Kevin Killian

Better the devil you know


Kylie Minogue (born 1968) isn’t the world’s greatest star, but she is for me and for Simon Sheridan, the Bristol-based pop culture journalist best known for his biographical work on Britain’s sauciest birds of the 1970s — including its porn actresses. Oh my, that’s a far cry from Kylie’s innocent sexiness! But what Sheridan’s The Complete Kylie (Reynolds & Hearn, 272 pages, $29.95) suggests is that Kylie would not have attained her present fame had she maintained the innocent, Dakota Fanning-like presence of a child star. She was still a teen when her role as the tomboy mechanic Charlene in the long-running Aussie soap Neighbours made her immensely popular in Oz and in England, and powerful record producers Stock Aitken Waterman made her the queen of their hit factory.

It was bubblegum pure and simple, but every fourth or fifth track was great, and she coasted along like this until she met Michael Hutchence, of INXS, who told the press his hobby was "corrupting Kylie." Everything Madonna did first, Kylie did second, or fifth or ninth, but what she had that Madonna didn’t was an enormous comeback. In the late ’90s, after the Tori Amos pretensions of her Hutchence-inspired "indie rock" phase wore off, Kylie found herself on the junkheap, without a record label, and nearly a laughingstock. Was it just a bad patch? Her gay and lesbian fans stayed true, helping their idol to survive the tough times, yet she’d be singing on cruise ships today had she not run back to her pop roots with a vengeance on Light Years (EMI, 2000) and Fever (Capitol, 2001), recordings that even saw her — briefly — break through in America thanks to a brace of crazy catchy singles like "Can’t Get You Out of My Head."

Since then, Kylie’s been riding high, oh, except for when she had cancer, but she’s even back from that now, touring Latin America in support of her 2008 Capitol release and tenth studio album, X — get it? Sheridan writes appreciatively and even wittily of every aspect of her career, even her godawful movies (1995’s Streetfighter with Jean-Claude van Damme; 1996’s Biodome with Pauly Shore). The Complete Kylie is a sumptuous book, not too huge, but then again Kylie herself stands only five feet one and a feather tall, small for a goddess.

Goldie winner — Visual art: Colter Jacobsen


Four years ago this month Colter Jacobsen got his biggest break, his most bruising teardown, and his greatest opportunity in one 24-hour period. He’d been tapped to do a project in a much-talked-about exhibition, "17 Reasons," alongside John Baldessari, Jeremy Deller, Trisha Donnelly, and Chris Johanson, organized by California College of the Arts curator Kate Fowle and Mission gallerist Jack Hanley. Jacobsen worked for weeks on the sort of public art-slash-intervention the curators wanted, "inserting new works into street life," and finally draped the midsize bronze commemorative tablet erected by the state at the corner of Albion and Camp with a sculptural suite of water-stained packing boxes and fruit crates, altered with paint, glue, collage, watercolors, and pencil into a text-laden carousel of raw forms (and, incidentally, a tribute to Kylie Minogue). When the art walk began all was well, but as afternoon wore into evening road workers discovered the desecration, and by morning the piece had been demolished. Luckily, Matthew Higgs, whose work was also in "17 Reasons," had viewed Jacobsen’s project just before dusk and invited him to stage an even grander installation at White Columns in New York City.

And when New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith singled out Jacobsen’s work at the resulting 2005 exhibition, his crew in San Francisco cheered from afar. Since then it’s been one thing after another for our lad. (He appears in and created the titles for The Key of G, Robert Arnold’s 2006 documentary on the struggles of Gannet Hosa-Belonte, who lives with Mowat-Wilson syndrome in the Mission. Jacobsen was one of his caregivers for several years.) Finally, with gallery representation and a growing international fan base, Jacobsen, now 32, can devote himself to his art full-time. In a town rich with brilliant visual and conceptual artists of all stripes, it can be hard to get attention; in some ways Jacobsen’s lucky, and he knows it. You won’t find a humbler guy.

At a recent Jack Hanley Gallery show Jacobsen tried a lot of new things, but you couldn’t get away from the doubling. A found photograph of a baptismal scene in a spooky arts and crafts church hung low on one wall. Across the gallery, just as low, Jacobsen had hung a tiny painting of the same scene — same muddy colors, same dimensions. His delicate drawings seem to be already in ruins, as if commenting on the urban realities of life in the Mission. Many are what he calls memory drawings — each an image taken from life and then matched with an identical one drawn from memory. The work’s sort of scary that way, recalling Mr. Memory in Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, who keeps the terrorists’ secrets locked up in his brain and recites them under compulsion.

Just as impressive as Jacobsen’s draftsmanship is his brilliant infusion of old-school, Mission school, DIY junk assemblage with a sophisticated gay semiotics. When the poet and curator Bill Berkson uncovered a series of texts he’d written 25 years back, he decided, well, Joe Brainard’s no longer around to do the job, so why not ask Jacobsen? (The result, Bill, in 20 panels, was included in the spring exhibit at Hanley.) I wonder if you can judge a person by their artistic heroes; Jacobsen’s wild grab bag includes Brainard, Fran Herndon, Jack Smith, Jess, Kenward Elmslie, Denton Welch, and Jack Spicer — artists and writers with a vision off-kilter and sublime. Just like a burning radio, Jacobsen gives off sparks and a crazy echo of music.