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  are taking over Art

 Nick ZEDD

I moved to NYC at the age of twenty to escape the stifling conformity of life in Maryland. Suburban normality is a living death that corrodes human creativity. In contrast, the grime, low rents, vice and danger of NYC when I lived there were potent stimulants for creative subversion throbbing from within a counterculture ignored by the money people running the galleries, museums and Media maintaining the interest of the clueless. Buried under the radar of mainstream culture, I watched the slow creep of consensus thinking envelop every orifice of human interaction in NYC over the next thirty years. Fed up, I moved to Condesa in Mexico City in 2011 where I produced a series of paintings that took four years to be accepted and finally exhibited in the V & S Gallery in Navarte. To this day, no gallery in snooty Condesa will show my work, including GaGa.

When I moved to Mexico in 2011, I got lucky and rented a cheap apartment in the exclusive neighborhood of Condesa. For the first time in my life I felt at home somewhere. I had no idea Condesa was considered off-limits to artists and other lowlifes thanks to its status as prime real estate for yuppies and predatory capitalists. I just knew it felt safe and had two big parks, water fountains and an oval path lined with trees on the avenue where the GAGA Gallery is located. Condesa was the perfect place to raise a kid. Parque Mexico has a duck pond, outdoor exercise machines and a cement plaza for concerts and sports. The air smells like perfume in spots and has restaurants, bars and bookstores. It was the most civilized place I’d ever lived. Such urban amenities eluded me, struggling as an underground filmmaker in Brooklyn until I made the decision to move to Mexico and have a child. For awhile Condesa even had a video rental store with movies from every genre and era. They even had one of my DVDs. In my credulity, I assumed most of Mexico City was like this…. A paradise compared to the sterilized nightmare that NYC had become due to the plague of unregulated landlordism. That all ended after four years when the owner of our building in Condesa decided to throw out all of the tenants in order to “renovate” it for the exclusive use of upwardly mobile rent slaves in order to expand his corporation’s bank account. Our sojourn in hell began when the running water and electricity were turned off, accompanied by the daily pounding of walls with drills and hammers. The destruction of the 80 year old building’s architectural integrity by underpaid non-union workers was our landlord’s first strategy followed by the removal of the gas tanks in the hall which we’d purchased, preventing us from using the stove or oven and eliminating the hot water before it was cut off. I soon discovered that tenants rights are an alien concept in modern Mexico City. Within months, all of the tenants in our building had fled with the exception of my family and a cleaning lady who was moved into a small room with her teenage sons and daughter after taking care of the building for thirty years. She was later threatened with a gun by one of the owner’s hired thugs and moved out. In an effort to increase our misery, the landlord changed the locks on the door to the building without giving us a key and installed hired goons to let us in and out before installing a TV camera facing the door to our apartment. The lobby was ripped apart, destroying the mail boxes so that we could no longer be contacted by the outside world. For eight months we resisted the intimidation of our landlord masters with holes pounded into the walls by workers, pieces of plaster falling from the ceiling and a thick coat of dust covering the windows, while we siphoned electricity through an extension cord from a window to the hotel next door. My art and pictures on our walls were damaged by mold thanks to the internal destruction of the building, which had survived the 1985 Mexico City earthquake but would be soon be “renovated” to suit the desires of the parasites in charge of upgrading the building to “market rate” status.

Class war is ugly.

We were finally able to force the landlord to pay us to go and ended up in a haunted hotel in Centro where we now live.Since our forced exodus, any chance I can get to visit Condesa is a welcome one so the opportunity to check out the current show at GAGA Gallery was one I looked forward to. Busy filming music videos all week from my cramped hotel room in Centro, I had a couple of hours on a rainy Friday to go there with my 5 year old son. Not having learned Spanish I texted my intern to call the gallery and find out how late they stayed open. After several calls they answered the phone and told him they closed at six so Zerak and I took the quickest train and walked past Parque Espania to get to the gallery on the other side of Nueva Leon. Zerak was pissed off at me for not letting him take a detour to the playground and told me I was a bad father and that he wouldn’t give me any toys in the future. I made the mistake of going to Mexico Avenue next to the other park, thinking it was Amsterdam and walked 12 blocks the wrong way before going to the other side of the giant oval where the street numbers seemed to go up and down at random. By the time we finally located the House of GAGA it was five minutes to six. The glass doors were locked and the place looked empty until a lady came out and buzzed us in. A feeble, bucolic canvas depicting four tree branches with gold leaves languished by the door. A couple of nondescript semi-abstract canvases painted in acrylic with photos of tree branches hung inside (Sopor Aeturnus, I & II).

In the program notes I discovered that Nicolas Ceccaldi (b. 1983, Montreal, Canada) lives and works in NYC. “Gothic” was a word used to describe the weak quality of the work on display Mortrebryarthe (2016) was a horse skull - attached to a bird skull - with duck wings, fabric flower and a butterfly stuck on top. Vyapreverpre (2016) was a deer skull with horns and a butterfly on top. Vezambryehrtre (2016) was a ram skull with resin, deer horns, scarab and fabric leaves.

Zerak wanted to touch the butterfly on one of the skulls and I told him not to since it might break. When I wasn’t looking he touched it anyway. Fortunately it didn’t fall off. This stuff was vaguely reminiscent of the animal corpse assemblages that Nate Hill asked me to document ten years ago in our public access TV series CHOP CHOP. The difference is that Hill’s mutations were actually disturbing and original. He’d go to Canal Street at night and scour the trash, digging out dead fish, frogs, snakes, pigs and even a dog once then would cut them up while I filmed him in a room somewhere, sewing the wrong animals back together and sticking them in jars filled with alcohol. The finished pieces were unique and unlike anything seen before.

Ceccaldi’s rote exercises hanging on GAGA’s walls didn’t come close. Apparently, originality is an alien concept to today’s “contemporary artists” who get shows for “re-appropriating” elements of the natural word in the least provocative way possible. In this manner, clueless curators continue to perpetuate a reactionary tendency against extremist art. Beleth (2016) was a mixed media piece reminiscent of 1950s abstract expressionist influenced kitchen tables and the trite commercial art of cityscapes with some gold paint symbols thrown in with a lot of white brushstrokes. According to Ceccaldi, “Everything was made from a mix of decorative elements from Pier1 Import but also real bones and dead insects so it’s not all fake.” According to Ceccaldi, "Everything was made from a mix of decorative elements from Pier 1 Import but also real bones and dead insects so it's not all fake. The Paintings from Pier 1 look like the decoration of a hospital waiting room or a retirement home; they are generic artistic renditions of nature so their depressive quality is banal and pathetic rather than tragic. I thought the real animal bones and insects such as butterflies and scarab could add more depth." This kind of “depth” comes across as shallow.

Instead of trying to get people to use their imaginations again and not waiting to be told what to do, this is an art that fears conviction, copying a formula that induces boredom for it’s own sake.If we examine the Pier1 aesthetic, what do we find? Pre-manufactured paintings following a formula designed to offend the least number of people in order to sell the maximum number of units for the most money collected. Thus, monetary profit is the dominant dictum of this “aesthetic.”

Producing art that is anonymous and mediocre is a stale concept so this kind of safe and inoffensive stuff should be very popular with the suburban tourists gentrifying Condesa.

As P.T. Barnum noted, one may never go broke by underestimating the taste of the masses.

Pandering to the lowest common denominator, though cowardly and mercenary seems to be the stylishly ironic method of choice for todays contemporary art galleries. Which, ironically enough is why most people hate this shit.

Nick Zedd spearheaded the cinema of transgression film movement, directing 44 movies since 1979. His films include Police State, War Is Menstrual Envy, Ecstasy In Entropy, Lord of the Cock Rings, I Was a Quality of Life Violation and No Plague Like Home. Nick Zedd presented a retrospective of his motion pictures at The Museum of Modern Art in 1989 and 2014 as well as at the New Museum in 2013. Mr. Zedd currently resides in Mexico City where he paints, writes screenplays, shoots videos and publishes Hatred of Capitalism magazine. In 2012 his work was featured at the Kunstwerke Museum of Contemporary Art in Berlin, where he screened several movies and spoke on a panel. In 2013 he was presented with the Acker Award for Lifetime Achievement, a tribute given to members of the avant garde arts community who have made outstanding contributions in their discipline in defiance of convention, or else served their fellow writers and artists in outstanding ways.

All images appear courtesy of the author.

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