Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Promise to Fabian

I guess it was three weeks ago that, as a friend coined it, DCist and I "broke up." It started with a critique I wrote about the most recent show at Meat Market. My review was received (by an editor) as condescending and academic. I was asked to do a rewrite.

This reception hinged on my start: mentioning both artists are/were students at the Corcoran. When the editor retorted something along the lines of, "you act like you are the first person to look at a student show," I knew I had to correct the beginning - somehow. It is not a student show. It just happens to be a show with one current student at the Corcoran and one former.

To rewrite, I looked at the press release to give me a starting point. No good - it was actually some diatribe on how people look at art (at least, that's what I think it was about). After eight hours of unsuccessful rewriting, I decided priorities took precedent: grading papers, projects, and finishing a grant. I informed DCist I did not care if the article was published - I would rather focus my efforts on things I get paid to do. Let's face it, when you spend 60 hours a week scraping together a 30K "living," there are more important things to do than kowtow to claims of condescending and academic. The next day I was divorced from their list serve, thanked for my time, and then informed we were parting company. For the best: more time to make art.

Here is the Meat Market review from early this month, sans rewrite. My last piece never published for DCist.

The recent exhibition, conscious inaction, at Meat Market, might have all the problems one would want or expect strong undergraduate students to have: high polish, remarkable craft, forced irony, and maybe a touch too much effort to be banal. These are not bad things to have and can likely be expected of the conscientious art student that has one eye looking back at the 20th Century in a history book while the other eye gropes at the 21st Century through glossy magazines.

Benjamin Jurgensen’s sculptures of discarded junk and ordinary objects are gathered in groups and evenly spaced throughout the front half of the gallery. In the corner is a car door with fire extinguishers and a forest of air-fresheners. Next to it is the frame of a large tricycle on bricks and cinderblocks. Painted many times over in latex paint, with a reduced palette of 6 colors, the work appears to be made of plastic. The general idea is for the juxtaposition of elements to force new narratives. But, those narratives are no more interesting than the rubbish thrown out to the curb by the average urban dweller. It is not to say the sculptures are not fun. There is something compelling about the diligence and craft of an individual willing to carve a folding chair and stanchion out of medium density fiberboard and wood.

In the back gallery are the photographs of Paul Jeffreys exploring the predatory identity of masculinity in two environments. One environment documents the directly conquered taxidermy displays of heads and carcasses within a hunting trophy room. The other, an empty strip club, explores the environment of pseudo-sexual domination. Both traipse through the fantasy of machismo. Hunting excursions via game farming and hunting pens are on the incline. And just how elevated can the male libido get when his sexual prey is dancing on a stage fit for the price of admission? The game he can kill but not eat; the dame he can view but not touch. Greed and insecurity gets the better of guys in both instances, and the end result is the sum of shortcomings rather than the actualization of being a man. The images are enough to roll your eyes over, and what a mockery we might make of a sex that can’t hit the inside of a urinal in a public bathroom.

With this exhibition, what is of greater interest is potential. What are these two capable of creating a couple years outside of the womb of the Corcoran, having kicked loose the opiates of academia? With conscious inaction the two artists are true to the title. But every conscious inaction has an unconscious reaction.

conscious inaction is on display at Meat Market, 1636 17th Street NW, through September 30. Opening Reception: Friday, September 7, 6:00-8:30 p.m.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Things Learned at the National Gallery

I'm bored of Hopper. The exhibition is pleasant, but how many paintings of a building can a person see?

Ben Stein is taller than I imagined. He was wandering around the exhibition: suit, pink shirt, tennis shoes.

There are some pieces on exhibition that have a telephone number next to them - audio tours visitors can access with their cell phones. Granted, they haven't told the guards this. I looked at Richard Serra, dialed the number, walked away and got told by two guards to get off the phone.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Kid Collectors

On Friday, September 14, the Wall Street Journal had an article on young art collectors: kids. I suppose since the bottom dropped out of baseball cards earlier in the decade this makes a bit of sense. Why drop several thousand dollars cumulatively over the course of adolescence when it can be done in one big purchase that likely won't devalue like Donruss.

Here are the best quotes.
"So far, Dakota (9) says she has focused her 40-piece collection on works featuring animals and "happy colors" such as pink and yellow. An early buy, hanging above her tea-party table, is an Andy Warhol panda from his 1983 series on endangered species. Her dealer spotted it at a gallery in Los Angeles. "Panda is darling and chubby and cute, and at night he protects me," Dakota says."
"Children tend to focus on art that mirrors their interests, which is why animals are a popular theme, as are flowers, cars, graffiti, and the cartoon-like characters found in works by Takashi Murakami and Yoshimoto Nara. For the most part, young children sidestep art containing nudity, extreme violence or irony, dealers say."
Oddly, both quotes kind of mirror the preferences of adults. The creme della creme is this one:
"And Taylor Houghton says his friends are often tempted to break into his Jan Albers wall art, which consists of real candy bars lined up behind plexiglass. "I have to remind them the candy was made, like, eight years ago," he says. "Nobody likes old candy.""
Tell that to the kids in the late 1980s chipping teeth on old sticks of gum found in Topps wax packs from the 1970s.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Insight: Ansel Adams at the Corcoran

I am no longer with DCist, so I guess my insight goes here.

From the first images of the Ansel Adams exhibition at The Corcoran there is a rush of nostalgia. I wonder if there is any child or any art student in the country, or perhaps the world, that has not looked at an Ansel Adams photo and been inspired to do the same. He didn't invent the landscape, the photograph, or the photograph of the landscape, but he may as well have. Every photograph of every tree from my youth, every mountainous vista I crossed, every detail of leaf or bark or petal that I felt so quick to snap as a child points its influence to him.

But this is not about Ansel Adams, or the Corcoran.

While I have walked through several collections of photographs in the past (MoMA, SF MoMA, Getty, Walker, AIC, etc) I cannot recall if I have ever seen an Ansel Adams print, which is ironic because of their iconic nature. Of course, that iconic nature stems from how we access them today: coffee table books, day calendars, and posters in dorm rooms or resting on fire place mantels. To physically see one is a different experience.

My wife, Gretchen, and I were invited to a preview of the exhibition this evening, and as with other Corcoran openings, it was a delightful event (thanks, Paul). We paced through the individual galleries with the dozens of other attendants pausing, reflecting, looking, discussing and staring.

The word grandeur came to mind. I also thought they were smaller than I imagined. There was an intimacy within every photo, in part because of size. But, the intimacy was also due to content. Paul Roth, curator of media art and photography at the Corcoran, and I talked last week about Adams and Liebowitz. He talked in explicit detail about the sense of spirituality conveyed within each Adams photo. A communion with nature that he wanted to convey with every photograph. The epiphany. The conversion.

And it is all there in every image. But, about halfway through the gallery it is impossible not to feel overwhelmed. While the intimacy is there in every photograph, it is difficult to sustain that through all 134 images amongst a crowd of strangers.

This is not a fault of The Corcoran, or of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (who organized the show) for that matter. With the commercial distribution of Adams, the near ubiquity and recollection of his work - through reproductions - the one thing that ends up missing from the entire gallery experience is the living room: the solitude of a chair with big arms giving a front row seat to the stoic beauty of Monolith, Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927 (above). It is that association, that context, that needs to be checked at the door with coat and hat.

A Smashing Experience

For the past couple of weeks I have been in the production phase of a video art piece. The above is the climax of the work, though likely not the final video edit of the climax. Four cameras were used for this scene. While no animals were harmed in the making of the production, the television wasn't so lucky.

Production assistants are Apollo Gonzales, Steven Tringali and John Arturo. The video is funded in part by a grant from the DCCAH.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Odds and Ends

All four lanes of the Rock Creek Parkway head toward the Kennedy Center during morning rush. Convenient, but confusing the first time.

When I returned to the Kennedy Center to leave GWU yesterday the wonderful smell of burning cedar greeted me before I hit the parking garage. I steady stream of smoke was rising from a location near the steps up to the Kennedy Center. I walked past, thinking nothing of it, but Midwestern sensibility got the better of me - that wasn't normal. I turned around and noticed a little flame peeking above the ivy in the landscaping, and kicked the flame. I guess I did learn something in Boy Scouts after all.

Lenny published an interview I had with Adrian Parsons about his circumcision performance at The Warehouse in April. Initially it was proposed to DCist. However, since parsons used to contribute to DCist, they opted against publishing it. So it goes.