24 September 2017

Cargo Culting

Christopher D'Archangelo, Post No Art (c. 1975) as seen at documenta 14, Kassel, Germany.

via Thierry Geoffrey

Various graffiti, Athens, Greece. Summer, 2017.

07 September 2017


Honestly, back in the days when Julian Cope's Krautrocksampler doc became the Young Person's Guide to Same, I took issue with the author's assertion that German prog was part of a concerted effort to shed all all Anglo-American influences. True enough if you're listening to Neu!, Harmonia, Kraftwerk, Cluster, and Faust; but not much of the case at all when applied to most of their German prog contemporaries.

And not so true much early Can, either; which -- despite however adventurous it aiming to be -- still adhered to the arc set by Anglo-American psych/blues/"freak-out" models. But that would change soon enough , all such stuff was gradually stripped away and the music pared back to its base elements. Which is probably why Ege Bamyasi and Future Days remain the albums I most often revisit. With the former album, the band starts to shed the aforementioned baggage -- with Czukay's bass and Jaki Liebezeit's drums brought prominently into the foreground, guiding much of what transpires, mixed and crafted in a way that created an uncanny sense of sonic spatiality. The latter album followed further down that path -- far enough to achieve its own peculiar musical universe.

It was heartening to see Czukay paid proper tribute when the post-rave electronic music boom of the late 1990s came along -- his contributions as an e-musik pioneer widely recognized, thus giving him a second life with a new generation of listeners. I recall clips of him playing as festivals, bobbing and dancing around behind racks of new-gen gear, delighted that the world still kept offering him the means to further explore musical ideas that had gotten into his head from his early days as a Stockhausen student.

26 February 2017

La Trahison des Clercs, ed. #115

There are a number of reasons that my interest in following the present art world has flagged to almost complete indifference these past several years. I've grown to see little point in complaining, and increasingly think less and less abut it all. But R.M. Vaughan's critique of the recent Berlin Biennale, posted this past June at Art F City, echoes some of thoughts about it very well. The opening paragraphs provide you with a preview of the tenor of the entire thing:

"Since the last Berlin Biennale, Europe has undergone a currency and debt crisis, watched far right political entities grow from obscure clusters of nutjobs into massive populist movements, dealt, badly, with the millions of people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, and been subjected to terrifying and brutal acts of terrorism by all manner of extremists.

In all of these crises, Berlin, the capital of the EU’s richest and most politically powerful country has played a central and keynote-determining role.

I can thus think of no better way, given the circumstances, to reinforce the popular perception that contemporary art has nothing to say about the world that surrounds it than by hiring the NYC-based fashion bloggers DIS to curate the ninth edition of the Berlin Biennale. I have rarely seen such a profound case of not giving the people what they want, of so many heads so far up so many assholes.

Just walk away, Berlin. Go have a strong drink. Read a good mystery novel. Take too much MDMA and pee your slacks. Sit in an empty room and cry. Do anything but waste 26 Euros on the Berlin Biennale.

I am not arguing that every work of art must pay keen attention to (nor certainly attempt to resolve) world problems. But I cannot see the value of artworks that exist in and speak solely to a snarky, self-affirming vacuum either, as do almost all of the works I saw at the BB. There is so much avoidance of current problems on offer here that one could reasonably see the entire project as an act of retreat, even denial. It’s as if the world is too much for DIS and their assembled artists, so they’ve all gone back to the rec room to play video games."

Admittedly, Vaughan wasn't alone in this assessment, as negative reviews of the Biennale stacked up across the internet. But then there's Vaughan's review of a large exhibition of paintings by American artist Amy Feldman which appeared this past week. I recommend reading the whole thing, but the crunch comes in the final stretch:

"I showed a friend a selection of Feldman’s works, a friend who happens to be an accomplished novelist who grew up in poverty in the UK. His response was that all I was doing by showing him these lazy paintings was affirming his long-held suspicion that the art market really existed to give frivolous rich people a way to show off how much play money they have. Feldman’s paintings are that and that only – light amusement for jaded buyers.

The works have no redeeming qualities other than as oversized examples of how shitty and decadent times have become. Feldman’s paintings are the wall-based equivalent of hiring peasants to play at being peasants in your estate gardens, the extra chandeliers in the posh hotel lobby, the last dollops of gold and poured blue glass on King Tut’s 25 pound funeral mask, the extra season of Girls; flitting, careless excess and high-brow gluttony rendered into being with a gutting, lurid insincerity"
Easily the most acidic art reviews I've encountered since the bygone days when Gary Indiana used to occasionally contribute to The Village Voice.

21 December 2016

Islands of the Colorblind

Presently scrounging through texts, attempting to sort through Romanticism's various pushbacks against the tides of Enlightenment, Utilitarian, and Positivist thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and encountered the following. Not unlike Jane Jacobs, but 120 years before the fact...

"It is not disputed, that in any land where there are flourishing cities, the territorial aristocracy will be distinguished as patrons of the beautiful in art. But whence has this aristocracy derived the wealth by means of which it indulges so largely in the gratification of those tastes ? Whence has it derived these tastes themselves? And whence came the men of genius possessing the power to minister to those tastes ? On these questions, it is not too much to say, that as the town has made the country, giving to its lands a beauty and value they would not otherwise have possessed ; so the citizen has made the noble, by cultivating in him a taste for art, which would not otherwise have formed a part of his character. For it must be obvious that the countrv which should be purely agricultural, producing no more than may be consumed by its own agricultural population, must unavoidably be the home of a scattered, a rude, and a necessitous people, and its chiefs be little elevated above the coarse untaught mass of their dependants. Burgesses produce both the useful and the ornamental, and minister in this manner both to the need and the pleasure of nobles and kings. What they sell not at home they send abroad. In either case, wealth is realized; lands become more valuable; public burdens can be borne; and along with the skill which produces embellishment, come the means by which it may be purchased. [...]

"We only maintain that the successful patronage of the fine art depends less on the existence of noble families, than on the existence of prosperous cities. Without the former kind of patronage, art may be wanting in some of its higher attributes; without the latter, it would cease to have existence."
- Robert Vaughan, "On Great Cities in their Connexion 
with Art," from The Age of Great Cities (1843).

Or, as a friend of mine said of San Francisco a few years ago, "[It's] been officially pronounced dead. It's a good city to consume culture, but in a very short time it has become one that is completely inhospitable to those who produce it."

*image: Attributed to Tom Sachs. First spotted by the author in 
an alleyway of the Soho district of Manhattan, circa 1997.

10 December 2016

Notes Toward a Theory of Depressive Resublimation

"One of the operations of power is to deflect the critique of capitalism onto the terrain of a more limited cultural critique. The condemnation of arrogant elitism or dumbed-down consumerism, of the detached art object or the degraded commodity form, has value. But, being partial, such critiques are always liable to overshoot their mark, and become their opposite. In the end, you have to keep your sights on transforming the system that produced such contradictions in the first place."

- Ben Davis, "Connoisseurship and Critique", e-flux journal, April 2016

04 December 2016

On the Exhaustion of Something of Other

Christian Viveros-Fauné, writing at artnet News, on "Containers and Their Drivers," the Mark Leckey mid-career retrospective presently on view at MoMA PS1:

"Fiorucci [Made Me Hardcore] achieved cult status at almost viral speed, thanks in large part to its timely anticipation of the YouTube generation’s breezy manipulations of digital sources. This accident of history lent the North England-born artist the veneer of being the Cezanne of the interwebs—in today’s artspeak, post-internet art’s analog pioneer. A gifted but ultimately trivial sculptor, filmmaker, poster-maker, installation-designer, lecturer, musician and general jack-of-all-0-and-1-art-trades, Leckey seems to have never recovered from the pigeonholing. [...]

"Traipsing through Leckey’s multiple rooms at MoMA PS1, consequently, comes across as a spiritually exhausting, Reagan-era throwback experience. As captured in his first US survey...Lecky’s life’s work takes physical shape as a concatenated set of new media reworkings of Jean Baudrillard’s 1980s-style vaporings. The majority of Leckey’s current installations, in fact, deal with some unacknowledged version of hyper-reality. Were Leckey American, no doubt this exhibition would have featured the DeLorean from Back to the Future. [...]

"'I see myself in a tradition of Pop culture,' Leckey told artnet News contributor J.J. Charlesworth in 2014. 'I'm a Pop artist – I believe in the idea that you’re essentially a receiver, that you open yourself up to, and you allow whatever is current to come through you and absorb it into your body and somehow process that, and that’s how the work gets made.'

"The work's chief revelation is as simple as it is uncritical: in our era of data glut, everything is everything is everything. Leckey’s replicas (or are they simulacra?) accrue on repeating shelves and pedestals, one after the other, in ongoing, insistent, recurrent, nearly endless succession."

The gist of Viveros-Fauné's critique is hardly a new one. If anything, it very much echoes that of Julian Stallabrass's YBA bollocking of some years hence, High Art Lite. That being, that "pop conceptualism" rapidly degenerated into a a default modus in which postmod irony, long having lapsed into a state of rhetorical depletion, becomes a form of passively (if not somewhat masochistically celebratory) fatalism. We are all merely receptors, culture is effectively like a pinterest page,  and "thinking isn't cool -- shit and stuff is cool."

The prevalence of 1980s tropes, themes and cultural references in Leckey's work is apropos in a way. For those old enough to remember the art of the '80s, this sort of installation art bound to seem so tiresomely familiar, because it's little more that the eternal return of Haim Steinbach -- endlessly reused and recycled and diluted into a thinner gruel with each iteration, a cultural product that exceeded its shelf life with the close of the prior century, a salon art that now signals aesthetic inertia and little else. Except, I suppose, some would argue that in his day there was something about Steinbach's work that seemed simultaneously both humorous and ever-so-slightly horrific. Whereas much of the stuff of this latest generation too often comes across as thoroughly anesthetized.

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