Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Art critic, film critic do battle in NY Magazine

This is definitely not a still from Christian Marclay's "The Clock." [Image: still from Disney's animated Cinderella wherein Cinderella transforms amidst a profusion of sparkle]

NY Magazine (which I receive in print form because it is the ultimate literature with which to stock the bathroom-- much better than Interview and Foreign Policy) regularly runs short art essays by mega-famous art critic Jerry Saltz (and the occasional feature: the "How To Make It In The Art World" issue was good). This week they paired Jerry Saltz with film critic David Edelstein to discuss Christian Marclay's video art piece, "The Clock." Saltz gushes over the "abstract narrative forms"; Edelstein calls the piece, "breathtakingly unimaginative."

Midnight for Cinderella [image: Cinderella breaks from Prince Charming's grasp as the clock strikes midnight]
It's a fun read, not too long, and I loved the down-to-Earth creative choice to pair the two critics. I'm also excited that the Art World is finally collectively excited about something cool instead of a stunning display of wasted wealth. As far as I know neither Louis Vuitton nor Fiat nor any of the other usual suspects have inane spin-offs, no custom yachts were involved, no platinum-dipped trains dangling over NY from a chain of diamonds.

Midnight for Pongo [Image: still from Disney's animated 1961 "The 101 Dalmations" wherein Pongo (the dalmation dude) looks on as Roger (the human dude) warms Pongo's sickly newborn puppy and gnaws anxiously on his pipe]

"The Clock" is just a 24-hour collection of movie clips where the time is shown, playing in real time in a theater. So the piece functions as an actual clock as well as a film.

Midnight for Ariel [image: still from Disney's animated Little Mermaid from the "kiss the girl" scene wherein Eric and Ariel are in a boat with fireflies lighting up and fish making a synchronized swimming fountain around them by spitting water]

I remember when someone or other made "24-Hour Psycho" by slowing the classic film frame by frame so it filled a 24-hour span. It came to a museum where I used to live and I got to spend some time watching it play out-- just 20 minutes or so, you'd have to be Bruce Nauman to sit through the whole thing-- and even with such a simple concept, actually experiencing the march of time in front of a screen in a gallery is an extremely powerful tool. I'm not surprised so many artists are engaging with it.

Midnight for Philip [Image: still from Disney's animated Sleeping Beauty wherein a rascally Maleficent (the evil witch / queen) holds a candle to illuminate Prince Philip (who is totally not the same person as Prince Charming or Eric) who is tied up in her attic]
 In case you haven't noticed I've illustrated this post with scenes of midnight around the Disney Princess universe ("princessphere"?). I was going to show Disney clocks striking various times chronologically throughout this post, but midnight seems to be featured disproportionately in the princessphere (along with the far less punctual, "final wilting of the really important flower") so I used what was available. I suppose Disney is doing their part to nurture that nagging suspicion that all the really cool stuff happens after you go to bed.

ETA: There's some more lite criticism of "The Clock" here. I'll post links to more as I run across it.
Midnight for Ursula [image: still from Disney's animated Little Mermaid wherein Ursula throws herself against a piece of coral in a melodramatic show of anguish]

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mary Whyte, "Iron Man"

Mary Whyte, "Iron Man," 2000.  In the Gibbes in Charleston, SC. [Image: watercolor of older black man in his shop holding a hammer and leaning against a wall and table containing some unfinished ironwork. He's dressed all in blue denim. Sunlight rakes across the image. The image is very high contrast, with rich darks and bright whites.]

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lydia Lopokova (Lady Keynes) by Christopher Wood

Lydia Lopokova (Lady Keynes) by Christopher Wood, 1924. National Portrait Gallery, Britain. [Image: sparse drawing on tan-beige paper of a youngish white woman's head and shoulders. She's got a 1920s bob and collared shirt or dress. The lines forming her shoulders and neck are barely there and her hair isn't shaded, just left outlined and blank inside. Her head sits atop a long straight neck and she seems tight-lipped and anxious, probably due to looking down and to her right. She is turned at 3/4 angle.]

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jan Morris by Arturo di Stefano.

Jan Morris by Arturo di Stefano. National Portrait Gallery, Britain. [Image: full-body horizontal portrait of an older white woman sitting in a steelcase chair in a white room in front of a window through with a landscape is visible. Her legs are crossed, her hands are folded in her lap, and she wears a yellow sweater over white collared shirt, pearls, a wristwatch, a dark knee-length pleated skirt, and black Mary-Janes. A tabby cat is curled up at her feet. The style is realistic and opaque but ever-so-slightly primitive. The stark edges of the shapes and high saturation and contrast, while realistic, make it look sort of collage-like. The composition is also slightly uneasy and makes the painting dynamic despite the stationary subject matter.]

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ismail Merchant by Don Bachardy

Ismail Merchant by Don Bachardy. National Portrait Gallery, Britain. [Image: Watercolor portrait of an older white man's torso and head on an unpaited white background. Brushstrokes are blocky and show lots of white background through the facial features and blue stripes of his shirt or bathrobe, giving it a loose and ethereal yet graphically strong quality. The face and hand (which rests on a paper or book) are red and orange, contrasting with the blue/grey stripes of the shirt, the hair and the eyebrows. The figure moves diagonally up the page as he leans back, from the lower left-hand corner, where his hand rests, to the upper right-hand corner, where his head is.]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What is art?

I cannot believe I'm asking this-- or writing the answer voluntarily-- as I was sick to death of this question by the first year of art school (and sicker by graduation). But unlike years past I'm not b.s.-ing my way through an answer (not consciously anyway) and I'm finally satisfied that I have an answer that exists outside the untenable binary of genius / loser, art / craft, transcendent / kitsch that is particular to post-Renaissance modernity. [Image: Lisa Simpson holding her sax in front of clouds shaped like Bleeding Gums Murphy, an obvious spoof of Simba's dad-cloud apparition from The Lion King]


Art is the notation or commentary that you make on life, similar to the notes you take in class. [Image: Lisa, Marge and Homer Simpson watch a meteor shower]


Some things you copy down because you need to know them. Or because it is interesting enough as-is that it's worth remembering. You usually parse what you believe is the most important or salient fact and make a note of only that, particularly when it is representative of a bulkier portion of the learning material. This selectivity reflects a combination of your personal values or intellectual system, and what the teacher (i.e. cultural authority) says is important.... [Image: Lisa and Homer Simpson watch TV in awe]
... I'm alluding to classical Academic art, cave paintings, scientific illustration.... [Image: Homer as da Vinci paints Lisa as the Mona Lisa]
... most portraiture.... [Image: storage room full of statues and paintings of Mr. Burns in many styles]
... and historic monuments. [Image: Homer Simpson imagines himself playing Foosball with Michelangelo's David]

Other times you may jot your own abstract theories of the material in the margins of a novel or history book: leading questions to remind you later of your thoughts, or your theories pertaining to the text which usually reflect your larger cultural and intellectual environment, such as parallels with material you're learning in another class.... [Image: Lisa Simpson dressed like Sherlock Holmes, i.e. a detective]
... Here I'm alluding to Abstract Expressionism... [Image: 3-D Homer Simpson paints crazy lines like Pollock]
... art which advances a theory such as Futurism and Cubism... [Image: spoof of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase featuring Homer Simpson stumbling cubistically down a staircase]
 and mystical or religious art. [Image: Lisa Simpson reads Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass]

Or maybe the class doesn't interest you and you're doodling unicorns in your notebook and making escapist fantasies. I'd say these "notes" are still reflective of the class because 1) they were produced because you were in class and 2) they are often subconsciously related to the material or are a reaction to it, such as a cartoon of your teacher with a Hitler mustache. Here I'm thinking of escapist art, fantasy, sci fi, satire, mindless entertainment, psychadelia, decorative art and art for the sake of pure beauty. [Lisa Simpson dances while Chief Wiggam eats a donut in a spoof of David Lynch's Twin Peaks where Agent Cooper dreams of the Black Lodge]

In this analogy community happenings or collaborations might be a sort of group study session... [Andy Warhol holds a giant soup can above a cowering Homer Simpson in a Dali dreamscape]
 ... or lab class where you learn through pre-designed experimentation. [Image: Lisa Simpson plays the sax in band with other kids]

You mostly make the notes for yourself but you might share them if they are outstanding, or if note-taking resources are scarce, or if someone else needs to use them. [Image: Lisa Simpson stands heroically in front of a sunset]

And while many of us were forced to take notes in class because we wanted to pass the tests or because our teachers made us, "notes on life," i.e. art, are usually voluntary.... [Image: Bart Simpson does write-offs reading, "I WILL NOT EXPOSE THE IGNORANCE OF THE FACULTY"]

... Maybe we have never come across an adequate representation of life quite as we've experienced it, and we want to make note of our version of events-- for the pursuit of a Higher Truth, in order to help others going through the same thing, because we think our thoughts could entertain others, because we think our experience is super important, or because we think we have something better to offer than what already exists (plans for the future, proposals, fantasies, utopias).... [Image: Lisa Simpson reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar]
... Maybe we aren't allowed to express certain thoughts or do certain things in real life, so we express them in abstract ways.... [Image: Lisa and Bart Simpson peruse a copy of Public Nudity: Codes and Statutes]

  ... Maybe we're taking notes on behalf of a huge group of people: carving our tribal history onto a vessel, or making something to entertain every child in an orphanage, or documenting a disappearing culture, or inspiring social justice.... [Image: Lisa Simpson points an accusatory finger with the caption, "The whole damn system is wrong!"]
... Or maybe we feel compelled to take notes and we never really understand why. [Image: Lisa Simpson holds her sax and looks up as Bleeding Gums Murphy sits alone on a bridge in front of the moon playing his sax]

And just as the division between the material being taught and the notation of it (or between teaching and learning) exists only because we say it does-- because we are conscious of ourselves versus others and the linear flow of time, because modern large industrial and / or capitalist societies value the division of labor (teacher/student), because we are a society of domination that values a hierarchy of information based on class markers-- so the division between art and life exists only because we say it does, and for the same reasons. [Image: Lisa Simpson plays her sax while Homer chills out on her bed and listens with a bag of chips]