Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Say Yes!

Oh I missed the show! I wish I could have been there—Susan O'Malley at Ping Pong Gallery, SF. But such is life. And, evidently, not being there was just where I needed to be.

Being here now, I can tell you it made me happy (Be Happy Now) to discover someone else out there thinks these pithy, optimistic statements are worthy of re-casting as Art On The Walls. I would have loved to have been there feeling the vibe, like euphoria, bouncing off the walls and across the room, but online is the Next Best Thing!

An artist out of San Jose, Susan O'Malley's work is whimsical and wry, a bit like Miranda July who she's worked with, so the connection is deeper than name-dropping. She likes these inspirational statements for the effectiveness of their direct command and how succinctly they boost the spirits. These slogans are the avant guard of a positivist, aggressively optimistic can-do attitude that is distinctly American. Have A Nice Day and that's an order.
Don't get me wrong, the work is completely sincere as is, most likely, the wish behind every off-hand, Take Care!

O'Malley's posters are a direct descendant of Yoko Ono and John Lennon's peace works. Social engagement through art. Lifting our sights to a higher order. Anything is possible with the right attitude. I believe it. I know it. Art Saves.

These affirmations recall Barbara Kruger's work, but they come with less bite. It may be a generational thing. This is the Obama era after all.

There's something absolutely reassuring to be held by the authority of conviction that stands behind these words. Don't worry. We're All In This Together.

Togetherness is a running theme in her work—literally, running around her neighborhood, and also engaging with her audience, or extending an art-hand to the community. O'Malley takes a gentle, fanciful approach to social engagement. In conjunction with these limited edition inspirational posters, she's got buttons for sale or barter. You can wear your art/slogan on your lapel—right next to your Imagine peace button.

Yes, yes we can.

Also on her website, I highly recommend seeing her interact with her neighborhood in this low-key video, A few yards in San Jose. With simple gestures she makes the mundane a lot more interesting. For further inspiration and instruction there's also her how-to video, Ways to be an artist in residence. Believe me—It Will Be More Beautiful Than You Could Ever Imagine.

Kruger image courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery.

Friday, July 17, 2009

17 words

TED, the wonderful Technology, Entertainment, Design conference people hosted Daniel Libeskind in February. His talk, online here, is a lot like his designs, exploding with enthusiasms, stretching sometimes to keep with the theme.

So although I might quibble with his list of 17 words which inspire his architectural dreams, I came away, yet again appreciating the expression of his vision.

Expression is one of his favorite words. Risky, political, pointed and unexpected are some of the others that match the look of his work.

He tries to offer alternative experiences of space. Yes, does that.

He wants to be more memorable than forgettable. Okay.

"Cantilevered like its never been done before." Yep.

Communicative with what's present or past. Communicating like an argument, for sure.

But more raw than refined? Real not simulated? He says he tries to design from the heart more than the head, and values his hand more than his computer. I would have never said that. His towers look pretty heady to me. Rough, textured, tactile—? I wouldn't have used those terms, not for his buildings, all slick and shiny, glass and titanium. So maybe it's a matter of language. Maybe he's not a writer.
Visionary. Check.
Architect. Yes.

TED's slogan is Ideas Worth Sharing. So I'm sharing. Watch this talk. Be inspired.

Images of Royal Ontario Museum, Denver Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, and the Brescia Tower, Italy, courtesy of Libeskind website.
More on the CJM here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Second Life

Dry Thirst of Honor is one of the photos in a show that has surprised me with its staying power, some two weeks after I saw it. The work is by Chris Gentile. The show is at Gregory Lind Gallery, SF, and the title is Reincarnation Blues.

This is St John. I'm not sure if the image here conveys the photograph there, but that, curiously enough, is part of what the work is about.

Start at the beginning. These photos are of sculptural/installation works created in the studio/lab, but the photo is the finished presentation piece, it is the documentation from which you experience the work.
Thus the image here online is a picture of the work which is the photo, which itself is once-removed.
Hence the title—Reincarnation: re-invention, re-birth, return to life—a second life as a photograph.

Now about the work. The Work. It is an opus, for sure, and his studio an alchemical laboratory where pieces are worked up to create a semblance from which you, the viewer, might glimpse a greater truth—or feel the stirring of a feeling, or some such other movement of soul.

Saint John, I have to assume it is the head of John the Baptist for it looks like the shaggy severed head of the Forerunner. Or it could be John of the Cross, Saint of the Dark Night of the Soul, otherwise known as Despair & Depression. Or, it might be my projection upon the black mass, the massa confusa signifying the start of the Great Work of integrating the opposites represented by the alchemists as the white of spirit and the red of body.

Here in Saint John: Tide of Regret you see the black mass hung on the wall and then, by degrees, slide, fall, coagulate on the blood red floor.

Now we get to the other half of the title, Reincarnation Blues. The blues: in a black mood, down in the dumps, feeling low. Melancholy. After-the-party let-down, heavy and sad, blues.

Red, red, red river, bloody ocean of sorrowful memories/ Carry me to the deep blue sea, I hear you calling me.
Who will lift the fog of bitterness, pull aside the tide of regret?/ Who will avoid the undertow of sentimental drift?

Ocean Life by John Cale & Bob Neuwirth

This is Human Nature. It's my favorite. Gentile constructed a nearly nine foot tall conical white structure covered in hooks upon which he impaled, straight from the vat, Maraschino cherries, their syrup dripping to a pool on the floor. Photo one, the Red. Photo two, the White, skeletal, stripped bare of the fleshy sweet fruit.

Why is it my favorite? Besides for the wonderful allegorical display, this work shows precisely the magic power of image. The abstractness of the image as metaphorical concept unfolds intellectually. And, something else happens—imagination takes hold and the thing is experienced in the round, so to speak, in its wholeness. You imagine it in the room: nine feet of cherries, sticky, dripping, the smell of it. Such is the power of suggestion.

First Edition, 1964.

This reminds me of Yoko Ono's Instructional Pieces published in Grapefruit.

Light a match and watch till it goes out.

y.o. 1955 autumn

Go on transforming a square canvas
in your head until it becomes a circle.
Pick out any shape in the
process and pin up or place on the
canvas an object, a smell, a sound
or a colour that came to your mind
in association with the shape.

y.o. 1962 Spring

Drill two holes into a canvas.
Hang it where you can see the sky.

(Change the place of hanging.
Try both the front and rear
windows, to see if the skies are

y.o. 1961 summer

The reader can make or not make the works.
Gentile makes the work, but you don't see it. You see the representation and re-imagine it.
Integrating and re-animating the image—that's the essential alchemical task and its accomplishment is powerful, transformative magic. The artist and viewer share the real and literal power to create. Great stuff. Great work.

Grapefruit image courtesy of Wikipedia and ©Yoko Ono

Thursday, July 2, 2009

To Different Purpose

Today I learned the derivation of the name Buffalo chicken wings. I had always imagined buffalo, as in bison, but no, it is Buffalo, as in upstate New York, place of the original stingy hot sauce with blue cheese dressing on the side.

Buffalo is in the Rust Belt which means as a city, it has been in decline along with other massive-industry centers like Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Detroit, steel and coal and cars all going the way of dinosaurs.

Buffalo (Bison bison), on the other hand, are not on the endangered species list even though the Great Bison Belt which sustained them is long gone. They are, however, "near threatened" which is bad enough. What bison and Buffalo have in common is hard living in the snow. What Buffalo and Detroit have in common is living on the cheap. Poorest city in America: Detroit. Next poorest: Buffalo.

Photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have been spending time in the ruins of Detroit, skulking around giant hulking buildings still showing the bones of great design despite wreck and rust like after a great calamity.

Theirs is not the only series on the subject I've seen. (Scott Hocking, for instance, lives in Detroit. I wrote about his work here.)

But what really caught my eye in Marchand & Meffre's portfolio of ruin is this:

A water tower in former East Germany. Looks like, but is so unlike the work of Bernd & Hilla Becher. Comparisons are odious (they say) and yet comparisons are illuminating.

Becher's water tower in Crailsheim, Germany.

Fraenkel Gallery, SF is just closing a survey show of their work, 1972 to 2006, the year of Bernd's death. When talking of the work, work being timeless, it is always in the present (tense) even if the subject of the work is things slipping into the past, out of production, into a stylistic oblivion.

The Bechers' work is so rigorous. Their delimiting technique (nicely explained here in an essay by Lynne Cooke for DIA) results in documentations that, as a body, create a survey of form. It is as if the subject (e.g. water tower) and object (photo of said tower) share an architecture—form, design, structure.

Their display grid (a framework) holds the images which are created within a framework that allows difference in structure to become apparent. Even though they document buildings and mechanisms in decline or near extinction, and collect evidence of a lost vital world, the work itself is devoid of sentiment. Their love is the love of form. Nostalgia or grief, social commentary of any kind, is extrinsic to their vision. The essence of their opus—which you really get when it is seen in contrast to another's—is form: shape, type, pattern, presentation.

The hand of the artist is very much at work here, and yet, conversely, in the work itself the artist is not at all present. Because the point of view doesn't change, you don't get a point of view. There's not a whiff of narrative, even though, in the end, the collection of images is a didactic display, a veritable textbook, anthology, typology. Like any work of strong character—Pinter, say, or Beckett—so much is said in the not-saying.

So different than the arresting, astonishing photos the other pair (Marchand & Meffre) capture. Here there's so much that's evocative: loss, decay, retribution—or whatever else one might associate with the rotten cavity of an abandoned dentist's chair.

How I went from Buffalo wings to dental decay—well, one thing leads to another. For sure.