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|Sunday, April 20th, 2014|
My grandmother died on Easter Sunday, 1983. They gave her mouth to mouth and spat the chocolate out in between huffs and puffs of desperate effort. There was a party at her place. She was obese and 72 years old - a bad combo. The family went to shit after that. They fought over the house that they inherited. I have good memories of that house and good memories of my grandmother but the haze of the sugar highs give me few memories of Easter. I was hungover as hell on Easter Morning in 1984 and a storm had come through with a foot of snow in Milwaukee and Mrs. Tyson came downstairs and said "I bet our California boy has never seen snow on Easter Sunday." And my memorable retort is still told in some quarters of that city: "Mrs. Tyson, I've never seen snow on Christmas morning".
We spent every Christmas and Easter at my grandmother's house but not after she died. I only went back once, to see my uncle in 1993. Without the smell of my grandfather's pipe and the squawk of my grandmother's parrot it wasn't even the same house. I still haven't seen snow on Christmas. It isn't a priority.
|There then and there
I get it, how it must have seemed to that hippie in 1986 who said it was so different now then it was then and now it is so much later but it maybe hasn't changed as much. That empty brick storefront on Commonwealth was the first place I ever tried sushi. It was 1986 and I went on to eat a lot of sushi.
But that hippie was thinking about 1968 in 1986 and now, well, more time has passed and as much as things change there still seems to be a few molecules of 1968 bouncing around Los Angeles and more from 1986, electrons too. What will be obliterated in the next few years I almost don't care about any more. I got mine. Lots of sushi. Tom paid for that first order. I'd like to see him again and buy him dinner.
The streets and sidewalks, the curbs and the billboards don't hold a candle to the people and you can walk down the streets three decades later and still not come close to the company you kept or the meals you had together. And the missing people create that wistfulness that caused that hippie to realize I saw his pony tail as an anachronism and not a statement against society. It was so different because his friends and enemies were gone, replaced by a different battle to which he was just a spectator and not an affected party, no skin in the game, no sushi on the plate.
|Saturday, April 19th, 2014|
|Thoughts on The Replacements
Everyone is at Coachella seeing the reunited version of The Replacements. Everybody but me. But I am here listening to everything they ever did and you know how nostalgia is the sweetest poison, right, don't you?
I never saw them live and didn't own any of their albums until well into the 1990s but there were friends who when I would visit I would just walk up to the record player or the cassette player or the CD player and put on whatever Replacements record I could find. And it was always sublime and nobody ever walked over and put anything else on.
They were controversial. Every rock critic was rooting them on and they got more press, more worshipful press, than any band I can recall, but they did their own thing and were self-destructive, career-sabotaging, actually often dumb and in hindsight perfectly reasonable; refusing to make videos and then making videos that emphasized anti-stardom (along with the Pixies)
they had this same retrograde stubborness, they would not play to the camera - and this is in the day and age when even Bob Dylan was sucking in his pride and lipsynching to the glam camera, MTV being seen as the only way IN
and the Replacements shrugging their way out.
Their live shows had all sorts of stories about how fucked up they were. Never sober, often one member too incoherent. And yet their was magic as it was told to me by those who had gone. Like them I was just too fucked up to get it together to dance with Ticketmaster.
And the howls of bitter anger from so many corners when they named that album Let It Be. One of the great shit-stirrings of all time.
But seriously, I recall where I was and who was in the room and how bright the lights were the first time I heard "Alex Chilton". I remember the color of the carpet and the shape of the wine stain nearest my hand as I listened. I've been in L.A. so long that evry damn intersection has a memory and there are streets that call up their music clearly and some blocks in town that I am almost high again on something I drank almost thirty years ago as the memory is more alive and real than the consciousness of the present driving by - and when it is that buzzed, sloppy and soul-consumingly expansive, that thing that is the replacement of stasis is, yes, The Replacements. I'm in love with those songs.
|Tuesday, April 15th, 2014|
|Is George Bush A Better Painter Than Thomas Kinkade?
Unlike every art pundit phoning in an internet review of George Bush’s painting exhibition in Dallas, I actually flew down to the Big D last week to see them for myself. The exhibition is at his presidential library on the SMU campus. I had lunch at Cafe 43 there to start my visit and then paid the sixteen dollar admission price to gain entry.
The exhibit is unpretentiously laid out with Bush’s portraits of world leaders hanging amidst placards recounting the visits Bush had with each leader and vitrines containing gifts these visitors bought along for George and Laura. Perhaps you never thought much about gift giving at the higher levels of power, but a show devoted solely to all this loot would be interesting. It would have been more interesting to look at the paintings in a more conventional art setting - white walls in clean, well lit spaces with unimpeded views of the paintings hung uniformly on a centerline of 57 inches. I desperately wanted to see an indication of the chronological order in which these works were painted; it would have indicated the progress of Bush as a painter. The quality of the works varies greatly. His Dalai Lama portrait is slap-dash terrible while the painting of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is so inventive that it is just too advanced for a novice. And of course, the thoroughly topical masterpiece of the exhibit - Vladimir Putin’s palpably evil stare. Knowing when exactly Bush painted this picture would have added much to the understanding of him developing as a painter. It may have also revealed any prescience in knowing if the Russian dictator was headed toward his recent diabolical expansion.
But the layout of the paintings adopted no pretense of fine art display conventions. They hung on a dark blue wall amidst the clutter of text passages, photographs and all that ornate loot behind plexi display cases. Some were at eye level, others loomed above cases and, as the exhibit progressed, groups of four appeared, the occasional improper glare of track lighting bouncing back.
The whole installation bordered on the tacky when it suddenly reminded me of visits to Thomas Kinkade stores back at the turn of the millennium. Nothing was a better hoot back in the day than a visit to a licensed franchisee gallery showing the giclees of the Kinkade machine. Every work revealed the charming aspirations of middle America turned maudlin by the dramatic addition of a lone spotlight splayed across a simpleton scenic canvas. The dark walls, the heraldic framing, the implied investment value - it was a pageant of every signifier of art with none of the challenges with which great art confronts its viewers and its times. Nothing summed up the soulless center of suburban American culture more - it was of its time.
Rewind the clock fourteen years - George Bush was the president of the United States and the most popular artist in the country was Thomas Kinkade. Both were sentimentalists deemed cloying by their opposition. Each was either oblivious to criticism or disinterested as their styles were strictly about engaging the public without pretense or any accommodations that modernity had ever occurred. In policy and paint-stroke they pined for a yesteryear that was constructed on what their audience saw as lacking in the present day. At the core of each man’s approach was an engineered simplicity to re-establish their audience’s collective agreement about what yesteryear had delivered.
But their personal journeys now seem to be eerily opposite. Thomas Kinkade evolved from an earnest art student to a much-mocked but successful careerist who incorporated Christian beliefs into his art only to see a slide into alcohol tarnish his legacy and cut short his life. Meanwhile George Bush had a silver spoon party boy legacy altered by discovering Christ, sobering up, going on to a much-mocked but two term presidency and is now seen as an earnest painter.
So how does the painting of an American political conservative leader stack up against the most popular conservative American painter since Norman Rockwell?
Kinkade’s signature work invokes a rigid realism that Bush seems to aspire toward. While a painter can be trained, an artist must be born at some point in the process. Kinkade never deviated from the most predictable compositions and leaned heavily on the techniques of nineteenth century classical landscape painters. Bush is far more complex. He has been quoted as approaching his painting teacher with the self-assurance that “there is a Rembrandt in me trying to break out.” He hasn’t gotten there yet but he has developed a consistent visual vocabulary that has more hallmarks of originality than decades worth of Kinkades. Bush paints with an economy of means, rarely building up any paint above the surface. He avoids the ultimate trope of the novice - symmetry. His subjects all have distinctive facial structure where most amateurs plot out faces on a grid. Bush’s limitations are in not mastering the layering that oil paint requires of those seeking realism This is where Kinkade runs circles around the former President. But Kinkade’s mastery of technique ends at technique. Einstein said imagination was more important than knowledge and in art an imaginative application of one’s medium always trumps the systematic conventions of copycats. Thomas Kinkade is a better technical PAINTER
than George Bush, but in his inventive quest to develop a visual vocabulary that captures an emotional recollection of the world leaders with whom he bonded, George Bush is already a far superior ARTIST
to Thomas Kinkade.(Me at the desk of the recreated Oval Office at the George W. Bush library in Dallas)
|Sunday, March 30th, 2014|
So there was that 5.1 quake on Friday and maybe that had something to do with the whole Weird Saturday or maybe not but here goes...
I get to the gallery five minutes before Noon and my two interns are there waiting (90% of success is showing up) and I go to unlock the door and this really short Asian dude, kinda street, kinda too clean for the street so maybe gang, he walks up and says "Hey you got a cigarette?", he looks a little loaded. "Nope" and I open the door and we walk in and he follows us in. "Oh its nice and cool in here, ahhhh..." he says as he sits down on one of the couches up front in the gallery. We are kind of looking at each other like, "okay, how can this go wrong..." and he says "I got so sunburned man.." and he passes out.
So okay, I guess we should all just get to work. I hope the guy doesn't snore and I hope is not on the run from some Chinatown Gang shit, that's all, can we have a pleasant Saturday at the art gallery? So a little while of no drama goes by and I step out to get a bag of Fritos. You know, here is a little something, Fritos are vegan in case you need a fix. So I go to the market and get a bag of Fritos and a Shaq soda. The Shaq soda is seriously the greatest thing ever invented in the world of Soda Pop and they are 99 cents, so this is my lunch. I come back to the gallery and the dude is up, He is wearing a white teeshirt and has lots of tattoos on his arms and he is sunburned. And so I am eating my fritos and he is talking and it comes up that he doesn't even know he is in Chinatown. So basically he must have gotten fucked up and ended up here, probably passed out outside and got sunburned in the morning sun.
"So where you from, man?" I ask him knowing that if you ask this wrong, with a scintilla of hostility in your voice, well men have been murdered for saying that question in a tone of voice that isn't sympathetic. SO I ask him this in as non-judgmental tone as possible. He says Gardena. I have my laptop out and say "You on Facebook?" He is, I ask his name.
Oh shit, the dude is a chick.
So then I scope her FB page. It becomes terribly apparent right away that this chick is mentally ill. Ranting against court-mandated anti-psychotic medication is a common theme of her posts and the "being raped by demons" theme shows up a lot as well, in between selfies of her tattoos and pretty girlfriends. So sad. Then she asks for a sip of my Shaq soda. Remember that scene in Papillon
where the guy with leprosy asks for a puff of Steve McQueen's cigar? What was I to do? I gave her her gulp. A day later nothing appears to have been contagious.
About this time I notice some sketchy homeless guys hanging out front. Now, Chinatown isn't Beverly Hills but the tourist plaza doesn't really pull in the dregs of downtown in such high-concentration numbers. As Jennifer rants aloud about how fucked up Long Beach is these two guys are nursing beers. One is sitting on the steps at the end of Chung King Road, long matted homeless hair looking extra greasy in the mid-day sun. The other, more menacingly, is standing still looking straight ahead. He has a backpack, a heavy duty one that in my experience dealing with the element is probably full of changes of clothing in order to avoid looking like a described suspect once a little number has been pulled.
Then the redshirts came. Someone else had noticed the sketchy side of town looming over here. The two unbathed guys and sunburnt Jennifer can smell cop and the red shirted private security that rules over Chinatown has the same odor. They all got up and skeedaddled. Just then an aftershock from Friday's quake hit. I'm not saying it was inter-related or cosmically timed, I'm just saying that was what happened. Nothing fell off the walls but the weirdness had sure come out of the rafters.
|Tuesday, March 18th, 2014|
|SCREENPRINTER JOHN MINER GETS SERIOUS AT SERIO
For three decades, John Miner has established himself as a screen-printing legend in Los Angeles. He has worked with the biggest and the best. A short list is easy to remember, when you are in the league of John Miner to name one art star you would have to name them all, suffice to say that some of the great prints on paper in art history have been realized by his eyes and hands.
John is getting serious on the L.A. Art Scene now. He is curating exhibitions at SERIO PRESS with an eye devoted exclusively to showing underexposed screenprinters. His opening show is this Friday and I caught up with him to find out what was going on.MAT GLEASON: WHO IS THE ARTIST YOU ARE FEATURING IN YOUR FIRST SERIO SHOW CURATION?JOHN MINER:
The artist calls himself "Mhiachnoti" this is a phonetic spelling of his last name McNulty, when I asked him how he came up with his artist name he gave me two reasons, one, is that he was born at home without a birth certificate, so he can call himself whatever he chooses! Reason two, is that in a heavy, Deep Southern accent, people down home would say his last name as, "Mhi…ach…noti" MG: HOW DID YOU HEAR ABOUT HIM?JM:
Mac has been one of our students a Pasadena City College for a couple of years now, he has studied with myself, and my colleagues, Kris Pilon, and Erika Ruvell. It is not uncommon for elderly people to take our classes from time to time, but this guy really warmed up to us, and pretty soon was using our lab as a private studio, with our direction of course! He always walks in looking like the last undiscovered delta blues man, with his derby hat, screen in one hand and a satchel completely stuffed with drawings, some are ideas for prints, but most are things he just wishes to share with his teachers and younger students. When he comes in, he listens to lectures and demos, once lab time is on he goes right to work. When he is waiting for ink to dry, he holds court with whomever is in earshot, eighteen year olds gladly listen to his stories about growing up in the south prior to the civil rights movement, or maybe a wild one about his stint as David Carradine's personal photographer! Last year our department published two of his works as fine art screen prints and had him lecture for African American Heritage Month.The Artist MhiachnotiMG: WHAT WAS HIS HISTORY BEFORE HE TOOK CLASSES AT PCC?JM:
He was born in 1940, in the village of Bogue Chitto Mississippi, a one time sawmill town and Indian reservation. He is a grandson of a slave, and his elderly grandfather lived with him and his family. Mac had a close relationship with his grandfather who told him stories of life as a slave. His family was poor subsistence farmers. Mac told me that when he was a small child they were so poor his father drove them around on a horse drawn sled, years later only affording a wagon, and never owning a car. Life in the segregated South for him and his family was as terrible as any accounts one might read about. He came of age surrounded by racism, but it seems clear to me that he came from a family that stressed hard work, and retaining a positive outlook as a tool of survival.
Mac aspired to better his position in life through education, he attended an all black high school in the next county, there he began to discover his creative side, drawing and painting signs for the school. He caught the attention of the white principal and his daughter, a teacher at the school. Upon graduation, they helped get him into one college, that then made it possible for him to transfer to The Layton School of Art and Design, in Milwakee, Wisconsin, where he studied drawing and painting. He was greatly influenced by western abstract art, that is visible in his work today. Upon graduating, he took an interest in photography. He would photograph celebrities who passed through town on a local golf course, here he met African American country star, Charlie Pride, who he is a big fan of. Charlie Pride urged him to come out to Los Angeles to peruse a career in photography, and he did, arriving sometime in the early to mid 1970s. He arrived in Los Angeles to find a closed shop when it came mainstream magazines and newspapers. He found a way in through the back door, and it was the Spanish language media. He obtained his press credentials through La Opinion and other Spanish news outlets, that would send him on red carpet assignments, backstage all access shoots and more. He later had shots end up in People Magazine and other mainstream media publications. He worked as a freelance entertainment photographer for decades, had a photo studio in the Victor Clothing Co. building through the 1980s. He has just bits and pieces of this work, it is one of those, sad, "improper storage situation" loss stories.An untitled multi-pull screen print by MhiachnotiMG: DOES MAC HAVE A WEBSITE?JM:
He has no web presence, nor email address, or business card, you just have to be lucky enough to meet him. One amazing thing about his art is that can be perceived in so many ways depending on who is viewing it. If the person wishes to see it as contemporary African American Folk Art, or Western influenced outsider art, or even conceptual art, so be it. This guy just does art for his own enjoyment and expression on a daily basis, not trying to fit in anywhere, or get it placed in any one scene or style. He really could care less, but people seem gravitate to the art.
SERIO PRESS is at 4444 Hunting Drive in South Pasadena 90032. The opening reception for MHIACHNOTI is Friday, March 21 at 5:30 PM until 9:30 PM. The event is free and open to the public.
|Friday, March 7th, 2014|
|INSIDERS ARE NOT OUTSIDERS - A 2014 Whitney Biennial Review
Thirty years in the art world and I had never been to a Whitney Biennial. That was actually something worth bragging about and especially after having been to one I can unabashedly lament that I will never be able to say it again.
The Whitney Biennial carries immense weight in the art world. There is almost nothing in visual art that exists as a gauge, a standard, a benchmark or just a simple "this is more advanced than that"
. No matter what artwork you are looking at, accomplished or ridiculous, there is always a nattering nabob who will remind you that any discussion of the work in terms of it being "good" or "bad" is taboo. One of the scant retorts available at all these days is to point out that the artist one is examining had been in a Whitney Biennial. To say "So What"
to that is to risk a charge of philistinism. The fear of being asked "Are you the biggest idiot ever?"
is too great - nobody can dismiss inclusion in the Whitney Biennial as anything but an accomplishment. In the land of the jaded snob, extending one's palm open near an artwork and saying "This artist was in the Whitney Biennial"
is as close as it gets to being a bearded wizard uttering "Behold!"
And yet trudging through a Biennial is a time-honored pulling back of the curtain hiding the Wizard of Oz. The art world respects the Whitney Biennial artists and the market-gain they receive from inclusion, but badmouthing each Biennial is as predictable a ritual as champagne on New Year's Eve; nobody can resist using critical pontification to masquerade their envy over not being included or not having their allies represented in a Whitney Biennial.
The 2014 Whitney Biennial is a pile of unadulterated shit. There is supposed to be a celebration because a lot of Los Angeles artists have been included, and indeed the show is less New York-centric than ever before. But it is not a show that represents the Los Angeles art scene as much as it represents Los Angeles art school insiders (art schools in Los Angeles ARE the establishment, the bubble that protects what status quo there even is connecting L.A. to the internationalist "big art" conformity machine)
. But that is no surprise - the Biennial is the ultimate art world insider exhibit. It is just that this exhibit sees so many insiders pretending to be outsiders. The language of outsider art is present in about half of the artworks (the other 50% are my two least favorite branches of conceptualism: dry conceptualism and conceptualism masquerading as rotten formalism)
. One could call it an outsider art show except that it is the ultimate insiders navigating the art world ladder of success with outsider visual strategies.OUTSIDER BULLSHIT
The trick to being an "insider outsider" is to make it look more obvious than a thrift store. There is macrame, knit sweaters, bric-a-brac chandeliers, sloppy ceramic and lots of wood scattered about the Whitney Biennial. There is an insidiousness lurking in the simpleton charm of this work. "Oh hey that looks funky..."
is what the impulse thought of a viewer is when one encounters this work, but sadly, IT'S A TRAP!
Most of this work has a tsk-tsk tongue-clicking pretention to being about something other than it is - you see, if the work were about interesting-looking art that incorporated an outsider aesthetic (or heaven forbid were made by a an actual art outsider)
, then it would be accessible and engaging - something that is not taken kindly in the cold art world climate of rarifying the shit out of every human experience into academic-objective "re-presentations" of phenomena. So this is never outsider-informed art, it is outsider-embellished stances, analyses and deconstructions. The Mike Kelley impulse to soul-killingly crush any joy out of the visual language of the non-elites was the most insidious twist to the worship of irony in the late twentieth century. It stands victorious (and resiliently unattacked)
as the mainstream default approach to art-making practiced by the insiders atop the shit heap called contemporary art at fifteen years and counting into the twenty-first century.
And speaking of Mike Kelley, the Laura Owens painting in this exhibit is so derivative of Mike that it reveals a new level of curatorial naiveté that has to be singled out. Owens is long out of ideas so you cannot shame the washed-up, but a curator's first job is to spot a cheat. Just nasty.CONDESCENDING CONCEPTUALISM
The stark message about conceptual art in the 2014 Whitney Biennial is that the anything goes as long as it has an art history referent. Every time you turn around there is some terrible speck of nothing teetering on a curatorial insistence that it is art and justifying it by having some tepid construct about other art, artists, art criticism, art history or another construct unnamed by the academy as of yet but definitely involving the word art. The great Semiotext series is given a vast gallery for its archives and the curatorial impulse is to make its legacy as unappealing as a library trashcan - a feeble attempt at "artifying" the installation with silver wallpaper on one wall is a cowardly curatorial act of "Warholizing" an institution with no allegiance to something as presently mainstream as "The Factory". Even when they dumb it down, the Biennial makes sure to do it obtusely - the silver wall of Semiotext pages is not half the embarrassment as is the including of David Foster Wallace journals as "artworks" by the late author - most of them are exhibited closed or open to indecipherable pages, totally uninteresting after the connection with the author. Celebrity stands in here as a substitute for curatorial rigor, hiding behind the glamor of their names and nothing else.A BLOODLESS MAINSTREAM
Amidst the hubbub there are plenty of forgettable paintings, installations, videos that would be elevated if they were simply relegated to YouTube and too much sculpture that vacillates between appearing to be a mainstream object performing an art function or an art object performing a functional function. The aesthetic of the day is either proto-minimalism with some clever twist to make it commentary or outsider integrity as an alias for downright sloppiness. And of course, no major art exhibit these days is incomplete with out the myriad twaddle taking place "outside the institution's walls". The Whitney brochure for the show was chock full of detritus that will be screening on inconvenient dates and times, almost as a reflex to ensure the Biennial can never really be experienced completely, and thus, can never be ripped apart in its entirety. Well fuck it, I cannot wait. This is a gargantuan turd that, if the art world need to be re-plumbed in its entirety to flush, so be it, call the god damned plumber immediately or just give up, set the whole institutional art world on fire and at least we can get some nice marshmallows out of the deal.DEATH AS CAREER STRATEGY
There were four artworks in the show that made me think. Artworks that stayed with me... that made me take to google for all of twenty minutes to ponder.
All four of these artworks had death, in one form or another, as their central theme. Some were weirdly, perhaps unintentionally, poetic but the curators made sure to kill as much of that potential as possible. The four pieces were:
•The "art group" Public Collectors present a synopses of Malachi Ritscher, a musician and music-compiler who took his own life via self-immolation in Chicago in 2006 to protest the US war in Iraq.
•The late Gretchen Bender had a 1988 artwork "People In Pain"
completely refabricated as an artwork by Phillip Vanderhyden. The original artwork, exhibited in the 1989 museum show "A Forest of Signs" had totally disintegrated.
•Joseph Grigely discovered a caché of personal effects from art critic Gregory Battock, hidden in a studio space for decades. Battock was murdered, stabbed to death on Christmas Day in 1980 while vacationing in Puerto Rico in a crime that was never solved. Battock had an interesting life and a career in the art world that intersected with many art world luminaries.
•A "sub-curated" gallery presented a few paintings by the late Tony Greene. Richard Hawkins and Catherine Opie had been classmates of the artist in the early 1990s at graduate school. Greene passed away from AIDS complications years ago.
Each of these has an unavoidably serious topic as the pretext for the art installation. Grigley and Public Collectors have scraps from their subjects arranged in vitrines. Whether by curatorial choice or necessity, the overall effect here is about as far from maudlin and sentimental as one gets when the subject is the dearly departed. Perhaps there are among us those who would like to be remembered through unsentimental museum wall text, but both of these subjects were screaming for a documentary film or even a coffee table book to better tell the story, to acquaint us, to celebrate a random human life with whom we might connect. Nope, the Whitney made sure to freeze dry all the passion and let didactic assumptions reign free.
The Bender/Vanderhyden artwork was more complex. In her curatorial walk-thru on March 7, curator Michelle Grabner explained that the Whitney was resistant to crediting Vanderhyden; the institution houses its own restoration department and they never get credited as being artists. Grabner apparently fought the good fight and in doing so she has sent the message loud and clear to aspiring artists: be the foot-servants of those who showed in the museums a quarter century ago to cut in line on your way up the carer ladder. And on top of that, Bender's "People In Pain"
is a snide, elitist thumping of popular culture and one of the ugliest large works of art ever executed.
The paintings of Tony Greene, also almost a quarter-century old, were included by curator Stuart Comer. On his March 7 curators walk-thru he poignantly expressed that a generation of artists died and that their voices would never be heard and that it was important to include one from then who, absent that terrible plague, would conceivably be making art and engaged in the art community alongside all of the Biennial participants today. The amount of space devoted here is generous and the delicate paintings show a range, discipline and sensitivity way beyond almost any other artist in the entire show. The second greatest tragedy of Tony Greene's passing after his death itself is that had he lived he would certainly be omitted from a Biennial (and an art world)
that privileges the smarmy over the poetic, the academic over the delicate and critical distance over beauty.
So those are the choices - die or sell-out. Whether you're a painter or whether you're a sculptor, if you're staying alive with an earnestness, buddy you're nowhere by the look of the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
|Sunday, February 16th, 2014|
|The God Damned Arts District
It suddenly dawned on me, in February of 2014, that it had been in mid-February of 1995 that Bloom's General Store opened. It had actually opened a few weeks prior, along with Coffee Strippers and they blocked off the streets, put up a music stage and threw a grand opening party.
So I posted a video of that magic night when Alberto made espressos on the back of his flame-throwing espresso rod - It was a large flatbed truck with a giant flame coming out of the rear and atop the bed sat Al, dressed as a fireman, sitting at a counter with an espresso machine, pulling espressos.
This insane contraption stood as a symbol of what the whole neighborhood was becoming - a functional artwork that produced something. And that is what it is now - manifesting the vision of Joel Bloom, Alberto Miyares and a few people who were fed up by a legion of users sucking the blood out of Downtown Los Angeles...
You see, by then the whole neighborhood had been home to hundreds of people for almost twenty years. A lot of them were drug refugees and others were artists, or at least people who called themselves artists. A lot of them look back on being there as a highlight. Lots of people in Los Angeles visited the neighborhood and the abandoned authenticity of the experience was something they took home with them. Maybe they spent the night there once and maybe they left after five years of developing and mastering a drug habit but they all took one thing from the neighborhood. They took ownership. How does an owner collect his rent on a neighborhood that he does not in fact have title to?
Easy. Every time that neighborhood is brought up, the "owner" gets to insist that he was there when it mattered, that he was there when it was real, that he was there in its golden era and that we all must pay tribute to the fact that said golden era has long passed and that we never enjoyed it like the "owner" enjoyed it.
So somehow my posting a video of a 1994 Traction Avenue street fair evolved into comments from people reciting lists of places that existed downtown prior to 1994, most of which were long gone by 1994. All of downtown LA was suddenly the arts district and a gaggle of proud parents were piping in about the good old days.
The nostalgia wave on my FaceBook page implied that the Arts District had not began with the opening of Bloom's General Store. Yes there were places like the Brave Dog in Little Tokyo and Gorky's a mile and a half away in the garment district where young disaffected people would gather in downtown in the late 1970s and all of the '80s and the memory of these times rings as a benchmark of actually being in the world and living for most of these people, who are now old enough that the good days behind them way outnumber the good ones ahead of them.
And so I took it as a kind of scolding, which perhaps it wasn't but it was. You see there was no bunch of whinier self-entitled white kids in the entire universe than the fucks who came to downtown LA in the late 1970s and all throughout the '80s to party. Now that isn't the worst thing in the world but the lack of self-awareness as they pissed on and shit on the neighborhood for their own pleasure is something that needs to be addressed.
First and foremost, Downtown LA was shitty. It completely lacked amenities. The buildings were inhospitable to domesticity. It was the domicile of scary outsiders avoiding contact with people for scary reason. The artists who moved into these cheap neighborhoods were NOT the scary people. The egos of the first and second wave of people who settled the industrial part of Downtown east of Alameda now inscribes upon themselves an edginess and worldliness that was laughably absent in the present. "Slumming It" doesn't even scratch the surface. I wouldn't belabor the point if their wasn't the ever-present cackle of superiority rolling of their self-assured tongues that I would never understand what the present day arts district was like before my time.
Well... I understand how it was enough to appreciate being there the day it was rescued from that gaggle of cheapskate life-stylers, hobbyists and parasites. There were always good, interesting, creative people east of Alameda. There were also mountains of complainers, takers, users, bastard lowlife backstabbing connivers and that motherfucker next to you as you pass the joint and he takes the biggest hit and nobody even knows who the fuck he is except that he is here all the time and never ever has his own shit to share. Lots of those types. An endless supply of those types.
Hollywood was where the jarheads, the westsiders and the Valley types went for "edgy" back then. Downtown people were there because it was cheap, it was isolated or they had too many run ins with Hollywood and couldn't go back. So any time someone tells you they were downtown "when it was cool" or implies some sort of glory years, understand for your own complete knowledge of what is what that, yeah, they had a great time, downtown made for some uninhibited partying, but also that by them being there that they TOOK from the neighborhood. There was no GIVING. There was fun, amazing art, wild nights, crazy times, lots of sex and drugs and rock-n-roll but there was no community outside of a circle of friends who knew where to buy pot without driving to Hollywood or coke without driving to Mar Vista. Oh sure there were art studios galore and stabs at running art galleries and organizing exhibitions and there were little spots where people hung out and felt kinship, but all the while the neighborhood was shit, no community in any sense of manifesting as neighbors one relies upon - the folks who lived there put up with the people who hung out there just shitting on it more.
And then the LA riots scared the shit out of everyone. May of 1992 began the whitest flight from many parts of Los Angeles. Downtown, untouched by the riots, was a symbol of "urban" to every scared bastard nearby and every rent-wiring parent abroad. The place cleaned out. The rents went down. The crackheads moved in even deeper. The car break-ins (always a problem that the glory years crowd never did anything about besides complain)
were the definition of regularity. The folks who stayed were forced to actually care about it all.
In 1993 George Rollins (a property owner who lived on his property)
organized a neighborhood watch. The cars were not going to get broken into any more. Joel Bloom would call city hall on nuisances large and small. Alberto was like the new sheriff and wasn't always kind to the people who were parasiting off the neighborhood the most. And lots of people in the neighborhood understood the efforts and joined in. Plenty more just did their usual jackoff complaining but people for once told them to shut the fuck up. At his his underground club THE CLUBHOUSE Alberto had a sign that said RESPECT was earned not given. Every momma's boy who thought he was IT because he went downtown and was a radical artist by by virtue of the loft near where people sold drugs on the street was put on notice. You won't be accepted here if you aren't part of the solution.
The solution was to not tolerate the sociopathy of crack cocaine smoking. Bloom knew every cracksmoker because who else buys a new lighter every day at the store. And he told everyone who smoked crack and we all knew who to watch out for and when the day came that the guy asked to borrow a hundred bucks when we all said no the puff of smoke was in another part of the city quite soon. None of this was erased in a day an not all of it left entirely, but the legendary tolerance of downtown, the place anyone could visit, shit on and leave smiling, those days were over. There were obstacles.
Bloom's eventually moved into the Coffee Strippers storefront and Joel Bloom made sure to navigate city hall on behalf of the neighborhood. The trees got planted. And the Artist District thrives today, totally different from the days of the cracksmoking whiners and much different from the day the streets were blocked off by Bloom and Alberto to signal that a new era had begun. But anyone who says they were there before then but wasn't there then is just a user, not to be trusted.
|Friday, February 14th, 2014|
|Richard Diebenkorn THE BERKELEY YEARS
Diebenkorn "Berkley Years"
at the Palm Springs Museum - amazing paintings.
For a guy with such wicked shifts in subject the museum sure blended it all - maybe a little too fluid. Would have preferred more chronology in placement.
He had three distinct phases in the years 1953-67:
•He starts out, age 31, an abstract painter.
•In '56 he switches to painterly figuration.
•In '64 he sees Matisses in Russia and flattens out the pictures, definitely a predecessor to his Ocean Park series which he started in '67 when he left Berkly for SoCal.
The early abstract paintings he ends up saying "oh, I guess they WERE landscapes after all"
but they are quite distinct form his Berkeley landscapes.
The show points out that Rothko and Still taught him and it wouldn't be to much a stretch to say his abstractions combined the bulbous blurs of 1940s Rothkos with the stark color areas of Still.
Interesting to think that Pollock is ten years older than him on the other side of the country and is struggling with how to get out of the trap of the all over abstraction in the same year that Diebenkorn starts painting his pencils and ashtrays while Jackson just gets in his car and drives into oblivion.
I know some old guys in the art world and, reminiscing, they all call him Dick Diebenkorn. It was another time.
He had one of the great boozer cauliflower red noses and smoked even after heart surgery, died a month before his 71st birthday, that is how that generation rolled. He was an artist in WW2, secretly landed in Japan and sketched it for the army on preparation of an invasion. The bomb rendered those sketches useless. I wonder if they adorn some CIA mess hall at a listening station near Okinawa to this day...
The '56-'63 landscapes, figures and still lifes that were his figurative phase differ from the abstractions not just in subject matter.
These are austere paintings that pull back on improvisation to let the colors grab you. And it isn't really the colors themselves as much as the interplay of the colors. In this he truly synthesizes Rothko and Still but needs to ground the work in figuration to make the chroma symphony sing.
After '64 the pictures flatten. The passages of color are larger swatches, standing more on their own. He is slowly hitting his stride. Matisse has corralled Still and Rothko and flattened The Dieb's compositions and loosened up his color.
His last painting in Berkeley comes at the dawn of the Summer of Lover - it is of a seated woman and the direction he is going - towards Ocean Park in Southern California - is already apparent.
We know how the story goes from there - he paints the most significant abstract paintings of the late 20th century. His BERKELEY YEARS
were a great warmup...
|Monday, December 2nd, 2013|
|The Fast Times and Faster Prose of Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens was a freelance writer emigré from Australia who looked like he might have been the byproduct of a good-looking groupie and Paul McCartney - and that was the first thing I said to him when I met him at Barbara's Bar at the Brewery in 99 or 2000 or ....well like everything whirling around Craig there was a blurry edge on everything, every night, dimly lit, late past 1 A.M., cocktail in hand, a girl way too good looking to be with a bum like him tugging at his waist, a friend or two running out for who knows what, an acquaintance running in to explain where the better party than this one was.
He took the McCartney jab with a curious sizing-up of who the hell would say such a thing but also had a good laugh - I liked his thick skin, his ability to have shit shoveled up to his waist and to just crawl out of it and head to the next happy hour.
That first night he didn't tip Howard the Bartender after dropping a hundred bucks or so on cocktails for him and three friends - a fat guy along for the ride who had never left home but was probably the guy they got a ride form and two hot girls grinding their teeth as they sneered about American culture with thick, rude Aussie accents that forced Craig to pull up close to me and apologizer "They're kinda like the Aussie equivalent of hillbillies, don't let it get you mad."
Howard was enraged when he sees the credit card slip with no tip and walks out from behind the bar and starts to give the "Down Under" contingent a lecture on the custom of tipping. They play dumber than rocks but Howard had paid enough attention to the conversation to point out that Craig had been here two years and had to know the custom. Howard followed the crew to the parking lot, barking like a hyena and came back in broken like a chihuahua - all Craig had given him was that McCartneyesque smile and while it worked for the lines of aspiring actresses, supermodels, rock and roll frontwomen and art tart starlets, it made Howard grumpy when it was all he got for pushing a hundred bucks worth of the sauce that night.
I brought up that story to Craig years later, he was a bit sheepish copping to it, but I told him a hustle here and there was often necessary. "Here and there? How about every day in this town!"
and the expat angst was revealed from behind the smile, the journalistic detachment, the joint to take the edge off of the rent being due. He hustled gigs writing all sorts of stories, a pile of clippings that span a range of interests from the highest perches of art to the lowest dregs of cultural desperation. He was not a depraved soul but he traded in poking the glow around that soul to share with his readers what that light reflected.
He wrote for anyone who paid about anything they cared to have covered and he blasted out the prose to make sure the customer was as satisfied as the reader had been intrigued. Like the hearts he broke, he burned it bright and then freelanced on down the road to follow the next perfect-bound piper.
Craig died about a week ago. He had emailed me about some heart trouble. It sounded treatable, but apparently was much worse. On FaceBook they say his mother and sister are flying in from Australia today. Oh my deep condolences - but please know that your son lived five, maybe fifteen whole lifetimes in Los Angeles, he died an Aussie Angeleno aged 120, there were few corners of this part of the globe he didn't have a wild story best preserved as a polaroid about.
I hope they find an organized assembly of what he wrote, it would be a diary of getting the 21st Century's Hollywood party started.
|Monday, November 11th, 2013|
|2014 Art World Bootcamp
If you aspire to be a successful, exhibiting artist in Los Angeles, perhaps it is time to get serious about that goal. It is time for you to understand the CULTURE of the Art World Itself.
Start 2014 off right as the new year offers You ART WORLD BOOTCAMP...
You are ready to:
* Immerse yourself in the art scene
* Focus your behavior
* Expand your knowledge
* Make great art
The Art World operates under specific rules that go untaught. Learn these rules early and
you will develop simple methods to make the way the game is played work for you.
You can spend years learning these unspoken rules on your own, or you can attend Coagula's Art World Boot Camp
and accelerate your comprehension of art, the art business and how the two will ultimately benefit you.
In Six Saturday Mornings you will receive dozens of INSIGHTS including:
* Ten Things Art Colleges Don't Want You to Know.
* The phrase that will get every art dealer to return your phone call.
* The four highest-impact career decisions every artist will make.
* Understanding how ANYONE in the Art World can be put to work for you!
This class is available IN PERSON
only - there is no DVD, no website, I tell incriminating stories, pull the curtain back and name names, audio recording is not permitted - you will get the truth about the LA art world, but it is knowledge that will prove valuable in your pursuit of a successful exhibition career. Notes are provided.
What this is NOT
This is not a class about how to sign a pretty little contract with a gallery and sell a painting to your rich uncle. This is the lay of the land of what you are up against in the art world and how to keep your eyes on the prize. You will not be burdened with a bunch of outdated xeroxes. I taught this class in 2006 - there have been radical changes to the art world since then and these are incorporated into every lesson. This is not a class about how to do everything on our own - Artists who are successfully exhibiting in Los Angeles have LOTS
of people doing the heavy lifting for them. I taught this class in 2013 and a few things have already changed - just understanding these little things can help YOU spot changes in the art world.
Registration is open now and limited to 25 participants - age 18 and up, please.
Class is taught by Mat Gleason. Do you need my bio? I own an art gallery, I curate art shows, I am a published art critic and essayist. My name is my resumé, google it.
Six weekend classes beginning January 4, 2014. Final class is February 22. Class meets at 11:00 AM on Saturday Mornings at Coagula Curatorial Gallery on Chung King Road in Chinatown. Class lasts 90 minutes. The class also includes two OPTIONAL
critiques of your art - one arranged with the instructor and one with the entire class.
The Class will cost you $350
- A few spots are still open. No refunds. Email me at 88gallery at GMAIL dot com with the subject BOOTCAMP if you are interested.
|Friday, November 1st, 2013|
|The Basic Big Problem With Much Art
The biggest problem with much art these days is that it is either form or thought or identity. Most of the product that would fall in any of these camps is indulged with a lot of rhetoric. This baggage is basically just excuse-making. There is an excuse as to why the art is so shitty - it is some rhetoric as to why the art has barely mustered up enough of one (and only one) element and can rationalize stopping there.
I am not saying this problem needs to be addressed. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that this problem may in fact be a solution.
There is a glut of people calling themselves artists. Other than spitting in their faces, slugging them in the stomach and then taking all of their parents' money away, there might not be any way to get rid of them quickly. But the solution might be to let them believe that this embryonic piss they are creating is of a caliber of quality approximating that achieved by the masterpieces of our time. Believing this, these deluded narcissistic assclowns can wander aimlessly in the art world - populating the openings, funding the schools, shaking hands, smiling, buying museum memberships and going to seminars - until they just disappear.
Sure, on occasion, one of these thoroughly talentless anti-visionaries will get a show, maybe even a good review by a sleepwalking art writer and will seemingly be in a position that appears to be rising up through the ranks into that magic art world stratosphere we all seem to understand as an adult high school popularity contest. And that glimmer of possibility keeps the hack-one-liners going.FORM.
The rhetoric cannot hide the fact that no matter how well they have mastered the formal elements, they haven't done diddly squat with those elements and are likely too timid to ever DO
anything with them.THOUGHT.
There are "purity" junkies in every field, from architecture to religion and art is no exception. Your intentions aren't shit. You can come up with convoluted analytics and propositions all day and all night but until you at least fetishize your ideas, they are not art. And you likely have to do something with them even after doing that.IDENTITY.
Nobody will understand (or care about)
your art if it is so steeped in specific issues that it ceases to become art and becomes a platter upon which those issues are served. If you don't care about that, understand how insignificant your efforts are. You probably cannot as you have no developmental consciousness beyond three paragraphs laughably superficial rhetoric about yourself (because you are inherently self-centered)