Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Wolfgang Tillmans Instagram?

Is it just me? Try as I might, I just don’t see the genius that is uniformly attributed to the work of Wolfgang Tillmans. In an online search, I thought I might find a dissenting opinion- none were to be found. So here are mine.

Considering the entirety of his installations, I can recognize the artist’s rejection of the conventions of gallery photograph shows ,i.e., framed prints of uniform sizes. This show appears to adopt what has become another gallery convention, that of contemporary installation art. At its most successful, installation art fills a space with purposely selected and placed objects that direct viewers’ vision to the whole gallery environment as the work rather than to individual objects to be appreciated separately. At worst, an artist densely packs the gallery floor with a jumble of objects, the result: reverse synergy where the sum of the parts is less than the whole. With its motley assortment of variously sized prints, some framed some not, and of no consistent subject matter, a Tillmans’ show is very much in this vein. Respecting the adage about consistency and little minds, I’ll let that go, but what is lacking in Tillmans’ work is the connective tissue, the individual sensibility that a visual artist imprints upon their work. How does one know that an artist has anything to say if the oeuvre shows no particular vision?plantimage from

Cameras can faithfully record that which is in front of their lenses, and by virtue of their ubiquity, are going to generate infinitely varied, yet basically descriptive photographs. Cell phone cameras can now make photographs with quality comparable to that of the most technically accomplished and expensively equipped photographer.

Now consider the trope, photography is a language. Spoken language, intelligible to virtually every human for perhaps 60,000 years is rarely the stuff of poetry and literature. By one estimate there are 2.5 billion cameras capable of making technically sufficient images. With assured results and cost free, there are no constraints against making photographs of every g-d thing. The subjects: selfies, genitalia, cats, parties, pranks and the tragedies of war. As do words spoken everyday in conversations, photographs, made of every and anything spill out of cameras incessantly. Utterances may be prosaic or profound- it depends on the minds operating the mouths. On the other hand, cameras are capable of rendering an image of the greatest power and profundity as much by accident as by intention. This is borne out by simply scrolling through instagram where one can find images of genius or drivel from the same user. On occasion, photographs comparable to the most revered images of all time may be seen, but on the whole, the instagram feed is rather humdrum. A user’s brilliant post is likely followed by another banal and unrelated image. With cameras as common as mouths we might do well to distinguish their utterances with the same criteria applied to words, elevating literature from chatter.

Which brings the discussion back to Wolfgang Tillmans: What makes his work special?
Roberta Smith remarked in her review of the show, “Each says what a photograph inevitably says: I was here. And here. And also here.” Exactly the same insights are found on instagram. Smith should be asking, “Why don’t Tillmans’ photographs tell viewers more than the inevitable.” Found at the show are affectless snapshot portraits, pictures of clouds taken from an airplane window, pictures of political gatherings and so many unremarkable photographs of ordinary subjects.humdrum image from

Like an instagram feed, some of the photographs in the show intrigue, but most fatigue. Unlike some of the works made without a camera, where Tillman’s inventiveness is evident, the individual photographs, removed from the context of the installation show no particular sensibility or authorship.

The vast, sprawling scale of the presentation might seem impressive, and for a moment I consider if the show could be considered a single work. But the agglomeration seems gratuitous: why is one photograph small, another large, one framed, another not? Why the spindly wood vitrines?vitrines image from
Because the show is comprised largely of photographs, I look at each photograph with an expectation that some visual or conceptual idea is to be found therein. Were the individual images recombined through collage or other technique, their individual importance might be subsumed in the aggregate, but that is not the case here. As with so much installation art seen in galleries: Nothing exceeds like excess!

If any image would be selected to represent Tillmans’ opus it would be “nackt, 2, 2014,” an immense photograph of a man’s buttocks and testicles, to my mind “that taint art.”Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.40 PMimage from Instagram user @tzyychinnloh

Photo credit

Gun Loving Americans

As has happened all too many times, after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado many want to know, how is that an ordinary (or a not so ordinary) individual can own the same high powered semiautomatic guns used by soldiers and police?  If I may speak for the city dwellers I know, the concept of gun ownership might be a hunting rifle or a shotgun. Until recently I knew of not one New Yorker who owned a gun. In New York, few conversations even mention guns.

Growing up in the suburbs and attending summer camp exposed me to gun culture such that as a teenager, I had nagged my parents until they permitted me to own a 22-caliber rifle.  Its use, limited to target practice, was always with parental permission. The bolt and ammunition were both hidden away so that I could never use it without my father being on premises.  In time, I became more aware of the senseless gun violence of our society and I began to rethink the idea of owning a firearm. About the age of 17, I sold the rifle back to the gun shop and used the proceeds to buy some more photography equipment.

Today my arsenal is limited to an installation of 20 different red training handgun models which are mounted on the wall of above the fireplace as my ironic riff on the traditional musket mounted over the fireplace mantle.

But with my recent subscription to Cable TV, I have been reintroduced to gun culture’s many shapes and forms. Watching with an explorer’s fascination for the unknown, I have had startling revelations about the gun interests of Americans.  Not satisfied with rifles and shotguns for hunting or target practice, their taste in firearms is more catholic.  Americans have a great fascination for military pistols and assault rifles.  There are plenty of shows celebrating military snipers and associated weaponry on The History Channel. The Outdoor Channel has at least a dozen gun related programs, including: Babes with Bullets, Choose Your Weapon and Gun Nuts.

Two family oriented gun shows on Discovery Channel are regular viewing for me! In Sons of Guns, Will Hayden, father and daughter, Steph own Red Jacket Arms, a Baton Rouge LA. gun shop staffed by what we city slickers might characterize as rednecks. In many episodes Will directs his crew to modify military surplus armaments such as assault rifles, flame throwers or anti aircraft guns. Typically, a customer of the shop comes in with a military surplus weapon, which had been rendered inoperable so that it could be civilian owned. A good portion of the show would dramatize the procedures necessary to restore functionality to the weapon, the sourcing of ammunition and a subsequent shooting party in the woods somewhere. Each show ends with a fiery explosion, high fives, and hoots and hollers.

If the cast of Sons of Guns is too country for some, American Guns presents the more suburban apple pie Wyatt family owned gun shop in Colorado called Gunsmoke. The show, first broadcast at least one television season later, is remarkably similar to Sons of Guns, except that the cast is more wholesome and photogenic. Whereas Will Hayden, paunchy and ill-kempt, his raccoon eyed daughter and staff converse in drawling country colloquialisms, the Wyatt family is much more tidy and perky.  Family head and owner of the business, ex police chief Rick Wyatt, dressed in Gunsmoke custom printed polo shirts and neat blue jeans enthusiastically dispenses gunsmithing technique, business advice and family values to his wife, two children and store staff.  His wife Renee and daughter Paige, conventionally pretty, with blond hair, eye makeup and ample breasts sheathed in leotards play active rolls in the running of the business.  The soft spoken and obedient son, Kurt, works for his father as a gun engraver and also participates in the trading of guns.

The two programs seem to serve different customer bases. Red Jacket Arms has a down home and military veteran clientele, while Gunsmoke’s patrons are often wealthy Coloradoans living in huge mansions.  In these shows, the question has never been raised about the propriety of civilian ownership of any of these pure military weapons.  A customer comes in with a demilled (the US Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms requirement that the weapon be cut into pieces) WW 2 German machinegun and Red Jacket makes it operational and fully automatic. Thanks to Gunsmoke, a young woman, purportedly a competition shooter, goes home with a grenade launcher mounted to her M-16 assault rifle. Red Jacket Arms fulfils the wish of a customer to have the same kind of shotgun with silencer as used in the film, No Country for Old Men. These gun merchants fulfill customers’ dreams- however extreme.

If the casts of the two shows represent different demographic strata, the binding interest of guns would likely draw the same viewers to both programs. Anyway, the featured guns might seem more appealing than some of the cast members who often snipe (verbally) at each other.  As common with reality shows, often times there is suspense about whether or not critical tasks can be completed on time. Mistakes are made and periodic tensions and conflicts amongst the men of both gun shops arise. Their occasional outbursts of anger and hostility for each other contrasts their exclamations of love for guns, suggesting that they too prefer the weapons to each other And it’s not only testosterone: Renee, Paige and Steph are also very demonstrative of their love for guns in word (typically,”that is so bad-ass) and deed, blasting away with all manner of weaponry.  For the less macho female viewers, both shows have featured femme weapons painted with pink accents individually developed by Paige and Steph. One American Guns episode featured a husband and his gun averse wife shopping for matching his and hers pistols. Cajoled by her man, she attended the Gunsmoke training course and the episode ended showing her happy with her own  pink and white revolver.

American Guns and Sons of Guns demonstrate individuals having their gun fantasies made real. Whether one customer wants a Civil War cannon built or another wants a WW2 AK-AK gun, these ingenious craftsmen will figure out a way to satisfy their wishes. In this TV world, the destructive potential of these weapons is limited to the frisson of seeing inanimate objects being destroyed by the newly completed weapon. Filmed in high definition and high-speed video, the weapons are presented as seductively as Paige Wyatt in short shorts.  Close-up shots of an M-16 rifle on full auto ejecting shiny brass shells in slow motion or images of muzzle flash followed by the actual bullet leaving the barrel are the money shots of this gun porn.  Usually featuring two different weapon stories, every show ends with shit being blown up, the exploded targets shown from at least two separate angles and one slow motion shot. After the smoke clears, the gunsmiths, and customers, all spent, are pleasantly satisfied.

These shows celebrate gun ownership in America. By their telling, it’s the American way and to prove it- guns are wrapped in American flags (some customers have gone home with guns than have been painted with stars and stripes). Veterans, good old boys, retired folk, the wealthy, all own guns- and much more than a rifle and shotgun for target practice or hunting.

It’s a great country! Workers at Gunsmoke and Red Jacket Arms declaim their love for job and guns..Their customers love their guns- sometimes promiscuously- several episodes of American Guns have visited collectors with scores of weapons. The four-gun arsenal of James Holmes (the Aurora, Colorado, merely 20 minutes drive from the Gunsmoke store shooter) is paltry when compared to the collections shown on TV.

As do shows on TV celebrate food, fashion, interior design or automobiles, these programs revel in weapons as simply objects of desire.  From what I see on TV, I’d have to conclude that there is nothing unusual about owning military weapons. Their terrible potential for creating mayhem and tragedy not withstanding, its no wonder so many of us want our very own assault rifle. They are bad-ass!