the referee only sees the retaliation…

Francis Picabia Natures Mortes 1920

“The first rupture was provoked by the diffusion of photography. As underlined by Rosalind Krauss, “Photography calls into question the whole concept of the uniqueness of the art object, the originality of the author… and the individuality of so-called self-expression.” This is the reason that led painter Paul Delaroche to exclaim for the first time around 1840 the famous and shocking sentence: “from today, painting is dead.” The second crisis is represented by the invention of the readymade and the collage that pushed painting to extend itself and “move beside itself in space through objects,” as noted by David Joselit. The third one was provoked by the questioning of the idea of authorship, or as defined by Roland Barthes in 1968 “the death of the author”. In any case authenticity and originality issues had been addressed by artists several years earlier. The fourth crisis can be identified with the critique of painting as a commodity, because of its mobility, its symbolic value, and its easy preservation, in the late Sixties. The fifth rupture focuses on the crisis of criticism in the so-called late capitalist society, as formulated in the seminal studies by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello. “Since the 1980s the idea of an avant-garde became obsolete and dissolved and, again, the end of a critical position in painting was proclaimed”, as noted by Fischli.”[STOP PAINTING exhibition by Peter Fischli @ Foundazioni Prada, Venice]

If artists as great as Picasso, Braque, and Leger have declined so grievously, it can only be because the general social premises that used to guarantee their functioning have disappeared in Europe. And when one sees, on the other hand, how much the level of American Art has risen in the last five years, with the emergence of new talents so full of energy and content as Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, David Smith – and also when one realizes how consistently John Marin has maintained a high standard, whatever the narrowness of his art – then the conclusion forces itself, much to our own surprise, that the main premises of Western art have at last migrated to the United States, along with the center of gravity of industrial production and political power.” Clement Greenberg The Decline of Cubism

What began as a personal project of ‘channeling an erotic sensuality’ and finding an individual poetic voice, became, once Greenberg found his professional niche as a critic of modern art and culture around 1940, a program for making order and sense in the modern world. As [Carolyn] Jones shows, such a project entailed a high degree of selectivity and outright occlusions. Greenberg ‘tamed’ and ‘made accessible’ (p. 141) abstraction by excising its romantic, metaphysical and expressive associations and consequently ‘unified the modern’ (p. 108) around his discriminating aesthetic. Non-representational art was for Greenberg the most trustworthy and positivistic means of visual production in a world of duplicity, optical and otherwise. Jones reveals how the very aspects which made abstract art particularly anathema to Ernst Gombrich – its inability to relate to the external world of empirical stimuli – was what made it the standard bearer of Greenberg’s aesthetic theory. For Greenberg non-objective imagery allowed for dispassionate and ‘disembodied’ vision. In other words, because such art was wholly unattached to the world of subjective perception it could be testable, offering the viewer a model of ‘sensitivity without feelings’ (p. 114). [Robert Slifkin on Caroline Jones’ Eyesight Alone]

The distinguishing characteristic of the art scene at the present moment is the collapse of modernist orthodoxy. Though we lack neither artists nor critics who persist in upholding one or another version of the modernist faith, these votaries of an absolutist view of what is, and what is not, permissible for art to accomplish at a given historical moment tend to look more and more sectarian. Chastened by history and weary of doctrinaire imperatives, a new generation of artists — and indeed, the art public itself — no longer give an easy credence to exclusionary theories of the esthetic enterprise: The immediate result of this recoil from the absolute has been an increase in our consciousness of the sheer variety and multiplicity of artistic statement that the history of modern art—contrary to the myths of modernism—has actually harbored.
This consciousness takes two forms. Among artists, it is evident in the freedom they feel to pursue any course, no matter how reactionary and “unhistorical” it may be judged by the narrow tenets of the modernist faith, which their own tastes and sensibilities deem artistically viable. And among critics and historians, it is beginning to express itself in a more open attempt to come to terms with precisely those elements of the art endeavor — especially representation, and other hitherto despised expressions of “content” — which the formalist criticism of the modernists had succeeded in relegating to the limbo of philistine gratification.
[Hilton Kramer on Modernism in the 1970s]

“Chia, Cucchi, Clemente, Mariani, Baselitz, Lupertz, Middendorf, Fetting, Penck, Kiefer, Schnabel . . . these and other artists are engaged not (as is frequently claimed by critics who find mirrored in this art their own frustration with the radical art of the present) in the recovery and reinvestment of tradition, but rather in declaring its bankruptcy—specifically, the bankruptcy of the modernist tradition. Everywhere we turn today the radical impulse that motivated modernism—its commitment to transgression—is treated as the object of parody and insult. What we are witnessing, then, is the wholesale liquidation of the entire modernist legacy.” [Craig Owens Honor Power and the Love of Women]

German or French? Part III

I don’t think Expressionism is the issue. I think what’s going on in painting now is coming out of national identities. People have withdrawn into their own histories try to find meanings. So you have art that seems like it can only be made out of a sensibility identified as Italian. England is enjoying a kind of rebirth. France, as well. And Germany. When Italians and Germans go back into their history, they’re going back to their strengths. A lot of American art is going back to sources, too – the 50s, Pop Art – which I don’t think is going back far enough. As you go back farther than that, you get to a time when America was more isolated – when its strengths are not easy to find, because American artists were very influenced by Europeans. It’s almost like a denial of American strength to go back into American history – say 60 years.” [Eric Fischl, The Expressionism Question I, AIA (DEC 1982)]

Georg Baselitz Die Mädchen von Olmo II 1981

“Expressionism was an attack on convention (this is what characterizes it as a modernist movement), specifically, on those conventions which subject unconscious impulses to the laws of form and thereby rationalize them, transform them into images. (Here, convention plays a role roughly analogous to the censorship which the ego exercises over the unconscious.) Prior to expressionism, human passions might be represented by, but could have no immediate presence or reality within, works of art. The expressionists, however, abandoned the simulation of emotion in favor of its seismographic registration. They were determined to register unconscious affects—trauma, shock—without disguise through the medium of art; with Freud, they fully appreciated the disruptive potential of desire. Whatever we may think of this project today—whether we find its claims to spontaneity and immediacy hopelessly naive or whether we believe that the expressionists actually tapped a prelinguistic reserve of libidinal impulses—we should not overlook its radical ambition.” Craig Owens “Honor, Power and the Love of Women” 1982

Julian Schnabel St. Francis in Ecstasy 1980

The resurgence, in European art, of regional inspirations had not come overnight—nor did it come as some reaction against America. It began already in the early sixties and in the case of Arnulf Rainer or Joseph Beuys even earlier. It came from various directions but most strikingly from Germany and from Italy. This is not the place to recall the history of how the art of Georg Baselitz or A.R. Penck found its vital eccentric expression, or the work of Iannis Kounellis or Mario Merz—and all those around them. That history is by now well-known. For a while those new developments took place under the shadow of international (or American) Modernism. For the many observers who passionately believed in Modernism as the mainstream style, myself among them, it was at first difficult to acknowledge what was going on. Esthetic habits are tenuous. I remember seeing for the very first time, in 1975, some raw black paintings by Anselm Kiefer. I found no way to respond to them. It took time to adjust to their utter differentness. The same happened with Kounellis. Then I began to understand that more was happening there than just another shift in style. Obviously these artists had found sources of inspiration that had led them to their profoundly different expressions. Once this was clear, that this new art from Europe was establishing itself with undeniable power, then the position of American art also changed: it became an alternative. [Rudi Fuchs on Julian Schnabel and the resurgence of European Modernism in the 1980s]

Albert Oehlen Im Museum II 1982

There is no mode of painting that can cover such a wide range of themes and non-themes, but that was exactly the point. Like Büttner and Kippenberger, or above all Sigmar Polke, Oehlen used such statements to push the subject matter and imagery of painting to the limits of its potential, as a way of demystifying the medium, undermining expectations and, ultimately, liberating art from the mission it was purported to have by collectors, institutions, and admirers of artists like Joseph Beuys or Anselm Kiefer. “So, what you had to do was to put an excessive amount of stress on the medium [painting], that’s how the real beauty comes out,” Oehlen explained in a 1991 conversation with Wilfried Dickhoff and the Austrian linguist Martin Prinzhorn, who was among the first to participate in the discussion of this strategy of making excessive demands.
In the exhibition catalogue for a show at Galerie Borgmann Capitain in Cologne in 1986, Prinzhorn gives an accurate description of how Oehlen’s art resists any simple meaning being ascribed to it: “For art criticism, that old game of allocating form and content is always central. No matter how complex it might be, it ultimately always aims at a form of ‘understanding’ that presupposes such an endeavour as a meaningful allegory or metaphor. The art we are discussing here does not allow for these kinds of interpretative mechanisms.” [Daniel Baumann on Albert Oehlen’s work in the 1980s]

Li Trincere @ David Richard Gallery & Pazo Fine Art

Li Trincere
Untitled (Red Black), 1990 Acrylic on canvas in two parts 72 x 72 in
182.9 x 182.9 cm

Li Trincere has spent a lifetime in New York City making hardedge paintings. As a young artist, she took Ted Stamm’s serial works to be key examples in her development. Li subsequently found acceptance among the group of artists which looked to Olivier Mosset and Steven Parrino as exemplary. Although she showed with Rolf Ricke in Cologne and Julian Pretto in New York, Li’s work never found the audience common to many of these male artists.

The “cult value” of her art, as the term was explicated by Walter Benjamin, remains quite vivid. Li Trincere has persisted, despite the alleged death of painting, in making art in a particular place and at a particular time.

The Neo and The Geo is a group exhibition which includes Li Trincere’s early work at Pazo Fine Art in Washington DC. It is on view through October 28, 2021.

Painting Zero is a solo exhibition which includes ten of Li Trincere’s new works at David Richard Gallery in New York. It is on view through October 29, 2021.

Mike Zahn, October 2021

German or French? Part II

“Apart from the artists who perished in concentration and internment camps, many who were deemed “degenerates” fled Germany, such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, László Moholy­ Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Johannes Molzahn, Johannes Itten, Joseph Albers, Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka, Kurt Schwitters, Friedrich Adler, George Grosz, Rudolf Belling, and Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, or retired into an inner emigration to isolated areas of the country, such as Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel, Karl Hofer, Willi Baumeister, Xaver Fuhr, Karl Knappe, and Karl Schmidt­ Rottluff.​ ​The disappearance of these artists from the German cultural milieu greatly influenced the fractured reality of the nation’s visual culture and aesthetic identity in the postwar Zero Hour; these artists came to be viewed as part of a lost generation.” [Isabelle Rust on Postwar German Art]

Brandenburger Tor in einer Trümmerlandschaft am Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges (Mai 1945)

“By the later 1940’s I dare say Matisse was being looked at harder and longer by younger painters in New York than by younger painters elsewhere. That shows in their art. For I would also say that Matisse’s influence, whether direct or indirect, accounts for some of the features that distinguish abstract painting in this country since the 1940’s from most abstract painting elsewhere, and particularly in France. It’s as though American art, in its handling of paint and of the color of paint, has maintained French tradition more faithfully than French art itself has since that time. If this is so, it’s thanks to Matisse’s assimilation by Americans more than to anything else.” [Clement Greenberg “Influences of Matisse”]

There is in my opinion a definitely American trend in contemporary art, one that promises to become an original contribution to the mainstream and not merely a local inflection of something developed abroad. I would define it as the continuation in abstract painting and sculpture of the line laid down by Cubism and broadened subsequently by Klee, Arp, Miro, Giacometti, and the example of the early Kandinsky, all of whose influences have acted to modulate and loosen forms dictated by Matisse, Picasso and Leger. An expressionist ingredient is usually present that relates more to German art than to French art, and Cubist discipline is used as an armature upon which to body forth emotions whose extremes threaten either to pulverize or dissolve plastic structure.” [Clement Greenberg “A Symposium: The State of American Art” March 1949]

“While respectful of the contributions made by Nolde, Beckmann, Klee, Kirchner, Kollwitz, Grosz, etc., Germany’s youthful painters of the late 1940s and ’50s felt more restricted than challenged by these older artists’ ideas. What they wanted was something new, large, and bold enough to match their experiences of both the war and its frustrating aftermath.
Help came from the United States in the form of two major American exhibitions sponsored by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “New American Painting” and “Jackson Pollock: 1912-1956,” which opened in Berlin in 1958, brought the full weight of Abstract Expressionist ideas and attitudes to such younger Germans as Georg Baselitz, Eugen Schonebeck, and K.H. Hodicke. Although it functioned more as a catalyst than as a guide, Abstract Expressionism had a significant effect on German art of the 1960s, a favor the latter would return two decades later when German Neo-Expressionism left its mark on American painting of the 1980s.” [Theodore F. Wolff on Post War German Art]

Georg Baselitz Rebel 1965

“What was assimilated was not only Matisse’s color, but also his touch. That touch, Matisse’s way of putting paint to canvas, hasn’t been celebrated enough — not nearly enough. That touch was a great acquisition and not only for Matisse himself, but for other, younger painters, particularly American ones. What should be noticed is how Matisse laid on and stroked varying thinnesses of paint so that the white ground breathed as well as showed through. But even when he laid his paint on evenly or more densely, or when he used a palette knife — which was seldom — the paint surface would still manage to breathe. The paint surface, even when the picture as a whole failed, would maintain its liveness. (The exceptions were surfaces that “been covered with too many coats of paint — too much “corrected” — but as many as these exceptions may have been they were still exceptions). Not all the American artists who learned from Matisse — whether directly or through Hofmann or Avery — followed him in the matter of touch. Certainly, Hofmann himself didn’t. But even when they trowelled their paint on, built it up in layers or films, dripped, or sprayed it — even then an awareness of Matisse’s “aerated” surfaces seems somehow to have been present and to have informed what they did. And I think that that awareness is still present in the best of more recent American painting whether abstract or figurative.” [Clement Greenberg “Influences of Matisse”]

Günther Förg Untitled 1987

“The largest portion of Art of Two Germanys is dedicated to the 1960s and 1970s, whose dynamism is wisely not divided in two parts by the curators. Barely visible on the international scene in the 1950s, German art went from red hot in the 1960s to white hot by 1980. This section of the show charts this dynamic leap, and here the viewer finds the artists most identified with postwar Germany: Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys, Sigmar Polke, Wolf Vostell, Eva Hesse, and Gerhard Richter. As elsewhere in this time, form explodes, with two-dimensional work supplanted by eclectic sculptures, installation pieces, and video art. But particularly notable is the explosion in content, with snarky critical work among the sternly introspective, the light and the comical.” [Matias Viegener reviews The Art of Two Germanys]

German or French? Part I

Modernism came to the US wrapped up in the theoretics of the School of Paris. Our understanding of painting and our tastes for certain kinds of painting arrived here fully formed and deeply connected to that history. America never had a visual culture connected to painting, so our artists looked elsewhere and that’s a theme we keep repeating. Our contributions to the history of painting don’t go very deep after all – and we run out of precedent very quickly. Our visual culture began in the 19th Century – mostly – through photography. We certainly did not have a rich painting culture of note – a few go-to stars – Homer, Eakins, Sargeant, Whistler (both lived in England) and Cassatt (who lived in Paris).

Yeah, we had a few standouts over time, very good painters, but nothing exceptionally avant-garde and nothing very grand. Our early Modernist painters were by and large from the 291 group led by Stieglitz which presented a kind of arms length Modernism connected to issues of traditional American painting, OR we had American painters directly cribbing from the latest trends fresh from the Parisian Galleries. The fact is American Modernism before the war looked highly – provincial. After the Second World War Greenberg became the champion and tour guide for a more expansive and international feeling Franco-American influenced Modernism, and because the rest of world was in tatters we inherited – or according to Serge Guilbaut – we stole – Modern Art. The rest is, as they say, history….

Polke & Richter in the Tub – 1966

Doesn’t much matter, really. We know what happened. The AbEx painters took off – and they took off all around the world. Our government seemed to be interested in presenting a culturally advanced face to the world that they were now leading. So American painting began a non-stop global tour showing off our best and brightest. Nothing new about that kind of publicity campaign either. Look America is good at polishing its brass, and this kind of promotion has been done by our government many times before. In fact it’s still being done and it will continue to be done into the future. But at that time for the countries in Europe trying to rebuild their cities and societies this cultural outreach was a big attraction. It wasn’t just the AbEx crew that was being seen and discussed. American Popists and Minimalists were aso benefitting and making their way into European collections. And in a huge controversy of the time – Rauschenberg actually won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1964 – an American for chrissakes. All of this cross cultural exchange was having an immediate effect on young artists in Europe – especially those in Germany.

“In the sixties, their figurative paintings challenged the primacy of abstraction. Baselitz painted heroes torn asunder. Polke and Richter unmasked the absurdity and emptiness of the consumption that beckoned from all sides. Kiefer exposed the historical roots of the so-called “Third Reich”. It is a stroke of luck to have the opportunity to unite works by the four masters in a single exhibition, and thus to shed light on this important phase in German history.” BASELITZ – RICHTER – POLKE – KIEFER THE EARLY YEARS OF THE OLD MASTERS – Press Release 2019

Sigmar Polke Girlfriends 1965-66

“Polke’s work seemed very different from that of his German contemporaries, many of whom were extremely painterly like Baselitz, Kiefer, Fetting and Hödicke, all of whom were in the New Spirit show. I felt much more connected to Polke because of his use of popular imagery in a kind of witty irreverent way, and that he was prepared to use all types of visual language in his own work, unlike Richter who would be painting paintings that looked like photographs. Polke would make use of other people’s drawings or would reference amateur works. Also, his take on popular culture was not always about things that were recognisable. They were more quirky, idiosyncratic things that he discovered for himself and that he seemed to find personally amusing.” Peter Doig in conversation with Mark Godfrey.

After all that Modernist painting success – surprisingly – artists in NYC found themselves facing a crisis in the late sixties and seventies. For these painters it was High Times Hard Times. Painting had been declared dead and artists were asking – what’s next? How to begin again? So they began actively looking for other solutions, other pathways, other interpretations of Modern Art rather than blindly following the worn out solutions promised by Clement Greenberg’s theoretics of Modern Art. Painters wanted to do more, to make their work about the world around them, and they were fed up with paintings meant for Eyesight Alone. Painters wanted a future!

Gerhard Richter Onkel Rudi 1965

R: Yes. Because I know for a fact that painting is not ineffectual. I would only like it to accomplish more.
B: In other words the simultaneity of the opposing strategies of representational function and self-reflexion has nothing to do with a reciprocal transcendence of them? It’s rather an attempt to realize this demand upon painting with different means?
R: Yes, roughly.
B: So you saw yourself at the beginning of the 1960s not as the heir to a historically divided and fragmented situation, in which there was no pictorial strategy that still had real validity . . . ?
R: And I see myself as the heir to an enormous, great, rich culture of painting, and of art in general, which we have lost, but which nevertheless obligates us. In such a situation it’s difficult not to want to restore that culture, or, what would be just as bad, simply to give up, to degenerate. Gerhard Richter in conversation with Benjamin Buchloh

Accomplish more. But how? Where do you go when there are no pathways? Or again as Adam Curtis made clear – when there is no vision of the future – no picture of what might be – how does one progress? The other part of Gerhard’s discussion is the loss and yearning for something once there, a birthright to culture that had been taken away, stopped short, and the obligation that this loss had created for a generation of German Modernists. He didn’t want to “restore” the past he wanted to transform it. To change what it might mean, what it might do. And for both Polke and RIchter it was the American painters that helped liberate them – Rauschenberg, Warhol, Rosenquist all come to mind straight away. But unlike those Americans – all of whom were luxuriating in their own culture – the Germans used the American examples to understand and transform their own cultural history. Onkel Rudi – smiling for the camera – was he beloved? This blood relation – someone who was there for Sunday dinner – was he cheerful and fun with his young nephew? Why would he be wearing that uniform? What was going on? And so the image blurs, becomes something that’s not quite what it should be, not quite what was promised. This is a very hard painting, and it’s a theme that RIchter would revisit throughout his career.

It seems just as High Times Hard Times came for American Painting there were different ideas coming from Europe about what painting might be able to accomplish. New images of the future, you might say. Damned right that kind of painting changed the conversation about what could done here in the US.

…utter contempt for painting

I want to assassinate painting,” Joan Miró is reported to have said, in 1927. Four years later, the Catalan modern master elaborated, in an interview: “I intend to destroy, destroy everything that exists in painting. I have utter contempt for painting.” Peter Schjeldahl on Joan Miro

Throughout his long life Miró pushed the boundaries of what a painting might look like. So much of his surrealist work featuring the cartoony alien creatures are fun, but his experimentations with ground, process, and the idea of painting as a thing are the most exciting parts of his work. This physical experimentation was more DaDa inspired and pushed painting’s histories into weird and strange contortions. The late burned paintings are case in point. They were first completed as High Modern paintings – authentic Miró paintings – and then attacked as contemptuous objects and left to exist as a physical challenge to Miró’s own economic value, the work’s aesthetic meaning as well as a critique of the history of painting itself. I have a cherished image of old Miró stepping back after torching each painting, taking a long hard look – then side spitting and wiping his mouth on his sleeve – ¡Vete a la mierda!

Joan Miró Burnt Canvas I 1973

“In his catalog essay, William Jeffett relates Miró’s process of creating these canvases. “First the canvases were cut with a knife and punctured with sharp objects; paint was then applied and petrol was poured over them and ignited. Further paint was applied and again burned with considerable care; a wet mop was used for control and a blowtorch for concentration on specific areas.”  While Jeffett claims the inspiration for these canvases rests in the shattered facades and street chaos of the youth protests of the late 1960s, he also admits that they represent an “attack on art itself…on the bourgeois reduction of art to elite culture or economic commodity.”   
In an interview, Miró made clear the intentions behind these works: “I have burned these canvases on the level of form and profession, and as another way of saying shit to all of those people who say that these canvases are worth a fortune. The “Burnt Canvases” anchor a fundamental quality of Miró’s later works, where his confrontations with Fascist Spain were intertwined with his critiques of an international art market that he saw as powerfully corrupting in its own right.” James Polchin on Joan Miro

Joan Miró “Burnt Canvas V 1973

Many of us are still trying to be Modern, or rather we believe in the Modern, which makes us Modernists, true acolytes. In the last post Adam Curtis made the point that our societies continue to look backward because we haven’t the imagination to see ahead – to paraphrase – we have no picture of the future. What we Modern believers fail to understand is that actually Modernism ended. The job was done by the mid 50s. Artists had cleared the way for the future burning out centuries of tired ideas about art and leaving us with a clean slate. It was up to us to move on from the Modern Era and begin again. The sixties and seventies can be forgiven in that regard. Those artists were trying to transition into the next century. But we who followed never got past the idea of the “End of History.” We elided Modernism with Capitalism. We equated artists with entrepreneurs. We began to talk about art like it was business. And we began to use the Modern era as an official state culture. From the 1980s on art became, for like of a better description, an industry. Today all the rebellion and danger of Modernism has been worn smooth and made palatable and profitable for the e-commerce era.

Joan Miró Burnt canvas IV 1973

MIró’s art capitalist provocations seem innocent and a bit naive these days while our rapacious art economy revs up for a post-pandemic feeding frenzy. Works like the burnt paintings have become brand name experiences for the buying public. Miró’s authentic gestures of defiance are used as pitch points to sell the work for a premium to a hermetic market place. Our love affair with Modernism has groomed us to actively engage with the aesthetics of destruction and we in turn have created a market that hungers for products of “authentic rebellion”. We love the shabby chic, the classic ruin, the “bad painting” and the interestingly-aged vintage object – especially when it’s presented to us through the aesthetics of Modernist Capitalism.

Questions arise – if we expect the assassination of painting and we welcome and encourage the assassination is the artist really a criminal of culture or is the artist complicit in our expectations of culture? Is there such a thing as a “bad (meaning culturally or socially challenging) artist culture” any longer – are we shocked or flummoxed by art these days? How does a desperate act become just another quotidian artistic process or gambit? Is it possible – here at the end of history – to make “bad painting” or an avant-garde action when every kind and type of art is immediately priced, branded and marketed? Can we burn this “art” down or would that action and that object become “sellable”? What does artistic rebellion look like these days? And finally and maybe most important, what would Miró have us do?

The weird turn pro…

“The term comes from a rather interesting guy [Alexei Yurchak] who wrote about what it was like to live in the Soviet Union in the middle of the 1980s when the Soviet Union was collapsing. Because there wasn’t really any protest at the time. What he pointed out is that everyone knew that everything was not right. They knew that those in control had no control. They knew that those running the economy were not in control, that everything was corrupt and often completely fake because the leaders were pretending they were in control. Everybody knew this and the leaders knew that everybody knew this, but nobody did anything about it because there was nothing else. It was normal. And he coined the phrase ‘Hypernormalisation’ to describe this. Somehow, you knew that everything was a bit odd, and a bit unreal, and often fake, but because there was no other picture of the world, and you were so within this system you accepted it as normal and just went on…” Adam Curtis on Hypernormalisation.

Adam goes on to describe the rise of our economic world and its managerial tendencies. From Homo sapien to Homo economicus in less than 100 years. The marriage of the electronic world with corporate economic machinery has created a society driven by a deep need for endless profitability, stability and stasis instead of experiment and change. When the world turns weird…

Bernini Proserpina 1621-22

“I’ve been trying for quite a while to use film to invent a different kind of journalism—to do essays which tell stories, but their real function is to make people pull back and look at their time and to say: Look—in this age of the individual, where you are told that you are the center of the world, power hasn’t gone away. It’s just mutated and morphed into all sorts of different forms, some of which are good, some of which are bad, some of which have grave consequences.” Adam Curtis on filmmaking.

My new obsession involves the skill and observation that some old master sculptors used in creating their work. Most of us don’t really care about such things these days – we have machines and programs that do this kind of work in seconds. Additionally, Neo-Modernists plying their old school abstractions on the market still rail against such verisimilitude as if old masters’ art making is any less a “process.” This sort of reasoning is passé and part of the legacy which the acolytes of Modernism continue to invoke like evangelists at a tent revival. What once were avant-garde provocations for abstraction are now used to describe institutionally approved interior decoration. We have been deskilled by our beliefs, and we believe what we are told. So why not – when looking for inspiration – look elsewhere for something that… isn’t what we know or expect or even want. We only really learn, we only really question, when we find something unexpected – some thing to learn about.

Grim view of global future offered in intelligence report
“The document focuses heavily on the impact of the pandemic, calling it the “most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.”

Carpeaux Ugolino and His Sons1865–67

The problem of our time is this . . . how do you run a world of millions of individuals, millions of little squealing piglets — how do you herd them together? There is an argument that says it’s not the politicians’ fault that we got this desiccated managerialism — it was just a way of desperately trying to deal with us millions of little squealing piglets. We are little monsters. Seriously, we are. Adam Curtis in conversation with Miles Ellingham.

Even in the most ridiculous of art works one can find moments of pure genius and promise. Carpeaux’s Ugolino is horrendous – overwrought, over composed, over done and over the top (and not necessarily in a good way.) The sculpture doesn’t have an expansive Hellenism, though it sure uses all the classical clichés to try to get there. Instead this work is hampered by its 19th Century Salon theatricality and overwrought hysteria. It’s a product of its time. But if you move in to the thing you can still see bits of genius. This photograph has excised the overwrought narrative from the piece and created a more mysterious moment. What’s going on here? Why the tortured grip, the yielding flesh? This mystery hasn’t any direct answers and allows us a more open experience of the wonderful sculptural illusions in the picture. Sometimes it pays to isolate and concentrate on details.

What Is the Meaning of All This Money?
“In the absence of a hegemonic answer to the question of what money is to us, strangeness reigns. Even as money has been injected with new political vitality, its actual life has become more baroque. NFTs and meme stocks and cryptocivilizations aren’t just the products of new technologies run amok or old financial dynamics dressed up in new clothes; they are the morbid symptoms of an interregnum during which the role and identity of money in our lives and politics are shifting.”

Giambologna Sabine Women 1579-1583

We are living through strange days across Britain, Europe and America. Societies have become split and polarized, not just in politics, but across the whole culture. There is anger at the inequality and the ever-growing corruption and a widespread distrust of the elites. But at the same time there is a paralysis, a sense that no one knows how to escape from this. Even in America where there is now hope with the new president – there are also fears that despite the growing crisis that the system will just return to normal. Adam Curtis interviewed by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode.

Giambologna’s column of heavy flesh sits high up on a pedestal in the Piazza della Signoria. True, this sculpture is also a bit overwrought, but somehow it’s not as off-putting as the Carpeaux. The figures in the piece retain some of the generosity of Southern Classicism. Our viewpoint of this action and the sculptural illusions of the figures keep us moving around the thing. Every angle creates a new vision and experience. Watching people look at the work is like a sport – they round it, their heads are thrown back, moving left and right – trying to see up through those angles. The work demands our presence – we must BE there – and that also feels ancient in a way. This idea of presence is something that we no longer demand of culture. From shopping to sex to war we’ve discovered that we can minimize culpability and accountability – nothing is physically demanding – and our consumer culture absolutely loves this idea. Money created from nothing but money – our world exists only through an electric connection and our unquestioning belief that the content on our screens is real.

Why the Artworld Loves to Hate NFT Art
“Yet contemporary art has, unlike many other subcultures, also developed an often-contradictory relationship with the oligarchical rich, and with the exclusivity and elitism that comes with it. One of the paradoxes of this is that while art has tended to align itself against mass and populist culture, it is a ‘subculture’ that has nevertheless become the culture of the elite. In recent years, the artworld’s otherwise privileged institutional world has taken to heart issues of social justice and environmental and ethical responsibility that characterise ‘progressive’ culture – a position that often pits it against the interests and values of the less-privileged sections of mainstream society, from the ‘squeezed middle’, disenfranchised working-class voters and others whose cultural perspectives differ sharply from these preoccupations.”

Michelangelo David 1501-04

We have no other picture of the future. That’s the problem. And the engineering system of the internet does not supply it. It’s beautiful in other ways, and it is great organizing people, but we need a picture of the future somehow. Engineering systems seek stability, that’s the whole idea if you’re an engineer. You build a bridge. You don’t want it to change. You don’t want it to fall down. You want it to hold together. So all the stresses and strains balance each other out. It is the same with skyscrapers. That’s how engineering works.
And the same is true of the Internet. What it’s seeking all the time is to find out what you’re like, find out who is like you and then find out what they want. They give you what they like so that everyone is happy.  And it begins to segment you into all these little groups that are like you, and then feed you the same stuff. That’s because it’s an engineering system, and it really likes doing it and it does it beautifully. What it can’t do – if you have a system that is constantly trying to manage the world by reading data from your behavior in the past – what it can’t imagine is the kind of future that’s never existed before. Because it’s always reinforcing you from what it knows you are and when, as I quote someone in the film saying, it’s actually a cartoon model of you, because all these systems online simplify you, and then they feed you more of that. But the main thing is it cannot imagine another future because it always has to look into the past. If you’re trying to change the world, of course you look back into the past, learn from it, but what you also have to do is make a leap of faith into something new. That’s what the Internet – I think – is a beautiful information processing and distribution system  -never does and to do it we’re going to have to transcend it somehow use it but transcend it.” Adam Curtis Top Quotes

After Michele every sculptor that we venerate through art history had to find a way to include and get past his genius. There are precious few artists like this in our history. Il Divino set the stage for centuries and our systems, our academies, created and maintained the idea of his divine contributions. The 20th Century was the breaking point – sculpture became something else because artists had had enough of what was. They wanted to get over the past and find new ways to create. Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, Duchamp, Miro, Calder, Smith, Caro, Andre, Judd and Nauman, among others, challenged our history and broached new forms and ideas of sculpture. Tools and materials, abstraction and conceptualism were used to move beyond Il Divino’s tyrannical hold on our imaginations. And yet – that hand, Michele’s hand, from centuries ago – can still break your heart.

The Biden Boom Is Already Wild
“But watching the bizarre things happening in the worlds of art and finance, I thought of something I read in William J. Bernstein’s recent book, “The Delusions of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups.” He wrote that one of the defining features of a bubble is that “financial speculation begins to dominate all but the most mundane social interactions,” and “stocks and real estate” become primary topics of conversation.”

Hazy Days

George Hofmann posted some older things on instagram a while ago – a series of paintings from 2010. Hadn’t seen these before – mysterious, late evening paintings – abstractions harkening back to the Spain of the late 18th & early 19th Century. This particular painting entitled “Shades” took my attention. The smokey gray brush strokes fill the shallow space, defining and occluding the picture plane. George is purposely using a Modernist gambit, a spatial ruse, a play of brush and surface to lock us in to the image and make us aware of those two delicate strokes, hanging like laundry just beneath the ashy field. Like Matisse’s Côte d’Azur balcony, we can not be sure of anything here – not the principles and values of 20th Century Modernism, not the expressionist field and not even the abstraction itself. All of that history is fading into the scraped atmosphere, awash in the wake of this shallow space.

Joe Packer’s Instagram is a dream – so many wonderful paintings. He manages to combine still life or landscape imagery into a laconic expressionism. His un-natural world is filled with strangely beautiful imagery – paintings overflowing with emotive atmosphere and unexpected light. The processes and the layering of the imagery over the structured surface in Joe’s “Blue Tree Study II” is masterful. We’re pulled along that chunky surface until we’re pushed back into the shallow natural space. But Joe’s complex textures and painted illusions never reveal the game – in this space nothing will ever be sure – we must accept and get used to ambiguity. What really attracted me to this work was the feel of early Modern influences – Corot, Cezanne, Gauguin, Vincent and Matisse – that era of French painting when process, imagery and reality mixed with abstraction to create strange and wonderful confluences of meaning.

When money and power are on the line anything goes – these days the wolves are loose and hungry. But here in the pandemic world – no one seems to be minding the flock. After the riot in DC and the war of narratives that has followed – everything feels compromised and weak in some way. American politics, in fact politics anywhere – is a dirty, filthy, duplicitous game no matter which side you choose.
Oh, Dear – Adam Curtis critiques our global ambitions, economies and political constructs back in 2014. And frighteningly, this critique still makes perfect sense at this particular moment in time. Tracked by machines, communicating through compromised and surveilled networks, constantly barraged with fearful information, and held in place by nebulous and indirect threats to our health and safety – the ruling classes continue to tweak this script in order to remain all powerful and rich.
After binge watching a few of Mr. Curtis’ long form movies I was left feeling used, useless, faceless and desperate. But you may survive these hard and heavy ideas differently – recommend that you give them a watch – especially the latest – “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”.

Finally, this small Cezanne painting in the National Gallery has stayed with me for many years now. If it were possible – would have nicked it in a heartbeat. And that painting would be sitting on the wall over my desk to this very day. Would never part with the thing – not for love or money. There are so many wonderful things going on in this painting (and you can read about it at the link to the NG,) but the thing that always stands out is the one golden eye looking right out at us. What a ballsy thing for a lowly painter to say to the world – “I see right through you!”

Paul wasn’t aiming his work at the corporate classes. Instead he was speaking directly to us, those who would carry on, and he did that on an intimate scale. Artistic ambition needn’t be about Neo-Liberalism’s fixation on size, grandeur and economics. From inside our quarantined studios those very things make our art world look a silly mess and Paul’s little paintings more – real.

Which brings me to this last observation – one of the great things about artists working during the pandemic is that many have re-discovered that innovation and beauty can be and probably should be, hand-held and pocket sized. Just look at the wonderful intimate work being made and sold (inexpensively) through the #artistsupportpledge. What a fantastic idea for artists this has been during this really difficult moment.

Mike Zahn – Quarantine Art

Mike Zahn writes a sensitive and beautiful tribute to Jackie Saccoccio and a wonderful painting that she gifted him a few years ago. The article by Stephen Maine in Hyperallergic is about artists living with their collections during quarantine. Highly Recommended.