Posts Tagged “Biography”

08w08:1 Preview: The Cdn Art Reel Artist Film Fest 21-24 Feb 2008

by timothy. 2 Comments

The Canadian Art Reel Artists Film Festival, 21-24 February 2008
screening at the Al Green Theatre, Miles Nadal JCC
750 Spadina Ave (at Bloor), Toronto

In his as-yet-untranslated book Formes de Vie (1999) Nicolas Bourriaud makes the argument that Duchamp treated the gallery as a film camera, a box in which the gallery ‘recorded’ the work and in so doing made it art. Throughout the 20th Century, the dominance of film as a medium has seeped into our consciousness to such an extant that it seems that all art today works in cinematic terms. The spectacle, the grandeur, the big budgets … the gallery has become a film set and must borrow from the film-production’s capacity to make the impossible real. Take for example the open pits of crude oil shown in There Will Be Blood – accurately reflecting the lack of environmental concern of a century ago, and yet filmed in 2006 under conditions that were probably heavily controlled and legislated behind the scenes. Also consider something like Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth, where the Tate gallery undertook intentional damage to the foundations of the building and displayed it with an aloofness which makes it seem no big deal.

But the ugliness of its construction is as hidden as that which goes into the manufacture of our consumer goods by foreign wage slaves. We are only asked to marvel at the gleam, and not think of the grime.

I raise these points as an introduction to the blending of the cinematic and locational art forms, which is annually celebrated by the Canadian Art Foundation’s film series of artist documentaries. This year’s selections have a common theme of monumentalism, and the documentaries give us insight and access to the grime behind the gleam of art-stardom. Having watched previews of most of the films in this year’s series, (I was provided with all but four of the series’ screeners) what follows are reviews and reflections on them.

Jeff Wall | Jeff Wall – Retrospective 58:42 dir. Michael Blackwood (2007)

Peter Galassi and Jeff Wall
Peter Galassi (L) and Jeff Wall (R)

This film is an hour long eavesdrop as Wall walks through his 2007 retrospective exhibition at MOMA with its co-curator Peter Galassi. The format makes it a little boring at times – but it’s worth it if you’re at all interested in his work, and Wall gives wonderful insights into what inspired his classic pieces. It can be said that he’s a painter using photography to make his images, which are so composed and choreographed to assume the one-off aspect of a painting, albeit made in a medium which ensures a maximum reproducibly. Looking at Wall’s backlit images I was reminded they are precursors of the digital photographs we are all getting used to. One imagines that many HD-flat screen panels will be used to display future photography, as luminous and well resolved as a Jeff Wall. It makes his work seem almost prescient in that regard, and makes the technology behind it seem merely primitive rather than gimmicky or even as sophisticated as it appeared ten years ago.

Philip Johnson | Philip Johnson: Diary of an Eccentric Architect 55:00 dir. Barbara Wolf (1996)

Philip Johnson and Rem Koolhaas
Philip Johnson and Rem Koolhaas in the rain
This film is essentially a grand tour of Johnson’s sprawling estate in New Canaan, Connecticut, which was used as a literal field of experimentation by the architect. Johnson gives tours of the projects he undertook on his land over fifty years, meanwhile the film documents the construction of one such experiment, a building inspired by Frank Stella (who comes to see the work in progress), and which when completed is visited under umbrella by Rem Koolhaas. Once painted, it looked magnificent. I appreciated the inclusion of a scene where the construction workers quarrel with the managers, who are quibbling over ten-grand. ‘Ten thousand dollars is a drop in a hat. I see your place over there, you’re not working for $25/hr with guys making $12/hr, and think you’re going to live on that’. This sentence encapsulates what’s wrong with startchitecture to begin with, and for me is the key-phrase of the film.

As we go forward, this documentary may become one of those historical curiosities in which the rich playboy gives a tour of his Versailles and the interconnected social and environmental repercussions are totally ignored. Johnson (who I’ve most often seen in a suit at the office commenting in documentaries on the work of other architects) here is seen as a full resolution person, who had lived a blessed life of success and had reached an age when he couldn’t help but take it all for granted. His personal art gallery, brilliantly designed to exhibit many large paintings in a small space, consists of work that he needs explained to him by an assistant who first appears in the film sitting in the gallery in such a way that I mistook him for a Duane Hanson. Had The Simpson’s Mr Burns been written as an architect, he would have been modeled on Philip Johnson, and this Mr Burns would return the affections of his Smithers.

Bas Jan Ader | Here is always somewhere else 70:00 dir. Rene Daalder (2006)

Still from a Bas Jan Ader Film

Bas Jan Ader died the year I was born, and yet he has the best artist website I have ever seen, the result of some benefactor buying up his estate in recent years. As a part of this media revival, Rene Daalder was asked to make this film by Ader’s widow. (The trailer can be seen on the Ader website here). This film was a little slow getting started but got more interesting near the half-way mark. One of the nice things about this feature is how Daalder revisits some of the locations Ader used for his art-films, which have been so transformed in the intervening years as to have become unrecognizable.

Featuring interviews with people inspired by Ader’s work, including Tacita Dean, we learn much about his background, and the similar background of Daalder, who attempts to tell Bas Jan’s story by giving us insight into his own. Before he too immigrated to Los Angeles, Daalder began as a film-maker in Holland (one of his early films’s stared Rem Koolhaas, thirty years before getting his rainy day tour at Philip Johnson’s) before leaving after his first ‘most-expensive Dutch film ever’ failed at the domestic box-office. The result is a story of a small group of Dutch expatriates who ended up in L.A. trying and make their fame and fortune in Hollywood. With the exception of Koolhaas, they succeeded while remaining obscure. For example, one of the actors in another early Daalder film was Carel Struycken who I was familiar with as Mr. Homn, Lexanna Troi’s butler from the Star Trek episodes I watched as a teenager, and who also starred in the Adam’s Family movie as Lurch.

Wikipedia states that Ader’s work began to be revived in the early 1990s, and I first learned about him through the Phaidon Conceptual Art book, published in 1998. Richard Rorty described genius as the coincidence of one’s personal obsession meeting a public need. Throughout the 1980s, Bas Jan Ader was to a small group of Dutch men just that friend who disappeared at sea. As one says early on in the film, ‘I didn’t know I was friends with a myth’. This myth was constructed in the early 1990s, which is to say that the public need for Ader’s obsession only began then, this public being an art-world increasingly interested in the type of work Ader produced. As a video artist, his work can be seen throughout the movie (and on his website), and on the one hand it can seem both boring and absurd (what’s up with all the falling?) but on the other it can seem interesting and profound (the sea captain who had thought about it a lot). Ader’s work is a reminder to artists that there’s an potential audience for anything, but it may take twenty years after your death for the public’s interest to coincide with your obsessions.

Richard Serra | To See is to think 44:33 dir. Maria Anna Tappeiner (2006)

In Sheila Heti’s interview with Dave Hickey, he says of Richard Serra that ‘he’s totally not hip, can’t speak without drawing’. Throughout this film Serra is seen carrying a sketchbook, and only once to we see him actually using it. I’ve often thought that Serra’s work will survive for as long as there’s no iron shortage, but give us another couple of hundred years of material squandering, and then will see if this stuff is really worth something as art. Serra’s obsession with drawing allows one to see his sculpture really as a drawing in itself – only he is marking three dimensional space with the material of steel, rather than working with graphite or charcoal on two-dimensions. This image illustrates this for me: a simple line drawing, highlighting the space of the sky, consisting of one of Serra’s steel sheets seen edge-wise. (Of course, this interpretation is aided by the framing offered by the film camera).


Serra’s work makes me question wether things like Stonehenge were really about the stars and the Equinoxes. Perhaps they too liked to mark space with massive objects? I hope that Serra’s work, if it survives future material scarcity, will never be interpreted as astrological charting. That would make our culture look unimaginative. It’s worth persevering the memory of these rusted pieces of steel as attempts to mark the landscape in a creative way, although here I’m again reminded of what bothered me about Johnson’s estate. The land was fine as it was, and along came some egotistical human set about ‘improving’ it by dumping a hunks of rusted metal in it. I don’t think we’ve (as a culture) quite figured out the balance between imagination and destruction.

Anish Kapoor | Art in Progress: Anish Kapoor 27:24 dir. John Wyver (2007)

Anish Kapoor discussing the maquette for his installation
Anish Kapoor discussing the maquette for his installation of Svayambh

This documents the Kapoor retrospective which opened three months ago (Nov 2007) in Germany. Kapoor is one of the bigger names in sculpture right now, but he’s another reminder that artists these days (when they are successful) make big work that highlights vulgar industrial excess (a block of red wax weighing 45 tons and measuring 10 x 4.5 x 3.5 meters. WTF?) and it’s all ok because there’s enough money in the world, it’s affordable to these aristocrats, and besides, what else are we going to do with 45 tons of red wax? Cover cheese with it?

Kapoor emphasizes that his work is about color. The monumentalism of its material just seems like a paradoxical cheap trick: an expensively produced contrivance. Like, this is what it takes to awe people today – not fragility, not the delicate, but the heavy metal (Serra) in your face ear-bleeding loud message. The red wax is awe-some because it’s big.Kapoor’s ____, 2007

In a world where the British-American Empire is guilty of war crimes while we face environmental catastrophe, this type of work just pokes my cynicism. When the process is supposed to be an important part of the work, and when that process is fictionalized (as it appears to be in this case) than what is the work but bullshit? Asking me to imagine the process just renders such installations as the set-design for an unmade film that it so often appears to be these days. With that in mind, I’d much rather walk through the set of the now-filming Star Trek movie than look at a giant block of red wax smeared against a gallery’s wall. Then again, if I saw this is person I might disagree with what I’ve just written.

Sam Wagstaff | Black White + Grey: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff 72:15 dir. James Crump (2007)

Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe

As Philippe Garner (Director of Photography at the London Christie’s) says near the end of this documentary, ‘It horrifies me to think that there’s a generation growing up now in photography that doesn’t know who Sam is. And yet his legacy permeates the field, there’s absolutely no doubt about that.’

Featuring an extensive appearance by Patti Smith, roommate of Maplethorpe and part of the relationship wherein Maplethorpe took advantage of his wealthy sugar-daddy Sam Wagstaff, this is also a reminiscence of the New York 1970s art-scene and gay-demi-monde. What I most appreciated learning was that Wagstaff was responsible for a vast bulk of the collection of Getty Images.

There was some structural problems with this film’s editing, near the middle it became too crowded with interviews and from that point began to seem incongruous. Nevertheless a nice history of a man who helped change the direction of art through his curation and who amassed one of the most important photo collections in the world.

Phyllis Lambert | Citizen Lambert: Joan of Architecture 52.00 dir. Teri Wehn-Damisch (2006) Citizen Lambert

One scene of this I recognized as something I’d seen on TVO’s Masterworks last year – a scene where Phyllis Lambert-neé Bronfman is walking through a Mies van der Rohe building and showing disgust at the curtains put up in its lobby. If I remember correctly, that scene was originally from a Mies-centered documentary. One of the fellow-architects interviewed for this portrait of Lambert (ridiculously modeled on Citizen Kane for god-knows-what reason) stated that architecture as we know it today would not have been without Lambert, primarily because when her family wanted to build their corporate phallic symbol in New York, she reviewed the initial design and convinced them to hire Mies instead, the result being the Seagram building. This resulted in a collaboration between Mies and Phillip Johnson, reputations established and architectural history writ. Considering how devastating architecture has become (the renegade architect Christopher Alexander having declared most of it ‘insane’) Lambert’s role is either a good thing or a bad thing considering which side your on.

Rodin | Rodin: The Sculptor’s View 53:00 dir. Jake Auerbach (2006)

Interviews with contemporary sculptors on the legacy of Rodin. This is really for sculpture geeks. Featuring Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread, Rebecca Warren, Barry Flanagan, Tony Cragg, Anthony Carro and Richard Deacon. (I just copied that from the blurb, incase those names spark any interest on your part. Honestly, this one I found the least interesting, since I’m not a sculpture geek. It’s just sculptors talking shop, with requisite cinematic close ups of Rodin’s work).

Tickets and times for the screenings available at the links listed above.

06w42:1 Lister Sinclair 1921-2006

by timothy. 0 Comments

My fellow Canadian CBC listeners, who plug your headphones into the computer at work and stream it as I do, who listen to it in the morning as you type your theses because you’re a television snob; who have come to appreciate the music for the news they introduced earlier this year as something iconic, and who may have fond memories of Peter Gzowski and the opening music to Morningside, you listeners know that Lister Sinclair died today, at age 85, in a Toronto hospital. The news made me think that’s how I’d like to go – in my 80s, with the radio playing Glenn Gould and Mozart in my honour. A good life, well spent, with everyone talking about how learned and kind you were. (Except for dying in a Toronto hospital – since I saw Dying at Grace I’ve felt it would be better to die in a ditch under the stars).

My first encounter with the voice of Lister Sinclair came in the summer of 1991. I was listening to EMF’s one-hit-wonder album that season, the single ‘Unbelievable’ on the endless repeat possible with dub cassette tapes and rewind. I’d work away at my Commodore 64 and listen to Side A and then Side B, and through this learned how to spell the word ‘believe’ since it was a song title. And on one of these songs there was a sample of a BBC Shakespeare radio play with a gravitas accented announcer. I was naive enough at the time to wonder, when I was rolling my radio tuner sometime after 9pm that night, if this voice speaking about nightingales was the voice from the album. Later I’d untangled the confusion but I was hooked to the strangeness of that broadcast, one of the series of things that begin with a certain letter, or something themed around a colour. Anyway, I tuned in at 9 the following night to catch more.

This, my friends, was an example of the CBC being hip, a far cry from George Stroumboulopoulos’ latest hints that he pierced his cock, which is how the CBC is trying to sell it today. Lister Sinclair’s sober weirdness made a much stronger impression on my sense of teenage cool than the middle class punk aesthetic which now passes for hipster ways.

Ideas is running a three part tribute over the next three nights, where it is 9pm local throughout Canada.

In the last Goodreads, sent on Friday, I promoted that evening’s Ideas, and now the voice who once presented its ideas has gone. This Goodreads serves the double purpose of sharing my thoughts on the matter (I hope you don’t mind) and to inform you that the episode on ‘Economics and Social Justice’ which I promoted will be an Ideas podcast on November 20th. In the meantime, I’m working on a transcription from the recording I made, which I’ll post on the site on that date. – Timothy


Thank You, Mr. Sinclair | CBC

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emailed by Timothy on Monday 16 October 2006 @ 8:44 PM

06w17:1 Jane Jacobs 1916-2006

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When I’m not buoyed by an optimism coming from my humanist readings, I can easily sink into a pessimistic misanthropy which I admit, was somewhat encouraged by reading Jane Jacob’s Dark Ages Ahead last year. Jane Jacobs died today after a lifetime divided between the United States and Canada and one devoted to making a difference. – Timothy


Jane Jacobs Is Dead at 89 | Douglas Martin
Ny Time Obit

Jane Jacobs | Wikipedia

Jane Jacobs | Michael Blowhard

Jane Jacobs Jars Our Memories | Crawford Kilian

Jane Jacobs | Jim Kunstler

Cities and Songs | Adam Gopnik

Radical Dreamer: Jane Jacobs on the streets of Toronto | Robert Fulford

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emailed by Timothy on Tuesday 25 April 2006 @ 9:33 PM

06w05:2 An Open and Reasonable Soceity?

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2006 week 5 number 2 (an open and reasonable society?)

In the remarkable chapter Images of Immortality found within John Ralston Saul’s 1992 bookVoltaire’s Bastards he says this while tracing the development of artist heroes:

When Romanticism began to flourish in the late 18th Century and the ego began to grow until it dominated public life, people abruptly found Raphael far too modest a fellow to have been the father of the perfect image. So they tended to fall into line with the description of the technical breakthroughs which had been provided by Vasari in his Lives of the Painters, written shortly after the actual events. In other words, they transferred the credit to an irresponsible, antisocial individualist, Michelangelo – a veritable caricature of the artist in the 20th Century. If we were ever able to create a reasonable, open society, Leonardo would no doubt cease appearing to us as an overwhelming, almost forbidding, giant and the credit would be switched to him.

Since that time, Marcel Duchamp (analytical, reasonable) has overtaken Picasso (irresponsible, antisocial individualist that he was) as the greatest artist of the 20th Century, and Leonardo has inspired one of the most read books in the history of the world. Although there is a ton of political evidence to the contrary, perhaps we are witnessing the transition toward a reasonable open society after all? Slowly the balance is shifting so that the President of the United States says ‘Americans are addicted to oil’ and these five words become a headline (as it did yesterday on the Drudgereport), representing as they do a significant shift toward reality from a man famously blinded by ideology.

This Leonardo angle comes by way of the Martin Kemp interview link herein, in which he also complains about art writing. After they talk about his Leonardo book, they get to talking about contemporary art, and Kemp says the following:

AFH: What do you think of all the writing generated by the art world?

MK: There is a lot of writing generated that is redundant. When I was a graduate student, I used to review exhibitions and I found that sitting on the train heading in to London to see the show, I would be writing the review before I arrived. At one point when I was working in Glasgow, I did a review for the Guardian of a nonexistent exhibition, which consisted of all the popular words and apparatus. It was a critical account that stood independently and I then dropped in a spurious artist in to the framework. You see a lot of writing like that allows the machinery to go on by just dropping a name into the mix along the way.

AFH: Do you think this kind of writing is destructive to art or artists?

MK: One thing that has happened very dramatically is that artists in the educational system have to produce more written work as part of their degrees. That has had an effect on artists and artistic production. I think many artists are automatically thinking about how the work will be written about when they are making it. It is not necessarily that they plan, but they can’t stop doing it. That hyper-sensitivity to the written word and what artists need to say about their own work, knowing they will be interviewed, often goes alongside a very self-consciousness about how work will look in reproduction, how it will be discussed, how artists need to justify their own work in the media. The issue is how to corral the artists and the critics into one arena that represents the work well.

This leads me to post the Jerry Saltz article from the end of December, wherein he talks about being a critic. Personally my own experience with writing criticism slanted me toward thinking it wasn’t worth it. Better to let people make up their own minds about things. There’s a difference between criticism and publicity afterall, and no artist wants real criticism. Such genuine critique comes from someone like John Carey, where in the last link this is said about the art world: “Approved high art, Carey insists again and again, is too often simply a marker of class, education and wealth. ‘It assures you of your specialness. It inscribes you in the book of life, from which the nameless masses are excluded.’ Yet ‘the characteristics of popular or mass art that seem most objectionable to its high-art critics — violence, sensationalism, escapism, an obsession with romantic love — minister to human needs inherited from our remote ancestors over hundreds of thousands of years.'” It seems to me that in an increasingly open and reasonable society, professional artists would be derided for their unreasonable snobbish attitudes. But that’s just me.

Finally, a link to a Daily Show clip on Crooks and Liars. They offer two video feeds, one Windows and the other a Quicktime, but the quicktime one doesn’t work as a type this (maybe later?). The clip goes over the James Frey debacle, pointing out that while political lying is pooh-poohed, Oprah’s humiliation is that she ‘forced Americans to read, when they really didn’t have to’.

– Timothy

Universal Leonardo | Ana Finel Honigman
The interview with Martin Kemp. But check out the website mentioned there:
“‘A project aimed at deepening our understanding of Leonardo da Vinci through a series of international exhibitions, scientific research and educational resources. Explore the web site for details of the exhibitions and to discover Leonardo’s fascinating thought and work in the realms of art, science and technology.’ “

Seeing out loud | Jerry Saltz

What Good are the Arts? | Michael Dirda

The Daily Show: Oprah vs News | Crooks and Liars
“Why does James Frey get tougher treatment than our government? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because he misled us into a book we had no business getting into. So thank you Oprah for giving us a glimpse into political accountability and punishing the one unforgivable sin our society. Forcing Americans to read … when they really didn’t have to.”

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emailed by Timothy on Wednesday 01 February 2006 @ 2:28 PM

06w01:2 Irving Layton 1912-2006

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2006 week 1 number 2 (Irving Layton 1912-2006)

Irving Layton has died. And so to commemorate, a poem.
But first, in the world of cultural ignorance, this news (from today’s Globe and Mail):

no one knew who alice was
Kind of reminds me of the time I saw the Halifax Shakespeare by the Sea summer fest listing in 1999. It was in the MT&T brochure designed for tourists. For Titus Andronicus, they’d written, ‘Titus and Ronicus’.

The Cold Green Element (1940)
by Irving Layton

At the end of the garden walk
the wind and its satellite wait for me;
their meaning I will not know
until I go there,
but the black-hatted undertaker

who, passing, saw my heart beating in the grass,
is also going there. Hi, I tell him,
a great squall in the Pacific blew a dead poet
out of the water,
who now hangs from the city’s gates.

Crowds depart daily to see it, and return
with grimaces and incomprehension;
if its limbs twitched in the air
they would sit at its feet
peeling their oranges.

And turning over I embrace like a lover
the trunk of a tree, one of those
for whom the lightning was too much
and grew a brillant
hunchback with a crown of leaves.

The ailments escaped from the labels
of medicine bottles and all fled to the wind;
I’ve seen myself lately in the eyes of old women,
spent streams mourning my manhood,

in whose old pupils the sun became
a bloodsmear on broad catalpa leaves
and hanging from ancient twigs,
my murdered selves
sparked the air like muted collisions

of fruit. A black dog howls down my blood,
a black dog with yellow eyes;
he too by someone’s inadvertence
saw the bloodsmear
on the broad catalpa leaves.

But the furies clear a path for me to the worm
who sang for an hour in the throat of a robin,
and misled by the cries of young boys
I am again
a breathless swimmer in that cold green element.

-That’s all today, bye.


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emailed by Timothy on Wednesday 04 January 2006 @ 10:42 PM

05w06:2 Death of a Salesman

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 6 number 2 (death of a salesman)


Arthur Miller, Legendary American Playwright, Is Dead at 89 | Marilyn Berger
“Arthur Miller, one of the great American playwrights, whose work exposed the flaws in the fabric of the American dream, died Thursday night at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 89. The cause was congestive heart failure, said Julia Bolus, his assistant.”

Long links made short by using TinyURL (
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emailed by Timothy on Friday 11 February 2005 @ 2:28 PM

05w05:3 Self-Transformation

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 5 number 3 (self-transformation)


Hack Yourself | Anonymous
“You can be happy. You can live the life you want to live. You can become the person you want to be. This is what I’ve figured out so far. “

The End of My World as I Knew It | Seth Mnookin
“I was 25 and had spent the years since I graduated from college focusing all of my desperate energy on my career as an intravenous drug addict. I was 6 feet tall and weighed less than 150 pounds. That entire year, I had cleared $3,192 in legal income. I worked for a coffee shop and a liquor store and a couple of bookstores, never lasting at any job for more than a couple of weeks. At one point, I gave confused, occasionally incoherent English lessons to Japanese academics visiting Harvard. (My eternal apologies, Mr. Kobayashi.) I hadn’t done any real writing in years, and the last time I’d traveled on anything resembling a magazine assignment had been the previous summer, when Details had shipped me off to Mexico for an experimental, two-day rapid detox program that was supposed to miraculously cure my heroin addiction. It failed spectacularly. Now I was on my way to Delray Beach with a bag of clothes, a bag of books, and an admission ticket to a long-term treatment center.”

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emailed by Timothy on Saturday 05 February 2005 @ 1:50 PM