There’s nerds and then there’s nerds. The above ‘PSA’ from Portlandia makes the distinction well. It’s a distinction that I suspect may be the savior of culture both popular and critical. The preceding statement might sound a bit inflated, but I’ll explain.
Post Modernism has been around for a long time – long enough for us to hate using the word and for it to mostly remind us of horrible interior decorating. And though we’ve largely moved beyond many of Post Modernism’s tenants (arguably), one aspect notably remains as a sort of white elephant legacy: not saying what we mean or saying a lot to say nothing at all. Maybe its due to Post-Structuralism and Derrida, or a hyper-sensitivity to hierarchy and imposition. Regardless, at times it feels as if critical discourse avoids saying anything definite in order to steer clear of becoming part of some meta-narrative. Other times it seems to eschew saying anything especially sincere to avoid being pegged as sentimental or romantic.
As can be predicted this practice flowed from theory to praxis, discourse to artwork. If you remain skeptical, read a recent artist statement. This typical collection of 200 or so words is like money laundering for ideas. By the time you reach the last word its unclear where any concept came from or if there were even any actual ideas at all. For many artists, it seems, saying anything definite about your own work is akin to “imposing your ideas and values”. Arguably, Structuralist and Post-Strucuralist ideas that initially empowered viewers now disenfranchise artists. This practice of saying a lot to say very little has moved from critical theory to art praxis, and now from art praxis to popular culture.
Thus, the rise of the hipster. Of course the term hipster has been around since the beat generation. However, we’re speaking about the term’s most recent bearer: the Brooklyn-dwelling, beard growing, bike-peddling, vintage-retro-everything, lumberjack lookalikes. This is an unfair stereotype but it is helpful. What ultimately characterizes the definition-elusive hipster is a tongue-in-cheek eclecticism.
A hipster’s taste in music and clothing, for example, can be a bit difficult to pin down – it spans time, styles, cultures. A common thread in hipster preferences, however, is a shade of irony. At times, it seems, a hipster doesn’t like a particular book or album, but instead likes liking it. Even hipster humor is often colored with such deflection, sarcasm a prominent trait. For example, during the 2012 election I saw a pro-Obama shirt made for hipsters. It read: “I Love Mitt Romney”. Also consider the recently popularized terms Hipster Racism and Hipster Sexism. They are techniques to parade one’s open-mindedness and tolerance by acting racist or sexist…ironically, of course.
Early on, the hipster preoccupation with pop-culture present and past associated the bunch with nerds who shared a similar preoccupation. Beyond this similarity, though, (and the appropriation of “nerd fashion”) the two are especially disparate groups. Indeed, their respective approaches to and relationships with popular culture are diametrically opposed.
Hipsters are eclectic in their taste but it cannot be described as pastiche – the various sources aren’t celebrated but the eclecticism itself is. Hipster preoccupation and reworking of pop-culture is little more than a superficial affectation. Nerds, on the other hand, unabashedly love their pop-culture object of attention. Yes, it may be a nerd’s defining characteristic – sincere obsession.
Consider the related Japanese group and term otaku. In Japan otaku are occasionally collectively defined by a certain social awkwardness. Predominantly, however, otaku are characterized by their obsessive interests. While otaku originally referred to intense fans of manga and anime, the term’s scope has since widened to include various interests.
Nerds and otaku share some similarities, two of which can be especially important to the future of art theory.
(1) Both are social groups marginalized because of their intense unguarded affection for their respective pop-cultural obsessions. The otaku/nerd way of interacting with pop-culture and culture in general stands in direct opposition with much of contemporary art. The otaku/nerd attributes of sincere affection, obsession, and even a certain disconnect from social reality stands in stark contrast to the cynicism, sarcasm, and reticence to make statements that are categorical and/or heartfelt. Despite their glaring differences certain attributes of nerd and otaku culture are increasingly pervading contemporary art through a certain ‘trickle-up’ effect.
(2) Both terms – “nerd” and “otaku” – had pejorative beginnings that are steadily changing. It may be no coincidence that both terms were perhaps most disparaging in the early to mid-1980’s – Postmodernism’s zenith. Regardless, both terms are being progressively seen as positive, people more often self-identifying as one or both. This is important because it may be pointing to a trend and shift. Just as Postmodernism’s cynicism traveled from critical theory to art praxis and finally to pop culture, Nerd/Otaku Earnestness is already traveling from pop culture to art praxis, and may eventually make its way into critical theory – trickle-up.
Digital and net art may serve as the mediator between pop culture and critical theory for this Nerd/Otaku type earnestness. Rather than rejecting or resisting the spectacle many such artists embrace it. Given, pop artists embraced pop culture in their own way. However, a new generation of artists embrace pop culture until it says “okay, I can’t breathe, you’re squeezing too hard”, then embrace it further. The medium’s obsession with pop and net culture seems to simultaneously be an affectation and sincere. The existence is paradoxical, confusing and exciting.
Perhaps digital art may eventually move beyond its initial obsessions and onto more prescient issues. Many would say that it already has. Regardless, my personal hope is that soon it may move beyond digital art into other media and finally into the way we think about art and art making. I am pleased that we’ve left sentimentality behind with the Romantics and left grandiosity behind with the Modernists. I think it’s now time to leave cynicism behind with the Post Modernists.
We had been driving through Alligator Alley for about an hour suffering just a bit of art fair hangover and reviewing everything we had seen. After relating a series of paintings at NADA that I had especially liked, my wife asked, “So what in particular did you like about it?” I found myself fumbling for words and muttering something about composition.
I suppose a lot in regards to personal taste and judging art is intuitive. It’s difficult to always be explicitly conceptual. This line of thinking, though, spared me from needing to articulate my opinion save for when it came time write. For some time I’ve had some nagging thoughts in connection with contemporary painting, and this line of thinking spared me from the need to articulate them. Well, it’s come time to write.
It’s unclear whether the bias is personal or professional, but for the past several months my preference has leaned heavily toward painting. I feel the need to say that plainly; I’m not picking on the medium. Really, it is difficult to find a medium that has had a more caustic relationship with critical theorists and post-modern thought. At its best it seems painting is perpetually on the cusp of being declared dead. At its worst it is the receiver of outright rejection familiar to neo-expressionism. Almost fundamentally the medium seems contrary to a post-modern sensibility. Thus its current popularity (both personally and generally) is a bit surprising.
Miami’s 2013 NADA and Untitled Fairs definitely made clear that an increasingly expressive painting style is gaining traction. Each booth seemingly showcased individual styles and characteristics unique to a single hand. It is difficult to imagine that somehow the art will be separated from the artist. Will we see critical praise of artwork double as personal praise of a singular talent? Essentially, I wonder if a more expressive style of art and medium will be accompanied by a return of emphasis on authorship. Though it would seem unavoidable, I honestly hope not.
It’s tricky severing the brushstrokes from its gesture and the gesture from the mind of the artist. I don’t want to be presumptuous but privileging one would seem to privilege them all. Admittedly, a lot of post-modern thought on hegemony, hierarchy, privilege, authorship, and the individual is severely overwrought. However, I do appreciate the way in which it drastically shifted attention away from the artist and instead toward the artwork. This shift was seriously overdue and an idea I believe it would be unwise to part with. Superficially at least, it would appear this new sort of expressive painting could work contrary to the relatively balanced view of authorship achieved over the last three decades.
This painting style, so-called New Casualism orProvisional Painting(depending on which publication you read), is more than just expressive. It is a sort of anti-aesthetic, but not quite in the irreverent vein of Dada. Rather, these artists presumably explore value in imperfection, incompleteness, the meta-narrative of painting art history, and anything really outside the bounds of typical 2D training. In the Brooklyn Rail article lending the style its name, Sharon L. Butler says, “The idea is to cast aside the neat but rigid fundamentals learned in art school and embrace everything that seems to lend itself to visual intrigue—including failure.”
However, this idea presents two troublesome possibilities. First, perhaps the shift in painting accompanied by New Casualism doesn’t carry the weight it hopes to and is merely the ugly becoming attractive, or not breaking the rules but just playing by a different set. This would be like the sudden shift of 1990’s fashion from ugly to chic. I suppose what I’m suggesting is that it may be that this sort of painting is not exploring new conceptual/theoretical territory but superficial aesthetic nuances – an art ‘movement’ operating more akin to a fashion world on canvas. It is an especially Tumblr-friendly aesthetic. This particularly makes me uneasy with the thought that despite what the artist statement may say there maybe little depth beyond the work as a simple image/commodity for the info-economies that is social networking.
The second troubling possibility is this: the only difference between bad painting and New Casualism may be an MFA and a well written artist statement. I’m familiar with the trope that one must first know the rules before breaking them. Still, I can’t help but suspect that too much value is being allowed to piggyback an MFA into New Casualist painting. Both bad practice and New Casualism disregard conventions of painting and one might comment that the artist’s intention separates the two. However, I feel a frank inspection would reveal that, in reality, working from within a system academicizing art is really what privileges the painter here, not intention. An “outsider”/self-taught artist intentionally disregarding painting conventions and art history will hardly be considered a New Casualist and somehow this seems wrong.
In the October 2013 Artforum article Pardon My French, Thierry de Duve speaks about an idea which arrived with the 1960’s that “if anything and everything can be art, chances are that anyone can be an artist.” While this sort of optimism may have since waned, its legacy may be an inclusivity that largely characterizes contemporary practice. I won’t go so far as to say that a New Casualist style of painting threatens this inclusivity. However, it does seem to work contrary to it. Perhaps the relatively recently increased emphasis and value placed on MFA programs is partly an Apollonian swing away from this 1960’s utopian inclusivity. Still, it seems paradoxical for a style to disregard convention yet still privilege an intellectual class.
Another post-modern precept that much of contemporary painting seems to operate in opposition to is the idea of the art object. Arguably, the increasing commodification of art led to a reaction from many artists to create work that is less…commodity-ish. I suppose it seems a lot of a commodity appears to be tied up in its physical objectness – an object that can physically be obtained, owned, sold, and bought. Thus, perhaps naturally, a popular reaction was to eschew the physical nature of art in favor of its conceptual one. Culminating, of course, in conceptualism, much of current painting seems unconcerned with this aspect of contemporary art. Little else embodies collecting, the art market, and capitalism in art than painting. Its small size, though I do like it, only seems to add a “collect-them-all” appeal to the art form. It may be recalled that perhaps a small reason Neo-Expressionism faded as it did was that the movement was partially perceived as a sort of market manipulation by Charles Saatchi; he was at least thought to have believed the medium lent itself well to it. Perhaps, this should serve as a cautionary tale to New Casualism.
Finally, I should mention Jerry Saltz’ scathing article on the same style (which he curiously calls ‘Neo-Mannerism’). Of course there was the expected rancor from the painting community, in which I can be included. We may both have misgivings about the same painting style (though I’d characterize Jerry’s misgivings as ‘complaints’), we have misgivings about very different aspects of that style. Saltz takes issue with the aesthetics of New Casualism, which I admittedly like. Thus, I was disappointed that he didn’t offer visual examples of his visual criticisms.
I suppose the bulk of my misgivings are rooted in the feeling that a great deal of contemporary painting may be ignoring some of the best thought to come out of art and theory over the last several decades. I really don’t mean for that to sound so heavy-handed or dramatic. I don’t reckon that if my misgivings are in fact true this is some sort of regression that perhaps may have been the case with Neo-Expressionism and the Transavantgarde. Rather, hopefully, may it merely be a temporary conceptual laziness. Still, perhaps my misgivings are just ill-founded and badly interpreted. Contemporary painting – New Casualism and Provisionalism – offer several reassurances.
It’s tempting to tie moody dramatic brush strokes to ideas of modernism too often. Contemporary painting is characterized by a similar stroke. However, it’s very unlikely there is any considerable amount of Greenbergian thought behind it. Really, “expressionistic”, a term I used earlier, could be wholly inaccurate. It may be that such a brush stroke doesn’t refer to the singular vision or experience but to the physical body itself.
The painterly, the “expressionistic” brush stroke in contemporary painting is likely more often a documentation of the hand that left it. This may signal a return of interest in the body. Of course this should be expected. In an increasingly virtual world, the function of the physical body within it is becoming increasingly murky. Painting lends itself especially well to exploring physical concerns, specifically through such brush strokes that suggest the bodily mechanics that create them.
Regardless, it might not be so bad for painting to return to considering the individual. Maybe not the artist as individual, but the collective idea of the individual in general. Art has been preoccupied with its own market and politics for so long that a change of scope may be in order. I can’t tell if I’m getting bored with it or just emotionally tired, but a more intimate subject matter could definitely be welcome. It may in turn lead toward the elusive balance of a personal artwork that steers clear of sentimentality.
Another apprehension with contemporary painting that I mentioned earlier is its objectness, a worrying regression to the art object. The multitude of available pieces, the ease of display and exhibition has always made painting ideal for art collecting, contemporary painting perhaps especially so. The fear of painting’s descent into a simple economic commodity is understandable. However, the 2010’s are very different from the 1960’s.
Originally, Conceptualism was partly a reaction to, or at least immediately preceded by an art market that reveled in high-priced and highly collectible Abstract Expressionist painting. New Casualism, however, is partly a reaction to, or at least immediately preceded by a bloating art market reveling in often ostentatious and enormous ‘Neo-Conceptualist’ art. In their own ways, Conceptualism and New Casuaulism are each, in part, push-backs against the artwork and art market of their respective times.
It should also be noted that, to some extent, by the year 2014 artists seem to have largely made peace with the idea that regardless of intent or form, their art will likely (or even hopefully) wind up as a commodity for sale. In the rare exceptions in which artwork does not fit in as a commodity (e.g. net art), it is usually seen more as a problem than an accomplishment, even by some of us staunchest anti-capitalists. Today, the question isn’t so much whether or not one’s art should work from within the art market, but how it should work within that market.
The work that dominated fairs such as Basel leading up to the 2010’s (and arguably still do) were often perceived as imposing, gaudy, and glossy tokens of wealth. It would require a considerable fortune to simply care for some of whatever formaldehyde dipped object a collector liberated Damien Hirst of. Eventually, in light of the housing market collapse of 2008 such work could hardly avoid seeming garish.
Contemporary painting perhaps reeled itself in partly as a reaction to this recession of wealth – literally as art supplies were more difficult to afford and figuratively as a reflection of a more modest market. It may be that New Casualist/Provisionalist painting also tired of the cynicism that characterized preceding work and opted for a more intimate practice. Further, contemporary painting appears ready to take up issues in the medium set aside since the 1970’s, but from a new vantage point. Though it’s composed of considerably more figuration, it may be little coincidence that artwork from the late 1960’s and 1970’s such as Funk Art, the Chicago Imagists, and “Bad” Painting visually resemble much of contemporary art. Thus, though it may not be conceptually perfect, contemporary painting is an appropriate, even welcome, response to much of the dominant artwork that preceded it.
* * *
After reviewing my personal misgivings and reassurances with contemporary painting, a sort of convoluted pros and cons list, I’m left with no substantial judgements. Really, I’m only left with what was perhaps always obvious: to judge and experience art individually with their larger “-ism” serving as nothing more than context. Perhaps New Casualism’s and Provisionalism’s most glaring fault is simply the name that, for better or worse, bundles the artwork of many to be summarily judged as one body and sold as one style.
Ringling College’s Selby Gallery presents its newest exhibit Glass and Charcoal: The Art of Kathleen Elliot and Huguette Despault May through February 12. The dual exhibition is an expert exercise in contrast using differences in medium and aesthetic to explore similar subject matter. Artist Kathleen Elliot often works in glass depicting plant like structures. She says of her work for the exhibition:
“Each imaginary botanical has its own story and its own meaning. Works in this series explore a wide range of subjects from female sexuality, to dancers and infants, to the idea of botanical life in alternate realities. Personal growth and development are continuing themes, and a number of pieces have arisen from imagining the emotional phenomena in our lives in botanical imagery.”
On the other hand, the work of Huguette Despault May is often found in two dimensions – elegant charcoal drawings. Regarding her work and the exhibit, May comments:
“I chose imagery of knotted or twisted rope to help me describe the felt but unexpressed visceral world of the mind/body. These surrogate “bodies” seemed fitting metaphors for the tension, frayed nerves and entanglements that we inevitably experience as human beings. Use of distortion and exaggerated scale help evoke less pedestrian associations with my subject while enticing viewers to linger with the sensual qualities of surface and medium.” – Huguette May
Glass and Charcoal: The Art of Kathleen Elliot and Huguette Despault May will be on view through February 12. Luncheon & Artist Talk with Preview: Thurs., Jan. 16, 11:30 am (Call 941.359.7563 for reservations.) Opening reception Friday January 17, 5-7 pm. Director’s Tour Monday, January 27, 11:30 am. Selby Gallery is located on the Ringling College of Art and Design campus, one-half block east of 2700 N. Tamiami Trail on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Sarasota. Hours are Monday – Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, and Tuesday, 10:00 Am – 7:00 PM.
Sarasota boasts another exciting venue for contemporary art with an exciting group exhibit: All in the Family at IceHouse. The complexities and nuances of modern family life have been a rich subject matter for contemporary art. However, curator Tim Jaeger tackles the subject with an interesting approach. All in the Family explores the dynamics of familial relationships by actually bringing the family (of artists) into the gallery. The artwork of fathers and their children will be exhibited alongside each other. Specifically, the All in the Family will feature the work of Mark Anderson and his son Jarrod Anderson; Kevin Dean and his daughter and son, Molly Dean and Ian Dean; Patrick Lindhardt and his son Matthew Lindhardt; and Steve Strenk and his daughter Bianca Rylee.
It is easy to see the conceptual potential in such a show. For example, artist Mark Anderson says, “In families, as in art, relations are activated by the spaces between us, how we touch, each of us balanced by the other.” These similarities between family dynamics and the dynamics in art are an especially interesting territory that isn’t neglected by the artists. participating artist Kevin Dean says, “So many children of artists become artists it suggests that artists are often born and not made.”
However, beyond investigating the inner workings of the family, children and parents also provide mutual inspiration for artwork. “My relationship to my children has been influential to my love for playful, active art. Heck, toys are creative!”, artist Steve Strenk says, for example.
All in the Family will be on view January 10 through 19. The exhibit is produced by Alfstad& – a Sarasota based production company with a special talent for artwork and art exhibits. Explaining the ampersand in the name, the company says, “While Sam [Alfstad] represents the “Alfstad” part of Alfstad&, it is the “&” part of the name that is most important. That begins with Casey Alfstad and Keith Alvarado, who manage the studio and oversee day-to-day business operations. But & are also the artists, designers, producers, curators, fabricators, animators, technologists, videographers and writers who create Alfstad&-branded products. Each will be fully credited, and listed in on-piece documentation.
I realize, now that I’ve actually written this article, that I’ve basically made a list of things that don’t deserve to be on an end-of-year list and the effort on a whole may be counterproductive. But it ends here. Though I personally lost interest in these five topics over the course of 2013, they nevertheless seemed to continually fetch art news headlines and even found their way onto my own Twitter/Facebook feed (I’m powerless against reposting this stuff.) Thus, I’m getting it out now and leaving it here in 2013.
5. Art Review’s Power 100
Art Review Magazine annually produces the Power 100, “a ranked list of the contemporary artworld’s most powerful figures.” With this year’s omission of any art writers and critics, I thought I could muster some passion over this one. I couldn’t. Like many people, I gave it shot and still don’t really care about the list. In the end, perhaps the worst thing for the Power 100 isn’t for people to disagree with it, but for no one to pay attention.
In some sense the list may be entirely accurate. However, it seems to often come across as a cheat sheet of people to whom you should suck up. In a field especially preoccupied with power dynamics, post-colonialism, race politics, and gender politics a list of the “artworld’s most powerful figures” seems like a horrible idea. I suspect many give it attention because of its list and ranking format (who can resist a good list? Hence the format of this series). Maybe the ranking’s name should be more specific: “The Power 100 for Dealers and Collectors”. Personally, I’d rather see a list of people making the best most exciting contributions to contemporary art.
4. Banksy’s New York Residency
“Better Out Than In”, Street Artist Banksy’s month-long New York City “residency”, took place this past October. For the duration of the month, Banksy would create a street art installation and announce it on his website the next day. Despite the hefty press coverage (you know it’s serious when CNN calls in Jerry Saltz to explain the matter), my attention level hardly rose above ‘bored’.
Banksy’s work invests itself with little more than empty wit. Satisfied with good intentions and little forethought, his street art pieces are conceptual one-liners. They are funny or interesting at first but offer little beyond an initial reaction. There is a lot of street art with substantial thought and concept behind it (e.g. check out the work of Mata Ruda) – Banksy’s isn’t it. For all of the finger-poking at art-world-economics, Banksy seems to ignore the fact that his work is worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. He essentially leaves a fortune in public and politely excuses himself from the inevitable feeding frenzy – it’s either naive or irresponsible. This doesn’t make me angry as much as it informs me that Banksy is not an artist worth taking seriously.
ArtPrize is a city-wide art fair held annually in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The fair is a giant competition with two main prizes: a popular prize and a critical one. It’s easy to foresee what kind of art typically wins the popular vote prize: like politics, it’s hardly ever the most deserving and almost always the easiest on the sensibilities. The juried prize feels like an afterthought, a last-ditch effort at salvaging credibility. Indeed, the prize monies seem to reflect this. The total juried prize is less than half the size of the total popular prize. Maybe ArtPrize condones a short-attention-span-coddling sort of art. It definitely makes for a boring fair dominated by gimmick and kitsch.
2. Celebrity Art
2013 seems to heretofore seen more celebrities involved with art more than any other year. I’m not blanketly condemning celebrities practicing in fine art. But a rapper rapping at a gallery? A movie star sleeping at the MoMA?! I don’t call my day job performance art. It’s a sad day when one can accurately call James Franco the hardest working celebrity in art.
I suppose the point is that all of this art is interesting because these “artists” are famous. However, their fame is minimally to never addressed in the work. Thus, these “pieces” are robbed of the very little they had going for it in the first place. It’s a waste of time, attention, and exhibition space; it’s a regression in fame and class; it’s boring. Please, celebrities: really give art the ol’ college try or just stick to your field of entertainment.
1. Art Auctions
Despite all of the price tag record-setting, self-congratulatory press releases, and art news headlines, 2013 is the year I stopped caring about high-end art auctions. I’m not saying this out of some anti-capitalist sentiment. Not entirely. Sales for a single work of art reaching into the tens and even hundreds of millions is meaningless to a middle class person like me. My daily life provides me with absolutely no points of reference that shed light on what $142.4 Million dollars means. Saying that amount is about the same as 783 of my mortgages doesn’t help very much.
Further, when it comes to art auctions the conversation is typically limited to topics such as ‘who is purchasing the piece?’, ‘how much are they paying for it?’, and ‘where is the piece going?’ These may possibly be the most boring and trivial aspects of a work of art. I’m also concerned that continuing to tout these absurdly high auction earnings only ensures that the art world will be the first against the wall in the upcoming homeless revolution.
It’s a fun exercise: looking at trends over the past couple years and predicting how they’ll take shape in the coming one. I suspect many feel similarly in hoping that art is some how above the sort of trend cycle fashion is subject to. Still, some cycles are persistent. Thus, it’s easy for this sort of thing to degenerate into a Joan Rivers style snark party. To that end, I’ve included some lessons I’ve learned from the review and goals of personal improvement as an art appreciator.
This year’s James Turrell was last year’s Gerhard Richter and will be next year’s Paul McCarthy
Gerhard Richter and James Turrell are artists that have enjoyed a largely pleasant relationship with the art world for considerable portions of their respective careers. However, over the course of a year the said art world seems to have overshot love and landed in obsession with each artist – a sort of reputation bubble, minus the popping. It seemed, for a bit at least, Richter’s paintings couldn’t sell for enough then Turrell’s reviews couldn’t stop short of orgasmic. So who’s up next?
I predict Paul McCarthy reluctantly. “Reluctantly” because two other people would’ve nearly been a better fit. Frank Lloyd Wright has upcoming exhibitions at both the MoMA and Guggenheim – that sort of cosmic alignment slash institutional validation is often all that’s needed to precipitate an art world freak out. Additionally, the work of Mike Kelley has deservedly been gathering momentum over the past couple years. It’s difficult to not tumble into thinking about what he would have accomplished had he been alive. Regardless, he would’ve likely been one of the most important working artists for years to come. That said, I went with Paul McCarthy because of the similar point in his career and his two high-profile pieces during 2013 – his giant balloon dog at Frieze and saucy Snow White of ‘WS’. In the past McCarthy’s work may have perhaps been too irreverent to ever characterize him as an art world darling. However, both of these pieces were both very well received. If 2014 sees a genuinely great piece from McCarthy, he may enjoy the same critical near-infallibility recently afforded to Turrell and Richter.
The lesson I learn here is to be wary of getting caught up in my own words and the words of others. These artists all create great work. However, as a writer in a world of sound bytes and hasty judgement its easier to repeat whats heard than generate new discussion.
This year’s Bushwick was last year’s Williamsburg and will be next year’s Ridgewood
I believe the rise in awareness of hipsters can partly be tied to Williamsburg’s popularity. The neighborhood is not unlike Haight-Ashbury to the hippies, just much less romantic and much more ironic. Though the tide of hipsters hasn’t waned, gentrification has pushed back (though an argument can be made that hipsterdom is gentrification). Many art galleries obviously arrived to Williamsburg with the low (relatively speaking) rent and influx of creatives. Perhaps partially due to the aforementioned gentrification some importance in Brooklyn visual arts has since shifted to Bushwick. Some of the off-Manhattan NYC art world already seems to be seeping into Queens. Specifically, Ridgewood may soon find itself the inheritor of a considerable portion of Brooklyn’s art scene. The recent closure of 3rd Ward is definitely ominous for those clinging to Kings county.
I mention this all because we have Tampa Bay neighborhoods that we hold dear. Though the sluggish real estate market spares us from the sort of gentrification chasing the creative community out-of-town in New York, we aren’t spared entirely. Last year’s battle between Seminole Heights’ locals and the Family Dollar chain highlighted this issue. Perhaps more importantly, it underscored the nature of the fight and the near impossibility of artists ever winning in the long-term. The way the rules are set, we are necessarily an exodus-prone bunch. The rise and fall of New York’s neighborhoods illustrate this clearly. The struggle against gentrification and being pushed out needs to start early and be thoroughly tenacious or just not be struggled against at all.
This year’s Marina Abramovic was last year’s Damien Hirst and will be next year’s…I have no idea.
This is a very specific sort of artist/set of circumstances and is why I didn’t think I could make this prediction well. It requires a respected artist making a series of poorly regarded decisions, followed by one surprisingly bad one. Remember Hirst’s multi-Gagosian solo exhibit (aka Art Scavenger Hunt for the Rich)? This year Abramovic produced a gala performance that seemed to unnecessarily denigrate the performers. Her piece “The Artist is Present” seemed powerful to some, pretentious to others – caused uncontrollable crying in both. Finally, there is her collaboration with Jay-Z – a marathon performance of his song Picasso, Baby. However implausible, the performance seemed to cheapen both performance art and hip hop simultaneously. This was followed by a Kickstarter project that was largely viewed as borrowing from the poor to build a vanity institution. In the eyes of many, this left Marina at the end of the year bereft of much of the authenticity she had at the beginning of 2013.
Though I sincerely hate seeing reputations take a tumble like this, they are inevitable. Thus, who has set themselves up to make a surprisingly bad call in 2014? Well, the nature of it makes this prediction difficult. Part of what makes these decisions so bad is that they come from artists that we were sure knew better. That’s why Jeff Koons wouldn’t fit the prediction. We weren’t surprised by his boring and tasteless Lady Gaga album cover. Had Cindy Sherman, for example, produced that cover, we’d have next year’s prediction.
The lesson I learn here is that authenticity is valuable. Further, authenticity squandered draws the ire of the critical art world. Remaining authentic may be difficult but ultimately leads to success…whatever that is.
This year’s “sloppy” abstraction was last year’s geometric forms and will be next year’s figuration
No more crystalline shapes, no more stripes. There was a moment in the recent past when you could not throw a stone at an art fair without hitting a triangle on a canvas. This is the bizarre world of painting, where shapes fall in and out of style. Seriously, though, this at least gave way to the paradoxically sloppy yet well thought out abstraction that seemed to dominate painting this year. More importantly it made painting in general interesting once again. Artists and viewers alike seem ready to explore the nuances of the medium, to take the medium seriously in a way that hasn’t been done in a very long time. I may sound like I’m overstating it, but I don’t think I am.
It is because of this more deliberate approach that I think that fans of the medium are ready to consider figuration again. For a long time figuration has been a sort of conceptual obscenity in painting. Thus, I’m excited for its return. This is the prediction I’m probably most confident with. I’m pretty sure before you get to Miami in 2014 you can say something like “NADA is definitely going to be dominated by figurative/representational painting this year” and not look like a fool. If I end up being totally off, send me angry email – I’ll promptly read it delete it.
The lesson I learned here is how much a medium can conceptually blossom once given the consideration it’s due. Great art seems to be the product of an animated give and take, the result of boring things like accountability, refinement, conversations, practice, persistence.
We finally begin our “Best of 2013” lists. I never liked writing them and always enjoyed reading them for the same reasons: they’re reductionist, judgmental, and sound-byte sized thoughts. Thus, to appease ourselves as both writers and readers, we decided to bring you a series of ‘alternative’ best of 2013 lists. We begin with the best moments in hip hop in art in 2013. Over the past few years nary a music genre has been as involved with the art world as rap and hip hop. Here are some of our favorite moments over the past year. Have some of your own? Share them with us in the comments below or on Facebook.
6. Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic
Perhaps it had been coming for a while. In retrospect it seems Marina Abramovic’s credibility died a slow death. Yet, on the day of her Picasso, Baby “performance art” collaboration with Jay-Z it felt like it was murdered. Athough, tweets such as this one:
The dream finale would be for James and Tilda to join the rapping. Performance art has died today. Bye
turned out to be histrionic, the art world’s esteem for Abramovic hasn’t since been the same. The video of Jerry Saltz “performing” with Jay-Z is almost as difficult to watch as that of Mos Def’s force feeding (see #1). There was too much wrong with the piece to sum up in a “best of” list, but it seems it can be summarily explained simply by checking the pictures of rich people dancing with Jay-Z and calling it performance art. To me it seemed more akin to a marathon session of ego heavy petting with an over-dose of lip biting and excessive upper body movement dancing.
5. Diddy mistaken for Kanye
This moment makes the list for its sheer tragicomic hilariousadness. At the VIP and press preview for Art Basel Miami, Jeffrey Deitch reportedly said “Hi, Kanye” to Sean “Diddy” Combs. Diddy stayed classy and laughed it off. Deitch explains:
There was a big crowd gathered at the entrance to an art fair booth. I asked the dealer what the commotion was about and she said, ‘Kanye is here.’ I could only see the person from the back, and went over to say ‘Hi Kanye’. To my great embarrassment, it turned out to be P Diddy. He thought it was very funny, especially since we had spent several hours together visiting my street art show in Los Angeles.
It honestly seemed like an innocent mistake rather than an example of the so-called cross-race effect. Still funny.
4. Lupe Fiasco ‘Bound’ solo show (please no “Can’t Touch This” headlines)
Personally, I really like the musical work of Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco. Beyond his early albums, having his Twitter keys snatched by his management following some Marxist tweets perhaps revealed further promise (and a pleasant contrast against hip hop materialism). Lupe Fiasco, under his real name Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, ventures into visual art with his current solo exhibit, Bound, at the West Village gallery Anonymous. The anchor of the show is a series of ‘ironic’ photographs – photos of Jaco touching “Do Not Touch” signs in various art museums. The images are mildly entertaining with clear commentary on institutional art spaces and private property. However, the work seems like it would feel more at home as Tumblr blog or Instagram account. The work is accompanied by deterrents as that, as the gallery describes, work as a “physical/psychological barrier, or Boundary if you will, between the photo and the observer.” Had this come from any of the other rappers on the list (save for Mos Def) it would’ve been a hit with me – perhaps I expected more from Lupe Fiasco. Did you read those tweets? This guy is smart. Still, ‘A’ for effort and the witty idea. I’m curious to see what any future visual art outings will look like.
3. Kanye West…in general.
Kanye West’s life of late, especially in 2013, has made for gripping reads (and even critical discussion). Being a regular in the art world a lot of the TMZ-ish news involved art in some way. For example, there are his self comparisons to Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. We also enjoyed a recent claim that his career is a “giant art project” (perhaps a la Joquin Phoenix’s rap career?). Don’t forget his sit-down with super curator Hans Ulrich-Obrist which gave us “What did I paint when I was a kid in art school? I would paint music.” We even got a critical deconstruction of Kanye West and his career courtesy of Jerry Saltz. Still, despite the general tone assigned to coverage of Kanye its difficult for me to doubt that he is indeed the genius he eagerly admits to being. In fact, he seems to be cut from the same fabric as Bret Easton Ellis: we’d love to dismiss them entirely because of their sheer arrogance and general jerk-ishness if it weren’t for their undeniable smarts and talent. In regards to Kanye West, however, it does/can reveal a lot about how a largely white media may attempt to undermine an arrogant black creative.
2. Pharrell and Daniel Arsham Casio Sculptures
Producer/songwriter/singer/rapper Pharrell Williams is another hip hop artist that is definitely not new to art. Check out some of his sculptural work at Galerie Perrotin or previous collab with Takashi Murakami. Pharrell sightings were a staple at this year’s art world spring break…er Art Basel. While I may find his visual work unimpressive he at least seems to genuinely enjoy contemporary art, in contrast to other hip hop artists that often appear to treat art collecting as simply the new and classier “making it rain”. For his collaboration with Daniel Arsham a series of 1980’s Casio Keyboards were created using material such as volcanic ash. The keyboard, the instrument Pharrell first used to create music, are created in a way to make them resemble fossilized archaeological finds. If perhaps a bit conceptually obvious, the work is at least sincere.
1. Yasiin Bey/Mos Def – Guantanamo-like Force Feeding
It was never entirely clear whether this entry was a proper performance art piece or something else entirely. Regardless, it was definitely a powerful protest and perhaps the most artistic thing on my list. Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) created the video in collaboration with the human rights group Reprieve. In it he undergoes force feeding according to guidelines for the procedure as it’s carried out with Guantanamo detainees. I’ll admit the video is disturbing and I couldn’t watch it in its entirety. Bey is clearly in extreme pain throughout and at one point begins sobbing. I admire his commitment and though the bar for rapper-based performance art isn’t especially high, Bey’s video carried serious impact.
It’s understandable: feeling intimidated, or shy, or as if your somehow out of the loop when first visiting art galleries or fairs is common. I’ve felt the feeling of “not getting it”.
A recent Vice article, though (as well as its preceding piece) seemed to be not so much a sincere admittance of “not getting” art and more of hipster posturing under the “You Smelled It, You Dealt It” principle. That is, no one hates on hipsters more than other hipsters. I suspect something similar is going on in these Vice articles. Below are some personal responses to the most recent article’s three main lines of faulty reasoning.
ART BASEL MIGHT BE THE WORST PLACE TO TRY TO “GET” ART
If you are sincerely trying to “get” art, is there a better place to do it than Art Basel? Yes. It’s called “anywhere else.” If you are seeking to make a last-ditch effort toward a deeper understanding of art within an art world context and you chose Art Basel and its satellite craziness, I would know at least one of two things about you: (1) You are insincere about your effort, or (2) You put poor forethought into your decision.
I don’t want to sound like I’m hating on Art Basel or any of the other fairs – I had an amazing time this year. However, it sounds like our Vice writer went to the Zach Morris of the art world when he needed Screech. We don’t go to Basel to get art. We go there to just get it…as in buy it. Thus, we don’t treat art fairs like art museums.
Typically, the work at Basel lacks artist and curator statements. There is a lot of art; you can either give most of the work very little time (as in “I’ll slow down as I walk past that booth”) or you can give an appropriate amount of time to a small fraction of the art. Few people have time to have meaningful conversation on what art “means” – had you found me, I’d have been able to give little more than a bon mot, far short of meaningful critical discourse.
If you want to “get” art, perhaps the common sense thing to do is spend a long time alone with it, have a serious conversation about it, do some honest introspection on how it does or doesn’t affect you.
SO YOU DON’T “GET” THE ART MARKET. NOBODY DOES.
Our Vice writer seems to be the victim of an important (and annoying) mix-up: he’s confusing art with the art market. It’s vital and bears repeating bolded, underlined and italicized: Art and the art market are not the same thing. There is a lot confusing and morally ambiguous about the way art is bought and sold. However, it shouldn’t have much of a bearing on “getting” art (except, of course, for art that comments on the market). That said, if you don’t entirely understand the art market, it’s alright – nobody does. Accordingly, people who supposedly “get” art, level the same complaints at the way its bought and sold and admit a similar confusion with the forces behind it.
MAYBE THERE ISN’T ANYTHING TO “GET”
Finally, we arrive at the reason I keep surrounding the word “get” in quotation marks: it makes no sense. Using the word “get” in this sense reminds me of jokes – you either get them or you don’t. There is a punchline with a singular interpretation that makes the joke funny. I’m thankful that this is not at all how contemporary art works.
I understand the feeling of being the only one not laughing at a joke, and can see how this feeling could crop up at a gallery reception or art fair. However, unlike a joke, meaning is not pulled out of contemporary art as much as meaning is put into it. In today’s art, a viewer’s interpretation is just as valid and relevant as the artist’s. To a large degree, the artist and their work exist independent of each other; when an artist releases art into the world they also relinquish control of its interpretation. Whereas Modernist art may have had specific messages, contemporary art is more of a setting for conversation – perhaps, akin to the difference between books and video games.
Admittedly, artists have intentions behind their work and often articulate them in horribly convoluted jargon-filled artist statements. Still, this is no reason to shy away from making any critical connection with the work. If you don’t understand the artist/curator statement, it’s likely not your fault and definitely not your problem. Give the artwork due consideration and find out what it does or doesn’t mean to you personally.
* * *
There is a lot wrong with the art world – wages, compensation, racism, sexism, elitism, and the list extends ad nauseam. At times, complaining about the art world seems to be what the art world does best. But to write off contemporary art completely is either shortsighted, myopic, histrionic, or just naive. If you’re looking to raise your hipster hit points, blanket hating is often the most efficient way doing it.
If you are sincerely looking for the value in contemporary art and haven’t yet found it, keep looking with an open mind – I promise it’s there.
The Selby Gallery‘s upcoming exhibit is a skilled exercise in comparing and contrasting. Opening January 6th the dual exhibit Glass and Charcoal will feature the work of artists Kathleen Elliot and Huguette Despault May. Elliot is a glass artist creating work based on natural imagery. May works primarily in charcoal with an intense concentration for detail.
Their two mediums are particularly different: the dimensionality, lines, texture. The contrast of each can intensify the other’s impact and make for an intriguing pairing. However, in a way, the mediums are similar. Each of the artists work and material have a certain tie to nature. Glass and charcoal – both come from the earth with little interference and is reflected in the art of both Kathleen Elliot and Huguette Despault May. The dual exhibit will likely approach much of the same themes and concepts yet from varying perspectives. A highlight of the exhibit will surely be the artist talk and preview to be held on January 16. Be sure to be on hand and learn more about the work of each of these artists.
Ringling College’s Selby Gallery is a beautiful 3,000 square foot space. Aimed at offering students and the surrounding community exposure to acclaimed artists, the gallery sets out to be “both a center of learning and hub of extracurricular activity.” Selby Gallery has developed a reputation beyond that of a college gallery and into as one of Sarasota’s best destinations for contemporary art.
Glass and Charcoal: The Art of Kathleen Elliot and Huguette Despault May will be on view January 6 through February 12. Luncheon & Artist Talk with Preview: Thurs., Jan. 16, 11:30 am (Call 941.359.7563 for reservations.) Opening reception Friday January 17, 5-7 pm. Director’s Tour Monday, January 27, 11:30 am. Selby Gallery is located on the Ringling College of Art and Design campus, one-half block east of 2700 N. Tamiami Trail on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Sarasota. Hours are Monday – Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, and Tuesday, 10:00 Am – 7:00 PM.
Two years ago I wrote the first blog post for ART AT BAY and today I write the 159th. A lot has happened in the past two years with the blog generally and me personally. The blog is still here, and I’m now joined by three other writers. We’re slated to release the first print issue of ART AT BAY next month. My wife gave birth to our first child, a daughter. I became a contributor for Hi-Fructose Magazine and exhibited once as an artist.
I’ve spoken with many awesome artists, gallerists, writers, and art lovers over the past year. Reflecting on it all, I find myself more optimistic than I was when I wrote this post last year. Tampa Bay seems poised to not only take its place as a significant art community, but more importantly it seems ready to accept itself. I’m continually seeing more collaboration span the Bay. I see people in our little art scenes lend a hand, some money, some time, some hard work, some resources for the sake of art and what it does locally. I’ve seen it done for me. It’s nice to witness our favorite artists mature and new artists gearing up to get involved. Some awesome things are going to happen in our little art world on the Bay. I hope you continue to stick with me and ART AT BAY as we provide a forum to talk about it and give it some attention.
Thank you. Please believe me as sincere when I say, you guys are awesome, seriously awesome.
The first time we met he related a memory of throwing off their clothes and jumping into a collector’s pool with Jean-Michel (Yes, as in Basquiat). I suppose it isn’t surprising such an artist is cherished by the local community. Really, though, it is his painting that’s secured him in the esteem of Tampa Bay.
Wujcik’s work is often about pop culture but somehow beyond pop art. His work explores some of the subtext of cultures while tackling the nuances of painting itself. Each new series of work seems to bring along a refined conceptual efficiency. Thus its with some excitement that new work from Theo Wujcik is now exhibiting at Sarasota’s Selby Gallery.
The show is an interesting combination of solo and dual exhibit. Selby Gallery is exhibiting in inter-institutional conjunction with State College of Florida which is presenting the work of Kirk Ke Wang. Wujcik and Wang work in nearby studios often meeting to discuss new work and the concepts behind it. Though both have a way of getting at the politics behind pop-culture, ethnic cultures, and art making they differ markedly in execution. Exhibiting the two together in a way offers two perspectives of the same landscape. Especially interesting is the fact that Theo Wujcik created entirely new work specifically for this exhibit.
Ringling College’s Selby Gallery is a beautiful 3,000 square foot space. Aimed at offering students and the surrounding community exposure to acclaimed artists, the gallery sets out to be “both a center of learning and hub of extracurricular activity.” Selby Gallery has developed a reputation beyond that of a college gallery and into as one of Sarasota’s best destinations for contemporary art.
Theo Wujcik: New Paintings is on view through December 11. Selby Gallery is located on the Ringling College of Art and Design campus, one-half block east of 2700 N. Tamiami Trail on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Way in Sarasota. Hours are Monday – Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, and Tuesday, 10:00 Am – 7:00 PM.