Wednesday, June 27, 2012

art review: jeff on jeff

one of our options for part of our final assignment in my m.f.a. class this spring was to write a review of our work from a third-person perspective. that sounded like it has potential, and when i thought back to the day in class when i showed the lipstick and mirror piece and how my professor and the visiting artist completely misinterpreted my intentions behind it, i decided to play with that.

a few years ago i read an interview with a director where the interviewer was going off about how freaking brilliant the director was how deep his work was and the director seemed disinterested with the heaps of praise, and so that became the inspiration for my writing: i created an interview between me and aRT Magazine, which was the most pretentious name i could think of.

i really like my professor and he's very much into dissecting a work and discussing the myriad of meanings that can be found therein. so i prefaced this to him that it wasn't an attack against the art critic world, merely having fun with the stereotypes. he loved it and asked for permission to share it (and also encouraged me to film it, with me playing both roles. that's an intriguing idea...)

I arrive early at the gallery, eager to talk with Jeff Gustafson, a film-maker turned fine artist about his newest exhibit. As a writer, it’s always a thrill to be the first to see these rising artists and to talk with them about the messages they have for the world. 
Gustafson arrives casually a few minutes after our planned time, dressed in sandals, mildly worn dark jeans, with a red shirt and plaid vest, a look perfectly fitting the creator of the works I’ve been studying.

aRT Magazine: It’s a pleasure to meet with an artist like yourself. Thank you for making time today. This is exciting.
Jeff Gustafson: You’re welcome.

a.M. Ok, before we get started, I just have to tell you how incredible this lipstick and mirror piece is. It’s insane. As soon as I saw it, I thought, this guy is feminism’s newest and greatest champion. Your ability to show how women are manipulated by society through the social constructions of so- called “beauty” and the whole prostitutionization that the cosmetics industry forces and women everywhere is just awesome. And that it’s on a mirror, so that you’re looking at yourself when you’re reading it! Wow. You are a freaking revolutionary here. I mean, your anger just shows in all of it. Laura Mulvey would go nuts for this.
J.G. Actually, I...

a.M. And is this your handwriting? Groundbreaking. You get it. You absolutely get it.
There’s no difference between men and women. A man can write in cursive in lipstick and, by extension, do anything that a woman can. And so can women. You are throwing down the societal constraints and declaring that total equality is now! You are the kind of artist this world needs!
J.G. I had a female friend write that.

a.M. Yes! You’re right! Women are completely manipulated by men in society! Even in
the art world. I’ve been seeing that for years and I’ve been telling people, someone
needs to fight against this. Someone needs to stop it now, you, wow, you did that!
You’re the liberator for women everywhere. The girls must love you! I bet you can get a
different girl every night! Unless you’re not into girls. I mean, that vest looks really good
on you and...
J.G. Don’t worry about it.

a.M. But these prints over here! I can’t believe at how much you’re able to say in two
feet by three feet! It’s like you’re rejecting that art even has content anymore! Art has
been meaningless for years, and by making this total glitch art, it’s like you’re the only
one who recognizes that and you’re telling the rest of the world to wake up. It’s over.
There’s nothing left to say and that’s exactly what you’re saying. These prints are
literally the final word in art! And that’s that word? Nothing! Because there’s nothing left
to say! You’re like the Pollock of the 21st century. Absolute genius. You know, I’ve got a
friend who’s got a gallery in New York and I know he would love to have these. I’ll give
you his number after this and you guys can talk.
J.G. Thanks.

a.M. And this canvas. It’s brilliant. I mean, it really makes you think, and that’s what I love about it. Because so much of art today doesn’t do that. You just look at it and it’s blatant and there’s no work involved but you, you demand that people work for your art. And what’s so brave about that is that most people won’t get it. They won’t figure it out. Only those who really understand aRT will get it. When I was waiting for you, I stared at this for at least half an hour. And I got it. I understood what it meant. And it’s amazing. It changed my life. I feel like I’m a different person now because of this message here. I don’t even know if I’ll want to have my old friends anymore, because they won’t get this.  It’s like you’re reclaiming pop art and making it fine art again. Because you’re totally right, art shouldn’t be for everyone. That’s what movies are for. If you don’t want to think, just go to the movie theater. This, this canvas code, this brings it back to the intellectual elite! And it’s time. It’s been time for a long time and you looked at society and said, “I don’t care, you don’t deserve this,” and took it back. Was that hard? Did this piece hurt to make? Or was the rage in you so strong that you couldn’t hold it back? Did you feel like you were saving a child from ravenous wolves, or was it more primal, like taking a woman and just having your way with her?

At this point, Gustafson looks at me in silence. It’s thrilling, the sort of connection that 
only happens between an artist and the person writing about their works, but also a little 
frightening, being in the presence of such revolutionary talent.
He looks around the room and straightens his vest.

J.G. What is lipstick on a mirror used for?
a.M. Telling someone you want to sleep with them.
J.G. For writing love notes. For taking the terrifying risk of telling someone how you
really feel about them, of knowing that you’ll likely get really hurt, but on the off chance it
does work, it’ll all be worth it.
a.M. That’s exactly what I get from it.

J.G. These prints over here. Digital images are made from code. Code is also how we
hide things in plain sight. So these images are direct presentations of some of my most
vulnerable moments. You’re staring right at it and yet it’s completely hidden.
a.M. And I absolutely feel that power when I look at it. It’s so brave yet so tender. You’re
a warrior-poet.

J.G. I bet. Thanks. And this canvas is that idea one step further. Now the actual letters
are there, completely in the open. Like a computer code, except that a human may actually be able to read it if they only knew the order. Once again, some of my most
vulnerable spots, letter-by-letter, right in front of you.

a.M. So many artists are total cowards and you are like a gladiator among them all!
J.G. That’s how I see it, too. Anyway, there’s a Buster Keaton festival going on down at
the Palace theater so I need to run. Good luck with your article.

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