Saturday, May 23, 2015

At Home

We walked downtown for a while last night, hitting some of our favorite places.  Cincinnati is a great joint on Fridays like yesterday, blue sky with effervescent clouds, too many great restaurants to choose from, and the promise of a big festival being setup near Fountain on the Square (Taste of Cincinnati starts today), day-laborers and cops and managers getting ready to set up tent poles and shut down streets and transform the whole cityscape into festival-scape. 
And then, down near the river, this carousel (pictured above in all its glory).  It's just glorious.  No other word for it.  It could feel cheesy if you wanted it to, but somehow tucked into its tidy little concrete and glass parlor, surrounded by fountains and sunshine, cattycorner to the baseball stadium, with a sweeping view of the Roebling bridge in its big picture windows, the thing has a personality and tiny grandeur that feels storybook without too much effort or kitsch.  Thanks to the painstakingly executed frontispiece paintings by Jonathan Queen, and the whole get-in-the-spirit camp of the actual carousel ponies and insects and birds, the thing is artful in ways a lot of contemporary art can't be because contemporary art often wants to comment on itself so much it loses the spontaneous silliness/insouciance needed to make it transcend itself.  Looking at the carousel yesterday I just felt at home, and also a little giddy, because here's this thing that nobody really needs given such tender loving care that I almost wanted to ride on it, to put up with the humiliation a bald fifty-year-old overweight guy riding a carousel might have to endure. 
I didn't get on.  But I stood there and soaked in the whole Cincinnati-loving iconography and glossy commemoration of it:  each Queen-produced panel depicts a zoo animal enjoying different Cincinnati landmarks, each carousel-creature  (sponsored by some rich family or foundation or organization) is a homage to a Cincinnati icon of some kind or another.  All of that is kind of like the too-sweet maraschino cherry you take off your sundae before eating it of course.  Basically it's an amusement park ride given a serious, joyous revamp, shiny and vivid and maybe close to perfect in its nostalgia and open-endedness.  Anybody can ride.
So I thought about Raymond Thunder-Sky, as I usually do, and how much he would have loved this thing.  Lord would he have ridden this carousel for sure, drawn it as it got constructed, basking in its glorious nighttime glow on his way back from drawing demolition sites.  I bet you anything it would have been a sort of command-center for him, a fortress and hub he would return to again and again.  He loved carnivals, circuses, anything like that.  Back in 2001, when we went to Hollywood CA with him for a conference where we sat up a booth to exhibit his drawings, he didn't really participate; he spent almost all of his time at Disneyland.  So that's informing my love of the carousel too, that sense of Raymond-ness, that hope of magic (even in its most sentimental, candy-colored form) restoring a kind of sanity to the world.  This carousel would have been a spiritual place for Raymond I think.  The way it revolves slowly on its own accord, ending each set of revolutions in intervals to let people on and off. 
The way it's just there, shiny and unreal, birthed for no other reason than it would be neat to have in the world.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Let's Talk about Disobeying"

Let's start with Jean Dubuffet, the guy who kind of started it all (at least in my head):  "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 go incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called."
Amnesia is a good thing in a universe always starved for commemoration, status, brand.  The "universe" I'm getting ready to jabber about is "art" in all of its manifestations:  small-town, big-town, art-school, self-taught, blah and blah and blah. 
Everything has to have a name on it, not just a title or the media or the dimensions, but a name:  who did it usurps the purpose of its construction and eventual adoration.  When you take away all of that demarcation and you just look at something for what it is, what the hell happens?  I don't know.  Maybe you just see it.  And that's the most complicated process known to man or woman or whatever.  "Seeing something" without extrapolation, untethered by biography, connections, credentialization, format, institution, organization...  Just looking at the thing and going off on it, "finding" it inside yourself, unspooling from its atmosphere into yours.  All of that is what I want to happen when I go to art-shows.  That's why I hate opening receptions for the most part, because the social aspect disrupts the poetic.  I know that sounds grumpy, but that's the deal, and nobody really cares anyway, but still -- looking is an art too.  "Purity" means something in that moment, and that's why the white clean box of a gallery exists (outside of commodities, sales, branding, etc. of course).  That blankness and clarity outlines the thing(s) being exhibited, and gives you that simple moment of serendipity you live for, that connection beyond connections, when you and it have a little party, all those associations you've bottled up pouring out, landing, pooling, and then it's over.  Sounds like sex, I know, but it's not.  It's not even a version of sex.  Sex is all the other stuff.  This is prayer, and I know segregating prayer from sex is probably old-fashioned, maybe even stilted and officious, but they are completely different, just like seeing and pretending to see are.
So here's the deal:  breaking art away from art, looking at something and understanding it's only yours, not even the property of the one who made it.  That's love.  That's what I want to feel when I go to a gallery or museum, like I've stumbled outside of myself and all other selves, and it's the time between memory and ego, the space between love and saying "I love you." 
Up top are photos of anonymous art made by people we don't know and given away to Goodwill as donations. 
Dumpster diving for tossed-aside artworks is not a new procedure by any means.  There are whole galleries and even a museum or two that specialize in this activity, and more power to them.  Love the idea obviously.  I wanted to do a Goodwill show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. under the umbrella of not giving a shit about identity, about separating art from the ever encroaching and totally minuscule idea that "art is a career."  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  But gazing at stuff that has been dislocated from any conscious effort to be claimed as "art" is truly about finding value and worth in life and lives outside of the ongoing diorama of careers and namedropping and scholarly endeavors and art-fairs and so on.  Without that apparatus what does art mean? 
I'm totally interested in this because the way I entered the art-world (and continue to stumble through it) is through non-profit little "alternative" spaces where artists often got together to show work without a connection to prestige or fortune:  white-boxes as experimental spaceships, filled with oddness and fever, not built to please, just built to take off and go three or four inches forward.  And when I decided to make art a parallel activity to supporting people with developmental disabilities, "outsider art" became that spaceship, but then again it also became a big black hole. 
Identity for "outsider artists" is pretty random and ransacked, based on the market controlled by buyers with good intentions, but also on a concept that artists who are labeled "outsiders" don't have careers, don't have ambition, and that makes them "precious" and "pure."  Still, however, there's those market forces, and in that market the more "precious" and "pure" the artist is (or the artist is seen to be), the more value accrues.  "Outsider artists" shouldn't talk; they should just make cool weird stuff in little romantic hovels, preferably in a sepia-toned, cobwebby Europe in the 1930s or 40s.  That gloss, that sense of majestic "outsiderness," wipes out any sense of equality and inclusion involved.  There are the actual artists with careers and the "outsider" ones who do stuff without thinking about any of that stuff. 
And within the context of that pretty reliable binary in steps the sensibility that no one's biography and credentials fucking matter.  How about that?
Walls and pedestals displaying art donated to the Goodwill seem like the best next step in trying to unravel all that distinction, all that pomp.
While we curate the show (titled "The Goodwill Biennial" debuting in late August), I'll be thinking about all of this, and examining all the exposed ambition and thought and dream involved in the production of art that does not make it, an art disassociated and almost formless, paintings and sculptures and drawings and whatever else populating that universe of amnesia, set aside and bleak, but also waiting to be discovered for exactly what it is.          
One of my best experiences in dealing with all of these thoughts in an art-world context came early last year, when we went to New York City to see the retrospective at PS 1 of Mike Kelley's life and work.  Kelley killed himself in 2012, so he made himself kind of gone from the equation from the get-go, and yet suicide probably has made his prices go up, right?  He was famous for being reticent and DIY-difficult, but also for being a totally prolific genius.  His works, resplendent with a Goodwill-harbored sense of the tossed-aside (dirty stuffed animals are one of his main contributions to artistic culture), spoke volumes to me about the desire to escape authorship and bull-shit.  PS 1 was overwrought with Kelley work, sculptures, performances on video, films, drawings, ephemeral collections, a whole suite dedicated to building miniature versions of comic-book kingdoms, all of that stuff and thought presented not as biography exactly, but as production, as manifestations of the obsession to make something, anything, that allows you to escape what you think is going to happen, even if it does (did).
Mike Kelley:  "I chose art, not to become successful, because you couldn’t make a living from being an artist at that time. It was a profession I chose specifically in order to be a failure."
That "failure" I guess is what I'm talking about.  I think Kelley used "failure" as a synonym for "disappearance," that beautiful state of elevated nothingness that allows everyone to actually see the universe without being in it.  "Failure" as a synonym for "art."
"The Goodwill Biennial" opens August 28, 2015, reception 6 to 10 pm at Thunder-Sky, Inc. 
Mike Kelley banner in the PS 1 2014 show in NYC.