Step by Step

April 13th, 2014

After a week of working on my taxes and reviewing receipts, invoices, and statements, I found myself revisiting my last year of activities.  Dinner with a curator friend.  Buying a catalogue after a museum visit.  Donating to an alumni fund.  What did I gain from these exchanges?  Was I better off?  With these questions in mind, it was fitting for me to finally see Gerard & Kelly’s Timelining at The Kitchen, curated by Tim Griffin.  Timelining looks like experimental couples therapy, but it feels like the afterlife.

For Timelining, intimately related pairs of performers circumnavigate the gallery at The Kitchen while reciting items from personal timelines. These pairs include couples, ex-lovers, roommates, family members; these timelines include memories, milestones, and other life events, all the way back to being born. “We think of this relationship as a ‘ready-made,’” says Ryan Kelly.

Astride through circle after circle around the psychosocially loaded space, the performers take turns unspooling chains of memories in reverse chronological order, chains linked by the spatially specific connective, “in front of.” For example, “Got malaria…in front of…went to Ghana.”

Gerard & Kelly, "Timelining" (2014). Performance view, The Kitchen, New York, NY. Pictured: Ted Henigson and Todd McQuade. Courtesy of the artist and Kate Werble Gallery.

Intermittently, one performer will stop while the other paces ahead. Or one pivots from the shared path and and orbits in the opposite direction, like the sun departing its ocean reflection, then reconnecting hours later. Occasionally, the performers rupture their text-based recitations and break into movement. Most of this movement seems literal and mimetic, and accompanied by narration: swimming motions, upward stretches, or twisting contortions. All of these stops, pivots, and movements are parts of a disciplined choreography made up of devices and maneuvers – rules – with names like “loop,” “link,” “trigger,” and “movement-memory-snapshot.”

Although these rule-based performances – “scores” – are based on scripts and crafted from rehearsals, they will appear to most viewers spontaneous and dynamic. That’s because the performers have a lot to juggle. In addition to the architecture of the performance, described above, each performer must tune into cues from his or her partner. Also, the performers respond to audience members arriving and leaving.  During my first visit, I was referred to as “black sneakers,” a friend as “stripes,” due to his striped sweater.

Gerard and Kelly, "Timelining" (2014). Performance view, The Kitchen, New York. (Image: Ian Douglas. Pictured: R.B. Schlather and Adam Weinert.)

Within one or two revolutions around the gallery, the memories can span from uncompromising adulthood to tender childhood. For example, one performer reached from adult decisions like “Got sober” and “Got into BDSM” to childhood caprice, such as, “My sister counting my toes.” Public events (“Obama was elected” or “Marine Le Pen won the primary” commingle with private encounters, often existential: sex, relocation, death, first times and last times. And because these memories resurface as the performers cycle through their timelines, their description varies each time (ergo, “A picture of my sister counting my toes”). They also stack up into interesting compounds. Take this sequence: “I realized that I do not have wealth… in front of… “I considered nursing school”…in front of… “I had a bulging disc.” But quotidian bits arise, especially at the beginning of each score: “I forgot to email someone” and “The C train was running express.”

The Kitchen’s gallery is painted in white cube drag, but it’s not a neutral tabula rasa. A bold black line stretches more than three quarters into the space, like a road surface marking. In one corner, colored lights shine through holes in the wall. On the walls, drafted lines connect nail holes to each other. These all are vestiges of the previous show. The space itself has a timeline. Moreover, copper panels in the gallery and entrance bear braille text: snippets from the transcript of Kelly and Gerard’s own timelines. Why braille? Perhaps because braille uniquely combines bodily movement and text, just like the Timelining performance itself. Or because it has an irresistible tactile appeal, as evidenced by the oily fingerprints that remain on the copper surfaces.

Timelining reveals ways an individual really is buffeted through life by external forces, or piloted (or hijacked) by seeds planted early in life. And you get to see the consequences laid out bare, revisited numerous times during each score. Yet, I also felt an uncanny sense of purgatory. There’s something abeyant about these memories and events when you hear them recounted in this particular setting. First, the only climax is the present, and only the present is the climax. Second, the memories and events are neutrally indexed without evaluation, without signifying the weight of goodness or badness through drama or expressive fire. (Though surely, a viewer projects his or her own.) Do these Timeline markers amount to a sum? A judgment? Or do they merely populate the otherwise null period between “Now” and “I was born”? What if St. Peter, at the Pearly Gates, read a dutiful index of events instead of a dramatic legacy of pluses and minuses?

Brennan Gerard says, “One of the other things that happens with memory is that when someone remembers and it’s so specific that when you hear it or read it, it feels like you had it too. That’s the weird thing about it. It’s totally subjective, but somehow impersonal—like it doesn’t belong to that person. In fact, it’s communal.” He’s referring to the role of memory in intersubjectivity – the ways identities build other identities. Or as Kelly says, “We are formed by being undone by one another.” -Indeed, the most trodden surfaces of Timelining, intentional or not, seem to be major unifying events that tower over the collective memories of performers and audience: Reagan, AIDS, Gulf War, Bush, 9/11, Iraq, Obama. What will Timelining look like ten years from Now?

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Lobby Art

March 24th, 2014

Auction houses have hired well-connected lobbyists to prevent artists from receiving royalties when their work sells at auction, according to the New York Times.

Of course, artists deserve royalties when their work sells.  Art objects are not commodities, in the conventional sense.

Hilary Harkness, "Mother Lode," 2006 - (depicts a Christies auction of Rockettes and their gestation)

 

Then again: “The auction houses worry that the proposed royalty bill would encourage more sellers to abandon public auctions for private deals.” -This seems to be a valid concern, because private deals in the secondary market can be notoriously secretive.  Art professionals deserve a public record of secondary market sales, for which auction records suffice.  Moreover, auctions are better for the public because major sales usually include a public or semi-public preview of the art for sale, before it disappears into private hands.  And ultimately, if auction houses can bring a seller a better profit, which is likely, then sellers will stick to the auction houses.

But then: “‘The Internet Association does not support the American Royalties Too Act,’ said the group’s president and chief executive, Michael Beckerman, arguing it will constrict the free market.” -Actually, there is no such thing as a free market. That is just a myth that greedy people invoke when they don’t want to play by rules.  In fact, the auction houses already defy this so-called free market.  Here is an example: “Christie’s and Sotheby’s have had trouble widening their profit margins in recent years, partly because of incentives they’ve given to big-ticket sellers to win their business.”

The most crass argument: “Sotheby’s and Christie’s have also argued that royalties would benefit only the wealthiest artists and estates, because they are the ones most frequently sold in the secondary market.” -But royalties would allow these wealthy artists to invest in studio assistants, archivists, production specialists, web designers, and more.

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Action Figures

March 19th, 2014

Dan McCarthy’s  fifth solo show at Anton Kern Gallery features deceptively brushy new paintings and drawings, and more than thirty Facepots – McCarthy’s ceramic vessels pegged with facial features.

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

These images look simple and iconic, yet highly expressive.  The titles derive from rock album titles, while McCarthy’s subject matter seems to focus on a universalized summer of love, where individuals dance and revel, play guitar, skate, and commingle with birds – most of this while naked.  Gender is evident through bare breasts and phallic guitars, but it feels like a loose suggestion. Everyone in the paintings seems gleeful, perhaps aglow with sexual liberation.  That’s less true in the drawings, where the aforementioned birds seem too close for comfort.

Through an innovative process, McCarthy transfers these images, like monoprints, from a painted to canvas to another one, which is slathered with layers of marbleized gesso.  His figures are luminous with Easter-egg hues that could convey emotional states, colored festival lighting, or the magic hour around sunset.  Either way, the colors transplant their bearers to a higher order, where origin and language lose priority to immediacy and joie de vivre.

Dan McCarthy, "Peach Tree," 2013 (l) and "Partridge Family," 2013 (r) (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

That is not to say that they are beautiful by conventional standards of appearance.  McCarthy does not tantalize us with titillating curves, attenuated midriffs, and defined muscles, which we might anticipate when pondering a Rite of Spring or utopian summer festival.  Then again, ecstatic liberty and play are more beautiful features than chiseled abs, aren’t they?

But what utopia is not engineered?  The chromatic, dancing figures remind me of the Crakers, the genetically engineered post-humans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  Here is how Crakers mate:

“There’ll be the standard quintuplet, four men and the woman in heat.  Her condition will be obvious to all from the bright-blue colour of her buttocks and abdomen – a trick of variable pigmentation filched from the baboons with a contribution from the expandable chromosphores of the octopus. … Courtship begins at the first whiff, the first faint blush of azure, with the males presenting flowers to the females – just as male penguins present round stones, said Crake, or as the male silverfish presents a sperm packet.  At the same time they indulge in musical outbursts, like songbirds. Their penises turn bright blue to match the blue abdomens of the females, and they do a sort of blue-dick dance number, erect members waving to and fro in unison, in time to the foot movements and the singing: a feature suggested to Crake by the sexual semaphoring of crabs. From amongst the floral tributes the female chooses four flowers, and the sexual ardour of the unsuccessful candidates dissipates immediately, with no hard feelings left.  Then, when the blue of her abdomen has reached its deepest shade, the female and her quartet find a secluded spot and go at it until the woman becomes pregnant and her blue colouring fades.  And that is that.”  

Like the gift round stones above, the glossy Facepots supplement the action.  They smile mutely; they are Mr.-Potato-Head caryatids, or graven sock-puppet ancestral busts.  The bright colors and bite-size scale might remind a viewer of candy, peppers, and fruit while studying the eyes, noses, and mouths of these ceramic faces.

"Facepots" by Dan McCarthy (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

 The Facepots series also serves as a bridge to McCarthy’s drawings in the back (maybe an Anton Kern Gallery tradition).  Here, the birds seem ready, or at least capable, to menace the splotchy faces, pecking at the eyes and mouths.  One blue bird either kisses or pecks at the cheek of a pompadoured face with a Joker smile.  Similarly ambiguous rictus-to-rictus contact occurs between a crying face and a blue hummingbird.  Finally, a canary seems to scale the disheveled face of a redhead with blue tongue sticking out, as if that head is turned on its side.  Who trusts who more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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