Friday, January 3, 2020

Clogtown: Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975 at Minneapolis Art Institute

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade! Welcome to the Roaring '20's! I'm excited. I have all sorts of stories to tell, but for the first one of this new calendar year, I have to tell you about the exceptional exhibit happening at the Minneapolis Art Institute that is ending THIS SUNDAY. Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975 and Artists Reflect: Contemporary Views of the American War are both real pieces of work that will stay with you for a good minute after you leave. It's HEAVY. And as it's looking like we're playing war games all over again (Iran today, North Korea always looming, Russia just getting away with everything ... ), this show is more important than ever ... so that we might THINK - and avoid such war horror all over again.

The show opens with a typewriter printing out current news constantly, filling the entire atrium at the entrance. News, 1969 (reconstructed 2019) by Hans Haacke emphasizes the challenge of sifting through mass amounts of reporting, as well as conflicting perspectives from various news outlets (think MSNBC v. Fox News - a whole different universe!). It sets the ominous tone from the moment you purchase your ticket.

I don't have any personal memories about the Vietnam era, as I was too young, but this show creates the feelings that all parties were having. The Eleventh Hour Final, 1968 by Edward Kienholz asks "What can one man's death, so remote and far away, mean to most people in the familiar safety of their middle-class homes?" and recreates the 70's living room that most sat around their black and white t.v.s and got their news of the war. The title refers to the last news hour of the day, and also gives more of that ominous feel.

Vietnam, 1967 by Phillip Jone Griffiths was one of twelve of his gelatin silver prints, all of which show the actual humanity among the people living in the war theater. Incredibly touching, all of them made you feel that the soldiers and the Vietnamese citizens got along and seemed to like each other - and, as always, they were following orders from old, white, dangerous men that would never be personally affected by it. So sad. So disgusting. SO evil.

We all know the famous poster War Is Over! If You Want It, 1969 by Yoko Ono and John Lennon, but this was its origin. Ono and Lennon were not having the Vietnam War, and this poster release followed their infamous "Bed In" to protest the war. I wonder what Lennon would think of these modern times? We could sure use him now .... Imagine.

Carol Summers contributed Kill For Peace, 1967 (from the portfolio Artists and Writers Protest against the War in Vietnam), showing families dealing with this tragic war.

Next to it was one of the heaviest ones for me, that made me physically nauseous. The Art Workers' Coalition. Active 1969-71 asked the horrific question Q. And Babies? A. And Babies., 1970. UGH. THIS is what those evil, old, white men don't seem to care about when concocting their wars for profit. War is Hell.

Equally rough was Untitled (The New York Times, Sunday, September 13, 1970), 1970 by Liliana Porter. It's especially moving as it takes the viewer from the macro to the micro, from the generic to the personal. She is You. She is Me. She is US - and that's what makes war so hard to understand. It takes the humanity away ... but Ms. Porter brings it back.

Big Daddy Paper Doll, 1970 by May Stevens shows yet another depiction of the bald, white, old cigar-wielding nemesis to society that creates war. Taking up an entire wall of the room, her point is clearly made.

Corita Kent had a wall of six screenprints, all Day-Glo bright, in what the Catholic nun called "advertisements for the common good." yellow submarine, handle with care, right, phil and dan, stop the bombing, and news of the week (all 1967) take the look of commercial packaging to pack their punches.

Political posters really took off during the Vietnam War, and Eat, 1967 by Tomi Ungerer is one of the very memorable ones. Force feeding the Statue of Liberty down a Vietnamese person's throat doesn't leave much room for ambiguity ... and the U.S. government doesn't seem to have learned much in the decades since.

This next one is hard for me to even type out, but Flag For The Moon: Die Nigger, 1969 by Faith Ringgold. She makes visual commentary (and the title is there in the work) on the fact that African Americans were fighting our war, while being the victims of racism at home. The country was spending massively on space exploration, while ignoring our black citizens. Oof. I told you it was heavy. And TRUE.

1A, 1972 by Timothy Washington was a statement on the destruction of the draft. "1A" meant you were available for war ... and the defaced draft card embedded in this piece says "John Doe" and the 1A status is listed as "forever". UGH. I'll just never understand war, ever.

Untitled, 1967 by William Copley asks us all to THINK. Please.

Yoko Ono was represented again in a film being played on a t.v. called Cut Piece, 1964/5, where Ono invited audience members to approach her and cut off a piece of her clothing.  People had to choose how to respond ... stop, interfere with, or escalate the action ... much like what was happening in the country with the war. The piece was performed just weeks after Marines arrived in Vietnam, and raised those above questions that needed to be asked. Ono has always been provocative - and smart.

Reading Position for Second Degree Burn, 1970 by Dennis Oppenheim is a photograph showing the artist in the before/after five hours in the sun with a big volume of military field tactics covering half his torso. This was to comment on the U.S. soldiers shown basking in the tropical sun while Vietnamese citizens were being burned by napalm. Oh my gosh. It's really hard to be a proud American at show like this. Seriously.

Jim Nutt offered Summer Salt, 1970 is a play on words for "Some assault". Civil unrest and media accounts of the human toll informed this work, and though it's bright and cheery looking - the content is quite the opposite.

Now, if I thought this show was incredibly heavy and tough to take in, I can only imagine what veterans of this awful war feel like. There was an elderly man in the gallery, sitting alone, seemingly in reflection. He got up to take a closer look at Target Practice, 1968 by Peter Saul (who meant it to be a "cold shower of bad conscience"!), and I got a lump in my throat thinking about what he must be thinking. I don't know if he was a veteran himself or not, but he was visibly moved - as was I. The museum had a room set aside for silent reflection if people needed it ... and I think it probably gets a lot of use. 

A huge piece taking up another entire wall was Vietnam II, 1973 by Leon Golub. He was a vocal activist before using the war as a theme in his work, and intended the large scale of his work to equal the "grotesqueness" of the U.S. military might. That was a great word for it - and still is. Maybe even more so. WILL WE EVER LEARN?!?!?!?

Judith Bernstein created A Soldier's Christmas, 1967 to protest the war, mimicking the graffiti she saw from soldiers. It depicts a woman's spread legs, adorned with Christmas lights, graphic in both word and image. Bernstein said of the work, "I wanted to make the ugliest paintings I could. I wanted them to be as ugly and horrifying as the war was." She sure succeeded.

Chicago was a key hot spot during the war, producing many artists and activists against the invasion. A whole room is pretty much dedicated to trashing LBJ, from LBJ, 1967 by Dominick Di Meo (a Chicago organizer and artist). LBJ is depicted atop a mountain of human skulls, in a none too subtle pointing of the finger.

LBJ Butcher, 1967, also by Di Meo, was even rougher, and were printed on actual aprons meant to be worn in street actions and public protests. Think about all of the Trump merch out there these days ... again, we haven't come very far in this area at all.

Another Chicago artist, Ralph Arnold addresses bigotry, social injustice, and the Vietnam war in his collage titled Above the Earth, Games, Games, 1968 portrays football players against U.S. soldier in Vietnam, to show how the media would attempt to normalize violence. Oh, Men ... you sure have wrecked a lot of lives.

Tet Inoffensive, 1968 by Ed Paschke looks like a photo collage, but was hand-painted. Butch Cassidy and John Wayne are alongside the famous Eddie Adams photo of a Vietnamese general shooting a Vietcong guerilla in the head and Ho Chi Minh smoking. All the tough guys. Ruining lives and the world. I was getting madder and madder the more I saw.

At first glance, Madame Nhu's BarBQs, 1963 by Wally Hedrick seems like a folk art sign for a deep south restaurant. Until you realize that it's about Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk that set himself on fire to protest the Vietnamese government's oppression of Buddhists. Madame Nhu was a member of the South Vietnamese ruling family, and at the time publicly said that she was "willing to provide the gasoline for the next barbeque". Can you imagine being such a repulsive human being? Does she even get to be called a human being? No. She doesn't. Do not rest in peace, Madame.

Edward Kienholz was back with The Non-War Memorial, 1970/1972, an imagining of the thousands of soldiers killed in the war ... that he wanted to place in a chemically destroyed field in Idaho to portray the same destruction that had been done to Vietnam. It was an unrealized plan, but still cool.

Kim Jones created his "Mudman"  persona after serving in Vietnam. He walked Wilshire Boulevard for 18 miles from sunrise to sunset, and back again, wearing his structure of sticks covered in mud, to evoke the red dust of Vietnam. He confronted passersby with the reminder of the just-ended war, that for many like himself was still going on in their minds. His Mudman Structure (large), 1974 is there at MIA, bringing us all right back - to the future.

Humanscape 43, 1968 was by Mel (Melesio) Casas, a leading member of the Chicano art group, Con Safo. He had served and been injured in the Korean War (we never learn), and had learned that lesson himself. "The skills of war are killing," said Casas, and he also rightly believed that the war was financially motivated - like it almost always is. Gross.

The war ultimately ended, but its consequences resonate still. The show finishes with depictions of Southeast Asia today, addressing the exodus of its citizens, and the seemingly tranquil country of Vietnam today. Sixteen panels by Cy Thao represent the Hmong Migration, 1993-2001. The bright, cheery panels trace the history of Hmong people from their origin story to their immigration to Minnesota.

While in refugee camps, Thao saw others making "story cloth" tapestries, he saw the power of pictures to tell stories without words. Once you know your history, you can understand the world and your place in it a whole lot better, and Thao was hoping to give some closure to the generations that lived through the war.

Pipo Nguyen-duy ends the show with his modern photographs of life in Vietnam. Icarus, Father and Son, My Brother, and Bubbles, 2005-11. The photographs look happy and fresh and now, but upon closer examination, his brother is missing an arm from the war. Life goes on, but scars of war remain.

This show is very extensive, and though I know this story is long and seemingly comprehensive, it isn't. Hardly. There is so much more important art to see than what I have included here, made even more important by the storm clouds of war gathering again today in the news. This is the last weekend to see this gut-punch of a show curated by the Smithsonian American Art. There were slips of paper to write what this exhibit made you feel, and then hang with the others on the wall. So many of them said something like I have here ... Will we never learn? Have we not figured out that no one wins in war? The inclusion of so many female artists and Southeast Asian artists responding to this nightmare of American History make this an even more impressive - and inclusive - undertaking. I have a feeling it's going to stay with me a long, long time. Please go if you are able.

Artists Respond: American Art and the Vietnam War, 1965-1975 ends this Sunday, January 5th.

2400 3rd Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55404
(888) 642-2787

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Farewell, 2019! Moving Forward With 20/20 Vision ...

What a year. It's almost hard to believe we made it ... but we did. This is the longest I've not posted on Blogtown, and it's for very good reasons - mainly having to do with my Mom. What a year of learning. What a year of loving. What a year for realizing what is most important ... Time with loved ones.

I was taking an end of the year reflection walk, and noticed at the south end of Lake Bde Maka Ska (formerly Calhoun, and well past time to get over that) there is a new public art installation recognizing the area's Native American roots with sculpture and words. Dakota words that mean Perseverance. Generosity. Courage.

Of course I had to look them up, but once I did, I thought, Yep. That's what we all need, and that's what I want my new decade to be about. This past year has been a nightmare dealing with the American healthcare and insurance systems (scams), and has certainly required perseverance. And will continue to.

Friends and family have shown generosity in the most unexpected ways, making me want to be more generous myself, both with my time and anything else I can provide. Generosity is the only way I see our country moving at all forward, with income inequality, greed, and capitalism having nearly ruined everything good about this "Democracy". It's time to share, and to look out for each other, because with the climate crisis already ending certain ways of life, we are all going to have to chip in way more to help each other out. There is no choice.

Dealing with all of the above, as well as a zillion other issues, (like electing a less corrupt national leader {they all are to a degree in that racket}, and figuring out how to TRY to save our planet.), is going to take a lot of courage. That's one thing I'm not that worried about. Most people I know are brave enough to do what any dire situation takes ... and things ARE dire. But they're not without hope.

Beauty persists. In nature, and in our hearts. The holidays usually bring out the best in people, and I've seen a lot of grace both personally and in the news in recent days. People WANT to help. They know it makes you feel better inside. They know it makes the world better outside. We CAN make our world a happier place to be in for everyone, I just know it. It starts with ourselves, and I vow to carry the banners of perseverance, generosity, courage, as well as LOVE throughout the roaring decade of 20's we're about to kick off. On my honor.

It looks like I'll be in Minnesota longer, as there's no way I can leave my Mom when she needs me (we might end up going back and forth together, if possible, for the best of both worlds, but that remains to be seen). That alone has been very hard on me, as I haven't been away from the Ocean and Venice this long in 25 years, and that thing gives me my peace every morning. I can find peace in Minnesota in the woods and the lakes, but it's not the same to my heart. It's also hard to find work here, so if my L.A. people can throw me some gigs this upcoming year, or help me find a publisher for my Blogtown collection book - that could be some of your generosity (or a year end donation to @CJGronner on Venmo if you've loved a story this year!).  Thank you!

2019 - and the Teens in general - was super hard, but also super beautiful at times. I suppose that's like life every year, but this one seemed to be in the extreme. I'm heading into the new decade with gratitude above all, but also hope and some serious determination - to make things better for EVERYONE. Happy New Year 2020! Happy New Decade! True love to all until I can give it to you in person myself! X

Friday, November 22, 2019

Clogtown: Full Cycle - Bikes That Give Back!

While I'm on my Minneapolis Mom sabbatical, I'm looking for places and practices and great ideas that could - and SHOULD - be implemented everywhere (always with an eye on if it would be cool in Venice, of course). Well, when I visited Frostbeard Studio (the awesome store of gifts for book nerds), I saw a bike shop across the street called Full Cycle, and a smaller sign that said "Bikes that give back". O.K. .... needed to know more about that, so in I went.

It turns out that Full Cycle is EXACTLY the kind of space that belongs in Venice. Full Cycle is a full service bike retailer and bike service station, but what makes them unique is that they have a PAID internship program for homeless youth in the area. They teach them how to work on bikes, and then pay them so they don't have to steal them, and also can get on the road to independence and get off the streets. So, what do we have an awful lot of in Venice? Bikes. Homeless people. Bike thefts. Mmmm hmmm. Yep. This program could really work, and really help a lot of people.

Founded 10 years ago by Matt Tennant, Full Cycle set out to try to help the homeless by the paid internship program, free bike appointments (bikes can be borrowed for a six month period to provide healthy transportation and recreation), street outreach, and food access programming. All of this connects the homeless youth to the supportive staff members, who help them with community resources and support services.

Once they graduate from the internship program, they are eligible to become staff mechanics or food delivery drivers - as Full Cycle also has a garden in the back that grows produce to be bike delivered to the area's shelters and drop-in centers, as well as keep the youth full of fresh and healthy vegetables. I'm SO into it ... and really think this could be a very positive solution to a lot of what's going on in Venice too. For real.

Full Cycle is kept afloat by the United Way, corporate donations, some government money, their bike sales and repairs income, and in-kind contributions. That's great, but there's lots of ways that anyone can get involved ... You can donate or purchase a bike, or bring your bike there for maintenance, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same (because it gives back!). You could make a tax-deductible donation. You can volunteer at their events, or host your own (bike drives, rides, parties - think of the Venice Electric Bike Parade getting behind a Venice shop like this - how great!). You can get your business or workplace involved by giving a team donation. And very importantly, you can refer homeless youth to their programs.  That's quite a few options to help, and all of them are pretty do-able.

Venice (and Greater Los Angeles/Skid Row) probably has the biggest homeless problem, but it's everywhere these days - even in the very cold winters in Minnesota. We MUST do something, and folks like those at Full Cycle ARE doing something about it. And so can you. You can care. You can help in so many ways. There are solutions, as Full Cycle has seen the results of their work helping to get our young people off of these mean streets. Their mission statement: To connect with and support homeless youth, our community, and our Earth through bikes, business, and relationships." What a wonderful concept - made even more wonderful by seeing it in action.

Please consider opening a shop like this, someone in Venice! And Everywhere, for that matter! And if you're in Minneapolis, please consider Full Cycle for all of your bike needs. They're really making a difference. And by supporting them, so can you. Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and I'm very thankful for places like this that embrace humanity and giving in one big group hug - that actually helps people. Thanks, Full Cycle!

Full Cycle
3515 Chicago Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55407
Open Weds - Friday 12p-7p
Saturday 10a-5p
Closed Sunday

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Clogtown: Frostbeard Studio - Homemade Goods For Book Nerds!

Hi. I'm not gonna lie ... things have not been easy for me lately here in the heartland. Fighting with insurance companies, and trying - and often feeling like I'm failing - to have my mother receive good care is really some of the hardest (though most worth it) work I've ever done, emotionally speaking. After losing her leg this summer, Mom fell and broke her shoulder. Then it was broken worse while at her assisted living place, which required surgery last week. One very draining evening, I left the hospital to go get something to eat, when a sign on a door on Chicago Avenue caught my eye - Frostbeard Studio - Homemade Goods for Book Nerds. What?! Me! I'm a book nerd! The brakes were slammed on, and I ran in to check this place out.

This place is exactly my cup of tea. There is a very little storefront part, where the literary themed items they make are on display, and yep - I wanted pretty much everything.

The main product being made at Frostbeard Studio are soy candles with book inspired scents, like Darcy's Parlour and Sherlock's Study, Old Books and Wizardy Buttery Drink. As the holidays are now very much upon us, they have a whole Christmassy vibe line, like Christmas At The Burrow, Holiday Hygge, and Christmas In The Great Hall. The mood I was in when I got there was Bah Humbug, and it also happened to be my favorite scent of all their candles. Sold.

There are book bags, book cards, book art prints, book shirts, book hoodies, book mugs ("Do you even read?" and "Open Book. Sniff. Read. Repeat."), and, clearly, everyone needs book socks in their stocking.

... all book related things, and all would make the greatest gifts for your bookish friends - along with a good book, of course.

I met the owner, Roxie, while I was there, and she couldn't have been nicer. I love it when people have a dream and make it happen, and that's just what went down here. They wanted to be their own bosses, they wanted to make their living at art, they wanted to make book nerds happy with awesome things that need to exist, and they want to spread the message that reading is cool!

 I love it. And I love everything about Frostbeard Studio, so here I am, publicly thanking them for first, existing, and for second, making my super extra gnarly day so much better just by knowing something so cool (and new to me) exists, and for turning my Bah Humbug into more of a Hygge attitude. Thanks!

I can see these items in Small World Books and Burro in Venice (they do wholesale!), and I can see them gift wrapped all over the land this holiday season ... just in time for the nation's beards to be actually frosty.

Holiday Cheers, fellow Book Nerds!

Frostbeard Studio
3506 Chicago Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Open Monday - Saturday 10A-5P

Friday, November 15, 2019

Save Windward Farms, Celebrate Hama Sushi!

Hi there. I MISS you all. Life has been nuts, and really hard, battling to keep my mother in good care in Minnesota. I meant to post this on Monday, but in all the mayhem going on in my life, it's happening today.... have a great and safe weekend, please!

It's even harder to be away from Venice when so many of our favorite haunts are disappearing. Canal Club closed while I've been away, Surfside closed, Kifune closing, Baja Cantina closing ... but the heaviest hammer so far was the news that our neighborhood grocer would be closing ... Windward Farms had their rent increased 120%, making it impossible to stay open and be able to charge their customers their always reasonable prices on their great food.

Then, to rub salt in the very deep community wound, it was announced that Great White would be taking over the space, and they let everyone know with an open letter that was right up there with the audacity of Adidas' absurd claim that they were "Defining Venice". Great White thought that they created the vibrancy to the corner of Windward & Pacific, and they had caused locals to return to the area. What?! Uh, no. Hecho En Venice creator, Oscar Galan, had his first surf shop right where Great White now is, and I promise you that you don't get any more local than that.

Windward Farms has ALWAYS been for locals, and you knew you would always run into someone you knew while you were stopping in for some basics, or for an excellent smoothie, quesadilla, or chicken salad (my jams). You could zip in to grab a bottle of wine to enjoy with your meal up the street at Venice Cucina. You could go get that quart of milk or thing of flour you forgot for your recipe already underway at home (me more than once).

It was a true neighborhood institution, and everyone that came out to show their love and support for Windward Farms when they heard the news was right. Greed IS ruining Venice.

The outpouring of love - and total outrage - means that there has been a reprieve given, and Windward Farms is still open for business as of now. They are apparently renegotiating the lease, and obviously everyone hopes for the best. Especially me, who does not want to have missed out on one more smoothie! Venice needs Windward Farms, and that's that.

On a happier note (but sad for me), I also missed the 40th Anniversary party of Hama Sushi! FORTY YEARS of sushi in Venice, there in the Windward Circle in the shadow of the Venice sign, that was lit up in Hama colors for the occasion!

There was a block party with live music and cool cars and all the Venice friends and customers mingling over sushi and sake happily - realizing there are still some local institutions that are thriving and not going anywhere. Thank God.

Congratulations and love to Windward Farms for still being open, and for getting to know how very beloved you are! Congratulations to Hama Sushi, Esther Chaing, and all of the staff for the wonderful milestone of your 40th year in Venice!

WE LOVE YOU BOTH!!!! And I sure do miss you.

*Windward Farms photos by Ray Rae/Venice Beach Photos
*Hama photo one from John Vester, two from Todd Van Hoffman