Anthony Easton

Sep 06

Poptimism – Lesson Fourteen – supplement

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Ed: here’s Anthony’s track-by-track commentary for his podcast

Walk on By — Dionne Warwick
Crying in the street when one sees an ex doesn’t seem to be the best example of control, but how she lays ground rules here, how she sings words like private or stop, or even walk on by, has a restraint and devotion that avoids passive aggression or desperation. It also makes the song much sadder than it could have been.


Jul 06

Kenny Chesney and the Science of Summer Hitz

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I have heard his new single (“Summertime”), four times in the last two weeks. Once in the c ar back from a family renuion, once when swimming, and twice while eating. When I reviewed the album for Stylus a couple of months ago, I liked it better. Now the time has come for it to be on the radio, there are several reasons why it should be destroyed:

  1. The lyrics are really banal. Not only banal, but designed entirely in a lab to be an authentic expression of how the warm months affect the good ol boy in all of us.
  2. As for the above, it is shameless in its attempt to enter the canon: Perfect song on the radio/Sing along because it’s one we know
  3. None of the really excellent things about summer (ie drinking, all of the copius amounts of flesh on view) are mentioned.

May 06


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 1,486 views

Four Versions of Jeff Koons Balloon Knot Sculpture, in NY, Dallas, and Berlin. The New York one is the newest, and he has been working with the form for about 10 years. I dont know if its a brilliant peice of pop formalism or the same scammed out huckerstism (thats the central question with Koons isnt it?)

I do know that all of them look oddly kinky.

May 06

Cattle and Other political Animals

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 548 views

Looking Through Garry Winnogrand’s book Stock Photographs: The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, initially, I thought it wasnt very good. Though it came via interlibrary loan at the same time as a couple of livestock catalogs, so maybe it was unfair to compare them. The live stock catalog photographs were slick, commercial, beautiful, and seductive, they made me want to buy the product and they were of a form, genuine;y vernacular even being commercial. The livestock in this book you can barely see, they are badly cropped, move too ing to a rodeo, the doctors, wranglers, clowns, medics, and support staff are an intergral part of the whole process–no one bucks a bronco or rides a bull without a coterie. The photographs that Winniograd are the photos of an outside, because he shows the assistants and in that representation punctures the mutually agreed upon mythologies (the best ones arquickly for the camera, aren’t the main point of the photo, or show up with the wrong side to the lens (if you were into sheep assholes this would be be book for you)

I was going to dismiss this as yet another act of cultural tourism, and not a very good one at that. The tourism charge seemed really apt for several reasons– the photos were commissioned by the U of Texas at Austin, and a museum there and because of Winnogrand’s status as a art world insider (the several NY:MoMA shows, the two Guggenheim grants, the NEA funding, and other grants and gifts).

But the photos kept sticking in my head–the work is very much part of the anti-aesthetic of the photogs that arrived in the 70s, and has the grit/dirt of Meatyard or Gednis, but most photos of the west, frankly most art of the west is empty, is about unpeopled vistas–and the photos here are of large crowds of people, dozens in all sorts of circumstances, in parades, judging, in the stands of rodeo, at parties after the stock sold well–having a peopled west, and having that shot like one would shoot new york cocktail or LA dance clubs has a certain egalitarian power…(this is strongest in two pictures he took of the stands, each of them a crush of people in their Sears bought best, overwhelming two painted murals, of a cowboy doing his work on bare plains–the reality of spectacle and stadium, abutting the mythology of the unpopulated west in a really clever way)

Continuing on that theme, the 13 photos he has taken of actual rodeo events, are fascinating when juxtaposed to the stills that come from professional associations. The tradition in professional stills is to make the animal and man alone in the frame, a struggle between two elements (element in the primal sense of the word).The photos here are of everyone involved, and the action makes the camera goes squirelly. The best are the several where the clown is running the fuck out of the way of 1000 lbs of angry meat, while the cowboy remains foolishly on top.

Looking through the book was a useful argument against assuming value in only one source.

Feb 06

Politcs and Abstraction

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 882 views

Yek/Sue Williams

The question about how political abstraction can be, esp. in relations to painting keeps popping up, an unsolvable corundum in western art history, related to what subject the viewer is extracting. Two relatively recent examples point out that there is an easy way out of these formalist labyrinths, and one that is harder, stranger and more ambiguous. I am thinking of the new Singaporean/Vegas/Texan painter Yek and new work (drawings/painters) by prominent east coast feminist Sue Williams.

(Re Uptake Inhibitors, 2002, Acrylic on Canvas)

Sue Williams’ work is biomorphic abstraction in a cartoon style, so that the meanings can be juggled relatively easily—the work about the unruliness of lines in spaces. The way that they merge, and separate, fall together, and fall apart are really easy to decode. They are much less angry then the work that made her famous, but they are about the same sort of things. The formal interactions are metonymies of political systems, and the work is so clear about this. (I am talking about work called Reuptake inhibitors, Sea Life, or Hemit Vibrasse; work called things like Springtime for the RNC or are even easier to decode, they have ugly fields, and they have pink splotches floating about-it’s the post-painterly equivalent of “these fuckers are all assholes”). Her paintings are fantastic to look at, but aren’t the most subtle in the world.

(Springtime for the RNC, 2005)

Looking at Yek’s (formally Yek Wong, now first name only, darling) is even more interesting—they do not cut to the basics so immediately, they have the discrete precision of colourists like Noland, Truitt or Kelly, but they make one reconsider how those masters used colour. There is something so solemn, so polite, and so artistic about the object in post-painterly abstraction from the 1960s onwards. The work is solid, and the colour is tangible, the refusal of referents makes the work almost a tautology, and there is nothing outward looking in their meditative obsession with the rhetoric of painting (and it was needed to do that, and even sculptors painted, and where about the same issues.) Yek is really interesting; he has an obsession with looking outward.

His work is in hopeless bad taste, the colour of cosmetics, dystopian science fiction from the 70s, anime, and neon signs. They bulge obscenely towards the viewer; they are cut in sideways chevrons, like the doors to Cameros or AMC gremlins. But to make it about painting again, to make fun of the pretension/natural desire of some of his artistic parents, they are called things like nighttime or Forrest floor. There is a world in these panels. It makes sense that he went from Singapore, to Texas and then worked under Dave Hickey, in Las Vegas. Dave Hickey is an American curator who works angles people haven’t imagined, loves pleasure, and refuses the standard ways of looking. The pleasure of colour, the problems of cosmetic improvement, and the political implications of narrative are all found here (like they were in Warhol, and like they are in Williams), but he slips it to us, like the old story of the frat boy, the popcorn box, and the willing co-ed, all three at the movies. (There’s a reason why he calls himself the Barry White of post-conceptual painting)

The last image is from a series called Lies, which I think is one of the strongest, because of how many ways it talks about narrative. The colour transition slowly from the top to the bottom, telling an obtuse story, and the central figure comes from cartoon/comic explosions which explicitly attaches a second narrative relating to graphic tendencies and narratives (ie, they are about fiction, they are lies, its cute) (cute shouldn’t be a put-down)

Jan 06


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 720 views

Spiral Jetty cleanup: Utah officials last month removed several tons of junk from Rozel Point, the area along the Great Salt Lake’s north shore that is home to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty.   “Anyone who has made the trip to see the famous Spiral Jetty . . . has passed through the area and certainly noted that it was an eyesore,” says Joel Frandsen, director of the state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, which supervised the cleanup along with the state Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. Workers removed 18 loads of junk and plugged more than a dozen abandoned oil wells. Salt Lake Tribune

I wrote here a little while back about how the spiral jetty was contained in a failed oil bed, and that the point was that Smithson considered his work in a larger context, of how people interfered with the land, and how it was considered an extension of modernist obsessions with industry. Cleaning it up, making it pristine, is removing the context entirely. The Tribune placed this as a last item in a series of exhibition notes, calls for submissions and minor news, like a “isn’t that nice coda”, ignoring the damage done.

Jan 06

Hot Missionary and the Photos That Love Them

The Brown Wedge2 comments • 1,555 views

nate one
Rhonda Anderson

I was w. mom again for new years, and we went for new years eve to the local lds church—I grew up there and mom was a member, and I took some photos, none of them really turned out, but I posted a couple on flickr, just because—one was of that night, two leatherette bound books under a lamp, on top of a cheap table.

The books, the bible and the book of Mormon, were used as tags, so other people could navigate them. Sometimes I use them myself, in the same way that Freudian psychoanalysts use word association to plumb the id—and while looking thru other tags w. lds, I noticed Nate ones photo sets (I also noticed dozens of really boring, picture perfect photos of various temples, but that’s another piece)

Nate’s photostream reminded me of one of the few photos to ever win credit in the LDS Museum of Cultures triennial art show. The art that usually wins the contest are realist paintings of families, kitschy work featuring Aryan saviors, and the odd metaphorical landscape—rarely there is anything so documentary, the art contest proves more then anything else, that the Mormons are now essentially middle American protestants.

However, there is something strange in LDS culture, 200 years of separate cultures, separate language, separate ritual and separate land. They can be in many ways, intensely insular. So, having these 70 or so photos by who ever Nate is and having this one photo by whoever Anderson is, teaches us about the church.

In Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, there is a line about two boys together clinging, and I keep coming back to that, when thinking about Nate One’s pictures—the same men in the same suits, doing the same jobs, the same homosocial tension of the military, the same desire towards god that comes with seminaries, but out in the world. There is the same drawing of Christ, throughout the photostream here, and the same photos of prophets in Rhonda Anderson’s meta-work. That image of Christ was on my door growing up, and it was the one I knew in Sunday school, it is the most popular image of Christ known, and it has thousands of copies, it is ubiquitous in LDS circles—and if it looks like it was illustrated in the 50s by people who did pulps, It was because the church rebranded under David O McKay about that time, actually hiring pulp artists (look at last months Illustration magazine for copies)

There appears stillness; loneliness in Rhonda Anderson’s work, there is so silence in Nate’s. Missionaries are not allowed to be alone, for the months they are gone, there is someone ever present (and when they transfer to new areas they all go together in clumps, 10 missionaries in the same greyhound bus station) They say the same thing then, there is an (unintential?) surveillance aesthetic here, the faces of the prophets of the church, the pulp Jesus, yr fellow workers in the fields of the lord. The absence of living people in Anderson’s is not still, the constant presence of icons of virtue maintain that.

It feels weird to be writing about this work as anthropology, though. To talk about something framed as art in opposition and conjunction with something framed as souvenir photos really seems churlish. But flickr encourages that—it is tagged book of Mormon, or LDS or Bible or Jesus not art/not art—it blasts apart any dichotomy between the personal and the public aesthetic (at least somewhat, if he wanted us not to see it, then he could have marked it private) and with a BFA in photography, and a tendency towards banal series, Anderson has swallowed the flickr aesthetic, the artless art photograph makes things difficult.

The question one has to ask then, is not is this art but does this add something valid to our understanding of what we are looking at. Nate and Rhonda both do that.

nate one
Rhonda Anderson

Dec 05


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 572 views

Around the time of her death about two years ago, Agnes Martin became less subtle, and started using colours and shapes that in her previous painterly practice would strike as unusual, even shocking. (if you have painted grey lines on beige paper for decades, black shapes get to be called shocking.)

Now Robert Ryman has started using colour…The interesting thing is that there are two separate shows of his work in the next year. One is at Dallas, and is a 40 year old retrospective. One is in Hamburg and is a selection of new works.

Rymans work in 1964, just before he started with white-on-white is not very good. The form has not been dictated, the colour is ugly and random, the size underwhelms, and it seems lazy/typical.

The 40 years since, are like a monk in the desert, counting grains of sand–the paintings there are almost endless in variation of texture, but in colour they purposefully lack. It is almost like he spent the last 4 decades figuring out how to sort thru texture, and now at the end, he is moving away, reclaiming and reinventing the flaws of his youth.

The paintings in Hamburg are tiny, small things, a little more then a foot square. They have the typical white field rawly placed on top of an under field -he has done this before, so it looks like water under a frozen lake…But this time, the ice has broken.

The sides of the paintings are alive with an almost northern romanticism, the colours he has chosen, a greygreen and a bright raw blue, remind of Caspar David Fredich’s landscapes or Joyce’s infamous “The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea”

Here is one of them:

Seeing them in Repro of course means that their full power cannot be judged.

Here is one from 1964:

Dec 05


FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 2,405 views

It’s been dark at 4 in the afternoon here, and I have been doing mostly admin work at home lately. I just came back from the hospital, I’ve been feeling sad,cold, ambiguous, lonely…Intensely lonely.

I don’t think its possible to write about how bad near arctic winters are. Edmonton is one of the most northerly cities in the world, and even with the lack of snow, and the relative mild weather, it’s isolating.

50 years ago, people close to hear would travel for card games and never come back (there is a Sinclair Ross story about this). infastructure came with industry and the military, but it still feels wild. It’s dangerous in a way that is more elemental then anything else–and its danger is in the stillness, the darkness.

There is no drama to the death from exposure.

Thinking about all of this, a month before Christmas, I put on Mathias Goene’s volume of Schubert’s Winterreise. Going through what seems proper for the cold—a sort of Winter Death Mix, you could have Dylan’s Visions of Johanna or Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire or The Huron Carol or certain versions of certain hymns (the strange melancholy of Silent Night, the literalness of In The Bleak Midwinter) But nothing matches the melancholy of being alone in the cold like Schubert.

Goene is new, German, and his role has some controversy, because he’s much more somber then his predecessors, and much darker. He adds timber and complexity to an artist who is mostly known for basically sweet candy. I know this is supposed to be a pop music blog, and this is not pop (and I am not going to insult you by saying Lieder was the pop of the 19th century.) but its important, vital even, to have gravity when gravity is called for.

This is as dark as the grave, and cold as the ground (in the words of Blind Willie McTell)

(The text of the Lieder written by William Mueller is here , with translations)

Hyperion is selling Winterreise as part of their Schubert collection, for about 13 pounds.

Nov 05


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 680 views

Two miles from Robert Smithson’s large spiral jetty, is an even larger spiral jetty. One is art, about land use and geographic history, and the epic interference with the land. It is a masterpeice, dependent on the rise and fall of the great salt lake. One is about allowing oil exploration equipment into the middle of the road. There is no oil in the great salt lake.

The thing is, that Smithson has gotten huge press lately, a bunch of articles, books, travelling shows, etc dealing with the aniversary of the project. He refuses to acknowledge the twin, barely 10 miles away. His ego and his presence only allows for the creation sui genris.

I think its a better idea to think of it as another (larger) example of how the creation of industry twins the creation of art, esp, in the 20th century.