29 May 2013


The recently-launched Philip Guston Catalogue Raisonné project has a tumblr, which appears to be a documentation of works gathered for the pending publication. Uploaded acrhronolically, with images of wildly varied sizing and quality, it proves a fragmentary account of what was perhaps the wonkiest (or at least most baffling) careers in 20th-century American art.

In Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston, the artist's daughter recalls the reception of Guston's late-career shift:

Not all of his friends understood. [Morton] Feldman's failure to react favorably to the new work hurt my father deeply. Their friendship never really recovered, although Morty was always on Philip's mind and in his heart; in 1977 he painted 'Friend -- to M.F.' It is a poignant image, as [art critic] Robert Storr observes, of their 'mutually regretted estrangement'; Morty's head is half turned away from the viewer.

'Why did you have to go and ruin everything?' one painter said angrily at the Marlborough opening. My mother wrote in her diary, 'P. says Lee Krasner hadn't spoken to him at the gallery; had told someone that the work was "embarrassing."'

Reportedly, one of the work's few advocates at the time was critic Harold Rosenberg, who recognized that the cartoonish jumbles of imagery not only involved a personal inventory, but was also a political response to the times. Writing in The New Yorker, Rosenberg argued, "Guston's new crudeness has, however, an important expressive function: it enables him to give a simple account of the simple-mindedness of violence."

28 May 2013

Homage to Nathanael West

Starring Ben Vautier and Ed Ruscha.

24 May 2013

Imminent Domain

"Towards the end of the 1980s, it became apparent that many British cities were gradually but perceptibly becoming identical. Once noticed, this phenomenon appeared to accelerate -- and within a decade the process was complete.

Where once the distinguishing characteristics of a place -- a corner, a main street, a square -- had each enjoyed their own personality, now a fungus-like growth of dreary shopfronts, damp precincts and hot, airless cafes had all but taken over. Walls were thinner, ceilings lower, floor dirtier. The old institutional buildings, once representative of moral and social authority -- churches and banks -- were stripped of their fittings, filled with wide-screen televisions, and turned into vast, barn-like bars. All throughout the town, and throughout every town, the same two dozen or so brand names could be found, repeated over and over above the wide doorways.

On the edges of these identical towns and cities, chilly crepuscular hinterlands of carpet showrooms, DIY superstores and sportswear clearance warehouses stretched out in all directions, as far as the eye could see. And even further -- because at some point on the horizon their prairie-like expanses merged with those of the adjoining conurbations, like the land masses on maps of the prehistoric world. A few fields of wiry grass, colourless in the pinkish gleam of immensely tall streetlights, were the only slight variations -- a tiny swell in the sea of sameness -- that occurred within the landscape.

To entertain the inhabitants of this new mono-environment, the various strands of the national media came up with cheap, nasty tasteless gimmicks. In addition to which, strong alcohol was made available in the same flavours as children's sweets and snacks. Toffee Crisp-flavoured vodka shots, Bubblegum tequila, Monster Munch Bacardi....Mobile phones destroyed the distinction between public and personal space. ... 
When you applied for a mortgage, you were given a voucher for a free Mochaccino Latte. ...

The wealthiest and most fashionable people in this new Britain were made even more wealthier and more fashionable, by poorer people who paid to look at pictures of them going to private parties and expensive restaurants, or to read accounts of their luxurious lifestyles and love affairs. Pensioners began to dress like rappers. Clumsy fistfights broke out between businessmen on commuter trains. Toddlers were known to stab each other with screwdrivers. Truancy was rife. Most jobs were dull and poorly paid. The weather became first mild, then humid. The sun looked bigger and redder, and lower in the sky. Dead polar bears were found washing up on the shores of Scandinavia.

These events did not occur in a way that was particularly dramatic, let alone apocalyptic. Rather, they had an atherosclerotic, sluggish momentum -- their progress was incremental, as opposed to declamatory. It was as though history had ended, and the concept of the future, too; and all that was left was the sweeping up, at the close of a hot,windy day of low white skies. Horses, their ribs showing through their skin, stood very still on the edges of toxic landfill sites. Jut-jawed, heavy-browed, tattooed on calf or small of back, territorially hostile, the last of the consumers became more like scavengers. Their expressions were hostile, and they were swift to take offence. Their children were first spoilt, then cursed for being alive.

It was only when one managed to somehow gain a great height over the new landscape, and look down upon it, that you realized what had happened. In the space of a relatively short amount of time, the whole of Britain had turned into one enormous shop. And everything that had not assisted the shop in making more profit, had either been forced into dereliction or declared eccentric. And thus, after just a few years, all that was lovely or gentle, or, to use an old-fashioned word, 'seemly' -- had been destroyed.

- Michael Bracewell, from The Book of Shrigley, 2005  [ # ]

image: Laura Oldfield Ford

22 May 2013

[ via ]

20 May 2013

The Rotters' Club

Angus Fairhurst, Gallery Connections, sketch for presentation, c 1995

Some straggling thoughts on the New/Young British Art topic of earlier...

The artist I was trying to think of earlier (to no avail) was Angus Fairhurst -- a first-gen "YBA" artist, having participated in the famous ground-zero "Freeze" exhibition of 1988, subsequently not one of the better known of the YBA coterie, and who died by his own hand some five years ago.

The work in question was called "Gallery Connections," which Fairhurst executed in 1991. A more technically-precise account of it differs from what I remembered. More specifically, it involved Fairhurst taking two telephones and fusing their handsets together -- mouthpiece of one affixed to the earpiece of the other and vice versa, in yin-yang (or sixty-nine, if you like) symbiosis. Then one each phone he dialed the number of a different art gallery, dealer or institution; leaving the two parties to sort out the confusion among themselves. Dual pranking-calling, effectively. Fairhurst recorded the results, and a transcript of the tapes ran in the debut issue of Frieze magazine, who later reprinted it on their blog shortly after the artist's death.

In terms of artworld precedents and similarities, I'm reminded of Chris Burden's Wiretap (1977). In which Burden was dealing by phone with a young gallerist who was trying to entice him away from his present dealer, the young woman continually bad-mouthing Burden's dealer throughout the exchange. Burden recorded the phonecall, then later played it back for his dealer, in turn recording that session as the two listened to the tape and commented on the young gallerist's spiel. The tape was then presented as a work in itself, in the form of a sound installation. Around that time, Burden's work had taken a decisive turn away from the violence of his early, notorious performance pieces, with a few of them dealing (somewhat sarcastically) with an artist-as-laborer theme. Wiretap is, however, the only one that involves a pulling-back-of-the-curtain strategy that addresses the business side of the artworld. (Some critics have also pointed to how the work echoes a very era-specific Watergate theme -- a public paranoia about surveillance and the like.)

* * * *

Sarah Lucas, Self-portrait with Fried Eggs, 1996

One common complaint about the art bubble of the 1980s was that all criticism surrounding the art of the era was tainted by association; that it mostly only served to grease the gears of the hype industry. So to with much of what was written in the U.K. about all art connected with the YBAs.

In one chapter of High Art Lite: The Rise and Fall of Young British Art, Julian Stallabrass addresses the New British Art's relation to criticism. Stallabrass concurs with those who say that much of the so-called criticism amounted to only so much promotional copy -- in turns laudatory, gossipy, hinging on a great deal of fawning or triumphalist home-team rah-rahing, etc.*  Also, there was the matter of of whether any rigorous favorable critique of the work would stick or just slide off the surface:

"Sometimes the ponderous mechanisms of what passes for intellectual justification in art writing was applied to this work, but with limited success. If Lacanian voids can be discovered in the slick, glib surfaces of [Sam] Taylor-Wood's work, then it is obvious they can appear anywhere; similarly, the claim that she put 'fissures' into the rigidity of symbolic codes is no more than the minimal claim made about any work of art -- that it does unconventional things with its ready-made elements. If writing about high art lite in this way is unpopular, it is because the mismatch between work and theory tends to rebound on the plausibility of the theory, and raise questions about the arbitrary character of its application everywhere."

Elsewhere in the book, Stallabrass decrees much of the work critically "bulletproof" -- impervious to analysis on account of much of it being so deeply steeped in a "pervasive and disarming irony." In other words, designed to state to the potential critic or skeptical viewer: This art doesn't take itself too seriously, so why should you? Only a total prig would do so.**

* * * *

15 May 2013

Market Corrections

"We were no longer the It-boys and -girls, we were no longer hot. ...A painting valued at $2,000 in 1980 might have sold for $500,000 five years later at auction, and for $50,000 five years after that."
- from the WSJ, on the publication of Eric Fischl's new memoir, Bad Boy.


K Foundation ad campaign, c. 1994

In regards to the prior post, the then/now conflating of Kulkarni's remarks perhaps beg for qualifications that might be obvious to some, not so to others. That being: The retro-ness of Oasis and the twofold retro- revival of the same thing some 15 years later being two different things, arising out of completely different cultural contexts. Mainly because Britpop carried with it the cultural baggage of a certain era that anything of the present moment lacks -- that being the whole "Cool Britannia" sensibility that began to emerge in the early half of the post-Thatcher 1990s and came to full blossom with Britpop champagne supernova or whatever.

I gather -- for those lucky enough to be there -- it was all a brief period of illumination, elation, etc.. "Heady times," as they say. And it was a sense of zeitgeist that didn't just involve music, but also seemed swept the cultural board as a whole -- art, design, advertising, fashion, film, even restauranteering. A new sense of assurance, vitality -- of relevance -- brought about and bolstered by a number of concurrent phenomena. Acid house and Madchester and the rave scene that followed, the emergence of a new generation of visual artists in the form of the YBA, etc. Add to all this the ascendence of so-called New Labour and all the ambiguity that surrounded it -- the speculative uncertainty about where its ideological core fell in relation to traditional Labour and conservatism, and just what (and who) was included under the newly-opened umbrella of Tony Blair and New Labour's "New Britain."

The sense of cultural self-awareness that accompanied "Cool Britannia" was in many ways focused on the present, but was still very mindful of the past; frequently casting looks over its shoulder to a prior belle époque -- that of the "Swinging London" days of the 1960s. Which (for some) begged certain questions about the pluralistic inclusiveness of a "New Britain." Hence the discussion of there being a reactionary and unrepresentative impulse in Britpop, its retro- sensibility deliberately eschewing certain cultural and societal aspects of the U.K. as it existed in the final years of the millennium. Thus the arc of Kaularni's original critique of Britpop (although he wasn't the only critic to take it task on that count at the time).

13 May 2013

Slates, Slags, Etc. (Reprise #115)

Re, I suppose there's any number of things I could say and this and this, but don't really see the point, since the artists who touched off the discussion/dirt-clod fight hardly merit the vicarious attention. (Nor does anything that appears at NME, for that matter.) And hardly warranting the descent into snotty-nosed snark and bogus polemics.

12 May 2013

Right Shoes, Wrong Opening

L.A. Times columnist Booth Moore assessing the Met's "Punk: Chaos to Couture" Gala fiasco:

"All of it got me thinking about an interview I did with Vivienne Westwood, who with Malcolm MacLaren believed they could wage a social war through fashion with their shop Sex on Kings Road in London in the 1970s. But ultimately, even they gave up. 'Punk was a heroic attempt at confronting the establishment,' she told me. 'But ultimately it failed.' To explain why, Westwood paraphrased her manager, Carlo D'Amario, who said, 'The establishment is a car going 100 miles an hour. You can throw blips at it and try to stop it, but you won't bring it to a halt. It will only go faster with your energy.'"

Relatedly, gallerist Gavin Brown interviewed at Style.com on the Gala's concurrence with the big art-market event of the week:

"The fashion crowd doesn’t get anything right about art. The two tribes speak two entirely different languages. You are either on one side or the other. This is a particularly interesting week to think about the difference: the punk Met Ball and Frieze Art Fair. Both sides using the other to dress themselves up as something they are not, and destroying something essential about themselves in the process. The punk Met Ball was particularly hideous. The final enslavement of one of the most powerful postwar social movements. Reduced to Sarah Jessica Parker's fauxhawk. A sad and accurate diagram of the state of our culture. A crowd of shiny morons turning reality inside out so it matches the echo chamber of their worldview. Would Sid have been invited? What would he have thought? Is this what Mark Perry meant by 'This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band'? The English art schools of the sixties and seventies — the cradle of this creative movement — must be writhing in their supply-side straightjackets. It only emphasizes to me that fashion — whatever that is — sees art (and artists) as an idiot-savant gimp, and they keep them on a leash, begging for glam snacks. And fashion follows along behind art, picking up its golden shit."

09 May 2013

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

Truth be told, I thought Coffee and Cigarettes was a weak effort. A great idea, true -- or at least a promising one. But uneven in execution, with most of its segments falling (at best) a bit flat, it is probably my second least-favorite Jarmusch film.

But no matter. Because the above, the closing segment of the film, was wonderful -- deeply charming but possessing a certain solemn gravity at the same time. It worked because of the two characters involved; it worked even if -- as many who saw it -- you had no idea who the two figures in the frame were. The scene was effectively the Jarmusch's way of paying tribute to a prior generation of East Village DIY artists that populated the scene when he and his own friends and colleagues had arrived; the veterans who had helped get the ball rolling in the first place, or at least had helped keep it in motion over the years. In this case: a pair of survivors, honorary denizens of the bohemian substrata of the city.

The figure on the right is Bill Rice; painter, photographer, "unaffiliated"/autodidact art & literary historian. Rice also did a great deal of acting in NYC underground film over the years, turning up in a good many of the films cited or included in the recent doco about the NYC "no-wave" film world of the late '70s and early '80s, Blank City. Rice passed away in 2006, just a few years after Coffee and Cigarettes saw release.

The other figure is Taylor Mead -- writer, underground filmmaker in the spirit of Jack Smith, and former figure of note on Warhol's Factory floor. News of his passing began circulating earlier today, via a few small online channels. Apparently, a proper NYT obit is still pending.

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