Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sturm und Drang (and Beauty)

6 March 2009 (continued)

It occurs to me I zoom in on irony and desperation (above) in a mere two paragraphs – and certainly the layout of the show’s exhibitors might incline a quick 360 of the general Pier 94 toward those viewpoints; but obviously there’s so much more. And so much more that has nothing to do with either – really the flip side of that sort of impoverished pomposity. (Can there be, specifically, a poverty of pomp? As opposed to a mere dearth of it? Those Sailstorfer giltwood frames certainly addressed this directly.) But such affects must always coexist with their antipodes; and here (as always) desperation is outflanked by invention and the will manifest in any serious artistic enterprise; irony counterpoised against a straightforward determination of the actuality. Beauty trumps all – though it hardly ratifies an artist’s vision by itself. But it was interesting to see a certain range of varieties of beauty scattered amongst the exhibitor spaces on the Pier. You certainly saw that kind of invention and beauty at Sean Kelly. Or maybe it was about finding beauty in a time of almost brutal upheaval and uncertainty. As soon as you walked into the space, you were confronted with this sense of tempest and whirlwind – but also, undeniably, beauty: a beautiful swirl of a piss painting – a piss painting! (what – you didn’t think anyone was doing those anymore?) along side a funneling double helix of steel – almost a tornado of a piece – by Antony Gormley. (There were also some beautiful drawings by Gormley.) Also interesting work by Los Carpinteros that played with the notion of inter-connected structures falling apart; and minimalist studies by Iran do Espirito Santo (a Brazilian minimalist I know very little about) that played on similar themes. Kelly was also showing some classic Mapplethorpe flower studies, which made a stark contrast with the contemporary work foregrounded here. Made only a quarter century ago, one sees Mapplethorpe’s essential classicism in a new light – with their poignancy and solitariness magnified by the passage of time – and certainly our passage into these dark times.

It’s interesting how you’re also reminded at fairs (and not just The Armory Show) of the curves artists can throw one’s way. There were some interesting drawings by Joan Jonas at Wilkinson (London) – flattened, blotted ink studies of a butterfly and a nude figure – the sort of thing that might be done in a minute or over several hours or days. Less surprising were Fia Backstrom’s text drawings; but no sooner had I turned away then I was immediately struck (and that would be just the word) by a sequence of Jimmy de Sana photographs (from roughly 1979-1980) which astonish in their freshness, clarity, drama and anomalous, almost surreal expression, to this day. 'Whatever happened to him?' I wondered aloud – and Amanda Wilkinson was kind enough to fill me in. Sexually explicit, with frank exposures of astonishing debasement, they’re a bit raw (oh, nothing you can’t handle, dear reader) – but (setting aisde the ‘ick’ or ‘ouch’ factor) what they convey has an amazing clarity, and an inchoate sense of both immediacy and uncertain duration of time. Time flies whether and whatever you’re giving or taking. There was also work by Sung Hwan Kim, who is a Korean artist to watch. (Is Korea the ‘new China’? Or was it ‘there’ before and I just happened to miss it?)


Saturday, March 7, 2009

"It's so cold in Alaska." -- with apologies to Lou Reed

6 March 2009

At The Armory Show

At first you wonder: is it as crowded? Is the audience as plentiful as in previous years? Then you consider – based upon the hour and flow of people in and out – yes, it is more or less. (Perhaps less, but not significantly so. Now whether the crowd holds as many willing buyers or collectors is another matter entirely.) What is immediately apparent is a certain deliberative air; not exactly focus – there’s far too much to distract or divert even the most focused eye for that. It’s a ruminative, thoughtful crowd. Collectors or not, people seem a bit more directly engaged with the art. The frenzy is gone – and that is all good. People are here to look, think, process the work, occasionally lubricated by a glass of champagne. The crowd could almost be said to be – and this is almost inconceivable in New York -- moving slowly.

Some of the galleries seem to underscore this newly judicious, deliberative attitude – e.g., a somewhat ironically placed white fluorescent piece by Joseph Kosuth from 1966 on the exterior wall of the Sean Kelly space, telegraphing this subdued mood: “Subject Described, Object Defined.” Others address the panic looming just outside (or presumably in reluctant collectors’ pocketbooks) more directly. The first thing you saw in the Galleria Massimo de Carlo (Milan) space was what looked like a broken marble cornerstone chiseled with the following dedication: “EVERYONE IS BROKE.” It’s by Elmgreen & Dragset, a pair of Irish and Swedish artists working out of London and Berlin, respectively. At Emmanuel Perrotin (Paris), the message was delivered by turns humorously, ironically, and perhaps a little desperately, too. Daniel Arsham showed a painting, predominantly in steel and charcoal grays – a bird’s-eye view of what resembled the shells of unfinished high-rise buildings or apartment blocks, protruding roofs of which spelled out the word, “W-A-N-T.” As you were thinking, ‘does it get any more desperate?’ you’d catch an eyeful of a neon piece by Paola Pivi – an Italian artist working in (get this) Anchorage, Alaska. (That would induce a certain irony and desperation. ) “Stop the complaint, we just bought it.” An artist by the name of Kolkoz had a slightly drier take on the theme with pieces that consisted of nothing but giltwood frames and mouldings – a more or less traditional giltwood frame (or frames) closing in on – more frames and finally simply filled with the frame mouldings. Michael Sailstorfer’s piece was almost a nullification of the spirit of Joseph Kosuth’s 1966 piece – a black polyurethane piece that looked like nothing so much as a set of black fluorescent tubes. I suddenly feel back in Berlin – that is to say, Lou Reed’s Berlin. “It’s so cold in Alaska.”


The Pornography of Desperation

5 March 2009

My first toe in the snow turned out to be not the Armory Show, but a run through Scope – it was nearly impossible to get to the Piers this particular evening – and frankly I was tempted to stop right at the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall, whose glass-faced façade disclosed a very warm and inviting looking bar and café. I consoled myself that I could always stop in afterwards. Inside (as opposed to outside) the pavilions, Scope has a slightly more manicured look this year – though the twilight may have enhanced the effect. ada (Richmond, Virginia) Gallery’s booth this year is close enough to the entrances that you could practically fall into it (no – I did not stop for a drink at Alice Tully Hall), and it’s always fun running into John Pollard who does such an amazing job with this gallery. This year, the gallery is celebrating the influence of the convulsive, hysterical films of George Kuchar, who is actually scheduled to present a few of his films at special events the gallery will present this Saturday evening (6-8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoon (12-2 p.m.). Kuchar really invented a kind of pornography of desperation; and, to judge from the business and economic news alone, you’d have to say these films have really found their moment. (Me – I’d just love to see some of these Wall Street money mis-managers cast and forced to act through a George Kuchar film.) John always shows something amazing, something surprising that takes you completely off guard; and I’m sure there’s more here that I should be mentioning; but I was most immediately fascinated by paintings and stop-action animations (from the paintings) he showed by Bruce Wilhelm – whose uncanny, abstracted, naïve style I found completely captivating -- e.g., horses and figures cantering into and out of a conventional landscape obscured by, morphing, or dissolving (more apparent in the animations) into other fragmentary elements, bits of landscape or other figures or color fields. Amazing (and not expensive!) There was much more; but, needless to say, I’ll be going back.

I’m not terribly familiar with dFaulken, a local gallery, but I was intrigued by their mix of artists – from expressive (if not tortured) and figurative, to rigorously cool abstraction, and they were friendly enough to invite me in when everyone was getting kicked out. I’m not sure what to make of an artist like Karim Hamid, whose work suggested a number of impressions or images superimposed upon each other and sunk into abstracted fields that might themselves be fragmentary images or merely background elements. A few were recognizably portraits. One of the portraits featured was of Chuck Close, a compelling one, recognizable though face and figure were all but blacked out. I was not so compelled by Sara Carter’s retro-De Stijl channeled abstraction – blocks and bars of color of varying density and transparency against dark fields – but perhaps it’s in synch with a certain mood of deliberation and determination that seems to be in the air. She’s certainly determined. I have more to say about Mark Gagnon, who showed some very interesting work – but I’ll have to come back to him. (He’s terrifically talented.)

Hey look – I know Costa Rica is incredibly beautiful (I’d love a place there myself) – but you can’t just plunk something down there on the beach or against one of those incredible landscapes and call it art. Can you?? (Or can you?) The Jacob/Karpio Galleria of San Jose, Costa Rica was showing some digital photography by Nefertiti Ingalls (love the name) – not without interest; and certainly an almost classical beauty and poise; and those gorgeous backdrops – but so what? This is not tai chi at the beach, honey. (Ya have to wonder – I came back from L.A. for this?)

There was a good deal of Chinese contemporary art and I have to talk about some stuff at Kuckei & Kuckei (Berlin) – but for now I’m putting it on HOLD. Gee, New York looks great under snow (although it’s already melting).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

4 March 2009

Delays, delays, delays – ‘so what else is new?’, readers of this blog (jeeeeeezus – are you still with me?? I must send you all something fabulous.) are likely to ask. But you all know how much I hate to miss a phree-view or an opening night; and in this instance (i.e., The Armory Show), I have missed both. Look – I’m not crazy about it either. You brave the traffic, the winter cold (and it is freezing); and miss the opening? The injustice of it.

The worst part of it is leaving my apartment an unmitigated disaster zone (yet apparently still ineligible for federal disaster relief!) when people have to come in to take care of my feline daughters (oh you have no idea how many hours – DAYS – I spent trying to clean up. I’ve barely scratched the surface; though I can say that my couch and coffee table can once again be used as they were originally intended. A virtual Everest of books, catalogues, magazines, legal pads and notebooks had to be relocated to the more traditionally book-friendly loci of my apartment – like, uh, the bookshelves, and bookstands in my bedroom. I probably should have called upon earth movers; but instead I tried to do it myself with predictably mixed results. At least now there is the semblance of a flat (as opposed to craggy and mountainous) surface – the surface of the table. There are still a couple of rather imposing stacks of art books at either end of the table; but now there is actually enough room on it for, say, a couple of drinks, a tray of hors d’oeuvres (or, well, my laptop), an ashtray or two or a lighter, and a pack of cigarettes. Two people could actually have a civilized conversation here … as long as they didn’t try to move to another part of the apartment. That includes the kitchen, which belongs to the cats, my coffee cups, and whatever seems to periodically migrate there from my car, more or less in that order.

What am I talking about? No – the worst part is leaving my feline children – or, more accurately, their complete emotional melt-down prior to my departure. No mater how well you plan, how gradually you time the pre-departure organization (which in my case means cramming most of it into the final hours before the taxicab arrives), no matter how well you disguise the packing, there comes a moment when they just go completely haywire and then shut down altogether. (The critical moment sems to be when one of the larger bags either begins to fill up or gets moved closer to the front door.) There are no magic words to say to make them come around (although calling them to a final breakfast or dinner can have a momentary distracting effect) – except perhaps, “Alright, I’ll stay.” But then what? Even if the party of the first (or second) part secretly wants to stay – against her better interests, forsaking duty or obligations, or worse, opportunity for discovery, for pleasure – it’s always awkward. It devolves into a kind of mental shut-down. It’s cozy – a little too cozy – for a few minutes; and then it’s scary. Okay, kids – we’re back in Kansas – we never bothered going to Oz – land of the bleak and home of the gray.

The Kansas, of course, is simply in your mind – but you don’t escape it just by pulling the comforter over your (and your cats’) head(s). Though sometimes it seems as if you have to tear yourself apart to purge it from your system. You rip yourself to shreds, take incalculable losses – throw so much out – to find one fresh, new thing; one kernel of genius, one point of light in the churning sea of darkness.

It’s that delicate balance between hope and desperation.

The losses: well, you can start totting them up the instant you leave home. Half-way to the airport (running LATE!) and you’re already missing something – forget about its readiness for the caregivers. Then the curbside jostling; the rush to the airline counter, baggage check; the careering to the security screening.

Oh yes – the security screening. Well go ahead – screen and screen again. I have no idea why, but no matter how heavy or light I travel, the screening process is not a two tray, not three tray, but a virtual train of trays down that mysterious conveyer belt, in which something (occasionally something important) gets left behind or lost. I am invariably ‘wanded’ (with some electronic scanning device – believe me, it’s no fairy’s touch), prodded, patted down, occasionally probed, and all but asked to disrobe. What is it? The personal jewelry? The scarves? Okay – I wear a lot; but as for the scarves, it’s winter time, I need a couple of woolies around my neck. As for the jewelry, I admit to a certain amount of jewelry build-up – but I’m sure there’s a little something in my arteries by now, too. This time, the ‘agent’ insisted I ‘fold over’ my pants (what – to check for suspicious lingerie? – I knew I should have worn La Perla!). I started to unzip – I mean, I don’t care at this point; I’m in a frantic hurry and trying to monitor seven trays of stuff, including my shoes and a laptop – and she says, “You don’t have to unzip completely, just let me have a look underneath.” (Gee, have I ever used a line like that?) “Honey, these pants are skin-tight. You can’t get more than a finger down there unless I unzip – though you’re welcome to try.” She had her look and sent me running back to my trays.

It’s now been well over seven years since the Twin Towers fell. Guantanamo is scheduled to close within a year; the State Department seems to be reassuming its traditional imperatives after eight years of deferring to the Defense Department-spear-chuckers; and we have a new acutely intelligent, rational and determined President, with an equally focused and determined administration behind him. Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell and a host of other diplomats are flying over the world trying to administer acute first aid to our damaged foreign relations. You’d think traveling would get just a LITTLE easier – wouldn’t you? Or you might think, given our newly rational leadership, they might work out some new, rational form of passenger profiling – having nothing to do with the net for potential terrorists – but making it somewhat easier for the rest of us to pass through the security gauntlet that makes even domestic travel such a nightmare. By now I’m sure the people at LAX and Burbank know my personal jewelry and repertoire of scarves as well as their own stuff. Sometimes I think the only way to do it now is to prepack some plastic trays with all the personal stuff, and head to the airport in nothing but a trench coat (maybe with a bodystocking underneath) and just get dressed there. Chances are, they’re going to see it all anyway. I hope someone can address this at the federal level. It’s getting ridiculous. And I’m about to miss my goddamned flight.

Oh yeah – and I’m missing my earrings – the only ones I brought.

Well here I go.

[ps – I’ll bring you up to date on some of my L.A. notes from the last month, soon – promise.]