constitute a show within a show in the Aaron Rose curated “Other Scenes” show at Roberts & Tilton, taking us from a kind of ‘Last Exit to Brookline’ meditation on the pathology of ruling class droit de seigneur-Kennedy style (Untitled – “It Is Normal” -- i.e., with Kennedy women hypothetically alternating with their brothers’ sexual quarry for brutalization à la Tralala), to the collapse of identity (Untitiled (“The Head Shrinker”), to the exhaustion of heroic possibility: a triad of debasement that in Pettibon’s hands has an orchestral resonance. I already mentioned the Jockum Nordström drawing I found utterly irresistible – and apparently unattainable. It’s marked “Not for Sale.” And now that I’ve perused the latest ANP (or “Artists Network Program”) Quarterly – which Aaron Rose edits in conjunction with Ed Templeton and Brendan Fowler, I think I can guess why. It’s already owned – either by Rose himself, or possibly the author of the somewhat out-of-synch/lost in translation Nordström Q&A cum profile, Chris Johnason, or possibly, ANP’s publisher, P.M. Tenore, himself. The issue also featured reproductions of the beautiful Daido Moriyama black-and-white silver gelatin photographs in the show – each a classic example of Moriyama’s appropriationist style. Appropriation and juxtaposition seem to be the salient components of Rose’s theme here (and projection – via Rita Ackerman’s paintings – which were accompanied by dual overhead projections as if to underscore their Moreau-inflected exoticism). The juxtapositions of a Nordström drawing are on another plane (or several) altogether. Where Pettibon juxtaposes image and text in a more or less graphically unified field, Nordström juxtaposes several images (or pictorial orders) in a subdivided field. Traditional perspective isn’t abandoned so much as multiplied into adjoining but discontinuous perspectives within the same pictorial field, with principal ‘subjects’ more or less foregrounded. The figures are rendered in a slightly schematized, archaic style, which belie an overall iconographic sophistication manifest in the details. (The draughtsmanship is impeccable, virtuoso.) It’s as if he interrupts or short-circuits execution to return the focus to the most important elements which are presented with an almost theatricalized frontality which amounts nevertheless to a very dry, quiet statement of his theme or themes. If the style weren’t so inherently sophisticated, it might almost be mistaken in certain passages for an ‘outsider’ style. Nordström’s references to the anecdotal, even the fetishistic risk marginilization. In actuality, though, he has far more affinity with the urbane style of Saul Steinberg, though he is far less literary.

The iconic strain (and ‘collage’ style) is picked up in the “Icons” and collages of Gee Vaucher – which have great wit and sophistication – but before I try to discuss them, it’s my turn to get inquisitive. Leafing through a magazine like the ANP Quarterly, with its lavish use of both color and black-and-white photography, its large format (supposedly it’s shrunk a bit – but you could’ve fooled me), the complete absence of advertising of any kind (unless the feature on “Club Monaco Surf Wax” constitutes what has lately been referred to in the biz as ‘advertorial’ (or, as I would term it, ‘obscenity’) – an interview, by the way, conducted by artist/curator (and musician?? – see the L.A. Weekly) Aaron Rose himself), I have to ask: Where does the money come from?

Some time ago – around the time of Aaron Rose’s first (? – or just first on my semi-malfunctioning radar?) show for Roberts & Tilton (you know – that “Scribble Scripture” surfer extravaganza from 2003 or 2004), my understanding was that Rose (coming from a conceivably lucrative skateboard, surf culture background) had piled up a few pennies from a few curatorial and/or production gigs via production companies, music festivals and the munificent MTV. (I think Sonic Youth enters this picture somewhere; and I wonder if Sonic Youth may be this and the last generation’s consummate ‘art’ band – along the lines of the Velvets, Talking Heads, etc.) Cool. With MTV behind him, though, I gotta wonder – where’s the money coming from now? RVCA, which publishes the ANP Quarterly, is, of course, a surf and skate clothing line, and P.M. Tenore is its principal designer (and CEO? – I haven’t looked it up yet). Envious? You bet (though beyond the photography budget I have to wonder how much they spend for copy-editing; some of the text is pretty rough – in a couple instances almost a disservice to their subjects).

I also have to wonder about Tenore’s and Rose’s collections. (Enviously? Well of course.) Okay, that’s it for the forensics – for now anyway. And I haven’t even posted yet. Why? Shall we jump ahead to tonight?

Well – first of all, let me recap the day for a minute. Since studio visits and MFA shows and school open studios are very much on the agenda at the moment, it shouldn’t be surprising that I began the day with a studio visit. Except that – unlike, say Carl Berg (oh yeah – I’ll get around to Donnie Molls, which – speaking of juxtapositions and discontinuities – makes an interesting juxtaposition with Nordström, et al. from R&T) – I’m not one to venture too far beyond the city limits. (Come to think of it, I think this was within the city limits – but you’d hardly know it.) What was interesting about it was what registered and resonated with greatest immediacy in terms of the contemporary culture (at least as I filter it), and what didn’t – or what seemed to me digressive and possibly uncertain in its statement and direction, in spite of its very clear focus and aesthetic. What might be too insular? What communicated most directly (and powerfully)? It’s not something you can make a snap judgment on – and in a way calls one’s judgment, one’s entire criteria, into question.

It was interesting – both in terms of what constitutes the ‘contemporary,’ the generational relationship with the ‘contemporary’ (this was a more or less established artist), and the relationship of the contemporary ‘mainstream’ with something that can only be called ‘outsider.’ After looking at one suite of paintings (certainly not without appeal: some of them were already sold), the artist showed me some smaller gouaches that I immediately latched onto – ‘oh yeah – these will make a show’ (and of course they would – but so what? Might I be missing the real show? The really important stuff?)

Flash forward to Rosamund Felsen, where Karen Carson (whose work I’ve long admired) was showing her new paintings. After viewing the apocalyptic fireworks of the first two galleries, I found myself returning to a gallery of smaller, more straightforward landscapes which, it occurred to me, might be on the order of preparatory schemes for her larger, more excursive (if not explosive – well, she’d done a previous series of “fire” paintings) color irradiated maelstroms. I have a ‘que sais-je’ moment. Why my preference for one over the other? Does it say anything at all beyond where my preoccupations dovetail with the images at hand? (What do I know?)

I should ask Doug Harvey – who’s here along with everyone else. The afternoon is taking on a gang’s-all-here feeling. Along with DougH-on-the-go – Jeremy Kidd, Bari Ziperstein, Angel Chen, Michael Duncan, Barry Sloane. DougH has to go – to prepare for tomorrow’s Tim Hawkinson panel at The Getty; and I’m thinking I should, too – home to my cats and a little Debussy to turn my head in a slightly less convulsive direction. I’ve already decided not to go to the Incognito auction/fundraiser at the Santa Monica Museum. I didn’t RSVP; and – well, it will just be another occasion for that deadly sin I just referred to – envy. But on my way back to the car, I run into Cole Case walking in the opposite direction; and well . . . . .as long as I can be incognito . . . . .

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