Perambulating the Bounds

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Sunset Strip paintings at Belcourt

Since I’m on the board at the Belcourt Theater, I don’t write about the art shows in theater lobby in the Scene. But everything’s fair game on a blog, no? I’m not sure how much I have to say about this, but the current show is a really appealing series of paintings by Christopher Kuhn of the Sunset Strip streetscape in LA. This of course is a tribute to Ed Ruscha’s book Every Building on the Sunset Strip, updated to what Kuhn saw when he lived nearby recently. And of course the series are paintings, not photographs, done in a loose style in which the buildings are sketched pretty cleanly but the cars (the other primary figures in the series) come through in a blur of a few brushstrokes. The images have clean, airy light, like Wayne Thiebaud. They’re just nice to look at, and they also have the pleasures of series and the compare and contrast with their historical precedent in Ruscha. Go by and take a look. And see a movie. Lady Vengence is playing for 2 more days.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Contemporary Indian Art in Berkeley

If you are in the Bay Area between now and September 16, check out the show of contemporary Indian art at the Berkeley Art Museum, Edge of Desire. This show was at the Queens Museum last year, and now that I’ve finally seen it I’m starting to run across references to the people in it.

As you would expect, there’s fascinating stuff to look at. You run across vernacular traditions treated as an equally valid path to contemporary expression as artists from more conventional art school preparation, like pieces by Manu and Swarma Chitrakar, who are members of the Patua community in Bengal. This is a formerly nomadic group that developed a narrative style of painting and the members of this group traveled around painting to make a living. The pieces here include a poster about the war in Afghanistan and a scroll summarizing the highlights of the movie Titanic. There are some great crossovers with pop culture, like Cyrus Oshidar’s mock small-goods stand which serves as an elaborate frame for a video monitor running Indian MTV filler spots that are pretty hilarious.

What struck me was how political so much of the art is. Communal violence between Hindus and Muslims looms large, especially the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and subsequent riots (like a big piece by Vivan Sundaram that takes the figure of one dead body and builds a kind of shrine around that. You also see the figures of India and Pakistan’s founding (Nehru, M. and I. Gandhi, Jinnah) appearing as powerful mythical characters with an ambivalent legacy of violence, cruelty, and neglect in the politicians who have followed and in the political and bureaucratic structures they created. It is strange to realize that a new country, although also a very old one, creates these instant icons from a heroic era that has just occurred. In a longer established political entity the founders recede into a historical past that is safer because it is further past. India and Pakistan are roughly in a position analogous to the U.S. of Martin van Buren relative to our founding.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Stuff from Shaun Slifer in Pitttsburgh

What better way to celebrate our national holiday than with news on Shaun Slifer’s latest project in Pittsburgh. The former Nashvillian went north after he got done at Watkins. From what I’ve always heard, there’s a healthy grassroots scene there, and as one of the old industrial capitals it’s got a good institutional base of museums and universities which should help provide spaces and programs in which interesting people can operate.

So Shaun’s latest project is a stamp and ink pad set out in a gallery, where people are encouraged to stamp their $20 bills, right next to Old Hickory’s picture, with the message “Great Heroes of Real Estate: The Indian Removal Act of 1830” and then put the bills back into circulation. It seems like there have been protest actions of writing messages on money, but this puts it on a different level, meets the money on one of its natural levels as a bearer of cultural iconography and therefore of historical interpretation. You can look at money as filled with subliminal messages, or not so subliminal messages. Thus agitation about “In God We Trust.” Or trying to decode the eye on the pyramid. Or a local activist putting his stamp on the currency.

Shaun is also involved with a website, the Pittsburgh Art Review that includes open-forum art reviews. Looks like a good thing to have in place.

So on this 4th of July, think about ... I don't know, either where you get your history from, or where to get fireworks to shoot off in your backyard.