March 2010 Archives

image from Eric Doeringer's "Bootleg Series", in a group combining five individual pieces, 2001-2005, all ink and acrylic on canvas, the works range between 5" x 7" and 8" x 10"

Amy Elkins David, New York, NY 2008 C-print, edition 1/5 11" x 14"

Tony Feher Untitled 2008 glitter and spray adhesive on unfolded box
11.5" x 6.25"

Donna Chung Untitled 2005 mixed media on paper 19.5" x 35"

Erik Hanson Ladies of the Canyon 2007 oil on canvas 20" x 16"

Colleen Plumb Laundromat 1997 C-print 19" x 19", edition 4/10

William Powhida How the New Museum Committed Suicide with Banality 2009 archival inkjet print on paper 17.5" x 14", edition of 20, AP 4/4

Sarah Braman Swimmy 2010 paint on plywood 35" x 28"

Andrew Guenther Plate Face (green eyes) 200 watercolor and pencil on paper
8" x 6"

I just took another look at the BAMart Silent Auction site today and I ended up excited on two accounts: for BAM's early success (many of the works are already above their estimates) and for the terrific opportunities available to patrons and visual art lovers who may have a little extra cash right now.

I've uploaded images of some of the works here, but there are some 150+ others on the BAMart site.

It's not necessary to go anywhere to be a part of the event; the dedicated site shows all the works, describes the details, and makes it easy to bid.

The bidding ends at 8 this evening.

[images from the BAMart site]

Chinese Wild Ginger Asarum Splendens

Spring comes to the sunless recesses of our roof garden.

I must leave to others, meaning anyone who can plant or is able to overlook gardens touched directly by the rays of our life-sustaining star, the delights of brightly-colored bulb flowers. Our own garden pleasures are more subtle, and sometimes more exotic.

The odd growth shown above is apparently a flower, but there is always only one (it's in a pot after all). It appears each year at this time within the very healthy clump of evergreen wild Chinese ginger which has naturalized itself in one of our terrace pots. It's surprisingly hard, or woody, to the touch. It is, as might be easily imagined, even more bizarre before it actually opens to (barely) announce itself: The first time I spotted it, at least five years ago, I thought it was a piece of debris fallen from an upstairs window. I was about to pull it out when I noticed that it was somehow connected to the tangle of shiny green leaves all around it which had miraculously survived the winter unaltered.

With all respect to the excellent mushroom and the magical truffle, this node? appears to be somewhere on the evolutionary ladder between fungi and what we think of when we say "flower", regardless of its actual botanical status. While it certainly suggests a sexual appurtenance, it also looks like it would have no interest in, and no chance of, attracting the reproductive ministrations of a bee.


large detail of a still from a video of Iannis Xenakis' "Pithoprakta" (1956), which has the composer's sketches and renderings accompanying the piece itself [currently installed at the Drawing Center]

I love music, especially unfamiliar music, and since I've now been listening to the stuff for a good part of a century, that means my taste may not be shared with most people. The music of Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) is a case in point, but judging from the fuss being made over this composer recently, and that without the excuse of a major anniversary, maybe I'm about to go mainstream for once.

It's been a couple months since I first decided to do a post about the wealth of opportunities we've been given lately to hear the Greek-born composer's powerful and very idiosyncratic music. It's now the middle of March and most of the concerts to which I'd been looking forward have already happened. I'm ashamed to admit I've only been to two. The first was “Xenakis & Japan”, at Judson Church February 28, an evening of music and dance devoted to the composer's interest in Japanese music and theater and presented by the Electronic Music Foundation.

I find it extremely difficult to write about music on this blog, even though all my life it's been at least as important to me as the visual arts, and probably more so. I've had no significant education in anything other than the liberal arts (which, contrary to what some think, actually do not actually include any form of "art"). I am able to write about the visual arts at least tentatively, from my position as an unlearned, passionate observer, and not least because I have the help of a camera. The performing arts however are a serious problem for me, since I am normally unable to photograph the art, and stock promotion photos which are seen over and over again bring nothing new to the subject. The performing arts are an incredible challenge.

In fact I had little excuse to miss the opportunity of writing a short bit about Xenakis, since here there was a real possibility of including images. I'm thinking of the beautiful studies with which the composer rendered his aural creations on paper (creations which he sometimes described with performances in light and space as well). Maybe only John Cage's own lyrical (yes, lyrical) drawings could match their output, their dynamism, and their beauty.

score for John Cage's "Chess Pieces" (1944)

There were some eight or so concerts of Xanakis' music listed on the press announcement released perhaps two months ago by the Drawing Center, and over the following weeks I learned about a number of others. We've now moved beyond all their dates, but the composer/architect/artist's sketches and renderings remain on view on Wooster Street (with pretty extensive musical accompaniment on headphones) through April 8th.

In the second recent concert I attended in which his music was programmed it seemed to have been designed to play a minor role, as surprising as that may seem to anyone acquainted with it. In a concert at the Paula Cooper Gallery on Tuesday evening Xenakis was only one of three contemporary composers featured and his contribution was both the shortest and the only one which did not require a dozen or more players.

In addition to the visual art she exhibits in her eponymous gallery, Paula Cooper has always hosted, in the description found on the gallery site, "concerts, music symposia, dance performances, book receptions, poetry readings, as well as art exhibitions and special events to benefit various national and community organizations". The page also reminds us that, "For 25 years until 2000, the gallery presented a much celebrated series of New Year’s Eve readings of Gertrude Stein’s 'The Making of Americans' and James Joyce’s 'Finnegans Wake.'”

I remember many of these occasions, including two important ACT UP fund-raising auctions Cooper hosted in 1990 and 1991, which were extremely important for AIDS activism, and for me.

Gertrude Stein came back to the the Paula Cooper Gallery this week, through a performance of Petr Kotik's "There is Singularly Nothing". The instrumental frame of the performance, by his own instrumental group, The Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, was an intensely-elegant affair. This roughly one-hour work, which incorporates a delicious text ["Composition as Explanation"] from Gertrude Stein, an American treasure, was first performed in the early seventies and re-invented, with different directives to the four singers, for the March 16 performance.

Collaborating with the SEM for the evening was the new-music concert series, Interpretations 21. A small vocal ensemble, augmented by Thomas Buckner and Gregory Purnhagen, who had solos in the Satoh piece, was shared by the two larger works.

The concert had begun with the world premier of Somei Satoh's "The Passion", an oratorial using an abbreviated version of the Christian biblical text described by the name. I cannot account for the choice of subject by a Japanese composer whose own experience and music are both actually founded in the philosophies of Shintism and Zen Buddhism. I did recognize some poetic allusion, although perhaps accidental, in the fact that the performance of this Passion took place in a room dominated by a full-size sculpture of the scaffold used to hang the workers known as the Chicago anarchists or "the Haymarket Martyrs" in 1887. The installation was created by Sam Durant, the artist currently being exhibited in the gallery, whose recent work work has dealt with capital punishment.

Xenakis' 1976 virtuoso piece, "Mikka 'S'", for solo violin, followed the Satoh piece. The performer, Conrad Harris, stood high above the audience, at one corner of the scaffold Durant intended, bare of all but its familiar water dispenser, to double in function as a worker’s break room.

A postscript, from the text of the Kotik piece, Gertrude Stein on "modern composition":

Those who are creating the modern composition authentically are naturally only of importance when they are dead because by that time the modern composition having become past is classified and the description of it is classical.

[image of Cage's notations from]

the last balloon

I had contributed something like a hundred or so inflated balloons to Man Bartlett's "24h #class action" the day before, but when I arrived at Winkleman Gallery Thursday afternoon around 4:15, almost 24 hours later, it was too late to add to my score. The artist however had been going strong all that day and throughout the night before. I managed to capture one of the last long, narrow balloons he tossed onto the sculpture from the cubby he had created behind it.

Thousands of inflatables were about to disappear at the stroke of a pin, without ever having achieved a single polished mirror finish.

It was picture time.

the sculptor and his tools

final group intervention commences

the attack underway

last pops/wheezes

empty packaging, sadly showing suggested Koonsian applications

not a puppy in site

Wednesday's schedule for #class began at 2 with a "Feminist Tea Party" hosted by artists Caitlin Rueter and Suzanne Stroebe. I saw some of it at home on the streaming video (while drinking coffee) but was unfortunately not able to make out most of the discussion. I arrived at Winkleman just as they were leaving with the accoutrements (tablecloths and porcelain cups; the finger sandwiches, cookies, and cupcakes presumably having already been shared with the issues).

Man Bartlett was just about to begin his own much-anticipated 24 hour event, "24h #class action", described on the site as "a marathon group intervention involving systematically blowing up hundreds of skinny balloons and popping them, without creating or harming any cute little puppies." Any reference to proceedings inside the big bucks Olympian "art" world of bright shiny stuff, paid santa's workshop helpers, and undisguised commerce - certainly including the current New Museum show - is not a coincidence. More from the artist:

A simple physical action, over time, can radically shift consciousness, specifically when combined with “real” and “virtual” social interactions. It is in this context that “24h #class action” plans to poke a pin into Koonsian psychological dramas.

Beneath its surface this intervention is an exercise in futility and one of joyous absurdity. The balloons will only take their long, phallic shape, without further form, and will eventually be liberated or executed. Is it possible to both celebrate and critique? Does it matter that risks were taken by Koons (and others) to create this ridiculously expensive series? Is ambition alone worth applause? Is the fact that 5 balloon dogs were fabricated a triumph? Is it “relevant?” What I’m grappling with is a complex relationship to the artist’s work, and really to all Art and Everything. And duration exposes fascinating avenues in the headspace to drive down.

Or, you know, we’re just blowing up balloons that we get to pop at the end, which is fun too.

the artist contemplating his canvas

and getting into his metier

less than 24 hours to go

Shalin Scupham joins the "group intervention"

the artist during Magda's presentation

Bartlett and his helpers began blowing up balloons at five, but took a break a little over an hour later when Magda Sawon of Postmasters Gallery arrived to host "Ask the Art Dealer." She had vowed to "truthfully answer any and every question posed to her as long as it does not involve her weight, social security number or other people's money." She was incredible. Barry and I had already thought of her as a community hero, but now she belongs to the world.

Magda holds the room enthralled

Ed Winkleman, the gallerist who made #class possible, was also in the space yesterday, with the third session of his own intervention (as a gallery owner) in what he had titled, "Shut Up Already...I'll Look at Your Art!". The project, the fruit of an artist's "anonymous proposal", according to Winkleman, (someone tell me whether that anonymity is still being maintained) has him working out a pledge that he would spend a portion of his time during #class in viewing, for no less than 10 seconds each, images submitted via an open call on the internet. The third of seven rules specifies that he and his guests would be "monitored by a volunteer as they view the work to assure full compliance with the rules." On Wednesday his monitor was the artist Bernard Klevickas. Images of work he has seen can be found here.

a very open call

all heck breaks loose as Powhida exceeds the estimate

A number of art enthusiasts found their way to Winkleman gallery, and a Saturday in "#class", this past weekend to take part in the (unbilled) "T-Bill Gaming" event. Tom Sanford and William Powhida had set up a projector and screen linked to a laptop, allowing gallery visitors follow the Phillips de Pury auction, "NOW: Art of the 21st Century", in a live simulcast which began at noon.

Fans were invited, Sanford's own blog had announced, to participate in a "relational aesthetics art project" involving "the sometimes-overlooked art of book making". We had been invited to "watch the excitement unfold as shadowy and anonymous international art patrons determine the actual market value, not only of the works, but also of the hundreds of artists themselves!"

Fully in the spirit of the month-long project created by Powhida and Jen Dalton, the installation was described as an attempt "to make the world of contemporary art auctions more accessible to the Average Joe on the streets of Chelsea."

The excitement in the gallery was building for hours as the auctioneer moved closer and closer to lot #257, a drawing by Powhida, "Untitled (Dana Schutz), which the artist had donated to a Momenta Art benefit five years ago. All heck broke loose when it went for $1,900 ($2,375 including 20% premium, and before taxes). The piece exceeded the high end of the auction house estimate. Since only a few years earlier someone had taken it home for $150, it certainly represented a good "investment" for its original owner, even if neither its author nor the non-profit space to which he had gifted it shared one penny of the bounty.

At some time in the midst of the excitement buildup the artist himself was heard to say:

No artist should have to watch this

For the artists and their friends and confederates in class that afternoon it was good fun, but mixed with the fun were melancholy thoughts framed by the sudden and direct confrontation with the reality of the art market. Inside the auction gallery however it all appeared to be only about money.

I'm sure we all had far more fun in class than did the crowd a few blocks south. I have a decent amount of experience with New England antique and estate auctions, and some familiarity with New York art auctions produced by a slightly less prestigious house than this one. I had always associated auctions with great fun and drama, even for the parsimonious participant, so I was shocked at how hurried and perfunctory the proceedings were on Saturday. Not a whit of drama - and no wit - came from the podium. The only excitement generated by the house (as opposed to that created by our own party on 27th Street) happened when the man in the $5000 suit, who normally finds himself selling off Picassos and Rauschenbergs, started the bidding on one item at $9 (it finally sold for $100).

the gamers

bets placed

the board

Diego Rivera Agrarian Leader Zapata 1931 fresco 7' 9.75" x 6' 2" [large detail taken from a slightly oblique angle, of the painting in MoMA's collection]

Of course there was Rivera, and Kahlo, but most of the other committed pinko commies hanging around inside the Museum of Modern Art have been largely hidden from our history, from the institutional history of MoMA, and from the history of the art and the artists themselves.

Leading a tour of the Museum on 53rd Street this past Monday, artist and teacher Yevgeniy Fiks started to sort things out for the record. Barry and I were extremely fortunate to be a part of the discreet group of enthusiasts which he directed in a "Communist Tour of MoMA".

One of my favorite parts? Enjoying the fact that any number of other museum visitors who happened near us were learning more than they had bargained for when they walked into the galleries of the permanent collection that afternoon.

If you missed the road trip clear your calendar for Fiks' presentation, "Communist Modern Artists and the Art Market" at Winkleman gallery March 12, another event in William Powhida and Jen Bartlett's month-long project, "#class".

I've uploaded below images taken at a few of our stops (devotions, secular "stations"), and Barry has a more narrative report, assembled from his notes, on his own site.

Jacob Lawrence

Jackson Pollock

Henri Matisse

Marc Chagall

up against the wall, spread over the hood, or face down on the ground; then into the computer

From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them.

Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police.

Not only are most of the people innocent, but a vast majority are either black or Hispanic. There is no defense for this policy. It’s a gruesome, racist practice that should offend all New Yorkers, and it should cease.

These are the first angry paragraphs of Bob Herbert's righteous and powerful Op-Ed piece in today's Times, "Watching Certain People".

And none of this is even news! Why do most New Yorkers continue to be indifferent to what's being perpetrated within what is generally considered to be one of the world's most diverse and most liberal societies?

Herbert's outrage is rightly directed at the racism so dramatically demonstrated by the statistics, but we would be ashamed of and alarmed by the police tactics themselves even if they were exercised within a completely homogeneous society.

While no one is contending that the practices of the New York City Police Department [NYPD] are equivalent to those of the Geheime Staatspolizei [Gestapo], the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit [Stasi], or the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti [KGB], how much emulation of the tactics used by systems we call totalitarian will we tolerate in our guardians? Do we care at all as long as we think "decent people" aren't being harassed, intimidated, and permanently documented?

New York City has taken its cue from the nation's irrational and hysterical response to the events of 9/11, the so-called "Patriot Act", and produced a number of its own unconstitutional police toys in the name of "security", some of them (as in the case of the federal operations) with absolutely no relationship to terrorism, or indeed patriots, and none of them able to promise safety to their white middle-class or wealthy authors in any event.

At what point will we know it's gone too far? If we're indifferent to what's happening or simply not paying attention, how will we know when the land of the free and the home of the brave has actually become a military/police state, its population cowed into submission by fear of the other, to be hunted down in its midst or somewhere on the other side of the planet?

[image, illustrating NYPD stop-frisk statistics for the first half of 2009, from]

This page is an archive of entries from March 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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