Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scratch a Conceptual Artist, Find A Painter, Part III: A Little Light Reading for the Road

It's get-out-of-town day in New York and elsewhere across the country, as folks head to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones. With the new touchy-feely security measures at airports prompting protests and great raw material for comedians (love this joke...

...), estimates are that many more people will be opting for the road over the skies. If you are planning to fly, though, the New York Times offers some helpful tips for coping and cautionary tales, including these charming anecdotes:
The account of a flight attendant forced to display her breast prosthesis to screeners has been widely circulated, as has an account of a male bladder-cancer survivor who said that his urostomy bag seal was broken during an aggressive pat-down and he was left standing with his pants around his ankles, covered in his own urine.
I understand the TSA called that man and apologized to him, but it's no wonder more people are considering driving.

But please don't let the trials of travel stop you from having a lovely time this Thanksgiving. To help cheer you up and get you in the holiday spirit, Christopher K. Ho and Winkleman Gallery are offering you a present, a little light reading for your road trip.

We've had tons of requests from people around the world to send them copies of Christopher's book "Hirsch E.P. Rothko's Hirsch E.P. Rothko," (free for the taking at his current exhibition, which
Charlie Finch writes about on artnet...more on that later), but with our preparations for Miami and simply an overwhelming number of requests, we haven't been able to mail them out.

But now, you can download the entire text in PDF format by visiting this site and clicking on the link, "Hirsch EP Rothko (for download).pdf." This will present a Download button and then, voila!

Here's another short excerpt to pique your interest:
Chapter One : I Think (of Paint), Therefore I Am

It happened as I was staring at human feces on the white wall of an overdesigned bathroom in a restaurant that served in that time as the New York artworld’s unofficial epicenter. I had locked myself in the bathroom to get away from the people who weren’t talking to me and the people who were and I was thinking this place, this place again when everything changed. It was real: a shift, a drop in pressure. The small mosaic tiles surrounding the raised basins in the sink that made it impossible not to splash and leave this bathroom looking like you’d pissed yourself glowed their usual blue, and the orchid next to the chrome paper towel dispenser looked, as always, too ersatz not to be real. For the most part I was thinking what I would ordinarily be thinking if confronted by the disjunction between the decor and the unlikely amount of spattered human feces. I was thinking of T.J. Clark’s phrase “figures of dissonance,” a phrase I’d found myself using too much in critiques at school recently. I was also thinking of the half-eaten plate of filet I’d left at the table. The filet was one of three options, constants on the Bottino private function menu that additionally included salmon and spinach ravioli in red sauce. I tried to rotate between them, a trick I’d learned for keeping the artworld from sickening me. And then I thought of paint.

What followed can best be described as a sort of ellipsis, the near-physical manifestation of my inability to continue my suspension of disbelief. I knew then. Not how, or what was next, but I knew for sure. I was done with this. Not just with this dinner, an unusually late-summer afterparty in honor of an irritating former student who had gone on to become another calculating matriculant at a newly chic MFA program. Not just with these Bottino dinners, or the nights in ironically appropriated Williamsburg or East Village dive bars populated by kids in foam trucker hats whose work was selling for $40, 50, 60,000. No, there would be no more DJ sets by members of electroclash-cum-performance-art-duos whose names had become familiar sounds by dint of repetition while meaning nothing to me at all. The end of forced attendance at open studios at the LMCC or PS1 or EFA or Sharpe. Young artists in New York were starting to grow mullets and fauxhawks and waitlists. A rumor had spread that various people associated with relational aesthetics were leaving their galleries to be represented by either ICM or CAA or William Morris. I tried not to pay attention, didn’t look at ArtSlant or Douglas Kelley, ignored the launch of Smock. I’d even stopped reading the arts sections of first the Voice, then the Times. But it seeped in. That was what it meant to me, Hirsch E.P. Rothko, forty-four and living in New York in the summer of 2001, trying (lately failing) to make work in the ostensible capital of global art production. The artworld was poison. Nothing could happen here anymore that you could really call art. An acquaintance said it was “Hollywood with bad weather, uglier people, and less money.” I heard him repeat this sentence three times in one unbearable night in a gallery bar on 15th Street with an ironic disco floor whose colored squares would light up in seemingly random sequences. I was done with New York. Or perhaps I had just finally realized that it had long been done with me.
Bambino and I head down to Miami tomorrow, so posting from now through the fairs will be light.

Wishing you and yours a safe and lovely Thanksgiving!

Labels: gallery artists exhibitions, happy holidays

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Preview of Winkleman Gallery at SEVEN, Miami

Coming to Miami this year?

Don't miss SEVEN!

Seven contemporary art galleries join forces to present one-artist installations and collaborative project spaces, designed to provide an exhibition experience defined by the needs of each artist’s work.

2214 N. Miami Avenue (Wynwood District)
Miami, FL 33127

Tue: Nov 30: 1-8 pm
Wed - Sat: Dec 1-4: 11 am – 7 pm
Sun: Dec 5: 11 am – 5 pm


We are delighted to provide this preview of the projects, installations, and new works we'll be presenting this year at SEVEN:

Jennifer Dalton and Willam Powhida are back at it again! Exploring the pecking orders and heirachies of the art world--experienced nowhere as keenly as during the first week of December each year in Miami. This time, Jennifer and William have organized three days of discussions, performances and guaranteed mayhem under the umbrella event titled #rank.

For more information and a full calendar of events visit the website

Leslie Thornton's Binocular Series

Legendary experimental filmmaker Leslie Thornton debuts a gorgeous series of single-channel videos. Each work pushes past the more rarified "sublime" in nature with a desire to bring to surface what has been suppressed and outcast. The contraries of beauty and ugliness, like good and evil, come together in a renewed meeting and clash of opposites.

Image: Leslie Thornton, Still from "Binocular: One," 2010, HD video loop, edition of 8, plus 1 AP.

The Chadwick's Genretron

The jewel of Chadwick Manor, The Genretron is a panoramic model built by The Chadwicks in the 19th century for the close study of Dutch landscape painting. Viewing from the central oculus, the Chadwicks used the surrounding diorama to immerse themselves in the physical atmosphere of their favorite landscapists—Hobbema, Ruisdael, Van Goyen, Van der Neer, Van Ostade, and many of the lesser shipwreck artists. This kind of immersion was crucial for their eccentric and little-known treatises on landscape aesthetics and genre painting.

As eminent connoisseurs, sea captains, naval engineers and amateur historians, the Chadwicks amassed one of the great collections of nautical figurines, genre paintings and difficult-to-attribute manuscripts in Western culture. The Chadwicks wrote of seventeenth-century Dutch art as the definitive moment in which landscape painting “vomited up the tyrant Christian landlords” who had until then “monopolized space with their tired stories.”

The reconstruction of the Genretron has been painstakingly overseen by the conservator Jimbo Blachly and the literary historian Lytle Shaw, who are also the editors of the Chadwick Family Archive.

New work and a mind-boggling new installation by Shane Hope

"Fresh off the printer" takes on a whole new meaning in Shane Hope's newest installation. In addition to a selection of gorgeous new prints, several in 3D lenticular formats, Shane will be demonstrating his studio's newest tool: a open-source, hand-built printer that takes images Shane creates on a computer and prints them out in 3D form. Fair enough, you say. But the printer on display is a "child," comprised largely of pieces printed out from its own parent 3D printer, and printing yet another generation of itself, as well as a series of "Grey Goop" wall pieces you just have to see.

Images: [above] Shane Hope, ribbon_trace_atoms
[detail], 2010, lenticular 3D pigment print, 24” x 24” (61 x 61 cm); and [left] Shane Hope, RepRap Post-Mendel: Prusa Remix, 2010, Generation 6 Electronics by Camiel Gubbels et al of, Kysan stepper motors, Silver PLA from, and hardware from McMaster Carr, 20" x 15" x 17"

New video by Janet Biggs

We're delighted to present a brand new video "Duet" by Janet Biggs, commissioned by the Mint Museum of Art for her current exhibition there titled "VantagePoint IX Janet Biggs: Going to Extremes." In "Duet" Janet focused on NASCAR racing. But as is common with her highly poetic work, rather than focusing exclusively on the drivers, she also shows us the "speed, precision, and agility of the pit crews and reveals their extreme grace under pressure." For more about the exhibition visit the Mint Museum's website here.

We will also be presenting several bodies of new work and major sculptures by Ivin Ballen, Yevgeniy Fiks, Ulrich Gebert, Christopher K. Ho, Mamiko Otsubo, and Andy Yoder.

Bambino, Jay, and I hope to see you there!

Labels: Miami, SEVEN

Monday, November 22, 2010

Truth to Power and Law of the Jungle

One of my favorite stories in Joyce's The Dubliners is the funny (and ultimately heartbreaking) Counterparts. It's always remained to my mind the perfect illustration of one of society's most absurd constructs: the situation in which someone with much less physical or mental power than another person can control the stronger person. This doesn't happen in nature, but in government, corporations, and even the art world it's quite common.

Here's a snippet of Joyce's story in which Farrington (a man "tall and of great bulk") is having a very bad work day. His boss Mr. Alleyne ("a little man wearing gold-rimmed glasses on a cleanshaven face") could not be less pleased and summons Mr. Farrington to his office so that he will know it in no uncertain terms:
“Farrington? What is the meaning of this? Why have I always to complain of you? May I ask you why you haven’t made a copy of that contract between Bodley and Kirwan? I told you it must be ready by four o’clock.”

“But Mr. Shelley said, sir ——”

“Mr. Shelley said, sir .... Kindly attend to what I say and not to what Mr. Shelley says, sir. You have always some excuse or another for shirking work. Let me tell you that if the contract is not copied before this evening I’ll lay the matter before Mr. Crosbie.... Do you hear me now?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you hear me now?... Ay and another little matter! I might as well be talking to the wall as talking to you. Understand once for all that you get a half an hour for your lunch and not an hour and a half. How many courses do you want, I’d like to know.... Do you mind me now?”
You get the dynamic. But then, a bit later in the story, something wondrous happens. Wondrous in that it doesn't occur more often:
Mr. Alleyne and Miss Delacour were standing outside the counter and all the clerks had turn round in anticipation of something. The man [Farrington] got up from his desk. Mr. Alleyne began a tirade of abuse, saying that two letters were missing. The man answered that he knew nothing about them, that he had made a faithful copy. The tirade continued: it was so bitter and violent that the man could hardly restrain his fist from descending upon the head of the manikin before him:

“I know nothing about any other two letters,” he said stupidly.

“You — know — nothing. Of course you know nothing,” said Mr. Alleyne. “Tell me,” he added, glancing first for approval to the lady beside him, “do you take me for a fool? Do you think me an utter fool?”

The man glanced from the lady’s face to the little egg-shaped head and back again; and, almost before he was aware of it, his tongue had found a felicitous moment:

“I don’t think, sir,” he said, “that that’s a fair question to put to me.”

There was a pause in the very breathing of the clerks. Everyone was astounded (the author of the witticism no less than his neighbours) and Miss Delacour, who was a stout amiable person, began to smile broadly. Mr. Alleyne flushed to the hue of a wild rose and his mouth twitched with a dwarf s passion. He shook his fist in the man’s face till it seemed to vibrate like the knob of some electric machine....
Joyce has a much bigger point to make with this story than the one I'm extracting from it (read the whole's so perfect and devastating), but it occurred to me when I saw this commercial the other day...

...that we continually operate in this unnatural way. You'd never see lions or gorillas let a smaller or less powerful member of their clan them push them around. There's a law in the jungle that says the most powerful rule.

And then I saw this new piece by William Powhida. It's a work that would make drunken sailors on shore leave blush (well, if they were familiar with the workings of the art world), and like most rants, it's not entirely balanced, but it does illustrate the same law of the jungle at work that Farrington's inadvertent truth to power quip did. That is, that those with the mental or physical power could exert it if they chose to and that those without the power to withstand or combat it should never let themselves forget it.

Of course there can be consequences within our societal structures. Farrington knew he'd pay dearly for his jibe, probably for as long as he worked there. But boy, oh boy, did he enjoy recounting it to his friends. And it must have felt very good indeed to exercise his real power just that once.

What this all may mean for your personal art careers, I'll leave up to you all to consider....

Labels: art careers

Friday, November 19, 2010

Catching Up vs. Ignoring the Precedents

Lilly Wei writes a thoughtful, thorough survey in the December issue of ArtNews of women painters bold enough to tackle the last great taboo in fine art: depicting the penis. Although plenty of gay men artists have offered up images including male genitalia, Wei wonders:
[W]hy are there so few stripped-down males, their charms unveiled by women for the delectation of women? While there is no one answer, some artists say that men’s bodies are less esthet­ically pleasing; others suggest that women need to take back the female body, not colonize or ­promote those of men. Women—in fact most viewers—still have difficulty scrutinizing male genitalia, or, conversely, men resist being scrutinized by women as subjects. It might make them feel too vulnerable, and that raises a question: Does the mere fact of being depicted naked feminize the male body?
Among the few female artists Lilly finds who have painted male nudes, they tend to fall into two categories: non-sexual portrayals of nude men or (and this is the category I want to consider a bit more) images that heavily reference previous works by male artists depicting female nudes. For example,

Women artists have more directly tackled the art-historical notion of the male gaze, turning it on its head. Now in her mid-90s [sadly she just recently passed away], Sylvia Sleigh has been undressing her male subjects for dec­ades. The model in Philip Golub Reclining (1971) looks into a large mirror in which the artist at work is also reflected. It appears to be an amalgam of two Velázquez paintings: the Rokeby Venus, one of the most seductive nude female backs in the history of art, and his masterpiece Las Meninas, in which the artist is shown as he paints the scene before us. A more recent work, from 2006, portrays a nude young man sitting in an Eames chair clutching the armrests. The work, featured in P.S. 1’s “Greater New York” exhibition earlier this year, suggests a provocative interpretation of another Velázquez, his canny portrait of Pope Innocent X.

Working in a similar vein, Ellen Altfest is noted for her meticulously detailed, trompe l’oeil paintings of quirky subjects as well as her sly, subtly charged portraits of male nudes that parody the male gaze. Some she presents with eyes closed, arms behind their heads, legs apart, mimicking a classic female nude pose. Penis (2006), an anatomically correct, crisply drawn close-up of the body part, offers an upending of Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World (1866), an unblinking look at the male phallus that is both real and theatrical, perversely clinical but with an undertone of heat, appealing to the voyeur—and exhibitionist—in all of us.

Referencing earlier compositions is a fine tradition in representational painting, but in this context, where as Lilly points out there's not been much work by female artists of sexualized male nudes, I have to wonder whether catching up (so that there exist enough referring counterparts to the existing female nudes by male artists that the issue is moot) is as interesting an idea as perhaps taking advantage of the pluralistic era clean-slate available to simply ignore the canon intentionally and simply paint what you (as a female artist) find beautiful about the male body.

Wei hints at what might be the stumbling block to that option:
Why does so much sublimation and unease surround these descriptions of the male body, once considered the ideal of beauty?
I'd say it's a mix of homophobia and the systematic suppression of female sexual desire (with a touch of patriarchy in the arts), but that's just a guess.

But now that we're arguable past a good deal of all that or at least able to call it openly what it is, what's to stop women artists from eschewing the precedents (and in doing so, arguably not hiding behind art history) and showing us what they find truly beautiful in a man's body? Sure you're gonna make your grandma blush, bold. The societal conditions have never been more accommodating.

Labels: art making, nudes

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tonight! Christopher K. Ho "Regional Painting" at Winkleman Gallery and "What is left" in the Curatorial Research Lab

Christopher K. Ho

Regional Painting

Nov 18 - Dec 23, 2010

Opening: Thursday, Nov 18, 2010, 6 - 8 PM

Winkleman Gallery is very pleased to present Regional Painting, our second solo exhibition by New York artist Christopher K. Ho. In this richly layered show, Ho calibrates fiction, fact, and figment into a precarious universe, at the center of which is one Hirsch E.P. Rothko, an anagram of the artist’s name. The invention of and creations by this shadow artist—a performance, twelve paintings, and a ghostwritten memoir—deploy conceptual art against itself to liberate Ho from its self-imposed constraints, and collectively propose regional painting as a viable model for contemporary practice.

License Plate Shed (2009-10) frames the exhibition. Part endurance art, part experiment, part polemic, it consists of Ho’s yearlong sojourn in a remote mountain town in southwestern Colorado. Working and living in a 700-square foot shed covered in license plates, the artist allowed himself to become vulnerable to the region’s ideas—one might say the ideology of regionalism. The attendant suspension of criticality—both in the sense of being critical and of having art-historical knowledge—encouraged different modes of ‘critical’ to emerge.

In the twelve Untitled (2001/2010) paintings, Ho allowed himself to unselfconsciously paint. Their lack of pursuit of originality or polemic paradoxically underscores their authenticity. A third term between and beside avant-garde and rear-guard, regional painting’s flank position allows for it to accidentally comment on the mainstream. Regional art proposes alternatives not by willful acts of judgment, but by alliteration of and variation on art that is proximate but not entirely accessible. Under its rubric, an artist’s relationship to his contemporaries and forbears is communal rather than competitive. That Ho felt comfortable enough to revisit painting after a ten-year hiatus is a result of regionalism’s nurture rather than a reconnection with nature.

By replacing derivation—borne of lack of imagination—with emulation—a generous and generative act—Ho alleviates the ‘anxiety of influence’ and thus the need for the defensive maneuvers of conventional critique, including negation, subversion, irony, and even parafiction. This allows for other strong subjectivities in the creative process—an amplification of Ho’s longtime commitment to collaboration. Such is the case with Hirsch E.P. Rothko by Hirsch E.P. Rothko (2010), a memoir of Ho/Rothko’s Colorado sojourn ghostwritten by Inez Kruckev, who had creative latitude; Ho’s only contribution was a polemic about regionalism embedded in the narrative.

In Hirsch E.P. Rothko’s own words, from the memoir: “Regionalism is not a style, but a mode of and model for making. It not so much aims to suspend the viewer’s disbelief as it enables an artist to suspend his self-consciousness. The suspension of criticality, whether reflexive or deconstructive, opens a fictive space where a conceptual artist can be a painter, a painter a writer, a dealer a publisher….”

Christopher K. Ho (b. 1974, Hong Kong) has had solo exhibitions at Winkleman Gallery (2008) and GALERIA EDS in Mexico City. He was included in the 2009 Incheon Biennial, the 2008 Busan Biennale, and the 2008 Chinese Biennial. He has participated in group exhibitions at the Queens Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, Dallas Contemporary, MASSMoCA at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens and the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art; and internationally at the Freies Museum in Berlin, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Srpska, and the Other Gallery in Shanghai. He received his B.F.A. and B.S. from Cornell University and his M.Phil from Columbia University.

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or

What is left

Featuring work by Nina Lola Bachhuber, Elissa Levy, and Nick Herman.

Organized by Rachel Gugelberger.

Nov 18 - Dec 23, 2010

Opening: Thursday, Nov 18, 2010, 6 - 8 PM

Taking advantage of CRLab’s experimental mandate, What is left takes a two-fold approach. While it is a thematic exhibition, it is presented through a metamorphosing curatorial lens that unfolds over time. Works by Nina Lola Bachhuber, Elissa Levy, and Nick Herman will be individually introduced, swapped out and/or rearranged, resulting in a variety of improvised juxtapositions. Adding a layer of temporality to the curatorial and viewing process, What is left hopes to challenge some of the preconceptions about the experience of viewing art in a gallery.

Thematically, What is left considers the human figure, but neither the classical figure nor some reaction against it, grotesque, abject or otherwise. Instead it ponders some of the most enduring ideas that swirl around and define the body -- constructions of power, myth and desire; beauty and vanity; even existential states of mind. The exhibition is less a meditation on the corporeal than an attempt to grasp “what is left” by the body’s physical absence.

Methodologically, What is left investigates the curatorial process as a collection of varying creative and theoretical possibilities. On a given day, a particular discourse may be initiated between two or three works. On another day, an installation of different works altogether might be on view. Such ongoing curatorial decisions and gestures drive this exhibition, which seeks to explore how the shifting organization of works inform the dialogue between the works themselves and viewer’s expectations.

The residue of the show’s varied installations -- nails, holes in the wall, cleats, hooks, spatial gaps -- will remain visible during the course of the exhibition, serving as evidence, clue or perhaps even aura that inform one’s understanding and interpretation of the show’s underlying theme. If a gallery is a vessel in which one’s own body relates in time and space to works of art, What is left explores how this relationship might change within the confines of a single thematic premise, using a specific selection of work. While What is left does not intend to challenge the exhibition’s basic premise, the inclusion of works and the arrangement of the installation will be altered, allowing for multiple permutations.

The human body itself is present in each of the works in What is left, but it is de-contextualized, amputated, animated, adorned, obscured. With a keen eye for modes of display, Nina Lola Bachhuber combines the formal language of surrealist sculpture with post-minimalist tendencies. Her curious, pseudo-mythological creatures are adorned with an array of decorative elements -- hair, beads, nylons, leather -- arranged in a manner that heightens the tension and confusion between their intended use and their engimatic presentation. Bachhuber reconstructs her materials into seemingly ceremonial or devotional objects that revel in a realm of fetishistic obsession that is both playful and sinister. Here, for example, a viewer may see three bewigged skulls transformed into monopodic homunculi displayed on a modernist coffee table, the surface of which is composed of a meticulously hand-drawn pattern of geometric design. Invoking a menac ing version of the Three Graces or even a collection of memento mori, Bachhuber’s tableau puts forth a multiplicity of speculative possibilities.

The work of Nick Herman explores the psychological desire for myth; in particular, the allegorical power of the American West and the “Promised Land” as informed by popular culture, geo-politics, religion and secular vocabularies. Themes of violence, entropy and excess are, as the artist states, “often coupled with popular and highly marketed popular archetypes of heroism and material apotheosis, striking in rich for example in sexual vigor.” In sculpture and works on paper, the figure is possessed by a desire for improved states and prosperity. In Paradise Valley, for example, copulating figures are almost obscured by the earthquake-damaged landscape that envelops them, underscored by an eruption of a repetitive pattern that suggests decorative wallpaper or architectural plans. A combination of traditional materials with fat and milk solids for example, emphasize not only the entropic qualities of the hu man body and its environs, but the extreme divide separating desire and excess.

Working directly on newspapers and magazines, Elissa Levy deconstructs various male icons -- soldiers, athletes, celebrities and politicians -- that populate the printed media. Isolating their forms, she strips them of identifiable cues of power or fame, reducing them to ghost-like apparitions. Reanimated in pen and paint with concentric lines of fluorescent colors, these reimagined and reworked figures look like renderings of auras or infrared photography, as if providing a glimpse into their core. Approached with a punk DIY ethos and the use of craft materials, Levy transforms contemporary artifacts into raw and makeshift future relics. While aggressively de-contextualizing (limbs are amputated) or eradicating these figures in their current mass-reproduced form, Levy painstakingly alters them into otherworldly silhouettes that distract from their socially constructed masculinity.

In his 1855 poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” Walt Whitman refers to “the charge of the soul.” By exploring various elemental, mythical and mythological aspects of the human form, the works in What is left seek out this space between an electrically charged celebration of the corporeal and calls to remember our own mortality. The work of Bachhuber, Herman and Levy employ the figure as cipher, using it as a sociopolitical (and at times anthropological) prism that might offer a glimpse of “what is left” when it’s gone.

Nina Lola Bachhuber was born in Munich, Germany, and lives and works in Newark, New Jersey. She obtained her MFA at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. Bachhuber has exhibited widely at venues including UCLA Hammer Museum; the Moore Space, Miami; Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, Germany; Gallery Min Min, Tokyo; the 7th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazill; and in New York, the Drawing Center, P.S.1/MoMA, Sculpture Center, Metro Pictures, Mary Boone and Lehmann Maupin Galleries. A solo exhibition of her work is currently on view at Momenta Art in Brooklyn, New York, through December 19, 2010.

Nick Herman is an artist, writer and publisher of ANTEPROJECTS. He has exhibited at the Sculpture Center, Socrates Sculpture Park and Peter Blum Gallery in New York and at Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles, California. His work was recently a part of Portugal Arte (Lisbon). In 2011, Herman will be an artist-in-residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, and will have a solo project at LA>MFA in sculpture from Yale University and a BA in religious studies from Macalester College. Herman is based in Los Angeles, California.

Elissa Levy is a mixed media artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She has had solo exhibitions at Stonefox Artspace, New York; The Living Room, San Francisco; and Brooklyn Fireproof, Inc, Brooklyn. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the New Museum and White Columns in New York; G Fine Art, Washington, D.C.; and the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP), Brooklyn. In 2006, she was awarded a residency at Glenfiddich, Scotland. She has recently been organizing a series of events entitled “Sewing Socials” where guests are invited to wear clothing that needs repair and a team of darners will mend them.

Rachel Gugelberger was recently co-director of Sara Meltzer Gallery, where she co-curated the exhibitions Landscapes for Frankenstein, Ceci n’est pas… and Prevailing Climate. Upcoming projects include Data Deluge, a presentation of works that utilize data as source material and Library Science, an exhibition that ponders our changing role to the library as it adapts to the digital world. Rachel is currently working independently in New York.

For more information, please contact Edward Winkleman at 212.643.3152 or

Or visit the Curatorial Research Lab website.

Labels: gallery artists exhibitions

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The New On-the-Ground Reality | Open Thread

Walter Robinson offers a lovely recount of the AICA/USA Distinguished Critic Lecture at the New School delivered by Holland Cotter recently (even if, as Cotter himself acknowledged the constant temptation to, Robinson gave in to the urge to pen a piece "designed to call attention to himself." :-). The end of Walter's report reminded me of an article a friend had forwarded and it ties in with the same paralyzing set of options noted in the text of the short story excerpt I posted on Monday. Here's Walter:
By the end of his talk, Cotter had, in his own quiet way, delivered something of a polemic. He called the art world a "middle-class gated community, protecting its territorial and entrepreneurial interests, and thus inherently conservative," and seemed to wax a bit puritanical when he said "no selling art as pleasure to our over-pleasured audience."

But he spoke undeniable truth when he praised artists who were actively engaged with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early ‘90s, heralding the "exceptional range of new art made in response to on-the-ground reality." We could certainly use a little more of that today.

I thought a bit about the amazingly honest and urgent art that emerged from the AIDS crisis and how there does indeed seem to be little to match its intensity today, despite an economic crisis, two wars, rampant corruption, widespread poverty, terrorism, and radical fundamentalists of all stripes gaining political power. The 1980s and 90s were not all that long ago. Why are we all so seemingly comatose in comparison? Why are we all so seemingly meek in the face of these outrages?

Indeed it seems that something fundamental has changed since the era when governments were truly afraid their people would rise up and revolt if they didn't assure the basic necessities. Theories I've heard as to why this is so range from the anesthetizing/de-revolutionizing effects of minor luxuries (like TV and McDonalds) to Big Brother-esque information gathering capacities that prohibit revolutionary plans from furtively spreading far and wide enough before the authorities can break them up.

Those days may actually be ending. There is something approaching new anger being expressed in parts of the world. Riots in Greece. Riots in France. Riots in England.

David Seaton (an American journalist living in Europe) recently examined what all this means on his blog:
Up till now the children of the credit bubble have had little to rebel against, all the things that the 1968 generation fought for, especially sexual freedom, this generation have had in abundance. While they enjoyed their freedom or became bored with it they became proficient with computers, cell phone messaging and social nets, all valuable skills for potential agitators. Now as politicians like David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy are attacking their futures, their education and even their future pensions, they have something more challenging than "Grand Theft Auto" to test their skills against. And perhaps they will be able to do something that the students of 1968 couldn't do in those times of prosperity and full employment, make common cause with working people and the older generations.

Now the battle is not just about personal freedom and imperialist wars as it was back them, it is about health, education and welfare: the basics.
Threats to the basics (health, education and welfare) fully explain the anger in the gay community as well as the power of the art created during the AIDS crisis. But Seaton goes on to explain the wider revolutionary threat lurking...the one that could see larger unrest here in the US. And contrary to the propaganda you hear on Fox News and its like, the threat is NOT socialist sensibilities. Quite the opposite. Seaton:
I'm astounded at how oblivious Cameron and Sarkozy are to the danger they are running.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my favorite hobby horses is criticizing the blockheadedness of post Cold War politicians who seem to have totally lost their fear of popular wrath.

Those who are cheerfully going about the work of dismantling the welfare state seem blissfully unaware that the welfare state was created by men as, or even more conservative then themselves, (Bismark, for example) in order to avoid revolutionary social movements which would destabilize and jeopardize the entire economic system and society itself. This was a strategy that was so eminently successful that it practically has destroyed revolutionary praxis.

In my opinion dismantling the welfare state at this time is similar to a person who has successfully survived an operation for lung cancer and endured the ensuing chemotherapy and then, finding himself now in remission, decides that it is ok for him to go back to smoking, the very thing that caused his cancer in the first place: idiotic.
I have always thought it idiocy (or at least a serious historical ignorance) for the financially comfortable to not recognize governmental security nets for the masses as a small price to pay for domestic tranquility. History is chock full of revolutions spawned by aristocratic lack of compassion, revolutions that brought down vast empires. Still, here in the US we see the GOP hellbent on ending "entitlements" even as they offer only tired and long disproved trickle down theories for how to generate jobs. This is a recipe for revolution if ever there was one.

The main reason we have the relative calm we have in the US, despite punishing unemployment and rising poverty, is not patriotism or minor luxuries, in my opinion, but precisely those New Deal like safety nets put in place over the last century. In other words, governmental assurances that people will still have some access to the basics--health, education and welfare--the things that without, they are most likely to, well, "Act Up."

Chisel away at those and you greatly increase the odds of costly riots and civil unrest. With over 9% unemployment and states strapped for cash, it's not at all likely there are law enforcement resources up to the task of quelling widespread revolts either, so it would be fool-hearty to put your faith in the police state should things get very desperate.

Consider this an open thread on art, basic needs, and the pending revolution.

Labels: gay politics, politics

Monday, November 15, 2010

Scratch a Conceptual Artist, Find a Painter, Part II

One element of Christopher K. Ho's exhibition "Regional Painting" that opens in our gallery this Thursday (see here) is a short work of fiction based loosely on a year-long performance that Chris did as part of the new body of work we'll be presenting. The 90+ page book is available for free at the gallery, and the early reviews from folks who have read it are fabulous.

I read it in one sitting (which is hard for someone as fidgety as me), but I literally could not put it down. It's hysterical in parts, eye-opening in others, and I'm sure to no small degree will generate debate. In many ways, it deals with a lot of the ideas and differences of opinions we've hashed out in this blog over the years, which is why I was so captivated by it.

As is common in Chris' work, the book is a collaboration between one "Inez Kruckev" and one "Hirsch E.P. Rothko" (which is an anagram of Christopher K. Ho). I'll let you guess whose name Inez Kruckev is an anagram of.

The book's story centers on how conceptual artist Hirsch E.P. Rothko ended up stuck in a small Colorado town for a year and how during that time his feelings about art making underwent a dramatic transformation. It is chock full of food for thought, but today I wanted to share an excerpt that brilliantly summarizes the past century and how we all got to this point in art history. (One person who read it commented that it could have easily replaced the four years he studied art history).

The character speaking is the protagonist, Hirsch E.P. Rothko, talking to a local biker/skier (Mal) in the small Colorado town who attempts to prod Rothko (who is "taking a break from making art") back into doing what he knows he lives to do. Mal speaks first:

“Dude, there are no breaks from art. You know what Robert Henri said, right? ‘Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life’s experience.”’
What comes next is only the set up for what I find to be one of the most heart/mind-wrenching dilemmas for today's artists interested in taking on art history. The character Hirsch E.P. Rothko is speaking:
I realized in that moment that if I was going to exist in this place, with these people, even just until the Saab was fixed, that I needed to let them in, let them know who I was, what I was about. I couldn’t patronize them any longer.

“Listen, Mal, right? Mal, the whole art-life dialogue played itself out in some really interesting ways in the past century, especially with Duchamp. Duchamp’s readymades drew from cubist collage, but instead of incorporating real chair caning or bicycle handles into painting and sculpture, Duchamp simply designated an object an artwork. His move established one core aim of what came to be called the avant-garde: the radical fusion of the aesthetic with the everyday, the merging of art and life.

“After World War II, American painters picked up on something else in Picasso and Braque’s analytic cubism: the fragmenting of Renaissance perspective, leading to an emphasis on the actual flatness of the picture plane. This narrative, which differs from Duchamp’s, had painting withdrawing from actuality and becoming autonomous. This was useful for the abstract expressionists and critics like Clement Greenberg, since it provided a formally and visually verifiable patrimony: de Kooning and Kline were at the tail end of a trajectory that began with Manet, moved to Cézanne, then Matisse, and was developed by Mondrian before jumping the Atlantic. More, Pollock’s allover compositions and Noland’s edged abstractions would trump their European predecessors and contemporaries by making explicit these reductive operations, laying bare, to paraphrase Michael Fried, the historical conditions of possibility of painting itself.

“It would take the specter of the monochrome to return Duchamp to the story. For the monochrome was not only reductivist abstraction’s logical epitome, but also approached the readymade; its emphasis of two-dimensional flatness efficaciously cancelled out the illusion of three-dimensional space, to be sure, but also inadvertently thrust the work into actual three-dimensional space. Painters like Olitski and Louis tried, asymptotically, to supplant ‘flatness’ with terms like ‘opticality,’ but others, later known as minimalists, took Stella and Ryman’s nearblank canvases one step further, and embraced the turn to three-dimensional reality. Indeed, for Judd, Morris, and Andre, modernist painting already implicated the everyday, insofar as the qualities of serialization, deskilling—as it were, of abstraction—were precisely those of industrialization and the rise of capitalism.

“Pop, concurrent with minimalism, would take this notion of abstraction—an abstraction of the signifier rather than of form—and elaborate it, building on the work of Rauschenberg and Johns. Informed by the transition from structuralism to poststructuralism and France, as well as political events such as the ’68 uprisings, the Prague Spring, and the civil rights and feminist movements, art engaged with politics with renewed vigor. The English translation and publication of key texts by Derrida, Barthes, Saussure, and others heralded a new emphasis on making visible the hidden operations of power that underlie language and other supposedly neutral vessels, including museums. What began as mere phenomenology in minimalism soon flourished into site-specificity and then into institutional critique, epitomized by Asher, Haacke, and Buren, which in turn bolstered and was bolstered by the photo-based, feminist work of Kruger and Sherman.

“But this story of art’s reengagement in politics, of the reconvergence of converging art and life (what we can think of as the readymade’s return) ends on a downbeat. Duchampian dada returned, but its core polemic didn’t survive long. While it informed almost every aspect of what gets called postmodernism, its critical purchase had waned by the Reagan-Thatcher eighties. By the time Jeff Koons, a former stockbroker, exhibited an unaltered vacuum cleaner encased in a lit Plexi box, the readymade’s point was entirely obscured. If Duchamp used the use value, the utility, of a urinal to question aesthetic value, Koons took an object that already had exchange value (it was a brand-name vacuum cleaner, and the box referred to a commercial display case) and used its new status as ‘art’ to add prestige value to it, making art the instrument for turning a vacuum cleaner worth a few hundred bucks into something now worth millions.

“This narrative is influenced by ideas from psychoanalysis, but even more so from Marx. Both abstraction and the avant-garde are part of the larger story of assimilation, which gives modern and postmodern alike a peculiar tense: that of the future anterior. Abstraction withdrew into the aesthetic sphere as a defense against industrialization and capitalism only to find that that sphere was already vitiated. The avant-garde entered into the real world in order to change that world (politically and socially) only to find instead that the world changed it, turned it into commodity. Art is weak. If modernism’s project of self-definition ended with the monochrome, postmodernism’s critical project ended with the assimilation of the readymade and of institutional critique.

“So the options that this leaves are basically: 1) you can blithely forge ahead, either as an academic or an ‘outsider’ artist; 2) you can cynically choose to be complicit, accepting your work’s future assimilation and nonetheless performing critique, either ironically or exploitatively; or 3) you can acknowledge your fate (assimilation) and your work as redundant because all it does is demonstrate what’s already been established. So I get where you’re going with the Henri quote, and I really do appreciate it, but I’ve thought a lot about this art and life thing, and I feel like that thinking has basically led me where I am now, to the point where I’m, you know, taking a break.”

Mal had listened attentively to all this. He was standing, his small frame exuding health, twisting a strand of his hair between two fingers, a messy mass of greasy blond hair that looked as if it had never been combed and parted before.

“Hirsch, you’re the Tin Man, aren’t you? You live all up here.” He tapped my forehead gently. His finger was warm. Before I could answer he went on, “You’ve heard this before, Hirsch, a smart dude like you. But you probably haven’t listened to it for years. Listen to it for me this time. Feel it down here.”
The story hardly ends there (in fact, in one sense, it only begins there)...but I think that's more than enough to chew on for the moment.

Labels: art history, art making

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Challenges of Buying Art in One's Pajamas, Part II

Following up on our earlier discussion here, I'd say the online art market is about to get very interesting indeed. Today reports that
Larry Gagosian has... team[ed up] with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Russian heiress Dasha Zhukova, Wendi Murdoch (wife of Rupert), and others to roll out a personalized online fine-art emporium. Called, the brand new company was strung together by Carter Cleveland, a 24-year-old entrepreneur, and will introduce aspects of technology pioneered by custom music-curating site Pandora to art sales, according to a report in Business Insider, which broke the story.
I know of at least three similar efforts also currently in development, and while their individual odds of emerging as a real player vary, my first thought when reading who was now getting behind was to think "Game over. This is the crew."

Then I recalled my history lessons and remembered that first out the gate hardly guarantees you'll be the winner in this game. A splashy start is good, but more than anything the information architecture innovations, entrepreneurial instincts, and just plain being in the right place at the right time with the right user experience is what it takes to emerge as the online king. If your interface sucks or your data isn't flexible enough, no one will care whose name is on the masthead a year or so into pounding their keyboards in frustration. Being top dog in a real world field doesn't necessarily translate into domination in the online world either. Anyone remember or ... My point exactly.

Still, kudos to for nabbing Gagosian and Zhukova before their competitors got much traction. I know there has been fierce competition to attract that kind of star power to the various fledgling efforts in the second generation of online art selling sites. If you're one of those other efforts, though, I wouldn't stop coding just yet...there are megabytes and megabytes yet left in this race.

Labels: art market, art online

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For the "if"s in Life

So I was reading in the Times about how interest in title insurance for artwork seems to be grabbing hold enough that a large insurance company purchased a smaller firm that had been selling art title insurance for a while. My first response was to agree with the dealers who noted that it seemed a bit unnecessary:

But some people with dealings in the art world question the need for such insurance, since most reputable dealers guarantee that a buyer is getting clear title, and works sold by auction houses come with a warranty from the seller that they have clear title.

“Let’s say you buy through a major auction house,” said Gary D. Sesser, a lawyer at Carter Ledyard & Milburn who has handled art title disputes. “You look to them as your insurer, and a collector would probably be reluctant to pay much over and above the acquisition cost.”

But then I found this fabulous report by Kate Deimling on that reads like the plot from some suspense thriller:
With the recent arrest of Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi, prosecutors in Cologne believe they have broken up a forgery ring of breathtaking skill and duplicity. The couple is accused of forging as many as 35 Expressionist paintings that made their way to London and Paris, with the total sum of the damages estimated at over €15 million ($21 million). Helene's sister, the mother of the two women, and an art dealer from the German town of Krefeld — identified only as "Otto" — are also under arrest and awaiting trial.

The couple seems to have established an elaborate story for the provenance of an Expressionist art collection that they supposedly owned and sold off piece by piece, Der Spiegel reports. Helene said that her grandfather, Werner Jägers, had acquired several paintings from a close friend, the Jewish art dealer Alfred Flechtheim. When the Nazis came to power and branded Expressionist art as "degenerate," Jägers allegedly decided to hide his collection at a property in Germany's Eiffel region. Helene said that before his death he had given part of the collection to her and her sister.
Such a collection actually never existed though. Still, their plot included the very clever step of first bringing to auction a real Raoul Dufy that they claimed was from the made-up collection, setting expectations in the auction world that they indeed had the goods.

With the auction results this week indicating clearly that there's tons of money about for art in certain markets, I would expect it will occur to others that attempting to con their way to some of it, even if it takes a remarkable degree of planning and duplicity, is worth the effort. ("The [forgery] couple enjoyed a lavish lifestyle, with a residence in the tax haven Andorra as well as a villa in Freiburg, Germany, which they renovated at huge expense.")

And so now I'm rethinking the need for title insurance. As the Times noted:

The most obvious title disputes involve theft, and in the United States buyers who unwittingly obtain a stolen work often have to surrender it.

More commonly, though, ownership is muddy for more mundane reasons: an artwork may carry liens after being used as collateral for a loan, or a seller may not have full authority to sell the piece, as in a divorce.

But you also never know when a very clever forgery ring will dupe half the auction houses and experts in Europe either.

UPDATE: Donn Zaretsky notes:
I'm pretty sure, however, that ARIS doesn't cover forgery claims. See here.
which more or less means my change of skepticism is without any basis.

Labels: crime, insurance

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Grinning Criminal in Our Midst

Maureen Dowd's column today is a stinging round-up of how the partisan right views things in light of the GOP's taking back the House in Congress. The piece is reportedly written by her conservative brother Kevin, but it's a bit difficult to tell whether Dowd's just having us on (or whether the NYTimes should add another Dowd to their opinion's a brilliant set of observations/parodies?/who knows). The one that really stung the most, though, was:
To President Bush : A 50-to-42 winner over Obama in a mock presidential poll in Ohio after doing absolutely nothing. A Nobel Prize is on the way.
As soon as the Nobel committee creates a new category for advances in State-Sponsored Torture, yes, I'm sure Bush will be at the top of their list.

In case you've been lucky enough to miss it, the former President has been on TV (that grin still makes me cringe) flogging his memoir in which he admits that he personally approved the use of torture. Of course he's still insisting that waterboarding isn't torture, but everyone else, including the current President of the United State say he's wrong about that. The rest of the civilized world in fact, agrees that waterboarding IS torture, and that it's internationally illegal:
The 26-year-old United Nations Convention Against Torture requires that all parties to it seek to enforce its provisions, even for acts committed elsewhere. That provision, known as universal jurisdiction, has been cited in the past by prosecutors in Spain and Belgium to justify investigations of acts by foreign officials. But no such trials have occurred in foreign courts.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said, "Waterboarding is broadly seen by legal experts around the world as torture, and it is universally prosecutable as a crime. The fact that none of us expect any serious consequences from [Bush's] admission is what is most interesting."
Reportedly (I have no intention of reading it) in his memoir, Bush recounts
being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was "Damn right" and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives. [emphasis mine]
This "saving lives" excuse Bush is waiving around isn't the airtight "get out of jail free card" moral defense he seems to thinks it is. In at least one example he's citing it's not even historically accurate:
British officials said today there was no evidence to support claims by George Bush, the former US president, that information extracted by "waterboarding" saved British lives by foiling attacks on Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf. In his memoirs, Bush said the practice – condemned by Downing Street as torture – was used in CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the US.

He said Mohammed, below, was one of three al-Qaida suspects subjected to waterboarding. "Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport, and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States," he wrote.

It is not the first time information extracted from Mohammed has been claimed as helping to prevent al-Qaida attacks on British targets. Mohammed cited attacks on Heathrow, Big Ben and Canary Wharf in a list of 31 plots he described at Guantánamo Bay after he was subjected to waterboarding 183 times following his capture in Pakistan in March 2003. The Heathrow alert in fact happened a month before his arrest, with army tanks parked around the airport, in what was widely regarded as an overreaction. [emphasis mine]
Despite his own statements that waterboarding is Torture, you have to believe that Obama had reassured Bush he would be protected from prosecution before he admitted he approved it.
M. Cherif Boussiani, an emeritus law professor at DePaul University who co-chaired the U.N. experts committee that drafted the torture convention, said that Bush's admission could theoretically expose him to prosecution. But he also said Bush must have presumed that he would have the government's backing in any confrontation with others' courts.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, a long-standing critic of Bush's interrogation and detention policies, called prosecution unlikely. "The fact that he did admit it suggests he believes he is politically immune from being held accountable. . . . But politics can change."
Change....and we're back to Hope again.

I'm sure Obama felt that offering assurance was the right thing to do back when he believed he would lose all chance of collaborating with the GOP on the issues important to getting the nation back on track after the near collapse, like health care and financial reform, if he prosecuted Bush. As it's obvious now that the GOP has no intentions whatsoever of working together, I think Obama should stand up for what he obviously believes and now prosecute Bush as the criminal he's admitted to being.

Labels: politics, torture

Monday, November 08, 2010

What Are You Really Doing in Your Studio? ("Scratch a Conceptual Artist, Find a Painter," Part 1*)

I met an artist at the ISCP open studio yesterday whose work had evolved from video and other digital media into sculpture. She noted that that was the last thing she imagined would happen in her practice while she was in school, where she would have never thought to take up sculpture, but somehow her work led her to understand the power of objects for communicating the emotions and ideas she wanted to express in her work.

This reminded me of something I had read in the profile of one of our favorite rising art world power brokers (the up-and-coming super-collector and somewhat sporadic-of-late blogger Mike at MAO) in the November issue of Modern Painters magazine. (Mike also noted, and this made me both laugh and admire him even more [which is saying something], in response to the question "Have you ever had the ambition to open a gallery?" an answer that should be spread far and wide "No. Most of these gallerists are just scraping by. It’s almost a charitable function, and they really are doing an amazing favor to the artists they represent as well as collectors.") But what he noted that connects (I hope) with the ISCP artist was this (they don't have it online that I can find, so excuse any typos from re-typing):
[Modern Painters:] Do you have a desire to get to know an artist you’re collecting? Does that contribute to the work?
[Mike {who collects a great deal of photograph}:] Just because you like an artist’s work doesn’t mean you’re going to like the artist personally. You shouldn’t confuse the two. Some critically acclaimed artists–you meet them and realize a lot of what they’ve done is just random darkroom work. This tends to be the case in the abstract world: You look at some of these abstract images, and you want to read a lot into them, and really the artists were just experimenting. The image looked great, and so they printed it, and bam!–it was a $100,000 work of art. [emphasis mine]
The image looked great, and so they printed it. And why not? I mean, what are you doing in your studio if some part of the process would lead you to NOT print an image that looked great or not stop working on a painting that seemed perfect, or not leave in that technical glitch in a video if it really worked toward the message you were attempting to communicate?

That's not to say seeking out such formal discoveries should dominate your practice if that's not your interest. I seriously believe that highly intellectual investigations and aesthetic accomplishments are not mutually exclusive. For art to be truly great, they rarely can be far apart. But to think an artist would be so wrapped up in their conceptual pursuits that they'd miss seeing those happy accidents that can come through experimentation quite frankly makes me sad for them. What are you doing in your studio if not, at times at least, opening yourself up to the possibility of some sublime incident sneaking its way into your process?

In other words, PLAY. For the love of all that's wondrous about art, let yourself play in your studio (from time to time anyway). You can come back round to the hard work when the time's right. If all you do is play, it will show in the work as well, so don't get addicted to it. But if the images looks us all a favor and yes, please, print them! If a sculpture captures your meaning better than a video can, please make the sculpture. No one says it has to be the centerpiece of your next exhibition, but it should exist if it's great, if it's right. There is nowhere near too much of that, ever.

*I'll explain more about this next week.

Labels: art making, studio practice

Friday, November 05, 2010

Bambino's Birthday Week Begins

OK, so we're heading out of town later today in observance of the most important week of the calendar year. You'd think that might be art week in Miami or the Venice-Basel connection in early June, but you'd be wrong. It's the 7 days buffering the glorious day we celebrate far and wide how fortunate we are that God blessed the Earth with that adorable direct descendant of Genghis Khan, the one, the only: Bambino.

Word on the street is that Bambino IS accepting gifts this year, which has some of us with near-empty wallets scrambling for creative ideas that only look expensive. Suggestions are welcome!

Labels: personal

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Response to the Elections: The Pending Acrimony Tsunami

I spent the better part of a subway ride trying to come up with a joke to post to my Facebook page in response to the elections, and this was the best I came up with:
Rather than "The Tea Party" they should have called themselves the "Coffee Klatsch," because it seems to me that the whole movement is Chock Full o' Nuts.
Yes, that fully explains why Jon Stewart won't return my calls, but the truth of the matter is that in the high-profile races across the country most of the nuttiest of Tea Party candidates lost (O'Donnell, Paladino, Angle, Whitman).

But then where does this leave those of us not inclined to vote for Republicans? The President made a statement yesterday that suggests he appreciates the weight of the message the nation's voters sent him and the Democrats. He offered the required post-drubbing commitment to work with the opposition, but the question remains which of the opposition's bi-polar approaches will emerge as their true agenda to try to work with?

The New York Times sums up that to-be-answered question nicely with the following examples:

In the kind of opposition Ms. [Sarah] Palin represents, issues aren’t always meant to be addressed through governance, but rather to be deployed as blunt instruments in pursuit of more electoral gains. For the new Republican-led House, that would mean more questions about the president’s birth certificate, more subpoenas flowing down Pennsylvania Avenue, more votes on abortion and flag burning and all of that.

And it might mean passing a bill on gun rights or school prayer that excites the base, knowing full well that the Democratic-controlled Senate will simply let it die anyway.

Mr. [Paul] Ryan, of Wisconsin, on the other hand, is the author of a radically austere plan to scale back federal spending, and he is about to become chairman of the House Budget Committee. Mr. Ryan, a Washington insider, is heir to the side of the conservative movement that grew out of think tanks and policy journals in the 1960s and ’70s.

To Mr. Ryan’s way of thinking, liberals in government aren’t cultural imperialists; in fact, he gets along with them just fine. Rather, Mr. Ryan sees the president and his allies as hopelessly misguided, reliant on unsustainable government spending rather than the market. Mr. Ryan’s kind of opposition would offer up an alternative, polarizing agenda, forcing President Obama and his allies to defend their philosophy and their intransigence.

Of course, an intellectual (rather than a cultural) debate is what you have to believe the founding fathers imagined Congress would spend its time having (and why they designed the government more as a game of tug of war than a 40-yard dash). But many pundits are seeing the sort of obstruction-as-policy we've had for the past two years as merely a dress rehearsal for what's to come. Indeed, it seems that the Republicans' only winning the House has set the stage for the kind of acrimony in government that I'm assuming most Americans had truly hoped their votes would bring to an end. But, as Charles Krauthammer cynically noted before the election:
If you're Republican, I think it works rather well in terms of strategy for ‘12. You really didn't want control of the two houses because then Obama could do a Truman where he ran against the do-nothing Congress and ran for re-election. If you put too much of the actual official power in the hands of the Republicans, it makes them responsible. Right now, I think they're in perfect position tactically. Control the House, object, propose stuff that Obama may veto and run on that against him in 2012. [emphasis mine]
Heaven knows, the constituents never intended their elected officials to actually be responsible while in office. They elected them solely so they could waste the next two years playing politics on our dime.

In fact, though, if they were paying attention, the electorate should have known exactly what they were voting for. Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell came right out and said that his top priority was seeing that President Obama was "a one-term president." Not helping Americans keep their homes, not helping Americans find jobs, not even stopping the terrorists or the illegal immigrants. No, the top priority on the GOP agenda is doing whatever they can to ensure the President is not re-elected.

Typical Washington rhetoric? Sure. But also a clear indication that the new Congress will not very likely accomplish much more toward alleviating the hardship that helped put them in office than their predecessors we able to. Does that mean another Dem sweep in 2012? Can the GOP win again on acrimony and obstruction alone? Or would they have to actually, you know, help people over the next two years to get re-elected?

In a way, I hope the Tea Party stays angry and very vocal. I hope they hold the new Congress' feat to the flames, and continue disrupting town meetings and marching on Washington, demanding a government that's working for the people. Yes, I know, who they see as "the people" and who I see as "the people" aren't exactly in sync. But despite the Sarah Palin's and Glenn Beck's out there milking the acrimony for every gold coin they can horde away, I still believe in a government elected by the people. I believe it slowly wobbles back and forth, but always overall keeps moving forward. As Andrew Sullivan noted, for example, it was a great election for gays:
Those pro-marriage justices in Iowa may have lost their jobs, but more openly gay and lesbian candidates won office last night than in any other year in American history. If that happens in this kind of wave election, even in Kentucky, things have changed deeply.
And so it continues...a step forward, a step back, another step forward and on and on. I don't look forward to the acrimony tsunami about to hit, but I don't despair for the nation either. Our government is designed to be this's the only way to ensure that there's balance to the progress and that's we move forward in a way that is considerate of all opinions as much as possible. And, so, forward we go....

Labels: politics