Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Reclamation

The Art of Noah Purifoy
Posted by PeterAtLarge

Yesterday we were talking about the process of decay, Bush, if you remember. Today it's reclamation. I want to tell you about a special delight that Ellie and I stumbled upon in Joshua Tree. It's called the "Joshua Tree Environment." Or I think that's what it's called. We heard about it as the "Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Museum of the Desert." Either one would do. Whatever you want to call it, this is a truly magical place where the human imagination soars in a maze of art works so amazing that it's simply indescribable. You have to be there.

We were. Actually, we didn't just stumble on it. It took two tries to find the place, which is so remote that you have to negotiate several dusty, deeply rutted lanes in the far reaches of the town of Joshua Tree to get there. First try, we followed the directions we had been given and ended up nowhere. On a second try, we followed new directions and still had to improvise some of our own modifications to find it. We were glad we persevered on the second attempt.

Noah Purifoy recycles junk into art works on a massive--and, actually, also on and intimate--scale. If you didn't know better, walking into this acreage of impossible structures, you might mistake him for one of those great unschooled artists like Simon Rodia of Watts Towers fame, or Grandma Prisbey and her "Bottle Village." No. Purifoy clearly shares with them a curious love for the no longer needed, cast aside objects that litter our contemporary world, and a peculiar obsession with the processes and intricacies of construction.

But there the similarities end, because Purifoy is firmly and consciously rooted in the traditions of modern and contemporary art. He sees his roots in Dada, in the work of artists like Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters and Hans Arp; and, looking the other way through the telescope, he himself has clearly exercised an enormous influence on successors like the Saar family, David Hammons, and countless others. He may be something of a recluse, he may be something of an iconoclast, he may be getting on in years, but Noah Purifoy is no folk artist, laboring in isolation or in ignorance of where his work stands in the history of art.

Okay, Bush. That said, a word about the work itself. Best take a look at the pictures first--and maybe read, in the same location, what the artist himself has to say about the work. It's worth a few minutes of your time. (You'll find the pictures at the bottom of the page I referred you to.) Purifoy has clearly taken the art of assemblage beyond those neat little constructions that, for the most part, preceded him, and enlarged it to environmental scale. Same with the idea of sculpture. These are art works that you walk through, or around, or clamber on--sometimes at your peril. They require your full participation and attention to detail.

Not having had a guide, I'm unfamiliar with titles or dates of individual works, but let's just mention a couple in particular. First, the big, semi-underground homeless shelter, through which you're invited to walk, end to end, through the mass of dangling rags of discarded articles of clothing and unsavory piles of rubbish, past rusting kitchenware and a wrecked bathroom, way past use, experiencing the dire circumstances and the mental fragility of those who are forced to dwell, in reality, in primitive shelters of this kind on the streets of our great, thriving cities. It's a sobering and humbling experience.

Or enter through the formal "portal" of a temple-like structure, dedicated, it would seem, to the gods of elimination. The columns at each side of the entry are stacks of white toilet bowls (Purifoy, like many other post-war artists, makes a great deal out of repeated imagery) and the wall of the interior "chapel" is lined, on one side, with a row of toilet thrones that invite the visitor to sit in contemplation. Amongst other things, it's a funny, outrageous, whimsical, irreverent and visually complex play on the world's architecture of religious institutions, from the Parthenon to the contemporary cathedral.

There are smaller, more traditionaly sculptural objects here, too, which juggle such wildly diverse objects as bicycles, baby carriages, and shopping carts with a myriad of odd cultural symbols: bowling balls, barbeques, beer kegs... often in a gentle rebuke to the values of our American society. As an African-American--oh, yes, Bush, did I mention this?--born in the deep South in 1917, Purifoy brings a personal and social history into play that is at times poignant, at times subversive, at times angry and satirical... and often simply joyous and celebratory, like this wacky railroad.


It's all about art, and it's all about life. It's all about the life of the imagination. It's about possibility, and change. I wish all America could visit this place, and get a taste of the energy, the humor, the curiosity, and the lively, irrepressible intellect of this eighty-nine year old genius. In the meantime, you could get a sense of him by visiting the Noah Purifoy website and learning about the artist, his work, and the foundation that has been set up to preserve it.

If you want to learn something about America, Bush, here's your chance.

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3 comments:

Carly said...

A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives

November 14th, 2006

To My Conservative Brothers and Sisters,

I know you are dismayed and disheartened at the results of last week's election. You're worried that the country is heading toward a very bad place you don't want it to go. Your 12-year Republican Revolution has ended with so much yet to do, so many promises left unfulfilled. You are in a funk, and I understand.

Well, cheer up, my friends! Do not despair. I have good news for you. I, and the millions of others who are now in charge with our Democratic Congress, have a pledge we would like to make to you, a list of promises that we offer you because we value you as our fellow Americans. You deserve to know what we plan to do with our newfound power -- and, to be specific, what we will do to you and for you.

Thus, here is our Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives:

Dear Conservatives and Republicans,

I, and my fellow signatories, hereby make these promises to you:

1. We will always respect you for your conservative beliefs. We will never, ever, call you "unpatriotic" simply because you disagree with us. In fact, we encourage you to dissent and disagree with us.

2. We will let you marry whomever you want, even when some of us consider your behavior to be "different" or "immoral." Who you marry is none of our business. Love and be in love -- it's a wonderful gift.

3. We will not spend your grandchildren's money on our personal whims or to enrich our friends. It's your checkbook, too, and we will balance it for you.

4. When we soon bring our sons and daughters home from Iraq, we will bring your sons and daughters home, too. They deserve to live. We promise never to send your kids off to war based on either a mistake or a lie.

5. When we make America the last Western democracy to have universal health coverage, and all Americans are able to get help when they fall ill, we promise that you, too, will be able to see a doctor, regardless of your ability to pay. And when stem cell research delivers treatments and cures for diseases that affect you and your loved ones, we'll make sure those advances are available to you and your family, too.

6. Even though you have opposed environmental regulation, when we clean up our air and water, we, the Democratic majority, will let you, too, breathe the cleaner air and drink the purer water.

7. Should a mass murderer ever kill 3,000 people on our soil, we will devote every single resource to tracking him down and bringing him to justice. Immediately. We will protect you.

8. We will never stick our nose in your bedroom or your womb. What you do there as consenting adults is your business. We will continue to count your age from the moment you were born, not the moment you were conceived.

9. We will not take away your hunting guns. If you need an automatic weapon or a handgun to kill a bird or a deer, then you really aren't much of a hunter and you should, perhaps, pick up another sport. We will make our streets and schools as free as we can from these weapons and we will protect your children just as we would protect ours.

10. When we raise the minimum wage, we will pay you -- and your employees -- that new wage, too. When women are finally paid what men make, we will pay conservative women that wage, too.

11. We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don't put those beliefs into practice. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs ("Blessed are the poor," "Blessed are the peacemakers," "Love your enemies," "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn't just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism -- starting with the fanaticism here at home, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world.

12. We will not tolerate politicians who are corrupt and who are bought and paid for by the rich. We will go after any elected leader who puts him or herself ahead of the people. And we promise you we will go after the corrupt politicians on our side FIRST. If we fail to do this, we need you to call us on it. Simply because we are in power does not give us the right to turn our heads the other way when our party goes astray. Please perform this important duty as the loyal opposition.

I promise all of the above to you because this is your country, too. You are every bit as American as we are. We are all in this together. We sink or swim as one. Thank you for your years of service to this country and for giving us the opportunity to see if we can make things a bit better for our 300 million fellow Americans -- and for the rest of the world.

Signed,

Michael Moore

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for posting this great letter to conservatives. We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Peter: Glad you found Noah. Sharon and I have been going there for several years. You might want to go to the home of Andrea Zittel, which is not far from there and easier to find.

Look at High Desert Test Sites or some such, which is a group of artists, not far from 29 Palms Marine station, with a different perspective and a lot of interesting things going on.

Sad note; if I am not wrong Noah died a year or two ago. I think that there was a fire, though I don't recall if that is why he died.

Donald