reality_precedent addendum

A friend sent me this link to a fantastic article entitled “How Tudorphilia rescued Delaroche.” The article is about a forgotten history painter and his once “sensational” painting. In what is one of the great critical renderings of all time – “…the revolutionary poet Théophile Gautier delivered one of art history’s more damning reviews: “I hated Paul Delaroche, whom I had never seen, with a savage and aesthetic hatred,” he declared. “I could have eaten him, and thought him good eating, as the young Redskin thought the Bishop of Quebec.” The article takes us even further into the critique: “He was subsequently and universally characterised as a bourgeois dead end at the birth of the radical lineage of modernism that went from Delacroix through Manet to Cézanne and on to Picasso. “Delaroche was not born a painter,” Gautier wrote. “He belonged to the middle classes. He tried to be interesting, which is a matter absolutely secondary in art.””

This is part of the social problem we painters are experiencing today. So many of us expect to be part of the middle class as we spend copious amounts of time trying to be interesting. All of this stems from the way we use precedent, the way we have come to define reality. We don’t question precedent – we contextualize it – especially through our Pop Culture.
“Accompanied by inevitable screenings of The Private Life of Henry VIII and Elizabeth as well as lectures on the “nine days’ queen”, Delaroche’s painting feeds an appetite that takes in, on the one hand, the US Showtime/BBC soap The Tudors (now in its fourth season: “Henry’s tumultuous relationships with his last two wives, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr, and his final descent into madness . . .”) and, on the other, Hilary Mantel’s mesmerising Booker-winning novel, Wolf Hall, told through the life of Thomas Cromwell.” And unfortunately for us most of our “advanced” Art has become little more than an adjunct of Popular Culture a career path in the entertainment industry.

When all is said and done there is very little practical visual theoretical difference between this painting and this painting – they both arrive in our line of sight from the same overwrought Pop culture sensibility. But today painting can do better things than this. We may have to accept Postmodernism’s legacy of picture making, but we can alter it, change it, invigorate it with our own visual histories. We don’t have to run the program or upgrade it. We can hack it, enrich it with our forgotten visual legacy and turn it into something of our own.

In a sharp essay in the Times Roberta Smith makes a play for painting. “FEW modern myths about art have been as persistent or as annoying as the so-called death of painting. Unless, of course, it is the belief that abstract and representational painting are oil and water, never to meet as one. The two notions are related. The Modernist insistence on the separation of representation and abstraction robbed painting of essential vitality. Both notions have their well-known advocates. And both, in my mind seem, well, very 20th century” And in a defense of painting as a viable, advanced theoretical activity she declares, “…what really is questionable, and passé, is the implied ranking of art mediums and the leaving of some of them for dead. None of them ever really, ultimately have much of a monopoly on quality. And something else greatly reduces the chances of the death of painting: too many people — most obviously women — are just beginning to make their mark with the medium and are becoming active in its public dialogue. “

reality will continue…


John LennonI came across an article online about the new ad campaign by Citroen;

“[John] Lennon and [Marilyn] Monroe each appear in a 30-second spot, both encouraging viewers to use their creativity for influencing everyday life, rather than seeking inspiration in the past.” Both ads extolling the virtues of originality, innovation and change. “Once a things been done it’s been done, so why all this nostalgia? I mean, for the 60’s and 70’s, you know, looking backwards for inspiration, copying the past,” Lennon is pictured asking. “How’s that rock and roll? Do something of your own. Start something new. Live your life now.”

Then we see the Citroen car – and I will leave you to judge the “originality” of that particular auto design.

It’s disconcerting seeing the digitally altered images with the not-quite-synched lip movements. Lennon’s image looks as if it was taken from a 70’s interview – making the discussion of “nostalgia” perverse. This image, an image removed from its time and re-presented and reconfigured in ours, is declaring the need to do away with nostalgia. The Marilyn ad is not much better. The moving image has been altered in the same manner. The text is: “You should create your own icons and way of life, because nostalgia isn’t glamorous. If I had one thing to say it would be, live your life now.” The amalgamation of sound and image is even more annoying than the previous one. Everything we see and experience in these videos is manufactured with lens-based programs. This is a past that never existed – interviews that never took place. The ideas expressed were probably scripted by the ad agency, and the voice overs were probably done using an actor’s impression or from cut and pasted voice snippets captured and looped from various recorded interviews. Not quite Avatar-like, but give them time. Fairly soon these programs will be able to animate any face convincingly, and then the pantheon of the famous will live forever in the program, appearing in every context, every possibility. Finally, the tag line for these ads is the ultimate in Postmodern solipsism – “live your life now” – encouragement imparted to us in “real time” by those who are no longer living in real time, so that we might describe ourselves as being “new,” “iconic,” “original” or “rock and roll” when we purchase this particular product.

The truth is that the company selling us the car is not handing us a new innovation, a new way of travel (say, a car that runs perpetually on gyroscopes, clean air hydrogen based fuel and hovers silently at twenty feet.) No, the “innovation” that will set us on the path to iconic individuality is that this car will look like a spiffier SUV, it’s innovation is cosmetic, nevermind that it uses the same sort of internal combustion engine originally installed in a Model T Ford. There is nothing really new going on – we’ve just experienced the customization of the program. But what is different is that we’ve altered the precedent, the past, to make the present reality seem “new.” This new slant on our current “reality” is provided to us with something that we Postmoderns proudly call “context.” Now context can be a good thing – it can provide a broader understanding of precedent and of the realities of the past. But this form of contextual difference is not the same as the POMO term différence. This sort of “context” cheats our current reality by altering that past to conform to our present conditions. We experience this all the time in our entertainment culture – movies based on a true story or recreations of “real” events or, like in the movie Forrest Gump, media captured moments of “reality” inserted into a fictional story. All of these kinds of media manipulations restructure our relationship to the past by actually changing the foundations of precedent. In our art world the continual reappraisal and redefinition of Warhol’s endless legacy is a good case in point.

Now at one time precedent was changed by innovation. I mean this in the sense that a different understanding of the past was created by a new innovation, a new idea. And with that change we began to see the past in a different way, from a different perspective. Picasso and Matisse took on the history of painting – how we saw painting, how we experienced its meanings. They used history as a foundation for the radical visual changes that they were proposing. They weren’t interested in contextualizing that precedent, changing our understanding of Velazquez or Manet. No, they were interested in taking the best parts of those things and incorporating them into their own ideas of what a painting could accomplish. To paraphrase Picasso, “Artists steal.” They took what they needed and built their own innovations, and it was those innovations that changed our relationships to our past. We began to see Velazquez or Manet in a different way because, the innovation, the new idea, used the precedent in a different way. The change of “context” happened after the fact, after the innovation, not before. But the important thing, the use of precedent to innovate, DEMANDED that these artists actually change their work, their ideas and their vision, not change the past.

Matthew Collings makes a similar point in his recent discussion of the Turner Prize in Modern Painters. “Older art, either modern or premodern, isn’t in the picture. Instead the picture is distorted so you don’t notice the weird exclusion.” He is writing about the way art writers and artists now alter precedent not through innovation but through context – particularly the context of the 1960’s – “…a compressed version of the three main isms of the 1960s: Pop, Minimalism, and Conceptualism.” And it’s that compression that has limited the way we use precedent.

Postmodern artists don’t particularly care about change through innovation. They are more worried about promoting context along with something the art/business world calls “positioning” – identifying a market niche for a brand, product or service utilizing traditional marketing placement strategies (i.e. price, promotion, distribution, packaging, and competition.) They use precedent not as a springboard for change, but as a way to sell a product – they use it to promote acceptance. As we’ve discussed already, Postmodernism is a menu driven kind of existence, where one can choose from a variety of sources to create one’s own customized art without actually creating anything that challenges the substance of the system that generates those choices. When we engage in customization we achieve a kind of professionalism, like lawyers or businessmen. We follow the rulings and successes without actually challenging the precepts that created that precedent. To take “Nauman” to the “next level” is not the same thing as challenging what “Nauman’s” work proposes, how he makes it. And that in a nutshell defines a large part of the fear that we Postmoderns refuse to engage and why we are obsessed with refining precedent. If we are not as “strong” as “Nauman” then we fail, we are beaten. If we can not overcome the precedent, if we can not find a new way to express an old thing, then we are, for lack of a better word, fucked. This is the idea in Harold Bloom’s discussion of precedent“A new poet becomes inspired to write because he has read and admired the poetry of previous poets; but this admiration turns into resentment when the new poet discovers that these poets whom he idolized have already said everything he wishes to say. The poet becomes disappointed because he “cannot be Adam early in the morning. There have been too many Adams, and they have named everything.””

Finally, in a recent post at Clancco, one of my favorite art law blogs, they neatly sum up our current studio “reality” –
“The prevailing perception now is that “everything has been done before,” therefore there is no need to even attempt to construe one’s own idea, much less develop a significant and intelligent body of work stemming from years of research and studio-time. Under this rubric, one can only be creative by copying or arrogantly assuming that one can do better than, or make the same statement as, a previous artist in a much better “way.” There’s not much policing of this unfortunate production system, particularly because the population toward which this type of work is being targeted to is of the same mentality and of similar low-expectations. This has nothing to do with education. Professionals and intellectuals of all kinds help to reinforce this Pez dispenser mentality by encouraging the perpetuation and reproduction of popular and immediately accessible art (aka- eye candy).”

reality will continue…

reality_fate addendum

I think Edward Winkleman hit the nail on the head with this post concerning the #classexhibition that’s going on at his gallery. The exhibition was designed by William Powhida and Jennifer Dalton as a critique of the current Art Market system and it has been a gathering place for dissent. The problem with this exhibition and this “dissent” is that I haven’t read or seen much about CHANGE, as in aesthetic change or style change. I think Edward is getting that idea as well.

“At the height of Abstract Expressionists utter domination in the US art market, a group of very smart younger (non-stars at the time) artists dethroned the Ab-Exers…not through some clever manipulation of the market system, not through calls for new regulations or new laws, but instead WITH THEIR ART!!! Most notably, Jasper Johns mocked abstract expressionism with (among other works) his canvas titled “Painting with Two Balls” (see above) so effectively that along with similar efforts by Rauschenberg and Stella, etc. it essentially disemboweled the dominance in the market of Ab Ex work.”

STYLE CHANGE my friends. This is exactly what we have been talking about and doing here on Henri! Postmodernism has had it’s time. It’s DONE. Acceptance is not the same as Change.

“The response to my plea for the artists in the room to recognize their power, however, was lukewarm. Complaints about Johns being a “genius” and such episodes in history not being available to the vast majority of working artist threw a wet blanket over my pep talk. Wallowing in self-pity is apparently so much more comfortable than changing the world. I get it.”

Art is not a job, nor is it a “career.” It’s your life! And that makes up the reality of our studios, our commitments and our consequences.

reality will continue….


“Among artists, we no longer know what to say to each other, we don’t know if we ought to laugh or cry about it, and doing, my word, neither one thing nor the other we are happiest when we find ourselves in possession of a little paint and canvas, the thing we also lack sometimes. But any idea of a regular life, any idea of awakening in ourselves or in others gentle ideas or sensations, all of this must necessarily appear pure utopia to us….” The letters of Van Gogh’s last year mark his acceptance of his isolation, coupled with the belief that the isolation need not be absolute – that, one day, there will be a community of readers and viewers who will understand him, and that his mistake had been to try and materialize that community in the moment instead of accepting it as the possible gift of another world and time. “One must seize the reality of one’s fate and that’s that.”
Adam Gopnik Van Gogh’s Ear

Van GoghBut what, exactly, is the “reality of one’s fate?” Over the years artists have come to see the life of Van Gogh as a cautionary tale. In the 1980s, the poet Rene Ricard used this tale as a platform for promoting a new generation of painters and artists. In The Radiant Child Ricard stated, “Everybody wants to get on the Van Gogh Boat. There is no trip so horrible that someone won’t take it. Nobody wants to miss the Van Gogh Boat. The idea of the unrecognized genius slaving away in a garret is a deliciously foolish one. We must credit the life of Vincent van Gogh for really sending that myth into orbit…We’re so ashamed of his life that the rest of art history will be retribution for van Gogh’s neglect. No one wants to be part of a generation that ignores another van Gogh. And yet looking at art history we see that these other guys were pros. They started when they were kids. They sold their work. They worked on commission. There is no great artist in all art history who was as ignored as van Gogh, yet people are still afraid of missing the Van Gogh Boat.” During the eighties the gangplank into the art world was lowered and a stream of new collectors embarked on an investment cruise. Art was bought and sold like commodities, produced like merchandise and that created a new culture economy – one that hadn’t existed in the art world before. A new form of institutional artist began to take shape in our studios, and as more artists got paid, rocking the boat began to look “deliciously foolish.” These new artists no longer trudged through the fields of Arles, they sailed with the economic tides providing “advanced culture” for a new generation of financial investors sunning on biennial poop decks. On this new ship, in this new economy, we came to understand that there won’t be any Van Gogh boats – Matisse, Picasso or Warhol ones either. Our fate, it seems, set sail for a very different kind of “reality” than the one Van Gogh came to accept.

Why? Because these sorts of anomalies, these sorts of artists, change the structures and lives of the art world. They change one’s perceptions of what reality can be, they upset the balances of control. Postmodernism has been with us for nearly 60 years, and we continue to apply its structures and practices to whatever art we make. This is true for many reasons – social, economic, cultural, political. It is true because change is minimized and directed by the very systems we have come to rely on, those things that define our lives, our realities. In our Postmodern era, the concept of history no longer exists, there is no striving for change or advancement. There is only an endless refurbishment and customization of the program itself. The vessel the art economy sails on today is very much a Ship of Theseus. Think of the achievements of the first half of the 20th Century and compare that to our Postmodern age. The technological, political, ethical, moral and economic advancements and the physical clashes that happended because of those advancements were stunning. In the first 50-60 odd years we moved from horse drawn carriages to engines that broke the sound barrier, from trains to automobiles to rocket ships, and we finished the Modernist era with a walk on the moon – the endpoint of “history.” Think of it – from the fields of Arles to the Sea of Tranquilty in less than a century. Then the tide went out…

To paraphrase Warhol: the best Art is Business. But even this deft aphorism seems a bit naive in our High POMO age. Today the best Art is Finance. And the Art Market looks more and more like the modern day Financial Industry. Derivatives, Credit Defaults Swaps, Collateralized Debt Obligations, and many other contemporary financial instruments were valued through the perceptions of other financial instruments. All of these interconnected “realities” were created using Postmodern theoretic practices. They essentially add up to an endgame of finance. These financial products exist only as concepts, concepts that tweak and customize other concepts in order to waylay the consequences that those primary concepts may hold. They are not “things,” they are “products” designed to make other “products” seem more “real.” And in our age of digitization and programming, these sorts of conceptual practices have become the only means in which the “value” of value itself must be continually inflated without actually contributing anything “real” to that value. Concept is far more important than reality because it exists for nothingness, it exists in a void, it slides in and out of perception. If we “see” Postmodernism in this way, conceptual art uses the same “rules” as contemporary finance. Conceptual art is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns.” There is very little practical theoretical difference between, say, the work of Bruce Nauman and the work of Alan Greenspan – both indulge in Postmodern practices to achieve their “conceptual” realities. How? By allowing the mechanisms of the “market” or the “studio” to create laissez faire “realities” that focus on the ground, on nothingness and the void rather than the thing-in-itself; concept as reality – where words take precedence over form. It is a magician’s trick, a shell game – the worst kind of illusory distraction (we’ll be discussing this comparison in depth in an upcoming reality post.) After watching Nauman heal-and-toe-hip-sway along the outer edge of a square trudging through the fields in search of a vision seems quaint, or worse, mad.

“We no longer know what to say to each other…” I found that statement heartbreaking. It sounds like an end, the way relationships of all kind, end. It defines that moment of realization when there is no turning back, no rescue, that a new reality has formed right before our eyes. It is Van Gogh’s denouement – the moment after the heartbreak. There weren’t going to be any collector cruises or after-parties. No friends to open up to, no lover to lay with. He had only the fields, his paintings and letters, the asylum and that pistol pressed against his chest. His fate is nothing that we Postmoderns yearn for, nothing to romanticize. It is “deliciously foolish” to suffer so, but as we’ve come to understand in our conceptual world, there is a physical price to be paid for structuring one’s own “reality.” There always is. However, there’s something deeper going on as well, and it continues to come to light as I look further into “reality.” It is the power of our emotions, our deep inner demons, that also drive us into our reality and our inevitable fate. It colors our visions. As Georgina said – “We are our own devil,” and maybe that truly is the “reality” that we must seize. 

reality… will continue.


The other day I was having a conversation about the state of the art world. The person I was talking with suggested I should be a little less impassioned about the state of things – “Mark, you need to relax.” The problem is whenever someone tells me to relax, I know they aren’t concerned about my rising blood pressure – they just want me to shut up and take it. OK, art is just art, but it does have some meaning in my life. Art can and does become less of a concern when faced with “reality,” and unfortunately, relaxing is just not an option at the moment. Suddenly the “reality” of life, not art, has made itself known, and I’ve had to find ways of dealing with it – as we all must!


This week the Fairs have come to town, the NuMu has begun the “press” placement for Koons’ curating in the NY Times, and the WhitBi has opened. I’ve decided NOT to participate this year – not that I’ll be missed. Somehow running business as usual while business is anything but usual makes my head spin a bit. No, I’m not trying to be a kill joy for the thousands who will participate. I’m especially not being a crank. I’m just trying to remain consistent. Back in the early 50s American artists actually struck against Museum policies that they felt were arbitrary and unfair to aesthetic advancement. The ABEX artists became famous for the picture of the “Club” members. We’ve all seen that picture. In the 80s there was even a media-friendly POMO reenactment by the EV artists – which you may have seen as well (Christ, even a New New Irascibles in 2000 and a “Next Irascibles” in 2009). But unlike these recent media driven appropriations, the “reason” behind the original group photo was that these artists felt they were being excluded from participating in the larger issues of culture and they were determined to do SOMETHING about it. They were putting a face to the ferment.

As detailed in the article, the open letter to Roland L. Redmond, the president of the Metropolitan protested that the jurors selected for the December exhibition were “notoriously hostile to advanced art” and the choice of jurors “does not warrant any hope that a just proportion of advanced art will be included.” The letter proclaimed “The undersigned artists reject the monster national exhibition to be held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next December, and will not submit work to its jury,” adding “We draw to the attention of those gentlemen the historical fact that, for roughly a hundred years, only advanced art has made any consequential contribution to civilization.” The group also picketed the museum.”

Picketed the Museum! Wowser! I haven’t seen many artists picketing the art fairs of late – have you? As for the concept of advanced art – well, who can say – there really isn’t much of an avant garde – just blue chippers or emergers. Aesthetic issues, theoretical issues really don’t play into the discussion. Right now in NYC there is the #class exploration going on and I’m sure there are many interesting ideas on tap. It seems to be a real attempt at discussing economic and political issues in the art world in some informed fashion. But when I read things like – “an open table discussion about how artists’ identities and backgrounds influence the perception, reception and display of their work. How do factors like perceived race, gender, age, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation affect our experience of the art world?” I fear that we are once again not dealing with the nagging and underlying issues of aesthetics, theoretics and vision. Once again the focus seems to be more on acceptance than on change. Politics/economics is all well and good, but real change goes deeper – real change, especially for artists, starts with vision!

So I will leave you all with this from Dave Hickey from his Revision 4:
“If you look at artworks as I do, against a field of all the artworks you’ve ever seen, this intricate flutter of precedents makes for a bigger and more memorable experience. Lately, I’ve been missing that resonant thickness. Contemporary art, having lost its utopian future, now seems to be losing its usable past. The fashionable opacity of too much new art seems comfortably ensconced at the level of enigmatic decor. The ruthless difficulty to which artists once aspire is now held in abeyance because they dare not be snobs anymore. The art world has lowered its entrance requirements and raised its cover charge so radically that a couple of million bucks and casual acquaintance with Spiderman now gain one entree into the most refined salon. As a result, the contemporary artist’s field of play, once defined by the collective knowledge and experience of cognoscenti, has gone to seed.”

Art should be more than a job, about earning a living, relaxing. What Dave is talking about is something worth protesting about – Vision.