Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Richard Diebenkorn's Stain Glass Fortress of Solitude

This'll be in next month's (May 2012) print edition of Modern Painters, but it's already up on artinfo, so here's my take on the Diebenkorn Ocean park retrospective at OCMA; I don't know why they switched out my awesome title for a very utilitarian one, but it's restored above!

"During the Summer of Love in the Ocean Park neighborhood bridging the L.A. coastal communities of Venice Beach and Santa Monica, a well-established middle-aged painter moved from one studio into another, better lit one. Physically, the shift was nominal, but it prompted Richard Diebenkorn to abandon his successful signature style of saturated Matisse-like depictions of seated women and tabletop detritus to embark on a radical new direction. It wasn’t the first time he had done this—but it was the last. The “Ocean Park” series was the artist’s big shift into pure abstraction.

It would hold his attention for the remaining decades of his life (which ended in 1993) and represent one of the most acclaimed bodies of work in the history of 20th-century painting—lyrical drafting-table palimpsests; layer upon layer of incrementally reconfigured rectilinear lozenges of nuanced chroma; a squashed cubist armada endlessly jostling in a Pacific-hued harbor. Edward Hopper in Flatland, deprived of his magic hour shadows and intricate architectural scaffolding, but finding new life in crisp aerial origami topographies enclosing cloudy washes of muted complements. Stained glass permutations and combinations, dripping beauty. The Bomb.

Unlikely as it seems, Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” series—ultimately comprising hundreds of paintings, drawings, collages, and prints created between 1967 and 1988—has never been the subject of a comprehensive museum exhibition until just now. “Richard Diebenkorn: the Ocean Park Series” seems to have been hovering in the Coming Attractions section of the Orange County Museum of Art’s schedule for half a decade.

Apart from the economic crisis, the major obstacle has been logistics—as curator Sarah Bancroft points out, “There are ‘Ocean Park’ works in over 45 museum collections in the U.S., but only two institutions own more than one of them.” More widely acknowledged than deeply understood, Diebenkorn’s magnum opus has been fragmented and scattered across the landscape. “The grand diaspora of major works,” opines Bancroft in the awesome, copiously illustrated catalogue, “has ensured that audiences rarely have the opportunity to view ‘Ocean Park’ works in their depth and their diversity of media.”

Audiences finally have their chance. “Richard Diebenkorn: the Ocean Park Series” debuted at the co-organizing Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth last September and arrived in Bancroft’s Newport Beach base of operations in late February. After May, it moves on to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., for the summer, which will give Yankees one more chance to reassess their tippy canon.

The OCMA installation will be hard to beat—most of the museum’s half-dozen galleries are devoted to the exhibit and each of the large canvases is apportioned an expansive wall unto itself, a masterful curatorial decision that allows each work to unfold its architectonic structure into the nooks and crannies of the white cube (if ever there was an argument in favor of institutional white cubism, this show is it!) and initiates a complex four-way dialogue between the occupants of each room. The curious non-linear stylistic development of the “Ocean Park” series subverts the exhibition’s chronological sequencing, resulting in a larger, more complex—and somewhat arbitrary— version of these intimate arguments. Epic.

Two narrower galleries feature prints, collages, and smaller paintings, all remarkable in that they are lesser works only in size and dollar value. It is apparent that Diebenkorn put some effort into conquering the bugaboo of scale, and these miniatures—along with a sequence of painted cigar-box lids the artist presented to his friends, which anchor a wall in one of the larger galleries—more than hold their own in the company of the big boys: A small gouache on paper such as the atmospherically flesh-tinted Untitled #8, 1988, contains all the compositional intricacy and exquisite color of a similar gargantuan work, Ocean Park #83, 1975.

It took me some years to warm up to the pieces in Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” series, and I came to them through his earlier work. At the time—the early 1980s—the “Ocean Park” works held center stage. It was the most visible and best received of his oeuvres. Its popularity and adherence to the still-powerful modernist obsessions with geometry and flatness in painting had all but pushed Diebenkorn’s earlier, gushy abstractions and contrarian figurative work into the wings. To me, the paintings seemed like so many impressionist envelopes and file folders scanned from above.

When I discovered the heavily impastoed, loosely gestural still lifes and luminous abstract patchworks of color from Diebenkorn’s previous incarnations, I was shocked (a not uncommon response I later found out) to realize that this was the same Diebenkorn whose serene and cerebral geometric abstractions seemed to owe more to Sol LeWitt than to Willem de Kooning..."

Read the rest of Richard Diebenkorn's Masterful "Ocean Park" Series Is Presented in a Comprehensive Touring Exhibition (oy!) here.

Images: Ocean Park #24 1969; Ocean Park #105 1978; Green 1986 (aquatint); Untitled 1975 (Acrylic, gouache, and pasted paper on paper); Untitled #8 1988 (crayon, graphite & acrylic on paper); Ocean Park #83 1975; Corner of Studio Sink 1963; Albuquerque #4 1951; All works oil on canvas except as indicated.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wonders Never Cease

Marie Osmond performing Hugo Ball's Karawane. I'll repeat that; Marie Osmond performing Hugo Ball's Karawane. Somehow I can't help thinking it's somehow connected to this:

On Beyond Impasto

The current issue of Modern Painters, containing my cover story on Mike Kelley & Jim Shaw's noise band Destroy All Monsters, also has a couple of reviews I penned - the first concerns Linda Stark's recent show at Angles...

"For her first show in the recently relocated Angles Gallery, Linda Stark has created a mind-bending tour-de-force of radically idiosyncratic paintings-cum-objects that nevertheless tackle a number of unspoken assumptions underlying Modernist and contemporary painting practice.

Combining two distinct bodies of work – the six titular Adorned Paintings and a smaller, untitled black series (which offer a potent rhythmical counterpoint to their larger, more exuberant cousins) – the show represents a return to the painstakingly crafted high-relief pictorial oil painting that first garnered the artist attention, after an intriguing but less crowd-pleasing foray into resinous art-as-magical-talisman Potion Paintings in 2007.

The title series is remarkable, pushing the dualism of painterly materiality and decoration to absurdist lengths, juxtaposing meticulously built-up color fields of microscopic skin textures (“paint as flesh” taken to a clinical extreme) festooned with clunky high-relief simulations of costume jewelry ranging from kitschy peace symbols to surreal meteor-like gold nuggets. The works all possess a hallucinatory quality – the intricate contoured ridges and carvings seem impossibly sharp, as if the air in the gallery were hyper-oxygenated.

Two works seemed to exert the most hypnotic pull -- Fixed Wave (2011), a floral/entomological/oceanographic/gynecological configuration that teeters on the brink of terrifying with its saturated bathroom-fixture palette of turquoise and lavender; and Ruins (2008) – an anomalous landscape which is in fact a depiction of a depiction of Stonehenge, copied from a found tee shirt and adorned with a pink geometric necklace (also based on a found object) resembling some kind of cotton candy spacecraft schematic..."

Read the rest of the review in the current issue of Modern Painters (if you can still find a copy in LA) or look around online.

See the flat digital version of the show here.

I also contributed a brief write-up on an overlooked show by "one of the most interesting object-makers of the much-touted Vegas art scene of the early 00s who recently resurfaced in LA with a group of sumptuous sci-fi flavored sculptures at the Peter Mendenhall Gallery. Wayne Littlejohn, whose glossy, enigmatic biomorphic abstractions were standouts of the Ultralounge and Las Vegas Diaspora exhibits, offered up a half dozen works that tread a quixotic line between the painterly Finish Fetish sculpture of Ken Price and the special effects modelmaking of films like Aliens or Avatar. Littlejohn’s earlier mutant jellyfish forms here take on a futuristic mechanical aspect, in works such as the exquisite wall-mounted 2 Blue, which resembles the fetal stage of an interplanetary hotrod." You can still see the work online here.

Linda Stark Fixed Wave 2011 Oil on canvas over panel, 36 x 36 x 3 inches, Ruins 2008 Oil on canvas over panel, 36 x 36 x 3 inches; Modern Painters March 2012 cover; Wayne Littlejohn 2 Blue 2010 - 2011 Sculpted Polystyrene with Fiberglass and Automobile Paints 37" x 22" x 22"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Unstable Octet

Artillery just published my review of Kramer's Ergot 8, in which I compare the latest version of the flagship comix anthology to Duchamp's Large Glass. But Tulsa didn't understand the Duchamp part and cut it out. Now I don't understand the review, so here's the restored director's cut:

The Withdrawal Method

One of the most unlikely essential hipster accoutrements of the boomboom zeros was an ambitious comic anthology helmed by CalArts dropout Sammy Harkham, who went on to found The Family bookstore and Cinefamily repertory film theater – twin lodestones to Westside Angeleno cognoscenti. Back in 2003 Kramer’s Ergot #4 sent shockwaves through the comix community, bearing witness to a festering neo-psychedelic underground previously below the mainstream’s radar – in an upscale format that put even the most prestigious contemporary “graphic novels” to shame. Ratcheting it up yet a further notch in 2008, the lavish full-color 21 X 16 inch hardcover extravaganza of KE7 coincided with the collapse of the economic bubble, and appears to have bankrupted Harkham’s beloved Oakland-based publisher Buenaventura Press.

Three years later, Harkham has resuscitated the KE series with a new publisher – PictureBox, whose own retired Ganzfeld series often overlapped with the KE vision and roster. KE8 is at once an exercise in back-to-basics and an aggressive reassertion of the title’s avant-garde status. A relatively modest 9 X 7 inch beige clothbound tome, KE8 looks like it popped in from a parallel 1970s universe, with an embossed gold and orange geometric abstraction on the cover, several sections of sumptuously incorrect retro airbrush abstractions by Robert Beatty (also the cover artist), Takeshi Murata’s ridiculous high-fashion still-lifes featuring VHS b-movies and Coors light beer cans, a bleak Jimbo parable from the always-dazzling Gary Panter, and a generous selection of Oh Wicked Wanda! comics reprinted from the pages of Penthouse: a vintage softcore Russ Meyeresque response to comic icons Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s Little Annie Fanny in Playboy.

The sequence of Wanda stories (composed of intricately crafted watercolor paintings) included here chronicles a portion of the heroine’s ongoing attempt to create a museum of live celebrities (Bobby Fischer, Martin Bormann, Marlon Brando) kidnapped and frozen in erotic tableaux vivants. Combined with the near-crackpot polemic by punk icon Ian Svenonius (he claims that Pop Art – specifically Camp – “helped vanquish human movements for social justice forever!” – which I guess means we can all go home now) that serves as the book’s forward, this prescient Body Art curatorial fiction seems to be framing some kind of radical critique of avant-gardism and kitsch, and their mutual discontents.

What exactly this critique consists of is never spelt out, which is what allows Harkham’s curatorial intuition to triumph. Most of the narratives included here seem fragmentary, unsatisfying – Wicked Wanda leaves us dangling, her museum unfinished -- and several stories actually hinge on some form of coitus interruptus. Even those that give the people what they want -- like C.F.’s explicit Warm Genetic House – Test Pattern or Kevin Huizenga’s appropriated Silver Age sci-fi conundrum – frustrate on a more structural storytelling level, clipping the money shot or rendering it redundant. Johnny Ryan’s Mining Colony X7170 manages to have its cake and eat it, yet still be less filling, as an EC space opera filtered through Rory Hayes carries the thwarted consummation to cosmic proportions, while delivering a fatalistic Noir narrative arc that would be killed in the first test screening.

This same not-quite-gelling quality expands to encompass the whole anthology, which paradoxically makes it succeed in spite of itself, and situates itself in the context of one of the central strains of Modernist theory and practice as exemplified by one of its iconic artifacts, Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even AKA The Large Glass, which the artist identified as a “delay” as opposed to a painting, and which was left “definitively unfinished” in 1923. The convoluted symbology of The Large Glass depicts an incomplete mechanism of sexual courtship whose purpose – as with much of Duchamp’s owuvre – is to defer penetration and consummation indefinitely.

As an allegory for the creative act and for the Modernist agenda, this almost Tantric avoidance of climax delivers unparalleled staying power. By the early 70s – the very period to which KE8’s design and conceptual template aspires – Modernism had shot its wad and disintegrated into the myriad competing niche markets we know today as The Art World. But Duchamp’s legacy was just digging in its talons. By situating KE8 at this historical and aesthetic fulcrum, Harkham conjures a parallel universe in which the evolution of comics didn’t culminate with the profoundly unerotic bang-a-second jackoff of the Marvel Entertainment Group and its subsidiary promotional tie-ins. As such, Kramer’s Ergot 8 is as compelling an argument for curation-as-art-practice as the best group art shows in galleries or museums, but I’m fucked if I know what the fanboys will make of it. Its not like they’ve ever expressed some crying need for prophylactics.

Kramer’s Ergot 8
Edited by Sammy Harkham
PictureBox, Brooklyn, NY 2011

also available through D.A.P.

Images: KE8/Large Glass Intertextual Intergration by DH; from KE8: from JIMBO by Gary Panter, from Oh, Wicked Wanda! by Ron Embleton & Frederic Mullalley, from Get Your Ass to Mars by Takeshi Murata, from The Ultimate Character 2002 by Ben Jones, Ain't It So? by Tim Hemsley

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Clear the Grid! Encyclopedia Duff's on the Case!

Super-googler Sean Duffy seems to have solved "The Mystery of That Freaky Wood Carving I Bought at the Corner Furniture/Thrift Store a Couple of Weeks Ago" (see "Score of the Millennium (so far)") - Wayne D. Martin seems to have come from a renowned family of Appalachian woodcarvers and instrument makers - there are several web pages devoted to the family and their work, curated by Drs. Rachael and Richard Heller, who are quite a phenomenon in themselves - accomplished scuba divers, biological scientists, semipro Disney fanatics, authors of bestselling diet books, children's literature, and a Da Vinci Code-style thriller called The Thirteenth Apostle.

The five Martin brothers were the sons of Marcus, a fiddler who is shown playing with Bascom Lamar Lunsford of I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground fame, and if I'm reading right, Wayne may have been the artist responsible for this beautiful "still life" scene, which is just one of the many amazing carvings reproduced here. Thanks, Sean - now go do them taxes! Revenuers is gittin itchy - them Afghanastanis ain't gonna kill themselves y'know! Hyuk hyuk!

The Patter of Tiny Brains

Call for Submissions - The Patter of Tiny Brains

This is a call for submissions to a phone-in audio exhibition to be presented as part of 323 Projects. The audio artifacts should all be in some sense generated by children, up to and including adolescents. This can include documentary recordings of in utero sounds, babies crying or cooing, or teenagers cussing out their Mom; skits, sound diaries or letters, or recorded homework assignments; original musical compositions or cover versions of popular songs; or electroacoustic audio collages – in short, any sound recording created by or featuring kids. A companion compilation CD, LP, and/or downloadable album is also anticipated.

I am also willing to consider collaborative projects between post-adolescent artists and children, eg: a band with mixed age membership, or an adult-remixed sound piece made from child recordings. I welcome any found material, as well as any appropriate public domain recordings, and would appreciate leads to copyright material whose inclusion might be practically pursued. I have limited technical capabilities, but can transfer recordings from phonograph or cassette to digital format, and may be able to arrange the same for reel-to-reel or other formats.

The show is scheduled to open April 6th 2012, so please don’t delay in getting in touch with me at dghrvy@gmail.com -- if possible include an mp3 file and all information with your email. Deadline to receive your audio file is April 2nd, but the sooner the better! Also, please forward this to anyone you think might be interested.

Image: Our poster boy is the subject of this anthology I curated a little while back, available for free DL from Pleonasm/Redacted via the FMA.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lost Mowgly Booger Treasure!

I found one of the great missing pieces from my Revised Janson series while rooting through flood-damaged paper ephemera archives for collage material. Behold! The David Code Unravelled!!!