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Appreciating William T. Wiley

I saw a piece by William Wiley this weekend, at the Santa Monica Auctions preview. Wiley is a funny artist. His work is a little old-fashioned, but for reasons that are good: Wiley’s work is engaged with the world he sees and lives in. It is committed to an irony that is not self-reflexive but is evidence of a skeptical relationship to the larger world. His paintings and works on paper target political figures, environmental concerns, personal life, the art world, and culture. It seems charmingly naive right now to work the way Wiley does, to not announce in scare quotes in one’s art that with this present action, one is making Art. Wiley uses language in his paintings and drawings, in titles and in the bodies of the work. His titles are often acerbic moments of wordplay that lampoon current events, somewhat in the manner of a political cartoonist. In his drawings and paintings he will sometimes script a running commentary that, for me, disrupts my experience as a solitary viewer and places the artist himself in my face and ear and mind. It is also true that Wiley’s paintings and drawings are beautiful, for he is an amazing technician. As an artist, Wiley seems skeptical of the art world, and his work is often critical of art world pretensions. Yet Wiley is not an outsider. He’s been in a Whitney and a Carnegie International. He’s represented the US in the Venice Biennale and Documenta V. William Wiley kind of kicks...

O captor, my captor—EJ Hill and David Bell at Grace Exhibition Space

There was a fight last week, in Brooklyn. A pair of friends, EJ Hill and David Bell, boxed for twenty minutes on a bare floor in a second story loft. O Captor, my captor it was called. Fighting is a curious way to express friendship, and yet within the structure of a boxing match much can be explored and expressed about human nature and about the nature of male friendship. Two quotes help me think about what I saw that night, both from a 2009 interview of boxing writer and novelist Katherine Dunn by Mateo Hoke: “…within the body of the human animal and the mind of the human animal, boxing as a business, as a sport, as a community unifier, as an individual meditation instrument, as a teaching tool, and probably many other things—all of those things are operative there. And you can see the very bad—the conniving and the backstabbing, the lying, the cheating, the stealing. But you can also see a very wide spectrum of extremely positive traits. And because of the simple structure of the sport, it’s very overt. It’s not fancy. What goes on there is really upfront. It’s really in your face. So it’s easy to discern.” “From the moment the bell rings and two people come together, it is a ritualized crisis. And the individuals have to respond to crisis. Just as every news pundit will say, when the flood came or when the earthquake happened, you saw people operating in a crisis and they were terrific, or they fled and bit each other in the back like cowards, or whatever. What...