Thursday, October 21, 2010

think pink

Kriston Capps has a lengthy consideration of Philippa Hughes in this week's WCP. Read that bad boy here. Hey, I'm quoted in it, so it must be good.

Things I would say generally about
Pink Line: I'm a pro-Philippa partisan. I know this threw some folks off when they saw me sending up Philippa this past summer...but make no mistake: I want people in the mix, and I believe there's real value in the encounters Philippa creates. Maybe the party atmosphere puts serious limits on the kinds of content that can be appreciated properly...but art is seldom experienced by the artist's ideal audience, in the kind of transactions the artist intended.

Experiences with works of art generally are contingent, sure, and mean different things at different moments...but like I said to Kriston: The work is what it is, and continues to have whatever potential energy or values it has bound up in itself regardless of whether you're throwing back PBR or furiously scribbling in a little moleskin notebook or something.

Since taking off (more or less) my critic's cap and donning the curator's, I've come to have a very different, much more pragmatic attitude toward this sort of thing. No people, no press, and no money equals no programming and no visibility for any artists.

And as far as the notion that Philippa only creates superficial engagements with art, I would also point to events like the smaller Salon Contras, in which I've participated--see me talking to Kathryn Cornelius here, and Jenn Figg here--and during which I've heard some fairly heavy discussion and Q & A re: why artists are doing what they're doing. It's not all DJs, graffiti, and beer, I'm happy to say.

And then there's this notion:
"People follow these people when they have no background or education in art or architecture or literature or humanities. It’s a party crowd [that follows Hughes]. It’s not a group of intellectual or sophisticated people. They’re like party wraiths.”

This question of whether the people Philippa attracts are the right sort of people...or if Philippa herself is even qualified or intellectually equipped to do what she does...well, it drives me a little crazy.

I can assure you that there are countless folks working in the arts with far more impressive sets of advanced degrees and credentials than I who have no business thinking or writing about contemporary art whatsoever.

This profession, like any other, is full of well-socialized nitwits, people who've mastered the art of looking like adults and accreting resume lines, but who are intellectually (and, often enough, emotionally) stunted.

The good news about the art world is that it allows--even requires--a high degree of self-invention and self-definition. Artists, curators, and dealers are constantly creating their own qualifications for calling themselves arts professionals. Some of the smartest arts people I know in this town are graced only with BAs; some of the most tiresome have PhDs and offices in museums.

We should celebrate this, look for people with ideas, drive, and infectious energy, and just run with it already.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

i remember halloween

It’s October, and Halloween is on the way…which means I feel justified watching as many gut-munching horror films as I’d like.

Why do I love horror—and particularly the bad stuff? It must’ve started the first Friday night I was allowed to stay up super-late with my parents to watch the official Cudlin family movie on good old fashioned pre-VCR-era broadcast television: The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, Omega Man defined my family and its relationship with film. My parents definitely responded to the campy bits—the diseased, medievalist albino death-cult in their black robes and mirrored sunglasses; the black power heroine Rosalind Cash, with her afro and leather outfit, slapping Heston around; the scene towards the end where (spoiler alert) Heston collapses in a blood-filled fountain, arms spread wide and knees crossed, in an unintentionally hilarious Christ pose.

But they were also mesmerized by the creepiness of key scenes: the last man and woman on earth laughing at row after row of dusty boxes of contaceptives in an abandoned drugstore; Heston screaming because he’s hearing a thousand imaginary telephones ringing; or any of countless scenes where, magically, a city is deserted and silent, populated only by abandoned cars and desiccated corpses.

I love movies that are hard to love, where actors tend to over-act and deliver clumsy, over-reaching monologues. I love outlandish scenarios being brought to life with visuals that are arresting, yet obviously artificial. I especially love imagining a world in which our institutions, our fellow humans, and even our own sanity cannot be trusted.

Re: end-of-the-world scenarios. Some of my favorites are nuclear war flicks, particularly from the early 1980s—see Threads, the way-more-horrifying British version of The Day After, in which, following a nuclear holocaust, all of Europe goes back to the dark ages. The police become marauding, hoarding gangs; people work desperately hard like serfs and die before reaching middle age; and as all memory of culture dies out, the English language itself disintegrates into grunts and crude gestures. (I think I could write a whole blog post about British disaster fiction and fantasies of Deep England.)

For now, I think there's only a region 2 DVD available of Threads...but you can watch pretty much the entire movie on YouTube, starting here.

In a sense, I think my relationship with horror films—with a certain stripe of horror film, anyway—has conditioned my relationship with fine art, or with any creative idiom, really.

Maybe it comes down to the separation of styles. Within the rigid limits of genre fiction, or humor/satire, or, well, any audience/artist relationship where definite expectations and rules seem to be in play, much is permitted that isn’t in ordinary discourse.

Horror and sci-fi in the 1950s, for example, provided an outlet for those feeling the everyday pressures of an exploding consumer culture, the demands for conformity in the face of the cold war, and the very real threat of annihilation—in 1958, a Gallup poll revealed that over 60% of Americans believed that half of the U.S. population would be wiped out at any moment by nuclear war.

With those kinds of pressures, it’s no wonder that William Gaines’s E.C. comics, starting in 1950 and lasting through the institution of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, captured something awful wriggling in the American subconscious—something that responded to flesh eating ghouls, games of baseball played with human body parts, and doomsday sci-fi scenarios involving Hitler, or someone like him.

There was a major backlash to all of this campy catharsis and bloody satire. Richard Corliss wrote an article for TIME marking the fiftieth anniversary of Gaines’s 1954 appearance before the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency—an appearance that didn’t do the publisher any favors, and marked the beginning of the end for his “New Trend” comics:

They wanted to know about a house ad Gaines had run in all his magazines: “Are You a Red Dupe?” It noted that among the detractors of comic books was the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker and perorated, “So the next time some joker gets up at a PTA meeting, or starts jabbering about ‘the naughty comic books’ at your local candy store, give him the once-over. We are not saying he is a Communist. He may be a dupe. He may not even read the Daily Worker. It is just that he's swallowed the Red bait — hook, line and sinker.”

In 1954, with Commiephobia at its apex (the Army-McCarthy hearings began the day after Gaines’ appearance), irony or sarcasm would be lost on crusading Senators.

So much for the liberation afforded by the separation of styles.

Anyway, the snuffing out of EC’s horror comics points out the transformative power such obviously artificial, campy, unreal fun can have (or appear to have) in actual life. People have been murdered over works of fine art during periods of iconoclasm; people have also burned boxes of comic books or pop records, or put comic publishers or pop music artists on trial for their products. In the case of entertainment, everyone agrees that these products are peripheral to life as it’s lived…yet they’re apparently worth fighting--and possibly dying--over. I can't help but be drawn to a big, weird paradox like that.

Friday, October 08, 2010

art is fear

In this week's WCP, Erin Petty contemplates Arlington's post-10/10/10 cultural landscape. That ominous-looking date, of course, marks the official opening of The Artisphere--or, as they should've named it: The Thunderdome. (Think about it: A logo with thunderbolts! The promise of post-apocalyptic chainsaw combat! Visions of a pre-drunk-racist-humiliation Mel Gibson!)

Read all about it here.

See a run-down of all of the PINK LINE/BYT pre-opening craziness (that's tomorrow night, starting @ 8:00 pm) here.

Erin asked me some questions about what effect this new cultural center in the heart of Arlington's business district will have on my own place of work...and as is usually the case with the press, my lengthy comments were reduced to one or two sentences that only indicate a little bit of my thinking: No, I'm not worried that AAC is the planet Alderaan to the Artisphere's Death Star.

The somewhat longer answer as to why I'm not worried about the Artisphere:

First, as long as
Cynthia Connolly and Lisa Marie Thalhammer are in charge of the galleries there, I know that they'll be presenting a view of contemporary art that I can support. Cynthia and Lisa Marie know what’s going on, and because of that, I’m pretty confident their programming will always complement ours.

Certainly this was true of the Ellipse--remember that place? From what I understand, the Artisphere’s Terrace gallery is 3000 square feet--the same size as the old Ellipse gallery. True, there are additional spaces for installations and special projects (the Mezz gallery; the Works In Progress space), and dedicated space for video, yes, yes…but in my mind, at least, this really just amounts to a return to the good old days--to having two good destinations for contemporary art in town instead of just one. (Except now you don’t have to walk through a silly hotel lobby to get to the art. And maybe parking is trickier.)

I also feel confident that the programming, while related to our mission, will reflect a different vision.

Over the last three years, I've been trying to carve out a distinct identity for the AAC's exhibitions, particularly with our themed, curated shows--see
here, or here, or here, or here--bringing in more national and international artists; tackling topics of the day with an eye toward challenging work and avante-garde practices; and all the while aiming both the exhibition design and any explanatory writing towards a general audience. (Smart cutting-edge art doesn’t have to be inscrutable, nor does it have to be dumbed down for people to enjoy or appreciate it. This is my mantra.)

Cynthia and Lisa Marie, I think, are way more attuned than I am to subcultures, to D.I.Y sensibilities, and to genre and boundary-busting, without necessarily feeling the need to bracket any or all of these within a rigid historical or theoretical frame. Their gallery practices are, I think, closely linked to their art practices, to their own personal relationships and varied professional experiences with the subjects and forms of production they tackle.

Note that the inaugural Artisphere show is about skateboards and skate culture. This, I think, is an awesome idea. It’s also an idea that would never occur to me--imagine me curating a show about skateboards. Hell, imagine me on a skateboard. (In a dress? Sure. On a skateboard? No.)

I think the
joint AAC/Artisphere show that opens here in November will underline this relationship a bit—and will also demonstrate that we can all play together quite nicely, thanks.

Pictured: The Rosslyn Death Star!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

feeling adventurous

Last Friday, Matt Smith reviewed our current show at AAC, FALL SOLOS 2010, on DCist.

Matt drew a lot of parallels to sci-fi, referenced William Gibson...and described the show overall as "
tight and adventurous".

What's that? You think that description sounds a little porn-y? You're just seeing it out of context. Hey, what the heck is wrong with you, anyway? Go read some other blog if you're going to be that way. Jerk.

Pictured: Matt King, Delirious Floater, painted and chrome-plated steel, mixed materials, 2010; Joanie Turbek, Being Close to Disaster, and Other Things that Make You Feel Lucky, mixed media, 2010; Tim Portlock, Ghost City 14, digital print on paper, 2009.

Friday, October 01, 2010


AAC and DC Magazine threw a little party last night to celebrate our recent renovations...and despite the rain, we still had a really nice turnout.

Below are some photos of people in our galleries. I like seeing that. And, hey, if you still haven't experienced the new tricked out floors--or FALL SOLOS 2010--well, phooey.