Wednesday, April 15, 2009

a Joseph Nechvatal reminder

My recent blogging on joculum about The Allure of Machinic Life (which features a Joseph Nechvatal image on its cover) is a reminder that Joseph Nechvatal's "computer-robotic acrylic works" (paintings created with not just the aid but the intervention of computer programs) are up at Wm Turner Gallery in Atlanta through April 24.

One hopes that the present dearth of information sources in Atlanta regarding art events is a temporary situation.

miniaturized jokes in English and Latin

I do seem to be writing about art and architecture as much on joculum as on Counterforces these days, but a visit to the LiveJournal blog will reveal quickly why the posts belong on that blog more than on Counterforces...since the latest post begins with abstract painting, detours through artificial intelligence and astrophysics, and ends up reflecting on the structural problems inherent in writing science fiction. I have never let a degree of ignorance deter me from exploring what sorts of things one ought to know if one is to make the sorts of intelligent remarks that one at present is unqualified to make with any degree of authority.

Or as my Old Professor put it once in seminar, "If you are carrying out an area of research and you find that you must learn an entire new field in order to continue, you must stop what you are doing and learn the field. You do not resort to an easy survey text, you learn what you have to learn and then you move forward."

And this is why the published work of my Old Professor comprises perhaps five per cent of the topics on which he actually discoursed quite intelligently in his seminars, and why I quote his maxims and offhand observations to this very day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Buddhist Arts Festival in London

A friend of a friend turns out to be one of the organizers of the "The Many Faces of Buddhism" festival being held in London from April 25 to May 17, so it is even more appropriate than I had thought to promote the event on Counterforces. (I am all too aware that most of my readers, including myself, cannot attend international events on a sudden whim, but I do have regular readers in the U.K.)

The festival of art and performance is being staged in complement to the opening of The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery at the Victoria & Albert, which will be a permanent exhibition of Buddhist sculpture.

Major events will include an April 25 symposium on Buddhism and the Arts Today, exploring topics from the use of the mind in the act of artistic creation to the role of Buddhism in the modernist impulse to integrate art and life. Participants will include Sanford Biggers and Meredith Monk.

The performance of Buddhist dance on May 1, organized by Core of Culture Dance, will feature Noh Theatre from Japan, Vajrayana nuns from Ladakh, Charya Nritya from Nepal, and Kandyan dance from Sri Lanka.

Details are available from a variety of websites, most of which can be accessed from

the will to change and other mutual hallucinations

"What does not change / is the will to change," Charles Olson wrote in his famous poem.

Another famous quotation that is not strictly true; for the will to change changes as much as anything else.

Change, despite our wishes to the contrary, is inevitable, even if, to quote Paul Simon in performance, "after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same."

The acceptance of the proffered buyout by the Atlanta Journal Constitution's longtime art writer portends yet another change in that institution's already conceptually altered reportage on the city's art scene. Far be it from me to speculate on what might come next in an institution with which I do not communicate any longer; I refer you to my earlier essay on the general topic of the crisis in regional art reviewing.

I refer you, also, because they would be of interest to readers of Counterforces, to my incipient review essays in the even more idiosyncratic blog Although the putative topic is architecture and new books regarding it, the context is so strongly the one usually established on the joculum blog that it seemed more appropriate to post to that blog rather to this one, which typically essays a slightly less circuitous and comprehensive view of the human condition—even though the length and grammatical complexity of the sentences here sometimes rival those of Hermann Broch in The Death of Virgil. (Insert semicolons if you dare.)

Readers of joculum are accustomed to beginning with Darwin and ending up with how to find the front door, or vice versa, with stops at magazine cartoons en route.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

the crisis in print media and in regional art reviewing, revisited, plus

What Is To Be Done, Take Twenty-Three: Another Essay About Blogs And Their Discontents, with the regional art world as a major subtopic of conversation

I’ve written before about the less than satisfactory nature of the weblog as an interim solution to the crisis in print publishing. Even when the blogs give us insights into larger topics associated with the regularly print-published writers who maintain them (Luc Sante’s “Pinakothek” being only one of many examples), the topics disappear into the archives too quickly, and keyword searches don’t solve the problem of finding only what one has already been searching for. (Most of us find new blogs through websearches for a topic.)

I am going back to book reviewing on a serious basis, and would like to have the reviews conveniently accessible in a go-to site akin to the review sections that newspapers and magazines used to maintain, and now by and large do so no longer.

The freedom of the weblog permits two-thousand-word essays taking off from the topic of the book; thanks to the size of online servers, each of us can become our own George Steiner at the New Yorker.

Maximizing ready accessibility of our efforts is another matter.

Websites like Erik Davis’ are probably a better interim solution, and I am working towards that minimum solution, at least; I have bookmarked Davis’ essays page and check regularly to see what new gracefully written thing has occurred to his remarkable mind. (Davis somehow has gotten permission, or at least tolerance, from his publishers to post his newly magazine-published as well as otherwise unpublished essays and reviews, a feat that few webloggers have accomplished.)

But one-person websites don’t do much for the larger task of producing online journals that genuinely take advantage of the speed of online publishing combined with the necessity for outside editing.

I read my own share of online journals, and as far as the regional artworld goes I have always wondered why the idea an Atlanta gallery owner had years ago never quite took off: a single site for meditative essays on a variety of topics not reflected in the publishing programs of any of the existing art magazines, with links to the online sites of regional art scenes and individual cities’ sites for reviews and discussion.

One reason it never took off was that nobody wanted to buy advertising to support it. With no advertising, there was no money to pay the existing print reviewers, who were quickly told by their print editors that they couldn’t review shows for an online journal even though at the time their print publications were doing nothing at all in that vein.

In 2009, the scene is almost unimaginably different, but the existing websites don’t take full advantage of the situation for much the same reasons that sank the original venture: nobody wants to put up the money in the first place, and nobody has quite figured out the right design, in the second place.

I was excited by what Byron King had done for the city of Jacksonville, Florida (or more accurately for Jacksonville’s Contemporary Art League) but that site seems to have slipped off into the idiosyncracies that make weblogs less than satisfactory vehicles, including the whimsies of the prime creator thereof. (In this department, I indict myself along with everyone else.)

I had called once for a blog of blogs that would cull the most immediately relevant entries and repost them to allow readers to access the pieces most of interest to a general art readership (the non-art topics I cover on my other blog would be a separate issue). There is, already, a general blog of blogs for metro Atlanta, but the nature of the regional artworlds is such that they ought to be kept in touch with one another, not merely with themselves.

Such Atlanta-based websites as and are clearly evolving towards such a goal, but the problem is how to make something intrinsically local and idiosyncratic readily comprehensible by non-local audiences as well as of use to the local ones. (And how to organize the various possible topics for the sake of the readership.)

The existing vehicles have the right idea but the wrong format: nobody ever accesses some of the side columns, which are seldom updated in any case, and it is difficult to know how the side columns of other cities and scenes could be made to function as a vehicle for bringing the world’s non-local scenes up to speed on the doings of a localized in-group while entertaining and informing those who already know what the deal is.

Those who already know what the deal is, even within a city such as Atlanta, are limited to the social world within which they know what the deal is, whether that world be the galleries of Peachtree Hills or the alternative scene down along Ponce. As the German slogan promoting tolerance for immigrants had it a couple of decades back, “Alle Menschen sind Ausländer, fast überall.” And indeed, given the limited nature of our social worlds, all of us are outsiders, very nearly everywhere. We lack the context, or we lack the look and the moves, or we lack the language.

Ironically, the vestigial art coverage of the world’s surviving newspapers seems to be belatedly addressing the problem of giving a general audience what art scene habitués already know about personalities and problems (but only if the problems are already comprehensible to a general audience or can be made so in five or six hundred words.)

Someday there will be an online global journal of regional art scenes, and nobody will ever read all of it because it will come to resemble Borges’ library that contains all possible books: and the art lunatics of Chisinau will not care or understand what is going on with the launch of the anthology of Iraqi poets at Atlanta’s Callanwolde, nor should they, necessarily. (But the artists and poets of Baghdad may care that folks like Dan Veach are assembling the world’s poetic resources in a Southern city less recognized for its global interests than it deserves to be. I was invited to be one of the readers at the launch of Atlanta Review’s German issue in a couple of weeks, but at that time I am scheduled to be, at my own expense as usual, in Germany.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

blood relations, or Salman Rushdie meets Anish Kapoor

I shan't be seeing this in person, but who knew (in my small circle of friends) that Salman Rushdie had once collaborated with Anish Kapoor on a work of art? on display at Fabrica for the Brighton Festival.

During his annual residency in Atlanta, Rushdie gladly told the tale of his meeting with Thomas Pynchon but not of his collaboration with Kapoor. You have to know what questions to ask.

Kapoor is one of those figures who interested me early on in my career as an art critic but I've not kept up with him in detail in our present century.

It is past time to revisit a good many artists who have kept on keeping on in spite of no longer being the famous flavor of the month. Even the superstars of yesteryear have lapsed into taken-for-granted-ness now that the standards of what used to be called cool have altered to fit the new millennium's demand for continuous page-refreshing. (As the New Yorker used to say, block that metaphor.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

even earlier: more with regard to the Mildred Thompson retrospective

The exhibition in Düren, which one hopes will eventually travel to other cities where Mildred Thompson lived and worked, is a belated career homage to a woman who brushed history against the grain at almost every moment of her time on this planet, from her childhood in a segregated Jacksonville, Florida to her years of art school in Hamburg and her brief return to the US followed by her return to Germany and subsequent peregrinations in Europe, and certainly during her sometimes tempestuous final years in the United States, where she was associate editor of Art Papers for a number of years and a beloved instructor at Spelman and later at the Atlanta College of Art.

The works chosen for the retrospective should allow viewers to reassess Thompson's cosmic inclinations (her most popular course at ACA, "Making Visible the Invisible," included reflections on the uses of scientific illustrations as metaphors for painting—not something that Thompson originated, but a topic about which others have had a great deal more to say in the years since Thompson's death).

If Thompson's late paintings look like updatings of Bauhaus-years Kandinsky for the final years of the 20th century, her outspoken opinions in the first years of the 21st come close to declaring that painting itself had finally reached the end that folks had predicted for generations, and that the rise of digital technology meant that we would finally leave behind the "smearing mud on walls with sticks" (her words, or her words as I recall them) that we humans had done ever since the Paleolithic.

Thompson, of course, always made statements for their shock value as much as for their communicative value, but at that point in her career she was working with computer programs for the composition of music.

As the author of one of the catalogue essays for the Düren exhibition, I hope to be in a position to fulfill requests for further information regarding the checklist of the exhibition, which will be in Düren through June 14.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

two weeks early (sorry): Richard Pare at Lumière Gallery

As usual, I have no idea whether the image shown below will be in the Atlanta exhibition at Lumière Gallery because I have had to access the most accessible images representing Richard Pare's documentation of Russian constructivist architecture of 1922 et seq., the subject of his series "The Lost Vanguard," exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (yes, that one) in 2007 and in Moscow in 2006.

Those of you in Atlanta (and there are many) who are regretting missing the current Rodchenko and Popova show in London can get your dose of Russian constructivism at one remove via Pare's photography and his accompanying lecture; the show opens April 16, but Pare will lecture on April 15 at 7 p.m. at the Carter Presidential Library.