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 – Sucker Punch

Recently the kind folks at my gym installed (a good art verb) flat screens in front of every cardio machine. So I’m trying to find a channel with some music that will help me to keep up with the wildly spinning belt that is constantly threatening me with the terror of fast painful removal and twisted flesh and bone. I find the “Dance” channel and this video is playing. I stop channel surfing for two reasons – one is probably instantly obvious to you, the other is because of the beat – which was right in time with my struggling foot falls. This video was followed one after another by similar fare. At the end of my work out I realized that I had missed out on something in life. Who knew that struggling in the studio would amount to a lot of unseen work and writing about Postmodernism on a blog? I had no idea that cheesey music and fitness could enflame so many hard bodies – dance instruction and techno looks really good in comparison. Immediately, I flashed back to a party that an artist friend threw a few years ago. A lovely young woman – after having a look around the room – asked me if this (she flourished a wrist wave) is what artists looked like. Perplexed, I asked what she meant. She said that she usually went only to “industry” parties (fashion), and in comparison, everyone here looked extremely ordinary. I apologized for our lax physical states, and postulated that we had to work hard on developing our personalities, and if that failed – which it invariably does – have you met artists lately?, we had to work on our art. I would have been insulted if I had thought she was being arch in any way, but the truth is, her life was that life, and this life was something she hadn’t experienced before. She was on a hero journey of the lower depths – like Dante. I hope she made it back to the land of the Postmodern.

Later that afternoon I thought about those workout videos as I was easing into a latte. It wasn’t just the music that had created this world of desire, but it was the lens. There are none of us (I apologize if you’re not one of us) in these videos, and if there are, they are in the backgrounds spinning the music or adjusting the lighting. And this is what I call the tyranny of the lens. Perfection photographs better. The gods are mathematically more equal to the golden mean – they merge with the perfection of mathematics that single point perspective demands. When Brunelleschi made his discovery he could hardly have known what it would mean in the 21st Century. We Postmoderns are completely at a loss to understand that important event, because it is the reality we experience in every day life. And as technology has become more and more prevalent that tyranny has become our comfort. We expect the world to look like what we experience in our lens based culture. Popular Culture drives this familiarity and focuses our desires in its frozen angles and flat perspectives. This video music is based on radio friendly hits from years ago, updated with a beat so you’ll shake your arse on the dance floor, or buy a product from a cellular phone company or wear a certain brand of clothing – I don’t know, you name it – all in time to the beat. But it is the lens that guides this video “life” – not the life of our eyes. We look to the videos, the TV shows, the magazine photos, the reproductions – in order to see what things should look like, how we should behave, but mostly, how we should see. I thought that is probably why so much art made today is so unsatisfying to actually encounter with one’s eyes – it looks much, much better in reproduction.
David Hockney describes the problems with the lens best-

“… the principal point, I suppose, is that the major problem with traditional perspective, as it was developed in fifteenth-century European painting and persists to this day in the approach of most standard photography, is that it stops time. For perspective to be fixed, time has stopped and hence space has become frozen, petrified. Perspective takes away the body for the viewer. You have a fixed point, you have no movement; in short, you are not there, really. That is the problem. Photography hankers after the condition of the neutral observer. But there is no such thing as a neutral observer. For something to be seen, it has to be looked at by somebody, and any true and real depiction should be an account of the experience of that looking. In that sense it must deeply involve an observer whose body somehow has to be brought back in.” “A Visit With David and Stanley” (1987) Lawrence Weschler

I’m not going to offer a critique of the socio-sexual- politico implications of the video above. Nor will I expand on Hockney’s quote though I will in other posts. I’ll leave the immediate stuff to you guys. There’s enough Postmodern outrage and politically incorrect activity going on in the clip for a couple of coffee crits. If you want to dance, well, I’ll leave that to you as well. There were a few of us jumping about while I was writing this – the feed pumping through the speakers – altogether we are ungainly, irregular and distinctly mathematically impolitic. Which brings me back to my afternoon workout of dance videos. Let’s just say as an artist I will always miss out, that’s the job, but thank goodness I have so many good looking friends!

Popular Culture – A Quick Visual Explanation of the Postmodern

A friend challenged me to explain what POMO and Popular Culture had to do with one another in 10 words or less. As I was about to launch into a thick explanation of why that can’t happen, I thought – fuck it. This clip will explain it far better than I ever could. So…I present without further ado…Postmodern visual discouse, contextual reformulations, media surface manipulations and massive Lens appropriations in the form of the Fabulous Daffy Duck who becomes a victim of all that POMO excess. I’m sure this sort of televisual theoretical immersion at a tender young age is why Postmodernism has become so prevalent among the art classes. This classic was made in 1951 – the same year Pollock was dripping away – and it is chock full of every POMO critical strategy EVER used. Why should I continue to write anything – I’ll just point to youtube and let Henri figure it out…I’m exhausted.

Erasing Memory – Part 3

This is another “lost and found” post from our recent database crash. I have slightly edited it so that it reads a bit easier.I believe I can see the future
Cause I repeat the same routine
I think I used to have a purpose
But then again
That might have been a dream
I think I used to have a voice
Now I never make a sound
I just do what I’ve been told
I really don’t want them to come around

Nine Inch Nails

Trance is a repetition or looping of consciousness. When the content of the trance has achieved a resonance, special types of psychic forces are generated. The effects of these special psychic forces are often identified with the behavior which produced them. Trance — for a yogi — is merely a tool consciously chosen to produce a specific result. Trance for most other people is an unconscious choice made to relieve pain or to avoid uncomfortable feelings or situations.” Repetition provides comfort. Tapping, chanting, twirling, the steady beat of rock & roll, the formatted news show, etc etc. We see it in the endless proliferation of similar TV series, movies and music. it cuts across all aspects of our culture. The trick for the industry is to find newness in the repetition. And the new is always seen as virginal. In American culture this is cultivated by the culture of rebirth, and it is generated through quasi-religious spectacle. The tabula rasa that being “born again” implies allows for the culture of repetition. The constant clearing out of history is what we aim to achieve. We are always new without history dragging at our heals. We do not develop ourselves or our thoughts trying to discover the new, we simply erase the old. We do not find the new – we discard history, the memory of the past. It makes us comfortable.

It is memory that needs to be recontextualized in order to obtain the right state of mind. Postmodernism is a great tool for this sort of empty slate epistemology. POMO theoretics places emphasis on the idea that knowing is knowing the answer rather than knowing how the answer is obtained. This is obvious as artists continue to use historical style without impunity. There is a severe lack of purpose behind the understanding of the making of art. Two questions that leave most artists stumped are How? and Why? Those are the questions that imply a base of history and memory. But mostly they are questions of responsibility regarding what one is doing. At one time it was not enough to create work, one had to wrestle with the history of the work that came before and question what that history meant. Memory is how we come to understand the distant past, the grand past and our own past. This is how depth is created. As we strip it, as we bulldoze history we create nothing but surface, and that is where art has remained since Warhol. We have a culture of the “new New” where there is only the slippery surface and the rebirth of the past in virgin vessels. Context.Appropriation is part of this process. The idea that all creation is to be used, that manifest destiny is a right are the basic tenets used for claiming property – or as Eddie Izzard described it – the “cunning use of flags.” The past is mined and drilled like a natural resource for the endlessly new, the right to claim property and the right of ownership. In a culture based on selling, ownership is the grand trumping card. Ownership by appropriation is the final objective of POMO practice. It is this contextual relationship that fills our virgin selling vessels. Once that’s been accomplished any idea can be branded, advertised and marketed sold to us as the “New New”.

When dealing with a rough trade like painting, it is history that must be applied. The questions of how and why inform and guide the practice. We seek the deeper theoretical connections, the depth of visual history, and with that, the joys and regrets of the past, of memory. We don’t want to be cleansed or manufactured for sale – we are not interested in becoming a product or brand. We want the freedom to find an expression of our lives in this time – not a mediated or programmed experience. By building on historic ideas, rather than exploiting them, we can find the truly new. It is not the tabula rasa that creates new thought or new vision, but the steady critical building of ideas, forms and images from the history of art. In order to have a visual future, one must have a visual past. Matisse and Picasso understood that and so do we.

Art Fair Polka

The wonderful Dave Hickey has written about his experience in last year’s Frieze art fair. Dave gave a speech that’s still being talked about. I often wondered about his oft-quoted metaphor for youthful exuberance – something about a trombone and a rich guy’s wife on the beach. He used it in his speech and in this article. I guess the mystery has been solved! Dave gives us the low down – sort of –

“Three months later, Libby and I are standing on the steps of the Shore Club on the night before Art Basel Miami—my favorite art fair because weird young artists show up and sleep on the beach where I once watched the sun come up with a Cuban girl and a dude in a rhumba shirt playing the trombone.”

Now whether this is true or not can hardly matter, the story changes just a bit each time I’ve seen it or heard it. It is a defining moment in Dave’s life, and it’s his rallying call to artists everywhere – whatever happened on that fateful morning. I like to think of the young Dave, smoking chronic, sipping rum, charming an exotic lover and listening to a surreal musical moment all on the beach of a pre-gentrified Miami in the early AM. And I kind of think he would like to think of us in the same way. That night must have been a killer – you go Dave! Even Hell has it heroes!
The article in Vanity Fair is breathless and sharp as a tack, but mostly it’s fun. We get a glimpse of the art world that money has built over the last decade or so complete with a warning at the end regarding the consequences of bubble aesthetics. Enjoy!

Polsky’s Real World

I like Richard Polsky’s articles quite a bit. They are reasoned, real world assessments of the market worth of art and the business of the art world. He always seems fair and honest in his appraisals and prescient in his decisions. I found this article really informative as he gives a bit of the financial history for the current fiscal mess in which we find ourselves. Pay attention specifically to the info he gives us regarding the last market crash. I hope that each of you has made arrangements and hedged a few bets for these hard times. It’s not going to get better for quite a while, and we may be looking at something unprecedented – and the truth is I don’t quite know yet what that means. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to get interesting.

” At the beginning of the 1990s, the battle cry among dealers was, “Stay alive until ’95.” Many didn’t. By some estimates New York lost 40 percent of its galleries and blue-chip art declined in value by two-thirds. Nobody has any idea how many artists dropped out. The established artists whose prices declined the most were the ones who experienced the greatest speculation…”

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…