Monday, September 21, 2009


Recently I came across one of the most ridiculous pieces of unintentional art that I've ever seen. I call it "unintentional" because it's not meant to be art. What it is is a memorandum distributed by Clear Channel to it's radio stations shortly after 9/11. The document was a list of songs that were determined to be "lyrically questionable."

Now, really, I don't get my mind blown much these days. I work in the arts. I see a lot of shit, good and bad, and, well, I just don't get surprised by much. But when I stumbled upon this, I have to admit that I was slack jawed with disbelief. It took me a while to digest that this this was for real.

It is that reality that makes it art for me. Unintentional though it may be, this list is a wild, if not at times, miraculously stupid ride into the realm of conceptual art. The thing makes me laugh. Like, I'll be siting on the train and something from the list will pop into my head and I'll just start laughing. I mean, this thing is some mind-bendingly ridiculous stuff. I mean, like, unfathomable, except for the fact that there it is.

From the wikipedia page where I found it: "The list contains 166 songs, including "all songs" by Rage Against the Machine and songs recorded by multiple artists (for example Knockin' on Heaven's Door by Bob Dylan and the same song by Guns N' Roses). In some cases, only certain versions of songs were included on the list—for example, the cover of Smooth Criminal by Alien Ant Farm is on the list despite the fact that the original version, sung by Michael Jackson, is not, while J. Frank Wilson's version of Last Kiss is included but Pearl Jam's cover is not."

Oh-ho my god. Seriously. Seriously. Can you imagine being at the table where these songs were discussed. Oh man I wish I could have a video of the idiots that sat around trying to figure out what constituted "lyrically questionable." And while there's definitely a tone difference between the Alien Ant Farm version and the original, have you heard Pearl Jam's cover? It's pretty faithful. So why would the Wilson version be inappropriate, but not Vedder's?

And clearly there's an unimaginable amount of songs that could be added to this list, but it seems the jokers at Clear Channel were clearly aiming at "popular" (or whatever their concept of popular is) songs rather than all songs that could be deemed questionable. Like, they only banned one Dylan song. Have these guys heard Dylan? Tom Waits, Woody Guthrie and Billie Bragg aren't even on this list but Skeeter Davis is? Really? And they suggest not playing Travelin Band by Creedence, but Bad Moon Rising is ok? You'd seriously rather hear Fogerty sing "I hear the voice of rage and ruin" but you want to avoid him singing "Seven thirty seven comin out of the sky"? What's the difference. Of course there is a staggering major difference in the fact that Travelin Band is about a freaking band that travels from place to place by plane and Bad Moon talks about the end of the freaking world. But Bad Moon is alright indeed.

Speaking of which, why wasn't Bad Moon banned during Katrina for it's "I hear hurricanes ablowing / I know the end is coming soon / I fear rivers over flowing" section? Should we not have been listening to Scorpions Rock You Like a Hurricane? Stormy Weather by the Pixies? (Which btw, is a song that I actually like to put on when a good old midwestern thunderstorm is about to clap.)

The mix of vapidity and irony is fairly staggering and every time I take a look at the list it makes me laugh. There's something new for me every time. Of course, Michael Moore did actually use What a Wonderful World in his doc Fahrenheit 9/11 over the video of the planes crashing. And yes, it is a little sick. But that's the point. And who the hell is Clear Channel to tell us what is questionable in the first place. (Not like this is the first or last thing that Clear Channel will do wrong. Practically everything they do is wrong.) I was likely walking around depressed out of my mind listening to Elliot Smith the whole time right after 9/11.

I could literally write a criticism of every single song on this list and either argue how incredibly dumb it is to call it "questionable" (which was essentially Clear Channel acting as America's Sensitivity Censor,) or argue that of course no one would freaking play it anyway. And if they did, someone would yell "too soon!" and Gilbert Gottfried would swoop down and do so some damage control with some good old American blue comedy, Aristocrats-style.

Also in is-this-really-for-real news, Kerri recently showed me this video for the Art Institute from the 80's. It's one of those so-bad-it's-good things. Check it out for a giggle.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Taking my own advice

I'm going to stop apologizing about the fact that I don't blog daily. Maybe I will some day. Maybe I won't. And I'm not going to think about whether the entry is long or short. It will be what it will be. That said, I'm hoping to write about a slew of new things I've seen recently and I'll be gallery hopping soon, so there will be that too.

In the meantime.

I was talking to Helen Maureen Cooper the other day, rather fortuitously and unexpectedly. She was shooting a little event we hosted for SAIC freshmen to get them oriented with the gallery world here in Chicago. So she and I start chatting and she gives me her card and I suddenly recognize the name (which, was fun for her). She had a great shot on the announcement card a couple of years back announcing the grad show for SAIC. I always loved it and I've been quietly looking at her work ever since.

So we were talking and I was telling her that she ought to check out the work of Michael Ratulowski. Which is advice I myself followed and checked in on Michael's work again.

So let's just cut to it. Michael's work kicks ass. I showed MIchael in our Who Gets What political show last year and our gallery 3 has never looked better, in my opinion. I'm still pretty much kicking myself for not purchasing Optional?.

Optional? won't translate here very well because it's pretty large. It's one of those pieces that once you start peeling away layers - don't let the simplicity fool you - there's a ton of layers - it can go for a while. We showed this prior to the election and if you want to start talking about race, well, lets start talking.

But I was really happy to see Michael's new Anniversary Series. I think you can draw a tangent from his earlier April 29, 1992 piece to the Anniversary line of thinking. April 29 is an On Kawara style work (in fact, it's a direct homage) that does something completely different from Kawara. What Kawara does, i.e. paint the date in white on black (usually - sometimes white on blue or brown, etc), on the actual day of the date, becomes a meditative statement on awareness and living in the moment and proof of life and you can travel down a whole buddhist / existential road there. And I have to admit, that I've liked Kawara's work ever since it was introduced to me by Pat Renick (see earlier entry) my freshman year. But I'd never had the opportunity to see a room full of them until I went to Dia:Beacon where they had one from every year that he'd done them. For me, Kawara's project sort of changed a little and became more satisfying. It's one thing to know that he does a lot of them, but I'm used to seeing just one in a museum or just one in print and they take on a life, since that's what they represent, when they are together. But so you allow the randomness of the project (and concept - and individual date) and allow it to be bigger as a whole rather than forcing some sort of false importance on the particular date. But so, I'm getting there, the importance of the date is the point in Michael's work. But that's the thing. We know 9.11. We may know D-Day or or V-Day or birthdays or whatever may be important to us. But really, I feel like the average person, and maybe now I'm talking about the average white person, or the average person outside of LA, or maybe outside of South-Central or possibly the average non-Sublime fan or whatever, but the average person is just not going to know what April 29, 1992 is all about. So this isn't about teasing you. It's the date of the Rodney King riots. And maybe we should know that.

Michael Ratulowski, April 29, 1992, acrylic on canvas, 30x40, 2006

On Kawara, OCT.23,1989, acrylic on canvas, 26x36, 1989

But so, lets talk about the Anniversary Series. Because like I said, there's a line from April 29, 1992 to there. I had not seen these images until today and they are great. In classic Ratulowski style, if there can be such a thing (stylewise) since Michael is young, these works are funny and possibly sad and maybe deadly serious and maybe, just possibly, social commentary and very likely a little (lot) more than that. They are also scary simple. But I usually love that. The simple stuff. Like, for example, simplicity-wise, the most fun piece at the Olafur Eliasson show was the hanging fan on a wire. So damn simple and yet, pretty great because in its simplicity, it's wide open for interpretation. But so, these are essentially (like the way a fan on a wire is essentially just a fan on a wire and can only be more with your mind and observation) images of Michael pouring out beer from a 40. For those not in the know, which in terms of this blog is possibly only my mother, when a homey dies, you will often pour some beer on the ground in remembrance. I think the Irish do this with whiskey. Whatever. So the gesture is there. The pouring of beer on the ground and the works are titled with dates and length of anniversary, i.e. February 7, 2009, 9th Anniversary. So to start, you know that someone died 9 years ago as of February 7, 2009 and you begin to ask yourself what the context is and what the connection is. I know many of us when presented with this might simile and move on or say we get it or just not ask any questions, but hopefully for those of us who don't know, and I'm not saying everyone won't know, just a lot of people won't know, that you whip out an iPhone or find someone with one and start searching. I recommend a healthy combination of google and wikipedia. So you'll find that February 7, 2000 marked the death of rapper Big Pun. Now, for the record, no, I don't know who that is, and yes, I'm hoping to find more out, but I find it fascinating that this is something that, regardless of actual caring on Michael's part, which I'm guessing is genuine, is remembered and marked and cared about. Also, as side note, currently from the Anniversary Series that are posted on Michael's site as of this blog entry, 3 of 5 are shooting deaths, but Big Pun died of a heart attack and at time of death was reportedly 698 pounds.

Michael Ratulowski, February 7, 2009: 9th Anniversary, 2009

I have little understanding of the music involved in these Anniversary's other than March 9, representing the Notorious B.I.G., which arguably I really don't know that much about either. But I found myself wondering what April 8 would look like if I made it. It would have me in it and I would know what it's about, but I wonder who else would know. And no, this isn't a tease either. That's Kurt Cobain's death. And I can tell you where I was and how confused I felt and how most years I really do remember his life and his passing. Which is all confusing anyway, because Cobain's death is actually listed as the 5th, but he wasn't found until the 8th.

Also in the series is February 10, 2009: 3rd Anniversary, representing the passing of J Dilla who died of a rare blood disease; February 15, 2009: 10th Anniversary, representing Big L, who was shot to death; and April 11, 2009: 3rd Anniversary, representing Proof, who was, like Big L and Biggie, shot to death. There is a solemnity involved in all this. These aren't showy, which, for artwork - at least the successful kind - is bold and strong and dangerous (non-showy-wise). And as far as I can tell, they don't lie. Which I love (when not-lying is a concept). They are all in (seemingly very) different places and with a vision unto themselves, visually speaking. My favorite (also visually speaking) is April 11. Really, I don't want to be laughing at the work - really, I want to be laughing with the work, but that would presume that I belong with the work, which I probably don't, (or that there were anything to laugh at in the first place) which also means I shouldn't be laughing and maybe it's exposing the reality that I laugh as a defense mechanism, but I do think there is something (for me) that is funny about this photo. There's a strange over-seriousness about it and also, unlike the others, includes a car, which I (again probably ignorantly), think of as rather hip-hoppy, basically for color and rim reasons. But you really wouldn't want to be caught laughing in the moment. It would be radically rude. But then, that's just how I feel. Or maybe it wouldn't matter. Like, I wouldn't get pissed if someone laughed at me (I think - or hope) mourning Cobain. I guess I'd just assume they either didn't know about it or didn't connect with it the way I did. Which, I guess is how Michael's work is succeeding - making the connection.

Michael Ratulowski, March 9, 2009: 12th Anniversary, 2009

Michael Ratulowski, April 11, 2009: 3rd Anniversary, 2009

Oh. And I also love the Aphorism Series. Take, for example, Untitled (Aphorism Series #4) and Untitled (Aphorism Series #6). Both are attributed to Dante Terrell Smith. #4 goes like this:

If white boys doing it, well, it's success
When I start doing, well, it's suspect

and #6

The po-po stop him and show no respect
"Is there a problem officer?" Damn straight, it's called race

Michael Ratulowski, Untitled (Aphorism Series #6), inkjet print, 36x48, 2009

These "Aphorisms" are culled from popular hip-hop and rap songs, stripped of sound and presented as white text on a black background. The isolation of the words, both visually and from their original context, creates a new dialogue between the viewer and the artist(s). And so again, in the Aphorism Series, Michael expects you either to know or to do the research and find out the Dante Terrell Smith is Mos Def. As an aside, I was once asked if I could have anyones voice to sing with and I answered Neko Case, which would be odd as it would obviously be a woman's voice and would (I think) appear weird coming from me and also bypassed the question and essentially answered the different question of "Who's voice do you most love to hear singing?" Which either way, I later amended my answer (which might also take care of both questions) to Mos Def. All that being said, I didn't know Mos Def's given name.

I find those two particular aphorisms to be interesting because they are essentially the punch-line to the the joke of "driving while black." We see plenty of that activity in our neighborhood to the point where it's an uncomfortable joke/truth. But it also points to why Obama has certain hills to climb and certain critics to attempt to silence. And what's more, is that it's not really answering anything, it's just pointing. And we're gonna get a lot of that this administration - the pointing out of the obvious with (possibly) nothing getting actually answered (about race, at least.)

If you haven't figured it out by now, I really could go on and on about Michael's work. I pretty much unabashedly love it and I'm proud to have shown it. I'll stop now, but please, by all means, get me started again. He's great.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary

Those of you who know me, know that I don't really spend much time on the question of "what is art?" I find the question boring or pedantic or completely irrelevant to most situations. I'm happy to suggest why a specific piece of so-called art is total crap, but I'm not going to sit around and suggest that it's not art outright.

I'm saying all this because I started this blog to talk about "art." The good and the bad and the economics of it and the reality of artists lives and to maybe give a glimpse into the oft not so glamourous side of the art world. But I never intended to write about movies. Not because they're not art, because they are, (and, as a side note, often a narrative structure helps people engage in a really relevant visual and philosophical discussion when they otherwise would not have,) but because I figured I'd probably be focusing on more "purely visual" experiences. Which, of course, would include tons of incredible films, from Gus Van Sant's amazing Gerry, which has a loose, quiet and close to non existent narrative structure, to something like PT Anderson's There Will Be Blood, among many many many more. Maybe I was thinking I'd write about something more like Nick and Shelia Pye's work. Or William Lamson's Monument Valley Flight Attempt or his series of balloon "Actions." Something that would be hard to call a movie outright. Something that would more likely to be called "video art." Which is an argument maybe we'll have at another time.

But, so, anyway. The other night I watched Dear Zachary: a letter to a son about his father, a documentary film by Kurt Kuenne. From Kurt, about the film: "When my close friend Dr. Andrew Bagby (1973-2001) was murdered by his ex-girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner, I decided to make a film to memorialize him for family and friends. When I learned that Shirley Turner was pregnant with Andrew's son, whom she later named Zachary, my project took on a whole new meaning. My mission became to make this film for Zachary, as a letter from all of Andrew's loved ones to him, which he could one day view and get to know his father."

The emotional impact of this film, I am pretty sure, will always haunt me. By the end of the film, I (as a self-proclaimed buddhist leaning atheist) found myself praying for spiritual peace for the entire Bagby family. The suffering that Andrew's parents have survived is incredible. I won't say unimaginable, because there it is. There they are. They continue. And the reality is that even though this is a story of barely bearable sadness, the film has, at its core, a giant heart. It is undeniable - the strength and love that the Bagby's have lived with and embody. They are models of what we can endure and why humanity is important.

Again, Kurt's words; "The most compelling argument I could make was to tell this story from the trenches. To tell it the way it happened to me, the way it happened to Andrew's hundreds of friends, his family and, most of all, to show the experience his parents went through during this travesty-laden miscarriage of justice. Murders are not news items. They are not statistics. They are gut wrenching experiences that rip apart the fabric of lives and destroy reasons for living, creating a ripple effect that damages thousands of lives and leaves a chilling absence where there once was warmth and love. It is my hope that this film puts people right inside that experience and that no one will be able to come away from it unchanged."

I honestly don't know how you could walk away from this experience the same. You will sob uncontrollably. It will hurt. This thing makes Dancer in the Dark and Requiem for a Dream look like Bambi. That being said, everyone should see this film. It is definitively R rated, if nothing else, simply because of subject material, but it is something that I think definitely hit me hard now that I'm of a particular age. Not that a person of 17 wouldn't get this or sob uncontrollably, it's just that life experience, I think, plays a role in terms of how deeply one can really grasp the consequences of this story. And it hit me hard. And it will hurt the soul of any parent.

I can't think of many movies, or any documentaries, that had my heart pounding like this movie did. I remember crying a lot at Fahrenheit 9/11. I still haven't tried watching Paul Greengrass' United 93. But Dear Zachary is really something else altogether. The narration by Kurt is pitch perfect in its almost-forced-to-be-read-off-the-page-quickly style. There is an expedience, a desire to tell you the story, to catch you up. And there is one devastating point (a point that as I recall now brings tears to my eyes with its poignancy and pain) that as Kurt reads, his voice cracks and you will feel his loss. It is powerful. And frankly, it's a brilliant editing choice. I know it sounds crass to suggest that Kurt's editing skills should be praised while talking about murder, but it is a critical reason that this story is so compelling.

I urge you to add this to your queue or find it at a local store and rent it. Or for that matter, just buy it, as "proceeds from this film will be split between Andrew's two key memorial funds: the Dr. Andrew Bagby Scholarship in Family Medicine at Latrobe Area Hospital in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and the Dr. Andrew Bagby and son Zachary Bursary at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Both funds are intended to support and encourage physicians who are pursuing Andrew's calling of family medicine. [Kurt] will also provide copies of this movie to the funds' recipients in perpetuity, so that they can learn about the person who is paying for their education."

Check out the trailer here. You'll be blown away when, as you start the film, you will realize that much of the trailer is encapsulated in the first several minutes of the film, so that as you get deeper into the story, you become more involved with each person and their connections to this tragic series of events.

There is no doubt that this film is important and great art.

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne and Dr. Andrew Bagby, April 1981

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Insane Shocking Beauty

I did intend to write today. Really.

Much of the day was spent searching for a sketch book with a story that I started back in 2007 or 2008. I wanted to finally wrap that thing up. I felt like I had it in me.

Well, it was nearly thoroughly beat out of me after several hours of scouring sketchbooks all around my home. Not one of them revealed the mystery story. After giving up several times, it was found in an obscure pile of magazines and info from the last Whitney Biennial.

I'll avoid the nuances of the story here. As with much of this blog, if you want the whole story you might have to buy me a beer. I'm a cheap date.

It was all worth the effort, though. Case in point - about the sketch book, not me being cheap - when I turned to a random page searching for the story I stumbled on the fact that I scribbled the following words: "The world is full of insane shocking beauty. Typically all you have to do is be aware."

That's a good concept.

An example of that concept would be found in the work of Man Bartlett. He recently had a one day solo show at the now shuttered Flatfile Galleries here in Chicago. I've thought hard about the statement I'm about to make, but, after deliberation, have decided that it's true: Man's show was the single best usage of that gallery space ever. I say that with some humility considering the fact that I assisted, curated and directed that space over the course of nearly six years and I had nothing to do with Man's show. The really great thing, though, is that no one had anything to do with Man's show except Man. Well, I mean, once Man was done, you had everything to do with it, but concept wise, it was an exciting pure glimpse into a very creative soul.

I was lucky enough to see it just after installation was finished. Man, with his hat tipped just so, was shooting images (included in this post) and it was just us. Among the larger spaces in Chicago, Man's work occupied every square inch with it's breath. It was, of course, sharply minimal and nearly empty in terms of visual information, but trust me, it was full. That's part of what made the experience so valuable for me. As a curator, I'm not sure if I'd have the balls to allow that much room for work to sit. As I saw it finished, though, it was an unmitigated success.

Upon entrance, you were immediately stuck by the lightness in the air. Earth, a small mound of dirt with a white marble atop, drew your eyes down. From it, I would later learn, emanated the smell of white spruce oil, which filled the gallery with an unusually pleasant outdoor note.

From there your eyes would raise to transmission III, a work on canvas that held the entire long wall of the gallery. Sixty feet of wall this thing commanded. It was a brave and wise choice. One I'm nearly sure I never would have made, but hope to have learned from.

The project room contained the installation piece The Seven Transmissions. Again, I was confronted with a choice that would have kept me up at night second guessing. Seven bowls of water, each with a small orb of glass weighting down gold leaf - on the floor. The thing is - well - I used to hate those damn floors. Painted plywood. Dirty. That particular room torn to shreds by Wafaa's work years earlier. Oh, how I hated those things. Bouncy. Uneven. Yet. Here were these unassuming works. On the floor. Inviting you down. Not pushing you away. The treat, of course, came with the middle bowl. Shimmering on the surface and wafting up was the smell of rose oil. Honestly, and I can't tell you why, so satisfying as to nearly bring me to tears.

The photographer in me fell for his adorable, approchably-sized-but-placed-sort-of-off-limits Nile Relief. It was mounted on the brick behind the desk. With it's hot spot light, though, it cut quite the figure. It makes me love this world. Quite a statement considering some of the nihilistic existentialist stuff I've been ranting lately.

There is no doubt for me. Man is one of the greatest artists I know. I realize that people are going to look at some of this and say, "What art? Where is it? I don't see it." I get that. I think Man gets it. And he's ok with that. And I'm ok with that.

Man stands in no ones shadow. He creates his own light.

Installation of Man Bartlett's work at Flatfile Galleries

transmission III (coronation), oil stick and graphite on canvas, 2008 & Earth, dirt, two marbles, gold leaf, sage, white spruce oil, 2009

The Seven Transmissions, water, glass, gold leaf, rose oil, 2008-09

Nile Relief, photo mounted on panel, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009


There's a bunch of openings tomorrow in River North. Brave the cold and see openings at Bae, Edelman, Cooper, Glimer, Gruen, Habatat, KH, Perimeter, Roche and Zolla / Lieberman.

Cathy will be showing Achim Lippoth, a German photographer known for his striking pictures of children. When I stumbled upon his Together #12, I was struck with what Lawrence Weschler calls convergence. It totally reminded me of Jill Greenberg's photograph of adolescent boys play fighting. There's something wild to me about the fact that these two shots exist the way the do. They could be the same boys, just years apart. There must be something larger behind the composition, something revealing something innate about us.

I was possibly more struck by the fact that I couldn't find Jill's images of adolescents fighting anywhere. I mean, like, anywhere. I went over 50 pages deep in google images. They have been removed from her official site and are nowhere to be found. Very odd. I have a screen shot of one from a proposal I did for the Elmhurst Art Museum a while back. I'll really know if someone is reading this thing if I eventually get a removal or desist request from Jill or her representatives. So, Jill's image will remain untitled and unlabeled here because I have no place to verify that info.

I'm assuming they've been removed in anticipation of Clamp Art's show Kids Behaving Badly (which I remember being the title of Greenberg's series, but I could be wrong) which opens on the 19th in NY. Check if out if you're there. Should be an outstanding show with the likes of Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and David Armstrong among others.

Achim Lippoth, Together #12, 2004

Jill Greenberg, from (possibly) Kids Behaving Badly series

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chi Votla

The Armory and Volta were last week. There are still people arguing here in Chicago about the tone of Volta seeing as it has space in NY and Basel, but when (essentially) the same show comes to Chicago, it's called NEXT. There's arguments to be made for both sides (which if you want to get into you'll need to have a beer with me), but Volta NY currently has three Chicago galleries represented.

It is by no means a bad representation, quite the contrary, but it does raise it's suspicions. Kavi's the founder, and far be it for me to claim that he shouldn't be here considering that David does show in his own gallery, but, David leaves that decision to a Curator (yours truly), yes, one that he pays, but one which I think we could all argue does his best to stay unbiased and ethical. Then you've got Andrew Rafacz, whose gallery I've loved since it was BucketRider, and who I think is an amazing curator and who represents one of my favorite artists, Cody Hudson, but who also pays rent to Kavi. And then there's Walsh, who has great programming for a niche market, but who is within steps of Kavi's (and Andrew's) space. It just makes me wonder if Kavi visits outside the realm of where he parks his car in the morning, but I suppose I'd be making the same argument if Walsh was swapped with Meloche, who'd easily be just as deserving of a spot, and for all I know, was offered and declined. Meh. Should have been a really good representation anyway.

Volta's programming requires that there only be one artist in the booth, which is a refreshing change and a great idea. It tends to focus the viewer while at the same time wearing them out less. Walsh is focusing on one of my very favorite Chicago artists, Von Kommanivanh. Von's work is spoken in terms of Basquiat all the time. Now, I love Basquiat, really, and Von's work does owe some of its postmodern strokes to his work, even dropping in the tell-tale crown in Crooked Characters. There's even tiny little crowns in America in Gray, but which owes a larger debt to Klimt. Von's work is far too complicated to distill it to any similes though. It is completely unto itself and remains some of the most powerful work I've had the pleasure to stand for a very long time in front of. When Flatfile was above Walsh, I would go down and sit on the floor in Julie's space and just stare at Von's work. Its simultaneously aggressive, scrappy, thoughtful and delicate. It's this sense of effective dichotomy that lends great strength to Von's canvas'.

Von Kommanivanh, Crooked Characters, mixed media on canvas, 8' x 10', 2005

Von Kommanivanh, America in Gray, mixed media on canvas, 2005, 102.5" x 106.5"

Von Kommanivanh, Reform Nuisance, oil on canvas, 2003, 70.5" x 59"

Von Kommanivanh, This is Rhythm, mixed media on canvas, 2005, 119.5" x 146"

Von Kommanivanh, Untitled, mixed media on canvas, 2005, 81" x 83"

Rafacz is showing Jason Lazarus. One of Jason's prints, Self portrait as an artist burning down the Museum of Contemporary Art, has a dear place in my heart. I wish I had come up with it. But that's what Jason does. He shoots in a deceptively simple manner with striking results. We all should be able to take the shots that he's got, but we're never aware that way or never have a camera handy or, frankly, aren't that good of photographers. His shot of the lights at the Obama rally is something that is extremely hard to capture even though it looks like it's virtually nothing. Check out his website for that shot - it won't really look that good reproduced here. I hope that Andrew does well with Jason, if for nothing else, so that he can do a booth again with Cody Hudson. I'm sure I'll mention it again and again, but Cody made the very first piece of art that I offered to buy without knowing what the price was. Unfortunately it was already sold, and what later killed me is that it sold for, like, $200 or $400 or something ridiculous. Next time I'll get a preview.

Jason Lazarus, Self portrait as an artist burning down the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago, IL), 2004

Jason Lazarus, Self portrait as an artist making something contemporary, 2004

Jason Lazarus, Wall of Fire, Labor Day, 2006 (Cleveland, OH), 2006

Kavi, whose gallery is a mystery to me, will be showing Angelina Gualdoni. I'm not familiar with Gualdoni's work, but it looks really nice. Kavi's programming is, for me, very hit or miss, but I've heard it argued that my emotional response to the shows reveals the strength of the art. I'm not convinced that just because I hated Sterling Ruby's Inscribed Monolith (EPA-Alabaster) that it was any more effective because of my emotion. I'm pretty sure it just sucked. And, yes, Jeff Carter, Hans Hemmert and, yes, I'll say it, even Ciaran Murphy kind of bug me most of the time. But then he shows Melanie Schiff (last year's Volta booth) and my hatred melts away, because I pretty much love Melanie's work. If you couldn't check out Angelina's work at Volta, just show up at Kavi's sometime between March 27 and May 9 of this year to see her works installed.

Angelina Gualdoni, Given Ground, We Build it Everyday, acrylic and oil on canvas, 42 x 36, 2009

Angelina Gualdoni, Letter from the Generations, acrylic and oil on canvas, 48 x 72, 2006

Angelina Gualdoni, Blush, acrylic and oil on canvas, 60 x 48, 2008

Friday, March 6, 2009

So it's not like it is news to that many people anymore, but Flatfile is closing. It's strange to type that. Flatfile is closing.

I can't really pinpoint my emotions about it. It's like some sort of dull sadness. Like how you'd feel if you asked how someone's day was going and they said, like, their dog died last week, and you'd feel legitimately sad for that person, but you, like, don't know that person or their dog, so, within a minute or two, you just go back to what you were doing. Except in this equation I guess I know the person. And the dog. I don't know.

You know how you sometimes get your heart broken, but then you have to man up and be like, well, if I got my heart broken, then the other person probably go their heart broken, just maybe not the same way or at the same time or in the same place. Maybe. I don't know.

I guess whatever it's like, it is certainly like the largest square foot gallery closing in Chicago. Whatever my emotional ambivalence, it seems like a loss. Rhona was overheard saying, not about Flatfile, but about all the galleries that have been closing in general, that it's just the nature of the business. When we went down to talk to Ginny about the cover of Chicago Gallery News, she showed us brochures from 1990 and I didn't recognize, like, 2/3 of the galleries listed. Galleries come and go and the ones that stay, well, they are the ones that stay.

It will be interesting to see where all the artists shake out. When Fassbender closed, Flatfile and Alfedena took on a lot of the programing. Now that both those galleries are closed, along with countless others, it will be a while before a significant amount of legitimately great artists get substantial shows in Chicago. Here's to hoping some (or all) get some great shows in New York in the meantime.
Michiko Itatani, Visitors, 2005, Oil on Canvas, 72x84

Thursday, March 5, 2009

LeBourgeois at Packer

A couple of weeks back I went gallery hopping and stopped by Aron Packer's opening. In the lower space of his gallery, or "The Lab," he has some great stuff, including works by Louise LeBourgeois. Louise has shown well in Chicago at galleries like Lyonswier, Gescheidle, Alfedena, Printworks, and now Packer.

Her work is simply installed and there's something like four paintings on the wall of what most would call, small size (12x12.) They were a highlight of the evening, but if I'm honest about it, one in particular left a deep impression on me. It is a piece titled Still Water. So I went about getting an image of it a few days ago and was thoroughly confused when I tracked it down on Louise's website and it was . . . well, it was upside down. And I thought, well that's a funny mistake. Except of course, it wasn't a mistake, because I also found it on her flickr account and there were several comments on it. I said to myself that there was no way the artist posted it in two different places, upside down, with comments.

So yesterday I went back to Packer and went straight down to the Lab and there was the piece, just like it was on Louise's website. Well, now I thought maybe I was loosing it, so I went up and asked Aron if it had always been like that. Long story short, it had been placed upside down at Aron's the night of the opening.

But this puts me in a weird spot as someone who should be part of the art intelligentsia (thought I'd never claim to be.) I'm sitting here, as a curator, thinking that the piece is actually significantly better upside down. It takes on a whole new abstract level. It becomes less straight forward and more dream like. I actually laughed when I first saw it because I thought it was witty and smart and showing me something I hadn't thought of. Essentially it's a simple landscape of three evergreen type trees in a field near the waters edge and the reflection of that scene in the water. The composition is set up in a sort of 1/3 or maybe even 1/4 manner with the physical reality in the upper 1/4 and the reflection in the bottom 3/4. The reflection is slightly blurred as if a hush of wind has disturbed the surface without making any waves or ripples.

But, if you flip the piece 180, the nature of the whole thing changes drastically, especially when you consider the title. You start with the visual of the upper 3/4 of the piece that, rather than looking hushed, looks disturbed. It's not quite like haze through heat. It's more like what you feel like you'd see seconds before a blackout. Like if you fainted in a field, this is what you'd see. Except that the reflection in the water is crystal clear. What was the land and sky is now the reflection in water, but the reality is blurred and the reflection is actually clearer. It was a little rabbit hole moment for me and I thought it was charming and funny and smart in terms of an artistic decision.

But of course, it was neither a decision nor an intention of the artist. And evidently she said, like, hey Aron, that's upside down. I hate to admit that I had such an emotional resonance to the work when that was not the intention. I know how hard artists work toward an idea and Louise's work exhibits an exceptional hand. But I also know that once you make it and show it and it's out there, then it's out there and people see what they think they see, not always what's there. If I bought it, it would definitely hang the way I first saw it - sorry, Louise.

Louise LeBourgeois, Still Water, oil on panel, 2009, 12x12

Louise LeBourgeois, Still Water, oil on panel, 2009, 12x12 (upside down)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A place to be from

So, obviously most of what I write here will relate to the goings-on in Chicago. But occasionally I'll travel around to NY or Miami or wherever and I'm sure I'll be finding artwork there too. So while I probably won't get around to seeing it, if you have the means then you must see the Tara Donovan exhibit at the CAC in Cincinnati.

From the CAC's website: "This exhibition is the first major museum survey of the American sculptor Tara Donovan. With sensitivity to texture, volume and the inherent physical properties of materials, Donovan transforms large quantities of mass-produced items [such as] toothpicks, adhesive tape, straws, buttons, pins, plastic cups and Mylar, into stunning sculptural objects and installations." And, "Her methodology of building sculpture through accumulation and meticulous assembly of quantities and amounts of identical items offers the viewer the experience of complexity and infinity."

Tara Donovan, Untitled, plastic cups

We are proud, at David Weinberg Gallery, to have been introduced to Tara through Ren Weschler and were overjoyed at the opportunity to show her work in our space. She is a humble and approachable young woman with talent like a halo. She walks around and sees things differently than you and I and makes sure we rethink the simple ideas of mass and structure. Often interested in objects with no inherent color, i.e.. clear or white, Donovan likes to explore the latent color of that object en masse. Where several million clear straws become a yellow beehive. Where millions of near-clear plastic cups become icebergs. Where reflective mylar tape becomes a kaleidoscope. She's great. Don't miss it if you have the chance to see it.

Tara Donovan, Untitled, toothpicks

Tara Donovan, Untitled, styrofoam cups

The CAC has an amazing history. When I was in Cincinnati, it was always a great space to see artwork. Thoughtfully curated and expertly managed, it was by far the best space to see contemporary works - even if it was above a Walgreens in an ugly box building in Downtown Cincy. It is now an incredible piece of architecture designed by Zaha Hadid as well as one of the premier houses of art in America.

Back in 1990, the curator Dennis Barrie was thrown in jail for obscenity charges for displaying the works of Robert Mapplethorpe. He was, thankfully, found not guilty of those charges and the acquittal of the Mapplethorpe defendants was a major reaffirmation of First Amendment freedom of speech. And Kudos to my mother for taking me (all of age 11) and my sister to see the show and talk to us in an open manner about what the artwork was and what it was supposed to do or say.

Probably the one show I wish I could have seen and didn't get to at the old CAC was Pat Renick's 2068 series. It was a series of fiberglass boat / coffin structures that were reflections on states of consciousness during an episode of her hospitalization in the 1950's. Pat had been given a prescription for what is essentially speed and because of the ingestion of that prescribed drug (which was intended for weight-loss) Pat began to exhibit symptoms that resembled schizophrenia. She was hospitalized unnecessarily and given shock treatment for her "disorder." Her case number was 2068. After more than a year of these painful and needless "treatments" she was finally properly diagnosed and released.

These haunting figures, which are exhibited in an arch, become less human as you progress across the curve of the installation and grow more and more mechanical and suffocating in nature. I have only ever seen photographs of the installation, but let me tell you, when Pat was around to tell her story, everyone listed with their hearts and minds as open as they could manage and you got a vivid sense of what she was trying to say. Remarkable stuff. She'll be loved forever by innumerable beautiful souls.

Pat Renick, from installation of 2068

Friday, February 27, 2009

walk the walk

Google maps is fun, right? Well, one day, not too long ago, I was trying to find my way to an artist's studio and I noticed that google maps offers driving directions, public transportation directions and walking direrctions. Now, I'd never noticed the walking directions and I had no intention of walking the however-many-miles it would have been to walk, but I clicked anyway. And instantly I had walking directions.

Well, far be it for me to stop there, so I said to myself, I wonder how far this thing will tell me to walk if I ask it. So I typed in "destination a" as Los Angeles and "destination b" as New York City and, click, instantly I was fed 795 distinct directions for walking from LA to NY. Suffice it to say, I was a little surprised by the quickness and the scale of the answer. There were directions for walking 16 feet before the next direction. It took you through Bagdad, Arizona. Yes, my spelling is correct and yes, there is a Bagdad, Arizona. It even takes you on Yellow Brick Road. It's in Pennsylvania. The amount of data made me more and more curious about the whole thing, walking from one side of our country to another, and so I started thinking of projects to do inspired by it.

But damn it if someone hasn't already done it. As in, walked it!

From his website: "In January of 2002 Aaron Huey and his dog Cosmo walked from Encinitas, CA to Coney Island, NY. The journey, which totaled 3,349 miles, took 154 days. There was no press, no cell phone, and no support team. Just the great unknown."

Now don't get me wrong. I wasn't ever planning on walking it. I was thinking of more, like, works on paper about it. But Huey is not like the rest of us. Not only has he walked across America, but he has also documented poppy eradication in Nangarhar Province, East of Jalalabad and also outside Tarin Kowt, in Oruzgan Province. He has shot in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He has photographed high in the mountains of the Georgian Republic, between the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Oh yeah, and he hitchhiked across Siberia.

I am extremely grateful that people like Huey exist. He lets us in on things that most of us can only abstractly think about. He goes out and does them. Both insane and great.

from his walk across America, self-portrait

from his walk across America, self-portrait with Cosmo

from the front lines of the Afghanistan drug war

from Pakistan after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

from the Los Angeles fires in late 2008

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On one of my more meandering type strolls through the internet (from facebook to Rachel Bank to Helsinki Biennale to Erin Jane Nelson) I came upon the works of a young student in New York. Nelson's blog is odd and charming in that sort of very young way that seems not to have particular thoughts about ego. It just exists in that nice way that things can just be done quietly.

While going through her images I came across several series that I liked but the ones that struck me were her photographs of rainbows, or more particularly, refracted light through glass, on the faces of what I assume are friends or close acquaintances. They have a lightness and looseness that suggests a keen awareness of the moment. They seem to be composed entirely of the moment, like, 'hey, wait a minute, there's a rainbow on your face. Let me take a picture of that.' You can almost hear the silence in One Way I Could Never Touch You - which I desperately hope is the title of the work (it is at least the title of the jpg.) But just as you can feel that calm during the instant click, you can almost imagine the young girl turning towards you, eyes fluttering open and giggling back into whatever everyday conversation she was having.

Erin Jane Nelson, One Way I Could Never Touch You

It is extremely hazardous to shoot your friends as a photographer, because you often fall into one of two camps. One, you're not as unique and special as you think and neither are your friends, which makes for dull and empty pictures, or, two, you end up exposing some sort of shallow self reflection in the vein of early Tillmans work or Elizabeth Peyton's recent foray into photography. Nelson's thankfully skirt both these pitfalls, and in the end, feel honest and not amateur.

Erin Jane Nelson, from continuing (I hope) series of photographs of "Valerie"

They reminded me of Tracey Baran's work. I first came across Baran's Suck and Blow image a long time ago. In doing some research on it, I feel like I must have picked up something from the MoCP back in 2002 when I was interning at flatfile. Karen Irvine, Associate Curator at MoCP said of Baran's work, that she "creates visual journals, using color photography to record and refine her experiences into images that reference fundamental themes such as love, death, and regeneration. Rarely preconceiving her pictures, Baran works in an intuitive manner, casting her photographer’s eye on the world until something sticks."

Tracey Baran, Suck and Blow, 2002

Her images are at once beautiful and sad. They feel like when you can't remember the details of a dream but you can remember the emotional content. You feel like you have lost something, but the visual exchange gives you something back. Its rare than an image will stick so hard in my head but that I can't hold onto the information. The image was seared into my mind the second I saw it, but I was too involved with other things to really pay attention. I never saw the show at the museum. I remembered the image and had thought about it often until last year's Volta fair where a gallery from Berlin was highlighting her works. I was very excited to see someone commit to her creations that way.

So I was very sad to find out today that on November 11, 2008 Baran passed away at the age of 33 due to complications from seizures. I felt like I was just rediscovering her works and now the feel lost again. She will be missed.

Tracey Baran, I Miss You Already, 2004

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Conger at Boyd

Hey Kids.

I know. You're thinking, hey, why all the doom and gloom over the economy, Aaron? And you're right.

So today I'm going to highlight Roy Boyd. Roy exemplifies how I hope to do business and he's the very definition of honesty. I really love him. I walked over to his gallery the other day to do some brain-picking and he said, "It's been a while, hasn't it."

It had been and I'm going to do my best to remedy that situation. He is one of the most valuable piece of the Chicago art puzzle and I'm going to make it a real habit of walking through his doors on a regular basis.

Right now he's got William Conger up. Will is a guy who's been around for a while. In fact the Cultural Center has a congruent show of his that spans 50 years of his career. Roy's numbers are pretty impressive as well, having represented Will for 25 years. And oh, my, the red dots. They make me happy. They prove that people are buying. That's what I like to see.

Conger's works are not the kind of abstraction that beat you over the head. In fact, I've seen people walk far too fast by them, thinking they've managed to deconstruct them in stride. They are unassuming, but there's a lot of thought put towards those marks. There are large sections of skillfully blended values buttressing sharp curving lines that look like negative-space flowers or modern stained glass. There are works that feel like you mixed Calder with Mondrian and threw some mathematics at it. They are fun. And that's nice. Easy on the eyes.

My advise. Go to Roy Boyd every chance you get. Make chances. And say hi to Roy.

Cuba, oil on canvas, 60x60, 2008

Bandit, oil on canvas, 60x60, 2008

Little Clara, oil on wood, 16.75x12.75, 2008

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's bad but the art is still good

I know people. Bad news just gets worse with the economy. The dow is down. The S&P may crash. Capitalism isn't making much sense, if it ever did. People getting bailed out and yet things get worse. A stimulus package signed, but its still all partisan and no relief.

And here I am, in my little corner of the internet telling you to buy art. Well, no, maybe not you, but some of you. Listen, galleries are closing. We read today in an article by Alan Artner that quoted no less an authority than Catherine Edelman that even more closings are to be expected. It's bad.

Bartlow, Adams Fine Art, Trowbridge, Gescheidle, Navta Schulz, 50/50, 40,000, Garden Fresh, Rowland Contemporary, Wendy Cooper, Lisa Boyle, Skestos, Caro d'Offay, Alfedena, Belloc Lowndes, Kraft Lieberman . . . . The list goes on. All of these galleries have closed their doors in Chicago and most, if not all, are not expected to return. It's a huge loss. And there will be more.

Galleries need the support of collectors. And while some major collectors are suffering, in very real ways, monetarily speaking, others are not. Some are still getting their bonuses in good paying jobs. Some are going to have a down year or two, but still make quite a lot. Quite enough to buy art. And Chicago galleries need that support.

Well, this friday you have the chance to get out there and see some work, and if you have the means, to buy it. I know I'm not the only one saying this. Paul Klein says it all the time. Get out there.

Both Aron Packer and Flatfile will have openings and you'll be able to find me at both throughout the evening.

Flatfile will do what Flatfile does best. That is; show way way too many artists at once. But that's what you do with a massive space. And I'll admit, I'm curious to see Shawn Stucky's work and Jennifer Mannebach's new work. I hope Carrie Iverson's work is stuff I haven't seen.

But easily, I'm most excited to see Stephanie Dean's new series, Modern Groceries. Aside from being really funny, which is hard to do, these things are strikingly georgeous. Dean has always had a way with light, but much of her work prior to this series relied on her skilled sense of the moment. One of my all-time favorite images that anyone has ever taken is her Man Asleep, Beside the Chicago River, Afternoon.

A piece like this exmplifies that click - that awareness and ability to see in the moment and have utter confidence in your ability to capture it. She's a great photographer. And it comes through in a very different way in the new works. Much quieter than her previous bodies, the quality of light is astonishing. I really can't wait to see them in person. I doubt they'll get the space they deserve, but they'll be seen. And aside from that, the only other thing left to do is buy.

The Cheese Plate, With Beer, 2008

Breakfast, 2 for $3, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'll buy that

So if you scroll down, you'll find that I'm often a well intentioned idiot. You'll see that the last update was well over a year ago and that nothing has been done since (despite the promise in the first entry.)

But, well, darn it if Facebook hasn't got me excited about talking to people who might actually care about art. This blog, of course, by no means, will do anything like what Bad at Sports is doing or even the newly expanded and eminently readable Newcity blog. I'm just gonna talk to you kids openly and honestly about artwork.

And darn it all, if what I was going to write about was essentially preempted by the Times over the weekend. Funny though, as I agree with some of this article and sharply disagree with other parts of it. My whole contention was that we do need voices out there, of critical means, that urge buyers on. Many critics I have spoken with over the years seem to wish to distance themselves from sales with the argument that it ensures ethical independence. The Times suggests (not positively) that the archetype of the critic who influences (or creates) sales would be someone like Greenberg. And that reflection may be arguably accurate, but Greenberg meant it that way. Ethics aside, he actively manipulated careers as he saw fit. It wasn't always insight, but sometimes just influence.

I'd argue we need more like critics like Lippard. Champions of the art they like, but essentially letting galleries and artists do what they do. Infusing aesthetic arguments in ways that suggest personal views of interpretation, not some didactic statement of presumed higher truth (or self aggrandizement.) We need critics with the intelligence to honor the fact that the economics of art are real. More real than they many wish to acknowledge. The parable of the starving artist is one we learn early, but scoff off as not part of our personal narrative as we grow older.

Well I'm here to tell you that you need to buy art. How about this; buy art if you have the means. I'll allow for that distinction, as I know first hand about not having enough to buy the pieces I'd love to buy. No less an important thing than our culture relies on the production of fine art. It's not like I fool myself into an argument that all good things come from art, but I do know that all good things are connected to art. The success of our scientific endeavors, the relevance of our politics, our understanding of spirituality, love and humanity are all expanded buy the presence of and support of creative art.

I know people. Times are rough. I know. I've lost money this year too. I know. We need to find a way to help our homeless and our hungry. I know. We need to better understand mental illness and our jail system. I know. We need to fix our economy and become more responsible individuals and members of society. I know. The list goes on. I also know that our american artists need us. They need us to buy their art. They need our support.

Here's what would happen if I walked out of our gallery with a wad of cash and didn't go more than a couple of blocks.

Kelli Connell, The Valley, 2006 at Edelman

Ben Butler, Furrow, red and yellow cedar, 44x74x7 at Zg

Barbara Cooper, Peel, wood veneer, glue, 44 x 56 x 12 2008 the now defunct Alfedena

Paul D'Amato, Girl In Rain 1991, Archival inkjet print, 38x46 at Daiter

Tony Fitzpatrick, K, 2000. Color etching. Edition of 50, Plate: 8" x 6". Sheet: 13" x 11" at Printworks

Caleb O'Connor, Focus, oil on linen, 84 x 68 at Ann Nathan

Dan Devening, Baggy Luxe, Oil on Canvas, 68x 48, 2001 at Roy Boyd

Anthony Sorce, The Sirens, Acrylic/Dry Pigment/Gel on Board
20.75 x 16.75 framed, 2005 at Roy Boyd

David Lozano, Interior #6, 2006,Acrylic, resin, sequins, and glue on canvas
47 x 47 at Zolla Lieberman

Constanza Piaggio, Suicide, 2006, Lambda Print
73 x 48 at Scheider

Candida Hoffer, Théâtre royal de la Monnaie at Bowman