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Thursday, April 28, 2016

the emperor’s art -- a critical review

The irreverent child who stood up in back to proclaim that the emperor was naked wasn’t exactly embraced thereafter by the invisible suit maker’s guild. He wasn’t liked any better by all the people up front who thought the emperor had been dressed just fine. Same as anyone who jostles the status quo, he was probably pretty much ignored at the time, folks looking down checking email.

Maybe he was just feeling contrary that day, but let’s say there’s a chance he just got tired of the emperor’s bullshit. It’s only reasonable to ask what sort of mutant is immune to what ‘everybody else thinks,’ but it turns out lots of people in the back couldn’t even see the emperor, felt left out and didn’t care. They were more interested in what was going to keep them warm in winter, and actual cloth was hard to come by.

As time passes seems the kid was right all along, although he may not get credit for a long, long time. The fable glossed over this part considerably. Finally people begin to notice on their own that much of the art presented in public galleries would be sure-nuff invisible, as in not there, without state support in some form, and that art intended for sale tends toward user-friendly, more substantial and enduring -- a better fit.

The kid elaborates. He says -- concubines sometimes exhibit a haughty attitude toward those who work the streets, and artists who rely on state support in its many forms have been known to deride artwork intended to be sold and owned, and artists who seek a living directly from the public. The mass delusion started there.

Seeing a naked emperor is not that grand, just as seeing through the game doesn’t count on the scoreboard. It isn’t going to be enough to suggest that ‘modern masters’ are so repetitive, so easily faked, and their work so totally unnumbered and unaccounted for that having one at home can be both an object of pride and a source of nagging insecurity, too much drama for something sorta ugly, say a soup can. Before the next big thing comes along, consider what even artists close to home are saying just by making personal art, the genuine article, even as the emperor passes by.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

art and taxes -- the face in the frame

I sounded a word of warning* but who listens? Panama papers reveal big time art as shameless money laundering right out in public. Gigantic piles of play money are moved from one stack to another while real money stays in the pocket, beats the tax code, as brand-name art fills warehouses, there to mature like bogus banknotes. Drug cartels, gun runners, and corporate executives, anyone with excess profits, indulge in these oversight avoidances, hiding their loot in phony foundations while real live people line up for charity backpacks, razors and soap and such, but that’s for someone else to figure out. Political injustices are beyond my jurisdiction and considerably above my pay grade, but we could talk about the art.

What’s the face of corruption look like? Oscar Wilde wrote a story about this ‘insanely handsome and absolutely ruined by wealth’ kind of guy who remains presentable while his portrait degrades over decades revealing his less than savory escapades, his insensitive attitudes. Such an amusing idea. It does seem to be the case that the character of art rather abruptly started making right angle turns about the middle of the last century, and as a reflection of the current culture at the time Warhol sure seemed spot on looking back, sorta sad. Anyway, after all that reckless driving, fender crunching and crashes in the rearview mirror, art finds itself zipping around in a desert with no landmarks, no trees, no hills, no standards of any kind. Big time critics are always bumping into each other, not sure who or what to tout. Is it art -- not known until someone says it is. By now it’s stupid (Hirst, Koons, et al), a food fight for billionaires, and there’s a cost. 

As for the lost revenue, a meager share of the world’s tremendous productivity would be nice. It would be less burden on the rest of us if this fantasy, that squares of fabric are worth millions upon millions based only on the autograph on the back, was forever debunked. In the big museum on the hill, they measure success by how much money they pretend to pull out of circulation each year, acquiring those Rothkos and Judds for storage, and not by how many commoners come through the door -- let’s make it free so we don’t have to count them.

Then there’s the art. Does corruption spoil the portrait of Dorian Grey? Has the art in national magazines, at international art fairs, in teaching institutions almost everywhere been influenced by these money drenched orgies of artificial acclaim, living off tax incentives and the gullibility of glamour seeking rubes? You be the judge, art is very democratic. After decades in which the expression of local artists has been demeaned and disregarded unless they emulated fashion from far away, common folk are seeing art they can relate to on vacant walls all over town. They’re still strangers, artists in studios and fellow citizens, having been kept apart so long, but each is trying to find the other. Art from around here is about to start replacing the department store sailing ships in all those houses.

*from jan 16, 14 -- also note comment


Sunday, April 17, 2016

time to tango -- the music plays

So I am seeing a movement in my hometown and I was there, putting art in restaurants, a window gallery, such as that, all pretty much for naught it would seem, although somewhere seeds sprouted and art is going up all over town. Restaurants are utilizing unused vertical footage, salons are giving clients something to look at and talk about, and almost any business with public contact and a few feet of wall space is being solicited to display art for sale. There’s a website and a crew of art activists out surveying reception areas and public offices, talking to office managers, and it’s good to see. 

A suddenly curious public is beginning to take notice, starting to look. We’ve come to that magic moment when the vagabond has performed a marvelous bar trick, everyone delighted and aghast. At that instant the performer is surrounded by a bubble of unreleased amazement which just might dissipate muttering into the evening’s altered condition, the only reward a free beer at the end of the bar, but at the sound of a ringing coin, a quarter tossed on the table, people all around begin reaching into their pockets to pay for an experience they’ll probably remember in the morning. The vagabond buys a hamburger. It’s like that. 

If instead of just looking at all the art newly available, say that’s nice, someone needs to ask how much is this piece and would the artist take installments? When art comes off the wall in someone’s business, restaurant, or salon the people who work there begin to see the art a little differently, and might look a little harder themselves. In a house, say what’s that, art starts an interesting conversation, and just a spark of acceptance could turn into a grass fire of acquisition throughout endless subdivisions, condos and offices around here. All it takes is that ringing sound, the first coin. 

The first part is happening now. After years of being marginalized, an accessible art is finding exposure to the general public. Outdoor painting events in familiar locations enable anyone to compare the ‘actual’ to its rendering by an individual artist, and also to compare the ability of artists, one to another, a big chunk of insight for one afternoon. In a sudden blossoming, businesses have been persuaded that hanging original art is a better way to freshen their public interface than a new desk for the receptionist, carpet, and chairs, and bars, restaurants, and salons are all watching each other putting up art.

You, citizen in good standing, gentleman by act of congress, independent lady of character and conviction, do you like art? Would you like to have it around to look at, have it influence your community and change the future? Go on and donate to the bottomless fund if you must, but the most meaningful contribution to the future of art would be to toss the first, or the second, or the third coin. Buy some art, and off the wall straight from the artist could be a pretty good deal. Check area galleries for prices. This is the necessary second part, the missing half of the map, the other hand needed to make a sound. 

Will there be a grass roots art movement around here, one that supports independent artists and establishes a regional tradition of art acquisition and ownership, as well as developing a regional voice based on our character and vision -- time will tell. The artists have done their part, made the art and found exposure. Now it’s up to everybody else. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

power objects -- modern methods

Back before the organized rituals of civilization, and then on back forever the earth seemed a different place. Big bright stars passed overhead at night, and it was difficult to tell what the day would bring, what with no nightly news to keep folks informed. Almost every community everywhere had an office for the most original person among them, the most extreme, the least likely to respect everyone else's rules and they were called ‘shaman.’ Theirs wasn’t a command responsibility, and though they might be called on to advise, no one expected them to lead. They had a different job.

They talked to spirits, tripped on local herbs, and spent a lot of time alone, an outsider yet with revered status almost everywhere humans went on the planet, skin color, skull structure, or dietary habits notwithstanding. Who were these spirits and what was the nature of these encounters the average tribal member was likely never to ask. They were too busy with the maize, wiping out the megafauna, propagating by local custom and didn’t care to know the details. 

Almost all shaman were familiar with ‘power objects,’ typical stock and trade for the profession, and had their own methods for producing them. Were they actually potent in themselves or did they simply produce powerful placebo effects for their subjects has been difficult to say, and we can guess the quality varied from crystalline embodiments of cosmic wisdom to little more than tourist trinkets, depending on the inherent talent and insight of the shaman, as well as the discernment of their public. 

We are ready to reveal the basic method used to create ‘power objects,’ although there are bound to be regional differences, subtle cultish overtones, and always room for individual variation, generation to generation, one shaman to the next. Incantation and pharmaceuticals aside, the idea is to concentrate human attention on an object, a pipe head, a pouch of feathers, and to hold it there long enough for some of the shaman’s essence to leak over. It was never supposed to be scientific. 

Does it work these days? Well, the notion of shaman has been pushed aside by technicians and TV and modern conveniences, but the profession hasn’t died away. It’s just retreated, rebranded, accepted a niche in the modern architecture of human institutions and now they call themselves ‘artists.’ In a general way their methods have remained as well, pouring all of their experience, skill, and thought into an object, a square of canvas, a metal sculpture, a hand-made pot. Whether or not these objects are actually potent in themselves turns out to be ‘in the eyes of the beholder.’ Bought for visual appeal, they’ll become an asset to their owner as they are accorded due respect, for how and why they were made and for who made them.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

back from the dead -- paintings with your haircut

Did painting die? Haven’t seen it in a public exhibit for a while, these days they favor the conceptual. Seems painting was left on the platform when the ‘contemporary art’ train pulled away, standing there with its bags so forlorn. Lots of laughing, loud music, and fluttering banknotes trail behind as the train floats away on silvery rails of mutual affirmation through fantasy landscapes of refuge stuck together, plastic and spray paint, such as that. 

Thing is the ‘folk’ like painting, and take an interest when it’s around. The local example would be about a twenty five year run for an annual open exhibit called the ‘nude,’ presented by our area art league, which finally became so popular they went insane and started charging admission to the openings and still had parking on the grass. That’s about the time painting died for them, don’t know why. As academics came on board a new sensibility began to arise which preferred dealing with the human form obliquely, by innuendo and sly pun, fetishes and parts, in clinical terms, total dissociation. The content tended toward degeneration with a prejudice, sex acts and bruises and tits on a spoon, and so in the end they were left with just a big semi-formal social event spiced with live nude 'art models’ -- ‘eyes wide shut’ style, a travesty.

After soul-searching hiatus the nude has reemerged transformed into a new entity called ‘the body,’ a sophisticated pastiche of urbane and witty anatomical interpretation, but the product is unlikely to keep the desk volunteer awake on long quiet afternoons. Occasionally people wander in, lured perhaps by a swell review, and leave looking quizzical, unlikely to visit again -- there’s some questionable stuff. Sitting in their gallery to listen to a public talk about high-tone collecting, I found myself face to face with a grid of female breasts and arm-length black gloves doing odd semaphores reminiscent of playboy magazine circa 1955. I wasn’t sure of the intent, some irony wrapped in an enigma I suppose. It was brutally unappealing in several regards, and that may have been the point, but the sad fact remains that not many people are going to park the car to see it. The plastic revolver held to the lips of the naked lady signifying male brutalization, so it says on the wall, is patently offensive all around -- you nailed it. 

You guys took the wrong fork in the road, maybe you just got lost thinking the nude show was popular because the heathen public was coming to your gallery to see naked, but they really don’t care about that. They came to those exhibits because they like painting, and the ‘nude’ gave them a chance to compare painters from all over the US, some overseas. It was a pretty good exhibit.

They could do it again, of course, and so much easier now that the public is beginning to discover their latent desire for creativity and enduring value around the house. Pick out a theme with or without clothes, offer a prize, grant some recognition, and present the work of regional artists juried by a panel of people who own art, by people who make art, by anyone who actually participates. Experts and scholars, not so fast.

Painting didn’t die. It just fell out of favor with an extremely thin slice of public sensibility, a snooty self-selecting cabal of speculators and public funded literati who genuflect for the ultra-bored super wealthy, forever reveling in their cosmic uniqueness. It’s a gas. Fact is average folks like painting, pick it up pretty quickly if there’s enough around, and it’s going up in salons, bars, and restaurants all over town as we speak. ‘Contemporary art’ is too smart by half, and better beg a little harder for those tax-deductible donations and public funds if it expects to survive the onslaught of locally produced art bought and sold, area artists becoming recognized by their work, all part of a burgeoning art awareness that’s about to forget them.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

art pulls a plow -- reaping the sowed

So what does art do? Well, it soaks up wealth, actually hides wealth at the top end, those six and seven figure masterpieces fodder for creative accounting, philanthropy and loopholes, such as that. This is, in fact, the side of art most likely to make it to the evening news, and it’s also the way, by and large, art is sold. “The price of art is what someone else is willing to pay for it,” hark the gallery maven’s oily refrain. For the most part the charts and schedules they pull out to establish legitimacy and consensus approval of an artist are beside the point, unless of course you’re trying to hide your insecurity and feel safety in numbers. They have the numbers.

Art can also be a signifier of cultural station, emblematic of tribal affiliation, along with all levels of aspiration to same extending down to quaint. Did I see a Jackson Pollock, enamel drizzled on a sheet of styrofoam, over the bed in a cheap motel in Missouri? Yep. Entrepreneurial arty types cast about trying to find some trademark, some pattern which can be repeated over and over so that everybody can own a little piece of their eventual celebrityhood. The successful ones produce an easily identifiable trophy art, and friends and acquaintances already intimate with the price points are duly impressed.

Art, just as an idea, pulls an enormous train of bureaucratic agencies and non-profits, teaching institutions and grant bestowing foundations, all shielded from the exposure the average fast food worker has to taxes. They’re also shielded from outside scrutiny, always striving to promote an art several leagues beyond common sensibility, justifying state support because no reasonable person would buy any. Art staggers under the weight. 

That said, there was a painting my father brought home, from a pawn shop probably, with no discernible provenance whatever, a wood hut in deep snow, such snow, melted and refrozen on top, crusty and glistening in the sun over deep violet shadows. It got away. I wish I could see it again. I wouldn’t care if it wasn’t worth a dime. This is a reason for art I couldn’t explain, and having read a bit, feel satisfied no one else does a good job either. I will suggest that a painting, most especially these days as our group mind dissolves into a digital data base, is quiet testimony to a more enduring connection to physical reality, the realm of the senses, the front yard of the individual.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

political end times -- personal detox

Listening carefully to the speeches of the nineteen eighties it was possible to picture an evolving planet where once downtrodden peoples would create glorious new prosperities, from oxen to BMW’s in a generation, but they didn’t mention the rest of it -- that the international dollar, seeking its own level, would go up in poor countries but down you know where. Well, they were right, it’s been happening with consequences. 

This feeling of being economically abandoned is all around but no one’s sure who to blame, so a lot of national politics simply expresses resentment and frustration. We have toxic conversations and retreat into tribalism, everyone seems to notice. There are currents in public life seeking solutions and a stratospheric class, insulated by immense wealth, who could stand to see it get a little worse -- an unremarkable attitude among ruling classes, history shows. Not complaining, just making an observation.

The democratic solution would be to unhoard the wealth, but there’s bound to be resistance. I’ll suggest art in the meantime. Each work of art in your house is one person’s unique expression, and pretty soon you’ll become friends. After a day of inching to work and back, being upbeat with the boss, being talked down to on the news, a little personal affirmation feels pretty good, and having an original painting in the living room can act as a slow release comfort and confidence restorer. This effect has never been scientifically tested, but anecdotal evidence is high.

Sorry if that sounds all mystical. It’s not the discussion usually applied to art in national magazines, in the local press, at all. It is, however, a fairly common notion among people who own original art, although they may not think of it in those terms. The real test would be, are these people more thoughtful and humane, more open-minded and yet more discerning than they would have been without owning and living with art, and the answer is yes, almost all of them would say so. Could art change your world? Perhaps not in the strictest sense, but will it have more depth, more detail, and will it seem ‘more real’ -- uh huh.