Saturday, April 10, 2004
Talking about covering the "waterfront" a la Tenessee Williams, I heard a keynote lecture by Rickerby Hinds (a playwright) earlier today at a conference called (dis)junctions. Blackballin' is the name of Hinds' most recent play; his keynote speech focused on Frederick Douglass as a forerunner to hip hop culture.
Hinds, I believe, tried a bit too hard to make all the different aspects of hip hop fit in with the struggles of Douglass. For instance, he layed claims that the breaks performed by the DJ share lineage with the times when Douglass sang in the mornings and evenings for religious gatherings of his masters. In this case Hinds presented Douglass as the man providing the background sound for other things to take effect, much how the turntablists played breaks for the b-boys to dance to. Personally, I find this a bit of a stretch as the role that douglass performed could be closer to the MC, only Hinds could not make this analogy because he had previously created a juxtaposition between MCing, Rhyming and the act of learning how to read and write by Douglass. I think that in many ways Douglass does embody many aspects of hip hop culture, but not in a one to one comparison. In the end, the keynote speech ended up being quite simplistic, diminishing the potential of Douglass as an intellectual force, as an inspiration to those in the margins, by aiming to neatly fit his persona into every aspect of hip hop culture. It was a bit close to the structuralist tradition of figuring out how all the pieces fit neatly if we look close enough. But I would propose that it is more enriching when we accept that most things do not quite fit, and this is the power of hip hop--that it displaces that which we aim to comprehend in a uniformed fashion. Too bad that one of the cats on the inside of hip hop culture is indirectly watering down the true possibilities of cultural displacement.
Rickerby is a cool cat though. I got to talk to him a bit, and his heart is in the right place. I just think he needs to be more critical of his own interpretation of historical material. Hip hop can not fit neatly into one person, when it is the struggle of many--Douglass should be highlighted in a more open-ended way, as an icon giving inspiration to create new forms of resistance, as opposed to presenting him as having performed hip hop culture indirectly according to the possibilities of his time. Also, to point to just one individual as the "one" pushes us back, as a culture, to privileging problematic ideas of the "genius." Hip hop you don't stop.
But I have yet again started on a tangent. To end I want to note that "I Cover the Waterfront" is actually a popular song at one time covered by none-other than Billie Holiday. In a way this tangent is quite relevant as Billie was yet another African American worth noting as a major contributor to hip hop culture.
Friday, April 09, 2004
Philip Narchios went sport-like in a recent bidding, on non-other than Basquiat. Yep, he bought a Basquiat piece for a record of 3.3 million. According to the article this places Basquiat, in terms of sales, within the ranks of Barnett Newman and Clifford Still--actually outbidding them--while immortalizing Narchios as being so excited that he would inch forward each time he made a bid against his "secret opponent."
I wonder how Andy felt about Basquiat, especially because just a few days ago, his journal showed how easily he repeated the phrase "work like a nigger." Would Andy apply this phrase to Basquiat? After all, Basquiat was known for having produced a lot of work in a short amount of time, and Andy was supportive of this approach. At least that is the myth on the street, although the history of their relationship appears to be more carefully written--but check them out together. In many ways, like Andy, Basquiat is historized as having constructed an image that was not true with his "middle class" roots. Like Andy, today he is known for having strategized a way to be accepted in the art system, yet at the same time he is also considered victim of the hierarchical powerstructure of the artworld, which is often accussed of having led him to die at a young age. I am, of course, simply repeating what is already well-known in the art world, and even in the mainstream at this point, because eventually, the Basquiat myth became popularized with the film Basquiat by Julian Schabel.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
The phrase "work like a nigger" led me to this sentence: "Too often, the self-respecting poor man scraped out a living on a farm rather than work 'like a nigger', as they were apt to describe it, for another man," which I found in a website featuring non other than the man in the 20 dollar bill, president Andrew Jackson. An interesting aspect of this website is that it offers images of mailing stamps (like this one, this one, this one, and this one) along with other types of illustrations whose purpose was not of historical records but rather vehicles for a naturalized, shall we even say depoliticized, message; and throughout the website we find more traditional painting portraiture quite common before the photo camera took over as the tool of documentation. What is clear, however, is that the website developers are biased to use stamps as the vehicle of choice to remember some of the important figures in the history of the United States. This becomes quite obvious when reading their biographies.
But I've gone on a tangent here, which in a way exposes how a problematic phrase can be part of a bigger picture in two very different time periods. While in the Jackson era the phrase was used to discriminate against black slaves, in the 1970s Andy is able to use it quite liberally, riding on the edge of crassiness, to refer to the myth of the black slave to explain the social differences between Diana Vreeland and Kitty Carlisle Hart. He does this by quoting Vreeland, which means that he is merely "passing the information." Yet, what I wonder is if his choosing to quote Vreeland does make him complicit in the mythical reinforcement of problematic stereotypes?
Monday, April 05, 2004
I have not seen Andy's Bad, so I decided to read reviews online to get an idea of the movie. I looked here and here. Finally I found a review which does not explain the plot but jumps to critique the film, while speculating that Andy probably thought it was "wonderful." One thing Andy was well known for, or at least mythologized for, is his aim to frustrate his viewers. It seems this review is contributing to Andy's agenda.
But real myth (if there is such a thing) happens when you read sentences like this: "At a party in New York in 1969, Andy Warhol casually mentioned to Mick Jagger that it would be amusing to have a real zipper on an album cover. A year later, Jagger proposed the idea for Sticky Fingers, the first release on the new Rolling Stones label." That makes my two zippered albums so much more precious! Lovely. There was a time when I had nothing on the wall except one of the vinyl albums sealed in a plastic bag (you know, the ones that hardcore vinyl fetishists buy to keep their records well archived) hanging on the wall. I found it at Aaron's Records in Los Angeles for .99 cents. I left the bright red price tag on, it accentuated the black and white cover quite well.
Sunday, April 04, 2004
I am not sure what would be the difference between a "fake" Electric Chair and a "real" Electric Chair. Well, I do, I guess. Andy means that Gerard Malanga made prints without his permission. I wonder if there was some animosity in Andy's comments because according to Gerard's bio, he was co-founder of Interview along with Andy. Maybe Andy wanted to take all the credit as founder? I am speculating, of course.
The chair paintings are quite a treat to see--fake or not they were made with the same process (I think it is safe to state--after all, how would they otherwise pass for real ones, as Andy explains). I once saw a red and yellow painting at MOCA. I could not take my eyes off of it. I think it was the longest time I ever spent in front of a painting. I usually abide by the few seconds rule when viewing paintings: "get in front, rub your chin with your hand, consider it for a few seconds, then move on to the next work of art." Yet, the red and yellow made me stay a bit longer. Just a bit. I've also seen this one, this one, and this one.
The oddest thing about searching for Andy's chairs is that alongside with his artworks we can find images of other "electric chairs," like this one, this one, this one, and this one.