Sunday, January 6, 2019

Three Trees - Phyllis Green

Tree #2

I don’t remember where I first ran across Phyllis Green’s artwork in Los Angeles -- but I remember the first time I included it in a show I was curating. It was at Chinatown’s INMO Gallery in 2001, and the show had the punning title Between Representation -- the main point being the fact that none of the artists, for various reasons, were currently part of a commercial gallery stable. Galleries come and go, and Phyllis was one of several firmly established art world figures I was able to include.

I was familiar with some of her then-recent work like the Turkish Bath series (1993 - 1996), which flirted shamelessly with ostentatious decoration and a hybridized sculptural materialism that introduced hi-tech polymers and flocking into a vocabulary ostensibly rooted in clay vessels.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the remarkable, ambitious piece that she installed -- a multi-component sculpture that conflated retail display and tonsorial vernacular in a seamless mashup interweaving art historical interrogation (Duchamp studies in particular), feminism, and her own sumptuous Postmodern formalism.

L12 (Duchamp Party) (2001) was basically a scaled-up steel replica of Duchamp’s 1914 Bottle Rack readymade -- the first true, unmodified readymade, consisting of a store-bought skeletal cast iron structure designed for drying recycled wine bottles after washing -- with flat clear acrylic discs mounted as platforms on the upright spokes of the drier.

On each of these was set one of Green’s then-current Spinning Head 360-degree hairdo sculptures -- featureless, inversely panoramic coiffures sometimes based on notable tonsorial models like aviatrix Amelia Earhart or the cartoon character Little Lulu, but in this case a “generic mid-length ‘do” cast in clay with graphically abstracted brown and black glazes (mimicking the colors and faux-wood assemblage of Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 and related works) in an edition of 12.

The default interpretation of Duchamp’s Bottle Rack -- in light of the complex mechanically thwarted eroticism of his subsequent major works -- has been to see it as a sort of phallus tree, perpetually awaiting the arrival of its moist vaginal wine-bottle counterparts (I am not making this up!).

Though it didn’t occur to me at the time, I realized that Green’s configuration -- with the plastic discs forming a barrier between the rack prongs and the inverted wig vessels -- clearly echoes the prophylactic narrative of Duchamp’s masterpiece The Large Glass (1923) with its bride and bachelors locked in a perpetually frustrated choreography of amorous pursuit and ill communication...

Continue reading at Border Crossings (retitled The Contrarian’s Engagement: Current Figurations in the Art of Phyllis Green!) or at Phyllis' UL

Images from - top & bottom L12 (Duchamp Party) (2001); Odalisque (1994); Blue Amelia (2003)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Library Music: a vast and complicated semiotic network contained in a “but.”

It’s been getting harder to tell the difference between weird and normal lately. Case in point: the current flurry of activity documenting the burgeoning interest in an obscure sub-genre of lounge music, known as “Library” or “Production” music. In many ways, the music is about as “normal” as it gets—deliberately derivative, consummately professional, frequently anonymous, and generated in a pragmatic corporate context that in no way overlapped with the contemporaneous cult of artistic authenticity that plagued the recording industry from the ’60s to the ’80s.

In those days, serious popular musicians were expected to have an auteur-like sensibility that eschewed—or at least deprioritized—commercial formulas for idiosyncratic self-expression, often taking months to burnish their masterpieces to a suitable level of artistic perfection. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album is probably the prime exemplar of this aesthetic ideological position. 

Library Music is the opposite. An explicitly commercial enterprise initiated by music publishing businesses, Library Music was generated by myriad (mostly European) companies who hired composers and musicians on a piecework basis to create prefab soundtrack music to be pressed onto very limited-edition sampler LPs (like 200 copies) which would be sent to film, television, radio and advertising companies who wanted bargain basement scores for their low-budget productions.

Continue reading UNDER THE RADAR: Library Music: More Weird, More Normal at Artillery or ATJ

Select album covers from Unusual Sounds: The Hidden History of Library Music by David Hollander (Anthology Editions) and The Library Music Film by Shawn Lee with Paul Elliott & Sean Lamberth (HutTwenty9 Films).