Friday, June 22, 2012

Rock, paper, edges, art

“Tearing paper makes it sculptural,” says Sasha Ascher, the curator and one of two artists-in-residence at the Oak Street Gallery in Greenpoint. This phenomenon, along with a formative perception of the edge between tree and sky, informs the way Ascher eschews straight-bordered work in favor of the irregularity of tears, and her interest in the excavation of self manifests in a partially eviscerated notebook, its exposed pages painted light taupe, light brown, and robin’s egg blue. In Oak Street’s first show, which opened last Sunday as part of the Northside Art festival, Ascher is displaying an unfurled scroll, darkened with charcoal, that resembles the body of a Chinese dragon, and strips of paper that evoke vistas of a forest, an ocean, and a lake. Another small piece depicts two vase-like shapes, perhaps wrapped in shawls, with disembodied faces floating on top.

Ascher’s thin materials and jagged edges contrast with Oak Street owner Stephen George Balamut’s three mostly smooth, abstract sculptures of Italian marble, which both allude to and resist identification as fleshy, human shapes. Balamut, who cites Constantin Brancusi as an influence and sculpts without an object in mind, said the contrast in the artists’ media is counterbalanced by their creation of three-dimensional forms. The rock and paper “may have different personalities, but they look good together,” Balamut said.

For the opening, Ascher also hung gorgeous strands of pearly fabric, dyed two shades of indigo near the ends, from scaffolding that surrounds a neighboring building; they swayed invitingly in the breeze. Oak Street Gallery, at number 84 west of Franklin, is now open by appointment. Email to schedule a visit. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thank f*ck for Pulp

I loved Rob Sheffield’s excellent review (excellent in terms of the writing, excellent in terms of the rating—in fact, Sheffield’s very first line is “Well, that was excellent”) of Pulp’s show at Radio City Music Hall on April 10th. Timely as always, I’d like to share some impressions from the concert, which differ from Sheffield’s but also arrive at what I think is his premise and conclusion: Pulp are wonderful.

For me, the show wasn’t outstanding. Although my views are changing, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a skeptic of the quality of Different Class, which has made me something of a willful outcast in the Pulp fan universe, like a guy selling Marxist newspapers on a Saturday in Soho. (Although I’ve found a sympathizer in Owen Hatherley, a British journalist whose book Uncommon, a self-described “Essay on Pulp,” is paperback manna from heaven.) The set list was heavy on material from DC, and I know that being irritated at “I Spy” and bored by “Pencil Skirt” says more about me than the music. I feel less biased in claiming that some songs sounded patchy. But one definition of “patchy” is “of inconsistent or irregular quality, texture, etc; not uniform.” That’s pretty much how Pulp have described their m├ętier for most of their career: the sleevenotes to 1985’s Freaks, the opening line of 1995’s “Misshapes,” and Jarvis’s apologetic request at Radio City that Sheffield quotes in his review: “Please forgive our slightly shabby, secondhand kind of glamour.” Like anyone wasn’t going to do that.

Furthermore, while watching this group of arty, self-proclaimed misfits disarm a roomful of New Yorkers, it occurred to me that one of the things people love about Pulp is that they are patchy. Their body of work, which includes moments that are lovely, ghastly, stunning, underwhelming, and overwrought, shows us that we can make art, music, and love while still being our messy, unfinished selves. How many pop bands have done the same? Other than Belle and Sebastian, I can’t think of any.

In Pulp: Truth and Beauty, a biography by Mark Sturdy, the author quotes Jarvis speaking to the crowd at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995, saying something similar to what he told us in New York almost 17 years later: “If you want something to happen enough, then it actually will happen, OK? And I believe that. In fact, that’s why we’re stood on this stage after 15 years. So, if a lanky get like me can do it, and us lot, than you can do it too.” Gotta hand it to Mr. Sturdy: the truth of those words, along with the beauty of Pulp’s music, produce a happiness that is rare and an example that is everlasting. Now if they would only play “My Legendary Girlfriend” next time around…