Sunday, February 28, 2010

Together and Alone at the New York Public Library

by Drew Martin

There is a show of drawings from the beginning of March to the end of April at the Hudson Park branch of the New York Public Library that I feel quite close to...particularly because it is my show. It is called TogetherAlone and is a collection of forty, black and white, inked drawings, which explore the overlapping feelings of unity and solitude.

This theme extends from the microcosms of the 'line beings' to my relationship with these contemplative drawings…and even further, to the inter/inner-action of the viewer with the pictures. The drawings were made in two very different places over twelve years apart: Prague and Usti nad Labem in the Czech Republic (1995-1996) and Ridgewood, New Jersey and New York City (2008-2009).

I hung the show too hastily (in an hour) and it would work better in a more intimate and less distracting setting but what I really like about the space is that most of the newer drawings were actually drawn in that very room. I have been in that neighborhood for ten years and had sought out every cafe and restaurant within a fifteen minute walk where I could draw but there was always something that distracted me. Finally I tried out this backroom at the Hudson Park Library on Leroy Street in the Village, which had been right under my nose all these years. It was perfect: plenty of light, no computers, big wooden tables and no one nosily looking over my shoulder or rushing me. The room is often a haven for homeless locals: still souls with unhurried lives. Sometimes I would sit down between them as they slept.

One man who smelled of alcohol in the room inspired a drawing in the show of a man sitting down, holding a wine bottle, while he is stuck inside a bottle, like a model ship. The gimmick of the ship-in-a-bottle is the question of how the ship technically got inside, but in my drawing, the encasing bottle is obviously a metaphor for his own entrapping actions.

Some of the best drawings are from fifteen years ago: they do not represent for me a more insightful or prolific time but a lonelier time, when I had the isolation needed for this kind of work. Developing this show (and book, which goes along with it) required the presence of all the versions of me in the arts, the artist, the writer and the editor/curator. There is also my role as a father/parent that comes in to play: thinking what is to be left for my children to see, and for that matter, what needed to be destroyed.

I think it is important to not relegate the arts to a spectator event but to create and show what one does at whatever level possible. Not only does such engagement increase one's appreciation for the production of art and the role of artists, but it really opens one's eyes to a more practical side of working towards a body of work and showing it to the public.

Hudson Park Library

66 Leroy Street (& Seventh Ave. South)
New York, NY 10014-3929

Monday 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Tuesday 12:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Wednesday 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Thursday 12:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Friday 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Saturday 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Two of four panels with the framed drawings.

to read the NYPL review by John Flood, click here >>>

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Unique Perspective

by Drew Martin

I might as well designate February as Walter De Maria Month since his name has been in the past two posts. The shortest month for this artist with some of the longest projects, in length and installment. Although De Maria's work has been used in previous postings as an excuse to mention a couple made in art heaven and to introduce the Nazca (Nasca) Lines of Peru, I would be negligent to reduce him to that. Hands down, De Maria is "deepest" artist...ever...pun intended. His Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977) in front of the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Friedrichsplatz Park, Kassel, Germany is arguably the boldest, no-nonsense conceptual artwork yet to be created.

The Vertical Earth Kilometer is a one-kilometer-long solid brass rod, which was slipped into a drilled hole, one kilometer into earth and layers of rock. The two-inch-in-diameter rod ends flush to the surface of a red square sandstone plate so all that you can actually see is something that resembles a large brass coin. De Maria's Nazca-like earth lines are more than simply a nod to geoglyphs from the past. They are more about exploring what art could be; defining space in a radically different way.

Perhaps Protagoras summed up the future of Western philosophy and art with his man is the measure comment and later by Vitruvius with his actual measures of man, illustrated a millennium and a half later in Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. Space and distance were a big concern for artists in the Renaissance but their conceptual challenge was met at the surface of paintings with foreshortening and other issues of atmospheric and linear perspective. De Maria may seem to copy the pre-Columbian Peruvians but his Vertical Earth Kilometer challenges the "viewer" to "see" his work in an unprecedented way. In the New York companion piece, the Broken Kilometer, De Maria turns perspective on its head by distancing brass rods farther and farther apart so it appears that the rods are evenly spaced from the roped-off vantage point.

What is interesting about the Nazca lines is the conceptual leap of scale and distance and the idea of a far-off viewer. The Western idea of a god observing us moved from the Greek concept of gods that would walk among us to one god up above us, looking down, and yet Western art never questions the scale of the art that was produced: that everything produced might be too small for "him" to see. If the early Peruvians were that considerate, it may have been simply a logical result from observing nature and the markings of smaller creatures at their feet, or for that matter, their own footprints. What this means is that they could have possibly entertained the idea that humans and Earth are simply someone else's microcosm.

I am not aware of Western art (or Eastern art) that reflects this. Islamic miniatures as well as paintings of little Europeans frolicking about as we see in Hieronymus Bosch's triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, simply fit the characters in at scale to tell a story on a plank of wood or a stretch of canvas. I have never heard of an artist's intent to scale a subject down in order to show us how a god might view us. Did Michelangelo scale up David to give us the proportions of a Goliath or was he simply working with a big block of marble and using size for the sake of creating a monumental work?

The idea of worlds within worlds is not foreign to the sciences as well as science fiction. I remember, as a young teenager, standing in our laundry room with my father, a nuclear physicist. He pointed to a drop at the slop sink faucet and said that not only might our universe be contained in the droplet of water about to drip from the faucet in someone else's reality but that the total time of the existence of our universe might be the time of the droplet to fall from the faucet until it reached the basin.

If sculpture is partly about defining space, then De Maria should be the threshold to new work "to go where no man has gone before". In a cartoon book I made in 1991 called Infinous Space (infinous is not a word) I played with defining the limits of the universe. I described the universe as an infinite field of points which are the borders of microcosms and ever expanding space. Though whimsically drawn and followed by fantasy, the idea is no joke. The problem with how most humans view space is that our default, for practical reasons, is that man is the measure of all things and as long as we hold to this we will never understand distance beyond the perspective of our bodies. Our bodies are a false standard and force us into a linear perspective because of the way our eyes focus and read depth and the way our bodies move towards other objects. Microscopy is the best tangible thing we have, after that it is left to the abstract language of mathematics and conceptualizing. If I have lost the reader here...consider the camel through the eye of a needle scenario. The problem with fitting a camel through the eye of a needle is that the camel does not scale down to something smaller than the opening as it approaches the needle, the way our eye does with the aid of microscopy.

However the achievements of the indigenous Peruvians are explained as art or religion/belief...the greatest achievement is not in the physical construction, engineering or planning, but in the conceptualizing of scale relations.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Earthworks and their Pre-Columbian Influences: The Nasca Lines

by Willy Blackmore

Long before Robert Smithson built his Spiral Jetty out into the Great Salt Lake, the geoglyphs in the high Peruvian dessert, known as the Lines of Nasca, have existed as monumental works of art that make the very earth their medium. Just as the cubists and other avant garde movements of the early 20th century looked to “primitive” art to inform their practice, the leading artists of the earthworks/land art movement of the 1970s were inspired by these ancient geometric shapes and simple massive-form line drawings. Works such as Walter De Maria’s Mile Long Drawing seem to almost directly reference these pre-Colombian relics. The monumental lines etched in the desert have long mystified and fascinated visitors, giving rise to theories of alien influence and many other ideas about their source.

On Sunday, February, 21, the National Geographic Channel premiered a documentary, Nasca Lines: Buried Secrets, from Edge West Productions, directed by celebrated British documentarian Philip J. Day. The documentary focuses on new evidence that reveals details about the civilization responsible for the lines, and features impressive aerial photography, taking the camera high enough in the sky to appreciate the grace and beauty these epic lines command.

For more info about the documentary visit Edge West Productions
and National Geographic.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bon Dia

by Drew Martin

Last year, mid-May, I went to visit my aunt and uncle in the mountains of Santa Barbara shortly after the Jesusita fire torched over 8,700 acres and blazed through their neighborhood. Thanks to their pool, which the fire department used, their house was not consumed but the smoke damage was unavoidable. EVERYTHING had to be cleaned.

I was in their house the day the window cleaners came and was deeply touched by something so mundane. The cleaners were a young couple. The husband cleaned from the outside and the wife cleaned from the inside. They cleaned the same area at the same time, removing the filmy layer until they could see each other, crisply. They smiled at each other as they worked. It was such a beautiful and poetic act.

Similarly, there have been many couples in the art world who inspire each other and collaborate. Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude were a pair that shared a life, dreams and work. For Valentine's Day I want to highlight another couple in the art world who have a beautiful life together.

The New York Earth Room (created in 1977) at 141 Wooster Street and The Broken Kilometer (1979) at 393 West Broadway are only a couple blocks apart in SoHo and are two of the most interesting art spaces in New York City. They are both long term installations created by Walter De Maria and were commissioned and are maintained by the Dia Art Foundation.

The New York Earth Room is an interior earth sculpture. 250 cubic yards/280,000 pounds of earth over 3,600 square feet of floor space on the second floor of its SoHo building.

The Broken Kilometer is composed of 500 highly polished, round, solid brass rods, each measuring two meters in length and two inches in diameter. The rods are placed in five parallel rows of 100 rods each. The sculpture weighs 18 3/4 tons and takes up almost 6,000 square feet of its ground floor gallery space.

Just as interesting as the work are the sitters. One lady has been sitting in the The Broken Kilometer space for over 17 years and one man has been tending the earth of The New York Earth Room, which requires watering and raking, for two decades. Both sitters are probably somewhere in their 50's but each of them has teenage personalities and expressions.

Maybe their youthfulness is just a sign that they are in love; with each other. They are happily married, meet each other for lunch everyday and walk home together. They've had a life, which included raising children, all in the context of the lingering beauty of De Maria's art work.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Original Cin

by Drew Martin

Cinema is rife with references. In some cases the references out-perform the plot, or actually are the plot as we see in a kids' film such as Shrek and classics such as Star Wars. There can be direct, indirect and unintentional references happening at the same time, where the inclusion of an icon is less about borrowing or nodding to the original as it is about perpetuating a myth, which the director may or may not even be aware of.

This happens in Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's The Hurt Locker with the "suit", which is the protective gear worn by the main character, Army Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), who disarms IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the streets of Baghdad. Whether or not you like the film (I did, for many reasons I won't go into here, although I have never so strongly opposed a concluding message) the bomb suit is a brilliant icon and vulnerable superhero.

The suit references deep sea diving as well as space walking and that is the divide where Bigelow leaves us each time its wearer dons it and goes off into the unknown. The slow and deliberate movements inherent in the suit conjure space and the sea; voids, which make the baked land of Jordan (where it was filmed) a unique experience.

It is worth mentioning The Diving Bell and the Butterfly memoir/movie by/about journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, and how the diving bell is used as an analogy to his isolation from a stroke that left him with a condition called locked-in syndrome. The protective bomb suit is definately a heavy metaphor for James' isolated personality.

The movie referenced the most by Bigelow and the cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, is 2001: A Space Odyssey, almost to the point of visual plagurism. What comes prepackaged with that visual reference are the fatal experiences and the tension that something terrible is about to happen. What I liked about The Hurt Locker is recalling those references in a completely different world: the arid and littered streets of Baghdad, which makes the sun feel hotter and the Americans just as far from home as outerspace or miles underwater. To not make the audience too sure of the protective suit, Bigelow and Boal kill off Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce) in the first few minutes at what seems, in cinematic terms, a safe distance from the explosion of an IED.

This opening scene establishes the extraterrestrial feel by focusing on a "bot" that scurries around the streets to look closely at a roadside bomb. It is Martian, it is lunar, but it is the Middle East. The space and oceanic references, as well as those to revamped superhero movies such as The Iron Giant, Iron Man and G.I. Joe are decendents of something else, which I do not think was on Bigelow and Boal's minds.

The source I would follow all of these back to is Golem of the Jewish ghetto of 16th century Prague. It is the source for creatures such as Frankenstein's monster. The story of Golem has many variations. It can be an ambivalent character, both good and bad, but in the end a protective friend. In Hebrew the word golem literally means rock, as well as fool, dumb, or even stupid and is a term for an uncultivated person. Similarly, it is a Yiddish slang insult for someone who is clumsy or slow. While James is cautiously slow, he is the most dexterious character in the film, but he is quickly labelled as a redneck and what he does is not sensible to the average person.

The main disability of a golem is its inability to speak. Here this is both an Arabic language barrier as well as James' reserved character. Towards the end, at home, he does speak to his wife about the missions and what is happening in Iraq, but there is no way for him to express his own emotions. To a speechless infant he expresses that his only love is for his job. With that confession, he leaves his boy and his wife for another mission in Iraq.

In the Prague narrative, Golem was created to defend the Jewish ghetto from pogroms. Bigelow and Boal did not consciously set out to retell the story of Golem. It is too distant and obscure a reference for them but at the same time they made a wonderful modernization of the tale, appropriately in the Middle East.

For another Museum of Peripheral Art reference to Golem see >>> The Garden State Golem

For another Museum of Peripheral Art reference to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly see >>> Different Strokes

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Adult Education: A Discussion of Art & Pornography

Pictured here and referenced in the following interview: X cutouts from Édouard Manet's painting, Olympia (1863), photograph of Bettie Page (1950's) and Gustave Courbet's painting, The Origin of the World (1866). The following is an interview about art and pornography, which represents one round trip email with my friend Odette. I like such an exchange because there is hardly any editing but there often are surprises. Typically, I do not point out these misunderstandings and they usually occur because I do not clearly express myself. Because of the sensitive subject matter, I want to explain that my question below about a nude shot of a deceased model meant to suggest a picture taken of a model during his or her lifetime and viewed posthumously as opposed to the way in which the question was answered, which implies I was speaking of the image of a dead person, which I was not. Either way, I am shockingly amused by it and have left it in.

We have known each other for a dozen years. We met on your and my wife's class trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After you got your Bachelors in Research Psychology and Philosophy you went on to NYU and got a Masters in Media Ecology and Film Production. You are now a graphic artist/writer/editor and a musician and currently live in London. I was wondering if you had a few minutes to talk about a few subjects you know a lot about and how these influence each other? Those being, pornography, graphic art, fine art and punk rock.

Sure! I remember that day that I met you very well — that was the first time I had Ethiopian food and you taught me how to order food “without meat” in Czech just in time for my study abroad trip to Prague!

For many years of your career you have worked on the publication side of the porn industry, both in the US and in England. I was wondering if you could shed some light on the industry and explain where it and the arts overlap.

I’ve worked at four different adult publishers, in three different job titles, on well over a dozen titles in two countries… yeah, I guess do know a bit about porn publishing by now.

I’ve always thought that art happens when the person making it is trying to express something, and I’d say that’s the rule in porn too. Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward and utilitarian — a naked girl on a bed. But some photographers and directors put quite a lot into the set up, the story, the outfits and makeup. They’re trying to say something to the viewer through the photos or video, whatever that may be. Both take talent. But even with this distinction the line is pretty blurry. What makes anything art, or not art?

In terms of the history of art, concerning the male gaze and control of the female body, where do you personally draw the line between art and pornography and isn't that line being constantly pushed back if Manet's Olympia and Courbet's The Origin of the World are simply fine art now?

You could say the same about camera club photos from the 50’s. Bettie Page is the big breakout star of that genre but there were hundreds of girls who posed for sexy photos in that era. At the time they were fighting to NOT be labeled as obscene.

While one could argue that those girls were being objectified or exploited, the very fact that they chose to be photographed, to wear sexy outfits and pose for the camera gives the photos an aura of female empowerment, of taking control of the way they are portrayed. That’s pretty much the point of the whole neo-burlesque movement too. “You can look and enjoy because I’m *letting* you look.”

That being said, there is some porn out there that I DO find really offensive and dangerous, like Max Hardcore’s stuff and others who treat the girls like they’re not even real people in their videos. Yes, the girls have chosen to be in these films, but I often read interviews where they later said they’d done them early in their careers and regretted allowing themselves to be borderline abused, that they’d been scared and even cried. Every now and then I interview a porn star who gives me the party line about how much she gets off on being treated that way, but sorry, I just don’t believe it. I don’t see how that’s art, and I wouldn’t even want to call it porn. It’s doesn’t seem like a healthy sexual fantasy being played out, but a destructive, hurtful fantasy where the person being hurt is barely consenting. (Bondage and S&M should be about fantasy, not about actually hurting people.)

What does time have to do with it? Is a naked representation of a deceased model less erotic than a comparable figure that is freshly captured? Does pornography offer something that art doesn't...a physical availability/possibility?

This is a really weird question to me because anything deceased is pretty taboo in all the porn mags I’ve worked on, as is anything with animals or minors.

But yes, I think that porn often takes nudity a step further than art. This is just my take on it, what I try to get across in my own writing, editing and the photos I choose for my magazines, but I believe that porn is meant to help you get to a place where you’re aroused by reminding you of something that turns you on in real life, whether it’s something you’ve really done or something you just like to fantasize about. That’s why it’s good to have a variety of models. Sometimes at the office we’ll be really taken aback by a photo that’s going into the magazine for one reason or another (the girls is really hairy, or skinny, or fat, or there’s something weird about her nipples, or her clit is huge, etc.) but I always point out that there’s someone out there who dated a girl just like that once and that picture is going to really do it for him!

One publication you worked for was Swank, which had a special look to the girls. Can you talk a bit about a standard, consistency and aesthetics of a particular publication and how that is related to aesthetics in painting or sculpture?

Each issue is made by real people, an editor and an art director and sometimes more, so it’s going to have a certain voice to it just like any piece of art would. The guy who used to pick the photos for Swank when I worked there definitely had a very distinct vision that didn’t change much between the 70’s and the 90’s. He said that blondes with big boobs always sold magazines, especially in middle America. Truckers get lonely out on the road, and apparently they have a type!

How has porn changed in its aesthetics and by new media? For instance, how has our perception changed as the industry moved from studio production with stars to amateur uploads with kids messing around and more immediate access?

Digital video and cheaper production definitely spawned a whole slew of new porn genres: gonzo, pro-am (a pro with an amateur), and websites like YouPorn. I think it’s great because it lets that many more people do something creative and sexy and expressive. But there’s also a lot of junk out there now too! There are some companies like Vivid, Adam and Eve, Candida Royalle’s Femme Productions, and Wicked who still make big budget productions with wardrobe and a good script. That kind of film is basically a specialty market now, where it was once the only game in town.

One of the greatest things to come out of the new wave of porn genres is alt porn. It seems to be influenced by music and fashion, where the stars have lots of tattoos, real tits, and there’s a punk rock attitude to the whole thing. Vivid makes a line of alt porn, and Joanna Angel’s Burning Angel videos offer the ultimate in tattooed, cool porn stars. (No, I’m not being paid to say that!) They’re giving porn a really cool, fresh new face.

Thanks to cheaper production, porn is being made in NYC again, which is nice because it does have a totally different look and feel than Southern California porn. More real, grittier. I think the scenarios often seem more realistic too.

Porn serves a purpose. It titillates, arouses and fills a physical void in many people's lives. I can see how it can be both dangerous and helpful. By dangerous I mean as a substitute and obstacle to real love and passion and by helpful I mean that it can probably be quite liberating as well. Can it be something else, like a snippet which wakes someone up but does not arouse? Or can its energy be transferred into something else, something non-physical?

It’s like with anything else… it’s good for you in moderation! Some people use porn as a substitute for real relationships, or use it so much that it causes problems in a real relationship. But that’s not the fault of porn. That person probably has other issues and chooses porn as their addiction and escape — it could easily be drugs or alcohol or gambling. Everyone uses porn in a different way, but it’s really meant to be enjoyed. It shouldn’t get in the way of other parts of one’s life.

This past year I heard an interview between Leonard Lopate and an Englishman about the difference between American and British crossword puzzles. We know the difference in humor, fashion, music etc. between the US and UK but what are the differences in art sensibilities that you've noticed?

For one thing, the magazines I used to do in the US are considered “hardcore” here in the UK. You can only get them in licensed sex shops. The magazines I work on here in London are called “top-shelf” magazines, as in, you can walk into almost any newsagent’s and get them, always on the top shelf, above children’s eye level.

The “real wife” genre is very popular here. Women really do send in nude photos — all kinds of women. It’s nice seeing a real-life variety of people in the magazines, and like I said, that one weird photo will be somebody’s dream girl! In the top-selling titles, even the models aren’t glamorous, they’re pretty but they look “get-able”.

One of the magazines I used to do in NYC had a “girl next door” section with photos that regular women had sent in, and once a year we’d publish all those photos together in one magazine. That always sold really well, so I guess people like “real” naked ladies in the States too.

As far as art goes, I’d say it’s pretty much the same as in the US. I frequent museums and art galleries in London and usually get to all the good exhibits around town. Often the shows are on loan from an NYC museum — like last year’s Robert Capa photography exhibit at Barbican, on loan from the ICP.

Personally, I do sense a general air of disdain for anything too new and different in the UK. They’re intrigued but don’t want really to be challenged. Class and traditional roles seem much more important here than they did in NYC, but again, that’s totally my own perception based on my own interactions. There are pockets of people doing amazing things in art, performance, music, but to me these don’t seem as readily accessible as they do in NYC. Part of that is simply because London is so spread out. I’m less likely to travel an hour by bus to see a burlesque show or a band in London than I was to take a 15-minute subway ride to see a show in NYC.

In NY you were in a band called Bettie After Midnight. Now, in London, you play bass and sing for The Optic Nerves. Can you talk a bit about the visuals of music. Do you dress a way because it is expected of you or is there something inherent in a certain style that might put you in the right mood for that kind of music or that it might visually complement your music?

Honestly, I’ve never really thought about why I dress like I do, I just know what I like and go out of my way to find it. I do sometimes see someone else wearing something and think, Wow, that’s cool, I’m going to try that too. But I don’t copy other people’s looks, I just incorporate the new thing into my own style. I think that when one’s look or wardrobe is self- conscious, it’s fake and it shows. I hate seeing people wear something just because it’s trendy — that’s like listening to top 40. Don’t you have your own opinion?

At the same time, I’m obviously influenced by something because people who like the same music do tend to have a similar style of dress. I can often tell just by looking at someone that we like all the same bands! There are definitely visual cues, symbols or signals that unite people who like similar music. For example, people who are into psychobilly are usually also into old horror movies and the themes used in those movie posters. In making my own artwork for my band, I do draw on these things in order to attract people to gigs, to alert them that they’re likely to enjoy our music if they were initially intrigued by the artwork.

I remember your old concert flyers...they had a do it yourself Zine look, with photocopy collage and ransom note text. Now you are doing everything on a Mac, I assume. Do you miss that hands-on feel?... What has been lost to the computer in terms of how you creatively worked before?

Yes, I do everything on my Mac now! I do miss the hands-on feel of skillfully cutting out a little drawing with scissors, maneuvering around tiny parts and then trying to get it to stick onto the paper when I’ve got glue all over my fingers too. But it’s so much quicker and easier to use a computer — and it does still require lots of skill. Of course, I’m glad that I learned the old fashioned way because even computer-generated artwork is supposed to mimic that look and feel. That’s what I’m going for, anyway.

Thank you for you time.

Any time!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

From Gallery to Back Alley

by Drew Martin

The relationship between artist and art critic is somewhat of a strained one that reflects the history of judgement, authority and hierarchy in our culture. A cycle exists where an artist creates work, shows it to the public, a critic has a look and deems whether or not the work (and the artist for that matter) are worth paying attention to and paying for. The viewing public, galleries, museums and collectors are all influenced. In this loop, careers are made or squashed and there is much display of plumage, beating of chests and sometimes horns are locked and hair is pulled.

In cinema, Siskel & Ebert made the direct reference to the life and death of it all using the thumbs up/thumbs down rating as if nothing has changed since the mortal gladiator sparring of ancient Rome. Art critics tend to draw out the punishment, more like Franz Kafka's execution apparatus from In The Penal Colony, which fatally inscribed the sentence into the accused's back. Ideally, the relationship could be much more constructive. The artist and art critic have, and should have, much more knowledge of the arts than the average person. Their careers are not sudden mishaps, but something they have been nurturing most likely since youth and they have digested the history of art and are typically quite aware of what each other's peers are saying and doing. If anything, the one who reviews art, especially conceptual art, should help explain the artist's intentions and what the work is about, pointing out the advances as well as the flaws without passing personal judgement.

The reality is much crueler. In the case of the artist, perhaps the work falls short of expectation or he or she is simply too pretentious to be in the same gallery with. Likewise, the critic might have woken up on the wrong side of the bed or is feeling a bit vindictive. The least harmonic relationship is probably that between art critic Robert Hughes and artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel. Hughes once expressed that Julian Schnabel is to painting as Sylvester Stallone is to which Schnabel blurted that Hughes is a "bum". Schnabel, is arguably the cockiest living artist and Hughes has been unkind before: saying that comparing certain artists (which he names) is like comparing dog and cat feces (with more explicative language).

Apparently there's a new brawl out West, which was brought to my attention by Bill Wheelock, who is a cofounder of The Thinkery gallery in Los Angeles and maintains The Hairy Prone Companion blog. The spat is over a thumbs down review of Diana Thater's show at the Santa Monica Museum of Art: Between Science and Magic...a conceptual art installation about movie magic which includes a projection, from various angles, of a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. The short of it is, the reviewer, David Pagel, did not like the show and Diana Thater did not like the review. Just reading the various reviews and comments from Pagel's review in the Los Angeles Times makes my head spin.

To get the argument in full, please visit the The Hairy Prone Companion, where you will find all the appropriate links. With the egos revving it seems that creativity has sadly been jettisoned: the obvious reaction from me as the artist would have been to reshoot the magic trick with a doppelgänger of Pagel looking on, and then, in Monty Python style, have the magically produced rabbit go for Pagel's jugular. Thater has instead contested/protested the review and joined in the comments banter and backlash.

What I find most interesting about this is how it all actually relates to Socrates, Plato and their conversation in the Phaedrus, in which Socrates claims that a problem with written language is that it cannot defend itself from those who might attack it but here we see that the written word is alive and kicking.

>>> The Hairy Prone Companion

Monday, February 1, 2010

Journey to the Center of the Mirth

by Drew Martin

I still remember many of my teachers' comments from my college art program. When one instructor saw me painting with the canvas facing the ground (I was underneath it) pulling the paint towards the floor to create gooey tentacles of acrylic that hardened as multi-colored stalactites, he politely suggested I give up painting altogether and go into sculpture. Once I was in sculpture, my instructor, Ann Hamilton, often said my work was too personal to further discuss and then would move on to the next student. The reaction I remember most, however, was the condemnation by one teacher for my endangering the entire class.

We were put up to performance art, which I was not comfortable with but I came up with a project that I was quite excited about. It was about human conception and an unknown journey that climaxed in joy and celebration. I had all the students and teachers meet me one starry night with bicycles and flashlights on the edge of a wildlife reserve that bordered our campus for a zygotic quest, as determined as a lemming run. We all rode a couple miles with my lead to an area before the bluffs of the Pacific Ocean. It was elevated land with sabulous ravines that looked like mini earthquake faults, which were probably ten feet deep.

When we all arrived at a certain spot, we descended into one of the crevices where we were met by two awaiting friends who had champagne and a candlelit cake I had baked. The friends shouted "Surprise!" and everyone certainly was, but not in a good way. The elation I had hoped to elicit was greeted with annoyance. Most of the students were in particular, named Art (believe it or not), complained that he and one of the female students got their nice shoes dusty. It was probably the most awkward moment in my life.

Everyone reluctantly ate the cake and had some champagne in a bothered silence and then we rode back to our meeting point before we disbanded. The teacher said she was very upset with me. I rode back naively mystified, trying to see what was so wrong about the event. Fortunately, one student came to my rescue and said it was a great performance piece. At the end of the quarter, to my surprise, the teacher even approached me and confessed that she had thought a lot about the project and decided she really liked it.

I am not quite sure why I am posting this memory...partly to retell a humorous art school project that went horribly wrong, also to claim a minor victory in the end, but mainly to say that the art is about experimenting and playing and is not about a distant participation: to experience it we often need to surrender ourselves for a period and even get our feet a little dirty.