Saturday, April 19, 2008

Report from Comic Con

Okay, so Comic Con isn't really an art show. But it's a visual cultural thingia-ma-bob so I figured it was worth mentioning!

I really had no idea what to expect, but since I've been sticking my feet in the comics waters I was thought it would be a good educational field trip. Personally, I admit I lean towards the graphic novel/ indie comic/ illustration-ey side of the spectrum. But Comic Con definitely caters the majority...those who are into the action/ fantasy/ superhero comics. Lots of boy stuff. Lots of people. Lots of lots. Walking around in my buttercup yellow dress and my Swedish-maiden-braided-hairdo I definitely felt out of place.

I loved how enthusiastic everyone was, and I enjoyed Artist's alley where there were tons of artists sketching and signing prints. But it is all about selling and promoting stuff, and I got tired of being perpetually handed postcards and flyers. (Except the free X-Files 2 posters, I was happy to be handed that!)

There was the usual array of expected costumes (Fun for all!) along with some more unexpected Jesus. Or the BK Trooper. The picture doesn't capture the simultaneously entertaining and disturbing pelvic thrusting.

I hate to sound disappointed, but it just wasn't my scene at all. So if you ask me how has Comic Con I'd reply with a big shrug.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Report from the Whitney Biennial

The general consensus is that the Whitney Biennial this year is boring…and I suppose I'd have to agree. It was only politely weird.

Everything felt a bit crammed in, chaotic, too much of too much. I think that's why I leaned towards the simpler pieces that favored a more traditional aesthetic. I hate to say it, but all this newer crazy stuff simply doesn't have enough depth to sustain my interest. It lasts staying power. Like chewing gum.

The show was dominated by sculptures, installations, and videos so much that paintings felt like they were being treated like the "we're sorry, they're from out of town" cousins. Don't get me wrong, I mean, I did exclaim how I thought one pile of rocks was "really pretty!" And I appreciate the three-dimensional artwork's efforts to invite interaction. But for me the overabundance of representation/ replication/ recreation came across as simply overwhelming and recycled.

There were lots of collections of things, as though assembling them together makes them become more like archaeological objects. As my friend John put it, it seemed that many of the artists simply put together "a bunch of anything," and voila! Art. Well…stuff-thrown-together-Jenga-art. With the abundance of raw materials and noticeable casual display of works, it's like the art was trying to prove its own grittiness.

I noticed that a surprisingly portion of the pieces that I really liked were made by women. And the fact that this surprised me really surprised me. (I suppose that the contemporary women artists I've been familiar with tended to make art about their gender in some way rather than just talk about everything else.) Anyway…

Here are my dozen favorites:

Leslie Hewit's large scale photos of absent pictures said a lot in their silence. And the simple placement of them leaned up against the wall only reemphasized the feeling of these forgotten places…neglected.

Michael Smith's Sears portrait series were effectively ironic. They are photos of him with his students over the years, where they're all optimistic smiles and he's this shrugging everyman. (I sadly couldn't find a picture of these!)

Frances Stark's large self portrait was a line drawing/collage I could really relate to...especially as an artist who incorporates myself into my own work. I admit that even though I liked it, I wondered if it really belonged in the Whitney Biennial versus a college student show. (Owww, what a backhanded compliment!)

Ruben Ochoa's concrete sculpture was like a surreal upturned street. Unlike many other works in the industrial-material-sculpture-category (where piles of things are chaotically thrown together) his work is far more articulate…speaking of the relationship between the man-made and natural world.

Robert Bechtle was one of the few painters, and a realistic painter to boot! He was like a fine swiss chocolate in a bowl of Skittles, as Sarah Vowell would say. I found his Hopper-esque still urban scenes extremely relevant.

Melanie Schiff's large scale photos presented thoughtful vignettes of real life without trying to be ironically banal about it. Beautifully crafted and poignant. Her work and Robert Bechtle both expressed a similar yearning for beauty amid the chaos of the sculptures surrounding them in the same room.

Adam Putnam's projected installation of doors was refreshingly simple, clean, and beautiful. But then again, I'm a sucker for a good door metaphor. (I couldn't find any pics of his work since it's projected)

Karen Kilimnik's small paintings depicting aristocratic European vignettes were wisely hung in their own separate little room arranged around a crystal chandelier. I find her style cheery yet aggressive in her use of bold color and decisive hand.

Amanda Ross-Ho's odd collection of artworks did not work together cohesively in my opinion, but I did simply adore her intricately cut canvas piece. It almost felt like some sort of artifact, an elaborate textile with some hidden significance. How this related to the giant litter box was lost on me.

John Baldesari's sculptural paintings were a lovely combination of flat and deep elements/ bright and subdued elements. Since I've always loved his work, I felt guilty for not recognizing his pieces straight away. But I suppose I'm just out of the loop.

Ellen Harvey's art-within-art sculpture was a hit with me. The front wall is full of empty salon-style frames in black and white…but one of the frames is open, revealing the same wall of frames behind it but they filled with color paintings. (I couldn't find pics of this artwork anywhere sadly)

Charles Long's bizarre paper mache sculptures looked like they stepped out of a whimsical Giacometti dream. I was scared and intrigued by them at the same time.

Report from the Guggenheim

This week I went to the Cai Guo-Qiang retrospective at the Guggenheim, which everyone's been talking about. So now here I am joining the conversation! My last write-up I posted was a bit on the pessimistic side, so this show was a breath of fresh air. It’s really reaffirming to come across an artist with a substantial body of interesting work who I never knew existed. It reminds me there are so many more fabulous artists out there for me to discover.

Guo-Qiang is a Chinese artist who references Chinese heritage and cultural symbols to comment on contemporary society. He also is fascinated with finding beauty in destruction…I think you'll enjoy his work!

Ninety-nine life-size wolves running up the incline of the Guggenheim and colliding with a glass wall (the same thickness of the Berlin wall) representing how we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes.

Tigers in midair radiating with arrows in a beautiful spectacle of man versus nature.

Five flipping cars suspended in the center of the museum with rays of sparking lights emanating from them in beautiful explosions.

Giant scorched drawings made of gunpowder, a material steeped in historical significance. (Oh look, there's the artist!)

Who knew fire and explosions could be so pretty? This piece of his is called Red Flag.

I can see why there are lines down the block every weekend for this show, it really is unique. It’s imaginative and serious…emotive and curious. The manipulation of real objects combined with its historical context makes his sculptures feel like archeological artifacts. And I found his metaphors very universal and graspable. I also especially respected the collaborative spirit in his work (including films of the creation of his larger scale pyrotechnic works), and how his pieces allow the viewer to interact (sometimes literally) with the sculptures.

He is overseeing the opening and closing ceremonies of the ’08 Olympics in Beijing, so keep an eye out for his wild fireworks display. Well, like his show at the Guggenheim…I’m sure it’ll be hard to miss.

Report from the Armory Show

The Armory Show…the groundbreaking 1913 exhibit that introduced shocked New Yorkers to Modern art. Now it’s a big art fair with 160 galleries from around the world showcasing their best. Totally commercialized? Yes. But I still had to check it out. So I thought I’d relay my personal observations here in case you’re interested. (And the pictures are ones I snapped with my camera at the show.)

So, what are the kids into these days? What on earth is going on?! Here were my basic unguided observations…

An assemblage of assemblages.
Collages, mixed media, combinations of 2-D and 3-D elements…I was pleased to see the variety of techniques being combined and explored. A lot of the assemblages and sculptures felt almost like archeological studies rather than works of art. (But then again, where do you draw the line between the two?) Sculptures made out of found objects, or bits of paper presented together so that their implied backstories reveal some sort of insight. Or something. Well, I do find that sort of thing interesting to a point, but then again I did always like archeology.

Lots of WORDS! Text was everywhere! A word incorporated into a painting, long script filling an entire canvas, a single phrase written in neon across a wall…the growing number of artists who want to same something without pictures amuses me.

What’s going on with photography?!
Sculpture and mixed media works were abundant at the show…but there wasn’t a ton of photography. But what there was felt extremely stiff, staged, and calculated. Almost as though they were trying to fill the void once occupied by painting. Lots of posed scenes versus the spontaneity which always made photography so exciting for me.

The kids are all about line. I’m in love with line myself. But most of the artworks relying on line left me disappointed! I found that they fell into extremes: either using overly juvenile clumsy lines or overly calculated sterile geometric lines. (I’m talking about both in drawing and painting here.) Many times the line drawings were done on top of a collage background, like book pages. It didn’t really work. So I’m sad to report I didn’t see as many artists speaking with graceful beautiful lines as I would have liked. Call me traditional in that sense.

The paintings themselves literally had a lot of depth…but were visually flat. Let me explain…Artists creating more non-objective works were really exploring the sculptural possibilities of painting. There were lots of canvases that were altered, constructed, cut up, and manipulated to act more as a relief. And there were a lot of textures being created with playful application of paint. So I found it interesting that the artists leaning more towards realism were embracing a style that was much more visually flat...which isn’t a bad thing. There was a focus on patterns, prints, shapes and lines rather than volume and shadow. I personally enjoyed the combinations of various patterns, which implied textiles and constructed settings in a synthetic cubism sort of way.

There was this weird sexuality prevalent. However, it was more of an exhibitionist/ voyeuristic version of sexuality. Combining the innocent with the pornographic seemed to be the favored formula. Like a woman painted with garishly colorful (clown like) skin tones passively masturbating. Or childishly constructed dolls performing oral sex. For me, to see these works in a sterile gallery full of the prim-and-proper art crowd made these artworks of garish sexuality feel even more forced and artificial.

Reflection noitcelfeR. There was an abundance of artworks that actually included mirrors, which literally incorporates the viewer into the piece. And a lot of the work was about reflecting back at the viewers a digested/abstracted version of their own world. There were also a lot of melted forms in the sculpture realm. Are these pieces about the distortion of reality? Or simply the artist asking the viewer to fill in the blanks? Inquiring minds want to know. Or lose interest guessing and move on to the next booth, as in my case.

It contrasted the industrial versus the handmade. I was surprised by the amount of artworks that celebrated the craftsy-kitchy aesthetic. Many pieces incorporated sewing, glitter, and other craft staples. But in a gritty glitzy way. Heck, there were even a few dioramas! When it was done well, I really enjoyed the homespun twist on contemporary subject matter and I saw its irony. (But please, no more pile-of-rubbish sculptures please!!) On the other end of the spectrum, just as many pieces celebrated a more artificial aesthetic. (In the realm of sculpture especially.) Everywhere you looked there were metallics, foils, high-polish, and this whole shiny plastic thing going on. Neon lights were also popular.

Now on to the pictures! Let's start with some lights shall we...

Yes, there's an embroidered penis on the left. And that's a tongue on the right doing exactly what you think they're doing!

Hey, I'm in the art!

This big mural (on multiple canvas crossing three walls) was by Chiho Hoshima...

See what I'm saying with the photography?

There was a shadow sculture (the sculpture itself is made of trash actually) by Tim Noble and Sue Webster but I forgot to take a picture of it! So here's the biggest version I found online, it's pretty funny...

These are matchbooks presented here--the whole archaeological aesthetic...

I love the manipulation of the traditional "canvas" like these here (that's Elsie Wayne on the left)...

Not too many illustrator types, but here's one I saw I really liked...Sandra Scolnik.

I loved the imaginative pieces by Los Carpinteros (they're a group of artists), their style reminded me of Wayne Thiebaud.

Why paint it when you can simply write it?

I love these two abstracted landscapes, they were more like relief sculptures. (Wonjulim and Jacob Hashimoto)

Raise your hand if you like sculptures made of random stuff put together!

But add some glitz and it's classier...

Glitter! Kitchy glam!

This pictures amuses me...who's in the art versus who's buying the art...

A rare realism sighting! I loved this one...Carl Hammond.

This is a John Waters piece...who knew!

The Conspiracy of Art

I recently read the book The Conspiracy of Art by Jean Baudrillard. He’s a French philosopher who shocked the art world by declaring that art has ceased to exist and it was a big conspiracy. I just had to read it, even though he admits he’s terribly contradictory. But hey, his ideas on reality helped shape The Matrix. Go figure. So here’s what he says in case you find contemporary art as baffling as I do…

How did we get to this point?!

So, modern art had good intentions. "Let’s liberate the art object! Let’s embrace abstraction!" But by liberating the object it chained the object down to a hidden structure, one even stricter. We paradoxically moved to even more reality with our efforts to unveil elementary structures…something more real than real. With abstraction we moved towards the analytical exploration of an object, to find the truth of it and shed the mask of figuration. But art is a super illusion, not a progress toward analytical truth. Oops.

Then Duchamp signed a urinal…The readymade was a point of no return, rather than the point of departure that most thought it was. The readymade gave us a double curse…the immersion into reality and then conceptual absorption. Now there are no more apples, just the reconstruction of apples by the appleologist of what an apple once was. Art became ideas, signs, allusions, concepts.

and modern art exploded! There was an explosion of movements in the 20th century (which Baudrillard calls an orgy), a liberation in every way. All possibilities exhausted. Modern art shed everything justifying its existence as art. Wheeee! We explored all the paths of production, fantasies, dreams, and ideals. But then Baudrillard asks, "What do you do after the orgy?"

Finally, Warhol killed art. Warhol was responsible for completely renouncing art by turning commodity into art. It was more like an anthropological event. He successfully abolished the subject of art, the artist, and the creative act. (He was a busy man.) The avant-garde had wanted to occupy nowhere…so Warhol took it there. In a way, modern art was a great disappearing art…to make art disappear. Baudrillard thinks art is now in an irreversible coma, almost like art survived its own suicide attempt.

And aesthetics is dead, too. Duchamp caused the banality of the world to pass into aesthetics…hence aesthetics became banal…hence traditional aesthetics is over. This means critical judgment isn’t possible, because how can you argue with art that declares itself meaningless and banal? He calls the current incarnation of aesthetics transaesthetics.

So, what IS art now?

Art is a conspiracy…because art has ceased to exist in the traditional sense. It’s a tacit agreement we’ve all made in the art world where we’re still upholding privilege but simply going through the motions. The mystification of images has allowed art to hide itself from thought, and enjoy the critical disillusion and commercial frenzy. Good luck trying to challenge or denounce it, because as soon as you enter the system you are automatically a part of it. (Viscous cycle!) The viewer is now a consumer who moves through it all to test their enjoyment/ non-enjoyment of the works. They don’t understand anything most of the time, they simply consume.

Art is democratic…hence no longer special. Paradoxically, the effort to democratize art only reinforced the privilege of the idea of art. By allowing everyday objects to ask the same insoluble questions as those formerly reserved for aristocratic artworks now makes everything equal…villagers rejoice! Everything is art! So now there is no more art object at all, only the idea of art. But we no longer take pleasure in it, only the idea of it. Since anything is art and since anyone can join, there’s nothing special about it anymore.

Art is stuck in the past, stuck recycling itself. Since art has closed its circle of evolution, it now lives in its own little self-referential world. It seems destined to recycle itself endlessly (like fashion styles) as an infinite retrospective of what preceded us. The avant-garde used to project itself into the future, but finding itself displaced in the past it now it creates a regressive utopia. With transcendence gone, contemporary art has this general melancholy about it as though it mourns the image and aesthetics. The art objects only exist in relation to each other in a closed system of signs.

Art is null, reduced to nothing.
Since art is recycling all its past ideas anyway, it only makes sense that waste, nullity and insignificance are fashionable. Galleries now manage art byproducts with waste as a prominent theme both in materials and styles. Artists tried to see things for what they really were by nullifying them, and as a result art has confiscated banality and mediocrity as values. Which I think is a shame.

Art is banal…it IS reality. Art is now SO immersed in reality that it is reality. And reality is art. (Oh, double talk!) Before, art was about inventing something other than reality through illusion. Art and reality would potentialize each other, but now that they are not differential poles they have lost their force. They’ve cancelled each other out. There’s no need for the art object to present the worlds reflection back at itself, since the world has swallowed its double. We’re now in this meaningless hyper reality that’s completely transparent and marketable. (But hypervisibility can just extinguish sight…) Art is now all disillusion rather than illusion. It can only now make a paradoxical wink, like reality laughing at itself.

Art is a performance. Since art is reality and there are no art objects, art is now what’s discussed in the artistic community that frantically stares at itself. Each person engages in their own virtual performance in this closed circuit, contributing to the general suffocation. When art embraced the infinite and deregulation, these things lead to the death of it by raising art to the level of performance.

Art tries and fails to be ironic. Artists claim to transcend, to see things twice removed, to be null, to be "true simulators" of pure appropriation…but they’re simply sly and pretentious. Today our irony is worn thin like an advertising gag and has lost its playfulness and kitsch. The innocent nonsense of Duchamp is over. Art has become quotation, simulation, and reappropriation. Painting sadly now denies itself, parodies itself, and then spits itself back out.

Art is indifferent. To be an authentic contemporary painting means it has to be as indifferent to itself as the world has become. Art no longer regards you as the viewer, and it no longer pays attention to you. Instead of being seen, the art is being absorbed and consumed. Strangely, our indifference has become a true social bond.

Art is useless. Thanks to Duchamp, by making any object useless makes it art. (Hence the waste theme only reinforces the notion, "Look, I’m useless!") But it’s a contradiction…because uselessness has no value in itself! The art market is making a spectacle of nonsense and using it for capital! Brilliant. Ironically, when every object is a so called aesthetic object then nothing will be an aesthetic object. Go figure. And older things, coming from the past and therefore useless, automatically acquire an aesthetic aura.

Art is excess. Lack isn’t the problem…it’s surplus and obesity. There is too much of art and simply too much of too much. With new technologies art became all preparation, manipulation, and multi-media hybrid mixing. But more is not better! We have forgotten that subtraction brings force and that power is born of absence.

What should art do?!

With all this pessimism, does Bauldrillard offer any hope? Enigmatically. He calls for a new illusionist to create the emptiness where pure events can happen. Since art is confronted with commodity in modernity, he thinks art should seek salvation in critical denial, go further in formal and fetished abstraction, and escape exchange value by radicalizing it. (Umm, how do we do that?)

Unfortunately he doesn’t dish out any real hope for the future of art. But one of the few optimistic things he said was, "Ideally, art is the solution to problems that are not even raised." That’s enough hope for me!

I’m gonna go make some art right now.

PS--If you actually like this aesthetics stuff, I wrote a summary of The End of Art by Donald Kuspit in a past blog in case you wanna check it out.