Saturday, September 24, 2016

I think of all the up-turned noses
and belittling that
preached my demise.

Bleed Black

Bleed black
let the oil
 run down
your face
                  and groin.
Composed of fossils
and decayed
(populations in distant lands)
the oil bleeds and turns
the oceans barren
void outer space 
sewage and
black blood.

Friday, September 23, 2016


low sun
of autumn,
(second day)
day of birth approaches.
Not death and barren
  recoil to origin
When sun is high
and long
resume the dance above ground.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Tyranny of Art History in Contemporary Art By Jerry Saltz

The Tyranny of Art History in Contemporary Art

Installation view of A Sixty-Two-Year Photo-Biography of Ye Jinglu, discovered by Tong Bingxue, 1907–68. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio 

The art world likes to ask big art-centric questions like "Can art change the world?" We usually answer "Yes." I usually disagree. Art can't stop famine in sub-Saharan Africa or cure Zika. But art does change the world incrementally and by osmosis. Typically by first changing how we see, and thereby how we remember. Raymond Chandler invented early-20th-century L.A.; Francis Ford Coppola forged our vision of the Vietnam War; Andy Warhol combined clashing colors that were never together before and that palette is now ubiquitous; God creating Adam looks the way Michelangelo painted it; Oscar Wilde said "the beauty and wonder" of fog didn't exist before painters. That's big. But art as we now know it has narrowed. These days our definition of it is mainly art informed by other art and art history. Especially in the last two centuries — and tenaciously of late — art has examined its own essences, ordinances, techniques, tools, materials, presentational modes, and forms. To be thought of as an artist someone must self-identify as one and make what they think of as art. This center cannot hold. Why? It is far too tight to let real art breathe.  

Right now at the New Museum is a show that casts a much wider net, that gives weirder and more idiosyncratic work much more air to breathe — and which makes everything we’re used to seeing in museums (and even galleries) seem hemmed-in by comparison. Organized by a superb team overseen by Massimiliano Gioni, "The Keeper" is a museum full of museums, possible encyclopedias, indexes of other orders, and miniature models of pain. Most of the work takes the form of collection: virtual coral-reef phantasmagorias collected and collated from things as strange as dead languages, detritus, cats' cradles, agate, and snowflakes aren't included in the current category of art. Often, we call the people who make collections like these outsider artists — when we call them artists at all. Many of the 30 makers in "The Keeper" didn't self-identify as artists or call what they made art; their work isn't grounded in art history; probably they didn't care about this history and plumbed other axioms. A few of them are found in art museums. But most are relegated to specialty collections, foundations, barred, or forgotten.

This is because our art history is not chronological; not neutral or about simultaneous cross-styles, outliers, and other things going on at any given moment. Our art history is organized teleologically — it's an arrow. Things are always said to be going forward, and progress is measured mainly in formal ways by changes in ideas of space, color, composition, subject matter, and the like. Artists and isms follow one another in a Biblical begatting based on progress toward a goal or a higher stage. Cubism was "a race to flatness"; Suprematism was "the zero point of painting"; Rodchenko said he made "the last painting"; Ad Reinhardt one-upped him saying he was "making the last painting which anyone can make." In this system synthetic shifts and tics combine into things we call movements like Cubism, Constructivism, Futurism, Art Nouveau, Color Field, etc. The problem is anyone who doesn't fall into this timeline is out of luck. This paradigm has been in place for 200 years.

I love the art in our museums and galleries. I don't want museums to stop staging exhibitions of it. I don't want them to look like science fairs, flea-markets, Exploratoriums, laboratories, wunderkabinetts, or thrift stores. But our idea of art history is dead already; it just doesn't know it. Its terms are so specialized and vague they're only useful to those in the know. Post-Minimalism only tells you it came after something called Minimalism.  Only aficionados know why Barnett Newman's monochrome paintings and Willem de Kooning's wild style are both Abstract Expressionist; why the Über-controlled David Salle is a Neo-Expressionist. Unfortunately, so many academics, curators, collectors, and artists are so invested in this system that we see nonstop formalist twists, micro moves in monochrome painting, photography about photography, readymades galore, formulaic institutional critique, and ironies you can only understand if you read long jargon-filled labels. This is Zombie Art History.

But there are different paradigms, different methodologies — countless numbers of them, many of them on display in "The Keeper." The artists here short-circuit art history. Not only do most of them not identify as artists, they don't see the world in any linear way. For these artists every object contains the whole world and is part of a family of forms. They look at the world in a meta way; inspiration is a compelling force from within. Not art history. In this holistic way the whole shapes the parts, taxonomical units cohere into clouds, microcosms mushroom into macrocosms, webs of interrelationship form. These artists are in search of what might be called ur-formsconceptual templates, archetypal systems, secret chords, flows, things here for millions of centuries that are embedded in materials and in the fabric of time.

What's in "The Keeper"? Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov dissected butterfly penises — in his words, "sculpted sex" — and arranged them in cabinets to identify individual species. At the New Museum his beautifully notated Frankensteinian collages of butterfly-wing patterns show an aesthetic intelligence equal to Kurt Schwitters, Wallace Berman, and Rauschenberg. At the New Museum is Korbinian Aigner, a priest, painter, and pomologist (the study of fruit), who, starting in 1912 and proceeding while he was in Dachau to his death, in 1966, painted dusky still-lifes of apples on glowing monochrome backgrounds. His obsessional focus, power of observation, fleshy texture, and subtleness of color are as mesmerizing as Giorgio Morandi, as strange as Cézanne, as formally distinct as El Lissitzky. André Malraux, author of Museum Without Walls, said "We can only feel by comparison." Neither Aigner nor Nabokov are in our art museums to let these feelings flow. Neither is Hilma af Klint, whose 16 glorious paintings from 1914–15 cover two walls here. Her highly hued work, filled with spirals, squares, circles, and corkscrewing seashell shapes, shows that she's not just a great painter; she's one of the inventors of abstraction itself. Her plain blocky fields of color are revolutionary and don't appear in painting again until the backgrounds of Francis Bacon. Klint has received retrospectives but still isn't allotted her deserved place in art history. Maybe because she called her work "Paintings for the Temple," said she was inspired by "high masters," and designated her work not be seen until 20 years after her death. Somehow this cast her as some sort of zodiacal spiritualist.

Suffering a similar fate is Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn — who called her geometric paintings "meditation drawings" and founded a school of spiritual worship in 1930. Her 12 paintings from 1920s and 1930s at the New Museum have such snappy graphic-ness that you might mistake them for Pop or psychedelic posters of the 1960s. Nearby are 90 wild black-and-white abstract-geometric photographs by Wilson Bentley (1865–1931) who invented his own camera to made "photomicrograms" of individual snow crystals. Bentley is in a few museums. But even though this is abstract photography decades before it became an ism in art, his work is seen as scientific. At the New Museum the 500,000 pencil drawing of contemporary Vanda Vieira-Schmidt radiate an original Paul Klee–Louise Bourgeoisie synthesis. She says they are "countering the forces of evil in this world" — exactly like Byzantine and early Renaissance artists claimed. Her work can only be seen a Dresden military museum.

The funny thing is, however unusual the collections look within the context of a museum — however powerfully "The Keeper" shows us that there is more in the category of art than our present system has dreamt of — in truth I think that all great artists know this cosmic complexity already. Every maker has an individual idea of what needs to exist; great imagination is always a force from within. Whether one knows art history or not, art begins pre-intellectually, beyond language. Art is a search for new paths of encounter and poetic structures, images and things that go beyond themselves. Hilma af Klint and Fröbe-Kapteyn might have said their work was inspired by cosmic forces. Kandinsky said his art was a "penetration of collected forces." Franz Marc called it a "pantheistic penetration." Marsden Hartley called himself a "cosmic Cubist." Marcel Duchamp suspended 1,200 coal bags from a ceiling. This would fit into "The Keeper" with the string-figure cats'-cradle configurations collected by filmmaker/ethnomusicologist Harry Smith.

It's beyond time for a new generation of art historians not only to open up the system and let art be the garden that it is, home to exotic blooms of known and unknown phenomena. It's time to work against this system. We can't say painting is dead just as women and artist of color started to show up in art history. Our art history has stiffened into an ideology that clear-cuts a medium, pronounces it dead (like undertakers) and moves on like conquistadors to the next stage. The idea that art has an overall goal of advancing or perfecting its terms and techniques is made up. Imagined. Idiotic. Except to those benefiting from this intellectual fundamentalism. Someday, people will look back at this phase of art history the way we look back at manifest destiny and colonialism.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Reach back to another time and space,
not forward, but back.
Hop-skip to another galaxy.
I'm infinite suns,
many moons away.
Find me there
under the large Oak
giant arms
without age
 forever old.
Smiling, reading
barefoot feet wrapped in hands
of grass.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Moving Beyond Pain, May 9, 2016, bell hooks

Moving Beyond Pain

May 9, 2016
Fresh lemonade is my drink of choice. In my small Kentucky town, beautiful black, brown, and white girls set up their lemonade stands and practice the art of money making—it’s business.  As a grown black woman who believes in the manifesto “Girl, get your money straight” my first response to Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, was WOW—this is the business of capitalist money making at its best.
Viewers who like to suggest Lemonade was created solely or primarily for black female audiences are missing the point. Commodities, irrespective of their subject matter, are made, produced, and marketed to entice any and all consumers. Beyoncé’s audience is the world and that world of business and money-making has no color.
What makes this production—this commodity—daring is its subject matter. Obviously Lemonadepositively exploits images of black female bodies—placing them at the center, making them the norm. In this visual narrative, there are diverse representations (black female bodies come in all sizes, shapes, and textures with all manner of big hair). Portraits of ordinary everyday black women are spotlighted, poised as though they are royalty. The unnamed, unidentified mothers of murdered young black males are each given pride of place. Real life images of ordinary, overweight not dressed up bodies are placed within a visual backdrop that includes stylized, choreographed, fashion plate fantasy representations. Despite all the glamorous showcasing of Deep South antebellum fashion, when the show begins Beyoncé as star appears in sporty casual clothing, the controversial hoodie. Concurrently, the scantily-clothed dancing image of athlete Serena Williams also evokes sportswear. (Speaking of commodification, in the real life frame Beyoncé’s new line of sportswear, Ivy Park, is in the process of being marketed right now).
Lemonade offers viewers a visual extravaganza—a display of black female bodies that transgresses all boundaries. It’s all about the body, and the body as commodity. This is certainly not radical or revolutionary. From slavery to the present day, black female bodies, clothed and unclothed, have been bought and sold. What makes this commodification different in Lemonade is intent; its purpose is to seduce, celebrate, and delight—to challenge the ongoing present day devaluation and dehumanization of the black female body. Throughout Lemonade the black female body is utterly-aestheticized—its beauty a powerful in your face confrontation. This is no new offering. Images like these were first seen in Julie Dash’s groundbreaking film Daughters of the Dust shot by the brilliant cinematographer Arthur Jafa.Many of the black and white still images of women and nature are reminiscent of the transformative and innovative contemporary photography of Carrie Mae Weems. She has continually offered decolonized radical revisioning of the black female body.
It is the broad scope of Lemonade’s visual landscape that makes it so distinctive—the construction of a powerfully symbolic black female sisterhood that resists invisibility, that refuses to be silent. This in and of itself is no small feat—it shifts the gaze of white mainstream culture. It challenges us all to look anew, to radically revision how we see the black female body. However, this radical repositioning of black female images does not truly overshadow or change conventional sexist constructions of black female identity.
Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators daringly offer multidimensional images of black female life, much of the album stays within a conventional stereotypical framework, where the black woman is always a victim. Although based on the real-life experience of Beyoncé, Lemonade is a fantasy fictional narrative with Beyoncé starring as the lead character.  This work begins with a story of pain and betrayal highlighting the trauma it produces. The story is as old as the ballad of “Frankie and Johnny” (“he was my man alright, but he done me wrong”).  Like the fictional Frankie, Beyoncé’s character responds to her man’s betrayal with rage. She wreaks violence. And even though the father in the song “Daddy’s Lessons” gives her a rifle warning her about men, she does not shoot her man. She dons a magnificently designed golden yellow gown, boldly struts through the street with baseball bat in hand, randomly smashing cars. In this scene, the goddess-like character of Beyoncé is sexualized along with her acts of emotional violence, like Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” she destroys with no shame. Among the many mixed messages embedded in Lemonade is this celebration of rage. Smug and smiling in her golden garb, Beyoncé is the embodiment of a fantastical female power, which is just that—pure fantasy. Images of female violence undercut a central message embedded in Lemonade that violence in all its forms, especially the violence of lies and betrayal, hurts.
Contrary to misguided notions of gender equality, women do not and will not seize power and create self-love and self-esteem through violent acts. Female violence is no more liberatory than male violence. And when violence is made to look sexy and eroticized, as in the Lemonade sexy-dress street scene, it does not serve to undercut the prevailing cultural sentiment that it is acceptable to use violence to reinforce domination, especially in relations between men and women. Violence does not create positive change.
Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators make use of the powerful voice and words of Malcolm X to emphasize the lack of respect for black womanhood, simply showcasing beautiful black bodies does not create a just culture of optimal well being where black females can become fully self-actualized and be truly respected.
Honoring the self, loving our bodies, is an appropriate stage in the construction of healthy self-esteem. This aspect of Lemonade is affirming. Certainly, to witness Miss Hattie, the 90-year-old grandmother of Jay-Z, give her personal testimony that she has survived by taking the lemons life handed her and making lemonade is awesome. All the references to honoring our ancestors and elders in Lemonade inspire. However, concluding this narrative of hurt and betrayal with caring images of family and home do not serve as adequate ways to reconcile and heal trauma.
Concurrently, in the world of art-making, a black female creator as powerfully placed as Beyoncé can both create images and present viewers with her own interpretation of what those images mean. However, her interpretation cannot stand as truth.  For example, Beyoncé uses her non-fictional voice and persona to claim feminism, even to claim, as she does in a recent issue of Elle magazine, “to give clarity to the true meaning” of the term, but her construction of feminism cannot be trusted. Her vision of feminism does not call for an end to patriarchal domination. It’s all about insisting on equal rights for men and women. In the world of fantasy feminism, there are no class, sex, and race hierarchies that breakdown simplified categories of women and men, no call to challenge and change systems of domination, no emphasis on intersectionality. In such a simplified worldview, women gaining the freedom to be like men can be seen as powerful. But it is a false construction of power as so many men, especially black men, do not possess actual power. And indeed, it is clear that black male cruelty and violence towards black women is a direct outcome of patriarchal exploitation and oppression.
In her fictive world, Beyoncé can name black female pain, poignantly articulated by the passionate poetry of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, and move through stages evoked by printed words: Intuition, Denial, Forgiveness, Hope, Reconciliation. In this fictive world, black female emotional pain can be exposed and revealed. It can be given voice: this is a vital and essential stage of freedom struggle, but it does not bring exploitation and domination to an end. No matter how hard women in relationships with patriarchal men work for change, forgive, and reconcile, men must do the work of inner and outer transformation if emotional violence against black females is to end. We see no hint of this in Lemonade. If change is not mutual then black female emotional hurt can be voiced, but the reality of men inflicting emotional pain will still continue (can we really trust the caring images of Jay Z which conclude this narrative).
It is only as black women and all women resist patriarchal romanticization of domination in relationships can a healthy self-love emerge that allows every black female, and all females, to refuse to be a victim. Ultimately Lemonade glamorizes a world of gendered cultural paradox and contradiction. It does not resolve. As Beyoncé proudly proclaims in the powerful anthem “Freedom”: “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner-strength to pull myself up.” To truly be free, we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal well-being and joy. In that world, the making and drinking of lemonade will be a fresh and zestful delight, a real life mixture of the bitter and the sweet, and not a measure of our capacity to endure pain, but rather a celebration of our moving beyond pain.
--bell hooks  

David Bowie - Heroes