I may be one of the few emerging artists who likes New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman. His apparent scathing disdain for contemporary art seems conservative to most. But, I usually think he’s accurate.
In his recent review of the Venice Biennale, he had this to say about the new work by YBA artist Tracy Emin, of soiled bed fame.
“…they left an impression that Ms. Emin has her sights on the art market while also suggesting that even the cheekiest British artists are really reactionaries at heart.”
In this same vein, Alex Ross ends his New Yorker portrait of Sibelius this week quoting composer Morton Feldman: “The people who you think are radicals might really be conservatives. The people who you think are conservative might really be radical.”
This reminded me how, often, the subversive spirit is just trend, and therefore pretty empty. Effective counter-culture is often so simple, it could go unnoticed. Flare is foregone for carefully meditated and radical pognancy. Many of Marina Abramovic’s performances are prime examples, in my mind. And this pared down pointed-ness is what I aim for in my own work.
Roberta Smith sums up the idea in her review of Rudolf Stingel at the Whitney:
“Art takes a lot of thought and deliberation, no matter how simple it may seem; and indolence has its rewards. The implication is that artists in particular should do as little as possible. The sign of a successful artwork is its ability to derive the greatest effect from the least means. Another lesson to be extracted from this elegant show is the oxymoronic nature of the notion of ‘empty beauty’ that has been bruited about extensively in the last decade. This show suggests that if art is empty, it is not beautiful and vice versa. If something is beautiful in any sustained way, it contains, at the least, an idea about beauty and usually much more. It is the result of something being worked on and worked out. Beauty is the state of operating at stunning efficiency, a triumph that can’t be empty.”