Behold Numbers 4 and 5

Jonathan Monk Do Not Pay More Than $80,000

Jonathan Monk Do Not Pay More Than $80,000


As more of us rail against wealth concentration from our online pulpits, I’d like to clarify that my beef is not that fewer people are getting rich, it is that fewer people are getting by. Except for my poorest phases (university, and the period when I devoted 100% of my time to my artistic practice), my means have always been “middle class”. Suits me fine. If capitalism truly is meant to motivate everyone to strive to get more, maybe capitalism has to eliminate the middle class, because, in my middle class experience at least, who could want for more? A modest house, a modest car, modest holidays, modest charitable giving, some lower end “luxuries” like occasional fine dining and an expensive smart phone. How sweet it is. I say all the plutocrats must do in order to keep their barricades from being stormed is keep all the non-plutocrats in the “middle class”. This seems unlikely, however, as it appears that there is a line somewhere in wealth accumulation beyond which one does not just strive for more marbles, but instead requires ALL of the marbles. Fatal flaw.

Anyway, there is an exception I have noted in the satisfactory comfort of “middle class”, which was the impetus for dropping this post actually. The plutocrats are taking art. This is not new, but it is accelerating. I read about the price of the new Aston Martin ($200,000), and the fact that I cannot even strive for that – my realistic ability to improve my position, by so much that I could afford that car, is tiny – well it simply doesn’t matter to me. What I do with cars (get groceries, drive to the campsite or the ski hill) would not be significantly better in that car. Ditto the reportage of the price tags of the designer clothes and jewelries of the red carpets. Those things would not improve my life.

But art. Specifically the art of the gallery, museum, auction and fair. Consider: part of the happiness of middle class existence, for many, is the enjoyment of music recordings and performances, books, cinema and theatre. Sure, there’s a range of costs there, but even the top end would fall under “special occasion treat”, while the bottom of that scale is a weekly expenditure for many. The cost of a novel considered among the best written is the same as the cost of the latest beach reader. The cost of a recording of music considered among the finest created is the same as the cost of the rough first recording of any band anywhere. Mass reproduction, you say? Photography, I say. If you believe that Gursky’s photos are special, and would be more enjoyable to live with than the prints of a local art student, you should stifle that preference right now because you can’t have the Gursky. But also, guess what? You can barely have the student prints! Certainly not on a weekly basis like a movie, and often not even on an annual splashout like your traditional birthday opera. Perhaps simply by virtue of the fact that Gursky is working in the same line, the unestablished photographer’s work starts at a much higher price point than the acclaimed novelist’s work does.

Imagine if each work of Wes Anderson, Jane Campion, or Spike Lee was henceforth screened once only in twenty cities worldwide, each screening limited to 50 viewers at a cost of a new Aston Martin Rapide S. That would produce a $200 million gross, which would have been a top fifteen gross in 2013.

That’s imagining down a sad path. If you’d prefer to imagine down a happy path, to a scenario in which masterworks of painting and sculpture are as accessible to everyone as are movie tickets, you will quickly encounter the barrier presented by the concept of scarcity. Wes Anderson’s art is instrinsically reproduceable. No discernible difference watching print number 200 than watching the master. Not so with original paintings, or sculpture, right? Behold, numbers 4 and 5.

Point Finale

I am glad to chat up anything Quebec right now, as the integrity of that province is on such magnificent display these days. (Although I have always felt that Quebec is the best part of Canada. Right now they have just taken that to another level).

In any case, I very belatedly took multiple advices last night and watched Café de Flore, Jean-Marc Vallée’s latest, starring Vanessa Paradis. It is very good. It did not surprise me that it was made in La Belle Province, where, also not surprisingly, much of this country’s truly great cinema originates.

I thought I would make my Legendary comment on this film in the form of remembrances. After all, Quebec’s motto is “je me souviens”. Here then, are the things I remembered today about the film, without trying:

  • the first time you see the little hand grasp the back of the drivers seat, just for like ten frames or something
  • the use of extremely brief shots, in general
  • the boldness of opening with an extremely brief shot
  • the older daughter’s astute observances, particularly “he smells good” to her mother as her father heads to a “meeting” (where his future wife is waiting)
  • the “flight attendant” line dance
  • the breastfeeding
  • the airport arrival of what seems to have been an all-Down’s-Syndrome flight
  • the fantastic performances of physical intimacy, of all sorts, from all performers
  • the most beautiful gutter puddle ever
  • the man who briefly passes by in the distance outside the window of the seemingly secluded spa
  • the silent scream

The film opened in Australia and Russia last month, and the UK this month, and for those of you who still have the opportunity to see it in the theatre, I would say that yes, it is a big screener.

PS In addition to making Quebec seem, impossibly, cooler to me, this film has similarly enhanced my already high opinion of Johnny Depp.

Still not convinced? The soundtrack includes Stars of the Lid. Point finale.

Next Time, Blow My Mind

The serendipity was divine. In a long stretch of overwork, with almost no time for any of my leisure habits, I was in front of a television with a couple of hours to spare at the very moment Beginners was about to air. I’d looked forward to this movie’s release, but it had become another item on this year’s long list of missed.

I’d looked forward to it for many reasons: had connected with author Mike Mills’ previous work and interviews, will always love Captain Von Trapp, had enjoyed all of Ewen McGregor’s performances I’d seen, interested to see the story of a 75 year old coming out to his son after his wife’s death, and fabulously, A TALKING DOG.

I was not immediately disappointed. In fact, I had such high hopes that I held off disappointment until the credits, when I had to face the reality that no further redeeming content was coming. To be fair, it is these same high hopes that cause me to scribble about “disappointment” referring to a well-made picture I enjoyed. I just thought it might be a favorite, a multiple screener, a special features watcher.

The funny thing is that my beleaguered brain had forgotten that it is a Mike Mills joint, and as the end came and my impression – of superficial self-absorption spoiling things a bit – became clearer, his title card appeared and with it my eureka. My eureka looked like this:

That’s Miranda July and Spike Jonze, two artists whose work, like Mills’, I enjoy and respect but, like Mills’, leaves me a little cold. I think what happens is this:

I relate to the perspective. Those are my people, or it is the point of view of my people at least. I feel like so little of the mass culture we’ve lived with has been written for us or by us that it’s kind of thrilling when I encounter culture that has been. I proceed through the encounter, eager to be told stories from that perspective, to contemplate themes and ideas informed by that point of view.

But I find, again and again, that the perspective is the story. The point of view, itself, is the idea.

This is an exaggeration of course. These books and movies and performances convey ideas about the human condition, alienation, communication, growing up. But in terms of content by volume, there is a lot of space given to pure demonstrations of the point of view and not much else. Call it quirky-cool, call it hipster – it may be pointless to try to categorize, actually – but the extended and detailed display of the tastes, idiosyncracies and hobbies of the heroes suggests, necessarily, that these tastes, idiosyncracies and hobbies are significant and to be noted. So you mark it down, okay, and then….they aren’t actually germane. All of the things which happen to the hero or are learned by him would also have happened or been learned if he was into jogging rather than roller skating, or if he worked in an administrative office of the municipal government rather than in the arts. The importance of telling your own stories, of working from a personal pov? Sure, but how come the bureaucrat joggers don’t position the jogging as a central part of the story? Answer: how absurd! Joggers are everywhere and have been for decades. The majority of the population either does it or has done it. It would be like making a movie featuring the toasting of bread. (Which, ironically, would be quirky.) So. What we are really talking about is difference. Mainstream versus marginal. And the tendency for several decades now, to elevate difference, in and of itself, to something significant. It is the foundation of the culture of “cool”. Why do we care so much about tastes, preferences, idiosyncracies? Because relative wealth has enabled the extensive contemplation of the self. And of course commercial interests have enthusiastically cultivated and exploited that trend.

This, I guess, is the exception I take to the portraiture of quirk and cool that I see artists like Mills and July (married, as you may or may not know) draw out. It fortifies the narcissistic chains we keep ourselves in. I want my mind blown, I want my life changed, I want to lose sleep over books and films and performances, and I want to believe that this work can come from artists whose perspectives I relate to, like July and Mills. There’s no reason not to believe this – both surely have loads of work ahead of them. Beginners wasn’t it, that’s all.

Decynicalize Here II

5947761953_d3e89af88e_oTwo is too few to call it a Canuck jag, so hold your horses.

Troy Lovegates/Other (Derek Mehaffey) belongs in here so much I can’t believe we haven’t posted him before. Lovegates does trains and he does galleries (despite finding indoors work “a bit pretentious and limited to an audience that is already interested in art hidden behind some walls out of reach.”) Also there is a book, thanks to what is surely the last era of the Canada Council funding this sort of thing for a while, until the electoral system is overhauled or more voters realize they care about this sort of thing or more of those who care about it start to vote dammit.

He’s been at it since 1988, in so many locations that he may not even count towards a Canuck jag (I joke). This “rainbow shoeshine box cover” is the only painting among Lovegates’ recent sales funding his travel from Europe to his first NYC opening this fall. It is painted on found wood. The rest of the marvelous offering comprised drawings and a limited edition linoleum print. He sold these direct out of his flickr without even a Tiny Showcase or 20×20 or Little Paper Planes, at prices nearly anyone could afford. In other words, one of life’s cynicism antidotes.

troy-lovegates on flickr

Decynicalize Here the original on EML

A Stillness

Shearer-Poem-for-VeniceShearer is representing Canada at the Venice Biennale. His portraits of rockers, displayed inside this pavilion, don’t move me (I am alone in this). But I sure as hell feel his megapoemliths. This flamboyant and masterful expression has a quiet and thoughtful corollary in Shearer’s commentary on his work. Painting characters with a balance of masculinity and femininity “creates a stillness”. Et cetera. Dude, you had me at Cornholination.

She Can Say What She Likes

Recently I lapsed into an old conversational tic I’d thought extinct in my language: emphatic declaration. Specifically, I declared as bullshit the declaring of Patti Smith’s work as bullshit. The irony pierced me instantly, and I retreated into bemused introspection for a couple of sips.

The experience improved my reading of this interview with Katharina Grosse. Whose work I deeply dig. (…could have selected an image featuring materials other than soil…could have left out “dig”……….)

Katharina Grosse.

Salad Days


Today I spent some time looking at this, and thinking about playing cards, and my parents, and patterns, and paranoia. My parents recently introduced me to a board game that involves playing cards, but not in the way I was used to.  Instead of trying to make patterns with the cards you are dealt, you try to make patterns on the board using the cards you are dealt. Believe it or not, this absence of any requirement to make patterns of the cards themselves struck me as daft at first.

~Hopefully I haven’t made you think of the phrase “outside the box”, like I just made myself think, and then made myself think of another phrase I instantly wished I hadn’t, the threadbare “throw up in my mouth a little”. ~

Anyway, I’d reminisced, during the game, about my childhood experience of “face” cards as quietly beguiling, with their intricate, colourful, expressive illustrations of archetypal characters. I encountered Fernando Chamarelli’s work in Flickr a few days after my playing card meditation, and I saw it as I’d seen face cards when I was a child.  This launched one of my loops of wondering about connection, pattern, significance, absurdity, insanity, vanity, haste, frivolity, reality and pointlessness.

Never mind all of that. Fernando Chamarelli! Young Brazilian painter, illustrator, and graphic designer, showing internationally and producing for names like Rolling Stone and Umbro. Still maintaining a Flickr account. Still unassuming in interviews.