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A friend in Ypsilanti, Mich., tipped me off to this post on a site called Model D by Sarah F. Cox.  In it, Cox, a former New Yorker who earned an MFA in design criticism, details the reasons for her move from NYC to Detroit.  A brief excerpt:

So it's onto the (erstwhile) Motor City and back to car life, where I'm hoping cheaper real estate and a growing creative community will make all the difference. While the cost of gas and carbon-footprint guilt loom, I've been won over by the arts. In Detroit, you can afford to do what you really want and will likely find a community of support rooting for you to succeed instead.

While I'm sure some may dismiss Cox as naive, I like her hopeful tone and her desire to be part of something positive and growing in a beleaguered city.  Cities are a lot like people:  they need someone to believe in them, and I think optimistic, creative young people moving to Detroit can only be a good thing.

As a former Michigander, I wish Cox well, and I'll stay tuned to see how things develop for her.  If you're so inclined, you can follow her on Twitter here.

Again, here's the link to Cox's post:  "Imported to Detroit"
August 9, 2011 2:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Lecture at the Nasher Museum of Art
October 27, 2009

 He was affable, humorous and generally seemed like an all around great guy.  Not exactly the typical description you might expect to hear of an artist's lecture in a formal academic setting like a university museum. But then again I'm talking about Fred Wilson, an artist who thrives on the unexpected, and whose lecture I attended this evening at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.  I believe it is no small part of Wilson's success as an artist that he is a likable and engaging character.  This good-naturedness allows him easier access to a rather privileged world he loves to tinker with, the inner workings of museum culture, in order to produce work that reframes, rethinks and challenges the status quo.

 Wilson's work explores curatorial practice itself and often relies solely on existing artworks in museum collections as subject matter which he rearranges and displays in unconventional and compelling ways.  Working in this manner allows him to produce startling exhibitions which provoke and confound our expectations of museums, their role as cultural arbiters, and their interpretation and presentation of artworks themselves.  This working method has in fact become Wilson's main methodology especially since his exhibition "Mining the Museum" at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992 - a breakthrough event he concedes changed his life forevermore afterwards.   After this landmark show, recontextualizing works of art (and in turn our interpretations of them) through bold curatorial juxtaposition became Wilson's signature.  Just one look at the well known image from "Mining' of Wilson's display of slave shackles and elaborate silver tea goblets together in the same display case is really all you need to start reconsidering the notions of historical accuracy, authenticity, and truth.  History is written by the winners as they say.

In the years since "Mining the Museum" Wilson has gone on to produce other provocative displays in museum and galleries worldwide. Representing the U.S. in the 2003 Venice Biennale afforded an opportunity for international cultural exploration and Wilson fittingly explored how the Moorish culture and Africans exerted and continues to play such a large part in the cultural life of Venice.  His large ebony chandelier entitled "Speak of Me as I Am" became a metaphorical exploration of Africans' impact on the culture of this particular city through one of their rich traditions- glassblowing.  His large chandelier was rich in form and seductive in its understatement of its medium.

 Wilson spoke of how he loves the idea of bringing two differing things together to produce a third thing - namely some unexpected concept or rethinking of the work itself - and this notion is one that continues to drive much of his artistic production.  His work reflects his own perspective of course so his reworkings of museum collections still provide a highly personal take on history and how it's been told- a fact the artist readily acknowledges.  Yet he does it with such gripping force that it has the effect of stopping you in your tracks.

The fundamental core of Fred Wilson's art is the idea that historical accuracy and representation are not all they are cracked up to be.  There's more than one way to organize a show he tells us.  And in that telling, Wilson's art explores not only how strongly museums impact and shape our cultural view but more importantly how we consider and understand ourselves.

Fred Wilson, "Mining the Museum"  Maryland Historical Society, 1992

Fred Wilson, "Speak of Me as I Am" from the Venice Biennale, 2003
courtesy PBS, Art:21 and PaceWildenstein, New York

October 27, 2009 11:08 PM | | Comments (1)

As it wound down its run towards its final weekend, the group show entitled "The Conquerors" at Artspace seemed to be crying out for a final close look. So I was more than happy to oblige. 

Co-curated by Raleigh's own Paul Friedrich of Onion Monster fame and Lia Newman of Artspace, the show presents five nationally known artists prominent in the field of 'zine illustration and the Lowbrow style of painting.  This style, finally edging its way eastward from its '80's West Coast origins, is a funky amalgam of the bawdiness of underground comic graphics, hot-rod car culture and the ever scintillating aesthetics of punk rock all rolled into one.  It also throws in a unique incorporation of certain elements of traditional painting subject matter filtered through a streetwise sensibility.  It is worth noting that almost all the artists in the show are also crossovers, having achieved success in much larger media outlets producing graphic work in television, music and national publications.  

Mark Bodnar wins the Tim Burton award for his figures set in generic, yet seriously strange landscapes.  Bodnar's subjects are typically involved in a kooky and mysterious contemplation of their next move in any given scene all the while casting a wary eye about with Betty Boop-like beepers. His observations stand as an eccentric looking glass into a world in which your own emotions take flight couched in disowned, unloved cartoon characters trying to find their own place in the world.

Mari Inukai's paintings are sumptuous in their technique and direct expressive qualities.  Her underlying sense of sentiment and desire stand like beacons to ground her painterly figures in a realm which seems as influenced by Vermeer and John Currin as Manga and Anime.  I felt mesmerized by her tactile paint handling and strong emotive yearnings.

Bonnie Brenda Scott produced "Reactor" a large mural which dominates a full wall in the gallery.  The work is composed of writhing figures rendered in cerebellum-like matter that wind their amoeba shapes across the wall's expanse in a flurry of orange, pink, and blue.  Smoke like shapes flutter up above and her shapes seem at once to be menacing and contemplative as if engaged in some weird conversation to which we are not fully privy.

Bill McRight sticks to black and white imagery exhibiting a loose amalgamation of monsters hanging out and doing scary beasty things. They also cavort a little though and also do things like ride motorcycles.  He purposefully leaves the work a bit vague so that you're forced to fill in the blanks. Yet the strong graphic presence of his pieces (probably the boldest in the show) propels you into a dialogue that leaves you feeling like the work is always going to somehow win the battle on its own terms.

Liz McGrath has the only sculptures in the show exhibiting a trio of flying bunnies elongated in mid-leap (ala Barry Flanagan style) though hers are clothed in odd, hand-stitched, quasi military uniforms. She also has a pair of boxed relief works which depict an elephant and a mosquito in an elaborate ceramic framed and velvet lined animal reliquary. They stand out like some sort of carnival sideshow attraction at once mystically repellent yet so elaborately crafted that they command attention.   

The Conquerors at Artspace
September 4 -
October 24, 2009




October 23, 2009 12:07 PM |

Picasso and the Allure of Language

Nasher Museum at Duke University

August 20, 2009 - January 3, 2010

I will be the first to admit that I approached this show with caution and also a bit of trepidation.  The thought crossed my mind that the jig was up and it's just that our museum-going selves haven't caught on as yet.  I mean, can there really be that much more to be said in a Picasso exhibition that hasn't been said already?  The blockbuster shows, of which there have of course been many, have effectively worked over the terrain of Picasso as artistic genius to the point of exhaustion, but "Picasso and the Allure of Language" the current show at the Nasher Museum at Duke proves there is still fertile territory to be plumbed.  This show's perspective takes a beguiling multi-faceted approach with the primary aim of exploring the role and influence of language and writing in Picasso's work.


Organized by the Yale University Art Gallery in conjunction with Yale's Beinecke Library and support from the Nasher, the show displays manuscripts, letters, book projects, catalogues, and poetry both from Picasso himself (I have to admit I didn't know he had written such a large amount of poetry) and his contemporaries such as Georges Braque and particularly writer Gertrude Stein.  Surprisingly, fewer paintings are on hand than might be expected though the show includes a multitude of prints, drawings, and various illustrated book editions. There are also archetypal cubist-style Picassos included that were either created on newsprint or utilized newspapers as source/ subject material such as the work "Pedestal Table with Guitar and Sheet Music" from 1920.  One of the more intriguing works is entitled "Dice, Packet of Cigarettes, and Visiting-Card" from 1914  in which the artist remade one of Gertrude Stein's and Alice Stoklas's calling cards (left at Picasso's door when they called on him in his absence) into a collage work itself regifted by the artist and left at Stein's and Stoklas's door shortly afterwards.


It is a natural that this show emanates from Yale in that the literary influence of Gertrude Stein on Picasso's work can be directly traced from and supported by the Beinecke Library's vast archive of her writings.  An early benefactor of Picasso, collector of his work and his primary patron during the crucial formative cubist years of 1905-1914, Stein was a larger than life expatriate figure with an enormous influence in Parisian artistic life of the time.  The real heart of the show lies in precisely her particular literary lineage and influence and it becomes apparent that the impact of writers and poets upon early 20th century visual artists cannot be underestimated.  This literary influence which, as shown here is always a strong undercurrent in Picasso's work, is unfortunately often overshadowed by the sheer bravura of his artworks themselves (as well as his mythic persona and larger than life reputation.)


It is to the show's benefit that it possesses such strong multi-media appeal (a snazzy touch-screen video display with digitally turning manuscript pages kept many viewers' rapt attention while I visited the show)  and is quite interdisciplinary in nature.  In this sense, it is in keeping with our media enthralled age to a degree and yet also able to strike some common ground with appeal for lovers of the visual image, the written word and the printed page- vintage bibliophiles, art fans, and Twitterers alike. 

While the chronology of the show is vast - exhibited work spans across Picasso's life from age 19 to his 87th year - the intimate feel of the show in the Nasher's gallery gives it the feel of a retrospective in miniature form.  One in fact will likely leave feeling a bit dazzled by it all... but also refreshed.


(author's special thanks to Thornton Wilder for his suggestion to Stein to donate her literary archive to Yale in the first place.  Who knows how much longer we would have had to wait before some intrepid scholar would have tracked down these literary linkages otherwise?) 


(image courtesy the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University)
October 18, 2009 8:38 PM |

Using a box of Froot Loops and some Go-Gurt as props, Michael Pollan--looking natty in a sportcoat and tennis shoes--spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of about 7,000 people last week at the University of Wisconsin's Kohl Center.  Not too shabby for a weeknight author event.


Yet I wasn't surprised in the least by the turnout:  here in Wisconsin, food matters.  As Pollan noted, the state has been on the leading edge of current issues surrounding food, and he wasn't just trying to curry favor with us cheeseheads.  From farmers' markets to urban farming (like Will Allen's Growing Power) to CSAs to larger debates about food policy, people in Wisconsin care about food, even if we don't all agree on the best way to produce it.


As one of the speakers introducing Pollan noted, about 10% of Wisconsinites work in agriculture-related jobs.  While no one in my family farms anymore, my grandparents (now both deceased) raised hogs and Angus beef cattle.  My aunt and uncle ran a family dairy farm and still live on that land.  As for me, I don't even garden and hay makes me sneeze like you can't believe--but I'm truly proud of the farming my family members have done.  Farming is physically demanding and financially risky.  If you like to eat, you should appreciate what farmers do.


But back to Pollan:  part of what I appreciate about both his book and his talk at the UW is the way in which culture has not been left out of the equation.  In fact, one of the big drivers behind Pollan's Madison visit was the UW's Center for the Humanities.  I believe they had already lined him up as a speaker for their "Humanities without Boundaries" series even before the UW at large selected the splendid In Defense of Food:  An Eater's Manifesto as the inaugural book in its new "Go Big Read" campus-wide reading program.


Just as food is a big part of Wisconsin's economy, it's a major part of our cultural heritage.  It helps us define who we are, from grass-fed beef and wholesome CSA produce to the more indulgent side of things:  brats, cheese and local beer.  While Pollan may tick off some food scientists and nutritionists (two professions he has taken to task), he does underscore a simple and oft-forgotten message:  before we turned food into a medical and scientific minefield, it was simply a part of life.  Kudos to Pollan for being one of the voices reclaiming food's rightful place as a part of culture and daily pleasure.


Local visual artists have also engaged in food-related issues.  I still remember an excellent show the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters did on the theme of farming in 2007, "Wisconsin's People on the Land" (my review is archived here).  And, timed to coincide with Pollan's multi-day stint in Madison this month, the local artists' group artsTRIBE exhibited at this year's "Food for Thought" festival, which also featured Pollan.


While I've never been completely disconnected from my food, Pollan has inspired me to make the extra effort to buy local food more frequently and do "real" cooking more often.  (Yet I'll never, ever, give up the occasional donut; life would no longer be worth living.)  It's not just about me and my health or quality of life--it's about being invested in this place where I live, in many senses of that word.

September 29, 2009 12:39 PM |
What is the role of government? It might depend on what's needed. Obama, during his inaugural address, recast the debate not in terms of size but utility. But it's an argument going way back to the 1930s when capitalism was untenable and marketplace forces threatened to tear the country apart. Given our crisis, I'm struck by the similarities between now and then. Reading William E. Leuchtenburg's new biography of Herbert Hoover is like reading today's newspaper. In this *New Haven Review* [piece](, I say it's nothing short of breathtaking:

In 1932, the country was facing a credit crisis the likes of which had never been seen. Americans were losing their jobs, their houses, and their life savings as the stock market crashed and banks collapsed.

To stymie a plunge that could last years, Hoover OK'd the renewal of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to recapitalize the financial sector, infusing $2 billion--a "staggering amount" at that time, Leuchtenburg reminds us--into banks, insurance firms, railroad companies, and other finance institutions. Will Rogers wrote that the bankers had "the honor of bring the first group to go on the 'dole' in America."

But efforts to save the banks and stimulate the economy from the top down backfired. Banks were still closing, though at a slower rate, and instead of loosening up credit markets, as the bailout was intended to do, banks found a way to use the millions to shore up their own holdings.

New York Senator Robert Wagner, a progressive critic of the Hoover administration, responded to this blank-check strategy by zeroing in on the fatal flaw of Hoover's economic ideology: Even in extraordinary times, even in the face of starvation, Hoover believed welfare would impair the character of the needy and rob benefactors of the opportunity to exercise voluntarism and civic duty. Wagner, like many others, was stunned by Hoover's decision to bail out banks. "We did not preach to them rugged individualism," he said:

We did not sanctimoniously roll out sentences rich with synonyms of self-reliance. We were not carried away with apprehension over what would happen to their independence if we extended them a helping hand.... Must [the individual] alone carry the cross of individual responsibility?

I don't think Leuchtenburg intended his biography to reflect so acutely our current hardships. His aim was to paint a not unsympathetic portrait of a hard man to have sympathy for. But as I zipped through this lucid book, I kept trying to think of a good word to describe the feeling of my frequently being taken aback. History repeats itself, sure, but how often does it do so with such vengeance?

[Full review . . . ](
March 1, 2009 7:57 PM |
After Barack Obama won the election, my elation clouded my journalism. I was incapable of thinking about anything else. So when it came time to write about an event in Charleston called Kulture Klash, I had to figure out what it meant amid this historic change. Kulture Klash is really an arts party like the kind commonly organized in New York. I'm told the place to go is PS1, but I've never been there and never been to one of those events. Kulture Klash, and I'd imagine events at PS1, are about diversity, creativity, and having a lot of fun. KK injects a radical social dimension into the arts and the arts give rise to a radical social dimension, mostly because the kind of art you'll find there stems from street art -- break dancing, graffiti art, aerial skating, juggling, hula hooping, etc. In the wake of Obama's victory, Kulture Klash seemed to have more significance than just an arts party. It seemed to embody a new set of ideals, a grass-roots and egalitarian value system shaped and given expression by the internet and social-networking sites. When all was said and done, more than 2,000 people had gone to Kulture Klash. In a Charleston context, that's an enormous crowd and an important step in local arts. Tim Wu, in a review of Jonathan Zittrain's *The Future of the Internet (And How to Stop It)*, aptly notes that what makes our age special, in technological terms, is its "generative" nature: "'Generativity' is a central notion in his book, and he means what it says: that the Net has made us all mini-generators -- not of electricity, but of information and innovation. Who today is not at least sometimes an online analyst, poet, or publisher, even if just of Facebook updates?" (Read Wu's [review in full]( in *The New Republic*.) In a piece in a November issue of *Charleston City Paper*, I attempted to draw a connection between Obama's win, the ideals of Web 2.0, and this generative nature among those born after 1980, those who not only gave YouTube and Facebook their current cache, but who also expect interactivity in whatever they do. I suggest that this is a turning point. Of what, I don't know. But something is turning. You can feel it.

Creativity is a part of their lives. Millennials don't just dream it. They be it. Kulture Klash's website tells why the event matters: "For the sake of art and community."

"We want everyone to have a voice, everyone to get involved," says Gustavo Serrano. "If we can tap into everyone's imagination, who knows what will happen?"

The idea of a bottom-up, idealism-based community of creative types, like Kulture Klash, goes back to the ancient Greeks.

Today, it can be found in knitting circles, jazz ensembles, open-source technology like Linux, crowdsourced knowledge consortiums like Wikipedia, community arts projects like the recent The Future Is on the Table art exhibit at City Gallery, and even in pick-up games of basketball (which is, because of its reliance on the integrity of individual players, Barack Obama's favorite pastime).

These have characteristics that challenge the old guard of established arts professionals whose minds were galvanized, like Clinton and Bush, by "great disruption" of the 1960s. These characteristics include participation over presentation, collaboration over competition, amateurism (in the best sense of the word) over professionalism, and process over product.

Grassroots creativity is an old idea (Walt Whitman exulted the inventive potential of diversity), but the difference now is scale.

Ninety-five million Americans are applying the ideals of Web 2.0 to the real world, including their approach to the arts.

[Read full story . . . ](
January 8, 2009 8:15 AM |

Now that the election is over, the object of my obsessing has shifted from presidential politics to the disarray of the global economy. From the macro to the micro, stories about the economy dominate the news. While I read quite a lot of personal finance stories and have an affection for the fabulously weird Suze Orman, I don't generally read actual, y'know, books on economic matters.

Mooney_cover.jpgYet I was intrigued by an interview I heard this past June on Wisconsin Public Radio (which you can stream online via this link or, if that ever fails, search the online story archives) with Nan Mooney, author of (Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents: The Decline of the Professional Middle Class, which came out earlier this year from Beacon Press. Now, a few months later, I've finally gotten around to reading Mooney's book.

Mooney's topic will, I imagine, be of interest to lots of ArtsJournal readers since her focus is on the economic straits of what she dubs the "educated professional middle class." These are white-collar workers whose jobs require at least a bachelor's, if not a master's or PhD, and are in--as Mooney phrased it in her WPR interview--"professions that, oftentimes, got you more moral prestige than financial rewards," such as journalism, nonprofit work and the arts.

While Mooney has interviewed a large number of subjects of different ages, her perspective, as someone born in 1970, seems very much of a piece with the Generation X mindset. X-ers have had to come to terms with a climate in which the value of a four-year degree has shrunk, making it, in many cases, akin to a high-school diploma for previous generations.

Yet Mooney's central point is that the sharp rise in fixed, necessary costs such as health care premiums is eroding the already modest salaries of teachers, social workers and the like. While I found some of her anecdotes a little lacking (such as a Chicago couple with a combined income of $93K and a home purchased for $179K; that doesn't seem like much of a stretch to me), the book makes for interesting reading.

I'm also glad to see Mooney discard the tired "latte myth," one of those irritating little tidbits that seems to make it into every magazine personal-finance story (and which I heard Matt Lauer recycle just this morning on NBC's Today). The idea is that if you cut out your $3 or $4 latte every day and plunk the money into a savings account, a worthwhile amount will rack up by the end of the year. As Mooney writes:

This may be useful advice to some degree, but it's hard to imagine that saving a few dollars here and there will ever add up to a home of your own... The only thing this theory seems to accomplish is making us feel guilty for enjoying small pleasures, when we definitely can't afford the larger ones. Forgoing a fancy cup of coffee can't ameliorate the fact that wages have stagnated and the cost of most major items has risen.

I'm all for economizing and limiting frivolous expenses (I can't help it; I grew up in a middle-class but ultra-frugal family), but I think Mooney makes a great point. This trite latte example, which we've heard over and over, doesn't address the fact that the level of consumer spending hasn't really gone up since the 1970s, but fixed costs have risen and wages have stagnated. There's more at work here than occasional self-indulgence.

While I have quibbles with some aspects of this book, I think it's a useful counterbalance to the rosy picture painted by Richard Florida's much-hyped The Rise of the Creative Class, which made it seem as if the creative and well-educated were endlessly in demand and could write their own tickets in terms of where to live and work. I always found it strange that Florida lumped together hairdressers and more highly paid types like software developers. Income level was simply glossed over.

If these sorts of issues intrigue you, I recommend listening to Nan Mooney's Wisconsin Public Radio interview with host Joy Cardin or reading her book. While I'm sure some will deride her as a whiner (and I'll admit I found some of her interviewees unsympathetic), she raises worthwhile questions about how certain professions are valued and where we're headed in the future, especially for those with children. I'll close with another excerpt:

If we feel torn between money and values, imagine the pressures our financial anxieties will place on our kids now and in the future... How fully do we propagate those ideals that left so many of us disenchanted: the sense of entitlement, the idea that hard work and fair play will automatically get you somewhere, the virtues of meaningful work, generosity of spirit and a life of the mind? Much as we might relish having grown up in an era where possibility was the watchword, can we say we're responsible parents if we encourage our children to do as we did, bypass financial security and focus on following their dreams?
December 3, 2008 4:26 PM |
This is Michael Heller talking about his new book, called The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives. Basically, he argues that when too many people own too much of a thing, it doesn't work anymore and it actually hurts us all. There's much about science and technology, but he also discusses culture, especially the problems facing hip-hop artists and sound sampling. How can we innovate with this problem? What's the reward of being creative?

*[Charleston City Paper](*
September 1, 2008 11:16 AM |
071102-myth-beast-02.jpgThere's an interesting piece over at LiveScience called "Monsters, Ghosts and Gods: Why We Believe." It was inspired by the recent string of weirdness. That string began with the so-called Montauk Monster on Long Island, then a Big Foot, then this creature found in Texas last year that the discoverer swore was the Chupacabra, or goat sucker, of Mexican lore. Turns out we want to believe. Most people simply can't not believe. It doesn't matter how educated you are. PhDs are as likely to believe in ghosts as high-school drop outs. But those who hold deep religious beliefs are less likely to buy into the paranormal. Those who attend church infrequently, or never, are more likely to believe Big Foot and the Montauk Monster are really, really real.
From LiveScience: The bottom line, according to several interviews with people who study these things: People want to believe, and most simply can't help it. . . . A related question: Does belief in the paranormal have anything to do with religious belief? The answer to that question is decidedly nuanced, but studies point to an interesting conclusion: People who practice religion are typically encouraged not to believe in the paranormal, but rather to put their faith in one deity, whereas those who aren't particularly active in religion are more free to believe in Bigfoot or consult a psychic. "Christians and New Agers, paranormalists, etc. all have one thing in common: a spiritual orientation to the world," said sociology Professor Carson Mencken of Baylor University.
Oh, and that Chupacabra? Not the mythical slayer of domestic animals. Nope. DNA testing showed it's just a coyote.
August 26, 2008 6:49 AM |

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