Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summer Reading Part I

It's that time again, for a big pile of books that I may or may not really read by September.  What kind of weirdo would even try to read more than one fat classic?  However, stop into any Barnes and Noble or Borders and they will have you feeling like it's really pretty essential to your summer experience.  Somehow even though I don't go to those stores much anymore, it's become engrained in me to get really ambitious with a stack of really tried and true classics as well as some more readable memoirs, along with the requisite massive fashion magazines that come out in the Spring and some reference books I buy whenever I find a good one for the home art library.  (See last year and the year before for more reading lists I was only partially successful with).
The pure tradition of having a summer reading list feels a lot like one of the other traditions I have been born and raised on: shopping for a new school wardrobe, which I will still fulfill every year until I die even though I'm not technically going to school anymore.  Does it count for school staff?  That's Fall anyway and we're in Summer right now, so let's get smart in the sun before we spend all the money we don't have.  (That's me talking to myself).

The Daunting Reading List

I swear to you, I am not trying to be pretentious by putting books in here that are supposed to make me look fancy but that I am never planning on reading, like how most people put hardbound copies of Shakespeare's entire collection on their bookshelves.  Come on, who can get through the downright impossible Elizabethan language and understand what the fuck they are saying?  Unfortunately, I have to have my Shakespeare handed to me in cleaned up, modern language movie form, like that Romeo and Juliet movie with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.  I know, I know.  Anyway, YES, I really am reading, have started, or plan to read all of these books.  Some might take me a year, but a few I have already finished!

Moby Dick by Herman Melville  The classics seem like not only a good idea, (hey, they have stuck around through decades and even centuries and people still read them so they must be good, right?), but I am constantly worried that I might not get a cultural reference that is assumed most smart people would.  No one wants to be the dumb one at the party,  (even though I really don't go to parties), but I also want to know if a movie I would have otherwise thought original is a blatant ripoff of a classic masterpiece.  So, yes, I am reading Moby Dick, and it is pretty boring.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller  Naughty, naughty Miller.  Damn, dude, try to get a plot in there while you are talking about every dirty whore in Paris in the 1930s!  It's my readable book when I am sick of War and Peace and Moby Dick, (which is often), and I am really quite surprised that it was written at all eighty years ago during what I would assume was a sort of demure time despite the flappers and drinking and all that jazz.  Ba dum bum.  Anyway, he uses 'cunt' more than any author in the English language, and it's really rambling.  However, with this book he really cleared the way for the rights of free speech and the end of morality clauses, and I can see where one of my favorites, Nabokov, takes his cues.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy  What do I even need to say?  This is still on my reading list from to years ago and I am still trudging through it!  The thing is, I read Anna Karenina and loved it.  I was hoping this would be more of the same, but the problem is that the peace part is great and the war part is soooo long.  You really get the feeling Tolstoy was a history nerd, and if there were Napoleonic War reenactments during his time, he probably would have been out there impersonating the Glorious Russian Soldiers.  I would really like to finish it, but honestly, I have to skip the war stuff whenever he starts talking about right and left flanks and each General and you know, war stuff.  Is that sacrilege?

The Best American Essays 1997  Call the year completely random, but I would like to read more essays.  I feel more connected to them, to a style that does not need to have some ridiculous made-up story, or a plot, or an arc.  It's just so much more simple to write down something you know or think.  And I would like to get some reading in because I secretly want to write them myself.  I grabbed this off a church yard sale table for a dollar, and also scored a record box set of Gregorian Chants and a book on the artist, Andrew Wyeth, for a total of $10!

Peregrinations of a Pariah by Flora Tristan and Valencia by Michelle Tea  What an awesome way to experience each memoir by ballsy, independent women two centuries apart from each other by reading them at the same time.  I found the Tristan book at my favorite store, Issues, as it was handed to me by the owner, Joe- looks like a good one?  Written in 1838, Tristan was a French woman who wrote for the London Journal and is described as a "Militante FĂ©ministe".  This book chronicles her travels aboard a ship to Peru from France, (which took five months back then!), as she tries to claim her family's inheritance and also gain a divorce from her husband, a big Catholic no-no at the time.  She writes with such passion and frankness that it is completely surprising that it was published almost two hundred years ago!  (Also amazing- a quick search on wikipedia reveals she was the grandmother of the artist, Paul Gaugin- whoa!)
Now enter the late 1990s in San Francisco as dykes and misfits from all over the country flock to the grungy riot grrl gay mecca of the Bay Area.  Michelle Tea, a celebrated feminist thrift-store-T-shirt-punk poet became a local legend with this and other works.  In the very '90s Valencia she chronicles the quick ruination of her naive girlish self, and introduces the reader to "sex positive" leather-bound S&M dykes, the life of a prostitute, and fisting.  Whoa!
It's amazing how self-absorbed both novels are as Tristan chronicles her every fainting spell and bouts of boredom and Tea drags one through every crush and mini relationship and post-breakup obsession.  Both have a social consciousness and message, as well as a critical eye towards the hypocrisy of the times they live in.  I definitely recommend reading them in tandem.

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust  Recently my friend scoffed at me for answering, "He's Ok", to a question on whether I liked this Proust book or not.  What I meant was, it's not like I think I could do better, but I'm giving a Twenty-First century response to something published in 1913.  Like my experience with Shakespearean language, its hard to take in his slowww scenes about very internal experiences by the protagonist as a contemporary reader in our current time of very short, abrupt, fast-paced daily life.  I mean, the beginning where he waits for his mother to kiss him goodnight as a boy takes him like fifteen pages!  I'm not giving up on Proust, (or on any author who gets their own reference as in "it was Proustian"), but I don't know if I could handle all seven volumes which ultimately make up the whole work Remembrances of Things Past- this is just volume one!  However, I already felt I scored a victory as I read Steven Wolf's blog which referred the madeline scene in Proust and I got it!

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky  Am I trying to punish myself? Yes.  I gave up on this after about thirty pages but recently my bookaholic friend, Mandy, told me to try it again because it's one of her favorite books.  Ok, but only after War and Peace.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh  Well, I grew up on this movie and I had the soundtrack, too.  It made heroin withdrawals look like the worst thing in the world and I think it was single-handedly responsible for keeping me off drugs.  One pass through it's written phonetic slang of marble-mouthed British kids, though, and I'm not sure I will be able to slag through it.  I'll give it a shot.

I Bought Andy Warhol by Richard Polsky  I originally gave this to my friend, Libby, as a Christmas present, so I am just borrowing it.  Found at Issues, too, I had surprisingly never heard of it despite the fact it was only written ten years ago and features a honest, first-person account of an art dealer's history of making and losing money in the art world.  It is very readable, but a little stumbly.  I found that while he has some interesting anecdotes and it's great to get a view of the time period where pop and contemporary art really started making those collectors millionaires, he lingers on weird details and isn't the world's best writer.  Even still, I think I will finish it.  There's also a sequel, I Sold Andy Warhol.

The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City by Elizabeth Currid One of the only books left over from my thesis research that I still actually want to read, I'm hoping this one sheds a little light on the inner complex workings of cultural production and profit.  I'm also hoping that from the title, she will be a little acerbic about New York as the hipster capital I recently saw first hand.  (I seem to be the only one who objects to Brooklyn as the new 90210)

That leaves the following research books for art references and occasional perusing:  The Art of Andrew Wyeth (from the church sale), Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China for headdress ideas and patterns, Pierre et Giles, an awesome pre-David LaChapelle photo duo of visual overload, and a Taschen book about the Still Life, which I originally bought for the Still Life class I was going to teach that was cancelled.

Now I'm tired and I haven't even touched my books.  Haha.

Monday, June 25, 2012

CCA MFA Open Studios 2012

CCA's MFA Open Studios, Documented Here for Year Three, April 2012.  (See 20102011) It's so late it's actually funny.  Or dumb.

I know I said I would not be your critic anymore on this blog and I wouldn't go around taking pictures of everything.  Just the good stuff.  Just the stuff I am way head over heels for, (and let's face it, most of it won't be local, but from the internet).  Buuuut..... I already did all the work during the last installment of the graduate student song and dance known as Open Studios at the California College of the Arts; I took all the pictures and uploaded them- I just never got around to putting them for reals on the good old internet.

So, here we go, here is what I thought was noteworthy for some reason or another; maybe 30 out of over 100 studios of grads in one of two categories, (all interspersed together):
The second-years with only about a month of school to go, confident and grossly self-assured or wide-eyed and freaking out (those are the ones who know they only have a month before they have to get a job).  

The other group is of course the first-years, wide-eyed for the other reason- they're still shell-shocked from being force-fed Roland Barthes and Guy Debord, and even worse, bell hooks and Relational Aesthetics.  They're sitting in their studios or walking around outside nervously like ducks that have been trying to recuperate after having grass shoved into their throats for months to make foie gras.  Lucky for the ducks, foie gras was recently banned in San Francisco, but grad school is entirely legal and even more awful, actually encouraged for every artist worth their salt.  I can go on: after the feeding, the ducks's liver's are the beaten, wounded organ jammed full of a rich, almost unpalatable foodstuff.  For the grads, it's their hearts that take the beating, and as their brains try to consume the endless archives of rhetoric, taking in everything that has been written by every touted academic that ever lived, their brains are the thing filled with a rich foodstuff of righteous intellectualism that eventually kills the art in the artist, just like the duck.

OH, I was on a roll!

Obviously, I have mixed feelings about grad school.  One year out of the two-year sentence, I am filled with joy at having made it through and with some truly remarkable new friends and even some new ideas.  I also, however, still have this intellectual toilet paper clinging to my shoe when I go to make a new piece.  Frozen with fear from the constant whap! on my knuckles whenever I tried to make something open-ended, or god forbid, intuitive, I still have to look over my shoulder for someone to tell me I can't do something.  It has taken me this year to figure out, YES, I FUCKING CAN.  The fact is, no one is going to tell me now that I have to have it figured out, that it's unresolved, or that it doesn't say what it means.  I really believe that the absolute best thing to happen to me from being in grad school is the end of it, and the self-confidence that comes from breaking from the disciplinarians.  So, when I see these grads unsure, gun-shy, or clearly proud and a little cocky, I know how they all feel, and how much more they have to go through before it's real.  Before they can totally recover from the force-feed machine and really start making the real deal.

Ok, so all of that being said, I'd like to look at these works through the lens of a specimen in the middle of a transformation.  I have a lot of friends in this group, so I am not knocking them, but I like the idea that their work will get even better when they get out.

Larissa Greer, making free drawings of happy things to say. 

William Emmert's paper sculptures of stretcher bars, complete with paper staples.

William's reconstructed boyhood archive of wrestling fan paraphernalia.  I have to admit, I was not very interested in the work until I knew it was painstakingly made out of something else.  What does that mean?  Haha.

Max Esplin, who's woven wall piece took a major backseat to the insane display of sweets he prepared in his Mormon tradition of sugar as a lifestyle.  He dressed the Mormon part to really seal the deal. 

This rainbow cake was really giving Will Cotton a run for his money.

Melissa Dickenson's plastic-wrapped canvases gave me the same reaction as William's sculptures- it wasn't interesting until I realized they were made out of something else.  It becomes a riff on painting that is interesting but I wonder what she'll want to make when she doesn't have to define a reason for making abstractions.
More stuff made out of something else: Kim Bennett's painted (screen printed?) found street signs.

Katelyn Eichwald's obsessive wall of small drawings based on a cowboy motif.  I like how it looks from far away.

Up close, like a Monet.

Alex Hernandez as glamorous Mexican trannie sweetly embroidering to kill the time.

Johanna Friedman's textile pieces- the piece behind her is a digital print on canvas, then quilted.  The piece to her right says, Who Cares About Freud When You're Pregnant?

Jake Ziemann's airy abstract painting and matchy-matchy video installation.  It was pretty.

Bruna Massadas's sunset portrait people.

More things made out of something else: flowers painted out of the juices of themselves, which slowly fade over time so they become a form of dying twice (that's my interpretation).

Seriously, Social Practice, you are really killing me.  Just because you stick something lovable like a petting zoo with mini ponies in the courtyard does not make the idea of 'non-art as art' any more likable.

A Swedish first year's funny sculpture of a Castle Greyskull kind of landscape.

I liked these printed still-life/collages on shaped masonite by Kate Bonner.

Heather Watson's scribbly drawings/messages.  She's such a likable person that I can't separate myself  from them enough to be objective.  I have no idea whether I really like them or not.
Rebekah Goldstein's colored pencil drawing- like the pink and red.

Rebekah Goldstein, the painted version.

Kate Nichols's lab-come-gallery.  She made mirror and cellulose fiber out of crazy science stuff and hung it on the wall.

Some of Kate's lab equipment.

I don't know.  I really like moss.  I don't know who made this.

This is how people in art school watch girls touching their boobs on video.

Wes Fanelli's bears, Jesuses, and Madonnas.  A natural combination.

Not sure who made this either, but I am liking the painting as non-painting with this string strung in swatches  on the stretcher bar.

Without the chair, this would maybe look like a small collage piece, right?

I will always like drawings.  Even drawings of stuff where I don't quite understand the references.

Janine Scarboro's abstracted figures.

I can't remember this woman's name, but she is adept at painting these surreal portraits.  As a first year, I'm excited to see what she does next.

These are super fun cut foam paintings by Theresa... I can't remember her last name.  We'll see what she comes up with next year, too.

A wall of cigarette cartons.  Ok.  I think I like it.

So, not that anyone asked me, but here's my redundant advice for the first year grads:  Hang in there.  It gets better.   And for the second year newly graduated artists in the world now:  You have to throw up the foie gras in order to live and not be consumed.  
(Wouldn't you agree, Maysha and Courtney?)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Couldn't Stay Away... Or, I Wish I Could Quit You

In the past two months I have done my best to avoid blogging.  The reason being, well, If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all comes to mind.   I have just been calling 'em like I see 'em on here.  The thing is, at local art openings I would see artists that I said some fairly honest things about on the blog and felt a little guilty.  I mean, it's not like I was talking shit-  I was just being honest with my opinions about their art, as any art critic might.  But looking at them across the room, I felt a little rotten inside.  At first, it didn't seem to matter because I didn't think anyone read this thing, so I didn't think there was a chance they had seen it.  But then I started getting knee-jerk comments from my friends- "Wait, you're not going to put this on your blog, are you?  Don't say I said that".  Or, "Geez, your blog is getting kind of mean..."

Bay Area, you are too sensitive.

So why am I posturing myself as another art critic?  The fact is, we do need more real art critics here in San Francisco, besides the overly-too-man-art friendly Kenneth Baker of the Chronicle, who has been around long enough in this small pond to establish himself as THE critic.  We also have the fabulous Glen Helfand of Art Forum, but he can't cover more than one or two 'picks' at a time.  That leaves self-appointed critics like those at decent art blogs like Art Practical, but it also leaves people like Alan Bamburger of Art Business, a nice guy I'm sure, but no one needs his two cents- just take the pictures, please.  Here I go again, see?  I can't help it.  But anyway, maybe I was trying to fill the critic void myself, until I realized nothing, other than an MFA that half the SF population also seem to have, qualifies me as an art expert.  And my opinion might be as valid as anyone else's, but I probably don't need to be the one filling the position.  I know no one asked me.  Jerry Saltz, the job is all yours.

I am no longer your corespondent in the trenches, calling 'em like I see 'em.  I will however, be posting things that I care to discuss or share, like a safari explorer of art.  Why make an art blog at all?  Well, I missed it.  I missed wasting my time filling the infinite void with my thoughts.  I also missed having a way to keep it all in one place, like an ever-expanding sketchbook.  A lot of the content will be a way for me to save things I thought were great, note-worthy, or at least beautiful.  I made new links on the side that I actually use more for my own bookmark purposes.  And if you like anything on here, awesome.  If not, don't worry, I'm not going to tell anyone what you said last time we had some wine in 49 Geary.

I am ready.   Let's go.

(PS Obviously I stole these images from the internet.)