Indifference to Modern Art Rebuffed!!!

(above, Dan Flavin, untitled (to Barnett Newman to commemorate his simple problem, red, yellow and blue), red, yellow, and blue fluorescent light, 1970)

(First, a promise: more pictures of my work's progress, very soon.)

This week, I've been thinking about a statement; one of those statements that at first incenses any artist who works with abstract and/or other reductive methods and techniques...and then, after a while we finally don't pay much attention to it anymore.

I think you know which one I mean: "my kid could do that." Or the popular alternative, "I could do that." Which one they use, I suppose, depends on how derisive or dismissive they'd like themselves to sound.

Normally, I ignore this person, and their statement...only occasionally have I tried to reason with the person based on originality, or freshness, and the prevalent importance of context and authorship in modern and contemporary art, but often this tactic falls flat on its face...kneeling down at the rock-hard Altar of Indifference.

So, having encountered this sentiment once again, last week (towards a Klee drawing, no less), I've been contemplating a more salient, adroit answer; one that comes atcha with subtle fists a-flying...and throws off your quarry. Here's what I've come up with so far:

"You're absolutely right; your child CAN do that. And that's the is no longer about the genius. It is, however, about a fresh tactic; a new voice...albeit one that is in tune (rather than specifically trained). It is the Everyperson making a decision to MAKE ART, and doing it. Your child could indeed do something like this [piece of art] long as you remember that it can never be a Klee; it can never be a Pollock; it can never be a can only be the product of your child, from your child's particular context. And that in of itself takes it beyond Klee, Pollock, Newman [any other artist so often maligned in this way]...and makes it not a shadow of a master, but a new object by a new person, that casts its OWN shadow. GO...and help your child cast their own shadows...and let them deal with the other shadows they stand in, once they have begun."

Psshew... Hey, where'd you go?...


The shirt that says it all...


Back from Louisiana...

(above, Point-aux-Chenes, LA; with apologies to Patrick...)

Just got back last Sunday afternoon from Lousiana. I spent a week-plus with a group of six (including yours-truly) from my church, working with Mennonite Disaster Service, in Bayou Point-aux-Chenes, Lousiana. This area is a low-income, largely native-American community, about an hour south of New Orleans. Our full group numbered in all about sixteen, since we partnered with another church in New Jersey, First Baptist Church of Jericho. The drive/ride was somewhat brutal - twenty-three hours straight, both ways - but very enjoyable in another way: I got to know several people, whom I like very much, better than I had before. And I woke up next to them in the morning...where else would that happen? Anyway, it was a wonderful, blessed and fulfilling experience; one which I'd repeat in a heartbeat.

A few more thoughts about the area and job...this bayou area is only about three miles as the crow flies from the gulf proper...water is all around; in fact it permeates and influences the air and atmosphere more than anything else in the area. Most mornings that week were heavy with fog and mist, which eventually burned off or blew away, but for a few hours it was thick enough to cut. Snowy and graceful great egrets were gingerly skulking around every corner...brown pelicans coasted into the bayou occasionally, like miniature, silent jets. Biting, swarming gnats were the most noticeable denizens during the day, unless breezes blew them off; when it grew cooler towards evening - about 34 F at the coolest while we were there - they were replaced by the far the more desirable of the insects, I decided. But the insects didn't deter from the ramshackle charm and allure, even, of the area. Among the broken-down, askew boats, leaning shrimp-cleaning docks, and junk piled up by the road; the jerry-rigged and tarped houses painted in garish shades of teal, bright red and greens, or more dour greys and redwood browns, a question arose. It was hard to determine which layers of disrepair or damage occurred because of Katrina or Rita, or whether this was a general disheveledness and a permanent part of the area's look, and had just been exacerbated or rearranged by the most recent storms - albeit, the worst in a long while. We got a sense that this was somewhat true...this area was a mostly neglected, native-American area; quite poor before any storms, and therefore more susceptible to what those two violent harpies doled out. So, we were there to throw in our little bit of elbow-grease and an even tinier portion of building knowledge, and do what we could to make this place better, and to show these people that not everyone had forgotten them.

The first job I worked on was in the Dulac, LA area...a house already underway in repair, but with quite a ways to go. We did drywall work; paneling, siding and other small construction work. But what a difference it seemed to make...and how wonderful and unexpected the shrimp jambalaya, white beans and sausage and king cake were, during our lunch breaks with the family! Their happiness and hope were bracing and joyful.

The second job I worked on (Thursday and Friday) was helping to construct a wheelchair ramp for a mostly-incapacitated woman, living in a trailer home that was falling apart, also in the Dulac area. We didn't quite finish it on Friday afternoon, but I was promised a picture of her rolling down it, completed, in her wheelchair.

It was a wonderful and challenging thing for me to work with people I'd only known for a few days, on a job site...but it came through beautifully. I hope that in some strange way our intermingling of black and white; female and male; young and old; Mennonite and Baptist, took some people aback, and caused them to ask; what's going on with that group? What do they have...and why are they traveling together? Perhaps just our being together as a group made a difference in people's minds, in our long trip through LA, MS, AL, TN, VA, NJ and finally PA.

Just a thought or two about New Orleans...we were able to stroll around and visit the French Quarter the Sunday morning we drove down. It was my first time in the Big Easy, and I have to admit I was least with the largely-undevastated French Quarter. It was an idyllic spring-like morning, with warm zephyrs (look it up) skimming through the beautiful tropical plants in the square we were parked near. Just like a blessed April morning in PA. The breakfast at Cafe du Monde helped lift my spirits, and the architecture was absolutely wonderful; picturesque. Of course, this is not ALL of New Orleans, and we saw the terrible devastation coming in and leaving N.O...the neighborhoods that looked like they hadn't been stepped in since September: brick walls broken down; trees laying like toothpicks on the ground, cars overturned and encrusted with several months worth of salt, pollution and filth...a general film of despair seemed to overlay these places. But here and there, even to this unfamiliarized eye, changes could be seen...things spruced up; people working; machines running; trash being hauled away; walls being uprighted...

It brought back to me a mindset that I'd almost succumbed to before encountering the city of New Orleans...the defeatist attitude of, "why bother rebuilding New Orleans?" Isn't it a waste of money, time and resources? After finally seeing and breathing New Orleans, I realized how selfish, and foolishly subjective this viewpoint was...fallacious, even, I'd add. What did it matter now whether or not this city's original founder in the 17th century had been warned away from building below the level of a lake by his engineers? Of what import was this to the thousands of people to whom this city had been home for years; generations? This city to which they'd pledged allegiance in many ways; a city which they loved and lived in; invested in? These thoughts of whether or not a city should be rebuilt suddenly seemed selfish and self-centered...what did it really matter how or whether rebuilding would benefit me, or the country in general? That ultimately doesn't matter...what matters is whether those who once made up this tenuous web of connections that a city is, think it worthy of repair, and return...if they believe in it still, then so should I. Yes, a city is even more than just a bunch of people living in one is a mindset; a philosophy...a psychological cement found in between all the bricks and the brains, that keeps people believing and belonging. And this is what was calling out to me for recognization...not a bottom-line, capitalistic, is-it-a-good-investment, defeatist attitude. And so I threw in my "two cents;" bought a coffee and chicory, a bag of three beignets, and a balloon sculpture from a clown on the corner...

Back to the studio this week...


Dead horse meatball?

(above, picture from Roberta Fallon)

Sorry to be almost beating a dead horse (meatball?), but here's some more from Artblog on the Meat Ball show at Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, downtown. Roberta Fallon said she held off on writing about it, thinking the Phila. Weekly would allow for space, but not to be...I also included a little aside from her on the current social state in America, spurred on by two of the artists' works in the show, that I think is interesting and thought-provoking.

(My edits and emphases are included, since all the pictures are not shown...see for the full syntax.)

Thursday morning meatballs

Herein a few comments on a great show I saw but couldn't write about for the Weekly but thought I could so held off writing about here. See
Libby's post for more.

Like many things that appear in
Fleisher-Ollman Gallery, the works in this show are all "oners." They may be meatballs but they're individual meatballs first, and their ability to cohere as a group is a result of some nice curating by the young threesome in charge, Jina Valentine, William Pym and Brendan Greaves. Of course the glorious big space helps as well, providing ample breathing room for the pieces to exist side by side without beating each other up.If there's a hallmark in the show it's that the art is not particularly loveable. That's not to knock it. Because really how loveable is Guernica...or anything by George Segal, Ed Kleinholz or Marina Abramovicz? Some art doesn't want to be loved. It wants to talk at you or to you and that's what we have here. Yakkety yak, don't talk back.The most nervous talkers, the ones whose urgency seems off the charts, are Frank Vagnone and Jack Sloss. Vagnone, with his anthropomorphosed assemblages that include the kitchen sink and all, read like visionary riffs on Greys Anatomy. And Sloss, with his two-channel video piece of weird, floating imagery like clowns and masked men looming like astronauts in zero gravity traps you in his orbit and won't let you go. Both artists' works are compulsive talkers who won't let you get a word in edgewise. It's after you leave their aura that you can talk back at them, agree or disagree. Vagnone's two pieces, which have a survivalist-art aesthetic, compel you to look and to think about the body's insides and the mind housed in there somewhere. But the affect is so splayed and raw I felt like I was gaping at a roadside accident with myself the accident victim. Sloss's melange of odd imagery, like Vagnone's melange of hardware and stuff, provide a kind of mirroring of the world today. Both artists works seem to swim in our culture of narcissism and self-loathing yet the issues they raise -- about body, disease, technology -- posit a less than rosy future. Unlike "Self" magazine, dedicated to the study of you, all about you, aren't you the best, these two works treat self to a cold water bath. You may be you but you're not great they say. Get over you and let's talk about something bigger, like us, society, social contract, our future.I've become obsessed with the thought that America has broken the social contract and the thought scares me. Gone are ideas about supporting each other with programs that help the less fortunate. We dally with privatizing our future; we sleep through election day not caring whether our vote counts or not. We preen therefore we are. Artists whose work sounds the alarm about the vulnerability of us all in the culture of narcissism -- as I think these works do -- are artists to watch. Like the canary in the coal mine they're bringing in a message. I only hope it's not too late to turn around.Elsewhere in the show lurk many pieces I had brief discussions with in my head.Michael Khaisman's backlit packing tape on plexiglas pieces are as familiar as Bogey and Bergman even though the materials are a surprise. Johanna Inman's digital blow-ups of what look to be discarded and damaged glass slides from some art museum are a better take on empire than Ed Ruscha's large, vacuous paintings at the Whitney. (see post, and sorry to beat a dead horse.) Gone, gone, gone are the days of glass slides and reverence without questioning for, well, for anything at all.

Leah Bailis's little suburban tract houses and P. Timothy Gierschick's symbol paintings conduct a sidebar conversation about restricted horizons, house as pressure cooker and yearning for better. I found the dialog between the works compelling. B. Ever Nalens' scotch tape transfer piece (Gallerist John Ollman had to point the piece out to me -- I completely didn't see it at first.) and Michael Coppage's pop-rivetted cardboard oculuses are great-looking.

Nathaniel Davis's drawings on graph paper and Alex Paik's symbol paintings echo Gierschick and Bailis.

Curator Greaves wrote us a while back to say that he, Valentine and Pym have been working as a curatorial team "for several years, with shows not just at Fleisher/Ollman, but likewise Harvard University, Art 36 Basel, Scope Miami." Keep up the good work, guys!



Davies Quotes

Over this past Christmas vacation, I became accquainted with an author about whom I knew nothing before a few months ago; I borrowed two of his books from my English-major uncle. Robertson Davies, Canadian author. I devoured (well, for me at least) the last of his so-called Deptford Trilogy, World of Wonders. A little bit Graham Greene; a little bit Dickens, and more than a little bit Umberto Eco: I enjoyed it thoroughly. An added benefit is that he is an eminently quotable author - I can't wait to begin his book of prose. But I got several books for Christmas. Here are some of my favorite quotes from World of Wonders:

"...the showiest things are quite simply arranged, but anything that looks like simplicity is extremely difficult."

"The notion that everybody wants the latest is a delusion of intellectuals; a lot of people want a warm, safe place where Time hardly moves at all..."

"Of course wonder is costly. You couldn't incorporate it into a modern state, because it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshipped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvellous, but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory and pitiless."


Joyous New Year: Goggleworks

(painting by Matthew Mazurckiewicz)

(painting by Rich Houck)

Back for the Anno Domini 2006. Over Christmas break, several people from my family went to visit a great new arts center in downtown Reading, PA; the Goggleworks.

Indeed, it was for all its life, from the late 19th century up until about three years ago, a factory for making goggles and other safety equipment. (There's a small history on the website, if you're interested). I have always had a certain affection for local manufacturing and business, so there's always a bit of sadness and ennui that hovers around these kind of buildings whose original purpose is defunct, but maybe this is mostly me.)

The facilities, largely funded by local businesspeople such as the Boscov family, are superb in most ways, and are on the way in all others. There is a great glassworks studio, equipped with stadium-style viewing areas for visitors; large parts of one floor is equipped for dance studios; there are large classroom areas for art and crafts classes; and a (strangely clean, but gargantuan) wood-working shop.

However, while the facilities are great, the resident artists, whose work ranged from assemblage and dolls, to traditional painting and glass-blowing, mostly are little better than amateur. A few of them are really on to some great work, but many are still grappling with mediocrity.

As we wandered through the building among the warrens of various-sized studios, there were a few (three or four) artists whose work really caught my eye. One of them was Rich Houck, who has a website, and lo and behold, studied at U of Arts, under Warren Rohrer. His work has a pleasing and unsettling play between recognizable patterns and flat abstracted shapes, and raises immediate questions about space and depth. Looking at them, I was reminded of looking into a puddle underneath a large tree, and reveling in the initial confusion of where the reflection began, and the puddle stopped, and vice-versa.

Another was Matthew Mazurkiewicz, a native of Reading, whose work is obviously influenced by Philip Guston, Susan Rothenberg, and maybe even Mondrian's messier work. He was trained at the School of the Visual Arts in NYC; has a good horse sense for color:

In addition to the resident artists, et al, there are local cultural and civic organizations using the space as well. These centers have worked so well for other area cities, dealing with a languishing post-industrial identity, and rapidly changing demographics. It will be interesting to keep up with the Goggleworks, and see what changes it (hopefully) catalyzes in Reading, and the area.

Related Posts with Thumbnails