Sunday, October 07, 2007

Never Underestimate the Timelessness of a Waters


Poster by John Waters
I went to Marfa, TX, this weekend, for the annual art-fest.


With the exception of a rainstorm on Saturday, unfortunately dampening the annual bar-b-q that takes place in the center of town, the weather was amazing. None of this godawful Houston humidity. I realized, while driving, that the weather in Houston of late has felt a lot like being smothered in a damp, musty Army blanket.


I think I permanently damaged my poor lil' truck, Bandit, but the drive was so cool. I sped along thinking, "Rocks!", "Hills!", and "Omigawd, driving 115 miles an hour is so great!"

I took the above photo while driving because I was really amused by whatever it said on the back of this motor home. Unfortunately, I don't remember what it is now, but I know it was something like "Player Hater II". I swear to God.


Marfa itself is beautiful, serene. And I was soooo lucky, since I got to stay at my friend's house and didn't have to worry about flopping on an air mattress (which probably would have been ok--my friends Bill Willis and Alexia Bonomi pitched a tent on top of a barber shop on San Antonio St., and they looked like they were having the time of their lives), or scrambling for a nonexistent motel room.


And it's always fun scoping out the locals--especially these kids painting horse models. The little girl was very informative about their project, something about Dia de los Muertos, and asked me if I wanted to take their picture. I half expected her to charge me after the shutter clicked.


And who could pass up this lovely bit of graffiti? Especially one so tasteless as "I'm not drunk, I have cerebral palsy"?

But I don't know about all that...that...art. Sure, the whole Judd/Chinati thing. I love a good several series of silvery cubes as much as the next guy. But when they open up all of these other casitas to show Donald Judd's early paintings hung alongside the furniture he designed, well, I'm a little less than inspired. The paintings are pretty, well, derivative (as much early work can be). And when I wandered through the house and looked at the various furnishings, I thought, Well, that semi-upholstered chair over there is nice. I wonder if he did that? I wonder if he did that modified table over there?

Turned out that no, Donald Judd didn't design any of those things that looked like something you might actually want to sit on. But that thing over there like something out of an Abu Ghraib prison but with a fluffy mattress resting on top? There's your Judd.

Next year, I think they should exhibit Judd's underpants. Of course, considering that Donald Judd's whole life was minimalism, he probably didn't wear any. But, naturally, somebody would decide to display that. And then if some clueless yokel wandered in and said Hey! Where's the beef? The art world smug could just snigger at that person's lack of training.

That's what led me to think that, unsurprisingly enough, the seams on the Marfa art scene were clearly being strained. And those seams are on a pair of size 3 fuschia polyester pants, sported by a size 24 woman, and boy, you can see every cellulite-ridden ripple.

It's just too much, and too little of it is spectacular, with the exception of the Giganto-Judds. And out in the middle of nowhere like that, I want spectacular. Don't get me wrong: there really is a lot of art out there that isn't bad, but it just doesn't seem like anything one should be running into in the middle of, well, nowhere, to see. Huge concrete blocks occupying the middle of a field for no good reason? Yes. Regular ol' shit you'd see in some hung in some commercial gallery on? Nah.

There were, of course, quite a few things that stuck out. I was in the Camp Marfa show at Fort Russell, so I'm not going to talk about the actual exhibition. But I was really amazed at the Fort itself. Aparently, German POWs were held there during World War II, and the prisoners busied themselves by painting the murals on the walls.



One thing that blew me away was a pair of galleries on Highland St. One had Warhol's camo Last Supper, as well as these other huge pieces. It was great. Completely unexpected--walking in from the heat in a tiny town and running into something you'd see in the Menil. And the space was nice, too. And no, I don't remember what it was.



Unfortunately, in the space next door, owned by the same person, was this mess by Maria Zerres, a show called "Nine-Eleven":

I don't know if this artist was trying to do some kind of recreation of Guernica or what, but I really hated this stuff. It was such a disappointment to go from all of those huge wonderful Andys to all of those huge horrible--oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria? Leave as quickly as possible.


Having gotten that bit of crotchety complaining out of the way, I guess I should talk about some of the other stuff I saw. Some good; some, well, eh.
I like a lot of Erika Blumenfeld's work, which was nicely displayed in some gallery next to Ballroom Marfa. I wouldn't think I'd be a sucker for a bunch of time-lapsed photos, but they are incredibly beautiful and painterly, and the works clearly demonstrate the artist's passion for her subject matter--western light. I think that, after several showings in Marfa, Blumenfeld has moved there and continues to document sunrises and sunsets in an unusual manner. If the thought of a Marfa sunset makes you want to puke, it's only because I've improperly described the work. Go to the website.

I also liked the work of Peter Voshefski, below. His series of wooden "books", all with whimsically depressing titles and partial text, were witty and very well-crafted.


I also liked quite a few of his paintings, which reminded me a bit of Nina Bovasso's earlier works with his use of color and whimsicality, but in a more modest scale.

Christine Olejniczak's exhibition Gun Blasts and Glass Bullets, curated by Jeff Elrod,at The Marfa Book Co. was a bit of a disappointment for me. I was introduced to the artist outside the book store before I saw the show, and I was pretty enthused, since she told me about the glass bullets she had made, and how she was 'packing glass'.

I was a little underwhelmed when I got in there, though. Each of the glass bullets she had made was girded, mid-casing, by black metal, a few inches from the wall, as if in flight. But here, again with the fucking minimalism! The bullets themselves were very pretty, but the way that they were displayed took away from their effectiveness as objects. And, being displayed against a wall painted off-white, it was hard to make them out.

Perhaps that subtlety was Olejniczak's point, but it wasn't working for me. I wanted more. More, I tell you---more, more! There's an episode of Law and Order where the assistant D.A., to make a point about gun violence in America (those of you who don't know me should know that I have the TV on in my studio a lot of the time, and since I don't really want to watch the shows, I play shows that I don't have to look at, like stuff on Comedy Central and reruns of Law and Order. Due to these programs being run ad nauseum, I often find myself saying stupid shit like, Well, if you want to find out who he's been talking to, you should check his LUDS or, That subdural hematoma looks about two hours old), pours boxes and boxes of bullets out on the table in the courtroom. It was a beautiful pile, indeed. I don't know if it would have even been possible for the artist to make that many glass bullets, but I would have loved to see thousands of them piled in the gallery.

Olejniczak's pencil drawings on raw wood panels, seeming abstracts of literal blasts of impact (god, that's awkward) also came off as a bit under-realized. There was one drawing that I really liked in the show, and I think I liked it the best because it was the most gestural and abstract.

At Ballroom Marfa was a show called Every Revolution is a Roll of the Dice, organized by Bob Nickas. I can't decide whether it should have been called, The Revolution has Been Televised, and You Missed it When You Got Up For That Pepsi, or, more simply and concisely, Huh?

Nearly everything was a disappointment here, especially the black sand in the front gallery and the white sand in the back, each functioning as a carpet for the various scuptures. One of my friends mentioned that the installation. especially in the back gallery. looked like something you'd see at Blue Star. No offense to Blue Star, of course. It's just that an exhibition with Carol Bove, Haim Steinbach, and a parade of other art stars should be a tad more substantial.

But what disappointments most of those art-rockers proved to be. I remember a time, long ago, when a Wayne Gonzales painting really interested me. No mas.

This swimming pool ladder sculpture by Joan Wallace was nice, and the only piece I liked in the show-- although, of course, it looks like crap the way it was photographed.

Out in back was this stuff. Kind of fun, but reminding me a bit of an old lady's back yard full of hummingbird feeders.

At the bottom of the flyer for the show, it reads: Ballroom Marfa is a dynamic, contemporary cultural art space that provides a lively intellectual environment where varied perspectives and issues are explored through visual arts, film, music, and performance.

I guess I missed that part. There was a show in their space next door, exhibiting all of their past posters, where people could pull their own silkscreen poster prints. That looked like fun. Maybe even dynamic.

Off the beaten path at 2d gallery, I felt my usual rage against Minimalism completely subside. This is a really great space, the owner has great taste, and the art is displayed really well.

Here, Gloria Graham has taken funeral kerchiefs, made light lines upon them, and turns them into subtle, Agnes Martin-like works.
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I also loved these works by David McDonald, although my crappy photography doesn't do it justice at all. It looks great on the gallery website, and I suggest you go there.

Due to a back injury aggravated by 10 hours of driving, I missed a lot of stuff that I would have liked to see. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I felt shitty, had to go back to the hacienda to rest, and missed the opportunity to see Mark Flood's show, as he was a resident at Chinati. Shame on me. What a drag it is getting old.