Monthly Archives: June 2007

Manu Chao in Prospect Park

Best show this year. Maybe, just maybe, the best show in memory.

Brooklyn Vegan coverage
Rainin in Paradize

Hirst Haters

Skull

Over the past month or so a disturbing amount of bandwidth has been dedicated to explaining how not worth our attention Damien Hirst’s new diamond skull is.

The exemplar for this attitude is an early June post on Modern Art Notes. This is what it says in full:

“I don’t care. I simply, honestly don’t care. I didn’t care about his lame pill paintings at Gagosian a few years ago either. There’s nothing there worth thinking about. That is all.”

Isn’t a post that says “I don’t care” one of those twisty logical fallacy-thingies that contradicts itself just by existing, kind of like the statement “I am lying”?

Here’s a second, just for fun:

Damien Hirst skull o’ diamonds now on sale for 99 million. Big fat fucking deal.

The distaste for Hirst’s new work seems inspired by the insane amount of media coverage it’s gotten. But it’s also surprising, given the general sentiment in the arts blogosphere for placing or restoring the artist to the center of the whole art production machine. (and knocking down the dealers, auction houses, museums, etc., but not the critics)

I personally disagree with that somewhat romantic notion, but if I believed it, wouldn’t I want to champion Hirst as the living hero of the artist-first system? Here is an artist who, all quality judgments suspended, reached a position as one of the wealthiest and most famous people in Britain, without any outsized institutional or curatorial support, and without the mentorship of a single powerful dealer. He has done what he’s done all through his ability to self-promote and produce attention-grabbing work. (To the argument that it was Saatchi who made him, I think it might be more true that Hirst made Saatchi.) Isn’t that the artistic career ideal?

I think what we have here is a serious case of the player hates. The notoriety and the endless coverage that Hirst receives makes an objective response to his work impossible. We begrudge him his success.

Hirst’s skull has the price tag of a mid-range Hollywood movie budget, and the relentless media promotion is no less understandable than Kirsten Dunst spouting nonsense on Entertainment Tonight or Conan O’Brien. The promotion is there to drive up the value of the work. And when that’s done, whether it sells or it doesn’t sell, or it gets stolen or people stop caring, it’s going to be someone else’s problem. An expense and a hassle forever.

Somewhat related?
The new men’s fashion trend in NYC this summer looks like it’s rhinestone-skull black T-shirts. The imagery is converging from all sides.

Skull T

1967: Art at the Crossroads

Psychedelic Soul

I have quotes from two reviews:

1. Holland Cotter, NYT: “Apart from Hendrix’s presence, the show is overwhelmingly white. Aretha Franklin’s first big hits — ‘Respect,’ ‘Chain of Fools’ and ‘Natural Woman’ — were all 1967. You won’t find her here. Nor will you find Marvin, or Smokey, or Otis, or Fontella or Ray.”

2. Jerry Saltz, New York Mag: “On hand are record jackets from Country Joe & the Fish, but none from Aretha or Sly and the Family Stone. The show is so vapidly vanilla—visitors drift through it as if in a mall—that with any luck the legions of contemporary artists who romanticize and glorify the period will finally move on.”

Once and it’s a noteworthy point; twice and it’s troubling. I understand the unease—the Summer of Love was such an overpowering media presence that it drowned out everything else, and there was much more going on then than flower power. An exhibition devoted to late ’60s African-American culture and the art surrounding soul music would no question be more enlightening than another retread of this familiar material. Detroit, Memphis, and LA as the organizing principle in place of Summer of Love’s San Francisco-New York-London.

But it’s equally valid to say that for all the exposure, we don’t really understand yet what was happening in the anti-war hippie culture of the late ’60s, and that’s what this show purports to examine. It’s not intended to be a portrait of everything that happened in 1967. When the late Robert Rosenblum organized 1900: Art at the Crossroads, it was the first time most museum goers realized there was more going on at the turn of the century than post-Impressionism. Before then, it would have been a single-minded art critic who responded to a post-Impressionist show by asking where were the Bouguereaus?

Bouguereau

Or how about a closer example in time: for the next show that focuses on Post-Minimalism, heyday smack in the late-60s (but not in the SoL show), let’s have reviewers question the canonical roll-out of white New Yorkers to the exclusion of, say, L.A. artists like Judson Powell and Noah Purifoy, whose assemblages collected after the Watts riots both resembled the look of their east coast counterparts and responded more emotionally and constructively to their times.

Another take on the decade and its influence: Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Afro-Punk festival

Faith in America: Evan Almighty

Kindred Spirits

New York Times, June 25, 2007: Two ‘Mightys’ Disappoint at the Weekend Box Office

It restores my faith to see that America rejected the temptation to see Evan Almighty this weekend. And it restores my sense of wonder that “rejection” can mean first in the box office with $32 million in ticket sales.

I don’t think God is responsible for the low draw—God is box office gold. More likely, audiences were turned off by the artificial ring of its environmental message. (This is what happens when you switch lessons mid-franchise.) Who in Hollywood could have pitched a $200 million pro-environment movie with a straight face? You can’t get anywhere near $200 m ($175 for the film plus marketing) without leaving a carbon footprint the size of a small forest. (Fun fact: the movie’s producers promoted the film production as “green,” a term which leaves room for promo airplanes flying over Chicago towing banners of Steve Carrell’s face.)

If anyone has seen it: were the multiplexes green for the show? Did they turn their air conditioners off and stop serving 64-ounce tubs of high-fructose corn syrup?

You gotta give the studio credit for knowing the environment was going to be hot: subtract the standard 18-month production cycle, and you’re at January 24, 2006, the day An Inconvenient Truth premiered at Sundance.

America’s trials are not over, though: License to Wed is still a week away.

Inflatables

inflatable

So it seems every critic alive has panned the Whitney’s Summer of Love show. Right now I just want to focus on a single work. It’s way in the back, part of a small section on Hippie Architecture, a 4-minute video of Ant Farm’s Inflatables.

The inflatables were dome-like structures made from air and soft plastic. They were cheap, transportable, transparent, organic, and participatory, countercultural and free. Ant Farm preferred to call them “pillows.” They drove them around California in their “Media Van,” inviting whoever wished to climb into or onto them, and giving workshops on how to make them at home.

If that feels warm and utopian, the video reinforces that notion, filling the inflatable with children and adults playing and hanging out. But the work’s caption adds a layer of dark context: it was filmed in December 1969, at the Altamont speedway in California. The inflatable was an attraction that day for crowds awaiting the infamous free Rolling Stones concert. After the filming, but before the Hells Angel security team murdered a deranged concertgoer in front of the stage, the inflatable was transformed into a medical tent to care for the day’s psychedelic casualties.

None of that is in the Whitney video. The only nod toward that day’s events is its soundtrack, the Stones’ Gimme Shelter.

Ant Farm Video
Gimme Shelter, Criterion Collection DVD
Summer of Love

Watergate Party

Woodward Bernstein

It’s been a quiet week for the Watergate break-in’s 35th anniversary, with coverage limited mostly to interested parties.

Editor & Publisher  How An Unlikely Pair — Woodward and Bernstein — Broke Watergate
Washington Post  Woodward Q&A – Woodward admits he bombed the WMD runup, stays stubborn on Plame leak
Washington Post  Carl Bernstein, Back on the Beat: Don’t let the title fool you, he’s just hawking his book.