October 29, 2009

The Knew Museum


At the press preview of the New Museum's Urs Fischer show yesterday, curator Massimiliano Gioni said that Fischer "treats reality as if it were software," an assessment I suspect is designed to be tweeted more than analyzed.

Gioni and Fischer are entitled to use any metaphor they care to, of course, and this artist-as-reality-coder trope may be borne out nicely in the scholarly catalogue essay. But it also the kind of cross-disciplinary conceptual appropriation that leaves itself open to mockery by people who actually know what they're talking about, like how NYU physicist Alan Sokal submitted a nonsensical paper, "structured around the silliest quotations [he] could find about mathematics and physics" made by postmodernist academics which questioned the hermeneutics of quantum gravity, to the cultural studies journal Social Text--who published it without question or peer review.

But looking at the work, Gioni's explanation may turn out to be less deep but more valid than it first seems. The "Labyrinth of Mirrors" on the second floor, for example [above, in a photo from @artnetdotcom], is full of four-sided pictures of objects on mirrored boxes, which distort the space of the room as you walk around them. They feel like real-world approximations the XYZ-grid boxes inhabited by irregularly shaped virtual objects in Google Sketchup or the CAD/CAM programs. Which makes Fischer a user, not a coder.

Spatially, they labyrinth also gives off a bit active camo/invisibility vibe, like James Bond's Aston Martin in Iceland, or--yes, it seems I have to go there--The Matrix.

So the world we see is just a construct, all ones and zeroes, and we're too asleep to know it. Or the digital worlds where we increasingly spend our time--Google Earth, Halo, Second Life [oh wait, that's right, no one actually does Second Life]--are rapidly eating away the physical world's monopoly on reality, confounding our expectations and perceptions along the way. Maybe it's all making too much of a throwaway soundbite.


One thing I'm sure of though, is that Rotterdam architect Roeland Otten finished his trompe l'oeil Transformatie project just in time. [via]

September 10, 2009

Authenticity vs. Realness

Look, I dragged out my old Topsiders, too, same as the next guy. But I've just about had it up to _here_ with the obsession with "authenticity" that is the uncritical core of this dragging-on moment in men's fashion.

It ranges from picayune discussions of selvedge denim carried on over your dad's Miller High Life; to competitive fleamarket picking to rediscover the most obscure canvas tote bag manufacturer; to American-made worker boots for publicists; to the umpteenth reincarnation WASP-y preppy fashion, called Trad, just like it was in Japan in 1986. It's as if the Emperor could somehow be naked and wearing two NOS Izod shirts, small batch, reissued Duck Head khakis, and Japanese export Redwings at the same time.

It all reminds me of nothing so much as Jennie Livingston's documentary, Paris is Burning. Schoolboy Realness, Town & Country, Executive Realness. Here's the late, great drag queen philosopher [and accomplished body-stasher!] Dorian Corey:

In a ballroom, you can be anything you want. You're not really an executive, but you're looking like an executive. And therefore, you're showing the straight world that, "I can be an executive. If I had the opportunity, I can be one. Because I can look it." And that is a kind of fulfillment.

Your friends, your peers, are telling you, "Oh, you'd make a wonderful executive."

And just line this quote from Pepper LaBeija [above, in fur], legendary head of the House of LaBeija...

To be able to blend. That's what realness is.

If you can pass the untrained eye, or even the trained eye, and not give away the fact that you're gay, that's when it's real.

The idea of realness is to look as much as possible like your straight counterpart.

The realer you look means you look like a real woman. Or you look like a real man. A straight man.

It's not a takeoff, or a satire. No. It's actually being able to be this.

...up against the Trad guy in the Observer yesterday:
"When done right, it should almost be invisible," said John Tinseth, 52, an insurance broker and longtime traddy who's been writing a blog called The Trad--anonymously, until now--for the past two years. He was on the phone from his West 57th Street apartment, dressed, he said, in L. L. Bean khakis and moccasins and a striped yellow Oxford University rugby shirt.

"A guy should walk right by you and he'll have the whole thing down and you won't even notice," Mr. Tinseth said. "That's when it's done perfectly."

Authenticity is a pose, people, plain and simple.

September 4, 2009

Fall 2009 NY Events Calendar

For anyone interested in improving his chances of running into Brian Sholis at a brainy and/or arty event, he has compiled a rather awesome calendar of openings, symposia, talks, readings, screenings, and other happenings in New York.

Me, I just loaded it onto my iPod Touch calendar, so I can be reminded nearly every day that I'm missing something interesting. Though I definitely plan on going to James Welling's talk with Jan Dibbets at MoMA on--well, it's right there in the calendar.

Fall 2009 New York Events Calendar []

August 28, 2009

Adolfo! Adolfo!

So I sneaked out last night to see Inglourious Basterds, which I found to be generally fantastic; Brad Pitt's craft has come a long way since Meet Joe Black.

Because, I confess, I'm still working through a stack of badly panned & scanned DVDs of lost grindhouse epics, I have fallen behind in my study of spaghetti westerns and the lesser-known works of Lee Marvin. And so I was worried that Tarantino's many subtle, referenzia cinematografistica which so many esteemed critics alluded to might slip by me unnoticed--and if that happens, what's the point, right?

I needn't have worried. From the twangy, scratchy get-go, where the opening track sounded like it was being played back on Hi-Fi to mimic the apparently primitive audio post-production facilities of Italy [1], Tarantino is not shy--hah, as if--about his stylistic references.

Oh, and contrary to some opinions, I thought Mike Myers was spot-on. I'd always joke-assumed Pitt won the Travolta/Forster/Carradine/Russell casting lottery this time as the actor whose forgotten talents and fizzling career would be nobly rescued by the director fanboi who Never Forgot. But I was wrong; it's Myers. You now have at least two years where we won't hold The Cat In The Hat against you, Mike. Use them well.

Anyway, the point, and the thing I either overlooked or never heard, was what a big, fat, sloppy kiss to the cinema this thing was. And not just the blatant, "Make me a Cannes juror for life!" applause line ["I'm French. We respect directors in this country."] either. I'm talking about how the whole plot is basically the basterd child of The Dirty Dozen and Cinema Paradiso.

Also, *SPOILER ALERT?* was there NOT a shoutout to the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark? Does this mean Tarantino's officially moved onto hommaging 80s pop film now? I see Michael Schoeffling as Robert Forster.

[1] Whenever he gets around to making it, I'm sure QT's Punjabi murder musical will sound like it was recorded in the bathtub.

Regular readers of know it, but I'll say it upfront: I'm Team MoMA. I've supported the museum for years--I feel like I grew up in it, art-wise. And film-wise. Right now, MoMA's film department and programming are stronger than I can ever remember. It feels absolutely vital, critical. And even when the old timers SHHH! people for breathing too loud in the theater, it's great to see a movie there.

And yet the Bing theater at LACMA is even nicer. And yet, LACMA is suspending [i.e., killing] its film program. In Los Angeles. It's just mindboggling. They have to be planning a complete, and somehow different reboot, a makeover of some kind for which Michael Govan's only plausible path is going cold turkey.

Two home team analogies: MoMA's Projects series, which lived for a very long time just off the lobby as a small gallery for anointing emerging artists, but which was eventually brought back to the Taniguchi building as a roving showcase for [basically] New York debuts by global artists. Generally speaking, it seems to be working.

The other is more directly film-related: the Modern caught a lot of flak for closing its film stills collection, squeezing out the longtime curator and librarian--who happened to be active in the employee's union, and the whole thing went down around the time of the staff strike--and shipping the whole thing off to the film center in Pennsylvania. It was a controversial action, to say the least, but [film] life goes on. What the net impact is, nearly a decade later?

So yeah, I'm alarmed by Govan's decision and by Kenneth Turan's outrage over it. But I also have to hope that some kind of substantial film program will return, even if it's new and different and takes a while. Because I can't imagine otherwise.

LACMA slaps film in the face [latimes]

So while we were staring slack-jawed at the computer graphics in Tron, Loren Carpenter had already produced and shown Vol Libre, this incredible fractal mountain flythrough animation two years earlier at SIGGRAPH--and had been hired on the spot by Industrial Light & Magic? And you're only getting around to uploading it now, nearly 30 years later?

Vol Libre from Loren Carpenter on Vimeo.

What else you hiding, Pioneers of Computer Animation? [via kottke]

Saturday night we went to the Kennedy Center in Washington for the National Symphony Orchestra's commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, Salute to Apollo: The Kennedy Legacy. It was the wackiest cheesefest of a concert I've ever been to.

We tried to puzzle out how a program like this came together. NASA was heavily involved, of course, and there was a mix of the nerdy with the obligatory and the available. But I have to think that the prime directive for the evening was written by NSO conductor Emil de Cou, who might be a gigantic space nerd.

The Playbill mentions de Cou's multiple NASA colabos, including the smashing success of the NSO's multimedia performance of Holst's The Planets at Wolftrap in 2006, with narration written by de Cou and performed by Leonard Nimoy and Nichelle Nichols.

Three of these planets were repeated on Saturday, only instead of Spock and Uhura, the narrators were Scott Altman [commander of the last space shuttle mission] and Buzz Aldrin, who is a giant, if amiable, ham. But also a good sport, since Neil Armstrong apparently doesn't do parties anymore. In addition to his Presidential Medal of Freedom, Aldrin wore some kind of bulbous, metallic, Airstream bowtie. We had truly excellent orchestra seats, and even the most eagle-eyed among us couldn't figure out what had landed there around Buzz's neck.

The Planets ["Mars," "Saturn," "Jupiter"] were accompanied by dramatic pans of NASA imagery on the large overhead screen. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The performance started, naturally/bombastically enough, with a gorgeous montage of Apollo 11 from Theo Kamecke's long-forgotten, recently rediscovered and remastered 1971 feature documentary, Moonwalk One--which was cut to the theme from 2001.

2001, of course, came out in 1968, in the middle of the Apollo program, but before A11. And yet it suddenly felt inextricably linked to it, or conversely, the NASA programmers and audience themselves felt a continuity between the scientific and engineering facts of their missions and the science fictions of the time. Like how members of actual Mafia families began patterning their behavior on The Godfather. This is not some cockamamie theory, as the rest of the NSO program clearly illustrates:

Horst was followed by John Williams' theme song to--no, not what you're thinking, not yet--Lost in Space. Introduced on video by June Lockhart, who then made a "surprise" live appearance on stage. She was over the moon with excitement, which I took as a sign that she doesn't do much onscreen work these days. She was thrilled to be there.

Then there was a medley of Star Trek themes, introduced on video by a funny/kooky Nichelle Nichols. She looked great. Clearly, de Cou has stayed in touch. About ten seconds into the orchestra's intense rendition of ST:TOS, I realized I should have been recording it on my phone to use as my ringtone. But I didn't.

Nichols didn't appear on stage, instead the orchestra headed straight into its John Williams Star Wars medley.

Then Denyce Graves came out to sing a moon-related aria from Dvorak, which was the accompaniment to, was accompanied by--it was hard to tell--a montage of beautiful film footage of astronauts jumping around the moon and driving their moon buggies, scenes which caused the audience to erupt in bursts of laughter. Which was not funny, because the song, from Rusalka, is basically the Czech Little Mermaid singing about trading her voice for love or something.

Anyway, then Jamia came out. Never heard of her, but she's apparently the black Hannah Montana. Then Chaka Khan came out in a Victorian bordello outfit to sing some NASA-commissioned anthem by a famous jingle composer ["You deserve a break today/ So get up and get away"]. Then the Army chorus sang "America the Beautiful" and John Phillip Sousa. I didn't even know it had words. And then we left.

God bless America and its grandiose cheese spectacles.

The "What art should the Obamas hang in the White House?" story rolls slowly onward. Last week in ArtInfo, Ruthie Ackerman published the suggestions of several of the art world's greatest minds. Greatest among equals, obviously, is Magda Sawon of Postmaster Gallery, whose list began,

"I am seconding Greg Allen of the brilliant blog to bring Sir Charles aka Willie Harris (1972) by Barkley Hendricks to the White House. It's a tremendous painting from a still-under-the-radar master that puts Kehinde Wiley to shame.
Hear, hear!

Now that we have consensus, let's move this plan forward, shall we? The National Gallery of Art brought Sir Charles into the collection in 1973, along with another remarkable Hendricks portrait, George Jules Taylor. Neither have ever been shown in the National Gallery itself, though both are included in "The Birth of Cool," the highly acclaimed Hendricks retrospective organized by Trevor Schoonmaker of Duke's Nasher Museum of Art.


By the criteria the Obamas set for themselves, that means the works couldn't come into the White House until they go back out of public view, 2010, after the retrospective winds up in Houston. Plenty of time to make the case for this awesome painting; let's take a closer look at it!

Duke art historian Rick Powell explains that Sir Charles was the professional name of a Dixwell Avenue drug dealer in New Haven whose customers were mostly students from the little college a couple of blocks to the east, where Hendricks was studying for his MFA. The Willie Harris reference, meanwhile, is from A Raisin in the Sun; like that fictional Harris, Powell says, Sir Charles "would frequently disappear with [his customers'] money."

Hmm, could the Obamas ever really bring themselves to hang a painting in the White House of a small-time, money-thieving, pimped out, drug dealer--from Yale??


Hendricks described Sir Charles's style as "player chic," which the ever-proper Powell feels compelled to address at some length:

While the term "player chic," hinting at illicitness and misogyny, points to the ostentatious fashion statements of pimps, street hustlers, and other disreputable members of a black demimonde, the same style of dress--platform shoes, body-hugging jumpsuits, leather pants and maxicoats, real and artificial fur--was worn by a broad spectrum of African Americans. Most were not connected with life's shadier side, but many did feel an affinity for this provocative "outlaw" persona. The most obvious broad-based celebration of the "player chic" aesthetic in the early 1970s was the commercial success of Super Fly (1972), a feature-length film directed by Gordon Parks Jr., about a drug dealer who undergoes a change of heart...
Uh, not to quibble, but wouldn't the phenomenal critical and financial success of Shaft, made in 1971 by Gordon Parks Sr., count as a broad-based celebration of player chic, too?

in which case, wasn't the swaggering black male "outlaw" archetype thoroughly established, even romanticized in popular culture, making Hendricks' choice of Sir Charles as a subject a little less transgressive or controversial, at least among the edgier liberal audiences at Yale and--

Wait a minute, where was Hendricks' audience? The guy was still in art school when he painted these things in 1972, and then they were in the National Gallery a few months later? How'd that happen?

Stay tuned.

Wow, the 2-minute clip of Daniel Martinico's 15-minute Khaan! is fantastic. This is more what I thought Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's Zidane would be like, but wasn't.

LA Weekly review from a 2008 screening [laweekly via boingboing]

May 26, 2009



OK, why did no one tell me when I posted about A. James Speyer's awesome-but-maybe-never-realized Miesian Adirondack cabin that the Chicago architect was responsible for the most important Glass Box-in-a-Forest of the entire 1980s?


Of course, I'm talking about Cameron's house in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which just went on the market for $2.3 million. [, or try cinematical when that one expires]

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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Standard Operating Procedure
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CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
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