19 October 2017

What's up for three more days, v. XXXVII

Lonnie Holley, The Seer
When I first set foot inside the High Museum in Atlanta, I could tell there was something wrong with it.  Of course one never knows the grisly details at those moments, but they are deftly supplied in Andrew Dietz’ The Last Folk Hero, a 342 page Piri’ Miri Muli’ recommended page-turner I was able to read in one sitting. Collector Bill Arnett made the mistake of going to a dinner for a Chinese porcelain collection garnered for Atlanta society by Kissinger et al because he was freeloading at a restaurant he liked, got conned into looking at the porcelain by a potential buyer, and when he told the truth about the overvaluation and misrepresentation of the works he faced universal scorn and imminent legal threats.  Arnett got a Smithsonian director-to-be to look at selected pieces in the plaintiff’s, Charles Abrams’, company, who verified Arnett’s appraisal, was thanked and had the lawsuit dropped, but became a ‘pariah’ in the art world that surrounded the High, his donations to the High placed on his porch in crates while he was on vacation.  Today the strength of the High is precisely Arnett’s main specialization: local outsider art out of which he nurtured and represented Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley.  A quick Google search of Arnett gets you Morley Safer’s smear piece on 60 Minutes without any rebuttals I could find save for Dietz’ book, which seeks balance and finds it imho.  Safer’s hit piece on Arnett offers nothing but the malice of a mediocre artist who made a lot of money being a mediocre TV journalist, who waxes righteous amid petty crooks that weren’t big enough to be protected by the network (the flick The Insider portrays the tip of this iceberg).  Dietz notes that Dial was bewildered by the 60 Minutes segment, as both artists have a strong relationship of trust with Arnett.

I saw the retrospective of Holley in Atlanta and a concert he gave there one evening with father and son Arnett in attendance, in which Holley’s music and keyboard was combined with soprano Jayme Alilaw.  I was skeptical of the collaboration but it worked.  I noticed a harmonious but understated relationship at the event between Holley and the Arnetts (father and son), like friends giving each other space, though I had no knowledge of their back story at the time.  The free event was somewhat crowded but most of the local audience left while Holley was performing, but Piri’ Miri Muli’ strongly recommends not passing up any opportunity to hear Holley perform, as there is no vocalist quite like him.  He is said to improvise all his performances, and I witnessed him preparing for it earlier in the day by listening to music on tape.

Holley, seventh of 27 children, reunited after a stint in reform school with his grandmother who searched scrap yards for saleable material.  He started making art out of the scrap immediately and brought works to the Birmingham Museum of Art in 1981, leading to a spot in a touring Smithsonian show. Arnett had heard of him and was reluctant to rep him, but upon visiting his residence was blown away.

I believe that one of the traps artists and writers outside NY, Paris, Berlin, etc. fall into is wanting to supply an easy explanation for their works, rather than produce something that initially eludes the audience in a way they nonetheless appreciate and sometimes revisit.  Most of the works in the Atlanta retrospective were accompanied by an stablizing description as to what they meant, often relating to character development, values, or political issues, but the ones I liked was the steel sculptures of faces interlinked in the manner of Picasso, which Holley relates to African traditions “A lot of these things I’m doing now is part of my appreciation of my ancestry..”  I said hello while he was listening to his audio recording and told him I liked these and that I liked his works that were harder to understand at first, hoping I may balance out the other feedback he gets.  He replied “Thumbs up! Thumbs up for Mother Universe!" correctly identifying me as a spirit of the universe. To my delight the Fuentes show (55 Delancey) contains several large scale steel sculptures of interlocked faces as well as wire sculptures which includes a fragile and visually pleasing model boat, all from this year.  Lonnie adds his voice to those who say in reference to the seasonal storms “we’re developing a sort of devastating development right now because of our Ozone layer” and wants the public to consider that the steel in US highways is “now rusted to pieces and it’s becoming an egg shell.”

14 October 2017

I applaud the sentiments of Michael Moore’s statement on Weinstein, as Godard touches on Howard Hughes’ antics in Histoire(s) du cinéma, among the precursors to and templates of Harvey’s fetishistic hotel suite A-List assembly line.  Not privy to what is going on with Moore’s Trump documentary which The Weinstein Company has rights to and the topics broached therein, Piri’ Miri Muli’ can nonetheless assume Michael was in a tough spot, adding to the fact that he’s performing solo on Broadway in the evenings. Weinstein had Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 on the Disney budget, and then got it out despite Disney trying to bury it.  Moore’s Trump documentary is going to get out somehow, and right-wing websites were trying to smear Moore by association. I have no idea what Harvey’s thoughts of Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 were during production, but taking a project that no studio would touch made Harvey a lot of money, and he no doubt relished having the final cut.  Seeing it on the first day in a packed suburban theater has not, so far, been forgettable for me, and the money it made was a boon to documentaries of different stripes.  Moore notes that he was the only director to sue Harvey after getting stiffed on the film, but they were able to do business again. Harvey donated to Liz Warren once, but was a big Hillary supporter, and Bernie and other progressives were nowhere in his funding radar.

My favorite films of 2000-2010 had relatively few US titles, but during the early-to-mid 90s a lot of talent was making use of Harvey’s Miramax and a lot of that was excellent.  The old intro, which I liked for some reason, triggers the memory of being in a cinema and thinking you were going to see something novel:

The films, though, were often male adolescent narratives that related self-referentially to the code of the latent or foregrounded fetish eroticism of Hollywood films. The Weinstein Company films I’ve actually watched were 2014's Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’ documentation of the Snowden leak, 2013's Art of the Steal, a necessary intervention in the Philly art scene, one Woody, and Moore’s 2007 Sicko, which had an under-credited effect on American healthcare policy. Miramax’s last good year was 2008, three years after Harvey left, with Reprise and Happy-Go-Lucky making my list but the Disney division saw a quick quantitative and qualitative drop-off of titles after that. Mind you, I am sitting down to new films but mostly foreign and a few other US indies and sometimes sporadically enough to bring forth the tragedy of missing the Criterion restoration of Tarkovsky's Stalker in the theater, but I hopefully will see it projected someday and it looks great on dvd. The timing of actresses finally turning on Harvey may be vaguely related, as a few reporters have suggested, to where Harvey is in his career and the quality of his recent output... a Tom Stoppard script turned out to be a bubble in the last straw.  I'd like to see the actresses use their platform to focus on NBCUniversal burying the story, but NBCU is still in a position to retaliate.

Ronan Farrow’s revenge against Woody and Harvey is real-life drama.  Hollywood consists of monsters and formulas.  von Stroheim’s best films and megalomania methinks tops Woody’s and I don’t know whether Eric would fare better or worse in today’s world.  Harvey appreciated the French New Wave, which was in many ways inspired by Agnes Varda’s La Pointe Courte and the lectures of Henri Langlois, who said that the quality of audiences are formed incrementally by the quality of the films they’re watching.  During the 90s some good indies, many by Harvey, would do well in the box office but after 9-11 the studio junk took over, and box office data strongly suggests the American audience similarly declined. 

It’s possible that the outcome of this drama will be that the studios and the formula will choke what’s left of independent film.  This is where my own prescription would differ slightly from Moore’s.  We will no doubt see the media conglomerates trumpeting diversity and gender balance, but the potential of a new wave of female auteurs can only be realized through a de-monopolization of the distribution companies’ control of the theaters, television, and home marketing.

07 October 2017

Carlos Raquel Rivera, Puerto Rican, Huracan del Norte, 1955

02 October 2017

..if hope were little
and poorly drawn and if the word
were not an act, those these lines
would not be a poem.

-Joan Brossa

Sardana (Circle of Feet), 1972
"It would be easy and .. unjust to all of a sudden blame the ignorance of our past on those who, born after the civil war, might have never had the possibility to know exactly our special characteristics.. Catalonia, in the words of Nicolau d' Olwer, 'has the good fortune of being at once liberal and traditionalist, because its true tradition is freedom'.. An awareness of our spirit and the fight to preserve it and set it as a guide for humanity seems to us a proper and universal mission for an artist, and a fully progressive cause.. The best artists and writers of the world - a list would be interminable - have understood and loved the Catalans and have always stood in solidarity with them." (Antoni Tàpies, 1971)

The Catalan Spirit, 1971

01 October 2017

30 September 2017

After visiting the Whitney yesterday I changed three sentences from the Oiticica post, transcribing the exact quote from the Tropicalia card:

“The Whitney’s curatorial description card for Tropicália says “Tropicalia represented a political and aesthetic position against both the social conservatism of the right and the left desire for a 'purely Brazilian' art free of postcolonial oppression," neglecting to say that the movement occurred during a US-backed military coup that caused many of its practitioners to leave the country.  Are they attempting to say Oiticica and Caetano Veloso were okay with all or some 'postcolonial oppression?' a statement that would be factually inaccurate as it is absurd.”


“Their "protest" show is a characteristically all-American affair with no references to current wars”

I seriously don’t want to ever go to that museum again.  I would like to see it turned into a chicken farm so as not to disturb the meatpacking district further.  People can pay a nominal admission to visit the chickens and lounge on the balcony eating rotisserie, and the chicken farmers will have to treat the chickens well for the gawkers. They can also have a floor for tofu production.  I thought of pigs but there are no doubt many Jewish and Muslim donors that ponied up for the building.  Then when people talk about how great Shanghai etc are, New Yorkers can say they have a chicken farm designed by Renzo Piano.

28 September 2017

What's up for three more days and an hour or so, v. XIV

Piri’ Miri Muli’ readers may know I haven’t been a fan of the Whitney, but they have this Hélio Oiticica retrospective that seems to be mostly put together by the Carnegie in Pittsburgh.  Someone’s giving me passes so the question of whether the scant gallery space found in such a large building is worth the $25 doesn’t arise, but now’s the time to go if you hadn’t seen the Hélio show in Chicago or Pittsburgh. In fact, until this show I hadn’t even been to the new Renzo Piano construction, replete as it is with balconies that afford tourists and urbanites the ability to look down on the tourists and urbanites on the High Line soon to be looking down on art/lifestyle inspired gentrification projects carving up the Meatpacking Districts.

Their "protest" show is a characteristically all-American affair with no references to current wars. On the top floor you have a circle of Calders dominated by a wine bar in which crowds of people stand around waiting for a staff member in a laboratory cloak to show up and tap a half dozen kinetic works.  Like most American art museums, the selections from the permanent collection are strongest in outsider art; the insider art appears to have been chosen by the editors of Art in America. The all-American works are joined by a George Grosz print created when he was in Germany, decrying nationalism, thus projecting the museum’s nationalism on the viewer so scolded, like when US presidents sanctimoniously bully pulpit against their own policies.

But there is this Hélio show!  I strongly recommend arriving as the museum opens, going straight up to the Hélio floor, turning right and going to the shoe removal area, then looking to the right hand side of the Eden installation for a rack of Parangolés (cape like attire made for Carnival) to wear while walking around Eden and Tropicália, installations evoking “the Dionysian space" of the Morro de Mangueira, as both are much more enjoyable with the Parangolés on.  This rack is not to be confused with the room of Parangolés with a mirror straight ahead from the entrance in which you are not to leave the room with one on, which I found out when I tried to wear a cape while lying on a hammock on Cosmococa Hendrix room (“CC5 Hendrix-War, 1973”).

The Whitney’s curatorial description card for Tropicália says “Tropicalia represented a political and aesthetic position against both the social conservatism of the right and the left desire for a 'purely Brazilian' art free of postcolonial oppression," neglecting to say that the movement occurred during a US-backed military coup that caused many of its practitioners to leave the country.  Are they attempting to say Oiticica and Caetano Veloso were okay with all or some 'postcolonial oppression?' a statement that would be factually inaccurate as it is absurd.  The American museums’ current embrace of Brazilian art and music comes during the presidency of Michel Temer, currently enjoying an approval rating of less than 3% and known by leaked documents to have been a CIA informant, who has himself stated that his predecessor’s, Dilma Rousseff’s, impeachment by corrupt senators despite the fact that the Senate’s own investigatory board found the president not guilty, as told to The Americas Society in September 2016, was a “process (that) was established which culminated with me being installed as president of the republic” because of her resistance to “widespread cuts to social programs and privatization,” and this past April confirmed Rousseff’s account that her impeachment was opened by a legislator, Eduardo Cunha, in retaliation for an investigation into his bribery by the state oil company.  During this last month of Helio’s three-venue US tour the CIA’s president was indicted for heading Cunha’s racketeering operation.

A friend of Veloso convinced him to use the name of Oiticica’s installation for his song, which starts with the spoken word rendition of the Carta de Pero Vaz Caminha “When Pero Vas Caminha discovered that the Brazilian land was fertile and lush, he wrote a letter to the king saying that all that is planted grows and flourishes. And the Gauss of that time recorded it.” Augusto de Campos called it "our first Pau Brasil song"

Veloso said “all of that Tropicália thing was formulated inside me the day I saw Terra em transe,” Glauber Rocha’s film in which Paulo the Romantic poet and Sara the leftist revolutionary go to work for Felipe Vieira, who after being elected governor breaks his promises and is overthrown by a right-wing coup; the film was released three years after Brazil's military coup ousted liberal president Joao Goulart.

Robert Stamm wrote in 1974Terra em transe points the way to a possible political cinema which avoids the twin dead ends of a condescending populism on the one hand and an aridly theoretical reflexivity on the other.” No surer evidence of this can be found than in how the New York Times’ Roger Greenspun went to great pains to bury the film in 1970: “To a degree, the failure of "Earth Entranced" results from its unwillingness to accept the fictional logic of its melodramatic plot. But to a greater degree, that failure rests in every scene, in the development of every idea, in every decision about placing and moving the camera and composing each individual shot. Where you can sense the movie going wrong most significantly is not so much in the gratuitous complexity of the larger moments.. as in the rhetorical emptiness of the smaller moments.”

CC5 Hendrix-War here joins CC1 Trashiscapes, featuring pictures of Buñuel as well as his friend Luiz Fernando Guimarães (right) in a Parangolés which the Hirshhorn re-enacted five years ago, as the two Cosmococa rooms from the five he created during his New York years, which were all shown together twelve years ago in Rio.  A visit confirms that two are much, much better than zero, but the other three are CC2 Onobject with Mondrian-colored foam forms dedicated to Yoko Ono, CC3 Maileryn, a room full of balloons dedicated to Ms. Monroe featuring Heidegger’s What is a Thing?, and CC4, a swimming pool dedicated to John Cage’s Notations.  The ‘Block’ in the series title Block-Experiments in Cosmococa- program in progress is a stated reference to Haroldo de Campos’ book of poems Galáxias (“BLOCOS: they relinquish the defined sequence.. they even benefit from the random sequence and their shifts”), also stated is the reference to Decio Pignatari’s beba coca cola (below). “I don’t care about the the integration of the arts, I simply don’t see where there’s a difference between them.”

Even if you miss this Hélio wrote “The main point in considering an EXPERIMENTAL activity is in not limiting such an activity to its originators but of creating multiple let-outs for collective and individual participation as an experimental exercise in liberty.”  Helio financed his stay in NY those days by dealing cocaine, and his inclusion of the powder (much cheaper then) can be seen as a reference to South American kitsch akin to the parrot in Tropicália, as Quechua music included in the soundtrack evokes the sacred use of the plant, and to an object entered into consciousness on top of sight, sound, and the touch of the hammocks and nail files.. the sound of the swimming pool which he considered Cagean.  Two years before the project, he wrote to a friend from New York ‘i don’t know what is going on here, but there is such a bourgeois art scene, conformism and reactionarism going on, unbelievable’ and upon returning to Brazil he managed to quit the blow.

As the autumn months are upon us, I shall return to this space soon to note this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, and the other things.