Friday, December 30, 2016
Within the last ten years the phenomenon of design has exploded1. First, there is “the Bilbao effect” and its conspicuous byproduct, the “starchitect” (with brand names, such as Gehry, Koolhaas, de Meuron, Hadid, Libeskind et. al.). They are a galvanizing force behind de$$ign’s vicious cycle of manufacture, distribution and consumption. Articles like Newsweek’s “The Design Dozen” and Time Magazine’s “Design 100” with a list of “virtuosos,” have further legitimized de$$ign’s new stars.
De$ign is presented as business news in Design Week, or as avant-garde cultural activity in Wallpaper. Magazines like Casabella, Dwell, Interior Design and Experimenta, display hundreds of color-saturated photos of the most-up-to-date artifacts and gadgets positioned in sumptuous settings. There is a plethora of TV home-improvement shows representing design as a process of decision-making and implementation. To boot, there are design fairs and car and boat shows, advertising the technological miracles of global post-capitalism.
Few professions in the post-industrialized world have grown in terms of economic presence and cultural import as de$$ign has in the past decade. De$$ign has moved into academia, with scholastic journals and conference circuits, and has shaped interdisciplinary areas where art, anthropology, ethnography and technology converge.2
Let’s put aside de$$ign’s undeniable clout and global mystique. Let’s forget the extraordinary seduction of its cultural rituals and its libidinal enchantment. Why not see de$$ign for what it is: a corporate strategy to plan and execute urban environments, profitable use of technologies and the proliferation of communication information?
* De$$ign has become surface, its products immaterial, informational and entertaining; a key spectacle to post-capitalist consumption.3
* De$$ign expresses not need but desire = Advertising.4
* We’re living through a de$$ign impasse.5
* De$$ign keeps morphing from “metaphysical” to “symbolic” to “artistic” to “functional” to “spectacle.” 6
* De$$ign’s policy of “planned obsolescence” is obsolete.7
* De$$ign must move away from short-termism.8
* De$$ign discourse -and practice- is viciously circular.9
* De$$ign lives in a constant state of aesthetic fetishism.10
* De$$ign keeps promising what cannot deliver.11 12
* De$$ign can transform itself by piecemeal increments.13
* Design manufactures cleaner, energy-efficient, quieter, safe, lasting, and aesthetically-appealing products.14
* Design has to be sustainable by applying lessons from the biology of natural systems to the design of environments for the people.15
* The design profession needs more women designers.16
* Designers should be proactive and environmentally committed.17
* Design needs to become emotional, diverse and enhancing.18
* Designers can -and should- explore traditional materials intelligently.19
* Design can help consumers alter our present ecological imbalance.20
1 “De$$ign,” as opposed to “design,” the former a loaded term, which betrays the very principles on which it was founded by the pioneers of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
2 Only in Europe by the end of the 1990’s there were around 62,000 design students specializing in universities where over 900 courses were available. Netherland Design Institute, Design Across Europe (1998). China has seen a 23% increase in enrollment in art and design between 2001-2003.
3To consume: To make away with or destroy; to waste or squander; to use up. The First World consumes 3 times more and 10 times more energy than the Third World. Our appetite for wood and minerals is partially responsible for the clearing of the Amazon forest. Our processed fuel burns ¾ of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides that cause acid rain. Our countries’ factories generate most of the world’s hazardous chemical wastes and more than 96% of the world's radioactive waste. Our air conditioners, aerosol sprays, and factories release almost 90% of the chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the earth's protective ozone layer. Isn’t this post-industrial de$$ign program perverse?
4Advertising (i.e. graphic de$$ign) plays a crucial role in consumerism by mediating between manufacturers, retailers and the public. Advertisements provide goods with a context (usually mythical). Richard Bolton explains: “We’re inundated with a parade of spectacles (…) these do not merely distract us from crisis and conflict: they absorb the conflict.” Richard Bolton, “Architecture and Cognac” in Design After Modernism, 1989.
5In this sense (post) post-modernism differs from its predecessor only in that our present stage is (according to critic Jean Baudrillard) “more obscene.” Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci has a similar point: “The crisis consists in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Perry Anderson’s “Modernity and Revolution,” New Left Review, 144, London, 1984.
6According to Marshall Berman in All That is Solid Melts into Air, the problem with futuristic modernism is that brilliant machines and mechanical systems play all the leading roles so, there is little left to human agency.
7Designer George Nelson pronounced the principle in 1956: “What we need is more obsolescence.” Industrial Design, No. 6 (1956). Harley Earl, father of the “dream car” agreed. His motto: “Our job is to hasten obsolescence.”
8Professor Alisdair Fuad-Luke proposes that de$$ign should temporarily put economic factors to one side while reconsidering the contemporary role of design in meeting the real needs of people and the environment. Fuad-Luke defends “slow design” as a means to refocus on anthropocentric (individual + socio-cultural community) and environmental welfare. Alastair Fuad-Luke, ecoDesign: The Sourcebook (Chronicle Books, 2006).
9De$$ign has gotten so entangled with advertising that it advertises itself. What can be expected of the design practice when after a De$$ign show at MoMA, one can buy the same relic being exhibited at the museum’s de$$ign store? In addition, much of the history of modern design has been written and disseminated to support De$$ign. The heroes (mostly men) create products for a largely uninformed public. Nikolaus Pevsner’s Pioneers of the Modern Movement (1936) established the canon of the discipline. The superstar designers’ profiles we read about in magazines follow this sort of pevsnerist heroic rhetoric.
10In his Critique of Commodity Aesthetics (University of Minnesota, 1986), Wolfgang Fritz Haug argues that artifacts in the market “promise a use-value once they are sold,” i.e., they have to appear useful before they actually are. There is a deeper aesthetic anesthetization when use-value becomes beautiful. Take Philippe Stark’s Juicy Salif, a lemon squeezer, which sells for almost $80, which according to its designer, “is not such a good lemon squeezer, but that’s not its only function.” Juicy Salif’s other -and most important function- is aesthetic fetishism.
11“At present, most Asians see First World technology and consumerism as handmaidens of design and harbingers of modernity: They hope to implement this combination of their soils and achieve comparable results.” This is the impending problem of China’s development and the danger it poses (given its size) for the rest of the world. “Design, Development and Cultural Legacies,” Rajeshwari Ghose, in The Idea of Design, by Victor Margolin and Richard Buchanan, MIT, 1995.
12The major deception of de$$ign lies in the constant deferral of a serious political, ecological and historical investigation of its practice. Can the original idea of design as betterment -not as worsening- be reclaimed?
13This manifesto sets a midway course between self-indulgence and radicalism. It follows professors Karl Popper and Hilary Putnam’s idea of “social engineering,” i.e., the gradual changing our socio-political landscape by trial-and-error. It seems a better method than Modernism’s grandiose sweeping measures.
14This is the general premise behind books such as E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World and Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility by Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne.
15Sustainable design (which can be applied to any structure) should bring building design, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, material selection; site planning, resource efficiency, and water use to boost energy savings. Sustainable, low-impact materials: i.e., nontoxic, recycled and recyclable, renewable, local, standard sizes, durable, and long lasting. See Chapter 2 of Nigel Whiteley’s Design For Society (Reaktion Books, 1993).
16When women design products, they are sometimes radically different from those made by men. For instance, research done on women’s criteria for car design reveals emphasis on function, ergonomics and safety (this is at odds with the advertised status of the male ego). “The Forgotten Dimension: Women, Design and Manufacture,” Margaret Bruce, Feminist Art News, (December, 1985).
17We face the crime in urban neighborhoods and communities, the loss of biological diversity, the damage to fragile landscapes, urban sprawl, polluted air, acid rain, noise pollution, global warming, the destruction of an extensive national railway system, and distortion of American political life by an automobile lobby, the foreign policy consequences of dependence on imported oil.
18Design is seen here an opportunity to enhance the human spirit. Team ZOO/ Atelier ZÖ: Theories and Manifestos of Contemporary Architecture, edited by Carl Jencks and Karl Kropf (Academy Editions, 1999).
19Here are some examples: The LifeStraw, designed to turn any surface water into drinking water, used in Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda. 2- The Pot-in-Pot Cooler, a small earthenware pot nestling inside a larger one with wet sand filling the space in between, used in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Eritrea and Ethiopia. 3- One Laptop Per Child, a not-profit initiative led by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT Media Lab. Now being tested in Nigeria and Brazil, costing $150. 4- The Global Village Shelter, prefabricated in biodegradable material, shipped flat and requiring no tools to assemble. It has already provided emergency shelter for disaster victims in Afghanistan, Grenada, Pakistan, and for those of Hurricane Katrina in the US.
20200,000 hectares of what used to be the untouched cloud forest of the Peruvian Amazon (once home to a unique highland ecosystem roamed by jaguars and bears), now boasts the herbicide-poisoned heartland of the world’s cocaine industry. “Snorting Peru’s Rain Forest,” International Wildlife, May/June 1990.
Friday, December 16, 2016
Una polla xica, pica, pellerica, camatorta i bequerica, va tenir set polls, xics, pics, pellerics, camatorts i bequerics. Si la polla no hagués sigut tant xica, pica, pellerica, camatorta i bequerica els polls no haguessin sigut tant xics, pics, pellerics, camatorts i bequerics.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
David Carrier, on Jeff Koons, for Art Critical. Carrier enters the stage defining readymades:
A ready-made sculpture has an essentially ambiguous, philosophically fascinating double identity: It is a work of art; it is a functional artifact, a tool.Now he asks, how can they also be works or art?
Because ready-mades literally consist of commonplace objects, understanding why the artist selected them, when—after all—there are so many artifacts available– provokes commentary. And because our styles of toolmaking have changed drastically, the history of the ready-made provides an historical perspective on our culture.Wait, Putin's personality, dog grooming and alien abduction also provoke commentary. & the history of the ready made is not why readymades have a history.
Readymades are not EZ, the reason being that they thrive precisely at the limit of the made/non-made distinction —so valuable for art and art history. But that has nothing to do with why they make it to the class of art/objects (& this is not the moment to settle the issue).
Sometimes one writes as disjointed as geiger noise pouring from a radioactive box.
I value Carrier as a writer, having enjoyed his Principles of Art History Writing (professor Alan Goldman at UM introduced me to it) and his better book on Poussin.
The reason of why art is art can withstand loads of (generally redundant) deductions, however, Carrier's brief cogitation on Kuns & readymades is bunk.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Susan Cianciolo's Untitled (2000), watercolor on paper (a chosen artist for WB 2017)
The paragraph below is taken from Brett Sokol's recent article for the NYTimes entitled Whitney Biennial to Miami Artists: It’s Not Us, It’s You. Throughout Sokol's piece Miami curator Gean Moreno basically explains why no Miami artist has been chosen for the Whitney 2017 Biennial.
They simply didn’t fit into the curators’ vision of engaging the social moment,” he said. “It’s not that there aren’t good Miami artists, but the determining factor was art that addressed the social upheavals of the last six years, from Occupy to Black Lives Matter to all the thinking around climate change and sea-level rise.Isn't it essentially conflictual for art to have to express "X" or "Y" social issues to be selected for a Biennial?
Not to take Moreno's words as litmus test (Moreno is a personal friend whose instincts I trust), but isn't "social moment" arbitrary as criteria for art selection?
Here's Whitney's mission:
As the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents the full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. The Whitney is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting American art, and its collection—arguably the finest holding of twentieth-century American art in the world—is the Museum's key resource. The Museum's signature exhibition, the Biennial, is the country's leading survey of the most recent developments in American art.Is the word "social" or "political" anywhere in the mission?
Isn't the Whitney Biennial supposed deliver the most relevant trends in contemporary art in the United States?* And by which criteria one defines "contemporary trend"?
Back to Sokol's article:
“Who are the artists in Miami working on these issues?” Mr. Moreno asked. “It’s been taken up by the scientists at universities here, some journalists are addressing it, you’re seeing civic responses from some mayors. But I couldn’t name one local exhibit that has taken climate change seriously.”Why would artists have to address "climate change" as a topic?
As anyone knows, artists work in their particular themes, be it political or social or formal, as a result of years of development. Changing one's language, style or topic, is complicated —and just to fit a museum's criteria, may seem even opportunistic.
Is climate change an aesthetic property?
It's not news that The Whitney is perceived as partisan, a fact which Sokol recaps:
In years past, many critics of the Biennial have felt that agitprop has dominated at the expense of truly transcendent artwork — so much so that the Whitney’s own publicists embraced the controversy and once cheekily promoted the Biennial as “the show you love to hate.”Is The Whitney not perversely revisiting an American version of Socialist Realism?
Chemi Rosado-Seijo’s Salón-Sala-Salón, 2014 (a chosen artist for WB 2017)
For example, one of Socialist Realism's influences is Narodism, the populist land movement of end-of-Nineteenth-Century Russia. Here is a quote from apparatchik Georgi Plekhanov (an important ideologue behind Social Realism) addressing the artist:
... (he) strives to alter the social relations…he is a protester and fighter by virtue of his position. His attention is totally absorbed by struggle…therefore in his case social interests dominate all else…purely literary questions are of little concern to him…He is concerned not to give artistic form to his works, but to grasp and convey the social meaning of the phenomena which he depicts. There can be no doubt that art acquired a social significance only in so far as it depicts, evokes, or conveys actions, emotions and events that are of significance to society."Social" and "political" concerns remained the favored criteria for art under Zhdanov's reign in the USSR.
Why is this comparison between Social Realism and The Whitney's social criteria relevant?
Polish art theorist Stephan Morawski in his Inquires into the Fundamental of Aesthetics mentions Zhnadov as responsible for the evolution of social realism towards what he calls its "institutional version" around 1936, with the publication of "A Chaos of Sounds instead of Music." Morawski writes:
What strikes us in this article is that instead of entering into a discussion with the artist, it simply pronounces an anathema permitting of no appeal. The principles feasible and discussable were offered without an offer of justification. It was official now that socialist realism was the only permitted current in the Soviet Union.Back to our present, The Whitney's extraneous criteria remains inappellable in the sense that curators already entertain their choice based on institutional consensus —which (as we'll see ahead) they refer to as "the conversation."
I don't want to get too much into this theme of ideology vs. the arts, which also has counterparts in the Nazi's Reichskulturkammer and Fidel Castro's "Palabras a los intelectuales."
On the other hand, a Whitney advocate may argue that on the contrary, the institution is not imposing anything on American artists, the institution and its curators merely decide what topics are relevant for inclusion—given the constantly changing social contexts. Let's not forget that The Whitney was accused as being "too white" during the 1990s, a perception that this more recent consensus is set to change.
But that's a naive assumption. The Whitney advocate may retort that no matter how inclusive the institution is, people left out always complain. Point taken. Social or political straight jackets don't represent artistic merit, a deserving aesthetic property successfully expressed in the art —whether abstract, formal, conceptual, social, political, or whatnot.
The Whitney is the foremost American Museum to show American contemporary emergent talent. One thing is to be inclusive, the opposite is to stereotype standards of inclusiveness as implicit forms of exclusion.
More worrisome: is The Whitney not stirring art tendencies by telling artists what to do if they want to be paid attention to? Isn't this a form of art depletion?
The disconnect is more pronounced when Sokol brings the voice of The Whitney's chief curator Scott Rothkopf:
“I don’t want to say what Miami’s artists are doing is irrelevant. They just weren’t the artists our curators were most interested in bringing into the conversation,” he explained. “Because I’m involved in the process, what I’m aware of is that as much as the curators hope to represent the breadth of the country, the diversity of different art forms and art makers, at the end of the day, with 63 spots, some boxes will be left unchecked.”The statement in yellow above is a sad case of curator hubris, what I call Whitney's Castor Oil criteria of inclusion.
My advice to Miami artists: No matter what you do, be true to yourself. That's success enough.
* If an art trend is a fact of society, what needs to be done is to show it, not to stereotype it and enforce it into a overarching criteria.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
I'm a fan of Yves Klein's art. There is something unique about his messed-up theology & outlandish cerebration, his ability to reinterpret, reinvent and re-appropriate the avantgarde that is very telling of his time. Above all, I enjoy Klein's perverted sense of humor. He may have pursued his art with an obliged doses of [avant-garde] "seriousness."1 But one would surely miss a great deal in Klein's "actions" if one is looking for a pellucid correspondence between what he said and what he did -or what he did and what he meant.2 So, I was baffled when, in recapping some of the existing literature on Klein, I found Benjamin Buchloh's Klein and Poses, an article for Artforum International (Vol. 33, Summer 1995).
Buchloh’s tone betrays ideological ressentiment:
The property claim and the administrative, legalistic approach are a measure both of his mania and of the misery to which the neo-avant-garde would advance in postwar Paris (and by no means would he be the last in the decrepitude of his art).According to Buchloh,there is a moment, after World War Two when the avantgarde could've -as in the Munchausen paradox- pulled itself from its straps out of the swamp of late Capitalism. Buchloh's discussion conflates “ought” with “is” in matters of art-making. Art history (as well as Capitalism) has its Black Swans, no matter how much one milks the Sacred Cow, revising and reinterpreting in order to accommodate one's ideological paraphernalia.
The dubious distinction of having claimed a natural phenomenon (the blue chroma of pigment, or of the sky) as private property, a brand name, and of legalizing this preposterous pretense by a signature or by the quest for a patent, is Yves Klein's. The property claim and the administrative, legalistic approach are a measure both of his mania and of the misery to which the neo-avantgarde would advance in postwar Paris (and by no means would he be the last in the decrepitude of his art).Precisely! "Inventing" certain chroma of blue pigment makes perfect sense in a post-World War Two epoch where technology is driven by manic administrative/legalistic approaches and incipient shortermism.
Klein's gesture is akin to "serious" art presentation, as in Manzoni's Merda d'Artista:
As with Marcel Duchamp (whose legacy Klein pilfered freely, with no concern at all for the property rights of earlier avant-garde paradigms), it has sometimes been difficult not to resent the messenger for delivering the message (…) While Duchamp announced his decision to abandon art in favor of chess only late in his career (while clandestinely elaborating one of the most important works of the postwar period), Klein would from the start insist on an alternate public persona, identifying himself with a non-artistic activity.Who? Duchamp, Mr. Appropriator himself, inventor of the objet trouvé?
In which Art Constitution -of an epoch as topsy-turvy as the avantgarde- is Buchloh's "breach of morals" stipulated?
Buchloh's "who-copies-who" account reminds me of the Derrida/Searle debate, over the nature of "unserious."
So, Duchamp's public "serious" announcement of abandoning art for chess earns the German critic's blessing; not so Klein's "unserious" announcement after –as Buchloh puts it- "his plans for a career in judo failed."
Does it matter?
I do however agree with Buchloh here:
Klein is the quintessential disenfranchised European male artist of the postwar period: images of him (accompanied by a pompier) searing a "virgin" canvas with a giant gas-torch, or harassing nude models as they smear themselves with blue paint to become "living brushes" before a gaping audience, secure him a place in an art history of protagonists desperate to resuscitate the lost tools and torments of artistic virility.And here:
For they had in mind the needs of a specific segment of France's postwar reconstruction culture: the art world's elitist bourgeois consumers, whose political leanings seem to have oscillated between a nostalgic royalism and authoritarian, antidemocratic impulses eventually absorbed by Gaullism.Buchloh's politico-disciplinarian approach to Klein the charlatan and Klein's art are treated indistinguishably. Why? Wagner the antisemite changed the course of Western music. Heidegger was a great philosopher and a Nazi. Balthus was a pervert and his perverted art turns out to be unique. François Mitterand turned a vichyste coat for a socialist coat.
In a climate as ideologically charged as post-World War II France, many art reversionists, revokers and backsliders have been exempted, excused & forgiven –depending the judge's political persuasion.
Buchloh's negligence to address the distinction between Klein's art and Klein the person is deliberate, of course -as this paragraph makes very clear:
Klein's ostentatious association with Rosicrucianism and with the writings of its 19th-century popularizer Max Heindel (which he acquired by mail order from the Rosicrucian headquarters in Oceanside, California), as well as his subsequent induction as a knight in the order of Saint Sebastian, have an analogue in Beuys' alignment with the anthropasophy of Rudolf Steiner.Who cares? As if Symbolists like Les XX, Expressionists and other avantgarde avatars, including Mondrian, did not fall for the Rosicrucian conjuration?
Klein as haunted by a paranoid fear of the predecessor: wherever evidence of continuity or contact between his work and some earlier example was irrefutable, he effaced his traces, renewing claims for originality and authenticity that manifestly contradicted the actual conditions of his painterly practice as production and as design. Duchamp's rotoreliefs, Jean Dubuffet's eponges, Man Ray's rayo-grams, Ellsworth Kelly's monochrome paintings, Robert Rauschenberg's blueprints from 1949-51, all resurface in Klein’s opus, covered in a homogenizing layer of IKB, and with an average delay of about ten years.
Buchloh's detailed account of Klein's ethical/aesthetic violations misses the point.
Without "sampling" there would be no Hip-Hop culture. Are the DJ's from the hood to blame for Capitalism's ponderous "legalistic and administrative" system?
Buchloh, the rigorous and superb critic of the neo-avantgarde cannot understand that art is an endless playing of inventions and reinventions, appropriations and re-appropriations?
Klein’s shrill claims of originality are almost a standard condition in the responses of the neo-avant-garde to its predecessors. He is almost unique, however, in his capacity to reinvest strategies and concepts of the historical avant-garde, from Duchamp through Ray to Rodchenko, with irrationality, a dimension of metaphysics, and a rabidly affirmed claim for the validity of cult and ritual, be it that of the genius artist or of the spectatorial experience.What is to be learned from Klein?
Among the lessons to be learned from Klein is that not a single semiotic “revolution” of the avant-garde - neither the readymade nor the monochrome, neither non-compositionality nor the indexical procedure - is secured by its own radicality, or protected against subsequent operations of recoding and reinvestment with myth.
Paradoxically, the German critic now gives Klein more than any poseur would expect: How can a charlatan teach the avantgarde on revolutionary issues such as "radicality" or "reinvestment of myths"?
Buchloh's veiled ambivalence with Klein only reveals ressentiment.3
He cannot forgive Klein for being a neo-avantgardist charlatan.
1One has to be stuck to take Klein "seriously". 2 The fallacy to assume that behavioral states can be scrutinized from mental states. 3 Ressentiment can be defined as Theory's Pyrrhic drive: "Work hard to win the front, just before losing the rear."
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Sandow Birk, Average American (32 Donuts, 17 Bars of Soap, 1 Book), (2005).
Let’s go straight to it: We don’t really talk about art anymore. What we do is chat and nod and casually interject on worn down art themes. We echo the words of art magazines, the blurbs written by curators and their publicity minions. We feel comfortable.
Critical discourse means taking things apart, discussing with passion, avoiding complacency. Always looking with new eyes & fresh minds. This is not to say that the writing has to resemble an academic treatise, a conservative harangue -or a philosophical essay. What I’m talking about is a voice that is not afraid to call a spade a spade. A writing that elaborates some kind of defensible scheme, whose style is consistent, reliable, complex, a bit adversarial and why not, entertaining. I’m defending the kind of criticism that aims at quality and avoids self-indulgence and mannerism. Criticism as reflection of judgments, not as parading of judgments.
Unfortunately, this kind of criticism is gone. What Miami writers (let’s bracket the term “critic” for the time being) produce today is art advocacy plain and simple. They have become the media mouthpiece for the gallery and the museum system.
Art-writing for the art market.*
What happened? The demise of the printed media has something to do with it. One could argue that sometime during the early 2000’s Miami had a variety of choices: The New Times, The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, Street and The Sun Post, all competing for attention. They provided different points of view (and we thought it needed to be improved!). Today only the first three in the list above do some kind of art covering.
To make things worse, they converge ideologically.
Norman Rockwell, The Art Critic, (1955).
I present some examples, taken from recent art reviews (my purple ink interjects to point to the obvious). The first two by Carlos Suarez de Jesus. The style here amounts to mere declarations embroidered with a “groovy” sleight-of-hand:
Arguably the highlight of the slow summer art season and one of the most anticipated events of the year, the freewheeling show features a zany half-hour-long video collaboration featuring a Cecil B. DeMille cast of coconspirators.--“Dadarhea, the absurdist funstravaganza opening at O.H.W.O.W.” New Times, (August 12).Or this one:
The provocative show ploughs the fertile furrows of macho/male positioning in contemporary culture from sweeping perspectives, shifting seamlessly from macho-man swagger to female and childhood notions of manliness and the complex relationships between young boys and girls. – “Three art shows in Wynwood probe manliness, devastation and the passage of time”.—(Idem, August 8).This sample is by Tom Austin:
In the end, the Lowe exhibition proves that artists don't care for politicians and, for the most part, find the world a crummy place, a sensibility that crosses all strains of humanity. This show is a wonderful opportunity -for a change- to see angry art that's about changing the world, as opposed to all the narcissistic nonsense of contemporary art, the navel-gazing that changes nothing. “ArtLab at the Lowe examines centuries of revolts and bad behavior”, The Miami Herald, (August 8).Our digital media is not far behind. Observe how the writer apologizes for her words and proceeds to beg the question on her own declaration (she even challenges anyone to disagree with her redundancies):
This is by no means a criticism of Miami artists nor of the exhibition. It’s a good show, plain and simple. I challenge anyone to argue differently (and if that naysayer is you, by all means, leave a comment). It’s no easy task to sum up the production of a city in just a few rooms.—Art Lurker, (August 2).El Nuevo Herald is -sadly- much of the same.**
Sandow Birk, Average American (60 Hot Dogs and 60 Sticks of Butter a Year), (2005).
Why is the writing so vapid? The writers feel they have a mission to educate, which brings me to the next point. The alleged decline of reading, which art writers whine so much about, has nothing to do with the so-called dumbing down of America. There is nothing more condescending than to assume people cannot understand which -conveniently- puts the enlightened writer on the moral obligation to dilute the information for them. It all reflects the ignorance -and hypocrisy- of today’s editors,*** whom flatly reject the idea that the dumbing starts with their presumption that the public is dumb. They live in blind, pathetic denial: On the one hand, they don’t feel it’s their fault that people don’t read, on the other hand, they bathe in this glow of being America’s educators.
Why not assuming that people don’t read because they are tired of feeling stupid?
Miami’s printed media doesn’t do criticism -if by criticism one means a serious engagement with the work that avoids political conflict of interests, enthusiasm and bias. Let me explain. There are two modalities of what I see as plain art advocacy in this town:
1. “Enhancing techniques,” i.e., conceptually framing the writing with the purpose of “selling” a show. Think of the typical 200-word-blurb of today’s gallery-circuit ads magnified now into 800 words. The writer doesn’t bother to present the reader some sort of analysis or stand-point reference from which to evaluate. Generally, the writing feels like dictums clothed in cool, groovy, sophomoric descriptions, depending your take. The “selling” takes the form of obvious partisanship -only rarely it looks as nuanced-defense.
2. De facto artwriting: This out-and-out positive approach falsely presumes that since the writer is entitled to engage only what he/she likes, they can go all the way in their de facto defense of such-and-such artist or art work, and yet come out as “honest” and “truthful”. The writers justifies their bad faith with the dubious claim that not writing about something transparently shows a normative choice. In other words: If I don’t write about it is because I don’t like it (or don’t care about it). Really? Meanwhile, the public, to whom the writer supposedly “owes full disclosure” is left in the dark as “why” this is the case.
Both forms increasingly recur to social coverage, which makes the writer and the paper look socially engaged. There is a trend of interview pieces: We “hear” the protagonists: artists, gallerists, curators, being interviewed with benign questions generally asking what’s the work about, the process, & whatnot. The writer becomes a medium for subjective reportage and art becomes cultural news to be digested by the masses.
Two choices: Either an indulgent version of the critic’s preferences, or an amplified, distorted, cultural message.
John Heartfield, Whoever Reads Bourgeois Newspapers Becomes Blind and Deaf: Away with These Stultifying Bandages!, Photomontage, (1930).
Doesn’t Miami deserve better?
* Whether inspired genius or avantgarde cynic, the artist is presently a cultural ambassador of the art market. The gallery owner and curator become bona fide facilitators between the artist and the public. The curator take the role of producer while the art writer becomes the publicist. The more the public consumes -to consume is to attend- the better the whole thing looks. The writer’s job is to embroider this artplay, stitched with the protagonists’ voices (i.e., the artist, the curator, the gallery owner, even the curious public). **I’m not disputing these writers don’t believe what they say, or that they are hypocrites. All I’m saying is they, -inadvertently at best, willingly at worse- play the game. ***You can always locate the editor’s hand in the review’s heading. The choice of words is either redundant or banal or both. Check this one: Miami Art Museum's "New Work Miami 2010 showcases breadth and scope of local talent." The Miami New Times, July 22.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
you vote for the Donald because,
1- Miami's multicultural climate is too humid. You're considering relocating to Pampa, Texas,
2- you have a big wall fetish,
3- Donald is 6'2 tall, rich and blonde, what else can a man or a woman desire?
4- you dislike people with foreign accents (just that),
5- you approve of the Donald's taste in young tall slavic-looking women,
6- you admire the Donald's proven ability to avoid paying taxes,
7- you're in awe of the Donald's deep understanding of international relations,
8- you're proud owner of two AR-15s, one for you, one for your wife (yes, she's a Woman For Trump),
9- though you're an anti-government alt-right republican, some members of your family receive government assistance (& you still blame the government) .
Thursday, November 3, 2016
are you tired of chitchat passing for smart?
do you care about quality over quantity?
are you sick & tired of the art-market's sycophantic manipulations?
don't you wish to proudly show the middle finger instead of the sheepish thumbs up!?
don't you wish art & letters were less about trendy and more about quality?
at miami bourbaki we try to keep our critical compass on the "real" instead of the "virtual" north
scroll down and just click the join-this-site google-bar below & add your avatar to the list!
Monday, October 31, 2016
Closing this election cycle and we see ourselves amidst facebook defriendings and unfriendings with salvos of impolite discourse, vulgarity, ad hominem & hyperbolic rantings.
A veritable feast of uncritical thinking.
It's not difficult to surmise what this "battle of ideas" amount to: Lots of posturing and little arguments.
I'd suggest coming back to Wittgenstein's idea of Sprachspiel. For Wittgenstein, meaning and understanding is embedded in language games we play. For some time the left and the right of our political spectrum have retreated into their own language games, which makes communication between opposing factions virtually impossible.
One is aghast at the emotional excess of our discussions. Even in this microuniverse called facebook, we should observe a minimum of decorum.
Our political discourse has descended into a protracted senseless folly.
Like the Chinese, I propose five points:
1- Let's conduct ourselves —always— with civility.
2- Let's not win a point when by doing so we make ourselves look like bullies. Knowing when to retreat speaks of prudence and self-government.
3- Facebook is a public forum. There are people watching and judging. Getting good grades on politeness is always a plus.
4- If your friend and you don't agree on political issues, stop flogging the horse.
5- There is always the editing tool. If I say something I don't feel proud of, I can always edit my comment, rather than leaving a record of my nastiness in the eyes of the world.
Until the next elections!
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Is gentrification good or bad? The answer to the question is somewhat complex because the idea of gentrification is simultaneously denounced and defended by opposing sides of the political spectrum. Let's try to move beyond "binary thinking" and examine the roots of the ideological debate.
There is a "production side" theory advocated by Neil Smith, professor of anthropology and geography at Hunter College, and a "consumption side" hypothesis espoused by Miami architect and urban planner Andres Duany, principal of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. In a 1981 paper entitled "Gentrification as a Process of Uneven Development," Smith defined gentrification as a conflict between upper and lower economic classes that gives rise to racial tensions and physical dislocation. Following World War II, the market price of land in core urban areas fell behind that of the burgeoning suburbs. Property owners and other real estate interests began to disinvest from inner-city neighborhoods, which contributed to their physical deterioration. Frequent changes of ownership became commonplace, and that discouraged financial institutions from continued investment within the inner city.
What followed, according to Smith, was "redlining," the practice of withholding loans or insurance for homes considered high risk. The South Bronx in New York and Hoboken in New Jersey are well-known horror stories: Landlords no longer collected enough rent to cover basic costs, and structures were abandoned or torched for insurance payouts. Add to this bleak picture the evaporation of jobs (owing to the suburban flight of industries, governmental tax incentives for suburbia at the expense of the inner city, and the often brutal highway policies of the Sixties), and you have a recipe for poverty, deprivation, and homelessness.1
According to Smith, over time this process creates a "rent gap," which he defines as the difference between the rent commanded by a piece of inner-city land and the potential rent it could command if put to "higher and better" use. Eventually the gap grows so wide that affluent developers seize the opportunity to make profits from reinvestment and rehabilitation. Smith's theory ends up on the left end of the political spectrum. His macro-analytic approach is valuable because it explains the basis of the rent gap in the inner city and points to the social ills it creates. Smith, however, ignores and demonizes the dynamics of the middle-class urbanites (or gentrifiers) who move back to urban centers. Additionally his theory lacks empirical data in the case of younger cities with no significant industrial past, such as Miami.
Andres Duany2 is on the right side of the debate. He believes it is small-scale, middle-class entrepreneurs (instead of uncaring developers and bankers) who initiate the process of gentrification. This sector of the population rejects the cookie-cutter suburban mentality and prefers to live in the city's core. In his 2001 paper "Three Cheers for Gentrification," Duany identifies three stages of inner-city transformation: A "spontaneous" first wave of "risk-oblivious" low-income pioneers (students, artists, gays, and other self-marginalized social groups) who discover the allure of the area. Then he sees a second wave of "risk-aware" investors, mobile enough to secure loans and therefore capable of satisfying building codes and permits "that the first wave probably ignored." These are baby boomers who "enjoy the bohemian lifestyle while holding secure jobs." This is followed by a third, "risk-averse" wave, made up of "conventional developers who thoroughly smarten up the buildings through conventional real estate operations -physical renovation, improved maintenance, and organized security."
Seen from the point of view of the gentrifiers, I agree with Duany's phases. What I disagree with is how he dismisses the potential negative consequences for the people already renting and owning inner-city property before the third wave moves in. According to Duany, it's very difficult to intervene "supposedly on behalf of low-income residents because urban gentrification is organic and self-fueling. Its motive force is great urbanism." I'm surprised that Duany finds "great urbanism" more relevant than social upheaval. What is worse, he opposes one against the other.
Duany follows a pessimistic and indifferent trend akin to David Rusk's "law of urban dynamics." In his 1993 book Cities Without Suburbs Rusk declares, "Ghettos can only become bigger ghettos." Or Myron Orfield's Metropolitics, in which the author proclaims, "The lack of social mortar to hold neighborhoods together … makes economic development in extreme-poverty tracts or ghetto areas all but impossible."
Furthermore, Duany's diagnosis is incorrect. In fact there are examples of inner-city revitalization and reinvestment -even gentrification- that succeed without social displacement. Paul Grogan, in Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival, cites the South Bronx and Jersey City as areas where low-income and middle-class residents united behind nonprofit community development corporations to bring change in the form of "investment, developing or renovating property, building on assets, and generally drawing power and capital into the community rather than scaring it away." In truth the gentrifier is neither Duany's hero nor Smith's villain. I could see myself as one of them (between the first and second wave), trying to find a decent condo apartment with interesting architecture in the center city. And even if I accepted that gentrifiers are agents of change, the important question remains: Who has the real power? The answer to that, in my opinion, is indisputable: The true powers behind gentrification are the property owners, the developers, and the commercial lenders who finance them. That's the production side, not the consumption side.
And as for the initial question -is the gentrification of Miami a good thing or a bad thing? -I can answer that it depends. Miami's downtown has seen some reinvestment and revitalization, which is good. Downtown's development would add jobs, improving infrastructure, increasing tax revenues, and diminishing the trend toward suburban sprawl.
This is a different story from other neighborhoods in Miami, such as Little Haiti and Little Havana, where a residential base already exists.
The problem occurs when poorly managed gentrification leads to rocketing price inflation, social disruption, and a loss in cultural diversity.
I'd like to suggest a promising paradigm that shifts away from ideology. I'm referring to the idea of "cultural capital," a term coined by sociologist Sharon Zukin in her book Loft Living, a study of the gentrification in New York City's SoHo district during the Sixties and Seventies. Gentrification for Zukin results from a combination of culture and capital that generates urban cosmopolitanism. Her account of Sixties Manhattan surprisingly resembles today's Miami.
According to Zukin, as postwar New York replaced prewar Paris as the center of culture, the art world began generating tourism revenue and bringing prestige to the city. In the Fifties, Manhattan's upper-class elite discovered that modern art could work as an important urban and economic power. A change of the urban fabric was initiated by artists themselves, who fought a war with landlords, city agencies, and zoning laws for recognition and support of their lifestyle in the city's once-derelict industrial spaces.
Thanks to the artists' perseverance, an aesthetic and economic rebirth of those vacant warehouse districts began to take shape. The "artist's loft" of the Sixties became a symbol of urbanity and consumption of culture. By the Seventies the metamorphosis was legitimized when artists won the legal right to reside in loft spaces in key sections of lower Manhattan. Also in the Seventies, ironically, SoHo underwent Duany's third phase of gentrification. When real estate developers discovered the potential gold mine, the less prosperous among the cultural proletariat were priced out of the very area they had helped revitalize. They were forced to leave and begin the cycle anew in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Perth Amboy. Today Brooklyn arguably has a more exciting art scene than Manhattan.
Will Miami's Wynwood neighborhood resemble the earlier phase of Lower Manhattan's renaissance?
We have to wait and see. Wynwood had a defining moment from 2004-2007, when Real Estate interests came, bought and built, followed by brand name commercial developments along North Miami Avenue.3 That was then. With the Real Estate Bust of 2008-2009 it seems as if gentrification may have slowed down. But it's only temporary. Though Real Estate prices have come down considerably, bank restructuring has made lending even tougher for low middle-class people. And there is unemployment: Our jobless rate of 11.1% is the highest among Florida's major urban counties. Builders and wealthy tenants have the means to hold and wait. Private and commercial interests can always benefit from lower condo prices.
Our "condo-miracle" may have (temporarily) helped Miami's economic base, but it could prove costly. Why? The almost simultaneous emergence of gentrification and displacement, speculative activity, and large-scale foreclosure provides a schizoid image of a city half-phoenix /half-ashes. And in the midst of the ashes stand not only unsold condos and broken dreams, but un-housed and displaced people, a paradox of the new order.
1 For a revealing account of the Hoboken renaissance click this 1984 New York Times article by Anthony de Palma. 2The more one examines DPZ projects, the more one understands its basic tensions: 1- New Urbanism assures integration and affordability but its projects are built for the elite. Despite the best intention of planners and designers, 2- New Urbanism operates within an economic system that benefits the status quo: Developers, Real Estate and Banks interests. 3- On the surface, New Urbanism seems to contribute to more inclusive and equitable communities, but in fact it spurs the growth of exclusive developments. 4- While the public rhetoric of New Urbanism project a committment to traditional patterns, its actual approach to growth betrays modernist tactics and premises. From a post-2008 recession point of view, Duany's DPZ fares better on its "Downtown Plans" than its "Villages and Towns" (the explanation would take us beyond the topic at hand). What is left of physical and intellectual landscape? Through advertising, public order legislation, gentrification and the commodification of popular culture, Global capital has effectively appropriated the social agency to bring about conscientious change. Hence, as the Spacejackers Manifesto puts it, "to exist today means to tread on the property of other." 4 Wynwood has changed its face. Some important galleries (like Perrotin) have closed or (like Locust Projects) moved to the Design District. Some smaller galleries that populated North Miami Avenue, have moved to North West 2nd Avenue and beyond (which gallery would really treasure being next door to the West Elms, Targets and Marshalls of Miami?).
Monday, October 24, 2016
In the context of current theories of aesthetics, art theorists miss the urgency of discussing the art market and its deleterious power on art and art reception.
My thesis is that the art market can be compared to the natural science idea of depleted environment.
By "depletion" I mean a reduction in the art sphere, to adequately express aesthetic, social and political needs.
What is the point of discussing "specificity" as a curatorial point (whether transgression or spectacle or early modernism or whatnot) if deleterious forces behind the art being presented and talked about remain absolutely intact? What's the point of hammering Schiller, Hegel, Adorno and Peter Bürger if the aesthetic discussions gloss over the very issues of these discourses address?
For example, within the bigger discussion of environment, what's the good of taking recycling for granted if,
... To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.In the best of possible worlds, a good citizen "recycles," and yet she's doing nothing for the environment. Of course, she'll keep recycling out of self-discipline, but she is not ready to see bad faith in the face. On the other hand, the discussion in the NYTimes shouldn't be dismissed as being "against recycling" (notwithstanding the cloying feeling of helping the planet).
This is the paradoxical nature of our CULTURE. We believe the cultural consensus because it comes down the pipe.
But what if something we take for granted is a scam?
Art defined as (re)presentation
From here on, representation will not be the old received Platonic/Aristotelian mimesis. Representation doesn't mean likeness anymore. Now it means cause/effect.
Bernheimer's now forgotten 1960s The Nature of Representation gets it right:
The function of representation is most akin to the much neglected and little known one of substitution.1Substitution! One thing presented in the place of another. What you see is not what's really there.
When you see a contemporary artwork in a white box, you see a different thing than what the artist made. When it's sold to a collector or auctioned, or purchased by a museum the artwork changes.
The difference between the first and the last in the series is its aggregate value.
Let's defer to the Gombrich/Danto definition of representation, and modify it a little bit:
Representation is a making present (again) of what is absent; or more formally, A is a representation of B when it can take B’s place, can function as B’s substitute or as B’s replacement in its absence.2From the making to the presenting to the buying, each one is causing the other, each one is re-pre-sen-ting.
Let's revisit these three:
1- Making: the Romantic idea of the starving artist, the autarchic poet involved in the act of creation.
2- Presenting: The arthoodication of the whitebox.
3- Representing: The buying and collecting defined as futurity.
Why is it that the making is always made to look more crucial than the other two?
The difference between the represented 14-foot tiger shark in Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death In the Mind of Someone Living and your ordinary jaws majestically swimming in the subtropical Florida Straits is that the latter is not inside a vitrine filled with formaldehyde in a white box.
There is a bit of magic here: Aesthetically speaking The Physical Impossibility of Death is not better —or worse— than the Carcharodon Carcharias, it's just different.3
Ξ The difference is aggregate value, i.e., a differential value defined in the future.
The magic consists in (the market) taking Ξ and substituting it as aesthetic value.
The Physical Impossibility of Death is now —automatically— art ("represented" as art).
Again, the causal function of representing is hidden from the artwork.
You see the art, you don't see the $futurity$.
How did it happen? Let's do a little bit of history:
First, in the political realm, substitution operates as a standard of fairness.Take Madison's Federalist #57:
Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, or religious faith, of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgment or disappoint the inclination of the people.We know article #57 doesn't —generally— happen. It doesn't matter. We keep using it. We have faith in it.
Are we blind? No. We're cultured. Here is Hume explaining the power and sustenance of social conventions:
And thus justice establishes itself by a kind of convention or agreement; that is, by a sense of interest, supposed to be common to all, and where every single act is performed in expectation that others are to perform the like. Without such a convention, no one would ever have dreamed, that there was such a virtue as justice, or have been induced to conform his actions to it.Acculturation breeds authority. (check Weber's dictum).
In the economic realm, substitution takes the status of trust. I leave you with Adam Smith:
We trust our health to the physician . . . . our fortune, and sometimes our life and reputation, to the lawyer and attorney. Such confidence could not safely be reposed in people of a very mean or low condition. Their reward must be such therefore as may give them that rank in the society which so important a trust requires.4Though our trust is beaten time and again, we keep paying our mutual funds fees.
In the aesthetic realm, substitution operates as a bridge between aesthetics and morality. Which is why Schiller renders "beauty" as moral excellence (Über Anmut und Würde).
What is true of the aesthetic applies also to the moral: as, in the one case, it is only a person’s morally excellent character that puts the stamp of moral quality on one of his actions, so, in the other, it is only the mature and perfect spirit from whom maturity and perfection can flow.5Bataille, a marxist, marveled at how fascism could be uncivilized and yet aesthetically appealing.
I think it's time to bring these substitutions for a provisional corollary:
Contemporary art is an apparatus designed and sustained by the circulation of capital.
Of course, we should end this post with a little bit of Culture. Ready for some entertainment?
These are random comments about Hirst's piece in this website:
Sometimes I think the titles are what makes something art. This could have been called "Shark Tank" or "Thing I killed" or "Big angry thing with lots of teeth," and people would nod and walk by. But call it "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," and it's very deep and you pause and consider it way more than if the title was boring. Is it the title that makes it art, or would it still be art if Hirst had named it "Shark Tank?"
Hirst, is this the same guy who created the butterfly exhibit that caused a great deal of controversy recently? It certainly seems like the same style.
How do you think the decay of the shark meaningful in and of itself?
Did anyone else find it funny and a tiny bit disturbing that we can call a corpse art?
Does anybody know how old the shark is?See? The shark discussion goes on oblivious of the "magic."
Is the environment depleted or not?
1Richard Bernheimer, The Nature of Representation (New York: New York University Press, 1961), p. 24. 2 Ananta Sukla, Art and Representation: Contributions to Contemporary Aesthetics p. 70 3See how aesthetics is about value? Something "ugly" or "menacing" (taste attributions to a common jaws) is not what the shark really is. 4Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, p. 86 5David Pug, Dialectic of Love: Platonism in Schiller Aesthetics, (McGill-Queen University Press) p. 134.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Dear artists and art lovers: What's the "next thing?"*
Here is the situation: positing a "next thing" puts the claim as opposed to the morass of the "now." Bear in mind that there is no "next thing," except for a constantly-moving "now" until "next thing" opportunistically fits. And who outside the "now" can do that?
Then there is the conceptual conflict any "next thing" brings forth, namely, the double duty of simultaneously describing and prescribing (more of this later). This is the problem with The Next Thing: Art in the Twenty-First Century, a catalog edited by Pablo Baler, which presents an interesting constellation of art themes.
Let's take a look at Glenn Harper's ponderous essay entitled "The Critical Art of the Future."
First, the obituary:
Both art criticism and the magazine business are dying, as the popular press (the vehicle that art criticism grew along with) is undergoing a radical transformation in the twenty-first century.Why does criticism have to die with "the vehicle that art grew along with?" Were these two always together?
Methinks Harper is inclined to see a cause/effect link here. We know that "radical transformations" bring change. But that A and B are related doesn't mean that A causes B. For example, speculative philosophy didn't die with the radical transformations brought forth by Gutenberg's invention of the movable type in the Fifteenth Century.
This is a better try:
Art criticism is dying because ... with the explosion of the art fair (and biennials often indistinguishable from the fairs), access to art once again exploding beyond discrete exhibitions into mass market tourist attractions.As Jerry Saltz and others have pointed out, the critic is the one person in the art world who is superfluous in the art fairs.C'mon, art fairs and biennials are just a cog in the wheel. The art market apparatus is a product of social political and economic forces, which according to Max Weber, develop "authority" (Herrschaft). As the authority raises, the role of criticism wanes.
And why bring up "Saltz and others?"
Just for the fun of it, I googled "Saltz" and "art fairs" and got 41, 000 entries!
This one, with plenty of letters asking Saltz's opinions, here, where Saltz enjoys the Art-Fair, or this one, with Saltz (on facebook) talking about New York's Frieze Fair, and so on.**
You wonder how somebody so irrelevant wastes so much time being irrelevant?
In the art fair the seller has direct and immediate access with the buyer, and publicity takes the place of criticism (as the only remaining vestige of a middleman albeit explicitly not an independent one).My experience is that contemporary fairs keep a Twentieth-Century business model, i.e., buyers deal with gallerists directly —the presence of the artist being a derivative courtesy, sort of a aesthetic aftertaste.
Art is pretty much an elevated retail business, its supply-and-demand dictated by Contemporary Art's grandiloquent cultural cachet —provided by the art market. But the truth is that art business' current model remains pre-industrial.
Harper zeroes in:
... there has been an explosion of MFA programs graduating hordes of new professional artists every year. These artists are ignored by the galleries... but their presence in the filed is a substantial influence on the size and scope of the art world, and the art professional who sifts through the work of all there new artists is not the critic, but the curator.True, but let's qualify that:
1- Artblicity has taken over criticism, but not because of publicity.
2- Art criticism never sifted through artists' works. In the heyday of art criticism (New York 1950s-1970s) the profession was elitist, partisan & regional.
3- Critics don't have (in fact never had) the sort of power to shift art trends. Art trends happen because of complex interactions between social, political and economic forces.
Now, meet Harper's art critic,
The art critic was someone with inside knowledge or expertise ... who could write intelligently or at least intelligibly, someone who could interpret and judge and categorize (and also describe for a public beyond those attending the Salon itself). With the rise of contemporary art galleries and museums, the art critic continued as a middle man between the artist-gallery-museum on the one hand and the public (general public or specialized audience).I have to take issue with this characterization of the critic. After all, Harper portrays himself as critic/editor.
1- "middle man" (a term borrowed from sales?)
2- "middle man" (a gender-centric slippage, coming from Harper-the-critic or Harper-the-editor?).
3- a distinction between writing "intelligently" and writing "at least intelligibly," obviously the latter being a less desirable, merely tolerable form. It seems that the critic can get away with something, but this is not Harper-the-critic talking. Is it Harper-the-editor? The reason being that he'd be basically shooting himself in the foot.
On a different level, Harper feels he has an important advice for the critic —thus, his essay's title. Naturally, the problem is only aggravated by my earlier point of the conceptual tension between describing and prescribing.
With the critic gone, what's to be done? Recall that Harper is preparing us for the future. So, he brings Damien Hirst as an example of a mega artist who has successfully bypassed (?) the critic:
Hirst is certainly crating a media narrative and a public persona. And it could be argued that his art is minimal in terms of form and meaning, even in terms of being art. So is Hirst the new Duchamp, and is Hirst's diamond skull the new model of art with no need for the critic or the art press... ?
|Damian Hirst's for the love of god|
The strategy is to build a relationality argument with Gober's Untitled.
We learn the following:
1- Gober's leg suggests a still life, or reliquary in the form of a crime scene,
2- Gober's realism is disturbing but also ordinary,
3- there's a narrative attached to the work (Gober is inspired by his observation of a crowded airplane returning from europe)...
4- Gober's mother told him her first experience working in an operation theater was an amputation,
5- the leg is macabre,
6- the leg suggests a phallic or birth symbol,
7- the leg suggests the phenomenon of the uncanny
Harper's Conclusion? Art is meant to unsettle the eye.
See that #1, #2 & #4 are presented as descriptive, but they are not. Once Harper uses an adjective to qualify a thing he's in normative terrain, which brings the is/ought perennial problem. #3, #5, #7 are clearly prescriptive (they evaluate the art object).
Harper states that his analysis is not about the object's meaning, but instead about the object's relational role (what it does). So he asks this rhetorical question: "Does the critical superstructure that is possible to construct around that mute leg really help?"
I would argue that the impact of the the work is outside of (even in spite of) the biographical and interpretive matrix of the critic or the museum label. The partiality, the ugliness, the mere "there"-ness is where the viewer meets the artwork, rather than through a side trip through criticism.
Quite obscure. Perhaps Harper is saying that "critical superstructure" —the rantings of this hypothetical critic—fail when compared to the "there"-ness (thereness means, I guess, the thing's objective qualities). His point is that "experience" is superior to the "side trip" offered by the critic.
But how does one build "experience" without any previous conceptualization?
But how does one build "experience" without any previous conceptualization?
This is what he wants to get at:
But the point is not that the object means something but that it does something. It is an experience that the viewer participates in (...) a palpable experience... The aesthetics of the last hundred years, from Russian Formalism to Relational Aesthetics has argued that art is not an object but rather an encounter, an interrelation.Remember: the object does something. And yet, when Harper writes that the leg is this or that, he's talking not about his "experience" —he's definitely not doing phenomenology— but referring the object via grammar, semantics and so on.
How does Harper conveying "there"-ness is any different from an ordinary critic backing up her views using concepts clothed in grammar and semantics? I don't buy it.
Before we go on, we should discuss relational aesthetics:
A set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space. (RA, p. 113)
Ok, Harper's relational aesthetics strategy makes me think of this cheesy French-Italian film from the 1970s where a young nerdy guy tries to get closer to this young and pretty nouveau-rich girl, who is always glued to a book. "What are you reading?" He asks. She tells him that she is reading Boredom, a novel by Alberto Moravia. "What is it about?" The girl goes through the most minute details: It's about Dino, a young italian artist who has everything. He has a love/hate relationship with his rich mother and has since abandoned painting. Dino tries to find love with a younger woman who had previously been the lover of his neighbor (and perhaps even caused that neighbor's death). This woman is a person of astounding superficiality, which seems to hide some mystery that threatens to disrupt the very boredom to which the narrator has become so attached. As the girl goes on chatting, the nerdy guy becomes more alienated from her narration. When she's done he avers: "I don't have to read 300 pages on boredom to know what's like to feel bored."
Here are two impromptu possibilities to apply to relational aesthetics:
1- Did the girl fail in conveying boredom because of the impossibility of conveying boredom's "palpable experience"? or,
2- Did the girl succeed in showing that Moravia's novel is a "side trip" for the "palpable experience" of boredom?
1- Did the girl fail in conveying boredom because of the impossibility of conveying boredom's "palpable experience"? or,
2- Did the girl succeed in showing that Moravia's novel is a "side trip" for the "palpable experience" of boredom?
Harper is not far from the nerdy guy in the movie. He falls for a self-imposed redundancy by failing to prove his point the moment he tries —in vain— to explicitly play at failing.
This is not the place to discuss relational aesthetics. But for a critic prescribing the future, appealing to relational aesthetics on the basis of it having being "argued" (defended, legitimized or what not) for the last hundred years...
Doesn't that seem odd?
Doesn't that seem odd?
Harper is so taken by relational aesthetics that he forgets art's hardware: the art-object!
Here comes his prescription:
Here comes his prescription:
Foster... is wrong to lecture artists about how to reach a critical moment of experience... the critic risks irrelevancy even in a world more open to the critic than today's, if he or she predetermines the tools that artists can work with.
Now Harper plays art censor (?)
One of the few things I've refused to allow writers to do in the magazines I've edited is to lecture artists about the direction to go with their work (something Rosalind Krauss has done in her categorizations of the "open field of sculpture" and in her more recent comments on material, stating that artists are abandoning their role as artists if they don't concentrate on developing a single medium to its limits.
On what grounds is using normative tools to evaluate art "lecturing"?
A critical art in the sense that I mean to propose doesn't offer reassurances about the perception or accepted truth of authority. It doesn't accept the role of decorating the halls of power or wealth.
In his essay, Harper doesn't really address "the halls of power or wealth." It's only when he objects to the critic's "lecturing" (in passant) that he becomes aware of his blind spot. Why? Because the relational approach he defends is meant to explain & theorize the very role of (as he mentions) "decorating the halls of power."
Harper is clueless that when he plays the censor with critics who dare to "lecture," he's falling for the very prescriptive role he denies the critic.
To top it off, Harper closes his essay under a seventh-seal-of-obscurity:
The critical art of the future is suspended at that knife-edge and offers us a momentary suspension of our onrushing but socialized and codified everyday life.(a post addressing relational aesthetics is forthcoming)
* As we all know, Relational Aesthetics had its heyday during the early 2000s. **Let's add here that Jerry Saltz fell big for the relational aesthetics spell. He bombastically declared about the 2008 Guggenheim "theanyspacewhatever" show of the relational aesthetics gang that "they created the most influential stylistic strain to emerge in art since the early '70s."