I had begun this post as something else – which is how it usually happens when I write. I kind of circle in on an idea until it gels – then I have to start again. I paint in the same way unfortunately. Nothing ever arrives full blown like Athena did from Zeus’ forehead. I had been to Gavin Brown’s gallery to see a show of paintings and it started me wondering about the state of the gallery scene at this moment. There are a lot of shows that one can just blow into and out of in quick succession. What I’ve been seeing is a current popular aesthetic for painting coming from Oehlen, Wool and Prince based exclusively on Warhol’s legacy – Raphael Rubenstein described these ideas in Provisional Painting – and many of the galleries are stuffed with this kind of work. It seems that a kind of group-think has taken hold and the galleries have decided that this is what’s in style – and who can blame them – they’re looking for a payoff of some kind. Now for a lot of NYers this “IN and OUT” is par for the course while gallery hopping – NYers don’t like to waste their time. But the physical manifestation of “clicking through the product” has been particularly execrable lately. You can blame our short attention spans on a lot factors. The art fairs have definitely changed the way we experience art. The promotion of sameness by the galleries themselves, and the high end retailing of art as fashionable merchandise. The auction houses have created a market economy for the entire history of art. But the biggest factor for me is the way we make and interact with Art online. It has forever changed our experience of it.
What we seem to be experiencing is the “youtubing” of studio practice. An example of this idea is Saatchi’s online art gallery where any artist from nearly anywhere can upload and document their work for free. Additionally one can look at and experience any other’s art for free in this centralized database. The specific works collected and shown by Saatchi’s enterprise are presented in exactly the same fashion as those who are not collected (the program is the same for one and all) so any distinctions between work that is collected and work that is uploaded are completely erased. The collectability of certain art is determined when the bricks and mortar gallery actually features certain artists already presented on the online index. These physical shows are then digitized and uploaded online as a kind of thematic showcase setting them apart from the thousands of non-collected other artists. This creates a kind of desirability and hierarchy for certain works and type of work within the database itself. Now this isn’t much different than historic practices in the real world, but what is different is the speed and violence inherent in the program. The entire online enterprise facilitates the “click factor” when approaching an art work. There isn’t time to study the work, to contemplate it, to see how it’s made, to parse through any ideas that may be there – there is only the psychology of the click, that moment when the image “clicks” in the mind of the viewer.
Our attention spans when coming into contact with a physical work of art these days has become almost infinitesimal. And because of this “click factor” a lot of art is being made to be experienced in that flash. The prevailing optical logic is sex. Bare (beautiful) flesh will immediately make a clicker hesitate. If that flesh is moving there will be a further hesitation. If that flesh is doing something vaguely sexual the click may take a bit longer. That seems to work wonders in the lens-based world, but abstractionists have to attempt a similar feat through the way they make their work. Six strokes, a puddle and a few drips on a big surface and the point is made, the work is fully blown in the click. There isn’t a lot to get, there aren’t interesting ideas – only a reenactment of the same old stuff done at a speedier pace – the paintings have to be seen and understood just as we would a stop sign or an exit light. Meaning has to be found in the larger critical context that has come to fit over every single work of art. The works in themselves can not be seen as a singularity, they can not be seen individually – they are small parts of the much larger market context.
The horror (OK that’s OTT) of this marketing moment can be found in the return to normalcy promised in the criticism offered up by Roberta of two recent shows of high end corporate abstraction. The first show at GoGo’s on West 23rd is so slick that it makes a Murakami in the next gallery look like a heartfelt, hand made work of tenderness. The other at Green Naftali amps up the idea of corporate art with a group of artists that actually name themselves as a corporation while slicking up 70’s style documentary Conceptual art with for-hire commercial photography and fashion models. Apparently they’ve discovered that the table presentations containing the printed poetry can now be seen as the art object itself and they are sold separately. Roberta sums it up by trying to find something deeper in the poetry, something a little more personal in the photos of the models, but she concludes that she isn’t quite sure about even that. Here the click factor has reached the point where we may be clicking into our own psyches hoping that we might come across something deeper and more alluring. If not, well, we can click to the next link…