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Wednesday 10.18.06

« Save the Date! Art Book Sale! | Main | Tee Time »

Sincerely John Head with Foghat and a Ford Ranchero


The collective, Sincerely John Head is obsessed with obsession, hanging out and finding a niche within well worn niches. It goes beyond nostalgia and occupies a sweet spot where irony becomes a worn out celebration, worn out critique and an inside joke with a big old welcome mat. Some might call it catching the hipster wave but there is a little more going on here than building a consensus of awesome irony. Still, it had a certain familiarity of purpose that made writing about this smart but too accessible one day project more complicated than it would have been had it been a wierder event.

The now mid-career artist Richard Prince does similar sorts of things with his Camero hoods and Marlborough man photos, it's a wistful kind of corporate innocence that retains some element of critique. Similar to Prince, SJH loves anachronism and lowbrow is the preferred brow. The difference here is audience participation; SJH requires participation in order to get the organs of fandom pumping with new blood and oxygen again. Unlike Prince their exhibition is more of an excuse to see how people react.

This past Saturday Sincerely John Head attempted to resuscitate some elements of late 70's; arena rock and classic cars. More specifically, they are obsessed with the intersections between the band Foghat and the Ford Ranchero.

The exhibition was staged appropriately in a converted garage, which sported a large projection of a spinning Foghat LP record and a rather fancy 77, 78, or 78 1/2 Ford Ranchero, which they washed with champagne and affixed with Foghat vanity plates earlier that day. Nothing obsessive about that, no?

The garage was also host to a large walk-in Foghat sign where visitors could peer out of the letters while being photographed, kind of like being a Foghat groupie for 5 minutes. Of course tour merchandise was on hand, including a shirt stating, "Scott's dad's friend went on a road trip with the guy from foghat's brother." A purposefully pathetic and tangential claim to fame without much purpose beyond making the universe a little smaller and more absurd. On second thought that might be a worthy purpose and that small galaxy model definitely worked for the original Star Wars movies (terrible in the prequels).

tour merchandise... kinda

So why Foghat? They certainly aren't Zeppelin or Kiss (whose fanatic fans don't need encouragement) and Foghat's biggest song "Slow Ride" is an epic extended length blues wankfest. Which is probably the point, there is a lot of pathos and reflexive parody inherent with Foghat and by reviving an arena rock staple Sincerely John Head is short circuiting the omnipresent i-pod revolution with the LP. Sometimes it is more fun to be a fan of something obscure. But is fun enough? Movies like This is Spinal Tap and that 70's show have already done this better.... then again I grew up during the 70's.

Sure, SJH genuinely seems to like the music and the "christening" of the Foghat Ranchero with champagne is a poppy quasi religious act. Ok so it fills a spiritual void with ritualized late 70's corporate products and updated indie versions of the experience? Sure allowing visitors to step into the Foghat sign allowed everyone to be come complicit with the proceedings and that might be enough to save this smart but doomed endeavor but I wonder what would happen if they took on something with more teeth?

The real reason Camaros, Foghat, and Rancheros are back in the hipster consciousness is that the 70's signaled the end of 60's idealism and experimentation. By the late 70's the end of that idealism had become a parody of itself. Some called it Postmodernism but it really was just economic globalism and corporate elan blessed bands like Foghat. Ford and other companies simply marketed cars like the macho Ranchero to Foghat's fans. It was all about fitting in, just like it is today, only we don't have the cold war and it seems like people are truly considering a need to find a replacement for fossil fuels rather than building the MX Missile.

Maybe that discussion is beyond the scope of this happening? What is apparent is that Sincerely John Head is interested in the momentum that popular entertainment creates as well as the cross marketing that occurs in its wake. Compared to the selling of electric guitars with Volkswagens both Foghat and Rancheros seems comparativey innocent and the design seems fresher and more idiosyncratic. It was also a moment during the late 70's where the US chose to be reliant on Middle Eastern oil (no matter how expensive) instead of a serious program to remove reliance on fossil fuels. Is this Foghat's fault? Hell no…but in Portland Oregon where biodiesel has been mandated at all gas pumps, I can't help but think some new band is on the way to creating a soundtrack for the movement. Think Menomena and Volkswagen bio diesel?

Yes, Sincerely John Head captures the absurdist swagger of that moment in the late 70's and poses some half formed questions about corporate pride today. For example, what corporations do we celebrate today? Apple? Pixar? The list is rather short and something is going on.

This event wasn't terrible or half-assed, and it was funny bad so they deserve some real credit. Still, Sincerely John Head needs to kick it up a notch or two because this group behavior isn't that disturbing until a ridiculous level of awe is produced. Either they need a scarier and more impressive subject or they need a bigger crowd. How about the NRA, 70's air travel, Rashneeshees, the ancient Cult of Isis etc?

The event took place on Saturday October 14th at NW 18th Northrup.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on October 18, 2006 at 19:52 | Comments (8)


From a recent interview, RIchard Prince stated "Iíve never felt that I had to put out work that I actually likedójust because itís out there doesnít mean that I have to stand behind it."

I doubt that SJH loves their Ranchero, Foghat Live, or watching a video of a record playing.

Maybe they are a fascinated by knock-offs (the Ranchero is no El Camino) and mutations (the Ranchero is a muscle car aping a truck or is it the other way around?). As you said, Foghat is no Led Zeppelin, so what does it imply if SJH are inviting us to "stand-in" for the band on their album cover? What is implied by purifying a knock-off/mutated car with cheap champagne?

Sounds to me like SJH's working methods have less to do with Prince and more to do with Jason Rhoades, Mike Kelley, Matthew Barney, The Big Lebowski, or even Joseph Beuys.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 12:22 PM

No, they definitely love the Ranchero, I asked... and they even informed me that the Ranchero came before the El Camino.

Both SJH and Prince are Pop appropriationists. Prince might not like what he puts out there but he had to have some criteria. In this case SJH are more into the fan thing than Prince is so its valuable point where they diverge. It could be related to Ed Ruscha's car wash film.

I thought about the Barney thing... the maleness of it all is related but SJH is more literal and pop like Prince is.

Had they gone more mystical with more things like the champagne car wash then it could have been more Beuysian or Rhoadesian... good catch there but I still think it is ritualized behavior that is more directly related to general "parking lot" fan activities than it is to Beuys. Rhoades would have had a lot more stuff and orchestrated it a lot more.

Or maybe if it had been drunker it may have been more related to Kippenberger? I can't wait for their next project, I sense they are developing into something really impressive.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 12:38 PM

One thing I think we all need to be careful of is confusing popularity with significance. Unfortunately I didn't make it to the SJH event, although I am more and more a fan of their work. However, I certainly don't think the success of the work is at all related to the size of the audience, and would be more interested in the quality of experience and exchange.

I am often reminded of something that Annick and Anton Herbert said of their experience collecting art in the 1970s where for them it was not so much about aqquiring onjects as participating in "social and cultural change through an intellectual engagement with artists who were rebelling against the existing art world." They went on to say (this is from a NYtimes article on the occasion of an exhibition of their collection at MACBA and the Kunsthaus Graz) that collecting conceptual work in the 70s was like being in a family where you went to an opening and there were the artists, the dealer and "three or four crazy people."

Anyway, with the popularity of certain festival-like happenings such as TBA, first thursday, etc, It is often worth pointing out that popularity has rarely been a marker of the historical in art-making.

Posted by: SmallAProjects [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 02:12 PM

Great point Small A, historians are forever unearthing people and events that were huge during their own era but forgotten 50 years later (Lee Majors anyone?) and as you pointed out sometimes massive popularity leads to sudden amnesia in the long term cultural consciousness.

Also, In suggesting a larger crowd I was only pointing one way to intensify the experience which seems to call for larger fan dynamics. For me focusing on a last generation muscle car and a band with an interesting name was just too similar to a lot of other things I see (dukes of hazzard the movie, the Mercury focusing on guitar solos, the V-dub guitar promotin etc). Something more esoteric and poetic could really make these guys dangerous.

They definitely aren't screwing around and I was impressed with the production.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 05:13 PM

Honestly, how the hell did I even miss hearing a word about this until today (Thanks to Mr. Jahn)?

This sound like it would have been fantastic, and at least rather entertaining. I don't really have much else to say since I unfortunately didn't see the show, but I have a crappy story to tell.

My first job I had was at Radioshack (horrible job). One day some teenagers came in (15 or 16) and looked at a record player and asked what it was. I laughed at them and then explained it's purpose, then they replied "Oh it's like those things that DJ's use." That was the closest I have ever come to committing suicide.

Also Jeff, your love of D&D is unhealthy, and don't forget to get Jesse Hayward in touch with the PNCA Exhibition Board.

Posted by: Calvin Carl [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 07:21 PM

Just because I rambled on and on about how curating and D&D are related doesn't mean I condon either activity....

I meantioned SJH at the PNCA panel discussion... I wonder how Foghat feels about this art show?

Also, the Ranchero is a 1977 vintage, the same year that Foghat live came out... they love Foghat.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2006 09:48 PM

I truly appreciate how much conversation this exhibition/performance/interactive project has incited. I was fortunate enough have experienced Sincerely John Head's exhibition on Saturday and feel it deserves such dialog.
The project is imbedded with a numerous interesting entry points some of which have been mentioned in the context of the review and comments. Calvin Carl's story about his Radio Shack experience is particularly poignant as the project directly comments on the nostalgia of LP culture. Rather than playing the sound track off a CD. SJH offers up a DVD that both provide us the music as well as a wall side projection of an LP record spinning around. The result is an apparition in spectacle form. This falls right in line with Guy Debord's notions of spectacle. "Spectacle consumption preserves the old culture in congealed form, going so far as to recuperate and rediffuse even its negative manifestations; in this way, the spectacle is implicitly in its totality - the communication of the incommunicable."(The Society of the Spectacle) I found SJH's whole endeavor engaged in language of spectacle, how we are drawn to it and how we are willing participants. Obviously I was a willing participant, I even bought a T-shirt.

Posted by: mkguth [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 20, 2006 12:51 PM

Debord: "In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality partially unfolds as a pseudo- world apart, an object of mere contemplation."

Going to an exhbition to watch a video of an lp spinning of a "live" album from a concert that I didn't attend.

Watching people wash a car with champagne.

Hearing someone else tell a story about it.

Reading about it on the web.

Looking at a big replica of the album cover for Foghat Live.

Looking at a photograph of the album cover.

Being offered a souvenir that tells us that "Scott's Dad's friend went on a roadtrip with the guy from Foghat's brother".

Looking at a photograph of the souvenir t-shirt.

If SJH intended to offer a critique of the spectacle with this project, they either succeeded of failed as there is most certainly a spectacle that has developed in it's wake.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 20, 2006 06:07 PM

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