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Hisham Akira Bharoocha, The Hunters (detail), 2006

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Music Meets Art
December 13-26, 2006

With visual artists making noise and musicians picking up paintbrushes, the realms of art and music are increasingly intertwined these days. A slew of exhibitions celebrate artist-musicians this year, from singing conceptualists like Tracy + the Plastics and Martin Creed to artsy crooners like David Byrne and Devendra Banhart. We profile Bjorn Copeland of Black Dice, who rocks experimental sounds and composes intricately geometric collages; and Guy Richards Smit, of Maxi Geil! & PlayColt, talks to us about the alter egos animating his paintings and performances. We review an alternative biopic of outsider musician-artist Daniel Johnston, and look at exhibitions around the globe, including Charles Ray's new monochrome retrospective in Oslo and Matthew Cusick's cartographic mashups in San Francisco.


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Skyscraper Stirs St. Petersburg Dispute
(International Herald Tribune, November 28)
Russian energy giant Gazprom has touched off a heated debate over its plans to build an enormous skyscraper in St. Petersburg. Gazprom announced that RMJM London would take the reins of the project, beating out the likes of Jean Nouvel, Massimiliano Fuksas, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Rem Koolhaas, and Daniel Libeskind. In a city where no building tops 400 feet, the Gazprom tower will stretch almost 1,300 feet into the St. Petersburg sky. The proposed glass tower will rest by the Neva River, opposite the city's famous Smolny Cathedral, and has been widely criticized for failing to respect the city's architectural landscape — the Hermitage's Mikhail Piotrovsky asserted that the project would threaten the city's "unique aura."

More Artists Going Hollywood
(ARTnews, December)
Conceptual and avant-garde artists are increasingly turning to narrative filmmaking to fill their creative needs, reports ARTnews. Piotr Uklanski recently completed his feature debut with the first "Polish western,"Summer Love, while Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno's documentary about French soccer star/headbutter Zinedine Zidane bowed at Cannes last summer. The article also cites cinematic efforts by Christian Jankowski, Shirin Neshat, and Julian Schnabel, whose latest, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, features several European stars. The article points to the influence of Andy Warhol as an inspiration for the latest generation of artists-turned-directors and identifies the challenges presented by storytelling and the lure of reaching broader audiences as central motivations for the new works.

Critic Envisions Better Museums
(Artnet, December 4)
Village Voice art critic Jerry Saltz recently took a look at museum developments in Manhattan and found causes for both celebration and concern. Saltz believes that the Whitney should "divide and conquer" by expanding to a downtown space rather than adding on to its current location. Apparently, the museum agreed, having since announced that they are contemplating just such a move. The Dia Center, meanwhile, continues to have no space in Manhattan since vacating its 22nd Street residence in 2004. Originally slated to reopen this year, it has not, creating a situation that Saltz finds as "inexcusable as it is lamentable." He goes on to suggest that the American Folk Art Museum or Artists Space take over the Dia's spot and he holds out hope for the New Museum's new seven-story, $50 million digs on the Bowery.

Architect Wins Train Station Suit
(Guardian, November 30)
German architect Meinhard von Gerkan recently won a court case regarding his $930-million Berlin train station that opened last summer, arguing that his design had been "defaced" by cost-cutting measures by the station's owner, rail company Deutsche Bahn. At issue is the station's ceiling, which von Gerkan had intended to be vaulted in the style of a cathedral; Deutsche Bahn installed a flat metal ceiling, designed by another architect, in an effort to reduce spiraling costs. Having taken eight years to complete, the station may now undergo several months of remodeling at an additional cost of over $50 million. The 71-year-old architect denied that the suit was a matter of pride, saying, "It is a botched job. Today I know it was a grave mistake to believe I could soften the rail company's rigid stance by being obliging and open to compromise. How wrong I was."

German painter Abts becomes first woman to win Turner Prize more »

Rockwell painting hidden behind a wall sells for $15.4 million more »

Boston unveils new waterfront contemporary art museum more »

Alleged Munch robber believed dead from drug overdose more »

Chinese art booms from East to West and back again more »

Storr talks plans for Venice and the future of the art market more »

Mayne tapped to build Paris' tallest skyscraper more »

United States Artists awards $50K prizes to diverse group of artists more »

Photo galleries changing with the times more »

Furniture company Vitra adds two new buildings to its campus more »

Australia's largest collection of contemporary art gets high marks from critics more »

Photographers focus on the environment at ICP more »

Physics won't help authenticate Pollocks more »

France to fund contemporary art in bid to catch up with London more »

Art historian Robert Rosenblum dies at 79 more »

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[ Musical Chairs ]


Tracy + the Plastics / Martin Creed / Larry Krone / New Humans with Matt Suib

From the futurist experiments of the '20s to New York's '70s downtown scene, artist-musicians have long viewed their dual creative practices as reciprocal or as one and the same. Today's proliferation of multimodal work by those bridging the gap between art and music proves that the boundaries between forms are dissolving more quickly than ever before.

Among the most high-profile of cross-practitioners, art-pop pair Fischerspooner's vaudevillian performances, videos, and related works are notoriously stylized and ostentatious, fusing art and music into a total experience. The carefully choreographed live shows of electro-pop trio Tracy + the Plastics feature artist Wynne Greenwood (Tracy) playing music and bantering about queer politics with her two video alter egos, Nikki and Cola. Trading high-tech for lowbrow, Larry Krone makes installations from junkyard souvenirs and beer bottle keepsakes; by night, his twisted Americana takes to the stage as he transforms into an inebriated country crooner bawling against gaudy Mylar backdrops.

British artist Martin Creed sings about his heterogeneous body of work, declaring, I don't know what I want and I Like Things. Martin Eder, aka Richard Ruin, composes freaky ballads that complement his gothic paintings of naked women and fluffy cats. Equally sensuous, but more wholesome, Takagi Masakatsu's surreal videos and happy pop songs sample the artist's travels around the world.

Elsewhere, the installations of multimedia artist Carsten Nicolai, who performs as Alva Noto and owns venerable experimental label Raster-Noton, feature complex paintings generated from analyses of sound waves. Mexican artist Carlos Amorales uses his punchy label, Nuevos Ricos, as an outlet for diverse musical explorations.

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center's current group exhibition, Music is a Better Noise, pays homage to the roots of the artist-musician phenomenon and highlights contemporary incarnations. Along with veteran turntablist Christian Marclay, the show's participants include Kai Althoff of the Cologne-based Workshop and Rich Aldrich of New York's Hurray, whose abstract and figurative paintings reference cult bands and music subcultures. Psych-folk guru Devendra Banhart, who often renders fanciful drawings of forest creatures, also has a presence, while Mika Tajima's finely wrought videos mirror her work in the stellar minimalist-noise ensemble New Humans.

Recently in New York, Haswellediger's audio exhibition and CD compilation Flesh Records gathered 15 artists experimenting with sound, and D'Amelio Terras's exhibition, SETS featured artwork by members and ex-members of Black Dice and the raucous drum and bass duo Lightning Bolt. This fall, David Byrne showed off drawings and sculptures as otherworldly as his musical compositions at Pace/MacGill, and conceptualist Stephen Prina is reinvigorating the aural with his sound installation at Friedrich Petzel Gallery. (SK)

Larry Krone: Artist/Entertainer is on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis through December 31; Music is a Better Noise continues at P.S.1 through January 8; the third installment of SETS at D'Amelio Terras, which highlights Hisham Akira Bharoocha, runs through December 23; and Stephen Prina's solo show at Friedrich Petzel Gallery also closes on December 23.

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Matthew Cusick
San Francisco

Lisa Dent Gallery
Now through December 15

  Matthew Cusick's maps lead nowhere. Clipped from yellowed atlases and geography textbooks, the pieces gather together aging blues, whites, pinks, and golds of antique cartography to construct bleak landscapes with oblique references to American foreign policy and Western imperialism. This show's standout is the visual mashup of The Course of Empire (Mixmaster II). Cusick spins, rearranges, and overlaps familiar shapes of continents and national borders into a wall-size configuration of a world gone awry — the cartographic aftermath, perhaps, of global revolution. In another series of three large works, he skillfully inlays map clippings to depict complex, marble-white highway interchanges traversing stark, ravaged terrains. (SF)

Gajin Fujita: Twilight Blush
Los Angeles

LA Louver
Now through December 30

  This exhibition of 11 new works by Gajin Fujita follows the artist's first solo museum show at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas. Echoing street art, Fujita's dense, multilayered paintings suggest the clandestine participation of myriad collaborators. Reminiscent of Larry Rivers in his use of arresting colors and confident lines, Fujita's sensibility is pure pop, but his subject matter draws heavily from the traditions of Japanese ukiyo-e wood-block prints and painting. This influence is clearest in his astute representations of traditional Japanese dress and studied facial expressions in paintings like Lust and Slow and Easy. However, typical scenes of the pleasure district, rife with erotic allusion, are unabashedly laid bare in these overtly sexual paintings. (KB)

Nathan Carter: ALL CITY
New York

Casey Kaplan Gallery
Now through December 22

  Nathan Carter's rickety mobiles and wall-relief sculptures — accentuated by symbols, numbers, and directional words — chart the convoluted ways people communicate, travel, and disseminate information. This exhibition bursts from all directions with overstimulated, cartoonish energy. The freestanding BLUE AND CREAM TRAVELING LANGUAGE MACHINE is a wiry structure resembling melting scaffolds from which futuristic antennas jut out, spewing a frenetic mix of coded signals. The wall-piece ALL-CITY 5 BOROUGHS ON MY NY METROCARD 1239 ACE 7 F 456 employs the schematic form of subway maps, embellished by the obsessive placement of MTA icons, while suspended from the ceiling, SINGLE EVIL, a snake-like object decorated with blue-and-black racing stripes and skull-and-crossbones motifs, exudes a sense of playful pessimism. (JC)

Charles Ray

Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art
Now through December 17

  Charles Ray is best known for his controversial naked mannequins from the '90s, but this 30-year retrospective takes sex out of the equation by limiting itself to works executed exclusively in black and white. The white-painted metal body of Aluminum Girl manifests clinical precision, directing viewers to the cool contemplation of planes, negative space, and surface. Untitled (tractor) is a cast aluminum machine with every detail revealed as in an anatomical model. Table arrays empty glass vessels on the clear top of a black frame; its elements are ordinary, but enlivened with stripes of reflected white light. Shot through with everyday surrealism, these works forge connections between unlikely ideas through the forms that contain them. (SND)

Arturo Herrera

Galerie Max Hetzler
Now through December 23

  Known for his deadpan collages of Disney characters, Arturo Herrera transforms cartoon imagery into dense abstractions in his latest exhibition. For these mixed-media works, paint-splattered cutouts of characters are layered with drips and found patterns, creating tangles of bright lines and geometric shapes. Based on coloring book images of an old dwarf and a boy playing an accordion, the large-scale collages spring from a postmodern impulse to montage, but resemble Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. In pieces such as #64 BF2 and #69 DB1, outlines of a face or a hand almost dissolve into the Technicolor cacophony, but their recognizable, clichéd forms trump all expressive disfiguration. (BR)

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[ Bjorn Copeland ]

Bjorn Copeland

Fort Thunder was a warehouse-turned-postmodern refuge in Providence, Rhode Island that spawned twin art and music scenes sharing an emotional, informal style. As a workspace and home to Rhode Island School of Design students students from 1995 until its demolition in 2001, Fort Thunder was known for animalistic, ear-splitting rock shows. In 1997, then-RISD student Bjorn Copeland formed Black Dice with his friends and brother before relocating to Brooklyn the following year. An artist and musician in the Fort Thunder tradition, Bjorn Copeland's pop-meets-op psychedelic collages, exotic music machines, and beaded sculptures are expressionism in the age of highlighter pens.

In New York this fall, Copeland was featured in D'Amelio Terras' three-part exhibition, SETS, with Brian Chippendale of fellow RISD art-rock band Lightning Bolt, and Hisham Akira Bharoocha, former member of both Black Dice and Lightning Bolt. Separating Copeland's work from traditional musician-made album art is its intricacy and, somewhat ironically, its formal composition. Double Shot, a collage featuring a buxom brunette with green grapes for a face immersed in a rigidly geometric landscape, recalls classic pop artists James Rosenquist and Richard Hamilton. Like work from the Paper Rad crew (also art-making rockers), the elegant Spectral Change's mandala-derived composition is filtered through a Day-Glo, early video game vernacular. Favoring exuberance over cynicism, Copeland's work is an insistent and vibrant rehashing of utopianism — and like a Black Dice performance, Copeland plays it loud. (HGM)

Bjorn Copeland's work is currently on view in Music is a Better Noise at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, through January 8. Picture Box Inc., recently published Gore, a collaboration between Black Dice and photographer Jason Frank Rothenberg.

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[ Guy Richards Smit ]


Guy Richards Smit

Paul Laster interviews Guy Richards Smit, a painter and singer/songwriter, about his art practice and Maxi Geil! & PlayColt, his rock 'n roll band.
AK: What came first in your creative development, the art or the music?

GRS: I've been in bands since I was 14 years old. My first band was called Addictive Manifesto. We played CBGB once — I had to get special permission 'cause it was a school night. But I've wanted to be a visual artist for as long as I can remember. I stopped making music for ten years and was only making art, and then this character came along in my head, and these little songs kept showing up in my drawings. I generally dislike art about pop music — there's a lot of it now, and it always comes off so sad. Play a song or shut up. Asking painting or installation to do something it can't is unkind; it will always fail. I've always been a storytelling kind of artist, and Maxi Geil! seemed like a perfect vehicle. He needed music to do his thing, and that made me pick up the guitar that had been sitting in the corner for so long. So, the short answer is the art came first.

AK: You've adapted several different personas in your body of work — from a lascivious doctor and a treacherous sailor to a standup comedian and a disgusted porn star — but the egotistical rock star Maxi Geil! is your most enduring character. Who is Maxi Geil!?

GRS: Well, to confuse things more, it's me playing Maxi Geil! playing the treacherous sailor and the disgusted porn star. The fact that he could conceivably play all these different roles made him so interesting to me. All my characters are in over their head, but Maxi is so arrogant that he believes he can pull all those roles off — and he assumes people want to watch him. The Ballad of Bad Orpheus (with the sailor) and Nausea 2 (with the porn star) are Maxi Geil! vanity pieces.

I've always been interested in the various forms expression takes. Whether it's painting, film, music, or telling jokes, they are all crafts unto themselves, and learning those crafts and trying to master them fascinates me. Pop songs are fun and much cheaper than making videos. It's an incredible feeling when you can make people dance. Paintings can't do that, but they can do a number of other things better.

AK: How do you juggle your interests in two different creative realms?

keep reading the interview »

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  The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Jeff Feuerzeig
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

An indie-music cult figure and recent art-establishment discovery, Daniel Johnston is a compelling and complex singer/songwriter and outsider artist, haunted by lost loves and and fears of Satan. Often described as a genius, Johnston has a manic-depressive history that has landed him spots on MTV, and in college radio, and in the Whitney Biennial, yet most repeatedly in mental institutions. Director Jeff Feuerzeig, a longtime fan of the 45-year-old self-taught artist-musician, spent two years mixing Johnston's old Super-8 film and audiotape diaries with new film footage of his caring family and longtime friends. The resulting documentary charts Johnston's ups and downs from his high school days to the present — living and working in his parents' Texas home, making comical art, and writing and recording simple songs for an ever-growing audience. (PL)

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Cover Art
Hisham Akira Bharoocha
The Hunters, 2006
Cut-paper collage and ink on paper
13 3/4 x 18 in./ 34.9 x 45.7 cm
Courtesy of the artist and D'Amelio Terras, New York
All Rights Reserved

Paul Laster

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