Wednesday, November 19, 2008

part two and a bit more, as usual

This past Sunday I went to the annual holiday opening at Reinike Gallery, a survey show of Charles H. Reinike III's recent paintings (with a considerable number of brand-new ones).

A painting titled The Golden Parachute, showing the Golden Calf appropriately decked out for a soft landing, is priced at ten million dollars, open to negotiation.

Again, one doesn't expect this sort of cheeky conceptual gesture in the refined surroundings of this exceedingly well-bred gallery, but Charles and Edna's New Orleans heritage includes the sort of politely puckish behavior that makes mere "mavericks" look like the Far-Western boors that they are. At the lower end of the Mississippi, the pirates and the aristocrats and the habitues of Congo Square knew how to mix it up right, at a time when polite society and cowboy culture were keeping worlds apart from each other in the rest of the country.

So it isn't surprising that this most genteel and soft-spoken of painters should elegantly recall the gesture of fellow Southern painter Clyde Broadway, who twenty years ago produced a painting of himself as a hitchhiker seeking a ride in a limousine with Hokusai geishas holding a bundle of irises, titled Goghing My Way? and priced at several million dollars. A commentary on the then-record price paid for a Van Gogh irises painting by Japanese investors, it was set off behind stanchions in an alternative-space show on the top floor of the IBM Tower / One Atlantic Center at 14th and West Peachtree.

The two commentaries on art and value are quite different, but what they share is a respect for painterly accomplishment. Both are well-made paintings, not cartoons, and both hold up well without the conceptual accompaniment, which nevertheless transfers them into a different genre of sociopolitical commentary.

The South seems to exult in this sort of offbeat between-the-categories output. It isn't fashionable and doesn't set out to be.

After Reinike, I went to Beep Beep Gallery to view "Majestic Hours," collaborative drawings by Sam Parker and Joe Tsambiras. These are of another distinct genre, sharing more of the sensibility of an internationally distributed lowbrow movement, with a degree of cross-cultural literacy that is also found across international boundaries though this version of it seems more specifically American.

We get flashes of allusions such as the Hindu "thou art that" (tat tvam asi, if you recall) and a Greek text I can't translate, or even adequately transliterate because I'm not sure of the orthography. But these allusions are scattered in between complex references to more contemporary visual sources, and put in the service of a thoroughly fashionable transgressive consciousness. Parker and Tsambiras transcend the adolescent humor of much artwork in this genre, but these drawings abound in expectoration, regurgitation, dripping daggers, multiple skulls, medieval battle axes, random cables and sockets with snake bodies to match, and the occasional cheeseburger. It is enough to delight the connoisseur of the art of death metal or of Julia Kristeva's idea of abjection. And indeed, Deleuze and Guattari come in for favorable comment in the accompanying book, as a key to the whole forest of symbols, or labyrinth of signs.

Of course, Deleuze and Guattari are the key to "Majestic Hours" in the same way that Frank was the key to Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding album, which he explicated by stamping on a light bulb with his foot and putting his fist through a plate glass window, if Dylan's liner notes of forty years ago are to be believed. (Which of course they are not, being a parody of literary explication that echoed the makers of Happenings even as it poked fun at the critics of Lionel Trilling's explanatory note for the irony-challenged....)

So here are two shows that scarcely anyone else would consider pairing. And indeed the gulf in sensibility is as significant as the commonality of a quirky sense of humor.

Which obviously is why I sort of like both of 'em, even though I might prefer to come down somewhere in between the quiet refinements of historical sensibility and the purveyors of smegma. Why people do what they do is one of my particular interests, and why audiences like one type of art more than another is part of the question a critic has to answer en route to finding ways to bridge aesthetic gulfs and suggest that certain genres could be handled differently, and others understood differently.

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