Thursday, May 14, 2009

Baker vs. Killian

One of my favorite aspects of artmaking is the discourse that inevitably follows the artworks completion. Yes, I know that much of what gets created never makes so much as a ripple of critical attention. But, Bruno Fazzolari's recent show at Gallery 16 yielded two very different view points. The first was the noted SF Chronicle critic Kenneth Baker's review in the Saturday May 2 edition of the newspaper. The other was penned for SFMOMA's Open Space blog by Kevin Killian, noted playwright and novelist. While these two reviews are very different in intent and tone, it started me longing for more real-time battles of opinion in art criticism.

Here's to hoping for more art critical lucha libre!
The two reviews for your indulgence.

Kenneth Baker (courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle),

Fazzolari at 16: Bruno Fazzolari's paintings and drawings at Gallery 16 present connected problems that I do not encounter often. His work leaves me equally unsure of how seriously to take it and of how to take it seriously.

Consider the painting "Griefly Thurible" (2009). Should we regard it as unfinished or as effectively unbegun? The forms and gestures in it seem both rehearsed and relaxed to the point of abandonment from lassitude. What might count as allusions - to Philip Guston's late manner, for instance - never quite congeal.

Yet nearly every piece on view evokes volleys of inner disputation that conclude with manifest decisions unintelligible to anyone else. Only a symptomatic trail of ambivalence remains.

To learn that Fazzolari has adapted certain forms and marks from comics and other vernacular illustration only makes us wonder whether we have mistaken his report of a cultural condition for peculiarities of his own temperament.

Fazzolari has given his ongoing series of ink drawings the title "Six Realms." It echoes the Buddhist notion of the six realms of being into which karma may cause a soul to be reborn, but even the Buddhist spiritual vision takes on a comic-book bizarreness from the perspective of contemporary pop culture's cynical materialism.

Fazzolari's work exemplifies the surprising and not necessarily likable forms that sophistication takes in contemporary art.

Opening and Closing by Kevin Killian

Over the weekend I finally got over to Gallery 16 to see the last week of Bruno Fazzolari’s exhibition Cold Turkey, a selection of drawings broken up by six recent paintings. This is the last week you can see it, so get down there if you can. As you probably know, the Gallery is only a few blocks from SF MOMA, at Bryant and Third, and if you haven’t been there it is one of the pleasantest places I know with always plenty to see. This time around Fazzolari‘s show is a winner indeed.

The drawings come from a series called “Six Realms” on which the artist has been working for many years; apparently there are dozens of them. I took the traditional gallery walk, with a map in my hand of what I was seeing, and proceeded from left to right, an arrangement that usually adds no meaning, only the comfort of habit. This time around however, I convinced myself I was catching something happening in those drawings, that I was seeing them progress from simple gestures towards more complex renditions of the social world. From the self — even the self of the young child — to perhaps the loss of that self within the increasingly organized and globalized state. I looked again — made the circle one more time — and by George, I was so pleased with myself!

Nowhere did I manage to agree with even a single word of Kenneth Baker’s review — but wait. I can imagine a few of my readers don’t know who Baker is, but he is the highly respected art writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s been at his post so long that when I first came to San Francisco and I was gullible, someone told me, and I believed it for a time, that he was the man they named the phrase “a baker’s dozen” after. (Boy did I feel like a fool when I told someone that, and they proved that the phrase was established in, I don’t know, the era of Chaucer!) Cold Turkey seems to have flickered simultaneous off and on switches in Ken Baker. Like Gerald Manley Hopkins or someone, Baker is nearly impossible to summarize, but you can read for yourself the review that made me so curious. The particular picture that gives KB so much trouble, “Griefly Thurible” (2009) is, for my money, utterly convincing and never brought late Guston to my mind, but to get there I would really have to have more art training I suppose. If the work in the show is guilty of too much “sophistication,” I, suspiciously, tend to embrace it.

What does the title mean? I asked Fazzolari. “Cold Turkey,” he explains, “is a phrase which has been on my mind for awhile–I like phrases which slip away from their literal referents, but double back on them. Several other reasons why: It refers back to my food work (which I don’t do anymore); to the free-fall of the economy; to the fact that it’s my first show in 8 years; to a state of naked awareness–bracing perception without crutches–before you recognize/decide what you’re seeing. Then I asked him if he had heard about the new movie coming out by the makers of Borat. It’s called Bruno, and I suggested it would give his name new currency. His face grew dark with fear, then he lightened up. “Growing up in Tucson, Arizona, with a name like Bruno was a challenge,” he laughed. “And just when I’d outgrown the taunts now here comes Sacha Baron Cohen to finish me off.”

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