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Downtown Body

Ward Shelley, “Downtown Body,” 2008. View an enlarged image here.

More on the Downtown Body Project here.

Thanks to Hannah Smith for pointing me in the direction of this print.

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Both of my seminars this summer have read Calvin Tomkins’s profile of John Cage, published in The New Yorker in 1964 and collected the following year in his volume The Bride and the Bachelors, which also contained long reads on Jean Tinguely, Robert Rauschenberg, and Merce Cunningham. The anchor of that volume wasn’t Cage, but Marcel Duchamp, who was enjoying a renewed popularity among younger artists, including Cage and his followers.

One early manifestation of the Duchamp revival came in Robert Motherwell’s 1951 anthology The Dada Painters and Poets, which included a 1922 appreciation of Duchamp by Andre Breton, followed by several reproductions from New York Dada, edited by Duchamp and Man Ray in 1921. “For Marcel Duchamp the question of art and life, as well as any other question capable of dividing us at the present moment, does not arise.”

Tomkins stresses this impulse as the premise for Pop Art and all forms of conceptualism emerging from New York’s downtown arts scenes, though he notes that this strain of contemporary art was still confined to the underground:

While it may sometimes appear that everything Duchamp did or said in the past is being mined as source material by a new generation, not many artists even today share the intellectual attitude that motivated his countless inventions. “I wasnted to put painting once again at the service of the mind,” Duchamp once said. As early as 1910 he placed himself in opposition to what he considered the dominant trend of painting in his time, which he traced back to Courbet and described as ‘retinal’ art — art whose appeal is to the eye alone. Until the time of Courbet almost all European painting was literary or religious, Duchamp maintained. Courbet introduced the retinal emphasis, or what Duchamp sometimes called the ‘olfactory’ art of painters who were in love with the smell of paint and had no interest in re-creating ideas on canvas; and this retinal, olfactory, anti-intellectual bias was accepted by the Impressionists and subsequent schools. “All through the last half of the nineteenth century in France there was an expression, bete comme une peintre,” Duchamp as said. “And it was true; that kind of painter who just puts down what he sees is stupid. In my case I was thinking a little too much, maybe, but I don’t care, that’s what I thought.”

WNYC’s art blogger Carolina Miranda writes today about Ken Johnson’s new book on art and drugs in the 60s. Certainly illicit substances were motivating factors in the production of psychedelic, minimalist, and conceptual art, but lurking beneath all these is the man who forced us to ask what it would mean to draw a mustache on the Mona Lisa. We remain, in our most playful and intellectually alive moments, Duchampians.

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Happening from Django's Ghost on Vimeo.

From Ubuweb: “An irreverent portrait of America of the 60s seen through the experiences of artists of the Beat Generation and Pop Art. The America of the Vietnam war, ploughed by contradictions and explosive social tensions but potentially saturated with expectations for the future. With: Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Gregory Corso, Marie Benois and Leon Kraushar.”

From the Ginsberg Project:

“The prophecies of Marinetti are coming true some of them, the wilder, more poetic ones”, so, gleefully, declares Allen in this quintessentially 1967 documentary film by Antonello Branca, What’s Happening? What, indeed, is happening? Poets and painters and a brash New York City just for that moment in time and space come together. Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg candidly speak (Andy speaks!). Allen appears first (around six and a half minutes in) being interviewed as he walks along the street and then (circa 3o minutes in) is seen holding forth at a street cafe. Gregory Corso makes a cameo appearance right at the very end (with a baby!). He gets the punch line. “War makes people crazy”.

“We have all come here together. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, poet Gerard Malanga, over here, if you move your camera, poet Ed Sanders of a rock n roll group called The Fugs [unfortunately mis-translated on the screen by the Italian translator as The Fags!]..over (t)here, Tuli Kuperfberg, a poet and singer in The Fugs, over there, writing at the table. Peter Orlovsky with the long hair, who is a poet and also a singer, behind him, his brother, who was in a madhouse for 14 years. He’s a superstar of the Underground. Oh, and Jonas Mekas, Jonas Mekas, head of the Filmmakers Cooperative. He’s the one who puts together films like Flaming Creatures and The Brig and sends them around Europe and in America, the impresario. He also makes films, which he’s doing now.”

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A little bit of Writing New York liveblogging here: Cyrus is, as I type, lecturing on Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” which we situate in our course by taking seriously its subtitle, “A Story of Wall-street.” Today’s he’s added new material, inspired by a visit to the Hopper show at the Whitney (thru April 10). The connection, as I take it, is loneliness, but perhaps also voyeurism and the difficulty imagining the interiority of other urban dwellers.

Here’s one of the images he’s put on screen, Hopper’s painting “Night Windows” (1928):

Cyrus suggests this is a view from the El, which reminds me of one of my favorite passages from W. D. Howells’ New York novel A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890), which I’ve quoted on this blog before. Here’s the bulk of the description, from the perspective of upper-middle-class train-riding voyeurs Mr. and Mrs. March, who think

the night transit was even more interesting than the day, and that the fleeting intimacy you formed with people in second and third floor interiors, while all the usual street life went on underneath, had a domestic intensity mixed with a perfect repose. [The train allows one] to see those people through the windows: a family part of work-folks at a late tea,  some of the men in their shirt sleeves; a woman sewing by a lamp; a mother laying her child in its cradle; a man with his head fallen on his hands upon a table; a girl and her lover leaning over the window sill together. What suggestion! what drama! what infinite interest!

The couple thinks these views — better than attending the theater — offer ideal material for modern painters. Hopper appears to have taken them up on that point.

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Our current obsession with the 70s continues on PWHNY. Judging from a quick Google search, it appears this clip made the rounds in the blogosphere a couple years back. I guess I’m arriving late. In any case, here’s a 20-year-old Koons being interviewed by a 23-year-old David Byrne, who had just made his debut with Talking Heads at CBGB’s that summer. Conversation ranges from The Bob Newhart Show to middle-class bars and strip clubs in small towns to what sets New York apart for aspiring artists. Koons says he came here from Chicago largely in response to the underground music scene after he’d heard the Patti Smith Group on the radio. Have at it:

A couple other Byrne conversations turn up from the same period. Were they part of a larger project? Or just kids sitting around, getting high and shooting the shit?

At least a partial transcription of the conversation here.

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Hey, kids. As previously reported on Bowery Boogie and tweeted by everyone who’s walked up Elizabeth Street in the last month, the Polish artist Olek, best known for knitcovered [make that crochet-covered] bikes outside Essex Market and elsewhere, has a show up at Christopher Henry Gallery (Elizabeth below Broome). The show, “Knitting is for Pus****,” closes this Sunday.

*Asterisks in the original.

**UPDATED with a slightly altered title, because obviously I didn’t get the joke in the show’s title, and clearly I don’t know the difference between crocheting and knitting.

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Over the last several weeks, as Cyrus and I have both been in and out of town — mostly out — and under multiple writing deadlines, we’ve let the blog languish. With luck, now that a new semester is upon us and we’ll be looking for relief from workaday woes, we’ll be back in action.

I really regretted not being able to write sooner about a recent street art installation/performance/”Happening” commemorating the Battle of Brooklyn — and raising our consciousness about the invisible but very real presence of wars, historical and contemporary, in our daily lives.

A street artist and high school art teacher living in Brooklyn, General Howe has spent the last two years installing street art that recalls New York City’s place in the American Revolution. In the most recent wave of work, he was accompanied by social networking guru and self-described Art Evangelist Kianga Ellis, who live-tweeted Howe’s progress installing miniature figurines and wheat-paste posters, rain or shine, and Jaime Rojo of the blog Brooklyn Street Art, who captured the work in breathtaking photos. I have more I’d like to write about the whole conceptual structure of the work and event, but no time now. With luck I’ll get to come back to it. Meanwhile, if you weren’t following along, you can see General Howe’s retrospective on the event at his Flickr stream; Brooklyn Street Art interviewed General Howe for the Huffington Post. For more on the Battle of Brooklyn, see the useful site for Barnet Shecter’s The Battle for New York.

Photo Copyright All rights reserved by General Howe

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I’m still on vacation out West and Cyrus, I believe, has been in Europe in his capacity as an associate dean of humanities for NYU Abu Dhabi. I’ve meant to post more often than I have but really, I’m on vacation, my summer’s short this year, and I just haven’t found the extra energy required.

Still, for those four or five people who haven’t written us off completely yet, I thought I’d at least direct you to recurring features on two blogs I quite admire — both of which are ideas I’d had without being fast enough on the draw to execute.

Both features in question fall into the TV after-show blogging department. The first has to do with Work of Art, Bravo’s New York art world answer to Project Runway, whose formula it shamelessly mimics. Most people I know who have an interest in contemporary art watch the show, though they almost universally despise the contestants, the host, the challenges, and the end results. If it seemed a stretch to expect fashion designers to turn out something worthwhile in the 24-hour period allotted most Project Runway challenges, the task seems even steeper here. The bottom line seems to be: Can artists make anything interesting or even coherent under the circumstances of reality TV competition? Even if the answer, in most cases, has clearly been no, it’s been more than entertaining to watch them try, and it’s also been entertaining to watch critics, artists, and gallerists who are well respected become TV characters themselves. (My own experience with the art world is marginal, I admit: I own a little art, including work by someone formerly represented by one of the judges, and I was for a single show a member of a performance art Patsy Cline covers band with someone who served as a guest judge early on. I have friends who are artists and collectors, though, and at least feel conversant enough to know that Jerry is married to Roberta and to get the ways in which the show both magnifies and distorts the art world’s idiosyncrasies.)

Seriously, though, this show would be much less interesting than I find it if it weren’t for some intelligent and bitingly funny Twitterers (including some of the show’s contestants) and the aftershow posts on the blog Art Fag City. Not only is the main commentary there usually spot on, but the comments threads tend to attract art insiders, including eliminated contestants, and TV insiders who have smart things to say about the way Bravo’s producers are shaping the narrative that emerges over the course of the season. For instance, this week someone in comments introduced us to the Reality TV insider term “Frankenbite,” a set of spliced-together comments from a contestant offered in voice-over to introduce or manipulate a particular narrative thread the show wants to foreground. For the most recent episode this problem emerged when Miles, the OCD (faux-CD?) Machiavellian manipulator and darling of the judges, apparently plotted to get his challenge-mate naked and masturbating as they prepared their piece. (The show comes with a Parental Advisory.) However, as one AFC commentator explained: “if you notice he is not on camera saying those things and the inflection of his voice is different between the parts.” AFC, reviewing the tape, agreed. Do I recommend Work of Art? Yes, especially if you have more than a passing interest in new art. But I wouldn’t recommend the show without the new and social media commentary it occasions.

The same shouldn’t be said for Mad Men, which is, simply, terrific TV all on its own. Knowing that Cyrus was also a die hard fan, I suggested before the current season that we should start a series of Monday morning posts in which we tease out some interesting historical allusions or contexts from the prior night’s episode. The new season seems to have coincided with our summer travel, however, and it doesn’t look likely we’ll pull off this feature, at least not this season. But I’m thrilled to note that the intrepid and indefatigable Bowery Boys, among our favorite NYC history bloggers, have taken up the same idea and are offering post-show history lessons of their own. This morning’s post has to do with an allusion to the Ziegfeld Theater: “I’m not sure if Don Draper would have actually met anybody at the Ziegfeld in December 1964,” the Boys write, “as there were no shows running. Although perhaps NBC was still using it at this time as a soundstage; certainly Don might latch onto a script girl or production assistant while visiting a client filming a commercial.” If you’re into Mad Men, this talk-back feature over at BBs looks like a great way to start your week this season.

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I haven’t had a chance to preview the Lush Life LES group show yet. Curated by Omar Lopez-Chahoud and Franklin Evans (no relation to the Walt Whitman temperance novel), the show opens officially on Thursday evening at nine different LES galleries. As the name implies it takes its inspiration from Richard Price’s 2008 novel, which I’ve read twice and think quite highly of. It’s the sort of book that remaps your experience of place: it’s hard not to encounter the novel’s LES landmarks, some of them renamed or slightly repositioned, without thinking about the book and its characters. I’ve never seen the bridges from the top of the Al Smith homes, for instance, but whenever I’m walking St. James Place I can’t help but think about Price’s Clara Lemlich Houses, closely based on the Smith towers, and it’s easier to imagine someone else’s views — which is precisely what the book aims to have you do.

I have been following Kianga Ellis’s tweets on the show @LushLifeLES and encourage Twitterers to give her a follow. (Facebook here.) I plan to hit the show’s nine chapters over the coming week — maybe even during the epic opening, if I can manage it — and promise to report back.

In the meantime, from the “About” page of the show’s website, a little more detail and a whole lot of links:

LUSH LIFE is an exhibition curated by Franklin Evans and Omar Lopez-Chahoud which takes place at nine Lower East Side (LES) galleries:

Collette Blanchard Gallery, Eleven Rivington, Invisible-Exports, Lehmann Maupin, On Stellar Rays, Salon 94, ScaramoucheSue Scott Gallery, and Y Gallery.

LUSH LIFE adopts Richard Price’s 2008 novel to title and organize the exhibition.  The novel is set in the contemporary LES and through a murder investigation exposes the dynamically changing community of the neighborhood, which despite its evolution retains a ghostly and vital link to its layered past.

The deep and varied history of the LES now includes the LES galleries as new community members, and Price’s novel provides a potent vehicle for the consideration of community as voices compete for, ignore and occasionally share the same physical and conceptual space.

The galleries will host concurrent exhibitions with each exhibition reflecting the idea of one of the nine chapters in the book. The curators selected one artist from each gallery to participate in the exhibition and solicited from each of them one additional artist recommendation of an artist not from one of the nine participating galleries (nine total recommendations). The curators then supplemented this base group of eighteen artists to complete nine exhibitions, ranging in size from three to twelve artists.

LUSH LIFE will be the present for what will become a living ghost to the future form into which the LES will inevitably morph. The exhibition schedule varies slightly at each gallery with the earliest installation being June 17 and the latest closing being August 13.  See gallery specific schedule below.

There will be a collective opening of all participating galleries on
Thursday, July 8th from 6 – 9 pm.

Sue Scott Gallery
1 Rivington Street
Chapter One: Whistle
June 17 – August 1

On Stellar Rays
133 Orchard Street
Chapter Two: Liar
June 23 – August 1

14A Orchard Street
Chapter Three: First Bird (A Few Butterflies)
June 25 – July 31

Lehmann Maupin
201 Chrystie Street
Chapter Four: Let It Die
July 8 – August 13

Y Gallery
355 A Bowery Street
Chapter Five: Want Cards
July 8 – July 25

Collette Blanchard Gallery
26 Clinton Street
Chapter Six: The Devil You Know
July 8 – August 13

Salon 94
1 Freeman Alley
Chapter Seven: Wolf Tickets
June 29 – July 30

52 Orchard Street
Chapter Eight: 17 Plus 25 Is 32
July 8 – August 7

Eleven Rivington
11 Rivington Street
Chapter Nine: She’ll Be Apples
July 15 – August 13

Artists: Alice O’Malley, Alisha Kerlin, Amy Longenecker-Brown, Carol Irving, Chakaia Booker, Charles Sabba, Christoph Draeger, Claudia Weber, Coco Fusco, Cynthia Lin, Dana Frankfort, Dana Levy, Dani Leventhal, David Kramer, David Shapiro, Derrick Adams, Elisabeth Subrin, Erik Benson, Ezra Johnson, Gail Thacker, Gina Magid, Ishmael Randall Weeks, Jackie Gendel, Jackie Saccoccio, Jayson Keeling, Jessica Dickinson, Joanne Greenbaum, Jonathan VanDyke, Jose Lerma, Judi Werthein, Justen Ladda, Kai Schiemenz / Iris Fluegel, Karen Heagle, Karina Aguilera Skvirsky, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Leslie Hewitt, Manuel Acevedo, Mario Ybarra Jr., Matthew Weinstein, Melissa Gordon, Nanna Debois Buhl, Nicolas Di Genova, Nina Lola Bachhuber, Olivier Babin, Patrick Lee, Patty Chang, Paul Gabrielli, Paul Pagk, Paul Pfeiffer, Pedro Barbeito, Rashid Johnson, Robert Beck, Robert Lazzarini, Robert Melee, Robin Graubard, Rudy Shepherd, Scott Hug, Tim Davis, Tommy Hartung, Xaviera Simmons, Yashua Klos

We are grateful to Richard Price and the vitality of his novel.

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It’s been a decent week for NYC poetry. Amiri Baraka read at St. Mark’s on Wednesday. Taylor Mead reads next Monday at Bowery Poetry Club. And tonight John Giorno, a fixture of the city’s poetry scene since the 60s (and star of Warhol’s film Sleep), presents new paintings and reads poetry tonight in Chelsea. Here’s a taste of his performance style. He’s reading “Thanks for Nothing”:

Friday, May 21, 7 pm
Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery
526 W. 26th Street, No. 213
New York, NY 10001
P. 212.243.3335
F. 212.243.1059

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