Friday, August 31, 2007

Dear reader, don't forget...

In between my mechanic (who's going to get some free advertisement on this blog soon) and my chiropractor session, a few things:

. Jessie Bi, whom I mentioned on the Thanksgiving in August post and is one of the writers at du9 just emailed me to say thanks to those of you clicking on the link towards du9 and mentions there is an English section on their website. There's a tiny, tiny US flag to signal it.
. Rita G. is truly the best curator in this town, no contest!
. Since Jessie Bi is reading us, I want to take advantage of this post to remind you all to send me your jpegs of your Supernerd drawings. I can't wait! You have all Monday evening to practice. That's what Labor Day has been invented for!
. And speaking of which, yes you can wear white after Labor Day, enfin!
. If you ever read the recipes post, a tip: the watermelon, rosewater and raspberry drink makes for fabulous popsicles. And there's no sugar in it.
. Lastly, don't forget the poll at the very bottom of the blog: how to name the Spinoza - Leibniz couple.(hint: their monstrous offspring may have been a French philosopher)

OK, enjoy your weekend folks.

Rita G. is Da Best

Quick, before a day full of errands, chiropractor visits in the heat, etc.
Rita G. is the best curator in this town! I'm dreaming about some kind of windfall solution where she and I would program the funniest, most innovative, kick-ass contemporary art in this town. With someone else doing th fundraising! Citizens, pay more taxes and vote for Rita G. and I to work together. We'll call it La Maison du Peuple. And we'll get Jeremy Deller to make a piece with hedge fund managers singing L'Internationale, par exemple.
Rita, to lift your spirits, a Joe Scanlan pic. Sideways, because Blogger sucks, but I'm sure you can turn your head, unlike me.
You're the best! Go for it, go for it, go for it Rita! (not sure you know the Michael Smith piece?)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Helsinki Complaints Choir

You've probably seen it many, many times. Here for your pleasure, once again.
In LA I suppose we would get stuff like "why do idiots always cut me on the 405" or "I had to wait for 30 minutes for the valet to bring back my Lexus after the MoCA opening"

Sandinavian Chic

One thing I've learned about being in constant pain and exhausted -aside from making me whiny and cranky- is trying to cope by diverting my few short episodes of good concentration in a few directions.
I understand now what all these teenagers with lots of time on their hands are doing on YouTube, Myspace et alii. Or even how blogs are started, for example!
So I've been spending a bit of time revisiting artworks I like, looking for videos, etc. There's only one video of Jesper Just on YouTube (I'll let you look for it, it would sadden me to infringe Just's copyrights by posting it here), and there is his website. He also has a Myspace page, in case you were wondering.

Just's works were shown at the Hammer a year ago, a wonderful opportunity for the LA public at large to discover the work of a youngish and very talented Danish artist. His videos are very gay and somewhat on the campy side, and they are also very beautiful and touching.
Most of them are musical variations on impossible love, loneliness and sadness , tinged with the right amount of humor and lightness that makes them very attractive. He's one of my favorite artists of the moment and I'm a bit sad I haven't any project where his works would fit in.
In my mind he is one of the only current artist who understands the legacy of Bas Jan Ader, for instance. Obviously the same performativity is present, as well as the humor BJA was displaying in his photographs and videos, the same contrived sense of staged drama balanced with gracious playfulness. And always, always the very beautiful singing... It could be very cheesy and campy but serves as the structural element that keeps everything together.

What I like about Just is something we can find also in the work of some other artists from Scandinavia, an intelligent understanding of the art of the last 40 years that doesn't shy away from Pop Culture but without elevating the latter at the only common ground to make art, all of this with humor and playfulness.
Aside from BJA, the stagey-ness of his work is something assimilated, say, from James Coleman or Jeff Wall, with a bit of another artist I adore, Jeremy Deller.
There's something a bit similar with Jeppe Hein (also born in Denmark), whose take on Minimal Art and Postminimalism is also informed by relational aesthetics* with a bit of added fun, and to attach another car to the relational aesthetics train there's the well-known Helsinki Complaint Choir, the brainchild of a Finnish artist and her German husband (I'm YouTubing this one in another post).

Lastly, what I really like about these artists I am mentioning is how professional and polished their works all look. There's none of the amateurish sloppiness that sometimes mars the work of artists I would love to like (say, Patti Chang).
I wish we could see more of this type of art in LA, most specifically in commercial art galleries. These tend to be too much painting-centric here or too object-oriented, but in a way that is so retrograde I sometimes wonder how the young LA artists are going to have a clear idea of what's going on in the wide world, and also how collectors can build (intellectually and historically) valuable collections if the information is missing.
I mean, Just and Hein are pretty successful in Europe, they show in big galleries and are presumably selling, so what's the problem here? Too many grad students competing for space? Provincial art dealers?

The image to illustrate this post is a still from Jesper Just, It Will All End Up In Tears, 2006, copyright J. Just. It's my favorite Just so far.

*Nicolas Bourriaud, I like you very much personally but I wish you had crafted a more elegant name for the kind of art you described (and been a bit more historical, but that's my inner super-nerd talking).


Dear devoted readers, please be aware the posting will be very light in the next few days. Too many errands and a few social occasion, all in all too tiring for me to post.
In the meantime, a picture of Port-en-Bessin in Normandy. It's been painted by either Seurat or Signac, can't remember which one, you can check how it looks today.
Post to you later, and wish you a great Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Leguman VS l'abeille

Here it is, a Roland Topor parody of Japanese shows. It was for a children show called TeleChat. Check "gluon du trou" for other gems from the period

Le Geek c'est chic!

I've received an unexpected and sweet email today from a friend who works in a museum here in LA. She told me she was another new devotee of FBC! So welcome to Aimee who is now joining my 2 others die-hard readers Daniel and Rita, as well as the very numerous cohort of my (7) occasional art readers, my 2 non-art ones and my siblings!
Wow! It will soon feel crowded in here.
It is a historical moment, since we seem to have now reached the quota to launch the Supernerd drawing contest!
So to your paper and crayons, dear readers, please send me some nice jpeg of your Supernerd drawings! The best ones will be published here at FBC! There are only 2 rules: Supernerd shouldn't look like me, and to my Franco-Belgian readership, Supernerd shouldn't look like Leguman (pictured above) either.

Also, this email from Aimee solved the mystery that has been puzzling me for the last few days. Where were this people adding comments on some posts from? I got an anti-Tyler Green one (BTW, dear readers: no personal attacks here. Please remain civil. We're Frenchy! but chic!) as well as a Real Tyler Green One (or so I presume). I mean, not only am I unable to check my own stats (I know I can do it but didn't bother to learn how) but I'm pretty sure that a Google search on any word posted here would rank really, really low. My geeky skills being more than sub-par and too demanding for my current concentration levels. Tags? you mean that things on shipping crates? Or is it wall labels you are meaning?

Aimee mentioned the PR Dept. at her job forwarded my blog to the staff after a Google alert. Ha! Didn't think about that one myself, since I've even unsubscribed to e-flux during my Summer break. It figures. Now I'm starting to feel a bit of pressure actually, but I remain firm and resolute in refusing to make FBC! a 100% art blog.
I want my 2 non-art readers to still feel welcome here and I want to continue praising my friends in this space, to quote L'Oréal: parce qu'ils le valent bien.

For the edification of my US readership I am posting a Leguman video separately as I seem to have code problems on here.

Thanksgiving In August!

Thanksgiving In August!

It is almost the end of the month and I realize I haven’t yet posted the second installment of my Thanksgiving In [Insert Month Here]™ series.
Not only this, but it spares me the pain of doing a bit of art world writing and I want to procrastinate on the upcoming Grand Tour post. I’m waiting for my lunch with Rita G., the best curator in this town, to hear what she has to say about it.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to devote this Thanksgiving In August to my Distinguished Literary Correspondent, which is only fair since I’ve written about my other non-art reader* (Hi Annie!) in a previous post. Plus these two are friends and I don’t want to bring in strife, envy and jealousy between them. We’re bringing you fair and balanced views here at FBC! if slightly uncopy-edited and wholly unresearched.

So, are you asking, what would differentiate my one and only Distinguished Literary Correspondent (DLC) from my other and nonetheless also distinguished correspondents? I have tons of correspondents, what with moving countries and all that. Off course they are ALL very distinguished. We’re Frenchy, and chic! Nothing short of distinguished will do. Some of my correspondents, like DLC, I never see since many are so far away, but we can also live in the same city and never get to see each other.
For example, Jessie Bi that famed and fine chronicler of comics and graphic novels, I see once a year, if I’m lucky. When we were living in Paris at the same time we would almost never see each other but we would email weekly and sometimes daily. Jessie Bi is very distinguished in his own right too and I’ll probably devote a Thanksgiving in [Insert Month Here]™ to him one of these days, but DLC has just emailed me to say he’s reading the blog so there you are. Welcome Mike!

Anyway, let’s stop digressing and try to get back to the point. A DLC is, you have just gathered, someone you almost never see but correspond with. This particular DLC earned his name because he recommended to my attention the Courtier and Heretic book, a rather curious effort about the correspondence and only encounter between Spinoza and Leibniz. Now dear readers don’t jump to conclusions here, neither DLC nor I have much in common with the two philosophers. I think. Maybe DLC will beg to differ but I’m sure he has better things to do, like urgently go on vacation for example.
DLC and I met only once and thereafter started a correspondence that has proved rather enjoyable for me. Since Leibniz and Spinoza (should we call them Leibnoza or Spiniz , in keeping with US tabloids customs?I'll poll you on this, dear readers) met only once too and had some erratic correspondence, the comparison was apt but stops here.

What makes DLC my only literary DC? Well, for one thing he is a non-art person. All my other correspondents are in the art world, and aside from friends/family stuff we usually indulge in art stuff gossip, mostly. With DLC we mostly exchange emails about books, and he always has a very thoughtful opinion about what he has to offer.
He always goes beyond “the book is about […], I (dis)/liked it because” and offers interesting comparisons between things I would have never thought of. He’s also very good at explaining the structure of the narrative, the overall construction of the book, what he thinks of the characters, etc. Something I never done with anyone so it was a big eye-opener for me. I’m not super gregarious as a rule, so book clubs are not exactly for me, they remind me too much of middle school and the mandatory reads we had to do. But one-on-one emails suit me perfectly, and I realized one DLC is exactly what I needed to keep on reading.

Need another proof of DLC very literary-ness? He reads so many books (like, what? 5 a day? The FDA should hire him for their PR!) he probably never sleeps, and he’s not snobbish in his choices. I mean, any academic bore can go all uptight and recommend the highbrow stuff, but Mike has a very diverse and eclectic array of tastes. Plus, he teaches me new words, like “foist” the other day. For some reason he is also my one and only US friend who is attuned to cultural differences and he takes pains to explain some of the Pop culture references he’s making, so his jokes are not only extremely funny but very sweet.

The main reason of this Thanksgiving In August is that through his advice and opinion I have regained my taste for reading I was in danger of losing, by lack of cultural references (and too much work). So, many, many thanks Mike , it is truly a great gift, much, much appreciated.
BTW, when are you starting your literary blog? I’m sure my by now almost 10 readers would migrate to your URL!

Aside from this DLC is a professional writer, and judging from his emails he must be a truly good one. Granted, I’m a dumb foreigner and it’s his job/ craft to write all the time . But I admire someone who has such a fine vocabulary he can very concisely and elegantly convey what he has to say in about 3 sentences, when I need something like 6,000 + words for one idea. I want the same thing he’s having for breakfast! I also forgot to mention it, because unless he emails you (or starts his blog or do anything else I’ll publicize here) you won’t see it, but Mike a fabulous sense of humor.

DLC has also forwarded me in he past a few links about the art world he found baffling (not this one but in the same spirit). Was I ashamed of our idiot cousins! I felt terrible. I mean, I am traumatized myself when I stumble onto this kind of devious crap. That kind of stuff inflicted on innocent bystanders makes you realize how far we’ve gone from the innocent era when Chelsea what just some indifferent name to give to your dog -not that I will name my cat Institutional Critique myself.
I hope this won’t steer DLC away from art definitively, because there are some truly great people here (especially you, my 7 art-people readers) and in the end, there’s always the art. Some of it may even be very good!
Anyway, my thanks to DLC for all his help, including the non-literary kind. For all my other readers, I’ll keep you posted on what he does publish, broadcast, his Booker Prize, Pulitzer, Nobel Prize and a few Emmys thrown in for good measure, if he’s OK with that. In the meantime let’s hope he’s going to take a well-deserved vacation. He may even come back with fabulous tales of unexpected sights.

*2 non-art readers, that is, if I excuse my siblings from the non-art readership. Since they had to suffer me for decades, I figure the art stuff has sufficiently rubbed off on them that I have to exclude them from that pool. There will be hell to pay at Christmas, let me tell you!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bon Anniversaire Thomas! and Devi and Wendy...

There have been many saddening news recently around me, friends in distress, the passing of the old and the young alike that I would like to cheer up my readership a little bit.
Which now includes my little bro', Thomas. Welcome! I have fond memories of you and I as kids having decadent breakfasts of ice cream, Reddi-Whip, chocolate sauce and toasted sliced almond, of dragging you to your first concert, the magnificent mechanical devices you were building out of Legos, and most recently our joint imitations of Pope John Paul II. We share atrocious singing voices and a same fondness for terrible duets and covers of cheezy French songs, such as Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro. Beware, US readership! Don't try to YouTube or iTunes that one, it is lethal!
Today is Thomas B-Day and in his honor I'm pasting a pic of his food of choice, Nutella. One of the few things that makes me smugly feel the superiority of Old Europe over the US. Peanut Butter? Pfff!
Anyway, not only my beloved little bro is adding one more year today, but so are my good friends Wendy and Devi!
Happy B-Day everyone! Love you, little bro!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Au vrai chic parisien!

For those of you who learned French in high school and then had the misfortune to realize you couldn't understand a word when coming to's normal! C'est normal! You see, French people never speak their language properly, unless they are very, very posh.
Everyone speaks some variation of street French, to complicate matters further it depends on which class of the social spectrum they are from and where they were brought up. Plus, there are some regional accents. Lastly, street French evolves extremely fast and includes lots of terrible English. To make English-speaking people welcome during the Coupe du Monde de Rugby, the French Tourism Office has created this website.
Have fun practicing!

Meanwhile, in my quest to become more American I am looking for referrals for a good personal injury lawyer. One you would feel comfortable having a quick coffee with. I've been given to understand this is the lowest branch of the lowliest lawyers and I am a bit scared...So if you had some personal experience with a non-repulsive legal beast, please drop me a note. Thanks!

Babe in pre-Babouzeland

For this project I'm working on, I have been reading lately some travel literature focusing on people crossing Europe and Asia, with a special focus on Afghanistan.
I am actually looking for early-1970s travelogues through the region, since my chronological focus is roughly 1967-1975 as I wish to study a bit of Hippie mythology. Which explains why I went to see the Summer of Love show at the Whitney, but not why I traveled there in the first place (it was for a wedding and also for the joys of witnessing elephant porn!)

Anyway, I am almost finished with Dervla Murphy's Full Tilt, the story of an Irishwoman crossing the continent with her bicycle in 1963.
I had previously read Eric Newby 's A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush, and also Nicolas Bouvier L'Usage Du Monde. Bouvier traveled in 1953, Newby around 1957 or 58. Before my time bracket, but nonetheless useful for my research purposes.
It's been a series of interesting reads, if only because I am usually not that much into travel literature. The only other travel tale I recall reading was Marco Polo, when I was in my early 20s, and that was it.

So comparing the travelers' stories in roughly the same area of the world over a decade is fascinating.
In terms of sheer interest, I think Murphy is the most detailed, Newby is by far the best written, funniest and captivating of the three if only because he and his acolyte set to climb one of Afghanistan's highest mountain without any prior climbing experience, and the Bouvier book alas was a bit letdown.
There's been a huge fuss about Bouvier in France and I was expecting a lot, but the book unnerved me because of the ongoing "international male camaraderie aren't we great at bounding with the Other and escaping Degrading Civilization" theme. Which makes for the narrator as a self-righteous youngster without any redeeming sense of humor, I'm afraid. Mostly, Bouvier didn't seem very interested in the people he was meeting, and most of the ones he's describing were Euro expats. There are loads of concert descriptions for example, but no character is ever detailed and they all seem very generic, which in the case of gypsies is very disappointing.

In comparison Murphy explains as well her distaste for modernization and advancing civilization, but is very honest in laying out her final ignorance about the righteousness of it. She ponders whether it is so wise to break down thousand years of a culture to aggressively transform it in a matter of a few decades, but she doesn't reject outright advances such as schools, hospitals and public services. What's great about Murphy is her sense of description and the palpable happiness that transpire about her various meetings, the interest she takes in the villagers, soldiers, nomad tribes she encounters, and the warm delight she takes in the gorgeous landscapes she's seeing. It truly makes one want to visit Afghanistan!
What Murphy lacks is a sense of continuity and structure in her paragraphs, and clearly she's not a first-rate writer, but the book is very lively and young. She was 31 when she traveled, but the style as a very giddy sense of teenager adventure that is very fresh without being naive.

As for Newby, I happily discovered a writer to my taste. A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush is extremely well written, fascinating in the choice of anecdotes and hilariously funny. The narrator is a very self-deprecating and intelligent Englishman in the tradition of Evelyn Waugh (who wrote the preface). The book has a gripping (and funny!) beginning, a logical development that isn't just a series of chronological events and an abrupt, dramatic [and once again funny] ending. As with Murphy we are not spared the food and lavatory issues, which are in fact fascinating to read. Ever wondered where all the great explorers were doing their business? Not in 5 stars hotels, obviously.
Like Murphy, Newby is also very informative about the area he's traveling to, which makes for the funniest footnotes I've ever read this side of Deleuze, and I am a footnote connoisseur.

All in all, I'm grateful for Newby and Murphy as their book is a great primer for my project, which focuses partly on women traveling alone on the Hippie Trail about a decade later. I've grown up firmly rejecting Hippiedom which in my early childhood translated in rain-soaked Joan Baez free concerts in my native Normandy to support various causes, or Chilean refugees bands playing at the local Socialist Party annual convention.
My well-meaning and secret feminist Aunt cherished a French version of Our Bodies, Ourselves that seemed to be an ode to Tampax, and there were loads of interesting adult comics widely available but all in all, these didn't seem to compensate for the lack of deodorant. Patchouli wasn't a decent substitute, sorry.
Later on, movies of potheads listening to Terry Riley were not much more attractive and the clothes were too atrocious for my inner chic Frenchy-ness. As a punk-turn-Goth teenager (no, there are no picture remaining, I've destroyed them all) I indulged with my Joy Division-Cassandra Complex-Problemists-Front 242 fellow listeners in disparaging les babouzes, a French [somewhat derogatory] term for hippies.
Hence the working title of my current project: Babe in Babouzeland.
We'll see how all of my now 8 (!) readers like it and I'll poll you in a few months for the final title.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

To Be Continued...

My neck pains have taken a tour for the worse today, bringing me an atrocious headache. So I guess, no real posting. Just wanted to announce a second installment of The Art World Explained to Children soon, probably about the Grand Tour.
I'm in too much pains to link, sorry. Talk to you later.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I like America And America likes me!

Long before Borat, another stranger came to these shores to deliver a subtle message of mutual understanding and cooperation between the people. No, not Columbus, but the German artist Joseph Beuys who decided to foist his own brand of idiosyncratic humor on an unsuspecting, and we suspect largely unconcerned American public (by the way, I just learned that new word "foist". Thanks Mike!)

First of all, how do you pronounce Beuys? Try to remember that 1980s Eurotrash song by big-boobed Goddess Sabrina: "Boys, Boys, Boys" and you will have an approximate idea.
Secondly, what should you know about Beuys? Well, he was German, created his own myth of a "Luftwaffe fighter pilot during WWII whose plane had crashed behind Soviet lines. Severely burnt, he was rescued by a Tatar tribe in Crimea whose healing shamanistic powers changed his perceptions forever. War over, he returned home, became an artist, joined Fluxus and used a limited vocabulary of felt, grease, red adhesive crosses and vaguely mystical objects to deliver performances/teaching lessons, create egomaniac installations and generally make himself insufferable as some kind of Messiah bringing redemption to the post-war German people through art and environmental causes".
Or something like this.

I am *slightly* biased because I suffered a bevy of undergrad classes about Beuys when studying at the Louvre. Being a bit skeptical by nature, the idea of one lone guy endorsing the guilt of all the Postwar German people I found rather bemusing, many of them Germans not feeling so guilty if we are to believe G. Grass. Plus, I'm pretty certain if Stalin had found out about his people caring for (gasp!) a German during WWII, he would have gotten the entire tribe executed. Also, didn't Stalin displace all the Tatars out of Crimea to Siberia right at the start of the war? I haven't checked that, but anyone who can correct me will win my copy of Mergers and Acquisitions. Proof cannot come out of Wikipedia. I still retain about 5% of scholarly standards, thank you.

What else? Well, my scholarly training would want me to display a bit of objectivity, so just to show you how I'm going to give you the Beuys quote worth knowing.
It pairs very well with Warhol's "15 minute of fame" and I think it magnificently underscores what's so true about Web 2.0 and American Idol: "Everyone Is An Artist".
To which he should have added: but certainly most everyone is a bad one. Maybe it got lost in translation. Anyway, next time you are in a social situation and feels the urge to discuss the end of the civilization as we know it, I'm sure it will come handy. I wouldn't use it on a 1st date if I were you, just to stay on the safe side, unless your date is at the Mountain Bar or the Mandrake. Me, you can take me to Hop Louie instead and talk about your parents' divorce, I'm that Frenchy! and chic.

To go back to our subject.
So, this is May 1974, and this guy arrives at Kennedy Airport. Nobly fighting the forces of imperialism still embodied by Nixon and by extension all of America -aren't we subtle, we Euro sophisticated artists?- Beuys refuses to "set foot on US soil". Therefore, his friends wrapped him in a felt blanket, moved him in to an ambulance and took him to the Rene Block gallery where Beuys spent the next few days performing "Coyote" a.k.a " I like American and America likes me". He was locked up in a gallery space with a live coyote (symbolizing something like the freedom of Native American spirits), a stack of pre-Rupert Murdoch Wall Street Journals for the coyote to pee on (ha ha! so sarcastic and ironic! Pee on Capitalism! quel humour, ce Beuys!), a crooked staff that could have been either a very tall cane or a crude bishop's baton, and I think that's pretty much it.
Grainy B&W photos show a sort of burkha-clad figure from which emerges the staff, Beuys apparently trying to amuse that poor coyote. Which had lost its freedom in the process, so I hope that poor thing wasn't hurt and hopefully was later released to a free life of devouring neighborhood cats and puppies. Just kidding!
I think a film was made, and I may even have seen it but I don't remember any of it. Maybe it's on ubuweb.

Anyway, as a student I wasn't particularly impressed, even though I shared a firm and crude anti-Americanism with my compatriots in this faraway, long gone era. You see, I hadn't discovered Target yet, and I'm not speaking about the Apple Pan burgers (I'm not that much into Pies and Burgers).
I was pretty certain the performance must have been very boring, plus I am a very fastidious Frenchy, so just imagining the smell into that gallery, yuck. And I'm not speaking about that heavy symbolism and laborious humor.
In fact, I was rather taken aback by Beuys enormous fame. For my couple of non-art readers, Beuys was extremely famous, on par with Warhol. Beuys works looked all the same to me, and rather boring, with the huge exception of Plight at the Pompidou Center.
Mostly, I never managed to believe in his work, but it did my inner super-nerd a favor. The many classes (about 20 sessions total) about Beuys taught by my two antagonistic professors made me refuse to believe in myths spread by the artists themselves about their life/work and also reconsider that credo about interpretation our Panofsky-an schooling was ingraining into the Sorbonne Art History Program, Class of 1993 (so last century, I know).
I was very, very happy when the finals were on Conceptual Art, let me tell you.

When my readership reaches 10, we'll have a super-nerd drawing contest, OK?

Last Chance For Eden

I am shamelessly borrowing the title of Christopher Knight's book to remind you this weekend is your last chance to see the Mary Heilmann show at OCMA. Its is well worth braving the traffic to Orange County and more rewarding than the Costa Mesa shopping malls Mecca.
Go support Mary!

Get the paparazzis out of here!

Another pesky museum rule that has probably already annoyed you. Why are artworks so camera-shy?
Does photographing in the galleries endanger the artworks? The answer is yes and no.
More and more museums are restricting or forbidding cameras, for mixed reasons having to do mostly with copyright issues and conservation problems.
As you may know, some museum allow pictures-taking as long as you do not bring in a tripod or use your flash.
Which is very sensible: flashes bring in too much light and are damaging for works on paper (including photographs). As for the tripods, see the no umbrella/no backpack rule. Plus, just in case you doubted it, there are a trillion Mona Lisa postcards and posters at the store.

I wouldn't mind the restrictions myself if only the museums were putting all of their databases online, for a reasonable fee (think the iTunes model).
Most of them don't, because believe it or not they don't have the resources to do so (Citizens! pay more taxes! donate to your friendly museums!). Big museums have collections ranging in the 100,000 plus items and usually only one or two photographers on staff. Who have to take pictures of all the incoming objects and exhibitions, so the backlog tends to be enormous. And you do not take pictures of artworks like this. Some have to be taken out of their frames, moved to the studio, have to be carefully manipulated, etc.

The copyright issues are a lot more complicated. For one thing, if you take a pic inside the museum, the copyright belongs to you, so the museum cannot get any profit from its treasure trove of great artifacts. For exhibitions, the lender of the piece may have explicitly forbidden pictures to be taken. In France it also happens that some museums have ceded all the copyrights to some photographic agencies way back (mostly Roger-Viollet and Giraudon) and cannot let you take your own for legal resons. There is also a conspiracy to force you to buy this $60 catalogue. Yes, it's true!
Also in America some museums are scared of Fundamentalist Christians and other prudish online porn-watchers suing them for making some material available online. Like Greek sculpture, or 19th century decadent symbolists. I bet they haven't read Leo Steinberg, these ones!
The censored artworks would look very tame to you and me, as you can see in the pictures I've taken to illustrate this post. We're Frenchy and chic, so no prudish-ery for us! Plus, we've never resisted pictures of magnificent male nudes, even in cold hard marble form.

You see until last year picture-taking was allowed at the Louvre (otherwise known as my second home. My bedroom is hidden in Dutch and Flemish art, not too far from the Adrian Coorte).
Under the leadership of the distinguished marketing director Henri Loyrette a certain number of things that were for time immemorial OK back home were suddenly forbidden and repackaged to make them look more palatable. You know, like when you were a kid and Mommy was trying to hide the spinach under the mashed potatoes for you to eat. Did it work? I didn't think so either. So you cannot take pictures anymore but you can track them in the database. That is, if you speak French and know the name of the artist you are looking for and its French spelling. Say Patenier and not Patinir.
Now the reason this particularly irks me are twofold or is it threefold?.
One, as a former art history instructor, I remember how tiresome and complicated it was to get pictures to teach classes even though I taught at the Ecole du Louvre which is located in the museum. Two, I sometimes work on research projects that requires me to get good details of the artworks, and in the case of sculpture I like to have something else than the frontal view (on black backdrops, eew) that is the norm. In the case of the Praxiteles show at the Louvre, the lovely bronze sculpture I chose to illustrate the post looks even better if you can turn around and look at its dramatic contrapposto.
Same with the Borghese gladiator sculpture I used yesterday. I'm adding more views so you can enjoy the pictures taken by ma pomme in 2005. (If you plan to reuse them, please indicate: copyright, ma pomme 2005 and donate $1 to your neighborhood museum in my name -that is, ma pomme- Thanks!). And blame for the sideways images, its apaprently a common problem when uploading.
Lastly, many artworks reproductions are nowhere to be found and most certainly not available at the store. If you truly, truly like that very small still life by an unknown 17th century Dutch painter, you're screwed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A French movie that isn't Nouvelle Vague

Just because I can, and also because I thought a short post wouldn't hurt for once. My very old friend Olivier de Plas has his first movie out in France this month (at a horrible release date, August 1st).
Olivier has made a few shorts previously, like Gaia in which a couple of hunters encounter a rave party in a forest and end up fraternizing with the partygoers. Another short is the story of a jobless guy who prepares his job interview like crazy and blows it off when he arrives at his meeting one day early.
Olivier's comedies are of the sweet, gentle kind and tend to hit upon French class and society issues obliquely and elegantly.
Tel Pere Telle Fille is after a book by Virginie Despentes (the one and only that isn't trashy) and stars Elodie Boucher. I haven't seen the movie yet, obviously (Olivier, please send me a DVD!) but the trailer display his usual great sense of dialogue. I hope the movie has some of Olivier's signature nature shots which were making his short movies breathe.
Anyway, good luck to Olivier and in the meantime I hope you can practice your French with the trailer.

Deaccession for the masses, or another super long post

Since I apparently had the privilege of welcoming Tyler Green (unless it is Charlie Finch posing as Green, you never know) as a commentator on one of my posts, I had a look at his MAN last night. Something I hadn’t done in a while since I am on a health-related Summer break .
Just in case Tyler returns, which would bring my total readership to a whopping 7 people -Martine in Australia has also joined us- I’d like to remind all of my extended readership this is a totally amateurish blog. It looks like it, no?
I’ve started blogging to fend boredom during my whiplash-imposed break,as I can only concentrate in 20-minutes increments. I don’t bother to check my sources, in the intrepid pioneering spirit of Web 2.0 and Wikipedia, that pedestrian paean to collective ignorance.

Anyway, in his post Green was all riled up about stuff happening at the Hammer and by extension about the past deaccession (DX in MuseumSpeak) of the thing formerly known as the Hammer [Da Vinci] Codex (not to be confused with the bad book of the almost same name) , which effectively have been funding the Hammer for a while.
I’m not going to comment specifically on this case because I don’t know much more than what has been reported here and there. You’re not supposed to fund a museum out of DX-funds, but the Hammer had been started on such dubious premises I believe there wasn’t much of a choice for Ann Philbin to begin with.

Just a few thoughts: on the Hammer morphing into a “normal” institution. Gary Garrels coming to the Hammer really signaled a shift in the sense that he is better known as a good fundraiser, which meant that by hiring him the Hammer was probably going to shed its skin as a lively, happening exhibition space to become a “normal”, collecting institution. It also means the Hammer is trying to get out of the DX-funded budget situation, which is going to take a while.
It is a move which I find a bit sad, in the sense that collecting means a level of fundraising difficult to sustain in a city such as Los Angeles where the true collectors and donors are in fact very few and far between. It is a well-known fact that Hollywood recycles its money in The Industry and not in other cultural institutions. Since LA doesn’t have a finance industry/stock market that needs to launder its money pronto into innocent artworks, there’s a big penury of art collectors/donors here, what with 3 big museums competing for the same scare resources. And some of the collectors and donors here still prefer to give to institutions back East where they don’t have any ties because they believe it buys them "prestige".

In effect, it means the Hammer is probably going to cease being the groovy artist-friendly institution where everyone was feeling welcome, since the museum will need to become much more mainstream to attract more donors. The “old” Hammer was a breath of fresh air in a city where major museums tend to stay on the respectable, big names side. I sure hope the Hammer won’t become bland and boring and that it will start to recruit home-grown curators at some point, a wish I’d like to spring on all LA-institutions. In any case, it is understandable the museum needs to build a collection in order to grow, since collection=currency when seeking loans for exhibitions.

As for the practice of DX itself, I have to point out it doesn’t exist in France, where it is de facto illegal. Museums are funded by taxpayer money (since the French revolution, mind you), the collections are in effect the property of the French people collectively and as such are inalienable. Though we don’t know yet whether Sarkozy isn’t going to reverse that, since culture and education seem to have bypassed his persona entirely. In that case I will apply for political refugee status here.

Anyway, I was a bit baffled when I had to work on a set of DX here in the US. So for the public at large to know (you, my 6 faithful readers, plus maybe Tyler Green), curators truly dislike working on DX, and it makes us cringe when it is the only way to fund new acquisitions. You see, working in a museum is a little bit like the animal shelter: you need to rescue all these poor little artworks and find them a good home (your institution, hopefully) but alas sometimes for lack of space and funds you have to find other loving venues for the ones which are a little bit, ahem, ugly crippled different.

I am not totally against DX-ing, in the same sense libraries sometimes weed out their collections. Some works don’t make sense in the general sequence of the museum holdings, meaning it is almost impossible to show them ever (say, one lone Judd sculpture in a collection that is in majority German expressionism). Some works are simply sub-par and it would make sense to DX-them and use the money collected to upgrade to a better work by the same artist or something from the same period.
Basically DX is a tool to upgrade the collection at large, and unfortunately in many cases it is one of the only monetary way to do so. I tend to think it is a by-product of the all-private US collecting practice: if Big Donor X gives you his entire collection with 15 masterpieces in it and 60 other dubious things, you accept everything in bulk, making sure in the paperwork you can DX some. Or else you’re screwed with 15,000 engraved shot glasses in addition to your Kandinsky.

There are many complicated guidelines to ensure the museum isn’t screwing up.
Do not DX living artists. Sometimes it is impossible to know if they are still alive and you need to give weirdly delicate phone calls.
Check all paperwork to make sure it is DX-ible. Contact all donors, heirs, etc. to request their agreement to DX said artworks. Make sure other museum departments have their say and can retain the artworks if significant for them ( what may seem a truly bad artwork by a minor contemporary artist can in fact be significant in, say, American Art, or Prints and Drawings or Photography, etc.)
DX have to be approved by all curators of the museum, then by the Board. Then sold publicly at auction, and only if they are bought in can you go through a private dealer.

All in all it is a fairly tedious and extremely long process, which in my mind isn’t worth the effort if the only consideration is the monies collected. Because you see, curators hate parting with the good stuff that would in fact bring money, so usually what goes to the auction house tends to be the crap you need to get rid off to clear a bit of climate-controlled storage space. So the amount collected at the end is barely worth the effort - though personally, if there was a kick-ass ugly Peter Doig from my institution I could sell at auction for $11 M, I'll sure go ahead with it to build a lovely conceptual-oriented collection instead.
I have never participated in DX-ing major works to upgrade to an entire new collection, so I cannot say anything about it except it must hurt as hell. I would hate to have to do it, but I understand the reasoning behind, say, DX-ing some minor Derain to get a major Matisse for example. DX-ing a Da Vinci codex makes sense if you are a contemporary art institution, not if you are, say, The Library of Congress. It is almost un-showable permanently anyway (light issues). As far as the money has been used, I’m sure Ann Philbin would have much preferred using it to buy artworks than to run her institution. As it is, I am not sure she had much of a choice at the time.

All in all, if donors were more generous in the LA area, DX would (ideally) be unnecessary. In addition, if there was a large consensus in the US to fund museums publicly, a more equitable balance between public good and donors interests could be achieved and many conflicting issues could be avoided. Which is something I’d talk about later as this post is way too long.
Lastly, the photograph above has no relation to that post whatsoever, it;s just a picture I took of the Areste Borghese at the Louvre, my Alma Mater.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shameless self-reference

Talking to one of my former colleagues on Tuesday about how bloggers in LA are attuned to what's going on in museums, I was suddenly reminded of this great review of a show I had curated last year. I re-visited the post this week (which demanded about 30 seconds of Googling) and I'm linking to the Things n' Stuff blog. As you can see this young lady is into art and food. She is apparently going to a Ph. D. program, where I sure hope her professors won't brainwash her great qualities of observations to oblivion. Anyway, if reviewers in Artforum and Frieze were writing like this, we would have a better idea of what the shows reviewed are about. Keep on the good work, lady!

The picture above is copyright LACMA/Museum Associates, 2006 and Mrzyk and Moriceau

Recipes for the lazy-enclined

It is summertime, and I usually become a lazy cook during this season. It’s too hot to cook and possible to survive on summer fruit alone anyway. When I decide to make something, I usually decide on super easy meals made for my inner lazy Frenchy-tude.
So here you are below. All of these are good served cold.

Everything tastes better with caraway seeds.

You need:

Fingerling potatoes. Enough to fit about half of your skillet
2 bunches watercress
1 big salmon fillet, diced in large cubes
Caraway seeds. A lot. I usually throw in a good handful. Or two.

Wash and rinse the potatoes, cook in salted boiling water. Drain.
Wash the watercress, trim and discard the stems, and chop the rest roughly.

Heat a tiny bit of olive oil in your skillet, sauté lightly the pre-cooked potatoes. After 3/4 minutes, add the watercress. Stir from time to time, it is going to shrink (like spinach), after 3/4 minutes add the cubed salmon and the caraway seeds. When the cubed salmon looked cooked through (shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes),

Voilà! It’s ready. You can serve it either hot or cold but I prefer cold.
I usually get about 3 meals out of the quantity indicated, but if you are a 6’5”, 200 lbs giant I have an inkling this will only serve as an appetizer.

Caraway seeds are great with sautéed potatoes and any kind of stinky cheese, at room temperature or slightly melted, such as Raclette, Muenster (the real French one, please), St-Nectaire, a very ripe Brie, or even Livarot or Pont-L’Evêque, if you can find those.

Peas & mint soup.

For the super lazy cook. You simply need:

1 package frozen peas
1 bunch fresh mint, washed and trimmed.

Cook one package frozen petite peas in salted boiling water. Drain 2/3 of the water. Add the entire mint bunch, and puree with a “plunger” type of blender or in a regular one (it is messier).
This soup has the most amazing green color ever. It is good either hot or cold. With this quantity you get about 2 very large servings, of course you can multiply by 2 if you want a larger amount of soup.
I stole this picture from another blog, I usually don't bother with serving it with a spring of mint "pour faire joli", je suis trop feignasse.
But I wanted to give you an idea of the great color of this soup.

Carrots and coconut soup.

1 bunch fresh carrots
1 small potato
1 can light coconut milk
spices (curry blend, or cumin, coriander, turmeric, etc.)
1 bunch cilantro, washed and minced.

Peel and cut the carrots in slices, same with the lone potato. Cook all in salted boiling water, when carrots start to be tender, add the coconut milk and about 1 teaspoon of the spices mix you have decided on (I usually use Ras El Hanout)
Use your “plunger” blender to puree everything, Serve the soup either hot or cold, and sprinkle with cilantro (that is, if you like cilantro).

Watermelon and raspberries summer drink.

1 small watermelon
1 package frozen raspberries, or 3 small packs fresh ones
Rose water (about 1/3 cup), optional.

Cut your watermelon in large chunks, place in your blender with the raspberries and the rose water. Va-voom! Here you are, a most refreshing fruit summer drink, without added sugar. Elle est pas belle, la vie?
This also have a fabulous color, so you'd better serve it in a transparent glass pitcher.

I adore rose water, which I use to enhance my madeleines, or mixed with yoghurt, pistachios and a bit of honey, or any kind of pastries (pound cake, angel food cake, etc.). In LA it is easy to find, either at the Ralph's (usually somewhere near the kosher section) or in any Persian grocery store in Westwood.

Do Not Touch - We are contact-phobic!

Since having a super-stiff neck isn’t very conducive to exhibition viewing I don’t have much to write about any particular show or artwork these days, to the dismay of one of my casual readers (Hi Ivan!).
I was at LACMA yesterday doing a spot of friend-visiting, but didn’t get to see the shows (There’s SoCal and Arts of Latin America at present). I want to admire my friends’hard work in a good context to do them proper justice,
So I thought I should instead explain a few things that always bum visitors to museums, so you are well prepared when you come visit the two aforementioned exhibitions.

The most important thing you need to know is ensuring conservations rules are strictly enforced almost always means having to forgo optimal viewing conditions. Therefore, curators and conservators are often at loggerhead about how to show artworks, or even whether artworks should be shown ever. Anyway, let's start:

1. Do Not Touch Artworks. Ever.

Well, almost never, because there are a few instances of contemporary art when the viewer is encouraged to even walk on the artworks. Carl Andre floor pieces come to mind.

Why? Because even if you are some OCD-neat freak, you always bring in on the tip of your fingers some invisible bacteria with you, some grease also (moisturizers are invisible but dirty), and occasionally some fungus spores. Purell doesn’t solve it all, alas. Bacteria and fungus alone can damage works on paper quicker than you can say “Eew”. Ever wondered why these art technicians you were seeing on documentaries - that is, if you watch, I don’t know, PBS and the History Channel? BBC?- are always wearing gloves when manipulating artworks?

Of course, every single person I’ve ever met who admitted to artwork-touching in my presence had to tell me their hands were very clean (so what?) and touching one artwork “once” surely couldn’t harm the poor thing, could it?
Not only it can but it most certainly does.
Even that nice Rodin marble sculpture that looked so soft and tender and sensual you couldn’t resist touching it. You pervert. It is alabaster.
Before your fateful vandal visit to the museum, hundreds of careless people thought doing it “once” wouldn’t hurt. So multiply the few thousands fingers per year touching “just once” the sculpture at the Rodin museum by the amount of dirt it brings, and the “patina”-encrusted statues have to be cleaned. Because you are the same person who complains about how gray and dirty the statues look and how come these are not cleaned?

Cleaning does damage even stone. If you’ve seen a house façade being sandblasted you have an idea of what treatment awaits that poor lovely sculpture you are harming beyond belief. Plus, it is expensive. If you live in Europe, it is the meager allotment of your taxpayer money that goes toward culture that pays for it. In the US, it comes from the conservation department budget, meaning there is almost never any rich sponsor who’s going to commit funds to it.
Your admission ticket will never cover the cost of running a museum, unless museums start to raise their admissions at Disneyland level. So if you wish to deface artworks, at least have the guts to ask your Congressman to raise support for the arts and PAY MORE TAXES, or give a huge donation to the museums you visit. In the 7-figure range, to give you an idea of the costs of keeping history and making it available to the masses.

Do Not Bring In: Food, Beverages And Anything Liquid.

See: bacteria, fungus and grease above. Plus bugs. Yes, fruit flies are not friendly with artworks either. They defecate on them, did you know that?
Yes, we are well aware you are not planning to throw any of these at the artwork. But freak accidents do happen. You may be super clumsy, how can we know? You don’t need to spill things to spread all of the above: touch a bench with your sticky hand, or a wall label, and some invisible monster is going to spread to a beloved 16th century drawing. Frames do not protect artworks from all these things.
Other case in point: did you ever notice these tiny, tiny bugs coming sometimes out of cardboard packages? You know what? They eat paper. And they can come out of your Starbucks cardboard tray too. Bottled water? May seem harmless, but art on paper or wood doesn’t like humidity.

Do Not Bring In Your Umbrella, Dripping Of Otherwise. Same With Backpacks, Ballpoint Pen And Felt Tip Pens.

I know, these ones seem so absurd.

Umbrellas, dripping: you are bringing in moisture and humidity. If it is a rainy day and the museum is crowded (as it always is when it rains), the humidity level can be raised 25% or more. It warps wood objects and damages paper beyond repair. In LA, because it rains so seldom museums almost never enforce this rule, though they should. But in LA, people are too scared to drive to the museum on rainy days, they go to the shopping mall instead. Oh well.

Umbrellas, dry. What’s the problem? It is the same as with backpacks: the way these are carried. People do not pay attention to what’s behind their back.
Just imagine it as the same thing as being on crowded public transportation - hard in LA, I know, but please bear with me.
How many times have you been hit by someone’s backpack or missed being pierced by a pointy umbrella tip casually wedged under someone’s elbow while riding NYC’s public transport system? Yep, you’re starting to understand. Artworks don’t like being hit by bulgy backpacks and pointy metal tips either.

Now the most puzzling of all: why can you bring pencils and only them if you wish to write down notes? Because ballpoint pen marks are impossible to remove from any artworks, and other kind of inks are next to impossible to take off too.
If you have ever gotten ink stains on your clothes, you will understand. Unlike your clothes artworks cannot be sent to the dry cleaners.

Maybe you feel you are a responsible person and you are not going to deface the artworks. I remember Tyler Green grumbling in a post that the Hammer guards should have known he was earnestly doing his job. Hello Tyler, how are the guards supposed to know you are not a vandal? It is not written on your face. Or on anyone’s, really. You would be surprised at the people caught defacing artworks. They don’t all look like psychos or failed artists in search of fame.
I once caught a very respectable looking older lady pointing out at a non-glass-covered Botticelli painting with a ballpoint pen, less than 1 cm from the canvas. She meant well but her eyesight wasn’t what it should have been. Even if you carry liability insurance (most likely, you are European), it won’t cover the loss of that Botticelli.

That’s all for today’s post, but I’ll write later about other conservation/exhibitions common problems, particularly pertaining to contemporary art and which are so frustrating. In the meantime, just be careful and please comply with museum-visiting rules. There are here to make sure you children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have a chance to see the same artworks as you did, in the same great conditions.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A non-art, Foodie interlude

Since last week I have welcomed a 5th reader, Annie, my first non-art person.
Annie and I met only a few months ago through a mutual friend (referred to as: My Distinguished Literary Correspondent or MDLC).
I thought she was really cool, and she impressed me with the seriousness of the research she was doing for her current project. Not too many people know there is an Art Squad at the LAPD, for example. Plus, did I mentioned she is cool?

Annie in turn introduced me to her friends and I got this enormous breath of fresh air, something sorely needed to get out of the somewhat claustrophobic aspects of the art world. It is so refreshing and interesting to meet writers, animators, musicians and scientists! Thanks Annie (and MDLC), I am very grateful! Please send many more new non-art persons my way!

Anyway, I have other interests outside of art writing/curating and reading mediocre books, so I thought I could share my love of cooking with my now 5 readers.
Like many art world people I like my food, and since we all travel a lot we are always constantly sharing addresses of places we went to and things to bring back from the places we visit. Some of us are even good cooks (Hi, Rita G!) and many, many conversations at openings revolve around food, not art.

So in the next few weeks I may post a few recipes and links to the food blogs I read.
I am afraid these are mostly French blogs, as I use metrics when I cook. I weight ingredients on a scale instead of using volumetric measurements (cups and spoons).
The only English-speaking blog I was reading was Chocolate and Zucchini but the few times I attempted recipes they were terrible. Too much sugar and butter, heavy, heavy pastries.
For starters, here's the link to Chef Simon, the best website I know.
Everything is explained in pictures. It is very clear and precise, which means the only unknown factor that would make the recipe fail is the way your oven functions.

I'm also adding to the list of my links my sister's cooking school in Paris, Arômes et Saveurs. The picture that illustrates this post is from one of her recipes. If you spend some quality time in Paris and want to take one evening cooking class, you know where to click!

And of course I'll mention a few of the food places I've visited. You will have to GoogleMap them yourself though, sinon ce ne serait pas drole...

The Art World Explained To Children

I always thought the series “bla bla bla for dummies” in their lame tongue-in-cheek attempt at humor had the most awfully condescending title ever. Besides, their titles most certainly come with a trademark, so I decided to name this post in homage to Jean-François Lyotard whose La Condition Postmoderne and its follow-up Le Postmoderne Expliqué Aux Enfants certainly influenced my undergrad days. Though I much preferred Le Différent, one of the most beautifully, intelligent and desperate book I have ever read, but I’m digressing.

Anyway, there seem to be a need to explain the art world inner workings to newcomers, i.e. the nouveaux riches freshly learned connoisseurs who were buying like crazy over the last few years. We’ll see how the subprime crisis is going to affect the art market and if these new collectors stay true to their status trophies personal integrity and deep love of art knowledge.
I’ve recently read a particularly mediocre novel by Danielle Ganek (with a way too long title) pertaining to do just this. She’s something on the board of MoMA and probably a charming person in real life but I am afraid her abilities in fiction writing are a bit sub-par. It’s OK, now we have chick-lit for the über-rich as well, a new publishing category for the culture-challenged previously literature-deprived I never thought of myself. No wonder I’m still broke. Ah well.

The storyline betrays a very superficial understanding of art and art history, but the description of the art market is spot on. It is also a book in which curators, art historians, critics and learned institutions are curiously absent from, making it a “hyper-present” book: no past, no future history are sandwiching the events depicted. It looks as if art had no longevity whatsoever, which could be an interesting take on Baudrillard, had the author sought to reference him.
(Note to Viking: copy-editors are not a luxury: if you have to publish such average material, make sure at least someone checks the continuity in addition to grammar and spelling. Copy-editing is a noble job and it does enhance the quality of published material. I swear.)

Anyway, reading it was in a way appropriate to my post-whiplash injuries as it required very little concentration. It took me a week to read it, but I’m sure anyone in good health would spend only a couple of hours on it, at most. It also reminded me in contrast of the best book ever written about the art world, which documents events happening from the late 1970s to a few years ago. I’m linking to Richard Hertz “Jack Goldstein And The CalArts Mafia” which is a oral history of the late Jack Goldstein’s life, in the context of his SoCal schooling, his move to NYC, the market craze, drugs, and how success made everything go wrong, etc. It is also a great reminder of the 1980s market boom and as such would have deserved wider distribution and reviews.
I always think this is the cautionary tale each art school student should be required to read, in addition to a mandatory showing of Paul McCarthy’s Painter video. This way they would be all set for their uncertain future, though a fat trust fund or a long-suffering supporting spouse would certainly help even better.

Richard Hertz is the former chairman of Art Center College of Design Liberal Arts and Graduate Depts. He basically created the grad school there and made Art Center one of the LA art schools that count, bringing there a great faculty and therefore being responsible for many, many good artists who came out of the program.
I always felt he was widely under-estimated in the LA art world, maybe because he is so tolerant, generous and supportive.
Richard holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Pittsburgh and comes from a learned family. His father was an art historian turned diplomat who I believe studied under Panofsky. Richard inherited his father’s library and therefore has a good knowledge of the German art history tradition. He knows who Riegl, Warburg and von Schlosser were, for example.
Richard has an amazing conversation and I always thought all the “me, me, me” grad students at Art Center would have benefited from asking him questions about, I don’t know, Richard Rorty, Nelson Goodman or John Rawles rather than babbling endlessly about their own misunderstanding of “French Theory”.

Full disclosure: I owe everything to Richard Hertz, who is the most generous and tolerant person I have ever met. I feel very, very honored to consider myself his friend and to have benefited from his support and encouragements. Since I was ranting against the NYT and LAT cronyism the other day, I don’t see why I cannot indulge in a bit of copinage myself and give back to Richard the admiration I have for him.

In a nutshell, Richard is awesome. Now read his book!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Elephant porn! Lesbian chic bestiality!!!

No,no, this headline hasn't been written entirely to lure you, yes you the pervert trawling the internet for gross content; onto this very demure and prudish blog with the sole purpose to increase our traffic stats.
We are Frenchy, yes, but chic!

As with every elegant word under the sun voyeur is a French word and as an art world watcher (see? you're getting so good at translation) I certainly spend a fair share of my time doing this very activity. It's almost second nature really, even when I go on vacation and spend some time Upstate NY, engaged in country activities [but always in very ladylike style. Think "Green Acres": I'm Gabor reincarnate. I wear Chanel sunglasses, Avene 50 SPF sunblock and travel with an extensive collection of assorted hats and gloves AND a vintage Hermès scarf. And I'm not even mentioning the shoes].

So when my friends, my beloved godson and I went to the "Sunshine" Cobleskill County Fair I automatically indulged in people-watching, mullet-counting, farm animals worshiping and fried food tasting. I've made very interesting discoveries: foot-long Italian sausages, ice-cream sundaes served by the bushel, fried blooming onions, I saw some middle-age "Irish cogglers" practicing a sort of very stiff hieratic dancing in yellow John Waters-inspired dresses. Ethnologically speaking I was in heavens, even though we missed the tractor driving contest and the demolition derby (they even had a minivan demo derby!). I got to see the chainsaw sculpture demonstration, that was cool too.

There was also a circus and we spotted a couple of elephants in a small enclosure. Yes, I know, it is evil and cruel to have elephants in circuses and I deplore their loss of freedom as much as the next PC person.
But my godson is only 4 years old and he is also the one and only unattached male person to have told me he loves me in, like, 3 years, so I wasn't going to lecture him on the animals plight, thank you very much.
So here we are, Elias, his parents and I watching this female elephant who's standing in profile in front of us. Suddenly Elias' mom and I spotted this very BIG thing coming from the other elephant and lazily poking at elephant #1's vagina.
I was thinking, wow, interesting, this is really, really big when I realized it was the other elephant's trunk! We were witnessing an elephant giving oral sex - or is it nasal sex? it is a bit perplexing - to the other!
How awesome is that? Traveling to Upstate NYC to see such a wonder of nature! Plus, we were unsure of elephant #2's gender, so there may even be the possibility that what we were witnessing was in fact lesbian elephant nasal sex!
So exciting! Growing up reading Babar like all French kids, it never occurred to me I was one day to see the King of the elephant fornicating gently with Celeste. Or maybe it was Babar'sister? Un éléphant ça trompe énormément!

Cultural Critical Differences in Reading Material

I love the title of this post, it sounds like a Routledge-published, NYU-edited cultural studies reader!

One inconvenient thing when moving to a different country is the sudden loss of all of one's cultural gateposts and references.
For example, the pronunciation of Latin/Ancient Greek names differs, even Latin quotes are not the same. It is not "Et Tu, Brutus?" but "Tu Quoque, mi fili" which is used in France, both quotes drifting away from Suetonius who actually used a Greek sentence "καὶ σὺ τέκνον." To my great dismay I never learned Ancient Greek, so the above characters may mean anything, really. But you can copy and paste and send it to your former best friend when you're having a huge falling out, to show off how classy and educated you are. It's cool to be arrogant and condescending in Ancient Greek, no?

Another problems is the way canonic texts are edited differs from one publisher or translator to another, so one famous Freud essay may be published along different essays than in the French translation.
To go back to the classics, I usually read the Latin authors in bilingual editions which are never, never expurgated or censored in France. Somehow it is impossible for me to read Latin alongside English, so here I buy English-only translations which are always, always expurgated.
Supposedly to shorten the editions, but I get very crabby when the publisher (Penguin, Thou Art Responsible For Depriving Unsuspecting Readers of Juicy Content) decides in my name what I shouldn't read. Even if they are "boring descriptions": these may include some historical content or geographical elements I am interested in.

Also, when in need of fiction reading I always run into the same problem: the untrustworthiness of literary critics in say, the NYT or the LAT. Many of them do have an agenda (the grotesque review of Jon Savage's latest by Camille Paglia comes to mind, it's all about her as usual). When they don't, it is impossible for me to know whether the authors are getting a review in there because they are school cronies of the paper editors.
I suspect most of them are, as with the overpraised chick-lit for Wall Street male traders opus, Merger & Acquisitions by one Dana Vachon. The name means something like "large cow" in French, so it is a bit unfortunate. One look at the guy's picture, he is not even cute but that's OK, many writers are not (on a side note, I kinda want to read Nathan Englander because I find his pix rather sexy, with his floppy curly hair dangling on his forehead).
The praise for the book was a bit unsettling for me as it was often referencing Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis, two writers for which I have very little interest. But some of the reviews were mentioning the book was about the work life on Wall Street, and regardless of the location of the action, I have been pining for books about "work" for a long time.
So I bought the thing, read it in something like 2 hours and realized that yes, once again it was a blatant example of reviewers/authors cronyism. The content is so mediocre I fail to understand why this book found a publisher in the first place. The action is totally unbelievable, as are all the very schematic and caricatural characters. The writer tries very painfully to be funny and fails systematically: descriptions of spilled beverages may work well in visual slapstick comedies but certainly not on paper.

I was very disappointed as I read it on the trail of Joshua Ferris' first book which I liked enormously, save for the end. I was expecting something rather similar. I must also point out that both Ellis and McInerney are much more interesting writers than Vachon, and God knows how boring I think there are.
So unfortunately the only way for me to find some literary guidance is to rely on my friends' advice as well as on the recommendations provided by my one and only distinguished literary correspondent (Hi Mike!). The latter has recommended James Wood to my attention, so I'll follow what Wood will publish in the New Yorker. In the meantime, I'll try to get to read the latest Christian Jurgensen. And will get wary of NYT and LAT reviews...

A hot and sticky Summer of Love

I just had a coffee with my 4th devoted reader (Hi Daniel!), everyone else being on vacation right now. My one and only faithful fan mentioned his frustration at my lack of posting due to joyous reunions, so I'm happy to oblige him today.
Anyway, back in NYC the weather was excruciatingly hot and sticky, this tornado hit Brooklyn wreaking havoc on the subway system. So with this and the neck and back pain I didn't feel like going to the city, really, but for the Whitney psychedelic show. I'm normally not too much into that stuff but it saved me from having to do research for this project I'm working on.
It was definitively not worth $15.
There was very little art, most of it not very good with the exception of almost all the film works. The show was a collection of posters and photos of bands from the era, some memorabilia (booklets, fanzine, concert tickets, etc.) and very anglo-saxon. Summer of Love seems to have been a really Brit-US thing, though many loans were coming from this German collection apparently.
The show really looked like the fantasy of a giant 1970s teenager bedroom, albeit very tidy and clean. No messy dirty rags on the floor, etc. It was all very well behaved really, with orange walls slightly off because of the wrong hue. They looked more Martha Stewart-pumpkin than glossy plastic Verner Panton-y.
Which brings me to the really cool thing there, the Panton "Visiona" room reconstituted in the image above. The second cool thing was the record cover for 13th Floor Elevator, a band I like a lot (mostly their hit "You Gonna Miss Me" and I also like the Jad Wio cover version).
Aside from that, bof bof as we say in France. I don't find the material very engaging really, and the show seemed more lik a baby-boomer nostalgic attempt to remember their teenage years than anything remotely interesting. I'm sad I skipped the Met new Greek & Roman Art galleries for this. Ah well. Next time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

NYC report

It's hot and sticky here in Brooklyn, and because of heavy rains last night the NYC subway system is not exactly working. So I am not sure I will be able to go see the Whitney's psychedelic show and the new Greek and Roman galleries at the Met.
It is miserable outside, and I wonder why people do live here.
NYC is so horribly expensive you start bleeding money the minute you get out of the house, people are not really nice and polite and since everyone is working like dog to makes end meet, no one can really enjoy the city superior cultural offerings.
Playground for the super rich indeed.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

American and chic!

Two more years to wait and I'll be able to apply for US citizenship. Initially I was a bit unsure whether I'd wanted to "become" American. I feel very French in my way of thinking and my manners, and I was viewing the switch in citizenship mostly as a convenience. I like America for many reasons - Americans are nice!- but, well, I was feeling a bit too French, plus I will never understand the attraction of baseball or even, the horror! American football.

Recently I was having this conversation with some French cultural officials, about Orlan's infamous gesture, defacing a museum label that correctly asserted Duchamp* as a French-born, American artist. We disagreed as their credo was Duchamp merely changed citizenship as a convenience, was born and died in France. Well, it is their job to make French every single particle of dust under the sun that passed some time in France, had French ancestry, etc. I begged to differ as Duchamp spent most of his career in the US, married and American woman, and got the recognition he deserved first in the US and not in his Motherland.
This got me thinking. I choose to live here, I pay my taxes here, I follow US politics as best as I can, I speak English everyday, and I have found some appreciation for what I am doing here. Lastly, I am writing a novel in English, so I guess the decision made itself insidiously, À l’insu de mon plein gré as they say back home. But still, 2 more years to wait may change my mind again.

Then this morning I checked the French newspaper Libération and found this article. I am so utterly disgusted. If Sarkozy as president hadn't achieved to convince me, this is the last push I needed to make up my mind about US citizenship.
This woman found out when she went to renew her national ID card that she had to provide a "religion certificate" because she had a "Jewish-sounding name" and was born in French Algeria. Algeria was part of the French colonies and therefore France until 1962.
Now French law is very clear: if you were born in France you do automatically get French citizenship no matter where your parents were coming from, moreover religion doesn't interfere with anyone's right to citizenship.

But since 1994 and some administrative act passed by then right-wing Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, the French has found it OK to ask people born "abroad" or of "foreign parents" to prove their citizenship. And in a blatantly revisionist and racist move, people born French of French parents in former French colonies suddenly were viewed as "foreigners": the idea I gather was to exclude all the Arab immigrant populace that came to France from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to work in French factories after the end of the colonies. Many of them being French by law. Which, according to the Constitution, cannot be changed retroactively: a law enacted in 1994 cannot change what was legal before 1962, only what happened after 1994.

I had the disagreeable experience myself of having to prove my citizenship when I had to renew my passport at the French consulate: I was born on the French mainland from French parents and carried a French ID most of my life, but since my Dad had been born in French Algeria before 1962 suddenly I was viewed as having one "Foreign" parent.
I remember being particularly pissed off as my paternal grandfather was one of a handful of French people who fought with the Allies during WWII, working with the Deuxieme Bureau in intelligence. When many, many FRENCH people from the mainland were, ahem, not doing much in this department. Not speaking about the appalling action of the Vichy government against the Jews.

So I could imagine how this woman was feeling, being forced to prove her citizenship and her religion because of her name. I have a very Gallic name myself and for some reason no one asked me for a Catholic certificate, BTW.
Reading this article it turns out that in this administrative circonscription they routinely single out Jewish people and ask them for a religion certificate. Jews in French Algeria were all made citizens in 1870, so there shouldn't be any question about any Jew born there before 1962 not being a French citizen. And as far as I know, last time I checked Jews belonged to a religion, not a foreign country.
It seem that the overzealous administration clerks are taking upon themselves to act as vilely as their Vichy forebears, the article pointing out that some French citizens were brutally deprived from their French citizenship when trying to renew their IDs, after decades of being French, born on what was then French soil, being parents and children of French citizen.
The article precises that some people were stripped of their citizenship after "marrying a foreigner". Or adopted another citizenship, even though France does recognize dual citizenship. So many French people are now made alien on their own soil because of racist and antisemitic undercurrents.
Now I'd like to see the A.O.C Gauls to have to present a religion certificate each time they have to renew their administrative documents (BTW: we have 3 IDs in France: National ID, Passport, and Driver License plus another one if you live abroad and register at the local French consulate). Since a recent poll revealed 60% of my compatriots are atheists or agnostics, this may turn amusing.

The irony is that the current French president himself is from Hungarian descent, his father having been born in Hungary. Should he be stripped of his French citizenship because he is not 100% A.O.C? Moreover, it seems one of his grandfather was Jewish. Would he have to show a religion certificate to prove he is a French citizen? I'd say let him prove his Frenchiness up to the 6th or 7th generation, just so we renew with our 1940-1944 roots.
By this token, I am very sorry but Duchamp isn't French anymore. And I guess very soon, so will I, unless I become some fab' hyper glamourous writer and then we'll see some furious retro-pedaling to bring me back into the 100% A.O.C. Gallic fold.
You know what? I think I'll convert and join the tribe, just by esprit de contradiction.

* I wonder if Orlan would have changed back the label to "French" artist if it had been some cheesy academic painter and not Duchamp.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Mary Heilmann, To Be Someone

My neck comfortably resting on my très chic Isaac Mizrahi cashmere mini-pillow (sale of a sale of a Target sale), I’m eschewing the Jet Blue entertainment system to read the only thing currently accessible to my painkiller-numbed brain, the latest Vogue issue. It is the “Age” issue you see, the yearly “how to look great whatever your age as long as you are tall, thin, blessed with high-cheekbones and good hair and don’t have any money issues, really darling this is soooo effortless”.
I’m waiting for the “how to look cool when you are short and dumpy with bad skin” issue myself.
So I’m vaguely browsing it, and at the end, Ta Da! My favorite, favorite Cool Lady Artist, Mary Heilmann! This is it, everything is conspiring to derail my firm resolution of a contemporary art break this Summer! I am so happy with her inclusion I am keeping the issue for at least a week, rather than tossing it in the next recycling bin I find. Hail Mary, you are not one of those impossibly Waspy women who are the norm in the rest of the issue.

Anyway, I have been very excited over the last few months when running into Liz Armstrong as she was preparing the To Be Someone Mary Heilmann Retrospective at OCMA. Mary Heilmann is an artists’ artist as we say, meaning until now she never had the recognition she deserved but is highly respected among her peers AND the younger generation of painters/artists (the good ones, I mean). I have this half-baked theory about great paintings and artworks not lending themselves easily to photography: you don’t see the surface details, whatever amount of color corrections are never going to show the subtle differences between glossy surfaces, duller shines and minute variations in brushstroke sizes and patterns. Of course Heilmann’s work magnificently fits my crackpot theory, and even the gorgeous catalogue (there’s a Deluxe edition too) doesn’t give justice to her paintings.
My friends Ivan Morley and Donald Morgan and I were eagerly anticipating the show, and we were blessed in getting an invitation to the opening. Donald used to be her assistant when living in NYC, and I was very touched to see that she had remembered him and got him invited to the dinner. I like when artists don’t have an attitude – I don’t do well with Prima Donnas and egomaniacs, as a rule.

Now this is not the Artforum “scene and herd” diary so I won’t tell you who was there (note to Artforum: if you do cover West Coast events, don't mention your NYC cronies. We don't care. They are ugly Yalies anyway and they can't distinguish painting from critical theory).
I just want to mention the atmosphere was warm and fuzzy including the speeches. Everyone was relaxed and happy which changed nicely from the increasing stuffiness creeping over LA now that the institutions are so ostentatiously taking themselves sooooooo seriously, what with all these NYC /East Coast imports being hired everywhere.

Anyway, down to the exhibition. It started with very early works, part sculptural part painterly. They are reminiscent of Eva Hesse, minus the pathos and the tragedy, with a very playful and joyous edge. Interestingly they look very self-confident and don’t show the typical hesitation of these pioneering work that were neither/nor painting/sculpture but something else entirely and were going to give birth later to Judd’s specific objects (via Ann Truitt early experiments. Honneur aux dames).
Then we moved onto the first paintings themselves. I am not going to describe them by titles because I am typing from thousands of feet above the lovely USA, without access to any sources.
Generally speaking, the show can be described as a little bit crowded (the space is small and there is much to see), filled with gorgeous explosions of colors one after another. I think it had to look crowded out of necessity, out of the high quality of the paintings themselves. Each one and every single one of them could hold an entire wall. They are so strong whatever their format that even the small ones don’t seem so intimate as rather highly charged little painterly bombs packed with presence.

The sense of color is overwhelming in the way it is mastered: Heilmann can work from subdued monochromes and duo-chromes to multicolored bright hues, escaping the vagaries of boring minimalist chic as well as avoiding any sense of clash or gaudiness.
Another impressive feat is that first impression of sloppiness, immediately belied when the paintings are closely observed, at the leisurely pace they deserve. They do demand attention. Careful observation unearths under-layers of colors, say a dark green patch visible by transparency under a stratum of lighter blue that creates a dark blackish tone. Some white washes serve to tone down and reveal brighter colors.
I usually dislike sloppiness in art if it isn’t a deliberate part of the execution and even if it is (take that, Manfred Pernice!) it has to be extremely well done to pass muster.
It takes an extremely gifted, brilliant painter to pretend to be a bad one, as we can witness with Magritte’s Période Vache, Sigmar Polke’s early career and all of Kippenberger’s work. In short, appearing sloppy demands a great attention to balance, to composition, color arrangement and execution to create those masterpieces of seemingly effortless, carefree gestures. Mary Heilmann’s paintings are so deceivingly simple and easy, so attractive and playful in conveying this sense of spontaneity, as if they were made as an afterthought, in some spur of the moment casual encounter between the brush, the paint and the canvas.
They manage to let us forget how many hours of toil, technique and craft went into their happy radiance, their bright sense of togetherness. Appearances are deceiving, and it could well be that her work was overlooked for its awe-inspiring “simple” beauty , when too many of her male counterparts from the 1960s to the 1990s were stuffing their discourse and work with grandiloquent pomposity, uptight seriousness and macho self-aggrandizing postures. She was then too cool for her age, trop en avance, devoid of that would-be-rock-star attitude that plagues the art world.
Anyway, the show ends on August 26, so last chance for West Coaster to see it befor eit moves on. Future stops include Houston, Columbus and NYC.