I Went To Vice and Tried to “Get” Hipster Posturing

ART_Basel_2009-06-10

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.

I Went To Vice and Tried to “Get” Hipster Posturing

5 Art World Trends Yet to Roll Through Tampa Bay

Trends rise and fall in the art world, each (hopefully) a step toward the best art we can collectively make.  Some, though, don’t seem to have stopped by our little art world by the bay just yet.  I’ve listed five here and some of their inevitable (and awesome) exceptions.  I honestly don’t intend this piece to deride my beloved art scene.  Rather, it should serve to highlight those that are pushing our envelopes for us, and let’s say a personal wish list of the kind of art I’d love to see even more often.

1. Smaller, Subtler, and Subdued

If there is one actual overarching trend generally making its way through the art world at the moment it’s this.  This ‘trend’ was detailed by Jerry Saltz in his survey of the Whitney Biennial last year.  Perhaps it’s in reaction to the post-2008 market collapse, or maybe it’s a response to the swelling art market.  Regardless, a lot of artwork seems to have pulled itself inward, scrapped the factory staff, and scaled down its dimensions.  The sell-out show stopper pieces are just a bit fewer.  Also, as Saltz points out artists are more frequently looking for routes around irony and cynicism without relying on sentimentality or over simplification.  The best of this work is a refreshing respite from the out-of-control market hype of the past few years.

In terms of scale, most local work is relatively under control.  However, I suspect this is more closely tied to limited resources and venues than aesthetic concerns.  Subtlety, though, is a virtue rarely praised, often passed over for gimmicks and quick reactions.

Exceptions:  A notable exception is perhaps one of favorite local artists (I’m still considering her one of us though she’s now based in NYC): Ryann Slauson.  Slauson created a piece that I’ll always regret not purchasing.  On a pedestal sat a deflated basketball constructed from paper mache, each dimple carefully painted on.  The ball sat there lonely and perfectly useless.  Much like this particular piece, her work generally has a peculiar way of being earnest without being sentimental, smart but not cynical, and serious but not stuffy.  Her understated work asks for time, and returns on what you give it.

2. Net Art/New Media

Computer art has arguably been around since the 1950’s – even Andy Warhol joined the party as early as the mid-1980’s.  It’s at this moment, though, that it is growing out of novelty and into respected form.  Considering the amount of time that we spend on the internet and the profound changes it has made to the way we live we may rightly say, “About time.”  GIF’s, Tumblr, social networks, interactive sites, among many other forms are becoming standards of the heady fringes of art and are poised to enter the mainstream.

The reasons Net Art and New Media have been virtually absent from the Tampa Bay scenes are most likely practical ones.  Locally, artists that can also code are a bit of a curiosity.  Also, there are the complexities of exhibiting and selling work that is typically confined to a computer monitor.  Though, I’d like to see this trend roll through more than the others, I fear it may be one we won’t see for a while.  Somebody prove me wrong!

Exceptions:  Artist Hunter Payne is an unapologetic fan of the interwebs.  I realize that sounds absurdly vague but there honestly isn’t any better way to say it.  He’s produced several new media pieces, GIFs, and “games”.  Further, he curated the exhibit TRU_RL: Tight Artists Offline at Studio@620 – an amazing group exhibit featuring the work of artists from the Net Art quasi-collective known as Tight Artists.  This was one of the area’s rare exhibits that would’ve even been too hip even for the Chelsea white boxes.  I’d pay money to see a show like this again.

3.  Contemporary Art Fairs

2012 seems to have been the year of the art fair – oddly both for the art world’s unabashed revelry in and simultaneous hating on the institution.  Regardless of where you fall on the opinion spectrum, these fairs act as more than just a venue for the obscenely rich to relieve themselves of wads cash.  Contemporary art fairs serve as a time for the art world to gather together and figure out where this crazy thing called contemporary art is headed.

I realize it is unrealistic for Tampa to ever be home to anything the size of Miami’s Art Basel and its satellite fairs.  Still, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for us to host a quality Contemporary Art Fair.  Consider relatively similarly sized cities.  Washington D.C. has Emerge, Houston has Texas Contemporary, San Francisco has artMRKT.  I hate to say it but the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (Tampa) and the Mainsail Art Festival (St. Petersburg) don’t count.  They are frankly little more than temporary art flea markets (though, I suppose in a way, the same argument can be made of Art Basel.)

Exceptions:  I debated whether or not to even include this ‘trend’, because this is the single trend I could not pair with an exception.  Perhaps we can take a page from the playbook of the Anti-Warpt music festival.  That is, could a fledgling Contemporary Art Fair could coincide with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts or Mainsail Art Festival to act as an alternative event?  I’d love to see that happen.

4. Shocking Art

It’s difficult calling this a trend or even using the word shocking.  Regardless, it came and went back in the 1970’s.  That’s forty years ago – I’m not sure if I really care to see it roll through town anymore.  In a way, at that time art stretched itself to lay claim to all it could be.  It sought to provoke moral sensibilities, upset ideas of art’s relationship with the market, and upend all assumptions about what art was and could be.  It was nearly a time when art could be shocking simply for the sake of shocking – at the time is was something the art dialectic needed to pass through.

Our scenes produce very little truly shocking work, and perhaps that’s alright.  It would be difficult to present that kind of art now without it appearing adolescent.  Maybe its time to make peace with the possibility that we’re just going to skip this important phase in art’s progression.

Exceptions:  Last October’s drama on the 600 Block and his recent dual exhibit Strange Fruit set artist Allen Leper Hampton apart as one exception.  His work has been some of the most shocking to local sensibilities.  Beyond that, though, I like to think his work teaches people to critically read art instead of simply reacting to it.

5. Post-Modern and Post-PoMo Concerns

There are several interesting topics and concerns that seem to receive scant attention in the Bay area – feminism, post-colonialism, Neo-Marxism, modern identity, immigration, and so on (and on and on).  These concerns address the most basic and important ways we interact with each other and how we process our environment.  They encourage us to question complacency, to ask if things can and should be different.

I realize these topics can sound terribly academic and deathly boring.  However, good contemporary art is much brainier than it has been in times past and demands its audience dedicate deep thought to it in addition to romantic feeling.  Further, these themes are much more relevant and less played out locally than themes of generic self-expression.  In a way, this kind of art is much more easy to relate to than the adolescent confessional work that seems to have acquired a strong foot hold locally.  I suppose it is the difference between artists talking about themselves and artists talking about all of us.

Exceptions:  Tempus Projects‘ recent exhibit, Piracy Redux, applied some of these concepts locally – the POD installations touched on topics such as Post-Colonialism, Marxist Historicism, Private Property, and power relations among others – it urged revisiting our local heritage and ideas of our collective self.  (Disclosure: I was a participating artist in Piracy Redux) Also, the work of artist Becky Flanders has addressed feminist issues in a way that’s been poorly lacking locally otherwise.  Her art often demands us to be confrontational with ourselves, in reconciling women with our deeply held archetype of woman.  Her work is a great example of art that can be very moving without relying on sentimentality.

5 Art World Trends Yet to Roll Through Tampa Bay

Art@Bay’s Best of 2012 – Best Museum Exhibit

The Prestigious ART@BAY Cyber-Trophy
The Prestigious ART@BAY Cyber-Trophy

December brings with it the obligation of every critic to put forth in list form an unfair reductionist look-back on the year that was.  Being a responsible art blogger, I won’t beg off.

Now, I realize the ‘top-10’ list is generally the accepted format for these types of articles.  Tampa Bay, however, is not New York City – a top ten list here is nearly large enough to be called a ‘bottom ten list written in reverse order’.  For this reason I opted for the ‘Best in Category of 2012’ format.  Take heart if you or your exhibit is not mentioned here: if it makes you feel better you can assume that you would have come in second or third on my top ten list.  First we’ll tackle the year’s best museum exhibit.  That said, on with the judgements!

Best Museum Exhibit

Contemporary Prints by American Women: A Selection from the Gift of Martha and Jim Sweeny – Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

Perhaps this decision is easier to understand when I emphasize that it isn’t the artist(s) under scrutiny in this category, but rather the exhibit itself.  (Although, I should mention a lot of the work was simply amazing; prints from Louise Nevelson, Vija Celmins, and Pat Steir (excuse the academic jargon) blew my mind)

There is only one aspect of the Contemporary Prints exhibit that ended up on the wrong side of my pro/con list: it was small.  The MFA’s upstairs gallery that housed the exhibit is about the size of a typical commercial gallery.  This wasn’t entirely surprising, though – the exhibit is effectively a preview of a collection in progress.  A larger exhibit is expected to be hung when that collection is complete.

This exhibition set itself apart as this year’s best by effectively accomplishing two things.  The first is its excellent presentation of the medium. The exhibit offered the prints as a medium unto itself rather than simply a means of replication.  The medium carries a tendency to be culturally undervalued, seen merely as reproductions of originals.  Contemporary Prints underscored the nuances of individual prints, the craftsmanship involved, and even the fact that some original artwork was intended to exist only as prints.

The second is highlighting women artists in the post-war period.  Women are still terribly underrepresented in museums nationwide and Bay Area institutions seemed to sadly make peace with the situation.  Thus, an exhibit that exclusively highlights the talent of contemporary women is especially welcome.  Further, the exhibit was tastefully curated emphasizing each artist’s work rather than their gender – not qualifying the art by sex in a misguided attempt to be politically correct.

In short, the exhibit was based on a thoughtful concept rather than shallow novelty, highlighting an underrepresented and often undervalued medium and artists.

Honorable Mention:

John Cage 33 1/3 – Performed By Audience, Tampa Museum of Art

John Cage 33 1/13 – Performed by Audience was by far the most fun museum art exhibit this year.  Although I may have annoyed a few museum guest, I happily sat on the couch listening to the cacophony of the four turntable I set into motion.  The exhibit is a musical score of sorts ‘written’ by John Cage.  Cage stipulates that about twelve record players be arranged in a gallery along with two to three hundred records.  Visitors are then encouraged to participate by playing the records as they see fit.

Perhaps Tampa Bay’s best curator, Jade Dellenger, organized the TMoA exhibit (as well as a corresponding show at Tempus Projects that ran concurrently) as part of the centenary celebration of John Cage’s birth.

Art@Bay’s Best of 2012 – Best Museum Exhibit

Tampa Art Events You Shouldn’t Miss

You think this is just a list of fun art to check out on the weekend?! This is about more than just ‘fun’!  Being appraised of the best of Tampa’s art is good for your character!  With so much at stake, I have no idea why anyone would miss either of these exhibits.

Continue reading “Tampa Art Events You Shouldn’t Miss”

Tampa Art Events You Shouldn’t Miss

Art@Bay on ARTICULATE: Arts Calendar 11/15 – 11/21

Art weekends don’t come much more chilled out than this. This week’s suggestions offer a laid back experience in St. Pete. How about adding some nice weather and perhaps two nights in a boutique hotel for a semi-staycation? Tonight we’re getting generous with a meal at the MFA, followed by a weekend art festival and gallery talk.

Click here to check out the calendar on ARTICULATE

Art@Bay on ARTICULATE: Arts Calendar 11/15 – 11/21

Tampa Art Guide 10/03, 04, and 05!

Sometime in the early ’90’s I constantly wore several slap bracelets on each arm.  I did this to maximize the use I could extract from the bracelets before they inevitably fell out of favor with fashion. The Tampa Art scene seems to be packing events into the first half of October as if it were similarly about to go out of style, so to say.  Seriously, though, its only an expression: good art will never go out of style.  But just in case, you better head to all of these.  Consider the line-up for the next three days.

MAZE Gallery, HCC – EMERGE Art Exhibition

Opening Reception Wed 10/03 4:30pm-7:00pm

Gallery 221 at Hillsborough Community College has emerged to be an important gallery in an art scene that feels like it’s just picking up steam.  University galleries can often and easily be dismissed, with community college galleries hardly receiving any consideration at all.  At HCC, though, skillful curating has kept the gallery relevant and interesting.  Wednesday the school celebrates the opening of a brand new venue: MAZE Gallery.  The space will exhibit the work of current students and HCC alumni.  The importance of student galleries in colleges deserves a blog post unto itself.  I’ll just say that this space was a surprising move for a school of this size, but a great decision.  Stop by Wednesday evening to catch some student work in the gallery’s inaugural exhibit.

Tempus Projects – REDUCED5

Closing Reception Thur 10/04 6:30pm-8:30pm

The REDUCED5 juried exhibit ends this Saturday with a reception to close things out.  the black and white themed show is juried by its creator Kurt Piazza.  Honestly, in terms of quality, juried exhibits in our area are usually hit and miss at best.  Perhaps it’s the parameters set on the work, but there is nary a weakling in the bunch here.  Further, much of the work comes with a price tag that could likely fit your budget.  While you’re there keep an eye out for the witty work of freshly gone Ryann Slauson among others.

Box on 5th – Vince Kral: FanAddict

Opening Reception Fri 10/05 7:30pm-10:00pm

The new gallery’s fourth exhibit is a solo exhibit featuring the work of local artist Vince Kral.  Though I haven’t spotted an artist statement yet, I’m familiar with his art.  Kral’s work often deals with complex ideas of pop-culture, consumption of images, authorship, and so on.  However, his art is delivered with an intelligent humor making his work accessible.  Kral often treads some conceptual ground that we don’t often see from local artists.  For example, check out his Sponsor Vince Suit.  Anyhow, you can expect to see an especially engaging exhibit at a venue that has been bringing crowded receptions since its opening.

Tampa Art Guide 10/03, 04, and 05!

Visual Art Calendar 9/27 – 10/03

ras+e coming to Studio@620

We have a seriously interesting week of art ahead of us – a Spanish Royal Inheritance, a glimpse Japanese art, activist design, sacred art.  It isn’t even Second Saturday yet!  Also, for the second week in a row Tarpon Spring delivers an event worth a look.  Velcro your shoes tight – we’re heading to St. Pete, up to North County, and back down again.

Check out the calendar on ARTICULATE here.

Visual Art Calendar 9/27 – 10/03

Tampa Weekend Art Guide 9/14 – 9/16

REDUCED5 at Tempus Projects

These introductory comments are surprisingly hard to write.  Some weeks I honestly have very little to say before moving on to the recommendations.  It must be a lot like writing the monologue every week at SNL.  But with a much smaller audience.  Actually, it’s probably nothing like that.  Anyhow, on to the art.

Tempus Projects – REDUCED5

Opening reception – Fri 9/14  7:30pm – 10pm

Tempus Projects officially begins it 2012-13 season this Friday night.  REDUCED5 is the fifth incarnation of a multimedia juried exhibit.  Artists generally limit their palette to black and white, and the price tag to $500 or less.  Kurt Piazza, the guest juror, also created REDUCED while with the Gulf Coast Museum of Art.

Lately, some of the most exciting art nationally  has been relatively sparse in color.  The recent trend of expression in understatement is especially welcome.  I trust Piazza’s taste and anticipate at least a few exceptional pieces that illustrate this tendency.  Also, the potential for especially good art at a price the 99% of us can afford makes REDUCED5 worth a visit tonight.

Becky Flanders, Vince Kral, and Ryann Slauson are just some of the artists that will be exhibiting.

Tampa Museum of Art – Art on the House

Fri 9/14  4pm – 8pm

This is the last week to catch two of TMoA‘s exhibits: A Hundred Years – A Hundred Chairs and Art of the Poison Pens.

I’m not particularly attracted to design exhibits.  I guess it’s a character deficiency I’ve made peace with.  A Hundred Chairs, though, was surprisingly interesting and relevant.  The exhibit effectively highlight the cultural subtext of design, the sociopolitical implications of chairs.  It sounds like art-speak, but how chairs are made, who makes them, and what they’re made from says a lot about the society sitting in them.  The exhibit, on loan from the Vitra Design Museum, expressed this well and kept me engrossed overall.

Art of the Poison Pens, however, I did not get a chance to see.  I cannot fairly mete out judgement on this exhibit.  I will say I was reluctant to make the trip downtown – the show seemed to be curated for maximal non-statement.  I suppose political art that makes a statement exclusively on irrelevant issues seems like a win-win exhibit for the RNC.  Suffice it to say, though, that if you visit the exhibit tonight between 4pm – 8pm you won’t have to spend your money on it.

Box on 5th – Box:3

Opening reception – Sat 9/15  7:30pm – 10pm

Anthony Record, Prayin’, Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in., 2012

Ybor’s newest and most exciting space will be hosting its third opening reception this Saturday.  If the pattern continues into this newest opening, you’re likely to find the entire Tampa Art scene squeezed into this great little space.  The three person exhibit will be featuring the work of George Anderton, Zesch Fallon, and Anthony Record.

While Fallon’s work tends toward the starkly minimal, Anderton and Record work playfully in the gap between representation and abstraction.  All three artists toy with our idea of images rather than actually provide any readily recognizable ones.  Though all three artists work under disparate styles, they each work within and around abstraction effectively.  This is saying something.  To my general annoyance, abstract art is perhaps the style most severely abused by bad art.  Saturday’s exhibit is primed to be an exercise in taking that style forward.

Tampa Weekend Art Guide 9/14 – 9/16

Art to Check Out Saturday: The Elephant in the Room

The RNC and a hurricane: it feels like Tampa Bay is writing the Daily Show’s material for them.  All we need is one more weird event to complete the trifecta.  Maybe a python invasion or something.  But take heart!  Conservatives, tempests, and serpents can’t keep good art down!  There are plenty of exhibits to check out this weekend.  However, make sure this one lands near the top of your to-see list.

CL Space – The Elephant in the Room    Sat 8/25  7pm

CL Space – The Elephant in the Room

Creative Loafing is opening its beautiful space to exhibit politically themed work this weekend.  Organized by Tempus Projects, this juried exhibition promises a high-quality showing.  Political art exhibits always run the risk of tumbling down the easy path: displaying work high on shock-and-awe aesthetics, but lacking any actual substance.  I’m pretty confident The Elephant in the Room will take the aesthetic high road favoring art that encourages critical thought over a “that’s neat” reaction.  For example, consider the drawings of Roger Palmer.  His blog, Feral Ink, has had me mesmerized for some time.  On Feral Ink, prominent characters of conservative politics are rendered as colorful drawings.  The artwork is accompanied by text that reads like the unfolding of a surreal tragedy but in reality narrates the day-to-day political landscape.

The Elephant in the Room will also feature collage work from the Silverfish Revolution.  Artists were encouraged to mail in collages which were then featured at Tempus Projects last week.  There visitors could add to the collages with materials provided by the Bluebird Books Bus.  The resulting collages will be on hand at The Elephant in the Room with another opportunity for visitors to participate in this collective collage.  Following the exhibit the collection of collages will be made into signs to protest/support the convention.  Really, expect to see a heavy show and lend an artistic hand.

Art to Check Out Saturday: The Elephant in the Room

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art: Melting Metaphors and the RNC

West Tampa Center for the Arts – Common Sense – 8/27

Sometimes the most contentious relationships can be the most productive ones.  Artists’ and politicians’ mutual suspicion (and at times outright disdain) of each other often serves as fodder for both groups: artwork for the former and budget cuts for the latter.  Although this scuffle between art and professional politics has been playing out internationally over the course of decades something special is unfolding in Tampa Bay at the moment.  With the Republican National Convention set to descend on the area within the next couple weeks, a sort of case study of the interplay between art and politics will present itself.

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Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art: Melting Metaphors and the RNC