Brief Review: Anthony Record’s Similar Scars

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAIt may be appropriate that the first solo exhibit at Seminole Heights’ new Quaid Gallery highlights the work of Anthony Record.  Record is perhaps the main driving force behind the group of artists that coalesced into the Tampa Drawers Sketch Gang which further developed into a proper gallery and collective.

Similar Scars features some of Anthony Record’s newest work in his paintings, a new zine and his sculptural painting series of ‘Jizzies’.  The exhibit finds him delving further into abstraction.  The only remnants of Record’s previously familiar scatological approach is found in some of the artwork titles.  Otherwise, he seems to have fully abandoned figuration.

Record seems to have reduced his compositions to its fundamental parts and is thoroughly scrutinizing each of the components.  A line, its curve, a shape and field of color are no longer tools but the subject itself.  While back-to-basics in painting can seem like an oft retread concept, something different seems to be happening with Record’s work.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAWhile Record may appear to have fully embraced abstraction I can’t shake the feeling that there is some sort of persisting innuendo, a trace figurative image.  This feeling isn’t borne out of the previously mentioned titles as much it’s simply confirmed by them.  The leap Record previously asked us to make between abstraction and figuration, an image and its interpretation, is now stretched nearly as far as it can be.  And still I find myself jumping – I’m still finding folds of skin, limbs, bodies in the compositions.

This back-to-basics approach is really operating in a much more nebulous space.  It’s not quite the basic components of painting being scrutinized, but their function.  To be more specific, Record’s new work investigates their function in a very specific space, one he hasn’t pinpointed so precisely as now: that narrow space and moment when nonsense becomes information and we pluck a pattern out of randomness.

A profile of Anthony Record and his art is featured in the first issue of ART AT BAY Magazine.  You can pick up an issue here.

ART AT BAY Videos: Neil Bender & Gaiety Girls

Freshly returned from a Vermont residency, artist Neil Bender is getting right back to business.  His work is the subject of Gaiety Girls an upcoming solo exhibit at Quaid Gallery.  Bender took a moment to speak with us in his studio about his practice, the thought behind it, his upcoming show, pink and more.  Check out the video below.

Workshop-as-Collaborator: Uncommon Practice at the Tampa Museum of Art

1660596_10151870842296447_802949080_nUncommon Practice sees an overdue collaboration between two of Tampa’s principal art institutions: Graphicstudio and the Tampa Museum of Art.   Opening its doors over forty-five years ago, Graphicstudio is a workshop and studio based on the University of South Florida campus that has developed a reputation for making advancements in printing and innovative approaches.  A number of legendary artists – from Rauschenberg and Rosenquist to Mapplethorpe, Marclay, and Close – have collaborated with the studio to create their artwork.  It’s this important word – collaboration – that proves to move the exhibition beyond a simple survey of an atelier.

It’s thus that Uncommon Practice, curated by Jade Dellinger, avoids all of the potential pitfalls. Though it includes some of the latter half of the twentieth century’s most recognizable artists, it never simply becomes a parade of art celebrities. Neither does it afford undue attention to Graphicstudio’s boast-worthy technical skill and expertise. Rather, Uncommon Practice sharpens its focus on the products and potential of great collaboration.  The atelier works at expanding on an artist’s vision and giving it new vehicles through which it can evolve.

While perhaps not as dramatic as the larger pieces within the exhibition, this role of workshop-as-collaborator was especially striking for me in the work of Iva Gueorguieva.  Her particularly complex compositions can often be tied to her work’s process and materials, her mix of painting and collage.  However, Gueorguieva’s pieces that are included in the exhibition feature some techniques new to her work, some even new to her.  Smartly, they don’t appear as impositions on her overall body of work but instead add depth to it.  Gueorguieva’s 51 ½ inch by 35 ½ inch print collage piece Rolling Anvil, for example, is distinctly hers.  Yet, it has textural qualities (as well as color choice) unique to this work, thanks in part to its direct gravure, woodblock, and silkscreen components.  (See the piece here.)

On the other hand, printmaking in a more conventional form plays a sort of conceptual role in Allan McCollum’s Each and Everyone of You.  Created in 2004, McCollum researched the 600 most common female names and 600 most common male names according to the US census bureau, printed each name individually as white text in a black field, and finally framed all 1,200.  The names hung as an enormous grid at the center of the museum’s second floor galleries.

Though the digital ink jet printing process is fairly straightforward and common, it plays an integral role in the artwork’s conceptual weight.  Walking beside Each and Everyone of You, the installation quickly reveals a strange contrast.  The pragmatic challenges met by the artist and studio in creating a large number of pieces that are unique yet mass-produced perhaps reflects the much more personal sociological challenge of asserting and holding onto individual identity within an ocean of others.  You can see this on a smaller and comparatively trivial scale hearing others invariably whisper “I can’t find my name” while scanning the prints.

Elsewhere in Uncommon Practice the work of Christian Marclay seems to interact with Abstract Expressionism – a style not often associated contemporary art nor print workshops.  Still, the pieces feel as if they are executed with both wit and weight.  This visual connection to Abstract Expressionism is most explicit in the two pieces Splorch Splash and Whoop Swoooosh Spish.  The pieces are two proper abstract paintings on paper.  However, printed over the paintings are onomatopoeias  as the act of painting may have sounded had the work  been vocalized; these are works of art if they had existed in a comic book universe.  Further, here we may find Marclay’s clever way of giving a nod to both a school of thought and its antithesis.  Further, like in much of Marclay’s work, the artist explores ways in which sound can be incorporated in visual art, and maybe unintentionally highlight how much it had been overlooked in the past.

For many, a highlight of the exhibition will likely be Christian Marclay’s Allover (Rush, Barbara Streisand, Tina Turner, and Others) [see the image featured in the TMA banner above].  At over four feet high and eight feet long, Allover is an especially large cyanotype – a bright blue and white composition similar in appearance and process to blueprints.  Cassette tapes and their insides of musicians listed in the title are strewn about the composition.  The artist names on the cassettes (some of them visible in the print) and the physical means playback definitely recall the music behind the print (and personally remind me of sitting by my stereo, lovingly creating hours of mixtapes.)  However in some ways, this piece to seems to vaguely point back to Abstract Expressionism.  The long strips of magnetic tape criss-cross the print as if confidently flung off the end of brush.  Allover’s imposing size is also reminiscent of the style’s expansive canvases.  Yet, instead of pained and personal brushstrokes, Marclay’s print is made from layers of unexposed paper left over from pop music cassettes.

These are only three artists of the forty-five included, just few of the artworks of over 100 in Uncommon Practice.  Yet, the examples of Gueorguieva, McCollum, and Marclay illustrate Graphicstudio’s inventiveness, not only in terms of craft but conceptually as well.  They also demonstrate the potential of artists and artwork tapped when provided great collaboration and support.

A Brief History of Vandalizing Art [slide show]

This Sunday the work of Ai Wei Wei became the latest high-profile work of art to gain inclusion to a list most artists would rather avoid.  Miami artist Maximo Caminero intentionally smashed one of Ai Wei Wei’s Colored Vases being exhibited at the Perez Art Museum Miami.  The destroyed vase had an estimated value of $1 million.  Caminero cited a lack of attention and support for local artists from PAMM (and an ignorance of the vase’s value) as the reason for destroying the artwork.

Caminero’s act of protest/vandalism played out much like this sort of situation typically does.  The destructive act is followed by our collective gasp.  This in turn is followed by the vandal’s weirdo-political reasoning, which prompts outrage, rebuke, and calls of “We shouldn’t be giving this guy attention – it’s what he wants!”  However, I’m not so sure that last part is the best idea – attempting to understand what happened seems more prudent than ignoring it.  I suspect due consideration of such vandalism would yield interesting and perhaps important ideas.  Psychologically speaking, how is vandalizing a work of art similar to owning it?  How do conceptions of private property or fame play into a desire to vandalize art?  Why vandalize art rather than some other highly visible object?  Click on any of the images below to start the slide show of other modern-day instances of art vandalism and be sure to let us know what you think.

Warhol Meets Dali…Again

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David McCabe, Salvador Dali and Andy at the St. Regis Hotel, New York

Whether it was to make an awkward situation even stranger, or to simply give them each an excuse to not bother speaking, Salvador Dali was playing opera music at an extremely loud volume during his initial meeting with Andy Warhol.  Further adding to the bizarre tension was a feral cat Dali had picked up earlier in the day.  I can only image the animal restlessly stalking the St. Regis Hotel room, likely agitated by Dali’s attempts to hold it and addled by the blaring music.  All of this, however, was simply scene setting.  Eventually Dali lifted a large Incan headdress, placed it on Warhol’s head and posed beside him for David McCabe, the photographer that had accompanied Andy.  McCabe later related that Warhol was “guzzling back wine”, one of the very few times he saw the artist drink.  The scene – and I mean ‘scene’ in an entirely theatrical sense – illustrates the shared preoccupations yet widely disparate approaches of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali.

Dali and Warhol meet again via museum and exhibit, this time without the cringe-inducing antics.  Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. is a very new sort of exhibit for the Salvador Dali Museum in a number of ways.  It is the first solo exhibit of its kind for the museum otherwise dedicated to the singular Spanish artist.  Also, I don’t think it would be unfair to describe both Dali and Warhol as 20th century art history behemoths, the first time the work of such icons both inhabited this venue.  However, Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. doesn’t end with these superlatives.

Perhaps it’s the nature of his practice, but Warhol was obviously an especially prolific artist and his work can be curated in any number of ways.  Naturally, the exhibit would focus on the artists’ shared fascination with fame and mortality as well as their own personal notoriety and death.  Thankfully, for the most part, it doesn’t overstretch in making the connection or divining similarities.  Arguably, Warhol’s relationship with fame and public image is especially complex.  He seems at once to have loved and loathed the spotlight.  Art. Fame. Mortality. explores both aspects.

Biographical and more personal photographs can be found in vitrines or tucked into an alcove – they ask to be considered a bit more intimately.  The exhibit features images of Andy young, Andy in drag, Andy proto-selfies: photographs in which you wouldn’t call the artist ‘Warhol’, but just ‘Andy’.  They offer a bit of warmth  to the often cold imagery like blood under the skin.  More importantly, though, it lends some context to the exhibit that wall texts would otherwise fall short of.

That isn’t to say, however, that much of the artwork also lends itself to a bit of warmth and context.  A drawing, for example, hanging near the center of the gallery is a simple charcoal rendering of a gun with the words “HAVE GUN” above the weapon, and “WILL SHOOT” below it.  Completed about a year before his death, the drawing looks back to a time he nearly died eighteen years earlier.  In June of 1968 Warhol was shot and later that day, clinically dead before he was revived when doctors opened his chest and manually massaged his heart.  Elsewhere the stark red and black self-portrait that has become a postmodern art icon somehow feels less public.  We find a famous and aging artist meditating on his self-image and the image of his self.

For many, I may be reading personal revelations where there are none.  That’s alright.  Art. Fame. Mortality. will also please those who simply are excited to see a Warhol in person, omg!  While the exhibit relies on interesting curation, it pads it with Warhol Greatest Hits.  You’ll find Jackie and the self-portraits if you’re after them.  The exhibition even boasts an interactive component wherein “visitors will get the chance to experience “15 minutes of fame” when they star in their own screen-test video which will be emailed to them to save and share.”

However, they all lead to equally interesting lesser known work.  A suite of late career drawings hangs near the entrance of the gallery.  It was interesting to see at the exhibition’s preview some of the press surprised to learn the pieces weren’t prints, but drawn by Warhol’s hand.  Further into the exhibition a real connection between Warhol and Surrealism as the pop artist reinterprets a painting by Giorgio De Chirico.  Nearby Warhol explores abstraction in a series of canvases covered with a copper metallic pigment and adorned by a beautiful patina left from friends and acquaintances urinating on the pieces.

Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. is a successful exhibition.  It does more than bring a high-profile artist and his work to Tampa Bay.  The exhibition initially attracts with cultural icons, guiding visitors to work that may personally be new, and (hopefully) on to a deeper engagement with Andy Warhol.

Warhol: Art. Fame. Mortality. is on view at the Dali Museum through April 27.

ART AT BAY Videos: Daniel Mrgan

The work of artist Daniel Mrgan is the subject of BLUE LUCY’s latest solo exhibit Sir Dr. Admiral Rupert Xavier’s Paper Plane Flights to Exotic Mind Destinations.  We got a chance to stop by the gallery and ask the artist about his work and process.  Check out the interview below.

The Nerds May Save Us All

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.

Hipster Trap in New York by Jeff Greenspan and Hunter Fine

Hipster Trap in New York by Jeff Greenspan and Hunter Fine

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.

Nerds, hipsters, or Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly?

Nerds, hipsters, or Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly?

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.

Misgivings and Reassurance in Contemporary Painting

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.

Misgivings

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.

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Rebecca Morris
Untitled (#05-13), 2013
oil on canvas
79 x 79 in.

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.”

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Raoul De Keyser
Crossing, 2010
gesso and oil on canvas mounted on wooden panel
12 5/8 x 12 4/5 in.

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.

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.

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Barbara Rossi
Black Rock Top, 1972
Acrylic on Plexiglas with printed satin, oil on wood frame
41 x 33

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.

I'm_All_A_TWit,_acrylic_reverse_painting_on_vinyl_window_shade_with_enamel_on_wood_by_Jim_Nutt,_1969,_Pennsylvania_Academy_of_Fine_Art

Jim Nutt
I’m All A TWit, 1969
acrylic reverse painting on vinyl window shade with enamel on wood

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.

[Support Our Sponsors!] Sarasota Contemporary: Selby Gallery and Alfstad&

Selby Gallery

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Huguette Despault May, Umbilicals, 2009, 50″ X 38″

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.

allinthefamilyAlfstad&

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.

ART AT BAY Best of 2013: Top 5 Things I Didn’t Care About in 2013

Epson_QX10_Sep1983I 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.

3.  ArtPrize

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.