Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Revisiting Robin Lowe at Lennon Weinberg

Admittedly, I've never seen the film "On the Beach," which the press release at Lennon Weinberg Gallery so emphatically stated as the premise for Robin Lowe's recent body of work and identically titled show. With the solo exhibit now closed, I felt I should revisit this story's tale. This sounded like just the type of film I'd enjoy, too-- last people on earth; a nuclear holocaust and apocalyptic meltdown; a man and woman on their own, running for safety-- will they also find love?; all the while, the waves keep lapping at the Australian coastline, with a dark foreshadowing of things to come.

I find it quite interesting to use the sea as a metaphor of salvation, or humanity's last hope; interesting because so many stories have ended just the opposite-- Moby Dick, Titanic, Natalie Wood, Dennis Wilson, Jeremy Blake, J.F.K., Jr., Jeff Buckley, Spaulding Grey-- all meeting watery graves. The list goes on. The ocean can be interpreted as place of birth as well as a final resting place. As one who frequents the Atlantic's horizon at least several times a year, I always get that sense of longing as I look out upon the waters and wonder just what is out there, but at the same time, I fear it.

But putting old films and tragic lives lost too soon aside for a moment, I do know a phallus when I see one, as well as overtly sexualized imagery made in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Take Big Sexy above. The submarine in the above photo conjures up an image of a killer whale coming up for air, but its title is a dead giveaway. Insert joke of the seamen trapped inside, and you catch the artist's drift.

There's also something delightfully decadent about the image at right. Here is a man in obvious midlife crisis mode, red sport convertible in tow, unzipping his pants, seemingly readying himself for a casual encounter, while man's best friend sits at ready hoping to join in on the fun. On multiple looks, that dog looks far too happy for just a mere Sunday afternoon drive.

This exhibit made me do double-takes. Was I really seeing Venus emerging from her oyster shell, or showing the full monty from a dinghy? The oars seem almost to mirror the siren's angelic wings, and the pose is iconographic. To me, it's a direct homage to Botticelli's Birth of Venus, but appearing more lackluster in facial expression than ever. Her downwards disaffected gaze is seemingly without a care, as the seafoam laps upon the hull and the clock ticks down to its final moments.

Lowe made a great show out of a very unusual narrative-- a rarely seen 1950s film. I certainly think I'll be getting the DVD of this film as soon as possible so I can understand more of his references, but this was one of the best shows I've seen so far in 2008, especially since it gave me lasting memories.

See more images at the gallery's site.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Saving Airstream Ranch

"That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time."
-John Stuart Mill.

"Being eccentric is one thing, being an ass to others is another..."
-Olympia Lambert

Ahh, Central Florida-- land of open sky, enormous sinkholes, rattlesnakes, armadillos, and ground zero of mobile home living. Right now controversy is a'brewing over a man who at first look seems to have meant well, but group mentality has taken hold and the call to "Clean that shit up" has now arisen.

(photo at left by Kathleen Flinn of The St. Petersburg Times)

This blogger herself grew up in a tiny enclave in Pasco County known as Dade City. Us yungins' would entertain ourselves for eons based on a slight rearrangement of the town's lettering. You see, in them thar' neck of the woods there isn't much to do. So it isn't much of an exaggeration to say that when ANYTHING happens outside of the ordinary, it is considered to be extraordinary.

Take one Frank Bates, an admitted "eccentric" living in Dover, near Plant City in Hillsborough County (an aluminum living town if there ever was one). You see, Frank has the general aura of a performance artist/RV salesman and general shit-stirrer. A few years ago, after taking a helicopter trip around the country-- (yes, a cross-country helicopter trip)-- Frank got inspired after visiting Texas' famed Cadillac Ranch's ode to Stonehenge and decided to do his own homage on the property next to his dealership, utilizing the grande dame of the road, the Airstream trailer. (This guy might have Hunter S. Thompson beat in terms of randomness.)

So off Bates went, submerging a group of junkers in the sandy ranchland directly facing I-4 (Central Florida's major thoroughfare connecting tourist meccas Tampa and Orlando.) But now his creation is getting its first taste of censorship amidst cries for the public good. Hillsborough County has fined him repeatedly for the "eyesore" that the neighbors are up in arms over. Of course, apparently Mr. Bates decided to sink the shinier side of the Airstreams facing the neighbors, blinding them. These neighbors are apparently in other trailers of the non-Airstream variety. Apparently the ruckus has caused many discussions amongst the neighbors of varieties like, "What in tarnation is that nut up to now?"

The funny thing is, if Bates were in this fair city of ours, he just might get a space in the Whitney Biennial, or at least Andrea Rosen Gallery.

(Andrea Zittel's 1995 "Travel Trailer Units"; personalized trailer design,
for the astro-turf lover in you)

Last week Bates had his day in court. He was given until April 15th to cease and desist-- (I.E., dispose of his trailers) with the County Code Enforcement Board unanimously deciding his creation is not "art," per se, but garbage. I can't help but chuckle, knowing how much the contemporary art world has been discovering a newfound love of trailers and trailer trash-- Andrea Zittel, Amy Vogel, Cheryl Molnar all come to mind, as well as Kai Althoff and Nick Z.'s wild installation last summer at Barbara Gladstone. The only thing missing there was smashed up cans of PBR.

(at right-MOMA's ode to trailer trash, 2007)

What strikes me the most odd about this whole story is that there's so many other factors at play other than just government declaring what is and what isn't art. Number one, why are we so fascinated as a culture by those in less-than-fortunate circumstances? The literal act of "sinking a trailer into the dirt" is doing something against its very purpose. To their owners, an Airstream represents a freedom from being tied-down. The open road lies ahead; the sky is the limit. The next door "mobile homes" are quite different. They are fixed to their concrete foundations, with no way to escape. Their owners find themselves trapped in a temporary existence, but on permanent plane.

(Above, Amy Vogel's recent take on the bucolic, but dark undertones of living amidst the temporary)

And for those of us in the urban centers, all of this almost sounds laughable. We immediately dismiss trailer trash, thinking of Jerry Springer rather than a hardworking family unit based on closeness, or love of nature and the land. And when art does focus on this sub-genre of society it's not necessarily "embracing" and sharing in the laughter, but I feel it's much more the act of the school bully. We're here in the top galleries of the world, pointing like Nelson from the Simpsons, shouting, "HA-HA!"

In fact, cruelty is something regularly overlooked in contemporary art. The upper eschelon's fascination with the underclass knows no bounds, nor boundaries. Perhaps Mr. Bates himself has overlooked the effect this has had on his neighbors as well. Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, as well as freedom to create one's art. But in Bates' case, he's more of a Richard Prince, doing an appropriation of a much-better made, and much more accepted display in Cadillac Ranch, to say nothing of Stonehenge, lest we forget the O.G..

Still, I do find the censorship issue in this case to be unsettling, but at the same time this is almost insulting to these residents, and in their own backyards-- literally. It is one thing to have public art in public spaces, but when hurt feelings gets involved, where does the property line end?

(at left, Cheryl Molnar's "Airstream" Trailer)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jonas Mekas-- a can't miss at Maya Stendhal Gallery

Good thing for afternoon break time. I was yearning for some fresh air today, so out I went into the sun and breeze on 20th Street. The fumes of Crozier trucks nothwithstanding, not only did I get that, but I also got a revitalized feel for the eternally fresh Jonas Mekas. Not a day over 25, Mekas continues to dazzle me with his work on camera.

This was simply one of the most touching videos I've ever witnessed. Here, Mekas discusses the ruckus he caused when planting illegal trees in front of 80 Wooster Street. After all, cops have nothing better to do than to harass well-intentioned arborists.

You can download more examples of Mekas' narrative-infused "365 series" works directly from the artist's website here

So if you find yourself in the Chelsea area, "From Fluxus to Media Art" is simply a can't-miss show for Mekas' involvement alone.


Maya Stendhal Gallery is located at 545 West 20th Street on the 2nd floor, New York, NY.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The power of community outcry in city government decisions

Cheers to the unbelievable past 24 hours. Patricia Lancaster-- the eternal Miss Rubber Stamp to Shoya Boymelgreen, Robert Scarano, and every other greased-hair wannabe Michael Shvo developer in this fair city of ours-- has finally gotten her comeuppance. Today she issued her resignation in response to Mayor Bloomberg's mea culpa yesterday, recognizing that we shouldn't necessarily be proud of the recent performance by the Department of Buildings. Really? You're just realizing that NOW, Bloomie? Six years in??? Hmm. I wonder why.

Imagine, if you will, the reality of this fact-- Lancaster admitted that the planned development of 303 East 51st Street was approved "by mistake." Hmm. When most hard working Americans make a mistake, it's generally not that big a deal-- a forgotten phone message, an unpaid bill, missing a business meeting. In Lancaster's case-- let's put it this way-- a 43 story illegal building was approved for construction without question in complete violation of city zoning regulations. That's just a tiny bit of an oversight.

In Lancaster's six years of serving as the New York City Buildings Commissioner, her "watch" has warranted numerous deaths by illegal construction teams-- (yes, deaths)-- that blind eyes continued to avoid upon every new crane's erection in the city. No one really cares about an undocumented worker, right? It took a disaster of mega proportions to enact change; i.e., one falling on top of a tony Turtle Bay townhouse and a well-to-do established midtown condominium. Before that, calls to 311 were registered but not responded to numerous times for the thousands of violations across this city, as unrestrained "development" continues to change New York into Houston, Texas. Architectural, historic and artistic value be damned, let alone the legal realities.

Even though this is a tiny step, and far from a victory by any means, it gives me hope that for every action there is a reaction, and hopefully discipline. The word "no" has not been uttered in eons here in New York.

In honor of Lancaster's resignation, perhaps she should check out Michael Ingbar Gallery's hilarious named new show in Soho-- "Concrete Erections II: Only In New York." A title invoking both Cindy Adams and being d*&'ed over at the same time-- you have to love it, because what other city on earth would put up with this crap?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No shirt, no service; Vaseline required-- Matthew Barney greases up the National Arts Club

Dateline: Friday, April 11, 2008.

Headquarters: National Arts Club, Gramercy Park.

Headline: Art world superstar Matthew Barney receives award from venerated old folks club, and various groups of hip young people attend. Some octogenarian members walk by and wonder what the fuss is all about.

Summation: Friday night I ventured to the National Arts Club for some chicken nuggets, St. Germaine cocktails and fish on a stick. Yes, I consumed all three of these combinations. Of note in attendance, recipient Matthew Barney with 'stache. Also seen in crowd-- Barbara Gladstone, gleefully heckling her protege with, "It's about time!," as he humbly took the microphone; Aimee Mullins, famed double-amputee athlete and a.k.a. the cheetah woman from Cremaster 3 looking model perfect and stunning; Mary Boone artist Will Cotton looking a bit bored, but approachable and jovial. He's originally from Melrose, Massachusetts. That alone means you'll never take the real out of him.

I wanted to do my best to not mention the darling offspring of the previously stated awardee, but she was in attendance. Don't know her name, but she's pretty wicked cute, a great dancer, and seemed intrigued by the shiny medallion her proud papa bent down to show her. Being a complete outsider looking in, I saw the famed artist for the human he is. A father, a bit on the quiet side, one who obviously relishes his privacy, guards his inner circle, and seemed to not really be all that impressed by the strappings of "awards" and ceremonial adulation. In fact, when given the medal, his words... or 'speech'... consisted of, "Thank you very much." And that's all she wrote.

Now what WAS interesting about the evening moreso than anything is the National Arts Club's blatant attempt at relevancy almost a full decade into the 21st Century. The first Cremaster debuted itself way back in 1994-- 14 years ago. That's a whole Miley Cyrus and then some! As the organization's membership declines, and patrons continue to die off, they're being faced with a newfound task of how to involve a new generation and inspire curiosity, as well as a funding base. It is definitely going to be a work in progress, and no small task. For so many years the club has put the fuddy into the duddy. I am very intrigued into seeing where it will go from here.

In fact, today's New York Post has a full article about the new generation and its attempts at redefining the NYC institution in "Page Six Magazine." It's definitely worth the read.

For some better pics of Barney other than the back of his head, check out Wire Image's coverage of the event.


(standard mushroom decor at the National Arts Club)

Monday, April 7, 2008

L.A.? New York? Texas? You be the judge.

Tree-in-a/from-a-bag, anyone? Artist Yuken Turuya gets his message across loud and clear. Repped by Shoshana Wayne Gallery.

The L.A. Art Fair last week has gotten some press-- most not so good since the close of business last week. Apparently in years' past it had many more exhibitors and had taken a greater hold on artgoers' attention span. But no matter to this blogger, for this was the fairest fair of all for mine tired eyes. Working full-time at the gallery, doing my duties at Red Dot and still attending Armory, Pool, DIVA, and L.A. proved to be truly exhausting, and tonight is honestly the first chance I've had to really sit down and catch my breath. But I did love LA Art Fair and here's why-- it was a simple, well-paced and well-hung show; the galleries were smart and sharp; and I was in and out in less than 12 minutes. Now that's what I call an efficient show!

In the case of photographer Susan Anderson, repped by Paul Kopeikin Gallery, I was immidiately held captive. There, in all her seven-year-old glory, lay a flush, come-hither "Jacklyn". Now here's a fresh-faced muffin who could probably rival Aguilera in her Lady Marmalade heyday for pancake makeup. Anderson takes a no-holds barred approach in posing her subject suggestively, glossing over the very lip gloss that is doing its darnedist to cover up the immense stench of the child beauty pageant industy. "Jacklyn" is a drastic transformation before our eyes of a child taken away from childhood and plopped into full-fledged whoredom. A child will not pose like this on their own unless prompted. It is not in their makeup yet. The same with the subject's eyes. The slate of innocence has been wiped clear away, leaving an automated bubbleheaded goon in her place. These boots are made for walkin' right into that perp's van. Hope "Dateline NBC" is waiting. But Anderson's commentary is purely visual. The image needs no press release or artist statement. It speaks for itself.

Next up, artist David Rathman at Mary Goldman Gallery. Never has a piece so reminded me of my early 20s. In fact, about the only thing missing from this picture is the green shag carpeting of so many basement practice spaces. I love the haphazard nature of each of the painting's elements-- a dirty strewn sock, a dusty vinyl 33RPM on its way to the scrapheap; the Marhsall amp awaiting some nice feedback from the bass; the ciggies resting; and the buck observing it all. Here is a nice snapshot examining the things that make a musician tick. But of note-- where's the musician? The stories cannot be written without the author. Interesting take, but I will say this-- Rathman, for posterity's sake, has created far too clean a scene for any real indie cred. I see no roach resin anywhere, and there's a serious lack of stickers on the amps.

The roadie in the above image is also not an accurate portrayal, for he is actually hard at work. Any person who has lived through a backstage should know that any proper roadie would be on slouched against the of the amp nursing a Yuengling. As a many year scenester survivor of the Boston and New York music scenes, this was a great piece of nostalgia-- especially for New Yorkers right now, with the loss of so many great venues over the past few years. R.I.P. CB's.

In the same vein of that worship of the forgotten days of vinyl, I very much enjoyed seeing the work of artist Chris Martin at Daniel Weinberg Gallery, whose work often includes old 78's, etc. But I felt that it was a kind of weird, if not improper choice-- especially since Martin's more Brooklyn that Brooklyn. All around, it would have been nice to know that LA Art Fair was more about L.A. artists than L.A. galleries, but that's what art comes down to most of the time anyway. Region is an acquried taste, as well as place of origin. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

More Armory photos-- More desserts this time than eye candy

Mark Dion
in collaboration with Dana Sherwood.

This looked much more edible than anything I saw at the snack bar.

Yummy indeed-- except for the bugs, but of course.

Ricci Albenda at Andrew Krepps, New York
The incredible, edible egg.

Erwin Wurm
Galerie Krinzinger Vienna
Looks like Erwin Wurm is forecasting trouble ahead for the new Sea Fair.
No, but seriously. I also can't help but see a "face" on the front. It really looks like Megatron to me for some strange reason, or the Autobots' logo.

Thukral and Tagra
Somnium Genero - incitatius
Small appliances are given a new subspecies.

I would have titled this, "Pop Tarts IV: or, how I learned to love my toaster."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Armory 2008-- the Anti-Whitney Biennial

As much as the Whitney Biennial has been promoted as being devoid of all reference to narrative painting and certainly color, the Armory Show was anything but. Pigments from across the color spectrum devoured the viewer at every turn. Take Assume Vivid Astro Focus at Deitch Projects. This wall must have registered at 180 decibels. Sure, it gave me a splitting headache, (even without audio) but at the same time, holy hell, THANK GOD FOR HIM. No, really. Bless his little soul for a little bit of, "Wow! Lookie there! Pretty!" thrown my way. As of late, I've been feeling that various dealers and curators have been conspiring to lock my loins into a chastity belt and throw away the key, denying my fix for pleasure of any sort. Sure, the economy is in the shitter, and we're in a 100 year war with no end, but, "Hell no," A.V.A.F. screams! "Time to party!" But this isn't really a celebratory reference of the hippie era. This is more like the end of days party. Might as well go out with a bang.

A.V.A.F.'s piece takes elements of design and digital pscyhedelia and spits it back in the viewer's face with contemptuous laughter. We either shall continue to dwell on the darkness and despair, or try to liven it up every so often for sanity's sake. The viewer is sucked into this world of madness, spinning out of control. It will use you up and leave you a shell of your former self. This was visual candy at its finest, on the strongest of illegal substances.

Next up, the majestic return of one, Ms. Inka Essenhigh. It's been a while since I've seen her work-- 2002 to be precise. My last forray to 303 Gallery was to see her eponymous exhibit. That was supposedly the "return of painting." How so much has changed in the past few years, I'd like for someone to explain to me. The only paint I'm seeing as of late is on PVC pipe. Essenhigh's loops and continued exploration into the surreal really intrigued me. I loved seeing the sensuous anemonae-like tree forms swaying in and out in their underwater jungle. At any moment, I fully expected Nemo's father to arrive with his search party.

In yet another example of color saturation, Glenn Rubsamen had a wall devoted to his cell phone towers that appear to be on first glance palm trees. Again, it's Southern California at its most decadent candy coated shallowness. The gradient skies seem to float amongst the bird nests attached to these manmade structures that are so foreign to the natural make up of the land. These are great references to Pop art at its finest. Seeing how corporate America continues to market to us an ever greater need for 24-7 communication, we are forced to disguise these very technologies in our communities. Sticking out like a sore thumb amidst an arrid landscape, the works are interesting in how they capture the nature of communication now. Regretably, it all comes down to 0's and 1's, but a sunset, dusk, or sunrise will always capture a moment that cannot be quanitified in a digital readout.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Paging Sir Mix-A-Lot

Oh... my... god.
Her butt is so big...

Seen at the closing of the Armory Show Saturday evening. I believe the artist's name was Anastasia.
If anyone has any information on her, please do share. I was enthralled by her presence, as were the horde of other paparazzos snapping away. This was performance art as its most visual eye-candy induced engaging. The dress itself was also quite impressive, as was the wearer's stamina. It must have weighed a ton.
For some reason I keep picturing Dick Cheney must be hiding under the camouflage in some varied state of undress.