March 31, 2004
When low-fi faux-naif net art dreams, it dreams about being Youth Of America and Lighthouse Sanctuary Youth Foundation:
Christian web Hosting and so much more, brought to us by Wiseguy Evangelist R J Rocky Scarfone (née Joseph Baffa, aka The Rock, aka Rock). Brother Rock's got flow (Real Audio 1h 14m)... simply spectacular and worth every minute. Rock's got litigation, too.
images copyright Rock and Dave, LSYF/YOA
It's a convoluted hyperlink jungle in there, so allow me to humbly offer some guidance... for starters:
Go on a A Virtual Tour of Heaven:
The door to your left leads you on an apocalyptic fantasy adventure with a soaring MIDI soundtrack (M.A.G.I.C.—Most Amazing Gift In Christ), the door to your right hits you with a 404, and head right up the middle for a visit to the sanctuary
Hosted and Boasted by Rock and Youth of America/Lighthouse Sanctuary Youth Foundation: Visit Ms. Anna Bess Frye; Get mobbed-up with the M.A.F.I.A. (Men And Fellowship In America), its M.O.B.S.T.E.R.S. (Men Of Belief Saved Through Eternally Resurrected Savior) and The C.R.E.W. (Christian Ranking Eternal Warriors); Check out the Writings of General James Baxter, Sgt USMC (Ret.) here and here... (see in particular this inspired poesy: "SLAM DANCING on the Crystal-Palm Terrace to the STRAINS of 'The Punk-Junk-Klump' direct from starring on the TWSS# Telethon and playing their HIT Tune, "The Raised Dais and High-Backed-Chair FRUMPY." WELCOME FRIENDS!!!"); Watch Out! with the Survivalist Set at The Watchman On The Wall; and Pay a visit to I C God to find the answer to your burning question: 'I DO BELIEVISM: Words Of Dictionary For Satan?'
Finally, admit that your fate is sealed
March 30, 2004
RIP, Martijn Reemst's Calvin and Hobbes at Martijn's and its Calvin and Hobbes Extensive Strip Search (C.H.E.S.S.), which (formerly) contained all 3150 published strips in a fully searchable database... Shut down for copyright infringement.
Not to worry: feel free to go to uComics' Official Calvin and Hobbes page and pay for absolutely none of Martijn's functionality.
March 26, 2004
[Condoleezza] Rice has come under heavy criticism for refusing to testify before the commission under oath or in public. She said Wednesday on "NBC Nightly News" that she had a responsibility to protect the president’s constitutional guarantee of executive privilege, arguing that the president could not rely on his advisers to speak to him openly if they could be questioned about their advice to him.
Honestly, I don't understand how the issues of executive privilege or 'separation of powers' as invoked by the administration hinge on whether or not Rice testifies under oath. Wouldn't we expect the truth to be told in either case? Isn't the issue of executive privilege one of maintaining privacy or security (a separate discussion in itself) rather than of preserving the possibility of plausible deniability for public servants?
March 25, 2004
Zeke's Gallery brings to our attention Rescuing Art from 'Visual Culture Studies' by Michelle Marder Kamhi [update: see also an older discussion at Artblog.net]. In it, Kamhi's characterization of contemporary art is often on mark, if overgeneralized to a fault and skewed towards the negative (couched as it is in the reactionary language of culture war, presuming to rescue us from a "disturbing though little publicized movement... afoot in American education"). Likewise her call for renewed appreciation for the emotional and cognitive efficacy of art is well received here, as is her apparent desire for aesthetic balance. However, her many otherwise valid points are lost in the rhetorical mire of a crude harangue that takes Visual Culture Studies to task for the various excesses of poststructuralism, semiotics, deconstruction, identity politics, social and political critique, contextual historicism, Conceptual Art, Anti-art, Pop art, readymades, video art, installation art, appropriation, abstraction, fatuous museum wall text and so forth.
(Granted, any project of Visual Culture does take all of this into its broad purview, but this does not necessarily or immediately signal some relativistic flattening of aesthetic distinctions or abandonment of judgment. It represents, rather, the opening up of the discussion beyond narrowly determined categories and the notion that certain categories of images are inherently better than others regardless of relative aesthetic or expressive merit—thus providing a space for true aesthetic judgment as unhindered by rigid a priori categorical values as is reasonably possible. Kamhi, however, would rather we not even discuss such vulgar business and hopes to short-circuit the discussion by way of an appeal to traditional forms and supposedly objective ontological facts that leaves art a slave to categorical logic.)
There is so much to react to here that I find myself getting helplessly carried away with each sentence I read, arguing out in my mind various responses to her flat rejection of just about all modern and postmodern art. I could probably rant incoherently for pages on her rejection of photography as art alone, or on that of abstraction. For the sake of focus, however, and in the hopes of maintaining some semblance of lucidity, I will try to limit my remarks below to reactions to her invocation of the categorical distinctions of 'art' vs. 'non-art' or 'high' vs. 'low' in terms of the range of Visual Culture Studies.
Reading this essay, I couldn't help but recognize a familiar sense of hubristic certainty that I was unable to place until I noticed the full title of the author's book, What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand, co-authored with Louis Torres. This book, of which the essay in question is undoubtedly an extension or reiteration, represents a monumental effort (539 pages) and by all accounts a superbly researched one (over 150 of those pages are apparently dedicated to footnotes). It is also apparently quite reactionary in tone, self-assuredly anti-modernist and anti-postmodernist, heaving vitriol at anything not resembling mimetic representation (allowing for Romantic notions of expressive intent); indeed a few reviews mention that a better title might have been What Art Isn't. At any rate, and to be perfectly honest, I have no real desire to read it. Mostly I don't think I have either the time or tolerance to read 500-some pages by a pair of authors intolerant enough to declare not only that works by Matisse, Duchamp, Still, Newman, Richter, Sander, Atget, Mapplethorpe, Sherman, Barney (should I continue?) are inferior, but that they are not even art at all. Nonetheless, I mention it because I found an apt encapsulation of my general reaction to Kamhi's rebuke of Visual Studies in this review by Roger Kimball of What Art Is. (Also be sure to read the book's authors' response to Kimball.)
Certainty is a marvelous thing. Not only does it provide a useful carapace against the onslaughts of doubt, but it also does wonders for one's self-confidence. It is perhaps the one mental commodity that everyone, admirers and critics alike, will agree that the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982) possessed in abundance. The attitude must be catching, for her disciples tend to be well endowed with certainty as well.
I thought about this when contemplating the title of Louis Torres and Michelle Marder Kamhi's book What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand (Open Court, 2000). As the authors note, the title is "a deliberate inversion" of the title of Tolstoy's didactic manifesto What is Art? Most readers have found Tolstoy's brief for subordinating art to religion and morality sufficiently, not to say crudely, apodictic. But at least he had the delicacy to cast it in the interrogative.
The authors of What Art Is want none of that pusillanimous hesitation. Rand's speculations about art and literature may exhibit some "shortcomings in detail," they tell us. Nevertheless, they argue that "in its fundamental principles" her theory of art is "coherent, substantial, and valid, constituting a major contribution to the literature on the philosophy of art."
The prospect of an aesthetic theory that is not only "coherent" and "substantial" but also "valid" is pretty impressive, not to say intimidating. Of course, "valid" is an equivocal term. It can mean anything from "following necessarily" to merely "sound" or, finally, "compelling." The authors of What Art Is do not specify in what sense they use the word. Several things suggest that they presume a fairly high degree of rigor: their decision to italicize the word, the air of impatient certainty with which their discussion proceeds, and their emphasis on the importance of having "an objective definition" of art. Indeed, it seems that one of the chief things that attracted them to Rand's aesthetic theory was her willingness to provide such a definition. At a time when there is so much bogus art about, they were grateful to find someone who cut through the morass and could tell them—clearly, without any foolish shilly-shallying—that this here is art while that over there just doesn't make the grade. It is nice work if you can get it.
I do not like Andy Warhol or Karen Finley or Robert Mapplethorpe or Marcel Duchamp any more than our authors do. But it is silly to deny that what they produced was art. It just doesn't get us anywhere. This is even true in the case of Duchamp, who intended his Dadaist pranks to undermine the very idea of art. It may be unfortunate that anything can be accorded the status of art in our society. It may token an important spiritual breakdown as well as a massive failure of nerve. But the real issue is not whether a given object or behavior qualifies as art but rather whether it should be regarded as good art. In other words, what we need is not definitional ostracism but informed and robust criticism.
By their own account, Kamhi and Torres consider theirs a common-sense question: is this stuff really art? The 'but is it art?' question, quite common in the popular press, is rather depreciated in critical art discourse. Is this simply an elitist reaction to the specter of 'Philistinism'? I'd argue it's more than that: for my part, I find that the question misses the point. Defining, in hard and fast terms, the immutable nature of art (theory and criticism to that effect notwithstanding) is simply not my primary interest. Specifically, such categorical nominalism doesn't take me where I want to go: I don't care so much what it is (be it 'art' or 'non-art') as I care how it is (that is, in terms of quality and efficacy).
In our contemporary discourse on art then, we've more or less settled on a quaint and mostly useless tautology (be it 'art is what artists do' or any of the various institutional or nominalist theories) as our primary working definition, and we have done so mostly for matters of procedural convenience: what is of interest is how an artwork defines and delimits itself in its own particularity, not some pretense of imperative categorical prescription. Thus when we say that 'art is as art does', or whatever, it is not to uncritically accept whatever crap is being shoveled today as being the equal to masterpieces of centuries past, nor to blithely reject the values of earlier generations, but rather to allow that a work of art exists and to then judge it on its own merits rather than against the rigid formulas of a dubious essentialism.
The issue here is related in many respects (especially in terms of value and judgment in the debates of the 'culture wars') to that of pluralism and relativism in wider political and ethical debates. Liberal tolerance values pluralism for the purposes of free and open dialogue. In rejecting closed, predetermined values, the ideal is to open the discussion as wide as possible; this is not to prohibit judgment, but to minimize prejudgment. Consideration or discussion of something is not, as a matter of course, acceptance or celebration of it (as some conservatives might have it), nor is the exploration of novelty necessarily and in itself the rejection of tradition (though it may open the door to that possibility). Certainly in the extreme this can lead to the rejection of judgment altogether—to relativism—or to knee-jerk radicalism, and (on the flip side) many liberals are no doubt guilty of their own blind dogmatism, but none of this follows necessarily from tolerance of a plurality voices. Indeed, such open engagement is necessary if we are ever to honestly presume to pass judgment. And not only is the presumptive closing of dialogue unhelpful towards the ends of judgment, it is in fact a hindrance to it.
Similarly, in the domain of art and criticism, reproachful rejection of certain things as unworthy of critical consideration merely serves, through prejudgment, to avoid the issue of judgment entirely. If we have a convenient formula or petrified category by which we measure anything that purports to be art, we can declare out of hand anything that doesn't fit to be illegitimate or worthless. If, on the other hand, we wish to truly engage our art, we must extend our inquiry to search out affinities in the wider realm of images.
This is not a matter of dialectically reversing the terms of the debate, but of disavowing them altogether. 'Switching' the terms or otherwise revaluing them is not the way out, as doing so maintains the problematic distinction. Indeed, it is problematic itself insofar as it reifies the divide further, leaning on it for the sake of critical legitimacy. Every time, for example, a work of art transgresses the apparent boundaries of the 'high' and 'low' it is something of a victory for the freedom of the aesthetic over outmoded taxonomies. And yet, every time an artist or critic construes it instead as a victory of the low over the high, that victory is soured as the ossified dialectic returns home to roost once more. My sense is that the sooner we let go our obsession with such classification, the sooner we get around to discussing the art itself. If 'low' art is to have any value beyond its contrariety to the 'high' and, likewise, if 'art' is to have any value beyond the virtue of simply being called 'art', they must be considered without recourse to such tidy categories.
And this brings me back to the very subject of Kamhi's initial flogging—"Visual Culture Studies" and its apparent ignorance of qualitative distinctions. Her opening objection to the treatment of masterpieces of antiquity as being "on par with" common commercial refuse seems initially quite reasonable. She makes the mistake, however, of conflating traditional categorical distinctions with aesthetic judgment. But such conflation is just as common among the advocates of the avant-garde as it is of their detractors—rejecting traditional notions of beauty, for example, the radical mindset often presumes to reject aesthetic judgment tout court—and so Kamhi's formulation does hold some truth, insofar as many advocates of Visual Culture do adopt the extreme position she accuses them of. However, such excesses are not the necessary products of the expanded purview of Visual Culture and are thus not sufficient grounds for its rejection.
If we discuss a Caravaggio in the same breath as a Gucci billboard, it does not necessarily hold that we are denying the status of the former as a masterwork or of the latter as sensationalist trash—we may merely be admitting the obvious, namely that both are images and that our cognitive and perceptual apprehension of both are far more similar than they are different. To treat (taking Kamhi's examples) the Nike of Samothrace or David as phenomenally similar to Barbie and Ken is not necessarily to treat them as qualitatively equivalent.
And this is precisely the broad program manifested in the idea of Visual Culture: we adopt an inclusive notion of the image so as to allow the comparison across media and categories on the basis of phenomenal similarity (rather than to reject such comparisons under the banner of categorical difference). Due to their shared existence as images, perceived as they are through the same cognitive faculties, members of the various categories share far more in common than essentialists like Kamhi would care to admit.
But the essentialist might defend her distinctions on grounds of practicality, as does Kamhi: "In any discussion of this kind, it is of course important to recognize that, although the boundaries between categories of things in reality may not always be clear-cut, identifying prototypical characteristics for each category is nonetheless valid and useful." Should we admit then that such categories are "valid and useful" for the sake of discussion? Absolutely. Discussion would in fact be all but impossible absent such provisionally practical distinction (indeed, under the aegis of Visual Studies we do not abandon distinction at all but rather demand that it be critically considered rather than a prioristically assumed). Should such categories be taken to the point of being ultimate and determining? Hell no. And make no mistake, this is what Kamhi would like—exhaustive and inflexible definition. But to what end? All we gain from such an approach are hypostasized categories based on the supposedly objective ontological basis of technological distinctions (repeating the mistake of the Modern essentialists)—the erstwhile labels of 'art' and 'non-art' that hinder rather than enable legitimate qualitative distinction.
What we need is a developed phenomenology of art and images, not more categorical essentialism. An art theory no longer preoccupied with searching for some chimerical essence of art or a priori categorical distinctions will be all the more able to concentrate on the far more interesting matters of efficacy, quality and aesthetic experience. While I don't claim to possess anything in the way of a proper theory of aesthetic judgment, my suspicion is that aesthetic merit is by no means a matter of fitness to any formal set of rules or logical principles, and that aesthetic judgment—in some sense, taste—is something more akin to the mundane judgment that allows one to assess the quality and meaning of ordinary experience, the touchstone for which is not found in abstract formalisms but in the very flesh of experience itself.
Such propositions aside, the simple point is that the categorical and the qualitative are separate (albeit related) questions, the former being of primarily historical and taxonomic interest within the domain of critical discourse. The latter is ultimately what interests me as an artist and as a viewer—in both respects a perceiving human subject—concerned with a particular aesthetic experience and its significance in relation to others. This is a distinction that both reactionary essentialists like Kamhi as well as many of the postmodern anti-traditionalists she assails fail to recognize, but it is the fundamental distinction on which a discipline of Visual Studies should rest. Adopting the mantle of Visual Culture, we grant ourselves license to abandon traditional categorical boundaries and move beyond their determined limits for the sake of a sturdier ground on which to draw affinities and distinctions within the domain of the image.
March 21, 2004
I've always had issues with Lyotard, considering his iconoclastic obsession with the Second Commandment and fetishization of "difference," but I have a desire to reconsider him somewhat these days. Pursuant to that: at panel-house Steven Husby uses Lyotard to beat back Lane Relyea and the October crowd (I'd pull a quote or two, but I can't make sense of their non-compliant punctuation encoding).
I say all this as someone who does often talk about an agglomerated postmodernism rather loosely, and who certainly views it quite critically. I reject almost all of the deeper ontological claims of most postmodernists and poststructuralists, and I find the epistemologies that many of them propose crippling, useless or pernicious. And yes, I think that a lot of them are bad writers, though let's leave that perennial favorite alone for once. But I still recognize the ontological challenge that postmodernism, broadly defined, offers as a very serious, substantial and rigorous one. Nor do I just brush off the epistemological challenges that postmodernists have laid out: they're real and they're important. (Though yes, at some point, I think it's perfectly fair to say, 'Yeah, I get it, I get it' and move on to other things. You're not required to read and read and read.)
The thing I regret most about casual rejectionism of a loosely conceptualized postmodernism (or any body of theory) is that it seems to deny that it is possible to read a single work and extract some insight or inspiration from it that is not really what the author's full theory or argument is meant to lead you to. It's rather like one of the professors who I encountered in graduate school who would circle words or terms he didn't like and ominously ask, "Do you want to be tarred with that brush?" It's a theory of citation as contagion.
Taken in totality, I think Foucault is doing his damnedest to avoid being pinned down to any particular vision of praxis or anything that might be summarized as a 'theory', in a way that can be terribly coy and frustrating. Inasmuch as he can be said to have an overall philosophy, I find it despairingly futilitarian and barren, and I accept very little of the overall vision. Taken instead as a body of inconsistent or contradictory suggestions, insights, and gestures, his work is fairly fertile for historians.
If nothing else, he opened up a whole range of new subjects for historical investigation from entirely new angles: institutions like prisons or medicine and their practices, forms of personhood and subjectivity, and sexuality. It's interesting that the historical work which Foucault inspired often ended up documenting that he was wrong on the actual details and often even the overall arguments, but even then, you can clearly see how generative that his choices of subjects were.
And finally, some quality art writing at Art Forum (imagine that).
After his commanding win in last Tuesday's Democratic primary here in Illinois, Barack Obama's campaign for the U.S. Senate is likely to garner quite a bit of national coverage, if it hasn't already. What most commentators dissecting his overwhelming victory over a field of seven other candidates (including former front-runner, the wife-beating [alleged], coke-snorting, card-counting multimillionaire Blair Hull) have failed to recognize is how attractive of a candidate he is in terms of personality, leadership, political intelligence and credentials. Consider this, pulled from the Council for a Livable World's endorsement:
He received a degree in political science with a speciality in international relations from Columbia University. A community organizer in some of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods, he helped church groups develop job-training programs and improve local schools and city services. At Harvard Law School, Obama graduated magna cum laude and was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, Obama served as Illinois Executive Director of PROJECT VOTE!, which added over 100,000 newly registered voters in Illinois. Currently a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago Law School, Obama has served on the boards of some of Chicago's leading foundations.
On top of that, should he win he would become, I believe, only the third black Senator since Reconstruction. But I don't mean to get too political on you. I mostly bring it up on account of his funny name (election night an ABC news correspondent, in an unfortunate flub, referred to him as "Mr. Barack Osama") and thus as hook into a brief list of surprising names from Tuesday's ballot: Michael J. Fox (Circuit Judge), Jerry Orbach (Circuit Court Clerk—a law and order candidate, har-har?), Clarence Darrow (State Rep.), with honorable mention going to Michael Moses (State Rep.) for splitting the bill with ward boss Bernie Stone on their bold, blaxploitation-sounding STONE MOSES campaign signs. And for Lifetime Achievement, the perennial punch line, from the "he's not dead, he's my candidate" vault: LaRouche, Jr for President—at 81 years young and with $838,848.34 in Federal Matching Funds, it's time you took a look at a "real Democrat."
While I'm on a vaguely political topic I'd like to mention that one year ago at this hour I was locked in a 100 square-foot jail cell with 30 other men, 7 hours into a 35-hour visit in the south side jail on 111th St (Dan's jailhouse index: 35 hours of punitive detainment without due process, 4 hours sleep (cumulative), 2 pieces of Wonderbread, 0 phones calls). I may flesh out some details some other time, but for now I think I'll just go down to the basement, turn on all the lights, remove my belt and shoelaces, and try to catch a nap against a cold, concrete wall—it's time to reminisce a bit. Maybe tomorrow I can find an opportunity to piss in front of 30 other guys. Good times.
March 16, 2004
Art Papers has an inexplicably glowing review of Kerry James Marshall's traveling solo exhibition by Matthew Biro gracing their March/April cover. This is of course not particularly surprising considering the stunning ability of contemporary theory-cum-criticism to conjure accomplishment out of thin air on the back of a handful of critical truisms: say something snappy, or twist our language into some perverse stepchild of logic, and it's as good as true. Such is the way of artspeak when released from the objective constraints of observation and the material object (but I digress).
Previous to the MCA exhibition, I was familiar only with Marshall's richly developed and densely figured (not to mention gorgeous) Souvenir paintings. This style is ably represented here by Memento I, a triumph of his trademark tapestry kitsch which stands out as the highlight of the show. Much as I love those works, I found (as I've hinted at before) the exhibition in question to be diffuse, dull and ultimately disappointing. The show's title, One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics, gives a good sense of its ostensible scope and conceptual ambitions. Branching into more explicitly conceptual terrain, Marshall presents us with something purported to be a broad and variegated assortment of differing takes on "Black Aesthetics." It is no doubt an adventurous exploration in diversity of form and expression by an established talent, but the exhibition amounts to little more than a weak hodge-podge. Joseph Tabet at panel-house compares the result to that of a juried graduate exhibition with "a little of everything." "I found myself standing in the middle of the museum wondering, 'What in hell is he doing?'" Rather than a sophisticated survey of or deep meditation on black aesthetics in a post-identity context, we find a curatorial muddle of sub-par art—an aping of shop-worn conceptualist prototypes at worst, underdeveloped conceptual-aesthetic gestures at best.
In his praise of Marshall's show, however, Biro appeals to the conceit of 'disturbing art' to find the hidden success: "This new, much more conceptual art is disturbing. Often strikingly ugly, literal or abject, it contrasts starkly with the beautiful, figurative canvases that we expect from Marshall... Still, if Marshall's new multimedia art disturbs us, it does so partly by raising provocative questions and issues." No. This work "disturbs" not because it is so effectively daring, but because it is, on the whole, so very abject, rote and empty. The only work (beyond a handful of better paintings) that really hit me as genuinely and startlingly provocative was Heirlooms/Accessories, a large digital triptych that juxtaposes in a very straightforward manner a historical photo of a Southern lynching with gold jewelry, using the jewelry as a framing device to highlight the reactions of three white women in the mob. Biro is right in calling the piece "uncanny"; it focuses clearly and directly on its powerful subject-matter while somehow transcending it in its affectivity. It provokes, however, only insofar as it escapes the otherwise abundant tendency in this exhibit towards a literal and heavy-handed conceptualism.
In his video projections, Marshall cribs the process-conceptualism of the contemporary court style of our standard video installation repertoire: park a camcorder and let it roll. The affectless "eye" and casual, determining "process" of the artist-as-operator allow a presumptive conceptual purity to prevail over anything that might resemble thought, meaning or aesthesis. In this brand of conceptualism, sensitive aesthetic development beyond the immediate needs of an over-determined conceptual framework is not only unnecessary, but is in fact ideologically suspect. Thus, in Marshall's case, we're left with pieces that are unable to achieve the density, sophistication and significant efficacy that mark his earlier paintings.
In lieu of actual conceptual depth then, Biro partakes of an egregious but all too common critical approach that allows us to declare—on the strength of arch formal metaphors—that an artist has achieved something they clearly have not. The welded frames of Sixteen Bar Blues, he says, "shift the spectator's orientation constantly—they face not only forward, but also up, down, right and left." In concert with the legitimately interesting content of the piece, Biro sees in this underdeveloped formal gesture a juxtaposition of "ideas of translation and cultural hybridity with formal explorations of changes in perspective and permutations of similar elements", casually (if implicitly) conflating different meanings of 'perspective' and reimagining framing strategy as social statement. Somewhat similarly, The Art of Hanging Pictures presents photographs of various sizes in standard abject-contemporary mode. "Hung at various heights and angles... This work's jumbled, unconventional display emphasizes the dislocating and increasingly fragmentary character of certain forms of black experience." In both cases a basic formal strategy is drawn into a conceptual metaphor, mistaken for phenomenal response and purported to represent a specific social experience. (Likewise: I recall catching a bit of an interview with Marshall on Artbeat Chicago, but had to flip the channel when he told Fawn Ring that the music staves represented in 7 am Sunday Morning allow the viewer to experience the rhythm or feel of music, or something to that effect.)
We're in the realm of literalism here, where forms relate to their apparent subjects only in a most mundane and unconvincingly prosaic manner. This is the abandonment of the very strength and potentiality of conceptualism, which at its best bears forth the images of thought and the thoughts in the image—figuration, both material and conceptual. Perhaps we are witnessing the ravages of semiotics (at least in its current, debased state which casts off any thoughts of the figurative for a 'science' of bare signification); maybe we've lost our sensitivity to the significance of form (as opposed to the significance of Biro's semantic excess). At any rate, only the blind would find such sophistry convincing. But of course we shouldn't let the work itself get in the way of Marshall's apparently brilliant conceptual accomplishment.
Of Marshall's Color Blind Test Biro writes, "these psychedelic and conceptually-rich paintings... These ironic yet slickly seductive works represent word and image in a state of flux or transformation." The diptych from this series portrays a pair of Black Power figures on variations on Marcus Garvey's Universal African Flag, while the triptych contrasts the words, "Fubu," "Foucault," and "Muthafukka" across its three panels. The works bear only passing (indexical?) resemblance to the dot patterns of the Ishihara color blindness test. Catch the tediously literal metaphor? Poorly executed aesthetically speaking, not "slick" or "seductive" in the least, and with none of the perceptual agitation characteristic of the Ishihara tests themselves, these paintings are no more than literal and over-determined transcriptions of a thin and gimmicky idea, with little conceptual resonance and only token appeal to the senses.
Finally I have to cast a bit of doubt on Biro's closing thought, that "Marshall's exhibition will be debated and responded to for some time to come." Though I'm admittedly removed from the context in which he discussed the exhibition (that is, in relation to the Studio Museum in Harlem's 2001 Freestyle exhibition on "post-black" aesthetics), I can't imagine it having much purchase beyond the narrow considerations of Marshall's own career and artistic development. And while certainly the exhibit serves as a valuable map to the expanding horizons of his work and interest, capturing the explorations and development of a working artist mid-stream (one would hope), it is also fraught with aesthetic growing pains (though this is an odd and perhaps presumptuous thing for me to say of someone decades my senior). His works in this new idiom have not yet reached a level of sophistication and accomplishment akin to that of even his own established oeuvre, let alone anything of truly paradigmatic import. Put simply: if this were to prove a top talked-about-show of even 2004/2005, I'd find myself more than a little surprised.
March 9, 2004
Back from a bit of a birthday hiatus from the web, tossed ever so rudely out of the frigid depths of winter into the arms of this ornery bitch called March, finding myself having to cope with the changeover from intolerably dry skin to inexplicable daily nosebleeds (a particularly charming affliction, let me tell you).
First, shout-outs to Franklin of artblog and Carolyn Zick (thanks for the links). Second, site news of interest to absolutely no one: HTML, CSS, RSS validation a success... next up—batten down metadata, tackle accessibility and so forth. Third, a rundown of rants on deck: something on our current crop of would-be avant-garde revolutionaries, thoughts on Balthus and problematic desire, a best/worst of 2003 of some sort (timely, huh?)... yeah—all this and more, coming soon. Fourth, highlighting my current obsessions as seen at the right: art and the like—Art & Letters Daily, artblog.net, Artnet, ArtsJournal, Tom Moody, xBlog; and not—Crooked Timber, the Daily Howler, Juan Cole, Talking Points Memo.
Finally, jumping into the fray with some links to satisfy everyone's Passion-mania: the official Passion site, Ebert raves at the Suntimes, The Daily Howler sees all the controversy and smells a presscorps script, evangelical atheist Christopher Hitchens pops off a doozy at Slate and pulls out all the stops at the Mirror [via Who Knew?, normblog], and Krauthammer cries Blood Libel at the Washington Post (though the Tribune tones it down a bit here) [via ideofact]. All the cats are hip to the Grünewald connection (that paragon of graphic crucifixion): Ionarts here and here, Tom Moody, Stephen Prothero at Slate. MTV marvels that, against all odds, The Passion outsold powerhouse Starsky & Hutch. Even the forces of the Fourth International get into the mix.