Thursday, July 22, 2010

Donald Judd, 1984, complains....

"I plan to lambast art critics later, but want to say here that one reason art criticism is so bad and irrelevant is that it is extremely badly paid. Now and then someone sensible comes along, but it is soon gone, while permanently there are Barbara Rose and Hilton Kramer, two critics whose mediocrity I'm sufficiently sure of to mention. Art criticism could be a necessary and interesting activity; for this there must be professional critics with integrity. It takes at least a month to write a good article for an art magazine, for which, I think, the critic gets around five hundred dollars, which multiplies to $6,000 a year, $8,000 if they moonlight." -- Donald Judd

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Failed Fashionista No. 4 (working-class)


While at the showroom of Vladimir Karaleev the other day, I asked him if he named his wittingly ripped-torn-shorn pieces. The Andy, the Mickey, the Sue? (Thanks, Sam!) The tug? The yank? But wait, what’s Karaleev’s trick? How does he make a rip look romantic? How does he make it look Parisienne and not partisan New Jersey? It made me begin to think of the language used to describe so many of this year’s favorites.

Jersey, it would seem, has taken over the scene. Of course, it’s better when it’s not just jersey, but “sheer” jersey. Or if it has an uneven hem (bad seamstress) or side vents (‘cause when you’re working it can get hot). Perhaps it’s an indicator of the “democratization” of fashion jargon. In fact, many of the recent season’s fabrics and cuts have a direct relationship to the parlance of class conflict. What we are witnessing is a subtle Bruce Springsteenization of the fashion world. It’s a way of getting a little closer to the People by wearing working-class gear, cargo pants or “distressed” leather. (Though “distressed” does sound rather Jane Austen in comparison to the ordinary “stress” of Charles Dickens.) The favored jumpsuit (or, fully ironic, playsuit) is not a far cry from a gas station attendant’s overall.

And almost everything has to be “oversized” which made me refer to a recent shopping trip as an exercise in buying potato sacks with belts. Why diet anymore if there are no zippers or seams to control our cravings for cookies? You have to be rich to wear these things. Rich people eat cookies and pay someone to vacuum out the fat out of their stubby knees.

And those purposeful wrinkles, those ordinary indicators of a pleb, what are they called? “Ruched” indicates a puckering of fabric that looks like the ruffled seam of a lettuce leaf. “Let them eat cake,” cried Marie Antoinette, and in this case, I decry, Let them eat lettuce! Give me your tired, your poor, your Salad days, so that we working plebs can find a better way of fitting into our slouchy pants. Either way you look at it, fashion jargon seems to compensate for the guilt one might feel in a world strangely absent class conflict.

-- April Lamm, 11 July 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Anarchist Journalist

Friday, February 19, 2010

on NPR!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Failed Fashionista No. 3 (Watch Out)

Watch Out
By April Lamm

What could be sexier than sporting an accessoire still spotted on the wrists of Hungarian businessmen in mauve? I’m talking about the digital watch. Trendsetters could be seen sporting them years ago –see Prada’s brown Bakelite version, Spring 2005 -- but we have yet to witness the blockbuster comeback of the digital watch.

In the era of the handheld databank gizmo and its accompanying motion – the two-finger swoop – wearing a watch is like wearing a monocle. But the digital watch is what makes others watch you. It sets you apart from the complicated crowd of swoopers with apps. You know where the next bookstore is because a friend told you. Leave your handy cell behind. It will only make you late. And let this be a plea for the importance of being on time.

I remember the heyday of the digital watch, how awed we were that we could tell time, the exact time, in the dark. The favored form was a flattened octagon, quasi-Buck Minister Fuller prêt-a-porter, solar powered, and if you were lucky it was equipped with a melody to sound the alarm. It was shock resistant and perhaps even featured a world map (!). Even the names were sexy: G-shock sounded like an overheated G-spot; Texas Instruments, like a handsome nerdy scientist; Citizen bore an air of timeless cosmopolitanism, and Seiko was the least sexy of the lot, but also unknowingly my very first Japanese word – which translates into either “exquisite,” “minute,” or “success.” Knowing that now makes the phrase “I like your Seiko” a very nice one indeed.

Three thirty-three. The digital watch era also marked the time when we began to speak outside of the rounded 10s or more exact 5s, the squareness of a half past, quarter past, quarter til. Four twelve: time began to sound like a hotel room. Digital time made us sound anal to be sure, brutally truthful, seemingly less subjective, at times, conveying the feeling of being right (and at worst besserwisserisch).

I happened upon a Tiffany ad in an old issue of The New Yorker featuring their line of digital watches from 1975 called the Concord. The watches had been arranged on the page in a Boogie-Woogie Mondrian grid against an all red background. A Bermuda triangle of speed, London, Paris, New York, the Concord, the digital Concord, let it comeback, please.


Failed Fashionista No. 2 (Recession Wear: Perks of the Nudes)

Wasting Away – or rather, Waist, go away! – in Repression Era Wear
By April Lamm

So there’s wasted and there’s waisted, and I cannot get enough of the high-waisted looks from those shops of others’ “waste.” I’m shopping primarily secondhand these days and what could be less wasteful and more ecologically sound than hoarding what would only fill the landfill. Shopping for high-waisted pants, you see, represents the ultimate optimism and the ultimate do-gooding. What fashion signaled the end of the Great Depression? The high-waisted roaring 40s. What’s more, you don’t have to do credit crunches to fit into them. That is, your core bank account – the piggy bank – supports your addiction to these $3.99 Goodwill goodies.

Ok, so truth be told, the idea of wearing recycled pants gives me the heebeegeebees. And though it’s never been a street name that’s sounded anything less than mangy, my pant collection is pure high street, Mulackstrasse. It’s what I pair up with them that’s yesterday’s goods. Recently, I found three “new” tops in my new favorite shops, used, yes, vintage, no. Silk-imitation polyester tops, wash and go – at the risk of sounding like a shampoo commercial, we’re talking about more time for travel and leisure. RTW, no ifs, ands, or buts, and if someone backs into you and your cocktail, you can always convert the goodwill shirt into a holy holed Balmain by cutting the stain out. These tops deviate from the normal button-up with flattering pleats at the collar bones and blousy arms cinched at the wrist. No removal of the shoulder pads necessary, though I’m still unsure of the comeback of the Pad. All three are in hues of nude, and though it’s tempting to say that nude is the new black, it’s not. Black is the new black, red is the new black, and nude is just an interesting side dish I’ll never tire of, like mashed sweet potatoes. Furthermore, this rosy nude evokes the era of taupe. I don’t mean to digress into a diatribe on color in the midst of my push for recession-wear, but… remember that color? It’s not one of your 64 crayons, but connotes rather the tone of a lady who means business, Rosie the Riveter business. Roll-up-your-sleeves business, yes, but just let them blush to think that you’re nude while you’re doing it.


Failed Fashionista No. 1 (Immortal Spandex)

Immortal Spandex

Spandex is immortal. I know it. I speak from a place of wisdom, from the Planet of the Unitarded. (For earthlings unfamiliar with this futuristic state of mind, think of the tortuous medieval costume once known as a pee-prohibitor.)

With that image in mind, let us argue the contrary to prove the point: if spandex were mortal, it would be found in mounds of those musty depositories of the faded unwanted, the garment industry’s graveyard, the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. But contrary to what you might conjecture, spandex is conspicuously missing from any of these second-hand shops on Earth. Of late, in order to cope with the discrepancies between my addiction to more and the crisis of less, I began to do what I did so often in the 80s: thrift. Hence, after much field research, I have come to the conclusion that every lycra-legged lady out there is hogging their old spandex. Give ‘em up, I say, I want some hand-me-down spandex! Vintage spandex, what could be better?

I jest, of course.

Sure, it’s chemical, artificial, made mostly of polyurethane, which sounds like something you do to your floors to make them shiny. Polyurethane used to be used as an anesthetic, numbing any feelings you might have. It clads the hard-bodied bottoms of superheroes galore, sure, but on the other hand, it also sounds highly flammable.

Let’s face it. Shopping for pants is a form of mental torture. On top, one remains relatively uniform. Tit size remains a constant where as the bottom is an elastic that expands with the increasingly lost resistance to every cookie that crosses your path. Our nether regions are non-heroic.

Historically, the original era of spandex culminated with the original era of disco, that is, the era when we used to dance … a lot. In the 1970s, Patricia Fields claims to have invented the modern day legging as we know and love it today. And while it might have been Jane Fonda who transformed the verb “workout” into a noun in 1982, contrary to my memory, Fonda was not wearing the shiny spandex I was seeking, but rather a dull striped cottony variation thereof. The disco roller rink muse Olivia Newton John wasn’t wearing it either in Xanadu in 1980, but she did wear it in her bad girl gear in the culminating scene of Grease back in 1978. In her black shiny spandex, she morphed from a conservative Pink Lady into a slinky one dipped in ink. That’s how she got her guy.

There’s just something irresistible about a material that is simultaneously historic and of the hereafter. And it is one of the few items where you can reliably order a generic subjective S-M-L-XL. Spandex is, or so I learned, a material that stretches 500 times its “relaxed state.” No stress. It’s not snake proof, though. But on the other hand, it’s a good retainer of heat.

My own personally hogged spandex collection was once reserved for the annual dance recital. In my jazz flats, leggings and matching spandex silver sequined bandeau, I performed on a stage for a crowd of 50 mothers, and came as close as I’ll ever come to becoming Madonna. Earth, Wind, and Fire and … spandex, immortal spandex: since the discovery of sugar, no better material had ever been found.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Confederacy of Delirium: Dubai Düsseldorf

Life in Dubai Düsseldorf: a Confederacy of Delirium

(a version of this was published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 237)

It would seem that not even cities can remain single these days without someone trying to partner them up. Cities need twins as much as political parties need coalitions. Neither an example of town twinning nor sister cities, the proposed “Confederation of Dubai Düsseldorf” is as practical a proposal as the partnering planets. As of the autumn of 2009, a few artifacts from the actual imagineered merger of two cities, like two private corporations, have been pinned to the walls of the Kunstverein in Düsseldorf. This Confederation “DD” has been assigned its own flag, currency, and national costume. Art has all but been eliminated with the exception of two paintings and a sculpture, or rather an “it,” that is, a decaying “Entity” which bears a strange resemblance to a dried up orange under a glass vitrine. The architectural model of the twin art museums rises above the Rhine mirroring the form of its cooler underground double, an elaborate vault buried (quite literally) in the sands of Dubai. But the ultimate symbol for this ill-fated phantom marriage of two disparate cities is manifest by the now-traditional way of giving a city a recognizable face: that is, by building a recognizable building. It has been proposed that each of the former “Twin Towers” of New York, relics of vertical civilization history, be reconstructed, one in each town, as the “Friendship Towers.” A short Blade Runner-esque film poses the demise of the destruction of Tower East, that is, the one in Dubai.

The idea of Dubai Düsseldorf is part fiction, part real. Indeed, it stems from the very real kinship that began between Düsseldorf’s medical establishment and the Sheikhdom’s family’s medical needs and later culminated, apparently, in 2007 when Dubai's Transportation Authority, Matter Al Tayer, proclaimed: "I love Düsseldorf. It's my favorite city!” As he was referring to the bike lanes and pedestrian zones, he might have said the same of Amsterdam or Muenster.

It sounds strange coming from one of the few citizens of what urban critic Mike Davis once referred to as “Milton Friedman’s Beach Club: free enterprise, no taxes, no trade unions, no elections,” hence, no protest, no dissention. Dubai is the land of “supreme lifestyle” and superlatives in general: the soon-to-be tallest skyscraper, the largest replica of the world map in sand, the longest fully automated (i.e., driverless) metro, the most expensive horse race, the most most [sic] expensive hotels, and, at an estimated 1%, the tiniest “local” population. Dubai, that is, is a city of working nomads. Home to most is elsewhere.

I spent three hours on a grey Sunday afternoon soaking up the charms of Dubai’s phantom partner Düsseldorf, in search of what the locals (that is, citizens) love most. A mini-marathon had replaced the conspicuous consumption of the Kö – but the shops were closed anyway, so I was forced to one of life’s more anachronistic pleasures, what the French refer to as léche-vitrine, or “window licking.” When I asked people on the street what I should see, the unanimous reply was surprisingly “The Rhine!” And so I made my way to the river and what I found was a series of shoreside restaurants, each with its own variation of under 10 euro platters, schnitzel and French fries. Meandering through the streets of the old city, I encountered the most dire example of public art I have ever seen. It was called “Auseinandersetzung,” that very German word for which an English equivalent is lacking. Depicted were two life-sized derelict men, one fat, the other thin, cast in bronze. They wore the desolate faces of the Burghers of Calais. Their gaze lacked intensity: perhaps their intelligently intense argument, their “Auseinandersetzung” had reached the point of looping, of missing the point altogether.

My parting glance of Düsseldorf involved three grumpy (I guessed) octogenarians yelling at each other on one of the more intimate of the famed shopping streets. Two against one: the pair of older ladies were barking at a lonely one who was feeding the pigeons in front of Zara. “You can’t do that!” “I know, I know, but the bread was already in the street and they would have eaten it anyway.” “But you cannot do that!” “I know, but I’m doing it anyway!” “But you cannot do that!” They continued this loop until distance rendered them mute. If this protest in defense of pigeon feeding is any indication of what one can and (likewise) should not do in the spirit of a “supreme lifestyle,” then by all means.

April Elizabeth Lamm

“Dubai Düsseldorf,” 28 August – 8 November 2009, at the Kunstverein Düsseldorf, with Ayzit Bostan, Antje Majewski, Markus Miessen, Eva Munz, Ralf Pflugfelder, Z.A.K., and Ingo Niermann with Peter Maximowitsch and Stephan Trüby