Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Us Them Poems

Last night there was a poetry reading event at ACA Gallery and I had the pleasure of hearing a friend read some of his works. It was held by a small publication company/community BookThug and the evening featured some young experimental influential poets as well as music performance by one guitar strumming singer/songwriter.
Not only was I captivated by the gallery environment which was exhibiting a group show of mostly 18th and 19th century paintings (and also included an amazing spray painting groovy Judy Chicago painting/diary entry), I was happy to be part of such an engaged audience as these eclectic poets, and musician, put on a thought provoking awe inspiring performance.
Below is a poem by my friend Evan Kennedy published in the Chapbook titled Us Them Poems

We are spoonbenders in a town of
horrendous restaurants. In our homes
are jars of bent spoons and we bring the
jars to our mentor's tomb. Our step is
as light as men on th emoon our brains
soggy balls of yarn. Where else we ask
do these jars belong these modest jars
of spoons. Our plate-faced loves wait
behind bushes. They know the jar of
spoons will reappear at the restaurant
tables straightened. There is always
more time to unbend the spoons than
to bend the spoons. At the edge of town
this stupidest of towns is a wall we climb
and beyond that a valley of abandoned
knives as dull as the daily specials here.

This poem as well as others in the chapbook are rife with automatic wordplay, the stream of consciousness directed in myriad directions jumping to and fro leaving us in absolute wonder. The repetitive almost droning tone creates a choppy rhythm, and as Evan quotes becomes a conflict between musical and narrative. Each poem creates a vivid surrealistic story of spoonbenders vs. restaurant owners such as above, whistleblowers vs. bellringers, and the like. They are simultaneously optimistic and ominous, energetic and anti-climactic, playful and all too sober. It inspired an art project idea to take each poem and paint its story on a huge wooden sphere creating an other-worldly diorama of fantastical daydreams.
Click here to purchase Us Them Poems, I highly recommend it.

Let's end with another:

We are hat eaters letting our hats digest.
The reason one must eat his hat still the
same. There are always more hats to
eat so we wait for a train this train to a
place where hats come huge. The heads
wearing the hats sitting up on high.
And we hat eaters eat from a suitcase of
unclaimed hats. First around the brim
then deeper where thoughts are stored.
There is a thought that hat eating is not
what mankind is for but nothing is kind
about man. And it is always the hatless
who have to eat hats. There is nothing
left for us hat eaters but to eat their hats
and say we're through. Through with
their hats and with our mouths and
our minds for now. And we're smiling
though we haven't heard the latest news.

Friday, July 11, 2008


It's been awhile since I've last posted and I've been doing some thinking. I've approached this blog in two different ways, at first more informal and opinionated, which got me into some trouble with employers, then it became objective, formal and a bit bland. I am not satisfied with either approach and knowing a blog's intentions are to get all your thoughts published and just as anyone can be an artist, anyone can be a published writer, I would like to start fresh, start new, with an approach between the formal and informal. I find it difficult to be purely conversational, but also find it boring to be pseudo-academic, on a blog for that matter. I want my writing to be incisive, natural, and thought provoking perhaps with a pinch of hysterical laughter. I plan to write about shows I see in museums, galleries, music venues, and the like. I want to share my thoughts on the books I read, of the events I attend, and other general cultural experiences. I often freeze in front of my computer on the verge of writing, I am yet to have created a comfort zone for my writing process. But with clarity, decisiveness, and ritual, not to mention encouragement I get from your readership, I think I can get this straight once and for all.
Here goes everything.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Marcel Dzama at David Zwirner

Marcel Dzama's oeuvre is rife with disturbing childhood imaginations, executed in various mediums, each a successful means of connecting eerie psychosis with political imbalance. Scenes of the greedy and gruesome are displayed with the same dizziness and nonsensical story lines of twilight zone episodes, with decapitated heads, masked hunters, sexually questionable Pinocchios, burlesque theatrics, and the ubiquitous black bear. This cacophony of hauntingly nightmarish yet irresistibly cute figures come alive in this exhibition at David Zwirner.
In the first room, a series of drawings unite in color palette, where artist uses muted colors of red, beige, brown and gray, each drawing a constellation of figures mesmerizing the plane with repetitive patterns. In Poor Sacrifices of our enmity, a swarm of female figures utilizes the bow and arrow to point and shoot a goat atop a ladder, but none are placed on a sensical ground plane, filling the space from top to bottom swirling and rotating creating a layer of abstract patterns with the concentric circle of their bow. The blank background allows for this play on space and narrative, a violent scene marked by discombobulating placement of a singular figure. The minimal use of elements in these drawings send a strong message of the inhumane and inexplicable in each of us.
Pages from Dzama's sketchbooks reveal his interests in the magical fused with political manipulations and grievances of the individual. These dark themes are revealed thru quirky observations, each page of graph paper a collage of the artist's exploration of current events and random useless information. Page 5 of 13 in the sketchbook included in the exhibition includes a personal story in conjunction with a elementary science project study of the gopher, a naive childish caption beneath a violent scene with cartoon figures appropriated on top. And above the study for one of few puppet theater diamoras The Underground. The sketchbook is a precise portrayal of the artist's work in progress, his interests in the fantastical and the random, taking the mundane and newsworthy into a realm of imaginary characters and daydreams.
The second room is closed and dark, with a few dioramas in the likes of stages of stuffed animals seen in the museum of natural history, except these are scenes of greed, violence, and all that is deviously innocent. On the Banks of the Red River depicts men in gray suits from the olden days, scattered and numerous, pointing their rifles in the air as animals fall or in the midst of falling to their death. The scene is thrown into the fantastical with the inclusion of large decapitated heads and flowers billowing thru the empty space. The diorama creates contradictory reactions for the viewer, as we sympathize with the poor dead animals, feel animosity for the hunters, and are left with confusion as to why these zombie heads decorate the scene amidst beautiful blooming petals.
And the strongest and strangest work in the show is a 20 minute film shot in scratchy black and white, which is accompanied on select days by a pianist who plays in accord with the film, a beautiful trance of tunes accentuating each flighty scene. The protagonist of the film is an artist haunted by his own creations, costumed furry characters often masked who prance around the artist as both threat and revelry. There is a theme of keyholes thorughout the film, which is reiterated in an installation that reflects Duchamp"s Etant donnes, viewable through a peephole. Rather than the main image being a naked female, we are haunted by 2 figures, both male and female with a fox atop a hill, a successful predator preying on their fare skin and innocence.
A great show that merges the imagination with the all too real of our mundane and often ridiculously violent reality.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Gustave Courbet and Nicolas Poussin at the Met

The Courbet and Poussin exhibition at the Met was an educational and intriguing viewing experience, an inspiring appreciation of formalism and psychological intensities.
While Courbet is engrossed in role playing turning every painting into narcissistic self-portraits, Poussin takes a modest approach thorough painting romantic narratives. They both singular intense emotions and psychological conundrums, depicting the intangible in opposing styles, Courbet with close perspective, simple, muted, and intense in limited use of color, Poussin with layer upon layer of hills and mountains in a vast landscape with multiple scaled figures and structures.
Courbet's multiple self-portraits often delve into fantasy as the artist depicts himself as wanderer, cello player, and madman. The hazy, sexy, stylized rendering gives Courbet a rambunctious arrogant look, a much intended representation. The fare skin, the seductive gaze, wide eyed, sharp nose and shaped lips are mesmerizing and relentless in enticing the viewer to come closer and be tempted to touch the realistic portrait he makes of himself.
In Self-portrait with Pipe, the figure sits very close to the canvas, taking up all foreground and background of the painting, ready to spill out and greet us with his awesome presence. The colors are dry and muted, monochromatic and thinly painted, his face lit from above as if shined on by the gods.
His pioneering Realism is tainted by the fantastic and lush, adding spice, delicacy and vibrancy to each portrait and landscape that he creates. The Meeting, or Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854 presents the artist as the lone wanderer in a happenchance meeting with a patron and manservant. The outline of the figures are extremely clear cut making it seem as if theyve been collaged onto the generic landscape surface, barren for the panting dog peering curiously at the bearded man with the walking stick. In Sleep, Courbet delves into the controversial and pornographic as he depicts what seems to be a lesbian couple in deep sleep, their bodies entangled in each other, within in a muted regal setting. The elements are again limited, a bed, 2 figures, and 2 tables in front of a shady monochrome background. The voluptuous figures float on canvas, delicate and peaceful in their embrace, a dreamy addition to a realistic brothel environment.
The works of Poussin are comparatively dense in its formal qualities and displays the physical and emotional narrative with subtlety and bountifulness. Landscape and narrative painting is merged to form a detailed and expansive palette, a multiplicity in scale of numerous figures, hills, mountains and skies that prance around the canvas simultaneously. The sheer scale alone can be daunting and can result in sensory overload but upon learning to appreciate one element at a time, the overall scheme of each work is perfection.
In Sight of Death, T.J. Clark writes about 2 Poussin paintings extensively over a long period of time in journalistic format and 1 of the paintings he discusses is included in the exhibition. Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake consists of multiple layers of paths and hills with a lake as middle ground, more hills behind that, and a mountain above, then finally the sky. Three figures are placed in the foreground and near middle ground, 1 dead wrapped by a menacing snake, a man with arms and legs extended in opposite directions, running and warning/reaching out to the woman splattered on the floor with clothes basked next to her, her arms gesticulating in correspondence with him. We are not certain if he is fleeing from fear or if he in an act of heroism is warning the woman, refraining her from coming any closer. The right side of the frame is rife with trees and clouds, and the wind blows from right to left, in the direction the man is going, the direction his hand is gesturing, as if the whole of nature has come to warn the public the atrocity that is at coming. Each figure is placed on a different escalated hill, as if creating a series of events, and everything behind the woman is oblivious and at peace.n The subject of the painting is a myth amongst art historians, as there is no clear identification of the characters. Nonetheless it is a narrative strife with trauma, fear, death, and bliss.
Both artists has contributed to art history by providing realism and romanticism that incorporates and reveals psychological tension with the self and other. Each created a technique that allowed for multiplicity in identity and vision. They are masters of their time and have influenced many future artists. Each painting is refreshing and simply beautiful.

Jasper Johns at the Met and Matthew Marks

The Jasper Johns exhibition at Matthew Marks is an appropriate extension of his gray retrospective at the Met, both shows reveal with variety and precision his interests in literal execution and contemplative self-expression.
As a widely studied figure, Johns has been historicized for his use of representational icons such as targets, numbers, the alphabet, and the american flag. These motifs are easily recognized and the viewer is familiar with these representations creating singular interpretation through the view of universal symbols. He often gives new meaning, whether multiple meaning or non-meaning, to everyday objects incorporated directly onto canvas such as brooms, rules, strings, and household utensils, giving them triple functions as image, tool, and text. Johns reverberates the multiplicity of function and interpretation thru creating series after series of sketches and paintings, as if fighting each element for perfection.
Each flag, target, alphabet motif is generously represented in the Met, except with the absence of color. This thesis oriented exhibition breathes fresh air, albeit a foggy, thick and humid air, into all his signature works. The lack of primary and tertiary colors usually represented are silenced and choked by an overwhelming barrage of gray.
In Fool's House, 1962, a broom with wooden handle hangs vertically by a hinge at the top of the canvas, its body stained and used by the paint. It is also used as a mark maker evident by the scratch swooshy pattern made by sweeping the broom dipped in paint across the bottom of the canvas. A spontaneous and effortless gesture made by the artist, the broom seems to breathe life marking its presence, its significance in the back and forth act of sweeping. Johns uses text to label each item on canvas, a towel, stretcher line the bottom with a cup hanging off the tip by a hook. Each is labeled in a sloppy sketchy manner with an arrow relating the text to each item. A diagram, presentation, statement of the obvious, an inventory of belongings inside a fool's house, the fool most likely being the artist himself as he presents us with objects in his studio, the objects that he is most intimate with, the most widely used and functional. The oversimplification and literalism of the works are rife with dead pan humor mixed with somber meditation on the meaning of things.
A more recent work, Untitled, 1992-1995 keeps to the idea of using familiar icons, such as a floorpolan, stick figures, and eyes, and mixes with abstract figurative and non figurative motifs, the use of line as it billows around the canvas and makes for a surrealist take on object making. The background is split in three shades and patterned with dots, text and lines. A ladder sits diagonally on a cross, and somber stick figure prances around out of the cross as if just stepping off this ladder, a fallen man entering a surreality encased with abstraction. A geometric symbol consisting of two circles supported by diamond bodies and triangular wings float above this figure as if angels in duality representing his conscious. The colors are muted and thick, the motifs are plenty, overlapping and tumbling within each other's presence. The scattered positioning seem to be a reflection of the happenings within a mind, the thoughts and emotions presented in a conglomeration of literal and fantastical images.
These symbols of ladder, stick figure, and angelic form are also presented in a sketch shown at Matthew Marks, a repetitive positioning of scattered images, spontaneous in placement, a marking of the mind.
The drawings in the Matthew Marks show reveal the artist's interests in mark making in the last decade, many with references to Matisse and Picasso, an ode to modernist expression. There is also presented a few works on gray, the cross hatching and rectangular shaping create a field of abstracted infinitum. The exploratory referencing reveals the artist's recent interest in back tracking to history of mark making and representing.
Both exhibitions reveal an artist always at work, his never ending curiosities an impulse, a statement to the exploratory learning process of an artist who has himself made a mark in history.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Juan Usle at Cheim & Read

A recent series of paintings by Juan Usle on view at Cheim & Read reveals the artist's interest in transferring personal experience into visual constructions. The paintings conversate with one another expressing unique characteristics based on color, line and pattern. They vibrate with blissful shouting, as if color emerge on their own accord and organic form coordinates them into systems of vibrant environments.
Upon entering the gallery the viewer is struck by their immediacy and overwhelming presence. The uniformity between them is not created by the instruments used and the artist intention as much as their ability to create an environment of clarity, spontaneity, organic compartmentalizing, and sinuous grids. The contradicting formal elements of each work make Usle much more than a Greenbergian formalist, he is rather, an AbEx expressionist thats been cultured by the conventional wisdom that is Modernism.
Usle's use of instruments to execute the textile patterning of each stroke crates a static and uniform surface that is contradicted by the movement and fluidity of the curves and shapes they create. In La Escena Perdida, which translates to "The Lost Scene", flat black chords striped by a mark making tool intersect each other, uniting and dispersing in free movement without reference to coordination or choreography. Each strand is a member in this spontaneous dance, spiraling in and out to infinity. The minimal use of color in this painting seems to create a dissection that stalls or amputates each stroke. The ambivalence and allusion, the multi-defining within each painting is also contradicted by the precise and clarity of color, the smoothness of surface, the uniformity of the grid. In Aislados, or "Isolated", a consistent brick pattern spreads throughout the canvas, none is equal in siye to the other, they stand alone and independent forming a crowd of identical difference. Allusions of shadow and three dimensionality makes room for 2 white feather like strokes to reast on the 2nd tier of squares, members isolated from the rest of their group, standing, or laying, or being, in peace, or rather, in paranoiac loneliness. The freedom of interpretation makes the artist intent indeterminate, but the title of each gives a slight clue into the realm of these non-figures, a reflection of the artist's personal experiences and surroundings.
Standing at the center of the gallery, the viewer will easily notice the triptych of square grids on one side, and on the reflecting wall 3 painting of swirly shapes and lines. Its as if these opposing works are 2 identities of 1 form, the duality created within this setting makes for an almost schizophrenic impulse, grounded on non-conformity and ambiguity.
The irony in Usle's paintings is reflected again in Sin Desenlace, "Without Outcome", with its overwhelming layering of form, pattern, and color. Loops, lines, perpendiculars, stripes, patches, all these forms gather, as if at war with each other, fighting to conquer and overtake the surface of the canvas to no avail. The painting is chaotic, an overload of lines and colors that is too disorienting to absorb. But the clarity and smoothness of the surface bring the forms together and comforts the viewer with the safety of the line between us and "them".
The dichotomy that rests in the works of Usle is ingenious in their randomness, in its unplanned multiplicity, and the absolute ambivalence and conflict it creates in the viewer. It is spontaneously a refreshing and flabbergasting experience.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

John Morris at D'Amelio Terras

A series of intimate paintings by John Morris on view at D'Amelio Terras, consisting of obsessive details in the shape of swirls, dashes, dots and lines. Mostly in white made translucent by a layer of wax, these small abstract works are ethereal, repetitive, organic and serial. Each painting on board focuses on a particular motif, repeated in differing shades and sizes, overlapping, underlapping, crossing, and chaffing each other as if in conversation. The narratives created are completely up to the imagination of the viewer and they are subtle in message.
Each pattern creates a world of its own, they are deceivingly simple, revealing an intertwined network of channels, of forms, of delicate energy.

Hans Haacke at Paula Cooper

A mini-retrospective of works by Hans Haacke at Paula Cooper, minimal and scarce in number but enough to create an environment that is diverse in medium, concept, and subject.
The strongest and most emotionally influential is Wide White Flow from 1967 which consists of large white fabric dreamily billowing by a few fans. Each corner is fitted to the floor preventing chaotic stormy movement. The fans create waves of movement, an energy in constant flux, but steady in tone, serene in attitude. Its all encompassing size is contradicted by its closeness to the floor, as if stunted, limited in its freedom to expand and billow into infinitum.
His controversial and signature photographic conceptual piece, Sol Goldman and Alex DiLorenzo Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971, is on view in a separate room, a line of buildings stationed on the wall, an unforgiving simplicity attached to its concept of political and social significance. Not very easy to digest, or perhaps too easily digested without proper chewing, this series is often dismissed for its lack of formal aesthetic but this is precisely what the artist intends, making the viewer struggle in finding a meaning behind all the closed doors. The data gathered comments to a social system based on ownership, power and manipulation, as the rich get richer thus kicking out the less fortunate from their forced state of comfort.
A more recent work consists of a dilapidated couch, torn, stained and ugly on which is planted an embroidered pillow quoted with words by George H.W. Bush and a torn paper flag, its other half still in its frame above the couch. The message is clear, perfectly rendered with simple everyday household goods.
Each work in the show deals with a level of consummation, consuming culture, politics, property, beauty, art viewing, etc. They all reflect current concerns specific to America, of fear of change, obsession with real estate, and the growing promiscuity of the art market.

Mike Cockrill at KENT gallery

A series of works on paper by Mike Cockrill is on view at KENT gallery, a follow up on a recent show on paintings. Both shows cover the almost redundant theme of naiveté, adolescence, sexual curiosity and exploration. They are soft, dreamy and effeminate, with image of pretty girls, butterflies and airy colors. The girls engage the tainted and pedophilic impulses in the viewer with their taunting come hither glances, pleasure driven poses, scanty clothing. They act innocently, we react pornographically. The watercolors are thinnly painted but the result is rich, especially when using colored paper creating a monochrome background making way for a more fantasy driven narrative. The amount of violence imbedded into the narrative is disturbing and leaves the viewer at unease, jumbling pleasure with pain, admiration with repulsion. This ambivalence
Not as successfully affective or intriguing is a series titled from Stations of the Cross. A numbered series of watercolor on paper works picturing various protagonists as Jesus going through the process of life and death and resurrection. In one piece Jesus is a black man, in another Jesus is a series of youthful flirtatious women out of the 50s. Neither convincing nor relevant in its attempt to create a successful fantasy narrative concerning condemnation and regurgitated life lines.
Overall, the works of Mike Cockrill is straightforward in its content, disturbingly beautiful in its formal elements, and unfortunately, dismissive.