Thursday, February 15, 2007

Stuff Seen - Rodney Graham (and I finally listen to Bad at Sports)



[2nd draft]

In honor of Mr. Graham appearing on the Bad at Sports podcast I figured I should type out my thoughts on his recent show here. In a nutshell, I'm conflicted. I really really really really wanted to like the show, the exhibit, the artist, the man, and unfortunately absolutely everything conspired to make it impossible. For those with memories worse than mine, or folk from out of town, from October of last year to January of this year, Mr. Graham had an exhibit here at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal.

Last summer I had been lucky enough to see my first piece of art by Mr. Graham, it was Rheinmetal something or other at the Musee des beaux arts as part of their Sound + Vision show. Amazingly gorgeous, and pretty gosh darn cool as well. So, as I said, I was looking forward to seeing more.

Then things started falling apart.

I made it to the press meet and greet, early. Saw the pieces, and said to myself 'Wow!' after the speeches, I had been told by folk at the museum that I should arrange an interview with Mr. Graham myself. So I did. Then the following day he canceled on me. No reason given.

Fine enough, but then hearing the Bad at Sports podcast with him, I'm starting to wonder was it me? I'm pretty sure that I showered that morning. I had even called Mr. Graham up and left a message, but he never even bothered to return the call.

I then returned back to the museum the following day (before he canceled the interview) so as to try to not sound as stupid as I'm feeling, and two of the pieces are already broken!

Then, since Mr. Graham had decided to play a music gig, not only at the Museum but (to use the fancy terminology) Extra-Muros at this place called Fractal as part of the Pop Montreal festival

Not only was it a horrible concert, one of the worst I have ever seen in my life, but because Mr. Graham was so bad I missed my only opportunity to see the band Daddy's Hands because just after that Dave Wenger, the lead singer for Daddy's Hands died. I missed my opportunity because Mr. Graham was so bad on stage that we had to walk out after four songs. And now that I have heard Daddy's Hands' album, I'm sorta pissed off.

Why Mr. Graham, who sounds to me like a second rate sensitive new age guy (read: singer/songwriter who hasn't quite figured out how to write good songs) would want to be on a bill with what I imagine was an over the top punk band is beyond me. If you'd like to see how sensitive Mr. Graham is try this:

[note to self: Posted in September and only seen 346 times, so far]

And then to put the last nail in the coffin, while I've heard of artists making pieces of art that are multiples, I've never heard of artists having shows that were multiples (or if you're in the business world - franchising their exhibits). At the same time that there was the Rodney Graham exhibit here in Montreal, there was a Rodney Graham show in Zürich that was the same, and there was a Rodney Graham show in Chicago that was the same (that's how they got the Bad at Sports podcast). I really don't like it when exhibits are treated like McDonalds.

The more I think about it, the more I really dislike it. The way the art world is run, museum's are supposed to be at the top of the heap. The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal is fond of calling itself the only contemporary art museum in Canada, and seems to want to consider itself significant on an international scale. Well, as the same pieces of art were exhibited at a commercial gallery in Chicago and at a commercial gallery in Zürich as were exhibited here in Montreal, it would be a safe bet to say that Donald Young, Hauser and Wirth and the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal are all equivalent. Sort of like a Big Mac in Chicago is the same as a Big Mac in Zürich is the same as a Big Mac in Montreal. I just hope that the foreigners helped pay for the production of the catalog instead of attaching themselves like leeches and using it as a marketing tool to sell even more of Mr. Graham's art to the museum.

So, I wasn't thinking too fondly about his show after all that. Hence my tardiness in writing this review. After reciting all of that, I'm sorta thinking that a C+ is too kind, but I won't revise something downward after putting it down on paper.

But now to get down to brass tacks. it is a good thing Mr. Graham makes his living as an artist, he can't throw to save his life. According to the press folderol accompanying the show, his piece 'lobbing potatoes at a gong' was one of the highlights. Well, he threw 53 potatoes, hit the gong 18 times. A 34% success rate. The gong seemed large enough, he couldn't have been more than 15 feet away. You've heard the expression 'couldn't hit the broad side of a barn door?' That's Mr. Graham right there. Even if I were to be generous and add in the eight times he hit the edge of the gong (and sorta made a 'thud' sound) he still isn't doing better than 50%.

In the catalog there's some blurb about something called Copper Kettle, but it apparently never made it to the museum. In the catalog he tells Josee Belisle that he made a bottle of Vodka from the potatoes that hit the gong. One small problem, 18 potatoes are going to make about one shot of Vodka. And then to make matters completely worse - he can't even get the back story right. he says some nonsense about 'the drummer from Pink Floyd' throwing potatoes at a gong at a concert in 1969.

On 12 May 1967 the band [Pink Floyd] played the 'Games for May' concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. [Syd] Barrett wrote an early version of 'See Emily Play' for the event, which was essentially a normal concert bookended by some pretentious bits. The Floyd introduced a rudimentary quad sound-system, played taped noises from nature and had a liquid red light show. [Nick] Mason [the drummer] was amplified sawing a log. [Roger] Waters threw potatoes at a gong. The roadies pumped out thousands of soap bubbles and one of them, dressed as an admiral, threw daffodils into the stalls. The mess earnt the Floyd a ban from the hall and a favourable review from The Financial Times - source
A big fuss was also made over the screen door that the museum had purchased for a cool $300,000. Apparently it was a faithful recreation of the screen door from Graceland done in sterling silver. Actually, it is a fairly common screen door, that can be seen pretty much anyplace.

Given what I know about Graceland, without some sort of picture or other proof, I'd seriously question the back story. My preference of a back story over the idea of it being from Graceland is that if you are at this bar in Ottawa called Chez Lucien which is spitting distance from the National Gallery and you go to the back part of the bar, you can see out the window, a screen door on the second floor of a building (complete with an address - 143) that has no stairs leading up or down from it. A door to nowhere, a door in space, a potentially deadly door (if you open it and walk out) a useless door, and any number of other ideas that you can think of with regards to a door that got forgotten when someone did renovations. And how do they sound when trying to wrap your head around a sterling silver screen door? To me, they sound much better.

It is Mr. Graham's fairly consistent ignorance of fairly easy to source facts (if I can find 'em anybody including Mr. Graham should be able to find them) that adds to my annoyance with his work. His piece called 'Three Musicians...' is a another example in a long list. He attributes part of the back story to the David Munrow Consort. However, there never was a band called the David Munrow Consort. There was an early music group called Early Music Consort of London which was directed by David Munrow, and the album to which he 'attributes' the snapshot that he had taken of himself is called was done by them and is called 'The Late 14th Century Avant Garde,' but it appears that Mr. Graham got the name of the song wrong as well.

The original Chris Waters' photo of Black Sabbath. it does however, appear that Mr. Graham did get it right with his his copy. Personally though I like the other promo picture taken by Chris Walters of the band that was taken at the same time.

But he's back to his old sloppy ways with Paradoxical Western Scene. In the Bad at Sports podcast Mr. Graham mentions how it was based on this album cover.

He once again gets the title of the album wrong, and what really annoys me is that a) he fails to realize that in the 1950's follow up albums very frequently used the term 'more' as a marketing method to try boosting sales after a very popular album. And b) that Marty Robbins was himself imitating William S. Hart on the cover of More Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs. Visually repeating images is something that was not invented by Marty Robbins, but Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs (not More...) was an incredibly influential album, and William S. Hart was an incredibly famous actor. Ignoring them is just plain dumb.

As for the other pieces Torqued Chandelier Release was quite pretty (and quite similar to the Rheinmetal piece that I had seen previously). But there wasn't anything else that stuck with me in a positive way. Personally, I think Mr. Graham should stick to silent 35mm film loops, they seem to be the work that he does best. I am definitely never going to see him in concert again, and the other music related art that he makes is sketchy at best. And don't even get me started about his paintings...

[Note to Duncan of Bad at Sports: if you're interested in seeing early music videos, go see the TAMI Show as soon as possible. Meg also asked some very good questions. She should be featured more. And you guys still need to do an All-Canadian or All-Montreal show.]

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