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09 February 2016

Precedential Material

For no other reason than it's Granite out there...

05 February 2016


Because I grew up in the 1970s. And because I later spent the better part of 20 years living in Chicago, almost all of it spent on the south side. In that part of town there was, among the homegrown population,  a sort of perennial groove that was inarguably classic -- definitive. Once winter broke and people came outdoors, you could expect to hear certain spring soundtracking. Roy Ayers Ubiquity and early Kool & the Gang being big favorites. Early-to-mid '70s era Stevie Wonder and maybe the occasional Steely Dan joint. But guaranteed plenty of EW&F.

Earth Wind & Fire having started out as an entity very specific to the Chicago music that it evolved out of. In the group's early years, when its lineup was constantly shifting. In those days its membership encompassed musicians who'd played with local funksters The Pharaohs, as well as others who'd been under the mentorship of AACM multi-instrumentalist and former Sun Ra Arkestrateer Phil Cohran. (As evidence of that latter connection, check the larval EW&F's contributions to the Sweet Sweetbacks's Baadasssss Song OST.) And then once the band's lineup began to finally solidify, in stepped producer & arranger Charles Stepney to help steer them toward the limelight. Charles Stepney himself being a whole 'nother Chicago music story.

01 February 2016

The Errant Eye

fig. 1

It's not all that difficult to tell a fake Jackson Pollock painting from a real one. Despite what some may think, and despite all the scoffing my-kid-could-paint-that cliches, it's not all that terribly difficult to discern that something is amiss.

The first indicator is the scale. Smaller works from Pollock’s "drip"/"allover" phase are in the minority, with the rest of them being quite large.

The main thing is composition, of being very familiar -- after long, extended periods of looking at the Pollock's work -- with the artist’s visual vocabulary. This might take a while, but after a time that vocabulary becomes intuitive. One general aspect is the work's compositional rhythm, its push-and-pull -- the way the composition breathes or coalesces through an amalgam of webs, skeins, clusters, puddlings and crusts. Also considering how the artist would crop the canvas after-the-fact, which was often dictated by by where the density of the composition begins to thin or become too diffuse, with only a moderate ratio of bleeding over the edges, the allover "apocalyptic wallpaper" effect being economically hemmed in by the boundaries. And then there's Pollock’s sense of distributing the paint about the canvas, in terms of chromatic harmonies and contrasts. Bold, bright elements are most often not allowed to dominate, with the artist "knocking them back" via breaking up one layer with the next. (This was perhaps done with the intent of nullifying elements that might be construed as "figurative," which the critic Clement Greenberg told him was regressive, conservative).

fig. 2, 3

Third would be the condition of the thing. This would involve a close-up inspection while bearing a number of considerations in mind, many of them having to do with the painter's methods and materials. Such as: In order to execute his famous "drip"-era painting, Pollock set up studio in a barn, with the canvases spread out on the floor. It was far from a pristine environment, and a fair amount of detritus -- dirt, cigarette butts, bootprints, etc. -- sometimes got caught up in the action. There's also the matter of looking at how the thing has aged -- basic entropic considerations. Such as the discoloration of the canvas/support. Or, given that Pollock often made these works by using commercial-grade lacquer paint, which have a tendency to quickly degrade over time -- cracking, crazing, or wrinkle at various points [fig. 2 - 3]. Such is the stuff that has kept a number of museum conservators busy in recent decades.

At the very least, the art directors of Ex Machina [fig. 1] might've contacted the prop department of the makers of the 2000 biopic Pollock. Actor and director Ed Harris had reputedly spent months studying Pollock's methods and laboring to recreate them for the sake of his performance in the film [fig. 4 - 5]. Perhaps there were one or two of the mock Pollocks still in someone’s possession?**

fig. 4, 5

Or maybe they have consulted with the British conceptualists Art & Language, getting some technical pointers from them about they went about making their Portrait of V.I. Lenin in the Style of Jackson Pollock series back in 1979-80 [fig. 6 - 7].

31 January 2016

Kitsch, Dirt, Mud, and Chaos

Hans-Peter Zimmer, collage, date unknown

At the end of the prior post I had mentioned the Gruppe SPUR. I hadn't had reason to think of them in many years. In fact, I once had a copy of a German-language book on the group; a book that was long ago lost, destroyed, or came to some other such fate. At any rate, being reminded of them, I decided to seek out images of their early, SI-era work online. No quick task, as the group was -- I gather -- never widely known outside of Germany.

Comprised of painters Heimrad Prem, Helmut Sturm, Hanz-Peter Zimmer, and sculptor Lothar Fischer, the group came together in 1957 in the city of Munich. Their work during those years in many ways mirrors of number of postwar "art informel" avant-gardist tendencies of the era -- like a mishmash of COBRA-style taschism and art brut primitivism.

Heimrad Prem - Untitled, 1962

Lothar Fischer, title and date unknown

Helmut Sturm  "Paar", 1962

Hans-Peter Zimmer - Untitled, 1961

Lothar Fischer "Flucht aus dem Morgenland", 1959

28 January 2016

Ceci n'est pas une pipe, pt. 118

From a recent discussion between Susanne von Falkenhausen and David Joselit, concerning the latter's curatorial hand in the Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age exhibition, via the German edition of Frieze mag:

SvF: So medium specificity – that’s the old spectre. And what does medium specificity, what does Clement Greenberg, have to do with Guy Debord? You would like to get painting out of the register of Greenberg and put it into a register of Debord?

DJ: I suppose it’s very hard to characterize a complex project in a slogan. But from my point of view, what painting really can do is represent, even theorize, the circulation of pictures – and by ‘pictures’ I mean commoditized images as they arise in mass media of all types ranging, in our period, from television to the internet. We know that appropriation was aimed at indexing the ‘life of pictures’. But it did so in a very severe way, which in fact made the displacement from one context to another – art to advertising, for instance – clean and unambiguous. Whereas in painting, what you see from Robert Rauschenberg to the present is that commoditized images are put into circulation in time and space, and move at different rates. Many of the questions animating conceptual art with regard to changing values of visual knowledge have been explored in painting, but I don’t think this has been sufficiently recognized. While it is a simplification that has many problems, for the sake of argument I think your characterization is largely correct: we are trying to take painting from Greenberg to Debord.

SvF: But Debord...

DJ: He would have hated the project.

SvF: Yes, I think so. He would have sent in some black paper or something like that.

DJ: Right, or a film. ...Obviously Debord did not and would not approve of painting.

Unless the painting in question were one by Asger Jorn (who's included in the exhibition). In which case, Debord was all to ready to accept it as a gift, which -- lore has it it -- he would turn around and sell, using the money from the transaction to fund the publishing of the next edition of the SI journal.

26 January 2016

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