Monday, August 31, 2009

department of corrections

On Sunday, I sat reading what used to be the Book World section of the Washington Post (now just two pages of reviews in the Outlook section), and came across this paragraph in a review by Jonathan Yardley of a new book on Marilyn Monroe:

This instant first-name recognition confers a kind of immortality, and Monroe's shows no signs of fading. Only one of the 31 movies in which she appeared has real staying power -- Billy Wilder's brilliantly acerbic "Some Like It Hot" (1959) -- yet her image, on film and in still photographs, remains to this day the American epitome of feminine beauty and sex appeal. The nude pinup for which she posed in 1949 seems positively tame today, yet it has lost none of its allure. The famous images of her face done by Andy Warhol may not be art, but they most certainly are iconography.

Did you catch that last sentence?

Now that's a startling statement: Andy Warhol's work might not actually be art. Good heavens! I, and countless major museums of modern art, and scores of art historians, theorists, critics, dealers, and collectors have all been continuously duped for four decades.

If you read this blog with any regularity, you probably already know my response to this. This sort of statement is not just retardataire; it is factually incorrect.

Mr. Yardley is certainly free to dislike Andy Warhol's work; he may even lament the influence that Warhol has had on the forward trajectory of avante garde art since the 1960s. But the question of "art or not art?" was asked and answered long ago, and cannot at this point be meaningfully revisited, particularly given how much the definition of a work of art has further expanded since that time.

Imagine if I casually suggested in one of my pieces in the City Paper that Finnegan's Wake isn't actually literature. Sure, there are plenty of folks who would be untroubled by the statement--I know fairly well educated people who regard the book as a practical joke. But literature it certainly is, and to suggest otherwise would be to show up late and essentially unprepared for a battle that's already over.

I assume that the Post will be running a correction.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

rah rah rah for the home team(s)

Still more mural headaches in Washington: Back in July, I linked to a story about neighbors unhappy with a publicly funded mural by D.C. artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer. Today Wooster Collective posts this YouTube clip about an ANC commissioner unhappy with a new publicly funded mural in Edgewood, which was covered by the WaPo last Thursday.

The commissioner states an interesting opinion: The mural does not reflect local culture or history.

Okay, I'll bite: How does the commissioner think this could be corrected? By including references to MLK and...wait for it...the Nationals and the Redskins. Because free advertising for Dan Snyder and the Lerner family = resonant, relevant public art, I suppose.

See the very silly video below. (Via Rob Bettmann, via WC.)

cue the crickets

So Matt Langley posted earlier this month that he will be relocating to Brooklyn sometime in September or thereabouts--and at that point presumably will become a NYC-centric arts blogger.

Now J.T. Kirkland announces that after a five year run, he's thinking about not writing Thinking About Art anymore.

The herd (such as it is) appears to be thinning.

I've talked to a number of other D.C. bloggers over the summer about the problems of keeping up with their respective blogs--particularly when it seems like the platform is eroding or fragmenting anyway, branching into a number of related outlets for the same sort of activity. See Twitter; see Facebook.

And then there's the example of Jerry Saltz, who seems perfectly content to continue to post his electronic musings/campaigning on Facebook, and has said point blank that he doesn't want a blog. Some have argued that he's clearly on the wrong platform--he can't monetize his writing on Facebook; is struggling with an interface not meant to do what he wants it to do; is merely afraid of having to take his electronic side project too seriously, etc., etc.

For me, an admittedly part-time blogger with no real designs for monetizing what I do here, the desire to use Facebook actually makes sense. My blog posts automatically appear in my FB feed, and at this point I tend to get more comments from D.C. folks there than here. (Which makes me wonder sometimes if I should discontinue the practice--is it hurting my stats? Do I have stats?)

That said, I'm still charmed by the way my blog automatically archives whatever I do. I also like having a roster of blogs that I actually read over in my sidebar. And I enjoy the feeling (even if it's a bit illusory) that I'm stitching my voice into a buzzing, jostling web of other viewpoints, all aggregating and interlacing in similar ways.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

the masturbating uncle

Happy Birthday, Martin Amis! Today is the British novelist's 60th birthday.

Critical opinion is pretty well divided on the son of writer Kingsley Amis--who famously showed so little regard for or interest in his own son's work. Read a roundup of wildly divergent viewpoints, ranging from "most original prose stylist of his generation" (
David Lodge) to "[not] any more misogynist than the average Englishman" (Germaine Greer) here.

When Amis is good, as he was in, say, Money, he's marvelous, full of linguistic pyrotechnics and strange conceits. When he's not...well, I'll leave it to novelist Tibor Fischer, in his scathing 2003 review of Amis's book, Yellow Dog:

Yellow Dog isn't bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing. It's not-knowing-where-to-look bad. I was reading my copy on the Tube and I was terrified someone would look over my shoulder (not only because of the embargo, but because someone might think I was enjoying what was on the page). It's like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.

Friday, August 21, 2009

remembering the remembrancer

Starting September 4, you can see Alberto Gaitán's Remembrancer (remember the painting robots?) at the new Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, VA.

The Taubman is certainly a striking building, something of a faux Frank Gehry (designed by Randall Stout, who, naturally, worked as a senior associate in Gehry's firm for over seven years). Add the Taubman to the small but growing list of good vis arts stuff that originates in Roanoke.

I commented on Alberto's piece back during the Colorfield.remix show in 2007 here (scroll down past the shots of the Gene Davis street painting.) You can also see Gaitán's flikr set for the piece as it appeared at Curator's Office here...and read a tech-geek-ish article on the mechanisms behind the project here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

gimme indie rock!

Non-art-related post follows: If, like me, you were an indie rock/college radio nerd in the early 1990s, then this news about a new Polvo album--In Prism, set for release in September--is either cause for celebration or nervousness. I saw the reconstituted band at the Black Cat last May and didn't quite feel the old magic; the band wasn't as lurching, dissonant, or unpredictable as they were when I saw them in their prime, and sounded more (to me, anyway) like your garden variety, competent, riff-centric rock band.

Still, the mp3 available on the WIRED site makes me smile, and almost convinces me that it's 1994 again. Almost.

Below: No, not Polvo, but Sebadoh, with the titular song.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

stranded in memphis

My review of the William Eggleston show, Democratic Camera, is in this week's Washington City Paper. See it in all of its printed glory at a metro station near you...or go ahead and read it online here. The show remains on view at the Corcoran through September 20, and is definitely worth a visit.

Monday, August 10, 2009

on hiatus

Posting notice: I'm on vacation in upstate NY all of this week. I have some limited (dial-up) internet access, but will very likely be leaving the blog alone until next Monday. See you then!

Friday, August 07, 2009

viewer review

Michael O'Sullivan takes a look at PARADOX NOW! in today's Washington Post. You can read what he has to say and look at a few images of his favorite pieces here.

It's a thoughtful and balanced review--mixed, but I can always count on Michael to take some time with a show. His main objection seems to be over the inclusion of documentation from performance art, which, to his mind, doesn't offer a satisfying object-based experience. Which strikes me as a little old-fashioned, but maybe that's just me.

You can also take a look at the catalogue for the show on the AAC website here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

straight from an acquaintance of the guy who is in a position to know something about the horse's mouth

Kristen Hileman let me know today that the Hirshhorn actually will be looking for a full curator and an assistant curator, not an associate and an assistant, as I said in describing Kriston's blog post from which he described his AiA piece on the subject.

She asked me to make a correction because she felt she had been misquoted--which is a little odd, since I wasn't quoting her; I was quoting Kriston Capps, who was, in fact, quoting Kerry Brougher.

But in the end, she told me that Kerry Brougher told her to tell me to tell you that they'll be doing an international search for a full curator.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

less is less

Kriston's got the news on Kristen Hileman's departure from the Hirshhorn to take up the position as curator of contemporary art for the BMA.

I talked to Hileman last night, and she seemed excited to be off to the charm city, repeating what she told Kriston about her interest in working for an institution that has a collection rooted in more than just modern and contemporary art. Add to that the fact that Baltimore's a cool town for contemporary art to begin with--see MICA, Transmodern, the Contemporary Museum, Creative Alliance--and this sounds like a pretty good move. (Blake Gopnik mused on contemporary art in Baltimore, and compared the Hirshhorn's contemporary programming to recent shows at the BMA and Contemporary here.)

If the Hirshhorn keeps losing people at this rate--first Olga Viso, then Anne Ellegood, now Kristen Hileman--they're going to turn into a ghost ship. The haunted museum!

Kriston also points out that Kerry Brougher says the 'horn will be looking for an associate and an assistant curator--not a curator and an associate curator--but that the searches will be international and national respectively. Kriston puts it best: "So there's a demotion, and the stakes are higher!"

Add to that the statement by new director Richard Koshalek (made in an interview with Tyler, quoted by K) that they'll be leaning on outside curators for programming, and this starts to sound ominous. Sure, maybe it's good news for independent curators and outside institutions with traveling shows...but it doesn't exactly sound like a winning strategy for redeveloping the already shaky Hirshhorn brand.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

the order we are not looking for

The type of choreography that Merce Cunningham and his partner and collaborator John Cage began to develop in the early 1950s reversed what seemed like the natural order: One expects that music and dance will respond to one another. With Cunningham and Cage, they didn’t; instead, they were developed independently, existed autonomously.

To watch a Cunningham piece is to see diverse elements moving at different speeds, crossing paths, holding the stage together for a moment, then scattering, like the accidental groupings of people on a city sidewalk. As the famous story goes, when one of his dancers asked him in 1954 what a dance he was working on was all about, Cunningham escorted her to the window, showed her the people mingling in the street below, following their different paths to different destinations, and said, “That!”

Cunningham and Cage used chance operation, relying on procedures that allowed them not to impose their will on certain elements of the work. They allowed the universe to do what it does. This is not to say they didn’t believe in discipline. A Cunningham dance was not improvisation. Cunningham used trained bodies and muscles to perform movements that seemed awkward, noisy, sometimes ordinary. But these movements were always keyed to Cunningham’s unusual sense of rhythm, and of an expression rooted in the body and musculature itself.

Costumes, sets, and lighting were arrived at separately, too, and hastily grafted on just before the first performance, often without proper rehearsal. When Robert Rauschenberg was the Cunningham Dance Company’s stage manager and artistic director—a period from about 1961 to 1964 that the artist once referred to as one of the most rewarding in his life—set décor was often improvisational, last minute, on the cheap and on the fly. As Carolyn Brown, a dancer and choreographer who was part of Cunningham's company when he founded it in 1953, and stayed with him for over two decades, once recollected:

In Winterbranch, Bob made a “monster” (as we affectionately called it) out of backstage stuff, different in every performance, but always with some kind of light or lights casting eerie shadows as it was pulled across the darkened stage on a long rope…Sometimes the set he made was alive: at the Dartington Hall in England, he and his assistant, Alex Hay, ironed their shirts upstage. At the Sadler’s Wells, Bob dyed clothes many colors and hung them to dry on clothes lines, where they dripped into buckets throughout the performance. We never knew what we would find when we returned to the theater each evening to make up; it was something we looked forward to, a handmade gift. He never seemed to repeat himself, and his enthusiasm never seemed to diminish.

The extent to which the elements of a Cunningham dance appear to work together seems to depend on a certain amount of perseverance, faith, and blind luck—which sounds like a nice summation of Cunningham’s early career. When asked once what he would do after winning a Guggenheim Fellowship, Cunningham gave another fabulous one-word answer: “Eat!”

Cunningham operated without the institutional support that was enjoyed by a handful of other modern dance companies. Jose Limon was connected to Julliard; Martha Graham had regular private funding. Merce, meanwhile, relied on the good will of artist friends who could be counted on to sell an artwork and donate the proceeds at a critical moment. The Foundation for the Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc. was the short-lived nonprofit entity that helped bankroll Cunningham's European tour in 1964; eighty artists donated funds to the corporation from the sale of their own artworks. The list of donors included Marcel Duchamp, Phillip Guston, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Larry Rivers, Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella, Willem DeKooning, David Cornell, and Andy Warhol.

Needless to say, Merce Cunningham had the right friends.

Monday, August 03, 2009

more bad news for people who like bad news

Jessica Dawson also writes about the 1515 blues over at the Washington Post--and lets it be known that Andrea's rent will be going up to $1200.00 per month. Which doesn't sound terrible...until I remember that her gallery is slightly smaller than my dining room.