Progressive gene. (exhibition of Al and Beck Hansen's works)
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Take a listen to this. "Rubbish piles, fresh and plain. Empty boxes in a pawn shop brain. License plates stowaway. Standing in line like a readymade."
Get it? It's sort of like a mess aesthetic, right? Or maybe a cool poetry
thing. But it's not only poetry, because it comes with tunes and other assorted noises bursting out of the bulky bag of tricks belonging to the
world's most famous tiny Viking, Beck. Beck Hansen that is, grandson of another artistic rummager, the late Al Hansen. Frequently associated with
Fluxus and author of the now-classic A Primer of Happenings and Time/Space
Art (1965), the elder Hansen's influence on Beck seems obvious. Both play
with the notions of chance, coincidence, and the seductions of uncertainty.
Both believe that mistakes take you where you ought to be. And both are subjects of "BECK AND AL HANSEN: PLAYING WITH MATCHES," an exhibition organized
for the Santa Monica Museum of Art by guest curator Wayne Baerwaldt.
Comprising collages, assemblages, text pieces, photos, audio samples, and videos. "Playing with Matches" is situated at that compelling place
between the extraneous and the secret, between cynicism and sentiment. But it also works to suggest the total dumbness of the whole "who influenced
whom" setup - after all, everything's out there for everybody to muck around
in, right? I mean, in a funny, roundabout way, the Hansens have managed to take the collision of influences that most people
experience as the full emptiness of life and turn it into art.
Of course, it's no coincidence that such an exhibition appears now. Beck's
emergence as a full-fledged pop star adds focus to the unfocused mayhem of sounds and signs that make for global culture - not of the singular
"we are the world" variety but a chaotic planetary accumulation of garbage,
"masterpieces," winners, losers, two turntables and a microphone. Chewed
up by the cool and scary fangs of irony, our cultural remainders become a kind of sonic gruel: grist for the endless recycling and modification
of what might he hot or not for the next two seconds. So obviously, what
makes Beck an "artist," what allows him to be museumified, is not just his collages on paper, but the fact that he's figured out ways to link
the ironic contempt of cultural commentary with the powerful pull of generously
tuneful hooks - that he uses sounds and songs to eloquently objectify his
experience of the world.
So the lurch from Al's notational obsessions, nonstop collaging, and insistence
on an art of portability to Beck's sonic swipes of hip-hop, punk, hardcore,
folk, R&B, and everything else can be seen as a canny translation of marginalized
"avant-garde" activities into the shiny incessant appropriations of pop culture.
Beck's achieving prominence on his own terms would be nothing new within the so-called art world, but in the music business it's a formidable
accomplishment that molds his quirky intelligence with the desires and affections of current tastes. (Of course, in a music industry powered by
beauty and sexuality, his youth and adorability don't exactly work against
So "Playing with Matches" suggests a lineage that's not only familial but also cross-subcultural. The show asks us to consider how subcultures
function as framing devices that offer both comfort and curtailment: from
the art world's ability to nurture ambition within its increasingly marginalized
terrain to the music industry's promise of profitability and global popularity
- at the expense, all too often, of the edgy astonishment that comes with
really good art.