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Nat Tate: William Boyd’s literary hoax on the art world
04.01.2011
05:03 pm

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April Fool’s Day 1998, David Bowie hosted a party, at Jeff Koon’s studio in Manhattan, for the launch of William Boyd’s biography of the Abstract Expressionist painter, Nat Tate. As Boyd describes in Harper’s Bazaar, the book, Nat Tate: An American Artist: 1928—1960 was, :

...full of photographs and illustrations, and it was written by [William Boyd]. Nat Tate was a short-lived member of the famous New York School, which flourished in the late 1940s and 1950s and included such luminaries as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning. Tate committed suicide in 1960 by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry (his body was never found) after having burned 99 percent of his life’s work during the last weekend of his life.

It was a coup for the author Boyd to have uncovered this forgotten and ignored artist. He gave interviews to the major dailies, the BBC and alike, and had extracts serialized in the Sunday Telegraph. All well and good, except, Nat Tate had never existed, and Boyd’s book was a hoax.

When I first heard about Nat Tate, from keen researchers suggesting a possible doc, it struck me as bogus. I thought this for two reasons: firstly, I’d just read a weighty tome on Jackson Pollock, which made no mention of this genius Tate. Secondly, and more importantly, it was the name Nat Tate, which sounded more like a Folk singer or a Blues percussionist than a painter. Nat Tate is overly familiarly, and moreover, if he had been an Abstract Expressionist, it would have been Nathaniel Tate, as de Kooning was William and not Bill. Smart ass, maybe, but you see, I’d been regularly writing hoax letters to newspapers under various names (Elsie Gutteridge (Mrs)., Edna Bakewell, Ian M. Knowles, The Reverend Desmond Prentice, Richard Friday and Bessie Graham) since I was a 12, and if these seemed hollow to the ear, then, for me, Nat Tate just didn’t ring true.

Okay, my quibbling dickheadery aside, Boyd had worked hard on making Tate “real”, as he told Jim Crace in the Guardian last year:

“I’d been toying with the idea of how things moved from fact to fiction,” says Boyd, “and I wanted to prove something fictive could prove factual. The plan had been to slowly reveal the fiction over a long period of time, but it didn’t really work like that.”

It took Boyd a couple of years to construct Tate’s persona. It wasn’t so much the framework – the reclusive genius who, conveniently, destroyed almost all of his own work and who killed himself at the age of 32 in 1960 – as the details that took the time. “Much of the illusion was created in the details, the footnotes and in getting the book published in Germany to make it look like an authentic art monograph,” he says.

“I went to a lot of trouble to get things right. I created the ‘surviving’ artworks that were featured in the illustrations and spent ages hunting through antique and junk shops for photos of unknown people, whom I could caption as being close friends and relatives.”

It was a good literary hoax, reminiscent of playwright and artist, John Byrne‘s faux naif painter, Patrick, who Byrne created after he failed to sell his own paintings to London galleries during the 1960s. Byrne claimed Patrick was his father, a self-taught artist, whose his fake paintings proved so successful with critics and cognescenti, they led to a major London show, and a memorable commission from The Beatles.
 
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Boyd went further with his creation, as he managed to get David Bowie, Gore Vidal and Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson, in on the act.

“None of them needed much persuasion,” Boyd laughs, “and they all went further that I would have dared ask them. Bowie gave a quote for the front jacket that Tate was one of his favourite artists and that he owned one of his few surviving works.

“Vidal allowed himself to be quoted in the book saying, ‘Tate was essentially dignified, though always drunk and with nothing to say,’ while Richardson told of how Tate had been having lunch with Picasso when he came to visit. It was these details that made it. People stopped wondering why they hadn’t heard of Tate when Vidal, Picasso and Richardson started appearing.”

The best was saved till last. At the launch party for the book at Jeff Koons’ studio in Manhattan, David Lister, the then arts editor of the Independent who was also in on the hoax, spent the evening asking guests what they remembered about Tate. A surprising number seemed to have attended one of his rare retrospectives in the late 60s and everyone lamented how sad they were he had died so young.

The hoax was so good, in fact, that Lister couldn’t stop himself from letting everyone know. “I was pissed off,” says Boyd, “because we had the London launch planned for the following week at a trendy restaurant called Mash, and we were going to repeat the experiment. I’d already done a large number of interviews with British radio, TV and print journalists – who shall remain nameless – and they’d all been taken in. But by the time their copy appeared they all swore blind they knew it was a hoax.

But Boyd’s point was made. And weirdly Tate continues to have a meta-life more real than the rest of us. Tate has now been the subject of three documentaries and has made a walk-on appearance in another fictional memoir, Boyd’s Any Human Heart. His art also lives on. “It’s strange,” says Boyd, “because whenever a friend gets married I always seem to find another Tate in the attic. I’m almost tempted to take one along to Christie’s and see what it sells for.” And most of us would love to buy one. Because some things are too good not to be true.

Boyd writes about the Nat Tate hoax in this month’s Harper’s Bazaar.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Serge Gainsbourg, Gerard Depardieu and Johnny Hallyday perform ‘Harley Davidson’
04.01.2011
12:58 am

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The holy trinity of French coolness: Serge Gainsbourg, Gerard Depardieu and Johnny Hallyday performing Gainsbourg’s “Harley Davidson” on French TV in the early 1980s.

Don’t tell anyone, but Serge is sitting on a BMW.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Negativland’s ‘No Other Possibility’
03.29.2011
08:18 pm

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Negativland’s No Other Possibility (1989) is a prophetic video mash-up that visualizes a future (and the future is now) in which the mis-information highway, the Universal Media Netweb, is a traffic jam of useless artifacts of consumer culture, propaganda, mind numbing sensory overload and wasted time. Two decades before the term “meme” had become ubiquitous, Negativland was poking at the contagions in the petri dish of pop culture.

Life is a sales pitch and everybody’s buying.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
‘The Responsive Eye’: Brian De Palma’s 1965 documentary on op art
03.29.2011
12:03 am

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Before Brian De Palma became a narrative film maker he made documentaries. Among them is The Responsive Eye, which chronicles the Museum Of Modern Art’s 1965 exhibition of op-art. Curated by William Seitz, this was the first significant exhibit of optical art synchronous with and in some cases arising out of the early days of psychedelic culture. It’s amusing to watch the stuffed shirts within the art world attempt to describe what they are looking at in conventional terms or resorting to psychological mumbo jumbo without ever mentioning mescaline or LSD.

Artists featured in the show include the well-known Victor Vasarely and Josef Albers as well as the sensational and underappreciated Paul Feeley, collective work by Equipo 57, a group of Spanish artists, and Bridget Riley, among others.”

Josef Albers taught at Black Mountain College in the mid-1930s and while it’s doubtful that he took drugs it is well-known that his students were traveling to Mexico to participate in peyote eating ceremonies. Victor Vaserly may not have taken any psychedelics but his artwork appeared on everything from blacklight posters to blotter acid. Bridget Riley’s op art designs were bootlegged and began appearing as prints on trendy clothing in Carnaby Street boutiques.
 
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Bridget Riley
 
The Responsive Eye exhibit was the beginning of the mainstreaming of op-art and suddenly it was appearing everywhere, in magazine ads, tv commercials, fashion and countless posters taped to the walls of hippie crashpads.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Devolved: Social Darwinism for the teen set
03.25.2011
03:04 pm

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Have a look at the trailer for Devolved, the new teen movie satire/homage from John Cregan and Severin Films, the company that unleashed (inflicted?) Birdemic on an unsuspecting world. With a razor-sharp script and a winning cast, Devolved is the intersection between American Pie, Gilligan’s Island and Social Darwinism….
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘What’s Happening?’: Exciting 1960s documentary about the Beat Generation and pop art
03.25.2011
01:31 am

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Antonello Branca’s 1967 documentary What’s Happening? is an exciting look at New York City at a pivotal time when poets and painters were prophets revolutionizing art and pop culture forever. Featuring Allen Ginsberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Fred Mogubgub, Andy Warhol, Marie Benois, Robert Rauschenberg, Leon Kraushar and Gregory Corso.

The Manhattan street montages and music provide an additional burst of energy..
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Jane Birkin in a Woolite commercial directed by Serge Gainsbourg
03.24.2011
11:17 pm

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If Jane Birkin is sellin’, I’m buyin’.

Directed by Serge Gainsbourg in 1976. And, yes, the voice over is by Serge.

From now on when I think of hand washables, I’ll be in a Birkin state of mind. Wooleet? Mais oui.

 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Phenome-Con 2011 this weekend at Cinefamily in Los Angeles
03.24.2011
06:18 pm

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Mondo movie fans, take note: Our friends at Cinefamily, here in Los Angeles are programming another of their weird and wonderful weekend festivals. Focusing on the cheesy paranormal docs and TV shows of the 1970s like In Search Of, the two-day (and night) Phenome-Con 2011 features some outrageous “psychic” fare, that was once surprisingly commonplace in American culture:

In the ‘60s, baby boomers looked for God in a sugar cube, The Beatles seeked enlightenment in India and hippies freaked over Jesus. As the post-summer of love, pre-New Age ‘70s rolled in, it seems everyone went searching for the mysteries of life. Is there a higher power? Is there life after death? Where lies the lost empire of Atlantis? Can plants read your thoughts? How do I bend a fork with my mind? Does yogurt have feelings? Psychic surgery, hypnosis, ESP, UFOs, The Bermuda Triangle—it all held a fascination for Mr. and Mrs. America. It was a Phenomena Phenomenon, if you will. Reflecting these various crazes, a host of “speculative documentaries” quickly cropped up in grindhouses and drive-ins. This weekend, not only will we watch a crop of mind-marinating films, but we’ll also explore pyramid power, mind reading and we’ll search for Bigfoot. Cinefamily invites you to investigate with us the mysteries of our universe—join us for Phenome-Con!

The schedule for Day One, Saturday, March 26:

4:00pm Phenome-Con Saturday Afternoon Party (feat. The Best of “In Search Of…”)

7:30pm-ish The Amazing World Of Ghosts

10:00pm-sh A Bigfoot Celebration (feat. The Legend of Boggy Creek)

Midnight-ish Journey Into The Beyond

2:00am-ish The Devil’s Triangle

Day Two, Sunday March 27:

4:00pm Sunday Afternoon Part feat. more selections from The Best of “In Search Of…”, a casual Sunday patio hang-out, and then it’s time for…

6:00pm-ish The Pyramid

8:00pm Concluding the Phenome-Con will be a special screening and Q&A with director Don Como (hosted by Process Media’s Jodi Wille) featuring his 1978 film, Unknown Powers.

Get tickets at Cinefamily.org
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
ALL THE KICKS: Cole Whittle opens at Pop tART Gallery in Los Angeles
03.22.2011
07:03 pm

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Punk

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Hotly-touted, Tony Visconti-produced “dirty showbiz” rockers, Semi Precious Weapons, have been touring with Lady Gaga as her opening act since 2009 with her “Monster Ball” extravaganza.

As if it’s not enough to be the bass player for a group produced by the famous Bowie and T-Rex collaborator, or to be a part of one of the biggest rock tours of recent years, bassist Cole Whittle is also a visual artist. The first show of his unusual artwork will be on display (along with Austin Young’s fab portrait exhibit YOUR FACE HERE, so you can take in both shows) at the Pop tART Gallery in Los Angeles and opens this weekend.

Whittle’s installation, titled ALL THE KICKS consists of mixed media pieces, freaky clothing, new music and video and, as they say… more.

Cole Whittle’s ALL THE KICKS opens Saturday March 26, with reception from 8pm to midnight. Curated by Lenora Claire.

Pop tART Gallery, 3023 W. 6th St. Los Angeles, CA 90020

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Of angels & meat: A time-lapse view of Mark Ryden painting
03.21.2011
05:51 pm

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Mark Ryden seen here in the process of painting “Incarnation” in 2009 via time-lapse photography. If you’re a fan of his work (hand raised!) this is an incredible thing to see.

I’ve examined a lot of Mark Ryden’s paintings “in the flesh,” so to speak, and I gotta tell you, it’s always been impossible for me to figure out how he “does” it. When I first saw his work, I just assumed that he used an airbrush and was one of the greatest airbrush artists of all time. Nope, he gets his signature effects using a regular brush. Even though you can “see” exactly how he works here—and it’s fucking fascinating—after watching this, the artisan magic of what Mark Ryden does to a canvas was still very much a mystery to me. I think it’s best kept that way, don’t you?

Lady Gaga should hire Mark Ryden to do a portrait and repay the favor… After all, she got a lot of mileage out of one his best-known ideas.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
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