26 February 2017

La Trahison des Clercs, ed. #115

There are a number of reasons that my interest in following the present art world has flagged to almost complete indifference these past several years. I've grown to see little point in complaining, and increasingly think less and less abut it all. But R.M. Vaughan's critique of the recent Berlin Biennale, posted this past June at Art F City, echoes some of thoughts about it very well. The opening paragraphs provide you with a preview of the tenor of the entire thing:

"Since the last Berlin Biennale, Europe has undergone a currency and debt crisis, watched far right political entities grow from obscure clusters of nutjobs into massive populist movements, dealt, badly, with the millions of people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, and been subjected to terrifying and brutal acts of terrorism by all manner of extremists.

In all of these crises, Berlin, the capital of the EU’s richest and most politically powerful country has played a central and keynote-determining role.

I can thus think of no better way, given the circumstances, to reinforce the popular perception that contemporary art has nothing to say about the world that surrounds it than by hiring the NYC-based fashion bloggers DIS to curate the ninth edition of the Berlin Biennale. I have rarely seen such a profound case of not giving the people what they want, of so many heads so far up so many assholes.

Just walk away, Berlin. Go have a strong drink. Read a good mystery novel. Take too much MDMA and pee your slacks. Sit in an empty room and cry. Do anything but waste 26 Euros on the Berlin Biennale.

I am not arguing that every work of art must pay keen attention to (nor certainly attempt to resolve) world problems. But I cannot see the value of artworks that exist in and speak solely to a snarky, self-affirming vacuum either, as do almost all of the works I saw at the BB. There is so much avoidance of current problems on offer here that one could reasonably see the entire project as an act of retreat, even denial. It’s as if the world is too much for DIS and their assembled artists, so they’ve all gone back to the rec room to play video games."

Admittedly, Vaughan wasn't alone in this assessment, as negative reviews of the Biennale stacked up across the internet. But then there's Vaughan's review of a large exhibition of paintings by American artist Amy Feldman which appeared this past week. I recommend reading the whole thing, but the crunch comes in the final stretch:

"I showed a friend a selection of Feldman’s works, a friend who happens to be an accomplished novelist who grew up in poverty in the UK. His response was that all I was doing by showing him these lazy paintings was affirming his long-held suspicion that the art market really existed to give frivolous rich people a way to show off how much play money they have. Feldman’s paintings are that and that only – light amusement for jaded buyers.

The works have no redeeming qualities other than as oversized examples of how shitty and decadent times have become. Feldman’s paintings are the wall-based equivalent of hiring peasants to play at being peasants in your estate gardens, the extra chandeliers in the posh hotel lobby, the last dollops of gold and poured blue glass on King Tut’s 25 pound funeral mask, the extra season of Girls; flitting, careless excess and high-brow gluttony rendered into being with a gutting, lurid insincerity"
Easily the most acidic art reviews I've encountered since the bygone days when Gary Indiana used to occasionally contribute to The Village Voice.

21 December 2016

Islands of the Colorblind

Presently scrounging through texts, attempting to sort through Romanticism's various pushbacks against the tides of Enlightenment, Utilitarian, and Positivist thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and encountered the following. Not unlike Jane Jacobs, but 120 years before the fact...

"It is not disputed, that in any land where there are flourishing cities, the territorial aristocracy will be distinguished as patrons of the beautiful in art. But whence has this aristocracy derived the wealth by means of which it indulges so largely in the gratification of those tastes ? Whence has it derived these tastes themselves? And whence came the men of genius possessing the power to minister to those tastes ? On these questions, it is not too much to say, that as the town has made the country, giving to its lands a beauty and value they would not otherwise have possessed ; so the citizen has made the noble, by cultivating in him a taste for art, which would not otherwise have formed a part of his character. For it must be obvious that the countrv which should be purely agricultural, producing no more than may be consumed by its own agricultural population, must unavoidably be the home of a scattered, a rude, and a necessitous people, and its chiefs be little elevated above the coarse untaught mass of their dependants. Burgesses produce both the useful and the ornamental, and minister in this manner both to the need and the pleasure of nobles and kings. What they sell not at home they send abroad. In either case, wealth is realized; lands become more valuable; public burdens can be borne; and along with the skill which produces embellishment, come the means by which it may be purchased. [...]

"We only maintain that the successful patronage of the fine art depends less on the existence of noble families, than on the existence of prosperous cities. Without the former kind of patronage, art may be wanting in some of its higher attributes; without the latter, it would cease to have existence."
- Robert Vaughan, "On Great Cities in their Connexion 
with Art," from The Age of Great Cities (1843).

Or, as a friend of mine said of San Francisco a few years ago, "[It's] been officially pronounced dead. It's a good city to consume culture, but in a very short time it has become one that is completely inhospitable to those who produce it."

*image: Attributed to Tom Sachs. First spotted by the author in 
an alleyway of the Soho district of Manhattan, circa 1997.

10 December 2016

Notes Toward a Theory of Depressive Resublimation

"One of the operations of power is to deflect the critique of capitalism onto the terrain of a more limited cultural critique. The condemnation of arrogant elitism or dumbed-down consumerism, of the detached art object or the degraded commodity form, has value. But, being partial, such critiques are always liable to overshoot their mark, and become their opposite. In the end, you have to keep your sights on transforming the system that produced such contradictions in the first place."

- Ben Davis, "Connoisseurship and Critique", e-flux journal, April 2016

04 December 2016

On the Exhaustion of Something of Other

Christian Viveros-Fauné, writing at artnet News, on "Containers and Their Drivers," the Mark Leckey mid-career retrospective presently on view at MoMA PS1:

"Fiorucci [Made Me Hardcore] achieved cult status at almost viral speed, thanks in large part to its timely anticipation of the YouTube generation’s breezy manipulations of digital sources. This accident of history lent the North England-born artist the veneer of being the Cezanne of the interwebs—in today’s artspeak, post-internet art’s analog pioneer. A gifted but ultimately trivial sculptor, filmmaker, poster-maker, installation-designer, lecturer, musician and general jack-of-all-0-and-1-art-trades, Leckey seems to have never recovered from the pigeonholing. [...]

"Traipsing through Leckey’s multiple rooms at MoMA PS1, consequently, comes across as a spiritually exhausting, Reagan-era throwback experience. As captured in his first US survey...Lecky’s life’s work takes physical shape as a concatenated set of new media reworkings of Jean Baudrillard’s 1980s-style vaporings. The majority of Leckey’s current installations, in fact, deal with some unacknowledged version of hyper-reality. Were Leckey American, no doubt this exhibition would have featured the DeLorean from Back to the Future. [...]

"'I see myself in a tradition of Pop culture,' Leckey told artnet News contributor J.J. Charlesworth in 2014. 'I'm a Pop artist – I believe in the idea that you’re essentially a receiver, that you open yourself up to, and you allow whatever is current to come through you and absorb it into your body and somehow process that, and that’s how the work gets made.'

"The work's chief revelation is as simple as it is uncritical: in our era of data glut, everything is everything is everything. Leckey’s replicas (or are they simulacra?) accrue on repeating shelves and pedestals, one after the other, in ongoing, insistent, recurrent, nearly endless succession."

The gist of Viveros-Fauné's critique is hardly a new one. If anything, it very much echoes that of Julian Stallabrass's YBA bollocking of some years hence, High Art Lite. That being, that "pop conceptualism" rapidly degenerated into a a default modus in which postmod irony, long having lapsed into a state of rhetorical depletion, becomes a form of passively (if not somewhat masochistically celebratory) fatalism. We are all merely receptors, culture is effectively like a pinterest page,  and "thinking isn't cool -- shit and stuff is cool."

The prevalence of 1980s tropes, themes and cultural references in Leckey's work is apropos in a way. For those old enough to remember the art of the '80s, this sort of installation art bound to seem so tiresomely familiar, because it's little more that the eternal return of Haim Steinbach -- endlessly reused and recycled and diluted into a thinner gruel with each iteration, a cultural product that exceeded its shelf life with the close of the prior century, a salon art that now signals aesthetic inertia and little else. Except, I suppose, some would argue that in his day there was something about Steinbach's work that seemed simultaneously both humorous and ever-so-slightly horrific. Whereas much of the stuff of this latest generation too often comes across as thoroughly anesthetized.

28 November 2016

The Day I Disconnected The Erase Head And Forgot To Reconnect It

I suppose by this point I should quit occasionally popping up to say "please pardon my absence," as I've been doing more often than anything else (here) in many months. But I only recently discovered that this blog had been knocked out by a tech glitch. It seems google did some sort of update and the tweaking rendered some html meta-tag coding on the blog's template unparsable, thus taking this thing off the air. Which has since been remedied.

At any rate, a belated RIP is in order for e-music pioneer extraordinaire Pauline Oliveros. Admittedly, I don't own nearly enough of her work (although, if I had the money to spare, I imagine this collection from a few years back would've done nicely). But back when I used to do the free-mixing session for an experimental music radio show that aired late in the Chicago p.m. , what I did have of her work often filled the bill for providing one element or another to an hour-long multilayered mix.

So, with that in mind, here (link below) is one such mix that dates back to about a decade ago, with Oliveros taking the lead...

Flotsam on the Ocean of Sound (Radio mix no. 12)
Primary material includes:
Pauline Oliveros - “Something Else” (Pogus)
Brutum Fulmen - “Spore” (Crippled Intellect)
Miko Vaino - “Vaihtuja” (Wavetrap)
Robert Normandeau - “Tangram” (Empreintes Digitalis)
John Wall - “Construction III” (Utterpsalm)
Joji Yuasa - “Projection Esemplastic for White Noise” (Neuma)
Douglas Quin - “Canada Glacier/Wind Harps of Taylor Valley" (Miramar)
Merzbow - “Tatara" (Manifold)
Pimmon - “Bettler Kempt” (Fat Cat)
Stillupsteypa - “Nice Things to File Away Forever” (Mille Plateaux)

[  :: drone, phase, flux ::  ]

07 October 2016

Art Decade (Redux))

Yes, so that last bit was re-post of something written five years ago, originally hammered out for the "the 1970s blog" team-effort thing. At the time, I didn't originally set out to write about David Bowie, per se. Rather, I'd been thinking about the American popcult fascination with many things German, particularly Weimar-era Berlin -- a common fetishizing of its decadence, of its status of a place teetering on the edge of an historical abyss that it would soon topple into. And then, reading something about Bowie's time in Berlin and the events that led him there, I decided to use the Bowie angle as a thread on which the loosely hang a number of other themes and thoughts.

And I was prompted to go ahead and re-post the piece this back while I was reading Paul Morley recent volume, The Age of Bowie. When it comes to Bowie's Thin White Duke year and what followed, Morley takes no discernible interest in Bowie's drug habit and near crack-up, focusing instead other aspect of the the artist's work and career. But he does mention, more or less in passing, something else that seldom comes in most accounts -- something far more pragmatic and less romantic that might help cut through the fog of mystique that long ago coalesced around Bowie's "Berlin trilogy" of albums.

That being the artist's business deal with manager Tony Defries and Mainman, Ltd.. In 1975, Bowie apparently realized that the arrangement was stacked too heavily in Defries's favor and fires him. But he still has some years left to go before his contracts with Defries and RCA expire. So he spends the next several years doing what wants, working with whom he wants, recording where he wants -- releasing darker, more esoteric and "experimental" albums that RCA is increasingly vexed to wring any singles out of; and when they do manage to do so, the tunes don't chart as highly or as frequently as earlier work (thus perhaps insuring that Defries's royalties from newer work dwindles).

So, with those three albums -- as well as a second live album, two "best of" collections, plus a children's record by way of an adaptation of Peter and the Wolf on which Bowie provides the narration -- he finally fulfilled his contractual obligations for RCA when he handed over 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).

But his contract with Defries didn't run out until 1982. Something that Bowie had clearly been anticipating and planning around, when you consider the way he steered his career in a more commercial direction with the album he released the following year.

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