Artists, critics, collectors, and art lovers often wield the pen as deftly as the brush or chisel. Here, for the 21st edition of zingmagazine, are 21 observations -- some wise, some otherwise:

“Life is serious, but art is fun.” John Irving

“When you are not rich, you either buy clothes or you buy art.” Gertrude Stein

“The worst insult you can offer an artist is to tell him how good he used to be.” Robert Hughes

“When you paint a nude back, make sure that it doesn’t look like she’s sitting on the frame.” Jan de Ruth

“I paint portraits to paint my friends.” David Hockney

“There’s no artist alive who feels he’s got proper recognition.” Larry Rivers

“When I paint, I liberate monsters, my own monsters—and for these I am responsible.” Pierre Alechinsky ˆ

“When I paint, I listen to Pavarotti, Horowitz, Louis Armstrong, even my own tapes.” Tony Bennett

“It is essential to do the same subject over again, ten times, a hundred times. Nothing in art must seem to be chance, not even movement.” Edgar Degas

“I’ve always painted what I wanted. I was not influenced by all those trends and isms. I never worried about critics. I just did what I wanted to do.” Raphael Soyer

“A mask stands for art that a person can hide behind.” Paul Klee

“Environmental issues have been addressed in works of art since at least the 1970s, and many of those earlier works might be retrospectively labeled as sustainable art.” Patrick Keefe (this is a quote from the description of the exhibition “beyond green” at the smart museum of art. Stephanie Smith is the curator…)

“Figurative art is the equivalent of cooking with food. Non-figurative art is the equivalent of non-food cooking.” Rene Magritte

“(De Chirico) believed he got better as he got older.” Robert Hughes

“I found that while the camera cannot express the soul, perhaps a photograph can.” Ansel Adams

“I don’t give a damn about politics.” Modigliani

“We often think of artists in terms of their origins, even when most of their life and work takes place elsewhere.” Fereshteh Daftari, MoMA (probably from “without boundary” catalogue)

“I have regretted what I didn’t buy. Seldom have I regretted what I did buy.” Malcolm S. Forbes

“Both Cezanne and Pissarro were outsiders to the Parisian art world when they met in 1961.” Glen Lowry (probably from the catalogue for the C/P show)

“If an art dealer offers you a deal, see a lawyer. And if that lawyer approves, see another lawyer.” Gilda Cao

R&Sie(n)’s Dandy & Mutant A-life Architecture: Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris * Paris, France

R&Sie(n)’s exhibition “I’ve heard about…©” opened on the 6th of July at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris‘s temporary space at the Couvent des Cordeliers. It is one of the most relevant exhibitions reflecting contemporary art today.

R&Sie(n) is an investigational architectural firm consisting of François Roche, Stéphanie Lavaux, and Jean Navarro; working here with Benoît Durandin. Together, they utilize generative heterogeneous mutations in the creation of proposed utopian city spaces. In fact, their show at the Musee d’Art Moderne proposes the artificial growing of extruded urban housing (generative & robotic)—where new cities are constructed via robotic processes by feeding off the carcasses of older dying cities. Very viral. They envision an approach to city planning based on growth scripts and open algorithmic procedures. Towards these ends the show itself includes a fully immersive hypnosis chamber with video monitors, some subtle audio tracts, model-sculptures, booking services, 3D movies and robotic drawings/plans that reveal the source code of the generative program at the heart of their work.

The tangled and intertwined approach to the city vector reminds me of the dithyrambic visual hyper-logic which has manifested in all modes of decadent artistic periods, from the Hellenistic and Flamboyant Gothic, to the Mannerist, Rococo, and Fin-de-Siècle, opposing imposed ocular paradigms with hyper-engendering strategies of form. The multiplicity of its interwoven experiences challenges the now bogus idea of simplicity—a modernist-minimalist idea which in many cities implies simplicity, surveillance, and goodness while obscuring a less evident effect: cognitive constraint. Such constraint runs counter to what Georges Bataille considered to be the non-hypocritical human condition—non-productive expenditure (threshold excess) entangled with exhilaration.

The organic-like, biomorphic architectural forms R&Sie(n)’s generative program spawns brought to mind the Palais Idéal of Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924), which to my eyes appeared to be one huge budding edifice when I visited it a few years ago, as if the stupendous mannerist grotto-façade at villa Borromeo had been left to grow untrimmed and run amok. However, postman Cheval used 93,000 hours of hard labour, alone and by hand, to construct the Palais Idéal in the Hauterives (Drôme) (near Lyon) between the years 1879 and 1912. R&Sie(n) allows humans to play and dream while a computer program does the physical work.

The other inescapable reference for R&Sie(n)’s work is the visionary city-planning put forth by the Situationists. One thinks immediately of Guy Debord’s essay “On Wild Architecture.” For R&Sie(n), the urban form no longer depends on arbitrary decisions made by the elite few. Ultimately R&Sie(n) leads us toward juicy Situationist-like complexities and engagements by way of immersion into an open-ended multiplex, a virtual environment: the Virtual Reality experience.

As R&Sie(n) say themselves, “Many different stimuli have contributed to the emergence of “I’ve heard about…©” and they are continually reloaded. Its existence is inextricably linked to the end of the grand narratives, the objective recognition of climatic changes, a suspicion of all morality (even ecological), to the vibration of social phenomena and the urgent need to renew the democratic mechanisms. Fiction is its reality principle . . ..” Ahhhhh, the domain of decadent art, VR and artifice, against Nature.

However, the degree to which a dweller feels totally immersed in an optically excessive space has been somewhat poorly determined and depends on personal psychological need and adaptability in accord with the proposed spatial depth cues. Cognitive-aesthetic space has to be coordinated phenomenologically with proprioception—and R&Sie(n)’s only failure is in maintaining the evident structural seams of the immersive faux-hypnotic chamber (the only enterable structure and the highlight of the show) because what the entire show is proposing is a seamless immersion into generative totality, and the visual seams take us out of that exquisite fantasy. So they are denied the loveliest of triumphs.

A pity, as one might otherwise imagine oneself totally immersed there somewhat like a 21st Century dandy. As at the birth of the 20th Century, this new hyper-dandy affirms his or her originality down to the decorative details of the home. In that the robots are doing the algorithmic planning and building, this work proposes a new form of dandyism—if dandyism’s defining characteristic is making one’s person a work of art while extolling laziness and displaying contempt for work.  Evident here are the Baudelairean/Duchampian dandy ideals of impassivity, nonchalant elegance, and inscrutability. What matters are the triumphs of a radical contempt for one’s “hand”.

“I’ve heard about…©” favorably extolled artificiality, indifference, impassiveness—the reign of an ironic causality and knotted ambivalence—while staying open to all transactions. Most importantly, a-life forms are embedded within it and its growth is artificial and synthetic. So R&Sie(n) maintains a version of transcendental phenomenological idealism, but does not disavow the extant actuality of the material sphere. Instead it seeks to elucidate the sense of the world-as-is today—virtualized—by stressing the embodied nature of human and artificial consciousness and bodily existence as the original and originating material premise of sense and signification.

All told, the show is well done—as a proposition. However the proposition turns the mind to the suavity of Antoni Gaudí’s wavy architectural shapes in Catalonia. Although he did not travel about Europe, Gaudí was acquainted with fin-de-siècle Belgium/French avant-garde movement because of the intimate relationship between Barcelona and France and with the pre-modernistic movements of Arts and Crafts, Gothic Revival, and Impressionism, discussed in the intellectual proto-modernist circle that he frequented. But it was Victor Horta’s Art Nouveau movement that most influenced Gaudí, inspiring him to experiment with new materials and fluid shapes. Gaudí’s version of Art Nouveau is characterized by a proclivity for the organic nature of women, beasts, and plants translated into immersive utility. 


Antoni Gaudí’s 1906 building, Casa Batlló (located at 43, Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona) is a chief exponent of the R&Sie(n)-type algorithmic building process with its organic tactility of bones and shells within, and its (external) cocked surf façade and chimerical roof. With Casa Batlló, Gaudí transformed an existing building into an enchanting immersive gesamtkunstwerk. He designed every element of the building: the protuberant façade, all aspects of the interior, the gracefully gnarled furniture. On the exterior, Gaudí combined a flamboyantly surging façade (in an ingenious, cool-color orchestration) while maintaining a dialogue with the neighboring Casa Ametller (1900), built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (1869-1956) four years earlier. Powerful pillars resembling mammoth elephant legs accost the visitor at street level, protruding so as to nearly trip an unaware pedestrian. A craggy vertebrae-like tier borders the legs and the wavy façade extends upward between the two forms, culminating in a gargoylesque humping crescendo at the roof. The façade itself, coated in a layer of Montjuïc stone, shimmers seductively under the sun in multifarious chameleon-like colors. It is fraught with a scattering of small plates that resemble fish or reptilian scales. Affixed to this seething mass of swelling construction are a number of small, elegantly curved balconies with oval shaped portholes.

The entire structure, flows in smooth opposition to the street, with the exception of a few square windows. Even the walls are gently rounded in strained undulation and contraction, as if they too have entered the oceanic throws of a fluttering female orgasm. The walls appear to be made of a soft, supple material and this softness is carried by the roundness of the inside forms; one has the feeling of being encased in an expanse of hardened dripped honey. Turning, lunging stair railings are met, engulfed, and supplemented by softly heaving honey-colored walls and wooden biomorphicly-carved doors and irregularly-shaped windows. The lack of right-angles and straight lines compliments the exterior while giving the impression of being wrapped up in a continuous wave of motion.


R&Sie(n) has not yet achieved the sensuality of Casa Batlló’s avant-garde stance, but success is at hand.




The question of authenticity has created a point of contention for photography since the definition of reality became open to debate. The tantalizing group show, “Constructing Realities: Photography, Film, Video and Internet,” at Pace Wildenstein, seeks to investigate the way in which 20th century photography and the moving image have impacted the experience of reality. In order to convey how the idea of the real has been articulated through the use of modern, technological means, the exhibition follows the work of Diane Arbus, Stan Douglas, Gary Hill, Mike Kelley, Andy Warhol and Robert Whitman. Surprisingly, only half of it seems to work

This show opens with a series of nineteen photographs Arbus took during the 1960s and 1970s which are currently on view in the traveling exhibition, “Diane Arbus: Revelations.” Arbus pioneered a new style of portraiture in the late 1950s when she began taking pictures of people attending sideshows, restaurants, and movie theaters. Strongly influenced by fairy tales and myth, Arbus was drawn to hermaphrodites, midgets, prostitutes and giants. “Girl with a cigar in Washington Square Park,” and “Two Female Impersonators,” for example, lacks the kind of symmetry and posing that convey Western beauty for the camera. As a result these ordinary subjects were considered off-beat. As Diane Arbus wrote: “Everybody has this thing where they need to look one way and that’s what people observe. You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw…Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way, but there’s a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you.” By isolating her subjects, Arbus lent a voice to individuals who would otherwise have gone unheard. The high degree of conformity that permeated mid-century American society, moreover, censored alternative visions of daily experience. Arbus successfully captured the gaze of her subjects. The sense of eye contact she creates leads a viewer to a profound understanding of those who lived beyond mainstream society.

Gary Hill’s video installation titled, “Standing Apart/Facing Faces,” exploits the gaze. The film features an American Indian, wearing blue jeans and a shirt, who suddenly turns his head and stares out blankly at the viewer. While this is not a who-blinks-first challenge, an unspoken history emerges eerily while viewer and subject stand in a locked stare. Andy Warhol’s hilarious caricature, “Paul Swan,” (1965) uses the camera to focus on an actor who was once dubbed “the most beautiful man in the world.” Born in 1883, Paul Swan was a Shakespearean actor who also worked in two silent movies. Warhol’s film was created in 1965 and exposes a frumpy old man who stumbles nervously around a small set, calling into question the abilities of an actor whom everyone had once lent their high praises.

In stark contrast, the artistic methodology of Mike Kelley’s “Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #1 (A Domestic Scene)” (2000) is made nearly invisible by bad acting and starkly overlaid eccentricities. Although Kelley attempted to feature a gay couple arguing like the characters on I Love Lucy, his efforts to direct serious attention toward issues surrounding sexual identity fall flat. The screenplay is exaggerated. Stan Douglas’ 9-minute film titled “Der Sandmann,” (1995) is equally problematic. It combines an 18th century horror narrative by ETA Hoffman with a black-and-white film that juxtaposes developing landscapes with settled ones. An old man—the sandman—appears throughout, shoveling dirt, but the relationship of this character to the progress of suburban development does not adhere; the artist fails to extrapolate his idea from Hoffman’s masterpiece.

Robert Whitman’s “Local Report” (2005) incorporates blurry footage captured by new technology, such as camera phones and web casts, to exploit nightly field reporting seen frequently on local news stations. Dislocated audio plays overhead in an attempt to add context to what is seen, but the visuals are unclear and thus unreliable, and reduce the effect of the altered reality that Whitman sought to create.


Fictitious subject matter weighs down half the exhibition; the other half makes a strong case for the development of experienced reality. Although this show attempts to use photographic-based media as an index for the evolution of reality, it also risks playing into the hands of those who seek censorship for just that.


I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not going to start off by pretending that I know a lot about art. I’m not going to lie to you because I respect you too much. You would figure it out after a few lines, anyway. I will say what the Supreme Court of the United States of America said about pornography when trying to determine what exactly constituted pornography: “I know it when I see it,” and amend the statement for the purpose of this piece: “I know it when I see it being created directly in front of me over the course of a four-hour dance party in Midtown Manhattan on February 4th.”

CUT&PASTE was originally a live digital-design tournament. Last November eight young graphic artists competed in a bracketed competition a la March Madness, but more like Iron Chef, for a spankin’ new Apple iBook and serious street cred. With the help of some sick DJ work, they wowed the crowd with four rounds of Photoshop wizardry projected on the walls of M1-5 in Tribeca. After the winner was crowned (one very talented Anisa Suthayalai) and given her iBook, the event broke down into a typical New York City dance party.

Despite the success of the tournament, the CUT&PASTE crew wanted to explore other ways of pushing boundaries within the paradigm of art as performance. They thought and thought. And thought and thought. And thought. They had already come up with one bitchin’ idea, and, let me tell you, coming up with ideas is hard. Coming up with one is pretty damn good. So they did what anyone in their position would do: they used the idea again. This time they threw a party for all the people who liked CUT&PASTE. And, for good measure, they invited some of their favorite DJs. And if you’re going to have DJs, they thought, why not invite some rising-star artists to come and do their thing on stage, in front of a frothing, party crowd? And if you’re going to have live art on stage, why not see if someone wants to show off their skills with needle and ink at the same time? A tattoo artist joined the mix. They dubbed round two, “CUT&PASTE Live Art Jam.”

The night of the event, I caught up with Tristan Eaton (one of that night’s performers) outside smoking a cigarette. I asked him about his strategy for the night. He conveniently told me what he planned to do and explained in detail the so-far unmentioned format of art to be performed on stage.

“Since the three of us [Tristan, Travis Millard and Patrick Rocha] will be attacking two 6’x9’ canvases mounted side by side with about $1,000 worth of art supplies, I’d say that our strategy will be to work fast and try to run with the music and the crowd.” He added, “We think it’s going to flow from left to right, but we don’t know for sure yet.”

You may know Tristan from Thunderdog Studios, or maybe from Kid Robot, but Travis Millard knows Tristan from when they both worked on illustrations for New York Press. They’ve been friends ever since, occasionally working together. Here’s where it gets complicated. Tristan does not really know Patrick, but Patrick and Travis have been friends for a long time—through Patrick’s younger brother, name unknown. Soon after being introduced, Patrick’s dad, a premier Kansas City courtroom sketch artist (I’m not making this up, I swear), invited Patrick and Travis into a courtroom to do some sketches. The first and only case they worked on was, in Travis’ words, “that one where the woman cut the baby out of the other woman’s stomach and then killed her.” (Again, I swear that I’m not making this up.)

The Supper Club on W 47th Street was, I can assure you, nothing like the baby-cut-out-of-stomach case. At the very least, it was louder and more intoxicated. I noticed two scary things upon entering: there were two massive, and dauntingly blank canvases on the stage, and the tattoo artist was nowhere to be found. I later discovered that the club manager nixed the tattoo demonstration, reason unknown. After sweating through my tie, I realized that pummeling the hulking bouncer would not result in a satisfactory explanation. Inquiring minds may take it up with the Supper Club, address above.

Alcohol was making the bad news easier to take. What was also helping was the work going on in the DJ booth and on stage. DJs Rich Medina and Spinna kept it going all night. They were the fuel of the party engine. And the party engine pushed the art car. Travis, Tristan and Patrick were whaling, and the crowd was digging it.

Despite my limitations as an art critic, I will do my best to describe the finished work: Pacman’s baby squid family mingles with ethereal pirate heads preserved in invisible bags of patchouli scented ether. Angry clouds rain on graffiti left in the wake of invertebrate skeletons and mutated fists. Everything, all the elements and the entire world, ends with a dodecahedron-breasted octapaterpillar.

Go to the website,, check out the party pics, and let me know if you see an octapaterpiller, too.



Photo LA, now in its 15th year, has become one of the largest photo exhibitions in the country. The exhibit consists of basically seventy to eighty galleries, some I’ve been to before, with their own booths, in the Santa Monica Civic Center. It’s nice to explore all the galleries in one setting.

The galleries present a variety of types of work, some cool pictures, some weird ones, and some expensive ones, from the historic Time-Life Archive to such titles as “Sex Machines.” Some of my favorites included the work of Thomas Kellner. Each of his pieces is a collection of negatives that create a larger, mosaic-like picture. They remind me of time spent in the dark room. Others I liked were black and white photos of LA taken from a helicopter at night, some huge photo-murals of a busy, colorful street in Shanghai, and the work by Anderson and Low at Apex Gallery.

If your walls are bare or if you’re just looking for new work and new artists, Photo LA is the perfect place to browse. And if you bring your checkbook, the gallerists will be more than happy to sell you what’s on display in their booth. Prices range from moderate to that of a nice European luxury car. A couple old Time-Life photos were going for almost $30K. And I’m sure there were plenty more that cost more than that!

The food was great too, or what was left of it by the time I got to it . . . it was tucked away around a corner and I didn’t see it when I first entered the exhibit, so a lot of it was gone by the time I found it! But we did get to have this amazing chocolate cake from Susina Bakery and hors d'oeuvres Pane e Vino.

The producers of Photo LA also have a Photo San Francisco in the summer and Photo New York in the fall.



For his first show in Athens, Cameron Jamie designed a specific installation to present his research from three of his films—BB, SPOOK HOUSE and KRANKY KLAUS—all looking into violence-related myths and rituals from Europe and America. The installation is comprised of videos, photographs, drawings, collected fliers and sculpture, each linked in some way to the films. The exhibition offers insight into the production of Jamie’s films and reveals the inherent theatrical nature of his subject matter.

The earliest of the three, BB (2000), presents suburban LA teenagers who created their own backyard wrestling events. Jamie’s fascination with wrestling dates back to his childhood, but now has little to do with an interest in sport; for him, as for Barthes, wrestling is an iconographic spectacle, an underground, naïve theatre complete with heroes and villains. As the teenagers stage their ritualized performances, costumes and masks conceal their identity while revealing the animated character enhanced by this “rhetorical amplification”.  

Continuing his investigation of violent suburban rituals, Jamie explores Detroit’s haunted houses in the days approaching Halloween. The result, SPOOK HOUSE (2003), is an alarming journey into the heart of vernacular culture, as a community revels in the macabre. Jamie, intrigued by the violence, death, and horror of these performances, likens them to early French Grand Guignol theatre. The effect of the photographs, fliers, and drawings from the film’s research is nightmarish and archaic like a voodoo ceremony—or, more appropriately, a Bacchanalian one.

The final part of the triptych, KRANKY KLAUS (2003), likewise confronts a fearful intersection of the ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’. The film traces the violent behavior of the Krampus, According to the Austrian Christmas legend, these beasts punish the bad as St Nicholas rewards the good. The research behind the film reveals artist sketches for the Krampus’ masks were worn in a performance around Bad Gastein, as well as five carved masks designed by Jamie. By mapping out the thin line between entertainment and terror, Jamie’s work tests the very limits of acceptable intimidation.

Looking at the studies that mold his films, one must acknowledge the artist’s decision not to depict violence in a traditional documentary way. Jamie’s films are concerned with the theatrical rituals that form the spectacles of excess that thrive in the margins of popular culture. Rather than approaching legitimized modes of violence with a critical, derogatory attitude, the artist considers them myths that deserve a closer look. Cameron Jamie’s films attempt to communicate this structure of myth-shaping, fuelled by displaced identities and fictional selves. After all, as his favorite philosopher, Barthes, argues, myth is nothing more than a type of speech.

Glove In Hand * Caren Golden Fine Art * New York City

Indicative of a restless new breed of artist, Serge Onnen (based in Amsterdam) shifts between being an artist, curator, “impro-rock” instrumentalist (in his band Oorbeek), and alternative book editor. In the process he negotiates the divides between outside and inside, high and low, light-hearted humor and clear-minded social critique.


The most memorable and tragically profound work in Serge Onnen’s recent solo show, titled Glove in Hand, at Caren Golden Fine Art in New York, is a large, frenetic drawing of a dense ball of hands fighting to surface, each grasping an item that is as banal and unspectacular as it is frustratingly necessary and important: a can opener, a lighter, a coffee mug, a comb, cheap jewelry—all the little things that, accumulated, make up human existence in the twenty-first century; 365 Worthless Things That Will Outlive You offers a glimpse into Onnen’s ideas about materialism, wealth, and the absurdity of contemporary life.


In Forks and Cameras, arms and hands are once again balled up in a cluster of destructive activity. This time forks are violently jammed into the lenses of cameras; the forks, it seems, are acting out a displaced frustration that manifests itself as torture against the cameras.


Disembodied hands take center stage again in Onnen’s limited action cell animations, this time performing repetitive gestures. Four of them (Stuff, Receiving, Break, and Applause) were shown at Caren Golden on small flat screen monitors mounted to walls covered in wallpaper of Onnen’s own design. (From afar, the wallpaper has an innocuously quaint look, but its pattern is actually one of symmetric, interlocking arms bashing consumer products against each other.) In Stuff, two hands marked with stigmata are simultaneously washing each other and stuffing items like books, alarm clocks, and cameras into their holes, as if their actions are dictated by a higher order. In suggestive ways, these objects are literally consumed by the stigmata—eaten as if the holes were mouths, or consumed sexually as if the stigmata were vaginas. Here, materialistic consumption is equated with vital human functions: eating and fucking.


The drawings, animations and wallpaper featured in the show are based on the idea of drawing as process, material and product—a concept that also informs Onnen’s music and curatorial work. “I don’t only want to be somebody who makes art, shows it, sells it, and then goes back in the studio. It’s also important to participate in a social way and have other ways to express ideas and not just deliver art,” Onnen says in regard to his multifarious practice.


In 2002, Onnen, in conjunction with zingmagazine, produced “Volume,” “an artist’s space on paper,” which brought together over 100 drawings of heads and faces that spanned centuries and disciplines. For example, the famous Gerber Baby shares space with a wild-eyed screaming monster from a Hong Kong manga, medical illustrations from the fourteenth century, massage instruction illustrations, and drawings by contemporary artists like Richard Prince. His Drawings on Geology (published by J and L Books in 2005) was an equally expansive curatorial project about the horizon line and includes drawings from geology textbooks, a Boticelli depiction of Hell, and a whimsical mountain landscape populated by a fish tank and a Rolex watch by Daragh Reeves. Onnen promises that an upcoming book, published with J and L, will be “full of text that is totally unreadable,” thereby raising the possibility that text, if it is illegible, becomes drawing by default.


Onnen’s animations (and cartoons in general) derive their captivating power through extreme stylization of reality. Or, as Dave Hickey puts it in his essay, Pontormo’s Rainbow, describing the effects cartoons had on him as a child: “It was funny because it wasn’t real! Which is simply to say that the intimidated, abused, and betrayed children at Santa Monica Elementary, at the dawn of the ‘50s, without benefit of Lacan or Lukacs, managed to stumble upon an axiom of representation that continues to elude graduate students in Cultural Studies; to wit, that there is a vast and usually dialectical difference between that which we wish to see and that which we wish to see represented—that the responses elicited by representations are absolutely contingent upon their status as representations—and upon our knowledge of the difference between actuality and representation.”


Onnen’s book projects extend Hickey’s argument to drawing in general, presenting it as a varied tool shared by many disciplines for the specific presentation of ideas. In any medium, drawing is spare and referential—counterpart to the ephemerality of thought before it materializes into an object or action. Therefore, drawings exist at a safe distance from reality and offer us windows into an artist’s perspective. Onnen’s drawings and animations are best seen as vessels of his thoughts and ideas.


Perhaps Onnen owes his openness to his unique training in art. As a young artist, he ignored the well-traveled path into the mainstream art world (undergraduate study then post-graduate or MFA work) and instead spent much of his early ‘20s committed to his studio, isolated and drawing. “I thought that the stimulation should come from me, and if it wouldn’t come from me I would probably not need it enough,” he explains. After years of voluntary detachment and a focused exploration of drawing, Onnen was accepted into the prestigious Rijksakademie Post-Graduate program in Amsterdam in the early ‘90s, and in 2003 he came to New York for a residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program. His drawings from the late ‘90s were populated with isolated, generalized figures in natural, serene landscapes. Exemplary pieces feature characters wrestling with heavy, floral-printed clothes as they struggle to dress and lone figures completely wrapped in loosely woven bags with holes where orifices would be. His most recent work exhibits a similar, spare quality.


In fact, with its casual treatment of violence, Onnen’s work owes more to ‘40s Fleischer Studio cartoons like Popeye the Sailor.   Fleischer Studios’ Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor series were popular during the Golden Era of American animated cartoons, when Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse captured audiences’ imaginations, and Warner Brothers cartoons featured iconic cartoon stars Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny. This style of animation started after World War I, when the country was experiencing its first taste of international power, both militarily and culturally. This era also witnessed the developments of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and the foregrounding of an Avant-Garde impulse in the arts. It was a time when the chasm between high and low art widened to a deep valley, as Modernist ideals, espoused by Clement Greenberg, emphasized the artist as exalted hero. Onnen’s loose, weightless drawing style, together with the animation’s overall clumsiness, disarms, and sublimates its lascivious suggestions. The relation to cartoon animation is enlightening.


When violence, sex, and religion are mixed together, the resulting stew carries the stench of taboo. When they become complicit in the project of Capitalism the effect is one of political pornography. To that end, political or not, Onnen’s work, and the work of his contemporaries, needs to be seen in the context of war as televised normality. America is at war again, this time armed with a fuzzy agenda against uncertain enemies. War has become a confusing state of normality and the globally uncertain state of affairs has led in part to an uncertain state in the arts. Art, in relation to this social context, has become stagnant or retreated into past mannerisms. The idea of aligning with an ideology, religious or political, has come under Postmodern interrogation. The conflation of high and low culture that began with Jasper Johns continues, but only to the extent that art has become another cog in the entertainment and tourist industry wheel.


Drawing may be a passive way to marvel at power and destruction, but for Onnen, a drawing possesses incredible potential to create dialogue, informing his activities outside the studio. “All the things I do come out of an idea I have about drawing,” Onnen says. Around the time of the release of his book Drawings on Geology, a tsunami caused massive flooding and death in Southeast Asia reminding us of the volatility of water and earth—the subjects of Onnen’s book. Onnen’s theories and practice remind us that, despite the art market’s continuing fetishization of drawings as decorative objects, it remains a vital form of thinking and reacting to the world.

Interview With Ian Patrick * Los Angeles

I first came across Ian Patrick’s work in a group show at Karyn Lovergrove Gallery, here in Los Angeles. His two pieces depicted ambiguous interactions between human and animal parts, exquisite fabrics and intricate textures. I found his work meticulously insolent and festively perverse. These scenes carried a strong, theatrically organized dimension, as if they were conceived on a real stage beforehand. I felt unrestrained to contemplate the work and, through contemplation, reveal more of its complexity and elegance.

Then, back in December, I examined a wider range of Patrick’s production and considered his recurrent themes and explorations in the more intimate setting of a solo show. I was intrigued to uncover more about it. I met with Ian in-between studios to talk about his inspirations, his new body of work, the human senses, and the delicate topic of showing and suggesting.

Fette: I’d like to know how you decided to take the present direction in your work. You previously studied on the East Coast and were working with sculpture for a while. How did the shift take place?

Ian Patrick: I think the shift came from a need to work more immediately and to find a home for some of the research and interests I had. I have been doing a lot of reading. There is some wonderful research coming out of UCSD in cognitive science. Particularly dealing with phantom limbs and abnormalities of the nervous system and synesthesia. What was really amazing was reading these case studies that detail people having these sorts of abnormalities, like a missing arm, which not only can they feel, but which telescopes out into space. People have peculiar sensations, sort of sexual proclivities, because different areas of their body and their mind have been fused through these processes. So that was all really fascinating to me because it seemed to offer a model of the body as this fragmentary interconnecting dissociating reassembling sort of mess.

F: What about the Japanese aesthetic inherent in your work?

IP: I think I became interested in the Japanese Shunga prints because it’s a tradition of working that is blatantly sexual and graphic and always deals with a fragmentary, dissociated body—body parts and genitalia poking out through this lush fabric. This completely de-centered approach to composition seemed like a poetic marriage for me: between the case studies that I thought were so fascinating and this tradition of printmaking. From there it was a gradual process of learning how to, in a way, make my own prints that played with the traditional conventions, certainly, but not in a High-Low East-West sort of way. 2lt was based on an interest in de-centering and the use of pattern as a means of separating the memorable from the non-memorable, the erotically charged from the non-erotically charged.

F: Would you say that each scene or illustration could be associated with a particular illness or to a particular case you read? How did you choose these animal-human associations?

IP: First of all, I am interested in recombination. One of the most provocative stories that sort of gave birth to this one, was this case study of a test subject who had a phantom limb, who had an amputation. They were doing this mirror box experiment and I'm never going to be able to do it justice, but it involved a rubber hand, a rubber prosthetic hand, that the test subject—essentially through the course of the experiment—had trained himself to identify as part of his own body, to the extent that he actually felt pain when it was hit with a mallet, or believed that he felt pain, which is amazing.

The provocative idea, in particular when you are talking about sex—and these are obviously all bed scenes and all involve naked bodies, etc.—was of being uncertain in the heat of passion of where your own body necessarily begins and ends. Also at the time, I was looking at a lot of images from Burlesque Theatre, these wonderful vaudevillians striptease routine. Again and again, one of my favorite subjects was “Leda and the Swan”. Everybody knows this story from mythology, but it's funny that it had this sort of renaissance in vaudevillian burlesque, page after page these show girls were manipulating wonderful swan puppets.

On the one hand, it deals with a mythological biomorphic rape scene, and on the other, the sight of dancing girls with swan puppets was incredibly hot. So I felt like these things had to go together.

I think that our interest in animals has to do with wondering what it feels like to have antlers, what the connection would be between your antlers and your sexuality. These are often scenarios where men’s and women’s bodies become intertwined. Using animals, using non-human beaks and feathers and antlers and such, intensifies that question of identification. Desiring something so much that you actually want to appropriate it, or have it become part of you.

F: What about the fact that there are no human heads for instance?

IP: Oh, the totemic connection is also very interesting. You know, the swan as a symbol for grace and femininity, in a quaint 19th century way, is intensely recognizable. I've been reluctant to use faces because facial expressions are inherently psychological. I thought it was more interesting to have that window into psychology unavailable and, instead, enable viewers to project themselves into these totemic objects.

F: Where do you think this interest in animals came from? Did you grow up in a rural setting?

IP: For all the reasons that we are talking about. For totemic associations, the desire or affection that they evoke in people. For all those reasons it seems like the right tool. At the same time, I feel like it was a non-decision, something that found its way in gradually. At heart, I am really a cartoonist, steeped in illustrated children’s books, before I am an artist with a capitol A. In many ways, it is the language of children's book illustration and cuteness that, frankly, I feel fluent in.

F: Although your images are perverse, there is this idea of child play, something joyful. It reminds me of Freud’s description of the child as a polymorphous pervert. With the discovery of his/her body goes the discovery of pleasure, and basically the repression that accompanies those feelings.

IP: It’s funny because the sexuality in the pieces is always, in a weird way, actually sedated. I have never drawn anything that is a flagrant sexual act. There is a ton of nudity and exposed genitalia, even graphically sort of rendered, but these are not necessarily scenes of intercourse. These are scenes of touching and exploring, pushing, pulling and probing, figuring things out. I do feel like the animal shapes are a way of accessing that “playing doctor” type of investigation that kids do. I think there is something to that. It's interesting and I'm glad it has come across that way. I wanted to talk about the discomfort or even guilt surrounding, like you were saying, all of those repressed sexual, but not necessarily erotic, impulses people have.

F: So how do you see yourself evolving? Is sculpture definitely a deadly enemy?

IP: No, not a deadly enemy at all and I'm still very interested. I am having an issue with trying to create a hierarchy of marks, pattern, tactility, and texture. It’s something I could push even farther. Mark-making is a natural exit from this illustrative style. I'm still trying to feel this out, because I've always been interested in having an image that is clear, specific and memorable. I mean, obviously I've been working with the animal and figure combinations for a while, but I would feel really uncomfortable recycling the same kinds of imagery over and over again. Endless theme and variation is just silly when there is no real investigation behind it.

I'm more formally interested in cultivating the investigation, rather than looking to new areas of content. I am still working with a lot of these ideas and that's when a conventional illustrative style can be a hindrance. I tend to fall back on a habitual quality of line and I would like to challenge that in my next body of work.

Photo-Based Painting 2006

Last year you couldn’t swing a dead cat in New York without hitting a painting based upon a photograph. With work by artists ranging from Luc Tuymans to Christoph Steinmeyer to Wilhelm Sasnal, not to mention tableaux-sized pictures from the studios of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, the projector-based paradigm seemed on the verge of world domination. Scores of graduate students could be seen tracing appropriated imagery onto canvases in apparent imitation of Gerhard Richter or Elizabeth Peyton, prompting Village Voice critic, Jerry Saltz, to issue a public plea for relief from what he saw as a loss of the painterly touch.


As a painter, and one who sometimes uses photographs as source material, I am fascinated by this milieu because of its potential to raise deeper issues about representation. Unfortunately, most photo-based painting strikes me as similar and boring. It’s not the artist’s painterly touch that I miss—in my opinion, a painting need not be expressive in its use of oil paint to be interesting. Rather, it’s that many artists fail to develop original solutions to the problem of relating their paintings to their source imagery.


Photo-based painting should be distinguished from Photorealism, the innovative movement started in the ‘60s and championed by painters such as Richard Estes, Robert Bechtle, Janet Fish, and gallerist Louis Meisel. Photorealism starts with the camera: the way it presents a 3-dimensional scene as a flat image, the distortions from the monocular lens, and the distinctive way it depicts depth and a reduced range of color.


Photo-based work, in contrast, is less about the way a camera “sees” the world and more about the way we see photographs. Rooted in Post-Modernism, artists like Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close, and Malcolm Morley reacted to photorealism by marshalling their painterly techniques to comment upon their photographic subject matter. Richter, for example, used painted motion blurs, lens flares, and his signature squeegee marks as a way of distancing himself and the viewer from the image he reproduced. After 1988, Close began to employ the grid, itself a signal artifact of the Photorealist’s process, to distinguish the part of the painting which is photographic (the composition) from the part which is interpretative (his brushstrokes, fingerprints, etc). Perhaps Morley’s reactionary Race Track (1970, Ludwig Museum, Budapest), a painting that features a bright red X slashed through a hyper-realistically rendered photograph, best exemplifies the significance these artists placed upon the critical interpretation of appropriated imagery.


In 2006, the majority of contemporary photo-based painters continue to imitate their predecessors, using the techniques of painting to proffer their subjective commentary on the underlying image. However, as the innovations of the old become mannered styles of the young, this approach loses much of its critical capacity. Layered beneath painterly marks, or rendered in sensitive brushstrokes, the source photograph is too often left fundamentally unchanged and unchallenged. Perversely, the strategy once used to question the authority of the photograph now imbues it with the auspices of integrity and objectivity. Many contemporary photo-based painters exacerbate this problem by uncritically culling their subject matter from advertising, movies or pornography, referring to the “reality” of our media-saturated experience as if that were the only reality accessible. The combined effect enshrines the source photograph as more real than the artist’s own marks. Most current photo-based work gives the photograph more authority than it deserves.



New Directions


Not every photo-based painter falls into this trap. Richter’s late paintings employ imagery so personal (eg snapshots of his son which he takes himself) that they cannot plausibly pass for objective, much less authoritative. In addition, Richter continues to find convincing ways to disrupt the smooth surface of his photo-based work, implying an analogous disruption of any belief-system that interprets a photograph as real.


Marilyn Minter is an exponent of a very different approach. Her precise paintings of degraded glamour undermine the authoritative and commercializing components of photography by attacking their psychological source: our pathological desire to look. The disturbingly visceral subject matter overpowers the distancing affect usually associated with Photorealism, and her colors—wet and lurid, painted on metal rather than canvas—add to the shock value. Minter’s work is the Feminist antidote to the conventional Photorealistic approach, and provides a historical precedent for younger artists seeking to address sex, gender, and politics in photo-based painting.


Exemplifying a younger generation’s disparate experience of mediated imagery, Eberhard Havekost distorts his source imagery with digital software before rendering it in paint. Starting with low-resolution photos or video stills of post-industrial buildings and dated ‘70s super-heroes, Havekost destroys any vestige of authenticity in the source photograph while simultaneously injecting his paintings with a subtle humor.


Peter Rostovsky deploys his paintings as Conceptual tools for dismantling the photograph and the philosophical idea of seeing through a mediated source. Rostovsky’s past work includes delicately-rendered paintings of stills from horror movies, the shift in context imparting the imagery with philosophical meaning beyond its origin. His most recent paintings include references to the photographic frame and the act of framing. In effect, without visually disrupting the image in order to wrest authority from the source, Rostovsky uses photo-based painting to comment upon itself.


New Thought


Photography has changed dramatically since the advent of both Photorealism and photo-based painting, and it is incumbent upon painters utilizing photographs to keep pace. The issue which first inspired the Photorealists—that a camera sees differently than the human eye—is quickly becoming a quaint anachronism, as the visual hegemony of mechanical film cameras is subsumed by digital imaging, photocollage, and CGI, the computer-generated space of the super-real. The expectation of authenticity with which photography was once burdened is also disappearing. In cyberspace the difference between a real image and a synthetic one is blurred, fundamentally eroding the raison d'etre of paintings that seek to comment upon the authority of a source photograph.


The rise of media culture, wherein each of us is inundated with commercial imagery sun-up to sun-down, continues to affect the way we see in entirely unpredictable ways. A photograph now looks differently than a photograph from 20 years ago, and we interpret it differently. Because of their capacity to contextualize imagery within the rich and thoroughly up-to-date discipline of painting, photo-based painters are in an excellent position to explore these changes. To remain relevant, however, they must expand their practice beyond the comment-and-critique approach of the Post-Modernists—into something new.


The 9th International Istanbul Biennial * Istanbul

Born to a Turkish family in Istanbul, but having spent the majority of my life in the United States, I am both a native and a tourist of the city. When I return I understand what has changed and what has remained the same. As I experienced the 9th International Istanbul Biennial, the dichotomy of insider/outsider allowed me undertake the exhibition as a tourist, someone on a quest to learn more about its site, and as a native, someone curious to learn how contemporary art imported from other parts of the globe will impact Istanbul.

18 years after its inauguration, the Istanbul Biennial came back to its roots. The rather self-referential theme of “Istanbul” was chosen as a focus: Istanbul as a specific point on a map, a crowded metropolis busting at the seams, and, as the curators Charles Esche and Vasif Kortun describe it, “Istanbul as a metaphor, as a prediction, as a lived reality, and as an inspiration.” Esche, a European, saw Istanbul from the cultural tourist’s point of view; he wanted the exhibition to shed light on the complexities of life in this city and the values and aspirations of its residents, for the benefit of those not living there. Kortun, a Turkish man who resides in Istanbul, was more concerned with what outsiders (Europeans in particular) would envision as future possibilities and predictions for his city, the cultural capital of a country that is desperately seeking EU membership. This year’s exhibition also made a more concerted effort to merge the insider/outsider perspectives. The curators turned over a floor of one of the exhibition venues to guest curators from Istanbul who organized exhibitions of work by local artists. Their work illuminated some of the relevant issues Istanbul artists grapple with in their lives and careers.

The exhibition venues (seven total) complemented the theme. Most were situated in the Beyoğlu neighborhood, within walking distance from Istanbul’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, a street called Istiklal Caddesi. The curators said they consciously chose not to utilize venues in parts of the city that centered on tourism, and instead chose sections of town that were, or once had been, centers of commerce and industry. Extending out from the main artery of Istiklal Caddesi are historic, winding little streets that are anything but easy to navigate. Gruppo A12, an artist collective based in Milan and Genoa, painted architectural details of the venue buildings with a signature pink that stood out against the surrounding cityscape.

Equipped with a map (the exhibition catalog doubled as a map), visitors walked through this labyrinth of back streets in search of the Biennial’s venues. If visitors lost their way, they made unexpected discoveries and the walks became a process of getting to know the streets and neighborhoods of Istanbul, not just a treasure hunt for contemporary art. Still, walking a long way, getting lost, managing to ask directions, and finally locating the building with the pink paint, left some visitors exasperated from the whole experience, parched and fanning themselves, seeking shade from the bright September sun. By then, you not only wanted, but expected to be rewarded for your efforts.

Yet, the curatorial theme that pervaded the exhibition imposed a utopian promise that seemed to constrain the creative process. Artists from other countries were brought to Istanbul for residencies and asked to create an artwork about their findings or experiences. This predictable prescription to yield favorable results failed because many of the pieces came across as hastened attempts to comprehend and comment on the trials and rewards of life in Instanbul. For example, Italian artist Mario Rizzi’s film “Murat ve Ismail” documented the life of two men, a father and son, who ran a shoe repair shop. Viewers saw their daily rituals and the entrepreneurial struggles attached to business in a city with a steadily rising cost of living. It also documented a dying trade in a world of disposable commodities. The film was quite long, eighty minutes in total, and took place mostly in and around the shop. After ten minutes, I realized that rather than watching people in mundane conversation, I should be out in the streets engaging the people themselves.

The tobacco depot contained one of the most outstanding pieces in the Biennial, a video by Stockholm-based artist Johanna Billing. Billing started with a very simple concept, filming a group of children in a music school in Zagreb rehearsing the song “Magical World”. The video piece, also titled Magical World (2005), reached far beyond itself in metaphoric significance. The song was written by African-American composer Sidney Barnes at the height of the civil rights movement, and the words, sung in somewhat hesitant English by these Croatian children, tell the story of a man who lives in a magical dream world, who begrudgingly pulls himself out of his dreams to face difficult realities around him. The song itself is tinged with melancholy, but the faltering voices and doubtful expressions of the children lent it a more poignant tenor. The video was masterfully looped and edited, starting with shuffling feet and musicians tuning instruments as everyone prepared for the rehearsal, and ending just as subtly, the children’s voices slowly giving way to rustling sheet music and the sound of chairs moving across the floor.

The video, much like the song, symbolizes a period of transition. As the Croatians recover from their war ravaged past and prepare to abide by the demands of EU membership, it remains to be seen what aspects of their history, their culture, and their ethnic identity will remain, and what will be traded in order to compete in a globalized economy. If the dreams that Barnes writes about represent Croatia’s difficult history, what realities will its children wake up to in the near future? The video is also poignant as part of the Instanbul Biennial because Turkey is another country vying for EU membership. Its people keep asking, “Membership at what cost?” Whether or not Turkey becomes a part of the EU, the race to stay economically competitive is having a tremendous impact on the country. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Istanbul, which is booming with new shops, restaurants, bars, museums, and art galleries.

The New York-based artist Daniel Bozhkov clued in on and utilized the merchant culture in his project for the Biennial. He used Ernest Hemingway, who had lived in Istanbul as a young man, as a symbol of manhood, one that merged both American and Turkish ideals of machismo. He created a men’s fragrance out of Hemingway’s aura titled “Eau D’Ernest,” which smelled heavily of musk. To promote the cologne, Bozhkov filmed a mock commercial at the Victorian hotel where Hemingway was rumored to have stayed. At the launch party, held at the hotel, leggy ladies sprayed guests with the cologne as they entered. Produced as a limited edition, the scent was to be sold at various perfume shops around town.

Bozhkov’s project may have engaged the theme of the Biennial better than any other project in the exhibition. It commented on Istanbul as a place and engaged the city directly. Istanbul has always been a merchant city. Go to the covered bazaar and you’ll meet carpet sellers who have elevated their sales pitch to a fine art. Haggling with these guys is a losing battle. No matter what your resolve, they will break you down and you will something. By sending the fragrance out to Istanbul merchants and letting them distribute it, Bozhkov slowly doused its inhabitants, native and not, with the essence of his work. The artist took the city’s pulse and realized it has a slew of alternative economies offering creative fodder. The project holds the potential to create a ripple effect and give birth to new reincarnations of itself. This is often what happens here—new products, even new cultural forms—merge and emerge. As a city with an undeterred appetite for the new, the fashionable, and the affordable, it will consume imported styles and trends and produce new hybrids that reference its own tastes, traditions and values.