Friday, February 29, 2008

12th House Numbers

Statistics I read in today's news:

one in 99 American adults
one in 36 Hispanic men
one in 15 Black men
one in nine Black men aged 20-34

one in 355 white women aged 35-39
one in 100 Black women, 35-39

In Germany, 93 in 100,000 adults are in prison.
In America, 750 in 100,000 adults are in prison.

That's a lot of people given that the population of the US is currently 303,939,123. It is, in fact, a big number, the number of people in a small country: 3,070,092.

I don't know what else to say. The numbers stun me to silence.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Border Crossings

I was reading the literature that accompanies the Enrique Chagoya retrospective Borderlandia at the Berkeley Art Museum. Hmmm, I said, I wonder.

In his most recent work, Chagoya is playing with "reverse anthropology or reverse Western art history."

Instead of a European artist appropriating artistic expressions by cultures from former colonies (i.e., Picasso 'appropriating' African sculptural forms to develop his cubist style like in the Demoiselles d'Avignon, or Henry Moore 'borrowing' from Aztec sculpture to develop many of his pieces, or Frank Lloyd Wright 'inspired' by Mayan architecture in some of his designs, to give just a few famous examples, and not to mention 'high' art inspired by 'popular' art), I ask the question: What kind of art would have been created if the opposite had happened? This is what I am just beginning to explore.

Seems to me, there's a lot of that reverse appropriation around. It occurs whenever cultures collide—or overlap or meet at the border. There's examples of it in the sculpture of India after the "visit" of Alexander's army; the Egyptians picked up things, like realism in portraiture, from the Romans; and back to India in the last century, there's Bollywood taking up styles of cinema Hollywood left behind in the forties.

The difference, I'm supposing, is that it is the colonized emulating the colonizers, or those of lower rank picking up some of the gold dust shaken off the the dominant culture, or, some might say, being infected by the disease of the invaders.

Reverse anthropology would have to allow the culture in question some measure of self-centeredness, confidence, self-assurance to be the appropriator—to be the lead actor in the story. Anthropology, like history, is written from the point of view of the "one," not the "other."

Chagoya is somebody, named, author of his own destiny, and so when he borrows or is inspired by other galaxies (space, the final frontier, to borrow from Star Trek) he writes it, as it were, into history. To reverse history we might need to give name and voice to all the unknowns.

The collection of "Fabiola" portraits exhibited by Francis Alÿs comes to mind: hundreds of remarkably similar portraits of a 4th century female christian saint painted by unknown hands working in diverse places and different times. Without their names and stories, the artists are a phenomenon, like prehistoric cave paintings. Pre-history=no history or anthropology.

To reverse history might be to back up and pick up the untold stories left by the wayside. This is how feminism has affected history writing. Art history textbooks now (sometimes) include women artists. Didn't know there were so many back then, huh?

Seems to me, the beef really is with the history writers, the codifiers of a point of view, one perspective. (Who are they working for, I wonder? Now that's a good question.)

I don't know exactly how Henry Moore felt about the Mayans—for all I know he may have held their culture on a pedestal and his work inspired by theirs was an homage. But I do know how the Mayans and Aztecs and other "others" have been described in American textbooks, and how the ruling corporate class in almost every country continues to see the working class as disposable.

Appropriating the language of the dominator to subvert his plans—now that might be something to aim for.

But I want to get back to the idea of infection. If we hold to the notion that there is something like a pure culture, then it follows that new influences, violent or benign, adulterate, besmirch, infect. The pure culture has also been called "primitive," "simple," "elemental," "primal" to use old-fashioned anthropological terms.

It is the other side of the coin. The dominant culture steals from the other; the edenic culture is infected, innocence lost, degraded. But this is just another form of ideological construct based on the notion of purity. How far back do you go to get genuine, unmixed? How tribal? Do we begin to trace blood lines?

That's what I love about Chagoya's work: the mixing. His codexes and prints and paintings have many possible storylines, reflecting diverse sources from pre-Columbian mythology to comics to Teletubbies. He's mixing it up and telling a new, nuanced, ironic, interesting story. Superman, for instance, was a pilgrim. And remember, the pilgrims were Puritans.

*Chagoya courtesy of Lisa Sette Gallery.
**Fabiola courtesy of Dia Art Foundation.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Maximum Mountain Magnificence

This photo of Ketu—K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth, located in the Karakoram range of the Himalayas on the border of Parkistan and China—cannot quite convey the incredible size, the grandeur of this great being. But as a portrait it is a likeness. And I like it.

David Maxim likes such images too and for years he has been quietly working from such magazine and internet photos to create mountain paintings. On the record as an assemblage artist, Maxim has accumulated a horde of paintings and drawings which he shows for the first time at David Cummingham Projects, SF. Walking in on the show was a revelation.

This pic does not quite convey the work, a portrait of another mountain in the Karakoram range, Sisbun Barakk. Luminescent and exact, most of the paintings are about 40 to 48 inches across; the largest loomed at seven and half feet tall. Many are framed in heavy, black frames. The combination of the scale, the heightened focus, the tight composition, and heavy black frame, compresses and intensifies the experience of the subject. Magnification magnifies the magnificence.

Framing is important to Maxim. The grid, a containing structure, shows up in many of his other works as does binding—bondage contains, compresses, sets limits. The assemblage on the left, from 1988, is called, Limits of the World. The bound figure is more recent, 2006.

His mountain drawings are obstructed by a grid of lines, a net capturing the image, framing it. Look at this figure, called View of the World.

The frame—whether compositional, conceptual, or literal—holds the gaze. The gaze is what it is all about. Darshan: the blessing of the gaze. To look upon the holy person, icon, place, conveys grace upon the viewer. The essence is held in the gaze; the essence is transferred via the gaze. The mountain essence here is mighty and massive, slendid, sublime.

The show at David Cummingham Projects has been extended 'til the end of the month. It is worthy of repeated visits.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Crying in My Beer

Publisher Mat Gleason announces in issue #90 of his little art magazine Coagula that he has curated a show called 8 Under 28, a show he hopes "illustrates the death of media and pop culture as ubiquitous sources of content for contemporary art."


The show is at Gallery C in Hermosa Beach (of all places) and purports to be a harbinger of the new wave in art history. A "sea change," Gleason says, "the future of American art."

Well, I'll be...

From the exhibition notes:
Many young artists are turning their backs on five decades of grandfather's Pop Art and the aging pointlessness of Post-Modernism. These eight locals lead a generational shift with an art that enbraces reckless certainty and conceptual purposefulness. Their work, in a variety of media, abandons both the tidy illustrations of academic theory and the cult of the well-made fetish object.

There's more, but it's too terrible, I can't go on.

Wait until you see the art. No wait, you don't have to. Because it isn't about the art. It's about some self-inflated, heroic notion of avant guarde. God, when is going to end? I suppose the adolescent has to feel he is leading a charge, or else he won't leave home, but really, haven't we learned anything from Foucault? Okay, so I haven't read him either, nor Einstein, but I do get the ideas. They're everywhere, watered down I suppose, but still shaping how we see the world. And it isn't linear anymore.

There's no grand scheme in art, no one arc —and there has never been. All along, despite what your history books might say, there have been many voices, many styles. Sure there's fashion—the new and popular look of the season—but art history, any history, is a story told from the narrow point of view of the teller and there is always something left out. Expand the viewfinder, turn around and there's more and different. Diversity is everywhere; it's all relative.

I'm sorry. This is so basic. Feel my frustration. Do you feel it?

Why does Gleason need to set his 8 in opposition to Warhol, grandfathers, any body? Why the need to kill Pop? "The King is dead. Long live the King!" It's the pretense of overthrowing the old order, as Harold Rosenberg once said.

Talk about old school—the notion of "avant guarde" or "cutting edge" is so... old.


Well, speaking of old. Since I feel old just writing this, let me add something else that I came across recently.

From the Andre Zarre Gallery website:

The gallery is looking for young emerging artists only. Fresh, innovative, interesting works and new ideas. Artists between ages 24 to 34. Preferable works: Abstract Sculptures, Figurative and Abstract Paintings.

Where to start even to deconstruct it?

It makes me cry.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fortuna and Ale

In LA there is a little newsprint magazine floating around, Coagula Art Journal. The writing, wry, ironic, sarcastic, silly and serious, is about art, making it as an artist, art in LA. I approve. In issue #90, Senior Columnist (that's his title, seriously. Another is Poet. And ... Spiritual Advisor.) Any how. Senior Columnist, Gordy Grundy writies about a new venture of his: The Fellowship of Fortuna, "America's fastest growing art-centric religion." Oh yeah. I like it.

I also like the way he sets the stage for his pitch.

Braving the cold, I throw an arm and hand out from under the warm covers, toward the Venetian blind. It snaps and slaps up to reveal a medium grey sky, a monochrome without definition, no clue to its time. I can't tell if it is morning or evening. Who knows? Maybe I slept the day away. I'd like to ...
Stretching one's limits and pushing the personal envelope can be exhausting. Talking to people is hard. Recovery time is longer than I thought. For every hard-charging day, I need two to recover. What am I doing?! Morale is manic or depressive. It is either a day of brilliance and harmony or a day of soggy damp despair. Nothing in-between. An I going stone mad?

Oh I can relate completely. [Even if it is roller blind, not Venetian that he means; rollers snap, Venetians pull up.]



Map of where to get them custom fitted in Nottinghamshire, UK.

I digress.

What Gordy Grundy is talking about is his idea that the Fellowship of Fortuna could become a movement. He wants backers, team-players, ground swell.

The basic principle, unifying theory as it were, is fortuity, otherwise known as the luck of the draw. He explains on the FoF website, "one thing that unites every human being is Chance. Sometimes good or sometimes bad, we all have Luck. While most call her Lady Luck, we know her as Fortuna. Every church needs as icon and the Roman Goddess is the inspiration for ours." As luck would have it, Fortuna looks a lot like Angelina Jolie. Now that's a goddess.

He's got a lot worked out: god, the meaning of life, how to keep your head above water — and product: artworks - posters - stencils.

Slogans and mantras too. The best might be: Better Than.

I want to leave everywhere I go, better than I found it.
I want to leave everyone I meet, better for the encounter.
Better Than is fortunato. It could even end wars.

Yes, it just might at that.

It's not a cult, it's a culture, he says. It may be a culture of one for now, but who wouldn't want to be called one of the Fortunates?

Buona fortuna Gordy Grundy, on your drive to get attention, funding, members, drinks, whatever. May the goddess be with you.