Saturday, December 31, 2011

De Kooning- three

The 60’s Clam Diggers
Man, this is where Bill gets his groove on. Ok, maybe it is the wine from earlier New Years celebrations. This is where the paint and figure and space combine into an erotic whole. These woman or figures are in real space and real time and the space and the sensuousness of it all is fantastic. Paint defining space, caress, defining paint. It is an entire sensuous cornucopia.

And Happy New Year. The world is dropping into shit but this show, good art, good painting makes all of it seem so, of the moment and I do love and believe that art from all era’s and all of human history is accessible, available and important. This comes from a man who has a bent crooked right hand little pinkie. See Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and you’ll understand the reference.

De Kooning -part two

The Woman Series
I’ve never been a big fan of these iconic paintings, too unresolved in my opinion. I don’t mind the figuration, in that way I am not a hard abstractionist in thinking that is all you can paint. I’d love to see someone paint the figure in a meaningful way, Alice Neel did it but not Lucian Freud, but this is all a horse of a different color.

Speaking of “Freud”, it is interesting that the space around the figure in Woman One is painted with one and two inch brushes, maybe stabbed is more appropriate. The brushwork has a violence about it in the application particularly on the right side of the painting. There is no eros here but only some stone age goddess or Medusa. What is of interest is the right foot of the woman, this motif appears later in so many paintings of the 70’s, which I will get to. The drawings of woman in this time period though are amazing.
It is all too easy to see why the label of “Abstract Expressionist” arrives on the scene.

Urban Landscapes
Boy do I love this work from this time. Gotham News along with January 1st and others is a kick ass painting, the scraping and erasure with juicy paint sliding across the surface in a hodge podge melee of lines and color blocks, no delicate swoops or brushwork, the beginnings of the scraper pulling paint across the surface, the brush in swaths pulling quickly across the surface and this interplay between all these elements, the physicality of the paint against the dryness and remnants of what was, just a tour de force.

Having grown up in New York in the 60’s it captures for me the jostling of the street with people, noise, cars, dust, heat, sweat and tension. I remember as a child walking with my mother in mid-town when I was around 5 years old being pushed by the crowd, being dragged along by my mother, passing by a construction site for a large building hidden behind a wooden façade, the sound of the jack hammers, the hound whistle of the workers wearing the old fashioned dough boy helmets carrying black lunchboxes, the screech of the subway below and the hot air coming up through the grates, the woman all wearing dresses with flowers and Jackie O sunglasses, that is what the painting does for me.

This may not “refer to what can be seen” in a literal manner but sure does catch the visceral glimpse abstractly.

Parkway Landscapes
Franz Kline wished he could paint like this. Despite the drips, splatters and “aggressive brushwork” these works are pastoral.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thoughts on De Kooning -part one

Seated Woman from the early 40’s
The first thing I noticed was the density of the painted surface; these are not thin washs but layer after layer build-ups. These buildups of paint though create a density of, for lack of a better word, presence.

What is interesting is that the book “William De Kooning The Artist’s Materials” by Susan F. Lake has found that these works from this time such as Queen of Hearts is that the background colors have been adjusted and changed over a period of time, sometimes years and not just in subtle change of hue or value but absolute radical turns. Afterwards the figure would be addressed when a final background was decided and the underdrawing in charcoal would be sometimes retouched or added in the final stages of the painting. The surfaces are polished without obvious hint of brushwork that we associate with later works.

It is obvious and has been commented many times that these works are related to Picasso, the Pompei murals that the Met owns and Ingres. The relationship between de Kooning and Gorky’s figural works is well known along with the artist John Graham. To some extent these works are decidedly not modern for their time. There is too much an air of antiquity that sufuses the work despite the disarticulation of the figure. This isn’t surprising because De Kooning claimed and felt that the entire material history of art was vital and living.

A close examination of the work shows the passage of time in subtle detail that a photograph or image in a catalog would miss. There is so much physicality in the scraping, sanding and articulation of the paint that the work in total is the body and the entire surface has an activation more like the high period of Braque and Picasso’s anayltic cubist period but unlike their works where the figure was the focus in de koonings works the entire canvas vibrates, the density of the background creates what I call multi-valent time and passage. This density of effect reaffirms the paintings totality and tautology and denies the significance of the figure.

If the figure existed without this background density the primacy of the figure would prevail, this hints at the future for de kooning, it isn’t the figure that is important but the space around the figure.

Pink Angels 1945
Briefly, in this abstraction you can see one of the first incarnations of brushwork where the paint denotes speed and passage of time or the glimpse. This speed continues through the abstractions of the early post war years.

The white abstractions Excavation and Attic
I won’t go into detail here as there is so much literature about these works over the years but will make some observations. De Kooning’s reworking and erasures are equivalent to Pollock’s drip. These shadow images of what formerly were existent create a field similar to Pollock but whereas Pollock’s drip is paint as paint, non-desciptive nor figurative, De Kooning’s erasure and absence creates the field. It seems logical to me that Rauschenberg would ask for a drawing to erase and De Kooning oblige since erasure was such a strong aspect of De Koonings oeuvre. It goes without saying but I will say it nonetheless, that there is this elision created between the figuration and the negative space and in later works this theme of the space around objects or figures takes precedence. Paint never becomes just paint as it does in Pollock creating space and atmosphere, in this case Pollock’s high period of the drip opens the door to field painting, De Kooning takes advantage of Pollock’s field in the black works and uses it to create a different space that never becomes pure painting ala Reinhardt (see Pure Paints A Painting by Elaine De Kooning) or Newman but is still tied to man within his space.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Words of Ad Reinhardt

In response to the often heard quip, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like." Ad Reinhardt has been quoted as saying sarcastically "Isn't it nice that the obligation to be intelligent doesn't extend to the field of art."

Say no more know what I mean....

obit commentary

The recent deaths of John Chamberlain and Helen Frankenthaler raise some sad thoughts. I am not a fan of either ones work, there is the occasional piece that is pretty good but overall their work does not move me, too much second tier stuff by my reckoning for what it is worth.

However what I find partially distressing is the hostility in the comments section of Frankenthaler's obit in the New York Times.

DaveW from Tempe, AZ writes
I don't see talent or art in the example painting. Instead, I see a perversion of art and a misrepresentation of man and man's relationship to nature. I don't have insight into the effort Ms. Frankenthaler put into her work, but I do know that many abstract artists spend little time on their creations.

and Joe Dokes from the Midwest posts
She seems like a nice lady but like all this "abstract" art, it is nothing but a big fraud. The fact that the NY Times buys into it just shows how clueless the NY Times is.

Why don't they present both sides - someone who says the truth - that like all modern art, it is supported by our corrupt ruling class to buy off artists to prevent them from showing the truth - that the US is a decadent, corrupt country with a parasite upper class that feeds off of the working people? No, that might make people think dangerous thoughts - like back in the 1930s - and allow people challenge the system that is about to collapse from rot. Better to show meaningless images and call it art. You people disgust me with your lies.

B. Mused from Victoria, BC, Canada "muses"
One of the last lines in your obituary says it all;
"As the years passed, her paintings seemed to make more direct references to the visible world."
Well, gosh! To what else should a painting refer but what can be seen? Whatever did the work of the NY abstract expressionists refer to if not to the visual world? It referred to a set of ideas, advertising copy I should call them, concocted by Clement Greenberg and his ilk - Post World War 2 US ascendancy gave him and others what looked like a golden opportunity to get away with saying anything at all with no reference to what could be seen by anyone with eyes. Of course accidental effects can have beautiful aspects and potential for incorporation into art work, but there is a long distance between accident and art. One cannot make a worthy career out of having unintended accidents, neither on canvas nor in chemistry labs, racetracks, or building construction. Only in the rarified atmosphere of NY's art world can the essential omphalism of such an approach pass unchallenged. Nice to see Frankenthaler as the years passed took notice that whatever convoluted notions filled her head (and supported her economic life), they could not be seen and valued unless there was at least some detectable reference to the world we all live in and can see.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion... opinions are like .... everyone's got one.

What I find distressing, annoying, words fail me regarding this feeling. I won't lose a lick of sleep over it or think of it after lunch so it isn't distressing, maybe annoying like a fly in the room or a mosquito is the willful ignorance and self satisfaction and surety of their opinion. Hey this isn't new and I lived out west in Colorado for 8 years and I'll never go back regardless of how beautiful the mountains are. The average person there and you can find them here in NYC too in certain parts of the five boroughs just love to be uninformed and 9 times out of 10 wrap themselves in the flag with the bible in the other hand.

I don't have insight into subatomic physics or string theory (not true I actually studied hard science in college) but I can't see atoms so they must not exist is akin to this rationale. I could make comment on the comments but will let them lie as it were.

Upcoming my thoughts on the De Koonings in the current and soon to close show at MoMA. After three visits with the most recent lasting over three hours I have a series of jumbled thoughts that I will try to unify in a coherent essay regarding one of the most important painters of the 20th century, IMHO.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A must read

Glenn Greenwald's remarks on The We-Are-At-War-Mentality certainly not about art but bodes ill for our country and the worlds various cultures at large.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Art in the age of Discontent

As an artist my main focus is on art, duh. However the social chaos that is slowly and not fast enough in my personal opinion being unleashed makes the act of making art, at least for me a bit of an anachronism. I'll get over it. In fact I personally don't like overt political art because it tells you what to think and acts more as propaganda for a particular viewpoint and my take or interest in art is one that is propositional and asks questions versus one that is telling you the answer.

I have been thinking a lot about media of late and how it shapes our view of the world. Not just the MSM but the entire gamut of human production. Watching the original Saturday Night Live of late from the very beginning of the show has been illuminating. Here were a cast of unknowns, save for those people in Chicago and Toronto who frequented Second City that became stars and some Super Stars. What I find of interest though besides some of the good comic skits is the sociological aspects of the show. After the nightly news, Saturday's late night fare usually was some tired old and usually bad B horror movie, suddenly this irreverent, satirical show appeared. Our giant celebrity machine was beginning to really go into swing with magazines like People, etc and cable was just around the corner. When you look at all these things about that time and they are evident in the show it becomes more than just a show but a sociological document that embodies the culture up to that time.

I think art, better art at least operates that way. It doesn't try necessarily to be a sociological document but when it works it can't help but bring into its focus all the details both relevant and irrelevant. I think of Manet in this regard, of course there are others too.

When I think though of most art production that is accepted by the industrial arts complex though, it seems to be product and branding for the artists identity as marketable item. This is not new by any stretch, it predates Modernism and comes out of Salon in Paris when traditional forms of patronage were lost, not that I am bemoaning the patronage of the church mind you.

Branding and product: terrible avenues of expression when it comes to a propositional art for it requires delivering an answer and a close ended system for that is what answers are. End of question.

What is it like to make art? What is this activity and the nature of images? How do we respond to them? How do they form our opinion and conception of the world? Is it the locus of what has been and what could be?

I don't know but then that is what I like about it, its the question and journey that is invigorating and life fulfilling despite its too often lack of economic gain.

Internet Censorship

Our lovely leaders in Congress in an attempt to supposedly stop copyright infringement are in a rush to pass a very bad and harmful bill. The House version, no surprise is even worse than the Senate version. What is even more depressing is the Senate bill is sponsored by Patrick Leahy from Vermont who is usually a 'liberal' and has as co-sponsors both Senators from New York and even Al Franken.

Recent events, including yesterdays co-ordinated attacks on various Occupy Wall Streets and their offshoots in this country with the help of our Homeland Security illustrate in a very clear and demonstrative manner that our so called leaders, from both sides of the aisle are the enemies of a true democracy.

From the White House down to every other branch of government is a festering pool of corporate toadies. More people have been arrested for protesting our economic depression and the greed of the 1% than the people who brought us to this tipping point.

What this bill really has is the potential to do is shut down the internet enough to stop grass roots mobilization against the forces of the government which does not represent the average person but the likes of the Koch brothers and the lovely greedy bastards who want even more of what little we have.

I haven't urged any one on this blog to take political action but in this case I do.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A friends commentary

My friend who is working in my studio on his remarkable stuff wrote this to me this past week regarding things in general and my work. Very pertinent and would like to share.

I hate to turn this into another generational conflict, but it's true. The competition encouraged by the boomers at every level has irreparably damaged the culture. This is the outcome of the kind of single-minded individualism exemplified by an entire generation. It’s like a sick parody of the historical concept of the bourgeoisie, with property and status taking on utterly grotesque, metastatic dimensions.

This article is interesting, if flawed:

Someone at some point has to publicly address the fact that infinite growth, at least in material terms, is simply no longer possible. The planet, as an organism, cannot support it, yet the picture this guy paints of Europe as the harbinger of small, local, rational networks of popular cooperation that are still based on consumption is a fantasy. As I've said a million times, the US has guaranteed the security of the European union in one form or another since 1948. This may have dissolved around the turn of the century, but the premise that Europe pursued the peaceful implementation of a new technical infrastructure while the US ignored its own in unilateral pursuit of empire is only half true; the Bush vs Gore decision sealed the fate of shared economic progress in this country by tacitly reinstating the concept of scarcity as the basis of its ideological mindset. These people were, in one way or another, all tied to the global energy industry, and they seized the opportunity to control resources and consolidate wealth at what they saw as the strategic level at the end of the age of oil, which was the fuel of the second industrial revolution that had begun with the great war. It’s obvious, and it should be clear given these circumstances, that the events of 9/11 were not the result of planning by a simple cell of jihadis, anymore than the Second World War was caused by a regiment of 'poles' attacking a radio station on the German frontier. In each instance there are lies, provocations, and aggression engineered by elites as the means for the gain of larger common ends.

The premise that ideas could actually become currency, and in turn empower people at every level of society, was absolutely intolerable to the transnational global elites that have seized power seemingly everywhere since 2000. This is what the promise of networks actually imply, that cooperation for the good of all, valued as such, could potentially abolish the fallacies of wealth, genius, status, character, position, property, etc. This vicious retrenchment of the recent past is terrifying, but it's not without weakness; it’s a facade built on a foundation of flawed assumptions, and as such is very shaky. The rich are scared shitless. Sooner or later something is going to happen that might wake people up here in the US, but what we're actually witnessing isn't just a generational conflict. The great wheel of history is turning in a way that happens once maybe every two hundred or five hundred years. One of the reasons painting (or art) doesn't work any longer is because we've no idea who we are, either as subject or as species. The medium doesn't or can't reflect anything recognizable at the moment. Actually, that's not entirely accurate-- it reflects, or rather reiterates, only what people want to see, which is an idealization of the image of themselves. Look at the review Jerry Saltz wrote of the De Kooning survey:

This is the most sickening and disingenuous piece of writing I may have ever encountered as a description of real, honest-to-god work. It’s a gross misrepresentation of the skepticism, anxiety, and dread De Kooning's best work conveys. Painting is really incapable of this kind of expression at the current moment, since it's only ever seen as the product of one man and one age. Saltz alludes to this, but doesn't make it clear: the project of which De Kooning was emblematic has utterly failed.

I think this is the spot you find yourself in with your work. It’s not enough to make 'failed paintings'. The paintings must exemplify exactly what you feel has failed. I believe this project is bigger than any one man or woman, but since this is a significant part of the myth we've inherited, it's difficult to shake. The question of appropriation is interesting to me as it 'authorizes' in perverse ways the manipulation of cultural material beyond whatever is perceived as an original intent. The strategy has wandered into a cul-de-sac, and is probably academic at this point, at least as conceived by the first two or three generations of its best practitioners. It’s a cliché that 'information wants to be free', but form (and content) should be able to communicate beyond desire of who ostensibly controls it. This is the promise of digital media, as the means of production pass from the hands of the few to the many.


After weeks of avoidance, I had to make my way to the studio to pick something up. I dreaded seeing the summers work. Enter, turn lights on, grab what I need and then force myself to look. To my surprise, the work didn’t look too bad, in fact I felt good about it and was even ‘impressed’ if I might say so. Like “I did that?!” went through my head. Didn’t linger, still more areas to push on but at least I didn’t feel like I was sinking and that was something.

Tomorrow I'll venture to the De Kooning retrospective.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The art of disappearance

It would appear that I vanished but economic necessity and hardship made concentrating on anything art related nearly impossible. Somehow I managed to make four new paintings, each that I “liked” so to speak but then the feelings of doubt and failure swept in and pretty much erased any sense of accomplishment I felt.

One out of the four stands up fairly well but with the summers political bullshit and the further collapse of the economy, did we really ever leave the recession? Really? No one that I ask feels that we did and at the end of the day trying to put food on the table and keep ones roof overhead becomes a priority and the ability to make art becomes, at least for me very daunting and leaves me responding to the one good work, so what.

Over twenty years, nearly thirty years of art practice seems to be for naught. Not that I expected any great prize but survival trumps the other. I don’t think it is romantic to be starving in a garret and that model of art practice is a false one. I wonder in the face of it whether art has any importance other than as an entertainment for the economic elites.

I don’t just make art for myself but to communicate ideas that are vital but the feeling of being a tree falling in the forest and not making a sound is too isolating. I’ve come to a point that maybe I am irrelevant and the work is in the same boat, one that is sinking. Weep, weep. I don’t mean to be a sad sack or ask indulgence.

Maybe I am in a point of transition, one that will make the work tougher and stronger, one that may lead me to a new point. Any artist who doesn’t question themselves isn’t very serious in my opinion. I have a close friend working in my studio who has done just that, made a profound leap and his work is tight, on the money and breathtaking.

But even seeing that doesn’t stir me and I fear seeing the De Kooning retrospective will have the same effect. Instead of bracing myself and getting to work I might just want to fold and deal myself out. Time will tell.

Living in poverty at 50 sucks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I find myself constantly amazed, too often in a negative way. Self-absorbed people lost in the reflective screen of their mobiles, busy texting or staring mute at the screen and all to often in the most inconvenient of places, like walking up the stairs of the subway like a zombie, the sidewalk, in the middle of the street ….

Posters that advertise shows like “Glee”, what the hell is that? I gave up my TV years ago, I have enough of my own reality to contend with, thank you very much.

The economy is in the tank after 30+ years of trickle down economics, the trickle it turns out to be is the errant drop of piss that lands on you after the rich are finished with the job and putting it back in their pants. The government is run by two corrupt parties that are opposite sides of the same coin, that coin happens to be in the pocket of the wealthy and your concerns about jobs, climate change, the environment, your mortgage or the future of your children means nothing.

Change you can believe in happens to be the few coins rattling in the paper cup you shake at passerby’s on Fifth Avenue carrying their shopping bags, shades of Barbara Kruger’s “I shop therefore I am.”

We live in an increasing national security state which the Stasi would admire because here in America people not only don’t care that the state data mines phone calls, emails, etc but they put their status on Facebook with glee, maybe that is what glee is?

The internet supposedly helped spawn the Arab Spring but here in the U.S. our over abundance of technology keeps us in a state of constant arousal, hyped and overfed with images, marketing and obedience. Is there an app for that?

What happened to any real dissent about the issues that face us? Even those have been co-opted, you can wear your dissent carrying your WNYC bag while you shop at Whole Foods buying local produce or fair trade goods because it is only through the expense of capital that your voice will be heard, NOT.

So where does this leave art? In too many cases narcissism reigns supreme. It’s about me, me posing in a girlscout uniform while two buildings burn in the background or in the remaking or more branding of an older performance artist redoing her work.

That’s the industry though, the monster that absorbs everything indiscriminately. It is somehow appropriate that the blob oozed through the projection booth of the movie theatre and swallowed those less attentive. Me, I prefer to imagine myself a little latter as Steve McQueen trying to outrun the Nazi’s on my motorcycle.

I remember when I first moved to New York in the late 80’s catching James Rosenquist in an interview describing art as “an abstract mental garden for people to live, think, work and exist in.” Yeah, that is what art does for me and I say art with a small a.

I had a studio visit with an artist about ten years older than I a few years after that when I was struggling with a series of new works that questioned my taste and ideas of beauty. He casually said “it looks like Art with a capital A” and then gave me a knowing glance. That glance withered me but in a good way. Art with a capital A is the academy, is the approval given to one by the culture like the kitchen ratings now becoming ubiquitous on restaurants in New York City. Over thought, over worked, over consumed and about as nutritional as a McDonald’s hamburger, McCulture. The late stages of consumerist capitalism where all that matters is market, market, market.

But that is only one side of the culture. See I have this garden in my studio, I don’t intend to keep it a secret. In it I work out all kinds of ideas, mostly my concern is about the nature of images.

I’ve been reading Joseph Leo Koerner’s “The Reformation of the Image” a book dealing with images within the nascent Lutheran Church. Highly recommended. These lines popped up- pg 148 “How exactly are words less deceptive and more communicative than images? Pg 150 “Do words teach more effectively than images simply because their content can be rephrased in other words?” They are rhetorically asked in line of the argument Koerner is making but they struck me and I took note of them.

Because when I read the second line I realized for myself at least that is one of the ways I approach my ideas about images. Take Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l'herbe” isn’t this a rephrasing of Titian? Or Picasso’s late copies of Velázquez’s “las maninas”?

It is out of some personal torment of love that drives me, my personal need to deal with as Paul Valery stated-

“A pleasure which sometimes goes so deep as to make us suppose we have a direct understanding of the object that causes it; a pleasure which arouses the intelligence, defies it, and makes it love its defeat; still more, a pleasure that can stimulate the strange need to produce or reproduce the thing, event, object, or state to which it seems attached, and which thus becomes a source of activity without any definite end, capable of imposing a discipline, a zeal, a torment on a whole lifetime, and of filling it, sometimes to overflowing -- such a pleasure presents a singularly specious enigma, which could scarcely escape the attention or the clutches of the metaphysical hydra.”

So enough death art for me, no need for clownish sailors on the high seas or celebrity portraits that only reaffirm the worst of our narcissistic tendencies. I’ll look elsewhere thank you, reality outside of McCulture has more to offer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Passing Time

Been two months since I wrote, not that the thoughts stopped but ones day to day life takes its toll. I had thought about the development of modernism via the French, about the era after 1830 when French art had its own 'pluralism' not unlike our own. How the Academy became more important in the creation of 'culture', how art became more like what we know it to be as culture commodity.

I think time and I don't mean this in a literal sense is like a spiral and not circular. I find this in my own studio practice now going into its third decade, themes long forgotten mysteriously find their way back into works, themes that aren't formal but about what it means to make art.

Formal, I've been thinking about the Germans of late, post Beuys and beyond Capitalist Realism. Their art was about things beyond formal motifs to paint, it was a dialogue with culture and what it meant, it had an ethical character and was addressing artistic identity within culture. From Richter and his addressing what it means to make a picture, I find his arguments with Buchloh to be very enlightening and his personal writing also; Polke with his sense of humor, tongue in cheek but yet somewhat serious mystical leanings; and finally Kippenberger who savaged German bourgeoisie cultural conservatism. American artists at times seem to take the formal elements and use them for their own needs but miss the heart of the matter, I am thinking specifically in this case of Schnabel and Salle.

Of late the recent talk of Relational Aesthetics has also occupied some reading time. John Perreault's essay on Rirkrit Tiravanija leading to Nicolas Bourriaud's From Relational Aesthetics and finally to Clair Bishop's "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics". I personally find Relational Aesthetics to be mostly soft and too much in bed with the culture machine. In general its feel good optimism is lacking in more serious ethical necessity, Bishop's essay really hits the nail. I played with Relational Aesthetics some years ago, lets just say I was a sideline bit player (and hence the pseudonym I take). The most interesting thing about Relational Aesthetics is the critique of it, the critique of in my opinion; its total careerism, its ass kissing 'I like you, would you like me too', its need to take place in the gallery and museum because it wants to be a player in the game. Relational Aesthetics has few enemies in the halls of culture.

Yet this is the point to me, I don't want to be or care to be an enemy of culture. I am deeply concerned about it or I wouldn't make art. But I find the so called gate keepers of our "hallowed institutions" to be hypocritical self serving buffoons who are no different than the gate keepers of old, I guess it goes with the territory.

The avant-garde tropes of Relational Aesthetics or the Institutional Critique game are nothing more than poses and posturing, they are today’s academic art and were from the very start. Art Schools mill out ambitious social climbers whose only stake is to be part of the game with nary a care to the hypocrisy and indifference to culture, life, art, what have you.

And in case you, the one or two readers who might stumble on this who do not know my real identity and think I might make conservative figurative art and am just moaning, I make large ugly abstract paintings. I played my part in the Institutional Critique game, showed in Europe a fair amount, have some work in a few major museums and then came to the conclusion that it was a shallow lifeless game.

No matter what one does the machine will eat it. If it all becomes fodder for it, then what better way to hide and be free than to work in a manner that no one would care about and at the time of the nascent Relational/Institutional game I decided just that, to make paintings, ugly abstracts that made me question my taste, my aesthetics, my values, my purpose and my life.

Because for me, art is life and questions what life means in a profound way.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I don’t really want to write a treatise and feel that is where I am heading but in some respect some of the information although easily available if you want to crack open a few books is there, the information that has led to some of these thoughts.

When I went to art school back in the 80’s as an older student there was little discussion about the content in paintings in our art history classes, suffice to say there was the usual mention of the subject matter but no real delving into the meat and potatoes as it were. Take David for example, I think we are all familiar with a variety of his paintings like The Oath of the Horatii 1785, Socrates at the Moment of Grasping the Hemlock 1787, Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons 1789, Marat at his Last Bath 1793 and The Intervention of the Sabine Women 1799. The painting of Marat is his most overt propagandistic painting of this grouping but when you put the other paintings above within the historical context of their time other meanings become evident.

The Oath as a call to Nationalist fervor, Socrates commissioned by a French jurist whose life ended at the guillotine, Lictors about the sacrifice that must be made to maintain the nascent Roman republic and the Sabine Women interceding in a battle to prevent further bloodshed between two royal houses; each of the paintings corresponding to current events and address those issues metaphorically.

Historical events in French history play a large part in the development of the Academy and also in our conception of the role and placement of art. We all know of Napoleon as a historical figure but very little about his rise to power, the reasons for the wars that led him to conquer most of Western Europe and his subsequent downfall at Waterloo. After his successful coup d`état and subsequent crowning as Emperor there is a lot of hagiography, see David Napoleon at the Saint-Bernard Pass 1800, Ingres Napoleon on the Imperial Throne 1806, Gros Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa 1804 and finally although it may not be a painting of Napoleon it plays into the mythos of the Napoleonic thema, Géricault The Charging Light Cavalryman 1812.

During this time Neo-Classicism as practiced by David and his heirs is also dominant but like all movements it loses momentum, meaning and purpose over time. Often art or philosophical movements are treated as if they are completely independent of their antecedents, take Romanticism for instance, I was taught that it was opposed to Classicism but it actually is an outgrowth out of it, an evolutionary response to deadened practice. What are the images of Napoleon if not romanticized? Napoleon did not ride over the Saint-Bernard Pass on a rearing charger but on the back of a donkey.

With the Bourbon Restoration of 1815 the tricolour flag is replaced by the royal white flag and subject matter is now Royalist in flavor and as Thomas Crow states “the ease with which such opportunistic transformations could be effected did as much as anything to drain the moral authority from the Davidian figural canon”*, with former students of David now using the Neo-Classical style to validate the Bourbon’s such as François Gérard’s Entry of Henri IV into Paris 1817. David incidentally went into a self-imposed exile in Brussels where he died in 1825. There are a few renegades, notably Géricault with The Raft of the Medusa 1819 and its indictment of corruption and Delacroix who in the 1820’s paints The Massacre at Chios.

*Nineteenth Century Art- A Critical History, Thames and Hudson, page 67 Classicism in Crisis; Gros to Delacroix, Thomas Crow

Monday, March 7, 2011

Part One- the past

I’ve been itching to write but it has taken time to do the research to back the hypothesis or thoughts about various items regarding academization and how an art work actually works. Not that I had any doubts about my thoughts but it led to a very good jag of good reads and some not so good but worth it nonetheless.

First I must recommend the following books-

Clement Greenberg- Between the Lines by Thierry de Duve published 2010

Realism by Linda Nochlin published 1971

What led to this was a series of conversations about art practice and imagery with a group of artist friends.

It is my opinion, that we are in a severe period of academization within the commercial art world. Not that this is news, this is a cyclic occurrence and it is a result of post modernism, post-modernism though as an actual historical condition rather than a conceptual conceit although the end result is that we are belabored with far too many works that are based on the conceptual conceit or more succinctly thinking within the box. That boxed thinking art is or was based on rather grotesque misreadings of Baudrillard and Lyotard and only ended up showing the strong hand of the Modernist Master Narrative.

I am talking specifically of Western culture, there are many examples of alternative narratives in Eastern cultures.

I take as my personal starting point the end of the master narrative as posited by Lyotard. I think that it is the human condition to create narratives, it is built into our DNA as it were to try and construct meaning and this construction of meaning is an outgrowth of language.

For centuries of human existence the master narrative was mediated by religion until the Reformation. The Reformation questioned the hegemony of the Catholic Church and sets the seeds for the Age of Enlightenment. No longer is the Pope the infallible voice of God but man can have a direct experience of the Christian God unmediated by the Priest, the Pope and the Church. This “idea” is a powerful one and that along with the fortunate invention of the printing press allows the dissemination of ideas and theological questioning on a social scale heretofore unheard of. The Reformation also is the first questioning of religious imageries purpose and function with many Catholic Churches stripped of their paintings and sculptures, as images of God or Christ are considered sacrilegious. In the Dutch Republic the first signs of what Arts role and purpose is witnessed with the development of landscape, still life, genre and portraiture motifs along with the first marketing of art along with the attendant poor starving artists as there no longer exists the stable patronage of the Church or Royalty. (see late Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer)

Comes the Age of Enlightenment and within this period there was a desire to contain ideas and posit them within the Protestant religious views of the time. The universe in Newton’s time was seen as God’s creation and through understanding the mechanics of the universe we would become closer to fulfilling God’s master plan, God as the watchmaker. This Enlightenment thinking led to the concepts of freedom, democracy and reason hence the final questioning of God’s existence and if God doesn’t exist then the divine right of Kings also falls to the wayside. Up until the time of Louis XVI artists such as David painted images of the King or Classical Themes that justified and reinforced the political and social situation at hand.

The French Revolution marks the end of the Classical Enlightenment Period and the beginning of class struggle as we know it, this historical moment and the ones that followed set the stage for what we now call Modernism. The revolution and the seizure of Catholic properties along with the Terror doesn’t last long before the other Royal Houses in Europe feeling the Imperial necessity to stop this social experiment lest it get out of hand, attempt an intervention to reinstate the monarch, King Louis. With the Declaration of Pillnitz, the following War of the First Coalition, the Battle of Valmy, the execution of Louis and the following military campaigns which lasted for ten years one man rises to power, Napoleon. When Napoleon takes control by a coup d`état in 1799 and formally becomes Emperor in 1804 art practice once again comes back to the aggrandizement of the new king. The Restoration of the House of Bourbon after the Hundred Days and final defeat at Waterloo of Napoleon leads to the striking of the French Tricolor and the arts now change once again.

This is the beginning of salon era as we know it and the establishment of the academy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


In my research on Courbet I found the need to acquire a book on 19th Century art as I had no good overview on my shelves. I picked up “Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1780-1880” by Fritz Novotny. Not a bad overview but one lacking in that it focuses primarily on the artists whose names are remembered and they are remembered because they influenced other artists although a large majority of them died with little relative recognition within their lifetimes and mostly penniless at that.

However artists who were quite famous in that century but have fallen out of favor are missing, there are only two entries that address Meissonier and no plates illustrating his work. On Meissonier “ where unlimited naturalism in history-paintings executed by specialists can lead- to the costume piece and a ghostly, entirely unreal form of reportage.” Further “ is astonishing how devoid of all art art can be.”

To fully understand the development of Modernism it is important to see what, in it’s early incarnations it was up against and what was the function and status of art at that time. As an artist I can’t help but say that there is a timeless aspect to art, by that I mean I can look at a Carravagio or an unknown Sienese Master and suddenly be stricken with what is labeled as Stendhal Syndrome and not know a damn thing about the usually Christian narrative being illustrated. That said though, art and artists are not living in vacuums, each generation has the weight of the far past, recent past and societal change, the present that is hazy and a future unknown and it is when they wrestle with these various things simultaneously that great things happen.

The Creative Act by Marcel Duchamp

Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art: the artist on the one hand, and on the other the spectator who later becomes the posterity.

To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing. If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the esthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.

T.S. Eliot, in his essay on "Tradition and Individual Talent", writes: "The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material."

Millions of artists create; only a few thousands are discussed or accepted by the spectator and many less again are consecrated by posterity.

In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius: he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Artist History.

I know that this statement will not meet with the approval of many artists who refuse this mediumistic role and insist on the validity of their awareness in the creative act – yet, art history has consistently decided upon the virtues of a work of art through considerations completely divorced from the rationalized explanations of the artist.

If the artist, as a human being, full of the best intentions toward himself and the whole world, plays no role at all in the judgment of his own work, how can one describe the phenomenon which prompts the spectator to react critically to the work of art? In other words, how does this reaction come about?

This phenomenon is comparable to a transference from the artist to the spectator in the form of an esthetic osmosis taking place through the inert matter, such as pigment, piano or marble.

But before we go further, I want to clarify our understanding of the word 'art' - to be sure, without any attempt at a definition.

What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion.

Therefore, when I refer to 'art coefficient', it will be understood that I refer not only to great art, but I am trying to describe the subjective mechanism which produces art in the raw state – à l'état brut – bad, good or indifferent.

In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfaction, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious, at least on the esthetic plane.

The result of this struggle is a difference between the intention and its realization, a difference which the artist is not aware of.

Consequently, in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is missing. This gap, representing the inability of the artist to express fully his intention, this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal 'art coefficient' contained in the work.

In other words, the personal 'art coefficient' is like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed.

To avoid a misunderstanding, we must remember that this 'art coefficient' is a personal expression of art à l'état brut, that is, still in a raw state, which must be 'refined' as pure sugar from molasses by the spectator; the digit of this coefficient has no bearing whatsoever on his verdict. The creative act takes another aspect when the spectator experiences the phenomenon of transmutation: through the change from inert matter into a work of art, an actual transubtantiation has taken place, and the role of the spectator is to determine the weight of the work on the esthetic scale.

All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.

Published in: Robert Lebel: Marcel Duchamp.
New York: Paragraphic Books, 1959, pp. 77/78.

Session on the Creative Act
Convention of the American Federation of Arts
Houston, Texas, April 1957

Professor Seitz, Princeton University
Professor Arnheim, Sarah Lawrence College
Gregory Bateson, anthropologist
Marcel Duchamp, mere artist

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

current readings and obsession

I’ve become obsessed lately with the development of art, more the evolution of art in 19th century France within and without the Salon, the era that gave us the idea of the avant-garde with artists and personalities such as Courbet, Manet and leading to the Impressionists and finally the master of Aix-en-Provence, Cezanne.
The obsession is born out of a feeling or thought that the current situation we live in now in the still nascent 21st century is somewhat similar, only now the official Salon is the Museum and gallery system. More on that later.
A friend loaned me his copy of Michael Fried’s “Courbet’s Realism” which led me quickly although I am still wading through Courbet to his book “Manet’s Modernism”, then T.J. Clarks “The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers” and finally to what I would consider more a summer beach read of Ross King’s “The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism”, the problem with the King book is that the color plates are cropped and only artists familiar with the works would recognize such, nothing worse or more taboo than to talk about a particular artwork and then show it in cropped form, bad enough it’s nothing more than a reproduction in a book, why add to the issue?
The interesting thing about art history is that things are left out and then brought back in, sometimes for better or worse. Vermeer was forgotten shortly after his death to be rehabilitated in the 19th Century by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger. The interesting thing about the King book is that it talks about Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, an artist I know from some of his paintings but know little about. According to King, Meissonier was the most successful artist of his time and now basically sidelined. Frankly, he deserves to be in my opinion. Meissonier is the archetypical artist of the academy and the Salon, a historical painter of sorts with a focus as all good academicians of the French school on Napoleonic themes.
Meissonier is not up for revitalization like Jean-Léon Gérôme has been of late by the traveling exhibition by Getty, the Musée d`Orsay , etc. I recently saw the catalogue for the show at the Strand and was tempted to purchase it out of some obscene need to fling it across my room. It, Meissonier and Gérôme’s art is the kind of art you like when you are 10 years old, all theatrics and exoticism. I will posit in another upcoming essay that Matthew Barney is the contemporary equivalent of Gérôme.
Why this current need to revitalize Gérôme? A search on Amazon shows the catalogue I am referring to along with another book titled “Reconsidering Gérôme”, in these two Product Descriptions we find in the later “…was an undisputed professional success during his lifetime” and the former “analyzes his bountiful expression of a visual grammar that takes illusionist obsession to the limits of the bizarre.” The catalogue for the show I would like to point out has Gérôme’s 1872 painting “Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) on the cover.
Success is what matters now, theatricality and modern day gladiatorial battles to mask the impotence of the individual, give the masses entertainment, it is only fitting that in the revisitation of Gérôme that the catalogue display that particular painting. It is where we are as a culture but is that where we should go?


Immaterial Culture is born out of an idea for a blog I had over ten years ago, more an online arts magazine for several artist friends of mine to write without editorial shenanigans. One was a former editor of a flashy international arts magazine who quit in disgust when a savage piece of criticism regarding an exhibition at a New York gallery had the owner of such gallery call the publisher in outrage, the publisher then gave that gallery the next three covers. My own similar experience was being assigned to review a show that I thought was endemic of the artworlds collective failure in promoting art that required reading a multi-page manifesto explaining the works value as Art, my takedown of the show was denied publication and I shortly ceased writing for the journal because of the lack of integrity of the editor and publisher.

Most artists I know bemoan the lack of decent art criticism, criticism that is intelligent, to the point and not full of smoke and mirrors hiding the fact that the art being written about is bad or good. Somehow it was acceptable at one point to write plain and utter crap that was hailed as being meaningful, well that was the late 80’s and early 90’s.

That is not to say that writing or reading about art is an easy endeavor, we sometimes have no other choice than to write in ‘heady’ terms that would confuse the average lay person. Why laypeople should think art criticism or cultural criticism or any intellectual discussion for that matter should be easy, befuddles me. I wouldn’t expect to pick up a science journal for professionals in the field and understand the majority of what is being written because I am not a professional scientist. Hence we or I will sometimes, if not often venture into heady territory but I will try my best to make my thoughts and ideas as accessible as possible but I also make no guarantees.

I publish this somewhat anonymously because I want the freedom to write down my thoughts and feelings without fear of retribution within the artworld because I am an artist who must unfortunately live with the world I am given and artists, dealers and the general milieu of people in the arts industry are rather shady and immoral, in my opinion but this is nothing new.

Finally, the writings, ramblings and thoughts are just that. They are not carved in stone and my opinion is my opinion, not the word of god, not sacrosanct, not prescriptions just observations about art and culture and more than likely, immaterial.