Archive for March, 2010

Spring

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

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December Boys, September Gurls

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

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Paul Westerberg, Replacements’ howler and crooner, contributed a sweet Op-Ed to the Times on the late Alex Chilton, Big Star’s own gorgeous crooner, wherein he recalls the two of them eating Thai in a New York hotel and talking about the manners involved in inviting ladies back to the tent.

HOW does one react to the death of one’s mentor? My mind instantly slammed down the inner trouble-door that guards against all thought, emotion, sadness. Survival mode. Rock guitar players are all dead men walking. It’s only a matter of time, I tell myself as I finger my calluses. Those who fail to click with the world and society at large find safe haven in music — to sing, write songs, create, perform. Each an active art in itself that offers no promise of success, let alone happiness.”

I interviewed William Eggleston a few years ago, right before his retrospective opened in New York, and I tried to get him to talk about his friendship with Memphis neighbor and friend Chilton, who used the photographer’s red room/bare bulb photo for the Radio City record cover. Eggleston apparently played keyboards on their third album as well. In any case, consummate Southern gent that he is, the photographer laughed and easily avoided the often-asked question, taking pity on me and my cliff notes, I think. Nevertheless, I was pretty much in love with him by the end of our conversation. An excerpt:

QL: Given that you are often said to have invented color photography, do you have a favorite color or palette? Certain photographs of yours, like Red Ceiling [1973], with its one bare bulb burning against those blood-red walls, are so sumptuously monochromatic.

WE: Actually, when I was growing up, my favorite color was green. I still love it. It’s funny because in some ways it’s the opposite of red; on the color wheel and all, red and green are actually very antagonistic to each other.

QL: The band Big Star used that photograph as the cover art for their Radio City LP, right? A band you also played piano with. Does music continue to inspire you?

WE: Well, I’ve always been a musician. But I would have to say that my favorite idol in music is Bach. My favorite painter has always been Kandinsky—he’s crazy.

QL: Is it Kandinsky’s work’s relationship to music that you find an affinity with? He once compared painting to the act of making music, saying, “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the piano with many strings.”

WE: That could be it—yes. There’s a book that he authored that was recently given to me that’s just wonderful. It’s called Concerning the Spiritual in Art [first published in 1911]. Now, don’t confuse his use of “spiritual” with the American usage of the word. In his case, you could almost interchange “spiritual” with “theory.” You should go out and get it tonight! The book is about how colors interact. It makes me know that whatever I was thinking about—in terms of my own pictures and color—that I was right.

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I read somewhere once that the Eggleston photo above depicted Alex Chilton’s niece. But looking for that now, I found that the lovely girl in red is actually Eggleston’s cousin. The picture was taken in Memphis the night before she left for Sarah Lawrence College (my alma mater as well, so strange), as she consoled her best friend over some boy trouble. A few years later they were in the nicely coined band Gangrene and the Scurvy Girls together. (See more background on the pic here.)

In any case, the sweet-and-sour sentiment—nostalgia and intelligence both, and always beauty—that fills Eggleston’s photographs is not unlike the state of feeling that Chilton’s voice and songs (and, in turn, Westerberg’s) evoke, I think. Pop songs, or love sings, all of them, songs and images.

“September Gurls” here.  /////   “Nighttime” here. /////  “I’m in Love with a Girl” here.

/////   And one from The Replacements: “Alex Chilton” here.

Also: check out William Eggleston’s cameo in Cat Power’s “Lived in Bars” video here. The video is sweet and awkward, the song reliably gorgeous, per Chan Marshall’s style.



Bauhaus Meets Venice Beach

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

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Kind of my dream title, this review. Though my love of Ken Price has always been hit and miss, I’ve come to appreciate him more since my disdainful Venice Beach youth, when his melty sculptures mostly—and erringly—brought the word “lugubrious” to mind (but don’t they, in a kind of onomatopoeic way?). My love of Josef Albers, however, and of his “Homage to the Square,” is and has always been most uncomplicated. It just is. So, Roberta Smith’s review of a show I wish I was in the ‘ole grand New York metropolitan area to see.

“Josef Albers/Ken Price,” a thrilling exhibition at the Brooke Alexander Gallery in SoHo, can make you feel as if your eyes were attached to a bigger, more perceptive brain. It brings together the work of two great artists in a way that enables you to see both more clearly… The pairing is a natural, except that no one had thought to do it, let alone in such depth, until now. The idea took root over a decade ago, when Brooke Alexander learned that for many years Ken Price, the brilliant ceramic sculptor, had only one work by another artist hanging in his studio in Venice, Calif.: a print by Josef Albers (1888-1976), the German-born abstract painter, Bauhaus instructor and color theorist…

The installation at Brooke Alexander deftly mingles mini-surveys of about two dozen works by each artist: paintings, prints and early photographs from 1933 to 1969 by Mr. Albers and sculptures, watercolors and prints from around 1959 to 2008 by Mr. Price. The passion for the inexhaustible possibilities of color is the strongest link here, but the profusion of dots to be connected, of shared interests, inspirations and references, is close to mind boggling. Naming some may help: adobe houses, pre-Colombian pyramids and architecture in general; rocks variously hand cut, au naturel and trompe l’eoil; dark mysterious doorways and other apertures; interior volumes and interior décor; cities ancient and modern; art high and low; harsh light and velvet shadows.

One of the show’s first revelations is that Mr. Price’s sculptures — which are sanded down to reveal fine pores of color within color — exploit concentric contrasts not unlike the squares within squares of an Albers Homage, if irregularly and minutely. The installation drives the point home by juxtaposing works with similar palettes, so that Mr. Albers’s paintings seem to announce from afar the color combinations to be seen, closer up, in a Price surface. And you’ll see Mr. Price progress toward his fine-pored mottling in geometric works like the marvelous, faceted, rocklike “Ming” and “Bolivar” from 1998, whose dark openings cradled in planes of smooth color echo Mr. Albers’s nested squares. You’ll also newly appreciate the deliberate textures of the Albers paintings — often executed on the reverse, rough sides of masonite panels.

—Roberta Smith, “Bauhaus Meets Venice Beach,” New York Times, March 18, 2010

Wavemachine

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

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The Art of the Insane

by Emily Fragos

The good doctor Prinzhorn says it was the patent
that snapped me in two like a twig,
that shattered my lovely personality, so to speak.
I nod my heavy head.

Have you seen my machine, perpetually moving,
whirring, breathing? Made it out of cloth
and mud and dirt and spit and excrement.

Dear Diary: Dubuffet and Klee came last week
to copy my faces. Eager to meet me, touching
my creatures with their long, skinny fingers.

They smeared my orange chalk, calculating
what they could steal. And if anyone asks,

I am taking my pig Raffi for a walk.
With her hooves of long curls like a little girl’s
mop, or Persian slippers, excellent for flying,

we are wind gone. We are kingdom come.

No Time for Flowers, Daybeds

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

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Before reviews of Marina Abramovic’s MoMA retrospective, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present,” which is about to open in New York, come the previews. Among them, this “House & Home” set-piece (er, “On Location,” rather) from the New York Times, reporting on the artist’s two lavish homes in SoHo and Upstate New York. The article is worth its price of admission for Ms. Abramovic’s salty, salty quotes alone:

“This is Marina. I just bought your star house, and I have a sofa arriving tomorrow, and I need you here.”

“Americans like to park their cars in front of the house,” Ms. Abramovic said. “This is unacceptable. A car should be parked out behind the barn.”

She also has an Antibodi chaise covered with felt flowers, a substitute for real ones: “I don’t have time for flowers.”

“I was not an easy child,” she said. “But she was not an easy mother, either.” That was the day, she said, that she became a minimalist.

“He loved objects, and I was always fighting to have less,” she said. Asked if she plans to marry again, she replied decisively: “Never, ever, ever.”

“I am too much woman for one man,” she concluded.

For her, she said, home is now a place to think, to read and — in the country, at least — to entertain. In the city, any guests must abide by her rules: “They can stay only three days, no more.” Pointing to an austere-looking vintage piece with a thin, hard platform, she added: “And they have to stay on this uncomfortable daybed.”

More pithy than a 200-page Hans-Ulrich Obrist interview, no?

The aforementioned daybed.

Aforementioned daybed, sadistic instrument.

Painbirds

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

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Just read that Sparklehorse, as songwriter Mark Linkous was known, took his life yesterday. Only a few months after Vic Chesnutt. There must be something damning and done in the musical water of late. I’ve always loved his Good Morning, Spider album, featuring that birdy cover and its whispery song “Painbirds,” with that darkly poetic and weirdly Teutonic title. His morbid and surreal story—he overdosed in London in 1996, died for two minutes, and almost had to have his legs amputated when he was found because they had been pinned under his body for 14 hours—transfixed my friends and I in college. We would tell various versions of it whenever his songs came on someone’s stereo, and though everyone knew the story, we all listened again anyway, transfixed. The horrific event seemed at odds, or not, with the prettiness of his voice, even when it was singing about deeply unpretty things. The Rolling Stone obit, various reviews, and videos here.