Contemporary Art Doesn’t Have to Be Pretentious and Confusing
Ossian Ward is one of Britain’s leading art critics. His new book, Ways of Looking, sounded a little patronizing from the title, given that anyone with eyes should probably have that down already. But reading through, it does provide a very helpful guide to the understanding of contemporary art, which—to me, at least—often seems as aimless as someone standing in a gallery repeatedly turning the lights on and off.
Ossian advises against pretentious art jargon, suggesting the only way to approach contemporary art is with a clear, open mind. Since he seemed so nice and obliging, I decided to ask him some of the embarrassing questions that pop into my mind when I’m in a contemporary art gallery (other than, ‘Where’s the café?’ and, ‘I wonder how much Marina Abramović is going to make from sitting in that chair.’)
VICE: Hi Ossian. So is contemporary art just having the balls to do something either so outrageous that it’s shocking or so banal that it’s shocking?
Contemporary art is not yet a verb, nor does it have balls per se—though I’m sure Tracey Emin would take exception to that—but it does occasionally shout at you from across the room and it can be provocative, challenging and even scary. I have found myself in rooms kitted out to look like murder scenes, brothels, or a terrorist’s stronghold.
I have also tiptoed past various spring-loaded man-traps, risked severe burns at a gallery where I was greeted by a flame from the opposite wall, told not to drink from a fountain supposedly laced with LSD, warned that the tiny globe before me contained a bomb that would explode a hundred years from now… I could go on. Confrontational art is certainly one of the ways that artists aim to grab our attentions nowadays.
A Tracy Emin work. (Photo via)
Do you ever think that Tate and MoMA are a bit like the Westfields of art galleries, as in there’s just too much stuff?
If only the works were on sale at knock-down prices, with special bargain bins for obscure works of Surrealism. I would like that. But yes, our large art institutions can be bewildering places full of mysterious and exotic objects, which is essentially why I wrote my book.
We shouldn’t fear the complexity, abstraction, or randomness of contemporary art, but embrace them as reflections of our culture. I often invoke Hollywood blockbuster films, theme-park rides and other forms of entertainment as reference points, rather than art historical movements or philosophical theories, as frankly not everyone has that level of interest or experience.
Miami Is Drowning, and the Corals Couldn’t Be Happier
In Miami Beach people shop for produce at two feet above sea level. The setting for this activity is a Whole Foods in South Beach. This particular Whole Foods was built on what is now the lowest inhabitable plot of land in Florida. In the surrounding area, only a few feet higher and resting on dredged-up land that was once deep-blue saltwater, is a sprawling assortment of condos, hotels, schools, parks, and small businesses that withstand flooding that grows worse every year.
The common denominator is that every square inch will, at some point, succumb to the ocean.
One mile south of the Whole Foods is a small strip of the bay known as Government Cut. The waterway was dredged and formed in the early 1900s to allow easier access to the Port of Miami. A century later, the port stands as the 11th-largest shipping-container destination in the United States. Despite the port’s continued success, the dredging ships have returned to dig up more—their gigantic steel claws scooping up chunks of seabed like a sludgy arcade-game prize.
Across the water, on the mainland, stands the deserted but still imposing building that formerly housed the Miami Herald. The half-demolished and dilapidated structure is perched on the edge of Biscayne Bay, at a relatively impressive elevation of five feet.
In 2011, the Malaysian conglomerate Genting Group, the parent company of Resorts World Casinos, expressed its intention to build a new casino on the property, even though it is still illegal to operate one in the state of Florida. Fueling the controversy was a rumor that the casino would be accessible only by boat or helicopter, which some people took to confirm suspicions that Genting’s proposal would merely serve as a playground for the rich.
Los Angeles: Come to the 2014 VICE Photo Show
Remember how much you loved the art in this year’s photo issue? Did you rip out pages of the magazine and plaster them on your wall because you just loved them so much you wanted to gaze at them longingly while you lay awake at night?
Now you can experience those photographs all over again… but bigger, not affixed to the wall with duct tape, and not for you to delicately caress after being emotionally overwhelmed by their artistic power (seriously, don’t touch them! They’re expensive!). Tomorrow night, we’re throwing a party to celebrate our 2014 photo issue—and lucky you, you’re invited (yes, you).
Join us at the Superchief Gallery in downtown Los Angeles, where you can experience the art all over again. Check out photos by the likes of Cindy Sherman, Richard Kern, Jaimie Warren,Laurie Simmons, and a lot of other great photographers. Entry is free, and 21-and-over.
Thomas Morton (one of our hosts from VICE on HBO) and Fidlar will be DJing. Oh, and did we mention that the drinks are free?
Want to join the party? RSVP here.
We interviewed Werner Herzog about films, football, WrestleMania, and the loathsome trend of children’s yoga classes.
An Iraqi Painter Moved to America for a Better Life and Got Robbed Anyway
It’s not often you see a look of total devastation on someone’s face, but that was the expression Bassim Al-Shaker wore when I met him at a bar in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday night. Escaping threats for his life, the Iraqi-born painter fled to Phoenix in July of last year, eventually obtaining refugee status and becoming a permanent citizen earlier this year.
But Bassim woke up Monday morning to discover the door to his downtown studio smashed. Ten paintings were stolen August 18, as well as a couch and some power tools, from Bassim’s studio on Fourth Street and McKinley. Bassim was using the studio space rent-free before the whole block is to be demolished at the end of the year.
Formerly a barber in Baghdad, Bassim was once blindfolded, spat on, and beaten by loyalists of Iraq’s Mahdi Army militia, who left the painter so battered he spent the next two weeks in the hospital. But what had Bassim done to attract their violence? He had drawn sketches of the Venus de Milo as part of an entrance exam at Baghdad University’s College of Fine Arts.
Yeah, that’s right. Some tasteful nude sketches almost got this guy killed.
Werner Herzog Has a Lot of Time for WrestleMania
It’s only since dropping Grizzly Man and Into the Abyss that Werner Herzog became a staple of conversation between you and your friends. Before that, he was just the award-winning, critically acclaimed father of modern European cinema—the man who lugged a 320-ton boat over a hill in the Peruvian rainforest and cooked and ate his own shoe for a short documentary.
This month, Faber published A Guide for the Perplexed, a compendium of conversations between Herzog and the writer Paul Cronin. As a testament from one of the world’s most prolific filmmakers, it reads almost as self-help. “Get used to the bear behind you,” he tells us, ostensibly referring to the ambition and drive to create, but equally evoking images of Timothy Treadwell, a.k.a. Grizzly Man. I’m putting my neck out and saying it’s the best book I’ve read all year.
I caught up with Herzog on the phone last week, and we spoke about films, football, WrestleMania, and the loathsome trend of children’s yoga classes.
Werner Herzog at his home in Los Angeles
VICE: I’ve just finished reading A Guide for the Perplexed. Have you had a chance to read it?
Werner Herzog: Yes, I did when we were looking through the entire text for corrections. We left no stone unturned.
Is it strange reading yourself back?
I took a professional distance to it because I think it is unwise to stare at your own navel. Now it’s out for the readers. I’m plowing on with a lot of projects, so don’t worry about me.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing Queen of the Desert, I’m preparing three feature films, and I am doing my rogue film school at the end of this week.
Can you explain a bit more about the rogue film school?
I can explain it easily. For 20 to 25 years there has been a steady avalanche of young filmmakers coming at me who wanted to be my assistant, or who wanted to learn from me or be in my team. And this has grown rapidly in numbers. For example, a few years ago, when I did a conversation on stage at the Royal Albert Hall—which has something close to 3,000 seats—it was sold out in minutes. And of these 3,000 people, there were at least 2,000 who would have liked to work with me. So I tried to give a systematic answer to this onslaught. The rogue film school can happen 50 times a year or once a year. I just need a projector. I could feasibly do it in the middle of the desert.
VICE Photo Editor Matthew Leifheit wants to know your secrets. He’s co-curating SLIDELUCK NYC at Photoville in Brooklyn Bridge Park with MAGNUM PHOTOS Creative Director Gideon Jacobs. More details and submit your work here. Deadline is Friday, August 29th.
"Okay" – by Paul Maliszewski
Paul Maliszewski is one of the strangest, most original people we know. He is extremely funny. He probably doesn’t want us to talk about it anymore, but when he was just out of writing school, he worked at a business paper, and he spent several months creating “contributors” to the paper. They had names, voices, and agendas, and they were published straight. Paul’s bosses had no idea that he was writing half their content. Anyway, one thing led to another, and then the New York State Attorney General’s office got involved, and two men sat Paul down in a room and told him his life was over. In response, he defined satire. He is stubborn, and when he gets angry—Jesus, you don’t want to be around. But this all gets missed sometimes, if you aren’t paying attention, becausehe hides it. He goes around in khaki pants and button-up shirts, all innocent, all good credit, but then he writes a story like this.
"Okay" is about a husband whose wife suggests that she have sex with strange men while he watches. Paul applies all his intelligence and creative energy to an idea that an inferior writer (1) wouldn’t think up or (2) would think was enough in and of itself to carry the story and would just kind of mess with for 20 pages and then add an up note or a down note and call it done.
My wife liked the idea of me watching. That’s what she said. One moment we were talking about making dinner and what did we even have that we could make and did I need to run out and get something or should we just order in again, and then she was saying how she wanted to pick up random guys and bring them back to our house, and she wanted me there to, I guess, see what transpired. It was as if I’d just turned on some movie, except I was in it and my wife was in it and we were speaking about stuff we’d never spoken of before. I asked her where she got such an idea, and she shrugged. “It just came to me,” she said. “You know, necessity. Mother of invention and all that.” Wasn’t that what people said about the lightbulb? “Exactly,” my wife said. After much discussion, we went to a restaurant she liked. It had a big bar that wrapped around the inside. The place looked like a ski chalet. Stone fireplaces and heavy furniture and so forth. We took a table, and our waiter bounded right over. He was wearing ski pants and a black T-shirt that said “Eat.” My wife asked him to please just give us a few, and then he was gone. She put her hand on top of mine and said, “I’m going now, all right?” She indicated the bar, and I nodded. “And you’re sure you’re okay with this?” she said. I told her that I guessed I was. What else was I going to say? “I want to be clear,” she said. “I’m not asking for your permission, Thom. But I do want to make sure you’re okay. I care about you, you know. Very much.” I was okay. I told her not to worry. “You’re going to keep an eye on me, right?” she said. “Like you promised?” I said sure. “The whole time,” she said. I agreed, the whole time. She stood then and held on to the edge of the table. “Don’t you want to kiss me or something?” she said. I looked at her. Did she want me to kiss her? She shrugged, like whatever, so I wished her good luck instead, and then she walked away. She limped slightly, how she always does, favoring that left leg. I was thinking about getting a steak. I hadn’t had any steak that month. I’m supposed to eat red meat only very occasionally. My wife had been at the bar for maybe a few minutes when this guy in a suit sent her a drink and waved from across the room. She is not an unattractive woman. She’s also petite but big in the bosom, which I knew wouldn’t hurt her chances. I’ve seen how men look at her, like when we’re out shopping, and some guy’s walking by and I’m looking at him, assessing the threat level, and he’s just looking at her the whole time, like I’m not even there. Anyway, the two of them got to talking or whatever, and the guy looked like he was getting pretty fresh, and I saw my wife doing that thing where when she laughed she showed a lot of throat, and she must have said something about me, because the guy turned around and looked at me. I was having my steak, chewing on a French fry. I nodded in his direction, and he got to talking again with my wife and then he came over. “Is this some kind of game?” he said. He seemed agitated. I sawed a small bite off my steak, just like my doctor told me I’d better do. I told the guy if my wife said it was a game, then it was a game. Basically, it was whatever she said it was. What had she said? I sort of wanted to know and sort of didn’t at the same time. The guy said something that sounded about right, and I said he seemed like an okay guy, clean and all. I’d figured my wife and I would ride home together, in our car, but she wanted me to follow them. She was quite clear about that. The guy opened the car door for her and then did this little jog around his vehicle. He had one of those sporty Honda Civics. I flashed my high beams to let him know I was ready. We took the usual roads, how I would’ve gone, if I were doing it. I liked how the guy drove. Not too fast and not too slow. It meant something to me that he wasn’t a shitty driver. We turned down our street, and then he proceeded to pull into our garage and park his car. I was fixing to honk, I was this close to laying on the horn, but then I suspected my wife had just told him to do it. She probably insisted. That time of night, I could usually find a spot on the street somewhere, maybe on the other side of the park. When I got back to the house, I went straight upstairs to our bedroom. That’s what my wife had told me to do. The two of them were in the kitchen, getting into some wine, it sounded like. Our bedroom overlooks the living room. There’s half a wall and some decorative iron railing that looks like it was removed from the outside of a house in Italy or Spain or somewhere like that. Anyway, that’s where I was supposed to station myself, by the railing. My wife and the guy—his name was Terry—got pretty chummy on the sofa. He was telling this joke that sounded like what some comic he saw said on TV, and my wife was sitting there absolutely rapt, like she was hearing about the time he saved a blind family from a burning building. She had one leg tucked under her kind of girlishly, and she was doing that thing where she stretched her other foot out and bounced her shoe on the end of it. The guy touched the back of my wife’s neck, smiled, and I thought, Here we go. They got a pretty kissy thing going then, and my wife started pawing at the guy’s pants, and next thing she removed his member, which didn’t look like anything special, as far as I was concerned. The guy leaned back into the sofa and loosened his tie. Then my wife inserted his member into her mouth and started going up and down like a piston, making these just ridiculous sounds. I really could not get over the sounds. That’s when the guy—Terry—saw me, I think, upstairs, peering through the railing. “I’m sorry,” he said. He pushed my wife away. Not roughly. It wasn’t excessive force he used. He just kind of moved her off him. “This is too weird,” he said. He stood then and tugged at his pants. “You folks have a nice night or whatever.” When he was gone, my wife looked up at me. “You don’t have to be so fucking creepy about it,” she said.
new MMO up at VICE. part one of a fifteen part serial.
This Artist Is Having Sex with a Different Guy Every Day for a Year
What is art? If I cover my naked body in Liam Gallagher quotes and sing Blur songs outside The Wag Club, is that art? Because it sounds like it should be, but the lines are so distorted that it’s hard to really say for sure. Take Mischa Badasyan, for example. He’s a Russian-born performance artist who, for his latest piece, has decided to sleep with a different guy every day for 365 days. This, he says, is art.
Admittedly, there’s more to his “Save the Date” project than thrusting. Mischa is also taking dance lessons so, at the end of the year, he can perform what he calls “the dance of the loneliness.”
I spoke to Mischa to find out what gave him the idea, and how exactly he’s going to find 365 guys to sleep with.
VICE: Hey Mischa. So, tell me about “Save The Date.”
Mischa Badasyan: ”Save the Date” is going to be my hardest and most sophisticated performance so far. For one year I’m going to be immersed in loneliness, with people and the city. For 365 days I’m going to meet, each day, someone new, and discover the other´s stories. Alongside meeting people I’ll work with sound, photo, and video installations, and create different public performances worldwide.
OK. Where did this idea come to you?
I was inspired in Milan in the Center of Contemporary Art. [The French writer, photographer and artist] Sophie Calle was my muse, and she inspired me for this project.
Right. But what inspired you to have sex with 365 people?
I wanted to make a piece that exaggerated my feelings and my emotional state at the moment. So far I’ve never been in love. In this performance, I’m going to share and give all my love to people.
So why is this art and not just sleeping with a load of people?
Sex is just a method to express my idea. Apart from this, a lot will happen, both for the public and for the end exhibition. Like, I will take some dance classes for the whole year and I will create a dance piece for the end of the project—dance of the loneliness. It’s a processional art that deals with the relational aesthetics—aesthetics existing only in the relationships with someone that I meet.