Monday, March 30, 2009

Hot Rocks

A quick one this one - but a good one. Last week marked the 1 year anniversary of my consistent blogging. In the past year, I have written about the weather, the state of my piece of ground in Maine, and the art world in general. I plan to keep right on with that: it's cold and rainy, here in Maine there's still some snow on the ground, and the last show I saw before leaving Brooklyn was at the Japan Society.

KRAZY! is a really fun show that gives an overview of the serious pursuit of Manga. I now have a much better idea of the breadth of Manga and Anime subject matter and visual imagery. Not everything is shootem up blowem up sex and violence. The most unexpected part of this exhibition, though, is the house of comic books - bookshelves in the round, with a door to the inside, so that you and your small inner self can go inside, sit down, and read or be read to. I also see the thread that runs from ukiyo-e hanga to Manga, and this will be fun to explore now that I'm back in my studio. Get ready for rocks that rock and some hot color.

Oh, and one more thing. I love languages, and the book Japanese in Mangaland was too tempting to resist. From now on, I'll be playing with Japanese characters too, hehehe.

KRAZY! is up through June 14. Konnichiwa Friends and Family Tours on the second Saturday of every month.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lots of Art

Just give me art, lots of art, lots of starry nights and oh – Martin Kippenberger. He produced lots of art, and lots of it is now at MOMA through May 11 (The Problem Perspective). New York Magazine calls him “the artist who did everything.” When I was growing up in Lexington, KY, there were no museums to go to, no Kippenbergers to see, but I drew my own responses to the world around me: a smiley Jesus on the cross (religion), birds nesting (nature), a horse being sick at both ends (societal awareness). So I recognize a kindred spirit in Kippenberger, who came up with even better, more skewed responses: Fred the Frog crucified, a fake birch forest littered with uppers and downers, and Santa’s evil twin, Knecht Ruprecht.

Kippenberger worked fast and loose and prolifically, embracing most of the media and forms of visual art extant at the time. Too bad that digital art forms were then just in their infancy. Wall text at MOMA speaks of his “itinerant sensibility,” and the recent reviews of the show in Art in America, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and John Perreault’s Artopia blog, all place him in the context of post-war German art. He out-did Richter, faced down Beuys, and made fun of Picasso (I know, Picasso’s not German, but he was there to be called on the Teppich).

And yet, Kippenberger himself was German in his expression, and never more so than as an incredibly accomplished painter and draftsman. He refers to or anticipates most of contemporary painting, without losing himself in the process. In addition to stabs at Richter, Beuys and Polke, I found correspondances to Hockney and Wegman, and reminders of Francis Bacon. There is a beautiful series of watercolors featuring a magnifying glass, and a range of drawings on hotel stationery, done over the years, that make political and social points. In the end, at the end of his life, he did a group of drawings and paintings based on Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. They are baroque in their intensity and outdo Gericault in their existential horror. Texts on two of the paintings announce “Je suis meduse” and “The End.” And so, in both cases, it was.

Monday, March 16, 2009


If they weren’t so small they’d kill you. From my 3rd floor window in Carroll Gardens I’m watching a convention of twelve cats, loosely organizing themselves cat fashion in the neighbor’s back yard. Six seem to be related, because they’re all grey with ringed tails. Two others are Siamese. Two are black, one with boots. Three walk the top rail of a chain link fence. Now a decision has been made to change backyards. Some cats go over the fence, some through the hole below. They re-convene. Tails twitch. A victim has been chosen, or maybe that cat’s “IT” because all the others join in to chase it under the euonymus. Cat fight. Yowling. Everybody scatters. Reorganization in smaller breakout groups has occurred. Do cats think about art?

Most of the time, an art magazine arrives in my mailbox and I throw it into the mix of printed matter I will later slog through to feel better informed. This month’s Art in America International Review is an exception. I get at it right away, because It’s full of images that actually work. They have something to say. They bear extended looking. Kamrooz Aram’s paintings address the intersection of video games and Persian miniatures. Steve McQueen and Hannah Wilke are here. There’s a feature on Martin Kippenberger, whose show I plan to see at MOMA very soon. And a quote that really grabbed me, because it was both a YES! and a DUH – was this about Shepard Fairey’s designs. “Ironically, Fairey’s designs, which are often esthetic flirtations with the propaganda graphics and exhortations of communist Russia, China and Cuba, are much in demand in the corporate world.” Why is that? Not only is the message behind the images spelled out (“These sunsets are to die for,” “OBEY” and “HOPE”), but beyond that, the grim color and heavy-handed forms exactly mirror the mental images inhabiting the heads of corporate wonks.

Shepard Fairey’s work is on view in Boston through August 16, and in spite of his popularity with corporate types, Boston cops have not been so thrilled. You’d think that a city that started off by throwing tea into the harbor would have a soft spot for political messages, but apparently that’s not the case.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Art Market – Not So Much

The Armory Show was this weekend, and having walked my feet off getting there and back, plus having recently taken in the ADAA Art Fair, I had thought to rant about the commodification of art. You do get to see a great range of gallery offerings in both venues, and, dollar consideratiions aside, most of it’s quite good. There are booths devoted to single artists (Gerhard Richter and Donald Sultan at ADAA), and booths devoted to single subjects (Dieu Donne for handmade paper at the Armory). But try as I might, I cannot warm up to art as a commodity and I have nothing whatsoever to say about the current state of the art market. I like to be one on one with a work of art and think of it as connected to its maker rather than as something to which a price tag has been attached. It doesn’t matter to me that if I had enough money I could consider owning it. I’m happy to look. I got really happy looking at some elegantly painted portraits by Elizabeth Peyton (see my December 1 blog), and admired the skilled draftsmanship of Danica Phelps at the Lower East Side Printshop booth. Dubuffet always makes me want to go out and play in the mud – and that’s a good thing. Louise Bourgeois doesn’t necessarily make me happy, but she does make me want to challenge myself, a very good thing indeed. There’s a razor’s edge to her work that will never appear in mine, but I like knowing that she can slice up my emotions with it. Yayoi Kusama’s variations on disorientation bring me up short every time, no matter what the medium, and I love the way that happens. But with so much talent, why does Richter pull his punches in favor of showing off his squeegee techniques? I’m not so happy about that because his doing so is market-motivated, about which I said I had nothing to say, but maybe I was wrong. Hmmmmmmm.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Sapolio goes viral, Snow does the same

"The snow the snow the beautiful snow it brightens the world like Sapolio." I learned this jingle/meme when I was a little kid, and it's right at the front of my brain every time I watch it snow, as it's doing - AGAIN - here in Maine. It even snowed in Alabama. Meetings have been canceled, driveway as yet unplowed. Wondering whether I had spelled Sapolio correctly, I came across this April 6, 1936 article in Time, which makes it clear that Sapolio was one of the pioneers of modern marketing, with branding in Europe as well as the US. Here's another jingle, a riff on Gilbert and Sullivan from the archives at Boise State:

When I was a lad, I served a term
As office boy to an attorney's firm;
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee,
But I couldn't have polished it bright I know
If I had not used SAPOLIO.

So these days, it's Google, Twitter and Facebook that get us around, and as soon as I'm back in New York, I'll check out the old Sapolio factory at West and Bank Streets. As I already know from Google street views, it's a handsome old building, on the west bank (where else) of Manhattan.