Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

Panorama view of exhibition in Jedlitschka Gallery, Zurich.

16 November 2006

Brandl: Beyond Complaint --- What can we do to improve the situation?



I was invited to contribute a comment to a blog site coming out of Nottingham, England. The artists running it have contributed comments to Sharkforum blogs in the past, and include Shaun Belcher who will also write here from time to time, and who di the great cartoon in the side panel. I wrote several things, but summed up with a few comments that I feel are important to Sharkforum and the developing changes in the artworld in Chicago, Europe and elsewhere. Thoughts I would like to repeat here, since I finally gathered them all together. I also posted a version to Sharkforum in Chicago and NYC, where it engendered a lively debate among a group of artists and critics.

I find Europe in general and Switzerland in particular to be a fabulous place to live. I found Chicago likewise a quite stimulating city. The artworld itself in Chicago ---- or the artworld itself in my chosen beautiful home in the eastern part of Switzerland --- that is, well, another story. One which arises here often --- and perhaps thereby it is changing. You know the story --- whether Nottingham, Chicago, Switzerland, Cologne, hell even London or NYC, it's the same. Everything is "good enough" --- but that's it. We artists have hardly lived in more secure times for us financially, many of us even have a good measure of success, so my complaints are NOT sour grapes. I'm doing very well. BUT I am NOT blind and will not pretend to be so, as seems to be demanded of artists nowadays. We live in a moribund, academic, mannerist, in short kiss-ass-ly boring, artworld.

Beyond complaint, though --- what will be the NEXT steps for Sharks and their allies and kin? In short:

What can we do to improve the situation?

First of all, make extremely high quality art. Particularly with well-honed technical abilities. If you DO NOT now have these skills, this is NO surprise as they are seldom taught in art schools any more. But GET them. That ability can not be denied nor taken away from us and will outlive many an overblown curator justification.

Second, openly criticize the situation. Step on toes. Stop kissing butt.

Third, offer and create constructive alternatives, even perhaps to the point of creating your own artworlds, venues and so on. Attempt to add a positive answer to every correct criticism you level.

Fourth, encourage others who do the same. Help build critics and curators and especially other artists who pay attention to what is around them, who have independent minds, who are more than simply careerist toadies. Even support your "enemies" (to an extent) if they finally seem to see the light. Just don't trust them behind your back.

Fifth, network in a POSITIVE sense, even internationally. And that's what we are doing now.

Sixth, leave doors open. Tell the truth, be upset about hypocrisy, but be willing to "let it go" if they improve, if the purveyors of pedantry and their groupies gain consciousness or make overtures toward reparation.

I have added the comment-discussion from the Sharkforum site (click on "comments" below), since I think it will be inetersting to the audience here too.

22 comments:

Steve Hamann said...

Great comments Mark. I especially like the first suggestion. Poorly crafted art drives me crazy. There is a definite trend out there to purposely make crappy drawings or crappy paintings. Why?

Mark Staff Brandl said...

You're right about the trend, Steve. And I believe I have an inkling as to why it exists. I think sheer technical ability (be it in painting, drawing, video, music-making, dj-ing, whatever) is an important way, at this point, to resist the mediocrity of the pedants. That "group" supports all that "naive-naif," I believe, due to a rather "fin de siècle" (fin du xx' siecle? fin de millenium?) type infatuation with expressions of their own debilitation. "Ooh, we're ooh so weak, and it's ooh so cool to be indifferent."

Picasso, et al., used a willed "primitivism," a willed incompleteness, (NOT incompetence) etc. to challenge the over-finish of Salon Academicians. But now there is a certain perverse inversion, as well as misunderstanding of that drive, in the prevalent celebrations of one's own inability. That enervation is the "Salon-hit" now (my theory), thus simple workmanship-skill becomes radical (as critic Janet Koplos pointed out to me). This "shitty drawing school, " which Duncan at BAS is so good to incessantly attack, or the enervated, turpy painting and lackadaisical junk, gesture ("shitty") installations of Europe are cousins in self-enfeeblement.

I discussed it in relationship to painting here (Sycophany), but I think the problem is broader --- and YET, inadvertently thereby offers a clear and powerful route out ---ability. Unfortunately, too many artists who criticize the salon-status-quo don't have enough technical mastery, thus can be written-off. Get out there, get good, kick ass.

Shaun Belcher said...

Enfeeblement! That says it all...I had removed two rather academic essays on the Goldfactory blogger site and now put back se..

http://goldfactoryforum.blogspot.com/2005_12_01_goldfactoryforum_archive.html

These I wrote about just that state of affairs in art-teaching here a couple of years back. The original art-schools in Britain came out of an arts and crafts approach which trained students in 'ornamentation' in a strictly job-related capacity especially in Northern cities where working class students with ability would gain higher wages for craft releated posts in the potteries and lace industries....those industries have declined and disappeared because of global trends and the hollow shells of art schools been sold off for flats. What is left....a new 'workforce' being schooled in not having skills as they somehow seen as irrelevant to modern needs...irony and networking rule....and those with talent are losing out to those most able to replicate their already inferior teachers....it is a self defeating system and actual skills are disappearing at a pace ... There is a place for ideas but most 18 year olds ( even Picasso) are usually short on good ones and you need to understand how a watch works before you take it apart...most students now have never been shown how the watch worked in the first place...

Steve Hamann said...

"you need to understand how a watch works before you take it apart" Wow! That's a great statement. I think I'll steal that and use it with my students. I feel that a lot of artists can't draw or paint, and don't take the time, or find it important enough, to learn that skill. If it is the artists intention to simplify some element in their work (primitivism) that's cool I guess, if you can justify why you did it. If you are immersed in primitivism becasue you can't draw, I don't find that valid. Learn to draw. Another point Mark made that I found interesting is the notion of "openly criticizing the situation" but remaining positive. I find some artists critical and negative. They don't mean the same thing.

The Shark (WK) said...

Three MUST reads: de Kooning an American Master/ New Art City/ Rape of the Masters... -we need to be sure we link all sites -Mark -work with Dave -and/or Geoff Sabin -who is our new guy to help with some of the heavy lifting.....look, so much of the new painting being touted sucks.....ow many have seen the new Vanity Fair or W Magazine articles? How did we get from de Kooning to some 31 year old Linda Evans lookalike bimbo standing on a platform with her fake tan, hotpants, pink high heels -and just the right amount of paint smeared on her t shirt.........not to mention the crappy acrylic paintings......this has got to stop. We need to borrow Jack Nicholsons black strap on, fuck all these people that are promoting this crap up the ass -that is, before we shoot them and dump them all in some sewage pit. Think- Man Bites Dog meets the art world....

John Haber said...

Heck, anyone who keeps going deserves some credit.

Steve Hamann said...

I tried looking for the 31 year old Linda Evans look alike in hot pants on W Magazine's website, but passed out from it's overpowering fashion and woke up in a pool of vomit.

The Shark (WK) said...

haha !-she is wearing the tanning booth/hotpants get up in Vanity Fair.....folks, I do believe the bottom of the barrel has been summited

-and the work looks like nothing so much as some really cheesy ad for some Fishermans Wharf style gallery in the back pages of Art News.....

The Shark (WK) said...

John -there are people who keep going who are for real, serious and actually good. In fact, for me the one good thing about the Vanity Fair article was Ellsworth Kelly - and perhaps Jeff Koons - looking in context like a virtual paragon of depth and seriousness.

Luc Tymans? I know Luc slightly, I like him. Do I think he is a hot shit painter with alot of chops or actual depth? No! I think he is a one-trick-pony - with those low-tech, washed out copies of polaroids.....sorry!....the kind of painter whose very act of painting is an apology for doing it in the first place-

And that's the good stuff in the article..... Kristin Baker - have you looked at this completely mediocre shite coming from little miss tanning booth? Or some of these .....I'm going to dissect this thing in a full length article - so I'll back off and let it bleed for a moment before I hit it again... -Don't make excuses for this decadent phoney junk John - the problem is people won't stand up and say something about how bad much of the mega-buck art coming out of NYC really is: Lisa Yuskavage? A million bucks for one of those poofy, slack, one sugary note paintings? Elizabeth Peyton 6000k for some piece of mediocre pop star confection? Jules de Balincourt? -Come to Chicago -where you can find paintings -for 25k that blow this garbage right off the wall......like my friend Nancy Kienholz said to me recently when I wondered what de Kooning or her late husband Ed would think of the scene today -and she responded -the only good thing is that they are dead and don't have to see it.

John Haber said...

Shark, I'm afraid we were talking past one another. I was responding to Mark supportively, or perhaps boiling him down to a sound bit. I wasn't commenting on your reading list. In fact, I hadn't seen or heard of the magazine articles so couldn't possibly.

I'm aware that a lot of art-world celebrity isn't earned, though I have a hard time blaming it on the artists' not caring about what they do, and I don't have a handy solution for it. Our compiling our hate lists isn't going to help.

Mine might include pretty much anything that shows with David Deitch, although I'd no idea what Kristen Baker looks like. I can't get over how even many critics I respect admire Peyton. But it's not a story of decline and fall. Peyton's in the tradition of another artist I despise, David Hockney, and a lot of west coast art has always been shallow to my taste. In fact, I dislike Kienholz.

There was a diatribe a year or two ago by an editor of AiA that I felt at the time I had to respond to. He argued that critics spend too much time explaining, teaching, and interpreting what they like, too little time deriding the overblown. I think that's garbage.

First, the only chance you do have to shape minds is by getting people to look with insights they didn't have before. If you can't find a point, there's also the risk that you may just have missed the point. Second, the influence of critics is overstated there. A bad review isn't going to sink Lisa Y., who's had her share. It's one reason that newspaper reviews, more concerned with judgment, are the least memorable. (They're perhaps more appropriate for movie reviews, but even there a lot of crap has the biggest box office.) Third, I have to believe that her supporters are as sincere as I, while all that puffery that one after another article in the glossy mags contributes is mostly canceling itself out.

I'll take as model criticism still the kind that's put new art and ideas on the map, like that of Greenberg, Hess, and Schapiro in their generation. Or, if you have to be negative, I wish I could do as well as Jerry Saltz about Lisa Y. this week: "For me, the glimmer of hope in the Chelsea show is that while I don't like these paintings, I like some of the things I find myself thinking about while not liking them."

After that, as Mark is saying, it's just up to everyone, including artists, dealers, curators, and writers who haven't got their stuff across, to keep at it when it gets them down.

Mark Staff Brandl said...

I tried to rearrange some of the comments here, with little luck --- because, as I have noticed is common in blog-commenting, the replies tend to "leap-frog" each other, and if you come fresh to the list, it is difficult to make sense sometimes.

E.g., John replies to me, but inbetween Wesley reples to me, which makes it look like John is replying to him, and maybe Shaun adds something too, about something further up the line, etc. Oh, well, part of the joy of this form and format.

I agree with both you guys and I, of course, agree with you both agreeing with me! I think you all bring up some good points, and thank you for delving into my comments so far. John and Wesley have actually brought up several of my points previously. I have simply been trying to boil my OWN ideas down to some kind of a more concrete, "action" list. For my own attack plans and sanity, I suppose.
I think we have the critic aspect down. We must CONTINUE, but it is clear that more and more people are coming out from hiding under the busghes with such critiques. I still wondering about the rest though. I still think that too many people who criticize the ugly status-quo-academy don't have enough skills. They need to be 10 times greater than the Top o' the pops-types, and obviously so. That alone will kick ass. I think most Sharks are artistically mature, Haber writes amazingly well, but even some of those who write in to agree with us need to work on their chops.

AND --- let's start brainstorming some positive alternatives, which by necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, will be encouraging and supportive.

John Haber said...

Thanks for the compliment, Mark. Of course, I'm not saying that I don't care the cheapening of art. I worry especially about how changing economics and institutions make it too hard to innovate.

I'll spare you digressions on that again right now, but it really is hard. You don't want to absorb into Chelsea, and you can't easily escape it. Heck, the Williamsburg and Lower East Side galleries are shrinking in number and influence, just as the East Village ones once packed up for Soho after shaking things up a bit; Dumbo's are mostly schlocky; the rest of Brooklyn is awfully spread out; and so on.

Escaping New York entirely is just as tricky. You don't want to be the same, but you don't want to be insular (which SF art seems to me, say). And you almost don't have a choice, since the incessant art fairs take art's shopping mall to global scale. I'd love to know what can change. Is it more opportunity, the end of art, or a period like late Dutch baroque or Flemish Mannerism where you figure, ok, call me back in 50 years?

John Haber said...

Oh, I also wanted to comment on Shark's suggested reading. I mean the books, since I didn't myself recognize all his names from the mags, and what's her name looks cute. :-)

That de Kooning bio is wonderful, best artist bio I've read. The one that got acclaim the year before, second volume about Matisse, I haven't read, as I'm just finishing instead its first volume, and I found that dull by comparison. No sense at once of place, people, and art.

Perl's book got a wonderful slam by John Updike, who said that if it's not hot air, at least it's awfully warm. Perl's very conservative, and he means the book as a justification for a view of Abstract Expressionism and after not as a breakthrough for a few who made it possible then for future breakthroughs by a few, but as a style broad enough to be sort of our official academic art now, meaning that as a compliment and a demand on the present. So he praises lots of people we'd normally overlook. Quirky and probably hateful, but he's a fine and often insightful writer, so it's worth letting him whine this once, especially as we don't have to finish the darn book.

The last, though, is just awful, by a real reactionary. It's just another right-wing screed about nasty left-wing artists degrading civilization as we know it. Totally in the "give me a break" department. Like most of the right, Kimball distrusts art, intellectual commitment, and passion, because they might be turned on the status quo. See, money and David Deitch aren't the problem. It's icky creative people like YOU.

The Shark (WK) said...

I have been up awhile -so this will be quick and sloppy -but essentially -just as painting was universally altered after each and every major period -to understand the brilliant deconstruction and recapitulation of western painting that happened with the new york school -is to be conversant in todays dialect -its just that so very few people do understand what took place -the rigor of de Kooning, Hoffman - the whole school.....why the lack of understanding - first of all people by and large have lost the ability to see - as well as they have lost the understanding of the plastic medium -which I think goes along way in explaining why there is so much crappy painting out there......I really think the number of people who call themselves artists -who actually understand the rigor and immense discipline of de Kooning - the major american painter of the 20th century, throughout his career as a painter, is very small- it would be like if after the baroque period no one knew who Valesquez was.....

The Shark (WK) said...

As a matter of fact, you could probably ascribe the notion that Currins hackneyed, Rockwellesque histrionics somehow connotate 'good painter' -'this guy sure can paint'....'a modern day old master'....to a complete lack of understanding of the New York School; a failure to grasp the complete recapitulation of western painting that this epoch produced. Simply, Currins success is based almost completely upon utter ignornace of a language -spoken in terms of sheer plastic invention.

Isn't it interesting looking out at the current painting landscape, just how few artists have attempted in any way, to take on and address the concerns that for example, two of the most protean painters who ever lived -Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning brought to the table?

Norman Rockwell's The Connoisseur ironically describes Currin's stature as a reactionary...with both the painter and his admirers just as befuddled over what they are reacting against as was the dilletant portrayed in Rockwells illustration. As Perl noted -"this flyspeck of a painter" paints in fits and starts -which is probably why his old classmate Lisa Yuskavage with her Walter Keane level/ Woolworths art dept style of cloying figuration looks so accomplished- talk about abject failure on a societal level....sheesh!

The Shark (WK) said...

Oh yea -also, as far as Kienholz goes....Ed was a friend of mine, so I am possibly biased - I do think its fair to say though, that unlike Ed's eastcoast counterpart Rauschenberg, Kienholz's work escalated in terms of technical prowess and singularity of vision throughout his career. He never faltered in a trajectory that I feel reintroduced tableau to 20th century sculpture on a heroic scale.

back to Currin as savior to 'old fashioned painting values'.....how thick does one have to be to think for one instant that this work in any way, can stand up -technique wise -to say, Auerbach or Kossoff, or, Soutine? -and yet that was precisely the conceit being offered by Rockwell apologist/society writer Deborah Solomon and her simpering and snide subject, complete with his snarkey commentary on the work of a serious painter like Jackson Pollock -among others- how Pollock is nice wall decoration... in the amazingly orchestrated NYTimes puff piece entree to Kimmelman's gushing embarrassment of a review of the Currin 'retrospective'. at The Whitney several seasons ago.

"Its a bad day when certain people speak of their superiors with a contempt they haven't earned" or, I love the spectacle of maggots condescending to a corpse...

-in regards to Saltz's Yuskavage review -yes he slags the work -as he is pointing out how Currin is compared to Bottecelli and Cranach -what a joke -while Yuskayvage is likened to Vermeer or Raphael Sanzio hahaha.......aa noted -the art world has gone blind -take a look at Yuskavage -and then, any Vermeer -even an early one......DIFFERENT UNIVERSE -hell, she makes Boucher look like Raphael......are people just stupid about painting? -another context: I think it was Peter Plagens talking about how when Currin felt like painting impasto -he can really do it, really lay it on.... Go look at a David Parks painting or, a Lucien Freud and then tell me again that this unskilled dabber can actually make paint sing, that he know anything about painting impasto......because folks, he does not. This, is an uncontestable fact, found right there on the surface of the canvases, frozen in paint, for all to see -though apparently, for few to comprehend.

John Haber said...

I think of Keinholtz with respect to Rauschenberg as a bit like Richard Hamilton in England. with respect to Pop, very literal minded, even moralistic. Ok, I get the joke, onward.

A student wrote me the other day saying he'd prefer the term "integrative" to "assemblage" or Rauschenberg's "combines." It occurred to me that he's presuming a conception of integration or finality, an alternative to the idea of one thing after another that opens a dialogue with others, that may be just plain wrong for our times, and it wasn't surprising he was a Brit. Even Damien Hirst or Dino Champman thinks he's not teasing or shocking us but lecturing us on eternal human truths regarding mortality. Goes with their academic traditions.

John Currin's skill, artistic or in market positioning is to have it both ways. It passes for Renaissance skill and pandering to male lust, but of course it's totally mocking. Deborah Solomon can like it, speaking on behalf of Normal Rockwell, mainstream culture, and the idiocy of the Sunday Times Magazine. Michael Kimmelman can love it, speaking for critics. I definitely have my doubts, but I appreciate that Lisa Yuskavage, with whom Currin is often paired ever since Yale, is at times fun, infuriating, skillful, and an empathetic observer, sometimes a failure. At least it's a lot better than trying to have it all.

The conservative politicization of contemporary art as a mirror of the culture wars they keep fighting is important, with Perl and Kimball as good examples, so let me start a new thread for that!

The Shark (WK) said...

what I'm trying to get at and unpack here -is that while it is entirely appropriate to discuss a painter like de Kooning in comparison to Franz Hals or Peter Paul Rubens, their ideas and execution thereof being quite similar, de Koonings work being so indepted to his predecessors tradition, work that contains almost no actual, concrete mastery other than an ill-begotten poorly executed, attempt to effect the 'look' of a bygone style thus claiming pretensions of mastery -has nothing but the ignorance of its audience to support such specious claims.

in sumnation, to consider the New York School a gathering of eccentrics with no importance or influence beyond their own epoch, is to ignore their inimitable, unique individuality thus, universality -completely realized for me, in terms of concrete reality.....

Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we know.

TS Elliot


thus finally, I regard Jed Perls ideas about to quote him "the hellbent fury of oil painting" -to be far from conservative -in fact, I see them as visionary and, radical.


John -back to Ed Kienholz for a moment - though I am pretty sure that Walter Hopps and others prefer his early work -Backseat Dodge -Illegal Operation, I have a fondness for some of the later stuff -Solie 17 for instance -I always looked past whatever it was Ed was trying to say politically or, socially and liked the work for its qualities as, art..Rauschenberg..not to attack him personally, but I have always felt after the brilliance of the combines, he dissipated -with the unfortunate results showing up in the quality of his work.


btw John -terrific piece on Currin/Courbet/Yuskavage -I agree with much of what you write -funny -Coubet's scumbled rocks -we both seemed to notice just how bad Currins much vaunted paint 'skills' actually are -from where do you think the accolades derive? -I see you are as jaundiced in your view of Deborah Soloman as I am-

on another note -have you taken a look at Ross King's new book The Judgement Of Paris?

Ricardo Manuel Diaz said...

In my opinion it was precisely at the moment painters discovered the use of perspective and utilized it in their process that painting began to go array. For a contemporary painter to continue to use such techniques and to continue to rape the "masters' is a mistake and a contrived one at that. What happened to making paintings that come from your own life experiences, paintings that are existential in nature and are a rsponse to your own times. Lack of vision, lack of creativity, laziness perhaps. In the end good painters will paint and the work will speak. Wesley you mentioned four painters that I believe have produced some of the most poignant works in the last 100 years. Auerbach, Kossoff, Soutine and De Kooning; I would also add Picasso. I have said this before on this blog, paint is for painters. Most painters these days do not understand what that statement means. They do not understand the physical and spiritual essence of paint. If you want to paint a mountain on canvas, you must make the paint go through the process of becoming a mountain on canvas.

The Shark (WK) said...

-Ricardo -I could go on....I love Ellsworth Kelly for instance -and when discussing the London School -Lucien Freud surely completes that particular juggernaut....I hear you on the whole abstraction inherrent in perspectival rendering -though I agree with it less than I at one point did -on canvas I go with the notion that anything is possible -I also like your mountain analogy -of course the act of painting anything comes with the notion of an esthetic experience having to do with a clarification of conciousness-

John Haber said...

"Ross King's new book The Judgment of Paris?" No, but I've read a book of his before, and I thought he was a very good popularizer of history. He serves up a good story about people.

Mark Staff Brandl said...

This is a GREAT discussion --- don't forget to go over to another newer blog on Sharkforum, here

link

where it continues with some additional input as well.