Sunday, September 25, 2011

Three-Ring Circus

"Direct Contact: Self Made Pop” opens October 22, 2011 at Bromwell's Gallery, on the second floor of Bromwell’s (117 West Fourth Street), the longest-running business in downtown Cincinnati. Bromwell’s Gallery’s mission is to bring Cincinnati fine art that is accessible to all art enthusiasts, and “Direct Contact” is an accessible, fun, unpretentious survey of art made by unconventional artists including Antonio Adams, Todd M. Coe, Cedric Cox, Tony Dotson, Drew Kidd, David Mack, Bill Ross, Spencer van der Zee, and the late Brian Joiner and Raymond Thunder-Sky.  The show is a three-ring circus, and in the center ring will be the first-time screening of "Thundeer-Sky!", the new feature-length documentary about Raymond Thunder-Sky directed by Alfred Eaker October 27, 2011 at Bromwell's....

David Mack

Raymond Thunder-Sky

Spencer van der Zee

Raymond with his drawings surrounded by clowns

Spencer van der Zee

Todd M. Coe

Todd M. Coe

Todd M. Coe

Tony Dotson and Antonio Adams

Tony Dotson

Bill Ross

Antonio Adams

Raymond Thunder-Sky

Raymond Thunder-Sky

Raymond Thunder-Sky

Raymond Thunder-Sky

Bill Ross

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wrecking Ball Afternoons

Guy Tillim's "Avenue Patrice Lumumba" just left the Contemporary Art Center here in Cincinnati.  I went to the CAC Monday and got to see it, not even knowing it was there and it was the last night.  I am so glad I got to see the work.  The walls of photographs were an amazing experience.  Tillim's pictures have a poetry deeply embedded inside them, as if not only light, shadow and shapes got in through the lens, but an exhausted universe making its last claim on consciousness.  Ghosts of bureaucracy, ghosts of statues that have lost their meanings and their heads, ghosts of grand hotels resembling ship-wrecks far below the ocean...  Tillim's worldview reflects a need to make meaning out of what is left behind, and to find a moment in the lonely stillness of it all that allows you to recognize what has been lost and won't ever come back. 

This is from the CAC's website:

In his project Avenue Patrice Lumumba (2007–08), South African artist Guy Tillim (b. 1962) records the architecture and infrastructure of colonial and postcolonial Africa. Patrice Lumumba (1925–61) was one of the first elected African leaders in modern times. In 1960 he became the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo after his country won independence from Belgium. Only ten weeks after his speech at the independence celebrations, in which he listed various injustices and human rights violations implemented by the Belgians, Lumumba’s government was deposed in a coup. He was imprisoned, beaten, and murdered in circumstances suggesting the complicity of the governments of Belgium and the United States. Lumumba became revered as a liberator of independent Africa and his legacy has made a lasting impression in many cities throughout Africa. The streets and plazas that bear his name in western and southern Africa have come to represent both the idealism and decay of an African dream for unity.

That decay becomes a way of life, and in all the photographs you can see that evolution slowly losing its reason to evolve and yet there it all is, brick, concrete, steel and shade, vast boulevards and balconies haunted by emptiness.  You can't erase the world.  You can only watch it slowly try to erase itself.

And of course I thought about Raymond Thunder-Sky.  How his drawings depict that same sort of alienation, that same sense that everything goes away and stays at the same time.  Especially in his drawings of interiors, Raymond seems intent on finding that exact moment when you feel both lonely and yet also past loneliness:  the room becomes what you are feeling, and you lose a sense of yourself. 

Then you disappear.

That Blackness Before You

Richard Wilson's "20:50" is the only permanent installation at the Saatchi Gallery in London, and its permanence is beautifully terrifying.  It occupies Gallery 13.  You approach it from a specially made platform, a sort of balcony onto an abyss:  a vast expanse of blackness reflecting a dreamscape of windows, light fixtures, corners, slick perfect surfaces.  The smell arrives almost as soon as you start questioning what the hell is going on here.  It's the clammy, caustic stink of the way we all live without thinking, oxygen merging with exhaust, and the smell of that overwhelming all your other senses until the whole world somehow emanates from that blackness before you.

This is from the Saatchi Gallery website: 

Viewed from the entrance platform 20:50 appears as a holographic field: simultaneously a polished floor, infinite clear pool, an expansive and indefinable virtual space that clinically absorbs and mirrors the gallery architecture. The room is in fact entirely flooded in oil.
That oil becomes the way you see the world.  It's one of those experiences that transcends art because the artfulness of the stunt problematizes what art can do and mean, while also giving you a trippy, creepy epiphany that lingers and somehow pollutes the way you think and feel.  In a consciousness overloaded with computer-generated news footage and political bull-shit about gas prices and the Middle East and offshore oil-drilling and tar-balls floating onto beaches a year after an oil spill and fossil fuel emissions overtaking the actual climate here is a piece of art that sucks perception itself into its horrible pupil, and you are somehow sucked into that pupil as well, until you don't see what you're seeing.  That blackness, in fact, seems to be seeing you.
Hands down one of the most intense and terrible and gorgeous pieces of art I've ever seen.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Everything Is Everything

We got back from London Sunday. What a great trip... Went to Tate Modern, Saatchi Gallery, Tate Britain, saw Buckingham Palace, the Thames, etc.  And of course: The Museum of Everything.  Pictures below...

We went there the day Everything opened. It's in a high-end department store in Selfridge & Co. on Oxford Street near Soho.  The Selfridge is a huge glamorous place (white tile floors, chandeliers, etc.), and the Museum of Everything occupies a lounge area, as well as a store upfront in the perfume department. The store has posters, t-shirts, pencils, buttons, and other souvenirs featuring the work in the lounge. Also, outside on Oxford Street, the display windows contain set-ups dedicated to some of the artists inside the lounge display:  think big-scale collaged dioramas, including a beautiful architectural sculpture of a dream building by Stefan Hafner.

What I noticed first when I toured The Museum of Everything Exhibit 4 is the sheer magnitude of the project. It turns out the main objective of this Everything enterprise is to survey studio programs for artists with disabilities across the world, almost like a visual census. This is problematic for me because I think categorizing and grouping artists into diagnosis-driven programs often limits the way people might be able to access and use the art in their imaginations. Think about when you first are "introduced" to people with disabilities when you're young (when I use "you," I'm referring to everybody, including people with disabilities). They are often grouped into "special" classes, driven to those classes on "special" buses. They are often segregated from you even though the politically correct mantra is "inclusion." That vague term evaporates in practice, of course, and in fact a large amount of people with disabilities live their lives in group-homes, institutions and other isolated venues, despite "deinstitutionalization" and other advocacy stances that try to ameliorate and reinvent the relationship between people with and without disabilities.

Art for me should be a way for artists to break away from the cultural and social constraints of a preconditioned life. Art should help us decode and deconstruct all the ways we are different, while also glamorizing and particularizing what make us different. When you group people together under one programmatic tent you automatically limit the way the way they are perceived. That goes double for artists with disabilities, because the product of who they are -- their artwork -- becomes a casualty of that perception. Their art is "saving" them from their disability, or it's a way for them to "communicate," or because they have a disability they are artists. All of this may be partially true, but still the cliche eliminates news ways of seeing.

The day Exhibit # 4 opened, Andrew Searle wrote a lame, oblique and kind of morose review in The Guardian.  Here's a portion:

This fourth Museum of Everything show focuses on art made in studio workshops, some attached to hospitals, around the world, from Japan to Brazil, Germany to Australia. These places are part refuge, part studio, safe havens for the troubled individuals who use them. The show occupies a specially constructed warren of dimly-lit rooms in the basement of Selfridges department store in Oxford Street. Selfridges has allowed art through the door before, but it is an unlikely and discordant setting. Mostly produced by people who suffer a variety of psychological, neurological or physical problems, the art is often fascinating, winning, hugely talented (in a narrow kind of way), but falls outside the cultural and social mainstream, mostly because it is neither intended as art nor produced with other viewers in mind. There's no sense of development or critical distance.

Searle's critique has the creepy, arcane tone of a prickly nurse mad at the staff.  In it he shows no inclination toward even the possibility that art made by people not normally considered "artists" should ever be considered worthy of our attention -- outside of possibly being "fascinating" because it "falls outside the cultural and social mainstream."  I love the line "hugely talented (in a narrow kind of way)."  That is the crux of his understanding:  he wants to tiptoe around his own revulsion and compliment this group of people with "psychological, neurological or physical problems" and throw these guys and gals a bone ("hugely talented"), but he can't resist letting his own version of the truth parenthetically seep through:  "in a narrow kind of way" is the way he can relegate their efforts at art-making.  This narrowness is not defined by him, just assumed.

In the comment section Museum of Everything Curator James Brett writes:

We can assure you that the artists in the show are rarely troubled, certainly not when they are making art. There are films playing throughout our space which show them at work in the studios, doing what they love. One of them, Marianne Schipaanboord, was at our opening last night. Marianne is deaf, has cerebral palsy, a learning disorder and is confined to a wheelchair. We would suggest she is not in any way "troubled" and celebrates her life every day with diaries of delicate pen and watercolour drawings. Is this the "worrying" and "painful" work of which you speak? And if so, who is worried: Marianne, us, the people who visit the museum? You are welcome to ask her herself and she will tell you, by spelling out words in Dutch on a small laminated alphabet sheet.

In his response to Searle's cranky artistic bigotry, Brett allows disability to take up all the room, kind of like in the way "disability" and "programs" overcrowd Exhibit # 4.  Brett singles out one of the artists in order to show Searle the error of his ways, and yet in the exhibit itself Marianne Schipaanboord's work becomes a part of a program-crowded Super Display.  Hundreds of works, all of them wonderful, many of them sheer genius, are framed in Plexiglas and mounted on top of antique wallpaper, lit in some rooms only by battery-operated candles.  In fact, some of the rooms in the lounge are so dark you can barely see what you're looking at, and in others there's so much stuff to see you have to look away to make sense of it.  The strategy it seems was to overwhelm all of us with joy and mystery and strangeness and kindness, but after a while the show turns into overt branding.  The central focus, the "spine" of the exhibit, is the Museum of Everything's whimsical typography (red, white and black cardboard constructs placed all over the exhibit, and all over the store), as well as its shabby-chic aesthetic approach.  Broken, pretty/ugly pieces of furniture, peeling wall-paper, and other ephemera share the stage. 

In other words, when Brett needs to defend the show to a heathen like Searle, he singles out one of the artists, lets us into her world, and yet the show itself seems almost to provide obstacles to this kind of connection.  It becomes about "program" imperatives and heorics just as much as it is about "art."

Also while in London, we went to the Tate Modern.  And while there I came across some posters done by Guerrilla Girls, back in the day (1985 or so).  Guerrilla Girls were a punk tribunal and street-art force in the 80s dedicated to rectifying discrimination in art galleries in NYC.  Their posters (two of them pictured below) pointed a graphic, no-nonsense barrel of a gun at the windows and doors of elite galleries and museums that were excluding women and African Americans.  It's a reductive, kind of cute stance to take of course, and probably didn't do too much to sway any one's opinion, but I like the bite and char of their rhetoric, the simplicity of their plea.  What if we started making posters like this about artists with developmental disabilities?  What would they look like?  The Guerrilla Girl's rhetoric is group-centric, but their message is about single artists having shows -- it's about the right to be seen as a singular artist in a white-male-dominated world.  It's a form of identity politics that assumes every artist has the right to be seen as an equal to every other artist.  In the posters for artists with developmental disabilities, we might start with a slogan like:  "NO MORE PROGRAM SHOWS."  Or:  "I AM AN ARTIST.  NOT A DIAGNOSIS."  The critique would not only be about the artworld, but the world as a whole consigning people to places they don't need to be in order to be who they are.

Also at the Tate Modern is this piece by Matisse, titled "The Snail."  It is a huge collage that takes up a whole wall with a bench in front of it.  I sat there and stared at this incredibly simple object for close to a half-hour, overwhelmed by its directness and savvy streamlined beauty.  The wall-text next to it reads:

The Snail is one of the last and largest pieces in Matisse’s final series of works, known as cutouts. Confined to bed through illness, he had assistants paint sheets of paper in gouache which he then cut. The shell of a snail inspired the spiralling arrangement of roughly cut pieces of paper. Compared to his earlier paintings, Matisse believed that he had gained ‘greater completeness and abstraction’ in the cutouts. ‘I have attained a form filtered to its essentials’, he remarked.

Matisse was an artist with a disability when he made this work, and although he is the opposite of an "outsider artist" his work shares many qualities with much of the works in The Museum of Everything Exhibit # 4.  At the end of his life he needed help, but that help is not the way we perceive his work.  It's only incidental to the manufacturing of it.  

I could also sit and stare at many of the works in the Museum of Everything Exhibit # 4, but this one below, by Paulas de Groot, totally captured me while I was there -- in that same "Snail" way.  It seems to be a product of elimination, of working toward not needing a lot of artifice, but finding an aesthetic that matches the intensity of your quest for that essential simplicity.  I love the blank expression, the streamlined oddness of each shape, the orange and red and black, and those eerie iridescent fangs.  I'm sure de Groot has helpers too, but at the end of the day they are just part of the process, and the process is important for sure, but it should never get in the way of the finished product:  the destination is a work of art.  Pure and simple.  "I have attained a form filtered to its essentials," Matisse says.  Damn right. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Hair," by Micah Freeman

At a poetry reading organized by Cy-Press Poetry at Thunder-Sky, Inc. last week, Micah Freeman read this beautiful poem about Amy Winehouse.  We wanted to share it...


"Physical ain't even my type." -Amy Winehouse

Me and Amy Winehouse are eating a sandwich together and being followed. "Sandwich," she says.

"Next door, let's go." Funny Games is being filmed shot for shot. Most of the time I want to ask Amy
about the weather but we discuss sandwiches instead. By the time we get to the weather we're already in Louisville. Driving around. Collecting every copy of the Gremlins series on VHS. Burning them at the Speedway. Get hype off horse race long passed. We start working together. She talks about her lunch she brought or a spinach ricotta pie. I know she hates the pie though. It's been two years. We scratched the shit out of our hood. "O' Dunes," Mountain Dew tempts us both. We start wearing yellow flip flops. There is no gate keeper for all the Ipods and Wonderlands. How many people are going, it's like who's going paint balling.

Me and Amy have enough room/puppies.

Start staring off into space. "I absolutely agree." Assess the situation. Me and Amy, a war going on, Cadillac's crashing into each other, doesn't know them as well, nothing last is forever, so we cut our losses, and open some Tanqueray. The Lord of Cars intersects with our lunch. I love Amy but today we're in trouble.

We've been through a lot. The cards are stacked. Lay against them motionless against us. This is the end I know. Me and Amy eat candy just like honey. We've tried everything.

We live in a landfill but Amy's happy as long as she's got a green cushion couch or bed. We bathe all day on this particular day we can't get a break. We're picking up dust and silos get to the side of us. Amy wants to run in that. I'm sorry Amy, you're bathing with a green cushion. We lay back and enjoy the panoramic view, the chance of the landfill being a fragile environment. Amy produced a dune. It went to Detroit. We both looked at a note in Farsi. Tried to make a license plate brochure from scratch. We eat some tic tacs and watch the hitch hikers grow beards and teeth. We slowly drove around it. Amy, if they would have known you had your choice between the U.S. Europe & Israel. "Yeah." Do you have Wisconsin?

It's being ripped out of my mouth. Amy Winehouse is the best. Of all people, sometimes I take forever,
using the bathroom with Amy Winehouse. I have a lens. It will exit you. That is correct, Me and Amy get some ice cream. Me and Amy come home from work early. We make jewelry. We are water animals.

"It's because there are so many variants, Amy. There are so many, that, do you do, dead to me, slashed in a recession, with one waterfall, if you met another it would be starting, I know that it's begging stop. A waterfall skips. Why heard two three going to get asked the question, bang. Me and Amy share a few slim jims and drink some white wine, rest in peace Randy.

Me and Amy are suddenly fried. We eat some grilled cheese. We secrete fun. All these dudes just walk on over there. Me and Amy go to a historic fish town.

Me and Amy eat some nicotine lozenges.

Me and Amy go fishing for nickel. We catch some pennies on the wall. Me and Amy go on a cruise. We hit on bald people. Somebody will want it. Me and Amy enjoy it. Me and Amy talk to two cute ladies.

Me and Amy wake up together week after week. We catch up mid day. Amy wants more tattoos, but it won't be enough combat. We need to introduce more hair spray and twenty seven beds to live. Amy glanced at me today, I thought, feral hint, I thought, but she just wanted her beat box and ice. I play piano in the next room. It's the most house like room in the building. My apartment leads in to the commons. The piano is surrounded by garments and rugs and a window in the middle of the out doors. It echoes perfectly. I can hear Amy going to town on a sweet track muffled through the wall. I strike the piano and we can't hear each other.

Every day it rains for one unmemorable minute especially. Acknowledged and forgotten, intermittent categorical rehash episodes that delve next door, out wafting the air, but never a drop of rain. A particular kind of notice every once a while. It's that deep deep hair that drives me back to Amy Winehouse. She forfeits a normal hair. It is deep and wide and tufts out, whirling about, she keeps her hands in it and shouts. She grows unusual, she says nothing to me. She will not come to this room. I play a piano track.

What she said to me was, are you having a good time Micah? I said, Amy, please.

If Amy is on the top than I'm in a pinecone.

Me and Amy want to color but we can't find a coloring book. I don't know a thing about it.

Me and Amy put two pieces together. We brush our teeth.

Me and Amy wear shoes. Prada and Jimi Hendrix wear us. Me and Amy walk around Kroger's with a watermelon.

It's Tuesday.

It's Wednesday.

My whole salty dogs in this game above the spin. Me and Amy spin city, airing hopes in that has always been obscenely hidden. On the catwalk under bridges. On a few imbedded exposures. Inbound, durable as my local Walgreens. Forever a hut reminds us.

Me and Amy got drunk last night.

Me and Amy enter liberation. We leave the city in a few, nothing to talk about. We leave and say goodbye with words.

I'm not sure I can write anymore about me and Amy. Our grid effaced with future maneuvers, heaving delicate membranes, caught up in the obvious and unreal. Me and Amy indifferently pick matching tattoos.

Me and Amy go fishing on time. When we aren't fishing we wear socks and dip our feet in the pool next to the piano. We love the cool sopping pool water clinging to our feet. The pool makes reflections against our front teeth. A pine falls in the pool with extra force. I speak for myself when I say we had a great time. I have a headache momentarily.

Me and Amy convince a police officer to take a scenic beach sunset photo with us. We grab my camera and we all stand together. It doesn't make sense for me and Amy to make a pontoon boat together.

We have no materials and share nothing. It would be sweet if me and Amy could split up the check. I feel like me and Amy are starring in Lost in Translation.

We both play some of the parts. The side characters and story and filming and production come together and clobber our fake history. We search each other out or somewhere filming in Japan. Me and Amy are waiting for the shoot. Me and Amy sketch each other more frequently.

Me and Amy buy a shirt that says "Me and Amy kissed the Moose, 2011".

Me and Amy eat a nicotine lozenge in the shower.

Me and Amy blow dry our hair. We look good.

Me and Amy see so much blue and go back. "I am alone just with two other people." With each piece that goes away, it gets a little easier. Me and Amy drive to Florida, stop at a gas station, get a coffee and vermouth. Drive in to the pines. We're both blue and lit like a flock in sky. "Do you know what travel means in an airplane?" "Don't you have to see two things?" Me and Amy have to meet in this no wake zone. Tis a good lake but equally squeaky. It's best not to ask questions so specific. We get dressed up, try really hard, and travel at night. I get back late tomorrow night. What's maneuver. There were moments where a celebrity would be talking to me, and I'd look at them, and they'd still be speaking, and I'd blink and hope that by the time I'd un blinked back to sight, you would have parachuted down through the thin limbs of the sappy pine needles and shouted, NO TIME TO REGRET and ran to BP and stole a bunch of lighters and sap from the trees.

Amy makes a rule about putting beverages next to electronics. We went to a restaurant. Coffee and vermouth. We watch a DVD. Me and Amy have something weird. We taste it. Me and Amy don't write in the book. You got sixty pictures of me and Amy. You got a picture with a backdrop.

"Jamaica & Spain"