Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lisez moins, vivez plus.

Paris, May 1968

Lisez moins, vivez plus.
Read less, live more.
graffiti slogan; Paris, May 1968

I visited the Art Car Museum on the day that Robert Rauschenberg died. The whole world had seemed grey for weeks. Time was getting me down. May 1968 was forty years distant and the revolution that swept youth culture for the boomer generation seemed hollower than ever.

Mexico City Olympic Games 1968

The moment that was stolen from them, when McGovern lost to Humphrey and he handed the country to Nixon will never come back. Students around the world could not stop the war in Vietnam despite taking over universities in Paris, New York, Mexico City and Tokyo.

Nevertheless, this historical moment became the “end of history” as humanity plunged into desensitizing technologies. Today Postmodernism, for any philosopher with a beating heart, has become a pandering sophism in its middle age. It isn’t about any sort of logic for me as I write this, just about who I know and why, and I am beginning to believe it has always been that way.

Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955-59

Coasting down the rail road crossing I passed the red gas station and the silver building, parked on some broken concrete and turned off the engine. The rain fell in light waves, the truck felt like a tin drum. I reached in my pocket for a pen, searched the seats for one, and checked the glove compartment to no avail. The only implement I found was a blue inkpad and a rubber stamp with two cartoons that said “Merci”. I was there to leave something for Tom Jones, tragically cut down by a drunk driver after the art car parade.

I brought eleven yellow daisies and one that had been dyed blue and glued with sparkles. The guy at the shop wrapped them in green and orange, which seemed weird. When I arrived there were a few people on the side of the road standing around a collection of flowers and fruit. Photographs, letters and ribbons covered the chain link fence on Heights Boulevard. Before I left the cab I held the waxy orange paper and stamped it “Merci” several times.

The loss of Tom Jones, a curator at the Art Car Museum, is a heavy burden for Houston. He sure knew a lot of people, but the news of his unfortunate fate reached far beyond his personality. Many who did not know the man should be sad to be deprived of the opportunity. I cannot say I had known him well, but it was a pleasure every time we spoke. With the temperament of The Big Lebowski and a slew of projects under his belt Jones knew where he stood and made no excuses.

Art, cars and art cars had been in his life since the founding of the museum in 1988, and earlier in the decade he was a part of the Urban Animals, working with the Lawndale Art Center and others to create the city’s underground art scene that thrives today in a myriad of storefronts, galleries, warehouses and street artists. Irreplaceable, Jones is remembered by many and is an inspiration to anyone out there with a sense of worth beyond monetary ambitions.

The loss of Robert Rauschenberg, two days after Jones’ terrible accident, is a turning point in interpretation of the second half of the 20th century. In a long and storied career the Port Arthur, Texas native who survived Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Conceptual Art, Neo-Expressionism and the 21st century never could be pigeonholed and thus never passed over. His continual artistic evolution reacted to his personal life. He collaborated in dance, performance, print, design and public sculpture with many big names in other fields. His continual successes made him an influential figure to generations of East Texan artists who identified with his expressionist style and eccentricity, as well as his conflicted reactions to his Christian roots.

I stood on the side of the road in the rain. I thought about two people I never knew so much who meant a lot to me as I felt ever more hopeless about politics and reason. My blue ink “Merci” stamps were already beginning to run. I borrowed a red lighter from a Star Pizza waitress and lit two sticks of incense in the pile left in memoriam. Photographs, toys, oranges, cards and letters, biker memorabilia, beads, candles and flowers lined the sidewalk.

Tom Jones, art car Swamp Mutha by Ann Harithas and others

“Keep America’s roads weird — build an Art Car!” -t.j.

Robert Rauschenberg, 1986 BMW 635 CSi Art Car

"The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history." - r.r.