“Gallerists! Curators! Where are you?? I’m here!! I’m ready!!” With an extreme sense of hysteria, faith in God, and nothing to lose, I ran up and down the hallway of my graduate building yelling those words. It was this past April when I had my final MFA Open Studio event and I was hoping to get discovered and transformed into an overnight successful gallery artist with a spot in next year’s second New Museum triennial for emerging artists in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Now, eight months later, out of school and unemployed, I’m hypnotized into a trance as I sand some wood in a parking lot of a warehouse, for a sculpture that will be exhibited in my first ever solo show, opening in exactly 16 days. The over-confident trickster grad kid has left the building and all that remains is a scared, confused, and lost dude trying to make sense of his reality and praying that what he’s creating is something remotely close to Art.
I grab another piece of wood and try really hard to be present in this moment. I need to sand this wood and prime it before the sun goes down and the temperature drops and dew starts to collect on the surface of these sculptures. My former grad classmate is assisting me on this project and I can’t help but be thankful that I met him at school and I quietly wonder what his aspirations are and what he hopes to do after he graduates in May. Is he like me–does he think about the whole gallery thing? Are there are a lot of teenagers out there that hope to show work in a gallery one day? Is that a contemporary daydream? We all know that there are children hoping to one day win American Idol or America’s Next Top Model, but what about Work of Art: The Next Great Artist? Who are these people that end up representing different countries at the Venice Biennale? I mean, someone has to fill those artsy roles, why can’t it be me?
“Jeffrey,” I tell myself, “please, focus on the wood!” I inspect the wood for any imperfections that I could sand away. For my show, I need to create a new body of work that has never been seen before. In grad school, presenting new work every five weeks for a critique was a piece of cake, so much so that during my Intermediate Review, my mentor professor asked me to consider why my production was so manic. To this day, I don’t know if I ever stopped long enough to really contemplate the answer. I’m trying to, right now, during this monotonous process of smoothing out a piece of kiln-dried redwood, but I can’t stop my catastrophic thoughts: will I finish on time, will people like it, will anyone review it, what do I do after the show, should I move to New York, does my future husband live there?
As the temperature quickly drops below 50, I move the sculptures inside the warehouse and I wonder where my grad kid confidence went. It just disappeared! It just, poof, went away. I used to bang out work and walk into critiques with an obvious excitement to show new work, and now, I just want to install my work in the gallery and run far away until my dealer gives me the thumbs up that it’s okay, or the thumbs down that I wasted his time. In the end, this is what I wanted and this is why I went to grad school, and now I have to deal with the reality I signed up for. Geez, I wish I had just gone to grad school to find myself! Just kidding.
The other week, my non-sexual digital boyfriend’s laptop crashed. Our nightly online video chats were reduced to boring phone conversations. He said he lost years of writing: pages of journaling, ideas for memoirs, and random personal quotes that would one day make it into an inspirational coffee table book. As I browsed through my own external hard drive (having learned my lesson to back-up everything from a terrible computer crash in 2007) I noticed how borderline-obsessive I was about organization. Most importantly, I noticed how masochistic I was to keep track of every juried art competition I’ve ever entered in the last decade, most of which I failed to successfully achieve.
After getting my BFA in 2005, I needed some way to get my artwork out there. “Did you apply” seemed to be the catch phrase with my peers, a kind of reminder of rigorous academic training in the fine arts. Creating artwork was one-third of the entire artistic process—the other two-thirds consumed by social networking and dreaded paperwork. Every week I stumbled upon a new art website with a new mission to bring you the newest calls for artwork. I manically applied to everything and anything, free or pay-to-play, and juried by anyone from the senior curator of X museum to a nobody with some extra time and money to make artists’ lives a living hell.
As soon as I saw an open call, I was ready to apply. I have a root folder in my external hard drive that has my artist’s statement, CV, biography, and title list ready to E-mail. I even have a fabulous picture of each and every single one of my artworks at a max size of 1000 pixels—but it’s the selection of the work that becomes the hardest part. The Present Group wants objects, Video DUMBO wants moving images, GLAAD wants queer themes, Avant Gaurdian wants fashion photography, Skowhegan wants this, Artists Wanted wants that, Future Generation wants this, 3rd Ward wants that…. Not only am I applying for group shows, I’m applying for opportunities to get myself out there. I’ll do anything! I’ll even try out for reality television! I want to express myself outside the walls of my studio. Am I sick or just a product of contemporary culture?
This year alone, I’ve sent out material for consideration to twenty-one calls. It’s a roller coaster ride with everything in life, and these applications have been no different. I participated in the highly controversial ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan after an application fee of $50. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my artistic career thus far. Locally, I applied to multiple group shows at Southern Exposure and Root Division, and wasn’t selected for any. On a more depressing level, I applied to a free and all-inclusive Slide Slam show for graduate and recent graduate students in the Bay Area at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts—yes, everyone was accepted—and still managed to be omitted from the final presentation. Going back up the roller coaster earlier this month, I was a finalist for the inaugural Asian Contemporary Arts Consortium Writing Fellowship.
I’m tired of applying for everything but it’s already become second nature. I’m desensitized to rejection E-mails but I look forward to reading how professionals deliver “unfortunate” news, and of course, the acceptance E-mail every once in a while. At this point, I don’t even know what I’ve applied for or how many baskets I’ve put my eggs in until I’m contacted that “no, you suck,” or “yes, you’re in,” or my NSD boyfriend reminds me that I save everything. I don’t really pay-to-play anymore, unless the jury looks swell or the online buzz for the competition seems worth it. And I definitely stay clear of any website that looks super shady—terrible scrolls bars, icky font, no Facebook link, etc. I’ll leave you with this anecdote: the other week, I got a call from a casting director of a reality show, saying that she had saved my application from a few years ago, and that I might be perfect for a show coming out next summer. I don’t know if I’m ready for that, but you know what? Yes, I Did Apply.
I wake up surprisingly refreshed this morning with enough time to make my usual breakfast, browse the Internet, and watch Academy Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg moderate the ladies on The View. Every morning I fry three pieces of bacon and one egg and put it on a baked cinnamon-raisin English muffin. I couple it with a giant glass of orange juice with pulp, which my best friend says, “is a meal in itself.” Whoopi is hilarious and I love her view but the news is already too “yesterday” for me as I’m on Pacific Standard Time and anything noteworthy has already been highlighted on the entertainment blogs I read while my bacon is frying.
After breakfast, with the television off, the dishes clean, and my tummy full, I turn on some streaming progressive trance music and hit the Web for a job hunt. Every morning I try to find a few companies to send my resume to. The Bay Area is saturated with start-up companies, so I tend to look for community manager positions. With Facebook and Twitter giving users access to praise, and the ability to criticize and question any product with the ease and grace of an angry twelve-year-old, many companies have hired social media gurus to act like really smart babysitters. When I lived in Bushwick, Brooklyn, I took headshots and made websites for actors. There aren’t many actors in San Francisco, period, so my photography and design skill-set has been pushed aside so that I could focus on honing my social media skill-set. Plus, I got held up at knifepoint outside my apartment this summer and the dude took my camera, so I can’t do that for a while anyway.
After my job hunt, it’s studio time. It’s basically time for another meal, so I make some ramen noodles and go back to surfing the Web. As of late, I’ve been fixated on Peace Poles—tall skinny wooden posts with the inscription “May Peace Prevail on Earth” planted outside churches, homes, or sites of recent conflict—so I do some research on the objects. For me, everything religious has a gay twist to it, so the aesthetic of the pointy wooden post nudges me to research The Herndon Climb. At the US Naval Academy in Annapolis there stands a 21-foot grey obelisk called the Herndon Monument which is the site of year-end event known as The Herndon Climb. One thousand young academy plebes attempt to climb the lard-covered monument to replace a plebe hat sitting atop it with an upperclassman’s hat. By the end of the two-hour-ish event, the scene formally looks like last call at a gay dance club—shirtless teens soaked in water and covered in grease, tired from all the shouting, grunting, and physical activity.
Now that I’ve overloaded my brain with wikis and JPEGs, I venture out of my apartment into the real world and walk to the local lumberyard to check the prices of material for this project. I’m planning on making my own gay Peace Poles. Two hours later, after I look at every piece of wood, twice, I decide to make a left outside the lumberyard instead of a right and I end up walking around the city. I’m a flâneur and this is my dérive for the day. One of the most important concepts I learned in grad school was the French Situationist idea of the dérive. Simply put, it’s a “purposeful wandering.” Academically put, it’s a revolutionary means to navigate away from urban capitalism. A great first baby-step (pun intended) is to journey around San Francisco with a map of New York City. Regardless of what percent you are during these trying Occupying times, a simple dérive can help make your day a little better.*
*You would think a cliché graffiti artist or homeless person would know the streets of a city like the back of their hand, but it’s also the 1%, like Bruce Wayne, who can navigate the streets with just as much rigor. Dandies perusing the pavement in Prada have the disposable income to perform this time-consuming and seemingly useless act. More importantly, my asterisk was put here to say, “be cautious.” Sure, a dérive can make you feel better knowing that you walked a totally new and exciting way home and discovered a video-rental store that you never knew existed, but if you wander into a precarious area without caution, you’ll get mugged and die.
With the gorgeous San Francisco sun setting behind the Kink Palace in the Mission, I return home and fry some pork chops for dinner. While the meat is defrosting, I remember that my favorite Los Angeles-based interior decorator, Jeffrey Alan Marks from the hit Bravo reality-television show Million Dollar Decorators, will be in SF this week for a major fall antiques show. I hop onto Twitter and send a blind tweet asking him if he would be up for a studio visit with an artist and by the time I’m done eating my dinner he’s blindly responded “yes” with an exclamation point. My last artwork sale was to a local interior designer so I hope that this is a financially fruitful meeting. It can also be a nice anecdote to the Bravo production team when I audition for next year’s season of Work of Art: The Next Great Artist.
I have the hardest time falling asleep. My mind races with too many thoughts. I’ve thought about taking Klonopin but there are too many studies that link creativity to madness and why would I want to live a life where the relationship between Peace Poles and Batman didn’t resolve within three simple paragraphs? Tossing and turning in my bed, I wonder what the hell I’m going to do tomorrow morning when I wake up. I know I have The View to watch and some cover letters to write and some studio time and some Web surfing and some tweeting and some blogging and some dériving and some eating to do, but really, what do I really have to do?
It’s 9 o’clock on a surprisingly warm September evening in San Francisco, and I’m already at my third art opening of the night. I should be in New York. Two years ago at a normal bar a few normal blocks from the normal NYU campus, my friends threw me a going away party. I was leaving town to get my MFA in Art from San Francisco Art Institute. With a giant grin on my face, I drunkenly told everyone, “don’t cry for me Argentina, I’ll be back. Two years, and I’m back. Trust me. No really, trust me.” Two years later, with an SFAI graduate degree in the back pocket of my NYC UNIQLO skinny jeans, I’ve found myself living in a studio apartment in SF’s Mission District making the most significant artwork I’ve ever produced, and I can’t tell if it’s because of my BFA, my MFA, my love affair with SF, my longing for NYC, or simply because I was born this way.
Regardless of where or what or who I’m fantasizing about, the point is, I’m at my third gallery opening on the hottest night of the year. It’s my buddy and MFA classmate Mitsu Okubo’s show, Subscription/Prescription. The “Who’s Who of San Francisco” is out tonight, and with four months having gone by since we all graduated and abruptly left our sanctuary graduate studios of the last two years, it’s a festive atmosphere to drink some sangria, chat about composting, and cry about our last juried review rejection.
I started the night at Matt Borruso’s The Hermit’s Revenge Fantasy at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, a gallery in the Mission. After I graduated, Steven and I became buddies and because of the proximity of his gallery to my apartment and the fabulousness of the Mission renewing itself as the center of contemporary art in SF, I like to pretend that it’s the West Coast version of Chelsea, and Steven Wolf is like Matthew Marks and I’m like Nayland Blake. I don’t know where the hell Nayland Blake lives, but I follow him on Twitter, he’s fabulous, and I bet he drinks ice water with Matthew Marks like I do with Steven Wolf. Matt and I were in Steven’s summer group show, Negative Space, and Matt teaches in the Painting department at SFAI but I didn’t work with him because I was in New Genres and I don’t own a paintbrush. Continue reading »
Over the last four weeks, I daydreamed about my final post for my contribution to Art21 Blog’s Open Enrollment column. Since January, my final semester at San Francisco Art Institute had taken a darker, more socially and politically relevant turn with my interest in American cults and hate groups like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church. My personal on-going artistic endeavor of a secret brotherhood known as the Society of 23 went from a philanthropic supporter of fine arts to a mischievous band of misfits. I found myself ironically using the rhetoric of hate to continue my wild obsession and addiction to contemporary art.
In those terms, I only thought it appropriate to ironically trash this year’s SFAI MFA graduate exhibition for my final blog post. I wanted to share some images of my classmates’ artworks while complimenting it with such poor reviews that you would feel compelled to investigate my claims and visit their websites. From my research as a hater, I find that the more you hate something, the more other people want to know why. It’s the best PR ever! I wanted to pull out classic texts from Plato, Greenberg, Adorno, Smith, and Saltz and maneuver a fancy critical analysis that dangerously went where no review of a graduate show had gone before. But, like any good life lived as a dérive, something can happen overnight and change everything.
I’ve learned that irony is a wonderful strategy for communication in this age of Facebook – the other is secrecy. As a brother of the Society of 23, I’ve had to keep a lot of secrets. It’s nice to quietly giggle to myself when others want to know something that I’m not at liberty to say. So in those terms, I’d like to share a handful of artwork from the 72 newly-crowned SFAI MFA students sans my personal thoughts. Love it or hate it, this is the stuff that grad school’s made of…
Hi Everyone! My name is Olivia and I’m Jeffrey’s imaginary studio assistant. Unfortunately, Jeffrey isn’t here right now because he’s running around the city preparing for his thesis exhibition, but he’s left me with a few bullet points to go over in this blog post. I’m a fabulous writer, a wiz with Photoshop, and I can hold a conversation at a gallery reception without three glasses of wine (which is why he hired me, but I’m also really pretty and I think he has a crush on my brother) so I’ll be sure to keep the essence of his writing intact.
All across the country, MFA candidates are in the same boat and prepping for the annual Thesis Exhibition Season. Just in the San Francisco Bay Area, some schools participating in the season are SFAI, California College of the Arts, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Mills College. With programs ranging from the very small to the very big, one can’t forget that buried underneath the hoopla of an art show and the promotion for each academic institution’s pedagogy, there lies an anxious student-artist trying to make sense of the past, the future, and the now.
I am freaking out! In one month, I’ll be installing my artwork at The Winery SF for San Francisco Art Institute’s MFA Thesis Exhibition. Last year at this time, my buddy and neighbor from my days in Bushwick, Bonnie Kaye Whitfield, presented her Pratt thesis exhibition in a solo-show format at a gallery on campus. Next year at this time, my buddy and undergrad classmate from Carnegie Mellon, Christopher Kardambikis, will be wrapping up his three-year program at University of California, San Diego also with a solo-show format, but one that doesn’t necessarily have to be on campus.
Unlike Bonnie’s and Chris’s exhibitions, my thesis exhibition is one giant zootopia: about 70 of my graduating classmates will present artwork in sectioned-off spaces in an event venue on the picturesque San Francisco landmark of Treasure Island. When that many artists need to be wrangled, there’s a crucial emphasis on each student’s exhibition proposal. Will an artist’s freestanding sculpture obstruct the view of another artist’s drawings hanging on the wall? Will the volume from one artist’s sound installation be loud enough to hear without being so loud as to interfere with a nearby artist’s looping video?
There’s nothing quite like the graduate critique seminar – a visit to a classmate’s studio where ten to fifteen artists are hopefully hopped up on enough caffeine that they’ll engage with the artwork hanging on the walls. Otherwise, the forty-five minute critique can seem like an eternity and everyone is left projecting the weirdest things onto the artist’s incredibly vulnerable and passionate ideas. When the rare and unexpected critique does occur, the room is filled with a lively conversation between multiple voices regarding wonderful random issues that affect us in particular ways – all started because of a work of art. This past month, I attempted to get my peers at San Francisco Art Institute to engage in a fervent chatter, and to do that, I organized two group shows at two separate galleries on campus – The Prize and The Biennial.
Under the name of a fictional organization I created years ago, I organized two group shows: The Society of 23 Prize and The Society of 23 Biennial. Like the silly comedian I am, I poked serious fun at highly esteemed art events like the Turner Prize and Whitney Biennial. In my reality, these events are an everyday aspiration, so The Society of 23 Prize and Biennial were kitschy artworks in and of themselves. I asked 10 of my graduating classmates to join me in the journey that was The Prize, where I referred to them as nominees throughout the process. I also asked 23 other classmates, comprised of first and second-year students, to participate in The Biennial. At SFAI, there are two student-run galleries: the Swell Gallery at the Graduate Center and the Diego Rivera Gallery at the historic undergraduate campus that also houses a mural by Diego Rivera. When I learned that my show proposals to each gallery were accepted and were to occur during the same week, I was thrilled and scared.
The other day I was sitting in a confessional of a church and I asked the priest why most MFA programs were two years long. He replied, “my son, the Lord your God determines the length of your path. Sooner or later, the celebration must end and your work must begin.”
After confession, I sat for a while in the pews, eyeing the brown paneling creeping up the walls. I dropped my head back and stared at a black joint on the ceiling where one wooden beam crossed another, and I asked Him for help. I asked Him to help me arrive at a proper display for my thesis exhibition in May. I asked Him if the catalogue text and images I submitted that day would be relevant by the time they were published in three months. I asked Him what I would be doing the day after commencement.
After reading Flash Points Editor Rachel Craft‘s initial post (“Flash Points: What Influences Art?”) regarding William Kentridge’s love of the stage, I thought it would be appropriate to continue that line of thinking and share my anecdotes as a child actor. For almost ten years, I performed the same choreography in New Jersey Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Paper Mill Playhouse every Christmas season. During those years, I was also a local jobber for the theatre, where I performed alongside great performers like Betty Buckley in Gypsy and Stephanie Mills in Children of Eden. Though, my personal claim to fame was performing in South Pacific with Tina Fabrique – the original voice of the Reading Rainbow theme song. This repetitive phenomenological experience with performance and celebrity at a young age undoubtedly made me the flamboyant artist I am today.
I recently wrote a paper for one of my graduate classes at San Francisco Art Institute about musical theatre being the source of trauma that led to my identity as an artist and the works of art I create. I shared my love of song and dance, the relationship between an actor and casting director, and how these elements are at play within my work. What I didn’t cover in that paper was the cliché of the-child-actor-turned-adult – the former kid in the spotlight who loses self and takes a turn for the worse down a path of drug abuse and suicide.