Dancing With Divorced Men: Allison Kaufman

My parents divorced when I was fourteen and I used to play evil tricks on my father for the years he was dating and I still lived at home. When a woman called and said “Is Lenny there?” I would say in the sexiest voice “No, I’m sorry, he’s busy right now” then whisper, ‘Stop it!’” then giggle and hang up. During high school, I often accompanied him to the symphony or an art show, and on more than one occasion he would have to explain that no, I was his daughter and not his date. My parents divorce was probably one of the most significant and difficult experiences of my life. Any one who has also been through a divorce would probably agree. It was even the topic of one of my first art shows. Until both my parents remarried, I always felt a bit uneasy until they settled down, as if I were the parents of wayward high school grads who hadn’t applied to college.

When I attended the Miami Basel fair this last winter, I walked by a booth that had a video showing an attractive young woman dancing in a living room of an apartment with a man. The clip would then jump to the same woman dancing with another man, then another. At first glance, I thought I was looking at an engagement announcement. There’s a happy couple surrounded by wedding photos. On closer inspection, it was evident that they didn’t look very comfortable together. And in reality, the couple in Kaufman’s “Divorced Men” series isn’t really a couple a couple at all. After Kaufman’s parents got divorced, Kaufman began to explore the void that is left when someone is removed from a relationship–both emotionally and physically in the sense that there is a real void in the emotional and physical space of the home.

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Allison Kaufman, “From the Divorced Men Series III”, C-print, 16″ x 20″, A4.

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America Still Screams: Paintings by Liz Marcus

I didn’t expect to laugh as hard as I did when I watched Will Farrell’s “Your Welcome, America” this Saturday night featuring himself as George Bush. It felt great.

It is almost the sixth anniversary of the start of shock and awe campaign of the Iraq war this Friday. I’ll always remember that because it happened on my birthday. And that day in my studio I just sat in front of a huge canvas and painted the word “war” with a blog sloppy dripping paint brush and left early. For pretty much all the artists I know, with their antennaes out there blowing in the wind, it was impossible to not let the war– everything–all seep into our thoughts and work. It was also almost impossible for me not to write about the election and view art in terms of of politics and what was going on in the world.

When Obama got elected, I felt as if my mother finally kicked the abusive stepfather out of the house and started dating a cool new guy that I actually liked. I still can’t quite believe that they live together, let alone got married. Yet in spite of finally feeling freed from the last administration and the politics leading up to its ouster, I welcome any kind of therapy I can lay my eyes on. So in addition to laughing at Will Farrell’s rendition of 43, I was just as relieved to discover the works of Brooklyn-based artist Liz Markus.

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?Liz Markus, American Scream, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, Courtesy of ZieherSmith Gallery

With rapid brush strokes and streaking paint, Markus creates images that bring humor and light to sensitive and charged subjects. Her restrained use of saturated primary colors prevents these images from being too candy-hued-psychedelic, and are instead bold and resonating. She pours paint onto her canvas and lightly controls the flow of the colors, resulting in haunting images that make us think we are sure of what we are looking at…or not. We wonder, “Have I seen this portrait before?” “My G-d, is that Nancy Reagan?” Calling images stored in our subconscious to the forefront, Markus engages viewers in an interplay between memories of the past and present, fact and fiction. You can catch her upcoming solo show at ZieherSmith’s New York gallery from March 19 to April 18, 2009.

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Facebook and The Death of Mystery

I received an email recently notifying me that I was “tagged” in a facebook entry called “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me” from an old friend. We actually went on a few dates many many years ago and I haven’t seen him in about three years, but we’ve remained friends. Curious, I clicked on the link and learned twenty five things about him I never knew, like the rest of his four hundred friends. He’s a very witty guy, so it wasn’t quite like “I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,” but in another way, it was oddly close. By tagging me he was requesting, or essentially daring me, along with the other nine friends he had tagged, to do the same thing. I impulsively started to do it and then never posted anything

My facebook life started off about a year and a half ago with friends and people I know closely, then my family started dribbling in, and the next thing I knew my friends included that person from a job I had ten years ago, students I’ve taught at art school, that really weird guy from high school, and an old roommate in college… and on and on it continued. That was the first sign of “friend leakage”, where I had expanded beyond the scope of intimate friends and was venturing into people outside of my circle, but usually by only a few degrees — at least I knew them.

Then things started getting out of hand. It started with a friend who is a supreme animal rights crusader with a very sexy, come-hither thumbnail picture. I haven’t seen her in years but she wrote a book and is semi-famous for the cause, so because of her, I have about one hundred extra friends. I know this because when someone requests that they be my friend in Facebook, I can see all the friends we have in common. I kept seeing this one friend, and then I realized I had become a part of the save the animals movement because our mutual friends kept including the friends I had met through her. Honestly, I started to get a little loose about whom I would “friend”– that’s right, Facebook made me feel promiscuous– I would wait then say, “Oh what the hell, after all, we have mutual friends.” It was then when I truly appreciated the fractal component of the friending process.

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“The Facebook Friending Process” (Illustration courtesy of Mandelbrot)

When I joined initially, I saw in Facebook something that resembled the early days of AOL when people were giddy about first sending emails and buddy lists and instant messaging were all the rage. Unlike many other people, who put videos of their kid’s first step, pictures from their recent barbecue and the details of their love life (options are “single”, “in a relationship”, “married” and “it’s complicated”), I try not to reveal too much — at least I don’t think I do — but even that’s getting blurry. At some point I must have made the decision that because I am an artist, my work is something I want and need to share, and I think of Facebook as one of many tools to do that. I’ve also come to consider one’s digital footprint to be, in a sense, another form of existence outside of the physical body. And it’s scope and appearance needs to be tended to so that it compositionally represents the portrait you want to present to the outside world.

But what struck me as so odd about the request for 25 secret things about me was I instantly envisioned that I could be creating a white paper on my entire spiritual, intellectual and life DNA. Imagine getting friended by someone who you’ve been set up with on a date, and he goes on your site to read what would ordinarily be doled out like pearls rolling down a pillow after an intimate evening over months or years of getting to know each other. If you fully fill out the profile questionnaire, you could let someone know every movie or favorite song you like, your favorite hobby and, along with your photos, video and baby pictures, it would read like a map of your very essence.

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Kimberly Brooks. Detail from “Delivery” Oil on Panel. 2004

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that Amazon would close Cody’s Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, along with countless other independent bookstores; that I’d see a “going out of business” sign at the Tower Records down the hill; that bloggers and aggregators would somehow supplant (usurp?) journalists for news sources and that the New York Times (The New York Times!) would mortgage it’s building to stay alive.

I cannot help but to cast my mind forward. My ten year old son started a blog while we were at a dinner party. Now he wants to spend hours gathering cool content for it to show his friends. When he’s not begging me for a phone, it’s for me to blog about his blog so he can get a bigger audience. I wonder what they will call the generation who grows up with all this. I believe Time Magazine called mine “X” because it was right after the baby boomers and we hadn’t defined ourselves yet (well, we showed them). Then came “Generation Y” because it was after us. I would rename this one Generation “E” for “Exhibitionist”, (we can throw in “Exposure” and “Electronic” while we’re at it.) These social networking applications are grafted onto their gray matter and perhaps they might never know what mystery is. They’ll google or “friend” every classmate, teacher, co-worker, boss and know everything there is to know about that person. There will be no more boundary between “personal” and “professional”. Everyone will engage in wanton fractal friending and be connected with each other and Kevin Bacon. Maybe, if everybody becomes friends, this is how we will achieve Peace on Earth!

My husband is not on Facebook. I’m kind of jealous. He talks to a small group of people one-on-one via email. Because at the end of the day, and I mean that quite literally, Facebook has become another inbox for me to check. Maybe it’s because I always want to be mysterious or that as an artist, like Greta Garbo, “I just vant to be alone.”

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