Archive for June, 2014

But is it art? Abstraction

June 29, 2014

In earlier postings on the “But is it art?” topic I looked at conceptual art, broadly conceived: the spawn of Marcel Duchamp, you might say. There’s another strain of art that has famously given rise to the query: abstract art.

An anecdote, from years ago at a reception for the opening of an exhibition of abstract art at the Columbus Museum of Art. I was contemplating a painting by Morris Louis (one of his Stripes series; see below) when another gallery-goer, looking disapprovingly at the offerings, remarked to me, “The rot began with the Impressionists”, conveying (I suppose) that when the Impressionists moved away from strictly representational art, the long slide began that eventually produced Kandinsky, Mondrian, Pollack, and all the rest, including Louis.

I don’t know why people like this guy go to exhibitions like the one we were at, but I slid away from him and went on to a CMA poster sale, at which I bought a reproduction of a (large) Louis Stripes piece.

Notes on Louis and then very briefly on abstract art.


Name that product

June 29, 2014

Recent bulletins from the world of commerce: cricket chips, bed-hair mousse.



June 29, 2014

Today I’m watching (on television) this year’s San Francisco Pride Parade (which was supposed to kick off with Dykes on Bikes at 10 a.m., but it’s already 10:15 — hey, we’re on Gay Standard Time!). This year the parade aligns beautifully with Stonewall Day, the 28th; the Stonewall Inn riots in NYC took place 45 years ago, in 1969, providing impetus for the growing movement towards gay liberation on many fronts.

The 28th was also, alas, Sarajevo Day, the anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that, improbably, set off the extraordinary tragedy that was the Great War (World War I, as it later came to be known). One hundred years ago yesterday, a dreadful monument to human folly.

Ah, 10:30, and the dykes are off. For the moment, things are good.

(Linguistic note from one of the parade’s announcers: “I hardly ever use the word dyke, but at the Pride Parade it’s DYKE DYKE DYKE!” Fashion note: there are Dykes on Bikes proudly wearing tiaras.)


But is it art? At MoMA

June 28, 2014

One more shot at this topic, after the High Line and the Whitney: a piece in the July/August 2014 Atlantic: “The Most Modern Curator: Why Paola Antonelli put Pac-Man, a mine detonator, and a vial of sweat in the Museum of Modern Art” by Megan Garber:

On the third floor of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, if you go to the bank of windows overlooking 54th Street and then turn right, you will find some synthetic sweat. The liquid, stored in a short glass vial, mimics the perspiration of cage fighters—collected just after a bout and chemically analyzed using a technique known as gas chromatography. It is slightly viscous. It is slightly yellow. It is slightly disgusting.

Which is the point. The vial is part of Design and Violence, an installation co-produced by Jamer Hunt and Paola Antonelli, one of MoMA’s most prominent, and provocative, curators. As a physical representation of some of humanity’s most enduring features — sex, aggression, smelliness — the bottle’s manufactured contents are both entirely and not at all natural. “We wanted objects that have an ambiguous relationship with violence,” Antonelli says, by way of explaining the installation’s selections, each of which — a stiletto heel, a self-guided bullet, a chalk outline of a drone — is meant to emphasize design’s power not just to solve problems but also to create them.


But is it art? More Jeff Koons

June 28, 2014

Last time around, a Zippy the Pinhead led to a Jeff Koons balloon dog and Popeye. Now, at the Whitney, a substantial show on Koons. From the NYT yesterday, this piece by Roberta Smith: “Shapes of an Extroverted Life: ‘Jeff Koons: A Retrospective’ Opens at the Whitney”:

There are so many strange, disconcerting aspects to Jeff Koons, his art and his career that it is hard to quite know how to approach his first New York retrospective, the Whitney Museum of American Art’s largest survey devoted to a single artist. [Open through October 19th; organized by Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney’s associate director of programs]

… there are all the big, often shiny sculptures, framed posters and glossy paintings, all tending toward an almost brain-freezing hyper-realism that isolates and fastidiously transforms objects from all corners of contemporary life: household appliances, gift store tchotchkes, advertising posters, children’s toys.

… The erotic and, to some extent, the scatological are never far beneath the surface in Mr. Koons’s art. Exhibit A is “Play-Doh,” [dated 1994-2014] a new, almost certain masterpiece whose sculptural enlargement of a rainbow pile of radiant chunks captures exactly the matte textures of the real thing, but also evokes paint, dessert and psychedelic poop.



What’s art and what’s not on the High Line

June 28, 2014

Previously, from Andrea K. Scott, “Parklife: Playing hide-and-seek at a sculpture show on the High Line”, New Yorker of 6/9&16/14, ending with an appreciation of conceptual artist Josh Kline. Now, the lead-in:

“Honey, I twisted through more damn traffic today,” reads the new white-on-pink mural by Ed Ruscha, above the High Line at Twenty-second Street. On a recent afternoon, the text doubled as a caption for a live-action cartoon, as a man on a scooter wove his way through a gaggle of tourists. Nearby, teen-agers held up handwritten signs advertising free hugs and yelled, “It’s emotional Tuesday!” Performance art? No, students from the neighborhood’s Fashion Industries high school, blowing off steam.

It can be hard to distinguish what’s art and what’s not on the High Line. “Archeo,” a new exhibition of eight outdoor sculptures by seven young artists, organized by the park’s nimble curator, Cecilia Alemani, plays to the idea of the High Line as a latter-day Readymade. Marcel Duchamp turned his bicycle wheel, snow shovel, and bottle rack into art with scant alteration. But the former elevated railway, once overgrown and abandoned, is now so groomed and urban-chic that it’s a ready-made backdrop for Instagram.


Ridiculous analysis

June 27, 2014

This morning’s Bizarro:

A ridiculous analysis of tendinitis as ten ’10’ + a mystery element -dinitis (presumably referring to some medical condition), which would then allow for the greater (and graver) eleven ‘ll’ as the first element — a morphological analysis and extension you might expect from a clever child, but scarcely from a physician.

A doctor would recognize tendinitis as tendon (the body part) + the inflammation suffix -itis. (tendIn rather than tendOn reflects fine points of Latin morphophonemics).

[Added: On Google+, Tim Evanson reminds me, indirectly, that Nigel Tufnel is the lead guitarist in the rock band Spinal Tap, as in the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap.]


June 27, 2014

Yesterday I reported on Fortnum & Mason’s use of queen in an advert in support of Gay Pride: “Proud to be the queens’ grocer”, with the plural possessive of the common noun queen, rather than the singular possessive of the proper noun Queen. Not everyone is entirely comfortable with this use of queen, seeing it as an offensive and demeaning slur. But the import of words, even slurs and other problematic vocabulary, depends crucially on context — on who’s using them, in what circumstances, for what purposes. Given that, you can read F&M’s queens’ as affectionate, in fact celebratory.


paper cut

June 26, 2014

For years it was clasped firmly in the embrace of a plastic device with a magnetic strip on the back, which allowed it to be displayed on a refrigerator (or other metal surface). But then it somehow slipped out and, being almost weightless, wafted away on some breath of a breeze, until eventually it was discovered by a visitor, on the floor far from the refrigerator.

It’s a Chinese paper cut, depicting my animal from the Chinese zodiac, the dragon:

A gift from the students in my 1985 classes at the Beijing Language Institute (as it was then).


Rules of conversation

June 26, 2014

Yesterday’s Zits, with Jeremy’s parents getting instruction on how to speak to his friends when they visit:

Grice’s Maxim of Quantity, in two parts:

Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).

Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

(Discussion on this blog here.)

The crucial point, of course, is what Jeremy thinks is required in such exchanges.