KMAN by David Rohn
La Isla Del Arte. KMAN’s profile image on www.artkman.blogspot.com
Here follows a tribute of sorts by Miami based artist David Rohn to KMAN, a Miami based artist who died this summer. Expanding on the exceptional and timely piece by Victor Barrenechea of the Biscayne Times, Rohn draws focus on social elements within the tragedy that beset all artists; questioning the value of recognition when a system exists solely to benefit the group.
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KMAN, Art Kendallman, Art Man from Kendall, Jorge Bartlett, born 1957, died over the summer …they found his body in the park. He’d been missing for several days. They said it was a suicide.
In fact he left a note on his computer ‘el fin’ (‘the end’).
A long time member of our art community… well not like Hernan or Daniel exactly….. I mean not BIG…
…but a lot of people knew exactly who he was, what was his art.
And even what he struggled with.
Jorge Bartlett aka KMAN
KMAN evolved into a performance artist with his wife, Ana Pulido-Bartlett back in the early ‘80’s .
Ana said that when she first met Jorge that she found him disturbing; later deciding that his commitment to speaking out on war, violence, and waste was strikingly powerful and sincere.
They performed together until they began having kids- then Ana started to put more energy into the kids.
She says it happened kind of by itself; evolving from a visual artist to a (visceral) performance artist ; that back then “people in Miami didn’t understand what they were doing. They were kind of scared of it”
And there were a number of inevitable run-ins with the police,
Ana says that was to be expected; that you had to take that into account if you were going to practice your art on the street.
Apparently he even got arrested for wearing a mask. It seems there’s a law against covering your face in public here; so he got arrested for that…
Now that we, the survivors, get it – like how to network: you know, be nice, don’t say anything too intense, and act ‘as if your stock is going up’ (like if you were working your way up a ladder).
Or if you just got out of art school in the recent past where they already started to teach how to be a self promoting artist in the contemporary art industry: (Not like Brito he’s ‘too commercial’ more like Damien Hirst – now there’s a role model for young artists!
– or as it was described recently in a blurb about being an ‘insider’ at Art Basel Miami Beach: “Don t find yourself on the WRONG SIDE of the velvet rope.”
Well after all nobody ever really goes anywhere all by themselves, we go someplace in the context of a community. But KMAN was probably just too close to his own edge to make a game of it. And once he was on the other side, he found he couldn’t make it back.
They used to say (back in the ‘80’s when PR was beginning to eclipse art) that it wasn’t “WHAT you knew, but WHO you knew” that got you somewhere (somewhere in the pecking order of the contemporary art hierarchy that is).
But KMAN’s cut-off career makes you wonder if the guy could network at all – even in Miami!
One of the images Ana sent was a poster for a dance-type related piece to be performed by KMAN at a club called The Pawnshop. Turns out he set the whole thing up and promoted it without even telling the club about it. (Presumably because it wasn’t so clear they would have been in favor of it; maybe also because he was attracted by the ‘intervention’ (Guerrilla) idea of performance.
Poster advertising unofficial appearance by KMAN at Pawnshop, Miami
In one case documented on a website, Jorge staged a performance intervention in a Miami Avenue warehouse gallery. After the gallery owner had him escorted out by off duty police, most of the other artists – Including Ana – literally took their art off of the walls and left the gallery, which subsequently closed.
But times had changed and New York artists were figuring out ways to ‘summer in the Hamptons’ to be nearer the rich and influential.
Leonard Tachmes, who showed KMAN at Scope (where he installed himself in front of the booth with the soldiers and airplanes of his art) said that he was “uncompromising”.
Charo Oquet who took his work to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with ‘Edge Zones’ says she had great respect for him, but that he could be difficult.
Gustavo Matamoros, who collaborated with him, said that: “He was his art” and that he “came on strong,” and that “his strategy seemed to be to promote peace by mocking violence.”
And Brook Dorsch, whose Wynwood Gallery was a place where KMAN felt comfortable enough to simply show up and be who he was said: “He gradually became his performance; there was eventually no distinction between his performance and his presence.”
Jean-Paul Sartre states in his search for the reasons for writing that: “Art can be the escape mechanism or the means to master something. One cannot escape alienation – whatever the reason; moving into death and moving towards madness, it is still possible to collect the weapons and (…sharpen their shining points) to overpower the enemy.”
This impassionate alienated ‘artiste maudit’ as the French would say: (‘doomed artist’ perhaps for us), seems like an anachronism nowadays when successful artists look like strange hybrid social butterflies with a more-or-less-deep message.
Ana mentions that back then they were “thirsty for something like Basel” (Art Basel Miami Beach) that they were “in the boondocks.” But that Jorge prevailed, making a portable street-scape gallery that he would set up in the street in front of other galleries.
KMAN’s portable gallery temporarily situated in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District
KMAN’s work involved the jargon and strategy of military and aviation: Invasions of Puerto Rico; flight paths to Cuba; imaginary trips to Japan, often deeply detailed with invented flight logs and itineraries. He wore hand-painted flight jumpsuits with helmets and goggles, and carried toy planes, soldiers and ships, etc.
People said that if you encountered him he would monologue about all these things until you either stopped him or walked away.
There was also visual material: often explosive images of conflict with staccato radial lines or garishly colored images of planes. Photos of the artist in his outfits alongside these images add up to something very definite, maybe even a little dismaying like a kids TV show gone nuts.
More recently he developed complex websites with truncated images and sound that are rather disturbing, along with documentation of past work.
His wife explains that he became absorbed in tracking hits on his sites and became more and more depressed that he didn’t get many, and eventually any. His journal entries document the small and diminishing number of visits to his sites and of hits leading up to his decision to end his life.
It would be great to be able to say, ‘that Jorge, KMAN, what a character. He certainly adds a lot of color to the local scene.’ But his suicide and also an attempt he made 5 years ago add a solemn weight.
In an art scene that sometimes looks like a cross between a popularity contest and a commodities market, a figure like KMAN is a distinct reminder that art, more than just Big Business (at the moment) can also be Serious Business. In this case, the business of self expression and social commentary.
Oscar Wilde pointed out that: “If you criticize Society, then you were certainly not a part of it.” And in more recent times, Paris Hilton indicated that the opinion of her publicist was much more important to her that that of her attorney– and that was regarding a legal matter!
In the context of the way we are now, KMAN might as well have called himself Kave-MAN. His wife says he was willing to risk it all… I guess she knew him pretty well.
KMAN out and about during one of the Wynwood Arts District’s Second Saturday Art Walks
In the end it cost him more than a lot of pain and separation, and not least from an art world that could barely even deal with him. ‘Til he could no longer prevail.’
Perhaps we should be grateful that alienation and despair, madness and death aren’t the only subject and purpose of art.
But some of the most significant art that’s ever been made has come from this. So KMAN’s experience can’t just be written off as an anachronistic and romantic idea about art and artists.
These days artists not only have to figure out how to do their work but also how present it both literally and figuratively to the public.
We live in an age of massive media manipulation. And although people always appear to be growing more ‘media savvy’, it’s the media’s job to ensure it always stays at least one step ahead.
For Artists this is more complex. We cannot ignore media as a means to present our work; but honesty and integrity is a great part of what gives good art its power. And how we do this; how we present ourselves publicly becomes an inseparable part of the art.
So a super insider with a lot of success may find his or her work discussed in terms of its cost, or where they’re showing, or how much its gone up (topics of interest to collectors and money people but not really art related).
Conversely, people who don’t attract attention at all will simply be ignored (presumably a worse fate than becoming a commodity).
I mean how else can you compare KMAN counting hits on his website alongside Damien Hirst who has to keep track of buying back his own work at auction to prop up his prices?
KMAN’s case is a reminder that to participate as an artist is of fundamental importance to most artists and that creating ‘performance’ is an immediate, albeit a rather risky, way to achieve this.
And that if an artist is really is invested then there’s a lot more than money or fame at stake.
And with so many artists, so much chatter, and SO MUCH MONEY out there now, artists have to look at their motives and at their message to understand how to fit into this mix if they wish to prevail to really be and to remain artists.
Most collectors didn’t know about KMAN (oh well…), but for artists KMAN’s passing is a reminder that the realm of self expression, of social commentary and spiritual progress isn’t the same as having a career in an industry created by people who would like to tame art, to own it and control it’s means of production.
Artists above all others, must not forget that art isn’t a product like others (The diamond skull notwithstanding a 12” x 12” Vermeer painting’s value, transcends what it is made of and puts paid to a diamond encrusted skull in any auction). And if we ever got the feeling that we’d thrown the (art) baby out with the bath then it could only be the artists and perhaps most especially those like Jorge Bartlett (aka KMAN) who could ever get it back [.]
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This text was contributed to ARTLURKER by David Rohn.
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