Cake Or Death

“There is nothing new in our culture which can’t be faddified. What we want now is a major artist—a Manet, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol, or Beuys—who will manifest durable truths at the core of inevitable hypes and hyperboles. If none such appears, that will be a valuable datum. It will help us adjust to the happenstance that, once and finally, our particular civilization is spent.” Peter Schjeldahl writes in his review of the New New Museum’s show “After Nature.” Naturally such a position taken by a major critic causes the art world to stomp around, spitting and heaving in apoplectic spasms. “Surely not! This is Outrageous!” But like all small things that cause big problems – there just might be something there…

In the wonderful Charlie Finch’s short and specific lament about the influence of money and power in the art world he states…”Yet the hope of the worldlies with that artist, who has no name, whose work cannot yet be described or purchased. Unknownness and unknowingness have become, by necessity, the last refuge of creation, the breeze blowing through a crack underneath the solid diamond doors, to build a museum out of air.” Charlie is yearning for a visual savior. Hell, it’s beginning to sound almost biblical – When will he/she come to turn out the money men from the temple?

I think we have artists working who are trying to push beyond the influence of the Postmodern. Jackie SaccoccioGiles Lyonand Michael Zahn are artists who show their dissatisfaction with the academies in different ways. They don’t have super powers, nor are they saviors, but they are solid, real and interesting in new ways, with new ideas and wonderful work. There are other artists not in NYC who are questioning what their work is and how it can be. Carla Knopp, struggling away on her blog, in the studio, and at her day job confronts Postmodern issues and adds a thoughtful voice about life as an artist in the early 21st century. Then there are the more established artists, like Joyce Pensato and Chris Martin, who somehow missed out on the POMO bandwagon because they worked their paintings a bit differently – not all of one nor of the other. There are many good artists hard at work that don’t get the publicity or the shows or the accolades. They are working in Charlie’s “last refuge of creation.” Lastly, I’ve been laying out my own struggles here on this blog and in the studio, getting past an art world view that I find visually stultifying and thoughtfully regressive. I believe our culture isn’t spent yet – serious contemplation about it is just being left out of the mix in the hot pursuit of filthy lucre. Was it Goddard that said if a commercial was longer than 30 seconds it would have to tell the truth? And in commercial times truth gets left out in order to make money. Hopefully, we’ll be speaking with a few more of the hard-working folks who are trying to find truth in the coming season as our new series of posts on Popular Culture and art begins to unfurl. Take heart critics and cynics! There really is more than cake or death!

On The Kusp-it

I’ve been reading “The End of Art” by Donald Kuspit and enjoying it immensely. I’m really heartened by the fact that someone in a position of renown has come out so strongly against POMO thematics. He attacks it from a psychological point of view – going deep into the Freudian poopy-smeary end (”insert” your joke here…) Really, it is a fantastic look at the warped intention of fame culture and the insidious effect it’s had in the making of art.

Some of the most salient info in the book is found in Kuspit’s steady battle with Allan Kaprow. In the end though I think Kuspit misses part of the point of his own critique of Kaprow (in regards to the art market.) Art has become a business peopled by trained art professionals making a product. Kaprow was intent that life and art should be the same experience – but instead of life becoming more of an art – art has become more “life.” Artists graduate with advanced degrees like any professional. They must have an industry in order to ply their trade – and that is what has happened – art entered the economic life of America. Following this idea Kaprow’s thesis that art and life are one becomes true. Economic institutional systems develop a professional class that creates products for exchange value. Everything becomes property – a painting by Warhol, an installation by Buchel, an art fair in Miami, an idea – all are for sale, all can wind up in court, anyone with capital can have one or more. As with any product so with art – art and life are one – leveled by the flow of the market. Whether or not this is what Kaprow’s intention was I don’t know – he may have meant something more philosophical.

The truth is most of our lives are regulated through our pocketbooks – we “live” in America by how we spend. (I shop therefore I am.) In art we see this leveling of the art experience by the numbers of works done in series – prints, graphics, editions, sets, etc. Making the product available to more people who can buy. Art as product is art that is a part of everyday shopping life. Rather than Kuspit’s need for an art work to act as a transformative encounter, POMO art is being produced as an entertaining luxury product. “The artist was once thought of as sacred – he had a spark of God’s creativity in him – but Warhol’s artist is a businessman, profaning everything sacred and creative by putting a price on it, as Marz said. Warhol is a born salesman; with him art loses its mystery and openly becomes a commodity for sale.” And as the returning hordes from Miami come back I’m sure we’ll be reading all about that sale…. unfortunately for Kuspit, Kaprow’s art and life are one.

Kuspit wants to hold on to the sacred. He wants transformation. He wants something stronger than the market imperative in the work. It’s a strong critique and worth the read. But I have to say again that his prescriptive leaves a lot to be desired. His idea of the New Old Master is reactionary and visually feeble. The idea of transformative experience in front of an April Gornik or Julie Heffernan painting is just ridiculous. In fact most of the artists he chooses to champion are institutional academics one and all. Ok they are sound professional painters with excellent technique, but they lack real vision or radical thought about our time. These are self involved painters working in traditional visual modes. I think the problem with this prescriptive lies in his idea of reviving past traditions. Instead of looking ahead he looks back. Each of the artists Kuspit points to uses the tropes of Postmodernism to develop works of old fashioned effects – juxtapositions of disparate images, lens based reproduction, hyper-materiality and contextually historical references. Basically these are new versions of old ideas and the core of POMO theoretics. It seems to me that he completely reverses himself. Not once does he address the visual issues of our times – pervasive media, electronic programming, instant communication or lens culture. Rather than questioning the idea of “revival” he insists that we do – revival that is. Shame really.

As we have said on other occassions visual issues are not being dealt with in the art world. And unfortunately this is true even among those who seem to know better. Still I recommend you give the book a try – Mr. Kuspit has developed an insightful critique of our time.


  1. It seems to me that your assumptions are as flawed as the assumptions you criticize in Mr. Kuspit. “Kuspit wants to hold on to the sacred. He wants transformation. He wants something stronger than the market imperative in the work.” Gosh this seems to me to be a constructive expectation for art. The writings & research of Ellen Dissanyake especially in her book Homo Aestheticus) point to the need for the arts in every human life, a need the POMO &/or Contemporary visual art world does not fill. Instead the art world is stuck in a Duchampian Rut. A rut filled with Thesaurus-rex texts, magazines, et. al…. while the truly brave opt out of the ring around the rosy.

    “Not once does he address the visual issues of our times – pervasive media, electronic programming, instant communication or lens culture” whoop te do!!! Visual issues of our time???? WHo cares. Since Rembrandt at least the most important artists, and their most important work are usually overlooked by their contemporaries. Why do you assume that you can tell the difference now.

    Many practicing artists have chosen the way of Tacitus. Rather than the way of Warhol, who chose to hide his Catholicism and some real talent under a basketfull of BS.

    Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Permalink
  2. Hi Floyd, Welcome to Henri!
    I agree that Art, especially painting, has to be something better than Postmodern visual theoretics and Warhol’s business practices. But in the case of Mr. Kuspit’s theories on the New Old Masters I have to disagree with you. Nothing that he states in his antidote to POMO painting or vision is new, the artists he champions are tied to a 19th Century rear guard academic realism. They are competent professional artists, but they fail to move beyond that. What we are striving for is something new, some way to visually innovate, and we believe that this can not be done using institutional ideas and academic styles. We feel that Donald Kuspit’s critique is fascinating and insightful. His prescriptive is not. We don’t know of Ellen Dissanyake’s work so we’ll take a look. Thanks!
    PS. Don’t opt out – We need more voices and visions!

    Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

Point Man – Richard Polsky

You might want to have a look at Richard Polsky’s recent post on Artnet. I think it relates specifically to a lot of the issues we have been broaching here, especially about the effects of electronic technology on art, and the ways that we incorporate those changes into our art lives. In this article he lays out a short history of the art market locating a few moments of real importance that changed the way art is bought and sold, and how it became, in essence, a commodity. Art used to be a slow business, particularly regarding the building of reputations, markets and careers. Today it’s different, and Richard is astounded at the speed at which art can be marketed, packaged and transacted. “…Almost equally inconceivable is the way that technology has transformed the art market…Now you can shoot the image with a digital camera, transfer it to your computer, and send it — in five minutes.” He is very concerned at how this sort of business process can be used to manipulate the reputations and prices of particular artists – especially if a group of collectors finds it beneficial to protect and increase the value of their investments. This makes the process a top down one, allowing collectors to determine what is or isn’t art. I find this extremely interesting because, Mr. Polsky is intimately involved in the buying and selling of art. A few years ago he published a yearly ratings compendium on artists that read like a stock market report – buy, sell or hold. Some of these wound up on Artnet and are informative to read. For the most part his business advice has been right on the money – so to speak. He also wrote a wonderful book that unfolded like an Agatha Christie mystery entitled “I Bought Andy Warhol.”In that book he exposed a lot of the exceptionally bad behavior that happens in a power hungry and paranoid art world. It’s not quite Hunter Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in LV, but the straight world looks different when the acid kicks in. As far as I know – Mr. Polsky’s writing of his book was not mind-altered in quite the same way…. Still, the surreal world that we artists create and inhabit is clearly delineated. Finally, I’ll leave you with Richard’s assessment of where we are and where we may be heading…
“Like the publishing and music industries, the art business has become strictly bottom line. At the risk of sounding cynical, money has never been more important; connoisseurship and independent thinking never less so. There’s also no sense of history. Anyone who entered the field during the current Chelsea era rarely has a clue as to who their ancestors were that built the art world.”

Hell On Wheels – Finale and Reboot

Here’s the scoop on our WordPress problems. After some wonderful assistance from the folks at WordPressHelp.Org we’ve been able to clean up and restart the HAM. Mark Rabideau was very patient and generous with his time and expertise. The bad news he discovered was that the database was gone – along with a year’s worth of posts. The good news is we had nearly all of them stored in html on various computers – so we’ve been uploading to the database, and will re-post them again this week. All the fantastic interviews are intact, and of the varous hard work series we’ve posted, we are missing only Part 4 of Figuring It Out. So the good news for us is that most all of the lost content is still around.

We’ll be continuing our Popular Culture series this week with the promised post on High and Low. Please be patient as we get this thing back in the fast lane once more! Exciting Times Lie Ahead!

Hell on Wheels

Well Folks, What can I say? The past couple of weeks have been a computer nightmare. According to helpful souls we were either hacked or upgraded out of existence. The many fixes of the blog (we tried desperately to revive the patient) were unsuccessful. Hopefully we will be able to move that version of Henri to another site soon and we’ll link there for older articles or we may be able to stash back here. Please be patient. In the meantime we will use this loaner (as it were) while our porsche is being repaired! My frustration with WordPress and my own lack of computer knowledge knows no bounds! Anyway we will continue with our series on Popular Culture in haste! I am currently re-writing two of the posts lost in the horror of the computer netherworld and those will be up later this week (hopefully sooner.) The always fabulous Mario Naves will be discussing the vagaries of Branding, Style and Fame with me in an upcoming post and we hope to get a few more souls on board as well. In the meantime…

The season in Chelsea and around NY has started with a whimper. Never has so much been made about so little. I think this has a lot to do with the current economic and political season that has begun as well. If you don’t live in NYC it’s kind of hard to understand, but there are so many millionaires per square inch in this town that you are hard pressed not to step on one as you leave your front door. Right now those folks are QUAKING in their boots. By the new year this town will be in a new place, and there will be a lot of folks without the means to participate. Investment bankers, traders, funders and the like are looking for the door and loading their pockets (with tax dollars) as they go. Our little art world is about to drown in their flop sweat. For those of us who saw the early 90s, that’s gonna look tame in comparison. What we don’t need is another period of self loathing and PC installation work – so try to keep that in mind as we go, please….

Don’t be surprised if we change the look of this thing. I liked the very simple format we had, but alas, it no longer works with this version….We’ll try to keep you appraised of what’s what. If things go wonky again just check us at our main page Henri.