Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Words are only painted fire: a look is the fire itself" Mark Twain

I’ve been compiling a list of artists who use text as form and content. Here’s who I’ve come up with. Am I missing anyone?

In no particular order:

Ed Ruscha
Christopher Wool
Richard Prince (jokes)
Jenny Holzer
Barbara Kruger
Mel Bochner
Glen Ligon
Kay Rosen
Bruce Nauman
Sean Landers
Robert Indiana
Lawrence Weiner
Jasper Johns

Today, I’m thinking about Christopher Wool, whom I actually know very little about. I saw a show of his curvy, graffiti-like abstractions a few years back and hated it. I thought the paintings were superficial updates of abstract expressionism and that seemed arrogant, easy to me. A show of similar work is up now at Luhring Augustine and I’d like to reconsider, though. Because I’m really attracted to photographs I’ve seen of his text paintings.

They’re large bold stencils. The words and phrases are urban and tough, but not without ambivalence and insecurity. For example, “FOOL,” “HOLE IN YOUR HEAD” and “FUCK EM IF THEY CAN’T TAKE A JOKE.“ They look good.

Dave Hickey wrote a notoriously scathing review of his work in 1998, calling it “upscale down market” and “designer-punk agitprop.” I do see what he means. The above painting is seen installed in a Beverly Hills home.

But I would say contemporary art is elitist. There’s nothing we can do about that. The question really is, does the art strike a chord in you. And, more importantly, does it do so sincerely, not through effect but through complexity. Although, my jury is still out, I’d say these text paintings do.


Michael Konrad said...

In addition to nearly every graffiti artist, John Fekner is an artist who uses text.
Click on "Industria" to see examples of what I'm talking about.

Molly Stevens said...

Those are really good. Thanks for the lead.

Terrim said...

Catalog info that might be helpful:
Word as Image: American Art 1960-1990, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 1990

Word As Image: American Art 1960–1990
Feb. 23–May 12, 1991
Vito Acconci, Nicholas Africano, Terry Allen, William Anastasi, Ida Applebroog, Arakawa, Robert Arneson, Dotty Attie, John Baldessari, Robert Barry, Gene Beery, Leslie Bellavance, Gretchen Bender, Wallace Berman, Ashley Bickerton, Jonathan Borofsky, George Brecht, Roger Brown, John Cage, Christo, Sue Coe, Robert Cottingham, Robert Cumming, Jim Dine, Nancy Dwyer, Carol Emmons, Richard Estes, John Fekner, Vernon Fisher, Steve Gianakos, Mike Glier, Ilona Granet, Red Grooms, Hans Haacke, Peter Halley, Jane Hammond, George Herms, Jenny Holzer, Douglas Huebler, Robert Indiana, Neil Jenney, Alfred Jensen, Jess, Jasper Johns, Larry Johnson, Ray Johnson, Allan Kaprow, Mike Kelley, Mary Kelly, Silvia Kolbowski, Jeff Koons, Joseph Kosuth, Barbara Kruger, Lady Pink and Jenny Holzer, Louise Lawler, Annette Lemieux, Les Levine, Sol LeWitt, Roy Lichtenstein, George Maciunas, Andrew Massulo, Duane Michals, Ree Morton, Matt Mullican, Peter Nagy, Bruce Nauman, Jim Nutt, Claes Oldenburg, Dennis Oppenheim, Deborah Oropallo, Hirsch Perlman, Adrian Piper, Richard Prince, Larry Rivers, Tim Rollins & K.O.S., Kay Rosen, James Rosenquist, Martha Rosler, Erika Rothenberg, Allen Ruppersberg, Edward Ruscha, David Salle, Peter Saul, Julian Schnabel, Lorna Simpson, Alexis Smith, Nancy Spero, Haim Steinbach, Fred Stonehouse, James Surls, Mitchell Syrop, Paul Thek, Andy Warhol, William Wegman, Lawrence Weiner, H.C. Westermann, William T. Wiley, Karl Wirsum, David Wojnarowicz, and Joe Zucker)