Visual Art 4-2-2006

Lowbrow Highball: Juxtapoz Juxtaposed

Jeffrey Kalstrom went to the big Juxtapoz show, spread over two galleries, Ox Op and Soo VAC. He elucidates the whole new thing for you. See the link at the foot of this article for Tom Hazelmyer's letter on Ox Op's closing and its life after death.

Camille Rose Garcia
Sas and Colin
Sabrina Brewer
Shepard Fairey
Ray Caesar
Jaime Hayon
Oksana Badrak

Honestly, when was the last time you actually read an article in Art Forum? We will of course excuse those whose tenure in a graduate degree program requires this. After a lengthy journey in the art world I have reached a point where I am sick to death of detailed written analyses of art. I am tired of theories that utilize multisyllabic words like “utilize” and presuppose a relationship to any number of French philosophical constructs. A theory is useful if I can quickly explain it to my plumber.

The only art magazine I’ve bought in recent years is Juxtapoz. Yes, I thumb through all art magazines whilst sipping my Starbucks at the local Barnes and Noble. But I’m not about to drop coin on them. I only buy art magazines that contain ideas I can steal. Like it or hate it, Juxtapoz has a circulation second only to Art News. They have started selling it in a sealed plastic bag, just like you know what. It might not be the harbinger of a new millennium, but it is hot.

I hear there is an art boom in New York City. Apparently the work is flying off the wall. But from a cursory glance at the evidence it does not appear that this is due to a newfound burst of brilliance. There is no new wow that I am aware of. I would wager that the Bush tax cut for the wealthy has created the need to furnish more empty walls in more seaside estates in Costa Rica. I see lots of same old overthought carefully positioned repetition.

My grand theory is that the movement of arts education into a university context over the past fifty years has created a system wherein the ability to talk and theorize about your work supplants what it actually looks like. It long ago reached the point where a post-grad artist does not see a painting as an object but a series of layered theories and political positions, which can be logically decoded. The post-grad actually believes that a work of art can be explained through language. Such hubris. Art means what it looks like. What you see is what you get. The meaning of a work of art is physically and emotionally manifest and words simply spin around it. Yet use them we must, while realizing their limitations.

This system affects as well the manner in which artists live economically. In this “academy” an artist strives to obtain a masters degree in art and then attempts to garner a strong series of exhibitions which will then in turn gain them reentry into the university as a tenured professor which will then facilitate said artist’s home-buying and redecorating. This circular world begets artists whose work speaks only to those within this world.

Certainly some of the Juxtapoz artists are university trained. But the environment these artists emerge from is often economically challenged. The Juxtapoz artists are among the most diverse as measured by race, gender, age, and other factors. Their work is influenced by a world considered “lowbrow”: graffiti, folk art, tattoos, skateboard graphics, manga, anime, cartoons, comics, toys, and Kalifornia Kar Kulture. Because there are few university jobs in the cards for most of these artists they must sell work. So many of these artists produce prints, band posters, t-shirts, skateboard decks, limited edition plastic toy-like sculptures, and sneaker designs. They use graffiti and stickering – the illegal placement of their work in the street–to develop a reputation and a “brand identity “. This has the benefit of moving work out of the sterile gallery or the deficit of defacing the urban environment – it’s all in how you look at it.

I just saw an advertisement in Juxtapoz for a line of candy bars with artist-designed wrappers. People collect and display work like this. It is art that anyone can own. Perhaps this is the realization of Walter Benjamin’s hope for an aura-free accessible democratic art of the people. Or perhaps it is just cheap tripe for suckers. I lean towards the former – time will tell.

This work is in love with how eyes desire. It is “optic” in a fierce way. Theory could be spun but I doubt these artists waste much time on their artist’s statements. Much “fine art’ is organized to appeal to the “higher’ part of our nature – i.e. – the head. The work of Juxtapoz artists is targeted further south. In Freudian terms it is work of the id as opposed to the superego. It is work that takes human need and desire not a something to “rise above” but as something to roll around in.

Because the work is directed primarily by desire, the imagery can seem tacky, retro, sexist, and puerile. Sometimes when it doesn’t work it is all that. The Juxtapoz artists make what they want to see, not what they want others to think they want to see. There is considerable “screw you” wallowing in the “politically incorrect”. There is little guilt or gilt in their work.

The Openings: Soo VAC

The Soo Vac opening was fun. The Melvins rock dinosaur heavy. The crowd is tall, skinny, dark aired and haired. Where are all the blonds? Have they all dyed? There are lots of nice boots. The beer de jour is PBR.

It’s nice but loud having a band at an opening. I wish that it were free, though ($10 cover). My other gripe is that the work is hung in a very conventional manner. I was hoping for a more unusual presentation. Work this frenetic can withstand the complexity of a “salon style” presentation. Discreetly arrayed at eye level the work seems almost tasteful. I want some madness with my madness, please.

The quality of the work as judged by my laser-sharp sensibilities is of course mixed. It is a group show. First let’s talk about the work I do not enjoy, which is weak and has no fighting skills. Or perhaps this is simply work I just do not “get” and will come to know in the fullness of time. My first impressions are often wrong.

Let’s face it, Shag is painting the same painting over and over – dull. I like Junko Mizuno’s twisted toon work but why exhibit a fuzzy poster clumsily framed with a drawing? Interesting artist – but perhaps better in a comic than on the wall. Hello, Mark Mothersbaugh, I loved Devo and much respect, but the split doubled photo thing is so 90’s. Just dull are works by Tim Kerr, Kii Arens, Glenn Barr, Pizz, Augsang and Bigfoot.

A large lovely dark sad blue funny elegant painting on paper by Camille Rose Garcia holds the end wall. Ms. Garcia has a large solo show up in NYC and she is ready for it. Cream floats. The old man of the hour -Juxtapoz founder and godfather, Robt. Williams (love the rock star spelling of his name) comes across swell with one of his patented complex lathered reliquaries to the world o’ comics. The work was priced at $35,000.00. It sold. Which will nicely prop up the Soo Vac bottom line. Which is gratifying. Where would we be without Soo Vac?

Husband-and-wife artists Sas and Colin Christian both put in solid works. In Ms. Christian’s painting, a young woman with enormous eyes gazes firmly at you and half smiles, unconcerned about her bloody shirt. You love or find it sick – perhaps love it but feel conflicted. It mixes innocence, violence, teenage wink-wink and remains unresolved – fuzzy. I enjoy the tension, but some do not. Baseman is sweet, lush, and funny as usual. Caroline Hwang’s odd fabric collage painting makes one wish to see more of her work. I kept looking at Bwanna Spoon’s painting “We are Watching You”– it confounds, intrigues and pleases with odd images, complex color, and quirky figures.

The “rogue taxidermy” of Scott Bibus, Sarina Brewer, and Robert Marbury is a world of its own. This whole new field of work is by turns festinating, delightful, sad, and funny and a titch nauseating. Shepard Fairey turns in a solid and life-sustaining anti-war Iraq poster. Drive down Minnehaha avenue – he pasted one of his signature “OBEY – Andre the Giant” posters up on an industrial wall around 38th south. If you want to know where to look for street art in the Twin Cities go to I really want to see a solo show by Doze Green – strong, elegant, punchy, intriguing. Why no one has purchased the elegant, solid work by Jamie Hayon, which is an absolute steal at $500, I simply cannot understand. Tim Biskup’s Super Giant Helper, a 6 foot tall sculpture, looks cold – like it was manufactured – which it was – there was a photo spread in an issue of Juxtapoz detailing its fabrication in a factory somewhere in Japan. Sometimes without the artist’s hand the work misses the mark.

Opening: Ox Op

Equally well attended was the opening at Ox-Op on Saturday; this’ll be the last show at Ox-Op. This is the type of work they have always promoted, and they will be missed. I thank Mr. McBroom and Mr. Hazelmyer for much pleasure. The Ox-Op space being compact, the work shown was as well. This was not a deficit, as some artists here really know scale. One work, the tiny 2×2 painting “Osprey Elaterium” by Aaron Horkley, is an absolute treasure. Just down from that, “Getting All My Ducks In A Row” by Seonna Hong, is beautifully rendered. A series of tiny works by Tim Biskup are intriguing and jewel-like.

I like Scott Musgrove’s work and his piece ”Mottled Quadra Fowl” is pleasant, but not his best work. I do not get John Largaespada’s Photoshop photo “The Duel” – too screamy. Niagara’s work in person looks just as pretty as in the reproductions. But her trite words lettered over the images are twice as irritating in person – “Opium House” – my ass. I was disappointed by Charles Krafft’s work. He takes brass knuckles, knives, guns and renders them in China blue glazed porcelain; a one trick pony. Haven’t I seen this work before by someone else?

Jeff Soto’s “Critterbox” packs more visual action in its modest size than should be possible. I recommend stopping by just to see Yumiko Kayukawa’s “Maccha Aisu (Green Tea Ice Cream)”. I had liked her work OK in reproduction. But this is some sweet brushwork, just lovely color, kicking composition and funny to boot. The green ice cream which drips off the young Japanese woman’s cone (whose visage perfectly matches that of the artist) settles onto the heads of two squirrels who are placidly unperturbed by this. It is a steal at $1,200.00. I would have bought it on the spot were I not currently unemployed. I now know that money can in some instances buy happiness. Go see for yourself.

Is the whole Juxtapoz thing a flashing fancy? Or is it the start of a new populism? Time will doubtless tell another tale, but I will simply enjoy this work now for what it is – flip, fun, and fresh.

I will leave the final word to Ox-Op curator, Tom Hazelmyer, who says:

“To the old school art crowd who are shaking in their boots, and still clinging to the belief that this genre isn’t “art”, the fire has already been started. So cling to those fiddles boys and girls, and do some deconstructive abstract interpretive dance representing the insights gleaned from a burning Rome that now is what it once was. In layman’s terms, you are Seals & Croft and this is the new Punk (ha-ha).”