If youâ€™ve been reading my â€œCultural Divideâ€ contributions over the past several months, youâ€™ve gathered that I go to great lengths to try to deliver evenhanded criticism. So much so that a few have accused me of being an apologist for everything from hunting to performance art. My on-the-one-hand-on-the-otherness isnâ€™t a righteous stance of journalistic integrity but rather a reflection of a sincere belief that the terms of cultural difference in America stem from very basic misunderstandings about the structural composition of various cultures, which if inventoried, might bridge the widening divide.
An example: Many of my culturally agnostic New York friends adamantly oppose organized religion, yet they remain open to the most phantasmatic, shamanistic, quasi-religious conceptualism in the high cultural milieu. A Lutheran service severely disturbs their enlightened senses of rational propriety, but theyâ€™re more than happy to attempt the leap of faith needed to appreciate Richard Tuttle, Robert Wilson or Trisha Brown. Likewise, most of the parishioners at a Lutheran church in Wisconsin gladly throw their worldly faith behind a 2000 year-old fairy tale about a prophet conceived without intercourse, yet they walk into a contemporary art museum and feel a Duchampian readymade or a Specific Object by Donald Judd is part of a conspiracy dreamed up by cabals of elitist charlatans from Vassar trying to control their minds.
The two scenarios sound pretty similar to me.
The Lutheran church isnâ€™t as religious as many would have it.
The High Art world isnâ€™t as secular as many would have it.
Religion is culture. Culture is religion.
But none of that is my point. My point is that even though most of a particular cultureâ€™s eccentricities or attitudes can be written off to relativity, some canâ€™t.
My wife told me last week that I came down a little hard on the tapas bar in northern Wisconsin that served jalapeno poppers and truffled popcorn. She said it was a little snotty of me and that in the process I tipped my hand a little. Sometimes a guy has to pass some judgment.
On the flip side, for the past week New York Public Radio has been running a series of commercials whose appalling arrogance makes me embarrassed to have participated in their pledge drive. Itâ€™s the kind of navel-gazing, self-satisfied righteousness that turns people off to New Yorkers and their near monopoly on advanced culture. New Yorkers have taken the blind patronage by the rest of America for granted. Sold out Broadway theaters and stuffed contemporary art centers arenâ€™t a right, though. If New York dismisses everyone whose dinner conversations arenâ€™t about Philip Glass, people may stop making the trip. Instead of traveling to New York for its wealth of culture, theyâ€™ll stay home and invent their own, spreading praise amongst themselves. Ever wonder why NASCAR is the most popular sport in America?
As a cultural producer Iâ€™m not ready to completely alienate the 20 percent of the country who hasnâ€™t defected to NASCAR and Captain America. We, at least I, need the 60 million Americans who might rather go to a Dodgers game, but still begrudgingly visit LACMA like a good boy eating his Brussels sprouts.
So here it goes: 15-yard penalty on New York Public Radio for Unnecessary Smugness.
(The spots are read by Stanley Tucci)
“There are people who need you to explain things to them. They don’t understand about things like food co-ops and sleep deprivation in children.”
â€œThere are people who count on you to be witty, at least smart. They donâ€™t know what to think about Goldman Sachs or fracking in the Catskills. They expect you to tell them. And if you let them down, who knows what will happen to the worldâ€¦or at least New York, which for some people is the world. You owe it to them to listen to WNYC all the time, so please donâ€™t do a half-assed job, thatâ€™s not like you. WNYC. Never turn it off.â€
This week: David Salle! Great conversation. Listen. You. Now.
February 8, 2012 · Print This Article
This Friday, Steve Seeley’s painting show opens at RotofugiÂ (who not too long ago moved to Lincoln Park, so check the website for their new address if you’re unsure). Seeley’s figurative work often features the juxtaposition of human bodies and animal limbs, or heads. Sometimes alien parts make an appearance as well. He integrates old and new surfaces, incorporating the nostalgia of his childhood into a present assemblage. I grew more and more interested in something we didn’t talk about, namely the idea of the hero and how it charts through these visual, narrative landscapes. Seeley’s icons adopt the iconography of saints and superheros with all of the mystical proportions childhood bears with them.Â To re-erect and reexamine the Gods of childhood in effort, perhaps, to examine those ancient power structures. In Seeley’s case, they often become hybrid.
Caroline Picard:Â I’m really interested in the way you combine natural elements with mythical ones: for instance, the way your work often offers a kind of misty (and almost traditional-painterly) background with a vibrant superhero, or animal, alien or hybrid in the foreground. It kind of reminds me of old cartoons; in the Smurfs, for instance, you could tell the background was fixed to one surface, and moving figure(s) interacted on a clear gel over top. How did you come upon this strategy in your own work?Â
Steve Seeley:Â The backgrounds for me are definitely an homage to animation cels. I’m a child of the 80s and I grew up on cartoons; He-man, Thundercats, Thundarr, and the like, so that sort of nostalgic animation occupies a huge section of my creative mind.Â I started the “delicate matter” body of work in 2004 with the backgrounds being multi-layered and muted, almost ghost like, paintings, and at some point maybe three years ago, I transitioned to printed matter. I have always integrated things I collect into my work, I guess in a way bowing to my inner nerd. Thus the action figure-y, comic book-y and taxidermy look and feel. I also happen to collect antique chromolithographs. Mainly landscapes. So it was only natural for me to eventually Â incorporate/appropriate these into the work. The process involves buying a lithograph, scanning it in, messing around with it, and printing it out to paint on. By printing them out (opposed to painting directly on the print) I can control overall scale, color, direction and halftone size. And after all the other elements are painted, I get that stark dichotomy with the digital print and the paint, given that animated feel I grew up on.
CP:Â Your use of the bear, the deer, and the wolf feels very iconic, somehow, especially in those places where give your figures gold-plate halos. Can you talk about how your engage the animal world? Is the ram-figure any different from superman’s figure?Â
SS:Â Again, a great deal of my work ideas come from a nostalgia. The animals are a nod to growing up in the sticks of Wisconsin. I use animals that I used to see everyday (the deer and specific birds) as well as the animals my brothers and I feared when we played in the woods (the bear and wolves). I grew up in the super small town of Ringle which happened to be home to one of the largest wild dog packs in the state of Wisconsin. So I incorporate any number of dogs that I saw or that may have survived to be part of the wild pack (sorry chihuahua and pugs, I love ya but I you wouldn’t have made it).
As for the difference between man and animal, there isn’t a huge difference for me. In the “delicate matter” series, the story so far is that man has left earth for outer space because he becomes enamored with something he can’t comprehend, something that is entirely different from what he knows. He leaves earth on bad terms with the animals and while he is gone animals become what they were destined to be, a transformation per se, into heavy metal loving, super power using, pop culture loving creatures. When man gets to space he finds it to be less than he had hoped, and he tries to come back but the animals refuse. So man is stuck in space while animals take he’s place back on earth, essentially filling his old shoes, and becoming the new “man.”
There were a few years when I only painted animals (except in the “segue” paintings) but currently man has started to reappear. But only under the guise of a superhero since generally that means your true identity is hidden. Oh yeah and celebrities have always remained on earth, which is why the animals often chill with Miley Cyrus and let Sasha Grey ride around on their backs.
CP:Â At the same time, your figures are basically anatomically correct, and feature studied detail. Then of course there are places and points where you interrupt our expectations, creating a hole inside a bear’s chest for instance. Or giving a human torso a wolf head: how do these interruptions come about?
SS:Â The holes (along with the halos) are meant to lightly symbolize a religion, rather literally. The holes become an extreme stigmata of sorts. I am not necessarily a religious person but I am fascinated by what religion does to societies. It causes rifts and causes people to take sides, which can result in conflict… which is something for years I didn’t have in my paintings. Everything and everyone peacefully coexisted. It was thru adding the religious aspect that I was able to split the world I had created.
The head swapping was a way for me to even more-so humanize the animals. Initially all the human body, animal headed figures in my paintings were referred to as “saints”, figures that were idolized by the other animals and which usually also adorned halos. But once Saint Sasha Grey and Saint Cringer (from He-man) got introduced, I began to play with the animal headed figures as not only religious icons but also celebrity icons. For my upcoming show at Rotofugi there are 25 animal/alien/monster headed human figures all imagined as boxers or wrestlers.Â My intention is to make them a whole new breed of celebrity within the world they exist, at the same time causing additional rifts. Sport is such an easy way for people (or animals in this case) to turn on one another and choose sides.
see more of Seeley’s work by going here.
This just crossed our email inboxes, and we know Bad at Sports has more than a few listeners/readers who are going to be interested in submitting work to this competition. Note the deadline is coming up soon! So read on, and get those slides and jpegs in order.
New American PaintingsÂ 2012 Midwestern Competition
Deadline: 2.29.12 (Midnight EST)
Juror: Lisa D. Freiman, Senior Curator and Chair of the Department of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art
New American Paintings is a museum-quality, soft-cover art periodical, published bimonthly by The Open Studios Press. Each 184 page volume is a regional exhibition-in-print, selling for $20 at 1,500 bookstores, museum shops and art supply stores nationwide. The books have become periodical resources for collectors and art world professionals.
Competition winners retain all rights to their images and pay nothing to appear in New American Paintings.
Â Now accepting entries from:
IL, IN, IA, MI, MN, MO, OH, and WI
The competitionâ€™s 40 winners will appear in the Aug/Sept 2012 edition of New American Paintings.
Â All styles and media are welcome, as long as the work is singular and two-dimensional.
Â To Enter, visit:
For more details, visit:
Â Questions? Call 617.778.5265
This week: Living legend, innovator, visionary, Carolee Schneemann.
Working across a range of disciplines, including performance, video, installation, photography, text, and painting, the artist Carolee Schneemann has transformed contemporary discourse on the body, sexuality, and gender. During her recent visit to San Francisco, Schneemann participated in the November 30, 2011 panel discussion, â€œLooking at Men, Then and Nowâ€ [LINK:Â http://www.somarts.org/manasobject-closes/] at the Somarts SOMArts Culture Cultural Center, in San Francisco, in conjunction with the exhibition,Â Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze, in which she was also a featured artist. On December 2, 2011 Eli Ridgway Gallery hosted an evening in celebration of the recently publishedÂ Millennium Film Journal #54: “Focus on Carolee Schneemann.”Â Art Practicalâ€™sÂ Liz Glass and Kara Q. Smith had the opportunity to sit down with Schneemann in between the two events to speak with her about her work.
Carolee Schneemann [LINK:Â http://www.caroleeschneemann.com/index.html] has shown at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art; among many other institutions. Her writing is published widely, including inÂ Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle (ed. Kristine Stiles, Duke University Press, 2010) and Imaging Her Erotics: Essays, Interviews, Projects (MIT Press, 2002). She has taught at New York University, California Institute of the Arts, Bard College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Schneemann is the recipient of a 1999 Art Pace International Artist Residency, San Antonio, Texas; two Pollock-Krasner Foundation grants (1997, 1998); a 1993 Guggenheim Fellowship and a NationalEndowment for the Arts Fellowship. The retrospective of her work, Carolee Schneemann: Within and Beyond the Premises, is on view at the Henry Art Gallery, in Seattle, through December 30, 2011. [LINK:Â http://www.henryart.org/exhibitions]
An abridged transcript of this interview appears inÂ Art Practical’sÂ “Year in Conversation” issue, which you can see here:Â Â http://www.artpractical.com