Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Politics and art, together again.

As I am about to leave town for some much-needed art-viewing, I am impressed by the political things being posted by friends and colleagues on-line.

A brief sampling from tonight:

Chicago-based critic Dan Wang's current Facebook pic--fantastic!

Image of an action by the Overhead Light Brigade, whose members traveled around Wisconsin, getting their message out despite the cold and abuse.

But the most important, sobering image that gets back to brass tacks?

So here you go, stats to refute the idiocy and divisiveness aimed at the Country's leader.

So as I head to Europe I look forward to hearing about someone else's politics because ours are depressing and mind-numblingly small. I look forward to seeing politicized art at Documenta and Manifesta, art that tackles the issues of today, issues other generations had explored and exploded--and perhaps artists will, again,  bring me some solace in this wacky world.

PS. Wisconsin--why have you failed us?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Proving the spring

Al photos courtesy the author.

The simple goal of this post is to prove that St. Louis has the best springtime landscape ever, anywhere.

A range of colors and shapes.

Upright habit, cascading habit.

Pinkish purple, purple pink, whitish yellow, yellowy orange.

We've got it all.

Dense and open, closed and pop-y.

And I'm allergic to every single one.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Armory Rush

Forrest Bess at the Whitney Biennial. All photos courtesy the author.

This Bess photo is a bit skewed because I had to snake around the clutch of folks crowding in on each of the works in this Bob Gober-curated show, the best part of the Biennial. Call me jaded: the objects were not as interesting as the performative gestures. Performa has done a great job pushing NY's museums into recognizing one of the most powerful motivating genres of the post-war period (a little late though, huh?)

Leonard Peltier, Horse Nation, 2011.

Paint-by-number? Native Nations activist / political prisoner Leonard Peltier's work was included in another artist's installation. Irregardless (yes, it's a legal word, look it up) of what the installation was, there was something sad and fierce about this work against the feigned faux works around it (except the Bess). The political bent of the Whitney was coming out--thank goodness. In the arts we've learned that being polite doesn't get us anything--look at how arts councils and tax deductions are being used as a punching bag at the state and federal levels--perhaps it's time to loot and burn, take no prisoners?

Kai Althoff.

I read the labels, I swear! Why did nothing stick? I liked the materials, scale and scope of this. It's an image for you to enjoy.

John Miller, Suburban Past Time, 2012.

John Miller at Metro Pictures investing the middlebrow culture of Middle America. Funny, biting, but you don't almost don't need art to point out the artifice of suburban lives, the tragedy writes itself!

Pae White at The Independents.

One of the best mobiles by Pae--the top of each element was mylar, reflecting the color materials above it. Glorious confusion and movement.

Why do fairs not put names / titles up? I see why galleries at The Independents don't--the space is too wacky, like a tricked out high school gym. There was energy, a crush and some excellent works. Bingo!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Beginning of Modern America

photo courtesy the author.

I'm reading Charles C. Mann's book 1491 (thanks to Sanjay Jain, who sent it to me after a very interesting discussion about an up-coming program at Laumeier).

This book is opening up my worldview about the dense, complex web of cultures that existed in the Americas before, during and after first contact. I'm just now reading about Atawallpa, the last Inka leader, whose empire was larger than that of China, the Ottomans and Russia at the time.

While Mann's ideas differ slightly from those of Jared Diamond, I am still shocked that I only heard of Atawallpa two years ago!

The first chapter of the book talked about the People of the Dawnland, Native Nations living on the Eastern seaboard who fought off snooping Europeans for decades, if not centuries. One false move, however, spelled the demise of the Dawnland peoples--due primarily to smallpox and other diseases, but finished off by guns and steel.

The image above is from Cook's baking store in West Allis, Wisconsin. The current story about the first Thanksgiving is not what we were taught in school--sadly, however, the axe seems the constant theme of the white invasion of the United States. No matter that Native Americans helped the Puritans survive, violence fueled by religious discrimination was never far behind a momentary detente.

What I love about the arts is that artists are constantly pushing at the boundaries of knowledge through their asking questions--and this type of tome--1491--fuels some of the most compelling artistic research in today's global cultural dialogue.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Photo by the author.

I am part of the 2011-2012 Focus St. Louis program, Leadership St. Louis [LSL]. (Thanks to Susan Barrett for sponsoring me in this great program!)

This weekend's topic was race--perfect timing given today is the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

Because of my generation's focus on multiculturalism in the arts, I have always been committed to foregrounding artists from diverse backgrounds, sexual orientation, etc... I suspect I have been most successful in looking for gender equality for obvious reasons, but that's no excuse, I can always work harder.

Perhaps it's from being from Canada, where being polite and non-confrontational are values I picked up, I've always felt uncomfortable with talking about certain issues, particularly race, except with Kevin and some other dear friends. At yesterday's LSL meeting all kinds of uncomfortable questions were asked and, as usual, I got a bit weepy at the injustice that still exists in our American culture (let's not get started on other parts of the world, shall we, and how sexism predominates in virtually every country since time immemorial!)

One exercise we did was add beads of different colors to a cup in response to answers. Most of the questions were based on working in a very big office (who is your boss, your direct supervisor, your work mentor, is technically one bead for me, and I only allowed each person one bead). The questions were less about our personal lives, but this is the diverse pool I came away with.

I got to participate in a real conversation about race in America with my smart African American, Asian and white colleagues in the LSL program, and a barrier has been broken for me. I'm planning on attending the MLK day event at Wash U tonight--not the best location, but it's the one I can attend.

This year I promise to be more broad in how I investigate issues of race and gender in my work.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guest Blog by Mike Cloud: Things seen and unseen

I was in Chicago a few weeks ago for Tony Tasset's opening at Kavi Gupta Gallery. At the dinner afterwards artists Mike Cloud and Doug Ischar and I stumbled upon the topic of "things-we've-seen-but-no-one-else-did."

My story was about the Milwaukee billboard that featured a plate of cheese, crackers and an apple with the caption below that read "Make a Cracker Happy." I didn't get it at first glance, but after Kevin insisted I re-read it, we laughed pretty hard about it. When we sought the billboard out again for me to photograph it a few weeks later--poof, gone. No trace of it on-line, no commentaries anywhere. A mirage--or a conspiracy?

All photos courtesy Mike Cloud, Chicago.

Mike Cloud related an event when he was a teen growing up in one of Chicago's western suburbs. The Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise near him introduced some decor and uniforms that were of kente cloth. The experiment lasted only a few weeks, and Mike has never met anyone who had a similar experience.

Mike submitted these images to illustrate, or amplify, his memories from that chimaera.

I take this picture to slyly suggest the cannibalism that goes on in most places on earth, or as a riff on the pejorative, plantation-style ripples that emanate out of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Then, of course, this image of two skeletons, intertwined in death, suggest that we are all linked. Perhaps Mike is suggestions that eating chicken is eating human flesh, or that cultural differences are as broad or as thin as we think they are. Were these two humans sacrificed for a religion, executed for adultery, or that they died of unknown complications? Like the kente cloth in a fast food restaurant, we may never know the answer to this mystery.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Orleans Redux

Jackson Square, New Orleans. All photos courtesy the author.

I just logged my fourth trip in two years to New Orleans to continue work on a series of projects linking St. Louis to New Orleans.

Freedom Ride. Image by Joe Baker.

I timed my visit to see the first three acts (the work awaits more funding to be completed) of Freedom Ride, an opera by Xavier University professor Dan Shore commissioned by friend and Longue Vue House and Gardens Director / Chief Curator Joe Baker. The Freedom Riders drove from Washington to New Orleans to defy the segregation of interstate transportation. Edith and Edgar Stern, founders of Longue Vue, hosted the group when they arrived in the South. Edith founded the opera program at Xavier, another elegant connection in this program.

The opera was magical, the powerful voices of the singers evoking the hope and anger of people soul-tired of waiting for their civil rights.

It is hard not to layer issues of race and class when visiting the South, particularly in this economic climate and post-Katrina. While not every artist needs to explore these issues, it's hard not to look for kernels of connection when viewing Prospect.2, which also opened the same weekend as the opera debut. Through reviews of friends who attended Prospect.1, and through the press I read, it sounded as if the first iteration had much more funding. Lack of funding, however, doesn't explain the problems I observed in Prospect.2.

Dan Tague, Crisis Car CC829, 2011.

Sadly, the worst of the installations were in two of the biggest institutions in town. At the Contemporary Art Center, where Prospect founder Dan Cameron used to work, was work by Dan Tague alongside some compelling works by local and international artists, but the whole experience felt disorganized and disgruntled.

I have not be impressed by the shows I've seen at the CAC--is it lack of will, lack of standards, lack of expertise? I am sure there was a lot of local anger at how diverse and global Prospect.1 was--does Prospect.2 suffer because Cameron was obliged to capitulate to local demands and sensibilities?

Jennifer Steinkamp at the New Orleans Art Museum.

Jennifer Steinkamp's haunting, moving trees in a niche at the top of the lobby stairs at NOMA was glorious--too bad the whole thing was washed out by the light of the lobby. The other works that hung on the lobby's walls felt like an after-thought, a concession NOMA made to Prospect.2 without truly giving over any real gallery space. Why wasn't the Odili Donald Odita mural that was going up by the cafe included in Prospect.2? It felt as if NOMA gave over its least art-appropriate space, and grudgingly at that, in order to be listed on the Prospect.2 letterhead.

Sophie Calle in the 1850 House in the Vieux Carre.

Works placed inside other types of institutions seemed to fare much better by being given a context within which to live. Sophie Calle's multi-room installation in the 1850 House put her self-involved stories into an historical space. But Calle's modern narcissism seemed rather trite alongside the issues of slavery, immigration and disease that are animated through the stories of the people who lived at the 1850 house.

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Man, 2010

Ragnar Kjartansson's video The Man was not commissioned by Prospect but was a 2010 collaboration between the artist and musician Pinetop Perkins, the last of the Delta Blues musicians. Was this location chosen as a subtle comment on the role of African Americans in driving the economy of the South, with the blues being subversive resistance of the economic exploitation suffered by African Americans? Subtle thinking indeed, but at least the work was lovely and haunting.

Nick Cave at the Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University.

Nick Cave and Joyce Scott were paired at the Newcomb Art Gallery, and although I am not interested in Scott's work and Cave's work speaks to me, there were enough interesting ways to think about the two that the pairing was not disheartening in the way some of the other group shows were.

Joyce Scott at the Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University.

Finally, one great public art piece I saw was Michel De Brion's work Majestic, curated and produced by The Third of May Arts, Inc., a Canadian producing collaboration.

Michel De Brion, Majestic, 2011.

De Brion used old New Orleans city lights to make this work parked under the shadow of the freeway overpass in the tangle of streets bisected by the badly designed freeways. Like a pick-up-jack, I thought about the dislocation and re-ordering of the landscape of New Orleans because of Katrina, and the ways in which the city continues to try to put itself back together again. This work was a lovely surprise, stuck, as it was, in this no-man's land.

What a tough balance Prospect.2 had to navigate--how to concentrate installations / art works so that more people can see them while allowing the type of commentary of engaged public art that gives relevance to a biennial in a place as complex and contested as New Orleans? Prospect.2 seems to have galvanized more local activity. I picked up the first issue of Catalogue, which listed the various galleries and public art works happening around town. Surely that alone is a good thing, giving voice to the non-institutional voices.

I am eager to see what the next version of Prospect will be if simply to see how new genre public art can re-invent itself at each iteration.