Sunday, April 12, 2009

Serial Killers and the Artists Who Paint Them

This posting is dedicated to the Harvey Family, murdered in their home in Richmond, Virginia on New Year's Day 2006 and found by my drummer friend Johnny Hott later that day. The murderers were found later in Philadelphia, not serial killers but killers out on a "killing spree." Somehow this bothers me more than the term serial killers - which does at least recognize that this might be mechanical and under some kind of mechanism - its ryhme with shopping spree and "glee" is not something anyone who knows the Harveys finds easy to take.

I am preparing to write something about the Peter Saul retrospective I saw last fall in Philadelphia - I had been preparing to anyway but the linking of Oyvind Fahlstrom and Peter Saul's "refrigerator paintings" in the Hairy Who interviews, and a call to more politics in art, has brought me into something I would like to discuss at length - capital punishment, and two serial killer painters. I prefer Peter Saul because he is depicting capital punishment itself, to Joe Coleman, who I spent far too much time around when first moving here as my closest woman friend had published his Man of Sorrows book and was preparing a monograph with John Yau and Jim Jarmusch writing two of the three essays and some kind of documentary coming out. Coleman did and does have one of the world's most fascinating collections and interior design approach - although antithetical to what I had become interested in I probably would have enjoyed seeing it for the shock novelty value of the whole thing; however months of his monomaniacal approach to any social gathering was to focus on the serial killer stories and scenarios which were only a small portion of what he actually painted, simply because it was the surefire American popular fascination of choice and would draw a group audience around him every time. I knew that due to the burgeoning sales of the mass market paperback editions of serial killer true crime in bookstores I worked in when moving back from five years in France that this was a really amped and stepped up level of what had already been a US obsession; five years in another country makes one have a new set of lenses to view one's own culture with, and working in a general bookstore in a small city is the perfect way to get a handle on the zeitgeists in all the major areas of popular interest, and even current intellectual interpretation of same outside of the specialized academic world. True Crime, popular everywhere since Victorian England and the development of Scotland Yard, Poe's invention of the detective novel and other related genre fiction forms ongoing since the eighteenth century giving sweep, depth and color to the way journalists could "report" on news items in the same serial fashion Dickens and others were using in the serialized fiction in journals that fed into a more epic form of the novel. This in england and the US was eventually matched with what was happening in France, and Paris, and the unbelievable (to Anglophones) proliferation of journals, literary, specialized, academic, scientific, reviews, dailies (newspapers) and everything in between as free for all editorial combinations of possibilities in periodical print, with paying gigs for the well circulated for all writers engravers and illustrators - what a roadmap for all other Europeans to emulate coming from the French and English Empires who had evenly carved up the rest of the world as colonies. The French press was certainly not lacking in coverage of the most lurid and then inventive ways of reporting and describing it, and never even had the nascent goals of objective reporting that were counter to the days of yellow journalism and sensationalist New York newspapers. And conflicts of all kind of course were on the horizon, often the time that specifically lurid murders, crimes and such become obsessional to serve a well known psychological purpose to take the populace's minds off of impending breakouts of total warfare. (Alot of people forget that the World Wars were rooted in the nascent Prussian alliance with Austria and the idea that the 20th Century would be the "German Century" because Europe had been so focussed on itself for so long that it could not see the oncoming giants of the US and Russia as vast continents of unmined resources and populaces that the new idea of the nation state could harness in heretofore unknown things called "ideologies," making notions of inherited land, religion, and shared blood obsolete for that century, at least.)

It is interesting to differentiate, especially for furthering a discussion of the intersection of aesthetics and politics, between the notions of fairness, ethics, and justice, as the three ages of women and men. Especially as childhood is set primarily in the hands of women, as any boy chafing at female authority in the form of his mother reinforced by a phalanx of grandmothers, aunts, older sisters, nurses, nannies, babysitters and schoolteachers will tell you, for centuries,- and the increasing realization that the only fields still left of pure speculation on money that men seem to still have the compulsive obsessive lock on (we will leave out the porn industry as it is a discussion of children) and the other purely masculine domain of creative and scientific "genius" are passing away, - have passed away already for all but the delusional. Childhood itself is changing forever, but traditions of childhood also look like they will stay forever as well. So, childhood will always remain the realm of the notion of fairness, as we all want a beautiful world for our children and so try to instill it in their hearts. (That fathers want a secret rebellious streak and humor to work for a beautiful boy world under all the eagle eyed female supervision is fair, too - why I laughed when my single friend who works in animation told me he went to South Park and the whole theater was full of fathers who had clandestinely and deliciously taken their sons.)

School should then lay the map for the young adult's study of ethics, so that there can be a general understanding of underlying principles of commonly understood ethics and the legal ramifications - perhaps the reason for so many police, law and medical programs on popular television - the narratives of ethical dilemmas generate endlessly compelling underlying plot devices. Even the XFiles taking place in the FBI and has its allegories of trustworthiness and ethics - apparently all of this has an enormous pull on the American consciousness.

The nearly impossible part for a nation state such as ours is the notion of justice, as justice as opposed to ethics and fairness is meant to make absolute decisions of moral and immoral and mete out the absolutely stern and necessarily strict punishment, and this is nearly impossible anyway in a nation state founded on separation of church and state. A State that is based on elections and voting consensus cannot even pretend to have some higher order, and even if the truly secular moral thinkers do agree on an absolute wrong it is nearly impossible to apply the punishment as following somehow logically from the premise. If Americans starting at middle age could do the work of looking forward to their own absolute maturity and experience as elders instead of fearing the appearance of being "unhip" to children and youth and unattractive full stop, it would be easier to deal with the absolutely ad hoc in the most fearful sense nature of a world that actually gets tangled up permanently in ethics, - which is an endless argument between every single willful point of view in print or on television now collapsing from the notion that in the face of the international banking and financial class there was any difference between the Democratic and Republican parties - or European and American governments and their approach to any global problem at all. And I do mean global in both senses of the word.
The financial class had no notion of justice nor ethics because they had left behind the most basic of childhood precepts faced with children's decieving and cheating ways to get more than their share of absolutely everything - they hadn't even gotten some basic notions of fairness meant to be in the heart from childhood, in other words, so how could the young adult's serious and continuous study of ethics moving into the mature and elder adults' dawning wisdom about justice have a ground to take place? Hence the bubble bursting now is the biggest bubble of all, the beautiful world we had hoped for our children - but perhaps as it was culturally playing out it was not a beautiful world at all, and just a surface glamour with corruption underneath and the real beauty can start to come through, not based on enormous debt and consumer expectations.

So if Beauty is still the biggest debate in the Art World today, and I did read some of Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just, I would remind everyone of the double meaning of the word fair, that in the archaic world of children, is still used as in a Fair maiden or fair of face. I find Joe Coleman's work repulsive aesthetically, but also plain tedious, in the category of:

You don't need to put your hand in a bucket of tar to know it is black.

This was my response to my sculptor loftmate's question whether I would see the Chapman Brothers show years ago, and I have used it ever sense, If educated culture in this country means endlessly being pulled into discussions where one is supposed to show what side of some massively discussed popular topic whatever the subcategory of American people you find yourself in, I have discovered a tactic called a conversation stopper. I had to use one several nights ago with a jazz musician who wanted to talk about OJ Simpson and Ishmael Reed coming down on his innocence and tell me he knew OJ did it, and I said the same thing I came up with to avoid my father's penchant for bringing up loaded topics everytime he wanted just one person in his life he could redline with political rage - which he has maintained no matter where he has been on the political continuum which has gone from socialism to ibertarianism, if only in his own mind - "I wasn't there." I would like to use the banality of evil with certain topics, but with Coleman's work use the conversation stopper. Certain topics and artists, discussing them at all is doing too much service.

That is Joe Coleman's work.

The Immoral, Amoral and Moral

This Peter Saul painting I find fair in both senses of the word, because of the palette, the absolute novelty of his paintings as inventing with paint from that period, and the amorality of it all. The child's world, as the reformers never seem to know, is largely an amoral one. I just watched the documentary on the history of comics picking up with the invention of the comic book and the chilling speech of the man who brought down EC comics and all of its imitators and slapped the morality code on the comics for children ever after. In the documentary the speech is used to historical effect the first time and then for comic effect to close it, in the Marxian parable of the second time something comes back it is as farce. Humor is terror management for children who know above all else that they are small and defenseless - Peter Saul's work is humorously and comically in the world of the amoral, and don't we love no matter how old we are being back in that version of a catalyzingly safe world no matter what age. Terror management will never lose its use value as no one here gets out alive.

However, I did go down to hear a lecture given on Peter Saul when I had gone to Philadelphia to see the retrospective - and the galleries and the Quilt's of Gee's Bend and James Castle at the Philadelphia Museum - and the lecture framing Peter Saul's work was so demoralizing to me in its method of framing Saul's work as "moral" including a quote from that great liberator the Marquis de Sade (whose girl and boy servants all fled his home in the age that aristocrats could do anything they wanted to peasants and servant class as their was no court system there, and literary figures like Voltaire or famous alchemists like Castiglioni were apt to spend time in gaols as a ticket to world wide celebrity, so he used his tedious mind to come up with pages and pages of torture plotted along a mathematical grid of orifices and applications of torture to them. Any page of the 120 Days of Sodom makes Abu Graib look like the fraternity party antics the Republicans tried to insist it was; but never mind, I have never met anyone that has read his purported novels yet, only the received ideas of Breton Bataille and cie stemming from the ongoing French obsession with its own history with the Catholic Church.) The lecturer went on to describe the highly comic painting of a serial killer as the cold State murdering the passionate killer.

Stop right there! I too have seen Kubrick's Clockwork Orange but found just amorality and entertainment there, and yes art, but no moral lesson society can use. A reified State is what paranoids come up with, and since as a general rule men are from paranoid and women are from depressive, I would like to have a novel approach in the Art World to approaching the moral, as someone who has no problems with paranoia but as an archaic throwback to the woman as designated mourner. (There are more of us depressives around than you would think, its just that paranoids really are sure they are the ones that know the "facts" and therefore crowd the airwaves op/ed pages lecture halls and just about every forum one can imagine - well the way I have found as a depressive is to use my massive reading and different very slow yet unrelenting way of sorting information to confront these purported facts with knowledge.) This lack of paranoia is actually quite novel in an art world that has fed on pure adrenaline of one kind of another since the eighties in a country that has fed itself on adrenaline since the underlying paranoia of the fifties, but passion in its most important interpretation is pure pain and suffering, and that is for everyone who loved the murdered one who is left behind. The state can only mediate between the passions of the families and loved ones and communities permanently injured by murder of any kind. The different ways of mediating through the legal system as it has become is very long indeed now that only a few pockets of vigilante justice actually do occur in our average communities. This is the most armed and violent country on the planet not actually undergoing revolution or civil war, and even the perpetual war for perpetual peace that Noam Chomsky wrote about can redirect that focus outward anymore, so it is strange in a way that the Death Penalty has stayed a kind of nontopic for so long, as progressives and liberals such as myself have known we have been against it since adolescence and never given it another thought. Obviously the death of this family I had know fairly well has changed that forever, and my trips to Richmond show that this is thought about more than ever since the killers were found and have been on trial.

So, with the recession making everyone get more panicky and weird, it may be a time to cut through ethics discussions that can be endlessly bracketed, and discuss capital punishment, something that I have to finally think about rather than comfortably bracket just as everyone else. I am a liberal, I have been solidly against capital punishment since fifteen - although in college I did have a mad dog metaphor for killing serial killers, they had a disease beyond their brain's control and should just be shot. My roommate was the daughter of a college professor and merely got out her arsenal of purported logic, however before I even wrote the phrase "excessive rationality always leads to rationalization" had enough intimation of our country's law schools and their debate to win training that I do what I always did when confronted with debate team types who just want to play verbal tennis and win at all costs rather than hearing a point of view and considering it for learning and experience, and walked away.

I would say that capital punishment is not fair in the ultimate two wrongs do not make a right simple addition / subtraction metaphor used for children. But to make the world fair and honor the passions of those in pain and suffering, we all need to change some our truly childish lurid focus and become collectively designated mourners for the victims and all those interdependently suffering for them. I learned on New Year's Day of 2006 through a phone call of the death of a couple I knew as well as everyone nearly in Richmond, a once famous (-for-Richmond) rock star Brian Harvey whose first band I had covered in 1980 and his wife who ran the toy store that is still the best toy store I have ever been in to date. I called my friend Ainslee de Wolf in Los Angeles who sat in on their recording sessions and worked from her film experience on their video, and also my friend Katharine Gates who now lives in Westchester who did the Joe Coleman books with her imprint Gates of Heck, immediately after the news, as I am sure they called or emailed everyone they knew. I went to a funeral just a year later and someone said it was the Richmond 9/11, but the worst and most painful irony was seeing the oscar winning Capote film of the period in his life where he conceived of In Cold Blood. I don't know when we may grow up as a country and realize the most profound meaning of the banality of evil and become the designated mourners of the victims of murders doubtlessly harder to write but infinitely richer lives. I do hope someone could write a book on the Harvey Family, the stories of the entire Richmond community could fill volumes. I don't want to know anything about the murderers, they are banal and evil as it gets in a society constructed such as ours, but just talked to my closest friend about the ongoing legal system and its way of dealing with it and the continued discussion in Richmond, and neither of us find it in our hearts to have capital punishment and know that they will die.

However Peter Saul's paintings like this, as one gets older, remind me that humor is also anger management and grief management too. Temperamentally I lean to satire and black humor having no terror problems compared to the anger and grief I have as someone approaching the elder status I am looking forward to. I think the idea of hip after forty is absurd and a good way to turn oneself into a cartoon, and immoral as a simple way of never having to think anything through for the rest of one's life. The United States loves cartoons and comics too much to become a self destructive until the end one for the rest of the world to only gape at and go tribal or go down with. Time to make some decisions, if the art world is going to have anything to say to anyone outside of it.

The Harvey Family

The Harvey family
In the early afternoon of January 1, 2006, Kathryn, Bryan, Stella, and Ruby Harvey, a family of four, were found beaten, slashed and bound with electrical cord and tape in the basement of their burning house in the Woodland Heights district of Richmond, Virginia.
Kathryn Harvey, 39, was the co-owner of a popular local toy shop called "World of Mirth" in the Carytown district of Richmond, and the half-sister of actor Steven Culp. Bryan Harvey, 49, was an indie musician of note, a former member of House of Freaks, a two-man band who had recorded, performed and had a following of note in Los Angeles and college radio stations until both members decided to move back to Richmond. Their daughters Stella and Ruby were 9 and 4, respectively. Bryan and Kathryn died of blunt-force trauma to the head, Stella of smoke inhalation and blunt-force trauma to the head, and Ruby of stab wounds to her back, one of which punctured her lung. [6]
The Drive-by Truckers recorded a song about the Harveys for their album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark. The song , titled "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife," is sung from Bryan's point of view.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Oyvind Fahlstrom

I don't ordinarily like the politics behind Jed Perl's writing but there was one observation of his that had some general application, "young artists don't have influences as much as sources." This doesn't meant that young artists aren't inventive, it is just that I have many friends who are teachers that have said that when their students reinvent the wheel andthey as teachers point them towards older artists there is a new phenomenon of being shrugged off. This is not terrible - Marinetti and others wanted to burn the ground behind them - it may be though that there is not as much fervor for making it up on one's own as much as a simultaneously busy kaleidoscopic imagery yet lazy mindedness for students to confront head on later in life - right after school perhaps.

This is by no means limited to the visual arts - writers I have known are bewildered to find students writing something like Wallace Stevens for example never having heard of him much less read him, and so many other examples, the refrain is how does this happen? The teaching and scholarship of previous epochs made one incapable of being unaware of the existence of predecessors much less absolutely required to go into them and through them. My roommate came back from Yaddo years ago with a wellknown writer giving his novel to an an agent who found a publisher - I was living with him through every step of this exciting process -and then finally an editor who said "this book has so much of two of my favorite novels, Mrs. Bridge and Geek Love." Wesley had never read either, but I read his novel and recognized the vignette style of moving through a chronological time in truly compact and well written prose paragraphs isolated from each other in the page space from both Mrs. Bridge and the follow up Mr. Bridge quite well; we had all been so enthusiastic about these two novels by Evan S. Connell (and all the handsome paperbacks from the belated North Point Press also). That is a mystery how these things are in the air.
One time in Bruce Pearson's studio I was showing him my drawings and he looked at one and said it looked like his work, and I said they were redrawings of Arp forms with the aboriginal radiating lines surrounding, and added, alot of times when we think we are pulling things from thin air we find the air is very thick.

It is an interesting time when the young no longer feel that they have to eat the father, as they are quite content absentmindedly snacking on him.

I had read somewhere that Robert Storr had said now would be a good time for students to reconsider working with politics. The main thing about refamiliarizing myself with Oyvind Fahlstrom on the website of his foundation (a trip to the Strand yesterday to buy the large monograph that I had been meaning to before starting the whole Cabinet of Cabarets endeavor was gone) is how much his early fifties working a codex book form is this very sweeping cinematic doodling and abstraction from page to page, so familiar to so much going on with younger artists now; and then his incredible range of activities, listed in the bio below. I didn't know he had written so much poetry and that he wrote an influential essay about concrete poetry - the article on his poetics on the website begins with a quote from Charles Bernstein (who is a compelling performer in the Futurist MoMA event from February 9th further down on this blog); I do intend to have a lot more on poetry eventually and have to study this aspect of Fahlstrom further. There is also the film work, the early days as a political commentator and journalist, and the plays...but the main thing is the political depth and breadth of research behind his work and how plain exciting, formalistically far ranging, pop and yet elegant his work always is - and there are many times he goes more in the direction of being more abstract and formally inventive as well.

For now I find some of his work so familiar to some of what younger artists are doing, but they are doing it without the political knowledge, or desire to weave it in as content. There could be no better artist to look into at the moment for lessons in form and content and attention to global events I can imagine. He certainly was an influence on a good friend of mine Lisa Austin who went to Yale to get her MFA in 1982, (she is still making work but never moved to New York as someone who got a job teaching art far from the center) and much under discussion at the time with so many of the sculpture students I knew in the late seventies and early eighties. It really is a loss that Oyvind Fahlstrom died so young - there was a roadmap for a continued life's work here in every direction while staying absolutely necessary to an understanding of US and European hegemony and its complicated interplay. In his maps, monopoly boards, and vast information filled puzzles, it would seem that many artists I do admire who work(ed) well with political events or economic diagrams or so on have only picked up on one or a few parts of the puzzle of his vast tracking and vision. Many of these artists are (were) late bloomers or had a long time underknown or underground and so are my age or older on top of that. When the backlash hit Identity Politics and other politics in the midnineties, it hit very hard right at a time where students couldn't really afford to think about their awful tuition and debt burdens not paying off with galleries and collectors or grants and commissions one day. We paid twelve to eighteen dollars a credit hour when we went to school in my day, only the unbelievably rich kids had credit cards and cars while we had bounced checks and bicycles - but we were free, in ways no student after the college loan and credit card epoch could possibly imagine. I never got a credit card and came back from France, which was a nation of national health care and savings accounts (met people with the new debit cards but never credit cards outside of a certain demographic. The Europeans had never believed the stock market anything for anyone outside of the casino class. It is too bad they didn't know what their banking and financial class had been up to. Paper money only is one thing in the end - it is promissory notes from banks backed up by a nation state's federal reserves and taxpayer monies. This is not socialism versus global capitalism, it is the difference between fictional money and something that could be proven to be a nonfiction!

We are now printing new money and bailing out trillions that should have been revealed as fiction in the first place on some impossibly brighter future, - this is the first generation actually to increasingly eat their young with each passing decade even while throwing way too much at them from the time they are born giving them no training in temperance or saving or tools for survival - in a complete reversal of Freud's little fable used for an art world parable above. I had seen the US as increasingly financially delusional with every passing year back from Europe, and that was not subject to left or right politics because absolutely no one was tracking deregulation or economics with any common sense whatsoever - there was always such a host of issues that could be endlessly discussed and argued about that seemed more important at the time.

Please look into Fahlstrom's monopoly game boards on his website - he would have certainly been of utmost help at this time and perhaps there is an artist out there who can pick up the baton. Mark Lombardi certainly was tracking money changing hands but not perhaps aware of this overall attempt at a New World Order that was no order at all, there is no pattern and order in a global capitalism become a giant casino that was not even entertaining but purely predatory and vicious. In an article on Gagosian Peter Scheljdahl describes this infamous dealer as both a genius and a shark. Really - the shark is the lowest form of prehistoric intelligence and so maladaptive that if it stops swimming forward it dies. So many American people, museums, universities, institutions think that if they stop expanding, making ever more money, getting ever more publicity, they will die. It is time to let them shrink back into something more rational, to the size they were before they had CEOS and presidents perched like ticks feeding off the entire enterpise, and before they were grown like the little sponge toys that start out tiny and become dinosaurs by being flooded with magic grow water in the form of fictional liquidity. And there have to be more real deaths allowed as a lesson - perhaps Parsons School of Art should just melt down altogether, for just one Art World metaphor.

If there often is one marker artist for a time we are in, Oyvind Fahlstrom is the one for the times we are in now. But then he always was in his own time.

Öyvind Axel Christian Fahlström was born Brazilian on the 28th of December in Sáo Paulo, the only child of Frithjof Fahlström, born in Trondheim, Norway, in 1886, and Karin Fahlström, nèe Kronvall, born in Stockholm in 1900. He spends his childhood in Sáo Paulo, Niteroi and Rio de Janeiro and is educated in Portugese and English at Escola Britannica de Sáo Paulo.

In July, at the age of ten-and-a-half, he is sent to Sweden to spend the summer with his maternal grandfather and aunt. A month after his arrival in Stockholm, Germany invaded Poland. Now stranded by the outbreak of World War II, he is enrolled mid-September in Whitlockska Samskolan, a private school for foreign students in Stockholm.

His parents return to Stockholm, by which time he is an adult. After graduating at the top of his class in June, he is forced to choose between Brazilian and Swedish compulsory military service. He elects to become a Swedish citizen and relinquishes his Brazilian passport.

Classical studies and art history at the University of Stockholm. Travels to Paris and Italy meeting other poets and painters.

Theatre and poetry, journalism, criticism, translations. Contributes regularly to the Swedish press on cultural topics, both local and foreign, a role he will perform the rest of his life. Divides his time between Stockholm, Paris, and Rome.

Produces Opera, a room-sized drawing using felt-pen.
Marries Birgitta Tamm.

Solo exhibition at Galleria Numero, Florence (shows Opera). Writes Hätila ragulpr på fåtskliaben: manifest för konkret poesi (Hipy Papy Bthuthdth Thuthda Bthuthdy: Manifesto for Concrete Poetry), which is published in 1954.

Produces Ade-Ledic-Nander I and II, which are part of a planned series of "character-form" paintings. Writes twenty-seven page scenario for the second painting.
Separates from Birgitta Tamm.

Joins the Phases movement. Opera shown at Galerie Creuze, Paris. Solo exhibition at Galerie Aesthetica, Stockholm.

Every second Saturday hosts an open studio.

Contract with Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris. Participates in the Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture at the Carnegie Institute of Art. Scholarship for study in Italy.
Divorces Birgitta Tamm.

Solo exhibition at Galerie Daniel Cordier and at Galerie Blanche, Stockholm. Honorable mention for Ade-Ledic-Nander II at the 5th Bienal de Sáo Paulo.

Scholarship for study in France.
Marries Barbro Östlihn.

Grant from the Swedish-American Foundation to live in New York. Moves into the 128 Front Street studio formerly occupied by Robert Rauschenberg. Jasper Johns lives in the same building. Henceforth he lives and works in New York, spending summers in Sweden, France and Italy. Begins the Sitting… series.

First variable painting, Sitting… Six months later. Solo exhibition at Galerie Daniel Cordier. Participates in New Realists exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.

Happenings at Moderna Museet, Stockholm and on Swedish television. Publishes the word-game Minneslista för Dr. Schweitzer's sista uppdrag [Checklist for Dr. Schweitzer's Last Mission]. Fåglar i Sverige [Birds in Sweden], a "tape-event", is broadcast by Swedish radio.

Writes the plays Hammarskjöld om Gud [Hammarskjold on God], which is staged at Pistolteatern, Stockholm in 1966, directed by Sören Brunes, and Bröderna Strindberg [The Strindberg Brothers]. Represented by Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.

Den helige Torsten Nilsson [Holy Torsten Nilsson], a five-hour audiphonic novel, is broadcast by Swedish radio. First variable multiples, Eddie (Sylvie's Brother) in the Desert and a banner, Send Me Back to Congo. Represents Sweden at the XXXIII Venice Biennale (the most important work is Dr. Schweitzer's Last Mission, 1964-1966). Performance of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine for 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering organized by Experiments in Art and Technology at the 26th Street Armory, New York. Roulette, his first painting in oil on photo paper is shown in Erotic Art at Sidney Janis Gallery. Bord (poems 1952-55) published by Bonniers, Stockholm. The Strindberg Brothers is translated to French.
Mao-Bob Hope-March (black and white, 16 mm) using material from Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.

Writes the play Oswald kommer tillbaka [Oswald Comes Back]. Solo exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York. Produces his first work in which the oil on photo paper on vinyl elements float on water (Parkland Memorial). Version of Kisses Sweeter Than Wine broadcast on Swedish radio. Monograph published by Bonniers, Stockholm. Participates in towards a cold poetic image, Galleria Schwarz, Milan; Pictures to be Read/Poetry to be Seen, the inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

Makes two documentaries in New York for Swedish television about the anti-war movement amongst other things (black and white, 16 mm).The Strindberg Brothers is staged in New York during the summer at the Gotham Art Theatre by Michael Abrams. Finishes the play Förlåt Hitler [Forgive Hitler]. Bonniers publishes Den helige Torsten Nilsson in book form. Eddie (Sylvie's Brother) in the Desert... Collage is donated to The Museum of Modern Art, New York in the Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. Takes part in IV Documenta Kassel. Makes a thirty minute film, U-Barn (black and white and color, 35 mm). Retrospective exhibition in Pentacle, Musèe des Arts Dècoratifs, Paris, includes The Little General (Pinball Machine).

Solo exhibitions at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York and Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne. Travelling retrospective organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Writes the screenplay for a feature film (old-age love story and revolt in a psychiatric hospital). Makes Meatball Curtain (for R. Crumb) for Art and Technology at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Begins filming Du Gamla Du Fria (100 minutes, color, 35 mm).

Solo exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.

Cellen [The Cell], a radio theatre collage for Swedish radio based on interviews with cancer patients. Du Gamla Du Fria [Provocation] is shown at the Venice Film Festival. Self-publishes Sketch for World Map Part I (Americas, Pacific) which is distributed in the May issue of the New Left journal, Liberated Guardian, in an edition of 7000 copies. World Bank is selected for the New York Collection for Stockholm, an American gift to Moderna Museet. $108 Bill is published by E.A.T. in two editions: as a silkscreen print and as a lithograph.
Writes the play Dromdjuret [The Dream Animal].

Solo exhibition at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York. Writes the play The Black Room, based on the Watergate scandal. Retrospective at Moore College of Art Gallery, Philadelphia. Sketch for "World Map", is published as a silkscreen print by Avery, Kenner and Weiner, Inc. to benefit the Youth International Party.

Retrospective at the University of Wisconsin, Foster Gallery, Eau Claire. Solo exhibitions at Galerie Buchholz, Munich, and Galleria Multhipla, Milan. Die Zeit publishes an article and a silkscreen print, Column No. 4 (IB Affair). Retrospective portfolio of ten silkscreen prints published by Edizioni Multhipla, Milan. Prize for the silkscreen print, Seven S.O.M.B.A. Elements, at The 9th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo.

Solo exhibition at Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris. The exhibition Let's Mix All Feelings Together - Baruchello, Erró, Fahlström, Liebig is shown in museums in Munich, Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Paris, Rennes, Humlebaek, etc. A Proposito del Mulino Stucky for the Venice Biennale. Filming of documentary on Fahlström begins (Jan Sundström, director). Begins writing play interlocking events from the life of Wilhelm Reich with scenes from the television serial, Blondie.
Separates from Barbro Östlihn, to live with Sharon Avery.

Prepares to live and work in Paris for a year. Participates in Drawing Now, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, which travels internationally. Solo exhibitions at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York and Galerie Ahlner, Stockholm. Catalogue raisonnè on his prints and multiples is completed by Sharon Avery. Éditions Maeght publishes Nights, Winters,Years (Words by Justin Hayward) in the series, Affiches (an artist-writer collaboration). Monograph published by Edizioni Multhipla, Milan (essays by Achille Bonito Oliva, Laszlo Glozer, Olle Granath, Öyvind Fahlström). Completes plans for Three Nightmares, a pool installation commissioned by Renault, Paris. Documentary on Fahlström aired on Swedish television. Elements from "Masses" and Sixteen Elements for "Chile I" prepared for publication by Gino Di Maggio and Sharon Avery. Reworks Night Music 4: Protein Race Scenario into eleven panels.
Divorces Barbro Östlihn.
An exploratory operation in mid-September reveals colon cancer metastacized to the liver which is untreatable.
Marries Sharon Avery.
Dies on the 9th of November in Stockholm.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hairy Who, Oyvind Fahlstrom and Installation

There is an essay to be written about installation I would like to do starting with the Salon des Incoherentes in 1870s Paris, but I am not inclined to do it now, just that here are two important installations by the Hairy Who from the late sixties and one by Oyvind Fahlstrom from 1964: certainly these two would be part of my timeline of installation ideas for exhibitions in an essay I do hope one day to tackle. (Different from installation art, which has become a genre). I am someone who loves to research things - the amount of reading I have done and things I have discovered for posting has been rewarding in ways I couldn't have imagined even as someone who has done this in a less focussed way all of my life.

I am going to use this opportunity to quote from Dan Nadel's interviews mentioned before in The Ganzfeld, where he asks certain members if they were influenced by H. C. Westermann, but more interestingly, Oyvind Fahlstrom and Peter Saul. The reflections on Saul I am going to record along with some postings on his work quite presently, having seen the small retrospective in Philadelphia (perhaps awaiting the big one) and his two shows in Chelsea at George Adams and Nolan last week - however, with Oyvind Fahlstrom it has been a shock continually to me how underknown he continues to be in the last few decades, even given his early death in 1975. I had too many artists I knew so thrilled with Inka Essenhigh's early work, and so unwilling to listen to my version of it - which I pointed out as bits of bodies and figuration straight out of early days of Metal Hurlant magazine (first imported to the US in the seventies under the name Heavy Metal). These are artists I could name if someone handed me the issues from my trace memories of looking at it myself. Her later work in fact has never gotten past this rendering style based on at most two maybe three of these French comics artists, and in fact only developed into some large scale tableaux images with all the implied motion frozen in the center, still sticking with the basic thematics of comic book genre, while her color sensibility is just monochrome grisaille composition with various colors replacing the grey. The first work of Essenhigh's had body parts and figurative elements strewn on a nearly John McCracken finished rectangle making me imagine them on a car hood. So I would try to tell everyone she should look at Oyvind Fahlstrom after this initial description and no one knew who he was.

Finally, working at Hacker Art Books about six years ago I was talking to my friend and coworker Hector Romero about what Inka Essenhigh's work could be like if she looked at Oyvind Fahlstrom and we pulled out a monograph and found we had both been fascinated with Fahlstrom's work from some complimentary directions, especially the political. Hector is the same age as the others I had been talking to, that is roughly ten years younger or a little more than me - I am fifty this year so this was when I was forty and they were thirty about ten years ago. Hector was different - working full time at Hacker's Art Books and now the Strand in the art department is a continuing education unlike any other - he helped me find the Assemblage book I needed for this forum when working on the Ad Hoc Shop. Hector Romero has a website and I recommend his drawings having seen them in his studio and now on this site, and any questions about Art Books he is a very good source in the Strand Art Department.

It is such a pleasure to segue in music fashion from the Hairy Who into Oyvind Fahlstrom as a next posting tomorrow through the graces of Dan Nadel's interview; here are their views on Fahlstrom and what he meant to them at the time:

Jim Nutt: "I don't know when I became aware of Fahlstrom, but it was from reproductions, since none of it showed up in Chicago until 1967 at the opening show at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I remember liking what I saw right away. At some point he visited the Art Institute of Chicago and he asked to see the Hairy Who show up at the time (maybe the '68 show).
For the life of me, I can't remember why I didn't go hear his lecture (I was out of school at the time), unless I have misremembered and he came after we were on the west coast (...) In any case, Whitney [Halstead] reported that he looked very carefully at the show, liked what he saw but never cracked a smile. (Perhaps he was very polite and thought it bad form to say anything negative under the circumstances.) He was apparently a very serious person."

Gladys Nilsson: "I always liked the idea of the Fahlstrom magnetic stuff: game boards thst the viewer (owner) could fool around and play with. What fun, and fun is good. Comedy is good."

These are badly scanned images of several installations the Hairy Who did including a show at the Corcoran at top left of the second image, and a photograph of Karl Wirsum playing with Claude Nutt next to Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt.
The installation by Fahlstrom from 1964 is still so elegant and radical it floors me. I can't get over looking at these three images and apologies for the scanning quality. Absolutely anyone interested in the Hairy Who should buy this issue of the Ganzfeld right away. Gabriel, the owner of Desert Island Books (who pointed this issue out to me) and I were wondering why there has not been a book yet, perhaps Dan Nadel will do one.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gladys Nilsson

From one of Gladys Nilsson's latest press releases for an exhibition in Chicago just two years ago:

"Whimsical" is the term probably most often used to describe Nilsson's watercolor paintings and the artist enjoys a good pun, visual or verbal. Her figures have gangly, limp-noodle-like arms and legs. They are gawky yet graceful. And Nilsson's subjects are ordinary but at the same time serve to effectively represent basic human feelings and interactions. Her compositions always involve humor or irony, and the artist frequently makes fun of herself. As put by the Tory Folliard Gallery about Nilsson, "each work of art celebrates the artist's unending curiosity for human behavior: rituals of courtship, gastronomic delights, and narcissistic passions."

In the 1960s Nilsson was a founding member of the "Hairy Who," a group of artists who also came to be known as the Chicago Imagists and the Monster Roster. Although acknowledging the significance of being identified as a member of the Chicago Imagists, Nilsson has said that she prefers to think of herself as an individual, not as part of a group or movement. Since the '60s Nilsson has gone on to exhibit in over 200 solo exhibitions and 400 group shows, including at the Smithsonian Institution (Washington D.C.), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York City), Los Angeles County Museum, The Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), Institute of Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans), James Mayor Gallery (London, England), and San Francisco Museum of Art.

For younger audiences Nilsson might better be known as the artist who did the drawing found on the inside of the CD cover for Wilco's release "A Ghost Is Born" and for her interview which is included in The Wilco Book.

I have added a CD cover by my friend Michael Hurley, who had been drawing comics with his older sister who taught him to draw and then kept it up for life, and who is a cult figure amongst the current revival of "freak folk" musicians, because his drawings and paintings remind me in source and in spirit of one of the ways Gladys Nilsson has painted and rendered - she has several, and has kept them all going, since the beginning. An unrecognized prolific and reverie inducing, yet thoroughly idiosyncratic painter. I have had so many discussions lately about how little artists are really allowed to be idiosyncratic, in the deepest sense of the word, in the new pluralistic yet thoroughly taxonomic art world we are in. As if idiosyncratic making - and the being and existence it springs from - have nothing to do with originality. Which was the original Modernist project, after all.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Suellen Rocca

The current issue of the Ganzfeld has a long reportage article mainly consisting of interviews with Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Art Green, Suellen Rocca and Karl Wirsum, titled the Hairy Who's History of the Hairy Who, by Don Nadel. There are for the first time in print photographs of their famous installation in 1968 exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, where my friends and I had famously communicated by word of mouth things read about the kitschy wallpaper backdrop to the paintings, the comic books, the pricing, and all kinds of subversions to the art world exhibition and marketing and High and Fine art as usual. So amazing after all these years to see the actual photographs of something we were so much fans of in Richmond, Virginia in the late seventies and early eighties. We were enrolled in various art departments at Virginia Commonwealth University, and inspired by the Chicago artists' exhibitions in the late sixties that we tried so hard to envision.

The interviews clear up some disinformation that I remember hearing right at the time - especially the legend that they named themselves like a rock band. However, that was a legend we could use at the time; having thrown ourselves at some point in the late seventies into all things new wave and punk, and John Waters films and Bruce Conners' film for Devo's Satisfaction. In the graphic design courses I was taking we went from teachers imposing Helvetica and Swiss International Design as they had for several decades against all rock poster and pop influences from any direction whatsoever, to April Greiman, Wet Magazine (the Magazine of Gourmet Bathing) and all things in the New Wave design, in just one year - 1977 was the first and 1978 was the second. It blew both the faculty and students wide open forever, to all the neo-constructivism or historical influences from the past, and all innovative new trends for the future. This made it all exciting in a way that only precomputer design trained graphic designers could possibly understand; but it was something happening also in all the arts and in music and culturally all over - the opening back up of the past as an incredible stomping ground for re -envisioning and reinterpretation against an outmoded ever "progressive" future, simultaneous with a future made more exciting and freestyle by throwing off entrenched and petrified ideas of this progressive future dating to the forties, fifties and sixties by this time.

All of the East Village nascent scene, and its sources in the Secret History of Pop painters Peter Saul & Oyvind Fahlstrom, Bad Painting, what came to be called New Image Painting, Funk Art, Mail Art, and Chicago Imagism burst into the VCU Painting Department at this time which had been dominated by two more conceptually bent Photorealists and four Triumph of American Painting text and role model driven abstract painters. The students organized a show with the excellent title The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and in this well hung and packed (in all three senses of the word) exhibition, these rebellious undercurrents were in full force.

I had just joined the college newspaper and reviewed every band in Richmond I had seen and had enough musicians I had hung around with to know quite a lot about the talk style of bands. The story of how they ended up with the name of the exhibition in the interviews in the Ganzfeld does clear up how they named the exhibition itself and ended up sticking with the moniker and it was not like a rock band in conception, but the conversational style they described amongst each other and the "aha" moment with Karl Wirsum and the others is similar to how bands spend so much time hanging and talking and develop an enormous amount of inside humor, and even how they grope for a good name and have a narrative of how they finally found it. So our original inspiration of a group of artists that band together in a way musicians have for so very long had a kind of verity of its own, this still remains a singular instance of visual artists bonding and presumably with this issue of the Ganzfeld and their continued base in Chicago and contac with each other, for life.

As we were all listening to and dancing to and going to see local and touring versions of this new music we loved the idea of a group of artists hanging out together like a band and working with a shared sensibility but mastering their own instruments and voice, as a great metaphor for drawing and painting - and friendship. The art director of the college newspaper was a painter but two of us were from the CA & D department - Dale and Ronnie were actually roommates and we did all the grafix and comix mainly with just a few others let in. ronnie was black and this makes me laugh as a kind of grafix takeover of the newspaper version of the Mod Squad. Ronnie and I were in CA we had friends studying animation and the comic art fervor was actually in courses like a History of Animated film Shorts class I took, and Dale was doing paintings that were rather like Peter Saul's palette reinterpreting Picabia, but that was the core of the three of us as Hairy Who fan club central in Richmond, and for me the fact that Suellen Rocca and Gladys Nilsson were integral members from the start was the really amazing and inspiring thing.

Suellen Rocca is the only one to start off her interview saying the single most important influence on her was Ray Yoshida. (Please scroll down and see the postings on Ray Yoshida, Joseph Yoakum and Hawaii for an important footnote to this, in my life as an artist, but for anyone with in depth curiosity and interest about Chicago Art, starting with the Monster Roster and ongoing.) After telling Mr. Nadel that her parents were both jewellers, she said she was really interested in the catalogues and the illustrations and pictures of jewelry, and catalogues from Sears of bras and girdles, and then Kindergarten readers, so she would have all these sources of fascination with childhood looking and reverie on her studio walls.

The first two images are from her work that I remember, as are the reproductions in the Ganzfeld; the last one is her newest work which has something that reminds me of Rosenquist as in the first block of Art Green's below, but has still a lot of her image repertoire - it is hard with both Art Green and Suellen Rocca to see their work without removing the lens of attachment and nostalgia to the old work. This is always a process with nearly everyone as it is hard to be flooded with enthusiasm the way one was in youth, but as an artist there are imperatives involved when work changes this much and the time between has been so long.

By entering the actual paintings with longer looking and a willed opening up I do feel I can pay the respect due and understand them better from inside the work. Still, it is hard to listen to later music by bands one was once passionate about, see later films by filmmakers one once was breathless (reference intended) to see the next appearance of in a film series or cinematheque, and if one is a painter, well...I will say I am so pleased to post this painter as one of my first women role models in painting along with Gladys Nillson. They were the two, they as a dynamic duo gave me a way of entering the whole endeavor of painting with oil on support from having majored in the CA department. Nearly all my friends were in this department and we were intensely engaged in photography, design 2D and 3D, media, animation, film, illustration, comics and all kinds of other technically and conceptually difficult projects, sometimes all simultaneously and with insane deadlines all coming around every week we were there, with the free for all enrollment of those days, and the seventies major recession pressure to get out in four years and find a job immediately breathing down our necks - we all knew quite well that one floor above us - the legends in their own minds in the Painting Department - called us the "Sign Painters." Thank you Suellen and Gladys, for looking at primitive art, self taught art, comics art, but especially, especially all that illustration and design for popular, commercial art culture and for what almost all of us young women who entered the CA & D imagined trying to do for a living - illustrate and even write children's books, by way of illustrating children's schoolbooks for a living first.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Art Green at Cue

Art Green was the least known to me of the Hairy Who and all the Chicago Imagists. (A taxonomically imposed name like so many others writers come up with after the fact.) When first starting this blog I had read Ray Yoshida's obituary and posted at length on Yoshida, Joseph Yoakum and Hawaii.

My earliest attempt to paint to put together some of the comics I was doing with several friends from the painting department who were at my college newspaper, dancing couple panels, and some figurative mutations like the now underknown woman comic artist M. K. Brown from National Lampoon and Jim Nutt, with a palette completely swiped from one of his ultra violet black light suffused paintings I had been mesmerised by in a group exhibition at VCU's Anderson Gallery.

I had discovered a Comix and Grafix Bookstore in my neighborhood on Metropolitan in my neighborhood of Williamsburg not far from the famous Crest Hardware store called Desert Island. I can't recommend this store enough - I have Spoonbill & Sugartown on Bedford practically memorized and sift through the used books as they come in there, so I am happy to walk into a store as packed as this one with new things to discover. Two weeks ago I stopped in to inquire after comics having metacommentary on the art world and the owner Gabriel had recommended a book with an entire segment on a critique at Chicago Art Institute which I will spring on everyone in the Comic Relief section planned just after this group of postings - the intertwining of Chicago artists and pop culture and comics is a perfect segue into a respite filled with recession funnies.

It turns out Gabriel had also gone to the Chicago Art Institute and showed me a copy of the Ganzfeld with the installation shots from the original exhibitions and a series of interviews with several of the group of friends clearing up some of the usual disinformation. The next paragraphs are from Jim Nutt's writing as curator of Art Green at Cue, since I had posted Victor Kord at June Kelly and a meditation on Matisse (and much else) on either side of Marina Adam's show at Cue - an interesting twist on the alternative space.

Curator's Statement

by Jim Nutt

I was struggling in a first year painting class, desperate to do anything that looked better than half baked, when I became aware of some movement behind me at the back of the room. Though the interlopers were unknown to me, I slowly became fascinated with the distraction. They were silently removing a painting from the storage rack, giving it close scrutiny, and with the aid of animated gestures, argued in hushed tones the vices and virtues of every square inch of the painting at hand. And there was some giggling. I had never seen such a lengthy and animated examination of a painting. Needless to say I was impressed and hoped to make their acquaintance at some point. Fortunately I did, eventually discovering they were fellow first year students Cynthia Carlson and Art Green.

As I came to know Art, I realized how common this sort of behavior was for him. When he became interested in something, say an image or idea or their relationship, he would follow the interest wherever it went. Invariably, his progress would begin to double back on itself, and he would then find himself proceeding in the opposite direction. Then on to a variant, and then another and so on. It wasn’t exactly willy-nilly, though at times it appeared so. Open ended investigation of this sort quite often leads to a state of confusion in most of us, but for Art it leads to possibilities, often to multiple paintings, each nailing one or another destination. It is not surprising he would become fascinated with the potential of the oscillating illusion of necker cubes or find time to ponder if it is better or worse that a rolling stone gathers no moss.

Curiously his paintings are simultaneously both easy and difficult to look at. At first glance, there is a firmness of purpose and legibility of means that suggests casual grasp is possible. They seem to be and then are easy to read, encouraging a closer look. But this leads to my realization that something’s not quite right, but then it is. I have left easy-read and am now in the painting.

I experience this every morning when, half awake as I meander down the stairs, I find myself slipping into a new part of his painting which hangs on the wall at the foot of the stairs. I may experience the painting whole for a moment, but before I can help it, I‘m in, traveling yet another previously unnoticed path. What a treat!