Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kim Humphries doesn't know shit from Shinola

Another annual Poetry Scores Art Invitational coup we owe to board president Robert Goetz is Kim Humphries, his friend and colleague at Laumeier Sculpture Park, though their work as artists is wholly independent of their day job at one of the Midwest's most important museums.

Kim submitted this piece for the 2008 Art Invitational, a one-night show and silent auction that will be held 6-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary (3100 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood).

I am gradually getting a take on Kim's approach to making art, which seems triangulated between conceptual art, pop art, and a hand slipped under an armpit for the purpose of simulating a spectacular gasp of flatulence that has the distinct advantage (being art, not gas) of not actually stinking.

We all tend to categorize people and artists by things like race, age, and region. K. Curtis Lyle is blacker and older by a generation than Kim, and he got his start amid the Latin elegance of Los Angeles, whereas Kim is from a Midwestern town in Ohio with a name that belongs to an East Coast city (= Philadelphia), but I think Kim really connected with Curtis in this piece.

This year's invitational asked roughly 25 artists to respond to Curtis' crazy poem about 9/11 poem, Nailed Seraphim, and to title their resulting piece after a verbatim scrap of language from the poem. Kim seized upon the line "He didn't know shit from Shinola".

I have known Curtis well for a long time. He might be something of a living legend who has made a record with Julius Hemphill, played chess against Ray Charles, and pulled part of a tour with Bob Marley in the Wailers bus, but he has a very earthy sense of humor and - as this line from his poem suggests - is not afraid to use a cliche for comic effect.

I submit that it takes guts to do that. You have to know you are the real deal and won't be mistaken for a cliche yourself. You also must be generous of spirit, a sort of Barack Obama artist, who gives the audience credit for being loose and intelligent enough to laugh at the funny parts, even when parts of the story are not at all funny.

Curtis is and does all of that. So is and does Kim. I am glad Robert brought the two of them together for this show.

Though he has placed his work in museums, has gallery representation and basically qualifies as a professional bad ass artist, Kim also gets the way Poetry Scores does things. We mostly attract other artists and art scenesters and ordinary folks, rather than monied collectors (if there are, in fact, still monied collectors walking the Earth), and when he makes art for us, he prices it so people will be able to bid on it and have fun bidding.

Opening bid on "He didn't know shit from Shinola": $60.

Here is a little more context for the line Kim chose. It shows how Curtis likes to play with levels of rhetoric that vary wildly in tone, like a master saxophonist (a Charlie Parker), who can sample a little of a tune that everybody aught to know - a cliche - and then in the next breath skronk an interval never previously skronked:


From here to there was eighty six flights
Of defiance
Of the laws of gravity
speeds of light
quantum mechanics
quantum physics

He didn’t know shit from Shinola
But, the exalted alliance of his mind and his heart
Grasped hands exceeding his reach
Waist bent
Thighs stretched
Knees extended
The end of each nerve in his being
Sent the same long Fats Waller – Stepin’ Fetchit song
Screaming back to his brain
‘Feet don’t fail me now’!


Shit, Shinola, and the exalted alliance of his mind and his heart - Curtis and Kim know there are places in poetry and art for all of these things, even jumbled right on top of one another. Just give your audience the credit that they will be able to figure it out and savor it.

In addition to the free art and free Schlafly beer, the show on Friday will feature Curtis performing his poem, backed by Baba Mike Nelson, David A.N. Jackson and Christopher Y. Voelker.

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