Thursday, May 26, 2005

Feed your Gehry Jones

In the unlikely event that you are one of those Jonesing for a local Gehry, now that it seems that the Corcoran's Gehry plans have evaporated, then the webcam for the new Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi may feed your Jones to see one of the origami buildings being constructed (perilously close to the waters of the Mississippi Sound by the way).

Locals in NYC

Congratulations to Chan Chao, whose beautiful Echo photographs opened last Friday at Yancey Richardson Gallery. Chao's show runs through July 2, 2005 and he's represented locally by Numark Gallery.

Congratulations also to Jesse Cohen, whose photographs also opened last week at Brooklyn's Ch'i and runs through June 15, 2005.

Congratulations to our own Tim Tate, whose glass installation opens at SOFA NY at the Armory on June 2 and runs through June 5, 2005.

And congratulations to the below-listed almost locals from Virginia Commonwealth University's acclaimed Graduate Sculpture Program -- currently ranked #1 in the country by U.S. News & World Report -- and so it should be a strong show. Their show opens at Kim Foster Gallery in New York on June 4 and runs through July 2, 2005.

Kim Foster Gallery Front
Kim Foster Gallery Front

Bailey on Gopnik on Demand

Below is J.W. Bailey's Magnum Opus on "photography, photographic lies and the liars who lie about photographs," as inspired by Gopnik’s recent review of Thomas Demand’s photographs.

"Photographs That Lie and the Liars Who Lie About Photographs"

By J.W. Bailey

JW BaileyI’m going to open this review by admitting to you up front that I’m going to lie to you at some point in the review; however, I’m not going to tell you what the lie is – assuming you care about the lie, it will be your problem to discover it, and further assuming you know something about art and care about photography, you’ll probably easily identify the lie anyway.

Let me tell you a story – a story that may be a lie itself. I don’t know if the story in any part is true. It was told to me and I’m simply repeating it (embellished somewhat, naturally) here.

Once upon a time a man confidently approached Pablo Picasso and insisted that the great painter paint a portrait of his beautiful wife.

Taken aback, Picasso asked the man, “But what does your wife look like?”

The man quickly reached for his wallet, opened it, retrieved a pocket-sized photograph of his wife and thrust the photo into Picasso’s hands. "See, Picasso!" the man exclaimed. "I told you she is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. And I demand that the greatest artist in the world paint a portrait of the most beautiful woman in the world. I also demand that you paint her just as she appears in that photograph you hold."

Picasso smiled, held the little photograph up to the light to take a better look and politely asked the man, "Sir, do you really mean to tell me that your beautiful wife is this small?"

Photographs have an inherent capacity to express a lie as the truth. Photographs can also take the truth and twist it into a massive lie. Of course, photographers and art critics can do the same, individually or in conspiracy.

Lee Harvey OswaldAs we all know, photographs and lies and the lies that photographs can tell and the liars who repeat those lies have an uncomfortable relationship with reality. There is a famous photograph supposedly showing Lee Harvey Oswald holding Communist papers, along with the rifle in his hand and the revolver on his hip that are purportedly the ones that he used to kill President Kennedy and Officer Tippit in Dallas, Texas, on a fateful cinematic November day in 1963. Oswald claimed to police after his arrest that someone superimposed his face on the photo in question and that the picture was a fake. Of course, the chief art critic of the Kennedy assassination, the Warren Commission, declared the photograph to be true and further certified the artistic integrity of Oswald as being a lone nut gunman.

Thank God for the mental health and conscience of our country that we have art critics who can divine the "truth" of photographs. Of course, the problem is that no matter what the photographic experts of the Warren Commission said, deep down in the collective heart of America, many of us just don’t believe we were told the truth – and we continue to disbelieve what we are told about the assassination no matter what that photograph or other photographic evidence offered in support of a lone nut gunman seems to suggest. We are also told that somewhere in the National Archives are photographs of Kennedy’s brain; some of us, however, to this very day continue to wonder about where Kennedy’s brain is. The brain goes missing, but the photographs of it "exist." And, of course, we have a plethora of official photographic art critics who work for the government who decipher the evidence and tell us what it all means.

And what it always means is that your government had absolutely nothing to do with the assassination of your president.

Yes, one picture is worth a thousand words, but 1 WORD = 1,000 LIES.

Photographs lie. Photographs are a lie. Liars lie about photographs. A retracted Newsweek report that the military was flushing the Koran down toilets results in a number of people being killed. We can only imagine how many tens of thousands would have been killed (and would still be in the killing zone) had a falsely manipulated photograph been published of the Koran being sucked down a john. Indeed, the free world holds its collective breath over the impending body count associated with the recently revealed photographs of Saddam Hussein in his underwear.

One wonders what in the world motivated people to kill out of anger before the advent of photography. With no photographic "proof" of wrongdoing, why would anyone dare to commit murder or go to war?

And yet, in the photographic real world, we do have real photographs of real people committing real murder and real genocide, and in many cases people don’t really seem interested in going to war. The world never went to war over photographs in Rwanda.

So many lying photographs so accessible to so many who lie whose lies are repeated by liars.

If Andres Serrano had kept his mouth shut about the process and named "Piss Christ" as "The Crucifixion" and passed it off as a sensitive art work reflecting deep respect for Catholicism, that photograph might be a worshipped icon in every American parish. But high art demands brand, intent, process, and meaning. The artist supplies the brand (title/author), intent and process (the artist is free to lie about intent and process if they choose to do so and they can even falsely brand their work as being created by them when in fact it is created by others) and the art critic supplies the meaning - which is always a lie, especially if it is a highly favorable and approving review.

Blake Gopnik’s "review" of Thomas Demand’s "photographs" of his supposed "paper sculptures" inspired by "found news media photographs," along with the accompanying cleanly cropped color photographic reproductions of Demand’s "photographs" in the Washington Post, raise many interesting questions – a great many questions, in fact, that require the reader to place a great deal of trust in the very few important facts that are shared about this body of work.

Do you believe that photograph of Oswald is real? Do you care that Kennedy’s brain is missing? Do you care that maybe a conspiracy existed to kill a president of the United States of America? If a photograph existed that could positively prove such a conspiracy, would you doubt it? Or would you nervously embrace it as a validation of your desired instinct for the truth?

Some believe that photographs bring a sword that severs the stupid from the smart. How you react to a photograph, according to these theorists, speaks volumes for your intellect, or lack of it.

Gopnik, apparently refusing to let go of his photographs-are-accessible-to-the-stupid-masses theory, (a theory that he recently proposed as the solution to all problems at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, although politely declined by David Levy’s "thank you but no thank you" response as published in the Washington Post that was further backed up by another Washington Post article wherein the Chairman of the Board of Trustees in effect told Levy "thank you but no thank you" for your distracting Gehry vision which has now been additionally backed up by Levy’s resignation) continues to advance his philosophy that un-theorized photographs are incapable of communicating anything but a superficial message to a gullible, dumb, and mentally reflexive audience.

From the gospel according to Gopnik in his holy scripture, "The Art World’s Paper-azzo: “For one thing, photographs are usually taken, and taken in, all at one go. It’s possible to shoot a picture of a scene while barely giving it a look; a quick glance at a snapshot is all it takes to grasp its subject." In other words, snapshot photography can not be a legitimate form of high art because such photographs cannot possibly contain any intellectual content and should therefore not be given any more than the same bored glancing look by a viewer than that I Blake Gopnik would cast upon them.

It’s clear that Gopnik has an axe to grind in his latest review with his brilliant plan to thumbtack easily accessible photographs all over the deteriorating walls of the now Gehry-less future incarnation of the Corcoran; what’s less clear at first glance is why. Perhaps if we hold the photograph of Gopnik’s review of Demand’s work up to the light in the same way that Picasso held that photograph of the woman, we might be prompted to state some clear observations.

Believing the truth in the lie of art usually requires that we accept what we’re told to believe is the truth of the process. In his review of Demand’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, Gopnik expects us to believe the following in order to arrive at the "truth" of his intellectual intersection with the lies of Demand’s art:

1). Demand finds news media photographs that inspire him to create paper sculpture re-creations of the scenes depicted in the photographs. Problem: We’re not shown the source inspiration photographs for Demand’s works, or given any provenance of the history of those supposed images, so we’re expected to believe that they (these source photographs) "exist" or "existed" and that the history of the scenes depicted in those photographs is "true."

2.) Demand constructs 3D paper sculptures inspired from the found media photographs. Problem: We’re not shown the actual 3D paper sculptures, so we’re expected to believe they "exist" or "existed."

3.) Demand photographs the 3D paper sculptures. Problem: We’re not shown the original film negatives or original digital files, so we’re expected to believe they "exist" or "existed," and that if they do "exist" or "existed," that Demand actually shot those supposed images.

4.) Demand presents these photographs unframed and wedged between sheets of industrial Plexiglas in a white cube space. Problem: Instead of being shown such images of the work in its natural gallery presentation, we’re shown cleanly cropped image reproductions accompanying the newspaper review, so we’re expected to believe that these real Plexiglas-encased images "exist" or "existed."

5.) Demand commands the review attention of the chief critic of the Washington Post who claims he actually visited the Museum of Modern Art in person to personally see this body of work for the purpose of reviewing it. Problem: We’re not shown any images of Gopnik viewing the work in question, so we’re expected to believe that he did in fact do so and that if there are in fact images of him viewing the work that such images "exist" or "existed."

A photograph is a lie that tells the truth about a lie that is not the truth.

An art review is a lie that is a lie about a lie.

Oswald was a lone nut gunman who killed President Kennedy – and we have the photographs and film to prove it.

But deep down in your heart, do you really believe it?

Of course, in the world of digital media, Demand could easily be pulling a gigantic art world hoax – it doesn’t take a George Lucas and an ILM Studios to manufacture clever digital presentations of "color photographs" of "paper sculptures" of "found news media images." That art fraud could easily be pulled off by a teen-age high school dropout with a flatbed scanner and Abode Photoshop (in the real world such criminally inclined children have been known to create high-grade counterfeit US currency that easily passes by experts as being the real thing).

Not that I’m suggesting the Demand has done so, or that if he has done so, that Gopnik is his willing or unwilling conspirator in perpetrating such a fraud.

I’m simply suggesting that a photograph is a lie that tells the truth about a lie that is not the truth and that an art review about a photograph is a lie that is a lie about a lie.

I’m also suggesting that reading an art review (complete with manipulated and misrepresented images of the work that is reviewed – such images being those cleanly cropped color reproductions in the Washington Post) raises questions about photography that the art critic refuses to confront.

And given the fact that the readers of the review are expected by the art critic to accept that so much stated as fact must in fact "exist" in order to accept the premise of the review, it might be interesting for one reader to take the thoughts of the reviewer as expressed in words at face value and offer his thoughts in words on those words.

Gopnik tells us that Demand's art set the following 10 ideas moving in his head. As discussed above, we’re expected to accept the existence of many things that are not offered to us as proof as we travel through Gopnik’s mind concerning this review. Like Demand and Gopnik, I have made the conscious decision to edit out some things and retain others to in order construct my thoughts. And just as Gopnik asks his readers to accept facts not submitted into evidence, I’m asking the reader of my review of Gopnik’s review to accept that Gopnik’s full comments in his review do in fact "exist."

Edited from the review:

1. "Slowing It Down"

For one thing, photographs are usually taken, and taken in, all at one go. It's possible to shoot a picture of a scene while barely giving it a look; a quick glance at a snapshot is all it takes to grasp its subject.

1-A. "Speeding It Up"

For one thing, photography reviews are usually taken, and taken in, all at one go. It’s possible to read a photography review of an exhibition while barely giving it a look; a quick glance at a photography review is all it takes to grasp its subject.

2. "Waking Us Up"

By making us intensely aware of how they've been constructed, Demand's pictures push back against our comfort with photographs, and our willingness to swallow them whole.

2–A. "Making Us Sleep"

By making us intensely aware of how they’ve been written, Gopnik’s reviews of photographic exhibitions push back against his discomfort with photographs, and our unwillingness to swallow them whole.

3. "Opening Windows"

People rarely look at a Demand and say, "What a great photo of that model!" They're more likely to say, "What an amazingly realistic piece of paper sculpture!"

3–A. "Shutting Doors"

People rarely read a Gopnik and say, "What a great review of that photography exhibition!" They’re more likely to say, "What an amazingly realistic piece of photography criticism!"

4. "Framing the Photograph"

Demand shows his color photographs without frames, protected only by a gleaming sheet of Plexiglas that's stuck directly to the surface of each one. Suddenly, you're extra aware of the moment you're in, standing in front of fancy art in a fancy art museum; you're no longer transported to the distant settings shown, or even to the paper worlds Demand has modeled after them. In their presentation at least, Demand's works resist photography's illusions.

4–A. "Cracking the Frame"

Gopnik presents his photography reviews without source images, protected only by gleaming sheets imprinted with cleanly cropped photographic reproductions that are stuck directly to the surface of each paper of the newspaper review. Suddenly, you’re extra aware of the moment you’re not in, not standing directly in front of so-called fancy art in a so-called fancy art museum; you’re supposedly transported to the distant settings of the museum discussed, or even to the paper printed thoughts Gopnik has modeled after his mind. In their presentation at least, Gopnik’s words resist photography’s disillusions.

5. "Crafting the Un-crafted"

Demand's crossbreeding of sculpture and photography gives him the best of both worlds.

5–A. "A Crafty Bastard"

Gopnik’s pimping of sculpture and photography with art reviews gains him the respect of the best of the photography and art world.

6. "Ignoring the World by Obsessing Over It"

If anything, Demand's paper re-creations seem to turn his subjects into bare excuses for displaying sculptural skill.

6–A. "Obsessing Over the Ignored It World"

If anything, Gopnik’s newspaper printed recreations seem to turn his reviewed photography exhibitions into bare excuses for displaying writing skill.

7. "Taming Chaos"

Weirdly, when a Demand photo documents our messy world, it turns out to be the product of methodical artifice.

7–A. "Unleashing Hell"

Weirdly, when a Gopnik review documents a messy photography exhibition, it turns out to be the product of methodical ART-IF-(ad)ICE.

8. "Evoking the Past"

Demand's preternaturally crisp pictures could almost be an illustration of that claim: Paper is a medium that positively begs to render edges, surfaces, flat fields of color and regular geometries.

8–A. "Revoking the Present"

Gopnik’s unnaturally murky photography reviews could almost be an (dis)illustration of that reclaim: Newspaper is a medium that negatively begs to engender non-edges, non-surfaces, deflated fields in black and white colors and regular demographics.

9. "Recalling the Future"

That is, his art points to today's most common simulation of reality -- rather than to reality itself, or even to reality as shown in photographs. And it's nice to think that in Demand, evoking the virtual depends on something as material as paper.

9–A. "Call the Past"

That is not, his photography review points to yesterday’s most uncommon stimulation of non-reality – rather not than to non-reality itself, or even to non-reality as shown in non-photographs. And it’s not nice to not think that in Gopnik, revoking the non-virtual does not depend on something being as immaterial as newspaper.

10. "Complicating Things"

Trace the life story of a typical work by Demand: The three-dimensional world first becomes a modest 2D photograph, which then becomes a life-size 3D sculpture made entirely of bits of 2D paper, which then becomes a giant 2D photograph, which requires substantial room in a museum's 3D exhibition space, only to evoke the simulated 2D surfaces and 3D spaces of a computer game.

Gone are the days when all an artist had to do was take a fruit bowl's three dimensions and render them with paint in two.

10-A. "Things Very Complicated"

Trace the life story of a typical photography review by Gopnik: The 3D art critic supposedly walks into a 3D museum to supposedly review a 2D art photograph that is supposedly taken of a 3D art object that is supposedly inspired by a 2-D news media photograph of a supposedly 3D scene so that a 1D opinion can be printed on a 2D page of a 3D newspaper with 2D cleanly cropped supposed photographic reproductions of the 2D supposed photographs taken of the supposed 3D sculptures inspired by the supposed 2D news media photographs of supposed 3D scenes that the art critic and we have not seen and are not shown.

Painting is dead.

CONCLUSION: Most photographs are easily accessible – and for those that are not, some liar will tell you the "truth" about them and what they mean.

DALLAS, TEXAS – 22 November 1963: "Mr. Oswald, I’d like to show you a very interesting photograph we have of you and ask you to respond to it."

Have you ever seen the original of the photograph in question? Have you ever seen a reproduction of it? Do you believe it? Do you believe the lies about it? Do you believe the liars who lie about it?

Did you catch my lie?

James W. Bailey
Experimental Photographer
Force Majeure Studios