Tuesday, June 30, 2009

an exclusive club

Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for the first couple of hours of Figurative Art Today: Between East and West—for the presentations by artist Iona Rozeal Brown and collector (and colleague, and friend) Henry Thaggert. I missed Allan DeSouza and Kristen Hileman, and the conversation all four panelists had with Phillips curator Vesela Sretenovic. It was a full day, and I couldn't take it all in.

Iona shed light on her lifelong, mostly failed search for positive depictions of black women, and how that search has made, for her, the thought of not addressing the figure in her work seem impossible. Iona showed images of her art that were familiar to me--ganguro youths, Japanese teens who attempt to emulate hip-hop fashion in unlikely and shocking ways, going so far as to paint or dye their faces in what amounts to blackface, rendered in a ukiyo-e style. She also showed images of invented figures she calls hoochie-putti—what appear to be demon spirits made entirely from pale breasts and butts, and shrouded with long, stringy hair extensions. Even more disturbing than these were video clips Brown showed of Japanese women trying to turn themselves into outlandishly amplified versions of hip-hop stereotypes, scantily-clad, and showing off hyper-sexualized dance moves.

Henry’s talk relied on a novel conceit. The title for his talk: Was Andy Warhol Black? (Spoiler alert: He was not.)

Henry did make a fairly compelling case for Andy Warhol’s game-changing career as basically laying the groundwork for the re-introduction of all sorts of images and narratives that had been marginalized up to that point by the rise of abstraction, formalism, and the belief in universal values for visual expression. After Warhol, popular images, crass consumer culture, consumer products, movie stars, all of it could find its way into serious art and elite institutions. So, Henry asked, why not art about the African-American experience, too?

At one point, Henry quoted artist, philosopher, and rabble-rouser Adrian Piper. I can’t find the exact quote, but Piper basically said that abstraction and formalism led directly to the suppression of black cultural heritage…and that, whenever women or minorities move in significant numbers into any avenue of cultural production, that type of work necessarily becomes devalued, and the establishment moves their party somewhere else.

Now, whether or not you accept Henry's premise, or Piper’s description of systematic institutional exclusion, this thought does lead to an unanswered question, one that I would’ve loved to hear Iona or Henry address.

All of the standards of museum and gallery culture—the pristine white walls of the room that’s equal parts scientific laboratory, mausoleum, and shopping mall; the reliance on artificial light and huge expanses of space between works in order to isolate them as specimens, out of any context; the continued dependence on the long shadow of the canon, of works of white males that still serve as a measuring stick for considering all future works—all of these continue to place new art in an ideologically loaded frame, one that still enforces a high modern, universalist idea of art. (I'm obviously thinking about Brian O'Doherty here.)

This is true despite all of the self-examination and public hand wringing done by contemporary museum professionals, who usually acknowledge that women and blacks are still not represented in any significant numbers in their collections—but seem powerless to do much about that fact. Read, for example, this fantastic conversation between Jerry Saltz and MoMA's chief curator of Painting and Sculpture, Ann Temkin (thanks, Edward, for reprinting this).

Which leads me to ask: If the art establishment really does, as Piper suggests, tend to turn away from women or blacks…and if it still relies on the standards of an earlier era, privileging heroic male painting and sculpture, and the standards of presentation that support that sort of work…then why should women or people of color bother looking for approval or acceptance from said establishment? Is the whole game essentially poisoned, regardless of the self-awareness or self-criticality of curators and directors now?

And if museums like MoMA, as Saltz suggested, are heading for obsolescence because of their inability to change fast enough...do underrepresented artists need to go somewhere else?

Where would that be?

All of which, appropriately or not, makes me think of Woody Allen, quoting Groucho Marx: "I'd never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member."

Pictured: iona rozeal brown, all falls down, 2008

Monday, June 29, 2009

off the wall

Michael Jackson graffiti spotted at the Brookland/CUA metro stop on my way to see Iona Brown and Henry Thaggert speak at Figurative Art Today: Between East and West, a panel discussion that was held at the Phillips Collection this past Saturday, June 27. More on that after the inevitable diaper change.

alt-woo-hoo! again!

I'm pleased to announce that last Friday, I won the First Place 2009 Altweekly Award for arts criticism.

That's two years in a row! Good grief.

My competition this year hailed from the LA Weekly and the Village Voice...which, frankly, led me to believe I'd be taking the honorable mention home. Somebody at the AAN must like me.

You can read the pieces for which I won--the only three pieces, I'm sad to say, that I wrote last year for the WCP--here, here, and here. Read about the rest of the WCP's awards here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

little miles

Pictured: Miles Herbert Hopkins Cudlin. The little boy was born last Wednesday, June 17, at 4:39 am.

I will be away from my office at the AAC--and from this blog, most likely--for about two weeks, as I get accustomed to this new business of daddyhood.

Big thanks to all of the well-wishers who found out from facebook, or from Claire, or who simply intuited that my sudden disappearance meant that Miles had finally arrived. Cassandra and I have received so many wonderful messages over the past few days; my apologies if I haven't personally responded to yours!

Now if you'll excuse me...I have a diaper to change.

Friday, June 12, 2009

marching orders for friday

Today at 12:30 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Jason Horowitz will be giving a gallery talk about the current show, Strange Bodies. As a choice for a speaker to address this show, Jason makes perfect sense. His larger than life photos are definitely both strange and of the body: They're surreal, heightened, quasi-abstract fleshscapes that alienate the viewer from her or his own corporeal form, and they seem to recall everything from heroic abstract painting to forbidding, destroyed landscapes. Jason is represented by Andrea over at Curator's Office.

And tonight, Jayme has a cool show for you over at Civilian Art Projects: Paper Jam, featuring East Coast rock posters, silkscreened, xeroxed, and otherwise. Opening reception starts at 7:00 pm. 406 7th St NW, Chinatown.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

under pressure

Things are going to get pretty quiet here at H & S for at least a month or so: At the moment, I am furiously working to get the next show I've curated for the AAC--PARADOX NOW!--up and running as soon as possible, if not sooner. We are several days ahead of our usual schedule, thank goodness, but I continue to apply pressure.

Why the sense of urgency, you ask? Well, my wife, Cassandra, is nine months pregnant. Her official due date is basically right now, so I could disappear into daddyland at any moment. At that point, my life will be car seats, dirty diapers, in-laws, and general sleeplessness. (I'm accustomed to that last one.)

So I may or may not steer the ship of this next show to its completion; I may or may not see you at the opening. I hope you will come, though--it's a terrific group of artists. Clarke Bedford installed a van load of outrageous objects yesterday--half of his room is a sort of gentleman of learning's cabinet of curiosities; the other half is a faux conceptual art retrospective for that neglected genius, Coleslaw Baklava. (His name sounds yummy, doesn't it?)

We've also got videos from Mark Tribe and Anna Lucas--and Anna will be here for the opening reception on the 19th, delivering a lecture on her work for your enjoyment at 7:30 pm. We have video and photography by Baltimorean Megan Hildebrandt; contracts from a project by D.C.'s own Ding Ren; doctored photos by N.Y. artist Josh Azzarella; pics by E. Brady Robinson; and a brand new, just-completed thirty foot linen scroll by amazing Philly artist Erin Williams, tracing her family lineage all the way back to Jesus.

So that's what I've got in the hopper. And in the better late than never dept.: Below are some installation shots of our last show, SPRING SOLOS 2009. I'll put a larger assortment of these on the official AAC website; for now, here's just a taste. Like what you see? Too bad, you missed it. Lucky for you that Steve Frost, Greg McLellan, and Chris LaVoie are all local--and Joe Lupo (not pictured) and Jason Lee aren't too far away, either.

Steve Frost:

Chris LaVoie:

Jason Lee:

Greg McLellan:

Monday, June 08, 2009

connecting the dots

Blake Gopnik wrote in the WaPo on Sunday on a trend in contemporary art that he refers to as a sort of new new realism.

I’m particularly keen on at least a couple of the artists he mentions—Aernout Mik, Rirkrit Tiravanija. But I think Blake has tried to group too many disparate things under too large an umbrella.

Much of what he describes is exactly the type of performative, socially engaged art to which I'm usually drawn—work that invites the audience to participate directly, or at least disorients the heck out of them. This kind of art attempts to create spaces where the viewer is given a respite from the usual terms of discourse in daily life, and ideally, the world as it actually is (or possibly could be) snaps a bit more into focus. (Locally, a list of favorites I'd put in this camp might include Matt Sutton, Lisa Blas, and Kathryn Cornelius.)
Bourriaud would call this kind of work relational; Grant Kester would call it dialogic. I just say contemporary, and leave it at that.

Blake relates that kind of practice to straight documentary, specifically photography…which I understand, I guess, except that these are two totally different practices, with very different explanations and histories. These distinctions matter; elide enough of them, even in pursuit of a clearer understanding for a general audience, and any sense of the structure of the art world can begin to slip away.

However, Blake did something really fabulous in this piece that made me want to jump out of my chair and applaud him. Did you notice? In laying out these practices, Blake examined international/Biennale artists, and offered them as a context for both what’s happening in D.C. museums right now—including what Vesela Sretenovic’s doing at the Phillips with this is not that Café, a project I am terribly remiss for not discussing here—and what’s going on in local galleries, with a mention of Chan Chao’s recent show at G Fine Art.

That is exactly the kind of dot-connecting I would love to see in the Post each and every week.

Friday, June 05, 2009

dean & britta

Tomorrow is your last chance to see SOLOS 2009--featuring Steve Frost, Greg McLellan, Chris LaVoie, Jason Lee, and Joe Lupo--at AAC. So see it already!

Tonight: Well, I can't go, but if I had my 'druthers, I would be attending the Dean and Britta show at the Black Cat tonight. Dean Wareham, of course, played in the essential mid-eighties Boston band, Galaxie 500, then in Luna, and now with his wife (and former Luna bassist), Britta Phillips.

Hear a snippet of the D & B song, Knives from Bavaria, in the Warhol screen tests excerpt below. Yes, it's an advertisement, but it's still entertaining.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

marching orders for wednesday

Go buy your groceries!

Today, Wednesday, June 3, the Clarendon Whole Foods Market will donate a portion of its proceeds to the Arlington Arts Center. What, today isn't your usual grocery shopping day? Maybe it's time to restock your wine cellar, then. Don't bother cooking tonight; pick up ready-made food or sushi. You get the idea.

Every purchase benefits Arlington's most fabulous destination for contemporary art.

You can also see the art of AAC resident artist Matt Best in the Whole Foods cafe.

Whole Foods Market is open from 8am until 10:30pm. Buy your groceries now.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

deep breathing

Whoops! My piece on the National Portrait Gallery's current show, Inventing Marcel Duchamp, is already available on the City Paper website, and has been posted there since last week, apparently.

I don't know if that means it ran in last week's print edition, or if it will run this week. I'm so confused.

Anyway, read all about the respirateur here.

Update: It ran last week. Silly Jeffry.

Pictured: Proposition for a Posthumous Portrait, Douglas Gordon, 2004, replica skull, mirror, certificate of authenticity, private collection, courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, NY