Roland Reiss - The Man, The Friend, The Artist

Sitting around in the café most afternoons at the Brewery Art Colony in the latter half of the 1990s, Roland Reiss didn’t exactly hold court. He was too good a listener to do that. He enjoyed the give and take and would seize upon whatever subject in which a person was an expert. Over a cup or two of whatever they were drinking he would pull fundamental truths out of them in an interrogation that was much more a mental massage then it was a Q and A. In addition to mourning his physical passing, the sad knowledge that we will never see him again, share our latest creative activity with him, of all these and more the loss of that infinitely deep well of knowledge, the thousands of conversations where he massaged up to the surface what someone knew and held in their brain, a repository, until a future conversation with someone else allowed him to impart what was gleaned in a chat over lunch a year or a decade prior - that is what I will miss most about Roland.

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They Can't Cancel The Autonomous

Here is the deal about cancel culture, you only get canceled by two types of people:

1. The people who already hate you

2. The people who only liked you because of the power thing (media platform, institution, social position, prestigious job, lucrative employment, etc.) with which you are/were affiliated.

The people who love you will ignore the thing you are getting cancelled for and continue to love you.

So most of the "celebrities" and "thinkers" coming out against "cancel culture" have some stake in a corporate position where the profit margin depends not only on their true fans, the ones who love them who will never cancel them, but on that second group above, the people who follow them based on their affiliation with that big corporate media platform.

So to be from that world, to have that high position and to come out against cancel culture is for these "celeb thinkers™" to be basically admitting they actually are not free of corporate standards (and every corporation has standards; they may be bloodthirsty capitalists but that corporate reputation must be untarnished and heads roll when that may be happening) and are therefore asking that corporate standards that apply to the CEO all the way down to the janitor just NOT apply to them, the "talent".

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Dutch Master Pizza Lament

Someone posted a link to the LA Times article about the bulldozing of the old LACMA campus. It is in full swing. I don't want to read the article, I don't want to link to the article, I don't want to see the pictures. I saw one and it made me angry and it made me sad. And I wanted to "like" the post but should I pick an angry emoji or a crying emoji?

I finally chose the crying emoji. The building being demolished was the cafeteria. How many meals did I have there? I don't know, realistically maybe fifteen. Twenty? Probably not that many really... Was the food memorable? No. Not terrible but nothing amazing. But who was I with when I ate there. Ah, you see, you go to the museum with somebody special. And you go again with them again and it is special, and then you are there with someone else and it adds to the layers and then you are in a room with a painting that was around in 1899 or 1675 and understand the layers that add up to life, and each time you visit the cafeteria you add someone to that special list, that layering that lives on.

Some of them you will never speak to again and others will never speak to you again and you might never think of the hamburger you had that day or the juice or me I stopped drinking but I remember the Heineken thinking I was on top of the world with Rembrandt and Pollock and a beer, a buzz and a pretty date and looking back I was almost homeless, teetering on madness, really abusing my body and making bad choices and involving others in this hurricane and yet when I walked into the peace of that cafeteria and grabbed a tray fifteen years after leaving all that behind it seemed in memory as peaceful as any Dutch portrait of the merchant class immortalized by Rembrandt on a wall a few yards away from the polished tabletops of the eatery.

And now those walls are gone and I am sure the next cafe there will be fine but I will have to pace out in steps where the cafe was on that LACMA campus when they finish all their shit seven or twenty years from now (don't hold yer breath it is gonna be a while). I will look at the proximity to one old building left and recall where the Bing Theater was and walk to that point in space, in time, on earth and I will stand there with my arms folded. Some kids will be walking by and I will say "There was a stage right here and I gave a talk right here, to a big audience, I interviewed a famous artist on this spot where there was a stage many years ago, I was on a panel discussion too right here a few years before that and I had a slice of pizza just over there with my mom while I told her I was going to be a famous artist with work on the walls here at the museum and she at least smiled, I made her smile!" And the cheese on that pizza was as cheesy as what I am writing now and what I plan to tell those passersby if they stop to listen and if I live long enough to see it all done... and if I don't, the Rembrandt portraits will let you know if my mom was still smiling after lunch, you can ask them, they will probably still be there no matter how weird the designs will be in the new galleries of the new building. Ask them if I should have stuck with painting, ask them what my mother really wanted me of make of my life. Ask them, they'll be quick to chat with just their eyes, they will tell it all like it is and like it was, they know - they were there and I'm not the only one who remembers random shit.


Is that Joe Strummer in your Refigerator?

What would it mean to find Joe Strummer in your refrigerator?

Metaphorically of course, Joe's been dead close to two decades, you heard didn't you?

I ask because the saddest thing was telling people two years later that he had passed - they hadn't heard and wondered aloud if the Clash would ever reunite and you had to break the news to them - I ask because the biggest lesson of Joe Strummer was not anything he did with The Clash, no, the biggest lesson of Joe Strummer is to not die between Christmas and New Years.

But you can go to your refrigerator now and open it and Joe Strummer might be in there. Metaphorically of course, the punks I knew were so fucking literal, just gotta beat them over the head "metaphor, metaphor" but the light in the fridge will break the darkness and inspire a midnight snack to break the monotony of insomnia on a three-day weekend and the sustenance of the right three chords and the backup singing at just the right moment could fill your soul like a slice of cold pizza and the rest of the gatorade fill your stomach at 1 A.M.

Joe Strummer is in your refrigerator when you take a break from whatever you are creating and the leftovers from Thursday and the rest of the Costco chicken can help you gain three pounds and assist in the all-nighter you have ahead of you as you make the painting or write the novel or find the right chord for that next line or finally master the timing of the punch line for the joke for tomorrow's open mic, Joe Strummer is in the fridge and he might even hop out and join you as you slather on some butter to that last croissant and eat the donut that has been sitting on your counter winking at you all day.

And you know, The Clash is never going to reunite, so he's all yours, you can ask him "Joe, I am working on this novel, this painting, this dream of mine and I have a few ways I can take it and I wonder if there is a right way to make it..." and while you fuck your face with the protein and carbs you grabbed (that Joe might have, yikes, been sitting on in there), listen to Joe's answer, he might guide you past the bullshit and to the part of what you do where you alone can do it.

Joe Strummer is in your refrigerator, go get something to eat and let him tell you how to destroy the walls and take on the world, partner up with mates who have your back and go to war with you and build a stage out of those broken bricks where you all stand and marvel at the world screaming for you to come live in their refrigerator.

You don't need a diet, you need to let Joe Strummer out of your refrigerator and listen.


How good was the Guston show at Hauser Wirth?

I always hate year-end lists that talk about shows from October and November as being the best-of-the-year and end-of-the-decade lists that concentrate heavily on the 8s and 9s, but as sure as Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t deserve it, I must declare that the Guston show at Hauser and Wirth does deserve infinite praise - it was one of the better gallery exhibits I have ever seen.

To call it museum-worthy would be to accept that the pinheaded garbagebags who currently run most art museums are the natural progenitors of excellence in exhibitions. This is demonstrably not the case. When we go to museums these days, we see artists featured for excelling in carreerist whoring much more often than we witness amazing art. Every great show is almost so by accident in the institutions. Meanwhile, of course, the galleries play a different game, one often complicit with the institutions, and in no way is this positive review an exoneration of Hauser Wirth, a collaborator with the lucky monied obtuse. But again, this Guston show was a wow wow wow wowzah.

We have all seen too many shows of great artists that suck a cucumber so deepthroatedly that it functions as an organic stomach pump, so there is no way that good curation can be overlooked when considering that the curator had such great art to begin with.

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LACMA Fall 2019 Report Card

Someone told me to write some art reviews like I did back in the 1990s, hahaha well here goes...
Quick LACMA exhibit report card reviews:

•Christian Marclay solo show: A+
Fantastic duet with Snapchat, this is where art is going. Only thing here I want to see again.

•Mary Corse retrospective: B
I love Mary but this tiny survey should have been three times as extensive. She is at least an equal to Ellsworth Kelly who would get two floors while she settles for less than half of one. Must be sexism as the need to include clunky outliers overrode the need to stun us with the depths of her greatness. Contemptible curation and space allocation.

•Some group show of Art from China: F
Every stupid idea you had as an undergrad is here and the one great piece - a rug of cigarettes- is a rip-off of Tara Donovan so much that she should sue for copyright except China doesn’t honor that anyway.

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Wowed at the Weisman

When asked I tell people, mostly visitors to LA, that the Norton Simon Museum has by far the best collection in Southern California if not the West Coast. But I now must qualify this. If you just want to see twentieth century art, there is nothing that rivals the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation. Located in Holmby Hills, the foundation is restricted (by neighbors) from advertising, promotion and all sorts of other things that ordinarily would draw attention to the greatest art collection I have ever seen in one place. The art in the house is left exactly as Fred Weisman had it hung the day he passed. The only exceptions are because of lending art to shows (big museum shows of important works), those pieces get replaced from a vast stockpile of the Weisman collection that happened to not be hung on the walls the day Fred passed. On the day I visited, the docent, who leads the group and whose biggest rule is that nobody is allowed to leave her line of sight, mentioned that a few masterpieces we were looking at were only there because the occasional Jasper Johns painting that was supposed to be there was part of the major retrospective of the artist currently at the Broad Museum.

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Some Thoughts After Yet More MOCA Drama

Never considered MOCA to be "An Artists' Museum". Always a palace of the 1% ...That is the role of Institutions.
Individuals storm the gates. The idea that any break thru and those then change things is more mythical than "Star Wars".
The idea of "critiquing from within" or "sharing the stories of others" is a stale masquerade, a Mardi Gras in November, maybe serious as a cotillion rehearsal but more juvenile.
Everyone wants the power of Mister Burns but nobody wants to be an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy. Everyone wants the power of shaping art history but they also want that power to get them a cameo on a couture catwalk where they will strut like it was just a lucky accident that happened to the deserving for once.
Now the pretense has been ratcheted up a notch - the academics want to be given the keys to the kingdom with the express written intent of tearing apart the institution. Is it up to those of us who have been saying "You in Power Suck" to say "But Stay There and Keep Your Power So That We Have Something to React Against"... Might that be the battle cry in an era where radicalism is a career strategy with corporate backing and champagne branded sponsorship?
The cry was for museums to be inclusive but some white elites think that if it is going to be diverse than its fundamental presence must be altered (their egos won't let them see themselves in the role of the fuddy duddy).THey just won't let anyone else into their mom and dad's museum, they have to change it into a public picnic in order to feel safe having ten percent nonwhite, twenty percent non-weinered inclusion. The subtext of their Hacktivism: "You, my temporary guests, included on my largesse that is at best an extended lark during our perestroika moment, you just aren't good enough for the Hallowed Halls".
Just as the ubiquity of academia in the art world changed the notion of the studio art teacher as a bittersweetly removed also-ran in the quest for art historical inclusion to a well-financed "player on the scene", so to has the academia made institutions collegial co-minglings of one-percenter trusteeship whose wealth-crimes nobody ever really prosecutes with credentialed-yet-specious Pee-Aitch-Deeze whose catalog essays nobody ever really reads.
I just want to go somewhere with amazing art that is clean and well-lit, quiet -not stuffy but almost sacred- where I can impress my date and not regret skipping a movie. That used to be ninety percent of the museums. Now it is ten perecent while everything else is a careerist-lubed-fisting-first rimjob that fast-tracks the friends of friends and favors of board members and ...ah shit, maybe i was always this way and I just see it more clearly as the longer I've been in the art world.
It is just funny that White Academia insists on taking over in a very specific way, consistently, where everything appears inclusive but nothing is allowed to compete with history (as the past has been deconstructed). How collegial, how bigoted (softly lowered expectations with a smile and a deadly reminder of just WHO raised you "up"), how sexist too, as career feminists™ stab female (and female-identifying) colleagues in the back just as ruthlessly and efficiently as the apocryphal Straight White Male).
The "Man" still lauughs, still gets paid, still cleans up at the end of the night, still owns saloon where you drown your sorrows and still puts his kid thru college without needing financial aid.
But your whole career implies that you know this without ever facing it. You eluder you, you will never be a fuddy duddy though, nope. No way.

A Parable about Illustration.

There was a people who mingled freely with art. They were called illustrators. Their assistance on many projects was sought and appreciated. They made art better when they were involved. But at some point, some in art decided they were too predominant and openly scorned what they brought. Over the years the were slowly cut off from art, isolated into their own land. It was a fertile valley where they thrived, illustration. From the mountains above the artists all looked down on the valley in scorn. The streams and farms and villages in the valley were sneered at by the lofty artists. The illustrators were not climbing the treacherous cliffs of conceptualism nor braving the isolated plateaus of abstraction. They were thriving in the valley of illustration with commercial applications of their talents. They painted signs, movie posters, drew comic books, invented ways to animate their drawings. They paired these animations with narrative and merged with the nascent land of cinema out beyond their valley.

From their perch on the mountains, the artists saw all of this and ignored what was happening in the valley. Dialogue about why the activites of the valley were impure became more important than making art. Talking about art and why it was superior to illustration turned into a ritual. Soon those beginning their journey up the hills and mountains of art were asked to engage in this ritual, to talk about how bad illustration was, to forego the making of art to the talking about art. This ritual was popular, and some of the people who didn't want to climb to the heights of the mountains settled into camps in the foothills. There they made ritualized, elaborate discussions about the evils of illustration an attractive place to begin one's ascent of the mountains. Anyone climbing too high as an artist who had not paid to learn the lessons of the camps was ostracized no matter how far up the mountains of art they climbed. Some artists set up checkpoints on the mountain path and insisted one could not pass up higher without proucing a piece of paper that one had attended the camps. The paper was alled an MFA. Brave, independent artists knew they could push forward but the network of MFA graduates did help each other scale those peaks.

Then one day an illustrator down in the valley built an All-Terrain-Vehicle. It was named PHOTOSHOP. For a few dollars an illustrator could by this ATV and drive up the mountains. They could race in the foothills, putting the MFA programs to shame with what one could see and know about in a little bit of time, free from all the restrictions an aspiring artist would be subject to in those camps, and for much less money. Soon the ATVs were so popular on the mountain paths that art was populated with illustrators everywhere. They scaled the heights of the art mountains with ease, free to range over vast areas and to interact with artists who were so isolated that they were not aware of the fertile valley of commerce that illustration had become.

You will run into an oldtimer, hermetically clinging to the old ways of mountain climbing, now and again. This person will sneer and spit when you mention illustrators. These crusty old artists will mock commerce, even as they still owe money to the camp that taught them to never venture near the valley; they will stick to their narrow, craggy path and kiss the stone surface of the peaks for being inaccessible to Photoshop. And you will fly past them on the drone of your imagination, above the peaks and to the lands down beyond their other side...


Happy 80th Birthday: Was Wolfman Jack "The Force" ?

Happy 80th Birthday: Was Wolfman Jack "The Force" ?

This Sunday would have been Wolfman Jack's 80th birthday.

Brooklyn-born Robert Weston Smith, aka Wolfman Jack, passed away at age 57 in the Summer of 1995 almost forgotten after a period of blazing hot celebrity ubiquity the likes of which no deejay before or since has ever known. His ten-year run near the top of popular culture came with his cameo in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. A small film at the time, it was a runaway box office success and cemented the careers of many associated with it, "The Wolfman" included.

Despite paving the way one of the five most successful sitcoms ever, HAPPY DAYS, in pop culture lore AMERICAN GRAFFITI's status is entwined with its commercial success and the leeway that gave director George Lucas to assure the movie studio bosses to fund his next film, a goofy science fiction lark called STAR WARS. Ever hear of it?

When STAR WARS was going over budget and about to get the plug pulled, everyone in the corporate boardroom was reminded they were still cashing checks from AMERICAN GRAFFITI and allowed their auteur to continue on his pet project. Certain he would come to his senses after this sci-fi folly, they laughed at his reduced salary in exchange for something called "merchandising rights" to the STAR WARS universe; they laughed and laughed and let him continue... all because the proof was in the AMERICAN GRAFFITI pudding.

But was there more in AMERICAN GRAFFITI than just commercial success?

In STAR WARS we are told that one unseen "force" binds together the entire universe. In AMERICAN GRAFFITI there is a continual unseen force binding together the universe of the teenagers populating their small town: the radio. And behind that radio, choosing the songs and driving their spirits was one diabolical, yet reassuring voice... that of Wolfman Jack.

The hero of AMERICAN GRAFFITI is Curt Skywalker... just kidding. Richard Dreyfuss plays Curt Henderson, the hero in an ensemble cast. He becomes obsessed by a nameless, distant but flirtatious blonde (played by Suzanne Sommers). He hatches a plan to get her attention - knowing that she, like every other teen in town, will be listening to Wolfman Jack's radio show featuring nothing but rock and roll from the past decade (the film is set in 1962), he visits the radio station to ask the legendary DJ to announce on-air that this dream girl should call Curt. Armed with the number of a payphone, he finds only a helpless manager struggling with melting popsicles from a broken refirgerator who explains that all of the Wolfman's shows are sent in by tape. He politely takes the now-broken teen's phone number and Curt leaves, dejected.

But, suddenly, there is... wait for it... wait for it...

...there is A New Hope.

Curt spies the station's night attendant suddenly in the DJ booth, howling in the infamous scratchy baritone that could only be that of the elusive Wolfman Jack.

Curt's request is granted. The Wolfman makes the plea on his behalf over the air. The girl eventually calls him at the phone booth... but it is too late. He is leaving for college that morning. He flies off and just before the plane hits the clouds he spots the blonde's Chevy driving down a highway below.

In STAR WARS, Obi Wan Kenobi is notably older than everyone else on Tattooine. He uses "The Force". In AMERICAN GRAFFITI, Wolfman Jack is the standout "elder" with access to the controls of the radio station. He pretends to be just the manager. But it is revealed that he is the force. Was he handing Curt a lightsaber when he offered him a popsicle? Luke Skywalker and Curt Henderson both fly off their desolate planets, one beginning an adventure (audience in tow) with no regrets, one starting a new life with only a note at the end that he became a writer living in Canada. BORING. What if Curt had used what the Wolfman had offered: THE FORCE! Eschew college and tell the girl to meet at you at the phone booth later that night, dude, DUH!

Offered use of The Force, Luke Skywalker submits to it completely and defeats the Empire. After one interaction with Wolfman Jack, Curt goes with his feelings, he uses the force, he knows he is already connected to the girl through THE WOLFMAN ("The Force") but at the moment he is getting everything his feelings want, he looks ahead to the future (the worst thing you can do in Obi-Wan's opinion), he tells her he is leaving in a few hours and all hope is lost. Sure, Curt went on to have a boring life as a boring writer in boring Canada (more exciting than being Richard Dreyfuss, though, HA!), but he did not defeat any empire and he didn't get to bang Suzanne Sommers which, four years later after THREE'S COMPANY was a hit, all of America wanted to do. You shoulda used The Force, Curt.

•If Obi Wan offers you a light saber, you take it.
•If Wolfman Jack offers you a popsicle, you take it.
•If you trust your feelings and use The Force, goddammit follow through and defeat The Empire or at least get in the backseat of Suzanne's Chevy.
•There is no try, either Use the Force or fly off to boring college.
•Sure Obi -Wan was a Jedi master (yawn) but Wolfman Jack IS THE FORCE.

RIP WOLFMAN JACK, 1938-1995 for his 80th birthday, January 21, 2018.