Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sex and Death

Saw some things –

Dan Graham – Beyond at MOCA – Attended this opening, which had the character of “Disneyland for the overeducated” (I can only take partial credit for that one). The better half of Sonic Youth performed, and made us all feel smart, and I was not infuriated by MOCA’s insistence on having cash bars at their events, for once. Plenty to do at the Graham show, but there was even more to rub your chin about. This is good, because MOCA gets a lot of my time anyways. I have just returned from there, in fact, and begun the process of dialing in to what is presented in the show, and there is a lot.

I was originally only familiar with Graham from his performance work, and its video documentation, which I approved of wholeheartedly. The show at MOCA lets you in on all of his conceptual strategies, which at first seem pretty representative of much of the output of conceptual artists of the 1970’s. A deeper investment reveals Graham using these tactics in unexpectedly satisfying ways. A turn off for many about art like this is the ‘lack’ of visual aesthetic that greets viewers upon seeing it. Christopher Knight waxes eloquently about how the shows lack of color is meant literally, and not as a criticism of its variety. I would argue that there is indeed a visual aesthetic to Graham’s work, albeit one that occurs as a byproduct of what is presented as opposed to a conscious factor ahead of time. Any true fan of more conceptual art (myself included) knows enough to know that nothing visual is not designed; only that some designs are in such service to the ideas they are presenting that they call little attention to themselves formally.

Once past that, Graham’s interest in making the viewer more aware of their own viewing and being viewed hits it’s mark in both literal and figurative ways. His glass and mirror structures heighten one’s awareness of the contradictory and arbitrary nature of some basic architectural ideas, while highlighting the self-consciousness of one’s own presence in the presence of others. For example, to be in the self-enclosed spaces of one of Graham’s structures is to be able to see out knowing others can’t see in, while at the same time seeing one’s own reflection, and often seeing reflections of reflections as well as seeing out. Architecture in general is the arbitrary carving out of a chunk of space (and time) to get shit done; a metaphor for the finite in an infinite space. Yet, in contradiction to that, windows offer framed (painterly?) examples of this space, and in an ever spiraling evolution of contradiction, glass windows create barriers that can’t be seen to this space, and then shades and curtains bring us back to completely enclosed spaces. Graham so simply and eloquently relays to viewers our conflicted views of wanting to be in the world and out of it, to see and not be seen, to stand outside and to be within. He uses these same strategies and motifs in his videos, performance pieces, and films to great effect – forcing viewers to be viewed, and vice-versa. This investigation into phenomenological awkwardness is there in almost all the work, expanding into ruminations about suburbia, magazine layouts, and art writing.

I’ve only really chewed on and digested half of what the show offers; several return trips are in order. I haven’t even started to talk about his use of nude performers in works, or some of his writing (Schema for Poems is awesome). Maybe another blog post. Lucky you.

Katherine Gray – It’s a Very Deadly Weapon to Know What You Are Doing – Acuna-Hansen Gallery – 8 foot high shelves packed with glassware surrounded by people drinking. It’s frightening and full of tension; the physical presence of these pieces alone demands your attention. The required reading for the piece turns these literal implications into poetry – a visually sublime statement on the realization that an environment of consumption requires the consumption of the environment. Glass as a medium in a context like this has a reputation for having some emotional baggage. Some artists are in denial about it, but some, like Gray, give their audiences some actual credit for desiring ideas and deliver the goods.

Walter Robinson – Transport – Charlie James Gallery – CJG continues to delightfully surprise me. Robinson has made a wonderfully dense “gotta get smart to get art” statement via some deliciously slick pieces. The faux-Rothko car hoods showcase the reformation of the car cult currently occurring in America while making a broader comment on the art market in general and its present brush with death. (Get it? “Brush” with death?). The works are smart and sexy, and while being another unexpected avenue at CJG, fit in perfectly with the vision I know Charlie has for the space.

I’m struck by how I’ve seen two precarious glass-based pieces in Chinatown in as many months. Gray’s at Acuna-Hansen and the last show at Charlie James (see this previous post). While Gray’s dealt with precariousness of how to use what is left of the world around us, David Scott Stone’s piece gave a nasty visualization to the tension of sex and death. But I think all art is about sex and death. But that’s another blog post.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Study Hall Notebook From the 12th Dimension

So. Melissa Brown and Mat Brinkman at M+B Gallery. Mat Brinkman is one of my favorites. Definetly my favorite of the fabled Fort Thunder artists from Providence, Rhode Island. He doesn't show that much it seems, and the plethora of drawings he had at this show was more work of his than I've ever seen in one place.

Do yourself a favor and google 'Fort Thunder' if you're not hip to this super-influential group of artists and musicians. Let me put it this way: If Gary Panter was shot in a rocket to a distant moon, and a thousand years later we found his descendants, long since having created a new world and culture out of whole cloth, what they wrought would look something like the output of the Fort. And Brinkman and his otherworldly imagery from a study hall notebook from the 12th dimension is my favorite of the bunch. His only solo published book that I know of is Teratoid Heights, and I forgot to bring it for him to sign, though I did get to meet him. He's from Texas like me. I also got to meet Dan Nadel, mastermind behind Picturebox Inc., who publish much of the Fort Thunder and related books and whatnot, along with many other super amazing things. I can honestly say that Picturebox probably gets more of my money more than any other book publisher. So there.

I first discovered the work of the Fort years ago in Houston, when The Comics Journal did a huge feature on them in one of their issues (Oct 2003 issue). There in my lonely Houston apartment, at the tail end of my undergrad education, the story and work of this group totally took hold of me as something unlike anything I had ever previously encountered. Here was a group of young artists creating as purely as possible, eschewing labels or categories that could pigeon hole whatever is they chose to make, be it posters, prints, comics, sculptures, performances, or music. My first hand encounter with Brinkman was the cover of Kramers Ergot 4, which was another eye-opener to this strange new world.

Their legacy continues -- Ben Jones, Paper Rad, C.F., as well as the original Fort dwellers continue to produce work, much of it published by Nadel and some others. Do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in this rich body of kookiness and spread the love.

Oh yeah, I met and talked with Winona Ryder at the opening. She was very nice.

These are the highlights of what I got, Fort Thunder-wise, if you feel the need to come over and drink some beer and look at some books. I have a clipboard if you need to check something out.

Wunderground: Providence, 1995 to the Present -- This is the catalogue of a show put on by RISD in 2006 celebrating the history of the Fort, its artists, and current artists that continue in the same spirit.

The Comics Journal #256 -- This issue's feature, from October 2003, explains the whole Fort deal, and has interviews with a few of the artists involved, including Brinkman.

Teratoid Heights -- Nice, weird, chunky book by Brinkman that is pretty representative of his output.

Ninja -- Super huge mega-comic by Brian Chippendale that features some more recent stuff intermixed with childhood drawings. Very cool.

Maggotts -- Also by Chippendale. A labrynthine adventure through some of the most obsessive and insane drawing you'll ever see.

Paper Rodeo -- This is the comics newspaper put out by some of the Fort artists that featured work by the above mentioned cats. I have 3 or 4 issues.

Lightning Bolt, Mindflayer, and Forcefield -- Three bands featuring Brinkman, Chippendale, and others. I have albums of all three. All noisy, calamitous, kookiness. I think Lightning Bolt is the best.

I have some other related stuff by some other related artists, but I'm about to list the better part of my library here. What's above should get you started. Enjoy.