by Travis Jeppesen on January 21, 2009

My review of Political/Minimal, the current group exhibition at KunstWerke, is now online at WhiteHot Magazine of Contemporary Art.

Thank You, 3am

by Travis Jeppesen on January 21, 2009

3am Magazine has named Disorientations Nonfiction Book of the Year.”

2008: Moments: Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on January 20, 2009

When I was in high school, I remember picking up an introductory art history textbook and skimming the contents. I didn’t know much about art at the time, but the chapters were pretty standard, covering all the basics for newbies like me – painting, sculpture, and architecture. What really struck me, however, was the conclusion, which was all about New York City, which the author posited as the 20th century’s greatest artistic creation of all.

Looking back at the past year, I feel overwhelmed by the task of attempting to keep up with everything I’ve seen, all I’ve experienced, the people I’ve met. And it couldn’t have happened in any other place – certainly not right now. Berlin is the common thread, what holds all this together. It may not be the most colorful capital in the world, it may not be the most ethnically diverse or even the most heterogeneous architecturally. But it doesn’t matter. Berlin has a spirit that is completely lacking in all other cities I’ve lived in and traveled through over the years. It is perhaps the only place in the world where the avant-garde hasn’t been relegated to the status of historical phenomenon, but is a constantly evolving presence. It is a tragic city, but a city defined by its openness to change, its reliance on social and artistic experimentation, its refusal to embrace any conventional role – including that of metropolis. It is a city where the darkest emotions and the reckless joys of intoxication battle against the manic climate’s steadfast oppression, where the extremes of human behavior constitute the norm, where every room is a potential sexual playground.

Berlin – everything it stands for, everything it is – was the greatest work of art I experienced in 2008, and it very well may be the city of the 21st century. And if anyone thinks that this is a romantic notion, I dare you to spend a year here and not fall for its endless charms.

2008: Moments: Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

by Travis Jeppesen on December 28, 2008

I haven’t been to the theatre very often in the last ten years. I’ve purposefully avoided it. What a lot of people don’t know is that I actually started off as a writer for the theatre, when I was a teenager. One of my favorite playwrights (and hence formative writers) was Harold Pinter. I read a lot of his plays when I was younger, but never had a chance to see any of them staged. So when I found out about a West End revival of No Man’s Land that happened to coincide with my visit to London in November for the Disorientations launch, I somewhat randomly decided to buy tickets.

I didn’t have high expectations. Actors tend to butcher texts – theatrical actors, especially – this is one of the reasons why I lost interest in playwriting so many years before and retreated into my own personal world of novels and poetry, where I seemingly wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else’s interpretation of my words.

But the production in London was great and I think the actors brilliantly captured the nuances of Pinter’s text. This is difficult because, despite claims to the contrary, acting is an intellectual task – not merely a physical act. Intelligent actors, actors with a true understanding of the irresolvable complexities of being, are rare to come by. Acting Pinter is all the more difficult, because his work directly addresses this project – being and unknowability – in plays that are more metaphysical exercises than generic drama.

No Man’s Land was written in the ‘70s, a great decade for Pinter. Many of his best plays, including Betrayal and Old Times, were also penned during this period. No Man’s Land consists of two acts. It’s a brilliant study for anyone interested in process-oriented writing and/or form. In the first act, you really feel like Pinter was just writing – putting characters in a situation and making no effort to explain their relationship or why they are there, but allowing them to riff on whatever subjects happen to cross their (his) mind. The second act slowly creeps towards some justification of the circumstances they find themselves in, but a lot of questions are left unanswered by the time the play reaches its conclusion. The rigid formal dichotomy between the first and second acts impressed me, and also left me to wonder about Pinter’s editing process. I think you have to be rather strong-willed to choose to maintain the irresolvability that often characterizes the beginning of a work – especially in a world that favors linear narratives with clean finishes and plenty of hooks along the way. This, if anything, is a sign of Pinter’s discipline and genius.

If you had told me a year ago that I would end 2008 writing a play, my first one in years, I probably would’ve laughed. It just never would have occurred to me. I think Pinter is at least partly responsible for reminding me that theatre is a worthwhile art form, and one that is loaded with possibilities that you don’t necessarily find in visual art and literature strictly bound by the page. So I’ll remember 2008 not only as the year of Pinter’s passing, but as the year that I was brought back to the theatre.

Holiday Disorientations

by Travis Jeppesen on December 18, 2008

This holiday season, why not give the gift of disorientation…

Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the …$31.95 – Barnes & Noble.com

Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the …$30.95 – Tower.com

Disorientations: Art on the Margins of the …$45.10 – Biblio.com Books

2008: Moments: The Last of Rothko

by Travis Jeppesen on December 18, 2008

At the end of his life, Mark Rothko was making black paintings. Black and gray. Like TV static, but without the white: the voidlessness is now upon us. When you get closer, you can make out pale beige shapes, contorted figures, and layers of underpainting – particularly in the lower, lighter panels – something creature-like struggling to get out and emerge into the nonexistent foreground. These paintings can all be found in the last room of the Tate Modern’s retrospective of the late Abstract Expressionist painter. I’m not about to claim that they’re emblematic of the artist’s consciousness at the end of his life, but for me, they represent the fulfillment of Rothko’s ongoing quest to vaporize his thoughts on canvas. Everyone who says they dislike the look of Rothko’s paintings seems to miss this point – you can’t just look at a Rothko – his paintings are designed to be seen with the mind – just as art criticism represents a way of seeing with the mind through the medium of language. Ultimately, sensibility always triumphs over reason.

The Rothko retrospective continues at the Tate Modern through February 1, 2009.

Candice Breitz

by Travis Jeppesen on December 17, 2008

My review of the Candice Breitz solo exhibition in Berlin is now online.

Apollinaire for the digital age

by Travis Jeppesen on December 16, 2008

The first review (that I’m aware of) of Disorientations has been published.

Thank you, John Holten and Dogmatika.

2008: Moments

by Travis Jeppesen on December 12, 2008

I’ve been reflecting a lot on art and films and performances and unclassifiable forms of art I’ve witnessed or somehow participated in throughout the past year. I’m not going to do a “Best Of” post, because that kind of thinking seems totally strange to me. But I will use the next couple weeks, as I recuperate from 2008 at my parents’ house, to write about some of these “moments” — particularly those I, for one reason or another, was unable to write about at the time. Sort of a personal means of organizing my memories of 2008, albeit in a public way.

So that’s what I’ll be doing on disorientations.com, on a random basis, until I return to Berlin.

Deflated: Jeff Koons in Berlin

by Travis Jeppesen on December 9, 2008

The two Jeff Koons solo exhibitions currently on in Berlin – one a retrospective of the sculptures, the other a show of new paintings – confirm that Koons is the worst living artist anywhere. Koons is a sort of con man who specializes in “art” for a public that has been conditioned by a general devolution of taste. This approach may have been effective in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the former stockbroker first devised a winning formula for his hapless endeavors, but now, only the most vulgar sort of cultural victim can unashamedly defend this garbage without any trace of humor. That Koons is mounting concurrent high-profile exhibitions throughout the continent this season is a sure sign of the artist’s own desperation in what must be a disturbing awareness of his work’s impending expiration date in the pathetic cultural milieu he has managed to exploit for so long.

Of course a show like “Celebration,” the sculpture retrospective on at the Neue Nationalgalerie, will be a blockbuster in Berlin. Berlin suffers from a malaise of insecurity unique to medium-sized capitals; compared to London, New York, and Paris, Berlin is provincial. But so what? Berlin also has an anarchic spirit that those other places have been lacking for many years now, and certainly doesn’t need to demean itself by jumping on the Koons bandwagon. Had the curators inspected with a more critical eye, they would have noted that the wares are looking more than a wee bit rusty. If anything, the choice of Koons points to a general conservatism that plagues the city’s institutional life – and, I suppose, fuels Berlin’s overwhelmingly prolific “unofficial” art scene.

The title “Celebration” is appropriate only in that the sculptures celebrate all that is vapid and not worth preserving in our culture. Twenty years ago, it must have felt invigoratingly defiant to show a garish thing like Hanging Heart in an art context. Today, Heart and the other sculptures just look like the costume jewelry rejects, ironically glamorized in their aggrandizement, that they actually are.

While the show at the Neue Nationalgalerie celebrates the glitter-strewn bowel movements of the past, the paintings at Galerie Max Hetzler are a new low in the Koons oeuvre. I hesitate to use the word new, because despite their recent dating, the paintings are little more than academicized version of ‘80s pop abstraction – striving to be “all style, no substance,” but ultimately devoid of both. I suppose the argument could be made that it’s not Koons’s fault that his art is so bad; it is well known that the artist favors the Warholian assembly line production model, refusing to get his hands dirty and fashioning himself more of an ideas man. Ignoring for a moment that his ideas are depthless, we can at least feign sorrow that his numerous assistants are so lacking in skill. The paintings at Hetzler are at best the work of a first-year art student.

For Koons, you feel like it’s never really been about the art, anyway. “I don’t believe in judgments,” he warns us over and over again in interviews, and despite the seeming inflection of earnestness that inevitably coats such apologies, you can’t help but smell a whiff of disingenuity when confronted with the actual work. Any artist who tells us not to judge is aware that the truth can be unpleasant and would rather deflect attention away from it rather than face it head-on. It says nothing reassuring about the last quarter century that so many have been duped into obeying Koons’s entreaty.

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