Game Playing Posing As Art? The Case of Regional Writing

The following was written originally as a response to “Unrelenting analysis” continues to grip art world on Two Coats of Paint. But alas, being over 4096 characters, my comment was too long to be posted, so I have revised and extended my remarks; and added a few links to clarify certain points. My point of entry was this comment on the site which dismissed the work as “Game playing posing as art.”

Game playing posing as art; indeed, that’s a fair critique, but one that I would suggest is a bit limiting. I would suggest that the game, as embodied in “Hirsh E.P. Rothko’s Hirsh E.P. Rothko” is in fact the art in this case, which renders critiques of the paintings, in a vacuum, as beside the point.

Regional Painting? No, Regional Writing; and the region in question is of course New York City, rather than Colorado. The written “Hirsh E.P. Rothko” thesis essay is the true center of the exhibition, while the paintings themselves function as an appendix, at least in my view. On looking at online reproductions, I feel mostly a sensation of indifference. I don’t doubt Ho’s sincerity in making them, but they seem to function as souvenirs of his dozen consecutive sojourns as a “30 day local” (to borrow a term from his thesis).

In the NY Observer video, Ho states he wanted to “get away from critical theory” or words to that effect. But rather than make a clean break and live thereafter as a regional painter, Ho has of course returned to what appears to be his natural habitat: the august halls of critical theory and conceptualism.

Looking at his web site, one finds no evidence that Ho has produced a body of paintings before. Instead, one finds a detailed listing of his curatorial and professorial endeavors, along with a lengthy list of “projects” that one suspects were driven by the “publish or perish” imperative of academia. Thus, while the paintings may be sincere, there’s no indication that Ho intends to continue as a full-time painter; hence the validity (although rough) of some of the critiques.

So let’s leave the paintings aside as a red herring; a Dadaist souvenir; something that distracts from the heart of the matter, which is of course, the tale of “Hirsh E.P. Rothko.” Rothko is presented as an unsympathetic character: a hack; a possible sexual molester of the student-teacher variety; and an incurable snob of critical theory and art history. Cast forth from the temple of RISD, “Rothko” finds redemption in the “Stomparillaz” lifestyle of carefree mountain biking, casual drug use, and attempts at “authentic unmediated” painting.

Consider now the matter of authorship. Ho hides behind layers of anonymity, claiming it’s all by this fictitious character, Hirsh E.P. Rothko, along with an imaginary scribe, Inez Kruckev. This is of course, quite funny and entertaining, far more than the typical academic thesis or Artforum essay; and for that, we must give credit to Ho for injecting some life into the often deadly multitude of pages that populate his world of critical theory and conceptualist art.

But ultimately, someone must take credit, so for further discussion, I must cast aside this “where’s Waldo” take on authorship, and simply consider it all as the work of the person on the copyright line: Ho himself. Likewise, one must disregard the standard “fiction writing” disclaimer inserted at the beginning, when it coincides rather too neatly with a real person (other than Ho) with a vested interest.

That person, of course, is dealer Edward Winkleman, who makes three appearances in the book. Winkleman is in fact the “plus ultra” of the whole endeavor, the reason for going further, beyond the confines of New York, and then returning with the souvenirs. The whole thing is a wonderful example of “curator’s art” – a coinage (of Roberta Smith’s) that Winkleman himself cites with approval in one of his blog posts. But contrary to Winkleman’s assertion that this term may be used dismissively, I think we should take this term as an honest reflection of what’s actually going on and celebrate it. To take it one step further, we might even call it “dealer’s art” since Winkleman himself is such a central character to the success of the endeavor.

The writing might also be called a fairy tale for artists; one in which the princess Ho is rescued by Prince Winkleman, to be spirited back to safety in his home region. Without this rescue device, “Rothko” would of course labor in obscurity, never achieving recognition for anything more than smearing feces on a bathroom wall, an act he takes unearned credit for in one of the opening scenes of his story.

While the book is presented with a certain amount of glib recitation of the tenets of art history along with moments of snarky pomposity, one must be forgiving, in my opinion, and note that such self-indulgence is part of the standard dialogue for practitioners of curator’s art; or dealer’s art, as the case may be. It’s all part of the game; the game in which the “book of Rothko” is the point of reference, rather than the paintings.

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The Dozen Dirty Katrinas (flood drawings) with cartoon advertisement

725 katrina dozen DSC 7836 2 The Dozen Dirty Katrinas (flood drawings) with cartoon advertisement

This set of one dozen gesture drawings survived the federal flood with the addition of purple stains, flood lines, and various other marks. Each drawing measures approximately 27″ x 32.625″ (686mm x 830mm).

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What’s Old is New Again: Google’s Chrome OS

The NY Times tells us that In Google’s vision of a world where all computers run on its Chrome OS, anyone can walk up to any computer with an Internet connection and gain access to all their information.

The thin client. Universal data. Cloud access. Today the technology is more mature, the buzzwords more well-known. But recall if you will the heady days of the first Internet boom, when anything seemed possible and the laws of financial gravity were suspended.

In 1994, Netscape Navigator came out, and came to define the Internet for many people. All of a sudden, the content of the Internet began growing at an astounding pace as new sites came online. Where before the Internet was the province of telnet, usenet, email, ftp, and other more esoteric services, now it was suddenly available to anyone with a modem and more modest skills than the command line demanded.

By 1996, hundreds of reporters had “discovered” the Internet and written breathless accounts of the wondrous peaks they had scaled and the vast oceans of data they had stared at. Alas, they weren’t silent upon a peak in Darien; rather, the same story was written hundreds of times over as this journalist edition of the Eternal September horde shared their astonishment with a print audience of millions.

But while the reporters chattered, Netscape was throwing their gauntlet down in front of Microsoft. The new king said he might supplant the old one. Netscape’s big talk about a “Netscape OS” continued for a couple years. But the Redmond empire struck back, Internet Explorer took over, and Netscape was sold to AOL (ahh, the indignity).

Now comes Google into the fray. What’s different this time, one might ask. In two words, apps and bandwidth.

While the late 90s saw plenty of talk about thin clients and browser applications, it was an idea that had limited success at the time. Browsers were considerably less stable. You could easily crash Navigator and lock up your system by simply closing a window while a page was loading, for example. Web applications were proprietary and specialized. Anything with the slightest sophistication was usually limited to a specific browser and operating system. Microsoft’s attempt to Balkanize the web put the kibosh on the idea of universal interoperability for a number of years.

The installed base for broadband wasn’t there either. At the time, I paid nearly $300 per month for my 128kb ISDN line ($100+ to BellSouth for the line, and another $175 to PSINet for network access and my own Class C subnet). Let me tell you, I was living large, and this massive speed was the envy of all my dialup friends. Although this was the next best thing to a fantastically expensive full T1, today one has to laugh at such a pitifully small pipe.

Today the installed base of broadband and the wide availability of web apps that work (at least most of the time) make the idea of the Chrome OS considerably more feasible than the “Netscape OS” pipe dream. Just as the Newton was the forerunner to the iPad, Netscape’s idea remained in play, waiting for the day when the OS field would be ready for a new player.

Will the Chrome OS succeed? Given the success that Android has enjoyed, it seems more than likely that Google’s energetic efforts may well find a place in the market.

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James Brown’s Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity.

A couple weeks after involuntarily leaving New Orleans along with a few hundred thousand of my closest friends, I found myself alone in a house near the ocean, with plenty of free time on my hands. After a day filled with phone calls to insurance companies, FEMA, friends and family, I would take a break, find a red envelope and pop in a movie.

Ahh, the moment had arrived to view classics of the cinema and other assorted nonsense. As I browsed the next selections for my exile cinema, one name rang a bell. Oh yes, Black Caesar James Browns Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity.. I remember that name.

Back in the day, Public Enemy had a track called Burn, Hollywood Burn James Browns Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity., a righteous send-up of the film industry. A skit ends the song as the announcer proudly presents “Driving Miss Daisy.”

In the ensuing cat-calls and banter, one line meets with approval. “I got Black Caesar James Browns Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity.
at the crib!” The line had stuck with me through the years.

With the connection made in memory, the disc was selected and sent. Soon enough, it arrived and got its chance in the rotation.

I knew it was a gangster film. But as the opening titles came on the screen, my ears did a double-take. Wait, that sounds like James Brown!

Sure enough, it was “Down And Out In New York City James Browns Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity.,” one of his more obscure tunes. In fact, I’d never heard it before, and was immediately curious. The rest of the film featured one James Brown track after another, with the only recognizable track being “(Paid the cost to be) The Boss James Browns Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity.,” a tune I’d heard many times before.

Needless to say, the soundtrack turned an ordinary “exploitation” movie into something more interesting.

The bonus footage on the disc had the story behind the soundtrack. A convoluted tale of conforming the movie to fit the idiosyncratic tracks Brown produced, and of course the inevitable falling out when it came time to make a sequel.

How did that tussle turn out? The album that would have been the soundtrack to the Black Caesar sequel, Hell Up in Harlem James Browns Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity., instead became Payback James Browns Black Caesar, Public Enemy, and Katrina Serendipity., one of James Brown’s biggest-selling records.

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Making Charcoal for Drawing, with monologue by Cennino Cennini

Some time back, I wrote about making my own drawing charcoal. But really, the idea of making it began way before then. Most likely, I learned it from The Craftsman’s Handbook: “Il Libro dell’ Arte” Making Charcoal for Drawing, with monologue by Cennino Cennini by Cennino Cennini, or perhaps from an old printed Encyclopedia Brittanica from 1927 or so.

For added entertainment value, I have animated the section where Cennini discusses making charcoal. After the video, I’ll discuss the differences between his process, my process, and how you might make it yourself. Of course, the entire “Craftsman’s Handbook” Making Charcoal for Drawing, with monologue by Cennino Cennini is well worth reading and touches on a multitude of other subjects.

And here is Cennini, looking spiffy:

While Cennini calls for rather small charcoal sticks (“like a bunch of matches”) I made mine larger. The sections of wisteria vines I cut up were around 8″ and many different thicknesses. I wanted my charcoal in a range of sizes. I also didn’t bother sharpening the sticks. From the context, it seems that Cennini and his contemporaries used these small sticks of charcoal the way we might use a pencil for drawing today.

Cennini says to use a casserole, with luting to seal it; he also says to seal it completely. My method is a modern invention: aluminum foil. You could also use a metal can, or you could find some other fire-proof material to encase your material. Contrary to what Cennini says, you need a small hole to allow the smoke to come out. (Perhaps Cennini expected the luting to leak; and hence says to seal tightly, so that in firing the material, only small, desired leaks occurred.)

So cut up your twigs or vines; then wrap a bundle of them in foil. Get it tight, and make a few small holes with a toothpick. The idea is to combust the material thoroughly in the absence of oxygen, not allowing it to burn to ash. Watch the smoke coming out. It will change colors, getting clear at the end. Depending how hot your fire is, it may take several hours. You could even leave it overnight in a covered grill. You could also use a kiln or a campfire.

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