Thursday, February 23, 2017

How Roberta Smith arthoodicates 1980s painting for the New York Times by pretending not to

Left, Kathe Burkhart’s painting Prick: From the Liz Taylor Series (Suddenly Last Summer), from 1987, reprises a movie scene with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Right, Baron Sinister from 1986, by Walter Robinson (New York Times)

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In a previous post I ask this question.

Then I read Roberta Smith's fresh from the oven Painting From the 1980s, When Brash Met Flash, now at the Whitney Museum.

Her swift opening is a bit formulaic, between name dropping, chronology & normativity:
In New York at the end of the 1970s, many people thought painting was all washed up. And if not washed up, it had to be abstract —the more austere, unemotional and geometric, the better. Then came the 1980s and a generation of young painters, like Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Eric Fischl, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and everything changed. With “Fast Forward: Painting From the 1980s,” an irresistible if flawed exhibition, the Whitney Museum tries to sort out how that happened.
"... irresistible if flawed exhibition," peculiar conditional. Keep in mind "irresistible". I'll come to this later.

Why flawed?
In a sense, the painting that emerged in the early ’80s was mongrel and illegitimate. In logical art-historical terms, it wasn’t supposed to happen. The much-heralded Pictures Generation, a group of photo-based nonpainters, could trace its pedigree to 1970s Conceptual and performance art, and promised an orderly succession. But this divide is often exaggerated: I can imagine painters like Mr. Schnabel and Mr. Fischl thinking, if the Conceptual and performance artists, and their Pictures Generation progeny, can use figures and tell stories, we can, too.
This declaration follows,

... the painting that emerged in the early '80s was mongrel and illegitimate."

Mongrel, yes, illegitimate? No way.

Illegitimate" presupposes something "legitimate" to be compared against. And what would that be?

The 1980s painting was as legit a movement as one could possibly have, advocated and supported by the art system, i.e., artists, dealers, critics, collectors, art magazines and museums. In fact, from 1979 to 1985 Neo-Expressionism was the thing.

Is "legitimate" not that which is sanctioned by the likes of Smith? (unless she is ready to admit they were wrong —my point is double entendre).

Better yet, is Smith so oblivious not to see that her very article for the New York Times is the top of legitimation? Unless she denies her 1980s peer critics and curators the legitimation she's buttressing right now.

At miami bourbaki we take words written as behavioral dispositions. Like behaviors, words can be analyzed. Individual's intentions on the other hand are private, inaccessible, subject to mongrel associations and disconnections. 

And Smith is a bit disconnected from her own words. Which explains this,

... it wasn't supposed to happen.

The 1980s already happened. And it had to happen with everything in it, including Reagan, Punk, the Mariel Boat lift, the War on Drugs, Heavy Metal, Gorbachev's Perestroika, the Commodore 64, Madonna,  and yes, 1980s Painting.

History cannot express regrets because whatever happens is necessary. Painting in the 1980s—whatever that means—can always be traced back to the socio-political and economic vortex of the 80s.

Who in her right mind would blame the marionette for a poor marionette performance?

Eric Fischl, A Visit To /A Visit From the Island, 1983

The answer to Smith's discomfort with 1980s painting can be traced back to this 1987 review for the New York Times. Here she defends a brief movement in late 70s early 80s labeled as "New Image Painting," which is eclipsed by the sudden arrival of,
... neo-expressionism, an art movement, whose combinations of exuberant brushwork and provocative figures generated a glamorous amount of controversy, international attention and market support. 
Back in 1987 Smith dismisses Neo Expressionism as non-inherently American, which she contrasts with the "New Imagists." You can tell who wins her favor:
There is something inherently American —austere, rational and a little puritanical
—about the New Imagists' stark, tissue-thin silhouettes and their methodically made surfaces, as well as their belief in progress. This Americanness made their work seem out of step during the more European-influenced heyday of Neo-expressionism, but now, things are different.  
Now we understand Smith's "it wasn't supposed to happen" (above) and her general unease with this assignment. She is writing about a movement she never felt for. So, why do it?

She gets to be a part of the new art trend!*

In researching Smith's output for this period, one finds a disregard for the 1980s as a juncture which defines the late-Twentieth and subsequently early Twenty-First Century global art market. This avoidance of understanding market forces in art making is not necessarily new to the 1980s, though is no secret that critical main-stream writing in the 1970s was still quite embroiled in formalist battles—a result of the late-vanguard American conceptual movements on the mid 1960s.

Let's compare Smith's version with art historian and critic Irving Sandler's account of the 1980s in his Art of the Post Modern Era:
Art-world attention in the late 1980s was focused on the burgeoning art market. If it seemed to be mushrooming in the early and middle years of the decade, that was nothing compared with the boom that began in 1987. In 1979-80, only fourteen postwar paintings sold for $1 million or more at Christie's and Sotheby's; in 1987-88, the figure rocketed to $121. In the same season, the two auction houses together sold over $3 billion worth of art. Robert Hughes cautioned that art prices had gotten so high that the market could easily go bust. (p. 519)
Smith seem to gloss over the art market's shaping effect during the 1980s.
For a long time, that seemed to be the case. Over the last quarter-century, ’80s painting has tended to be ignored, if not maligned for the macho persona projected by some of its practitioners, and for reheating the art market after the relatively quiet, supposedly pure ’70s.
Observe the critic's flair for the superficial: The 1980s is about stardom, gloss & macho posturing (a stereotypical parade of gossipy insiders)
The Neo-Expressionists were an instant hit. The phrases “art star” “sellout show” and “waiting list” gained wide usage, sometimes linked to artists you’d barely heard of. Appearances in glossy magazines became routine. And many people were not happy. The Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd wrote that “talent may strike” Mr. Salle and that Mr. Schnabel “may grow up.” Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, a leading art theorist, labeled them “ciphers of regression” —insignificant, backward daubers who would soon disappear.
If you want to critique the moment, why not talk of the market fever of this period? The money flowing to Wall Street by the effects of Reaganomics, the strong Japanese yen pushing aggressively the auction houses, instigating a secondary market of speculation —as opposed to the so called primary market of artists, galleries and collectors.

What needs to be addressed is the '80s boom from its economic side.

The 1980s signal the beginning of the gap between the rich and middle class. The move from late-industrial to financial capitalism was accelerated by technology, which increased the demand for skilled workers relative to their supply, with freer trade reinforcing the effect. Then comes the institutional of economy-driving-public policy: deregulation, and the weakening of unions.

Francesco Clemente, Scissors and Butterflies, (1980s)

Neoexpressionism was a global movement (scroll down to the countries and artists in this Wikipedia article), with very strong exponents in Italy (Transavanguardia) and Germany.

Let's come back to Sandler's behind-the-scenes approach:
In the late 1980s, the new German painting had become so familiar and had come to include so many patently mediocre followers that the promotion on its behalf backfired. The New York art world was taken aback by the quantity of mannerist German painting in the BerlinArt, curated by Kynaston McShine at the Museum of Modern Art in 1987. This glut was even more fully exposed in the Refigured Painting at the Guggenheim Museum in 1989. (p. 451)
Michael Brenson 1986 article Is Neo Expressionism An Idea Whose Time Has Passed for the New York Times paints a much more complex picture. An alert witness, he provides a rich and tentative picture of the events —as they unfold. He is keen in pointing the emergence and decline of Neo Expressionism as much more than just egos and entertainment. Brenson makes a point that Smith's article overlooks: institutional complicity.
Just as serious as questions about dealers and artists involved with Neo-Expressionism are the questions about museums. These institutions have reached a point, at least in New York, where they are almost incapable of providing any guidance or direction. What does it mean when museums just about trample each other on the way to the same young artists studios and when they do not offer the public a perspective that could clarify what the rush is all about?
The rush, the rush, this is what contemporary art is about!

At Miami Bourbaki, we refer to this contemporary art rush as arthoodication, the art of profiting while appearing almost—prudently— beneficent.

How does it work?

By exhibiting art/commodities, by transforming such art/commodities from "unknown" or "forgotten" to "highly desirable," with art publicity campaigns (what we call artblicity).

Georg Baselitz, Self Portrait I, 1980s

This is precisely what Smith does (perhaps reluctantly) here.

Which brings us to Smith's use of "irresistible" (above). Her use of the adjective is the equivalent of a Freudian Versprecher (you say what you don't mean).

(time to unveil the marionette)

Does Smith realize that she is the chosen one to bring back the 1980s from 30 years of market oblivion as the next thing?

(here comes the puppeteer)

Smith follows the lead from the curator in charge of the fulsomeness, & the apparatus behind the effort, which mobilizes other curators, collectors, dealers, and at least a museum director.

Ready to follow the system's artblicity?

The Whitney Revisits the '80s, a Decade of Macho and Money. —The New York Times

The powerful excitement of the decade has been languishing in a blind spot of art history. An exhibit at the Whitney comes to the rescue.The New Yorker 

An absorbing group show that brings together about 40 paintings by as many artists. —WNYC

A show of 1980s American painting at the Whitney Museum includes serious and playful meditations on sexuality, AIDS, wealth, and politics. —The Daily Beast

Plus more at Timeout,  Intelligence Magazine,  Cultivating Culture,  Hyperallergic and so on,

(yeap, the same artblicity that back in the day legitimized the 1980s painting generation)

There is always a price to pay. In the end, Smith's nonchalant attitude toward history —particularly the 1980s— makes her article on the 1980s painting as superficial as frosting.

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* When it comes to history, Smith is willfully redundant. Here's a Smith quotable (scroll all the way down the article):  ... history is always in flux. Each rewriting, like each writing, will be reworked by subsequent generations. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

see the roachface you roachphobics?


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Let's bring forth the following conjecture:
Being signifies on the basis of the one-for-the-other of substitution of the same for the other.*
Why not apply this conjecture to the blattoidea member above?

A cockroach can never be a who, even for an expert phenomenologist in otherness like Levinas: he simply forfeits the question.

He's concerned with human otherness.

Heidegger comes a bit closer, but he declares the animal kingdom as weltarm (poor in world).

But insects got to have being. This question cannot be superfluous:

What's the cockroach's being?

Obviously, this is not up to the cockroach. It's up to us.   

Can one bridge the seemingly incommensurable man/insect gap?

(with about 1,000,000 brain cells, cockroaches may posses proto-consciousness!)

paired structures called mushroom bodies in a cockroach brain play a key role in navigation.

Getting "close" to the insect means using whatever intentionalität available to find sameness in difference.

Franz Kafka's man-to-insect transformation in Metamorphosen is a fruitful exercise, but Kafka was not really interested in the phenomenological side of the insect as much as presenting a "human insect" prototype.

Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector offers a deeper phenomenological analysis in her The Passion according to HG:
The cockroach, with its dangling white matter, kept looking at me, but I do not know if it really saw me (I do not know how a cockroach sees). But she and I looked at each other (and I do not know how a woman sees).
in Lispector's metaphysical comparison (human) mental-states are as intractable a problem as the cockroach's hypothetical gaze.
... in the eyes of the cockroach I could see my own existence. In the world we were meeting there are several ways of looking: you look the other without seeing it; one has the other; one eats the other; one is just in the corner and the other is there too. The cockroach was not looking at me with its eyes but with its body.
Cockroaches have 360º vision, which make up for the flatness of their bodies. each eye contains about 2,000 lenses, which means that their reality is not static. They assimilate a dizzying multiplicity at any given time. Lispector's conclusion is quite advanced.

In the phenomenology of Merleau Ponty the gaze has fundamental properties. Seeing means being drawn into a particular dimension of being, let's say, a slice of being to which the perceiving body is not foreign. 

Is that why Lispector concludes the cockroach sees with its body?

Was Lispector aware of phenomenologists insistence on the importance of the gaze? i dunno. what's important is that she cares for the insect's gaze. she echoes Merleau-Ponty's advice:

... "with the first vision ... there is initiation, ... the opening of a dimension that can never again be closed."** 

This is a crucial point: that "first vision" is not exempt from horror (human's and the cockroach's,  i bet). that horror is the beginning. without the horror there would be no future hope of empathy. for later Levinas, the face is synonymous with diachrony, i.e., lapsing of time, from time immemorial when both human and cockroach share an ancestor.  

Clearly, Lispector finds common ground in our shared prehistory.
What I saw was life looking back at me. How to name that horrible, raw matter, that dry plasma. While I recoiled inward, I felt a dry nausea, I was falling into the very roots of my identity. Centuries and centuries in the mud --wet mud, filled with life; moving with excruciating slowness.
A shared fate with insects --in the Permian primordial mud?

If there are eyes there is a face. What a coincidence! According to Levinas the encounter between self and other is given by the face.

Do cockroaches have faces?

In Violence and Metaphysics, Jacques Derrida belabors Levinas' idea of the encounter with the other:
What then is this encounter...? Neither representation, nor limitation, nor conceptual relation to the same. The ego and the other do not permit themselves to be dominated or made into totalities by a concept of relationship.  
Derrida doesn't have a non-human being in mind. a face-to-face encounter is always a human affair. yet Lispector's analysis addresses the insect's otherness via visage.

Now, is there another way to access the insect's being?

The human/insect distance is not without riddles:  we fall for the illusion of approaching difference to reach sameness, but that's a circular trap. can we abstract both insect and human likeness to seek a more hierarchical animal likeness?

Even if the heuristics may look a bit fuzzy, positing the problem already hints @ solution.  

when do we start?

(to be continued)
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* Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being (Duquesne University Press, 2009), p. 26. **Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible (Northwestern University Press, 1979), p. 151.

Monday, February 6, 2017

What's Trumplogic?


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Let's take Donald Trump's first tweet above:

Any negative polls are fake news,

No matter how many, all?

What a bizarre conjecture. Given any poll range from positive to negative, N (a negative poll) automatically becomes a mathematical possibility. The only false possibility is, well, an impossibility.

Which makes said tweet a one-of-a-kind conclusion for a POTUS!

Given the seriousness of the office and the importance of the claim, I offer the following points:

1- Trump feels infallible,*
2- Any disagreement with POTUS makes you a FAKE (an emotivist consequence of #1),
3- The rejection of any negative poll as long as it comes from the "liberal media" = FAKE NEWS (a consequence of #1 & #2),
4- Trumpian for "I don't buy it" (indeed, because #1-#3),

Observe that
Any positive polls are NOT FAKE,

become as baffling as the tweet in question.

What's the logic here? I surmise a possible justification with Trump's second tweet above:

I call my own shots largely based on an accumulation of data,

That is to say, Trump's "accumulation of data" unfailingly support his declaration in the first tweet.

But isn't such "accumulation of data" Trump's own assessment which as we know discounts "any negative polls" as FAKE?

Top-to-bottom wacky!

This form of unreasoning will be referred to from here on as Trumplogic.


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*The infallibilist may not see himself as infallible. Trump understands that he can make mistakes, though he actually believes he doesn't make any. And all evidence to the contrary is only seen by the infallibilist as plain wrong, FAKE, etc. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

How praise becomes sycophantic flattery

Marjorie Welish, Before After Oaths Gray 4, 2013 (via Art News)

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Happy Friday. Looking for art news & I find this review at what a chanceArt News!

This is how critic and Art News editor Barbara A. McAdam opens her review of Marjorie Welish's show of abstract paintings at Art 3 Gallery:
In her stunning, tightly focused show at Art 3 Gallery, “Some Differences,” inveterate poet, critic, and painter Marjorie Welish strikes one of her most successful attitudes—showing, not telling, how she thinks.
MacAdam favors a laudatory entrance,

stunning, tightly focused, inveterate poet, critic and painter, her most successful attitudes,

in a mere 32-word paragraph!

I don't know McAdam, neither Welish. I'm after these art reviews to show the invisible hand of arthoodication.

Which brings me to epideictic rhetoric. Here Clytemnestra implores to Achilles:
... for when the good are praised in some fashion, they hate their praisers if they praise to excess.*
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*Euripides, Ifigenia at Aulis, (translation  Kovacs) 2005.