Exhibition Proposal for Burger King

BK and the Point Brazil Lesson

Ever since Burger King reinvented their fries a few years ago, I’ve become a loyalist. (For the record, I’m also Coke, Nike, and mint chocolate chip.) Even so, I almost never go there. Luckily, I’m able to opt out of eating at fast food chains so they have become mere symbols and reminders of my suburban upbringing. I regard them with equal parts disgust and nostalgia. Disgust because the McDonald’s in San Mateo’s Hillsdale Mall was the site of some violent juvenile delinquency, where the cold mechanisms of teenage power were laid bare. Fights broke out, fights were negotiated for later, loud mouths ruled. Nostalgia because it was also exactly where I wanted to go eat a lot of the time, and so did everyone else.

These last few years eating out in New York has become a stressful bloodsport (or had it always been this way?), built around the promise of adventure, experience, and authenticity. Did you go to that pizza spot in Brooklyn run by an old Italian guy? It’s in the middle of nowhere and you need to get there at 4pm or be ready to wait an hour for a plain slice, but it’s SOOO worth it! What about the dingy food court in Flushing with the hand pulled noodles? Nobody speaks English. You HAVE to go! The urbane diner wants artisanal character, immigrant charm, and chefs that are brooding intellectuals able to conjure taste portals to another time and place. They want a story with their meal.

Where does this leave fast food mainstays who have been doing it their way for decades? Quick, Cheap, Consistent. They have begun to adapt to the foodie landscape by offering salads, experimenting with new burger hybrids, emphasizing customer service, and redesigning their interiors. This last development is interesting to me, ripe with possibility. With a little imagination and a lot of insurance, they could become a space for contemporary art that suits the community they’re in.

If you go into the Burger King in Flushing, Queens, you’ll see groups of older Asians hanging out on weekday afternoons, all day, treating it as their de facto community center. A nearby McDonald’s was the the site of a contentious territorial beef last year when a group of Korean seniors regularly occupied choice tables for hours having only ordered coffee and possibly some fries.

These patrons, and the diverse families, grinders and transients that pass through for an affordable meal, certainly aren’t looking for top notch art or history exhibitions, so how would you begin to curate something specifically for them and in line with the aesthetics and real life functions of this type of gathering space.

Curating an exhibition at Burger King comes with built-in limitations. Color schemes are predetermined by the brand identity of the franchise, signage and promotional displays must be given central visual placements, and your audience is focused on where the ketchup, napkins and straws are, not on anything hanging on the walls. Beyond that, would customers even give art the attention it demands, much less notice it? Would anyone care? Probably not, but for once, art doesn’t matter (that much) because here at Burger King, the art would be in complete service of the dining experience. Art should be background, decoration.

So why bother curating a show at the local BK if we’re only talking about interior design? First of all, to enact an important curatorial lesson I gleaned from frequenting Point Brazil, a Brazilian buffet in Astoria, Queens: if you own a Brazilian restaurant, hang pictures of Brazil. In other words, keep it simple. Know who you are and who you’re curating for. Secondly, there aren’t enough opportunities to stumble across contemporary art in Flushing. Challenging new art shouldn’t only be shown where it’s “convenient” (for whom?), because every community needs great art. Short of a new gallery scene opening up where Crossing Art has been carrying the torch for years, maybe BK can be the neighborhood’s new alternative space. Lastly, for the money. You didn’t think I’d do this pro-bono, did you?

Exhibition Abstract

Any exhibition at Burger King must consider the three A’s: Ambience, Appetite, Abstraction. I would start with a selection of Cezanne still lives depicting baskets of fruits and jugs of wine. These blocky compositions presaged Cubism, and modernism’s preoccupation with the ‘how’ of artmaking and by extension, perception, in addition to being touchstones for many contemporary painters. Then, I would include some paintings I saw recently by Lucy Kim. They are made with a touristic craft sensibility – I use this term descriptively, not judgmentally. Her painting/assemblages usually contain subliminally hidden images within relief compositions of noses, lips, ears, birds, and shirts and sportcoats. They are about intimacy, I think.

I’d hang Lucy’s paintings near ones of nighttime darkness by Byron Kim, some of the illest paintings of non-light I’ve seen. I’d include a couple of Edward Hopper paintings – a lonely house on a Maine seashore. Back in New York City, his oil painting of a woman staring into a cup of coffee inside a cafe. Then I’d have to give space to Ann Craven’s painted repetitions of birds and the moon seen through tree branches.

Yuh-Shioh Wong, out in California, has been making some really dope abstract paintings (colorful and jarring, improvised and restrained at the same time) and they would look great in this context. Here is a sampling of their titles: Somewhere in Iceland, i will send you under the road, castle camouflaged by the rose. Staying out in Cali, I’d include some of Ansel Adam’s lusciously printed photographs of Half Dome in Yosemite – I’d try to get permission to have them printed tiny, like 5 x 3 inches.

Finally, I’m thinking of two monumental pieces to anchor the show. First, a painting created during China’s Cultural Revolution titled The New Songs of Ah Xi, 1972. It depicts eight young women cheerfully working the rice fields, rolling hills stretching infinitely behind them until its horizon meets a sparkling, cloud-accented blue sky. These were the anointed heros of Mao’s revolution: young peasants toiling together on the earth, singing brightly as they harvest from a furtile soil.

This would go well with a stock photograph of a middle class family gathered at the dinner table printed on canvas as large as The New Songs of Ah Xi (53 x 84 inches). This family could be White, Black or Hispanic – it doesn’t matter – but they must look happy, at least as happy as those in New Songs. It should be a family of four with pre-teen kids, looking over a bountiful spread in a suburban dining room. The husband and wife should be dressed as if they had just gotten off work from their respective office jobs. The kids: happy to be home with loving parents, eager to devour a home-cooked meal.


Never let me slip, cause if I slip, then I’m slippin’

My tumble down a full flight of stairs the other day at the museum had to be about something. I had just come back from getting a coffee and some pastries for my colleagues. Walking briskly as one does through a space in which they’re exceedingly familiar, I approached the stairs and noticed a new staff member standing there, waiting for the elevator. Wanting to make her feel welcome, I offered an uncharacteristically jovial, “Hi! How’re you doing?” Her response came back muffled against the industrial grumbling of our barely-used elevator.

I remember thinking how incongruous this scene was (her newness and the medieval sound of the elevator), but I kept going and took a step towards the edge of the stairs. I felt my dress shoes, wet from the rain, slip under me. I then tried desperately to land the next step, but completely missed it and was somehow spun 180 degrees as I began toppling over, my butt hitting first at the edge of a stair. Coffee splashed up and rained down on my shirt and face. I noticed the skylight swirling around – a cinematic dislocation from uprightness, like those scenes in Vertigo where San Francisco spins into distortion.

It was like being plunged into a new kind of medium, like trying to swim for the first time and losing your body in the force of the water. I felt each step hitting me somewhere on my lower back and butt, painlessly. And just as I allowed the exhilaration of the accident to wash over me, I landed with a cartoonish thud at the bottom of the stairs. My colleagues raced over in silent, mortified shock, asking how I was. A few laughed along with me as I noticed my left arm stretched upward, death-gripping the cup of coffee. It felt full.

As we sat around reconstructing the events over fruit tarts and coffee, suddenly the brutal poetry of the accident revealed itself. It turned out that Ryan Wong, our young, precocious assistant curator, was in the elevator that our new colleague was waiting for. Picture this: as Ryan was ascending effortlessly, protected and contained in a rising chamber, he heard me crashing clumsily downward, struggling to catch my balance and ultimately failing that. I became a stunt-double version of myself, abstracted and discontinued in the fall. I lost myself momentarily in the avalanche of my own making while Ryan was moved by the museum’s machinery. I sipped my coffee slowly at that thought, the coffee I fought gravity to save.

More Fire: Identity Politics Again

I recently bought copies of two books I previously owned but somehow lost: Spraycan Art, a photographic journey through graffiti styles by Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff, and Mixed Blessings, Lucy Lippard’s 1990 survey on identity politics and multicultural art. When I first had them in the mid-90s as a student at San Jose State University, I wore those books out like favorite sneakers or a new CD on heavy rotation, reviewing its pictures and texts over and over, trying to grasp graffiti’s extreme stylization and the emotional agitation of art in the multicultural era – my era. Through these books, I understood these art forms to be tools in a cultural war between the underrepresented and the “system” that operated against them.  Moreover, the books were windows into world’s I wanted to participate in; their words and images populated my imagined New York.

But when I actually did move to New York in 1998 those movements already seemed out of step. Galleries and museums weren’t showing graffiti and neither were the streets. Handball court walls and subway trains were no longer canvases – they were “so fresh and so clean,” and that was how they stayed. Of the four elements of hip hop culture, graffiti seemed most in danger of homelessness and obsolescence. Similarly, multicultural art, work by minority artists, and that which trafficked in identity politics was largely missing in the clean white galleries of Soho and Chelsea, within the institutional space of museums, and in the printed pages of the top art publications. When I finally got my bearings in the art world here and met a bunch of other like-minded Asian American artists committed to pursuing the idea of representation, it seemed clear that minority artists only had a handful of spaces where they could realistically show – those that were explicitly established to present culturally-specific art like the Studio Museum in Harlem, El Museo del Barrio, the Asian American Arts Centre, and a handful of others.

Graffiti and multiculturalism, attitudes as forms on which I pinned my early conception of art and culture, were clearly old news. To taste-making New Yorkers in the late 90s, these movements had grown old and ugly together. Multicultural art, like graffiti, was first fueled by anger against under-representation. Minority artists were disenchanted at a system that routinely omitted them from the “center” of contemporary art and the art historical canon. Emboldened by past generations of Civil Rights protests and feminist theory’s breakdown of patriarchal social order, artists began to come together, forming communities of like-minded, disaffected cultural producers and making work that spoke directly to and against the powers they felt kept them down. They used art to talk about the struggles of their people and the historical, political and cultural forces that informed their identity – an effort to mark cultural territory in major narratives of American Art from which they were omitted. Their work directly targeted the power structure of the art world, but it also was a self-conscious process of formulating their own sense of identity within a dominant white culture. As such this work was primarily shown in those spaces whose audiences were sympathetic to these perspectives. Multicultural art was preaching to the converted its own practitioners complained.

The 1993 Whitney Biennial was a watershed moment for multiculturalism in art, an art that paradoxically was meant to strike out against the institutions it was also trying to gain access to. It’s curators – Elizabeth Sussman, Thelma Golden, John Handhardt, and other Whitney curators – pursued an exhibition about identity politics and it became a test of whether this movement would sink or swim in the mainstream. It wound up getting trashed in the most absolute terms by many of the influential critics of the day. Christopher Knight called it a “disastrous installment” of the biennial, and Robert Hughes subtitled his review “A Fiesta of Whining” and complained that it was “preachy and political.” Multiculturalism and identity politics fell completely out of favor, its moment falling from the loftiest, most public perch available in art. Thereafter, this kind of work was dismissed as little more than political rhetoric – pedantic and conservative like state-sanctioned propaganda in a communist country telling its populace what was morally correct.

But now, in our current politicized moment when the nation is gripped in a deep recession as it was during the ’93 Biennial, art has returned to politics. The rhetoric has been re-occupied, but the politics of identity remain on the margins. Now politics in art seems to refer to a personal politics that become buried within the movement of global capital and information, a loss of difference that occurs when everyone’s desire is driven towards the same products, and the language used to sell them is co-opted from anti-corporate subcultures. In art, it is now the logistics of forms and materials, their means of production, the way they enter the world and feed back into the language of consumption that weigh heavily in artistic and theoretic thought – this circular meta-process operating on every work of art is now thought of as its politicization. The artist as ready-made.

In spite of this new, compelling reading of our culture, multiculturalism and identity politics still matter today because the problem of representation persists. The vocabularies that artists use to spell out their realities have changed greatly since the late 80s and early 90s, and I know most want to avoid divisive rhetoric, but there is still much to learn from a movement that many wanted to forget ever happened. And that’s because, while art looks quite different today, there’s a lot about the art world that hasn’t changed.

I was heartened to see some new bubble letters freshly spray painted by some clearly nostalgic graf artists on a new section of sound wall bounding the Grand Central Parkway in Queens as I was driving home today after lunch with Claire Barliant and curator Edwin Ramoran. It seems as if graffiti is making some tentative come-back moves. At lunch, we talked about the stuff I mentioned above and threw around some direct references: The Decade Show, Marcia Tucker, MOCADA, Museum of Hispanic Art, Godzilla, Longwood Art Gallery, Eugenie Tsai, Holland Cotter, Rocio Aranda, Elvis Fuentes, Marcia Tucker, Elizabeth Sussman, the Studio Museum in Harlem, Thelma Golden, Lauren Haynes, Thomas Lax, Jeff Chang, Lia Gangitano, Jose Ruiz, Erin Sickler, and on and on.

And as long as I’m dropping names, I realized I left a bunch of deserving artists out of the “My Whitney Biennial” post from a couple weeks ago. Here’s the new though ever-evolving list with new additions in bold:

Jaishri Abichandani, Manuel Acevedo, Derrick Adams,Terry Adkins, On Akiyoshi, Elia Alba, Laylah Ali, Blanka Amezkua, Tomie Arai, Nicole Awai, Nadia Ayari, Radcliffe Bailey, Tamy Ben-Tor, Sanford Biggers, Karlos Carcamo, Nick Cave, Patty Chang, Mel Chin, Cecile Chong, Theresa Chong, Ken Chu, Seth Cohen, Robert Colescott, Papo Colo, Ernest Concepcion, William Cordova, Jimmie Durham, Nicolas Dumit Estevez, Zachary Fabri, Ming Fay, Cui Fei, Brendan Fernandes, Benin Ford, Coco Fusco, Chitra Ganesh, Rupert Garcia, Rico Gatson, Mariam Ghani, Deborah Grant, Renee Green, Alejandro Guzman, David Hammons, Skowmon Hastanan, Leslie Hewitt, Annamarie Ho, Donna Huanca, Arlan Huang, Shih Chieh Huang, Yoko Inoue, Emily Jacir, Mathew Day Jackson, Arthur Jafa, Steffani Jemison, Rashid Johnson, Jennie C. Jones, Charles Juhasz-Alvarado, Brad Kalhamer, Jayson Keeling, Swati Khurana, Byron Kim, Terence Koh, Las Hermanas Iglesias, Simone Leigh, Shaun Leonardo, Lam + Lin, Bing Lee, Nikki S. Lee, Kalup Linzy, Jeanette Louie, Miguel Luciano, James Luna, Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow, Tala Madani, Kerry James Marshall, Daniel J. Martinez, Esperanza Mayobre, Ana Mendieta, Charles McGill, Yong Soon Min, Wardell Milan, Naeem Mohaiemen, Ivan Monforte, Irvin Morazan, Yamini Nayar, Manuel Ocampo, Pepon Osario, John Outerbridge, Joe Overstreet, Cliff Owens, Fahamu Pecou, Paul Pfeiffer, Adrian Piper, William Pope.L, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Sara Rahbar, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Naomi Reis, Faith Ringgold, Nadine Robinson, Athena Robles, Jose Ruiz, Rafael Sanchez (the one who had a solo show at Exit Art in 2010), Jacolby Satterwhite, Dread Scott, Seher Shah, Xaviera Simmons, Arthur Simms, Shinique Smith, Jeff Sonhouse, Chanika Svetvilas, Mickalene Thomas, Mary Ting, Slavs & Tatars, Sol’Sax, Hong-An Truong, Juana Valdes, William Villalongo, Roberto Visani, Mary Valverde, Anahita Vossoughi, Kara Walker, Kay WalkingStick, Hank Willis Thomas, Fred Wilson, Saya Woolfalk, Lynne Yamamoto


Another Day

Today was ordinary; I knew early on there would be nothing to overwhelm it. Time was like a stubborn fog over the city – unmoving, spreading its grayness so evenly that morning felt like evening. There was a staff meeting to begin with in which we talked about goals for the museum’s different departments in terms of the ‘communities’ we’re trying to reach relative to our mission – a typical, but I guess necessary, discussion for all museums. As someone else talked, I sensed myself falling into a hollow trance, robotically nodding in agreement to ideas I only half heard. I had no ideas of my own on this matter, but felt like I used to. I looked at people talking. Noticed the practiced way of their speech. How certain culminations of sentences predicated subtle shifts of the head and inflections of eyes. This was the most interesting part of the meeting.

Nothing could be gained and nothing lost today. Emails trickled in unenthusiastically, many starting with “Happy new year!” There were a few invitations to Lunar New Year functions I should probably attend. Every email seemed to come from an anonymous ‘we’; personalities were subsumed into bland, protective affiliations. I lingered at the coffee spot in the late afternoon talking to my man behind the counter about Real Madrid’s predictable collapse against FC Barcelona. I wanted to stay a while longer to hear more about his soccer agony, but was pulled by a vague force back to the museum, back to my desk. I listened to my colleagues slap away on their keyboards producing that familiar “tick-tick-tick” sound in offices that, when you concentrate on it, sounds like a wild symphony of dysfunctioning clocks.

Remembering Jeanette Ingberman

This Sunday I’ll be going to Jeanette Ingberman’s memorial service at Exit Art, the non-profit alternative art space she founded with her husband Papo Colo in 1982. It’s first show was called Illegal America, based on Jeanette’s masters thesis paper on art and the law. She had a lawyer’s mentality: a talker, confrontational and questioning, always looking for an angle into the truth or something that sounded better. When I worked there (from 2007-11), Jeanette constantly told me how similar she thought Jewish and Chinese culture were, with their focus on family and food. I would nod in agreement but think to myself, isn’t that how all cultures are? I knew it was her way of expressing closeness, knowing how important my “Chinese-ness” was to me. And I saw how she looked for connections with anyone that walked into Exit Art’s massive Hell’s Kitchen space no matter who they were. “Hello! How you doing?,” she would excitedly ask a visitor.

I like remembering the way Jeanette talked, her voice a buoyant, piercing instrument salted with a proud Brooklyn accent. She used to sweep into the curatorial office, plop down on a chair with her laptop and chat it up with me and Exit Art’s other curator, Lauren Rosati. She would read absurd emails sent by upset visitors or acquaintances, weigh in on a headline in The New York Times, complain about the latest awful show at so-and-so gallery or museum, and update us on the state of her and Colo’s diet and the political dynamics of the food industry. In these sessions, she avoided work discussion, never asking about the status of a show or checking on an important detail she was fuming over just earlier. It was her way of releasing stress, and it was her telling us that work was just an extension of what she was passionate about as a person. This was the way we should be, she seemed to be teaching us.

This partially explains how she saw Exit Art as an island, special in the way it expressed marginality without apologies and a cultural jungle populated by strange-looking plants and animals that were hybrid species. It was always an us-against-the-world attitude; we played with an edge. Her voice, together with Colo’s moody hum, carried the signal of Exit Art, a signal that I think pulses inside me now too.

I called her when I decided to leave Exit Art. It was a Monday morning before anyone had gotten to work and I remember my nervousness. She was in the hospital, had been there for the past 6 months dealing with her illness. I knew she was weak but I wanted to tell her voice to voice. Her’s cracked when she answered and it sounded like I woke her up. “Oh hi, Herb!” she said excitedly, “How you doing?” I told her I was fine and that I was sorry, but that I had to leave Exit Art for another job. I spit it out quickly wanting those seemingly embarrassing facts to be released. The words she left me with will remain between Jeanette and I, but I felt much better afterwards about moving on because of what she said. And in fact, she gave me words to live by, motto versions of what she had been teaching all along, of what she was all about.

My Whitney Biennial

Every two years when the artists list for the Whitney Biennial gets released, emotional and intellectual debates stir about who was left out and what communities went unserved. It was no different this time around as the museum released Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders’ selections for the 2012 version, likely to be the last in the Whitney’s current Marcel Breuer-designed building as it readies for the move to the meatpacking district. My twitter feed and various art blogs streamed early opinions – some expressed relief to see deserving artists finally make the cut, others bemoaned the under-representation of women and minority artists, there was an observation that the list seemed “Artforum-y,” etc.

All the attention is both a gift and a curse for its curators. The biennial, like the Oscar Awards, will always be judged harshly because its grand mission and history to survey the art of the contemporary (American?) moment makes it among the most prestigious group exhibitions to be included in, and also sets up an impossibly ambitious thesis to satisfy. I don’t envy the kinds of conceptual, logistical and political decisions the curators had and will have to face. The most important decisions are out of the way for them: deciding who’s on the final list. A few weeks ago artist and critic Sharon Butler, who writes the blog Two Coats of Paint, anticipating negative reaction to the leaked list, issued a challenge on her twitter (@TwoCoats): “everyone shld curate their 51-artist #whibi2012“.

So I decided to compile my own imaginary Whitney Biennial artists list, based on my conception of America as always carried along by the undercurrent of race. My decade was the 90s and my biennial would bring forth identity politics. It would look back into the 90s at how the politics of race and ethnicity were argued for, and in what kind of language. It would then recalibrate those debates in today’s terms, upon today’s means of communication and political struggle, to get a picture of racial dynamics now.

I was convinced nobody else thought this way until a few days ago when art critic Claire Barliant mentioned she had also been thinking seriously about art dealing with identity politics. How its moment had passed in the 90s, with much of the work dismissed as “victim” art, never to see critical attention return. What are the real reasons behind this, we wondered. Now was the time to do a show about this work, Claire asserted. A survey of its key works from the past and newer work that takes up the same issues today. We agreed that identity politics in art is well overdue its retrospective and contemporary attention. I was happy to hear someone else be so in tune with what I was feeling and this conversation prompted a revisiting of my list. Claire talked about identity politics as it related to sexual orientation and gender, which I hadn’t considered for my list, but which should be included in any show broadly stated as being about identity politics. I didn’t include those artists here because of time constraints.

Some of the artists in my list (see below) may be upset that their work is seen through this frame, and those that aren’t on it may be disgruntled by the omission (though I doubt that). It was a difficult list to compile, though easier because nothing was at stake. This show won’t go on, and I highly doubt I’ll ever be asked to curate one of these. Having gone through this exercise, I can only imagine the agony of the Whitney Biennial curators as they made excruciating decisions to exclude a lot of deserving artists, many of whom are their friends. But when their biennial opens the light of criticism, envy and adoration will shine brightly on them and the artists they’ve selected. For now, I hope you read these names carefully and maybe do a google search of them. Their work deserves the attention and I’m intoxicated with excitement thinking about their work assembled together some day.

Here’s my list:

Jaishri Abichandani, Manuel Acevedo, Derrick Adams,Terry Adkins, Elia Alba, Laylah Ali, Blanka Amezkua, Tomie Arai, Nicole Awai, Nadia Ayari, Radcliffe Bailey, Tamy Ben-Tor, Sanford Biggers, Karlos Carcamo, Nick Cave, Patty Chang, Mel Chin, Ken Chu, Seth Cohen, Robert Colescott, Papo Colo, William Cordova, Jimmie Durham, Brendan Fernandes, Benin Ford, Coco Fusco, Chitra Ganesh, Rupert Garcia, Rico Gatson, Mariam Ghani, Renee Green, Alejandro Guzman, David Hammons, Skowmon Hastanan, Leslie Hewitt, Donna Huanca, Arlan Huang, Yoko Inoue, Emily Jacir, Arthur Jafa, Steffani Jemison, Rashid Johnson, Jennie C. Jones, Brad Kalhamer, Jayson Keeling, Swati Khurana, Byron Kim, Terence Koh, Simone Leigh, Shaun Leonardo, Lam + Lin, Bing Lee, Nikki S. Lee, Kalup Linzy, Jeanette Louie, Miguel Luciano, James Luna, Tala Madani, Kerry James Marshall, Charles McGill, Yong Soon Min, Ivan Monforte, Irvin Morazan, Yamini Nayar, Manuel Ocampo, Joe Overstreet, Cliff Owens, Fahamu Pecou, Paul Pfeiffer, Adrian Piper, William Pope.L, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Sara Rahbar, Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz, Faith Ringgold, Athena Robles, Rafael Sanchez (the one who had a solo show at Exit Art in 2010), Jacolby Satterwhite, Dread Scott, Seher Shah, Xaviera Simmons, Jeff Sonhouse, Mary Ting, Slavs & Tatars, Sol’Sax, Hong-An Truong, Juana Valdes, Mary Valverde, Kara Walker, Kay WalkingStick, Hank Willis Thomas, Saya Woolfalk, Lynne Yamamoto

Press Releases

I’ve been collecting press releases from art spaces for the past six years, taking them home or to the office after an afternoon of seeing shows in Chelsea, the Lower Eastside, Bushwick or wherever. I dutifully 3-hole punch each one of them and stick them into a binder in case I need to refer back to the name of an artist, or to remind me of a noteworthy show. Many of these press releases are crumpled or folded, dingy with pocket lint.

In spite of its flimsy, cheap substrate (usually photocopied onto letter size paper), the press release is durable and easily produced by galleries that operate at a high speed, churning out month-long shows in an art world calendar that’s absolutely packed with them. First and foremost, these texts aim to catch the attention of art critics and their editors. And because of that, the language skews towards a kind of pop academicism. Much of this writing style, derisively referred to as “artspeak,” has been thoroughly debased by the very critics they hope to attract as being meaningless and unnecessarily opaque. The writing is formulaic, and worse, amateur art theory they argue. In many of these releases, artists “problematize” or “interrogate” subjects.

But looking back on texts from 5 years ago, there’s a certain charm to the whole ritual of writing and producing press releases, especially in the almost outdated formality in announcing that, for instance, “Greene Naftali is pleased to present an exhibition of “Yellow Movies” by Tony Conrad, a legendary New York underground filmmaker, composer, and artist.” I saw this show in January 2007 and reading this text now makes me think of the profound rebelliousness of Conrad’s gesture to, as he states in the release: “dismantle the authoritarian boundaries of film culture…”

Press releases get emailed out to critics and editors in advance of a show’s opening, but most galleries also make them available for free in a self-serve stack at the front desk. And though this writing can easily be found on gallery websites with full color photos, I still like having these papers around without images, just naked words on a page trying to describe, elaborate, elucidate, convince and sometimes hide the intentions of artists.

For a show by Douglas Boatwright in 2006, the defunct Silo gallery states in its press release: “Although seemingly elusive and tangential, Boatwright’s work is focused in its concentration on sensuous light and aesthetic pleasure. One work could serve as both introduction and summary, a multi-layered projection onto the gallery’s curved wall consisting of the text: ‘I know this to be true.’ But the authoritative-sounding statement literally wobbles. The words reach the wall through a stencil that acts as an intermediate screen and hangs by threads in front of the light source, a projection of found footage and home movies.”

This is language anticipating the experience of art and trailing in the wake of that experience. But 5 years later, I can at least read this old document and faintly remember having seen this work, wondering what it was about.