24 December 2014

"Alt Canon" Interlude

Who remembers this Bostonian lot? Anyone?

Can't say I paid 'em much attention at the time, and the only reason I’m prompted to remember them now (seasonal serendipity aside) is in the context of some bantering assessmental blahblah Simon & I have been having. Simon recently returned to the topic of what he’s previously dubbed the Era of Bad British Music, circa the mid-1980s. Simon remarks that he might follow it up by switching shores and reflecting on the “college rock” phenom in the U.S. during the years in question.

Which is why I thought of the above, because they were very much of that era. If memory serves, the debut LP made them critics’ darlings -- enthusiasm issuing forth from major and minor publications alike, from Rolling Stone to Forced Exposure, making them candidates for the Most Promising New Indie Act of the Year. But the tide turned sharply, and their follow-up album was unanimously panned by the same publications, and the critics’ affections gravitated to (say) Galaxie 500, instead. The band would, I believe, soldier on for a few more years before morphing into '90s loungecore outfit Combustible Edison.

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22 December 2014

Crooning on Venus: Coda

A couple of final additions, this time dealing with vocals as augmented, processed, whathaveyou, by technological means...

Max Neuhaus’s “Radio Net,” circa 1977. In which Neuhaus utilized the patched feed network of National Public Radio (then still a marginal fledgling outfit -- in terms of listenership and production) to create a two-hour “crowd-sourced” audio piece in real time. Listeners in various broadcast regions scattered about the U.S. were invited to phone in to their local affiliate and whistle or mutter or sing into their telephones.The participation by Neuhaus in realtime. The above documentation of the event recently turned on Vimeo, and the full audio can be heard at -- where else? -- Ubuweb.

Belatedly seeing some visual documentation of the thing, it’s very very quaint to look at the technical gear involved. Like the headsets, which look like the sort that NASA Cape Canaveral personnel had worn circa the Apollo 11 mission.

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ASlo: An odd & charming obscurity from some 14 years ago, back when I was DJ'ing on radio, for a time doing a show that trafficked heavily in marginal and "autre" electronic fare. A few releases from the Pittsburgh-baased label Kracfive caught my ear; and at the time the promo crossed my path, I was bemused by this project -- which was (I gather) a collaboration by the three artists who made up the label's roster. An album wholly devoted to wonky IDM/laptop fckcery/DIY "glitch-hop" compositions piece together from nothing other than vocal sample. Revisiting it again, I find that it's the loosest, least structured & rhythmically-minded tracks which hold up best...

And as a "Bonus beats" addition,...

Original Instrument - 'Coughio'

...Which came to mind in another context a while back.

13 December 2014

Crooning on Venus: Sidenotes

International Outreach

From the December edition of e-flux journal, "American Tutti-Frutti," in which Porter McCray offers a historical overview of the founding of MoMA and the role it played in promoting American art abroad during the Cold War era. Topics covered: Alfred Barr's "torpedo" diagram, Jackson Pollock in Belgrade, as well as the ill-fated "Advancing American Art" touring exhibition which I wrote about some time ago.

The essay is apparently part of an e-flux hosted event entitled "The Unmaking of Art." Thing is, note the chronology offered in the preface to the essay, and you'll note that McCray -- the former director of MoMA's International Program during the years in question -- died some 14 years ago, yet is still listed as presenting at the event. Best I can make of that is that yet another example of e-flux related events in which presentations are given by people assuming the persona of certain historical artistic figure; such as Gertrude Stein and Alfred Barr on this occasion, and the appearance of a Walter Benjamin impersonator on several others. In fact, the McCray essay dovetails very well with "Walter Benjamin" essay "The Making of Americans," which e-flux published back in autumn of last year. And it appears that the "Walter Benjamin" n question recently published a volume of collected writings.

The theme of the latest edition is that of the function of the museum in contemporary society. In relation to the McCray essay, there's Arseny Zhilyaev's "Conceptual Realism: The Vulgar Freedom of Avant-Garde Museum Work," about Soviet museum culture in the decades following the Bolshevik Revolution. Early in the piece, Zhilyaev writes:

“...Many of the practices of contemporary art were anticipated by the historical avant-garde and its radical explosion of the 1910s–’30s, albeit in 'laboratory mode.' Right now, there is no actual social basis that would allow us to talk about the expansion of democracy’s borders and a new avant-garde project. But the practice of combining artistic and curatorial positions is still highly productive, in terms of problematizing the exhibition as a special form and medium of contemporary art — a medium which is based on hidden and deep rules of social organization. At that, they not only are productive, but also may potentially lead to the radicalization of the primary impulse of the whole modernist project with its present contemporary art condition.

"We are in fact already witnessing such a tendency. Thus, it is an increasingly frequent occasion nowadays that art historians have started to describe art history as the history of exhibitions, and not that of individual artistic statements. And often, these artistic statements themselves appropriate the expositional practices of the curators, not to mention the rather widespread practice of an artist acting as a curator of an essentially curatorial exhibition.”

Some hazily broad assertions, there; some of which begging for illustrative examples. And while its debatable that "art historians" (in any supposed lumpen sense) increasingly see art history as a lineage of landmark exhibitions, it's certainly been a growing trend among the curatorial sector of the artworld over the past two decades.

11 December 2014

Crooning on Venus, Pt. 3

Mouth music: Biased former Chicago scenester edition. Can't believe Robert didn't leap to mind sooner. Tsk.

Crooning on Venus, Pt. 2

A handful of perennial personal favorites continuing on the "mouth music" yarn what Simon started...

A while back, I paid the early XTC material a revisit for the first time in many years. Came to reappreciate the energy of their early years. Had punk not came along and helped level the field, Partridge would have an unlikely candidate for a frontman, mainly on account of the quirkiness of his songwriting. But what really grabbed my ears was how Partridge hilariously careened all over the place as a vocalist -- impulsively bellowing, barking, yelping, and generally twisting sustained parpings and phonemes every which way.

The above ursonatal excurison come from the Mr. Patridge side project, which is mostly Partridge dicking about in the studio, reconfiguring the various tracks from songs off the Drums and Wires LP, crafting them into other things. And get this, someone actually thought this one had lyrics; or at least felt it deserved transcribing.

Old favorite of mine, mainly for its haunting sparsity.

An early session from Hooker. Lore has it that producers didn't know what to do with Hooker at first, how to place a band around him, due to his sometimes disjointed rhythms. Here the rhythm belatedly enters when you hear Hooker tap it out with his foot, in what sound like a dusty, empty, forgotten space. And then there's the vocal. In which language breaks down completely, proves inadequate for the expressive task at hand. And then, faintly heard as the session abruptly fades out at the end, the sound of Hooker letting out a casual laugh. The whole thing having just been a toss-off, a warm-up exercise, or an off-handed demonstration of a song that could go on for ages.

A totemic favorite, I gather, of writer and music scribe David Toop, who’s written very elegantly about the recording and sonics of There’s a Riot Goin’ On. The portrait he painted was one of Stone entering his long period of decline -- beginning to unravel, coke-addled, paranoid and reputedly keeping a gun within arm’s reach during the sessions. And -- during the session’s more “quiet” numbers -- leaning forward over the keyboard as he sang, singing in a lower register than usual, his mouth intimately close to the mic, with the engineers pushing the slider high enough to send the vocal track squarely into the red. The results giveing Stone’s vocal a strong physicality -- leaving the listener with a sense of every vowel, syllable and word being shaped within the cavity of the singer’s mouth, of the curl of the tongue, the tightening of the larynx, the lips stretching across teeth.

To the degree that Leon Thomas is remembered, it’s mostly to the degree that he provided vocals on a couple of Pharoah Sanders sessions in the late ‘60s, not so much for the series of LPs he released on the Flying Dutchman labels in the years that immediately followed. Most distinctive trademark: dispensing with traditional “scat” singing and replacing it a peculiar combination of throat singing and yodeling.

And perhaps stretching the 'mouth music' criteria a bit...

Like a lot of early modern compsoers, Leoš Janáček incorporated elements of folk melodies into many of his works. Except he took it one step further, aiming to craft musical passages modeled on the patterns and prosody of the Czech language as spoken in the streets and markets, in the course of passing conversation or storytelling. As uneven as her output might be, at her finer moments Iva Bittova takes a page from Janáček and ventures further down that path.

And I suppose the above turned out as a proper round robin pan-genre edition. Assurance that I didn’t plan it that way, but there you have it.

10 December 2014

Crooning on Venus, Pt. 1

It’s that season again, the one when the Decades Blogs network (as well as their friends and readers) hold a pan-bloggal musical shootout. With Phil and Simon taking the lead, we each nominate our candidates for most almighty Riffage, Drummige, Intros, etc.. Except this year, a fair number of the usual participants in the network have largely drifted away, taken to the shadows, or gone silent. Meaning there has been, as yet, no call for this year’s musical theme.

But over at the Blissblog, Simon has spent the past few weeks offering examples of what he’s calling “mouth music.” He tells me this is totally of his impulse and initiative, but by no means a solo effort. Obvious candidates like Meredith Monk and Joan L Barbara fell earlier in the series (32 and counting!), with a broad array of other artists following in later posts.

Natch, a lot of songs or artist leap to mind. But for the first in a short series, I’ll begin with a few things that I’ve posted in the past...

A vocal showcasing from Sumac’s 1950 LP Voice of the Xtabay. Back when Diamanda Galas hit the scene in the 1980s, I always thought she took more than a few effects from Yma Sumac; if not from this particular song. Sumac and Galas were both vocalists of unusual power and range. Neither of them seemed to know of an appropriate genre of music in which to put their talents to work without going a staid and conventional route. Not being able to create an entirely new genre, and simply made due with twists on existant ones -- be it lounge “exotica” or semi-operatic goth.

The vocals don't come in until late on the first piece, and the beginning warm-up on the second is among my favorite of Youtube stumbling-upons. For these, I refer back to some of my earlier comments about Wyatt.

A number of my favorite works from the early phase of Robert Ashley’s career was threaded on the theme of mutterings and howlings that fall outside the realm of intelligibility, if not beyond the lingual entirely.

More next time.

The Imaginary Museum

This article could've been a submission to the next edition of The Journal of 'Ugh', but instead it arrives by way of The Atlantic:

"But for art to have as much of an impact upon mass culture—and appeal to consumers—as those luxury brands have achieved, it will have to break out of its crystal bubble. It will have to follow the path that the food industry has for the last two decades or more, which has been the path of taking once abstruse and artisanal products and making them common fare. [...]

"'Anyone who is a serious member of the creative class,' Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told Reuters last week,' is going to come into our fair. We’re getting a lot of requests from CEOs and CMOs who’ve never come to the fair.' In other words, there is a legitimate turn taking place as the idea of an immensely lucrative contemporary art market ceases to seem like a sign some market bubble is about to pop. With each passing year, contemporary art becomes a more plausible tentpole for the global creative economy."

Of course, the whole piece serves as yet another megaphone of the marketplace triumphalism, a 'rah-rah' celebrating the wind down of this year's installment of Art Basel Miami.

There are so many problems with the thread of the author's argument that I almost get a headache trying to think of where to begin. But ultimately, the argument hinges on a number of socio-economic hypotheticals that fly in the face of the current state of things. For instance: As if an art fair is an ideal or even conducive setting for viewing art. As if every art fair is an equivalent to a Documenta, Venice Biennale, or a visit to the Gugg. And as if lots of collectors are like Charles Saatchi who -- be it for the sake of raising one’s profile or out of a genuine sense of cultural largesse -- share their collections with the public.

About that last item: Nevermind that the elevated prices brought about by the high-rolling market of recent years has priced out most museum and cultural institutions, the price of the average desirable acquisition far exceeding whatever funds they might have at their disposal. Instead much of the work ends up in private collections, often bought as a speculative investment, then shunted away into safekeeping and well out of public circulation then maybe sometime later put back on the auction block. (Unless, of course, they decide to donate -- once again, whether for the sake of public prestige, a sense of civic generosity, or as a tax write-off -- parts of their collection to art museums. If there’s been a surge in these donations in recent years, one which parallels the frenzy of the market, nobody’s mentioned it. Maybe the Pew Foundation’s already chasing those numbers.)*

In a way, one could argue that the article’s thesis tracks like a misunderstanding or distortion of the Beuysian equation of “Kunst Gleich Kapital,” extended to “Art + Money = Democratization.” Except, judging from the context, that the author’s idea of what constitutes “democratic” rests on the assumption that there’s a sort of trickle-down economics will come into play as a result of the perpetually-booming art market. Which I guess makes it the Chicago School of Economics version of Andre Malraux's "“Le Musée imaginaire." Praises be, edification from on high!

Say it with me: Ughh.

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BTW: The image a the top is tom Eric Fischl's recent series of painting derived from photo studies taken at various art fairs. About which, note this article posted at -- oh, irony! -- the site for Christie's auction house. Final paragraph:

"Fischl does not paint the generous, open, multi-cultural city of Miami, infused with energy and Art Deco beauty, and lit by neon. This series is about the art world which, in his opinion, represents another country altogether."

Meaning that, in a way, it's a revisitation of his "Cargo Cults" series of beach paintings from mid-late 1980s.

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* This scenario is, of course, peculiar to the U.S.: where -- unlike other places -- cultural institutions and museums received little or nothing in the way of government subsidies, and therefore have to depend heavily on donations.

09 December 2014

Straight Off The Philip K.

At some point, someone eventually uploaded the full clip of this thing, with only bits & pieces of it turning up on tubeage before. A dozen year hence, and it seems a peculiar doco of a time and the times since.

For starters, a time before the music industry changed radically, and it was still possible to run such a by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants label, forming a network and forging a closely-knit alliance with like-minded artists and collaborators, getting the product made and out on shelves and into eager hands, etc..*

Secondly: El Producto who initially seems a little nervous and unsure about what to say to a Dutch film crew invading his home studio.

But mainly: 2002, and the sound of the times. El-P had been developing a certain sound for several years -- dark, heavy, laden with off-kilter bumps and lo-res atmospherics. Sounded like a offspring of 1990s NYC “illbience” at its most dusted and paranoid; sounded like what would’ve happened if the unlikely collab of Throbbing Gristle hooking up with DJ Premier had ever transpired and been disseminated via 2nd-gen cassette bootlegs. But it eventually ended up sounding like the most appropriate background mood music for post-9/11 New York.**

02 December 2014

Whose Boots Are These, I Think I Know

Y'know, there’s nothing more I’d like to see than a final takedown of Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood,” if only for the sake of sparing future art and art history students from ever having that tiresome, long-winded, and utterly pointless text foisted on them by their professors. A dismantling that'd put the thing out to pasture once and for all. Whatever the case, this definitely isn't it.

Re, Heidegger’s musing on Van Gogh's "A Pair of Shoes," see the ripostes by Meyer Schapiro and Jacques Derrida. As far as the bit about “Guernica” and the problems with political art goes, see Ad Reinhardt taking the piss out of Leon Golub in a discussion on the agency of protest art reprinted in Artwords: Discources of the 60s and 70s.

28 November 2014

29 October 2014

Left To Its Own Devices

"...What matters is that no force is on hand that could be expected to reverse the three downward trends in economic growth, social equality and financial stability and end their mutual reinforcement. ...What is most likely to happen as time passes is a continuous accumulation of small and not-so-small dysfunctions; none necessarily deadly as such, but most beyond repair, all the more so as they become too many for individual address. In the process, the parts of the whole will fit together less and less; frictions of all kinds will multiply; unanticipated consequences will spread, along ever more obscure lines of causation. Uncertainty will proliferate; crises of every sort—of legitimacy, productivity or both—will follow each other in quick succession while predictability and governability will decline further (as they have for decades now). Eventually, the myriad provisional fixes devised for short-term crisis management will collapse under the weight of the daily disasters produced by a social order in profound, anomic disarray."

from | via | see also

24 October 2014

The Pictures Generation

In a recent bluntly-titled post at Artnet News, Paddy Johnson declares what some people have either known or suspected for years by proclaiming that Richard Prince is a cretinous douchebag. The verdict comes in response to the exhibition of Prince's latest round of work currently up on display at Gagosian NY, which consists of blown-up inkjet prints of Prince's Instagram likes, including the artist's accompanying inane captions and comments. Clap clap clap.

More pointedly, Johnson calls critic Jerry Saltz out on the carpet for his own review of the show, charging him with hypocrisy and art-starstruck obsequiance. The Saltz piece isn't worth reading, but the brief Peter Schjeldahl review that Johnson cites cites is. Highlights:

"[Prince's] show at Gagosian...feels fated. The logic of artifying non-art images that Andy Warhol inaugurated half a century ago could hardly skip a burgeoning mass medium of individual self-exposure. ...Is it art? Of course it’s art, though by a well-worn Warholian formula: the subjective objectified and the ephemeral iconized, in forms that appear to insult but actually conserve conventions of fine art. [...]

Possible cogent responses to the show include naughty delight and sincere abhorrence. My own was something like a wish to be dead — which, say what you want about it, is the surest defense against assaults of postmodernist attitude. Come to think of it, death provides an apt metaphor for the pictures: memento mori of perishing vanity. Another is celestial: a meteor shower of privacies being burnt to cinders in the atmosphere of publicity. They fall into contemporary fame — a sea that is a millimetre deep and horizon-wide."

If anything, it seems like a better and more fitting title for the exhibition would've been "New Portraits: Losing My Edge."

18 October 2014

First Rule of the Krump Club is That Nobody Talks About the Krump Club...

Given, most of what the early-mid/best Autechre came down to was: "Listen ye, what Mantronix hath wrought."

16 October 2014

But minus the hamster named Special Patrol Group

Like George Grosz shaking hands with Legs McNeil and The Young Ones. May have to try & track down some hardcopy editions.

[ via ]

Supply Meeting Demand

From a recent item via Agence France-Presse, about the Geneva-based Fine Arts Expert Institute:
"The ballooning amounts up for grabs have also hiked the incentive for art forgers, and scientists like Walther and Mottaz are increasingly being called upon to supplement efforts by traditional art experts and conservationists to authenticate works. ...Experts estimate a full half of all artworks in circulation today are fake -- a number that is difficult to verify but that Walther says is, if anything, an underestimate. Between 70 and 90 percent of works that pass through FAEI turn out to be fake, he says."

Related: Authorities publicly identify the painter responsible for the works involved in the recent Knoedler forgery scandal.

image: Adrian Ghenie, "The Fake Rothko," oil on canvas, 2010

15 October 2014

Objets sonore, II

Not every electronic composer can boast of having learned his chops while editing and composing for "Tom & Jerry" cartoons.

Re, as with what I stated earlier about Richard Maxfield. It seems like saying that the music of Tod Dockstader has been unfairly neglected or undocumented is akin to sending the USS Cliché to run aground on the Shores of Redundancy. At least in Dockstaer’s case, there’s actually a few discs of the collected early work, plus that spate of recent productivity that was released about a decade ago, executed shortly before his faculties started to sadly decline.

Watching the clip from the proposed documentary above, I can’t help but be struck by how Dockstader seems so much as he did in that series of b&w photographs taken in 1966, during the recording sessions for Omniphony. A tall figure towering over the equipment, the hairless head gleaming under the overheard lights, and - in many of the images - some sort of smile across his mug, as if there were nothing else in the world he’d rather be doing than pushing sounds around, exploring new sonic syntaxes. One can’t help but wondering if his early jobbing as a film editor didn’t have something to do with why it is his pieces - when stacked alongside those of his then-contemporaries - moved with such brisk fluidity.

From an interview with Chris Cutler, c. 1993:
"I'd done quite a lot of music in a relatively short time. I'd almost lived in that studio for six, seven years, engineering by day and doing my music in down-time, nights, and weekends there. Concrete and electronic music was an expensive music to make, then; it cost a lot in time and money - too much money, in those days, for some one working alone. And time... l was pushing those studio machines hard, and they were always breaking down and I had to stop and fix them right then, no waiting, so they'd be ready the next working day. A regular composer, what's the worst will happen? He breaks a pencil, he loses a few seconds. l break a big Ampex and you lose most of a day, or, in my case, your job if you can't get it working again. And the heat... The decks would get so hot you couldn't touch them and you'd have to turn them off to cool down for a while. It really was like a kitchen. I read, much later, where someone from those days - maybe Berio - said he couldn't believe he put in all that physical work that tape-music demanded. Of course, he had another way to make music: he went back to writing, as Stockhausen and most others did around that time, late 'Sixties, 'Seventies. I suspect many of them turned away with a sigh of relief. But, as I've said, I wanted to make music out of sound, not the other way around, even if I could have. And then, things were changing even while I was still at it. The 'Glorious Junkshop,' as someone called it, of [musique] concrète was closing. And it did."

And at a later point in the same interview:
"TD: I remember I got a couple of 'phone calls in the 'Eighties from someone, I don't remember his name, who said he was working in a group, composing, or trying to, and they were all listening to my LPs, and could I tell him what to do. I didn't know what to say to him, except, don't worry it, just do it. Because, I'd always worked alone, not even listening to other people's music then, let alone working in a group. So, what were they hearing in my music? I don't know; maybe - it's the hands.
CC: 'Hands'?
TD: Well - in painting, which I studied, seriously, in school, we used to say a painter we liked had 'good hands.' You could see his hand in the work, in the brush-work. This was early 'Fifties, with painters like DeKooning and Bacon; they had great hands. And, for me, like painting, making music was always a very physical thing, very tactile. I played those tape machines like a DJ plays turntables, rocking reels back and forth, pulling the tape through by hand. The only time I sat down was to edit - more hand-work - otherwise I was always in motion. ..."
I'm not so sure about the doco. But at the very least, maybe there should be a Kickstarter campaign to liberate and market the musical contents of Dockstader's hard drive.

26 September 2014

18 September 2014

In response to what Simon sez, to which (for starters) I'd add the above.*

The last bit (text) comes courtesy of the artist known as Momus from his recently published The Book of Scotlands. Of which version 158 too much reminds me of what might otherwise pass for "Origins of Modern American Regional Cuisine, Chapter 3: The Deep South."

Not that any of this hs anything to to do with the vote, of course.

17 September 2014

Inside the White Cube

From  |  via

15 September 2014


Hauser & Wirth in NYC recently launched the exhibition "Rite of Passage: The Early Years of Vienna Actionism, 1960-1966," whichg the gallery has billed as " the first major New York City exhibition" devoted to Hermann Nitsch and his Actionist associates. Thomas Micchelli at Hyperallergic weighs in with one of the earliest reviews of the show:

"Through elaborately staged performances, or 'actions,' ... they strove to break down the defenses, rationalizations and inhibitions of the audience as much as remove the barriers between art and life. It was an art, as Nitsch says in the VICE interview, 'which can be experienced with all five senses, thus being an artistic synthesis.'

"This of course brings to mind Richard Wagner, whose idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total artwork, hovers over the Actionists’ ethos as much as his music is historically linked to the cultural ideals of Nazism. And this is the most unsettling part of the Actionists’ enterprise, in that (as with the example of Wagner, whom Friedrich Nietzsche condemned as 'a disease') the primal forces they sought to unleash could go either way, toward staggering works of art or unheard-of barbarities. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that they go both ways, uncontrollably. [...]

"In the obituary that The New York Times ran for Muehl in May 2013, he is quoted as saying, 'The aesthetics of the dung heap are the moral means against conformism, materialism and stupidity.' That the Actionists used debasement, the same weapon wielded by the Nazis against their racial and political enemies, as a 'moral means' to rid society of 'consumerism, materialism and stupidity' is a paradox that can be endlessly parsed, with equally compelling arguments for and against their tactics."

Which cuts to the core of why I've never been the least bit comfortable with the Actionists, some that lay behind all the unseemliness of blood, shit, viscera and mutilation that characterized their activities activities. As a minor postwar art movement, Actionism shared a common theme with that of other European postwar ("anti-")art movements in that it constituted a rejective "protest" against the excesses of recent Western history -- a reaction to fascism, genocide, the traumas of then-recent Germanic history. the possibility of atomic war, and etc.. As such, it took the form of a type of exorcism, or at least a a self-reckoned purgation by means of theater-of-cruely cathartic extremes.

Problem was, in doing so the Actionists failed to break with, let alone recognize, the nature of the social and cultural pathologies it claimed to address. Case in point: As far as fascism was concerned, it often seems that Actionism was in some degrees carrying the same, albeit in a slightly different key -- what, its appeals to myth, to collective ritual, to sanctioned forms of violence and regressive savagery.*  Bloodletting, primal-therapuetic histrionics, transgressive shocks, yeahyeah. But, all gruesomeness aside, merely that. At the very one could argue that, in the course of responding to one type of excess with its own, it was just all too literally-minded.**

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*  As well as, via its exultations of the 'primordial', and the perpetuation of such as the domain of of a certain type of masculine activity. Where's Klaus Theweleit when we need him?

**  If not a little too Mondo Cane.

12 September 2014

The Anti-Archive

"Murder, The Hope of Women, a twenty-five minute opera composed in 1919 by Paul Hindemith  ●  ...Lost, the rope given to Marina Tsvetaeva by Boris Pasternak to tie up an overstuffed valise; in 1941, Tsvetaeva used the rope to hang herself  ●  In 1899, the Spanish demand Goya's remains, buried in Bordeaux in 1828; the body, without the head, is returned to Spain  ●  ...In 1921, in a film by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray is asked to shave off the pubic hair of the very eccentric Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven; the film is destroyed in the course of being developed  ●  ...Dorothy Parker was cremated in 1967 (the epitaph suggested by Dottie: 'Sorry for the dust'); the urn stayed at the undertaker's until 1973, the year it ended up in the office of a notary, who put it in a drawer where it was forgotten until 1988  ●  ...In a fit of rage, Egon Schiele's father, stationmaster at Tulln, burned all his son's drawing representing railroad cars  ●  ...The letters of Proust torn up by Marie-Laure de Noailles (six years old)  ●  For the 4 percent of the population afflicted by a congenital inability to perceive music, Mozart no longer exists  ●  Jean Giraudoux: 'Plagiarism is the foundation of all literature except the first, which is unknown'  ●  ...In Vladivostok, the city where Osip Mandelstam is said to have died (no one is sure of this), a cast-iron statue representing the poet was lost, a victim of metal looters  ●  ...Destroyed, the paintings of Alberto Greco, which he threw under the wheels of of cars while screaming, 'Long live living art!'  ●  Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet, unfinished novel; finished, it would have no ending because there is no end of the stupidity of human beings  ●  From the train that took him to Buchenwald, the father of Martin Monestier managed to send a letter to his wife who forwarded it to their son; Martin Monestier, who didn't want to know the contents of the letter, never opened it  ●  ...Bombarded forty times and forty times rebuilt, Belgrade has lost almost all its original architectural character  ●  ...Before starting the monologue of How I Ate a Dog, Yevgeni Grishkovetz wrote a version in dialogue that he destroyed: 'They say manuscripts don't burn. They burn burn very well,' he pointed out  ●  Cervantes used to say of himself that he should also be admired for what he didn't write  ●  ...The indigenous art of all epochs destroyed by missionaries  ●  As part of an exhibition called Land's End, the artist Bas Jan Ader decided to cross the Atlantic solo from Cape Cod and disappears forever  ●  ...The sixteen drawings offered by Amedeo Modigliani to his lover Anna Akhmatova were 'smoked' by the Red Guards, who used them as cigarette paper."

From The Missing Pieces, by Henri Lefebvre (no, not that Henri Lefebvre -- but another, younger one), to be published by Semiotext(e) in October, gleaned from a teaser excerpt appearing in the new issue of Harper's. In which the author offers a "incantory" text, listing of various types of artworks and efforts that have either been abandoned, destroyed, lost, forgotten, purloined, mislaid, or which -- in some manner or another -- no longer exist. A Borgean exercise in the form of an inventory of rumors, myths, ghosts; an index to an empty codex. I expect the manuscript for the second volume of Gogol's Dead Souls is cited in the course of the thing, as well.

11 September 2014

Was Autonomy Just a Moment?

"Another incoherence here is that while claiming extreme social openness and political commitment in the vein of the avant-garde’s impact on society, contemporary art—de facto—in its economic disposition happens to be part and parcel of post-Fordist alienated production. In other words, in narratives it claims democratic and resisting values, but in reality it happens to be a nonsocialized, nondemocratic, i.e., quasi-modernist, realm in its means of production and sense. Resisting attitudes and constructed situations are often used in art as externalized, abstract, and formalized actualities rather than necessities stemming from the material and immanent bond with political constellations. Hito Steyerl approaches this condition from the other end. Considering the mutation that the avant-garde’s aspirations of fusing with life have undergone in recent times, she observes the opposite effect of such a goal—life being occupied by art. It is that very art that pretends to be dissolved in life, but de facto absorbs life into its all-expanding but still self-referential territory. The system of art believes in its social microrevolutionary democratic engagement. But since the social and economic infrastructure is privatized and not at all a commonwealth, social-democratic values happen to be declared or represented while the ethics contemporary art uses to deal with social space are rather based on the canons of modernism’s negativity—which internalizes, absorbs, and neutralizes outer reality and its confusions, even though all this might be done quite involuntarily. [...]

"Today, the problem facing many contemporary art practices—also due to their very close proximity to institutions and their commissioned framework of production—is that they have fallen out of classical aesthetics, as well as what stood for non- or post-aesthetic extremities (the sphere of the sublime). I.e., they have fallen out of modernism’s canon of innovative rigidity as well as the avant-garde’s utopian horizon, but they have also failed to return to the practices of pre-modernist realisms, because contemporary art languages cannot help but decline the dimension of the event; they consider the anthropology of the event to be the outdated, almost anachronistic rudiment of art. Meanwhile, what has become so important in the highly institutionalized poetics of contemporary art are the languages of self-installing, self-instituting, self-historicizing in the frame of what constructs contemporary art as territory. The context in this case is not historical, aesthetical, artistic, or even political, but is rather institutionally biased. So that the subject of art is neither the artist, nor artistic methodology of any kind, nor the matter of reality, but the very momentum of institutional affiliation with contemporary art’s progressive geographies. This brings us to a strange condition."

Excerpt from Keti Chukhrov's essay "On the False Democracy of Contemporary Art", which appears in the new edition of the E-flux journal. This edition picks up where the journal left off before its summer vacation, with a second installment of the double-issue theme "The End of the End of History?" Which means another round of essays on contempo art practice, and how its modes of discourse and representation contend with recent shifts in specific cultural or national identities; particularly when the latter takes an ultranationalist turn. Hence essays addressing recent developments in Hungary, Greece, Macedonia, Russia, France, and elsewhere; as well a discussion of the expanding "statelessness" of Neue Slowenische Kunst.

08 September 2014

Ugly is as Ugly Does

Yeesh. I suppose quite a few people think it only appropriate that the prize went to a complex of living quarters built around a Tesco superstore. But once you check out the menagerie of worthy contenders, you might conclude that it was all stiff competition, and the final call must've involved a drawing of straws. (Note the strong hint of streamlined, recuperative Brutalist Revivialism towerblackage exhuded by Unite Stratford City.)

As far as the carbuncular champion Woolwich Central is concerned, the former head of the district's planning committee offered something of an explanatory mea culpa on his own blog; detailing the history of the developmental plan, the subsequent proposals, and how the architectural plans were gradually "dumbed down" throughout the process, before concluding:
"No matter how you dress it up, Woolwich Central is a huge two-storey car park with a supermarket above and some flats on top: a type of development completely alien to London town centres like Woolwich and one which struggles to integrate well. Woolwich Central is at best a red herring and at worst an obstacle on Woolwich’s road to recovery. It may not be a carbuncle but it is a flawed project and I regret my role as its midwife."

05 September 2014


Random Notes

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Everynoise.com purports to be "an algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space," what maps the supposed 1246 genres and sub-genres of contemporary music.

I'm sure there are legions of purists of each stripe out there who will and -- say -- declare "false necrogrind" of Parasite Hilton. In a few instances, genre names have been invented by the sat being taken care of, all you need to do is create DJ monikers for the sorts of club DJs who specialize in each designated genre. [via the Guardian]

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From the architectural pavilions of this season's Venice Biennale, in which participants kick against the guidelines of "starchitecture," as exemplified by current Biennale curator Rem Koolhaas:

"Most of the curators of the national pavilions embraced Koolhaas’s challenge to reconsider their countries' architectural history, and most ignored or deliberately undermined his polemical and ideological agenda—as Koolhaas himself had come to recognize by the show’s opening. As a result of this unanticipated and welcome rebellion, this year’s Biennale offers an unforgettably wide-ranging, if scattershot, survey of modern and contemporary architectural history that will forever demolish the popular notion of what modernism in architecture was.

"It is ironic justice that Koolhaas’s very failure to control the message in the national pavilions is precisely what makes this year’s show the most illuminating and important exploration of architectural culture in recent history. The national pavilions from Albania to Uruguay swirl with architectural splendors and revelations. Who beyond its borders knew of the rich modernist tradition in Mozambique, with one foot in south European and especially Portuguese avant-garde trends and the other in Africa’s thatched huts? Or that Pier Luigi Nervi, the Italian engineer famous for elegant long-span bridges and stadia, designed a spectacular cathedral, abbey, and monastery for the Benedictine order in western Australia from 1958 to 1961? (Alas, it was never built.) How many have recognized the importance of South Korea’s deep modernist tradition, which produced dozens of buildings that are innovative, 
beautiful, and good?"

See also: The virtual tour recently offered by ArchDaily.

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Somewhat relatedly: Every nation is the market for monuments. As those in the market have learned, North Korea's Mansudae Art Studio is frequently there to meet the demands. However:
"...There’s a consistency in the details of their craft. German officials, who commissioned Mansudae Studios to rebuild a fountain destroyed in World War One, complained of angular, cement block haircuts of the depicted women, which had an unwanted soviet touch. In Benin, critics have called a North Korean built monument Stalinist, a cartoonish depiction of Africans, and even chauvinistic."

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National Public Radio does a segment on the what all's involved in assessing the worth of a museum's entire holdings, in this case the Detroit Institute of Arts.

An historical footnote about the DIA collection: When Hitler invaded Poland and effectively got the WWII ball rolling, the Western world took note. Curators began scrambling to devise contingency plans to stash their institution's collections into safe storage in the event of an invasion. This began in London and Paris, quickly followed by museums in such U.S, coastal cites like New York, Boston, D.C., and San Francisco. But Detroit waved away the notion, mainly because Henry Ford had ordered that the doors remain open and the collection stay as it was. His rational supposedly being that (a) Detroit was too far inland to be at risk, and (b) Axis powers weren't likely to invade the U.S.. Fair enough -- but given how Ford had long been so chummy with Adolph Hitler, one can't help but wonder if his decision was partly based on one part intuition to one part "insider information."

31 August 2014

From the Annals of Higher Education

Back during the NYC art boom of the 1980s, a common cliché had it that the hot and heavily-hyped new breed of Uptown po-mo artists mostly hailed from one of two art schools – either the Rhode Island School of Design or The California Institute of the Arts (or CalArts, as it more commonly called). Of the two, one could attribute the latter of having nurtured such talents as David Salle, Eric Fischl, Ross Bleckner, Ashley Bickerton, Matt Mullican, Jonathan Lasker, Tony Oursler, both Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw, Carrie Mae Weems, Christopher Williams, and Guillermo Gomez-Peña. Some even went so far as refer to this group of artists as the "CalArts Mafia."*

Much of this was credited to the School's faculty, which at times included a who's-who of the cultural cutting edge; recruiting heavily – in the realm of visual arts – from from leading artists of the Fluxus and Conceptualist stripe. From this came portrayals of CalArts as the home of an unruly and unstructured program in which – at a point in which contemporary aesthetics were in a state of flux and generally experiencing categorical breakdown – students were encouraged and allowed to pursue the most indulgently esoteric practices to their extremes, ad absurdum. As some accounts had it at the time, a description of the program at the time sounded vaguely akin the 17th-century descriptions of a tour of Bedlam; or at least some type of satirical artworld update of Didion's "Slouching Toward Bethlehem." Such accounts tended to portray the program at CalArts as being the quaint epitome of the excesses of a prior era.**  All of which was a little ironic, seeing how it took place at an institution initially set up by the Disney family, its original mission being that of serving as a type of high-caliber "trade school" for the Hollywood film industry.

In recent years, the online art publication East of Borneo has published a fair number of articles on the CalArts glory days of yore. Since the site is based out of the institution in question, we could regard this as an exercise in self-achiving and legacy-enshrinement. Of these, the recent essay by Janet Sarbannes, "A Community of Artists: Radical Pedagogy at CalArts, 1969-72," offers a good historic overview of the school's early years – the unlikeliness of its origins, the controversy surrounding its curriculum, and the like. Lots of intriguing details emerge throughout ; such as this bit, which turns up in a footnote:

"In a twist of fate, a number of the first administrators were hired by H.R. Haldeman, who would soon become Richard Nixon’s chief of staff but at the time chaired the CalArts board of trustees (having met Walt Disney through his work at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency). Charged with locating the top artists in their fields, Haldeman proceeded to pluck the original CalArts administration from the ranks of the avant-garde."

As well no shortage of era-specific scenarios:

“'What really blew it,' [James] Real maintains, 'was the playful decision by a faculty member to stage a bit of radical theater by taking off his clothes during a board meeting [to discuss closing the swimming pool]. He really didn’t have to go that far to mau-mau the Disney contingent. Just putting his bare feet on the table would have done it with people who, in earlier times, had spent hours arguing over whether to put skirts around the udder of cartoon cows.'"

As well as the tale of how donors reacted when Herbert Marcuse came to town. And if you hadn't gathered by now, the essay is as long on the history of cultural politics at a particular moment in time as it is on art.

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*  Among its other alumni,  such future pop-culture figures as Paul Reubens, Tim Burton, and David Hasselhoff. The Institute's Herb Albert School of Music is another story in itself, responsible for graduating a number of notable contributors to the fields of modern composition, noise, and experimental music.
**  This may all have merely been in keeping with the cultural trend of ridiculing anything having to do with Southern California, which became a fairly popular American pastime in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

27 July 2014

Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Cheated?

From Axel Nagel's recent essay "Beyond the Relic Cult of Art", at the Brooklyn Rail:

"In contrast to copying for training purposes, which proceeds from the premise that the lessons of the model could and should be applied in the present, copying them as artifacts proceeds from exactly the opposite premise, that the model is foreign, that art has moved irreversibly in new directions. In reproducing the strokes made by the original artist, I relive them as a series of decisions, decisions that were natural for him and are not for me. It is not just that his individual style is different from mine. If it is old enough, the entire period style, the very premises on which he worked, are different. The strange quality of a sleeve, therefore, and my resistance to it, prompt questions about the otherness of those times generally."

Nagel's essay is the latest in a series on the topic of art forgeries appearing at the Rail under the umbrella of The Held Essays On Visual Arts. The series on forgeries apparently kicked off in response to critic Blake Gopnik’s recent NYT essay, “In Praise of Art Forgeries”; including (so far) a riposte essay from Alva Noë, a counter-response from Gopnik, another essay by David Geers, with Nagel weighing in recently.

Frankly, I find the Gopnik essays abysmal (about which, the less said the better).  But they nonetheless touched off a debate. And what followed with the responses from Noë and Geers is fairly basic stuff for anyone who’s ever given the matter much thought, or read any previous discussion on the topic. Because there’s a body of literature on this very topic already, one that stacked up throughout the twentieth century, most of it penned by philosophers and aestheticians of the academic stripe. And for already familiar with these debates, the Held essays read like a casual, 101-er recap. Concerning the usual questions about authenticity and originally. About the singularity of a work of art (particularly in the case of painting) as executed by one hand, as weighed against a copy made by other hands. Also too about the matter of the intention of the maker, not only as it relates to expression but also to how a work might be the result of the artist’s search for a solution to a certain creative “problem.” And then come difficult questions about the valuation of art works – be it the “aesthetic value” of a work as perceived or derived by the viewer (who might not know that they are dealing with a fake), or the monetary value assigned to the work because of its supposed singularity (as paid by some overly-eager collector who might not know that they are purchasing a fake).

The former instance is where things get slippery, because it’s where the discussion starts venturing out of the domain of the merely aesthetic and down another philosophic avenue – the one called ethics. Because no matter how much postmodernism might’ve made us jaded about notions of “sincerity” and “originality” and the like, most people (even hair-splitting academic aestheticians) still agree on is that deceiving or defrauding other people is a shitty, shitty thing to do. Which, once you get down to the brass tacks, is the only intention or “creative solution” that a forger has in mind when they go to work.

Nagel’s essay is a welcome step outside of this unresolved debate, reframing the questions surround copies and forgeries in a broader historical context. Yes, the act of copying was once less stigmatized; but those were much different times. And yes, forgeries are very much a response to a particular type of art market. And as the recent Rothko/AbEx forgery scandal has demonstrated, it’s an enterprise that always rushes in when there’s a bubbling market.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that there’s something completely absent from discussion on this topic; something that I think would be very central to discussion surrounding artistic intention and “problem solving”. That being: Yes, it’s a process that involves a great deal of thought, contemplation, sweat in the execution stages and any number of erasures and doings-over. But that same process can also involve a number of other, less taxing things – like whimsy, irony, spontaneity, and (as they say) jouissance. The act of copying or forging, with all its slavish technical concerns and formulae-aping, doesn’t allow room for such things.

19 July 2014

Hi There

I might as well go ahead and call it, even though it's probably been evident enough in recent weeks: Summer hiatus. Or something akin to. Mainly on account of having something like some "life event"-type biz to attend to these days; the sort of thing that involves a lot of distractions, strategizing, attention to certain details, etc. etc.. The sort that leaves limited headspace, temporarily shoving most everything else to the margins.

Counted among the casualties: Several lengthy posts that I can't time to finish, languishing in drafts mode. But if things have been slow lately, it was an indicator of The Shape Of Things To Come for the better part of the summer. Then, once I get round to it, a flurry of tl;dr blahblah. With a forecast of maybe sporadic intermittent bubblings on the surface blahblah-wise.

But anyway, speaking of summer: Hope yours has been a nice one. Cheers.

09 July 2014

Epiglottal Interlude

Thought of posting this song a while back, sans explan. Since then, I discovered that we have a colony of bats nesting in our attic.

01 July 2014

Hegelian Aesthetics vs. the Bronzed Turd

Career-spanning retrospectives often serve as a type of critical proving ground, if not a waterloo, for artists of a certain vintage. They often arrive at the point at which an artist’s cultural legacy is either up for renewal, or – frequently enough – for reevaluation.

Case in point: The Cindy Sherman MoMA retrospective of a couple of years ago. Until that time Sherman had been largely unassailable – one of the very few American artists who survived the critical backwash again the NYC artworld of the 1980s, one of the only artists of her generation whose status went unquestioned over the decades that followed. Up until the MoMA retrospect, which brought a couple of surprises. The first was its accompanying debut of a series of new work that met with harsh dismissals by a few critics; the argument being that the new works were definitely – and unexpectedly – weak. Otherwise, the reviews were generally positive. In a couple of instances, a critic would break ranks and used the occasion to declare, “I never liked her work to begin with.”

In terms of what sort of reception might greet a retrospective exhibition, timing has a lot to do with it. An artist’s reputation or critical esteem can fluctuate many times over the course of his or her career. So if the show in question meets with mixed, ambivalent or even hostile reviews, it might simple be that it coincides with the moment in which critics and viewers begin to pose certain questions. Has the artist’s work finally outlived its geist, and was now being reassessed by the sensibility of a different cultural climate? Were they perhaps crap to begin with, and we’re only now able to recognize this is hindsight? Or is all this just an example of the pendular sway of opinion – the inevitable but passing dip in esteem that often proves temporary before consensus regroups and rights itself? The path to canonization is almost never unswervingly linear.

And now it’s Jeff Koon’s turn. Admittedly, he’s always been a polarizing figure, and still is. But this time, on the occasion of the Whitney’s Koons retrospective, the detractors have their opportunity to line up and take their shots. For one, there's Thomas Micchelli at Hyperallergic:

“There’s really no getting around the sense that such preciously fabricated works as ‘Saint John’ and ‘Michael Jackson,’ when placed inside the walls of a preeminent art museum, bespeak a contempt for the less-affluent classes who find the Walmart versions of these images pleasing. Whether such latent condescension is intentional on the part of the artist or museum doesn’t matter; the imagery’s faux-democratic appeal to easy fun (to reference the title of another of Koons’s series) is bound to engender in the art-smart viewer either regression or ridicule, despite Koons’s stated goal, as related in a wall text, that they be seen ‘as an elaborate allegory […] aimed at freeing us to embrace without embarrassment our childhood affection for toys or the trinkets lining our grandparents’ shelves.’ We really don’t need an assist from Koons to accept the unsophisticated joys of childhood; the ideal of the child has been a tenet of Modernism since Charles Baudelaire.”

And at Artnet critic Ben Davies offers his own peculiar critique, more or less reaching similar conclusions:

“These works at least nod to questions of privilege. They suggest thoughts, however unformed, about who culture is aimed at and how desire is constructed. But realizing the specific racial and class components of one’s own taste also means some degree of self-doubt, and self-doubt is exactly what is purged as time goes by and Koons becomes a bigger deal.”

Personally, I feel Davis's attempt at a socio-economic tack almost misses its target completely. And I take issue with Micchelli’s assertion about the quasi-populist “condescension” that defines Koons’s career, if only because it always struck me – more specifically – as the product of cynical pandering. And reaching for Arthur Danto’s “End of Art” thesis seems not only overly generous, but ill-suited for the topic at hand. (If there’s an “end of art” diagnosis that Koons’s work exemplifies, it’s the one put forth by Donald Kuspit, landing squarely in the category of what Kuspit categorizes as "postart.”)*

I suppose there is such basis for labeling Koons the Most Important Living Artist of the past few decades. A fair enough verdict, providing you happen to believe that that self-blinkered acriticality, market bubbles, thought-killing clichés passed off profound truths, and the habitual recycling of artistic gestures from the recent past are the defining characteristics of the current era. And one could also make the same argument in terms of Koons’s influence on other artists that followed in his wake; but that argument would be too contingent on a favorable unanimous consensus about Damien Hirst and many of his YBA peers. Similarly for such a case being made where ever-increasing sums of money becomes the dictating criterion.

And then there’s Jerry Saltz. Long one of Koons’s most faithful advocates and defenders, even Saltz feels obligated to lace his review of the retrospective with caveats:

“Koons helped art reenter public discourse while also opening up the art world. ...The very environment he did so much to reengineer, followed by the mad amplification of the luxury economy, has meant that Koons’s art now seems to celebrate the ugliest parts of culture. The rich and greedy buy it because it lauds them for their greediness, their wealth, power, terrible taste, and bad values. Just as Koons was a positive emblem of an era when art was reengaging with the world beyond itself, he is now emblematic of one where only masters of the universe can play.”

Whereas Peter Schjeldahl writing for the New Yorker can only shrug:

“We might justly term the present Mammon-driven era in contemporary art the Koons Age. No other artist so lends himself to a caricature of the indecently rich ravening after the vulgarly bright and shiny. ...It’s really the quality of his work, interlocking with economic and social trends, that makes him the signal artist of today’s world. If you don’t like that, take it up with the world.”

Which I suppose could be translated to mean that a culture gets the type of art that it deserves.

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*  Not that this should be construed as an endorsement of the criticism of Donald Kuspit. Far from it. But I suppose the ideal obligatory exhibition companion publication could feature – in the place of the usual laudatory blahblah by curators, critics, and art hsitorians – one long text that was some sort of frankensteined suturing of Kuspit’s The End of Art, Fukuyama’s The End of History, and Daniel Bell’s The End of Ideology, except rewritten in the style of your standard management-lit self-help tome. (Life coach not included.)

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