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Author: Joseph Young

Quick thoughts on Matt Cook’s quick book

A few years ago, I spent some time in Milwaukee, doing readings with friends there from books we’d put out. The city struck me as particular—certainly cold and full of snow, like its neighbor Chicago, but more intimate, the bars (where I put away some hours) supplied a genial, humor-full clientele. In one bar, Riverhorse, the owner stood my friends and I the first round, talked to us about our writing, and when we departed, bought each of our books. I left with more money in my pocket than I came in with. Seems apt then that Matt Cook,...

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The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, some fault in us. It looks like crime is up in Baltimore. A couple different friends of mine have recently been mugged—at gunpoint—and there’s been a string of break-ins in my usually break-in-low neighborhood. Also, more tragically, May was the most murderous of months in the city for 30 some years. No doubt there’s a whole raft of reasons for the more crime and I’m neither smart enough nor wanting enough to talk about why. It’s a big web of things and I’m no good at pulling apart the gluey strands. Meanwhile art here is humming along, with openings and book releases, street art, art orgs, our gigantic mess of an art fair almost ready to go, lots of music, drama and plays. Our art college is a juggernaut, churning and boiling into the future. “Every work of art is an uncommitted crime.” someone famous said. “Art is not a crime,” someone else. The FBI has an Art Crime Team. The Futurists were really into youth and violence, which is a—if not the—crucible of crime. I don’t want to worry about it. I don’t want to think about getting mugged. I mostly want to worry about art. I mostly want to look at it or make it. But sometimes maybe...

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The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, cool halls. 1. I went to the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) with my sister one day. That’s my home town, Kalamazoo, and I was gratified, not to say surprised, by the small but awesome collection they had: Diebenkorn, Frankenthaler, a whole show of Lorna Simpson. Feeling art-high, I found my sister in the modern/contemporary room where she was looking at a David Park painting. I love David Park and how much loveliness he can do in a human face. “Why’s it all so ugly?” she said, eyes indicating the room. 2. Around the same time, I went to the National Gallery in Washington DC. There was a big show on Dada that was packed to the gills. In one gallery, recordings of Tristan Tzara reading his Dadaist poems played, long strings of nonsense and noise uttered in tedious and frightening rhythm. A boy of maybe 12 stood at the center of the small room for about 14 minutes, face unfixed and in some kind of awe. 3. A few years ago, I spent an hour in a gallery of the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). A couple dozen people came in over that time, circled the room, gazed at the paintings, some smiling, some stuck in ennui, some chatting with...

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On the table

The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, purpose. Some artists work like explosions of wedding cake. They deconstruct the unities of the world with batters of paint, poem strata, cold flinging moment. Think about Stephanie Barber or Leonora Carrington: films, color, sentence, motion. They make it once—again, not again—and yes there again. The other end of the room is the wedding cake, the world itself day after day. Here is Agnes Martin, her cool grids over four decades, the steady wash of her paint. She said she found innocence in her squares, like the floury tops of the trees. What ties together, of course, 1st paragraph and 2nd, is the committed brain. Watch the interview with Martin, desert recluse and visionary. “You have to bring your whole mind to bear,” she said. “To carry on, to go forward. Painting is not making paintings.” Your whole mind, there on the mesa top, attending to the voices. It’s too much to do, and you probably won’t, not always. But go ahead, Sisyphus, and try, bent to your work. After all, it’s all this or some other world, intact...

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The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, camping. I’m with the second camp, often. The one that likes the mundane, the flat, prosaic. I like to see what I’ve seen before…but with an arrow pointing toward it, a frame around, a fresh new look. I get the first camp, those who delight in the eerie and surreal. There’s the world—says that side—but sitting in the middle of it is something weird. I get that, wanting to be taken somewhere else, past ourselves and all our usual. To...

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Bouncy Rides: Art n Politics

The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, vote for art. It’s not that I’m not political. It’s that I believe in human spaces that are extra-political. It’s not that I don’t like political art. Sometimes I like art that’s didactic and political. There are things wrong in the world; art in its small ways can right them. Opinions confuse me. Amanda, my girlfriend, told me she wondered how long I’d get away with playing both sides of the fence in this column. Making a statement about art, then granting its opposite. I don’t know, but every time I make an argument, I want to take it back. Someone’s opinion is right until someone else refutes it. Maybe that’s a matter of my advantage—white guy, able-bodied, American. Nate Hill, the artist who developed White Power Milk, makes political art. I can tell because of the symbols involved: white milk, white women, white women gargling white milk. But what’s he saying, exactly? I know there are people who know, who say it’s about race, gender, class. I believe them, but still I’m confused. I like Hill’s art. It comes from many sides, positing then refuting, and then again. His work is so political it strays close to its opposite, to making an argument that politics is more than political,...

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This Version of That

The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, What do we get to call art? People—and by people I mean everyone—have a huge stake in art. If you don’t think so, look how many get mad at it. Put a Christ in urine and watch out. But it’s not only in the negative that the passions get engorged. Now THIS is art, someone says every day. They might be holding an ink drawing of a tiny girl astride a red dragon, or standing in front of a painting that...

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Half a Face, Collage

The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, What’s up, collage [my métier]?  Half a Face, Collage It’s a thing that happens all over collage. The half hidden face. Or fully hidden. Or just the eyes, masked. Some element—black band, colorful sticker, the jet of a Central Park fountain—obscuring the features of the human face. It’s so prevalent—you’ll see it a hundred, two hundred times in collage groups on flickr or Facebook—that it’s really easy to dismiss as cliché. It is a cliché, like putting a bird on, or the dying grandmother poem. Things we know are already overdone. But as simple as it is to scoff at, this “move in contemporary collage” (hat tip Elissa Gabbert/Mike Young), at some point you have to wonder, what the heck? Why’s the move so damn compelling? It makes the human face strong, is what. It really does. It gives us humans a magic, a potency, an atavistic strength we don’t normally posses. We’re so banal, especially the us of old advertisements and Life magazines that are favored by collagists, and we want to put some violence into our nature. Not the everyday violence of each street, all over town, but a powerful violence, Dracula and Mumbo Jumbo and voodoo. And to hide us and our stupid faces, it imparts a...

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Marble Metamorphic

The Short Image is where I’ll offer each Thursday a few words on art, culture, and elsewhere. This week, art Baltimore, my home. .     .     .    .     .    . It’s a strange, sad, hopeful, bleak, exhilarating time in Baltimore. Things are changing it seems—we hope (and maybe fear). Funny to think about art then, art at a 100-year-old museum, work from a woman who’s from Baltimore but now lives and works in New York, whose stuff has been shown at MOMA, that has been sold for good money. There’s a lot to unpack there, right? Considering? Sara VanDerBeek, artist in question, came back to Baltimore and the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) to do a show about this city. It’s made up of photographs of marble—for which Baltimore is known—and of marble itself, sculptures fashioned from it and other materials. The work is beautiful, especially the photos, which are actually 2 identical pictures of the same chunks of marble, set in opposition to each other and at 2 different depths. The way they’re constructed, it’s kind of like collage, which really turns me on as a collagist. The art is elegant and depth-y too—the type that manages to think about something as well as be lovely to look at. It thinks about history—the 100-year-old museum that houses it and is made...

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Good hair, crooked gait

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