30 April 2015

Institutionalized (Slight Return)

After letting the grumbling subside, curator & MoMA director Glenn Lowry and his associates belatedly fire back at the unanimous disapproval heaped upon them over the Museum's Björk retrospective. Huh, okay. For some reason, I always get suspicious whenever someone plays the populist/anti-eltism card. But maybe that's just me.

Relatedly, the last issue of New York magazine features two pieces concerning the unveiling of the new Whitney space; with Jerry Saltz critiquing it from the interior at length, while architecture critic Justin Davidson assessing Renzo Piano's overall design for the building as a whole. While Davidson doesn't dislike the building as a whole, he labels it "deliberately clunky" and at times offers some less-than-glowing things descriptions:

"Once it ages a bit, it will start evoking our Apple moment, when high-tech containers, from phones to cruise ships, had to have shiny metal casings and dark, satiny screens. There's nothing seamless about this awkward kit of protruding parts and tilting surfaces, though: The thing might have have arrived in an Ikea flat pack and then been prodigiously misassembled."

“Were I to judge the new Whitney exterior,” writes Saltz, “I’d say it looks like a hospital or a pharmaceutical company.” That aside, Saltz is far more enthusiastic -- if not effusive -- about the interior exhibition potential. And his piece is among the longest and more erudite that he’s written (to my knowledge) in a good while. Those who remember his tenure at the Village Voice about 10-15 years ago (and his brief stint with Modern Painters magazine) can probably remember how often he played the role of the art world scold -- venting about the bloated indulgences, excesses, and follies of various cultural institutions; calling for so-ands-so's departure; decrying on the absence of female artist in exhibitions and permanent collections, & etc.. Since he’s been with NYmag, not so much. But, in course of delineating the status and history of NYC’s four major art museums, Saltz slips back into that mode from time to time:

“The list of fun-house attractions is long. At MoMA, we’ve had overhyped, badly done shows of Björk and Tim Burton, the Rain Room selfie trap, and the daylong spectacle of Tilda Swinton sleeping in a glass case. This summer in London you can ride Carsten Höller’s building-high slides at the Hayward Gallery — there, the fun house is literal. Elsewhere, it is a little more ‘adult’: In 2011, L.A.’s MoCA staged Marina Abramovic’s Survival MoCA Dinner, a piece of megakitsch that included naked women with skeletons atop them on dinner tables where attendees ate. In 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art paid $70,000 for a 21-foot-tall, 340-ton boulder by artist Michael Heizer and installed it over a cement trench in front of the museum, paying $10 million for what is essentially a photo op. Last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago mounted a tepid David Bowie show, which nevertheless broke records for attendance and sales of catalogues, ‘limited-edition prints,’ and T-shirts. Among the many unfocused recent spectacles at the Guggenheim were Cai Guo-Qiang’s nine cars suspended in the rotunda with lights shooting out of them. The irony of these massively expensive endeavors is that the works and shows are supposedly ‘radical’ and ‘interdisciplinary,’ but the experiences they generate are closer, really, to a visit to Graceland — ‘Shut up, take a selfie, keep moving.’”

At the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl is equally heartened by museum's new exhibition, and similarly blase about the Piano's design. I reckon the next time we can expect this kind of consensus is when the new Whitney Biennial rolls around, at which point everyone will go back to the rancorous poohing-poohing that unfailingly accompanies the event.

28 April 2015

After a Fashion

In which the lede bluntly states what is elementary for some people (but perhaps not to others):

“Though we might try to frame it in more rational, objective terms, design culture is really nothing more than a highly complex, super-developed system of driven-by-object fetishism. It's a world where objects take on meanings and significances far beyond the sum of their material form. Where things inert and external to us resonate deep within our psyche. As designer or consumer, we are drawn towards sensations – the sheen of a particular texture, a particular colourway, the way a particular door swings. We've all had it, that moment when we feel a desperate attraction to a thing, an uncontrollable desire for...it, whatever that 'it' might be.”

From Sam Jacob, he of the UIC architecture department and the Strange Harvest blog, with a cheeky opin piece for Dezeen, in which he argues that designers could learn a thing or two from BDSM culture.

There was, if I recall, a fair amount of fetishism lurking beneath the surface of Roland Barthes's The Fashion System. Within months of its publication in 1968, Jean Baudrillard made his debut with The System of Objects, in which he extended Barthes’s semiotics (and fetishism) to a broader critique of postwar consumer culture. For example:

“There was a long period during which American cars were adorned by immense tail fins. For Vance Packard these perfectly symbolized the American obsession with consumer goods. They have other meanings, too: scarcely had it emancipated itself from the forms of earlier kinds of vehicles than the automobile-object began connoting nothing more than the result so achieved – that is to say, nothing more than itself as a victorious function. We thus witnessed a veritable triumphalism on the part of the object: the car’s fins became the sign of victory over space – and they were purely a sign, because they bore no direct relationship to that victory (indeed, if anything they ran counter to it, tending as they did to make vehicles both heavier and more cumbersome). Concrete technical mobility was over-signified here as absolute fluidity. Tail fins were a sign not of real speed but of a sublime, measureless speed. They suggested a miraculous automatism, a sort of grace. It was the presence of these fins that in our imagination propelled the car, which, thanks to them, seemed to fly along of its own accord, after the fashion of a higher organism. The engine was the real efficient principle, the fins the imaginary one. Such interplay between the spontaneous and the transcendent efficacy of the object calls immediately for nature symbols: cars sprout fins and are encased in fuselages – features that in other contexts are functional; first they appropriate the characteristics of the aeroplane, which is a model object relative to space, then they proceed to borrow directly from nature – from sharks, birds, and so on.”

To that, one might add Jameson’s discussion of the “depthlessness” of postmodern culture, as supposedly epitomized in Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes.” Which is one way to look to look at Warhol’s many prints of women’s shoes. Another being that Warhol, by many accounts, also had a major foot fetish.

Image: UK pop sculptor Allen Jones, c. 1969, with one of his “tables.”

26 April 2015

Poplock Cosmopolis: Once Upon a Time in NYC, Pt. 1

At his his “Energy Flash” blog, Simon points to an online piece via New York magazine that offers a brief oral history of the NY shop Liquid Sky, the rave-culture boutique/record store operated by DJ Soul Slinger and his partner Rey back in the 1990s, which quickly became an anchor for the experimental electronic music scene in the five boroughs. The magazine's main angle being not that it was a pioneering presence on the NYC underground scene, but rather that Chloe Sevigny used to work there.

I mainly remember the label that grew out of the venture. Firstly, there being Jungle Sky, which aimed to provide an imprint and/or means of distro for Stateside/NYC junglists like Carlos Soulslinger and his confrères, by way of a series of 12”s and compilations...

After which came the Home Entertainment sister label, which devoted to the illbient scene that was brewing over in Brooklyn at the time, but mostly ended up issuing a lot of releases by a handful of German acts. There had, in the early ‘90s, been a scene brewing in Cologne; many of its participants being in some way or another associated with the techno act Air Liquide, all of whom performed under a variety of solo and collaborative monikers. Two of whom -- Thomas Thorn and Ingmar Koch (aka Dr. Walker) -- owned and operated music clubs in Cologne, thus having been central to nurturing the scene in question. Koch’s club was Liquid Sky Cologne, which may or may not have taken its name after the Deutsch-Amerikanische freundschaft between Carlos Soul Slinger and the Cologne artists...

Much of this has long since receded into the fog of obscurity and marginalia. Koch/Walker would later opened a club in -- if I recall correctly -- Greece before more recently transplanting the Liquid Sky club in Berlin As far as the Cologne scene was concerned: before the 90s were over, it would be exclusively be associated with another sound -- the sound of moody, minimal tech-house stylings of Wolfgang Voigt’s Kompakt label.

Some 6 years I uploaded a mix of the Liquid Sky/Electro Bunker Cologne material on oe of my prior blogs, under the titled “Things You Probably Missed.” Have since thought of doing a similar one here, devoted to the NYC illbient scene of the mid ‘90s. (When was the last time I uploaded a mix? S'been at least a couple of year sat least, I think. Does anyone give an isht anymore?)

+ + + + + + +

Anyway, discographic tangents aside: Simon makes the comment that “The oral history thing is getting a little bit of hand, don't you think?” Although I haven’t noticed any uptick in the format, one might expect as much,. It’s easy work for the writer -- in that one relinquishes the role of writing for recording, transcribing, and editing. More curatorial than creative, because you’ve largely outsourced the content-generating part of the process to outside parties; thus rendering the process something of a cakewalk towards a deadline.

But the oral history, as a participant’s retelling, frequently lends itself to nostalgia, or at least to to some “those were different times”-type narrative. Case in point, a quick googling of the Liquid Sky topic reveals that Carlos Soul Slinger’s former partner Remy made an amateur doco about the NYC underground in the ‘90s, intermixing footage she’d taken back in the day with interviews she made on a return visit (years afer she & Carlos had split up and she’d returned to Brazil).

And over the past year or so I’ve heard or read a fair number of interviews from artists, of various stripes, in which the topic of old-vs-present NYC surfaces at some point -- about how the city no longer resembles the place that it once was. It has, I’ll admit, become a trope or refrain, of late. Plenty of it to be had in the above. Hence the appeal of the nostalgia/oral history angle. But as far as New York is concerned, it long ago became the economic trailblazer for what's become common in other major metropoles. As a friend wrote to me last year, commenting on a return to take up residence in his hometown: “As for San Francisco, I think we can officially pronounce it dead. It's a good city if you’ve loads of money for consuming culture, but at the same time it’s become a place that is very inhospitable to those who produce it.”

25 April 2015


For an amigo, recently through town on a writing assignment occasioned by the anniversary of a certain event. Fishermen and marine biologists and Geological Survey types aside, anyone who's put their feet in Gulf waters lately can tell you that you still have wash the gunk off your soles afterwards.

Anyway. If there's anyone I owe apologies to for my extended absence,  then yes -- apologies. More to come soon.

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