Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday's faux koan

(Drawing of ancient Chinese comet observations)

What I want to say today is that I don’t have time to write anything.

So two questions instead: is it better to have a handful of art friends that you like only some of the time, or 0 art friends that you like all of the time.

And on the flip side:

Is it better to be liked by a handful of art friends some of the time, or by 0 art friends all of the time?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


(Top: Freddie Brice, Untitled, c. 1987-1990 ; Bottom: Molly Stevens, Untitled, 2011)

So much of what is called “outsider” art is appealing to me for the bold visions that show little if no respect of institutional culture; you get fearless combinations of text, figuration and patterning; gutsy colors; un-precious supports and materials. To be a true “outsider,” you apparently have to not only have no affiliations with a school or official art culture, but you have to not even know that either exits. Sometimes this means the work’s bold visions are visionary; sometimes it means that it isn’t institutional but rather institutionalized. In fact Dubuffet’s term “art brut” – which I think started it all - was meant specifically to describe work by asylum inmates. The line is fine for me. I don’t want to admire work by the unhealthy or the unaware. Not only would that be exploitative, but it would be unhealthy and unaware on my part.

A lot of outsider art is scary. In James Kalm’s video report of this year’s Outsider Art Fair , we see a standing sculpture from Haiti that is said to contain a human skull; another piece is made of dirty rags and looks like a face. I don’t want to know what it can do. Keep the needles away.

I’m not scared of the word primitive if it means early. And I don’t mind the word tribal if it means part of community’s culture. I do wince at the word na├»ve (according to whom?). And I’m wary of the jumble that outsider-primitive-tribal-naive art has come to encompass. In a way, it’s all a manner of saying “not the white dude who teaches at Yale with a show up at Zwirner” – with condescending irony, for sure.

Often it’s best not to think too much about terms. A piece is good if it’s good, no matter what it is or where it comes from. You jut have to call it art.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


A friend of mine who actually has a functioning career as an artist thrives on freedom. It’s her M.O and at times also her schtick. Fuck ‘em, break free and be free. It’s appealing, I can’t deny it. I admire her style, but by nature, I tend to wade in the struggle.

On my team is Philip Guston. In an exciting collection of his writings, lectures and conversations, he says:
When you begin painting you’re too free. That’s why it’s always so painful to start a new picture, or to start the process again, because you have to go through the whole thing again and again. To get rid of the freedom, you might say. I think what is happening is that you’re getting to a state of unfreedom. […] And paradoxically, when you can only do this and not that […] you’re more free in some mysterious metaphysical way.

A few weeks back, I wondered about the psychological freedom that might bond artists as visually different as Amy Silman, Brice Marden and Pierre Bonnard. Perhaps a more precise investigation would involve questioning how each, through unfreedom, came into the work’s truth.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The art-event bandwagon

(Installation view of Christian Marclay's video, The Clock)

I feel silly writing about “The Clock” when every critic on this island has already done so, giving it a standing ovation. Christian Marclay’s video is a 24-hour montage that’s an actual clock that you sit and watch. It is composed of thousands of movie clips in which time is displayed or discussed minute by minute, practically second by second. There are scenes, splices of scenes; moments build, moments stand still; time is scary, funny, suspenseful, bloody. And all the while there are timepieces bookmarking it all.

I was there specifically from 3:37 to 4:32. This stuff is great if you have even only an ounce of ADD because time flies. I could have easily stayed longer. The theater was packed and I hear on weekends there are lines to get in. On Fridays, the gallery stays open 24 hours.

What this piece does so well is give the sense of the world’s breadth and momentum. Or that’s at least what it presents and it feels real. Time is a construct that we use to organize it all. It’s way of framing constant movement and change. It's a metaphor too that we believe in. For example, we're convinced time moves “forward."

But blah blah. This is enjoyable art. I tried to think of something more insightful to say, but couldn’t. They’ll be plenty of that anyway. Someone will bring up Douglas Gordon’s 24-hour Psycho, right?

From Jerry Saltz's Facebook discussion. This is a comment by the New York Time's Ken Johnson:
ok, i took the jerry challenge. went back and watched for 90 minutes and came away with a split decision. i can think of as many reasons why it is good, if not great, as i can for why it is not so great. i got a better sense of just how canny the editing is but also a sense of how the mood keeps canceling itself as scenes change. i thought of baldessari's photographic montages, which, unlike surrealist montages are more semiotic than surrealistic/psychoanalytic. marclay's wit and cleverness are immense, and the execution is unimpeachably polished. philosophically there is plenty to talk about: real time vs. fictive time; time as a construct; modern, bureaucratically regimented, machine time and human freedom. the possibility of escaping time. time vs. eternity. but i have the feelng that the mandate to fill out 24 hours of clock time -- however impressively fulfilled -- produced something kind of impersonal. is it a work of soul stirring art, the product of a prophetic visionary? or an amazing stunt? i came away divided. so, i guess, it's a draw and we went dutch. all of which, i imagine, i'd have to rethink if i sat through all 24 hours. or not.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Internet Art

(George Condo, Homeless Harlequins, 2004)

It’s certainly a good feeling to be able to identify the works and artists George Condo refers to when viewing his retrospective at the New Museum. It made me feel smart, in the know. “Ah, that’s Ingres.” But the next thought is inevitably, “Boy, is that ugly.” Grotesque is more precise. Outsized boobs, popping eyeballs, elongated hairy limbs. There’s no respite from it. There’s no beauty, save for the amazing paint handling and confident drawing.

Does this make Condo’s work powerful social critique? Not immediately. On site, I didn’t feel offended, I didn’t feel a rousing sense of agreement. And this might be because, in numbers, critique is overwhelming. But in hindsight – and in looking at individual images online - it has whammy power.

Does this mean Condo’s work is actually more suited for reproduction and speed? Are the paintings each a quick, slick stab? I’ll go back with that in mind.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The look of freedom

(Amy Sillman, 2009(?); Pierre Bonnard, Before Dinner, 1924; Brice Marden, Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge), 1989-1991)

Can work by different artists be unified not only by formal elements (similar palette, complementary touch) but by a spirit, a drive? I’m not talking about conceptually comparable works, but a shared artmaking psychology. Can psychology be visual?

What if there were three artists for whom drawing represented an escape. In the “real world” they might feel weighed down by obligation – “god, another dinner party” – or by decorum – “you simply must be a certain way” – or perhaps criticism – “you are not.” But on the page, for these three, all the should, can’t and must disappears. They can be who they want or strive to be for the short moment that their inner voices, or actual outer voices, allow them to. Can a viewer see this freedom?

Sure, you need some examples, I know.

How about: Amy Silman, Pierre Bonnard, Brice Marden. They are very different, of course, in terms of era and approach. Silman is palpably anxious, Bonnard quiet, Marden balanced. But what about the urge to make, the release, the door it opens. Can you see that? I’d really like you to answer this question.