Monday, June 12, 2006

Iron Artist

The NYTimes reports on the first of what I hope will be at least two (so I can actually catch the second one) "Iron Artist" episodes at PS1 this past weekend. Based on and parodying the "Iron Chef" television show in which contestants are tasked to create a multicourse meal based on a single ingredient, "Iron Artist" pitted two teams of artists and their assistants against each other in a good-natured event of lighthearted competition. Given 45 minutes, a theme and materials, the artists had to make a work that would be judged on originality, execution and responsiveness to theme:

In the first of two 45-minute "duels," two sculptors, Jude Tallichet and Olav Westphalen, tackled the theme of "love and its discontents" using a medium they had agreed on in advance: giant blocks of foam.

Ms. Tallichet, 52, and her crew — dressed as ninjas, their faces covered except for the eyes — cut the foam into an olive-painted dome surrounded by smaller orbs jutting outward on wooden sticks. One assistant walked back and forth with handwritten signs referring to the solar system and its mythological references, while Ms. Tallichet re-enacted several theories about the death of the sculptor Ana Mendieta. [...]

Mr. Westphalen, 42, and his assistants, who wore silver boxing gowns, worked more slowly and meticulously. With a chainsaw they trimmed their block of foam into a snowman, complete with carrot-orange nose and coal-black eyes, and suspended it upside down from a flimsy wooden frame.

"The art world is at the moment infatuated with entertainment," Mr. Westphalen, the winner, said afterward. "The idea of taking that on aggressively and humorously
— to try to measure up to real entertainment, where the art world always comes out short of course, because we don't have the means and the talent and the time to do it right — that's a provocative approach."

In the second match two pairs of artistic collaborators addressed the theme of "man's inhumanity to man," from the Robert Burns poem.

Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin, who collaborate under the name Type A, used metal studs, power drills and wallboard. The other pair, Julian LaVerdière and Vincent Mazeau, who design sets for film and fashion productions through their company, Big Room, worked with a blackboard, foam, giant black balloons and cylinders of compressed hydrogen.

Mr. Ames, 37, and Mr. Bordwin, 41, were sealed inside a makeshift room by their assistants, and in the final minute of the match punched and kicked their way out by destroying a wall of Sheetrock. Mr. LaVerdière, 35, and Mr. Mazeau, 40, chose a quieter surprise: After filling balloons with hydrogen, they attached them to a brown-painted foam brick with the inscription "Every Man for Himself" and set them aloft. In a close verdict, the judges proclaimed the Type A team the victor.

Sounds like it must have been a blast. Still, as much as I'm an advocate for art that doesn't take itself too seriously, it is rather difficult to imagine the Abstract Expressionists participating in such event (of course, they took themselves quite seriously, or so I've heard). And despite the Warholian lesson that to be a good artist one must embrace one's own time, warts and all, there's a stuffy little voice in the back of my head responding to "Iron Artist" with a mumbled mantra: "slippery's a slippery slope...what if it pushes Art even further toward entertainment?" Fortunately, there's a more boisterous voice in my head telling that stuffy little voice to "zip it, Killjoy...and stay out my way, I want to get a good seat at the next one." Anyone know if another is planned?


Blogger Susan Constanse said...

The theme of art as entertainment seems to be in the air today. Lisa Hunter posted about a new show: Artstar. Here's a link to the promo site:

6/12/2006 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger carla said...

I have similarly mixed feelings about a local (Indianapolis) event, Art vs. Art. Artists create a piece with limited materials and time. They later go head to head in a big raucous elimination contest whereby losing art gets destroyed or saved via input from the audience.

If the climate were different, this could be a very fun event. But rampant anti-intellectualism, both arts-related and in the general cultural, give the event a more sinister read, IMO.

6/12/2006 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

I guess the difference is whether they're enjoying themselves, or doing it primarily for the enjoyment of others. Sounds like those assistants had a blast.

Me, I've always been partial to the Artists versus Writers annual softball game in East Hampton. Even some of the stuffy abstract expressionists used to show up, back in the day.

6/12/2006 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

Makes me really sorry I'm not still living in NY. Costumes any time of the year are commended.

Do you think the new emphasis on entertainment is related to the marketing of block busters in major museums or a backlash against conceptualism? Or is it just that the news is so consistently dire that all of us need to laugh as much as we can?

6/12/2006 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger chrisjag said...

I hate to be a party pooper, but whenever the artworld tries to take on the entertainment, it's lame. This conversation reminds me of Joan Acocella's recent article in the New Yorker about the state of dance:

“All the arts have been affected by the technological media; in all of them we now see - maybe just creeping, but creeping steadily - that flash, that speed, that lack of naturalness and intimacy, and indeed of thought.”

Joan Acocella, “Modernismo,” New Yorker, March 6, 2006

I'm not anti-tech nor anti-entertainment - just suspicious of their motivations.

6/12/2006 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Well, I was really excited by the idea of artstar tv when I just read the page shown above. I love the idea. I have been following Top Chef and Project Runway on Bravo and I think they are awesome shows. My boyfriend and I started thinking how could this be sdone for art work and artists. "You have one day to build a sculpture-GO!" You know, they could have famous artists be judges, only they wouldn't talk to the camera or contestants, they would whisper to their assistants and the assistants would talk for them.

Carla, I think nothing killed art more than "intellectuals" So, I LOVE anti-intellectual stuff. Nothing could be more boring to me than some intellectual going on about the meaning of their art, except maybe an artist going on about the meaning of their art. YAWN.

I dream of a day when art is back in the hands of the public and grassroots...I hope it happens and out of the grubby intellectual hands of professors and museums and SOME galleries( Dear fascinate me, and I can tell you are a different kind of art gallery person, just even by blogging here and many of your posts insert big happy smile here) (kiss kiss)...hopefully I haven't offended too many people here...but wouldn't believe how dull it is to cope with "intellectuals". I like reading philosophy as much as the next guy but enough is enough. Lets pray for passion and excitement and fun to get back into the art world...actually it would mean art would have to return to the world...

I think the art in this project looks like it kind of sucks, but I am sure it was a lot of fun for all involved. I guess it was kind of like some sort of 60's "happening".

You'd think in an hour it would be plenty of time for a group of folks to make a really inspired eipce, wouldn't you? I mean, my god, the old watercolorists used to knock out some fantastic stuff in an hour and a half.(that's the average time it takes to amke a water color painting) And Christ, wondow displays can be more challenging than a snow man?


6/12/2006 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

If art isn't entertainment then what is it, sausages?

If someone says, "well, art's not JUST entertainment" I will tickle their feet until they pee their pants.

Did the 20th century happen? Have you climbed the tower so far you have lost sight of the foundation? It is still down there. I know because I spent all day Saturday cleaning up the place with Beuys and Kaprow.

more articulate argument, after these messages . . .

6/12/2006 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

For me at least, the really brilliant and hilarious aspect of the original Iron Chef (not the America version, which I haven't bothered to watch) is the subtitles. Especially the judges' comments, like when the pretty actress says (supposedly) in Japanese, "oh this appetizer is really turning me on", and you wonder if that's what she actually said.

So I think a better event would be a panel discussion between artists, curators and critics. With subtitles, of course, translating artspeak into plain English. And with the viewers wondering "is that really what s/he said?"

6/12/2006 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

art is entertainment for a very discerning audience.

6/12/2006 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

If someone says, "well, art's not JUST entertainment" I will tickle their feet until they pee their pants.

Now that's something I'd pay to see!

6/12/2006 12:53:00 PM  
Anonymous danonymous said...

ChrisJag quoted.....
“All the arts have been affected by the technological media; in all of them we now see - maybe just creeping, but creeping steadily - that flash, that speed, that lack of naturalness and intimacy, and indeed of thought.”

Joan Acocella, “Modernismo,” New Yorker, March 6, 2006

I am doing a shadow puppet show where the "high tech" is totally comprised of very low tech ....Light bulb, switch, $99 stereo, two people, Two saturdays in prep and ending up looking like a production.
From the art end, it is amazing how much can be done with how little when necessity mandates creativity. I am often intimidated by how much people know or think they have to know in order to do art....I mean PHOTOSHOP???? everything????
From the artist's perspective, it is amazing how much can be done with how little when necessity mandates creativity. And what an unmitigated blast to be involved in the process of that. I can't for the life of me imagine how anyone can be having more fun that the artists involved in the making at PS1. And it sounds like they were generous enough to leave some fun for the audience as well.

Art is dead.
Long Live Art

6/12/2006 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger serena said...

This reminds me of the 'poetry slam' phenomenon. It had the positive result of forcing the impossibly bad, droning, self-indulgent poets off the stage, but the negative one of turning 'poetry' slowly into a mixture of stand-up comedy acts and inferior rapping. Eventually, 'poetry slamming' became its own art form, divorced from the writing of the type of poetry you actually want to sit down and read. As such, it is what it is; it's just no longer poetry.

you wouldn't believe how dull it is to cope with "intellectuals".

Candy, I couldn't agree with you more about Edward, except that, from what I've read, I consider him a TRUE intellectual--widely informed, open-minded, deeply considering, and with a genuine detachment and sense of humor about it all. I think we are too used to seeing 'intellectuals' as narrow-minded academes with no sense of humor, and a tendency to obfuscate rather than elucidate.

For me, that kind of person isn't an 'intellectual'--they're a poseur who is educated about two degrees beyond their native intelligence.

6/12/2006 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger carla said...

Strident anti-intellectualism leads to very un-fun outcomes like our country's current administration.

6/12/2006 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I agree. Anti-llectualism is the dark side, but "strident" is pretty tiresome coming from either camp.

6/12/2006 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Ben.H said...

Harrumph. Artists these days. Why can't they amuse themselves the old-fashioned way, holding mock trials denouncing each other and expelling their colleagues from art movements they've just made up?

6/12/2006 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Ruiz said...

This doesn't seem to have that much to do with art. I mean to say, that if the participants had been middle America housewives (or anyone else) instead of artists, I think we'd have seen the same results. Sounds more like a really fun group excersize or team-building game than a legitimate form of art (same as slam poetry, as Serena mentioned).

But hell, fun is fun. I don't think anyone's calling this more than what it is - but I have the feeling too few people will call it what it is, too.

6/12/2006 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger Future Trash said...

There's nothing wrong with PS1 getting a little extra attantion from hosting a off-beat event. Maybe some people ventured to see what was going on that wouldn't normally go to the museum? And as far as fearing art morphing into pure entertainment - there's really nothing to fear. It's sorta the shades of gray thing - some art is highly entertaining, some a little, some not so much and some not at all. (I assume were talking about entertaining those who aren't already entertained by spending 3 hours in MoMA?) It's not like "ART" has to fall into one all-encompassing intellectual circle jerk.

Staying on subject - what ever happened to Dietch's reality make-me-a-famous-artist TV show? Did Kostabi steal his thunder with his show?

6/12/2006 06:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Where I'm anti-intellectual is when I get people tell me for hours why that Sol Lewitt should be so interesting.

We got the idea once, thank you, we're not THAT stupid.

That event that Edward is referring to is late on many others.

In my hometown they have been direct paintings events for years (they happen everywhere), where people got an evening to do a painting and they sell the stuff on auction at the end of the night.

There is the Kino movement (Ive participated in that) where people
have 24 hours to make a short film (In usa they are some in wisconsin but I have no idea why new yorkers dont have that yet).

They are open poetry stages, they are 24 theatres in Fringe festivals. There is improv music, etc...

Bottomline is:

80 per cent of what is done in those events suck, and frankly, who cares, because people are doing it for the fun of it (it's called hedonism), but in the end there is no reason why you can't come up with a masterpiece participating in those events. You really never know when a good work can come up.

Tim is right: I've always considered art a form of intellectual entertainment.

I think philosophy is a form of entertainment. Or it should be.

Playing chess is too, and you don't need to envelop it in goofyness to make it a satisfying

So...masked ninjas?...I don't think that's necessary.

Well, do whatever you want,
what do I care,

Cedric caspesyan

6/13/2006 03:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Hey I was just asking three blogs ago about open house galleries.

If you find any just tell me

You know what I mean?

You draw exhibit space in a hat
to the first 20 to 40 artist who apply to the open show, and you present whatever they come with, and sell that.

I'd participate in stuff like that.
I hate sending preparatory slides and texts. Knowing what I'm showing 6 months in advance.
I like spontaneity sometimes.


Cedric Caspesyan

6/13/2006 03:31:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

You draw exhibit space in a hat

This is the best idea I've heard in a long time. It would force artists to do smaller works.

6/13/2006 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

All incredible comments here...I know I am late to respond but still(I am on the road and catching up reading here...) wanted to say I really had much to think about reading all the comemnts.

It's occured to me that I think my use of "intellectual" is different from others here...I see what you mean Carla with your example of administration
resulting from lack of intellectuals.(sorry)

I mean, intelligence different than sorry about that. I believe all animals are intelligent...and informed curious intelligence is the most positive and healthy for a community.

By intellectual...I DID mean that stuffy cliche of a drone making up theories.

You all seem like such interesting ,INTELLIGENT folks here, love the challenging thoughts!!!


6/19/2006 10:34:00 AM  

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