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Post #324 • July 16, 2004, 8:11 AM • 26 Comments

Jessica Sick for Street Weekly: Meet...Stephen Alexander and Steve Forster, Artists. Check this out: two young gentlemen about to go off to study figurative art in Florence revere Caravaggio and dis Robert Longo with a visceral "ugh" because he pays other artists to make his drawings. Buon lavoro, guys.

Judy Cantor for Street Weekly: Sticker shock: In her latest show, renowned Brazilian artist Jac Leirner once again uses decals to get our attention.

Alfredo Triff for the Miami New Times: The Master Comes to Town: Picasso loved making prints, and here's a chance to see the best.

Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub for the Sun-Sentinel: Lebo: South Florida's down-to-earth rising-star artist. See also: Lebo-isms.

Michael Mills for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times: Woman Rediscovered: A well-known photograph resurfaces in Boca.

Broward/Palm Beach New Times: Artbeat: Julie Moos: Hat Ladies.

See you there: George Bethea at the Art Institute/Miami International University (305-373-4684 for directions), tonight 4-7. Besides that, Shaolin Soccer opens this weekend, an event I'm a lot more excited about than a show of art made from stickers.




July 16, 2004, 5:30 PM

If I didn't know better, Franklin, I would accuse you of trying to prove how small-time we are around here with this bunch of notices. We must be woefully short of art news in South Florida. The two kids going off to school in Florence are sweet and earnest but, really, just kids, with kid ideas. they may turn out to be great artists but there is no indication at all that they have done anything yet, or ever will. Why the story?

The Lebo guy - aarrghh! - makes Mario Britto look like a genius. Check it out on the web, if you dare. The photographer is OK - National Geographic stuff - who apparently took a "world famous picture" of an Afghan girl. It is a good picture of its type but the writer goes on as if it was the photo of raising the flag at Iwo Jima. I have never seen it; I don't get it.

The "Hat Ladies"? The decal art? Good grief! And what the Soccer movie has to do with anything is beyond me.

Anything Picasso did on paper is likely to be worth looking at, but, after all, this is just a rented summer show. And why does Triff feel constrained to tell us that Cubism is "a decisive trend in modern art". Geez! Isn't this like saying the sun is "an important nearby star"? And then to go on and on about how Picasso is a "relevant" artist of the 20th Century? Well, maybe his editors made him do it. They may have a better take on the mentality of New Times readers than I do.

Tucked down at the end, cowering there, with no link at all, is a notice of George Bethea's exhibit opening tonight at Miami International University, which may be one of the best of the season but which is all but certain to go unnoticed and unreviewed, at least outside of this page. (Omar the Street Critic, please note: no scary colors this time, Omar. You might like it).


that guy in the back row

July 17, 2004, 4:23 AM

The Bethea show was pretty good. I didn't find that these paintings held up quite as well as a couple did in the Dorsch show a few weeks back. Still some of these had a good low hum to them. I'm using low hum to attempt to describe a particular gut level response I had at the show. The better pieces had a muscular underbelly that broke up at certain edges, where fissures of lighter paint helped to define the mountainous earthy hues that Bethea used predominantly. Go see it.



July 17, 2004, 3:58 PM

oldpro & franklin:

you both make snide remarks on the sticker show, without having actually seen it. i'm getting weary of all the judging of art on this site from looking at photos or reading reviews.

i haven't seen it yet, either, but someone who's opinion i value did, and liked it immensely.

so please, see it, then get back to me.




July 17, 2004, 4:54 PM

Tracy, let's count the red flags in the article (it's not a review).

1. Artist is referred to as "renowned." You've never seen her work, haven't seen the show yet, and probably haven't heard of her. I haven't either. That is not renown. The word "renown" suffers from inflationary overuse.

2. Writer talks about what the artist is wearing. I don't care. This is a worse offense in a review than an article, but upon reading sartorial descriptions I start looking out for a common problem: that the clothes are more interesting than the thinking.

3. There are no descriptions of what her work with the stickers actually looks like once it's assembled.

4. Artist claims to speak for me. "Some [stickers] are in really bad taste, but they are connected to all of us; for one reason or another, we're drawn to them."

5. The clothes are more interesting than the thinking. "When I work with bank notes I'm not really thinking of the economy, although I'm dealing with it indirectly," Leirner claims. "The economy's not the reason to do it, but the bank notes themselves are so charged with content I can't help it."

5b. "Growing up in Sao Paulo, Leirner wanted to be a musician, but settled on art, 'something that I could do while listening to music.'" I settled on art because I've drawn since I was five, and because in 1989 I saw the Caravaggio St. Matthew triptych in Rome and it filled me with wonder.

When one writes a non-critical piece about art that doesn't have a lot of import or cohesion, the writer must imbue it with import and cohesion himself (in this case, herself), and red flags like the ones above pop up. So I'm going to see it, but I'm going to see Shaolin Soccer first. By the way, are you going to see Shaolin Soccer? If not, you've made a judgement about it without seeing the film. You don't think that kind of thing is fair, if I understand you correctly.



July 17, 2004, 5:42 PM

Tracy: Because one mantra I have never found any reason to qualify is "you got to see it" I will not disagree with your basic point. Seeing the work is the only basis for direct testimony. As in court, everything else is hearsay.

But because we are not in court, and because we are chatting on a blog, and with the above qualification, I think it is OK to have opinions based on secondary and circumstantial evidence. Visual art, unlike music and particularly literature, has that problem: you just cannot see it all. Having read probably millions of words of writing about art during a long life in art I have developed a fairly refined sense of what most art is like from reading about it. (This does not mean you have to believe me; I am only talking about my own confidence in my reactions.) Franklin pointed out a number of "red flags" above; I would add more, but I will only say that the article, which seemed reasonably straightforward and direct, clearly declared "lightweight". My feeling was that this was almost certainly a show of little substance and that and serious museum should be at least a bit embarrassed by the article as it was published, if not the show.

Nevertheless, your point still holds. So I went on the web, and with some difficulty (I could find no pictures of the work on the MAM site) located digital reproductions of the work as best I could. These in fact, confirmed what I had thought with two minor variations. First, the composition of the various stickers was much less interesting than I had expected; for the most part they are just laid on where there is space to lay them on, one after the other. Second, some of the pieces had a certain attractive elegance, something like the work of a very skilled display case or store window designer. In no instance did any of it come up to the level of art.

You may object that I am still looking at reproductions, not the actual object. But at some point, especially with very clear-cut graphic work of this sort, you really can tell pretty much what is there. I honestly feel that there is virtually no chance that I would go to this exhibit and be surprised. I am sure your friend honestly liked the show, but remember, part of the reason for shows like this is that people like them. With the dreadful funding problems museums have these days more and more of them abandon art that people would appreciate once they took the time to get familiar with it and show "art" that people will like immediately. It is a big problem, and exhibits like this don't help.



July 18, 2004, 12:35 AM

I remember reading about "the art glut" many years ago. The multiplication of artists it talked about then was a mere speck compared to what is piled up today. There are thousands and thousands of the little pests, layered many levels deep, everywhere and anywhere. One simply can't see them all, even if that is the "fair" thing to do. We must learn to recognize the red flags and obey their obvious suggestions, or die of boredom while wasting our time groping through one dark vacuum after another.



July 18, 2004, 3:41 AM

I just got back from seeing Shaolin Soccer. It was the apotheosis of silliness. I loved every minute of it.


that guy in the back row

July 18, 2004, 7:19 AM

catfish: that sums it up pretty well. Even Greenberg hesitated to judge a show before he saw it. If he knew then what some of us purely see today he would be rolling with laughter at the depths to which our newly ushered in era of sanctioned intolerance for good art could stoop. You can't see it all. You make an effort to see the art that looks promising. You tell the misguided collector, critic, artist, to look a little harder before buying/picking/making the shoddy shell that is the "big" art of our time. You write your newspaper when they get led astray by yet more plastic bags full of stickers in a museum that everybody says is important but that they could really care less about. You research the curator's statement and tell him that he's making up excuses for failed art. You tell the newly published art teaching academic that nobody in their right mind would ever read their contribution to tomb style publishing. We should make a list called: fun things to do to the art racket, and other ways to make friends....



July 18, 2004, 4:11 PM

Franklin, what is it with the soccer movie you keep mentioning?


shaolin soccer mom

July 19, 2004, 4:21 AM

Boy, are you guys ever off. I just saw the sticker show, and it was amazing. Simultaneously an indictment of our shallow, surface-obsessed culture and a celebration of it, the piece was over-the-top yet still somehow stately, even serene. While the content recalls pop art, much more important is the all-over composition, which, for me, evoked a sort of slow-motion Jackson Pollock with a sense of humor.

Had the stickers been on a wall, one could have spent hours contemplating the arrangement of forms and meanings. But the artist raised the stakes by placing the stickers (and other items) on glass, allowing the viewer to play a sort of front/back game. Plain stickers show up white on the back, while (the few) inside-window decals show their image on the mostly-white "back", and the few double sided items provide visual landmarks for those brave enough to try to decipher the relation between the bustling, busy, saturated "front" and the calmer, serene, yet just as interesting "back."

Presented on sliding windows set into a metal construction that reached all the way to the ceiling, the display simultaneously evoked the vitrines of Damien Hirst, a display of train schedules, or haphazardly posted posters and graffiti.

The stickers themselves were wonderfully eclectic, mixing the local, the international, the abstract, and the absurd. They play the "anyone can do this" game, but end up charming the viewer.

They address something very peculiarly human: if a sticker is little more then a piece of paper, why do we find them so compelling? Perhaps it is because a sticker has the ability to transform a surface in a semi-permanent way. We use stickers to personalize things; to declare our allegiances. A sticker unstuck is somehow raw potential - where you stick it can make it profound or silly, or possibly illegal.

The article alluded to earlier was obviously not a review of the work, which did not exist at the time of the writing. This is an improvised art, created in the gallery while it is being installed. It made this writer smile, and think, and ponder, much more so then the empty, martyr-style work of chuck close in the upstairs gallery.



July 19, 2004, 5:22 AM

Nice review, Soccermom, better than most of the media people will do, fer sure. It is awfully overtly boosterish and stuff like "indictment of our culture" and "address something peculiarly human" and "wonderfully eclectic" (etc etc) are real promotional snoozers, and Hirst's vitrines are as trite as anything he does and hardly something to cite as an asset, (and so on) but it was a decently put together piece of positive writing and mentioned characteristics I did not get from the web. This is what convinces people. I am far from convinced, but without seeing the show, I have no response.



July 19, 2004, 5:30 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful report, SSM. I will see it. Although if you saw emptiness and martyrdom in Chuck Close's work, I expect to disagree with you. Clever handle, btw.



July 19, 2004, 5:35 AM

Oh, and I agree with you about the Chuck Close show. Once you get over the trademark gimmick those paintings are
just plain lugubrious. That he is one of our major art stars is a clear indication that museum professionals and art critics are wandering in the desert hand in hand these days.



July 19, 2004, 5:40 AM

Read your review, Franklin. We are head to head on this one. "Inspired labor", maybe. Inspired art it ain't. There's no sweat equity in art. Those paintings are just dull.


Jerome du Bois

July 19, 2004, 7:42 AM


I told myself I wasn't coming back to your comments sections as long as oldpro was your de facto co-blogger, but I want to underline what he wrote about Chuck Close:

Those paintings are just dull.

He wrote that.

I'm done.



that guy in the back row

July 19, 2004, 2:27 PM

well jbd: Looking at a Chuck Close is like reading the ingredients of a household cleaner. You wonder what is in there, but not enough to become a chemist. Both his prints, and his paintings are dull. If you can't see that. I'm sorry you can't see art.



July 19, 2004, 2:35 PM

I can't see that they're dull either. I found many of them exciting and beautiful. Somebody want to try telling me I can't see art?



July 19, 2004, 3:50 PM

I don't know what you are getting at here, Jerome. Yes, I said the paintings are dull. I have been looking at Close's paintings for years and I have always found them tedious. What of it? And you are staying away from the blog because I am - whatever this means - "de-facto co-blogger"? I am in no way a "co-blogger", I just contribute to it a lot. You can see by the exchange on Close, Franklin and I hardly agree on everything. And what do I do that frightens you so much? I never even called you any nasty names, and you have been pretty free with them yourself. No need to chicken out. I don't bite. Get back on board and share your opinions. .

I am not saying you "can't see art", Franklin - you like the pictures, I don't. Close is a serious artist who has been around forever and has a heavy-duty reputation. I wouldn't fault any museum or gallery for showing the work; it is worthy of consideration. It is in a completely different league than most of the garbage we see around here. I get the idea from your review that you are rather too much impressed with non-art considerations, such as all the work he puts in and the fact that he has a handicap, but in the end all we have is a simple difference of opinion. I wish more disagreement about art could be this straightforward.



July 19, 2004, 4:34 PM

Actually, that last comment was directed at Guy.

Sweat equity works for me in art, up to a point. I'm more likely to give something the time of day if it looks like some effort went into it. But sweat equity doesn't make up for inherent problems, of course.

Aside from the non-art stuff - my editor wanted some bio, which in CC's case is pretty interesting - I was drawn to the way the surfaces break up into weird units of color, and how he could make them transit or fade from one chord of hue to another simply by rearranging those units. It was the least mechanical part of the work, and it was interesting to see.



July 19, 2004, 5:09 PM

Sorry, I missed guy's reference, which included you tangentially but was actually directed at JDB.


Jerome du Bois

July 19, 2004, 11:31 PM


Thank you for being a generous man.

that guy in the back row: I feel embarrassed just typing your pseudohandle. You blithely say I can't see art; that's it, nothing more. Of course, you're nobody, as far as I know. I have a name. I have principles I stand for. On our blog, both my wife Catherine King and I have been threatened with both mutilation and death for words we've written, so excuse me if I don't fold before your limp opinion -- guy.

oldpro: Come on, man, stop huffing and puffing. You don't frighten me at all, though you are a bully. Mainly, you bore me, and probably the feeling is mutual, so feel free to skip the following.

It's like a lab experiment in complementarity in both cognitive and social psychology at MAM: what do you see, and who do you prefer? Jac Leirner (she does have a name, people) on one floor, and Chuck Close on the other. Both use small, regular units on a flat surface (I think the back side is irrelevant, SSM). In Leirner's case, roughly, they are mostly representational in the service of an abstract system; in Close's case, they are mostly abstract in the service of a representational system. Hers are prefab, his are original. Hers reflect society, his reflect psychology. She skims, he digs. She scans, then slaps on the decals; he holds a nine-cell of empty squares in his head, then fills each of them in his head with three to eight colors, and remembers the matrix at eight inches or eight feet. She may be wide, but he's wide and deep.

SSM: nice tell right at the beginning:

Simultaneously an indictment of our shallow, surface-obsessed culture and a celebration of it . . .

Ma'am, you cannot validate both without annihilating both; you then cancel value, quality, and standards. I think this is what you want; otherwise you'd have to confront the complex, reflective, painful humanity of Close's work and abandon the smooth, slick, amniotic pop comfort of Leirner's.

It made this writer smile, and think, and ponder . . .

Awwww. Like the Cockney said, "Mikes yer fink, dunnit?" But mikes yer fink what about what, SSM? Unless your default condition is not-thinking, then making you smile and think and ponder are simply not interesting or sustainable as an aesthetic argument unless they point to something. I fink, anyway.

Neither Franklin nor I mentioned Close's physical challenges. oldpro and SSM made sure to do so. In Close's work, I see no evidence of physical handicap. On the other hand, I know that this man has forced the future: he has pioneered printmaking techniques, for example. (Before his pulp-paper pioneering -- what? And Alex / Reduction Cut is simply immortal, if you read of its production history and if you look at it from any distance: the pain, the rage, the sadness!) Close's first questions are about how much can you handle, mofo? What are the limits? What size presses? How big a paper size can I use? Chuck Close is not and has never been about limitation or handicaps.





July 19, 2004, 11:40 PM

Thanks, Jerome. And before anybody uses Mike Yafink as a pseudonym on this blog - I thought of it first.



July 20, 2004, 12:10 AM

Jerome: Franklin mentioned the handicap at some length in his review, which was linked on this page. As I think I have said before, try to check those facts before you go off.

It would be refreshing if you could respond to something without name calling.

If you have been threatened with "mutilation and death" for what you have put on your blog I hope you have notified the authorities. That is a crime, as you must know. However, I can see how you might inspire such a reaction.


Jerome du Bois

July 20, 2004, 12:45 AM

Franklin (aka Mike Yafink):

You are welcome, and to the name. Now, if I may chew a little more bandwidth . . .


The only comment on my previous post which was directed at you was about calling you a bully. I reaffirm that charge. By the way, you have, in previous comments, quoted my epithets about you, my name-calling, except one: The Wonder of Me. I think I nailed you there, but no mention of that one. Well, as Mel Gibson said in Conspiracy Theory, "Nobody sees my work." Don't try to push me around, especially on someone else's blog, for Franklin's sake.

The rest of my comments were not directed at you, so I'm going to ignore your responses. With pleasure. Except one:

I hope you have notified the authorities . . . that is a crime, as you must know.

Oh, really? Gee, is this real life, mister wise man? You patronizing coward, hiding in your cocoon. Life is serious, and we hang it out there. You're all about la-di-dah. When you get real, join the party with the mortal stakes, pal.




July 20, 2004, 12:59 AM

You need help, Jerome.


Jerome du Bois

July 20, 2004, 1:04 AM


A retort whose originality and age, oldpro[?], is worthy of you.




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