art on my arm

ok, not really but I have a massive purple bruise that looks like a misplaced Mark Rothko. Or maybe its just a silent Steve Reich piece. This happened once before when I had to give a blood sample, so maybe I should save everyone some time and just get a big bulls-eye tattooed on the vein they’re supposed to stick the needle into. Or I could get a big bruise tattoo for consistency.

Arm Yourself

I’ve been away from the blog, recovering from and again succumbing to a nasty cold (and helping to curate a very nice show!!).

To tide things over til my brain, ears, nose, and throat are again fully operational I present the following. A late tribute to Mike Kelley, perhaps. The sign is a reference to flu shots.

Splinter Party

According to the curatorial statement, William Cordova’s current solo show at the Mills Gallery this one’s 4U (pa’ nosotros) is apparently about “unmasking and remixing seemingly disparate and repressed histories”. I say apparently because I find it interesting to imagine that it instead addresses some other narrative: Goldilocks, for example.

The gallery contains a large slightly predictable open frame “house”, two sets of images, hair ties, photographs, and something growling and articulating in a tiny room. That noise could be bears. (Angora bears, possibly, hence the hair ties). Dancing angora bears, as a matter of fact, because there are also some period-piece cardboard record-album covers installed on a wall, as well as, I think, a tin-foil boom box placed in a broken fishtank in another area of the gallery. Angry dancing angora bears, even, since there’s an object in the front space made from carefully marred Sheetrock incised with tiny (clawed??) lines and studded with shiny precious polished rocks of the sort you find in New Age stores. There are no chairs, porridge, or small famished females with boundary issues, but this renders the alternate narrative no less palatable, to create a truly horrible turn of phrase.

This is not to say that I necessarily dislike the show; merely that I would never guess the focus of the work were it not for the explanatory text. I’m a looker not a reader when it comes to art shows. And besides, there are those growling sounds . . .

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The whole place smells of pine. I wish the artist had capitalized on this and can’t help thinking of Klara Liden’s show of abandoned Christmas trees at Reena Spaulings. The space is also filled with broken sounds. Possibly a nice touch but it also leads me to fear the emergence of some Tourette’s afflicted gent from one of the Mills side galleries. One of the Tourettes rooms contains a video loop of Jim Morrison going off the deep end at a show. I quite like it but feel sorry for the gallery attendants seated near it. It is the source of the bear sounds.

The small delicate gestures are the ones that really work for me: a row of used hair ties hanging on the wall, the set of 5 Polaroids near them, an isolated hairtie hanging lonely on an empty wall across the room. Cordova works with series and systems, but he does best with inscrutable ones where the logic is simple and the response to materials more instinctual.

There’s also a nice small spotlit sculpture in the far-most room. An assemblage of feathers and a paper bag it is formally engaging and in some ways has a presence far greater than the immensely larger frame house of the main room. But the feathers look as if they once belonged to a seagull. As the work is titled untitled (geronimo I & II) I find this confusing. Surely the original G wasn’t a coastal dude? Or maybe I don’t know my feathers. These are the things that confuse me, the links that fail to connect, and the reason I keep coming back to bears. Also in the room is another video: Spanish audio mis-paired to a video of someone who looks like Tupac. More bear sounds.

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I’d like the house thing more if it didn’t remind me of a show I saw several years ago at the ICA in London of Oscar Tuazon’s work. Tuazon’s pieces pushed the boundaries further (literally), sections of his more robust beams extending into and through the walls of the gallery, rendering the forms of a traditionally nurturing and protective structure far more masculine and aggressive: making a sculpture, in other words. There’s nothing transformative about Cordova’s house and I wish the plans had instead been simply drawn out on the floor: Dogville style. I really don’t know what the point of it is. My favorite part is a set of small matched sepia photos on the floor. Their level of formal engagement and abstraction pulls me out of the barren linearity of the simple 2x4s. Of course what I really wish is that Cordova had instead done a re-creation of his massive speaker piece Badussy (Or Machu Picchu After Dark): far more engaging and it would provide a linkage to the album covers. Some good subwoofers would amplify the low tones of the bear sounds nicely, too.

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Ratings:
Small objects: 7
Small photos: 7 or 8
Videos: 7
Projected slides: 6. Fix that bulb and hide that wire for a 7
Large objects: house: 6, precious drywall thingie: 5
Image multiples: 5. More is not always “more”
Use of space: 6. Not enough  work

Franz West: Butter King

The first time I made butter it was dead easy except I got so excited I ended up cutting my finger on the blade of the food processor. (So dead painful too, but I did manage to keep the drips out of the bowl).

beet and orange butter, prior to "washing". by the author

I made red-pepper flake butter and also pink Himalayan salt butter. Again, really easy, but you have to wash the butter thoroughly and then squeeze all of the moisture out so it doesn’t start to go sour after a few days. Butter washing and squashing with a bandaged hand doesn’t work too well so the butter lasted only a week.

Making butter is a bit like working with plaster, except there’s less of a race against the clock. Plaster always astonishes me: its like magic the way it goes from liquid to solid, but usually magic with malevolence mixed in. I’m often stuck with a good chunk of hardened left-overs which the plaster fairies/angels/devils caused to seize up part-way through my project.

Not so with butter. The stuff that doesn’t solidify in the churning process remains as butter milk, which is surprisingly tasty. You can drink it or bake with it and revel in the duality of its nomenclature.

*

Franz West - Element of the Environment "Alpenglühn". Papier-maché, plaster, gauze, paint, metal and wood on wheels, 2001

Franz West works with plaster and papier-mâché, or, possibly additionally the innards of tortured minotaurs, or the things left standing once a planet has condensed to pure dark matter. I love his work and defy anyone to argue the contrary. He’s one of several sculptors whose work I group together: Rebecca Warren, Siobhan Hapaska, and Rachel Harrison are additional names that spring to mind, although only some of Hapaska’s work fits my categorization: eccentric blob(s) coupled with thin rectilinear hard things. The contrast in materialities reminds me of the butter/butter milk divide and there’s an inherent violence and joy in the objects that reminds me of my butter blending mishap. West’s pieces can also have the look of giant mounds of tufted fat: the kind you get when you start playing with the trimmings of some uncooked beef.

*

I’ve got some partially made blob sculptures that I need to get back to. I’d love to say I’m going to make them out of giant blocks of beef fat and keep them in a see-through fridge, but perhaps this is best imagined. And I’m going to make more butter. Formaggio Kitchen has crystallized violet petals for sale: I think I’d like to use some of them with some really really dark salt. Maybe I’ll finish the blob sculpture that’s got speakers in it and paint it purple and black. Or maybe I’ll do Himilayan pink salt again with crystallized rose petals; its almost Valentines.

*

Rachel Harrison - Nose. Wood, polystyrene, cement, acrylic, rubber, cardboard, 2005

Butter really is about the fat. The fabrication is a simple process: take some nice heavy cream and agitate it. Shake it or beat it or blend it til you’ve made whipped cream* and then keep on going. Suddenly (see magic processes in paragraph 3) from the one substance you now have 2: the cream is replaced with solid butter and the liquid butter milk. Once you’ve stopped marvelling ***and the blade has stopped spinning*** remove the solid lump of butter. Wash it in cold water and then squeeze all of the liquid out. This is very important as any remaining liquid will sour. You can work in any flavorings at this point. I’m not sure but I imagine if your flavoring can rot it will; the butter will not preserve it so plan accordingly or use the butter quickly.

*a blender or other electronic device is absolutely not necessary to make whipped cream. Put some cream in a container with a tight cover, leaving plenty of room at the top. Shake it til you no longer hear the liquid sloshing around and you have whipped cream. It takes a minute or two. Apparently you can keep on shaking and eventually make butter, but I’m too much of a wuss.

Duality

They look like jam.

I’m referring, of course, to the films of Jordan Belson.

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Photographing percolating jam is actually rather difficult: the lens fogs immediately and there’s the risk of stabbing little splashes of hot bubbling preserves.

Achieving Samadhi, the title of Jordan Belsen’s abstract colour film from 1967 is of course, much tougher, as is the act of describing it by the uninitiated without gross copyright infringement. Essentially its a non-dualistic state of consciousness reached through advanced yogic practice.

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In making the jam I broke Petunia’s rule of triangulation. I used 4 ingredients in addition to sugar: blueberries, lime juice, tequila, and flakes of red pepper. During the cooking process W. commented that the mix smelled like old socks. I believe this was due to some sort of condensing action of the lime juice and the tequila. Or perhaps it was something to do with the neighbors. Gratifyingly the jam does not taste like Limburger (however you also can’t really taste the red pepper flakes; I thought of adding Sriracha sauce but restrained myself. Genius may have been snipped in the bud).

I also thought of adding bits of bacon, which lead me on a reverie linking Paula Deen, jam making, bacon, speck, class-based cultural critique, and late-stage-capitalist just-in-time breakfasting (all the ingredients in-one for greater expediency).

******

I was thinking about bacon and Belson because I’m helping to curate a show and this weekend we looked at alot of proposed pieces (one of which made me think of bacon and another Belson; no jam though). Some really great work, but sadly we had to send out rejection notices because there just isn’t room for it all. I’d never sent a note rejecting someone’s art before and I came finally to understand the saying “this is going to hurt me more than you” (about spankings). Ultimately it doesn’t hurt more: its the difference between a splash of liquid and enlightenment, but its interesting to see things from the other side.

For more information about Jordan Belson see the Center for Visual Music’s website. A DVD of a selection of his films may be ordered from them: Jordan Belson – 5 Essential Films. The image at right is a still from Samahdi; its actually rather different from some of his other films. It also looks a bit like cotton candy.

Ave Caesar (Jedediah)

I go unshowered* to the MFA. It makes me feel nostalgic (I went to the Museum School). Having dirty hair also let’s you judge the true demeanor of the gallery people. They’re all very nice, as is much of the art. This is a good thing in humans, less so in art.

I’m here for the Jedediah Caesar show which bears nothing in common with the images I’d seen on the MFA’s website so I feel a bit ripped off (I came to take a peak at *that* work; for what its worth the website has now been updated to reflect the actual content on display but I learn this only upon my return home). Because giant art museums make me feel as if I’m at Costco I visit only the Caesar show and the current offerings of the Linde Wing. Short visits to the MFA are another long-term habit dating from my years of free entry. I am also loathe to spend more than 2 hours at any institution, regardless of the price. My eyes gloss over and it’s like I have the flu: all intake and no cognition.

I first became aware of Caesar’s work at the 2008 Whitney Biennal. I loved his giant multihued resin block and, though I’d forgotten it, the monochrome sliced tile piece that you see in the video. Materiality and process are big in Caesar’s work: the process whereby he creates the materials for his own work. There are more tiled pieces at the MFA show with different hues and configurations. Caesar makes these by collecting objects, and, according to the MFA :preserving them “in a range of forms, including colored resin slices, impressions cast in clay, and raw assemblages.”

There are 2 parts to the Caesar show: the sliced tile pieces and a big unfired clay thingie. The clay thingie is awesome and has a wonderful name: /ALBATROSS/BADGERS/CHIMPS/DINO/EXTENSOR/FENCE/GRANITE HILL/HEAVENS/INSIGNIFICANT/LARK/MR. TUX/ORANGE PEEL/PURPS/RAMPA/SWINGLES/THIN SPOT/UPSHOT/WHITE KNIGHT/YELLOW PANT/ZIPPER/
Its like a Damien Hirsch title but more urgent and less pretentious. I have no idea what it means and yet it feels right, like listening to a neighbor sing in the shower when you can hear only bits of words but still get the rhythm. I think he may have mis-spelled “perps”.

When seen from the right angle the clay piece is sphinx-like in form. Like a sand sculpture it’s both static and transitory and is nicely activated by the sound of patrons’ footsteps as they cross the fancy wooden floor. As with the title, the mark-making feels urgent and fresh; too quick for imposed logic and so it’s the piece itself that provides it. You get a better sense (than with the tiles) of Caesar’s compositional and formal talent and they’re strong. There’s also something pleasingly primitive about it, like a Ziggurat or an Aztec altar (this is 2012, after all).

I’m less keen on the tiles. Some of them work and some of them don’t, in part because there are so many patterns and hues involved. I like the running floor-level border that encompasses the walls of the space (it has a cinematographic quality due to abrupt changes in hue and the time-based/chronological composition of its fabrication and assemblage). And I like the single red tile placed up high like a piece I once saw by Cornelia Parker that had something to do with giraffes. But I don’t like the arrangement of the remaining tiles. Their checkerboard patterning means there’s insufficient mass to create discrete volumes and they remind me instead of the alternating blacks and whites of tiled kitchen floors. The tiles feel quickly done and under-edited. Nonetheless I’m excited to see his work at the DeCordova in a few weeks.

The Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art
I’d like more failures in the Linde show. Not intentional ones but instances of highly complex art that doesn’t “work” according to existing canons and therefore engages. Everything does work and feels extremely safe: guaranteed to engender no anxiety or insecurity in the MFA-going public. Most of it also feels highly familiar, coming from artists recently shown at the ICA (where Senior Contemporary Curator Jen Mergel used to work), the List, and past Biennials. There’s even an El Anatsui piece from his wonderful survey at Wellesley. Stripped of its context and on its own it seems mostly decorative, like a lot of the work. A bower bird would love this show.

It’s a toss-up for favorite between Cerith Wyn Evans’ conceptually engaging chandelier and the wonderfully named Timorous Beasties’ equally wonderful wall paper (go Glasgow! and see image at right). Fred Wilson’s mirror comes in third, followed by Matthew Day Jackson’s Bockscar, and the Felix Gonzalez-Torres glitter curtain. There’s not alot of intellectually demanding work so I go for the joyful glitz and am glad for the MD Jackson as I missed his show last year. I just wish there was something to sit on as I get confused between the decorative art and the furniture and feel awkward about asking (or mis-sitting).

Petty food note. The “taste” cafe could stand improvement. They have no clue how to make tea (one of the 4 beverages they offer) and the food offerings are scant. I can’t help but compare it with the stellar cafe of the Wellcome Collection in London. The big black and yellow wall painting is nicely decorative (since I’m not sure what its letters say I can’t pass further judgment. Is it a social commentary on NY taxis? Or bananas?? Conceptual art aimed at the great apes? They could swing from the chandelier while pelting visitors with useless tea bags). I mention this only as the cost to enter the MFA is $22.

* in this instance

Eggnog

If unicorns are the source of rainbows (see previous post) then eggnog must come from ferrets. If not ferrets then some other sort of small insidious mammal. (Minks, for instance. I hear they smell, too, although I may be confusing them with skunks). Ferrets are small, cute, furry, and bad tempered. I can personally attest to the fact that they bite. They are possibly also lazy, but this may be pure fiction on my part.

Eggnog has the viscosity of oil; thick enough that you could almost pinch it off
midstream, but then what would you do with the handful? Miniature Franz West replicas perhaps?  Or maybe replacement teeth  . . .

Teeth made from eggnog sounds conceptually engaging: a twist on the idea of the box filled with the sound of its own making: teeth formed from the material of their own destruction. There used to be a dentist’s office in downtown Boston with a giant plaster tooth in the front window. The tooth actually looked like a lesser West at an earlier transitional phase. The first ingredient listed on a carton of Garlelick Farms Egg Nog is “high fructose corn syrup”.

Eggnog is not the same as the (in my opinion) coyly named “milk punch”*. No eggs for one thing, or cream (but, yes, still booze). And you can’t buy it pre-made. I hear backbar has a nice version and I had a yummy one this summer at the bar at HIX. Milk punch has been around for several hundred years, as documented in recipes such as the one from the 1785 edition of  Mrs.Elizabeth Price’s The new, universal, and complete confectioner; being the whole art of confectionary made perfectly plain and easy. The frontespiece promises directions for “milk punch that will keep twenty years” but the actual recipes (one for “milk punch” and another for “milk punch for present drinking”) guarantee potability for only “ a fortnight’s time”. Both recipes call for large amounts of water, milk, lemon juice, brandy, and some sugar. I am not sure whether the 20 year promise is a mis-print or a case of false advertising.

The Germans have a variant of eggnog made with beer. I find this repellent but not surprising. Germans make very good cameras and bridges, but food: eh, not so much, to paraphrase Borat. Their drink is called Biersuppe and it apparently contains beer, cinnamon, egg yolks, sugar, milk and bits of bread. The proud Germans have made a number of videos detailing its fabrication (including the addition of liverwurst!!!) revealing it to be slightly less horrifying in appearance than pruno (prison wine). Even weasels shudder at the burden of association.

* Other relatives include possets and syllabubs

Hans Haacke – Something in the air

They’re almost like pets.

I’m referring to the floating and waving objects in the Hans Haacke show at MIT’s List Center which have a greater level of autonomy than I would have expected.

But then these are objects from 1967 (or recreations in some cases). Things just *were* freer back then.

A series of prints in a separate room document other works created by Haacke while he was at MIT. Included are images of more floating things: a whole string of balloons, for instance, like a parade of white geese or rotund pre-schoolers out for a ropey walk (the one where the tinies walk in a line clutching a rope that keeps them linked together).

*
At times it feels as if there’s a whole sub-genre of balloon work: wistful poignant photographs of balloons, balloon installations, sound artists who work with balloons, etc. Martin Creed’s Work no. 200: Half the air in an open space, 1998, for example. The Creed work uses balloons (half a room’s worth) and photographs quite well. I’ve never seen it in person.

Haacke used the balloons to explore and elaborate upon the concept of systems. Hence the autonomy which seems less a force in other artist’s balloon work. Other artist’s pieces seems more about aesthetics, or something vaguely conceptual (or even possibly jokey). On one of my visits to the List the floating corset piece (Flight, from 1965-6, recreated in 2011) dropped; something that occurs randomly and occasionally according to the gallery attendant. In some work this might seem a technical failure, something to ignore or pretend not to have seen. In the context of Haacke’s work its a rare exception, like witnessing a shooting star; something that strays from the memetic formula but is still part of the existing genotype. In science even failure can be a point of fascination.

*
For some reason I equate balloons with birds.

The Haacke show also contains images of birds, so maybe he was thinking the same.

If the art is birds, are the viewers cats? worms? This line of reasoning has the feeling of a Russian fiction: The Master and Margarita, perhaps.

In the small gallery at the List the prints are oddly hung; some “normally” but others seriously askew, leaving me to wonder if this manner of display is intentional or a mistake. If birds were the viewers and not the art they would have no issues with crooked art, mid-air re-calibration being rather a feature of their species.

*
Ten days later the prints (which are mounted on foam-core) are still crooked, though I can’t remember if its the same or different ones. I start wondering idly if Hans Haacke is a bird, and by extension whether I would be less annoyed by the orientation of the prints had a bird been responsible. Knowing this disarray to be some sort of avian conceptual gesture would certainly make things more interesting and the artist’s talk would be delightful . . . According to the front desk staff the prints are crooked by design (I don’t ask them about the Hans Haacke=bird stuff). Ultimately I think its a nice show and I like the floating ballon and corset pieces (the real ones, not the documentation). I wouldn’t call it great. It feels a bit sparse for all that space and I’m really not sure about all those crooked prints. A dedicated iPad would do just as well for the documentation. This is MIT, afterall. Maybe if they were framed?

*****

The Otto Piene light installation in the other half of the gallery is utterly transfixing. I have no desire to write about it as it strikes me that words would diminish its oneiric efficacy. Go see it. And look up MITHenge. I can’t help imagining a connection. Lights at the Palace of Technology.

Marco Pierre White gets the blue sparkly mask

I’m reading Marco Pierre White’s book The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef. I tend to confuse MPW with DBC Pierre, though I do not mis-attribute their output (culinary versus literary). The confusion stems partly from the shared Pierre, as well as their respective “talented bad boy” images. I’ve never eaten at one of Mister White’s restaurants but I’ve read several of Mister, um, Pierre’s works (real name: Peter Warren Finlay). Like many readers I was thoroughly enthralled by Vernon God Little.

I’ve got a problem with much food writing (as indeed with most cultural criticism; for the record do sous chefs qualify as being part of the “culture industry”?). Not just with Marco Pierre White’s, who is obviously a more gifted chef than he is raconteur. Most restaurant reviews read like forth grade book reports. They’re lacking in the very things that drive good cooking and art: passion, substance, and strange untenable leaps that lead to new and wonderful products/pieces (and some astonishingly unpalatable failures). Much cultural criticism is similarly lacking and ultimately strikes me as obfuscated and vacant. I exempt Dave Hickey.

To rectify these literary shortcomings and as an act of personal catharsis I’ve come up with the following scenario: Mexican wrestling matches between scribes from opposite ends of the spectrum: the simplists versus the obfuscators. Marco Pierre White gets the blue sparkly mask and Frederick Jameson* the pink one, and maybe at the end they’ll be so worn down that they’ll have have no choice but to write in honest pain-felt prose. DBC Pierre can officiate since he seems to have won the battle ages ago. While you’re watching the Lucha Libre matches sip on a Michelada. Don’t skimp on the hot sauce.

W’s Michelada recipe:

Make a mixture of equal parts salt, sugar, chile powder and cayenne and spread out on a saucer. Use this to coat the rim of a tall, 20oz glass after carefully dipping just the rim in water.

To the glass add:

  • 1 full oz fresh lime juice — the juice from at least a whole large lime.
  • At least 1 full oz good-quality Mexican-style hot sauce (Tamazula, maybe Cholula, have had luck with Los Chileros — but *not* just Tabasco). To most American eyes this will look like an *insane* amount of hot sauce and lime juice. It is. Enjoy!
  • Several good shakes of Maggi sauce
  • Dash Worcestershire
  • 6-10 ice cubes
  • A bottle of Mexican beer (Best is Victoria, if you can find it, but Negro Modelo and others of that ilk will suffice). Be careful not to disrupt the rim coating.
Mix with a long spoon or chopstick. Finish with a chunky slice of lime.

* I purchased The Origins of Postmodernity by Perry Anderson over ten years ago and I have yet to finish it. I used to bring it as my onflight book until I made the connection that, fearful of flying though I was, if the plane crashed I could at least leave the book unfinished.

I should also add that so far I am enjoying the Marco Pierre White book; its a quick read and a good insight into the fact that you shouldn’t wait for permission to do something; just do it. Its basically a light co-authored autobiography of someone who happens to be a famous chef/restaurateur. I’m excited to start Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton next.

A Matter of Feet

At the small but scrumptious Yale University Art Gallery works by John Baldessari and Hieronymous Bosch hang within 200 (horizontal) feet of each other. A few hundred feet further, in the similarly rather scrumptious New Haven Green, sits Occupy New Haven.

The Baldessari piece is a text heavy painting called Solving Each Problem As It Arises (1967). When I was at the Gallery there was a tour group from New Jersey (identifiable via bus logo and accents) hating on a nearby Basquiat but oblivious to the painterly and conceptual complexities of the Baldessari.

“. . . When he feels that he has interpreted the subject to the extent of his capabilities he may have a one-man exhibition whose theme is the solution of the problem.” Baldessari writes. The people at Occupy New Haven are still trying to articulate the problem (at least in it’s more subtle nuances) but they have some very clear starting points. It’s essentially an age old issue, the subject of the meta-work of which the Bosch panel in New Haven is a part. The piece at Yale is titled Allegory of Intemperance (ca. 1495–1500); another section of the now-dismantled triptych depicts Gluttony, aka Greed.

There’s a surprising grace and solemnity to the Occupy New Haven encampment. The Green is a perfect spot for such civic engagement. Tents sit beneath the outspread boughs of coloring  trees with plenty of space left for cogitation (or more tents). It’s like a Quaker meeting or a vast quiet installation: a more organic version of a Walter de la Maria installation, perhaps, less the thunder. But maybe one day that too will come.