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April 28, 2005

Chicago Contemporary & Classic Highlights

I scrambled down to Navy Pier after work yesterday for opening night at Chicago Contemporary & Classic. Art Chicago and NOVA both hit tonight so, for the time being (and for lack of time), just a brief rundown of some CC&C highlights...

Foley Gallery, a nearly brand new Chelsea photo space, featured several images from Jona Frank's High School series (which appear almost too cinematic to be believed) and a couple of large prints from Bart Michiels' The Course of History (featuring expansive, pastoral landscapes from historic European battle sites). Also quite good were Thomas Allen's pulp tableaux still lifes and Stephen Aldrich's collages of 19th century illustrations.

New York's J. Cacciola had some nice figurative oils from Linda Christensen and Alex Kanevsky. Galerie de Bellefeuille, from Montréal, had several large canvases by John MacDonald that I was less enthusiastic about, but which I grew to like after a bit of time with them.

Also from Canada, Michael Gibson Gallery offered a few nice works by Shari Hatt, including an integrated wall-grouping of her dog portraits and four large photographs of what I can only assume to be (after a look at Hatt's collections listing) constumes from Liberace's personal collection. Also of note at Gibson: Dominique Rey.

Among local galleries at CC&C, Carrie Secrist was by far the most impressive. Best of all were photos (by now rather familiar) from Bill Henson and paintings by Matthew Brown (who it looks is also being featured in Secrist's current gallery show).

Miami's Carol Jazzar had a number of large and bright photo-based acrylic-tape-on-canvas works by Brad Kuhl and Monique Leyton that, though incredibly gimmicky, did register an impressively executed illusionism.

As is often the case at art fairs (particularly those focusing on Modern work and earlier), prints new and old were plentiful: A Leonora Carrington silkscreen titled Bird Bath caught my eye at The Gallery of Surrealism, Worthington Gallery had several great Käthe Kollwitz prints, and Jason Jacques featured heliogravures of Gustav Klimt (including The Kiss, Judith I and Water Serpents I and II) and collotype gravures of a few poses by Egon Schiele.

Better yet were a Lucien Freud dog etching at Browse & Darby and a Vija Celmins ocean lithograph at Nikola Rukaj (Rukaj also had some Josef Albers screen prints, but these were more miss than hit)

Other spaces of interest... StART from London (George Forsyth's Mandy), Galerie Egelund from Copenhagen (Marianne Lipschitz Jørgensen and Anders W. Ø. Larsen), lorch+seidel galerie from Berlin (Marta Klonowska), Galerie Lélia Mordoch from Paris (Imamura), Mixographica from LA (Donald Sultan) and Chiaroscuro from Santa Fe and Scottsdale (Tasha Ostrander's Deer Portrait I and one uncannily purple painting by David Hirschi).

Highlight of the CC&C project spaces: Michelle Brody's installation of papyrus plants growing in vertically-suspended plastic tubes.

Biggest guilty pleasure of the evening: 19th century painting at Julian Beck.

Best in show (a personal, idiosyncratic pick at best, a tedious pun at worst): an 18th century British dog portrait (described here*) hung at Finch & Co. (who also feature a few of the other more unexpected pieces in the fair, including a small Russian icon of Christ on the cross).

*Update: well, that Google cache disappeared awfully quick. Here's what the Sunday Business Post had to say about Finch & Co. back on April 10:

Extraordinary art finds at Finch & Co

An interesting sporting picture appears in he catalogue of London dealer Finch & Co, purveyor of all things extraordinary. It is a mid-18th century English oil portrait of a pointer dog, whose collar is inscribed Thynne Worthy Ī Chilton Candover 1749.
The pointer is a breed of gun dog rained to find and "point'" at game so he gun can take aim and shoot. Chilton Candover is a Hampshire village, probably that depicted in the painting. Acquired from the estate of an Irish amily, the painting has a price tag of tg£42,000.
Anybody seeking something with disinct pizzazz should sign up to Finch & Co's mailing list. This year's stock ncludes a table made from the ear of an African elephant, bound at the edges with he skin of a boa constrictor (stg£3,750), and a mid-19th century, highly ornate burr oak and vine wood table in the cottage orne style, similar to the furniture designed by John Nash for the Swiss Cottage at Cahir (stg£3,250).
There is also a relic from the Boer War, a chair of a style ripe for the global potlight, called South African Cape Dutch. Made from stinkwood with a rawhide thong, it would have been created mid-19th century by a joiner who probably doubled as a wagon maker in he days of the Great Trek. It has a small brass plaque reading "Taken from a armhouse near Ermelo SA 1901. By John Disney 1st Essex Regt'".
Other unique items include a Roman solid gold and carved cornelian intaglio ring from the 1st century AD (stg£1,750), a pair of 19th century Canadian Mukluks, and the perfect gift for your personal trainer, a pair of 17th century (Ming dynasty) ivory massage balls (stg£750). Finch & Co, 0044-207-4139937, www.finch-and-co.co.uk.

"Chicago Contemporary & Classic Highlights"
Posted by Dan at 05:05 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (3)

April 25, 2005

This Here Plate is Full

The coming days should prove unusually busy at Iconoduel HQ, provided I can muster the blogging wherewithal to churn out the fresh content the week deserves.

First, of course, there happen to be a few art fairs opening up this week, here and there. (What? You hadn't heard?) In fact, the party's already been kicked off with the Version>05 opening this past Friday at the Heaven, buddY and Highschool Compound in Wicker Park. Version runs through May Day, with projects, programs, parties and provocations throughout the city. Information is to be found here and, I'm sure, all over this joint.

I'm not sure how many Version events, if any, I'll be making it to myself. With so much else on offer everywhere, my generalized lack of patience with performance and time-based media would certainly be put to the test, but I do kind of regret missing this performance piece (though I work 8-hour Saturdays anyways). Considering this past weekend's weather, however, it may well be better in reproduction than it was in person.

The Version exhibition, dubbed the Version>05 Kunsthalle, runs from April 29–May 1 at the Zhou Brothers' complex in Bridgeport, the future home of the Zhous' international art academy and exhibition hall (affiliated, I gather, with the International Summer Academy the brothers teach at in Salzburg).

Among the more traditional participants in this approaching art fair storm, Chicago Contemporary & Classic marches out of the gates first with a VIP/press reception Wednesday evening out on the pier. Then Thursday evening, early, it's opening night at Art Chicago's new digs in Grant Park. Later Thursday, NOVA takes partiers into the wee hours on West Washington. All three fairs open to the public on Friday. The 2005 Navy Pier Walk sculpture exhibition, juried by Peter Schjeldahl and slated for an official opening date of May 6, should also be fully installed by Friday for a preview party that evening. And things should be hitting a fever pitch that night in the West Loop, as virtually every gallery out there appears to be coordinating their show openings this time around.

Stay tuned as I try to maintain the level of energy required to both attend to the various happenings around town and keep you apprised of the goings on. And, though I don't want to speak for others, be sure check in with the other Chicago art bloggers for more coverage (although, for his part, Erik Wenzel says he may opt for sleep instead). On top of whatever they and I put out there, it looks like we even have at least one out-of-towner coming for to cover the doings, as well.

As if all this weren't enough, I've agreed to take up guest-blogging duties along side the incomperable but elusive MK Miguel MS JL of Modern Kicks fame over at Kriston's place for the week (while that site's author submits himself to the rigors of scientific study). So look for a bit of content there as well. (Hopefully I can get a post up before JL manages to turn Grammar.police into all Nemerov, all the time.)

To cap it all off, I popped my clutch apparently straight-up broke the clutch pedal off* in a turn lane this afternoon while driving 6 blocks to pick up lunch and, at this very moment, am splitting my time between writing this post and figuring out how to scam an educational discount on some software for my brother. And none of this is to mention the feline urinary blockage that made itself known in mildly unpleasant ways this morning (which veterinary emergency, thankfully, I didn't have to deal with myself)...

*Update 4/27/05: Bear witness to the otherworldly wrath of the left foot of Dan.

"This Here Plate is Full"
Posted by Dan at 09:45 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (2)

April 24, 2005

'It's about music, and advertisement, and youth-oriented product positioning...'

... or: Why I need to check in with Gapers Block and Chicagoist more often.

Friday morning (11:30 is still morning) I awoke to XRT's Terri Hemmert on a telephone interview with a batty little guy named Perry as they discussed the freshly announced line-up for this summer's weekend-long, non-touring iteration of Lollapalooza in Grant Park (July 23–24, Hutchinson Field).

Only about half of upwards of 60 bands have been announced at this point, so there's still a chance the Beck rumors could turn out to be more than just that. For now, though, the line-up is looking (in part) like this: the Pixies, Widespread Panic [paging Mr. Grayson], Weezer, The Killers, Dinosaur Jr., Cake, the Arcade Fire, Billy Idol, Death Cab for Cutie, Digable Planets, Liz Phair, Blonde Redhead, the Dandy Warhols, Brian Jonestown Massacre [fresh off the success (??) of the film Dig!]... and so forth.

In addition to five stages of music, they promise to bring us "eyepopping spectacles" of visual art "from Chicago and beyond." Here's hoping they can keep Monsieur Frenchy at arms length. Peter Max, too, I suppose.

* * *

It's like Woodstock, only with advertisements everywhere and tons of security guards.

"'It's about music, and advertisement, and youth-oriented product positioning...'"
Posted by Dan at 01:53 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (1)

April 22, 2005

Manifest Apologies, the Fullerton Acheiropoietos and One Accursed Groin

Blame technical issues and illness (only my fourth cold of the season) for my very conspicuous absence this past week.

The technical problem has been neutralized if not solved or entirely understood, and with quite trivial effect on functionality. Really, try and spot the change (and no fair peeking at the source), resting assured that it is exceedingly unexciting. The cold, too, is fading fast with my cough now more productive than ever, so I find myself on the fast track to a triumphant return to the shores of Blogiana.

Starting slowly, we relate, for the benefit of those beyond the greater Chicagoland area (who therefore have not seen this bit of timely image news on every evening and afternoon news broadcast of late), the story of a Virgin who has taken up roost below the Kennedy Expressway in Bucktown...

From the Tribune:

Curiosity seekers joined the faithful today to view what some said was an image of the Virgin Mary at an underpass of the Kennedy Expressway on Chicago's Northwest Side, CLTV reported.
About 20 people were among the first to perceive the image shortly before midnight on a concrete wall of the Fullerton Avenue viaduct in the city's Bucktown neighborhood, officials said.
"It's a miracle. It's an image. You can't describe it. It's the first time I've seen something like this," said one witness, Jose Recinos.
Another passerby, Snezana Dilorazo, said she and her family noticed something on the viaduct wall and stopped for a closer look.
"We were driving the car, and we stopped by because we've seen the reflection," she said. "We thought maybe it was Jesus Christ," but on closer inspection, the family decided, "it's the Holy Mother," Dilorazo said.
Some witnesses told WGN the image was more visible on camera or when there was less light. Officials, though, said the pattern on the wall simply might be a stain caused by road salt dripping from the expressway.

From the Sun-Times

The image drew Mexican immigrants who said it looked like Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Polish immigrants thought it might be connected with the death of the Polish-born Pope John Paul II who had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Police officers monitoring the scene, on Fullerton underneath the Kennedy, were more jaded. "Does this mean the cardinal is coming back from the conclave?'' asked one, who didn't want his name used.
The likeness appeared to be easier to discern through the lens of a camera. Scores of people in the crowd used camera phones to take shots. Language barriers melted as people studied each others' phones to see who captured the best image.
Among the faithful was Paula Diaz, who pushed her 13-year-old son in a wheelchair for six blocks to study the wall. Why had she come?
"Un Milagro''—a miracle, she answered, nodding to her son, Jose. Muscular dystrophy robbed him of the ability to walk four years ago, said Diaz, a native of Guerrero, Mexico, who lives in the 3000 block of North Spaulding.
Diaz took Jose's hand, rubbed it on the image and then guided him in making the sign of the cross.
"It's so my brother could walk,'' said Jose's brother, Juan Diaz.
"We believe it's a miracle,'' said Elbia Tello, 42, of the 6000 block of West Barry. "We have faith, and we can see her face.''
"And on the cell phone, you can even see it better,'' said the native of Torreon, in Cohuila, Mexico.
"My pope, he loved Mary,'' said Tarnow, Poland's Barbara Zych, 38.
With the end of shifts at nearby factories, the crowd swelled. The dank underpass, speckled with pigeon droppings, began to resemble a shrine, with flowers, holy candles, and a large framed depiction of Pope John Paul II being embraced by Our Lady of Guadalupe.

More from Google News...

What really caught our attention around here, though, was this question: does the image really look all the more real for being mediated?

What was with the cell phones? Dozens were being held aloft like candles in a vigil, the eyes of the enraptured tilted toward a constellation of midget screens.
"You can see it clearer on the cellular," said the woman, Carmen Lopez, 38, who was on her third visit to the miracle.
Sure enough. Our Lady of the Underpass looks her best on a cell phone.
Full-size, the big blot on the concrete wall looks pretty much like a big blot on a concrete wall. Shrunk to a cell phone photo, though, the stain makes a passable impressionist Madonna.

Finally, would it be terribly uncouth to suggest that some Cubs fans ought to petition Our Lady for relief from our team's early-season injuries? Maybe we can even wheel our shortstop out there to rub his ailing groin on the wall. (More on our recent loss: He's only mostly dead, So Now We Know, What Next?) Perhaps Cubs trainer Mark O'Neal could hire a van and haul our second baseman and closer there for the day as well. (And do I dare point out that, with Scott Williamson thrown in for good measure, three of our guys on the DL are former Red Sox?)

Really, isn't the season worth a prayer candle or two?

Update: XISPAS (via GalleryDriver)

"Manifest Apologies, the Fullerton Acheiropoietos and One Accursed Groin"
Posted by Dan at 11:36 AM | Referenced URL's | Comments (0)

April 11, 2005

The Face of the Enemy?

As promised, an example of the October crew's output for your delectation...

This weekend I unpacked a few boxes of books, one of which contained a stack of art rag back issues. Along with more copies of Artforum from the past three years than I'd care to admit to having, I found a single issue of October (Vol. 108, Spring 2004) purchased last spring without regard for its contents for the sake of some light travel reading. I never read anything within it beyond Mark Godfrey's essay, Barnett Newman's Stations and the Memory of the Holocaust, and that only casually (so casually that I can't now recall one bit of it).

I mention all of this so as to disabuse anyone of any notions of selection bias. That is to say: my choice of this particular issue was, for all present intents and purposes, absolutely random.

The only writing in October 108 representing any of the four October editors in question in the last post is a pair of essays by Yve-Alain Bois on a pair of Barnett Newman paintings, the first a 22-pager on Abraham which can be read free online in PDF form and which I quote substantial portions of below.

In it Bois entertains a number of approaches to the painting, ranging from what might be considered a psychological approach to the artist's intent and a textual reading of the work's title in terms of existentialist thought current among the Ab-Ex painters, to more purely formalist concerns and consideration of the work's phenomenal appearance to viewers (with various technical notes pertinent to this), all of which points appear tightly connected. Bois' main purpose is the consideration of the painting as a pivotal work in Newman's oeuvre.

(The second essay, devoted to Newman's Galaxy, is far shorter and more strictly focused on matters formal and technical. An earlier Bois lecture covering both works can be found here.)

Whatever you ultimately think of Bois' take on Newman, please at least consider this essay in terms of our previous discussion: (1) the quality of writing and critical use of unnecessary or tedious jargon; (2) the critic's deference to artist and object; (3) his concern for historical context and significance; (4) critical understanding of technical methods and material history; and (5) our ability to incorporate or recuperate (if deemed necessary) Bois' thoughts into a more object-centered discourse and whether Bois brings anything at all of value to the table. Forget, for the moment at least, the question of the role of judgment in criticism, which is, I think, a far bigger question than just that of the value of theory (and possibly marginal as concerns the relation of theory to art history).

Last, but not least, tell me if you can: is there joy in Bois' soul?

* * *

Newman considered Abraham one of his most significant works. Included in his first solo show at Betty Parsons in 1950, the painting was absent from his 1958 (Bennington College) and 1959 (French & Co.) exhibitions only because it was then touring Europe for the landmark 1958–59 traveling exhibition, The New American Painting, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In fact, in the note where Newman jotted down his choice of four works for that exhibition, Abraham figures at the top of the list, followed by Horizon Light, Adam, and Concord, which will all be included. Further proof of the importance of this canvas for the artist is given by his selecting it, together with Onement III and Vir Heroicus Sublimis, for the exhibition American Paintings 1945–1957. Organized by Stanton L. Catlin at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (June 18–September 1, 1957), this show marks both the first serious recognition of Newmanís art by an American museum and the artistís reentry into the public arena. In short, Newman deemed Abraham a chief ambassador of his art.
While the artist must have felt vindicated, he remained extremely protective regarding the pedigree of this canvas; he was particularly concerned that its place in history, notably its impact on artists of his own generation, be properly acknowledged. His pervasive anxiety over the issue of Abraham's "priority" is documented in numerous declarations that give us some hint as to what the painting meant for him.
Newmanís quasi-obsession about the inaugural character of Abraham was undoubtedly exacerbated by the conflict with his once-good friend Ad Reinhardt, with whom he had not been on speaking terms since October 1954. The quixotic lawsuit that Newman attempted to file against Reinhardt at that time, to the great surprise of the latter, need not be addressed in detail, but it should be noted that this sad affair occurred soon after Reinhardt painted his first "black" canvases—for plagiarism subsequently became a frequent charge raised by Newman against his fellow artists. His sensitivity in this matter is obvious when one compares his contrasting reactions to two obituaries published at Reinhardtís death...
But Reinhardt was only the tip of the iceberg, and the whole of Western production had to be called to the witness stand with regard to blackness. Ten years before Hessís memorial tribute to Reinhardt, in a letter written on November 22, 1957, Newman gently chided Ethel Schwabacher for having muddled the matter in her monograph on Arshile Gorky (it is to be noted that Abraham had just come back from Minneapolis, where it had been vandalized, and was thus very much on the painterís mind)...
One should not overestimate Newmanís interest in Kierkegaard, whom he never mentioned in his writings or interviews, but given that the titling of Abraham cannot be dated with any certainty and, as mentioned above, could have happened long after the painting was finished, it is more than plausible that it occurred after Newman had gained cognizance of Fear and Tremblingís content. In any event, it is undoubtedly to the context of a widespread enthusiasm for Kierkegaard that Barr referred when he began his preface for the catalog of the 1958–59 MoMA traveling show with these words: "Of the seventeen painters in this exhibition, none speaks for the others any more than he paints for the others. In principle their individualism is as uncompromising as that of the religion of Kierkegaard whom they honor."
Later in the same interview, Newman would return to Abraham, which he compares to the audacity of early Cubist collages. (He also remarks, not so accurately, that in some of Picasso and Braque's first Cubist drawings, "the line is like the hand was almost trembling.") He then adds: "Like this black painting, I worked with [a] certain kind of tension which was bold and also afraid, so that this is what I suppose involves a sense of terror. . . . Itís more than anxiety. I was nervous because itís so bold. Itís like something Iíve never seen or done. At the same time, I mean where do I get the nerve, you know, whatís going to happen?"
In short, Newman's agony is to be taken seriously, and it indeed explains in great part his fixation on anteriority. He was alone when he painted Abraham, and courageous, too, in surmounting his fear. Having a whole string of predecessors would take this "emotional content" away from the painting; it would empty it. He was alone, like Abraham during the interminable three and a half days of his journey with Isaac to the sacrificial site on the mountain, without anyone to whom he could confide his unprecedented ordeal—an immense solitude that Kierkegaard underscores throughout his book. Newman was trembling in front of the unknown.
The optical effect of a halo is extremely volatile—it is an apparition whose evanescence is crucial if the goal is to give the beholder an actual sensation of time. One has to be patient to perceive it; in a sense one has to have faith, one must be expectant—it requires one's sustained presence, and this presence is based on faith, like that of Abraham answering God's call by declaring "Here I am." But the fragile halo needs to be protected, as the slightest alteration in its conditions of visibility (alteration of the picture's surface, harsh light, etc.) would annul its possibility. It is for this reason that Newman was extremely wary of any interference, of anything that might disturb the delicate interaction between the two blacks of Abraham.
Let us now examine the issue of brilliance. In front of the current state of the painting, whose surface has been buried under a thick coat of glistening wax applied by a conservator, one can hardly imagine what the original experience—described by Hess among others—of a stark opposition between a shiny central zip and a matte field would have been like. But several photographs taken in Newman's studio might give us some idea. The fact that most show the painting obliquely—in raking light, revealing how thick the original stretcher was—might be attributed to Newmanís urging. Whatever the case, the photographs enact the kind of value reversal that Newman had already explored in End of Silence, in that the darker area appears brighter as soon as specular light (due to lateral lighting or an oblique point of view) comes into play. The extent of this effect is measured by a review of the 1959 show at MoMA in Time magazine, where the painting was described as a "vertical white line on a towering black canvas"—a clear indication that the writer had not bothered standing directly in front of the painting and had only glanced at it obliquely and from afar.
Newman would often insist, later on, that his zips are not lines but color planes (see, for example, the discarded text for the 1958–59 traveling show: "My work, they say, is involved in line, when it is obvious that there are no lines" [SWI, p. 180]), and that the zip and its surrounding field are not different in nature but in extension (an ontological identity that Newman often inscribed in the very process of painting: rather than painting his zips on the color field, more often than not he painted them last and directly on the white priming of the canvas which was reserved for this purpose). In Abraham, this breakdown of the traditional opposition between line and color, or between line and plane, is accentuated by the modular division mentioned above, which in turn helps undo the perceptual dichotomy of figure and ground: the shiny black zip just fills one module, the plane at its left fills two, the one at its right fills three. (Strictly speaking, the painting is not black on black at all, but "black next to black.") But the certainty of our perception—which depends upon a clear recognition of the figure/ground hierarchy—is also assaulted by other means. As plane, a vertical zip has two vertical edges, a fact that is emphasized in Abraham by the very width of the zip, but Newman makes it difficult for us to read these two edges as equivalent (and thus to obtain an immediate, synthetic mental image of the zip as a geometric figure, as a timeless gestalt). Positioning one edge on the axis of symmetry and the other not, Newman deliberately gives them a different weight without tilting anything in space. (He would pursue this type of disequilibrium by other means in both Covenant and The Promise, as well as in Galaxy, in which symmetry is completely abandoned. It is hardly by chance that, as noted above, the title of these canvases are semantically linked.) The fleeting apparition of a halo on each side of the zip further teases our perceptual capacity: we never manage to take in everything simultaneously and the only certitude we are ever able to grasp in front of such a vacillating image is, when we step back, the lateral expanse of the whole canvas and its more-than-human height. Such a feat, which requires the suppression of insterstitial space (and thus of any atmospheric illusion of depth), had already been achieved, of course, in the symmetrical canvases of the Onement series, but now Newman is experimenting with a laterality that is not deductive, that is not a property of the field as such, and this is a much more complex affair. Abraham, more than any other previous work by Newman—and he will draw a lot from it—catches us in the process of perceiving and of realizing that the yardstick of scale, by which we measure our own spatial relation to the objects we behold, is what gives us above all a sense of being here, not there, to paraphrase one of his titles.

"The Face of the Enemy?"
Posted by Dan at 09:42 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (16)

April 9, 2005

Lemon Harangue

The following has been stewing in the Crock Pot since Jonathan Jones' Guardian review of Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (a new art historical tome from October's Gang of Four—Rosalind Krauss, Hal Foster, Benjamin HD Buchloh and Yve-Alain Bois) first bounced around here and there a couple weeks ago (thanks to a link at ArtsJournal).

(If it appears overly strident or otherwise ridiculous, I ask you to bear in mind that it was mostly hashed out around 3 and 4 am, with only gap-filling and minor edits for the sake of coherency performed over lunch today. And preemptive apologies for the title, which came to me as I brushed my teeth this morning and is about the best I can manage at the moment—oh, the unmatched creativity of fatigue!)

While I relish a good Krauss-drubbing as much as the next guy, something about the laudatory reactions to this piece really rubbed me the wrong way.

To wit, while it's probably not fair to call Tyler Green's reaction true anti-intellectualism, in its reductive sentiment "Against theory" it does bear a whiff of the stuff. And whatever this rhetorical call to arms from the comments at artblog.net amounts to:

This is the enemy, folks. If you really love art as a vehicle of joy, exultation and the best we have to give to ourselves, watch out. Like freedom, the price of true art is eternal vigilance

it's a far cry from constructive.

Jones, for his part, does offer a number of substantive criticisms on which I'd hoped to expand in a post that still sits in semi-draft form on the hard drive. (See Modern Kicks for some thoughts along these lines.) More positive reflection will have to wait, however, as I'm having trouble holding back the negativity after reading the latest attack on the book, an LA Times op-ed from Frank Whitford (via MAN).

Whitford, who, like Jones, hails from across the pond (where the bashing of all things Tate is all but a genre unto itself and a national pastime at that), also penned a straight-up review of the book for his home paper, in which he asks:

Why is it impossible to imagine a painting by Jack Vettriano or Beryl Cook hanging in the Tate? Donít expect an answer here to this disturbing conundrum.

Not being familiar with the work in question, this is a "conundrum" I'm not about to touch, but do take a look and take it for what you will.

That notwithstanding, here's how it goes in the LA Times piece:

Art critics used to be the butt of cruel jokes. Among other things, they were compared to eunuchs in a harem—watching rather than doing. Nor could they write clearly and entertainingly about what others were getting up to. Notoriously, the critics' stock in trade was prose clouded by imprecise gush or impenetrable jargon.
Times have changed. Everyone can understand Robert Hughes (see his latest book, "Goya"). And art criticism can't be that devalued an activity if the likes of John Updike, James Fenton and Margaret Drabble (to say nothing of Tom Wolfe) are now so determined to practice it. In fact, the problem is not with art criticism but with art history. [ed: this ought to buck up those of us who worried that criticism might be in crisis]
Too many art historians at American and European universities prefer to think that a work of art comes into being only when it attracts the attention of an art historian [ed: beware of tautology] or theoretician. It's significant that the New York critic and champion of Color Field painting, Clement Greenberg, is mentioned more often in the index of the recent, much trumpeted "Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism" (by multiple authors, published by Thames & Hudson) than is Henri Matisse. And the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard gets considerably more space in the same substantial volume than the British painter Francis Bacon.

That they devote such space to the unremarkable Baudrillard is regrettable, if unsurprising considering the influence of his language in media arts. Still, I do think our British friends probably overestimate the overall importance of Bacon, who I find rather unconvincing as a benchmark of critical attention here.

That said, I can certainly imagine the October folks going more than a bit overboard in assigning historical importance to theorists and critics. Indeed, I find it a bit disconcerting to read the following from a more genial piece on the book from the Isles:

Although the historians stress that Art Since 1900 is not 'an October book', devotees will recognise a certain signature: theorists are given as much prominence as artists, and increasingly so as the century wears on.

Especially so considering the authors' prominent positions within the history they seek to trace; especially so in light of this mostly earnest exchange from the end of their interview:

What happens next? If they're pessimistic about art practice, what about art theory? What are their best students doing?
'They want to do dissertations on moments in which we were participants,' Foster replies.
'Yes,' says Krauss. 'Like Interfunktionen, Benjamin's magazine.'
'For our students, we are part of historical record!' exclaims Bois.

So as far as Greenberg vs. Matisse is concerned, Whitford's point is taken. By the same token, a peek at the index of this text on the Italian Renaissance finds Vasari rating more mentions than Giotto, and I seriously doubt it's for his paintings. (It seems this problem is bigger than even Whitford thought.)

It should be pointed out, of course, that the authors of Art Since 1900 are just as much in the business of presenting a history of thought as they are of offering a litany of exemplary works, and that even discussions of the works ought to necessarily touch on the bodies of theory.

(As an aside, If we pause to consider Tom Wolfe's contributions to art criticism, let it serve as a reminder that the one-time standard-bearers of Modern orthodoxy—Greenberg, Steinberg and Rosenberg, not to mention (yes, friends) Hilton Kramer—and the art they championed were themselves once subject to strikingly similar critiques.)

Onward, to the standard invocation of hilarious pomo jargon:

That book is representative of innumerable academic art texts, many of them on prescribed reading lists at respectable universities. All the books are characterized by the worst kind of mumbo jumbo. Their authors "foreground" issues. They talk about "hierarchical canonicity," "hegemonic media apparatus" and of "terms like 'parergon,' 'supplement,' 'difference' and 'remark' " that "grounded new artistic practice in the wake of modernism." (Don't bother to read it again; it still won't be intelligible.)

Well, shit... You take the specialized vocabulary of a discipline, quote it out of context and marvel at its unintelligibility. Bravo. What, though, is so damned outlandish about "foregrounding" an issue or discussing the hierarchies of a canon? Ditto the grounding of artistic practices since Modernism. Is this really the haughty mumbo jumbo that keeps you up nights, Frank?


One of those French philosophers is Jacques Derrida, who, thanks to his deconstructive method, claimed to know more about a piece of writing than the author did. (By the way, if we can't trust what a writer says, how can we trust Derrida?) Many of today's art historians similarly assume that they understand a painting, a sculpture or an installation more fully than its creator ever could.

I find Derrida just as utterly worthless as most reasonable people do, but I think it's a serious misinterpretation of the man to suggest that he felt anyone could ultimately "know" anything about a piece of writing. Isn't the standard talking point against Jacques that he writes off meaning entirely? But this easy swipe at the Frenchman mostly serves as lead-in to a very unfair oversimplification of the notion that critics and historians are capable of illuminating aspects of a work which an artist or author may not have been cognizant of—which, by the by, is something I find incredibly reasonable and which is, I believe, rooted in the very foundational notions behind the discipline of history.

Following on the heels of that, I'm not sure what straw man this salvo is fired at:

Verbal diarrhea like this wouldn't matter if academic art historians gave the impression that they used their eyes, and if the emphasis they placed on theory weren't at the expense of what might be called the sharp-end of art history. I mean the study of works of art as objects, asking how and for what place and purpose they were made, what the artist intended them to mean, and how they relate to other works of the same and other periods.

but I've always felt that if the writers and theorists in question are not as concerned with the object before them as many (indeed, as I) would like, it's in part because they are concerned with context—often, though not strictly, historical—to a fault. So just what is he talking about here?

The only points that register any hits in my eyes come in Whitford's closing paragraph, and there only by virtue of his slipping casually from discussing the proper concerns of Modern and contemporary art to those of another era entirely:

Art history graduates can bore you rigid with talk about Derrida, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty and Foucault, but few can tell you about the carpentry employed in a 14th century Sienese altarpiece. Nor can they explain why tempera produces different pictorial effects than oils. Few can compare Titian's "Death of Acteon" with its source, Ovid's "Metamorphosis." Fewer still are trained to produce a catalogue raisonné, the basic compilation of an artist's works and history. And how many can follow the argument that the "Madonna of the Pinks"—coveted by the Getty Museum but still in the London National Gallery—is truly by Raphael rather than a copy of a lost original?

First off, I have to throw a flag on the dig at Merleau-Ponty. Did you really have to drag Maurice through this particular mud, Mr. Whitford, or are you just running out of Frenchmen to flog? Though I think Merleau-Ponty (especially in his earlier iteration) pulls more weight in the domain of consciousness studies than he ever has in the realm of art (could be wrong), I'm still not going to sit here silently while you get all up in his business.

Beyond this and setting aside the fact that, though a revival of connoisseurship may be a necessary thing for art history, it will not alone suffice and is hardly incompatible with other methods or critical orientations (but haven't we been here before?), it is utterly beyond me how the construction techniques behind a quattrocento altarpiece should have more bearing on history or criticism of 20th century art than, say, Freud.

(Anyone interested in the process for preparing wood panels with traditional gesso, by the way, can email me for my generalized and limited understanding of it. Better yet, meet my friend Cennino.)

* * *

As I suggested above, I'm no fan of Rosalind Krauss or Hal Foster. In fact I'm almost constitutionally averse to them. And I, too, often find the excesses of arch pomo theory to be at times excruciatingly obtuse. I find Derrida to be of little or no use, Baudrillard is original only in his immoderacy of vision and his untrammeled embrace of futility, Debord and Lyotard carry with them far too much of an aura of iconophobia for my tastes and Lacan's punning leaves me totally cold.

And it's true that in the past around these parts I have indulged my own fair share of hostility towards art theory in general, whether opining that nowhere "do we find conjecture swallowed as evidence more readily than we do within the domains of art, criticism and theory", objecting to "the stunning ability of contemporary theory-cum-criticism to conjure accomplishment out of thin air on the back of a handful of critical truisms" as the result of "artspeak... released from the objective constraints of observation and the material object", or bemoaning the "institutional shibboleths" of shoddy artist's statements that obscure good art or the irony of the revolutionary pretensions of the institutional avant-garde.

I would frankly be all too happy to see a discourse more firmly recentered around the material object and think the notion of 'art as criticality' is both horribly overplayed and seriously wrong-headed. There's plenty of devalued jargon, too, that could probably be done away with with minimal real loss. And I would certainly prefer it if we could abandon once and for all the iconoclastic strictures against the appeal and efficacy of images or the dangers of body and materiality (would that it were possible!).

So, all that said, am I being inconsistent when I now suggest that this 688-page expression of the October vision of a century of art deserves more than glibly triumphalist contrarianism? I hope not, because, in spite of misgivings I may have with particular veins of theory and thought, I think there's far more to it (even narrowing our consideration or definition of big-T Theory to the most obnoxious and overwrought of the lot) than just self-satisfied vampires groping for relevance. And yes, Virginia, people actually do read this stuff.

Above all, I say, let us at the very least give these writers and thinkers credit for the earnestness with which I sincerely believe they engage their subject and welcome anything worthwhile they might bring to the table. There's the bathwater... and then there's the baby.

"Lemon Harangue"
Posted by Dan at 01:59 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (24)

April 3, 2005

Spring, Sprung

Spring somehow just creeped in through the back door...

As Fresh Paint pointed out on Friday, in something of a timely reminder, SAIC's BFA exhibition opened this past evening at Gallery 2. I was too busy throwing back the Anchor Steams at Grizzly's to attend, but hopefully Cynthia will hit us up with the lowdown.

Nevertheless, and beer and basketball notwithstanding, spring is the time to see tomorrow's young stars today so, your attention if you will...

UIC has already begun their series of MFA shows at Gallery 400, the first of which—featuring Christa Donner, Fang Ling-An and Jennifer Justice—ended... well, it looks like it ended yesterday. Two more trios of artists will show over the next two weeks: Todd Mattei, Lauren Portada and Andy Young from April 5–9; Wes Kline, Ben Martinkus and Eli Weinberg from April 12–16.

SAIC's MFA exhibition will be up at Gallery 2 May 8–20, with an opening reception the evening of the 7th. Their BFA exhibition, which as mentioned above just opened, will remain up through April 15. Graduate and undergraduate performance works will be presented at the end of April, with film, video and audio works appearing at the Siskel Film Center throughout May.

Northwestern's MFA thesis show will be at the Block Museum April 19–June 19 and will feature work from Kelly Marie Breslin, Zachary Buchner, Joe Phlieger, and Ryan Scheidt. Meanwhile, Northwestern's senior show, Help Wanted, will be at the Dittmar Gallery in the Norris Center April 2–May 8.

In May, Columbia will feature MayFest, "a month-long celebration of Columbia College Chicago student work" during which their 11th St gallery promises "significant bodies of work from graduating seniors."

Finally, from June 10–July 23 NIU's MFAs will make the trip in from DeKalb for an exhibition at the school's River North space. (The NIU BFAs, for their part, will remain out in the sticks for an exhibition later this month.)

"Spring, Sprung"
Posted by Dan at 02:30 AM | Referenced URL's | Comments (2)

April 2, 2005

Chicago Sculptors: Carpe Diem

A Craigslist posting from the south suburbs:

We are seeking a sculptor to create a bust of Pope John Paul II. We will be making a casting of his likeness and making it available for sale. Must have samples of work available for review as the likeness of His Holiness should be realistic to his image as it was 15-20 years ago. The bust should measure approx. 8-10 inches high. Payment options are as follows:
1. A one time payment with the artistic copyrights legally transferred to us.
2. You provide a bust, keep the artistic copyright and share in the profits (2% of net after manufacturing cost).
We estimate the manufacturing cost to be approx. $9.75 per bust with a wholesale sale price at $20.00.

(Maurizio Cattelan need not apply.)

"Chicago Sculptors: Carpe Diem"
Posted by Dan at 07:18 PM | Referenced URL's | Comments (0)