Apr 27, 2009

Recent news

  • My work is in a group show, After Image, at 315 W39th Street #801, NY. It comes down April 29th. Email me if you want details. Sorry the announcement is late - been a bit busy recently!
  • I participated in Celestial Suitcase, an art event which took place over the weekend in Bushwick, with Eric Ayotte, Ryan O'Connor, and over twenty other artists.
  • I have a new series of works that I'm quite excited about. I am holding an open studio event at my new studio space at the end of May to show these and celebrate my birthday.
  • I will be giving a short talk (7 minutes!) at the Tate Modern in London, on 20th June.

Details of the open studio / Tate talk to follow.

Happy Spring!

Apr 19, 2009

Ward Shelley at Pierogi


Autonomous Art ver. 1, 36 x 24" (detail), Ward Shelley

Went to visit Ward Shelley at Pierogi, where he has a show titled "Who Invented the Avant Garde - and other half-truths ". Ward is showing a series of diagrams mapping various takes on history, primarily art history, ending at around 2000. The drawings are beautifully detailed, they have an an organ-like quality, like giant cardiovascular diagrams of bodies.

In addition to the diagrams, Ward has set up a (tiny) living area in the back of the gallery, where he will live for the next two weeks, sleeping during the day and working at night. Sleeping in a gallery is no longer new, but Ward takes things to an extreme - both in terms of how long he has been doing it and the kinds of demands he places on himself during each stay. When you visit his website you can see some of his previous living arrangements. In the Pierogi show, he invites visitors to enter short sentences into a laptop, in a document titled "Dreams" (I entered "relational aesthetics", my stock response when given an opportunity to comment in an art context). These sentences are converted by Apple's Text-to-speech into spoken words, which are played on speakers mounted in the extremely small sleeping area, a narrow mattress buried in a pile of cardboard boxes. Peep-holes let visitors see Shelley as he sleeps during the day, and you can hear the sounds of the words from the speech synthesizer.

Shelley says he is inviting the viewer to influence his dreams and through that his drawings, a way to experiment with how this effects the drawings he makes during the night. He also invites people to suggest topics for the drawings. Shelley blends both social and autonomous elements in his art.

Social art often makes democratic claims - suggesting, for example, that everyone is equally a creator. Such claims are overstated since, in practice, the viewer always occupies a tightly proscribed role. Shelley's approach is more carefully positioned. He gives the viewer a role to play, a way to contribute, but there is no claim that the viewer becomes the author. At best the viewer can become part of the authors dreams.

Shelley demonstrates, in both his diagrams and his social practice, a commitment to a kind of balancing act - between art as commercial enterprise and intellectual enterprise; between the history of art and art today; between social and autonomous drives; between the needs of the artist and the demands of the viewers. In contrast to the idealizing of modernist art, this kind of balancing act is a compromise, an attempt to have it all ways at once. However, if Shelley's work gives up on the radical idealism of modernism, it also skips the kind of irony typically associated with post-modernism. The work sets a sincere tone, almost worthy - one viewer thanked Ward as he left the show, saying that it was informative.

Then the Apple text-to-speech generator blurts out a phrase, and the whole exhibit lurches into the ridiculous.

I value art which proposes a sincere attempt a balancing act, trying to have it all ways at once, with a dose of ridiculousness that reveals how futile it all is and how important it remains to try.

Apr 13, 2009

Top Twenty


Top twenty words of two art critics, listed in frequency of use:

Critic 1

  1. the
  2. of
  3. a
  4. and
  5. in
  6. to
  7. is
  8. as
  9. it
  10. with
  11. that
  12. from
  13. for
  14. by
  15. was
  16. he
  17. at
  18. on
  19. but
  20. art

Critic 2

  1. the
  2. of
  3. and
  4. a
  5. in
  6. to
  7. is
  8. that
  9. art
  10. it
  11. with
  12. from
  13. museum
  14. by
  15. or
  16. are
  17. this
  18. at
  19. an
  20. new

Based on a sample of 5000 recently published words by each critic.

Apr 12, 2009

New Museum - Younger than Jesus


AIDS-3D. OMG Obelisk, 2007.

I did a very quick tour of YTJ at the New Museum this weekend. I really enjoyed much of the art. Ryan Trecartin's piece gave me a huge smile. I am excited this is showing near me. I plan to go back and may find time to post more.

However something Holland Cotter said in the NYTimes review resonated with me:

“Younger Than Jesus” doesn’t have a comparable sense of unity, texture or lift. It is, despite its promise of freshness, business as usual. Its strengths are individual and episodic, with too much work, particularly photography, making too little impact. But my point is that beyond quibbles about choices of individual works, it raises the question of whether any mainstream museum show designed to be a running update exclusively on the work of young artists can rise above being a preapproved market survey. Removed from a larger generational context, can such a survey ever become a story, part of a larger history? (The same question applies to museum exhibitions that leave young artists out of the picture.) I’m asking. It’s a complicated subject. I don’t know the answer.

I wonder the same thing.

If the YTJ show has a story, it is one of pluralism. The curators have done everything they can to be inclusive - consulting 150 "experts" facebook-style, listed in the published materials (I applaud this enormous effort); publishing a directory of 500 artists (also a great thing); including every form of art, from performance, video, sculpture, painting, photography and computer software; bringing in art from dozens of countries... all this demonstrates how connected everything is, how every attitude, image, form, or expression is equally valid. Every position is represented. Pluralism reigns supreme.

Yet as soon as the curators decide to divide artists into two classes based on a gambit like "younger than Jesus", they expose how shallow pluralism is in practice. The focus on the young/hot market segment does little to increase the overall pluralism in art, rather, as Holland Cotter remarks, it is business as usual. This is, as Hal Foster once said, "the false pluralism of the posthistorical museum, market and academy in which anything goes (as long as accepted forms predominate)." In the book Art Power, Boris Groy points out that pluralism is misguided, since any attempt at pluralism fails as soon as the curator has to make a choice who to exclude: "the alleged pluralism of modern and contemporary art makes any discourse on it ultimately futile and frustrating. This fact alone is reason enough to put the dogma of pluralism in question."

Of course, I may be getting this all wrong. I hold out hope that the curators are fully aware of this, and that if I spend more time in the show I will discover moments of irony that show how generational labels often collapse (perhaps they included an artist who is only fifteen, or one in their nineties?).

Apr 10, 2009

Hal Foster and Mimetic Excess


During questions an audience members asked "What about Now?"

Hal Foster had just spent an hour discussing the Dada movement of the 1920s. His image for the talk was Hugo Ball (above) dressed in an outfit - a kind of joker card that kept reappearing throughout the evening.

Foster's talk was a swirl of words. He has a non-linear take on history, rejecting terms like linear progression in favor of phrases like "rhythmic persistence". History as a series of turns and returns. I enjoyed this, I pictured a pulsing repeating rolling movement rather than a crash vector.

For Foster, Dadaism was one such turn. Foster presented a nuanced take on Dadaism, arguing that Dada was not about trying to be a vanguard or a resistance, but instead an imminent "biting from the inside." Dada was indifferent to the moment, rather than trying to transgress it (as surrealism was) or legislate it. Foster talked of Dada in terms of bathos, centering on the figure of the buffoon, as in Hugo Ball miming the fit of the epileptic.

Foster characterized German Dada as flaccid, fractured, the pathetic subject, epileptic, part-shamen, part-priest, yielding to a moment of pandemonium, utter confusion. A Dada artist "suffers from the dissonances of the time to the point of self-disintegration" (Wol?), at which point the body collapses. The Dadaist is the un-man, pushed to the limit.

Foster contrasted this with Russian constructivism and the new man, the hero figure, "ecce homo novus", Lissitzky's rational subject representing the new order, where man and machine fuse in unity.

Instead of the new man, in Dada Foster saw imminent mimesis (copying objects that surround us, drawing from the here and now), a strategy to survive civilization, to survive the death of humanism. Through miming the epileptic, through incorporating objects from the here and now, and then modifying, altering, changing, the mimesis becomes an excess, a surplus, a hypertrophic collapsing of distance. Foster called this collapse mimetic excess. It is a term I am still somewhat unsold on. Both mimesis and excess are highly subjective (one persons excess is another persons appetizer, for example). Which makes me wonder how useful a criteria mimetic excess is for understanding art.

As for "What about now?" Foster's immediate response was to turn the question back to the audience: "What about now?" A moment of silence. Several peopled snickered. "Why the laughter?" Foster asked coolly.

It was an electrifying second precisely because it signaled the moment when the audience shifted from passive listeners to reflective thinkers: Why do we laugh about about the now?

Then Foster backed off. He made some quick comparisons. For him, Isa Genskin is a contemporary artist who works with and achieves mimetic excess. Rachel Harrison, with her bicycles and pictures of Mel Gibson, worked in a similar vein but more often only achieved mimetic affirmation - repeating mages around us without going full circle to undo them. Foster likened Martin Kippenberger to the Dadaist Picabia, a wandering restless figure.

In making these comparisons, Foster reiterated the importance of history in art today, justifying why he feels it is important to be both critic (or artist) and historian - to balance these two powers.

The call to history is the expected response, and therefore disappointing. What Foster didn't discuss is the pervasive discourse today about the end of art history. The book "Canvases and Careers Today - Criticism and Its Markets", for example, is full of remarks bemoaning the challenges faced by contemporary criticism. "So maybe it's okay now to say goodbye to the critic" writes John Kelsey. Since artworks have become self-reflexive, and have their own website, the role of the critic as explainer of art has evaporated. The self-critical art object is not only the telos of contemporary art, it is also the terminal negation of art criticism (to bend a phrasing from Boris Groys).

In this climate it is hardly surprising that critics turn to history (Fried, who started as a critic, also turned to history). And who could pick a juicier period of history than the avant-garde? The question "what about now?" is even more relevant to art criticism than to art.