Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Painters, Painting and the Idea of Home

Matisse's studio was a world within the world: a place of equilibrium that, for sixty continuous years, produced images of comfort, refuge, and balanced satisfaction. Nowhere in Matisse's work does one feel a trace of the alienation and conflict which modernism, the mirror of our century, has so often reflected. His paintings are the equivalent to that ideal place, scaled away from the assaults and erosions of history, that Baudelaire imagined in his poem L'Invitation au Voyage:

"Furniture gleaming with the sheen of years would grace our bedroom; the rarest flowers, mingling their odours with vague whiffs of amber, the painted ceilings, the fathomless mirrors, the splendour of the East ... all of that would speak, in secret, to our souls, in its gentle language. There, everything is order and beauty, luxury, calm and pleasure."

Within Modernism, there has been a counterstrain to avant-gardism; I used to sit in a course for graduate students titled "Tactics" where famous New York artists would come down and speak and so many graduate and undergraduate students would try to get something from them in the way of attention - and strategy, and connections - and when first hearing the name of this course I remembered Baudelaire said he was against the term avant-garde and any military terms for art.

The first image below is from the apartment my former husband and I found in Paris on rue de cherche-midi in the Sixth Arrondisement, not far from the Jardin de Luxembourg where I could go everyday and stroll, which is what the French do in their parks. The reproduction is not very clear but in this 17th or 18th C building we had a studio apartment with a small kitchen and bathroom attached to it, with plaster walls, thick wood beams, and this shelving niche in one corner, where I gave pride of place to Matisse's book Jazz that I bought in the first bookstore I worked for right after it came out in its early eighties new and technically state of the art reproduction.

That I had gotten reinterested in interiors through my husband from first meeting him as a boyfriend is absolutely true, as his mother had actually had her rented Edwardian house in Chillum, a medieval village in England, decorated so spectacularly in the traditional style that it was featured in the British House & Garden; and that his father (they had been divorced and started new families long ago) was a full steam ahead enthusiast for Memphis design and all Italian and other hip design of the time and put together a house that reflected that; this meant that wherever my husband and I lived it would be something we worked on together from alot of Mexican, some Japanese, some Indian , some modernism, and a considered bohemian thrift store mix. He was a painter with two parents practically obsessed with Interior Design, we were both painters that enjoyed this making and painting furniture and decorating our homes. There was a lot of DIY preparation even including scraping wallpaper and plastering and repainting and work house and sign painting that prepared me quite well for coming up here to the DIY loftspace I have been in now for over twelve years and its reconfigurations. painting projects, replastering and all manner of upkeep. (And a contract for housepainting I did by myself for Coco Fusco and some housepainting work with a loftmate who had her own business for awhile, in the early years.)

As a girl child it was suggested I study Interior Design, which was confused in some minds with Interior Decoration, but as a maker and builder of things including a girl's fort and puppet stages for puppets and furniture and props for backyard fairs I made from 3rd grade on I wasn't confused, just liked drawing and painting things so much more. However I was fascinated by my father's girlfriend's apartment in DC in 1968 or so with its Eero Saarinen tulip table and chairs on a black and white Op Art shag rug and the Op textiles on canvas stretchers around the place - I wanted my Dad to marry her so that we could have her cool stereo and record collection and furniture, and he did - it went well with, and enlivened all the Scan furniture and his minimalist acquisitions to fill the split level he acquired when getting custody of us.

The Baudelaire quote speaks to my earliest memories of a house and a home. When my parents remarried my mother had brought back Persian miniatures and Persian rugs and leather ottomans and all kinds of Middle Eastern things from having lived in Ankara in Turkey, and some Mediterranean objects from close to a year in Cannes in France, and they had gone all out to have a large house and prepare the way for my brother coming into the world. Then they divorced again and moved into a tiny apartment and a little townhouse - which in my mother's case had her garden statue of Aphrodite in all her over six feet of glory right in full view on first entering the little living room. My mother's house was always Baudelairean, and the kitchens Matissean, even in tiny apartment and townhouse complexes, and little rancher or bungalow suburban structures ever after.

The topic I wanted to discuss, with the image above. I was leafing through the January issue of Elle Decor at the newsstand when his painting popped out of the picture at me - right in the middle of a living room over the proverbial sofa.

A fellow graduate student at Tyler showed me a woman undergraduate's assemblage painting in the school catalogue, a monster of paint and tire halves and the largest artificial flowers saying admiringly "that could never go over anyone's sofa.' Given the above autobiography, it would be difficult to buy into this canard in the first place, but also I have a very real inability to hear received ideas as anything but such - any phrase I even hear twice may be suspect. As a dreamy but also very astute peruser of Mairie Claire Maison and World of Interiors and the much missed eighties and nineties House & Garden, I rolodexed up the feature on Dennis Hopper's Frank Gehry house and slotted that painting into an imitator's of that aesthetic's starter collection, right over the much less expensive version of the same couch. I was envisioning this just as Steve had instantly triggered this unconscious exercise by saying this, but said nothing. I don't like dampening other's enthusiasm with these thoughts, just store them away for the right moment to try and collect them into an essay on an idea, as in now.

The idea is painting's place in people's homes - as Matisse famously put it, he wanted to make paintings that would be like an armchair for a tired businessman. What a lovely way to think of someone who might potentially buy one of your paintings, might I add, the counterstrain in Modernism to wanting to shock the bourgeoisie. Matisse was stating his case fairly alone in these times of desired revolution and reform following in the spirit of the protoCommunist Saint Simon after the second half of the nineteenth century's incubation and infancy period of all these notions, introducing this essay above, when Saint Simon was already nearly ninety years ago at the cusp of High Modernism.

It actually is an imperative for discussion, at this time, and Dan Christensen the perfect symbol of this, as someone who was the earliest artist to suffer from something now called flipping in the auction houses and secondary markets but at the time it happened to Dan Christensen was an unconscious mechanism of the auction houses' very new rise in position in the contemporary markets forming in the sixties.

This is from page 18 of Anthony Haden-Guest's Book True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World, in the first chapter describing the first auction devoted to a contemporary collection of Art, the 1973 selection from the collection of Robert C. Scull at the newly acquired Parke-Bernet by Sotheby's:

"Another painter whose work did well from the sale was Dan Christensen, a leader of a movement called Lyrical Abstraction. They were seen as a third wave - after Abstract Expressionism and Color Field - and doughty competitors to the dour Minimalists. Christensen described the effects on his sale as 'catastrophic.' Collectors who had bought his pieces for a few hundred dollars quickly popped them into salesrooms, creating a glut. "The prices started dropping. I suddenly started having a very bad time," he says.

The first time in history is serious and the second time is farce, according to Marx - the first time is serious and returns with redoubled force, according to Hegel. The economic crisis to Marxians (who many think rhymes with Martians by now) may seem a necessary farce. I suppose I am part Marxian or Martian myself, as I have been following the economic trajectory of this country quite closely since moving back in 1991, especially reading a book on executive pay packages and golden parachutes by Graef Crystal in 1992 or so titled In Search of Excess, and reading the Times business pages first even before this recession started.

I would say for all the mature painters I know the recession is very very hard at the moment - we should all be so lucky to not be part of some big warehousing for possible future flipping that has now ground to another art market halt (the third, fourth and fifth return were not something newly historical 19th C. followers of Hegel were able to foresee enough to have any commentary on - in Hegel's world there was supposed to be some kind of progress through thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; in David Brooks frightening article in the Times Op Ed pages this country has been manic from near the beginnings and stay that way ad infinitum without worrying ever about temporary setbacks like recessions. He cites such a list of American entrepeneurs and Horatio Alger stories, and figures like Andrew Carnegie as fonts of wisdom supporting his thesis that everywhere the seeds of America's new enormous upswing are already sprouting, but as Crystal pointed out on the first pages of his book by way of introduction, Carnegie stated that the president of a company should never get more than 32 times the amount of the lowest paid employee. This was no legal idea for Carnegie, it was a solid fiscal ratio. (And he was called a Robber Baron?)

Some kind of collective national capitalist mania followed by financial recessions could synthesize into fiscal reflection, responsibility and maturity, if it were to take the steps towards recognizing this is not mental nor fiscal health with the diagnostic terms so clinical - for example, Mr. Brooks, if we put the capital and philanthropy back into capitalism? And most importantly disbelieve the notion that Wall Street wags this old dog of a US nation?

In the meantime, any of us who are in the homes of any solid, really hardworking, communally spirited, tired bourgeois types - the ones that are left - and in some pride of place on their walls, - and making them still believe in the world's strength, intelligence, and beauty, we should think of Matisse and his wise newly created adage at the absolute beginning days of High Modernism and consider ourselves lucky. No, let's change the terms completely - we all would be doing better if we considered ourselves fortunate rather than lucky.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Marina Adams, The Novel and The Erotic

The basic five longings listed in my essay on Katia Santibanez include the Erotic and the Novel, which would be Matisse's absolute domain - it taking a great deal of intellect to innovate and introduce something truly novel into the world. It also takes alot of study of all the forms the French call La Luxe, La Luxure and La Luxurie to have made what Matisse has made. These words are not very translateable but in English the Voluptuous and the Sumptuous and the most Erotic in its more specific sense come somewhat close. All of this is certainly found in Marina Adam's work.

I had said that a certain Modernism privileges novelty and ideas of order - that is the eye on authority that Matisse was not so fixated on, as someone who was not particularly interested in either reform or rebellion: he shows something very early on which I would call a certain kind of sturdy, peaceful, confident maturity, which doesn't imagine changing the world; just being one of the best painters ever within it. Marina Adams has certainly been paying attention to Matisse, through her own eroticism and innovation, and this is why I wanted to pair her with Victor Kord.

This posting is based on her show at Cue in late 2008, and we may as well also bring up The Song of Solomon as it is one of her titles. The Song of Solomon and its lyric is the only extended erotic passage in the Old Testament and just as surely probably based on words, song and musical accompaniment composed and sung by a woman.

Marina Adams had an Alma Thomas quote for her exhibition - the small catalogue is still available at Cue and it is still also on the website. This is interesting to me as Alma Thomas has sorted out to be my most important experience of a painter in my life to date as that is what my body and my skin have told me. Thomas' show at Rosenfeld is the first time and may be the only time I ever got gooseflesh from an exhibition of paintings. I used to be a music critic and gospel and classical were the only ones to cause gooseflesh consistently as genres with other moments (usually live) also stepping in, and I had not really thought of visual arts as something that would ever give me this kind of prickled awe. So: Marina Adams working through the lost music and song of Hebrew still coming through the imagery and beauty of the Song of Solomon and Alma Thomas' musical abstract joy and some of her knowledge of a vital spring palette (with a great deal of her own color sensibility evident), and Matisse's lines, abstract forms and figuration is not so surprising as a thread runs through it all, Eros and Joy.

Victor Kord also talks about jazz, which is tied to Matisse through his book Jazz.

With Marina's painting, who happens to have been born in October of the same year I was born, I think of Al Green. I once made a riddle asking what Al Green and Tantra had in common that had a short but definitive answer rendered obsolete by Chris Quirk's wife Amy Madden's immediate and definite response - "alot."

I had also paired Marina Adams with Victor Kord because she is married to Stan Whitney, who turned out to be one of the great teachers at Tyler for me, and doubtless many others, before retiring just a few years ago. (He was a student of Al Held's and his old school Tough Love teaching was Al's famous toughness and his more abstract but nonverbally present benevolence were well combined). I was explaining to Stan at Mira Schor's opening the Al Green metaphor in Marina's work after the more obvious discussion of Matisse, and he started to walk away as I was saying "It's a woman thing!" - he laughed, it was always a pretty hearty laugh and good to hear as a student at Tyler.

"It's a woman thing." It certainly is, Thomas' work is womanly, and also mature as I had said earlier about Matisse and so is Marina Adam's, in direction. I have been thinking for years about maturity in modernism - and postmodernism (even rarer). Victor Kord's and Marina Adams' work enfolds both modern and postmodern notions into a work that might have been starting out from the beginning with a focus on maturity - it certainly looks and feels that way.

Victor Kord, Jazz and the Free Play of Forms

These are paintings from Victor Kord's show at June Kelly. As the first and only painting class I had before going to graduate school was Victor's, at Virginia Commonwealth University, quite a few years ago, I had a special interest in seeing his exhibition there - because I had only seen a few reproductions of his work before ever. I had heard he had been teaching at Cornell before running into him about four or five years ago in Chelsea, and was curious as all get out to see what he was up to, after we had re-established our acquaintance.

Not only was Victor a really good teacher and introduction to painting and therefore fortunate for me as a complete novice, he had been reading my book review column that focussed on both fiction and poetry in the Richmond monthly a group of us from the Commonwealth Times college newspaper had begun to put out, and asked me to write for the New Art Examiner about some shows. So getting back to the art writing he invited me to do is entirely based on his early invitation (I was 21 or 22) to do it in the first place. I had been so swept up in the music scene after doing a roundup of all the local bands and record and concert reviews at the college newspaper that I had completely forgotten the two group exhibitions foisted on me there at that time until researching my other reviews of plays, films, music and books I did as the Folio Editor there, and researching and photocopying them about 9 years ago in the VCU Library.

This is from an email I sent Victor following asking for jPegs to post him paired with Marina Adams, as painters who obviously had thought about Matisse for years and arrived at work that is contemporarily thinking through Matisse, and then Victor talking about jazz music's importance to him:

My undergrad was in the Communication Arts & Design dept. where I didn't learn anything except for example in typography how to take one helvetica lower case letter (memorably my choice was h - for helvetica itself maybe, which Rob Carter made us use for two semesters (before he got punkified by April Graiman and the new wave design) - we had to take the letter and create 26 variations / mutations with a French curve and rapidograph and India Ink on the letter, completely out of our heads. Hey wait - if you linked those forms of all kinds of abstracted letters together colorfully - and I mean with a very subtle and personal color sensibility - and with jazz improv spirit you might get something like Victor Kord paintings one day...actually design itself is not a bad discipline for abstracting from, I just dropped that ball until seeing your work reminded me of the way of thinking that project engendered that would make me have the groundwork to appreciate the discipline and chops to make the free play of these forms.

Andrea Way, The Calendar, The Grid, and the Idea of Wonder

The Greeks considered what we would call in English Wonder an important emotion, as leading to philosophy - wonderment leads to wondering which leads to seeking to know the world further. Pierogi itself has been a Cabinet of Wonders, quite well known for its extra high level of accomplishment in craft, artisanship, and the intensity of commitment to mining a particular path, amount of puzzle thinking and brainwork behind this commitment, and often the sheer amount of time devoted to making each piece. This sometimes leads to a certain kind of wonderment, quite sepecific, to such an extent that I have affectionately nicknamed it the Ripley's Believe it Or Not effect, when taken to the FX level of a Robert Lazzarini.

Andrea Way is more in the lineage of Karen Arm and Greg Stone - especially Greg Stone as they met long ago at an exhibition at the Clocktower devoted to labor intensive work. I do think about the difference between mystery thinking and puzzle thinking, as there is a difference in magic in its one sense and the cabaret magician sense. Tom Friedman for example is an excellent cabaret magician, probably the best. I had a studio visit with him and I impulsively said that his work reminded me of my father, who had a magic show for the children in his small town where he grew up and used to pull card out of the air and coins out of our ears. He looked at me in a very strange way and I didn't understand this look until I read an article later where he talked aobut the magic shows he used to do with his brother. I find this genre of work, where the mystery is how someone solved there own puzzles, entertaining but quite controlling - I like more room for my own reverie, rather than participating in the general audience's oohs and ahs.

Andrea Way's work in this show reminds me that the first life drawing I did was in fifth or sixth grade when we were asked to make drawings based on a microscope. That this was a source of wonder and intense and serious pleasure would be evident in the kind of drawings and paintings I do based on some of this source material abstracted, its just that Andrea Way's exhibition 365 Days took a more obvious engagement with nature viewed either this way or up close with real leaves, and other objects found so often on the same streets leaves fall on (a whole suite of pennies) and arranged the months either in calendars on vitrines, is a stunning accomplishmetn, and I wrote about Andrea's show and Katia's together because they fall so close to my own sensibility that my nascent collector that does what I call Theoretical Shopping (what I would purchase if I indeed had the money to purchase) gets baffled - instead of one drawing painting or object from an exhibition it was in both these shows, well about six or eight or in Andrea's 365 works on paper, it went into overdrive, and in the months I have chosen here, February (top) and March (bottom) it would be so nice to own the whole month.

The calendar is a grid we live by; it is fairly as ancient as a way of dividing the year as irrigation is as dividing the landscape, although the grid of our wall calendar is less ancient as children it is the way we learn to tell days as we look at clocks to learn time. It is quite possible that many artists swear to make a drawing a day. (I know I once did every evening after work but it was before I really knew what I wanted to draw and how to draw it, the archetypal two questions involved in the making of anything, and I only got a few weeks into it before I abandoned the project.

Andrea Way has met all the usual criteria for Pierogi's unusually high standards for inclusion in their now well known sensibility listed in the first paragraph, and added the wonder, which is the quotidian mystery - and magic - based on a close observation of nature, and the ordinary, and the close at hand.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Katia Santibanez, Landscape and the Grid, and the Idea of Paradise

The first image to the left is Hapi, the god of the Nile; he inundates the Nile every year with his amphora of water and on his head he has a grid. the grid represents the irrigated fields that are fed by the waters of the Nile. This is the earliest representation of a grid imposed on the landscape I have found in my books and my research.

This leads into the entire history of garden design, which has often been based on an implicit or underlying grid; this is from an Iranian cultural website regarding some of the earliest and most well documented and now archaeologically studied garden design:

Since the first millenium B.C.E., the garden has been an integral part of Persian architecture, be it imperial or vernacular. In addition to written historical references, archaeological evidence of Achaemenid gardens exists at Pasargadae, Persepolis, Susa, and other sites.

The Achaemenids had a keen interest in horticulture and agriculture. Their administration greatly encouraged the efforts of the satrapies toward innovative practices in agronomy, arboriculture, and irrigation. Numerous varieties of plants were introduced throughout the empire .

Aside from the practical aspects of the garden and its sensual pleasures, royal gardens also incorporated political, philosophical, and religious symbolism. The idea of the king creating a fertile garden out of barren land, bringing symmetry and order out of chaos, and duplicating the divine paradise on earth, constituted a powerful statement symbolizing authority, fertility, and legitimacy.

What made gardens special during the Achaemenid reign was that for the first time the garden became not only an integral part of the architecture, but was also the focus of it. Henceforth gardens were an integral part of Persian culture. Successive generations of European and Asian monarchs and garden lovers copied the concept and design of Persian gardens

The earliest gardens on the Iranian plateau associated with the Achaemenids are located at Pasargadae, the royal park residence of Cyrus the Great (ca. 559-530 B.C.E.), the founder of the Persian empire. The royal palaces at Pasargadae were conceived and constructed as a series of palaces and pavilions placed among geometrically designed gardens, parterres, and meticulously hewn and dressed stone water-courses, set in a large formal park containing various flora and fauna.

From the time of the Achaemenid empire the idea of an earthly paradise spread to the literature and languages of other cultures. The Avestan word pairidaêza-, Old Persian *paridaida-, Median *paridaiza- (walled-around, i.e., a walled garden), was transliterated into Greek paradeisoi, then rendered into the Latin paradisus, and from there entered into European languages, i.e., French paradis, and English paradise.

The pleasures of Katia's work are very rooted in her observations of nature and conversations we have had about the European garden, prior to the English Romantics and their less classical way of ordering gardens and parks in a much more gridded and architectural way. Until researching the above I had not known of the connection to paradise, which has no doubt been influenced by the Romantic view of a wilder yet somehow completely benign nature and Edward Hicks style paintings, having removed both the ordering and architecture within and the wall without. I have written about the five main longings that are subjects for art, are for:

The Nostalgic,
The Exotic,
The Erotic,
The Novel,
and, The Idea of Order.

Paradise, as we could easily imagine envisioning it, would be 1) the right measure of nostalgia of the most pleasing kind, with all of our memories that are most beautiful to us intact and ready to revisit, 2) and 3) with the novel and the exotic around the corner of the most pleasantly strolling walk, and 4) the erotic in its expanded sense of pleasing voluptuousness on our skin through the perfect temperature, soft sunlight, and a light breeze. This is a small taste of paradise available for so many centuries to all who peacefully stroll through a park or a garden, all the senses alive and awakened. There are not a few aficionados of botanical gardens and the history of landscape architecture of other times, and Europeans have the good fortune to still have so many pre Romantic gardens and parks laid out in the most impeccable ideas of order designed since the migration of ideas of the garden from fifth century BC Persia above that one can experience and then reimagine what the believers may have imagined themselves: to inhabit a place much like this lovely experience, walled off from any harm or even irritation, forever.

I actually had a studio in the village of Versailles for nearly three years in the late eighties while living at Odeon on the Left Bank in Paris. It wasn't even five minutes from the gardens of Versailles which were permanently free and open to the public - breaks in painting on beautiful days were often spent there, a very large area of ground arranged for a long view vista from the balcony of the grand outdoor mezzanine in the back of the Palace. Katia and I had talked in passing about her relation to French landscape and especially the design and architecture prior to the 19th century, but not in any kind of didactic way.

This is what I will try to write about experiencing the back room of her show at Danese, that I went carefully through with Michelle Segre, an artist I also plan to write about, the night of the opening. The paintings have been focussed on elsewhere by good reviews in both the Brooklyn Rail and by Lilly Wei in Art in America, so I would like to try to describe what I felt then, in terms of the research I have done now.

That a very measured implication of grasses and botanical forms are so innovatively and delicately delineated in grids and designs in graphite - a medium that I had thought incapable by now of arousing much interest qua medium no matter what was rendered - now has been awakened from its small torpor by Katia's singular touch and skill in handling is certainly a testament to the wonderfully pleasurable novelty of someone actually balancing the five longings above, longings that are certainly are embedded in us by Nature herself, in such a measured, quiet. confident, persistent, and absolutely present way.

Katia Santibanez

Katia Santibanez had a debut exhibition at Danese last fall after having shown with PPOW, Michael Steinberg and then in 2007 at Morgan Lehman. I had seen her work at Pierogi when first arriving in Williamsburg and of course New York and have followed her work with interest. The Morgan Lehman exhibit was my first opportunity to buy one of her works, albeit a very small print. Not only that but one of her recurring motifs in the more graphic and black and white work is very abstract but also very strongly abstracted from branching plant forms, so a train ride down to DC and then the change to a bus further to Richmond for a good friend's funeral service was this time of year in mid March with the nearly black tree silhouettes and still wintry grey that is almost white sky. I did have quite some time to have this rolling by bring me back to the palette and the rhyming motifs of the trees and Katia's branching works form a deepening memory of both her exhibition and this much needed time looking out the windows of the train and the bus. It was a form of contemplation, which is often discussed in abstraction, but beyond that, it felt a lot like something further and more absolutely necessary, in the sense of what one finds in a Wallace Stevens poem; it felt like consolation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ad Hoc Shop

Essays on Assemblage contains The Art of Assemblage: A Symposium

It is the transcript of the symposium held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on October 19, 1961, in conjunction with the exhibition "The Art of Assemblage."

The Panel

Lawrence Alloway
Marcel Duchamp
Richard Huelsenbeck
Robert Rauschenberg
Roger Shattuck

William C. Seitz, moderator

From Roger Shattuck's essay How Collage Became Assemblage: "In the late 1950s, Happenings, Pop art, kinetic art and junk art found sponsorship and name. When Peter Selz arrived from the West Coast in 1958, he brought with him the idea of a show titled "Collage and the Object." Apparently Seitz had been thinking along similar lines and was assigned the project that opened in October 1961. After considerable in-house wrangling, Seitz had changed the title to "The Art of Assemblage" in order to avoid the primarily painterly term collage. Seitz believed that assemblage had been coined by Dubuffet in 1953, and provided that information in the catalogue. One wonders why no one connected with the show knew or discovered that Helen Comstock had used the word assemblage when discussing works by the American Arthur Dove in her review of Alfred Steiglitz's "Seven Americans" exhibition. Seitz included three Dove works in this show.

This book and this essay and the following transcript were enormously helpful to find only several months ago after forming the kernel of the show idea from a meditation on the difference between what I found in Lonnie Holley's work and do not in Richard Tuttle's, and then was reinspired to think about by my visit to Joe Overstreet's studio, and Frosty Meyers studio soon after, following the High Times Hard Times show and thinking about the late sixties and early seventies in New York in all the arts and in general - the last real intersection of all the arts in NewYork in both practice and audience before the rise of the MFA system and the arrival of so many so highly trained in their own medium armed with the new theory to prove it. Due to the increasing cost of living dovetailing with the incredible increase of higher education, it was also the last generation able to not arrive seeking immediate employment in an increasingly well trained and exponentially growing pool of competition within each chosen endeavor and medium, which leaves little time to explore let alone attend events purely for pleasure outside of one's field, the reason I am excited to work with a poet on this exhibition, and see what she brings to it, to revive some of that lost spirit in displaying collage and concrete poetry alongside the work and arrange for performance.

Since the running theme I had been investigating myself was how people look around and bring things into their studio in the city, or in a more urbane setting if not quite a grand cosmopolitan city such as ours, or bring things back from sojourns to more rural places or their own roots and backgrounds in the same, I was especially interested in Lawrence Alloway's statement introducing the importance of where something is found, rather than purchased as with Duchamp, and all of the prior discussion of the Assemblage show up until Alloway's late arrival with its relation to Duchamp and Dada. Alloway states quite clearly how what some hastily termed Neo-Dada might not share with these other sensibilities and politics vis a vis modernism's dialogue with itself and the culture surrounding it:

"Aside from the elegance of the show upstairs, I felt very close to it in a way I don't often feel to art exhibitions. I was very close to the "Art of Assemblage" show because the source material, or most of it, was a kind of source material I know, and it was just the same in the work of art as it was when I had seen it not in the work of art - in somebody's house, in a street, a city dump or something...[i]n a way, I think Mr. Seitz in the book for the exhibition established very convincingly the aesthetics of juxtaposition, there is one aspect that was not delved into: the urban street scene, waste lots, garages all that. These seem to me to be the environment we all share, and the articles of the living-space environment I recognize in the show.

The street, and the home, brought into the studio. And then brought into the marketplace, especially the marketplace of ideas and dialogue, that is Ad Hoc Shop.

The postings begin with a centennial nod to circa 1909 - 1910 when modernism and jazz exploded into the world and crisscrossed the Atlantic, and the Quilts of Gee's Bend and Robert Rauschenberg's Bed piece are discussed, through all the artists considered the core of the exhibition, back to Robert Rauschenberg and the Assemblage show of 1961. I am grateful to have discovered the importance of Lawrence Alloway's attention to the artists themselves and the clarity and literacy of his means of representing them. I had already discovered his importance circa 1960 in the beginning of the exhibition proposal under the title of Pop Aporia (see way way below) and then discovered this quotation right at the beginning of the Assemblage Exhibition (there were, as Roger Shattuck wrote in the introduction quoted above, "252 heterogeneous works in the show.")

Robert Rauschenberg

The Cardboards

Rauschenberg used only found bits of cardboard in this series created between 1971 and 1972. His decision to restrict his materials to cardboard and cardboard boxes coincided with his move to Captiva Island in southern Florida: following a very successful period in New York, Rauschenberg was looking for new ways to concentrate; the move took place in 1970 and the artist was looking for a material that he could get anywhere in the world for his new series: "I still haven't been anyplace where there weren't cardboard boxes ... even up the Amazon." (Rauschenberg 1991)

Rauschenberg was the first artist to use only cardboard for large format assemblage paintings, sculptures and installations without treating it as painterly decor or subjugating it in any way. He discovered the expressive quality of packaging materials and united the language of formal abstraction with that of real life while completely preserving the material's character. It was precisely this material, which is usually discarded, on which he concentrated his attention: "... A desire built up in me to work in a material of waste and softness. Something yielding with its only message a collection of lines imprinted like a friendly joke. A silent discussion of their history exposed by their new shapes. Labored commonly with happiness. Boxes."

The Jammers

In 1975 Rauschenberg worked for a month in an ashram in Ahmedabad, India, a center of textile production. After returning home, he executed a series of works in 1975 and 1976 called the 'Jammers,' which were true bursts of colors. "I never allowed myself the luxury of those brilliant, beautiful colors until I went to India and saw people walking around in them or dragging them in the mud. I realized they were not so artificial."

The fabrics used in these works are rectangular, square and triangular in shape and their colors are clear and intense. They are hung either loose on the walls or are attached to bamboo rods like veils in a state of ethereal equilibrium.

The series' name comes from the Windjammer, a sailing vessel, and the titles of the individual works, such as "Pilot" and "Sextant", emphasize the maritime reference. The 'Jammers' are reminiscent of sails on ships, of windbreaks on the beach, of laundry, drying on clotheslines in southern Europe and Asia, of medieval Italian banners or the flags of a Tibetan monastery. The exotic is connected to everything that is close and approachable, the holy with the worldly. As with the Venetian series, the 'Jammers' display the dual qualities of reference and abstraction.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Holland Cotter and Michael Kimmelman from the New York Times and their take on John Outterbridge, Sarah Braman and Richard Tuttle

It was gratifying to pick up the Times this week and read Holland Cotter's report on this years big Art Fair in the city and find these two quotes including John Outterbridge and Sarah Braman just after putting this show together online at least (it is still pending in the proposal stage at the University Gallery Lee Ann Brown and I have contacted at his point). So I am happy to include his two choices out of the very few he did mention in his coverage of the vast and stupifying array these formerly proliferating art fairs have been laying out for their customers:

"There are exceptions. One is Mickalene Thomas’s “Something You Can Feel,” a kind of Byzantine mosaic of a painting at Rhona Hoffman that’s done in rhinestones and acrylic and generates all kinds of attitude. Another is a sardonic picture conflating military invasions and gym workouts by the Iranian artist Tala Madani at Lombard-Freid Projects. A meticulously knotted and twisted wall sculpture by the assemblagist John Outterbridge at Jack Tilton is a third."

Te first reproduction is a piece by John Outterbridge titled And In the Hay children Won't Play from 1991. Outterbridge was born in 1933.


"Sarah Braman’s sculptures at Museum 52 have a similar hapless but happening air. They look like a closetful of broken furniture that is slowly mending itself."
The second piece by SArah Braman I unfortunately don;t have a title and a date for is a piece I found on the blog Anaba that I have been dipping into for three years now, thank you Martin.
I don't know when Sarah was born, but there is enough of an age difference between herself and Outterbridge to tip off any curatorial participant or tracker of curatorial buzzwords to the idea that I am thinking in terms of The Intergenerational. Well, I have studied art history. There are lineages such as assemblage I am glad to find as far back as the 1870s where a shoe was stuck onto a painting, and food sculpture also displayed long before the Futurist Cookbook, both at the Salon des Incoherentes. The other art history I have been delighted to include is Melissa Meyers and MIriam Schapiro's essay on Femmage and Aime Cesaire's theories of Negritude discussed by David Hammons coming directly from practicing artists and the Essays on Assemblage publication published by MoMa which have influenced this particular choice of artists very much.

Which leads me to another underpinning of the show, something I have had to think about over the ears due to the amount of general attention given two artists in New York and its circles of influence: why I am indifferent to Richard Tuttle, and also the talented daughter of Judy Pfaff and Richard Tuttle, Jessica Stockholder.

My ideas for Ad Hoc Shop were already forming based on a memory of seeing Lonnie Holley's sculpture in the Visionary Art Museum and its spareness and inventiveness of what was casually yet magically composed about what was attached to the stretched wire and this sensation of seeing something so very very different from the usual in the always for me rich world of possible discovery in the self taught and outsider art worlds. I had noticed a long time ago that the statistics of what I would actually respond to in this category which seems fraught for some were not that different than what I responded to in the fine arts world, that is - very little.

Richard Tuttle has an enormous amount of enthusiasts who have tried to convert me over the years and it isn't that dissimilar to trying to convert me to any belief, I am very happy to listen to and hear the enthusiasm, especially when it is a friend, and see how the magic or influence works on them, but I don't feel the need to tell them that it does not do anything whatsoever for me. I don't want to dampen anyone's enthusiasm on anything but have my own, and some of them are not known at all or by very few so with Tuttle its like I am supposed to join the multitudes of some well established guru where I would rather witness a shaman practice somewhere in a tribe I can never be apart of but get so much of the feeling coming through me that I will be forever grateful to have witnessed it. If you think this metaphor is a little off base, I would point you to something I found in college in the VCU Rare Books collection - which as I just discussed with a member of the File Magazine group who now works at Printed Matter, is known to have started one of the best collections of artist's books in the country very early in the beginning days of the genre - the Holy Holy Art Cards where many revered artists were pasted on to Saint's heads and had quotes about what the artist had to say about spirituality in terms of their work. In Michael Kimmelman's At the Met with Richard Tuttle; Influence Cast in Stone Tuttle is described as a "shaman to many."

Then Kimmelman describes the work reproduced here in the article and Richard Tuttle's own associations.

"In 1983, Mr. Tuttle made ''Monkey's Recovery for a Darkened Room (Bluebird),'' a wall relief of branches, wire, cloth, string and wood scraps, which he says formally relates to the Met's diptych. ''The link is in terms of the organization of bottom, middle and top, the fact that the panels of the van Eyck are divided horizontally into three parts, and in a sense so is 'Monkey's Recovery' -- and maybe also in terms of having two vertical parts, the branches of 'Monkey's Recovery' being on one side and the wood on the other.''

Mr. Tuttle cites the German art historian Erwin Panofsky, who said that once you have van Eyck in your eye, Rubens is just another painter.

I am only interested in this piece of Richard Tuttle's because it nails for me why I have so much feeling for Lonnie Holley's work and why Tuttle has only tickled my forehead for a few seconds a few times and is gone. I am going to also quote Zora Neale Hurston here: "I pick up things according to my own juices and I sort through things using my own tools." So I don't owe anyone an explanation for this and quite enjoy employing a phrase that a Hungarian with a severely limited amount of english but an unmistakeably animated way of getting what he wanted to across, there is an enormous amount of work that reminds me of one of his favorite phrases, "don't care me." Having spent time in France and having grown familiar with the reflexive verb, I love this reflexive twist on "I don't care" - because their is a lot of work that causes me not to care. It is only the enthusiasts of any number of artists that are inclined to push me on a certain artist and I resort to this phrase relaying the tale of my Hungarian friend - oral to aural transmisson of it works great.

And just because van Eyck divided something in three parts and Tuttle wants to link his division of something into three parts directly to him doesn't mean that there haven't been The Ten Thousand Things made in three parts in between van Eyck and Tuttle, all over this globe, in all kinds of art making. (The Ten Thousand Things is a taoist term for an uncountably high number possibly standing in for the infinite by the way. Sol Lewitt made a piece with ten thousand lines for this reason and citation for example. Sol Lewitt makes me care very much for a counter example.) It just defies my belief that people still listen to this kind of thing!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Assembling Music

These are contemporary artists who in the tradition of Harry Partch and many other sculptor-inventor-assemblage-musicians fashion and play their own instruments.

The first is by Brian Dewan, pulled from his Dewanatron website, and is in the series of Melody Gins; he has a show at Peirogi that ends this weekend. It is an elaborate installation including a filmstrip of a Utopian Indoor Community that is actually capable of making nearly everyone I have seen sit and watch it laugh out loud, including myself.

The second is one of Ken Butler's mighty large array of sculpted and assembled musical instruments; I was gallery sitting for Sideshow when his retrospective was in the two rooms there - his show along with TODT's were the only ones that got word of mouth with the children and teenagers in the mainly Puerto Rican and Dominican community south of Metropolitan in Williamsburg in the nearly five years I was there.

The third is from the website of the Audio Artists, a collective based both in New York City and upstate originally having formed alliances in Cleveland at the Art Institute. Their website is particularly well known for Alice Malloy's theremin bra and the psychedelic video of her playing it, however that is just one of the many things they have made, performed and recorded.

I have seen all of the above musicians perform numerous times and can vouch for the inventiveness and liveliness of their music to go along with the sensibility and idiosyncratic visual appeal of each that is only hinted at by their websites.

Friday, March 6, 2009

More Hobo Culture

Harry Partch, in 1919, when he was mainly riding the rails.

Bozo Texino, famous boxcar graffiti figure.

Texino along with others is chronicled in a journal I bought entitled Mostly True by Bill Daniels. It is billed as The West's Most Popular Hobo Graffiti Magazine. There is a revival of interest amongst young artists and graffiti followers spurred by the idea of these early taggers and the lengths the ywould go to to get both sides of a boxcar and the amount of boxcars due to amount of ground covered, and the many many years they kept it up. The chalk emblems aren't too much of interest in and of themselves, but the interviews with the legendary men who became such by stories circulated by hobos themselves are mighty entertaining. with some of the current fascination with the depression this may become more than just a revival amongst San Francisco based artists and reach a broader audience. Already there had been a revival of freight hopping itself to go along with the magazine and film's audience base.

Bill Daniel's amazing film Who Is Bozo Texino?, chronicles the search for the source of a ubiquitous and mythic rail graffiti sketch of a character with an infinity-shaped hat and the scrawled moniker, "Bozo Texino"- a drawing seen on railcars for 80 years. The film was shot over a period of 20 years and features interviews with hobo graffiti legends Colossus of the Roads, The Rambler, Herby (RIP) and others.

Harry Partch: Hallelujah! He's a Bum
(excerpts from Irwin Chusid's essay on Partch)

At 29 Harry Partch took 14 years worth of quartets, piano concertos, and symphonic poems, crammed everything into a pot-bellied stove, and torched the lot. Then he started again from scratch.
Over the next forty years Partch would gain cult-level reknown as the 20th Century's most eloquent musical primitive, carrying a solitary niche in outsiderdom. The maverick philosopher-composer-carpenter devised his own 43-notes-to-the-octave scale. He sculpted percussion and string instruments out of artillery shells, Harvey's Bristol Cream Bottles, and driftwood. He camped in hobo jungles and abandoned shipyards, insulted well-heeled and well connected patrons who offered help, and did just aobut everything an artist could do to insure lack of widesread recognition.
As a teen, Partch payed piano in silent movie theaters in Albuquerque and composed ambitious works in conventional western modes. He resented the limits imposed by 12 tempered tones and grew obsessed with the notes between the tones (microtones).
Partch's instruments were fashioned out of airplane fuel tanks, Buick bumpers, eucalyptus branches, and junk scavenged from the California desert. These sonic devices - all objects of stunning beauty - received intriguing , such as Chrychord, Drone Devils. Zymo-Zyl, and Quadrangularis Reversum. The Mazda Marimba, named after the Persian God of Light, displays banks of tuned light bulbs and sounds like a percolating coffepot.

There are two documentaries on Partch I mentioned in the last posting, and both can be found on You Tube. The BBC documentary has composers and musicologists speaking aobut Partch including Phillip Glass.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Harry Partch and freighthopping

In 1980 I took a course called Media Synthesis with Vibeke Sorensen at Virginai Commonwealth University and there were two memorable documentaries she showed us in class, one on Professor Longhair but especially one about Harry Partch, which I have just found on You Tube. It is the one made in San Diego in 1968. There is also one for the BBC on You Tube that I had not seen before. I was in the Communication Art & Design Department, emphasizing graphic design and illustration that also at the time included all film, photography and interestingly enough alot of the conceptually based Time Art. The then welding and woodworking oriented sculpture department didn't want these instructors nor much of their students who were doing this stuff nevertheless in the 1970s. I also took tickets to the Ann Arbor film festival every year I was there so that I could see the whole thing after the first half hour each night in its entirety, so was not lacking in some kind of introduction to the avant garde from a different direction to the painters and sculptors I knew in the other departments. The painters called our department the sign painters nevertheless, while reading Irving Sandler's Triumph of American Painting or rebelling by getting interested in "Bad Painting" or Chicago Imagism. (There was a great group show organized by the rebel students titled "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.") In the sculpture department the faculty was majorly interested and influenced by H. C. Westermann and Lucas Samaras and a lot of the young women excited by Ree Morton at the time, so it wasn't all formal welding and so on all the time. I tended to like it all - abstract and funky figurative - in the other departments, as an escape from the more heavy handed illustration and graphic design classes where we were supposed to imagine some purported audience from the point of view of an art director that would be engaging us, that I had to complete to get my degree and diploma and out of school.

It was also in 1981 that I talked a good friend from the CA & D department who was an R. Crumb fan and is now a comix artist and animator in New York into taking me on a freight hop, as someone who had grown up in what he nicknamed Dogtown in a part of Richmond near the train tracks where the kids in his neighborhood would go on hops up as far as DC and back starting at thirteen or fourteen. He said no women ("bad luck") but I wore him down ("Frank, this isn't a nineteenth century ship") and we went up to DC in an open boxcar to see The English Beat - a ska revival band from England. It was an all the way open boxcar with a vista as wide as the freight car itself. It would be hard to forget the fall foliage of Virginia and the dropoff view to the streams and small rivers along the way - nor the way I landed in the gravel when trying to disembark hitting the ground running as he showed me when we had to get off before getting caught in the trainyard if we had stayed on until it slowed down. I hit the ground running, but like a stick figure would - into the ground - impacting my knee and elbow and flipping over. I don't remember feeling much pain as we were immediately rushing to the concert, then in the concert and dancing. In those days I went to so many concerts involving stage diving and mosh pits in DC that I had just incurred the same kind of pain to ignore before, rather than during the concert, since it was not the Bad Brains or Black Flag or any number of other HarDCore bands in the 9:30 Club, but a group of mainly mod revivalists and mild yet vigorous ska dancing this time.

This is just to say I had not known until much later that Partch was our national dropout-of-the-music-conservatory hobo composer, who spent so many years riding the trains and collecting things he found to make instruments out of, in the documentary I din't remember the early conservatory years or trainhopping mentioned just the inventiveness of the instruments and the force of his personality and odd loveliness of the music. I am glad somewhere in the late eighties to have acquired this new information on Partch at the same time that my friend Frank continued to investigate his own freight hopping: as the only close friend I have who has been through all but three of the States on first a southern journey and then a northern journey and all his stories of riding the rails and even spending jail time once on the southern route, it is interesting to find my fascination with this culture I continued to hear and learn about through Frank and so much sculptural and musical invention in one legendary figure, Harry Partch.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Caryl Burtner: Toothbrushes and Lipstick Blots

The first two are from Caryl's toothbrush collection - the notebooks are forms everyone fills out of the make of toothbrush, how long it was used, and other data including if it was used for anything other than brushing teeth. Within this sizeable and growing collection thereis a smaller one where artists such as Jim Nutt, Peter Saul and others sent her their used toothbrushes and filled out forms, that has been exhibited as a much smaller display.

The lipstick blots are noted with location, date, the name of the woman (it is usually a woman) , and the make and name of the color of the lipstick. I have myself had a napkin or something at hand taken and added to this ongoing collection, back in the days when I wore lipstick. The makes like Revlon etc. are well known but the names they come up with for the lipstick colors are everchanging and sometimes quite funny.

Caryl Burtner

The first is an article I wrote for Throttle magazine in 1982 under my maiden name Lori Edmiston.

Under that is her collection of Carols - and one Caryl - from her yearbook. It was published in a different format in Harper's magazine.

The toilet paper cardboard rolls are notated from where they were found all over and including her own domicile, over the years.

"Roberts" is also a collection collated from her yearbook.

The notation on Roxy Music and times played was done on all of her records for a period of time and is just one example of her archiving projects that have been ongoing since the mid seventies. I will be posting more on Caryl Burtner as an archivist and an important part of Ad Hoc Shop.

Peter Soriano

Full disclosure: working for Lennon Weinberg was my very first job arriving in New York in the summer of 1996. Robin Hill was subletting her Greenpoint studio (where I could go peer into and even nose around Kim Jones' room he was subletting from Robin, as he never locked it and the door was usually half open.) Robin suggested I go in and talk to Jill Weinberg and Tom Adams and I so enjoyed the two brief times that I worked at their old location in Soho I have not yet lost the habit of going in to see every show I can and talking to them twelve years later. Peter Soriano was doing sculpture in a vein that was a genre that Andrew Chesler had organized a successful exhibition of in the late Nineties titled "Almost Something.' It was a great title and an exciting Dr, Seussian World with an entire crayola box of possible colors sensibility, and Peter Soriano did it I thought better than just about anybody.

In 2007 I went into his show at Lennon Weinberg and the new wire and spray paint sculptures were in the gallery and I read he had just come back from the Calder Foundation in France and said look at how he is drawing Calder with the spray paint. (I had grown up going to the new I. M. Pei wing of the National Gallery in DC where it is impossible to ignore the massive mobile in the lobby, had seen one of the most amazing exhibitions in Paris entitled Calder Intime at le Musee de Les Arts Decoratifs in the eighties, the Circus on permanent exhibition there, and an exhibition of Calder in the summer of 1998 at the Corcoran in DC, in addition to books in every bookstore I had worked in since 1982, and never understood why he wasn't more talked about in New York.

When I went to his studio I was talking about taking ideas from the city and the streets into the studio as the major theme - along with ideas from rural areas and how they migrate to the city. and mentioned some of the ways that things are cordoned off and temporary signage with spray paint used by construction crews. in the course of our discussion. Today on Peter's website in a long, well written and considered essay written by Raphael Rubinstein for a major exhibition I found this paragraph:

"Indeed, when I first saw these works one of the associations that came
quickly to my mind was precisely those spray-painted arrows and words
one sees everywhere on the streets and sidewalks in New York,
especially these days when the city is in the midst of a building
boom. I’m not so sure about the “clarity” of Con Ed street markings
however; many of them have an almost hieroglyphic impenetrability, at
least to the casual passerby. By contrast, Soriano’s marks are easily
readable, though not without their own ambiguities. By my count, he
uses nine basic signs: arrows, dots, circles, Xs, zigzag cancellation
marks, squares or rectangles, brackets, horizontal lines closed off by
short verticals on either end (a kind of elongated uppercase H), and
the sideways Ts. These can be combined to create a larger graphic
lexicon. "


To the left are Bessie Smith in her most famous photograph and Victoria Spivey in a portrait shot, some city blues singers who in those early days were more likely to be photographed and become famous. There are unfortunately no photographs of Geeshie Wiley and only four recordings, however everyone who has ever heard "Last Kind Word Blues" can attest to how she has left her legacy over time.

“If Geeshie Wiley did not exist, she could not be invented: her scope and creativity dwarfs most blues artists. She seems to represent the moment when black secular music was coalescing into blues.”

From Don Kent's History of the Mississippi Blues.

Geeshie Wiley and Memphis Minnie were inventive guitar players as well as vocalists, and it is not too well known that an African American guitar player named Leslie Fiedler taught little Maybelle Carter, who was a prodigy of sorts, how to play the then rare Spanish guitar in the mountains where she grew up, adding to her mandolin experience and converting her forever to the guitar as her instrument of choice.

This is an IMix amongst the many I have on the ITunes store, to go into the Ad Hoc country and city theme from another direction. And a nice way to segue from Black History Month into Women's History Month, - - Happy First of March y'all.


Playlist Notes: country and city blues gals

Song Name Artist

Pick Poor Robin Clean Geeshie Wiley

Last Kind Word Blues Geeshie Wiley

Skinny Leg Blues Geeshie Wiley

Eagles on a Half Geeshie Wiley

What It Takes to Bring You Back Butterbeans & Susie

Adam and Eve Butterbeans & Susie

Shreveport Blues Lillian Glinn

My Old Flame Mae West

Hoodoo Man Blues Victoria Spivey

Dope Head Blues Victoria Spivey

If You're a Viper Rosetta Howard

Men Are Like Street Cars Rosetta Howard

Trouble In Mind Bertha "Chippie" Hill

Conjur Man Memphis Minnie

Down In New Orleans Memphis Minnie

Hoodoo Lady Memphis Minnie

Me and My Chauffeur Memphis Minnie

Haïti Josephine Baker

J'ai deux amours Josephine Baker

L'accordéoniste Edith Piaf

Padam padam Edith Piaf

Hound Dog (Single) Big Mama Thornton

Yes, Baby (duet with Johnny Ace) Big Mama Thornton, Johnny Ace & Willie Mae Thorton

I Need a Man to Love Janis Joplin