Body II

In 1993 it was bleak in NYC. I mean economically dark. Galleries were closing. Careers had dried up, artists, good ones, were leaving the city. And painting was the last thing that anyone wanted to look at – particularly abstract painting. That year the Whitney presented a different kind of art – art that didn’t look like or act like the art that had been presented over the last 15 years. It was art about worldly issues – angry art – overlooked art – and art about life – the hard parts of life that are ignored when working in rigorous color combinations, second generation conceptual abstraction and expressionistic narcissism. And it broadened our ideas of what art might do.
Sue Williams’ work was hard, real and personal in ways that art hadn’t been during the money hunger 80s. She wasn’t interested in presenting the meaning of a brush stroke or the pentimenti of a worked surface. It was confession and complicity that interested Ms. WIlliams. These paintings spoke harshly and bluntly about difficult and consequential problems. Her paintings looked like drawings torn from a diary. Her imagery elided the personal and the political. And they were a real thumb in the eye when encountered for the first time. These images made us bring our vision back to earth in a visceral way. This wasn’t expressionism – not in the way we had seen it. Rather these images were hard, harsh and truthful – something painting, particularly abstract painting, was not doing, and maybe had no business doing. And if that was the case – then we had to rethink the meaning of painting – what it should do and what it could do.

“Clinging relentlessly to the role of bearer of bad news, for example, she calls to mind Cady Noland, another diehard pessimist. Like Noland, Williams treats the spectrum of interactive behavior today as symptomatic of a broad-based conspiracy of violence. But where Noland places herself in a position of unquestionable moral superiority over her subjects, Williams charges her work with the guilt of long codependency. Williams’ work also picks up where the stream-of-consciousness blue-collar anarchy of Mike Kelley’s rambling, conspiratorial texts left off a few years ago. And she helps herself to generous dollops of the idea of collective victimization explored in Barbara Kruger’s all-purpose use of the term “we.” Unlike Kruger, however, whose work always suggests some sort of authorial distance, Williams never strays far from what she herself has tasted and touched; and compared to Kelley, she is relatively little interested in class rage. Rather, she is committed to subject matter that most artists reared in a male-dominated society still refuse to go near: the ritualistic need experienced by many of us, both male and female, to build ourselves up by tearing women down. Such violence is not ancillary or saved for special occasions, but is part of the social contract. This strikes Williams as so unspeakably sad she just can’t seem to stop laughing.” [Dan Cameron on Sue Williams]

Nancy Spero: All women carry this inherent knowledge, that we can be raped, that we are in danger. We’re both figurative artists and very personal, although my work comes from an entirely different impetus. I have wanted always to override the personal, to step into a more public arena. But it was also this reluctance to turn attention to myself.
Sue Williams: I didn’t want people to know my personal victim history. But this show was explicitly about violence. And I got such a reaction. I started talking to women. I was so surprised to find out how many people have had to deal with incest, have been molested or raped. I couldn’t believe it. People almost take it in stride. And that’s the way it is, it’s always been this way. This is a horrible thing that I went through. I had no awareness of my rights as a person, I did the classic thing. It’s so humiliating. People would ask me, “He beat the hell out of you and you went back to him?” I thought that this person loved me and that this was my home. I didn’t like it, but I was used to it.

“Sue Williams has taken doodling to remarkable places, the grimmest areas a mind and body can go, or rather the doodle has taken her and her audience there. Tidbits of her autobiography—that she was physically abused by slimes—are by now well-known. In her paintings trauma is viewed with both objectivity and a dark mirth. Part of their power, why they have worked, is in their presentation of a type of comedy no one had really seen before—what Americans are now afraid to call black humor—especially from a woman, and in what medium? Painting? The bluntest approach to picturemaking in a long time.
The particular settings of Williams’ aesthetic violence continue to be freefloaty surfaces: the canvas as bedroom/ notepad/brain, with no furniture. Figures masturbate and horse around in cruelty. Her new paintings—even without Williams’ familiar writing—still have the fresh informality of her older works. But if they seem to have gone mute, the images alone, in flat constellation, show and tell each other their sex parts: lots of leg, haunch, and butthole. The figures are displayed in precarious repose, in weird outfits, psycho tops, testicles drooping below the hemlines of faceless figures in ultragirly dresses. A horse’s narrow head atop a bloated body, a vagina resting high on the crotch with pubic hair like parentheses. I’d like to say they look like the distracted sketches of an evil fashion designer.” [Benjamin Wiessman on Sue Williams]

Body I

Another artist that’s been in my mind lately is Matthew Barney. When he came on the scene his work changed the game and expanded the conversation. Any thoughtful artist had to take this work as a real challenge. And this work was so strong that for a while it pushed painting off the walls. In the 1993 Biennial Matthew’s work exploded in the imaginations of our downtown culture. The AIDs crisis, the economy in the tank, stasis in the cultural scene, the New World Order, the end of the Cold War – this confluence of events was the launching pad for Matthew’s wild and byzantine work.

“In 1991, the body as a subject was a smoking battleground, not an arena for sport, as Barney was conceiving of it. (One of the first works on view in the exhibition is a drawing titled Stadium, in which the artist entwines architecture and innards, his field emblems dancing alongside a phallus.) The AIDS crisis and the subsequent homophobic backlash meant that the body was under attack, not only by the virus, but also by the self-appointed virtuous. The year before, the grant monies of the “NEA Four” had been vetoed, the artists’ works called out and cast aside for their unabashed sexuality. Politically and culturally — then as now — there were very clear lines drawn between the bodies that mattered and those that didn’t…
Barney’s body was shamelessly that of the winner, of the all-American male. He was exceptionally handsome and fit. He went to Yale, played football, and modeled to make ends meet. By all accounting, his was a body that mattered, so what could or should it articulate at this moment in time? For Barney, it seems the answer in part was to dive into the myths of masculinity, to pry open the male psyche (inherited as well as imposed), to rewrite its fantasies, to rewire and reimagine its systems, and to create his own worlds at the end of an empire. As artist/creator, Barney both lionized and broke down the male body, rescaling it, placing it in a constant, looping state of becoming and unbecoming itself.” [Jennifer Krasinski on Matthew Barney]

BLVR: The body—your body, specifically—is a huge part of your work. Have you ever thought about what happens when you get older and are perhaps unable to exert yourself as much as you do now and have in the past? Will you adapt the work? OK, hopefully this won’t be for a while. [Laughs]
MB: I think it’s probably not that far off. [Laughs] I feel like that’s already in the work, but it doesn’t tend to be expressed through the characters I play. Often the characters I play are connecting spaces through some sort of movement under resistance. I think the larger form often confesses to some sort of entropy, though that could just as easily be expressed by my own decay. [Laughs] This past summer, I performed a piece in San Francisco that I was more worried about than any of the other endurance actions. It’s called Drawing Restraint 14 and was a climb up and under the skywalk in SFMOMA, which is five floors high over the lobby floor, ending with a wall drawing under the oculus. I used a straightforward hand-over-hand technique; I trained on the sprinkler pipes here in the studio, but the pipes under the skywalk at the museum were significantly fatter. This required more hand strength, and made the climb much more difficult. So with this one, I felt the limits of my strength. It might be a pretty feeble-looking drawing. [Matthew Barney in conversation with Brandon Stosuy]

LUCAS: I’ve noticed, visiting your house, that you’re not very concerned with the trappings of the art world: having a nice house or a well-displayed art collection or any chi-chi stuff that people reward themselves with and pump themselves up with. Your parties, when you have them, tend to have the spirit of a bunch of cowboys ’round a campfire.
BARNEY: That’s funny. I’m always hoping that something will happen in a social situation; maybe the mosh pit days destroyed my ability to sit passively and enjoy something. I like that kind of community purging. When we have parties in the studio, there usually ends up being a physical event at the center of it. We made a huge slide out of all the plastic offcuts for a Christmas party one year. You were at the one more recently where we made a bucking bull from a miscast part of a sculpture, suspended from some rope. In a situation like that, it’s true that people tend to stand in a circle around the object. It’s maybe more of a ritual than a party, but it’s fun. The way you throw eggs at the wall at some of your exhibitions feels that way to me—that it might be a collective purging as much as it is an art-making decision. [Sarah Lucas in Conversation with Matthew Barney]

Been having an email conversation with the wonderful artist George Hofmann. My thinking of late has been bleak – don’t like how we’ve tied our social and political lives to the outcomes of our economy, nor do I care for the fact that governments have been passing edicts and laws that might never be taken back. We’ve turned over so many of our freedoms – in order to be “safe” – to men and women who may not have our best interests at heart. Been feeling like this may be the first real defining moment of the 21st Century, and it will create a new kind of societal / political existence. Basically, it’s complicated, and there’s no point in boring you – after all Siri and Alexa are listening… George has been fairly adamant that things may be tough, but we’ll get through this. And he sent these quotes from a conversation that we had online here on Henri regarding the future of painting.

The Irish poet Seamus Heaney said:
“Imaginative arts are practically useless, but they verify our singularity, they strike and stake out the core of self which lies at the base of every individuated life.”
In commenting on this, the linguist Helen Vendler wrote:
“Singularity and individuated life are those qualities indispensable (but not sufficient) for indentifiable style.  There have been singular and individuated selves who never created. But without a singular and individuated moral self there has never been a singular and individuated style. 
The creative self does not have to be virtuous in the ordinary sense of the word, but it does have to be extraordinarily virtuous in its aesthetic moves. It must refuse – against the claims of fatigue, charm, popularity, money and so on – the received idea, the imprecise, the tired rhythm, the replication of past effects, the uninvestigated passage.
It is this heroic virtue in the realm of aesthetic behavior that courses in the Arts exist to teach. Human testimony is not uninteresting in itself, but it does not convey the morality of the imaginative effort toward aesthetic embodiment. That morality is almost unimaginably exhausting.”  

Make It Rain

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in rain. Time to die.” [Blade Runner]

Image result for roy batty rain gif

Weighing economic costs against human lives will inevitably seem crass. But societies also value things like jobs, food and money to pay the bills — as well as the ability to deal with other needs and prevent unrelated misfortunes…
“Making people poorer has health consequences as well,” said Kip Viscusi, an economist at Vanderbilt University who has spent his career using economic techniques to assess the costs and benefits of government regulations.
Jobless people sometimes commit suicide. The poor are likelier to die if they get sick. Mr. Viscusi estimates that across the population, every loss of income of $100 million in the economy causes one additional death.
Government agencies calculate these trade-offs regularly. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has established a cost of about $9.5 million per life saved as a benchmark for determining whether to clean up a toxic waste site.” [Eduardo Porter and Jim Tankersley on the Economic Cost of Saving Lives]

Walter Robinson Fifties 2016

“One of Trump’s proposals should not cost taxpayers a dime, but may be his most frightening ask: a federal guarantee for the $2.6 trillion money market fund industry. Treasury did this on its own during the 2008 financial crisis after one fund collapsed, and it instantly reassured panicked depositors who were pulling their cash out of other funds, as well as panicked companies that relied on the funds to buy “corporate paper” to finance their operations. But after the backlash against bailouts, Congress stripped Treasury’s power to do it again. So Trump would need a vote to do it this time.
It makes sense to reassure the markets that money market funds will be safe, although it does raise the question of whether the funds should pay the government for insurance if they’re going to get backstopped whenever times get tough. It also feels a bit like a backdoor bank bailout, since one effect will be to reassure skittish companies that have been drawing down lines of credit from banks that they can rely on corporate paper instead.
But the most pressing question it raises is: Are these funds in more trouble than we realize? The last time Treasury did this was at the height of the worst panic since the Depression. Slipping this financial provision into an economic stimulus bill may be a far-sighted move to give Treasury the tools it would need to deal with a potential banking panic, but it could also send a message that Treasury is worried about a banking panic, and those kinds of messages can panic bankers.” [Michael Grunwald on the Bailout]

Image result for jared leto blade runner gif

“Every leap of civilization was built off the back of a disposable work force. We lost our stomach for slaves, unless engineered. But I can only make so many.” [Blade Runner 2049]

Tintoretto Miracle of the Manna 1577

“No one knows what the economic damages will be, or how totally the art world will be remade. This is a complex infrastructure made up of people at every economic level, all but a cadre of them living precarious lives in the best of times — dependent on the patronage of the very wealthy, but not themselves secure at all. Things could return to quasi normal when galleries open again — indeed, the art world soared after the market collapse of 2008 and 2009, as inequality accelerated and money sought refuge in the so-called safer vessels of art (art, safe?!?). Prices skyrocketed at the top, megagalleries mushroomed, and all the rest. But it’s also possible that, this time, numerous non-megagalleries won’t make it through to whatever the other side of this storm will look like.” [Jerry Saltz on the viral crisis]

Stripper Cash

Walter Robinson Stripper Cash 2018

My favorite works of the moment are Walter Robinson’s pulp fiction book cover style paintings…. They seem to hit the right note about this wrong economic time – superficial, desperate-for-cash, hanging on to the golden years at any price… [Walter Robinson with Phong Bui – interesting and entertaining interview]

500 Billion!!! – “Answering the first question, Trump suggested that an extended economic shutdown would result in more “death” than the spread of a virus that in best-case estimates would kill tens of thousands of Americans. Answering the question of who would provide accountability for the unrestricted distribution of half-a-trillion dollars, Trump’s response was even less promising: “I’ll be the oversight. I’ll be the oversight.”” [Matt Stieb on the 500 Billion Slush Fund]

U.S. Lawmakers Reach $2 Trillion Aid Deal – The White House and Congress struck a deal in the predawn hours to deliver $2 trillion in government relief to a nation increasingly under lockdown, watching nervously as the twin threats of disease and economic ruin grow more dire.
[NY Times This Morning]

“The deal was announced several hours—and into the wee hours of the next day—after a stock market rally for the ages. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its largest single-day gain since 1933 on news Tuesday that a deal was coming together. Signs of a major injection of cash into the economy appeared to give investors some solace as the U.S. reported an uptick in confirmed Covid-19 cases and braced for unemployment claims, which are reported this week, that are expected to have soared.” [WSJ ByJoshua Jamerson and Andrew Duehren]

Walter Robinson Keep It Coming 2018

Abstraction 😫😳😖😳

Sherrie Levine Untitled (Mr. Austridge- 2) 1989

“The world is filled to suffocating. Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. And we note that the picture is but a space in which a variety of images, not of them original, blend and clash. A picture is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture. Similar to those eternal copyists Bouvard and Pechuchet, we indicate the profound ridiculousness that is precisely the truth of painting. We can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. Succeeding the painter, plagiarist no longer bears within him passions, humors, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense encyclopedia from which he draws. The viewer is the tablet on which all quotations that make a painting are inscribed without any of them being lost. A painting’s meaning lies not in its origin, but in its destination. The birth of the viewer must be at the cost of the painter.” [Sherry Levine First Statement]

“Unusually egalitarian in the distribution of its favors, the show includes more women than ever before (more than one-third) and a high number of artists who have worked for years without substantial recognition. It seems less indebted to the dictates of a few powerful galleries than in years past. It doesn’t skimp on its enthusiasm for what might be called the Neo-Minimalist revival, and is loaded with work that the general public might find accessible only after consulting wall labels or the catalogue…
In this regard, and in others, the new works of Sherrie Levine, ensconced high on a prominent wall on the Whitney’s fourth floor, are pertinent. They aren’t her best paintings, but their identical image, taken from George Hermann’s ”Krazy Kat,” gains force in this context. It depicts an ostrich with his head characteristically out of sight, stuck not in sand but in a bucket on wheels, guaranteeing a permanent yet mobile state of oblivion – a fitting symbol for the entire exhibition.” [Roberta Smith on the 1989 Biennial]

Elsewhere in the biennial the aura of the handmade object shone as brightly as ever. The sculpture of Saint Clair Cemin draws historically from Art Nouveau and biographically from a Brazilian childhood in surroundings that were both Victorian and rustic.” I work with the notions of grotesque and beautiful, and see how you can articulate those notions into one unity. I think the understanding of the origins and understanding of the the historical background of the work gives a certain sense of complicity between the viewer and the artist. But I think this sense of complicity and proximity to the work is as good as a sense of estrangement and alienation from the work. It’s not necessarily the best thing. It’s just one possibility. I’ll give an example. I saw a show recently and there was a whole explanation about the show. And the explanation made it more poor, actually. The show was much more interesting when I was trying to figure it out myself.” [Saint Clair Cemin 1988 Whitney Biennial]

Martha Diamond Red Light 1988

In the early ’70s there were a number of people who were putting art work on the ceiling, around the room, growing from the floor up, working from the top down, using materials directly. That was an influence. And I began to go to museums more. And the Bykert Gallery, which was so hot... I remember Julian Schnabel, whose work I saw way early on, before he had a gallery. I was sort of shocked, but I never forgot the experience of seeing those works. They were huge, very tall. Slowly, I began to understand what he was doing, just in terms of scale and energy. And Joel Shapiro, whose work I always paid attention to, once gave me great advice, “Don’t edit in advance.”
Paula Cooper Gallery was the place to look at new art. I began to appreciate Alex Katz’s paintings, when I went back to using a brush. And the Italians came, and the Germans came, and a there was a lot more kinds of content, from all over the place, all over the world, ranging from Clemente to Keifer. A lot of people began to paint again, when painting was supposed to be dead. The amount of energy in the ’80s was a big deal. [Martha Diamond in conversation with Ilka Scobie]

Mary Heilmann, Matisse, 1989

Labor intensity of the most ostentatious kind or byzantine technical wizardry now stoke an indiscriminate marketplace with a wealth of seductive, sometimes beautiful, sometimes merely fussy works of art whose surfaces are more fetishized, more lavished with special effects that anything seen since the days of Gustave Moreau. Today’s art buyers are hardly adverse to the material signifiers of virtuosity, or anyway of “hard work.” And as the curators of this Biennial cautioned, the marketplace has the power to influence artistic output. All of which makes me wonder all over again why they chose this path of least resistance.
The marketplace these curators love and hate also regularly induces artists to exhibit works that under different economic circumstances might never have left their studios. In this society, you take what you’re given. And that, I suppose, is the key to another contradiction in this year’s Biennial. As emphatic as its organizers claimed to be about searching for significant new art, this survey contained so much that was familiar and/or indifferent; even, in some cases, by artists who had done better work during the previous two years. Is it enough to say that institutions like the Whitney are now as abject in their relationships to certain contemporary dealers as your average art-buying millionaire? Somehow I don’t think so.” [David Deitcher on the 1989 Biennial]

Bottoms Up

1989 Whitney Biennial Catalog

“Friday is shaping up as potentially one of the most volatile trading days in years, as scheduled changes in futures, options and other derivatives markets threaten to add to a frenzied trading month that has already had some of the biggest daily stock-index swings ever.
The S&P 500 has risen or fallen at least 4% in eight straight sessions, the longest streak in history, according to Dow Jones Market Data. The Cboe Volatility Index, the Wall Street fear gauge known as the VIX, hit its highest level in history this week.” [WSJ Thursday March 19, 2020]

The Coronavirus and the panic and hysteria it has unleashed in the stock market have revealed many of the economic fictions underlying NeoLiberal capitalism. Every aspect of our society, every transaction, every debt and payment, every international treaty, every contract, every business, is now under intense scrutiny and stress. With the market in extreme downfall our economic lives have been trashed in just under a week. There’s nothing to be done I’m afraid. So, I am asking you to be smart. Take care of yourselves. If you have a job hang on to it if you can. Protect your family and your future – because nothing is going to be as it was. Be ready to see the galleries dry up, the fairs stop and the buyers to disappear. The truth is it’s a perfect time to take your art life, your studio, underground. Be rigorous and stringent and honest about your work. Take criticism as an opportunity to rid yourself of old and/or bad ideas, eliminate the recent past and find your true self somewhere in the mix. Reach out only to those few others who are also doing this kind of self evaluation, because these are the kinds of artists that will be ready to be honest with you, to value your honesty, and ultimately, to lead with you. Change, real life changes, are upon us. Use it.

Abstraction 😳😫😳

Wallace & Donohue The Artist Disappears 1987

“Today’s art world is troubled, yet resilient, something like the society it reflects. We have moved into a situation where wealth is the only agreed upon arbiter of value. Capitalism has overtaken contemporary art, quantifying and reducing it to the status of commodity. Ours is a system adrift in mortgaged goods and obsessed with accumulation, where the spectacle of art consumption has been played out in a public forum geared to journalistic hyperbole. Museums of contemporary art, whose self-definition has joined preservation with innovation, now risk being turned away from both activities by economic conditions and attitudes that nullify their power to acquire, display and evaluate art.” [Richard Armstrong, Richard Marshall and Lisa Phillips – Whitney Biennial 1989]

The other day while looking through the catalogue from the 1989 Whitney Biennial it became apparent that a great many of the abstract artists and the ideas of that time are still ruling the roost 31 years later. It seems that the ’89 WhiBi was in actuality a Postmodern time bomb that’s still happily ticking away. It’s kind of like a Cold War stand off – nothing happens with mutually assured destruction. What’s also interesting about that catalogue was the “Introduction” (written by Armstrong, Marshall and Phillips) which introduced us to the emerging Neo-Liberal Economic Art World. With hindsight it’s not difficult to see that this art – especially this kind of abstract painting – was going to be a ready and willing partner in the aesthetics emerging out of the new art market economy.

“I looked at some of Van Gogh’s self-portraits. I thought of somehow updating that into some sort of perverse Information Age equation – that would somehow be able to locate the individual – as a sort of object in my time in relationship to how he did it in relationship to his time. And so I thought of utilizing the consumables, you know, that we choose. Each one of us is defined by a series of choices prescribed by the culture, and we just select out of the myriad possibilities. So for instance, I picked the glamour toothpaste, but then again this is rotgut mezcal – which you can essentially run a motorcycle on. Of course we go upscale to channel 13 and down to Fruit of the Loom. So somehow in the matrix of all this we isolate the individual. So it [this portrait] became… as accurate as the Van Gogh one was for its time. Maybe not, but maybe…” [Ashley Bickerton on his work in the 1989 WhiBi]

Against the market-driven backdrop of the late eighties, artists are faced with great challenges: to find the time and space for reflection and the testing of ideas in the face of relentless pressure to produce; to persist despite the spurious authority of a collectors’ consensus; to resist the temptation of becoming cynical; to seek and discover a sense of purpose and value that overrides the greed and impotent theorizing that has choked so much contemporary art.” [Richard Armstrong, Richard Marshall and Lisa Phillips – Whitney Biennial 1989]

Modernism’s staunch belief in historical inevitability has been replaced by hybrid combinations of various visual languages. It is a polyglot world. Fluidity and ambiguity are guiding principles today. These are works that seem to evolve before us, revealing a sense of vulnerability, delicacy and instability. The works’ mutable reality is apparent in their full mix of abstract and representational values. The project of abstraction, at least geometric abstraction with its appeal to utopianism, attracts few adherents among the artists here. Abstraction is no longer perceived as the antithesis of representation or as a next step in a prescribed linear progression.” [Richard Armstrong, Richard Marshall and Lisa Phillips – Whitney Biennial 1989]


Paul McCarthy Painter 1995

“In his 1995 video Painter, Paul McCarthy is dressed as a disturbing, overblown absurdist cliché of an artist and is filmed in a cheap studio. He smears paint on a canvas with an oversized brush, mumbling “God” and blowing raspberries. He rubs a giant paint-tube against a canvas with his body like a sexed-up cat against a pole. The result is an abstract paintingthe most ridiculous form of artwork McCarthy could think to parody. Yet over ten years later something has happened. Abstract painting feels fresh again.
Contemporary abstract painting is different to previous incarnations for a few reasons. It did not emerge in opposition to representational painting. It’s not like we are living in times where painted images of the world are dominant. The grand history of paint is also not the point. It’s almost 100 years since Kazimir Malevich painted “Black Square”, and its utopian aspects feel old-fashioned. Gone is the enticing communist idea that anti-representation meant anti-establishment. The modernist abstract paintings of the 1930s and 40s, the minimalism of the 1960s and 1970s, even the neo-abstraction of the 1980s seem long past. And yet regular visitors to exhibitions or art fairs today can’t help but notice the prominence of abstract artworks on the walls.” [Francesca Gavin on Abstract Painting]

Keltie Ferris Acres 2018

A significant departure has been made from the characteristically fuzzy and pixelated images taken and transformed from screens present in previous paintings. In their stead is an assertive—and risky—incursion of influence from high profile paintersGeorge Condo, Christopher Wool, and Jonathan Lasker—but especially Wool, of whom Ferris has said, “I feel like Christopher Wool is so influential, he’s almost like our de Kooning right now. Everyone is copying him, or riffing on what he has brought to the table. Ferris has been an exemplary exponent of a mode of abstraction widespread in New York from the 2000s, an informal formalism that eschews a settled pictorial structure. It’s a pictorial approach long explored by Albert Oehlen, amongst others in Germany and outside the Anglophone world, albeit with a less colorful, hospitable edge. Oehlen and Wool are artists with a close personal and exhibiting history, Wool coming into contact with Oehlen and other Cologne artists as early as the 1980s on visits to that Rhineland city. Ferris, particularly in this exhibition, can be regarded as thoroughly located in this German-American dialogue. [David Rhodes on Keltie Ferris]

There’s something going on
And I don’t know what it is
There’s a change taking place in my mind
And I don’t know how I lived
Before the doors were opened
To the house of wisdom…
The reality of it all is that reality is
What it is or what we think it is
Why are things the way they are?
Who has taught us all that we know now?
And is it for real?
Makes you wonder
Makes me wonder
Makes us wonder
[Dionne Farris Reality]

You studied under Albert Oehlen at Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. What does an academic arts education have to provide their students with? In hindsight, what would you advice your first-semester self in order to make the most out of it?
Studying art ideally offers a wide array of possibilities to try things out. It should be as liberal in spirit as possible, with an optional education in art history. The importance of exchanging ideas with your peers can’t be overestimated. That said, I’ve never ever painted worse than I did during my stint at the academy. In retrospect I would advise freshman David to drink more beer, simply because it takes so long for my body to go back to normal nowadays.
What was your professionalization like? From an outside perspective it seemingly all went very fast for you.
The same people who trashed my work at first became prospective buyers years later. To be honest, I still feel like I never underwent a real process of professionalization. I hope I will never become a professional. I’ve been deliberately keeping things quiet for some time now. I rarely partake in exhibitions. My paintings have been my only real contact with the art world anyways.” [David Ostrowski in conversation with Julian Brimmers].


Walter Rosenblum Ad Reinhardt in his studio 1953
“There’s nothing else to say?” I asked.
“No,” he said.

The one struggle in art is the struggle of artists against artists, of artist against artist, of the artist-as-artist within and against the artist-as-man, -animal, or -vegetable. Artists who claim their artwork comes from nature, life, reality, earth or heaven, as ‘mirrors of the soul’ or ‘reflections of conditions’ or ‘instruments of the universe,’ who cook up ‘new images of man’ – figures and ‘nature-in-abstraction’ – pictures, are subjectively and objectively rascals or rustics. The art of ‘figuring’ or ‘picturing’ is not a fine art. An artist who is lobbying as a ‘creature of circumstances’ or logrolling as a ‘victim of fate’ is not a fine master artist. No one ever forces an artist to be pure. [Ad Reinhardt Art as Art]

Lately, I’ve been seeing a great deal of abstraction online that looks a great deal like Motherwell’s CubEx collages. Only these contemporary works are blown up to about 6 times the size of the originals. And not surprisingly these blown up paintings look good. They’re handsome works based on handsome works, well made, professional, presentable and they make a statement in a huge empty loft space. And I think this kind of abstraction is a hallmark of this moment. Artists have been trained to know what abstraction looks like and how it’s supposed to behave. And as a trained professional one does not break with precedent – one builds on it. So it seems that everyone’s making familiar abstract art these days. And it shows up everywhere – especially in the lobbies, conference rooms and hallways of corporations and institutions all over the world.

Robert Motherwell, Studio with Aladdin Label, 1977 (left); Red, White and Blue No. 1, 1967

Everyone – Everywhere – Twenty Four Seven – Three Sixty Five (three sixty six this year) – abstract painting is globally ubiquitous, a classic luxury merchandise made and presented to us like designer bags in Giorgio Armani or Louis Vuitton. And like those desired luxury goods there are many cheaply made abstract paintings that duplicate and replicate that sought after style for far less money. So how do we value what’s good and what isn’t? How do we tell the Canal Street knockoff from the “real deal.” Is it easily apparent in the work? The CV? The artist? The history? Who was first? A combination of all these things? How do we actually know what’s good, what’s innovative, or what’s different when so much of the abstraction we see has reached an astonishing level of high-end replication and production and looks-like, feels-like and acts-like well-known-museum-installed abstract work made 50, 60, or even 100 years ago?

Previous studies showed that people with different personality traits exhibit a preference for particular art styles. Specifically, participants with higher scores for Neuroticism, Extraversion and Openness like abstract artworks more than other artistic styles (Furnham and Avison, 1997; Furnham and Walker, 2001; Rawlings and Bastian, 2002). Here, we provide evidence that even for one particular art style (i.e., abstract art), aesthetic preferences depend on individual personality traits. The present study is a follow-up to a study on image statistics by Mallon et al. (2014), who showed that subgroups of participants prefer images with different SIPs. Here, we extend these previous findings and show that high values in Neuroticism are linked to a preference for objectively complex images, while high values in Openness can be associated with a preference for a portrait orientation of images. Güclütürk et al. (2016) described that two groups of participants differed in their liking of digital images with varying complexity. One group of participants showed increasingly lower liking rates for increasingly more complex images while another group showed the opposite pattern of preference. Here, we extend these findings by showing that, in addition to their general preference for abstract artworks (Furnham and Walker, 2001), participants with higher scores for Neuroticism also prefer more objectively complex abstract artworks as compared to participants with lower scores for Neuroticism. [Evaluating Abstract Art Nathalie LyssenkoChristoph Redies and Gregor U. Hayn-Leichsenring]

I wondered how the market determines the quality of an AbEx painting—that is, how dollar and cent values are ascribed to paintings. Michael Macaulay, Senior Vice President and Head of Evening Sales Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s, is quick to note that the wide breadth of AbEx art means the label can lose some of its usefulness.
The result is that market evaluation is “artist-specific and then focused painting-by-painting,” he said. “We are of course bearing in mind its historical significance. We are evaluating a number of more quantifiable factors, like scale, palette, mode of execution, condition. And then there are a lot of softer factors to consider, like aesthetic appeal, which of course is very subjective.” Collectors have different tastes independent of the art-historical canon, too, perhaps valuing a Rothko over a Pollock, for whatever reason. And just as the general canon values women and AbEx artists of color less than their male counterparts, so too does the market. [Isaac Kaplan on Good Abstraction]

Art-historical significance used to mean two things – changing the rules of visual encounters and influencing those that followed. Picasso said those who innovate have to break through walls. And that’s not necessarily a pretty thing, and neither is the art. He completed this thought by saying that those who followed could make these new ideas, this innovation, pretty because the hard work was already finished. And that seems to describe the process. But today’s Modernists don’t innovate per se – it’s more like they rearrange the furniture, add a little feng shui to visual ideas and art theoretics that are already known. Think Jeff Koons and David Salle making James Rosenquist’s paintings or every assemblage artist ever making one aspect of Robert Rauschenberg’s various combines or most every painter that came to market prominence in the 2000s and Joan Miro.