On March 30, 2011, ART LIES magazine announced it would cease publication to take a “period of hiatus and reflection,” bringing over 15 years of service to an abrupt close. Beginning in 1994, ART LIES grew from a bimonthly journal focused on Houston into a smart, visually potent quarterly distributed across the United States, treading the path blazed by the mighty Artforum in the 60s and Atlanta’s own ART PAPERS in the late 70s. It remains to be seen whether the magazine will return in another form, as interim editor Kurt Mueller suggests.
Although I’m disappointed to see the magazine go, I’m glad I was able to contribute a book review to its final issue. Hirsch E.P. Rothko, an experimental memoir by Christopher K. Ho, chronicles the artist’s frustration with New York’s art scene and his journey to Colorado where he created a body of work titled Regional Painting. Excerpts from the review appear below.
“… Beginning in 2009 [Christopher Ho] abandoned his New York-based conceptual art practice for one year to become an abstract painter in Telluride, Colorado, a rustic mountain town with a population just over 2,000. Ho’s mission in this self-planned residency was to create artwork ‘disengaged from critical discourse,’ distancing himself from the noise of big city life and the bland intellectualism that had been frustrating his creativity.
“During his sojourn Ho produced Regional Painting, a solo exhibition that debuted last December at Winkleman Gallery in Chelsea. Hirsch E.P. Rothko, printed as a pocket-sized paperback, serves as the show’s companion text. Its pages detail the fall and redemption of Ho’s alter ego, Hirsch E.P. Rothko (an anagram of Christopher K. Ho), the text’s charmingly neurotic narrator ….”
Click here to read a Stephen Traux’s review of Ho’s exhibition in New York. It goes into further detail about the show’s many self-aware layers of fact and fiction, supplemented by the memoir. (Winkleman Gallery recognizes Hirsch E.P. Rothko as a collaboration between Ho and an anonymous ghostwriter who composed the narrative portions of the text.) The gallery gave away copies for no charge, and a free download is still available at the artist’s website.
More on the contents of the book:
“Chapter 2 … reads like a comedic homage to Notes from Underground. When Rothko’s detached arrogance exacerbates his dismissal from Rhode Island School of Design (where Christopher Ho was once a professor), his description flows elegantly: ‘As I cradled the phone and listened to myself being fired I gazed out at the beads of water denoting icy-coldness Photoshopped across the thirty-foot width of the double-triangle peaks, the left hand one behind the right and larger than it, while I tried to muster the interest to fake a plausible degree of indignant surprise.’
“Chapter 4 introduces Rothko’s hippy companions — local Colorado artists — who spend their days riding mountain bikes and doing magic mushrooms in scenes reminiscent of Thomas Pynchon, pre-Gravity’s Rainbow.
“After an art history lesson up through Barbara Kruger, Hans Haacke and Jeff Koons, Rothko finally concludes that regional painting ‘isn’t about a specific look or style’ but ‘an argument for an alternative model,’ advocating for community instead of academic esotericism and rigorous contemplation instead of cutthroat competition.”
The formula sounds great, but I would contest that, for all his time in the snowy wilderness and all the friendships he developed there, the artist never truly stopped being an outsider. After all, Ho’s paintings went back with him to New York and were consciously created to make a point to that audience. And, despite his criticism of intellectualism, Ho remains a conceptual artist to the end; his abstract paintings are inseparable from the complex narrative he built around them. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, the book opens questions that might be better answered by those living in the areas Ho seeks to defend.
“But how,” I write, “is a ski-resort village in Colorado a model that can apply to every region? How would it compare to somewhere like Santa Fe, another tiny town with its own regional culture and established relationship to the art market? And why abstract painting? Why not Pop art or performance or any number of other genres or techniques?”
Devilishly clever, Hirsch E.P. Rothko is certainly worth the afternoon it takes to breeze through all 89 pages. The story is funny, fast, and unabashedly problematic as it raises uncomplicated, but well-meaning, arguments for the legitimacy of artwork created outside the elite circles of the art world.
For further reading, see Alana Wolf’s insightful review of Artadia’s recent catalogue, 5 Cities 41 Artists. The book contains essays written from a local point of view on regional arts practice in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Houston, the city that originated ART LIES magazine.