The Art World has gone to sleep as it does over most Summers. I’ve often wondered why this is so. The main reason seems to be that our world follows the gatherings and goings of rich collectors and most of them seem to take the summers off. The concept of “summering” has become part of the art world mystique and those artist who summer, well they’re in a different game than the rest of us. A lot of working artists that I knew would use the summers to prepare for their upcoming shows in the fall, some of the luckier artists would head out to the summering stalls and hook up with the in-crowds to make a few connections, and some who weren’t selling and not showing would get their pink slips and wonder what the next step would be. It’s all part of the summer art game as it’s come to be played.
But through the years there have been some great summering artists. Marcel Duchamp was a master of summering. The Surrealists summered. The AbExers were the ones that discovered the concept in the Hamptons. They put Long Island on the summering map. But of all the summering summerers ever in the art world the greatest summerer has to be Eric Fischl. He is such a summering summerer that he has made a career of documenting the summering experience over and over again in his work. One can only look on in awe at the summering that is forever issuing from the summery studio of his art life. His paintings document the whole experience from hanging out with Hollywood icons to fabulously naked Euro beaches, and finally, to his own art crowd. He mixes the summering experience with a touch of upper middle class surrealism and guilt, and BOOM, he whips out the perfect angst-y Postmodern painting for the summering classes. I absolutely love his web site and I enjoy even more his unctuous interviewing style. This one on Artnet was amazing for its solipsism. Fischl is still smarting about his bronze figure of the tumbling woman being taken out of the Rockefeller Center after a few of days of viewing.
“The thing around 9/11 is that it was this horrific event killed 3,000 people but there were no bodies. If you remember all the passion was centered on architecture to replace the Towers. To secure the footprints of the Towers. It had nothing to do with human tragedy because it was too painful. So I think that the Tumbling Woman reminded people that it was a human tragedy.”
Now when I looked at the piece I didn’t make the connection to 9/11. I looked at the piece, how it works, if it’s made well, what feelings might arise from seeing a figure in this position. I ask does the thing work, is it doing what it’s supposed to do? I can make my own associations to outside events and personal recollections. The piece shows a formidable female figure falling over herself. She tumbles while we stand. Is she falling or landing? The style of its making reminds me of Michelangelo’s twisted unfinished Mannerist figures, and especially, Rodin’s tortured figures from the Gates of Hell. Unfortunately it has that lumpy “hewn” and “heavy” quality reminiscent of the 19th Century. Fischl has not titled the piece to directly reference the event of 9/11, nor would one necessarily see the piece in that light without the context supplied by the media through his interviews and articles about the work. It is not a portrait, it’s not specific, nor are their visual clues within the work to relate it to this event. The piece is a theatrically stylized academic figure study, and quite frankly, any media context will do. But it was the media back story to 9/11 that put a distasteful spin on the sculpture and that is what caused all the ruckus.
However, this “controversy” shows the problem that faces most all Postmodern art. It isn’t the work or how it’s made that creates a problem. It is the appropriation and the context that the work exists in that causes a problem for the viewer. For instance when Picasso painted the prostitutes for his Demoisselles it was the WAY in which he painted the work that caused the most offence, never mind that it was a painting of prostitutes. Or Matisse’s picture of his wife with the green stripe down her face. It wasn’t the subject matter that mattered it was the green stripe and what that might mean. The meaning of the work for both of these artists was tied up in the way the work was made, in the style they created. And because the WAY they made the work was a personal experience, the piece worked at a deeper level of visual experience. For Fischl’s sculpture this is not the case. The work is a rehash of an academic style and we accept his customization without question. The controversy surrounding the work is in its detailed media interpretation – the text on the wall, the interview on the internet. In other words, there isn’t anything aesthetically NEW or advanced going on here. He is not experimenting with a new vision or personal style. He is adding theater and providing a context for a narrative. The story about the piece and the back story surrounding the piece are what are important to understanding what the work might mean. Meaning is generated OUTSIDE of the work and the work becomes a document for the larger commentary. In this way we can apply meaning to anything and make anything into art. Is Fischl’s sculpture astonishing, ground breaking, interesting, pleasing or amazing – does the work succeed or fail as a work or art? None of that matters. Only the controversy around the sculpture attests to its effectiveness as art. At the end of the avant garde, historical progress and metanarratives we find that only the sliding commentaries actually matter.
So what has all of this to do with Summering, Dog Days & Endings? Well for me it means that Postmodernism is withering under the heat of its own bloated post-history. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of Eric Fischl’s work, as I do many POMOs’ work. I don’t happen to find Fischl’s sculptural work interesting, but I am a painter and that is my focus. However if we look at the larger effect of these Dog Days in the art world we can see that Postmodernism looks extremely dated and dry. Postmodernism, secure in the academy for so long, is the thing to push against. And PUSH WE MUST! POMO is forever trapped within the contexts of the histories that it has manipulated. It has become irrelevant and its irrelevance is stunning. The only way that the POMOs will be able to move forward is if they have a great late phase to their art. But the problem for POMOs is that Postmodernism doesn’t age well. It can not disavow its own parasitic nature or its needy relationship to history. It must remain forever in stasis, forever youthful in that Posthuman steroidal kind of way, caught by the contexts and concoctions of its own making. In the end Postmodernism can not generate any reality from itself. As we have said in other posts – POMO grows old without maturing. So as we summer along to the inevitable fall there may just be a glimmer of hope that change is on the way, that the end is near.