Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Give it up

(Francis Alÿs, still from Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997)

Nothing but pans in the press for the Francis Alÿs retrospective at MoMa. The drumbeat is satisfying, because, as the basis for good art, ideas are losing support. Especially when these ideas are samey and pat. It seems prominent New York critics want something to look at, not think about. Me too.

I’ve always felt strongly that artists should be responsible, even when provocative. If an artist is going to put something out into the public realm, she should know the concepts behind it. That being said, more and more what I want from art viewing is pleasure – not entertainment, but pleasure. And for me pleasure in art usually means seeing. Seeing makes me feel good. Even seeing difficult things can feel good.

This brings me to the idea of generosity. What is art giving us? In Christian Viveros-Fauné’s review of the Alÿs show, he uses the word generosity twice. First as way to distinguish between conceptual art actions (masturbating in a gallery vs. founding a political party); second, to describe what and how much is given to the viewer.

This doesn’t mean we artists have to reveal everything. But artists, let’s not show how smart we are, let’s be generous.


Matt Jones said...

I experienced the Francis Alys show as very giving (all of the art, the sketches, the notes, all very carefully arranged so we have access to the artist's process), humorous (the piece with the VW Bug going up and down the hill!), content rich and referential (moving a mountain!; pushing a block of ice as sysuphean-like activity, etc.; drawing an incredibly controversial line in an incredibly controversial place), playful (the toys that pick up debris magnetically), scary (the gun piece), and engaging (working WITH people in various capacities: the boat bridge, the moving mountain, his frequent collaborators, etc.).

Poetry is hard (was just discussing this with Jess today) and in my eyes Alys writes very beautiful, rich, and accessible.

Molly Stevens said...

Thanks for writing, Matt!

I once liked Alys. It was right after art school, when I was figuring out the politically correct way of art-world thinking.

Now, for me, Alys's work is something you can hear about, but barely need to see - and definitely not more than once. The concepts he draws on are big, but his renderings are lightweight and pranky. I might even say it's high-end YouTube.

For example, I love the metaphor of moving mountains. But I don't "see" what his video adds to it.

For me, his work simply confirms that we art-world insiders all like the same metaphors, and when we all "get" it, we're happy. Alys work is clique-ish, for sure.

I want more wow. Like the croc seen in Herzog's latest.