• Natzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus, Photo Tom Powel Imaging, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, 2012
  • Back view of Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus & detail of lift.

    The most unreal real estate in Manhattan in 2012 was a perfect castle in the sky impaled onto the Obelisk of Christopher Columbus. Directly in the center of Columbus Circle, and surrounded by gurgling fountains, the monument was encased within a house, designed by the artist Tatzu Nishi, to accommodate the stature of its main inhabitant, if only for a few months. This was achieved with the help of some impressive scaffolding, allowing you to ascend to the top and back, either via two staircases or a handicapped elevator.

  • FRONT: Rendering of Tatlin’s Tower, 1919-20. BACK: New Jersey Rollercoaster After Hurricane Sandy, 2013

    At first the scaffolding reminded me of early Soviet Constructivist architecture (but less shiny, and with no handicap elevator). How utopic those structures seem now, with their spinning clocks and touching transparency. Two months after my Discovering Columbus visit, when hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, the wrecked Jersey roller coaster and other images of devastation made me wonder about the little house in the sky and make-belief spaces vs. permanence.

  • Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus, Interior Details, IMAGE: Leeza Meksin.

    But back inside Nishi’s penthouse, the red velvet curtains and the custom-printed dainty pink wallpaper; the literal and visual warmth of the place combined to create a womblike, inner sanctum, both mysterious and mundane, rendering the golem-like statue into a giant fetus, around which visitors swarmed. A Lynchian non-space with Dick Clark counting down the top 40 (on a flat screen TV seamlessly placed amidst well chosen books and knick-knack), a framed Pollock, de Kooning and Warhol prints cheerfully exhibited. The huge statue of Christopher Columbus brought so close to your face as to make the world (with all its surrounding Trump Towers and skyscrapers) look like you’re observing it from the wrong side of binoculars.

  • Julia Rommel, Edward, 2013, oil on linen, 13.5”x11”

    Clay Hapaz’s curatorial project You Start to Want to Die offered a different kind of art viewing experience. Tucked away in a Chinatown alley, in a nameless gallery space, the show featured works by Morton Bartlett, The Jackson Five, Paul McCarthy, Jesse Murry, Kazuo Ohno, Charlemagne Palestine and Julia Rommel.

  • You Start to Want to Die, a project curated by Clay Hapaz in Chinatown, 2013, Photo by Paula Court.

    Amidst a tiny darkened room 8 variously sized video screens played images to the tune of "Never Can Say Goodbye," as performed on the Flip Wilson Show by the Jackson Five in 1971, and here repeated on a loop. Another monitor silently displayed a 1970’s performance of "I’ll Be There", filmed at a different show. The expressive mask-like faces of Kazuo Ohno’s Mr. O’s Book of the Dead (1973) flashed dramatically on the floor; another screen portrayed a naked young McCarthy slithering around in ketchup, now 40-years old.

  • Morton Bartlett, Untitled, ca. 1950, unique digital print (2001)

    Surrounded by images of crafted pubescent dolls, positioned and photographed by Morton Bartlett, and discovered posthumously, Michael Jackson’s boyish voice sounded more heart wrenching and lonely than ever. A few imageless paintings by Julia Rommel and Jesse Murry, spot-lit like funerary portraits, drew an emphatic blank in contrast to the glowing, quickly changing screens.

  • Wayne Koestenbaum, Yellow Shorts, 2012, acrylic and cassein on canvas, 24” × 18”

    This past July I visited Wayne Koestenbaum in his Chelsea studio. I had met Wayne in 2006 while in grad school where he was a visiting critic; at that time he did not have a studio practice, and I knew of him only as a cultural critic with a panache for prints and silver, leather pants that made a lasting impression. A few years later Wayne had a vivid dream in which he was holding a pencil and drawing an intricate line on a piece of paper. This dream compelled him to start making watercolors in his apartment, but they grew so numerous that he had to find a separate place for this type of work.

    To his own surprise, Wayne was now also a painter, producing with relish and incredible speed. His Chelsea studio’s walls were tightly covered in rows of bright, patterned, figurative paintings of men and their favorite limbs. A childish directness

  • Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum, Big Ideas//Small Books, Cover Image by Jon Shireman, 2011

    mixed with the adult content, came across as vulnerable, pleasurable and brave; it made me want to read more of Wayne’s books. "The body humiliates us, or threatens to, just at those moments when we wish to come across as bodiless, immune to failure." (p.52)

    I picked up Humiliation. Reading it was like chatting with an erudite talk show host who channels Barthes and Marquis de Sade and impersonates celebrities. The book is an epic litany of possible humiliations and our relationship to watching, inflicting and experiencing them. Told in pithy call and response paragraphs, humiliation emerges as a rite of passage for creative endeavor of any kind, but also, more simply as a necessary part of becoming human. "Is education [or art] possible without humiliation?" (p.38) Wayne asks, and thinking back I wonder if much of my childhood and early adulthood was shaped by purposeful inflictions of humiliation for educational purposes, and if it had, what have I learned?

  • Chris Kraus’ Where Art Belongs, Semiotext(e), 2011
    4. & 5.

    In an essay “Description over Plot,” in a book with no pictures, Chris Kraus introduced me to the artist Moyra Davey. Something grabbed me in the way that Kraus described Davey’s work and art practice; the way in which Davey’s own writing intertwined itself through Kraus’ text. I looked up some images of Davey’s work on the Internet, and came across the mailed photographs, a series of pictures she printed on tabloid sized paper and mailed to friends during her travels.

    The photographs have an inner-relatedness and specificity to time and place that comes partially from their mail-processed quality, and partially from their factual, document-like gaze. The methodical and unceremonious folding of the prints into four, the clasping of the sides with green tape, the stamps and registration marks, all create a structured meta-layer, that is both a framing device and a literal connector.

  • Moyra Davey, Trust Me, detail of one of 16 C-prints with tape, postage, ink, Text by Lynne Tillman, 17.5×12” each, 2011. Courtesy of Murray Guy, New York.
    Moyra Davey, Trust Me, 16 C-prints with tape, postage, ink, Text by Lynne Tillman, 17” × 12” each, 2011. Courtesy of Murray Guy, New York.

    Davey’s obsession with photographing the chanced mundane objects around her, along with her interest in cemeteries, give her images, like the inside of the medicine cabinet, a time-capsule feel, as if death was a cozy part of life.

    In Where Art Belongs, Kraus puts forward a direct yet meandering style of writing that sifts through data, ideas and images at an easy yet captivating trot. Every chapter in the book takes a distinct route, allowing for spontaneity, chance and personal matter to seep into the cracks of her writing. Each story introduces a new cast of characters; how and where they made art, and the ways in which art making shaped their lives. From Echo Park’s multi-faceted Tiny Creatures, to the faux-capitalist tactics of the Bernadette Corporation, Kraus is interested in art as something that is cultivated by the community as much as it is by the individual.

  • A Russian Halloween costume

    According to Kraus, art belongs anywhere you have the gull to grab it, but only for a short time, or maybe in spurts, and definitely collectively, never in a vacuum. There’s no rules, the less convention – the better, and with a different sacrifice for each and every supplicant. Art also has to do with travel, sometimes literally, and often through other art; being everywhere and nowhere as an exercise in curious presence. A way of letting things in while learning to let go of things.

    I think about being in many places at once. Who’s done that before? I mean, successfully. Well, Baba Yaga, the famous witch, for one. Flying around in her mortar & pestle, eavesdropping on all our innermost secrets, this hag of Slavic lore, owned some unreal real estate as well. A little izbushka, one that could pass for a traditional Russian log cabin. Except this izbushka had chicken legs, on which it traveled. When it wasn’t going somewhere, or if it was just trying to act normal, it tucked its chicken legs under itself to sit down. The cabin had windows like eyes, a door like a mouth, and could speak and understand human language. Most curiously, though, it was surrounded by glowing, human-skull lanterns, Baba Yaga’s accreting conquests, rattling around the enchanted house as it traveled the world on chicken legs.

    Tatzu Nishi’s Proposed Night View of Discovering Columbus