Thursday, August 11, 2016

Michael Ned Holte's art exhibition at the Schindler House was soooo boring.

And that is actually how I wish I could start any review or writing in general: quick and to the point. Even if I couldn't engage with more nuance it would set me down a specific path that I could build arguments upon. It would be so much easier than whatever tangents I eventually realize I have to pull together if I want to make something that has my voice and my observations… readable.

Sneaking a peek at the Set List by the duo Lucky Dragons just prior to performing live.

A still from Jennifer Bornstein's "Collectors' Favorites" also referred to as "Ephemorabilia"


Michael Ned Holte's art exhibition wasn't boring. I don't even think "Boring" is a bad thing. In fact, it's a precious quality best used to describe the utmost meditative and therefore, surprising work. As it is utilized by many artists for a particular effect:

A still from Jennifer Bornstein's "Collector's Favorites" a 21 minute video from 1994. This segment featured words that she has collected, "curated" if you will...


But I am in fact being derogatory when I say that Michael Ned Holte's stupid show was "Boring" because trying to figure out where to start is so frustrating. Well… since I know that it’s not really boring, (my diagram makes this perfectly clear), I’m going to have to work backwards from that point which feels most real, to figure out what I’m trying to say.

I am taking it personally that I cannot describe his show in as charismatic and straightforward way, and I am afraid of what it will reveal about my inadequacies as a writer/artist/thinker. The exhibition messes with my ability to express with equal measure the clarity and simplicity in which Michael Ned Holte works.

If I try to focus on distilling main ideas, it's too categorical: WORK - PEDAGOGY - RELATIONSHIPS - RADICALITY… and the next thing I know I've got six books on hand (footnote 1) just in case I might need to define or describe how "trends have emerged within curatorial discourse since 1987… mapping the burgeoning understanding of curatorship as a creative form of exhibit production and mediation." (O'Neill, The Culture of Curating and Curating of Culture(s)", 2012 p. 4) (footnote 2)

Look at that stupid beard, and all those stupid people who completely packed the place to hear him talk about this fantastic exhibition.

I tried starting off by penning an essay on how he's some kind of "curator's curator" along the lines of the artist's artist. But then I realized the reason I recognized so many artist-curators in the audience was because this is the new normal for creative practitioners. For better or worse, it's a kind of networking, but this additional skill set does the very necessary job of cross-pollinating ideas. Also, like all other professions, the bar is rising for what constitutes a "professional" artist, probably for unrealistic reasons, probably to get more people to get their cost-prohibitive MFA.

But let me get back to my problem of brevity...

He can make a meta-move in a single gesture and it takes me… I don't know, like seven moves to just tell you that he did it in one.

Case in point:

The crux of his show is that it's based on a class that Michael Ned Holte taught at CalArts where the class could talk about work that was about... about… The key to this particular exhibition is a painting by a dead white guy (I think Michael Ned Holte is white so I am allowed to say that). The train tracks in the painting don't lead to anything in particular, and the exhibition has no center.

The painting, by Manny Farber (also a well known film critic), flashes momentarily in a film called "Routine Pleasures". In the film, the camera follows these adorable old white guys that run miniatures trains as a serious hobby, but the narration is self-reflexive and suggests that it's all in the service of paying due to Manny Farber’s ideas of 'Termite Art' as it also attempts to exemplify it. Still with me?

The words "process-based", "unprecious", or "hermetic" seem similar enough to "Termite Art", and Michael refers to "solitude", something that is "ambulatory" and I have a note here that says portal or plural or pearl delectation. In my head I feel like someone else said "Anti-dialectical",  "Marxist" and "Indeterminacy" (footnote 3). The essay film "Routine Pleasures" like what I'm writing, has lots of false starts.

[Insert link to the film, illegally put online, but in its entirety, here]

Where was I... This movie, "Routine Pleasures" was directed by radical filmmaker, Jean-Pierre Gorin, (who must have been radical because he collaborated with Godard). Meanwhile this painting in real time is being exhibited in the Schindler House, by radical architect Rudolph Schindler (who must have been radical because they called a shared homestead a "studio" in the '20s)

What was it about Manny Farber's painting that he believed would help him teach? The kind of teaching where students are not replicating the work of the teacher, the kind of teaching that guides students to take risks, to conjure up interesting problems, to be critical, to keep making good work?

Let's go deeper.

During the curator’s talk it was explained that this painting was Manny Farber’s way of preparing to teach a film class which eventually became “A Hard Look at the Movies” at UC San Diego. Some of these birds-eye view paintings would allude to scenes from his favorite films. And he was also known for some idiosyncratic ways of playing these films, sometimes playing them devoid of their original sounds, even playing them backwards. Also "Termite Art" was explained as work that eats at its own boundaries, focusing on the small pleasure task at hand. It was more meant to describe not just film, but also a way of painting that avoided the Diva qualities of other celebrated painters at the time (which he derogatorily calls "Masterpiece Art” or "White Elephant Art").

The curator also described how a student in the Routine Pleasures seminar at CalArts let him know that it seemed like it was more like an exhibition than a class. This is the school that was known for anti-classes, no curriculum and the wonderful on-going tradition of hiring professors who do not even carry degrees in the field in which they are teaching.

So relatively speaking, what he put together isn’t experimental in and of itself. A course about "about" is not that far off from a course in contemporary curating, and since he is a curator... he did just that.

But he also knew it had to be put on at this iconic local venue that helped to define contemporary art for him (One of Michael’s most educationally formative exhibitions was at the Schindler House, a show featuring Jason Rhoades, which means that it probably looked/felt out of control, especially in that minimalist architecture).

So Schindler House, which would have hosted perhaps a few communist meetings, a performance of 4'33, and to this day defies becoming an artifact, represents a junction where interesting diverse minds could meet, much like a classroom, much like good curating.

But then is this show... educational?

All education is a placebo affect, but what if all contemporary curating is a placebo effect too? In the same way that a teacher gives students 'permission' to attempt things they wouldn't otherwise believe they could do on their own outside of the educational structure, am I entering into a dialogue with works that would have otherwise appeared inaccessible to me?

You can see how professors and curators are very intellectually resourceful in how they get everyone riled up into a discursive practice, adding to their own personal research little by little. In these working relationships, one would think that the curator and artist are focused on the artwork, not themselves, but good work generally comes out of self-centered, perhaps, pleasure seeking routines. That is not to say that it's all about the curator stroking their ego, but rather, they're on an adventure that they plan on sharing with others later.

Much is contingent (because the relationships are meant to be on-going), as a strategy to get out of ones own way, or to break bad habits. I assume that it makes room for actual radical things to bubble up.

I'd try to recap better, but… I'm pretty sure that I just said that Routine Pleasures is an expansion upon "Routine Pleasures" by enacting routine pleasures. Fuuuuuuck. I'm afraid that as I go on more tangents that won't illustrate anything other than how much I couldn't keep paying attention to his curators talk, mostly because there were TOO MANY PEOPLE AT THE CURATORS TALK. I can't believe this is a thing. What is wrong with everybody? What is wrong with me?

A section of a page from "365 x 433"by Steve Roden.


At some point, things just start folding in on themselves. I randomly open up Steve Roden's book to find the page mentioning Schindler House and a plane that flies over head (and of course a plane is flying overhead and at that very moment MNH was mentioning the 365 book.)

There is a digital presentation by the Center for Land Use Institute displayed on a touchscreen monitor. I can't be certain if the interactive display is inseparable from what constitutes the art, if just the digital images themselves are solely the “work”, or if the art is the entire gesture of how CLUI makes their archives accessible? (footnote 4) In this context, beyond the train connection to Farber's painting, are we meant to think about the metaphor of the serious hobby of train models or the serious hobby of exhibiting images?

"A Selection of Model Railroads in the USA. Touchscreen display" by the Center for Land Use Interpretation.
One of the model train photos contained in this digital display.

There are photographs by Roy McMakin that make you aware of threads, but the author is neither a textile artist nor a photographer; he is a jack of all trades, an artist, architect, designer, furniture maker all rolled into one.  Then there are ethnographic objects by James Benning who is working on a new body of work inspired by this exhibition, which is another way of saying the real work is not even present, but perhaps the work is the ideas of things set in motion. Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer's work is indexing the personal journals of Lee Lozano (I started thinking about creating an excel spreadsheet to figure out what were the most common words). One of Galeria Perdida's terracotta 'objects' looks like a miniature zombie version of Michael Ned Holte that had to be put down.

There are also objects that function as a representation of black face in three videos that play one after another, although I am sure that it was not intended to be a connection between all three. The juxtaposition of these three videos were definitely the highlight of the show and worth coming back to see again.

"Time Eaters" by Harry Dodge
"50 Ways to Set the Table" - Judy Fiskin

"Recto Verso" by the duo Galeria Perdida
The pieces in the show are so different from one another and just entertaining enough that you start thinking that you... get it. But when you start describing the show to someone, you feel like you may have missed one of the readings... but wait, you're not in a class... is the list of artists a syllabus?

But I remember being able to engage, and that was enough of a reason to want to get a handle on this exhibition by writing about it. For someone like me with ADHD, writing is a valuable technology that many others may take for granted as something people do with their free time. But writing is actually a prosthesis for someone who can't keep it all in one's head: you are looking at this thing outside of you, and then you make it manageable through writing. It’s things like this that make me almost indistinguishable from a regular human being.

I relate most to the artworks that make “work” as a concept seem absurd. The amount of information packed into some works does not equate to an ‘exhausting’ quality. They seem to suggest they’ll always be there working away, day after day, so just visit and pop by, whatever time works for you. Most works have an air of effortlessness, but they still require a commitment to understand the work.

Carter Mull for example has placed three bouquets of plants covered with a fabric that is just barely opaque enough to print vague commercial symbols upon it. The plants themselves have been slowly wilting over the course of the exhibition.

When the viewer eventually realizes that it takes a lot of work to come up with something so simple and pull it off, that’s a peak of perfect absurdity: It takes a lot of work to convince someone to take it easy and not work so much. And then there's my absurdity, I imagine developing an effortless writing, but am doomed to the hyper focus while taking the scenic route.

But honestly, in LA, with all these curator-artists running around, it takes work (it is work) to be out at an opening or a talk. There are so many opportunities to say the wrong things in all of the possible interactions with people. And the work is so much about people, about their relationships to each other, to the curator Michael Ned Holte, to how the work functions in their own lives, how their lives probably involve some kind of performativity, how the objects interact as a performance of the everyday, how we go beyond the categories that we're ascribed.

"Union Projectionist Reading A Book Between Reels" - Jennifer Brownstein, which references that there are both things to read and films to watch, but you can only do one thing at a time.

And yet, it doesn't feel dense, nor infinitely expansive. It's not unsettling, not whimsical, not anxiety inducing, not generic, and again it's not boring. It's peculiar, thoughtful, but it's not what I would call a 'nice' show. Calling artists termites isn't exactly nice, but, then again, it is kind of endearing and a decent enough metaphor for artists that know how to make work to chew on.

When I asked Michael Ned Holte what was so radical to him about his process of putting on this exhibition, someone from the audience chimed in that it was radical that he did his job! I didn't have the confidence to reply in the moment, but doing one’s job, whatever job it is, is not radical, it’s just a job. Lee Lozano was radical because she dropped out of the art world. Hell… Michael Ned Holte also ran another seminar titled "Resistance to Work", so I'm pretty sure that wasn't going to be the generative direction he would go.

What I'm thinking is going on here is that Michael is here to support radical work, even if that means doing it the old-fashioned way, by setting it up, then getting out of the way. It does mean that you the viewer have to fill in the gaps in the present. In its planned openness, it is familiar with good pedagogical practices, but I'm not sure where he/it sits between this didactic vs. investigative model of curating that Marcia Tucker says is a thing.. It is as inviting as those communist parties that I would have loved to have been invited to at the Schindler House back in the day. And in that way, it's not even a puzzle to try to figure out: it is an ongoing conversation like the vignettes of a Richard Linklater film, like Slackers or Waking Life.

I feel obliged to research every person and every name, but then I feel like Michael’s response to that would be to think about the art piece by the group Newspaper Reading Club, recording people reflecting on the daily news. Take in what you can from what is in front of you, and then move on.

Lucy Lippard is an important curator, and possibly listed in Lee Lozano's personal notebooks 7 times, as portrayed in "The Index (Lee Lozano's Private Notebooks) by Sarah Leh-rer Graiwer.


Some of the sculptures are placed directly onto the ground in a way that makes them look like they are either potential energy for something creepy to be summoned or the aftermath of a performance. Even the objects, though they may be made out of ceramic etc., remind you that either due to their reference to specific things, or because they actually decay, all is ephemeral, tenuous.

Double-sided tuning fork "Agreements (1-4)" by Lucky Dragons, four is the same number of occupants meant for Schindler House.

One of the other three bouquets of flowers, this one in a room that was re-made into a kitchen. The material is a branded tulle, the type of plant is unknown.

A still of a cat sitting on the floor in Simon Leung's hour and a half long video, "War After War"
Still from Simon Leung's "War After War"

So it's great and all for there to be suggestions/metaphors about being in the present and to not get stuck, but this writing is really convoluted as I try to feign that I know what is going on.

In the film "50 ways to Set the Table" two women struggle to vote for a best in show of indistinguishably cheesy table settings. At some point, I started feeling like they are not taking their roles as table setting judges seriously. (This is in part because the more authoritative and professional they present themselves, the more I can get invested in making fun of their silly perceived sense of worth like some kind of metaphor about all professionalism).

I actually found myself upset that these two women just grabbed a security person all willy-nilly to make this major decision. What if there were hundreds of dollars on the line in this competition?!...

The suspicious eyes of one of the judges in "50 Ways to Set a Table"

And perhaps it was at that point that I started feeling that Michael Ned Holte might be making fun of me, or making fun of the viewer in some way... or finding the right people who would all be good at being in on the joke. But then... I'm not quite sure if he has it in him to do that, I'd imagine that he'd make fun of himself before he'd make fun of anyone else.

Now I feel bad for saying this his show was boring, or stupid.

So I need to come back with the same endearing tact. There's something of a 'home-town' feel to this show, even if it has work from people not from Southern California ("Routine Pleasures" however was filmed in San Diego); maybe that was why I got the curator's curator vibe. He's in his zone, and it's not about being an international art star curator, which is the new normal for curators with a capital "C".

The more I find, the more aware I am of his ability to call attention to the art that leaves a lot to find, which is not to say that he is two steps ahead, exhausting all known reactions or interpretations, but rather that if there wasn't something to find, there wouldn't be a point to it.

I want to drive home this concept of how genuine this show feels, even when it's ironic.

In Harry Dodge's film, "Time Eaters" one character explains to a possibly new recruit that has just taken on human form all the basic rules such as: "Keep ladybug sized screws around", "If you're asked, your response is always, 'you look fucking great'", "Evil is said to be banal... so watch out for it", "Call if you're going to be late, well, anyone you're boning with". As absurd as it is, it is gut wrenching when the guide, at the end of a very long day, finds out that this new human was only given a single day to be on earth, one day. And it's spent just learning too much stuff and bumming around.

This guide (played by Andres Machin) in Harry Dodge's film, "Time Eaters" pulls out useful diagrams that come out of nowhere, kindof like the train tracks in Farber's painting and with an amateur seriousness similar to Jennifer Bornstein's diagrams of differently shaped snack foods that she has collected.
Jennifer Bornstein moving on from her collection of fast food cups to her collection of store bought coffee beans in "Collector's Favorites" which onced aired on the local Public Access channel.
Do not contact this number. Leave Sally Shishmanian alone. I'm fairly sure that she has been trolled by Jennifer Bornstein and already informed of such.
Genuineness always saves the day, and even when the work alludes to an impossibility of communication, it is exactly the kind of thing that we can relate to. (Footnote 5) I recently read an interview with Jane Sanders, the partner of Bernie Sanders, shortly after he gave up his run for the presidency. And hearing her be so genuine really inspired me to expose myself more to what I may have perhaps written off as being banal. She talks about being told to visit Oak Flat to witness the terrible injustice herself and she comes away with understanding an everyday experience that is absolutely devastating... She learns about issues others are facing, one after another after another.

And that is like the non-artsy version of and... and... and...

In the artsy realm, it's about the object-oriented description of lists as a thing. But in Michael Ned Holte's Routine Pleasures, it's people trying to do their best, to take a little pleasure. And if it seems like people are taking pleasure a little too seriously, then that says more about what little time we maybe have for pleasure. And maybe contemporary art needs to come off being synonymous with “newest”, take stock in the slow passage of time, try not to get too upset if the expression isn't coming to us fast enough.

Note: This exhibition may be over soon, I think there are only 4 days left to see it (again).

Schindler House
835 N. Kings Road
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Thurs – Sun, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm


footnote 1:
"Curating, as a discourse specific to the field of contemporary art, is often contradictory, perhaps doomed to be retroactive, yet somehow remains a generative force for a progressive view of art."
Oh thank god, for a second I thought that curators were only mutated from the kinds of personalities that make for good writers with impeccable administration and persuasive skills. But it could also all be bullshit!… I like bullshit. I can do bullshit.

footnote 2:
I always know though to stop pretending that I have actually read any of these books when I reach, what I call my personal Foucault plateau. Like I used to say about yoga, I don't do Foucault: a lot of my friends really get into it, and it's like the answer and I like them, so I'm open to it. But even hearing the name and praise so often, with so much expectation that I really need to check it out, it's now pretty much turning me off. Like listening to the Democrats and Republicans talk about how much more they love America more than the other party.

footnote 3:
Here is another list of words that denote a dead-end to me. Not because they are actually dead ends, but because it makes my brain go fuzzy with how often I've been told it's sounds like it's related to my interests, but instead they have officially become trigger words.

- Intersubjectivity
- Baudrillard
- The Undercommons
- Freud
- Semiotics
- Rosalind Krauss

footnote 4:
I was about say that this may be the most academic footnote yet, but it's actually just a really long quote, plopped in verbatim, so 0 points for creativity and 0 points for academic-ness.

"a new wave of artists have now embodied a long history in which the artist operates outside of the institution, providing materials and cultural capital for artists and, I would also argue, creating solutions to the problems for institutions in describing the values of these artists.

Within this instituent tendency, however, is a range of more refined impulses, from the pedagogic impulse of Henrietta Heise and Jakob Jakobsen and the Copenhagen Free University; to the interpretive impulse of the Center for Land Use Interpretation; or to the Utopian impulse, as with the architectural and social agenda of Danish architects N55.

Within each of these, 'experimental systems' are established, not precisely defined within a discipline, that share and utilise the epistemic things and the crafting of technical objects required to engage further within their network to produce additional artists' knowledge."

From "Experiments and Archives in the Expanded Field" by Neal White

footnote 5:
5 reasons why I think Michael Ned Holte is interested in this aspect of being genuine.

1. I asked him a question during his Q and A, I don't remember if it was answered, but he recognized that it was a question for him.
2. He agreed with how I thought people were meant to take in the show; that it encourages the viewer to settle in, so I thought it might be appropriate to have strewn around big bean bag chairs. He mentioned some other kind of chair and I immediately forgot what that chair was, so instead I imagined an Eames chair because I don't know anything about design, even though that definitely seems like the wrong kind of chair. 
3. Some of the work was laugh out loud funny, in that soft chuckle kind of way. 
4. I can imagine Rachel's boring art (meaning academic) being curated into a boring show (meaning contemporary or ethnographic in nature) just like this. 
5. He has a natural affinity to being supportive for art and artists, you can tell he is a fan of these artists, they are not just illustrating a point, it's an exciting moment for him.

No comments: