Thursday, December 31, 2009

endings, beginnings, and things that remain

I pass along the following because it relates differently to the theme of the exhibition at Connexion Gallery (see my earlier post, and their website where photographs of the exhibition are now available: on reuse, refiguration, and sustainability. It is, however, a quite different inflection of the set of topics.

"From: The Center for the Study of the End of Things []
Sent: Wed 12/30/09 11:30 PM
Subject: February 5, 2010: The Center for the Study of the End of Things

To Whom It May Concern:

The Center for the Study of the End of Things, a creative organization
affiliated with the the McIntire Department of Art at the University
of Virginia, will be holding its Inaugural Symposium on February 5,
2010. The venue is a vacant 10,000+ square foot building in
Charlottesville, VA, which will be demolished shortly after the
exhibition. We are seeking work from a wide variety of disciplines,
including painting, film, drawing, sound, sculpture, architecture, and
printmaking, in addition to collecting found objects of natural and
mechanical origin. Our Call for Submissions, and the Application Form,
are available on our website ( Please forward
this information on to anyone that might be interested. A flyer
summarizing the event is attached. The submission deadline is January
25, 2010.

Milholen + Williams, Co-Curators
The Center for the Study of the End of Things

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tahir Shah, Meet Bruce High Quality

This is one of those crossover posts that ought to be worked out in detail but almost certainly will never be properly upgraded. I had originally thought to post it to my joculum.livejournal blog, where the readership is more familiar with the context. But the readers of Counterforces will know more about the art issues.

There have been a growing number of crossover fictions gaining popularity in the artworld in recent years. An artist was invented and memorialized in a UK-published biography with illustrations, with both artist and artworks a complete fiction (the paintings did actually exist, though in the era of digital reproduction this was no longer an absolute necessity). This came a bit after a feature story in, I think, Esquire that profiled an unaccountably unrecognized younger actress who was unrecognized because Esquire had made her up. These exercises in documentary fictions have since been succeeded by a variety of made-up artists, though one needs to go back to Smile magazine and Karen Eliot and many other precursors to do this properly. Claire Fontaine and the Bruce High Quality Foundation are examples of currently popular artworld collectives using the concept of the fictionalized biography as a vehicle for collaborative endeavors (so it would be particularly appropriate to revisit the Karen Eliot model, but life is short).

Now, it so happens that the father of writer Tahir Shah engaged in a certain number of collaborative fictions of his own over the years, involving made-up characters. He used some of them as a test for would-be devotees of his thought: one anthology of writings was handed to an academic in America for publication, and when the academic published the entire collection verbatim, it was reportedly pointed out to him that the essays were internally contradictory, and that anyone taking all of them at face value was failing to absorb the specific lessons that were the whole point of the materials' overt content. The volume appeared under a different title in a much-diminished mass-market version later on, and there is still some question as to the intent behind what was included and omitted from that rendition.

So it comes as less than a complete surprise that earlier this year Tahir Shah (who is best known most recently for The Caliph's House,, which has done for Casablanca what Peter Mayle did for Provence) announced that he was in the midst of writing a novel based on the life of the forgotten Edwardian adventurer Hannibal Fogg, under the working title Hannibal Fogg and the Supreme Secret of Man.

Well, actually, the novel-in-progress came as a surprise. What was ultimately less surprising was that Hannibal Fogg proved to be even more elusive a character than the website of the Hannibal Fogg Society promised. Within a very short time indeed, researchers had determined that this individual whose works were supposedly suppressed for political reasons (though the Society had recovered many and recently begun to post them online) appeared to be a complete fiction inserted into online discourse only a matter of weeks earlier. Trails of site registrations and Wikipedia entries appeared to lead back to names associated with Tahir Shah.

Now, anyone familiar with the biographies of Percy Fawcett and Roger Casement, among others, could perceive a suspicious similarity between elements of Fogg's story and theirs. And of course, the echo of the name of Jules Verne's Phineas Fogg seemed a bit too good to be true. The titles of Fogg's suppressed books seemed to smell of a send-up, and Fogg's prose style in the online extracts seemed a trifle anomalous for someone writing a century ago. So it isn't surprising that searchers were on the case immediately.

What's curious and yet to be determined is where to place this incident in the realm of online hoaxes (which the evidence thus far—assuming we can take the evidence at face value—appears to suggest that it is).

People reading the texts on the site of the Bruce High Quality Foundation with its slogan "Professional Challenges. Amateur Solutions." do not take the foundation's declarations at face value. It is understood that artists' collectives have intentions and uses of online resources that do not coincide with the goals of historical research. But the BHQF has gone out of its way to make itself ineligible for a Wikipedia entry (by declaring that all the media reports have "misrepresented" it and by producing fact-subverting reportage), rather than inserting a fictional Wikipedia biography of the late sculptor Bruce High Quality.

So is Tahir Shah following in his footsteps of his trickster father or creating a less successful version of this young collective that has now found its way into the 2010 Whitney Biennial (BHQF's success thus proving that ridicule of artworld pretensions is sometimes as much of a path to fame as the more standard career-building route is)?

Ought we to be discussing Tahir Shah's literary gambit in the context of hoaxes, history of religions, or interdisciplinary artmaking? You tell me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I Grew Up There. I'm Entitled.

For reasons on which I shall not speculate, the publication that pays my salary has received a review copy of Gary R. Libby's Reflections: Paintings of Florida 1865-1965 from the Collection of Cici and Hyatt Brown published by the Museum of Arts and Sciences of Daytona Beach. Since I grew up in Sanford and remain interested in the inadequately studied history of art in the various regions that have been regarded as "picturesque," I am choosing to write about the book even though it wasn't sent to me and I can't keep this copy for reference.

Private collections are sometimes singularly illuminating when the topic is inadequately represented in public ones. And the imaginative response to the geography of Florida by visual artists is a distinct subtopic of art history that deserves greater analysis, as this book's essays indicate more in passing than in detail.

As the introductory essay points out, from the moment that Silver Springs became a tourist attraction in 1878(!), tourists were on the lookout for high-grade souvenirs as well as the familiar kitsch that has been the subject of any number of popular-culture and material-studies volumes (as I've indicated in past essays about books that I wished I owned from the press of Florida's state universities). Hence a good many creditable landscape paintings (a long way from being kitsch in themselves) were produced for sale to upscale visitors.

But above and beyond that, the spectacles of virgin nature and the agricultural ambiance of large parts of the state made for an exoticism that was attractive to artists in and of itself. Very few of these painters were regional; far more were sometime visitors themselves, and at least one of them, who shall go unnamed, produced an appallingly stereotyped work in response to his visit.

The intriguing thing is that so many of the others got beyond the most obvious stereotypes. There aren't exactly any social-critique paintings in this collection, but there's a painting of one of the distinguished elders of the African-American town of Eatonville (hometown of Zora Neale Hurston) by Jules André Smith, a visitor who stayed and established the Research Studio of Maitland, where he played host to any number of visiting artists, including Milton Avery.

None of this adds up to an unfairly forgotten chapter of global art history, except insofar as it is now possible to realize that global art history has many more chapters than the abridged edition would lead us to believe. Waldo Pierce's painting of himself hunting sharks with Ernest Hemingway is just one more reminder that no matter how exaggerated the mental images of the Sunshine State may be, the reality usually exceeds them.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Zamila Karimi & Magdalena Bach operate Connexion Design Studio in Dunwoody, Georgia as a design and architecture firm and as a gallery that aims to bring together a variety of academic disciplines and artists from different cultures to address contemporary problems and issues.

"LESS IS MORE 2010" is an attempt at reflection on "sustainability and simplicity" that comes at the topic from a variety of unexpected viewpoints. A dulcimer is made from wood salvaged from the renovation of a historic home in Atlanta. An exquisitely modernist house is constructed to cutting-edge environmental standards while fulfilling some of the most extravagant dreams of modernist utopianism. A design studio in Athens (Georgia) creates a simple, elegant unit for cigarette disposal that adds beauty to the urban streetscape, is easy to maintain, and difficult to misuse for any other than its intended purpose.

As usual I find it difficult to write about the show in this format, hence am withholding names of the makers of the few selected outstanding examples I've cited above: there are too many others who deserve recognition. There are artists so emerging as to be virtually unknown, and artists who have been the subject of feature stories in art magazines (including the one that pays for my health insurance).

The basic premise of the exhibition is given on the gallery website:

Given the technical challenges met and overcome with skill, intelligence, and an unfailing sense of aesthetic integrity, the show serves as a confirmation of the long-neglected slogan "Be realistic. Demand the impossible."

submitted for your approval

There are far more readers of than of Counterforces, but since the two audiences do not entirely overlap I recommend, highly, Karen Tauches' review of the documentary photographs of Oraien Catledge, or more accurately art photographs combined with documentation, as one would expect from someone with Catledge's background:

Catledge, self-trained as a photographer, established close personal relations with the residents of the former mill town neighborhood of Cabbagetown, now one of Atlanta's gentrified neighborhoods. The former mill workers and their families whom Catledge photographed in the 1980s have been fully displaced and dispersed, and it would be desirable for another equally sensitive photographer to follow up on their stories. (Catledge kept complete records of names, ages, et cetera, and stayed in touch with many of his subjects until recent years.)

But for now, it is enough to view the show at Opal Gallery (or read Tauches' review of it) and to know that Catledge's body of work and documentation will eventually be preserved in museum archives in Mississippi (Atlanta institutions having shown no interest) and that an ample selection of his oeuvre will be published with commentary in a book scheduled to appear in August 2010.

essays that will never be written (as usual)

Henry Adams' Tom and Jack is a brilliant, provocative re-reading of the mentor-student relationship between Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock, based on the premise that Benton retained more of his modernist beginnings than is generally thought, and communicated the formal lessons of his modernist phase to Pollock in the way he taught figurative painting and representation.

The forgotten school of Synchromism is key to this interpretation, based on theories of color that, strictly speaking, are not true.

But there are moments in which untruths are more central to artmaking than conventional truths.

Looking at a few essays in Roger Shattuck's book from some decades ago The Innocent Eye in conjunction with Michael Taussig's new What Color Is the Sacred? I am left with the feeling that there are provocative juxtapositions to be made.

But I am not likely to be the one who makes them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

As the Year of Astronomy Comes to a Close (Who Knew?): An Exhibition at the Atlanta Airport

"Everything and the Space Between Everything," curated by Katherine Marbury and Lisa Alembik, is an exhibition in the Atrium Gallery of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I seem to have dropped off the Airport Art Program's media list again (or possibly simply overlooked the e-mail), but the redoubtable Lisa Alembik posted the essentials on the artnews listserv today. With the informality that the blog format permits, I am here reproducing a work by Alejandro Aguilera along with word that the show exists, and the bare minimum of recognition, a list of its splendid roster of artists:

Alejandro Aguilera
Larry Anderson
Linda Armstrong
Don Cooper
Pam Longobardi
Yanique Norman
Joe Peragine
Vicki Ragan
Paul Rodecker
Nell Ruby
Richard Sudden
Lisa Tuttle
Caomin Xie

Do I have any idea of the exact content or appearance of this homage to the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescopic observations? No. But now that I am aware of its existence I hope to make my way there on MARTA. If I cannot travel anywhere for budgetary reasons, I can at least view the art that a good many other travelers will have the option of seeing en route to their destinations throughout the world.

last minutes and never at alls

I am delighted that the estimable Robert Cheatham has called our attention to the blog of architectural theorist Lebbeus Woods, who has been revisiting highlights of the long-deceased architectural theory of the 1980s. Of particular interest is his post on the Rem Koolhaas design for Paris' legendary Parc de la Villette, a five-layer project that was passed over in favor of Bernard Tschumi's fabled collaboration with Jacques Derrida:

I have decided it is time to make public my post on the Millennium Gate in Atlanta, which I consider one of the most significant pieces of postmodern creativity of the early twenty-first century, the filling in of the gaps left by history, by the absence of projects that, like Koolhaas's Parc de la Villette, should have been constructed but were not, or were never even imagined in their rightful time.

Whether I do that or not, I am chagrined that I have been unable to write a decent review of an eminently viewable show at the Millennium Gate Museum, major works from the Bank of America's collection of American Impressionism. George Bellows' Old Farmyard, Toodleums alone would be worth the rather hefty price of admission:

The exhibition closes on December 6. There are more familiar, signature works by the major figures of American Impressionism, but as always I am attracted most strongly to the works by lesser known figures or the works in a style not always associated with the more famous artists.

Thus I make no judgments as to the art historical adequacy of the collection, though it seems that Bank of America has made judicious acquisitions. All I can say is that I'm glad "Transcending Vision" has been here lo these many months, and I offer apologies for not having said so much earlier. I was working on a four-part essay on hybridity, cross-cultural stereotypes, and other topics not immediately thought of when the topic of American Impressionism arises, not to mention the Millennium Gate.

But all that will have to wait, since the show is on the verge of closing. Fragments of the essay in question already exist on this blog, but I am not about to make things easy for the merely curious by cross-referencing them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

but wait, there's more

However, my remarks on Sarah Hobbs' visually involving and humorously cerebral approach to assorted psychological syndromes will have to wait for another time. The show just opened at Solomon Projects and will be getting immense amounts of publicity so my disinclination to put myself out there prematurely (or at all) should be no great loss.

Unless I'm just covering the mirror with origami butterflies as in "Denial."

if you can't say something intelligent, don't say anything at all. not a maxim to be obeyed in certain cases

Monica Cook's show is on the verge of closing at Marcia Wood Gallery (November 28, to be exact) and it needs even more analytical study than it has thus far received.

The newest works in Cook's oeuvre are far more complex than I can tackle at this point, indeed obscurely Swiftian in her tangles of slender and corpulent naked females...though the one shown with lilliputian figures is anything but a feminine version of Lemuel Gulliver. Thomasine Bradford, thou should'st be living at this hour. But you're not, and whether Drs. McClintock and/or Richmond will step forward, or a number of other writers I can think of, I am far from certain. Dr. Cullum makes no hypothesis.

The sheer allure of painterly renderings of physical texture in Cook's depiction of naked women entangled in tentacles or smeared with glorious foodstuffs is another matter. This is a Freudian feast of material celebration, probably going in directions I am not qualified to pursue beyond the triumph of painting involved.

Cook is, in some ways, accomplishing in painting a continuation of the incipient investigations that the too-early-gone Helen Chadwick accomplished in photography. I still recall vividly my sense of astonished shock at the encounter with "Of Mutability" produced in 1986, and my pleased feeling of discomfiture at all of Chadwick's subsequent studies of bodily limits and art based on bodily emissions (which, so far, Cook has approached only symbolically).

Views of "Monica Cook: Seeded and Soiled" are currently available at and the works themselves are, as I have remarked, on view through November 28.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

fyi for folks in Atlanta...or those few who still read this blog, anyway

Another year having gone by without a completely satisfactory solution to communicating art information to the various non-overlapping art audiences in metro Atlanta (despite the best efforts of the several online sources to remedy the situation), I am once again volunteering to put out the basic info re the first-weekend-in-December sale by the artists' studios in the Little Five Points Community Center. Perhaps someone will read it who shops at studio sales.

Tom Meyer's bio is deserving of quotation (as his photos are deserving of acquisition, but that accolade would go for any of the artists in the studio sales): "T.W. Meyer: 'I have been using a camera seriously since about 1976. I am a geezer. A geezer/hipster. Charming, capricious in word and harmless in deed, prone to solitary activity but witty and gregarious at a party (lala!). Boringly trusted by women young and old, a harmless flirt free of embarrassing ulterior motives (apparently).', and on Facebook (Tom Meyer)"

- - - - -

Four Euclid Arts Collective Studios, Ten Local Artists

Hold Holiday Open Studio Tour & Art Sale 1st Weekend in December

at Little 5 Points Community Center in Inman Park

Studio 102, Studio 204, Studio 207 & “Kitchen” Studio

Fri, Dec 4th, 7-9 pm; Sat, Dec 5th, 10 am – 4 pm; Sun, Dec 6th, 12 - 4pm

EAC artists Michelle Jordan of Studio 102, Chantal Gadd & Carla House of Studio 204, Henry Leonard of Studio 207 and TW Meyer of the ‘Kitchen” Studio will open their studio doors to the public and display their work along with several local guest artists, including Cathryn P. Cooper, Yvonne Dauria, Susan McCracken, Becky Sizemore and Christine Stanton.

Come tour four separate working art studios, meet local artists, and view a wide variety of artwork, including ceramic sculpture, watercolor and oil paintings, fiber & acrylic on canvas and other mixed media, photography, paper collage, gourd vessels, hand-made glass beads, ornaments, bookmarks, jewelry, stained glass and hand-woven wearables.

Free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Michelle Jordan at (404)759-0851 or

Friday, November 13, 2009

comments to come re Frank Hunter's photos

It seems appropriate on Friday the Thirteenth to reflect on the ill luck attending Frank Hunter's current show at Thomas Deans; a very distinguished guest (distinguished, so obviously it was not me) came by at the one moment when an emergency resulted in the gallery being closed for a brief period; the photos themselves, which take the platinum-palladium print medium firmly into the contemporary moment, lose their impact almost entirely when rendered in tiny low-res format online (but for those who know how to see, they can be viewed on the Thomas Deans and Company website).

Fortunately, the "Iowa Signs" series will be on the walls through Thanksgiving, but they need contextualization both in terms of art history (the compositions are more reminiscent of historic etchings than of contemporary photographs, in spite of being night shots of illuminated billboards) and in terms of scale: the image of a billboard silhouetted in its own lights with a bolt of lightning arcing horizontally across the dark sky above it requires a certain size to achieve its impact. Reproduced without the richness of the platinum-palladium print and in a tiny format, the "Iowa Signs" photographs feel like the Old Master paintings reproduced on Christmas stamps.

I hope to be able to write a sensible review helping readers to see what is in the miniature images available online, and I understand that Thomas Deans is writing a few paragraphs setting the work in historical context.

The contemporary context needs to be spelled out: there is a mini-history of photographs of billboards (including Gregor Turk's color images of desolate blank billboards), and Hunter's particular camera angles that situate his billboards in dramatically lightless settings is at once realistic and surrealistic—which itself is part of a contemporary tradition. If his photographs of forests and mountain glades hark back to a nineteenth century idiom, the "Iowa Signs" reach forward towards a twenty-first century one.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

multitudes and common wealth or common weal

Jeremy Abernathy presents a mutual-aid challenge worthy of Pyotr Kropotkin at

Speaking of Kropotkin, Rebecca Solnit's new book A Paradise Built in Hell has been getting considerably thoughtful reviews, especially the one in the New York Review of Books November 5 issue. Sorry, Bill McKibbin's review is only available online to paying electronic subscribers, which even us print-subscriber-types are not:

Friday, October 30, 2009

how time flies regardless of the given amount of fun you are having at any moment

Sometime in the past couple of weeks I marked, or more accurately did not mark, the 25th anniversary of my first day of proofreading at Art Papers. Thank you, Xenia, though you should have been thanked back in the spring when the 25th anniversary came round for my first published piece of art criticism.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

too late is not better than not at all

I have been meaning to write about the problem of exhibitions that cannot be adequately represented online by images. Holle Black's just-closed show at Sandler Hudson is a case in point: the image of Alice here looks insipid if you can't see the faint drawings in pencil and the very thin lines of paint that enliven the basic composition and make it into something quite other than what this photograph only appears to reveal.

If I had had more intelligible notes earlier I might have been able to do something to rescue the situation. As it is, it is a reminder that when it comes to 72 dpi images of paintings, what you see is what you get, but is decidedly not all there is.

Since galleries cannot afford the high-tech magnifications that museums can post that show more detail than the viewer in the museum itself can see, I am not sure what the solution to this except better online art criticism.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chi Peng at Kiang

When I was an undergraduate back in the Early Pleistocene, the junior-year Asian Studies course everybody had to take included Arthur Waley's translation of Monkey, extracted from the monumental Chinese novel The Journey to the West. The novel is an episodic adventure based on the real-life journey of Hsuan Tsang (here known as Tripitaka) to India to acquire and translate the Buddhist scriptures that were lacking in China when the religion was first introduced.

This setup allowed for the invention of traveling companions and hazards that were the distant ancestors of the genres that evolved into today's Chinese action flicks.

I subsequently spent years wanting to know more about the real Hsuan Tsang (Arthur Waley's book on the topic was unavailable to me in those long-gone pre-internet days) and forgot about Monkey until my friend from college Larry Schulz translated the sequel novel The Tower of Myriad Mirrors, which had been written during the Ming Dynasty to explain how Tripitaka's ill-tempered companion the Monkey King could attain enlightenment while violating every credo of the Buddhist canon in his furious protection of the traveling monk.

This long digression explains why Larry and I are supposed to be among the discussants at 2 p.m. Saturday Oct 17 at Kiang Gallery, regarding Chi Peng's 21st-century photo update of The Journey to the West.

This much-discussed young Chinese artist has digitized satirical comments on today's journey to the West, with elaborate set-up scenarios in which Buddhist dialectics have been replaced by The Matrix (which of course is a Buddhist-inspired movie also dependent on the tropes and genre conventions of Chinese action flicks) and the internet has become the web of conditioned origination in which the commodity fetish...just as Marx said it, actually, I'm writing nonsense just to be mischievous, which is much in the spirit of Chi Peng's brilliant digital and thematic manipulations.

If you've seen one, you haven't seen them all, because the visual sources that are transmuted vary from the conventions of scroll painting to the conventions of moviemaking to...well, go and see.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

also not for my profit, except indirectly

Those within easy driving distance should contemplate patronizing Café Cliche, in the downtown Decatur building formerly also housing Little Azio. Not only is there considerable free parking (especially now that Café Cliche, which sells pastries and sandwiches, is the building's only tenant) but the ambiance is pleasant and I am often the only customer.

A reasonably priced wi-fi spot with available seating is a terrible thing to waste.

Monday, October 5, 2009

shameless self-advertisement, but not for profit

Carol LaFayette's 2003 video based on my poem "Skateboarding in Sarajevo: Prelude to an Ordinary Evening in Atlanta" is finally up on YouTube after being effectively out of distribution as a DVD for a couple of years. It pleases me that on YouTube in 2009, this meditation on the 1990s war in Bosnia and the 1860s American Civil War with which Atlanta is associated via the Cyclorama and Gone With the Wind appears alongside a number of recent videos of actual peacetime skateboarding in Sarajevo, unlike the Sarajevans' skateboarding past snipers that gave my poem its title.

Also posted at where the E. K. Huckaby cover design of the limited-edition DVD is reproduced.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

This Museum Is My Proof: A Meditation for the Month of Atlanta Celebrates Photography

Duane Michals’ This Photograph Is My Proof was one of the quintessential postmodernist documents of the first wave of conceptually inclined picture taking.

If you recall, this 1974 photo with text asserted that the photo accompanying the impassioned scrawl was proof that things had once been “still good between us…see for yourself!” But the photo theorists taught us that maybe the whole scene was a pose, and the earnest handwritten plea might be a manipulation that is part of the whole fiction woven around what we regard as solid evidence…. (Or it might be totally the sincere outpouring of some goof for whom the photograph really is, as in the Ringo Starr song, “all I’ve got.”)

In Atlanta, Robert Stewart had gone with the other end of the proof-positive department, creating “nude self-portraits” that consisted of nothing but a block of text describing in detail the scene in front of which he was supposedly posed nude as he took the picture we could not see.

The two poles of photo-trustworthiness and storytelling in word and image ultimately spin off, in one sense, from André Breton’s photo-illustrated novel Nadja, where the photographs are certainly proof of something, but we cannot quite be sure what, even though we know the real history behind the novel (or, after the efforts of many biographers, we believe we do).

And in the fullness of decades, we got W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and his other novels in which emotionally or physically injured individuals illustrated their monologues with photographs that might or might not be genuine documents of events that might or might not have ever happened.

And this led to a spate of non-graphic novels with photographic accompaniment, from Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana to Jonathan Saftan Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close …a transient trend about which I meant to write back in 2005, and, because it was a pre-blog time for me, I did not.

Now we have the fascinating example of Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 novel, newly translated by Maureen Freely. And Pamuk, as always with his extraordinary novels, exemplifies a trend that has scarcely even been identified as such yet.

Although regional folks including a certain guy in Tennessee were creating fictional museum displays decades before they were internationally cool, the tendency to make up documentation of non-existent events has lately become a veritable obsession.

In the case of Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, he is said to be creating an actual museum of Istanbul paraphernalia that corresponds to the museum through which his narrator is leading the reader as he tells his story.

But there are no photographs of the displays in this novel. As in Stewart’s self-portraits, words do the job.

And yet there will supposedly someday be real physical objects to look at, in Istanbul, presumably at the spot shown on the map in the novel. Pamuk already cancelled a preview exhibition at a museum in Germany thanks to delays in publication of the novel, so those of us who read news stories about such things have been waiting for this museum almost as long as the good people of Istanbul have.

News reports say it will open in 2010. In the meantime, the museum, like the novel it does not illustrate but exists alongside, constitutes the latest chapter in a long history of interchanges between images, objects, and words.

I wrote about Leanne Shapton's novel-as-illustrated-auction-catalogue earlier this year, here:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

as per request, news release re Beacon Hill studio tour reproduced below

Beacon Hill Artists will celebrate the Fourth Annual Open Studio Tour
Friday, Sept 25 (5-9 pm) and Saturday, Sept 26 (3-7 pm).

Beacon Hill Artists will be celebrating the Fourth Annual Open Studio Tour
on Friday, Sept 25 (5-9 pm) and Saturday, Sept 26 (3-7 pm).

Beacon Hill Studio Artists include: Tony Greco, Sarah Collman, Rodney Grainger,
Sara Hornbacher, Ron Holt, Patty OKeefe-Hudson, Jo Peterson, Rebecca Des Marais,
and Lynne Moody.

Thanks to the City of Decatur, Georgia, which provides support to the Beacon Hill Studios, the space formerly occupied by Theatre Decatur will be available this year to display the work of 22 invited visual artists including: Photographer John Ramspott, Ceramic Sculptor Jill Ruhlman, Fabric Artist Kathy Colt, Sculptor Corinna Sephora Menshoff, Painter Helen Durant, Quilt-maker Candace Hassen, Painter/Printmaker Stephanie Kolpy, and Interactive Media Artist Hartmut Koenitz. among others. Atlanta Printmakers, Kathy Garrou, Suzy Schulz, Jerushia Graham, and Jan DiPietro will show their work and demonstrate the printmaking process

Mario Petrirena’s outdoor sculpture will be on exhibit in the open courtyard and sculptural welding demos by Corrina Sephora Mensoff will take place at times to be announced.

Food and beverage will be offered and music will be performed by various musicians throughout the open studio tour.

A video screening, curated by Sara Hornbacher, featuring artists Robin Brasington, Dan Walsh, Faith McClure, Matt Gilbert, Al Matthews, Stephanie Kolpy, Neil Fried, Monica Duncan and Hornbacher/Koenitz will take place in the Black Box Theatre for the duration of the tour.

The Fourth Annual Open Studio Tour is a special benefit for the Decatur High School Arts Program and 20% of any artwork sold will be donated to them

Suggested minimum donation at the door is $5

See website for additional information about the Beacon Hiill Studio Artists, Guest Artists and directions to the Studios

For further information contact:
Rodney Grainger 404-210-9846

Friday, September 18, 2009

I now realize I never posted my philosophical statement regarding the possibility of the Counterforces blog, which should be expansive enough to range from review essays addressing global issues to shout-outs to the most local events imaginable. (Well, maybe not so far as imaginable.)

One of these would be the Sept 25 - 26 Beacon Hill Open Studios, this Beacon Hill being not the more famous one but the art studios in downtown Decatur, Georgia.

Once I get details from video artist Sara Hornbacher, I'll get round to putting up details. Better to wait until the weekend now upon us is over, anyway, to avoid confusion.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

new books

Most amalgams of art and science end up being neither. Art that considers itself a species of scientific investigation too often ends up being second-rate investigation or a badly metaphorized analogue of the process; and the kind of art that some working scientists create as an illustration of their process ends up, too often, as a clunky type of kitsch that does more to create aversion than understanding.

In spite of this, there have been ample numbers of collaborative ventures in the twenty-first century, many of which have actually created viewer encounters in which direct experience amplifies or concretizes the implications of experiment.

Sean Caulfield and Timothy Caulfield have edited a collection of essays, Imagining Science: Art, Science and Social Change, that asks blunt questions (not about aesthetics but about the appropriate parameters of the art-science encounter in various fields of investigation). David Garneau suggests that art and science are antithetical systems that meet productively only in a third field that embraces both, namely, ethics. (And we may remember, though Garneau doesn’t cite it, Wittgenstein’s “Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.”) Jim Evans puts forth a view of science and art that could be embraced by sociobiologists and anthropologists and traditional aestheticians alike, though not by a good many contemporary theorists. It is worth quoting in extenso for the sheer transgressive outrageousness of its limpid (but not limp) style: “At its essence, the purpose of art is to invest our lives with meaning. While strictly practical criteria define what is and is not science, art is not shackled by such rigid criteria; it is a pure product of the human mind and culture. Its only rules are that it must evoke emotion and resonance. The universe simply ‘is’ and science is our way of knowing it. But the universe of art is infinite, defined and limited only by the human mind. We define artistic reality, as Duchamp so elegantly demonstrated with his urinal cum art. … If, one day, we finally stumble upon differently evolved beings elsewhere in our galaxy, the idea that a Hopper painting or a Beethoven sonata will deeply touch them is as unlikely as the proposition that their fundamental laws of motion will differ from ours.”

This neatly phrased binary opposition is guaranteed to get the social constructionists up in arms, or some of them, to be more accurate. But this is because social construction isn’t adequately understood by the social constructionists. Anthropologists have increasingly discovered, for example, that aesthetics exists in societies famed for not having the concept: you don’t have to use the same word as we do to be performing a similar human activity. (Borges’ famed fable about categories for animals comes to mind: “belonging to the Emperor,” “which when viewed from a great distance look like flies,” and so on. What would be shared in that case is not the categories but the human wish to make categories for dividing up the world.)

I have to come to the defense of the sociology of knowledge on this score, since my old faves Berger and Luckmann were unfairly lumped into the camp of extreme social constructionists in John R. Searle’s recent review of Paul Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism (recent indeed; in the current New York Review of Books, Sept. 24, 2009). To assert The Social Construction of Reality as in their 1966 book isn’t to say that there is no physical reality outside of social categories; it’s to say that how we think about that reality is effectively modulated through our prior assumptions and received ideas. “Relativizing the relativizers” is the logical next step.

Searle, in fact, blunders as badly as Richard Rorty in his critique of Rorty’s phrase “Given that it pays to talk about mountains….” Searle goes on, “Why does it pay? Because there really are such things, and they existed before we had the word and they will continue to exist long after we have all died. To state the facts you have to have a vocabulary. But the facts you state with that vocabulary are not dependent on the existence or usefulness of the vocabulary.”

Well, no. Actually the relative usefulness of the vocabulary depends on how you think about the protrusions from the earth’s crust we choose to call mountains. As everyone knows (so that it seems quaint that J. H. Van Den Berg made such a big deal out of it) mountains seem to have been thought of in Europe mostly as obstacles to be overcome (even when they were spiritual and metaphoric mountains) until influential paintings and literary documents made them into sublime sights to be seen and enjoyed. Geologists may find the commonplace category “mountain” disagreeably imprecise, since it raises the issue of when a sufficiently old mountain has become worn down and soil-covered enough to count as a “very high hill.” We don’t think of the high islands of Fiji as mountain tops, even though they are; mountains, in our category of ordinary usage, have to extend far above sea level, so undersea mountains that start tens of thousands of feet in the depths are discomfiting.

But the protrusions from the planet’s crust are there, regarding of how we categorize them or think about them. The protrusions are not socially constructed. Mountains are. As every cliché-user knows, we can make mountains out of molehills if we put our minds to it.

But as we also know, the categories of contemporary scientific investigation came out of the evolution of worldviews that would make sense out of finding things out in just that way, and no other. There are ample quantities of empirical investigation in which the laws of motion or the growth and decline of mountains have been interpreted in quite different ways in spite of being descriptions of the same physical processes.

And that is why, in spite of its flaws including minor grammatical errors, we may find both instruction and delight in a the U.S., still forthcoming—book that is likely to disappear very quickly.

Spike Bucklow’s The Alchemy of Paint: Art, Science and Secrets from the Middle Ages is the wide-ranging production of a scientifically literate writer who “prefers to avoid the modern world whenever possible.” In other words, he recognizes a chemical reaction when he sees it; he simply finds it more interesting when it occurs in the metaphysical and symbological context that the medieval artists and thinkers gave to it.

The book is likely to disappear quickly because the publisher, Marion Boyars, has declared its intention to quit business after publishing its autumn list, and so far only the top list of titles have been sold to other imprints.

One hopes that Bucklow’s book will find an ongoing distribution source, because his style is straightforward and agreeable, even if sometimes specialists may quibble with a few of his conclusions. He has done considerable homework, and his bibliography contains as many references to the Journal of Chemical Education and A Glossary of Greek Fishes as to Thomas Taylor’s translation of a Neo-Platonist life of Pythagoras and the Warburg Institute’s explorations of similar arcana.

Bucklow states his conclusions as baldly as Jim Evans states his in the previous citation, and it is worth quoting a representative passage to see his method at work: “The worlds of things and thoughts came together in recipes. Colour hovers somewhere between the two worlds and it has been approached in this book so far through its tangible sources; dyes, pigments and metals—or, in the case of the non-existent metallic blues—as if the sources were tangible. But to understand the artists’ intangible world of thoughts in more depth it is necessary to take a leap of faith. …Dragonsblood is made of the mixed, coagulated blood of dragons and elephants, This might seem unlikely but appearances can be deceptive. Unlike the non-existent metallic blues, with their apparently straightforward recipes, dragonsblood actually does exist despite its distinctly implausible recipe. One might consider the pigment’s alleged origins to be poetic packages for prosaic ingredients, instructions and rules. But the poetry is not peripheral—it is central to the traditional world view.”

It is central, yes, and it is central even to world views that also do not know their own metaphors as metaphors. I could go on to discuss Michael Taussig’s vertiginous views of anthropological topics in his relatively new What Color Is the Sacred? but this little review essay has gone on too long as it is, and I have presented preliminary remarks on that book in another location.

Suffice it to note that too recently to figure in anyone’s book, the world’s oldest textiles have been discovered, and they turn out to be woven linen threads dyed in bright colors even though they almost certainly did no more than hold together animal furs in a fashion close to the cartoonists’ vision of Early Caveman. Asked by the radio interviewer why anyone would bother to find bright dye for the world’s first version of string, the anthropologist being interviewed replied to the effect that we are color-loving creatures; given the chance, we go right to it.

And that takes us so deep into Taussig’s book, and to Bucklow’s in a different way, that I had better stop right this minute.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

this should post in the position in which it was originally written, many posts down the page. good.

This multi-part essay will never be completed. Leaving out the sections that follow from this (or that were supposed to follow from this), here is the untitled prologue and part one (which is sufficiently outrageous, I surmise, to make up for the absence of the remaining three parts):

“The classics can console. But not enough.”
—Derek Walcott, “Sea Grapes”

We can’t get rid of Greece and Rome, any more than we can get rid of the building of the Pyramids, the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses, or the construction of the Erie Canal. They are facts that had material and spiritual consequences, of which we are the inheritors.

But we can supplement them.

We can also re-dream our our relationship to them. Derek Walcott has produced, over the years, an immense, sophisticated literary re-imagining of what Greece and Rome might mean on an island such as St. Lucia where the benefits of “a sound colonial education” were overlaid on a place in which the very language spoken by the descendants of a slave population (and of their onetime masters, plus a few other strands of intermingled ethnic inheritance) reflects generations of European politics and of the wars of France and England.

We can’t truly get rid of our history, for it comes back to bite us even in our own tastes and our own pathological excesses. It is present in the distressingly seductive grandiloquence of Thomas Wolfe’s rhetorically Southern articulation of the theme: “…and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern because a London cutpurse went unhung.” It would be fun, albeit unproductive, to try to imagine Robert Lowell’s Puritan-haunted New England rhetoric inflecting the same theme. (Actually, we don’t have to imagine; we only need to find the correct quotation.)

Now we have, in Cathy Gere’s books The Tomb of Agamemnon and Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, the tools to re-dream our relation to the classical inheritance—or a major thread to lead us through the labyrinth, anyway.

I have already written my own review essay of sorts about these books at and will not elaborate here except to say that Americans and Europeans have viewed the origins of Greek civilization through the distorting lenses of nineteenth through twenty-first century history, just as the Renaissance viewed them through its own perspectival distortions. It doesn’t diminish the value of the Greek and Roman inheritance to realize just how much we have selectively re-invented and re-imagined them to meet our psychological and social needs in every generation, any more than it diminishes the inheritance of the Egyptians or the Mayans. It just gives us permission to bend and twist the template, and to continue the perhaps impossible quest for comprehending the Greeks’ and Romans’ self-understanding. (How could we understand them? We do not even understand ourselves.)

Since what reaches us from the past is always already impure and distorted, we are most true to our classical inheritance when we make it our own: digital and virtual, or solidly mashed up in a remix and graffitied over by the tides of contemporary history.

So I am overjoyed, personally, by the mix-and-match juxtaposition of the classical arch of Atlanta’s Millennium Gate with Atlanta’s quintessentially modernist Ikea, on a site formerly occupied by a major steel manufacturer. There is no better way to dream the myth onward for the twenty-first century than thus to embrace our contradictions and our paradoxes. The whimsical photo posted somewhere by the Millennium Gate Museum, showing the heroic structure framed by its distinctly downhome mailbox across the multi-lane street, sums up the problem, and/or the solution.

This is not, by the way, a “transgressive” reading. That worn-out option is already so late-antique twentieth century, and so bound up with a certain kind of geeky academic snideness that is as dead and over as is the short-lived postmodern era, a period style that lasted a couple of decades instead of the couple of centuries allotted to modernity.

Since we are no longer modern or postmodern, but something else entirely, we are free to re-create our history in the present moment, secure in the knowledge that six months or six minutes from now, some snarky twitterer will be tweeting chirpily about how ridiculous it is that anyone ever thought something like that.

So let’s go for it. Or whatever argot we ought to be using to express that concept in the autumn of 2009. No one will remember, or even notice the first time round. Or we can hope that most earnestly, anyway.

A Four Part Essay in Defense of Hybridity, Inheritance, and Multiple Heritages

Part One:

I vividly recall my naïve shock on my first visit to Germany in 1996 (or, more accurately, to what had been West Germany, or the Federal Republic proper—I had seen the formally four-power-Allied-occupied Berlin of 1989, including the sector that had served for forty years as the sort-of-disputed capital of the German Democratic Republic, and revisited the once and future capital thereafter, a few months after unification).

Just as Germany’s postwar political status ended up overlaid with long-lasting leftover anomalies, the historical buildings ended up as reconstituted anomalies—sometimes rebuilt exactly as they were even though scarcely one stone had remained intact.

Even more disconcerting was the realization that certain impressive Gothic public buildings were rebuilt versions of destroyed Wilhelmine-era historical revivals—a postwar replica of a nineteenth-century reinvention of medieval architecture. (The Thirty Years War had greatly diminished the number of surviving authentically medieval structures some centuries earlier.)

So I have a soft spot in my soul for the notion of giving a city the past that it should have had but didn’t, or of updating the past, or of reproducing the past it had once but has no longer.

And despite the occasional victory with such buildings as the Fox Theatre (itself a lovely amalgam of imaginary North African and Near Eastern histories derived from Masonic allegory), Atlanta is a city that has excelled at pulling down what passes for its heritage, then sometimes (only sometimes) regretting it.

But lately I have been more fascinated with the attempt, not just to blend the historical with the contemporary—the stairs and planters from the 1895 Exposition that are meshed beautifully with the 1985 Atlanta Botanical Garden—but to create reminders of a past that never existed, but that should have. The retro lampposts of Freedom Parkway, suggesting a past history but more or less contemporaneous with the 1996 Olympics, are just one example.

The Millennium Gate arch and its flanking statuary at Atlantic Station are a more spectacular example. Considered as purpose-built entranceways to an immense mixed-use development, they would seem absurd. Considered as reminders or replicas of the past that ought to have existed but never did for various historical reasons, they look splendidly appropriate.

They are an excellent alternate history in a city that has often seemed modeled on some never-filmed sequel to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. (Not for nothing did the late and much-missed Charles Huntley Nelson create an Afro-Futurist remix of Lang’s original film.)

The arch and its statuary are already en route to acquiring the patina that accumulates rapidly in an accelerated culture, as it essays to negate the change-oriented downside of that patina; in our day, wear and tear and vehicular pollution too often conspire with urban redevelopment not only to take the gloss off things, but to suggest that maybe it is time to tear them down. A once well-known example of ‘80s postmodernism is already gone, having failed to survive changing tastes, and an anonymous shopping district has replaced it. But intrinsic architectural quality has nothing to do with it: One of the city’s most distinguished and internationally recognized examples of 1980s architecture narrowly escaped demolition, or replication elsewhere as in a proposed compromise. (An early example of the work of I. M. Pei nearly suffered a similar fate, and Marcel Breuer's final architectural commission has likewise been proposed as a candidate for obliteration by the winds of change.)

So if the Millennium Gate’s insistence on the remembrance of history does no more than remind us that Scogin, Elam and Bray’s Buckhead Library is a key part of our recent historical inheritance, it will have done its job in keeping at bay the barbarians who build in styrofoam, instead of in stone, steel, and structurally solid polymers. Mack and Merrill design things worthy of the ages, but the things themselves sometimes get ripped out after a decade or two.

One might note that the Vestiges Project out of New Orleans chose to use the Buckhead Library as their base this October for their Atlanta segment. So we are making progress in terms of realizing that in our thoughtlessly throwaway society, the past we have to preserve may barely have become the past.

Now that it has a little age on it, the Millennium Gate demonstrates perfectly that our heritage is not the past that we falsely believe that we merely inherit, but rather the past that we re-interpret and re-imagine. (Witness the two architectural styles blended in the Gate, the reference to a Greek temple done in supremely Modernist glass architecture that perches atop the arch itself.)

A city is only as good as the past it makes up from the available materials. Or as the late Kenneth Burke used to tell his students, “Be careful how you talk about the world; it is like that.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

with other projects on indefinite hold, news of all sorts, some of it self-serving

I haven't thought a great deal about zombies since I read Wade Davis' The Serpent and the Rainbow years ago (on the biochemistry of zombification, which mimics death rather than revivifying the deceased). But Stan Woodard has clearly noticed the recent popularity of zombies even more than I have...the term being ubiquitous as a name for technological phenomena and financial institutions that are under the unwilled control of others or dead-but-still-walking-around.

Hence his day of all things zombie on September 12, of which the part that interests me is the academic panel "The Zombie Perceived: Religion, Media and Society," at Clary Theatre at Georgia Tech from 1 to 3:45 p.m. on which, see for more information:

More than a few years ago, someone wrote a book called Our Vampires, Ourselves, which could be updated since I believe it long preceded the Twilight phenomenon. It was a sociopolitical look at the many modes and identities of vampires since they first put in an appearance in literary culture...the point being that we re-invent the vampire in every generation to address different situations and different fears and desires.

Obviously the present moment also needs a Our Zombies, Ourselves. But I am not volunteering to write it.

What I am volunteering to do is read a few new poems and later try to do an improv performance with electronic composer Dick Robinson on September 13, 2 to 4 p.m. at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center: for details thereon, see

We knew better than to go up against a Zombie Fest in terms of an audience.

We will perform our improvisation as the Hallucination Sextet. Of the six performers, only the two of us will be live. (Dick describes the other four as "virtual.")

Friday, August 28, 2009

another global exhibition you probably can't go to (and I certainly can't)

Though there was no way of knowing it at the time, it was an excellent day for artists when the family that owns Glenfiddich distillery (today part of the still family-owned Wm. Grant & Sons) made the imaginative leap of marketing their product as-is worldwide as single malt Scotch, instead of following the tradition of traveling the world, first on steamers and later on jetliners, selling it off to blenders in the traditional manner.

For in the fullness of time, the family proclivity for imaginative gestures bore fruit in the decision to start a summer-long artist in residence program, invitation only, giving a few artists the freedom to create what they would, the only requirement being the donation of one piece to the company's collection.

In 2007, New York-based artist Romeo Alaeff produced a series of prints titled "War on the Brain," gorgeously revamped Rorschach blots containing references to conflicts from William Wallace and All That to the smell of napalm in the morning in Vietnam. Another 2007 artist, and if I were not writing away from my CD of images I would say who, produced a conceptual paradox worthy of Marcel Duchamp: a sweeper's broom thrust through a standard-issue barrel, to be filled with new-make spirit and laid down for however many years, at the end of which time it would still not be considered Scotch whisky because the invading broom handle would have violated the terms within which the company's whisky is defined.

That year, the workers were also creating art: the distillery's barrelmakers were having a go at energetic self-taught evocations of the years in which certain barrels then due for bottling had been laid down in the warehouse (the Berlin Wall and the logo of Windows come to mind as subjects they chose for sculpture).

Now the 2009 residency has culminated in the annual exhibitions of work made in residence, and I regret that difficulties in revising this piece have prevented me from publicizing it in any meaningful way.

The program is one of those marvelous gestures that adds its small bit to the web of world culture, and one ought to be pleased to see the money spent intelligently in this fashion.

Full disclosure requires me to remind you (remind because I've written this before) that the only paid-for-by-others press tour of my life allowed me a firsthand experience of this program, which has obviously had a lasting impact. They will never spend another U.S. dollar or Scottish pound on me, so I feel justified in providing once again this complimentary meditation, especially since it allows me to mention once more the work of Romeo Alaeff, who also will never get another U.S. or U.K. penny from Wm Grant & Sons and who could presumably use the money if someone feels inclined to look up his website and invest in one of the "War on the Brain" pieces.

And anyone within driving distance of Dufftown still has a couple of weeks to see the second exhibition in this year's series.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

more, but not much more, on "Dissolving Stereotypes/Forging New Dialogues: An Exhibition Beyond Race"

Blogs and long essays may be mutually incompatible. Having gotten written the first two parts of a four-part meditation that was to end with a series of provisional conclusions regarding the state of ethnic identity in America in the early twenty-first century, I have realized that the exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia will have ended even before I can offer tentative remarks on why I cannot write a meaningful review of it.

So here, a few days before the show closes, are a handful of notes on the rightness and wrongness of Walker’s curatorial premises.

Walker, who by the way is the father of Kara Walker as well as a distinguished artist himself and longtime professor at Georgia State University, has taken it upon himself to bring up to date the notion that artists are artists foremost and ethnically oriented beings second, even when their topic is their own ethnicity. Put another way, he states that ethnic groups are poorly served when bad art is fobbed off on the public as being somehow the authentic voice of this or that people. Before a work of art can express a meaningful opinion on ethnic identity or anything else, it has first to be a well-conceived and executed work of art. It may then violate expectations or express respect in a way considered invalid by some (Walker's exhibition includes Pat Drew’s painting based on an antique photo of an African-American family, part of her effort to represent the family resemblances between Southern ancestors of all races)…or as he puts it more vividly, “Isn’t that a no-no?”

Two of the best works in the show, both formally and conceptually, are Kevin Sipp’s reinventions of Ki-Kongo ritual objects blended with allusions to René Depestre’s negritude poem A Rainbow for the Christian West and Bad Brains’ hardcore in an Afro-Punk amalgam to set alongside the Afro-Futurism espoused by Sipp’s prematurely deceased onetime collaborator, Charles Nelson.

Yun Liu’s translation of a Rothkoesque abstract expressionism into an overlay on panels of Chinese characters is one method of creating a hybrid aesthetic culture. A more contemporary form is Yi-Hsin Tzeng’s video of herself being drenched in successive layers of red, yellow and blue paint followed by a coat of white concluding and wiping out “The Last Painting in Modernism.” Who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue, indeed. The video is reminiscent of the version of bodily intervention undertaken by the first generation of Chinese artists to become global superstars, making its allusion to Barnett Newman as distinctly grounded in (contemporary) Chinese practice as Yun’s (or should it be Liu’s? It’s hard for some of us to tell when a name has been reversed to conform to American expectations, without the telltale hyphen linking two of the names.).

The exhibition cries out to be evaluated both in terms of the extent to which the art plays into ethnic expectations and the extent to which the aesthetic success of the work varies wildly. But it’s a non-starter; an Anglo (I like to use the Southwestern term for us descendants of southern United Kingdom émigrés) male of a certain age still cannot toss around glib opinions or even considered ones without being accused of having the cultural blindnesses and defects of personal vision that all of us humans in fact possess, regardless of our ethnicity and our preferred theoretical practice. (In theory, the right practice ought to make perfect, but it’s not so.)

So one hopes that the show has gotten a decent number of viewers during its run. It’s too bad that the lively symposium that inaugurated the exhibition couldn’t be repeated in these waning days of August.

Monday, August 17, 2009

in memoriam Turner Cassity and homage to surviving writers

Randall Jarrell wrote, in an epigram I used as an epigraph to my first published essay, something to the effect of "The poet in America has a unique relationship to the general public: it doesn't even know he is there." (Jarrell wrote this a fair number of years pre-1970, so the masculine universal was the grammatical norm.) He also wrote that publishing a volume of verse in America is like throwing a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting to hear the echo.

So I suppose it is not surprising that Atlanta Review should be world-esteemed and largely unknown in its eponymous city, its editor Dan Veach the creator of Flowers of Flame, the first anthology in English (I think) of present-day poems from Iraqi writers, a book that has not gotten all that much press in his hometown. In previous decades, Veach has been able to coax contributions from Nobel laureates without getting much credit for it.

It is, then, also not surprising that in spite of his having lived in a city that sponsors art and literature festivals both at the beginning of summer and at the end of it, the recently deceased Turner Cassity's books are largely unavailable both in local bookstores and in the public library.

Cassity was no self-published wonder, but an idiosyncratic, deeply learned and deliberately irritating writer with decades' worth of volumes from university presses. He went against the trends of his day and of almost any day one cares to think of, writing vastly cynical verses alongside loopily-titled looks at forgotten aspects of twentieth-century history (or outright fantasy; "The Airship Boys in Africa") and giving his first volume of collected poems a title so politically incorrect that I blush to write it even now.

I suppose anyone who set out to be so consciously, wittily offensive would not have been the sort of fellow who received or accepted frequent offers to perform his poetry. But he co-founded a monthly forum for poets that survives after three decades, one that gave me an early moment of visibility alongside many other emerging writers— the majority of whom, like the majority of Atlanta's visual artists, remain emerging to this very day. And he was genuinely generous to writers who did not share his point of view, though it helped if they could comprehend the perspective of a poet who could return from North African travels praising the quality of Morocco's art deco architecture.

Don Bryant's documentary photos of Tiny Town

An exhibition currently at Atlanta Photography Group's gallery in the TULA art center documents the final days of Tiny Town, a folk art environment in New Mexico that was bulldozed in relatively recent days, photographer Don Bryant informs us. (He photographed the site almost exactly a year ago; the site was destroyed in January.)

Wondering how much the site had been documented otherwise and why some site-preservationist group like Intuit hadn't been asked to intervene, I looked up the place online and discovered that, as with so much folk or outsider art, the whole story is impossibly ambiguous and the reports preceding Bryant's are contradictory.

Here is one website's description: "Earlier reports by travel writers describe this acre as having its own saloon, church, courthouse and jail; rivers made of broken glass, and roads made of tarpaper, complete with yellow lines. However, when Legends of America visited, there was little sign of the acre of haphazard material resembling a town. Perhaps this is because several years ago an art scout came upon Lange’s town and arranged to have much of it boxed and shipped to the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Evidently, this was the jumping board for success, as the artist now sells many of her creations in local shops."

And here is another, :
"The term "outsider art" does not begin to describe what's on display at Tiny Town. Even so, the roadside attraction just north of Madrid just isn't what it used to be. Wind, weather, sun and the passing of time have turned the one-time sea of broken glass and artfully arranged bones into ramshackle, dilapidated outdoor display.

"Artist Tammy Jean Lange has been called a visionary and a 'human firecracker' as well as a local icon in so-called outsider art, using roadkill, rusted objects and broken toys as her media. A discarded cigarette machine, rust-red iron cookstove, set of putt-put clubs and dozens of partially clothed dolls are among the current occupants.

"Lange does not pay rent to use the 1 acre site, and over the last four years has done less and less to keep the place looking like the small wonder that it used to be, said longtime benefactor Bille Russell.

"Russell has for more than a decade allowed Lange to set up her found art on about an acre of her 112-acre Lodestar Ranch. When Lange, 49, also known as Tatt2 Tammy, started using the area as her primary residence and drifted away from what Russell called 'brilliant things,' Russell said she reluctantly took steps to change the situation.

"'I think her art has a right to exist,' said Russell, who met Lange when a friend helped get her art into the Mineshaft Tavern gift shop. 'So the initial deal was that Tiny Town could be there and she could work there, but she could not live there.'

"Russell said she was worn down by neighboring landowners who called the project an eyesore and wanted it cleaned up. 'It had its peaks, but in four years it's taken quite a dive,' she said. 'It became more like a dump instead of her working her art.'"

Bryant informs us that the site was finally destroyed, but the overall story turns out to be impossibly complex.

And this is the case with most folk art environments in this day and time, the seemingly downhome marker of rural authenticity shading off into postmodern tangles of narrative and motivation in which not only is one person's trash another person's treasure, but one person's folk environment is another person's leftover from better days in the folk art world, with the masterworks already hauled off for a museum. (Howard Finster's Paradise Garden would be worth preserving for the World Folk Art Church alone. St. EOM's Pasaquan is certainly in need of continuing preservation. Lonnie Holley reconstructed his environment after the original was bulldozed to make room for an airport expansion, but in the case of less robustly architectural environments than Finster's or St. EOM's, the issue will always be for how long the whole will be more than the sum of its parts.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

notes from the good intentions road paving company

Essays and exhibition reviews are at odds with one another. I have been wrestling for weeks with a four or five part meditation on history, shifting models of ethnic identity, and continuities in hybrid cultures; but while I struggle with a topic that somehow will sweep in Thomas Hart Benton, Russell Lee and the FSA photographers, Frederic, Lord Leighton, the Millennium Arch, and Larry Walker's "Dissolving Stereotypes/Forging New Dialogues: An Exhibition Beyond Race," the local shows in Atlanta are moving inexorably towards their scheduled closing dates. As with Michi Meko at Beep Beep, I may find the implicit issues so unwieldy that the online review will never appear. But I am having another go at it. First drafts of at least two of the four (or five) parts already exist, though they are too drafty to exist even in the provisional world of the blog.

In the meantime, the opening tonight of Maria Artemis' exhibition at MOCA GA should serve to draw fresh attention to "Dissolving Stereotypes" in the museum's adjacent gallery.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eyedrum art auction: not a self-promoting announcement in spite of the picture below

It is well known in metro Atlanta, though not necessarily elsewhere, that the extraordinary all-volunteer art and performance space Eyedrum is in dire financial straits. Some 150 artists, including nationally known figures—we are promised unadvertised surprises—have donated work for a benefit auction on Friday, August 14, 7 - 10 p.m., details at

Among the donors is yours truly, Jerry Cullum the sometime painter and occasional conceptual artist and creator of digital photocollage, this being what could be my final appearance in the first-named function, since I have produced only conceptual and digital pieces since this painting was created and posted to Facebook and to either this blog or joculum.livejournal, I don't recall which.

The painting is properly dated, titled and signed on the reverse, unlike some work I recently acquired from emerging artists who continue to forget that collectors will have no recollection twenty years from now of whether this painting was by painter X or painter Y or possibly by the guy whose solo show at Highland Bakery never materialized in spite of the evident quality of his work. I am sometimes tempted to post a photograph of that one (from back in the day), and ask if anyone recalls who painted this.

Not to be too judgmental; after writing for years about the importance of establishing chronology for pieces of folk art I neglected to note dates of acquisition for the various pieces I bought from the late R. A. Miller, who unlike Howard Finster was disinclined to date his works, much less number them. And I have let far too many of my handful of artworks leave my hands without adequate photo documentation, or in one or two cases without any documentation at all.

Alec Soth at the High, and memories of a monastery

Art traditionally archetypalizes. This is so even in the astonishing documentary photographs of the civil rights movement that were the chief feature of last year’s “Road to Freedom” exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum: somehow, in the midst of massive and obviously unrehearsed moments of violence against demonstrators, more than one photographer captured pictorial compositions so energetic yet perfectly balanced that Jeff Wall or Gregory Crewdson would be hard pressed to replicate them.

The twelve photos of Alec Soth’s “Black Line of Woods,” the newest in the High Museum’s “Picturing the South” commissions and the nucleus of what has now become Soth’s larger project, are somewhere in between the documentarians’ decisive moments and the careful set-ups of the Crewdson generation. Soth has sought out the isolates, the marginal by choice, the sorts of characters who might have shown up in a slightly less Gothic version of the Flannery O’Connor stories from one of which the title of this exhibition is taken. He has chosen the poses and the natural lighting carefully; one detail shot of an otherwise unaltered portion of an improvised encampment was clearly made when the shadows were less extreme.

Soth has gone out of his way to conceal even his consciously chosen social references, so far as titles go. “Murphy, North Carolina,” 2006, is a photograph of an unremarkable building and van in late sunlight, but the site in Murphy is the one where Centennial Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph was apprehended after a long and fruitless search for him in the deep woods.

Soth states in “Five Questions for Alec Soth” on the High’s website that “I wanted to investigate this romantic notion of escape, but I didn't want it overly politicized. Rudolph represented one extreme version of this escape fantasy.... I also wanted to look at more spiritual versions of escape. So, in northwest Georgia I visited a monastery. Elsewhere I photographed hermits whose intentions were neither political nor spiritual—folks who just wanted to get away.”

The most memorable apparent hermit of the series is a grey-bearded gentleman who appears surrounded by his fruit-filled tomato vines in “S. J., Nubbin Creek, Alabama,” 2007.

Soth aestheticizes his marginal places and sometimes renders them symbolic, as with the fragile-seeming clean, well-lighted place overshadowed by a literal black line of woods in the photograph that introduces the sequence, or the single light bulb hanging over what looks like a blanket or a sleeping pallet in an otherwise virgin-seeming woodland. Like the disco ball visually echoed by a basketball in “Enchanted Forest, Texas,” 2006, that light bulb implies a story that is left utterly untold.

In the case of the Eric Rudolph-related convenience store, it is the untold story that lends romance and/or a sinister air to the image; in the case of the lights in darkness, it is the image that conjures up an imagined narrative. And that tale may well be more wonderful than the real back story.

“F. P., Resaca, Georgia,” 2006, the photo above (©Alec Soth and courtesy of the High Museum of Art), is the quintessential meeting of Soth-imposed romanticism and a back story that is perhaps even more wonderful than the image.

F. P., whoever he may be, is an Orthodox monk from the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, which has maintained a legitimate affiliation with one Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction or another since its foundation by, I believe, a group of converts to Orthodoxy. (Many would-be Orthodox outfits have ended up being, ironically enough, jurisdictionally heterodox, but not this monastery.)

The monastery in Resaca is situated in a hilltop house from the 1950s surrounded by woodlands. It first gained national prominence as the house of the computer programmer monks, who realized that at the time of their 1977 arrival, some of them had computer skills and equipment that their neighbors did not. They earned income by processing accounts for local businesses.

A visit to the website of this monastery, of which I had seldom thought since visiting it decades ago, reveals that the monks are as tech-savvy and concerned with traditional spirituality as they ever were, though by now there must have been some degree of generational turnover. Apparently Soth established a particular rapport with the monk who is most practiced at photography, who helped him do the setup for the photo of the robed monk alone in the line of woods. The monastery’s darkroom facilities are reportedly impeccable, regardless of the monastery’s current digital focus.

The once much-noticed miracle-working icon of the Virgin continues to weep tears of fragrant myrrh, but no longer as frequently as it did in the days when it was lent to nearby congregations seeking intercession.

Monday, August 10, 2009

product placement and other less than amusing anecdotal incidents

It comes to me that a 21st century Karl Kraus is an updated version of, say, "Package Tours to Hell" would simply be regarded as a successful case of viral marketing.

Which reminds me that I am actually delighted that the new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys will contain commissioned work by a stellar list of contemporary artists. Fourteen names not typically associated with football stadiums, and I am still trying to make myself believe this is not some kind of conceptual intervention by one of those dynamic duos of artists who go in for that sort of thing. But it appears that Mel Bochner and Teresita Fernández and Franz Ackermann will in fact be doing what they do, which puts the Dallas Cowboys in a whole 'nother league—which was, I assume, the point.

meanwhile, from less lavishly funded enterprises....upcoming events at MODA

Museum of Design Atlanta is the little operation that manages to be a museum of design within the limits of being a Smithsonian affiliate that nevertheless attracts far more in-kind donations than offers of operating or programming income.

Having just completed its summer-long run of a remarkable exhibition of social-activist posters (including an archetypal Angela Davis from back in the day that illustrates why Ian Wright's portrait of her, cited below, would be considered cynically transgressive), MODA's plans for the fall include a major Marcel Breuer exhibition to be divided between the MODA galleries and the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library downtown headquarters that was Breuer's last completed design. The exhibition opens on October 27 and runs through January 16, 2010.

Though this would surely be enough for any one season, MODA will present an off-site traveling exhibition (traveling among metro Atlanta venues, that is), sponsored by the Kendeda Fund, that will highlight Atlanta's status as one of the cities with the greatest number of LEED-certified eco-friendly buildings. (Atlanta was briefly the city with the most LEED-certified structures.) One hopes that this exhibition, in a city not always thought of as oriented towards environmental issues, will stir some much-needed discussion, or at least provide public education via interactive technology.

outrageousness works brilliantly as an advertising tool

Consider that I have not been compensated by even so much as an offer of a plastic shopping bag for reproducing this extract from an online press release, verbatim:

Saks Fifth Avenue is thrilled to announce the nationwide launch of Fall Want It! featuring the artwork of renowned London-based contemporary artist Ian Wright on September 9, 2009.

Ian Wright’s artistic career spans many disciplines, from illustration to mixed media. His work has been featured in exhibits all over the world. Recently, he has created a wall-sized portrait of Mao Zedong made exclusively of hand-covered fabric buttons, and a 3-D portrait of Angela Davis made from mascara wands.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

one of the best artworks I have seen in 2009 (reproduced with permission of the artist)

Kate Kretz: At the end of each day, if Kate has not been able to get into the studio, she pricks her finger and writes the word "art" before going to bed. Appeases the art gods, tells them that she is still here, has not abandoned those who have been so good to her & saved her life. Marks the day. Makes SOMETHING.

Friday, July 31, 2009

R.I.P. Charles Huntley Nelson

I had had in mind a number of posts regarding exhibitions, but find myself compelled instead to offer a preliminary memorial note regarding Charles Huntley Nelson, who died of complications following a stroke. He had been ill for some months with advanced stomach cancer.

I asked Charles to co-curate "Speed: Life in an Accelerated Culture" at the inception of the twenty-first century because he had already curated exhibitions that introduced me to the work of many of the younger artists who I wished to include in the "Speed" exhibition I had been invited to curate. I was deeply impressed by his sense of professionalism and reflections on the shape of a rapidly changing global culture.

His conceptual querying of issues of race and class in his remixes of Metropolis and The Invisible Man made me anxious to see his similar treatment of Alphaville, of which the preliminary results have been on exhibit at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

He was a midcareer artist whose work had slowly gained national recognition, and his loss at this stage of his mature output is a particular tragedy.

The trajectory of his career can be viewed at

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

now this: as the National Black Arts Festival 2009 begins

Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier's curation of the Morgan County African American Museum and Madison-Morgan Cultural Center's two-venue exhibition of art commenting on the experience of the African Diaspora looks to be as sensitive a treatment as one would expect from this distinguished artist, who has a background in documentary photography and accompanying written documentation of communities.

The ten Atlanta artists of African-American descent (the members of the Sistagraphy photo collective are also featured) include Daniel Hoover and Lillian Blades, both familiar to metro Atlanta audiences from past solo shows. The exhibition runs through August 29, and I hope to be able to offer a direct evaluation in the near future, rather than an impression gleaned from a press release and past acquaintance with many of the artists.

Information on Madison-Morgan Cultural Center is available at

Thursday, July 23, 2009

odds and ends, or short notes in several topics in Atlanta

I have been holding off on commenting on Eyedrum pending clarification of the situation, although I have an editorial of sorts that I wrote on the day the news broke. It now seems there will be a fundraising auction on August 14.

And I withheld comment on Emily Amy Gallery's summer show featuring some of my favorite artists because it seemed to be scheduled for newspaper review at an early date, and it has now has been written up quite well on I have written about Whitney Stansell and Meta Gary several times previously. It isn't part of the aforementioned exhibition, but Jennifer Cawley's work can now be viewed at the gallery on request, which comes as good news to longtime Cawley fans.

Curator Larry Walker's "Dissolving Stereotypes" show at MOCA GA is indeed the "Exhibition Beyond Race" that the title promises. The dissolution of stereotypes should by now be self-evident and taken for granted; but as recent events might be taken to indicate, we are not beyond any of that even in artworld expectations, and that fact alone makes it difficult to write about the exhibition with any degree of adequacy. Walker intended to start a conversation, and it is one that still needs to be engaged in, in depth, in These States. Longer commentary later, I hope.

A gallery conversation with the curator will take place on Tuesday, July 28, at 7 p.m. and if I can find a way to get there, I shall attempt to be present.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What Is To Be Done, Part Four: The Enigma of Sins of Omission

The joke will be lost on those not brought up in certain types of Christian theology, but my subject heading reminds me of the, probably Reader's Digest, tale of the child who was asked by the Sunday School teacher to define sins of omission, and who said, "They're the sins we should have committed, and didn't."

In any case, I am feeling appropriately guilty for having passed over in near-silence or total silence a certain number of exhibitions I should have made a greater effort to cover, especially in our present condition of inadequate arts coverage in general.

But once freed from the constraints of editorial word counts, all the suppressed issues of arts coverage become almost paralyzing. What if one has only fatuous or possibly outright wrong things to say about an exhibition, because to do it justice would require more interview and research time than one has available (given that most of one's reading and writing takes place very late at night)? What if one's provisional judgment, in a first draft, sounds dismayingly like damning with faint praise when one intended no such thing? What if one's first burst of unrestrained enthusiasm proves distressingly hard to justify on more than subjective grounds?

For there are probably thousands of artists in the world, if not tens of thousands, whose work deserves some form of recognition, but what sort remains to be worked out. Is the artist destined for global fame? Probably not, but then some make it onto the covers of magazines on both sides of the Atlantic, or into world-famous biennials. Is the artist reworking well-worn genres? Sometimes. Is the artist supreme in the field in a local context that may or may not be able to stand against competitors in comparable cities? Sometimes. Is the artist as good as anybody in a genre that the tides of fashion have deemed unworthy of further discussion except to local yokels? Sometimes. Should the tides of fashion be queried appropriately? Always. Should an emerging artist be recognized for what may or may not mature into something far more intriguing? Always. Should an emerging or even a midcareer artist be recognized for a personal best that may not yet contribute much to a larger dialogue? Well, at this point we are getting into the problem of neither exaggerating the accomplishment nor damning with faint praise. And when one is consumed with such baroque niceties, one's most offhand adjective is likely to be misconstrued as conveying unqualified celebration or disguised disapproval.

It is so much easier just to say, "Here's some stuff," and sometimes to explain why one is forgoing evaluation. But there are times when forgoing evaluation is itself a form of evaluation, and that is when after the first couple of drafts, one simply gives up in mild embarrassment. The beauty of print deadlines was that something had to appear, however inadequate or formulaic, and sometimes it was both.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Three Loosely Related, Worse than Provisional, Meditations re the Unsatisfactory Condition of Regional Art Coverage; & Also A Note on Kibbee Gallery

Three Loosely Related, Worse than Provisional, Meditations Towards Resolving the Unsatisfactory Condition of Regional Art Criticism. Plus a Kibbee Gallery Review. Keep Scrolling Down, It’s There

expect a rewrite, even if one never comes; corrections welcomed

What Is To Be Done, Part One. Preliminary Considerations, or Prolegomena. Or Whatever.

Reading Deyan Sudjic’s The Edifice Complex (The Language of Things has me working backwards through his oeuvre), I realize, and not for the first time, the degree to which contemporary art and architecture appears in an intellectual arena divorced from intellectual history in general.

For a concept-laden field so taken with its own interdisciplinarity, this seems extremely odd. Granted, the field admits only a limited number of literary figures, just as literature admits only a limited number of artists and architects into the imaginative realm of the verbal. Each seems inordinately proud of the degree to which its own area of discourse encompasses the entirety of human activity.

Of course, there is only so much any one area of specialization can do. Art makes use of language in a way quite different from that of literature: there are fewer words, usually, and what words there are usually spill over into the more image-laden areas of discourse, such as film and video making, fields which at one end of their spectrum have simply been incorporated into art—as contemporary literature has not been incorporated into philosophy and sociology and anthropology and political science…although all of those fields are pleased to be superior analysts of art, literature, architecture, and the creative endeavors in general; and, at least in the case of writers such as J. M. Coetzee, the compliment is returned by novels that incorporate theoretical essays.

Each field tends to incorporate only those aspects of the others that it (or a practitioner of it, to be more exact) finds most interesting or valuable. This is normal. But the world of visual art, and to a slightly lesser degree architecture, seems to be shunted to a sidelines that is not visible as such only because the specialists in the sideline have the possibility of earning enormous sums of money, or because they themselves don’t keep up with the general-interest journals in English. (But online compilers like Eurozine, summarizing publications from all over Europe, and signandsight—despite its punning name—seem to suffer from the same site-blindness.)

One can read the New York Review of Books for a very long time without ever coming to much of a perspective regarding contemporary art, in spite of that publication’s tendency to commission articles that go far beyond mere book or exhibition reviews. Book reviewing publications in general, however, don’t seem to cover exhibition catalogues. NYRB does, but very selectively and even more historically than is the case with its surveys of science—and its economic and political book reviews consciously supplement its coverage of current events. Events outside the museums tend to be relegated to the realm of generally uncomprehending journalists, though the demise of print newspapers is rapidly changing this for the even worse.

The problem with this is that people of a certain generation who get their news from print aggregators like NYRB or the various multidisciplinary intellectual journals never even learn what it is they aren’t learning. One has the feeling that some of them would let loose withering salvos at the art world, if they could be stopped long enough to consider it. The art world might return the compliment if it had time to contemplate these particular men and women, rather than the slender selection of them who become the thinkers du jour for the various curators and critics of the planet.

Sudjic’s wonderfully disgruntled survey of the social compromises made by contemporary architecture has the distinction of understanding the contexts of the many buildings he is discussing…apart from his confusion or conflation of two of the secondary territorial claimants in the Munich Crisis of 1938, I haven’t found any significant miscomprehensions in the social or political background he lays out, including the history-of-religions situation of Richard Meier’s visitors’ center for Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral.

Sudjic is one of those glorious exceptions who ought to be critiqued (for like any other thinker, he rides his particular hobbyhorses to excess) by assorted anthropologists of the contemporary, at the very least. He at least knows a great deal about both his field and the forces that shape its day-to-day preferences, and as I noted regarding The Language of Things, coming at contemporary art from the related but differently blinkered field of contemporary design suggests a different set of problems and perspectives, and that the two approaches ought to be brought into dialogue with one another.

What Is To Be Done, Part Two: The Look of a Multidisciplinary Regional Website

Thanks to my own blinkered perspective, I tend to consult Denis Dutton’s Arts & Letters Daily almost on a daily basis, and, since I like to be reminded of past contexts and perspectives when viewing the new, I look at the essays page of Erik Davis’ irregularly instead of subscribing to an RSS feed.

Davis’ field of interests doesn’t overlap at all with Dutton’s (you not only won’t find his essays in Dutton’s daily roundup of the intellectual journals, you won’t even find his subject matter), but the two pages possess some of the characteristics that make such websites superior to even the most wide-ranging and multi-authored of blogs.

Mostly, for me, it’s the extensive amount of information that can be gleaned at a glance, without ever scrolling down the page; Davis prioritizes his own work (sometimes bringing back some essays from the journalistic equivalent of Late Antiquity) so that his main interests can be perceived at a glance (along with sidebar updates on what he’s up to in the lecture and performance world), and Dutton reaches for a range of topics limited only by his own prejudices and preferences, which he tries regularly to overcome at least a little.

It’s that range-of-topics problem that defeats most regional-art websites. I believe it was the poet Robert Dana who told the story of an Iowa Writers’ Workshop seminar that involved the usual disparaging of poems written by little old ladies in Dubuque, which led to the retort from one of the students, “If little old ladies in Dubuque didn’t write that stuff, little old ladies in Sauk Center wouldn’t have anything to read.”

This is the case with some of the more godawful flower paintings that bedeck walls of galleries from Timber Creek to Timpson’s Key (I hope neither place exists, since I just made those names up), and some of the most hideous examples of the genre—the ones that would make both contemporary practitioners and the painters of the Dutch Golden Age shrink back in horror—sell for many thousands of dollars in urban shopping malls, and raise issues of just why so many codes of social pretension owe nothing either to tradition or to contemporaneity, but only to…well, that is one of the topics that a good regional online journal (anywhere in the world, almost) would want to discuss.

But the problem is one of priorities. What was recently described in a local symposium as the entertainment-oriented “butts-in-seats” outcome is a desirable one, after all: little old ladies in Sauk Center need to be kept up to date as to what little old ladies in Dubuque are up to and when they are coming to do a reading. And in the fields of literature and theatre and fashion and rock and hip-hop and folk and flower arranging, this seems to happen already. But in the field of visual art, it does not happen.

And this is in part because it is impossible to craft a site that will appeal equally to the interior designers and the serious collectors and the even more serious conceptualists and the casual connoisseurs of lowbrow and pop surrealism.

But somehow Dutton’s visually boring site offers an equal playing field for a variety of intellectual topics, with teasers that draw you off into the world in question—or not. Art is seldom or effectively never one of those worlds on Arts & Letters Daily, but I cite his site only to suggest that some similarly simultaneous sense of diversity is what we are looking for. The very neutrality of his layout allows for quick decision-making (and allows one to forgive Dutton’s particular peculiarities of choice—but the site we need would cover just about everything going on in a particular time frame).

Since critics are accustomed to writing to the peculiar specifications of editors, who will rewrite without hesitation if they don’t like the finished product, I suppose it is theoretically possible to produce a descriptive opening paragraph for a piece with a link to the more art-critical component, if there is one. No critics are psychologically neutral, anyway; even a description contains implicit judgment just in what it highlights and what it leaves out. Sometimes even a photograph of a gallery installation contains implicit judgments, as a gallery installation itself certainly does.

What Is To Be Done, Part Whatever: The Impossibility of Avoiding Distortions

One perennial problem is that regional (and not-so-regional) critics are mostly young, or very poor, or both. If they are not poverty-stricken, they will be after a career of expending the proceeds of their day job on going to every gallery in town after work, in order to write something about one of them for a pittance, or for no money at all.

The blinkered perspective of the critic in question is the next problem after that.

But once we have accepted that there is no universal perspective and that nobody can write about everything and get even a tenth of it right, we still have the question of how the art shows of a region (or of all the regions of the world) are to get reasonable coverage so that an audience of whatever size can know that they are there.

And that is always the first problem: no one can go to anything if they do not know that it exists, or do not know from the capsule summary that it is something to which they would like to go.

Atlanta’s Kibbee Gallery presents an interesting case study. The downstairs space in a house is effectively too small to harbor more than a tiny crowd on opening night; once the friends of the artist arrive, there is often already no room to look at the art or sit down to watch the longer video. (I have often thought it productively ironic that what used to be called new media have produced viewing situations that are akin to Eastern Orthodox church services; instead of ranks of seats focused on the central stage, there is an indefinitely arranged space in which devotees stand for up to two or three hours, hopefully transfixed by the ritual being enacted.)

And since almost no one comes to art galleries after the opening, Kibbee is open for viewing thereafter only by appointment with the artist. This is the case with many of the world’s alternative galleries; and given the increasing dominance of what used to be called new media, it presents the ongoing problem of forgoing more than one-night events, or hauling personal equipment onsite to meet the request of a single viewer, or risking breakins during the run of the show for the sake of the viewing equipment. (Hardly anyone has ever had a burglar steal emerging artists' paintings, though it has happened, and more than once.)

One wonders if advance viewing of the work by would-be writers would solve part of the problem. Movie critics and theatre and music critics currently have an advantage over art critics; they have a pretty good idea of what is going to be onscreen or onstage, at least in the case of theatre companies that engage in rehearsals or do the same type of improv work on a regular basis. Critics of installation or performance are seeing things that did not exist prior to presentation to an audience, and sometimes will never exist again in the same format.

One would like to see spaces like Kibbee get their due, without being artificially highlighted. And this is the problem: in small spaces, success chokes out the possibility of a satisfactory experience (we have all had performance events we abandoned because it was impossible to see what was happening) but subsequent viewing opportunities seldom attract more than the handful of hard-core fans who came to the first event.

But as can be seen from a look back at various shows of emerging artists (I leave to one side the largely marvelous “Buy Local” show currently at Emily Amy), those who miss such exhibitions often miss moments like the fabled occasions when now-famous musicians played to audiences of half a dozen at local venues. (I still cherish the long-ago time when a future Whitney Biennial artist hung his photographs on the walls of Sylvia’s Art of This Century—or was it Sylvia’s Atomic Café?—a moment that keeps me coming back to Sylvia Cross’ current venture, Sycamore Place Gallery and Studios.)

Anyway, one really ought to consider “In the Flesh,” the current Kibbee exhibition by two freshly minted SCAD BFAs. McCalla Hill has created a couple of provocatively documentary or poetic videos on issues of feminine identity (the poetic allegory of “The Rice Eater” in sharp contrast to the intercut two-screen interview format documenting issues of gender and weight and circumstances of birth), and Kelly Cloninger has transformed the main exhibition space with delicate Micron-pen drawings that are extended onto the walls by webbing that echoes the cellular implications of the drawings. Cloninger allegorizes conception and gestation in botanical parallels that deserve to be looked at in detail.

The exhibition, which I am told runs through August 1, can be viewed by contacting the artists at 2055637359 (or more accurately, one of them; I’ll let you discover which one). I add “I am told” because I have learned never to trust closing dates even when informed by one of the participants.

And, I have now learned from an unimpeachable source (I resist the two parenthetical jokes that occur to me re my adjective), there will be a closing reception on August 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. for those who missed the opening and would rather not go through the hassle of making an appointment. There is much to be said for this way of doing things.