Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Things That Shouldn't Be Overlooked

Juan Capistran, work in progress in the studio

Juan Capistran (in collaboration with someone else whose name I cannot recall), "Sub Lime" street art in Los Angeles

Juan Capistran, work in progress in the studio (Madness fans, you will recognize the image)

In between being hit by irresponsible LA drivers, I recently had the chance to meet with LA artist Juan Capistran, whose work I had seen at Phantom Sightings, and to have an embryonic correspondence with a couple scholars whose writing I actually admire.
After all I've said and written about curators vs. scholars, I must point out there are some scholars I actually read with pleasure, and they are not necessarily all Mod.Cont. or Crit.Studs. scholars. I initially wanted to devote a whole post to each of these people, but writing is a bit difficult right now, what with a sprained shoulder, wearing a neck brace and feeling a very sore and tender large spot at the back of my skull (my ears popped too, so I feel like I'm permanently under water, it's strange). Needless to say my concentration is rather down, so instead of lengthy writing extolling the virtues of all of them, I'm going to simply link to their respective websites and ask you to have a look at their writings or their art, and ponder what they do. Hopefully in the future I may have the opportunity to write in deep about them.

The first scholar I'd like to mention today is James Elkins, who teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago, which means he does have a daily contact with real art and real artists, in addition to developing a reflection about the act of writing the history of art and its consequences. He's just published a book he has edited about the new type of Ph. D. in studio art, and he is currently working on Chinese Contemporary Art. I'd be curious to read the fruit of his reflections on Chinese art, because so far I've mostly seen a lot of surface comments about the hotness of the Chinese art market and nothing more, excepting of course James Elaine's blog (Jamie please update it!). He's also a very, very nice person, from the few contacts I had with him via Facebook, and from what some of his former students (such as LA painter Will Fowler) have told me.

Then I had the pleasure of getting some very kind emails from another very nice person, Ivan Gaskell, who's better known as a 17th Century Dutch Art scholar (but not only!, following a mention I had made about missing his talk at the latest CAA conference. He's been so kind as to provide me with his essay (thanks again!) and letting me know about one of the Getty mysterious "closed" workshops in June, on the future of museums. He also happens to be a curator at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum and to have a really cool website where the homepage features a picture of signposts at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, where he must have spent lots of time when going to do research in the Netherlands.
His writings came to my attention I think after Didi-Huberman mentioned it to me and I've seen bits and pieces in scholarly journals (I have some vague recollections of seeing something in one publication of the Francine and Sterling Clark Institute, maybe one that also had some Mieke Bal's writing as well but maybe I'm just being utterly confused right now?). In any case I was very happy he emailed me, because I didn't know he had a website (check the part called "inchoate thoughts") where his publications are listed so it's a good starting point, and we had an interesting if short exchange about my post about curators vs scholars. He's both, the living proof there is no need to artificially dissociate the two occupations. And his interests are very varied and not confined to 17th Century Dutch art, so there's plenty of theoretical (but really well-written) thoughts for you critical studies mavens to discover and discuss at your next seminar.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of meeting with Juan Capistran for a very interesting studio visit. There's very little written about his work yet and it's a shame, because his art, while rooted in his LA experience (about immigration, poverty, housing, etc.), also integrates a reflection about the influence of the independent music of the last 3 decades and how it relates to the development of a certain type of social activism in art. But in a really smart way, where for example one material (felt) could both be a homage to Beuys and a reference to objects used by DJs and musicians alike. We had a great discussion about social activism vs. entertainment vs. art and how they can sometimes merge but shouldn't be confused with each other, about street art and commercial designers/entertainers posing as street artists (screw you, Shepard Fairey and Banksy!), about so-called artist-run spaces in LA and whether they act as either hotbeds of activist entertainment or springboard to blue chip-dom, about the immediacy of the musical experience as opposed to the more intellectual and laborious aesthetic one, etc.

But what I liked best about the visit was how coherent internally and intellectually his work is, situating itself at the juncture of contemporary indie* music and art history by referencing minimalism, Magritte or Beuys, etc. while being politically conscious without veering into propaganda. There's a real development in his work which he creates with a total disregard for the trends that are hot on the art market. I feel this is the type of artist who should already have had a solo exhibition, and I'm damned if I understand why no one has proposed him one yet? I can totally see Juan Capistran as a rising force in contemporary art and someone who could later influence a generation of younger artists. I mean, this guy is damn smart, his work his appealing and very well made, way above and beyond the artists who think "expressing themselves" is what it is all about. Quick, someone give him a show!

*I hate this term actually, as it can refer to everything from Kraftwerk to the Clash and lots of crap in the middle, but I'm not fit to think of a better name.

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