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.
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.
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.
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.
First edition of Sketchtab at Gigantic Brewing here in Portland. I invited artists to sketch on the back of coasters in exchange for pints of beer. Fantastic night. Next installment, February 2017.
Photos from the event –
Coaster sketches from the evening –
Opening Saturday December 3rd at 6pm at Gigantic Brewing.
New work from Tall Trees of Tokyo artist SAL.
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