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Retail History

My thanks to the editor for pointing out the part of my last post that had some legs...
I'm working on the '70s now, and am never unsurprised how certain problems and conversations reassert themselves. (Oh yes, it’s structural, and the structure becomes clear through the repeated refrain.) In this case it is the late '60s reluctance of U.S. museums to exhibit "tech art," work which then consisted of installations and environments, proto-interactive, with lots of lights, pneumatics and computer control. Collective resentment at this refusal was one grievance leading to the formation of the Art Workers Coalition in New York. Today U.S. museums refuse to have much to do with "relational" work, or, er, social sculpture, the construction of situations – this very vagueness of its naming shows that the museums have copped out. The only way this kind of work comes into institutions at all is under cover of technology. Then it is sidelined into the video/film and media program, with participation limited to the geekily inclined among the museum audience.
Porque? In addition to the usual patent truisms about the ineluctable material and economic habits of the museum-beast,* there remains the fact that the art of the social gesture has not been successfully formalized. Its lineage has not been convincingly traced, its strategies and parameters laid out for all to see and understand. As I foray further into the ethereal realms of theory, I am asked what I am doing by simple denizens of the earthly world below -- i.e., working people and professionals who don't know shit from shinola when it comes to art theory and don't generally care. They always ask, "Give me an example." Now, as I query myself on this very question, I can think of only one -- the piece in which Joseph Beuys sweeps up behind a political demonstration, then exhibits the broom and the sweepings in a glass vitrine. An object, of course! But a thing that fits in the place it is intended to go -- (the museum) -- and cleanly and elegantly encapsulates a social gesture, a work of performance in relation to political action.
*Here I'd insert the wonderful illustration of the museum beast by Nils Norman, but the bugger has it in Flash, and I'm too lame to download it. It's called "Meanwhile Back At The Museum"on Stefan Dillemuth’s page

Tropicália: A Revolution in Brazilian Culture
October 7, 2006 - January 28, 2007

Bronx Museum page on "Tropicalia" exhibition

It is my habit to think of this question of lineages, of historicity. I thought of this problem last weekend as I saw the magnificent "Tropicalia" exhibition at the newly expanded Bronx Museum of Art. Here is the well-told story of a hippie-colored cultural movement jumping off in the teeth of a brutal dictatorship, pushing joy and color and costumes on TV up against the spectacle of crushed demonstrations and bloody young corpses shot down in the streets. That cultural history is in itself a great rarity in NYC art museums. Here it is very well presented with flat vitrines of record covers and magazines and TV monitors with succinct DVD featurettes, all of it mounted on industrially elegant construction scaffolding gear.
As well as this valorous history of soul power, there is another big story embedded in “Tropicalia.” That is the hidden story of participatory art, work that wants to be used by the viewer, that begs for engagement. This is tool art for the job of being human, perceiving, knowing the others with whom we share the world in their material beings in the places where they are.
“Tropicalia” contains a reconstruction of the magnificent installation by Helio Oiticica which names it. His Tropicalia was exhibited in Sao Paulo in 1967 in the show that really stirred up the military rulers. Not too long after, Caetano Veloso and his band Os Mutantes sang “It is forbidden to forbid,” a song cribbed from a slogan on the walls of Paris, May ’68. This bit of Situationist propaganda was the last straw which led the singer and his confrere Gilberto Gil into months of prison time, then exile. No poetic legislation allowed under the junta.
This reconstruction of Tropicalia is a maze of colorful crummy construction. It is full of foot experiences, like Frederick Kiesler’s Endless House (the model for which molders until the end of time in the MoMA’s deep storage). This sensuality is based not on elaborate new construction techniques available only to the rich, but on the day-to-day experience of the favela dwellers, the poorest of the poor living in the urban squatter slums of Brazil. It is the physical feel of life available to all held up as an art experience in itself – a profoundly political artistic action in objects.
After this magnificent throwback exploratorium of the sensory, the exhibition gives us a roomful of Lygia Clark’s devices for individual and dyadic sensory exploration. Redundant? Yes. Oiticica and Clark were both involved in the very programmatic extension of visual art that led into the participatory sensuous environment, the kind of work that absorbed the energies of many first world technology artists. The Brazilians did this very systematically, since these artists were trained by Bauhaus refugees, a rigorous investigation carried out with reduced material means. A small roomful of Lygia Pape’s (and others’) color experiments in the form of cutout books with variable pages you can handle with white gloves, and musical objects cum gallery art (regrettably untouchable) by the little-known master Walter Smetak make clear the roots of this kind of research.

Ah.... the Seventies

I was one of those 1970's artists doing performance and installation.See my post I'm still doing what I'm doing and still occupying an uncomfortable position that skirts the art world while engaging in it. What I find really interesting is that much of what we did, and I'm including Alan Moore's occupation of the Essex street market, is inspiring people who are 25 years later exploring similar paths. Speaking of relational aesthetics look out for the Gordon Matta-Clark retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2007.

Relational Aesthetics + Matta-Clark

"inspiring people who are 25 years later exploring similar paths."

Maybe the Whitney show will highlight how un-inspired at least one relational artist is. Seeing Matta-Clark's "Food" now, should end any *serious* consideration of Rirkrit Tiravanija's new age curry dinners. Matta-Clark did it smarter and he did it better.

Rirkrit Tiravaniji's Curry Dinners

What Rikrit is doing is quite different from what Gordon Matta-Clark did. Indeed Daniel Speori was doing dinners as well but with a completely different intention. Spoerri invited art scene luminaries. Rikrit tends to insert non-musuem activities into museums. Gordon was all about recovery and rebirth. He was a rescuer. What is interesting is that the form of the artist dinner has such lattitude.

It is necessary to judge art works on their own terms. For Tiravaniji I see his work as a colonised person inserting their aesthitcs into the ruling class. In this case it would be more like Jean Michel-Basquiat's paintings insisting on there African imagary. On the other hand, Rikrit's food events can be viewed as just another diversion for a jaded art audience and a temporary aesthetic charge. In both cases I dislike their work but I do see the value of what they are doing.

Not to drag this out but...

"What Rikrit is doing is quite different from what Gordon Matta-Clark did."

True - Matta-Clark was able to articulate *something* about his work. Rirkrit, on the other hand, throws out some buzzwords and lets the critics be articulate for him - which you could say is a form of genius, but...

"For Tiravaniji I see his work as a colonized person inserting their aesthetics into the ruling class."

Colonized? Hmmm. A diplomat's son? Since Matta-Clark's father was from the globally oppressed South (Chile), I guess he also has a "colonized" perspective? It is laughable to see Tiravanija's work as presenting some sort of anti/post colonial aesthetic to the "ruling class." Or maybe cooking curry and jamming on guitars in a museum is what the poor do in their spare time. Oh and they probably set up post-hippie communes in Thailand with money from their Hugo Boss awards. Rirkrit is surely a very nice guy, but an intellectual he is not - and certainly not in comparison to Matta-Clark.

Diplomat's son, Accountants Son

Interesting that you talk about the fathers of Gordon Matta-Clark and Rikrit Tiravaniji. There's always learning-rebellion matrix between father's and sons.San Diego Museum of Art Recently had an exhibition of the work of Matta-Clark and his father Matta called Transmission, curated by Bettie-Sue Hertz. I was interviewed quite extensively for that exhibition. I pointed out that Gordon's hand and line in his drawings was quite similar to his fathers' hand and line. Then there's the fact that Roberto Matta studied to be an architect just as did his son. Indeed, in some sense the son always extends and fullfills some of the father's dreams and wishes. Betti-Sue told me that she had studied generational psychology and dynamics in college. As for Jean-Michel Basquiat that his father is an accountant seems rather fitting. So if Rikrit is doing works about social gatherings maybe that comes from his diplomat father. My father worked in computers and communications all his life as an electrical engineer. He was involved in the first rough experiments leading to arpanet in the 1960's. I of course wanted to be an artist . It always strikes me as odd that I wind up working as a new media artists on computers.

Art Collections and Museums

“What do you do in a couple of years when the stuff is worth nothing?” he remarked. You give it to a museum and then call the I.R.S."

This is part of a larger piece by Guy Trebay about Art Basel Miami. What's really interesting is how Trebay who is from the Village Voice and was a sort of scenes hipster has a take on the scene in Miami.

And the senate passed a law limiting partial tax deducitons for art works courtesy of Charles Grassley " August, it tightened the rules for “partial gifts,” in which collectors legally “donate” works to museums in increments over a period of years, during which the paintings or sculptures may remain in their living rooms. As the works appreciate in value, the tax deduction for each partial gift does, too."
The Man Museums Love to Hate