Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Going for the Gold

Nearly a decade after Jack Goldstein’s suicide, his hungry ghost has yet to make peace with his artistic hometown, Los Angeles. 

One of the first casualties in the lurching institutional gearshift of Jeffrey Deitch’s arrival at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art (culminating with Paul Schimmel’s unceremonious firing from his 22-year tenure as chief curator), “Jack Goldstein X 10,000” — the artist’s first North American retrospective, on view through September 9 — was shunted south, to the tony but off-the-beaten-track Orange County Museum of Art.
Back in the 1980s, OCMA was the Newport Beach Museum, where Schimmel cut his curatorial teeth and made his initial impact on the L.A. art scene. The circularity, careerist intrigue, and absurdity of the situation would probably have delighted Goldstein, though it might just as well have given him stomach cramps.

Goldstein’s name is unfamiliar to many, though at one point his stock was ranked equal to such fellow travelers in the Pictures Generation and Neo-Geo movements as Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, and Jeff Koons, as well as John Baldessari, David Salle, Ross Bleckner, James Welling, and other community members from the newly founded California Institute of the Arts in the early ’70s.

Dubbed the CalArts Mafia, this tightly knit, ambitious circle was the subject of Goldstein’s last testament: Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia, his spectacular collaborative oral autobiography with Richard Hertz (and 11 other contributors), which manages to be both bleak and exhilarating in its unflinching examination of the neurotic machinations behind art world success and failure.

Failure is the lurking terror throughout the volume — originally published in 2003 and recently reissued by Minneola Press — and some pathological pas de deux with failure led Goldstein to hang himself a few days after finalizing the book’s contents and design. Having burned most of his bridges through an abrasively confrontational interpersonal style and a spiraling appetite for hard drugs, Goldstein found himself forgotten by the mid ’90s, living without electricity in a trailer amid the cholo culture of East L.A. and working as a day laborer to pay for his daily junk.

Tabloid titillation aside, these biographical dimensions lend tremendous gravitas to Goldstein’s work, whose dark humor, theatricality, control-freak precision, and ostentatious disinterest in the physical experience of creative action might seem as affected as Koons’s if they hadn’t been backed up with the most anti-physical control-freak theatricality possible. The obliteration of the figure, the dismantling of the artist’s presence, the poetic obsession with recurrence, duration, and ephemerality — and other motifs that crop up throughout Goldstein’s career — are, ironically, fleshed out and made more substantial by the artist’s final disappearing act..."

Even his drastic serial abandonment of one genre after another, one signature style after another, could be said to reach its logical extreme with that one last jettison. By his own (quite convincing) account, these shifts were more opportunistic plays/acts than evidence of any overarching conceptualist strategy. While an undergrad at the Chouinard Art Institute along with Laddie John Dill and Charles Arnoldi, Goldstein made Postminimalist sculptures from unadorned lumber and molded Plexiglas. Such mute formalism didn’t fly when he moved on to CalArts, so he reinvented himself as a Chris Burden-like performance artist and a filmmaker in the vein of Bruce Nauman, William Wegman, and Michael Snow.

Part of Los Angeles’s uncertainty toward Goldstein had to do with his being in the last generation of local artists who felt compelled to pursue their career in New York City, though he kept a foot in Hollywood for the easy access to film technology. The early ’70s was a period when many of the leading art critical lights saw cinema as the only way forward out of modernism’s endgame, so Goldstein was able to stick with the medium for several years, tightening and refining his narrative and aesthetic vocabulary and developing a distinctive voice — albeit one that spoke from a ventriloquist-like remove. For it was during this phase that Goldstein — following Baldessari and Warhol — began to systematically remove himself from the physical processes that produced his art.

“The Jump,” 1978, is given place of honor in the OCMA show as a continuously projected loop in the exhibition’s entrance. And rightly so — it is the masterpiece of Goldstein’s film work, possibly of his entire career. Yet it’s a work that is barely there, and Goldstein’s role in it was essentially supervisory. A mere 26 seconds of footage — three shots of a diver leaving the high board, sampled from Nazi aesthete Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympia,” 1938 — is given a disco-psychedelic makeover by a team of professional Hollywood rotoscope animators. The result distills the paradox of Jack Goldstein: In spite (or because) of his insecurities, his pathological careerism, and his profound disengagement from authorship and material process, “The Jump” is hypnotic and entertaining, formally exquisite and conceptually rigorous, entirely derivative, and wholly original.

Some of Goldstein’s films are even shorter. “A Ballet Shoe,” 1975, shows a dancer’s foot en pointe. Two hands untie the bow of her slipper, and the dancer’s foot relaxes to a more natural position. Nineteen seconds. In “White Dove,” 1975, hands move up to form a triangular frame in front of the titular bird, which then flies off its perch. Twenty seconds. These works operate at a tangent from Goldstein’s slightly longer loop-based work, emphasizing duration with their minimal, punch line-determined narrative structure. Unlikely as it seems, it was this joke structure that provided the bridge for Goldstein’s transition to painting.

As the ’70s wound down, painting underwent a surprising resurgence under the rubric of “New Image” or “Neo-Expressionism,” a mishmash of often deliberately awkward figurative styles from Europe and America. A number of Goldstein’s colleagues — Salle, Bleckner, and Eric Fischl in particular — were at the center of this cyclone and began moving product hand over fist. Goldstein, despite the fact that he was already garnering attention as a member of the patently anti-painting Pictures Generation, wanted in.

His first forays into painting territory retained much of the Conceptualist animosity toward the predominant Greenbergian theoretical model. Works such as his two untitled triptychs from 1979 imposed a familiar durational punch line narrative on the viewer, but shifted it from a passively endured cinematic sequence to an interactive perceptual choreography. And it’s a pretty good art joke: Paintings that appear from a distance to be Minimalist monochromatic fields à la Brice Marden resolve into vast spatial voids punctuated by tiny, carefully rendered figures of astronauts, parachutists, or deep-sea divers. Carefully rendered by Ashley Bickerton, that is — or one of the other assistants Goldstein hired to execute his vision.

Weirdly, Goldstein’s major legacy may have been his role in shifting the deliberately provocative outsourcing of art manufacture, as in the work of Warhol and Baldessari, to the industrial infrastructure of the contemporary global art market. Part of this is due to the downplaying of this aspect as one of any number of postmodern displacements at play in his work. But mostly it’s because Goldstein took advantage of the plausible Conceptualist deniability afforded by this authorial indeterminacy to sneak the long-banished qualities of aesthetic beauty, poetic resonance, and meticulous craftsmanship back into the dialogue of painting. How was he to know it would wind up meaning a Damien Hirst dot painting in every home?

Whatever its historical repercussions, that loophole resulted in an outpouring of one of the most dazzling and coherent bodies of painting produced in the 1980s. Goldstein quickly abandoned the structure of his figure-ground gag pictures for isolated, outsized images of luminous obliteration — rocket bombardments, volcanic eruptions, eclipses, lightning strikes, digitized images of the body derived from medical technology. Appropriated from popular magazines, rendered with a variety of depersonalizing techniques (airbrushing, pinstripe rollers, intricate layers of masking tape), and framed and interrupted by brightly colored geometric bands and sprockets, Goldstein’s decade of paintings managed to combine an infuriatingly mute literality with a through-the-looking-glass romanticism that remains paradoxically fresh, personal, and original to this day.

After giving up painting, Goldstein spent his final decade compiling idiosyncratic autobiographical aphorisms into poetic clusters, completing an enormous body of work that is virtually unknown today. There’s an entire oeuvre of LP records over-lapping Goldstein’s transition from film to painting, curious minimalist versions of musique concrète compiled from commercial music and sound-effect libraries, whose significance in the history of sample-based audio collage composition has yet to be assessed. One of the most engrossing works in the OCMA exhibition is “Burning Window,” a highly cinematic 1977 installation that gives a strangely soothing impression of an immense landscape immersed in flames. 

But it is the paintings that seem to have pulled the most out of Goldstein. Which makes sense, because in spite of the commercial acuity of embracing that oldest of genres, it was a tremendous — and perhaps poorly calculated — risk in terms of the critical dogma then prevailing in his community. Goldstein’s genius was to recognize that if painting actually had anything left to say, he had to transform his art-making practice into a ventriloquist’s dummy, because sometimes channeling all the unspeakably awkward taboos through a puppet is the only way to move the conversation forward.

 "Getting Right with Risk" was originally published in the September 2012 print version of Modern Painters

Images: The Jump 1978 16mm film still; Some Butterflies 1975 16mm film still; Untitled 1979 Oil on Masonite (followed by detail); Untitled 1981 Acrylic on canvas; Untitled 1981 Acrylic on canvas; Untitled 1983 Acrylic on canvas; Untitled 1988 Acrylic on canvas; Totems: Selected Writings 1988–90 one of 100 computer print-outs

Listen to Jack Goldstein's records here, and view his films here. The show was up at OCMA through Sept 9th 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Irvine is Fine

First Prize: Khang Nguyen Absorbing Nocturnal Qualities oil on canvas

After showing P'fool in the AM and driving the 4 hours back from Lompoc the other Saturday, I had just enough time to unleash MA & the hounds and jump back in the car to get down to the Irvine Fine Arts Center to hand out the prizes for the IFAC All Media 2012 show, for which I was juror.

Second Prize: Sharon Hardy Map QuestCeramics, silver, aluminum

Third Prize: George Long Little Corona mixed media

These kinds of shows are frequently disparaged in the upper echelons of TAW (The Art World) but I find them extremely interesting - not least for the evidence they provide of widespread and vigorous creative activity taking place beneath TAW's radar.

Honorable Mention: Joseph Van Hooten Fullerton/Wall Mixed Media (84 X 120!)

Honorable Mention: Jong Ro Bliss oil on canvas

Honorable Mention: Lisa Dallendorfer Staving Off Dementia Mixed Media (origami cubes from Sudoku games)

Honorable Mention: Byong-Ho Kim Tree Farm Photograph

LA gallerist/curator Carl Berg has returned to IFAC, where he worked for several years back in the day, and he's trying to establish the IFAC as a fulcrum for the LA and OC art communities - starting with the multi-curator extravaganza Curatorial Exchange, which opens Sept 8 and runs through Oct 20, and includes sections curated by yours truly, Micol Hebron, Roger Herman, Christopher Pate, Max Presneill, Laurie Steelink, Inmo Yuon, HK Zamani, and more!

Concurrent with the All Media 2012 - which closes Aug 25 - is a $99 fundraiser show with some awesome work. In spite of the fact that I've been living on credit since 2008, I scored this boss abstraction by Nancy Evans (above) and this watercolor monoprint of a pig in a wallow by Tanya Brodsky (below).

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hear the Todash Chimes!

"Throughout his variegated career and across a broad range of media — including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and various hybrids — Don Suggs has frequently tinkered with the sacred geometry of the modernist picture plane, subjecting it to unholy alliances with classically mimetic picture-making, usually in the form of pictorial landscapes. Recently his geometric fixations, in this capacity and otherwise, have narrowed to the ideal form of circles composed from infinitely variable bands of concentric color; an iconic visual trope throughout art history, but one of particular centrality to a wide range of modernist strategies, from Kandinsky, Duchamp, and Hilma af Klint to Alfred Jensen, Jasper Johns, and Kenneth Noland. Though these affinities inform Suggs’s work, his principal interest is the structure and dynamic of translation from illusionistic to abstract modes of representation.

The works from his Patrimony/Matrimony series, begun in 2006, derive their rings of color — meticulously applied onto round canvases up to nine feet in diameter using a purpose-designed turntable “easel” — from the palettes of great paintings from across the history of art. It’s something like a spectrographic readout, or core sample. Several other series applied the same formula to archetypal Western American landscapes, either in pure tondo form or as abstract insertions into black and white photographic depictions of the original source location. It’s at this point his most recent exhibit picks up..."

Read the rest of Don Suggs: Abyss Pools and Travertine Springs in ArtVoices

See the show online at LA Louver

Images: Omphalos; Tioga Pass (both 2012 archival inkjet prints)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Oh the Humanities!

I heard this on KXLU while I was driving to OTIS to talk to the Graphic Design students about zines and the impossibility of subcultures in contemporary society. I was all like "Ha ha this old postpunk song sounds like they're singing about the Jurassic." I didn't really believe it until I tracked it down on Soundcloud. Not sure what it all means, but it's all pretty catchy.

They mention M.A.'s space dog portraits and there's a line that goes "There's a dude in a hologram... and he's hounded!" which could either be referring to yours truly, or Christian Cummings' dad. Either way, whatever, right? Clearly we are living in the End Times. Here's a more ramshackle live-in-studio version. Gotta catch these guys playing out.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My first feature for ArtVoices - Go Figure

It’s an Origami Moment!” exclaims the email announcement. “MIT trained engineer Dr. Jeannine Mosely has discovered a new fractal, the Mosely Snowflake Sponge. The USC Libraries has taken up the challenge to build this amazing form out of 49,000 business cards. During summer 2012, workshops will be held at the USC Doheny Library and at the IFF’s new Chinatown space to make this fractal sculpture. We invite you all to come and help!”

You wouldn’t expect a cutting-edge cultural institution to be expending such enthusiasm over something so, well, totally geeky. But the Institute for Figuring (IFF) knows their audience, and they know what works for them. It was, after all, a closely related project — the 2006 presentation of Mosely’s Business Card Menger Sponge, a piecemeal collaborative construction involving nine years, hundreds of volunteer origamists, and 66,048 business cards that resulted in a nearly seven-foot-tall sculptural artifact — that helped establish both the IFF and host venue Machine Project as forces to be reckoned with in the Los Angeles art world.

The fact that the final form of the Business Card Menger Sponge was nearly a textbook illustration of serial Minimalist sculpture circa 1971 — a monochromatic 81-inch square cube riddled with precise rectilinear gaps determined by a fractal equation — added a droll art historical subtext to the presentation, but it wasn’t nearly as superficial or coincidental as it may have appeared.

As compelling as the best of the math-and-science-fetishizing geometric abstractions of that era were (and many dovetail elegantly with the IFF’s vision), there was a hidden Puritan agenda at work — Pure Science’s alleged lack of distracting sensuality was employed to gain leverage in an overlong argument between Romantics and Neoclassicists about whether purple was a number or a feeling. “See? If Art is meant to reflect reality, and Math and Science — the best tools we have for describing reality — are colorless and boring, then the only Pure Art must be as colorless and boring as reality!”

The problem is, science and math were never colorless and boring; they just didn’t have colored ink for computer printouts in 1971. The IFF knows this, and part of their mandate would appear to be the rehabilitation of the hard sciences from their paradoxical reputation as harbingers of a posthuman anesthetic gray haze and to recognize them for the sensually hardwired, beyond-psychedelic, non-verbal languages that they are. At least that’s my take. The IFF takes a more modest tack, identifying their core concept as “material play… a new, hands-on approach to public science education that is at once intellectually rigorous, pedagogically rich, and aesthetically aware.”

As reassuringly public-service as that sounds, it doesn’t quite capture the organization’s penchant for uncovering and celebrating some of the most idiosyncratic visionary individuals operating in the world of science, a leaning that goes back to their very beginnings. The IFF came into being around the time and occasion of a remarkable exhibit at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in the fall of 2002, entitled Lithium Legs and Apocalyptic Photons: The Imaginative World of James Carter. Carter is a trailer park owner in Enumclaw, Washington who has spent most of his life — when not prospecting for gold or diving for abalone — developing unique and radical theories to replace what he feels to be the inadequate physics of the quantum era...

Read the rest of Go Figure: Los Angeles’ Most Quizzical Institution Finds a Home here, or after the jump.

Images: Diver Al Giddings blowing a circular bubble underwater; Institute For Figuring's Chinatown exhibition space featuring Physics on the Fringe; Diagram of Jame's Carter's theory of subatomic particles; Detail of the Periodic Table, as described by James Carter's theory of Circlon Synchronicity

Another Archival Discovery

Here's a long-lost Flash Fudd rarity - a strip I did to run along the bottom of my four-page zine The St. Sebastian Record Player and Telegraph Historical Revue circa 1990. I thought the original was lost, and only had a xerox copy of the zine, but found it in my recent excavations. It was originally intended as one long horizontal sequence, but I reformatted it as a grid for online viewing convenience.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Exit Strategy

I received this remarkable leaked document in my inbox and thought I should air it out. The only trouble is that these ideas are TOO good. If Jeffrey Deitch followed these step-by-step, he'd win the love and respect of the entire universe. Though a more moderate solution might be to promote Ms. Glueck to that newly restored Chief Curator position.

6 August 2012

TO: Jeffrey Deitch, MOCA director
FR: Samantha Glueck, MOCA curatorial intern
Re: Ideas for future exhibitions

Dear Mr. Deitch:

You may not know me, but I’m the summer curatorial intern. I’m a huge fan of yours, and of course of MOCA. I must say, however, that I would have had to be on Mars to not be aware of your recent…troubles. (Even the café is offering a new drink to staff members -- a MOCA Flappé.) Of course I read all of the news reports – of you forcing the esteemed curator Paul Schimmel out, then saying he had resigned, and ‘honoring’ him by naming that loft space at the Geffen after him. Well, that was nice, but then all of those nasty stories in the newspapers. Boooo! And cranky old Charles Young with his leaked email to Eli Broad -- what a sneak! As for the artists who resigned from the board, all I can say is, di-no-saurs: Krugerraptor, Edyrranus, Cathyopus, Baldessaurus Rex!

I have been feeling so sorry for you, Mr. Deitch. Of course, I felt a little less sorry when I read that you make $650k a year. Really?! I make, like, $650a. In any case, I hope it works out that you can stay at MOCA, and continue doing a great job. I hope you don’t find this impertinent of me, but maybe because of my age, and super-big interest in pop culture, I think we have a lot in common. Well, not age, of course – I’m like, still young.
But I think we can agree that what MOCA really needs are a few killer shows that hit all the notes, exhibitions that are relevant to today and the younger, hipper audience we want, yet steeped in scholarship. Well, maybe not steeped. Dipped. Like The Dark Knight Rises, only art.

No, the movie title is not a veiled reference to Paul Schimmel, haha. Anyway, I hope you like my ideas:

The Female Gaze: An ongoing series with Marina Abramovic
I know, I know, my friend Jason told me she always makes him think of that character in Sartre’s The Age of Reason, who says, “When I look at her, I understand Sadism.” But Abramovic is also a buzz magnet, and all she really needs is a couple of chairs, right? Hello balanced budget!

What Is…A Readymade??? Trivia and Categorization in Art History
Guest curator/host: Alex Trebec. Jeopardy broadcasts from MOCA for the run of the show. Special competitions between the art schools, gallerists, curators, museum directors. Cue weird electronic swoosh and music: “From the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, this…is…Jeop-ardy! Now entering the studio are today’s contestants: Originally from Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, a curator, Klaus Biesenbach. Originally from Los Angeles, California, a gallerist, Larry Gagosian. And originally from New York, New York, our returning champion, Jeffrey Deitch, whose total winnings of $34,000 is nearly as much as MOCA’s endowment.” Just kidding about that last part!

The Girl With the IKEA Tattoo: Swedish Romanticism from Gustav the Great to Spotify
Literature, music, fashion, furniture – and a dash of history. Anyone who thinks the sponsorship possibilities -- IKEA, H&M, Soundcloud and yes, Spotify -- have something to do with this is a very shallow person. ;) Raves with Euro DJs, interactive electronica kiosks, runway shows, panels on detective fiction and a few old Anders Zorn paintings thrown in. ABBA performance? (Are they, like, still alive?) Could we get IKEA to donate 20,000 of those little meatballs for the opening? With lingonberries? Please?