Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Report from the Phantom Zone: Telling Jokes

Ever try to explain a joke to someone?

Confucius say he who makes love in grass, gets piece on earth.
Confucius say war does not determine who's right, war determines who's left.
Confucius say it take many nails to build crib but one screw to fill it.

These jokes are based on double-meanings of words. Variations included puns, etc.

Problems with “Confucius say” jokes:
1) They are horribly racist.
2) They assume Confucius lacked the ability use good grammar.
3) Confucius never said any of them.

A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: "That's the ugliest baby that I've ever seen. Ugh!" The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: "The driver just insulted me!" The man says: "You go right up there and tell him off – go ahead, I'll hold your monkey for you."

The joke begins with a “set-up line” alerting the audience that there will be a short story and then an unexpected climax. Variations on this include “A man walks into a bar …” etc.

There once was a Polgar named Laszlo.
A long beard he decided to grow.
It grew 8 feet long,
Because he told Paul Truong,
He'd shave when the sisters stopped raising their ELO.

This is a chess limerick. It requires significant understanding of the world of professional chess where Laszlo Polgar, a famous chess teacher, is also the father of the “Polgar Sisters”, two sisters who raised their ELO chess ranking to the level of Grand Master by the time they were 15 years old.

The problem with explaining jokes to people is that anyone who hears the explanation may be able to intellectually understand the joke, but the joke will probably not have the correct effect. This is a fact that most people understand and thus most people do not try to explain jokes.

Most artists shy away from giving explanations of their art for the same reason that people instinctively do not explain jokes. What’s the point of explaining a piece of art to someone? Even if the listener intellectually understands the piece after the explanation, the point of the piece is usually lost.

The contemporary art world is obsessed with the production dialog. Subsequently, work that easily allows for an explanation is much more likely to be shown because people are expecting an explanation. Showing work that becomes diluted when explained has become virtually impossible. The art that people are most like to write about and discuss is work that exists primarily as an intellectual exercise. Artwork that can’t be explained (in the same way that a joke can’t be explained) ends up not being written about or by definition, ruined by the explanation.

Take, for example, art star Ryan McGinley whose latest exhibition at Team Galley has been extensively lauded. Team Gallery’s press release says that McGinley is a “serious artist with a rare gift for creating enduring color photographs — photographs that show us the best of youth.” The best of youth? Apparently, unless you are thin and white, you are ranked lower than “the best of youth”. (I hope that no one interprets McGinley’s images as somehow representing a fantasy of youth or of by-gone youth. If so, he has constructed a race exclusive fantasy that I want nothing to do with.)

Karen Rosenberg wrote in the New York Times that McGinley’s “photographs convey the idea, rather than the experience, of spontaneity” and that the only minor problem with the images is that few of them are too large. I guess that’s true, in the same way that ads for Abercrombie and Fitch convey the idea, rather than experience of spontaneity. But, why would I go to a gallery to see McGinley’s images when I can just go to the mall?

Ryan McGinley continues to get shown because his images let people look at naked hot young people and then, most importantly, his photos allow the viewer to explain away what they are doing as looking at the beauty of youth, or fantasy of youth, etc. His work also goes beyond just allowing for an explanation, it exists so that photographs of naked hot young people can be explained as art. However, as soon as someone starts explaining that his photos may be problematic because they re-enforce a hierarchy of beauty that defines anyone who does not look like him as not “the best of youth”; all of a sudden the work is not so beautiful, but a rather ugly view of youth.

McGinley’s latest work exists for explanation, but as soon as anyone starts really explaining the work beyond the superficial, it falls apart. Of course, like I said, it’s usually not the best idea to try to explain a joke.

*Note both Ryan McGinley and Abercrombie and Fitch are looking for models:
Here for Ryan and here for A+F if you are hot and want to be in photos.

Ryan McGinley
From Team Gallery’s website

Abercrombie and Fitch ad.

Ryan McGinley’s exhibition at Team Gallery
From Team Gallery’s website

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Shinique Smith @ Saltworks in Atlanta

Shinique Smith @ Saltworks in Atlanta
iPod Version

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Eli Klein Fine Art

A Report from the Phantom Zone: A dialog about "Jasper Johns: Gray"

“Did you know that modern art has actually been used to torture prisoners?”
Said the guy standing next to me at the Jasper Johns' exhibit.

“Whatever, if you don’t like the painting, just don’t look at it …”
I replied.

“No, really. Just Google “modern art is torture” and you’ll see. During the Spanish Civil War, the republicans used modern art as a basis to build torture cells. The rooms were designed so that the prisoners could not sit or lay down. They had to stand at attention and stare at a wall that either had modern art designs like Kandinsky or an endless loop of the eyeball-slicing scene from Luis Buñuel's 1929 film ''Un Chien Andalou. Modern art is torture, and that's why I like it …''

“Why would I want to look at something that is literally torture?”

“Well that’s what modern art is. When viewing traditional artwork, the viewer is supposed to judge the art according to how much direct pleasure the aesthetics cause. For modern art, the work is supposed to cause pain. So much pain, in fact, that the work becomes sublime. It causes pleasure/pain. Modern art succeeds at causing pleasure precisely at its point of failure. Lots of people write about this stuff; Plato, Kant, Danto … look it up.”

“So what do you think of Jasper Johns?"

“Well, the problem with Johns is that the work no longer causes pain because people’s tastes have changed. Now, the work is just considered beautiful, in a traditional sense. That’s why it’s being shown at the Met. Just listen to how people are talking about the exhibit:”

“Gray in all its shades resists contextualization and emotion. It's an honest color …”- Sara Rose for

"'Gray' is a powerful show because it allows you to see just how visceral, voluptuous, and vulnerable (Johns) has been all along.”- Jerry Saltz for New York Magazine

“But by bringing together so many dark-toned works, this exhibition allows us to see something that I, for one, had not quite realized about Johns's early paintings—that words like "melancholy" and "indifference" don't begin to describe their utter emotional desolation.”- Richard Dorment for the New York Review of Books

Compare Jerry Saltz talking about the work for New York Magazine

James Kalm’s unauthorized video

“No one talks about Jasper Johns' work as "being hard to look at" or difficult in any way. His work has become easy to digest. Most reviewers have discussed this Jasper Johns exhibit in terms of the emotions or intellectual dialog about paint that his work evokes.

Also, no critics seem willing to talk about the history of the exhibition. This Jasper Johns exhibit began at the Art Institute of Chicago because the Art Institute had just purchased “Near the Lagoon” and because in 2006, David Geffen sold “False Start” to Chicago hedge-fund manager, Kenneth C. Griffin, for $80 million. They needed this exhibition to show that the purchases were valid. Do people think it is chance that “False Start” is the first image in an exhibition titled “Jasper Johns: Gray” and it is not gray! Then the Met took the show to re-enforce validity of their purchases of Johns’ work like “White Flag” which it probably paid more than $20 million for. The only person who seems willing to talk about the economic reason why this exhibition is on display is Johns himself:”

“There seems to be something in the air that art is commerce itself. I haven’t really been a part of it, although I’m sure in some way I am.”– Jasper Johns

"Johns' work no longer functions in the way it used to. Of his peers, like Pollock or Rauschenberg, Johns' work used to be the most painful to look at because it was the hardest to categorize and digest. Even Clement Greenberg did not really know what to do with it. It seems to me that people want art to move from the challengingly sublime to the traditionally beautiful. Don't they realize that the best complement that you can give Johns' is simply to say that his work remains completely elusive? What's wrong with a critic saying "I have no idea what this is about."?
Instead, critics feel that they must provide some type of insight into the work and essentially rob the art of its sublime quality. Sometimes, there is no insight into a particular exhibition and that can be the best part of seeing the art."

“So, maybe everyone should have left Johns' work as sublimely elusive rather than trying to explain how it can be understood as traditionally beautiful?”


Jasper Johns
"False Start" (1959)
Image from the Met

Image of modernist torture cell, photo from AP.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bridge Art Fair, NYC 2008

Bridge Art Fair, NYC 2008

Pulse Art Fair, NYC 2008

Pulse Art Fair, NYC 2008

SCOPE New York 2008

SCOPE New York 2008