Flower Arrangement and Photographs by Catherine King.
[This post consults the following for its analysis:
Caryn James, "Political Art, Potshots to Sure Shots," New York Times, August 20, 2004.
Roberta Smith, "Caution: Angry Artists At Work," NYT, August 27, 2004 (and the physical newspaper)
Artforum, September 2004, Special Political Art Section (the physical magazine)
a greg.org post on Richard Serra
a Powerline post on Roberta Smith's article
My own post on Richard Serra's Moral Cowardice
And, for local anti-Bush art, see our sidebar series on "Democracy in America" at ASU]
by Jerome du Bois
When you strike at a king, you must kill him. -- Emerson
Stop Bush. -- Richard Serra
Caryn James of the NYT recently surveyed a baker's dozen of anti-Bush movies and plays. In one example, Nathan Lane's liberal updating of Aristophanes' The Frogs, she writes:
Nathan Lane . . . is Dionysos, who goes to Hades to bring an artist back to earth. He articulates the play's radical and appealing idea that a poet can save civilization with "comfort, wit and wisdom," the idea behind all political art. But "The Frogs" itself relies on a veneer of topical comments, like the line, by far the play's sharpest, describing "the Bully Bush frog that makes pre-emptive strikes, then forgets why it attacked in the first place."[my emphasis]
Bereft of comfort, wit, or wisdom, this line still brings forth praise from Ms. James, at least as a barb. Really! Well, I'm neither pricked nor bleeding, and I doubt W., much less Artistophanes, would be either. The line stinks of an adolescent boy's first rush of testosterone, still hesitating between puerility and pubesence, and its sour vinegar permeates the political art of the season, along with the brassy taste of these artists' lifelong notion of entitlement, an inflated idea of one's importance, one's wit, and one's wisdom, which issues in art trivial, dull, and stupid.
In what follows I will refer to several recent articles and blogs which surveyed or at least sampled the political art (almost all anti-Bush) of this election season. Part One covers (a few) movies and visual art, Part Two the lively and literary arts. It features, not surprisingly, really ugly images -- "The Hole Truth" -- so be forewarned.
But let's not leave Ms. James's examples just yet. She examines thirteen movies and plays: Bowling for Columbine, Bush's Brain, F9/11, The Frogs, The Hunting of the President, The Manchurian Candidate (remake), Mrs. Farnsworth, Outfoxed (about Murdoch & Fox), Silver City, Tanner '88, This Land (web animation), Uncovered, and Yes.
Missing from this list, and telling in their own ways: Robert Redford's The Candidate, Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts, and especially Bulworth, Warren Beatty's witty, wise, and brutal send-up of all the naked emperors. I can understand why Ms. James and her employers would steer clear of Bulworth -- scorchy! -- but what about boilerplate liberals Redford and Robbins? Could it be because their lead characters bear no resemblance to George Bush, but to . . . others?
On Friday, August 27th, the NYT published Roberta Smith's "Caution: Angry Artists At Work," a survey of sixteen exhibitions, which conveniently conflated anti-Bush, anti-Vietnam, and anti-Iraqi-War sentiments. It's an odd mix, some of it cobbled together in obscure or temporary galleries, or in hasty and irrelevant ways.
Reading it online doesn't do it justice. Look at the physical paper: The entire top half of the "Weekend" Section page, above the fold, consists of a full-color photo of Rachel Mason's plaster sculpture Kissing President Bush. As soon as my wife (a former layout artist) saw the layout, she said, "That" -- running her finger around the image, meaning the photo, and its size -- "that was for Laura Bush, a slap in the face." From The New York Times. Welcome to New York City, Mrs. First Lady.
Ms. Smith comments:
. . . a decidedly ambiguous work that is in some ways [not explained] touchingly vulnerable. On first sight, the piece can trigger a number of associations: Jeff Koons's marble sculptures, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, an incestuous Pietà, entrapment. It may also make you wonder whether any marital infidelities lurk in President Bush's shadow.
Bullshit. The thing was made to shock and embarrass President and Mrs. Bush. And she reaches with her examples, while leaving out Barbara Kruger's much more politically ambiguous sculptures -- such as Family, 1997 -- the first images that came to my mind. But this sculpture is a Beavis & Butthead joke. It is on the same level as this stanky poster (I warned you).
Everywhere I look, I see the mentality of teenage boys (and those who like them). It doesn't matter the artist's age. The latest Artforum leads off its special political section with a statement by Richard Serra from 1970, just when his career was taking off:
Haunted [?] by the activist theatrics of Abbie Hoffman, Serra wondered "whether the times were not forcing us to a completely new set of ideas about what an artist was and what an artist did."
Big talk, little Dick, jibber-jabber on. What he did for the next 34 years was become rich and famous, working hard as a dock mule, nurtured, sheltered, lauded, and promoted by many busy hands, minds, muscles and dollars in this mighty, organized, and steel-rich country. Then BushRabies, or something, takes over and this spoiled old man turns against his greatest benefactor. Not only that, he falls back into a helpless and puerile pose -- what? you think this (courtesy greg.org) isn't a self-portrait? -- and he expects favorable results -- a change to his advantage -- exactly like a pouty ten-year-old denied his Resident Evil. He isn't alone. Back to Ms. Smith's article, writing about a photo-piece in "Freedom Salon," at Jeffrey Deitch Projects, shown during the Republican Convention:
Keep an eye out for AA Bronson's large color photograph of himself hanging naked upside down, an image of powerlessness and humiliation.
I'm not surprised, since Bronson is not even American but Canadian, where shari'a makes inroads, and where they're used to bending over. (So his homosexuality fits right in.) Formerly of the otherwise-late General Idea gay artists group, Bronson makes a big deal about being a Bear, meaning an overgrown hairy queer baby.
[Okay, here we go, I'm stepping it up. Imagine WWF, only with fat bearded guys and sex. Now that the love that dare not speak its name has become the lifestyle that won't shut up, regular folks, including vanilla gays, must now share in the permutations of its continually-arrested development. Like plushies and adult babies and masochists, it's all about reaching that fetid surrender, that mutual humiliation, as directly as possible -- and snaring the viewer in the tacky tar as well. Stinkers. But now the gay shtick has lost its charge, queers are as ordinary as hammers, so what gay male curators (and they're everywhere!) are left with are their own stunted obsessions, whether they be sensitive portraits by Paul P., thrashers, animation, the humiliation of women at every opportunity, or the embarrassments of Bronson and so many others.]
Remember the title of the show: "Freedom Salon." This is how Bronson, a sturdy, middle-aged man, faces the future, freedom, and their enemies. With his droopy little sack and upside-down smile, he welcomes our enemies with, "Did you bring the whips? Good! I deserve it!" Pinhead.
More examples, in no particular order:
Marshall Reese's short, Warholian "Line Up: Unofficial Portraits," which represents the Bush administration in mug-shot-like images . . .
The Experimental Party was founded in 2001 by Randall M. Packer, who in real life is an artist and writer who teaches at American University in Washington. In his art life he is the secretary of the tongue-in-cheek United States Department of Art and Technology . . .
A video by xxx Silva unveils Grandmaster Bush, a DJ in a presidential mask, who skillfully spins a rap song that samples presidential speeches . . .
[from "Bush League," below] Bjorn Melhus's "In Beautiful, Sunny Guantánamo Bay, Cuba." In it he converts the tae of a 2002 news conference conducted by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld into a dazzling bit of self-incriminating rap music.
. . . you can hear the National Anthem sung by Jill Steinberg, a young opera singer and performance artist from Seattle who calls herself "The Voice of America." Occassionally you see Ms. Steinberg on a video screen, standing before the Lincoln Memorial with an American flag draped carefully over her shoulders as she sings.
In "Bush League," at Roebling Hall in Williamsburg, the gamut of expression runs from Dan Ford's Turneresque painting "The Burning of the National Library, Baghdad, Troops Observing Looters" to Laura Parnes's 30-second television ads, which were commissioned by Downtown for Democracy, a group of art world professionals who organized last year --
[For a photo-fest of the latest D4D educational-political event -- "The Liberty Fair" -- complete with face-painting, click here. Will Cotton-Candy decorating cookies was a nice touch. Suggestion for future fairs: ass-painting.]
-- The show also includes Guy Richards Smit's watercolor reworkings of New York Times front pages . . .
. . . and Joan Linder's caricatures of officials in the Bush administration. Using tiny strokes, she depicts them in their underwear and they look like naughty, slightly furry children. Heeheehee . . .
The American cartoonist and writer Jeremy Hutchins contributes a cunning little book titled "Loving the Cheney Within: A Recovery Manual."
[At AIR in Chelsea] . . . art made from or inspired by the images in "The George W. Bush Coloring Book" by Karen Ocker . . .
Wayne Gonzales's "Yellow Poster," a gaudy work that casts the RNC as a common theatrical production . . . It looks like a movie ticket, but with Pfc England doing her leash act in the lower right corner.
. . . and the satiric "Let's Go Republican" pamphlets by the artists' collective Yes Men that let citizens sign away even more rights than those restricted under the Patriot Act.
To quote Hindrocket from Powerline: Oh-Oh, The Artists Are After Us.
I myself am trembling in my black-and-white Stacy Adams spectators.
Cartoons, underwear, mug shots, coloring books, Jerky-Boy impersonations, collage rap music, TV ad takeoffs, scatology . . . boys will be boys. Oh, I know some of these artists are females. Doesn't matter; they're no help; most of them willingly anoint themselves with the rancid oil of self-humiliation.
The rest of Ms. Smith's article -- uphill all the way, doing her yeowoman work in the bankrupt left's forlorn sojourn toward Democratic Sinai -- covers photography, both current and vintage, and some token Seventies and Eighties pieces by Gran Fury (Silence = Death), Barnett Newman, Robert Morris, and Chris Burden. These are largely irrelevant to my thesis, but let me single out Morris, a Serra contemporary, for a moment. Thirty-four years ago, when these lithographs first appeared, Mr. Macho Morris (remember the Castelli ad? with the Wehrmacht helmet?) envisions
a cross-shaped trench filled with chlorine gas and a grid made of see-through coffins that is titled "Infantry Archive" and is meant to be walked on barefoot.
Reading these words, notions and images bloom in my head . . . Mr. Morris has never served in the military, sheltered in academia his whole adult life . . . My father, holding the head -- just the head, with the helmet -- of his buddy, for a moment, before he had to set it aside and rejoin the battle of Okinawa . . . My father, who earned five Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and two Silver Stars as a Marine too old, who had to pound on the recruiting office doors to join the war . . . My brother, refusing conscription and Nixon's war, and spending two years in Safford Federal Prison Camp. My father chartered a private plane every month and flew himself, my mother, and me down there for visits. Every month until Tim got out. "Fuck Nixon," my old man would say. All this time, Robert Morris was safely posturing, clenching his fist, grinding his teeth, signing petitions, and thinking up conceptual art shit. What a hero.
Before we leave Ms. Smith to her exertions, I'd like to highlight her closing mention, "The Freedom of Expression National Monument." Behold it in its earlier incarnation, twenty years ago:
(I like the large picture in the Times better, since no one in the crowd even faces, much less pays attention to, the person speaking at the megaphone.)
First constructed in 1984 (that spooky year), someone drug it out for this gig. I picture it here because it serves as an apt symbol of the overweening infantilism of the last two generations of artists.
As a father, I can easily see this photo as the power dream of an infant or very young, preverbal child, the only humans justified to overwhelm us with their voices. Once we begin to talk to each other, we learn to get attention for our needs in other ways. Look, this is a megaphone:
It's light and handy. You can pick it up, hold it, take it with you, and put it down. You can even hand it over to others. That big red thing -- which, since it's immobile in its impotent importance, people have to come around and attend to it -- is a blatant admission of insignificance: Without this big red thing, I'm nuthin. But a substantial person, a person of psychological weight who has something to say, a person with true glamour, could spellbind any crowd simply with his or her words.
Roberta Smith says about these exhibitions:
Taken alone, no one event is very prominent. But the totality -- the critical mass -- makes a powerful statement about the role of the arts in political activism.
People are so easily impressed, my wife says; people love mediocrity best. As a supporter of President Bush, I must encourage all you leftist, anti-Bush artists: More! More! More! Bring It On. If this is the best you can do, the deepest you can go, the hardest you can hit, how will you swallow your four-year-old('s) rage on November 3rd -- Re-Election Day?
The September Artforum features two political sections: seven essays, plus a portfolio of the efforts of fourteen artists. I'll be discussing the whole portfolio, but only a couple of the essays, though I read them all. What was that like, you ask? Well, as I finished, the experience reminded me of a line from Bob Dylan's Lenny Bruce: "I rode with him in a taxi once / only for a mile-and-a-half / seemed like it took a couple of months." And all the while, plowing through that turgid, self-important prose, the air stank of everybody's egos. I will subject you to only one extended quotation for now, from Gregg Bordowitz, who, whatever else he does, is an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Listen to his warmed-over Marxism:
As artists we continue to be alienated from our labor; our work, our art continues to be captured from our intentions.[By who?] Our efforts are used to make profits for others in a system largely hostile to creativity [Oh: dem no like us]; a system that institutes conformity by reducing the meaning of our work and the products of our labor to an exchange-value equivalent of countless products in a vast market. [Pass the Kleenex.] These problems are no doubt familiar to many of us [?], and I cringe [you should] as I once again list them for publication -- yet I must [he must!], regardless of their seemingly permanent and intractable nature. [Zzzzz.] They outline the features of an intensifying impasse that remains central to the very definition of modern art. [The Very One!] We cannot ignore them because we are not beyond them. To pretend that we are [Heaven forbid] is tantamount to accepting our own irrelevance. [Aarrgghhh! That Evil Word!] We are at the very least relevant, even vital to the perpetuation of culture.
I know, I know, but quit laughing and get up off the floor. This is serious. Academics have killed a lot of talent. By coincidence, I had just finished Victor David Hanson's latest column, which included this paragraph:
Victor David Hanson, September 24, 2004:
But the regime is crumbling on campuses as well. Too many university professors in the humanities dropped long ago their allegiance to the disinterested search for truth, or to teaching students facts and methods. How could one be so constrained and parochial when a war was raging on, and millions of youth needed to be prepared as ideological warriors in the struggle to remake our culture? Meanwhile, teaching loads decreased, annual tuition soared higher than the rate of inflation, and the baccalaureate no longer reflected much erudition. Surely, progressive academics, of all people, would not stand by while their curriculum was politicized, free speech suppressed, their part-time lecturers systematically exploited, their working-class students priced out of the market, and their research tainted with bias?
Oh yes they would stand by, silently, as long as their jobs are safe.
Bennett Simpson, an associate curator at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston, profiles the art / fashion / film collective Bernadette Corporation and the shadowy anarchist group Black Bloc, both approvingly. I'm just going to pick out some key titles, phrases, words . . . Get Rid of Yourself is the title of a documentary about Black Bloc:
At one point a manifesto scrolls across a black background. "They say, 'another world is possible.' But I am another world. Am I possible?"
Awwww. Whiners. Simpson:
To make sense of BC and its many episodes . . . the pertinent question is not "What is an artist today?" but rather "How might an artist evade culture's demand for marketable identity in her person, products, style, and career?"
As if culture was some stalking demon bearing a suffocating cloak to put out your precious, fragile, unique fire, O artist? This is what happens when you get rid of yourself and jettison morality as well.
Final note on Simpson: He describes some of Black Bloc's activities this way:
With their symbolic targets and superfluous actions -- looting supermarkets, ransacking banks -- the groups "zones offensives d'opacité," as members characterize their tactical goal, have sought to disrupt . . .
The actions I've emphasized are crimes. Hey, Simpleton, why don't you invite Black Bloc to ICA and see how your bosses like it?
Why do I select Bordowitz and Simpson for puerility? Because, in Bordowitz's case, Marxism is dead as Kelsey's nuts and only pampered Western academics still mouth its moribund maxims, as if sheer repetition will make their teachers' mantras true. But grown-ups have moved on to democracy, freedom, and individual choice. Bordowitz is a retro-red-diaper baby; scratch him and you'll find a fascist.
Simpson, like a ten-year-old, thinks he can evade consequences even in his thinking. He muses approvingly about Black Bloc's transgressive actions, but he would shit bricks and call the cops if Black Bloc trashed his museum store. If he wanted to keep his job, that is. Words mean, Simpleton.
Let's move on to the portfolio. First is Serra's "Stop Bush" piece. Here Greg Allen steps up as unwitting witness to my thesis:
[via MAN] What's shocking about Richard Serra's poster for pleasevote.com--a thick paintstick silhouette of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner--isn't his use of text or figurative representation, both completely absent from the rest of his work (with possibly one 1960's exception).
And it's not his political activity. He's always been an active liberal, and his art challenges both easy commodification and conservative notions of authority. And who can forget his legal battle with the GSA and anti-NEA zealots like Jesse Helms which culminated in the destruction in 1989 of his sculpture Tilted Arc (besides pretty much everyone, that is)?
No, what shocked me was his positively statesman-like restraint, which stands in contrast to the horrible image in his drawing and to current levels of Administration discourse. With STOP BUSH, Serra--who's well known for his angry temper--let's [sic] George off easy.
In 1990, he made an etching as a fundraiser for North Carolina Senate candidate Harvey Gantt, who lost after his opponent ran some race-baiting ads that have become recognized dirty tricks classics. The title of that piece (sorry, mom) was Fuck Helms.
Click here for a picture of the piece that so impressed Mr. Allen.
Notice: two black smears. No way, looking at the image alone, one can infer the title. You have to be told the title. Yet it's the title that carries whatever charge one gets from reading the f-word in 1990, or 2004.
When I was a kid growing up in Hawaii one of my friends' fathers was the character actor Peter Whitney / Engel, and he had a really neat sign in his library. Every time we went over there, we asked to see it. Inside the room, over the entrance door, was a big red banner with white capital letters that spelled out FUCK COMMUNISM!
We thought that was so cool. The Word, right there, spelled out big. But then, it was around 1960, when I was eleven years old. Get the point, Mr. Serra? Mr. Allen?
Moving on. (Some of these images you can find from the link Artforum provides; you just have to click through the slide show.) Rachel Harrison contributes "Saratoga Horse Auction," (it's online) a two-by-three six-photo gang showing details from the event. Get it? The election isn't even a horse race; it's an auction run by a bunch of rich white guys. This is just old-style paranoid leftist conspiracy theory, with some sneering social slurs attached: the black man in the upper left, with the manure shovel; the fat white arm in the white-trash diner; the three obedient, identically-suited white boys, waiting for instructions; the clutch of eminences grisés laughing in their confidence. But conspicuously missing from the photos, because it would ruin the simplistic outline of the conspiracy, are the most dedicated, obsessed horse lovers in the world, who would surely have crowded the event: the Saudis. Didn't she miss a golden opportunity to connect the President with the Saudis? Does she wish to avoid offending the Saudis? Or has she just been affected by all those chemtrails?
Next, language artist Lawrence Weiner contributes "Invitation to the Dance," a concrete-poem text piece which reads Sink or Swim / Your Ass Gets Wet / There is No Excuse, and in smaller text, lower left, Aspirations Not Aspirants. Okay, new metaphor, politics as a dance, except we're in the water (like Esther Williams?), so we might as well get involved, and we're supposed to be impressed by ideals, not people. Here endeth the lesson, and so what?
Pretty limp, but Trisha Donnelly's contribution, "Untitled," is so much thinner that I can reproduce it right here. Imagine this is on the upper left corner of a blank square page:
That's it. Because "Bush = Hitler" was already taken. Geeks would call this piece an embodiment of Godwin's Law. This is not political discourse; it's moldy paranoid dogma.
Next, Barbara Kruger must whine at us. Printed over a close-up photo of a dew-dappled red rose:
Look like us.
Think like us.
Talk like us.
Laugh like us.
Fear like us.
Hate like us.
Die like us.
You forgot to say please, Ms. Kruger. Ostensibly a 1984-type exhortation to conformity, these lines -- especially "Fear like us / Hate like us" -- neatly define the current leftist position: we have to get rid of Bush, no matter what, and no matter how. (One reads of academics publicly stating they would lie, cheat, and steal to destroy Israel, for example.) Pathetic. And, by the way, Ms. Kruger, since we are of an age, remember Pete Seeger's "Little Boxes," from oh so long ago? "A Thousand Clowns"? We grew up, Ms. Kruger; but not all of us. It's troubling that someone who concentrates on minting phrases should try to pass on these worn old Naumanisms.
Tom Sachs made the Presidential Seal on the cover, along with a stamp-sized map of New Haven for his page in the portfolio. The Seal, an accurate reproduction, made of wood and plastic, is nicely done, and nine feet across, but you'd never know it from the cover. In the context of no context, it floats, deapan, doing just fine. I have no problem with it at all. Thanks, Tom. Okay, now who wants it? Will it fit in the Artforum offices?
Jonathan Horowitz once again drags out the old and discredited idea that Ronald Reagan caused AIDS deaths by neglect: "Archival Iris Print on Acid Free Paper of an Image Downloaded from the Internet with Two Copies of the New York Post Rotting in Their Frames." The Iris Print, a horizontal, shows a skinny guy lying down in a funereal pose wearing a T-shirt that says "Ignorance = Fear," holding a pitiful clutch of daisies, with KS lesions all over his arms. It's hard to tell if he's dead or alive. Stacked above this framed image, in their own vertical frames, are NY Post newspaper pages depicting Nancy Reagan kissing her husband's coffin (on the left), and Ronald Reagan saluting (on the right).
Two quick notes here: RR didn't help spread AIDS; it was all those guys fucking and sucking each other without protection, long after they should have, that helped spread AIDS, then whining that the government wasn't moving fast enough to save their sorry asses. Big Bad Daddy is supposed to take care of the irresponsible kids no matter what they do, don't you know? Second, Mr. Horowitz cares so little about this unfortunate person -- especially if he knew him -- that he won't dignify the fellow with a name, an age, a date, a birthplace, a short biography . . . No. Replacing them: An Image Downloaded From The Internet. Guess you're heart's all bled out, eh, liberal?
Next we find Isa Gensken's "Empire / Vampire, Who Kills Death," and thank goodness it's online, so I don't have to describe it, except as a cheesy conglomerate of collapse, like a makeshift shrine for 9/11 desecrated, as these heartless ones must, with silver spray paint. But leave untouched the crumpled colorful umbrella, and the dolls, to needle us with memories of seeing the falling ones over and over in our minds.
Laylah Ali's contribution, also online, is notable mostly for its mere presence, a signal of the omnipotence of the artist, and the surrender of the critic and the editor. The drawing itself is typical of an undeveloped psyche; I did this kind of monster stuff with my friends when I was twelve. But more importantly: Laylah Ali can do anything, and they'll accept it. I mean, what kind of depiction did Tim Griffin expect from his assignment? He would be a fool, knowing her stuff, to expect anything but twisted creatures from her stunted brain. Like a spoiled middle-school brat, she can do whatever she wants, pick up any drawing that was laying around, and send it to the magazine. And instead of saying What the hell is this shit? and what does it have to do with politics? they just shrug and forward it to layout. Because she's Laylah Ali, queen of the pygmies!
Kelley Walker's completely inane piece is paradoxically the most enraging. Given an international audience on an important subject, Walker shows a family snapshot in a living room, with some quirky but innocuous details, and under it some kind of stationery, the only significant words scribbled on it: "July 5, 2004; Tim, Getting started on the right foot!" That's it. Leaving us to work out some nonexistent subtext. Asshole.
Then comes Elizabeth Peyton's hilariously devotional high-school portrait of John Kerry (online), which should be signed in the lower right corner, "All my love, Johnny." I'm going to dote on her a bit, since she's the artist of the moment -- and we can only hope that moment will be brief. Remember as you read: she is 39 years old.
The October Vogue, in Dodie Kazanjian's profile, contains a gold mine of Peyton's juvenile, narcissistic thoughts, and accurate descriptions of her work:
I myself have heard her work described as lightweight, "pretty," and as saccharine-sweet as the gushings of an obsessive teenage girl -- another symptom of the youth culture that disfigures our time. . . . Whether what she does can be called portraiture is debatable. . .
By general agreement, a great portrait shows us profound truths about both the sitter and the artist, and Peyton's don't do that. In one sense, they are all self-portraits -- dealized images that reflect her feelings about the people she chooses to paint. She seems to love every one of her subjects -- "That's why I paint them," she says. "I could never do the Windsors, for example, because there's something so evil about them." [But not Kerry the Dismemberer?]
. . . "Gavin [Brown] seemed to understand that it wasn't just painting I was interested in, it was more a sense of my time and history and the power of art, and what it could do to inspire other people and culture. . . ."
[On Kurt Cobain and his suicide]: " . . . I heard his voice on the acoustic album that was put out abut six months after he commited suicide, and I thought, Oh, my God, I can't believe this man was alive at the same time I was. I was so moved that this person had existed and made what he'd made. He was the first person kind of my age, who was American, that I really, really identified with and wanted to paint."
What's constant in all these images [portraits] is not accurate likeness, or even personality, but a kind of obsessive, fanlike identification. Each of her pictures is like an act of love.
It's all about her. And of course the most MOR fashion designer around, Marc Jacobs -- he of the cashmere yawn -- is wild about her stuff.
"It's women like Elizabeth who inspire me," Jacobs told me, "women who are alive today and play a creative role in the world."
Finally -- she's taking landscape classes, and her next portrait subject will be Abraham Lincoln:
"I made some paintings of him the other day," she tells me. "I discovered he looks a lot like Cameron Diaz."
. . . I am usually not at a loss for words, but I flounder as I struggle to find some common ground between Ms. Peyton's tweenie planet and mine, good old Earth.
James Rosenquist contributes the horizontal painting "The Xenophobic Movie Director or Our Foreign Policy." Red, white, and blue predominate, as do, from the left: a cattle skull on a stump which is wrapped in the American flag; in the middle, a golfer's legs in mid-swing; on the right, a big light bulb (the golf club's head?) with Arabic writing on it; and scattered on the ground, numbers in color.
Well, that was easy, Jimmy; thanks. But a little simple. We had a guy here in Phoenix, Alfred Quiroz, who managed to put oil wells, and cocaine snorting, and the Twin Towers, in his clichéd painting.
Next we see a close-up photo of the gate edge of a cyclone fence, the post on the left disappearing vertically out of sight, the diamond-shaped wire filling the frame; except the whole, light-green thing seems made of plastic, or clay. This was made by Chris Hanson & Hendrika Sonnenberg. If they refer to soft or open borders, that's a criticism I agree with -- good fences make good neighbors -- but somehow I think they're saying that Homeland Security is a sham. Maybe I'm wrong, but its flatfooted presentation leads not to enlightenment but frustration.
Finally, Jeremy Deller's "Untitled," also easy to replicate, printed in Impact on a plain white page:
A photograph of
and in smaller letters:
Baghdad, December 20, 1983
This is news? This is art? This is anything? This feckless Brit, known for his so-called complex re-enactments and many-layered conceptual references, wasted a whole page of Artforum to beat a dead horse.
Now consider what Artforum editor Tim Griffin wrote to introduce all these tours de force:
This issue proved by far the most challenging to be assembled by the current editorial group at Artforum -- due in part to a deep-seated resistance we felt to the very pairing of art and politics, or, to recast the matter slightly, the pairing of art and its social context. After all, the most compelling works of art never boil down to that single dimension; who were we to risk doing so with an issue on the subject? The artists who contribute to the portfolio concluding this section shared our dilemma. All were excited to participate, but most refused to call their work "political" -- or if they accepted this nomenclature, they refused to deem their portfolio contribution itself an "artwork." Others argued that "all art is inherently political," making "political art" an almost meaningless framework. In other words, art and politics form an uneasy and highly self-conscious pair in these pages, forcing a constant reevaluation of the potential -- and limits -- of their alliance. No matter how difficult or problematic, this reconsideration remains urgent and necessary today.
He do huff and puff, don't he? Artists are Important People! Relevant and Necessary! Remember that! Sure -- you can tell by these fourteen examples how seriously they take both the political process and the artmaking process.
A long time ago -- I've used this quote before -- the photographer Arthur Tress, a gay man from way back by the way, lamented the technical progress of photography at the expense of other concerns: "Where are the photographs we can pray to, that will scare the hell out of us, that will save our souls?"
And where are the adult artworks? artworks that stand up, and step up, and take on the world, and don't whine?
Alas, nowhere near.
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, September 26, 2004.
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, September 22, 2004.
by Jerome du Bois
It's not 'cause they wouldn't,
It's not 'cause they shouldn't,
And, Lord knows, it's not 'cause they couldn't,
It's simply because . . . -- Cole Porter, 1927, adapted
One short newspaper feature reveals two priveleged people -- Dennita Sewell, Fashion Curator at the Phoenix Art Museum, and Richard Nilsen, Feature Writer for the Arizona Republic -- short-selling their coveted positions, and shirking their public responsibilities, to display work lazy, shoddy, fossilized. Fittingly, the subject of their convergence -- Natacha Rambova / Winifred Shaughnessey, a Twenties pseudo-fashion designer -- turns out to be a second-rater, too. I've divided what follows into three sections: Richard, Dennita, and Winifred, and in that last section I'll show you what a decent review of that exhibition reads and looks like.
Before the jump, though, a few words about that word coveted. What writer wouldn't cherish a 600-word window on an audience a half-million strong every week or so? Answer: Richard Nilsen. It's obvious he's burnt out and hates his job; he's flaunting his laziness. If it was me, I would make every assignment count, even after ten years. Hell, I'm doing it now, for no compensation, crafting my sentences over days. Nilsen? He rattles off limp and tired phrases, contemptuously spitting on the notion that it's a privelege to address the public. Especially a captive public in a one-newspaper town. All the more reason to do your best. Richard, if you're tired of writing, don't waste our time anymore. Quit, go up to Roden Crater and take pottery classes from James Turrell. (You could groom each other's beards.) We'll handle the art reviews.
What museum curator, given Sewell's venue, wouldn't plunge into their best, most adventurous work every time? Not Dennita. (Her last show was about motorcycle jackets: built-in new-cachet donations, but not much else.) For this show, she looked in the closet, saw nine dresses with something in common, and cobbled this wobbly thing together as a checkmark on her resumé, when it was obvious this show was weak in every way except pathethic celebrity worship of a pathetic, ossified ex-celebrity. (She's also the one who brought Rudi's topless model to town last year, forty years on.)
Phoenix deserves better work from these two, or better than these two.
Richard Nilsen Yawns In Your Face
While fashion runways worldwide swirl with color and drama during this International Fall Fashion Season 2004, Richard Nilsen writes 520 words reviewing Denita Sewell's blankly-titiled "Personality and Style: The Fashion Career of Natacha Rambova," one of the thinnest exhibitions (nine dresses, and it's the largest collection) about one of the shortest careers (three years) of one of the lesser of Twenties Hollywood hangers-on (a pseudonym, no less) -- and he mentions nothing about the dresses themselves -- materials, color, style, fit, historical context, relevance: nothing. I wonder if he even saw the show, since any newswriter can decipher the pure press-release boilerplate in the biography-heavy piece.
He opens, because of her two names, with the hoary cliché, "A rose by any other name . . ." He would rather write about her illegitimacy (and four stepfathers), lesbianism (two mentions), marriages to fancy people, and her supposedly exotic background, from Mormonism to Egyptology. (Her real name was Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy; she was related to a Mormon "apostle.") He calls her, absurdly, "one of the most extraordinary women in America." No, sorry -- the gold-digger story is older, and a lot more ordinary, than America. He tosses in a few non sequiters --
Another stepfather . . . was Edgar deWolfe, brother of the pioneering interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe. (The brother, huh? Waow.)
Nazimova, born Adelaide Leventon, was a great diva of silent film, with a shock of thick black hair and violet eyes.
In 1923, Valentino and Rambova went on a dance tour to advertise Mineralava Beauty Clay.
-- but nothing about the dresses, the subjects of the exhibition. (He does quote Sewell, though: "with brilliant purples and pinks and rich viridian greens.")
About the fashion career -- the tiny arc at the heart of the show -- he writes:
From 1928 to 1931, she worked as a fashion designer in New York, and it is her work from that period that makes up [the exhibition].
Who did she work for? Her own label? What was it called? And why only three years, and why are there so few Rambovas as treasures in fashion collections? Let's back up one paragraph.
Valentino died in 1926. Eight years later, Rambova married Count Alvaro de Urzaiz, a Spanish aristocrat.
Do the math. Winifred was not one to languish alone, as one can see from her biography, of which the bulk of this review consists. (But no fashion information of any kind.) Obviously The Count, bless his pointed little head, subsidized this dilettante.
She reminds me of the penniless, opportunistic Polish Countess in the James Mason spy film "5 Fingers." ("Why did you leave Warsaw, Countess?" "Bombs were falling. I felt I was in the way.") Only with less wit. In the movie, at one point, as the Countess catches a mousy German functionary eyeing her enviously, she withers him: "Herr Moisich, please do not look at me as if you had a source of income other than your salary."
Rambova / Winifred sounds like someone who could identify with this Countess, as well as, say, both Anna Nicole Smith and Nigella Lawson. But not Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet, Jeanne Lanvin, or Gabrielle Chanel. Which will bring us to Part Two, but first a final thought about Nilsen's job here: he didn't do it. He did not review the show. He depended on his assumption that people just love to read about Hollywoood, no matter how inconsequential. He squandered the opportunity to call Dennita Sewell to task, and to exhort her to do better. Because he doesn't give a damn.
Dennita Sewell Foregrounds Mediocrity
As Curator of Fashion at the Phoenix Art Museum, Dennita Sewell should know full well that her chosen one couldn't touch the hems of the four geniuses above; nor, for example, Jean Patou, Paul Poiret, and Edward Molyneux, all working contemporary with her.
In the wall text, Sewell says that Rambova "disdained" the French influence and went off on her own. It's obvious why: she has no talent; her clothes look like offerings from the Utah State Fair. One need only look around at the techniques, materials, and technologies abundant in Winifred's time to see how she shied from them, and how conservative her designs really were.
Why did Dennita Sewell pick a middling-talent operator whose main glow came from a three-year Hollywood marriage to Rudolph Valentino, and whose so-called fashion career lasted only a smidgeon longer? (Note that Black Friday didn't close her immediately; further evidence of sugar daddy's green.) I speculate three reasons: convenience -- nine dresses in the closet; shallow fascination -- Sewell's own weakness for Hollywood (and identification with a tiny talent); and bureaucracy -- administrative pressure to justify her job. On the latter, she doesn't.
And how does the viewing public benefit from this thin show? We don't, since the show reinforces mediocrity and laziness, and implicitly endorses emotional extortion, the cult of any celebrity (what's next? Bonnie Lee Bakely's wardrobe?) and the exploitation of the dead.
Twice a year, predictable as the equinoxes, the fashion world flashes its peacock tail in a shimmering worldwide wave of exuberance and excess. Since 2000, I haven't seen Dennita Sewell take advantage of this energy. Except for the "Garden of Eden" show, two years ago in the ample Steele Gallery, every exhibition was squoze into the glorified upstairs hallway called the "Fashion Design Gallery."
She's not proactive or creative; she's safely into history and old pop culture flash and working within very limited confines. After the central placement (or, to be pomo, foregrounding) of the "Eden" show and the success in New York of the Jackie and Armani shows, you'd think she would expand her expectations.
For example, she could have been negotiating since last year for just a section of the nontravelling Vivienne Westwood Retrospective at the V & A. Even if she had to fly to London so that we could revel in the creations of this overlooked genius, who shows up both Jackie and Armani as the tweebies they truly be. (PAM even has a couple of incredible Westwoods: the wedding couple from "Eden.") It could have been a coup. People from all over the region, from Houston to Santa Fe to LA, would have flown in.
But no. Two years later, we're back stuck in the dark-burgundy upstairs hallway looking at, basically, nine Mormon dressing gowns which ignored the frenzy, fringe, and flapper-craziness of the Jazz Age. Jeezo, man, I'm talking dirge city here. More on that below.
Dennita Sewell is simply not excited by fashion. Two years ago, Megan Bates, in shade magazine [not online], interviewed her:
Sewell explains her own attraction to fashion design: "All kinds of people really feel a connectiion with fashion design; more so, in my opinion, than some other [kinds of art]. It's a conduit for conversation. Everyone has the experience of wearing clothes and feeling comfortable or uncomfortable, everybody remembers 'What I was wearing when . . .' People can relate to it. They have opinions."
Nothing about psychology, fantasy, personae, pride, dignity, competition, vanity, or status. She's completely emotionally even. And no, I don't remember what I was wearing when Kennedy was assassinated, or all day long on 9/11. (I'll have some speculations on Ms. Sewells' own psychological reasons for picking Rambova in the final section.)
[Idea for exhibition, Dennita: a show of Sloan MacFarland's grandmother's custom-made aprons, "Someone's in the Kitschen with Edna." Available at Passage.]
The Exhibition: Featuring Fall Faux Fashion For Fossilized Fakes
Fact-index.com, which covers a lot of Rambova's life in little space, makes no mention of "fashion designer" in the long list of talents she seemed to exhibit: she was (it says here, and so does Nilsen) a dancer, stage designer, costume designer, art director, playwright, Egyptologist, and antiquarian -- but not specifically a fashion designer. (Some of these dresses do look like costumes -- for someone playing Sarah, or Deborah, or Ruth, in some Utah high school Bible play.)
[About her multi-talents: this was early Hollywood, where everyone was hustling. I remember reading about
Anne Rosenthal Ayn Rand proofreading, editing, and writing scripts, designing and mending costumes, standing as an extra, always on the lookout for the opening. . . ]
There's a plain blue sleeveless silk dress with a simple rope belt, like a causal nurse's shift, or Ellie Mae on The Beverly Hillbillies going to the market. No special tailoring, pattern, material interest. It's as plain as a T-shirt. There are two silk velvet jackets, bell-sleeved in 19th-Century Russian-Chinese fashion, with heavy embroidery, almost exactly alike except for the embroidery color (the patterns are identical.) They also sport bizarre turkey-drumstick stuffed sleeves in the forearms, as if designed for Popeye. The dress and jacket combination just next to these jackets had the same sleeves, swollen as if tumorous. The "wine velvet" dinner gown, with gold braid embroidery, illustrated in the newspaper, looks as if worn by some wine-delivering court concubine from DeMille's King of Kings.
Despite what Dennita says above about the colors, they are not brilliant, but somber, and the overwhelming presence of elaborate embroidery simply underscores the pieces' mediocrity.
In fact, the most vibrant piece is a drawing, by her assistant Tatiana, of a flounced gown whose design Catherine is definitely going to adapt in fire-green satin.
This little drawing, with its bouncy flounce and sexy line, contains the only hint that Winifred / Natacha may have been aware of the Jazz Age. Really, for a supposed dancer and Hollywood fun-gal, there's no music and no motion in her work. No fringe, no scarves, no plumes, no loopy-doopy strings of pearls, no pleats, even, and no skirt short enough to flip. Not like this wild thing, for example.
Fantastic, eh? This is the bottom of a flapper dress from 1928, orange, peach, and yellow silk velvet with gold bugle bead dangles along all the edges of these jester's skirts.
I deliberately chose an unknown designer from Natacha's time to point out her lack of imagination.
As a matter of fact, Winifred / Natacha sailed through life, and her fashion fling was a mere blip in a series of easy pickings. Consider: she and the Count moved to the island of Majorca / Mallorca in 1934. The Great Depression? What's that? From thence, I presume, she and the Count made trips back and forth to Egypt, doing the colonial thang, collecting their booty, until the inconvenience of WWII confined them once again to their strategically insignificant island. The Holocaust? What's that? After the war, a few more trips to Egypt, until Nasser's nationalism made things ugly for Westerners there. So back to the island, then Nepal, then retirement and donation and endowment -- and all under Natacha's pseudonym.
This is Dennita's inspiration? If so, it is telling and true for these times of five-minute celebrity (who can afford fifteen anymore?). I speculate that as Ms. Sewell learned more about these dresses and who made them, she felt the tiny thrill of all shallow talents -- that even a few bright moments of inspiration can make up for a lifetime of undulant, indulgent and soporific mundanity, complete with a faded, but intact, halo of glamour.
CODA: There is the thread of a story here, connecting Egypt, glamour, Hollywood, cinema, fascination, and the Western Eye. I have no doubt that Winifred was fascinated by Egypt. She was raised Mormon in Salt Lake City. Mormons, as I well know, are themselves busy as bees with archaeology, genealogy, history, and anthropology; all needed to support the Jesus-in-America caper. Then she's immersed in early Hollywood, itself steeped in historical epics and costume dramas, including Ben-Hur and King of Kings. Perhaps Winifred / Natacha began her own obsession with Egyptology there. It seems to bring almost everyone under its spell.
Here is Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, pp 60-61:
Egypt invented interior décor, civilized living; it made beauty out of social life. The Egyptians were the first aesthetes. An aesthete does not necessarily dress well or collect art works; and aesthete is one who lives by the eye. The Egyptians had "taste." Taste is Apollonian discrimination, judgment, connoisseurship; taste is the visible logic of objects. . . Jewelry, makeup, costume, chairs, tables, cabinets: from the moment Egyptian style was rediscovered by Napoleon's invaders, it has been the rage in Europe and America, influencing fashion, furniture, and tombstones and even producing the Washington Monument.
And here, page 59:
Pharoah, elevated and sublime, contemplated life's panorama. His eye was the sun disk at the apex of the social pyramid. He had point of view, an Apollonian sightline. Egypt invented the magic of image. The mystique of kingship had to be projected over thousands of miles to keep the nation together. Conceptualization and projection: in Egypt is forged the formalistic Apollonian line that will end in modern cinema, master genre of our century.
Anybody out there is welcome to pursue this theme. I just wanted to give some hint at the richness that could be dug out of even this shallow grave.
by Jerome du Bois
Just after we dropped "The Burgeoning," about the downtown Phoenix art scene, we received several very warm and supportive emails (thank you!), and one blessing from way out of the blue (thank you, L.B.).
And then we got one more email, from an artist at Holga's named Ian A. Wender, reproduced after the jump. Behind a veneer of politeness (he calls me no names, but I will him) we see in its sadistic emotional cruelty, greasy insensitivity, ignorant arrogance, and bloated, pathetic narcissism even more proof for our case. It's also perfect counterpoint and epilogue to our most recent post, here, which you should read as background. I'm going to quote this putrid turkey in full, then I'm going to fisk him until there's nothing left but the bare bones of clarity and truth.
The callousness of these young people, in our experience, pervades our culture . . . This is the kind of consciousness we've been dealing with in downtown Phoenix:
Subject: Can't we all just get along??
From: "WENDER IAN A"
Mr. du Bois
I don't know you and I've only read a small portion of your recent commentary. I am a resident at Holgas and have been for the last year. I make no apologies for the state of the downtown area or those that live and work there. All I can say is that I try to do my Art in the manor [sic] that suits me best. It is, after all, an expression of my feelings and beliefs. I sweep our side walk, paint over the "tags", pick up trash and try as hard as I can to clean up after the bottle breakers leave. I'm sorry that you've been "assaulted" and I would never condone that...however, It could be argued that you asked for it. I have no objection to criticism...as a matter of fact, I welcome it. I love more then anything to see someone exercise their first amendment rights. So, Sir, this is an invitation. I am the curator of the October First Friday show at Holgas and I wish to extend a welcome to you. The show I am curating is entitled "We the People" Yes, it's campy and cliché, but it's in the spirit of the political season and, I just like it. Come down and see for yourself what we are trying to do. It may not be the "finest" art in the valley, but we are true to ourselves and our art. Please don't criticize us without getting to know us and as a courtesy, I won't threaten to break that middle finger (or fingers) you have collectively given us. Perhaps you might see us in a different light and some of this hostility will dissipate. Perhaps instead of spreading such a negative vibe, you could get involved and help us make it better. Just a thought.
Ian A Wender
First, the cliché in the subject line shows lazy thinking, reaching for the obvious. The answer: We're not supposed to get along. We're right, you're wrong, you need to change your shallow, unthinking ways.
I don't know you and I've only read a small portion of your recent commentary.
I am glad I don't know you and never will. Why just a "small portion" -- did your lips get tired? Did those reading to you have to go home? Was there too much splainin for your brain? It takes about a hour at the most to read our six articles on downtown, to which you seem to have such a commitment (such a diligent sweeper). You can't be bothered to read much of my stuff, but I'm supposed to take you seriously? I read books for breakfast, but you can't read five thousand words? You're a pissant, Ian, an ignorant peasant with words, way below intellectual minor league, and those are just the first of many epithets I'm sending your way.
I am a resident at Holgas and have been for the last year. I make no apologies for the state of the downtown area or those that live and work there.
No apologies. Gotcha. Stand your greasy ground.
All I can say is that I try to do my Art in the manor [sic] that suits me best.
I think you mean "manner," man, because you don't live in no manor, man, knowhudImean? All I can say is that I believe you: what suits you best is living an artist manqué life, the communal infusions from other anxious wannabes insuring minimal levels of quality, fluctuations well within the parameters of the warning bells of the fragile but crucial self-esteem of The Collective. This keeps the vibe comfortable, not competitive, even if the art is from hunger. Holga's is partytime, postgraduate crib-gilding, and that's why you're there. Real artists don't want cachet, they don't want to party, they want to work.
It is, after all, an expression of my feelings and beliefs.
Awwww . . . And? You epitomize the students my wife and I and many teachers have had to face countless times: no epistemological grounding, no roots in reality, no deep emotional or empirical reasons for these feelings and beliefs: you've found them, like a hyena coming upon unexpected meat; and your parents praised you; now you know they're valuable -- feelings, beliefs -- but you don't know really know what they are. (If you did, you would not have written your email.) Also, just because you have feelings and beliefs, we have to pay attention to them? I mean, everybody got to make room for Ian? We're busy, you know? World's big, you're small. Your feelings won't -- ever -- steer the world. We need more important concepts for the future than your foolish and adolescent beliefs, which retard the life force.
I sweep our side walk, paint over the "tags", pick up trash and try as hard as I can to clean up after the bottle breakers leave. I'm sorry that you've been "assaulted" and I would never condone that...however, It could be argued that you asked for it.
Well, Ian, we've reached it so soon: your resinous black heart, I mean. You sound just like a hitter. We write about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and you're right there, looming, with both fists, in the classic mode: You must have liked it. If you have a partner in your life, I fear for her or his safety.
I'm sorry that you've been "assaulted" . . .
No, dildo, we were not "assaulted," we were assaulted. Shove your minimizing quotes. And you're not sorry, liar, you're snickering.
. . . it could be argued that you asked for it.
Precisely in which ways could such an argument proceed, should you ever become intelligent enough to frame one? Of all the things you could have said to anyone associated with pain -- immediately after I wrote about the lacerations of people like you -- you come through like the self-centered shitbrain you are and repeat the worst thing you could say to someone with PTSD. (But no, the worst is yet to come, isn't it? The Invitation!)
We write words, Ian. Should we be assaulted for that? Actually, I'm not asking you -- I wouldn't ask you for the time -- I am appealing to any rational readers out there. Actually, I'm not appealing either; I'm just witnessing to the reptilian, limbic cruelty in many young people who have emailed us or commented on this blog before we shut them down. This particular asafoetidan mammal represents only the latest in a disappointing generation, their emotions like blackened stumps, callused long ago.
Other readers: I hope you see the manifold, suffocating cruelty of Ian's statements. Reread the whole email. ("Just a thought," he ends, as if everything is la-dee-dah. What the fuck? By the time I'm done reading I'm seething, but to him it's just a thought.)
I have no objection to criticism...as a matter of fact, I welcome it. I love more then anything to see someone exercise their first amendment rights. So, Sir, this is an invitation. I am the curator of the October First Friday show at Holgas and I wish to extend a welcome to you.
No, no, no, liar. What you what, Wender, is King & du Bois captured forever on your buddies' Samsung camera phones while Pete Petrisko or some other not-so-merry prankster delivers the goods.
Not only that, you step over every objection, every fact, every bit of rage and reason, to extend an invitiation, because, after all, it's about you. I mean, you, Ian A.
Wanker Wender. Only, when I Google your name, I see nothing about you or your art. You can't be serious. I'm serious: you cannot be a serious artist. A serious artist in the 21st Century has a website, no matter what. Even some of your dumbass friends have websites. We don't even have a gallery or gallery blog anymore, but you can still see five or six of our pieces in a recent post. Whaddayou got? Nothing! And we're supposed to take you seriously? Twit.
Vicious twit. First you minimize our assault, say we had it coming, then extend your hand. If you don't see the sociopathy in that sequence, you prove my point.
The show I am curating is entitled "We the People" Yes, it's campy and cliché, but it's in the spirit of the political season and, I just like it. Come down and see for yourself what we are trying to do. It may not be the "finest" art in the valley, but we are true to ourselves and our art.
Oh, you're a curator, too? Yawn.
. . . is entitled "We the People" Yes, it's campy and cliché, but it's in the spirit of the political season and, I just like it. . .
If you've read our recent series on "Democracy in America" -- oh, but you don't read much -- well, if you had, you would know how we feel about this country. To us, We the People verge on sacred words, the most profound expression of E Pluribus Unum. Calling this spirit "campy and cliché" is no way to appeal to us. Once again, your narcissism inflates like a helium balloon and blinds you to anything but you: I just like it.
Come down and see for yourself what we are trying to do. It may not be the "finest" art in the valley, but we are true to ourselves and our art. Please don't criticize us without getting to know us and as a courtesy, I won't threaten to break that middle finger (or fingers) you have collectively given us.
We aim the middle fingers, four of them, at each and every member of and volunteer at Artlink. Not you, tadpole, unless you're one of them. And you couldn't get close enough to carry out your threat anyway.
. . . see for yourself what we are trying to do . . . we are true to ourselves and our art. Please don't criticize us without getting to know us . . .
You act like you're still in school -- Teacher, Teacher, look what I did! We've gotten this pathetic "get to know us" crap before, from Jason Moore. Who cares who you are? It's about the art -- actual objects -- not the scene; it's not about you you you the wonder of you! You punks live in a dream world.
Perhaps you might see us in a different light and some of this hostility will dissipate. Perhaps instead of spreading such a negative vibe, you could get involved and help us make it better. Just a thought.
Once again it's all about you -- your crew, your scene. I shudder at the thought of even breathing the same air as you people, so that won't ever happen, but just imagine I got involved -- what do I get out of it, hmmm? I go down there and spread the good cheer to a bunch of spoiled brats half my age for their comfort, and I get . . . nothing but shafted again. NO.
I've given you pearls here, swine, none of which you deserve or will learn from.
Two final things:
You ignored Catherine King completely. Typical of the new misogyny. I'll bet the so-called women in your scene are as spineless as you are cruel. But it is a good idea to stay away from Catherine King.
You blithely publish your address, no problem. If we did the same . . . bloodshed. You see the difference between what you do and what we do? What you do is inconsequential, what we do is in the name of important, palpable principles.
I suppose I should thank you for providing us a prime biopsy of the malignancy in downtown Phoenix, but what I really want to say is, You must change your ways. Read today's tagline above: What goes around, comes around. Unlike you and your crew, it's not a cliché.
Photograph by Catherine King, September 15, 2004.
Flower Arrangement and Photography by Catherine King, September 14, 2004.
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, September 11, 2004.
"If someone puts a bullet through your brain, I'll complain." -- Cole Porter (thanks to Mark Steyn)
by Jerome du Bois
As part of "The Burgeoning" -- I notice Richard Nilsen used the term again today, in the first sentence (on page 34 of The Rep) of his new yawner on "pioneers of downtown art" -- anyway, as part of our series, we would like to add this little survey and two examples to show how proud these downtown artists are of their country, and so therefore why we should continue to financially support their alma-mater-sucking activities.
It was only after we cruised both sections of the Evans-Churchill / Grand Avenue art spaces a couple of times that we twigged to what was strange: not a single American flag, in proud flapping reality or in decal replica, anywhere. But some person or group did manage to finance a big anti-Bush billboard right across from Beatrice Moore's place, with the whole Bush-lied line, now demonstrably proven false. Preaching to the converted and wasting money -- partly your money -- besides.
Examining various art venues, looking for commemorations of the Third Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on US soil on September 11, 2001, this is what we found:
Phoenix Art Museum: 0
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art: 0
Heard Museum: 0
Chandler Center for The Arts: 0
ASU / Nelson Fine Arts: 0
Need I go on?
What about local downtown art galleries? Well, what do you think? I'll only use two examples.
eyelounge: Jennifer Urso -- "thinking too much" Exhibition -- blurb from the website:
Networking and connecting in our minds, actions, nature and man-made systems is the basis for Jen Urso's installation "thinking too much" at eye lounge this September 2004. Using materials such as thread, wire, plastic, mud, hair and text, Jen creates layered structures revealing a complicated interior of fibrous connections. These connections then extend outside of the objects to involve the surrounding space and viewer. These pieces are a continuation of Jen's previous work involving development and breakdown of systems and the connective force of meaning.
Blurb from Phoenix New Times:
If conceptual tree branches were as deep as Jennifer Urso's art, they'd be mistaken for roots. Huh? Yeah, let's explain. Urso's latest work -- using gnarled plastic, mud, hair, text, wire and threads -- can be seen through Sept. 25 . . . Drawing from research into what unifies weather, literature, neuroscience, Buddhism and quantum mechanics, Urso's "installed study of fractal branching" explores artistically natural systems and patterns. "By letting the chaos of the material do its own thing, energy is dispersed into a branching network," Urso says. "It creates an environment that shows a broader view of how things are connected. History is too often presented as linear. The truth is that there is never just one cause and effect. In reality, certain events occur because of network connections." Does your brain hurt yet?
No, but my heart does. We've been following this woman's work for four years, and it's as if 9/11 never happened to her; not even a speed bump. Just the usual scientific dabbling and droning (though she leaves out, inexplicably, string theory).
History is too often presented as linear. The truth is that there is never just one cause and effect. In reality, certain events occur because of network connections.
Mohammed Atta put the pedal to the metal, in a linear way, causing the jet to accelerate to over 600 miles per hour, at the structural limits of the aircraft. If he had not crashed into the Tower, the airplane would have flown apart.
As far as I know, and what I see, there is nothing in her installation, and nothing -- no corner, no moment, no memorial anywhere -- for 9/11 within the walls of eyelounge this month.
But the Paper Heart scrapes true bottom, on the very day. Read it all -- Booty Call, by Benjamin Leatherman -- with a bucket nearby:
Avast ye landlubbers, just a week in advance of "International Talk Like A Pirate Day," those bilge-sucking sons-of-biscuit-eaters at The Paper Heart, 750 Grand Avenue, will be busting out like Blackbeard at "Mermaids and Martinis" on Saturday, September 11. This "undersea fantasy fund raiser" for iTheatre Collaborative is a call for lingo straight from Davy Jones' locker while "splicing the mainbrace" (having a drink) or showing a saucy wench your Jolly Roger. Just don't end up in the brig, bucko. Nautical-themed dress -- from mermen to deep-sea divers -- is encouraged, but if your interests are more Captain Morgan than Captain Jack Sparrow, there'll be appetizers, and martinis will be served (plus the olives might help ward off scurvy). The scalawags of Soaking Fused and DJs will perform, as will exotic dancers, and the "H2O" art exhibition will also shiver your timbers.
No, nothing will ward off this scurvy crew, Scott Sanders and Jen Sanders first among those who would, if given the chance, run out to the battlefield after the battle is over to gleefully bayonet the wounded.
Dance, you ghouls, dance away. The dead will bear witnesss. So will we.
Flower Arrangement and Photography by Catherine King, September 5, 2004
Flower Arrangement and Photograph by Catherine King, September 2, 2004.
by Jerome du Bois
I need to get back to Part Two of "The Pride of Phoenix," but this was just too good to pass up, since it refers directly to another of our series, "Democracy in America at ASU," which opened last night. One of the pieces which was excluded ended up, in reproduction, on ten T-shirts in attendance.
From Mark Saxon's ASU Web Devil online article:
More than 10 supporters, at least one of them a child, wore black T-shirts with an artist's piece omitted from the show -- "Angry Americans" by Ryan McNamara.
He's talking about these brats.
"We're not really sure how his artwork didn't fit in," said Betsy Bretharte-Lyon, who was wearing the shirt, along with her son, Cooper. "We are here to represent Ryan's piece in another way."
McNamara's "Angry Americans," a series of eight large photographic portraits assembled in a long rectangle, depicted close-ups of Bretharte-Lyon's son Cooper and seven other children conveying their best attempts to show anger.
Bretharte-Lyon said she believed McNamara's piece showed the emotions of those who do not believe they have a way to express their feelings to the world.
"Not including the piece is just another way of silencing us," she said.
Museum curator Marilyn Zeitlin said she had the final word for what was included in the exhibition.
"I chose not to put it in, and I, as curator, have that freedom of expression," she said.
Let's imagine the scene in the Bretharte-Lyon home as mother and son peruse the New Times update which announces that Cooper's little blond face will not appear on the museum wall, no matter his mother's and Ryan McNamara's assurances . . .
(In what follows, some would go with the mother as the pushy one. We go with the son.)
. . . Mother looks at son as at something ticking.
He slams the paper down. "MAAAAWWWMM!"
"I know, I know."
"I mean what the hell -- !"
"Oh, come on, mom! What happened? You gotta call --"
Holding up her cellphone. "I already did, while you were reading. I left a message with her."
Head down, mumbling, squeaky voice. "It's not going to happen. I thought this was America!"
Holding up the cellphone. "She'll get back to us. . . " Squinting, leaning forward. "What's that on your t-shirt? Let me --" licking thumb, scraping at something.
Jerking back. "Mom! This is serious! It's just egg or something. There's more important things --"
"Like what about Maitlin and Caitlin? What are they going to say?"
"I know, I know . . . are you sure that's egg?"
"Maawwm! And Ryan and Brian?"
"I know, I know."
"And Addison and Madison?"
'I know!" Pause. Holding up calm palm. "I mean, I know --" brushing the chest of this t-shirt. "I have an idea."
And she did. Pop it up.
It's a triumph for freedom of expression, idn't it?. McNamara's piece got in, even if on a t-shirt, and only for one night. What does that matter? Was it ever meant to be a unique work of art? Cooper's cropped image got looked at, if one of ten people stood still for the viewer. Thank God a concerned and loving mother found an outlet for, in her words,
those who do not believe they have a way to express their feelings to the world.
Cooper found a way, and now he is refining his way. Dr. Crow, Marilyn Zeitlin and five curators got aced by a ten-year-old and his attentive and doting mother. (What's that music? I'll be . . . wrapped around your finger . . .) Not often do we witness, in public at least, the actions of a nascent operator. (Some of us with children know some of these tactics well.) Go get 'em, Cooper Bretharte-Lyon! Hell, you and your mom got eight others on the string already! But stay away from us, son, since we saw your number a mile away.
Pity the other adults around you don't.
Alert: We will be posting Part Two of "The Pride of Phoenix" late tonight, which will flatten Richard Nilsen's, Amy L. Young's, and Michelle Laudig's latest pieces on downtown art like Frances over Florida. Stay up and gnash your teeth.