Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Clothes Make the Man Child

When people talk about men's ties, you can expect to hear opinions about width, pattern, and color. At a higher level (and usually among tie aficionados and devotees), the conversation inevitably drifts to the knot; the shape of the knot, the size in relation to the collar, and the number of moves it takes to execute a particular knot.

What's rarely brought up in these conversations is proper tie length. Maybe people don't notice. Maybe they think it doesn't matter. Maybe they assume that length is simply a function of the cut and shape of the tie (and therefore beyond the wearer's control).

To these points, I offer the following: there is a proper length, you should notice, it does matter, and it can be controlled.

To be clear, the tip of your tie should land at the middle of the waistband/belt buckle.

"Tie length? Yuuuge, right?"
Donald Trump consistently wears his ties at cartoonish lengths. Maybe it's part of the Republican platform.
Photo copyright (c) Getty Images

As our friends at Fine Young Gentleman point out,  "When a tie is worn at the proper length it helps balance out your legs and torso, wearing a tie at an incorrect length can throw the balance of the ensemble off.  When worn too long it can make the whole look look frumpy and sloppy.  When worn too short the look can look clownish."

Mixed messages: My French cuffs say "sophistication". My tie length says "drunk uncle at your wedding".
Photo copyright (c) Getty Images

Since I've had at least an  inkling of this guideline for most of my tie-wearing life, I assumed it was common knowledge (or at least common knowledge among those whose occupations might require them to wear a tie on a regular basis). Clearly it's not. This week's RNC Convention in Cleveland highlighted the Right's apparent predilection for long, sloppy ties.

A white tie over dark slacks highlights both Mike Pence and his tie missing the mark.
Photo: Carrie Devorah /

Props to Peter Thiel. He probably wears a tie less than any of the Republican power brokers, and still managed to get closest to the correct length (Also, please don't sue me.).
Photo: Copyright (c) Just Jared Photo #: 3713426

Obviously set against the backdrop of xenophopic fear-mongering, racism (both implicit and explicit), divisive and dangerous rhetoric, and hypocritical opportunism, the length of a tie isn't a particularly egregious sin.  

Karl Rove and his water boy sporting laughably long ties. Apparently Karl's influence in the Party remains strong.
Photo: Copyright (c) Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Still, these are grown-ass men, powerful men, men who would presumably either know how to dress themselves or at least have people around them smart enough to help them out. If you've recently blanched at the idea of giving the nuclear codes to a thin-skinned narcissist, think about giving them to a thin-skinned narcissist who CAN'T EVEN TIE A TIE PROPERLY!.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Like Waving a Red Cape in Front of A Bull(y)

I recently reviewed Sold Out, the Tim Rietenbach exhibition at Angela Meleca Gallery for Columbus Underground. If you haven't had the chance to see it, go now. It's a terrific show that plants its flag in that aesthetic sweet spot just between incisive and cynical. It's an exhibition that's piercing in its cultural observations, but somehow generous as well. Rietenbach has an approach to art making that acknowledges the conceptual elements of art in the 21st century while managing to hold a high degree of visual interest. And while I discussed a number of the pieces in the show in some detail, I made absolutely no mention (save an illustration) of what was undoubtedly my favorite piece.

For all it's apparent simplicity, Rietenbcach's Brutus serves as ground zero for so many potential discussions it's hard to know where to begin.

 Tim Rietenbach, Brutus, 2015 33 1/2" x 31 1/4"

Let's start with the formal elements. Brutus clearly pays homage to the grid and color abstractions of Paul Klee. But while Klee worked these compositions out with paint, palette knife, and his own sense of color theory, Rietenbach uses commercially available paint samples from retail home centers. This material choice calls into question both the role of the artist and the traditional hierarchy of mediums (a hierarchy that places oil painting above all else). Further, Rietenbach's Brutus playfully flirts with the dichotomy between analog and digital. The image offers the appearance of extreme "pixelation" while remaining resolutely analog. In this regard it offers a subtle hat tip to Gerhard Richter's famously "out of focus" paintings.

   Paul Klee, Alter Klang, 1925 30cm x 30cm

Brutus also blurs our spatial sense. While Rietenbach's work certainly reads as a two-dimensional construct, it's actually fabricated in three. These retail paint chips are affixed to a wire lattice support and hover above the ground. It's balancing act that presents viewers with a (mostly) flat image while reminding us that these chips are in fact actual, physical objects.

Oh, and about that image; anyone from central Ohio will llikely recognize it as the head of Brutus Buckeye, the mascot of The Ohio State University's athletic teams (Don't see it? Try squinting).

Brutus Buckeye TM (a registered trademark of The Ohio State University)

This provides a whole new frame of reference by which we can view Brutus. Pop-culture aesthetics are in play now, as is the tacit acknowledgment that even the most comically mundane elements of our visual landscape can serve as inspiration for contemporary artists. Rietenbach's Brutus goes further than that though, punching up in a way that has me cheering for the underdog as enthusiastically as I might the Buckeyes themselves (full disclosure, I'm a graduate of Ohio State and count myself as at least a casual fan).

But wait, punching up? Underdogs? What's that about?

Well, it's about what might be the most interesting element of Rietenbach's humble piece. This business of appropriation in art, of taking that which already exists and using it to create something new, often finds itself at odds with intellectual property concerns. It turns out the world of contemporary creativity is rife with disputes between artists and the holders of various trademarks, copyrights and patents. Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, Alice Randall, and Andy Baio are just a few examples of creatives who've faced legal action in their efforts to appropriate and transform. Baio's story in particular resonates in this instance. The pixelation process he employed in his ill-fated Kind of Bloop project is one that's visually similar to Rietenbach's approach. (For a full accounting of how wrong the legal workings of intellectual property law can go, check out Baio's blog post, Kind of Screwed).

Which is to say it's at least conceivable that The Ohio State University would have a look at Brutus to determine if their trademark rights have been compromised.

If that sounds far-fetched, it's not. The Ohio State University has a whole department charged with the task of overseeing all aspects OSU's trademark business. Make no mistake either, it is a business. Per the Trademark and Licensing Services web site, "the Licensing Program has generated over $130 million in royalty revenue from approximately $1.3 billion in licensed retail sales". And if you think that OSU is too big to go after the little guy, think again. As this report from NBCi shows, enterprises large and small can fall under the watchful eye of the Trademark and Licensing Services.

Of course creative endeavors are quite different than selling mugs, t-shirts, or cookies, and the law makes allowances for this. The legal doctrine of fair use can provide some cover for artists, especially in those instances where a significant transformation of the original can be established. Still, the cost of arguing your case before the court (along with the possibility of losing) is often enough to lead many artists to either give up the fight, or worse, not even consider the possibility of appropriation to begin with.

Knowing how aggressive OSU is about trademark protection, it will be interesting to see if they respond to Rietenbach's work. From the perspective of one who values art's ability to comment on (and borrow from) our existing culture, I hope they'd let Rietenbach and Brutus be.

If, as Ohio State Assistant Vice President Rick VanBrimmer asserts, the school doesn't want to be "the bully on High Street" this would be a good chance to prove it.

Tim Rietenbach's Sold Out will be on view at the Angela Meleca Gallery until March 12, 2016.

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