Friday, February 23, 2007

My review of Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film at the Phillips Collection is in this week's Washington City Paper.

Read it here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On Thursday one of the panels I attended was "Painting and Plurality: Schisms, -Isms, and the Difficulty of Definition." Barry Schwabsky was the discussant. Most of the talk focused on the problems of pluralism, of contemporary painting as winking, self-conscious pastiche, of most young painters' heavy reliance on irony and self-parody--the usual stuff.

Robert Mertens from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, presented a paper on corporatism in art. Mertens is a big fan of John Ralston Saul's book, The Unconscious Civilization. Here's a taste of what he had to say:

[Corporatism produces] not wisdom or goodness, but cleverness. The currency of corporatism is that of power, secrecy, efficiency, accounting, competition--but above all, certainty. Its systems are constructed from the assumption of correctness. It focuses on managerial methods, and rewards productivity over creativity...It assumes that all functions are alike and can be subjected to universal managerial standards.
Like Arthur Danto, Mertens seems fond of Hegel; he spent some time talking about art as a sort of midway point between nature and reason. But Mertens definitely isn't a fan of Danto's formulation of the art world. In his essay, "The Art World Revisited: Comedies of Similarity", Danto concludes that whether or not an object can be considered a work of art depends upon the "discourse of arguments"--historical explanations generated by the jostling of people engaged in the field of cultural production. Whether or not something is or isn't fine art is decided by a set of explanations, and those explanations relate to one another historically.

Mertens doesn't like this. He described Danto's vision of the artworld as a closed system dependent on the verdicts of specialists and experts--a result, then, of corporatism in the arts.

This is exactly the opposite of how I've always thought of Danto's essay. The discourse requires participation and a baseline of understanding of the terms involved. But that participation happens at many levels, and is directly opposed to what Danto calls the "institutional theory of art"--the idea that museum professionals impose art judgements and hierarchies by fiat, and that those judgements are infallible, immutable.

Danto talks about Warhol's Brillo Box, and how it came to be considered art. In that story, in 1965, Dr. Charles Comfort, the director of the National Gallery of Canada, declares that the work isn't art. Yet Danto, a philosopher trying his hand at writing criticism, and Warhol, a graphic designer who decides he wants to be a famous artist, prevail.

There's definitely something unnerving about the idea that art requires explanations--and that almost no other factors will assure correct judgements. Yet those explanations aren't set. Like history, they form a fluid dynamic, shifting, uncertain, subject to revision. Again, to me, this seems hopeful, and makes participation in the conversation important, meaningful.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'm back. Today I returned from the CAA conference in New York. While I was there, I did some job hunting, heard some panel discussions and papers, and paid a visit to Chelsea. This week I'll share some of the highlights.

One of the more popular panels of the conference was held on Saturday. "A Faustian Bargain? Emerging Artists, Critics, and the Market" consisted of the usual hand-wringing about art fairs and the diminished role of criticism--but it also featured Jerry Saltz and Peter Plagens, who were both brilliant.

Saltz was particularly funny, as you might expect. "I don't think that any artist wakes up first thing in the morning planning to sell his soul to the devil," he said at one point.

"Okay, maybe Jim Dine does," he added.

Unfortunately, I missed the Hans Haacke interview on Friday. Haacke received a rock star reception, and the hall was absolutely packed. I did hear from some folks who managed to get in that the dynamics were a little strange--though the interviewer has apparently known Haacke for awhile, he couldn't resist asking paragraph-long questions that left the artist perplexed, irritated, or unwilling to answer.

For now, I'll leave you with this: On Wednesday, when I arrived, I ran into my friend Barry Scott, a fellow UMCP alum/adjunct. The bad weather had delayed a lot of attendees, so on that first day, the job search tables--where employers would have open information sessions and do informal interviewing--were pretty quiet. Barry took advantage of the situation, sitting down and interviewing for all sorts of jobs, sometimes before he even knew what the position was.

At one point, after presenting his portfolio, he discovered that the job in question was a summer art camp for young girls. Naturally, Barry's paintings feature disembodied phalluses and vaginas, clusters of floppy cartoon breasts, etc.

At least he made an impression.

Pictured: Peter Plagens and Jerry Saltz, 02/17/07

Friday, February 09, 2007

My pick for Seen at Transformer is in this week's City Paper.

Read it here.

I've been a little busy--gearing up for the College Art Association conference in New York next week. I'm planning to sneak out and see a few shows--and to report back to you on what I see.

Next Monday, I'll be at the press preview for the Phillips Collection's new show,
Moving Pictures: American Art and Early Film. Weirdly, the Katzen is having a press preview for their new Duane Hansen show--and additional shows with Dennis Oppenheim, Stanley Lewis, and others--at the same time, on the same day.
Both sound worthwhile, and I'm sure I'll be taking a look at Hansen--but since the Phillips asked for an RSVP by the 5th, and I just got the Katzen announcement today, I'm thinking Jack's going to have a lonely little talk.
Pictured: Etienne-Jules Marey, Étude chromo photographique de la locomotion humaine, 1886

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Where will I be tonight? Why, at the University of Maryland Art Gallery, of course.

There's an opening from 6:00 to 8:00pm for Out of Place, a show featuring works by Michele Kong, Laure Drogoul, Laura Burns, and a bunch of other fine folks from Baltimore and beyond.

Afterwards, UMCP grad students will be having open studios. Go see what the kids are up to these days.

Pictured: Laura Burns, Dirt, Lambda print w/rocks, 2006

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Saw Transformer's current show of street photography, Seen, on Saturday. I'll have a pick for that this week in the CP.

In the coming months, I'm hoping to start providing some audio content here--podcasts of interviews with local artists and gallerists. I'll be getting some help from my friend, Sean Tubbs. Sean has a site that mostly runs content about Charlottesville and SW Virginia, Charlottesville Podcasting Network.

powered by ODEO

As an experiment, I'm posting a recent piece from his site that caught my attention. It's an interview with Spocko, the San Francisco blogger who fought hate speech on his local ABC/Disney-owned radio station by getting corporations to pull their ads.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My piece on Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965 at the NGA is in this week's City Paper.

Read it here.

It's my first gallery feature of the new year, and my first opportunity to work with our new arts editor, Mark Athitakis. Both were good firsts.
Pictured: Jasper Johns, Skin with O'Hara Poem, 1963/1965