John Reed takes notes (and footnotes) on the career of art animus Stuart Sherman, using the new catalog Beginningless Thought/Endless Seeing as a jumping-off point.
The child sews beanbags. “Why not make a business of it?” asks the adult. The commercial impulse is automatic. It is the channeling of art into market culture, and it is art’s end. In 1969, Stuart Sherman, an artist at play, wrote a related parable (with characteristic “o-o,” i.e. “spectacle” typography):
6/6/69: One little boy preferred stringing beads to all other amusements. But he concealed this preference from his playro-om teacher and from his play-ro-omates, because no one—not even girls—ever strung beads, and he did not want to be thought strange. To camouflage his real interest, he deliberately showed boundless enthusiasm for all the toys and utilized them with equal skill and imagination. Visitors to the playro-om often remarked the extraordinary versatility and quality of his achievements and then, when alone, dreamed of the heights of accomplishment the boy could reach if only he cared to concentrate his talent and energy on one particular plaything.
The new catalog Beginningless Thought/Endless Seeing: the Works of Stuart Sherman documents and reflects upon the performance and mixed media art of this mercurial artist, gathering archival materials from a 2009 exhibition curated by John Hagan, Yolanda Hawkins and John Matturri. Sherman (1945-2001) was an early member of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company and Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theatre; he matured into a wide-ranging creative force: performances, film and video, writing, drawing, collage and sculpture. The catalog compiles essays written by Sherman’s colleagues, stills from performances, and reproductions of Sherman’s drawings and collages. Entries and poems from Sherman’s journals are inset in the pages, allowing Sherman to posthumously contribute to the dialogue.
Sherman’s output, if diverse, stemmed from a single, ineffable source. He was a performance artist, a sculptor, a filmmaker, a writer, but moreover, an art animus that manifested in various mediums, imperfections intact. As Sherman wrote in an unpublished syllabus, “Meanings are infinite, I vow to intend them. Unintended meanings are welcome, if invited—i.e., made plausible and/or inevitable by your actual intentions . . . Art is evidence, residue, relic, momentary concretization of beginningless thought and endless seeing.”
John Reed keeps it real and critical with this year’s much-anticipated 2012 Whitney Biennial.
We are privatized. In the United States a trend toward privatization has commodified domains traditionally thought of as public or free. “Most of what we currently perceive as value and wealth,” noted Alan Greenspan in 1999 speech at the Gerald R. Ford Museum, “is intellectual and impalpable.” The seemingly innocuous statement was a bombshell, one that would eventually explode the Western economy: valuation was no longer an objective assessment of materials, it was a subjective assessment of ideas. The Information by bestselling author James Gleick, chronicles the seismic economic shift, exclusive to our time: information is available, but at a price.
The museum is a curious iteration of the balance, the romance, and the struggle between private enterprise and public good. Without an inclination to public good, museums wouldn’t be here; without private sponsors, museums wouldn’t be here. In such a microcosm of the world’s present day challenges, what then is public, and what is private? What is privately owned, and what is private unto ourselves, and what is for all of us?
John Reed examines our cultural fascination with the Joker through the quirky, armless lens of Don Porcaro’s art.
Why is the Joker so curious? Rizzoli/Universe’s November 2011 biography, The Joker, attempts to answer the question with historical insight, but the crux of the matter is this: creativity is crime. In the bloodless bureaucracy of present-day America, the sanguine smile is very nearly criminal. The Joker is the best and worst of the United States, the Randian mythos that has wrecked us on the shoal, and the spirit of free adventure that may well be our only hope. Batman, as originally conceived, is a literal personification of the Comics Code Authority, and the authority figure we’re likely to resent. By the late 1960s, in his television show, the Batman had become a joke, while the Joker retained his frightening appeal. The Dark Night of the 1980s and 1990s attempted to rectify the problem: Batman was now lawless, or very nearly lawless. But even so, the Batman only existed to defeat our fears, which were most purely manifested in the Joker: the criminal, or more aptly, the artist in all of us.
The artistic object—a sculpture, a painting, a found lamp—is a Frankensteinian animation of real if intangible cultural forces. The Joker, in his plots, pranks and gadgets, brings life to the jokes that are not funny, the meaninglessness of our daily regimen, and the nihilism—our fondest daydream—we are taught to fear. Don Porcaro’s army is not funny: he has sent his legions to express the leering oppression of normative culture, and our tittering desperation to be liberated.
Brando Skyhorse peels away layers of presumed identities and discusses recent books about Native Americans.
Book publishing: one year, a flood of similar books about a single subject. 2010 was a big Native American year. 2011 and 2012, ebb tide.
Jeffrey Ostler. The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground. Penguin Library of American Indian History.
Ostler gives an overview of the Lakota Indian claim upon the Black Hills of South Dakota. The author argues an historical right and a contemporary presence: “Writers have portrayed Wounded Knee as the last event in the so-called Indian wars . . . . Wounded Knee was an unfathomably traumatic event, but it did not signify the end of the Lakota people, nor did it usher in their resignation to permanent subjugation.”
Heather Cox Richardson. Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre. Basic Books.
Richardson renders an economy that made the wartime tragedy, which shocked the nation, a foregone conclusion. Wounded Knee’s final chapter tracks the life of Dr. Charles Eastman, of a Sioux heritage that often went unnoticed, who passed verdict on his life experience: “When I reduce civilization to its lowest terms, it becomes a system of life based upon trade.”