Thursday, March 30, 2006

Analysis:

At around 5:45 this afternoon the Post-It notes came down. In retrospect, I believe they still should have come down before noon – the bus stop in Glover park only functions as an environment in the mornings when relatively large masses wait for every bus. In the evenings the converse occurs; it is where the masses come to descend.

Art is something that makes us recall our environment and see it from a different perspective. Art involves a transformative process, an awakening, moment of clarity, or moment of bewilderment, that re-contextualizes the known. It is why a representational painting is so easy to identify as “art.” We acknowledge the surface the image is painted on, we identify that it is an image providing the illusion of a deeper space, we identify that it is made by a hand, and then we abandon these concepts quickly to judge the quality or effectiveness of the representation. It is this last moment that becomes the sticking point in art appreciation: when judgment overrides discovery. Art is about discovery, and sometimes the acknowledgement of that discovery.

It was the moment of discovery that was most appealing to witness this morning. A man walking hurriedly to the bus stop this morning stopped in the middle of 41st street the moment he recognized something was different with the bus shelter. Granted, this is not necessarily the moment one recognizes art, only difference. It was the people who chose to enter the bus stop. Part of the function of the “wall paper” being hung only on the interior was so that people would have to enter the space to get the true sense of the content and the texture.

One man drove past in a pickup truck and did a u-turn. He parallel parked and got out of his truck to inspect the piece. Some people left notes. Most did not. Some chose to ignore the nature of the Post-Its, perhaps afraid of the discovery. One woman sat contentedly eating a cup of yogurt while waiting for the bus, perhaps not changing her daily routine to read what was around her.

Nothing overly prophetic was scrawled on the pieces of paper. Most were just the absent reminders of things to do in the passing of the days or weeks to come. The richness is that these thoughts are not as disposable as the pieces of paper we place them on – they are important enough to write down. These notes acknowledge the overwhelming busyness we succumb to. You could summarize it as Christo and Jeanne-Claude meets Post-Secret. But that only
describes what it looks like,
and not the true nature
of the beast.

Note 2 Self Documentation



Note 2 Self

In a bus stop on Edmunds St and 41st, NW Washington, DC, I have finished installing an uncommissioned, temporary work of interactive public art. I am unaware if this is technically legal, but if people can tape signs advertising their garage sale or grocery store, then I should have the right to cover an entire bus stop in Post-It Notes.

The piece will exhibit from 1:00 this morning and run through about 11:00 AM EST.

The bus stop is an extension of our office space and our living room - the portal in between. Common in both locations are Post-It Notes, these convenient little yellow tabs (invented by my cousin Art Fry at 3M) remind us of the things we have yet to do and the things left undone. Consuming approximately 3000 Post-It Notes, they were adhered to craft paper so they could go up like wall paper and to possibly secure them through the duration of the installation to prevent liter. Attached solely to the inside of the bus stop intends to reinforce the idea of the internal environment of the work space and to also prevent further degradation from the elements. Pens were left behind so that commuters could contribute to the work during the duration of its installation.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

No Photo. No Flash.

This is a statement of museum etiquette: when the gallery space is dimly lit, and the sign says "no photography," that means you should not approach a piece of art behind plexi and proceed to photograph it with your 3.2 megapixel Nikon, as I saw some twit attempt at the Sackler this past weekend. This is what Google Images is for, or perhaps the books in the gift shop.

More importantly, what is this preciousness we grasp hold of when it comes to a work of art that has been deemed "great?" There are thousands of great works in the Louvre, for instance. Yet, when people visit, every idiot runs through miles of hallway, to go elbow-to-elbow with scores of others, standing on tipped-toe, to see the Mona Lisa behind a yard of bullet-proof glass - skiping over several centuries of great work in flight. Uccelo, Crivelli, and others get ignored for an ugly woman in a dim landscape further popularized on the cover of a piece of trash written by Dan Brown or doodled upon by Marcel Duchamp. Yawn! It is this object-orientedness that prevents so many people from really spending time with art, or how art functions, only so they can be good at Trivial Pursuit.

What does taking a snap-shot of a piece of art really mean? A document or record to remind her that she had seen the work? Is that necessary? Or does looking at that murky, dark image with a faint trace of the great work of art really remind her years later when flipping through her photo album? No. It doesn't. Will that photo be as great as the moment she spent recognizing and then ignoring the great work, only to gaze at it through her viewfinder before briskly moving on so as not to draw attention from the guard? No. It won't. Will it impress friends and relatives? No.

Preserve your integrity. Leave the cameras at home.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Letter to Middletown School Board

in response to what was seen on Mr. Campello's page about a week ago, I penned this letter to the Middletown, NY school board. Their actions upset me to no end.


To Whom It May Concern:

I was quite disturbed recently to learn that a highly gifted and well-qualified educator of the arts, Peter Panse, was suspended by your administration for suggesting to his talented and zealous student – eager to pursue their education in the arts – that they should take a figure drawing class.

As an art student, beginning at the age of fifteen, I regularly attended life-drawing classes at the local art museum in Davenport, Iowa. Students under the age of eighteen were not allowed to attend the class without guardian consent. These classes were paramount in the foundation of my arts education, freeing up my drawing hand in terms of gesture, line quality, and observation. Additionally, the classes called attention to issues in proportion and scale, weight, balance, and human anatomy and physiology.

Without the opportunity to take these classes I might not have become as skilled or as interested in the arts as I am today. This is for several reasons. First, the pose of the model dictates an element of time. A pose can only be held for so long before a model might tire or collapse. With this in mind, a discipline of speed is instilled within the artist to capture the essence of the pose. The same sense of speed may not be learned as easily by drawing a still life (of vessels and shoes, for example), because a still life possesses only a static nature. Secondly, a variety of poses, and therefore drawings, can be accomplished quickly in a set period of several minutes or hours. The same might not be as true, using the example of the still life, because of the limitations involved with set-up of a still life or the availability of materials. Most importantly, what a figure drawing class offers is a mixed environment of student, emerging, and mid-career artists collaborating in an educational atmosphere, exchanging ideas and styles.

To believe that this is a sexual atmosphere is ignorant at best. The arena for figure drawing becomes a sterile laboratory, with the model as a subject. The discipline is the drawing of form, not the oogling of reproductive and excretory regions of the anatomy. To even think, for a moment, that figure drawing would even stray from such disciple is as shameful as reprimanding an instructor for simply recommending and encouraging that his students exercise their artistic skills by seeking out and participating within such a sterile and collaborative environment. And if it is the “exposed” anatomy that concerns you, to draw a parallel just as ludicrous, would you suspend your biology instructors, who cover sections on anatomy and reproduction, for using the words penis and vagina because they may be misconstrued as suggestive and indecent?

The action to suspend Mr. Panse is offensive to intellect and choice. It is offensive to an academic environment that holds, above all other things, the opportunity for students to excel. I urge you to reconsider this action.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Fulcrum of Modernist Painting

While meandering through the retrospective Cezanne in Provan├že, I overheard the following statement, “his earlier paintings looked more like something.” Such a comment is typical of pedestrian appreciation, which is not incorrect, just categorically arrogant, ignorant or misguided.

Art, by definition, should not be a work by the hand created to look like something “recognizable.” This idea was abandoned nearly two centuries ago with the invention of the photograph. Arguably, the idea occurred before that.

Cezanne represents many things in the history of art. Had it not been for his analytical dissection of form I ponder if Cubism would have occurred so soon thereafter. There is an immense consideration of how the paint is applied – simply look at the brushstrokes of his paintings in the 1880s for further evidence of this. And there is this obsession of something so inane as a mountain for a subject, painted again and again – a passion best understood by artists, and maybe Chicago Cubs fans. Barbara Rose has commented on several occasions how Cezanne is “the Greatest 20th Century artist of the 19th Century” (and Picasso the inverse). It is for the above reasons. It is for those reasons Don Kimes yelled in an Italian restaurant, in Todi, Italy, “I can’t get past this fucking Cezanne!” It is for those reasons Al Held, at a nearby table, picked up his glass of wine and walked over to this perfect stranger and said something equivalent of “you too?”

For the pedestrian, artists do not expect you to really “get” Cezanne. He is only the fulcrum of Modernist painting.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Relationship Show

It is with regret that this post comes so late, for by far the best show I have seen in recent months not sponsored by a museum has been this little opus by three “emerging” artists in DC: Breck Brunson, Nilay Lawson and Solomon Sanchez. The press release states the exhibition explored “the relationships between self, society and community,” all of which is evident without reading the release; there were several works that resonated at that level, and a few that perhaps needed the release to guide us through.

The first pieces welcoming the public to the space are visible or audible from the outside. Sanchez’s aptly titled White Submarine Emerging from Synthetic Hair placed the modeled top half of a submarine emerging from many locks of synthetic hair within the front window of the gallery. This work suggested the wit and cynicism that might be found on the inside of the gallery in the other works of art. It could relate to the emerging artist, the wallflower at the party, or that NSA agent listening in to your phone calls overseas; who knows what rests beneath the pool of hair. Overhead, Brunson’s sound installation And I know tomorrow will still be the same could be heard squeeling into the street. Contained within, the R&B song “Always and Forever” was no longer recognizable, and possessed an eerie, fighting quality – a stuttering elocution that became too slow and forced to be understood. Far more subtle than its street-level partner, pairing the title of the work with the title of the song emotes the wonderful suggestion that for how much we want to see things change and evolve, growth can often be a slow process in the art world or otherwise. The end of this song might not sound much different than its beginning, and certainly no one is going to stand around long enough to wait for the sound to change for very long.

Inside different works of art echoed what was publicly exhibited as well as what was exhibited on the inside. Sum Mate, a black plastic bag with a video looping on the inside of hands hurriedly counting bills, and A safe too full to be closed, consisting of a wood constructed and painted to look like a safe stuffed full with stacks of money, sat on opposite ends of the gallery space quoting for many of us what will be that unattainable dream: financial security. Alternatively, it also suggests the hustle to earn, to be rewarded. A large phallic structure, Lawson’s 14” Diamond Tip, certainly played an ironic twist on the issues of “love” as publicized by celebrity and teen magazines. Neither the size of the diamond on your finger, nor the size of his cock, truly signify the affection or trust found in a committed relationship - though both might make a lady feel good for a little while. It might also connote the hustle that some women have to marry rich. It’s shape distantly echoed the work of Sanchez’s submarine, or his Permanent marker bleeding through surface of paint, which also had a pink phallic/submarine nature to it.

Perhaps the weakest piece, structurally, was the painting Spite Night, which lingered somewhere between a formal painting and a cartoon without really embracing one or the other. Not that it had to. The subject, however, played wonderfully the themes associated with a party (or a large gallery opening) wherein people are drinking, socializing, ignoring the stuff on the walls, and possibly screwing in the bathroom. A little touch of Red Grooms in this painting, several narratives could be assumed questioning the relationships between the multiple characters within. Who was with whom, and who went home with someone else?

What is perhaps most important is whom this collection of work could speak to: easily everyone. Issues of money and sex are pervasive throughout our culture.

The Relationship Show exhibited at Transformer until March 5. The submarine might still be in the window, but “Always and Forever” is no longer playing.

To Whom It May Concern:

I must apologize for my inability to maintain this blog space over the past several weeks. Work had become incredibly overbearing/fruitful (depending on my state of mind), and I was generally working 11+ hours a day for the past several weeks - Sundays included. Granted, it is of little use to make many excuses either way; few people read this site, which is the way I want it for now.

Yours truly,
John James