David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This Giant

Oct 15

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10.08.12: Dallas

This is Annie’s hometown. Our show was at a nice auditorium on the SMU campus—that’s Southern Methodist University. It’s a dry campus, but we were allowed to have booze in our dressing rooms. The show went very well, and was unusual in that the right side of the audience (from our point of view on stage) stood up almost immediately, never sat down, and danced the whole time while the left side remained seated until the encores. Even stranger, the dividing line between standees and seated audience members was divided right down the middle. It was as if someone had planned it… very curious.

During the afternoon, before our show, I took a ride around Dallas—a city not very well known for bike culture. There is, however, a former rail spur converted into a jogging/biking trail that conveniently led me down to the design district—an area originally developed for industrial warehouses in the 1950s and ‘60s, largely by real estate developer Trammell Crow. Crow was prescient in seeing that, what was formerly a swampy flood plain along the Trinity River would someday become valuable real estate. The area is now mostly design (furniture, rugs, plumbing, tiles) wholesalers and the occasional art gallery.

My first stop was the contemporary art museum, housed in a former warehouse. They currently have two fashion related shows on exhibit: a retrospective of Dutch couple, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s photography and some newer work by New York based artist K8 Hardy, who is also focused on fashion. The Hardy work was easiest to locate in the context of an art museum—self-portraits wearing somewhat deconstructed outfits—but the Inez and Vinoodh stuff was raising some troublesome questions for me.

Most of their work is commercial—done largely for ad campaigns and luxury brands, some of which include inventive portraits of celebrities or models for fashion magazine features.  Here’s Kate Moss:

(Image Source)

In this context, and maybe in any context, this couple is very inventive and sometimes slightly disturbing—there are freaky pictures of female models with male hands photo shopped on. There was work done for Bjork that I recognized—album cover pictures and, I think, a video still. Wonderful stuff.

(Image Source)

If fashion photography is art, then surely their work qualifies—but is it? I couldn’t help but think that when work, however creative and inventive, is essentially made to sell some product or brand, then it can certainly be something worth enjoying—but maybe it falls outside of what my aesthetic compass tells me art is. Maybe it belongs in a design or mode museum, where the context from which the work arises is made clear. Applied arts versus fine arts—I think those are the old fashioned terms.

Maybe this is all somewhat of an irrelevant question these days, when the borders between commerce and art are so fuzzy they border invisible. That said, I do think there is a difference between works created for hire and works created as a vehicle for selling nothing other than itself. It’s true that art is now a marketplace like any other, and artists increasingly turn out stuff to please collectors, museums and the marketplace. So many artists have branded themselves to such a degree that they become their own product—a skill, maybe not so different than applied artists inventively tweaking what can be done within the parameters of work for hire.

The other issue I have is the prevalence of models in the work. For me, if the subjects were ordinary people photographed inventively, and in creative settings, my focus would remain more or less on the inventiveness of the artists and their word—but when most of the subjects are obviously fashion models, then I am forced to think that we are in the rarified world of fashion (it’s not just putting beards on girls, for example, it’s a beard on KATE MOSS). That world is where somewhat unearthly looking females from the planet of the models predominate. I have trouble relating to these gals—they’re not “people.” To me, they obscure the creativity that is put into this work… at least when viewed in an art museum context.

I have the same issue with photos of celebrities—Avedon, Lebowitz, you name it; I have trouble separating my interest in, or thoughts about the celebrity from that of the craft and work of these photographers. When found in the editorial pages of a magazine it all makes sense, and the best work seems all the more creative and inventive for being found there—the context is understood, and I smile at work that is sometimes pushing the boundaries of that world.

Anyway, I left confused… and biked over to a thrift-type, vintage store called Dolly Python. My reading glasses fell out of my pocket somewhere along the way, so I could barely make out some of the crazy stuff that was there.

I stayed in Dallas the next day to visit with friends while the tour busses continued west. I would fly and catch up later. First, I went 35 miles south to Waxahachie to visit my friends the Webb’s and their gallery just off that town’s square. We’ve known each other for decades and they had some work on display by a former Waxahachie resident—a man who eventually left to work for Bell Helicopters in SoCal. When his employment ended, and even before that—in the 60s and 70s—he began making small drawings of machine and mechanical fantasies. These were not actual or imagined machines, but symmetrical Rorschach like designs, with machine parts comprising the elements. I bought two.

(Image Source)

After my visit to the gallery, we all went for some local tacos. One type we ate was peccadillo, which consists of beef and potatoes flavored with cumin. Then, our group of three cars (this is Texas) headed back to Dallas to visit the State Fair, which just opened for its run this year—the largest state fair in the country.

There was a profusion of fried foods available. This is deep fried guacamole (It’s quite good!):

Here is the fried menu at one kiosk:

Yes, fried butter! We tried fried beer—but it wasn’t very good. Johnny Reno pronounced it warm, flat and stale. There was even a deep fried shoe:

We took in the pig races, which were not as exciting as they might sound, but the bird show was spectacular—highly recommended. At one point the MC pointed to a gondola high on the distant Ferris wheel.

Then, we were informed that an albino raptor would emerge from the Ferris wheel and zoom down to the stage inside of the outdoor amphitheater where the bird show was held. Sure enough, a white bird flew out—a white speck—and began a high-speed dive towards our heads and the stage; it tucked in its wings to gain speed, looking like a fighter jet. Then, after zooming just inches away from the audience’s heads, it opened its wings and dropped its landing gear for a perfect landing.

DB

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