Monday, June 28, 2010
Gerhard Richter, "Self-Portrait," 1996. Oil on linen, 20" x 18."
What shall I paint? How shall I paint? 'What’ is the hardest thing, because it is the essence. ‘How’ is easy by comparison.
- From The Daily Practice of Painting, by Gerhard Richter
The “Institutional Critique” is/was built into the Modernist model. If we accept that Modernism starts with Manet and the Impressionists then it follows that the Salon des Refusés which Napoleon III instated in 1863 as a result of the uproar to the rejected artists from the traditional and ‘classical’ established academic Salon is the staging of the first artist reaction to “official art”, this, at least to me, is a critique of the prevailing tastes and official art of the time and hence Institutional Critique. This is the beginning of the avant garde, not to say that there wasn’t one in the first place but this is the official mark point in history of such.
Jump fifty years into the future and this French guy with his “Nude Descending the Staircase” is asked to be a jury member in New York of a show where everything admitted will be allowed. Amongst this grouping is the drawing or painting from the child of one of the artists. This man, realizing he is being played because of his own painting's infamy at the Armory Show, the painting that his own brothers had played a part in excluding from the Societe Indépendents, decides to test their principles, that being “no jury, no prizes…” That artist? Marcel Duchamp and his "Fountain," the infamous urinal and the shot heard round the world.
For what is art and who decides?
Forward another 50 years. It is now the '60’s and a movement that some call Pop and others call Neo-Dada is now heavily the scene and Duchamp the artist infamously known falsely for having quit art to play chess has many retrospectives and is now re-evaluated and risen from the grave of history. Only the secret that few want to discuss to this day is that this man made one last major artwork over a 20 plus year period that only three people knew about. Brief side note - every time I see some young buck or buckaroos say I’m doing something Duchampian, yeah? Really? Then shut the fuck up, drop out of the artworld like he did and make one singular master work and don’t tell anyone about it for twenty years.
Flash forward nearly another 50 years and now we are in the world of total Institutional Critique. Why? What follows is my opinion as an actual practicing artist.
When Duchamp proposed the urinal as Fountain the end game as artistic praxis was already being proposed in painting by Mondrian, Malevich and Rodchenko. In fact Rodchenko had finished it with his four monochromes and retired his brushes and took up photography. We’re talking a fifteen year period from the landmark Cezanne retrospective and the follow up development of Cubism and Matisses’s fields of color. But it took artists another 30 years to really work out all of the various permutations of what the extremes could be in the field of representation and non-representation (non-objective art). Pollock’s work “broke the ice” as de Kooning said because it completely eviscerated the picture plane in a force field that few could have anticipated.
Artists got it, Barnett, Rothko et al but Pollock did it in such a way without the easel and this is key as it has made every modern, post-modern, what ever artist whether they’ve consciously or unconsciously know it, address it.
Enter Pop Art. Even the “classical” model of pop art follows this, it is no longer the representation of an object within a space a la Stuart Davis, the space of pop art is in the picture plane that Pollock made, most likely unknowingly, the field of “activity.”
I’ve never had a problem with pop art as to me it always seemed to be the perfect counter-proposal or jump through the looking glass into the reverse world that Abstract Expressionism claimed.
But artists, as much as we like to pat ourselves on the back for being real, dealing with “truth”, sincerity and “authenticity” are sometimes the most stupid people alive. And if artists don’t quite get what is happening, well then how the hell can one expect a person who makes a living like a remora, the curator or art dealer get it?
When you follow all the ism’s, like conceptualism, performance, etc and carry them to the extreme and then add a justified critique of the power structures that are defining Modernism, the only thing left is the machine critiquing itself. If everything goes and all is worthy (because we’ve jettisoned the concepts of quality and experience because of the bad daddy syndrome) and art is democratic and everyone is an artist, then the only thing left is for the institution to play this game of addressing the so called marginalized. The marginalized who just want to be part of the machine, to have their place in the sun of commerce and mass acceptance. And what do the marginalized do, they yell at daddy, the big bad institution screaming like the PIL song “we only wanted to be loved.”
What Hegel couldn’t understand in his time of writing about the thesis/anti-thesis was that there would be a time where the anti-thesis would become cool and hip and marketable, that people would jump to it because it offered freedom from the stifling confines of 19th century mores without fully understanding the full ethical and responsible weight of freedom. Marx got it though, first time as tragedy, second time as farce.
This was the beginnings of the “ME” generations or what is in my mind the most vacuous self-absorbed uncritical group of morons that have walked the earth. And every generation suffers this shit, only now they are a huge marketable force to make money off of their massive insecurities. Since all the variations of the picture plane have worked themselves out in western culture the only thing that is left is marketing. That’s what the “kids” are obsessed with, the adults too. Real experience, real taking the time to find out for ones self? Gone. The number of times I’ve had dealers say over the last 20 years, wow you’re a real artist or painter but your work is too difficult (hence unmarketable) or you need to be in some group shows curated by whatever hip momentary taste maker… well if I had a dollar.
In short the Institutional Critique Model allows curators the illusion that they are allowing the marginalized into the machine and the current four letter words of quality or experience or Art with a capital A isn't in their vocabulary. Why? Because they are too blind to see it and when Art manages to make it into the machine, they still don’t really get it. Like I said most artists don’t either. The Institutional Critique allows them to feel like they are being open and democratic and feel good without having to do any real work and at the end of the day, who in this world has time to work when one is twittering about the most recent consistency and color of the shit they just took.
Why the quote from Richter? Because when one considers or accepts that all of the various means of representation or non-representation are or have been co-opted, how does one go into the studio and try to make an artwork that might wake the great slumbering beast of humanity? I don’t know about you, my fellow reader, but I am dissatisfied with the outcome of the modernist, post-modernist whatever revolution and need or want to communicate to someone on a real level, without the words, without the bullshit. If I can make one painting that has made me feel what Velazquez or Frans Hals, or De Kooning, or Polke or Mondrian and the list goes on and on then I would have accomplished something and added to the soup or stew of art. And the question remains, when I am in the studio and consider all the misinterpretations even though I think I “get” something….what to paint, what to paint, what can I paint that won’t be misleading or misunderstood? It is a fools errand though and I will continue to be the fool.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Run, don't walk over to Ameringer-McEnery-Yohe to see this picture. It's a pity that the column in the center of the room prevents you from standing directly in front of it, but it's still unbelievable, all 23 feet of it.
Gene Davis has the uncanny ability to create surprises using the most limited and Spartan of motifs - the vertical stripe. He thinks like a jazz musician, specifically a drummer; motifs repeat for a bit, but then an accent appears, louder than the previous notes and placed in an unexpected spot. After the accent, the picture sometimes returns to the previous rhythm, or a new beat is introduced, sometimes made to seem faster or slower in tempo by slimmer or wider stripes, and which is again punctuated by contrapuntal rhythms. I could have stood there looking at this picture all day.
Davis, like Ken Noland, was completely clued in to the visual weight of colors, and the effect that weight had on their placement in pictorial space. But Davis added to this a terrific and playful understanding of the metaphorical sonic volume of colors: the picture would murmur, then shout, then mumble - what musicians refer to as dynamics. It was a genuine masterpiece, even though I know that term is currently frowned upon.
The rest of the show was quite good, but this picture was really stunning. Ameringer-McEnery-Yohe is located at 525 W 22nd St. in Chelsea, and the show stays up until July 17th. To say that I highly recommend it is a gross understatement
Friday, June 18, 2010
Dennis Bellone is a fine painter who's recent exhibition at Engine Company 216 was a real eye-opener for me. Dennis posted a lengthy, thoughtful response to the 4th installment of the "Bad Painting" series, and I thought it warranted publication as a stand-alone post. Here are his comments, unedited:
I don't think it can be overstated how influential Clement Greenberg's definition of "Modernism" was in the New York artworld and in the nascent art academia of the states, so powerful was his influence that it even taints our concepts of what is labeled "Post-Modern."
While Johns' Flag might have helped show Stella a path to his Black Paintings, I think it was Greenberg's theory of the picture plane that grounded him.
I think artists in general, especially good ones are rather contrarians and radical by nature. The difference though between what is authentic radicalism and faux radicalism, is that the radicalism of the former is based on a need to point out or interject into the visual discussion a viewpoint overlooked or forgotten or not seen before whereas the latter is radical for radicalness sake. One has something to say in actuality and struggles sometimes in vain to get the point across and the other one in short is a poseur.
Bad painting and its antecedents like Picabia's nudes and late abstractions never fit the mold for Greenberg's concept of Modernism and Picabia in particular showed a way from the dilemma that late American High Modernism posited.
While American artists were fighting theoretical battles over the definition of High Modernism and the picture plane the Germans whose culture had been destroyed by the Nazi Reich had to rediscover art. Europeans in general, except for their American 'children' (Rothko, Gottlieb, De Kooning, Newman, etc.) never really fully embraced the American concept of High Modernism to begin with and even my examples of such Rothko, et al don't.
Our American bad painting owes much to the German model of Polke and his students like Oehlen. Polke who managed to mash together Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Warhol and Picabia. Polke who was a major influence on Schnabel and Salle, the two biggest American names in the assault on American High Modernism.
For myself Polke is my Picasso along with Richter. Their work and I speak only for myself, showed me a way out of the monochrome and reductive painting. Plus it fits my personality and visual gregariousness. I am too dissatisfied and impatient to make a 'flat work' although I have and rather good ones at that I must say.
But that said, the concept of bad painting for me also exists in that titan of the 20th century, Picasso and his late work. The garish color combinations and "bad brushwork" but yet and it is a major yet moment, the damn paintings work as Art. They move me, they make me want to make work, to wrestle with my personal obsessions, to make paintings that might to the uninitiated appear ugly and yet function, yet create the art moment.
In the end, art can really appear in nearly any guise or form. One chooses the ingredients that suits their particular tastes and gets to work. Work being key, labor, pushing it, putting the time in and being particularly severe with ones own self criticism. But always paying attention to the moment when art happens. This moment, this "aesthetic echo" that Duchamp mentions frequently in his later years is what separates "Bad Painting" from the freshman or the retirees or the 8th Street Art Fair.
The attempt to democratize the visual arts is also a hold over from the utopia project of early modernism, the "painting" that would reach every one without need to resort to narrative and even resides in Beuys "everyone is an artist". And Beuys personage points to the other aspect of the utopia project, the latent "Marxist" ideal. This latent Marxism and a bad academic Marxism at that, is what taints the existent art academy, that and a lot of consumerist, post consumerist, entertainment crap.
The Guggenheim, MoMA, etc are nothing more than the faint replicas of the old salons. They show and exhibit the official brands of culture. Abramovic's recent show of her re-performances were nothing short of branding. Artist as commodity and celebrity, art is commodity now, nothing more than substitute currency.
The "machine" of the art world has no interest in art per se unless it has economic value. The echo is not important to them, it is the ability to brand it and sell it. Most young artists want to be branded, they want to be part of the celebrity grist. Hence Bravo, the Guggenheim's outreach via Youtube, Greater (lesser) New York at PS1.
The need to make work, to wrestle with personal obsessions, demons or history, to respond because one feels compelled to isn't gone however but it certainly isn't any easier now for artists than it was for Monet or Cezanne when they started or Van Gogh. Or, or, or. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I hope this makes some sense but as Henri Matisse is purported to have said, "Whoever wishes to devote himself to painting should begin by cutting out his tongue."
Thursday, June 17, 2010
I hadn't intended to revisit the "Bad Painting" series, but I was quite struck when I recently read that the Guggenheim was planning an open Youtube search for the next big thing in video art (click the picture above to enter), and they wanted it to come from outside the usual fine art circles and MFA programs.
This development has little do with painting, good or bad, but it does have quite a lot to do with the environment and rationale that set the stage for Bad Painting to become a genre in the first place: the idea that the artist as a person with special talents, training, and sensitivities is no longer a valid profile. A major museum having an open-call on Youtube seems to me to be an extremely effective gesture in the drive to completely de-professionalize art. The live question of course, is: why exactly would you want that?
An attempt to answer this question requires that I go back over a little ground I already covered in the first three installments of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Post-Moderninsm circa the late '60's sought to be the perfect opposite of Modernism in many respects. Modernism's chief spokesman at the time was Clement Greenberg, whose broad influence and dogmatic notions of quality, purity, and formal criteria made him the perfect symbol of entrenched, intransigent power, ripe for overthrow.
Quality, beauty, talent, resolution, taste, connoisseurship, and professionalism all came to carry a strong stigma in the fine arts, in striking contrast to virtually all other art forms (theatre, literature, film, poetry, dance) where things from this list are not viewed with reflexive mistrust. Institutional critique became the new criteria for post-modernism, and has remained so for its many tributaries over the last 40-plus years. As I've said in these pages many times, institutional critique is now itself an entrenched, intransigent institution; it's taught at the big schools and shown at the big museums, and this puts it in a peculiar quandary. But rather than belabor that point, I'd like to follow another, slightly different thread.
In the 2nd installment of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," I mentioned that Bad Paintings were always made by artists who had presumably come up through the schools and made their pictures look bad self-reflexively, in the spirit of Post-Modern criticality. Works by Neil Jenney, Albert Oehlen, Julian Schnabel, Joan Brown, and William N. Copley, right up through Elizabeth Peyton, Karen Kilimnik, Dana Schutz, and Josh Smith often quite consciously bear a striking resemblance to pictures made in freshman painting classes and retirement communities, but the critical distance they espouse is key - there has never been a Chelsea gallery exhibition of genuinely bad paintings made in utter earnest by students or retirees trying hard to make good painting but failing. The nearest example one can find is the '90's trend for Outsider artists, but again, these pictures were never shown side-by-side with art-world Bad Painters, and the interest in the Outsiders was often heavily skewed to biography.
This distinction between Bad Painting as a critical gesture and real bad painting was always tenuous at best. It seems to me that the Guggenheim's stated desire to open the gates to any and all that wish to participate, using a medium that requires little in the way of specialized skills or equipment, is analogous to allowing genuine bad painting in to the museum for consideration and denying the real but unstated privileged status of the insider Bad Painters.
The putative reasoning on the part of the Guggenheim team is at least in part an attempt to democratize art, a theme that has been a big part of the dialogue in recent years. But there is a subtle power play that has been underway for quite some time that belies the stated goal of inclusion and openness. The Guggenheim will have a panel of experts judge the Youtube videos, and they will decide what gets shown. Obviously, these are institutional insiders, because there has never been a drive to democratize and de-professionalize curation. On the contrary, it's hard not to notice that in recent years curators have played a much stronger role in the shaping of art exhibitions, and the role of the artist has become, quite often, to provide work that illustrates curatorial themes. The strongly themed and curated exhibition has become the norm, and shows that are simply chronological or organized around broad categories ("Recent Abstract Painting") are becoming rarer.
The first time I became fully aware of this phenomenon was in MoMA's "Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life" exhibition in 1997. Works from various periods were grouped under nine categories, including The World as Perceptual Field (I), The Mechanisms of Consumer Culture (VIII), and Postmodern Simulacra (IX). Stylistic affinities and chronological developments were downplayed in favor of curatorial juxtapositions across time and geography, done so to show the more subtle, philosophical connections between works. Since then, shows curated in this manner have become such a common part of the landscape that it's hard to remember a time where this wasn't the case, when the art led the way and the curation followed. But this much is clear: exhibitions of this nature raise the curator to the same level as the artist, if not above.
The more naive and unprofessional the artist is, the greater the need for curators to cull and explain the works to a bewildered public - to divine its cultural relevance, which, along with institutional critique, is a major theme in much contemporary art. Viewed in this way, it becomes clearer as to why the rise of the Young Artist category, beginning in the late '90's, coincided with the appearance of the heavily-curated exhibition. Young Artists are often cast as feral, rebellious, and very much in touch with the latest aspects of technology and pop culture, but inarticulate. And curators, like narrators on a wildlife program, are needed to translate their actions and gestures for the rest of us.
Nancy Spector, deputy director and chief curator of the Guggenheim Foundation, had this to say about the video search:
"Many artists today work quite profoundly with popular culture – that is something we recognise and embrace. It doesn't concern me that a tribute to Lady Gaga could end up being an important work of art and we don't want to rule that out."
But this statement raises a knotty question that runs parallel to the insider/outsider questions I posed in relation to Bad Painting. If there's a strong desire to question and critique the institutional distinction between high and low and to show work that is in a strong dialog with the zeitgeist, why not just show the Lady Gaga video and cut out the artist altogether? This would be the last logical station stop in the de-professionalization or art and the ascendancy of curation.
In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel pointed out that when a major cultural shift is underway, as in the toppling of Modernism by Post-Modernism and the continuing related critiques, each step in the process must be explored in great detail, no steps can be skipped (in my translation it says that each phase must be "tarried over"). The Guggenheim's current project seems to be the most recent development in a particular vein of reasoning that devalues the image-maker and raises the stature of the thinker-curator-critic-interpreter. It also has the classic earmarks of an endgame, but then again I've been saying this for a long time - I guess we're not quite done tarrying over those remaining steps.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
My biggest complaint about blogger.com is that they do essentially nothing to protect users from spammy comments; the only safeguard they provide is to have a log-in process prior to writing comments. When I first started getting spam on my posts, I initiated these limited security precautions, but there are two problems: many people stopped commenting, and the spammers came anyway, albeit with less frequency. The Asian porn guy was largely undaunted (how's it going buddy?!).
Well, I really want people to chime in on my posts, so I took away the limited protections blogger offers in the hope that readers will feel freer to participate. If staying ahead of the spammers takes too much of my time, I'll either restore the security log-in, or consider finding another platform.
So feel free to comment! And try to ignore the Asian porn guy, I'll see if I can't stay one step ahead of him.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Today Zenyatta improved her unbeaten record to 17-0 by winning the G1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in her thrilling, come-from-behind style. Mike Smith took her into the lane 6-wide (!) and she was still able to run down St. Trinians on the wire. She's now surpassed racing legend Cigar, 1948 Triple-Crown winner Citation, and Mister Frisky, who's unblemished 16-0 record was spoiled by Unbridled in the 1990 Kentucky Derby. Hooray for Zenyatta!
Many are still sore that Zenyatta was passed over for 2009 Horse of the Year honors in favor Rachel Alexandra, particularly after Supergirl lost her first two starts as a four-year-old (she lost the Ladies Secret at Fair Grounds in March and the La Troienne at Churchill Downs in April). Rachel notched her first win of the year over a less than stellar field in yesterday's G2 Fleur de Lis Stakes at Churchill Downs, in what was clearly a spot hand picked by her connections to stop the bleeding. I'm assuming that Zenyatta will be retired in short order, so it seems unlikely that Z. and R.A. will ever actually race. At this point I know who I would bet on.
Friday, June 11, 2010
What first strikes me in these pictures, is how true is the delicate relationship of tonal values. Let me explain... Some fruit is placed on a table and stands out in front of a grey background. Between the fruit, according to whether they are nearer or further away, there are gradations of color producing a complete scale of tints. If you start with a "note" that is lighter than the real note, you must paint the whole in a lighter key; and the contrary is true if you start with a note which is lower in tone. Here is what I believe is called "the law of values." I know of scarcely anyone of the modern school, with the exception of Corot, Courbet, and Edouard Manet, who constantly obeys this law when painting people. Their works gain thereby a singular precision, great truth and an appearance of great charm.
Manet usually paints in a higher key than is actually the case in Nature. His paintings are light in tone, luminous and pale throughout. An abundance of pure light gently illuminates his subjects. There is not the slightest forced effect here; people and landscapes are bathed in a sort of gay translucence which permeates the whole canvas.
What strikes me is due to the exact observation of the law of tone values. The artist, confronted with some subject or other, allows himself to be guided by his eyes which perceive this subject in terms of broad colors which control each other. A head posed against a wall becomes only a patch of something more, or less, grey; and the clothing, in juxtaposition to the head, becomes, for example, a patch of color which is more, or less, white. Thus a great simplicity is achieved - hardly any details, a combination of accurate and delicate patches of color, which, from a few paces away, give the picture an impressive sense of relief.
I stress this characteristic of Edouard Manet's works, because it is their dominating feature and makes them what they are. The whole of the artist's personality consists in the way his eye functions; he sees things in terms of light color and masses.
- Emile Zola, excerpt from "A new manner in painting: Edouard Manet," 1867
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Ice Box was never a factor and First Dude came in third. Congratulations to Mike Smith and Drosselmeyer; the former captured his first Belmont Stakes, and the latter has never run in a G1 race before - a nice first try! Click here for the the results from today's full card.
In spite of tough luck in the big race, team No Hassle at the Castle did pretty good at the windows today. Coupled with last Monday's victorious outing, it seems that I'm in the midst of the most fragile and evanescent of all racetrack phenomena: the winning streak. Now that I've told the world I'm sure it's jinxed, but it's important to savor these moments while you can!
Friday, June 4, 2010
Incidentally, this year's Belmont Stakes, with no Derby winner in the field and now with the prospect of bad weather, is predicted to have an all-time low turnout and further drive the beleaguered New York Racing Association into insolvency. Yesterday, NY governor David Paterson and the NY State legislature approved a $25 million loan package to keep NYRA afloat until slot machines are installed at Aqueduct. Those slots, whose installation has been delayed for years because of the stunningly corrupt search for an an operator, are the only thing resembling a plan to save New York racing (sigh).
So that's my big Belmont Stakes analysis - not too thrilling, I know. Below are my picks for the entire card, which are subject to major revisions if the track is wet, particularly if the six grass races get moved to the main track.
4 - Seis de Mayo
7 - I Got Swagger
6 - Camptown Blues
2 - Tapaline
4 - Eliza Grace
8 - Kaitlyn Ann
4 - Avenging Spirit
6 - Wonder Beyond
1a - Devon Rock
7 - Ricoriatoa
8 - Tahitian Warrior
3 - Trappe Shot
2 - Manhattan Fox
4 - Yankee Empire
3 - Strong Commitment
6th race, The Woody Stephens, G2:
5 - D'Funnybone
3 - Discreetly Mine
1 - Eightyfiveinafifty
7th race, The Just a Game, G1:
5 - Proviso
1a - Speak Easy Gal
3 - Phola
8th race, The True North, G3:
2 - Custom for Carlos
3 - Bribon
8 - Checklist
9th race, The Acorn, G1:
6 - Amen Hallelujah
10 - Tidal Pool
7 - Quiet Temper
10th race, The Manhattan Handicap, G1:
1 - Gio Ponti
5 - Take the Points
6 - Court Vision
11th race, The Belmont Stakes, G1:
6 - Ice Box
11 - First Dude
9 - Stately Victor
3 - Remittance
1 - Lt. John
5 - Bold Vindication
8 - Quick Money
2 - Mustang Island
9 - L.C. Bulgari
Tune in tomorrow night for results and video.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
But I must say that I was smirking inwardly while reading this merciless roasting of Greater New York in the Village Voice. I'm glad other people are starting to notice that these shows generally blow.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The race has lost some of its sizzle without the presence of the Kentucky Derby or Preakness winners, but the good news is that it's a nice, full field - there was no dominant favorite to scare anybody away.
Tune in on Friday for the big No Hassle at the Castle race analysis.
1. Dave in Dixie, Calvin Borel, John Sadler, 20-1
2. Spangled Star, Garrett Gomez, Richard Dutrow, 30-1
3. Uptowncharlybrown, Rajiv Maragh, Kiaran McLaughlin,10-1
4. Make Music for Me, Joel Rosario, Alexis Barba, 10-1
5. Fly Down, John Velazquez, Nick Zito, 9-2
6. Ice Box, Jose Lezcano, Nick Zito, 3-1
7. Drosselmeyer, Mike Smith, Bill Mott, 12-1
8. Game on Dude, Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert, 10-1
9. Stately Victor, Alan Garcia, Michael Maker, 15-1
10. Stay Put, Jamie Theriot, Steve Margolis, 20-1
11. First Dude, Ramon Dominguez, Dale Romans, 7-2
12. Interactif, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher, 12-1