Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sorted Product

When I was a thirteen, my mom used to work at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, downtown Anderson, Indiana.  Some days I would ride with her to work, and spend the day downtown, usually riding a bus back to the K-Mart near where we lived and walking home from there, or waiting around and riding back with her after her shift.  The main reason I wanted to go downtown was that across the street from the KFC where she worked was a huge Goodwill store. And especially that summer when I was thirteen, the Goodwill was kind of like an oasis.  I had a weekend job at a little restaurant called the Irish Point and I'd save whatever money I made (the elderly couple who owned Irish Point and lived above it in a small apartment paid me out of the drawer because I was too young to go on payroll) there so I could spend it at the Goodwill on stuff that caught my eye.  I wasn't into clothes or anything, but there were records, toys, books, knickknacks, and other crap, all of it of course used and kind of ghostly, and it was that mystery of past usage and continued afterlife that somehow made whatever I came across glow. 
I discovered Velvet Underground there, as well as Joni Mitchell and an 8-track tape of a Richard Pryor concert that I played over and over.  Don't forget Emerson Lake and Palmer, ELO, and Frank Zappa.  In the book section, there was a dog-eared paperback by Hubert Selby Jr called Last Exit to Brooklyn, the short stories of Tennessee Williams, all those trashy-great novels by Jacqueline Susann (starting with Valley of the Dolls and ending with The Love Machine I think), as well as John Knowles' A Separate Peace, Agatha Christie novels, and multiple copies of Catcher in the Rye.  It was a random assortment of hothouse configurations:  I was getting at culture by digging up buried treasures I had no idea were treasures, but just wanted to soak in whatever I could.  And somehow as I listened and read I found a way to incorporate all of that stuff into my dreams and desires and the way I thought about things.  It was kind of like a self-acquired education that didn't make any sense, pulled together from scraps and non-sequiturs that somehow snowballed into a sensibility, even a taste.   
I was total white-trash, so I didn't have a lot of access to what culture meant, or even what ambition was.  But there was a mildew elegance in those long odd mornings at Goodwill.  And everything was so cheap in there I could buy a bagful of books and records and tapes for almost nothing and spend days absorbing it all.
So now I'm fifty, and flash-forward to this:     

Bins of set-aside home-made art people have donated to the Cincinnati Goodwill.  I came up with this idea last year:   partnering with Goodwill so at Thunder-Sky, Inc. we could sponsor a parody/appropriation of the Whitney (and all those other contemporary art) Biennials.  It's called of course The Goodwill Biennial, and it opens final Friday in August at the gallery.  As with almost everything I try to do creatively, it's a joke and it's not. 

By that I mean, the whole purpose of working with Goodwill on this project was not to take any of it seriously, and yet to completely take everything (all these hand-made paintings, sculptures, whatever else people deem not worthy of keeping) seriously, in order to find some kind of meaning/redemption in the works that goes beyond kitsch and into another realm I don't know a word or phrase for.  Dreamy incoherence?  The brutal glamor of art people don't want anymore?  You strip away biography from the whole enterprise when you do something like this as well; suddenly these works have a blank disconnection from the planet we're living on, as if they've been beamed into this world from a place that no longer exists.

Vanessa Cornett, the very kind Goodwill rep we worked with, initially set aside the works from the mountains and mountains of donations Goodwill received daily.  The only direction we gave Vanessa was that whatever she pulled should be "hand-made," not a print of color-by-number set, no shellacked jigsaw puzzles, etc.  Just art.  Whatever that means.  Vanessa did a great job.  But still we wanted to not react to the sad-sack nature inherent in each piece (Poor thing, look at you, totally forgotten, who made you? and so on), but to each pieces' strangeness.   By "strangeness," I guess I mean "worth."  For example this painting below Bill's holding.  I'm not really sure if it will make it into the final stretch to be accepted into the Biennial (Matt Distel and Melanie Derrick, two wonderful curators in town, are helping us with the final selections in a couple weeks), but when we came across it I just knew it needed to be in contention.  It has an awkwardness to it, a delicacy that seems somehow ironically ham-fisted and emotionally raw, kind of like if DeChirico got sick of taking his time.  "Sick" is another adjective that might work to describe what we were looking for as well -- a fevered impatience helping the picture snap into itself.  This one below truly seems finished.  Every part of the picture-plane has been contended with, formulated, turned creepy.  And that grayish blob that kind of looks like rope completes it all somehow, like a David Salle affectation bled of affectation.      

I could go on.  But that's the reason for all of this, to kick your imagination's ass by showing it something so off-kilter, not acquainted with rules and aspirations, but just some weird object hand-made and kept around the house for a little while until it has worn out its welcome.

Come to papa.

This thing here.  Cookie-Monster/amputation/shiny-frog.  It's a ceramic haiku.

More ceramic haikus below.  On the clay pieces we cheated a little by including this skull-mold in the mix, but come on:  hearts and flowers stamped willy-nilly across a skull is just something you need in your life.  And the lion holding the lamb right next to it.  And there in the middle that 3-D Philip Guston gig, some cartoon but sinister janitor watching TV after work.

This painting here I don't need to go into.  You get it.  Instant nostalgia, the blonde hair from some early 60s daydream, the eyes staring right at you, the lush anonymous green backdrop....

And her here:  enough said.

And this basket of Martian flowers from the hospital gift-shop.

This is Vanessa Cornett from Goodwill, along with Bill.

The sign taped to the bins of art Vanessa rescued from all the other stuff donated:

The final selections Bill and I chose, over 125 pieces in three canvas pins, covered in funereal cloth. 

I guess, to me, art has always been some kind of odd connection with posterity and anonymity, a cross-section of ambition and the knowledge that whatever you do creatively isn't going to stop you from disappearing.  But here are works that appear to us (in the Goodwill warehouse) without any clue as to how they were produced, who did it, why.  It's just stuff to look at, dream about.  Which is maybe what art is supposed to be most of the time.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Raiders of the Lost Art

Kevin White

It was one of those "now and then" kinds of things.  Odd enough to inspire a blog-post I guess, even though the older I get the more I try not to pay attention to the "now and then" and just keep in the now.  Things feel saner that way, less philosophical, less like you are imposing "sense" on something that just doesn't make it.  But this one hit me right in the face. 

In 2001 or so, right when Bill and I were feeling the first excitement of helping a few really great artists with developmental disabilities get some supplies and attention.  Right when we were in the thick of inspiration, we helped 3 of those artists (Kevin White, Mary Flinker and Antonio Adams) do an installed mural consisting of paintings and assemblages at Bobbie Fairfax School (a school for kids with developmental disabilities) in Cincinnati.  So last Friday I had to go to Bobbie Fairfax School because Star 64, a local TV station, had donated some air-time to my "now" obsession:  employing people with developmental disabilities.  For segments during a movie marathon, Star 64 emcee Storm (I guess it's his real name) interviewed Chase Montgomery, a guy who works full-time in a dining hall at Miami University.  He doesn't communicate verbally that well, but he and his mom and dad programmed his communication device with some great answers to questions about what it means to make a living on his own.  I was there to give Chase a little support:

So anyway after the interview (which Chase totally rocked) I was walking out to my car when I stumbled onto all those paintings and assemblages we did in the Bobbie Fairfax School cafeteria in 2001 with Kevin, Mary and Antonio, and it was just one of those weird feelings that happen when you aren't really ready for it.  I wasn't moved to tears or anything, but I was a little stunned because it brought 2 issues together in a sloppy but somehow meaningful way. 
Back then, I was majorly focused on ensuring that Kevin and Mary and Antonio (the list grew to over 100 through the 2000s) had access to cultural/artistic possibilities, with the hope that someday they would be seen as contemporaries of other contemporary working artists.  And even though we were able to establish a non-profit arts organization (Visionaries + Voices) and a small, no-nonsense art gallery (Thunder-Sky, Inc.) on that quest for equality, I'm truly not sure if this ever happened.  It sure was fun and exhausting trying to make it happen though. 
And then that idea of doing a lot of work but not getting it all the way right, not reaching that sense of Utopia or true equality, spills over into trying to help people with developmental disabilities access good-paying jobs, which is now my total focus, my new attempt at, for lack of a better word, Utopia.  It takes even more tenacity to do this because it's not just about culture, it's also about economics, a real-world self-sufficiency, and a dialog with HR managers and business owners that isn't about charity or good feeling, as much as trying to make sure the people I'm championing this time can actually do the job, side by side, with some help, but also with the expectation that they can succeed eventually on their own.  I know deep down they can.  It's just finding that right combination of circumstance, personalities, and wills.
Chase can.  He's proven that.  And many, many others a lot of people (including me) are supporting to get and keep meaningful work in the community are too.  But it's a never-ending endeavor, full of complications, failures, successes, and so on. 
What is "true equality" anyway?  All the way through the 2000s, and even into the 2010s, I guess I thought I knew, but the older I get the more I know I don't and possibly never will.  "Knowing" is a luxury, I've discovered.  "Knowing" anything.  So now I try to figure out things, instead of knowing them.  And I wish I would have "known" this differentiation back in the day when we were figuring out how to do V + V.  Because back then I thought a program could create "true equality."  That sounds really na├»ve.  Possibly stupid, but all through those years of setting up shows and writing grant proposals and worrying and being stressed and inspired interchangeably, the through-line for me was that narrative of "once we get this up and running, these artists will be taken seriously." 
So I put everything I had into establishing a program and all that entails, when maybe I should have been paying attention to what programs actually do and mean.  I'm still figuring that one out.  Because what happened is that by helping to build a thriving program for artists with developmental disabilities I helped establish an institution that needs to be ran and financed, and that means the most important administrative aspect of it all was (and still is) making sure you have enough staff and enough money to pay staff, and in that struggle to sustain it all you kind of lose perspective, even though you gain programmatic accomplishments.  
Conversely, now, as I work toward figuring this stuff out, I'm not as invested in creating programs as much as job opportunities, and in that process of course I have to assist people to access employment-support programs that supply job coaches etc., but I don't have to feed those programs anything other than job seekers and possible job leads, incentivizing (one of those wonky words every system likes to use) actual accomplishments specific to a person's life (working and getting paid is central to a majority of people's lives, no matter who you are), as opposed to a program's life.
I hope all that makes sense.  Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but it keeps reeling through my mind.
And so that day as I walked out after the Star 64 interview with Chase and Storm, and I see those paintings and assemblages in the Bobbie Fairfax School cafeteria, it all kind of came together in a crystallized way that made me feel exhausted but also kind of okay.  Look at that stuff we all did, I thought.  Look at those good intentions.  Look at that art, still there, in that empty cafeteria.      

Antonio Adams

Kevin White and Antonio Adams

Kevin White

Mary Flinker and Bill Ross
A castle with flowers flowing out of it.  Talk about Utopia, right?  Everything is about belief, I'm finding out, so you better be conscious of what you believe in no matter what quest you are on.  And the quest I'm on at least right now is trying to figure out how to support people normally shut out of "the world" gain access to it in a way that's not about programmatic concerns.  Using good programs to make authentic relationships and real-world results happen.  What "real-world" means to any specific situation, I guess, is completely organic, but I'm thinking "real-world" in most cases is making a living wage.  Which is a pretty unnerving, lofty and necessary goal for people.

Antonio Adams and Kevin White

Antonio Adams and Kevin White

Antonio Adams
Or maybe it's just about being a "regular person," a trope Antonio Adams uses regularly in his works.  He's a great case in point:  he's still plugging away, making all kinds of great art.  Here's a picture of him today at Thunder-Sky, Inc., in the basement, working on some sculptures for an upcoming show:

He's basically a workaholic, a great example of a "working artist."  And like the majority of his contemporaries, he has a day job at Frisch's.  He's kept that gig, as a busboy, for over 13 years, and when I asked him yesterday why, he said because he likes it and he needs to keep it because of the people there, plus he has to pay his bills.  
There you go. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015


So why do we keep on doing Thunder-Sky, Inc.?  We're 6 years in now, and sometimes it feels like a never-ending cycle of chores -- news releases and Facebook posts and nails into walls and spackle and paint and bathroom cleaner and paper-towels and buying beer and wine and pop and ice, all in the name of curating the best and weirdest and sweetest art shows we can pull together, 6 times a year.  What is it now?  33 shows so far, with maybe about the same number installed in other galleries and places across the region.  God knows we don't do it for the cash.  Thunder-Sky, Inc. is all non-profit, all volunteer, all kind of makeshift and holy and silly and serious and sarcastic simultaneously.  It's about Raymond Thunder-Sky sure, but I think what's evolved from the initial desire to keep Raymond in the mix is this:
Antonio Adams.  He met Raymond the same time Bill and I did, and he was with us through the whole V+V evolution, and when we had to find an escape and a life-raft from the whole complicated V+V thing he came with us.  The life-raft was that space next to N-Vision, next to the Comet, 4573 Hamilton Avenue, Northside.  And in those six years Antonio has found a voice deeper and more hilarious and smarter and assured than ever before.  He uses the space during the week as a studio.  He calls "Artist's Meetings" to order on Saturdays, whether other artists are there or not.  He creates his own sense of super-stylish chic through costume and custom, always looking forward to next year.  And look at those gloves.  Damn.
Last night we opened our 34th in-house gig called "History Channel:  New Art from Old Art," and as usual the opening was joyous, off-kilter, clumsy, sweet, perfect.  I screwed up the wall-text with using the wrong abbreviation for "Price on Request," and Bill had a cow.  But despite that (or perhaps because of it) it was still hilariously what always happens:  lots of people from all kinds of different backgrounds, creeds, classes, etc., hanging out, walking around, making conversation, laughing.  There was a rainbow outside above the joint for a little while too, kind of like the 5:4 decision given its own God-blessed neon light.  Antonio invited his mom and sister and they all showed, and he got costumed and held court awaiting their presence.  Some artists from a studio in Hamilton called InsideOut, a place, like V+V, for artists with developmental disabilities, were there, totally enjoying their little bit of spotlight, and their excitement kind of got to me in the same way seeing Antonio holding court gets me.  They were all excited to see their art-history-inspired art on our humble white walls.  I truly loved the work.  Loved Cassie Sullivan's quilted Warhol "Marilyns" and Alicia Jones' "Frida Kahlo" painting, an astute rendering of the artist as both goddess and cartoon and David Campbell's beautiful and fragile and kind of satiric take on Grant Woods' "American Gothic" sour-pusses...    Hanging with the InsideOut-ers was a flashback to the days when Bill and I were pulling together gigs for the artists with disabilities we'd stumble upon doing out regular work, that sense of discovery and bliss, like art can truly matter when you let everything else go. 
The other artists we've gotten to know through Thunder-Sky, Inc., some labeled, some not, were there last night too, hanging out.  Marc Lambert, super-genius painter of sci-fi visions on ceiling tiles, contributed an archive of Styrofoam pharaohs and a couple ceiling-tile Sistine-Chapel fist-bumps to "History Channel," and he came to the opening with his whole extended family all dolled up and pleasant and affable.  Robert McFate did a great Cincy riff on Hopper's "Nighthawks," and Emily Brandehoff came up with some great historical zingers, the best of which combines Goya and the snack-meat product Slim Jim's.  It's to die for.  Scott Carney merged Japanese nautical art with Peter Max.  Alex Bartenberger Rothko'ed it up.  Avril Thurman took on Jenny Holzer in the best teletype kind of way.  Dale Jackson turned Yoko Ono's instructions from Grapefruit into gorgeous recipe cards.  And Antonio took on Da Vinci,  Michelangelo, Thomas Hart Benton, all in a deluxe super-Antonio manner.
It's all like that:  arbitrary, heart-felt, odd, but exactly what it should be. 
We're not creating anything institutional or pretentious or even practical at Thunder-Sky, Inc.  We are not building it to last, because nothing really does.  Just take a look at Raymond's drawings and you'll get that doom validated and made fun of.  What we do at Thunder-Sky, Inc. is very momentary and slap-happy because it has to be:  we only want what is authentically here, weird enough to tickle us, solidly made, simply presented, but also nutty enough to not be like anything else.  
And then everybody gets together and eats potato chips.  And drinks some beer and wine and pop.
Last night was such a great example of why we do it.  So thanks to everybody who does it with us. 
And then when we got home on CNN President Obama was singing "Amazing Grace." 

Saturday, June 20, 2015


I'm not going to mention his name.  Not going to call him a name either.  Just what he was:  young white male.  What he did:  walked into a church, sat among 13 or so prayer service attendees for an hour, accepting their kindness, and then shooting 9 of them dead. 
One of the dead was named Sharonda Singleton, and these are her children Chris and Camryn pictured above.  The picture is from a memorial service for their mother at the school where she was a coach.  What Sharonda's children said at that memorial was this:  "We're full of love.  We already forgive him."  
They were able to communicate a grace that's impossible to explain just by simply saying those eight words unflinchingly, with humility, with a detachment from the world and its furies and anguish.  They weren't hiding or lying by saying those words.  You could tell it was a part of who they were, who their mother willed and helped them to be.  It is a moment I don't think I'll ever forget, just that snippet of news footage shining out of all of the nastiness and horror of what happened.  The simplicity of their grace and mercy.
I'm not religious.  But I really want to be sometimes.  And I felt like this is one of those times when I can be, when I feel God for real. 
The young white male has been quoted as saying the church members that night were so kind to him that he almost  could not go through with his plan.  But he did.
Here's a Mahatma Gandhi quote:  "I know, to banish anger altogether from one's breast is a difficult task.  It cannot be achieved through pure personal effort.  It can be done only by God's grace."
There you go.  A perfect flesh-and-blood example of God's grace.  Those two beautiful kids, letting us know how foolish and horrible the world is by not being a part of it, and looking out with love and forgiveness to allow all of us a chance to witness how God is beyond understanding and yet possibly the only way to stay completely sane.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Little Drag

Emily Brandehoff's take on Goya.

Marc Lambert's take on van Gogh.

Antonio Adams' take on da Vinci.
Why not go for the gusto?

"Carnival is a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act… The laws, prohibitions, and restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary, that is non-carnival, life are suspended during carnival: what is suspended first is hierarchical structure and all the forms of terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with it… or any other form of inequality among people."  From Mikhail Bakhtin's Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics.

Since starting this whole thing with Visionaries + Voices (V+V) back in the day, I always wanted to focus on the way art made by artists who are disconnected from the "restrictions that determine the structure and order of ordinary [...] life" is packaged and seen and thought about, and one of the best ways, at least from my POV, is to locate it right smack-dab in the middle of the restrictions.  One manner of defining "outsider artists" is to assume they have no connection to art history, that narrative and thoroughfare and etiquette through which credentialed "insider artists" often enter into careers, or at least shows.  In fact that definition is often celebrated by both ends of the spectrum:  by outsider art enthusiasts gloating over an artist's disenfranchisement and therefore his/her "power" in that realm, and by insider art critics who dabble a little bit in outsider-art criticism when there's a big museum show featuring some of it, wherein outsiders artists are cast as heroic self-taught "geniuses," beyond the "need" for education or edification or inspiration outside of their own little screwy worlds. 

In 2007, one of the first big gigs we did as V+V was "Pop Life:  Outsider Artists and the Pop Idea" at the University of Cincinnati Galleries.  Basically we took Andy Warhol's oeuvre and used it as a resource and confidence-builder for artists at the studio to kind of relocate themselves beyond "Outsiderland." This intervention was pretty conventional and yet kind of messed-up too, allowing participating artists a place where they were able to find a little piece of the world free of the "terror, reverence, piety, and etiquette connected with hierarchical structures."  It was a joyous thing to me to witness:  all that art being birthed from the heard of Zeus/Warhol, positing Andy as an outsider in multiple incarnations (gay and working class, just to start).  A review in one of the local papers stated:  "Outsider art is controversial. Some theorists claim that 'pure' outsider art can only be made when the artist hasn't been exposed to art history or contemporary culture. But that belief assumes that somewhere there exists some Eden-like state, chaste and unmolested, and forgets that even things like art history and contemporary culture are arbitrary. Some might call Aboriginal art outsider art without considering the fact that Aboriginal artists have history and culture; it just doesn't look like ours."  The writer tries really hard and with a lot of genuine sweetness there, but she still doesn't get it.  Kudos for trying anyway.  It's not about "their" history and culture "looking like ours."  It's our culture and history.  Period. 

Oh well.

In 2009, we did it again at the Cincinnati Art Museum, with a show called "Matisse & Picasso:  a Visionary Exploration."  This one had the same strategy as "Pop Life," but we emphasized the inspirations taken on by Matisse and Picasso back when they were formulating their versions of Modernism -- as in lifting ever so lovingly from African sculptors and residents of insane asylums, etc.  In flipping that script a little, we tried to figure out how artists we were supporting had a powerful place to work from, outside of being "educated" about art history.  They have a claim to make.  We did a little slightly saccharine but well intended video for this gig.  You can check it out here:  "Matisse & Picasso: A Visionary Exploration."

In our guise as Thunder-Sky, Inc. we do a lot of this kind of stuff without even trying, trying to pull together artists from all kinds of backgrounds, contexts, and hierarchies into one small but truly articulated zone -- what Bakhtin posits as the "carnival [...] a pageant without footlights and without a division into performers and spectators. In carnival everyone is an active participant, everyone communes in the carnival act…"  This act is making art, showing it, and celebrating it without a lot of b-s (outside of the b-s I'm generating right now of course, which is the kind of b-s I'm drawn to so there you go).  But also finding meaning inside that smallness, and each show we do does what it does, hopefully accumulating some sense and significance through the process.  Since starting Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009, we've taken on William Blake, Flannery O'Connor, Abstract Expressionism, and a few other modes of American Art and Not-Art History; we don't do this just to be smarty-pants, because we're not that inclined to impress people, just to find a way to relocate and redefine and redeploy some of the ways we treat artists (and people) based on who they happen to be. 

So here comes another iteration:  "History Channel:  New Art from Old Art."  This one opens Friday June 26, 2015, reception 6 to 10 pm, at Thunder-Sky, Inc in Northide next to NVision next to the Comet.  Take a look up top to see some great carnivalizations of high-end art, tongue-in-cheek, but also lovingly made, with a strict eye toward creating something beautiful and funny to look at.  The artists we asked to be a part are maybe "outsider artists," maybe not.  Who cares?  That distinction kind of melts away once you get over a lot of things, including the need to care too much how you're seen and how you see.    

At the end of the day, as Rupaul says, "We're born naked, and the rest is drag."  The quote up top by Mr. Bahktin is probably the urtext that defines Ru's whole career, and what we're trying to do most of the time too. 

Raymond loved carnivals.  He also loved a little drag.    

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Technical Difficulties

We went to the Bjork show at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC a few days ago, and it was so disappointing it kind of was like a dream, like one of those abysmal, banal dreams you don't write down and only half-remember, blurry and a little worthless but also full of strange feelings that aren't really attached to anything specific, just in a stupid dream and then not.  I read all the reviews before we went, and just about every visual art critic in the city panned the show with such brio and sinister joy I truly wanted to prove them wrong.  I'd read a bunch of crap about the David Bowie museum show from a couple years back, and when I saw it in Toronto it was brilliantly what it was:  an exhaustive fan-letter, a scrapbook of ephemera, clothes, video, everything Bowie presented in such a blatantly superfluous manner you could only get caught up in the gloriously stupid and heartfelt celebration.  So the critics were wrong.
But damn are they right on this one.
This Bjork gig is not heartfelt or stupid or joyous.  It's just a sleepwalk of a thing, with some mannequins wearing Bjork-face standing around in her costumes in front of oddly un-meaningful backdrops ("un-meaningful" almost to the point of being bad jokes:  see above), with an accompanying headphone Euro-trash narration written by some Icelandic poet and spoken by some Icelandic speaker that tries to make Bjork into a bland feminist galactic/volcanic myth, but all of it kind of fades away as you walk through feeling sunk and tired and just well disappointed. 
Bjork definitely needs to record a cover version of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?," and that sucker needs to playing on a loop for the duration of this sad little adventure.
The scale is wrong.  It's small without being intimate, which makes everything feel cheap.  And even in the dinky "auditorium" showing the MoMA-commissioned Bjork video for one of her newest songs, a romp through a volcano that ends with our girl slapping herself really hard on the chest (the one great image in the whole she-bang), you feel claustrophobic, as if Bjork is a genie that the curators somehow managed to shrink back into a bottle.  What a depressing feat.
Maybe a museum show for Bjork was just a bad idea in the first place?  One of the great things about her is her insanely beautiful opacity, her ability not to be a human while being one, that little-girl-getting-a-spanking face, those kitty-cat eyes that seem forever to be boiling over into laser-beams, that squeaky voice collapsing earthquakes and spider-webs and satellites and murderous-screamings into tones and melodies from an outer-space too dreamy and fucked-up to be sounds...  She's poetic without poetry, mysterious without mystery:  she just is.  A museum show tries to nail things down usually, but a really bad one like this uses thumbtacks and Scotch-tape.  What needs to happen with Bjork perhaps is a show that helps to obscure her, release her from costumes and cheap vignettes into a realm beyond institution and showing.  She needs real grandeur I think that isn't about "knowing" her, or "understanding" her, but somehow being attached briefly to her (for lack of a better term) "star." 
You don't get that kind of thing when the video-screens don't work.  And that was the last impression we had at the Bjork MoMA thing.  Waiting in line to go into some dinky makeshift theater to watch a survey of her videos and ka-blam:  "Sorry ladies and gentleman, we're experiencing technical difficulties.  Check back in a little while."
And there you go.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

At Home

We walked downtown for a while last night, hitting some of our favorite places.  Cincinnati is a great joint on Fridays like yesterday, blue sky with effervescent clouds, too many great restaurants to choose from, and the promise of a big festival being setup near Fountain on the Square (Taste of Cincinnati starts today), day-laborers and cops and managers getting ready to set up tent poles and shut down streets and transform the whole cityscape into festival-scape. 
And then, down near the river, this carousel (pictured above in all its glory).  It's just glorious.  No other word for it.  It could feel cheesy if you wanted it to, but somehow tucked into its tidy little concrete and glass parlor, surrounded by fountains and sunshine, cattycorner to the baseball stadium, with a sweeping view of the Roebling bridge in its big picture windows, the thing has a personality and tiny grandeur that feels storybook without too much effort or kitsch.  Thanks to the painstakingly executed frontispiece paintings by Jonathan Queen, and the whole get-in-the-spirit camp of the actual carousel ponies and insects and birds, the thing is artful in ways a lot of contemporary art can't be because contemporary art often wants to comment on itself so much it loses the spontaneous silliness/insouciance needed to make it transcend itself.  Looking at the carousel yesterday I just felt at home, and also a little giddy, because here's this thing that nobody really needs given such tender loving care that I almost wanted to ride on it, to put up with the humiliation a bald fifty-year-old overweight guy riding a carousel might have to endure. 
I didn't get on.  But I stood there and soaked in the whole Cincinnati-loving iconography and glossy commemoration of it:  each Queen-produced panel depicts a zoo animal enjoying different Cincinnati landmarks, each carousel-creature  (sponsored by some rich family or foundation or organization) is a homage to a Cincinnati icon of some kind or another.  All of that is kind of like the too-sweet maraschino cherry you take off your sundae before eating it of course.  Basically it's an amusement park ride given a serious, joyous revamp, shiny and vivid and maybe close to perfect in its nostalgia and open-endedness.  Anybody can ride.
So I thought about Raymond Thunder-Sky, as I usually do, and how much he would have loved this thing.  Lord would he have ridden this carousel for sure, drawn it as it got constructed, basking in its glorious nighttime glow on his way back from drawing demolition sites.  I bet you anything it would have been a sort of command-center for him, a fortress and hub he would return to again and again.  He loved carnivals, circuses, anything like that.  Back in 2001, when we went to Hollywood CA with him for a conference where we sat up a booth to exhibit his drawings, he didn't really participate; he spent almost all of his time at Disneyland.  So that's informing my love of the carousel too, that sense of Raymond-ness, that hope of magic (even in its most sentimental, candy-colored form) restoring a kind of sanity to the world.  This carousel would have been a spiritual place for Raymond I think.  The way it revolves slowly on its own accord, ending each set of revolutions in intervals to let people on and off. 
The way it's just there, shiny and unreal, birthed for no other reason than it would be neat to have in the world.