Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Best Year in Music?

When I heard WXPN was having a contest to choose the best year in rock music, I had to chime in. The ads are funny and surprisingly witty for a radio station that takes itself far too seriously. They say they are “Vinyl at Heart.” Don’t believe it. My view has always been that the station needs a good clearing out of all the DJ’s born before 1960! I was born before 1960 but I don’t wear my thinning grey hair in a scrawny ponytail that hangs over a tie-dyed tee-shirt. That is a parody worthy of Portlandia. Personally, I am sick to death of the re-playing of classic songs simply because they warm the heartstrings of rock and roll grandparents who went to Woodstock, drive Subaru Outbacks and fit the demographic. It isn’t that Janis Joplin is awful; I simply have no interest in hearing the songs ever again. Same for many others of that era. Born to be Wild? Did Steppenwolf ever write another tune? I’ve ceased caring. The station’s wholesale ignorance of Punk, the period (when art, subculture and music had an inspired relationship) is remarkable. In contrast, the in-yer-face spokesman for “1979” is a sarcastic hippy-hater decrying 1967. Wow. Putting down Peace and Love? That is mindful for WXPN! As for all the current music the station backs earnestly, there is another bone to pick. Roughly based on soulful or bluesy flashbacks with better drum production, it is the 70‘s repackaged without the danger. This may explain why a band like My Morning Jacket gets to their present, godly standing. They are the most banal, derivative group I have ever heard. I’d rather listen to Adele or Coldplay! Though WXPN promotes their college radio status as wild and crazy, they broadcast a constant stream of boomer-friendly tunes that are already hyped nationally. Don’t let the “Philly-Local” promotions fool you. There is tons of excellent music in Philly that never gets anywhere near the imaginary turntables of University City. Most of these are hardcore bands whose 7-inch 45’s (often pressed on red or yellow vinyl) fill budget bins at the last remaining record stores on South Street. So, surprise. I will cast my vote for 1979, alas. Not sure how that demarcation works. Why not ‘77 or ‘78? At least ‘79 includes Joy Division. If you work at WXPN, you may have to Google the doomed band (that became New Order) on your hippy Smartphone. And, just in case everyone thinks I’m a stuffy aged punk, I state here (in public) that I sing loudly along to any DOORS song I hear on classic radio. Especially when drunk, wearing black leather jeans and heading to my local Roadhouse for a beer.

Monday, September 7, 2015

It's OK To Like What You Do! by Caitlin Peck

Just over two years after my last day of graduate school at Moore College of Art & Design I finally consider my adjustments post art school. I’m comparing what I thought I knew then to my actual experience in the art world now. After 7 years submerged in art academia, I only knew artists and artsy people. In the past two years, I’ve sidled up to more non-artists and realized art school is really more a corral for artists rather than a reflection of what my social circle would consist of upon release. My new crew gained me insight on two tandem lessons. Number one: don’t take yourself too seriously because, number two: no one has any idea what you’re talking about. In the close-knit community of a MFA program, where you’re regurgitating your thesis over and over again to your peers and professors, eventually everyone becomes as much of an expert on your research as yourself. I remember one of my first interactions outside of the art school bubble and the inevitable question: “So, what is your work about?” My elevator speech suddenly sounded completely inadequate. For over two years I was practicing mine on 9 other people and thought it concise and perfected. In reality, my listeners perfected their understanding. Over time I learned the importance of stripping away the eye-rolling art jargon to build a more relatable subject line to my studio practice. In not taking myself too seriously, I struggled outside of art school with this confusing revelation: I can do what I want. There is jest about Catholic or Jewish guilt; if things are enjoyable, they can’t be good. No one talks about art school guilt. Nearly all ex-art students I encounter suffer from this. One of my problems with higher learning in the arts is artists are trained to meet some goal at the determination of others. Sometimes that means sacrifice. Graduate classes had such a serious attitude and after graduation I thought my studio practice needed to be met in the same way. It doesn’t. I became more productive in the studio once “fun” lost its rank as another kind of f-word and realized it’s OK to like what I do.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


When I first heard about the imminent publishing of Harper Lee’s so-called second novel, I knew there was something hinky going on. Clearly, it had not been set in motion by the author (89) who lives in a nursing home. After trying to publish my own first novel, I have experienced the industry's peculiarities. They are much akin to the art world in which all gatekeepers want a track record (branding) no matter what the quality of the work. This is why the same artists are shown over and over locally and worldwide. This forces masses of creative individuals to invent identities online. This is called nano-casting, so I’m told, replacing previous narrowcasting ­– all derived from the original word, broadcasting, if you follow the flow of media jargon. Here novices can tough it out in a crowd of millions with a personal websites and a Twitter accounts. There is always a chance of discovery in a sea of drek, incessant social media and celebrity bullshit. Good luck, sucker.
I read the first chapter of Watchman last week in the Wall Street Journal. Later, there was a follow up editorial about the discovery of the manuscript in Harper’s safe-deposit box by her life-long attorney, Tonya B. Carter in Alabama, 2011. There was a PBS documentary with a story of a different slant, mostly to do with the civil rights aspects of both book and film. The rest will come out in the wash as everyone discovers Go Set A Watchman was clearly the trial go for ‘Mockingbird.’ It was written before our beloved American classic novel featuring adorable tomboy, Scout and upstanding lawyer dad, Gregory Peck. He ends up representing all progressive, liberal whites then and now. I mention Peck because I have seen the film numerous times while never reading the actual book! My High School English class read Moby Dick instead and Mark Twain, two guy writers. Sorry. My ignorance is appalling, but can you see the wool being pulled over us sheep? Is it a trivial matter that Peck appeared in both films? Well, maybe, but I digress.
Yet another recent PBS radio discussion was on point and questioned the ethics of publishing Watchman. A guest author – die-hard literary guy who’d never seen the film version – used the term, “sinister packaging.” I concur. They played Reese Witherspoon reading a bit of the same chapter from the book-on-tape.  Fine, but all this fuss is not just about Mockingbird but the subsequent film that met many more eyes over many decades. That is the nature of popular culture. I have picked up a flyer from my local bricks & mortar bookstore – there is still one in NW Philly – advertising the sale and reading of Watchman accompanied by a screening of Mockingbird. I have to curb my enthusiasm. What about the connection between Truman Capote (In Cold Blood, another book and film) and Nelle? Is there a darker side to this story?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Immigration Day

The weed whackers were out in force. They came from South of the Border and drove up in trucks with trailers for the mowers. A holy racket took place. Mucho trabaho over nothing. I was stuck on one tricky paragraph that didn’t want to scan. Outside, it sounded like an F-16 landing in the street. I hoped it was one of ours. I looked out the door and saw grass in mid air, its life cut short.  Clouds of dust covered my seven-cylinder Chevy wagon. Now, I thought, I’d have to wait for a rainstorm to clean it up.
Most authors have some sort of writer’s block but not me. I am held to lower standards. Plus, I don’t have a publisher or an agent. That sucks. I post my work on a blog that pays tens cent per piece, 250 words. The next day another troop of lawn manicurists arrived at another neighbor’s yard. I was waiting for the nectarines to ripen when I heard footsteps on the porch. I reached for a kitchen knife. It was the mailman with my monthly bills. We instructed each other to ‘Have A Good One’ and I retreated back to my sofa chair with my knife. I decided to kick up the espresso machine to help finish my essay on garden tools. It started out well then trailed off into a diatribe about how rap music sucks. I know more about hip-hop than you might think since I reside in Philadelphia – this explains why I don’t have an agent. I used to listen to DJ John Peel (may he rest in peace) in London in the Eighties when rap and hard-core off-set one another. Sampling was new and totally connected to post-modern theories. See Beastie Boys. What did I say about trailing off?
Later, I stared out the window when I noticed the din subsiding. Always a bad sign, staring out the window. Hours drift by in a minute. I forced myself back to my Venus-on-a-Halfshell lap-top and finished the article about a chainsaw on a stick for hard to reach twigs. It was louder than an Egyptian F-16. I imagined a Mig-19 in fifth gear. I made note of this in my consumer report for Candy’s Man. The next day the review returned via a black-cloud. I had been summarily dismissed. You may wonder how a content provider can be fired by someone they’ve never met? The next article was a very short essay about faceless-assholes who fire work-at-home creatives.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Father's Day Auction

Last Father’s Day I ventured out to an art auction at Material Culture, a large enterprise that sells ersatz antiques, furnishings and decorative arts for appointing houses with an exotic touch. I call it Freak-Chic. You can buy a cast bronze Buddha, Persian rugs or a weathered wardrobe once-owned by a Pasha. Everything is high priced so I wasn’t hopeful I’d be picking up any bargains for my skinny art collection. Had I known how good the quality and how inexpensive the art, I would have brought a checkbook. There was a mix of unknown modernists ­(long dead) and lots of curious outsider art. This made for interesting pickings for the audience of amateur collectors. The small paintings of the ‘unknown’ Javior Mayoral were particularly fetching. Some were bid up on-line to a couple hundred dollars but several were left unsold around fifty dollars. I kicked myself! They resembled mini-Magritte or pre-pin-up Picabia. Definetly like Philly’s, Jim Houser. Mayoral’s work was well painted full of semi-surreal and comic sayings. My Googlie research could not turn up much on the artist except that he’s Latino and lives in Miami! I imagine him to be fairly young, judging from the low price points. Had he applied, he would have been accepted into the Woodmere Museum’s Open Show up at the moment, creatively curated by our own Dufala brothers. That is another story.
There were more authentic outsider artists like Jim Bloom (not Jim Nutt) that could pass for low quality Basquiat. They looked swell on the Power Point display but were lacking a little something up close on actual walls. These seemed to some stir interest in the crowd. I almost bought one accidently when I scratched my right ear. Tabletops and glass cabinets featured packs of drawings and watercolors of all sorts, all inexpensive. There were even a few Japanese 100 year old prints for a snip. I always wanted a real Japanese print especially a scene depicting the Battle of Tsushima, 1905! As for current neo-Outsiders; in decades past, I used to deride them as mere skateboard painters. That was snobbish! Next time I‘m bringing some cash.

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.