Friday, June 18, 2010

Dennis Responds

Dennis Bellone, "2.30," 1997. Oil on canvas, 72" x 60"

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."