Monday, June 29, 2009

Quien sabe donde? (1992-1998) - for J.

I love Spanish TV. In fact, I am addicted to it, so much so that I pay good money to have 2 channels -one governmental the other private - in my home here in NYC. My childhood memories are made up of bull fights (seen in black and white because my grandparents were too poor to have color until I was older), lurid R or X-rated films aired after lunch on one of the two TV channels, thanks to the post-Franco destape (unveiling), cheesy game shows like Un, dos, tres that featured what they called "azafatas" the word we use for stewardess, endless news or variety programs led by men with large mustaches and mutton-chops (one had the last name Iñigo), a Wild Kingdom type show where a hunter went around killing animals (that guy had long hair and was called Fuente or Puente, there was national mourning when he died).

In the 1990s, when I was living there on and off, there was a new genre that was a precursor to reality TV. This included the shows led by Isabel Gemio such as "Tengo una carta para ti" or "Sorpresa, sorpresa," where hapless guests cried as they told their stories, and the petite clueless hostess, who made several bloopers per episode, "surprised" them by re-uniting them with relatives or giving them a washing machine. My personal favorite was when, in the days before cameras in computers, Skype, or the internet, a huge deal was to connect a person to their distant loved one via video feed. You could see the face of the guest crumple as they wished instead to see them in person.

Another favorite show whose name I am forgetting at the moment was hosted by a balding leathery dapper old man who, after a guest had been stalked at their workplace or home and dragged to a waiting trailer, asked them about their lost love, estranged partner, subject of distant obsession, etc. Wedged in the narrow trailer, there was always a low little table with two unnaturally neon orange drinks, which no one ever drank. Soon after, the two star-crossed lovers were re-united in the studio, leading to extremely awkward outcomes. There was a whole subset of situations involving abusive husbands (this was shortly before the government launched the public education campaigns to attempt to lower the astronomically high rates of "violencia de genero" or gender violence, which even now leads to a large number of murders, and shamefully lenient judicial sentences, because apparently it's less bad to kill or maim a woman than it is to steal somebody's bike) who get on their knees, plead for forgiveness, and were taken back by their abused wives or girlfriends.

However, probably my all-time favorite was a show called "Quien sabe donde?" or "Who knows where?" in which people seeking lost loved ones came forward. Apparently, the show had a high success rate. But my friend and I, who were roommates on and off, began to feel that there was something particularly Spanish about this particular set of situations. As we de-compressed from hours spent in dusty archives, leafing through crumbling periodicals from the 1930s, day after day looking at images from the Spanish Civil War, the black humor found in the everyday tragedies revealed in the show stood out in sharp relief.

Although sadly quite a few of the cases had to do with kidnappings or murders, we half-jokingly developed a theory that the majority of the people sought in the show disappeared ON PURPOSE. As a portrait of them and their world emerged from the testimonies of those they were surrounded by, we started to identify with the disappeared. The sinister small towns seemingly mired in the 1950s, where goats were still thrown from the bell tower of the church in an annual festival, the toothless, fat bald obviously abusive husband, the domineering mother living vicariously through her (missing) teenage daughter.... I remember one episode where you got to see both sides, because they tracked the latter down. She was in Andorra with a boyfriend, having a blast, and couldn't stand her mother. The mother of course, had painted the relationship as ideal, they were "best friends" and not "mother and daughter." We hypothesized that missing wives were happier in the UK, treated like exotic princesses by husbands who did all the cooking.

But now it occurs to me that perhaps this show struck a subconscious chord with Spaniards, given the fact that, thanks to dictator Francisco Franco, almost everyone (including me) knows someone who fits into the following categories: hundreds of thousands went into exile, never returning, tens of thousands died, tens of thousands lie in mass graves today, children were taken from their parents and their identities lost, others are disappeared and no one knows what happened to them.


Every night before the TVE (Spain's national channel) evening news one of my favorite TV show airs, called GENTE or People it covers the span of human affairs, from lurid to glamorous. Divided into "Sucesos" and "Sociedad" half of it covers things like decapitations (usually in small towns), wife beating, individuals with rare and disfiguring ailments, and horrible crimes. Sociedad deals with elegant parties, flattering interviews, gossip, and product placement. Awkwardly, sometimes a story about the Royal Family must be covered (always first in Sociedad) in contiguity with an extremely unpleasant grisly bit.

Typical segments from the Sucesos section:

Local prelate smuggles hashish to prisoners.

Local festival on hold due to neighbor's allegations that he was gored by a bull during an encierro.

Typical product-placement soft focus celebrity sound bite in the Sociedad section:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson: RIP

This video from 2007 has gone viral and there is good reason. It is the best. thing. ever. Apparently these are 1.500 inmates at a prison in Cebu, Filipinas. I am loving the one in drag who has her moment in the sun early on in the dance routine. This is truly a triumph of the human spirit and I just hope that Michael, may he rest in peace, saw it.

Ugliest Dog Pageant

I simply cannot believe that one of my favorite breeds ever, the Chinese Crested, is considered to be so ugly that it had won until this year for the previous 5.

Thanks to D-Listed, one of my top top top favorite blogs, for posting this video.

40 Years Stonewall

Friday, June 26, 2009

Slave to Grace Jones

Real Republican Candidates of 2012

Keith Olbermann made a brilliant video parody of the 2012 GOP candidate contenders as if they were The Real Housewives of New Jersey

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett RIP

This is a friend from Spain's Farrah doll, I wish I had one.

Icon of my youth Farrah Fawcett, who fought a heroic battle against cancer, has died. RIP

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Miss Puerto Rico Petite Pageant Winner Fired

Pageant contestants must be 5'5" or shorter to compete. Finally! A Pageant I can quality for....but for my advanced age.

My friend was wondering about her unusual name, Keishla. Perhaps her mother enjoyed Quiche Lorraine while pregnant with her? In any event, the Dada poetry o both her moniker and the pageant's name and concept is in keeping with my ongoing and often twinned obsessions that pervade this blog: Pageantry and unusual naming practices in Spanish-speaking countries.

Keishla Villafane Rivera, Petite Beauty Queen, Fired By Puerto Rican Pageant
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DANICA COTO | June 19, 2009 06:08 PM EST |

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The Miss Puerto Rico Petite competition stripped the reigning queen of her crown Friday, accusing the young woman of "intolerable conduct" that included threatening and assaulting pageant staff.

Keishla Villafane Rivera also used "coarse language" and violated the terms of her contract by agreeing to use her image in an advertisement without the consent of the pageant, the organizers said in a statement.

Luis Santiago Productions, the pageant company, said it was obligated to dismiss the 19-year-old queen after she made death threats and assaulted staff members. Its statement provided no details of the purported misconduct.

Villafane could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Maribel Vidal, did not respond to messages left with her office in San Juan.

A pageant spokeswoman, Libni Garcia, declined in an interview with The Associated Press to disclose details about the accusations, saying more information would be released in a legal action the company plans to file against Villafane.

But she said problems between the queen and pageant officials began shortly after the woman won the title last August.

"We were trying to handle this conduct of hers, but it was impossible," Garcia said. "It was constant."

The production company appointed another contestant from last year's pageant, Tamara Perez, to serve the remainder of Villafane's term, which expires Aug. 26 with the next competition.

The contest is open to 16- to 24-year-olds who are 5-foot-5 or shorter. Villafane is 5-feet-2.

Beauty contests are taken very seriously in Puerto Rico, which has had five of its citizens win the Miss Universe contest.

Police last year opened an investigation into allegations that someone sabotaged a beauty contestant's bid for Miss Puerto Rico Universe by dousing her evening gown and bathing suit with pepper spray. The investigation was dropped for lack of sufficient evidence.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Richard Simmons

Aerobics pioneer and camp icon Richard Simmons does a cameo on AC 360 to plug his efforts to bring back Phys Ed to schools and AC lets himself go a little camp by asking Simmons if his top is "Bedazzled" and acknowledges his love of Lady Gaga. At this point, coming out would be anti-climactic.

And speaking of, Puerto Rican boy-band veteran and pop music icon Ricky Martin came out, sort of. He told a reporter that he had neither a man or woman in his life right now. I just hope that he really is bisexual, and not furthering negative stereotypes about so-called bisexuals who are actually 100% gay but refuse to come out that way, thinking keeping the hetero option open is less confrontational.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Death in Venice

Day Three:
My last day at the Biennial was a cross between Primer Impacto and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Mostly Primer Impacto though. This guilty pleasure for any Latino household is a TV show featuring "sucesos" or current events, happenings, that are actually more like gruesome, spectacular, grisly, disgusting, violent, sexy, and out there events. Usually the hosts are buxom women with low-cut shirts and the stories are bloody and involve shootings, gangs, criminals, and the like. My art-viewing day began with crime victims' remains and ended with a near-death from Russian-Roulette, followed up by a glamorous multicultural party on a Venetian canal, to take the edge off the shock.

I think curator of the Mexican Pavilion Cuauhtemoc Medina is very smart. And I am fascinated, and challenged by, Teresa Margolles' work, which to my mind skirts the line between ethical and unethical participation of an artist in an everyday conflict. To what degree is her brave immersion in the world of crime scenes, morgues, poverty, and horror in Mexico City an effort to force us to confront this reality -or to aestheticize it for elite audiences thus creating a spectacle? Her work pushes me literally to the limit- I have had two instances of visceral reactions to it. Once, in the horrible Mexico City group show at PS1, I was too nauseated to enter the room from where steam created from water used to wash corpses in a Mexico City morgue emerged. I became outraged, but this outrage made me want to understand the work more, especially after I met her, and saw some her earlier work with SEMEFO. The other piece was a video taken of her as she washed a dead baby's corpse. As it lay inside of a plastic bin she first gently cleaned it with her hands, then scrubbed it with a hard brush. I wanted to scream but I stayed to the very end. According to the text distributed by the curator, the baby's mother was too poor to bury it, and gave the body to the artist to use in the performance.

In Venice, a beautiful Neo Classical (?) Century palazzo, somewhat the worse for wear, was a decadent contrast to the visceral imagery of a series of her canvases.

One of my biennialista team members knew the owner, apparently the family wants to restore the building, but for Medina, its faded grandeur was perfect just the way it was. Consisting of canvases (sheets?) painted with blood taken from crime scenes, strung up like yesterday's laundry in various rooms, the sepia colored tones, layered and textured, reminded me of Ad Reinhardt or Mark Rothko. It looks monochrome but looking longer and more carefully rewards you with the revelation that there are densities of light, thickness, and color. Like a series of Veronica's shrouds, the blood-stained sheets appeared in various rooms, while others remained empty, delicate flower patterned panels, mirrors, and plaster exposed.

In one room, a mop and pail stood, and a sepia stain pooled on one side. In another room, a woman mopped the floor with the viscous liquid.

One of the red-stained cloths fluttered outside a window, a flag in place of the Mexican one.

In yet another room, a series of other canvases extended in a row, here the text said that the pigment was from mud found beneath corpses.

My friend was underwhelmed, she felt this was creating something beautiful and inscrutable and that one needed to know the artists' trajectory and/or read the explanatory texts to get the full picture. It was hard for me to say because of course I came to the work with just such information. I wanted to think that looking alone would suggest blood and that the room with the pool and mop would also further that association, that the shapes on the muddy canvases would remind one of the outlines of a human body, like the black contours that are used to train you to shoot someone with a gun. Even if one did not get those associations, is it enough to enjoy looking at the color, texture, roughness of the support, contrast between delicate spaces and raw pictures? We argued all the way from St. Mark's to the Arsenale, stopping to shop for handmade books, olive bread, croissants, and pannini.

At this point we split up and I heroically finished the main exhibition. But what I really wanted to do was go to the Arsenale Novissimo to see the Fear Society group show, organized by the city of Murcia as a preview of the upcoming Manifesta which will be held in the region. I was especially looking forward to the show because one of my favorite artists, Fernando Bryce, was in it. He showed his latest series of drawings "Die Welt" - the world. Amusingly coincident with Birnbaum's title, the work actually demonstrated the kind of thing the curator could have selected, which would have complicated ideas like international links, networks, identities, and histories. Bryce constructs new archives through laborious processes of historical and visual research, reproducing pages and selections from pamphlets, advertisements, newspapers, political propaganda, or illustrated magazines. Through his editing he creates a new archive in which connections between historical events are underscored. In this series, which fits in to his larger body of work, in which he has traced the historical development of modern colonial expansion through its current consequences such as the war in Irak, he reproduces newspaper and magazine covers from Germany, Paris, and Peru, focusing on key historical dates.

Typically, the small distance -less than 5 minutes- to get across from the Arsenale to the new Arsenale (a much more spectacular space for exhibitions, different shades of brick, arches, a lot of natural light, immensely high ceilings, and much of it was empty!) had to be traversed by a small power boat that could hold just 25 people. You stood in a line for an average of a half hour. Only at the end of the day did they get a larger boat from somewhere, not as big as a vaporetto, but at least able to hold about 50 people or so.

In any event, I was eager to arrive so as not to miss the performance by Tania Brugera.

Brugera's performance consisted of her unpacking the gun, loading it with a bullet, holding it to her head, pulling the trigger. Then she launched into a didactic, pedantic monotone lecture about the role of the artist in society, with the usual platitudes about avoiding the capitalist market, being engaged with real world politics, and passing the baton to everyday people rather than remaining in the elite world of art. Meanwhile, the beginning referred to earlier events as if they were current which had to do with the fact that she'd presented the event in France in March and had forgotten to edit this bit out. I found it ironic that she was presenting this to an elite artworld audience of biennialistas in Venice but my friend, editor of a major art publication, said that she did not think Brugera meant it in that tone. At two other times she pulled the trigger and at the end, she shot a bullet in the air.

Here you see Brugera being interviewed by a journalist beside part of Bryce's work. She claimed both after the performance during the question and answer, and to the journalist, that there was a real bullet in the gun.

So a day that began with crime victims' blood turned into pigment, ended with an artist's "Auto-Sabotage." And a Biennial Via Crucis that began with a Chinese promotion of 8 museums devoted to contemporary art masters, continued with another boat crossing to an unusual location - the amazing Arsenale Novissimo - to promote Manifesta in an off the beaten track Spanish site.

The grand finale was a party to launch - on a ferry - a Biennial in HK. Thanks to my glamorous Italian biennalista we had invites to a swank party to launch a Hong Kong Shenzen Architecture Biennial. Bellinis, wine, Italian nosh, fashionistas, starcurator Ho Hanru, starchitect Rem Koolhass (and his fabulously dressed wife, sporting another custom made Dutch wax cloth African print blouse), and handsome Italians held court. Some of my party managed to avoid the dramatic high water that flooded San Marco and Rialto, as we departed for the tranquil timeless and stately elegance of Vicenza. But that is another story.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

World Wide Web

Day Two, continued:

Padiglioni de Italia, Giardini:

Although as I mentioned before, I found the "It's a Small World, After All" platitudes of the main thematic show underwhelming, I did like a number of the works. The broad groupings I noted were:

Gego meets Buckminster Fuller grids & rhizomes, small tchotchke assemblages (yarn, toys, ceramics, trash, etc.), and Concrete & Neo Concrete meets monochromes.

Here are some of my top works:
Tomas Saraceno - Gego's Reticularea meets Buckminster Fuller, you could walk through this enveloping web, it was lovely, disorienting, a failure of the web, a spatial representation of its disorienting and productive unforseen paths of possibilities.

Susan Hefuna - Gego meets Mona Hatoum: Grids of drawings of meandering, chaotic grids and webs. Some included labor-intensive passages where the drawn lines were enhanced by sewn-on yarn or string.

I have to acknowledge that the curator showed quite a few artists that I was unfamiliar with, from countries all over the world. But over all, I was not engaged either by the curatorial theme or by much of the work.

Roberto Cuoghi's installation in a garden featuring bamboo and other Asian plants and panels with speakers airing what sounded like Chinese Opera but was a 1930s Shanghai pop song sung in the manner of the classical form made all of my biennialista team long to linger, but the long march for art had to go on.

The Giardini Pavilions:

In the Russian Pavilion there was a fabulous installation by Alexei Hallima consisting of a room that was all white until you were surrounded by a projection of an image of a crowd - a soccer match? a political demonstration? and the deafening roar of the mob. The image was projected in black light, and I found the space sinister and hypnotic, I stayed for a few rounds.

Quite a few of the pavilions were closed, including the USA, France, UK, and Germany, thus freeing me from having to see Bruce Nauman. I realize that I could be fired for admitting this, but frankly I was more interested in the Mexican Pavilion. (more on that later)

Copito de Nieve, Barcelona's iconic primate

Feeling obligated by my Spanish citizenship to stop by our pavilion, I was appalled by the kitsch inside. When did Miquel Barcelo become the court painter of Spain? I was buffeted by a feeling of deja vous (not in a good way), remembering my student days in the 1980s, when a huge viscous rendering of a paella lorded over the entryway of Madrid's defunct Museum of Spanish Contemporary Art. Were we back in the time of the Movida? Why is Miguel Zugaza commissioning Barcelo to make works at the Prado, as if he were a latter-day Picasso. Are there no contemporary Spanish artists? Paintings of a white monkey from Barcelona's zoo, thickly impastoed mural sized canvases evoking the caves of Altamira and Cy Twombly's bloated gestural macho Eurocentric imperial nostalgia completed the ensemble.

Hitting a literal brick wall, we headed to the Arsenale.


Lygia Pape appeared twice, once in the Giardini, her Book of Creation was paired with a series of small monochrome paintings by Blinky Palermo, a pairing evoking one suggested by Lynn Zelevansky in her "Beyond Geometry" show at LACMA several years ago. And a breathtaking room installation made of wire also by Pape, that was practically impossible to photograph because the room was pitch dark and the wires glistened.

Gonkar Gyatso's works were invented charts and graphs having to do with tracking the relationship between Tibet and China (the artist is from Tibet), with beautifully intricate drawings.

Also in the Arsenale was the Latin American Pavilion - Instituto Italo Latinoamericano. My favorite work there was by Alberto Bayara, "Expedicion Venecia," an amusing send up of European ethnographic displays, as if Venice's crafts were exhibited in a anthropology museum.

Just like in 2007, when they first had their own pavilion, the PRC was at the Arsenale. I loved the branching floor installation on the grounds outside, made up of dominos, by Qui Zhijie.

It's a Small World, After All: Biennial Feel-good Branding

Day two:
After a stroll through Venice and a late night dinner with our international crew, we woke up with renewed energy to head over to the Giardini, the Epcot Center of the artworld. Dotted with simulacra of national architecture throughout large gardens, lined up like prefab homes in a suburban development. Some Modernist, others MacMansion-like (such as the hideous US pavilion, which I compared 2 years ago to a rest stop near Maryland/Virginia/Washington DC along US 75 meant to evoke Colonial architecture) , the pavilions competed for our attention like eager Miss Universe contestants.

In lieu of national costumes, we get the pavilion totebags. Each time we go, my friend and I award imaginary prizes for the best ones. This year, top prize went to newcomer United Arab Emirates, with runner-up People's Republic of China also following the model of bilingual English-national language, featuring a catchy self-help/Relational Aesthetics slogan and beautiful typography:

UAE: It's not you, it's me - Dysfunctional Relational Aesthetics meets US Self-Help rhetoric?

PRC: You and me, forget about the 20th anniversary of Tianamen Square?

We began with the central theme exhibition curated by Daniel Birnbaum "Making Worlds." Branded to evoke globalization (it reminded me of the Disney ride "It's a Small World After All"), the title was written in English, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Arabic. This nod was just for show's posters and handout covers, the rest of the texts and wall labels were only in the first two languages. The repertoire of abstract shapes was intended to remind of us the universal language of art, the comprehensibility of abstract forms, and the use of such components in flags all over the world. Really? No one had never thought of this?

Selection of the "It's a Small World" ride at Disney World. The argument behind the ride is that the world is global, and similar, at once. They were so avant-garde! The finale is really sinister, because it is a melange of little dancing dolls from each of the contients/countries all singing in unison, and they all look WHITE.

The "argument" only went downhill from there - formalist, banal, platitudinous.

The exhibition contrasted dramatically with Rob Storr's much more compelling offering of two years before: few videos, a lot of painting and drawing, a few installations, and no politics. Although as Jerry Salz said, two years ago it was a bit of the "curator as anchorman" - the horrific news of the world passing by like the disjointed CNN news ticker, at least it featured ideas, and works that were interesting at the levels of form and content. I literally counted about a dozen works that I liked total.

There were recurring types of images: geometric abstraction, webs and grids, installations featuring iconic images or little assemblages of tchotchkes - often evoking trash, mass culture, or craft - that made reference to self-contained universes, still others included books or pages from books.

And speaking of universal languages, let's talk about my favorite one, fashion. As is usual at these artsy fashionista gatherings, there was a lot of black. But I saw a lot more flowery and geometric prints with VERY short skirs (the rich collectors or high level museum people as usual rocked the classic Pucci garments, I seethed in envy). The big surprise was the proliferation of metallic sandals. I set the precedent two years ago with my silver platforms. In any event, I was shocked to see that a Puerto Rican neutral would find such a warm reception with the pretentious art crowd. Another notable element was the vertiginous high heels worn by many women. How they managed to navigate the rocky, sandy, grassy terrain of the Giardini and Arsenale, get in and out of vaporetti, and walk the long distance, often up and down bridges, often after several Bellinis served at the openings all over Venice is a mystery to me. But props to them. The men tended to wear either suits or the Euro trash standard of jeans, tailored shirts, and English cut blazers, with driving loafers (sockless) or nice English looking oxford shoes. Of course there were the requisite designer bags, one or two Hermes Birkins, and always the accessory of the status tote bag (most popular by far was the UAE model).

My friends -male and female- and I opted for a more international feel, mostly Dutch wax cloth prints from Senegal, Mali, and Cote d'Ivoire. We had some custom-made dresses, including one with a pattern honoring President Obama -- that was quite a hit with jaded international Biennialistas, who stopped to ask to take photographs. We met one other woman also sporting the elegant African fabrics and she turned out to be starchitect Rem Koolhas's wife!

The Venice Biennial is just like Miss Universe


For the second time I was lucky enough to get invites to the preview of the Venice Biennial. The Long March for Art, meeting place for Euro trash, reporters, and biennialistas from all over the world was as much of a marathon as I had managed to forget. (I have been told that women have children more than once because they conveniently forget what labor is like, this is a bit how the Biennial works) This time, I'd gone into training - my building's elevator was broken, so I sprinted up the stairs, I hit the gym, and I went on a diet. And I was ready for any eventuality - held hostage by crappy concessions beset by huge lines, much like at Disney World, I packed almonds, anticipating any eventuality, I had: Neosporin, Advil, sun block, a sweater, an umbrella, and all were used by my international biennialista team at one point.

Day one:
After an almost 9 hour flight filled with art world luminaries - one noted director wore what I can only describe as a blue flowered robe akin to something my abuela would wear around the house, over her clothes - their mostly black garb protruding like a pile of carbon from the crowd of wide-eyed tourists in sports themed sweatshirts or Juicy Couture terry-cloth ensembles, I landed in Venice, relatively well-rested. The ATV bus to vaporetto gauntlet went surprisingly well, and my maleta arrived promptly. I felt guilty for saying that next to Italy, Spain was Switzerland. But soon, events would prove my catty comparison right! Our hotel, also biennialista filled, was an Augustinian priest run dormitory for students. Spartan monk's cell type rooms held a Byzantine-ish crucifix on one wall. Very appropriate in a way given the Via Crucis of art that we were embarking on.

A refreshing mid-morning breakfast at Campo Santo Stefano, where I observed older, leathery Italian ladies with unnatural shades of yellow hair, Prada or Gucci sunglasses the size of factory goggles, and suave Italian men wearing English cut linen blazers and cuff links (!), I met my biennialista veteran and extremely glamourous Italian friend, who took me to a super VIP press conference and opening of an exhibition called "A Gift to Marco Polo." Organized in conjunction with the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, the show was at a remote island called San Servolo, and the event began with a 2 hour long press conference in Chinese and Italian.

The eight Chinese luminaries whose work sells for over one million US dollars were being feted at this event. It turned out to be a promotion for the 8 museums being dedicated to each of them. This was the first of several events I saw that had to do with launches of museums or exhibitions outside of Italy that used Venice as a platform. Many platitudes about the greatness of China's national artists, the appropriateness of returning the gift that Marco Polo had made to China by displaying China's great art in Venice, and the need to rebut stereotypes that prevail in the West ensued. Each time an artist or functionary spoke, there was applause, several of the artists wore sunglasses, one of them, Zhang Peili (pictured, far right), literally sank under the table in frustration at the ridiculous nature of the comments. Afterwards, crowds of young girls flocked to the artists, asking for autographs. Some of the artists dramatically changed the style and subject matter of their work - from sinister smiling crowds or cynical comments on the convergence between capitalist advertising and Communist propaganda, to work evoking Chinese landscape painting, pottery, and dynastic architecture.

Zhang Peili's work was by far the best. Comprised of an inflatable San Marco tower that rose and fell, it was accompanied by a photo in a lightbox, that at first glance depicted the iconic Venetian Piazza. On closer inspection, one saw a series of odd details - a modern access bridge, a generic building on the far right featuring Chinese characters. This turned out to be a replica of the Piazza created in China by real estate developers. An ironic commentary on the reciprocal commercial relations between Italy and China - historic and contemporary, and simultaneously on the current Chinese economy, the real estate magnates building a museum that would enshrine his own work as a "Master," (the audience kept addressing him and the other artists using this loaded term), he constructed an ironically humorous work.

The artist observing his tower in its fully erect state.

The tower, collapsed and deflated.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Miss Tiffanny Universe, 2009

Tres años sin Rocio Jurado

It's the third-year anniversary of the death of my favorite "flamenco/copla/bolero" singer, the camp icon known as La mas grande who I write about here often. I was there and participated in what I experienced as a fascinating foray into the world of Spanish paparazzi, blending into the crowd of print and television reporters at her funeral, almost getting crushed in the chaos in the process. But it was worth it! The roll call of outrageous B-list celebrities in that crowd meant that for the first time, I saw the people I watch on TV and read about in HOLA in the flesh, including faded former international movie star, Sara Montiel. I still plan to write an academic article about the (sinister) religious and polical aspects of the cult of personality around this entertainer, which are just priceless.