How “Surround Audience” at The New Museum Blew My Mind Twice

Oh hey. I’m going to write a blog post about the most recent mind-blowing cultural shit I’ve seen in New York because it makes me feel like I’m getting more value for my rent.

Frank Benson, "Juliana"

Frank Benson, “Juliana”

My first impression of the New Museum back in 2007 was of dismissal; it felt too conceptual, postmodern and obnoxious. The art was not accessible; it made me feel dumb for not “getting it” – for not having any emotional response to “artwork” made of children’s toys and colored planks of wood with pieces of garbage tied to a string.

Last year I gave it another shot for Chris Ofili’s “Night and Day” exhibit. Massive, colorful, collage-like paintings and intricate, obsessive pencil drawings showcased an impressive range of materials. Infamous for his elephant dung paintings, Ofili is more than shock value and envelope-pushing. He is inspired by the human experience and his contemplation of socio-economic inequality. The New Museum redeemed itself for me with that exhibit. It was edgy, modern and relevant – but was also authentic, relatable and accessible. I appreciated it.

Then I heard about this year’s Triennial. I assumed it would include more of the earlier kind of art: conceptual, postmodern…and obnoxious. I then discovered this video online by artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison. I highly recommend watching it and her entire series, “Touching The Art”.

I had to see for myself what was going on here. I ultimately visited the exhibit twice because I couldn’t absorb it all in just one visit. I felt more inspired and connected to not only the artwork but the concepts and motivation behind the artwork, that I only made it to two out of the four floors of artwork on my first visit. The work, collected from 51 artists from 25 countries around the world, explored how digital technology is connecting and separating us as a society more than ever.

Surround Audience intro 

My Favorite Pieces

Each floor of the exhibit was introduced with a warped, enigmatic poem. A choppy yet effortless stream-of-meta-consciousness meditation. It expresses the way we communicate today, with common anxieties, typos, symbols and misspellings marked by our text-based culture. 

Ryan Trecartin, "Time Pend"

Ryan Trecartin, “Time Pend”

 These poems saved me. They made me think “OMG someone else gets how ridiculous everything is.” I smiled while reading each one.

Indian artist Shreyas Kahle’s work left the biggest impression on me after my first visit. He explores “the distorting effect of the male gaze” as seen in the marble sculpture below: are they mountains or boobs? I love his cerebral sketches and “pseudoscientific” symbolic drawings; they evoked a Magritte-esque surrealism in a more raw expression. (“Surround Audience”, New Museum Triennial, Feb-May 2015, p. 188)

Shreyas Kahle, "Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn't Matter"

Shreyas Karle, “Kashmir Or The Alps, It Doesn’t Matter”

The shameless honesty and self expression of artist and comedian Casey Jane Ellison made me laugh out loud while watching a video installation of her avatar performing a standup routine. (Her YouTube interview series, which got me to see this exhibit, was playing on a flat screen TV in the museum lobby.)

Casey Jane Ellison, "It's So Important To Seem Wonderful"

Casey Jane Ellison, “It’s So Important To Seem Wonderful”

These dreamy, haunting paintings by Chinese artist Firenze Lai left me breathless. These figures with warped proportions, to express the way our relationships with others (and ourselves) are often similarly warped with modern technology. We’re always available, we’re always able to connect with everyone everywhere…yet we don’t fully feel “connected” at the same time. I think this is a universal symptom of modern life and I loved every minute I felt like there are others who feel this way – and can creatively express the ennui of the digital age.

Firenze Lai, "Tennis Court"

Firenze Lai, “Tennis Court”

Firenze Lai, "Argument"

Firenze Lai, “Argument”

Firenze Lai, "Alignment"

Firenze Lai, “Alignment”

 

The perfect mix of truth, beauty and intellect.

Art that explores how disconnected we are as society has the effect of subverting that very feeling; it makes you feel connected to the brave artists who felt compelled to visually express their own dissatisfaction with the state of things. It’s all very cerebral and conceptual, but not overly so, with just the right balance of meta-consciousness and visual aesthetic.

“Surround Audience” ends today…but good news! I bought the coffee table book of the exhibition so if we’re friends IRL I’ll let you look through it if you wash your hands and tell me how cool my apartment is both before and after looking through my cultural coffee table book of cool-ass, mind-blowing artwork.

The Art of Promoting Others’ Art

Image

Israeli multi-media artist Oum Kultuv

I’ve had an idea for about 6 months but haven’t done much about it. Now I’ll write about it on my BLOG on the INTERNET so that it comes TRUE or at least CLOSER TO TRUE. Stop yelling at you? No. Read on.

There are parts of Marketing I like: creating compelling content – both visuals and copy. Static copy (websites, ads, emails) is more rewarding and interesting than the transient channels of social media and blogging. But all of these buzzwords really blend together and you can theoretically call all of this and none of this “marketing”, “branding”, “advertising” and “business development”.

I encounter an artist with an incredible vision, body of work and voice. This person has a Facebook page, isn’t on Etsy and doesn’t know how to effectively “market” themselves. Then I appear, in a ray of sunlight wearing a black pantsuit but some edgy accessories. I’m here to make you internet famous – at least, as famous as your art allows you to be.

I want your art to speak for itself. But I want to give it a microphone.

I’m Torn Over Beautiful Things

beautiful things

I want to produce beautiful things. Things people really need – not just things we convince people they need.

Beautiful things means things that improve other things:

  • Appearances of walls or websites
  • The way someone views him or herself
  • The way a group views itself

I want to shift the perspective of others. Change how things appear….or how they appear to appear. Stir conversation and then participate in the conversation, and have the other participants be people with whom I genuinely want to interact…or at least are people who have worthwhile interactions amongst themselves. (Fake “communities” of low-committal users bore me in a way that is beyond boring. I’d literally rather sit on my ass on the floor of a New York City street corner and engage in small-talk with passersby, than dedicate time and energy toward “building a following” for a brand/product/company that doesn’t have its shit together and is solely relying on “marketing magic” and manipulation.)

On one hand this feels like the most natural thing in the world to want. On the other, it’s too vague to matter. I think there’s a Creative Director out there somewhere, in Portugal or Thailand or Westchester who will one day find this blog and say “By golly, this girl’s got it!”

I crave real shit. Real company shit. Promoting things with value.

Beautiful things.

A Colorful Path To Clarity

Part of "Central Bus Station" street art project, Tel Aviv

Part of “Central Bus Station” street art project, Tel Aviv

There’s so much I want to say to no one in particular, yet everyone at the same time.

I think anyone who blogs — or even tweets or posts on Facebook can identify with that. I’m very cognizant of my digital footprint; I decided a few years back to be less self-censoring in favor of preserving an authentic, honest voice. If a future employer won’t hire me because of something I’ve said on Twitter or my own blog(s), so be it. I typically don’t filter my words offline, so it feels even harder to do so online when I’m technically only talking to myself anyway. I just happen to be allowing other people to listen.

The Pursuit of Clarity

There have been countless times over the last few years when I strongly got the urge to blog about something specific;  “this would make for an interesting blog post” – yet I fail to execute. I have friends who have told me they’d subscribe to my blog. I get paid to blog for clients. Yet when it comes time for me to put my thoughts on screen I choke of some kind of lack of clarity. I want to stop thinking of this as a bad thing. I might not be the most focused but I am never bored and constantly see patterns between my disperse interests.

Everything Goes Back to Art + Words

I could drown in a sea of metaphors and learn to breathe just fine. I think about going back to school for graphic design or becoming an art director at an ad agency. I have things to say and specific ways of saying them.

I’m inspired by creative and eloquent voices behind blogs like the beautifully illustrated and poignantly hysterical Hyperbole and a Half (who also recently re-emerged like all brilliant phoenixes) the endlessly enlightening Brain Pickings, which feels like a continued liberal arts education online; and the quirkiness of Snotting Black and my good friend, comedienne and writer Kate Nicholls. I’m no feminist, but these all happen to be women who express creativity and perspective with effortless style. I’d like to join them.

I’m still figuring out what my unique “thing” is. It’s going to be some kind of “branding campaign” which will be a challenge since I gravitate toward contradiction over consistency. That’s actually probably what my “thing” is. Now I have to find a way to express it.

Hello, World. I’m back.

Maira Kalman and MadMen on The Love of Walking

Love this video clip of illustrator Maira Kalman explaining her love of walking, as a source of inspiration and meditation. She beautifully describes the feeling I get every time I walk around New York for more than just a quick dog-pee around the block (and sometimes even during those walks).

There’s something so fun about exploring, discovering the tiny things you think others might not notice. I love finding children’s toys on the street; there’s a sad but beautiful juxtaposition between a bright and cheery toy lying discarded on a gray, grimy city street.

duck toy on street

What was serendipitous about discovering Kalman’s video today (thanks to Brain Pickings), is that last night I watched an early episode of MadMen, in which new neighbor and divorcee Helen Bishop explains to a group of perplexed housewives why she goes on walks around the neighborhood. A very interesting social commentary on how back then the value of “clearing one’s head” was not the shameless act of self-preservation it is today.

madmen helen bishop on love of walking

Losing Your Hangars and Mind

Another shitty thing about moving: forgetting to pack your hangars.

Especially when you have nice ones like the kinds you can hang pants with, that you remember paying like $5 each for, while telling yourself – it’s so worth buying this! I’ll always have it! And it’s a nice hangar!”