Saturday, April 30, 2016

"On&by Christian Marclay" edited by Jean-Pierre Criqui (MIT Press)


"On&by Christian Marclay" edited by Jean-Pierre Criqui (MIT Press)

There are certain type of artists that I'm drawn to, and it's usually the one's that I share an interest with - for instance music.  Or to be more specific, the beauty of vinyl and its album cover.   When I go to a record store, it is not only to please the ear, but also the sight.  I love a well-designed or creative looking album cover.  To me, that is the perfect medium for art.  I suspect that Christian Marclay would feel the same way - or, at least he used to.  I discovered Marclay's work through his albums "More Encores" and "Record Without a Cover."  His work is conceptual as well as being a sculpture of sorts.  "Record Without a Cover" strikes me as a masterpiece to any true lover of vinyl.  It was sold as an album, but had no cover or anything to protect it from the elements, such as dirt, fingerprints and scratches.  In other words, each album was a unique and one-of-a-kind listening experience.  How would it be possible for me not to love this album, and therefore, the artist? 

"On&by Christian Marclay" is a book length study on his work with vinyl, recordings, film, sculptures and photography.   Editor Jean-Pierre Criqui has put together a fantastic collection of essays by superb writers such as Dennis Cooper, David Toop, Michael Snow, Rosalind Krauss, Wayne Koestenbaum and others.   The high quality of writing talent focusing on one writer can be the sole reason for getting this book - but also the first half is a series of interviews with Marclay by various writers as well.  In detail, one obtains a lot of information on Marclay's work methods as well as placement in 20th century art and all the byproduct of that world - specifically music and music making.  The book takes the reader to all his major works - including the über-popular film/video project "The Clock."  The film lasts 24 hours, and uses real time as you watch scenes from films that use a clock or mention time within the scene.  

Marclay is a wonder to me, because he plays as he works - and his work, on the surface, seems simple, but is actually quite complexed,  due to his skill and taking chances, but also the audience's or viewers love for vinyl and their own awareness of time and now it passes.  If I have to be a fuss-butt, I would say that this book needs examples of Marclay's art -there are no illustrations whatsoever.  Still, this book is essential, and Marclay is truly a great artist. 

ISBN: 978-0-262-52661-6 MIT Press


Monday, April 25, 2016

"In The Café of Lost Youth" by Patrick Modiano - Translated by Chris Clarke (NYRB)

ISBN 978-1-59017-953-6 NYRB

"In The Café of Lost Youth" by Patrick Modiano / Translated by Chris Clarke (NYRB)


As much as possible, I try to read every book - fiction and non-fiction on the city of Paris, especially if it took place in the 1950s.  Of my interest, the post-war years are the most interesting to me.  Great films, wonderful music and really interesting figures emerge from Paris during that time.  I suspect that Patrick Modiano feels the same way about Paris, because "In The Café of Lost Youth" is very much a love letter (or love novel) to Paris - especially the nighttime of Paris.  Where the characters wander around various neighborhoods and cafés and occasionally listen to lectures.  I do not even know for sure, but I suspect that the novel is based on Ed van der Elsken's book of photos "Love on the Left Bank" that tells a tale of a girl who wanders into the world of the Letterists/Situationists. There is likewise a character that is based on Guy Debord, but not overly him, but an "ideal" version of Debord. 

I like the novel for all the above reasons, but it is not as good as Michèle Bernstein's novel "All The King's Horses" or "The Night."   She was married to Debord, and her fiction can be read as 'maybe' a memoir.  Nevertheless, Modiano is sort of the after-effect of such literature by Bernstein.  His, is a very romantic narrative - and there are at least four running narratives on the same girl, "Lluki" who is both a wanderer as well as a bohemian adventurer in the night life of Paris.  If nothing else, it makes one wish to purchase an one-way ticket to Paris. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

"I Should Have Stayed Home" by Horace McCoy


"I Should Have Stayed Home" by Horace McCoy

There is really no such thing as a bad Hollywood or noir novel.   If it's well-written, and tells the tale, it rarely fails.  For me, there are usually the exceptional and then there is the enjoyable.  "I Should Have Stayed Home" is very enjoyable, but clearly to me, not exceptional.  The novel was originally published in 1938, and it does capture that moment in time, with respect to how people see the movie world.  Everything else in the world was shit, yet the images of the cinema world were like medicine for those who were spiritually ill or suffering from the effects of the great depression.   McCoy's novel clearly expresses his time, but yet for me, it lacks poetry, which makes a noir novel great.



The story is about a farm boy who comes to Hollywood to become, not an actor, but a star.  He lives with Mona, who is also an star-want-to-be, but is also quite realistic in her chances in becoming such a professional.   On the other hand, Ralph, is quite blind to the world around him, and therefore is an innocent floating in the shit that was / is Hollywood.  In the hands of someone like David Goodis, this would have been a trip to the underworld, but McCoy to me, is almost a nay-nay person, wagging his finger towards the Hollywood climate. 



There are those who are in, and those outside the Hollywood system or factory.  There is a political element, in that it is a world that exploits its people, and I sense McCoy is of that thinking that the system is pretty horrible.   There is a strong message that Hollywood is very much of an opium to the great population out there.  This may be the case, but it is also like any other business that produces goods for the population, and to be fair to McCoy, I think he conveys that very well.   The problem I have with the book is that I find Ralph a huge bore.  I kind of hate him, because he's so simple, and on top of that, he's a southern racist. He's a little lamb who lost his way, and he lost in a damned world.  



He does come upon good people - for instance Mona, but also one of the producers, who is actually very kind in letting him know that he will never ever make it in Hollywood.  Ralph, due to his (stupid) nature, cannot accept that fact.  I think reading this novel has to be a total experience than if I actually read the book in 1938.  The mind-set of the readers at the time, were going through harsh times, so the promise of a "Hollywood" must have been a given thing or the end of that rainbow, which promises a greater future.  McCoy pops that balloon.  For me, "Dirty Eddie" by Ludwig Bremlmans is a much better book on Hollywood morals and decadence.  Yet, this is a wonderful read, but just not essential for me, with respect to the "Hollywood" novel. 

- Tosh Berman

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bas Jan Ader - Death is Elsewhere" by Alexander Dumbadze



ISBN: 978-0-226-038537 The University of Chicago Press

"Bas Jan Ader: Death is Elsewhere" by Alexander Dumbadze (The University of Chicago Press)

I think partly due to the deaths of David Bowie and Tony Conrad, I felt great sorrow reading this book on the artist Bas Jan Ader.   I only came upon his work maybe 20 years ago, which is odd, because he was very much of a Los Angeles based conceptual artist.   A lot of work deals with space and falling - meaning that gravity itself pulls you down.  On one level, he is sort of a Buster Keaton figure, but instead of laughter, his work is profoundly sad.   He has documented his "performances' in photographs as well as on video/film.  

"Death is Elsewhere" is half biography and the other part is a critique of his work.  It's fascinating to know about his Los Angeles existence, and how he mixed in with other artists of that time and place. He had one foot in Holland, and the other in Los Angeles.  There is something very European about his work. Yet, I can see the Los Angeles side of his work as well.  Place or location is always interesting or important. It is not actual locations, but the state of his mind or the state of his work and how that works within an American or Europan context.   The author Alexander Dumbadze does an excellent job in placing Ader's work in the context of 1970s America as well as noting the mysterious aspect of his work.  On one level, it is quite emotional, due to his death by being lost in the sea.  For an art project (or was it?) he planned to take a small sailing boat from the east coast of the U.S. to Holland or Europe.  Which sounds crazy, but Ader was an experienced man of the high seas, so if anyone could have done this, he could.  Sadly he disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean.    

What I find interesting about his work, is that it does remind me of Keaton, who I think is the great American artist of the 20th century.  I don't think Ader meant to address or comment on Keaton's method of working with machine and weather / nature, but there are similarities with Ader dealing with gravity or fighting against the urge of gravity.   So, that alone is quite moving - yet, we know he died a very young man, and therefore we're just capturing a moment of time of this artist.  He should have a longer career or life - because the work, although it hints of failure or even death, I don't think that is what his work is really about.  I think he was working on something much longer or long-term, but alas, nature took him perhaps by surprise.   Fascinating critique/bio on what I think is an important artist. 







Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Look at Life - Coffee Bar, 1959



Soho Coffee cafe culture circa. 1959.   Best documentary so far this year.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Humiliation" by Wayne Koestenbaum

ISBN: 978-0-312-42922-5 A Picador Paperback Original

“Humiliation” by Wayne Koestenbaum (A Picador Paperback)


 I don’t have many, but the few humiliations that I went through in my life I have totally erased them, except I do remember, but it’s so deep into my consciousness, it’s like a ghost thought.  On the other hand, Wayne Koestenbaum faces up to his humiliations as well as pointing out other artists and public figures who experienced the terribleness of being exposed to the most fearful humiliation possible.  I’m a fan of Koestenbaum’s writing, which is everywhere on the map of literature.  His shot Penguin biography on Andy Warhol, is one of the best books on that subject matter, and I also enjoyed his essays focusing on the 1980s.   “Humiliation” maybe his best book, because it is something that we all can share with - that feeling or point of time, when the unmentionable happens and how we deal with it. 

WIth the subject matter of Humiliation, Koestenbaum finds the perfect personalities to accompany that pain. Michael Jackson (great take on him), Jean Genet, Liza Minnelli, Alec Baldwin, and of course, himself.  As I read this book, I feel a tinge of pain.  That, comes with the territory.  Superb book. 

- Tosh Berman

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tony Conrad




I have just heard about the passing of Tony Conrad - filmmaker and musician/composer.  I listen to his music on a regular basis, especially while I'm writing.  I met him once at the Filmmaker's Anthology, and I can say that both of us were working in the same room at the same time.  Separate projects yes, yet I was there in that room with him.  As he was editing a film, he would often hum very loudly.   2016 has been a tragic year of major figures in my life, who are disappearing on this planet.  

You can hear one of his many masterpieces here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGMnDcwoXns

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"Off-Screen Cinema: Isidore Isou and the Letterist Avant-Garde" by Kaira M. Cabañas

978-0-226-17459-4 University of Chicago Press

"Off-Screen Cinema: Isidore Isou and the Letterist Avant-Garde" by Kaira M. Cabanas (University of Chicago Press)

After going to a series of films in various theaters lately, I have now come to the conclusion that the cinema is truly dead.  It is like time stopped about twenty-years ago and nothing has changed.  For inspiration, I have always looked back at an age that seemed to embrace the new.  I have become fascinated by the Letterist movement due to their interest in art, cinema and literature.  In fact, their work usually consists of all three mediums in the same world, or even spot.  Over-all, they have challenged the idea of an audience watching a film, and the interaction between the viewer and what is projected on the screen.   I purchased a film "Traité de bave et d'éternite' (on DVD) by Isidore Isou.  Which is sort of ironic, because I'm sure the film works better in a theater environment than say my living room with two speakers.  Nevertheless, I imagine myself in the theater sometime in the post-war years in Paris, and being confronted by this work.  In many ways, it is a city film - being Paris. Makes it interesting just due to the character of the urban dream of that time.   Kaira M. Cabanas' book length study on the films that were made by the Lettersets - is much needed.  Besides Isou, there were Guy Debord, Gil J. Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, and François Dufrêne.  Due to the rarity of these films, I haven't seen all of them.  So, of course, the book raises one's curiosity - but Cabanas' take on these works, just makes it more interesting.  The illustrations that are in the book are superb, and this is clearly a must-have if one is interested in avant-garde cinema, but also the culture of the Letterists which eventually turned into the Situationists - and beyond that to the world of Yves Klein and Marcel Broodthaers.  There is also a touching set of letters from Stan Brakage to both Isou and Lemaître.   Superb book. 

Isidore Isou in his film Traité de have et d'éternité

- Tosh Berman


TamTam Books' Tribute to artist Rinus Van de Velde

Rinus Van de Velde

Rinus Van Velde "Self-Portrait as Franz Kline, 2013 180 x 270 cm

Rinus Van Velde

Rinus Van Velde

Rinus Van Velde

Rinus Van Velde

My new discovery of the day.  It's raining and I'm inside trying to think of something good, and I came upon Rinus Van Velde's paintings in a recent issue of ARTFORUM.  I was immediately struck by its scope and vision.   The artist works from photographs, which I believe he takes himself.  You can't really see it on this blog, but he also includes texts in his work.   So there is a narration of sorts - which I believe is fictional.  

Here is an interview with him in English:

Saturday, April 2, 2016

"Ways of Curating" by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Faber & Faber)





"Ways of Curating"  by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Faber & Faber)

The skill of curating is really putting two or more ideas together and placing it in a space.  Beyond that it can mean anything.  Generally speaking when we hear the word "curate" that means someone with a point-of-view, or subjective thoughts puts something together so we can explore that curator's thinking or world.  Well, at least, in theory.  Without a doubt one of the more interesting curators in contemporary art is Hans Ulrich Obrist.   I have never seen any of his exhibitions, but I do know him through his books and essays.  His best skill is that he has a basic curiosity in how an artist works and thinks.   He is also interested in places, cities, and locations where one can exhibit ideas or more likely art.  The curator is often just as creative as the artist.   Which is sometimes a good thing, and often not that good of a thing. 

Basically an artist makes a work, and if they are lucky it goes out to the world.  In a lot of cases, there is usually someone who takes that work and places it in a room with another work of art.   It can be a random act, but more likely the person (the curator) who does that is looking for themes or a feeling between the artworks.  At times, I find this misleading to the artist's intent, and on occurrences, it brings up new light or a way of looking at that art.  Especially if you know the artist and their work.   So, in a sense, the curator is sort of like a film editor working with a filmmaker.  

The great thing about Obrist is his interest in contemporary art and its past.  He also knows that literature, architecture and personality is also part of the big picture - in other words, everything has a place or importance, and therefore so does art.   The tricky aspect is how and when one place that work in a bigger picture or landscape.  "Ways of Curating" is very much Obrist's thinking in these matters as well as the history of curating, which is fascinating.  Modern curating (at least to Obrist) started in the 19th century in Paris.  At one time, paintings were hung salon style which is a lot of work on one wall. Monet and others started a practice where a painting stands by itself on a large wall, and therefore one concentrates on that one piece.   Salon style exhibition is fascinating, but for me, it's hard for me to focus on individual works, yet people in the 19th century used to see art in this fashion.  

"Ways of Curating" reads not like a book, but more of a collection of essays on the subject matter of curating.  For me, it would have been more fascinating if he just focused on its history, like he did in the first part of the book.  The second part is basically his career and what he has done, which is perfectly fine, but the writing gets kind of 'been there and done that' type of feeling.


Nevertheless, this is a very accessible book to someone who is curious about that world, but really doesn't know too much about the nature of art exhibitions, and how they are planned out..  Orbits has many books out, and the best one's are his interview books with various contemporary artists and composers.  He is an interesting guy, and "Ways of Curating" is both good and so-so, but still important of a subject matter to read. 


- Tosh Berman