F ing Good Art
Number Nine
November 2001

Index: Ultra Baroque at SFMOMA, Cristina Rodriguez and The Fabulous Party, Wes Freeman rants about Post Rock, Whippersnapper at Vedanta, Rob and Zena Sakowisky's Biggest Fags Ever, Carla Arocha at Monique Meloche, Michael Bulka's Dirty Pictures at Joymore, Peter Fagundo & Modest Contemporary Art Projects, Erika Rothenberg at Zolla / Liberman, Donald Young lacks cream, Scott Wallace at MN, Bruce Nauman, Ben Gill has a problem.

May God bless the Arizona Diamondbacks for their triumph over the New York Yankees. And may God save us from Chicago because no one else will.

Archived at http://spaces.org/fga/

"I lost a couple of teeth, but hey, that's playoff hockey ... I said, 'Get me back out there.'" Pierre Turgeon, Center, St. Louis Blues, Stanley Cup Playoffs 2001

Ultra Baroque at SFMOMA,
Cristina Rodriguez, The Fabulous Party
Bryant Ave. Oakland, CA

The traveling exhibition Ultra Baroque: Aspects of Post Latin American Art has hit the SFMOMA and it's worth thinking twice about, even as the museum has downplayed it by aggressively promoting the Ansel Adams show, running simultaneously. It's interesting that Ultra Baroque made it to the SFMOMA in the first place, rather than being sidelined to Yerba Buena, the neighboring museum which boasts a multicultural lineup. Laden with extraneous curatorial text, Ultra Baroque still pushes forth a coherent aesthetic that runs a subversive course to the dominant voice of the museum.

There is some great work in the show. Adriana Varejo rips into canvases of colonial landscapes. Thick, oozing paint bubbles and seeps outward through the gashes, exposing the scene as one of violence and carnage. The work recognizes the shift from Imperialism to the post modernist Empire, and it offers up plates of it, noting that anthropophagi runs rampant in the art world. Ruben Ortiz Torres engages the complexity of the borderland and slips between roles of artist and curator in order to maintain control over the context in which the work may be viewed. In one work he gives us slick color field paintings executed with metal flake car paint. The paintings are beautiful and smart, appropriating the museum's discourse of minimalism in order to insert the formal and social dialogue of low rider culture as it's positioned in the periphery of the museum's historical canon. By showing them in the context of his other work, particularly his complex photographs of dislocated culture and its appropriation into mass media, the paintings are able to maintain their critical stance.

Most importantly, Ultra Baroque provides a framework for new work that's being made in this area. Suddenly artists who are embracing the carnivalesque can umbrella the spectacle under the argument of Ultra Baroque.

In Oakland, Cristina Lei Rodriguez hosts The First Fabulous Party since September 11 and encourages attendees to "bring it, do it, play it" with regards to their own aesthetics of fabulous. While Rodriquez encourages the fantasy of the spectacle, she also grounds it in the everyday. Using plastic trinkets and dollar store treasures, Rodriguez creates surreal alter worlds -- seascapes, cityscapes, and parks. Often both toxic and endearing, these works are shown as paintings or hand held boxes, set in gelatinous mediums like a dense fog peeking into Narnia. Situated in the context of Ultra Baroque, The Fabulous Party Series is all about hybridity and culture in the wake of multiculturalism.

The party itself embodies Rodriguez's own aesthetic; wall installations of plastic cherries and silk birds, tropical drinks, and available makeup and accessories for those who seek to become even more fabulous as the night progresses. But the message of hybridity is clear, being yourself, even your most fabulous self, can be a muddy business filled with contradictions and assumptions that shouldn't be ignored. Recognizing this, Rodriguez gives us a safe space for exploration while gently exposing the embedded stories of style and aesthetics beyond their material manifestation.

-- The West Coast Report by Shane Selzer

Carla Arocha's Underground at Monique Meloche

Well, it sucked more than a thousand times by a thousand times. Some installation loosely based on the Serin gas attacks in Tokyo. Nothing NBC can't do better in an informative but entertaining way. Gone is designer Arocha, the witty paintings or any of the perceptual domesticity. Instead Underground tries to develop some sort of hip political narrative about terrorism. Was the viewer supposed to feel trapped or anxious? Did it give the viewer an insight to the mind of a terrorist? Was it all a metaphor for abstraction and perception? Not even after the events of September 11 can Underground be considered as a relevant observation and the reasons are clear.

It is almost impossible to read anything in this huge installation, maybe it is the strict formalism or the spacing of the parts. Because the spacing of work in any installation is just like good comedy, it's all about timing. But in this forced puzzle the parts lack a punchline, hell, it even lacks a set up. There are paintings and photos in the walls and a big flat platform in the floor, kind of like those minimal Adrian Shiess painted glossy panels that reflect walls and spaces and light. Well, too bad is not an Adrian Schiess we are talking about.

-- Pedro Velez

Keri Butler and Michael Bulka exchange information

The rumor is that you were offended or disgusted by my watercolors. Sorry for disturbing you, but thanks for looking. Folks seldom express negative reactions - all I hear is that they are cute and funny. I'm curious, if you want to tell me something.

Actually, I think someone has put words in my mouth. To be honest, I didn't really like them. However, I wasn't offended or disgusted -- they were far too painterly for that. I think Melissa misunderstood my silence because she thought I "hated" them which isn't really true. However, to describe them as "cute" and "funny" -- are they being viewed in the same way someone might be amused, in a very class-conscious way, by an "outsider artist's" work? Just a thought...

Ten years of art school and I make outsider art. It's true. I'm curious about the "class-conscious" thing, if you want to elaborate.

I wasn't really calling you an outsider artist -- but maybe it is true, and that is kind of funny. I think most people see you as a critic, and not an artist (or maybe I just never knew). And so, in a way you are an outsider. But, what I really meant was that the terms cute and funny to describe your work made me think of commentary I've heard in response to some outsider artists' work. And then I thought about the way in which many people have encountered such work. Maybe "class-conscious" is the wrong term -- but I've seen outsider artists be marginalized and tokenized in such a way. Now, what does this have to do with you? I don't know yet...

A letter from Julia

Dear Michael,

What a surprise to walk into your opening at Joymore and see such lovely paintings. Beautiful, graceful, fluid and delicious. I was taken aback by your skillful and loose painting. I had no idea you could paint. I think in all the time I've known you I've seen one text based thing you did for Whitewalls. Not only did you paint girls getting fucked and liking it, you look like you liked it, too. Those pictures are dirty because they are enjoyable.

I was compelled to write this letter, since I don't want to write reviews any longer. I had thoughts you might like to hear given that we met over a debate on eroticism or the lack there of some years ago now. Then I thought who the fuck is this guy -- you were kind of mean and dismissive. Since then you've had a brain transplant and everyone who knows you knows your just a big mush.

At its roots pornography refers to writings or pictures of prostitutes; where erotica is more simply a reference to sexual desire. Your work is clearly in the latter category, more because of the loving nature of the painting itself which elevates the source of your images the baggage of the oldest profession. The sweet nature of the paintings underscores your "dirty pictures" as objects of desire as opposed to objects of use. Your paintings give the viewer a rise achieving the goal of erotic materials. At your opening you said you only painted from pictures where it looked like the women were enjoying it. Isn't that that consumer of pornography's transferred hope?

Sincerely, Julia Marsh

Michael Bulka Reviews Himself Using Quotes From Past Rants

This is what I have to say about art I saw yesterday, remembered through an alcoholic haze.

He wrote all of this himself so you can't say that the level of thought that went into this is inadequate.

-- Marc Fischer

"No, we ain't gonna take it -- We're not gonna take it anymore." -- Twisted Sister, the 80's

Glimpse at MN

Glimpse was moderate painting show with no high concept. Maybe that is what makes it so refreshing. Scott Wallace works comfortably within that field of trendy drip decorative painting usually tied to Ed Moses, David Reed or Pat Steir. The paintings look like inverted explosions or small scale tidal waves in Mars. Usually the shades of Red work better than any other color in Wallace's palette. Specially in "E.T." in which a rainbow of sorts floats behind a huge orange form, creating a static sense of depth.

-- Pedro Velez

He is back again for the Wizards

One of the treats in the usually dry summer season was the hour-long video, "Setting a Good Corner (allegory and metaphor)," by Bruce Nauman at Donald Young. Seeing a new Nauman seems a kin to seeing Jordan playing for Washington. I always doubt if he is as good as always or if I'm just projecting his past glory on his new work. I spent a quiet hour in with this piece a couple months ago, while waiting for a friend. And it was great. It has a clear, almost dumb, economy of means. The piece is an excruciatingly long, single shot of him digging a fence post corner on his ranch. The raw sound, the sprawling landscape, Susan Rothenberg stopping by while walking the dogs. An uncomplicated allegory carried out with a truly professional efficiency. I was thinking about it for weeks. What a great fucking artist that guy is.

-- Ben Gill

Peter Fagundo at Modest Contemporary Art Projects

This new graduate student run space in Pilsen is kind of far away and difficult to get to. The exhibition area is located within an apartment, really tiny, a closet or something like that. The work was interesting but mild, only an accumulation of stuff, a lot of it, from notebooks to pencils and other hundred other items. Good intentions went into this installation and I commend Fagundo for it. But the idea behind the exhibition space is much more amusing than Fagundo's work. The brochure of MCAP reads, "We at Modest Contemporary Art Projects are committed to giving you the finest, smallest aesthetic experience possible." It would be great if Modest Projects could be developed in a more accessible area or neighborhood. And it can be done because anything tiny can be organized anywhere, take it out into the community and make it more accessible, people love small stuff and easy experiences.

-- Pedro Velez

Keep Post-Rockin in the ME World

"My name is Conny Blom and I am an artist," the web site says. Sounds bad on paper, doesn't it ? Yikes! " My name is ____ and I'm an artist." What a loaded statement. "To be an artist is to act out a role in the ritual of art making, and in this drama I've chosen the face of the clown to be my shaman's mask." See, I read that, and I think that and I don't know quite what to expect from Conny Blom. Even after seeing his picture (which depicts a sort of bloody, stringy-haired Pennywise sorta guy; the standard post-circus nightmare of any kid aged 4 to 25), I still don't know what I should be looking for in this guy's stuff. After searching the web site, I'm still not inside his head yet, the only art he displays is images he's appropriated in order to make it art (i.e., he says they're art, gives us a link, we go to the link to see art, and see these images; it's that kinda stuff) and some clips of his music.

The music's the first clue to what's up. Blom's band, Helsingbourg, Sweden's Gaga Blung, plays music that shows the influence of the late American composer Harry Partch, jazz keyboardist and band leader Sun Ra, and others bands and some musicians I've probably never even heard of. Nowadays, that means he's a post rocker and that can tell you plenty. It might be all you need to know: I don't know what Blom's total bag is (art-wise, I mean), but I do know he's a post-rocker, and that probably means his bag is pretty big. If you are a rock musician at this late stage in rock's development and you want to play something that is new, meaningful, and interesting to others you need a big bag. I don't know what post-rock is, really. Here's what All Music Guide says about it: "Post-Rock was an experimental, avant-garde movement that emerged in the mid-90s. Most Post-Rock was droning and hypnotic, drawing from ambient, free-form jazz, avant garde, and electronic music more than rock. The majority of Post-Rock groups were like Tortoise, a Chicago-based band with a rotating lineup. Tortoise viewed their music not as songs, but as ever-changing compositions that they improvised nightly. Most Post-Rock groups were defiantly anti-mainstream and anti - indie-rock in the vein of Tortoise. However, there were certain groups (like Stereolab) that essentially worked in a pop and indie-rock format, only touching on the experimental and avant-garde tendencies of most post-rockers. Thrill Jockey's reissue of albums by European experimental names like Mouse On Mars and Oval led to the birth of a transatlantic scene, of sorts, with Germans more focused on electronic music while most Americans preferred rock - oriented setups."

Alright. Now here's what the web site Post-Rock.com says about it: "As time goes on, this sort of false classification gets more and more inane. Oh well, it's no better than post-punk, post-kraut, or even disco. No disco band wanted to consider themselves disco. Simon Reynolds, a writer for The Wire Magazine (adventures in modern music) coined the term 'post-rock' (or so the Germans would have us believe) when he had to make up a genre. Well, it kinda stuck even if everyone cool thinks it stinks now. Go buy a record and don't sit here reading this text any more."

I remember watching a segment of 60 Minutes a few years ago that featured the work of this painter/sculptor who re-interpreted works from the classical western canon using fat people. I don't remember this guy's name right now, but he's famous or infamous or something. Most critics don't like him apparently, but there was one critic or curator or collector or something who was defending his work, saying that it was in the tradition of Picasso because he created a world inside his head to express to the outside world what he wanted to say. She said that's what modern art is all about. So post-modern art pushes that envelope a little, I guess, and decries the values of any kinds of underlying rational systems for expression. Maybe that's what it does. Nobody knows probably. In any case, a lot of artists do that now. I think maybe Blom's one of them. I think that's how he got into rock. Or Post-Rock rather.

What you have in Gaga Blung music is thick, electronic timbres; drones; minimalist basslines; etc. The songs have a very loose and improvised feel to them. I tried to describe music like this to a man I knew in college. He listened indulgently until I had finished. "Oh, Wes, that's not music," he said, "that's performance art." Could be. In any case, it doesn't seem like there are too many boundaries between music and art on today's scenes. Prior to the 90s, the bulk of rock bands outside the rock mainstream were probably a lot more interested in bringing the world they'd created in their head to the world outside their head. Most of them still are, I guess. But bands like Tortoise and Gastr Del Sol and Gaga Blung don't necessarily perform or compose their music in the spirit of expression. They compose or perform in the spirit of curiosity. There's lots of genre-bending and fusions of disparate music in post-rock. It's a music of concepts. Know what that means? Means people are gonna stop buying it. If Gaga Blung ever breaks over here (right now you can only hear them by ordering their CDs from their web site, http://gagablung.elit.net, or downloading them from .mp3.com) Blom and Daniel Elander (his partner in Blung) will be the new Jackson Pollock. People will hate them. Soon people will cringe when you tell them you're a rock star the same way they cringe now when you tell them you're an artist. Rockers will be fucked in much the same way artists are fucked. Bloom, should he become a star, would be double-fucked. "My name is ____ and I'm a rock star". What a loaded statement.

-- Wes Freeman

Erika Rothenberg at Zolla / Lieberman

This show was good, and believe it or not, I saw it at Zolla / Lieberman. Erika Rothenberg's recent work is a sarcastic view at hope. Dad's ashes is a ceramic urn shaped like a head, hairline and ears included. I don't know if the ashes are inside of it, but an inscription with a plea by Rothenberg asks for someone rich to buy the urn, take it home and give her deceased dad the good life he always wanted. Dad's ashes is hopeful and funny yet disgusting at the same time. In My little clone a little girl with weird eyes accompanies Rothenberg everywhere. Clone is an eerie photomontage reminiscent of Woody Allen's Zelig. In Clone Rothenberg questions the values death and dignity without the drama and cliched poetry that usually comes with the territory and that is a good thing.

-- PedroVelez

Summer sucks

Nothing much happened in Chicago this summer and that is a shame because summer in Chicago only lasts a good four days if we are lucky. At least for me, a young man from the Caribbean, summer means 90 degrees under a palm tree, sweating and drinking some good Rum and digging the fried goods right before returning home in the wake of a devilish traffic jam. But this will never happen in Chicago because the lake Michigan is not salty or endless.

There are no sweet hot breezes slapping me in the face or no suicidal mosquitoes or any of the other disturbances associated with a humid, tropical weather. So to think that this summer I decided to stay and swallow some bad art instead of traveling to the islands just makes me feel angry and sad. For starters Whippersnapper at Vedanta Gallery simply sucked. Deb Lacosta's low budget and ugly looking performance / video, in which she mentions art stars names and then curses some of them was a terrible insight to nothing in particular. Who cares about art stars anymore? Or, why should we?

The only good thing in Whippersnapper was Adam Scott's drip painting of a building being swallowed by some kind of blob shaped like a whirlpool. Scott makes some good drip paintings and spillage is well under control. Kind of like a Laura Owens on acid. But Scott alone wasn't able to pull Vedanta from a hole that keeps getting deeper and deeper. To blame this young talent show for all of Vedanta's missteps wouldn't be fair.

It is time for Vedanta to start shaping up and find a voice, it's been a couple of good years of class B derivative artists with flash but no substance. Meanwhile across the street form Vedanta Donald Young crippled Jeremy Boyle's solo outing or at least what was expected to be a solo show. From Dogmatic to Donald Young Gallery, the jump hasn't been helpful for Jeremy Boyle. The work seemed dry, forced, cold and the sound was minimized in effect by the huge group collective that occupied the best spaces in the gallery. Last year's show at Dogmatic seemed the offering of a mid level genius working within the site's architectural oddities, but at Young, were cleanliness and perfection is only close to godliness, Boyle's work actually fits the tag, that Donald Young wants to promote it like, up and coming teenage art at best. What a shame!

And how about the Chicago crowd missing once again on one of the best shows ever to hit the windy city. Rob Kelly and Zena Sakowski's Biggest Fags Ever in the neighborhood of Bridgeport. How could you, Chicago, miss out on something so amazing, exaggerated, colorful, loud. How could you miss the cardboard tanks and the powered wheelchair death machine. How about the makeshift boardwalk that lets you view the studio / home / warehouse from a high altitude. How did you dare miss the endless rows of found material / sculptures and the paintings of glossy porn, Marlboro man, palm trees and sexual innuendoes. And how about the basement with open bar and a collection of found debris and a cast of characters of Lyncheaninan proportions. How about the funky living room and the circus like atmosphere and the metal music pounding from Rob's stereo. And there was even more than what I can even dare mention here because you miss it and you should be ashamed to have missed what Paul Macarthy, or James Rhoades can only hope to achieve in a commercialized setting or bullshitbiennial!

-- PedroVelez

Responding to Pedro

Yes, Whippersnapper was a weak group show, but I think you missed out on the most exciting work included. Kori Newkirk's photographs were gorgeous and they spoke to the displacement of culture in a way that crept into you long after seeing them. We've seen Adam Scott's paintings around town to the point of excess, are you so enamored that you can't see past them?

-- Shane Selzer

Ben Gill has a problem

The mid fall show at the Monique Meloche Gallery features Laura Mosequra, who seems to have made the same twenty paintings for the last ten years. The show is the usual group of floating social situations. This time she replaces out her predictable flat background space, poorly lifted from Alex Katz, with an equally predictable geometric landscape, poorly lifted from the desktop image that came with her computer. Monique Meloche is the new, young, contemporary gallery in town. This is the smart, young gallery owner that will take chances for the sake of good art. This is the gallery that will raise the profiles of underrepresented, young, Chicago artists. This is the work that was shown at the MCA as part of a series of the "best and the brightest" of young Chicago artists. This is not enough for me to be satisfied.

Every week, I become more at home at a Donald Young opening or Suitable show. Every show, I know more of the faces in the room. Every month, I get more comfortable with making excuses for the ineffective paintings and the overly sentimental pop culture installations I see around town. I accept videos about suburbia, and the hackneyed pencil drawings on the wall, because the alternative to being an advocate for this work seems so much worse. To become the cranky art bigot, attacking the trendy, money-driven "system" or complaining that contemporary art has abandoned the time tested tenets of "good" art. Many make the criticisms about the influence of money, institutions, and the worship of the trendy; but they always seem to miss the point. It's not the "system" that allows for this work. It's people like me. We fall into a not-so-blind complicity with bad art and bad shows in our shared desire for something new and good. Holding on to the Catch 22 of seeking out good new work: that the criteria for that work is just that, new. I keep the frustration under my breath because it makes for a nice experience. A pleasant party. And hey, it leaves the door open for something good, right?

I want a nice party. I long for smart friends. I'll love to be part of something. And... oh, yeah, I want challenging work too. Camiel Van Winkel phrased it well in her glib, 99', Parkett piece about Jorge Pardo "My favorite contemporary art is very much like design furniture: smooth and luxurious, softcore and soothing, clever but not snobbish, eloquent but not loud. I love art if it's a comfortable and well-designed chair." I love Chicago art if it's comfortable, well-designed video of cardboard robots fighting. It's nicer to have a beer than to talk about the work, not because we don't care about content, or because we're too timid to hurt people's feelings. It's because there just is not enough. Not enough to start tearing down our friends. Not enough to be unsatisfied with the new Law Office event or a show about the color yellow at Joymore. Not enough from Miami at NFA or "sexy" art at Bodybuilder, Vedanta and Julia Friedman. Not enough to criticize Laura Mosquera or Monique. There is not enough to be critical. There is not enough to worry whether the work is actually good. And besides they're all real nice people.

-- Ben Gill

Small Print: Assembled and distributed as a service to you by a collection of artist / critic / curators including: BenGill, Pedro Velez, Julia Marsh, Shane Selzer, Marc Fischer, Keri Butler, Wes Freeman.

URL of this page: http://spaces.org/archive/fga/fga9.htm