Moves Like Bela…

Frothing Anger is bubbling beneath the pristine surface of the Art World these days. I know a number of artists, myself included, who’ve had enough of the same old slop served up by the bucketful – the Frieze art fair that just blew through town was a perfect example. Was there anything really new at the show or were we witnessing yet another round of the same old ideas refurbished by yet another group of New New artists? I’ve been reading a lot of muscle-building art manifestos of late, most likely inspired by the Occupy successes. But for all the brave talk and chest thumping braggadocio, I’ve not really seen nor read anything that looks or sounds like anything close to New, nor even something close to the lazy man’s definition of new – something “novel.” It’s like we all know that there’s a serious problem, but no one can really put a finger on it, mainly because the problem lies with our accepted suppositions rather than the arc of our reasoning. Look, making a claim for painting and then basing one’s work on photographs is hardly ground breaking. Making a claim for abstraction and then installing a series of monochromes or stripes hardly inspires awe. Making a claim for the “new” and dripping paint down a canvas doesn’t really pull out the “wow” factor. Does it? Well if it does, then clearly, I’ve been looking at the wrong works…

I’m all for change, but the problem that we here at Henri continue to hammer on remains. Artists have forgotten how to think with their eyes, how to critique with vision. Yes, we are experiencing a highly mannered age of art making – anything goes, especially if it’s a slick production and/or has a dark backstory. To even think about competing in the Art World for money, press and attention, you have to know how this game is played, where the bodies are buried and who has the juice. Today’s art products are manufactured solely for shiny new millionaires by high-tech, outsourced professionals, men and women as specialized and expert in art fabrication as any PHD scientist working in NASA’s engineering labs. These computer enhanced incarnations can make even the shittiest idea look and act like a trillion dollars. Seriously. Just look at the hand-squeezed giant lumps of poopie (that’s right, I said poopie) that Urs Fischer is outsourcing and selling to the toniest of collectors. Recently, I saw a great photo of one of these doodies plopped right on the manicured lawn of Peter Brandt’s Foundation Art Study Center! That being said, I have the greatest regard for Urs Fischer. I have come to think that he is a textbook Postmodernist of the highest order and one clever-assed art marketing genius. The linked picture above was taken at a soiree held in honor of Karen Kilimnik, bad painter extraordinaire, who is now getting the full court love press from hedge fund gazillionaire collectors everywhere. (Auction prices to rise accordingly in the very near future.) But as the collector love was being pumped Karen’s way, Urs’s squeezie wound up stealing the show! Both of these tongue in cheek artists are held up in the press as the best of the best, the epitome of revolutionary ideas produced by the ever-upgrading “system” of the New New. Never mind that these are artists wholly involved in every aspect of the “system” itself. All of which begs our earlier question of change, and so, I’ll have to say this as bluntly as possible to ambitious, angry, emotional painters (or artists) everywhere – Do you really believe that a drippy, clotted, “bad” painting of your skanky genitals will actually make the Art World think twice about what’s meaningful in the 21st century? Especially since that kind of work is being done by Marilyn Minter (another Postmodern “radical”) already? I don’t care how righteously angry you are, you haven’t a fuckin’ chance, my friend.

If you want REAL change then you’re going to have to think in other ways, structure your life in other ways. There are no guarantees, not about your future, your talent, your pathway or your worth in the system. We are all NOT created equal and thank the universe for that. Find your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and for goodness sake, never let them see you sweat, never covet THAT life, because that world NEVER changes – it never has! Your path if you’re truly looking for difference will take you far away from this kind of life. Know this as well – no matter how you rationalize or try to make the accepted kind of career, you’re not going to be able to change the Art World from within. You’re not going to change the collectors’ minds about what they like. The people paying for and presenting the big work today are happy with who they are, with their understanding of Art, and their understanding of Art History. Why would they, should they change? These collectors and their tastes, for good or ill, run this particular show. If you’re on the outside, outside those inside possibilities, AND you truly WANT change then you’ve got to understand, that you have accepted, you’ve CHOSEN other responsibilities; to your Art, to your Life and Loves, and to your Legacy. Upgrading old ideas won’t do it, that’s being done WITHIN the system all of the time. Making your ART bigger, louder, more expensive, more exclusive, larger, thicker, stronger, or veinier won’t do it either. Layering more paint, dripping in stylistic homage, adding color, subtracting color, collaging, not collaging – none of it matters. You MUST think about WHAT you are doing, WHY you are doing it and HOW it is different. The change you’ve accepted must come from your life, and your work’s meaning must come OUT of that existence! Emo posin’ with an asymmetrical haircut or chillin’ Chelsea-style in slick-willie business casual for a PR photo just won’t cut it when you’re presenting the world a photo-realist charcoal portrait of a roaring tiger or a soaring birdie. I don’t give a shit what Robert Longo tells you. Kitsch is just plain bad no matter how many layers of irony you’re trying to slather into your press release. Look, Postmodernism is like a constantly evolving virus, it can adapt to any antibiotic and continue on it’s merry way, unchanged, unfazed, and still large and in charge. Real change outside the POMO system requires daring new thought. WE must challenge our accepted suppositions about what life could look like. Ok, I know you’ve all had enough of me by now, so I’ll finish this unmitigated and loosely edited rant by saying that even if you can create a race of atomic Supermen to conquer the world, you’ve got to know by now that those Supermen are going to be run by Apple or Microsoft programs. Seriously? The world conquered once again by Jobs or Gates? Whoopsie – Looks like our radicals have come late to the party! That’s a wrap!

7 thoughts on “Moves Like Bela…

  1. Brilliant, and I felt as your rant was personally addressing me, see that feeling of art emptiness became so universial despite some ambitious curators inventing ever new biennials and bull shit projects.

    Art will be changed into information streaming networks with aesthetic qualities. On the other hand the power of the “handmade” will change into something bigger as we change mentally towards singularity. Interesting times ahead.

    Need some inspiration from another edge ? Read the thrilling biography of the YOUNG STALIN by Simon Sebag Montefiore

    Best regards, Hans

  2. more and more, i tend to judge an artist’s work by its generosity, and what can be done in the wake of its particular innovation. i’m quite happy karen kilimnick is finally getting her due. while not as tough as cady noland, these two artists invented the entire syntax which structures alot of what’s out there at the moment, for good or ill, and in kilimnick’s case that it’s being properly recognized is encouraging.

  3. Lately I’ve been thinking that the real problem is that the avant-garde model of artistic production with all its historical baggage has to be dropped altogether. This is the one aspect of Modernism that Post-Modernism embraced, and it’s failed completely provided that you think the avant-garde’s duty is to move cultural into uncharted, uncomfortable territory – the fairs are full of fakey avant-garde gestures which people go to school to learn how to make.

    What model then? Well much great art was made completely outside the avant-garde model – the Sistine Chapel, The Alhambra, Rubens, Velazquez, the Pyramids, Morandi, Bonnard, Delacroix, Notre Dame, Bernini, Praxiteles, and on and on. There are other ways, other motivations.

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