Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's New?

I make abstract paintings, and enjoy abstract painting generally. Many think me a retro curmudgeon going on and on about the importance of the visual; about how color, shape, and composition can be be a potent vessel for psychological, emotional, and even political content, and wondering why the visual is, in much contemporary art, a secondary consideration to subject.

But lately, when I'm catching up on what they're talking about in Artforum, on the web, and in the galleries and museums, I'm starting to notice a musty odor. Am I really the old-fashioned artist here?

From "Moral Hazard" by Norman L. Kleebat on the art of Artur Zmijewski, Artforum, April 2009:

"It is easy to storm out of a gallery presenting the work of Polish artist Artur Zmijewski. Many viewers (present company included) react negatively at first to his confrontational and transgressive videos, which accost viewers with images and ideas that stand outside what one generally encounters in polite, 'normative' society."

From the press release for the new Gavin Turk solo show at Sean Kelly Gallery, entitled "Jazzz:"

"In the Main Gallery, a group of large-scale apparently abstract paintings, in the manner of Jackson Pollock, are in fact constructed from countless layers of paint representing Turk's repeated signature. The works quite literally question the artist's signature as a sign of uniqueness and value. Turk's characteristic appropriation of identity in these paintings is echoed and reinforced by a group of black and white photographs of the artist in his studio making the paintings. The photographs are reminiscent of the well-known series of photographs by Hans Namuth[...]"

From the press release for Alex Bag's current video installation at the Whitney:

"For her first solo museum presentation, Alex Bag debuts a newly commissioned video installation she has made for the Whitney Museum of American Art, inspired by a popular and progressive 1970s children's syndicated television show, "The Patchwork Family." Continuing the commentary on contemporary media culture that has characterized her work to date, Bag reimagines the earlier TV show, in a darkly satiric vein, peopling her studio audience with real-life children. The children are regaled by – and react to – the show’s special guests, an assortment of characters including an abstract artist, an animal wrangler, a wizard, a psycho-pharmacologist, and others."

From the Press release for "Younger than Jesus," opening next month at the New Museum:

"Inspired by the fact that some of the most influential and enduring gestures in art and history have been made by young people in the early stages of their lives, “Younger Than Jesus” will fill the entire New Museum’s building on the Bowery with approximately 145 works by artists all of whom are under the age of thirty-three years old."

Transgressive video art, art about the slippery nature of identity and the significance of authorship, ironic media critique, a large scale MFA show. Haven't these ideas been well-mined over the last decade or more? Like, very, very well-mined? They're all beginning to smell a little like yesterday's sushi.

Virtually everyone agrees that art is about to change; the abysmal economy and the epochal feeling of Obama's presidency have virtually insured a major shift. What it will be is anyone's guess, but it's obviously my hope that artists can feel free to make visual art without apology or backstory, which has been a surprisingly controversial position for quite some time.