September 2009 Archives

Tim Kent


WARNING: The following review contains hemming and hawing. Also equivocation.

I've written before, more than once, that I'll go to any art event if someone invites me. This has never been really entirely true. I always consider going if someone invites me, but there are other considerations, such as how terrible the art looks, how cranky I am that evening, whether or not there's a family event at the same time, and so forth. Over the summer, too, this blog became somewhat inexplicably more popular, such that I've been getting a lot more invitations to things than I used to. So while my invitation policy used to be nearly true, it's gotten much more fictional over the past couple of months.

I feel unnaccountably bad about this. I don't owe anyone free publicity, but on the other hand, I do like to be invited to things and I hate letting people down. I'm a people pleaser. You can tell that, can't you?

So I got this invitation via e-mail to this opening. I checked out the work and I'm going to be honest: It didn't look great. It didn't look bad, either. It looked, really, like the kind of work that really can't be judged by JPEGs. I figured the work could go either way. In person it could be very good or it could be totally lousy. Impossible to tell. My first impression, then, was to skip the opening.

Then I looked up who was inviting me. The message was from a woman who was, judging by the photos online, attractive and upscale enough to get in photos at fundraisers attended by what, from my lowly perspective, appear to be the New York fashion elite. Well, the invitation was almost certainly not personal, but I was flattered nonetheless, because I'm easy like that. A pretty girl who knows rich people wants me to go? Then maybe I should!

A later message was from a guy, which brought me down a bit. But he was inviting me to the pre-opening, which, he said, was for press and VIPs. VIP! I've never been a VIP before, except once when I was someone's guest. I'm special!

Then I saw the address of the opening. It was in the middle of nowhere, Brooklyn. I mean, the middle of Brooklyn can't possibly be the middle of nowhere, not really, but in terms of my existence, it was: Not near any other art openings, not near subways I usually take, not near where I get off the bus, not near my studio. Also, not near a good neighborhood. This was in one of those neighborhoods I only hear about on the evening news because there's a fire or a hit-and-run.

Have I hemmed and hawed enough for you? More warning: There's further ahead. But anyway. I had my reservations about going and I had my reasons for going and none of them were really related to the art, and what I'm getting at is there are lots of things swirling around in my head that have nothing whatsoever to do with art which go into whether I see something or not. This is not very high-minded of me, I know, and part of me feels bad about it, but it is what it is.

In the end, that Thursday night, I went. I found myself getting off the L train in Bushwick. I immediately thought, compared to this, my studio's neighborhood in Gowanus is Park Avenue. Flushing Avenue in Bushwick is an area that can best be described as up and coming because it can't go much further down and away. But that's where the great art is, where those outside the art world are, right? Because it's cheap. It's not like Williamsburg or DUMBO or Chelsea or the Lower East Side, even, neighborhoods which have been so thoroughly gentrified you can't afford to live there. Those places are still trying to pretend they're down and out, but they're the very haute kind of down and out that takes a large amount of cash to practice. Not Bushwick: I passed an open pool hall with signage in Spanish. I didn't even know Spanish people played pool.

There on the corner of Vandevoort and Flushing Avenue I found Factory Fresh, and if you get there before October 11, 2009, you'll see Tim Kent's All That is Solid Melts into the Air.

Let's get the last of the hemming and hawing out of the way: I'm not sure, if I'd been walking from gallery to gallery in Chelsea, that I would've stopped for very long at Tim's show. I would've skimmed right over it, probably, without really giving the work any time at all to sink in. But I wasn't in Chelsea, I was in Bushwick, and I'd come over two hours by bus and train -- the bus getting stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel for 45 minutes due to some kind of accident ahead of us -- and when I got there, I was one of the only visitors in the gallery, and I was greeted warmly by my e-mail correspondents and introduced to the artist. All of which conspired to keep me in the gallery and paying attention.

As soon as I arrived I was met by Wade Groom and Katja Douedari, the husband and wife team of Studio Douedari, the publicity firm getting the word out on Tim's show. Both of them are really lovely people, new parents of twins, and we had a good little talk before they introduced me to Ali Ha, co-owner of the gallery, and at last Tim Kent himself.

I was completely charmed by everyone in the gallery, not least Tim. He's an excellent conversationalist, made me feel welcome, had interesting things to say, struck me as intelligent, intense, and serious. I really liked him. We talked for a few minutes before he left me alone with his paintings and the few drawings he had up. One thing he confided in me was that the show had been intended as a small show of drawings; somehow it had ballooned into a rather large show of nearly 20 paintings and a handful of graphite works. As I began to look around a good crowd of people began to fill up the space so that by the third or fourth time I'd walked around I was having to dodge viewers to get around.

Tim Kent, No Love Lost, 2009, oil on linen, 72x68 inches

Tim Kent, No Love Lost, 2009, oil on linen, 72x68 inches

Which brings us finally, at long last, to the work itself. Sorry it took me so long, but I warned you.

I definitely think Tim is a real artist. I think there's something to his work. I'm not certain I'm capable of reviewing it properly, which accounts for all my equivocation; I'm not sure it's near enough to something I have a feel for. That said, a couple of the paintings strike me as real standouts, very solid, excellent work. I've reproduced two of them here, and I think they're the best in the show.

My instincts were right, however: You can't appreciate Tim's work in JPEG form. The JPEGs lend them a clarity and obvious concrete aspect almost totally missing in person. Standing in front of his work, what strikes me most about it as a whole is ambiguity. At few points is it clear exactly what he's rendering. Even the few small paintings which are clearly portraits are blurred, messy, nearly abstract; you'd never pick their subjects out of a line-up. One portrait, titled E.C., is so abstracted I'm not sure it's intended as a portrait at all.

In his figurative work he tends to attenuate parts of the figure. Legs wander off in a smear of paint and blend into the bedsheets. Faces are blended into the wall. It's difficult to ascertain what's shadow. In The Room, It Breathes a crisply rendered staircase and fairly tightly painted chair set off the other end of the room where someone is splayed on the bed. It took me several minutes of looking (some over Tim's shoulder as we talked) to realize there is, in the foreground, a nightstand with pill bottles and a wine glass. To say that an air of menace hangs over these paintings is to understate the case. Likewise in No Love Lost it was a little while before I noticed there was a dog in the painting.

Tim Kent, Childhood's End, 2009, oil on linen, 46x50 inches

Tim Kent, Childhood's End, 2009, oil on linen, 46x50 inches

Although I'm naturally drawn to the human figure -- I tend to think every painting needs a person in it -- my favorite in the show turned out to be, after several trips around and looking very hard, Childhood's End. It's a pure cityscape, with passages of impressionism, but instead of seeing sunlight and bright colors, this is one of those dingy, dirty back ends of the city. Scaffolding and trusses dominate the buildings, the air is hazy and claustrophobic, the sun wanly laps down from the right. It evokes an urban landscape even Hopper might find too depressing.

Some of the other works struck me as less sturdy. Tim's abiguity can take him too far from anything concrete, but he doesn't really make the full leap into abstraction; his palette reminds me of Clyfford Still but he doesn't activate the surface, doesn't drive up the pressure the way he needs to be truly abstract. Instead his paint just dissolves into a muddle. And Tim's use of stags strikes me as inorganic and unfelt. An artist like Christopher Reiger uses wildlife because he has to -- it feels as if he lives with his deer and foxes and bears. With Tim, I get the feeling he somewhat arbitrarily chose the stags as some kind of symbol; they didn't choose him.

So with all my hemming and hawing my conclusion is that Tim Kent is a real and serious artist. I don't feel my critique really does him justice; I don't feel qualified to judge him. All I can say is, go out to Bushwick and see for yourself.



Entertainingly crazed Eric asked me, over at his blog, if I was planning on attending the latest MoMA MiXX Dance Party. Of course he knows I'm not before he even asks the question. I didn't even know what a MoMA MiXX was and now that I do I sort of wish I didn't. MoMA's site says it "pairs major artists with world-class musicians or DJs. At each dance party, both the DJ and the artist will spin a set of music that has been influential in their lives and work...." There are pictures of groovy young people gyrating with, one assumes, great and joyous abandon.

This sounds uniformly horrible. It sounds like something dreamed up by befuddled executives around a large conference table in a refrigerated, windowless room deep in the bowels of a glass-enclosed skyscraper. The executives are all over sixty Baby Boomers who want to be in touch with the young people because that's where the money is and they lament that the museum attendance statistics are filled with people just like them only lower class. But it so happens there are some young up-and-coming energetic ass-kissing clowns in the vicinity of the table, the kind of clean-cut chuckleheads who ran for Student Council President back at Vassar, and they have the brilliant inspiration as to what will bring the hip people in: BiCapitalization and TuRntAbLeS! The elderly executives have, deep back in the lizard brains, genetically-encoded memories of their forebears sitting around much the same table and dismissing such things as jazz and that Elvis fellah, and, not wanting to make the same mistake, agree to open up their extravagantly expensive boondoggle children's science museum-cum-curio shop for the underage rabble.

Perhaps these events are well-attended. Perhaps not. It doesn't really matter to me because I'm incapable of experiencing joy. Especially pre-digested joy.

The simple fact is I was never much into that kind of thing. I never wanted to hang out with the cool kids. Although the schools I went to -- high school and college -- were not the kinds of schools you see on TV or in John Hughes movies with cliques of cool kids and jocks and chess club nerds and so forth. Both of my schools were entirely filled with the chess club nerds. None of us were cool. It took a lot of pressure off.

But I heard of cool kids at other schools. Friends from home went to those places. Party schools with legendary scavenger hunts and orgies of drunken revelry broken up by the constabulary. Fireworks, firearms, and firewater.

Even when I was invited I didn't want to go to parties with the cool kids. I used to think it was because I was superior to those people. I had more important things on my mind than meaningless sex and recreational chemicals. I was going to do great things. I was going to discover scientific principles and create daring works of original art. I was going to discuss philosophy and aesthetics with the most sublime intellects of our time.

In short, I figured on one day owning those losers.

Now, as I near the completion of my fourth decade on this planet, I realize that I am not, in fact, superior to those people. I may even be inferior. I don't go to the cool parties because I don't like them. That's it. I just don't enjoy them. The music is too loud. It's too hot and crowded. And I don't know how to interact with other humans.

And I'm never going to own anyone.

So if MoMA MiXX Dance Parties are what the cool kids are doing these days, I hope they enjoy themselves. They'll have to get on without me somehow.

A Good Scolding


Magneto scolding Toad, probably by Jack Kirby

Ever have one of those days?

Ordinarily, given my usual writing style, I'd have put this at the end of the review of Eric White's opening. But I didn't want to clutter up his review with unnecessary verbiage, which is what this is. In fact I'm not sure if I should share this, except I want to give people a fair portrayal of my art world excursions.

At the opening at Sloan Fine Art last night, on my way out, I caught sight of Anna Ortt. I'd met Anna when she started working with Michael Lyons Wier at Michael's gallery. But I'd noticed early in the summer that Anna had fallen off the gallery Website as if she'd never even been there. (Which, not to get me started on a tangent, is one of the major flaws, to my mind, of the World Wide Web: It's far too easy to rewrite history. Even with sites like the Internet Archive around.) Of course there was no information as to why she'd gone or where; and since I quit Facebook I had no way of getting in touch with Anna aside from an old e-mail address on her out-of-date Website. I was curious as to what she was doing now, and why she left Lyons Wier, so instead of leaving I went back to talk to her.

I found her chatting with a guy named Eddie. His name is easy to remember because he was wearing an auto mechanic-style midnight blue shirt with his name stitched on a bright patch over his heart. (This, incidentally, made me irrationally angry: My father wore a shirt like that for years, not because he was some hipster making an ironic statement, but because he was an actual auto mechanic.) Anna graciously introduced us to each other -- she even remembered my name, which is pretty nice.

I tried to ask Anna what she was doing these days and we talked about that a little bit, but in the hopes of not getting a reputation as the blogger who reports the contents of every conversation I'm not going to go into it here. She rapidly turned the conversation towards my writing, in particular how harsh I am on this blog. And then she proceeded to scold me for being so mean to Michael Lyons Wier about the whole Art Bazaar thing.

I mean, she scolded me good. She defended Michael, saying he was there from eight in the morning until eleven at night, pointing out all the work of patching the holes in the gallery walls, and she very pointedly noted -- more than once -- that no one opens an art gallery to get rich. It's all, she said, a labor of love.

Again, I'm not going into great detail about what she said, partly because I was too off-balance to remember it all exactly, and partly because I don't want people to be afraid to talk to me for fear I'm going to transcribe everything they say. The bottom line here, the reason I'm telling you all this is, I want my readers to know I have been thoroughly chided for overreacting to Michael's Art Bazaar.

My wife and I had a heated discussion about this, too, when I told her about meeting Anna last night. The upshot seemed to be I was insane for picking on Michael so much, that the Art Bazaar was actually a good thing, and I was a bad person for writing mean things.

Re-reading what I wrote about the whole thing I'm not sure I have anything to apologize for. I honestly don't think I was all that harsh. Just cynical and cranky and dubious, which is my way. Still, while I may not feel I'm wrong enough to apologize yet, I will admit to maybe being a little nastier than I should've been. Not sure yet. Next time I'll try to tone it down a bit.

Eric White


I find myself in a difficult position.

Last night I went to see Eric White's show LP at Sloan Fine Art (until October 10, 2009). I can't be neutral about Eric: I own lithographs of two of his paintings. I bought them years and years ago, before I started writing about art, back when I had a real job. Since then I've followed Eric, not too closely, but I've met him a couple of times and I've gone to his openings in New York.

That's not what's difficult. The difficulty is this: I'm not thrilled with his latest work.

Eric White, Greatest Hits, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

Eric White, Greatest Hits, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

The show up at Sloan is a series of pastiches, or satires, spoofs, or riffs on various famous record album covers. So Their Greatest Hits by the Eagles becomes the Bagels' Greatest Pubic Tatts, Black Sabbath morphs into Stack Cabbage, and so on. At twelve inches square each one is slightly smaller than an old-fashioned LP sleeve (the records themselves are twelve inches, the sleeves are over a quarter-inch larger).

Eric White, Who's Next, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

Eric White, Who's Next, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

I'm a big fan of pastiches like this. I've even committed a number of them. A goof like modifying the cover of Who's Next to read Who texted and showing Pete Townshend and the rest checking out their mobile phones? Very funny. The kind of thing I might have spent several hours doing in Photoshop. And I love album covers. As an old airbrush artist I've even copied a few. I once did a lovely version of Billy Joel's Glass Houses on a t-shirt for my mother.

Eric White, Rock for Light, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

Eric White, Rock for Light, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

But as fine art I don't think it's such a good idea. It's too shallow. It hardly seems worth the effort. It doesn't strike me as something that can last much past its immediate context. I happen to be smack in the middle of the perfect generation to appreciate album sleeves and to recognize almost all of the sources for these paintings, but that's a pretty narrow window. And even I don't get all the references (although I own an embarrassing number of these recordings).

Eric White, Rumours, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

Eric White, Rumours, 2009, oil on panel, 12x12 inches

That said, in terms of pure painting, Eric's better than ever. His mastery of putting paint on a surface continues to improve. Most artists tackling a series like this would attempt to mimic the smooth surfaces of the printed source. Eric's not content to do so, however; instead he'd rather use the originals as a foundation for showcasing his own inimitable touch. This brings to life what could be a dead exercise. You can't see it at all in the JPEG here, but the background colors of his version of the Bad Brains album are all swirled around in a wonderful kind of wormy paint stroke. The faces of the Knack erupt in thickly textured impasto and Elton John's entire photo becomes an Impressionist surface. And from the obsessive-compulsive department: On some of the panels, Eric's even painted and lettered the edges to match the record sleeves.

I asked Eric briefly what he was doing with this series. We couldn't talk too much because the opening was very crowded and I think he was a few beers into the evening, but he did tell me the inspiration for the Elton John pastiche came to him in a dream; he just had so much fun with it he took it from there. I made him promise to write back to me so we could discuss it in more detail, so maybe I'll be able to follow up on this in the future.

I've seen a lot of this sort of appropriation, pastiche, satire kind of thing -- whatever it is -- in the art world over the years. I've seen rethinkings of Old Masters and I've seen comic book covers done in needlepoint. Of them all I'd have to say Eric White's work is some of the best. I'm just not sure it's something anyone should try to be the best at.

I feel really bad about this. It's Eric White. I want to love everything he does. I want him to be my friend. I don't want to upset him. I don't want him to think I'm a jerk or to be mad at me the next time he sees me. But at the same time, I feel I have to be honest. I want to encourage him to be the best artist he can possibly be, and I don't really think this show is it.

It's worth noting that clearly plenty of others disagree with my assessment: Checking the price list I saw that five or six of the paintings have sold at $3500 each. That, at least, is good news.

The Mind Reels

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It promotes growth, and is very powerful.

Is it just me, or does everything here appear to suck like a steroidal Dyson?

Art Bazaar Results

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Duh, I is a artist

Those of you saddled with better memories than mayflies might remember I wrote, at the opening of this lovely, rainy summer, about Lyons Wier Gallery's Art Bazaar. Quick précis: Michael Lyons Wier started Art Bazaar, where he opens the walls of his near-Chelsea gallery on weekends to the first handful of artists who show up Saturday morning. For $20 American, artists can then display and sell their work to whoever happens to wander in. The artist who sells the most wins a show in the gallery.

The problems with this struck me and some of my readers as manifold, but I admit to also thinking it wasn't the worst idea of all time. After all, some artists might sell some stuff, and the little community of artists forming and re-forming every weekend might be fun. I decided to try and keep an open mind about the experiment and follow up.

Following up turned out to be hard. I meant to go the first Saturday it was open, but you might recall that was the Fourth of July. And while that is my second least favorite holiday -- the first being New Year's Eve -- still even curmudgeons like me tend to have plans that weekend. So I'd hoped to go some weekend later in the month, but then a few extra people moved into my house -- I'm not joking -- and life got complicated.

Which, alas, left me with no follow up. Damned shame. Time to move on. Until today, that is, when a faithful reader pointed me to the Art Bazaar site and its interestingly artistic interpretation of mathematics. The site now crows (in an annoying scrolling text box):

Total number of participating artists: 154
Average price: $250
Average number of works sold per artist: 4 items
Most work sold by a single artist: 30 items
Total items sold: 143

Anyone beyond, say, fourth grade math can see these numbers don't work out correctly. 154 artists selling an average of 4 items per artist works out to 616 items. This is significantly more than 143 items as claimed. I ran the numbers past my wife, who is eminently suited for working out columns of figures, and she suggested that perhaps Mr. Lyons Wier excluded non-selling artists from the average. This is dishonest but at least mathematically possible.

So let's run the numbers again. If 143 works are sold and the average number of works sold per selling artist is 4, then there's a maximum of 35 artists who actually sold anything. One of those sold 30 works all by themselves, leaving 113 works to be sold by the remaining 34 selling artists. So the scrolling bullet list should look like this, minus the dopey scrolling:

One artist sold 30 pieces.
No more than 34 artists sold an average of at least 3.32 pieces each.
At least 119 artists sold nothing.

Looks less impressive when you put it that way, doesn't it? Especially when you add:

Each artist sold an average of 0.93 pieces each.
Aside from the artist who sold 30 pieces, the average was 0.74 pieces per artist.

The site also brags about getting 25,000 hits in 7 weeks, which works out to about 500 hits per day. This tells me that Mr. Lyons Wier did not put the $20 per artist he received into any kind of publicity at all, given that my own crappy blog -- for which I do essentially no publicity of any kind and which has a budget of less than zero -- gets 200 hits a day. 500 hits a day could easily have been topped by cute photos of Michael's dog. Especially if he wrote "Fuck You, Dog" next to it. Seriously: Fuck You, Penguin gets over 10,000 hits per day. Fine art is trounced by a volunteer, amateur site of snarky commentary on photos of adorable animals. Which would just be one more example of life in these United States except, hey, isn't one of these things supposed to be a business?

And yet I can't be entirely negative. I mean, in the end it's clear Michael wasn't ripping anyone off. He certainly didn't make bucketloads of money and he wasn't unfair. It's not his fault basic math eludes him; I'm not even entirely sure of my math here, and I nearly had a minor in mathematics in college. I've certainly made more boneheaded mistakes than screwing up an average calculation. I don't think Michael is dishonest in any way and I'm not saying he's a bad person.

The Art Bazaar may yet prove to be a good thing for all concerned, even those 119 artists who didn't sell a thing. Maybe they got good feedback, maybe they met some new friends, maybe they had a fun time worth every penny. Twenty bucks certainly isn't a big sum these days. I think I use more than that per day in toilet paper.

It's even possible the winner of the solo show, Jan Huling, who I'm sure is a lovely woman and kind to animals, will go on to have a great art career. I, for one, would not begrudge that.

Really. Don't let my cynicism, nastiness, and ability to perform simple calculations rub off on you. Be positive.


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