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.

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