Saturday, September 26, 2015
PRAY FOR ME
The year was 1989. I'd just been kicked out of the faculty apartment at SFAI for allowing my class to paint a mural on my wall. My port in the storm was a well known "youth hostel" in the Mission district run by an old friend I'll call Dr. M. A steady stream of young punks on various brands of dope came and went as the Dr. and I caught up in the parlor. An hour and a couple of colorful tabs into our visit and I spotted something on his mantle. From a distance it looked to be some sort of tourist Indian relic, a dagger in a cheap sheath. Steadying myself on increasingly wobbly legs, I made my way across the room for a better look. What looked cheezy at a distance proved to be quite authentic up close, as I lifted the heavy knife, turning it over in my hands. "Where'd you get this?" I asked my host, as his facial features turned reptilian. "It's the Padre's knife." he said with a wide grin. Que?
What followed was a long and twisted tale revolving around a museum theft, some undergrad hijinx and the history of California. If I was to believe the good doctor (and in my drug addled state I certainly did) this knife once belonged to that old Indian slaver, the founder of all the large missions on the west coast- Father Junipera Serra. "No shit." I held the knife, in it's woven scabbard, in my sweaty palms and went off into a rather strong hallucination. When I snapped out of it (24 hours later) the knife was still in my hands. I had one question. "Wanta trade?"
This past week Pope Francis visited the U.S. for the first time. In between congressional addresses, kissing babies, waving from that clown car and hamming it up with the Prez, another first took place. The Pope canonized Padre Serra as a full fledged saint in the Catholic church. He is the first "American" saint ever canonized on American soil. Everyone lapped it up, except of course the American Indians. But if history is any indication, neither churches nor governments give two shits what indigenous peoples think. Padre Serra and his bunch have been revising history concerning their treatment of Indians since day one. The Indians may have been enslaved, riddled with disease, murdered and treated like farm animals, but according to the Holy See they were treated kindly, educated, and brought into the missions "for their own good". Why there's not any coastal Indians left remains a mystery. Maybe that's the miracle Saint Serra is credited with. "They all vanished in a holy rapture. Praise the Lord!"
As Popes go the soft spoken Francis seems to be a good one. I want to think the best of him, quelling my propensity to think he has a string of 12 year old alter boys waiting back at the seminary. I did make a trade for that knife back in '89 and still have it on my desk. I actually tried to return it to the museum it was supposedly stolen from with no luck. No one would admit that it was ever part of their collection. Too many years had gone by and I'm sure someone collected an insurance check at some point. The Saint's knife is a beautiful, if not a slightly disturbing relic. When I go I'll leave it to the CLGM. You can figure out what to do with it. Pray for me.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Monday, September 7, 2015
Saturday, September 5, 2015
TITS AND PHONES
Labels: pHOTO:r. KERN
Not to be confused with a mentalist, the millenials or the minimalists, a menialist takes objects associated with menial tasks and attempts to elevate them into the art context. It is not a new concept. Duchamp's "readymades" and much later Beuys' "everyone an artist" took art into the banal and the menial realm, both embraced by art history. The direct simplicity of using the everyday has always interested me. One of my very early pieces- MISSIONARY (the extended family as sculpture) started with the act of a 12 year old boy, residing in a flop house hotel, taking it upon himself to sweep up Minna Alley in SF, CA., of the broken Thunderbird and Night Train bottles. This simple act resonated with a reporter for the SF Chronicle, who penned a human interest story on the boy- Darrell Monroe. Reading this article, I contacted the boy's family, and over a period of three months "got to know" this boy. In the end the family disappeared without a forwarding address, allowing me to show the detritous of this act in writing and object at SFMOMA.
The year was 1978. I was a young, idealistic artist at the beginning of my career. The little show got no press and was basically forgotten as soon as it went up. It was a powerful lesson. MISSIONARY informed almost all the work I've done since. What got me thinking about this piece was my latest attempt to elevate the menial in my work. I read in the local paper of the county's attempt to open a homeless shelter that would serve the needs of the community in the most brutal of the winter months. Anyone who has ever been so down and out as to need the help of social services on a night when the mercury drops below zero, certainly doesn't care about art. But.....why not? My idea would be to integrate art into the design and construction of said shelter to the degree that it would augment the hot meal, clean sheets and safe environment. Why should artists cater to the rich, chasing their seal of approval, hoping to get representation of a good gallery or shown in a museum. Should collection by a small group of ultra-rich tastemakers be the end game?
As a menialist I sadly admit that I am susceptable to market and historical envy. I know i shouldn't be. It is a constant struggle to keep one's sense of self in tact year after year without shows or sales. Money goes out. Nothing comes in. Sure I tell myself that the "art" is what matters. Sometimes I actually believe it. This is what led me to engage the community directly with the lawn work and the church services. Yet, even this is limited to people with cars who drive by. Why not bring art to the hungry, the cold, the desperately downtrodden, who just want a bowl of hot soup and a cot for the night. Why make that experience that much more sadly debilitating with bullet proof glass, institutional green paint and horrible lighting? Why not elevate the experience? I have a few pieces I know will cheer the place up. I can't wait to get started.