read: fine sentences

If I were a purveyor of fine sentences I would stock gems such as these.

In his post comparing jury duty to conceptual art, art critic Glen Helfand wrote on SFMOMA’s Open Space (“Justice Redux,” June 22, 2011):

Here’s my account of the case to which I was assigned: Ms. E drank something troubling, a crystal clear bottle of water with its Harrah’s label intact. It may have been standard transparent plastic, but was corrosive all the way down. She described burning up inside, but not as dramatically as her lawyer, who also relished, in words and sometimes pictures, the horrors of esophageal surgery….

What might be the real costs of a Drano cocktail, in PTSD dollars? It was as if there was a short circuit in my thinking patterns—all of a sudden, this was capital R real. Unlike forming a critical position on the Gertrude Stein exhibitions, our decision would have some measurable impact on someone’s life.

Lots of pleasing word-smithing here. The double duty of “capital”—both financial and figurative—is nice. Plus it’s nice to take the enterprise of criticism down a notch sometimes.

Though critics do articulate fine ideas too:

the seemingly infinite archive of world events produced by photography conflates surface appearance with psychological depth, iconicity with memory, publicity with history….

Eva Díaz paraphrasing critic Siegfried Kracauer in a review of Drawn from Photography at the Drawing Center, NYC (Artforum, Summer 2011). Díaz goes on:

Artists… hand-copy photographs and photo-based media, thereby lengthening the duration of the image’s production and, for the viewer, transforming perception by fastidiously rendering what once presented itself with glossy immediacy.

Also in Artforum, Catherine Wood previewed the Manchester International Festival and this summer’s iteration sounds equally high-brow and low-brow—and totally fun. Adding the MIF to my bucket list.

One more Artforum goodie*: Graham Bader considers Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstrokes paintings. In doing so, he quotes David Joselit, who characterizes painting’s “reification trap” thusly:

maximum prestige with maximum convenience of display

which means, as Bader writes,

[painting] is inevitably and intimately linked to the commodity.

The Brushstroke paintings are Ben-Day dot paintings depicting painterly strokes. Very cheeky. They are funny and interesting because they’re quotations, and I can’t help but think about Jerry Saltz’ recent rant against tired postmodernism:

The beautiful, cerebral, ultimately content-free creations of art’s well-schooled young lions…

…many times over—too many times for comfort—I saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic ­institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar. Neo-Structuralist film with overlapping geometric colors, photographs about photographs, projectors screening loops of grainy black-and-white archival footage, abstraction that’s supposed to be referencing other abstraction—it was all there, all straight out of the seventies, all dead in the ­water. It’s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress, where everyone is deconstructing the same elements.

in his reaction to the Venice Biennale on Artnet. (Though he did like some things, including an installation by Argentinian Adrián Villar Rojas, who made a massive beached whale for Moby Dick at the Wattis in 2009. Congrats to AVR, and to his collaborator Alán Legal!)

The June 27th issue of the New Yorker is a good reminder of why I’m a subscriber. Rebecca Mead’s profile of Alice Walton, the Walmart heir opening a major museum in Arkansas, is quintessentially New Yorker. It’s about an individual of influence, yes, but the story is far from the stuffy Upper East Side. That I’ve yet to hear about this museum via typical art channels makes it even more intriguing. I’m also looking forward to reading Adam Gopnik’s essay on drawing. But in the meantime, Ian Frazier’s Talk of the Town contribution counterposes events in Harlem: a mostly-POC poetry reading and a mostly-white Socialist film screening. The description of the latter setting will ring a bell among radical buddies in Berkeley:

At a counter by the entry, racks of densely printed leaflets, the left’s traditional accessories, sat near new paperback editions of books by Leon Trotsky….

“O.K., everybody, can we all sit down…?” The last words were pronounced in the hopeful, rising tone that might be called the Leftist Exhortative….

The watchers in Freedom Hall roused themselves for a lusty booing and hissing of Dick Cheney when he came briefly into the frame….

…even the familiar pleasure of hating horrible things didn’t seem to buoy the Freedom Hall crowd. In the flickering dark, a palpable gloom.

Having been to a few gatherings like this myself, I found Gopnik’s humor winsome. The activists’ pessimism in the final couplet is too close for comfort. I suppose whatever inspired me to make the Activist Complaints drawings in 2007 still resonates with me.

*This issue of Artforum is called “Acting Out: The Ab-Ex Effect.” Talk about tired of Ab-Ex.