June 27, 2006

OnePlace Is NoPlace, And Might As Well Be AnyPlace

by Jerome du Bois

You don't have to be a Christian to be offended by OnePlace, a venue south of Roosevelt Row which hosts rock bands, art exhibitions, and worship services --sometimes simultaneously-- all in the name of Jesus Christ. Phoenix New Times writer Niki D'Andrea touts this place as a hip, "cutting-edge" refuge for "seekers" dissatisfied with traditional Christian churches. But what I see is a pathetic crew of preacher wannabes desperately catering to the infantile sensibilities of a bunch of spoiled brats.

According to OnePlace's 30-year-old pastor Rob Tarr,

"We're moving over to worshiping in new ways. We worship a lot through our art. Art draws artists, so we draw those people in. The same with music."

One example of the "art":

Tonight, those walls are hung with photographer Monica Vega's "Women With Guns" series, which features hot babes pointing the barrels of various guns directly at the camera lens.

And for the Easter "Stations of the Cross" exhibition:

One of the largest paintings in the exhibition, Jeremiah Sazdanoff's Jesus Meets His Mother, depicts images of Christ and Mary behind a swarm of words and sentences, including "Crucify that m*ther f*cker." The bright yellow "f*ck" is the most prominent part of the painting. Even the "-er" is a more docile blue. [Censorship added.]

These pieces fit right in with the misogyny and snickering adolescent obscenity which occupy the shrunken minds and twisted hearts of the artists in the downtown Phoenix arts district. People who want to promote the worst within and among us. But what would Jesus do if confronted with this crap? Is that even a difficult question? If you think so, you might as well stop reading right now; I'm not writing this for you; I don't give a tinker's damn about you. Beat it.

Okay then, anyone left might ask, who are you writing for? That is a good question, actually. I've read D'Andrea's cover story through about six times since last Thursday, and it makes me angry every time. But why? I haven't been a Christian for many years, and I don't believe Jesus was God Incarnate. Could it be that I'm worried about the "cool kids" being misled by Rob Tarr, Adam Brooks, and Mandi McKinney? Hell, no. If those feckless followers can't tell the difference between human decency and human degradation, that's on them; they're already halfway down the tubes, and I'm not about to interrupt their slide to the seamy side.

Maybe I want to persuade the pastor and staff members of the errors of their ways? Fat chance. These bozos will trash any and all standards to keep their "ministry" going, to keep the "cool kids" coming, and, above all, to not offend them with the real challenges of life. I'm not writing to persuade anyone of anything.

Well, then, why bother?

The answer is, to witness for Jesus. Not Jesus as Christ, or Lord, or God, but my friend Jesus --the man with the burning heart, overwhelmed by his love for people, who passionately pleaded for us to seek the best within us. I just can't stand by silently and let these bastards try to drag him into their disingenuous and self-centered drama.

OnePlace "staffer" Adam Brooks teaches at Deer Valley High School. He's also pursuing a Master's of Divinity at Phoenix Seminary. This is how he talks:

"When we first started, there was a lot of opposition. There were a lot of people who talked a lot of stuff. They were like, Who are these people? They're trying to change things.'

"People were like, Oh, we can't do that, that's not a church. You guys are going to Hell,'" Brooks says. "The nicest way to put it is, we just silently gave them the middle finger and went on. We'll keep doing what we're doing."

I'm going, like, whoa, this peckerhead is eloquence personified. More:

"A lot of us are just sick of churches that make you follow these certain requirements, or you're just not welcome," Brooks says. "What kind of load of shit is that?''

And more:

"They're people who are close to their traditions," Brooks says. "We're saying, Screw tradition.'"

Spoken like a true Christian, eh?

And just what makes OnePlace so distinctively different from those old, stodgy, ossified traditional churches?

D'Andrea writes:

Smoke cigarettes? That's okay. Gay? Welcome. Got tattoos and piercings? So does everybody else. Having sex out of wedlock? Whatever.

Don't even believe in God? That's okay, dude. Hang out and catch a punk rock show or peruse the art, anyway.

"Peruse"? Sheesh. Anyway, there are a few items missing from this list, and the tells are in these omissions. What about those who smoke weed, smoke crack, snort coke, shoot heroin, or ruin themselves with crystal meth? Why does D'Andrea ignore these behaviors? Is D'Andrea asking us to believe these drugs play no role in the social profiles of Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue? I sure don't believe it, though it's a situation devoutly to be wished.

Maybe OnePlace's mighty downtown ministry, now almost seven months old, has cleaned up the place in record time. But if so, why don't they brag about it? There's not one word in D'Andrea's article about illegal drug abuse.

And not many words about Jesus, either. Instead, D'Andrea spends over half the article writing about the music. Now, I've danced before the Lord, singing in tongues, with the best and the rest, but I never made the mistake of thinking that the music was the core of the Christian walk. The walk itself was the core.

Brooks says:

"Jesus went where there was the most need, where he could make the most difference. And that's what we're trying to do."

But I don't see much difference between OnePlace and, say, Modified or Paper Heart or Trunk Space. Everybody wants to pick up their guitar and play, just like yesterday, and yesterday, and yesterday. (Now appearing: The Droning Clones.)

Listen, here's the key to OnePlace, in Brooks's words:

"We want people to feel like they can come here and not feel judged, not feel depressed, not feel talked about -- to feel safe. Deep down safe."

What thin-skinned babies these congregants be! Jesus judged people left and right and up and down. And he "depressed" multitudes because they didn't want to change their ways, rise above themselves, and better themselves. And he sure was talked about, wasn't he? both behind his back and before his face. And he stood up to them all. Why? Because after a long and wrenching struggle, he found out who he was. And it left him anything but safe. Life isn't safe. It isn't about coddling the weak. But that is the core of OnePlace.

After Jesus stepped between Magdalene and the flying stones, she changed her ways. She did what she did before Love came to town. But when Love came to town, she rose above her self-humiliation and grew into a stand-up woman.

There are no such testimonies in D'Andrea's article.

In the ten-plus years I was a Christian, in about a half-dozen churches, everybody had a testimony, and was eager to share it. You couldn't shut them up about it. Born-agains are anything but shy.

In D'Andrea's article we read a lot of name-dropping of local musicians, about Mandi McKinney's idiotic bookings of hardcore bands (in a church?!), and quotes of half-baked lyrics --keeping your heart upon the altar is just the beginning, dude-- but in all of Rob Tarr's and Adam Brooks's chin music, they can't present a single person whose life has been transformed by their ministry. It's as if Jesus --whether God or human-- was never there, no matter how long or often they proclaim he's "in the house."

I think he's elsewhere, far removed from OnePlace.

Travel well, my friend. And watch your back.

Posted by Jerome at 10:30 PM | TrackBack

June 24, 2006

Fidel Cuts Down the Mango Trees

by Jerome du Bois

Fidel Castro, besides being one of the most evil human beings ever to disgrace this planet, is also probably the most loquacious. According to Brian Latell in After Fidel:

It is no exaggeration to say that he has spoken more words on the public record than any political leader in history. Probably no other human in any line of work has ever been recorded uttering such avalanches of words.

And most of this logorrhea is stultifyingly pedestrian:

It is also notable that in those billions of spoken words, Fidel will not be remembered for any single galvanizing performance or sparkling passage that is uniquely his own. Unlike many great orators he has hoped to emulate, nothing he has uttered in public has reverberated over time as a defining rhetorical moment. His oratory is bereft of adornment, memorable phrases, aphorisms, or allusions. A majority of the speeches have been apallingly boring recitations of facts and figures, often going on self-indulgently for hours.

All of Fidel's public broadcasts have been intercepted, translated, and transcribed by the Federal Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), "America's oldest civilian foreign intelligence organization." And Latell, the CIA's top Cuban analyst for more than twenty-five years, has read and studied every one, poor fellow.

Cuban intelligence knows about FBIS's work, and vice versa, resulting in a curious relationship.

A shadow-boxing game of sorts developed between Fidel and the American intelligence analysts perusing his words for clues and indicators. Often his most attentive audience was not the gathered Cuban bureaucrats or the crowd arrayed right before him wherever he was speaking, but us, the anonymous American intelligence analysts working in distant cubicles, parsing his every sentence . . . He liked the challenge of communicating regularly with the Cuban masses while not giving away any secrets or making mistakes that could be used against him. This may help to explain his extraordinary success -- with only a few really damaging exceptions through the years -- at avoiding slips of the tongue and unconsidered outbursts in his public appearances.

One of these exceptions offers a tantalizing glimpse into Fidel's twisted psyche, and involves Latell himself. And mangoes.

In late 1989,

Fidel visited the Salvador Allende hospital in Havana, and spoke to a small audience in an outdoor courtyard. Mango trees were growing there, and as he droned on about the revolution's accomplishments in health care, he digressed. The trees somehow distracted and irritated him. The FBIS transcript had it all word for word: "Why is this mango tree here? This mango tree does not belong in this patio. It must be cut down"

It was not a typical performance. Fidel is not given to public soliloquies, and does not often digress so abruptly. The aside was a rare nugget in the billions of words he had spoken on the record that was revealing of character and personality flaws. A part of his arbitrary leadership style was in full view.

Then, in February 1990, Brian Latell gave a speech about Fidel at the University of Miami, wherein he referred to the mango tree incident. By then he was well-known to Cuban intelligence, and he was certain that his words would find their way to Fidel. "There could be no doubt" [Latell said] "that the mango tree was promptly cut down, despite whatever pleasures it may have provided the patients."

It was an all-too-typical example, I said, of Fidel's micromanagerial style when even the most obscure and irrelevant matters suddenly, and for no apparent reason, become important to him. It was Fidel at his autocratic worst. It reflected pettiness, obduracy, total self-absorption, disregard for everyone. Incredibly, a mango tree had become an issue of state.

A year went by. Fidel kept up his chinwagging, and Latell kept doggedly reading. And in February 1991, droning on about accomplishments in health care and medicine at a provincial assembly in Havana, Fidel cited the Allende hospital as "a very good institution . . . the pride of the capital."

Then, the FBIS transcribers noted, he paused. His mention of the Allende hospital had triggered the memory of my criticisms of him in Miami. In an angry outburst, he reacted, defending what he had done. I had been right. The mango tree was cut down. Except it was actually a small grove of trees that he had destroyed. As if speaking only to himself and to me, he complained: "What came out in that meeting about the Salvador Allende hospital was incredible. The fences were broken because of the construction work which, who knows how many years had been going on. There was a mango grove. That was the only time in my life that I ordered to clean, to bulldoze a mango grove.

The mango grove was inside the hospital. The kids jumped everywhere. In fact they did not have to jump because there was no fence and they got in there to eat the mangoes. Everyone ate mangoes there. Even the patients ate the mangoes. The place was full of flies and there was a terrible lack of hygiene."

He concluded by emphasizing, "There is a beautiful park there now."

But the mangoes are gone.

There is plenty of vicious irony to go around here. I'll pick out just two points. First, mangoes are pretty much the national fruit of Cuba, and it is characteristic of Castro to be completely indifferent to the people's emotional attachment to them. Second, this incident occured during the Special Period of Peace, after the collapsing Soviet Union withdrew its billions of dollars of yearly subsidies to the Island. If there was ever a time when the people needed every bite of food they could find, this was it. But once again, Castro didn't care.

Compared to Castro's other depredations, the mango tree incident is petty, isn't it? But it does reflect his shrivelled soul: petty, barbarous, and cruel. Every little bit hurts.

Posted by Jerome at 09:24 AM | TrackBack

June 13, 2006

The Ongoing Cuban Art Series: They Still Don't Get It

by Jerome du Bois

We're getting a lot of traffic from my latest posting on art and Cuba, "Cruelty in Color." I don't know why --our critics never contact us-- but it provides me with the opportunity to remind readers that this is the eighth posting on the subject, spanning more than two years. Here are the other seven, in order of appearance:

#1. Two Cubans: In Order Not To Forget

#2. Cargosy: Two More Cubans

#3. Toirac The Tame And The Tiempos Nuevos Series

#4. Over His Dead Body: Kathleen Vanesian, Neo-Colonialist

#5. Angel Delgado's Transgression

#6. The Prisons Behind Lisa Sette Gallery

#7. Sit Down, Don't Be Rockin' Kcho's Boat

And the idiocy continues. Last week George Moneo over at Babalu Blog posted a colloquy he had with the Victoria & Albert Museum about their Che / Korda photograph exhibit. The most disingenuous line from the curator:

from the V&A's curatorial standpoint, the interest lies purely in a particular design phenomenon.

As if they're talking about some corporate logo instead of a heartless murderer.

Posted by Jerome at 09:15 PM | TrackBack

June 09, 2006

Portrait of the Phoenix Artist As A Tired Cliché

by Jerome du Bois

Pseudo-art writer Wynter Holden describes a painting by pseudo-artist Adam Allred:

Take Adam Allred's mixed-media piece Barefoot and Patriotic, for example. A fat, balding man wearing a gas mask and a tight, white tank top perches on his front lawn, watering the concrete driveway where his trusty pickup is parked. The cascading stream from the hose drips down beneath the main image, where book illustrations of missile launcher instructions and injured soldiers peer through a thin veil of muddy brown. A pile of skulls caked with blood is the foundation of the painting.

It's a powerful piece.

The smoky pastel tones and thick impasto technique of the painting are reminiscent of local artist Colin Chillag's cityscapes, but Allred's message about Phoenix is far more insidious. We post American flags on our pink stucco houses like badges of honor at the same time we're becoming obese, wasting water and sending friends and relatives to die so that we can keep our redneck American dream. Yee-haw.

Holden enjoys anti-Americanism; its simplistic and submental notions bypass any critical thinking. From a mini-review, in the same issue of New Times, of the next crew of clones coming out of ASU's MFA program:

"Annual Summer Juried Exhibition" at ASU Harry Wood Gallery: This year's crop of MFA hopefuls shows a surprising awareness of domestic issues including water conservation, racial profiling and changing family values. Look for tongue-in-cheek political lampoons, like Exhibitions Class Award winner Corie J. Cole's ceramic caricatures of cowboy Bush and his Elmer Fudd sidekick. The well-modeled figures grin over the carcass of a white elephant, gold blood dripping from two bullet holes in its head. In R. Eric McMaster's Lawn Ornament, a molded plastic businessman perches in Astroturf. He wears a tight suit and tie, and flashes the frozen grin of a good corporate drone. These young artists can't predict the future, but they certainly seem to know what awaits them in the real world

Cole and McMaster, who are too young to know much at all about the real world, are two years late for the anti-American, grossly-misnamed "Democracy in America" show that Marilyn Zeitlin, John Spiak, and Heather Lineberry tried to fob off on the public during election year 2004. They would have fit right in there.

By the way, on the same page as the mini-review, the paper runs an ad about its art listings with the heading "More Creativity Than Dubya's Vocabulary." Oh, ouch. These losers sure know how to stay stuck on stupid.

Back to Allred. Let's try to wedge ourselves into his tiny brain for a moment, the better to understand this clutter of clichés.

It's easy to see the influence of his anti-American teachers and professors, and his own uncritical adoption of their dispositions. They doled out the predigested pap, he swallowed it, and Wynter Holden regurgitated it. Why think for yourself when it's already been done for you? Because thinking is difficult, and the complexities and subtleties of real life are far beyond his mental capacities. Better to stick with the cartoon outlines he has already assimilated.

So there he is in front of a blank canvas with not one original thought in his head. Typical day. What to do, what to do? He reaches into the shallow drawer of his mind and chooses a few snapshots of stupidity, old and faded from overexposure. But he thinks, Whoa! This is a powerful idea. This is new. This will truly expose all those fat white redneck pickup dudes.

So, to own your own home, your own car, and to take care of both, is somehow wrong. To recognize that these achievements are only possible under the aegis of American law, symbolized by the flag, is somehow wrong. And of course only rednecks --a word as odious as nigger-- are fat. Really? What about anti-American artists like Jon Haddock and Heidi Hesse? They're porky. Oh, but they trash this great country, so they get to keep stuffing their faces. And complex social dynamics like water conservation and war can be blamed on the suburbanite.

Well, hell, turnabout is fair play, idnit?

I won't even try to top Catherine King's wicked portrait of Blue McCool --the best parody name ever, followed closely by sloan23 and JenJusJen-- so I'll just draw a quick composite sketch of the kind of people who turn out this kind of crap.

You emerge from the Hamberger school with your BFA ticket in hand, and straw men stuffed in your head. It's official: you're an artist. You must be. All your teachers, all your life, have told you how talented you are; it's how they justify their jobs, and satisfy school administrators: attendance means money. You could not have failed, and you haven't.

You move to the downtown Phoenix "arts district," a skanky carnival of unmusical music, bad fashion, burlesque, and crystal meth. Oh! and art, of course; the art.

You're already pierced and tattooed, with triple-hued hair, but who isn't, so you need more. You begin your blending in by ducking into Ret Lab and coming out wearing an overpriced and undersized pink t-shirt with The Knaked Knitters printed thereon. You pin an anti-Bush button on it. Baggy jeans by Nobody. Local artist fridge magnet in your left front pocket, shrinklet in your right. Sideways gimme hat. Rubber rainbow wristband. Skull ring. Cross neckchain. New Sonic Youth CD. Timberland and Idiotic. Congratulations: you look like everybody else.

As you check out the downtown galleries you feel right at home, because your art looks just like everybody else's, too. This is a good thing. You don't want to stand out, you want to fit in. You won't have to pound the pavement for years, like Wayne Thiebaud, or labor in obscurity for four years, like Jasper Johns. People like Scott Sanders and Kimber Lanning will take you under their wings right quick, because you're safe as milk, and just as common. And as long as you agree with their embedded and enduring hatred of the great country which suffers their presence, you can't go wrong.

So you party, snort, and paint, in that order. You're a Phoenix artist. And if that seems an unfair and reductive portrait --well, you asked for it. And it's a lot closer to the truth than Allred's painting.

Posted by Jerome at 07:49 AM | TrackBack

June 03, 2006

I Know It's In Here Somewhere

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Posted by Jerome at 07:52 AM | TrackBack

June 02, 2006

A Difference That Makes No Difference

by Jerome du Bois

I wasted my day writing about the art world when I should have been working on our novel. I told myself I wasn't going to do this anymore. Too much pain. What a chump. I was going on in this vein--

The art world is a moral swamp. I want to reach for a long set of tongs when I sort through what's bought and sold under the rubric of art: sordid confessions, misogynistic self-humiliation, all bodily excretions, dead animals, dismemberment, pimping out one's own mother, and worse. The most famous artist in the world is the lord of the flies. It's 20,000 Leagues Under The Manure Pile, artist. What are you doing there?

--and so on for a couple of pages. I ended up like this--

Most artists in the art world today would never stand up to declare, "I won't participate in a system that rewards Damien Hirst, Paul McCarthy, and Tracy Emin." And then step outside, as Marcel Duchamp did, to guard the integrity of his life.

Won't happen. They just don't have the moral backbone. They suffer from deconstructive osteoperosis. Remember how the Drawing Center booked from Ground Zero like a stripe-assed ape when their agenda was challenged? Cowards.

And I want to leave it there. It's foolish to angrily point at these jerks. They just laugh at you because they cannot be shamed, they cannot be reached by decency, because they really want to go as low as humans can go. They don't object to Hirst as Hirst; they just want to replace him. And they have no problem with the moral bankruptcy of Jeffrey Dietch and Larry Gagosian, since they share it. So to hell with you whores. Drown in your degradation for all I care. But I spent forty years looking for inspiration and hope and beauty in art, and the last twenty has broken my heart. So allow me to give you bastards a couple swift kicks before I head out.

First, for all the self-important hoopla about the crucial social role of art, the art world doesn't influence the world much, does it? In the last year, what art work has had the most impact upon the world? Picasso's $100M painting? Please. The US economy creates that much money in a few hours. The answer is the Mohammed cartoons. Nothing that the top one hundred living artists in the world has ever done, including all their political whiny crap, has had the worldwide influence of these low-rent illustrations. People everywhere are debating the role of images in the world, but not because of any artist or art writer. Think about that for a second, Richard Serra, Paul McCarthy, Thomas Hirschhorn, Jerry Saltz, Roberta Smith, all you bozos.

Second, the art world really isn't that significant economically, is it? Sotheby's 2005 revenues were around $520M. By contrast, Big Lots, for example, is #465 on the Fortune 500 list, with revenues in excess of $4B. Eight times the value. Do you think if we rolled up Sotheby's worth with Christie's and all the big dealers, that we could reach four billion dollars? I haven't done the math, but I don't think so. If Big Lots dropped off the map for some reason, the US economy would roll on without hardly noticing it. So what kind of perturbations could the art world possibly summon? In the great and glorious vehicle of the US economy, the art world is a cup holder, a hood ornament, a decal.

So for all the posturing and gesturing and puffery, today's artists are pretty much ignored by most people; and the whole worth of the art world (separate from private collectors' holdings) could probably fit inside a broom closet at Wal-Mart.

A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

Maybe that applies to this posting as well. But at least I can look at myself in the mirror.

Posted by Jerome at 11:45 PM | TrackBack