Lagoons, Buffoons and Narcissistic Wheezebags

I am in Venice at the moment. I’ve come a bit early, I usually wait for the fall (it’s cooler and less crowded with tourists.) I come here for the TTTV (Tintoretto, Titian, Tiepolo & Veronese), but this time I wanted to see the Biennale, the day after the party so to speak. I’m ensconced in a lovely place and take to the streets to visit at least one Art thing a day. The rest of the time I layabout, drink Amarone, make a few sketches and watch the world go by. This sedentary tourism truly is about all I can take any longer. The Rick Steves thing I used to do – rushing about from site to site to see everything in 36 hours before heading to the next Italian locale – is a sucker’s game. No, it’s better to just “live” into a place and get to know it. Venice, at least to me, is like nothing else, nowhere else, and I’ll spare you the details. However, if you feel you must know more about it, drop me a line and ask. I’ve no problem shooting my mouth off about Venetian greatness, especially for painters.

That said, I’ve been to the Biennale – both the Giardini and the Arsenale along with a few of the satellite things set up in Palazzos all over town – and I’ll get to all of that in a moment. But first, the thing one notices straight away is the staggering amount of art world players’ money that’s involved in presenting the collections and tastes of the world’s billionaire corporate elite. Crickey Mate! Luxury Goods Corporations have now refurbished and filled a number of these face-lifted Grand Canal Dames with expensive contemporary art collections. The Dogana is case in point. It is one of the most beautiful architectural upgrades I’ve ever seen – graceful and excellently proportioned Postmodern galleries sparsely filled with top of the line machine manufactured luxury art. It’s a stunner. Sigmar Polke’s suite of paintings from the Storr Biennale 4 years ago are housed in a dramatic open roof-beamed, bare walled hangar (or so it seems). I like these paintings very much, they are truly beautiful, and for me, the best in the show, not least because the room that they exist in is so generous in space and discrete in background. But that being said it’s the only room where real painting makes a stand, where Postmodern critique is not lost in outright capital consumption.

The other things in the collection are upscale conceits and very, very shiny – lots of machine made things with fetish finishes, outsourced by auteurs, specifically tailored for very wealthy indulgences. It’s Art about Art with all too obvious POMO in-jokes, allusions to sex, violence, power and/or death. Subtlety is not required in this kind of art – its intentions and allegiances are front and center, right in one’s face. In fact there’s nothing subtle about any of the art in this collection, and that becomes very apparent as one makes one’s way through the hangar-like showrooms. What we are looking at is the top down aesthetic of institutional corporate art – luxury goods made for the bemusement of the fabulously wealthy collector. And this point gets made again and again – Catalan’s horse hanging off the wall by its bricked-in neck is nothing but fucking cruel looking. Paul McCarthy’s silly sod sexuality complete with penis noses, frightening giant clown heads and splayed female bodies, had me creeped out in seconds. Jeff Koons’ expertly manufactured water toys and high end cookery tools seemed right on point considering the giant freakin’ yacht with helicopter pad moored just outside the Dogana. Julia Mehrtu’s corporate decorations sit stately and untouchable on the walls of yet another hangar-like showroom doing and saying absolutely nothing untoward or controversial – well behaved, polite and inconsequential – just happy to be there. This is “painting” made from art history books and reproductions – overlaid projections of architectural plans on giant white grounds, no space, no light, no color, no real movement – handsome billboards, acquiescent and silent. It brings to mind Fukiyama’s definition of the Postmodern world –

“The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.”

And this description of our time also defines Venice as a contemporary art experience. The Biennale is filled with boat loads of this same sort of work, and the best of it (yes there is some good work) was on show in Illuminations, the curated group exhibit that brings the current trends and fashions into a collective data dump. Chris Wool and Co. all looked of the moment. Urs Fischer’s installation was excellent, because somehow, he had the stunningly theatrical Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine” sculpture made into a life-sized wax replica that was then used as a candle (a bad boy critical gambit he has played before). I’m sure the collectors were lining up for a shot at a piece from that expensive edition. The Clock ticked on in a black room filled with comfy white sofas – instant auteur classic. Maurizio Cattelan expanded his pigeon installation causing many of the viewers to look upwards instead of at the work in the room. Nothing like a pigeon’s backside perched overhead to get one’s attention. There were also misses, some real whiffers, by the dozens – institutional installations flown in on cargo planes, the corporate art carnival come to town. Most of the pavilions were nothing more than Six Flags thrill rides for art enthusiasts. There was the fun house, the horror house, the freak show, the ferris wheel, the tilt-a-whirl, and the many concessionary con games where you might walk away with a stuffed animal, but only if you manage to toss the ping pong ball into the too small shot glass. All of this “showbiz” is what we aim for in Art these days, and the curator of Illuminations, Bice Curiger, seems to want us to see and understand this idea from the very start. She’s installed 3 (count ’em) Tintorettos in dim light to work on our senses, warp our spaces, push us to look and look again at illusion, narrative and painterly visual daring. It turns out that our old man, Jacopo, is still a bad ass after all.

I also went to the Schnabel retrospective at the Museo Correr. The best room is the opening room with 3 giant primitive-looking backdrop paintings leaning against the walls of an 18th century grandly appointed Neo-classic meeting hall. Schnabel has always been good at smashing styles one against the other. But I have to say, the rest of the show is a bit of let down. He needs the architecture for contrast (the show is on white walls and cramped cubicles), and when the architecture isn’t there the paintings tend to diminish in power, no matter how big they are. I still have a soft spot for the earlier works, but his debt to Polke et al. is too readily apparent from the mid 80s on. The last room was the most disappointing. A schematic figure painting of a rather fey and bookish artist overlaid on a giant photograph of an exotic looking woman (who Schnabel says is now royalty) entitled “Portrait of an Artist with the Muse He’ll Never Meet” or something to that effect. Now being a fey and bookish painter myself I took umbrage to this acidic portrayal of the useless fantasist and unsuccessful artist. I understand it’s a well-deserved shot at his critics, but I would have preferred a kick ass painting rather than a thin skinned put down about his successes – beautiful Muses or not. Maybe some time with Jacopo would fire his jets – Oh well….

Today I’ve been catching up on my reading, and I’ve discovered, that this Venice Biennale was used as a scouting expedition. Many of these participants were shown and sold at the Basel Art Fair the following week. Rising prices ensued. I really don’t know what to say about that. I’ve written a few things that sounded too bleak and despairing, and I absolutely don’t want to think that way or sound that way. There is more that we have to do as artists, as painters, and it’s high time we got off our asses and did something about it. They, the power elite, won’t give it back to us, Art I mean. There’s too much unfettered, unregulated money and profit involved in the Art Economy. I’d prefer to think that I might have a bit more say about what I do in my studio, and I have no intention of being in the “perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history” business. Do you?

More Romanticism to come…

ps. I posted this on the run without too much time for editing. Please forgive the dropped sentences and misspellings. I’ll clean it up as I can…ah, the power of the internet.

NSFW – Courbet’s Origin and Romantic Engagement

The Origin of the World. Now before I go further I will apologize to the fainter of heart reader that may find this image unsettling. I did try to warn you with the title of the post. I’m not opening with this image to shock you or anger you, but I do hope to make a point, and that will be made clearer as we go. If you look past the blatant visual objectification of female “private parts” I believe this painting to be a radical exploration of a new way of seeing. I can hear you now…”cha-yeah, riiiight!” For the moment let’s leave the cultural concerns about this image to one side and concentrate on how the image is composed. There is absolutely nothing like it, there isn’t a composition similar to it in the painting lexicon at the time it was painted. This is Courbet’s open challenge to the WAY painters approached the composition of a figure painting. Sure there were tons of nude figures decorating the public and private salons of Paris, but none shook the visual hierarchies of academic compositional foundations like this. Not just because of the so-called prurient nature of the image, but because the composition radically alters the viewer’s engagement, position and perspective with the image itself. This very well may have started out as a lens based image of some kind – it is realistically painted. It certainly is cropped the way a camera would crop an image. But the revolutionary move it makes in the history of painting is to be seen in the way it abstracts and presents a kind of physical, tactile portraiture.

The Thing in the Field

Composition in painting had remained relatively static since the 15th Century. Even today Renaissance composition is still alive and well even in the most abstract of images. Now this compositional tactic was derived from the geometries of forms – triangles, circles and squares. They were used in figurative algorithms to create pleasing arrangements of things in scenes. Much later these geometric arrangements became the mathematical structures for many abstract paintings (rediscovery is painting’s strength). But it’s the viewing of these things, the way that we are meant to see these kinds of compositions that I find interesting. We’ve all heard about, and most of us have used, the old “looking-through-a-window” trope. This basically places the viewer at a fixed safe distance in order to create optimal visual contemplation of an image or scene. When this kind of composition is engaged directly it can and does create a form of intellectual desire in the viewer – desire for knowledge, desire for the experience of understanding through vision. One is led and moved from point to point in the scene in order to put together the narrative. This is basic visual thinking 101. Thus we get the portrait, the mythical or literary scene, or the documentation of a moment like a wedding or a devotion. This kind of viewing is sedate, contemplative, and allows for a certain kind of intellectual distance and physical coolness. There are literally thousands of these kinds of images in the history of art (and maybe millions more of them in the recent history of product advertising.) What we are talking about is a classic, dogmatic compositional decision – straightforward, specific and matter-of-fact.

There are many pleasures to be had when seeing in this way and it’s probably through this kind of composition that we arrived at the classic idea of beauty – the Golden Mean. By this I mean that this kind of composition relays an intellectual beauty, a mathematical beauty. The thing in the field exists strictly for our contemplation, and it exists almost in a Platonic form as an embodiment of thought. From the absolute airless beauty of Botticelli’s Venus all the way to Don Judd’s gleaming boxes, the thing in the field is something other, something inhuman if you like. We are not involved IN the vision but we are given the means to contemplate the scene wholly, unobtrusively. In this way we are given myths, godheads and perfections stacked to the rafters in pleasing groupings of three. We arrive at an appreciation and understanding of that rising subject simply by looking at it, engaging in its proportions and unfolding its meaning without actually being involved. This is akin to a stage production where the proscenium, the fourth wall are all at work. But what if the painter, the artist wants to make things less “theatrical” or “geometric”? How do we reinterpret and close the distance?

Changing Visual Relationships

Caravaggio revolutionized painting composition at the end of the 16th and at the beginning of the early 17th century. He actually broke down the polite distance between viewer and scene. This is an exciting, direct space that puts a different spin on the relationship of the viewer to the scene. Even though this relocation of the viewer is still tethered to the idea of someone looking at a thing in a field, our visual relationship to the reality of the scene has changed. We are now witnesses rather than voyeurs and this change in our understanding shifts our temporal involvement in the scene. We don’t have the luxury of a kind of visual timelessness, we don’t float over the scene any longer. Instead we are in time and involved in what is going on. I make this distinction for a purpose. The voyeur is unknown, apart from the scene. The witness is included, and in fact, is needed in order to complete the composition. Caravaggio keeps us at a slight distance. We are just across the room. We’re not quite so dispassionate, not quite so separated from the rising subject. What was instantly different in this composition of St Matthew was the unexpected emotional focus on the physicality of the rising subjects in the image. The illusions of space and light actually brings us, the viewers, into the scene in order to complete this unfolding action. The difficulty for the painter when attempting this kind of temporal compositional adjustment is making the understanding of that completion visually convincing, making it seem “real”. This doesn’t mean literally that we must be fooled by what we are looking at, only that we must be convinced of a kind of “reality” in the image itself. You’ve all heard of or maybe even have said about a painting at one time or other – “it works.” It works because the internal visual logic of the composition is strong enough to engage you, to pull you in, so to speak. It works because you understand and readily accept how that visual logic works.

Let’s take this a bit further. What happens to the image and the space it creates when we are IN the painted scene is similar to the way a lens crops an image of reality. The canvas only stretches so far after all, and the artist is pushing, visually, for a moment, a very specific moment in that “space”. Unlike the optical and temporal specificity inherent in lens cropping, visual painting involves our other senses unfolding over and through time. Normally when we see something in the flesh, our peripheral sight plays into our unconscious thought processes (which is why POV video games are so fucking annoying). We don’t engage these boundaries directly, we more often than not, FEEL the edges of our sight – it is an unconscious experience. That’s why we “know” something is behind us or to the side of us before we actually see the subject rising into view. What I am saying is that we feel space as well as see it. On the canvas not everything we see fits into that direct space provided by the stretcher. Things can and do begin to appear, have to appear, in places that we don’t expect and that don’t always make “real-world” sense. These “exaggerations” of temporality are direct choices made by the painter in order to compensate for the truncation of our visual peripheries. The painting must actually FEEL bigger than what we are seeing, as if that compositional “reality” is much fuller and larger than the physical world around us and the painted world we are looking at. We are breaking down the fourth wall, the imagined distance between the painted space and our own. If the composition can do this the artist is able to engage our peripheries, and once that happens, we gain access to a kind of simulation of our feeling vision enlarging the painted scene. The image seems to push at the edges of the canvas creating the feeling that the painted “reality” is encompassing our physical space. If the logic of the image is truly convincing, if one accepts the composition, the painting will also heighten one’s physical connection to what one is experiencing in the image. Colors, light, space, form, etc. will have “presence”, and suddenly, one’s own visual memories can and will engage directly into that painted reality. One knows how the cloth feels, knows how the room smells, one can taste the air in the light. The scene, the image, the painting, begins to make sense in one’s body as well as one’s eyes and mind. I am not talking about the processes of realism, naturalism or illusion designed to “fool the eye” though these are joyful visual experiences. I’m talking about accessing a physical emotional element in the work through the visual logic of the composition itself. Caravaggio managed this by readjusting Mannerist compositional theatricality with their kind of “billboard” collaged spaces into a seamless, continual temporal space. In doing so he pushed out the edges of his images, overlapping that visual logic onto our experienced reality. His work taps directly into our own memories, putting us into the scene and making us actually feel what we are seeing.

Modernist Vision

By the 19th Century the academy had fallen into a revival of high Renaissance compositional devices and classic storytelling techniques in order to produce very slick, theatrical history painting. However, there were things occurring in the avant garde that would revive the exploration of a more involving visual kind of composition. The first rediscovery was the Impressionists’ reinterpretation of color and light through revamped drawing and painting techniques. Painters began to re-think how to make a painting, how painterly techniques could affect the eye. The second was a new emphasis placed on dynamic compositional devices in order to optimize the visual effects of these rediscovered techniques. This new emphasis on compositional structures was developed through both the assimilation of Japanese prints (new and dynamic to the eyes of Western painters) and the beginning proliferation of lens based imagery. There are direct similarities between the way a camera works and the way a Japanese print works. Both flatten and frame in ways not seen in Western Art before, and painters were hooked from the start. For our purposes we’ll concentrate on the compositional framing that’s natural to the lens and the camera. It quickly became a tool used by many of the Impressionists to radically alter viewing perspectives and figure ground relationships in their paintings. The lens completely revamped one’s compositional choices quickly, efficiently and undeniably. This new composition also brought back Caravaggio’s radical pictorial logic and involving physical spaces. I would normally go for Manet at this point, but instead, I’ll use an example of another of my favorite paintings – Caillebotte’s Scrapers.

Calleboitte’s camera allowed the painter to re-discover a Baroque physical vision. We’re in the room with these floor scrapers, standing at the back. The composition has a similar feel to the way Caravaggio directed his works – in fact there are many qualities in this painting that harken back to his innovations – the temporal naturalism, the importance of light and surface, the tight defining spaces between the figures and encompassing ground. Now there are many Impressionist technical innovations still at work here, but in this painting our focus is not outside, not the landscape, but instead, the interior, the living space. In this slightly off kilter room the composition allows our eyes to “hear” the blades pushing across the surface of that wooden floor, the sound of metal on wood. You can see the oppressive heat on the sweating backs of those craftsmen. And in a very Baroque plot twist, you can also see something else – the window is shut – the workers are trapped to their tasks and though the light fills the room, it must also heat it up. We are witnessing the inevitable way things get done; difficult, exacting, backbreaking. Hard men stripped to the waste, stripping the hard floor, getting beneath the surface of things in order to resurface, begin anew (apologies, I like the metaphor). The grouping of the figures on the right – contained, chatting about something – is balanced and impacted by the left hand figure’s move to grab a sharp tool – there’s the threat of deliberate violence in this movement. (To my mind this painting brings up memories of another matter of fact scraping – Marsyas by Titian.) This figure’s reach leads us back into the conversation of the other two workers, pulls us across the room into that particular moment making it both real and alive. It’s similar to the way Caravaggio composed his inevitable moments of violence using a look or an outstretched arm to send us careening across the space of the scene. But we as viewers are still not totally a part of this moment – not voyeurs, but witnesses or overseers. We are still not totally implicated in the vision.

Radical Viewing

So what of Courbet’s Beginning? When you walk into Courbet’s room in the d’Orsay you’ll discover straight away that this painting really does project a kind of visual intimacy unlike anything else around it. Even among Courbet’s work it’s different. With Origin, we are not only in the scene, we are physically involved with the subject of that very image. This sort of compositional physicality in painting was unknown and unexplored at the time (1866 – eleven years before Caillebotte’s Scrapers). We are literally sitting between this woman’s leg’s. In fact we are so close to the image that we can not see all of it. The figure moves beyond the edges of the canvas, out of the field entirely, turning the figure into a landscape. The composition pushes at the peripheries of our vision just as it does the edges of the canvas. It activates our sense memories in a direct way, accentuating touch and emotion. We don’t have the luxury of a disconnected contemplation, the vision is immediate and brutal. Courbet’s realism further pushes us to form physical visual contact with the figure. There’s a pulse, a warmth to the skin, a sense of heat and closeness in the air.

Gustav has abstracted our reality through the way the subject is presented in the composition itself. He has broken the space and logic of the figure, made it sharp and thorough like Picasso and Braque would later do in Cubism. They explored temporal viewing from all points, through space. Gustav is not temporally disembodied in that way, but his composition goes straight through the space and pushes into ours. It’s raw just as Picasso’s space is raw. There is none of the wholeness or understanding of the thing in the field, there is only the rising subject and the emotional involvement of close viewing. We don’t know what else is about, we are concentrated on this particular moment of contact. We do not know who this image is of, we are not given a typical portrait. However we are implicated in knowing and understanding her physicality. We, the viewers, are needed to complete the composition because it is absurd and unexpected, a Black Swan. There is no backing away from the subject once you’ve seen it. Its encompassing visual logic has you as you look. Yes it’s sex, it’s basic, raw and unattenuated. It may even be pornographic, but the reality of its form and composition pushing the boundaries of the painted ground makes no apologies. It has you straight away and it demands your involvement. The composition says if you want to see, if you really want to see, then you must feel. You must get into this space, you must get right up to the reality of vision no matter what. We are not witnesses, we are not voyeurs, we are Courbet, we are with this woman. And again this for me is what Romanticism does best – it involves you totally, physically, emotionally. It rocks you on your heels.

Today the lens is ubiquitous and our understanding of and interaction in the world are funneled through its magic boundaries. Courbet’s Beginning is familiar to us in ways that he could never have seen in his own time. The lens was a new re-discovery, a formerly Secret Knowledge that was used to alter our perceptions and expectations in painting. I believe a radical understanding of our visual moment must begin with just such a painting as this one.

Here we are a decade into a new and exciting century and there hasn’t been a serious challenge to the Fin de Siecle Postmodern orthodoxy. Sure there are a number of artists taking that orthodoxy to the “next level”, but there are very few artists indeed that are proposing a different viewpoint, a change of composition, on our times. I think we must “aim Large”, go all out for something different, something that might makes us a bit uncomfortable, unstable. So we’ve begun with Courbet and we’ll continue to hone this Romantic critique, to move beyond both Modernism & Postmodernism in our next post.

Quick Links

FOH (friend of Henri) Paul Corio has posted another of his series on Bad Painting – “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly part 6.” Paul engages, once again, with George Condo’s work to wrestle with the idea of “Bad Painting”. Over at immaterial-culture D. Richmond takes on Relational Aesthetics and Institutional Critique in a very personal post. Both are recommended reading!

Finally, for those of you who haven’t seen it – You Tube has the wonderful David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge television program. The program is a detective story filled with visual thinking. I don’t agree with everything Hockney lays out for us, but there are a lot of provocative thoughts and historic connections that we can build upon to get beyond our Postmodern aesthetic cul-de-sac!

Henri will be posting a piece on Romantic Vision that discusses many of these issues. However, it begins with a Not Safe For Work jpeg, and I just thought it best to alert those of you who are indeed at work and/or those of you who are a bit squeamish. No sense in pulling a Weiner if you don’t have to.

Quick Links

I recently found Maureen Mullarkey’s blog Studio Matters through Mario Nave’s wonderful blog Too Much Art. Studio Matters is sharp, incisive and real. Ms. Mullarkey’s standards for Art are very high indeed and offer a challenge to each and every one of us that has a studio. Her last post entitled “The Responsibility of the Artist” really captured my attention and I felt the need to comment (absurdly I might add.) The summation is classic and the questions raised should be ringing in our ears every day…

“How to be of one’s time without succumbing to it? How to convey the nature of one’s time yet simultaneously create timeless work? There is no pat, easy answer to that. Only one thing can be said with certainty: that enduring art can only be made by artists aware of the nature of their time. That necessary wakefulness is no small thing to achieve. ”

I highly recommend you check out Studio Matters and put it on your required reading lists!

Additionally, you should check out Mario Naves’ response to Week In Weak Out. He has a concern about a certain term becoming part of the lexicon of art speak… and he’s probably right. All we need now is a bunch of POMOs running about contextualizing the term for their latest installation. Thanks Mario!

Week In Weak Out

There are times in the studio when nothing, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, goes well. Colors turn to mud, compositions fall to pieces and one’s focus gets scattered to the four winds. As one’s brush lies limp in one’s hand (ok punks – pun intended) the unsteady failures of nerve begin to unfold like a slow motion avalanche from an extreme sports video. These moments of accordian metaphysics are always followed by a spectacular and inevitable blow out. What looked great in the drawing looks like crap on the canvas. What seemed possible in the moment of inspiration has become impossible in the realities of the studio. One might look to the masters for some small comfort or insight, for a way through, but that doesn’t always pan out. Caravaggio choked and scraped his first pass at St. Matthew. Michelangelo chipped off his first ceiling attempts. Matisse used to have his lover wipe down his overworked canvases at the end of the day. Picasso would paint right over a nasty unyielding fucker clotting the old paint with new ideas until he worked it out. Sometimes the painting gets turned to the wall like a petulent child on a time out which can last for weeks, months or years. Before one knows it one’s studio starts to resemble a parking lot at the local 7-11 – half assed paintings hanging out to all hours doing nothing and going nowhere. Life’s a bitch…

In the meantime many of my artist friends are still struggling to make ends meet. The so-called recovery refuses to create work for those that want it. Galleries also refuse to open up to new work and new ideas – they just retread the expected, the sellable. This is gumming up the works, making change nearly impossible. In the larger world the stock markets are choking on the continuing news that nothing has changed in the economy since the crash in 2008. Gas prices remain at elevated levels because of uncertain supply concerns AND the gaming being done in the commodities markets by financial institutions and hedge funds. Americans’ house prices are still falling with one quarter of homeowners underwater owing more for their houses than they are actually worth. And again this is a reminder that many of these underwater mortgages were the same ones packaged into the derivatives that caused the 2008 economic pancake. The news goes far deeper in the red as well with many of the EU countries tottering along, the end of QE2 here in the US, and trillions in derivatives still sitting like nuclear waste ignored and hidden off the books of our Too Big Too Fail financial institutions. IS there any doubt as to why the entire art world continues its same old ways? It’s just following the money. The economic dominos are stacked up once again – waiting for change…

These are the passing news reports coming into the studio confirming both my desolate mood, my fears and my simmering anger. There simply isn’t enough for everyone no matter what people tell you. In our world the Postmoderns continue to work without challenge, with impunity. They serve us taco soup while selling inflated work at inflated prices to inflated collectors. After all the controversy at the New Museum – what was that…a year ago? – Why are you artists still going there? Why would you support an artist that was featured in their shows? Why would you uphold the aesthetic of institutional power that serves you taco soup? Now I’m sure the soup was tasty, I’m sure you had a fun time at the gallery with your friends, and I know the artist is a nice person, but aren’t there OTHER ISSUES about art that you should be concerning yourselves with? AS a painter I have other concerns, I want other kinds of painting, I want different visual ideas, different discussions about what Art and Painting can be.

I walked through the Chelsea galleries the other day and found myself looking at more of the same – some of it professionally done, most of it predictably similar, but none of it offering a change. None of the work I saw had any of the visual generosity or grandiosity of the masters – lush, emotive, engaging and thoughtful. It was just professional. Later I was having a discussion with a friend when I blurted out the thought that maybe something that’s considered unique is not necessarily the same thing as something that’s truly different. Now at first this seemed a bit strange to me, and I have to say, it confused my friend to no end. It felt like I might be trying to be clever, going on a rhetorical rant – in other words engaging in douche baggery. But as I explained, “unique” usually means that something is “one of a kind”, meaning that the “unique” may very well be the exemplary thing that arises out of many similar things – ie. “One of a KIND”. To be different means (as they used to explain on sesame street) the thing is not like the others. It may not be exemplary in the sense of the unique, it may not be “One of a Kind”, but it will be dissimilar, unfamiliar maybe. And for the moment I want to see and experience what isn’t if that makes any sense to any of you.

And even now with all of this “Uniqueness” swamping the art world the Whitney begins to build yet another institutional douche fest down by the High Line. There is a piece by Charlie Finch on the Whit’s plans with some photoshop visions of what it might look like. The proposed view of the interior gallery is nothing but a huge open rectangle of a room with art running down the length of the walls. Once again the star-chitects give us excessive amounts of wasted square footage without providing any real viewing wall space. This speaks well for objects and installations but what about painting? Shouldn’t painting, especially great painting (the Whitney does have a few), be something more than wall paper? This kind of interior space is all about having open footage for people to move about at parties and gatherings rather than the development of intimate spaces to actually SEE art, especially painting. Destination museums are about place and power, not about Art. What’s being built is yet another corporate gathering place designed for the interests of the board donors. Look, I understand that the art world has always depended on the kindness of strangers, but the strangers are now running the whole shebang. Do we really need another corporate country club disguised as a museum? The building will be unique, the artists will be unique and the experience will be unique, and it’s all guaranteed to be “one of a KIND” experience for one and all. It just won’t be different.

Week in Weak out and another week done. We’ll have more on Romanticism soon.

Tintoretto Gets His Due

It seems that some folks are starting to catch up with and crib from Henri. I’ve been making the case for Tintoretto as an important rule breaker and timely master for years. He’s been a big inspiration in my work, and when I’m in Venice, he and I spend a great deal of time together. I read a few months ago that the Biennale was going to include a few of his works in the curated show entitled ILLUMinations. They would be hanging right along with contemporary works and giving them a run for their money. I thought this was a wonderful idea, and a visually inspiring one, for many of us who will be seeing the exhibit. Jonathan Jones, one of my favorite critics, discusses Tinti and his rule breaking ways…

“…Picasso was painting his revolutionary works a century ago. He really was attacking the rules, and turned to El Greco as a strange predecessor. Do artists today need telling to break rules? Surely Tintoretto is more likely to look, in the context of the Biennale, like a fiery prophet of artistic crisis.”

Jonathan’s discussion is familiar ground here at Henri. But I think Jonathan may be missing a further point – today there are no rules – absolutely everything is art and there are no longer boundaries to cross – there are no structures, no forms, no philosophies. We are Post Historical. Instead what we have to “break” is our addiction to Postmodernism as a cultural form. Break our subservience to the toadying Corporate Fair Art that fills vanity museums and well funded institutions all along the art vacation circuit. We have to see rather than accept, we must use our eyes. And Tintoretto is all about the love of vision and thinking about what one is seeing.