Sunday, September 16, 2007

Los Angeles, 2003-2006, Vol. 1

Last week in my colleague Jeff Ladd's blog, which is exclusively about photo books, he wrote a comic passage about Larry Clark signing copies of his new book, Los Angeles, 2003-2006, Vol. 1, at Luhring Augustine, in tandem with Larry Clark's new show. Jeff's tale - of slow lines, dealers bringing in other Larry Clark items to be signed, the tensions of such a moment (I witnessed an especially egregious example of this earlier this spring at ICP when William Klein spoke with Max Kozloff - afterwards people were asking Klein to autograph everything from postcards from his shows, to even the program notes from the evening - one fellow on line with a stack of books finished, then got back on line again with another pile - when confronted w/ his "double dipping" he flatly denied he had been on line already). This is all part of the theater of passions that confronts book fetishists such as Jeff & myself & myriad & sundry others.

Yesterday with a brief window of time I got to Chelsea to see the Larry Clark show & to purchase the book myself. Clark's early books, Tulsa & Teenage Lust, are great examples of books-gone-rare & inflated prices being charged for the first editions. This was followed by 1992, which jumped the gun, as it were, of inflationary prices & sold initially, if I remember correctly, around $225 - I recall asking at the St. Marks Bookstore. & then a few years ago, Punk Picasso's initial retail was $500. All of Clark's books seem to enter a sphere of high cost for one reason or another - A Perfect Childhood was never released in the US, although copies can be found in used shops, or available from Europe. A brief excursion on Bookfinder leads to a phenomenal array of prices. I will not dispute the merits of Clark's work, especially Tulsa & Teenage Lust, but the Luhring Augustine show, the high art merchandising of Clark, brings up other social & cultural considerations.

The high priced fetishism of Tulsa reminds me of rare screenings of the Robert Frank film, Cocksucker Blues, which occurred a few times at Anthology Film Archives, using, I believe, a print owned by Robert Frank, although the ostensible owners of the film are the producers, the Rolling Stones, who evidently were dismayed by how stupid & seedy they seem in the film & subsequently "canned" it from any viewing. In lieu of Frank's work in general, & his films in particular, which are often quite brooding & despairing, & if anything, never flattering, I would say re the Stones: what where they expecting? At any rate, the few times Cocksucker Blues showed, hundreds of people came out of the woodwork to see it - fans of Frank, or of the Stones, or was it just that it had been "suppressed"? One sees Keith Richards nodding out, one hears an awakening groupie shrieking, "Is that cum on my leg?" The louche appeal of the Frank film does not seem all that different from that of Tulsa - however I do not mean to discredit either Frank or Clark - this is really addressing the issue of popularity both works have engendered. Tulsa is also one of the most important US photo books of the 1970s & in its straight-forward representations of a community united by drug usage, it's lack of moralizing, & also its reality-effect, its candor, have been extremely influential in documentary, art & fashion practices - everything from Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency, to Corinne Day's early photos of Kate Moss.

& judging by the success of Goldin & Clark in the art world, it leads me to suspect there's a wealthy bourgeois art-buying audience for such work. Cheap thrills for the well-heeled? More exotica for the rich? Although I believe it was meant to be somewhat (perhaps feebly) ironic, I remember one of Lydia Lunch's rants: My pain is your pleasure!

The photos in Larry Clark's Los Angeles 2003-2006 Vol. 1 are of a teenage Latino boy from the South Central area of Los Angeles, Jonathan Velasquez, who was "discovered" by Clark at a casting for a fashion shoot Clark was doing with his then girlfriend, the extremely beautiful Tiffany Limos. Clark photographed Velsaquez over a 3 year period - roughly the boy from ages 14-17 - in a manner that is reminiscent of Clark's early work - in fact many of Velasquez's poses are near-identical to the poses of the 8th Ave teenage hustlers in Teenage Lust. The difference being that Velasquez is portrayed simply for his own photogenic beauty & if anything comes off rather chaste & boyish, as opposed to the teen sex workers in the earlier book.

In this I sees parallels between Clark's photos of Velasquez & some of Bruce Weber's projects which highlight one model in particular, such as the boxer Andy Minsker in The Andy Book, or the model Peter Johnson in The Chop Suey Club. Also Weber published an extremely beautiful book of photos by Jim French, the founder of Colt Studios, of the physique model David Skrivanek, Like a Moth to a Flame. The fetishism of male beauty is common in gay erotica, but in the Chelsea art market world we are seeing instead a more innocent Huckleberry Finn type scenario - a rambunctious teenage boy - updated to a skateboarding South Central never-never land. I'm curious why the book is entitled Los Angeles as indeed exact locations are never specified in the images, nor in the captions. The work reminds me more of the lyrics of the Eddie Cochran song "Teenage Heaven": I want a house with a pool/Shorter hours in school/& a room with my own private phone . . . What we see is the sybaritic splendor of youth - pleasure without gravity. & for the fancy collectors out there, it is also a step into the danger zone of other classes, other cultures. Such an issue was a part of an independent film directed by Wash Westmoreland & Richard Glatzer, Quinceanera, in which a teenage boy, the brother of the principal character, finds himself a sex-object of his new white landlords: the desirous (& young) other.

The prints for the show are mural-sized pigment prints, some with multiple images sewn together. The use of multiple sequences has been used by Clark before & it is very attractive - but I find the beauty of it making me question the work. Why is it here? What is it supposed to be telling us? Is it simply a question of looking at a teenage boy (who is remarkably photogenic - a real beauty)? I prefer the book - I still think of Clark's work working best in book form & like his other books, there's attention to design, editing, layout - he seems truly gifted at this - which can amplify the work & make the sum more than a total of the parts.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Zoe Leonard's book Analogue is an artists book/catalogue from her exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts. The images date from 1998-2007, & were taken in poorer (or formerly poorer) neighborhoods in New York such as the Lower East Side, Harlem, Canal St., Williamsburg, Bushwick, as well as more (seemingly) exotic locales such as Kampala, Warsaw, Havana, Ramallah, Budapest, Chicago. The subject(s) are storefronts & merchandise displays in small storefronts, or by street vendors. I bring up the locations as the images themselves do not present their locations, visually - we need the captions, which are very precise, in order to "place" them.

I have never felt that I fully understood Zoe Leonard's photographs - visually there's a certain "poorness" to her framing & the quality of the prints, which is still not "poor" enough to be thoroughly amateurish, which could be very interesting (I think of some images from the 1970s, such as a series of self-portraits by Adrian Piper which are extremely underexposed - these are a "mistake" which becomes extremely seductive & mysterious - or the machine-made pop images of Ed Ruscha, for instance, which galvanize the drugstore print, the mechanization of the everyday, as an artistic tool). Instead I have often understood Leonard's photos to be an amplification of what I see a lot of students do: the photograph is used as a simple recording of something, whatever, anything, the image existing as a kind of evidence, or an indication of being somewhere. Even the subject of the exhibit/book Analogue is not so different - how many times have I seen students bring in images of storefronts? The generic storefront images often embody 2 distinct types - images of female mannequins in a seeming theater of commodified femininity, or the nostalgia of obsolete merchandise. How often our daydreams are connected to advertisements, to products.

My reservations aside, I see in the book Analogue, a re-hashing of the nostalgia for small abject storefronts, generic framing, indifferent print surface - & yet that is precisely what makes this a powerful work in itself. How sad & pathetic & overlooked the world looks in these photos.

The images can be read as a near catalogue of small-scale business, globally, but is also a type of business which is vanishing, or being pushed to the edges (flea markets, street side sales) of a global economy of corporate consolidations & franchises. Without being too systematic, the accumulation of Leonard's images is akin to a stroll down a street, or many streets, itself - meandering, intuitive.
Years ago at the Collective Unconscious I saw a 3-D slide show by Zoe Beloff of images of storefronts for shops specializing in ladies' undergarments in the Lower East Side - the slides also had an overlay of film, giving a much more spectral effect of the passage of time. Beloff's images as well were of an older immigrant economy which is almost entirely gone from the area now. Also, thinking of the "junk" being sold in these poor storefronts I thought of the essay by Rem Koolhaas, "Junk Space" - however as per Koolhaas, the junkspace is what is to come - a new world order of globalized, malled control. How even more invisible are the poor today in the face the new.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Derek Stroup @ The Williams Club

Through our mutual friend Barry Stone, I have the good fortune to be acquainted with the artist Derek Stroup.

Derek has 3 exhibitions on view currently, at the A.M. Richard Fine Art gallery in Williamsburg, the Williams Club, & at Pace University in Westchester.

Last night I attended the opening at the Williams Club, which is in a brownstone on E. 39th St. The show is primarily digital photographs of candy & chip packages, in which the language has been removed; This emphasizes the graphic elements of the packaging, which retain some recognizeability (Lays, Ruffles, Utz - for example), yet also slide into a quasi-formal state, enlarged & stripped of language. As things, as objects, they have a great deal of beauty - but also by virtue of their mass production, their reproducibility echoed as well in the medium of photography, it is a very witty, ironic beauty. Denuded of language, as things they become oblique. Derek's artist statement includes the thought that these are "perfect objects that don't exist anywhere in the world."

Also included are photographs taken of roadside signs in the 1970s by a Williams College professor, Sheafe Satterthwaite, which Derek has scanned & manipulated, removing the language from the signs (billboards, gas stations) such that the signs seem to mimic minimal art in the landscape - floating bits of enigmatic forms along the roadside. These are printed small - 5x7 inches - & are very interesting as landscapes. My sense is that the photographs were not intended initially to be viewed artistically, & yet like so much vernacular work, there is a creativity, freshness & strangeness as potent as any intended Work of Art. I hate to use the word "beauty" as that seems to put an inappropriate emphasis on the aesthetic, over the analytic, & I think that Derek's work works against the aesthetic as much as it may amplify it in his methodologies. There is as much attention to thoroughly mundane, commonplace materials, to this infrastructure of the ordinary, as such. The lack of language persists as just that: what are pastoral hills or chip bags without it?