Here and Elsewhere at New Museum


Once I was actually at the museum, with a guy who looked Muslim on one side of me and a guy who wore a yarmulkah on the other, I remembered ninth grade geography.  My ninth grade geography teacher always did the middle east first.  Get it over with, he said.  Too depressing.   For me, it was all those years of Tea Cake dying and them hanging John Proctor, over and over.  At least those were sexy deaths.

The show at the New Museum is “from and about the Arab world.” You end up sort of looking at a Time magazine cover with Anwar Sadat on it.  You see photos of people who live in a rough place and look rather rough, kids and people posing with guns, things people have left behind because of wars.  That is, much of it was cut so long or was so on-the-nose that I wasn’t drawn in.  There are flyers, there is amateur work, and there are pieces by artists whose thoughtfulness shows.

Here’s what was great.

IMG_1675IMG_1674IMG_1673 IMG_1672Family trees of middle eastern royal families, titled “Probleme” and various numbers.  In our country, where your family tree is rarely discussed, and if then, only as a novelty, it reminds that many places, for many people, this charting of who came from whom was critical.  Great color, and careful balance of using but not exhausting the idea.  Are they molecules?  Spreading diseases?  Periodic tables?  I wished there were more of the pieces that used the shapes of Arabic letters, which I have always loved.

IMG_1688The New Museum seems to have a thing for miniature cities.  I loved their last miniature city, by Christopher Burden, and they have another miniature city, this one by Wafa Hourani, called Qalandia 2087, and it “envisions different futures of the Qalandai refugee camp [which was] established in 1959 on land leased from Jordan…though it was originally built to accommodate about three thousand people—Palestinian refugees from nearby villages—its population has nearly quadrupled in the fifty years since” and the tag on the wall goes on to tell you more about the refugee camp and it is, I assure you, depressing.

IMG_1687The city isn’t depressing, though, it’s great.  Walt Disney had a thing for miniatures.  I didn’t think I did.  In Kansas City, there is a museum with an extensive collection of miniatures, some are toys and some are, I don’t know, collector pieces?  Art pieces?  I know you can go there and see cool train sets, great doll houses, and recreations of not the world’s smallest, but a pretty damn small violin.  They have miniatures of candy shops and hotels and bars.  In some of them, there is a hidden mouse to find.  You know, for kids.

At Disney World, you can see the miniature of Progress City, USA, Walt Disney’s idea for how things should be.  It has a ferris wheel.  Tiny lights.  Places for work and play!  Hourani has a similarly whimsical attitude, with his city containing a goldfish pond and music playing, silly, cheerful music.  (Those goldfish might be rather dangerous considering the size of the humans in the city, who are about the size of three of these capital Xs.)  Someday, that camp will be a place people water potted plants and sit on their rooftops and there will still and always be all those antennae– he seems to have made them out of sparkly pipe cleaners.  The sand, dusky brown gravel, has glitter in it, too.IMG_1683IMG_1684


IMG_1679A Moroccan guy makes drawings and collages inside matchbooks.  Everyone loves these.  Is that significant?  I don’t know.  It gives you that old, I should makes something feeling, which is always good.  That appreciation for people making things to please themselves.

IMG_1681There were a lot of pieces that used photography and drawing together.  The only one that interested me was one well balanced by Anna Boghiguian.  It said something about the inside and outside world, and how they work with each other.

IMG_1691I have sworn off two things: reading in galleries, watching movies in galleries.  (On this note, the posts on the walls about the work are infuriatingly difficult to match with the work, I don’t care how cool the gallery looks, and two long paragraphs to explain who an artist is and what the work is about is too much when you have 30 artists in a show.  Even for people who like to read.  Edit, edit.)  Exception: maybe your movie is very short, and/or very static.  “Twenty Eight Nights: ENDNOTE” is static enough.  Akram Zaatari’s film shows two men looking at a laptop screen that faces away from you.  They are watching, not reacting much, just the blank faces of people watching moving pictures.  Dancey music plays, like right behind them is a woo-hoo party.  I laughed.  At a certain point, party lights come on in the next room, some flashing pink and blue and stuff.  Funny.  I don’t know why.  I don’t know what is was about.  I’m still thinking about it.  Video here.

What did this tell us about the middle east, thought?  I knew before I went in that IMG_1676many people, just now, would rather talk about money than the middle east.  As I was going down and around their narrow white staircase, I thought about the people going down the stairs of the towers, some got far enough, some didn’t.  Someone lifted up his kid to see what looked to me like an alphabet of Arabic letters, in great colors, an orange, olives, a braid, a bullet, a grenade.  “Those are letters,” he said.

Top image by Muhamad Arabi.


39142_1473859960758_5453553_nIt’s hard to say if I found the Whitney Biennial a little busy because I saw it Friday evening, or because it was a little busy.  I think both.  It made me call into question what these people think we are doing at museums and galleries, anyway.  What do they think?

Just as the reader’s experience should be in the writer’s sights, the experience of the art-looker should be part of being a curator, right?

There were a lot of cases of piles of stuff, and stuff on paper, and a lot of stuff to read, in the Biennial.  While I actually sat and read an entire little booklet on Duchamp and laziness, that was because there were benches provided and I am very much in love with Duchamp.  Other cases and piles and work that required a lot of explanatory reading made me think, is this the right time and place?  There were quite a few places where there were headphones to listen to someone talking, and I can dip in and out of those, sure.  I’m not going to give each one ten minutes.  Especially without a chair.  An art museum isn’t a library.

If you have a lot for me to read, I would like it in my hands and on paper.  If you have something big for me to look at, a painting or something 3-D, an installation, I want it in a gallery, sure.  If there’s words for me to listen to, I would prefer a podcast for Sunday afternoon that I can, if needed, fall asleep to.  Music I prefer while in transit.

There were several films.  They present an especially difficult problem in galleries, as I never feel sure how much time I need to give them.  Two or three minutes, okay.  Longer than that, again, I think, isn’t this for a movie theater, or online?

Maybe the Biennial is a survey course, maybe it is didactic, and needs many examples, but I still found it cluttered.

On individual pieces:

The elevator had a piece that played elevator music and showed us video of lots of kinds of sunglasses and stuff.  Eh.  It was hard to know what to do with that, too.  Keep riding up and down to see enough?

IMG_0961 IMG_0965 The fourth floor had quite a few pieces that used fabric, a material I have no interest in unless I get to wear it.  But I liked those pieces more than I thought I would.  Dona Nelson’s paintings with stitching here and there, like a switchboard.  The pieces are hung at an angle to the wall so you can walk back and see the other sides.  And hung like a butterfly, two wings half-out.

IMG_0963Amy Sillman’s “Mother” I was crazy about, as a composition, crooked enough to be natural and stark enough to feel taken apart and put back together.  Some depth, a little bit of rainbow, just enough fuzziness and just enough messiness to show how deliberate it is.

IMG_0968Gretchen Bender’s “People in Pain” was reconstructed from a 1988 piece that was damaged.  It confused me that this piece, and a few others, were actually quite old (by The This Is Now standard I expected).  Two other spreads of work were sort of studies or tributes of work by artists who have been dead a while.  What is that about?  Is this a museum or a museum?  MoMA is resolutely a museum, proud and calcified as it may be, I say that with all my deep conservative love of marble and huge buildings that could survive a war.  To return: “People in Pain” is a long wall of black vinyl melted and crumpled around the blue alit lettering of movie titles.   All these people, stuck in movies?  Melted down?  Stuck in weak-colored backlit words?

IMG_0973 IMG_0972I loved all of Etel Adnan’s paintings, no surprise.  They are, happily, brand-spanking new, and good work in my favorite vein, loose abstracts that smell like nature.  Paintings that make you know your life is both big and small, and color is still alive, reinventing how it relates to itself.

There were beanbags set in the room where you could see “Leviathan.”  I watched a whole lot of “Leviathan” because my feet hurt and the beanbag was so comfy.  I think I could have fallen asleep in there if I had tried harder, no fault of the artist but I am a teacher and it is May.

“Leviathan” shows churning water, a storm, lots of darkness, scared and angry seagulls, a ship, all those sea creatures that have been caught, the colors of them, which are palely horrible or red, and the shape and slipperiness of them, all like internal organs to people with their insides on the insides like us.  The fishermen are the monsters, cutting the heads off the fish with lots of thin, salty blood, lighting each other’s cigarettes, their eyes, their gloved hands in yellow.  It was pretty scary.  Then, my feet were very tired.  I don’t know why I walked so fast so many blocks except that it was spring and it felt good at the time.

IMG_0976I sat and read “Marcel Duchamp and the Refusal of Work,” which deserves its own discussion, here I will just say, I am working on laziness, but I already made French toast and wrote this piece today.  It is not going well.IMG_0975

IMG_0977Travis Jeppensen’s installation caused an old man to say to me: “It is too much…. But it is a way of life.”  I love when strangers talk to each other about art in public.  I wish that would happen more, and that people would chuckle more when looking at art because so often it is funny.  Why did the old man say this?  Well, the room was full of rainbow colors, video of war, cheap-looking mannequins, one of whom was touching herself in a very private way, some of whom were sticking their breasts out like they would stick out their tongues.  It was all out there, all right.   I appreciated that on one wall, there were headphones with recordings of some weird talky shit and glasses that were blacked out so you could listen in the dark, on your own.  The dark glasses were my favorite part.  There was war and there was sloppy lust, but I preferred my eyes closed.

IMG_0979On the second floor, when I was almost at the finish line and weary, I found five giant pins stuck into the wall, stuck flying saucers or giant hatpins.

IMG_0983In the stairwells, Charlemagne Palestine (I am quite jealous of this name) played his music, spooky stuff, on speakers that were guarded or covered by shabby stuffed animals.  If you’re into that kind of thing.

This is the last Biennial to be in the “old” building.  I love almost everything “old.”  To be honest, that building has grown on me.  At first I found it oppressive, but I have come to find it cozy and manageable, so unlike a Major Art Museum or like the gorgeously cool MoMA or New Museum.  It has something of the dirt, something of the wilderness, in it.  Maybe the new building will be less of a museum, or better suited to what the Whitney wants to do, with more flexibility to show more kinds of art.  I’ll miss the old warren, though.

Signs of My Commute

IMG_0659Every time I pass this sign, I wince.  They sell children’s clothing.  Maybe this is just my problem.




“Candy store” here is like “coffee shop.”  It doesn’t tell you about the particular kind of business, merely that candy or coffee is among the many things they sell.  Many of the so-called “candy stores” seem to primarily sell cigarettes.  I always enjoy hand-lettering, though.  In 2014.  What the hell.

IMG_0661Once upon a time, I received a CD that had one million different versions of ‘The Girl from Ipanema” on it. I can’t say that I played that CD a great deal, but then, I doubt that mine (also covers) was played much either.  I’ve never been to this place.  They have a nice sign, though.


It took me many times walking past this place to notice that part of the sign was pasted over to make new words.  The AND is in the middle now, so it used to be WOOD_ _ _ ALES, and now it’s WOOD AND ALES.


IMG_0663I’m a big fan of the signs of dry cleaner’s.  Like mechanics, they rely heavily on stock images that are goofy.  This isn’t a stock image, no, but it is a lovely example of signage: great fonts, great color, an old-fashioned, meaningless seal of approval.

IMG_0664This photo is a bit more impressionistic that I’d like. But you know the photo quality here is… negligible.  This is a furniture store which offers both bold chunks of bright color and some nice fonts that you can’t see in this shot.  I remembered walking past this place from my Summer of Suffering, that is, last July when I was busy Moving to New York, aka, not doing much and trying not to spend much money doing it and sweating and waiting for my crystal-loving landlady to get affected by her feel-good crystals.

IMG_0665Cheating here.  This is on my way to the Y.  The best neon in Kansas City is a dry cleaners. (I told you they were great.)  Of course I haven’t had time to research enough neon out here.  I am a big fan of the Radio City neon, the colors are so tangy.  This piece is nice color, but also wonderfully fashioned lettering and such a well-formed vacuum cleaner, shades of Rosie (the robot, not the riveter).