Sunday, February 18, 2007

Art Makes Me Cranky!

We did a Chelsea gallery tour yesterday; it's one of those few weekend things you can do in New York that's both snooty and free, plus Anne had to see certain artists' shows for her discussion forum in class. With Anne there, the whole experience of looking at art was new for me, since she's in a graduate level art criticism class and can come up with a sophisticated critique of what's on the wall, and I'm capable of relating everything to my insecurities and jealousy issues. I sort of observe Anne's thought process — and we ran into a bunch of her classmates during the gallery tour, and I got to watch their thought process too — and I really have to empathize with their innocuous art ideals: Let's try to figure out what this piece means, notwithstanding the fact that much modern art is pure gibberish to begin with. Maybe today's art students are tomorrow's asshole artists and art critics, but I'm actually pretty impressed with their ability to extract something, anything, from the pieces they're studying. I usually go with my gut instinct, which is, someone's playing you.

The first show we saw, The Shape of Time by Qiu Zhijie, was actually quite beautiful and emotionally resonant, and that was enough for me. Twenty-four photographs representing the twenty-four seasons of the Chinese calendar, each one taken with with a very long shutter speed, long enough that the artist could use a flashlight to "write" the name of each season on the photograph. My personal favorite is "Start of Autumn," a playground at night bathed in a weird, artificial green light, and the effect is hypnotizing. The Shape of Time is at Chambers Fine Art, 210 Eleventh Avenue, through the 24th, and even though getting over to that corner of Manhattan takes more time than you'll actually spend in the gallery, I recommend it.

Everything else was crap, but at least it was different styles and smells of crap. Our next stop was some dickweed gallery that exemplifies every single thing that's wrong with modern art, starting with their whore's exhibition, and I don't mean that in some metaphorical sense. Back in 2003, Andrea Fraser prostituted herself for "Untitled," an hour-long video of her boinking a collector for the bargain price of $20,000. I haven't seen the piece, but I'm totally fit to judge it. (Not sarcastic there: Look, if it turns out the piece is more than just the concept of "attractive so-called artist sleeps with rich collector for a chunk of his money: is it art?" then I'll be wrong, but my guess is that the idea just makes it a glorified porn video.) "Untitled" lives at the crossroads of our celebutard culture and the self-enclosed, self-gratifying art world, a combination of the post-modern delusion that meta questions about what qualifies as art make up art, Fraser's belief that her status in the art community automatically grants a greater meaning to anything she'll do — like we seriously believe that she'd be fucking someone poor or a rival's patron, and the idea that her piece stands on its own. Maybe she's too exhausted after that hour of sex to come up with a title? God, what a bitch. I hope she at least got chlamydia from her art.

Fraser's current show is in two parts: nude photographs of her apparently grafted atop classical paintings of nudes, which took me like half an hour to interpret and by then, I just didn't give a damn. And the video. Let me say, right now, that I am totally against mixed media artists or performance artists or whatever making movies, and I don't just say that because I sat through Miranda July's painfully pretentious Me and You and Everyone We Know. Not that artists can't make films for the sake of filmmaking, but you have to realize that since films, unlike the thing hanging on the wall, occupy a period of time, you need to keep your audience engaged. Frasier's ten-minute film shows her walking through the Vatican Museums, listening to the audioguide and pretending like she's not being filmed, and it's just ridiculous.

I know what she was thinking, too. She wanted to comment on how we (note the art critic's best friend: the vague, all-encompassing pronoun) experience art: The throngs of tourists crowding the Vatican aren't seeing the religious art with the awe and reverence the Renaissance masters intended and, worse yet, they listen to the audioguides to enhance the appreciation of the art that they don't have in the first place. Which is all well and good: it's just that the video doesn't say that. The press release Fraser sent out to Abstruse Intellectual Art Monthly says that — hell, my blog says that — but my blog isn't on display in a gallery, and rich women aren't offering me $20,000 to fuck them and then write about it.

Third stop was Ian Davis's uninteresting show, which apparently "incorporates the systems and geometry of minimalism within a descriptive style of painting that is timeless in its simplicity." That's the first sentence of the press release. You'll note that "descriptive style of painting" doesn't mean anything, and you can't really call something "timeless in its simplicity" unless it's been around for a long, long time. But anyway....

"Favoring the depiction of entropic situations over specific narrations, in Davis's universe systems crash and things fall apart. Whether populated or not (very often by groups of identically dressed men), all of his works retain a strong masculine presence, tinged by sardonic humor."
The best I can say is that his work is, in fact, very often populated by groups of identically dressed men. I often wonder which comes first: the painting or the press release, because this is pretty much the same A-minus nonsense I wrote in my Art Humanity papers, and my essays just parodied these press releases. Like, I totally missed the masculine presence (maybe Davis sprayed his musk on the paintings?), the entropic situations, crashing systems, and sardonic humor.

So by now, I'm kind of hungry and kind of grumpy (well, grumpier), but we had to move on and we say Doug Aitken's show 99¢ Dreams at 303 Gallery. I looked pretty kindly on the show, at first. The highlights, in my mind, were "Wilderness", a panel of hexagonal mirrors turning slowly at different angles; and "disappear", a panoramic photograph of a plane graveyard, cropped into the shape of the word DISAPPEAR and then put in relief from the wall, so it looked like it was protruding either into or out of the wall, depending on how you looked at it. There was also a funky-shaped marimba with nine notes that the public was invited to play, but I casually disregarded that as insipid. The trouble started when Anne and I decided to play "Figure Out The Theme of the Show, And Don't Refer to the Press Release for Help." I guessed that Aitken was trying to express the idea that what we see is a function of our physical relation to the object we're looking at, and then I realized that's a totally vapid statement, and then I realized that didn't necessarily mean I was wrong.

But alas I was wrong. Not even close. It turns out that the pieces are an expansion of "[Aitken's] fractured merger of mediums and information systems," which actually seems parseable, so I tried to parse it. "Information systems" are, I assume, systems containing information and "mediums" are the manner in which that information is transmitted to the receiver (that would be you, the person looking at the art). Aitken has merged the information with the transmission method, and then broken his (info + transmission) thing — although what I suspect he means to say is that the content of the information you receive can't be completely separate from the manner in which you receive the information and thus you can never receive the information the way it was intended. When I translate it into Comprehensible for you, he's really not saying anything that you didn't pick up playing that telephone game in kindergarten.

Okay, continuing with the second sentence of the press release: "These works combine light, sculpture, moving images and sound." That is true. I probably could've figured that out without Aitken explaining it, since I have eyes and ears and a sense of perspective in three-dimensions, but whatever. I'll pretend like you didn't just condescend to me, Doug. "For example, 'don't think twice ii', [random comma, sic] is made up of two over lapping [sic] concentric circles that proceed through an animated sequence..." I'll give you this one, too, Doug. God, you're embarrassing me! 'don't think twice ii' is made up of two overlapping concentric circles that proceed through an animated sequence. And here I thought you were full of shit! "By stripping away traditional representational imagery, these works get to the essence of a moment."

I'm so relieved! What the hell does that mean, "essence of a moment"? And how does one "get to the essence of a moment"? And how does "stripping away traditional representation imagery" get one to the essence of a moment? And finally, what does this have to do with the fractured merger of mediums and information, or did Doug forget all about that by the time he pulled the fourth sentence of his press release out of his ass?