After a year-and-a-half of writing about more basic cultural differences between New York and Milwaukee, the results of my cultural reconnaissance will now take the form of local art coverage. This being the first piece, I’d like to mention that, unlike NYC where almost everything including what passes for ‘underground’ are usually pre-dug, locating art culture in Milwaukee has proven to be a little, well, subterranean. So far the digging has been the most gratifying part of being here. Not having the luxury of a media guide dedicated to informing masses of art goers about what is yet undiscovered, is a pleasure. Searching for art in Milwaukee makes me feel feral – it’s the art equivalent to hunting and gathering.
Like a weathered master to a young apprentice, he wrote cryptically in an email, “Look out, they think they’re more pure there.”
“There” is Milwaukee, and “they” are artists. That master is my friend who had lived in Milwaukee for years before moving to New York and eventually opening a gallery.
And I am the implanted apprentice in the trenches, trying to understand the lay of the irregular terrain of the Milwaukee art scene.
Several weeks ago I was urged by a friend of a friend to attend an event called the “Umali Awards” at a space called Imagination Giants (IMG). Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there, but, was encouraged by yet another friend to check out a current show at the host space anyway.
Other than some ambiguous text on IMG’s ultra spare website, I knew nothing when I contacted them to meet for a conversation (which was a nice departure from years of reviewing shows on 22nd Street in Chelsea.)
“Approaching work that deals with literal, theoretical, or conceptual space, Imagination Giants takes on interpretations of the infinite world.”
I met proprietors Ashley Janke, Lara Ohland, and Tim Stoelting on a particularly steamy late evening last week. Tim greeted me at the door of a non-descript corner storefront, let me in, and suggested I take in their latest show, “Vinyl Love”, while we waited for Lara and Ashley to arrive.
I milled about the show by Polish-born, Milwaukee local Waldek Dynerman feeling by turns repulsed and attracted to the strange scattering of objects and a dozen or so quirky and surprisingly handsome provisional paintings that were integrated into the space’s hardware such that one might assume the thermostat and exposed piping are on the show’s checklist. Dynerman’s installation amply filled the gallery with everything from contorted sex dolls atop stools, to haunting video projections on bed sheets, to a working QR code that opens to a “family portrait” of the dolls in their unaltered state. A friezelike print of a glistening blue beachfront hung cheekily above a wall of gestural painting, like a Cy Twombly assaulting a Corona commercial. The entire mélange was bathed in half carnival-festive, half sex-dungeon, neon light. The kitsch here is the spoonful of sugar that helps Dynerman’s more personal medicine go down. It does go down, and stays with you after you part with the work.
I had flashes of the show even as the four of us moved into a separate parlor area to discuss IMG with its creators.
Ashley, Lara and Tim met while at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and began planning the space shortly after Ashley graduated in 2012. IMG is dedicated to an expanded and reimagined notion of exhibition space, as is made clear in their somewhat obscure mission statement, which, as it turns out is more straightforward than I first gathered. They are interested in helping artists realize projects that require a large contiguous and alterable space, and to occasionally assist in producing those projects. Gallerists-cum-meta artistic collaborators.
This mission was well articulated in performative events ‘Bon Voyage’ and ‘Amorphous Self’, and in “One Ton Beach WI”, a collaboration with LA-based artist Jena Lee that provided “you and yours with a day of sunny respite and warm relaxation.” Meaning, they literally installed a beach in the gallery on which guests could lounge, meditate and practice yoga in the thick of the Wisconsin winter. Fun for the entire family interested in leisure activity and quirky relational esthetic projects.
But unchecked relational projects can be a challenge for a young gallery working out preperatorial issues as it goes.
Lara Ohland mentioned that IMG has faced some interesting logistical problems in their short run, but also held that their willingness to work through such issues are exactly what makes the project indispensable to the local art community.
According to Ohland, “When roadblocks have come up as we transformed our location into an inhabitable space, and developed past shows, they have come as opportunities to creatively meet the problem. When we brought the building up to code we sifted through legal documents that were not written to accommodate a project like ours, but lead us to creative solutions like turning a boarded up window into a mural. In a similar way the process of obtaining liability insurance lead to developing a performance piece, as we sifted through insurance forms that are worded in a way that they undo themselves. Obtaining one ton of frozen sand in Milwaukee during the winter and then transporting it to our gallery felt more like a performance than a task. This process, even when met with logistical problems, is informative. What I am motivated to make is influenced by the processes I know, and through IMG has come a constant flow of these opportunities.”
They seem to relish unorthodox interventions. A good example is their upcoming show with Milwaukee artist Shane Walsh and his recent painting series of mix tapes he made in the 80s and 90s. Stoeling mentioned when we spoke that IMG collaborated with Walsh to find a way to place his 2-d works into a logical dialogue with the 3-d space of the gallery by turning it into a fully functioning music store circa 1987.
Given two roads, it seems IMG looks for the unpaved first, and if both are smooth, searches next for the more elevated.
When I asked what motivated the trio to start IMG, they were matter-of-factly unified in the idea that projects like theirs are what give Milwaukee’s art scene its vitality. They agreed that the lack of commercial distraction combined with cheap real estate makes the scene ripe and relatively risk-free for untrammeled experimentation, though even the most worthwhile projects can shortened by the easy-come-easy go mindset of the community.
Ashley Janke elaborated:
“Milwaukee rent is affordable enough where you can get away with building a room in your attic, partitioning your studio, using the front room of your house, or making a deal with a landlord to refurbish a warehouse space into a 6,000 square foot white cube. These projects cannot be fueled by dreams forever. With little funding or market, they often evolve into transient spaces or break down completely allowing their founders to move on to larger projects or move with them.”
Janke to her own credit has run an independent side-project called nAbr (pronounced neighbor) which began in her attic and has since migrated to a number of locations, settling most recently on the outdoor grounds of the Lynden Sculpture Garden. nAbr has had its own run of critically challenging shows that cross pollinates with other pop-up spaces, ultimately reinforcing the fabric of the local DIY art scene.
Imagination Giants is headed ambitiously into their second full season, with a book launch and sewing workshop by artist and author Brian Nigus, whose work derives from a summer spent with a native tribe in Papua New Guinea. This, along with the aforementioned record store to accompany Shane Walsh’s mix tape collection, and a fourth year of “00000 GH00ST $HOW”, a one night exhibition of horror and occult projects, should help fuel anticipation for the new season at IMG.
I spent yesterday shuffling through herds of art junkies at Bushwick Open Studios. I’ve been to Bushwick a dozen times in the past year and still the terrain was almost unrecognizably different. It’s evolving and mutating like some crazy bird flu. Galleries everywhere. New high-end bars and restaurants everywhere else. All the old studio buildings like 56 Bogart and 17-17 Troutman have traditional galleries running out of what used to be raw studio space.
Despite the hoopla, for the most part the work at Bushwick Open Studios was boring. Not terrible, but mostly meh. Competent. Like stones polished by constant flow of water, shaped by the years, but less unique for all the wear. Still, what does one expect “pop-up” proprietors to do in the face of throngs of hungry collectors and ambitious curators, skyrocketing rents and huge expectations?
It’s hard to sell a make-shift beach or an installation comprised of contorted sex dolls and grainy videos.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
Rents are cheap in Milwaukee, and are likely to stay cheap no matter how many Imagination Giants move into bohemian areas like Riverwest or Bay View. Hopefully this will keep the challenging, chewy, difficult and eccentric shows coming.
And hopefully I’ll encounter them as they do.
“They think they’re more pure”?
Let me get back to you about this…
Four years ago when I moved to San Francisco, I would have never predicted that one day I would be interviewing Glen Helfand. In 2009, when I asked a classmate of mine at San Francisco Art Institute, “do you know Glen Helfand,” she responded, “oh my God, no, I wish, he’s like the only relevant art writer in the city”. I kept up with Glen’s writing for a couple years until I finally introduced myself to him at an art opening last summer. Since then, we’ve run into each other a thousand times and this year, Glen has included me in a group exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco titled Proximities. I sat down with Glen prior to the opening of Part 1 of 3 of the exhibition, and by the time this blog post is published, Part 1 of the exhibition will have opened.
Jeff: So you’re not used to being interviewed, are you?
Glen: I don’t think that’s such an interesting question. I have been interviewed before and I was literally interviewed ten minutes ago. I guess one of the interesting things is being on both sides of the equation. Having interviewed people before, I know what the experience is like. Another way to start that is – I do projects. I have on occasion been interviewed. Not often, but enough to know what the experience is like and to be careful of what I say.
J: Okay, good. Well part of this interview process is that you get to look at the document as we compose it.
G: That’s generous of you.
J: What were you being interviewed about ten minutes ago?
G: For the opening of Proximities that I curated. One of the artists, Andrew Witrak, is collaborating with Daniel Hyatt, to create a signature artisanal cocktail for the opening reception. The museum was videotaping it and I got to kibbitz.
J: What’s kibbitz?
G: It’s a Yiddish thing.
J: What does it mean?
G: To give my two cents. Jewish people giving my two cents. There’s a great bar called the Kibbitz Room in LA at Kantor’s Deli. I love that name.
J: Is it normal to have “signature artisanal cocktails” at an opening reception? That sounds so Miami.
G: You could also say it sounds so San Francisco. Isn’t this town such a major mixology center? But it’s also in a sense part of the show because it’s dealing a lot with notions of travel and leisure and the getaway – we want people to imagine being on a tropical beach, though the drink is more complicated in concept.
J: So describe what Proximities is.
G: I like to talk about the show from the standpoint of it being a challenge to solve. The Asian Art Museum has been interested in opening up its audience and to embrace more contemporary work. I had to start with the idea of why I didn’t feel so connected to the institution. I’ve always felt a bit of intimidation, not knowing a whole lot about Asian art, not knowing how to pronounce the names of various contemporary Chinese artists. I figure that people probably feel the same about the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Kibbitz. My initial premise was to highlight how artists have some kind of connection to Asia even if it wasn’t the expected connection.
J: Did you say this in your last interview ten minutes ago?
G: Elements. That is one thing I’ve learned in doing interviews, people always say the same things over and over again. It’s difficult to constantly be original.
J: And just to clarify: you identify as White, right?
J: Your ethnicity. You’re curating a show at the Asian Art Museum but you’re White, correct?
G: Correct. It was the last thing I ever thought I would be doing.
J: Have there been any moments of awkwardness during the curation process regarding your ethnicity?
G: Not from the museum, though part of me expects to get some kind of criticism for it. In a way, the show is kind of about this issue. Am I or the artists allowed to enter into this dialog? I don’t know if that was a question the museum was asking, but it seemed like it was a rich enough question to frame the exhibition. But to answer your question, it hasn’t been an issue with the museum. There was an interesting experience of meeting with the in-house curators, the specialists, who weighed in on the possibility for controversy. Those curators are not necessarily Asian either. That experience was really exciting, and we’ll have those curators in dialog with the artists during the opening reception.
J: When I shared the exhibition website with my artist friends, they immediately pointed out that certain artists that you selected weren’t Asian. So, immediately they were confused. My friends are also White, and so it felt like they were wondering, “well, why wasn’t I selected?” So how did you get about selecting your artists?
G: That’s a hefty question. I don’t think this is a show about race, it’s one about ideas of place, of various artists’ relations to what we think of as Asia. I selected artists based on that connection. For example, I knew that Tucker Nichols has studied Asian art history at a high level and yet his work is not seen in that context. Lisa Blatt had traveled to Shanghai to photograph while on a residency. If the museum was interested in expanding its audience, it seemed that it would make sense to open up ideas about demographics. I chose James Gobel because he was the last person you’d expect to see at the Asian, and yet his work recently has included images of sailors, of wanderlust and ports of call. I hope that your artist friends are more intrigued by the confusion—it’s a fairly small show, and the first part happened pretty quickly, so I couldn’t include everyone.
J: Well, I’m Asian and I’ve told you in the past when we were talking about the show that I don’t have any relation to Asia except for the way I look. I’m sure Tucker knows way more about Asia than I ever will. Aside from my Asian looks, why did you choose me for your show?
G: I thought of you for this project because your work seems more skewed towards an American vernacular. I think that aspect will add a compelling piece of the dialog. The show that you are part of, Import/Export, also includes Imin Yeh, whose project was inspired by a residency in India, a place that she probably didn’t know much about before her visit. I like the idea of thwarting expectations, of looking at the issues from different angles. I think that you do that, using your own perspectives.
J: So I’m in the third show. When this post is published, the first show will have just opened. What’s the structure of the exhibition like?
G: It’s organized along the routes that many of us know Asia, from the perspective of the Bay Area. The first show is about place, the idea that it is a distant land, as I was asked to have the show address the full concept of “Asia” which is unwieldy and impossible to shoehorn into a small gallery. The title of the first one, What Time Is It There?, which comes from a great Taiwanese film, sets up the equation of imagining somewhere else, it suggests a here and there. It’s the landscape show. The second, in a sense deals with portraiture, people. It’s called Knowing Me, Knowing You, after an ABBA song.
J: I love ABBA!
G: The Nordic connection also seemed like a wonderful irony, as they were such a groundbreaking international pop sensation. Barry McGee is in that show, as is Michael Jang, who has a show up now at Wirtz Gallery— they’re photos of his extended family in the 1970s. The third show is the still life show, Import/Export and it deals with notions of commerce. I like your piece’s reference to yoga and Eastern religion as an Eastern commodity. It’s really quite simple, the shows deal with places, people and things.
J: How long is the entire three-part exhibition?
G: The first one is up now, and then there will be a break. The second is in October. The third is in December. The museum initially wanted three solo shows, but my thought is if they want to bring more people in the door, mounting group exhibitions was the way to go. I like the idea of each of the presentations adding different artists, each of whom will bring in their audience. There will be a very different flavor to each of the shows—the first is very colorful, the last will be much more monochromatic. How is this all sounding to you?
J: I like the idea of colorful and I like the idea of monochromatic. For some reason, I’m still fixated on race and ethnicity, so when I hear those two words, I think of the body, skin color, and the flavors and colors of Asia. I’m obsessed! I can’t get past the surface stuff.
G: You are hinting at huge questions, and it’s my hope that the shows really generate a dialog. I noted this earlier, but the entire project is rooted in my own sense of identity, and the shows being about bringing in various shades, to riff on your color comment. Kota Ezawa’s animation in the second show is concerned with his meeting a Japanese television commentator with his same name. He met the guy while in residence in Kyoto. That project deals with the complexity of identity. We’re all obsessed! That said, I hope the shows are aesthetically appealing. I have to admit, when I left during installation today, I thought it was pretty good looking.
Proximities 1: What Time Is It There? is on view at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco until July 21. Proximities 2: Knowing Me, Knowing You and Proximities 3: Import/Export will be on view later this year. For more information visit www.asianart.org.
Guest Post by Faye Kahn¹
While social evidence that the rich is dividing farther away from the poor becomes more & more unavoidable, it seems that at the same time the art world is inversely nudging the them closer together. Traditional distinctions between “high” & “low” art are fading. In his essay “Comrades of Time,” discussing the definition of the term “contemporary,” Boris Groys states that “…at the turn of the twenty-first century, art entered a new era-one of mass artistic production, & not only mass art consumption.” Art-making is no longer restricted to a higher, educated or professional class. With the encouragement of advancing technologies from the ball point pen to the smartphone & increased visibility of the individual creative practice via the internet has reified this notion of art as “mass-cultural practice” ad infinitum (probably to some ad nauseum). To track the currency of art between upper & lower economic & academic classes & attempt to elucidate the creation of connecting middle classes of art, for instance independent comics & publication as well as social media experiments, it may be helpful to recognize the presence of commercial aesthetics in all classes. By following this reciprocal currency of consumerist media to high art & back, there are many significant signs pointing to a possible future of a classless art world.
Imagine this daisy in an advertisement for a department store chain. Now imagine it in a comic made by a peer. Lastly, imagine (or remember) this daisy in a contemporary art museum, as a part of a painting, a 300-editioned print of which is sold for more than $1,000. Of course this image is fairly well known- it was designed by artist Takashi Murakami in the mid-late 90s & repeated throughout his career in various incarnations (in carnations……….). What is unique about this daisy, however, is that to the unfamiliar eye its origins & environment could believably be in any of these three locations, or strata of art. It is difficult to say this of other contemporary arts images- a Jeff Koons sculpture, a performance piece by Marina Abramović, a photo by Wolfgang Tillmans (although this might be grounds for an interesting project). Most can’t be conceived in the commercial sphere-until the work becomes safely art-historical, when they can be reproduced on consumer goods & sold to a nostalgic or young audience-until then they are works intentionally too “conceptual” or “difficult” to be at home in a consumer setting where expediency of communication is paramount.
Murakami was/is famously aware of this & was actively attempting to collapse gaps between high & lowbrow art communities. Naturally, other internationally renowned pop artists like Lichtenstein & Warhol & more recently Philip Guston & Yoshimoto Nara have exercized a similar style. I stop at Murakami, not because I’m particularly fond of his work, but because his conceptual “Superflat” agenda is well articulated & aware of the collapse of economic boundaries. “When comparing a half a million dollars to ‘free,’” says Murakami, comparing to his blind-assortment collectible figure series (‘free’ with a purchase of candy) to his life-size statues of the same characters residing in contemporary arts institutions, “there’s an overwhelmingly different sense of values, almost a confusion of values.”² This “confusion of values” intellectualized by Murakami in the art scene in the late 90s/early ’00s is a significant checkpoint in the travel of commercial aesthetics, but this consciousness not exclusive to artists of highly educated stature (according to Wikipedia, Murakami has a Ph.D. from the Tokyo University of the Arts) but also in artists in so-called lower, consumer target-market classes.
Before I continue, here’s quick review these “levels of art” as crookedly defined for the purpose of this essay:
1) High Art (elite)
2) “DIY” or “Low” Art
3) Commercial Art (consumerist)
“High Art” referring to work usually made by career artists & found in the gallery, museum, & similarly institutionalized art biennials, fairs, etc., with a prestigious milieu of critics, buyers, curators & so on. For level 2, I’m wont to trade in the negative term “low” (granted this negativity is a badge of pride for some) for “DIY,” which as an adjective has come to encompass the “mass practice” of unprofessional quotidian participation in the making of art (“unprofessional” or “quotidian” not as pejoratives, but as neutral descriptors)-including student work. Level 3 is one populated by masters of an aesthetic practice but whose products are intended to be consumed by an unassuming hoi polloi. Although this stratum by nature lacks the conceptual, self-aware qualities arguably integral to defining something as “art,” certainly artistic techniques are employed (& exploited). Not only this, but it is common for early-career artists to hold jobs in this industry for obvious financial reasons, allowing them to coexist on both levels, while to varying degrees keeping their personal work separate.
This commercial universe, simultaneously seductive & repulsive, has provided us a strange key to a universalized art practice. It consists of a language instantly readable & in turn available to all to appropriate (throw legality into the wind). The visual toolbox of late capitalist propaganda is one of monumental typography, drop shadows, heavy outlines, over-emotive caricatures, light reflecting textures, shining sparkling neons, pastels, & primaries, & supreme cleanliness, (even when portraying something dirty). Whether you want simple geometrics or complex mechanics there is a commercial toolset for you. Anyone born in a first world country (& to a lesser degree, beyond) in the past 50 years has come to age in a society increasingly saturated by this imagery & fast motion. Having been the target market of any number of advertising campaigns at every given moment of a lifetime, a significant number of artists, whose headcount increases with the approach of the contemporary period, have co-opted this style in more radical ways than simple parody. Take for example (moving beyond the household names of 60s pop artists) Mike Kelley’s Memory Ware Flats collage series, the gradients (among many other things) of Cory Archangel or the clusterfuck of American commercialism in Ryan Trecartin videos. All of this work is, while certainly of high conceptual &/or critical value, speaking with a language that is, though perverted, immediately legible or familiar to anyone who has experienced pop culture.
This artistic momentum is surprisingly well represented by the current proliferation of amateur comic artists, many of whom are vocally & visibly aware of the high art world. It’s safe to say that comics, originally a consumer product, have become widely accepted as an outlet for personal expression, like photography, that has become recently emancipated from its irreproducible commercial status to the disposal creatives of all ages & classes. The beginnings of this can be attributed in significant part to movements like the underground comix scene in the 60s & 70s with artists like Rick Griffin & R. Crumb (among many others) carrying through to cartoonists of the 80s & 90s such as Gary Panter & Raymond Pettibon. These cartoonists, along with experimental anthologies like RAW & Weirdo expanded comics into experimental territory, communicating more with high art logics than their syndicated predecessors/counterparts (psychedelics are a shortcut to philosophy!?). Counterintuitively, while extending the medium into traditionally elitist domains (psychedelics are a shortcut to the philosophical!?), they simultaneously introduced comic-making to a wider, younger, & unprofessional bracket. Now, comics were not only an art to be consumed, but an art practice to actively participate in, as much or as little as one consumed them.
The alternative comics community today is expansive to say the least. Contemporary DIY comics anthologies like Mould Map, Sonatina Comics, & Happiness (to name just a tiny fraction of those existing today), tumblrs, & conventions (Brooklyn Comix & Graphics Fest (although recently discontinued!), CAKE, TCAF, etc.) document hundreds of artists per year. Comics have gradually become another near-neutral visual alphabet or option for people to represent themselves with: similar to how everyone with a camera can now be a photographer/self documentarian, anyone with a writing tool can now be a comics artists/self documentarian.
Despite this hyperactivitity & close relationship to the art world, independent comics remain largely ignored by institutionalized critical artistic discourse. While there’s no shortage of books, journals, & blogs dedicated to dissecting comics culture & composition, they remain intended for readers interested in comics specifically & lack a serious concern for communicating with the larger contemporary art world. In other words, while the artwork straddles all strata of art, the reception does not (or does so very disproportionately). When consulting with a few active comic artists about this, many of them responded with reference to a class-related animosity between the comics & high art world in one direction or another, or rather, to the anti-intellectual/elitist (respectively) attitude either of the two fosters. On the one hand, comic artist & editor of the Happiness comic anthology series, Leah Wishnia states, “…art/alt/underground comics are a rejection of the elitism propagated by the fine art market, and the institution behind the fine art market may resent this and therefore, continues to label the majority of comics as ‘low art.’” At the same time, comic artist Blaise Larmee expressed a disillusion at the contemporary alt-comics sphere for its perceived blandness to outside audiences & Austin English admitted to looking to fine art for more inspired organization of text, characters & figure drawing. Unsurprisingly, the comics blog “Comets Comets” (the name a riff on the popular “Comics Comics Mag” (now also defunct) ran by Dan Nadel of Picturebox Publishing, Tim Holder, & Frank Santoro) maintained by Larmee, English, & comics artists Jason Overby & Carrie Bren was one of the only (if not the only) sources of writing that started to look at comics in a conceptually analytical way.
“Where does form end and content begin?
American comics came from newspapers and manga from ukiyo-e. There was no preciousness about the drawings that led to the printed matter until more recently. Original art can be beautiful to look at, but it’s beside the point: comics are perfect objects that have been formed by combining the raw material of an individual’s (or group of them) vision with the machines of mass production (computers, these days). They’re able to (like other modern media) lack the Bodhidharma-style transmission of artistic consciousness “Art” traffics in and allow many people to have and enjoy the same content cheaply.”
Due to the internet visibility of artists at all moments in their careers, we are more aware of this in-between group of young artists, concurrently existing in all levels of art, & in turn the levels are more connected, regardless of said existing tensions. Artists emerging from the 90s Providence Fort Thunder junk-art-music-noise-space-universe like Brian Chippendale, Matt Brinkman, & arts collective Forcefield are a few examples using this new form of commercial art inspired neo(n)materialism in a way that has caught the eye of institutions such as the Whitney Biennial & new galleries. Vancouver-based artist Chris Von Szombathy utilizes cartoon, illustration & commercial vernacular to communicate severe & conceptual topics beyond what’s normally associated with their style. Austin English put together a show at Baltimore Open Space exhibiting young artists with comic-influence such as James Ulmer & Leif Low-Beer. Strange (reciprocal?) lateral appropriation (to borrow a term from Sean Joseph Patrick Carney) is happening between artists inside & outside of the comics world not only in places conducive to such activity like tumblr but also in the gallery space. All of these instances are notable because they are garnering attention while they are happening, while they are “contemporary” rather than after they have become art historical (the art world is not lacking in Gary Panter & R. Crumb shows).
There is much more to say & countless more artists to consider in the economy of aesthetics between the different classes of art. It brings to mind for example the many lives of anime character AnnLee traded between artists Pierre Huyghe & Philippe Parreno (her latest incarnation by Tino Seghal at the 2013 Frieze Art Fair, discussed here & many other places), the universe of fan art (recently considered here in Hyperallergic), “designer” vinyl toys & statues, & the time-based worlds of animation, photography, & film. The entirety of DisMagazine seems to be dedicated to promoting alternative use of commercial aesthetics.
I recently walked into a new-ish local gallery space called Beginnings in Brooklyn to find a show exhibiting 3 artists: a painter, a photographer, & a writer. The painter, Jamian Juliano-Villani immediately caught my eye as her work subscribed to a neon(n)materialist agenda, reappropriating known graphics like animation smear-frames & 70s illustrations by Moscoso with updated dayglo color schemes. The photographs, initially seeming unrelated, were by Jan Kempenaers & documented the abandoned Yugoslavian monuments to the socialist republic. This visual work was punctuated by framed essays referring to the rise & fall of democratic capitalism, written by Wolfgang Streeck, director of the Max Planck Institue for the Study of Societies (MPIfG), based in Cologne, Germany. The sheer variety of this show, while on second look (& after discussion with curator Matt Giordano) managing to be cohesive through the themes of ideological criticism, along with the newness of the gallery I think attests to novel locations in which commercial aesthetics can now comfortably exist & will appear more frequently in the future. Sternberg press, who published the original “What is Contemporary Art” e-flux edition from which I extracted the Boris Groys article quoted in the introductory paragraph recently posted on their tumblr an upcoming volume on “Altcomics.” All of this, while egos will never completely allow a true socialist art world, is evidence that surprising juxtapositions & convalescence of all three classes of art are becoming more possible & will bring artistic practice & hopefully also criticism to more audiences without losing conceptual value or legibility.
H. FAYE KAHN is a freelance animator in NYC & a free-format radio DJ at listener-sponsored WFMU in Jersey City, NJ. She resides in Brooklyn, NY & holds a BFA in Film/Animation/Video from Rhode Island School of Design.
1. Many thanks to Matt Giordano of Beginnings Gallery, Blaise Larmee, Jason Overby, Austin English, & Leah Wishnia for taking time to chat with me about these subjects & providing important examples. Thanks also to Chris Von Szombathy who discussed this with me about this at length in 2011.
2.© Murakami, Takashi Murakami: Company Man, by Scott Rothkopf pg. 137
Way to represent Sister! ALSO, AMANDA WAS IN THE GOD DAMN TIMES. (This is the second time. She is killing it.)
This week has been like a road trip through midwest; halfway through the week, I felt like I was taking a drive from Chicago, to Cleveland, arriving in Kansas City, and then Indianapolis — so many stops over such a vast (and flat) distance in a magical and illogical order; additional posts on more abstract ideas — performance archives, or The Cremaster Cycle, or even what the best size of a book might be — those seemed to mark the longer distances between destinations. Times when the radio wasn’t on particularly loud, and perhaps all of us passengers had emerged from a musing lull into dialogue.
It all began with a podcast interview with Chicago’s own William Pope.L, who’s show is currently on view at the Renaissance Society until June 23rd. The interview, conducted at the Three Arts Club discusses Pope.L’s RS exhibit and the performance — Pull: ”Non-stop from June 7-9, hundreds of Clevelanders will manually pull a truck across the city. Images collected from people across Cleveland– hopefully you included! — about the meaning of work in our lives will be projected from the truck as it is pulled through North Collinwood, Glenville, University Circle, Hough, AsiaTown and downtown; to West Park, Clark-Fulton and Ohio City.”
Jereiah Hildewine writes about watching the entire Cremaster Cycle, comparing it to other noteworthy cultural keystones including Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:
Just as nobody can remember that Star Trek 4 is called The Voyage Home (and consequently everyone calls it “The One With The Whales”), the weird sequencing and semi-narrative structure of the Cremaster films makes it hard to remember which one was which. The above-linked synopses will give you a long-form breakdown of what’s in each film, but if you’ve seen them and are having a hard time remembering which was which, here’s a quick guide in the form of suggested subtitles:
“There is not one way to know a performance work, there are many, and it is for that reason that the quality of performance is brought to light through the normalizing tendency of the archive.” Anthony Romero mulls over the authority that archives impose over collective experience, especially as it applies to performance:
The archives is a technology of bureaucracy. They are way stations for data and accumulated temporality, flattened proofs of the “official” experience. The system of the archive itself is responsible for this kind of alienation. Categories, decimal numbers, and white gloves are methods of sanitation that work to preserve the individual’s experience/state requirement. Once cataloged, memories of childhood, legal forms, receipts, and other accouterments are neatly laid beneath layers of fabric and cardboard. So precious are these relics that the archive must continually migrate them from one outmoded media to the next. The performance relic, however, subverts the safety of the archive.
Indianapolis is in the house. Which is to say poet and former resident of Chicago, Wendy Lee Spacek, is going to be posting about art events in her fine city over the course of the summer. This particular issue describes a number of cultural happenings, from poetry readings, to Mucca Pazza, to surreptitiously painted mail boxes. She also describes what sounds like an incredible show wherein a group of artists installed work in a long since abandoned Old Indianapolis City Hall:
The show was curated by graduation Herron Seniors Taryn Cassella, Anna Martinez and Andrea Townsend. Where TURF was an exhibition of installation art, VACANT included work across mediums. I especially enjoyed Jordan Ryan’s section off the main library detailing the history of the building.
Kansas City resident, Carolyn Okomo, started her guest series this week, publishing an interview she conducted with graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown. In her words:
Since self-publishing his wildly successful first novel Clumsy in 2002, he’s created numerous other painfully funny autobiographical comics, co-written the 2012 star-studded film Save the Date (starring Party Down’s Lizzy Caplan and Mad Men’sAlison Brie) and penned a hilarious series of graphic novels that explore the challenges of being both Darth Vader–ruler of the evil Sith empire–and a single dad.
Brown’s newest Star Wars-themed book Jedi Academy (out on Aug. 27), is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Roan and his adventures mastering the Force while juggling all the issues that come with being a middle schooler.
Jamilee Polson Lacy also writes from Kansas City, discussing her final project as Curator-in-Residence at the Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City. That project, rises Zora, is ”a multi-venue visual and performing arts exhibition, [that] explores Kansas City as an urban labyrinth” through a plethora of various artists and multi-media, multi-durational art works:
Theories of the labyrinth—and there are many which span the ages of Greek and Roman mythology to early Christianity, Karl Marx to Umberto Eco, Cervantes to Borges and Calvino—demonstrate the thing as both concept and literal form that ultimately represents time. The labyrinth is an infinite series of choices to be made through time and space, and we get to decide whether to be conscious of those choices or not. I think the city, which quite obviously mimics a literal labyrinth, presents a plethora of choices—some exciting and dangerous, some banal and commonplace—so it’s nearly impossible not to think of it as a conceptual labyrinth as well.
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Terri Griffith set out to write a book review of Hilton Kramer’s Abstraction and Utopia, and found herself discussing her appreciation for small-sized, intimate edition, including book in the 33 1/3 series:
Their smaller than average 5×7 size is cute as pie. The 33 1/3 series is published by Continuum and started in 2003 with Warren Zanes’ treatment of the 1969 classicDusty in Memphis, by Dusty Springfield. A few other notable recordings that undergo inspection are Aja, by Steely Dan; Swordfishtrombone, by Tom Waits; Marquee Moon, by Television. Seriously though, there are as of this writing 86 titles, so certainly there is something for everyone. Don’t expect a “making of.” These little gems are more essayistic and idiosyncratic than that. Check out Phillip Shaw’s treatment of Patty Smith’sHorses. It’s the first book of the series that I read, and it’s a delight.