Archive for February, 2008
artist unknown--some frames removed
More on the perceived unpopularity of the Whitney's "BitStreams" exhibit when it was in fact fairly popular with the public and press.
Partly it was the fallout from the dotcom bust.
I was saving clippings when I wrote my Art Papers article on the museum computer shows in '01.
Deborah Solomon glowingly profiled "BitStreams" co-curator Lawrence Rinder for the NY Times--"Tastemaker, New in Town, Dives into Cauldron"--while the show was up. "BitStreams" was actually three exhibits--the internet art part called "Data Dynamics," curated by Christiane Paul, and "BitStreams," curated by Rinder (visual art) and Debra Singer (sound art).
Jeremy Blake received accolades for his Whitney installations in articles such as "Bit by Bit, the Digital Age Comes Into Artistic Focus" by Jeffrey Kastner, also in the Times.
Tim Griffin wrote a Time Out think piece asking which museum would be "the first to mount the defining exhibition on digital art?" right after SFMOMA's "010101" opened and prior to the launch of "BitStreams."
After a fusillade of hype, it started to be clear that tech stocks were tanking and NY's bubble economy wasn't coming back.
Some of my clippings from the same period have captions such as "Joe Blow, 30, the former art director for pseudo.com, owns 290,000 stock options that are now worth nothing. He is unemployed."
Interest in, and hype for, digital art, nosedived around this time. I believe this is one reason the shows are remembered badly. Another is that the sudden precipitous drop in interest provided breathing space to actually evaluate the merits of the exhibits, and they came out the poorer for it.
In Paddy Johnson's review of the "Unmonumental Online" show at the New Museum, she refers to the Whitney's 2001 computer art show "BitStreams" as "disastrous" and casting a long shadow over subsequent attempts to show net art or computer art in museums. She doesn't say why that is so or why the NewMu show is an improvement.
Johnson implies that "BitStreams" was not popular (by lumping it in with MOMA's largely undiscussed "Automatic Update" show). It was very popular, attendance-wise, and got barrels of press ink. That's one of the reasons it was disastrous. People saw curator Lawrence Rinder's largely bad taste on display and thought "so that is the art that is made with computers." I wrote about it here and won't go into it again. The show was heavy on bells and whistles, Exploratorium-style art, the most elementary things that could be done with Photoshop, and the usual workstations no one wants to stand at.
Since that time social networking sites have dominated the Web and a fair amount of exchange and cross-pollination has happened with art online. The NewMu show at least acknowledges this with pages lifted from YouTube, LiveJournal, etc. and artists working in the media of blogs and browser-friendly file formats. "BitStreams" was dominated by a group of artists who came to prominence in the dot com, Net Art 1.0 era; "Unmonumental Online" is dominated by a group who came to prominence in the post-dot com, Net Art 2.0 era. More could be written about these two periods and how the shows reflected the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Eileen Jones (hilariously) does not like There Will Be Blood:
To rub in this sentimental view of the rich and powerful as spiritually barren—cigars, mansions, private bowling alleys, and yet they cannot love!—Plainview has to acquire and reject some family members. He gets hold of an adopted son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier). At first he does seem to love the kid with an almost creepy fervor. There’s this scene where they’re both on the floor after the boy is deafened by an explosion, and Plainview is sort of pawing and mauling the kid’s head while the kid goes "Mrrrraaawww!!” I’m not quite sure what that was, other than the only preparation the audience is going to get for Plainview baying "Draaaaiiiiinnnnagggge!!" later in the film. Incoherent yelling’s a sort of motif in this movie.
Jones has great fun quoting critics on the movie's greatness: Roger Ebert calls it a "force beyond categories." Where one might differ with her is whether all the weirdness in the film is a bug or feature--evidently she wants her rapacious capitalists and religious zealots played more sensibly.
Two recent posts from Petra Cortright:
Crispin Creeper. A YouTube of a TV commercial for a 900 number for kids. You talk to a demon who tells gross jokes and plays disgusting sound effects. As for the commercial itself, if Clement Greenberg were writing "Avant Garde and Kitsch" today he'd be stymied by this. [forgot to mention this is a "freddy freaker clone," per guthrie]
This hand [5 MB .GIF] is what we should want more of in "computer art" (from her LJ page). Visually seductive, failing in intriguing, destructively random ways. It slightly recalls the architecture of Coop Himmelblau, 3D form based on abstract expressionist smasmodic gestures, yet clinging desperately to the Cartesian grid. Instead of Frank Gehry's kitschy "artistic" curves you have the found curves of a stock videogame hand (what is mostly accepted as "computer art.") The myriad of patterns within the hand's polygonal facets suggests a mise en abyme of Op art, constantly snapping back to a contoured surface. Last, there is no mystification because the program is included in the screen shots.
...as explained here. Shorthand version: he used the "Net Art" display terminals in the "Unmonumental" show to surf to his own page and then documented it.
1. I had found the "exit link" on Jessica Ciocci's page but wouldn't have thought of using Google that way--cutting and pasting letters from the 404 page into the search bar.
2. The exit link made me realize the browser had been customized and the address bar removed-- creating a kind of Internet Lite for the exhibit. That's inauthentic to the medium (porosity, randomness, and inclusiveness being among the qualities differentiating internet art from other forms) but one supposes it's better than MOMA, which just bans the Web altogether.
3. Sammak posts a video of a museum staffer telling him he can't photograph the artwork (even though it's his own). Overweening concern for "intellectual property" is a disease slowly eating New York's brain.
This page calls for a moratorium on Obama assassination talk. (A feather whacking a rhinoceros, I know.)
The meme is gearing up big time. Doris Lessing is using her newfound Nobel laureate fame to talk this trash. Harry Smith of CBS asked Ted Kennedy about it (the right wing's take on that is funny: they think the lib'ral media is setting them up as a culprit). Yesterday New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny added to the madness:
No one says this crap about John McCain or the Clintons; no one said it about Al Gore. If you say it to me in person, no offense, but I will laugh at you as a media tool.
His current show at Friedrich Petzel channels Metro Pictures from 20 years ago: picture + hidden agenda + "luxury" commodity. One can discern that the slabs of shiny plasticized woodgrain define silhouettes and what they're of (portrait profiles; hands holding cigarettes, microphones, and keys) but you have to go to the press release to learn they're jpegs--or "jpegs" as that handout cautiously air-quotes them--originating in google searches of words such as eating, touching, mother, etc. Yet a boring picture of two people kissing is still boring, even when made with laser-cut Quartered Honduran Mahogany or Burled Carpathian Elm.
The work recalls Sherrie Levine's silhouettes of U.S. presidents framing stock images of women and Ronald Jones's, later, expensively fabricated objects disguising political content: Brancusi-like bronze sculptures revealed to be AIDS cells or Alexander Libermanesque wall reliefs based on designs for negotiating tables proposed for the Vietnam War peace talks. Price's work is neither as politically charged nor as exquisitely crafted as Jones'. One assumes he is being stylishly politically incorrect referencing what sound like old growth hardwoods used in the fabrication of these planks and placards. They are just a plastic coated veneer but it's still wood.
Contentwise we have two levels of making a readable, everyday image esoteric: isolating the negative space of the jpeg image and then turning that space into an object. Bruce Nauman, Rachel Whiteread, and many others have done this. With Nauman, the viewer could puzzle out "Oh that's the underside of a chair" and "get it" but here you need a gallerist/initiate to tell you the secret back story of the work's Internet origins. This revelation can only disappoint.
For theoretical undergirding Sherrie Levine had Douglas Crimp and Jones had a PhD. Price follows the latter in self-explication, writing essays to accompany his shows and music releases. In the earlier "Dispersion" and "Vas Ist Los" individual paragraphs shine but the overall points aren't clear; Price is more poet than thinker. The Petzel show comes with a book called How To Disappear in America, a sort of latter day Steal This Book about the perils of dropping out in a surveillance society. It is issued by a fictional publisher (theleopardpress.com) and has nothing to do with the show.
Time Out, reviewing an earlier Price exhibit, quoted Marcel Broodthaers that art occurs "in the field of distribution," implying that's what Price is doing. Yet if "Dispersion," the essay, has a point it's that the distribution must occur within the art system because artists' attempts to market directly to the public, or to the wrong public (i.e., music consumers) fail for lack of context, as in Duchamp's effort to sell his rotoreliefs at a toy inventors' fair. Thus, Price's "dispersion" is through limited edition books at Printed Matter, pdf files on ubuweb, and sales to elite collectors at Petzel. The contradiction between the populist "dispersion" rhetoric and making broadly available commodities ("jpegs") limited for the gallery trade isn't a fatal flaw so much as tapping guilt-as-usual about participating in the system. Current curatorial practice demands that artists prove they're not making work for selfish reasons and are helping The People, man.
Update: Paddy Johnson notes the literal connection between Price's book and the exhibit: one deals with disappearing people and the other disappearing subjects. Saying the book had "nothing to do with the show" meant in the sense of being its own Crimp- or Jones-like exegesis, but I should have made that clearer. Johnson's observation that the show "focuses on the invisibility of the artist’s hand, and the removal of the body while performing an action of any kind" is eloquent but perhaps too much so for Price's Photoshop-simple acts of deletion.
Update 2: minor editorial changes to post.