ABMB, part five

December 6, 2008 at 12:05 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

I think I’m ready to make a pronouncement: That the fairs this year have been fantastic from a spectator’s point of view; that not only has the selection of works in booths been stronger than the past, but the smaller crowds make it a lot more pleasant to experience the work. As for sales, how the market is doing, and all that sort of thing? I have no idea. I’m not actually sure anybody knows. We’ll just have to see what shakes out over the next couple of weeks and months.

Today I’m off to Aqua MB and Bridge, and then tomorrow I get to be home in my comfy bed with the pillows just the way I like them and my attention-starved cats laying on top of me. I can’t wait.

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Looking at: AM Radio

July 2, 2008 at 11:20 pm (art, second life, secondlife, Uncategorized) (, )

After a very long day in the studio, I thought I’d take a break from writing about myself. My weird little “looking at” series has proven surprising popular and so I thought I’d give it another try. And so, here’s another entry onto the list of artists who I love and adore and I think should get wider recognition for their work.

Meet AM Radio. Yes, that’s the (only) name I know him by. AM Radio is an avatar in the game Second Life, which is to say he is the adopted persona of some actual live human being who I have never met. Here is a picture of our avatars talking:

Weird enough for you? Friends reading this know that I covet the strange and seek it out as much as possible, and Second Life has no shortage on strangeness. It is in short a 3-d “virtual” environment where you can interact with other people’s avatars. But what makes SL actually interesting is its creative potential. Anyone can potentially build anything; if you have an avatar (and anyone can create one for free), you have the ability to “rez” an item out of absolutely nothing – with a click of your mouse, your avatar can make a cube appear out of the clear blue. With some tweaking and practice, chances are you can change this cube around (add to it, change the texture, alter the size) so that it resembles… something else. People have built all sorts of things in SL – buildings, clothing, animals, food, whatever. And they have achieved various levels of competence in creating these things: For the most part, the tree that is growing in the corner of your SL yard doesn’t actually look like a real tree (it’s cartoony and clunky, the colors are a bit off) , but it is readable enough that you instantly know what it’s supposed to be. And, you know, reality is what you make of it – in SL, you agree to suspend a certain amount of your disbelief so that you can accept that the person standing next to you has wings or whatever.

What AM does is he uses the SL to build interactive installations. Eschewing a gallery space (yes, there are art galleries in SL), he takes over plots of land and turns them into mysterious, cinematic sets. With often no direction and no prompting, your avatar stumbles across this collection of various, curious objects in a desert or a field, and is left to try and piece together a narrative. What you’re presented with is a very strange mix; think of David Lynch meets Hudson River School and you’re in the right territory. As you move around the space, your avatar can interact with “poseballs” which animate it into various actions, generally ones that evoke longing, sadness, or contemplation.

So, the objects: As I said earlier, things in SL don’t usually look like they would in reality, and this is just a convention of the game. But AM has found a way to create incredibly detailed objects out of dozens or sometimes hundreds of components. The effect is not an object that is 100% “realistic” (to do so would be impossible at this point) but as close to real as, say, a very finely crafted oil painting. All of his objects and environments share the same sepia palette, creating a really tightly controlled vocabulary between works.

What’s amazing about his work is that most art in Second Life is that it is able to draw upon a nostalgia for old items in a completely synthetic environment. It’s one thing for Joseph Cornell to put together a collection of items and for us to have us react to them as sentimental, beloved (if somewhat forlorn) collages of everyday things, but it’s another when you’re in a place where absolutely none of those things exist, have to be created painstakingly by hand, and then placed in a manner which encourages interaction with it.

It, naturally, works best when you just experience it, which you can to an extent in this video by the artist:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

posted with vodpod

The artist’s Flickr stream is also littered with clues to an overarching narrative, mixed in with straight project documentation.

I was writing about SL art at Brooklyn is Watching for a while and I’m not anymore, but I really wanted to just put out one final article about an artist whose work I really care about. As it works out, maybe it’s better that I’m writing about this here and not at BiW, because I think his work deserves to be seen out of the context of SL – SL is the medium, but it’s not the end. It’s just like the way a really great painting can take on a whole new life when put next to a sculpture – sometimes moving something out of the conversation around which it was created can be the best thing for it.

Anyway. Back to work for me. More drawings very soon.

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Frida Kahlo at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

April 19, 2008 at 11:51 am (art, culture, interesting, life, painting, thoughts, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

For some strange reason, my parents were especially into the soundtracks of 1970s broadway musicals – or, at least, when I was growing up, this is what was in their record collection. As a result, I grew up listening to the soundtracks of some of the most ridiculous, over-the-top music ever recorded (Andrew Lloyd Weber will one day rot in hell), but if I’m being totally honest… I loved it. Maybe it was just perfect for a kid; I don’t know. But to this day, I’d bet I still know nearly every word to such classics as Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar.

But one of the musicals that I have the fondest memories of is A Chorus Line. I can’t help but think that by listening to that score over and over growing up, I instilled in myself many of the obsessions I carry with me today – making art, performing, art school (or acting/dance class, as in the musical), the critique, American Idol, all that stuff. There’s a particular track that I only remember in the haziest of ways that deals with this student taking a class with a teacher that is especially beloved and adored by all the other students. She takes the class assuming that she will have the same mind-blowing experience as everyone else reports having, and instead finds herself studying with a guy who is totally gross, unsupportive, abusive, and all around a shitty teacher. As all her classmates exclaim their love and affection for the guy, she comes back over and over to the refrain, “I felt nothing.” She goes through this whole What the hell is wrong with me thing throughout the song. I think in the end the teacher dies and all the other students are beside themselves with grief, and she returns to the phrase “I felt nothing.”*

I thought of this as I wandered around the touring Frida Kahlo exhibit, which is currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I want, so much, to be blown away by Kahlo’s work – to have this divine, mystical experience with it; to be moved deeply and profoundly. And somehow, I’m just not. I would accept the alterntive as well – if her work really pissed me off and seemed fradulent, I could deal with that too. But like the girl in A Chorus Line, I kept finding myself feeling nothing.

I would go for a moment or two just being frustrated with Kahlo being a constant victim (Oh Frida: just dump that bum Diego and get a better medical doctor, one that can actually treat your ailments successfully and maybe prevent you from having nonstop miscarriages). And then I’d find myself being impressed with her incredibly fine abilities with paint and the really weird metaphors and visual language she was using. And then, I would quickly shift into not caring and being really annoyed with her. I wanted to see her as this great hero, but I couldn’t force myself to do it. The show made me place her firmly in the camp of surrealism and outside of the realm of feminism which, for me, isn’t such a great place to be. I love that she revealed all this painful, violent, angry, ugly stuff about herself, that she never shied away from incorporating blood or gross imagery in her work. I love that she stuck to a pretty singular theme – the self-portrait – that she worked and reworked her whole life. So why don’t I like her work at all?

And then, as the clincher to the whole show, the only path out of the gallery is through the gift shop (which is something museums are doing more and more). But I have never seen marketing of an exhibition that is quite as out-of-control as this one is. I know that museums have to make money and I accept your standard museum-shop cliche of splashing a famous painting on a mug, t-shirt, or postcard. But do we really need to have an image of a topless, sick Kahlo cropped just so and placed on a men’s tie? (Ok,on a tie?? Jesus.) Reproducing an image on a postcard is ok for me, but reworking it so that it can be a lenticular, 3-d image is kind of going too far. Aren’t Frida Kahlo dolls a little… stupid? Aren’t we basically (re)victimizing her to reduce her work to such kitsch?

Ughhh. I didn’t like the show but the gift shop kind of made me root for her just a little bit more.

Kind of interesting that the museum’s online shop doesn’t have any pictures of the especially offensive merchandise. Two pictures I was able to quickly take:
\"Frida Kahlo inspired\" table setting.

Those ties.

Update:
A friend and colleague of mine** who came with us on the trip sent me a note saying, among other things:
[I] thought some of the contextual material, especially the ex-votos, helped to place her imagery in a broader context and encouraged me to reconsider her work in the context of Mexican art rather than Surrealism.
Ok, this is a really great point and one that I really meant to draw some sort of attention to in the original post. They had a wall of ex-voto paintings that were pretty amazing and that I was really happy to see. I don’t think that seeing them necessarily changed my opinion about putting Kahlo in with the Surrealists, but they were still very interesting to check out – probably my favorite part of the exhibit.

[…] the audio guide addressed the issue of reception and pointed out that unlike Feminist artists and critics, Chicanos and Chicano artists regard her not as a victim but as a woman of great strength who managed to overcome physical and mental torment.

I’ve heard this before and, while I don’t doubt that it’s true, it still remains difficult for me to stomach. That’s partially my POV as a person who has lived in the US all her life (and has been deeply indoctrinated/influenced by US-based feminism), but also reinforced by the wall text that I’ve seen accompany every single Kahlo painting ever, which really stresses more of the pain that she withstood rather than her triumph over it. This is really a shame, as the pain in her paintings is so self-evident that having a text next to it reinforce it is obvious at best, whereas some sort of text about how she overcame it might actually add more information that would be helpful as a viewer.

(Oh, I don’t know. I still really want to like her work and I still really don’t.)

(Footnotes, sort of)
*Bear in mind I’m remembering this from having listened to A Chorus Line when I was maybe 6-9 years old and then not again for many years. If I’m screwing up the story behind the song, that has an awful lot to do with it.
**I don’t like to drop people’s names into posts unless they’re public figures or if I have their permission, and in this case the name doesn’t qualify on either accounts. But if she grants me her permssion, I’d be happy to add it! I just didn’t want to assume that it was ok.

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New-ish drawing (9/22)

September 22, 2007 at 8:31 am (art, culture, drawing, life, painting, Uncategorized) (, , )

Still digging through the summer backlog of new work. Here’s one I forgot to post:

Oh, the new catalogs are here!! YAY!! I still have to make the cool homemade covers (which I haven’t made and/or even designed yet, but I am certain they will be cool!), but I am very excited.

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Absurd.

September 22, 2007 at 8:23 am (art, culture, interesting, life, thoughts) (, , , )

Wow. I must be awfully naive, but I really never thought the Christoph Büchel vs MassMOCA lawsuit would go in this direction:
http://tinyurl.com/35hbga

Here’s one thing I know as someone who’s been kicking around the art world for a little bit:

As an artist, you expect that museums will play fair and be nice. You take in stride that you might get jerked around by critics, commercial galleries, collectors, other artists, and so on. But somehow you expect more from museums. And then something like this happens.

I’m really curious to see how Jenny Holzer reacts to all this. She is certainly a big enough art name that she could pull out of her upcoming show with no damage to her career, but will she? She must have been working on this exhibit for months if not years; as miserable a situation as all this has turned out to be, there is a tiny corner of myself that can understand if she doesn’t cancel. Artists make all sorts of sacrifices in order to show their work… right? This is just another one of the indignities that artists face in the long road that is exhibiting… … right? In a situation like this, you just take a deep breath and go through the show like a trooper – the professional artist that you are…



right?

Ugh, dear god. This whole situation makes me want to vomit. I am really keeping my fingers crossed that Holzer either cancels her show or is rushing off to the neon fabricator right now to have new huge text pieces that read THIS IS THE WORST MUSEUM EVER or DEMAND YOUR ADMISSION MONEY BACK so she can install them for the show.

Be thankful, at least, that it is Holzer coming up next. Someone with the kind of art world collateral that she has does have the actual option of cancelling or putting together a protest show. What would be even more heartbreaking is if there was a younger, less established artist scheduled in the next slot. Stuck between a gallery screaming at you to go ahead with the show, the museum screaming at you to be done already and whatever your own feelings are on the Büchel case… well, that’s a horrible situation to be in. Ugh. Good lord.

[later]
Quick update… thanks to Anaba for this link…
In one of the grossest/strangest distortions of Web 2.0 that I’ve seen in a while, MassMOCA now has a blog about the court case. Don’t let the format fool you; it may look like a blog and the great new day of the internet dawning in which readers collaborate (collaborate!!) with the creator of the site in order to create content… but it’s not. Instead, it’s an authoritarian FAQ about the court case (ok, understandable to a certain extent) followed by a very creepy comment section (ok, totally NOT understandable!! alarms blaring!!) to “discuss” the case. Suspiciously, there are only three comments and all are pro-MassMOCA.

The easy thing to do in this situation is to post a pro-Büchel comment and see if MassMOCA pulls it. I’m wondering if it would just be way more fun to do something like have 50 of us all hit the site and put really intense, well-thought-out arguments up there all at once and make an archive of what those comments are and… do something with them. I don’t know. I’m open for suggestions.

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