Popular Culture – Academy of Paint II

In our first post on the Academy we showed a similar use of painting techniques and photo appropriation by three contemporary artists; Koons, Oehlen and Walker. All three were appropriating “public” imagery and then attacking that imagery with “paint” using brush strokes or hammy drawing to add levels of meaning to the appropriated image. This technique produces a kind of abstract figuration that attempts to layer social or political context over the “found” image ground. It’s fairly common in the painting world, the progenitors are Duchamp and Warhol. However, this academic technique is not limited to a random encounter of images and/or the meanings those images may imply. Appropriated layering has proliferated across all types of painting. Postmodernism rules painting’s theoretical roost, so to speak. In this post we’ll be discussing a POMO abstractionist that I admire to make and establish this point. Here abstract painting follows closely to the rules set by the POMO image appropriators, only more emphasis is placed on the layering of physical gesturing and the idea of painterly technique itself.

“I become more interested in ‘how to paint’ than ‘what to paint’.” The statement points to where he stands in his engagement with the history of images and the position of painting. For more than 25 years he has related to the changing state of reproduction: to the processes of picture making in all cultural realms, as well as to art’s recent and more distant histories. Revealed in Reproduction” Bettina Funcke

christopher_wool-_1Christopher Wool is one of the best POMO “abstract” painters working today. His work embodies all the principles of appropriation and contextual layering that POMO aspires too. His paintings are also exemplary of the current Academy of Paint. I am not a fan of Wool’s earlier word work which plays wholly into late 80s conceptual practices. Those word paintings look dated and stuck in time. However, his painting work beginning in the mid 90s consolidates and institutionalizes the Warholian painting practices we previously discussed in Overheads and Screenshots. Additionally, Wool’s work limits his critique to Abstract Expressionism through Pop, and as such he has maintained abstract painting’s unyielding connection to American Post-War painting in general and Greenbergian theoretics in the specific. He is the last strong Mannerist of importance in this line, and someone whose work we should all be reacting against.

“This body of work combines an array of painterly techniques, including spray paint, silkscreen, poured and rolled paint. Wool mixes these techniques into combinations that conflate printing and painting. In some works, painterly gestures upon closer inspection are actually silkscreened patterns, which Wool then exhibits paradoxically against paintings containing the original action. In others, Wool layers patterns on top of one another and then erases them with sign paint. Press Release 2001 Luhring Augustine”

Let’s have a look at how the process works. Wool begins his paintings with denial, erasing the image or the stroke. This denial is an emphatic first act, not one of vision, but tied to reproduction and opticality. Now I’m making this distinction because reproduction has become the academic starting point for ALL “progressive” art over the last 40 years. Reproduction is looking without seeing, it is a tacit acceptance of optical information, it is repetition. Wool’s first pass is either through the reproduction (the pattern, the photo silk screen) or the “found” stroke (usually in the form of a sprayed “graffiti” line). He stays within the monochrome, most likely black and white, in order to reduce visual excess, to stay on point so to speak. He then creates “layers of process” which suss out meaning through the act of painting. For Wool this meaning is exemplified in what is best described as a series of denials. First he denies the visual (which requires memory and dialog), then he denies color (which creates tension and complexity), then he denies imagery (scrubbing and/or covering the reproduction). You could almost look at this like it’s an aesthetic Ponzi scheme where the first tranche of investment is fed by the subsequent erasure of the latter investments, leaving nothing but a vast pool of vanished visual capital and endless denials of painterly culpability.

What is left on the surface of Wool’s paintings are the reworkings of that very surface and hence the meaning of the painting is tied to the actions on the surface. He doesn’t create an image, doesn’t create a space, doesn’t move color, nor does he discuss anything outside the very acts of reproduction and painterly process themselves. The solipsism of these works is stunning. The final work is not about looking or seeing, but about tracking the physical nature of his process, and then determining how that process continues to push the surface forward. He is a Savonarola of painting, his work an effective Postmodern critique of the late 50s surface stain abstractions so favored by Clement Greenberg. Those artists, like Motherwell and Frankenthaler, pushed the watery paint into the canvas, splashing or brushing to create painterly effects and advance a decadent aesthetic of flaccid beauty. They remained tied to Pollock’s idea of the natural, that nature flowed through the artist and wound up “expressed” on the surface of the canvas. For Wool, alive today in a world of reproduction and the post-human, the focus of painting is found in the anti-natural or in the process of determining one’s existence in the face of the power of reproduction. The graffiti that customizes that reproduction, or in turn, the graffiti that becomes the customized image determine the surface. His is a “hard man” posture, one that accepts the limits of his pointed two prong attack. As a good friend once said about Wool’s work, “It’s as if Andy Warhol took steroids and turned butch.”

It’s also interesting that the various articles on the Luhring website and the photos on his web site are – for the most part – in black and white. Even when presenting visions of his studio life he denies us access to the technicolor of Oz. The tornado has yet to touch down, and Wool remains in hard scrabble Kansas where there is nothing but black and white work and survival. And truth be told, these are paintings about survival, about denying “excess” in order to make it through this endless 21st century challenge to the legitimacy of both painting and abstraction. Like chemo-therapy these works destroy the host to kill the metastasis. Now there are many abstractionists working today that do emphasize color, but their theoretical approach to meaning is not far different from the approach taken by Christopher Wool or Richard Prince or Warhol for that matter. The abstract, especially American Abstraction, does not have the liability nor the history of imagery. It’s emphasis has always been on tools, process and materials. Which brings us up from the depths straight to the surface. The continual comfort of Greenberg’s surface and side, the destruction of “natural” imagery and the endless emphasis on process are all hard at work, desperate to keep abstraction afloat.

In Postmodern America some would argue that Wool’s work doesn’t fall into the category of Popular Culture simply because there are no images outside of the painting itself. But it is the mechanics of the painting, the “How” of it that puts Wool’s work squarely in the Postmodern Pop realm. Our continuing discussion on Pop Culture has it’s fun elements, things we like, things that mean something to us, but what we want to point out is “the man behind the curtain.” To understand how something works is to understand what it does, what it means and the limitations it has. Wool’s focus on the process of denial is no different in scope than American Idol’s audition process. I shall leave the intracacies of that discussion up to you. The truth is we have other ideas about abstraction and its future, and we’ve elucidated some of those ideas in our other series. We believe it’s time to do away with the Postmodern academy, along with the reactionaries of Modernism that keep us hemmed in to the previous century. In the meantime we have a few strong Mannerist painters, like Wool, to challenge us and to react against. For the POMOs stuck in Kansas – the tornado is about to touch down!

Popular Culture – Bubble Culture

I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility. The rebellion by American youth against the money culture never happened. Why bother to overturn your parents’ world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces? At some point, I gave up waiting for the end. There was no scandal or reversal, I assumed, that could sink the system. Michael Lewis “The End”

This exact quote could almost describe the state of the Postmodern Art World. Why? There has been no rebellion, no reconsideration, no thinking about the recent past in any form – Just unequivocal acceptance and slavish following of POMO’s theoretical stance. But things have changed exponentially in the last few months. The stock market has, for all intents and purposes, crashed. Not all at once, but over the last year we have watched it fall six thousand points or more. The market’s highs last year were in the mid 14000s, today, we are in the mid 8 thousands, and we are threatened with it falling further to nearly half of its former value. If you think this has no bearing on the value of art AND artists – you are sorely mistaken.

Economically we’ve experienced one bubble after another and in this year alone we saw the deflation and depreciation of real estate, financial institutions and commodities (like the hedge fund run on oil and food staples over the summer.) We’ve seen it in our own art world with the recent deflation and depreciation of the auction houses, art fairs, and the reputations of many currently hot artists. The last amazingly OTT moment for inflated money in the art world was the Damien Hirst auction in September. If ever there was a manufactured bubble in the culture markets surely this “straight to auction” moment was it. The press surrounding this fire sale of warehoused product was immaculate, and the hype went off without a hitch. The principals walked away with millions – I’m not sure I believe the inflated figures – but they certainly cleaned up.

The “art” that was sold had little to offer aesthetically – there were no new ideas from Damien – it was basically the spinning out of tried and true art product under a brand name. But the artistic victory, the critical victory, was in the fact that “art” in the hands of a truly branded and successful artist, could in fact, be sold as nothing more than a desirable prestige commodity, like a gulf stream or a house in Palm Beach. Additionally, the amazing and radical part of the hype surrounding the pre-sale were the comments by the artist himself. He stated that he would not be creating any more of these types of works – this was it. The perception he created was one of a determined and enforced scarcity. It was a conceptual tour-de-force of the soft sell at work, and it put to rest the idea, forever, that art was an elite, avant garde activity. With one press release Hirst managed to bring to an end the old idea of High Culture by integrating its historical machinations into our everyday existences. Unlike the intellectuals of the 50s who dreamed of an “artless” culture where art would be lived everyday by the populace, Hirst and the Postmoderns dream of a business culture where the business would be lived and practiced by the artists. Up is the new down!

Perceived scarcity creates hype and bubbles. And it is the perception of those bubbles that is the calling card of the elite classes of all stripe in the 21st century. Perceptions are the life blood of the media, they are the focus of society, and they are the endgame of Postmodern theoretics. Perception is, for all intents and purposes, the power guiding the new electronic media. How we perceive or how we are perceived is the ultimate game, and it’s being played out before our eyes, through the screens and lenses that proliferate our myopic world. It is this manipulation of the endgame that leaves us breathless and desirous as we chase after the feigned scarcities of fame, fortune and history. Bubble culture is about these perceptions and manipulations. And it sings to our ego centered souls. However, we are not tethered to the mast nor are we deaf to the the siren song that drives us mad with desire. We artists have crashed on the rocks, done in by our outsized “business” ambitions.

In the new year we will continue the Popular Culture series examining the machinations behind the scenes as we have been. Our first in depth series will begin in January with a discussion by artists relating to the difference between Style and Brand and how fame or recognition can drive those two very different approaches to making art. Stay Tuned! Exciting Times Lie Ahead!

Popular Culture: Academy of Paint

I recently came across these images by three well known artists. All seem to be working the same ground in the same way. This is Postmodernism at its zenith. And it is what continues to stop painting’s advancement in its tracks. Albert Oehlen‘s painting is from a show at Max Hetzler’s Gallery. Where, incidentally, there is also a show of Jeff Koons‘ recent paintings. I only bring this up because of our last post which featured a short discussion of Kelley Walker. We mentioned the checklist of the academic tropes that continue to plague painting and they are the basis of his painting. Once I saw these other jpegs I thought that the similarities between Walker’s work and these works were just too close to not deal with the issue in some small fashion.

1036.0.html.jpgAll of the images use computers and lens based pictorial information. In Oehlen’s painting it’s advertising, in Koon’s painting it’s erotic images that have been downloaded, printed and then blown up again to reveal the dot printing. Walker’s painting is from a men’s lifestyle magazine cover. Each of the lens based images becomes a ground for the “painting” that steps into the foreground. This technique using the materiality of “paint” has been the fall back position for many years now – otherwise known as the “overlay.” now this technique is a particularly insidious part of Postmodern practice because the overlay gives the work an appearance of depth. Not in a visual sense, but in the sense of meaning. The overlay becomes a critique of the meaning of the image providing a context for the image to be understood in a different light. The problem with this technique is that it is the preferred choice when customizing an image, in other words, it is an academic stylistic device.


There are two parts in this process to determine the context. First the ground/image carries some form of public consumer meaning framing the conversation for the artist. The second part is the “painterly” critique – smearing the image – drawing attention to certain parts of the ground or trying to connect the meaning of the ground to the meaning of the “expressive” smears.
These examples use classic Postmodern techniques. A program is chosen, the artist then customizes the discussion of that program like chat show hosts. The ground is a question taste, choice. Just as one would choose any product and define oneself through that product. The defining self, the subjective is then seen through the painterly critique.

Here are bits of the press releases.
Oehlen: In his recent paintings, Oehlen’s use of irritating advertising posters through the combination and overlapping of their terms and themes is carried to an extreme. One poster, which is supposed to connote luxury and seduce to Christmas shopping, disappears under the word hur€ (whor€); another, an advertisement for English Courses offered by the British Council in Spain is subtitled with the French word merde (shit) – isn’t swearing the first thing you learn in a foreign language?
However, those who would only see a simple condemnation of consumer frenzy or European language amalgamations fall for Albert Oehlen’s scheme. Figurative elements rub against each other and are processed until they lose their contextual meaning and become pure form. Hereby, the pictorial flow is not lost. On the contrary – Oehlen’s reduction of colour and form bring out the different dynamics combined on the canvas. Quick dashes of colour that are decelerated by milky taints emphasize the complexity of each painting.

Koons: Koons’ paintings convey a bursting energy and declarative precision. He uses film stills, photographs and other print-related images; collages and manipulates them together digitally, before achieving the final composition by inserting abstract and figurative elements. The image is accurately and elaborately painted onto the canvas while Koons takes crucial care of every detail.
The titles, together with the roughly pixelated background and abstract linear motifs of the exhibited paintings are part of the Koonsian erotic cosmos. References to art history can always be met in Koons’ work: from baroque painting to Marcel Duchamp or as in this body of work, Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World.

Walker: Using the cover of African-American lads’ mag King, Kelley Walker gives consumerist response to media provocation. Succumbing to the temptations of Hollywood beauty Regina Hall, Walker offers his enduring lust in the form of lewd and raunchy ‘splatter painting’. Drawing ironic entendres from the humorous Pollock reference, Walker’s expressionism is actually made from squirting popular brands of toothpaste over the image, then scanning it into his computer. Raising complex issues of race, gender, body image, and representation, Walker offers one abject product to counter another, rendering them both infinitely more appealing.

Each of these artists are intent on creating new contexts for the imagery that drives consumer culture through the lens based electronic world. Every image, every pixel is part and parcel of the digitization of consumer society and the proliferation of that programming. And like that programming these images give an illusion of choice or personal involvement as if the image has been crafted specifically for the chooser. This is how desire is created in the advertising world. It is a desire for the image, desire to make the image, the product, part of one’s life. The Postmodernist must maintain his distance from the image, from the meaning of the image in order to continue to desire that image. It is the distance that makes the context. In Oehlen’s case he wants to remove meaning from the advertisements in order to create a context for a traditional formal scene. Koons wants to connect the found imagery to art historical models eroticizing and elevating the ground as high art. Walker hopes to do something similar adding a political/cultural critique. What remains is the image and the subjective “expressionism” of the artist. And it’s the “expressionism” that defines the subjective critique. Pouring, smearing, dripping, gooping, you name it – the fall back position is the fluid, the seminal, the exposure of the mechanical workings that created the image. In order to personalize, subjectivize the critique the artists “wear” the image, they use it, they express themselves through it. It’s this use-value of the image, the appropriation of that image that gives the work the illusion of a personal style (…it is mine because I chose it.) This is nothing more than the shoppers mentality ingrained in post-industrial consumer society. Ultimately this POMO strategy is the difference between desire and passion, between distanced critique and physical involvement, between the societal and the personal. It is part and parcel of Postmodern theoretics.

Painting is stuck dealing with these issues, and it has been since the 1960s – see our post on Overheads and Screenshots. The Academy of Paint continues…

Popular Culture – The Middle Brow

The precondition for kitsch, a condition without which kitsch would be impossible, is the availability close at hand of a fully matured cultural tradition, whose discoveries, acquisitions, and perfected self-consciousness kitsch can take advantage of for its own ends. It borrows from it devices, tricks, stratagems, rules of thumb, themes, converts them into a system, and discards the rest. It draws its life blood, so to speak, from this reservoir of accumulated experience. This is what is really meant when it is said that the popular art and literature of today were once the daring, esoteric art and literature of yesterday. Of course, no such thing is true. What is meant is that when enough time has elapsed the new is looted for new “twists,” which are then watered down and served up as kitsch. Self-evidently, all kitsch is academic; and conversely, all that’s academic is kitsch. For what is called the academic as such no longer has an independent existence, but has become the stuffed-shirt “front” for kitsch. The methods of industrialism displace the handicrafts. Clement Greenberg “Avant Garde and Kitsch

My work will use everything that it can to communicate. It will use any trick; it’ll do anything – absolutely anything – to communicate and win the viewer over. Even the most unsophisticated people are not threatened by it; they aren’t threatened that this is something they have no understanding of. They can look at it and they can participate with it. Jeff Koons

…the story here is about catering to a much larger public than the small elite who used to define a country’s mores…The new mass culture has become the most important culture because, in a democratic age, quantity trumps quality. How many listen matters more than who listens.  Fareed Zakaria  – The Post American World

During the fin-de-siècle of the 20th Century artists were determined to be seen as the new communicators of an advanced culture. In their self conscious attempts to appear connected to the history of Modern Art and their own fast-changing electronic times artists began to appropriate the deluge of information and imagery that was reaching a critical mass in the Popular Culture industry. The combination of electronic imagery and the academization of art history meant that making art became a self referential enterprise, one in which its history was reformulated as a giant Pop Culture entertainment. This media friendly barrage of images and pop-theoretics has opened up institutional pocketbooks and advanced the profitability of the corporate art world. As “difficult” art has become more accessible to the masses “advanced” art has changed its practices preferring to move away from innovation in order to embrace controversy  –  for instance, look to the practical differences between Picasso’s or Matisse’s stylistic innovations versus Koon’s or Serrano’s pornographic representations. One is about style change the other is about creating recognition or communication. This change of focus from innovation to controversy has a great deal to do with art and markets, the marriage of Surrealism with popular imagery, the end of avant garde practice and the rise of Postmodernism. Middle Brow culture is now so pervasive and ubiquitous in our society that it has taken over the focus of advanced art-making and has expanded the demographics of those who participate in the culture itself.

Museums have led the way in this march to the middle with blockbuster shows of formerly avant garde works of art. In these shows the difficult becomes accessible as the theoretical work is “synergized” with the products made for sale and the “selling” of the show itself. Advertising levels difficult aesthetic concepts into sound-bytes and buzz words. It also promises an “experience” of culture much as one would experience a thrill ride at Disney World. With each new blockbuster enterprise the theoretical lines between what the work means and the meaning of the products sold begins to disappear. A good example of this is the Metropolitan Museum’s (I’m not picking on the Met – this goes for most all of these institutions) penchant for placing seller kiosks at the end of each exhibition. After making your way through the show you emerge into a room filled with memorobilia of the experience – catalogues, key chains, scarves, plates, post cards, playing cards, greeting cards, jewelry, and assorted bits and bobs usually displaying one or more of the works from the exhibition. Suddenly the imagery of the visual work has been extended into the realm of saleable reproductions making that image the focus of a product, an accessible idea or concept. This extends the exchange value of the one-off by separating the imagery from the object.

Separating the image from the object opens a different dialog about the meaning of the image itself. Additionally, breaking up the imagery from the object makes money in the same way the corporate raider sells off the assets of the takeover target – the parts are worth more than the whole. Meaning becomes fuzzy as aesthetics and marketing merge in the selling of the product itself. The shopping process goes somewhat like this – you, as a spectator of the show, essentially have been browsing and shopping while taking in the exhibit. This idea is something with which we POMO citizens are very much at ease. To see art, or for that matter any object, as a part of the process to purchasing would have been considered a Low experience, but this is no longer the case. Art as commerce has none of the low connotations that used to be associated with the monetary valuation of things. The concept of “exchange value” has become so large and encompassing in our everyday lives that every economic, political or cultural transaction is now part and parcel of the workings of this aspect of Popular Culture itself. We no longer look to distinguish how we might experience Art. We accept that it must “communicate” as a desirable product to everyone immediately. 

Popular Culture is Middle Brow, because it rarely rises above being an entertainment, a product for sale or some sort of memorabilia of an experience. Now there are shades, gradations of involvement within the middle brow – from low to high – that detail nuanced engagements or in your face confrontations, but its main reason for existence in all its forms comes down to its exchange value. This is different than either High or Low culture, both of which offer a real critique of the theoretics of culture, politics, and economics. High and Low are contra-forces to the Middle Brow, a rebellion, or in the extreme, a revolution. They emerge from a personal necessity, an artistic stance. High or Low define a moment when concepts clash or freedom manifests itself physically. The Middle Brow, on the other hand, is the status quo. It may indeed offer a critique of itself, but it does so while offering itself as a market commodity. It stays within the confines of the theoretics of Middle Brow Culture itself – its value lies in the fact that it is self-perpetuating, self-regulating and self-organizing.  Middle Brow critique wages its changes through popularity and audience size. It prefers to renegotiate known precedents rather than dismantle or change concepts. Ultimately these critiques and upgrades are actions of compliance, adherence and integration, and part and parcel of the flow of capital and the stability of markets. It is the rule of commerce that guides the changes within Middle Brow Popular Culture.

The Illusion of Change

Popular Culture’s illusions of innovation are constantly promoted and disseminated to the public in order to reboot taste and fashion or to create larger market share. There is always the promise of the New. Popular Culture especially in the Middle Brow is always “new.” In order to maintain this marketing illusion it must constantly erase the recent collective memory – “…that’s so last week” – which it will revive again sometime later as nostalgia – the reworking of junk bonds, the musical hits of the 90s, a return to elegance in fashion. Popular Culture is always returning to things it destroyed and discarded. The endless forgetting of historic meaning and original purposes generates something we call the New New – which is really a reformulated recontextualized precedent. The changes of fashion in Middle Brow culture have always been administered in this organized way, and this manner of contextualization is now the intellectual technique most used in the academies and corporate institutions that support culture itself. It is nothing more than an illusion of change or innovation. Acceptance is the ultimate goal by those who determine culture in the Middle Brow and market acceptance fosters imperative connections between statistical economics and Popular Culture. More is always better and how one gets more is always on the table. This quantitative commercial imperative has proven to be problematic for the cherished concept of an advanced culture, particluarly in the Art World, where the idea of the masterpiece or the singular art object, the one-off is connected to achievement and greatness. 

For the Art world this is where Postmodernist theoretics comes in. POMO institutes both a critique and a re-classification of culture focusing mainly on the contextual interpretation of meanings behind that culture. For the painter or the sculptor ALL culture is fair game – a vast resource for recombination.

For the postmodernist, art was a cluster of images and materials to be manipulated. The fragmentation of modern life was not a bad thing, in fact it was liberating. The aesthetic attributes of quality, artistic integrity, and beauty were held to be meaningless – products of outmoded meta-narratives. Artists sought to redefine art and “the artist” in a way that emphasized multiplicity of style and viewpoint. The postmodern artists appropriated symbols and images freely in the creation of eclectic art.” WHAT IS CRITICAL POSTMODERN ART? By Leonard Koscianski (2002)

Postmodernism did away with the avant garde, the masterwork and even the making of art to create a new type of post-artist, the Auteur. 21st Century mannerism is born. Postmodernism exists only as technique, a professional method used in the practice of one’s profession. It is a theoretical tool that allows Middle Brow imperatives to retain and maintain their connection to Popular Culture market economies of all kinds. Art becomes a media spectacle, an experience for commodification and an entertainment – something that anyone can participate in – it communicates.

The Postmodern artist works within these systems of commerce and culture. He critiques the system as he perpetuates those very systems. The Postmodernist doesn’t develop theoretics, doesn’t offer a competing system, doesn’t innovate against the grain, doesn’t challenge the systems. The Middle Brow artist becomes the embodiment of Greenberg’s idea that the once historic New can be constantly looted or mined to create the New New. For instance contemporary Abstract Painting has lapsed into a mannered reclassification of its short history, it feeds endlessly on itself – the geometric, the hard edge, or the expressionist – you name it, each new Auteur customizes the previous innovation without changing the initial premise of the primary visual innovation. Ultimately we find ourselves standing before a highly mannered very polished professional art object that has little meaning outside of its historical contextual relationships and the fetishized materiality of its making – a customization of a reproduction of an established theoretical visual idea. The Auteur makes art for a marketplace, for institutions, the artist makes work for himself and posterity. We are in the realm of a new Kitsch based on market acceptance and modeled after the morphing digital download – an electronic kitsch.

In the end the new art world and art economy is based on Zakaria’s dictum “how many is more important than who.” Is it any wonder that ambitious artists raised in the electronic media world, schooled in POMO institutions and let loose in the corporate art markets gravitate to the Middle Brow Pop Culture world that grounds this entire enterprise? We will look into these practices in the coming posts when we discuss the differences between style and brand. 

Popular Culture – High and Low

A society, as it becomes less and less able, in the course of its development, to justify the inevitability of its particular forms, breaks up the accepted notions upon which artists and writers must depend in large part for communication with their audiences. It becomes difficult to assume anything. All the verities involved by religion, authority, tradition, style, are thrown into question, and the writer or artist is no longer able to estimate the response of his audience to the symbols and references with which he works. In the past such a state of affairs has usually resolved itself into a motionless Alexandrianism, an academicism in which the really important issues are left untouched because they involve controversy, and in which creative activity dwindles to virtuosity in the small details of form, all larger questions being decided by the precedent of the old masters. The same themes are mechanically varied in a hundred different works, and yet nothing new [bold is mine] is produced: Statius, mandarin verse, Roman sculpture, Beaux-Arts painting, neo-republican architecture. – Clement Greenberg, Avant Garde and Kitsch

In today’s art world we must ask – how do we define what is high or low? These cultural boundaries, since the death of the avant garde in the early 60s, have been blurred, and in some cases, erased entirely. Art in the hands of the Postmodernists is contingent on the never ending contextual flow of Popular Culture, which in itself is tied to precedent, production and proliferation. It is the essence and play between High and Low that Postmodernism no longer understands or exploits. Postmodernism and its parasitic relationship with Popular culture is mired in the middle brow – neither one nor the other, neither fish nor fowl. Where does this failure of artistic intention come from and how did we arrive here?

First let’s tackle the idea of Low art. This is fairly simple and always has been. This is the art of the out-class, and by out-class I mean the disenfranchised, the waylaid, the darker and meaner parts of society. Low art is about “sex, drugs and rock & roll” – not as it is relayed to us in Pop movies or TV, but in the physical sense of Eros and Thanatos, life and death. I define this further as Rough Trade, the hard parts of culture, the unrefined emotional parts of existence that lie close to the bone. Low art generates from the body and indulges in what Freud defined as the id. It is the forbidden visual, the angry declaration and the dark magic of existence. This is where Picasso’s exploitation of Primitivism came from, it is where Monet’s break down of visual mechanics begins, it is DeKooning’s gestural urges and Pollock’s drips, and it is Caravaggio’s prostitutes and peachy bits of Rough Trade transformed into saints and martyrs. The Low is not art – it is libido, it is present, urgent, immediate, but mostly it is a dissent from artistic norms.

The High is defined through a two-fold transformative process. The first part of the process is the encounter with one’s own being, one’s own experience of life. The High interprets and explicates one’s emotional and intellectual understanding of lived experience. It is similar to Low culture in its close reading of life, but the High has a necessary critical element that allows for deeper involvement in the visual processes that create meaning. Perhaps more importantly, it is a confrontation and break with the history of other High culture. The High must encompass both a continuity and a transformation of traditional cultural forms as it defines new experiences of understanding. In order to attain the High one must assimilate and understand the past and confront that collective memory from a new perspective. High culture is more than being a part of one’s time or one’s attitude (like Low culture.) Anyone can express their feelings or explain ideas, but for art to be High culture one must push those ideas beyond the known and accepted tropes and solutions of previous visual solutions. One must overcome the strong artists, the transformative artists – the artists of precedent. High culture is not immediately accessible – it is not outwardly apparent what it is. High culture does not set out to deliberately obscure meaning, but rather, its provocation of historical precedent creates a “strangeness” or “discomfort”. Understanding and acceptance are not necessarily apparent. New visual meanings are revealed in the work as one confronts the break with history. High art obsolesces the previous idea, the previous meaning, and the strong historical precedent. It is new.

Michele - Last JudgmentBecause Low culture has a similar power of immediacy and dissent it makes a great starting place for the critique that must be engendered by new High culture. Advanced western visual culture has typically applied this combination of High and Low since the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the high culture of ancient Greece and Rome prompted an historical artistic reevaluation, and a new visual culture based on the human figure emerged allowing artists to put their finger in the eye of the institutional medievalist art of the time. The new High culture would re-examine the purposes of classical art and meld it to their times helping to define a new and dangerous emerging humanism. The debates that raged around Michelangelo’s transgressive frescos are a wonderful case in point, as many of those institutional authorities were aghast at the nudity and not-so-closeted homo-eroticism of his work – Biagio da Cesena “…that it was a most dishonest act in such a respectable place to have painted so many naked figures immodestly revealing their shameful parts, that it was not a work for a papal chapel but for a bathhouse or house of ill-fame.” In the detail on the left Michele strikes back at Biagio with a refined graffiti – he paints this man’s portrait with the ears of a jackass and a snake devouring his genitals – an infamy he will endure for all time. These sorts of Low images were often scratched or drawn on the walls of Rome to ridicule and deride. Michele’s feelings about his critic couldn’t be clearer, his use of Roman Classicism and the always contemporary Low in his highly refined manner makes these frescos a priceless critique of the High art of the day. When High and Low come together as both a moment in a life and a sharp critique of precedent it creates a new visual power and an historic visual change in the art world.

We can see this process unfold in the work of other great artists as well. But for the moment, let’s discuss Monet’s visual transgression. Now normally we don’t believe that Monet was ever transgressive. His work, after all, has come to be seen as being about a facile visual beauty. However when Monet began his work he was deconstructing the idea of vision, the need for a “refined” subject matter and the entrenched academy. The institutional critics were ruthless, because his challenge was real. In this work Monet uses an element of the Low and the rough to develop his style of painting. MonetHis art took him out of the studio and away from lens based depiction. He worked “en plein aire”, he worked directly from nature, but mostly, he painted everyday life, the common. It was a labour of sight and vision that captured the passing of time and light in crude strokes and blobs. There was nothing transformative about his subjects, nothing refined in his technique, and yet, he upended the institution. The Low for Monet is his visual critique engendered in his break with the  academic optical hackery that ruled the Salons and galleries – his work was an intense observation of the mundane life around him – a personal statement of fact. Most all of the greats had this vision of High and Low, the historic and the transgressive in their work.

Today we do not use High and Low in the same way. The High and the Low become gradations of the vast sea of commerce known as the middle. Formerly Low things like Pornography, Tattoos, blue jeans, graffiti, or electric guitars are now fuzzy fashion statements. High ideals like rebellion, thought, vision, iconoclasm or dissent are taught as professional courses at universities. The idea of struggle or clash with power structures or institutional ideas of any kind is reworked as a kind of Research or Development – a corporate necessity for creating the New New. A creeping Professionalism has infected both the High and the Low. To Illustrate consider the MTA’s proposal to raise advertising money on the subway. Basically it allows corporations to cover a subway car in whatever imagery it chooses. “In the future, when able to be sold as a single package, these strategies will create a dramatic new symbiotic station advertising product that will command a premium above any other display sold on its own. Such a premium package will generate an additional $1 million per year in advertising revenues for the MTA from the Shuttle alone. If this test at Grand Central/Times Square stations is successful, other high-traffic stations could easily be included for similar sales packages.” Nowhere in this release is the precedent for this advertising “idea” acknowledged. If it were then there might be trouble. The MTA would have to confront their own historic critique against grafitti – “eyesore”, “illegal act”, “affront to hard working New Yorkers” – all of it would have to be addressed. In the 70s and 80s graffiti artists covered the decrepit subway cars in exactly the same way only they did it as a dissent, a personal artistic statement. Today’s corporate graffiti only wants your money while it levels out the personal statement and the idea of the individual. This is what Popular Culture expects. Postmodernism in its efforts to re-contextualize the entire lens-based world is forever reinterpreting the middle brow. It panders to the middle in a desperate attempt to be liked and appreciated from the get-go. It offers no real critique of ideas, but only a tarted-up version of cultural acceptance. The middle is where Popular Culture resides. It levels out the sharp edges of culture to appeal to masses of paying customers, and it is the paying customer that drives the economic imperative underlying Kitsch as explained by Greenberg.

High and Low as we once experienced them have been lost to us. The new corporate paradigm that drives the art world is awash in Kitsch – the middle brow. What is needed today is a new understanding of High and Low, a rediscovery of what those concepts mean.

We will continue this discussion in the next post: Popular Culture – Middle Brow.

Popular Culture – The Hero Myth

The hero is an important part of American Pop Culture. And like all popular things there are certain rules and regulations that must be adhered to in order that we, the audience, understand that we are looking at a hero. Hollywood is the best place to start and so I give you an unlikely hero in a very ridiculous and unlikely movie – Transformers. First in Pop Culture heroes, especially American ones, never seem to want to be heroes, they are forced to confront some horrendous situation. The Popular Culture hero never steps out to be heroic, he doesn’t go around looking for trouble. Second as the story unfolds we find that there is some connection between the hero and the violent destruction that is happening, usually there’s been some past unknown ancestor involved in perpetrating the current situation. Third and most important, the Pop Hero is constantly confronting the element of time. Time hones the action and time develops the hero, but by the time the hero must become a hero, there is never seems to be enough of it. There is only the life and death situation – time has run out. The hero in most of these scenarios is a reactive force, a passive weapon that flips into action only when activated. He is the every man confronted with the impossible situation – his life becomes compacted and intensified into mere moments in which he may act. You’ll hear cliches about time left and right…”We ain’t got time for this…” – “I’m too old for this…” – “If you take time to think – you’re dead…” The hero is improvising in this reactive state, he is an action hero. The Pop Culture hero is not a thinking man, he doesn’t plan, he doesn’t contemplate the situation, he doesn’t search for alternatives only a way out. The hero is always directly contrasted to the Pop Culture villain who is portrayed as the thoughtful one, an intellect – he plans, he contemplates, he devises. The hero is portrayed as youthful talent and potential, the villain as an intellectual plotter, a seasoned decadent with an angry, vengeful axe to grind. This Popular Culture scenario plays out in American life every single day in a myriad of ways, and it is now playing out in our current political season with Pop Culture references to heroism abounding. I’ll leave you to have a bit of fun with that….

Art Heroes
Hans Namuth’s film of Jackson Pollock is the art world’s version of an action movie. He became the first painter to be popularized through our “media culture” in this way. In addition to the art magazines – Jackson was also promoted and photographed like any up and coming movie star in every type of media available. There was none of the Surrealists’ intellectual pretense about the man, none of the mystery of art – just a matter-of-fact involvement. There was no planning of the composition only his preparation to act – he is the American workman at his job – an ordinary working stiff. Jackson tools up just like the action heroes we’ve come to know in our movies, but in a less militaristic way. First he puts on his boots, then loads the paint cans, dips the sticks, drags a cigarette – he gets down to it. Moving from side to side, the camera is in close, back out, a close up of his craggy face, in the voice over Jackson reads a prepared text in a self conscious way, tonal music cranks up – it’s the 1950s art world Die Hard version of an artist at work. He labors in the moment reacting to each instance, he moves, he improvises. Time is of the essence, he is in the painting, in the action. The physical nature of it all is a stark contrast to the European Plotters and composition junkies. But for Jackson this Popular Culture moment was also a moment of truth. After this day of filming he stalked into the house, grabbed a bottle of liquor and fell off the wagon for good. Later that evening in a drunken rage he yelled at Namuth – “You’re the phoney, not me!” Why did he feel the need to rail against phoniness, especially after such a display of painterly heroism?

But the display was the problem. Pollock was the first international artist that America produced. He was hyped as if he had stepped out of a John Ford western movie. An artist that exemplified the American ideal of the action hero. He was conscripted into art world heroism, he painted because he fashioned his talents into painting. He was nature, pure, exact and real and he said so. The phoniness he drunkenly raged against was the camera, the media that removed him from the direct experience of his work. He became an actor in front of the camera rather than an actual man at work. Pollock was not cut out for this, even though he sought it out. Fame is something artists court in many ways, and we shall discuss this in upcoming posts. To be in the media spotlight takes a different personality type than that developed and nourished by the ABEX crowd – one honed through familiar media iconography. Today we have many media friendly icons to guide the art world intelligensia giving the art world dependable avatars that any ambitious artist may embody. These avatars encourage us to act the part rather than be the thing in itself. The part we play is more important than the work we make. After Pollock this shift from work to personality embodied the new Postmodern world.

As appropriators we are a step removed – we can not assume that we are creators or innovators, however we are always able to portray one. Pollock and the ABEX avant garde were hard schooled in the idea that one developed one’s work, that one earned fame through one’s accomplishments. One didn’t strive to be famous, one strove to accomplish – fame was incidental. Popular culture is something else all together, especially as it is shaped by the lens. Popular Culture changes the relationships between what one does and how one appears, and Jackson understood that difference very well. I remember reading that he once confronted Larry Rivers saying that he knew what he was all about. The ABEX crowd understood that those that followed them would be products of the institutions and academies that were springing up around them. The rules of engagement are different. Struggle in the studio was being replaced by struggle in the media. Today artists are media savvy in ways never seen before. Damien Hirst’s recent Postmodern spectacle in the auction houses was designed for maximum media infusion. It was a Pop Culture event, one that stated it was changing all the rules while following those very rules. Hirst basically sold his “back catalogue” through the auction house rather than through the galleries. This event didn’t challenge the prevailing Postmodern aesthetic, Damien’s challenge was to the accepted business model. He wasn’t concerned with ideas about innovative art as much as he was concerned about business models. In the press surrounding the event we have the obligatory interview in the gallery which is neatly packaged as a sales pitch. How do we know this? He explains that time has run out – the series that have made him famous are coming to an end. The implication is that one should buy now – these are the last to be made. The hero now embodies time as a sales pitch rather than an encounter with one’s survival. The capitulation to Pop Culture is complete. In order to participate and understand today’s art world hero – one must be able to afford it.

The difference between Pollock’s generation and Hirst’s is the difference between style and brand. We will discuss this in a later post.

Popular Culture – Overheads and Screenshots

“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol TV 199Back in the early sixties Andy made a shift. As a commercial artist Andy’s work had been hand drawn from photos in a labored, blotted “New Yorker Magazine” style – somewhere between Beardsley, Cocteau, Steinberg and high fashion illustration – which made for a comfortable living and gave him introductions to the “in-crowd.” But his ambitions, both personal and artistic, were much larger than illustration, and he knew that this type of work would never excite the new society that was just beginning to push forward. In the art world at this time artists realized that ABEX had become a form of mannered physical paint handling. The new artists were having a field day challenging the overblown rhetoric of the Action Painters. Andy was enthralled with this scene and had been trying to ingratiate himself with the new artists – particularly Rauschenberg and Johns – buying their work, going to openings and schmoozing with art dealers. He wanted to be a part of this art moment, however, he had yet to determine what his work would look like. Andy was not an historian, an intellectual like Johns or Rauschenberg. He would not, could not take on that past, not even the recent past in the same way that they had, and so his early works paid little attention to the history of painting. He knew that his work would have to be about this time, this new face of popular culture. For Andy, the great Postmodernist, painting would be different.

Andy Warhol IceboxLet’s start with Warhol’s dictum – “I want to be a machine.” But what kind of machine? Andy would use the mechanics behind the popular culture industry, and being a part of that industry, he was intimate with its functions. The production end of popular culture is a “readymade” tool in the sense that multiple mechanisms of production exist in depth, they are cheap and efficient to apply and they are readily accessible to everyone. For Andy it made perfect sense to use those familiar tools. He did not have to invent “the machine,” the technique or the style as so many Modernist painters did – the pictorial concept was included in the lens itself. In the printing industry most machines for reproductions are inexorably tied to lenses, and it is the lens that has been responsible for the massive proliferation of Popular Culture. Lens culture, powered by electronics, quickly became not only the means to capture images, but the means to reproduce, manufacture, manipulate and project those images as well. Warhol, who spent his youth transfixed by the endless photographic iconography produced by Hollywood, understood that these lens images are transformative. The lens brought fame, fortune, glamor and power to those who could control and frame their existences through its programs. Warhol’s bid to fashion himself as Art’s transformative machine starts with his use of the Overhead Projector.

What’s groundbreaking in these early works is Andy’s insistence on isolating banal newspaper advertising and realizing it as fullblown history painting. These paintings weren’t done in the academic fashion of realist painting where the mundane world is somehow made miraculous with painterly skill. Robert Henri‘s command to paint the everyday world is not the point. Nor is he commenting directly about the everyday events of his time as the Cubists did. They displayed high and low together by including actual newsprint in their collages in an effort to obtain a poetic visual metaphor. Warhol simply focuses on the banal image used to illustrate a product then blows it up to heroic painterly proportions. There are no value judgments, no poetic inferences about the image, no elevation of the subject, only lens reproduction and mechanical assimilation. Underlying this process is the facility of the lens machine, the easy way it can instantly change the context of an image. Warhol’s machine easily reproduces any illustration that has been created for use by other machines. Graphic line drawings of water heaters or windows, cans of peaches, soda pop, wigs or comics from daily newspapers, photographs of ephemera are all simply banal documentation, schematics, rudimentary image maps of mundane products. Once projected, Andy quickly outlined these images, his paint dripped, he scrubbed in some areas with pencil or color, he left others blank, he allowed his hand to unmake the reproduction while remaking the projected image into a painting. In one fell swoop the banal becomes a new art form, a glamorized event, a lens driven action painting reduced to its physical components. This process removes any ABEX pretensions to high art (such as “action” or “emotion”) through the offhand application of the paint and the scaled portrayal of the ordinary image. He traces outlines reproducing the image without contemplating the subject. In other words, he scans rather than contemplates – he isn’t visually quantifying the rising subject. He is simply another lens machine reproducing the banal by repeating a programmed process – a process of surfaces. These first works ushered in an era where the lens would direct the act of painting in a way that it had never done before.

Richard Prince NurseWe might go on about Andy’s subject matter, but it’s been done much better by others. Glamor, fame, iconography, products, Hollywood, etc – these are all subjects of Popular Culture and we will take them up in another post. However, what we really want to understand is how Andy’s methods for transforming those Popular Culture subjects into “High Art” changed the way we interpret what art is, particularly in our Postmodern art world. As POMO has spread into our culture we have accepted and incorporated its most used technique – appropriation – into our everyday studio practices. Warhol was among the first to use this technique in such a deadpan way. Most all of his early images, the ones that were his subject matter, the ones that made him famous, were not produced by him, they were not lived by him. Those images were already public domain, public memories, false histories – easily reproduced, easily disseminated and instantly recognized. In Postmodern culture the found image is an accident, one receives it, stumbles upon it, but it is instantly known, because it is not distinct, it is not specific, it is generic, an avatar. We Postmoderns appropriate what we are not, we graft other public iconographies, other cultural memories into our lives. We present them as if they are our own, that we have experienced them, that we’ve lived them. As Hockney said in Secret Knowledge, “We thought we saw the 20th Century on the news, [in] film, and elsewhere, better than any previous century, although we could say we didn’t see it all – the camera did.” So it comes down to the idea that everything seen through a lens is a lived memory, that we know the the people in the image, that we can have the product, that we exist as a real component in this media. Art then is presented, contextualized through our collective experience – we appropriate and re-present the collective subjective as personal subjective – we become taste makers rather than innovators. The appropriation technique of using “found images” continues to be practiced in today’s art world. On the left is Richard Prince’s painting “Mission Nurse” from 2002. Prince executed this series of pulp fiction paperback covers as Andy did in the above examples. Today we have computers and photoshop to accomplish this task, so Prince may have used a computer and a printer instead of direct overhead overlays, but the lens reproduction and the conceptual approach is the same. His subject matter doesn’t move beyond the obvious Pop Culture associations – these illustrations detail pot boiler story lines, slightly risque media sexuality, banal and predictable figuration all wrapped up with a large gooey wad of nostalgia. Prince then resurfaces those covers customizing the reproduction. He handles the paint, he scratches the line, but ultimately, this painterly customization adds nothing to Warhol’s machine except empty painterly mannerisms. Andy’s conceptual practice in this case has been appropriated and reproduced – a Postmodern machine reproducing a Pop machine. 40 years separate these works, and yet, they both address the same conceptual issues of reproduction and lens based programming in the same way. Postmodernism and Popular Culture, are the collective mind, the false history, the always already, and what we continue to reproduce in our studios is this type of stylization and customization.

Warhol is truly a pivotal and protean figure in the history of contemporary art. With Warhol the concepts of high and low implode, there are no longer distinctions of meaning – every image can be manipulated, every image can be packaged. All the old requirements for innovating and making art are completely beside the point. We will be covering this in our next post on High and Low.

Popular Culture – Defined

The first part of this series is defining what Popular Culture is and maybe what it does. This is a nearly impossible subject. Popular Culture ranges over so many subjects and aspects of the economic, political and cultural aspects of our everyday lives. We buy, we dress, we vote, we chat and we live through this vast sea of images, blurbs, products and narratives. It is an enormous program, a societal construct that organizes our existences, creates human networks and defines cohesive communities. In the 21st Century Popular Culture runs through every aspect of our society as it never has before, thanks in part to the online world, and the seemingly endless proliferation of technological advancements and product placements. For instance cell phone network technologies now cover nearly the entire globe allowing for instant communication and information sharing. And as these handheld devices have become more ubiquitous and technologically complicated the amount of programming applications that stream “culture” directly into our everyday lives has increased exponentially. Aside from contacting your friends across the globe (from nearly anywhere at any time) you can access the New York Times, Financial Times or the London Times on your cell phone. You can purchase popular music and see entertainment videos with the same handset, and very soon, more of us will be able to directly purchase goods and services using this handheld computer as a wallet. What all this technology is for is not necessarily the betterment of one’s intellect (as we are made to believe in the constant publicity surrounding the torrents of history, learning and information electronically available to the masses,) but more likely, it is used for the quantified movement of products and services, the tracking of financial information and the ultimate commercialization of lived experience.
Popular Culture is the “face” and object of all this programming. It is the collective subjective – a quick immersion in our desires, our needs and our aspirations. In a walk through Times Square you can get a taste of Popular Culture and the societal power that drives it. On 43rd Street one can look up to see two immense electronic screens streaming constant images and information from around the world, one from the NASDAQ and one from Reuters. The NASDAQ screen is the most compelling and forward-looking, because it has fused with the actual architecture of the building, wrapping around a turret on the side of the building. Pictures, videos, news, commercials and financial information are pumped into the physical world around it – they emanate from the structure itself. The building houses Conde Nast, the publisher of fashion and lifestyle magazines, Skadden Arps, one the largest and most powerful corporate law firms in the world, and the NASDAQ broadcasting facilities which dispenses financial information to millions through subscription viewing. The Reuters screens look more like an after-thought on the architecture, but it pumps out animated news information, images of the latest entertainment and sports icons, and beautiful pictorial videos into the Square. Reuters, too, is a power media player. It is one of the largest news clearing houses in the world. It is also one of the very few institutions that determine what will be seen, what is important to know, and how it will be examined, noticed and understood by the data hungry masses. All of this information reaches billions of people everday, every second in every country. These Wizard of Oz screens broadcasting the images of our Popular Culture mask the legal, political, financial and cultural powerhouses that reside within the same block. This is just on 43rd Street. CBS, ABC & MTV along with Disney, ESPN and the US Army also reside in the Square creating a confluence of popular culture-shaping electronic programming power. Those giant moving images are the masks of power. What we see, what we are allowed to see is the thin veneer, the surface that is Popular Culture.

Pop Face

Content is what shows up, what we experience, what moves us, what we talk about and what we blog about. Content is the ephemeral, the incidental, the unknown element in the program itself. What will catch on, what will capture the imagination, what will drive the society, what has meaning, what will be sold? One minute we all watch American Idol, the next it’s Lost. One minute we love Jeff Koons, the next it’s Damien Hirst. So much of the unknown element that strikes a chord in us is driven by something deeper, something not necessarily quantified. It is what we desire without knowing why. It is the thing that entices us. Once we fall for this unquantifiable allure the machinery of the popular kicks in. Repetition is the ultimate goal for this programming. Repetition is the road that leads to the palace of success. We are inundated with images, phrases, slogans, jingles and packaged information in order to continue to foment desire in us. Once activated our desire can be mined for money, power or fame until like financial debt instruments, oil futures contracts, political catch phrases or Matthew McConaughey it bottoms out beneath our collective consciousness. Aside from the business that happens around the mechanisms of Pop Culture, something unaccountable has also transpired. We have created a kind of false history, a history of false events that impact our real lives. This cultural success in itself is not easily understood, but its effects can be easily tracked. What begins with the search for the X factor, the undefinable, always ends in the same way.

Through the years as technology has become more sophisticated so has the idea of controlling Popular Culture and its manifestations. Not just in what is presented, but how it is presented, how something gets to be popular, how it makes money and creates influence. Advertising, publicity and production all go hand in hand to create a roadmap for this content. The program is there ready to go, always already, waiting for the next unquantifiable thing to be slotted in. Those things that seemlessly fit into the code, proliferate quickly, those that don’t either morph into something else that can be used or fall away. It’s the seemlessness in the unquantifiable that creates the facility in the program. And we, as consumers, as viewers, as participants get wrapped up by the facility of it all. Let’s face it, the ease at which we can obtain and attain popular culture is astounding. It is far more than our personal preferences – that annoying jingle in your head, the half remembered commercial images or wearing corporate logos – none of this was “chosen.” The workings of this culture are more involved, more manipulative and they exist outside of the comfortable individuality that we believe determines our likes or dislikes. Just as the unquantifiable is the beginning of the program we are the end-part of that delivery system, the end-part of the program itself. We complete the circle in the programming of Popular Culture.

So What About Art?

Clement Greenberg’s critical writing was a long polemic against the power of Popular Culture. He was the last great Modernist art critic. He wrote about the rising materialism of American Postwar painting and laid out the end game that eventually left advanced painting in a no-win situation. The end finally came in the early 1960s as a new culture was proliferating in America. Unfortunately for Clement this newly rising tide of Postmodernism quickly sunk the withering power of the Modernist avant garde. With electronic media, consumer culture and the influx of new corporate money came the idea that high art should be no different from Popular Culture, that today’s Popular Culture would be tomorrow’s High Art. Any pretensions, any aspirations, intellectualizations or visualizations about what “high art” could be was made instantly redundant – for Art it was the end of history. The avant garde was dead, the expression of a greater or higher culture was passe, and artists were now machines producing in the now, “bringing home the bacon.” For these new artists the popular culture was The Culture. The harder artworld would begin to cultivate this change using corporate business models to create markets and build institutions. It would develop its own Popular Culture industry. As artists pursued this new Pop attitude in their studios Postmodernism provided both a theoretical base for the elevation of Greenberg’s hated Kitsch and an institutional backdrop for the new face of contemporary art. Postmodernism allowed artists to develop a mass-market public image based on the business executive while recontextualizing the process of art making as a process of production and R&D. It was a spectacular and decisive paradigm shift. We’ll discuss this shift in the next post – Overheads and Screen Shots