Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Populist Anger

Our most prominent NY art critics also have populist anger. I kind of like it.

Christian Viveros-Fauné (glad he’s back!) writes in the Voice this week about how boring East Coast minimalism is:
Minimal art—let's face it—is a bore. With all the cheerfulness of a leper's bell, it proposes that its preachy abstemiousness is somehow good for us […] Regular folks hate it, and who can blame them? When I go to the supermarket, I hardly expect to celebrate empty shelves. […]Take the Vietnam Memorial, for example—that Death Star of content-crunching monumentality. Excepting the names of the poor fuckers chiseled into it, the austere pile hallows America's war dead just as easily as it might extol the athleticism of the Bataan Death March.
And Peter Schjelejadjlaljdahl in the New Yorker deems the exhibition of drawings by the Mannerist Bronzino at the Met as appropriate for our age of unoriginal, sensationalized mishmash – but why look down on it?
It’s unsettling to read such judgments, by smart men [snooty art historians of the past], on art that looks so good at present […] The old verdicts suggest a proactive condemnation – of our own era – which, for all we know, future generations may come to endorse. Meanwhile, we are doing the best we can in the twenty-first century, things being as they are; and anyone who wants our friendship had better be civil to Bronzino.
As long as this doesn’t mean that I have to become exciting as an artist, or worse, ironic, this all seems refreshing to me. For now.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A good bowl of chili

Cooking and drawing involve the same creative juices, for sure.

A chef friend was telling me about a new approach he has adopted, in which he is less concerned with subtleties that aren’t really apparent. Adding a pinch of dill seeds to chili, for example, really served no other purpose than to make him feel sophisticated. Now he prefers to bring out the more prominent flavors in a tasty, surprising balance that’s just as subtle – and less sneaky. Playing more daringly with the cinnamon in the chili, for example.

In drawing too, it is a sign of true sophistication to be able to pare down on hidden techniques, dabbing and other unnecessary mark-making and go boldly into essential line work or swaths of color instead. My opinion of course.

This is true for other media as well: in video, hiding fecklessness behind transitions and effects; in sculpture or installation, incorporating objects or materials that require explanation or historical knowledge.

This is not to say that art must not be complex or have layers – or that art doesn’t have meaning that the artist does not intend. Of course not. It’s more about being aware of these layers and choosing to have them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The art poliice, part II, and the police in politics

This would be self-censorship, self-sabotage, stemming from a strong, mostly unconscious notion of what’s allowable and not in art. Yes, this too is a form of political correctness. There are artists who make the breaking of rules the subject of their art, but in my mind, that tends to come off as a bit false or flat.

The only antidote I can think of is being true to what you’re doing, despite the voices. Of course a purely individual approach is impossible; we’re always choosing some role, staking some position, we’re always under the sway of influence. But I do think there is a sense of self – shifting, yes – that one can try to respect.

In practice, this usually means striking a balance between choice and spontaneity. Let’s say you feel like making a chrome rabbit. You know about Jeff Koons, but you want to do it anyway because you like bunnies and because you think it’s meaningful to bring another one into being. I’d say do it then (despite me).

I think I’m starting to repeat myself on the blog. So…

Feeling crushed about the election. One of the most frustrating aspects is the appropriation of language by the right – this whole “people’s seat” business. How have “the people” been convinced that “those people” represent their interests?

That said, I’ve learned a lot this year. The whole Mr. Nice, let’s all get along, is mythic. Everything in politics is a fight, a push for what you want to get through. That’s it. Period. There's no choice but to get tough.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The art poliice, part I

Many people – most people, really - stand in front of art and just don’t know what they’re looking at. And they feel stupid or scared to ask. I can relate: I feel dumb (especially) about music, and am shy to ask questions about music listening. It’s not a good feeling. And, although I’ve got a good handle on visual art, I often find myself under pressure to instantly know what I’m seeing, what stance I take, what I think, what I feel.

The phenomenon is really the effect of art political correctness, a form of policing that goes like this: don’t ever say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question, for you might offend, or worse, make a fool of yourself. The safest thing to do is just pull out the generic, approved comment.

There are two immediate antidotes: One, ask clumsy questions. Do it. Two, if you’re a person in the know – and we’ll talk about people who think they’re in the know but aren’t another time- share the love. If someone goes blank, tell them what you like about the goddamn thing. Sure, there’s great artwork that just instantly communicates with no need for further explanation. But most of the time, a bit of an in goes a long, long way. So give it (and yes, they’ll probably remain blank after).

That said, I’m anti-audioguide. That’s just too much of an in. Shut up already and let me look.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Artist Portraits

I find photographs of artists among many examples of their work - especially when it's outside, and especially when they look almost puny in comparison - to be really thrilling. Send any others along. Please.

Of course these are all men, proving that I'm a sucker for machismo.

(Kenneth Noland)

(Chris Martin and friends)

(Mark Rothko)

(Ellsworth Kelly)

(David Hockney)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How diverse do you really want it?

In a portrait of the pretty gross Whole Foods founder, John Mackey, in last week’s New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten made this side-comment:
[His ideological stance] derives in large part from a tendency, common among smart people, to presume that everyone in the world either does or should think as he does – to take for granted that people can (or want to) strike his patented balance of enlightenment and self-interest. […] In other words, because he runs a business a certain way, others will, can and should […]
Now, I’m no idealogue, and it’s easy to distinguish my views from Makey's: he’s anti-union, anti-health care, and clearly cocky. But, couldn’t the statement above apply to you? It does to me. I do tend to think I’m right and as I develop myself, I do tend to want people to change in the way I’m changing, to grow in the way that I’m growing. If I really think about it, my conception of diversity is really not all that diverse.

Prey tell, how are you supposed to allow – with equanimity - other people's views just to exist? I’m talking about obviously stupid ways of looking things – say, Republican. And I’m also talking about minor differences - say, an artist’s sensibility.

In a recent Art:21 episode, Jeff Koons, in a string of packaged comments had this to say:
Objects are metaphors for people. It always turns out to be about others. It’s not about accepting that object, high-low culture, it’s about the acceptance of others.
Well, quite frankly, I have a hard time doing that.
OK, let me try.

Puppy topiary is a person. I accept that person.

Tea, anyone?

Monday, January 4, 2010


(Still from Unknown Pleasures)

One thing hanging out with an eleven year old for too long will make you aware of is just how much noise there is around us. Aside from the digital boom boom of the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the Nintendo DS, of YouTube, there’s the aggressive car alarm, the inane conversation of the public caller, and the screech of metal on metal as the one rounds the bend into 42nd Street. Yes, I know, this is what the old people always say. But the question here is, can it be turned into art?

I’m no fan of noise installations, and sound was one of the main things that turned me away from video art. In film, however – not movies, fellow snobs, film – I tend to appreciate exaggerated sound depictions.

Homage must be paid to Robert Bresson, who stripped his scenes of almost all natural sound, the more to isolate and purify the action. And Godard used sound to interrupt the movie-daze of filmgoers, cutting songs mid-lyric, for example.

In a more realistic vein, I particularly admire the invasive, dominating sound of televisions, public announcements, chatter and pop music in the Jia Zhangke’s 2002 film Unknown Pleasures about a group of sapped, unemotional youth in developing China (you can watch it instantly through Netflix).