Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Spell Check at Parlor Gallery, Asbury Park, New Jersey
My first visit to Parlor Gallery in Asbury Park was a pleasure. I kept thinking I was in Santa Monica, perhaps because I could smell the sea and had the distinct urge to go surfing. The exhibition was filled with about every sort of contemporaneous text you can imagine. Visitors immediately were met with Ray Geary’s F-U-C-K piece (pills in plexiglass) on the table by the door with gallery notes and price list! Behind you was Geary’s S-I-N below belt level. This was intentional. Stealing the show was spray-painted picture, Ashes by the modest young artist, Jonny Ruzzo. They must be selling like hotcakes! If it had been a large silk screen, I would have pegged it for one of Warhol’s graffiti series if there was one. Russo’s other piece Heroin completed the abject theme. His other work owes a bit to Karen Kilimnik. These were exemplary of the cross over of  “street” and gallery work. 

Basquiat (tag, SAMO in the early 80’s) brought graffiti to the art world big time. It flourished and we have had a burgeoning of inside/outside art ever since. San Francisco artists, Barry McGee and the late Margaret Killgallon, are two of my favorites. Another single word piece by artist, Jessica Lichtenstein’s was problematic for me. As a red blooded (hetero) critic, her L-U-S-T piece messed with my head. As a nerd, I enjoy Manga cuteness and goofy Miyazaki films, so the inclusion of actual “porn” sullied an ironic “innocence” even if it was meant to be tongue in cheek. L-U-S-T was also partly suspect because the intention was so obvious. Appropriating Manga (the sex-filled variety) and filling the word LUST ain’t subtle. Spinning the topic differently is clever and bound to challenge borders but seems an anathema. Though, the issues certainly remain apt for a new audience.
Text and Image have been linked in art history since early stone relief. It stayed healthy as illustrated Medieval manuscripts. The forms separated somewhere in the Renaissance but don’t quote me. Recently, the graphic novel and zines put them back together in book form. Tatts now (ubiquitously) combine them again on skin. This renewed use of assemblage is a great thing for visual culture but perhaps not so much for the novel itself. 

Ryan Cronin has the funniest artist bio I’ve ever read. His work is pop-like, healthy images of beer labels. Artist, Bri Cirel summed up the show’s semi-erotic subtext with a painting of the Venus de Milo, My Eyes. Funny, especially since she has been missing her head for a few thousand years! Of course, the nude has been a staple of art since ancient times. One wonders if the Ancient Greeks were seeking ultimate beauty or a quick turn on ­– they had their own gender issues. I can’t make a fair comment on Arabic script used over images of fashion models by artist, Porkchop. This is, of course, politically charged but also reminded me of a foundation art course. Let’s face it images of women are charged no matter what the intent. The issue of objectification of women is also charged, if unresolved.
I’m not sure another neon word-piece helps or hinders the show but they are topical these days. Dare, I say pretty collectable ever since artist, Bruce Nauman’s, seminal neon piece from 1967, The True Artist Helps The World By Revealing Cosmic Truth. Tracy Emin makes them now too. She’s saving up for a retirement home. I haven’t made a neon sign yet but I am thinking about it! It might be titled, How Do You Turn This Damn Thing Off? Or perhaps a low wattage, neon piece for a kid’s room that says, Night Light!
Use of words by outsiders has been picked up by Urban Outfitters and signs are now commonly for sale in Marshalls and Target. They have greeting card sentiments and we are meant to hang them in bathrooms. I repaint them with rude sayings or write obtuse phrases in the wrong place for a sense of mild irony. Artist, Keith Scharwath produces work in a similar vein; small, inexpensive acronyms. Freud’s “Uncanny” is another matter. The whole of Asbury Park might well be called Uncanny!
Parlor Gallery deserves praise for showing work of this caliber outside a metro area – Philadelphia should take notice. The show certainly puts paid to the idea that there is nothing at the shore but sand, sun and Sangria and the occasional surprise appearance of The Boss at the Stone Pony!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Discussions about art can be sketchy (pardon the pun) especially when expectations are high. Over the years I have sat through some pretty dry and overly intellectual seminars that I thoroughly enjoyed. Last week’s talk at the ICA was not one of those evenings. Leaving my cave, I succumbed to the need to prolong post-modern musings in my head and hear about artist, Barbara Kasten with the specific topic being POMO’s relevance now. I never understood why the whole era was ditched, virtually overnight. This had a devastating affect on artists who’d immersed themselves in October Magazine and couldn’t adapt to becoming Jeff Koons, the best example of an uber-artist, post-POMO. To stay in fashion, I use his cologne.
The term used next was Neo-Geo. What did it mean?! Debord-like Situationism and anarchy I can understand, but you take it with a grain of salt. After a fairly cool decade (90’s) where installation ruled and painting waned, we find ourselves in an endless epoch (almost 2 decades!) where both ends of the spectrum flourish. Booming art and auction sales are great for an expanding pool of blue chip (dead) painters while international Biennales serve the contemporary, non-objective circuit. Is Alex Katz blue chip? You bet! So, it is interesting to see anyone at a museum mention the term, (long out of favor) “Post Modernism.” Today, we say “Blue Chip/Modern and Contemporary.” I touch on this dichotomy in my hilarious, unpublished novel, WORK SHY.
Youthful curator, Alex Klein – perfect name for a museum employee – set the stage for an interesting evening with a brief run-down of the period. She even mentioned Blade Runner. The 1982 film is now easy code for POMO and encapsulates the long gap between 1985 and 2015. Why Klein left out our own iconic architects Robert Ventura and his wife Denis Scott-Brown (the inventors of POMO!) is curious. The two luke-warm artists showing PowerPoint presentations didn’t improve the situation.
To condense things is possible. Take one aspect of post modernism imaged by Blade Runner: historical mash-up. My theory is that Philip Dick’s story Androids Often Dream of Electric Sheep (published 1968) was the first film (see also Brazil, 1985) to present “now” as futuristic dystopia. This leads us to time-travelogue. Today, we casually refer to this ubiquitous “time travel” as if it was a simple state of mind. Or worse, a life-style choice. This is writer’s, J. G. Ballard’s, “inner space” which describes perfectly our use of technology to create fantasy worlds instead of flying to real ones in suspended animation.
Bladerunner came to represent Steam Punk, year zero. The term was quite rightly put in place well after the fact. I, myself often pretend to be an Edwardian dandy in futuristic rock clubs. Both steam, punks and rain surrounded Harrison Ford as he hunted rogue Replicants. The ICA should note that every film after Bladerunner owes something visually to director, Ridley Scott if not the writer, Philip K. Dick who barely lived to see it. These days, the best illustration of our historically mixed condition is a sad, cheapo satellite dish on the roof of decaying Victorian house.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sons of Guston!

It is exciting having a solo show up at the moment. At the same time, I experience a reality check: the realization that the show will disappear without much notice much like the last solo show and the exciting follow up group show in the Lower Eastside. It is disappointing to realize that is the norm. On the bright side, a good friend of mine saw the show and gave me a favorable critique. He then bought a picture! The critique was interesting coming from someone who had witnessed my development over many years. We discussed the “quality” and qualities in the work comparing it to generic contemporary art of the New York gallery variety. This led us to discuss my collages as outside the system. Does this make me an Outsider Artist? Inept and unschooled? I wish! It is a popular and profitable niche. It had occurred to me before that my work was a bit “crazy” in that way but that doesn’t explain the lack of purchase. Pun intended. I think it never received serious consideration because (in some ways) it takes the piss out of the art world. Don’t bite the hand that should feed, James. My friend’s other comment was surprising; the work had a “light” and humorous feel regardless of the chaotic and dystopian phrases that ran through it. This cheered me up. I am a Luddite not a misanthrope!

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Only fifteen years of the last fifty have taken place in the Twenty-First Century. The rest took place in the Twentieth. I am no expert and was a child at the time, but the last fifty years has been interesting especially the nineteen sixties part. We begin there. Fifty years ago was 1965! The Beatles released an album called Beatle’s ’65. It was a sensible title since it has a built in reminder of when it came out. Ringo sang one song. I think it was Honey Don’t. That was a great one! I have another record called The Best of ’68. Guess when that was released? It contains some great tunes done orchestral-style by Terry Baxter and his Orchestra. It is worth the price of admission (two bucks) just for their version of Mission: Impossible! For some reason they did not include a timely version of a Beatle song.

The Cold War was going strong and we had just missed Armageddon by a hair in Castro’s mustache back in 1962. We have never let them off the hook. That’s why they drive old beat up cars. The Sixties was a great time for cars. My favorite is the Mustang in Bullitt from 1968. Probably my most watched film to date. By the Sixties, most GI’s from WW2 were raising kids who went to college and got radicalized. They protested Vietnam and took drugs then settled down somewhat and raised their own children. Some of these are called Gen-Xers. Most of their parents got divorced and that is what defines them. As babies, they listened to their parents’ Beatle records, mostly Yellow Submarine. After the Beatles broke up there was a period known as the Dark Ages. It is also called the Seventies. A lot of nasty hair was cultivated. Classic rock was recorded and listened to very loudly. The war finally ended and hippies grew up, cut their hair and worked for Merrill Lynch.

Culturally, the period drew to a close as the Sex Pistols broke. Most people were confused by the phenomenon but UK Anarchy lines up loosely with the development of Post-Modernism and what some erudite people call post-history, meaning that the usual narratives don’t apply anymore. They don’t, frankly. Moving on, the Eighties produced great post-punk music if you were the right age. English bands wanted to rule the world again. This led to the Stone Roses (from Manchester) who paved the way for Oasis. Oasis was said to borrow from the Beatles but I don’t share that view. They simply fulfilled their destiny. The Nineties were the time of Indie Rock (Brit Pop) and computers invading every aspect of life. Soon, after the turn of the new century, we began our wars against Muslim Extremists. Not much has changed since then.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cultural Rewind!

With the passing of Leonard Nimoy, we have to agree that we have moved on to a galaxy far, far away. How far, is the question. As one generation ages out of significance, the review of vintage content is put in a different context. We now call it time travel, euphemistically. How quaint! We used to call it history. See my pic of Mr. Shatner from an iconic Twilight Zone episode a few posts ago to illustrate something or other. I cannot remember what but the crew of the Enterprise is never far from my mind. Oddly enough, it endears me to a new brand of young nerds. You have no idea how happy this makes me to be embraced by youthful people who discover their legacy of trivia. You are all my children now! I used to say this to my students in art history class. Is that creepy? Oh, well. They loved seeing the 300 as an example of Greek Art. That was about as close as they were gonna get! The academics in my department weren't convinced. Oh, well. I did explain to my students that the Persians were not all transvestites that rode rhinos. Does it matter? Perhaps, it does. Alexander the Great would definetly be opposed to Iran getting the Bomb.

Monday, February 16, 2015


In the cultural critic game, it takes one to know one. Richard Florida's popularization of the "Creative Class" has been a part of my own discussions about artists' survival in urban environments. He has done well as an author and pundit. I'm not sure what state he lives in. Now writer, Scott Timburg is following on Florida's coattails with his new book, Culture Crash. Notice the similarity in the cover designs!

This is my response to a review in the Wall Street Journal which I read in a sofa chair while smoking a pipe and viewing bird life in the garden. Timburg starts his tale with his being let go as a journalist. This adds a sour note to our cheery notion of creative types working away in little business enriching communities. His term "content serfs" rang especially in my brain. That translates into working for free. Everybody may want content but they want lame content. Philadelphia (like many other places) is ground zero for this sort of activity. My point has always been that all creative jobs and crafty pursuits (ever expanding to include beer, knitting & scrapbooking) get confused with actual contemporary art which has a bad rep already. I will get back to you after I read the book. This artist/writer will order a copy at the local library. This takes time but it is how I interact with the creative community and make use of city services.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Seahawks vs. Patriots? Who cares? But the inflated media coverage of shrinking balls is hysterical. I have heard steroid use can cause that also. Could there be better fodder for late night TV and stand-up routines? "Man walked into a bar and ordered a stiff drink. The bartender brought him a pint of Hop Viagra with hint of citrus." Ba-boom. Must have been happy hour! Anybody can write these jokes. I charge 25 bucks a pop. It goes to PAYPAL.

The Oscars and the Super Bowl? Money, ego and hyperbole. I am getting confused as we speak. PSI of footballs is possibly a great example of shrinking weight of news coverage or do I mean the twenty-four-seven tide of meaningless content. Some of it connects to facts on the ground but it is up to the distracted consumer/viewer to garner importance of each tid-bit. Are they up to it? My personal strategy is to use news boycott. That is what Netflix is for. So let us retire the overused moron-gatedness. Sloppy slang is for losers.