I am about halfway through a two-week period of guest blogging on the Art21 site. It’s been fantastic. Suddenly I had an opportunity to engage 11 artists in conversation, asking them questions Iâ€™ve always wondered about. I began to see the possibility of an arc in the interviews. On the one hand each interview is independent, on the other there is a thread of interest that flows through each postÂ. I thought I could think through the progression here.
For the last couple years I’ve had a growing interest in celebrity culture. Not simply for its own sake, but rather as a particular reflection of the social structure in which we live, (i.e. post-industrial, capitalist America). Within that culture, celebrity provides a kind of apex or pinnacle of success. At one point, Young Joon Kwak equated them with the Greek Godsâ€”as though Marylyn Monroe serves a parallel, cultural purpose in America as Hera did in Greece. At the very least celebrity provides a model for success and recognition, a model that translates into other fields, particularly in the arts, where tokens of legitimacy are rather slippery to grasp. As people working in a field with no direct use-value, the translated monetary/cultural value of a given object is highly subjectiveâ€”something steeped in the momentum of the contemporary art dialectic. One way, then, to attain a sense of success is to become the famous Picasso, to be inducted into the Western Art canon. Or, the more immediate rock star artist option like, say, a Dash Snow type. Or, the shorter-lived 5 minutes of fameâ€¦”Even if youâ€™re a flash-in-the-pan artist,” I remember a professor telling a class, “even if you just get famous for 5 seconds, at least youÂ were famous. At leastÂ that one [painting] mattered. It’s better than nothing.” It’s the “nothing” that I’m interested in: the undefined, highly personal (and maybe less legitimate?) way of recognizing value in one’s work. Because I can’t define that “nothing” alternative, I’ve spent some time thinking through it’s dominant reflection: this whole Famous thing.
In lieu of those thoughts, I asked a series of artists to talk to me about their practices. I began with photographersÂ Melanie Schiff andÂ Jason Lazarus, asking about the gaze of the camera and how photographs memorialize events, or create opportunities to personalize mainstream culture. I then spoke toÂ Young Joon Kwak, about his strategies of assemblage as a means to avoid commodification (oddly enough, he was also a finalist in the infamousÂ SJP artist-reality-TV show), andÂ Irina Botea about reenactment, revolution and film. That first segment of my guest-blogging was about the camera, in some way, or about our relationship to the camera.
My subsequent conversation with Anne Elizabeth Moore functions like a bridgeâ€”her interest inÂ branding, for instance, crosses various mediums, even resisting the traditional “artist” label. She is a publisher, she is an educator and she also happens to make objects. All of her work is about self-empowerment in a context where that empowerment is difficult (if not, some might argue, impossible). Following Anne, I spoke with Brandon Alvendia who, like Moore, investigates self-publishing strategies. That is only one arm of his practice, however and working in different mediums, he locates “the art” primarily in himself. With Deb Sokolow, I asked about the characteristic second person pronoun throughout her workâ€”here I feel like the interview-gaze shifts from Alvendia’s “I” to Sokolow’s, perhaps more aggressive “You.” (Agressive in so far as the audience becomes complicit with her work by reading/engaging in it.) At this point, the interviews start to shift towards an investigation of structure. Tsherin Sherpa talks about his relationship to the history and rigor of Tibetan religious painting, and what it means to step outside of that. He offers interesting reflection on the self, how he negotiates it. Here too, in some way I was surprised that the conversation became about the â€œself.â€ That theme is predominant in these interviews, and though I hadnâ€™t anticipated it, it makes sense. After speaking to him, I interviewed Hiro Sakaguchi, Nadine Nakanishi and Ellen Rothenbergâ€”artists working in very different ways, I was nonetheless especially interested in talking to them about the structure of their work and the places they work within. Hiro works in a museum, paints and teaches, occupying many different scales at once. Nadine boast a pragmatic optimism, running a print shop, participating in a printerâ€™s guild and making her own work. Ellen takes advantage of overlooked portions of structure, in order to co-opt them for her own use. In all instances, the structure is both advantageous (in so far as it creates a context within which to work) and somewhat overbearing, insofar as it establishes standards and taboos. Ultimately I realized my thoughts about celebrity are really questions about structure.
Celebrity is a standard that reflects a structure, or style of thinking. The nothing, is the uncharted wilderness around that structure. Yet, that uncharted â€œwildernessâ€ is actually more real and more vibrant. It is a more familiar context, and in taking time to better consider it, I realize that the fairy tale â€œfameâ€ is actually the curious mistake. Because this whole gamut isnâ€™t really about fame, itâ€™s actually about doing good work, and thinking about the world with critical openness.
Inaugural exhibition at FireCat Projects (formerly Fitzpatrick’s working studio), featuring new works by Tony Fitzpatrick.
FireCat Projects is located at 2124 N. Damen Ave. Reception is Friday from 7-10pm.
Photographs by David A. Parker.
Kasia Kay Gallery is located at 215 N. Aberdeen St. Reception is Friday from 6-8pm
A solo exhibition of new works by the artist.
Western Exhibitions is located at 119 N. Peoria St. Reception is Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Hiba Ali, Natalie Brilmeyer, Woori Cho, Meg Dancy, Justus Harris, Walter Latimer, Kira Mardikes, Tilly Pelczar, Marie Socha and Vincent Uribe.
Note the new location: Pentagon is now located at 2655 W Homer St. Reception is Friday from 7-11pm.
Work by Samantha Bittman, James Cooper, Racer Levan, Montgomery Perry Smith and Leslie Supnet.
LVL3 is located at 1452 N Milwaukee Ave, 3. Reception is Saturday from 6-10pm.
Make sure and check out the Chicago Tribune today for an article about Deb Sokolow’s current residency project with Daniel Boone Elementary School, which is part of Chicago Public School’s “Crossroads” program. Sokolow is helping 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students create a wall mural that will become a permanent part of the school’s hallways. As is typical for Sokolow, the wall mural will contain a combination of text and images that tell the story of the school’s 80 year history in an idiosyncratic and detour-laden fashion, including, for example, an account of the 1932 murder of Mabel Chenoweth, a woman who owned a candy shop a block away from the school. Read more
Here’s our midweek summary of this n’ that and other chit-chat happening in the world of art and beyond.
*Was overzealous corporate art collecting partly to blame for Lehmann Bros. fall? Former Lehman trader Lawrence McDonald speculates that indeed, it was, in his new book about the investment behemoth. Artnet fleshes out the issue in its latest report.
*Bill Viola rejects Vatican’s invitation to a summit “aimed at bridging the gap that has developed between spirituality and artistic expression over the last century or so,” reportedly because Viola disagrees with many of the Catholic Church’s policies. No word yet on whether artist Robert Gober was invited, and if so, whether or not he’ll attend.
*If you haven’t already been following this issue, this L.A. Times article provides an excellent one-stop summary of the current controversy arising from the Obama administration’s alleged attempts to “politically manipulate” the NEA and, by extension, the arts communities it serves.
*Wanna know what the Art Institute is deaccessioning this Fall? Read Green’s roundup of what they’re hoping to sell, here.
*Four Andy Warhol prints of famous sports stars stolen from Richard Weisman’s L.A. Collection.
*Annie Leibovitz finally reaches an agreement with her creditors.
*Bob Dylan to exhibit nearly 100 of his paintings in a 2010 solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen. An example of Dylan’s work heads this post. How will they stack up to Joni’s, I wonder?
Hey look — a remake, or rather, a remix…or maybe it’s more like a reinterpretation…or an ‘enhancement’?? — of The Way in Which Things Operate, Deb Sokolow’s large-scale drawing that was recently exhibited at the Spertus Museum. Whatever you call it — I kinda like it! The video is nicely edited, the voice characterizations are silly and great, and it plays up some of the inherent cinematic qualities of Deb’s work. And of course, it was all done in fun, and with the artist’s permission — in fact, the guy behind it is none other than Deb’s cousin (who goes by the moniker Squirehogg on YouTube — sorry Sir, I couldn’t find your real name anywhere to credit ya properly!).
I love the idea of a family member being so inspired by Sokolow’s piece that he wanted to create an ancillary work to show how much he loved it. The audio track production reminds me a teeny bit of the hyped-up comic noir audio riffs Joe Frank was doing for So Cal’s KCRW way back in the day.