Sunday, July 31, 2016
THE NEW COLLECTORS
Sitting in the back of the shul, hens clucking softly, the occasional rooster squawking and chasing a lone hen across the floor, the smell of feed and shit up my nostrils, I've been spending my time reading. I finished AS I LAY DYING by Faulkner and am well into WISE BLOOD (again) by Flannery O'connor. Gritty Southern lit. seems to fit perfectly in my fly swatting, cooler on the floor, pistol in my pocket, back room. These days I find it hard to read. The TV, computer, internet addiction all seem to get in the way of my concentration. But at the shul there's none of these distractions. I don't have a cell phone and there's no electricity. So between spacing out, picking up the guitar once and a while, the occasional patron asking questions....I read.
My demographic is all local- 4H (Homeys, Hassidic, Hispanic and Hillbillies). My homeys that showed up for the opening have not been back since, to pick up their adopted birds. Be forewarned- if you do not come to pick up your chicken she will be dropped off at your door. I have your names and know where you live. But the other 3 H's have been in full effect. Of course my clientele has been over whelmingly Hassidic and Orthodox. But amongst them are the rough trade poor white, and the hardworking Black and Hispanic. Put out a FREE sign and what do you expect? These are my collectors. Some get it right away. A free chicken? Thanks or no thanks. But then I start to flesh out the piece. "No it's not a chicken coop. It's an art work." Puzzled looks. "Look here." I say, sliding the adoption certificate across the desk. "With your chicken you get a stamped cardboard carrier, and a signed and numbered certificate of adoption. It is a limited multiple that you get for free. You just have to deal with your chicken in order to get it." I might as well be explaining it to the chickens.
Don't think I'm being superior or talking down to my audience. I have so much more respect for them than I do for almost any level of the art world. At least these guys are showing up. The art world is the very definition of myopic- festive decorations but no food for hungry guests. They are so involved in gazing at their own belly buttons that they miss anything that doesn't have the corporate stamp of approval. Here I am giving away a sweet little multiple. And all you have to do is deal with the fact that you have to kill your own chicken dinner. You'd think those blood thirsty billionaire collectors would be down. Instead my collectors are hard working, hungry and more than happy to wring a chicken's neck and toss it in the pot. Lets hope they don't just toss that certificate. When me and that chicken are long gone, it just may be worth something.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Life eventually kills you. In the meantime you wait. Waiting doesn't come easy to everybody. But for me? I'm pretty good at it.
In 1984 I rented a crappy little storefront, filled with unkeyed plaster, years of debris and a stopped up toilet. The floor sloped 6" over 8' and it was only 10' wide. But this little shithole was located just off the park, on E9th and Ave. A in the East Village. In 1984 this was prime gallery district real estate. It cost me $600 per month.
I had had a gallery in SF for the past couple of years called MO David, but I never kept formal hours and rarely sold a work of art. I'd have openings and once in a great while someone would call for an appt. The rent was dirt cheap and I lived in the back. This was a different kettle of fish altogether. This was art- retail. I had to keep regular hours. I had to sell art....even if my whole intent was to create this gallery as a sculpture.
In Jan. 1984 I opened MO David, Inc. At first it was exciting- new city, new friends, new fucking world.....the artworld. But pretty soon I began to get antsy. Waiting wasn't easy. Waiting day after day for some rich cat to come in to your place of business and drop down hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on art was downright nerve racking. Some days I'd get loads of lookers. Other days barely a soul darkened my doorway. But then, out of the blue, some man or woman would come in and I'd actually make a sale. It didn't happen often, but it did happen. I'd make a sale. We'd be reviewed. It was enough to keep waiting.
Then, 2 years down the road, the wait was over. The money dried up. The scene changed. I started a rock band and a church. I moved on. In 1994 I started hunting again. I climbed in a tree and I waited. Instead of women in furs stepping from limos, I had red squirrels on tree branches and porcupines lumbering through the woodlots. Instead of trying to spot a collector or a critic I had fat does and big eight pointers in my sights. I sat in that tree and I waited, until the wait itself took on an attraction of it's own. I couldn't wait to get back in the woods and wait some more.
Then, even that lost it's allure. I started a school and waited for students. I started another church and waited for parishioners. I started a business and waited for customers. And once again I started another gallery- this time called MO David North, and waited for attention. I'm still waiting. A couple of years ago I bought a shul. This is where I'm waiting now. Every morning I tote water from the spring well, unlock the front door, grab a sack of feed and proceed to feed and water my chickens. When this is accomplished I sweep out the front and back office, sit down in my swivel chair, prop my feet up on my desk, grab a fly swatter and wait to give away chickens and art. Every day a few more people in town hear about it. Today about a 1/2 doz. people stopped by and two people adopted birds. Mostly it's Hassidim and hardcore hillbillies. At first it was boring, sitting there swatting flies, smelling chicken shit, hearing squawking roosters and clucking hens. But now I'm in the groove. I love to see a minivan or pick up pull up. I couldn't have predicted in a million years that I'd be sitting in the back of an old synagogue filled with chickens, swatting flies. Waiting becomes it's own reward, if you are where you want to be. And then you die.
Monday, July 25, 2016
SUITABLE FOR FRAMING
Telling people that I am an "artist" is one of those exasperating experiences that I've never liked. If I could find a better moniker I'd use it in a heart beat. The first reaction is the traditional. "Oil or water colors?" Then comes a further refining of the term. "Painter, sculptor, photographer.....etc.?" It goes on from there and never ends with any real understanding. The other day a woman stood in the middle of my studio, surrounded by work, slowing turning around and honestly asked "Where's the art?" Even amongst my most highly educated, in tune, hip, completely savvy, artsy friends, I can get furrowed brows and perplexed gazes when I present them with recent work.
ROOST X opened on Saturday evening at THE OLD SHUL FOR SOCIAL SCULPTURE. Essentially this is the placing of 30 chickens (avail. for adoption) in the oldest portion of the shul once prayed in by THE CONGREGATION ANSHEI in Glen Wild. The content is the chickens, feed, water, wood chips, chicken wire, tree branches, boxes and adoption certificates. The context is the shul itself. I've always been labeled a conceptualist. But I'm more accurately a "contextualist". Over a 40 year career I can count the times I've shown in the traditional gallery or museum context on one hand. The shul was started by the communist, co-op chicken farmers of the 1920's. By the 21st century the congregation had dwindled to the degree that they were ready to sell the building to a goy (me) and put the money into keeping up the cemetery. More of the congregation were in the ground than needing to pray in a crumbling shul.
So being the prop. of the context, as well as the creator of the content, I'm forced to hire someone, or sit the place myself. I have no money. So yesterday I opened the door, spray painted the word OPEN above my drawing of Cheeky on the steps, and waited.....and waited. Then, late in the afternoon, I heard screeching tires, blasting car horns, and a small Toyota and a large mini-van skidded to a stop in front of the shul. Ahhh.....gallery goers.
Three Hassidics - one older and two younger, got out of the two vehicles dressed in black and white finery. My artistic engagement with the Hassidic community has been on going for years. Since a bunch of Hassidic teenagers broke my GOD LOVES FAGS sign in half in 2010, it's been a love/hate relationship. 99% of the time I'm nice. You can't put hebrew on billboards and chickens in a shul without expecting a little engagement with the Catskill Jewish population. The first words out of their mouths, after I admonished them for their shitty, dangerous driving, were "Do you have any books?" It's always about the books. And no matter how many times I tell them that the books were taken by the congregation I can see in their eyes that they don't believe the goy. The next question is "Who owns this?" When I explain that it's mine they can't believe that "the handyman" owns the shul. It only gets crazier from there.
As the elder and one of the youngers pepper me with books?, torah?, bema? and ark? for sale? questions I direct them to the chickens. "So now it's a chicken coop?" the elder asks. "No" I say "It's an art work. Do you want to adopt a chicken? It comes in a box with a certificate, suitable for framing." The talkers frown, shake their heads and the 2nd younger has a grin that never leaves his face. He says nothing, as the other two scowl and continue with the inquisition. Finally I can't take it anymore, as they repeat themselves ad nauseum. "What's with you guys?" I bark. The elder stares into the shul of pecking and scratching birds and quietly admits "We're a thick people." I crack up. As the three leave I call to the smiling third. When he turns I point to the others. "Keep an eye on those two." I say with a smile. He grins wider and nods. Yeah. I'm an artist. The chickens and I will be down at the shul most afternoons for the next two weeks. Drop by for a visit. And NO! I don't have any books. But I'm giving away art.
Friday, July 22, 2016
ADAPTING TO ADOPTING
I've used the practice of "adoption" in my work for almost 40 years now. I've adopted a girl, a boy, a cow, a couple of roads and now I'm asking you (my community) to adopt a bunch of chickens. It's all consistent work. But this is the first time I've asked others to take on the responsibility of adoption. And so it was, in structuring this piece I call ROOST X, that I went about asking my chicken farmer friends if they would sell me some chickens? Turns out a full grown "roosting" chicken can be a hard thing to purchase. All my buddys' birds were spoken for. Fancy French chef's were destined to serve up these birds. What to do? I put the word out and I got one name- Murray.
I placed a couple of calls and ended up in Murray's office. It was like visiting the don in the back of a Mulberry St. social club. Every eye in the room sized me up. I introduced myself as the "artist" with the church and shul over in Glen Wild. Murray didn't let on, but I think he knew who I was. I explained my piece to Murray as out of the corner of my eye, a guy snickered on the couch. I think when I said "artist" Murray thought I wanted to do some Youtube chicken snuff video. When I said adopt Murray's eye's lit up and he said "Sure. $2 per bird. We'll loan you the boxes. You can pick 'em up on Friday." Damn. I couldn't believe how easy it was. What could go wrong?
Today I picked up two yellow plastic crates of chickens. 24 grimy white chickens were stuffed in slippery, shit covered crates. A large guy lifted them right off the tractor trailer bed and and tossed 'em in the back of my truck. I thanked, tipped him and took off before I puked. The smell on the hottest day of the year, just on the loading dock, was overpowering. I can't imagine what it was like inside. These workers were doing a really nasty job for our chicken dinners. I told the guy i had a lot of respect for him and he flashed me the peace sign.
Now here's where the piece takes a turn. Turns out these hens are specifically bred to grow really fast, develop all kinds of health issues and essentially blow up so large that their legs will break under the weight of their giant breasts. In my, albeit well intentioned act of saving them from the slaughterhouse, providing them with a cool open space, with plenty of food and water, I may have caused more harm than good. Genetic engineering has made this adoption very problematic. But then again..........The show hasn't even opened yet. The girls are safe in the shul and tonight I'm delivering six of those fancy French roosters into their midst. I've already changed the official document to actually encourage you kill your adopted bird. So I hope that clarifies things. Hope to see everybody tomorrow at 6pm.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
SUMMER SHUL- press release
I own two historical buildings- a church and a synagogue (or shul). I saved them both from almost certain death and demolition in a small Catskill town in upstate NY, and have spent many hours literally down on my hands and knees caring for each. Over the years they have become the primary context for my artwork, performative, curatorial, and sculpturally speaking. I am humbled within their creaking bones and crumbling plaster walls, always trying my damnedest to do them justice.. SUMMER SHUL is the first, in what I hope will be many, site specific shows at THE OLD SHUL FOR SOCIAL SCULPTURE my most recent project. The inaugural show will feature "ROOST X- save me", a new work I have designed for the space, which is opening Sat. July 23- 4pm, as well as Terence Koh's premier work "IMMERSING THE PLANET IN THE MIKVAH" opening Sat. Aug 13- 4pm. The space will be open on a "drop by" or call for appt. basis through July and Aug 2016.
THE OLD SHUL FOR SOCIAL SCULPTURE resides in a synagogue built in 1920 by the Jaffe family of Glen Wild, and a small congregation born out of the Jewish farm co-ops of the time. These were dairy and chicken farmers from Eastern Europe who planted the seeds for the "Borscht Belt" and what is now the Hassidic, Casino, Hillbilly, Hipster enclave of today. The original architecture, stained glass and woodwork remain in tact, in a state of beautifully arrested decay. It has no electricity and I have no plans to hook it up. Limitations and restrictions are an inherent part of the working artist's life here in the mountains.
THE OLD SHUL is located 1hr and 45 mins. from Manhattan, 2 miles from Rt. 17, off exit 109.
Now open for the summer.
Terence Koh is a Canadian artist who resides somewhere in the Catskills.
Mike Osterhout is an American artist who resides in Glen Wild, NY.
THE OLD SHUL FOR SOCIAL SCULPTURE 380 Glen Wild Rd. Glen Wild, NY 12738 By appt. (845) 434-1918 firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, July 11, 2016
Thursday, July 7, 2016
HILLBILLY RAGE and POLICE SUPREMACY
A couple of weeks ago i was picking something up at Home Depot and on the way out of the parking lot decided to take a left and stop in Micky D's (a block away) for a cup of coffee. As I waited at the light to turn left, a State Trooper passed me. Then another, and another. 4 cops passed me as I waited for the light to turn green. When the last one passed i realized I hadn't fastened my seat belt. I could've clicked it on....but I didn't. When I parked the truck I heard the "Woop-woop" of the Statey who pulled in behind me. I was already out the door of the truck. The trooper (who looked about 18) told me I wasn't wearing my seat belt and to get back in the truck. I smiled and complied.
I'm always nice to cops (until I'm not). As a sat there, I had the feeling that even with my explanation, and apology for non-compliance of seatbelt law, this kid was going to give me a ticket. When he came back to my window he began to explain what I had to do to pay the ticket he had in his hand. This is when "Bad Mike" came out. "Spare me the fucking lecture." I told him, grabbing the ticket and tossing it on the floor. "You know it doesn't pay to be nice to you guys." I continued in disgust. Yeah, I can be that guy. In retrospect I should've reeled myself in. But I didn't. I wasn't afraid to speak my mind. As I got out of the truck I kept it up. I told this baby-faced Statey in the McDonald's parking lot "Why don't you get a fucking job where you aren't so bored and quit targeting the working man?" He told me to have a nice day, got in his prowler and left. I finally got my coffee.
I tell you this story in the wake of two more police officer murders of Black men, as a way of pointing out just how imbalanced the world is. If I had been a Black man I never would've felt I had the right to address an armed officer of the state in such a disrespectful manner. If I had been Black I probably would've been arrested. If I had been armed I could've been killed. I'm not proud of the way i acted, but that said, I was totally within my rights. My "white" rights.
Yesterday Shewho and I went to the city to deal with a little family drama early, and I had a class lecture scheduled at SVA. My old friend Robinski had invited me to give an overview of my work and do some student studio visits. He met me at the elevators with the news that another Black man had been killed by police in New Orleans. We both moaned and commiserated over the tragic event and then went back to talk art. It barely affected us. This morning I saw the video that a Minn. woman live streamed on Facebook of the aftermath of her boyfriend being shot and killed by a cop during a traffic stop for a busted taillight, as her 4 year old daughter sat in the back seat. As I relayed this event to Shewho over our morning phone I literally broke down sobbing in tears. Where the fuck did that come from?
Once I composed myself, I went back to writing this post. If I, a privileged white stranger, can be moved to tears by this horrible injustice, imagine how the entire Black community feels right now. I have every right, and many opportunities, to express my rage, (even while legally armed). The calmness with which Lavish Reynolds talked to the police officer who had just killed her boyfriend, as she filmed, is mindbogglingly heart wrenching. Instinctively she knows to stay calm, or suffer the same fate. We live in a world of not only white, but Police Supremacy. Social media is full of outrage and rightfully so. But the loudest voice is silent. Where is the NRA? Here is a citizen, legally armed, complying calmly with a police officer's command to show ID, and as he reaches for his wallet he is executed. He did everything right.....except be born with the proper skin color. What does the NRA, the FBI, the DOJ and the rest of our alphabet soup of agencies have to say about that? The tears are welling up again.
Monday, July 4, 2016
FEEL THE BURNER
What's a "Burner"? A Burner is the kind of person that goes to Burning Man. You know Burning Man? It's that gathering in the desert that draws thousands of painted, feathered and naked individuals every year. Started as an organic little festival of like-minded souls (hippies), the thing now draws tens of thousands of weekend warriors, who pony up a good amount of cash to drop their inhibitions (and drawers), twirl the florescent noodle, and spread the word like rabid missionaries that the shindig is the best thing since sliced bread. There's corporate sponsors, goofy art installations , loads of drugs like X and K, and of course fire. "You gotta go to Burning Man!" the devotees always tell me. "It'll change your life." I have absolutely no interest. Thankfully my life does not need any more changing.
If my attitude seems a bit superior and dismissive of Burning Man, it's on purpose. My philosophy is diametrically opposed to what the organizers have done with Burning Man. They want to bring the world (in greater and greater numbers) to the desert. They want to make money. They want to exploit. I, on the other hand, want to keep the CLGM small, burn a few dollars, smoke a little pot, drink a few beers, have a bbq among friends (and a few strangers) and change the world right in front of our eyes. But with all that said, the other night I hosted a "Burner Party" at the CLGM. Fuck going to Burning Man. I can bring Burning Man to me.
I know it seems like sacrilege to pimp out the church for a party (for actual $) but in my old age I have to figure out a way to pay the phone bill without falling off of construction projects. So Saturday night about 60 people showed up to dance, cavort, twirl fire and Ooooooo and Ahhhhhhhh over our little parish here in the Catskills. Shirtless men and painted women came up to me all night long shaking my hand, telling me how blown away they were by the CLGM. They asked for instagram accounts and hashtags to post their happiness. I had none to offer. I frowned sternly and told them to keep it on the DL. They were perplexed by my "anti-viral" approach. It made no sense to them. We obviously came from different belief systems. Nonetheless they partied, drank, danced, twirled and tripped the night away to throbbing beats in the sanctuary and out on the lawn. At dawn, with about a dozen hardcore left in the church, I went to bed.
All in all it was a good experience (for them and me). They had a ball, cleaned up, were respectful of the neighbors, and left me with a pile of cash in my pocket. Yes, we are of different faiths, but as the sign says "ALL ARE WELCOME". I have no desire to make this a regular practice, but once in a while I may open up the chapel for revelers from other traditions. After burning thousands of dollars over 30 years, maybe now is the time to expand my beliefs and put a little folding cash in the coffers. I still have no desire to ever attend Burning Man. But Burning Man can always come to me.