to abstract or not to abstract, that is again the q

Martha Schwendener in the Voice gives a nice roundup of photography shows going in the City and posits a question that I ponder in both directions:

Why, for instance, are contemporary photographers—or, if you like, artists working with photography—obsessed with abstraction, materiality, and process?

After years of doing that, I’m trying to respond to politics, thank you very much, but I still have several series of abstraction going. Here’s Ms. Schwendener’s analysis (it’s anti-analysis):

What Words Without Pictures demonstrates most, perhaps, is that photography—or art, in general—needs a new discourse that doesn’t rely on the straitjacket demands of “criticality.” Beshty, in his essay, quotes Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello from The New Spirit of Capitalism (2006): “Artistic critique is currently paralysed by what, depending on one’s viewpoint, may be regarded as its success or its failure.”

Thank you for saying that. I don’t know too many artists who consider trends or criticism when making work, though. I think rather, we look for the conjunction of uber-subjective almost subconscious notions of “beautiful,” “cool,” “sexy,” “important,” “new,” “me,” and other self-actualizing motives. Throw in a dose of the accidental, and you have the work. Sometimes those motives find expression in abstraction and other times in, umm, everything that’s not abstraction. The gallery and museum system, though, has directors and curators with those same motives, but who also look for some measure of “what the public will like” aka what is important, per theorists.

One could propose that the content of art (photography and otherwise) has exceeded all bounds of critical structure. In a society with as much luxury as we have, it’s possible to indulge any creative thought in any field of endeavor. The art world has opened its arms to it all (a very creative stance), so I am afraid that if we un-straightjacket criticality, what we’ll find is everything. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps photography reviews in journals of sociology or cooking magazines would be just the ticket to break through the crit-speak of the contemporary age. But I think we will still have abstractions and not. It is in our nature.

what i want to do this week: 10.11.09

i’m keeping my sights on the achievable this week as i’m packing up the apt to move to brooklyn. i just heard this band on wnyc’s spinning on air and I hope to catch them tomorrow at joe’s pub:

‡ Electric Junkyard Gamelan. The group, from an idea created by Terry Dame when she was at Cal Arts in the mid-90’s uses found objects and household items to construct a gamelan orchestra with a mix of traditional balinese gamelan rhythms and western harmony and melody. Some video here, from NY1.

IMG_0645UPDATE: got to hear them live at Joe’s Pub last night. Very cool show. Much more minimal than I expected, the instrumentation is just a handful of recycled junk. Very creative instrument making and a very funky take on the balinese and brooklyn fusion. Get on the mailing list!

what i did this week

I know I’m breaking my format (and it’s too soon to call it artistic license), but I’ve been too busy to do any of my last what i want to do list, and i still want to do all of that! I probably should have back-dated a post about what i actually got to, but whatever…

Raw Material at Dance New Amsterdam. This show was impressive. A collection of 10-minute works from emerging choreographers that left me wanting more minutes. Highlights were my sometimes colleagues cakeface, whose Amanda Szeglowski and crew created a smart multimedia commentary on business-speak melded with tasty dancing (and a fluffer-nutter sandwich). Kudos to Mandy Ringer for another gorgeous light design. I also want to see more from GoGoVertigoat Dance. Their Sell Out Demos, choreographed by Lindsey Drury, took on the commodification of identity in the digital age with a wisdom that transcends sarcasm. Creating photocopy after photocopy of body parts by lowering co-director eunkyunkim onto the machine’s glass (who knew that glass was so strong!?) made for a great low-tech/high tech symbol of digitizing one’s self and the fear of being unknown in the facebook universe.

Big Dance Theater’s “Comme Toujours Here I Stand” at the Kitchen was a great cross between visual art, dance and theater. I think Roslyn Sulcas nailed it in her Times review, so I’ll leave you to that.

Picture 15Les films. Finally, I interrupted our endless Netflix queue of Battlestar Galactica disks with some European classics, two of which I haven’t seen before. Le Samurai, by Jean-Pierre Melville with Alain and Nathalie Delon, is beautiful, and manages to be both fast-moving crime fiction and gorgeous endless shots, both fixed and tracks. While I didn’t see mention of it in the reviews I just looked up of Ghost Dog, it’s evident to me that Jarmusch is a fan of this one. The second flick that somehow slipped past me all these years was L’Avventura by Michelangelo Antonioni. It helped to prep us that when we looked up the title in my Italian dictionary I noticed the secondary meaning of “adventure” in Italian: “amorous affair.” This movie had us falling into amore with its star Monica Vitti, who has more emotion in her upper lip than most actresses have in their entire repertoires. And speaking of amore, I went one more time around Rome with La Dolce Vita and found it my most satisfying trip ever. All the elements of Fellini’s vocabulary, but somehow held in the realm just below the surreal… the source of the word papparrazzi… plus I never tire of Anita Ekberg’s classic line: “there are three things I like the most: love, love, and love.”

how fragile is the practice

I’ve had a trying run of the overwhelmed lately. It’s drawn from too much of the good things, touch wood, but the effect on the art practice is noticeable. Hopefully, I’ll find the energy to use the little spaces in between everything else to execute the ideas that are thankfully still flowing. Because I know, there’s never more time…

philanthropy vs. society

I think philanthropists rock.

that said, i am really unhappy with the situation in the u.s. of a. that puts philanthropists in the drivers seat of social policy in said a. consider two stories this week:

Peering at the Future,” by Bob Herbert, in which this statement appears:

The Gateses are co-chairs of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organization. They are investing billions of dollars and much of their considerable energy in an effort to spark not just change but a transformation in the way American youngsters are educated.

compare to this quote from the Times today:

President Barack Obama announced a plan on Wednesday to spend $5 billion on medical and scientific research, medical supplies and upgrading laboratory capacity, which he said would create tens of thousands of new jobs.

Bill and Melinda spend the same amount on directing research and programs as the elected government representing the people of the country. There’s an art project in there, but it might make me sick to do it. I think it has something to do with getting some of the Gates funding into the hands of the society that makes them so powerful, I don’t know…

what I want to do 9/30

bbtoscaphoto‡ You can’t deny there must be something to a production of a Puccini opera that garner’s real boos from a celebrity audience on opening night. Bad enough that they don’t bother continuing with curtain calls. At the Met. I wanna see this one (Tosca that is). I might have to miss this week and catch the April replay, though, partly due to schedule and partly because then personal fave Bryn Terfel comes on board as Scarpia.

‡ Stanley Tucci has won my heart a couple handfuls of times (once for every time I’ve seen him), and especially in Big Night, Midsummer Nights Dream, and the Imposters — oh and in Daytrippers — and in Frankie and Johnnie on Broadway. Enough. I am wondering what I’ll see in director Tucci’s Blind Date (which he also acts in with Patricia Clarkson(!)). I missed the original, by Theo van Gogh, which I will try to get to on Netflix now. It’s at the Cinema Village, where the screens are just slightly bigger than my TV, but that warrants support for being a bringer of art into the land of the multiplex (usa, that is).

‡Robert Frank’s Americans. I wanted to see this anyway, but hearing him interviewed by WNYC’s Leonard Lopate cinched it. When Lopate asked, this exhibits the photos much larger than in your original (1959) book; don’t these pictures deserve to be larger? he replied, no, i don’t think so. How refreshing!

what i want to do this week 9-18

Next week I want to find out that Roslyn Sulcas was overly critical (although I trust her judgement)! I’m planning to see in-I with Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche. As a recent flurry of personal facebook activity proved, Binoche is to many as Johnny Depp is to many others. She’s deluged NYC right now with a book, a film retrospective, a new film and this choreographic and dance debut.

I also want to see the new season of Hope Davis with Jeff Daniels, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden in God of Carnage. Besides all the good acting, I’m hoping to gain some agreement with a few of my ideas about modern parents.

Finally, I’m planning to hit the open studios in Joel Adas’s building in Greenpoint on 9/26. The whole area will have things going on, but Joel’s in the Pencil Factory at 61 Greenpoint Ave #304.

shannon gillen

okay, so I got behind on posting my “what I want to do this week” list.

Here’s number 1: See shannon gillen’s dance work-in-progress based on a combination of impressions of her father’s stroke and arthur miller’s the crucible. Sounds crazy, especially from shannon, whose work with Doorknob Company is so damn funny! This new work features one of my favorite dancers, Stephanie Miracle in a great trio that contains rough and tumble partner work, fascinating explorations of what shannon calls “flinching” — the involuntary response to a need or a fear — and some lovely formal unison (the latter remarked by choreographer Laura Peterson, also at the performance). The finished work will be great to see in October as part of Dance New Amsterdam’s 25th anniversary celebration (Doorknob Company were DNA artists-in-residence last year).


Shannon couldn’t say enough about the performance space: the 14 Wall Street Vault that LMCC made available long-term for rehearsal under their Swing Space program. I was impressed with the vault itself, but the space was a long linoleum cave that had numbered floor tiles — an abandoned matrix of $millions. The depth of the space made for a long long perspective on the dance and created a gorgeous upstage downstage perspective in the unison segments.

I already know the finished piece will be on my “what I want to see this week” on October 24.

I’ll conclude with the manifesto from shannon’s web site; an indicator of how tough this cookie is:

  • never repeat
  • respond to the conditions at hand
  • move from spontaneous reaction
  • uplift and unburden the performer
  • bring the audience to life

should ‘a been the headline: beyonce

I heard a human interest story last month about a 9-year old kid who won a journalism award. He would have sounded brilliant at any age, and he ended with a comment that I’ve long held true: we need good news. I’m going to try to do my part. Hopefully, I’ll give our national media some effective advice. My recommendation to today’s New York Times:

Monday, September 14, New York Times
page A-11 article titled “A Solemn Awards Tribute, Then a Celebrity Run-In”
A review of the MTV Video awards show during which Kanye West jumped on stage, interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech to protest that Beyonce’s video should have won. The fine article by Jon Caramanica ends with this clever observation: “A soul singer making room for a young country star who’d been bullied by a rapper: it was indelibly 2009.”

here’s my suggestion. Page One HEADLINE (and lead):

Beyonce Swiftly Rights West’s Upset
Singer/actress Beyonce gracefully gave awardee Taylor Swift back the floor last night, demonstrating the power of dignity and the ridiculousness of arrogance in our most visible celebrities…


(here are the moments, via VH-1.)

Luxe on the LES


Gallerist Stephan Stoyanov (whom I think is terrific in both personality and taste) has moved his gallery Luxe from a tiny spot on the LES to a big spot. Now at 29 Orchard Street between Canal and Hester, the gallery has an upstairs three times as big as the old and a basement gallery to boot. The current group exhibit features Marie Maillard upstairs with two video projections entitled Wall (detail above). The work is part of the Alliance Française Crossing the Line festival.


The opening show last night also featured an exhibit in a bus parked outside. The work, “Cell Spectacular,” by Gabriela Galvan represented gametes via crochet and various yard sale materials. I liked the repurposed magnetic skating toy with sink strainer and push pins in the starring X-Rated roles (see photo at right). Stoyanov’s favorite puppeteer of his childhood Bulgaria, Hristina Hristova, gave a performance of crochet dolls getting down. It was a hoot.