Neil Young's box set, titled Archives, was released a couple of months ago to great acclaim. Made up of 10 Blu-ray discs, each holding 50 gigs of information, it is truly Neil Young's life in a box. There’s a beautiful moment we stumble upon in the box set where we see a film showing Young leaning out of an old car on
his property in the hills of California, a land that I am so intimately
connected to from having grown up here and watching the subtle changes
of coastal light, and he says, “No matter how many people are around
me, I keep talking about all the things that go on inside me.” The joy
and vulnerability on his face against the bright blue sky suddenly made
me see him as a dreamer, as someone who followed the only thing that he
could do and followed it fully, preserving all the evidence of that
journey in his music.
John Baldessari has been called an LA artist, a conceptual artist, a pop-artist, but is quite simply and completely an artist. Winner of the 2009 Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale, Baldessari is one of the most important artists living and working today. In October, he will have a retrospective at the Tate that will travel to Barcelona, Los Angeles and New York. Stay tuned for an article on him in The Times.
As the world's eyes are on the passing of one of the biggest icons to date, the reaction of his fans, foes, and the media offers a fascinating insight into the nexus of American culture. A prodigal performer from day one, Michael Jackson grew up alongside America with the promise of greatness, churning out hit after hit and literally lighting up the floor with innovation. But our expectation of Jackson fell short of reality as he collected as many disturbing rumours as he did animals for his Neverland Ranch; our icon became the personification of misguided talent.
Fifty years ago, American culture was similarly perceived through the lens of photographer Robert Frank, who thought he would capture candid scenes of life in the young and exciting US of A, beginning the project as documenting a young, growing country fulfilling its unbounded potential. What resulted however was the pervading sadness, both of the much American urban environment and the people who strode upon it. Behind all of the glitz and shiny exterior, there is a gritty alley and a lost gaze, or sometimes, a scene of pure weariness. Thus the seminal book, The Americans, was born and it is celebrating its 50th with an exhibition in San Francisco. I spoke with the co-curator Corey Keller. Both these stories represented how beauty and tragedy rest side by side.
Frank documented the seemingly banal during the 1950s and when the advent of the video camera became available, conceptual artists in LA started recording their own banal actions, tracking their own processes and those of their colleagues. One of the pioneers was artist John Baldessari who turned the lens towards himself and others—painting, moving, walking, sitting, making art. He has an exhibition coming up in San Francisco and I will be speaking with in in mid-July. Stay tuned!