At roughly 350 pages, Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, is a conceptually massive, literally heavy and generally ambitious catalogue that questions our expectations of what an exhibition catalogue should be.
CHICAGO — A friend who was in London recently went to see what was on at the Tate Modern, and at the end of his visit he did something I never do: he went into the gift shop and bought something. “I’ve got something to show you, Philip!” he told me on his return. My heart sank. Was it a set of dinner plates decorated with Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skulls? An Ai Weiwei themed board game? Some other piece of dreadful museum kitsch?
Susan Wheeler: God knows, as my mother would have said. I’m beginning to get an inkling, as I’ve been writing a series of poems that use her idiomatic expressions — she grew up in Topeka, and had a strong portion of Pennsylvania Dutch as well, but who knows where she got phrases like “busier than a cranberry bog merchant.” Other things, of course: a soft spot for “colorful speech,” attempts to “read” idioms in order to fit into a group or out of one, an awe of good talkers, especially those who use highly idiomatic speech, Catullus — (laughter) What does Armand Schwerner say? “Extension of the dramatic monologue into plurilogue.”
We know that the equation between word and thing can no longer be taken for granted, and that words are made up of both syllables and sounds. Does this mean a poet — one who uses transparent language and writes in an autobiographical mode — is incapable of exploring the conditions of meaning? By transparent, I mean a plain language that can be used to reach the largest audience possible without losing any relevant information. Or must the language the poet uses be opaque and resistant, like reality itself?
Like the ever-present junkies on the TV show “The Wire,” fans of the acclaimed HBO series can never seem to get enough. Legions of viewers stayed glued to the tangled plot over five seasons — and their cravings were stoked for five years more through blogs, behind-the-scenes books, essays, college courses, and literally hundreds of scholarly articles and reviews. Now, on the show’s 10th anniversary, “The Wire” addicts can score a fresh fix with the arrival of the arch, smart faux-Victorian send-up of the series, Down in the Hole: The Unwired World of H.B. Ogden, by Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson (PowerHouse Books, 2012), based on a blog that went viral last March.
The family unit, siblings, extended family, and the individuals who make up these large trees, is the subject of photographer Lydia Panas’ hardback book of glossy, meticulous portraits, aptly titled The Mark of Abel. Thinking back on the biblical story of Cain and Abel, Panas’ clever reverse of the “mark” seems to imply that her subjects and viewers alike suffer Abel’s curse of brotherhood, fraternity, and family. It’s a rich theme for rich photographs, set in an Eden-like location of lush and overgrown greenery. Ninety-five pages long, containing fifty perfectly paced photographs, The Mark of Abel presents us with hundreds of strangers, all of whom feel bizarrely familiar. Panas’ family portraits are tender rather than sentimental, serious though not cynical, and dysfunctional without being cliché.
Here is a fun literary experiment: substitute the words ill or illness in Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill” (1930) with the words hung-over and hangover . It works, right? “Hangover is the great confessional”; “In a hangover words seem to possess a mystic quality”; “Incomprehensibility has an enormous power over us in a hangover.” And so on. But the best bit is this: “To hinder the description of hangover in literature, there is the poverty of the language. English, which can express the thoughts of Hamlet and the tragedy of Lear, has no words for the shiver and the headache.”
It’s hard to talk about spirituality in the US today without bringing up a lot of baggage — conflicts between religions about who has it right or who is the most righteous, not to mention all the stereotypes that accompany each religion and its practitioners. And it’s certainly not easy to talk about religion and contemporary visual art, as visual art is so often assumed to be above or outside or beyond religion somehow.
It can be a subtle thing — the way in which an organization or collective comprised of ambitious and purposeful people working toward a clear set of goals starts to slip into something a bit murkier; something that seems to be more about self-perpetuation and outsiders’ goals than about that original impetus to come together.
At first glance, the exterior of Wisdom Testicles, a collection of collaborative works on paper by three artistic schoolmates, looks to be a relatively unassuming artist book. Setting aside its confusing title for a moment, it has the well-crafted and unique appearance of a handmade book. Smallish in size and easy to page through, Coptic bound with an open spine, it has raw, unfinished covers made of gray speckled bookboard. The cover of the book, however, on which a anatomical looking drawing of male genitalia has been printed, is provocative enough to immediately dispel any preconceived notions about the book’s modest appearance. The non sequitur nature of the title and cover succeeds in catching your attention, raising a certain amount of curiosity about what lies between the covers.
Despite being the exhibition catalogue of an exhibition that originated at The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Environment and Object: Recent African Art is seen by its’ editors as an independent document.
“It is rather inspiring,” writes Peter Schjeldahl in the New York Times, “that in an hour of political crisis this art (despite its makers’ eschewal of revolutionary postures) has arisen to make possible a project like 112 Greene Street.” The year is 1970. The place is Soho, until recently known as the South Houston Industrial District. Here an unemployed artist can buy a six-story cast-iron ex-rag-picking warehouse, and huge chunks of sheet-zinc cornice can lie abandoned on the sidewalk at a demolition site until another artist bribes the garbage men to drive them to his studio.