Michael Maas is a Fallbrook-based painter. Over the past 15 years he’s shown extensively in Southern California, most recently at L2Kontemporary in Chinatown. He has another show this month at Bunny Gunner in Pomona.
Maas is best known for his Alhambra series, over 200 paintings which deploy a common abstract motif — a synthesis of jigsaw puzzle and Islamic art — in sizes ranging from 12 inches to 12 feet.
Beside its ability to scale, what’s notable about the Alhambra series is its restless visual energy, the result of a complex game of trompe l’oeil:
— In color, geometry, and repetition the motif draws deeply on Islamic art: in particular, mosaic.
— The forms are often heavily modeled, which depending on the viewing distance can yield visual readings ranging from flat (induced by the optical buzz of the repetitive patterning) to sculptural relief (reinforced by the allusion to mosaic) to alarmingly biomorphic (due to their occasional resemblance to human limbs).
— Most subtle and intriguing of all, across the entire series large to small, the depth depicted by the modeling never exceeds the actual thickness of the physical painting, which supercharges the sculptural reading by never violating the integrity of whatever the 3-D analog of the picture plane is. The result is not just paintings depicting sculpture, but paintings trying to be sculpture.
The Alhambra series has been variously described as “biomorphic abstraction” or (per the series name) “Moorish”. Why not come right out and call it “Islamic”?
The paintings leading up to Alhambra — especially the Summer series and Winter series — had very strong biomorphic elements which carried over into Alhambra, and which are especially noticeable to people familiar with my earlier work. I do think many of the Alhambras could fit right into a show of Islamic art (any invitations?).
I like the idea of doing this, not just for being a loaded move in a post-9/11 world, but also for saluting Islam’s historic contributions to world culture: in art, in computing.
If you make a Venn diagram of the world’s religions, I like to think of my paintings at their best as falling into that one place where all the circles intersect, being just as Islamic as Buddhist as Christian as…
Did you appropriate the Alhambra motif from a historical work? Or is it your own?
It wasn’t until I had done a dozen or so of the Alhambras that I started being asked about the connection, if any, to Islamic art. At that point I didn’t know what people meant so I started getting books on Islamic art, tile work, and architecture. I immediately felt an affinity for it, and it wasn’t until that time that I came up with the idea of calling them “Alhambra”. Since then I’ve incorporated specific motifs into some of my paintings, such as the geometric background in Alhambra #96. I’ve also incorporated some of the ancient ceramic tile glaze colors used in Islamic tile work into the color combinations of my paintings.
One of the mysteries in visual art is the wide range in generativity of specific visual ideas: some yield a single work before exhaustion; others entire shows; and others still entire careers. 200 paintings in, how’s Alhambra holding up for you?
I feel like there is still a lot more to do. Some of them are composed of just a few simple shapes, maybe against a plain background. But I just completed one with over 1400 little flat shapes aligned in columns, which look like 13 stripes from a distance, but 47 stripes up close. I’m very excited about doing more of these, and couldn’t have anticipated them a couple years ago.
Another mystery: the effect of scale. Some artist’s styles seem wholly immune to it, while others suffer dire fates when pushed too large or small. What led you to explore scale?
I don’t think it was until after I started working big that I came across an interview with Mark Rothko which put it into words for me, but I’d intuitively realized that viewing a large painting can be a more intimate experience than viewing a small one. With a small painting you’re outside looking in, but a large painting which takes up your field of vision can surround you and take you into it. While my large pieces do different things when viewed from different distances, I do mean for them to be viewed from up close too.
You’ve done work outside Alhambra — how does it relate?
Between 1979 and 1997 I did a couple hundred paintings in a tight realistic style — landscapes, seascapes, sports, portraits, botanicals — and there is certainly something that work has in common with my “mature” work. Since July 1997, when I started the Summer series, most of the 500 or so paintings I’ve done relate to each other on one level or another. Some refer back to previous ones, or incorporate earlier elements or themes. While my intention is always to make each painting able to stand on its own, I’m nevertheless conscious of how the individual pieces make up something bigger. I’ve been able to do exhibits where I presented a whole gallery of interrelated pieces as a single integrated work, and that’s really what I like best.
Any last words?
In 1996 my wife Carmen encouraged me to walk away from a six-figure income in the financial services industry and become a full-time artist, in order to “do something worthwhile” with my life (her words). Ever since then, I basically just work every day whether I know what to do or not, and somehow one thing leads to another and things get done. I don’t try too hard to understand it.
Alhambra #151, 20″x40″, acrylic on wood panel, 2011
The artists tend to blame this on the weather, without considering that the problem may be their art. San Diego has beautiful light, and people are outdoors enjoying it. For art to be an integral part of the regional culture, it needs to follow the people outdoors.
To a remarkable extent this has already occurred: art’s outside in San Diego, thanks to community action, private foundations, and city art programs.
But the region also has a history of civic controversies over public art: several high-profile proposals have crashed and burned, and in a few cases installed work was removed. Sometimes the fault seemed to lie as much with the artist as the unhappy public. Artists and audience alike need to learn: good art is hard, good public art harder.
And even the controversy itself needs to be put into perspective: about the proposed Statue of Liberty, the New York Times opined that “no true patriot can countenance any such expenditures for bronze females in the present state of our finances.” Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower. Veterans hated the Vietnam Wall.
To date most media coverage of San Diego public art has been event-driven, focused on proposals, installations, and any ensuing controversies. What’s been missing is a directory of public art: something that not only helps interested viewers find the community gems and learn more about them, but also shows just how much good public art there already is. This book reviews selected works from around the region, with the criterion for inclusion being that the work be worth the trip.
— From San Diego Public Art, a free ebook on www.sandiegopublicart.net
Sun God, Niki de Saint Phalle]]>
In 1983 the historian Paul Fussell penned a minor classic of social satire titled Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. In it he dissects a myriad of class signifiers – housing, decor, transportation, diet, dress, posture, physiognomy, demeanor, vocabulary, religion, career, education, recreation – and from this deduces the following:
– Nine distinct classes (top out-of-sight, upper, upper-middle, middle, high proletarian, mid proletarian, low proletarian, destitute, bottom out-of-sight)
– Gross disparities in how each class defines luxury (extensively mined for humor by the author)
– The relation between class and income (itself a function of class)
– Class anxiety (a middle affliction)
– The phenomenon of prole drift (the societal tendency for all things to undergo proletarianization)
Three decades later many of the cultural specifics have changed, yet the underlying principles remain firmly in effect. (In a 2009 , Sandra Tsing Loh beautifully channels Fussell in her analysis of the subsequent rise of hip and fall of the economy.)
Beside the principles, what else remains unchanged is the predominant role of the visual in class signifiers. The reasons for this are evident, especially in American society, where a putative democracy combines with a historically wide distribution of economic wealth to result in rich interactions between agents of differing class. To preserve one’s social capital in such an ecosystem, it’s obligatory for said agents to quickly and efficiently categorize any others they choose to interact with (or not). And vision as a perceptual domain offers both the richness of stimuli and the all-important operation at a distance that are prerequisite for efficient class sorting.
In the same year Class was published, Jean Lowe received her B.A. from Berkeley. She went on to receive an M.F.A. from UCSD, and her subsequent career as a visual artist is based on a body of work which works notions of class as they manifest in the visual deployment of class signifiers. Interestingly, Lowe’s signature humor perfectly echoes Fussell’s dry satirical style in Class.
This begs the question of whether class is ever explicitly invoked in the critical/curatorial description of Lowe’s work. The answer – perhaps anticipated by Fussell in his noting of class as the great unmentionable in polite discourse – appears to be “no”. Lowe is represented in Los Angeles by Rosamund Felsen Gallery. The gallery website helpfully includes a collection of twenty-two reviews and press releases covering Lowe’s work in the period spanning 2003 to 2011. A search for the term “class” in these texts yields precisely one reference: “the grandeur of French high class society”, which misses the point since the body of work in question is unspeakably clear in its ultimate referentiality to class-dependent notions of American luxury.
The rule-proving exception appears in a separate text, not on the gallery website, by former SDMA director (and fellow Berkeley alumnus) Derrick Cartwright. His brief on Lowe – ironically for the San Diego Art Prize – invokes “conspicuous display”, a core term in the work of Thorstein Veblen, whose Theory of the Leisure Class was a model for Fussell’s book (not to mention a must-read for any ambitious artist).
Lowe’s work through the 90′s and 00′s – which referenced McMansions, SUVs, and an endless stream of self-help books – focused on the middle classes, which (per Fussell) offer the best material both in their active striving for the next rung up, and simultaneous anxiety over slipping in the opposite direction.
Then the great recession hit, peaking in 2008 with the collapse of the housing market and failure of several major financial institutions. Among the collateral damage: the visual arts, and the American middle class.
Faced with this double blow to her practice, Lowe responded by going down-market. The first evidence emerged in 2010 at the Lux Art Institute, which launched a pop-up art store co-founded by Lowe and Kim MacConnel. The store, titled J & K Souvenir Inc., offered selected work by Lowe in the low-to-mid two figures. And the content referenced was now distinctly prole: decorative mugs, cups, plates, in sum the typical inventory of a 99-cent store.
Similar work has since appeared in shows at Rosamund Felsen and at Quint Contemporary Art in San Diego. At a recent Quint show the low-end work had edged up to a still-affordable low three figures, even while the large paintings remained firmly parked at a solid five digits.
Seeing such work in a high-end space like Quint can be dizzying. Is the aggressive insertion of prole esthetic into a rarefied upper venue a trenchant commentary on American caste? Certainly. Is it offensive to some viewers? Apparently. Or is it merely an opportunity for the 1% to amuse themselves over the bad taste of their inferiors? Apparently.
(Perhaps the only decidability proof for the latter is to wait patiently and see if Lowe ever offers a future show of, say, Lowe-fied Roman de Salvo‘s.)
Lowe’s pièce de résistance of class gymnastics: Discount Barn, a 99-cent store simulacrum presented by the upper-class Quint Gallery as part of the relentlessly middle-class San Diego Art Fair.
Photo credits: © Jean Lowe, photo courtesy Quint Contemporary Art
scott b. davis has earned a national reputation for his night photography. The San Diego Museum of Art is currently exhibiting a survey of his work from the past decade. And a show of recent work opens in March at jdc Fine Art.
A recent profile of davis in the Summerset Review offers a wonderfully detailed account of his process in the field. But it didn’t address what has intrigued me most about his work: namely, the material properties of the work itself. Ordinarily this isn’t something one is concerned with when viewing a photograph. But in davis’s case the material properties of the work seem to embody its content in interesting ways.
Your work is noted for its use of platinum printing. What are the specific properties of this process, and how does it suit your subject matter?
platinum printing is a 19th century photographic process, closely related to traditional printmaking in terms of technical expertise and the choice of materials at one’s disposal. it was heralded by turn of the century photographers, and considered by alfred stieglitz to be “the prince of all media”. it earned this distinction for an ability to render exquisite tones, but also because it was kept as a kind of ‘private reserve’ by master printmakers for their finest work. photographers historically used the process to capitalize on nuanced, delicate tones in their images. as a 21st century artist i’m interested in exploring ideas untouched by previous generations of photographers. night photography, first and foremost, is an act of discovery and one that invites a keen sense of perception. platinum printing, simply put, most closely replicates the experience of how i see at night. the combination of the two opens a minimalist dialog i find important.
What about the choice of paper? In describing your work the New York Times noted how the “grainy, velvety quality makes them seem almost painterly.” As a viewer I’m fascinated by this textural quality—which is strongest in the areas of “pure” dark that frame the imagery—but I’m unable to determine whether the texture is a product of the paper, or the process.
the texture you see is platinum. it is the process drawing you in to a physical experience. i don’t say this to be facetious, more so to reference the fact that platinum prints appear three dimensional when compared to other photographic process (anaglyphs notwithstanding). in essence the physical work of a platinum print is painterly—it is applied as a wash, really—since every print is hand coated one at a time using a brush. the pure dark areas you refer to are the ones i’m most concerned with, the negative space that defines each image and challenges viewers perception. both the paper and the process are idiosyncratic from a maker’s standpoint… they are victim to heat, humidity, age, and a half dozen other things that would plague the average photographer/printmaker. what i’m left with, and what you see, is a unique print that holds its own surface quality, which is, of course, part of the image itself.
Related to the previous question—the work in the SDMA show exhibits significant variation in the visual homogeneity of the dark skies that frame your landscapes. For me this is where the complexity set in, as I realized the texture of the sky was potentially due not just to paper or process, but to the very source imagery itself: the low lumpiness of a coastal marine layer, or the silken purity of a desert night sky. And yet some of your desert images appear to have low clouds overhead! Why?
simply put, they might. but what you’re responding to is an edge i’m consciously working with every time i exhibit the work. viewers bring their own connection to visual art, this much is a given. by taking the medium to its physical and literal limit (printing pure black), the work takes on its own physical life, responding to light as much as anything else. it’s a wonderful oxymoron, though it can be a bit vexing for my work as an artist, i’ll admit. to create a tally of our conversation, we’re up to one nuanced photographic process, an artist exploring the limits of that process, the state of the physical environment the work was made in, the lighting the prints are shown under, and the viewers own capacity to look carefully. the latter being one of my primary motivations… to have people engage with the work as a physical object.
The source imagery in your night work seems lit entirely by dusk or human light. Since you’ve worked in the desert, you know moonlight. Can you use it? Or is there some formal reason why it doesn’t appear in your work?
photographers can use moonlight with great success, but for me it’s something of a gimmick. when i was a kid our neighbor had one of those framed posters with a black and white image in it. the image showed boats on the chesapeake bay by moonlight, but it was clearly a daytime shot made to look like the night. it was obvious to me then, but is a good analogy to your question. if you accept the fact moonlight tells us about a world we already know (one that kind of looks like the day but with deeper shadows, less color, and a little more mystery) then i’m not much interested in it. i’m most interested in looking at what we can’t see and what we choose to not look at, then figuring out a way to make others take note. while i’ve worked a lot in the desert at night, it is more often than not that human light defines each image, and increasingly images made in urban environments. it is this intersection that has, above all else, defined my work. working at night—moonlight or otherwise—was a starting place to expand a view of vernacular landscapes and in the process engage with the act of looking.
The typical lighting in a museum or gallery seems antithetical to what you’re trying to achieve—when this work gets exhibited, do you specify any nonstandard lighting requirements?
not really. i’ve found there’s a magic light level that makes the work pop, probably around 7 foot-candles. too much light kills the experience of negative space, too little light doesn’t allow the prints to glow as they should.
Edison to Kodachrome to Vegas: bright light is deeply embedded in the American psyche. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the foremost apostles of darkness are a Japanese writer (Junichiro Tanizaki) and a Hungarian film director (Bela Tarr). Have either of them influenced your work in any way? Do you have an affinity for theirs?
i’ve only scratched the surface of each artist, and i’ll be honest in saying they haven’t influenced me directly… which isn’t to say they’re not vastly influential! it may appear a strange practice from the outside but i often work in a kind of artistic celibacy. early in my career i found i was drawn to emulate the work of other artists i admired, consciously or unconsciously. once i tapped into a language that felt like my own it freed me in a way, and allowed me to focus more on the work itself and less looking for inspiration from beyond. it was a bit like sand through an hourglass… as i concentrated more and more on what i was doing it eventually opened an entirely new world for me. today, when i look at the work of bela tarr, joan didion, eric orr (the list could go on) it’s an enriching experience to ‘see’ and engage with other, wonderful dialogs i was never aware of.
Any last words?
turn off the computer. there’s a big world to discover.
On Saturday the U-T San Diego editorialized on the impending removal of a public artwork from the San Diego waterfront.
The editorial begins with a full paragraph quoting former U-T art critic Robert Pincus on his response to the artwork in question. It then states the following: “These criticisms discount the undeniable reality that, from the day the 6,000-pound sculpture was unveiled at the park at Tuna Harbor, it has been hugely popular with real people.”
The clear implication — that the artwork was disliked by Pincus, but popular with “real people” — is that Robert Pincus is not a real person.
Such casual dehumanization of an an arts professional is newsworthy, and merits the attention of anyone with a personal commitment to the arts in San Diego. When contemplating the U-T they must now ask themselves:
If a sign painter could paint my texts, why not ask somebody to paint a picture according to my indications? Every year my father and I used to visit county fairs. Despite the fact that he loved looking at tractors and farm equipment and I hated it, I developed a fondness for Sunday painters there that I shared with David Antin. I’d write down their names on my visits to the fair. Eventually, for the “Commissioned Paintings” I called some of them up…
— John Baldessari
With the blessing and support of her four grown sons, Anita Storck took off in her van to paint and draw the world, saying goodbye to family and friends from her home base in California. She lived, as she described it, “a gypsy life,” traveling and making friends wherever she went. She spent four years on the road, traversing Europe and North Africa, going as far east as Turkey.
Setting her sights back in the New World, she arrived in Antigua, Guatemala in 1977, “just passing through.” But something must have soothed her gypsy heart because before long she began growing roots within her neighborhood and the community at large. It is not unusual to visit homes in Antigua and, upon commenting on a particular painting, find out that Anita Storck did it. Residents could always count on her yearly art exhibitions. Her last show in Antigua, at age 86, was held at Proyecto Cultural El Sitio in December 2003. She not only created lovely artwork — she dispelled the generally held notion that artists are temperamental. One would be hard-pressed to have found a more pleasing, genial and truly beautiful spirit.
For years she made the weekly trip to Guatemala City to teach art to orphaned boys living at Mi Casa. Closer to home, she organized a neighborhood women’s co-op, teaching members how to use left-over material to fashion hot pads and other handicraft items; countless others were recipients of her generosity, and, of course, there was the annual Good Friday neighborhood alfombra, to which she contributed year after year, designing something beautiful that brought pride to the whole block.
Feeling the tug to be closer to family, she moved to California in 2001 but never lost touch with her friends in Guatemala. From her memoirs, More than a Thousand Words, she sums up: “A happy life with sparkling hills of good memories of family and friends — of my childhood — and the joys of my own sons. True, there are some sad valleys — as in all of life — but thus we appreciate the daily happiness of being alive and healthy and sharing the pleasures of life with family and friends.”
— Terry Kovick Biskovich
Anita Storck studio
Photos metmuseum.org, Lois Stecker]]>
Like other art museums The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles hosts an annual gala event, with the goal of extracting surplus wealth from donors. The time-honored quid pro quo in this transaction is entertainment, and MOCA’s newly-acquired director Jeffrey Deitch has proven himself a master of pushing the notion toward the poles of art and spectacle. The result is proving a glorious mess.
For this year’s gala Deitch commissioned the 64-year-old society artist Marina Abramović to stage a performative matrix within which the gala would proceed. Abramović’s solution involved hiring attractive young people to pose in ways that would normally be identified as degrading and humiliating objectification: lying motionless on a dinner table for hours, naked and under a skeleton; or similarly stuck under a table for hours, with only one’s head sticking through, for that Bring Me the Head of John The Baptist effect.
Artist Yvonne Rainer caught wind of the upcoming event from a disgruntled hireling, and proceeded to write a letter to Deitch questioning the moral and ethical implications of MOCA underwriting an event so classically retrograde in aesthetic. The art blog HyperAllergic then broke the story.
In short: Rainer’s letter went viral, Abramović went into defense mode (e.g., hilariously insisting that gala attendees wear white lab coats during the event), the event went off as planned, certain attendees were duly offended, and MOCA netted 2.5 mil for the night.
The amoral of the story is one of people in the world with every power in the world, save one: the power of youth. The resulting dialectic plays out in many ways — some subtle, some not — across the arts.]]>
The following images are commercial advertisements from mainstream publications (both print and online). The three exceptions — a 16th-century painting, vintage comic strip panel, and contemporary pornograph — are from art/performance web sites and John Berger’s classic Ways of Seeing.
The images share a common image schema, and the schema itself begs several questions regarding its apparent absurd meaning, its function, and above all its cultural persistence. For lack of a better term, the schema is named The Designated Voyeur.
What is the history of The Designated Voyeur? Berger traces it back to the art-historical traditions of the European nude, and given the 1972 publication date of Ways of Seeing, and its subsequent pervasive influence on visual culture, TDV may well be a standard chapter in advertising school. However, Berger’s own explanation of TDV falls far short of covering the examples shown above:
It is true that sometimes a painting includes a male lover. But the woman’s attention is very rarely directed towards him. Often she looks away from him or she looks out of the picture towards the one who considers himself her true lover — the spectator-owner. (Berger, page 56)
Berger’s analysis — developed in the context of the female nude — asserts that the woman’s gaze towards the spectator underlines her role as passive object and property of the painting’s male owner. But from a patriarchal perspective why would a male wish to see “his” woman engaged in sexual activity with another male? And from a commercial perspective why would so many mainstream advertisements be based on a format so starkly sexist?
Other factors must be in play. Here’s what we know:
One tool for interpreting TDV is evolutionary psychology. Applying common arguments from EP to the data at hand yields the conclusion that Berger’s analysis of TDV, while superficially correct, is at a deeper level completely backwards. In particular, EP offers a unified explanation for both the appeal of 16th-century female nude paintings to their male collectors, and the appeal of 21st-century cellphone ads to both male and female consumers.
According to EP, female heterosexual partner selection is governed both by perceived ability to provide resources for child-raising, and by immediate sexual appeal (the two archetypes being colloquially known as Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now). Also according to EP, a woman wishing to maximize her genetic success will — in the absence of social and ethical constraints — maintain a long-term partnership with a nurturing male while engaging in periodic sexual liaisons with charismatic non-nurturing males. To these latter agents such an arrangement is ideal, as it offers the potential for genetic success with no outlay of nurturing resources: the cuckoo syndrome, to borrow from avian biology (which is in fact the etymology of the Elizabethan term cuckold).
Considering the EP perspective in the context of TDV, the woman’s outward gaze in the presence of a male partner implies for male viewers that the woman, far from signaling her role as male property, is in fact signaling her active ability to manage multiple sexual partners: the overt one in the image, and the covert one in the role of the male viewer.
Thus the viewer of such an image is designated not merely as a sexual desirable, but as:
Human nature being what it is, the depicted genetic advantage translates emotionally for viewers into a suitably heightened sexual frisson, which to return finally to the world of art, translates in turn to enhanced saleability, whether of 16th-century paintings or 21st-century cellphones.
This is best exemplified by the Tom-and-Nicole image shown above: it served as visual keystone of the ad campaign for the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut, whose story centers on a wife’s infidelity.
The Designated Voyeur appears to be a staple of commercial art — watch for it, and it will show up with surprising regularity. And if one accepts the argument from evolutionary psychology, marvel that commercial advertising depends not just on everyday sex and everyday violence, but on everyday adultery too.
Experience art in a glorious setting this weekend—with lush green grass beneath your toes, the La Jolla sky overhead, and a stunning view of the ocean as the backdrop. It’s ArtLawn 2011.
A good hearty meal, all in one pill that can be carried in a vest pocket, is the dream of scientists of today, according to Hugh S. Cummings, surgeon general of the public health service. (Rock Valley Bee, August 17, 1923)
Whereas the visual arts of the past were strictly material (stone, canvas, paper, pigment), and those of the present increasingly electronic, expect the future arts to be biochemical in nature, as artists exploit advances in and the brain sciences to create well-defined aesthetic experiences with none of the undesirable side effects of today’s primitive psychotropics.
Age change is a legal act, recognized in practically all legal systems, which allows a person to adopt an age different from their age at birth. The procedures and ease of an age change depend on the jurisdiction. In general, common law jurisdictions have rather loose limitations on age change, while civil law jurisdictions are quite restrictive.
State laws can regulate age changes in the United States. Several specific federal court rulings have set precedents regarding both court-decreed age changes and common-law age changes (changing your age “at will”).
Usually a person can adopt any age desired for any reason. Most states allow one to legally change one’s age by usage with no paperwork, but a court order may be required for many institutions to officially accept the change. Although the States (except part of Louisiana) follow the common law, there are differences in acceptable requirements; usually a court order is the most efficient way to change one’s age (except on birthdays, which have become a universally accepted reason for age change). It is necessary to plead that the age change is not for a fraudulent or other illegal purpose (such as evading a spouse or lien, or for defaming someone).
The applicant may be required to give a somewhat reasonable explanation for wanting to change his age. A fee is generally payable, and the applicant may be required to post legal notices in newspapers to announce the age change. Generally the judge has limited discretion to grant or deny a change of age, usually only if the age change is for “frivolous” or “immoral” purposes, such as changing one’s age to 13, 18, 21, or 39.
Until recently my exposure to anime had consisted primarily of a satisfying addiction to anything Miyazaki. But then I learned of Neon Genesis Evangelion, an anime series written and directed by Hideaki Anno which spans 11 hours of television episodes and a concluding movie.
If Miyazaki’s work embodies classical art cinema à la Kurosawa, NGE comes off as a kind of mad dog masterpiece which strains so hard at its genre seams that it finally bursts into something entirely one of a kind. (Think Wagner making Saturday morning cartoons.)
NGE themes include rampant Christian symbolism, sex, opera, penguins, budget battles, gods, angels, robots, Nevada, domestic chores, death battles, clones, computers, mental illness, the United Nations, hubris, teen angst, global warming, bad parenting, motherly love, mushroom clouds, beer, Antarctica, spies, aliens, poetry, human extinction, crotch shots, Tokyos, origin myths, psychoanalysis, Beethoven, the Dead Sea scrolls, global conspiracies, existentialism, homosexuality, watermelons, and more, all set in a plot line as elliptical and labyrinthine as any novel you’ve ever tackled, and laced throughout with a pervasive underlying sadness.
Anno, who clearly knows his art house, created such a compelling pop series that when in the final episodes he abruptly took the story in a 720-degree left turn, the resulting viewer uproar included not just blistering criticism, but death threats. Hence the concluding feature film, End of Evangelion, which attempts to tie up various loose ends. See this one for the ending alone: a hallucinogenic apocalypse unmatched in the history of cinema.
If you’re willing to invest 12 hours in close-attention viewing — a task made considerably easier by the oft-beautiful imagery (Anno launched his career working for Miyazaki) — you’ll come out with a pretty good handle on how far anime can be pushed as an art form. The general consensus on the net is polarized between WTF and “the most moving story I’ve ever experienced”, which given the work is only to be expected.
The TV series and movie are available on Netflix, and can also be found (in bits and pieces) on YouTube.
Spiral Bound opens at 214a Gallery, a new gallery space on the La Mesa campus of National University. The exhibition presents notebooks by forty artists — twenty from New York, twenty from San Diego — in a wide array of media: video, yellow legal pads, leather-bound journals, and loose sheets of paper aspiring to codex status.
The San Diego artists are Robert Andrade, Sadie Barnette, Doris Bittar, Annette Cyr, Mike Davis, Raul Guerrero, Craig Kane (New York actually), Chris Karadambikis, Anna Chiaretta Lavatelli, Adam John Manley, Duncan McCosker, Timothy Neil, Roy David Rogers, Ernest Silva, Miriam Sievers, Cauleen Smith, Mark Siprut, Perry Vasquez, Ruth Wallen, and David White.
The New York artists are Judith Bernstein, Matt Blackwell, Nancy Bowen, Tom Burckhardt, Mary Carlson, Yi Chen, Dawn Clements, Susan Fang, Susanna Heller, Eve Laramee, Yasue Maetake, Scott Malbaurn, Howard McCalebb, Joe McKay, John Monti, John O’Connor, Halsey Rodman, Anne Thulin, Victoria Ufondu, Daniel Weiner, Allan Wexler, and Letha Wilson.
This exhibition is the first installment of National University’s developing art program.
Spiral Bound at National University
Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate is arguably the most successful public artwork in the United States today. It draws the same number of annual visitors as the Statue of Liberty and Vietnam Veterans Memorial, yet derives its appeal solely through aesthetic pleasure not historical content. In short, it’s a people magnet.
Accounts of the work cite its mirrored surface as the active ingredient (which it is) but then settle for comparisons with funhouse mirrors or the joy of narcissism.
While true that the work’s close-range perceptual narrative initially engages the viewer in mapping themselves in a nonstandard visual field, that convex surface does a curious and wonderful thing: it visually situates each viewer not only in the context of the transformed landscape, but also — and more crucially — in the context of all the fellow viewers of the sculpture.
The movement of those others animates the surface in a way that could never be achieved by a single viewer… and animation (in its core cinematic sense) is the foundational property of our popular art.
The key to the show — and the conflation — is the use of duct tape as a primary medium. If this sounds implausible, behold the impoverishment of your knowledge of the world of duct tape, which is available in a myriad of colors (~35), patterns (leopard, plaid, Hello Kitty), and grades (utility, industrial, military, nuclear).
What duct tape offers artists is intriguing: the pieceability of textile; the luster and saturation of paint; and a variety of surface textures ranging in visual effect from fuzzy nubbin to reptile skin.
When viewed up close, these surface properties (fully exploited by the artist) combine with the high-def intercolor seams to lend the work a material heft unachievable through paint.
More unexpected is the effect these same properties have on the work when viewed from afar, which manifests as a near-ineffable deviation from the look and feel of paint, keeping the work slightly off-center, and so remarkably free of the cliche that op can so easily fall prey to.
Most unexpected of all: how well neon op harmonizes with the traditional Spanish architecture of the Athenaeum space. There’s simply no good reason for this, but there it is.
Photos David Fobes
Trolley Dances is authentic homegrown San Diego culture: an annual event of site-specific dances linked together by the city’s light rail system.
Like San Diego’s other indigenous art forms — surfing, sailing, scuba — Trolley Dances is site-specific in a larger sense by happening mostly outdoors, and in environments far less organized and more dynamic than the typical performance hall. As a result, Trolley Dance viewers seeking to optimize their esthetic experience are obliged to work hard at siting themselves, at the risk of just plain missing the show.
At this level of commitment one does not attend Trolley Dances so much as surf it: the crowds are thick, the sight lines few and shifty. You have to plot strategy, keep your eyes open, and stay light on your feet.
Half-consciously, though, there is the more indigenous dream that the adventure is everything…
— Kaprow, Happenings in the New York Scene
Last month Agitprop presented Coatlicue mi Amor, a performance by The Border Corps, a group of San Diego artists, musicians, and performers. In its density of information and feeling, Coatlicue was by far the most ambitious and successful event I’ve witnessed to date at Agitprop, and not by coincidence it’s taken me a month to figure out how to write about it.
Billed as a happening, Coatlicue felt more closely positioned between traditional performance art and current trends in interactive theatre. Its hybrid nature made for a wild ride: rather than simply disappearing, the fourth wall seemed to be in constant motion throughout the Agitprop space, flying up, down, or inverting polarity as various scenes unfolded.
Throughout the fourth-wall gymnastics, backstage remained overhead and crucial, as Border Corpsmen Armando de la Torre and Anthony Vasquez worked full-time through the performance spinning a dense web of real-time audio and video around performers Endy, Perry Vasquez, and Shondra Dawson.
The work was structured in three parts: the dreams of two vividly REM-state dreamers; a satirical review of recent and ongoing commercial crypto-genocides (the gods are more subtle these days); and a traditional Catholic liturgy recounting in lurid detail the historical genocide of the Island Carib people at the hands of conquistadores.
At this point I’d normally attempt a detailed description of these parts, but doing so would require more pages than could fit on this blog, and would only lead the reader further and further away from the intense theatricality engendered by the performance. Words fail me — you had to be there.
Never overplaying its hand (except perhaps in the topical Haiti references), the entire production displayed subtle signs of being well-thought-out to the n’th degree:
I know of several people who missed this event and regret it. Word is that a repeat performance may occur at Agitprop in the indefinite future — watch for it.
Machine Project is a Los Angeles based non-profit arts organization, a storefront exhibition space, and purveyor of DIY workshops in the spirit of the Maker Faire.
LACMA is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the largest encyclopedic museum west of Chicago, and a patchwork complex of seven buildings ranging in style from 30′s streamline moderne to Jetsons 60′s to bad 80′s to Wright-ian organic to bland contemporary. (Hold that thought.)
Machine Project at LACMA was a one-day event where MP took over the LACMA campus, inserting Machine esthetic into a museum setting to the tune of 55 artist projects.
MP’s artistic logic was straightforward: counterpoint the classic museum attributes of stasis, high art, and quiet contemplation with ephemerality, low craft, and sonic assault.
LACMA’s institutional logic for hosting such an event proved cagier and ultimately more satisfying artistically: in a word, demographics. Anyone familiar with current art museum programming knows of the various special programs designed to lure anybody under 30 into the galleries. Compared with such events, MP at LACMA was a veritable Burning Man of youth programming.
And the primary lure was all too familiar: the dominant global art form of the past half century, aka music. To MP’s credit there was not a DJ in sight; instead we got tablas, glass harmonicas, feedback loops, ambient drone remixes, elevator marching bands, barbershop hum quartets, mid-century modern folk song, speed metal guitar solos, and build-your-own synthesizers. In sum, everything necessary to retool the museum’s traditionally contemplative space into the kind of high-stimulus environment necessary to captivate a generation of electronically-enhanced short attention spans.
What made so much of it work so well (recall held thought) is the structural irregularity of the LACMA campus: the very same irregularity that the LACMA trustees once dreamed of razing. But bad architecture can make for good ecosystems, and the LACMA campus offered dozens of niches for MP interventions that in their siting showed signs of acute intelligence operating behind the din.
The speed metal guitarist was planted on the second-floor patio of the Art Of The Americas building, enabling his blissfully context-free sonic projections to blat through various museum courtyards like thunder through the canyons of the High Sierra.
Similarly, the elevator marching band could be heard continuously as its elevator car floated up and down the atrium lobby of the Ahmanson building, changing only in volume as the door opened and closed on various floors, revealing the heretofore unknown acoustics of elevator cars and shafts.
As the day wound to a close, natural processes contributed the strongest project of the bunch, wafting the entire LACMA campus with the delicate scent not of popcorn but burning chaparral, conceptually fulfilling the prophecies of troublemakers from generations past.
Housing being too expensive in San Diego, I set out to realize my lifelong dream of homeownership.
The first step was finding a suitable plot of land, the criteria being location, location, and location. I wanted great views, rural ambience, quick freeway access, and walking distance to UCSD and the beach.
Happily a solution quickly arose in the form of Rose Canyon, a rustic urban canyon which parallels Gilman Drive between I-5 and the UCSD campus. The canyon not only fulfilled all my critera — it possessed the coveted 92037 ZIP code, and its zoning as open space ensured that my views would be preserved in perpetuity.
Invoking the federal Homestead Act, I claimed 10 acres of canyonland as my own, and — with minimal investment and max sweat equity — constructed the modest micro-home seen in the photos.
I’ve lived here for two months now, and am happy to report that the joy of homeownership is everything I dreamed of. My kitchen window opens to a lush hillside of wild mustard and other native flora. The spring rains have my bean-field looking healthy, with the promise of a tidy crop. Hawks fly over daily, and the shrubbery along Gilman keeps my residence cozy and semi-private from the commuter traffic.
Life is good — I’m grateful.
Photos Maura Vazakas
One of the big surprises of the 2007 San Diego wildfires was the instant rise to international fame of Qualcomm Stadium as shelter, haven, and general beacon of humanity for tens of thousands of refugees. Photojournalists the world over descended on San Diego, and their collective photographer’s eye discovered a little-known fact: the Stadium is in fact a stunning and historically significant piece of mid-century modern architecture.
Tickled by the stadium’s proto-Bilbao-esque forms, the photojournalists proceeded to invent a new genre of architectural disaster photography, equal parts Shulman and Salgado. The resulting images carry the story, and they look great.
The irony in this sequence of events is that ever since the city built the new Petco Park downtown, Qualcomm Stadium has been framed as a civic white elephant in need of extensive and architecturally fatal multi-use redevelopment.
But now that the stadium has received (both in name and in image) an inestimable amount of solid-gold international media exposure, any future efforts to bury the existing stadium beneath high-density housing and parking garages could easily be reframed as the civic equivalent of tearing down the Statue of Liberty. It would make for interesting media coverage.
Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Robyn Beck (Agence France-Presse); Chris Park (Associated Press Photo); Stan Liu (Reuters); AP Photo.