Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Electric Boogaloo

It's official, there are no new ideas. But this was a good one the first time around, so...


Single Fare 2: Please Swipe Again

Opening Reception: Thursday, March 17th, from 6 to 9 pm
Exhibition: Friday, March 18 through Saturday, March 26, 2011

Gallery Hours: Noon to 6pm (Closed Monday & Tuesday)

In May 2010, Artists Jean-Pierre Roy and Michael Kagan hosted an unusual exhibition in their Brooklyn studio. Open to all artists who wanted to participate, “Single Fare” placed one constraint on the creative process: all work had to be submitted on a used MetroCard. Inspired by the notion that the city’s subways and buses allow for a kind of creative interchange unmatched in human history, “Single Fare” sought to create a unique art event where art and artists could come together to form a monumental event made from a tiny, innocuous piece of plastic: The MetroCard! The resulting exhibition featured over 700 works of art – from artists as far away as New Zealand and as close as the studio next door.

Following the tremendous success of last year’s “Single Fare,” Roy and Kagan are pleased to team up with Sloan Fine Art on the Lower East Side for “Single Fare 2: Please Swipe Again.” The themes of last year’s show ran the gamut from moments of High Abstraction to Delicate Portraiture. Three-dimensional works, documentary photography and even a video installation helped to create one of the most cohesively diverse shows in recent memory while playfully challenging artists to show what they can do with seven square inches.

While serving as a democratizing vehicle for artists of all ages and disciplines, the Single Fare exhibition also served as a fantastic platform to introduce beginning collectors to an amazing array of work while inviting the committed collector to connect to artists that might normally fall under their radar. Sloan Fine Art represents an exciting step forward for the Single Fare experience and while the exhibition will remain true to its roots, it will benefit from additional exhibition days and regular gallery hours. Please swipe again, and join us as we take a ride into the city!

Sloan Fine Art is located at 128 Rivington Street (corner of Norfolk) on the Lower East Side of New York City.
Detailed submission instructions can be found at For press inquiries, please contact Sloan Fine Art at

I initially said no when M. Roy asked me if I wanted him to send me some cards. I've been trying to focus on writing, and a week ago I had no motivation or desire to go back into the But last night I decided that it might be a little fun. I took a look at plane tickets yesterday. I don't know if I can rationalize the expense, but I am looking. I still regret not being able to go up last year.

Assuming the cards are ever sent and they ever arrive, I might write a bit more on this later. I know, you can't wait!

Over and Out

[Originally Published on January 7, 2011]

Before this week, it had been a while (maybe two years) since I had been forced to organize my thoughts and actually talk about art in a casual but remotely intelligent way. One of the things I did to try and prepare was flip through and reread passages from The Journal of Eugene Delacroix at random. For a lot of the people I know, it's sort of a required text. I picked it up again last night and found the following entry. 28 July 1854:

I have been thinking of Voltaire's novels, of the tragedies of Racine and of thousands upon thousands of other masterpieces. Can we believe that such things are done merely so that in every generation men may ask whether there is anything fresh to divert them in the way of literature? Is not this incredible output of masterpieces, produced for the human herd by the greatest minds and most sublime geniuses, enough to terrify the more sensitive portion of our unhappy race? Will the insatiable search after novelty never give anyone the idea of seeing whether the old masterpieces are not newer and fresher than the rhapsodies that pander to our idleness, and which we prefer to the masterpieces? Were these miracles of imagination and wit, of reason, gaiety, or pathos, produced by geniuses at a cost of such immense labour and sleepless nights, and rewarded, so rarely alas, by meagre praise when they first appeared - were these great works, I say, created only to lapse, after a brief appearance and a few eulogies, in the dust of libraries and the unproductive, almost dishonoring esteem of so-called savants and antiquaries? Shall college pedants tug at our sleeves and remind us that Racine is at least simple, the La Fontaine saw as much in nature as Lamartine, and that Lesage portrayed men as they really are? Are the leaders of our present civilization, these ordinary schoolmasters, who have been raised to be ministers or shepherds of the people because they once had a quarter of an hour of inspiration according to present-day standards, the men who are to make a new literature? New indeed! A fine sort of novelty!

I think it's a strange sort of comedy that I should find this entry at the end of the week, and I think it works as a fine bookend to the Cloisters piece from Monday.

Delacroix would have been 56 when he wrote that. He'd be dead inside of ten years, and most the major work for which he's celebrated would have been 20 to 30 years old by then. Already collecting dust. And while there's an undeniably embittered tone to this, I choose to find some hope.

It was 1854. As the Great Master of French Romanticism was bemoaning the sorry state of literature and of art, Gustave Courbet was toiling away at The Artist's Studio. Frederic Church had just returned from his first trip to South America. Dickens was writing Hard Times. In 1863, the year of Delacroix's death, the Paris Salon rejected a painting called Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. Its maker found another venue to display it instead. And so it went. Delacroix died, but to no surprise, art and the world moved on. Year after year great work would continue to be made by great artists, and every year, some curmudgeon stepped up to echo Delacroix's condemnation of the fashions of the moment. I hope that I did more than to simply take up that old mantle this week. I hope that I conveyed something more than that.

Before I close, I want to thank the editorial staff at The Atlantic who did their best to make my voice as palatable for as many readers as possible, it's no easy task and there's no reason it should be a thankless one. Also, thank you to Sara and Jamelle, it's been a pleasure sharing the stage with the both of you. To the Battalion, because that's the way I choose to remember you, while I would like to believe that nobody really has to force themselves to read anything I've written, I know better. I've truly cherished every comment. And, if it's okay, I choose to read your silence as awe. I will soon rejoin the ranks.

And to TNC, thanks again. I hope it was all you hoped it would be. I had a good time, anyway.

And Another Thing

[Originally Posted on January 7, 2011]

When TNC first approached me about doing this, I knew I was going to say yes, but I really had no idea how the week would go. All things considered, I'm really pleased. I knew from the start that mine was not going to be the most accessible topic for all readers, but I tried my best to make things interesting and to keep the topics related but diverse. My hope going in was that my contribution would help to foster some good conversation down below, and I was very pleased when it did. I wanted to be more responsive to comments, but the week has been more hectic than I had anticipated, and I regret that my contribution to expanding the discussion has been borderline nonexistent. Now that we're at the end of the week, I want to try to follow up on at least a couple of things that some of you had said.From the
Cloisters post on Monday, muckelba had the following to say:

Since I'm reading the post as distinguishing between "art that's made for the work itself" and "art that's made in order to garner attention/fame," I'm curious whether or not we might want to complicate that distinction. That is, might we be able to read the "attention/fame" as simply a different (and perhaps more expansive) style of art. Not just a social, self-centered add-on to the work itself, but a shift of focus onto the cultivation of self, such that "the work" is as much about creating a persona for the "artist" as it is about the resulting "object." Hence, the fact that...say Warhol's paintings leave one "cold" might be because Warhol's paintings were merely part of the process of artistically creating something larger: a persona or character of "the artist."

While I talk about celebrity as a motivating force, I didn't intend for that to be the primary distinguishing factor between the groups I was discussing. My real point, or what I intended to be my real point, had more to do with celebrity being less of a motivator and more of a consolation prize. What I think most artists of ambition still want is to make something like an indelible mark, but we've come of age during a time when everything is either disposable or in the process of being made obsolete. Warhol, and all of the pop-philosophy for which he's credited, is a product of that and of the conceptual lineage of Marcel Duchamp, but I'm not sure to what degree artists are still following his example or even thinking about it. Although denying the lingering effect would be silly. Still, I'm more persuaded by the idea that we're just a few generations deeper into the crisis of our own stifling obsolescence, and that, starved for some recognition of self worth, we've lost sight of the greatness of art's potential or our ability to tap into it, determining instead, that it's best to consider ourselves lucky to grab from the lowest of the hanging fruit.
In the
second Moving Pictures post, the one in which I talked about Frederic Church's Heart of the Andes, a number of people drew a parallel I had, perhaps to the post's detriment, intentionally omitted. abk1985:

On a contemporary level, people who found the canvas vertiginous and sublime are probably the same who felt that way about Avatar.

A point repeated by cynic:

...almost all the same tropes were recycled in the public reception of Avatar—a record-setting, expectation-defying blockbuster in its own right, and the lineal heir to Church's Heart of the Andes.

It will probably come as no surprise that I had considered this comparison already. Not only does the presentation—a darkened room with an audience of viewers sat, entranced by the glowing light reflecting off of a big rectangle some distance away—seem to directly presage modern cinema 50 or 60 years ahead of time, there are distinct similarities in the language used to describe the effects purportedly caused by the Church and those attributed to 3-D films like Avatar. I had actually written a good amount on the subject for that post. Indeed, it was a major factor in the original conceptualization of the week and the choice to follow that piece with the bit on artists in film from yesterday, but for a number of reasons, I decided to cut it and replace it with the Lehrer/Stravinsky bit.

It's not that I don't believe it's an interesting discussion to have, but the similarities seem almost misleading to me, and I decided that I'm just not prepared to draw that conclusion, even when it seems so obvious on its face. Despite the similarities, I'm just not convinced the same words are being used to describe the same physiological response. More than that, I sort of suspect that they aren't. But when I attempted an explanation as to why, it turned into a convoluted tangent that, in the end, still wasn't very convincing. But my inability to frame a convincing argument didn't lead me to the conclusion that I was wrong. I freely admit that I may be wrong, but I feel as though I'm right about this, that we're talking about two distinctly different types of response. I'm just not sure I can persuade anybody else to feel that way, so I dropped that bit and went with the Lehrer which, ironically, I suspect has more in common Avatar than either have with Heart of the Andes.

Maybe it was a mistake on my part, but I was also wary of spending too much time and effort trying to draw an ultimately unconvincing distinction between the effect caused by a work of art and that caused by a new film technology. That's the sort of thing that leads people to infer that I don't respect film as art, which just isn't the case at all. But rather than leave that hanging out there, or preface anything with an obligatory, "I really like film, but..." I decided the post would be better served by a subtle tipping of the hat to the theatricality of the presentation of the Church and quickly moving on. Whether or not it was a good idea, I wanted to give some insight as to the though process that led me there.

Based on a True Story

[Originally Published on January 6, 2011]

I recently found the documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child on Netflix. It isn't great, but a good bit of it is pretty interesting. I particularly like the footage that was taken from an interview Tamra Davis, the film's director and a former friend of the artist, had shot with JMB a couple of years before his death. But Davis, like most of the talking heads and old acquaintances she interviewed for the piece, seems too close to its subject to create an honest portrait. Many of them, either for personal or professional reasons, seem too invested in the legend, too anxious to protect the idea of this angelic genius that, at times it feels as though they're not talking about a real person at all. Like he was less of a man and more of a china doll.

But the interview with
JMB, which Davis uses as the backdrop of the piece, is one of the more intimate portraits of the artist that I've ever seen. He's unguarded, and reveals himself to be a funny and thoughtful, but ultimately insecure...kid. He was 25 when it was shot (he died at 27), but he'd already been rich and famous for four or five years; his career was, for the most part, behind him. The interview really makes for a great foundation on which, I think, a much better film could have been made, but the final product leaves me feeling as though the whole thing is just another in a long line of exploitations of him. Maybe it would have made a difference for me had the film not been so overt in trying to hammer it home for the viewer that he was such an important historical figure. Even in death, it's like they can't just let this guy be the stupid (and yeah, pretty smart) kid that he was.

Anyway, I did like the bits with
Julian Schnabel who shows up now and again. That arrogant prick has a habit of making me like him when he's doing just about anything but painting, and it was no different here. Even if they didn't bring it up in the documentary (and they do) it would be nearly impossible to watch the The Radiant Child without thinking of Schnabel's 1996 biopic, which did the double-duty of not only revealing Julian Schnabel as pretty great filmmaker but also introducing the world to Jeffery Wright, who's just pretty great. The pretension of that film is palpable, but I still like it as much as any artist biopic I've ever seen. But I guess that's not saying a lot. Still, it's worth an embed.

In The Radiant Child, Schnabel, who knew JMB but was several years older and more established as an artist, explains the motivation behind his film as an attempt to tell the kid who always seemed so interested in his (Schnabel's) opinion that he truly respected him. I guess that's acceptable. It's kind of sweet in a condescending sort of way. (Oh, Julian! You loveable asshole!) Anyway, at least it's not all about hero worship. It helps that the film is pretty good. I wonder if Milos Forman had a good excuse for Goya's Ghosts. Not good enough, I'm sure.

I understand the impulse behind making these movies, but it so rarely works out for the best, even if it seems, at first, as though it should. Paintings may be visually interesting, but the act of making them, generally, is not, so the dilemma becomes how to force drama into a kind of boring existence. Generally, that's exactly how it feels: forced.One of the more peculiar artist films I've ever seen, and one of the better ones, decided to go in the opposite direction. It is the 1992 Spanish film: Victor Erice's
El Sol del Membrillo. While the title literally translates to "The Sun of the Quince Tree," when the film was released in the US it was called Dream of Light.

The film follows the remarkable Antonio Lopez Garcia as he takes on what becomes the Sisyphean task of trying to paint a quince tree in his back garden before the fruit begins to spoil. It contains all of the major trappings of a documentary, but as the American title may allude, as is the case in dreams, the happenings in this film may not be entirely as they seem. Along with Erice, Lopez is given a writing credit, and while the film never quite tips its hand, you soon become aware that, whatever the film is, it definitely isn't a documentary.

It can be a difficult film to watch and, even more so, to describe in an interesting way. There's an awful lot of screen time devoted to the artist's methodical process, full of meticulous (to the point of being idiosyncratic) measurements and cryptic markings, and as you become more conscious of the fact that what you're watching isn't a straightforward documentary, you may begin to resent the film, or the painter, for what you could infer as an incomprehensible self-indulgence. I remember that being my first response. I remember walking away from the film feeling deeply frustrated, but the film stayed with me long after those feelings had faded.

I don't know if I can easily nail down why the film stays with me still. I think it has something to do with the devotion I talked about on Monday. Without going too deeply into the plot, when the film begins, you get the sense that it may be little more than an extended metaphor on the fruits of labor, but somewhere along the way, the dream shifts, and the film turns almost tragic--well, as tragic as film about a guy painting a tree can be. While it's unclear how much, if any, of what the film documents is real, the Antonio Lopez we're presented with by the end of the film is almost a classic antihero.

After a while you begin to realize that he's set himself up for failure, and a pointless failure at that, one that could be averted if he weren't so stubborn. But he continues to plod along uncompromisingly, and near the final act of the film, you feel as though you're Sancho Panza and that you've spent the last hour watching Don Quixote joust with the windmills. You admire him, but at the same time you just want him to stop. It's more or less how I think my wife feels if she ever has the stomach to watch me work. I think of that film and I think of her. And I think of me, and I realize that I'm an idiot. I don't know how comfortable I feel recommending the film.

[I couldn't embed a clip with subtitles. YouTube has the whole thing available and split into ten minute sections: The first of which is
here. I think it's worth a shot; if you find that it grabs you, just click to the next and the next and the next. The Radiant Child is available to stream on Netflix, so it may also be only a couple of clicks away.]