Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cake Walk 2007

Winners of this year's Art Show Cake Walk (a.k.a. my personal favorite art sightings of 2007)

More Barney! The Cremaster Cycle in it's entirety. Because you can never have enough Barney! (I know he believes this too, else his works wouldn't be so Big and Long, yah?) Since I hadn't ever seen them all, this was a real treat. (Thank you Red Vic Theatre.) Revisiting the endless car-crashing/smashing was good—like old friends so indelibly rubbed and rammed into my head (Cremaster 4.) But the motorcycle race (Cremaster 3) around the island, the yellow and blue, oh that was the best. Crawling up the entrails of the land. Oh he has tap danced his way deep into my heart.

An honorable mention goes to Matthew Barney: No Restraint the film by Alison Chernick that revealed just what was happening to Matthew and Bjork below the waist, below the surface, in his film Drawing Restraint. It was almost like being back there on the big whaling ship extending the Barney love-fest into a second year following on his residence at SFMoMA in 2006. We miss you Barney—oh 'tis true. A gold star for The Red Vic Theatre for showing great films.

Kate Garner show (at Varnish Gallery) of large loud photographs of UK club stars knocked me out. The portraits of Identitists (ID - identity artists) Leigh Bowery and Booby Tuesday (see pic) were super—superhuman—bigger than life, breathtaking. Besides for the bold makeup-mask-total body transformations, there was a cut up of bits and parts of the very image making the images dance on the page. What's real, what's not? I loved it.

A Rose Has No Teeth —Bruce Nauman's early work from the 60s at the Berkeley Art Museum was a great show. There was latex sculptures, neon, plates of steel, and video, such as Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square which was completely engaging. There was also his Performance Corridor a tight 20 inch wide, corridor constructed of plywood that you could walk down just like he did getting the experience of narrowness first not just second-hand.

And then, speaking of second-hand, there were old works reworked into new works: stills of his face-pulling videos now self-portraits, second-hand. (Infrared Outtakes: Neck Pull, Opened Eye, Cockeye Lips, Hands Only, (photographed by Jack Fulton), 1968/2006)
There's something so marvelous about these rough-and-ready works, so stripped down and direct. It's been how many years now, and still they leave bite marks.

Zidane: A Twentieth Century Portrait It was after the World Cup, so I actually knew who Zidane was before seeing this incredible film by Douglas Gorgon and Philippe Parreno made using multiple cameras located all around the field. I loved the slowed motion, the repetition, the use of film not as narration but revelation.

Speaking of revelation, getting to see a Marilyn Minter in person made me ecstatic. I missed her big show at SFMoMA in 2005 being out of the country (a good excuse if there is one), so I was happy to see the piece—Strut— the museum acquired. Her painting of a bejeweled high heeled slipper is just exquisite in a romantic Cinderella sort of way. This is the flipside of Zidane, painting that is sharp, cinematic and wryly narrative.

Berkeley Art Museum hosted new work by Abbas Kiarostami other than his incredible, moving, spare feature films. His still photos of trees and rain and hillsides are like the best of his filmmaking—the presence of the land, the elements, the living breathing non-human. Pacific Film Archive then took the cake by showing Five his sequence of five short films of a seaside: stationary camera, single shot, lean; a steady gaze on what happens in a space and within a time frame. There was nothing so thrilling as sitting in a theater watching a black screen listening to a frog sing. A black screen. Not for a few seconds, but for as long as it took. This man is a powerful visionary.

Best Of Lists are sort of boring mostly—things I've seen and liked, things you might not have seen, so what? But don't you like the way these pictures go together? The wild hair-headdress/face mutilation thing going on in the first two, the gritty men's faces, the leaning feet n trees, rain n mud-? I did it on purpose. Now it's not so boring.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Art Insurance

Art is a Guaranty of Sanity, pencil inscription on pink paper by Louise Bourgeois. I received this in the form of a card for the holidays. Lifted my spirits, it did. Coming as it did at the dark time of the year, dark and cold. The sentiment an echo of my own year-end greeting years back when things felt particularily bleak. Two things you can count on: The Sun Rises. Art Saves.

In a few days, Grande Dame Louise Bourgeois, born December 25, 1911, will turn 96. Happy Birthday Madame, may you live long (you have) and prosper (yes, that too). I expect the reason she has fared so well is because of art. "Art is just one way of reaching an equilibrium—of becoming a sociable person," she said in explanation of this inscription. (ArtForum, Summer 1993)

"If the artist cannot deal with everyday reality, the artist will retreat into his or her unconscious and feel at ease there, limited as it is—and frightening sometimes. But since love excludes fear—suddenly if you are in love, you are not afraid anymore. This is amazing, but it is true."

So art is a refuge. She was speaking of a specific sculpture in this article, Precious Liquids. In this piece there is a coat (the unconscious she refers to above). Inside the coat there is a little dress embroidered with "mercy merci." Art arise out of this ground—this dress inside the coat—mercy, thank you, the saving grace of art. It's what makes it possible to go on, to reenter the fearful social context. And then there is love.

Just the balm needed at this time of year. Art ensures we make it through the dark and troubling times. Keeps us sane. And then there is love.

May we each live well and prosper in the New Solar Year.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Alternative to Alternative

Having written the previous post, I find myself still ruminating on the need for, the reasons for, the use of the word "alternative." Alternative is related to alternate: this or that, on or off. Alternative is defined, in fact, as one of two mutually exclusive options; if one is chosen the other must be rejected. Alternative is an oppositional word suggesting a binary situation. In common usage, of course, we say there are "many alternatives," but at the root of it is still this notion of only one way. For me or against me. For-profit or not. Straight or gay.

So I was looking for a poly word. Or a multi word. An inclusive rather than oppositional word. Polyoptional. Multivalent. Polyvalent. Optional implies choice. Valent refers to worth. Multifarious is nice. I dunno...

I don't want to dismiss the value of the resistance or opposition that is (sometimes) implied in the use of "alternative." I don't want to be pollyannaish about the art world (even if I am generally optimistic.) Like those that want to believe in "alternative," I have faith in diversity and I suspect that "alternative" says, I'm right, they're wrong more that it says, I question authorities, conventions, and categorizations.

I suppose what I am suggesting is a more nuanced way of speaking about art that doesn't fall into the trap of us against them—whoever them might be, let alone us. I also want to move myself out of my own presuppositions. So that if I encounter a gallery named, say, Three Bat Gallery, I won't immediately assume and dismiss it as a fly-by-night artist-run place filled with look alike art-school assignments any more than I might assume that a high-end place might have nothing earth-shaking to see. Sometimes the privileged old bats have a lot of shaking going on.

There are so many strands in art and so much of value. I want to foster this wide-openness, let it spill like a full-to-the-brim, wide-mouthed jar in an earthquake.

Sentimental Notion

Maybe "alternative" is just a sentimental notion. It has long been useful for selling art, but with the market so flush, nobody even needs it anymore. Yet people still want it, and live it, and have a kind of faith in it: the "it" that can't be mass-produced, can't be packaged for museums, can't even be made to make sense. —Holland Cotter, New York Times, Dec.1, 2007

Holland Cotter is writing about galleries, little galleries, not in Chelsea but on the Lower East Side, galleries which advertise as alternative. I wonder, is alternative alternative?

Seems to me, alternative is now like avant garde was to modernism: says unconventional, breaking limits, pushing boundaries—but really, isn't it all passé? Even in the toniest galleries—or museums for that matter, anything goes.

Alternative used to mean you'll find something different, something challenging to the status quo, something other than the mainstream. Something that the market won't bear. What is it now that the art market won't bear?

Seems to me the only thing that alternative can mean now is not-for-profit. Or is that what alternative really means? Is it a codeword for doesn't sell, makes no money? Well I'm alternative then, but not proud of it.

The sentimental notion that art couldn't, shouldn't make money is linked with ye olde Bohemian term avant garde. The marginalized outsider took a vow of poverty when he (yes, back then it was mostly he's) took up the standard against convention and advanced the line—that linear historical party line that demarked the boundary of accepable and subversive. Artists and gypsies pushed the boundaries of what was legitimate or desirable, and the Victorian ladies, evidently, said, Shame on you! And what artists and gypsies wanted—so goes the sentimental storyline—was to be free from the constraints of manners, rules, and obligations. The thought that followed was that market success had built-in demands: for saleable product (consumer-oriented) and always more (art that could be manufactured). Success resulted in legitimacy and stability and so it was just better to die young, avoid all pitfalls of making a capitalistic living.

Students and creative types still believe this. As Cotter says, "people still want it, and live it, and have a kind of faith in it." Whole neighborhoods exude it, a sort of sophmoric anti-establishment, self-righteousness dressed in machine-worn designer jeans and Peruvian woolen hats that says "of the people." Excuse me? And how are you different than everybody else on the block?

Being down on the street, flaneur, with the people is code for being progressive—the artist subverting commodification, or at least rankling her art-school tuition-paying parents. Art as critique, as against societal ruts and wrongs is another aspect of the avant garde breaking through to the new society—or at least breaking the limits of conceptuality and making aesthetic change (which ultimately brings about societal change). Now this is a notion of new and different that I can get behind. Seeing concepts in a new way, hearing stories I've never heard before, or the old ones told a different way in a different voice. This is a concept of new, different, alternative that is postmodern and always contemporary for it assumes always new particular ideas, views, voices—anything goes, everybody's welcome. The ultimate democracy.

So how alternative is alternative? Is it a necessary term? Seems to me, and I may be naive, but the art world seems more welcoming of radical, upside down, inside and other points of view than any world I know of. Seems to me the art world is an alternate world, a parallel universe, running on its own imaginative steam with a unique economy following a fantastical standard of its own making. It seems reduntant to say alternative art, alternative gallery. Better to be specifically descriptive: political art, feminist art, figurative, installation, found, narrative, video, conceptual, invisible. I mean, really. Alternative? Diamond encrusted skull. Now that's alternative. And I'm not joking.