November 26, 2011

Survey Says?


Periodic ennui and occasional cynicism about the state of the “Art World” overtakes me now and again, especially when Real World crises and EU ultimatums render our quaint preoccupation with simulacra, irony and context negligible. Moreover, the range of disparity in “our” World reeks as much of artifice and chicanery as the shenanigans down on Wall Street. It goes without saying as well, that the Occupy movement, though deflated and adrift, clearly without well-defined “demands,” still has a core sense of moral certitude and social consciousness, desires and goals perhaps all but forgotten among the denizens of said “Art World.”

$61 million dollars for a Clyfford Still? $21 million for a Gerhard Richter abstract? How do we justify such auction prices, clearly the machinations of that “1%” that control all things, and that the young, old and intransigent Bohos protest against down at Zuccotti Park.

With such rambling thoughts as backdrop, I took in a couple of major New York “surveys” of living artists a couple of weeks ago: Sherrie Levine’s “Mayhem” at the Whitney and that Italian “idiot,” Maurizio Cattelan’s ”All” at the Guggenheim.(1)

Like others before me, I remain as suspicious of Maurizio’s work as I was from the start of his meteoric career. His earlier work, though hysterically hip with dead-on irony, often tended to be “one-liners” steeped in ex-Disney model-maker, drug-addled carnival panache. We forgave him because he was endearingly irreverent: he stole artwork from a neighboring gallery and exhibited it as his [Another Fucking Readymade (1996)] and has sent his curator friend Massimiliano Gioni as Cattelan doppelganger for interviews.

The approved talking points for Cattelan’s “retrospective” at the Gugg were:
1) Cattelan hated the idea of doing a “retro” as it signified that your career is over (more on that in a moment).
2) He couldn’t pass up the opportunity Nancy Spector gave him to fill the cavernous rotunda with “all of his artworks.”

So we have the wonderful spectacle of “All”, which “brings together virtually everything the artist Maurizio Cattelan has produced since 1989, and presents the works en masse, strung haphazardly from the oculus of the Guggenheim’s rotunda.”(2)

The third talking point which has emerged in Cattelan interviews during the installation and subsequent opening of “All” is that he plans to “retire” from making art after this show. As Duchampian as that sounds, and Cattelan is nothing if not Duchampian, it seems unlikely that this 51-year-old prankster can resist continuing to toy with the Art World, especially now that he has attained validation within the Sacred Guggenheim Rotunda.

The “Cattelan Problematic” is ironically revealed in his creative use of the Gugg’s oculus. With all of his jests, jabs, affronts, controversies and outright insults strung up side by side and chock-a-block, we can clearly see the emptiness of his postmodern gesture. His strength has always resided in bracketing within a contextual space – the Pope crushed under a meteor (“La Nona Ora”) needed the vastness of its environment to pummel us with Cattelan’s insane sacrilege. Here, it becomes lost amongst other effigies. Moreover, a cursory critical eye can begin to discern that the individual works, nearly all dependent upon taxidermy and model-making skills, begin to take on a “seconds” patina. Could it be that Maurizio goes to taxidermist and amusement-park warehouses to select “rejects” and then casts them in whatever sarcastic and mean-spirited vision he has? How else to explain “Him?” Cattelan supposedly told his assistants to sculpt Adolph Hitler as a child, yet the resultant form does not look child-like, but merely smaller scaled.

As impressive of an engineering achievement as it is, the rigging of “All” his works on individual platforms, suspended by pulleys and rope, somehow trivializes Cattelan’s output as amusement-park chaos, only missing the de rigueur carney “barker” detailing the various freaks, anomalies, animals and caricatures on view. Somehow the intelligence of Cattelan has been expunged within the spectacle of “more is more.”

More intellectually stimulating but just as perplexing is Sherrie Levine’s “Mayhem” up at the Whitney. Walking out of the elevator doors, we first see Levine’s claim to Art World fame, her “After Walker Evans” series of black-and-white “re-photographs.”(3) Levine’s critical support improves every year and this survey will only help solidify her reputation with its brilliant and spacious installation. There are piano and billiard table replications, the ornately translucent skull variations, an homage to Courbet’s “Origin of the World,” as well as her finest work, the checkered paintings. And here, as at Cattelan’s “All”, we find an artist seeking to “push back against the form of the museum survey.”(4)

Appropriation has been maligned, disemboweled and adored over the years, and I have posted on it and Levine before. In 1981, Levine took a page from the “Walter Benjamin Playbook” and made it her own. Suffice to say, that as the more challenging aspects of The Appropriationists became sanctioned by art critics like Rosalind Krauss and Craig Owens, the originary purveyors of this once avant garde action began to take on reverential proportions. Thus, sequenced galleries of Levine’s oeuvre within the Whitney seems, dare I say it, overdue.

We can fault the Whitney’s over-zealous security policies, which forbade us innocent museum-goers the simple pleasure of walking betwixt the billiard table or glass-vitrined skulls. Surely Sherrie herself would have allowed such obvious opportunity for a closer immersion within the mysteries of the authentic vs. the copy?

As I collected my gear from the ground-floor coat-check, I overheard an elderly gentlemen proclaiming to a young Whitney staffer behind the book-counter that, “This artist is a fraud!” Getting no real agreement or reaction of any kind from the staffer, he could only repeat his remark: “She’s a fraud…a fraud.” I stepped out into the nippy air of Madison Avenue with a reverie of repetition and facsimile merging in my mind. Yes, it’s clearly about doubt and the questioning of originality; fraudulence as authenticity.


IMAGE: Cellphone JPEG of “All” installation on November 12, 2011.

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1. Cattelan’s description, not mine: http://www.ganzomag.com/the-great-character-or-not-maurizio-cattelan-at-the-guggenheim-museum.html

2. http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions"

3. Various rumors, which I have been unable to confirm, suggest that the Walker Evans Estate purchased most of Levine’s initial re-photographs in 1979 – but here they are again. Needless to say, Levine’s “copies” still keep Evans’s work in the public eye.

4. Pollack, Maika. “Will the Real Sherrie Levine Please Stand Up? 'Mayhem' at the Whitney,” www.galleristny.com, 11-15-11.

November 7, 2011

Orders of Photographic Identity Construction

In 1865, photojournalist Alexander Gardner had six of the accused Lincoln conspirators brought up on the deck of the USS Montauk, an ironclad monitor anchored in the Potomac River, and posed them for a series of famous photographs. Irrespective of their historic value, these photographs additionally reveal Gardner’s desire for an “artistic” expression in his photographic work. The accused men were dressed in coats and ties, hair combed and styled, then positioned against the iron turret for the various shots.

The above photograph of Lewis Payne then presents quite a conflict of photographer, portrait subject and image. First, we have a young man accused of savagely attacking Secretary of State William Seward with a knife and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to overthrow the Federal government. Moreover, the photographer appears to disguise Payne’s predicament, draping him in beige overcoat and hat. The Federal guard’s hands, holding a bayoneted rifle, are just visible at edge of frame and if we look closely we can see a chain hanging from Payne’s wrist.

This exemplifies the primary way a photographic image constructs identity and demonstrates first order identity construction, as authorial control by the maker. For reasons forever unknown, Gardner decided to cast Lewis Payne as a dashing but disheveled rake, handsome and mysteriously at peace with his fate.

The use of photographic image to wield fiction and create mystique was coincidentally used the previous year by a youthful Jesse James. In the 1864 photograph above, a sixteen-year-old Jesse attired himself in dandy tie, rolled-brim cap and Colt revolver to introduce his vision of what he was soon to become – an outlaw. The “Wild West” was waning by then but was being immortalized in newspapers and “Dime Novels” and these accounts may have inspired Jesse to present himself thusly, using second order identity construction as the photographic subject self-crafts their own identity, fictional or otherwise.

Warner Brothers and their careful control and dissemination of James Dean’s image in “Rebel Without A Cause” might best represent the final order of photographic construction of identity. In the motion picture, Dean portrayed Jim Stark, a troubled teenager, and the film studio costumed Dean in blue jeans, white t-shirt and red windbreaker in many of the prominent scenes. It is said that the red windbreaker was “over-dyed” by director Nicholas Ray to achieve luminosity for the color film.(1)

As quintessential depiction of teenage rebellion and angst, Dean’s persona in “Rebel” has no equal during the 1950’s. Perhaps this is due to its third order identity construction masterfully dictated by the powerful film company. The film’s influence upon American teenager fashion was further impacted by Dean’s sudden, unexpected and tragic death in a car crash:

“Teenagers who saw the film latched onto Dean’s look. Actress Steffi Sidney, who plays a bit character in the film, later remembered that how after Rebel came out she would drive by her old high school and all the boys hanging out in front would have on that same red jacket.”(2)

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1. Bayse, Ali. “Cinemode: Rebel Without A Cause”.

2. Ibid.

October 3, 2011

Critical Fragments: Reification

As vehicle for conveyance of ideas, language has its weaknesses – context, semantics, and cognition – but we persevere. Simply put, the very nature of the language system has built-in fragility and misrecognition within its contextualization. With that in mind, we move blindly forward, optimistic and a little naïve of the futility of the efforts expended in our attempt at communication.

In pedagogical models, language is indispensable. The faux determinacy of “Q&A” promises analyses and documentation of knowledge. In scientific, mathematic and certain biological areas, this inductive reasoning allows for the certainty of gathering, compiling and quantifying such knowledge.

Matters of aesthetics have an inherent indeterminacy; the subjective experience, insidious and subsumed within “taste,” very nearly prohibits absolute answers such as those of science, math and biology. There is the flux of perception, the weight of preference and the foreground of habitus. In essence, without a “definition,” art is intangible – form without function, questions with no answers.

Reification of “art” becomes unattainable; the object represents or provides the art experience. Ad Reinhardt described this art experience as “a clearly defined object, independent and separate from all other objects and circumstances, in which we cannot see whatever we choose or make of it anything we want, whose meaning is not detachable or translatable.”(1) His description, as an untranslatable experience ironically conveyed through an object but not embodied within it, may be the closest we can get to a “definition” of art.

Language does not reify art but can only describe, supplement and theorize it. As an affirmation of the untranslatable, the ephemeral, the unattainable – these characteristics of the perceptible trace of art – language does what it can to support and sustain the knowledge, history and theories of art. Similar in structure to the tangible objects of art, language forms questions and elicits answers, both defends and defeats, describes and inscribes, always generating the supplemental discourse that surrounds, buffers, focuses and gleans putative meanings from those very objects.


IMAGE: "Q&A1 (Duchamp)”; blackboard paint, chalk, ink, pencil on MDF; installation view on 9/30/11; top: 6:56pm; bottom: 7:24pm.
© Copyright 2011 by Mark Cameron Boyd.

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1. Reinhardt, Ad. Art as Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, (Barbara Rose, ed.), Berkeley, 1975, 83.

September 26, 2011

(e)merge & see

[Victoria F. Gaitán: Lick]

John Baldessari once explained that the art fair is no place for artists, that an artist entering an art fair is like a teenager entering his parents’ bedroom and seeing them having sex. “At fairs, gallerists are reduced to merchants – a role in which they’d rather not be seen by their artists.”(1)

Perhaps this also explains why art fairs tend to gravitate to boutique hotels, where the “merchants” book adjoining rooms and attempt to peddle their wares to a constant turnover of patrons, collectors, curators and the curious. Prowling through these rooms, one begins to understand what Baldessari meant: art as commerce does seem a bit sordid with the machinations so nakedly revealed.

I didn’t tarry long enough in any particular Capital Skyline Hotel room at DC’s (e)merge art fair to observe an actual art transaction. However, I did glance furtively at a lot of art. Some major DC players had representative rooms; Annie Gawlak, George Hemphill, Leigh Conner et al. Conner, in point of fact, helped launch this inaugural run of what is proposed as an annual art event, along with her Conner Contemporary partner, Jamie Smith, as well as Helen Allen, NYC art businessperson and a founder of PULSE International Art Fair. There were peripheral galleries – Hamiltonian, Transformer, Flashpoint, Curator’s Office, Irvine Contemporary (currently without actual gallery space) – and, surprisingly, only two NYC galleries to round out the “Gallery Platform.” The scant NYC presence may reflect a “wait and see” attitude from the Big Apple about DC’s newest art fair.

The overarching scope of such art fairs, of course, is moving product and there are differing strategies on display. Many galleries approach their hotel digs as a focus site and feature one or two artists on the limited wall space and this is definitely the best way to work in the relatively small square footage of typical single-bed hotel rooms. Strongest usage of this strategy was Conner Contemporary’s focus on one of their newest “gets,” Victoria F. Gaitán, whose imaginative trajectories through eroticism in her large-scale photography mini-show in one of two adjoining rooms managed to generate both saliva and tumescence. Another strong contender, Oliver Bragg, was well represented by Galerie E.G.P. with one entire wall devoted to his works on paper, plus an adorable tiny sculpture that exuded the proper post-post-punk attitude.

[Oliver Bragg: Hello, How Are You?]


[Lisa Dillin]

Less successful were Flashpoint and G Fine Art, whose absent-minded handling of their artists detracted from their potential impact. Lisa Dillin’s striking light-and-cut-ceiling-panel piece in the Flashpoint “suite” suffered from extraneous clutter; all the other works in the room distracted from the quiet immanence of Dillin’s work which needed a cleaner presentation. The subtle enigmas quite obviously present within Julia Oldham’s video projection in G Fine Art’s room were impossible to fathom without a contemplative ambiance; there’s just no space to plop down and spend time with such intellectually rigorous art. Furthermore, Jenn DePalma’s exquisite paper works seemed strewn atop the hotel bed as an afterthought. Quel dommage!

[Julia Oldham: Antimatter Twin/antimattertwins]

Without a doubt, the most interesting work at (e)merge was not even in the hotel rooms but out at the pool and down in the parking garage. The collaboration between Kathryn Cornelius and Jeffry Cudlin, or Team Cornelius and Team Cudlin, respectively, engaged in a "Triathlon of the Muses" which offered up athleticism and aestheticism in a lean conflation. Competing head-to-head in a trio of events (swimming, “biking” and “running”), the duo sweated for their art to a vigorous soundtrack that ranged from the Ramones to Gaga, all the while engaging our realization that art fairs are nothing short of a “competition.” (Cornelius won handily, by the way, although Cudlin was penalized for apparently peeing in the pool.)

[Steven Jones]

In the subterranean, sweaty parking garage caution seemed thrown to the wind - here the art really started to push boundaries. Steven Jones invited visitors to straddle his trussed and coin-op turkey-trot. Food figured also in Dan Gray's "morning after" memorial that smartly melded AB-EX critique with a Rosenquist citation. Art Whino, "new kid" on the DC gallery circuit, had beefy presence with a cluster of grafitti-cum-artiste types that might actually shove the shop-worn genre of "street art" in new directions; Angry Woebots, Charlie Owens and TMNK were stand-outs. And, exuding a quiet, (Post?)Modernist energy was Fairfax-based artist, Adam Lister, in a thrilling homage to Mondrian, Sol Lewitt, optometry and Mr. Wizard that spanned across four parking spots.

[Adam Lister]


[Dan Gray]

And there was even Free Art: the Brooklyn duo of Sean Naftel and Chris Attenborough called "Peacock" was giving away paintings, drawings and assorted knick-knackery in the name of "value assessment." Spotting a gorgeous abstract by Brian Dupont, I latched on to it quickly while chatting with proprietor Sean about "how art is valued in the contemporary market place and how it's assessed culturally."(2)

This is the question, isn't it? If the "art world," as represented in these ubiquitous fairs, is to continue privileging commerce as the authentic factor of "worthiness" or value of the art object, then do we only notice those shiniest, slimey-ist and sexiest objects? "Is there a value in having your work distributed in the atmosphere that surrounds major art fairs like Frieze or Basel or nay of the numerous, large commercially profitable international fairs?"(3)

I don't presume to know the answer but as I'm finishing this post and preparing it for publishing, I note that (e)merge has been "re-newed" for 2012. We can only hope that it is bigger and better, for that would be productive for the Art Scene our "little neck of the woods." What remains to be seen is how this year's (e)merge fares with the Big Apple scribes and critical eyes. Was there enough pizzazz, new blood and "art stars?" Time will tell, but for now we can bask in the afterglow of cultural recognition.

(All photographs property of individual artists and obviously well-protected under copyright law; the turkey-ride shot is mine.)
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1. Thornton, Sarah. Seven Days in the Art World, New York, 2008, 94.

2. From "Peacock" project statement dated 2011 and provided as hand-out at (e)merge.

3. Ibid.

August 8, 2011

La "Infinite" es Finis

Administrator's note: It is finished: Roman Opalka died yesterday in Rome at the age of 79. In memoriam, I re-post an essay I wrote on Opalka in November 2008


Roman Opalka’s artistic practice is either an undertaking of resolute heroism or an obsession bordering on insanity. Since 1965, Opalka has been inscribing a progression of numbers on canvas. The canvas size is always the same (196 x 135 cm), as is the brush (size 0) and the pigment (white acrylic). There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the idea came to Opalka while waiting for his wife in a café. If true, this story attests to the fact that the most “successful” ideas are “ludicrously simple” or, at the very least, simply “inevitable.”(1)

I want to discuss Opalka’s work from three theoretical vantages, two of which have to my knowledge not been previously suggested as ways to interpret his project. The one theory universally addressed is the idea that Opalka’s counting represents his comprehension of his mortality, that this is his way of “marking” his time on earth. I would add to this that his work ought to then be considered as truly time-based. This term has become an accepted and generic catch-all for video, aural or performative work but we must clearly understand the relevance of it in relation to Opalka; after all, his work is more fully “based” in time than most simple narrative-form video.

Which allows me to introduce the first of my “new” takes on Opalka: I believe his work reflects a post-narrative approach that dismantles our apprehension of a work of art as a “story” that can be “read.” Similar to the way Stan Douglas’s “Overture” disrupts a viewer’s sense of narrative structure through repetition of its audio and visual components, an Opalka painting disrupts one’s apprehension of it as a “work.” Opalka’s paintings are “details” of the larger “story” from the artist’s entire oeuvre, his life’s project.(2) It is a “work” we cannot fully “read” and the knowledge that he is still at work on his project negates the (modernist) interpretation of his practice as manifesting “wholeness” within the object.

Moreover, Opalka is as much “performance artist” as painter. His project is clearly performative as he counts “time,” recording (since 1968) himself counting numbers as he paints them.(3) Exactly why his work is not discussed as “performance” remains to be articulated but probably reflects the prejudicial attitudes of critics who cry that “painting is dead” every few years; if Opalka merely filmed himself counting he would probably have become the darling of “time-based” art. His inscribed numerals record his performance in a way that film never could - the finality of his passage through time is a “play” that is memorialized in each “detail.”

Opalka has referred to his project as “a conceptual report with the infinite.”(4) It is truly a conceptual art “work” and categorically disproves the oft-bandied theory that conceptualism has “dematerialized” the “work” of art. Currently continuing, this particular “work” of art is possibly as close as one person has come in “reporting” on humankind’s connection and access to the Infinite.

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1. “Some ideas are logical in conception and illogical perceptually. The ideas need not be complex. Most ideas that are successful are ludicrously simple. Successful ideas generally have the appearance of simplicity because they seem inevitable.” from Sol Lewitt’s “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”, originally published in Artforum, June 1967.

2. Opalka refers to his paintings as “details” and each bears the same title on the reverse: “OPALKA 1965/1-∞ (Infinity)”, although some additionally include the numerical range painted on the front, i.e., “460260-484052.”

3. On July 22, 2004, Le Monde reported that he reached 5,486,028.

4. The work by Roman Opalka.

July 30, 2011

Medium of Exchange


"This is a participatory installation – visitors may write directly upon
the blackboard with the provided chalk in order to 'decipher' the bisected text.

Visitors who decipher words and sentences become 'active participants' in the completion of the artwork and their participation is an 'exchange' of labor. Thus, active participants exchange their labor for a share of possible future profits when the artwork is sold. Active participants may document their exchange by writing their name and email address on a clipboard provided by gallery staff.

The 'exchange value' of this artwork is a 'square footage' price of $256 based on the artist’s previous sales average of three sales in three consecutive years. At 32 sq. feet, 'Untitled participatory installation #4' is valued at $8,190."


I visited the "Medium of Exchange" show this week to document my work and was pleased to see that it is almost "completed." As I specified in my statement above, visitors that contribute their "labor" to "Untitled participatory installation #4" become "active participants" and potential "shareholders" in the sale of this particular piece. Given that there are few un-deciphered words left, as well as seven obvious "errors" that might be corrected, this is the "Final Chance" for those interested readers of this site to become participants by visiting the site and contributing to the work; the show closes on August 6, 2011.

From the Curatorial Statement by Anthony Cervino and Shannon Egan:
"Boyd’s viewer is also requested to 'write into' the work, not necessarily to give feedback, but rather to become an active shareholder in the work’s value. He specifically invites the viewer to 'decipher' the partially obscured text that appears on the chalkboard. One must pick up a piece of chalk provided, make sense of the implied language and fill in the missing shapes of each letter. Because the viewer becomes a participant in the completion of the work, Boyd is willing to pay the viewer for his or her labor. If the work is sold, the viewers who participated in the piece and provided contact information to the gallery staff will receive a share of the $8190 price. The viewer’s 'job' is not simply to look, but to read, comprehend and write, in an act that is equivalent to the artist’s position, the shareholder’s stake and the work’s own worth."

Image: "Untitled participatory action #4" (2011); blackboard paint, chalk, pencil on MDF; H48xW98; installation view on July 28, 2011.

© Copyright 2011 by Mark Cameron Boyd. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of artwork or text without permission is prohibited.

July 26, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story


The tenuous respect once held for a photographic image – it’s insistence on truth and actuality – was over as soon as the conspiracy theorists began questioning the Moon Landing. Even in 1969, we knew that “reality” could be easily constructed in film studios, so why couldn’t the U.S. government have done the same? Fast forward to 9/11, and even though you watched those planes going into the Towers, you engaged in some level of doubt if you read the analyses of why steel buildings cannot collapse that way and that fast.

Today’s political agendas, even when documenting seemingly benign events, are fraught with insidious corruptibility and easily manipulated. A photograph showing Syrian President Bashar Assad swearing in his new choice for Governor of Hama, Anas Abdul-Razzaq Naem, has been exposed as a Photoshop fraud – the two men were probably never in the same room.

One might ask what was the intent of the Syrian government in pairing the two men in a seemingly “friendly” photo-opp. It goes without saying that their intention was clearly to manifest a false reality to represent an equally false “business-as-usual” vision for the rest of the world.

So intention is key here. Can we then forgive the young bicyclist who posted the equally false Photoshopped image (see above) of his “miraculous” pedaling across a body of water to promote his worthy cause? As has been pointed out already by the “Debunkers of ‘Net Fakery,” the young man’s foot can be seen resting on a post. Do we forgive his fraud, obviously committed for an ethical reason to get people talking about him and then, hopefully, his cause?

On a lighter note, actress Megan Fox tried a similar Photoshop sleight-of-hand (or perhaps it was boyfriend, Brian Austin Green) to “prove” she has not had Botox by showing the actress doing “Things You Can’t Do With your Face When You Have Botox.” This merely translates as sad – gravity is as relentless and fickle, Ms. Fox, as the public.

July 14, 2011

Crisis of Ownership


Regardless of your comfort or impatience with pluralism in visual arts – whether you condone or disapprove of the multiplicity of “styles” rampant in today’s contemporary art world – there is one conclusion we might draw from the abundant varieties of approach to visuality: the apparent unconcern for the once dominant critical hierarchy of visual art focuses our attention on the content of the art object, exclusive of whatever form that object takes.

Whether it be figurative, abstract or conceptual, all visual art styles are now permissible and marketable. Perhaps this is the ultimate psychic reversal of a public grown tired of pseudo-intellectualism, critical theory and excessive self-expression; the final irony of “I don’t know anything about art but I know what I like.” If there’s an artist who paints Neoclassical nudes, while another one crawls around a mound of salt – no worries, we can sell the art.

We will let others with more time, patience and the resources pursue the socio-economic and/or epistemic logic of how we arrived at this critical juncture in Art History. My brief speculation here will merely touch on a couple of points that I want to make about this crucial period for contemporary art.

First, what I want to say is that our obsession with style barely conceals our repressed desire for content. Indeed, we are so surface-oriented that we allow ourselves to be distracted by superficialities of color, sheen and gloss. The moral imperatives of advertising were life lessons for Pop artists and they took the skeletal basics of branding, repetition and ennui and wallowed in it. Look at any two-dozen YouTube mash-ups today and you can glimpse the mutant stepchildren of Madison Avenue and MTV.

Yet, sometimes reflected in the yearning discourse found in those comments under these “outsider” videos, there are inquiries into “meaning,” relationships drawn between other works with similar content, or arguments over precedence and originality. This is all the more remarkable because of the “free” nature of the Internet – there is no concern about “borrowing,” copying or appropriating anyone else’s content. In fact, such freedom of use is allowed, even encouraged, because the fact remains that if you put it up on the Internet, you have abdicated “ownership” of that content.

Where form had once usurped content as prime motivation for art making and dominated the discourse surrounding Modernist art, content returned in the guise of conceptualism. In the 21st Century, content has ironically been upstaged again by a postmodern fascination with form. The fetish of functionality and blurred distinctions of art and design have further confused the art object’s usefulness with its intention. Moreover, the significance of the value attribution of an art object resides primarily within its cultural and institutional validation, not within the inherent qualities of an object’s form.

Language functions as the essential marker of content, as ideas and concepts are first projected within words and sentences. Both speech and writing are inherently viewed as “free” within democratic societies, regardless of their qualification as “intellectual property.” Ownership of one’s content, as epitomized in open source text, on-line posting or blogging, is already under attack through corporate and institutional manipulation, as Facebook, Google and Apple continue to colonize their users. Thus, form and content are currently undergoing a period of unstable value attribution, whether exchange or use value, as both intellectual delivery vehicles have been negated through a crisis of ownership.

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Image: ”Untitled participatory installation #4”; in “Medium of Exchange” exhibition at Center for the Arts Gallery, Towson University; © Copyright 2011 by Mark Cameron Boyd.

“Medium of Exchange” runs to August 6, 2011. Info: 410-704-2787

June 25, 2011

R.I.P. Peter Falk

“Cassavetes, even after his posthumous reputation has flourished as the very model of the off-Hollywood maverick independent film-maker, remains a polarizing figure to this day, and likely always will. His messy, plotless, chaotic, grueling actor-centered cinema aimed to present a narrow band of human emotions and a narrow strata of society in deliberately unflattering close-up. They are as exhausting to watch as they must have been to make (a typical Cassavetes film took a year to write, a year to shoot, and a year to edit). Critics accused the films' faux improvised scripts, picking at small agonizing personal interactions like scabs for seemingly endless duration, as being no more than acting class exercises run self-indulgently amok: this is actually true, but this is also the source of JC's greatest insight. Cassavetes understood that social conditioning turns all of us into actors, forced to don a mask or pose to enact the various roles we are compelled to perform throughout our days, and that we are generally very bad actors to boot, full of forced laughter, cruel acts impulsively cracking the facade of niceness, self-pity undermining our cool. The moments in our lives where the mask starts to slip because our social performance has ceased to properly achieve what it was supposed to and we start blowing our lines because we don't actually understand why we are doing whatever it is we're doing are the moments his films are about. That is why they are so truthful and so painful to watch, not because of the sputtering inarticulateness of his characters, and meandering plots, the bad lighting and un-composed shots. Husbands is his toughest, most exhausting film, but if you can take it, it's worth the ride.”(1)



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1. Plotkin, Thomas. “Rat Pack In Extremis;” Amazon.com review; June 7, 2009.

June 11, 2011

Critical Fragments: Pedagogy

“Pedagogical models are in imminent change within the contemporary art world. Where once the role of arts education was to prepare the young Apprentice through an immersion in the ways of the Master, today’s art school negotiates precarious vacillations between theoretical engagement, technical hybridity and curatorial placement.

Art schools’ relationships with the commercial art world remains ethical for the most part with the occasional lapse in judgment and focus. To maintain their autonomous position within the art world, institutions of arts instruction practice a kind of ambivalence that can only be characterized as idealistic.”


I wrote the above two paragraphs last June 2010 after completing a semester teaching undergraduate fine art seniors. The practical aspects of my teaching had been inspired by theoretical readings on pedagogy, specifically Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), edited by Steven Henry Madoff. Among the many excellent essayist in the book, Ernesto Pujol proposes that art institutions would prove “successful” if they could help define the relationships between a student’s practice and the art world, to insert art students “into the right ancestral inheritance line through which to locate, understand and articulate their work both to the art world that receives them and in the greater social context.”(1)

Having now finished another full year of art teaching, this time as undergraduate senior coordinator leading my two-person faculty team, and mentoring fine art students through their final year and the production of their BFA projects and theses, I have a few more observations about visual arts education and its relationship to these embryonic young art students and their developing positions in the Art World.

Before launching down that path, however, let me elaborate on the frustrations of teaching art. As James Elkins has noted, “Art cannot be taught.”(2) I know Jim and I have to agree that there are essences of how art is taught that do remain a mystery to us visual arts pedagogues. Still, we struggle on year after year to find that “sweet spot” between what is “knowable” about art and what can be taught, i.e., its history, theory, philosophy.

The stubborn student, the lazy student or the indifferent student further complicates and frustrates those who teach art. How many art teachers have sat in one-on-one critiques with students who seem to resent the articulation required of them to “talk about the work?” Or read with impatience such vague art student sentiments as “Societal boundaries and personal relationships motivate me to create work. I have created boundaries around myself to cope with other people.” To which, I might have replied, but did not: “What societal boundaries? You’re a white girl in an art school. Are your boundaries economic? You can’t afford a decent car? And how does that motivate you beyond ‘getting a degree?’ How is that reflected in your creation of work?”(3)

I cannot help but doubt the relevance of four years of art school if it only produces inhibited or introverted students. How do art school studio critiques become so counter-productive as to cause students to resort to vagaries over specifics, unattributed generalities over research, and superfluity over substance?

What I want to insist is that young adult art students must learn to write substantively about their work and be able to talk about it intelligently while in the academic art school setting – this is a basic premise of art education. Art school is the appropriate time to learn that behavior; time for communication of intent, for connection with interested, educated peers and professor. It is precisely during the four years of an academic setting that these opportunities will arise. Assuredly, these exact same demands for a practicing artist to talk, write and lecture about their work will certainly continue in the "Real World" after art school so it must be practiced in academia.

Addressing the idealistic autonomy of art school, as the museum projects its image as the “disinterested progenitor” of culture, the art school considers its educational program distinct and immune from the crass socio-economics of the commercial art world. Obviously, admissions and recruitment departments market and promote their institution’s educational programs, particularly the MFA programs, as stepping-stones to jobs, yet this is more or less ignored within the academic departments' curricula. Except for the handful of portfolio and “career development” courses, most art programs represent hermetically sealed ivory-towers, removed from the quotidian concern of how graduates pay the rent post-academia. It is truly art (taught) for art’s sake alone.

Hans Haacke ascribes to the position that art exists within the realm of consciousness and that art “products are not entirely physical in nature.” What is more, “although transmitted in one material form or another, they are developed in and by consciousness and have meaning only for another consciousness.”(4) Furthermore, he argues that museums have become the “managers of consciousness,” all the while exuding the squeaky-clean ambiance of autonomy.

If museums are the managers of consciousness then the art school is certainly the factory. It is here we attempt a magic act of invisibility within the Art World, while maintaining straight-faced allegiance to the theories and dictates of contemporary-isms. As professors of culture, we present our agendas of the idealistic necessity of “making” within the vacuum of aesthetically pure “conception.” The only challenge of substance is how to refer to the futures of our young students as hopeful when our day-to-day connection to that Art World continues to be restrained by ideology and autonomy.

______________________________________________

1. Pujol, Ernesto. “On the Ground: Practical Observations for Regenerating Art Education” in Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), (Steven Henry Madoff, ed.), Cambridge, 2009, 12.

2. Elkins, James. Why Art Cannot Be Taught, Chicago, 2001.

3. From a senior student's thesis statement. I recall a one-on-one critique with this student when she “didn’t want to talk about the work.” When students put up such walls between themselves and the world, the school and their teachers it makes it impossible for art teachers to "teach."

4. Haacke, Hans. “Museums, Managers of Consciousness,” in Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business, (Brian Wallis, ed.), New York, 1986, 60-73.

May 6, 2011

On invention

Administrator's note: This is an excerpt from an email I received about last night's performance; my response follows:

"The show was a great chance to get a better understanding of your work by seeing examples made from different stages of your method development. Three years ago, I remember having no idea how you could do something new with the theme. I still don't. But I've no doubt you will find another way to go with it. Does it feel like the entire burden of invention is yours alone?, because generally it takes a society to make something new from what is already there. Where does your input come from when you invent a new way to complete a panel? Is it from all of the books you read?"


As usual, Emily, your correspondence inspires. Often I am not moved to consider a piece "post" but in this case it is an on-going continuum of "pieces" - this you are aware of - that remains within the "system," and thus retains whatever "meaning" is to be found by residing within that system.

The practice of the artist is his/her system. Definitions, meanings, responses, refutations and, most importantly, discourse emanate from their practice. My actions upon text, inextricably bound within my readings and teachings of linguistics, semiotics, structuralism and post-structuralism, issue forth from a simple methodology (bisected text) but are evolving from my imagination. In speaking on it with those who are interested, I find myself describing what seems a logical progression - from "static objects" to games, to participation through deciphering, to "real time" transcription. This has lead me to new recognitions - on "public vs. private," on spatio-temporality, on performance, on memory - yet it somehow always returns to the discursive site; the "locus of meaning."

Although I completely understand what you mean about how we bear the "burden of invention," I prefer to speculate that once one's art practice has gelled, the "invention" and evolution of that practice should easily generate "invention." If ideas are machines that make the art, then that process naturally evolves new/different versions, or reactions, or even methodologies. I am constantly considering CAD work, although I remain currently pleased with my immersion in personal and shared "hand-made" objects/installations. The energy that comes from both the partner-performers (like yourself) and the viewer-participant very readily "completes" the "work." Duchamp said it best: "The spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."

Other possibilities for me (and you) to unravel: the idea of "public art," which has not been fully unpacked, i.e., the role of interaction/participation to make artworks truly public; the contextual specifics of the multiple "sites" where art is found, including the discursive; the "ethics" of spectatorship in the production of art and its "exchange use." All these and more will consume me in the time that remains to explore.

I thank you for your comments. Watch this space, as always, for continued information and conversation.

April 29, 2011

On site


A performance by Mark Cameron Boyd & friends creating a spatio-temporal, participatory installation in the conference room at Grupo 7, Georgetown's leading architecture firm; MCB will speak "on site," his words transcribed via his text bisection process that guests may decipher afterward.

Sponsored by The Art Registry, Alchimie Forever & Grupo 7; additional artwork by Joan Belmar, Joel D'Orazio, J. Ford Huffman, Ani Kasten, Khanh H. Le & Greg Minah.

Where: 1010 Wisconsin Ave. NW, WDC
When: reception: 5:30-8; performance: 6:15pm
RSVP: rsvp@theartregistrygroup.com

April 25, 2011

Payback Time



A recent and pleasant discovery was that Mavis Staples' Grammy-award winning album, You Are Not Alone, was produced by Jeff Tweedy of Chicago's Wilco. Besides the obvious fact of both Staples and Tweedy being Chicagoans, this news makes perfect musical sense in that Tweedy, a mercurial and unclassifiable "rock" artist as capable of soulful laments as guitar-driven pop, obviously was paying his respects to Staples, a legendary performing artist whose music and history with The Staple Singers melded gospel, R&B, funk and blues.

If we add another unlikely but similarly reverential project, wherein sometime White Stripe and Raconteur, Jack White, produced and played on Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, one might think we had a homage movement afoot; one in which younger artists give long overdue nods and props of appreciation to the"Living Legends" whose work/life has inspired them.

So why can't this kind of respect be paid by younger, contemporary artists to those elder figures who paved the way? I'm talking about Martin Creed acknowledging Fluxus artist George Brecht, the Chapmans admitting that they cribbed from Hans Bellmer, Rachel Whiteread thanking Bruce Nauman for one of his best ideas and Urs Fischer paying some royalties to the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark. And don't get me started about Gaga and Tania Bruguera.

Hello? Whitney Museum, MOCA, Dia Foundation? This could be a wonderful curatorial project for an art museum with ties to art history and contemporary art. Are you the museum brave enough to step up and pair de riguer, "cutting edge" art with the original precursors? After all, without history and its recognition, where for art thou?

Image: "The Burden of Guilt" (1997-99); © Copyright by Tania Bruguera.

February 25, 2011

Prisoners of Our Own Devise



With their characteristic aplomb and prescience, the New York Times dismissed blogging earlier this week, stating the obvious that blogs have become irrelevant to today’s youth who prefer their Facebook and Twitter “status updates” to “express themselves.” Yet buried within this article of cobbled opinion and “expert” quotes were some intriguing revelations to unearth concerning our current technologic servitude. For instance:

“The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.”(1)

Thus, we gather that teens’ lack of interest in blogging might be proportionately relational to their acquisition of cellular devices proffering text-based platforms that leapfrog standard keystroke entry since said teens were further depicted as “too busy to write lengthy posts.”

Enter Twitter and its teen-appropriate, tailor-made 140 characters per “Tweet.” Further enhancing their defection from journal-style entries, we might also note the teen preference for abbreviation and the initialism of Internet slang. Such methodologies are well served in Twitter morsels and if one has something longer to say one simply strings a “run” of Tweets together.(2)

Which allows me to introduce my first revelation about technologic servitude: our ability to “express” is dictated by the device chosen for expression. Most current cell phones available with Internet access and text capability also have limitations to keyboard design and size that handily direct textual usage to the brevity of text messaging. Clearly, it is easy to comprehend why teenagers don’t blog any longer – their cells are easier to carry and they spend most of their “on-line time” on cells rather than their laptops or home-base computers.

Therefore, we have a generational shift in device preference for “self-expression” fomented through the cultural construction of our identities via advertising and peer pressure, as well as the social ergonomics of device functionality.

Parenthetically, it is perhaps less obvious that these “children” of the aforementioned Pew Research Study (“ages 12 to 17”) may not really have that much of interest (yet) to write about. With the continuous onslaught of media-saturated distraction available constantly via their device of preference, from YouTube “viral” videos to “free” MP3 downloads, it’s easy to see why younger teens don’t have time to think, much less write about their moment to moment existence other than brief “updates” or vague descriptives flavored with the occasional emoticon.(3)

But before you call me a Luddite let me confess to my seduction by both TiVo and the “MBA.” The necessity of a DVR became woefully apparent to me last year when my ancient VCR deteriorated slowly; I have yet to assume the task of digitally migrating thousands of hours’ worth of film noir, music documentaries and performance art tapes to a “safer” platform.(4)

All of this sparks me to theorize that the kind of device you are indentured to “defines” your identity. Blackberry owners are “professional,” upwardly mobile and no-nonsense; they want a “real” keyboard. Androids suggest “hipness” with that touch-screen immediacy; its “haptic feedback” guarantees a subliminal and “cool” sex appeal.

The advent of social networking, Internet sites like Facebook and Twitter that fully conform to those “software platforms” that reflect the enmeshed symbiosis with correspondent technologic devices like cell phones and netbooks, have ensnared their users within suppressed content restrictions and “Big Brother” oversight. Those of us who discovered Facebook a couple of years ago, and launched our “Profiles” happily, blithely praising the eccentric brilliance of Mr. Zuckerberg, eventually discerned we were posting updates in a kind of addictive paralysis that grips Facebook aficionados. Our updates were also limited by word-count, photos were sometimes censored and the number of “friends” we could have was also limited.

We are prisoners of our own devise. The laptop mirage of intimacy and connection to our hundreds of friends in the Facebook world is matched by our needy allegiance and fidgeting obsession with our Androids. We compulsively check and re-check email, scroll through 4-point type to simulate “reading” and develop thumb cramps and carpal tunnel from text addiction.

Indeed, it is your device that controls you. It beckons in the dark – that green/blue glow on the nightstand – that calls out, “There might be a message…perhaps a text.”

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1. Kopytoff, Verne. “Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter,” New York Times, February 21, 2011.

2. Before her Twitter account was taken down Courtney Love was particularly adept at these sequential runs which often lasted several hours.

3. There’s a dissertation yet to be written on the comparison of literary output relative to one’s episteme; Arthur Rimbaud had completed his entire body of literary work before he turned 21; there was no television or Internet in 1875.

4. TiVo continues to fascinate me with its ability to “pause” live television – surely there are video artists that are currently working within the potential of this aberration to gift us with new, unexpected “works?”

February 5, 2011

Critical Fragments: Criticism

The following quote from jazz great, Wynton Marsalis, about music critics strikes me as having the potential to inform us about art criticism as well. If you substitute "artist" for "musician," "art" for "music," and so forth, his comment resonates across media to reveal the challenges inherent in all criticism. I have made the substitutions of the analogous terms for you below; the links go to his original quote:

"A lot of times, reviewers don't really know enough about what you're doing to have an intelligent comment on it. It's hard to walk in and see something one time. An artist has worked on something, it has a lot of references, and it's full of things the reviewer doesn't know. A person doing an art review -- how much art do they know? How much art theory do they actually know? I understand the practical aspect of it. Yours is a piece they reviewed on Tuesday. They have a piece to review on Wednesday. I'm not mad at them. I'm just lucky to have the type of friends and artists and people dedicated to my art that I do."

January 31, 2011

Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object


As originally posited in the 1960’s, Conceptual Art focused attention on the idea behind the art object and questioned the traditional role of that object as the conveyer of meaning. Subsequently, those theories cast doubt upon the necessity of materiality itself as conceptual artists "de-materialized" the art object and began to produce time-based and ephemeral artworks. Although total dematerialization never occurred, the art object became flexible – malleable – and that malleability, coupled with semiotics and process, has resulted in the postconceptual object.

The possible dematerialization of the art object was always a threat to its exchange value. Conceptual Art questioned the status of the object as commodity and it was no longer possible to insist that artistic value lies solely within the object. Postconceptual artists elicit inquiry on the ability of an art object to contain any value, including “use value” and “exhibition value,” without the contextual support provided by supplemental texts (essays, lectures, reviews) and institutional validation. The successful postconceptual artist explores and defines use, exhibition and exchange values. The tenuous nature of value attribution through that cultural validation makes it doubtful that cultural values are “guaranteed” to any art object.

Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object explores the work of nine artists who individually extend and expand upon the theories and ideas of Conceptual Art in unique ways. As postconceptual artists, the selected artists approach the art object as the “always already” signifier it never ceased being. Yet they use process to circumvent aesthetics, approach perception through deciphering, reconfigure commodity through intention and convert data into form.

Postconceptual art remains suspicious of the art object as commercial “product” and frequently disrupts this commodification and its static nature. David Williams reconfigures the artifice of commercially manufactured product containers to “transcend the original consumer intent of these materials” and re-envisions their temporary “rubbish” status as a metaphoric re-contextualization through the exhibition context. William Brovelli mocks the historical ideal of paintings as precious, fixed entities through his contractual “interaction between the artist and the collector” that extends the act of painting by prohibiting his object “from permanently settling into a static condition after purchase.”

Postconceptual art trumps “taste” by adherence to process and eliminates subjective judgments by the artist during the making. As Sol Lewitt said, “To work with a plan that is preset is one way of avoiding subjectivity.” Information is conveyed through language and Meg Mitchell shows us that a “non-discriminatory body of data” resulting from her Google search can also yield form. By using erasure as both action and critique, John James Anderson memorializes the interminable “disappearance” of newsprint journalism and newspaper culture as we succumb to ubiquitous digital media.

Intentionality in postconceptualism often benefits from an artist’s procedural transformation of a pre-conceived idea through functional, environmental or intellectual designs. Cat Manolis radically alters modular and environmental design processes to consider our “spatial relationships with the natural world.” Manolis creates a space in which gridded “tiles” merge with architecture to “become a visual/physical/psychological navigation system” that provokes our perceptual experience of space. Diane Blackwell’s screen, The Word, quite literally transforms “the basic elements of language” as both contextual and supplemental support of the art object. Originally conceived as utilitarian “furniture,” Blackwell’s object is “deconstructed” through a definitive metamorphosis as “art” supported by language. Recent work by Ken Weathersby resurrects painting through a negotiation between the intellectual and physical properties of the support. Weathersby subverts the “language of painting” through a three-dimensional manipulation that disrupts our perception by creating a “no-space space.” Reuben Breslar documents his “personal experiences” through multiple medias that ultimately reflect upon art objects as ways to visually interpret our procedural engagement with perception.

My own contribution to this exhibition continues my exploration of participatory art through spectator perceptions. My installation is conceived as both a literal and contextual stage where art is accessed through action and memory. Initiated through performance, the site becomes activated by participation as viewers are invited to decipher language heard moments before as spoken word. The site is time-based, to be continually modified by spectator contribution throughout the exhibit, and temporary. When the site is dismantled its contextualization as art is also “erased” as its physicality evaporates. The perceptual experience of immateriality is realized through art’s transcendence from objects and further evidence of the dominance of concept.

Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object champions the assembled artists, their individual visions and their commitment to the continuation of key theoretical ideas of Conceptual Art. The best of our ideas generate art objects that not only expand upon the transformation of the object within the context of art but also refocus the object’s critical potential within the contemporary art experience.


Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object opens March 10, 2011 at University of Maryland's Stamp Gallery.

Image: Space is Language is Space (detail); wood, urethane; dimensions variable; © Copyright 2011 by Meg Mitchell.

January 8, 2011

Other N-Words

News that a new and politically correct edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be published this year by NewSouth Books has been met generally with derision and condemnation from Twain scholars.(1) The concept seemed suspect from the start. As proposed by Auburn University professor and the NewSouth edition's editor Alan Gribben, the plan is to eliminate Twain's over-abundant use of a certain racial slur, the n-word, and replace it with the slightly less offensive, presumably more humane, and thus imminently more "teachable" word, "slave." Gribben's waffling explanation didn't help much to dispel the disingenuousness of it:

"The n-word possessed, then as now, demeaning implications more vile than almost any insult that can be applied to other racial groups. There is no equivalent slur in the English language. As a result, with every passing decade this affront appears to gain rather than lose its impact. Even at the level of college and graduate school, students are capable of resenting textual encounters with this racial appellative."(2)

Without a doubt, Mark Twain (aka Samuel L. Clemens) used the n-word in Huckleberry Finn because he felt it was the only way to authentically depict the attitudes and mores of the 1840's-era characters in his fictional work. To give his novel the most realistic ambiance of a pre-Civil War America, Clemens had his fictional characters use such words and thereby attached an immediacy and relevance to their actions within their particular epistemic conditions. What is more, Clemens effectively encapsulates both class and generational distinctions by showing how his young protagonists, Huck and Tom Sawyer, and the majority of the "uneducated" adults in both Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, used the n-word but the older narrator carefully avoided the pejorative term and instead uses "colored" or "Negro."(3)

Let me quickly and parenthetically introduce a sidebar on that questionable word's appearance in published works, so as to provoke a discussion on whether or not NewSouth Books should have also elided "Negro" from Huckleberry Finn. That other n-word has fallen in and out of favor over the years, and we can thank the good folks at Google for their new Ngram Viewer (yet another n-word!) to allow us to peruse data on the use of both n-words in print over the last 200 years.

It goes without saying that as a teaching tool Twain's stark rendering of bigotry, hatred and prejudice opens up the potential for productive conversations between students and educators about race relations in the United States, both prior to the Civil War and after. Noted Twain biographer, Ron Power, spoke out passionately about this last week:

"Huckleberry Finn and the use of 'nigger' is the ultimate teachable moment in American literature," Powers says. "It cries out for conversation between teachers and students. It cries out for context."

Instead of being frightened and uncomfortable by Huckleberry Finn and its use of the n-word, teachers should approach this head on. For example, students might be interested in defending how some African-American rap artists use the n-word, and perhaps this would be a way to engage ideas about the social implications of language and its cultural power. The n-word has a deeper connection within African-American culture and is bandied about differently by blacks. What are the issues concerning the perpetuation of a 200-year old racial slur and its subsequent "flattening" through sustained and, dare I say it, loving use by emblematic power "Playas" in urban contemporary music? Will these kinds of conversations ensue over Twain's use of the word "slave" in Huckleberry Finn?

Ironically, Prof. Gribben might be compared to Mark Twain's own perceptions of Huck Finn that was found in one of Twain's notes. Huck was described as having "a sound heart and a deformed conscience" and one might characterize Prof. Gribben in similar terms. Gribben's intent to soften Huckleberry Finn to make it palatable for potential new audiences perhaps reveals "heart" but his mis-recognition of the contextuality of language reflects the often shoddy foresight of those educators who would damn art in pursuit of ideology.

___________________________________________

(1)"Indeed, Twain scholar Thomas Wortham, at UCLA, compared Gribben to Thomas Bowdler (who published expurgated versions of Shakespeare for family reading), telling PW that "a book like Professor Gribben has imagined doesn't challenge children [and their teachers] to ask, ‘Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?'"

(2) From An excerpt from the editor's introduction to Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition by Dr. Alan Gribben.


(3) It was also troubling that this week in their reading of the Constitution of the United States in the House of Representatives, members skipped those passages that condoned chattel slavery, as if their censorship would deny that slavery ever existed in America.