May 26, 2012
March 31, 2012
March 26, 2012
Editor's note: First published on Blogcritics, June 10, 2007 under the title "Faith Fashion: Reflections on Religion, Art, and Politics"
Los Angeles artist Michael Arata invited me to write the introductory essay to his catalog, Virgin "T"s, that would accompany a one-person exhibition of his work at the California State University in San Bernardino in the fall of last year. Michael, a long-time resident of Los Angeles, has exhibited his eccentric and often humorous works in several Southern California galleries, in the US and abroad in France and Belgium. The Virgin "T"s in this body of work, some of which are actual silk screened T-shirts, are in part a response, albeit a sometimes biting one, to the continued fraying of the separation between Church and State and all the political, social, and commercial ramifications that entails. In the essay below, I strove to be as provocative and irreverent as the work before me.
You shouldn't believe that the T-Shirt you're likely wearing right now is a modern invention. By today's standards, a T-Shirt is a walking bulletin board with your favourite designer label silk-screened onto it. Michael Arata knows this already because ancient history taught him that the boys in marketing around the time that Jesus was dining on his last bit of foie gras, commonly referred to as the Last Supper, had an enlightening idea for Jesus' resurrection. On the third day, Jesus rose with a T-Shirt made out of distressed cotton painted purple that said in Times New Roman: "I went to Mount Golgotha and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt".
However, the "tee" shirt as it is also affectionately called was really the brain child of Mary, the Virgin. Her nickname the Virgin fit her like a "T". And while we're at it, here's something else you might not know about the Virgin Mary. You probably confuse the story of Mary and the Immaculate Conception with a virgin birth, angels, and the like, but it didn't quite happen that way. According to the Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, "The Immaculate Conception is a Catholic dogma that asserts Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved by God from the stain of original sin at the time of HER own conception". Furthermore, "Mary was conceived by normal biological means (her parents had sex), but her soul was acted upon by God or kept immaculate". Mary grew up living a life completely free of sin and stayed a Virgin Mary. Fortunately, peer pressure in those days was nothing compared to today. For the record, it was the Miraculous Conception, not the Immaculate Conception nor L'Immaculée Conception by André Breton and Paul Eluard, that involved the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary.
That historic event marked the first time since the birth of (wo)MAN that virginity became both a liability and a commodity, simultaneously: a burden from birth, yet a treasure to be protected by overly zealous fathers and chastity belts, only to be unlocked within the sanctity of marriage; a prize commodity sought after so ardently, perhaps even more than the Holy Grail, which every man swore his honour and allegiance to but so very few actually had partaken. Mary understood this dilemma and when the Angel Gabriel swooped down from the Heavens to announce his fertile message, Mary was already wearing a T-Shirt that said "What, me worry?" Only since James Dean hit the movie screens in a virgin white T-Shirt and faded blue jeans that clung to his ass like Pamela Anderson's tits in a wet t-shirt contest have T-Shirts enjoyed such popularity. That is, of course, until Michael Arata got a hold of them.
Isn't this what it's all about anyway? Getting hold of something virginal, pure white, Snow White, oil, land, your daughter's fifteen-year-old girlfriend with the pointy breasts who never wears a bra that you just want to gut up the middle Lolita-style? Managing perceptions, rumours, beliefs, religion, culture -- did she or didn't she get fucked in the ass? Perception: Every time you use the word fuck from now on, replace it with the word suck and you'll see how it changes your world. Spin. Artists do it all the time. So do Presidents. So does the Church. The Vatican has known this for decades and capitalized on it. The Religious Left, the Religious Right it's all about you believing that what you expect, desire, want to be the TRUTH - or is at the very least accepted behaviour carried out under the supervision of your peers, society or government.
Michael is carrying on a time honoured tradition, spreading the WORD, crusading to restore and reform; cleansing us of our Original Sin, giving us all a second chance, a second Virginity, filling us with a child's innocence, under one Democratic Nation and one merciful GOD. Like any other grassroots movement, Michael's gospel gets out by word of mouth, bumper stickers, rallies, T-Shirts and nowadays, text-messaging, DVDs and Powerpoint presentations. Michael even owns and operates his own franchised Church of Mary's Parents complete with urban Stained Glass windows. He might not have been the first to welcome all spiritual denominations into his Church, but Michael clearly has been the first to accept all major credit cards through Ticketmaster to secure a ticket to paradise.
You might think these Virgin T-Shirts are a joke, and you're probably thinking that they're art as well; Christ, what else could they be? But you're not sure. It's a tough place to be with your pants down around your ankles looking silly looking at silly art no? OK, so they're a bit kitschy sometimes. God knows that there are a million T-Shirts out there with Adidas plastered on the front, made in China and finding their way into Africa and Palestine but it's all good. We live in a Democracy - everyone shares in the wealth. But the real question is: do you care about what you've become, what you wear, the car you drive, the God you pray to, the food you eat, the art you frequent? Of course you do. IM, Image Management, I told you. Pretend to be cool, pretend to be a virgin, pretend to be an artist if it helps, but it doesn't matter and it won't matter in today's society cause they are all inflated currencies. Take another look at Michael Arata's work; it is through any lens titillating without the cheap theatrics of a red light district whore or barroom stripper. The Prophet Mohammed can take you to the mountain but he can't make you jump unless you believe. Michael has taken us up there many times before. Jump, you'll see and you just might find that what you discover at the bottom hurts a lot harder than the fall. Open your eyes. This is you.
Current information about Michael Arata
February 19, 2012
Seward Johnson's is the career that could take place only in America; I don't
think Jeff Koons is quite as bad, but then we're debating the merits of dog
shit and cat shit." (link)
In a recent post entitled "Is Robert Pincus a real person?" a blogger suggests Pincus somehow suffered a "dehumanizing" act, by omission, in an editorial piece published by the U-T (San Diego Union-Tribune) in favor of keeping J. Seward Johnson's public sculpture "Unconditional Surrender" right where it is. Pincus of course, was the former art critic for the San Diego daily who was unceremoniously laid off in June of 2010 - much to the chagrin of many. He was also the sculpture's most adamant detractor. Pincus is currently employed as a Senior Grants and Art Writer for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
So what's the big deal, y'a pas mort d'homme as they say? The concern the blogger has is that "Such casual dehumanization of an arts professional is newsworthy, and merits the attention of anyone with a personal commitment to the arts in San Diego." Further stating, "When contemplating the U-T they [the public] must now ask themselves: Am I real? If I am, then how precisely is it that I'm real while Robert Pincus is not?"
Oh boy. First of all, I've never seen so much digital ink being spilled in favor of keeping such blatant mediocrity as is Steward's sculpture in a city that already suffers from public art banality. Not to be outdone by an equally "boring swamp" of artistic platitude such as the proposed "Wings of Freedom." Secondly, what is the problem here, both the U-T and Pincus seem to have moved on for better or worse. The real tragedy is not addressing decisions made by the San Diego Unified Port District and/or its Public Art Committee for bringing "Unconditional Surrender" here in the first place. Not whether Pincus was left out of an editorial by a newspaper with an agenda that includes keeping the Chargers here, renovating the waterfront, and restructuring Balboa Park. A vision, some say, which also encompasses monitoring the comment section and employee attire.
Clearly Pincus was intentionally omitted. Yes, a pithy and crappy thing to do, but one hardly dehumanizing or even tragic for that matter.
Which brings up a damning point by art critic Dave Hickey in his essay entitled Air Guitar:
"Colleagues of mine will tell you that people despise critics because they fear our power. But I know better. People despise critics because they despise weakness, and criticism is the weakest thing you can do in writing. It is the written equivalent of air guitar- flurries of silent, sympathetic gestures with nothing at their heart but the memory of the music. It produces no knowledge, states no facts, and never stands alone. It neither saves the things we love (as we wished them saved) nor ruins the things we hate."
Hickey goes on to explain how he has made peace with himself for being a critic and the process necessary to keep it relevant:
"I would write about works of art, then, about pieces of architecture and recorded music- objects that would continue to maintain themselves in the living present subsequent to my transporting them out of it. In this way, I might stop destroying that which I wished to celebrate and cease celebrating myself in ways I had no wish to- for even though my writing about art might momentarily intervene between some object and its beholders, the words would wash away, and the writing, if it was written successfully into its historical instant, could never actually replace the work or banish it into the realm of knowledge. If the work survived, the writing would simply bob after it, like a dinghy in the wake of a yacht."
Let's face it; Pincus' criticisms will continue to bob after some mute debate about art that truly is innocuous. They will surface from time-to-time to bolster the ranks and attacks of those who detect a weakness in a field where there are so very few (good and decent) critics left or read, let alone touched by a work of art (through the senses) by what Hickey might call a certain "organizational energy." Painting as well as critics it seems (their roles that is), are still largely misunderstood by a disinterested public. Helas.
Pincus' criticism of "Unconditional Surrender" has already washed away, this is good. We should stop worrying about him so much. This debate is not about him. The U-T has bigger fish to fry; a former employee is not one of them. For those of us with a "personal commitment to the arts in San Diego" our attention should be on serious matters that affect our arts community whether it be public or private. In case you haven't noticed, we can do far better than "Unconditional Surrender."
Hickey says it the best, "Police mentalities will always strive to impress correct readings, to align intentions with outcomes, and couple imaginary causes with putative effects, but we always have a choice."
That choice is yours San Diego, the art made as well as the art publicly displayed. Choose wisely.
Photograph by Hans Namuth
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
and The Parrish Art Museum (website)
©1991 Hans Namuth Estate
HOW TO PROCEED IN THE ARTS
A detailed study of the creative act
by Larry Rivers and Frank O'Hara, 1955
1. Empty yourself of everything.
2. Think of faraway things.
3. It is 12:00. Pick up the adult and throw it out of bed. Work should be done at your leisure, you know, only when there is nothing else to do. If anyone is in bed with you, they should be told to leave. You can not work with someone there.
4. If you're the type of person who thinks in words―paint!
5. Think of a big color―who cares if people call you Rothko. Release your childhood. Release it―
6. Do you hear them say painting is action? We say painting is the timid appraisal of yourself by lions.
7. They say your walls should look no different than your work, but that is only a feeble prediction of the future. We know the ego is the true maker of history, and if it isn't, it should be no concern of yours.
8. They say painting is action. We say, remember your enemies and nurse the smallest insult. Introduce yourself as Delacroix. When you leave, give them your wet crayons. Be ready to admit that jealousy moves you more than art. They say action is painting. Well, it isn't, and we all know abstract expressionism and pop art has moved to the suburbs.
9. If you are interested in schools, choose a school that is interested in you. Cézanne agrees with us when he says "Schools are for fools." We are too embarassed to decide on the proper approach. However, this much we have observed: good or bad schools are insurance companies. Enter their offices and you are certain of a position. No matter how we despise them, the Pre-Raphaelites are here to stay.
10. Don't just paint. Be a successful all-around man like Baudelaire.
11. Remember to despise your teachers, or for that matter anyone who tells you anything straight from the shoulder. This is very important. For instance, by now you should have decided we are a complete waste of time, Easterners, Communists, and Jews. This will help you with your life, and we have always said "life before art." All other positions have drowned in the boring swamp of dedication. No one makes art because they choose to.
12. If there is no older painter you admire, work twice as much yourself and soon you will be him.
13. Youth wants to burn the museums. We are in them--now what? Better destroy the odors of the zoo. How can we paint the elephants and hippopotamuses? How are we to fill the large empty canvas at the end of the large empty loft? You do have a loft, don't you, man?
14. Is it the beauty of the ugly that haunts the young painter? Does formality encompass all the roaring citadels of the imagination? Aren't we sick of sincerity? We tell you, stitch and draw―fornicate and hate it. We're telling you to begin. Begin! Begin anywhere. Perhaps somewhere in the throat of your loud asshole of a mother? OK? How about some red orange globs mashed into your unbearable condencension. Try something that pricks the air out of a few popular semantic balloons groping, essence, flat catalyst, crumb, pure painting. How do you feel about about titles like "Innscape," "Norway Nights and Suburbs," "No. 188, 1959, Red and a Little Brown," "Hey Mama Baby," "Mandala," and "Still Life with Nose." Even if it is a small work, say 6 feet by 9 feet, it is a start. If it is only as big as a postage stamp, call it a collage―but begin.
15. In attempting a black painting, know that the truth is beauty, but shit is shit.
16. In attempting a figure painting, consider that no amount of distortion will make make a painting seem more relaxed. Others must be convinced before we even recognize ourselves. At the beginning, identity is a dream. At the end, it is a nightmare.
17. Don't be nervous. All we painters hate women; unless we hate men.
18. Hate animals and birds. Painting is through with them.
19. When involved with abstractions, refrain, as much as possible, from personal symbolism, unless your point is gossip.... Everyone knows size counts.
20. When asked about the Old Masters, be sure to include your theories of culture change, and how the existence of a work of art is only a small part of man's imagination. The Greeks colored their statues, the Spaniards slaughtered their bulls, The Germans invented Hasenpfeffer, we dream and act impatient, hoping for fame without labor, admiration without a contract, sex with an erection.
December 30, 2011
Editors note: This is a revised review by Kevin Freitas of the original published on the ArtasAuthority arts blog in December 2010.
"The Storm" 2009 - Kelsey Brookes (image courtesy of Kelsey Brookes and Quint Gallery)
Kelsey Brookes exhibit at Ouint Gallery in La Jolla entitled "Bigger, Brighter, Bolder" while factually true, defies any reasonable explanation as to why he is showing there in the first place. More a graphic artist than painter - unless of course one's definition of painting is limited to pigment on canvas and exposed in galleries - Brookes is a doodler and a very good one at that. A young man who has not lost the urge to fill pages and pages of sketchbooks and canvases with obsessive, mildly interesting drawings and paintings that center on (quoting from various press releases) "sex, comedy, and animals." And while this does nothing more than arouse our curiosity, once peaked, the work never quite delivers on its promise nor range of exploitive content. Brookes sadly enough, is not "The Radiant Child" everyone is hoping he might be.
For the most part, Brookes' recent popularity has little to do with the artwork he produces and everything to do with how it's been marketed. The work is worthy because of the unique and qualitative standards which exist within street culture's paradigm (reputation, style, one's homies or crew etc.) and it's self-perpetuating if not recyclable myth-making capabilities. Brookes' style is influenced by decades of street art (graffiti) and the support of the board culture industry (ski, surf, skate et al). However, the gritty urban street art of the seventies and eighties finds no place alongside the manicured canvasses of Brookes' generation of artists today. A whole new breed of impresarios and wannabes has been cultivated and sold (out).