Monday, August 6, 2012
note: photographs by Peter Hujar (1934 - 1987)
In February 1981 I moved to New York City from the metropolitan Detroit area. I was 21 years old. Also, I did not drive.
Years after the fact when I consider what might have been if I had stayed in Detroit I assume it would have been the same boredom I now recollect dimly, the same lack of stimulation - no art, no books, no film. Of course there was some, but on a limited scale & for one with no automobility, it could be inaccessible. & considering all the "dumb jobs" one could get in NYC, there was no comparable economy in the shrinking Midwest. I worked at one point at a used bookstore in Royal Oak on Woodward Ave near 13 1/2 Mile - the shop manager at one point told me (this may have been when she laid me off), "Go to New York - there's nothing here for you - you don't belong here." New York was considered highly dangerous for the most part, but open in ways that one wouldn't find in the duller & homogenous Midwest.
"Not belonging here" was also partial code for being gay - something I would understand with more depth, later. While there are environments much worse than Detroit for being gay, my own yearnings informed a sense that it could be better, somewhere else probably, probably meaning NYC. & it retrospect, it was.
By the time I arrived in NYC there was already a sense that whatever it was had ended already. The tawdry excesses of the 1970s were on the wane. For those who follow real estate in NYC, one of the curious unintentional documents of the 1970s is in the movie Saturday Night Fever, in particular the character Stephanie Mangano who becomes John Travolta's dance partner - she breaks out of the stasis of their Staten Island neighborhood to make a psychic leap to a grim studio apartment in the Upper West Side. Years afterwards when I hear people complain about "the people who've occupied rent controlled apartments FOREVER" as if this is the cause for the absurd rents in NYC, her unhappy, restless, alienated character comes to mind.
Although it was only a few years later when I got to NYC, such mobility was on the wane, although as was said to me by the Michiganders I knew who preceded me to NYC at Columbia, Barnard & NYU, "you can still find someplace."
The liberatory chaos of Delirious New York manifested itself in many ways. By 1982 I lived in a shared apt on Stanton Street off of Essex, paying $200/month, & I worked part-time (which could often be overtime - it varied) at the Bleecker St Cinema. There was still a sense of NYC in general as dangerous, & within that a sense of "downtown" - of those who live either entirely below 14th St, or entirely above it. These boundaries now seem absurd - the 10013 zip code in Tribeca is now wealthier than 10021 (the former BUtterfield 8). But my youthful blitheness factored in, let's say downtown was still poorer, economically mixed, & bohemian.
By the time I began living and working downtown there had been sea-changes in the real estate potentials of SoHo, which had become a prosperous & centralized gallery district for contemporary art. Whether working at the Bleecker, which was 1 block north of Houston, or later, beginning in 1984, when I began to work at Film Forum, at that point on Watts St at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, on the southwestern edge of SoHo, I spent the shank of my youth in the area, & its expanding galleries of the globalizing Art World. With its "success" the galleries moved elsewhere, replaced by high end boutiques, but that came later. In the 1980s there was still a texture of differences in the area. The cafeteria Food was still open (although now when I see the Gordon Matta-Clark film of it, I realize I was never there in that earlier incarnation), there were still some small storefront businesses, and the old Italian neighborhood on Sullivan & Thompson Streets, with the local tavern Milady's. Unlike Midtown or the Financial District (which had NO residents at the time - quite a place to bicycle in the dead of night), the buildings were not too high & there was more sunlight. There were streets of heavy traffic as well as smaller residential blocks. West Broadway had already transformed significantly from what is seen in the introductory NYC scenes of the film The American Friend, which came out in 1977.
One of my memories, which seems more like fiction or fantasy, occurred in my first week in NYC, when one of my Ann Arbor friends, D, took me to a SoHo loft where we had coffee with Hannah Wilke, who I did not know of at all until several years ago - all I recall is her chewing gum art. How goofy, but one of the charms of being young & witless in such a setting is that such things can occur randomly.
Another more professional encounter was at the Bleecker St Cinema, where among other tasks, I did 16mm projection (non-union) in a small space there called the James Agee Room. One afternoon it was leased out to Louise Lawler, who did a NYC version of "A Movie Will Be Shown Without the Picture" - I projected (without the picture) the Paul Newman movie The Hustler, which is 134 minutes - something a projectionist would notice first & foremost. Again - I barely knew this from nothing.
Without any specific personal agency, the galleries were part of my everyday, which now seems incredible. Working at the Bleecker & then Film Forum & the short-lived VanDam (run by a short-lived distribution company which I suspect was a money laundering outfit) & Anthology Film Archives, when it reopened on 2nd Avenue in 1988, I took it for granted, & it was the only time in my working life when lunchtime was genuinely interesting.
In the past 2 years, working with undergrads I've found the students are more informed with our hyper media saturated environment than us oldsters - or they think they are informed, & they think that it is theirs somehow. From my middle-aged perspective it seems entirely false & misleading, but I realize that I need to go against the same youthful impulses in myself, now a fading memory, in order to contend with the ideas brought up in the exhibit This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, curated by Helen Molesworth, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The catalog for the exhibit documents cultural upheavals in the US (primarily), using a time frame of 1979- 1992, and as conceptual markers, the impact of feminism in art practices followed by the impact of AIDS. The essays by the curator Helen Molesworth and Frazer Ward, Kobena Mercer, Johanna Burton, Elisabeth Lebovici, Bill Horrigan, and Sarah Schulman present multiple perspectives of the time, in themes titled The End is Near, Democracy, Gender Trouble, Desire & Longing. This is an extremely rich book about art & the time.
As much as coming from the misery of Detroit to the horny energy of NYC was a boon, the 1980s was a remarkably alienating time in terms of culture. I was in Ann Arbor when Ronald Reagan was elected: the University of Michigan radio station played Leslie Gore's It's My Party on a loop for 24 hours. That is, it wasn't a party to be happy about any more.
Kobena Mercer writes:
The idea of a public space that is independent of commercial interests and separate from the state is one of the elementary building blocks of modernity. It is a concept that helped overthrow the absolutist monarchies of seventeenth-century Europe, and it was a precondition of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century. To say that the critical art of the 1980s lays bare the restructuring of public and private boundaries that took place in late-twentieth-century life is to suggest that it is only now, with some thirty years' distance, that some of the era's aesthetic tendencies begin to reveal their far-reaching political significance.
. . . In the late 1970s conservative forces took command of "the new" by winning popular consent for their vision of a future that would consign the welfare state to history. Back when the New Right really was new it took a leading or hegemonic role in the imaginative drive to push back the frontiers of perception by positioning itself as the agent of modernization capable of redressing the ongoing crises of industrial capitalism. Neoconservativism thus heralded a future based on consumerism, new technologies, finance capital, and a service economy - all of which were to be delivered by the privatization of almost everything, from housing to education to health, that defined "the public good" under the terms of the post 1945 consensus . . .it was precisely the generative agency of the intersecting forces clustered around the shifting borders of public and private life that gave rise to multiple lines of dissensus in 1980s art. . . 1980s art reveals the catalyzing antagonisms put into by by an emergent conception of multiple publics . . . (p. 135)
Mass media, as a condition of daily life, informs the art in question, which is seen as a break with an earlier heroic High Modernism which exempted itself from politics, whether it be the perceived in activism or in daily life. Helen Molesworth posits that this was the first generation of artists to grow up with television - itself highly mutable & expansive from the 1950s through the 1980s. The deregulation & privatization of Cable TV is brought up, & there is particularly ripe mention by Dara Birnbaum, quoting Manfredo Tafuri that "television was the real architecture of the time." (p. 156).
This Will Have Been reinvests the art from the period outside its mercantile potential (or mercantile splendor - this is not a "best of" sort of collection) with an agency that addresses the Reaganite/Thatcherite retro-spasms of change that occurred in this period.
The last 2 essays, by Bill Horrigan (A Backward Glance: Video in the 1980s), & Sarah Schulman (Making Love Making Art: Living and Dying Performance in the 1980s), touch on that of which I know next to nothing - that is, the history of video; & one that which touches on something that I experienced as well - the highly mutable performance scene in the East Village, once upon a time. After reading the catalog I read Sarah Schulman's book The Gentrification of the Mind - in it she makes a comment that doing "performance" for a young artist is now synonymous with "private income" - whereas the performance she relates in the MCA catalog predates such a denotation. It's a lost world of "Whispers" on Sunday evenings at the Pyramid Club, or Jennifer Miller the Bearded Lady, all highly extraordinary & accessible in an everyday world.
The Schulman essay is up front about varying incomes, capricious real estate, & porous emotional and sexual liaisons: She also suggests some of the joy of being young & relatively carefree, in a partially collapsed city. As an addendum, I would also recommend another project Sarah & Jim Hubbard put together, the ACT UP Oral History Project.
I found the 1980s to be an intensely alienating time. Competitive class differences became marks of distinction, from the top down. Any wayward bohemian dalliance with art was superseded by a hierarchy of professionalized practitioners. With the spread of HIV and AIDS a Foucauldian paranoia of a harsh indifferent Administration (that is, multiple administrations of power) became very real and did its best to remain immovable except under the duress of insistent, dedicated activists. In terms of real estate speculation, the city became a violent machine of gentrification which has driven so many out with a hostile economic logic, for greener but not necessarily better pastures. In the abstract I tend to think of it as a kind of Hell - there is a recoupment in all these sources which gives me a plateau to think otherwise.
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Several years ago at ICP I heard Walter Rosenblum lecture. Rosenblum began his lecture with a rhetorical question to the audience, asking who there had gone into debt for an education? & Rosenblum saw that as a problem, that for a photographer, to do that, it put one in a permanently vexed situation: there would always be a debt to repay, and a certain amount of obedience to a paycheck, which would inform any voice that the photographer may have, whether directly or indirectly.
Walter Rosenblum was speaking long before our artificial bubble of prosperity broke. In a certain sense his alarm at the excesses of credit was not dissimilar from what I had heard as a child as a "Depression mentality" which was considered commonplace for the world of my grandparents, & a residual effect for my parents' generation: a distrust of banks, a suspicion of credit, a fear of losing what little there is. In the bright illusory lights of the post WWII boon economy, extended decades further into the excesses of our recent times, this all could sound a bit dour & old-fashioned.
By the same token this could also be perceived as a way to apprehend the world. One of the themes of Robert Frank's The Americans was the contrast between an unreal boosterism almost wholly missing yet still informing the streets & highways traveled in the images: Is it poverty or alienation which is depicted? & whose alienation? In Frank's photos the suggestion that it is a near universal, that there is a shared abjection, behind the godawful illusion of America, which floats like an European colonialist concept of deliverance & domination gone amok, like some sort of cruel deity. (I can hear a line which is repeated in a few of Mike Leigh's films, "We're on the top of the world" which is uttered when that idea seems all too pathetic).
On a visit to the Metropolitan Museum the other day, in the galleries for Drawings, Prints & Photographs, I saw a gorgeous Frank print from his series "On the bus" . But what is beautiful about this? It is a scene from a street, presumably New York City, & the composition is based on chance, randomness, it has no distinct order or scenario, it is fragmentary, it reveals nothing.
On a physical level it occurred to me: Frank isn't shooting through the glass of a window, he could open the bus window. The street is a thoroughfare but it also is not pure moving traffic, either. These people are using the space of the sidewalk differently. It's not just a passage, or a passage which is without anything other than flow. New Yorkers can mention "pedestrian rage" with blitheness: it must have been worse then!
On the other hand, what was lacking then was the systematic planning and design which turn every second in a public sphere into a kind of utility. We live now in a world that is not dissimilar from the futuristic fantasies of total planning, in which every process of being in a place becomes part of a calculated system. Well maybe it's not a new concept at all - the Hausmannization of Paris did this as well, but without the excess of sensory prosthetics which now determine our everyday. All of us, including the wealthy shoppers of Fifth Ave are marching in step now, to the greater order of the official street. Our machines turn us off to the actual world around this, & the camera itself is implicated in this.
Perhaps that is what seems strange & engaged about the Frank photograph, & also the current show at the Jewish Museum, The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951: what one sees is the camera as a conduit of emotions. There's a sense of commonality in the idea of the photographic image which is social as much as it is personal & particular: it can reflect both & it can be shared.
The Photo League itself was a small scale, grassroots organization, which facilitated the work of people who became professionals as well as those who could be categorized as "hobbyists". As I understand it, there was a lot more ambiguity about the distinctions between such forms - perhaps because of the small paycheck involved. At the Photo League class cost between 4 - 7 dollars & it had no glamour, no sex appeal, & no class - it was there for those who were interested. & in its brief fragile history, one could have encountered the likes of Lewis Hine or Paul Strand - it still boggles my mind that I have met people, like Morris Engel, who learned from them.
At this point in our sordid economic history this now seems implausibly enchanted. While the streets of New York were never far from darkness - never far from the Poe story, The Man of the Crowd, with its conclusion of never-knowing, of pure "modern" chaos incarnate facing us down, it still managed to have a presence, even when it is stylized such as in William Klein's New York book, or the early Stanley Kubrick film Killer's Kiss (filmed in Times Square, Washington Heights, Chelsea), which in our virtual world is now ignored. Attention to the world at hand seems possible in this work.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
The proximity of my studio in Olive Tjaden Hall next door to the Johnson Museum of Art has led me to frequent the museum fairly often, whether for getting soup during the week at the 2 Naked Guys Cafe in the lobby, or simply to loiter with or without intent.
The Johnson is a relatively new museum, opening in 1973. Cornell University had no centralized art collection until the organization of the Andrew Dickson White Museum in 1953, which was located in the A.D. White House, now the home of the Society for the Humanities. The A.D. White Museum grew into the Johnson Museum with the support of alumnus Herbert F. Johnson '22. The Johnson is a small but spectacular I.M. Pei design, a small concrete tower on the north end of Libe Slope, with views on all sides. The view north towards Cayuga Lake over the thick trees of Cayuga Heights & beyond being particularly pastoral & picturesque.
I.M. Pei's design is notable on several levels. For a concrete tower, with a bunker-like aspect, it is also paradoxically light & airy. There is a 3-storey sculpture deck on the 2nd floor which floats above Libe Slope, with views towards the Arts Quad & the original buildings of the university: Morrill, McGraw & White Halls. The best views are at the top of the building: the 5th floor Asian galleries which has views on all sides & the 6th floor conference room, which has a wall of window facing north to the lake. The galleries vary considerably in size & proportion, which also influence one's experience of the entire building: it seems much larger than it actually is, there are a lot of different kinds of galleries. Such variety expands one's sense of the place.
With the recent expansion completed, some of the existing spaces have been retrofitted, in particular the Asian galleries on the 5th floor. Included in the Asian galleries is a space for modern & contemporary art, which are currently installed with 2 Nam June Paik videos. Yesterday morning I watched Global Groove (1973) which I hadn't seen in several years.
At the risk of dating myself, I had seen Paik in the past at Anthology Film Archives, and even earlier, once I saw Charlotte Moorman, which was as exciting as when I saw Yma Sumac perform at a tapas bar/piano bar in Chelsea, years & years ago. In our virtual world it now seems kind of impossible - a flesh-&-blood encounter now seems moot, likewise both Paik & Moorman now fall into a purgatory of history. Paik's videos look utopian in what is now our hellish conflation of technology & capitalism aka the internet.
The ebullient silliness of Paik still seems potent to me: What is best about television is the ability to change the channel, randomly, & that is what Global Groove is like - going from one thing to another with a kind of hilarious velocity.
If there is a dark side in Paik, it is in the credits: Global Groove was made in conjunction with an experimental television workshop in Binghamton. Now all that (the idea of experimental television, Binghamton as something more than the depressed town it is now) seems lost. Although we still have the specter of tap dancers, John Cage, Charlotte Moorman, et al to remind us of better things.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The quote, or more properly, misquote (probably), is from Thomas Bernhard: In one of the books he wrote that getting a prize is society's way of shitting on you. It has been many years since I first encountered what is probably a genuine misread, yet in whatever error it exists in my memory, it has somehow stayed with me, as a call to stoicism contra the capricious vulgarity of any sort of award.
At this point I am from an older generation when awards had a clearer caste system: When Pia Zadora getting the Golden Globe was kitsch both for Zadora AND the Golden Globe, for example (& one could appreciate Pia Zadora even more for being such an ebullient prize winner, but of what?). Awards add luster & validation to the most routine entertainments - my sense is in the future the database of awards will function as a social mirror much in the same way that advertisements can, as embodiments which seem full in their time, & afterwards act more as a graph of lost illusions.
Last week I saw the Hans-Peter Feldmann installation at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in conjunction with his award of this year's Hugo Boss Award, which comes with a grant of $100,000. Feldmann's installation is lining the walls & posts of the gallery with 100,000 US dollar bills, pinned in even rows, floor to ceiling.
The gallery is large. Before I saw the installation, I had wondered if 100,000 dollar bills covers a little or a lot. There is some overlap involved which makes me think that it did involve some creative geometry to include all the bills. US money is remarkably drab - the neo-classical graphics are lugubrious both in dull, narrow monochromic tones & in all-too-official, historicizing imagery. The sober tonalities line what is otherwise a brilliantly white cube contemporary gallery. The dollars look like some dull reptilian scale. That week, my friend S. whose interests are in the realm of haute couture & what he terms luxe, told me about a $40,000 handbag made of wild crocodile he had seen. Unlike such a luxe handbag (well, at least for some), seeing $100,000 pinned to the walls is extremely static & uninteresting, which is I am guessing, precisely the point, or a point - I think there's a lot going on with this installation.
The Hugo Boss Award is a global art prize: it presupposes a globalized art economy, presumably without national borders. There's a lot of conceit in this: one could still stake out borders within this magical Everywhere. "Global" is for a "global" class which excludes most of the globe. A "global" award functions like any global corporate action. It is not art which is the global Esperanto linking all, but the economy itself, & in things like the Hugo Boss Award, or the Guggenheim franchise (from NYC to Abu Dhabi), it is all luxe decoration, & perhaps not as satisfying as a wild crocodile handbag. One looks sadly for more purpose than that, & come up short. It reminds me of a visual pun in Jacques Tati: an office lined with travel posters for far-flung places of the world, all of which look identical.
The installation was remarkably empty, in fact it was downright peaceful. Other than seeing 2 boys stopped from photographing one another posing with wide-open arms in front of the plenitude of dollars, there isn't much to do in the gallery per se, although I found it remarkably moving, perhaps because of its visual spareness, & that it could function without the existence of any art object. If anything, going into the next gallery, for an installation of post-Impressionist paintings from the Thannhauser Collection, which included, immediately, a spectacular Van Gogh of the mountains of St Remy, & a Gauguin Tahitian fantasy of a near-nude boy with a horse in a jungle, both of which I could describe flippantly as masterpieces, was quite jarring. & if anything, $100,000 could buy a few inches of these paintings at best. & masterpiece quality aside, these paintings looked like psychedelic posters in comparison.
Feldmann's installation made $100,000 look insubstantial, even a bit unreal - excuse the pun, but it just didn't "add up." It was not like seeing the interior of Fort Knox like in Goldfinger - it had nothing precious or prized about it at all. & it was neither cynical or ironic - if anything it reminded me more of simply pulling a few dollars out of my pocket, when that is all there is, rather than any artistic strategy.
There were crowds, mostly of tourists, going into the Guggenheim, most of which was closed for the Lee Ufan show. A well-dressed woman pushed past me in the revolving door saying she was here "FOR THE FELDMANN!" as was I - & I never saw her in the gallery, either. The more show-stopping Van Goghs & Gauguins were mere steps away, after all.
The quietness of Feldmann's gesture of the installation impressed me, as well as the larger issues at hand: the airy symbolism of money, its teetering between worth & worthlessness, its use as a kind of black mirror in which one could see the commodity of art reflected in it. Money has a different presence for those with or without it. Given that almost any thing per se can be used in art-making in a "post-medium" art world (which is also global, of course), it still has a sense of being artless, even with the methodical if not decorative mode of pinning the dollars to the walls. The greenish tones of the dollars made the gallery feel like one were at the bottom of a very still pool.
I think of Feldmann's books & collections of ephemeral images - all of them modestly scaled. One of my secret tests with my professors & colleagues is to see how they react to Feldmann's work - does it have any impact or not? Feldmann is not that well known in the US & the only large-scale show with his involvement that I know of is The Last Picture Show which I saw at the Walker Art Center. I have a few rumpled issues of Ohio Magazine as well - another litmus test. Perhaps in the US the everyday is supposed to be be more special, & it can be jarring to sense that it actually not, visually, or otherwise.
Monday, May 30, 2011
“When I walk down the street, all I can think of is how angry I am, how I can't stand anything,“ said the photographer Brian Weil, “but when I look through a camera it all becomes extremely interesting.”
Commencement exercises at Cornell, or as the numerous placards clarified, the 143rd Commencement (Cornell was founded in 1865, classes beginning slightly afterwards), embodied both the immediacy of the graduating classes of 2011 and what historian Morris Bishop class of 1913 termed “the Cornell Tradition,” the Tradition seemingly solid & eternal, & monotonously repetitive.
Without going near the main commencement at Schoelkopf Stadium, the normally quiet Arts Quad transformed into a marching ground for the various colleges, the graduates in cap & gown, with school banners held at front. The procession to the stadium is actually rather far: No one commented on the distance to me, which indicates its fixed invisibility, its classical repetition, its inevitability. Circling around the perimeters of the Arts Quad, with the East-West axis of the bronze statues of founders Ezra Cornell & Andrew Dickson White to pass, seemed the most overtly symbolic aspect of the gesture, along with the constant melodies from the McGraw Chimes, in their faux Venetian tower at Uris Library – among the ditties I can recall now, off-hand, were the Ode to Joy and “Give My Regards to Broadway.”
(although no Beatles tunes, which are a common request, or Happy Birthday or O Tannenbaum – evidently good for all seasons here. During Study Week I heard both Danse Macabre & Bali’Hai, which I thought were particularly outstanding).
The secular religiosity of the procession brought to mind that Victorian entrepreneurs and businessmen founded Cornell as a nondenominational school, emphasizing the sciences. Ezra Cornell had made his money with the telegraph, and with what later became Western Union. The waning of the church & the rise of the state and the corporation as ruling bodies, the adoption of ritual forms as a way of (again back to Morris Bishop) transforming the “Cornell Experiment” to the “Cornell Tradition” have a curious charge to them.
At the later, smaller AAP Commencement I described the procession to C, who characterized it as Leni Riefenstahl. I thought of the Ensor painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889, at the Getty.
Some of the early films of Robert Altman come to mind too: MASH, Nashville, & Brewster McCloud. The McGraw Chimes resemble the intrusion of pop songs as a kind of pervasive cosmology in MASH. Once last Fall our class had a meeting outside on the lawn of the Arts Quad before Seminar, which we had to take inside, when we were “drowned out” by a particularly impassioned carillon transcription of the Habanera from Carmen. Almost everyone seems to dislike the bells – it almost goes without saying that most find them an irritant. C. told me that when he first came to Cornell, whenever he walked past McGraw Tower, the bells would start to play at that moment – adding an uncanny element to its aural reordering of space.
How the graduates adapt themselves to cap & gown brings up all sorts of differences that simmer in a more unnoticed manner otherwise. There are the students who dress up scrupulously, in Sunday best, with parents and general respectability as an audience. There are those who dress up in a more flamboyant way. & there are those who structure their comfort in the most expedient manner. At the AAP Commencement I saw a boy walk barefoot to the podium to get his diploma. I would like to think there was someone nude underneath one of the gowns (& Ithaca, normally cold & damp, was hot & humid for the afternoon), but there has been no corroboration of this.
I think there is a Reunion Weekend coming up. The Commencement festivities reminded me of the Elliot Erwitt photograph, “Yale’s Oldest Living Graduate.” The Erwitt photo has a resonance of media as a kind of distancing mechanism, which may be more stylistic than theoretical in the image’s particularities, in the clash between intention & effect: the sense of the photographic as a kind of skewed theater that can reflect back on itself somehow, but also in its opacity it can be read as a wholehearted family-of-man sort of social embrace. Erwitt's image, along with its potential satire, can also be looked at without any irony just as easily.
Initially thinking I would stay in my studio, I instead went out looking for the Ithaca equivalent of Yale’s Oldest Living Graduate. There have been glimpses of this kitsch previously: the acapella groups singing outside Willard Straight Hall. The fraternities & sororities out & about en masse, dressed identically. The institutionalized binge-drinking of Slope Day which deserves a proper anthropological treatment (J told me she saw 3 guys walking – one bent over, puked, & then the guys high-fived one another & they continued on their way).
But without a camera, it all seems kind of dreadful. With a camera I think: When am I going to be around this strangeness again? Overall I enjoyed the sass of some of my younger friends. & camera in hand, how often will I have such easy access?
thanks to: Tyler Dennis, Maggie Prendergast, Lauren Valchius, & Jackie Zdrojewski - all class of 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
The current show of Karen Kilimnik's work at 303 Gallery includes a reconstruction of the installation The Hellfire Club episode of the Avengers, along with some photos of a girl posing a l'Emma Peel, and paintings of more "traditional" subject matter - dogs, landscape, portraits in heroic style (I can hear my Aunt Lucille imitating the movies here, pronouncing it "veddy English"), which relate in a kind of thrift store Anglophilia all around.
I find myself able to relate to it, both in terms of it as an art practice, as well as something (maybe not even art per se) which interfaces with media, with pop culture, which casts the experience as a kind of internalized subjectivity from which there is no discernible awakening. It's like a dream, the nature of which cannot be easily determined. It can be both gorgeous & terrifying. It's as if one's ego is nothing, supplanted by floating images from elsewhere, which are eminently desirable, yet it's awful too, sometimes.
There's a lot of art which deals with media images directly, with celebrity as a kind of mirror of whatever. & I get a sense that there really isn't much irony or depth in some of the work, or that there is meant to be (such as Elizabeth Peyton or Richard Phillips), & I'm not intending to suggest that there has to be. It doesn't mean much to me, but these images have had at least a contemporary resonance, for some. They show in galleries (what does that mean?). What I am intrigued with in the work of Karen Kilimnik, continually, is its morbid, romantic obsessiveness, its attachment to fantasies both grand & cheap. The work has a kind of entropy in its attachments, it is abject, it is kind of falling apart - & as such it resonates with a psychic landscape laid out like copy in a fashion magazine. The work picks up on the invasiveness of media, its aggressions.
But I am missing something here too: a figure like Emma Peel, especially in The Hellfire Club episode, is also a very empowering figure. She's tough, hot & self-possessed. We should all take some lessons from her, this fictional sylph. The photos of the girl posing with images of Emma Peel/Diana Rigg pick up on this, in a very direct way. The photos are wonderfully not-fine. They are simple; if they were in an envelope from a one-hour lab they would seem like someone's ordinary caprice, a scenario of "this is me, like the picture." The "amateur" can be theorized as a hapless consumer, as an absolute in passivity, however it could be seen as a much more complicated interchange. There's a murky deliriousness in the contemplation of these materials. There are intimations of violence - violence in cheap toys & decorations, in tinsel & gilt, in dupey Xeroxes, in not-so-secret yearnings for a world much richer than our own.
Artists often fixate on particular found material (imagery, objects, quotes, fragments of text, etc.) that reveals no direct connection to their practice but that possesses for them an enigmatic, resonant meaning. This material may serve as a beacon for their practice, suggesting an unrealized and indeterminate potential for future work. Perhaps this material is the uncanny of artistic practice.
For this exhibition we collect such material from over a hundred and fifty artists, each invited to submit a single-page digital file to be printed on an 8×10-inch sheet. This small archive will be handed over to three curatorial collectives, each of whom will mount a treatment and exhibition in the diminutive (10-foot by 10-foot) Curatorial Research Lab at Winkleman Gallery. Despite the collection's necessarily small scale, we hope for a different order of insight than can be derived from primary artistic production. What if, for a moment, we treat such secondary material as primary? We are curious to see what tentative and comparative understandings can be drawn regarding a collective sensibility of the moment. Could organizations of this archive serve as signs on the road toward something beyond its constituent parts?
Workroom G is Michael Ashkin, Leslie Brack, and Joshua Geldzahler
Gogue Projects is Matt Freedman & Jude Tallichet
Camel Collective is www.camelcollective.org
Cathouse FUNeral is David Dixon, Karen Miller, Pete Moran
David Adamo, Alyson Aliano, Greg Allen, Meredith Allen, Robert Andrade, Mirene Arsanios, Michael Ashkin, David Atkin, Nancy Baker, Conrad Bakker, Michael Ballou, Sarah Bedford, David Benforado, Annie Berman, Eric Ross Bernstein, Roberto Bertoia, Mary Walling Blackburn, Lee Boroson, Leslie Brack, David Brody, Monica Burczyk, Pam Butler, Sharon Butler, Holly Cahill, Zachary Cahill, Tiffany Calvert, Francis Cape, Zhiwan Cheung, Piotr Chizinski, Jennifer Coates, Elisabeth Condon, Anne Connell, Diana Cooper, Daniel Cosentino, Amie Cunat, Elizabeth Dadi, Iftikhar Dadi, Jennifer Dalton, Donna Dennis, David Dixon, Ben Draper, eteam, Julie Evans, Anna Faroqhi, Anoka Faruqee, Renate Ferro, Paul Festa, Matt Freedman, Carolyn Funk, Lee Gainer, Joshua Geldzahler, Benj Gerdes, Lindsey Glover, DeWitt Godfrey, Maximilian Goldfarb, Edward M. Gomez, Anthony Graves, Lisa Hamilton, Shadi Harouni, David Hartt, Kirsten Hassenfeld, Jennifer Hayashida, Eric Heist, Amy Helfand, Alika Herreshoff, Clara Hess, Bob Hewitt, Susan Homer, Bettina Hubby, David Humphrey, Gabriela Jimenez, Christopher Lowry Johnson, Ron Jude, Martine Kaczynski, Efrat Kedem, Christine Kelly, Daren Kendall, Baseera Khan, Elke Krasny, Larry Krone, Lasse Lau, Jill Lear, Ronna Lebo, Diana Seo Hyung Lee, Karen Leo, Jason Livingston, David Lukowski, Pauline M'barek, Rose Marcus, Justin Martin, Mark Masyga, Graham McDougal, Todd McGrain, Doug McLean, Vincent Meessen, Danielle Mericle, Elisabeth Meyer, Andrea Minicozzi, John Monti, Pete Moran, Ray Mortenson, Erik Moskowitz & Amanda Trager, Carrie Moyer, Nicholas Muellner, Chris Nau, Yamini Nayar, Gregor Neuerer, Jennifer Nichols, Meredith Nickie, Marty Ohlin, Chris Oliver, Craig Olson, Ruth Oppenheim, Maria Park, Ahndraya Parlato, Ditte Lyngkaer Pedersen, Liza Phillips, Anna Pinkus, Maggie Prendergast, Johannes Paul Raether, Paul Rajakovics and Barbara Holub, Cuba Ray, Dylan Reid, Thomas Rentmeister, Noah Robbins, Christopher Robinson, Kay Rosen, Douglas Ross, Benjamin Rubloff, Kathleen Rugh, Faride Sakhaeifar, Rachel Salamone, David Scher, Mira Schor, Peter Scott, Dennis Sears, Daniel Seiple, Rachel Selekman, James Sheehan, Buzz Spector, Suzy Spence, Liz Sweibel, Stan Taft, Jude Tallichet, Nick Tobier, Nathan Townes-Anderson, Jeanne Tremel, Lauren Valchuis, Chris Werner, Leslie Wilkes, Sammy Jean Wilson, Karen Yasinsky, Bernard Yenelouis