27 March 2013

The Aristocrats

I love to laugh, but I'd never think of trying my hand at comedy. I love a good story, but I've never taken any serious teeth-cutting plunge into writing fiction of my own. Like cooking Ethiopian eats, some things are best left to experts (right?). Which was probably why I buried the joke (such as it was) behind this recent post in the closing portion of the the thing. Which apparently confused some readers into thinking it was actually some sort of awkward confessional on my part. For the record: One part of it was loosely based on something that happened to me many years ago. But very loosely.

I suppose I might've started a tag that've flagged the post with something like "Weak Attempt at Humor," or "A Sarcastic Yarn," But I figured the old standby "Bullshit" would be enough. So much for breaking format, eh? I suppose the fact that some (mis)took it as autobiography means that I either did my intended job a little too well, or did it very poorly. Or perhaps both. Ah well, so be it.

Vexing Symmetries, Part One

I: The Artist in Her Studio

This first photo of the artist in her studio is the most widely known and circulated. That, mostly owing to the fact that it was used as the cover image on an album by a notable indie-rock outfit not too many years ago, an album that subsequently wound up on a number of music critics' year-end lists. Perhaps a few people who bought the album already knew the image, knew what – or who – it depicted, were familiar with its original context. That context being that it’s a picture of the American artist Lee Bontecou working in her studio loft in lower Manhattan, as taken by photographer Ugo Mulas in 1963. The artist's back is to the camera, and she stands in almost total silhouette. One can discern the welder’s mask tipped back on her head, and – in the arm that hangs slack by her side – a blowtorch, both of which obviously were instrumental in making the large, strange, surreally totemic constructions we see propped up along the walls of her workspace.

The image has an almost iconic quality about it; which is appropriate, since it captured a leading American artist at the height of her career. Which is also ironic, seeing how – not too many years later – the same artist would slip from the public eye, and eventually, mostly (for a couple of decades, at least) from public memory, as well.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

II: A Disappearance

What had happened to Lee Bontecou? That was the question for many years (nay, decades) among some of the art-minded folk who knew or remembered anything about her work. If you lived someplace that a museum that housed one of her works, she was never far from memory – mainly because the work, once seen, had a tendency to permanently lodge itself in a person's memory. Occasionally some art magazine or publication might reproduce a photo of one of her pieces, usually giving it and the artist a passing acknowledgement in the course of some broader context. And all the works attributed to Bontecou dated from a specific period – a narrow window that fell in the first half of the 1960s. Beyond that, the trail seemed to go dead. Such remarkably unique and uncanny work, the opinion had it, whatever because of the artist?

The rumor had it that she'd walked away from the art world for some reason or another – had deliberately "dropped out," or merely drifted off. Not much of anyone seemed to know the story as to why. This was the case throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s. This finally changed in the years leading up to the approach of the new millennium, mainly sparked – with a great deal of help from feminist art-history scholars – by a renewed interest in Bontecou's work.

But in that intervening stretch of some two decades or more, Bontecou remained a mystery. For instance: In the mid 1990s, in the course of my graduate studies, I took a course under the art critic Jerry Saltz, one part of which involved a trip to New York and extensive walking tour of the various gallery districts and museums as they were trotting out their wares for the autumn opening season. At one point we wound up at the Leo Castelli gallery. Along one wall of the place, there was a large photomontage of vintage black-and-white images, displaying what was effectively Leo Castelli's "greatest hits" – a panorama of many of the important, zeitgeist-defining artists that Castelli had represented over the years. The thing prompted a quick round of Name That Artist as we surveyed the wall-length spread.

"It's like a Who's Who of all the heavy hitters of an era," Jerry said, pointing at portraits that splayed the length of the wall. "There's Johns. And Rauschenberg. Frank Stella. And there's Warhol, of course. And I'm not sure who this guy is...," pointing toward one figure.
"James Rosenquist," I offered.
Several more names are ticked off the list. "And who's this?" Out of the array of nearly twenty artists, he was pointing to a image that was peripherally tucked in among the lot, showing a sole female member in the display.
"Lee Bontecou," one of the other students answered.
"As in: Whatever happened to?" Jerry said, his eyebrows raising excitedly. "One of the most inexplicable vanishing acts of the modern American art scene."

As it turned out, she wasn’t that far away. Up until five years prior to discussion, she'd been teaching at nearby Brooklyn College; as she had been for the previous two decades.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

III. What Time is Now? (Some Notes on a Particular Context)

At this point, it's probably worth noting the importance of Leo Castelli in this story; if not in the broader story of American art at the time in question. If only because he was the leading art-gallerist of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In those years, the roster of artists he corralled and represented could be described – without fear of hyperbole or contradiction – as an "era-defining" all-star lineup, the extent of which was unparalleled.

Early on, he'd taken in Rauschenberg, Johns, and Cy Twombly. From the array of young artists working in the emergent category of Pop art, he'd landed Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Rosenquist, and eventually the late-comer Warhol. Into the 1960s, Castelli's cortege would expand to include the pioneering minimalists Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin and Richard Serra; as well as several prominent "post-minimalist" artists such as Eva Hesse, Keith Sonnier, and Bruce Nauman. Such is the stuff from which museum permanent collections would be made.

It was also the sort of collection that represented a particular moment in art history, especially due to its eclecticism – several developments, all of them more of less concurrent, none of them particularly acquiring (or, at the very least, competing for) aesthetic dominance. Over the preceding decades, painting – particularly that of the abstraction variety, what held some debt to Cubism – had been considered the most important artistic endeavor of the age. But with the "triumph of American art" as epitomized by the efforts of Pollack, DeKooning, and their Abstract Expressionist peers, that sequence had effectively reached the end of its arc – had been taken as far it could go, was increasingly perceived as "exhausted."

Not that painting was abandoned overnight; far from it. The supremacy of painting persisted in a strain of Greenbergian formalism, playing out into the 1960s in the domain "color field" painting and "post-painterly" abstraction. But fewer and fewer artists felt that there was much (if anything) at stake in area of activity – in what was shaping up to be an aesthetic endgame, dwindling under the orthodoxy of endlessly self-refining criteria. And whereas the issue of "what to paint" became something of a conundrum among those artists who chose to stick with the medium, for as many artists of the postwar years it was a matter of whether to bother with the categorical imperatives of painting (or sculpture, or any specific traditional medium for that matter) at all.1  At which point things scattered off in a number of directions – into a number of mutant, "impure" directions, with no single -ism having the final word (save for a nascent wave of aesthetic pluralism). "Movements no longer work," the minimalist sculptor and arch-theorist Donald Judd wrote in his "Primary Objects" essay of 1965. "Linear history has unraveled somewhat."

Such was the state of things when Leo Castelli opened his New York gallery in 1957. He'd started off collecting and exhibiting the work of Modernist masters and artists of the New York School – Kandinsky, Gorky, Pollock, DeKooning and the like. To a large degree, he still subscribed to the Modernist paradigm, believed in the positivist teleology of artistic evolution à la MOMA director (and Castelli mentor) Alfred H. Barr's famous flow chart (c. 1935) of 20th-century art movements – an intricate diagram of influences and causal linkages. But three decades later, speaking of the post-modern art scene of the late 1980s, he would confess:
"I never thought it would come to this. I've always believed in development, one movement following another, the Cubists on the heels of the Fauves, Minimalism after Pop, and so forth. But everything today is very much in flux. There's so much happening now that it's difficult to sort it all out."
One could argue that this perception of evolutionary succession was never so secure or tidily sequential in the first place; more a product of prioritized perception, categorization, and a willful "aspect blindness."2  More interesting (and ironic) here is Castelli, in looking back what all had transpired in the art world since the advent of his career, wasn’t able to fully comprehend how much he had actively abetted its unraveling and fragmentation.

But part of Leo Castelli's eminent career meant drastically furthering the careers of the artists he exhibited. He assertively and savvily promoted their work, brokered the sale of same to important collectors and institutions, and even paid them a generous stipend. And one of those artists was Lee Bontecou, whom Castelli approached (thanks to the urging of his fellow gallerist Ivan Karp) in 1960, giving her a solo exhibition in November of that same year. It was only her second such show, but it was the one that landed her squarely and prominently in the public spotlight.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

IV. When was Then? (Some Sidenotes on that Same Context)

An inventory of what all what going on during that brief transitional span of time that happened include the year of 1960 would be too much to catalog here. Some highlights might include: The waning of lyrical abstraction in the U.S. and elsewhere; taschisme and art informel their related and competing postwar European manifestations subsiding with other things shouldering into the breach. A number of artiste provocateurs who had been active in France and thereabouts coming together under the short-lived umbrella of Nouveau réalisme. The first stirrings of Viennese Actionism. The work of Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri and other emerging out of the rubble of postwar Italy. And the emergence of Neo-Concretism in Brazil. Plus numerous other things, most of which couldn't be attributed (even though manifestos were still quite fashionable) to any -ism or over-arching aesthetic. And then of course there was that quickly coalescing international network of artists operating under the banner of Fluxus; whose chosen moniker and loose, often chaotic operations best epitomized the artistic character of the times.

Someone might have even declared painting "dead" thenabouts, but maybe not. If not, then the verdict would be delivered eventually, and then they'd do so repeatedly in the years that followed. Whatever the case, it may have already been neither here nor there in 1960, something a bit superfluous and not worth worrying about. Not even worth getting all reactively anti- about; since anything can become a point of departure – the bedrock for mutation, syncretic hybridities or whathaveyou. Cultural activity (if not culture in general) sometimes operates that way When certain areas of feverish concentration and activity lapse, possibilities in other areas become fertile ground for exploration. When one of those same demoted zones of activity become a critical "ghetto," then all stakes are off the table; all supposed "rules" and strictures are rendered arbitrary, and everything previously considered a given becomes moot. For some, this can be a distressing situation, at least if an artist is the sort that needs the guidance of signposts for required for "correct" navigation. For others, it presents a liberatory situation. The way forward, as it were, doesn't necessarily mean taking steps down the previously proscribed path.3

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

1.  In some instances, this sense of a break (or at least and attitudinal disconnection)had as much to do with an artistic ethos as it did aesthetics. For one, there was the nature of high-Modernist formalism, which had grown increasingly hermetic as the years wore on. But there was also the romantic subjectivism and creative agon that peaked with Abstract Expressionism. The latter in particular failed to appeal to many younger American artists, who in some cases considered such stuff quaintly ill-suited to their own time, if not something of an existential indulgence or luxury.

2.  Case in point: The movements Castelli offhandedly cited in his remark have – in terms of shared practices or theory – have very little in common (if not altogether opposing aims). The only rationale for pairing them as examples in this instance is by dent of one having historically followed the other.

3.  Or so it looks in hindsight. Who knows – a lot of the participants probably had all sorts of heated arguments about it all, about what mattered and why, where it all could (or should) lead. You often sense it in what was written by some of the more notable art critics of the time – the awkward reliance on established notions, the ill-fitting comparisons made and metaphors deployed, the lapses in judgement and failures to recognize what would later seem obvious, the sometimes fidgety grasping (especially among the younger, next-gen critics) toward defining whatever criteria lurked at the heart of it all, to devise the taxonomy or nomenclature of what was emerging or might follow in its wake. Makes for interesting – if not consistently clumsy reading – most times.

The most telling example of this, see Lucy Lippard's first collection of republished criticism, Changing: Essays in Art Criticism. The footnotes on a number of essays being apologias and after-the-fact clarifications or revisions for what she'd been trying to describe and define initially. Remarkable seeing how (a) the collection saw print in 1971, scarcely five years after much its contents were first published, and (b) Lippard was perhaps the sharpest and insightful critics on the scene at the time.

{ End of Part One }

24 March 2013

Some Lateral Thoughts, II (in Which a Rose is Not a Rose)

Reading Peter Schjeldahl's recent New Yorker write-up of the Jay DeFeo retrospective at the Whitney, being reminded of how DeFeo has long been one of those one-hit wonders of the artworld. Mainly because of her painting "The Rose," which -- being over ten feet tall, close to a foot thick, and allegedly weighing upwards to a ton -- is not so much a painting as a laboriously crafted sculptural bas-relief that happened to be made out of paint. A "single, preposterous object," Schjeldahl calls it. It was reputedly the sole piece that she worked on during the years of 1958 to 1966, the effort being mostly forced to an end when the artist was evicted from her San Francisco apartment; an event that required removal of a portion of wall so that the painting could be lowered out of a window into the street below (with Bay Area artist and experimental filmmaker Bruce Conner documenting the whole thing).

Over the years I was used to seeing the work routinely cited or reproduced in artists that dealt with the West Coast art scene of the postwar decades. With the artist being given a passing mention, nothing much said aside from the fact that she was the person who made the work in question. Thing is, for a number of years early on I didn't realize that it was a single painting -- rather I thought it was a series of works dealing with the came motif and compositional schema. Reason for that being that the painting tends to look different from one photograph to the next, depending on how it was photographed. The quality and angle of the lighting being the key to these differences. In some shots it looks darker, with the earth tones dominating. In others, it looks quite pale and bright, with the red and pink-ish hues being more pronounced. It's dense material facture also being another quality that captures differently from photo to photo, as well. Years ago, I had initially assumed there were several versions of the thing -- all being variations on a theme.

Some Lateral Thoughts, I (Playing Through)

Speaking of Cartographies of the Absolute in the prior post, I see that a while back they posted the above clip of reporter Charlie LeDuff golfing through Detroit. Which was a bit of a plate of shrimp, since I recently hear an interview with LeDuff where he was discussing his recently published Detroit: An American Autopsy. I found the interview heartening in some ways. Sure, one might disparage his sense of optimism in the face of Detroit's more-likely futures as being more a matter of denial than defiance. And his argument about "if you're boring, you're dead" might seem a bit wrongheaded if you're inclined to think of how factuality has become such a slippery and superfluous thing in the age of "new media." But whatever the case, I could connect with his earnestness and dogged commitment to his home turf.

As far as the matter of "ruin porn" and Detroit are concerned, I come across Steerforth at the blog The Age of Uncertainty saying a few words about "Abandonment," accompanied by some photos of derelict fisheries structures in Iceland...

"It is shocking how quickly buildings fall into decay. As the roofs of these structures rust, the late rains will seep into the walls, freeze and create fissures until, eventually, the inside is hard to distinguish from the outside.

Every ruin is a reminder that even the most solid-looking building is in a state of flux. We struggle to maintain the illusion of permanence, but the moment we abandon the fight, we find ourselves in Detroit."

Perhaps this has something to do -- albeit tangentially -- with my fascination with the topic of "ruin porn" as a recent cultural meme/trope/morbid fixation/whatever. Because I grew up in a place very much the opposite of Iceland. In the Deep South subtropic region of the SE United States. Where anything and everything constructed or devised by human hands was immediately pitched in a battle against the climate and the elements. Recently-laid roadways and sidewalks cracking, greenery sprouting through. Or sporting huge fissured bumps and ripples from the tree roots sprawling out underneath. The cloak of kudzu that -- during its non-dormant seasons -- rapidly grew to consume entire treelines, abandoned roadside shacks and homesteads, telephone poles, and the like. (If if was stationary, if was fair game.) Driving through parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and upwards into Indiana and Ohio, where the abandoned barns and silos sinking in on themselves -- sitting out in a field with a hundred yards of so from the highway -- were a common sight. Houses that had burned down, with only their foundation and chimney still standing, which sat that way for years afterward. There were constant reminders that entropy, decay, and calamity held all the cards -- were inescapable, inevitable.

23 March 2013

Objective Properties

Alberto Toscano of the Cartographies of the Absolute blog writing about the spatial logic of capital, quantified bucolia, and the "neutron bomb school of photography" as typified by the work of "New Topography" photographer Lewis Baltz...

"When the landscape is not scoured for traces — aftermaths of trauma, indices of futures past — its indeterminacy is most often coded as indifference: the indifference of modularity and iteration across social spaces, the indifference of concrete abstraction (pun intended). It is an indifference remarkable for its ubiquity and magnitude, as well as for the sheer scale of its continued reproduction — tract homes all the way into a vanished horizon, container terminals that never sleep, banks of screens in a stock exchange.

"It should come as no surprise that landscape — that prime terrain for the assertion of the view from power — should have been thematized in the 1970s as the emblem of a kind of inhuman subsumption. With the urbanization of capital transmuting the lived and visible landscape into a social factory — especially evident in once-rural suburban and functional milieus — built space attained an experiential, as well as an allegorical, status that it didn’t previously enjoy. This was especially so in those places where postwar 'planner-states' enabled an accelerated industrialization, as seen in the massive industrial establishments in Michelangelo Antonioni’s seemingly depopulated Po valley. It is worth dwelling on two salient approaches to representing landscape in the shadow of these shifts, found in the work of the photographers surrounding the 1975 'New Topographics' exhibition, with its attention to the suburbanization of habitation and production in the American West, and the landscape theory (fukeiron) proposed by militant artists in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"Aside from their foregrounding of 'landscape' as medium, object, and in a sense subject of their work, these otherwise unconnected aesthetic practices share some telling formal traits. In both cases, vistas are vanquished (and if they open up, it is only into a kind of orthogonal featurelessness). The built world is encountered frontally, deadpan. Captions are minimal, doing little of the critical work famously invoked by Brecht and Benjamin. Spaces are depopulated and if humans appear it is in the kind of routine everydayness that sees them circulate obediently through the built world — which is ironic, given that demographic density is a significant feature of the processes that produce these spatial figures. [...]"

Or: How the production of pantyhose and megadeath intersect in the shaped environment of the industrial park. The full essay "The Equator of Alienation" appears in the 2012 edition of the Taipei Biennial journal.

Also in the same edition, Henri Lefebvre's "The Manipulations of Time," and excerpt from Michael Taussig's 1984 essay "History as Sorcery," and -- curiously -- a extract from Ian Svenonius's The Psychic Soviet.

21 March 2013

Void Where Prohibited

sources: 1, 2, 3

18 March 2013

Low-Frequency Ocelots Interlude

The first one to my ears sounds like it could be the missing link between On The Corner, Head Hunters, and TG's 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Of which there are probably a number of such things, and this is one of them. The second? The beat and its placement in the mix definitely dates it, but it sports some proto-wobble. Not unlike if Bill Laswell's Material (with Bernie Worrell on board for the session) had inadvertently stumbled over drill'n'bass some 15 years before the fact.

16 March 2013

Page Turners

Ruscha revised. Courtesy of Mark McEvoy. Prompted by the current Gago exhibition.

images: Tsunehisa Kimura

13 March 2013

Showroom Model: For Display Purposes Only

I once had one a lot like this. Had it for many years, put it to a lot of use, so it had quite a patina on it. Mottled with patches and blobs of impastoed paint caked along the lower brace. Multicolored skeins and drips, layering one atop the other many times over. Each layer, each drip told a story, referred back to this or that specific work that was created on the thing. The phase when I was big on using lots of neutral and earth tones. The later phase when I used a lot of solvents, going for for lots of washed-out "atmospheric" effects. Referring to a particular stages in my artistic development...back in the days when I used to do that sort of thing

Lots of stories tied up in the thing. Like the time I missed what could’ve been my big break. Had landed a show at a downtown gallery, my first solo exhibition. A noted art critic – widely read and respected by his peers and readers alike – had agreed to review it. I figured that this was to be my ace in the hole, because I knew he was in corner, very much liked what I was doing. Not that I expected it to lead to sales right away, but a good review from him would’ve definitely paid off in the long term, would have generated ample interest in my work. But en route to the show, he and his wife got into an argument in the car, which led her to accidently steer into oncoming traffic, which put them both in the hospital with minor injuries, which meant that he missed the show. Sure, a couple of reviews appeared, but they were each written by some piddling, unimaginative hack who wrote for local publications whose readership couldn’t give a shit about art and therefore never bothered to read the art reviews section in the first place.

Or the one about the big show that took place not too many months later. It had been in a new gallery space in a huge semi-raw loft space, recently opened by a partnership of local aspiring art scenesters. The opening was a fairly big to-do and a lot of people showed up. It was a good mix of work, and my own was hung with a couple of other artists who were well established on the city’s art scene. A lot of paintings sold that evening, including three of my own. Turned out one of the partners who’d been brought in to open the venue had claimed he had considerable financial backing on the venue. Thing was, he didn’t – he had lied about it all. So to cover his ass, on the sly a couple weeks later he booked a clandestine late-night rave in the space, hoping to pass off what he raised on door admissions as the promised fiduciaries. Of course, the other partners in the venture found out about it later, because a number of paintings hanging around the place were damaged or destroyed by the attending revelers. Including four of my own, three of which were the ones that had been purchased. Which proved to be neither nor there, since none of 'em had yet to actually write out a check or anything.

Shortly after that I got an agent. She worked some connections and got me into a gallery that had a pretty decent roster -- lots of big names. So many big names, in fact, that I became something of a "backroom artist." And by that I mean the sort of of backroom artist whose stuff never comes off the shelf back in the storage cubby, because the big names stay up on the house walls all the time. So that proved to be the potential score that went absolutely fucking nowhere.

I guess I should've reckoned early on that it wasn't going to go anywhere. Back when I was first starting out, and I sought to score an assistantship under a renown German artist whose work I was very taken with. He'd come to town for an exhibition, and I approached him at a party after the show's opening. I made my pitch, told him I thought it would be a great opportunity -- if he were willing -- to work in his studio. He was evasive, I felt really awkward, as he was standing about with a number of admirers and associates, knocking back some beers. When I could tell that my effort had hit a brick wall, I changed the subject, asking him if his work was as well-received in Europe as it was here. He grimaced and said that European audiences were different. They'll be polite to your face, he told me, and then once your back is turned they'll "get drunk and tear you to pieces." A friend later told me that once I'd left, the artist and his friends proceeded to do much the same to me -- mocking me as soon as I was out of earshot. That they'd snickeringly dubbed me "painter man." Apparently I had been naive in more ways than one, had misunderstood the nature of his work. Yes, his work consisted entirely of painting, but apparently -- in the end -- it wasn't painting, had nothing to do with painting, was a wholly different enterprise. Theoretically, at least. But I was too young to get that at the time. He thought painting was a trite, obsolete, and moribund mode of artistic production; therefore what he was doing wasn't really painting. He was just painting condescendingly.

Like I said, lots of stories. About setbacks, betrayals, personal failures and shortcomings – all sorts of other things I could tell you. Stories prompted by that easel I had, if I still had it. But fuck it, who cares? Not me, not since I gave it up. Put it all behind, and found something else to do – something less chancey, something more reliable, more lucrative.

No, I don't have the old one anymore, thank god. Too many memories tied to it. Got rid of it some years ago. Donated it to the art department of a local university, who were happy to take it. And then recently I got this one. Yes, the old one originally only cost me about eighty dollars, and this one cost me over 2K. But this one is better. First, it doesn't take up as much room as the old one I used to have (I used to like to work large), so it much more easily fits in this space nicely.

The other advantage to this thing is that I have no personal connection to it. I had nothing to do with any of the paint that you see smudged and slung across the thing. Somebody else -- probably some low-waging schmuck in a warehouse somewhere -- did all that. It arrived that way, readymade.

Which is good, because I don't really like talking about myself, anyway. Never have. Maybe that was part of my problem, why I was doomed with that prior enterprise of mine from the start. Because that sort of thing can be a handicap in certain lines of work, especially ones where you're frequently expected to schmooze and to – y’know – "sell yourself" and that whole rigmarole.

But they’re right, it does make for a good conversation piece. I suppose I could put something on the thing, but I like it the way it is – just standing there like that. I like the way it calls attention to itself. I like that, in the way it calls attention to itself, it seems to be saying something about what I do. Except that it doesn't. The only thing it has to do with me is that it's something I bought.

There's pretty much a similar story behind that antique Underwood manual over there on that desk. Except that I damn-near flunked the typing course I took in high school.

So, what can I get you to drink?

12 March 2013

Creative Destruction

( Or: Three Failures in Search of Resolution )


It was conceived as a sort of ballet mécanique. Wheels set into motion by a complex network of pulleys; a robotic automatic painting device churning out random patterns of pigment; a flaming upright piano automated from without -- its keys being unharmonically hammered by an array of pistons; a go-cart racing madly in place; an inflating weather balloon; a bathtub filled with a smoking chemical concoction; a fire extinguisher discharging aimlessly; numerous bells and klaxons. Flames, smoke, intricate engineering amounting to nonce spasmodics, eventually collapsing in on itself. Perhaps the flames provided warmth on a cold New York evening, provoking a few of the huddled spectators to lean in closer that they should, risking endangerment. Did the museum have the foresight to take out a liability policy in advance, or have attendees sign a waiver on admittance? Not likely.

The ballet at hand being Jean Tinguely’s “Homage to New York” as it was presented to the public for its "performance" in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art on a winter evening in early March, 1960. Assembled from a load of rubbish carted in from a garbage dump in neighboring Newark. Tinguely enlisted the help of Swedish-born engineer Billy Klüver during construction, with Robert Rauschenberg contributing a "money-throwing machine" to the works. Its operational lifespan lasted – by some accounts -- less than a half-hour before it began to fall apart, catch fire, and the New York Fire Department intervened on the side of the public behalf, with some of the audience boo-ing them for ruining the event by performing their civic-minded service.

Even though it was a machine designed to serve a function, a function that was effectively dysfunctional, it failed. Portions of the contraption that were supposed to do one thing or another did something else or nothing instead, and needed some interventional nudging on the part of the artist. It was devised to be a catastrophe -- involving equal parts contrivance and chaos -- and once it was set in motion, the catastrophic inevitably ensued. Clanking and grinding, smoke and flames. And in the end, debris. Wreckage and scattered parts to be picked apart and taken home by the witnesses, with the most desirable remnants being claimed by the Museum itself. From junk to salvage, twice over. Three weeks’ worth of parts and labor for something that would undo itself within a short span of a late evening.

10 March 2013

04 March 2013

... And Then the Government Took All My Clothes

Daytime retro deadzone TV surrealness, from the era of my formative years. Footnotes for something I meant to write for the '70s blog about the shape of culture back when if was channeled through a easily enumberable channels and conduits. Footnotes because it led to odd moments of randomness and the ill-handled, noise (infrequently) crackling through the monocultural signal, when the booking got desperate and thing veered out of territorial waters.

Reminded of: Nick Kent talking about all his time spent with Iggy in the '70s in various parts of Apathy for the Devil. Stating that he quickly discovered that if he addressed him as "Iggy, then the addressee stayed in character, behaving at his worst -- perpetually "performing." But if he addressed him as Jimmy, then everything was cool, because Jimmy Osterberg was actually a pretty nice kid once you got past all the bullshit.

With the first clip: One star hopelessly sunk below the horizon, another having emerged and burning brilliantly. Each having, in their time, changed the shape of the culture in more ways than we readily comprehend. One is reputedly now living in a van somewhere in east L.A., while the other died well before his time.

Anyway, all of this is a placeholder, leavened with entertainment. Pardon the recent slowdown. Blog's not dead, nor am I. These things happen sometimes. Normal activity to resume soon.

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