29 August 2013

A piece of dialogue

GF:  Duchamp said, 'How do you make a piece of art that's not a piece of art?' Well Cage did it with music, maybe 4'33"...
MK:  No.
GF:   Well --
MK:  Duchamp did never not make a piece of art, and Cage did never not make a piece of art. That's a game they played, that's a game they played to pretend they were doing something that wasn't art. Of course it was art. What else was it?
GF:  Well put, let me finish. And then Joyce wrote uh--
MK:  Pshhh
GF:  Finnegan's Wake and invented the Internet, and disguised it as a book. [...]
MK:  Of course. Why else would you want art? The only social function of art is to f things up. It has no other social function. Absolutely none. That's why, if you merge it with the entertainment industry, make it about the desires of the masses, it doesn't have any social function.
Also, what that idea about art--what separates it from politics, politics has a purpose. It's about power relationships. Art doesn't have anything about power relationships. It's simply about fucking this up for the pure pleasure of fucking them up. So it's about formal -- it's about analysis, and formal, uh, uh, scrambling, and it both escapes the practicality of politics and the -- what was the other side? I forget.
Audience:  Entertainment.
MK:  Eh?
Audience:  Entertainment.
MK:  Yeah, entertainment -- which is drugging the masses. So art should be something in between that's not practical in terms of power relationships, because it's fantasy, but it allows for power. Because art allows for power shifts over a slow time because people's minds change. Entertainment never changes people's minds. It just drugs them to reality, and I completely agree with Marx in this, in this way.
So I'm against the idea of art being subsumed either into the political sphere, or into the entertainment sphere. I think it has to be a separate social entity, especially in America. I think in Europe, social and class differences are different than they are here. But in America, since it's such an anti-intellectual culture, it has to be a separate milieu, that's purposely--um. What would I say? Purposely purposeless. It has to be. Otherwise it has no social function.

- Mike Kelly, in conversation with Gerry Flalka, 2004 { via }

28 August 2013

Canon Fodder, Pt. 2: Farewell to an Idea?

David Maljkovic - Retired Form,  2008-2010

As far as the possibility of a condition of art being lately preoccupied with its own past, Dieter Roelstraete made the stronger case back in 2009, with his e-flux essay "The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art":
"In the present moment … it appears that a number of artists seek to define art first and foremost in the thickness of its relationship to history. More and more frequently, art finds itself looking back, both at its own past ...[A growing number of artists] either make artworks that want to remember, or at least to turn back the tide of forgetfulness, or they make art about remembering and forgetting: we can call this the 'meta-historical mode'" [...]
Elaborating later:
"In their cultivation of the retrospective and/or historiographic mode, many contemporary art practices inevitably also seek to secure the blessing (in disguise) of History proper ...Time, literally rendered as the subject of the art in question, easily proves to be a much more trustworthy arbiter of quality than mere taste or success. Hence the pervasive interest of so many younger artists and curators in the very notion of anachronism or obsolescence and related 'technologies of time' ...meant to convey a sense of the naturalization of history, or of time proper."

Unlike Cotter, Roelstraete provides specifics, citing a number of projects that illustrate the argument. What’s more, he theorizes that this condition might be indicative of "the current crisis of history both as an intellectual discipline and as an academic field of enquiry." As such, he describes the retrospective tendency as being melancholic in character, adding the caveat that it might be "potentially reactionary," as well.

* * * *

A similar argument emerges in Claire Bishop's "Digital Divide" Artforum article from autumn of last year, overlapping particularly on what Roelstraete describes as the "technologies of time." Bishop writes:
"The fascination with analogue media is an obvious starting point for contemporary art's repressed relation to the digital. ...Today, no exhibition is complete without some form of bulky, obsolete technology -- the gently clunking carousel of a slide projector or the whirring of an 8-mm or 16-mm film reel."
By Bishop's reckoning, this deference of the present amounts -- in some respects -- to an an abdication of responsibility, a failure to fully engage in contemporary cultural modes of social relations. But as far as this matter or interventionary agency and cultural imperatives is concerned, there might just as likely be someone lurking in the wings ready to issue the counter-thesis: Art is not a gadget.1

* * * *

Tacita Dean, from the series The Russian Ending

Amid all this talk of returns and regressions, I find myself experiencing a sense of déjà-vu, like I’ve heard all this discussed and diagnosed somewhere else at some early point. Sure enough, Bishop mentions in passing one of the texts I have in mind – Hal Foster’s 2004 essay “An Archival Impulse.” In that essay, Foster examines the work of artists Tacita Dean, Sam Durant and Thomas Hirschhorn, and how the work of these artists often coalesce around a similar theme; how they “share a notion of artistic practice as an idiosyncratic probing into particular figures, objects, and events in modern art, philosophy, and history.” Artists working this vein are “drawn to unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete projects – in art and in history alike – that might offer points of departure again.” In this way, such work points to lapsed, overlooked, or abandoned histories – failed or unrealized futurisms, endeavors left in limbo. Or obscure artifacts and objects which, in the case of Tactica Dean’s film about the sound mirrors of Dungeness, “serve as found arks of lost moments in which the here-and-now of the work functions as a possible portal between an unfinished past and a reopened future.”

Much of this, by Foster’s account, takes the form of projects that strive (in Hirschhorn’s words) to “connect what cannot be connected.” However “tendentious” or “preposterous” such an undertaking might seem, Foster sums up the character of the exercise thusly:
"This not a will to totalize so much as a will to relate – to probe a misplaced past, to collate its different signs (sometimes pragmatically, sometimes parodistically), to ascertain what might remain for the present. ...By the same token,...the art at issue here does not project a lack of logic or affect. On the contrary, it assumes anomic fragmentation as a condition not only to represent but to work through, and proposes new orders of affective association, however partial and provisional, to this end, even as it also registers the difficulty, at times the absurdity, of doing so."

Gabriel Orozco, Island Within an Island, 1993

But perhaps the more incisive text to refer to in this instance would be another Foster essay, written several years later, "This Funeral is for the Wrong Corpse".2  At this point, Foster expands on the thesis of "An Archival Impulse," steering its focus away from various wayside microhistories, and toward the legacies of modernism and art itself, as they've been addressed in the work of recent artists. To this end he discussed the versions of an "end of art" scenario as declared in the past half-century by various parties (e.g., pluralistic, post-structuralist, Marxist), arguing that these accounts – out of "triumphalism, desperation, or melancholy" – perhaps "concede(d) too much too quickly." And that if we see a backward-gazing trend in some strains of contemporary art practice, it might be the result of different attempts at reclamation for a critical enterprise that had not fully run its course before being issued its last rites.3

What then comes after death, after all these alleged ends, when certain forms and legacies and discursive modes continue to linger in a supposed "posthistorical" limbo? Foster lists a variety of practices that constitute a type of "living on" or "coming after," which he categorizes into four designations, each serving as a type of "mnemonic strategy." These strategies Foster delineates as: the traumatic, the spectral, the nonsynchronous, and the incongruous – each engaging the past via practices involving methods of recovery and re-engagement, "ghostly" shadowing, juxtaposition, or hybridized "dislocation and dispersal" or the highlighting of temporospatial disjuncture.

It is in the third of these strategies – the nonsynchronous – that we find the use of outmoded technology (a la Bishop) come into play. To some degree, Foster allows that the use of such things (film, say) might be intended merely as a material riposte to "the presentist totality of design culture." Otherwise, he considers it a practice more in keeping with Surrealist tactic of utilizing "displaced forms." Making his argument by way of Walter Benjamin’s writings, Foster offers:
"Such a weird array of things is not the stuff of a renewed medium; on the contrary, it is part of the Surrealist project to 'explode' conventional categories of cultural objects. ...There is the further dilemma that 'the outmoded' might now be outmoded too, recuperated as a device in the very process that it once seemed to question – the heightened obsolescence of fashion and other commodity lines. Yet one aspect of the outmoded is still valid…and Surrealism is still a touchstone. 'Balzac was the first to speak of the ruins of the bourgeoisie,' Benjamin writes... 'But only Surrealism exposed them to view. The development of the forces of production reduced the wish symbols of the previous century to rubble even before the monuments representing them had crumbled.' The 'wish symbols' here are the capitalist wonders of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie at the height of its confidence, such as 'the arcades and interiors, the exhibitions and panoramas.' These structures fascinated the Surrealists nearly a century later – when further capitalist development had turned them into 'residues of a dream world,' ...According to Benjamin, for the Surrealists to haunt these outmoded spaces was to tap 'the revolutionary energies' that were trapped there. But it may have been more accurate (and less utopian) to say the Surrealists registered the mnemonic signals encrypted in these structures – signals that might not otherwise have reached the present. This deployment of the nonsynchronous pressures the totalist assumptions of capitalist culture, and questions its claim to timeless; it also challenges the culture with its own wish symbols, and asks it to recall its own forfeited dreams."

In contemporary work that engages the nonsynchonous, Foster asserts that the use of outmoded form and tech serve as a reminder that "'form' is often nothing more than 'content’ that has become historically sedimented."4

25 August 2013

Negation and Postscript

"Although Debord never intended his writings to be dissected by the academy – The Society of the Spectacle (1967) was written as the theoretical accompaniment to an imminent conflagration, ...he certainly foresaw their recuperation. Displaying a vim seemingly absent in the opposing camp, the Situationists wrote, 'It is quite natural that our enemies succeed in partially using us. We are neither going to leave the present field of culture to them nor mix with them. [...] we must simply work to make any such exploitation entail the greatest possible risk for the exploiters'. But now, over forty years since the SI disbanded, it is hard to know what risks – beyond bad faith – the BnF or like institutions might run in approaching Debord’s archive. ‘50 years of recuperation’, in the words of McKenzie Wark, have seen the assimilation of avant-garde Situationist practices such as the dérive and détournement by everyone from anti-globalisation movements like Occupy Wall Street, to culture-jammers Adbusters, the Haçienda nightclub, and Benetton ad man Oliviero Toscani.

At the same time, despite a counter-insurgency led by luminaries including Régis Debray and Jean Baudrillard, the theories outlined in Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle refuse to go away. Viewed as the handbook of May 1968, in later life it has been deployed in cultural theory as a vague synonym for the evils of mass media, or roped into conspiracy theories about an 'inside job' on 9/11. While pro-Situationist collectives may expend their energy sifting rightful heirs such as Julien Coupat from pretenders to the throne, in reality the BnF’s exhibition was less of an anachronism than a mirror to the SI’s widespread co-option. In fact, as Steve Shaviro depressingly notes, it is precisely the SI’s radical rejection of commercial culture that has made it 'one of the most commercially successful 'memes' or 'brands' of the late twentieth century'."

- Clodagh Kinsella, writing for Afterall, reviewing the exhibition "Guy Debord: An Art of War," recently hosted by the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

19 August 2013

Canon Fodder: Some Random Sidenotes

Claire Bishop begins her essay “Digital Divide” (see prior post) with the springboard thesis that many recent artists shirked or fallen behind in embracing and utilizing current digital technology. Instead, she argues, there’s been a recent trend in the opposite direction – “an eschewal of the digital and the virtual” as manifest in a predilection for obsolete analogue technologies like 8- or 16-mm film, slide projectors, pre-digital photography processes, and the like. Her query on the topic is as much theoretical as prescriptive, and to some degree she answers her own rhetorical questions before even asks them. Perhaps no more so than when at one point she concludes, “The continued prevalence of analog film reels and projected slides in the mainstream art world seems to say less about revolutionary aesthetics than it does about commercial viability.”

Which acknowledges one pragmatic aspect when it comes to digital art (or a lack thereof). For the sake of display and presentation, one can always uncrate a painting or sculpture, or – by following a detailed set of instructions and schemata – reassemble an installation. Anything involving technology will inevitably pose the problem of obsolescence, if not the possibility of having to reverse-engineer a solution in order to get it to function properly. Perhaps preferable for everyone involved not to bring the item out of storage after several years only to encounter an error message: “PLATFORM NOT SUPPORTED.”

One could argue that the theme of obsolescence has been with us since the advent of pop art (if not earlier), if not an integral component of pop’s reflections of consumer culture. Bishop skirts around acknowledging as much when she cites the practice of artistic “repurposing” at play in the work of contemporary artists, particularly Rashid Johnson. Yet Johnson’s practice of gathering and displaying could be viewed as a variation on the same as done by Haim Steinbach, if not harkening back to pop and assemblage “combines” of Robert Rauschenberg and his neo-dadaist peers; at least to the degree that they all involve a similar repurposing and reclamation of mass-produced goods or cast-off detritus.

The theme of obsolescence is central to Pop because it’s also a core component (a feature, not a bug) to the economics of consumer culture. In that respect, one can detect an undercurrent of morbidity beneath the sheen of Pop’s alleged celebratory engagement of the common culture; that flash of recognition that comes from a work being so immediately tied to a given cultural moment. But one day's ephemera is the next day's rubbish or marginalia, and the pace of supplantation – one gadget or app or upgraded operating system replacing another – builds in momentum and rapidity as one approaches the current digital age.

Analog or digital, perhaps neither here nor there in this instance; one being – in a sense, theoretically – a metaphor or stand-in for the other. All of them bound for a garage sale or trash heap sooner or later.*

The artist Robert Smithson intuited much of this early on in his career, having initially been attracted to working in a Pop style in the early 1960s, but quickly abandoning it to take his work in other directions. For Smithson, obsolescence was but one of many things that fell under the larger domain of entropy, the latter being the central guiding concept to his "earthworks." Case in point, in his 1966 essay "Entropy and the New Monuments," Smithson quotes Vladimir Nabokov’s observation that, "The future is but the obsolete in reverse."**

+ + + + + + + + +

Another scenario; continuing on the themes of obsolescence, entropy, decay and shelf-life...

Doing a little more casting about, I find a couple of other critics citing incidents of “recurated” exhibitions – revivals or resurrections of notable exhibits from bygone eras – and each expressing wariness about it being a sign of some nascent trend. Which begs the question: Which exhibitions might merit such a thing.

First that leaps to my mind: The "Eccentric Abstraction" gallery exhibition, as curated by critic Lucy Lippard back in 1966, which featured the work of Alice Adams, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Keith Sonnier, et al. The exhibition’s notable for a number of things, among them the role it played in introducing the broader public to the work of Eva Hesse; who has largely unknown at the time, and would eventually be canonized, years after her untimely death.

I raise this somewhat perversely, given the fate encountered by a number of Hesse’s works. Her piece for Lippard's exhibition, "Metronomic Irregularity II," posed its share of installational issues; having at one point before the opening fallen from the wall on account of being improperly mounted. As it was, a fair amount of assembly was required for the piece, and it was reported to have lain around in an "undone" state for a long while after the show.

Other of Hesse's works have been lost due to the materials the artist chose to work with – namely, the pieces crafted from latex rubber. It was a newly available material at the time, and Hesse (along with some of her peers) used it for some of its physical properties, finding it ideal for crafting surreally & uncannily corporeal abstract objects. Thing is, as a material it doesn’t age well – eventually decomposing, warping, decaying, withering. Which makes them candidates for the category of works of art that no longer exist in their original form, although there have been efforts to recreate some of them in recent years.

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*  Curiously, once thing that Bishop overlooks (or intentionally avoids in her citing repeated uses of obsolete tech like 8-mm film and slide projection is these devices' prior very-common role in pedagogical settings (as opposed to their entertainment or interpersonal "communicative" functions). This consideration, I suspect, plays no small part in why such gear has been adopted by particular artists in recent years.

**  The quote, incidentally, is taken from Nabokov’s “Lance,” which was written in 1952 and counts the final short story that the author ever published. The story takes the form of a science-fiction tale concerning interplanetary travel, which Nabokov frequently taking the opportunity – via the story’s narrator – to vent his own loathing of the science fiction genre.

18 August 2013

Canon Fodder, Pt. I: Institutionalized

Truly groundbreaking work: Bern, 1969

Simon recently pointing in the direction of a couple of curious art-related items, via his Retromania blog...

The first being Holland Carter's recent NYT piece about the Fondazione Prada’s recent restaging of the watershed "When Attitude Becomes Form" exhibition, originally curated by Harald Szeemann in Bern, Switzerland in 1969. Cotter tries to situate this event in the context of what he asserts is an emerging trend in the artworld – that of a backward-looking "epidemic of re-enactment fever," pumping the allegation up to near-crisis proportions in the opening paragraphs:

"...Young painters are working in styles that were hot half a century ago. Yesteryear’s performance art is being re-performed. Exhibitions that have been done and done — on Matisse, Picasso, European abstraction — are being done again.

"Has the art industry, noted for its nanosecond memory, suddenly become history-conscious? Is the art market, like Hollywood, nervous about anything but proven brands? Is art just plain out of ideas?"

The re-performance claim we might be a dig at Marina Abramović's recent re-staging some of her "greatest hits," as well as other recent examples. The claim about young painters is baffling due to its vagueness and the arbitrariness of the timeline cited.1

Exhibitions of Picasso, Matisse, et al – museums have always done this sort of thing, usually attempting to mount at least one mega-show by some big-name blue-chip master per annum. If these numbers are up lately, then there may be some sociological factors that account for it. For instance, the recent swing toward re-urbanization over the past decade and a half. With the populations of certain major cities growing (or at least demographically shifting), museum attendance numbers have correspondingly increased, as more people see paying a visit to their local cultural institutions as being part-and-parcel of cosmopolitan living. Many of these institutions have responded in turn by mounting exhibitions that will lure more residents and tourists through the turnstiles. This would account for art exhibitions where name recognition (Degas, Renoir, Da Vinci, etc., etc.) plays a large role, but also for the proliferation of other types of mass-appeal shows that we’ve seen in the U.S. over the same span of time – the art of Norman Rockwell, the art of Versace, the art of motorcycle design, the wardrobe of Jackie Onassis, the art of the Pez dispenser, etc..2

Has there been a recent profusion of exhibition re-stagings? If so, I’ve failed to pay close attention or connecting some scattered dots. The only one that leapt to mind was the Whitechapel’s (somewhat ironic) retrospective of the Independent Group’s 1956 "This Is Tomorrow" paradigm-shifting extravaganza a few years ago, as well as a partial recreation of the IG's "Parallel of Life and Art" at the Royal Academy of Art a few years before that.

I'm inclined to think that if this sort of thing signifies anything, it has more to do with the "cult of the curator" that emerged back in the early 1990s and has stayed with us ever since. And perhaps the curatorial class’s hailing or enshrining its own legacy by commemorating a few grand moments from the past – those occasions (infrequent as they were) when an ambitious, zeitgeist-defining exhibition actually succeeded in corralling a corpus of work which would not only define its moment, but point in the direction that art would (in one way of another) be taking in the years that followed. (Perhaps, then, this might considered the manifestation of an underlying anxiety among some curators -- about an inability to undertake any similarly decisive endeavor in the present-day global art field?) 3

So I'm not so sure about Cotter's diagnosis that this is all indicative of a pervasive condition or trend, as his argument seems to be threaded on an attempt to braid several diffuse dynamics into a master narrative. Perhaps these things could coalesce into a condition of stasis, nostalgia and ouroboric self-cannibalization (a theme which, it seems, Cotter has been rehearsing for some years now), but only time will tell.4

Secondly, there's Simon's other post, which cites two texts. One of these being Dieter Roelstraete's essay "The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art," which appeared in an edition of e-flux some 4 years ago; the other being Claire Bishop's more recent "Digital Divide" essay from last September's issue of Artforum. Each/both of which navigate far more choppy waters, deal with more complicated considerations. Which will have to wait until a Part Two follow-up post.

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1.  Meaning what, exactly? That there’s been a flood of new-gen painters doing work that looks like Frank Stella? Or Jules Olitski? Mel Ramos? Richard Diebenkorn? Wayne Thiebaud? Larry Poons? Ed Ruscha? Alex Katz? Bridget Riley? David Hockney? Richard Lindner?...
2.  This sort of quasi-populist approach is what some critics not-too-long-ago referred to as "The Krens Effect." Add to all this that, during this same period in question, some of the top institution have gone global -- and you have to fill all spaces with something, y'know?
3.  Which is why we're unlikely to see a remounting of, say, of MoMA's 1965 "The Responsive Eye" show.
4.  Admittedly, Cotter includes a qualifier with his choice of the term "art industry," which at least acknowledges that economic factors are at play in some of this. But given the state of the current art world and its markets, such forces are pretty much a given.

15 August 2013

Bouguereau Baby

Belatedly encountered Ben Davis’s write-up of Paul McCarthy’s WS (which I posted about earlier) over at ArtInfo. Davis echoes my own thoughts about the thing, but doing so in a far more extensive and detailed manner:
"The upshot is that the uncanny power that McCarthy invests in transgression is, for the most part, nostalgic — which may, in fact, be part of its charm for a jaded audience that doesn't believe in the possibility of any meaningful counterculture. In our present world — the world where ‘50 Shades of Grey’ and ‘Human Centipede’ are mainstream obsessions — I'm not sure that this kind of thing adds up to a meaningful “program of resistance” against ideas of normality in the way that McCarthy wants. Would anyone say that you need to unmask the sadistic kinks lurking beneath the surface of Odd Future or ‘Game of Thrones?’ Of course not — but these are among the trendiest phenomena in all of pop culture today."
Back to my prior thesis about a lifetime of carrying around a set of cultural baggage, and milking a cathartic “acting out” into a sustained career. Personally, I’d long ago forgotten that McCarthy was raised Mormon, having been raised in Salt Lake City. Meaning that one can view his work as not only reacting against certain “repressive” (Davis’s word) aspects of postwar American culture at large, but the more immediate setting of his childhood. Which brings up – to cite Davis’s description, again – the “macho” nature of McCarthy’s work. I’ve known a number of lapsed Mormons over the years. The males, I’ve found, often tend to be wryly cynical about their former faith, if not about religion in general. The females? They tend to be much more bitter (and with good reason).

Also of interest is Davis’s take on Jay-Z’s “Picasso Baby,” which serves as a nice companion to Sasha Frere-Jones’s post on the topic, which in turn cites this thoroughly embarrassing and gittishly fawning piece.

* * * * *

Finally read this study last week. I’m not sure it makes a solid case for much of anything. As my wife points out, there’s all vartiety of subjective factors that can’t be accounted for by these methods – for instance, the initial, impulsive (and eventually waning) appeal of novelty.

The headline at Hyperallergic sums up what may be the findings’ sole takeaway: “Bad Art Definitely Bad, Science Confirms.” Perhaps my favorite bit from the study was the quote from Joan Didion, which I had previously missed, who had written:
“A Kinkade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.”
Probably about the most accurate description I’ve read. About the only thing it leaves out is the frothy and cotton-candy wispiness that make up any given image’s kitsch atmospherics.

* * * * *

“This is capitalism again concealing its commercial failures, its financial risks, its social debt. Nonetheless the fake shop is not just the manifestation of an absence. It’s also a simulacrum that asks to be looked at and interpreted.”

Giovanni T. on “fake shops” and trompe-l’œil commerce.

12 August 2013


Allan Sekula (1951-2013)

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

07 August 2013

Not Great Men (Modern Primitives vs. Killer Clowns Edition)

No sooner do I mention Thomas Houseago than NYT artcritic Ken Johnson publishes a review on an exhibition by/of same. The result is an all-too-common sight of watching American art-crit collapsing under the weight of all the extraneous baggage it’s saddled itself with these past 3 decades. Johnson’s "masculinity" framing narrative falling flat on its face, mainly because it comes across as a sneeringly disingenuous evocation of a '90s-style identity politics angle; which seems sneakily (and sarcastically) self-serving in this instance, what, given the public flogging that same critic recently received over some remarks he made about some other recent exhibitions. About the only thing he raises that might have much to do with anything significant is when he bemoans the retromantic nature of Houseago’s work and methods. But even that runs into trouble:
"Mr. Houseago’s eccentric enthusiasms are muffled by his reverence for traditions old and Modernist and by his Postmodernist play with generic formal and stylistic conventions. His art is too much about art and not enough about his inner life. It’s too impersonal."
But in a way, it’s kind of interesting to read, if only to watch the forces at play. A lot of points made, some of them arbitrary or poorly qualified, others contradictory, so in the end everything just sort of cancels each other out, leaving the reader with almost nothing to take away from having read it.

* * * * * *

Was curious to read the article in the latest New Yorker about the relationship between Alabama “outsider” artist Thornton Dial and his collector, patron and advocate Bill Arnett. Found it disappointing, can’t recommend it. Bears the common hallmarks of a lot of recent journalism (the type that’s become increasingly common in the NYer itself the past few years): Lopsided in its focus, raising questions that go insufficiently answered, with the writer (or editor) unable to figure out which story they’d like to tell, and in the end hedging it bets by defaulting to a baseline cynicism. The thing's also in need of some decent photos of Dial's work.

If there’s a story or central theme here, its about the disconnect between criterial narratives. Arnett’s passion and advocacy for “folk” art (particularly Dial’s), and the ceaseless frustrations he’s run into trying to get institutions take what he considers due attention. Of course, most of the institutions in question subscribe to a different, competing account of historical evolution – a telos in which artists like Dial don’t figure. (After all, why are they labeled “outsider” artists in the first place?)

* * * * * *

04 August 2013


Finally getting around to reading Kevin Hatch's Looking for Bruce Conner. I'd known about Conner for the better part of three decades, but there wasn't much to know since little information about him and very few of his works circulated for many years. Mostly, I knew of his work as an experimental filmmaker, and some limited exposure to his photographic work. Much of the attention his work has received has occurred only in the past several years, following the artist's death in 2008. Add to that the recent publication of Hatch's book.

The portrait that emerges by Hatch's account suggests that Conner's obscurity and elusiveness was to some degree by design -- mostly the result of a deliberate strategy on the artist's part. It's a portrait that reveals an artist who worked across a variety of media, who associated with few other artists outside of a small community of friends and colleagues in the Bay area, acknowledged almost nothing in the way of artistic trends or history, and put a fair amount of effort into confound reception of his work. For example, take Hatch's retelling of an occasion in 1965 when Conner was collaborating on a series of prints with an L.A. lithography press:

"Conner’s liminal position allowed him to play the role of the obtuse questioner masterfully, often with pointed results. The artist’s relentless refusal to conform was prone to alienate even those authorities ostensibly sympathetic to his cause. During a fellowship in 1965 at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, for example, Conner commenced a series of violations of lithographic best practices that simultaneously deconstructed the nascent printmaking renaissance (in which Tamarind was a principal player) and infuriated Cal Goodman, the acting director of the Workshop. During his two-month fellowship, Conner produced fourteen lithographs, among them CANCELLATION (a print marked with a large 'X,' conventionally denoting a canceled or ruined print); THIS SPACE RESERVED FOR JUNE WAYNE (a sign for the parking spot for the chief director, for whom Goodman was substituting while Wayne was away in Europe on business); and THUMB PRINT, a giant print whose only markings consisted of the artist’s own thumbprint, doubled: once in the composition's center and once in the place of a signature in the print's lower right corner. This was in keeping with Conner's policy at the Workshop, where he insisted on signing things only with his thumbprint (in a lithographic studio, where the presence of a fingerprint would ordinarily lead to the discarding of a print). Goodman became so aggravated that he stopped production on all of Conner’s work, which was only reinstated upon Wayne's return."

There's a fair amount of proto-conceptualism to be found amidst the multimedia hopscotching of Conner's early career, much of it the result of Conner's strong and irreverent sense of humor. Such as the images at the top of the post, which are from his 1967 contribution to Artforum (back in the days when it was a West Coast publication). The spread is a spoof of a famous recurring feature that ran in Art News for many years; the installment "So-and-so Paints a Picture," which detailed how artist x or y creating a work from start to finish.

Some of Conner's work that's received the most attention in recent years is his early assemblage-type pieces, which he made in the early half of the 1960s...

Which, admittedly, could be said to be his most "conventional" output, since it shares so many similarities with the contemporaneous "neo-dadaist" work done by Rauschenberg and others, as well the Nouveau Réalisme "accumulations" of Arman -- artists who made it a point to work from rubbish heaps, to create pieces out of society's refuse. The difference being that Conner's works in this vein seem to eschew the more common attempts to "prettify" such stuff, and more often look like junk shops that have collapsed under their own weight.

* * * * * *

The "_____ Paints a Picture" feature in question has been parodied numerous times over the years. Early on, Elaine DeKooning once contributed an installment to the Art News series entitled "Mr. Pure Paints a Picture," which was a thinly-disguised jab at the monochromist Ad Reinhardt. And if I recall, the British conceptual art group Art & Language published their own satire of the feature in an edition of their journal some time in the early 1970s, using themselves as the subjects.

And as I recently discovered by happenstance, there was one other sandwich-related satirical item that appeared in a major art journal. That being the piece "The Sandwiches of the Artists", which was included in the 1981 "Art World Follies" edition of October, contributed by art historian and curator E. A. Carmean Jr.. Featuring sandwiches as made by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and perhaps one or two New York School canonical heavyweights.

As for myself, I'm having the sturm-und-drang on rye. Who's with me?

03 August 2013


On the issue of authenticity: There've been a number of high-profile cases of art fraud and forgery in the news and recent months, coinciding with the publishing of three new books on the topic of the latter. Charles Hope of the NYB provides a historical overview by way of his review of the three titles...
"It is often argued that art forgeries are eventually unmasked, because in time they reveal, through their style, the period in which they were made, rather than that in which they were purported to have been made. But while this is true of some forgeries, there is no reason to suppose that it is true of all of them. This is widely admitted in the case of the sculptures of the early-twentieth-century Italian forger Alceo Dossena, and it is likely that many of Hebborn’s fakes have yet to be identified. Against this background, the status of forgeries as works of art has been much discussed. One of their strangest features, as Lenain explains, is that they often seem to be works of art without a single identifiable author. As a consequence, what he calls the 'trace paradigm,' which seems so central to our experience of art, is decoupled from the work itself. Like Jonathon Keats, he argues that art forgeries can most readily be classed with various types of art produced over the past century, by Warhol and others, in which the notion of an original is deliberately undermined (for example, in Warhol’s case, by having multiple copies of silkscreen paintings made by printers)."
I remember reading the Eric Hebborn book (cited in the article) about 20 years ago, as it quickly became a remainder among art-book distributors. The Modigliani incident was one that I had previously never heard about; but I do recall the Alan Rudolph film The Moderns which came along a few years later, in which -- if memory serves -- a forged Modigliani served as a macguffin in the story.

{ Thanks to BLCKDGRD for the heads-up. }

02 August 2013

Interludio Polirrítmico

Something of a throwback to the drummige topic of early in the year...

A summer mixtape. Which I started months ago, having no idea it'd turn out to be a bit of a dismal summer -- 6 weeks of relentless rain, incessant sogginess, exponentially proliferating mosquitos and mildew, which put the kibosh on all weather-dependent activities (meaning almost everything). Oh, and a couple of illnesses thrown in for good measure. So with all of that, small wonder I felt no pressing need to finish this thing. But at last, here we have it. A batch of longtime favorite tunes, with a couple of recent things tossed in. Danceable and strutable stuff, for them that are so inclined.

Differing from most of what I've posted here previously, done in the style of something I haven't done in a long while -- that being in the format of a radio show (no not that one, the other one) that I used to do in Chicago. Thing was called "Hai Karate!!", which explains the old homemade show intro included hereon, as well as the vintage nature of the playlist.*

Given the selection, this could be considered a "vulgate" edition or whatever. Drummige, yes. Also a fair amount of bassige and hornige too, I suppose. Plus a fair number of whistles, now that I think about it.

::: Here We Go :::

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* And in case the dated reference escapes you, it was inspired by this item from my childhood.

01 August 2013

One Hundred Years of Nosebleeds

The prior post – sarcasm, yes – was prompted by a pair of pieces I came across in Der Spiegel in recent weeks; both contributed by the same author, both concerning the life of Joseph Beuys. One of them, the more recent of the two, deals with the veracity of a central episode in the artist’s life – the story of Beuys being shot down over the Crimea as a pilot during WWII. The other being about a biography of the artist recently published in German, which alleges that the artist had a number of long-lasting Nazi associations throughout his life and career.

The first item merely offers documented evidence of what many have said for decades – that the incident with the Tartars in the Crimea was largely a fabrication. The second is difficult to assess, since the book in question is only available in German, and hasn’t circulated widely enough to be corroborated or disputed.

Still, each strikes at the heart of the Beuys legacy. The first effectively nullifies a core component in Beuys’s self-constructed mythos, a formative incident from his life from which he derived many key aspects (i.e., iconography, materials) for a significant portion of his artwork. The second, if true, would of course prove much more damning. Partly for reasons that go without saying, which require no explanation. But a lot of it has to do with Beuy’s legacy as a whole – his public persona and his place in West German society at a particular time in its political and cultural history. Particularly in those years following the notorious punch-up at the Fluxus event in Aachen, as Beuys became a more public figure and more politically engaged, adopting the persona of a self-proclaimed shaman – a “healer” who offered as his gospel he transformative power of art and creativity as a sort of therapeutic balm that would help heal the lingering traumas and psychic wounds of postwar German society.

Beuys has long had his skeptics and detractors. Chiefly among them has been German art historian and critic Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, who – in response to the Guggenheim hosting a retrospective of Beuys's work – published a couple of famous takedowns of the artist in the pages of Artforum and October back in 1980. Buchloh (among others at the time) suspected Beuys of revising and ellishingem his own personal history; which, he felt, posed troubled (if not unconscionable) implications in the context of postwar Germany's inability to properly confront or come to terms with its own recent history. Having introduced his essay with an epigraph from Nietzsche's The Case of Wagner, Buchloh argues at one point:

"In the work and the public myth of Beuys the new German spirit of the postwar period finds its new identity by pardoning and reconciling itself prematurely with its own reminiscences of a responsibility for one of the most cruel and devastating forms of collective political madness that history has known. As much as Richard Wagner's work anticipated and celebrated those collective regressions into Germanic mythology and Teutonic stupor in the realm of music, before they became the actual reality and the nightmare that set out to destroy Europe..., it would be possible to see in Beuys' work the absurd aftermath of that nightmare, a grotesque coda acted out by a perfidious trickster. Speculators in Beuys' work did well: he was bound to become a national hero of the first order, having installed and restored that sense of a – however deranged – national self and historic identity."

At another point in the same essay, Buchloh addresses the matter of iconography and meaning-production in Beuys's work, and the way they hinge so overwhelmingly on a hermetically self-referential symbology, with Buchloh theorizing that the autobiographic and cosmological elements in Beuys’s output mainly serve as a diversionary tactic employed by the artists as a strategy for distancing his own work – by way of their formal and material similarities – from those of his Postminimalist contemporaries (e.g., Morris, Andre, Serra).

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