Monday Morning Quarterback, June 21st, 2010, Part I

by Jeriah Hildwine and Stephanie Burke

Stephanie:  Jesus, it's been a while since I had this long of an art weekend. The
grand total exhibitions visited between Friday afternoon and Sunday
evening: 23 in 19 venues. One night in a car, on night on bikes, one
afternoon on public transit. Tasty snacks and innumerable drinks. Good
art, not-so-good art, and just about everything in between.

Jeriah:  Yup, it was a big one.  There was a lot to see, and we checked out some spaces we hadn't been to before.  It was a good one.

Part I:  Friday Night

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Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is...A
LOVE STORY, work by Daniel
Albrigo
and Genesis
Breyer P-Orridge
at
Western Exhibitions. 6/18-8/7.

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Work by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge at Western Exhibitions.

S:  I have an odd relationship with celebrity, since my primary brushes with it involved drunk dialing them, almost getting run over by them, or unintentionally insulting their tattoos. At this point, if I see a celebrity, I just try to ignore them.  This is pretty impossible with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The work in Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is...A LOVE STORY centers on P-Orridge's most recent body modification, the removal of all of h/er [P-Orridge's preferred pronoun] teeth and their replacement of gold replicas. P-Orridge created half the work included in the show, primarily consisting of assemblages of angsty detritus and artifacts from the tooth replacement project. The other half of the show consisted of tribute paintings of P-Orridge's teeth by fellow artist Daniel Albrigo. Some of Albrigo's paintings came off genuinely and stunningly beautiful, and the encrusted quality of P-Orridge's assemblages made for interesting visual investigation, but half way through the show, the work began to feel a bit redundant. I found myself spending more time attempting to snatch sidelong glances of P-Orridge and match them up with the grainy images of h/er I remember from my Industrial Culture Handbook.

J:  I've got to admit here how supremely uncool I am, apparently; the name Geneses P-Orridge was distantly familiar to me, but I'd never put it together with Throbbing Gristle or Psychic TV, two bands which I'd heard of but never listened to.  So to a certain extent I got more of a "clean" read of this artwork, since I didn't know that (some of) it was by someone better known for work in another field.

Daniel Albrigo's paintings, all modestly sized oils on panel, are tight, crisp, and expertly rendered examples of traditional realism, a skill for which I greatly respect not least because it is the area of my own explorations in the studio.  By choosing as his subject matter P-Orridge's most recent body modification (the replacement of h/er teeth with gold implants), Albrigo manages to hitch this old cart to a fresh horse.  As this is something that I, myself, am endeavoring to do in my own work, I've got mad love for it.

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"Agapé." Image copyright Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and Western Exhibitions.

P-Orridge's mixed-media assemblages look like they owe a bit of a debt to Joseph Cornell, particularly those built into boxes.  But my favorite is "Agapé", a pun emphasized by the accent mark on the final e:  the words both spelled "agape" (without the accent mark) are homographs, spelled the same but pronounced differently and having different meanings.  Agape, meaning "wide open," is pronounced "AH-gape," while the word (borrowed from Greek) referring to a type of love is pronounced "ah-GAH-pay."  Both words are normally written without the accent mark.  P-Orridge's inclusion of it therefore forces the reader to pronounce the title like the word referring to a type of love, even though the sculpture itself is of a gaping mouth.  This is a clever contradiction and pun in and of itself; it is reinforced by another seeming contradiction:  the jaws in the sculpture are made from teeth molds, gold-leafed save for a single natural tooth in an inversion of the more common single gold tooth.  

Looking at this show in total, then, and free as I was from any expectation based on P-Orridge's celebrity status, I'm inclined to call it a success, certainly far more so that is usual for a celebrity-turned-artist.  The decision to exhibit P-Orridge's work alongside Albrigo's couldn't have been better, as each reinforces the potential weaknesses of the other:  P-Orridge's assemblages are charming and innovative but their lack of traditional craft could be read as naïve; Albrigo's potentially face the opposite problem, of being dismissed precisely because they're straight, traditional representation.  The result of the combination may not revolutionize the state of contemporary art, but they seem to at least stand on their own two feet.  

They could certainly hold their own alongside Clive Barker's paintings (I like some of his drawings) or Marilyn Manson's watercolors (I like his Black Dahlia).  Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell are worse, but at least they appear content to confine the results of their efforts to their album covers, where they can do little harm.  But by far the worst celebrity-turned painter, despite selling in the mid five figures, is Sylvester Stallone.  Sly, I loved you in John Rambo,  and I'm looking forward to The Expendables and Rambo V, but please, listen to me on this one: being a painter is hard, and getting a BFA from the University of Miami on the basis of your "acting and life experiences" doesn't seem to have given you the chops you need.  Stick to acting, and if you want to be a part of the art world, go back to collecting.  Don't punch me if we ever meet, I'm nice and I like your movies.

Brown, and Beige - A Finte and Infinite,
work by Jesus Javier at
Peregrineprogram. 6/18-7/3.

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Work by Jesus Javier at Peregrine Program.

S:  Brown, and Beige, a solo exhibition by artist Jesus Javier, proved to be much more engaging that I expected, another instance of online images not doing the actual work the justice it deserves. The show was made up by three types of works: washy paintings on cardboard, a video piece, and a Xerox/print taped to one wall, all listed on the image list by title and the cardinal direction they were located and facing. This was possibly one of the sparsely hung shows I've seen a the Program, which, rather than feeling bare, lent an air of scavenger hunt to the entire exhibition, which included pieces facing out the window, toward the wall, or hidden behind pipes. The ghostly wash of the cardboard based portraits contrasted sharply with the snapshot photo of two men holding hands in a spotlight, the humorous campiness of the one playing off the starkness of the other. The video itself, at least the segment I saw, reminded me of Baltimore, with the static row houses and the ever-present wail of sirens. Situated off to one side near a corner, the TV created a comfortable niche in an otherwise relatively unstructured space. My only wish was that the Johnny-On-The-Spot floating down the river outside the gallery was part of the exhibition, put there to float sadly along under the haunted stare of the outward facing portrait.
 
J:  The other segment of the video that I saw was footage of a pair of flipbooks.  They were both on blue-lined paper, like a composition book.  The first one showed a car driving (it was stationary on the page, but clouds flew by to show movement), which then went over a ramp, flipped, and exploded.  The other was of a line scrolling vertically like the bar on a television that needs its, what's it called, its vertical hold adjusted.  They had a cute, childhood charm to them.

I liked the paintings on the cardboard beverage packing trays, with the circular indentations where each can or bottle had pressed its base into the cardboard.  I recognized the support immediately because I recently did one of my classroom demonstration paintings on one of 'em.  Not really ideal for my purpose, but it got the job done.  Javier used them far better, though, brushing layers of paint that skip over the depressions to emphasize their texture, which served as an additional visual layer obfuscating the figures and adding to their ghostly look.  The paint on the figures themselves was sparse, minimal, and pushed way back.  It worked.

Passionate Holiness, work by Robert
Lentz
, Lewis Williams, William Hart McNichols, and David Lee Csicsko at La
Llorona
. 6/18-7/18.

Work from Passionate Holiness at La Llorona

S:  As a third generation atheist, my thoughts toward religious painting stem purely from time spent in art history class. Generally, I understand the basics of Christian religious art, but it holds but a small amount of interest for me. The theme of this show, however, struck me as so different from what I generally expect of religious painting, that I had to give it a look. On La Llorona's website, the show is described as dealing with, "images [which] depict influential, yet highly overlooked and occasionally controversial Christian figures who, had they lived in the present, might have been a source of inspiration to gays and lesbians. The exhibition is meant to offer a place where everyone can feel accepted, regardless of their sexual orientation." The works by artist Lewis Williams were particularly stunning, rendered in the classical Byzentine style. Without the accompanying info cards, I'd hardly be able to understand how most of the saints related to gay or lesbian issues, but that didn't really bother me. With them, the exhibition was both beautiful and informative, a highlight of the evening in terms of learning little known facts about saints.

J:  I'm with you, I loved Williams' icons, as well as those by Brother Robert Lentz.  Honestly, these two guys' work is so similar, I don't know that I could tell them apart.  Lentz did a St. Aelred that was pretty cool, as well as Sts. Sergius and Bacchus (not the god; the two were Roman soldiers).  It really makes sense that their work is so similar since they're both working in a super traditional Byzantine fashion.  They're coming out of a tradition that doesn't encourage individual style, it pushes doing things a particular way and sticking to that.  What's unique is the choice of subject matter.  Besides the gay-friendly "genuine" saints in this exhibition, Lentz has painted a lot of icons of people that aren't officially canonized saints (Martin Luther King, Harvey Milk), and some of them not even Christians (Ghandi, Merlyn the Magician).  He's caught some flak for this, as well.

I'm a die-hard atheist myself, but I've got a soft spot for religious folk who advance an open-minded and accepting agenda.  Lentz is gay, although celibate because he's a friar, and he's involved in a lot of other types of activism besides gay rights:  encouraging unity between Christians and Muslims, for example.  I like this guy's work and I like what he does with it.

"Faggot," by William Hart McNichols, from "Passionate Holiness" at La Llorona.

William Hart McNichols' etching "Faggot" was awesome as well, graphically illustrating the origin of that perjorative:  "faggot" originally meant a bundle of firewood, which is probably why a cigarette is called a fag.  There is a tradition, while it may be a folk etymology, that the practice of burning homosexuals alive during the Inquisition gave rise to this term being applied to homosexuals as a perjorative, in essence calling them firewood as a threat.  The wall text for McNichols' etching goes into great depth on this subject, and it's interesting reading.

This show also included some Mexican retablos circa 1970, and prints by Daniel Lee Csicsko.  The retablos were more or less the usual outsider kind of art, which demands to be judged on a different set of criteria, but with some gay themes.  Csicsko's prints, for example his comic-booking St. Augustine, looked sort of like Keith Haring's work, with the 80s-surfer-Lisa Frank binder aesthetic.  It's not a look that particularly appeals to me, personally.  From what I've read, his strong suit is stained glass windows, and I'd gladly give those an unbiased look.

Ocean, work by Aaron Fowler at HungryMan
Gallery
. 6/18-7/11.

Work by Aaron Fowler from "Ocean" at Hungry Man.

S:  Aaron Fowler's solo exhibit at Hungry Man, curated by Jason Lazarus, is a good example of what I've noticed coming out of the SAIC photo program (my apologies if I am mislabeling him as an SAIC student, I couldn't find his bio), influenced heavily, to my eye, by the works of Lazarus himself and Craig Doty, an alumna and past instructor at the 'Tute. The work is subtly humorous, though at times the humor is a simple visual pun. The pieces that really stand out are those relating to human pain, real or implied. The knife on the back image, hovering somewhere between a drunken frat party picture and some kind of crime scene documentation, is genuinely uncomfortable to look at, and the better for it. It avoids the "got-cha" humor of most of his other pieces. The pumpkin tooth image, similarly uncomfortable though less dire in its consequences, feels like watching a child touch something hot for the first time. It's the anticipatory moment before the pain comes. I'm excited to see where Fowler's work goes in the future, he seems on a path to separate himself from the rest of the pack.

J:  I thought these were neat, too.  The thing I noticed about them is that it seemed to me that they were only incidentally photographs, in the way that Andy Goldsworthy's images are only incidentally photographs.  Like Goldsworthy, Fowler sets up situations or arrangements of objects, which I would argue are the real or original work, and then the photographs function as documentation of those situations.

I also see a sort of connection with Scott Reeder's paintings, which if you can get past the intentionally bad paint handling are basically joke-paintings.  They're for the most part supposed to be funny.  But, in both Reeder's and Fowler's cases, they're not the text of a joke, like Richard Prince's joke paintings, nor are they illustrations of a language-based joke.  They're visual jokes.  Scott Reeder's "Tall Igloos," which was on display as part of Constellations at the MCA last year, was an example of this:  there's nothing funny about the phrase "tall igloos," or maybe there is, but what's really funny is seeing it.  

I take some issue with Scott Reeder's work, mostly on the grounds that his casual use of paint contributes to a devaluing of material skill that is a serious problem with a lot of the art being made today, but I do give him credit for his sense of humor.  Fowler succeeds along similar lines, and his images, of a seashell on a cell phone, or of a jack-o-lantern having its one tooth pulled, are similarly humorous.  

Work by Aaron Fowler from "Ocean" at Hungry Man.

Two of his images, however, stand out as transcending this humor:  one is an image of a person's back pressed against a window, and the other is a person who's balled up inside a striped sweater.  These are the two images that stay with me, because they're visually playful in a more complex way than a visual joke.  The person whose back is flattened against a window is acknowledging the physicality of the barrier between the subject of a photograph and its viewer.  What messes with me about this one is that, if I remember right, it wasn't framed.  So there wasn't any actual glass between the viewer and the image, when the nature of the image suggests that there should be.  Which is weird, and fucked up, and awesome.

Work by Aaron Fowler from "Ocean" at Hungry Man.

The sweater one I think I like just because it reminds me of being a kid, and the weird stuff I'd do, like if I was cold I'd tuck my legs inside my sweatshirt, or putting a sweatshirt on like pants, or putting my arms down the inside of the legs of my sweatpants so my hands came out by my ankles and then running around the house that way.  This image feels like that kind of activity, and combined with the pattern of the stripes and the totally upfront shutter release cable, made this probably my favorite image from the show.

Remembering the Future, work by Caitlin Arnold, Olivia Ciummo,
Scott Cowan, Kyle Cronan,
Melissa Damasauskas, Rachel
Ettling
, Aron Gent, Henry
James Glover, John Paul
Glover
, Emily Green, Brieanne
Hauger
, Katy Keefe, Jason
Lazarus
, Greg Stimac and Nicholas Wylie at The Hills Esthetic Center

Detail of the collaborative sculpture at The Hills.

S:  I keep forgetting I've been to this place before. After over-shooting the street by many blocks and proceeding cautiously through an intersection wherein both red and green lights shown in the traffic light, we finally made it to The Hills. Remembering the Future, a group exhibition of the founding members of the ACRE Residency, was pleasantly hectic, something I've come to expect of The Hills. Especially surprising and fun was the massive trash sculpture in the main room. Usually, I find trash sculpture rather boring, bordering on irritating. This piece, however, felt remarkably curated, containing various vignettes that required investigation to discover, and rewarded with humor, like the coke- (that's what we decided it was, or should be) covered My Little Pony. I was also enamored with the Old-West portraits, easily recognizable as iconic images of Billy the Kid. I have a soft spot for what David Cross calls Ye Olde Chuckel-Cheesel. The large hanging piece at the entrance to The Hills was also particularly enthralling. Surrounded by a circle of salt and black candles, the object harkned to a pouch I remember from some horror movie (was it Ravenous?) in which a woman finds her husband nude, dead and wrapped within, hanging from a tree branch in a snowy landscape. Mmmm...creepy fun.  

Sculpture at The Hills Aesthetic Center.

J:  I liked the big trash sculpture (surprisingly for me as well), kind of made me think of that Monument to the First International thing you learn about in 20th Century Art History class.  I also liked the shopping cart piece, in which a white wire-and-plaster shopping cart emerged from the wall.  Fun show.

Opening of the Golden Gallery Auxiliary Space, with work by Elijah Burgher, Evan Conley, The Franks, Alex Valentine, Kaylee Rae Wyant, Aspen Mays, Mike Andrews, and Lloyd Durling.

Work by Aspen Mays from "The First Show" at Golden's Auxillary Space.

S:  As the title make clear, this was the first exhibition at Golden Gallery's new Auxillary Space. According to the listing on On The Make, "The auxiliary space will operate in dialogue with the programming expected of Golden, however working with an expanded range of artists and trajectories." I didn't manage to make it to the opening at Golden Gallery, I was too late, so I wasn't able to see the work this was supposed to be in dialog with, but the show did offer some recognizable names from Golden's past exhibitions (Aspen Mays, for example) as well as artists new to Golden. I look forward to seeing the future of this collaborative idea.

J:  Yeah, I wish we could have made it to Golden's main space as well; it would be neat to see the work in that context.  I'll be honest, I was pretty beat by the time we got here, and I really wasn't giving the work the attention it deserved.  Aspen's TV static photogram was a neat idea, right in line with some of her other work such as her fireflies piece.  Is it predictable of me to say I wish the print were bigger?  Maybe it was the size of the television.  I didn't even look to see what the medium was on this one; if it's a true photogram, there's no enlargement that takes place, because the source is just placed on top of the film.  I kind of assumed they were digital, I guess that's just because I thought that's how Aspen worked.  I could be wrong here.  

The other piece I remember are the For Sale signs, cut up and collaged back together to make an abstract red-and-black image.  They remind me of mid-20th Century abstraction, and of harlequin beetles.

S: We said good bye to the Auxillary space, and headed out into the rain toward home. Come back on Wednesday for the recounting of the second half of our hindsight: an unexpectedly fun time on a self-proclaimed Art Adventure.

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