Monday, February 28, 2011

Why I like Christian Marclay's Clock.

David Warner's Evil, from Time Bandits (1981); Christian Marclay, Quartet (2002)

As I have now written twice in defense of Marclay’s Clock without having made any effort to explain why, it is fair to ask at this point (as Michelle Vaughn did) why exactly I like this piece so much. Contemporary artists are steeped in criticism. The first review any artist gets is from another artist. We are trained to be articulate about our opinions and it is easy enough to spot fawning or contempt presented as criticism. Bad reviews are a bummer, but so are lame brained positive reviews. If written in good faith, by a critic committed to contemporary art, a negative review can tell you as much (if not more) about an artist you like as a positive review. As someone who enjoys reading well written, well considered, criticism of all sorts, the only thing more disappointing than a poorly explained or formulaic review (positive or negative), is a snarky one. I find contempt disguised as criticism particularly disappointing. With a high profile artist like Christian Marclay, there is prestige to be had by association - even to something the critic clearly believes is beneath them. I can easily understand why someone may dislike or be bored by Clock, I am totally flummoxed however, as to why anyone who takes contemporary art seriously, or their role as a commentator of art, would show contempt for a work of this quality.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Watching the Watchmen

Charlie Sheen in Two and A Half Men: The crowd watching Christian Marclay's Clock.

I have written on the subject of criticism and popularity before, so when I got in a short dust up with Tyler Green on Twitter, I was going to let the subject drop - but I am like a dog with a bone. If you follow this LINK you will find a cut and paste of Tyler Green’s recent review of Christian Marclay’s The Clock with a few edits. It was assembled by Steve Mesler who usually blogs about making art for Huffington Post. Steve sent me this after my short back and forth with Green. Steve, who is in Savana interviewing Marina Abramovic today, took the “Find and Replace” function in google documents, replacing Christian’s name for Abramovic's and The Clock for The Artist is Present. Add in a couple of liberties with the narrative and what you have is a review for any popular show the art world has ever, or might ever mount. I asked Steve if I could link to his joke because it shows exactly why I found Green's review so disappointing. In a review of what I felt was a complex piece of durational art, about time, Green chose to write a formulaic review complaining against formula. Green Accused Marclay of being tired, but used the most tired of all art world cliches: he chose to sneer at the crowds of us gullible to want to see the work at all.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Who's Afraid of the dark? Not Christian Marclay.

Richard Serra, Hand Catching Lead (196?); The installation of Christian Marclay, 24 Hour Clock (2010)

Christian Marclay's 24 hour video, Clock is the most perfect gallery installation of video I've ever seen. In the same way that I am not a cat person, but I love particular cats, I am guardedly pessimistic when it comes to video installations. I have not been to a show, of any kind, that is this good in years. So far I have spent 6 hours watching (easily five hours more than I have ever spent with any other single video installation) and am looking forward to catching as much as I can before the show comes down this weekend. (I am fantasizing about having Clock installed in my house.) This is not just because I enjoy the video itself (although I very much do); it is because this video is installed the way all video art should be installed: three rows of four overstuffed light grey sofas, that not only allow you to lean back and watch; because they aren't black, one can easily move about and find a seat. Genius - or at least relative genius, because every other video installation I have ever been in has been so willfully stupid. It is telling that it took a 24 hour video to force a gallery to install video in a way in which it can be watched for more than just a few minutes.

Friday, February 11, 2011


POTUS, Alt Gore's State of the Union Address; alternate Earth's NYC skyline on Fringe.
After reading "Memories of the Gore Administration" in the Dec 13th issue of New York Magazine, I asked Kurt Andersen via Twitter how the piece was constructed (it was done as an exquisite corpse), and tweeted that it would be interesting to read about how he and Glenn Beck ended up writing an alternate history of Al Gore's presidency together. Andersen put me in touch with Christopher Bonanos, who generously agreed to write a guest post about editing the thing together. Tomer Hanuka, who illustrated the piece for New York, agreed to let me use his images and even supplied me with two additional sketches that haven't been posted online before.
Around July of 2010, Adam Moss--who runs New York magazine, where I work as an editor--asked his team to start coming up with potential cover-story ideas for the fall. I’m not sure how I started thinking about tenth anniversaries, but I tend toward stories of a historical nature anyway, and I had just written a piece about Ground Zero, which put me in mind of 2001/2011. Maybe it was just all the midterm-election ramp-up coverage on cable news. In any case, I saw November on the calendar, and realized that the disputed Bush/Gore election was going to be ten years in the past.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Art Then Technology (Part 7): Companionate Authority

Fat Bastard: end of fifth day of installation (2010).
(Return to Part 6)
I began thinking of Art as authority sometime after I moved to New York, and only began thinking of authority as a technology since reading Kevin Kelly's New book What Technology Wants. Kelly's conception of technology is far broader than most. In addition to our gadgets and industries he includes the entire universe of man-made things; everything from literature and art to abstractions like the rule of law and the scientific method. Kelly makes the case for technological (in its broad sense) Progress (with a capital "P") as inevitable. He largely avoids the cliches of his Modernist predecessors ("Better living through chemistry," "One word: Plastics," etc.), but he does unpack and and dust off the old narrative of "Every man is a King." Kelly tells how he and his daughter counted all the objects in their home (10,000 objects) and compares that with the average number of objects in homes in the developing world (127 objects), contrasting those numbers with King Henry the VIII (18,000 objects), colonial Americans and other historically representative common folk (40-75 objects). Kelly champions technological Progress in terms of Freedom, that innovation brings an increase in the number of choices we have available to us.