Author Archives: rhutch322

About rhutch322

I am a student of art history, it is the purpose of the this blog to comment on and analyze issues in the art world with a focus on the contemporary- and maybe add some jazz

New Smithsonian Black History Museum

On Wednesday (2/23) the Smithsonian Institution officially began construction on a new museum dedicated to African-American culture and heritage (the National Museum of African American History and Culture), a project that is slated to open in 2015.

About damn time!

This new museum could finally shed light on the marginalized and difficult history of African Americans in the United States. I say ‘could’ because the Smithsonian is notorious for not wanting to ‘rock the boat’ of their federal funding. Unfortunately, they are not afraid of compromising their mission when the purse strings are shaken. The 2010 Hide/Seek exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, for example, came under fire by Republican members of Congress due to David Wojnarowicz’s work, A Fire In My Belly (1987), that featured a crucifix with ants crawling over the body of Christ. The work was made in response to the agony and suffering of Wojnarwicz’s partner who was dying of AIDS.  The ensuing controversy snowballed into a fight over the ‘proper’ uses of federal funding (whether or not tax payer money should be used to ‘assault’ religion, according to the complainers) which led to Wojnarowicz’s video being pulled from the exhibit.

In addition, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art offers a shockingly exclusive view of American art as the province of white men.

I do sincerely hope that the new African-American Museum will not shy away from the difficult histories that need to be told, and that they won’t be bullied into self-censorship.

Unfortunately, the building looks too much like a parking deck for my taste.

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Mike Kelley 1954- Jan. 31, 2012

ImageMike Kelley- artist, musician, iconoclast committed suicide Tuesday, January 31st. His work will continue to inspire. Kelley worked in sculpture, installation, and performance. He got his start in Detroit’s music scene with the noise band ‘Destroy All Monsters. Image

Kelley hit the big-time in the mid-1980s with his Half-a-Man series. His work was also featured on Sonic Youth’s Dirty record from 1992. In 1993 the Whitney gave Kelley a huge retrospective. More recently, Kelley’s 2005 exhibit Day is Done at Gagosian Gallery, which featured fun-house multi-media exhibitions, automations, and films.

Inspirations: history, philosophy, underground music, politics, decorative arts, working-class artistic expression; class-gender issues, issues of normality, criminality, and perversion.

His works incorporate everyday items with an irreverence for capitalized ‘Art’ and an attitude of fuck you! The ‘Total Art Matchbox’ especially exemplifies a rejection of institutionalization and the hierarchies of art. Nihilism to the max- but somehow never just a conversation ender.

ImageMemory Ware Flat #29, 2001, mixed media on board, 70.2 x 46.5 x 4

Image


Legacy of Destruction in Art

There is and probably always has been a close connection between music and art. What’s awesome are the strange couplings that happen between artists and rock stars (often before either were ‘stars’), especially in the 1960s (because the 60’s are fabulous). So, to start we have the most obvious…

1. Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono is of course, connected to the Beatles via John Lennon (duh). And you may be aware that Yoko is an artist in her own right- but that’s where it gets hazy right? She did some weird conceptual stuff, maybe? In fact, Yoko was a loosely affiliated member of the avant-garde group Fluxus which was established by George Maciunas in the early 60s. Fluxus art mainly consisted of performances, happenings, Flux boxes, and publications. They rejected high modernist values and art institutions, constantly undermining “Art” with a capital A. The group made important strides in experimental poetry, sound art, and film. What does this have to do with ‘Destruction’?! Yoko’s Cut Piece (1965) is a performance where she invites the audience members to cut parts of her clothing off, pretty bold and daring to allow a bunch of complete strangers handle sharp things around her. The piece breaks down social barriers while making the viewer all the more aware of them, simultaneously.

2. Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger (b. 1927) is an experimental, underground filmmaker that specializes in homoerotic and ueber-trippy effects, surrealism and the occult. He was incredibly influential to future directors like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and John Waters. So how does he fit? Well firstly, his film Kustom Kar Kommandos (1961-1965) was perhaps the first music video- a scene of a guy polishing a drag strip racing car (very suggestively I might add) with the song “Dream Lover” by the Paris Sisters in the background. To add to that, Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones fame) did the sound/music for Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother (1966-69). Anger was also bffs with Keith Richards and  (for a time) Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

(Image is a film still from Invocation)

3. John Latham

John Latham (b. Zambia, British 1921-2006) was a conceptual artist with a big impact on performance-based work. He took part in the London Destruction in Art Symposium (1966) with such Fluxus artists as Yoko Ono (!) and Gustav Metzger. Latham constructed three giant skoob towers (books=skoob) entitled the “Laws of England” outside the British Museum and set them on fire. Connection to music? Latham also made films, in 1966, his film Speak was projected behind Pink Floyd’s live set at the International Times launch at the Roundhouse as well as a few shows in 1967. The 11 minute film is said to be an animated film with lots of strobe effects, very psychedelic. Ultimately, Latham rejected Pink Floyd fort he soundtrack of the film, instead using the sound of a circular saw cutting through books.

4. Destruction in Art Symposium and the Guitar Smash

Best for last! The Destruction in Art Symposium, as I said above, took place in London 1966 and was established by Gustav Metzger, a key figure in all things destruction related, and attended by members of Fluxus as well as other artists/etc. in London. Roy Ascott (currently an artist and theorist, and professor), was a professor at Ealing Art College in London and hung out with Metzger, attending this symposium. Ascott taught such notables as Brian Eno, Stephan Willats, Michael English, and…Pete Townshend!!! Townshend enrolled with Ascott around 1961, and performed his first guitar smash in 1964 (yes, that’s 2 years before the symposium, but the destructive art ideas were around well before). Pete Townshend,  who would go on to popularize (as well as Jimi Hendrix) the guitar smash for the rest of rock history- to the point where it’s expected and accepted to destroy you instrument. Destructive art lives! But as what? Below: Townshend guitar killing; Right: Skoob Tower

Other notable connections: Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe- and probably tons more I have missed!

 


History in the Making?

Major museums like the New York Historical Society and the Smithsonian Museum of American History are already clamoring over the Occupy Wallstreet protests trying to get posters and ephemera for their collections. While collecting ephemera from events while they occur is not new, somehow it makes me incredibly uneasy. According to Historical Society staff, Jean Aston, they have thousands of pamphlets and such piled up from countless moments since the 18th Century, according to Aston these are worth preserving because, “these items document a particular moment in time which may become significant in the future. If the events fizzle, the objects are still important documents of urban variety and culture.”

Historians are rushing to the site and collecting first, asking questions later. It’s the pack-rat mentality- SOMEDAY it might be valuable. This seems to be great, right? Let’s preserve everything now and sift through it once the chips have landed. Fine. But I can’t help but think that this is doing damage to the protest, sucking the life out of it. Rushing to sweep up the scraps of an ongoing movement can’t help but historicize it, categorize it and make it safe. It’s an institutional vice come down to control and box up the protest in a nice little vitrine. To some extent, this is understandable and is not new. However, with the speed and fluidity of information now, everyone is aware of the protest (who knows if what they think they know is correct). If the protest fizzled out in the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an exhibition pop up in less than five years if only to be an inexpensive crowd pleaser. Besides, countless humanities grad students/ professors are probably already gunning for the primary documents- first dibs and all.

It just seems too much like poaching to me.

Original story posted in Art Info here.


Sound Sculpture: Bill Fontana

Earlier this week I went to a lecture by the sound artist Bill Fontana at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was skeptical, sound art? Please. Wouldn’t you call sound art music? I braced myself for noise/ screeching and howls, but oh how awesomely wrong I was!

Who’s Bill Fontana?

Fontana (American, b. 1947) studied at the New School for Social Research in New York, focusing on philosophy and music. He was influenced by the work of John Cage and specifically Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass, zoning in on the idea that sound could be a sculptural medium and the act of listening could be a form of music. On his travels to Australia, Fontana was fascinated with the myriad of unique sounds in the region. Using the human and natural environments, the artist records often ‘overlooked’ sounds of everyday life as well as sounds inaudible to the human ear. These recordings create networks of listening sites that act as a kind of sculpture. Fontana’s sound sculptures attempt to capture the “true” representation of a sound, his works question how sound is able to create a sculptural image/ environment in the mind more immediate than visual art.

Recurring themes in Fontana’s work are recordings of water, birds, bells, and traffic, giving it a distinctly natural, elemental feel; tempered with the cacophony of human life.

One of his early works, Distant Trains/ Entfernte Zuege (1984) recorded the bustling train station in Cologne and projected it at the remaining bombed-out facade of the famous Anhalter Bahnhof in Berlin. The Anhalter Bahnhof was sealed off in 1952 by the Soviets (the station was in East Berlin and ran through West Berlin, a big problem for the Soviets). The bombed out Anhalter Bahnhof stood as a ghost platform, eerily reanimated by Fontana’s recording, projected from eight giant speakers buried in the ground. Fontana’s work reflects on the destruction of WWII, the destructive divide between East and West- however, it also connects the two with a recording of the Western Cologne train station piped to the Eastern.

Fontana’s more recent work aims at connecting sound sites in real time. Currently ‘up’ in London is White Sound: An Urban Seascape (Sept. 22- Oct. 16, 2011) which connects the sound of the ocean shore of Dorset with the gridlocked Euston Road. Speakers on the face of the Wellcome Collection building projects a live feed of crashing waves, creating a dynamic listening experience that is at moments dominated by the natural ocean that recedes to reveal the pulsing traffic. This ebb and flow of different sounds revamps how we actually listen, becoming attuned to sounds we tend to block out.

To read and explore more about Bill Fontana (give it a listen!), check out his site here.


Occupy Wallstreet Continues

The Occupy Wallstreet movement continues and is growing, in both numbers in New York, support around the country, as well as drama from New York’s finest. The movement has finally gained coverage on the mainstream news circuits, however it may be more to do with sensationalization of police brutality than with any interest in covering the real issue: why they are protesting. They are protesting against the corporate bailouts, greed, and inequality that has caused the current financial crisis, in case you were wondering.

Occupy Wallstreet garnered media attention Saturday, September 24th when a police officer pepper-sprayed a group of female protesters that had been penned (“kettled” I guess) in. These women were not threatening nor violent in any way and by most accounts the incident was entirely uncalled for.

1968 Protest Poster, Paris

The situation escalated when approximately 700 protesters were arrested October 1st while marching on the Brooklyn Bridge. The arrests were made because the protestors left the footbridge and entered the traffic lanes due to overcrowding on the walkway. If anyone has been in a large crowd, it is understandable the massive amount of confusion, as many believed the road had been blocked and they were allowed to walk on it…unfortunately it was not the case. In addition, police warnings were not heard by many of the protestors due to chanting. Further information on this incident can be found here. For more information (and great pics) check out the Occupy Wall Street website.

Similar movements have sprung up all over the nation in the financial districts of Chicago, LA, and Boston. These have largely remained smaller and more peaceful.

To support the movement remotely, participate in the virtual march on Wall Street Oct. 5th by clicking here!


Bob Dylan: Wtf?

Oh Bob, breakin’ my heart. I can forgive a lot of things, snagging from folk songs, appropriating other works…for the greater good of music (sometimes). But really? Copying copyright photographs and saying it was based on actual travels? Really. The proof is again, in the pictures.

Left: Dylan’s painting from “Asia Series;” Right: photograph by Dmitri Kessel taken for LIFE magazine

You’re a legend- there was no need to copy photos…you could have done ANYTHING on the canvas and Gagosian would have sold it. But no. We get these ripped off/ craptastic paintings that will still sell for more than I’ll ever be worth. I just have to say, what a disappointment, I mean I shouldn’t be- everyone plunders each other but this is just so damn blatant and bad, it’s ridiculous. It’s not like Dylan is making a masterpiece from the photos, he’s degraded great photos into boring, clumsy painting. Gagosian probably would not have even sneezed in the direction of these paintings if they’d been made by anyone else. While we’re on the subject of Gagosian, wtf to you too?! How could you miss this issue? Do you do any kind of background at all? According to Artinfo, earlier this year French Photographer Patrick Cariou sued and won against Richard Prince and Gagosian. Prince was accused of copying 41 of Carious’ photographs for his 2007 Gagosian show.

This raises an interesting question about appropriation and power in the art world right now. How far is too far when ‘appropriating’? With the plethora of internet sources and media influences how can you know if an idea is really yours anymore? Artists have been appropriating since the beginning, it’s just what happens- the more famous guy will hear something/ see something catchy and it will be attributed to him because he’s famous, no matter if someone came up with it first. But the interesting problem now with the internet is the availability of information, lines of influence and sources can become more visible (providing one knows where to start)- the internet also is a way for the underdog to get credit/ make their voice heard, at least in some way.

Some have said this is could be part of the art…something greater and more thought provoking could be going on. That Dylan could be exploring the concept of originality itself. Or the impact of celebrity on an audience’s interpretation. Doubtful. If it was part of the message then Gagosian would be spilling because they probably don’t want another copyright issue on their hands. In addition, the whole originality and appropriation game is an old hat anyway, from Duchamp’s Readymade Fountain (1917) to Sherrie Levine’s own Fountain (1991).

Will Gagosian go through with selling Dylan’s paintings? Yes. Will they still sell for a stupid amount of money? Yes. But hopefully this will make it harder for people to get away with blatant plagiarism, as well as get Gagosian to actually research the artists they are representing and maybe, just maybe, quit trying to make a quick buck off of marketing celebrity works.

P.S. Bob, stick to music.

An update to this issue can be found here. Artinfo’s Judith Dobrzynski reports that Dylan may have paid for the copyright licensing to some of the photographs he used in the Asia Series. Whether or not it was before or after the fact is not clear, however.