Friday, July 17, 2009

The Current Cinema - The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker is the best film I have seen this year so far. (although I have not see a lot for the record) I don't think a better movie has been made about either Iraq war to date. This is the kind of movie that keeps you thinking about it for days, and that's a rare treat with all the instantly forgettable crap out there. This war will no doubt end up being the subject of many more films/novels/and stories for years to come, but I doubt if anyone will make a film that treats the subject with such clean, strong and simple story-telling methods, while still being entertaining. Perfectly acted all-around.

The few, slightly clunky plot points or directory moves-like the needless use of Ralph Fiennes in this movie-I realize he's worked with the director before (Strange Days) and probably that is why, but i found it distracting,when all the other actors are pretty much relatively unknowns and so strong...but those small things are easily forgiven.

Kudos to the director, Kathryn Bigelow who is developing a most unusual directorial filmography (Point Break!, Blue Steel, Strange Days), writer Mark Boal (In the Valley Of Elah), and lead Jeremy Renner for a strong performance. Well done, go see it. 4 Molos

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Art Quickie #4 - Troy Gua @ Vermillion and Greg Lundgren @ Open Satellite

This art quickie will actully be quick for a change.

Greg Lundgren is from Bellevue. Troy Gua is from facebook. Okay, Troy is not really from facebook, I dont know where Troy is from originally. I'd say that he might have spent some time in Japan, but I think that is just the hair.

The respective exhibitions are full of suprizingly overlapping themes about the trials and tibulations of the artistic life in this region. Greg's show focuses on the expereince of growing up in the suburbs from the perspective of a successful artist career with smart, scuplture/installation works that are both entertaining and insightful. The works had the feeling of a Brent Easton Ellis novel, except with more heart. He has much to say about his ubringing in the context of Bellevue culture. His show is called I am from Bellevue and it will be on display at Open Sattellite until August 1st. Make the trip to the eastside and check it out.

Troy's exhibition Do you see me? at Vermillion differs from Greg's in his focus on efforts to get himself and his art noticed in the local art scene. Much of the work delves into the experience of online networking within the local art community with a very pop-art perspective. He seems to say that the quest for attention both physical and online creates direct, surreal focus on image making-on persona creation. It's a very brave, introspective departure from Troy's poppy celebrity combo-portraits. His show will run at Vermillion through August 2nd.

Go see both these shows. There is much more happening then my brief, very first-impression-ish, comments here. It is rare that I see shows which make me want to go back and look closer. Kudos to Troy and Greg!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Please don't sit on the art

I work at the Frye Art Museum.

Cat’s out of the bag. Not literally though, cats are not allowed in the museum. That is unless they are service animals. Which, actually is not all that uncommon, some cats provide valuable service needs to folks, although it can be a bit surprising to see a leashed feline walking around 19th century paintings (it certainly caught me off guard). Sorry I digress…I mention that I work at the Frye because to this point I have tried to keep the location of my museum guarding secret, so as to ward off my immense fan club. However, I grow weary of sharing insight and stories about “the museum”, as “Frye” is much shorter. Plus as an esteemed local critic pointed out to me, “everyone knows you work at the Frye”.

Now working at the Frye, as I do, I have heard a lot of unexpected questions through the years and one that I dread the most is:

“Is that art?”

I fear it almost as much as its companion, “where is the art?” (often asked of a patron standing adjacent to the “missing” art”). If a piece isn’t a painting, photography, drawing, or sculpture the public often doesn’t know whether or not they are looking at art. The rise of mixed media, non-traditional materials, installation, performance art and all the things that blur the lines between may be to blame. Surely this is the reason that a man asked me one day, when looking into a gallery with paint buckets and ladders strew about, if it was an installation piece. I informed him that we were actually installing a new show. “Who can tell anymore?” he asked with a shrug.

I have the upmost respect for the art-viewing public, even when they don’t know if they are viewing art, and I always try to talk about the art in question, often citing art history, the context of the show, and curatorial vision. However it can be a challenge at times to explain some of our works, especially to folks who have never sat through a slide lecture on Post Modernism or Pop Surrealism.

The Frye currently has a piece installed that seems to confuse a great deal of people about whether or not it is art. It is called Gussied Up and it is by the artist Mike Kelley as part of the excellent, entertaining show currently on display, The Puppet Show (through Sept 13th). Now Mike Kelley is a huge name in the
contemporary art world. He has shown all over the world, has a nice big Phaidon catalog published, did a Sonic Youth album cover and generally has had all the artistic success I can only dream of. This particular work of his is a large piece, situated in the center of a large room. It is essentially a huge table, with some smaller pieces of furniture on top of it. Additionally, there are a few small articles of doll clothing hanging from the pieces of furniture. Does this sound like art to you?

Well it is, very much so. As you may recall, I am involved with Security at the museum and it’s my job to see to it that art does not get damaged, let alone touched. My word what a headache this piece is! Many people seem incapable of walking by this work without running their hands along the wood table, or tugging at one of the little shirts. Even one of our volunteers couldn’t resist adjusting this little jacket that hangs from a vice, despite the protests of guards. I gave him an earful I’ll have you know.

Now Kelley work is not my favorite piece in the show (probably the Kentridge piece holds that honor-it’s mesmerizing) but I get paid the same to protect all of the art and the inability of folks to hold back their tactile desire is infuriating. But here’s the question-why do people touch that Kelley piece so much more often than the traditional paintings from the collection?

And why to they look so confused when I ask them to please not touch the art?
A lot is given away with that look-an embarrassed, sudden understanding that in fact, this table is a work of art, (which explains why it is in the middle of a museum with people staring at it and guards watching it) and that they just fondled a work of art for without a second thought. Well, at least they didn’t pull up a chair and sit down for a meal.

Speaking of sitting, this reminds me of a show we had a few years ago but the artist I’ll just call S. S had a few rooms in the front galleries at the Frye and in one of them she had 3 works on display: large painting on paper that spilled onto the floor, a video work projected on a wall, and sculptural/installation work on the floor. This work looked a great deal like a large, black box kite with some items inside of the body of the work-notable a neatly stacked pile of unlabeled tin can goods. Not exactly a traditional looking sculpture. Do you have a good image of this work in your mind? Okay picture the scene…

A lady, walks into the gallery with the box kite work. She seems very interested in the projected video but needs a place to sit and rest while she watches. Well how about this bench over here, that looks perfect! But wait….next thing you know, the bench, which was not a bench at all, collapses, her feet are up in the air, and she is on her back, executing a rather graceful, maneuver to right herself amongst much ruckus and tin cans rolling every which way. Now fortunately the lady was just fine, and the art was completely repairable with no lasting damage. After my heart stopped pounding in my chest I was fine too.

Do you think she thought that was art? Or a good place to take a load off?
Art History is full of examples of artists pushing the boundaries of what art can and should be-Dada, Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Hirst, etc etc…the list goes on and on…you’d think that the question of what art is and could be would get stagnant after so much time and energy has been devoted to answering it, but clearly it will never go away. And clearly people still can’t always tell if something is art or not. So the next time you go to a museum remember this:


things that are art in the museum:

-anything in a frame
-anything with a label next to it
-anything behind a stanchion or on a pedestal
-anything that a guard is standing by
-anything that is in a room by itself

things that are not art in the museum:

-fire extinguishers
-exit signs
-drinking fountains
-the other “fountains” in the men’s room (if they had “R.Mutt” signed on them them it would be different story)
-outlets (you know, those holes in the walls that you plug stuff into)
-real wood benches (usually-but not the one that has the puppets on it-that IS art-stay OFF!)
-the seismographs on the floor. Oh and they aren’t seismographs either, they are Hygrathermographs
-the guards (but don’t touch them either)