31 December 2013

That Intro Thing, Again. Sort of.

So a friend got me the Numero Group Purple Snow anthology for Christmas, which put me in mind of other Minneapolis items. Particularly...

In which the band, playing at a watering hole in Oklahoma City in 1984, decides to bail on its regular set and (for the full duration of the cassette's second side) default to standard bar-band mode, playing a cross-section of Big Hits from the classic and collegiate canons. But being so supremely hammered that they never manage to get very far into any given tune. Check out that playlist from tracks 9-24.

Maybe not so much intros, but a roster of sloppy and inebriated false starts. In the case of "I Will Follow," it definitely qualifies as nothing more than an intro, because the opening riff is all Bob Stinson could manage. X's "The New World" seems to be about the only one they know the better part of. And for the most part, Westerberg's just shoveling in whatever sounds right for approximated lyrics.

Had copies of this and Pussy Galore's Exile on Main St. back then. But I'm sure you know what inevitably happens to tapes if you play them over ten dozen times.

And I've already wearied of the Best Intro topic. On to other things. Started typing this yesterday, and see today -- via BLCKDGRD -- that today is Paul Westerberg's birthday. Pure serendipity, that.

But while we're at it, one last one. One of the most whiplash-inducing kick-offs I know, an old favorite...

Probably more a candidate for riffage than intro. But whatever.

29 December 2013

That Intro Thing, Pt. III

This time, a pair of groovers, both of which happen to date from 1970...

Nice one, with a rewind-worthy intro that gathers momentum and eases into things proper. As a whole, I always found El Chicano's version of the tune infinitely preferable to the Gerald Wilson original. And wudduya know, there's now a vintage live clip of it up now.

Not that the song is a disappointment, but the intro -- by my reckoning -- definitely promises bigger things. Love the intertwining of bass, percussion and scratchy wah-wah guitar in its opening moment.

Elephant's Memory were a weird one. As I recall, back in the day they had the reputation in some circles as being the worst band in existence. Maybe that was partly on account on their Plastic Ono Band affiliation, and maybe it was was also because they actually weren't that good. But their second LP, 1970's Take It To The Streets, definitely had its highlights. Much of the credit being due to their winding up with R&B producer Ted Cooper for the sessions, who was responsible for giving them something of a Motor City sound for the album. ("Mongoose" being the disc's opener.) The LP had a cheap, flat, and fairly cruddy mix to it, however. Plus it was on a small label, with a comparatively low number of copies having been pressed. So when Cypress Hill sampled the opening bass line to "Mongoose," it quickly made the thing an expensive collectors' item among beatdiggers.

28 December 2013

We Are Clear for Lift-Off

More on the Best Intros jawn, Phil puts forth Joy Division's "Dead Souls" as an example of an "all-intro" arrangement. I believe I've had a few tunes cross my mind which'd also fit that description. But a couple of other favorites...

1) Maybe there's a point when a person decides it's time to put away the air guitar, that it's too juvenille a pursuit to carry on with in adulthood. But then maybe there are songs that make you wanna pick the damn thing back up again many years later, despite your advancing age. There's a number of early Ubu tunes that still have that effect on me. This is one of them, partly thanks to its wind-up of an intro. The cycled high-end tone preparing the listener for some of the more "avant" leanings that will follow over the course of the album, the bass fumblings that almost threaten something "jazzy" to come, followed by a wind-up before the whole thing turns into a full-fledged rustbelt garage-burner.

2) Perhaps one of the best introductory salvos by an hotly anticipated new act ever committed to record. Natch, Levene's riffage is enough to place the song firmly in the category of Best Guitar Something-or-other. But before that there's the matter of what happens before that. Everything lines up smartly, entering the room in single file -- first bass, then drums, followed by the vocalist who doles out handshakes all around, then the six-string payoff. Lyrically of course it's all about the frontman putting his former Rotten self out to pasture; but musically I've always found it to be a guaranteed mood-lifter.

And I suppose I'll hold off on any others until Simon's finally able to jump in and play his part. So for now, I'll instead close with a favorite outro...

...complete with the sputtering exit of that coughing fit, which tops everything off perfectly.

27 December 2013

Internecine Interlude

It's that time of year again, the sort that brings seasonal jollies. By that I mean the yearly musical shoot-outs that take place -- at the instigation of Simon Reynolds -- among the community of contributors (at al) associated with the Decades Blogs; in which we all put forth our nominees for best geetar riff, geetar solo, bit of drummige, or whathaveyouse. But the call hadn't gone out this year on its usual schedule, perhaps because a number of the prior participants (e.g. Carl, Herr Kasper) have in the past year drifted away from blogging altogether. Simon and I discussed whether or not it was worth bother with. It was decided to maybe push it back, since Simon's trying (I gather) to get a vacation in this Holidays, and I'm going to be busy with the task of packing and relocating to another city as soon as I return home from Christmas. Tentatively, perhaps one devoted to bass (haha!).

But nothing doing, because Phil took the unprompted initiative of declaring the opening of this year's shoot-out, declaring that the subject would be Best Song Intros. And at the same time threw forth a nominee that sets the bar really, really high. Intimidatingly epic, that one -- has me a bit flummoxed about how to proceed. My first inclination is to start thinking in "Suite" terms, which immediately has me thinking of certain jazz tunes, but I'm trying to stay away from jazz this year since I defaulted to it a little too often with last year's drummige thing.

So: Somewhat connected to the clip above (which is there for heraldry, not meant as a contender), let's try this...

Maybe not epic, mind you. And I'm not sure how well these meet Phil's criteria for "Intros." But I have to admit that Gang of Four had a knack for frequently kicking things off in a way that immediately grabbing my attention (and held it) back when I first heard them -- i.e., instant excitement as soon as it struck my ears.

(And I suppose the above could've qualified for the Bass category, as well. Perhaps.)

22 December 2013

When Was Futurism?, Slight Return

More about the history of electronic music in Russia:

"Arseny Avraamov, however, planned to destroy pianos on a much more dramatic scale than Liszt. Avraamov reviled the piano because he thought that the traditional Western musical scale was irrational and even harmful. By restricting themselves to only twelve pitches out of a whole continuum of possible frequencies, Avraamov believed that musicians had dulled the perceptual capabilities of entire populations, preventing them from fulfilling their human potential. After the October Revolution, he made a proposal to Anatoly Lunarcharsky, the Commissar of Public Enlightenment, that all pianos in the country should be gathered up and burned. The proposal was fortunately unsuccessful, but Avraamov did go on to conduct extensive research on novel possibilities for microtonal music, devising his own 'Ultrachromatic' tone system and inventing instruments to perform it."

At n+1, Colin McSwiggen reviews the recent title Sound in Z: Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th Century Russia by Andrey Smirnov, a book that developed out of the research Smirnov conducted for the 2008 exhibition of the same name.

The site 99% Invisible posted an article about Avraamov's famed "Symphony of Sirens" this past May. Preservation Sound has a few words to say about the book, as well; mostly concetrationg of Avraamov and Evgeny Sholpo's hand-painted graphic scores. More about all of this cane be found at the the site 120 Years of Electronic Music, which lately has been making heavy use Smirnov's book as primary source for various articles on the topic.

See also Miguel Molina Alarcón 2008 publication Symphony of Sirens, via Monoskop.

20 December 2013

12 December 2013

Percussive Interlude

Because the instrument (piano) is as percussive as it is melodic & etc. Can be, or becomes very 'is', when under the proper pair of hands.

In this instance: Equal measures of delegating and elegating. Letting the others have their say; while just hanging back, and punctuating from the periphery. A diffusion of hammerings. Asymmetrical counterpointage, vs. a guiding beacon vaguely sighted through fog. The sound of mirrors and purviews splintering apart, and then coming (being brought back) back to together again, many times over, each time as if nothing happened when you weren't looking/listening.

07 December 2013


Via greg.org

I always liked the idea of making my own Christopher Wool knock-offs -- just a couple of small jokey versions to put up on a couple of walls around the house. Easy enough.

Or back in the days when I would occasionally get it into my head to make sarcastic paintings and the like, I wanted to make a mock, intentionally shoddy Joseph Kosuth that read: "YOU CAN'T BLAME WITTGENSTEIN FOR THIS ONE."

06 December 2013

When Was Futurism?

Curious. First I've heard of it, and very intrigued. Apparently out -- in Austria, at least -- since this past April, having also been screened at this year's Mutek Festival held in Mexico City.

A write-up of the film at The Hollywood Reporter describes the span and focus of the film, highlighting the peculiar and esoteric development of Russian electronic music history, which evolved by its own logic and means, mainly due to its isolation from the rest of the world during the many decades of the Soviet era. Which would explain why many Russians at the time may never have heard of the work of, say, David Tudor or Otto Luening; which is also why many of us elsewhere probably know little of Russian electronic music beyond Léon Theremin or Eduard Artemiev.

But I do recall hearing some electronic music from Russia back just shortly before the turn of the millennium. Back around that time, I was listening to a lot of experimental electronic and IDM-type fare, recording by a slew of emerging artists who very much in the thrall of Autechre-esque sound-twisting and sonic abstraction. Eventually you began to see similar artists of that type popping up in non-English-speaking countries. Amongst the lot, roughly around 1999, were a number of Russian acts whose music began circulate via compilations or the odd European release.

I was probably among a small number of people of people took much notice at the time. In some way, I was a little fascinated by it. Something about this type of experimental music transcending borders, language barriers, and cultural peculiarities; being taken up and created by musicians in a variety of countries. In a way, it was almost like the spread of certain types of abstract art & design in the early portion of the 20th century -- post-Kandinsky modes of "pure abstraction" in painting, or intentionally international styles like those connected with the Bauhaus or De Stijl schools. Or so I would've liked to have thought.

At any rate, here's a few I remember...

28 November 2013

The Half-life of Images

"Data, sounds, and images are now routinely transitioning beyond screens into a different state of matter. They surpass the boundaries of data channels and manifest materially. They incarnate as riots or products, as lens flares, high-rises, or pixelated tanks. Images become unplugged and unhinged and start crowding off-screen space. They invade cities, transforming spaces into sites, and reality into realty. They materialize as junkspace, military invasion, and botched plastic surgery. They spread through and beyond networks, they contract and expand, they stall and stumble, they vie, they vile, they wow and woo.

"Just look around you: artificial islands mimic genetically manipulated plants. Dental offices parade as car commercial film sets. Cheekbones are airbrushed just as whole cities pretend to be YouTube CAD tutorials. Artworks are e-mailed to pop up in bank lobbies designed on fighter jet software. Huge cloud storage drives rain down as skylines in desert locations. But by becoming real, most images are substantially altered. They get translated, twisted, bruised, and reconfigured. They change their outlook, entourage, and spin. A nail paint clip turns into an Instagram riot. An upload comes down as shitstorm. An animated GIF materializes as a pop-up airport transit gate. In some places, it seems as if entire NSA system architectures were built—but only after Google-translating them, creating car lofts where one-way mirror windows face inwards. By walking off-screen, images are twisted, dilapidated, incorporated, and reshuffled. They miss their targets, misunderstand their purpose, get shapes and colors wrong. They walk through, fall off, and fade back into screens."

From "Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?", by Berlin-based filmmaker Hito Steyerl, appearing in the latest edition of the e-flux journal.

The e-flux journal has volleyed off a pair of thematically-linked editions in the past few months. In the first of the pair, "The Making of Americans", penned by the Slovene[?] conceptual artist known to sometimes lecture in the persona of a back-from-the-grave Walter Benjamin. In the essay, "Benjamin" addresses the shaping of the canon of Modern art during the post-war years; particularly hinging on the role played by MoMA director Alfred H. Barr:

"While walking through MoMA, a majority of the American museumgoers there probably had no idea that what they were seeing was not Europe’s present, but its past. Although all the artworks were from Europe, hardly anyone was aware that the story told through the arrangement of the museum’s exhibits was not European; it was not a European interpretation of modern art. Instead, it was a story told by an American—namely, Alfred Barr. This story did not merely preserve the memory of European modern art, but in fact reinvented it by categorizing artists according to 'international movements' instead of 'national schools.' After the catastrophe of WWII, MoMA began to be perceived in Europe as the most important museum of modern art in the world. By admiring this American museum with the most comprehensive collection of European modern art around, 'natives' of the Old World were unaware that they adopted its story as well—its story about their own art and culture. Gradually, this story became the dominant, canonical narrative on both sides of the Atlantic, determining future developments in Western art for decades to come."

Barr's famous schemtic "tree" makes an appearance, naturally; as does the dissent that arose in the New York art community concerning Barr's Europhilic affinities and the Museum's early tendency of ignoring indigenous artists. What intrigues me is the portions of the essay in which "Benjamin" makes an argument -- re, the divergent nationalist-versus-international perspectives that he attributes to Europe and the U.S., respectively -- that all-but constitutes a counterithesis to that of Serge Guilbaut's axe-grinding How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art. Of particular interest is the "view from abroad" section toward the end, in which he discusses government funding for art exhibition during the Cold War years, particularly in light of the "Advancing American Art" political fracas that I wrote about here earlier.

23 November 2013

The Views Expressed Do Not Necessarily Reflect Those of the Station or Its Management

Recently stumbled across KEXP's "Review Revue" blog category thing, in which someone at the station scans and post old LPs from their library, highlighting the comments written by former DJs. And was a bit surprised at how boring much of it proved to be. Which had me thinking about my former community radio venue, and the odd items in its record library and some of the reviews scrawled thereon, thinking that said station should mount something similar.

And apparently someone there recently did just that.

First item that comes to mind, here's an old favorite, famous among staffers for its historical significance...

Featuring a response penned by one Mark E. Smith. Mark had recently married American expat Brix, who was in the lineup of The Fall. Brix, as it turns out, was an alumnus of the University of Chicago. And when The Fall played Chicago sometime around 1985-6ish, they apparently made a trip to the UofC campus, which included paying a visit to the radio station, with Mark E. poked through the record library and discovered that someone had made a disparaging remarks about Brix's vocal, and fired back: "YOU FUCKING DUMB MEDIOCRE PLANK! Signed - Lord Marquis E. Smith".

As I recall, he left comments on some other albums, as well. Sometimes taking issue with a staffer's reviewer, other times merely bestowing his blessing on the LP/artist.

The site so far sports a high ratio of old hardcore punk records for some reason, which is hardly representative of the rock end of the station's library. I thought some of the most amusing (i.e, quaint) comments came from the period roughly around 1980 -- from the years that the station was transitioning out of it prior AOR format (so common among left-of-the-dial college stations during most of the 1970s) and gravitating toward the noo music that would ultimately pave the way for '80s "college rock." Heated debates on the sleeves of some LPs by short-lived acts of that vintage; arguments about whether the act in question was a "real" or "fake" "New Wave" band, usually sparked by someone angrily decreeing that the artist in question (The Suburban Lawns, say) was little more than a despicably cynical trend-hopping opportunist, etc.

22 November 2013


RIP Bernard Parmegiani.

Simon has some words, as well as a relay of those by Keith Fullerton Whitman. Simon also has a playlist that features many pieces that I also would have selected. To which I might only add checking out De Natura Sonorum in full, if you don't know it already. And then there's this recent clip of his Violostories, as performed live at V22 by Aisha Orazbayeva.

20 November 2013

Former Copyeditorial Interlude

Because no.


Because iz boolshit. Because mine former hrvatski building super of long time had even for him better english grasp than.

Initiation Rites

Trying to describe the videos of artist Ryan Trecartin isn't easy, but it's always interesting to watch someone give it a go. Summing up the underlying themes of identity formulation, socialization, and the contemporary mediascape is easy enough; but how to coney a sense of the work's imagery, energy, and frenetically interwound structures? Perhaps one of the best encapsulations I've encountered recently was by a writer who described them as, "If Facebook had a nightmare." Not bad, but that's not nearly the half of it. It's like if Jack Smith and Alex Bag somehow had a child who went off his Ritalin and -- for therapeutic purposes -- starting making videos of his own. But that desn't quite cover it, either.

Anyway. Tracartin's latest, CENTER JENNY, was one of four films that Trecartin recently debuted at at the Venice Biennale. This time, Trecartin opts for pointedly collegiate setting, with the results coming across in part like a "Mondo"-styled ethnographic study of sorority rush week. CENTER JENNY was recently hosted for a week's duration over at the Vdrome website. For those that missed it, it's presently up at Vimeo.

18 November 2013

Drumroll, Please...

What do audiences expect from the Whitney Biennial? How much does the Whitney Biennial actually "matter?"

Clearly a great deal, so far as some people are concerned. Because it seems like there’s a pattern – and long has been – in which the same thing(s) transpire every time the Biennial rolls around. Advance griping about which artists are/aren’t included each time the roster is announced. Followed by the reviews once the event opens, with the usual high percentage of critics and attendees declaring that it’s the weakest Biennial of the last decade or so. Repeat cycle every other year. Thinking back over the past two decades or so, I'm pressed to think of a time when this wasn't the case.

And it’s that time yet again, because late last week the announcement went out of what’s to be involved with the 2014 WB. On cue: harrumph, harrumph, harrumph. One flashpoint of befuddlement and incredulity for some has been the curator’s decision to include the late author David Foster Wallace. And other parties have crunched the numbers and declared the thing not inclusive enough, if not featuring fewer artists of color, etc. than last time around. Which strikes as slightly ironic, seeing how there was a little snark directed at the 2012 WB’s inclusion of Theaster Gates and Rashid Johnson; the implication being that curators were pandering to some nascent (but non-existent) artworld fashionability for so-called “post-black” artists from Chicago.

Speaking of which, it seems a couple of folks have already complained that the 2014 event shows a little too much favoritism toward the Windy City, due to a majority of its three curators being from same. The only Chicagoan I see in the trio is Michele Grabner of the School of the Art Institute. But yeah, there are a around a dozen Chicago-affiliated artists on the list for the next Biennial, among them being photographer Dawoud Bey and the collective Academy Records.*

The latter of those two came as a surprise. One my first encounters with Academy Records was at an exhibition about seven years ago. The occasion was an exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center, the show being a tribute devoted to Sun Ra. Curated by (among others) music scribe-cum-gallerist John Corbett, the heart of the exhibition revolved around a trove of documents and artworks that had recently been discovered at a home on the city’s south side, a residence that had been inhabited by Sun Ra in the years that he resided in the city. Also featured, another gallery of Ra-related collages by Detroit’s Destroy All Monsters crew; plus miscellaneous contributions from other artists, some of them from Academy Records, who were there raising a din with their installation that featured a freeform drumkit circle. (Given the acoustics of the Center's main space, it was murderous on the ears.)

Aside from David Foster Wallace, other curious text-related inclusions for the 2014 Biennial: Brooklyn publishing entity Triple Canopy, and veteran author and critic Gary Indiana. And it looks like Allan Sekula in the thing, doubtlessly in tribute to his recent passing.

For me, the most eyebrow-raising inclusions fall in the sound/music category, which this time looks to be shaping up like a salute to a previous generation of avant musical pioneers. There’ll be a work by Robert Ashley (in collaboration with Alex Waterman). Also included: composers Pauline Oliveros and Charlemagne Palestine. Not that I have any objections to any of them, but when reading their names I experienced a sense of déjà-vu – like of paging through an issue of The Wire magazine circa 1999.

images: Academy Records

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* Looking over the list, myself, I have to admit it looks like the midwest has nosed out L.A. and the west coast this time around. If some parties feel that constitutes a rigged deck, here's the thing -- give it a few years and chances are a fair number of those Chicago-based artists will be NYC-based artists. How's that? Because historically Chicago doesn't have a strong record of fostering reliable support for its homegrown artists and galleries.

16 November 2013

Eyeless in Gaza

To the attention of the publishers of the Chicago Sun-Times, perhaps.

14 November 2013

Isn't Everyone Here a Phony?

Okay, to round out the topic of the past several posts, I’ll go ahead and get the story of my own brush with art forgery out of the way and then (finally) move onto to other things...

Here’s the deal: During the last two years of my undergrad studies, I held a work-study gig with the university’s art department as a gallery assistant. This entailed working directly with a professor of mine – a drawing and art history instructor, and eventually chair of the department – installing shows in the various exhibition spaces around campus. Duties included uncrating and schlepping art works, hanging the same, prepping and affixing wall labels, crating the stuff back up and shipping it to its next destination. Also light carpentry work in the course of maintaining gallery facilities, and other miscellaneous chores whenever a visiting artist or lecturer came to give a presentation. My boss was an amiable guy, quite garrulous, and in the many hours it’d take to hang a show, we’d endlessly shoot the shit talking about music, art, university politics, and whathaveyou.

Of course, the job ended when I graduated, and in the months that followed, I drifted off to another local gig while I got ready to move to Chicago. One afternoon I returned home from work and found a message on my answering machine from my former boss. “Hey,” he said in his thick Tennessee drawl, “Thought I’d give you the heads up. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll be in the big gallery at the student union, unpacking a new show we have coming in that I knew you’d be interested in. Apparently it’s a collection of German Expressionist work – some rare, never-before-seen stuff – and we’re the first stop on the show’s exhibition circuit. I knew you’d want to have a look it, so if you swing by there after 5, I should be there.”

Which is what I did. When I arrived, he’d already started to uncrate the show, and had a selection of about 20 works propped up here and there about the gallery space. As soon as he saw me approaching, he waved to me – gesturing somewhat urgently for me to come and have a look. As I entered, I noticed he had a somewhat apprehensive look on his face and he stared at some of the works. “C'mere and have a look,” he says, “I’d be curious to see what you think about this.”

As we looked at the work, he explained the backstory. “Supposedly this is a private collection of Expressionist works on paper. The guy who’s responsible for the thing says the collection belonged to an uncle of his, who was apparently some kind of German baron. Apparently during World War Two, his uncle stashed the whole collection away to hide them from the Nazis. He claims all of it sat in a barn on the baron’s property for decades until it was discovered by another family member. The family eventually decided it was a significant collection and should be shared with the public, which is why the stuff is only now being shown.” Indeed, the collection was (as I recall) overwhelmingly made up of many of the major artists of the Expressionist movement – Franz Marc, Max Beckmann, Lyonel Feininger, Erich Heckel, Ernst Kirchner, August Macke, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, et al.

He gave the array a glance-over. “But I’m not sure about this.” He pointed to one piece in particular. “Look at that and tell me if you think it looks like it’s been sitting in some barn for over forty years.” It didn’t, the paper – what was visible around the margins of the work – didn’t look that aged, properly yellowed. We scrutinized another piece that was supposed to have been stored in a folded-in-half state. Once again, the paper was far too fresh, the crease looking like it had only been held for a short time, the paper appearing to still have a lot of spring to it.

11 November 2013

Ways of Seeing, Addendum: The Dea(r)th of Criticism

Some additional thoughts on the topic of the prior two posts...

How many fakes are on the market, out there circulating in private collections or in full public view? Some say that there are far more than anyone can estimate, far more that anyone – for obvious reasons – cares to acknowledge.*  But who knows? Perhaps only those who traffic in high volume of such stuff; like, say, appraisers at major auction houses like Christie's or Sotheby’s.

Whatever the case, whenever a scandal of the current Knoedler/Rosales/Freedman magnitude comes along, one naturally has to wonder about the degree of complicity involved on the part of parties who are supposed to know better – the ones who’s place it is to vet the items in question, conduct the requisite research into provenance, keep a critically alert eye, and what-have-you.**

Forgers and forgery rings, of course, target marks and potentially cooperative parties – usually avoiding more prestigious or reputable dealers, approaching only those that they are fairly certain might be lazy or unscrupulous to go along with the deal. And one can assume that if there’s the potential for a lot of money to change hands, there are always those parties (a minority, one also assumes) who would be willing to not ask too many questions.

One can also assume that in the middle of an art-market bubble (like we have presently), when there’s an ungodly amount of money being thrown into the pipeline in a buying frenzy mostly fueled by speculative investment, then the higher the likelihood of such shady activities taking place.

Which brings me to a side issue that was recently raised in relation to the Knoedler scandal, concerning the matter of asking the right questions and speaking up to declare something to be of dubious or fraudulent origin. As this item that appeared last month in The Art Newspaper has it, there were possibly a lot of peripheral people who helped grease the gears of the operation -- people whose role it was to weigh in with a dissenting assessment or sound the proper alarms. In some cases, the article alleges, their failure to do so implies outright complicity; but in many others, those whose assessments were suppressed, or who were intimidated into silence by the sheer amount of monied muscle that was at play. Why? Because that’s when things get litigious.

The all-too-common scenario: Some fat-pocketed investor owns or in the recent past had bought a big-ticket artwork, and was either looking to "flip" it or decides to unload it for a handsome return when the market is chugging along heatedly. But first he (and those middlemen involved in taking the thing to market) have to get it authenticated. At which point some supposed "expert" examines the item in question, does the research, and declares the thing to be a fake. Meaning that Mr. Investor not only stands to lose a lot of money, but also has to face the embarrassment of it becoming known that he’d been flim-flamed. He then promptly lawyers-up to bully, defame, and/or stifle the expert in question with all the legal means that his coffers can manage (which is, it goes without saying, considerable).

This sort of situation has haunted the whole matter of connoisseurship and authentication since the very beginning of the modern art market. As illustrated by the case of the granddaddy of modern connoisseurship, Bernard Berenson.

I expect much of the above is either unsurprising, generally intuitive, or very 101 for some readers. After all, it’s not like there aren’t variations of the same processes at work in other commercial and cultural spheres, right?

images: Honore Daumier, Gerald Gooch

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*  Admittedly, some information suggests that the bulk of fakeries fall far more heavily in the category of cultural history objects – e.g., bogus artifacts from the ancient world (be it Mesoamerica, the Orient or Asia), fake Judaica, etc.

**  Acknowledged that in some cases, if it’s the supposed work of a minor artist or if bequeathed as a donation (rather than offered for sale), some parties are inclined to be too trusting, to gratefully accept and not look very far onto the matter.

10 November 2013

Ways of Seeing (Aspect-Blindness Edition)

"What do we see when we look at a painting? Decisions. Stroke by stroke, the painter did something rather than something else, a sequence of choices that add up to a general effect. If you’re like me — and, yes, I count myself a middling connoisseur — you register the effect and then investigate how it was achieved; walking the cat back, as they say in espionage. As a trick, ask yourself, of details in a painting, something like, 'Why would I have done that in that way?' The aim is to enter into the mind, and the heart, of the creator. Attaining it entails trust, like that of a child attending a fairy tale."

From Peter Schjeldahl's recent post at the New Yorker blog, written in response to Blake Gopnik's NYT essay, "In Praise of Art Forgeries," which itself was prompted by the presently unfolding saga of the Ab-Ex forgery ring.

The above passage is -- for me, anyway -- perhaps the best description I've yet read of the act of looking at a painting. The back-and-forth-and-back-again dance in which a viewer examines and traces the technical material details, attempts to mentally reconstruct the processes involved in its execution, noting the way elements x, y, and z coalesce, contrast, and cumulate in the overall gestalt.

And Schjeldahl also goes on to astutely describe about how this very same process or type of looking is also part of the sense of detecting when you might be looking at a forgery, of noting when something looks amiss. At another point, he argues:

"[A forgery is] not a 'work' at all but a pastiche whose one and only intention is to deceive. ...Fakes are contemporary portraits of past styles. No great talent is required, just a modicum of handiness and some art-critical acuity. A forger needn’t master the original artist’s skill, only the look of it."

He additionally cites early 20th-century art historian Max Friedländer's remark that "Forgeries must be served hot," using the historical example of Han van Meegeren as an illustration. For those unfamiliar with Van Meegeren, he was a Dutch artist famous for having passed off a handful of fake Vermeers during the 1920s-1930s. For example...

I first came across the case of Van Meegeren as an undergrad, and my immediate thought at seeing the top image above was something tot effect of: "Dude, that is so not a Vermeer." The claim at the time they were first put before the public was that the "newly discovered" works came from a previously-unseen phase of Vermeer's career -- a brief period when he (uncharacteristically) tried his hand with religious subject matter. That itself probably could've been debunked by anyone who'd done enough biographical/archival research. But the evidence in primarily in the look of the thing, and how many ways the look of the thing "howlingly" smacks of bullshit. The tight, close-angle composition and awkwardly cramped spatial relations? Wrong. The tonal palette as a whole? Wrong. The modeling of garments, of light and shadow, and etc.? Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

But the main tip-off for me at the time was rendering of the figures themselves -- especially the faces. At which point Schjeldahl's remarks about a "contemporary portraits of past styles" is fitting, because to me the faces didn't look like the types of faces that'd appear in a Vermeer, or from 17th-century Dutch painting in general. To me they looked very early 20th-c, sporting a type of craniofacial proportioning and gauntness and whatnot that seemed to be very artistically fashionable/common in painting of the between-the-wars era. Like faces one might find in the work of a Käthe Kollwitz or Ben Shahn imitator. It was the obvious epitome of someone trying to imitate the past, a past as viewed and filtered through the (then-)present; with the ten-present stylistic preferences subconsciously seeping into Van Meegeren's efforts, as it obviously did for anyone who was fooled by them at the time.*

Whereas I suppose the epitome of forgeries being "served hot" would probably be watching Elmyr de Hory dash off fake Picassos and Matisses in Orson Welles's F is for Fake.

At any rate, between the Knoedler/Freedman/Rosales forgery scandal and the story of the recently-discovered trove of modern art in Munich, I'm reminded that there's something I meant to post about earlier; a story from my own personal experience very much connected to the aforementioned topics. So I guess it's time I sat down and hammered it out for the sake of sharing. Preferably sooner than later. So perhaps in the next week or two, then.

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*  I say this as someone who's never had any big affinity for 17th-century Dutch painting, who's never studied it at any great length. But at the same time, I say this as someone who has lived in an era when photographic reproductions of art works are -- to put it flatly -- very, very common. Which probably wasn't so much the case in the earlier portion of the prior century. That, plus the fact that aren't that many Vermeers to go around in the first place,...

09 November 2013

"We want to paint a monster on it."

Admittedly, I can't help but like the title, like the kitsch-romanticism Heimat theme, and also like how it reminds me of a perverse cross between two precedents -- Asger Jorn's "disfigurements" of flea-market paintings and a twist on the results from Komar & Melamid's "Most/Least Wanted" project.

As far as the supposed controversy and allegations surrounding the sale of the piece: In the end a charity got the money. And as if the major auction houses don't routinely engage in price-/bid-rigging.

...And speaking of Nazis and art, I'm still trying to get my head around all the what-fors involved this story. Lots of sketchy and piecemeal reports, raising more questions than they answer. Looks like it's going to be a while until much of anything gets settled, before a clearer picture emerges. Looks like it'll make for a helluva hefty book project for whomever's game for tackling it.

08 November 2013

07 November 2013

'And curtains laced with diamonds dear for you...'

Passing thoughts and notes on a recent passing
of note. Scratched out some 10-11 days ago; partial,
piecemeal, unpolished, unfinished.

Numerous friends & peers expressing shock or surprise at the news of Lou Reed's death. I shrug. Maybe I've become inured to such news in recent years, know to expect it at regular intervals.Maybe it barely rated as news. Maybe I had given the guy so little thought in recent years that...

Anyway. I did do the sort of thing of thing that I normally don't do on such occasions. Y'know -- that vulture thing of pulling out a bunch of records and basking in the achievements of the recently departed. Because hearing "Sweet Jane" turn up in the breaking news on Sunday made me realize that Loaded was an album I hadn't bothered to spin since roughly 1990. And even then, lifting the needle over about half the tunes. So I played it in full. Two things come to attention right away. One being that the politics of the label shoving Reed out of the band for the sake of front-staging (the hopefully more marketable and listener/audience-friendly) Doug Yule are deeply etched into the thing, since it sounds very much like some A&R-pressured departure from their abrasive, fringe-dwelling East Coast origins and far more like some West Coast country-rock outfit of the Moby Grape order, which I gather was really big at the time. Second thing I noticed that on those tunes wher Reed was allowed to lead ("Sweet Jane," "Rock & Roll," et al), his vocal delivery was uncharacteristically heated, exuberantly engaged -- possessing an energy and coiled intensity that otherwise was atypical in his long and often plodding career.


Related anecdote one: Seeing New Order play live in 1986. They were on supporting the Brotherhood album. I suppose they didn't feel too confident about said LP, because they defaulted on playing the bulk of Low-Life instead. And then for an encore came back onstage to play a long monotonously trudgey thing that went on for what seemed like 15 minutes, gradually building in density as it trudged along. Eventually some lyrics entered into the thing, something about doing the ostrich. Realized that I was hearing a tip of the topper to VU, tho' by way of an obscure route that involved a tune that had (at that point) existed mostly as an unheard footnote to the VU story. Or maybe it was meant as an echo of the "Sister Ray" cover that lurked in their earlier history via the Joy Division days. I didn't/wouldn't hear the original until I acquired of 45 of the tune some years later, and it still amuses me each time I hear it.


Related anecdote two: At some point in history, many of Reed's '70s solo LPS were actually considered essential, cultish listening. Item one on the "underground" cultural-credential credenza. Once a good friend friend of mine and a buncha friends of his from the school's radio station were hanging out drinking together at my friend's apartment, and the thing devolved into a music-geek pissing contest about "Name/Play The Most Depressing Song You've Ever Heard," illustrating their case inasmuch as one friend's record collection allowed. I'm can't recall what all got nominated, but apparently The Pogues'"And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda"crossed the turntable at one point. But then my friend cheated, and made everyone listen to the entire second side of Lou Reed's Berlin, which shouldn't been tantamount to a violation of the Geneva Convention or something of that magnitude, as far as the rules of the contest were concerned. At any rate, by the time the stylus eases into the lead-out groove, everyone sat around in silence for a moment. Then one participant (the station's format chief, and a moody guy by nature) stands up, flatly declares, "Yeah, I think that's got to be the most depressing thing I've ever heard", and without saying another word to anyone, leaves.


I'd heard many years ago that there was some kind of rivalry between Reed and Frank Zappa -- like some sorta East Coast/West Coast gangsta beef in which the Velvets and the Mothers of Invention had been pitted against each other in competition for who would be roundly embraced as Lords of the Freak Scene. And that the two had harbored nothing but loathing for one another for all the years thereafter. If true, it always struck me as daft. The two acts were in no way comparable. No chance of the Velvets ever being a contender for that title, anyway. Far too dark, too severe, too art-damaged, and far too NYC and attitudinally out-of-step with the zeitgeist. Proper recognition would have to wait for later, much more different times.

05 November 2013

Interregnal Interlude

A reader/fellow bleggalgazer/frequent linking bigger-upper contacts me directly to say he hopes all is well, having noted my dearthiness in recent months. Concern and wishes accepted and appreciated. And a reminder of how long it's been since I last posted, how slow this thing's been these past couple of months. Why, despite having meant to earlier, I should've poked my head up here earlier with some little placeholder or passing aside, if only to minimally reassert my existence for whomever reads this here, for whomever is inclined to wonder. I've had a number of taking up my time and taxing my thoughts lately, leaving only a little left over for other things.

So yeah, hiatus. A lull. Unplanned, unintended. Life has a way of impinging, of running roughshod. But I imagine you knew that, already.

Soon. Eventually. But yes -- still among the living, still here.

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