0

May 2010, Mark Bloch: The New Gamer


Mark Bloch, The Art of Storàge Installation, 2010
Found objects
Courtesy of the artist and The Emily Harvey Foundation
Copyright Mark Bloch (c) 2010; photo credit Tom Warren

 

Mark Bloch: Secrets of the Ancient 20th Century Gamers
The Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery
537 Broadway, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012


For an artist whose artistic vision includes the theory that an artist’s work should never be shown in his lifetime, it’s a good thing Mark Bloch doesn’t follow his own advice. We’d all be the lesser for it.

Mark Bloch: Secrets of the Ancient 20th Century Gamers, which debuted at the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery in SoHo, showcases a lifetime of art and thinking, at once intensely personal and exuberantly playful.

The exhibit is both inspiration from and homage to the great 20th century gamers – artists like Marcel Duchamp, Christo, John Cage and others. Risk-taking, playful artists who followed their own rules, no matter how absurd. The rule breaking that defined the work of the Fluxus, Happenings, Pop artists, and other movements.

And if the 20th century gamers had secrets, as the exhibit’s title suggests, then Bloch knows at least some of them. And he is interpreting them for a new century. He’s got game.

Perhaps the inescapable magnet of the exhibition is a collection of trunks, cases, card files and other box-like enclosures spread out across the floor, hermetically sealed, bound by locked chains and rope. These are Storàge Museums.

What is Storàge, you may ask? Storàge is an art form Bloch created ("accent on the second syllable like collage, assemblage, frottage," he says) to poke fun at the forced art hoarding mentality of many artists: "The artist must prevent at all costs, his work from ever seeing the light of day,” Bloch says.

It is a clever institutional critique that takes entertaining shots at the art world -- but also at his own reluctance to fully venture into it, and it invites the desire for an inner Houdini-like mental escape from the past.

Each hints at what is – or may be – inside: The Museum of Self-Sabotage, The Museum of Get Outta Here, The Museum of Overnight Success, The Museum of Dad, The Museum of Intermarriage, The Museum of Fear.

Are these Storàge museums Bloch’s -- or our own? Are they our fears --or his? Maybe both.

But Storàge is only one part of a larger whole. On one wall is the installation Erased John Cage Diskette, featuring a floppy disk John Cage gave to Bloch. Upon receiving it Bloch erased the disk, echoing Rauschenberg’s Erased DeKooning Drawing, where Rauschenberg, upon being given a drawing from DeKooning, erased it. On another wall, a shirt with the logo Duchampian, is a playful riff off the popular sportswear line.

 


Mark Bloch, Duchampian-ware, 2010
Installation view (shirt and cap)
Courtesy of the artist and The Emily Harvey Foundation
Copyright Mark Bloch (c) 2010; photo credit Tom Warren


As he walked around the exhibit on opening night, talking with visitors and answering questions, Bloch, 54, had a sly grin on his face -- as if he was in on a joke and was just waiting for the rest of us to catch up. And that playfulness has original members of movements like Fluxus embracing his work.

“Mark is a lively artist who knows his contemporary Fluxus colleagues so well he can create installations showing warm and concrete knowledge of their work,” says Alison Knowles, one of the original Fluxus artists who was part of the first Fluxfest in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1962. “The Storàge installation is such a delight, and the references to Duchamp, Christo, Cage and others makes for a truly lively exhibition. Compliments to Bloch for putting up a show we can touch, see and savor for a long time.”

The clearest influence on Bloch, and perhaps the biggest presence in the exhibit, belongs to the artist and Bloch mentor Ray Johnson. It can be seen in Bloch’s magnificent collages that grace the walls, including the striking The Death of Ray Johnson. Sadly, Johnson jumped off a bridge in Sag Harbor on Friday the thirteenth in January 1995 at age 67. But many who knew him, including Bloch, say it was Johnson’s planned final performance.

 “He taught me a person could have an art movement of one and then what happened after that was gravy,” Bloch says. “And I still learn from him, whenever I attempt to see things the way I imagine he might have seen them.”

“I like to theorize that he was a bridge between people, and now that he’s dead, having jumped off a bridge, we are left to make the connections ourselves.”

Johnson, a seminal artist of the Pop Art movement and an early influence on Warhol, as well a creator of “mail art,” created the New York Correspondence School. That network that had grown for two plus decades when Bloch joined it in 1978. Mail art allowed Johnson, and more recent adherents like Bloch, to share their art with others through the mail, creating an international network of collectors and shattering boundaries in the art world at the same time.

The bond between Bloch and Johnson must have been strong from the start: it grew out of the fact Bloch had been going around at events pretending to be Johnson, echoing Johnson’s unorthodox artistic vision as if it were his own, putting a new spin on the ideas of Johnson. For Johnson, perhaps it was the delight of a master gamer enjoying the playful deception of his apprentice-to-be.

The night before the opening of the exhibit, I was walking with Bloch down through the East Village, but what he still prefers to call the Lower East Side. As he carried soup for his wife who was sick in bed, he lamented the changing nature of the neighborhood he has called home for over 30 years.

“I once wrote a piece called Puking in the East Village,” he says. “It was about my resentments toward the trendy pink hair and graffiti that annoyed me in the early eighties. Now I long for those days... Now it is just a nice place for rich kids and supermodels to jet around in taxis appearing to be living on the edge when they are really in a new kind of Lorne Michaels Gone Awry Disneyland, while I can’t find a parking space.”

That longing for his neighborhood of old may be the inspiration for an eye-catching piece in his exhibit – The Sticker of Stickers. It is one long 4 x 10 foot vertical sticker made up of stickers he has collected over decades – pulled off of street poles, bathroom walls, storefronts and more. Stickers announcing band schedules, new bars, or simply shouting out anti-authoritarian battle calls. Perhaps it reflects the attitude of a neighborhood of old, the attitude of CBGBs, the Talking Heads, Patti Smith or the Dead Boys, who hailed from northeastern Ohio just as Bloch did. Or maybe it’s just Bloch’s way of having fun. I think I’ll go with the latter -- because this exhibit was a pure delight through and through.

Bloch’s dwelling on the past ended abruptly – when he spied three abandoned glass cabinet boxes amid trash on the sidewalk. Before I knew it, I was an accomplice, helping him lug them back to his car.

I have to admit to having felt a bit heady, thinking I might be playing a small part in his latest creation. And, I wondered, how would he use transparent glass boxes as Storàge -- a medium all about hiding your art, and life, away? The Exception Museum was already taken.

But it was not be to be. The boxes shattered during the drive over to the exhibit. Hmmm. The Museum of Broken Dreams?


 

Mark Bloch, Three Storàge Museums, 2010
The Museum of Self-Sabotage, The Museum of Severed Ears and The Museum of Dad
Found object assemblages
Courtesy of the artist and The Emily Harvey Foundation
Copyright Mark Bloch (c) 2010; photo credit Tom Warren


 


Mark Bloch, The Death of Ray Johnson, 2010
water color, photocopy, collage, 32 x 40 inches
Courtesy of the artist and The Emily Harvey Foundation
Copyright Mark Bloch (c) 2010; photo credit Tom Warren



Mark Bloch, Panmag Magazine Rack, 2010
Wood, plexiglass, photocopied magazines
Issues 1-50 of Panmag mail art zine
Courtesy of the artist and The Emily Harvey Foundation
Copyright Mark Bloch (c) 2010; photo credit Tom Warren




John Yarbrough

John Yarbrough is writer and screenwriter in New York. His work has appeared in the New York TimesWashington PostLos Angeles TimesABCNews.com and elsewhere. His screenplay, “Not My Beautiful Wife,” was chosen by the Writers Guild of America East for a staged reading in New York in June.


As a producer at CNN, he was part of news coverage teams that won a Peabody and duPont awards. At ABC News, he was a writer for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and was one of the original homepage editors of ABCNews.com


view all articles from this author

Reader Comments (0)


Your comments. . .


Your First Name (not shown):
Your Last Name (not shown):
Your Email Address (not shown):
Your Username: