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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Saturdays — 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Sundays — 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM
The fee per day is $20.00, all of which is paid to the instructor.
Join us.

Sonam Rinzin, White Tara, detail

Monday, February 9, 2015


A certain well-known talkathon is running boot camp on an afternoon in the Flatiron district. I am one of two alternate speakers, along with eight or nine who are scheduled to deliver in March in a certain well-gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn. We've got a drill sergeant in Utah who's skypin' our butts from a big screen, and it's feeling somewhere between Full Metal Jacket and Tony Robbins outside of his "zone."

"So your thesis is that installation art causes gentrification? ... Too intellectual!  We want to get away from that. Keep it real, son ... or I'm gonna rip out your eyes and skull-fuck you!"

These kids (late 20s, early 30s) are the urban burners of the gentrification generation. We've got an art therapist working with local kids in the hood, a techie entrepreneur, and a few makers and shakers who've been riding shotgun for ten years or more on mobile scenes that dovetail into urban life, such as it is in these times. I am the Neanderthal of the genre. I'm still thinking you can grab a dead building and throw a rave and the cops won't even show up.

But we are beyond the bohemian imaginary. We are beyond the familiar landscape that lies between the before and the after. The discourse of artistic pioneering and fixer-upper gentrification is a quaint memory. The fight for the weirdness of New York has become ubiquitous, granular. But the fight is on, and has been for a while, and it is trenchant.

Art in New York is anything but dead. It just happens that the present avant-garde makes the ones from the 80s and 90s look manneristic, and so people from the 80s and 90s might not immediately recognize it as an avant-garde. It is not open mic. It does not have a storefront ... in any one place anyway. There is only one Harvard man in the room. It is not your Yale MFA warehouse convention. There's an Italian-American guy with deep roots in Brooklyn, an African-American dude from Philly, kids from Long Island with medical degrees. What happened to the art school avant-garde ... I grouse like a geezer!

But when the boot camp is over and we're just hanging out, and these guys start talking urbanism, it is intense, veteran stuff. They really mean it, and they have a lexicon of terms and tactics born of an urban activism not much older than the Barclay Center. Where have I been?

I propose, to these burners, that New York City is reorienting itself on some fundamental level to a bourgeoise world view. This must involve the excising of our city's signature working class culture. It will not ultimately mean the expulsion of the working class; down-market and subsidized housing will catch up with luxury housing, because we really do need the working class. But the culture and the cadence of life will be bourgeoise through and through. And it is this specter that horrifies. For it flies in the face of probably three-quarters of what we think of as New York.

Vanderbilt Republic, Gowanus Light show, 2014
A 19th century shopping arcade in Paris
(pace Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project)
I tender the Ringstrasse and the Haussmanization of notable European cities more than a century and a half ago. These were proto-gentrifications that cast an overarching pall of gentility over European urban life of a sort that would be alien to most American cities until just a few decades ago. If we Haussmanize Brooklyn, do we have nothing but a mall? Or do we have the birth of a new eccentricity; an Arcades culture that Walter Benjamin would recognize, and which might also square with the entrepreneurial burner ethos?

Can a basically bourgeoise sensibility also be edgy and egalitarian and "dangerous" in a New York sense? In other words, if gentrification totally wins the turf of our nation's largest city, which seems likely, is this a cause for abandoning the city? Or does an avant-garde still have a card to play in this game? It is a question that brings us down the rabbit hole of the commodity fetishization of art, and back up the asshole of its enduring hubris. And I submit the answer is emphatically the latter: yes, we have cards to play, and yes, we are still assholes. But in a good way.

— Ethan Pettit, 9 February 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Gili Levy at Proto Gallery in Hoboken

Gili Levy, Seeds, Gouache on Canvas 48 x 56 in. 2015

We are pleased to announce that Gili Levy will be in a show with Lauren Collings, Ginny Casey, and Clare Grill opening in Hoboken NJ on Saturday, January 31st, from 6–9PM.

NOT COLOR ABSOLUTE will run at Proto Gallery until March 8th.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mari Oshima at Shirley Fiterman Art Center

Mari Oshima’s “Unlimited” is on view in Paper Reveries, a show at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center of the Borough of Manhattan Community College in Lower Manhattan. The show runs until February 9, 2015. See Mari Oshima's page on our website.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Kang Hoodoo

A Note on Zulu Painting.

As it happens I have an appreciable Zulu painting by Todd Bienvenu now hanging in the stairwell of a Park Slope double-wide. It is a brown and creamy splotch of a thing, with lots of subtle greens and blues, and it goes with the colors of the brownstone. It looks as if a house painter used the canvas for cleaning brushes, and left some of his own thoughts as well. A wonderful wipeout of a painting, and all full of deft brushwork and slights of hand.

Todd Bienvenu, Stooges, 2013

Stooges, by Todd Bienvenu, deserves a great foyer in a Brooklyn mansion somewhere. It's a fitting for reception areas, a mischievous "whatever" with a good-humored tone. Cool and welcoming, and tasteful. Brownish and creamy shit-colors and throwaway chicken guts comport beautifully with the patina of any distressed hardwood interior still standing in the borough. It is a painting that lends itself to furniture, as furnishing, for the location, and occasion. A polite, decorative painting, "pulled" like a table cloth from under a banquet. It is exceedingly well juggled, and all wrapped up in a mud-ball of the brown and the baroque.

It was serendipity that just as I finished installing this painting in the Greco-Victorian hallway of the building, there appeared Basquiat and the Bayou at some "Confederate Museum" in New Orleans.

In that moment it hit me like a coconut on the head ... that there really is such a thing as zombie painting, or voodoo, or Zulu painting, whatever you want to call it. It is a subculture in painting that excels at what an art critic might euphemistically call "canceling maneuvers" or "abject expressions of defiance or refusal" or "insouciance in a painting."

Jean-Michel Basquiat, King Zulu, 1986

Robert St. Brice (20th cent. Haitian) signed, oil on board, Voodoo face, 29" x 25" Robert St. Brice was one of the very few first generation Haitian painters who was totally unique. His brand of voodoo expressionism straight from his psyche is totally unique and powerful. So much so he was the inspiration or father of the Saint Soleil genre that is in such demand today, but still no one painted like St. Brice. From this website.

Stooges, Installation View

We have this and one other good example of Todd Bienvenu's zomboid abstractions from just at the outset of his prolific run of more illustrative and well-known paintings of the past two years. In one bullseye after another Bienvenu's work covers a staggering range of human experiences and foibles. He is by no means limited to the zombie motif, he's not some goth obsessive, although it is a salient passage across certain regions of the large output of a painter not yet in his mid-30s.

Two years of Todd Bienvenu in Bushwick is already a national treasure, a pristine document in style and place. Since my gallery has a history with this painter, I can only say we are soon to be safely in the dust of his career, I'm sure. This painting, Stooges, is that dust perhaps. It is a premier brownstone hallway painting, a glorious splotch, stylishly replete with astringent maneuvers in abstraction and figuration. The painting is all cancellations and cross-outs, a lateral dive across the language ... with zombies. And it coheres, it hangs together in its localized drama, and in its human properties as painting.

Stooges, Installation View

Donald Baechler, Untitled ("globe"), 1984

A brutal moment leaves a skid mark on the document of painting. Donald Baechler and Rick Prol may not have been zombie painters, or they may have been at one time or another, I don't know. They might as well have been, I don't care. By zombie painting I do not just mean some special instance of outsider folk art. Rather, I mean the insult carried from outsider folk art into the avant-garde, as an explicit strategy. This dodge does not come only under the sign of the zombie, but zombies are a motif in one of several related strategies that have haunted a discussion about art as resistance. 

Several painters in the East Village in the 1980s detected a fault line between the "visual culture" of the postmodernists, and the "visuality" that was preferred by the old school painters. They tore up that fault line. They decided to insult painters and conceptualists in one go. Hoodoo painting is one example of this trend from the strange afternoon of the East Village scene. Strong icons are needed to rattle the cage of painting, and there is nothing in the universe of aesthetic experience quite like the rooster-strut of a Haitian or a Bayou zombie. It is a treasured vernacular of the American continent.

Rick Prol, I Have This Cat, 1985, acrylic on canvas, wood, and glass, 96 x 93 in.

"If painting is dead, well then, here's a painting of a zombie."
— Todd Bienvenu, 2013

This, by the way, is zombie criticism. It has no real existence. I represent Todd Bienvenu, I sell his work. And so of course I like it. Obviously I am a big fan. And yes, this is an advertisement. All the same, important announcements about the artist are in order. Someone must note that Todd Bienvenu is teaching in Louisiana right now, as the Basquiat "bayou paintings" go on exhibit there. 

John d'Addario in his piece in Hyperallergic informs us that the Mississippi had a powerful imaginative influence on Basquiat, a Brooklynite of Haitian and Puerto Rican parentage whose actual experience of the south was limited. Todd Bienvenu comes from Louisiana with Cajun roots. Willy nilly, these two American painters bare comparison, and I submit, and have said in the past, that they are equally trenchant and original painters of zombies.

Zombie aesthetics are folk art entangled in the ganglion of fine art. It is an atavistic feature of a discourse; the twitching of the insensate. It is the chicken man in Blue Velvet. It serves to rend the wall of intelligibility. What Basquiat and Bienvenu and Prol and others do is to acknowledge unintelligibility in art. The painting is the document of a mistake, and the artist is ready to abandon art as the critics do. That is, in haste, with Adorno, and just as readily. This kind of painting has no scruples about anything.

— Ethan Pettit, 31 October 2014

Todd Bienvenu, Spitfire, 2013

Todd Bienvenu, Spitfire, 2013, Detail

Todd Bienvenu, Zombie Apocalypse, 2013