Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Michel Hellman and Real Lussier are wrong


I just got back from the MACM and boy-oh-boy do some people just not get it. M. Lussier, the curator of the show in the text on the wall as you enter the show says theat Ms. Blain's work does "not fall under the heading of propaganda and serve[s] no ideology." Which strikes me as diplomatic gobbledy-gook, that only underscores the inability of the museum to take a stand for fear of offending people. And M. Hellman said in his review on Saturday,

Le message est clair mais tend a s'essouffler rapidement. Cette vision manicheenne du monde peut agacer, et certaines oeuvres semblent trop souvent suivre une formule et ne degagent pas veritablement de profondeur. Malgre cela, on reste seduit par les compositions habiles et ce langage visuel fort, propre a l'artiste - link
. This roughly translates (machine-wise, at least) into:

The message is clear but tends to be blown quickly. This vision machine-like of the world can aggravate, and certain works too often seem to follow a formula and do not release truly of depth. In spite of that, one remains allured by the skilful compositions and this visual language extremely, specific to the artist.
Which is like saying Dr. Strangelove is a forty-year-old black and white comedy, or that Lenny Bruce is a dead guy who used to tell stories.

OK, now that I got those things off my chest, Dominique Blain's show at the Musee d'art Contemporain kicks-ass from here to Timbuktoo. The 31 pieces exhibited (my count, I might have missed one or double counted one or two, the catalogue was selling for $0.50 a page and I almost bought it, but then thought I would ask Ms. Blain if she would see a penny from that sale before buying it, my guess is that the museum scoops up all the cash.) range from absolfuckinglutely brilliant, to merely very good. The merely very good suffer by comparison to the absofuckinglutely brilliant, as tends to be the case when you are placed next to genius.

The Absolfuckinglutely Brilliant Pieces (in alphabetic order) Balance, The Buddhas, Croix, Details, Grozni, An Intelligent American's Guide to the Peace, Rug, and Village (for those keeping track that translates into an OPS of 1.032, not quite as good as Barry Bonds, but better than Hank Greenberg). And there might be another one in there, my notes are kinda hard to decipher. Now for my questions (pity I can't be there tonight at 6 in order to ask them in public). In Village, there are a whole whack of allusions, from Francoise Sullivan on down, I was able to pick out articles from the New York Times, Liberation, Le Monde, and La Presse. As Ms. Blain lives in Montreal, I assume that Le Devoir, and The Gazette, are in there, too. But it struck me that it might have been cool to have used (or she might have used, and I was just blind) The Washington Post, The Guardian (and now I show how damn provincial I am) whatever the major newspapers are in Tokyo, Berlin, Moscow, Mexico City, Rome, etc. While the visual effect is stunning, and should be relished for as long as is humanly possible - I'm personally jealous of the guard who gets to turn on the lights in the morning (or evening) because after I'd turned off everything else, Village would be the last piece I'd shut down, and I'd be a very happy camper.

Upon a closer look, it raises a bunch of questions, which I realize is the nature of the piece, but jeez! It doesn't talk back, and the tag next to it is of no help what so ever (does anybody out there know what "bulds" are? And how they are used in the piece?) By choosing what seems to be a very limited palate of news media, attempting (and succeeding to make) a very specific political focus, Ms. Blain is in effect putting up a wall around the very village that she is trying to capture. Had it used a more varied set of newspapers, or incorporated door-types that are common in the country of origin, the effect might have been even more obvious. But then again, maybe not, that's why I'm not an artist. None the less, I would have liked citations for all the newspapers used, and I hope that someplace there is a list, just so that the inevitable PhD student can have fun when they do their thesis on Ms. Blain.

While I was at the museum, there were four guards on duty to whom I spoke, 2 of them thought that Balance was the best piece in the show, and two of them thought that the Rug/Buddha combo kicked butt. I would agree with all four of them (not one of them asked me which was my favorite piece, and if I had been asked I wouldn't have been able to pin it down to one - how's that for being diplomatic?) Although because of the Rug, in an oblique sort of way, I wonder what was M. Lussier thinking when he hung the "Dans la Maison Blanche" and "Au Palais des Nations Unies" right across the hall? From the nature of how humans look at things, they are at least going to scan the two pictures before they ever even realize that the Rug is there. And if you are unaware of the Rug's existence, then you absolutely need to have two PhDs in American and International Poli-Sci and have been an intern at the White House and to Kofi Annan if you're going to be able to understand the pieces. From my perspective, a much better way of hanging them would have been to take Denatured Africa and move it to where the two pictures are, and then place the two pictures where Denatured Africa is. (And since I'm mentioning Denatured Africa how could the editor not have included a section titled "Who"?) That way everybody would have seen the Rug, and then upon looking at the pictures would have been able to say "Aaaah! I get it!" Or taking it out of the Buddha room entirely, and placing it directly under the two pictures, either way it would have been like getting hit in the gut by Lennox Lewis, instead of the effect that it does give which is like a raised eyebrow from Mr. Bean.

Now, to continue about the Rug, I could only identify 20 land mines on it, but I have been known to be utterly blind when it comes to important stuff, but I did try really hard to get all 26. And Mine Games doesn't give any help either, because it only has 21 different mines in it. But I can say I successfully walked on the Rug, and didn't get blown up!

Then, as long as I am mentioning Mine Games, the only quibble that I have with Ms. Blain's work is that the pieces she does that involve digital manipulation, are like bloop single, while effective and resulting in something good, there is a sense of not really having done the best work possible. Especially upon being able to turn around and see the homeruns that she has hit. While they are consistent in the found object/collage-nature of the way she works, her facility with the objects is not a fluid as it is when she is working with real, 3-D things. I imagine that as she gets more 'puter learnin' the pieces will start going over the fence, instead of just eluding the reach of the shortstop. M. Lussier, in his role as manager could have been much more judicious in making out the lineup card - apologies for all the baseball today, but it is only 8 days until pitchers and catcher report, and I'm getting excited.

OK, I'm at something like 1,321 words here, and I have succeeded in only mentioning 4 pieces. I initially thought that it might be a good experiment to try and keep my review to the length that M. Hellman or M. Delgado are allowed, but then said, "naw, nobody's paying me to write this stuff, so why am I going to artificially constrain myself?" Suffice it to say that if I was writing for somebody who paid, I'd be giving this 4 stars or 10 thumbs up, or more my style, say it was like Vladdi. Feel free at anytime to bail, and get back to work, just make sure that you do take the time (it is up until the 25th of April) to see it.

But, to get back to the matter at hand, as I mentioned, half of the guards on duty were creaming their jeans (ok, they weren't wearing jeans, but you get the idea) about Balance, and I am pretty darn jealous of whoever is the lucky stiff who gets to have it in their home (it mentioned "Private Collection" on the tag, I think). While on the surface, it is disarmingly simple; it is so perfectly done that you'd have to have a heart of stone, or be a blind, deaf, mute not to glom onto its meaning instantaneously. And while Mr. Hellman seems to think that this means that it blows quickly, he does not quite grasp the concept of being able to make a point so succinctly that any extraneous stuff would only muddle things up. While I'm not a big fan of Haiku, when they hit the nail on the head, what are you going to do, complain that they aren't a sonnet, or an epic? Gimme a break! Balance is a visual Haiku, perfectly executed. Or if you're like me, a pearl of a piece.

Now, I've been deliberately avoiding any description of the pieces, a) in a very obvious attempt to get you to the museum yourself, and b) because I am writing a review, and not a catalog text, any allusions, or deeper meanings would need a whack of research, which I currently don't have the time to do. But in An Intelligent American's Guide to the Peace, I'm going to have to. It is a book of the same name resting on top (edited and with an introduction by Sumner Welles (Former Under Secretary of State for FDR) published by Dryden's Press in 1945) and resting on a bunch (sorry, I didn't count 'em) of what I think are 30.06 cartridges. Given the current state of affairs, the piece can work much the same way that that guy from "This Hour" got George Bush to say "poutine." Short, swift, and very effective, or in other words, a killer punch line, sorta like "so they can hide in a bag of M&M's." But once you get beyond the surface, recognizing that the Springfield rifle has a humongous history of use (none of it peaceful, unless you call shooting elk peaceful) and is quite possibly the most popular cartridge ever made - jeez! I hope that I got the bullet right, if I didn't I'm gonna look like a bigger fool than I am normally. And that the guy who wrote the book not only was instrumental in getting the United Nations formed, but also was forced to resign from his position because he was gay (which was a crime in the US in the 40s), talk about whiplash. Eh? This is to me dead-on-balls-accurate as to what Art (notice the capital "A") is supposed to do. Make you think. What M. Hellman only sees as a "tee-hee" is in fact a multi layered, piece that will cause you to sit up straight and wonder about things.

Now, I've spent about two hours writing this entry, and I dearly would love to slap in the links, but I do have to get back to work, so they will have to wait until a future day [eds note: Links aer done, now.]. However, if you've made it this far, can I bring your attention to the new feature? I now have a comments section, fell free to use for good or bad, ok?

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