Friday, September 21, 2007

You'd be frightened, too.

I just recently started to go to art events and openings again, and they're just as much glorious fun as I remembered them. Amy Sillman's paintings (Suitors and Strangers) at the Blaffer look good. A lot different than the stuff I generally associate with her work. Big, bold strokes, in contrast to her usual style. I used to like her work in the same way I like cute, precocious little children--Oh, Tammy! And is that spot over in the corner where all the villagers go to market to get the food that will make them strong? Not that they weren't good paintings; I always really liked them. But they were very playful, the product of an isolated, idiosyncratic individual. Now they kinda remind me of late Manet or DeKooning in their loose manner. I like these, too. The colors are amazing. And, as with the earlier work, one gets the sense that this is an artist who, as Sillman mentioned in a panel discussion at Rice years ago, is engaged in deep play. Little Amy's growing up.

Also went to Maya Schindler, Will Henry, and Hilary Wilder's openings at Devin Borden/Hiram Butler Gallery . I'd love to comment on the shows here, but unlike some art writers here in Houston, I have problems writing about exhibitions where I show my own work. Call it conflict of interest. Call it sheer terror that Hiram will come after me with his horde of bees. Whatever. Everything there looked fabulous. Another triumph!

But speaking of triumphs, I actually went to an opening of CAM Houston Perspectives 158: Kelly Nipper (Curated by Toby Kamps) last night. Oh, sordid events had kept me away for so long. You know how it is when something shitty happens and every time you go out you're convinced that people are looking at you, talking about you, and just plain hating your guts, when, in fact, no one was ever looking at you, talking about you, or bothering to hate your guts. Damn. It makes you feel so special when you imagine that you're universally vilified; how does one go about feeling unique when one finds out that people are really just thinking about reruns of Scrubs?

I don't know about that show, though. When I listened to Nipper talk (by the way, I really like that name! nippernippernipper!), I realized that, while some of the images hung in the gallery were kind of nice, there would have been absolutely no way of knowing any of the reasons for why the work is what it is, or why it has any significant meaning, without reading a tome the size of the Yellow Pages. I'm dumb. I need my art to say what it has to say right there, right in front of me. It's not that I don't find Nipper's scientific research and theories interesting; it's just that if she weren't there to talk about it, I'd just think I was looking at a few printed images. There is a trio of white-framed images on the south wall that are very beautiful from a distance. When you get up close, though, they're all grainy. So no beauty, no craft, no apparent significance. I was a bit dumbfounded.

There was a video of an apple that Nipper mentioned had been, in previous exhibitions, quite largely projected. For some reason, they chose not to do this at the CAM, and I wondered why. Would size have given it more impact? I dunno.

Kamps and Nipper did an ongoing dialogue during the gallery talk, which, of course, was quite illuminating. Kamps mentioned a few times that his interpretation of the work was more pedestrian, that he chose to focus on the "sexy" elements, while she emphasized the science and research. I, like Kamps, tend to read things in a humanistic manner, and if I'd become interested in Nipper's work, I probably would have focused on the sensuality of the movements of the body that she describes. However, neither the sexy nor the scientific seem to be apparent in this show. Like I said, I'm too dumb for most of this shit.

One thing that struck me while going through the gallery--and this thought has struck me quite a few times before--is how impossibly ugly that space is. Really bad feng shui.

Finally, though, I was freaked out by the video projected in the one darkened room, An Arrangement for the Architect and a Darkroom Timer. Nipper put two strangers, a young man and woman, in very close proximity to one another (one person noted that another person had noted that the fact that the two were strangers was bullshit. The second-hand possible mis-quote goes as follows: "Strangers? Those two have been fucking for years!") And they didn't really seem like strangers. If they didn't know one another prior to the video, then surely they must have seen each other at some grubby pot party at a fellow grad-art-school party.

But anyway, that wasn't my problem with the video, which bathed the figures in red light to simulate a darkroom, and was punctuated periodically by a loud darkroom timer. Nipper says that observing these two, their body language, the way in which the woman tended to shrink in the presence of the man, was a prolonged examination of human nature. We don't normally, she said, get in each other's 'spaces' like that. Well, that's interesting enough to think about. North Americans are especially known for their hefty 'space' requirements. We wouldn't be a nation of Hummers if we weren't.

However, this video thoroughly creeped me out for one reason, and a petty one at that. Nipper says that the woman was rather cowed by the man after a period of time. But if you look at the man, how can you blame her from shrinking away? I haven't been so grossed out by a guy since Sean Penn's portrayal of Matthew Poncelet in Dead Man Walking. What woman wouldn't be cowed by this menacing, greasy stringbean?

And am I so totally out of the loop? Has the mullet made a return to contemporary fashion? I recently wrote about mullets here on WhinyBabyLand, but I perhaps erroneously assumed that the 'do was, thankfully, a thing of the past. Am I wrong? Has the mullet made a return to the world of the contemporary coif? Tell me it isn't so. Looking at contemporary art and fashion just makes me realize how much of a luddite I truly am. It just makes me want to stay at home, hunker down on the couch, and eat a can of frosting. Not healthy at all for body or mind. The art, not the frosting. Or is it the other way around. I'm so confused.