Thursday, September 17, 2009


I finally got around to watching Julian Schnabel's Basquiat last gramercy_park_hotel_yes_that_is_a_damien_hirstnight. I'm ashamed to admit I had only become aware of Basquiat's work a little over a year ago when my boss had asked me to research artists whose works were being included in Ian Schrager hotels. This lead me to the discovery of Gramercy Park Hotel in New York. I saw that the visual concept was designed by Julian Schnabel, artist and film director extraordinaire. I had seen and loved The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but had no idea Julian Schnabel was so multidisciplinary. The concept of Gramercy Park was to have a hotel where guests could appreciate 20th century masterpieces. The hotel functions in many ways as a museum in that the pieces would change, many of them on loan.

So this spurred a fascination with Julian Schnabel and all of his work. I discovered the Basquiat was a close friend of his and that he made this film in his honor. It provides an insightful snapshot of the New York art world in the 1980s through Basquiat's triumphant and tragic tale. He went from living in a cardboard box painting poetic graffiti as SAMO to being at the top of the art world, exhibiting at the Whitney Biennial, dating Madonna, selling pieces for millions all by the ripe age of 24. His life was cut short tragically when he was only 27 from a drug overdose. Schnabel portrays his rise to fame as almost purely accidental, a series of (un?)fortunate meetings. He sees Andy Warhol walk into a cafe and manages to sell him some post card drawings for $10 a piece. A critic then stumbles upon one of his paintings hanging in a friend's apartment at a party and throws him a show. Before he knows it he is the most talked about artist in New York. He is being heralded as the first "important" African American artist in modern art history. He seems to be just rolling along with the current, oblivious to the conventions of the art world. Getting lost in the hierarchies of the ladder to success and not paying attention to the people who got him there until it's too late and his only friend left in the world is Andy Warhol.

I recommend seeing the film. As if David Bowie playing Andy Warhol isn't reason enough --not to mention appearances from Parker Posey (as a sassy Mary Boone), Gary Oldman, Benicio del Toro and Christopher Walken.

I watched some clips from real interviews with Basquiat and Jeffrey Wright's portrayal seems to ring pretty true. Here are some great Youtube clips:

Warhol and Basquiat:

A Clueless Interviewer:

Interviewer: "No Haitian Primitives on your walls?"
Basquiat: "Haitian Primitives? What do you mean? People?"

Was this really the 80's?

My Favorite TBA Moments

PICA's 10 day marathon of Time Based Art has come to a close. I had a great time getting sweaty and dirty at Washington High School as a volunteer. I had even more fun stumbling from venue to venue taking it all in.

The most magical moment for me was Ethan Rose, Laura Gibson, and Ryan Jeffrey's Younger. They holed themselves up inside the white walls of PDX Contemporary Gallery downtown and created an improvisational performance. Ryan Jeffrey created video pieces inspired by Laura and Ethan's previous recordings which he would project on the windows for the duration of the 3.5 hour performance. The audience would be on the street looking in.

After spending an afternoon watching Melody Owen's eclectic collection of video works Circles and Spinning Wheels at the Northwest Film center I decided to wander around town until 6:30 when their performance at PDX Contemporary was scheduled to start. I walked towards the waterfront in search for a cheap lunch and stumbled onto Art in the Pearl. I explored all of the artisan's booths over pumpkin curry and then headed towards PNCA for Robert Boyd's Conspiracy Theory. As I walked past PDX Contemporary around 6 the space was full of movement as people set up equipment but there was no sign of any observers yet.

I was the only one in the room for Conspiracy Theory. It is a double channel video installation of television clips related to conspiracy theories. It started with footage of the two towers crumbling and quickly lead into AIDS being a conspiracy to wipe out homosexuals and drug addicts to UFOs and back again in a quick and climactic rhythm. It is set to Kylie Minogue's Believe. It made me want to dance. It made me want to believe while at the same time making me want to shake every conspiracy theorist I've ever had to listen to.

It was now time for the performance to start. I returned to the corner of 9th and Flanders and there was a crowd of maybe 15 people starting to gather. The sounds started... gentle and soothing as the morning dew... subtle chimes and ambient noise. Then Laura started to sing and her voice is that of a songstress from a bygone era. It is almost sunset. The video projections on the front window can barely be made out. Not soon after they began the crowd slowly grew shutting down the block. People would stop in their tracks. Cars who drove by would roll down their windows and pause. As the sun set the sky grew purple and the light reflected off the buildings and the projections became more defined. A child wandering through a meadow her hand brushing the grass, embers from a fire, piles of old manuscripts scattered across the floor of an old abandoned house... I must've lingered for hours. I never got bored... I just got hungry. It was dark when I left. The most magical part was watching the people who stumbled upon it unbeknownst to them. It's not everyday you get to sit in the middle of a downtown city street and just linger and absorb beauty like that through all of your senses.

Younger (Ethan Rose, Laura Gibson, and Ryan Jeffery)
09.06.09 at PDX Contemporary Art
2009 Time-Based Art Festival, PICA
Photo by Wayne Bund
All Rights Reserved, PICA

To learn more about Ethan Rose and Laura Gibson you can go to their myspace:

The closest thing I could compare them to are Mùm or Park Avenue Music.

My second runner up for best TBA moment was hands down Pan Pan Theatre's The Crumb Trail. A modern interpretation of Hansel and Gretel. They are a theatre troupe from Ireland. The show starts out with good old British humor. The four actors introduce themselves...poke fun at one another...quote reviews written about their own play. You feel like you are observing your own friends at a dinner party. Then the mood grows somber. Gretel starts to speak of death and loss and is drowned out by popular Youtube clips. She and Hansel are eventually kicked out for her unpleasantness. "My eyes will haunt you" she whispers as she leaves like a curse. She comes back...her face covered in blood asking for help but they do not let her in. Then the actors move to the corner where and play a drone filled song bathed in red light from the video projector..."maternal love only lasts 33 months after that it's pure affection." Throughout the whole play they had bread baking in a breadmaker. The smell permeated the theatre. I hadn't eaten dinner. I was so hungry. I would have done anything for a slice of that bread. In one scene Arthur is asked what he would kill for. "I don't I suppose" He is then asked to read the scene from Hansel and Gretel where the witch tries to trick Gretel into climbing into the oven...but how Gretel locks the witch in instead. He ends the passage with the witches curdling scream...

I appreciated the performance because while it challeneges the conventions of theatre it still managed to move me in a profound way. I have to admit I am getting bored of work that merely exists to challenge convention. This performance was disjointed and poetic in it's presentation. It left much to be implied. Maybe fables in their seemingly innocent terror aren't so far form reality. The wicked witch was hungry and pushed to the drastic measure of eating children for her own survival. We live in a world where children are killed for perversion more often than survival. A world where very real terrors exist... murder... hunger ...disease ..poverty ..and worse of all is our own apathy and detachment towards it all ... where we hide from our own pain and loneliness by surfing the web... broadcasting ourselves on Youtube... dancing because there's nothing left to do.

You can view a condensed version of The Crumb Trail here:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

TBA:09 Opening Night

We are nearing the end of another Time Based Art Festival put on by The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA). I had the joy of being a volunteer this year which meant tons of free passes!

This year PICA gained access to Washingotn Highschool. It was built at the turn of the century and has been vacant for over 20 years. PICA transformed it into a venue for performance artists, musicians, and installations.

Here are some pictures from opening night. I will write more about some of my favorite moments of the festival later.

There are still three more days, so if you live in Portland be sure to catch what you can! for more info about the artists and the festival visit

Jesse Hayward's Forever Now and Then Again-- painted cubes in a room to be built up and climbed upon by viewers.

Ethan Rose's sound installation titled "Movements". Made from old music boxes that are wired and carefully timed to create a magically gentle chime-like flutter of sound.

Ma Quisha From No/4 Pingyuanli to No.4 Tianiaobeili
An autobiographical video performance where she tells the story of the pressures she faced, and the sacrifices her family made for her to be successul. She tells the narrative with a razor blade in her mouth obstructing her speech.

Antoine Catala "TV" video installation

Robbinschilds video installation inside a carpeted geodesic half dome. These two were some of my favorite performers of the festival. They are interested in the places where the body and landscape/architecture intersect. They dress up in semi ridiculous color coordinated costumes and do odd dance moves in many locales: the high desert, expanses of highways, redwood forests, trash dumps, minivans. etc. all to the rocked out tunes of Seattle based Kinski.

The halls of Washington High are super crowded.

Washington Highschool was going to be used by the Red Cross to house Katrina victims. The Red Cross set everything up but the victims never arrived. When the artists did their walk though of the school they found piles of donated Levi's and letters written for the victims by school children. This window box represents that aspect of the school's history.

The view from the lawn.

Gang Gang Dance performs in the school's auditorium.

A very crowded beer garden.