I was on the ole’ shitter reading an essay by Peter Plagens the other day about the role of critics. He basically lumped them into three groups; goalies, cartographers, and evangelists. As I stared in vain at his concepts, I got thinking about a comment I read on this very site one afternoon. Some angry creative type was bitching about how the music reviews were garbage because they just tore down the ‘hard work’ of the artists. He even recalled the thrill of walking through an undergraduate studio and feeling the surge of power that accompanied saying something like ‘this blows’ about all the crap on the walls. Besides the fact that the shit a hungoverpriviledgedtwentyyear old is bound to be bad, the main problem is, and this is the really hard part that makes people quit being artists and move to suburbia, that all the fucking hard work and effort in the world doesn’t mean anything.
Our fearless leader refers to war as ‘hard work’. Hard work, talent, facility, intelligence, and seriousness are not prerequisites for art. It’s tough to admit that someone who devotes their life to making objects for public consideration may end up with absolutely nothing for their efforts. No cookie, no reviews, no money, no fame. They might very well continue to work very hard within a set of received ideas, a space totally devoid of originality, have a couple of shows and even sell some work. Some won’t even get that far. Just because a young artist just discovered lyrical abstraction for themselves doesn’t make it anymore interesting than it was in the 60′s, unless they figured out how to mess with the rules.
Should we add a fourth role to Plagens’ list? A therapist of sorts, patting artists on the back with gentle words of constructive criticism. “You’re doing really original abstract expressionism” or “I’ve never seen color fields like this before. Is that cerulean blue?” I can’t help but wonder why the angry creative type needed to have everything be OK, not bad, not good, just letting everything go by without comment. I’m no music critic, but everything I heard last year sounded like something else, and as far as I can tell post-modernism in music doesn’t jive with ‘popular’ culture. People want their music sincere.
I saw the Fiery Furnaces open for Wilco and the lead singer’s atonal warlbing voice made my ears bleed. I mean, there was obviously some ambition in the construction of the songs, but man, she cannot sing live. Anyway, that’s my take. That’s all I’m trying to do when I am sober enough to take something seriously, at least long enough to write about it. Williamsburg is full of shit half the time, and everyone knows it, it’s what happens when you give the young and infirm a chance. There are persistent, ambitious people out there with great presentations that sell objects, but aren’t admired, respected, or even liked. As long as I try to avoid personally insulting artists and gallerists, I’ll continue on my merry way to talk about art without trying to set the fucking table for everyone involved. I don’t have a reputation to uphold either. No paycheck to keep coming. No editors to placate. Just Rob, and he’s one of the reasons I started writing. Whatever, kids, now after a week and half of recovering from the last round of openings, here is an art crawl.
S and I went out on the big Friday in February and started off the day early by getting just a little bit pissed on boozed and charged up on some art. We started off with whiskey and PBR before trucking over to Brooklyn Fire Proof. S said he wanted to see a show about Supergirl. I had my doubts but we had the pleasure of being rewarded with Craig Drennen’s show of works on paper about the movie Supergirl. That’s right asshole, Supergirl.
Impossible you say to make a show about a terrible movie that helped sink the comic book film for nearly two decades? Well, as hard as it is to believe, Drennen succeeds in using the film to make watercolor paintings of drawings. Supergirl herself is something of a red herring. There are only one or two images of Helen Slater in the whole show, which made S a bit sad. Instead, Drennen makes paintings and drawings of sketches on paper of film’s credits superimposed over washes of color. The finely executed spaces are less about the campy film than a formal exploration of space and obsessive riff on memory. The show suffers from some repetition of the underlying adolescent daydreaming that Drennen’s ‘sketches’ suggest. I liked the show, but found it was about as weighty as a ball of loose leaf. It’s sort of like flipping through a fashion magazine where everything looks good for the sake of looking good. Desire or some shit. (3 Greenbergs. “Helen Slater as Supergirl” is being “kinda like what?” through March 12th)
We ran over to RKL gallery to see Josephine Halvorson’s show “Still Lifes” (it’s on the way to the Pourhouse, I had to kick S’s ass at poo). Halvorson paints very simple compositions of objects that emphasis gesture and touch. She uses a limited palette to the spare arrangements a rather ghostly presence without getting caught up in making her work about realism. Nah, the strength of these quiet little canvases is in the directness of the paint. S thought it kind of looked like muted Bay Area figuration, but he never really looked. I tend to agree. They’ve got a sleepy psychological space though, instead of the bright west coast spaces. Before the show made us nod off, we charged back out into the cold. (2 1/2 Greenbergs. Halvorson is drugging passerby with her painterly charms through March 7th. If your in the neighborhood…)
We stopped in Dam Stuhltrager to warm up (after I beat S 4 out of 7 and killed a fews pints) and briefly checked out work by James Murray and Eric Hollander. They cleaned the place up a bit since the last time I stopped by, including some new walls. Murray’s paintings are fairly monochromatic renderings of spare landscapes. A large white canvas with an obsessively rendered tree is the most haunting thing in the show, while the others share a preoccupation with poured pools of paint. I prefer the odd little moments of drawing around the edges of Murray’s abstract compositions, like the image of a man walking down a sidewalk alone. I can relate.
Hollander doesn’t turn up the volume on Murray’s work. His large metallic grey works on paper are meditative studies of birds. He creates layers of silhouettes that shift subtly in the foreground. Hollander uses different tones of grey to create a shallow depth of field within the relatively simple compositions. It’s a pretty, unhurried show with just a few rough edges, mainly in Murray’s liquid paintings. ( 2 1/2 Greenbergs. The “Grand Reopening” show apparently had a grand ole’ closing before I got my shit together to finish this)
We made our way over to Joymore, where we caught two interesting shows with even more interesting titles; “Candy says I’d like to know completely what others so discretely talk about” and “The Museum of the Five Coldest Nights of My Life”. The first exhibit is by French artist Laurent Montaron, who creates a moody conceptual film as installation art. Montaron doesn’t actually show a film, but presents a large, color photo of a woman recording her thoughts on a train platform. Inside the main gallery space, a projector lamp shines across the darkened room illuminating text of the show’s title, which is white on white only slightly raised from the wall. Facing the darkened window, Montaron has created a projector liked apparatus that appears to be running a loop of audio tape. The whole installation creates the atmosphere of filmic narrative through a few simple elements. It’s an intriguing work that suggests more than it shows. S, the sloppy bastard nearly fell asleep in the corner. The nerve!
In the back space, there is a two part ‘museum’ by Marie Lorenz. The first part, a parallel series of linear narratives revolve around the personal relationships of the narrators. The ink drawings are beautifully executed, and the writing is even better, conveying intimacy and depth. Outside the gallery, Lorenz created windows made out of ice about cold nights, I guess, but they had melted by the time we showed up. The fleeting, temporary nature of the objects were an interesting metaphor for trying to grasp memory. I had to wake S up on my out of the gallery. (3 1/2 Greenbergs. Both shows with long titles are up through March 11th)
S suggested we stop for drinks before the long walk to Pierogi, where he tried to wrap his head around contemporary art’s never ending fascination with film. We probably had too much to drink (probably?), but we had some time to kill before the openings. At Pierogi, it was all metal and leather. Jonathan Schipper has built some sort of giant, rock and roll machine that tosses people around. The machine itself is an impressive piece of engineering and manufacture, but it reminded me of some sort of bad S&M device. The exhibition also includes a low grade Brazil like spinning tv and a slow-motion car crash. The smaller, time dilated sculpture was vastly more intriguing than the rock and roll harness ride. Maybe it’s just me, but the combination of figurative painting and CAD drawing in the study for the rock and roll thing is just awful. It reminded me of one of my old professors talking about self-consciousness in art, where you have to give yourself over to the thing you are working on. He was always vague about it, but seeing academically painted figures on a CAD drawing really sums it up for me. The two concerns clash without irony. It just made me wince. Sometimes, collaborations come back again… as fucking awful ideas.
In back, once again, there was the thing about film, video, or representation that drives artists to ponder over mechanical reproduction. Simon Lee’s main installation in the back space is of a piece of cabbage being recorded and projected back on itself. S scratched his head in the dark. I coughed. The cabbage made me nervous. I wasn’t sure if the cabbage was real, or the projection was real, or the whole thing was some elaborate hologram. Maybe it really was just cabbage that would soon decay, and Lee would record and play back the decomposition in real time, at the same time. What I couldn’t figure out was why it mattered. I suppose I am the cabbage. There were some other things on the wall that weren’t about cabbage, I think, but more about photography. (2 Greenbergs. Schipper and Lee are fucking with you through the 14th)
Outside, away from the cabbage and tonnage of metal, I felt slightly better. S suddenly felt the urge to weld and drink Guiness. We ended up drinking more and complaining about our failure as artists, when it was time to try and get as much free beer as we could at the openings. What’s a donation at a commercial space amount to anyway? I mean, really. The worse the art, the longer I stay to make up for it in beer. Anyway, we staggered our way over to Jack the Pelican where I nearly pissed my pants. Peter Caine’s animatronic installation of absurd grotesquery was a wonderful change of pace from the gentleness of the afternoon. Hanging above a menagerie of whacky characters, a portrait of JFK as Hitler welcomed us to the show, promising the kind of awfulness that transcends form. Caine’s drunken, bloated, horny figures edge into the territory staked out by Paul McCarthy, but with a more direct effort to offend, and even less psychological subtelty. Caine’s subjects are all familiar from the specific, Condoleeza Rice, to the grossly stereotypical, pick your race. He gleefully attacks race, religion, family, ethnicity, culture, and politics through his talking, fucking, smelly, and generally repulsive sculptures.
The nun holding a big turd with a miniature Pope of her shoulder is fucking hilarious and makes me happy to be an atheist. I’d hate to be Catholic and have to listen to the Pope exhort you to smell his shit. There’s also a naked, hairy runner in a diaper holding a sign that emphatically states “I sold a smelly one”, leading off the parade of gross characters. Caine toys with 50′s and 60′s era stereotypes throughout the show, perhaps in an effort to hold conservative, Leave it to Beaver moral values to the flame. A Jerry Lewis like stereotype of an Asian soldier fucks the severed head of a GI effectively skewering Vietnam. In the back room of the show, Caine creates a robotic, nuclear family as failing robots. The backyard barbecue tableau is a nightmarish mix of Capitalism and Facism, replete with swastika wearing Nazi maids. I’m pretty sure this will piss off people who care about American capitalist ideology; one that makes heroism out of war and patriotism out of blind obedience. Anyway, I wish I had enough money to take home the football helmet wearing Boy Scout holding a severed, bloody head to the nascent gods of suburbia.
S laughed and laughed, happy to acknowledge an artist as disgusted with our own sickening moral relativism, which operates on the level of societal cognitive dissonance at this point. Caine who was once in the military makes his criticism at the visceral level of the carnival funhouse. It doesn’t appeal to intellect or reason, but to our base emotions like fear and hate. If this show wasn’t so funny, it would be terrible. This is the kind of show that should have barker out front luring in hapless marks. I’d gladly pay for a ticket.
(4 Greenbergs. “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto is pissing on your shoe until March 20th and you’ll be happy it happened)
Leaving the show, elated, we staggered off to hit some more shows, but I got too wasted to actually look at anything else, so I’ll try and be a better blogger and add some reviews next week.
Well, I woke up today in the hallway of my apartment building to the sound of my neighbor asking her husband if he thought I was still breathing. Man, I remember pissing on the door of Supreme Trading Company and trying to talk with someone about Peter Caine’s profoundly absurd sculptures at Jack the Pelican. I was like “Serious, man, no really, they aren’t showing paintings made out of carpet, it’s wild.” Well, after I assured my neighbors that I was indeed alive, though far from well, I staggered upstairs. Truly, Caine’s installation of animatronic sculptures of demented, obscene figures was the highlight of my recent crawls around the neighborhood.
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