Monday, November 29, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop a Banksy Film Now in theaters in Berlin, Germany. by craniv boyd

Exit through the gift shop a Banksy Film 2010 now in theaters in Berlin, Germany.



"I have got nothing to do now not now never, I am never doing anything now…"


French Los Angeles second hand clothier turned documentairian turned super appropriation/ street artist Thierry Guetta  utters these words as a promise, a show of good faith, and pledge to the Anonymous English Street artist Banksy on his first professional visit to Los Angeles. This fortuitous start of a relationship is recounted By Banksy himself and the Frenchman some where in the middle of Banksy's New film and foray into documentary film making titled "Exit through the Gift shop" currently in theatres in Berlin.


One almost expects this opus(now nominated for best documentary for the Oscars 2011) with the subtitle 'a Banksy Film' to be blatant self-promotion in the form of time based media. Rather it serves as blatant self-promotion thinly cloaked as a survey film of the heavy hitters of the so called street art movement, and the story of a lesser known street artist and character extraordinaire Thierry Guetta.  Banksy following in the tradition the YBA's set forth in 1988 with their exhibition titled Freeze, is now master purveyor of that recent British export known as shock art. His work is about sensation and sensationalism, it speaks in hit rates and is part, flirtation with criminality, part marketing and public relations savvy and part recycling of art ideas of the last century. 


The work that catapulted Banksy to media attention is a reworking of a 30 + year old art as rebellion piece by Iranian bad boy artist turned art advisor turned Gallery owner/art dealer Tony Shafrazi. He spray-painted the words "KILL LIES ALL" in red enamel on Picasso's 1938 masterpiece Guernica then installed in New York's Museum of Modern Art in a work made in 1974, predates the boom of the graffiti movement. Shafrazi tipped off the New York Times and other local newspapers before he committed this infamous act of vandalism on modern art. Poetically later in his second or third life as art dealer, Tony Shafrazi was the main mainstream gallerist to champion the artists of the Graffiti movement and those big names of the 1980's whose work has something to do with Graffiti Haring, Basquiat  and Sharf. He historically mounted the Warhol Basquiat collaborative exhibition at his gallery when both still lived.


Banksy's version was to leave a framed original of one of his own paintings in the Tate collection complete with a wall caption. He camouflaged his own work into the work of the establishment, doing what many British artists dream of: having their work installed in the Tate. Perhaps his act was more generous, leaving one of his own works behind rather than being an angry young man, defacing the work of a prior generation. Or in these days of heightened security and terror alerts defacing million dollar artworks in public collection in the name of "art" is a very risky proposition potentially very legally damaging. Banksy is able some how to appear like he is doing something altogether radical new and unheard of by inserting his work in the museum, how ever this radical stance morphs into a calculated pose when Banksy anonymous British street artist remembers to have a friend shadow him in the Tate with a video camera as he places the work on a wall. A great PR move by an international artist of mystery. More on this later...


The Identity of artist Banksy is not publicly known. Banksy's debut at the start of the film is a view of the artist in a black hooded sweatshirt in a darkened claustrophobic chaotic space some forsaken corner of the artists rambling studio. He speaks to us with a voice that has been cloaked and distorted in post production, his face obscured and pixellated as if he were in the witness protection program and recounting his days in the employ of a notorious mobster. These are the familiar sings that are present in his portrayal these are code for or reinforce his renegade stature. Not only are they emblematic in this way, they are symbolic for the fact that Banksy who ever he is possesses the wherewithal to preserve the secret of his own identity.


Narrator Banksy steers the audience immediately on a false goose chase telling them that the film they are about to watch is about some one else a character far more interesting than himself.  Cut to sunny Los Angeles California where the spectator is introduced to Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who sells used clothing dubbing it Vintage. He is the pioneer of the vintage clothing retail business, buying old clothing in bulk for a song cleaning it an displaying it in a chic environ and marking each item up for his trouble of finding it and determining that its still trendy or original Mr. Guetta is a highly creative person, he emits creativity in his flair for categorizing classifying and labeling that which society overlooks, old clothing, and displays the Midas touch turning loads of other peoples garbage into a more than modest livelihood for a family. 


This in itself is amusing but it is merely the back story of Thierry Guetta. Enter the consumer video camera. The French family man in California becomes obsessed with documenting everything. He is reliving the "I am machine eye" moment of Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov had back in the 1920's with his Kino Pravda "cinema of the Truth" but right now in the time of late capitalism. His recording is a compulsion with out focus or pretension, he is an autodidact or outsider video artist in the truest scene, for he did not attend art school and he has no knowledge of his compatriot and also obsessive videographer Michel Auder, who created a similar selfportriat documentary titled The Feature 2008, out of the unscripted footage he shot of his own life for years.  Mr. Guetta's video output is one initiated without some future goal of an art project or product. It is a cathartic endeavour of obsessive scope where he exorcises the demons of his childhood in adult life with the aid of consumer video cameras and hundreds if not thousands of videotapes.


Then one summer after years of obsessive video recording Thierry Guetta meets a cousin of his on holiday in France, his cousin happens to be known as Space Invader, an active member in a burgeoning yet still under the radar movement known as street art. Guetta Becomes enthralled by the process of going out late at night to do illegal acts of installing street art in public places, he finds a locus a what to record and document, and he becomes hooked trying to meet follow and record as many street artists as he can.


Street art as it is called is by in large Graffiti by art school alumni. Street artists are not teenagers from the inner city. They are not tagging per say like Taki 183 Who Norman Mailer wrote about In his 1973 classic The faith of Graffiti, the Ur graffiti tagger in New York City. Taki 183 was writing his name and the street he came from over and over where ever he could sparking a brief proto graffiti craze in NYC.  Street Art is not about "bombing" the act of spray-painting on the side of a subway train car or side of a highly visible urban billboard. It seems that Street artists are more mutually supportive of each other than Graffittists are. Street artists are not destroying the work of other street artists, nor are they writing the word "Toy" over the work of another street artist in an effort to create some kind of a territorial feud.


Art on the street, it is not limited to spray paint on whatever and bound as some kind of a pillar in the hip hop sub culture movement, rather its practitioners tend to be a little bit older, a bit more international, more obsessive and aware of the documentation of their ephemeral creations and re investigate more arcane and unpopular methods of art creation, that of the mosaic, the stencil, the placard, the silhouette and intricately cut paper. Many work of street artists is an extension of the punk subculture pop art and most are a deliberate display of a facility with elements of drawing and graphic design. An imaginary street artist manifesto might read something like this "I am an artisan who is rouge and sharing my super crafted art objects with the plebeians who never attend contemporary art exhibitions. I the crafts person elect to insert my work on the street illegally because it its cool and democratic and I am addicted to a cheap thrill, also because I am re framing the discourse of the art being made today. I choose to fly my works out in the public first instead of waiting for some conservative gallery representation to expose, discover and validate my art practice, in other words I am D.I.Y. and short circuiting the system"


One of the first Street artist that Thierry Guetta documented after retuning to Los Angeles from the fate-full summer Holiday in France was the then cult hero street artist "Obey" or Shepard Fairey. The documentation began when the Frenchman with his video camera found Shepard and wife Amanda busy at work in a Kinko's copy-shop in L.A.  Xeroxing and cutting out large "obey" Placards that Mr. Fairy developed from a photograph of the late wrestler turned actor Andre the Giant and the word 'Obey'. This first meeting showing the artist hard at work on his knees years before his auction sales, museum retrospective at the Boston museum of modern art and the Iconic Obama Hope Poster that Mr. Fairy made from an 'appropriated' associated press photograph in 2008 which to this day is the reason behind a lawsuit on the artist. Mr. Guetta Then began a friendship with this artist that cast him in the double role of Videographer and lookout.


Much of the rest of the film elucidates how the Frenchman evolved from a video camera obsessed individual to a street artist appropriationist and copycat himself. Yet is also functions as a strong propaganda for Banksy, in that the Frenchman is unable to find Banksy and film the mythical and mysterious Banksy at work when every other street artist has made themselves available to him. The propaganda machine continues with a mini retrospective in video form of the highlights of Banksy. A work at the famous wall in Gaza a stunning collision of media savvy, preparation and poetic illustrations, images of children breaking through the wall or transversing the barrier in some other way i.e. the girl in a dress holding balloons. Banksy it seems is the first artist to mount a one-person exhibition in less than an hour under gunpoint.  There is a studio visit where Banksy shows the Frenchman and his video camera the making of a steel un-commissioned public sculpture, his spacious duplex workplace digs some where in London and the hidden illicit treasures of one million pounds sterling that Banksy and his team forged with the likeness of the late lady Diana instead of the queen of England on the Banknote. Banksy explains that he could go to jail for ten years for forging that money and that is why he likes to keep it hidden in boxes in a closet on the second floor of his studio, so he can occasionally show it to his friends with video cameras who say they are making documentaries about the street art movement.


I wont spoil the ending of the film that I might add is shot on video contributing to the prevalent do-it-yourself aesthetic. Its ending is almost moralistic, as if this documentary is a cautionary tale of just what the powers of addiction, obsession misguided creativity, marketing, hype, money, a staff of art school educated freelancers in Los Angeles can do. It poses the question what makes an artist original or good or an artist at all. Exit Through the Gift Shop shows what lengths some self styled artists are willing to go to in this results driven era. One were sales and market success and selling in mega high volume at ones debut exhibition are the instruments by which one measures ones self. It also parodies and puns market success, and the tiered dilemma of copy cat artists who are able to make it big and sell a lot of work really fast. Yes it puns this phenomena but I feel it offers not critique thereof, it remains another heroic saga in a myth which fetischizes fame and recognition, eclipsing the art objects. But the objects of Street Art highly crafted and strategically placed are ephemeral objects designed primarily as propaganda with transgressive content. Adverts where the product is one not readily consumed. Most passerby who see a Banksy work in public can only afford to buy his catalogue: Banksy "Wall and Piece", the same is true for an artist like Shepard Fairey. I find street art works to be categorically subverted advertisements, that function in my mind primarily for either promotion of the individual artist or the creative process in general. by craniv boyd ©    

Friday, November 19, 2010

John Baldessari Pure Beauty The Metropolitan Museum of Art October 20 2010- January 9, 2011. by craniv boyd

John Baldessari Pure Beauty The Metropolitan Museum of Art October 20 2010- January 9, 2011.


Recent observers of current art ask themselves, is the art of today, that of the 21st century Beautiful? Beauty in a world of post studio art creation, shock art, monumental multi-channeled video installation and John Baldessari is a charged word. We find ourselves in a time when Picasso's D'amouselles  de Avignon is a masterpiece over 100 years of age, the cubist rebel who challenged conceptions of aesthetics, is  accepted by in large as a forceful agent of change a genius in modern art, beauty then in 1906 must have been an altogether different beast. The past decades have brought us busts made of frozen blood, sculptures made from recycled American cars, an earth filled apartment in Soho Manhattan, and a slew of blank and monochrome canvass with serious knife wounds in the middle of them. What is beauty today and what is pure beauty? An implied question posed by the Title of this retrospective of an artist born at a time when Picasso himself was still a single young adult. John Baldessari, a Californian, whose artistic output begins at a time when the recycled car guy was getting started and continues in varied forms until today.


The Metropolitan's survey is that of 50 years of artistic activity by a single artist, the first major New York presentation of Baldessari's development in over 20 years.  It is a multi-chambered display of one hundred and twenty art works created since 1962. The Show begins before museum spectators even know it has with two super big commissions for the museum's domed entrance hall, The 27 foot wide printed on canvass "Brain/Cloud" and "Palm Tree/ Seascape". It is large profile work with a very high "hit-rate" every museum visitor to the Metropolitan Museum on 5Th avenue in New York City between October 20Th of this year and approximately mid January of 2011 shall see two "paintings" by artist John Baldessari whether they want to or not, regardless if they venture up to the modern wing to view his retrospective or not.


 John Baldessari's artworks straddle various media and genres from painting, to photography to video and film to appropriation. Baldessari's influence as a professor is undeniable and this exhibition can read as a how to guide on the production of late capitalistic art works. Exerting his pedagogical influence on students who became known and hyped in the bull market 1980's American art market, i.e. David Salle, and beyond however, less concretely on as the press release describes them  "succeeding generations" of: Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Baldessari's facet wealthy oeuvre almost pleads to the young artist/art student in a sunny California voice 'pick one of these studies I have done and stick with it your whole career, you to can become a current artist of note!'


What I mean by this is, simply put there are connections between for example, Baldessari's black and white text paintings of Clement Greenberg quotes, and artist Christopher Wool's paintings  "Helter Skelter" or "Riot" images where black bold face text is arranged on a white ground. The argument goes, take one of many subjects casually introduced by the residing west coast modern master, simplify it, enlarge the scale toughen it up a little bit, and work with only that for years and show it on the east perhaps more cynical and jaded coast. But that is only speculation, and there are considerably more issues at play in the work of an artist like Wool. 


It is as if Baldessari wrote the lexicon of what pure beauty is and can be in current art. He is the author of seminal vintage video works from 1971 where he is doing things and chanting " I am making art" and in a later piece he is reciting the promise "I will not make anymore boring art" Now with the odd mix of: 1.the proliferation of digital video recording devices, 2. the existence of Internet video dissemination sites like vimeo or YouTube, 3. Social-networking sites that verge on becoming alternate reality, and 4. The rapidly approaching Baldessari centennial in 2031. Somebody could and should organize a 100 years birthday video card for John Baldessari involving a recreation or reenactment of these two 1971 classics created uploaded shared and sent by artist and art enthusiasts the world over!


When I was in New York I could only regretfully visit this exhibition once, excuses and more excuses, what I saw as I progressed through the halls was the narrative arch of the making of a truly influential artist and art educator.


His humble beginnings in a series of paintings, presentable, quizzical yet slightly derivative versions of pop art in medium format, towards an artistic crisis of; is painting relevant anymore? In art and art history referential Text paintings from quoted material, onward to a bevy of small scale photo installations made in the late 60's early 70's occasionally featuring documentation of the artist himself performing an obscure hermetic purposeless act like waving at boats in the bay area (zeitgeist? German artist Anselm Kiefer made similar photographically based work at the same time albeit of himself, giving the Hitler salute in various historically charged locations in Europe) Video works that define and document the panic, confusion and desperation associated with the endeavor of creating original art work in our increasingly stratified society, then if that was not enough diagrams and charts of how to make a great Hollywood Movie that function as portraiture of the formulaic American entertainment industry, moving on to enlarged appropriated images of fallen men from older black and white Hollywood films and stock photographs of dead soldiers,  possible inspiration for an artist like Robert Longo's "Men in cities" Series, then subsequent varied paneled framed photo appropriations of increasingly larger size that are playful in the 80's the return to pop with the combination of similar photo appropriations and discreet shapes of bright solid color , a brief rekindling with the romance of the text-based art piece in a new form now in bright contrasting op-art colors with the same black frames as the photo appropriations, explorations of similar appropriated images with unconventional format shapes i.e. the trapezoid or triangle and, finally the Hero's return to his humble beginnings in art in bombastic scale with the earlier mentioned 27 foot wide special commission that looks surprisingly similar to the artists stark pop like paintings in the first hall of the retrospective.


Some one very close to me recently hinted that Baldessari's influence on the art being made today is global. They said that in the 1990's many works in the Swedish art academies had a palpable Baldessarian twist to them. That seeing Baldessari Pure Beauty at the metropolitan museum of art was crucial to the understanding of many works made in Scandinavia at the turn of the millennium. A 2004 Video Work of Icelandic artist Erling Klingenberg titled Create, Create could be observed through the lens of a more aggressive perverted desperate or delusional version of Baldessari's 1971 classic "I am Making art" but that might be too simple to build a bridge between two different artists of different nations, generations whatever. Yet to ignore it one would almost have to believe that an artist and their ideas must live in isolation on a desert island to express something with an original voice.


Baldessari it appears has developed a strong grammar of current trends and thematics for much art being produced today, his vision is visible in the works of many today. Is the beauty therein pure?  Or is the schizophrenic, multiple personality – esque, quality of his creations to date, the attribute that makes him as an artist and art educator a wellspring of inspiration, the real object of beauty in this survey? A brand of laid back investigation of broad topics hallmarks of a true horizontal thinker. by craniv boyd ©

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Enrique Martinez Celaya: The Crossing at Saint John the Divine Cathedral. by craniv boyd

Enrique Martinez Celaya: The Crossing at Saint John the Divine Cathedral.


We are here now for a religious experience. Today we are seeing four large paintings leaning against stonewalls of an unfinished cathedral. It is current art in a house of worship. It is figurative work that speaks to stages of life. The non-commercial setting hearkens back to a time before the death of god or the birth of the museum, a time when the huddled masses experienced art and religion as intertwined. 


The Crossing at St. John the Divine is a cycle of monumental paintings created for the space of the nave by artist Enrique Martinez Celaya. It is part of a series of works from an open invitation of the church to artists and curators living and working today to make art in dialogue with the architecture of the Cathedral or the scriptures of the religion.


The paintings are oriented vertically they rest close to the floor and reach up leaning back against the walls. They are four metaphorical depictions of stations in human existence: a path in a winter forest, a young man embracing a horse, and empty boat on a body of water and an injured child walking in summer time with the aid of crutches. Frailty and susceptibility in childhood, perhaps, or intimacy in young adulthood, a vessel for shared journey in middle age and a cold lonely path in old age. These are my interpretations of these current allegories.


The style of panting is a short departure from realism, a type of representation at home in a cartoon. Celaya's painting manner is at once naive, almost casual yet confident. He is bold and ambitious in his choice of format, that of the extra large. His subjects in this series are stark, spartan, they inhabit a lonely world of extremes and contrasts. A wounded child walking in a lush green garden, the young man and white horse embrace on a flat marshy plane with no man made structures in sight. The boat is the sole vessel in the body of water in the painting, it takes center stage an ersatz for the viewer themselves or a person. The path in the winter forest is this isolation of the boat taken further, loneliness grown older. Is it the path one walks late in life?


 These paintings are like movements with very little action. The are of  stationary happenings, or times of reflection. Celaya's paintings present choices. I see them as symbolic forks in the road, junctures the points in life where one makes a decision: to recover or not, to step on the boat or stay on the banks of the lake, to stay with the white horse or leave it and to walk down that winter path or not. They turn the viewers reflection of the painting back inwards on the viewer. In that they play with the narrative, yes characters are present but the story arch if one it to be divined is loose at best. In that respect these paintings have more in common with pop songs than a romance novel. They let the listener create the story and mold it to their lives rather than explain a discreet fiction to the reader. by craniv boyd©

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Katrín Sigurðardóttir at the Met. Metropolitan Museum New York. by craniv boyd

Katrín Sigurðardóttir at the Met. Metropolitan Museum New York.


"What do you think of Alice in wonderland at the Metropolitan?"  A distinguished professor in art history recently asked me. I could not say as is often the case when viewing art works and art installations in person. Being in front of new and unfamiliar artwork can sometimes remove my urge to describe and categorize it. After a week my mind returns to the mezzanine exhibition space at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, a small project space type viewing area between the two floors of the modern wing. Recent artists to exhibit there are Bill Viola, Tony Oursler and Neo Rauch, bankable artists with proven track records at major museums, now in the space we have the Icelandic, yet New York Based Katrín Sigurðardottir who is at a different stage of her art career making a dramatic installation that is partly baroque and partly site-specific at the same time.


The work consists of two sculptures one closed room, and one folding screen-like structure that looks as if walls in a room were dancing themselves apart in a fun house mirror. The closed room is a scale model, a slightly shrunken version, of a 17th century boudoir of a Parisian apartment. The Real boudoir is housed on a lower floor in a different department of the Metropolitan. The model is of a hexagonal room and most walls have one-way mirrors. The lighting of the interior is such that it produces the affect of being able to peer into the room and simultaneously obstructs the viewer from seeing their own reflection. One walks around the closed system attempting to see oneself in a mirror inside, but is frustrated and unsettled by seeing a room with no entry and mirrors that reflect themselves and the empty room they are in, into infinity. The lighting has a greenish cast to it, the hexagonal boudoir is recreated in mono-chrome white. It is a pristine space, a display that one can never enter, a stage where the furnishings and decor are the sole actors.


The complementary piece to this installation is the folding screen like surreal space. It completes this binary of opposites, it is "open" to "closed" across the hall. This sculpture takes the motif of the same room and folds it in on its self, the walls or wall segments rather are skewed into fun house perspective. They progress in a loose spiral from normal ceiling height to half a foot in height. There are a number of portals or arches one can walk through and under in this study of the shrinking space. One is slightly disoriented walking around and in this sculpture. It is inviting. This work of Katrín's photographs well. Depending on where one places the camera, you get an image that shows a room with an improbable space. This carnival aspect makes this part of the whole piece the more visitor friendly and less confrontational of the two.




Did the artist depart from the hexagonal room because of personal affinity with the Stuðlaberg, often six sided columnar basalt rocks, commonly found in Iceland?


Is the closed space of a beautiful interior a metaphor for the island nation of Iceland, for its beautiful landscape and relative isolation?


Or is the unraveling space a stand in for Iceland's tumultuous economic state, a baroque room with a riotously Topsy-turfy perspective, a room that shrinks as it dissolves? by craniv boyd ©