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…or is this depressing? via Art Fag City

February 9, 2009

Related to previous long post, Art Fag City takes a look at The Collector’s Guide to Emerging Art Photography. It’s an “invite only” biannual publication, which makes the name of its publisher seem quite ironic. While AFC highlights the possible consequences of the book for artist-dealer relations, I thought the post’s quick assessment of what makes art photography is pretty funny, and I was sort of heartened by the evidence that even people who decide this stuff for a LIVING don’t quite know what to make of it, either.


“Face of our Time” @ SFMOMA

February 9, 2009

So, I went to the SFMOMA this weekend,  saw selections from their collection, the really fun “Art of Participation” show, and the works of four photographers, assembled under the title “Face of our Time.” (This is sort of a lead-in to a longer piece I’m working on about Susan Sontag’s On Photography (1977), which I just read all the way through finally, and Regarding the Pain of Others, (2003) which I just reread.

As much as Sontag exhausted me, I realized again in viewing these beautifully framed pieces how much her books changed the way I experience photographs (and thus, the world?), not to mention influenced many of the things I think about, in general and related to my artwork, about suffering, ethics, news, and responsibility. Mainly I thought about this fuzziness that arises in a few areas when we see photographs in museums, and Susan and all her judgmental temper and élan was fresh on my mind.

face of our time


The featured photographers, Yto Barrada (b. 1971), Guy Tillim (b. 1962), Judith Joy Ross (b. 1946), and Leo Rubinfien (b. 1954), are “aligned” (according to the museum’s website) “for their shared interest in making pictures about the current condition of our world.” Okay, I think we can agree that all photographs are of current conditions; what the writer seems to be getting at is a kind of political bent in the works. In two out of four cases, this is a stretch. The website blurb, and the blurbs in the exhibition galleries, are trumping up the critical, political content of the works. (They also commit an easily avoidable sin, which is to refer to the “changing Africa that the South African Tillim is exposing—when in fact the photographs were taken in two countries, the DR Congo and Malawi.)

-Keep Reading>

Miyako Festivals via BibliOdyssey

February 8, 2009

link to a particularly awesome edition of BibliOdyssey, a really nerdy and interesting blog:

The Miyako Nenju Gyoji Gajo (Picture Album of Annual Festivals in the Miyako) 

Photos of 1928 paintings on silk.

Asian art on screens @ YBCA

January 26, 2009

On Saturday, I visited Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’s exhibition transPOP: Korea Vietnam Remix. I really enjoyed the show, comprised of photographs, several video works, sculpture, painting, and a little bit of installation. I submit that the name is pretty lame, especially since only one of the sixteen artists had (it seemed to me) a serious interaction with East Asia’s world-famous pop culture. In fact, the largest concentration of bubble gum in the place was the little reading nook, the walls of which exhibition organizers had papered with Korean movie posters and magazine pages. 

Far and away the star of the show was The Farmers and the Helicopters (2006) by Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê and collaborators, a three-channel video that is not just art but pretty good journalism, in the sense that it reports a very specific concrete story with a growing awareness of that story’s larger significance, its semi-poetic standing in for much larger (in this case, global and historical) shifts and tides. Lê is better known for eerie woven photographic images (like these from P.P.O.W. Gallery) of Eastern temple iconography and the like interwoven (literally) with old black-and-white portraits, frequently those of doomed Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge era. Needless to say, they speak to the inexorable pull of difficult national (global?) memories and to the desire to reconfigure and shed new light on these memories. The Farmers and the Helicopters, one of the artist’s first forays into video, consists of original, historical, and Hollywood footage of helicopters in Vietnam, with segments of interviews with residents of a village, old and young, about their feelings about helicopters. Some of the farmers are building a helicopter to use to help them in their work; it becomes an issue of national pride, that they can build and have what others have, and the importance of rewriting the symbol of the Vietnam War is not lost. I loved it. Read more and see some pictures here.

an art history textbook that doesn’t weigh 15 pounds*

January 23, 2009 is delightful. It seems like a great example of people (in this case, professors) responding creatively to technology, to their students, and to the material, and being truly internety by staying away from closed/proprietary content. I would love it if this (or any) site provided a comparable resource for African, Asian, “non-Western” art. OR SOMETHING. 

The editors of Janson’s History of Art, unsure of where to put the African and Asian sections once they could no longer credibly be called primitive, eventually just took them out altogether. Now apparently the classic is subtitled “The Western Tradition,” just to be honest. (I had Gardner’s myself.) 

I was able to find some educators’ resources on the web from The Museum for African Art and some pretty good content and links from the Met. There is also the clunky and unattractive but thorough Heilbrunn Timeline with its “thematic essays.” Still, these are clearly not the same thing as a survey/introduction to the arts of these regions. 


Thinking about educational materials reminds me of a small battle for political correctness I fought with one of the art ed. professors at my university. The art ed. majors taught k-12 art classes on the weekends, with a big exhibition in our art building at the end of each term. One semester, the kindergartners had made (and presumably learned about) “AFRICAN MONSTER MASKS.” I contacted the lady in charge just to say I thought that while I appreciated the effort, the terminology was not so good; she sent me a pretty angry response and said she would take it to the chair of the department, my advisor AND AN AFRICAN. FROM AFRICA. 

*okay, I guess the servers somewhere weigh something and probably cancel out whatever environmental savings from not printing and shipping the book.

First post, or How to Have Hope for the Future

January 22, 2009

 Over at Museum 2.0, Elizabeth Merritt articulates in a guest post what I’ve been trying to say about the good that could/must come out of this painful economic period — how it sucks but will surely make things better by forcing us to evaluate what matters and to try new things — not just for art but for everything. To eliminate the inflated, the fluffy, the pointlessly hip…then my optimism gets lost as I express my disillusionment with the current cultural landscape as I see it. Merritt says it in an urgent, positive, much less jerk-face way:

“But everything now points to a profound shift in the economic, demographic, political, social and technological environment in which we operate. I think we need to encourage museums to be more opportunistic—try lots of new things with relatively small investment of resources, knowing that most of them will fail and learning from those that succeed. Maybe we need to encourage experimental start-up museums to try entirely new ways of operating, accepting that many of them might close if their approaches don’t work out.”

Certainly we’ve all got change on the brain these days. I want so much to see our cultural institutions change for the better, to take risks, show passion, and become even better places for user-directed learning and creativity. In general, I think people see that the kind of change and innovation Merritt alludes to are seriously necessary in all sectors. It’s an opportunity for creativity to thrive in new arenas.