My hands are not that big.

Michaela Murphy graciously wrote this text for our inaugural show.  It's so great.  The show ends October 7.

My hands are not that big.

Joel asked me to write about love. I am inclined to begin with an excuse: I am the wrong person to write about this. (Who is the right might be a trickier question.) By definition or rather, by nature, love linguistically is an excess, the point where the prior capacity or descriptive capability is breached. Language stalls. Mine is no exception. I initially tried to pass the idea off, hoping to exempt myself of interaction, tried to incite conversations decidedly dead on arrival. Then I just gave up.

“I don’t know where I'm aiming. It’s so huge, I can’t fit my arms around it.”

“Well, that’s kind of it, isn’t it?”

Banal platitudes have turned my tolerance to zero, and I’m gagging on cue. When belief is bankrupt, where do we turn? I turned to text. Joel, I turned to our old faithful, Lauren Berlant, who delivered what upon first appearance is a ham-fisted aphorism. In repeated readings, it unmasks itself as appropriately clumsy: The book of love is sad and boring, no one can lift the damn thing.
[I realize a month later the line is lifted from Stephin Merritt. A pop song has always already beat me to the punch.]
Hasn't everything been said on the subject of love?
I am exhausted. There is nothing to be said, and certainly not from me. I tried to say feelings but it came out failings.
Someone recently compared me to the Citadel. I do not need to elaborate.

It is not the idea, but the upkeep that is difficult.

I think when Joel said love (at least this time), I think he meant attachment and not love. The way we bind ourselves to scenes, people, objects. It's hard. It's hard. We are always so inadequate. Attachment allows us occasion for excuses. (Appropriate). Distortions are expected in this realm of relation presupposing need. You say connection, I say projection. The tone is taking a turn towards black and white. Shit. Should I rephrase? Where do we locate the line between love and attachment? Why am I looking? For what? How did I end up here, do we end up, in love? I think sometimes we back into it. As we go through the motions, we find ourselves subscribed suddenly. It's a form of faith that makes its own meaning.


Beige on "In Search Of..."

We just saw Clough Hanson Gallery's current offering, "In Search Of...".  Curators Dustin Dennis, Amanda Lechner, and Christopher Ulivo say they've enlisted artists who "are not interested in finite possibilities, but instead look to the strange, fictional, and unknown to emerge with material that posits new scenarios, alternate conclusions, and yet more questions."  In that spirit, here are nine texts on the exhibition:

Detail from Leah Beeferman′s 
Laser etched Plexiglas, Formica 
tabletops, and sound. Dimensions 
1. Everywhere you look there are lovely little abstractions that fill (or create) gaps in language or understanding, tiny reminders of the limits of particular kinds of knowledge.  Two of them occupy TV screens in Amanda Lechner's painting, Gaiter Pratt Delegates.  Some, like the ones in Jackie Hoving's Vision and David Humphrey's Distracted Predators, wash over human or animal forms, as if to underscore the absurd mystery of our own bodies.  Leah Beeferman wades deepest into abstraction, mining dry scientific data and turning it into color, form, and sound.  It's a great way to talk about uncertainty and the creation of new forms of knowledge.

2.                            's proximity to Mike Peter Smith's Untitled (Cyclops) throws this into relief.  Harmon's cave is a mysterious void framed by a fecund mass.  It hovers somewhere in-between real and imagined space, artifice and nature.  It invites contemplation but resists knowledge.  Smith's skull, however, is immanently knowable.  The skull's interior void has been filled by a tiny model of a blacksmith's shop.  It's a skull with a tiny model of a blacksmith's shop inside.  It's a skull with a tiny model of a blacksmith's shop inside.  Harmon leverages the ability of a constructed image to point to something beyond what it depicts, seducing us into making something out of our experience with it.  Smith's sculpture succumbs to its thing-ness - it is what it is and it is that because an artist made it that way.  This is not to throw shade on the sculpture (taken on it's own merits, we actually quite like it) but to say that there are artists here who are interested in open-endedness and questions, and there are artists here who are interested in weird shit, and they don't always overlap like we're told they do.

On our way out we picked up a lengthy essay on the exhibition by Stephen Tateshi.  It begins by juxtaposing a passage from Hegel with the opening lines of the TV show that the exhibition cribs it's name and interrogative spirit from, and then asks What does it mean to juxtapose...Hegel with the opening narration from "In Search Of"? which, just...we stopped reading.  Later, while using the essay to make an origami dinosaur, we caught a glimpse of the phrase "a straining against the yoke of man's Absolute Knowledge" and felt assured that our response was squarely in line with the exhibition's thesis, even if not all of the art is.

3. In Search Of
(9+14) (19+5+1+18+3+8) (15+6)
23 (2+3) 54 (5+4) 21(2+1)
17 (1+7)
Those with the 8 Life Path are gifted with natural leadership and the capacity to accumulate great wealth. You have a great talent for management in all areas of life, especially in business and financial matters. You understand the material world; you intuitively know what makes virtually any enterprise work. Your talent lies not with the bookkeeping or petty management, but with greater vision, its purpose and its long-range goals. You are a visionary and a bit reckless at the same time. You posses the ability to inspire people to join you in your quest, but often they are incapable of seeing what you see.   You attract financial success more than any other Life Path, but effort is required.  So you'll make a lot of money off of this show.  Congrats!

4.  For a show that places so much importance on questions, the whole thing is strangely light on abstraction, that great human invention for probing the unknowable and unspeakable.  In its place there are depictions.  Unreal animals locked in violent embrace, unreal and real plants surrounding the mouth of a cave, a real person participating in an ESP experiment, other real people acting out vaguely historical fictions.  We're given a lot of information couched in a lot of narratives, which leaves little room for invention and almost no room for

5. At the back of the show, the table that holds a small rock temple with a video and a photo also on it, which are rocks associated with Lucifer.  We see under this chaos, four sawhorses holding up the table that got down on all fours, like the Muslims do when they pray to Allah, it is believed that Lucifer or the devil would assume a prostration position and the witches would line up and kiss his anus as a sign of respect.  We not only saw a classic Lucifer Ritual Pose but we also saw the quick building of a pyramid shape with each sawhorse. The pyramid is Satan’s Pyramid and an occult seal used to invoke Satan during rituals.)  In Freemason Bibles, which is basically the King James Bible, except on page 33 of the Freemason Bible, it informs the reader that Lucifer is the real God & that Lucifer is the real Jesus and also according to this Freemason Bible, it is indeed Lucifer that is the carrier of light.  So, these people in this art show are masters at double talk and hiding their worship of Satan behind Christianity.

7.  Corkey Sinks' geo-numerology charts and crystal lamps, Deb Sokolow's intensely wrought conspiracy theory drawings, and Elijah Burgher's sigils form a triangle in the gallery.  Clearly the logic that guided their installation did not come from the same rational mind that typically hangs art 60 inches from center, a polite distance from it's neighbors, on clean white walls.  Is this a space for ritual, a landing pad for some unknown being, a power triangle in which we can charge our chakras?  Whatever it is, we also get the sense that for these artists, this is no formal exercise.  The work doesn't describe the unknown, it pleads with it, espouses belief in it, worships it, needs it.  The large painting at the center of this triangle is not on the gallery checklist.  Attendants profess to have no knowledge it's origin, and the curators pretend to know nothing about it.  It certainly can't be what it appears to be, but what if it were?  What if we could reconsider this shakily wrought grid not as a work of minimalism or abstraction, but as a system of otherworldly knowledge?  This imperfect pattern not as evidence of humanity but as evidence of the existence of...something else, beyond?  The show, being about questions and the beyond, asks big questions and forces the viewer into the beyond, succeeding in concept, effect, and affect.

8.  A great painting by David Humphrey seems to be about the exhibition rather than in it.  It depicts a mass of paint swatches with distinctly human eyes, distracting a pair of cats (who might be caught in the process of becoming human) from their prey.  It reads as a metaphor, and as such an answer or maybe even an antidote to the questions that the exhibitions purports to ask. Take the Humphrey with Jakie Hoving's Vision (another persony abstract mass with an emphasis on eyes) and Matt Bollinger's drawing, Doubled (which induces a feeling of altered states, making us question our facility as viewers), and you might start to suspect that there's a conspiracy at work here, a shadow show within the show.  Don't trust your eyes, it seems to whisper from under a tin-foil hat.  There is no authority here.  Is it brilliant curating, or just a manifestation of our desire to find sense in a show that privileges open interrogation over rationality?

9.  We might be projecting, but we felt that a kinky little fiction by Christoper Ulivo called "The Midnight Acquisition of Yellow Falls" injects some much-needed queerness into the show (because, really - if anyone is questioning received knowledge and operating beyond the limits of the norm, it's the queers - am I right, Marys? etc).  But overall, it's pretty tame.  Satan doesn't make a single appearance, and neither do magick, reptoids, conspiracy theories, or Scientology (or much of any kind of religion - a big oversight).  Where are the outsider artists who make spiritual conduits simply because they have to connect to something?  Where are the conspiracy theorists who write screed after screed for their very lives? The darker or less well-trod aspects of the unknown are left untouched in favor of a frothy, child-friendly surface treatment of the tropes of nuttiness that we suppose matches the tone and subject matter of the TV show the exhibition is based on.   We're left with the sense that few people here actually believe in anything non-normative, but rather enjoy thinking about (making art about) these things with a cool detachment.  Look how weird I am! they exclaim.  But the real weirdos don't tell you how weird they are, because the real weirdos don't think they're weird at all.  This is not to say that there isn't plenty to ponder here.  All in all, the show is pretty good, it could just use a few real weirdos.


Beige Endorses: Soul of a City: Memphis Collects African American Art

Surveys are unwieldy, impossible things. Surveys based on identity? Forget it. What have we learned from the eighties, if not that identity is irrelevant except when it's not and no one is qualified to tell the difference. Working with a highly restrictive set of parameters, including identity of maker and geography of collector, curator Marina Pacini has crafted an admirable survey that, in its generous breadth and depth, transcends any essentialist trappings of identity without ever denying it's significance. It's an important show for Memphis, and much more exciting than the word important might imply. Though it stumbles a bit at the start, once it finds its groove it offers a range of experiences that reflect what Pacini terms the "diversity, vitality, and creativity of African American artists."

Chakaia Booker's Untitled, 2002
From its title, Soul of a City: Memphis Collects African American Art, the show seems to be about the tastes of art collectors in Memphis. Actually it's a survey of African American art as a whole, with work taken only from local collections. It's not really about Memphis or religion in a way that the title suggests, but we're not mad about that because it's pretty good marketing - Memphis loves Memphis almost as much as it loves Jesus, right?

The exhibition itself doesn't have the most elegant structure, with work grouped according to genre, and also sometimes style, unless it's thematic. (There's also a "contemporary" section which, just...ok. We'll get to that.) There's a grab-bag gallery at the beginning which is meant to offer an overview of the entire exhibition, but much of the work in it also seems to gesture broadly at the idea of community. We're given a great, weird Purvis Young painting in the corner and a take-no-prisoners Elizabeth Catlett sculpture commanding the center of the gallery, and we're off to a roaring start. Then we turn a corner to find a wall text that explains the hierarchy of academic painting, from history at the top to landscape at the bottom. This is odd information, but maybe it's just here for some broad (really, really broad) context. Maybe it's here to make the art historians feel comfortable while the rest of us enjoy the hell out of some art that's not in any edition of Gardner's Art Through the Ages. There's no way they're going to organize this show according to a stodgy European concept that white guy academic painters came up with in the 17th century so they could figure out who the best white guy academic painter was. Right?

But they do.

They shoehorn the first half of the show into this hierarchy, and it sucks the life right out of the work. Everything fits in its category just so. No one is allowed to get rowdy. No ideas are allowed to cross-pollinate. It's as if Charles Le Brun himself walked out of the 17th century and into the galleries and said put this here and that, there (but, you know, in French). It's an odd, odd choice for any show that isn't composed of paintings from the European academies, but seems especially misguided for this show in particular, when a significant portion of the work is concerned with the consequences of strict adherence to the antiquated systems of white guys. There is a fantastic and appropriately nonchalant mix in these sections of self-taught and highly trained, vernacular and schooled. But even the glory of the objects from St Paul's Spiritual Holy Temple (and thank Goddess for their inclusion, because they are glorious in every sense of the word) is tamped by the unnecessary weight of an outmoded paradigm, as irrelevant to most of the artists included in the show as it is to the viewers. We don't think this curatorial strategy is an attempt to validate the work by applying a Eurocentric model to it (although a less-than-generous read could claim it as a kind of "African American artists - they're just like you!" statement on behalf of Art History). We do, however, think it's an example of easy curating - reaching for the most convenient model, or the most widely propagated by capital-A Art History, instead of letting the work dictate its own. We should also say that we don't have a great idea of what that model would be (curating is hard, ya'll) but the thematic sections in the second half of the show point toward a more generous, dynamic possibility, albeit an unrealized one.

Once we leave the French Academy of Memphis we find Abstraction, Civil Rights, Music, and the Contemporary - and some air to breathe. There is some fantastic work in these galleries (Chakaia Booker's untitled car tire sculpture stands out, but why is a sculpture which so resolutely occupies three dimensions pressed up against the wall?) and there are some lovely moments plotted out along their walls, beautiful little art-traps that caught and enraptured us. A couple of these - Demetrius Oliver's Till hung next to Ernest Withers' documentation of the trial of Emmet Till's murderers, and a suite of pieces that pull imagery from the sanitation workers' strike - collectively generate an historical and artistic gravity that we don't recall experiencing lately in a Memphis gallery.

Ligon's Warm Broad Glow, from a 2011 iteration
The final section is Contemporary, and though there is a bell hooks quote on the wall, it's not made clear what these works say about the present moment that work in the show's other sections (in which pieces from many eras play nicely together) does not. It feels like a catch-all space, but themes recur in a poetic way. We're given Sonya Clark's comb-quilt, which recalls quilts we saw earlier in the Religion and Abstraction galleries but also takes on a life of its own, part trippy op-art, part cultural statement. Glenn Ligon's Warm Broad Glow is a fittingly tough and ambivalent follow-up to the clarion calls of the nearby Civil Rights gallery. If the exhibition's first gallery obliquely references the idea of community, maybe this unwieldy space is its appropriate pendant. Could contemporary be is a place for oddballs and leftovers, those with singular perspective who operate in ambiguous territory outside of known systems? Whatever missteps we feel the exhibition might have made early on, it's great to leave with questions like these.

Soul of  a City: Memphis Collects African American Art is at the Brooks Museum through September 2.