I think Edward Winkleman hit the nail on the head with this post concerning the #classexhibition that’s going on at his gallery. The exhibition was designed by William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton as a critique of the current Art Market system and it has been a gathering place for dissent. The problem with this exhibition and this “dissent” is that I haven’t read or seen much about CHANGE, as in aesthetic change or style change. I think Edward is getting that idea as well.
“At the height of Abstract Expressionists utter domination in the US art market, a group of very smart younger (non-stars at the time) artists dethroned the Ab-Exers…not through some clever manipulation of the market system, not through calls for new regulations or new laws, but instead WITH THEIR ART!!! Most notably, Jasper Johns mocked abstract expressionism with (among other works) his canvas titled “Painting with Two Balls” (see above) so effectively that along with similar efforts by Rauschenberg and Stella, etc. it essentially disemboweled the dominance in the market of Ab Ex work.”
STYLE CHANGE my friends. This is exactly what we have been talking about and doing here on Henri! Postmodernism has had it’s time. It’s DONE. Acceptance is not the same as Change.
“The response to my plea for the artists in the room to recognize their power, however, was lukewarm. Complaints about Johns being a “genius” and such episodes in history not being available to the vast majority of working artist threw a wet blanket over my pep talk. Wallowing in self-pity is apparently so much more comfortable than changing the world. I get it.”
Art is not a job, nor is it a “career.” It’s your life! And that makes up the reality of our studios, our commitments and our consequences.
“Among artists, we no longer know what to say to each other, we don’t know if we ought to laugh or cry about it, and doing, my word, neither one thing nor the other we are happiest when we find ourselves in possession of a little paint and canvas, the thing we also lack sometimes. But any idea of a regular life, any idea of awakening in ourselves or in others gentle ideas or sensations, all of this must necessarily appear pure utopia to us….” The letters of Van Gogh’s last year mark his acceptance of his isolation, coupled with the belief that the isolation need not be absolute – that, one day, there will be a community of readers and viewers who will understand him, and that his mistake had been to try and materialize that community in the moment instead of accepting it as the possible gift of another world and time. “One must seize the reality of one’s fate and that’s that.” Adam Gopnik Van Gogh’s Ear
But what, exactly, is the “reality of one’s fate?” Over the years artists have come to see the life of Van Gogh as a cautionary tale. In the 1980s, the poet Rene Ricard used this tale as a platform for promoting a new generation of painters and artists. In The Radiant Child Ricard stated, “Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh Boat. There is no trip so horrible that someone won’t take it. Nobody wants to miss the Van Gogh Boat. The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent van Gogh for really sending that myth into orbit…We’re so ashamed of his life that the rest of art history will be retribution for van Gogh’s neglect. No one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another van Gogh. And yet looking at art history we see that these other guys were pros. They started when they were kids. They sold their work. They worked on commission. There is no great artist in all art history who was as ignored as van Gogh, yet people are still afraid of missing the Van Gogh Boat.” During the eighties the gangplank into the art world was lowered and a stream of new collectors embarked on an investment cruise. Art was bought and sold like commodities, produced like merchandise and that created a new culture economy – one that hadn’t existed in the art world before. A new form of institutional artist began to take shape in our studios, and as more artists got paid, rocking the boat began to look “deliciously foolish.” These new artists no longer trudged through the fields of Arles, they sailed with the economic tides providing “advanced culture” for a new generation of financial investors sunning on biennial poop decks. On this new ship, in this new economy, we came to understand that there won’t be any Van Gogh boats – Matisse, Picasso or Warhol ones either. Our fate, it seems, set sail for a very different kind of “reality” than the one Van Gogh came to accept.
Why? Because these sorts of anomalies, these sorts of artists, change the structures and lives of the art world. They change one’s perceptions of what reality can be, they upset the balances of control. Postmodernism has been with us for nearly 60 years, and we continue to apply its structures and practices to whatever art we make. This is true for many reasons – social, economic, cultural, political. It is true because change is minimized and directed by the very systems we have come to rely on, those things that define our lives, our realities. In our Postmodern era, the concept of history no longer exists, there is no striving for change or advancement. There is only an endless refurbishment and customization of the program itself. The vessel the art economy sails on today is very much a Ship of Theseus. Think of the achievements of the first half of the 20th Century and compare that to our Postmodern age. The technological, political, ethical, moral and economic advancements and the physical clashes that happended because of those advancements were stunning. In the first 50-60 odd years we moved from horse drawn carriages to engines that broke the sound barrier, from trains to automobiles to rocket ships, and we finished the Modernist era with a walk on the moon – the endpoint of “history.” Think of it – from the fields of Arles to the Sea of Tranquilty in less than a century. Then the tide went out…
To paraphrase Warhol: the best Art is Business. But even this deft aphorism seems a bit naive in our High POMO age. Today the best Art is Finance. And the Art Market looks more and more like the modern day Financial Industry. Derivatives, Credit Defaults Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations, and many other contemporary financial instruments were valued through the perceptions of other financial instruments. All of these interconnected “realities” were created using Postmodern theoretic practices. They essentially add up to an endgame of finance. These financial products exist only as concepts, concepts that tweak and customize other concepts in order to waylay the consequences that those primary concepts may hold. They are not “things,” they are “products” designed to make other “products” seem more “real.” And in our age of digitization and programming, these sorts of conceptual practices have become the only means in which the “value” of value itself must be continually inflated without actually contributing anything “real” to that value. Concept is far more important than reality because it exists for nothingness, it exists in a void, it slides in and out of perception. If we “see” Postmodernism in this way, conceptual art uses the same “rules” as contemporary finance. “Conceptual art is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns.” There is very little practical theoretical difference between, say, the work of Bruce Nauman and the work of Alan Greenspan – both indulge in Postmodern practices to achieve their “conceptual” realities. How? By allowing the mechanisms of the “market” or the “studio” to create laissez faire “realities” that focus on the ground, on nothingness and the void rather than the thing-in-itself; concept as reality – where words take precedence over form. It is a magician’s trick, a shell game – the worst kind of illusory distraction (we’ll be discussing this comparison in depth in an upcoming reality post.) After watching Nauman heal-and-toe-hip-sway along the outer edge of a square trudging through the fields in search of a vision seems quaint, or worse, mad.
“We no longer know what to say to each other…” I found that statement heartbreaking. It sounds like an end, the way relationships of all kind, end. It defines that moment of realization when there is no turning back, no rescue, that a new reality has formed right before our eyes. It is Van Gogh’s denouement – the moment after the heartbreak. There weren’t going to be any collector cruises or after-parties. No friends to open up to, no lover to lay with. He had only the fields, his paintings and letters, the asylum and that pistol pressed against his chest. His fate is nothing that we Postmoderns yearn for, nothing to romanticize. It is “deliciously foolish” to suffer so, but as we’ve come to understand in our conceptual world, there is a physical price to be paid for structuring one’s own “reality.” There always is. However, there’s something deeper going on as well, and it continues to come to light as I look further into “reality.” It is the power of our emotions, our deep inner demons, that also drive us into our reality and our inevitable fate. It colors our visions. As Georgina said – “We are our own devil,” and maybe that truly is the “reality” that we must seize.
I’m fooling myself,
Fooling myself into believing you
All these fictionary tales,
You’re telling yourself
Selfish, like a child that’s never heard of no
I watched him everchanging you,
Never find us
It’s 1:37 A.M. on a cold January night. You’re alone in a small half empty club, the walls painted black, thick smell of cigarettes, stale beer and sweat. There are a few young couples sitting close at the tables around you. You’ve stumbled into this place after a long day in the studio, and you’re looking for contact – something human. You throw back a shot of whiskey and cradle the tepid draft beer in your hand. The band has been a bit off through the first few songs. They’re not in sync, stiff, not feeling the moment. Then something happens and they come together. You light a cigarette, glad of the new beat. Some of the other half drunk souls walk up to the riser and start to sway. Your mind slips and you think about that painting that just wouldn’t come together, just wouldn’t gel. No one seems to understand this, not even your other artist friends who are endlessly planning their next photo shoot or set location. To them, you’re just beating a dead horse. No, you’re left in the studio struggling to put it all together for no “particular” reason. It’s a ridiculous situation to be in and you know it, the anachronism of paint in this light speed economy. Meanwhile the band has worked into a groove, the singer’s eyes closed as he croons “goodbye” – holding onto that last syllable, sliding into a falsetto. The rhythm crashes into harsh repetitions and crescendos, the beat tearing the place in two. The club falls silent as the last chord cuts sharp on the downbeat. Everyone understands that something great has just happened. A burst of whistles and applause. Reality?
We continue this series with a bit of life, at least, life that may have been lived and remembered. Life that we construct in certain ways. And it is this kind of constructed memory that we will be looking at because it is exactly this kind of fashioned memory that forms our realities. Now I say this because memory, whatever memories we have, never leaves us, never. They shape our existence as our existence shapes them. They haunt our outcomes and give our lives form, form that we may not fully comprehend. We react to our memories in such visceral ways. We try to share them, we use them to find common ground with other people’s realities, and we find, at times, that we have to come to terms with some of memories that may not be our own. We must regard the consequences of remembered “reality,” because they too, shape the life we create in our minds. Consequences fashion the choices we make, the emotions we feel, the other lives we impact, big or small. We create our true fictions in order to better explain our lives to each other and to ourselves. And these thoughts always seem to bring us back to the night studio, throw us back into our painterly realities. How does memory play into vision, how does it exist in paint, how does it exist in Art? We’ll discuss these things in this series of posts, and maybe we’ll get a bit closer to something felt, something real in our work.Disconnect
Right now as you are reading this, the program is reading you. Right now as I upload these words, I am being watched and documented. This is not paranoia, it is the nature of the reality of being in a program, the nature of our new “memory.” As you graft yourself onto the ethernet, it grafts itself onto you. For instance, the memory above, the one altered through my fleshy perception, is now part of the larger collective memory. It will be picked up by search engines and categorized. It will be filed in various data streams waiting for the right keyed sequences. Then it may appear on someone’s screen, altered by the categories of the program. But this memory will not simply be a tale of a “day in the life,” a painter’s moment. No. It will have been keyed by the program to a certain type of economic experience, a certain purchasing demographic locked into a specific consumerist outcome. (For instance, the music above by the fabulous Them Crooked Vultures can be purchased and downloaded immediately, and that makes this post a portal for commerce, tying these words and that “memory” to that shopping experience.) For each memory there will be other cues, other outcomes, not intended by me, that will lead you somewhere with the express purpose that something, everything is for sale.
The video on the left of a rainy night in Times Square is filled with the beautiful, speeding light and color of commerce – a kind of perpetual agonistic light show in which programs create “desire” for machines that will allow us to consume things that only the machines creating that desire will be able to translate into “things.” Or to put it more succinctly – the programmed “desire” leads us to a vast shopping mall for our consciousness. As more and more of our corporate economics have infected the collective electronic memory, the malls and the big box stores have moved directly into our homes, into our hands and into our minds, guiding and shaping our experiences, interactions and memories. When we upload our inner lives we become goods to consume; we become product. Our fleshy memories, our realities disconnect from an authentic moment, take on a different inflection online. But in the night studio life is a bit different.
For many of us who work in studios, we continue to do so in the same old ways. This is neither good nor bad, it is simply a fact, a reality. What we are after is not necessarily the work in front us, but the work inside of us. How many times have I destroyed good work trying to get to something better, something deeper. Christ, if I had a nickel for each time I’ve done that I’d be as rich as Koons. Those late nights or early mornings, those hours and days of living with the thing, those slight differences in hue or value are all part of the endless need for control that we try to exert over the thing. And this is part of the myth of the artist seeking perfection. Many artists perpetuate the idea of “control” as being a sign of their striving for something deeper, more refined or more real. But the truth is this is also a sign that we are unable to understand the full reality that we are trying to express. What we should be trying to get to is a state of being out of control. It is my experience in the studio that when I’m barely hanging on, when there is no “control,” then something is truly happening before my eyes, a reality is being made without me, in spite of me. I mean, nature, the thing we have no control over, happens in those moments when we aren’t pressing the keys or fiddling the knobs. Our physical self somehow gets ignored, or worse, becomes the outcome for some issue of conscious control. We head to the surgeon to remove the bump in our nose, or suck the fat from our asses, or enhance our peckers with pumps and hydraulics. We think that we have control over nature, that the plane won’t crash, that the island won’t collapse or the hurricane won’t swallow our home, that age will never ravage our beauty or our stamina. Yet Life, nature, reality, continues along in spite of us, in spite of our “control.”
We see this myth of control being exerted everywhere – from the buttoned down businessman’s hair gel all the way to the financial projections in a prospectus statement. We see it in shiny balloon dog sculptures, computer lens rendered paintings, or in the way we choose to speak of our lives on public programs. We see these things as reality, we believe that they are, and we rush to purchase them, to exhibit them, to proclaim them the “truth” of things. But in the night studio something else happens, we have to wait for life, for the moment when we begin to recognize a more insidious reality. And it’s never what we thought it would be, never the way we expect it, because in reality, not everything is possible, not everything bends to our control. Unlike Georgina, I’ve never been one that falls for the possiblities of things – I hope for them. Everything may be possible, but not everything makes itself real. When everything is possible we still believe in control, we fall in love with the camera, the lens, the program, with our own take on what we’ve come to understand as real, but none of that is “real.” In the art world today, everything is possible and nothing is real, and again, we are faced with something else, something we brought up in the last reality post – authenticity. What is authentic, what seems real, what feels real? Those are the hard questions we must face in the studio.
“What’s remarkable about the video is that you get to see how people really fight. In real life, as opposed to movies, it’s never fair. The guy has no chance. They’re breaking chairs and tables over his head, sucker-punching him, and then there’s that last kick to the face. The guy who kicks him is either really mad about something or just evil. It’s the most awful thing to do: kick someone like that when he has no chance. You really feel this restaurant fight. Scorsese can’t come close to matching this realism.”
Reality is not fair. And no matter what you may believe, it will have its way with you, and this is why it is exhilarating.
…But there is something about making a movie…
when you are in the reality of the film set, anything is possible.
…because the truth of it is, I love the camera….
On Massive Attack’s web site there are a number of links to short movies scored with music from their new album, in other words, videos. They are all very good, but the one entitled Paradise Circus by Toby Dye brings up a few of the issues that we will be looking at in this series. The short is an interview with Georgina Spelvin. What is fascinating about this interview is her impassioned discussion of the intimate relationship she developed with the camera. This relationship, as she describes it, is a way to liberation, a way to create a reality through desire. When she is intimate with the lens she becomes both the object of desire and the creator of images of desire. And in making that reality of desire she finds love – with the camera. All things become possible for her in front of the lens.
“When there is a camera running it is so thrilling.
God help me, I love the camera.”
We live our lives through the lens and the program. The intimate world, our interior world has collapsed through the ubiquity of the lens – we have no secrets. The details of our private lives, those physical and emotional moments that defined us have become the “reality of the set” where all things are possible. We live to act out, to display, to provide evidence of our interiority for an unseen, unheard audience. This “play” is similar to a religious experience formed by the trinity of the invisible audience, the lens and the program. When we confess, when we reveal ourselves to the lens we are cleansed, we become free. What are we seeking? Is it redemption, freedom, understanding or fame? What part of this lens capture of our confessions is “real” in the sense of our everyday lives? When do we stop constructing our realities and allow “reality” to construct us?
As we’ve allowed our lives to be captured in our technologies, we have given up something of the intimacy we are all seeming to crave in larger and larger amounts. That lost intimacy is connected to something that we used to known as authenticity. For instance, in the Toby Dye video it is clear that Georgina Spelvin in both manifestations of her “self” is acting. In the images from the movie the Devil in Miss Jones she says that her expression is “deliberate.” In her commentary she defines these fleeting intimate moments of joy or humiliation with a rehearsed delivery about that intimacy. In the meantime the music builds behind the commentary and the edited images moving us into her desire, building that desire and that reality within us. It is a construct, and this “reality” is made to highlight the fact that in front of the lens “anything is possible.” We, too, come to love the lens as Georgina does, but as we do, we lose the authenticity of those moments. We are involved in a passing fiction even as Georgina reveals her truth, her reality. We can not truly participate in this constructed reality, we remain desirous. This world, no matter how easily manifested, will always be hidden behind the screen.
“We are our own devil.”
The link to the video is here. There is graphic sexual imagery in the piece, but it is a masterful music video and better than most things you’ll see in a gallery. Toby Dye is a magician, transforming the banal into something beautiful.