Thursday, August 19, 2010

tonight: the end of summer; the end of dc art

Tonight at AAC, it's FIELD DAY! Sit outside on the terrace and watch (or actually compete in) a three-legged race, an egg-in-a-spoon race, other race-y events. Drink lovely cocktails. Listen to music provided by an actual living, breathing DJ. Marvel at the sponsorship of Scion, and our partnership with Pink Line.

Think of it as a closing party for
ART SCOUTS, because it is. Also think of it as a farewell to summer, because it's that, too, sort of.

Daily Candy has the details. Starts at 5:30. You need to RSVP, my friend:

Other things: Start panicking. Every creative person you know in DC is leaving! Hirshhorn curator and painter Al Miner, for example, is becoming a Bostonian; Maura Judkis has the story at that newish site with the inauspicious name, TBD. I wrote about Al way back in 2007
here; Jessica weighed in on Al's inaugural show at G Fine Art's new location back in March here.

Mary Coble moved to Denmark, and Iona Brown moved to New York. It's as if these people don't think that DC is the center of the international artworld or something! Geez. Now Lenny will have to scratch their names out of every single copy of his 100 DC Artists book...and will have to put a sticker over the "100" on every cover and replace it with a "97". Artists are so inconsiderate.

I know, we're only talking about three people, but I feel it's a representative sample, so I'm still comfortable asserting that every creative person is leaving/has left DC. Don't be surprised if the next opening you attend in a gallery here has absolutely no people milling around drinking cheap wine and not really looking at or buying anything.

Friday, August 13, 2010

rock post rock

This post on the Washington City Paper Arts Desk got me thinking about movements in the arts and the ways in which people identify with them.

The article is about a punk band consisting of ten-to-twelve-year-old kids. The title of the article asserts that these kids are "the best new punk band in D.C." The author hedges a bit later on by saying that The Black Sparks "...won over the crowd as well as any legitimate new punk band I’ve seen."

So maybe they're not the best; they're just as good as the rest.

Anyway, hyperbole aside, this leads me to a question: Are there actually any legitimate punk bands that formed after, say, 1983?

Certainly we could posit a number of different timelines and genealogies for a punk era in popular music...but I think most of them would terminate somewhere in the mid-1980s, after the splintering of the movement into various forms: Post-punk; hardcore; indie, industrial, dance, or experimental rock hybrids.

Any band playing buzzsawing bar chords in a stripped-down two-minutes-or-less format from that point on seems to me to be attempting a period style revival, and is not participating in a vernacular form with any forward momentum or vitality connected to the present historical moment.

Saying that a current band of pre-tweens is the "best new punk band" is a bit like asserting that the "best new Impressionist painter" is an American. It's neither here nor there because there are no new Impressionist painters, merely painters who like or emulate the long-since-ended movement of Impressionism.

You can be in a jazz big band in 2010...but you can't be a part of the Swing Era, because that ended sometime in the late 1940s.

People at Renaissance festivals do not actually live in the Renaissance.

Now I can see some objections to this: If the demarcation where punk rock ends is really only 25 or so years ago, it may be possible that there are late adherents still around who, while operating past the moment of real vitality, still have some grasp of/relation to the present moment. Art schools are full of painting professors who produce work as if it were still 1960, or earlier, and as if a kind of hermetically sealed academic abstraction--referring only to the painter's practice, and to a small number of painters living and working a half a century ago--had some bearing on what's happening in contemporary galleries today.

The problem with this thought is that the members of The Black Sparks were not even alive in the 1970s or '80s.

Another thought: When does a tag refer to a practice and not merely an historical period? Conceptual Art, for example, existed as a movement with a definite roster of adherents and champions from the mid-1960s to about 1972. After that period, we encounter Post-Conceptualism, then institutional critique...yet artists working today can still have their practices described as conceptual, and this is accepted. Conceptual, it would seem, can be an historical reference, or it can be a strategy or procedure.

So what about punk? Earlier, I referred to buzzsawing guitars in a two minute format; of course, not all music made during the Punk era fits this formula--see the ten minute duelling guitar solos of Television; see the synthesizer-plus-vocals-and-nothing-else music of Suicide.

So what features can we meaningfully talk about? If one calls a band a punk band, does this merely mean that the band exhibits a DIY aesthetic outside of the mainstream industry? Couldn't that be attached to any countercultural movement in the last fifty years or so?

I think that categories, hierarchies, and genealogies are not only useful but necessary when talking about music or art. But I'm fascinated by how fluid all of these can be at the margins--what artists almost but don't quite make the roster of a given movement? Who made work that seemed to prefigure a later movement, but which was essentially invisible to the standards of critics of that day? And how the heck did I get to all of these questions via a pre-tween rock band that might or might not plausibly be called punk?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

enter sandman

I have a post on the WCP arts blog (my first ever, believe it or don't) about Blake Gopnik's piece on Dan Steinhilber in Sunday's WaPo Style section.

The gist: Blake spends about half of his article describing Dan's very cool summer residency at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. But there's a significant omission: The WPA, along with the DCAAH, set up and is funding Dan's residency, and will eventually bring the project back to DC (probably next Spring, I'm guessing).

Why no mention of the WPA angle? I accept Lisa's explanation: Blake knew about the connection, but there were only so many column inches and narrative threads his editors would allow. I get this. The piece is already two stories. The first half is a survey of Dan's work; the second focuses on an out-of-town-residency.

Local boy makes good; takes his art to the big(ger) city.

The fact that his trip to NYC is underwritten by and only possible because of a DC organization that provides services and opportunities for local artists doesn't really fit into that otherwise clear storyline. It makes everything a little messier. In fact, maybe it's a separate story. But in my view, that story is just as interesting, and needs to be told.

Read my
interview with Lisa Gold here.

Pictured: Dan Steinhilber, Untitled, 2002-2008.

Monday, August 09, 2010

angel i'll walk you home

Blake Gopnik visited Dan Steinhilber during his summer residency at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens...where the artist is inviting the general public to come, lie down in the sand, and move their arms and legs in order to create sand angels. Steinhilber casts the resulting shapes in concrete and places them around the park. Read all about it here.

I've written about Dan in 2008
here, and in the WCP in December of 2006 for a review of Numark Gallery's very last show...which appears to be in a part of the archive that's no longer available online, so I'll quote it here:

In the case of Dan Steinhilber, at least, there’s no need for ambivalence; he’s long been a master of the reductive, playful gesture with cleverly arranged found objects, reliably provoking a forehead-slapping, why-couldn’t-I-think-of-that? feeling in his viewers. Untitled (2004) is exactly that sort of a sculptural one-liner, poised just so between stupidity and elegance: A white plastic oscillating fan sits on the bare concrete floor, unceremoniously plugged into a nearby outlet. It blows a continuous stream of air through the grille of its twin—another fan, directly facing the first a mere 2 or 3 inches away. The second fan isn’t plugged in; its blades turn in reverse, responding to the breeze generated by the first. Its power cord sits in a slack little bundle, wandering in and out of a groove in the floor. Again, there’s so little manipulation here—yet it’s an allusive artistic intervention, speaking to relationships, both professional and personal, as well as ideas of influence and original thought. Steinhilber is something of a D.C. art star; all it takes is this one minimal gesture to remind us why.

Anyway, Blake's article starts out promising to be a retrospective/inventory of Steinhilber's career, but mostly glosses over this and settles on what should be more interesting to local art folks, anyway: the viewer-participation-required project he's been cooking up in Long Island City. While the project to a certain extent sounds like classic Steinhilber--a gentle, humorous, fairly populist gesture that potentially could feel like a one-liner, but possesses more grace and sticks with you much longer than you'd expect--the interactive element seems new, and is exactly the
sort of thing I like.

I agree with Blake. How about a local museum mid-career retrospective for Dan? Who's gonna pony up the space? Might seem a little early, but by the time the show got into the planning stages, the timing would turn out just about right, I think. Hey, I'd volunteer our building--I've wanted to do a building-wide show for one mid-career artist since I arrived at AAC--but I think this one needs to be somewhere mall-ish.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

critique the critics

Tonight: Lenny and the WaPo have pinpointed your art destination of choice for this Tuesday evening:

On Tuesday, August 3, AAC and The Pink Line Project are turning the tables on writers who cover the DC area arts and culture beat.

For CRITIQUE THE CRITICS, eight authorities on all things stylish will compete head to head, attempting to create works of art on the spot and exposing themselves to the scrutiny of a horde of artists, patrons, and other curious onlookers who will judge their artistic abilities (or possible lack thereof).

These eight brave writers will use familiar kids’ toys and craft materials—from play-doh, to finger paints, to duplo blocks—to battle in a humorous tourney filled with unlikely aesthetic challenges. By competition’s end, one writer will emerge victorious.

Our roster of warrior critics includes:

Maura Judkis (, Stephanie Kaye (WAMU), Svetlana Legetic (Brightest Young Things), Danielle O’Steen (Washington Post Express), Holly Thomas (Washington Post), Ben Eisler (WJLA), Annie Groer (Politics Daily), Peter Abrahams (DC Modern Luxury).

Music provided by DJ Anish. Tickets are $5, and are available on the AAC website:

Hey, when I copy and paste entire press releases, at least they're ones that I wrote myself, right? That makes it all OK.

Anyway, it should be a fun time. See video below of our previous collaboration with Pink Line, ARTIST SPEED DATING. The video is mostly just the sound of 50 people all talking at the same time, but, hey, it's a document of an actual thingy.

Speed Dating with Artists from Arlington Arts Center on Vimeo.