I want to use the example of Jay-Z’s performance at Pace Chelsea last week as a case study for something more encompassing, without getting into all the details since it was meant as a location for a music video shoot and not as an art work. (At least, I’m hoping) So just as a recap: Jay-Z performed “Picasso Baby” from his new album “Magna Carta…Holy Grail” for six hours to a packed and rotating crowd of art world insiders, celebrities and fans last Wednesday.
A celebrity’s presence in our space, instead of the media version we tend to see them as confirms our own existence. At the same time, it complicates that existence. We are seen by those we have saw but here unto unseen by. I see (consume one’s image) therefore I am, but when I am seen, what am I? It is mindfuck of Turrell like proportions, as we lose our sense of up and down, left and right. We choke on our own vomit, we are paralyzed. In exchange, or maybe as a symbiotic response, we return them to a mediated image from our cellphone capture. Shrinking them to a 2.5” x 3.5” format, moving at a mere 16fps, they are more manageable as a digital apparition. With Jay-Z rapping in our face – a desire of many to be that close to a living legend, to be acknowledged by He who hath created the current state of Hip Hop – we are quickly overwhelmed, and thus respond with our cell phone’s sad idea of video to return to a sense of normality. It helps us relate to his intangible nature. It is in this way that we treat the celebrity both as a solar eclipse and a stripper at a gentlemen’s club. At at least one point during “Picasso Baby”, a tight circle forms around Jay-Z. We see his professional camera crew which is typically meant to be invisible. They are anything but in the many cell shots taken, reminding us that this is a planned operation, to be dissected and re-edited later. However, their visibility being an anomaly, suggests a future that is somewhat less imminent than the rapidity of the cell phone.
The shifting of time is the next big thing here, as the immediacy of cell video to internet upload has a tendency to further define the Present. This is congruent with the very sense of the 21st century that the Future is a finite entity, that one day, and one day soon, we will run out of Future. The speed of life itself is steadily increasing thanks to the plethora of communication technologies available, more immediate global awareness and the loss of physical frontiers and the tightening of borders. Every summer blockbuster movie (EVERY) of the last ten years has dealt with some sort of social horror of apocalyptic proportions or post human mutants, all of which signal a cataclysmic shift in life as we know it. THE END IS NEAR has returned to our minds (though it has rarely left us) with a vengeance and we are responding by trying to do as much as we can as fast as we can. And that means celebrities having completely proven themselves in one field must try other, usually related fields. (We will exclude Terminator X’s Ostrich Farm for this reason of “related”) For Jay-Z to stage a music video shoot as a performance in an art gallery is not a huge stretch, yet it is breaking new ground from the stand pint of those who were quick to critique it as art. Increasingly, there comes the Nike spirit of “Just Do It”, though oftentimes of DIY immediacy. (thats the cell phones, not a fully planned Jay -Z event). Complicating matters is the six hour duration of the performance. Somewhere in the preface of the “Performance Artist Handbook”, Jay must have read that 6 hours is the minimum duration of a performance work. At the same time, a music video shoot is an all day affair or more, and most galleries are open for about 6 hours in a day. BUT, looking at it through my single minded viewpoint, a 4 minute song performed repeatedly for 6 hours, starts to mess with our perception of time, by looping it, putting us in a casual Groundhog’s Day Lite scenario (if only Bill Murray was in the audience!) where we can start to see the future and we lose our sense of the past, ever so slightly, for as long as an audience member may choose to stay. We can clock time in 4 min. increments instead of seconds. And every moment sounds the same (looks different, but in a bare white walled gallery, not too much different). Stuck within a seemingly never ending 4 minute sequence, we have found a loophole in time, thus gaining an extra 5 hours and 56 minutes of life. What to do with this extra time? Upload crappy video from our cells to the internet and listen to the dumbest song of the summer seems to be the only option. Sounds like we’ve just entered purgatory.
I’d like to thank “A Private View: American Paintings from the Manoogian Collection” by Yale University Art Gallery and the Detroit Institute of the Arts for providing me with a surface to write on while preparing this text, as well as the ACTUAL audience members of Jay – Z’s performance for showing me in their YouTube video uploads that despite his admirably true giving to his audience, I didn’t miss anything.
You’re not likely to see a better display of the most important architecture and design of the 20th century anywhere else this summer, so the fact that Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America only focuses on what came out of post war MI is even more remarkable. Starting with Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s highly influential submissions for the Organic Design in Home Furnishings at MoMA in 1940, and ending with a recreation of a living space in Mies Van der Roe’s Lafayette Park in Detroit, there are few stones left unturned, yet the map and timeline in the North Gallery proves that so much editing still had to be done. Focusing primarily on the design and architecture, as well as the automotive industry from 1940 – 1970, MI Modern has original and reproductions of some of the most iconic furniture of the period, Herman Miller textiles of Alexander Girard and Ruth Adler – Schnee, advertisements for Steelcase, Herman Miller and others, and newly created and existing models of iconic buildings throughout Michigan. Encompassing most of the state including the U.P., with a symposium (June 13-16) touring iconic buildings in Broomfield Hills, Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan Modern is in many ways a summer blockbuster show, mimicking on a small scale the expansiveness of Documenta, but with everything homegrown. While considering all the Saarinen, Van der Roe, Kahn and Breuer contributions to the design and architectural legacy of Michigan, one sees how (again) much of America’s strength lies in immigration, but even more where unique timing, collaboration, forward thinking, talent and serendipity had a profound and lasting impact on the look and feel of modern America. It is our fortune that so many of these Architectural gems like Lafayette Park, the GM Tech Center, and St. Francis de Sales Church are here in Michigan. It is an exhibition that can keep rewarding the viewer all summer long, able to travel from one building to another at the best time of the year to do so. While they have always been sitting in plain site, MI Modern re emphasizes their importance and in doing so, presents them again to us as new.
Two complementary shows at Cranbrook Art Museum highlight the lasting influence of Cranbrook at this time in MI History. What to Paint and Why: Modern Painters at Cranbrook, 1936 – 1974, curated by Chad Alligood showcases paintings by alumni and faculty of Cranbrook Academy of Art, offering works that are both in line with and counter the prevailing movements of 20th century art. Likewise, A Driving force: Cranbrook and the Car, curated by Shoshana Resnikoff offers a rare look into Cranbrook’s influence in the auto industry, complete with a stunning and unique Rocket cycle car as well as designs by alum Suzanne Vanderbilt.
Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America is organized by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office in association with Cranbrook Art Museum and curated by Monica Ponce de Leon and Gregory Saldaña. On View at Cranbrook Art Museum until October 13, 2013.
Visit Cranbrook Art Museum’s website for more info: