Chicago: July 2008 Archives

Aberdeen, Dino's, AAA

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This has really been the summer of car troubles. Part of it is my own fault, since I decided to buy the Mountaineer (which I still want to hug to sleep at night), but the litany of stuff that's had to be done and the number of trips I've made to Aberdeen (ie: Aberdeen Auto Body at 1043 Fulton Market) have gone right past the point of being in any way funny.

Let me just say up front that I trust Aberdeen - and I don't just say that because this whole site is identified with me and they might well read it and be mean to me (as all tradesmen are wont to do to the effete who are required to patronise them) - but I've used them for years now and even if I didn't trust them, I like them. Best of all they're also nearby.

It used to be that they were so close that I could take a 3 minute walk and get to them, back when we used to live on May St. But even now they're not that far away, and Wayne the office manager has gotten used to loaning me his car when repairs take more than an hour.

I'm normally content to sit around at Dino's (at 954 W Fulton Market, a lovely working man's bar in the middle of the meat packing district, two blocks away from Aberdeen) have steak and eggs and watch the news, but once it gets to an hour, I can't just keep hanging around. Dino's also serves probably the best French Toast I've ever had anywhere, much less in Chicago, and they serve steaks (also in the form of superb steak fajitas) that are to die for.

Anyway it'd be way too depressing for me to go through the list of stuff I had to have done, though for the number of times I had to ping pong back there, the price tag wasn't as prohibitive as you might think. Suffice to say ball bearings, wheel alignment, tail light, windshield washers, driver's side lock. In the end it's not the parts that added up so much as the labour, which is fair enough, given how much time and tsuris it all came out to. But that might just be me being too accustomed to dealing with them - feel free to disabuse me and hand me an "easy mark" sign round my neck.

Right now I'm waiting for AAA to turn up. I must say that paying for AAA is just worth the price of admission. Getting roadside service through your insurance might cost less, but in terms of full service whereever and whenever it's needed, AAA doesn't disappoint.

Turns out that the minor problem that appeared to be the air conditioning in monkey's Saab is more likely to have to do with the alternator (of which the AC failing is a symptom, I belatedly discover), and apparently that means somehow that the steering on the Saab is now like pulling through molasses - I assume it's all got to do with the power steering etc. Needless to say it's not driveable, and hence the need for a tow. I'm hoping that maneuvering out of the rather straightened underground garage isn't just too much to ask.

My regular correspondent was telling me how he had had a conversation with someone else I know, about how they both disliked Jeff Koons' work - especially since I'd been telling people about his exhibition that's going on right now at the MCA in Chicago. To which my reply was:

Interesting. For me it's just stunning the scale and subtlety of the work. If nothing else, what you notice most about his work up close is the fine and detailed use of materials. Take the balloon animal bunny rabbit - it has a balloon animal carrot, which is just fantastic. The idea that you would fashion out of chrome and steel something that is otherwise so fragile - is just breathtaking. With the giant dog, the fact that they replicate the balloon knot at the tip - the bit that looks like an odd belly button - is superb.

He has one work where a large bear is being conspiratorial with a old style English bobby. He has a pink panther hugging a mermaid. And what's not to love about a golden Michael Jackson with is golden monkey? But yes, it strikes me that the Nth degree of whatever contemporary art moves towards has so much to do with exactly the experience of material - of touch, or the visual notion of what something would feel like.

And so much of it is shiny. I couldn't stop smiling throughout the exhibition. I was squatting down and trying to look at the items in as much detail and perspective as I could when one of the black rent-a-cops began basically mocking me saying "it's not a car, sir" but I find the complexity and immense simplicity of the giant balloon animals just stunning.

My correspondent's response was to talk about some of the problems of making art "accessible" through exaggeration - about people who win awards and prizes because their work takes on a large thing of subtlety that should have the heft of reality, and yet reduces it into something exaggerated and simplistic - in a way people can find so much more easier to absorb. He also talked about how people can tend to "steal" things - using something rendered by someone else and simply reusing it or enlarging that thing. And in so doing essentially appropriating the other person's work as their own. My response:

I think you're absolutely right, that people can tend to lean on the iconography of "other things" as a means of burnishing their own credentials, and that kind of hackery is exactly plagued by this kind of simplicity and exaggeration - being hyper-indian etc. But I'd like to think there's a difference between exaggeration and scale. Because I object to the use of extremity more than a bunch of people - I even object to the way philosophers try to define existence by making wild surmises at the extreme ends of (only vaguely possible and wildly hypothetical) human experience. But artists and writers are capable of creating objects and narratives of such grandeur and scope as to be exactly breathtaking. In that way they would seem to be using spectacle not as a means of titillation, but as a means of accessing extremes of emotion within the individual.

But what seperates Titanic from King Lear is exactly the fineness and quality of the detail. Not that I'm saying Titanic was put together in a slapdash manner, but it is not going to have the same rigour of composition and consideration as a film or narrative of more heft and substance. In part it's this confidence in the ability of real artists to imbue the microcosm of their works with that consistency of detail that surely sets them apart from hacks. It's how people can really tell from reading a small section of a writer's work that the greater work, if not his/her corpus is worth something. Because close up, to the minute detail, it all pays off even at the level of the dot stroke or punctuation.

I think of Koons' work very much in the tradition of Duchamps - though in Koons' case he's even more conscious of the necessity for detail in order to achieve his effect. We might think it's really easy to make a giant balloon animal, but it's constructed out of a huge amount of steel and chrome - it weighs exactly tonnes, and yet it's representing something that is otherwise fragile and almost delicate.

When it comes to what I assume to be the more fundamental issues of choice, composition, color, shape etc. it would seem to matter less the material you work with (oils, paints, canvas, matchbook covers, glue), than the arrangement of items. And it's not as if Koons is saying he invented the balloon animal - he's not passing himself off as the creator of the pink panther - he's relying exactly on your recognition of the item from a separate context as a means of achieving his effect. In part it's about how transposing something into a different medium changes things - how the use of materials is exactly transformative in that context.

If we understand the totality of what distanciation does - really understand the full shape and effect of any metaphor - we start to see the full picture. Because metaphors use the unexpected to accurately depict a recognizable reality that we exactly recognize beyond the distancing of the metaphor itself. Which is why even when people say "When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table", we know what they mean. But while it is a means of accurately depicting reality, it is also a rhetorical act - it serves to impose the artist's world view upon you. We are being persuaded to view the sky in this way, just as Hopper's paintings try to persuade us of a certain sense of alienation in the landscape of the city - something he does by focusing on unexpected things, ordinary things that would otherwise not be subject of such focus.

In many ways, I would argue that this is exactly what is happening with Tony Fitzpatrick's work - that it's very much about juxtaposition - so much so that Maggie instantly recognizes it as her city. But maybe not so much the city as she knows it, but her father's view of the city.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Chicago category from July 2008.

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