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Michael Beam's Works at Wine on Third

The Ides of March

Michael Beam’s art consists of two different elements: visual art and accompanying narrative text. Both can be interesting, but can be mystifying, too, in terms of visual experience and in terms of narrative experience, but above all in terms of how the visual and narrative parts in a given work add up to larger whole. A display of his works is currently on view at Wine on Third (501 Third Street, Niagara Falls).

There are pop references galore—1960s-era plastic toys, a 45-rpm translucent red vinyl record—but the point of them is unclear, ultimately suggesting some personal history of the artist reference we don’t have access to, and surprisingly, given the large amount of text, don’t get an explanation of. Also, copious postmodern art tactic appropriations. And linguistic and visual puns.

Sometimes the narrative text is a whole historical excursus, interesting in its own right. You think, they ought to make a History Channel program about this (unless they aready have). One about a complex of related events and coincidences in the matter of the World War II special air strike mission to knock out the V-rocket program Germany was developing under Wernher von Braun, who would later head up the American space program, under President John F. Kennedy. The objective of the air mission was to destroy the rocket factory but also annihilate the scientific and technological team working on the project, including, of course, von Braun. To accomplish the mission, explosive-laden bombers were to be crashed into the targets. But these were not drone or robot planes. Rather, a crew was on board to guide and aim the bombers at their targets, and arm detonators, then parachute out just before the planes crashed. Among the volunteers for this dangerous mission was Joe Kennedy, Jr., John’s older brother, the son slated in the calculations of the elder Joe Kennedy to become President of the United States. However, the explosives in the Kennedy plane detonated prematurely, before the crew had parachuted out, of course killing all aboard. And determining that the elder Joe Kennedy would have to engineer capture of the presidency for playboy John, a more unlikely scenario and more difficult job, it would seem, than his original scheme. Anyway, post-war, von Braun came to work under Kennedy and is largely responsible for the United States putting a man on the Moon. (Another interesting historical twist to the story is that following behind the fateful air mission, filming it from another airplane, was Col. Elliott Roosevelt, son of FDR.)

But how does the visual artwork comport with—or compete with—the narrative? The visual work consists of a rather unprepossessing appropriated oil painting on canvas, perhaps a landscape, hung, strung, on a kind of cat’s cradle of red cord, also suspending a cartoon figure of a man executing a mighty kick of anger or maybe frustration. Who? A passing visual resemblance to John Kennedy. But then why? Why the anger or frustration? At historical vicissitude? Which seems to take and give—based on the case in point—with a fairly even hand.

The best mutual fit between visual artwork and narrative element occurs in two satirical pieces on the matter of language, dilating into the matter of politics, cold war. One is about a translation machine—the idea of translation machines—apparently a CIA project, rendering the Pauline Biblical pronouncement “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” as “The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten,” in conjunction with confetti further literal renderings through an office paper shredder. The other combines different words from different languages into a phase descriptive of the modern world, inundated by multimedia fluff and filler, as the artist states in his narrative, in conjunction with what looks like multimedia fluff and filler in the visual component.

There is substantial reference to Julius Caesar. The exhibit is called The Ides of March, and one of works is called The Ides of March, consisting of a laurel crown—a kind of negative symbol of Julius Caesar, in reference apparently to Marc Antony’s claim in the Shakespeare play that thrice he offered Caesar the crown of kingship, and thrice Caesar refused it—and a large number 23, the number of stab wounds inflicted on the body of Caesar by Brutus and Cassius and fellow conspirators. What extremist conservative Republicans are capable of.

But the deeper Ides significance, Beam says, has to do with a mid-point of a given time period—the Ides of March, of course, is March 15—suggesting a look backward, but also forward, on his artistic career. The exhibit opened on March 15 and continues until April 15.

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