Slideshow: Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart

by Whitney Kimball on January 22, 2014 · 2 comments Reviews

Image from "Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart" at Artists Space

Image from Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart at Artists Space

Last year, Walter Robinson noticed that art stars from the eighties are making a comeback. He wasn’t sure why this was happening but speculated that 30 years was just enough distance to start historicizing.

As someone who never experienced that decade, I suspect that the renewed interest has to do with eighties political conditions that have recently exploded into a supernova. The eighties saw a rise of art celebrities contrasted by a wave of alternative spaces; the gentrification of the East Village and Soho; and a wave of activism that was eventually squashed by police force in a public park.

My own interest in eighties New York came from Occupy Wall Street, which led a lot of critics to look back at alternative gallery models and activism of that time. The last word on that subject is Julie Ault’s compilation of essays Alternative Art New York, 1965-1985, which describes an alternative art world on the fringes of blue-chip colonization. Scenes of neighborhood activism are contrasted with art collectors speeding across town between thirty galleries in a private car; artists like Jeff Koons dominated the galleries, while the AIDS war raged outside; the 1988 Whitney Biennial curators decried in the catalog essay that “wealth is the only agreed upon arbiter of value,” but the curators themselves, noted David Deitcher in Ault’s compilation, still “managed to sidetrack all but the most ironic or subtle signs of social disgruntlement.”

Unlike today’s art world, though, there seemed to be a larger contingent of politically engaged arts writers, and I looked to their writing for an alternative to the more recent “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach (This book should be a pre-req for all art majors). I also imagined art from the eighties to have a little more tooth.

That wasn’t entirely true, as you’ll find out from Artists Space’s current show Macho Man, Tell It To My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault, a collection which largely protests The Man by celebrating flamboyance, femininity, and friendship. This comes with vague formalism and a indirect critique that makes some political art safer than it perhaps aspires to be. That said, the show is mostly personal gifts, so you go in expecting more ephemera than anybody’s opus. What makes this a critical exhibition, I think, is how it shows a collaboratively-minded generation of people engaging with each other, and in a way that doesn’t seem to happen as much today. (You could argue that Twitter has increased the dialogue, but the various essay compilations and collective projects from that time give you the sense that words had a longer life.)  If we take any radical ideas from this group, I hope it’s their emphasis on community; in this show, it comes off as a weapon.

Liberace is everywhere, like a warm, sparkly father figure for the whole show. This is part of Tony Palmer's 1972 documentary "The World of Liberace". His flamboyant "showmanship" or "eccentricity", is a reminder of that new gray area he created for manhood.

Liberace is everywhere, like a warm, sparkly father figure for the whole show. This is part of Tony Palmer’s 1972 documentary “The World of Liberace.” His flamboyant “showmanship” or “eccentricity” is a reminder of that new gray area he created for manhood.

I like the very concise expression of power in James Benning's image "Woman Pointing" (2009)- a man pointing at a woman as though accusing her of something, and a woman pointing at the sky.

I like the very concise expression of power in James Benning’s image “Woman Pointing” (2009), a man pointing at a woman as though accusing her of something, and a woman pointing at the sky.

Carrie Mae Weams's "Mirror Mirror" (1987-2012) is one of many to call out the culture's silent brutality...

Carrie Mae Weems’s “Mirror Mirror” (1987-2012) is one of many to call out the culture’s silent brutality…

...so does Mike Glier's "Clubs of Virtue" (1979)

… so does Mike Glier’s “Clubs of Virtue” (1979).

Felix Gonzalez-Torres appears throughout. This wraparound wall text "Untitled (Portrait of Julie Ault)" (1991) really drives home the point about collaboration; Ault is defined here by a strand of events and artworks, some known to everybody, and others that sound like names of people she knew or maybe locations of trips she took. Like any artwork or writing, some parts will be shared with everyone and the more intimate details will remain with your friends.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres appears throughout. This wraparound wall text “Untitled (Portrait of Julie Ault)” (1991) really drives home the point about collaboration; Ault is defined here by a strand of events and artworks, some known to everybody, and others that sound like names of people she knew or maybe locations of trips she took. Like any artwork or writing, some parts will be shared with everyone and understanding the more intimate details will remain with your friends.

Jason Simon's book "Festschrift for an Archive" (which was on view last year at Callicoon Fine Arts in the Lower East Side) looks like an antique book of film stills; it's actually damning information about MoMA's union-busting tactics. The book opens with an interview with Mary Corliss, the former curator of MoMA's film stills archive, who became a kind of employee spokesperson during the 2000 PASTA MoMA strike. As soon as the strike ended, MoMA closed Corliss's whole department and moved the archive into offsite storage.

Jason Simon’s book “Festschrift for an Archive” (which was on view last year at Callicoon Fine Arts) looks like an antique book of film stills; it’s actually damning information about MoMA’s union-busting tactics. The book opens with an interview with Mary Corliss, the former curator of MoMA’s film stills archive, who became a kind of employee spokesperson during the 2000 PASTA MoMA strike. As soon as the strike ended, MoMA closed Corliss’s whole department and moved the archive into off-site storage.

A close up from Simon's conversation with Corliss. While I appreciate the irony of putting this on a shelf in a museum-quality art book, I really wish this were distributed more widely. Does anybody have a link to this?

A close up from Simon’s conversation with Corliss. While I appreciate the irony of putting this on a shelf in a museum-quality art book, I really wish this were distributed more widely. Does anybody have a link to this?

One of several Andres Serranos in the show. The klansmen/women images don't do much for me, just because they read as a straightforward statement of the fact that the Klan is still around. To be fair, <a href="http://www.vice.com/vice-news/triple-hate-part-1" target="_blank">VICE has upped the ante</a>.

One of several works by Andres Serrano in the show. The klansmen/women images don’t do much for me, just because they read as a straightforward statement of the fact that the Klan is still around. To be fair, VICE has upped the ante.

spero

An untitled 1985 drawing is one of many Nancy Spero works in the show. Most here are sketchy and vague, but it comes with a small pencil note “Love to Julie” on the bottom

Another warm and sensitive light piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres suggests testicles (though you can't really see from the photo). I have no idea if that's the reference, but they're a lot friendlier than the Flavin sticks.

Another warm and sensitive light piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres suggests testicles (though you can’t really see from the photo). I have no idea if that’s the reference, but they’re a lot friendlier than the Flavin sticks.

This video is amazing. It documents Catholic nun-turned-new age art teacher Corita Kent, who emphasized seeing every detail as a visual note. Kent takes her students to a "looking session" to a used car lot. As she talks the shots get very fast, as though she's inspiring the filmmaker to jot down every single detail. The film is called "Corita on Teaching and Celebration: We Have No Art" (1967)

This video is amazing. It documents Catholic nun-turned-new-age art teacher Corita Kent, who emphasized seeing every detail as a visual note. Kent takes her students to a “looking session” in a used car lot. As she talks the shots get very fast, as though she’s inspiring the filmmaker to jot down every single detail. The film is called “Corita on Teaching and Celebration: We Have No Art” (1967).

A wall of Corita's work gives you an idea of her birds nest approach to the advertising logos around her. I probably wouldn't think about this too much in a bluechip or fair setting, just because it dovetails well with the graphic style which might do well at Christie’s. That's a huge shame, because this work specifically reminds you to slow down and take pleasure in viewing.   Also you have to hand it to whoever threw Andres Serrano's "Blood" (1987) in the middle here.

A wall of Corita’s work gives you an idea of her bird’s-nest approach to the advertising logos around her. I probably wouldn’t think about this too much in a blue-chip or fair setting, just because it dovetails well with the graphic style which might do well at Christie’s. That’s a huge shame, because this work specifically reminds you to slow down and take pleasure in viewing.
Also you have to hand it to whoever threw Andres Serrano’s “Blood” (1987) in the middle here.

This is the weirdest art video I have ever seen: Rasmus Røhling's "A Love Supreme" (2008) films a group of guys renting out a hotel room to film an art video, and mechanically staging a deathly romantic embrace. It’s an interpretation of John Coltrane’s 1965 album of that title, and the dialogue is the poem which he wrote in the liner notes for that album. According to wiki, Coltrane’s supposedly speaking that poem through the music. Røhling's version seems to get at an interpretation of that, without leaving you with any feeling in particular. So I’m still not sure how I feel about this.

This is the weirdest art video I have ever seen: Rasmus Røhling’s “A Love Supreme” (2008) films a group of guys renting out a hotel room to film an art video, and mechanically staging a deathly romantic embrace. It’s an interpretation of John Coltrane’s 1965 album of that title, and the dialogue is the poem which he wrote in the liner notes for that album. According to Wikipedia, Coltrane’s supposedly speaking that poem through the music. Røhling’s version seems to get at an interpretation of that, without leaving you with any feeling in particular. So I’m still not sure how I feel about this.

Bricks, painted as burning buildings, by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (1982-83). <a href="http://98bowery.com/returntothebowery/abcnorio-related-groups.php" target="_blank">According to Rollins</a> the bricks were taken from lots that had just burned during the "Bronx is Burning" era

Bricks, painted as burning buildings, by Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (1982-83). According to Rollins the bricks were taken from lots that had just burned during the “Bronx is Burning” era.

 One of several disco song titles by Steven Evans,

One of several disco song titles by Steven Evans, “Selections from the Disco” (1979-89). According to archive materials, Evans’s titles were used to mark intervals in Group Material’s AIDS timeline. “Menergy” was written 1981 by Patrick Cowley, who died of AIDs in 1982.

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  • http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online Carmen H

    Great review of an absolutely enthralling show! I loved how the Liberace video showing him giving a tour of his ridiculous (and beautiful) personal collection. That, and seeing Ault’s collection, reminded me that collections can be built on a more intimate, and highly personal scale.

    • WhitneyKimball

      Thanks for reading! And yes it feels very by-artists-for-artists, which I thought was a nice alternative, even if a lot of these artists have made bolder (more macho?) work.

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