August 17, 2003

Stealing Is the New Appropriation

by Jerome du Bois

Today's New York Times featured an article by filmmaker and blogger Greg Allen about bootleg video art. Matthew Barney is the principal victim, and one of the stars of the piece is a lazy, vampiric bozo named Jon Routson, whom Mr. Allen wanted to call, cutely, "The Cremaster Thief." I say he just gives fresh meaning to rip-off artist.

The article contains this disturbing paragraph:

In April at New York's Team Gallery, Mr. Routson showed his "made for TV" version of "Cremaster 4." He cut a grainy VHS bootleg of Mr. Barney's 45-minute film down to 22 minutes, dropped in actual commercials, compressed the end credits and even floated ABC's logo in the lower corner of the screen. The result: a hilarious, smart, and brazen work, which drew critical praise and which may be a sign of things to come.(emphasis added)

Let's be clear: Mr. Routson illegally snagged a copy of a complex artwork which cost blood, sweat, tears, time, and money -- none his -- then sat on his ass in front of his technology and cut apart a piece of work he couldn't conceive a thousandth of on his best day. (No matter anyone's opinion of Matthew Barney, his co-workers say he works harder than anyone else involved in his art.)

Worse, Mr. Allen just lets the video thievery slide. So let's ask: has Mr. Allen already handed over copies of his own films so Mr. Routson can have some fun with them? If not, what's he waiting for? because if he has any objections I'm waiting for him to call out for the nipping of Mr. Jon Routon's career in the bud.

But that won't happen. It's outrageous, but no longer surprising in this art climate, that the Team Gallery people have no ethics whatsoever. Mr. Allen, though, disappoints me.

Here in Phoenix Gregory Sale, another artist too lazy to do his own work (at least in this case), telephonically hijacked a phone-in part of Yoko Ono's retrospective in San Francisco last year, then somehow made a fifteen-minute video of an audio piece, and called it "Looking for Yoko Ono." He explained it, in part, this way:

I am questioning museum culture while playing with celebrity and artistic intervention.

which I translate this way:

I am an obnoxious party-crasher taking advantage of a venue I couldn't mount in a hundred years, and this is the only way I'll ever get into the San Francisco Museum of Art.

(Mr. Sale, by the way, is Visual Arts Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts.)

Speaking of unscrupulous artists, in a few days Catherine King will post a long, psychologically-informed essay on the painter Beverly McIver, called An Unbecoming Portrait. It's part one of several pieces in our run-up to the October SMOCA show Hairstories.

And this Friday I will post notes toward a new art criticism, based on Daniel Dennett's Moral First Aid Manual, which I'm calling "Art Writing in the AllGoRhythm."

That's right: morality in art criticism. It's back.

Posted by Jerome at 08:56 PM | TrackBack

August 12, 2003

More on Protocols

Lynn S. at Reflections in d minor has nice things to say about us, and we thank her and welcome her readers. For the others: her weblog is centered around classical music, but she covers a lot of other things as well, and often; and she has prolific links.

The story she refers to -- the Protocols update (two posts below this one) -- got another update on Sunday. Susanna Klein, the UC Berkeley student who challenged her Arabic instructor, explains exactly what happened in a letter to the student paper (copied to littlegreenfootballs). Just two chilling excerpts:

I asked him repeatedly if he was certain that he believed "the Protocols" to be a document written by Jews. He assured me that he did. Hoping desperately that there must be some mistake, I phrased my question differently and asked him if he didn't believe it to be a forgery. He laughed and said, "Who would have forged it, Muslims?"

I find it shameful that no other student save myself had the decency to speak against Mr. Kadhim's anti-Jewish diatribe. One student is quoted as calling me "belligerent."

Better to be belligerent than spineless.

Posted by Jerome at 06:57 AM

August 09, 2003

Local Visual Arts Coverage

by Jerome du Bois

Here’s a short informal survey of who has been covering the visual arts in metro/Phoenix recently, and how they have been doing it. If we have overlooked anyone, please let us know. (In a few days I’ll have a longer, companion piece to this one: The State of Art Criticism in the Blogosphere.)

New Times
It has been about four months since the Phoenix New Times announced a search for a “terrific” arts writer. During my own little email adventure with Assistant Editor Tony Ortega about the position, he mentioned they had another writer with some interesting ideas.

Neither the writer nor the ideas have appeared. Two new names have shown up, like hiccups, with short, forgettable reviews of shows at places like eye lounge and Amsterdam, but mostly it has been non-art staffers like Michelle Laudig and Brendan Joel Kelley writing pedestrian, descriptive, unreflective reviews. (Reviewing a gallery is not reviewing art.) Sometimes little squibs show up in the Night & Day section, usually about Jeff Falk, or scattered along the tops of advertising pages in that no-person’s section that reminds me of the kids’ magazine Highlights.

Today’s piece, by Mr. Kelley, is typical: a gee-wow take on an outlaw-type cartoonist (shotgunning the Family Circus) at reZurrection, which, lest we forget, is a furniture store with a gallery squoze in back. (Full disclosure: In 2001, I had a piece in the main room there for a couple of months.)

Where is that terrific new writer, anyway?

Shade magazine: June-July 2003 issue.

Start with the cover, which shows Paolo Soleri facing the viewer with his right hand flat up against his cheek as though . . . well, that’s just it: this photo cries out for a caption contest. (They need to get the website up to date, if only to make it easier to make fun of them. What are they doing down there on Roosevelt St? Repainting the street wall? Dynamically multitasking and technologically blenderhausing?)

Wayne Rainey, Joshua Rose, and Gina Cavallo Collins continue their own policy of sloppy editing of short, pedestrian, favorable reviews (with two exceptions: Joshua Rose does a pretty good job handling the giant subject of Dante with Sandow Birk’s LA/Inferno illustrated book; and M. Scott Krause nicely summarizes the almost equally epic Singing Detective).

Here is Mark Sutz -- who’s he? -- on Mike Slack’s OKOKOK, a book of Polaroid photos: “And that is the greatest testament to a photographer’s success: to feel you could also [?] have taken the image laid right out in front of you but also [sic] to be certain only in his hands for that moment are you truly okay.” Shade, it says here, has a publisher, an editor, and an assistant editor; they even have two interns down there at HQ now. Doesn’t anyone proofread anymore?

I’ve had fun with the sloppy writing before, but here I am more concerned with the writers simply taking what is handed to them and putting a smile on it, even unremarkable Polaroids or, a few pages later, a book of photobooth photos.

Then there has to be another knee-slapping “true-life-artist” story by Jeff Cochran, of simian interests; perhaps the last of these anecdotes, since he has mercifully moved to New Mexico.

The big hunk in the middle is about architecture, which is this magazine’s true agenda, in my opinion: infill. (Think realty investor handout.) After that more smiles as Christina S. Hiett writes some fluff about the Arizona Biennial’s curator, Toby Kamps, when she could have asked him some truly cogent questions as she followed him around.

Finally, Deborah Sussman Susser -- who’s she? -- contributes to the rancid trend of talking about an artist’s disability instead of the art.

“[Tom Ortega] is understandably leary [sic! Jeebus!] of being branded ‘bulimia boy,’ as he puts it . . .

But that doesn’t stop him from saying that

”[anorexia and bulimia] made me who I am, it formed me, but it’s not something I have to live with anymore. What caused it? I don’t care. I don’t even think about it anymore. Now I’m an obsessive painter. Now I run three miles a day and I don’t HAVE to run. I love the freedom of running without the burden of bulimia.”

(Then why did we have to know anything about it? It has nothing to do with his art.)

Ms. Susser also spends her words on Mr. Ortega’s childhood, his studio, his family, but there is little mention of the paintings themselves. Good thing six photos surround the article.

This is a typical issue, but before we leave Shade I will mention an earlier example of egregious omission, because it concerns what many consider a major work of art. In the October 2002 issue Ms. Collins wrote about the Phoenix Art Museum’s recent acquisition of Cornelia Parker’s Mass (Colder Darker Matter). This is a 1997 suspension work with charred pieces of wood from a burned-down church. Ms. Parker’s work always has some historical angle or residue, even of the ephemeral, peel-and-stick variety, such as the feather from Freud’s pillow or objects sliced by Marie Antoinette's guillotine.

In her article, Ms. Collins completely fails to mention that the church had not only burned down, but how: it had been struck by lightning. This is crucial information, full of irony that goes way, way back to the dawn of humanity. That’s why Cornelia Parker picked that church. You can read it right there on the PAM link above, but not in the Collins article.

This is not nitpicking. If Shade wants to be taken seriously as an art magazine and not just a smiley showcase for a few downtown friends, then they have to do real work and write like it matters, because it does.

(And please, Mr. Rainey, drop the unintentionally hilarious back-cover ads for Bentley Gallery, with their outdated minimalist ironies falling flatter than frying pans.)


Are you kidding?

The Arizona Republic

John Carlos Villani is an arts reporter, not a critic, at least for this newspaper. He told me so himself. He introduces the artist(s) to the public in a clear, direct manner, and I can assure you he asks a lot more questions than get into his interviews.

Richard Nilsen used to craft excellent think pieces on aesthetics, photography, single works of art, and just about anything else, but he has inexplicably dropped down to movie reviews and other ephemera.

And that, not surprisingly, is it in this one-newspaper town: nobody else at the Republic covers visual art on a regular basis.


Here is where it should get interesting, but it doesn’t, and that’s interesting: Why are we the only art blog in the Valley? I have slogged through (thank you, artlink) every online represented artist in Paper Heart, eye lounge, and 515, and a bunch of other single sites -- over seventy people -- and not one artist out there has a weblog, as far as I can tell. (By the way, over 300 Arizona artists submitted work to the last Arizona Biennial.)

Why no blogs? One would think that a collective like The Paper Heart could whip up a moblog quick as you please. But no.

What about art professors, instructors, lecturers, and students at the Arizona universities? No, nobody.

What about magazines like Shade and JAVA developing an online presence? See above: they have to develop an offline presence first.

So here we stay, working, thinking, writing, in the Valley of Silence -- and we’re still just at the beginning.

Posted by Jerome at 12:15 AM | TrackBack

August 07, 2003

Culprits of the Protocols: An Update

by Jerome du Bois

(First, technical difficulties have delayed our thanks to Franklin Einspruch of yesterday, and John Carlos Villani of the Arizona Republic today, for heading readers our way. So, thanks, and welcome, new readers. We invite you to visit our gallery as well.)

One of the installations we are working on is called Strangers to Reason: The Poison Flower: Culprits of the Protocols. It is about the mysteriously insidious persistence of the (often-debunked) anti-semitic forgery known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (I won't link it, since any Googling brings up a depressingly long list.) Below, I've included four photographs of a working drawing -- a kind of timetable/bulletin board -- of our idea.

And for those who think this is some kind of discarded, paranoid hand-waving, check out the indefatigable, indispensable and always reliable Charles Johnson (littlegreenfootballs) today:

"A former Iraqi soldier who fought against the US in the first Gulf War, and was captured and imprisoned for two years in Saudia Arabia, is now an instructor at UC Berkeley, teaching Arabic -- and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This story definitely qualifies as the Outrage of the Day, showing once again the Saudi corruption of the US academy."

Go read it all, under "Outrage of the Day." But look at our pictures, too.

Update: We will be back in a few hours with an update on local arts coverage: who's doing it, and who ain't.





Posted by Jerome at 03:27 PM