Saturday, February 15, 2014

All The Cool Stuff That Fits One Bag With A Little Help From My Friends



Last issue of Frog Magazine where yours truly has 2 articles

When I came out with suffering from depression I had no idea so many people would reach out to me and be so supportive. It's a hard thing to live with, and in between migraines, having undergone brain trauma and this, let me tell you there's a painful crowd constantly living in my head. But seeing that so many people cared and took the time to help was immensely uplifting. In addition to many sweet messages I've received quite a few things in the mail over the last few months which I thought I should share with you, also as a way to publicly thank my friends. Above is a copy of the latest Frog Magazine with 3 articles on Mike Kelley inside including two from yours truly, which are edited versions of posts previously published here. I linked to the page where you can buy copies online as well as where bookstores that carry the magazine internationally are listed. Eric Troncy who's the editor of the magazine sent me that copy while I'm waiting for the publisher to send me some additional ones.



Here's a bird-eye view (and bad photo, sorry!) of everything I've received recently: a Freitag bag that can contain everything else you see in the picture above including Frog mag, two books, two LPs and a mystery jar. There's a list below so you have a better idea.



This is the catalog for the traveling Mike Kelley retrospective, originated in Amsterdam by the great Ann Goldstein, and that traveled to PS1 in NYC and is soon to open in LA at MOCA. Courtesy of my super buddy Grant Wahlquist who's responsible for this great new blog you should all put in your bookmarks.


Then my friend Stephanie Theodore who owns this gallery brought me this when she came to stay overnight in between London and Amsterdam. You can find almond butter here but not crunchy, unsalted and unsweetened almond butter. I love this stuff which I can never have enough of. better than Nutella if you ask me. Also I think if TJ's were to develop in Europe (as should Target and Crate & Barrel) they would make a killing. Similarly, Picard Surgelés should invade the US market.



Years ago I met the Irish artist Niamh O'Malley at a show I co-curated along with 11 other people in Luxembourg. We maintained a long-distance friendship over the next few years. She's a good artist and a lovely lady and this is the second book she has sent me since I started FBC!.


I still manage to listen to music sometimes and alongside my well-documented love for John Cale and Scott Walker I like other things, such as psychedelic music and ethereal lady singers, and so for Christmas my brother and sister got me the latest Wooden Shjips album as well as the one by Rachel Zeffira (couldn't get a good picture of this one, sadly).


One of my friends who's been extraordinarily supportive is Stéphane Saclier who kindly sent me a bunch of things including this really extraordinary messenger bag made by Freitag, a Swiss company. I'm totally in love with it for many reasons, including the fact that everything you see above in the first photo fits into it, as evidenced by the photo below.


The main characteristics of the bag is that it's made entirely out of recycled materials, namely the kind of tarp used to cover trucks here in Europe, and the strap is made out of a recycled seat belt, while velcro bands are used to close the bag shut. As a result you get an extraordinarily sturdy bag, and this particular model I got is expandable, so you can use it to go grocery shopping, or carry your laptop and various electronics, or your flea market haul of books and vinyl records easily. The only caveat I think is that it smells of plastic but as mine is brand new I expect the smell to subside in a few weeks. One of the things I really like about it, aside from the fact that it's spacious, waterproof, sturdy and stylish is that because the strap is made out of a seatbelt it is also expandable and so you can wear it on any shoulder comfortably. Which is great when one of your shoulders has been damaged in a car accident, this way I can use the opposite one and there's no risk of the bag slipping off.
It has one front pocket that is covered by the main flap, and because you need to undo the velcro to open both the flap and the front pocket there is no chance a pickpocket could try to help themselves without you being alerted by the noise. You will tell me you're not worried about pickpockets which is a rare event in the United States, but here in Europe it's a scourge.
 When I received the bag and realized how much I could expand it (double it's vertical length thanks to 2 inside flaps) I thought this would be a perfect carry-on purse for    flights, because it would still fit under the front seat and I could  carry many records, books and my laptop plus snacks and water, etc.

So thanks to everybody who's been so kind and generous to me. It helps keep me afloat when I'm in the pits, and reminds me what a lucky person I am to have you in my life.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Introducing FBC! Lite


My cat made the cutest little arrangement with her toys. I always knew she was a genius

Like most everybody, we at the FBC! headquarters are possessed with opinions and assholes (I say most everybody in the eventuality some people might not have assholes, and I feel truly sorry for them).   Which, like most everybody, makes us also be some  assholes sometimes or even often, how would we know?

But whatever our opinions, there are times when we don't really want to expand on them for too long nor write for an effing amount of time because life's too short. So, we've decided to start a new series of posts that will all go under the headline "FBC! Lite" and that will mostly consist in putting down some links that you will have to click through if interested, and a few lines above or below to just state our opinions. Which are not open for debate in the sense that, if you wish to debate yourself in comments more power to you, but we won't engage with you at all (see above "life's too short"). Also the images chosen to illustrate the post will be totally random.


So, the links today are about "ethical shopping" and "charity shops killing the high street". Yours truly is all for ethical shopping and also believes that artists, writers, musicians, designers, dancers, actors, etc. should be paid fairly for their work and its diffusion and distribution.
But I think at the bottom of this the real problem is that EVERYBODY who isn't the 1% has seen wages either stagnate or plunge down over the last 20+ years or so (I've certainly seen my own writer fees go steadily downhill over 20 years). Therefore, if all your income is swallowed by the high cost of housing, health care and transportation  (as well as caring for other persons) then there is very little left for us to actually buy items that are affordable and of decent quality. We can all afford to be ethical shoppers when we get higher salaries, and real jobs that pay for the unemployed. Until then, newspaper that publish this kind of crap are just being assholes themselves. They'd better campaign for fairer wages across the board.


Then there is that ongoing personal war being waged in the media by people who I believe could afford to go to court to maybe once and for all settle their grudges? I want to be perfectly clear that I find child abuse and any kind of abuse abhorrent, and that Woody Allen is a grossly overrated filmmaker at best.
But, uh, all these op-eds and interviews and Twitter wars give me the creeps.
 I don't know if there's a status of limitation or other legal reasons that prevent the injured parties to sue, but if there isn't, please, please, please do this. Thanks.
If Mr. Allen is found guilty then he should certainly be punished to the full extent of the law. But all this media circus isn't really helping the cause of abused children, I believe. I understand that going through a trial is harrowing, but I don't know if the continuous media attention is that healthy either? I've seen a bunch of posts on Twitter about believing  this person and that person on this issue. I don't know if "beliefs" can really help justice. Maybe the law is imperfect, but it serves a function, and maybe a lawsuit would be the best tool for the family to find closure?

On a much, much lighter note, I saw this article this morning about "performance anxiety" but really it's about stage fright. Yours truly is afflicted when teaching and doing public lectures. So my heart goes to all the people who have to go onstage for a living, mostly musicians and actors but also teachers. If you've ever experienced anything like this, then you will understand. Which is why, whenever you attend a public performance of some sort, please don't boo the people onstage even if you think they suck. It won't make the play/concert/performance/lecture any better, far, far from it. Just be polite and silently exit the premises if what you're seeing is terrible.


Monday, January 20, 2014

An Essay With No Redeeming Qualities, Written In The Spoken Style of Alain Delon





An Essay With No Redeeming Qualities, Written In The Spoken Style of Alain Delon



This essay has no redeeming qualities. SPOILER ALERT! This essay has no redeeming qualities. It won’t give you the warm fuzzies. You won’t come out of here grateful for the gift of life, pledging to give yourself over to the higher power of mindfulness, meditation, yoga and a gluten-free diet, thinking the author has given you a new perspective on human existence. This essay isn’t going to garner rave reviews about its touching style and compassionate ideas. Reading this essay won’t make you feel warm inside. Or outside, for that matter. This essay isn’t going to make you feel better about yourself whatsoever but in the guise of a heavy load of Schadenfreunde, and in this case, be my guest! There is plenty to be had in here. This essay isn’t going to win any literary contest thanks to its irrefutable mastery at disguising narcissistic prose as a universal lesson, powerfully describing the ills of our current society, but offering no cure. This essay won’t morph into a triumphal Ted Talk going viral on the Internet. This essay will tell you a story that is banal as fuck. This essay won’t offer any conclusion. This essay was written in a pool of tears. No blood, no sweat, just human-produced saltwater. This essay was written with a runny nose and blurry, puffy eyes bleeding inane droplets of water splotching up a MacBook Pro keyboard, a computer built with real blood, sweat and tears by slave labor somewhere in China.
This essay was written by someone wearing a cheap H&M t-shirt made by slave labor working in terrible yet indescribable conditions inside a Bangladeshi factory. This essay was written by someone whose oldish Gap sweater has holes tearing up at the armpit. This essay was written by someone staring at a beautiful green garden while profusely crying absurd tears. This essay has neither visible outline nor any delicate, sophisticated construction carefully hidden behind its elegant prose. This essay has no aim or goal or even definite topic. This essay is written by someone who wakes up everyday crying and keeps on crying non-stop for hours. Crying won’t make you spend that many calories. This essay had started to be written about six hours after the writer woke up, but only twenty minutes after the author had showered and dressed. This essay was written by someone who still has about two days worth of food in the fridge and whose rent is paid until the end of the month, about eleven days from now. This essay was written by someone who actually has many friends, about seventy of those took the time to message the author when the writer went public about suffering from clinical depression on a social network. 

This essay is written from a place of social privilege by someone who still has the luxury to sit on their ass on a mid-century modern chair of no known brand or origin but whose distinctive style wouldn’t look out of place in the online world of mildly trendy home décor sites. This essay was written by someone who is very conscious of being white and occasionally catches themselves at internalized racism. This essay is written by someone who should be laughing at the absurdity of it all but can’t repress the tears. While this essay without redeeming qualities was written its author could have spent their time better by accomplishing normal things such as looking for a job or trying to solve their seemingly inextricable administrative issues. This essay written without apparent or hidden redeeming qualities bears no resemblance whatsoever with anything Robert Musil would have written, no matter how much its author would have liked it, but we’re talking about a fucking little narcissistic text about being a failure here, not a masterpiece of 20th century literature (or was it 19th?) that the author of this current text has read sometimes before this new millennium actually started. Oh well. Musil. Maybe the author of this essay has no redeeming qualities themselves. 

By writing a first-person essay at the third person the author is suddenly conscious of writing in the spoken style of Alain Delon as evidenced in turn-of-this-century interviews published in French gossip magazines. Alain Delon once said he was very proud of his ass because it was round-shaped like a melon. This author’s ass isn’t anything to be proud of yet it is as real as Alain Delon’s. As this essay is being written, now six-hundred- seventy-two words in, its author is very conscious to not have started to even mention what the problem was. The author is very conscious the problem is major depression which is nothing to be laughed at but if the author manages to laugh about it maybe for one second things will seem to be better. Or maybe not. While this essay was being written suddenly the tears stopped. This is the very first try at stream-of-consciousness writing from the author’s. The author never for one second felt like being Alain Delon, but this shit came into the author’s head and refused to leave right there and then. Believe the author who started this essay at the third person, the author would rather have anybody else in their head than Alain Delon. Say, Claudio Abbado whose death was announced this morning. Claudio Abbado was never called an asshole, not in New York. The author cannot stand listening to music while in the pits which sucks because music is the best thing invented by humankind. The author feels ridiculous referring to themselves as “the author” but there is some hope this essay can be kept genderless throughout. Well, scrap that. Make it, “gender-neutral”. Gender-neutral won’t give any further redeeming qualities to this essay but it will make the author feels slightly better which is all the author is asking from life at present. The writer of this essay always feels terrible to be referred to as “a writer” or “an author” because writing is what they do and not what they are - a piece of shit, this is what the author of this essay without redeeming qualities feels they are, on any given day.

Major depression struck the writer of this quality-less essay when least expected. Nobody knows what causes depression no matter what the other fucktards tell you. The other fucktards are the ones getting rich writing self-help books. This particular bout of major depression was triggered by unforeseen administrative issues, seemingly inextricable issues that render the author as helpless as a discarded dirty rag doll on a trash heap. While this essay without redeeming qualities is being written the clock keeps on ticking regarding these administrative issues that the writer cannot seem able to solve. The administrative issues might get the writer of this essay kicked out of their current country of residence. These administrative issues scare the shit out of this writer to the point it’s impossible to answer the phone, open a mailbox or just do anything remotely normal or constructive once in a while. This inability to function normally vaguely reminds the author of a few lines in a Franzen book this writer never managed to read a few years back. Yes this particular writer feels no animosity of any kind toward Franzen even if he appears like a dick in his interviews, because most everybody does appear like a dick in the medias anyway. 

Sometimes this writer thinks a lot of this world’s ills could be solved by taxing the shit out of maritime freight shipping. And legalizing drugs and taxing the shit out of these as well but this should go without saying. For one full minute this writer thinks about some poor Bangladeshi factory worker who made that discolored t-shirt the writer is currently wearing and which was the only one the writer could afford buying. The writer’s mind has now drifted for that era of their life ten years ago when they owned only one pair of shoes, with holes in the sole. It took the death of several people for this writer to own more than one pair of shoes without holes in their soles. That time we went on this road trip in Utah and we stopped late at night at this Mom and Pop dinner in the middle of nowhere and there were fifteen people in our group including six assorted vegans and vegetarians and the food was inedible. The writer had ordered a glass of buttermilk that was the only thing remotely edible there and the steak that was ordered rare came back so overcooked it felt like eating the sole of a shoe. The black widow spiders inside of Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, and all the saltwater that was over Spiral Jetty so you could only see the beginning of an outline if you climbed the hill overlooking the site. When we came back to Los Angeles we all made a beeline to Koreatown and its 24-hour restaurants so we could finally have a decent meal. We were gone for three days at most and yet we needed to get decent food ASAP. 

Suddenly the third person singular shifted to the first person plural but there isn’t any “we” in this irremediably unredeeming essay. Word informs this writer that unredeeming isn’t a word. Well now it is. The author is aware that most certainly so, we are all in it, but this isn’t an essay about the state of the world today, or else it would be entered into some sort of contest to prove a point about whatever but there isn’t anything else to prove anymore. There are no redeeming qualities to this essay because it only speaks about its writer’s experience, and only just so. This is the story of someone who found themselves suddenly suffering from major depression. This is a story that happens to millions of people every day and nobody gives a fuck so why should you? This story is written with no end in sight and no other intent than keeping the world at bay for just a few minutes. This story is now about fifteen-hundred or so words in the making, fifteen-hundred words or so that took exactly thirty-three minutes to write so far. There is no conscious intent to get this essay or story get out of hand and reach, say, more than three thousands words. We count in words, we the writers. We can’t count in money units because nobody gives writers any money units anymore. 

This story shifted again to the first person plural. The writer of this story has no more control over it than a cancer sufferer over the proliferation of diseased cells inside their bodies. It’s difficult at this stage to know whether this is an essay or a story but the writer is still very firm in the belief that it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, at least for its reader. It might be different for its writer in the sense that it did succeed for a few minutes to keep the world at bay. Oh, who are we kidding? The world is still howling and wailing and waiting at the door to swallow us whole. Scrap that, the world is ready to bite and chew and tear apart and hurt like hell before it swallows whatever pieces are left of us.
The world is outside and this writer can see it out of the window. It makes noises. Police sirens that remind the writer they deport people from this country if they can’t extricate themselves from seemingly impossible administrative demands, even if they are EU citizens. To this writer’s knowledge this is the only EU country that actually deports EU citizens. The writer has thought about Kafka a lot this year. When the writer manages to step outside of their own brain for a few minutes – don’t try this at home, it’s a painful feat of absurdity – the writer can see how ridiculously funny the situation is. The writer feels certain these administrative hurdles are created by civil servants themselves so they have a seemingly legitimate reason to keep their jobs. One civil servant at the foreigners office told the writer that it wasn’t their job to explain how to get out of this quagmire. 
There is a letter from the foreigners office in the mailbox that has been laying in there for a few days already and it irradiates increasing waves of fear upward, toward the second story apartment where this essay or story that has no redeeming qualities is currently being written. The writer could and should take steps to immediately address this terrible situation but the writer is paralyzed by terrible anxiety and panic attacks. This state has some biological consequences, most notably the need to evacuate the author’s intestines up to eight times a day, which no doubt is one of the reason the water bill for the whole household tripled over the last twelve months or so. The writer often wishes anxiety would lead to a suppressed appetite but alas the reverse happened, compulsive mindless eating which results in a much heavier weight and the firmly-held belief that the writer’s physical appearance is a deterrent for prospective employers and benevolent civil servants alike. Both species are imaginary, much like imaginary boyfriends for young teenage girls longing at posters of One Direction plastered on the walls of their small cluttered bedroom, instead of doing the homework that would get them good grades at school and lead their path toward the radiant future of whatever kind society will deem worthwhile for them. 
Unlike this text. 
In an ideal world this essay would be hysterically funny, as they say, maybe like a David Sedaris text that would be published in the New Yorker and guaranty its writer the certainty of being able to pay next month’s rent in full, and so if devoid of any redeeming qualities it would at least make the putative reader feel like they didn’t totally waste the time it took to arrive at the two-thousand-one-hundred- fifty-six word but hey it was said at the very beginning. This essay has still no redeeming qualities. The word count you’re reading will be totally off after edits are done but the writer doesn’t care. The writer doesn’t care much about anything anymore. The writer would like to keep the anxiety at bay. The writer would like to write something worthwhile but doesn’t know how to do it even if the writer keeps at it. Over the last seven years the writer estimates having written several hundred thousands words and likely more, the ongoing count might be in the millions now. The writer would like to take a minute to tell you to check the writings of Lydia Davis. The writer writes the way they write but if they could be “a writer” the writer would like to be Lydia Davis.

Meanwhile the world is outside opening its monstrous toothy fearsome mouth, ready to devour this helpless writer now in the throes of the most absurd depression ever. The world outside makes noises that send this writers in fits of tears and panic. Each car that idles in the street is a reminder they can come and get you. Each car that idles in the street is a reminder they will come and get you. Every noise outside reminds you you’re not a productive member of society. Each human voice wafting upwards is a menace reminding you that they will come and get you. Now the narrative voice has shifted again. The tears that had dried up are coming back. The cat is worried. The cat has been meowing little plaintive sounds for fifteen minutes straight urging the writer to come on the bed with the cat and huddle under a blanket with the cat. The cat is clearly anxious about the writer.

Sometimes the writer tries to soothe the anxiety by remembering that somewhere in this world Noel Scott Engel, otherwise known as “Scott Walker”, is maybe sitting down at his own desk writing the lyrics for his next album. This writer has no mental image of Scott Walker writing at his desk and so thinks about his lyrics and wonders how he does it. Then this writer tries to chase away this idea because there’s always the fear that lyrics will seep down inside the text being written and then it will be plagiarism and one cannot plagiarize the greatest artist alive. It is ridiculous. Then the writer thinks about one of the Kafka stories written over the summer and wonders if some part of The Amorous Humphrey Plugg might have seeped in one of the stories, the one where Gregor is a virgin maybe. Scott Walker seems to be a very nice guy in the few interviews that are available online. Yet nobody ever asks him the only question the writer is interested in, but then it’s a difficult question to formulate in a logical manner. It is said Scott Walker is color-blind yet it is known the man also paints as a hobby. So how does he do it? Sometimes the writer wants to believe Scott Walker’s paintings might be as terrible as, say, like Bob Dylan’s – have you ever seen how shitty Dylan’s paintings are? Yet he shows at Gagosian - because it would be a terrible injustice if that man was also a good painter. Scott Walker, the writer meant, because we already know Bob Dylan is a shit painter. Well no it wouldn’t be a terrible injustice but during the three minutes it took to write these lines, the anxiety receded a little bit. 

No tears were shed for a good hour now. This feels like a victory yet this essay still has no redeeming qualities. Rather than writing an essay with redeeming or unredeeming qualities this writer would like to have a good cry on someone’s shoulder. Or simply be able to get up and do something. It’s been three whole days since the writer went outside. There is food in the fridge and so there might have been a possibility to stay in tomorrow as well but tomorrow will be the day when the writer sees their shrink who doesn’t seem to be that much helpful to begin with. This morning the writer asked a friend to please help them find a lawyer to try and solve this administrative quagmire. Just thinking about this and yet another knot is now being firmly secured over the writer’s stomach. Being a writer or simply being someone who writes should mean being able to convey things accurately, elegantly and meaningfully yet this writer feels incredibly powerless and stupid and unable to explain why why why it is impossible to pick up the phone to call people, answer emails or go downstairs open the mailbox wherein lays that letter bearing the heading of the foreigners office that creates this radiations of abject fears wafting upstairs nonstop toward the writers’ apartment, piercing the windows and holding the writer under a powerful, invisible cloak of terror and paranoia.

Writers edit because frankly no writing is ever good without editing yet looking up five lines upwards to check mistakes and this writer felt again like sobbing powerlessly for a few seconds. Sometimes one word would trigger hiccups and tears and sobs. The heating is on and the radiators are blasting full heat yet the writer is shivering in a cold sweat, wanting to retreat beneath a blanket. Yet it is almost one pm now. Nothing has been accomplished today but just writing these absurd words. The author feels like a stupid fuck. The author had warned you beforehand this essay had no redeeming qualities. Yet you kept on reading.
 The writer often thinks about Walter Benjamin in addition to Scott Walker and John Cale and Lydia Davis who are all personal heroes as well as Vanessa Place and then feels like shit because all these people produce things that have redeeming qualities and help other people keep alive. Yet maybe Vanessa Place would laugh at the idea. The writer has been working for months and even years on a story about Walter Benjamin, a very sad claustrophobic story where the writer recently introduced Bugs Bunny to “add in an element of violence”, because the original narrator is boring as fuck. This is ridiculous. 
Walter Benjamin had one of the saddest life story this writer can think of and it occupies the writer’s brain daily. The writer’s brain was subjected to violent trauma in two consecutive car accidents that fucked up the writer’s life irremediably yet they triggered all that onslaught of logorrhea the reader is now witnessing a part of. Most days the writer feels like there is one part of their brain that is working and everything else is messed up. Before being subjected to the current episode of clinical depression the writer thought the way their brain was malfunctioning was funny as fuck as well as totally tragic – to this day this writer cannot handle handwriting anymore and let’s not talk about opening plastic bags or eating with chopstick or read anything written by Slavoj Zizek – but now the writer of this story without redeeming qualities suspects that the bundle of jelly-like tissues being jerked around violently inside their cranium during the car accidents has more than a little to do with their current state of being in the pits. At some point it was thought writing a short text about the long and tedious process of recovery might be helpful to other sufferers but the desire to help others died with the current onset of depression. Instead the writer could only offer this essay with no redeeming quality written in the spoken style of Alain Delon.


©Frenchybutchic, 2014. Not to be reproduced without permission, OK? The writer needs $ and things like that.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Note On Philippe Vergne's Appointment As MOCA Director


I've pilfered this uncredited picture of Philippe Vergne on here.


I can't believe I'm even posting about this, but since the news had come out at least a dozen people have reached out to me to ask many questions, reasoning that out of 70 millions French people, two who are in the arts should know each other. Should we?

So, do I know Philippe Vergne? Only vaguely.

I went to school with his younger sister and even had dinner a couple of times at his parents' more than twenty years ago, but since he was older and not working/living in Paris I only saw him a few times then, and outside of randoms run-ins at gallery openings and occasional professional emails and phone calls I've never really been in touch with him. I think the very last time I've seen him must have been around 2000 or 2001, and last time I got in touch with him professionally must have been 6 or 7 years ago, at best.
I'm not sure he would even remember who I am.
I've never worked with him whatsoever, so I don't know what he's like to work with, but I've never had people telling me venomous gossip about him, I've never heard any dirt on him, which is much more than you can say about the vast majority of people working in the business.

All I know is that he comes from a family of lovely people, and based from the occasional contacts I had with him and things I've heard from other colleagues, whether in France or in the United States, he's known as a very hard-working, serious, professional person. My own professional relations with him  (less than a half-dozens I would think) were always very courteous and pleasant, he always got back to me very quickly and provided the information needed as well as the occasional piece of advice about how to handle the matter at hand.

If I sum up recollections of the young man he was based on that semi-acquaintance we had back them, I would say he was a very curious, very active young curator, extremely hard-working, willing to unearth then-unfashionable artists and thinkers (I think I have somewhere a copy of a literary art magazine he had put up with friends that was centered on Clément Rosset). He was already interested in Los Angeles artists when nobody in Paris or Marseilles where he worked knew them. He was also someone who was doing a lot of the invisible work needed at museums, like being the "take" curator for exhibitions coming from elsewhere, writing all the wall labels, agreeing to be the courier on long truck rides, doing a lot of paperwork, etc. It's not the fashionable part of being a curator, but it's actually the biggest part of the job.

Aside from that I think I must have seen 3 exhibition he had curated, one in Marseille I only faintly recall which I think was about the body and performance (?) where I believe he had the misfortune of being in concurrence with the Pompidou for loans. The second I've seen was Let's Entertain at the Pompidou center, an exhibition I liked so much I went to see it 5 times. I even tried to get Susan Kandel interested so I'd write a review in the magazine she was editing but alas no dice. I'm sure the premises of the exhibition must have repelled a lot of our sour hardcore critics, but it certainly foresaw the changes in both contemporary art and its attraction on a larger audience that we witness now. Also, it was the best installation I've ever seen for a group show, showing a deep understanding of the physical space of the Pompidou and its connection to the city outside. I also remember it as an exhibition that had excellent wall labels describing briefly the artists career and intents and what the piece meant in the context of the exhibition. Without any empty theoretical jargon.
The last exhibition I saw was his co-curated Whitney Biennial, which I don't remember that well but then I never remember well any Biennial, Documenta, etc. I might remember some of the pieces but if you ask me which Biennial, Documenta, etc. they were in, my brain can't find that.

After this I never really followed his career, as I said we were only distant acquaintances and we never lived in the same city. I don't think I was even aware he had moved on to Dia until maybe two years ago. I can't say Philippe Vergne enters my consciousness a lot, if only because he's not someone you see mentioned all the time in the gossipy pages of Scene and Herd (he might be actually, but I don't read that stuff).  And then, ta da! yesterday came the news that to MOCA he was headed, and I was very happy for him and for MOCA because I think he's devoted to the arts as so to redress our beloved institution, and as far as I know he has demonstrated professional rigor and hard work, and has no commercial interest whatsoever to promote. And I'd have stopped thinking about it then and there if not for all the questions being sent my way, and then witnessing our professional blogging sourpusses ripping him a new one just because they're bored and the demolition of the Folk Art Museum in NYC was already old news. I'm going to sum up the criticisms below and address them:

- His PR statement was bland and boring and all he could talk about was balancing the budget. Yes, when you come to an institution that has been bled almost to death by about a decade of unheeded spending, to the point of nearing bankruptcy and closure, you certainly want to demonstrate that you're fiscally responsible. It's not a sexy quality, there's nothing flamboyant about it, but it's a necessary skill if you want your institution to survive and then thrive.

- There was this scandalous deaccession issue at Dia. Yes, it was only scandalous because two of the trustees whose real job would have been to get off their asses to raise money in order to keep the Lannan Foundation long-term loans in the collection decided to sue instead. I looked up the deaccession issues when they were pointed out to me last year, and from the outside track record they were done according to the rules. Yes, nobody likes when institutions deaccession artworks, least of them the people who actually work at the institution. I've worked on a set of deaccession myself, it's a long, tedious, difficult process everybody hates doing. It goes against all your curatorial/professional instincts and beliefs, and it's a hateful job to do. Believe me, when museums or foundations deaccession, it's usually because there isn't any other option. Nobody has limitless abilities to raise funds and sometimes, you have to make a choice about which works to keep in your collection and which ones to trade up for other things. Think about it as purging your library and record collection.

- His track record is rather thin. Possibly. I'm pretty sure that has far as curating goes he has done more than many other colleagues who are far more famous, but as I've never closely followed what he's done in terms of acquiring works at the Walker I would't know.
As I said above, when he was young in France he was doing a lot of the unrewarding work that is invisible to an audience, yet necessary at museums. Being in a cubicle all day long doing paperwork and answering email is unglamorous as fuck yet every curator does it. It's not all moonlight and roses and studio visits and installing exhibition and hanging out at openings, you know?
Jerry Saltz wrote something I saw yesterday to remind everybody that when Govan left Dia he also left a mess behind him, closing the NYC space to open Beacon.
It seems Vergne's biggest failure in taking over was not re-opening a space in Manhattan. I don't really know why it was so, I'd surmise the lack of donors' commitment mingled with bureaucratic issues. To be honest when I heard that Vergne was at Dia I thought it was a mismatch, because he's someone who's interested in very contemporary art as far as I know, and Dia's focus and mission are incredibly narrow. They do a great job at preserving Land Art monuments, and I hear their lectures and performance program is very well regarded. But outside of that it's an institution that is difficult to develop in exciting ways, a bit as if there was a foundation devoted only to a certain type of art made between 1912 and 1937.


When Michael Govan was hired at LACMA, I seem to remember all the medias were talking about was how incredibly well-dressed he was, that he was flying his own plane and used to play long poker parties at night. When Jeffrey Deitch came to MOCA, aside from all the screaming because he was an art dealer, the medias focused all the parties he was throwing or attending and how he liked to have an entourage of young people around all the time. Please tell me how this is better than someone who comes in and say "yes, I can balance a budget"? If you want a tidbit of personal information about Philippe Vergne, I seem to remember he was a big fan of Sonic Youth in his twenties. So, score, Philippe Vergne.


And now that we've addressed all this stupid hoopla, I'd like to remind everybody reading here (hello, all 200 of you!) that the MOCA mess was almost a decade in the making, and it took many people to do it. It's now in a far healthier situation financially, but Vergne is going to have to rebuild the institution from the ground up and he will need the support of the community to do so. He won't be able to remake it a great institution in just one year or two, for starters he's going to have to hire a lot of people, and not only curators. In a way this could be a dream situation for a museum director, to be able to compose his own team, but in reality this will likely be a long and tedious process. There's only a skeleton staff at MOCA right now, so to get the museum going it's gonna take everything from preparators to registrars to educators and secretarial staff. It's likely the first two years of programming will consist of "take" shows and permutations of the collection. In addition, Vergne's work is to be the director of the museum, NOT its chief curator: he might get around a lot at openings etc, I don't know, but expecting that he will do a zillion studio visits with local artists is an unreasonable expectation. This will be the job of the curators he will hire, in addition to the ones already here (Alma Ruiz and Bennett Simpson).

So let's all wish the very best to Philippe Vergne and to MOCA and be kind and attentive while he starts remaking it a great museum, and let's have a look in about 5 years to see what he will have done. In the meantime, welcome Philippe! Enjoy Los Angeles as much as I did when I lived there.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Architecture Takes Some Prisoners: MoMA And Its Audience


It was Blixa Bargeld's birthday earlier this week, which makes for an excellent opportunity to post one of my favorite Einstürzende Neubauten song, Architektur Ist Geiselnahme, which means roughly "architecture takes [some] hostages".


If you live in the United States and are somehow interested in modern and contemporary art, you've heard about the new scandal du jour: there's a new expansion design for NYC's venerable MoMA. As usual with these kinds of things, people have their knickers in a twist because we all hate change and we all love to have opinions. To sum it up shortly, for my very numerous European readers (ahem) people are upset because:

 1) the plan calls for razing the now long-defunct Folk Art Museum whose very costly new building caused its collapse and financial ruin but hey it's been built by famous architects so it's a shame it should be demolished.
2) The new design looks "corporate".
3) People who used to visit MoMA in the 1980s had an intimate experience and fuck those tourists coming en masse to the museum, they spoil the real art lovers' aesthetic nirvana or what have you.
4) Because whatever.

Of course viewed from Brussels WHERE WE DON'T EVEN HAVE A MUSEUM OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART AT ALL (sorry for shouting, this is the only Western capital that doesn't have one anymore) this looks like an amusing little local problem nobody really cares about, but you know, what with NYC sporting itself as the capital of the free world and so forth, we can see a few points worth raising that have very little to do with the quality of the architecture of the proposed expansion.  But they are shared by many museums around the world, whether they house art or science collections, because everybody has the same problems. Namely, collections augment and so does the museums audience, and museums need to expand their space to fill their mission.

1) So, what upsets the US folks? The demolition of the Folk Art Museum, which I see as rather hypocritical because most people had never set foot inside (if they had, maybe the museum would still be with us) and as several of my friends who actually have visited it say, it was a shitty space to look at art. Now, re: the quality of the building itself, I cannot judge but I didn't find it that great myself that it should be preserved at all costs.
I've seen some ludicrous arguments that "MoMA's mission being of preserving great art etc. it should also preserve architecture". Yes, I understand and I think I might have said the same type of idiotic thing myself in some old post or two on here, and on principle I like the idea but in reality, if museums had these types of resources we'd live in Utopialand where nobody goes hungry, inequality is eradicated and we've preserved the environment from our own follies. And believe me I'd love to live in that world. Also, I want a pony.
More to the point, I've seen arguments that maybe the architects could have preserved and reused the building in their redesign, but if they didn't I guess it's likely that  it was too costly and complicated and also tricky as far as using the maximum footprint possible for the new building.
In addition, I'd like to point out to proponents of this argument that the result would likely be a jumble of mismatched buildings rending the interior layout extremely impractical both for the purpose of the museum (showing art legibly ) and of its audience (finding their way in the resulting layout). If you want an example of a museum wrestling with this very same issue, look no further than LACMA and its complicated campus.

2) The new design looks corporate, it looks like a giant shopping mall. Yes. So did the last redesign.
Is it an improvement or something worse? I honestly cannot tell and I think 95% of us who are not architects cannot either. Now, quick question: name some museums that you think have a great-looking architecture, which one pops up first? Yes, we have a winner! The Guggenheim in Bilbao. Now, when was the last time you heard of a fabulous exhibition they had initiated? How about their collection, how world class is it?
Yes, I thought so.
People go to the Gugg Bilbao for the great architecture, no question about it, but not for what's inside. Which is a bit of a pity for an art museum (or any museum), if you ask me.
The truth is, folks, that most museums, including the non-art ones, tend to be the victims of shit architecture. Either it's some trendy world-famous architect having a wet dream and pooping up a giant spectacular turd with leaky roofs, impossible to heat and cool down galleries that are improper to display art, or some totally bland, boring, unobtrusive building that may or may not be shit at preserving and showing art as well, but might not come in the way of looking at it. I don't know about you but when I'm looking at art I don't really care about having some cantilevered something or other obstructing the view or making the space impractical to put art in (the New Museum is very high on my shit list in that regard).
Anyway, maybe the new redesign is bland and boring. Maybe it brings some unity to the overall museum, I don't know, and I feel I won't know until the thing is build and I visit it.

3) People who used to visit MoMA in the 1980s had an intimate experience and fuck those tourists coming en masse to the museum, they spoil the real art lovers' aesthetic nirvana or what have you.
Are you fucking kidding me?
I've seen this argument posted over and over by various people on Facebook. I'm not going to repeat the old saw that, you know, we fought this avant-garde battle to bring real art to the masses or something. Nah, all we wanted was to have the museum all to ourselves so we could commune in ecstatic transcendence with the art or something. Never mind we're being condescending to the museum's audience which, as we know, is always and forever composed of 99% great unwashed fuckwads and 1% true art lovers with credentials, good taste and intelligence, the elite. I know, I am a fucking elitist myself. I like fucking with an elite, I meant.
Truly, I love to have an intimate experience and looking at art and having an artwork all to myself. Most everybody does. Ask all the foreign visitors lining up to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, they would love to have an unobstructed view of it.
But I've also been a tourist (the horror!) visiting world-class museums and patiently waiting in line to pay my admission and come see masterpieces I had only seen in reproduction before. And the little-known artworks that are never reproduced, and the retrospective exhibitions of artists whose works I've only seen scattered here and there, and paying a visit to a bookstore where I can buy catalogs that are impossible or too expensive to find abroad. I'm sure most art lovers lamenting the old MoMA experience can understand that I, too, mourn the old Louvre of yore and I'm really pissed off to see NewYorkers gawking at Fragonard and Boucher paintings, asking stupid questions and obstructing my view for about two mega-long minutes.

So I understand the sense of loss, but you see, depending on the years, MoMA's total audience hovers between 2.5 and 3 million people a year. 60% of them being foreign visitors*. To continue to have "an intimate experience" would mean turning these tourists away at the gates, as well as the money they spend in NYC . And how do you propose doing this? Jacking up the entrance fee to $200 a pop? Yeah, I don't think so either. Conversely, if the audience were to decline significantly, it would also mean a decline in funding and revenue that could imperil the museum's budget. Do we  really want that?


"… yet another Guggenheim"


 I could go at length to explain that when you have such a significant mass of tourist and local bodies to safely move around inside a building, you need to sacrifice a bit of the intimacy and a lot of the magic in the name of the artworks security. Which actually comes first to people who work at museums, and the audience second, but we always have pesky fireman marshall regulations to contend with. Some of them determining the size of the rooms you put your artworks in so you can evacuate all your audience should a catastrophe happen.
 I could add that these ugly escalators everybody hate because they're so ugly are actually the fastest way to move all these visitors up and down the building,  making sure the line outside doesn't stretch for too long (it does but what can you do when your building is located in the middle of a busy city block with other buildings around? You can't really have entrances on 4 sides of the building to accelerate the flow). So yes maybe the soul of the institution does gets diluted a lot in the need to get the 3 millions people flocking to see art at a world class museum in and out of the building safely.

Maybe the building looks corporate.
Maybe it looks like a giant shopping mall.
Maybe the building doesn't look spectacular.
Maybe the building doesn't feel homey.
Maybe the building isn't an artwork itself.

4) Because whatever. Yes, what's up with that? Oh, the usual. Actually, no. Not our old usual.

To which I can only say that in an era when the arts (all genres combined) are said to have brought in more audience  in the United States last year than sports events, and more revenue in France than all the proceeds from the automotive industry last year as well**, we have to contend with a new model/paradigm Alfred Barr would have never imagined when he was at the helm of the museum.
Over the last couple of years of so I've read a lot of things about how "the market" had "destroyed/changed" the "art world", but very little about the fact that art in general, but mostly modern and contemporary art have found a new mass audience, an audience none of us could have ever anticipated when we were entrenched in the Culture Wars, being told what we were doing had no mass appeal and wasn't worthy of interest and funding.
The audience is here now, we need to deal with it whether we like it or not, and crying over how we had it better when everybody hated us won't change the fact that people are now flocking  museums en masse, which strikes me as more desirable than, say, having them watching Fox News, reading stupid tabloids or gunning down each others in movie theaters and elsewhere.
Maybe we should rejoice that people are finally being interested in art, even if it means we have to suffer bland architecture to accommodate their large presence inside museums.



*Many thanks to my friend C. who provided me with the numbers.
** I've seen numbers around the Christmas holidays for both countries but I can't remember where, so this is a "top of my head" info that needs verification/sources.




Thursday, January 9, 2014

Happy Birthday, Noel Scott Engel a.k.a. Scott Walker!




Today Mr. Engel turns 71. Here's to wishing him many more healthy, happy creative years making the music he wants to make and keeping on breaking new ground.  Scott Walker's birthday should be an international holiday celebrated worldwide, if you ask me. You didn't,  but all the same, if you have time today, raise your glass to our hero and listen to his last three albums! Here's a selection from each in reverse chronological order. They're all available either new, in reissue or else at a local record store near you, where they can order them for you if needed.




Below is I think one of the most beautiful songs ever written.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Walter Swennen Retrospective At The Wiels, Brussels



Forget everything you might have read about Luc Tuymans or Michaël Borremans, the greatest living Belgian painter today is someone you've likely never heard of, Walter Swennen. I say.
Unlike the two painters mentioned above, he's actually fun and looking at his career retrospectively, innovative as well  rather than wallowing in the nostalgia of dated figurative painting, beholden to the market, making works only ignorant wealthy people would want hanging over the sofa, whatever they're boring. Because his work is so obviously humorous I guess it's the reason he might not be taken as seriously as his Belgian brethren, which is the fate awaiting any artist using humor in their work. If your work isn't depressing and purporting to deal with heavy subject matter, whether it's contemporary politics or the Holocaust, it's going to be passed over in favor of, oh, I don't know, gray figurative paintings of dead people or something. Or straightforward documentary videos of anything political, or propaganda posters or cardboard placards telling you how you should think, so it spares you the energy of having to do it for yourself. God, the art world is so boring and predictable sometimes.

Anyway, Swennen has two things going against him to be taken seriously as an artist in the pages of glossy international art magazines; one being that he's a painter and the other that his work is hilarious. Because we're contrarians here at FBC!, we've decided that he is in fact one of the two greatest living contemporary Belgian artists, the other being Ria Pacquée. There might be others, but I haven't been here long enough to list more. Oh yes, there is one! I like Hans Op De Beek's work very much.





Until a couple of months ago I had never heard about Swennen myself, and then friends mentioned there was an opening at the Wiels, would I care to come with them? Sure, why the hell not.
 In case you don't know, the Wiels is the most interesting non-profit art center in Brussels,  a Kunsthalle-style space housed in a former brewery (they still have huge copper vats on the ground floor) built in the best pre-war Brutalist Deco style ever - a Belgian specialty. They do proto-fascist Deco architecture here like you wouldn't believe! One day I'll post pictures of city halls and churches in Brussels and you will understand.
Anyway, the Wiels is the most interesting art place here because as of now THERE ISN'T A NATIONAL MODERN & CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM IN BRUSSELS WHATSOEVER, which means local collectors, the famed Belgian collectors of lore, have no real place to donate or sell their collections to, so they either open small foundations/vanity-museums, or they sell their collections to MoMA and here goes the best Belgian and non-Belgian art abroad.
It's a national tragedy if you ask me, but since Belgians pride themselves on bickering between French speakers and Dutch speakers (they also have German-speakers here but so far I haven't noticed any bickering from them) rather than develop a sense of national identity, all their best art shit goes abroad. I'm mentioning it here because I think Swennen's paintings should be snatched by US museums stats, as they're priced relatively low compared to whatever comes out of Brooklyn or LES art galleries these days.
In any other Western countries nowadays, they open modern and contemporary art museums as if there is no tomorrow, and here, they closed the only one they had. Which sucks for artists and audience alike, because there is a big audience here for contemporary culture, if you look at the music festivals, bookstores and art movie theaters. The absence of a contemporary/modern art museum is mind-bloggling, and non-collecting spaces can't fill that gap.




So to the Wiels I went, happy to meet up with my friends and get drunk with Belgian people (another thing they're really great at here), but a bit uneasy at witnessing how overwhelmingly white the Belgian art world is. Belgium has a really big immigrant population, but it hasn't translated yet into the population you see in attendance at openings and during exhibitions. I'm not even talking about featured artists - generally speaking, Europe is still 99,99% white and 95% male as far as featured artists go. At any Belgian art institution you might frequent, the likelihood you will see non-white people is restricted to talking to the the museum/security guards. This is true of other European countries, not just Belgium, but after living in Los Angeles for ten years, re-acclimating to such a racial and social make-up is a bit shocking.




To go back to the Wiels, it's a tall, narrow building and you have to take up an elevator to go see the show at upstair levels. Not knowing anything about Swennen I had no preconception about whatever I was going to see, and I was enchanted when I went up and discovered such great paintings. My first thought was, "if Kippenberger had been doing only paintings and been Belgian, he would have been Walter Swennen!". Like Kippenberger, Swennen creates paintings that at first glance may look like they've been haphazardly made, but that a careful inspection reveals to be  incredibly well thought out. If you look closely you can see underlying layers there to bring some effects to the surface, and a very balanced sense of composition. One note about the exhibition: it's non-chronological, a pet peeve of mine usually when it comes to retrospectives, but in this case it doesn't prevent anyone from enjoying the show. But you won't learn much about whether there are different series or projects within the body of work, and there's generally not much available about specific paintings, as well as a remarkable absence of art historical references that could make you understand how he doesn't come out of a vacuum.
Additionally the educational components at the Wiels are rather low-key, so if you opt not to take a tour  and can't afford the catalog, you're totally on your own to discover Swennen.  There are labels at the entrance of each rooms detailing the painting titles from left to right but nothing under each painting itself, which is why none of the images I'm posting have any legend. I found that part a bit confusing.




I've mentioned Kippenberger  because there is a distinctive element in Swennen's work that recalls a certain type of 1980s and 1990s painting, like this one above that could evoke Albert Oehlen, for example. And like these two painters, you could also trace back Swennen's use of humor and borrowing of comics and cartoons tropes to pioneer painter Sigmar Polke. And like Polke and Kippenberger, the use of what seems at first glance conspicuously goofily-made, carelessly painted images is just a device to get at the essence of painting as a medium. As such, the device also brings us back to Belgian master René Magritte, whose 1948 Période Vache was doing just that, as a way to aggressively punch the stomachs of the calcified Surrealist French intelligentsia that was still the master of the quaint little art universe the next country over, in Paris. Where the doxa of the then art-world was calling for properly made paintings harking back to pre-war domination, Magritte sent some absurd paintings meant to challenge the state quo. They did it so well that up until the early 1990s and an exhibition in Marseille, the Vache paintings weren't very well-known, so challenging they were to the accepted wisdom about the Belgian master and the massive merchandising his paintings unfortunately originated (umbrellas, mugs, cookie tins…)
Swennen takes over where Magritte stopped (he went back to his best-selling bowler hats and oversized apples and cloudy skies after that) but gets a step further by integrating whatever happens in painting in the next few decades (Guston is mentioned in the booklet, for example).




There were a couple of large vitrines and pinboards at the show featuring drawings, notes and xeroxes by the artist which I understand are there to show Swennen's thought process, with various puns in both Dutch and French (and sometimes English) but also series of words and quotations one senses the artist kept as material or source ideas for his paintings.
The Belglish* booklet (there's a catalog but I was too broke to get it) makes a big deal of what are quintessential Belgian linguistic issues: Swennen was born in a Flemish family but educated in French, which was relatively common in Belgium until recently and generally makes all the tensions between language speakers very complicated (you can be of any ethnic descent and have grown up in the other languages, and for people having parents on both side of the linguistic divide it's never clear-cut). Therefore one is told that the subtext of the show is to look at painting as "translation", which, uh, OK, maybe, but if one comes to Swennen as a total ignoramus like I am, it doesn't really show. Or, er, "translate".
 I felt that component of the booklet was what I call a "Belgo-Belgian" preoccupation, something that I'm sure makes sense to people who have lived in Belgium all their lives, but isn't obvious to a newcomer. For example, I don't speak Dutch but thanks to French, English and German I've been able to understand some of the puns or jokes displayed in the artworks. And I understand the puns are starting points as the conspicuous subject matter of some of the pictures but they don't seem at all necessary for their reception by a passive audience. For example, if these paintings were to be exhibited in Spain or in the United States or in China, the puns, jokes and wordplay wouldn't be understood by most anybody there, yet the paintings (and drawings and couple of sculptures) would still be interesting (I hope) for someone outside of Belgian culture. Because as I said, if the puns or language are the conspicuous starting point, the real subject matter for each work is painting itself as a medium. Or so it seems to me (I'm sure Clement Greenberg would have a heart attack reading this, but he's already dead anyway).



One of the works on paper in the long vitrine pictures above


This was in the long vitrine pictured above


Rather I feel that the reference to "translation" was meant as some sort of device rather than an ontological necessity to explain the reluctance of the discourse around painting that tends to seep in most European critical writing. You see, if painting is just some sort of "translation" of a thought or a concept rather than just a plain old medium, it becomes legit for conceptual/political art critic mavens  and not some sort of hedonistic commodity destined to hang inside nouveau riche mansions in Florida or Orange County. It's a translation so it's uneasy and awkward (and, uh, I guess it means something is lost along the way, too?). It's a bit sad, this  very European unease about painting, but it's another debate entirely. Or else I'll end up writing a 30,000 words post and I'd rather not do that. I am tired. I have been waiting for the plumber since 8 AM for like, the 5th time in a row. Like Santa, I think he doesn't exist.




One of my regrets about the exhibition, and it's an a posteriori regret, is that the booklet mentions that Swennen had a past career as a beat poet and also someone who took part in "happenings" in his youth, and later on was a conceptual artist, to only take up painting in the 1980s. I wish there were works to be seen about his previous career, or just documentation.  It's unclear if the absence is due to a curatorial choice (maybe from the artist himself) or if this previous work hasn't survived through the years.



Of course, when one thinks "Belgian person who used to be a poet and then became a visual artist late in life", Broodthaers comes to mind immediately but as this isn't mentioned anywhere in that specific conjunction in the booklet (he's mentioned for a very early work though but the parallel isn't made clear), maybe outside of  the use of humor the similarities stop here.  Here's a painting above that let us know what we should do with too much "this is only what I know of Belgian art so I'm going to use it over and over".



Because the educational aspect of the show and the installation are so  bare-bones, one is left hanging with many questions. What did prompt Swennen to take up painting in the 1980s, did it have anything to do with the "Pictures" generation in NYC, or the resurgence of (truly atrocious) neo-expressionist painting in Germany? Because what he does is obviously totally removed from both, and closer to Kippenberger and Polke in intent if not in execution. Or has the decision to take up painting mostly to do with the local art scene at the time? Painting hasn't been so popular over the last decades in Europe outside of that early 1980s period, and so for Swennen to take it up in a country that was then mostly known for post-conceptual art is interesting.




When visiting the show one got a sense that Swennen really enjoys himself when working, sometimes giving tautological titles to paintings or rather, literally descriptive titles: you have a depiction of circles titled "circles", another rather abstract painting was called "red mass" I think, and so forth. There is also a joyous experimentation going on with unconventional supports or materials, with stretcher bars one guesses to be totally DIYed out of whatever was on hand,  paintings running around curved pieces of metal, or xeroxes of drawings remade over. You cannot guess from the crappy image I took above, but this painting has a really lovely enamel-like finish.





I've been told  people who don't like the work say they feel it isn't so great because "it's made so haphazardly like the guy doesn't give a fuck", but that is only an outward impression because as simple as that painting above is, its composition is perfect. It wouldn't be if there wasn't that small horizontal line on the frame and the other vertical one seemingly dripping out of the red rectangle, but these two details as well as the blue layers peeking from under the gray background reveal an attention to detail and perfect balance.




Elsewhere, Swennen makes fun of conventional ideas of paintings as objects, the ones that lie outside of the so-called art world, inside dentist waiting rooms, petty-bourgeois parlors, amateur societies' yearly exhibitions, second-hand stores, and far-right politicians' minds. A sinking ship mocks the convention of nautical paintings while coming with its mandatory brass  lamp over it, with its cord displayed prominently below - the lamp is a signifier of old-fashioned bourgeois decorating values, where it is meant to signal the viewer that whatever is displayed beneath is important stuff indeed.




In many occasions Swennen reuses old pasty curlicued frames and repaints over them, or uses chalkboard-like paint to create the illusion of a blackboard where we'd expect some teaching device but instead are confronted with a seemingly childish drawing of a ghost figure, palette in hand, leaving a medieval castle. I guess it's the childish aspect of many of the works that puts people off whereas yours truly finds it enchanting, but then one ponders if a child would think about depicting a dog (or a wolf?) throwing out something that looks like a bomb while a scribbled inscription on top reads "Hosana" (yes, there's an "n" missing). If you have a child like this, please donate me one of their paintings. Thanks.




Elsewhere, you find colored dots in suspension on a white background, which could read as a parody of Hirst's famed and totally perfect, painted-by-assistants dot paintings, or just something Swennen was trying his hand at. When wandering in the exhibition you find that there isn't a question of whether Swennen paints abstract or figurative paintings because he does both, and there isn't such a sharp definition as far as  both genres are concerned. Somewhere in the booklet it says something like "chance plays a major role in Swennen's practice" in the sense that he uses a lot of random ideas and visual data as starting points (explained as stuff that lays in piles in his studio, whether it's books, magazine images, old paintings found at thrift stores, etc.) or as "continuing devices" if I understand whatever is written in that &^%#*  Belglish booklet, that is, when he's stuck in the middle of painting something some random image might give him inspiration to go in another direction to finish the work.  My understanding of what they wrote and which I find hilarious is that, if he doesn't come across something  that will spur his imagination, the work is abandoned/finish as "an abstract painting". If this isn't what they meant in that booklet, blame their English translator, or whoever wrote the initial text, but in any case I find my explanation super poetic, so there you go.



This was my favorite painting in the show. It's *this close* to being a truly bad thrift store painting yet Swennen pulls it off as something really interesting, which I attribute to the thin  blue layer on top of the background, which contradicts the somewhat fatty inexpert brushstrokes of the fire.


And this was the bulletin-board and the vitrine in a corner of the exhibition, where some drawings are pinned with xeroxes mirroring other drawings and xeroxes. When you see these you understand that beneath the humor and the language jokes and the apparent uncaring concern for "what a proper serious art painting is supposed to look like" lays a very curious and experimental mind engaged in the business of making effing good work. It seems effortless and easy but its just very attractive. It's not telling you to sell the car, sell the house, sell the kids, but to engage with the painting on its own terms, which are not the ones we're told correspond to some conventions of "good" painting without falling into the trap of pretending to be "so bad it's good".
With this, I'm going to wish you some happy holidays, dear readers. FBC! will be back in the new year.




* The educational material at the Wiels is available in Dutch, French and English. The English booklet which I picked up with the intent of freely plagiarizing it if needed is in fact written in "Belglish", that is, Belgian English (not International Art English - it's better than that but still clumsy). It's understandable to English speakers if you apply yourself to it, but it's rather laborious and it looks like it's been written by a non-native English speaker. Or maybe the translator didn't manage to make it flow? In any case, it seems like different persons have written it, with some paragraphs truly informative and relatively well-written, and others totally mysterious. Some of the references mentioned in the booklet are totally unintelligible  if you're not Belgian, unfortunately.