Not Getting It

I absolutely HATE popping off, but sometimes one can’t let things slide. Even in the midst of change the Postmoderns still don’t get it, they don’t understand that they are the problem. First was last week’s Jon Stewart v. Jim Cramer showdown in which we witnessed a cogent dialectical critique of a postmodern entertainer passing himself off as an authority figure. Jon Stewart, a comedian usually prone to silliness and ironic asides, sat face to face with a CNBC financial network’s TV show host, and laid out a critique of what that network’s responsibilities should have been to the general public over the last eight years. It was fascinating to watch. Jon discussed both the network’s stated business and the games it plays around that business. As Daniel Sinker writes, “You see, Stewart’s real critique wasn’t about Cramer, it was also only marginally about CNBC. Instead, Stewart’s real rage comes from the role the modern media has created for itself: the role of cheerleader instead of watchdog, of favoring surface over depth, of respecting authority instead of questioning it.” Critical thought will always unveil the truth.

Second is Jerry Saltz’s column in New York Magazine. Jerry understands that changes are happening, but he just can’t SEE them yet – they are not in the galleries or the art fairs or for that matter in any of the institutions that he hangs about. Instead he spends his time looking for the two point ohs, the upgrades of familiar ideas and familiar work. He likes the tweaks to the known software, and he’s perfectly at home with it’s snags and glitches.

Josh Smith’s densely hung painting show, which was at Luhring Augustine until last week, comes at you with an intense optical force that accurately replicates the psychic energy of our topsy-turvy world. His surfaces shift from handmade to printed to Xeroxed and entice, confuse, and zap the eye. His sense of design, abstraction, and figuration all come forward at once. The paintings are well-made and smart but not about being “important.” This releases all sorts of fresh air into the space around his painting, painting in general, and exhibitions. Two years ago a show like this might have seemed like a marketing ploy; now it feels like life. Whatever it was, it gave me a rush.

He is quite right. The show was packed to the gills, one painting after another. Each made with a different institutional painting strategy, each looking like something we’ve experienced before. However what Jerry is reacting to is the installation of all these works – not the works in themselves. In fact he gives very little info on the specifics of each of the paintings, what they might mean, other than the fact that he believes they are “well-made and smart.” What the fuck does that mean Jerry? What do the images in each SPECIFIC work mean, what is the artist trying to say that his gallery colleagues Christopher Wool or Albert Oehlen have not said about painting already? What is it that is well-made about the work – the way the work is painted or manufactured, the way the images are used or the images themselves? It is not the “fresh air…around the painting” that we need to be looking at. We’ve had fresh air around painting for FAR TOO LONG. We need fecund, thick air in the painting itself. We need to be panting, gasping for air, in front of the painting. AND I might add, this idea of “replicating the psychic energy of our topsy-turvy world” sounds a lot like the same bullshit used to describe Jeff Koons’ replications of Jim Rosenquist’s paintings. Finally… “Two years ago a show like this might have seemed like a marketing ploy; now it feels like life.” Are you saying that after the crash we’ve succumbed to the sophistry of marketing ploys or are you saying that there’s no difference between marketing ploys and life? Anyway you care to slice it – all you’re serving up is the same old gooey Postmodern cheese.

I do agree with Jerry about Rudolph Stingel. That show at Paula Cooper was such a vicious “fuck off” to every installationist, contextualist working the postmodern system. In Paula’s GIGANTIC, theatrical space there were 3 small paintings one on each wall. The paintings are exact copies of black and white photos of Renaissance sculptures of saints. The paintings are not special in any sense and that is part of the point. The show isn’t about the paintings, but it is about what a painting becomes in the context of a large and powerful space. Stingel shows us how that context bestows value on the work itself. The work becomes an object to venerate, just as millions venerate saints embodied through their representations. But Stingel takes it a step further, he doesn’t make a statue, he makes a painting from a photo of the statue. He removes the physical part of the making and the worship. What is missing in the veneration of work in the gallery is the stuff of life, the sweat, the effort, the history, and mostly, the love. Stingel is one of my favorite self-hating Postmodernists.

We at Henri think Jerry needs to take a break, a sabatical. He needs to sit out to meditate, cogitate, and not look at art for awhile. Otherwise he will never get beyond himself, never get beyond the last 20 years and he will fall away with all the rest. Hell, we all like Jerry. He’s gracious and real and fun at parties. But he has become wall-eyed through the years – one eye wandering the crowds while the other is sizing up the horse race of reknown. We hate to do this but…“If you think these paintings have that kind of mojo, you’ve either never looked at those paintings or you know nothing about painting….” Your Wildean stab about Yuskavage’s work also applies to you. We have faith in you Jerry. We don’t want you to fall back on old ways. We want you to get it!

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