“… we have an interesting situation here in which we are supposed to make things that aren’t boring… as the great music producer Tom Dowd said, “…the first rule of writing a song is don’t bore us get to the chorus.” In a sense that’s all of our jobs. … what we have in any given moment in the art world is a field of what you would call standard practice. You walk around and look in all of these buildings [and] see all the moves that are going on. They’re all pretty if you don’t notice them. If you have to force yourself to notice them they’re standard practice. And… all of this standard practice is built upon a standard cannon. That is the stuff from which it all derives. …how do you make good art in a situation like this!Well, the rule – when you’re trying not to be boring – is that any work of art that perfectly complies to the canon and to standard practice – it’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s not there…. It complies perfectly. It fits right into the groove. “You have learned everything, you get an A, Doris!” But [the work’s] not there! You ever walk through a provincial museum – like the museum up in Worcester – where a lot of my relatives live? I used to go hide there to watch and look at the fake Rembrandts. You can walk through a provincial museum and walk out and you’re not mad, you’re not not happy, you’ve just seen nothing… It’s like you spent the day listening to AM radio…. You have witnessed full compliance to all of the rules. “Oh dear! I did everything right, and it still sucketh!” The point is in a Darwinian system, and certainly, the art world is an extremely darwinian system, one cannot replicate standard practice. If [the work] does – it disappears.So everything has to deviate.” Dave Hickey “The God Ennui” 2009 (my edit)
I recently ran into Christopher Wool’s seriously huge and probably ungodly expensive mosaic displayed in the lobby of a seriously huge and probably ungodly expensive, black glass, Meta-Fabulous, Neo-Modernist Penis. The collector classes have really embraced the interior design possibilities of fabpunktech art. Of course the critical pointy teeth and the disparaging sharp claws have been blunted, making this particular Wool image look like a languid Modernist classic – something that would be comfortable on the walls of Rockefeller Center circa 1957. We are a million miles away from the fertile, fecund, desperate and musky days of renewal and experimentation that occured during High Times Hard Times. And looking at the vast (it is huge) glittering surface of this mosaic it feels as if we have reached the beautiful end to something that was never meant to be “beautiful.” Just make your way along the High Line to Dubai on the Hudson if you want to have a gander at the High Life.
Fantin-Latour has been schooling me on the strange allegiances and standard practices of 19th Century Parisian artists’ lives. In this painting he has elected the godfather, Delacroix, to be the Boss of Bosses. Just have a look at this gang of “rock stars” hanging about Le Club Eugene – Manet, Whistler and Baudelaire among others. These artists may very well look like European dissolute Flâneurs, but Le groupe des Batignolles had more than a few clever rule breakers hanging about their neighborhood. This painting isn’t great – what was it Dave said – it’s like AM radio – a work of standard practice, but it still has a bit of fun in it. I do really like that cocky self portrait of Fantin-Latour in his flowing white chemise while all the others are dressed for success. Sartorial choices aside though, it seems Henri is a bit insistent about being right in the thick of this gaggle of rabble rousers. I remain sceptical about the reality of the moment, but Henri gets an A for his hubris. (Do highly recommend his drawings (really masterful line work) at the d’Orsay!)
And speaking of rock stars, self portraits, rule breakers and line work – Picasso’s wonderful swashbuckling musketeer from 1969 is made from every kind of line imaginable. Here he takes a 17th Century classic character and runs it through the violence and speed of the 20th Century. In that last decade of his life Picasso knew that the ride was coming to an end, and he was intent on bending the history of European painting to his will one last time before the grim reaper came to collect the fare. We are still coming to terms with the greatness of these paintings. “He was trying to outwit death,” the writer John Richardson said. “In this late body of work the eyes are nearly always Picasso’s eyes.” All through his career Picasso believed that one’s eyes held power. And in this particluar portrait he uses that belief to make a point. Here one eye is fully formed, outwardly focused and hard. It looks straight out, acknowledging our presence, demanding our attention. The other eye is a blot – unfocused and obtuse. Picasso is looking inwardly and questioning everything, especially himself. This is a hard and uncompromising portrait of a great and flawed man. I truly love these late works.
Instagram gives us lumpy gems every now and then. This image of Markus Lüpertz’s delightfully ridiculous sculpture “Hektor” is a wonderful FU to the refined history of Classical Europe. This particular Trojan War hero, whose inevitably garish death brings about the destruction of Troy, is shown to be a powerful and brutish warrior. But it’s that giant hubristic painted head that takes this unrefined classicism to a strange and off-putting place. This work doesn’t glorify a hero or the past. Instead, it tells an old tale about human frailty and the vicissitudes of power. “Markus Lüpertz interrupts the overwhelming continuum of art history detaining structures or forms, condensing them into series of visible elements (Stil-Malerei, Vesper, his sculptures of heroes). The titles of these series are [like] pins [holding] the suit of memory together. In these tales with melons, gourds, skulls, animals and shade, Lüpertz finds himself [through] the slow discovery in memory and writing of what had remained stunned in silence.” [Markus Lüpertz Scuptures: Orléans 2023]