Page 16


BOOKS & THE CULTURE Curtain Rising Nic Nicosia and the Artifice of Real Life BY SAUNDRA GOLDMAN NIC NICOSIA: Real Pictures, 1979-1999. Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. Through November 28. It is morning in Middletown, a mythical place that is also a pun on Middleton, the Dallas neighborhood which is home to the artist Nic Nicosia. It is middle America, white suburbia, the setting for Middletown Morning, Nicosia’s film rendition of a typical morning in the life of an artist. Not any artist, but a suburban artist who also happens to be a husband and a father, thereby subverting the myth of the starving, promiscuous, drunken bohemian. For that matter, Nicosia’s portrait also completely undermines the more contemporary stereotype, of the urban studio loft dweller, who wears a lot of black clothing and shops at Soho’s Dean & DeLuca. Nicosia has filmed this piece in his home city of Dallas where, as in many Western cities, residential neighborhoods can look just like the ‘burbs. The film features daily rituals: fetching the papers and then crawling back into bed with your spouse, only to be interrupted by the telephone ringing, the baby crying. It is Anytown on any morning with any baby \(the film’s specific tale of an artist living in the heartland, and trying to have a viable career in a profession centered in New York. Middletown Morning begins as the neighborhood boys deliver the local paper in their red wagon \(walking anachronisms head over the fence and lets them know that The New York Times arrived ten minutes ago: a real paper from a real city, the real city, one hour ahead of Texas time and light years ahead in artistic sophistication. The artist negotiates a relationship between his domestic life in this provincial location and the professional domain of the New York art world which comes roaring into his home through a review of his work in the paper and through the telephone, in A an agonizing conversation with his dealer. “I’m living out here in Middletown,” says the artist \(played by Nicosia himself, who isn’t annoyance. It’s insecurity.” Nicosia’s suburban-artist paranoia is of course not limited to the heartland, but exists in arts communities throughout the United States, especially those in close proximity to New York Boston and Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. all who endure in the shadow of Manhattan. Far removed from even the shadow of the shadow, Nicosia uses his location to his artistic advantage. While he may be paranoid about his chosen home, he is unwavering in his commitment to record and comment on it. Having lived most of his life within a few miles of this spot \(born in Dallas, Nicosia attended Denton’s University of North Texas and the University of knows best, what immediately surrounds him. Doing so, he renders a poignant, humorous portrait of American suburban life. Nicosia’s films are being screened as part of a mid-career survey exhibition, “Nic Nicosia: Real Pictures, 1979-1999,” currently at Houston’s Contemporary Art Museum. There is an appropriate time in an artist’s life for a such show: when he or she has gone beyond the promise of clever youth, when the work begins to seem of a piece, when it begins to evolve into a mature vision and yet maintains the energy and vitality of the early work. This is now true of the photography and film oeuvre of Nic Nicosia. As his work has developed, it has become deeper and more complex. The exhibition is neatly organized into series or cohesive bodies of work, re-enacting Nicosia’s development. Each new series comes quickly on the heels of the last, yet demonstrates that Nicosia has carefully and deliberately moved from one set of problems and issues to the next. He has tried on one element of photographic practice at a time, beginning with the exploration of illusion and implied space, and OCTOBER 29, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 27