Curiot goes to Berlin

Really awesome getting to catch up with Curiot in Mexico City while  I was there starting my next book.  We brought Curiot to Portland a couple years ago for the “Forest For the Trees Mural Festival”.  I popped by his studio with a six pack of tall boys the night before he was to leave for Berlin.  Yep, he was still painting a few pieces.  That’s the way it goes in the art world.  I really love the direction that Favio is going with his new body of work.  They incorporate installations and conceptual design in a distinctive new style.  If you are in Berlin, don’t miss stopping by BC Gallery to check out the show.

I don’t know what to do but I’m doing this.

Like a majority of the United States I woke up the day after the election in shock and horror. The crazy shit from the current regime is off the charts. I won’t go into each element of bullshit but one stance particularly sticks in my craw: all of the absolute false claims about immigrants. Vilifying Muslims and Mexicans really struck a dischord with me. I have crafted my life around traveling to international locations and getting to know artists and their cities, yet the new oval office temp was telling U.S. residents to fear Muslims and hate Mexicans under completely false pretenses. Sadly like Pavlov’s dogs, the ignorant racists of the United States answered this ringing bell with slack jaws spewing saliva. Like most Americans on that day and in the subsequent days, I felt powerless. Days went by without any real actionable thought on what to do to fight this catastrophe. People around me were posting advice on how to write your political representatives or telling everyone to join their local democratic party and run for office. Everyday someone had a specific action to do or a protest to join. To be honest I’m not really a joiner or a team player so these plans were not going to work for me. Suddenly I remembered what I do. I write books. My books are about exposing foreign artists and their culture to the world. Our post-freedom government was telling America that our neighbors to the south were murderers and rapists who are only here to steal our jobs and deliver drugs. The answer to this manufactured problem, build a wall and ban people from entering the country. Well fuck that. I prefer to get to know my neighbors as opposed to condemning them. The “Tall Trees of Mexico City” will be about getting to know my neighbors and introducing those awesome folks to my United States family.

I have been asked “what city was next?” since the Paris book was released. To be honest Mexico City was not the first place that came to mind. I had been thinking about Montreal, Barcelona and Amsterdam for the next book in the series. I have never been to Mexico City. I have some cursory knowledge about Mexico and its big city but truly like most Americans I am ignorant to Mexican culture. I can’t wait to discover all the nooks and crannies. I also can’t wait to tell everyone else about it. I want to shout it out. Mexico is not the problem, immigrants are not the problem. You are the problem, white folks shaking in dark corners afraid of their own heritage and family story. We are a nation of immigrants. We are mutts. I love mutts, always have. The “Tall Trees of Paris” was started under the cloud of my mother’s death. Her memory fueled me. I have never been more appreciative of the people I met in Paris, for their warmth when I needed it most. This book is being started under the cloud of a shattered United States. I definitely feel helpless and hopeless most days but every day there is a glimmer of humanity piercing the darkness. I hope the Mexico City book will change some minds and build a stronger friendship between our neighbors to the south and us during these dark times ahead. I was raised in the deep racist farmlands of middle America but I knew different. I knew curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Getting to know people is the only way to move beyond the fear. So I’ve picked a fight I guess. I’ve picked my little contribution. I’m doing my part. I want to educate and envelop the voices of fear in a blanket of art and culture.

Lady Amputee in a powder room

I met Makiko Sugawa several years ago while I was the director at another gallery in Portland.  I showed her work there and have continued to show her work since.  Makiko lost her leg to cancer 12 years ago.  This event heavily influences her work.   “Lady amputee in a powder room” reflects this influence.  Each of her delicate drawings features a character missing limbs.  Like with her prosthetic limb, the subjects of her pieces also have interchangeable prosthetic’s.  The difference between reality and her work is that the figures are like dolls with snap on limbs.  Makiko is a champion for amputees in Japan and is heavily involved in the community.  In a country that is fixated on appearance, this can’t be easy but she keeps knocking down barriers.  “Lady amputee in a powder room” opens at Vanilla Gallery in Tokyo on February 6th.



DAYDREAM with Rebecka Tollens

I met Rebecka Tollens while I was working on “The Tall Trees of Paris” book.  She was working at the Arts Factory gallery and book store in the Bastille area.  The gallery hosted the book release party for my Paris book. Over these visits I fell in love with going to the Arts Factory and having pastis at the end of the day with the owners Effi & Laurent.  I would always chat with Rebecka on these visits.  She started out studying international law.  During this time she went on a humanitarian mission to Ghana and a five month trip across South America.  After returning to Paris she radically changed course into art and illustration.  I had no idea she was an artist during my Paris visits.  Last summer was the first time I saw her work and it really blew me away.  “Daydream” is such a good title for her work.  The deeply atmospheric drawings are mysterious and playful with a wash of innocence on the surface.   They illustrate cracks in childhood and a struggle with feminism and relationships.  I highly recommend getting over to her exhibition.
Rebecka’s show Opens January 30th at the Arts Factory in Paris.

Avalanche with Adam Friedman

Portland artist and Forest For the Trees alumni Adam Friedman has a new show opening with Cordesa fine art in Los Angeles on February 11.  I stopped by Adam’s studio to check out the work before it heads down to southern California.   During our chat Adam told me that the title of the show is a response to the appropriation of words associated with nature by modern financial and political institutions.  Words like erosion and climate are used by these folks as a metaphor for the ups and downs of their organizations.  If I had to guess I would say most of these people are probably out of touch with nature other than what they see on the screens of their devices.  The use of geometry and natural scenery in Adam’s paintings really illustrate this disconnect.  Adam has also created an an almost topographic installation piece for the gallery featuring a series of triangular mountains.  If you are in Los Angeles, don’t miss this show.

Tall Trees of site update – Horumon in Tokyo, Japan

This is a repost from the site.  The site has info on my books and posts about travel, food and art.  Take a look.
Horumon is gut meat. Offal to the food aficionado. This style of restaurant popped up in Osaka in the 1940’s. Horumon is similar to the word hōrumon in the Kansai dialect which means “discarded goods”. Horumon also sounds like the word hormone which means “stimulation” in Greek.  Horumon is supposed give you stamina.  It’s a bullshit claim, horumon is just good.  As far as I recall I have not had a raging hard on after eating it.  The first time eating at a Horumon restaurant was at a place in Nakameguro called “Manten”.  Manten means “the whole sky” in Japanese.  My spirit guide through the last several years in Tokyo has been So Ieki, aka Blunt.  Blunt is the co-owner of Hatos bar in Nakameguro.  Hatos serves American style real pit bbq.  Blunt makes what I consider the best bbq in Japan.  Blunt also knows Tokyo, Blunt knows food and Blunt knows I eat anything.  Manten is small.  Maybe 8 counter seats and 4 or 5 tables on the 3rd floor of a non-descript building on Yamate street. Just a minutes walk from Nakameguro station.  There is a tiny compact car size kitchen with a few men in white prepping and slicing as we enter.  As soon as we sat down I felt the stare from the owner.  We sat at the counter directly across from where the food was being prepared only a couple feet away.  I was on the left, Blunt on the right.  Immediately the owner looks directly at Blunt and asks if I know what food we are about to eat.  He is assured by Blunt that I do know.  My Japanese is shit by academic standards but pretty good by “bullshitting” and fucking with people standards.  I understood what he was asking so I chimed in with “I’m OK” in Japanese.  He wouldn’t even look me in the eye.  His gaze went back to Blunt.  He then says “I don’t think he will like this” and “I have had trouble with serving foreigners in the past”.  I understand and try to sneak in through the back door to get in his good graces by noticing that he was slicing up pork liver and asking in Japanese if that is indeed pork liver?  He nods in disgust. I then pipe up like a 6 year old and say “I like liver”.  He again stays focused on Blunt and says “I don’t think he will like this”.  Blunt gets a bit more serious and explains to him my Japanese credentials and assures him that it will be fine.  After 10 or 15 minutes of this passive negotiation we are allowed to order food.

Thank god we were being served shochu lemon sours during the negotiations.  I was very booze relaxed for the tense moments.  We asked for the chefs choice menu.  Course after course pushed across the counter starting with shredded raw pig stomach in a vinegar based sauce and shredded raw pig liver in a soy/sesame sauce.  Sadly last year, the Japanese Government banned restaurants from serving raw pig liver.  One guy dies and ruins it for everyone.  After that we took a trip from the pigs ass all the way up to his brain.  The liver and throat parts were ridiculously good. Some things were cooked and some were pulled directly from the operating table and presented in their natural state.  On that night we won the lottery.  The owner had scored the pig brain at the meat market that morning and everyone at the counter was going to share in his good fortune.  Pig brain needs to be served fresh.  It quickly goes bad so not many places serve it.  He pulls a rectangular plastic container from the fridge and opens it in front of the counter gallery.  The creamy white brain of our meal was inside.  Small sections were cut and placed in ramen soup spoons and drizzled with rice vinegar and sea salt as well as some other secret ingredient.  We are all served at once and we suck the brains down in one gulp like frat boys doing shots after a round of high fives.  Creamy and firm like tofu.  Super good.

Pork stomach and liver

Nose to tail

Pork brains

The owner had kept an eye on me all night.  I made sure to overreact in my appreciation of each course like publishers clearing house had just knocked at my door.  A small price to pay to keep the dude off my back.  One last lemon sour and it’s time to go.  The owner walks us to the elevator as if he is sad to see us go.  He gives me and Blunt his card.  I give him my card and Blunt sans card explains that he runs a bar in the neighborhood and that I own an art gallery.  We chat like long lost friends for a bit and head out into the night.  On each subsequent trip to Japan without fail, I eat at Manten with Blunt.  Nine times out of ten I don’t have to pass the foreigner test unless there is a new guy working.

Pork liver lightly seared on the outside

Raw pork liver  

Yaki Onigiri

Poached pork liver

assorted throat parts, stomach parts and some assorted muscles and tendons

Motsunabe (gut stew)

Death of brick-and-mortar galleries?

This article from Artspace about the state of brick-and-mortar galleries is really interesting. In the last couple years or so I have been constantly thinking about how quick and drastic the brick-and-mortar gallery model has changed. I sort of chalked it up to progress or changing times. Now I realize these changes are not always so positive. Embracing change is good but the old model has to be replaced with something that doesn’t lower the bar for advancement in art. Adapt or die seems to be the course of action. I just hope people are not adapting to a new low standard.
The modern art world has divided itself into so many genres, I’m not even sure what part of the art world I belong to anymore. Low brow, pop surreal, new contemporary etc….. A rose by any other name is still the final nail in the coffin. The art world that I see around me seems to be filled with artists and curators who cut off their noses to spite their face. If this Artspace article is correct, and it’s true that stand alone galleries are on the decline, then we need to examine the possible causes. Curators who constantly dumb down their curation for social media popularity or to turn a quick buck could be to blame. Artists who beat a dead horse because they lucked into some popular aesthetic or who make cheap tchotchke under the excuse that it makes art more “affordable and accessible for the masses or beginning collectors” should also take some responsibility. This always smacks of underestimating the art viewers ability to comprehend growth and change in in the art world. It also underestimates the new collector’s ability to invest in original art as opposed to just buying an inexpensive image. Lack of criticism in the age of “everyone wins a trophy” could also be a major player. How can artists and curators improve without criticism? These things devalue the art and the gallery experience. Add in the dependence on social media, and the equation breeds mediocrity. These fast moving changes push galleries and artists into unfortunate choices. I always felt like the responsibility of curators was to foster and discover new artists and to push established artists to experiment and challenge themselves. The contemporary internet “likes” model fosters pop culture themed group shows that pander to the masses. Many galleries are all feeding from the same pool of artists and recycling them from show to show and state to state. It must work since everyone is doing it, right? Possibly, but it’s a short game mentality. Social media is not the end of the brick-and-mortar galleries but it makes maintaining integrity much more difficult and much more important. Galleries will survive but they may not be a standard brick-and-mortar space on the same corner every month. Some galleries will thrive simply due to lack of competition. Some will move to more cost saving spaces. I feel that art and creativity is a long game. Reinvention is a must. I fall firmly into the category of constantly evolving and exploring different environments to learn, display and market art.