May 9, 2005
Among the great virtues of weblog discussions is the way that, in their more or less accessible and persistent presence on the internet, they can render something that might normally be hashed out over coffee or beer (ending there) available to the online world at large and, thus, often to the very person or persons being discussed.
One would imagine that more than a few interested eyes at UCLA worked their way through abLA's Chris Burden thread (not to mention others' contributions here and there) back at the height of that brouhaha. (Indeed, I received an email at the time regarding my own post on the matter that seemed to suggest as much.)
More to the point, a January comment thread at Modern Kicks found JL (aka, Miguel) and Bunny Smedley mulling over a perplexing detail from De Kooning: An American Master only to end with a clarifying comment and personal mea culpa from one of the (now Pulitzer Prize-winning) book's authors.
And I myself could lay claim to a similar, albeit less falutin, comments appearance last fall by the subject of one of my posts (assuming, that is, that this commenter was truly who she claimed to be).
But all this is to belabor my shameless point...
Last night (while purging a fresh glut of comment spam) I happened to notice, in the midst of a slew of friendly notes from regular readers "catherine bell breasts" and "lesbian sisters kiss," a lone comment from the much less sexily-named "yve-alain bois."
So it seems, by magic of internets, we have a bit of feedback from one of the ensconced subjects of our recent discussion.
Apart from apparently not caring too much for my tongue-in-cheek "Gang of Four" appellation, Mssr. Bois (or, I suppose, some cunning internet impostor) appears, rather unsurprisingly, none too impressed by Frank Whitford's incredibly lazy Sunday Times and LA Times broadsides from a month back:
Having been called a formalist all my scholarly life, I'd say it was a bit odd to read I was not looking at the objects—that is, it was odd to read this in the UK press, as it's common in the US from the right-wing likes of Hilton Kramer, the genius connoisseur who said (for example) in 1970 that a couple years from now (that is, from then), Pollock would be entitely forgotten. I have always been very attentive to the object and I even wrote the introduction to my 1990 collection of essays (at MIT Press)* as a warning against the effect of undigested theory.
He goes on to defend Krauss and Buchloh in particular against similar slurs and attends to the burning question as to the state of the joy in his soul (suggesting a response in the affirmative as far as its presence is concerned).
* I can't be sure, but I suspect Bois may be refering to his Painting as Model, whose back cover offers the following:
Informed by both structuralism and poststructuralism, these essays by art critic and historian Yve-Alain Bois seek to redefine the status of theory in modernist critical discourse. Warning against the uncritical adoption of theoretical fashions and equally against the a priori rejection of all theory, Bois argues that theory is best employed in response to the specific demands of a critical problem. The essays lucidly demonstrate the uses of various theoretical approaches in conjunction with close reading of both paintings and texts.
That all sounds pretty fair to me.
Update: further discussion over at Artblog.net
May 7, 2005
Spring springs and Timothy Quigley returns (again) to the land of the blogging, today hitting us with a look at that Donald Kuspit lecture bandied about recently by certain someones (here, here, here, here and here).
May 5, 2005
That is certainly an apt description of something going on here...
At 10:40 pm, April 23rd, the LAPD chose to shut down this event due to the "agressive and offensive" nature of the show's content. Transport Gallery is seeking your help in exposing this obvious breach of First Amendment rights. If you attended the Mark of the Beast, and have any information or comments regarding the police's actions please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Witness statements will be helpful in this situation. Thank you, TG.
Info at this point seems pretty much limited to the above, but take a peek at the show's website and Transport's photos from the event and tell me one thing there that could possibly be of even marginal interest to the police, let alone warrant such an apparently jackbooted shutdown.
It all looks to me like little more than fairly standard logo interventions of the Adbusters/skater t-shirt variety, so what am I missing? Was someone not happy with some lefty designer's take on the department's corporate indentity materials or something?
What's going on?
*Update: Art for a Change has some more.
May 4, 2005
Yesterday, Carolyn Zick flashed us back to 1995 for an Art in America cover job on art and the internets, Robert Atkins' diaristic "preliminary notes for a guide to the exploding on-line line art world" taking us back to the heady days of the BBS, the advent of graphical Web "browsing," and some ornery dude(s) dubbed "Unabomber" (also found here, slightly edited).
For a medium supposedly on the wane, painting certainly was in evidence last season, and maybe even impressive, too. Last spring when I told people I was writing this article tracking painting over the course of the 1993-94 season, I got strong reactions. Essentially people divided into two groups—let's call them the left and the right. On the left people said things like, "I hate painting," "Painting is in trouble," or "Painting is out of it"—all, obviously, variations on the old "painting is dead" position. Meanwhile, on the right (roughly equal in number), people bluntly told me, "Right on, man—defend painting," "I hate political art," or "When are people gonna learn to look again?" This camp waits for the triumphant "return of painting." Both sides need to get a grip on the fact that painting can never come back. The reason painting can never come back is that it never left. Both camps are disconnected from reality.
From early September 1993 through early July 1994, I kept track of all the shows in 85 New York galleries: some uptown, some midtown, the majority in SoHo, nearly all of them listed in the Gallery Guide, and all regularly exhibiting contemporary art. Charting their monthly shows on a large five-page, color-coded graph, I counted and tracked 610 exhibitions. Of these, 240 (or 39.34 percent) were solo painting shows by living artists. If two-person or group painting shows, museum shows and exhibitions by deceased painters are added, the number grows to nearly 50 percent, with the remaining exhibitions divided between sculpture, photography, video, gallery group shows, theme shows and sundry installations.
So what do these numbers tell us? Like it or not, they say that painting is still the main currency of the art world (which is probably why people get so worked up over it). While the current house style of the art world is late-late Conceptual art, if you go even slightly outside the art world, painting is still art's ambassador. In fact, when there is no dominant painting movement, people at large seem to find it difficult to have an uplifting sense of the art scene.
This doesn't mean that painting is the "going thing," it just tells you that it's not an "already gone" thing. It's true that quantity doesn't equal quality and that proportionately there are as many bad painting shows as there are bad shows of sculpture, photography or whatever. But the fact that so many people in the New York art world are arguing about whether or not painting is dead shows how backwards things can sometimes get in the so-called center.
Because painting has had such a long and illustrious history, it's an easy target. Sooner or later every "new gun" in town comes looking for painting—to challenge it, to knock it down. Because so many people take aim at it, something unexpected has happened. Painting has become somewhat radicalized, even renegade or nomadic. It's not clear yet what effects this will have, but something is going on. Of course if painters get smug (the way they can), it'll be over before it starts. For now, painting is seen as "second dog" and this appears to be giving quite a few painters a sense of incredible license. It's okay that no one is rushing to embrace "the new painting," partly because that might snuff out the life in it, and partly because there is no "the new painting." Painting is moving in a series of covert actions, one artist and sometimes one painting at a time. Sometimes it quietly grazes, other times it moves in concerted counter-insurgency. For now, painting is in some sort of gestating Trojan-horse phase. It's huge, it's right out in the open, but no one knows what it's up to.
Instead of asking, "What's new in painting," it might be better to ask, "Are there any approaches, now, that seem particularly promising?" Beck, the musician who wrote and sang last year's anomalous hit song "Loser," said something in a recent radio interview that sounded really right if applied to art (not just painting). Asked about writing music and lyrics, he said, "It's harder to be real than it is to be ironic." Irony, which we've had reams of in all mediums, feels somehow false right now, or at least less useful. That is not to say you can't make "real" art about irony: look at the ways Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke work around painting's supposed impasse. Both artists split the arrow of irony, so that their works exist in the gap between passion and pose. "Realness" doesn't mean sincerity or sanctimoniousness. Awareness or directness might be other words for it, or clarity, or the vaunted Abstract-Expressionist term "authenticity" (minus the posturing or the pride), or that supposedly outdated term originality. What's involved is more than a snicker and less than a declaration. A scent of the marrow. This is a pretty flimsy idea to hang a case on, I know, and it lends itself to misinterpretation easily, but the closer to the core a thing is, the better. If something is open and done freely it contains possibilities, it can grow; if not, it turns rigid, predictable and dull.
May 3, 2005
If I can, I'd like to direct your attention to Carolyn Zick's Studio Notebook, where Carolyn happens upon a decade-old copy of Art in America and reflects on the way we was digital (offering, along the way, a dose of perspective to the internets-addicted among us).
1995: the internet's "Pong Days," as Carolyn says.
Related... simpleposie wants to know: What is a jpeg?
Reviews of art fairs tend toward the scattershot. By nature too large and unfocused to be amenable to easy summary, fairs invariably lend themselves to unfocused lists that lose the forest for the trees on the one hand or impossibly general blanket assessments leveled against often incommensurable variety on the other.
Having already attempted the former, at least thus far for the two main Chicago fairs (here and here), allow me to try my hand at the latter, with the added advantage of being pretty well uninformed and lacking anything truly substantial to say. Couple these virtues with some arch metaphors and tedious word play and there's only one name for what I'm shoveling: pure blogging gold!
So without further ado...
Just as there are a multitude of critical approaches to assessing a fair, there are a plethora of gauges of a fair's success. At the end of the day, though, only one matters: art fairs are largely economic affairs, with the bottom line of success ultimately being the bottom lines of organizers' and gallerists' ledgers.
In this sense at least, an art fair's goals can run directly counter to those of its public (its non-art-buying public, that is). Perhaps Chicago Contemporary & Classic's Ilana Vardy is right when she suggests, though not in so many words, that the cutting edge of international contemporary art and the catholic tastes of the cultivated don't ultimately make for the most salable commodities or lucrative enterprises in a more conservative greater-Midwestern market. Maybe competing at the level of Art Basel Miami Beach is a pipe dream and maybe a re-imagining of a Chicago fair requires us to lower our sights and lower our price points. And perhaps art fair success must come with a certain amount of bruising to our collective cosmopolitan ego.
That said, Wednesday's opening night preview—the earliest thing on offer all week and competing, as such, against no one—was incredibly sedate for such an event. And, according to a mid-fair report on Art Letter's message board, the fair had "no attendance and the gallerists [were] openly griping in front of the few people who [did] attend." And this is not to mention how profoundly Navy Pier sucks as an art fair destination.
So, how did CC&C's exhibitors fare sales-wise? I have no idea myself, and am in no position to find out, but it would be interesting to see, as it might help us approach the ultimate question here: namely, will CC&C be returning next year to continue its bid for the mantle of Chicago art fair king? Cited everywhere toward an answer to this is the seven-year contract Pfingsten Publishing signed with McPier when taking the reigns of the pier expo (in what I have to imagine was an attempt to pressure Art Chicago out of the game early in the going) and the certitude this implies. But then Fred Camper wrote in last week's Reader:
Chicago Contemporary & Classic has a seven-year contract at Navy Pier, but when I queried Vardy about next year she replied, "Ask me in two weeks."
So things seem a bit less than certain.
It's a phrase that bears a ringing familiarity to the ears of any Chicago sports fan.
The Cubs, the Bears, the post-nineties Bulls, the White Sox and the Hawks (wait, the who?) have all made such an art of the "rebuilding phase" that they now seem to delight in bringing us rebuilding year after rebuilding year, in perpetuity.
"I promised that when I left the pier, I was going to try to pull off a show that was so spectacular it would help keep the fair at a very high level, and I would start with the help of the city and Park District. I think we have an interesting group of dealers." Blackman calls Art Chicago in the Park "a prototype" for the future. "This is my year off," he says, gesturing at Butler Field. For him, it's a small show, and all of the work put into it was done early. In previous years, confronted with the challenge of staging another behemoth fair, he would still be busy painting walls.
So even Thomas Blackman Associates is willing to recognize that this year's installment was sub-par. It's certainly understandable given a shortened time-frame (having only announced the rebirth of Art Chicago as late as November) and dramatic change of venue. And what was presented this past weekend may well have exceeded the expectations of those who wrote off Blackman's fair as all but dead, if simply by getting off the ground at all.
Yet, as many have been wont to point out over the past weeks, the fair's roster of exhibitors lacks any number of heavy-hitters (so necessary to reliably draw out the collectors) be they from New York, overseas or even home-grown (oft cited, as here, were the absences of blue-chip locals Rhona Hoffman, Donald Young and Richard Gray). In this fickle and fashionable art world, can Art Chicago really ever recover such lost cache?
From my own perspective, Art Chicago, though it left very much to be desired, had the vastly more successful go of the two competing fairs this year, and a casual survey of press and internet reactions suggests that I'm far from alone in this sentiment. But all this opinion amounts to a whole lot of jack without black ink on that pesky bottom line. And again, I know not a thing of sales returns and other such vulgar figures, and so cannot weigh in on this most important of matters. At any rate, the big question is not so narrowly local as all that anyways, as TBA's biggest competition comes not from the pier, but from places like the Swiss bankers' playground down in Miami.
Art Chicago's fundamentals seem to give them the leg up on CC&C in most respects (e.g.; location, should they again secure their spot in Grant Park; experience in their market; continued gallery support, especially locally; and a brand name, however diluted) but are they strong enough to give the fair national (let alone international) staying power? Ultimately only time will tell whether we're catching a last glimpse of a sinking ship or just waiting for our hardy, tempest-tossed vessel to return safely to port.
May 2, 2005
As previously mentioned, Thursday brought my art fair week to a head with Art Chicago and NOVA openings back to back. Friday was supposed to be my day at the Version>05 Kunsthalle and evening at the Pier Walk preview party, but turned into little more than a day of napping on the couch followed by some beers and some epic baseball at the Globe. (Friday night West Loop gallery openings never even entered consideration.) Saturday, then, was lost to work, Sunday to the Version Kunsthalle and a Bach Week concert.
(And if I can indulge in a bit more housekeeping: so far I've been doing my damnedest to avoid reading anyone's assessments of the fairs, trying to keep my eyes as fresh and innocent as is possible until I at least get these initial run-downs out of the way. Nevertheless, it looks like artnet has Victor Cassidy's take on Art Chicago fronted and Paul Klein has his perspective up at Art Letter. (Again, I haven't read Klein's piece yet myself, but he hasn't had too many kind words to share in the past regarding the organizers of the big fairs.) As for the dailies, I know I saw a Tribune headline heralding Alan G. Artner's score card and I'm sure the Sun-Times has Margaret Hawkins on the beat somewhere in their browser-busting pop-up hell. And, of course, never forget the bloggers: Fresh Paint, Houndstooth, Art or Idiocy?, Folding Chair (if Rowley can offer us anything from the midst of the academic crunch), and JMG Artblog.
But anyways, and all that aside, my round-up of some of the goods that caught my eye under the Art Chicago tent last week...
I'm always an absolute sucker for Laurie Hogin's bestiaries, and both Koplin Del Rio (West Hollywood) and Tory Folliard (Milwaukee) were showing some of her work. Folliard had a suite of five pairs of her small Field Guide bird paintings. Koplin Del Rio boasted two large canvases, one of which, the stunning Law of Unintended Consequences, I feel compelled to declare (though it may, when checked against my Best in Show choice from CC&C, suggest a shocking consistency of taste) the highlight of my night.
Antonio Murado's quartet of contemporized aristocratic portraits at Galeria Metta (Madrid), though not too far off standard post-Richter photo realism, were interesting nonetheless, and Robert Kelly's Thicket series at Linda Durham managed to overcome my general aversion to Santa Fe.
Highlights from Apex Fine Art (LA) include Anderson and Low's fantastic sepia c-print of London's Battersea Power Station and various images from National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb (a photo of Lake Thun, Switzerland alongside documentary work from Japan and Armenia).
Halsted Gallery (Bloomfield Hills, MI) had a few of James Balog's digitally collaged photos of some of the "largest, oldest, strongest trees in America," composed so to allow us to see them from an idealized vantage without the distortions of perspective.
In prints and editions, Arion Press featured an edition of Milton's Paradise Lost with a portfolio of thirteen 17 x 22 Iris prints of William Blake's watercolor illustrations from 1807. Shark's Ink (from Colorado's Front Range and whom I always have a soft spot for) featured a couple decent John Buck woodcuts (The Preserve and The Mechanic) as well as tatto artist Don Ed Hardy's fantastic homage to Hokusai, a lithograph called Surf or Die. And John Szoke Editions from NYC offered some nice prints by Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt, as well as several copies of Jeff Koons' porcelain Puppy (complete with custom cardboard box).
West Looper Carrie Secrist appeared again (they were pulling double-duty between here and CC&C), featuring more Bill Henson. Also putting in an appearance: Todd Hido's atmospheric landsapes and Liliana Porter's clever bric-a-brac still lifes.
River North's Zg, at Art Chicago as part of this year's International Invitational, had work from just about their full stable in tow, including Ben Butler's rule-based tea drawings and pine constructions, a few gouaches by Saya Woolfalk and a couple of Molly Briggs' hot pink flashe and silver paint on panel pieces from her recent solo show. (Butler also showed up with an ink drawing at New York's Plane Space.)
Zg was joined by 6 other spaces in the Invitational, my highlights from which were Lumas Gallery for Editions form Berlin (Julie Christie and Stefanie Schneider), Perugi artecontemporanea from Padua (Alvise Bittente) and Liquid Blue from Miami (Sara Stites and Juan Doe).
International Invitational lowlight: the loud, loud, loud Jack the Pelican Presents hailing from Williamsburg. To be fair, though, they did tone it down a bit for Art Chicago, saving Peter Caine's animatronic Nazi pope and fully-engorged Michael Jackson/dirty Santa with child for their booth at NOVA.
As far as the Stray Show was concerned, I was glad to see TBA abandon the conceit of it as a separate enterprise, ghettoized in the warehouse on Kingsbury, as they instead integrating the Strays into this year's main fair and catalogue (no doubt for lack of space elsewhere, and one could imagine for a surplus of it under the big top). The Stray invitees (and there were a dozen) joined the International Invitational spaces in the southwest corner, but bore no scarlet 'S's or other differentiating marks beyond an indescript dingbat beside each gallery's name on the Art Chicago pocket maps.
Nonetheless, the Stray spaces remained easily identifiable by the unsurprising preponderance of works on paper, hung in push-pin salon format. It's a style I find as familiar as I find it grating (and it's a style Van Harrison will soon be riding off into the Chelsea sunrise), but once I can get past that aversion I can usually find something to like. To wit: Dogmatic's installation of Paul Nudd's "worm drawings" and the rather conspicuously-hung photo of a craftsman carving a wooden penis by John Neff at Western Exhibitions—not to mention Milwaukee's Hotcakes (Jeremiah Ketner and Nate Page), Houston's Rudolph Projects/ArtScan Gallery (a nice Marcel Dzama triptych), Chicago's own Drawing Project and Dallas' Plush.