June 22, 2003

Welcome, New Readers

Welcome to readers who arrived here via the Arizona Republic profile. We'll be correcting its distortions later today, but by reading our work you can do that right now.

Please peruse our recent entries on the right, including the first review of the Arizona Biennial '03, articles on the local art scene, and notes on our upcoming projects and installations.

Look for our art gallery site going online by the end of the week.

(And please go visit this week's Carnival of the Vanities at RealWomenOnline when you're done here.)

Thanks for visiting. Comments and emails welcomed.

Posted by Jerome at 08:51 AM

June 21, 2003

Read It And Sleep: Local Artists Talk About . . . What?

by Jerome du Bois

If you read these recent interviews with Maurizio Cattelan and Fred Wilson, and if you can find any interview with Tom Friedman (e.g., in the Dennis Cooper/Phaidon book), you know that artists can be articulate, deep-thinking, and razor-sharp definers of their work.

But if you read this recent interview with Rachel Feinstein, who doesn’t even know how to build her sculptures and finds the process boring, you also know that artists can be shallow twits, unreflectively deploying tired clichés with a breathtakingly ignorant arrogance.

And given the title of this post, where do you think we come down on some of the more vocal locals? As for why we would put it together in the first place, the answers are in the Why sidebar, and in the category: Elevating the Discourse.

(This list is alphabetical, and exhausting but not exhaustive. It was compiled -- a mild word for an activity much like stuffing marshmallows into one’s head -- by Jerome du Bois from Shade, the Arizona Republic, New Times, Downtown Phoenix, Java magazine, and the Arizona Biennial ‘03 catalog. Thank you all so much. For more examples, see Catherine King’s Biennial Review. And in the comments section.)

Sara Abbott:
In my work as an artist I incorporate imagery of the body and translate this into the concept of object and form.

I have experimented with the idea of using light and layers of printed images separated by space, then placed in found objects.

This process of photography allows me to take a recognizable object and create line, shape, and depths of positive/negative space.

The light boxes have allowed me to create a body of work that holds a strong emotional element.

From the imagery being shot and the labor of building the piece itself, the pieces give me a deep attachment and great satisfaction within the final outcome of the work.

Sergio Aguirre:
I enjoy including the human element in each of the paintings because you can really see emotions through the expressions on their faces . . .
[so that’s how . . .]
I used to paint the figures without eyeballs because I was almost scared to do it -- eyes can tell so much.
[figures without eyeballs are less scary than with?]
But now I see the effect that they can have.
[now I’m scared]
When you can get people reacting to your stuff then I think you should keep painting it.
I like giving them that older look because it almost makes them timeless. They’ve had their place in time already.

Barbara Bergstrom:
I aim to place my work in the world through a way that flows naturally with the practices of human habit.

Being respectful of time and space, participating in the flow of human practice, and investigating personal life-shaping habits motivate my creative thought.

Susan Bricker:
My paintings document the birth, life, and death of the vivid, authentic, yet dream-like moments that fall between the cracks of real time.

Objects of the everyday relinquish their ordinariness at these instants and escape, quietly and heroically, from the mundane.

Daniel Britton:
My approach to method provides a structure that allows me to define problems and search for solutions that are equally rooted in a conceptual embrace of realism and expressionism.

This structure affords an opportunity for invention and improvisation in keeping with my understanding of the unexpected and unpredictable nature of “seeing” life.

Sue Chenoweth:
How do you put words on a wordless thing? My work is an investigation into the ineffable. Each piece contains a visual language; a language lacking words that exists only in the present.

Several years ago I began to actively investigate the space that is between the artist and the work. I came to understand that this “space between” is the visual language of the immediate.

James Cook:
The processing of these and other questions relies upon experience found in my dreams, meditation, and trance.

When suitable metaphorical lodgings, or relocations of the intuitive, are developed within the material context, they are for me more charged than are ideas born primarily of mental constructing.

Christine Crescenzi:
Upon the photographic moment: Whomever I meet the obstacle of judgment and presumption of separation and difference has to be undone for trust and cooperation to exist.

For those whom I ask permission and for those whom the moment would pass if I imposed speech upon it, each situation improves with choosing to seek and recognize equal value upon whomever I set my eyes.

Bill Dambrova:
At present my work is at a stage where I am incorporating an intuitive vocabulary of contradicting shapes and forms.

Simultaneously I am employing art historical references, both contemporary and arcane as a starting point before bombarding these multi-media works with an investigation of viral mark making.

Mehmet Dogu:[cue sitar]
I live a world of the mechanisms and framework, the timing and interpreted light, of photography.

Moments continue, not freeze. Fragments cluster to form “reality.” Time stretches in this way; events are reinterpreted; an extension of existence.

Space is layered -- from in to out and back, of “powers of ten,” pieces and wholes, figures and grounds, physical or ephemeral.

The space around art belongs to the art and the environment within which it is set.

Each individual’s filters and perceptions work with the complexities of the art and its environment to cast multiple possiblilties of interpretation.

Oliver Hibert:
You could call my work retro-futuristic, but I prefer POPPED ART. It is the closest form of Pop Art today. It is Pop Art exploded.

Although based from [sic] Pop Art, it is not exactly created for the same reasons. It has less to do with popular icons or commercialism.

Pop Art and that era of art are very important to me. There was something strong there, and that power can be re-used. New things can be created out of old.

Blake Hines:
It is my assumption that natural beauty reaffirms its existence by its very omission -- much as life reasserts itself in the midst of death.

In the “Nocturne” series, natural beauty is nowhere and everywhere. The juxtaposition of its absence assists in defining the desolate emotional psychological terrain that my photographs explore.

Hans Hoffman: [he’s not local? oh]
To me, creation is metamorphosis . . . incited by reality, imagination bursts into passion the potential inner life of a chosen medium. The final image resulting from it expresses the all of oneself.

Mel Hombre:
These paintings foreground a world in which all the stories we tell are about the words we use.

As current speculations tend towards ever more political, ethnic, religious and related fantasies, I hope to engender enthusiasm for more unassuming and naïve recreation.

Sara Hubbs:
My inspiration flows from Flamenco dancing, neo-soul music, salsa, anything with grit and funk.

I want people to respond emotionally to the work. But, I also need a surface that will stand on its own.

As for the emotions, though, I see painting as a physical release, so what ends up on the canvas is what I’m experiencing at that moment.

To see my passions, angst and joy materialize with feelings and emotion on a blank piece of wood or canvas is truly a spiritual event.

Michael Maglich:
The older I get, the more I ask myself why making art is so important to me.

Each day, I discover a different answer to this question depending on what’s on TV or what book I’m reading or who or what I encounter on a particular day.

Eventually, it comes down to the fact that making art just makes more sense than doing anything else.

Ellen McMahon:
My work is about the minutia [sic] and majesty of my everyday life.

My desire is to express the pleasure as well as the ambivalence, rage, resentment and powerless responsibility that is bonded to the dominant discourse of maternal sacrifice.

Olivier Mossett: See Biennial Review

Vytas Sakalas:
It is my artistic position that my paintings must be judged solely on their own merit, and that any verbiage I may write or speak about them is unfair to the position stated (that they be judged on their own merit).

Randy Slack: [Oh, enough of him.]

Doug Shelton:
What I try to create in my paintings is a sense of mystery. To me, mystery is intriguing and stimulates the imagination, something which is needed in our age of passive entertainment.

For people who take the time, the meaning of my paintings does unfold over time and with reflection, as the visual symbols reappear in different contexts.

Michael Stevenson:
[For Stevenson, abstraction is about the breaking down of forms into their essential elements, thus making them completely non-referential.]

In graduate school, we called it find the bunny. And it means how people think they recognize specific forms in the works, but they are really not specific at all, thus allowing for a wide variety of interpretations.

People want to connect to the paintings, they want to find something recognizable. So they are drawn by forms that look like something they know, but are maybe just a little off.

Judith Walsh:
My work is about that which lies below the surface; the hidden, the unconscious, the transparent, the vaguely remembered dream which is just beyond our ability to give it form.

Like a young child, I discover what I am painting while I paint -- images form and reform, dissolve and resolve in a non-logical way. As ideas [hey! wake up!] and forms are discarded, major destruction takes place. I often flip the . . . [hey! wake up!] I often . . .

My work as an artist is the process I go through to trick and frustrate that part of me that follows rules, uses logic and sees the world “the way it really is.” [In Downtown Phoenix March 2003.]

Katherine Walsh:
Photography, to me, is a means of bearing witness.

Every day there are moments that tell a story; each that I see occurs as a result of everything in my life leading me to a certain point.

A photograph of one of these moments is way for me to record what my life has taught me to see and to think at that point.

Donovan White:
My work finds its focus in the world of the blue collar man [sic].

I strive to capture the desperation and humor of the “average Joe” by pointing out the surreal element of the mundane in “normal everyday life.”

The beauty of the ordinary is discovered in the exploration of the edge between expectation and reality in everyday situations.

Posted by Jerome at 10:41 PM

June 18, 2003

The Carnival

Please visit Real Women Online to enjoy this week's panoramic Carnival of the Vanities. (Yes, we have a couple of pieces in there. Thanks to Shanti.)

Also, we have finally added some links. Many more to come, and sorry about the delay.

Look for two more essays in two more days, one local, the other international, but both dealing with Authenticity.

Thanks for visiting.

Posted by Jerome at 07:04 AM

June 17, 2003

Pizza Nights, Paint-by-Numbers, and Proud of It.

In one of our first posts for this blog, over two weeks ago, we wrote:

The museum-exhibition system here seems determined to dumbly Disneyfy itself down into mere entertainment, to be "audience-friendly" -- that's from Erin Kane, assistant curator at SMoCA. [Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art] You can have yoga, tai chi, chai tea, or karaoke with your art these days.

Now you can add pizza to the list, thanks to Bill Thompson, SMoCA’s new Manager of Marketing and Public Relations:

He’s also working with the museum’s Ted Decker [one of two Associate Directors of Development] to develop a pizza promotion at [a local upscale pizza place], whereby a “Summer SMoCA Pizza” comes with a free museum pass and new museum members receive a free pizza.

“I think you always have to be searching for fresh ideas in this business,” Thompson says, “especially if your goal is to reach new audiences [like the demographic he’s after, “a lot of young professionals in their 20s and 30s”]. We’re a young museum, and that opens the door for us to think outside the box in marketing.” [emphasis added] (Another “new” idea is a quarterly SMoCA Night of fashion and DJs. Ten dollars.)

This is how he talks: “I feel like I’m in a good place and that SMoCA is an institution with a sincere interest in promoting new, interesting work. From people I’ve talked to, the perception of SMoCA is that it’s poised to do great things.”

And this is his advice for students interested in museum work: “First, do all the internships you can. Second, get a master’s degree in art history. Third, don’t be afraid to switch jobs. Fourth, don’t worry about the red M & Ms.”

Some comments:

1. Obviously, none of the above is fresh or new, his very words are stale M & Ms, no doors are opening, no boxes are being thought outside of. Pizza Night! If people don’t come on their own hook to look at the art, does he really think pizza will help?

2. This man presumably takes his position by conflating two others, from two women: Cyndi Suttle, Director of Marketing, and Michelle Friedman, Public Relations Manager. I wonder what happened to them? (By the way, why does the Scottsdale Cultural Council need two Associate Directors of Development?)

3. Consider his advice to aspiring curators. The fourth is supposed to be cute. The second is obvious and required anyway. The first is about training in schmoozing and brownnosing. And the third says that loyalty and the long run are passé.

4. He uses the word art once: “contemporary art museum.”

5. He mentions no artists, no shows, no upcoming exhibitions, but here I come to the truly ugly part of this one-time curator, a gut-punch to any real, working artist: He collects paint-by-numbers art. This is not harmless.

When Jim Shaw collects and exhibits thrift-store paintings, people can snicker at the amateur artists’ inexpert renderings. But those amateurs paint whatever they want, whatever comes into their goofy heads, including their goofy heads. And Jim Shaw respects those amateur artists.

But Bill Thompson, by his preference here, celebrates denying painters all freedom, all choice, all spontaneity. The meticulously-numbered outline dictates how to proceed. I imagine him standing looking at his collection. All the correct color marks appear in all the correct places -- no overlapping, no spill, no smear, no mistakes -- landscapes, houses, vases, portraits, scene after bland scene, a panorama of total control, visual cliché, and fascistic stillness. Anti-art, in toxic abundance.

Oh, yes, “SMoCa is poised to do great things” with this scary stiff promoting it.

Posted by Jerome at 09:59 AM

June 15, 2003

Hey, Dad, Where Are We Going?

(for Father’s Day 2003)
by Jerome du Bois

In the six-plus years since my father died he’s been schooling me in the meanings of the heart and the hand, or “Why are we here?” and “Where are we going?” -- two of Gauguin’s famous three questions.

Oh, those. Look, we’re busy. Why bother asking? Because we’re busy. We get up and do it again, don’t we, every day into the everyday, but why? And I’ve wondered, especially in the last two years, what difference will it ever make, if I keep trying to scratch my tiny arc on the huge black moving wall of history?

My father was Alan du Bois, a name largely unknown among the suits in town and instantly familiar to scores of graduates of the three main Arizona universities. He was an educational philanthropist. In 1967 he and his uncle Ernest turned his uncle’s stock market gains into the E. Blois du Bois Foundation. For almost thirty years he and they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in renewable grants to thousands of Arizona college students. (They still do.) And my dad personally interviewed many of these young men and women.

You can see his name, and my mother’s (Marjorie), cast in bronze over here, etched in glass over there; and yes, the Student Center at NAU is named after him. But he lived quietly. “I don’t make speeches,” he would say as he was handed another award. “I write checks.” He was one of those about whom people say, “He was devoted to the cause of education.”

“Horse manure,” he whispers in my ear now. (My old man was a WWII Marine Corporal, Sixth Division, Pacific Theater. ) He was motivated -- no, okay, I’ll tell ‘em -- he was deeply moved -- by hearts on fire, by notions tumbling ass-over-elbows out of strong, fevered minds, by nervous electric fingers sketching plans in the air -- but the “cause of education?” That’s a limp hook to hang a life on.

He was here, he got up and did it again, because he served actual human efforts, not abstractions, which are far older than American education, such as the sovereignty of the person, material progress, science, and oh, the books, the books, the books! (Our family was American because our ancestors, two brothers, were persecuted Huguenots -- French Protestants -- who escaped to Rye, New York, in 1650.)

He was here to give a boost to the ones who strain forward, the scrappy, impatient ones with their glasses askew. I think he met them personally to bear witness to the hard-won lines in foreheads too young to bear them. He always put perseverance over GPA. He honored bitten nails and library eyes far above Nordstrom suits and fawning patter. Meeting them, he told me once in a rare bit of poetry, was “like looking at the headlights of the future.”

He asked them, “Why are you here?” and “Where are you going?” And they told him they wanted to make better artificial limbs, hunt down new molecules, rescue Latin from obscurity, restructure child protection, make really teensy technology, become a doctor or a forest ranger, or study the microscopic creatures hiding in the hindguts of termites.

And right here is where the heart meets the hand in my father’s very person, and I see the tiny arc of him, barely visible on the Arizona map, explode. Its shockwave staggers me -- the enormous energy he unleashed, like slow chain lightning, by lifting so many small burdens, so quietly and so often. Multiply the people above by the hundreds, add the ones they influenced, and like so many expanding spheres, or like some huge electric web --

“Alright already,” my father cuts in. “Sheesh. They get the point. But what about your heart, Jerry? Why are you here?”

I tell him, because I know.

“And where do you think you’re going?”

And I tell him because, amazingly, I know.

“And what do you hope to accomplish by this piece you’ve written about us? Which really went overboard, by the way.”

Thanks a lot, Dad.

“So bring it home, Jerome.”

My hope? That you, dear reader, will see that there need be no such thing as an ordinary woman, a mediocre man, an everyday life. The touch of your finger shudders the world.

“Not bad. Well, I have to go, but we’ll be talking, son. Water my tomatoes, okay?”

I don’t have to, Dad; they’re flourishing.

Posted by Jerome at 08:03 AM

June 01, 2003

What Is Not In A Downtown Phoenix Art Gallery Name

What is Not in a Downtown Phoenix Gallery Name
by Jerome du Bois

While perusing the Phoenix Art Detour 2003 brochure, I couldn't help thinking that a lot of successful (e.g., New York) galleries have simple names, meaning people's names -- Castelli, Feldman, Goodman, Gladstone, Augustine, Gagosian: they are named after their founder(s) or director or head per$on. For every Haunch of Venison or Fusebox or Thread Waxing Space or Kitchen, there are scores of Joplings, Lehmanns and Saatchis.

According to the Artlink list, in downtown Phoenix almost nobody puts a simple, or simply descriptive, name on their gallery (such as Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century.)

Here's a short tour, from the Detour brochure:

Like here -- the made-up streetzony names: The Wash, Grandevelt Complex, The Western Fringe, Roosevelt Row.

I don't hang out with this crew, so does Jeff Falk, for example, say he's going to get something to eat down at the Wash? with a straight face? And besides, the moniker doesn't help narrow down exactly where he's going to eat, so what good is it anyway?

Modified. A beige word, meaning "to change or alter," and the other two definitions apply as well: "to make or become less extreme, severe, or strong," and especially "to qualify or limit the meaning of." Bang on. They've got diminishing meaning down pat.

The Paper Heart. Great name for a card shop. In fact I think they're putting in a card shop. They already have a coffee shop.

Studio LoDo. A two-toneless non-echo of SoHo, frustratingly flatfooted. What does it mean, Kathleen? Lower Downtown? Loading Dock? Lost Dog? Lone Dogma?

[Update: It's Lower Downtown, according to Ms. Thomas herself in something called YES.]

Cob4lt Blu3. If you're going to rip off David Carson at least have the decency to flip your 3.

515. Imagination working overtime.

eye lounge. a lower case art space.

Holga's, named after a cheap, nearly-disposable camera. Perfect.

Paulina Miller Studio/Gallery. Straightforward, serious metal sign; but then you remember her oombrellas, and "It Is Building." After 9/11, no less.

monOrchid. Wayne Rainey explains this somewhere, and it's fascinating and unforgettable.

ThoughtCrime. The subversive shiver subsides as the worn clichés warm the room.

New Urban Art. And right down the middle of the road.

3carpileup. Or two, anyway, including the aptly-nicknamed Slackster, who says of his work, "They're not really about anything, no deep meanings at all, just what I am feeling and seeing at the moment." In these times when they made them jump from the Towers, remember, Randy Slack proclaims his vacant vision, and expects us to share in it.

There are more, of course -- Buckaroo Parish, Weird Garden, Carbon-based Studio, From the Ashes -- and they sound more like bad band names than serious art venues. Pretty soon maybe Makeshift Memorial.

But a name stands for something.

Posted by Jerome at 08:54 PM

How I Narrowly Escaped Becoming the New Phoenix New Times Art Writer

How I Narrowly Escaped Becoming the New Phoenix New Times Art Writer
by Jerome du Bois

[I answered a solicitation from Phoenix New Times, a free weekly here, for a "terrific" art writer, by email.]

April 9
Dear Tony Ortega:

My name is Jerome du Bois. I wrote about a dozen art pieces for Phoenix New Times in 1990/1991, so I am probably in the archives somewhere (hence deja vu.) I also covered visual art for Java Magazine 1996/1998. I've enclosed a review from that time, as well as a brand-new, unpublished one about Mel Roman's installation at LoDo recently. (I did send this in to your letters section; as I said, it remains unpublished.)

My wife Catherine King and I are artists. We run Art For Our Times at 625 E. Indian School. Each of us makes wall works, and we collaborate on installations. For example, we'll have a major multi-media installation in October with the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

I was born in 1949 and I have studied art, mostly postwar American art, for forty years. We're also starting a weblog about the local art scene, among other things, to debut in mid-May. It will be called The Tears of Things.

If you enjoy my writing and don't have problems with anything else above, by all means I am interested in writing again about the local art scene.

April 9

Just wanted to acknowledge that I received your email. I'm busy finishing up a cover story, but I'll be taking a good look at submissions soon, and I'll get back to you then.


Tony O

April 16

I looked up your pieces in the archive and liked them very much. We need art columns every other week, and we have a budget of $300 per item. (Columns tend to be about 800 words.)

I'd like to get a couple of story ideas from your [sic] for possible columns, if you're still interested.

Tony O.

April 17


I am still interested, and the money's fine.

Here are three ideas:

1. For the April 30 issue, I can email 800 words on Leslie Dill (at SMOCA until May 11) to you by four on Friday, April 18, if you want. I'm going to the show Thursday.

2. For May 7, I can cover something(s) from First Friday Downtown May 2.

3. For May 21, I'll cover Wiggins/Hibert/Freedman at monOrchid on May 16. (It won't be pretty, but it will be hot.)

I'm ready to go. Just let me know. And thanks again.

Jerome du Bois

[In this interval, Mr. Ortega and I talked on the phone, in which he encouraged me to cover the Leslie Dill show. We confirmed the snarky voice he was looking for. He also said not to worry about how to send the text file by email since he knew a lot about it and he was sure he would have no trouble technically. So I went to the exhibition and wrote about it. The most relevant part of the review to this narrative is the closing, where I refer to my "debut" as the new art writer.]

April 22

Your cover story was great, gritty, and eye-opening. Congratulations.

I've attached about 800 words about Leslie Dill in Appleworks 6 Macintosh. I am willing to drive a hard copy down there, with the catalog if you need it, for the sake of perfect clarity. Or call me.

Back in the day they would ask what photo I would like for the story. Ideally, it would be a closeup of the hand (not in the catalog) of Divide Light #1, 2000. Otherwise, anything that hasn't already been used by others.

Hope this attachment works. Talk to you later.


April 22, 11:06 AM

Could you re-send that as a text file? It got fairly garbled in the translation. It's short enough that you could just paste it into an email message.


April 22, 1:56 PM

I had a feeling this was going to happen. I really don't know if I can send this as text file. I can save it and paste it to a new email message, but everything interesting is lost -- italics and such. So I'm on my way down there right now with a hard copy to leave for you at the front desk. If you want to meet up, that's cool, otherwise we'll do it another time, but either way the stuff will be there in about twenty minutes.


[And I drove it down there, italics intact, along with the $20 catalog, which I left at the front desk.]

April 22, 3:49 PM, Tony Ortega wrote:

Got the hard copy. Thanks for bringing it down. My main concern is that you launch right into ripping Dill without at least doing a little contextualizing to begin with. You know, setting the table for philistines like myself who don't really know Dill's work or her history. Think you could give me a sentence or two that does that? I think it could go after your opening line.


April 22, 10:13 AM
Tony the Philistine,

How's this for an opener:

Leslie Dill enjoys a reputation as a "profoundly honest" and sensitive post-feminist artist, whose metaphorical touch "explores issues surrounding" poetic language, the fine arts, the domestic arts, and ecumencial spirituality -- an emotional and hands-on approach to the world. Everything I read about her work emphasized both her love of language and the irresistible tactility of her works.
But what I saw was unreadable language and a withering hand. The hand, this bodiless bearer of blight, drifts through the rooms of her ten-year survey at SMOCA, leaching the life from leaves . . .

Sorry about the delay with emails. We are in the middle of moving -- to a house! yes! -- but I'm on this, not to worry.

Jerome the Ripper

April 23, 10:56 AM, Tony Ortega wrote:

That's a great opening! Now, I want to revisit the ending. Can you give me something a little more conventional? I'd rather you not mention a "debut." Fact is, we're running a piece by another freelancer in a subsequent issue, and it may be several weeks before we settle on a
regular columnist.


[WHOA! . . . another freelancer?!]

April 23 4:58 PM
Dear Mr. Ortega:

"Debut." Fact is:

When you offered me money and the schedule, and we talked on the phone, and you didn't mention anyone else at any time, I thought I had the job. Otherwise I would not have referred to a debut. Isn't that obvious?

So after I write the article, and make sure it gets to you the way I intended it, and I revise the opening, you tell me the position is still open -- and you mention this in passing! If I had not referred to a "debut," would I find out two weeks after my first column I wasn't the new arts columnist?

And then you want to give me more work because you didn't disclose to me all the information I deserved.

I don't need this gig, I don't need the money. I have other things going on, not least the upcoming weblog. I write anyway. But I care about art, and I am a serious writer, and this town has needed both for a long time. (I'll put my critical writing up against anyone who I have read in Phoenix for the last thirty years.)

New Times has never even considered a staff position for the arts -- I know, I checked it out a dozen years ago -- because it's way too easy to use desperate freelancers. I ain't desperate.

I will write my ass off for anyone who gives me respect -- I do it for myself, who I respect, every day -- but I WON'T BE PLAYED.

So I suppose it'll be someone else's debut.

Jerome du Bois

April 23, 5:03 PM, Tony Ortega wrote:

Look back through your emails. I asked you for one story. And I like it. Rick likes it. We're just not ready to name a regular columnist yet. We've asked another person to write something who pitched an interesting concept as well.

We're going to treat the art column simply as a hole to fill until someone impresses us enough to make it their own. So far, you've got a good start. Please don't give [sic] on us yet.


April 24, 1:33 AM.
Mr. Ortega:

Please don't call me Jerome. What follows is what some bloggers call fisking.

"Look back through your emails. I asked you for one story."

Actually, nothing like that is in the emails. On the phone, though, when you gave me the go-ahead to cover the Dill thing -- the one story -- you might have mentioned that others may be involved. "Just so you know. . . Just to be fair . . . Oh, by the way. . ." Like that, you know? It's called honesty, manners, respect, all number of things in civilized society.

"And I like it. Rick likes it."

Who's Rick? We're moving, and we've been wrapping our china in New Times. I don't have a masthead nearby.

"We're just not ready to name a new columnist yet."

New Times has hardly ever been ready to name "a new [arts] columnist yet." I haven't done the research, and I haven't read NT steadily for the last dozen years, but I think I had a pretty long stretch -- a year? -- compared to some of the others who have written about art. Lineberry? Lebow? Collins? I forget who else. But as I said before, NT has never made a serious commitment to the visual and plastic arts anyway. Who could blame you? There isn't much serious art in Phoenix, and the stuff that is covered is crap fawned over by sycophants, mostly from and about their friends from the hamberger school.

"We've asked another person to write something who pitched an interesting concept as well."

When you asked this other person used to be an interesting question to me, but that was hours ago. Also, I know I didn't pitch any interesting concepts, so I'll be interested to see what articles this other interesting person comes up with.

I was just all over snarky, which you know by now, and a strong love of real art, which I guess you don't, and which continues to mean almost nothing to any of the editors in this town, no matter the newspaper, no matter who's writing. That's okay, maybe our weblog will do some good.

"We're going to treat the arts column simply as a hole to fill until someone impresses us enough to make it their own."

(Man, you shouldn't have used the word hole.)

"So far, you've got a good start."

It wasn't "a good start," it was kick-ass. Plus, you had my stories from the archive, and Java, and the new unsolicited piece, done on my own hook, which everything I do is. I'm no novice, sir, I'm an accomplished and professional writer. I don't have to impress anyone anymore. Patronize others, not me.

You gave me good, specific, direct advice about the opener, which I changed, and promptly, and only after I did did you write to me about changing the ending, which you could have mentioned at the same time as your previous email, but you didn't, did you, and you didn't write a goddamn thing about this other person in that previous email, did you? Jeebus. Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by five-sided comedians.

"Please don't give [sic] on us yet."

I don't give. I'm like Natty Bumppo, "not subject to much at all." And I don't give up -- on me.

So fill your hole with someone else, that they may "make it their own." I'm going online.

Jerome du Bois

[And that was that, except I wanted my catalog back. So I emailed him twice about it, on May 5th and May 12th. Finally:]

May 12, 5:03 PM, Tony Ortega wrote:

Sorry. It was long gone before your first email.


May 13, 7:04 AM, I wrote:

Well, it's appropriate that a lying coward would work someplace where personal property means as little as simple respect. You are one pluperfect turdbird, T.O.

Jerome du Bois

[To recap: Tony Ortega, Associate Editor of Phoenix New Times, decided to hold back revealing my misunderstanding of my contractual position with him, at least until he could hook me closer with flattery and revisions. This was a disingenuous and clumsy attempt at manipulation. Plus I had to drive the damn thing down there. And not even a kill fee. And I’m out twenty bucks and a crappy catalog. I’m lucky I got away with my dignity! Writers be warned . . . five-sided comedians . . . ]

Posted by Jerome at 08:51 PM | TrackBack

Throwing Shade: Joshua Rose

Throwing Shade:Joshua Rose

by Jerome du Bois

The truth, who wants to hear it anyway?--J.R.

In Shade 1 (May 2002:$5.00[!]), Rose wrote:

While the exhibition, entitled “Rewritings” consists of four Native American artists, this is the only similarity that can be made between the disparate styles of the painters in the show. (30 words)

But how about:
The only thing the four painters in “Rewritings” have in common is their Native American heritage, so disparate are their styles. (22 words)

Or even:
The only thing the four unique painters in “Rewritings” have in common is their Native American heritage. (18 words)

Or . . . never mind.
Later in the article we read about a giant buck deer

drowning in no more than a small body of water...


Also, in the distance, one can make out a paved, modern day highway looming like a dark omen of things to come.


In the painting The Calling, a lone figure, stands almost naked with an open, gaping mouth; one of the more harrowing images in modern art like Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

Another artist
deals in her contemporary-stylized [?] works with the common stereotypes of Native Americans which have “always intrigued, angered, and horrified me . . .”

Then she makes a painting that
. . .depicts the traditional coyote “trickster” as a sort of modern vixen, complete with legs spread, low-cut top and knee high ankle [sic] boots.

No stereotypes there, I guess. (But double-action boots! Waow.) Next, Rose Defends Beauty Through Dale Chihuly:
And, in an art world that takes issues with things made for beauty, these Chihuly sculptural pieces use beauty in a way that provokes contemplation and thought. After all, even James Joyce, the most complex and intellectually demanding writer of the 20th century, could write, at the end of the short story, The Dead, something beautiful like “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling ...”

Riiiiight. On to Gary Beals at New Urban Art:
It was from Bertoia where Beals learned to fabricate the steel through a process that includes welding and grinding.

So that’s how they do it.
. . . Beals uses Corten steel which rusts over time to give the works an almost patina effect.

Not almost: it is one of the many patinas.
The rusted steel also lends to the work a more earthy, natural look that contradicts the tough informality that metal usually brings to art work. [emphasis added]

Do those really contradict each other? since they both sound like LLBean? In the same gallery, Mark Vinci’s work
focuses on large, brushstrokes, [sic] abstract fields of color placed against one another and other various incidental painting marks and forms. With these forms, the viewers are led around the space, and discover them as a way of definition.

Now I know what they look like.
It’s what the critic Clement Greenberg would show as the history of forms being self-referential and developing independently from and of the history of events.

Clear as a Chihuly, only flatter. Push your glasses up, Josh.
In Shade 2 (June 2002:$3.50[!]) Rose wrote:

. . . a [Randy] Slack who has tossed away the juvenalia of the past and has, instead, focused on themes and style more in turned [sic] to those of a “professional” or “serious” artist -- whatever those terms mean, anyway.

Any dictionary could define them for this art magazine editor.
The five, large-scale paintings in this new show combine everything there is to love about Slack’s works, from naked Japanese animation characters to large hunks of meat to kittens dressed as samurai.

I guess that’s everything.
These images are all shown against paint-splashed and dripped canvasses that carry the work into a form of abstraction.

Well, if you have to carry it somewhere . . . Finally, the Slackster himself speaks:
“When I paint, I just put down what comes to me. . . They’re not really about anything, no deep meanings at all, just what I am feeling and seeing at the moment I paint them.”

Goya weeps. Hell, Mark Kostabi weeps.
In Shade 3 (July 2002), Rose wrote:

We know artist Ted Troxel and he wants your trash. He wants your trash so that he can turn it into something useful or beautiful or even just something better to look at then [sic], well, trash, I guess. . . [emphasis added.]

Yes, Troxel makes art out of trash. But, to say that Troxel’s art is just about taking something that has been deemed worthless and turning it into something of value is to merely simplify the process for the work is much more than that. . .

[Troxel’s art] is about scale in a way that even the smallest and most utilitarian object becomes a [sic] intricately crafted work of art when scaled down to a miniature version of its former self. . .

In an era when so much art can be confused for trash, we have to thank artists like Troxel for reminding us that the slippery slope can be reversed and the opposite is true as well.

.lexorT deT, sknaht. . .
In Shade 4 (August 2002), Rose wrote:

Photographer Keith Krassner knows beauty. He knows beauty well enough to know that along with the sometimes deceptively alluring beauty aesthetic comes danger. Well, maybe we all know it.


His images, often juxtaposing the beauty and softness of the female form with the cold steel of saw blades, remind us of the truth to Johnny Cash’s words -- that love is a burning thing and the road to beauty is paved with the flames of desire.


I’m sure there’s some place on the internet where you can find naked woman [sic] with power tools just as it is wrong to say that Krassner’s work doesn’t also use sexuality as one of its appeals.

Something is wrong to say there.
For Krassner, it is these distinctions, these pairs of extremes that are far more interesting than the images themselves. [emphasis added.] It’s what separates the good from the bad; the art from the centerfold; the illusion from the truth.

The truth, who wants to hear it anyway?

Anyone? Anyone? Anyone besides Lisa?

I know I've only covered four issues, and there are nine Shades so far. It's work, but I'll be back soon to examine more lazy thinking and sloppy writing by the Editor-in-Chief of the slick, new -- though now-bimonthly, now-nonprofit -- Phoenix art magazine.

Posted by Jerome at 08:47 PM

Life Always Trumps Art, So Why Don't Today's Artists Deal With It?

Life Always Trumps Art, So Why Don't Today's Artists Deal With It?
by Jerome du Bois

Boris Pasternak wrote: Art is interested in Life at the moment when the Ray of Power is passing through it.

Thomas Harris wrote, in Hannibal (2000): Now that ceaseless exposure has calloused us to the lewd and vulgar, it is instructive to see what still seems wicked to us. What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?

Ross Bleckner said in an interview (1994): If reality strikes us as a cultural and not a psychological dynamic, then our representations of it are as docile as the forms by which we receive it (as itself). We are placated by merchandising techniques that validate these forms. . . [But] the problem of artistic creation is the problem of madness and death.

Maurizio Cattelan said in an interview (Phaidon 2000): I'm not really sure satire is the key to my work. Comedians manipulate and make fun of reality, whereas I actually think that reality is far more provocative than my art. You should walk on the street and see real beggars, not my fake ones. You should witness a real skinhead rally. I just take it; I'm always borrowing pieces -- crumbs, really -- of everyday reality. If you think my work is provocative, it means that reality is extremely provocative, and we just don't react to it. Maybe we no longer pay attention to the way we live in the world. We are increasingly . . . how do you say, 'don't feel any pain?' . . . We are anaesthetized.

Miguel Calderon said, when an outlandish biography (of a friend) he wanted to film was rejected by an LA producer as unbelievable: Unfortunately all the stories are true. I'm not out to shock, I'm not making cliches, and I can understand how people can misunderstand, but the truth of the matter is my work is coming out of reality.

Life always trumps Art. This means that Art that takes from Life is stronger than Art that takes from Art. Today, a lot of the latter is not even art, it's presentation, and the rest is almost as weak because today's artists -- god's puppies, those in their twenties and thirties -- are afraid of life. They dodge Rays of Power as if they were errant lightning bolts, no matter their irritating relevance.

Much safer to explore issues surrounding subject X with attenuated, elliptical timidity. Or flip it -- we're all sociopaths now -- to infantile pornographic frontality: what's with all the arcing bodily fluids? Or they crouch under the arched eyebrow of irony. And nobody judges nobody. Didn't you read about that survey?

But I say art can never have the weight and authority of any wall that supports it, any structure that houses it, any institution that pays for it. Life -- everything entailed by life -- comes before art. Art is always late, always leftover, always fake. Every esthetic experience, no matter how intense or complete, is a thin temporal envelope sealed with the bitter glue of reality's return -- and sometimes a good cut to remind ya.

Most contemporary art cannot bear even the smallest weight of everyday reality. When Louise Bourgeois's fantastic gigantic Maman spider loomed over New York's Rockefeller Center, it became just the inspiration for a silly Jeannie Moos piece on CNN about arachnids. When, more recently, Matthew Barney swallowed the Guggenheim whole, many remained underwhelmed; some even ran away giggling. Sergei Bugaev Afrika's profoundly direct Stalker 3, at I-20 Gallery, with its verite video of gut-flinging Al Qaeda murderers, caused barely a ripple in a prevailing sea of blasé malaise (Charlie Finch excepted). The last time New York got angry about art was over Eric Fischl's embarrassing, crude Tumbling Woman sculpture. Why they're not livid with rage over Tom Otterness's snide, smug Free Money is beyond me. Slap that clammy flab!

Is Maurizio Cattelan right? Are a lot of us anaesthetized? No, it's worse than that, it's willful denial. Look here: there's a thin sliver of illumination into some young New York minds called "TalkBack" at Artforum magazine online. It's usually worthless masturbatory chat, postgraduate noodlings, and jpeg one-upmanship, but they do monitor the scene -- "Will Cotton looks like a turd" . . . sort of.

So I made sure to check in daily for two weeks during Thanksgiving 2002, when Marina Abramovic, 57, endured her living installation The House With the Ocean View at Sean Kelly Gallery, the best work of art in the United States since Robert Gober's pierced Virgin Mary (1997). (I also think that during this time Abramovic, who fasted for a dozen days, chewed Matthew Barney up and spat him out.) Here was a woman living in a mute, ritualized manner in an art gallery in front of everyone, all day, every day, clothed and naked, more people gathering as the word got around. But the sheeple at "TalkBack" were silent the entire time. Not a thread. Not a whisper. Not a word. That's a tell.

Now consider Thomas Hirschhorn's Cavemanman and Tom Sachs's Nutsy's, which opened the same weekend as each other (November 11, 2002, before Abramovic) in New York City. I saw neither, and the two installations were not in explicit competition, of course, but every word I read and every image I saw persuaded me Tom Sachs got his ass handed to him by the older man.

Both used low-cost and recycled materials and simple, show-your-work construction methods, but Hirschhorn, with eight people in two weeks, transformed the Barbara Gladstone Gallery into a glittery but moody cardboard cave for the subterranean homesick blues; Sachs made an adolescent toy raceway (with real Kyosho Mini-Z Racers!), a foamcore party place filled with modernist replicas and pop culture, and he did it with twice as many assistants and two years' worth of construction (they got videos!).

Most importantly, Hirschhorn's Cavemanman traced a physical narrative from Lascaux, to Plato, to bin Laden, to Lascaux II, to the inside of the oldest part of any homo sapiens sapiens's brain (such as "the Caveman of Manhattan," who triggered Hirschhorn's original thought bomb.) He took from life.

But Tom Sachs took from art and popular culture -- life lite -- then shrunk it all to 1/25th scale -- Brancusi, Calder, LeCorbusier, di Suvero, NASCAR, popular music, and MacDonald's. To what effect? Nutsy's goes around and around until it gets tired of the same exhausted social landscape and then, with a sickly grin, disappears up its own fundamental aperture. And for who? God's puppies! Young culture-suckers with lives of wafer-thin significance. Stoner Cricket Shrine (2001) is their emblem.

Another quick example, from the start of the Iraqi War. Within minutes of each other, I saw aircraft carrier takeoffs through a nightscope (on my TV), and then a popup ad for the movie The Core, showing the Golden Gate Bridge sagging into the Bay like taffy (on my browser).

The second image cost eleventeen million dollars and was perfectly stunning and perfectly boring.

The first image was simply point and shoot and this is what you get. And I couldn't take my eyes off of it. True, unlike the film still, it was a moving image -- the coruscating orange lozenges, floating green ghosts, flaring yellow roars -- but even a short clip of The Core bridge scene would be crisp, clean, replete with music, and slick as a smirk.

I pictured Hollywood directors watching those carrier takeoffs on wall-sized screens and seething into cellphones at cinematographers: "That's the look I want! that's the look I need! Why can't we do that? Why can't we even think of doing that?

I feel for you, but life trumps art:

This statue of boots by Iraqi artist Zerak Mera trumps all 51 of Antony Gormley's new Australian figures.

Any small part of any North Korean parade trumps any Vanessa Beecroft.

Pana Wave Laboratories wipes out Jim Shaw's O-ism/Goodman Image File, and even takes a bite out of Barney's Cremaster 5.

Kimjongilias (mutated poinsettias) trump Eduardo Kac's glowing bunny.

MSNBC's America's Bravest wall trumps Do-Ho Suh's Korean classmate wallpaper.

This photo [warning: very graphic] from RAWA of a smiling Taliban in 1998 holding out two hands and a foot -- not his own -- to the camera, certainly trumps the Chapman brothers's Great Deeds Against the Dead.

An esoteric example, for the bitstreamers: the epistemological outlooks of those who advance 4GW -- Fourth Generation Warfare theory, strategy, and tactics. These people wrestle with a world -- our world -- whose combinatorial explosions far outstrip the most mega-multi-meta virtuality ever invented, or which could be invented. (These same people unzipped Iraq neat as you please. Thank you.)

Artists must respond to the sobering fact that, like most people, they shall always play catch-up with the morning newspaper homepage. Recently, these responses range from the hilarious (Miguel Calderon, Noble & Webster) to the hopeless (too many to count, but here's a sampler: Tracey Emin, Kai Althoff, Neo Rauch, Ann Craven, both Rachels, all Crewdson Crews, Peter Doig, Laura Owens, Jason Meadows, Evan Holloway, und so weider); from the horrible (Wim Delvoye's Cloaca, Rhoades & McCarthy's Shit Plug) to the humiliating (Dawn Mellor, Gillian Wearing, John Currin, Robert Melee pimping his mother).

But I see very little art out there, from sea to shining sea, and definitely here in desert metro/Phoenix, that is so profoundly eccentric as to establish a new center -- or that brings a mature challenge to our expectations -- or that helps anyone into the future -- or that repudiates empty trances -- or that fosters clearer reflection -- or that thrives beyond cultural clichés and other dead horses -- or that takes a strong stand against our common oblivion.

I want to know art that shows the stretch marks of life, scoured with the tears of things.

Years ago photographer Arthur Tress angrily asked, "Where are the photographs we can pray to, that will scare the hell out of us, that will save our souls?"

This yearning attitude is lost on a lot of our local artists, as well as our local curators and directors. The museum-exhibition system here seems determined to dumbly Disneyfy itself down into mere entertainment, to be "audience-friendly" -- that's from Erin Kane, assistant curator at SMOCA. You can have yoga, tai chi, chai tea, or karaoke with your art these days.

You get the soothing milksop of Wolfgang Laib, the dessicated "emoting" (is that even a word?) of Leslie Dill, Ernesto Neto's soma-coma playtime squishies, the infantilizing, blue-pill surrender of Lee Bul's karaoke pods, and the sanctioned soap-operas of Tony Oursler -- but you won't see Abramovic cleaning bloody bones, or the white-knuckled gut-twist of Cattelan's Him.

(Bill Viola was and is an exception. So was the Cuba show at ASU. That's two, and years ago.)

If metro/Phoenix wants to be world-class, should it not pay attention to art that pays attention to the world? Milking the Phillips Collection on its circuit, snagging a Cornelia Parker (even a good one), impressing a New York writer with your single Frida Kahlo (an even better one) and the truly embarrassing Beverly McIver (Jeez-Loueeze, Mr. Rubenstein!), perenially flogging the still-vibrant, civilized hallucinations of Philip Curtis -- sorry: that ain't the Show, that's still the Cactus League (even with James Turrell).

At the alternative galleries -- you know they're alternative by the tired surreal names, like snorkydork -- there's body suspension and skateboarding and sword-swallowing and spoken word and no-category music and belly-dancing (not all at once). They show student-level art. And they're crowded.

Where is the strong art? I don't mean the fifty-odd people I admire, out of thousands over almost forty years. Where is the new strong art that can take the measure of life and act accordingly? that isn't simply rubbed out by the next dreadful matyrdom, or eclipsed by newfangled scientific humdingers, or blindsided by the latest low mark in human behavior?

In the name of Goya, in the name of Bosch, in the name of Johns; in the names of Eva Hesse and Oscar Wilde and Camille Paglia and Walter Pater, I am insulted by the amniotic dreaming so prevalent now on canvases Valleywide, and the cartoon surrealism, and the shallow autobiography ("You are SO Judgmental" -- Annie Lopez), and the one-trick ponies monkeys with their single gimmicks, and the pooped-out pop, and the find-the-bunny abstraction which has oozed out of art schools in a thick, engulfing wave of odorless manure for at least the last decade.

Where is the strong art? We've been looking, and we do find it, and in the days, weeks, and months to come, we'll find even more and write about that, too, making judgments all the way.

We will devote some space to tired, and rehashed, and implosive, and stupid art, too; some of whatever gets put out there. But not much; just enough to slightly alter Jerry Saltz's recent prophecy:

"Future generations will peruse today's art magazines and suppose ours was an age when almost everything was universally admired."

Not if we can help it, beginning in the blogosphere.

We declare this critical attitude with the same moniker we bestow on our own art practice: Twenty-First Century Soul.

This is the new stuff.

Posted by Jerome at 08:37 PM | TrackBack