Monday, January 23, 2006

Artist of the Week 01/23/06

There's a ludicrous disparity between our perceptions of the "good life" and the reality of those we assume are living it. We imagine those who have "made it" flit from party to party, always perfectly coiffed, the absolute picture of success, as if living in a high-production cola commercial. Even in the art world, because few of us know all the art stars personally, it's unusual to think of them as having bad days, or bouts of self-doubt, or even the common human miseries. Usually all we have to inform our imagination of what their lives are like are the thoughtful poses of them in their studios that grace their four-page profiles or the gossipy summaries and snapshots of the A-list flocking around them at last week's fabulous gala.

This disparity is the vein New York artist David Kramer mines for his drawings, paintings, sculptures, and video. From the press release for David's kick-ass 2004 exhibition at Chelsea's
Feigen Contemporary:

“In a perfect world I would be one happy mother fucker,” David Kramer declares in a drawing of a beautiful woman posing next to a convertible. “I want to know how the other half lives,” he announces in another of a six-pack of Bud with three cans missing. Such desire is the driving force behind Kramer’s comedic drawings, videos, and sculptures. Perceived inadequacies at work or awkwardness at parties are magnified by juxtaposing his self-deprecating stories with the clichéd expectations of success and splendor showcased in the unreal world of flashy advertising and popular culture.
David's drawings are like popcorn. Perhaps popcorn sprinkled with hot peppers, but popcorn all the same. Rife with sad-sack tales of both life and the art world kicking him when he's down, they're at turns profound, biting, hysterical and droll.

David Kramer, Untitled (Less is more), 2004, Ink on paper, 10" x 8 1/2"

TEXT: You always here people say, keep ’em wanting more. Like hold back a little. Make them hungry for more. Well, let me tell you, I’ve got closets full of shit that I’ve been wanting to give. I’ve got piles and piles that I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity to let it out. I mean, look, I understand the hole strategy and I can see the virtues of holding back a little bit just to make people salivate and anxious for the next time around. But hey the only one left around here who is kept wanting more is me. So, “keep ‘em wanting more?” Fuck you.
(Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)

In real life David is as Seinfeldian a person as you're likely to meet, smart, sardonic, always able to see the dark side of any situation, but ultimately optimistic. He's been a friend of the gallery for years now, and we're delighted to see his career taking off. His second exhibition at Feigen is currently up and runs through February 4th, with a video program this Thursday (January 26th, Reception: 6:00-7:00 p.m. Video Program: 7:00-8:00 p.m.).

And if his drawings are like popcorn, David's videos are the whiskey you wash it down with. In the 2004 installation, he created an "old man's bar" (see below) from which you could watch his parody of the film classic “The Fountainhead”, a case of mistaken identity that leads to David's being noticed by a big Chelsea gallery. With hilarious cameos by a host of Brooklyn and New York artists, "Million Dollar Moment" is one of the most brtually funny explorations of how unfair and irrational the art world can seem at times.

David Kramer, Installation View at Feigen Contemporary, May 20 - June 26, 2004 (Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)

In his current exhibition, David is introducing a new body of paintings. I had the pleasure of getting a preview in his studio about 6 months ago. With a similar approach to the one he uses for his drawings, these oil on canvas pieces combine commercially imagined happiness with paradoxical text, but by leaving out the detailed prose and thereby highlighting the imagery, he's sharpening the tension between the two.

David Kramer, Untitled (immediate satisfaction), 2005, Oil on canvas, 46" x 44" (Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)

For me, David's at his best when he's dealing with a topic that serves to offer both a witty observation about life and an art-dialog-specific dig, like in this piece:

David Kramer, Untitled (irony and coincidence), 2005, Ink on paper, 15" x 22" (Image from Feigen Contemporary website)

Or just musing on the life he's chosen, all the while wallowing in the poignancy and pathose we love him for:

David Kramer, Untitled (teach a fish...), 2005, Ink on paper, 17" x 20" (Image from
Feigen Contemporary website)


Anonymous james leonard said...


Thanks for this AOtW. I've seen a number of these works in person, but never connected the dots. On some days, I might find this work too self absorbed for my tastes, but lately I've found myself a bit more responsive to the blues. For me, this feature is the perfect artist to start this week.

On another note, you remark:

Even in the art world, because few of us know all the art stars personally, it's unusual to think of them as having bad days, or bouts of self-doubt, or even the common human miseries.

After having a small socio-political temper tantrum/anxiety attack this weekend, I found myself considering Mark Lombardi the person again. In the past, you've mentioned that you knew him. I've often wondered, how deeply was he affected by his subject matter? While digging through so much soil, was he ever struck with severe bouts of hopelessness and helplessness? You know, a deep sense that the world is going to hell and not enough people are doing enough about it? Was this one of the human miseries he shared?

(hrm... sorry for the downer of a post... urm... HAPPY MONDAY!)

1/23/2006 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger dubz said...

'And if his drawings are like popcorn, David's videos are the whiskey you wash it down with.'

very cool statement!

1/23/2006 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

How deeply was Mark affected by his subject matter? I'm not at all sure. I talked with Mark at length about his subject matter...anyone who would listen did...and yes, that's a slight dig. He was consumed by the issues he investigated.

I have only a few clues as to what lead to his death, mostly from folks who were much closer to him than I was. He did suffer from some inner demons, but I'm not at all sure they were related to his artwork. He exhibited a seemingly healthy enthusiam for that.

But it's been years since I talked in depth about it, and I'm sure I've forgotten the most telling details.

I should be clear here. No exploration or artwork is important enough to justify dragging an artist into the depths of despair from which there seems no escape. If an artist is heading that direction, they should immediately throw down the paint brush (or whatever) and go watch a romantic comedy or sit in the park and feed squirrels or something. Seriously. Art is the gravy of life...but it's not life. The moronic notion of suffering for one's art to the point of destroying oneself is something they have pharmaceutical solutions for now.

1/23/2006 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous pc said...

I think that the Kramer paints are the kind of thing I would love if I happened on them myself. I like their wit, the seemingly slapdash execution and insouciance. They deflate pomp in an original way. But, jeez, I gotta question their profundity, especially when these pictures are presented as something special, instead of the sensation I imagine I'd get if I found them myself, i.e., the feeling of being in on a little joke. I feel like I'm missing something. (Although maybe I'm an idiot for feeling like a few moments of delight is too little.) Can anyone enlighten me?

1/23/2006 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edna said...

I think Kramer's funny.

But maybe they're too demystified? I want them to be more technically adept. Less ephemeral to balance the campy, anecdotal thing?

I haven't seen the films so maybe they are the missing link.


1/23/2006 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

If an artist is heading that direction, they should immediately throw down the paint brush (or whatever) and go watch a romantic comedy or sit in the park and feed squirrels or something. Seriously.

This brought a wide smile to my face. Saturday was spent in the park. But we spent more time with the baboons than the squirrels...

My curiosity about Lombardi's relationship with his subject was more personal than professional. In my life, the state of the nation is increasingly becoming a source of existential angst. But I agree about not taking one's work through the depths and into the abyss. No toeholds down there.

It's funny that you bring up pharmaceuticals. They have their place and are definitely needed by some. But our mass culture, our consumer culture, often attempts to write out the role (and even existence) of melancholy, malaise, doubt, and worry.

I see this as somehow related to your initial post, David Kramer's work, and the blues. All three affirm the existence of down days. Though depression (and many other mental illnesses) are chronic, we ALL suffer from the emotional equivalent of a head-cold now and then. Work like this serves as a reminder of how to soldier on despite being tired and feeling like crap. (Plus, it's kinda funny...)

1/23/2006 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Edna and PC, yeah, I'm feeling kind of over-Pettiboned. 'Art as cute inside joke' seems passable so long as it's quick and dirty.

James, when that emotional head-cold comes roaring down the pike and you don't feel like traveling, any or all of these can take the edge off, and they all cost less than a MoMA ticket:

1. wheat grass - 1 shot, chased with cold water
2. Groucho Marx's autobiography, "Groucho and Me."
3. Mead, nearly hot with a dash of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon - and chocolate.
4. The "Twist and Shout" sequence from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

cheers!!! B

1/23/2006 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

"I feel like I'm missing something."

I feel in the dark too. They are not really interesting as drawings...don't measure up to poetry...I go to books for social what are they. They seem a little like someone who privately thinks they are very funny. I don't get it?


1/23/2006 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

Edna and Bill,

I like the thinness and offhandedness of Kramer, and like what I've seen (nothing in person and no videos). The work has an anti-preciousness that gives it a little seriousness for me (I feel the same way about John Lurie drawings I've seen and also lists from John Waters and Kim whatserface from the Voice) and even a little gravity. So I'm not saying I hate the work by any means. I just feel like for Edward to make a big deal of him (who wouldn't want to be his artist of the week?), there is probably a little more to the work than I'm getting.


1/23/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

PS So I'm looking for a Kramer proponent to extoll his depths!

1/23/2006 01:17:00 PM  
Anonymous burrito brother said...

I mean, they're not bad. Nice 'matter-of-fact' brush style about them. But yeah, I liked Pettibone a lot better a lot longer ago and more recently, Guy Richards Smit. And also, that Pierogi guy...
I give it 3 stars.

1/23/2006 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

David's depths? Hmm.... that's a trick question within a trick question, I'm afraid.

First and foremost, he's neither here nor there (i.e., he's not desperate nor is he famous)...he's straddling that inbetween space, looking around at how ridiculous it all is, and essentially saying, "Hey, lighten up!"

But as in most humor, there's a grain of truth to what he's's that dance inbetween that makes his work so effective, IMO. Despite how many good things happen in his career, he remains very skeptical of its longevity or importance. It's a matter of confidence, in the end.

Pettibon, sure...but he's got confidence to spare. GRS and (I think you mean) Jim Torok, both extremely talented, and confident to degrees David won't allow himself to become, for fear that doing so would bring some additional hardship as reward. It's perhaps an acquired taste, I don't know, but again, I can't get enough of them.

1/23/2006 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

I was thinking of Pettibon too, but then negated the comparison because I felt it was too easy to get there just based on the text/image/drawing combo.

I just can't get into these. They're the kind of thing you get a laugh over, but they are so badly drawn! Gosh, do I need glasses? It's like Hernan Bas with a thesaurus.


1/23/2006 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Did I mention they were funny?

: )


1/23/2006 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger Ron Diorio said...

Funny, in a familiar way like fortune cookies or Bazooka comics or a 40th Birthday card.


1/23/2006 02:45:00 PM  
Anonymous bw said...

"the work has an anti-preciousness that gives it a little seriousness for me" - for me, the work's anti-preciousness just folds back on itself and ultimately makes it precious again. I saw this and I thought "yeah, whatever, I don't want to look at whiny, bitchy self-depricating art" since I like to keep it positive. He should look at David Shrigley and make his work even more poorly drawn, then it would probably be really good! Or maybe quit whining about how unsatisfied you are and actuallly live your life a little. (maybe he wouldn't have any more subject matter if he did that, though.) I will admit I did get a couple giggles from it, though.

1/23/2006 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

hmmm...interesting hate/love (or perhaps hate/like) response to the work. The idea that David should make his work even more poorly drawn so that it ends up being "really good" is something he'd make fun of for 12 or more drawings, I'm sure. I'll be sure and tell him.

1/23/2006 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

Sounds like BS to me. When did the bar fall so low?

1/23/2006 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


Could you reprhase that to explain what in particular is BS and how exactly it relates to which bar?

Seriously...I'm sure you're sincere, but you've left so much room for projection, there's not much point in responding until your critique is more clear.

1/23/2006 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

I'm sorry about that.
In reference to "making work even more poorly drawn" somehow bolstering the conceptual rigor of the work, thereby making the work better. I hear this all time, (about other artists as well,) and it just seems like an easy out.

I thought just the opposite. What if the pictures were exquisitly drawn and the text stayed the same? That would produce a visual conflict between perception and identity that would be more interesting than a giggle.

1/23/2006 03:53:00 PM  
Blogger Hans said...

Someway the typewriter-texts on the drawings are much stronger than the drawings itself. I read all of them (on Feigens Website) and thank you for this sharp window into a true artists life and struggle.

1/23/2006 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i loved this show, but i love jon stewart and nick hornby too. can you guess who i hate?

1/23/2006 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Fitzer said...

This is the first I have seen or heard of this artist. And my immediate reaction is one of novelty. The mashup of anecdotes and images from past and current popular culture (the most used being the juxtaposition of past with present) has grown increasing tiresome as result of it's over usage by large corporations like Urban Outfitters, and young startup T-shirt companies of the sort that are popular advertisers on blogs. The ideas are not original to me any longer. In fact, I am more suspicious these combinations as it seems to be the predominate method advertisers use to market to a younger demographic. These ideas don't seem like there coming from the artist. They're public domain and he is not altering them in an original way.

1/23/2006 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

don't hold back, ryan.

I'll stop short of defending the work to see who else agrees with you that as a concept this is, as you say, "tiresome."

The fact that I don't find it such may reflect little more than the fact I don't shop at Urban Outfitters, but...

1/23/2006 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

We are all here because we like your opinions edward. But I think a few of us are a little baffled in this instance and genuinely open to hearing an expanation.

Right now, I agree with Ryan. Artwork that revels in a naive "look" masked with thin irony has become very generic. Work like this seems to barely transend a hallmark card...which is fine. They are sort of funny. I only wonder if it derserves this kind of attention.

1/23/2006 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...


At the risk of being rude... these seem to me like they could have been mined, or part of, or compliment the sort of secret artwork one sees in Frank Warren's PostSecret project (; the book is a runaway best-seller on Amazon, and the recent exhibition here in DC was the only visual arts (non-museum) exhibition in my memory that actually had HUGE lines outside, waiting to be allowed into the space to see the 1000s of cards from all over the world.

1/23/2006 07:54:00 PM  
Anonymous martin said...

i saw that first feigen show in 2004 and the video is what i most enjoyed, and helped to make the whole show good. the drawings made me think more of richard prince than pettibon.

someone says earlier that pettibon has "confidence to spare", but it was my impression that he is a wreck(?). i like his work but not all of the imitators, who it seems are currently dragging him down. va-voom to pettibon.

1/23/2006 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But I think a few of us are a little baffled in this instance and genuinely open to hearing an expanation.

Well, to keep it from looking too lop-sided, I'll first point out that a few folks have noted they too like David's work, but let me note, again, that the "artist of the week" is someone who's work I wanted to write about (usually, moving forward, someone who has an exhibition up at the time, so you can go see for yourself if you're local)...not someone I'm suggesting everyone else should like. The only artists I'm suggesting everyone should like are the ones we represent. :-)

But, since you ask: As Mark notes, seeing one of David's videos can bring it all together in a way that then allows you to "get" his work enough to appreciate the drawings on their own.* There's a screening of his videos at Feigen this Thursday. So anyone interested in how they relate can get a sense there.

*Further, the drawings are not usually installed (i.e., not conceived to be experienced in the installation setting) on their own, but rather in large groups (see this installation shot for what I mean). When I say they're like popcorn, I do mean to suggest you want to consume them one right after the other. It's the totality of the mindset that begins to seep in and charm as well as challenge you.

I keep wanting to say they're "insider," but I don't think that's accurate (unless it's possible to use that word to connote only someone well acquainted with David's work). In the end, I can't imagine this work about the struggle to be happy, despite being reminded constantly in every way how imperfect you are, looking any other way. Slicker or more "poorly drawn" would ring false I believe. As they are, they're very, very human...and in that way each one is a me, at least.

I'll reach back to my first point about the disparity between what it is we think we want our lives to be like (because Madison Avenue tells us that way we'll be happy) and what slowly dawns on you, as you age, is the reality of it all. That disparity, again, is truly ludicrous. David's work reveals how ludicrous. In the end he's a story teller, using psuedo-autobiography, low-tech image making, and high-end bellyaching to capture that truly insane place squished in amongst what you think you want, what you're told you want, and what you learn you didn't have the slightetst clue what it ever really meant, but it was sure wrapped up nice and shiny.

Or, maybe they're just funny.

1/23/2006 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"who's work" = "whose work" in English, btw.

(preview is my friend)

1/23/2006 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/23/2006 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

Edward, thank you. That was truly eloquent and generous of you to provide such a personal explanation. No one can deny how art makes them feel. Some feel different, but I guess that's what makes conversation rich.

1/23/2006 10:28:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

A late comment, but I too appreciated Edward's explanation. I was on the fence, but now would go out of my way to see a Kramer show. This is an interesting exercise in understanding an artist I was ready to dismiss from a sympathatic viewpoint. For me, one of the miserable things about being an artist is to feel like I have to judge everything I see. I can't just love the stuff. A lot of this is a demand for originality (Kramer was criticized by several people on this count). Some of it, in me anyway, is sheer close-mindedness. Which annoys me. I'm happy to be partially turned around.

1/24/2006 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like others here say, we're here because we like and respect Edward's views.

But I have to say: I carefully considered Edward's comments, looked hard at the work, and concluded that I don't see the work in the same way. Not at all. This also happened last week.

But, I'll be back.

1/24/2006 08:44:00 PM  

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