My mind is all over the place these days – no continuity of thought, whatsoever. I’m pretty sure that I know that there’s been a shitload lot of painting on show in NYC lately, and most of it looks professionally “bad,” “interior decorator” colorful and academically re-worked – as in artful pentimenti. All of this continues the current Postmodern trend of re-making and re-using Modernist painting while ignoring the irony, or if one wants to say it plainly – artists are painting like irony is now “the new sincerity.” But if you’re looking for thoughtful visual ideas or challenging imaginative groundbreaking work – well, you’re definitely looking at the wrong medium. Charlie Finch took notice of this trend, and ramped it up in a recent devastating critique about some of these shows.

“I guess the rationale for esthetic distortion to the point of entropy is that we live in a multi-valent, overstimulated technical world, so that it is simply amazing that any painter can make anything at all. Yet, even the formalists are bad…The soft, haphazard gesture beckons to the lazy collector and painting is reduced to nothing but shades of gray.”

Charlie is, quite rightly, critiquing our lazy eyes, our reliance on academic propositions and our half-assed imaginations. At the beginning of the last century Picasso and Matisse were stretching the boundaries of vision for a new century. Today, most painters prefer to see through lens programs, cowtow to Duchampian prigishness, and mush mud around photographs. I remain unconvinced that this trend will abate anytime soon, and I’m struck by the sameness of so much of the work on view. I find that I don’t carry the works that I’ve seen. I thought that this was a personal thing, but after talking with my friends, it seems that I’m not the only one. Anyway, not everyone I know shares my favorable opinion of Charlie’s critiques. What I like about his work is that he’ll give us a piece of his mind, poking us in the eye while doing so. Maybe it’s hyperbole, but we can take his sharp-eyed critiques as a reminder that we are not doing our jobs.

The other “big” art world news was the so-called blacklist that shut out a collector. I’m sure you’ve all read about it in some form. The collector sued, a gallerist testified, and phony outrage ensued. Guess what we discovered? Business being done in the art world is an elitist whores’ game, and we’re being manipulated by money, power and some super-secretive backroom finagling. OK, we’ve all heard that before. Many of us have seen it go on right in front of our faces, and for the most part, many of us anxiously manuever to be a part of that system. The most stunning revelation is that even as the economy continues to “pancake” nothing much has changed, especially our aesthetic preoccupations, because WE, artists, refuse to challenge the endless sameness of our thought. As an aside, I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that so many of you artists, critics and art world denizens, especially a few that I know, went to the NuMu for the recent collector sponsored dry hump. All I can say to you art bitches, and you know who you are, is don’t even try to justify that bullshit. Reprehensible isn’t a strong enough word – let’s just say disgraceful. Angry? Just a touch.

Additionally, my distaste for the Postmodern edifice has grown even deeper as its effects keep floating into view during this so-called economic “recovery.” The theoretical schiesse slide keeps whisking bucket loads of public money into the grasping hands of connected and corrupt institutions. They, in turn, use this money to bilk the public out of even more money and goodwill. The most galling part is the “feel good” PR that the powers-that-be continue to bulldoze into our collective consciousness. Right now on our TV screens in one of those “feel good” about renewal commercials is the CEO of General Motors, telling us that the bankrupt company has repaid the government loan that bailed them out. But as this article in Forbes by Shikha Dalmia succinctly points out, the “reality” of the rising subject is much different than the advert’s Postmodern “interpretation” of the all-encompassing ground.

“…most ordinary mortals unfamiliar with bailout minutia would assume that he is alluding to the entire $49.5 billion (the money invested in government takeover of GM.) That, however, is far from the case. Because a loan of such a huge amount would have been politically controversial, the Obama administration handed GM only $6.7 billion as a pure loan. (It asked for only a 7% interest rate–a very sweet deal considering that GM bonds at that time were trading below junk level.)”

The article goes on to discuss the fact that GM was provided a “working capital” escrow account to ensure the continuing operation of the company. However, this money is being used to pay back the government loan (so proudly detailed in the commercial) – not profits from sales. And if that weren’t enough:

“…the company has applied to the Department of Energy for $10 billion in low (5%) interest loan to retool its plants to meet the government’s tougher new CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. However, giving GM more taxpayer money on top of the existing bailout would have been a political disaster for the Obama administration and a PR debacle for the company. Paying back the small bailout loan makes the new–and bigger–DOE loan much more feasible.”

Now who can argue with that? Suffice it to say that what is being serviced and maintained with our tax legacy and sold to us with POMO dialectics is the well being of the Power Elite. This political/economic/cultural shell game that defines our realities has been designed to keep the public’s gaze fixed firmly on the constantly sliding ground while the subject walks out the door with the cash – widows and orphans indeed. Now before I’m accused of being a part of a cultural bunko squad or whipping up some Marxist/Leninist scariness, I’ll try to make my way back to the “clean world”. OK, Marko, so what has all this impotent outrage got to do with Art? Just this…

OPTIMISM has returned to the multibillion-dollar art market. Expectations are so high that many will be disappointed if Picasso’s 1932 painting “Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust)” doesn’t break the record for a work of art sold at auction when it is offered at Christie’s on Tuesday.” And sure enough – “At $106.5 Million, a Picasso Sets an Auction Record.”

Ah, the stimulus and the bailout! The trillions of tax dollars piled into the stock portfolios of the hedge fund classes has been like a double dose of viagra for the secondary market! Holland Cotter – in this recent column for the Times – comments on the ubiquity of blue chip size queens currently cruising the auction houses. “Despite the high figure, the whole thing feels a bit ho-hum. These days so much money is in so many hands, and so many of those hands are after trophy art, that record breaking has become routine, de rigueur. Two, three, four million extra? Worth it. After all, if you’re the evening’s big spender, you not only get to own an object you’ve just helped to make fantastically valuable, but your extravagance, with your name attached or not, also buys a mention in the news.”

And then there’s this Bloomberg article – “Wealthy investors can see the rebound is real,” said John Rogers Jr., chief executive of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, which held 3.2 million Sotheby’s shares at year-end. “This is a confidence game. They’re more confident,” he said after watching last night’s auction with his 20-year-old daughter, Victoria, an art-history major at Yale University.” I’m sure the double entendre about the “confidence game” was a sly critique of the global art economy by Mr. Rogers. But my favorite cliche was delivered by a VP at Citigroup “Art Advisory” – “Historically art follows the money and the money is in emerging wealth,” said Suzanne Gyorgy, Senior Vice President of Citigroup Art Advisory Service, referring to collectors from Russia, China and the Middle East. “These paintings follow the wealth.”

Does all of this “wealth” effect what comes out of the studios? The new sincerity says “No” without a hint of irony.

We’ll have another reality post coming soon…stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “Painting…eh?

  1. Great rant, love it, I always wait for your new posts. Cool, how do you connect the dots of arts and economics, it is as shitty as is the other bankrupt and producing plain evil, it has it’s shocking parallel in the freak-shocking oil-mud-disaster in the Gulf of Mexico like, like is this betting game against the EUR, financed by the poor peoples taxes to make the rich even richer. People in Europe start to freak out and getting really angry. What a time we are in.., and this time can not produce any new art ?

  2. Mark, conditions for art really shifted, even maybe we need to find a new term. For example in German the word “Kunst” sounds really high-class, the top finest art, while for us Germans, the word “art” sounds more like applied, every day, mediocre art. It sounds to us like a big bag, where anybody can put in every far art alike thing.

    Strange, eh ?

    Take Cubism. Today, I think it is the highest valued art of the 20 th century, but who saw it in its own time- 300-400 people in Paris maybe ?, how it became so popular today ?(mainly via big museums and book prints I guess). For me and many other artists today Cubism remains the real tough big thing, which is very hard to top or to make any better pronounced in “high art”. In a way it is ridiculous to paint today, also, because nobody knows how to teach it anymore and results becoming really strange. Have a look on a Neo Rauch or a Dana Schutz, it want’s to be art, but somehow it is not,it is hollow, it makes me just so tiered.

    Maybe to remove the word “art” entirely ?

    I remember how artists after the Revolution in Russia 1917 around the poet Mayakovsky, Lissitsky, Rodchenko even refused the term art, but referring rather to a new big image of a new integrated revolutionary esthetic (which remained a dream and a potential danger for Stalin), and meanwhile from 1910 – 1935 producing great Kunst and images.

    To me today, a painting in the web is in a stride with all the other images around, it lost the status of the “special image” which it had before through the Galleries and the system of the white cube. It often looks so clumsy.

    Just maybe make a journey in Flickr discovering new art and artists and paintings or just images. Much of your finds will be better than any New York Gallery has to display, but still, the good ol’ days of art I fear won’t come back.. But isn’t this great indeed ? “Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler !”.

    Everybody now has the tools in his hands to produce art, even to be a really free artist and make even a living on that without galleries or any curator except his own artistic responsibility ?

    Postmodernism is dead, because Art, as the phenomena we used to have a common reference to is dead itself.

    Can we still talk today about “the society” or must we redefine the structures of how people interact with each other ?

    Lets struggle to invent new ideas for the human behavior to invent new esthetic definitions for what we formerly called art.

    PS Did you start to read Boris Groys on Art Theory ?

    Best regards, Hans Heiner (Some Georgian Red Wine assisted here in the writing, I fear.. 😉

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