you cannot recreate this sequence of events.

i'm hardly any good for a well formulated entry right now. that is, my stable, refined observations are bound for other places: readings for an upcoming exhibition we need to plan, a lecture in TX, articles for everywhere, catalogue essays (didn't you hear? U.turn is going to produce catalogues now and again. and i think they are going to be beautiful!). but there is such a nice array of bits worth considering, that they may as well be plotted here.

maybe a year ago, my brother lent me his copy of All About Eve. Films are weird creatures; i trust my instincts about when to watch them. When i have trudged forward with heeding my quiet compass, the effects can be disastrous. I woke several days ago and decided that it was the right time to commit to the film. No doubt entire courses can be and have been taught about this eloquent, humorous, sensuous film. Bette Davis is a revelation. The script is unceasingly poetic. The issues- agism, trust, obsession- are timeless and relevant. the two couples that are moored in the center of the story remind me, oddly, of the Ricardos and the Mertzes, in Lucille Ball's madcap I Love Lucy, just at a different level of antics. I was struck by their fluctuating loyalties, how it seemed in the end, all they wanted or needed was each other, but how they each proved willing to act against one another when stressed to a certain point.

i think there are few actresses today who would let themselves occupy a role the way Davis did. Puffy eyes, frizzy hair, pushed to a place that could only parallel her and her contemporaries' careers. i thought she was stunning, as i know that many also do.

and maybe it is the black and white, and my rereading of Jed Perl's Antoine's Alphabet, but I've been spending more time with the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley than i ever have. his debt to Watteau is incalculable, but in particular, he is one of several important contributors to the characterization of the Pierrot character, in whom i take great interest.

particularly, this drawing The Death of Pierrot (which could very well be a title for an exhibition or artwork in my future) is a remarkable illustration. if only you could see a crisper version. the drawings at this point in Beardsley's career began to include dotted lines to create lighter marks. the effect is to make parts of Pierrot, even his clothing draped across the chair, start to seem invisible beside the more solid visitors to his bedside.

I could not do better than to recount a bit of Perl's text here: "I have read about a Romantic-Pierrot, a Lunar-Pierrot, and a Watteau-Pierrot, each of which describes some artistic variation on the original Pierrot, the slapstick Pierrot of the old commedia dell-arte. The hyphenations suggest how difficult it is to describe variations on this comic in the floppy white suit, for the scholars can't seem to help but become jugglers of meanings, much as the artists are. Pierrot becomes a romantic poet, a figure as elusive as a moonbeam, or an eighteenth-century gallant. The literary critic Frederick Karl describes a Dandiacal-Pierrot line that runs through modern literature, which thus connects Pierrot with an attitude of artistic detachment, at once witty and aloof and snobbish and austere, so that Baudelaire turns out to be a sort of Pierrot. Karl, however, draws the line at Proust, whom other people see as very much the Pierrot. I get a kick out of the loopiness of these scholarly arguments. It's superble brrainy conversation. There is a pleasing madness to all the hyphenated meanings, as if the scholars themselves were getting a little drunk on the possibilities of Pierrot."

On the Back of a Hurricane (for Rudolf de Crignis), 2008
Blue monochrome, blue plastic shopping bag mounted on panel
12 x 12 inches

Yesterday i had the pleasure of sitting at semantics gallery for some of the hours we are open on saturday. it was the last day of Touch Faith, a dense group exhibition organized by Jeff Cortland Jones that looks at various practitioners that use abstraction and painting to varying amounts and diverse innovation. Near the very end of the day, our last visitors came in and spent a respectable amount of time with every artwork in the exhibition. A small jewel of a piece by Lori Larusso (a favorite of mine as well) seemed to be the standout for them. But, with eager interest, they asked me which piece I liked most. To be sure, there are many works in the space that i really admire. But a monochrome work by Matthew Deleget on display in the back gallery (see blue piece above) has been strikingly beautiful and humble throughout the month. Yesterday it only improved on my experience of it. The blue is not paint, but actually an everyday material, isolated so that its color and the simple embossed patterning of its plastic surface function aesthetically. i've been finding every opportunity to reinforce a position of the everyday, real, functional world offering immense resources for the research of aesthetics. i hope to get to know Deleget better.
obviously, there is more. if you haven't read Molly Donnermeyer's essay about Lady Gaga's relationship to Hitchcockian imagery and characters, do so soon. Listen to Fame Monster. Watch Jewelry Television. And stop by Brighton next Saturday evening for openings at semantics and U.turn!


the sin of envy

W Magazine is special among fashion magazines (although most of them have something unique that attracts me to them). There is an annual, tastefully assembled Art Issue, and this year's November issue is dense with art commissioned for the magazine and articles about lots of artists with major exhibitions and projects coming up right now.

If you haven't seen it or haven't seen particularly the article by Julie L. Belcove about Roni Horn, then perhaps you got a chance to read Roberta Smith's New York Times review of Horn's Whitney exhibition (and in many ways, her review of the piece in W). This all coincides with "Roni Horn a.k.a Roni Horn" at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a two floor mid-career retrospective that continues through January 24th. I look forward to seeing this exhibition in December and writing about it somewhere after the fact.

Of special interest to Smith, the striking start of the W piece, that was the talk of several conversations at openings here and there this weekend, is a portrait of Horn by her professed pal Juergen Teller. She sits casually on a New York rooftop in ordinary jeans, one foot in a cast, and pouring herself a class of red wine. She sports a black blazer that is open across her bare torso, voluptuous stomach and breasts revealed. Her (? Horn is masterfully androgynous) skin is fair and pale; she is not skinny. And this image has haunted me all weekend.

Teller, well known for his glamorous, washed out photographs used in advertising for Marc Jacobs, is plainly skilled at composing casual, decadent, thin images where nothing is fully saturated and the white and the light of our real environments are represented by the kind of haze he catches within the frame. I love his photographs; when i make photographs, i imitate his work.

But his is not the cause of my envy as much as Roni Horn herself. The simple red wine, the humanity of her cast. She may conform closer to traditional associations with "masculine" aesthetics than i am even capable of. But it is not that she appears mannish here; she is obviously a woman. Rather, she wavers in a sensual, non-specific place that i long for in art and find as a revelation to see so effectively presented upon (or 'from out of) the body of a person itself.

In light of questions raised in another recent Times' article about the blurring of traditional gender representation in student-aged individuals, I think Horn is demonstrative of a better way (i.e. better than the flawed and obviously incomplete strategy of dualities in identity).

in one of my places of employ, we have recently been instructed thus: "If any person is not in the correct restroom (physiology, not clothing determines this), please try to identify the individual and call security immediately." i have been concerned about this, worried about the implications it might suggest about the autonomy of the individual. as very little about our physiology is absolutely consistent with gender except for genitalia, i wonder if there is subtext about extreme tactics to reaffirm biological gender. there is a politics to what might seem like a simple order. i think, were she wearing a shirt like she does in other situations aside from this Teller portrait, Roni Horn would be thought of as a man and may even be pointed out to security were she to enter a women's restroom.

i've intentionally left the image out of this post. i want you to find it among the pages of W. and then find yourself in thought.

surrealism sparks good conversations; join in!

A fellow art critic and writer here in Cincinnati contacted me after visiting U.turn's opening for Jessie Bowie's exhibition Don't Be Scared Be Prepared. She began an engaging dialogue about Surrealism, a supposed Neo-Surrealism, and Jessie's exhibition. I wrote her a reply that you can read below. I wanted to continue this conversation in response to Kathy's post on her blog, the Cincinnati Art Snob. Maybe read her post (an adaptation of her e-mail) and then my repsonse?


dear kathy,

i am so glad that you e-mailed and sought dialogue. i think we would agree that the resulting conversations are among the goals of visual art. in all honesty, i too have actively avoided Surrealism throughout most of my time in the arts. sometime (maybe in future parts of this conversation) i can go into specifics about what repelled me from Surrealism.

Did you see the Surrealism exhibition at the CAM? I thought that was a beautiful (and controversial) show.

In recent years, I have started to break down a somewhat arbitrary category dubbed Surrealism (i.e., not everyone who is remembered as one of the surrealists were (a) a signed member of Breton's group or (b) ever actually making work the way surrealists said on should make work.

I started to find that there were what I think of as "fringe surrealists" that I could actively engage with, even swoon over. Their work continues to be very psychological, not just willy-nilly dripping clocks and all that. Who I am thinking of here would be Joseph Cornell, early Giacometti (he was actually kicked out of the surrealists), Rene Magritte and Jean Arp. While leaning against some of the principals that the surrealists put forth (a connection to the subconscious, the effectiveness of juxtapositions in imagery (collage exploded during surrealism and dada!)), these four (and others) are actually very structured thinkers who paid attention to the organization of information inside their works.

i think i'll bring Jessie Bowie up now specifically, and i might get to what could be said about surrealistic-APPEARING things in contemporary art.

this might be cheating, but i'm going to paste what i wrote about jessie in the press release into this part of the response:

U · turn is proud to present Don’t Be Scared Be Prepared, which features the work of Miami, Florida based artist Jessie Bowie. Bowie received her BFA from Ringling College and has recently participated in a residency in New York City. In her first solo exhibition in the Midwest, Bowie will be presenting a body of work comprised of both pen and ink drawings and site-specific wall paintings. The former are dense with detail and exude an impulsive, paranoid approach to the ideation and creative processes. Painting, in contrast, is a markedly populist activity as Bowie uses it. Her wall paintings call the training of her hand into question, instead celebrating a sloppiness that may be more conventional for hand painted signs than for traditional, high art techniques. Served together, her intricate drawings function as contained hypothetical realities in contrast to the maximalist aesthetics at work in her installations and site-specific wall works.

Bowie draws in absolute liberation. The defined, hatched mark making with which she realizes absurd or nightmarish scenarios are reminiscent of cartoon illustration or film storyboarding. Bowie is like a child who refuses to go into the ocean after seeing Jaws for the first time, and her artmaking reflects that worrisome outlook. Her drawings depict everyday folk located in the midst of critical plot twists and dénouements for narratives that Bowie has constructed only for the duration of the artwork; missing explanations for surrealistic elements in play and uncertain conclusions to these dramas confirm the works as mental flashes in a mind drunk off of pop cultural imagery and concerned about the implications of just about everything.

Jessie Bowie is a jester whose special talent is to look at our world’s past and present without actually looking at it, as if staring at a Gorgon’s reflection in a mirror, so as not to be turned to stone. Rather than confront her stimuli head on, Bowie is an experienced escapist who retreats into realms of astounding intricacy and unexpected, obscure metaphor. To call her work ‘gut wrenching’ is not to over-dramatize the point, but to identify a place of violent extremes that she frequently suggests. Sci-fi monsters, cowboys, and menageries of extinct behemoths, exotic zoo animals and frizzy house pets populate her dreamlike alternative dimensions. Beget by Surrealist Leonora Carrington’s penchant for suspense and ambiguity and Hieronymus Bosch’s fey wit and sense of action, Bowie represents a startlingly contemporary fantasy on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Tales left inchoate frame mysterious problems rather than presenting concrete solutions. When real world events, celebrities and global epidemics do make cameo appearances, they are jarring additions to the scenery. A bounty of associations and appropriations subvert singular readings, and our attempts to formulate such prove daunting. This exhibition is built from flagrant attempts and failures to cope by means both distracted and determined in a world out of control.

It is the start of that third paragraph that I have continued to find MOST true about her and her work as I’ve worked with her throughout the week. Jessie’s work is not Surrealism through and through, in that her purposes are not related to the collision of dreams and the subconscious. She works with contrivances; there is strategy to what she makes happen inside the drawings. I’ll offer this conversation as an example. I LOVE the shrine to Prince. I think it is a fascinating piece, what with the purple rain pattern and Prince depicted as a sphinx. What I brought up with Jessie as she completed it in the space was that I felt this was a sly comment about Michael Jackson rather than Prince. A shrine to Prince at the end of 2009, days after the MJ film was released, is about more than Prince; it deals with a larger strata about the worship of musicians (and musicians come up frequently in Jessie’s work- almost always rock and roll or heavy metal). She agreed that this was the larger goal of that piece.

I encourage you to consider her work as something that is far from random. If one does, especially a thinker, a hunter for meaning within art like yourself, the drawings are rife with patterns that can start to build a logic within Bowie’s terms. For example, I have found strong gender roles in her work. The men are always warriors, hunters, barbarians, Vikings, zombies, etc. The men are always armed and usually on the site of bloodshed. In contrast, every appearance of a woman in the exhibition is paired with a grove of bare branched trees. The women are usually nude and modest like images of Eve, and are usually seen with small woodland animals like foxes (and Bowie’s renderings of foxes are particularly beautiful drawings). Jessie almost always draws the large, safari-type animals running towards the left side of the paper, so that there is really a suggested stampede in whatever space they are presented (and could even be compared to the riots of animals on cave walls that were also composed with strong directionality).

Jessie Bowie’s work is great to psychoanalyze, which is an approach to art interpretation that I am personally very interested in.

One more thing I just want to toss out there for both of us to think about is the medium specificity of Jessie’s work. That she works in these drawings on mostly undefined blank sheets of paper, I think, regards the content as hypotheses and story-telling, almost like the concocted tales told around campfires. I don’t think Jessie is trying to invent entire other worlds of fantasy, rather these pen drawings on paper are annotations that refer back to the real world. They are like daydreams, and to some extent, even resemble the properties of daydreams doodled during a class- the pen, the paper: these ready materials.


As far as a general neo-surrealism taking place, I would agree insofar as I have seen artists everywhere (maybe even more in New York than in the Midwest) borrowing from Surrealistic uses of juxtaposition. I am a little hesitant to group what I might see as several different practices going on right now into a single movement. One hypothesis that I might offer is that young, visionary artists have been interested in portraying other realities because the past decade’s reality of Bush has been more of a nightmare to them/everyone than the Boschian scenes they depict. I think fantasy goes on the rise whenever reality sucks.

If I was to suggest any follow up texts etc. I might suggest one essay in the Unmonumental catalogue from the New Museum that looks at the relationship between contemporary art and Mel Gibson’s filmography. I also believe that a great deal of young artists were HEAVILY influenced by the tome Vitamin D, which indexed a lot of new practices in drawing. I believe you’ll find a number of precedents to Jessie’s practice there that could help it seem less random and more built into a developing history.

And I also recommend seeing Little Ashes if you haven’t seen it. It is a B film and not the best in production quality, but it looks at the development of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s poetry and Salvador Dali’s Surrealism against the backdrop of fascist Spain. The CAC showed it earlier this year and I left feeling strong connections to some of the explanations of surrealism described in the film.

I hope this is all of SOME HELP! I would love to talk more about it.

Have a great Sunday, Kathy. Thanks so much for stopping by the gallery and for writing.



declarations and values

a series of declarations drawn out of my own value system as it collides with the art world. different folks in my life will have recently heard versions of these quiet rampages, but it felt important to at least speak them in a space that they could be revisited. like all of life, they are experiments, and despite the force of my convictions, they are not conclusions. i've just come to identify growing senses of... well, outrage about politics that pop up in the arts that i believe hinder the expansion of art as a continually relevant area of research into what we are capable of experiencing and feeling and considering through our perceptions. and so i proceed:

-i disapprove of juried shows that charge artists fees to compete, and i'm not the only one. these exhibitions, if well advertised, represent more a source of revenue for a gallery at the expense of emerging artists, than it does genuinely wholesome opportunities for artists and their work. as a curator- freelance or in one of the galleries i volunteer with- i never want to be at one end of a situation in which privilege or income is a stated component of the jurying process. it doesn't matter if you or i could afford to enter such competitions, there are indisputably artists (probably young ones with fresh ideas) that can't and to filter these demographics out of an exhibition being curated is suspicious and does not align to my hopes and dreams for the art world. if an artist is charged $10 per piece being submitted to a competition, or, say, $30 to submit an exhibition proposal to a gallery, then the proceeds that a well established gallery will take from the project will far exceed the number of artists who benefit through being exhibited. and the number of artists who get nothing but a rejection letter function as fuel for the gallery.

i am not trying to change anyone's mind on this. after i say it is wrong, other striations within the arts will still practice their business in this manner without a guilty conscience. after i call it a scam, some will refute it and in so doing, will further affirm my beliefs. but i want to state somewhere for the record that there are those of us who believe the gallery truly is a place for research in an intersectional field where aesthetics can influence discourses in sociology, politics, poetics, philosophy and many other fields of exploration. i want this to be truly accessible to all. i strive to not limit or control who or what might become part of the conversation, while knowing that my platforms have some limitations and i can only be the source or part of the source of some of the conversation. so the galleries curate things that have been coming into our periphery and can be framed as significant. i, nor my writing, nor the efforts i align with, attempt to be all things for all people (and nor do i expect that from anyone else). but all people should be invited to engage.

-i was speaking with a friend at the carnegie openings on friday. we were swapping recent horror stories about what i consider reprehensible behavior on the part of ego-driven members of the academia. my own internal jury is still out to absolutely say that the art world would be better without myopic purists. sometimes i think their incredible positions can be one way for young emerging thinkers to sharpen themselves against, but mostly, i think they should stop.

i believe drawing classes should only be taught by people who recognize the practice as one of endless discovery in every direction without a single, defined endpoint that students are meant to reach. drawing is not about a linear progression of achievements. a person making a drawing (however the drawing manifests: a figure study, an operetta, a video, a crocheted object, an etching, a manifesto, a tag left around town) is not working against some Ideal to which they should be compared. if there is any way to assign value to drawing as an act or the products that result from it, i believe the value system should be established by the educator being sensitive, accurately intuitive and careful as they come to know the personal projects of each artist they are working with. through observation, different forms of communication, the facilitator can begin to hold each artist to their own standards, their own output.

that is, if it is necessary to assign value to drawing or its resulting products. is it necessary? drawing is like transportation, it gets an artist from one place to another. and sometimes a drive with all the windows down and music turned up is entirely the point. each act of drawing almost always establishes its own logic that it carries inside itself. inconsistencies in that system should be pointed out and discussed, but not demeaned, because the anomaly- as in nature- can often present a lead for a more sustainable branch of evolution.

shame on the teacher that breaks the spirit of a student and/or an artist for any reason.

there is no justification for the abuse of a position of influence and power.

-after i began writing as an art critic, my expectations for what an artist's abilities are/should be have continued to evolve in directions that i would not have expected. through my undergraduate experience, i believe i was encouraged and trained to be a self sufficient unit that could conceive of art projects, find ways to execute them properly, talk about them and discuss them within the parameters of decidedly verbal intelligence, and to present that work in an informed, considered way. this calls for the artist to be a hybrid of artist/critic/curator unto himself, which is what i've resulted as. i am glad i was trained this way. i think that i am most likely to excel when deconstructing multiple practices and interweaving their disciplines to discover or discuss the overlapping information. i am fair at doing all of these things and i like doing them.

but as i've begun to occupy each of those roles in defined, distinguished capacities, i've separated their practices and even seen some of the harm of expecting all artists to function as a hybrid of these roles. to be clear, i am not accusing my alma mater of expecting this from artists, as much as i am admitting that a result of my time there was that i had a concrete expectation for artists to be able to not only come up with great ideas and realize them, i wanted them to be able to if not totally explain them, then to at least articulate a context, and to use an objective eye and mind to make impressive exhibitions of that work.

in 2009 i have been personally bettered through encounters with art and makers who are not concerned with the kinds of verbal intelligence that i spend my weeks with as i write, curate and even frame my own artwork. they are a different kind of artist than what i am and what i hope to become, but they are wonderful. they prove that what i ultimately hope is that beyond my abilities as a writer, there is work that cannot be translated into language. I want to continue seeing more and more art that can't be spoken about because it so resides within the highest potentials of the field of visual art.

don't disrupt these artists from the way they are working. what they are doing is good. so many visual artists say in interviews later in life that they wish they had trusted their own intuition more, so those who do this successfully should be applauded.