David Velasco

  • diary June 11, 2009

    Ruby Tuesday

    Basel

    BASEL IS THE KIND OF RELENTLESSLY PLEASANT small city in which, returning late from a party, one might encounter (as I did) a lone police car pausing to allow a pair of injured, wayward ducks to cross the road. There’s a lovely circus, the Knie, on the Messeplatz, and discerning art executives make a special point of reserving rooms in the Ramada that look down into it, so that they can wake up and contemplate the zebras. There are places called Don’t Worry, Be Happy Bar and Friends Bar, the latter decorated with posters from the eponymous television show. Where is the traction for cynicism,

  • diary June 05, 2009

    It’s Reigning Men

    Venice

    I ARRIVED IN VENICE late Monday night for Daniel Birnbaum’s Biennale and boarded what felt like the last vaporetto from Ferrovia. Destination: San Zaccharia and a predictably cramped and overpriced hotel. Leafing through my 2007 tourist guide for directions, I noticed a then-speculative news brief in the “Dorsoduro” chapter titled “Pinault in the Punta?” I briefly considered the tediously lubricious undertones. It seemed a bit tasteless on the book’s part, until I realized I was thinking in Spanish slang, not Italian. Still, François Pinault is indeed “in the Punta” this year, meaning the Punta

  • interviews June 01, 2009

    Elmgreen & Dragset

    For the 53rd Venice Biennale, the artistic duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset will represent the Nordic and Danish pavilions. The duo have chosen to conceive of the pavilions as separate “homes,” in which they have installed works by twenty-four different artists. Here, Elmgreen & Dragset talk about the project, titled “The Collectors.”

    WE WERE APPROACHED to do the pavilions about a year and a half ago. As an art space, we knew that the Nordic pavilion was problematic, but we also knew we would love to live there. We thought, “Well, let’s make it a home.” The Danish pavilion’s architecture

  • Laura Parnes

    Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School (1978) is a messy novel filled with nihilistic divagations and high-theory musings, juvenile drawings of cunts and cocks, unstable characters on a bombastic path of nonbecoming. Genet has a lengthy cameo, as does Jimmy Carter; there’s a character named Mr. Blowjob. For all the dialogic chaos, it’s an easy text to thematize, to reduce to some glib scrawl lifted from some po-mo bad-girl diary. When putting the book to another medium, one could imagine any number of ways to make vulgar and vapid the pensive, difficult texts, subtexts, and intertexts that,

  • interviews May 12, 2009

    Christopher Williams

    In 2005, the choreographer, dancer, and puppeteer Christopher Williams received a Bessie award for his Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, a dance that was presented as part of a shared bill for the “New, New Stuff” series at P.S. 122. His latest work is a companion piece that focuses on Jacobus de Voragine’s thirteenth-century text Legenda Aurea Sacorum (The Golden Legend). Here Williams discusses this work, which premieres May 12–16 at Dance Theater Workshop in New York.

    I STARTED WITH THE WOMEN. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, which featured eleven “solos” loosely inspired by some rather macabre

  • diary May 05, 2009

    Hi Concept

    Minneapolis

    THE BODY HAD BEEN BURIED and the time capsules unearthed by the time I arrived in Minneapolis last weekend for the opening of “The Quick and the Dead,” Peter Eleey’s intelligent and elusive exhibition of conceptual art at the Walker Art Center. The show is flush with paradoxes and brainy feints and lunges; things are rarely what they seem. “It’s a big book to be read closely,” said one of the artists, Mark Manders.

    The Walker is the perfect place for such a difficult show; indeed, many attendees will already be equipped with an instinctive theoretical compass. This is a city, after all, whose

  • 1000 WORDS: SARAH MICHELSON

    WHAT BECOMES A GIMMICK MOST? For that matter, what becomes a gimmick? This is the sort of question that vexes the choreographer Sarah Michelson. Was it a gimmick to serve rotisserie chicken during intermission in Dogs, 2006? To include the white limousine “getaway car” at the end of Shadowmann: Part 1, 2003? What about her persistent use of little girls? Or the cheap, cartoonish horse-head masks in her latest dance, Dover Beach, an early version of which debuted last September at Chapter in Cardiff, Wales, and which will have its stateside premiere this June at the Kitchen? (Speaking to this last example, Michelson offers that at least the horse heads are “gimmicky.”)
     
    It may or may not have been a gimmick for Michelson to commission for her 2005 piece Daylight (for Minneapolis) at the Walker Art Center fifty painted portraits of her curator, Philip Bither, one of each of her dancers, and one each, too, of Kathy Halbreich and Richard Flood, then director and deputy director of the institution. And it may have been a joke on the ritual mythologization of the performer or a fetishistic homage to it (the difference is not always clear) when Michelson installed these portraits as set pieces throughout the museum and its theater for the dance. That this cocksure act shadowed a concurrent Chuck Close exhibition in the Walker’s galleries did not go unnoticed by Michelson, who ate up the irony of such a juxtaposition. “A gimmick is anything that’s in there that I enjoy a little too much,” she admits.
     
    “Attitude sells,” Joan Acocella wrote of such provocations in 2005, capping off a cranky (if generally positive), now-notorious New Yorker piece on four darlings of Manhattan’s “downtown” dance scene. The august balletomane was referring specifically to Michelson, who was then becoming something of a cause célèbre in the dance world and beyond for her unusual style, transformative sets, and tendency to talk to the press about rent trouble and personal injuries. In the same article, Acocella glibly dubbed Michelson and the others (Tere O’Connor, Christopher Williams, and Lucy Guerin) “surrealists” for their “irrational,” antinarrative impulses and ambiguous sound tracks and gestures.
     
    There is indeed a dreamlike logic to Michelson’s dances, if also a peculiarly dialectical one that hovers between the deliberate and the arbitrary, between the recondite and the free-associative. Each element is finely tuned to a specific, sophisticated audience; she prefers the elaborate logic of the inside joke to the banal logic of spectacle, often demanding more of her spectators than they can possibly give. Michelson is an unusual figure, one who finds affinities with both Christopher Wheeldon and Yvonne Meier, both Twyla Tharp and (early) Yvonne Rainer; she is outside, but not necessarily antagonistic to, the generic lineages of ballet, modern, and “postmodern” dance, and in this way she is representative of a field of contemporary choreographers whose activity has most densely accumulated around small, vanguard New York institutions. Her movements can evoke different styles, but she fervently repudiates pastiche. She nests old dances within new dances like matryoshka dolls, employs unusual repetitions, and designs gestures whose principal aim is to make the dancer work. Actions become contagious: A man on a balcony scooping with his arm can infect a mass of dancers below, who will anxiously repeat the motion before collapsing or breaking into sprints. Does all this make her a surrealist? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, such an appellation surely obscures as much as it reveals. With Michelson, it might be more legitimate to say that attitude doesn’t simply sell—it becomes form.
     
    —DAVID VELASCO

    IN 2006, JAMES TYSON, the theater programmer at Chapter in Cardiff, Wales, invited me to make a piece there. I hadn’t been back to the UK in a while, and I wanted to be nearer to my granny; he said I could do anything, so I agreed to it. I arrived in January of 2007, a month and a half after I’d had hip surgery. I was on crutches; it was pouring down rain; I was staying in a bed-and-breakfast and didn’t know anybody. There were no plans at all, not for dinner, not even to show me around—which was very James. Turns out he really did mean, “Oh, you’ll come to Wales and do whatever you want.”

  • interviews April 20, 2009

    Stephen Petronio

    On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his dance company, choreographer Stephen Petronio has created a new work. I Drink the Air Before Me, featuring costumes by Adam Kimmel and Cindy Sherman and a musical score by Nico Muhly, premieres at the Joyce Theater in New York from April 28 to May 3. Here Petronio discusses the foundation of his company and the development of his latest piece.

    I MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY IN 1978. In my first year, I lived in thirteen different places. I finally landed in an apartment on Saint Mark’s Place, where I lived through the 1980s and ’90s—until about

  • John Gerrard

    I never did get to see the pigs in John Gerrard’s Grow Finish Unit (near Elkhart, Kansas) 2008. Nor will I likely ever witness the culmination of the artist’s Oil Stick Work (Angelo Martinez/Richfield, Kansas) 2008. The animations’ respective climaxes and denouements will escape most viewers; indeed, that’s part of their charm.

    “Oil Stick Work,” Gerrard’s first New York solo show, was held at Simon Preston Gallery in conjunction with a small presentation uptown at Knoedler Project Space. The principal works, three interactive computer animations, offer the sort of virtual environments found in

  • diary March 27, 2009

    The Gulf Between

    Dubai

    THE END OF BLING. Damien Hirst’s glittering death’s-head flashed on the screen. DUBAI EXPATS GIVE NEW MEANING TO LONG-STAY CAR PARK came a headline. Then, a quote from Anna Wintour: I DON’T THINK ANYONE IS GOING TO WANT TO LOOK OVERLY FLASHY, OVERLY GLITZY, TOO DUBAI. “The media is all too eager to document ‘the end of Dubai,’” Rem Koolhaas said to the audience. “It’s as if we need the reassurance of Dubai’s demise to restore our own confidence.”

    It was late Monday afternoon in the Emirate of Sharjah, and about a hundred of us were sitting in a darkened room at Dar Al Nadwa trying to catch the

  • interviews March 05, 2009

    Shannon Ebner

    The artist Shannon Ebner is perhaps best known for her photographic and sculptural works that investigate language and its meaning. Ebner’s The Sun as Error, a book published by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, coordinated by Dexter Sinister, and distributed by RAM Publishers, will have its New York launch at White Columns on March 6.

    IN SEPTEMBER 2007, Charlotte Cotton, the head of the Photography Department at LACMA, commissioned me for a book. She didn’t offer any specific parameters—it could be anything.

    I approached Dexter Sinister [design collaborators David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey]

  • Jaimie Warren

    Jaimie Warren is by no means the first—or the best—artist to embrace self-portraiture as an artistic methodology, but she certainly looks to be having the most fun doing it. An uneven selection of forty-two of her droll, scrappy photographs constituted “Don’t You Feel Better,” her recent solo debut at Higher Pictures; the title, like the exhibition, betrayed a cathartic impulse at once frustrating and entirely refreshing.

    Warren’s work invokes a lineage of other female self-portraitists, most obviously Cindy Sherman and Nikki S. Lee. Whereas Lee, however, often dresses to pass—as stereotyped

  • interviews January 10, 2009

    John Giorno

    For over forty years, the poet John Giorno has explored the media through which poetry is disseminated. In 1963, Giorno was the subject of Andy Warhol’s Sleep, and recently Giorno collaborated with Rirkrit Tiravanija on the latter’s work JG Reads, 2008, which was shown at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise November 22–December 20. An exhibition of Giorno’s artwork is on view at Almine Rech gallery in Paris January 10–February 25, 2009.

    THE NAME OF THE SHOW IS “Life Is a Killer,” which is also the title of a poem of mine from 1982. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but Ugo [Rondinone] liked it. I was going to name

  • Donald Moffett

    Queer variations on a theme, the fourteen coquettish canvases in “Easy Clean,” Donald Moffett’s most recent exhibition at Marianne Boesky, all service the same end. In the front gallery, Moffett showed three monochromes, bristly sculptural paintings resembling patches of Astroturf or dense clusters of flagella (each a sliver of oil paint squeezed directly from the tube). Cut with holes, the canvases reveal the walls in simple shapes—an exclamation mark, a matrix of dots, and an array of overlapping circles.

    The main gallery featured work no less corporeal for being less hirsute: eleven canvases,

  • diary December 05, 2008

    Fair Enough

    Miami

    RECESSION MIAMI BASEL looks a lot like boom-time Miami Basel. Since its inception in 2002, ABMB has become an annual ritual of rigorous sublimation and denial, where the cultural spheres of art, fashion, film, and design collide in moments both vulgar and brilliant. Collins Avenue, the strip of sparkling Art Deco hotels buffering the Convention Center from the beach, is the site of much of this alchemy, and the three-block stretch between the twenty-four-hour Walgreens and the Shore Club constitutes a veritable social obstacle course.

    But Collins isn’t always the center of the scene. My first

  • Ronnie Bass

    Ronnie Bass’s solo debut at I-20 Gallery featured all the conventions of an epic story but none of the connective tissue. The recondite, messianic narrative—involving, it seemed, a boy, his band, intergalactic travel, and a vague accident featuring an industrial-grade spiral dough hook—was told across two video installations, sculptures, oil paintings, and a small photograph printed on canvas. The overall effect was compellingly dreamy and fragmented, but also at times murky and uneven—the ingredients for an aesthetic vision rather than a coherent statement.

    Bass’s videos are often set in a

  • film November 28, 2008

    Dead Poets Society

    BEL AMI THIS IS NOT. Bruce LaBruce’s latest, most adventurous skin flick, Otto, or Up with Dead People (2008), which tracks a fetching young melancholic zombie (played with turgid aplomb by first-time actor Jey Crisfar) on his journey of self-discovery, is not quite a “zombie porn,” as I’d previously heard it billed—though a more suitable appellation eludes me. Despite his pornographic leanings, sex has never been LaBruce’s forte; he seems willfully antipleasure, far too indulgent of an aimless intellectualism to visually, or viscerally, tantalize. The sex scenes, while gruesome and occasionally

  • picks November 25, 2008

    Cindy Sherman

    Her skin is creased, haggard. The wrinkles move in unnatural patterns, running laps around her face. That the real Cindy Sherman actually looks nothing like this—that she seems, in fact, to grow younger every day—is hardly the point, though it is certainly one of the more superficial observations about a show that takes as its subject the very terms of superficiality.

    Digital manipulation has become something of a bugbear for artists of a certain age, obsolescing, as it does, some of the finer points art has made about truth over the past thirty years. How does a soothsaying postmodern master

  • interviews November 24, 2008

    David Hammons

    David Hammons has been making art and challenging the conditions of artmaking for nearly forty years. In 1991, Hammons was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for his work in the field. Recently, the artist was invited by the nonprofit multidisciplinary arts initiative Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum to realize a project in Egypt, which opens on November 24. Here he discusses his artistic intervention, called “Six Sites in Alexandria.”

    LAST YEAR, Salah Hassan, the curator of this project, went to Egypt to take part in the Alexandria Biennale. I said, “Let me tag along and see what’s happening.” I

  • interviews October 31, 2008

    Jake Chapman

    Jake Chapman is widely known as one-half of the artistic duo Jake and Dinos Chapman. The pair came to prominence with the ascendancy of the Young British Artists movement in the 1990s, and in 2003 the pair were nominated for the Turner Prize. That same year, Jake Chapman also published his first book, Meatphysics. Here Chapman talks about his second book, a novel titled The Marriage of Reason & Squalor, which was published by Fuel Publishing in the UK on October 20.

    I FELT LESS INSPIRED THAN COMPELLED to write this book. I quite like the idea of writing things badly, and the idea of picking on