Brian D.'s Profile
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Yelp is useful. When I'm in a new neighborhood and need a bite to eat I always open my Yelp app and search for a good local spot. I've found great places through Yelp that I'd never have found by accident--a Himalayan restaurant above a nail salon in Queens, a homey mom-and-pop café in a LA business center. But even more than the useful of Yelp I like its funny and cool. Yelp will publish anything, and people write some really weird stuff. Once I came across a Yelp page for a subway station where one girl had written "I like this station because it's right near my house." Good for you. I also like to read reviews of places like Burger King or CVS. why would anyone yelp them? No one goes to BK without already knowing what to expect. The brand managers of a big chain make sure the customer experience is consistent and predictable no matter what location you're in. That's what we expect of them--sameness. And yet for all the apparent sameness a Yelp review of Dunkin Donuts can be really fun and interesting to read. Because the reality of life is that every experience is unique. And Yelp--as a place where any brand that isn't Yelp has no power to manage the consistency of its image--reveals that truth.
I'm into art, so even though I've been using Yelp for years I didn't start my own Yelp account until I happened upon a Yelp page of a gallery while googling and it occurred to me that I too could Yelp about art. I hadn't thought it through at the time but since then I've come to realize what appealed to me is this expression of subjective experience rubbing against the sameness of the art world. The Guggenheim is like Burger King. You don't go there because it got good reviews on Yelp. You go there because you know the brand. You've been to museums before, if not the Guggnheim, and you know what it will be like. The Gugg is similar to what you get at the Whitney, and though all the galleries in Chelsea have their own name they all belong to the global brand of "contemporary art." And that brand strives for consistency as much as BK. How galleries show art is totally standardized, white walls purifying space around the art, and how they talk about art is standard too. Museum wall texts or gallery press releases have a uniform scholastic style that can be unreadable. And they don't account for all the ways art can be in the world--the way art looks in a studio or a home is very different from a museum and the way people experience it there is different too. Going to galleries you come to assume that that's the only way art can be--but its not true! I like reading art reviews on Yelp to be reminded of this and I write them for the same reason.
The weird thing about Yelp is that even though it's a platform for a diversity of voices it also obscures them by averaging them out in one rating and just publishing an unreadable number. if I'm trying to choose a satisfying restaurant I'll look at some positive reviews and some negative ones to see what vibes with my own tastes and judge based on that. But the vast majority I'll never read. So visibility of difference ends up as invisibility. It's not a person's opinion that matters but Yelp's aggregation. People have tastes, Yelp has authority. It's not enough for a business to say "People love us." It's "People love us ON YELP." Yelp's the critic. Which is interesting because the critic--of art or of food or whatever--has traditionally been a human with feelings like any other but a superior skill for articulating these feelings through rational argument. That's what public discourse of newspapers holds in esteem--reason. But Yelp as a corporate entity or software app takes the burden of reason away from us humans. It calculates value for us, leaving us with our subjective human feelings. And it needs us to have them. It's not enough for a business to say "Yelp says we are good." It's "People LOVE us on Yelp."
Maybe I'm taking this too far but I see this as a reflection of what's happening politically. The critic appeared around the same time as representative democracy and the appearance of Yelp as a critic seems to coincide with a post-democratic governance, or whatever you'd call it. "Corporations are people" now and the government serves those corporate people with the nominal default approval of the humans born on its land who don't bother to leave. There are polls for measuring how people FEEL about govt performance but no real means of DOING anything with those feelings. Measurements of public opinion have nothing to do with real power--citizenship is the same kind of visible invisibility available on Yelp. As citizens we're like users, powerless even when active or "elite," giving the corporate people license to do what they want just by continuing to live. So I see Yelp as a model for how society works now. And that's what makes Yelp interesting If a little frightening/depressing. As a tool for understanding how things are in the world, it's useful.
While Red Lobster is a familiar entity to diners in the United States, a global superpower and an aggressive exponent of neoliberal ideology, I had never dined there until a recent Sunday afternoon. My companion, who had only visited Red Lobster facilities in central Pennsylvania, immediately remarked on the "upscale" self-presentation of this urban Red Lobster relative to the more casual atmospheres of the Pennsylvanian habitus. The dark wooden paneling and navy banquettes articulated one of interior design's discourses of authority in order to enact the effect of a "special experience," so apt for this particular outlet of the Red Lobster chain, located as it is in the belly of an outer-borough temple of consumption.
Visitors to Red Lobster often comment on the delight produced by the complimentary cheese biscuits. A basic and omnipresent food--bread--is presented in an alternative form--the biscuit--elaborated further by Red Lobster with the addition of cheese, a dairy product popular for its combination of creaminess and saltiness. Served warm, the cheese biscuits exude a coziness that illusorily eradicates the sensation of alienation of consumer to food endemic to the mass-market restaurant experience. While the cheese biscuits are free, the cost of their production is in fact hidden in the prices of the menu's paid items. A gift without a gift economy (Reb Lobster's manager would be surprised indeed should a customer offer something in reciprocation), their distribution is in actuality an augmentation of the capitalist practice of concealing rent and labor in the commodity form.
We shared two appetizers and one entrée, playfully subverting the standards of individualized gluttony through the implementation of a communal dining praxis. The Coconut Shrimp comprised plump prawns fried in a batter so fruity and sweet it may have passed for a dessert at a more avant-garde eatery rather than a starter at Red Lobster, especially when dipped in the accompanying pina-colada sauce. (The flavor was nearly indistinguishable from that of my beverage--a Malibu Hurricane--highlighting the transversal of gustatory stimulators across solid and liquid forms of nourishment.) The dish interrogated first-course conventions even while following them, a contradiction intensifying the appetizer experience: a frivolously crunchy fried finger-food whetting the appetite for more substantial fare as well as a cloying flavor experience that induces an immediate craving for a subsequent savory dish. We also ordered the Lobster Pizza, where chunks of shellfish swim in a creamy pool atop a crisp crust. The fusion of two cuisines--seafood and Italian-American--so popular in the New England dining milieu in which Red Lobster's branding strategy finds its genealogy was a clever move on Red Lobster's part, yet without vegetables or notable seasonings the blend was bland. The internal flaw undermining the fusion was revealed as the Lobster Pizza deconstructed itself on my tongue.
Our Signature Combination was comprised by barbecued shrimp, grilled scallops, and a bisected lobster tail. The trio of now-defunct crustaceans reconstituted life on the sea floor in a colorful array, jauntily organized in a loose triangle upon a broad oval platter. The lobster, a metonym of the institution itself, was suitably succulent, the bites of meat clinging to the edges of the shell much like the bodies of patrons lodged in the restaurant's booths. It showed us, with horrible vividness, how we consume lobster and how lobster consumes us. The garden salad, the cost of which was included in that of the Signature Combination, was utilized by me as palate cleanser, the tasteless iceberg lettuce offering a tepid respite from bites of butter-drenched fish flesh, but otherwise it was unworthy of comment.
All of these dishes were not only served but pictured on the menu, photographed with such glossy flair that, when the menu is placed beside a plate and opened to the page on which the dish is pictured, a passer-by could be forgiven for failing to distinguish the two with a quick glance. When the menu is on the table, the diner's gaze is bifurcated as it meets its objects of desire: the physical food and its photographic reproduction, an auratic potential meal that is just as--if not more--appealing than the real nourishment that sits before the diner. Thus Red Lobster maintains its customers in the gears of the engine of desire, inciting an appetite that can only be extinguished by death; the customer--always between yearning and satisfaction, hunger and satiety--wants to eternally return to ShrimpFests, CrabFests, and LobsterFests. Saddeningly, many Yelpers have succumbed to this spectacle, failing to adapt a truly critical optical in their reviews; they fixate on the centrality of the lobster itself rather than confronting it as a repertoire of practices and effects that increasingly lodges Red Lobster within the body.
I had a fairly complicated experience with this gallery that will take a while to explain so please bear with me.
When I went to Elizabeth Dee at the end of February there was a sign on the door warning people not to come in if they didn't want to have their photograph taken and put online. Ryan McNamara, the artist exhibiting there, was making all his viewers dress up in costumes and pose with props for pictures, so they weren't just his viewers but collaborators in his work who would eventually become viewers of themselves in the work. I thought it was a cool idea. I walked inside and got dressed up. I ended up wearing a denim jumpsuit by Armani and holding the end of a vacuum cleaner that was blowing out air to fan the long hair of this other guy who I didn't know. The photo came out really well! It was thoughtful of the artist and the gallery to put all the images online where people could see them and download them. I posted mine on Facebook and it got 27 likes, which is a lot for me! So I was very satisfied with my initial experience at Elizabeth Dee, except for one small thing: Seeing as how people were getting in and out of costume in the gallery I thought there should have been a changing area. I had taken off the jumpsuit and was in my underwear when Elizabeth Dee herself walked out of her office with a client and they saw me standing in the gallery half-naked. It was a little embarrassing--at least for me, maybe she was already used to it. Anyway, this could easily have been avoided if Ryan McNamara had strung up a curtain in the corner or something like that.
A few weeks later all the photographs were cut up and incorporated in collage designs on various objects. I went back to Elizabeth Dee to check it out. There was an archway, jugs and vases, masks, canvasses, etc., all decorated with the results of the on-site photo shoots. It was all very nicely done and I had a fun time recognizing people I knew. Of course I was most interested in finding the picture of me and seeing what Ryan McNamara had done with it. When I finally found it... well, I was disappointed, to put it mildly. The photo was on a jug and my face spread over a curve. Apparently to get it on there they had to wipe out all my features, perhaps with glue.. it was hard to tell with the way the jug curved. So instead of me it was just the Armani jumpsuit with a warped blank spot for a head. I was sad because I looked really good in that photo, and also I felt slightly disturbed by the thought of that jug going to some art collector's house with my wiped-out face. Ryan McNamara's project was about photographing his audience so he shouldn't have let something like that happen to anyone who posed for him.
I really liked the overall energy at Elizabeth Dee while Ryan McNamara's show was up but because of the problem with my face (and also the lack of the changing area) I unfortunately cannot give this gallery more than two stars.
The Guggenheim is the best museum in New York to go to on a date. If you go to the Met then your date will want to look at the Egyptian galleries whereas you want to look at Dutch painting, or whatever, and eventually you'll reach a compromise that you both secretly resent. Same at MoMA and any other museum that has a diverse array of exhibits to see. The Guggenheim is good for a date because it doesn't give you a choice. There's nowhere to go but up the ramp. Of course, there's the Tannhauser galleries on the side, but you can always stop in those on the way back down (if you really need to see Kandinsky AGAIN). This is also good for tourists. Tourists don't care about art, they just want to visit a museum and feel like they've achieved something by visiting it, and the feeling of walking to the apex of a spiral ramp is a great simulation of achievement. That's why whenever you go to the Guggenheim pretty much everyone you see is either a couple on a date or tourists.
As for looking at art the Guggenheim is not so great. Everything is on a slant, the galleries are chopped up into little rectangular alcoves, there's the dull roar of everything that happens in the atrium echoing as permanent background noise, you feel like you're on the world's longest treadmill. The only way art looks good here is if it somehow takes the shape of the museum into account and responds to it. I'm not a big fan of Maurizio Cattelan but his retrospective here, where he hung all the sculptures from the roof so that as you went up the ramp you would see themes and imagery developing in his work over time, and get several various perspectives on them, was really brilliant. Also the Tino Sehgal piece where nothing was hung in the museum and you would just talk to people of increasing age as you went to the top was a great response to the physical feeling of progress you get from walking up the ramp--makes you wonder what "progress" really is in history or in life.
That said, I've seen some more conventional exhibitions at the Guggenheim that were really well put together and I learned a ton from them--the Richard Prince retrospective in 2008 and the recent Gutai show are two stand-outs for me. Even if the space wasn't so flattering to these exhibitions I appreciated the chance to see them.
This place is very confusing! It's in a ritzy office building and the main entrance is on one of the upper floors. I can never remember which one, and it's not marked in the elevator, and I don't want to ask the security guard in the lobby because when I go into a fancy building on the UES I just want to breeze by like I know what I'm doing, know what I mean? I'll concede that this last point is my problem and not the gallery's. But still. When you get off on the upper floors there are narrow, dark corridors and multiple doors to the gallery, some marked and some not. I always feel like I'm sneaking in an exit, or about to open a door to an employee lounge. At one entrance you're immediately confronted by a narrow staircase, leading to a gallery on the top floor. Considering this is one of Manhattan's top galleries it's a bit disconcerting that it's laid out like a rabbit warren.
Because of its size this location of Gagosian always has several shows up at once. On my last visit one of the big draws was Cy Twombly, an artist who I personally have never liked. When I first started to learn about painting I thought this was my fault--I suspected that there was something special about the relation of the pigment to the brushstroke to the canvas, or about the form of his scribbles to the classical texts referenced in the titles, that I just couldn't understand. As time passed I became more confident that this was not the case. He's a reasonably proficient painter with a few novel ideas and a lot of pretentious talk around them to magnify their importance. (Come to think of it, this description can be applied to most successful artists.) I can see how some people can be moved by his work but overall I think he's way overrated. Cy Twombly died recently and Gagosian Gallery was showing his last paintings. They were big whorls in bright red/chatreuse, green, and yellow--like his old chalk-on-chalkboard drawings but done in synthetic pigments in fast-food-chain colors on wood, for durability. When I looked at them I found myself imagining a 3rd-rate painter ca. 1972 saying to himself: "Now that I've combined Abstract Expressionism with Pop I'll be proclaimed a GENIUS!!" This imaginary painter didn't coincide with the image I'd had of Cy Twombly--and that's partly why the exhibition felt strange to me. On another floor there was a gallery of Twombly's photographs, taken in the Italian countryside where he lived. Lots of shrubs, trees, and country roads with nothing particularly distinctive about them, all overexposed, blurred, and excessively bright with no sense of composition--it was like a bad and pretentious Instagram account (and I should know, haha! Follow me on Instagram). If I had any doubts about my assessment of Twombly's artistry, those photographs killed them. RIP Cy Twombly. RIP doubts.
But that's not all!! There was ANOTHER exhibition at the gallery, of another artist--Richard Prince. It was some black and white text pieces, the hood of a car, tarry textured paintings. I wasn't into it. I love Prince's early work, the photographs of magazines and joke paintings. Magazine ads create an image of a social setting that everyone recognizes but can't actually take part of because it doesn't exist, a simulatneous sense of familiarity and alienation, whereas jokes are what people say to each other when they want to sustain a conversation but are afraid of talking about things that are honest and personal, or just have nothing to say. And Prince's old works are about these feelings. A lot of people seem to think of those works are wry cerebral games but they've always struck me as very melancholy and pointed reflections on being a lonely outsider. What happens to lonely outsiders when they become hugely successful? Some of them turn into surly jerks. That's what happened to Richard Prince. Most of his work of the last ten years is all about being a surly jerk and I'm over him.
I think there was at least one other show at this gallery. It's huge! I can't remember what it was though.
Last month I went to Foxy Production to see a show by Michael Wang. I had read some of the articles he wrote for Artforum and other art magazines and he seemed like a smart and cool guy so I was curious to see his art. The show was called "Carbon Copies" and it was a series of sculptures. Each sculpture was made out of carbon and its dimensions were determined by the amount of CO2 that was emitted to create a certain artwork, the appearance of which was reflected by details in the sculpture. So, one of the big ones was based on Richard Serra Torqued Ellipse and it was a cube with a torqued ellipse cut out of the middle. I thought it was a great show. It combined two kinds of work that are super boring--art about art, art about environmental issues--and made a really interesting, good-looking show. Quite an achievement! When I looked at the checklist I saw the prices of the sculptures were in the low three figures, with a couple under $100. This was really exciting for me because I always go to Chelsea without expecting to see any art I can actually afford. I wanted to buy one of Michael Wang's sculptures! I asked if any were still available. The dealer said no--the whole series had been sold together as an installation, and the objects were never meant to be sold separately anyway. They were priced that way conceptually--each price is fixed at 1 dollar per 1.1 negative tons of carbon offset. Not sure exactly what that means, but in any case, the experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. If that's the way the prices work, maybe they could be written with pen and ink on some nice paper and hung on the wall, so people would get that it's part of the installation. That way the gallery wouldn't confuse or let anyone down. Just a suggestion.
I was going to give Foxy Production three and a half stars but I guess there's no way to award a half star. So only three.
Three-word review: L. O. L.
I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in a gallery as I did at Joel Holmberg's exhibit here. This is a good thing. The gallery just had seven monitors with video, plainer than a display aisle at BestBuy, but the content on them was something else.
One of my favorites was "Unattended Macbook Airs in Juice Store, 2013." It's just what the title says it is. Through the storefront window we see a Macbook Air, its screen black from disuse, unattended on a small round table without seating, where one would drink juice standing. The camera zooms in for a closer look--it is indeed a Macbook. A few steps further, past the door, and on the ledge is ANOTHER Macbook, similarly abandoned, black-screened. The camera pans up for a long view of the first computer, from behind, zooming in and then swinging around rapidly for another view back where it started. I think what I found so funny about this video is the voyeuristic quality of peering into windows but without any attention to people, who are usually the object of peeping. (Where are the humans anyway? Drinking juice?) Instead you have the machine eye of the camera scoping other machines. Of course there's a person (Joel Holmberg) behind the camera, but except for the part where he walks past the store door and you glimpse his shoe he's invisible, and the flourish of movement at the end swooping from one window to the next is so fast it seems inhuman. So it's funny to think that machines want to study each other when no one is around. Also, it's crazy that there are two computers just sitting there.
I could go on and on describing all seven videos in the show but I'd run out of space, so I'll just talk about the piece de resistance, which is a collection of shots of people talking on CNN and the labels that say who they are. Some examples I wrote down: "Pete Wilson: Car Hit By Boulder" "Deziray Chick: Filmed Owls" "Amy Corey: Banned from McDonalds" "Nilly Mauck: Condo Trashed" The grammar of how they are described doesn't always matched. It's like dangling modifiers. That, plus the stories people are telling, if you listen (it was kind of hard to hear in the gallery--but I was there at the opening when people were talking) are very ordinary and boring, and that gets you thinking about how CNN is trying to create and sort through so much info, how pointing the camera is one way to get people to talk about themselves, and the person back in the studios writing the descriptions is working from the other side to figure out what to do with it. And the descriptions, when seen one after the other, are just so funny. "Cathy Wunschel: Found Pearl" "Marc Rosenthal: Was Lost In Apple Orchard" Like the juice store video, and the rest of the ones in this show, the collage of CNN footage approached the way humans and technology participate in communication from a fresh and fun perspective and I loved it.
This museum is sooo random! I was there today and I heard a docent telling her tour group that "there was no acquisitions policy written down" until 1951 and I was like, no shit lady. The Fricks were just buying whatever struck their fancy and now New York has this weird museum celebrating them and their whims. I guess it's useful for figuring out your taste in painting, because there is such a weird mix--without any kind of chronological or historical narrative to rely on--that it's really up to you to decide what's worth looking at and how you should look at it. Though there is a free audio guide.. but audio guides are for dweebs.
And there is a lot to like here. For instance, I LIVE for Holbein the Younger and the portrait of Thomas Cromwell is absolutely radiant. I also am obsessed with the two Turner paintings of the northern European port cities, with orange waters and yellow skies. The Cologne one has a puppy drinking from the Rhine. It's nice that they have big couches under each Turner to rest on and look around. Each would be ideal for resting in while looking at the Turner on the opposite wall... BUT in the middle of the gallery there's a table with some decorative statuettes on it, so if you try to look at the opposite Turner there is a centaur abducting a woman and blocking your view (so instead you have to look a little to your left, at Margareta Snyder, an old Dutch lady who had to wear a huge collar so she wouldn't bite her stitches). The centaur is additionally annoying because, like most of the Frick's decorative arts, it's just a tacky expensive tchotchke. Other "highlights" of the applied arts include nymphs on a clock and two porcelain geishas who look like they're high.
Let's get real--some of the paintings are pretty bad too. Like the Goya portrait of a military officer who has this smug-but-insecure hipster look on his face (which, I'll admit, is weird in a good way--but certainly not a significant work as far as Goyas go), or Manet's big pastel-colored scene of a mother and her two little girls, all of whom look like stupid dolls, and the only dark color is their spooky eyes, which are gawking at something off the canvas.. what the hell is it? I actually don't even care. Also don't care about the big boring French paintings with lots of dark trees, none of which are even Poussins.
The moral of this story is, if you have obscene amounts of cash you can buy whatever art and knickknacks you like and put them in your Fifth Avenue mansion, and that's fine. But it's overly pretentious to assume that other people need to see it just the way you left it.. it's better to donate it to the Met or the National Gallery and let the curators make sense of it. But I can see why Henry might have had some immortality issues with a name like Frick.
There are people out there who have very little intellectual curiosity but still like to feel smart and Unix is a gallery that caters to them. I went there during the Miami Art Walk and there was a wax sculpture of Damien Hirst shooting himself in the head (displayed in a glass case, to make it look extra precious and valuable) and I thought, This is exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to a rich jerk who fancies himself edgy and savvy about art but actually doesn't know a thing about it. There was also a series of obnoxiously arty, large-format pornographic photos. Picture early Cindy Sherman, but with big naked tits and shaved vaginas. Garbage!
Color me paradoxical but the art museum feels like the least snooty place on the Princeton campus--not that that's saying much. The entrance is very relaxed, because you don't have to pay to get in, and you don't even have to pay for a locker to store your bag--just ask for a key in the store. The front gallery is like a cozy parlor of artworks, crowded with post-war masterpieces arranged in a circle--I was really impressed by a painting with big scraps of fabric applied to the canvas. It was Conrad di Marca Relli, who I'd never heard of before but was glad to learn about.
American and European art is in the "upper galleries" whereas African, Asian and Native American art is in the "lower galleries," which sounds racist at first, but actually the low-ceiling, darker galleries of the basement level are better for the cool curio-cabinet set up they have down there, with all of these glass cases packed with specimens. I was particularly intrigued by a Mayan display that included figurines of men who were bound, hanged, and tortured displayed alongside instruments of cock/ball torture. Usually when you see the usual old ritual masks or Greek and Roman pottery and busts (all of which are here in abundance, by the way) you feel like you know what they were for and why they were made, but with these things bursted with an enigmatic energy of long-dead sadists.
Upstairs, some of the galleries have low comfy black leather couches in them, inviting you to sit down and spend a while looking closely at a painting. I'm a sucker for couches in museums. If you want me to look at a painting for a long time.. hang it in front of a couch!! I ended up gazing at a Willem de Kooning, a Toulouse-Latrec, and a John Singer Sargent--all artists who I'm not crazy about but, since they had couches, I went for it. I can't say I felt any revelations while doing so but had a good time nonetheless.
I really enjoyed a temporary exhibition titled "New Jersey as Non-Site" that looked at art made over the last few decades in New Jersey, which you wouldn't ordinarily think of as an art-making place but lots of amazing stuff has come out of it--mostly by artists who were living in New York and were just going there for some fresh air, or quarries and abandoned houses, but still. Did you know that two members of Fluxus used to have weekly meetings at a Howard Johnson in New Brunswick? And they organized a YAM festival in Jersey? I also liked learning about the artistic community that Amiri Baraka cultivated in Newark. There was all sorts of interesting art stuff happening in New Jersey--and you could say that there still is now, at the Princeton University Art Museum.
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