Saturday, February 26, 2011

Where Art Thou

I've taken to reading anthologies. I'm low on fresh 'log', appalled by the Times lists, the New Yorker...David Foster Wallace has been dead nearly 2 1/2 years. So the ones I choose are the so-called alternative collections--what I like mostly is they don't separate fiction and non-fiction, poetry or graphic narratives. It's random-- the catchword of our culture, and the former title of a publishing gargantua. Only now, post-mortem, do I get the humor.

It's not the writing per se, but the reminder that all these niche-writers co-exist---post-Katrina journalists, Haitian activists, torture survivors, doodlers, animal rescuers, ex and future cons, sadists, perverts, and those compelled by unbearable lives. I like trusting Eggers et al to muck through Esquire and Slate issues and reprint with font democracy-- no ads, no boldface bylines.

Walking through Chelsea today I am reminded about our challenged language and why, despite the OED addition of colloquialisms and IM acronyms, we rely on strings of adjectives to describe the enormous range of objects which ally themselves under the noun 'Art' (which I first mistook, having heard Shakespeare at an early age, as a verb; maybe closer to some meaning). Galleries today are anthologies at best... but the whole system of nomenclature needs an overhaul. The auction houses have for years been struggling with a soft-focus line between Photography, Contemporary, Latin, Chinese...when a huge number of works wander across borders.

And for those who actually follow the philosophical progression of what art is or is not (I had the course in grad school--- with the anthology that is so dated it's become current)...the true vanguard can be unexhibitable. I'd even suggest that non-marketability might be a prerequisite. But that's like recording music only mosquitos can hear... one risks deleting a huge audience which has not just made 'art' as necessary as a household TV, but a virtual Wall Street institution. The incredible thing is---unlike fine and large diamonds which are only for the monied--- it's the same $10 paint and canvas--- or whatever... and who sets the line between what is auctioned at Hotel Parking Lot $19.95-and- under sales...or the top lot of the evening Contemporary auctions. Piles of wrapped candy, dead fish--- basketballs... what if a Hirst spin-art piece found its way into the Marriott ? How many Hedge Fund masterminds would pick it out?

So what is art? Should it be domesticated, like lap-dogs, for the rich? Is it 'decorative'? I admit to loving my paintings. I love the colors, the composition--sometimes the subjects make people squirm, but there's an element of aesthetic priority there...
Still...I expect the artists on the edge to be doing things that are hideous, disturbing, provocative. I also concede the concept of the art 'market' can only support some conceptual projects. Of these, we need souvenirs for our walls--- drawings or even photos or bits of hair and blood. Saleable things. In the old days, foundations supported public art projects. Now corporations support them--- the same corporations which own and trade these artists-- whose CEOs sit on museum boards and allocate funds for their artists' exhibitions. Is this different from insider trading?

Am I getting old or do the endless columns of reviews seem to be rehashing the same praise in the same language for the same cyclical reinventions of the past 2 or 3 decades? We have copyrights for music, but the mindless glut of pop melodies has us audio-tranquillized so we scarcely care whether we've heard a song last week or 25 years ago. And does it matter? When a forgerer can't even get away with an exact copy...is unintentional imitation anti-art? Sherrie Levine and Mike Bidlo have made a career of it...

I spend less and less time in galleries... I am in and out...can't find much to dwell on, and I am less well-dressed than the average weekend gallery gawker these days. Not to mention the staff. Larry Gagosian really does resemble a Duane Hanson real-estate agent. And obviously he has his own tanning bed. Something truly inapppropriate and downright sleazy about these new gallery moguls. Caveat emptor. The business is self-regulating. Dangerous. Greedy. I pity the artists. Other artists envy and pity the artists. Some artists ignore it all and keep their work under their beds. This is the work we need to see. The unpublished, the unphotographed, the unanthologized.

When I was 21 and graduated with awards from my highbrow Art History program, a well-known philosopher/aesthetician called me and asked me for a date. He was rather old--
not handsome but huge on brain-appeal, and I guess I was bohemian-hot back then, and I was new in New York City, single, and fair game. Of course I was terrified and overwhelmed. Flattered. He took me to see Rocky. By the 4th raw-egg drink, I realized he was putting me in my deserved place. He's now been dead for decades but I wonder where he'd have taken a Gagosian to lunch. McDonald's? Maybe the dumpsters behind Chelsea Piers which one could see from his galleries were anyone to open a window and let some reality and fresh air in.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oh Say Can You Sing

I’ve just been to the gym and concluded there are 2 kinds of people in the world: those that come upon a disabled piece of exercise equipment and move calmly on, and those that whine and complain and feel somehow not just deprived but personally attacked because of the small snag in their daily routine. I generally wonder if these people have children, these self-absorbed, micro-universed ego-damaged creatures, or whether there is a higher concentration of them in Manhattan.

Actually there is maybe a sub-group, here: those that try to fix the broken pulley—not for themselves, but for someone else whose life seems somehow ruined by this equipment failure, whose entire routine and night has been irreparably altered and skewed and derailed. We guiltier-than-thou would-be samaritans who empty our pockets of small bills and change at the slightest sidewalk appeal, when our own kids have found only half-stuffed stockings on the homemade Christmas hearth.

I went up to the Bronx today on the subway--- spring in the air and I found the population laid back and kind; stores happy to see you, none of the competitive shopping bags once you get past Grand Concourse. Teenage mothers with oversized strollers everywhere, young hip-hop couples sharing ipod earphones, 3 and 4 toddlers in tow, parents looking barely legal. Don't these people have jobs? Go to school? They seemed carefree, festive.

At 125th Street on the way back a West Indian drummer--- singing and playing traps which must have been a haul getting the kit downstairs and set up--- but with this golden voice—smooth and authoritatively ‘professional’—talking to the MTA workmen who were grooving away to this guy... not missing a beat, better than any performer at this year’s sad Grammy show which I nominate for a Writerless Much Ado About Nothing Award. Two young dancers doing that robotic thing but in this subtle, graceful incredibly original way —it was breathtaking —amazing... an edgy minimal 22nd century break-dance thing, kissing the filthy floor, defying gravity and their own joints...I was literally mesmerized. The best $1 show I’ve seen in years. And that voice. Where are Jay Zee and Clive Davis? Not on subway platforms. And these guys were free. They didn’t care. They ruled their stage.

So did anyone else notice the unprecedented number of Grammy performers who sang off-key? I mean, we’re all flawed, but with the ear-sets and personal monitors... okay, granted they may have had audio issues, but what happened to ‘singing’? Personally I was disappointed in Katy Perry, felt Otis rolling in his grave during Bruno Mars’ appalling performance, and yes, I used to like Arcade Fire, but they came off like a pretentious bunch of over-enthusiastic high-school geeks in 30-something bodies. Okay...Eminem and Rihanna got a thumbs-up-- that song's been in my head for 6 months. Aretha stayed home. Besides, her footage at the beginning--- the cameo soundbytes---put them all to shame. God, make her well. I hope she didn't watch too much of the show.

I missed Pink. I missed Prince. I liked the Lady Gaga egg better than the performance. I miss James Brown and Michael Jackson. I guess Bob Dylan has poetic license but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh. Mick, you were the only bright spot. Barbara--- nice to see you in that Scarlett O'Hara used-to-be-a-stage-curtain dress thing, but I would have preferred to just imagine your voice. And I'll defend Christina. She's just this year's Britney Spears. Britney has class compared to most of the MTV girls now...and she had talent.

So maybe I’m a cranky old woman now but I don’t want to see Spiderman and humans in silly costumes flying around in a theatre. Wasn’t the film enough for these people? Don’t they get enough cinematographic pyrotechnics with Disney and those crazy warrior movies? What happened to 'the play', acting? Or maybe the possibility of witnessing a fatal accident attracts the New York audience? Can't they buy tickets to the circus? Superman masqueraded as a human. It was amusing. He kissed an actual woman in a reverse-superhero feat. Humans don’t do well trying to play superheroes. We don’t have these talents and all those wires and computers can’t really bring it on. I miss Peter Pan, with the visible wires on Mary Martin. It was conceptual. Broadway is all mixed up--- plays about rock bands, Cirques doing Beatlemania, musicals about music, movies about ballet, musicals about movies....

Give me the singing drummer in the subway— grassroots multitasking. You can get right up there and hear him sing on key without a monitor or a microphone. Sweet and smooth and rhythmic and melodic. Making it up as he went along. And he was nice. Took requests. Asked me if I wanted change when I put my bill in.

I do want change. Or maybe I don’t. I’m still trying to peel off pieces of 2010 that are stuck to me like old wallpaper. 2011 could be the year of democracy. It is also the year of the rabbit, the year of Oprah. All bets are off.

A black suede glove was lying on the north end of the platform like a dying animal. My son asked for North Face gloves for Christmas. He didn’t get them--- he loses a pair a week. But here... one left one... I flipped it over with my foot to see the logo. If you wait long enough, you do get what you wish for... maybe if I picked it up, the mate will be waiting on some sidewalk somewhere, underneath the melted snow, in April when gloves are useless. But as I flipped it over, it seemed to gesture—‘Help’. Gave me the chills. ‘Help’. I watched it now from the wall a few steps away... it was clearly asking me to put some money in it. I watched as one of the hiphop dancers picked it up and turned it into a kind of puppet. Wished I had the other one to put in the red ‘A’s’ cap as he passed it around.