Tag Archives: controversy

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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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.


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.


Art & Headlines: Wall Street Protest

The Occupy Wall Street Movement began Saturday September 17th with about 5,000 protesters (read more here). As of now there is an ongoing contingent of protesters that continue to occupy the plaza and parks in the surrounding area and are gunning for the long haul. While I do support the protest as a substantial first step for us to wake up to our situation, my biggest problem is with the media blackout. The U.S media has completely blocked out this protest and is making it quite evident whose side they are on, nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds them- which is exactly the problem. We have the right to protest but the convenient loophole is to just ignore it and it will go away. But this shouldn’t go away, if significant change is to happen, then the people must unite- they have to demand it. The wealth disparity and the people’s lack of power is not new, but that does not mean it should continue.

So today I thought I’d connect the Wall Street protest to various artworks that deal with the persistent wealth gap and with the desire to revolutionize our position.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Tirs 1960s; mixed media

1968 Poster from the Paris Protests

Victor Burgin, Possession, 1976

Erwin Wurm, Fat Convertable, 2005; mixed media


‘Pataphysics: A Philosophy of the Absurd

What is ‘Pataphysics you ask? Surely something high-minded and science-y; like physics but “pata”…? Well, yes and no; but mostly no. ‘Pataphysics is the study of imaginary solutions; a supposition based on a supposition, what lies beyond reality. Assumptions built on assumptions, the fearful imaginings and anxieties of life- for instance seeing someone you know and then assuming they are ignoring you and then wondering why they are ignoring you.

‘Pataphysics has its origins with French writer Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), an Absurdist to the core. Jarry shot to fame at the age of 23 with his play, Ubu Roi, a humorous, satirical and biting 5 act piece that was shut down after its opening night. Might have had something to do with the first word in the play being “Merdre!” (or “SHIT-R!”- Jarry had a unique way of speaking that was the inspiration for the title character where he pronounced everything, even silent letters)- which caused pandemonium in the crowd. (Alfred Jarry on a bicycle which he called “that which rolls”)

After his brief bit of fame, Jarry succumbed to the life of the bohemian, drinking heavily and dying in poverty. However, his impact and that of ‘Pataphysics is one of those strange, invisible hands that helped shape contemporary culture. Picasso, also a frequenter of the Parisian scene, became fascinated with Jarry after his death, wearing Jarry’s pistol around his neck.

(drawing of the character “Ubu” from the play Ubu Roi)

In 1948 ‘Pataphysics acquired a second life with the founding of College de ‘pataphysique in Paris. Members included notables like Joan Miro, Marcel Duchamp, and Eugene Ionesco. Even the philosopher Jean Baudrillard identified himself with the absurdist philosophy. So we can definitely see a clear lineage from Jarry’s absurdist ‘Pataphysics to the work of Dadaists and Surrealists. In the 1960s Asger Jorn also subscribed to ‘Pataphysics which influenced his work with the Situationist International. From there Pataphysics hotspots popped up all over the world. Oh yeah, John Cage’s seminal Black Mountain College performance in the 50’s? Chalk it up to ‘Pataphysics!

The ‘pataphysic effect has influenced not only visual art, but also music and literature. The Pataphor (coined by writer and musician Pablo Lopez) is an extended metaphor that describes two degrees of separation (rather than one, which would be a metaphor). It describes a new and separate world where the idea has taken on its own life (for an example click here.)

Beatles fan? In “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” what is mentioned as the course of study for Joan? That’s right, “Pataphysical Science.”

And the best thing!? It’s still around! After going underground in 1975, the College de ‘Pataphysique reemerged in 2000. The London chapter especially is thriving with an actual journal, documents, and all the trappings of sophisticated officialness. So there! Art doesn’t have to be serious to be great or influential. Sometimes the greatest truths are found within the absurd.