Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Chi of Ken Shorr

Ken Shorr MOCA Tucson May 6, to Sept. 29, 2013 Action Through Redaction

When I was sixteen, living with my parents in Westchester county, they invited me to a Nureyev dance recital. I didn’t go. When I was close to Benedikt Taschen and we were in Los Angeles, he invited me to dine with him and Billy Wilder. I got Wilder confused with the guy that directed Bus Stop and didn’t go. Those are two major mistakes of my life.
I wasn’t going to miss Ken Shorr show his new films and speak in a small room upstairs in MOCA Tucson. When I was in Rome in 2007 I was with my then teenage daughter, Willa. I wanted to find erotica and looked all over the city. I finally found some fine lithos at a small art gallery down the street from the hotel we were staying in.
Same with knowing the work of Ken Shorr. I have spent my lifetime enjoying the work of Duchamp, Molinere, Bruce Connor, Hans Belmer and others never suspecting that there was an artist on their level in my home town of Tucson.
Mid- way through his `talk’ I raised my hand and told him he was the best entertainer I had sat through in years. He rivaled John Waters with his delivery.
But it was more like watching a unique form of tai chi as his feet (legs) somehow worked with flailing arms as his mind spun unnecessary explanations of his guts he was showing on the screen. Like every good artist, his work is in progress, complete in his incompleteness. His Parkinson’s disease doesn’t allow him perfection or refinement and I’m glad for that. He rings the essence out of his past…the horrors that stuck to him…His surreal humor reminds me of the great Korean video artist Nam June Paik who made fun and impact out of the obvious like his “Buddha contemplating himself in a monitor” (a small statue of a seated Buddha staring at his image in a tv monitor.
 Or the time he brought Charlotte Moorman to my small Park avenue studio and had her model his “training” bra made of small toy train engines sticking out of the bra cups of her bra.
I felt that same deep sense of humor when I first saw his collaged vintage record albums hanging in Agustin Brasserie when it first opened. Unpredictable. Like the sacks of flour Duchamp hung from the ceiling to decorate the surrealist exhibition Exposition Internationsale du Surrealisme in 1938 organized by Andre Breton and Paul Eluard at Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. What surprises would Ken bring to the viewer. (and he is dearly loved for this, by a small core of people)
Or the time he invited a friend of mine to dinner and, once seated at the dining room table, Ken gave them each a magazine to read, to relieve the social tension that is inherent in a dinner party. Yeow. Like Andy Warhol’s Andy Mat in which each diner would eat alone at a small table complete with an equally small television monitor. Or the thick resin books Ken Shorr has fixed or transformed or made strange by adding dimension and fur. There is a large table at his exhibition of these strange and wonderful creatures and one is invited to feeeel them!

His work is not what it may seem.
Tonight I called Ken to ask him about his photography which dominates one of the rooms in the East wing of the museum. He said he had been doing photography since coming to Tucson in 1985. It can be divided into three parts. He did a series of what appeared to be substantial sculptures which were actually fabricated for his camera and made of cardboard which fell apart immediately after being photographed. Thoughts of Branchusi, the great sculpture and golf enthusiast.
Or his recent short animated films without sound that are really an extension of his still camera. They are stills that move, that bleed/breed color.

In the past, he did a series of photographs he felt were erotic but not explicit, of a couple. But soon moved away from using people but continued to make erotica. The sepia/platinum selinum toning made me think of the work of Molinere but Ken explained he was thinking of Hans Belmer with a nod to George Platt Lynes. He mentioned briefly that I would be surprised by the photographers that influenced him and then mentioned Gary Winogrand and I was surprised. He said they would have devastating arguments and that didn’t surprise me.

He’s been married to Alise for 28 years. She appears to be a Godsend.

 There is much more to write about Ken Shorr and his work but, for now, I have written enough.

He has explored and continues to explore in film, photography, and sculpture areas of thought and imagination that terrify most `artists’. His work is not always pretty. I doubt he has any interest in pretty. There is a twinkle in his eye that gives away the mischief that permeates all his work. He told me tonight his series of photographs were of “making images that were false”. That is his way of telling universal truths. He self- deprecates and sometimes, Joanne Stuhr, curator of this fine exhibit, has to finish his sentences. But he remains a source of surprise and enlightenment. I witnessed him with determination (mine or his?) recently at the Assistance League thrift store on Alvernon in Tucson, seeking, perhaps a rubber doll head or a vintage book on muscularity.

He’s still out there doing it. 

PLEASE don’t miss this show.

and then people went downstairs to look at the exhibition

my friend Gary Patch(bald) and Ken's friend

Joanne Stuhr (blonde) and Darren Clark ( European string noose around his neck), good from of Gary's, mine and Ken's.

special thanks to Ann-Marie Russell, director of MOCA (present but not pictured)

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