Friday, February 22, 2008

Why Not Both?

The Guardian's Jonathan Jones offers a well-considered essay on the meaning of public art today. Not long ago I cited a piece Jones wrote about the mediocre public works spouting up throughout London. Now he takes his critical eye on a wider tour of public art throughout Britain with an admittedly skeptical but hopefully open mind. The conclusions he draws are sound and certainly compassionate, if ultimately, for me anyway, somewhat disheartening:
Art is too important to be left to the art critics. It is about much more than aesthetics. Art is language and public art is public speech. Oratory is often brash, dishonest, vulgar - but without it there would be no communal life at all. So what we have to ask about the rage for this art in Britain now is not "Is it any good?" but "What are we saying, through it, about ourselves?"
In his tour, Jones cites some of the most popular public works in Britain, including perhaps the most celebrated, Antony Gormley's Angel of the North:



Jones' conclusions about this piece are lovely, I must say:
The Angel of the North takes on a very specific meaning when you walk towards it past the tower blocks and the Sure Start centre that nuzzle the hills directly to its north. The statue from here seems not high but wide. It really does seem a guardian of the city, its wings spread wide to enfold everyone. I start to understand why people love it.

Yet its meaning is enigmatic. Is it really, as the sculptor says, about the transition from an industrial to an information society? How? And if it can look redemptive and generous, a loving angel with wings spread wide, it can also look, the closer you get, minatory under a roiling winter sky. This could be the Angel of the Apocalypse. Its dark silhouette on the horizon as you pass an estate is not necessarily reassuring. What has it witnessed in its 10-year history? Promoters tell us how it has helped the city's regeneration, but no British city is all culture and shopping. Don't tell me the Angel has not witnessed its share of mayhem - don't tell me no one has seen its brooding form as they lose consciousness after a random act of violence. And this is why it works. Gormley's Angel is an overwrought image, a Romantic image. It has a sense of tragedy.
But he has far fewer kind words for Thomas Heatherwick's B of the Bang in Manchester. Nicknamed "B of the Bollocks" by some locals, this giant suspended exploding star sculpture is not only having some technical difficulties....
It cost £1.4m and the council is taking the legal action because, to put it crudely, bits have fallen off - huge spokes of metal that could impale someone on their way down.
....it has inspired some of the harshest words for a public piece I've ever read:
The suspension of this object in space, tottering over a road, is the best thing about it. But it's bad art; in fact I think the word "art" overpraises it. It's a piece of design, like a decoration devised for a shopping centre. There's something planned and corporate about it. As sculpture, it has no force. The supposed meaning is cynically populist. The title refers to athlete Linford Christie, who said he tries to start a race not merely on the bang of the starter's gun but on "the B of the bang". In its astral form - lines of force exploding from a central point, standing against Manchester's big empty sky - it is also, obviously, an evocation of the cosmic Big Bang. But whatever it's saying, it's saying it weakly; the image of dynamism is briefly effective from a distance. In reality, it's a very static thing.


There's undoubtedly enthusiasm for public art in the UK. From the Fourth Plinth contest in Trafalgar Square to the high-profile projects currently underway in places as far from London as Scotland, where "sculptor Andy Scott has got the green light to create the world's largest sculpted horses at the eastern entrance of the Forth and Clyde Canal" [model seen at top], as well as an odd spirit of civic competition that has led Kent to taunt Gormley's popular piece with their own Angel of the South, which promises to be twice as tall, it's clear that public art is a crowd-pleasing venture in Britain. Indeed, as Jones notes,
Public art, by which I mean art that aspires to speak not to a limited gallery-going public but to the entire population, is the defining British art of our time.
Still, there's no escaping the fact that some of the works (see again the earlier post on Jones and the dreadful "lovers" at London's St. Pancras train station) are just plain awful. Again, Jones notes:
[O]ne art expert, Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane's Museum in London, denounced all these "Frankenstein monster memorials".
Hence my aforementioned disheartened read of Jones' piece. It's one thing for an anthropologist to assert that dreck in the form of popular public art serves a societal purpose, but it pains me to read an art critic forced to do so. Indeed, it seems to me that Jones' piece reveals a swallowing of some bitter pill prescribed by his editors in response to an avalanche of complaints:
As a columnist recently complained in the Guardian, a lot of "bunkum" has been written by snobs about this art that captures peoples' hearts. I've written a fair amount of it myself, and don't take back a word when it comes to the critic's legitimate job of honestly assessing art as it looks to me. But when it comes to art that is redefining the landscape of Britain, there are other ways of seeing it, other points of view - and I want to shift perspective.
Personally, I don't want Jones to shift perspective. Let that complaining columnist defend the dreck. I want Jones to stick to his art critic guns. I appreciate the insights he brought to this tour, but I hate to think they might subconsciously soften any future critiques of the works in progress.

Moreover, I want Jones, or someone, to insist that it doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. There can be critically acclaimed and wildly popular public art. Koons' "Puppy," for example, might not have been everyone's cup of tea (what art is?), but overall it still managed to satisfy some of the requirements for both the "snobs" and the general public. By caving into the notion that public art doesn't have to be high quality to be "good" public art, critics will be abandoning us to more and more spectacle over substance.

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49 Comments:

Blogger CAP said...

'Public art, by which I mean art that aspires to speak not to a limited gallery-going public but to the entire population, is the defining British art of our time'.

Why should a 'gallery-going public' be any more limited than that select population within reach of work located, presumably outdoors, on presumably public property? Being outdoors DOES NOT make the work any more popular, visited or appreciated, if anything quite the opposite.

And in what way is this the 'defining' British art of 'our time'? Is he saying there is more outdoors art in Britain than indoor examples? That there is a particular style to outdoors works, not available to gallery based ones? Much less, that there might be works capable of being sited EITHER outdoors or inside?

This all strikes me as extremely dubious, but so, so Guardian....

2/22/2008 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Why should a 'gallery-going public' be any more limited than that select population within reach of work located, presumably outdoors, on presumably public property?

Hear! Hear!

And in what way is this the 'defining' British art of 'our time'? Is he saying there is more outdoors art in Britain than indoor examples?

I took that to mean he feels the public's enthusiasm for recent public works is translating into public support for art across the board and not the other way around. But I can see where that too is still somewhat unclear.

Wonderfully indepth blog you have there, by the way, CAP.

2/22/2008 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

By caving into the notion that public art doesn't have to be high quality to be "good" public art, critics will be abandoning us to more and more spectacle over substance.

Aha. So you're admitting that there is such a thing as quality.

The problem with the art described in that article is, in a nutshell, that it's kitschy. Which is what happens to public taste when 'elite' galleries, critics and art institutions deliberately shut ordinary people out of the aesthetic discourse with arcane rhetoric, impenetrable theory, and visually bankrupt 'art.' Not to put to fine a point on it--with shit. They're quite right not to pay attention to it, since it has nothing to say to them. But without any attunement to real issues of quality, aesthetic and conceptual, public taste reverts to the lowest common denominator.

Kundera defines 'kitsch' as 'the pretense that shit does not exist.' In my view, high-quality art has to balance itself between kitsch and shit; it can't deny the darkness, but it must acknowledge the universal. This public art in England seems to me to be attempting to appeal to and acknowledge the universal, but without much of an aesthetic compass. It is this fact that Jones is struggling to come to terms with in his article.

In order for there to be less of a schism between 'elite' art and 'public' art, we have to invite regular people into the artistic discourse. And sometimes those regular people are going to say, "This is shit." And sometimes we need to be open to the notion that perhaps they're right.

2/22/2008 11:39:00 AM  
OpenID dorfmeister said...

One can argue that in public art spectacle is substance. And the more of it, the better. For example, one can think anything about Jeff Koons as an artist, but this is great public art. And very meaningful. And all about the spectacle, I think.

2/22/2008 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Which is what happens to public taste when 'elite' galleries, critics and art institutions deliberately shut ordinary people out of the aesthetic discourse with arcane rhetoric, impenetrable theory, and visually bankrupt 'art.' Not to put to fine a point on it--with shit.

Name one gallery or critic or art institution that deliberately shuts ordinary people out of the discourse.

This is such a straw man argument, I'm surprised it stands up on its own for you at all.

2/22/2008 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

You caught me out, dear Edward. Indeed I was being hyperbolic; I was getting carried away, and definitely projecting. Obviously I cannot discern the motives of every artist, critic, administrator or dealer in the canon. I am certain that the vast majority of them are absolutely sincere.

I can only say that if I, personally, were to enter a museum or a gallery, scatter a few random objects around, and paste a six-paragraph page of explanation for my endeavor upon the wall, incorporating phrases such as 'exploring the boundaries of reification within the liminal object as manifested by racial sublimation,' I would not be making a sincere effort to communicate with the hoi polloi. I would either be messing with people's heads, or I would be trying to establish an appearance of intellectual superiority, or possibly both.

2/22/2008 06:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

And all about the spectacle, I think.

This reinforces something I wrote on the last thread, that conceptualist talent is social, not artistic.

Name one gallery or critic or art institution that deliberately shuts ordinary people out of the discourse.

I imagine that no gallery or critic or art institution thinks of itself or himself as deliberately shutting ordinary people out of the discourse, but that's exactly what happens when said party opts to use a particular kind of jargon-choked language. It's a choice, and they make it in favor of an insider audience. Examples of this are so easy to find that I'm surprised that you offered the above challenge. Artforum is always good for a sample. Let's see... Yep. "In lieu of a catalogue, Palais magazine will devote an issue to this venture, further mobilizing Gréaud's proposed constellation of interconnectivity." I can think of one gallery catalogue essayist who recently claimed that the artist under consideration "decenters the work and its meaning into an expanded field of massculturally produced protagonists, techniques, and supplements that simultaneously articulate, maintain, and subvert the logic of capital by both instantiating it and continuously deferring it." One could argue that the whole point of this kind of language is to shut ordinary people out of the discussion, and in turn allow people who think it means something to bond as the in-group.

Arcane rhetoric and visually bankrupt art are slightly different phenomena. All sorts of objects, some of them quite good, have attracted arcane rhetoric. But art that is really not visual needs arcane rhetoric to operate in the way that it does. If you, as a viewer, don't buy into the insider rhetoric, the items on display fail to transcend their component parts.

2/22/2008 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

One could argue that the whole point of this kind of language is to shut ordinary people out of the discussion, and in turn allow people who think it means something to bond as the in-group.

One would then be guilty of projecting. Just because ...

if I, personally, were to enter a museum or a gallery, scatter a few random objects around, and paste a six-paragraph page of explanation for my endeavor upon the wall, incorporating phrases such as 'exploring the boundaries of reification within the liminal object as manifested by racial sublimation,' I would not be making a sincere effort to communicate with the hoi polloi ...

that in no way whatsoever indicts the person who sincerely communicates in that way and or believes that is the single best way to communicate exactly what it is they're trying to get the world to see. It says something about how YOU communicate.

I know folks think that such efforts are attempts to pull the wool over the public's eyes. What I don't understand though is how students of art history can't recall that the same was said of abstractionists and other ground-breaking artists throughout history. Just because dry conceptualist work isn't your cup of tea in no way means the artist using it is being insincere.

2/22/2008 06:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Sincerity isn't really the issue. The above samples reduce down to banalities and nonsense. That distinguishes the jargon of the art world from the jargon of, say, mathematics, for which the terms signify ideas that have specific but complex definitions. You can't pin down what "mobilize" or "protagonists" means in the above sentences because the point of the prose is tone rather than communication. That tone is one of the signals to the in-group that the work deserves serious attention. I'm sure that they believe that the work deserves serious attention. That doesn't make the writing any less exclusionary.

Like I said, good work has attracted arcane rhetoric. Dumb things were said about the abstractionists - in their favor, no less. But again, art that is really not visual needs arcane rhetoric, in a way that abstraction and pretty much all other art never required. We have ways of signaling each other that involve clear writing. You don't. Our project is overtly elitist but open to anyone who would have it. Your project is overtly egalitarian but walled off with high barriers to entry. Each camp has its consequences to deal with.

2/22/2008 07:13:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

While I disagree with Franklin on a number of points, including the importance of the ‘conceptual’ as an aspect of art-making, I do agree that some of the arcane writing which passes for art criticism or scholarly analysis, serves to obscure rather than illuminate the audience.

This type of rhetoric seems to fall into two classes which reflect back upon the writers.

In one case we have writing which on close reading has minimal content, in essence it is a smoke screen.

In the second case the writer may have made a valid analysis and observations which become obscured by the convoluted rhetoric. I would suggest it would be much more helpful, to the art community as a whole, if these critical observations were expressed using clearer language.

At some point I suspect that the consumer may come to understand that such arcane rhetoric, rather than being some form of ‘secret’ inside knowledge, is in fact, a smoke screen being used to sell inferior goods at inflated prices. While such trickery may have worked in the days when the size of the art market was considerably smaller than it is today, it may well prove, that this will not be the case in the near future as the over-heated art market cools down a bit.

2/22/2008 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Franklin,

Come on, camps are for 8th graders.

2/22/2008 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Firstly, thanks for the compliment Ed. Allow me to return it.

Back to the topic - I’m still suspicious of a) the appeal to the ‘general public’ for popularity in art and b) the appeal to art that meets this dubious demographic.

Why should art appeal to everyone (all of the time, everywhere)? Does science? Religion? Politics? Gardening? Why include people who are indifferent or hostile to art, generally, in the presumed audience for art? If a lot of outdoor works in public spaces seem tepid to the art enthusiast/expert it’s surely because efforts are taken there to appeal to just this ‘lowest common denominator’. Often (but not always) the thinking is that if the work is to occupy a public space, then all of the public are to be considered. The work by definition is dull. This is not snobbery or elitism, it’s just acknowledgement of the fact that art is for people who are actually interested in art, not just for folks who happen to drive past or eat their lunch nearby it.

I also suspect there’s a disguised hostility to certain kinds of art, masquerading here as egalitarianism. It’s not art’s job to appeal to everyone, although it ought to be art’s goal to appeal to anyone. No one should feel denied the opportunity to learn or appreciate art, but this does not mean that art then addresses that disadvantaged segment exclusively. Jones likes this stuff because it’s art for people who don’t really like art.

Britain’s supposed love affair with art patronage currently is largely fuelled by a state operated lottery and the state’s endorsement of widespread gambling (and the many social problems that follow) as a means of raising revenue, cannot be compensated for by a few gaudy baubles tossed to the rabble. If Jones wants to look at public interest in the arts, he’d do better to look a little closer at the roots.

2/22/2008 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I would suggest it would be much more helpful, to the art community as a whole, if these critical observations were expressed using clearer language.

If Artforum expressed its copy in clearer language, you could publish a whole issue on a postcard. (If I were a curator, I would put on a show that featured the art in Artforum's display advertisements in one room and the art covered in the text in another. It would make clear who is buttering who's bread.)

Technical jargon expands when you clarify it, while tonal jargon shrinks. Wikipedia translates "recursion" as a method of defining functions in which the function being defined is applied within its own definition. Whereas "In lieu of a catalogue, Palais magazine will devote an issue to this venture, further mobilizing Gréaud's proposed constellation of interconnectivity" perhaps means that a special issue of Palais will feature Gréaud's work and his ideas about connections. But now the crowd that nods knowingly at the first version doesn't have its signal to do so.

The second excerpt shrinks even more. You can't simultandeously maintain and subvert something, and you can't simultaneously instantiate and defer something. "Massculturally" is a terrible coinage. That leaves us with, maybe, that the work takes its meaning from its commercial environment. But saying as much won't get a review out of Holland Cotter, and that's the point, making the writing akin to a bird call or a mating dance. If you think instead that words should communicate clear ideas, then you're one of those contemptable ordinary people. And if you think beautiful art is the best art, then you're archaic to boot.

Speaking of writing, Jones's powers of self-inflicted confusion are remarkable. At the start he confesses to his membership in Club Snob. A little over halfway through he succeeds in talking himself out of the value of taste. At the end he invites the bulldozer of poplulism to roll over his supine critical self. It's pretty funny stuff.

2/23/2008 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

F. You're guilty of what you are criticizing. zzzzzzzzzz

2/23/2008 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

If you think instead that words should communicate clear ideas, then you're one of those contemptable ordinary people.

"Words" (i.e., units of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning), used correctly, do communicate clear ideas. They have no choice but to do so.

Phrases, on the other hand (being combinations of words), can muddy things up.

If you mean to suggest that phrases should communciate clear ideas, I would agree.

Whether one agrees with that notion or not, however, reflects absolutely nothing about how ordinary or contempible that person is.

One of the clearest writers in the English language (Oscar Wilde) was anything but ordinary. The same is true of Truman Capote and many other of my personal favorites.

The assertions that simplicity = clarity and then jump to conclude that that somehow equals mass appeal (or any other of the multiple assertions that also inversly imply complexity = snobbery) are logically bankrupt, IMO. Clarity and complexity combined is hard work, but certainly possible.

2/23/2008 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

I look forward to that kind of word-by-word dissection of the next comment here from Zipthwung.

You can easily deprive words of meaning, as the above passages demonstrate. But rather than return the English lesson, I'll restate the main point of my comment above without the irony, which clearly eluded you. The arcane rhetoric, by design, excludes the ordinary people who won't understand it, thus sending a message of contempt. You challenged PL to "name one gallery or critic or art institution that deliberately shuts ordinary people out of the discourse." I named two for you. You don't seem to dispute this. Okay then.

The excerpts aren't complex. They're obfuscated. In these cases, the obfuscation indeed equals snobbery.

Sorry, George, I don't know what you mean. Zzzz to you too.

2/23/2008 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

Thank you, Franklin. You expressed, quite clearly, what I meant to say, minus both the hyperbole and the projection.

2/23/2008 09:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simplicity and clarity go often hand-in-hand to separate the ordinary folk from the inside. In a sense clarity can leave us empty, or even totally confused.
There are levels to language. And there are many...

kind of thinking a mountain is pretty close to public language, but is it art?

c.p.

2/23/2008 09:48:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Ed said, …I know folks think that such efforts are attempts to pull the wool over the public's eyes. What I don't understand though is how students of art history can't recall that the same was said of abstractionists and other ground-breaking artists throughout history.

While I think this is a valid point, it may also illustrate the exception. For a number of reasons, I would like to suggest that art is about to go through a significant period of change. The current rhetoric, or jargon if you wish, is linked to the past and will change as well.

If I may speculate:

In the past these changes tended to take form as counter-reactions to the previous paradigms. Now from this hint, I expect the formalists may infer that the pendulum may swing their way. This may be the case but I do not think it will occur as they hope. Both the formalist and conceptualist camps, to use Franklin’s characterization, are now well established, but retrograde modes of thought. I am opposed to this petty division of the art making process and believe that young artists (under 30) tend to see the art making process, as one fabric, to be utilized as necessary.

Obama/Castro/Kennedy

If we look at the current political climate it is evident that we are entering an era of change. The closest parallel would be the late sixties which ushered in Pop Art. Obviously whatever occurs now won’t be the same but there may well be some interesting parallels.

* Pop Art was unexpectedly embraced by a much wider public audience than just the art world insiders. I expect something similar to occur.

* Irony is out. Along with death and taxes, life is ironic enough. Humor is in.

* Conceptualism marries formalism, they have kids.

* Artspeak gets revamped as criticism seeks a larger audience. It will have its own insider jargon, but expressed in a more easily comprehended syntax.

* Art posters will become the next big thing.

Change is in the wind.

2/23/2008 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Aw, change is in the wind again?

2/24/2008 01:22:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The arcane rhetoric, by design, excludes the ordinary people who won't understand it, thus sending a message of contempt. You challenged PL to "name one gallery or critic or art institution that deliberately shuts ordinary people out of the discourse." I named two for you. You don't seem to dispute this. Okay then.

That assertion is problematic for me logically, Franklin: Implying that a statement you made (among the many) that remains momentarily undisputed proves your case. I'm sure you can find a fallacy among your sacthel that describes that tactic.

I haven't gotten to your examples, because I'm still trying to get you to clarify what seems unproven in your set up:

The arcane rhetoric, by design, excludes the ordinary people who won't understand it

By design it excludes someone? Evidence?

2/24/2008 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Ed,
Unless one is trying to dupe the public, arcane rhetoric is a bad business practice, flat out poor marketing.

2/24/2008 11:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It's not a tactic. It has simply turned out that way because you haven't disputed my point. But your tactic seems to be refraining from disputing the point and then saying that the conclusion is invalid because the matter hasn't been settled. It's clever, but I don't know what it's called.

I'm still trying to get you to clarify what seems unproven in your set up

Where were you trying to get me to clarify anything up there?

By design it excludes someone? Evidence?

You want evidence of the design? The evidence of the design is that people don't write that way by accident. Neither do they publish writing that sounds like that by accident. I guess I'm not sure what you're looking for here.

2/24/2008 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Connor said...

All the examples of public art mentioned in this discussion seem to be massive or at least inescapable. But it strikes me that more modestly scaled & presented public art avoids this problem of art world snobbery by being, frankly, ignorable. It doesn't thunder from afar, "I am ART! Bow down to my splendor." It says, "Here I am if you're interested." I'm thinking of the "Poetry in Motion" in NYC subway cars, e.g. -- great short poems from all over the world printed without fuss & posted among the Dr Zizmore ads. Read em if you want to. Lots of people do.

I've just installed 8 of my photos in the Atlantic Ave/Pacific St subway station as part of the MTA's "Art for Transit" program (see more here)& have spent time watching the crowds react to the work. Burdened with bags & packages, hurrying to make a train to work or home, most barely glance at the art. Others walk steadily through the tunnel, sort of crusing the lightboxes but not stopping. A few stop & really look (more when it's not rush hour). The children, I've noticed, often stare wistfully at the bright images as they are dragged along.

Anyway, the people who stop & look closely are NOT necessarily the ones you'd expect. I'd guess a lot of them have never been in an art gallery. I don't think they're worried about whether they're looking at art or not. They're just interested in the pictures.

2/24/2008 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

F. you make a point of this sentence:

"In lieu of a catalogue, Palais magazine will devote an issue to this venture, further mobilizing Gréaud's proposed constellation of interconnectivity"

What is not clear to you about it?

2/24/2008 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What is not clear to you about it?"

Well, I for one do not find that sentence very clear. To begin with, I'm not familiar with Gréaud's proposed constellation of interconnectivity, but that shouldn't matter. A review of a show or discussion of an artist's work should be somewhat understandable to an intelligent reader who isn't already familiar with the artist's work (otherwise, the writer is indeed, by design, keeping the clubhouse doors shut). Perhaps by using different phrasing, for example "further demonstrating/elucidating/enacting Gréaud's ideas", the writer could could invite the uninitiated reader in, rather than keeping her out. "Mobilizing a constellation" is just not a phrase that has a clear meaning. When I read that (and I have more than a passing familiarity with pomo-speak), my eyes glaze over and I get the message "if you don't know what we're talking about, we are not talking to you". Exclusion rather than inclusion.

Oriane

2/24/2008 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definition of the word 'constellation' that relates to the fragment under discussion:

"an assemblage, collection, or group of usually related persons, qualities, or things."

Definition of the word interconnectivity:

"to be or become mutually connected."

Am I wrong to think that the phrase, "constellation of interconnectivity" is a bit redundant and the product of sloppy thinking? From my perspective, that of an art critic, I have a problem with the writing. It is kind of like saying, "The super, humongous, gigantic explostion..." One adjective would have been enough. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that the phrase, "constellation of interconnectivity" is an attempt to dress up the naked emperor.

2/24/2008 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Whetever, it didn't seem opaque to me at all.

2/24/2008 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Ries said...

95% or so of all art is bad.
That includes public art.

So any realistic critic has to accept that a lot of public art is pretty mediocre.

By volume, the vast majority of paintings are hanging in motel rooms- if I were to criticise painting based on what "most of it" looks like, it could be a lot harsher than Jone's opinions on public art.

In most mediums and genres, we take it for granted that we have to sift thru all the sad eyed clowns and seascapes before we can even get to anything worth discussing- but in public art, its very easy to take potshots at a view large, awkward examples of poor quality.

if you are going to seriously discuss public art, you have to include the good stuff. Some of which is in Britain, and some is not.

All this empty posturing about "formalism" or "conceptualism" is meaningless without concrete examples of real artists, and real pieces.
Its easy to construct straw men, and light em on fire.

I would advance Robert Irwin as an interesting subject to focus on- he is without a doubt both "artistic" and "conceptual", and he, himself, is able to explain his work without lowering himself to academic doublespeak, and the Lawrence Weschler book about his early career likewise describes what he is doing and why in very easy to read and comprehend terms.
He is making what I think is some of the best public art these days, navigating the shoals of mediocrity and bureaucracy and still managing to produce profoundly affecting works. Which must, of course, be experienced in person- judging by Jpeg doesnt work for Caraveggio or Picasso, and it is equally ridiculous for large scale, perceptual pieces like Irwin's.

But artists like Irwin, to me, bring it back to the crux of the issue- that is, in any field, be it realistic oil painting, or public art, there are a few greats, and a sea of crap. And the medium, or the philosophy, or the subject matter, has nothing to do with it- instead, it is because and interesting, smart, creative artist has spent years figuring out how to express the way they see the world.

2/24/2008 03:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irwin is a welcome spirit, quite a fresh wind whose projects are hardly about trophy, which a good deal of public art seems to be about: though can't say I dislike Koons' gigantic puppies.
George likes to predict things. It's fine, though some of his predictions have already had babies, and are playing it out--without being predictive.

c.p.

2/24/2008 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Irony is neither in nor out by definition.

I like to reify dead horses as much as the next mystificatory adjective abuser. Fine by me. Remember many of these art writers learned to write from other art writers, are too young or too in the system to see the bigger picture, so their enervated vocabulary is to be expected.

They just want to be and feel smart, just like anyone else who follows fashion, or writes long winded rebuttals to somewhat irrelevant responses to sort of open ended topical propositions.

What I would like to point out, somewhat after the fact, and most crtnly rdntl - is that obfuscatory or mystified language is often the harbinger of more clearly worded yet sometimes prescient statements of what was on everybody's mind at the time but that no one seemed to be able to articulate, and no one did. Or they did. Several times. Ad nauseum. Whatever. What are you going to do get mad? Throw a fit? Go Berzerk? Collapse in an apopleptic fit? Lunge for a thesaurus and reword everything so the common man can GET IT?

Clearly many galleries deliberately create an atmosphere of exclusivity. The ones that don;t are on another plane from the Veblen Goods traded at the more serious establishments. Wikipedia veblen goods - Artforum likes that term but I've seen it elsewhere, and I can lend you Thorstein Veblen's book on the leisure class if you need it - I have it by the toilet and I skim pages as my bowel movement requires.

You can read into the latest AF cover of a collapsed bridge - maybe as a Marxist "superstructure" or simple as a comment on current events or more mysteriously relating to "The Mothman" - again you could wikipedia it.

I enjoy that sort of "misreading" but in reality it amounts to little more than a game of exquisite corpse - which is, if you think about it, what writing is.

2/24/2008 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Remember many of these art writers learned to write from other art writers, are too young or too in the system to see the bigger picture, so their enervated vocabulary is to be expected.

They just want to be and feel smart, just like anyone else who follows fashion, or writes long winded rebuttals to somewhat irrelevant responses to sort of open ended topical propositions."

What a surprise. Yet another visual artist takes a dump on all the art writers. You wannabes are all the same. All the haters/poseurs pretend to disrespect and frown upon the art scribes, who still make or break careers by the way, until they manage to get the attention of the big name guys/gals (Karen Wilkin, John Yau, Robert Morgan, Dave Hickey, etc.), then they LOVE the catalog essay format, are so gracious and thankful, and so quick to let you know that so and so is writing an essay about their work. Wow your name dropping that Veblen dude really lends an air of importance to your blogger comments section screed. It is funny how people who don't bother to read Veblen, but who like to appear smart, make an all too brief mention of his concept of 'conspicuous consummation" and then have absolutely nothing else to say. You are not good enough to shine Veblen's shoes. He is dead of course but you get my drift. Keep on chugging out the nonsense and self advertisements Zip. The Art Writer's Union keeps tabs on all of you haters. We never forget.

AWU

2/25/2008 08:46:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

Somehow I just knew Zip was never going to come out on the side of plain speaking.

But whose career did Karen Wilkin ever start? Stuart Davis?

2/25/2008 09:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'cap' you are now on the poop list. Obviously you don't know much about how the art world works. Recently an artist, who barely had any solo exhibitions under his/her belt, and who only recently got gallery representation, appeared on the COVER of Sculpture Magazine. Why did this happen? Karen Wilkin decided to write a feature story about the artist. It was Wilkin's name and sway with the editors that got the artist on the COVER. Art magazines want big names to appear in their table of contents. Are you ignorant enough to believe that it has no impact on an artist's career, at least in terms of MAKING it, whether or not one of these big name writers, who ALL of the art magazines desire to have appear in their pages, decide to take an artist under their wing? It might be true that critics can’t destroy a career but they sure as hell can make one. Your cutesy remark about Stuart Davis would be funny if you were worthy enough to lick the spittle off of his shoes, but you are not, and he is dead anyway.

Pepperidge Farm Remembers...

AWU

2/25/2008 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous McFawn said...

Most of my frustration with public art has to do with how much unrealized potential it has. Unlike a stroll into the gallery, public art still has the ability to rise up before you like an act of nature...there's something magical about seeing art when you turn a corner. Public art has the potential to enchant (by surprise) and make visual jokes (by using what is already there)... (Some silly public art I like involves a sculpture of croquet mallets and balls next to looped bike racks--a great visual pun)

There's a great public art blog, Aesthetic Grounds, which does a wonderful job of making a case for it...for instance, a road painted blue in the Netherlands makes enchanted what would otherwise merely be a path to and from work.

2/25/2008 07:39:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I'm kind of drunk but I can;t let this sort of slander go by. Im not the only one slinging poop at art writers with large vocabularies and shit.

If you think I havent read thorstein veblen with a gold comb, you better step up. I got plenty of ammo, which will fit in an AK 47 or an AR 15 or a "Ka lash ni kov" or whatever, I don;t care.

Do they have Karen WIlkin;s first born or can we do an emotional rescue on her>strange love! ? I mean will she drown in a corpse filled s2wimming pool or can we throw her a toaster?

2/26/2008 12:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drink up zip. I invite you to try and have a successful art career free from all of those evil, do-nothing, unoriginal, big name art critics. Put down the Veblen for Dummies and figure out who your real friends are.

AWU

2/26/2008 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger CAP said...

I'm more of a H&K with the laser mounted infrared sights, kinda guy. After 6 I use a silencer, on account of the neighbours.

But Karen - she be one Khlimnikov I just cain't use no mo.

On the other hand she did write THE book of Davis, way back, way, way back.

2/26/2008 09:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'cap' I would say you have peanuts for brains but they are too easy to crack. Perhaps an unripe coconut would be a better metaphor. Yes Wilkins did write brilliant books about Cezanne, Davis, Morandi (artists that you can dream about but never come close to), but my point (and I guess I will make it again since you are clueless and unfunny) is that she (and a number of other art writers) continues to have a tremendous amount of influence and sway in the art world, with regards to helping careers. Get it? Just ask Ed about this sort of thing. This is his blog no? I know you are prejudiced against the elderly but try to get over it, along with all the other dysfunctional traits you have. Your ability to google information about guns is impressive, moreso, I dare say, than any of your creative endeavors. Also, I mentioned a number of other art writers, some male and some younger than Wilkin, but it is not surprising that pathetic slobs like you and Zip would pick on an elderly woman. She is brilliant and neither of you are. ‘Nuff said?

2/26/2008 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous.

Tone it down.

There's no need for insults directed at commenters here. Civil people can disagree without third-grade name calling. CAP didn't say anything personally insulting. Zip? Well, it's hard to know what Zip intends sometimes, but I can't see where Zip insulted you either.

Make your point without the names, please.

2/26/2008 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I like to reify dead horses as much as the next mystificatory adjective abuser. Fine by me. Remember many of these art writers learned to write from other art writers, are too young or too in the system to see the bigger picture, so their enervated vocabulary is to be expected.

They just want to be and feel smart, just like anyone else who follows fashion, or writes long winded rebuttals to somewhat irrelevant responses to sort of open ended topical propositions."

Sorry if these INSULTING and vague generalizations concerning the field I work in are not considered name calling to you Ed. Next time I will obscure my message and bury it in non-sequitors, instead of writing clear statements and clear rebuttals. Thay way I won't get slapped down by the moderator.

AWU

2/26/2008 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

AWU,

There has been one golden rule to commenting here since this blog's inception, and it's that folks who comment here are to feel free to offer their opinions without fear of personal insults directed at them.

Speaking harshly about fields of people might come close to crossing that line (I would certainly object if someone wrote something nasty about gallerists), but the difference is you singled out two people here and your "clear rebuttals" got lost in the insults.

All opinions are welcome, and there's no need to obscure your message, but as much as possible argue the facts, please, and leave out personal attacks. I know this is hard at times, but your central message seemed to be attacking them personally.

And you if you think that was a "slapping down"...stick around a while. I've offered much stricter feedback to at least one of the folks you insulted when he crossed the line (and he's stuck around). It's not about "moderating" the discussion as much as it is preventing the dialog from descending purely into personal insults because it's hard to get back on topic once that becomes the focus. Again, please, feel free to be passionate, but argue the points and leave personalities and such out of it as much as possible. Thanks.

2/26/2008 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The point I was making was simply this: don't dismiss art critics because you think they are ignorant, untalented, unoriginal, irrelevant, etc. Big name art critics do indeed have a modicum of power and it certainly isn't power that has been achieved because of financial status. It is built entirely on the individual critic's writing abilities and intellectual powers. No one seems to appreciate that most art critics make next to or exactly nothing for their writing. Editors want their art writers to be succinct and smart. Ken Johnson wasn’t even getting benefits over at the NYT before he left for Boston. They would rather not pay writers anything or pay them so little it is embarrassing to all involved. Art critics are not in it for the money. They are not necessarily on power trips either. In fact I would question that whole notion, the idea that critics are power hungry. Who do they have power over? Gallerinas and gallerinos barely acknowledge their presence when they stop by the front desk to collect the press kit. Fewer and fewer museums will even give a critic a free catalog. Art critics love art and they love to think about it and write about it. It is simple as that. You might have a few aberrations here or there, the scumbag (sorry name calling I know) who blackmailed artists into giving him/her artworks in exchange for a positive review, etc., but 99% of the art critics out there do it for love and passion. I think it is rare to find a writer who understands visual art and decides to focus all of their energies on writing about it. We get tired of being bashed over and over again. Art critics are not responsible for the millions of awfully worded press releases out there. If you are a talented writer and you have decided to work as an art critic you automatically have to settle for less. Academia doesn't respect you. Curators don’t give a turd. And more often than not artists dismiss art writers as well. How ironic.

AWU

2/26/2008 01:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AWU said:
"It is funny how people who don't bother to read Veblen, but who like to appear smart, make an all too brief mention of his concept of 'conspicuous consummation"

Now, granted it's been a while since I read Veblen, but I recall that his concept was one of conspicuous consumption, not consummation. Perhaps I missed the chapter on exhibitionism?

Oriane

2/26/2008 01:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The AWU commends you on your proofreading and spelling skills Oriane. You will go on our special list, not the poop list. We intentionally misspelled consumption. It was a test and you passed it with flying colors. Congratulations.

AWU

2/26/2008 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yay! What do I win? Something I can consume conspicuously?

O

2/26/2008 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since all of us art critics are power hungry whores I will be happy to write a glowingly positive review of your next show.

AWU

2/26/2008 05:00:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Oh goodie, a FOOD FIGHT !!

...all of us art critics are just, well like all us, some great, bright folks, with a few a-holes mixed in, sort of a social salad.

I have no clue, nor do I really want to know who veblen is, but if I had to choose I'd rather get drunk with zip anyday to discuss it.

2/27/2008 11:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The AWU is very familiar with your nonsense George. We know for a FACT that your favorite drinking partner is a mirror. Bottom's Up! Also, we couldn't think of a more fitting punishment for you than to be stuck in a room getting drunk with Zip. No exit indeed. So enjoy!

AWU

2/28/2008 08:07:00 AM  

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