Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ezra Jack Keats at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

I found out via Apartment Therapy that Ezra Jack Keats, the illustrator of Snowy Day, Peter's Chair and Whistle for Willie, will have a show of his illustrations at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

An illustration from Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day. [Image: an African American kid in a red snowsuit stands in a mound of snow in front of an orange, pink and yellow wall and stoplight. It has a mod 1950s jazzy collage look like West Side Story.]

In high school I interned with an ESL (English as a Second Language) class at my former elementary school and spent a lot of time reading aloud from my old favorites from the library. I appreciated The Snowy Day much more as an adult than as a kid, especially since I resented stories about winter as it never snowed much in my home town. I wonder if this book was part of the inspiration behind the Rhapsody in Blue cartoon in the new Fantasia?

Three stills from Disney's Fantasia's Rhapsody in Blue. [Image: cartoon men in front of cityscapes in monotone color pallets]

Japanese Portrait of a Man, 1502

Caption reads, Sesshu (1420-1506)? Daruma 1502. [Image: black & white print on yellowed paper of a very old Japanese ink painting of the head and shoulders of a man. Tall vertical format with his face halfway down the page and empty space above. His clothes are painted with a few thick rough brushstrokes while his head is painted in thin whispy lines. He is balding and has a beard and saggy, bushy eyebrows. His neck is wrinkly and his eyes bulge out and look sidelong at the viewer.]
Found this old German photogravure of a Japanese print for sale here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Liz Magic Laser

I enjoyed this writeup at ArtFagCity of Liz Magic Laser's performance piece, "I Feel Your Pain." It's a cool description of a complicated performance piece, which can be difficult to find (for me, anyway). It's so frustrating when someone discusses a performance piece but doesn't describe what it is or shows a completely cryptic photo of it.

What is it with contemporary performance and video art not being accessible to the general public? We live in a time where you can use technology to, you know, record stuff and share it. YouTube that shit! Copyright and ownership of the work is an issue, obviously. Your gallery pays you to show the piece or whatever-- I don't really know much about the business side of high art-- so you can't go sharing it willy-nilly. That needs to change. Whatever fucked up system exists that prevents me from ever being able to view Matthew Barney's Cremaster Series (a series of movies nearly impossible to obtain or view) in its entirety, it needs to be fixed. The music industry (and RIAA) are grappling with a similar distribution issue but an obscure recording isn't nearly as obscure as an obscure work of recorded performance or video art. And whereas Radiohead's free/pay-what-you-want independent internet release of In Rainbows was seen as pushing the envelope in a good way visual and fine artists are still struggling with general expectation that they give their work away for free.

And if you want to compare music and visual arts as industries you can see how the visual arts industry fucked itself over in the fifties and sixties. While music became more and more widely accessible to fans and inclusive of youth and counterculture, visual art became an all-or-nothing game of elitism and inaccessibility, where art was either a gigantic cumbersome canvas requiring a mammoth modernist cathedral in which to properly view it, or it was nothing. Of course plenty of art was created outside of this class framing and plenty of it has mass appeal: advertising, psychedelic art, hippie art, clothing (fashion), cartooning, fine art and fashion photography, sentimental schlock, and crafts (macrame, etc). And plenty of worthwhile art was created outside the class framing that didn't have mass appeal: "outsider" art, figurative art of any sort, art in the tradition of the Harlem Renaissance, and more. But it was staunchly unrecognized as art at all, and the Art World still will only generally recognize this stuff in "special," separate exhibits. And when the Art World does recognize "outsider" or "low" art as art it certainly helps if the art takes a bajillion dollars to produce, from slick surfaces to studios full of skilled laborers to sponsored major-museum site-specificity to the diamond-studded roladex of the artist (I'm thinking of Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst, and Ai Weiwi, among many others). I'm not attacking artists here, I'm frustrated with the institutions, the galleries, the art power brokers, the collectors and the schools.

The kids from the movie Almost Famous. People were ready to connect with something deeper and the visual art industry missed the boat.

So while music became something that normal people felt like they clicked with and could own, art became something stand-offish and inaccessible to all but wealthy eggheads. In my experience people are much more likely to fearlessly approach unfamiliar music than unfamiliar art, more likely to talk about what they think about music than venture an opinion about art, and much, much, much more likely to be able to list off five contemporary musicians in every single musical genre than to be able to list any five contemporary artists. Thanks, class warfare.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kwanchai Moriya

 Kwanchai Moriya, an illustrator based in LA, does all sorts of work from cartoons to collage to architectural fantasy drawings. But here are some of his portraits:

Kwanchai Moriya [Image: blonde thin white woman holding a baby sits in a throne with her legs crossed and arms firmly planted on the armrests, looking steadily at the viewer. Background is thinly layered dark swirling acrylics that look like an outer-space night sky and fantasy city skyline. The whole thing has a science fiction paperpack cover feel to it but the painting is left undone and abstracted in some spots.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: loose oil sketch of an older man wearing pastel blue on black background. Paint is drippy and brushtrokes are large. Features are very basically blocked in.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: painted portrait of a chef seated, in uniform, before a table. She holds a large knife across her knees. A coffee or tea pot and some other utensils are on the table. The bottom half (legs, under table) is left reddish, drippy and thinly painted. The chef's white clothes and skin is thickly and realistically painted. The top background is thickly blocked in white that silhouettes the figure and objects on the table.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: painted head & shoulders portrait of youngish Asian man wearing a white button-down shirt with red tie leaning back on a couch. The light source leaves most of his face in mid-shadow, his expression reading as non-plussed or tired. Brushstrokes are blocky and Cezanne-like.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: thinly layered acrylic painting of the head & shoulders of a youngish woman in front of an abstract concentric circular background. She appears to be wearing headphones or some sort of suit/helmet but it's hard to distinguish because the layers are transparent and slightly abstracted. The woman's appearance is evocative of 1950's and 60's Chinese or Korean propaganda posters, while the background is evocative of outer space, a void or a record.]

Kwanchai Moriya. [Image: pencil sketch of older white woman in profile leaning her chin on her hand. The planes of her face are emphasized and her curly hair is drawn loosely and expressively.]

I don't know if Moriya buys into the notion of "capturing" a person's character in a portrait or if that's his intent, but all of these people are so interesting. The way he's posed them or cropped and arranged the pose if it's from an art class has a very narrative quality that I'm envious of.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Writing Like a White Guy

Check out this post on Racialicious! It's an except fro Jaswinder Bolina's, "Writing Like a White Guy." Bolina asks, how can a poet write about their identity when using the language of white upper class Western men? Interesting post, makes me wish I clicked with poetry a little better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I am so fucking sick of zombies.

Should Female Nudes Be Prettier? (Ha!)

I very much enjoyed this post (scroll down till you see the headline, "Female Nudes Should Be Prettier") on Echidne of the Snakes. Yes, this really exists, or it did as of 2003: a league of "gentlemen" is advocating the production and inclusion of more "pretty" female nudes to counter all the "ugly" ones in modern & contemporary art.

A poster for feminist activist group The Guerrilla Girls, showing Ingres' famous reclining nude, but with her head replaced by a the group's signature gorilla mask. Text reads, "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female."

I've sometimes heard-- from female artists, no less!-- that female nudes are more rewarding to draw because women are "made of shapes." Yeeeaaahhh.... Or that "no one" wants to look at nude men (I guess women and gay/bi men are "no one?") I would point out to these people that if women throughout history were not enjoying nude men and making active use of their shapes, there would be no babies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Liz Miller at REDUX: Picturesque Evacuation Ploy

You walk into REDUX to see Liz Miller's installation and you're hit with a shocking orange wall at the same time that a friendly front desk person greets you with brochures. Then you notice the title off to the side of the orange wall: "Picturesque Evacuation Ploy."

You walk timidly around the wall through the opening to the gallery and are hit with this:

The rhythmic part of the installation that greets the viewer when they walk in the door. This is the part that reminds me of the gym. Other people were reminded of dragons. [Image: A wall about ten feet long painted shocking tangerine orange. Seven or eight identical 3-D structures made of thin flat felt emerge from the wall, each about six or eight feet tall and reaching six or eight feet from the wall toward the viewer's walkway. The felt is black, robin's egg pale blue, tangerine orange and blood red. Each piece is cut into intricate decorative shapes made from silhouettes of pistols, rifles and other shapes I cannot make out assembled in a kaleidoscopic manner. The felt pieces are attached using brads with tiny orange heads. Together the structures give the effect of a giant 3-d crepe paper banner than has been made of folded cut paper. On the perpendicular wall the white under-paint is left visible in some spots. At the orange-white border little black shapes march like ants. They could be mice, birds or something else entirely.]

And you say, "Woooooowwwww!"

 You can see the scale of the sculpture in relation to this viewer and her stylin' blue-lined boots: probably fifteen feet tall, like the branches of a giant fir tree.
Then you wonder aloud how she did it, then you gingerly step in between some shapes and briefly fantasize about living in them.

My friend noticed the pistol and rifle shapes first, then I could see them everywhere. At that point I decided to read the Artist's Statement. Miller writes that her installations, "...recontextualize shapes, signs and symbols from disparate historical and contemporary imagery to create abstract fictions. Existing forms from a multitude of sources are co-opted, altered and spliced to create hybrid identities...." 

A small portion of one of Miller's felt shapes where you can see the revolver motif that is otherwise obscured through kaleidoscopic repetition (the revolver points to the left in the image). [Image: flat black revolver shape viewed from the side on a flat white wall]

Dear Readers, at this time I should also explain, as I see it, an art historical/theoretical concept involving deconstruction and post-structuralism generally called, "Death of the Author." The term comes from a 1967 essay of that title by Roland Barthes.

Let's say that Wile E. Coyote is about to fall off a cliff. He holds up a sign that reads, "HELP," drops the sign, and vanishes over the cliff. But a few minute later, along comes a hiker who sees the sign. What does it mean? Well, that depends on what the hiker and their culture brings to the table. "Help Wanted?" The Beatles' "Help?" An offer of help? A meaningless sign in a foreign language? A reminder of their job as a 911 dispatcher? Wile E. Coyote's intentions and psyche become irrelevant and the mesh of meanings and contexts to any given sign, symbol or word, along with the viewer's experience, provide legitimate sources of meaning and interpretation for the sign.

Culturally, for example, this is significant because this essay (and the work of Jacques Derrida, postmodern linguists and others) became popular in the academic world at a time when Western culture, previously seen generally though the lens of middle- and upper-class white male society, was experiencing movements for decolonization, civil rights, women's rights, and GL (later BTQ) rights, as well as foreign involvement in Vietnam, Cuba and Latin America, and massive immigration from Southeast Asia, all of which persistently revealed myriad points of view. I can think of many times when someone has made an offensive cultural joke or comment and tried, unsuccessfully, to follow up with, "...but that's not what I meant!" Death of the Author, in action.

Artistically, this idea was central to the transition from Modernism to Post-Modernism. Whereas objects of art had been viewed as distinct objects unaffected by a viewer, both physically and contextually, created by an artist whose psyche and intent is up for artistic interpretation, PoMo subverted this. Some artists, like the pristine minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, erased the expressive brushstrokes and fingerprints of the artist, so prized in Modernism, so that the object stood on its own in meditative coexistence with the viewer. Other artists took an interactive approach, such as Felix González-Torres, who made piles of candy in galleries that the viewers could take. Artists sought to make viewers aware of the act of interpretation. Other artists emphasized the power of the viewer in relation to the artistic intent by making themselves pawns in their own art: putting themselves through documented ordeals, for example, or using their own body as sculpture or artistic tool. Still others emphasized the shared physical space of a work of art and the viewer by making intrusive or interactive art or working with installation, which envelops rather than confronts a viewer, as a way of undermining the fixed fortress-like connotations of Modernist paintings and sculptures.


So now you can see why, when reading Miller's Artist's Statement, I immediately thought of Death of the Author.   Miller has chosen to literally deconstruct symbols by physically obscuring them and actually bending them. She has stripped the gun symbol down to its physical components and used those components to create a pretty, softly tactile modern fairy-tale environment which suspends disbelieve through sheer craftsmanship and scale. She has also made flat shapes emerge from the wall into the third dimension. Merging painting/2-D with sculpture has been a hallmark of Post-Modernism but is particularly relevant to Miller's physical manipulation of symbols. The lacework of shadows on the walls from the felt recalls Dan Flavin's neon sculptures and their emphasis on the immaterial interaction of artwork and environment. Because the installation is so large and you can step between some of the shapes it is also somewhat interactive. The viewer's space is sufficiently invaded. At this point I interpreted the title, Picturesque Evacuation Ploy, as yet another symbol that had been stripped of its meaning and context, and recontextualised in an abstract fictive manner by putting disparate words together in a nonsensical way. What, now, does "picturesque evacuation ploy" even mean besides the title of this specific show?

But I think there are other conflicting messages in this show that make it much more than an homage to the Death of the Author. For instance I mentioned that my friends and I immediately wondered how she created the installation. Hand-cut or laser-cut? How was it assembled, etc. Because of the level of in-your-face craftsmanship the viewer's attention is immediately diverted to the artist creating the piece. What was her process, what were her intentions? Moreover, even as I appreciate how Miller has stripped the symbols of their meanings, I still wonder, why those symbols? I revert back to the generally acknowledged meaning of "gun" as a weapon while I wonder why she chose that symbol to deconstruct. The repetition also poses a problem for me: making a marking into a symbol is supposed to add meaning rather than remove it. And repeating an image ad nauseam a la Warhol's "Marilyn" can make an image into a symbol. But repetition can also, like Warhol's repeated $ sign, strip a symbol of its meaning. The title is beginning to recover some, if not much, of the words' former meanings and becomes, like the show, attention-grabbing and complicated, evocative of a beautiful emergency.

The gun is in some ways an apt metaphor for the show: it's a visual assault in bright colors that creates a "Bam!" effect when you walk in. The shapes seem machine-like and, along one wall, rhythmically echo a military drumbeat. Walking through the gallery feels a little like walking through the interior world of any given addled person with a gun who makes tragic headlines: sort of crazy, poundingly rhythmic in some places, culminating in a frenzied upward spiral of jumbled shapes.

The irony is clear: fuzzy soft pretty gun shapes in felt. Pretty guns dominating an environment created by someone who, because of her gender, is more likely to be a victim of gun violence, and because of her nationality (I assume she is American) willingly or unwillingly, benefits from massive military violence perpetrated by the US.

A portion of the less structured side of the installation, showing how the shapes continue fluidly from 2-D wall images to a 3-D structure. Also shows the full height (fifteen feet?).
Miller's Artist's Statement goes on to read, "...Forged relationships between benign and malignant forms confuse the original implications of each while revealing the precariousness of perception and how easily it can be tampered with. Recent projects pit Baroque and Gothic pattern and ornament against forms derived from armor and weaponry. Seemingly oppositional pairings create duplicitous environments where conflicting messages are conveyed." 

My mind was already heading down the rabbit hole of military actions and public perception: the Iran-Contra Affair, the CIA, proxy wars, police actions, the military-industrial complex, war-time bans on free press, censorship of images of dead soldiers, the complicit media. At this time the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of repetition began to sink in. How Miller, like the media, has numbed the symbol of the gun and created something vibrant and attractive in its place. The small symbols that march ant-like around the orange/white borders suddenly leap off the wall-- or out of the distant space of our television sets-- and clash in three dimensions, in a way that invades our physical space. How it all takes place in an installation that looks fun and contemporary, like an anime future-world or Tord Boontje for Target. I reconsidered the title: "picturesque," attractive, staged; "evacuation," escapism, vacuousness; "ploy," conspiracy, coy persuasion. A misleading invitation to escape into attractive fictions. 

A portion of the less structured side of the exhibit showing the orange paint on the floor and the play of light and shadow cast by the felt.

I stupidly missed the Artist Lecture, so this whole post could be way off base, but the show will remain up at REDUX through November 26, 2011. Go see it!!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Event 2 at Tivoli

 If I weren't going to THE PIXIES tonight I'd be at Event 2 at Tivoli! So go, enjoy yourself, buy affordable art (holiday gifts!). It sounds extremely fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


"OMG you are such... a good... drawler."
"Omg no, are you kidding me? Yours is so... much... better than mine."
"What? No! Seriously, yours looks really real."
"What-EVER. Mine looks like crap."
"No, MINE looks like crap."
"Mine looks like vomit."

That was my high school art class. At my all-girl's school, that was basically the only way to take and receive a compliment about your art. Trust me: nothing makes me more uncomfortable than these sorts of exchanges, so eventually I simply tried saying, "Thanks!" Wow, the looks I got. It's like I'd grabbed the complimenter by her collar, shaken her and screamed, "THAT'S RIGHT BITCH! TAKE THAT!!!!!!!!"

So I stuck to the script-- even when the other person's was not always so much better than mine. Or I came off as obligingly fake-modest, even when I was frustrated that mine really looked like crap. Or when I just wanted to be left the hell alone so I could draw. This was in the South, by the way-- there is no "being left alone," or opting out of the compliment competition. There is also no being straightforward and no rocking the boat.

Imagine, then, when my teacher decided to hold a critique. Get in a group, put the drawing up on the bulletin board, go around and say one good thing about it and make one "constructive criticism." No one vocalized anything, there was certainly no formalized plan; but there was an innate understanding, unanimous agreement. The first drawing went up on the board; it belonged to one of the bow-heads (if you're unfamiliar with this classic clique, they are not the Mean Girls, the uber-popular elite; they're not the nerds, either. They are well-liked, reasonably book-smart, well-adjusted, often religious, and they play team sports and volunteer with underprivileged kids after school. Typically wear pastel colored clothes and ponytails with ribbons tied in a bow around them.) The teacher could have selected an unpopular girl's piece and maybe someone would have come up with a criticism. Or maybe a popular mean queen's piece; people might have been ready to bring her down a notch. But she didn't.

"Bow-heads" volunteering in a team. My friend also named this clique, "Pastel People." I know it seems like I'm making fun of them but they were pretty cool-- I just couldn't relate to them at the time.
The first girl called upon started with the good: "It's really... pretty."
"Ok, good! It's pretty! Ok. So do you have any constructive criticism?"
Long silence. Finally,
"I can't."
"Oh, come on, you can think of something!"
"No I can't."
"It's perfect?"
Sigh. Eye roll. "I can't think of anything." The teacher takes a deep breath.
"Ok, let's go to someone else. Katie? Something good?"
"I agree it's pretty."
"Pretty how?"
"Like... I don't know."
"Come on."
"It's got like... nice colors."
"Ok! Nice colors! Yes! And what is your constructive criticism?"
Stony silence.
"Katie. Something."
Stonier silence.
"I can't."
"I can't."

At this point I should mention that, while the drawing was fine-- I vaguely recall it being a landscape-- there was clearly room for improvement. We were high schoolers, not pros.

"Ok. Ladies. We are talking about constructive criticism here. Not a personal attack. Somebody needs to come up with one item of constructive criticism before this class is over." She surveyed the room and landed on another Katie, a teacher's pet.

Katie, like many sixteen-year-old Southern girls, aimed to please (and appease). She must have been genuinely torn between teacherly noncompliance and saying something bad about another girl. I probably would have been, too, as I was a goody-two-shoes, but thankfully she hadn't called on me.

Katie was silent. Her eyes darted back and forth, searching for help from the other girls. Everyone looked down.


Publicity shot for the movie, "Mean Girls." [Image: the three main popular girls. The one on the right smiles at the camera, one stands slightly behind the middle girl making a smirking face, and the middle girl glances sideways at the smirking girl she cannot see, looking extremely uncomfortable.]

Katie took a deep breath and maintained her silence. She was the weak link but her decision to remain silent set the tone. By this point no one would speak, good or bad. There was literally nothing the teacher could do. She was powerless in the face of social pressure. She could have failed us all, but it was understood: you cannot say outright negative things about other girls in public to their faces.

Ten to fifteen minutes later the bell rang. The classroom was vacated in under thirty seconds.

Writing about art criticism reminded me of this incident. I've also been thinking recently about hosting a group critique, inviting some artists I like, since critiques were a favorite part of art school for me and I miss them like crazy. But then there is the memory of that one critique from high school (the teacher never tried to make us do this again). What if it devolves into girl-compliments and critique-fear? It would be absolute hell. But I'm still thinking about it....

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shadi Ghadirian

Shadi Ghadirian, "Qajar #3." 60x90 cm & 30x40 cm. 1998. [Image: Photograph in dreamy slightly soft sepia of a woman in front of a painted nineteenth century backdrop. The backdrop shows large formal windows with grand drapes, an archway, and fluffy whispy foliage typical of European academic paintings. The woman stands atop an Iranian woven rug and wears old-fashioned Iranian clothes. She stands with her hips akimbo and one hand on her hips, the other holding a 1980's boombox on her shoulder. She looks down slightly at the viewer.]

Wow. Check out this project:

Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian posed female models in nineteenth century Iranian clothes in this formal backdrop setting. In each photo the model holds a modern, often Western object, most of which have been smuggled into Iran. I can't look at the photos with the covered women holding mirrors without thinking of Maya Deren.

[Video: Meshes of the Afternoon, by Maya Deren and Alexander Hamid (her husband). 1943. It's 14 minutes long and sort of strange so I won't go into detail but this is a black and white avant garde film that is slow paced and has a non-melodic scratchy, windy soundtrack. A woman in a house by a sunny garden walks around, thinks and has a dream. She encounters various Jungian symbolic things. Jump cuts and repetition create feelings of dread and waves of sensation. At one point a cloaked figure with a mirror face turns toward her and sort of haunts the film.]

Go check out Ghadirian's website; there is a variety of really fascinating series.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween 2011

We started off w/ coffee at Kudu [Image: black & white quick pen sketch of people ordering coffee in a sketchbook held by my disembodied thumb with grotesque chipped purple sparkly nail polish on it]

Then people-watched on King. [Image: more quick pen sketches, with colored marker, of people in costume. Ninja kid, sleepy baby in a bear costume, dog in a tutu and fairy wings, guy in Alien mask scaring small children, a possible Daisy Duke walking through a cloud of Vomit Smell, a Playboy Bunny, witch, bearded hipster guy in fairy wings, antennae and tube top, matching couple as, possibly, Mr. and Mrs. Candyland, also in a sketchbook clutched by aforementioned thumb] 

Happy Halloween, y'all.