Archive for September, 2010

ArtPrize Performance Art…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, September 18, 2010

Many years ago my friend Mert had an installation at an art gallery in Detroit. An installation is a room or area that is set up with several works of art and usually has some sort of central theme. That’s the basic idea, anyway. There are variations and I’m sure an installation could be created outside of that definition (a minimalist might, for example, paint an empty room white and name it “untitled”), but for the purpose of this story, that’s what an installation is.
The gallery had three rooms for installations in the basement. You’d walk down one flight of stairs, go from one room to another, and go back up another flight of stairs. (That’s the right term, isn’t it? Flight of stairs? Looks weird when you see it written twice.) Mert had the first room. I can’t remember the name of his exhibit (perhaps he will chime in here and let us know), but it was a series of painted cutouts — some six foot tall on the floor, some hanging from the ceiling — and it was about the experience of driving through the Detroit Metro area. I actually wrote a review of it and submitted it to a local art magazine (never printed, I wasn’t part of the local art club). But that was like 427 computers ago. I probably have a backup of it on a SyQuest cartridge or a floppy disk the size of notebook paper. I’m not going to look for it.

Anyway, Mert’s artwork was bright and colorful and edgy and in your face. There was nothing esoteric about it. You really didn’t have to guess at the point he was trying to make. If, say, a penis was required — BAM! — there was a big ol’ cartoony penis. No veiled allusions. The next two exhibits, however, were just dripping with pretentious symbolism. The one after Mert’s was titled, “Le Petit Mort.” It was a dense awful arrangement of various shades of black drapes and God-only-knows what because you could barely see anything. I’m embarrassed to say that I actually knew what the title meant — in French it’s literally “the little death,” but it’s a metaphor for orgasm. (You live in a house with a guy from France for a year in college, you pick up important stuff like that.) The installation after that was at least technically a little bit impressive — there were ponds with fish, lots of shiny things like ruby slippers, but beyond the Wizard of Oz references, incomprehensible.

So, yeah, as you can guess, I didn’t particularly care for the other two installations. That’s was fine. It was art, and others apparently found it worthwhile, so good for them, and I was glad they had the opportunity to express themselves. The thing that bothered me is how badly the other artists (that is, real artistes) treated Mert. Shunned him, basically. Treated him as a lesser person who, to paraphrase my cartoon, could not possibly understand the greatness of their art. So last week when my editor sent me a link to a Wall Street Journal article on ArtPrize and a few real artistes opined, in effect, “Ewww, Grand Rapids.” And when several real artistes complained last year about ArtPrize winners being largely a function of location and popularity. And when real artistes begrudge others earned money. I draw a cartoon.

Hey, if you want to see some of Mert’s current illustration & cartoon art, click here. And if you don’t know anything about ArtPrize, click here (and make a point of visiting downtown GR in the next couple of weeks).

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Unions Are Good! Unions Are Bad! And Repeat…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, September 11, 2010

Time to move on, Michigan. It’s time to move on….


No Smoking at the Veterans Home…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, September 4, 2010

Growing up in South Carolina, tobacco use was not so much encouraged as it was celebrated. The stuff grows like, well, like weeds, so it just made good sense to support it. The fact that it is insanely addictive certainly helped. You were, for all intents and purposes, handed a pack of smokes when you entered the state. I remember the coaches of my brother’s baseball team sharing a chunk of their Red Man chew with an eight year-old kid who simply asked for it. Yep. I am deeply thankful that I was never hooked.
I think about this occasionally when I see others who were in fact hooked — huddled in their designated smoker areas, exposed to the elements, and hopefully downwind. There but for the grace of… well, I don’t pretend to know God’s intentions for such things. But unless he’s from South Carolina, I’m guessing he’d prefer I didn’t smoke.

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Cage Fighting, Busted Pipelines, and Hand Grenades…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, August 28, 2010

First, to explain the topics covered:

There was a recent staging of a mixed martial art (MMA) or “cage fight” event here in Grand Rapids, and apparently it was for amateur fighters. And whereas there are regulations and certain safety rules for professional events (like having a doctor on hand), there are none for amateurs. I think that was it. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know exactly what the story is here. When I see MMA, my tendency is to look the other way. Professional, amateur, whatever — it’s all sort of violence porn to me. It hits so high on my “that’s really stupid” scale, that I cannot generate the energy to learn more.

You may or may not be aware that this summer Michigan had its own oil spill disaster. A pipeline burst and spilled an enormous amount of oil (not BP enormous, but still quite substantial) into the Kalamazoo River. I’m surprised I didn’t cover this earlier, but with one cartoon a week you can only get to so many topics (even doubling up like I did with this one). Anyway, this story led the Grand Rapids Press to do what good journalists do and investigate further. (I’ll give you a moment now to put down your web browser and go buy a dang subscription!) The Press found there are lots and lots of pipelines that transverse Michigan carrying oil, gasoline, natural gas, chemicals, and other toxic nasties — what sort of plans are in place to monitor and maintain these? Turns out, not a lot.

And now for a full disclosure: Credit for the live grenades and minefield line in the third panel should go to Garry Trudeau. One of his very early Doonesbury cartoons (and one of the first that I read) involved his character BD joining the Army to go fight in Vietnam. Some officers were testing new recruits and requested a volunteer to go retrieve a live hand grenade for a minefield — BD races forward enthusiastically screaming, “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” Obviously it stuck with me, and I ended up paraphrasing it. Of course I know I’m likely the only person in the world (other than Trudeau) who could detect my “sampling,” but telling you makes me feel a little less skeevy. Hmmm… maybe I can relate to MMA promoters….

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