Bits: 12.21.10

Shopping Cart Xmas TreeShopping cart Christmas tree in Emeryville, Calif., by Anthony Schmitt. Photo: danielsjf, Flickr, used with permission

• Artist/experimental geographer Trevor Paglen talks surveillance on Studio 360. Via C-Monster.

• Not all Catholics buy into divisive anti-art (and anti-intellectual) rhetoric like that of Bill Donohue of the Catholic League: When national bishops' conference president Archbishop Timothy Dolan came to Donohue's defense on the archdiocese's blog, both commenters and the group Catholics United decided to have their say. (Good luck commenting: Both of All three of mine were rejected.)

• Jerry Saltz pens a letter to congressional Republicans about where they can take their censorship of David Wojnarowicz's work next: through the full span of global art history on display in the Met's collection.

• Grief as absence and presence: Artist AA Bronson's photo of his partner Felix in bed shortly after his death from AIDS -- the work Bronson unsuccessfully tried to pull from the NPG's Hide/Seek show in protest of the Smithsonian's removal of Wojnarowicz's video -- is a haunting book-end to Felix Gonzeles-Torres' 1991 black-and-white billboard showing an empty bed, his tribute to his lover, Ross, who died from AIDS (as did Gonzales-Torres, five years later).

NPR's "Best Album Covers of 2010" includes one for S. Carey by Minneapolis photographer Cameron Wittig, whose work is now on view at Black Blue in St. Paul. Here's more of his music photography, which includes cover photos for albums by Andrew Bird, Haley Bonar, and others.

• Apropos of nothing: Go (re)read some Wendell Berry.

• Well, that's not exactly getting into the holiday spirit, is it?


Mpls.TV's year-end list: Best local signage

I'm not a big fan of year-end lists (although I have a winner if I do the year's worst local art tweets list I was thinking about), but Mpls.TV offers my kind of list: "best local signage" (via MNspeak). My two favorites:


Walker sets screening dates for Wojnarowicz's "Fire in my Belly"

The Walker Art Center just tweeted its screening times for David Wojnarowicz's Fire in my Belly: Check it out daily in the Lecture Room from 11:30-noon Dec. 16-31, and every Thursday night from 8:30-9 pm.

Slideshow: St. Paul artists David Rich and Paulette Myers-Rich

Secrets of the City visits with artists David Rich and Paulette Myers-Rich at their St. Paul home/studio. David's an abstract painter and MCAD professor who's got a new monograph out, while Paulette is a bookmaker, photographer, printer and winner of the 2009 Minnesota Book Awards Book Artist Award. Their home, a live-work space just a few blocks from the High Bridge in St. Paul, is a converted mechanic's shop that's now filled with printing equipment, David's large-scale paintings, books, bongos and plants. Kelsey Johnston interviews and takes the pictures.

Warhol Foundation threatens to pull funds over NPG pulling Wojnarowicz work

Missed this from yesterday: The Warhol Foundation, which kicked in $100,000 for the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, says it'll yank funding if the gallery's parent organization, the Smithsonian Institution, doesn't put David Wojnarowicz's video work Fire In My Belly back on display. NPG pulled the work after some Republicans in Congress and the rightwing Catholic League claimed it was "anti-Christian."

Walker Art Center to screen censored Wojnarowicz work

The Walker Art Center will screen Fire in my Belly, the late David Wojnarowicz's video work that's at the center of controversy after the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery removed it from an exhibition at the urging of conservative Christian groups and legislators, according to a blog post by its director, Olga Viso. Pending the OK from the artist's estate, the piece -- which drew the ire of the Catholic League for an 11-second clip showing a crucifix with ants crawling on it -- will screen daily later this week.

Viso, director of the Smithson's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden before coming to Minneapolis, also puts the Walker squarely in support of artistic freedom and in opposition to NPG's actions in removing the work, which she writes "captures [Wojnarowicz's] anger and struggle with the death of a lover and his own H.I.V. diagnosis."

After traveling to Washington to see Hide/Seek : Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the exhibition that included Fire in my Belly, she applauded the National Portrait Gallery for a "groundbreaking, scholarly exhibition and supporting the curators’ well argued thesis that a powerful artistic and cultural legacy has been 'hidden in plain sight for more than a century'" -- that is, work dealing with America's changing attitudes toward sexuality.

But she goes on: "Yet the NPG’s and Smithsonian’s surprising decision to remove a key work from the exhibition a month after its opening undermines this thesis as well as the premise and curatorial integrity of the exhibition in alarming ways. Indeed this action serves to sublimate or 'hide' the very thing the exhibition attempts to make visible."

She continues:

Three years after my departure, I am saddened to find a very different Washington, one informed by fear, intolerance, and silence, and a different Smithsonian, one that has perhaps lost touch with some of the core principles and spirit of its establishment. Founded in 1846 to increase and diffuse knowledge, the Smithsonian was created by the U.S. Congress as a trust instrumentality of the nation to be administered by an independent governing body and leader. This structure was created in part to prevent an institution envisioned as a beacon for research, debate, and the advancement of knowledge from being subject to the winds of political change, partisanship, and special interest. So important was this value that the Congress debated for nearly a decade prior to the Smithsonian’s establishment how to best ensure scholarly objectivity.

I am, of course, deeply disheartened by the Smithsonian’s recent actions and join my colleagues at the Association of Art Museum Directors and the Warhol Foundation, on whose boards I also serve, in their statements of disapproval and condemnation. Since time immemorial, artists have questioned the predominant modes of thought in our society and pushed the bounds of conventional thinking to inspire reflection, debate, and ultimately advance culture. As stewards and supporters of our cultural legacy, it is essential for institutions like the Walker and, indeed all citizens, to support the independent voices of artists and the value of creative and artistic freedom. It has never been more important to speak out and openly for the freedom of expression.

The Walker joins a slew of other museums that are showing the banned work -- SFMOMA, the New Museum, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Hammer, the Wadsworth Atheneum, among many others -- giving the piece far more exposure than had the Catholic League and legislators like John Boehner not called for censorship. While Modern Arts Notes states that's it the smaller and the more progressive institutions that led the way on bringing this exposure (Transformer Gallery in Washington was the first to screen the piece, with bigger institutions following later), I'm proud that the Walker has taken a stand.

Details on this week's Fire in the Belly screenings will appear on the museum's website soon. Wojnarowicz's 1990 lithograph Four Elements, from the Walker's collection, will be on view in the exhibition 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection, which opens Thursday.

Update: The Walker will screen the video daily, starting this Thursday and continuing through the end of the month. Times here.

Image: David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (face in dirt), c. 1990


Bits: 12.09.10

Sze Tsung Leong, Zhongshan Lu I, Xinjiekou, Xuanwu District, Nanjing, 2004

• Counterpunch's Jimmy Johnson, writing that "we should consider Wikileaks to be a literacy organization": "Something secret has to develop more forms of secrecy in order to keep itself secret, thus the classified universe, in the words of geographer Trevor Paglen, 'tends to sculpt the world around it in its own image.' How, after all, can a secret be transparently discussed?"

• Must-read: Hip-hop historian Jeff (Can't Stop Won't Stop) Chang co-writes an American Prospect piece with the Center for American Progress' Brian Komar about how culture needs to lead in the push for progressive change. (Via Davey D.)

• Related: Exiled Iranian artist Shirin Neshat tells attendees at the TEDWomen conference that in the West, culture runs the risk of becoming mere entertainment. An Xiao, who was there, tells Hyperallergic that Neshat "explained that art and culture are a form of resistance, and that she envied Western artists for not having to think about resistance in their work."

• Essay: Diane Mullin, associate curator at the University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum and former Minneapolis College of Art and Design/Jerome Fellowship director, on how "the persistent consternation such fellowship shows provoke may be the fault, not of the artists, jurors, or program directors, but of the mode of and perhaps even the inclusion of the exhibition itself."

• Tyler Green breaks news that the National Portrait Gallery commissioner James T. Bartlett has resigned in protest of the Smithsonian’s removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly from the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition. As a leaked Smithsonian memo suggests, it's not the only sign of internal tension over the institution's handling of the work, which rightwing groups have claimed is "anti-Christian."

Jabari Jordan Walker interviews Eyeteeth pal Matt Olson of Minneapolis design firm ROLU for 01 Magazine on all that he and partner Mike Brady do: landscape design, blogging, furniture design, art commissioning...

• On the occasion of the arrival of my Danzig-style Werner Herzog t-shirt, Taylor sends a link to an exhaustive gallery of Hüsker Dü gig posters (here's 1984). Which filmmaker fits the font? (He suggests Uwe Boll.)

• Speaking of metal and visual culture: The Minneapolis Egotist points out the Map of Metal, which lets you navigate through kinds of metal I've never heard of (mathcore?) Earlier: Diagram of heavy metal band names, and an interview with Christophe Szpajdel, the "Paul Rand of metal."


Army Men: Kristine Potter's 'The Gray Line'

Kristine Potter, Untitled, 2009

Of all the photos in Kristine Potter's "The Gray Line" series, this is the one I keep coming back to. From this untrained photographer's perspective, it at first seems imperfect: improperly exposed or inadequately accounting for the sun's glare. But this lighting is everything. As war can do, it fades out the individual identities of the men who are engaged in fighting. It underscores the soldiers' skill at camouflage and represents a core aspect of the soldiers' jobs: Violence. And it blurs the line between earth (under which these men may be buried if killed in the line of duty, a very real risk) and sky (where the soul ascends after death, as some religious traditions posit).

Potter, whose work is on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York through Dec. 23, comes from a family that has seen many of its men, although none in the current generation, serve in the military, so she grew up in a culture of orderliness, hierarchy and patriotism, writes Women In Photography. Yet in adulthood, her feelings about the military have become more complex, dealing with broader issues of power and violence, as well as the personal and complicated psychologies of soldiers, who hold toughness, anxiety and vulnerability at the same time. This shot, moreso than Potter's others, seems to embody that complexity.

@MuseumNerd does Minneapolis

Experiencing the Twin Cities art scene with out-of-towners, as I did with the anonymous (and remarkably prolific) art tweeter @MuseumNerd a few weekends back, reminds me how good we've got it here. Today @MuseumNerd shares some of his/her best local museum moments with Secrets of the City, including a visit to see the Walker's profound and surprising live-performance installation by Eiko and Koma with me ("it was probably a religious experience for the non-religious visitors") and trips to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting, SOOVAC (now showing the work of 17-year-old artist Sarah Nakano), and elsewhere.

Check it out at Secrets of the City, which is doing some nice arts coverage under new owner Taylor Carik (disclosure: Taylor and I, who I met years ago when he emailed asking me to weigh in on this art-related topic, frequently drink beer together).

Thanks to Barry Hoggard of Culture Pundits for the intro to @MuseumNerd.


Chiang Mai street stencil: Fish with gas mask

This shot, by Flickr user eb78, looks an awful lot like the one I posted awhile back, but has slight differences. I'm told the piece is painted over the kind of wall paintings identifying schools in Thailand (although it could also be a marking from a telephone company). Here's another such school ID.


Bits: 12.06.10

Barilla Jacket, made from recycled packaging by Katell Gélébart of Art D'Eco Design

• The Association of Art Museum Directors' rebuke of the Smithsonian for censoring a David Wojnarowicz video work at the National Portrait Gallery -- the group blamed "unwarranted and uninformed censorship from politicians and other public figures, many of whom, by their own admission, have seen neither the exhibition as a whole or this specific work" for the removal of the work -- is at odds with a statement by Ford W. Bell, president of the American Association of Museum, who believes yanking the work was the right thing to do.

• Washington City Paper: "Two activists were detained by police on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery after showing David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly on an iPad inside the museum. Both activists were ejected and subsequently banned for life from any Smithsonian Institution facility."

• Weak: The Smithsonian explains, "We removed [A Fire in My Belly] from the exhibition Nov. 30 because the attention it was receiving distracted from the overall exhibition, which includes works by American artists John Singer Sargent, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Annie Leibovitz and Georgia O’Keeffe."

• NYT critic Holland Cotter dubs filmmaker Peter Greenaway's multimedia Leonardo's Last Supper installation, on view at the Armory, a "big, expensive, technological-bells-and-whistles-to-the-max dud." You have until Jan. 6 to see how much it sucks. (I'm kidding, Mr. Greenaway, sir.)

• "T-shirts are the new galleries": Support Hyperallergic by buying one of these reader-designed shirts (congrats to designer Duncan Alexander).

• While not a new idea, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts' Art ReMix program really works. My favorites from yesterday's visit: Thomas Struth's large-scale photo of the Köln Cathedral, featuring Gerhard Richter's pixelated stain-glass windows, atop the museum's grand staircase, and a Kehinde Wiley painting in the baroque room.

• Unfortunate stock photography of the day: CNN, in a story about same-sex marriage, included a Getty Images stock photo of anti-Prop 8 buttons, not noticing -- as one Redditor did -- an explicit image (NSFW) on one of the buttons. Now the story shows a recropped version of the shot.

Bill "Calvin & Hobbes" Watterson's college drawings.


Slideshow: St. Paul artists Allen Brewer and Pamela Valfer

Secrets of the City's ongoing Sunday series focusing on Twin Cities artists continues with a look at the work of husband-and-wife couple Allen Brewer and Pamela Valfer. Brewer's an illustrator, who recently had a solo show at the Burnet Gallery at the Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, while Valfer is a mixed-media artist working, most recently, with recycled mink stoles, drawing and taxidermy. (Here are some of my shots of a visit to her studio earlier this year; look for video of our conversation soon.) As always, Kelsey Johnston offers an engaging interview.

Un-logo-fy: Jeff Crouse's Unlogo replaces corporate brands in video

You know how the networks often digitally superimpose ads onto sports stadium billboards for TV viewers? For his newest project, artist Jeff Crouse is working to do the opposite: His web service Unlogo "gives people the opportunity to opt out of having corporate messages permanently imprinted into the photographic record of their lives." Presented at this year's 01SJ Biennial in San Jose, it's an augmented-reality "corporate-identity filter" that recognizes and either blocks or replaces brand logos on videos and cellphone photos. In a prototype version (see video below), he's replaced logos in footage he shot at a mall with the faces of the CEOs of the companies behind the brands.

Crouse based the project on work he was doing for paying clients and took inspiration from art projects like Steve Lambert's Add-Art (which replaces web ads with art) and the software platform Artvertiser, which does the same thing with billboards. His project is open-source, and he's "training" Unlogo to recognize more and more logos; he plans on adding a way for online users to submit logos for inclusion. Eventually, he expects to have an online service where users can upload their own videos to have them "un-logo-fied." An iPhone app will allow users to replace logos in cellphone photos with an image of their choosing.

Listen to an interview with Crouse. If you'd like to support the project, go to the Unlogo Kickstarter campaign.

Unlogo Intro from Jeff Crouse on Vimeo.


Video: David Wojnarowicz on political art and arts funding

Three years before he died from AIDS in 1992, video artist David Wojnarowicz spoke about political art, arts funding and the furor over Robert Mapplethorpe's art. Nearly 20 years later his work is at the center of a censorship controversy that suggests issues he discusses here are still with us.

Via Andria Hickey on Facebook.

Video: Is Wojnarowicz's censored video really ‘anti-Christian’?

Christopher Knight at the LA Times takes up the question in a piece that resonates with this Catholic art enthusiast. As you recall, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery caved to pressure exerted by Republican politicians to pull a video work (below) by the late David Wojnarowicz because it included a short clip showing a crucifix with ants walking on it. The rightwing Catholic League -- which has a long history of blasting artists who dare address the topic of Christianity, including Nigerian-English artist Chris Ofili's portrait of the mother of Jesus which included balls of elephant dung, and Renee Cox, who depicted herself in a Last Supper photo as a nude, female, African American Jesus -- dubbed the piece "hate speech" in a characteristically snotty release.

Knight writes, in part:
...Objectively speaking, an artist bent on making an anti-Christian diatribe would not spend just 15 seconds of a 30-minute video making it. Those images instead serve another function: To rebuke the same self-righteous moralism of those who are attacking the Smithsonian now.

Ants and bugs are an age-old artistic symbol that laments the frailty of human beings and earthly existence. As Ecclesiastes puts it: Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas -- “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Ant-covered flora, bodies and animals turn up in everything from still life paintings in the largely Protestant 17th-century Netherlands to the silent Surrealist film, “An Andalusian Dog” (1929) by the Spanish director Luis Bunuel and artist Salvador Dali, a conservative Catholic.

In the Wojnarowicz video, the vanitas theme plays out on a crucifix not as a religious slur, but as a lament for earthly failures among those who should know better at a time of epic tragedy. Small wonder that some who failed then take offense at being reminded of it now.
Knight notes that only one of the politicians and religious groups outraged by the piece have actually seen it. Thanks to the internet, we needn't rely on the opinions of allegedly anti–"nanny state" GOPers to screen content for us: P.P.O.W. gallery, which represents the artist's estate, posted the full work, which does have some content which may be challenging to some, on YouTube, but users flagged it as offensive, so it was yanked. But now the gallery has hosted it elsewhere and makes it available on its website. Transformer Gallery in Washington is also showing a seven-minute version of the work.

As with the furor over the Corcoran canceling a Robert Mapplethorpe show in 1989 -- activists ended up doing a guerrilla slideshow on the exterior wall of the Washington museum, raising the work's profile even more -- efforts to quash exposure of Wojnarowicz's work already seem to be backfiring, drawing far more attention to it than had Bill Donohue's Catholic League not squawked so loudly. (Of course, the regularity of such squawking raises questions whether fundraising for the League is a major factor.) Regardless, I suspect that true Catholics have faith strong enough to endure an 11-second clip showing ants on a crucifix -- and some will likely come away enriched by the experience.

A Fire in My Belly, David Wojarowicz, via P.P.O.W. Gallery. (Note: A shorter edited version was to be on view at the National Portrait Gallery.)

Video: Artist Wafaa Bilal installs camera in the back of his head

CNN looks at Iraq-born artist and NYU photography professor Wafaa Bilal's new project, in which he embeds a camera in the back of his head. For his project "The 3rd I," the camera will take photos once every minute, around the clock for a full year. They'll be transmitted to Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art (which commissioned the project) in Doha, Qatr for the exhibition, Told / Untold / Retold: 23 stories of journeys through time and place, which opens Dec. 30. Happening just as Americans are in an uproar over privacy at airport checkpoints, he says he hopes the work will contribute to a dialogue about surveillance. But he also hopes to take the subjectivity out of photography, and acknowledges that much of what's transmitted to Qatr from the cable emerging from the circular camera on the back of his head will be mundane.

CNN makes a brief comparison to the helmet-cams war correspondents have used in places like Bilal's home country. While he doesn't seem to have such overt intentions, it does fit the (ahem) scope of past works like his "shoot-an-Iraqi" project Domestic Tension (2005), in which he was contained for one month in a cell-sized room where people could -- in-person or online -- shoot at him with a remote-control paintball gun.

And earlier this year, Bilal got his back tattooed with dots representing deaths of both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers in Iraq and a map roughly depicting where they died. Text accompanying video documentation of the project states that Bilal's brother Haji was killed by a missile at a checkpoint in their hometown of Kufa, Iraq in 2004.

Of Told / Untold / Retold, curators Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath told Nafas Art Magazine, "Today's artists are in constant transmigration across a diversity of cities and locations, yet never escaping redundant geographical labels through which their work is misconstrued. They are in perpetual metamorphosis, in a state of 'in-betweenness.' These journeys occur not only in place, but also in time."

Then, as if to reference Bilal's camera captures of what he's passed by, they added, "When you move and leave things behind, you remember, recollect and reconstruct, but you also reorient and redirect yourself. These are all acts into which time is intricately weaved."

Adam Watson imagines Star Wars as drawn by Dr. Seuss

This Luke-Skywalker-inside-a-tauntaun image is part of cartoonist Adam Watson's series on what Star Wars might look like had Dr. Seuss drawn it. While I'm at it.... wow:

"Now with open belly rescue feature!"

Also: Luke-inside-a-tauntaun wedding cake.

Video: PBS News Hour on Alec Soth

You might recognize some of the footage from here. Via Little Brown Miscellanea.


Candy Chang in New Orleans: "I Wish This Was __________" stickers

In a beautifully simple new project, Candy Chang creates Hello-My-Name-Is–style nametags to express New Orleans' residents wishes for the boarded-up buildings still plaguing some of its neighborhoods. Here's where some of them ended up.

Earlier: Chang's pavement stencil: "This would be a nice place for a tree."

(Thanks, Chris S.)

Bits: 12.02.10

David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (One day this kid…) [click to enlarge]

• The Catholic League, an extreme-right group that frequently targets artists over the content of their work, has succeeded in getting the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery to remove a work by the late multimedia artist David Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992 from AIDS, for an 11-second clip depicting ants crawling on a crucifix on the ground. Calling the work "hate speech," the group claimed the piece was "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians," despite the fact that the artist, as Blake Gopnik writes, hoped "the passage would speak to the suffering of his dead friend." He continues: "The irony is that Wojnarowicz's reading of his piece puts it smack in the middle of the great tradition of using images of Christ to speak about the suffering of all mankind."

• PPOW Gallery has made available Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (One day this kid…) to anyone who wants to print it and post it in protest of NPG's actions. The work is released to raise awareness of the TREVOR Project, which seeks to prevent more suicides by LGBT people. (Via Tyler Green.)

• Minnesota-born photographer Wing Young Huie brings works from his nine-month project on "the funny, touching, and sometimes strange intersection of Asian American and American cultures" -- including his shot of an Asian Elvis impersonator -- to Beijing on his first trip to China for an exhibition at SZ Gallery.

• Congratulations to Greg Allen of the always-excellent Greg.org for winning a Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant! View all winners here.

• Cambodia's Tith Narith, whose work is now on view at Photo Phnom Penh, photographs discarded playing cards.

• North Minneapolis' indispensible Juxtaposition Arts has expansion plans.

• More congrats go to: Doryun Chong, MOMA Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture (and former Walker curator) for winning Independent Curators International's first-ever Gerrit Lansing Independent Vision Award for "his multiple, global understanding of artworks and their contexts, and the recent exhibitions he has curated and co-curated in a range of venues nationally and internationally." He'll be honored along with PERFORMA director RoseLee Goldberg, who won ICI's Agnes Gund Curatorial Award for outstanding achievements in the field, at the group's 35th anniversary event Dec. 9.

• For the most part, art only happens in New York or LA, according to Rob Pruitt and the Guggenheim.

• Check out the new issue of the Minneapolis-based art criticism online magazine Quodlibetica.