NYC: February 2010 Archives

Bruce High Quality Foundation We Like America and America Likes Us 2010 vehicle and educational implements, dimensions variable [detail of installation]

ADDENDUM: [April 30, 2010] The entire sound video projected onto the inside of the windshield can be viewed here on vimeo, although as the April 20 comment at the bottom of this post (which alerted me to the link) says, it's not quite the same isolated from the ambulance/hearse; the experience of the darkness of the installation itself, the imperfect acoustic of the space, and the murky projection, can't really be reproduced on a computer screen.

I feel good about the Whitney 2010. While I like excitement, I resist hype like the plague. This Biennial has been accompanied by neither, which at the very least gives visitors a better chance to experience the individual works for themselves, and unencumbered with a theme. There is some very good, even awesome work on the three floors of the exhibition I saw at the preview (the floors not devoted to favorites from earlier years), but for me none of them had so fundamental an impact as the Bruce High Quality Foundation installation, "We Like America and America Likes Us".

In "Art Class", a 2007 piece published on Artnet, Ben Davis had described Picasso's "Guernica" as "the most successful political image of the 20th century". His argument was that isolated artistic gestures cannot resolve social contradictions "without any social movement backing them up to give them force", continuing:

This does not mean that art or artists cannot play any political role; it is just that some model besides the middle-class one of "my art is my activism" is necessary, one based on concrete solidarity and practical action. Picasso’s Guernica is the most successful political image of the 20th century. Guernica, in fact, embodies the fact that art’s political value is determined in its relation with mass struggle, not in its individual content -- the imagery of the painting, moving as it is, is completely drawn from a vocabulary of forms Picasso had already developed in previous work. Yet, during the Spanish Civil War, after its appearance at the Spanish Republic’s booth at the 1937 World’s Fair, Guernica was literally removed from its stretchers, rolled up and toured internationally to win support for the Republican cause. In England, visitors brought boots to send to the front.

The Bruce High Quality Foundation seems to be taking a different route with its own institutional, social and political critique, probably one more suited to our own politically-lethargic times. Bruce's confrontations with our own tropes have been found just about everywhere: on our streets, our waters, our public plazas, even inside the galleries and expositions of the system they speak to.

I have to confess to a penchant for political art, and to a number of years spent in sort of a groupie relationship to this arts collective, and yet "We Like America and America Likes Us" is one of the most affecting works, in any genre, I've ever encountered. Where do we bring our allegorical boots?

We are all wounded, wrapped in felt. Are we inside an ambulance or a hearse? What is to be done?
Like much of what Bruce does, it's not conventionally "beautiful" - except as truth is beauty, and yet the incredibly elegiac recorded remembrance of "America" which accompanies the fast video montage of heterogeneous clips projected onto the tall Cadillac windshield is riveting, and profoundly moving.

I don't know the length of the loop (and there was no indication on the museum's wall text); but for all I know it could be as long as the melancholy story it tells.

Especially for those who will not be able to visit the Whitney, I have some excerpts. The text, recited by a luscious, soothing female voice, begins:

We like America. And America likes us. But somehow, something keeps us from getting it together. We come to America. We leave America. We sing songs and celebrate the happenstance of our first meeting – a memory reprised often enough that now we celebrate the occasions of our remembrance more often than their first cause.

And a little later I listened as the gender pronouns slithered over each other in ecstasy, and in sorrow:

We wished we could have fallen in love with America. She was beautiful, angelic even, but it never made sense. Even rolling around on the wall-to-wall of her parents’ living room with her hair in our teeth, even when our nails trenched the sweat down his back, and meeting his parents, America stayed simple somehow. He stayed an acquaintance, despite everything we shared. Just a friend. We could share anything and it would never go further than that.

No one really knows how love begins. A look on his face one time after we’d made love – a text message too soon after the last one. When did we become a thing to hold on to rather than just something to hold? We didn’t know America was in love with us until it was too late. Maybe we couldn’t have done anything about it anyway. America fell in love with the idea of us, with some fantasy of us, some fantasy of what America and us together would be, before we had a chance to tell him it could never work, we weren’t ready for a relationship, we weren’t comfortable being needed, we didn’t have the resources to be America’s dream.

It wasn’t easy letting America down. As we stuttered through our rehearsed speech we watched the change on her face. We could see the zoom lens of her attention clock away. We could feel ourselves receding back into the blur of the general population.

The last lines are:

There was a time we thought we were nothing without America. When she left, we realized all the excuses we’d been making. All the problems we’d been trying not to address. We drunk dialed our memory of America just to hear what we were thinking. We worked late and we told ourselves we had to, that the work came first, that this was an important time in our lives and that love could wait. Just wait a little longer and we’d fix everything, we’d say. Solving the America problem, our lack of attention, our disinterest in sex, our never being home, our thinking of her as a problem – it would have to wait.

[installation view of the rear of the curtained 1972 Miller-Meteor ambulance/hearse]

[text from the audio of the installation courtesy of the artists]

By the time I realized that I should look into buying the small Man Bartlett drawing I had seen at "BYOA" the first night, it was gone, and I hadn't even gotten a usable image. This piece, "pointpiece II (constant)" dated 2009, is ink on paper, and roughly 6 by 8 inches, approximately the size of the piece I saw enclosed in plastic and attached to a pillar that Wednesday afternoon. All of Bartlett's art is pure in concept, form and beauty; whether it's been a work on paper or a performance, I've been drawn into each of them even before knowing anything about their context or the artist's purpose.

I could not not go. As soon as I heard that X Initiative was marking the end of its one-year tenancy in the former DIA space on 24th Street with a 24-hour Walter Hopps-inspired event, I was on it. Everyone was invited to bring their own art and install it in the several large Chelsea galleries. They would be open for viewers and participants for 24 consecutive hours.

Of course it was more of a gathering, than a fair, and in spite of the potential for banality, or worse, it differed from events like the hoary, ineluctable, twice-a-year Washington Square art exhibit in the general quality of the art which had been brought through the door (and there were definitely some hot spots), but also in its overall fundamental earnestness and sincerity, its moments of profundity and nuttiness, its odd sweetness, and not least in the fact that, ultimately, it couldn't escape its sad ephemeral reality.

I visited the scene twice, once on Wednesday afternoon, and again just as the event officially ended at eleven the next morning. I would also have been there for the party Wednesday night had I not already committed to attending a Meetup event, "Social Media Art" downtown.

What I did see of the X Initiative's farewell blowout was a rich feast. As soon as I walked in I realized I'd be looking at almost every square inch of the galleries (except for the ceilings, which I think was a safe assumption) to avoid missing something, meaning either the art or the interventions, because while the scale of some of the work installed was fearlessly ambitious, there was much that might have taxed Richard Tuttle's powers of observation.

One cavil: The lighting was tough, even before the sun had entirely set, but that was understandable given the circumstances of this fragile moment

The works described in this entry are just a few of the pieces which pleased the eye, and the camera as well, in the case of those shown below.

Sam Sebren (bunny) used his multiples to line the base of some of the walls. For what you'll probably want to know about the artist, see this discussion.

Cecilia Jurado's “Miss Taxi”, a three-channel video and photography installation, was in the Queens International 4 a year ago; the images and the footage are taken from a beauty pageant held each year in Queens for relatives of taxi workers

Well, maybe "steal" was misleading, but Adam Simon's "Steal This Art" was just one of a number of excellent pieces in the exhibition which were a part of the remarkable Fine Art Adoption Network [FAAN] founded by the artist and commissioned by Art In General.

Ryan Compton's hand-drawn text pieces grabbed me with their non-sequiturs and cut-up syntax; my favorite read:

Go with the
it's not rocket

Peggy Cyphers showed several exquisite acrylic pieces (on Mylar?), and I still can't get their richly-colored voluptuous shapes out of my head.

Felix and Dexter's small "snapshots" of the artists' interactions with art and community were taped to all four sides of a column and seemed to charm everyone who managed to see them

I have no idea

Judith Hoffman's year-long project requires her to paint one image each day from her local paper (it appears to be the Times), "paying homage to On Kawara and the decline of printed news"; the image of this handsome young calf, dated January 6, is titled "Rare Breeds Frozen Time"

Starscream was only one of several artists there whose work could be described as street art, although in the anarchic configuration of this show their placement in the galleries ended up looking at least as conventional, or "inside", as that of any of the other artists.

I saw several of these posters taped about the place when I went by on Thursday. I assumed it was some kind of guerrilla (or pseudo-guerrilla) poster project. Great styling. I went home and Googled "Alex Gulla" and "Alexcalibur" and I learned that the "project" was only about the electronic rock performance inside the space the previous night. I may have been disappointed on two counts (one of them of course that I had missed the party and the chanteur), but I still have my souvenir flier. The black duct tape was a nice touch.

[image of Man Bartlett's drawing from the artist]

just how much could it have hurt?

I know I'm one of the publishers, and so it may not be quite proper for me to sing the praises of the online arts magazine Barry and I introduced late last summer, but I'm going to risk it anyway.

Although so much else of IDIOM is just as good or even better, because of its particular timeliness and its unexpected format I wanted the conversation between some of the publication's writers, "On the passing of J.D. Salinger", which we published yesterday, to get more attention than it might otherwise attract.

So consider this a flag.

The spirited short piece is nothing like the fulsome academic discourse available almost everywhere this week, and you'll feel like you're sitting in the room with the three young participants - even contributing to the conversation. The voices you'll hear are those of Alice Gregory, Editor Stephen Squibb and Jessica Loudis.

While you're at the site, take a look at the latest posting, which is equally timely, "Art and Culture in Haiti after the Quake", by Hong-An Truong, and browse through the still-modest-size archives.

My own two cents about Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" is the thought which came to me almost immediately after hearing about Salinger's death: I don't mean to minimize the importance of what he accomplished back in 1951, but, as a gay boy the year it was written, and a gay young man when I finally read it, "Catcher" never quite resonated with me in the same way it did with others. It seems to have attached itself to the psyche of many of my approximate contemporaries, or at least the straight, male, white, middle to upper class types.

Today I'm no longer gay; I think of myself as totally queer instead, but I can remember what it was like when being gay meant dissemblance, invisibility, powerlessness, desperation and, for "practicing" Catholics, eternal damnation. I'm now more than cool with my orientation, in fact I consider it a strength in almost every way, and I'm definitely no longer totally alone with it. So maybe I should try once again to make Holden Caulfield's acquaintance: His own much-analyzed disconnect looked pretty trifling to me at a time when the the whole world despised my, literally, unspeakable differentness and when I would have been crushed in an instant had I revealed myself.

This last thought can only serve as a footnote, and I don't want to make too much of a purely personal irony, but I can't help noting that, at roughly the same time I began emerging from a closet to which I had been condemned by others, J.D. Salinger shut himself up in one of his own construction. It's his odyssey that still baffles everyone.

[image from the Telegraph via IDIOM]

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