Weekly Update: Air Kissing your way to success in the art world

This week’s Weekly has my review of Air Kissing at Arcadia University Art Gallery. Below is the copy with some photos. More pictures at flickr.

Kalup Linzy
Kalup Linzy’s video is a soap opera send up of the art world. It’s greaaaat!

Biting the hand that feeds you is often a winning strategy in the art world. Art that pokes fun at museums, galleries, schools and the art market—insider’s art—can get you into a show or a collection. A product of postmodernism’s love of irony and navel-gazing, communistically self-critical art has great appeal to those in the field who appreciate a little poke or a jab—especially when it’s gentle and not pointedly assaultive.

Andrea Fraser
Andrea Fraser saying something wonderfully fatuous as an art world talking head.

“Air Kissing” at Arcadia is an entire group show about the art world. Many of the works have a light touch to make their points, although a couple raise serious issues. The best works are video pieces with enough charm and charisma to please insiders and cross over to viewers less schooled in the art world’s rites and rituals.
Kalup Linzy, the team of Andrea Fraser and Jeff Preiss, Alex Bag and Christian Jankowski, deal with so many art-world issues they could’ve been the whole show. Linzy’s video soap opera Conversations wit de Churen V: As da Art World Might Turn (2006) features an artist, Katonya, and her attempt to get a show in Sholeva Sure’s gallery while at the same time maintaining her love life with Big Feet Freddy.
Christian Jankowski
Christian Jankowski’s Telemistica in which tv fortune tellers predict the success/failure of Jankowski’s art projects.

Riveting as well as enlightening, the 11-minute piece has an open ending. I, for one, can’t wait to see another episode. Will Katonya (played by Linzy) achieve her goal of happiness, or will she be swallowed whole by the anxiety-producing tasks of putting on a show, speaking to critics, wooing collectors and keeping a boyfriend?
Kalup Linzy
Kalup Linzey as Katonya rehearsing her speech for the opening. Gallerist Sholeva Sure in the background.

The video’s DIY affect (minimal sets, rudimentary camerawork and cross-dressing performers with bad wigs and clothes) and earnest storyline reveal a world that seems like a charade or a fairy tale. But at its core, the video speaks truth about how artists juggle public and private lives.
Andrea Fraser and Jeff Preiss’ video, which updates a 1991 performance by Fraser, shows the artist talking about art in a gallery using platitudes and artspeak. (“It’s a beautiful show,” she says while the camera pans a wall of all-black paintings.) Fraser’s point about the falseness and puffery that surrounds the selling of art is a big one.
Alex Bag
Alex Bag, in her Derrida-reading days as a young art student.

Alex Bag’s untitled 1995 video depicts the semester-by-semester monologues of an art student (Bag) who starts as an impressionable young thing reading Derrida and winds up in her last semester disgruntled and confused, working menial jobs and sitting through insufferable critiques of her work by boneheaded artspeak babblers.

Alex Bag, ready to graduate and pretty disillusioned about the life of the artist.
Alex Bag, ready to graduate and pretty disillusioned about the life of the artist.

But when she vows she’s not going to grad school and that she’ll leave New York, you don’t believe it. She’s a true insider seduced by the charms of art and the art world. She’ll probably continue to make art and be disgruntled by those more successful than she. It’s a sad (and at times funny) but true depiction.
Air Kissing
Installation including James Mills’ piece “Everything Must Go.”

Surrounded by these very earnest and endearing videos, Christian Jankowski’s outrageous Telemistica (1999) features Italian television psychics who give the artist advice and warnings about his art projects. Whether it’s God or a psychic, there’s no magical mystery involved in making art. And Jankowski’s send-up of that age-old myth is rich.

Lee Lozano’s Throwing up Piece (1969)—written directions on how to stop making art by a successful artist who took her own advice—is the edgiest work in the show and raises the biggest questions. Why do we have art? Why should anyone make art? Does art make us better human beings?
“Air Kissing” first appeared at Brooklyn’s Momenta Art, an artist-run space that began in Philadelphia in 1986 and moved to New York in 1992. James Mills, one of the group’s founders, is in the show.

“Air Kissing”
Through April 20. Free.
Arcadia University Art Gallery, Spruance Fine Arts Center, 450 S. Easton Rd. 215.572.8774.