Well-cut gem

Doug Aitken collapses the boundaries between art, film, and storytelling in his Diamond Sea, and without thinking about it too much

Diamond Sea was showcased as a single channel-piece at 1997's Whitney Biennial. Aitken's no rookie, and he's been honing his work for the past several years not only artistically but commercially; he's a former photographer and illustrator for raygun magazine, and in his off-time, he directs videos for acts like Fatboy Slim and Low. Since the early 90's, he's been exploring the beautiful and necessary dissolution of the boundaries between film, art, photography, and advertising; in the process he's finding new ways to tell stories, through impressions and glances rather than traditional narrative forms. Like his piece Diamond Sea, he is succeeding with far more grace than you might expect--especially if you've been thinking too long and hard about such matters.

Diamond Sea is at the Dallas Museum of Art through August 8. Northeast Quadrant Gallery. Free. For information, call (214) 922-1200.

Them's fightin' words
Despite the clearly stated wishes of the gallery owners of Exposition Park to have me canned or killed because of my last column ["Critic's Choice," May 20; also see Letters in this issue], neither has come to pass. However, I did receive an especially fetching "Death Mask," complete with ominous black container and an anonymous delivery to the Dallas Observer's front desk. The mask itself is signed--and now that we at the Observer have deloused it (don't ask), I am happy to review it as a genuine piece of art. More on that later.

Strange that a writer can spill 700 words of apology before making her negative point and still be considered evil. Not to mention a liar. Yes, I was down at Expo Park that weekend. Yes, I walked through each gallery. That the gallery owners didn't see me ain't my problem. I'm there to view, not make friends.

OK, so I hit a nerve--that's what critics do on occasion. But despite the protesters' claims, I never wrote that the gallery owners of the new Expo Park spaces were bad people with bad intentions. In fact, I stressed their good intentions. So much for diplomacy.

About the mask: The piece is by none other than Eddie Ruiz, owner of Expo 825, one of the spaces I covered.

Here goes: The Death Mask of Christina Rees is a tiny monument to both traditional assemblage art and angry catharsis, an intimate icon of ire and restraint. The delicate curves of the infant face, captured perfectly in milky plaster and gazing out with flat, vacuous eyes, force the viewer to confront a spectrum of emotional turmoil: fear, repulsion, sympathy.

The slash of red paint rolls down the right side of the face, intersecting the eye in a bloody loop. The art critic as blind man, the commentator as obtuse--a sentiment heightened by the brash, pencil-scratched blindfold running side to side beneath the paint. And the word "critic," pasted across the baby's mouth? Obviously, ingeniously, the wailer is silenced by its own trained vices.

Across its front is pasted and scrawled various media, including paper cut-out phrases from my review, and Ruiz's penciled-in sentiments scattered among these:

Rees: "...what's breeding in Fair Park..."
Ruiz: "you made this personal"
Rees: "...go home and crawl under the covers..."
Ruiz: "you get a real job!"

Such incendiary quid pro quo continues on the mask's backside, crowned with the title: "DEATH MASK OF CHRISTINA REES."

Let's not forget the sharp, twisted wire piercing its back, hanger-style. It reminds me of the mask's pseudo-utilitarian intent--all irony stemming from the its size (no adult could wear it) and the teaming of opposed concepts: death through a newborn. He signs it as his "search for meaning, irony, and beauty"--something I accused his gallery's art of lacking.

Like any deserving art, my little death mask is mounted in a place of pride. In this case, our editor-in-chief's office.

Too bad all those artists and gallery owners who have personally commended me for the column aren't writing letters (or sending art); that's always the way. But you gotta get a person angry to incite such letter-writing fervor.

P.S. to anyone who noticed: I misspelled Calder's name, and will surely pay for it in art-critic hell, which is doubtless where I'm headed.

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