Monday, February 1, 2016

Shakespeare, Indiana


American Crime is in its second season, and this season has the same dour, dreamy, urgent feel as its first.  There's hardly any soundtrack music to coax scenes out of what they actually are -- just a throbbing hum from fluorescence or maybe it's just God sleeping.  And every actor is keyed up and centralized; you feel their faces somehow, feel their thoughts.  I love the whole setup of this limited series.  John Ridley is the creator, and he's fashioned a Shakespearean nightmare world out of Indianapolis, Indiana, transforming suburbs, exurbs, tenement apartments, basketball courts, pancake houses, and private and public high-school hallways into high-tragedy venues of seriousness and sorrow.  The writing has an intensity and drive to it; every hour episode moves through like a semi on the interstate.  What the characters say feels authentically boxed-in, as if culled through surveillance, and yet there's an artfulness to it all too, as if each character is a type we've never come across before on TV or in movies, and yet we've known them all our lives. 
Felicity Huffman's Leslie Graham, the private school's highbrow, hyper-professional headmaster, has the steely-eyed reserve of a non-profit dragon-lady, and yet the way she's performed you have access to her ability to compartmentalize for the "greater good," meaning she can take advantage of women like Lili Taylor's Anne Blaine, a working-class mom whose son attends the private school on scholarship, and who seems to have just been raped by one of the school's basketball players.  Boom.  Taylor's hurt registers like a fish-hook into a palm; you feel all she's been through without knowing a single thing about her.  It's her eyes and mouth, the way her hair hangs down her face.  She's a restaurant manager who's overworked and anxious to help her son ascend.  When she finds out about the assault she speaks with Ms. Graham, thinking that something can be done, an investigation, punishment, whatever.  Ms. Graham's instinct is to ask her to sign some papers before she leaves.
Regina King's Terri LaCroix, an upper-middle-class African American mother, wife and manager, whose son also goes to the school and hosted the party where the assault allegedly happened, is distinctly over and above it all, tired of having to justify herself .  King is triumphantly and constantly reminding anyone in the room that she has ascended, through body language, through a heated flicked in her eyes.  She is letting all of us know she is no longer "one of those people," and that she is tired of all of us not noticing that.  In one scene, she has to fire one of her African American underlings, a woman who asks her, "Can you do something for me?"  She hates the insinuation that the two of them are connected by race, and complains at a wine bar that night with some of her friends that she's sick of those kinds of expectations.  And then later in the same episode, when confronted with the assault controversy and worried about her son's culpability, she invites a cop friend over to her home and asks, without a note of irony or apology, "Can you do something for us?"  The cop is black. Terry LaCroix's face is always registering a blank, almost frightening unconcern, until she senses she might be seen as vulnerable or not worthy, as when she's asking for help from the cop friend.  Her other expressions range from fury and disdain to plain old everyday "I need to get this," while putting her I-phone up to her ear.  In short, she's an American classic, ignoring history while also trying to find a way to escape it, and yet in King's performance you feel a kind of thermodynamic exhaustion taking place right before your eyes.  She's tired of all she has to do to be herself, and yet she can't stop the act; she's wearing a mask that's smothering her but she can't remove it. 
The same can be said of Connor Jessup's Taylor, the boy who is sexually assaulted, and Joey Pollari's Eric, the boy accused of assaulting him.  They both are running from the way they have to perform themselves, seeking a way out of the codes and regulations encircling behavior, class, desire -- but they don't have anything to replace it with, to run to.  This sense of hopelessness permeates all of American Crime, and it's refreshing in a way you can't describe except that while you watch it you feel reality's pulse, tragedy's electricity.  There aren't really any happy moments in the show: dinners are always scraping plates and forks dropping to the floor, school a shadowy collection of hallways and facelessness, homes lit with living room lamps and TV light, faces lit with phone-light, everything in a sort of 21st Century gloom.  It's not show-offy though, this gloom -- it's bracing and for real, artificial enough to have a sense of style that saves the whole enterprise from being high-dungeon or campy or worked-up.  
American Crime creates a raw-nerve labyrinth of class and sex and gender and bias and hate and love and phoniness that encapsulates America in a way other shows can't.  You get lost in all the atmospheric complications, and yet the narrative momentum and dread pull you through.  There's no easy way to explain it, no easy way out.  This is heady stuff, extremely watchable somehow, all of it arranged into a high-stakes one-hour drama with an eye toward not letting anybody off the hook.  American Crime finds a beautiful and strange ambiguity in all that furor and blame.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Not to Be Believed

"A lot of movies are about life.  Mine are like a piece of cake," Alfred Hitchcock once said. 

Nancy Meyers is the 21st Century Hitchcock in many ways.  While Hitch hitched his sense of cinema/design/manipulation/aesthetic mostly on the thriller genre, cake-decorating the screen with posh, Technicolor, darkly romantic interiors (think North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, Vertigo, etc.), Meyers creates a romanticism of conspicuous consumption, making romantic comedies/dramedies that feel both fairy-tale brittle and heavy-handedly delightful.  Her slice of cake is interior-design as fever-dream; each of her greatest films are elopements from reality, and yet so overtly realized and sumptuous as to blow your stinking mind.  I'm talking here mainly about the movies she's directed and written since 2003:  Something's Gotta Give, The Holiday, It's Complicated, and this year's The Intern.  All of these films are sentimental and bland and populated by talky, over-earnest, rich ladies and gents who have successfully created their own destinies through hard work and good living.  All of which would piss any normal moviegoer off, but somehow, due to Meyer's innate, obsessive tendency to manufacture a sincere and scrupulous universe you feel sucked into all her gorgeous business; you feel the pain and triumph of made-up bicoastal white-linen American aristocracy.  You want to be a Meyers-ite from the first glimpse of sunlight through Central Park trees, so iridescent and lyrical as to make you feel nostalgic for experiences you've never experienced, or the sun-drenched ceramic-tiled roofs of Santa Monica mansions undulating into the sunset, or the crisp, bright, efficient stylishness of a Brooklyn warehouse transformed into heavenly office-space.

I could go on.

Meyers, like Hitchcock, seems to be more interested in the stuff involved in making the movie than in the overall movie itself, meaning she has an almost perverted sense of objects, d├ęcor, things.  She's a fetishist in the most regal and Architectural Digest sense of the word.  Her camera lingers across tables, pillows, couches, Egyptian-cotton bed-sheets with a voluptuous voyeuristic slowness and ardor that reminds me of Hitchcock's slow and delicious lingering on lips, eyes, and lady-gloves.  You feel a world opening up inside a mind in Meyers' movies, a wish-fulfillment that somehow allows you access into another dimension where everything is so fucking beautiful you feel both alienated and welcomed home.  But it's not your home.  It's really nobody's home.  It's just some figment, some colossal cottage-castle in the Hamptons filled up with taupe fabrics and antiques and people drinking white wine at dusk laughing about how lucky they are, even though sometimes they get kind of sad because you know everybody gets sad sometimes.

I just saw The Intern, which might be her best.  Meyers captures a phony, gorgeous, intensely not intense NYC in it, with so much aplomb you might view it as some over-the-top parody of a tourist commercial for the Big Apple.  Perfection is not the word here.  The brownstones in it have a heft and grandeur not to be believed, and the office-space overseen by Anne Hathaway's Millennial Internet entrepreneur is a vast white-bricked labyrinth of ergonomic seating and long white tables for laptops and big mugs of tea.  You want to work there, especially because everybody just seems to be meticulously performing work, not really working.  And Robert Deniro, as the titular intern, a Baby-Boomer retiree with a benevolent sense of patriarchy spilling out of his eyes, is a beautiful, static study in sweet, handsome decency:  Deniro in The Intern, in fact, might be Meyers' ultimate piece of furniture, and I totally mean that as a compliment to both.

I want to have a Nancy Meyers movie-night soon, where everybody brings a big elegant throw pillow, a home-made cobbler, and expensive bottles of white wine, and we sit in chunky knit sweaters and act like we're the most important people in the world, while watching the made-up and yet somehow actual and more important people in the world experience all their First World problems on a lush and monochromatic planet called NancyWorld. 

It's a good goal to have.  Makes life worth living.

The office space in The Intern

The English cabin in The Holiday

Meryl and Alec in the NYC hotel bar in It's Complicated

The kitchen and dining area in It's Complicated

The Hamptons house in Something's Gotta Give

Robert Deniro and Anne Hathaway in The Intern

Monday, January 11, 2016

Locking into Place

Of course it's January when David Bowie dies.  Cold silvery light, frosted-hard glass, that sense of loss locking into place:  roads, tree-branches, ditches, power-lines.  He was silvery like that somehow, frosty; you didn't know him, you just experienced his atmosphere. 

That's exactly how I remember him.  Just enough cold to make you shiver, just enough strangeness to make you feel scared, just enough glamor to make you understand, just enough video to freak you out.  Once somebody like him goes, you get what he means, and it's startling.  You've depended on his strangeness to get you through.  I have.  Truly.  Depended on David Bowie's oddness and fearlessness and creepiness, his shapeshiftingness, his ability to disappear and reappear.  It gave me hope.  Gives me hope still.  He pursued a swarm of off-kilter notions that turned into a kingdom.  His musical catalog is an electronic nest of hallways, every word and note merging into rooms that flow into one another and then suddenly you're outside in the cold again, freezing, wanting to freeze:  "Sons of the Silent Age," "Always Crashing in the Same Car," "Boys Keep Swinging," "D.J.," "Wild Is the Wind," "Heroes," "Ashes to Ashes," and so on.  I'm in a Berlin k-hole here, fixating on the albums Bowie made right before, during, and after he moved to Berlin and got God (Brian Eno):  Station to StationLow, "Hereos," The Lodger, and Scary Monster (and Super Creeps).  You can't escape their importance, nor their interstellar drag, a music that defines a secret era through saturation and slurred loveliness.  It's the late 70s and very early 80s, but also it's just Bowie:  disco refashioned into robotic trance, punk recalibrated into thoughtfulness, rock's warmth and stir disconnected and rewired into beautiful crooned terror. 

Bowie was a weirdo that somehow found a way to make weirdness majestic, worth putting up with.  He did this through experimentation, but the experiments, at least those I'm referencing, always paid off, always found their way out of flaunts and fancy-flights into direct bullets to your brain and soul.  It's the kind of music so connected to life it feels foreign to it; you just want to ride inside the spaceships he's made, close your eyes, find that planet of ladies rubbing lipstick off their faces, the planet of furious D.J.s and harlequins entrancing bulldozers.

Even before Berlin, Bowie was like that.  One of the first memories I have of him is from Soul Train.  For real.  Bowie singing "Golden Years" on Soul Train.  Well, lipsyncing at least.  Out of it.  He was thin and regal and looked doped-out, emptied of all feeling, but still into it, lizard-like and connected to some kind of malevolent corporation.  The perfect thing:

All those guises, all those identities.  I was maybe 10 years old.  Loved watching Soul Train.  Bowie's presence, though, made Soul Train feel gorgeously soul-less, like purgatory, and yet you wanted to be there, wanted to figure out what the hell?  That was him:  so strange he defined "strange," and now nobody is strange.  They are just wannabes. 

God bless the Thin White Duke.  Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Panic in Detroit

When I think what movie I would consider the best of 2015, I keep going back to It Follows, a low-key, low-budget horror movie written and directed by David Robert Mitchell.  Filmed in Detroit, Michigan, it casts a furious spell; you don't really need to understand what's going on because It Follows follows its own sort of poetic nature out of itself, and as it moves forward you get sucked into its rust-belt-flavored richness, its atmosphere and logic.  The plot details trumped-up supernatural goings-on that don't make too much sense, outside of the fact that a lot of teenagers have to run from zombie-like figures that are conjured when they have sex.  That conceit alone is worth the price of admission of course, like a takedown of all those 80s horror flicks that make violent death the wages of sin, but here there's something else all together happening, not exactly parody or pastiche as much as nightmare-nostalgia.  Mitchell is interested in a certain tone that John Carpenter got back in the day in Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing, a foreboding slow-burn fueled by Moog and mood to the point you start to feel the horrors ripen slowly into haikus:  the way the old sad neighborhood glows around dusk, the way car-lights glare in abandoned parking garages, the way weedy backyards seem to engulf themselves in raw luxury... 
The characters in It Follows exist in a suburban netherworld full of half-lit porches and stony paths, windows ripe for breaking into, above-ground swimming pools full of old possibly toxic water.  The insides of the houses have a claustrophobic stylized blush to them, like the interior-decoration and lighting involved in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.  Lampshades and walls seem to hum like insane asylum residents.  So there's that Velvety quality too, that sense of a director/writer biting into the world so we can digest it.  It Follows is an exercise in ragged spookiness and B-movie acting, but then again there's a glaze over all of it, a glamor borne out of the fact that this movie isn't meant to scare you, it's meant to put you into a Detroit trance.  You don't just watch -- you kind of climb into it, like a cave or the trunk of a great big car. 
Can't wait for Mitchell's next move.

Monday, January 4, 2016

My So-Called Apocalypse

Mr. Robot is a TV show on USA Network that has the dismal glamor and techno-tragic soundtrack of a David Fincher Daydream Nation, a country full of sleek moves and mind-fuck plot spirals, elegant camera slitherings, actors acting in sync with the paranoid, hyped-up surroundings, and an all around genuine sense of beautiful doom.  It's so stylish you forget there's substance being performed;  the story is about what would happen if the Occupy-Wall-Streeters and Anonymous-ers got their shit together and actually did something that meant something, as opposed to posing and hoping something might happen while trying to figure how not to organize while organizing.  It's all about a hacker-generated fiscal apocalypse that happens while nobody and yet everybody is watching.
Director/writer Sam Esmail is the brains behind the operations.  He's dreamed up a universe so skillfully realized and executed you feel right at home in each corporate boardroom and hacker bedroom and back-alley arcade.  Every shot is worth staring at, and the music, by Mac Quayle, is worth pining over,  a hyper-stylized exercise in synth-noir that gives Trent Reznor the what-for.  The music is actually kind of like a character in of itself, all voluptuously, cheesily technological and yet also lyrically nuanced enough to feel as though you're wearing the headphones of the hackers about to steal your identity.
But truly this is Rami Malik's show.  As Elliot, the buzzed-out half-crazy protagonist, Malik brings a gnawed-off energy and ferocity to Mr. Robot that feels authentic, uncooked, and gives the whole enterprise a vibration that doesn't stop start to finish.  Not a star but a sort of stratosphere is born.  He moves through scenes with an ache you can't specify, only feel, and his large, Marty-Feldman eyes feel both lizard-like and beautifully sentimental, both postcard-sad and hell-fire off-kilter.  You don't know whether to look away when he speaks or be drawn in or both.  It's Malik's charisma that transforms all the foreboding plot machinations into character-study material, the same way Jon Hamm's portrait of Don Draper allows you to feel/read the pretentious, arch, often leaden scenes in Mad Men as the poetic objective-correlatives of a whole era. 
It's another zeitgeisty show I kept thinking about, though, as we binged through Mr. RobotMy So-Called Life, the Clare-Danes vehicle that captured the ennui and excitement of 1994 adolescence, with gorgeously written voiceovers and a grim palate of blues, purples and grays.  Malik's performance has that same sense to it of capturing a moment in time, and his voiceovers, although decidedly not about boys and dates and hair color, still have an intimacy and specificity that allow you to enter someone else's consciousness in a way you almost never get to do in TV Land.  Mr. Robot is the My So-Called Life of 2015 actually -- memorializing this fucked-up era with a knife-edged whimsy and chromium focus that make you realize how TV can sometimes be the only platform you need.      


Monday, December 28, 2015

Escape Artists

I wrote about a couple of local exhibits here that I loved a few weeks back (click here to take a look), and in the course of coming up with that post I stumbled onto a phrase that's kind of stuck with me:  "art escaping itself."  That idea inspired me to try to figure out what I actually mean.  I'm guessing the main function of art trying to get away from itself is so that it can become something else entirely while also drawing attention to the fact that it's actually still exactly what it is.  The whole concept is a reiteration of Jean Dubuffet's famous quote:  "Art does not lie down on the bed that is made for it; it runs away as soon as one says its name; it loves to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called."  But Dubuffet always goes a little overboard.  I want art not to be incognito as much as the face on a Most Wanted poster -- eagerly anticipating being caught for what it is while running away from what it does, or is trying to do.  That's the perfect nexus at least for me:  grand schemes at the service of never being assigned to a cell or a pigeonhole.  

So I thought:  what if I could curate a group-show called "Art Escapes Itself"?  What works would I choose?   I mean not for real of course, but in a little museum in Heaven with no restraints, no bull-shit.  Then I started to remember moments in my life when I was in museums and galleries and I came across works that allowed me that feeling of watching prisoners escaping, running across night-time fields, never looking back, but then again eventually caught and returned, some kind of gorgeous sci-fi escape route constantly reiterated, refashioned, reborn.  The pieces below are what came to my mind.

1.  David Wojnarowicz's "Earth," synthetic polymer paint and collage on Masonite, 1987.  I could look at this sucker all day long.  The imagery here is encyclopedic and comic-book, but it escapes those formats through glaring into a mythical sun.  You want to crawl into Wojnarowicz's atmosphere here, feel his fever, but also the picture has the innocent postcard nostalgia of a summer vacation, that boredom that produces dream-states.  He paints over the collage and collages over the paint, creating depth and shallowness that somehow interrelate, giving the whole enterprise an amateurish nervousness and a spot-on professional gloss; you feel Wojnarowicz's itch to say something he can't say, to see something he can't see. It's a pictograph of illusions and allusions, jokes and prayers, and yet when you look at it all you see is exactly what it is, a burial ground giving birth to the last stages of an empire, a compilation of  tropes and tattoos, an incantation that triggers bliss and sorrow.  Wojnarowicz, as in his other work, merges childhood's end with an adult's desire to create a Utopia that encompasses creation and destruction, train-wrecks and daydreams.   I think the main reason I see this piece escaping itself is that it is both elegantly simple and yet totally overwrought and still you only experience it as a fully realized picture divided into quadrants that seem to be telling one another about the transformative purposes of dirt:  digging, planting, burying, sprouting, escaping... 

David Wojnarowicz

2.  Cy Twombly's "Bacchus" series, acrylic on canvas, 2006-8.  These are so dumb you want to get dumb with them.  "Dumb" is their escape route.  The god of wine is talking drunkenly and loudly on his cell-phone at a party at the edge of the earth, and you're overhearing babble and bombast and bull-shit, getting a contact high.  Gigantic-assed doodles and loops executed in murderous, cartoonish red, these paintings don't really need to exist at all, and yet here they are, at the Tate Modern in London, big as billboards, loud as thunderbolts.  Twombly's style here helps him to reinvent abstraction (the way Mel Brooks reinvented the Western in Blazing Saddles), losing that calcified sense of meaning/non-meaning, and shooting for stupid in a way
that transcends stupid.  These big old wall-objects are jokes that turn in on themselves, jokes into galaxies.  They have an earnest funk to them, but also a scratchy sense of old-man lyricism, poetry that gets thrown into the trash and retrieved and stretched into myth. Twombly finds his way out of himself and his pretensions.  No longer trying to make scribbling an epic journey of the soul, now he's just going for it.  "Fuck it," says the god of wine.   Cue "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross.

Cy Twombly

3.  Robert Rauschenberg, "Melic Meeting (Spread)," solvent transfer, fabric collage, acrylic, mirrored panel, wood, and comb on wood panel, 1979.  We stumbled into this beautiful thing at the New Orleans Museum of Art earlier this year.  It's Rauschenberg mid-term, 1979, and kind of like a Fred-Astaire reinterpretation of his other earlier works, without the rust and vigor and lushness, but with a strange kitchen-curtain grace that feels like dancing with your eyes closed.  There's a memory parade here, unlike the memory stockpiling and convoys in the 60s combines (the mattress, the ram, the stuff eagle and so on):  you feel elevated not submerged.  Rauschenberg has found a way to suck in all the elements and objects humanly possible into this work without having to call movers in.  It's lightweight but fabulously so, an empty apartment full of ghosts, and the ghosts can only communicate with combs and mirrors and pictures of cats.  It's wallpaper and duct-tape and sleep, migraines and half-eaten birthday cakes and ruined Polaroids after a floor.  Someone somewhere is walking down a hallway thinking about what they are going to have for lunch as well as what it means to be alive:  banality and profundity find each other and laugh about all they have in common.  Poetry usually can't get to this place he's found.  Words are just dirty clothes on the floor.  Mr. ee cummings does find a few argyle socks sometimes though that match Rauschenberg's insights and flights:

 “though your sorrows not
any tongue may name,
three i’ll give you sweet
joys for each of them
But it must be your”
whispers that flower

Robert Rauschenberg

4.  Joseph Cornell, "Celestial Navigation," found objects, acrylic, and collage, 1958.   We're doing a Joseph-Cornell tribute show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. this year, so he's always in my head somewhere, working diligently on things like this:  carefully constructed whispers (see ee cummings above) that freeze themselves into time-machine tableaus.  This one is calibrated to narrate a story only Cornell knows, and yet you can grasp the meaning without knowing the story.  You can look at it as "art,' but also as something else entirely:  talisman, crystal ball...  Cornell arranges knickknacks and toys into incantations.  I wrote a post about 4 years ago not about Cornell, but about a blue bucket.  Here's the link:  "Little Blue Buckets".  It's a short piece about a home-visit I made and I came across a school-age kid with a developmental disability who basically worshipped a little blue bucket he kept around the trailer.  I wrote:  "The little blue bucket escaped art and has become art simultaneously.  The saying goes, "If a tree falls in the forest..."  But that's not it.  I stumbled onto a happiness and a beauty that does not need documented.  It doesn't need justified.  It's just there."  I think this is what Cornell did most everyday of his life.  He searched for ways to stumble into things; he worshiped what was right in front of him to the degree that he could alchemize everyday objects and notions into totems and triumphs.  He lived for self-imposed serendipity.  It was the way he survived.    

Joseph Cornell

5.  Judith Scott, "Untitled," fiber and found objects, 2004.  There's something about revenge here, in this entangling of yarn and stuff Scott found to take hostage; she's trying to build a nest, sure, that's the easiest interpretation.  Foraging for tubes and plastic wheels, spools of thread, taking all of that and spinning it and wrapping it into a place of rest, or maybe even restoration?  But I don't think so.  It doesn't seem restful, this "Untitled" thing.  It seems almost vicious, unnerving.  Vicious and unnerving in a good way.  Unlike Rauschenberg who fashioned his obsession with appropriation, assemblage and collage into stream-of-consciousness window-dressing, Scott's work isn't theatrical or expressionistic, as much as it is conceptual and harmonic.  She's creating and obscuring symbolisms, taking away the function of things while imbuing them with an entrapped power and focus objects shouldn't have, wrapped in yarn or not.  It's accidental, what she does, but also fully intended to show us her territory, her conquest.  She's pulling the world into her grasp one little piece of crap at a time, and giving us these sonnets and villanelles made from whatever is at hand.  The structure is key.  They don't look messy.  This one especially has a firm focus, a grim and hilarious necessity.  She's swaddling, she's capturing, she's finding a way to make sense of a world made up of so much shit it's time to get out some rope and track it all down.

Judith Scott

6.  Jean Michel Basquiat, "King Zulu," mixed media, 1986.  A theme that runs through this whole "Art Escapes Itself" motif is how the stuff I love to look at is made:  a simple, declarative ingenuity, making art out of whatever is around.  That's what I love about all of Basquiat's work, and especially this piece, which I saw in the late 1990s at the NYC Museum of Modern Art.  It's always left an impression.  That cold cobalt blue there, a wave of it splashing and focusing the picture on whatever Basquiat wants us to see; he's editing himself while also enlarging the vision.  The quality of his line and the big bang boom of his color choices give the piece energy but also a sort of sarcastic urban menace, as well as a cinematic glitter.  The thing vibrates itself out of itself, like riding a subway while on ecstasy.  His drawing has a sense of nerve leaning into nerve, an almost painful whimsy cooling into folklore.  You know what Basquiat means, but you feel the meaning like you hear music, without a sense of what is going on, that feeling/meaning/music coming through without acknowledgment, just seeping all jazzy and revved-up right into you veins, cool enough not to indicate anything other than what it wants you to know and feel head-on, rush into rush.  "Sophisticated" isn't the right word, but it's close:  Basquiat makes you understand without making you understand.   

Jean Michel Basquiat

7.  Cindy Sherman, "Untitled," photograph, 2000.  Sherman is a standup comic who isn't after laughs (even though she gets them anyway) -- she's after the feeling that comes when you can't find the laugh anymore.  This one is a fave because it harnesses the energy of a thousand suns to satirize what is already satirized and yet the disposable nature of the whole exercise gives it the kick it needs:  those sad specifics, that stupid make-up, that floppy hat.  She's making fun of the people who make fun of people, finding empathy at the end of a long day's tanning.  But it's not the kind of empathy that sells.  The woman she's depicting and objectifying has been so self-depicted and self-objectified through chemicals and other means the parody doesn't take.  That's Sherman's intention I think, and the way she escapes the easy categorizations in all of her work:  she strives for the interregnum, the in-between queasiness that's unleashed every time someone gets their picture taken, every time someone becomes a "star."  That horrible face does not know it's a face anymore.  The tan-line becomes destiny.  I even love the lush backdrop, like a popsicle melting.  But she's looking right at you.  She wants you to understand a few things.  This isn't art; it's something else, art once removed, a process of elimination.   

Cindy Sherman

8.  Mike Kelley, "Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites," plush toys sewn over wood and wire frames with Styrofoam packing material, nylon rope, pulleys, steel hardware and hanging plates, fiberglass, car paint, and disinfectant, 1991/1999.  I 've done a whole series of posts about the Mike Kelley retrospective at the MoMA PS1 space in NYC back in 2014.  That show killed me in a way no other exhibit has, pulling together almost everything Kelley made and displaying it lovingly and exhaustively throughout that huge complex:  it was Kellyland.  This installation was the centerpiece, and set the tone for the rest of the retrospective.  It truly is penultimate.  Kelley takes the same shit Scott, Cornell, and Rauschenberg do and transitions it all into a makeshift carnival of thunder-clouds and planets.  You walk around each concoction a little afraid of something jumping out at you, and yet it's all perfectly still in its floating apparatus, each plush toy anesthetized and sewn into harmony.  There are so many associations you lose count:  genocidal piles of bodies, that Princess-Diana-stuffed-toy memorial, garbage dumps, cancer-cell clusters.  And so on.   There's mystery here, telekinetic, sinister, sweet.  You know it's art, but also you don't know what to call it. Like wads of chewing gum giants have spit out. 

Mike Kelley

9.  Andy Warhol, "Little Electric Chair," acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 1964.  This would be the last thing you see in the "Art Escape Itself" group-show.  A whole willful of multi-color prints of a little electric chair from 1964.  Warhol knew some things.  He obscured his knowledge often by teeheeing, or over-worshipping what was already worshipped, or by instilling a darkness over all the brands, and yet the darkness that truly registered was fashioned from a simple curiosity:   what does death look like?  How does it move through the world?  He was x-raying it here, trying to get at the glamor inside it, outside of it, like a still from a snuff film, like the dream you dream the night before...  He escapes all his bull-shit here.  He stops talking about it and gets down to business.  It's better than the car crashes and better than the person jumping out of a building.  This one has a solemnity to it, an elegance enhanced by humility and sobriety, but still a little fun, right?  Party colors.  Like balloons.

Andy Warhol

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thunder-Sky, Inc. 2016: Radical Approaches

This will be our seventh year in existence, and the collection of exhibits we’ve pulled together represent Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s vision and mission pretty spectacularly:  paintings, costumes, sculptures, installations, performances, shadow-boxes, songs…  All of these artists have totally different and divergent approaches, all of them “radical” in ways you’ll need to see to believe, and all with a distinct and powerful sense of authority and ingenuity in sync with Raymond Thunder-Sky’s legacy.

January 9, 2016 – February 13, 2016:  “The Garden of Restoration:  New Works by Tom Towhey and Adrian Cox.”  Two veteran, skilled painters, one from Cincinnati (Towhey) and the other from St. Louis, Missouri, create works that are disturbingly plush and whimsical but also have the depth and cunning of masterpiece daydreams.  Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali can be used as reference points, but then both painters slide away from reference into their own versions of paradise and the opposite.

February 26, 2016 – April 9, 2016:  “Utopia Parkway Revisited:  Contemporary Artists in Joseph Cornell’s Shadow.”  Joseph Cornell was an “outsider artist” before “outsider art” was engendered as a label.  In the early 20th Century, he lived in Queens, New York with his mom and brother, and created a secret world of shadow boxes, movie-star dossiers, collages and home-movies that are seen today as remarkable works of art.  Local artists Jeff Casto, Marc Lambert,  Christian Schmit, Matthew Waldeck, and Matthew Waldeck Jr. make art that both mimics Cornell’s approach (collage, sculpture, assemblage, and appropriation), as well as the spirit involved in his vision, creating and recreating an aesthetic universe based in nostalgia, obsession, and pop culture. 
April 29, 2016 – June 11, 2016:  “Radically Visible:  Sky Heyn Cubacub, Lindsey Whittle, Craig Matis, and Antonio Adams.”  Cubacub, Whittle, Matis, and Adams are artists who use costume, performance, music, language, and symbol as vital ways to break down the barriers between artists and audience, and to both celebrate and invigorate the conversations and tensions around identity, appearance, and meaning.  The works in the show range from costumes, performances, songs, paintings, drawings, and collages.  

June 24, 2016 – August 13, 2016:  “Dollar General:  Installation Art by The Girls Coloring Space.”  Krista Gregory, Jamie Muenzer and Kathy Brannigan comprise the artists collective The Girls Coloring Space.  The premise of this show:  Thunder-Sky, Inc. is awarding a $100.00 grant for materials to The Girls Coloring Space with the stipulation they must spend the 100 on materials at a local Dollar General store.  That will be the only materials they can use to make art and/or to install the show outside of the white-paint and spackle and nails the gallery has on-hand.  The Girls Coloring Space has the wit, ingenuity, and sense of intuitive style needed to make “Dollar General” an aesthetic and commercial success.

August 26, 2016 – October 8, 2016:  “Well-Known Pacifically:  New Works by Antonio Adams.”  This will be Antonio Adams’ 2nd one-man show at Thunder-Sky, Inc., and his 3rd installment of a series works that began with “Unrealized & Unforeseen” in 2012 followed by “Outcasts from Hollywood” 2014.   In “Well-Known Pacifically,” Adams’ continues to explore his technicolor notions of celebrity and reality with a sense of mischief, comic grief and funky spirituality.  

October 28, 2016 – December 10, 2016:  “Flourish:  Cindy Dunham and Carla Knopp.”  Two artists from Indianapolis work in different modes and scale, but find common ground in the gallery space.  Dunham draws and makes intensely-colored digital prints from the drawings.  Knopp, a painter and sculptor, will be featuring sculptural pieces that have the shape and form of phantom wild life.