Pope.L takes a chocolate syrup shower during his Big Rock Candy
Mountain dance marathon
Elizabeth Peyton, 2003
ontext is everything and I've been thinking a lot about the
weird stuff on the fringe that sort of hangs out … doin' its own
It either gets toughened up or fades away due to a lack of resolve
and exposure. The fringe is also the most important area for the
creation of new culture. For example, William Pope.L, Jackson Pollock
and Joseph Beuys are all cut from this cloth of potent fringe artists
that suddenly seem at the center of the world.
Those artists who get toughened up out on the fringe are pretty
much obligated to beat people over the head with their idiomatic
ideas whether or not the public wants them.
Even Matthew Barney (whose self-indulgent opus, "The Cremaster
Cycle," opens in Portland at Cinema 21 July 18-24; see March
i) used the eternal fringe but central world of fashion and
art to will his films into being ... never mind that the films are
It's a good time for Barney because these days the world (and New
York City) is looking for daft escapism, evidence that hard work
pays off and pseudo-religion.
If fringe efforts are done tactically and relentlessly, there is
a dénouement and suddenly everything catches on. "The Blair
Witch Project" is a good example. The tricks are that you can't
pander to your audience and you have to endure long enough with
a strong focus.
The lifestyle has a name: "Iconoclast."
And one thing I enjoy about the Pacific Northwest is that it tends
to veer towards iconoclasm as a rule rather than the exception.
and Generals ... Mr. Frank Zappa.
People like Kurt Cobain, Matt Groening, Clifford Still, Mark Rothko,
Adolf Gottlieb and lesser lights like Mark Tobey, Eddie Vedder and
Morris Graves all come from this tradition, which is part of why
I moved here.
Iconoclasm isn't an easy road. The strategy also requires putting
in a thousand times more work and dedication than everyone else
around you. So if you're not full of energy and more than a little
nuts, try something else, because a lazy iconoclast is just a whiner.
Frank Zappa is probably my pick for No. 1 iconoclastic fringe-master
of all time, but Beethoven and Frank Lloyd Wright are close seconds.
Kandinsky is visual art's most prominent iconoclast. He had some
scientifically dubious but aesthetically brilliant ideas about mixing
the parameters of music and painting.
Many of Kandinsky's paintings are a bit of a mess, but when he
connects he really hits it out of the park. He was very much doing
his own thing and for the longest time he was more influential than
Flood," by Kandinsky
Being revered is a problem, too. Just look at Cobain.
Often I think Zappa was purposefully flirting with "sucking" in
order to scare away mainstream acceptance ... at the same time he
created music like "Sofa No. 2" a work of staggering
whimsy, "cooshyness" and brilliance. Frank Zappa even had a hit
song; too bad it wasn't "G-Spot Tornado" (teenage lust
Zappa is hard to get into, but some recent "mix tape" compilations
by famous musicians provide nice starting points. Larry LaLonde
of Primus created a great one. LaLonde's Zappa Picks has
"Sofa," "G-Spot," "Dumb All Over"
and many others that will leave you dumbfounded if you have any
capacity to appreciate human cultural activity.
Portland is filled with iconoclastic energy. Red 76's I.A.E. event
last March, and PCAC's The Modern Zoo (covered here next month)
are imbued with iconoclastic energy. Of course this energy often
is about as intelligible as declaring "Iconoclasts Unite!" …but
that jumble can lead to big things. A few of these people in Portland
will figure it out and develop some real balls (post-structuralists,
go have a field day).
This also underscores why the Oregon Biennial is so important.
It may not be the absolute cutting edge (it only gets as close as
politics and slides allow), but it does polarize discussion and
highlight the differences between an institutional hierarchy and
the more idiomatic ones set up by iconoclastic artists and collectors.
One artist I really enjoy is Elizabeth Peyton. She holds
the floor with Andrew Wyeth and makes Eric Fischl look like a fuddy-duddy.
Her best works could almost be mistaken for those dreamy, lovelorn
paintings by an aspiring high school artist ... yet they lack the
clumsy fatalism of that arena.
It's as if she has all the skill and virtuosity of Schiele and
Munch, but instead of seeing the glass half empty, she paints it
Her art is definitely iconoclastic, but instead of Zappa's eternal
sarcasm, she paints the ideal at its ripest with full disclosure
of the decay necessarily seeded in this opulent youth.
The work is totally out of left field, almost as if Modernism and
Postmodernism had never happened. It probably should have been in
Hickey's Beau Monde exhibition in 2001.
Peyton pulls it off through personal magic and skill and not the
sort of premeditated discourse that usually comes out of art schools.
It's all the more impressive since she came through the art school
Peyton paints people in a way that never takes the actual subject
We know the young men and women she depicts are aging and will
lose the glow of youth she gives them. But isn't it better to shine
that flame than to hide it away?
I call this tactical optimism, addressing fatalism by treating
it as something one cannot control.
Thus, mortality is a muse not drawn from lightly giving
this beauty a severe quality no matter how many opiates in which
it seems to traffic.
is solid and worthy of respect, but is that enough?
2003 Oregon Biennial
June 28-Sept. 7
Portland Art Museum
The Oregon Biennial isn't supposed to make anyone happy, dammit!
It's supposed to recommit the state of Oregon to contemporary art.
That means we're all supposed to nitpick, bitch and occasionally
gush, so I will oblige! Besides I've been harping about it for months.
Click here for a link to the Critical i Special