Friday, June 23, 2017

picture making -- figuration re-appears

So what is abstract art? Why it’s total freedom, escape from the shackles of mundane reality, the ability to make stuff up. In the beginning critics romanced about emotional states, the inchoate internal machinations of the angst-ridden mind there on the canvas for us to contemplate -- so superior to the obsolete lumpen dumbness of ‘copying nature.’ Representational art was considered too easy, too commercial, and yes, too common and accessible to even be considered by several generations of scholars, university faculties, and grant administrators. It was banished, marooned, and so were any artists who wanted to paint that way.

Artistic freedom, now there’s a myth. Gaining official acceptance is more like passing a velvet rope manned by a coterie of true believers in whatever is currently chic among millionaires, so discerning, such lively minds. They’re not keen on originality, preferring the nods and winks of a corrupt clergy while an innocent flock foots the bill. Good to remember it isn’t parasitic if the host benefits, but today’s art establishment, tier upon tier of arts bureaucracy, tax sucking museums and subsidies to non-profits, teaching facilities on every college campus sure drains the system, but what we get back is so worth it, so they say. Still, wouldn’t someone like to ask, where is the art on the walls of ordinary people, what is the investment in art of the average middle class household, and how much does the everyday citizen think about art? 

This isn’t about the artists, they could go do something else. It’s the culture that doesn’t need this enormous welfare apparatus, the multi-level art support network, all those fat bureaucrats and skinny artists, but what it does need isn’t there, an authentic artistic expression that has somehow been subverted and maligned. Art and artists should be a part of daily life. Art ought to be a family investment as an enhancement to the home, as a marker of endurance and stability, and as a bond of personal identity when out in the world. It’s probably going to be a picture of something. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

seeking doorways -- breaking free

I understand diplomacy, more or less. I’m aware that when criticizing the art establishment’s orthodoxy, a little trepidation is in order, but I’ve got none. It’s the freedom of the unsanctioned, to say or paint whatever you want. Was fascinated years ago to discover any obscenity could be screamed in central park and the cop just looks off, no one covers the children’s ears, no one notices. Scream until you’re tired, we don’t mind, no detention, no civil penalties -- it’s only art. 

That’s not the way I look at it. Along with fascism and communism there’s our brand of commercialism, seemingly more benign but with warts of its own. People here even put a dollar value on themselves, annual income with a little bump for aspiration, and generally believe that price equals value. Hustlers abound. This perpetual consumer frenzy is manipulated from above by a cabal of the greatest minds in retail, or the it’s the inevitable moral atrophy that accompanies golden-calf materialism, makes no difference. Art plays its part. Cutting edge in uptown galleries becomes next year’s trendy advertising, finally to be reflected in the signage at the discount store ten years on, strictly part of the enterprise.

Change the art, change the world, is all I’m saying. Oh we could make them rewrite the tax laws, stop the one-per centers from resolving millions in liability with bogus contributions to museums, underwriting ultra-progressive granting foundations, such as that, but we don’t have the weight, can’t field the army. We can scream until we’re tired but they just won’t do it. So much easier to say ‘try looking at something else. Time to think differently about art.’ Damien Hirst’s shark floating in formaldehyde is decomposing, still worth millions I suppose, want to sit and stare? All that elitist sophistication is beginning to rot as well, so sad.  

Who’s the best painter in town, the town you’re in? Do they aspire to stardom far away, your little town their stepping stone, or are they some neighbor who for whatever reason feels a need and desire to express themselves with paint? Is the work you’ve seen so far beginning to seem familiar, are they getting better, do you notice a new piece? Maybe there’s another artist you like more, a relative or a friend at work. There must be quite a few painters around, right now, wherever you happen to be. They’re making doorways that lead out, fresh air, sunshine, for themselves, mostly, and for you if you buy their work.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

evil spells -- kissing the princess

So where is the revolution? Did you think it was happening in the streets? Authoritarians actually like street demonstrations, did you know that? So cathartic, so ineffectual, a way to blow off steam without changing anything, maybe just making it worse. As a fact states tolerate criticism that reduces the pressure, and may even sponsor their own, silly, strident, and prone to violence.

How could art help this mess I wonder. Gigantic money so powerful, and buying a picture to hang on the wall seems so small and irrelevant. From all the evidence that’s not what they think, the guys who run stuff. The ultra rich have been bending art for a long time because, apparently, they think it matters a lot. Started way back when Diego Rivera made some paintings they didn’t like, with their own money in a studio they paid for -- seems he had stuff left over after a commission he’d done for them. On his own time he made a large painting depicting rich folks in furs and top hats in a safety deposit vault juxtaposed with long rows of iron beds in a barracks for the indigent the city had constructed out on Long Island. There were seven other paintings like that. They didn’t think this was funny.

They laid a trap, discussed elsewhere, the famous Rockefeller Center debacle, in which they sabotaged his mural, jack-hammering down the fresco it had taken months to produce without allowing a single photograph to be taken. This was merely the opening salvo. They used the enormous power of the government and the press to alter art totally, claiming the ‘cold war’ made them do it -- competition with the Soviets, Jackson Pollock vs the Bolshoi. In the early fifties the complicit national press ran the cover story about Pollock, ‘is he the greatest painter alive?’, and didn’t quite give an answer. By merely asking the question they thought they were making it so. Well, he wasn’t.

Nihilistic, alcoholic whores the lot of them, Rothko, de Kooning, Kline, Pollock -- oh I kid the post war superstars. The abstract expressionists emerged to destroy picture making and send the cultural clock back to zero, banning depictions of anything, thereby eliminating even the possibility Diego Rivera, or any of his ilk, would ever again threaten their halls of excess and privilege by expressing the common bonds of average people. Instead they’ve given us ersatz entertainment sleaze -- google Koons, Hirst, and the record shattering Basquiat, dumb art known mostly for being stupidly expensive.

Conceptual art is betraying us, cashing untold grants for daring forays into gender and racial issues so coded and convoluted the average person is left between bewilderment and revulsion. Nowhere is the sweet rotten excess of hoarded wealth so apparent as in the art they choose, the part they can’t hide, and do we want to be like them? Not really. For one thing we’d like better art, all over, all at once. That’s why buying a painting from an area artist you like, trust yourself, changes everything. Imagine, at the same time, other people like yourself all over town, all across the land, rebuking this evil enchantment, the degradation of art to just a coveted price tag, and reclaiming visual art as human and cultural currency, a prized example of the courage and autonomous self-regard that underlies healthy democracy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

art world hero -- art’s biggest fool

from blouinartinfo international, June 09, 2017
Meet Mr Maezawa – $110.5m Basquiat Buyer and Art World Hero
A man who made a billion dollars in the fashion industry buys himself fame and notoriety, becomes an ‘art world hero’ and gives big interviews, international no less, all because he committed a seven layer obscenity against humanity only a billionaire could afford. Good for you, so full of envy are we all. You have demonstrated through the medium of art how thoroughly remote you’ve become from the innocent school girls who made you so very rich, and everybody else. ‘With whatever is on this canvas I brand myself, becoming instantly famous, with a self-named museum for my trophy art coming soon,’ no really, such passion. 

This isn’t about art at all, it’s about extreme wealth solely, and one of those markers of civic existence that suggests there are way too many rich people, just isn’t healthy, leads to gout in the extremities, make that severe deprivation. These pissing contests over art were graphically portrayed by a famous Warhol series in which the artist’s urine interacted with chemicals on copper plates, all green and crusty, so graphic, such genius. Fascinating in an ‘entertainment tonight’ sort of way, but as a planet undergoes political and ecological meltdown, who cares?

Meanwhile art supplies are being sold all over, and not just to hundred and ten million dollar geniuses -- lots of people are learning to paint. This is interesting because it isn’t easy. Oh the happy accident sort of abstraction isn’t so difficult, just have to stop short of obliteration is all, and could make you rich if you keep doing it, but there’s not much satisfaction in it. Translating something seen into its representation on a flat surface leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and when another person recognizes your horse or house or waterfall it feels pretty good, like some sort of direct connection or something.

Winston Churchill, famed british man of action, stated that planning and executing a painting was like pursuing a military campaign, better him to have said it, only much safer and more humane. The intelligence and perception it takes to make a painting, oddly enough, can be read back by the viewer, a message that remains fresh and vibrant, even if slightly beyond the range of words to describe it. Mr. Maezawa should give back most of that money a clever or lucky businessman, or any single human, may not entirely deserve, and buy some art that can be lived with -- join the human race.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

art in public -- opening the market

I’ve got no kick against commercial galleries, they have a place. They distribute art after a fashion, with a stable of emotionally vulnerable, economically disgruntled artists on one side and a carefully cultivated stringer of discretionary spending clients on the other. From these two pots they matchmake, it’s like an art. Do they, themselves, care passionately about art -- can’t afford to. They’re too busy trying to fan the passion in the client and attach it to an artist on retainer, also called paying that uptown rent. This isn’t funny.

When the artist approaches a gallery at ten thirty thursday morning, portfolio clutched under the arm, ‘can I speak to the director, please?’ the desk sitter’s eyes roll, and from the back office comes the fatal question -- ‘where else do you show?‘  a phrase that directly means ‘name a gallery that impresses me.’ No one wants to look at the work, wouldn’t know if it was good or not, aren't interested. Emotionally vulnerable artists find this tiresome. Clients are taken advantage of while being given special insider deals, played to perfection. The gallery system hasn’t been good for art. 

This whole business structure is a bottleneck restriction, the narrow part of the river that feeds the crocodiles, and could turn out to be the main reason there’s such a dearth of original art in all those fine houses, pools and tennis courts. An alternative exists, but it isn’t for the faint of heart, those who require professional reassurance, or the exceptionally lazy. These should wander into a reputable gallery and express an interest, good bye. Other art is out there, in fact it’s everywhere these days, in restaurants, offices, and salons, but no one is at your elbow telling you about the artist and their reputation. You’ll need to use your own eyes. Some of it isn’t very good, but you won’t know that until you’ve seen something better, and that goes for everyone else as well. Slowly it will all get better, in waiting rooms, in professional offices, anywhere people sit with time to think, and before long some of them will want to take some home and see it everyday.

I wouldn’t say avoid commercial galleries, but there’s a better deal to be had, more organic and closer to the farm. Businesses facing the public make a different bargain with the artist, ‘keep the walls interesting and our interior fresh in the minds of customers, and you can sell your art directly,’ a more democratic approach all around. If in the course of events someone buys the first piece from a restaurant wall, maybe you, the process turns over, a key turns in a lock, and our town is on its way to a renaissance of visual expression -- it’s due.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

reaching back -- art’s future

I think everything I write here should make perfect sense somewhere down the line, hardly worth saying out loud, so I’ve said all along. People won’t start changing their minds consciously, but as conditions change people think differently about art, and a new audience arises. It’s a coming. The current administration represents tectonic readjustment, an earthquake, and we’ll all put it back together on the other side, with new personal priorities and civic concerns. Good or bad, it was necessary, history explains, and it could go different ways from here. 

In my favorite possibility what is most ‘human’ becomes increasingly valued, 3-D printers having fabricated the couch, the rug, the refrigerator. Based on the notion that rarity determines worth and that value tends to consolidate into portable forms, a new interest and appreciation for art might one day spontaneously occur all around, average folks each imagining it was their idea. There’s this new term in art ‘self-verifying,‘ roughly translated it means the viewer is allowed to participate, to apply their own experience and use their own judgement, instead of relying on what far off authorities decree. Once an art both more accessible and visually articulate finds an audience, my favorite possibility, along with almost everyone else's, becomes more plausible. 

Humanity teeters over digital quicksand, could be superseded by bots or turn big-brother fascist with obedience implants, but on the good side there’s art, up close, personally verifying, and constantly being upgraded in waiting rooms and offices, in apartments and houses. Art can’t save us but art could be the way we save ourselves, helping us to feel more confident in our own humanity, aware of our standing as citizens and sure of what we like. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

owning -- the advantages of disadvantage

Too much money? So so sad. There’s lots in life that’s closed to you, your roots are shallow, you should have made your own bed, but I’m not here to scold. To some extent inherited debilities can be overcome, but in general being unusually good looking or financially independent too soon at least delays human trials almost everyone faces sooner or later. 

Art is like upholstery for the hard corners of life, a reward for success and solace for winding up back in the pack. To benefit from art, however, to enjoy art, to understand art, a bit of bonding has to take place, a process we almost understand. Experience shows before we can truly own anything there has to be an element of sacrifice, something given up to acquire the object, and in the case of art certain among us would find that difficult, those of us with too much money. So much easier for the young couple just out of college, scavenged furniture in a cramped apartment, and they decide to buy a painting instead of a newer car, taking a trip, getting a bigger place. They’ll compromise and reach common ground, search and find the art and then probably make payments, perhaps directly to the artist. Bought this way they’ll actually own that painting, forever, coming in time to consider it a family member, a confidant and friend -- ask anyone who owns and lives with art. 

If you’re perusing resumes figuring to trade up, to improve the long-term financial profile of the art you’ve collected, along with your garage full of exotic dangerous cars and your pool with adjacent tennis courts, you should go ahead and make a purchase, keep the economy churning and help buy some art dealer’s boat. If you want art to be a part of your life, to influence how you think and what you feel, go out and find a good painting expensive enough to have you missing lunch now and then, and if you earn a lot, pay more, the way a serious person would. In the end, your reward will be priceless artwork, since in just a few years you won’t want to sell it.