Nov 15, 2007

Barry Mcgee, Phil Frost, et al@ RVCA

I really didn't expect much going in to this show. Mostly because Barry has like 50 other shows going on right now and it's a clothes store on Haight, right?. But wow. They went all out. This show is better than Barry's last show@ Paule Anglim. Some real nice collabo pieces too. Good job RVCA. (free show zines in the store's newspaper box.)

Nov 12, 2007

Good read.

The "LighThe Light A Fire Under Your Complaisant Ass" Manifesto

The Kids Aren’t All Right
Is over-education killing young artists?

In the summer of 2004, I got a call from Arty Nelson, who often writes about art for this publication. He had just attended the much-lauded “Supersonic” show. For those who aren’t familiar, “Supersonic” is a large exhibition, now in its second year, that features the work of MFA students from esteemed area programs like CalArts, Art Center, UCLA, etc. When I asked the writer how the show was, he simply said: “The kids aren’t all right.”

Having not yet seen the exhibition, I was more inclined to give the young artists the benefit of the doubt. Considering they were just finishing years of school, I wouldn’t have expected to see the most developed work in the world, but I would still have hoped for something to blow my socks off. After seeing the show, though, I had the same sinking feeling. While the overall installation was impressive and the space at Art Center in Pasadena was amazing, the work left me mostly empty and with a few exceptions seemed like nothing more than a rehash of conceptual ideas that were mined years ago. I was out of town for the 2005 show at the newly renovated L.A. Design Center, but I heard similarly dismal accounts. It made me wonder why, when we live in such a socially and politically volatile time, are these students producing stuff with little or no social relevance when they should be delivering edgy, urgent, thought-provoking work?

For the last 15 years — first as a painter, then as a gallery owner and now as an independent curator, publisher and filmmaker — I have had the good fortune of dealing almost exclusively with young, aspiring artists — artists with chips on their shoulders and fire in their hearts. I have worked with university-trained and self-taught artists. For the last two years an exhibition I co-curated, “Beautiful Losers,” has been on the American museum circuit. The show focuses on a loose-knit group of artists (Chris Johanson, Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Ryan McGinness, Thomas Campbell, etc.) who came up from the streets and, for the most part, entered the art world through the back door.

Many of the artists in “Losers” have gone from relative obscurity to international renown, and along the way I’ve witnessed all the positive and negative trappings that come with that success. I’ve seen the underground go overground and, in some cases, lose much of its original power and charm. Still though, I have a never-ending hunger for new art created by young artists. In fact, it is the energy of youth that has kept me in the art game so long. In my opinion, it has always been the job of the young artists to shake things up, to throw out old ideas and usher in a new way of thinking. I want to be a part of that.

So why was the “Supersonic” exhibition filled with such uninspired work? I’ll take a stab at trying to answer that here. I should interject that this is not meant to be a rant against any particular artist, educational institution or exhibition. I mention “Supersonic” simply because it represents a larger trend that I have noticed around the country and the world for some time now.

It has always been the function of artists to tell the narrative of our times in a way that isn’t filtered through big-media spin or the historical revisionism of academic pundits. Recent and historical precedence tell us that it should be young people, and particularly the artists among them, who are most passionately voicing this narrative. But they’re not. In fact, there is a critical lack of voice among young artists, and I believe that art schools are to blame for this crisis.

There are quite possibly more quality art schools in and around Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country. These institutions are staffed with amazing talents (Mike Kelley and John Baldessari among them). Legions of creative young people flock to our city every year to work alongside their heroes and develop their talents with hopes of making it as an artist. That’s great; an education, particularly in art history and technique, can be valuable to a young artist, and studying with your heroes can be inspiring. What happens too often in these situations, though, is that we find young artists simply emulating their instructors, rather than finding and honing their own aesthetics and points of view about the world, society, themselves.

In the beginnings of an artist’s career, the power in his or her work should lie not in their technique or knowledge of art history or theory or business acumen, but in what one has to say. Artists might as well hang up their paintbrushes before they even begin if that voice isn’t in place. Ideas and a point of view are the backbones of the artistic process. In fact, L.A. art school gurus such as Kelley and Baldessari were wild cards when they began. Their works were constantly infused with socioeconomic and political agendas that went against the art world’s status quo. In can be argued that it was the rebellious attitudes and iconoclastic positions of those artists’ first works that built their current international success. But now they are part of an art establishment that seems distant to many young people who should be getting inspired by art.

While some may argue to the contrary, contemporary art is not a luxury. I believe it is a necessity. It satisfies not only a visual need, but also an educational and, most importantly, a spiritual need for us. Art should teach us about how we relate to the world. It seems ironic, then, that the curriculum taught in most MFA programs addresses almost everything but fulfilling these needs. Art institutions today work more like business schools than any kind of creative laboratory. As is often the case with such professional schools, the credential has come to mean more than any individual biography or personal point of view. From the creative side, art theory has begun to play such a dominant role in art school that I feel it has lobotomized many young creative minds. Young MFAs are required to read endless texts, many written more than 20 years ago by stuffy Frenchmen with navel-gazing theories holding little or no relevance to life in Bush’s America. They are then asked to somehow relate their work to these deconstructionist theories and then be judged by how successfully they do this.

The primary problem with this kind of education is that by diving deeper and deeper into the theoretical and self-referential, artists lose touch with their public. As a result, the public, particularly the young public, often feels alienated from art. Intentionally or not, people have been made to feel inferior to the art intelligentsia. What inevitably follows is that art becomes simply something to be bought, sold and understood by a very small sector of the population and it loses its urgent role as a means of communication or as a catalyst for social or cultural change.

On more than one occasion I have felt the urge to spray-paint “Mike Kelley is the Enemy” on walls around the city. Nothing against Kelley; his early work in particular was a big inspiration and holds great meaning for me. Rather, I want to do this as a statement to young artists that they need to kill their heroes to discover themselves.

Of course, I’m generalizing. There are many young, emerging artists working today who truly believe in the relevance of what they are doing and have the chops and points of view to back it up. And this isn’t to suggest that all artwork should be political. I believe that a personal statement that is drawn from the heart can be more powerful and effective than propaganda. Works that have inspired me recently include those by Ashley Macomber, a Los Angeles artist who creates intricately painted human/animal hybrids that could be said to resemble those campy American Indian paintings found on truck-stop T-shirts. Upon deeper consultation, however, they provide a strong commentary on our relationships to each other, nature and ourselves. Also of note is the East Coast collective Paperrad, whose multimedia installations include everything from sculpture to animation to printed fanzines. The collective’s innocent yet sophisticated approach to art consistently leaves me feeling hungry for more. Other artists of interest include Masaki Kawai, Matt Leines, Tauba Auerbach, Jim Drain and Jo Jackson. Needless to say there is much good work out there.

Some of these artists are MFAs and some are not. The point of all this is that if young artists had the courage and the encouragement to focus more on their art than the “art business,” there would be even more inspiring work to see and less distance between art and the public. Maybe all it takes is a little less thinking and a lot more feeling. If we could open our hearts amazing things could happen.

Nov 11, 2007

The Truth.

November 6, 2007

The most underrated art writer?

Dave Hickey is probably the most admired writer on art of the moment. (Y'all certainly click on any link that mentions him!) Which is fine and he's certainly fun to read. But I'm surprised at how little I hear art people talking about Lawrence Weschler.

True, Weschler doesn't write regularly about art anywhere in particular, but some of his most important books and essays read as fresh as if they'd been written yesterday. With MCASD's Robert Irwin extravaganza underway, I've noticed several writers (and also several artists) talking more about Weschler's superb Irwin book, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the of the Thing One Sees. And I think that several of the write-ups in the Weschler compilation Vermeer in Bosnia are classics. The title piece might be my favorite essay, period. Finally, one of my favorite Weschler books, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences, is recently out in paperback -- and is just $15.

From Modern Art Notes..

Nov 7, 2007

Today in the Chronicle..... we were part of a piece on retail/gallery spaces.

Buying an original painting is now just as easy as picking up a lamp or getting replacement dish towels. And sometimes it doesn't even have to cost much more.

That's because a growing number of housewares shops are also doubling as art galleries, complete with elaborate show openings.

When Berkeley's Relish at Home reopened in September after a remodel, it had a gallery added by owner Kelly Sperbeck. A reception was held to celebrate the store's second anniversary, as well as artist Jill Bliss' new exhibition.

And last month, San Francisco became home to two more retail-gallery businesses: the Curiosity Shoppe and Rare Device.

The Curiosity Shoppe has existed as an e-commerce site since last year. Owners Lauren Smith and Derek Fagerstrom have curated art shows since their college days at UC Santa Cruz, so when they opened a brick-and-mortar shop in the Mission District, including a gallery was a given.

"With CCA (California College of the Arts) and all these other great schools, there's so much creative energy in San Francisco," said Fagerstrom.

Rare Device opened on Market Street in late October, but its Brooklyn, N.Y., location has been around for about two years. "We always carried art objects," said owner Rena Tom, "and I always wanted to have more art, but there was no space."

While the original Rare Device is just 180 square feet, the San Francisco location starts off with 400 square feet and will expand to 1,000 next year. The extra room means that Tom and business partner Lisa Congdon can create a division between the product and gallery areas.

"Often times, stores and cafes will feature artwork mixed in with other stuff, so it's harder to engage with the art," said Congdon. An artist herself, she recently had a show at the Mission District's Candy Store, which carries clothing, home accessories and artwork.

"I owe so much to stores like Rare Device, Candy Store and Reform School (in Los Angeles)," she said. "They did an amazing job of promoting my work. And I want to do the same for others. I know how hard it is for new artists to get into galleries."

Congdon and Tom are approaching the gallery much as they do the retail operations.

"A store like ours is trying to showcase small designers to begin with," said Tom of the store's clothing and housewares selection.

"The art really grows out of that. Larger stores and galleries might buy from a rep, but we actually get to meet the artist and have them present at the openings."

Prices for artwork at Rare Device will probably range from $100 to $5,000, with shows changing almost monthly.

For artists, exhibiting in a retail space instead of a traditional gallery exposes them to a different audience, and has its monetary advantages. According to Congdon, a gallery and an artist will typically split sales 50/50. With a store - which relies more on merchandise for its revenue - an artist can receive 60 to 80 percent of the sale price.

At the Richmond District's Park Life, co-owner Jamie Alexander believes that "it's only fair that the artist get more than 50 percent," he said. "We're not a full-service gallery, so we can't promote or represent the artist the same way a gallery would."

Exhibitions at Park Life usually run about five weeks, with prices ranging from $20 to $7,500. Alexander and co-owner Derek Song often visit artist studios and art schools, as well as keep track of people they hear about through word of mouth. "We try to give everyone a fair shake," said Alexander. "Our aesthetic isn't fine art or lowbrow art. It's creative, emerging art."

Alexander, an art patron for years, has had his share of unpleasant gallery experiences. "No one wants to go to a stuffy gallery where the receptionist doesn't even give you the time of day," he said. "We're trying to introduce art to people who might not normally collect."

For Kati Kim, who opened Doe in 2004, incorporating a gallery "was always part of the plan," she said, "especially since we're in the Lower Haight. There's a big artist community here. Even the hair salons have artwork."

As someone who didn't collect art until she opened her store, Kim can perhaps sympathize with her clientele. "Most of my customers are artists, students and young professionals just starting out," she said. "They don't have hundreds to spend, but can appreciate the experience of going to a gallery."

Doe changes its exhibitions four times a year, in conjunction with the seasons. "We definitely get people who come to all of the openings and shop here regularly, too," said store manager Sarah Gion. "It's nice to see all of the people coming out to support the San Francisco artist community. And the openings offer a different way to interact with our customers - less formal, more relaxed."

Artwork at Doe has been marked as low as $20 and as high as $900. "One of the really big things for me is for people to take home part of the experience, even if you can't afford a $50 painting," said Kim. "With each show, I try to have the artist create some kind of merchandise tie-in, like a pin or card set - something in a price range that almost anyone can afford. So they can come in, see the show and take a piece of it with them."

Hayes Valley's Rose and Radish has taken the concept of retail-gallery the furthest - completely merging the two ideas. Every item in the shop is part of the exhibition, and every item is for sale.

"The idea was to highlight a few designers and group their work under one theme, and then change that out," explained owner Cate Kellison.

Although it opened as a flower shop in August 2001, Kellison reinvented the business as a design gallery last year. The floral service remains, but it handles mostly deliveries and special events now.

When a new theme is introduced at Rose and Radish, the shop shuts down for a week. The entire space is transformed - including the walls, floor and ceiling decor - and new merchandise is brought in to fit the theme. The biggest challenge, said Kellison, is balancing the desire to sell out every show with the need to maintain inventory for customers to view.

Owners of these combination businesses often use the word "community" - and that extends beyond just the artist community. At Rose and Radish, for example, employee and artist Jill Pilotte devised the Sixty Forty Print Club. With each new exhibition, a limited-edition art print is offered - the money from which is split between the artist and a charity, 60 percent and 40 percent.

"We're just offering our store and gallery space as a venue," said Kellison. "The idea is to build community and be able to do something good."

At Park Life, the owners have donated their space for various benefits and fundraisers. Earlier this month, the store's proceeds from its first-anniversary celebration went toward the Coalition on Homelessness.

For these hybrids, the true measure of success may not be simply the bottom line - especially for those who treat their businesses as a labor of love.

"It might be stupid from a business standpoint," said Fagerstrom - referring to the fact that the Curiosity Shoppe owners had to carve out retail, gallery, office and storage areas in a small space. The gallery is expected to bring in revenue, but it also takes up precious square footage.

"We curate from our hearts, from our guts," he said. "We choose our merchandise not because a rep has told us that this is going to be a best-seller. We choose things we love and artists we want to support. If other people love it, then that's really great."

Nov 1, 2007

SFBG mention of our current show

Park Life First Anniversary/Benefit Group Show
Showing works by David Benzler, Kelly Tunstall, Sean McFarland, Chris Ballantyne, and more.


PREVIEW Since it opened a year ago on a street where many businesses come and go, Park Life has established itself as a spot to visit, between a good bowl of pho and a trip to Green Apple Books, by being one of the few independent art galleries in the Inner Richmond. When I'm waiting 45 minutes for a table at Burma Superstar, I can't help but glance across the street at the store's bright lights and vivid colors, a glowing beacon amid the early-closing businesses surrounding it, and I wander inside to pass the time.

If you've noticed Park Life but haven't yet satisfied your curiosity, you might want to do so Nov. 2, when it's having its First Anniversary/Benefit Group Show, which will include artists such as David Benzler, whose previous work has appeared at Needles and Pens and on the sides of assorted buildings; Kelly Tunstall, who develops intricate characters in her paintings and illustrations; Sean McFarland, who in 2005 received the James D.

Phelan Art Award in photography from SF Camerawork; and Chris Ballantyne, whose carefully crafted, compartmentalized paintings make me think of a resort golf course that has been worked on by a taxidermist, stuffed and rendered icy cold, forever in suspended animation. Alongside their work will be pieces by about 30 other nationally known and locally touted artists who have helped Park Life succeed in its precarious location. And you'll also have a chance to contribute to the community beyond Clement Street: a portion of the proceeds will benefit the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness.

PARK LIFE FIRST ANNIVERSARY/BENEFIT GROUP SHOW Opens Fri/2, 6–10 p.m. Through Dec. 5. Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., noon–8 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., noon–9 p.m. Park Life, 220 Clement, SF. (415) 386-7275,