Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ode on a Grecian Urn

"Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of silence and slow time"

--John Keats

"The role of objects is to restore silence." 
--Samuel Beckett

Tyler Green twice commented on a link that I put up on Facebook the other day pointing to a post Kyle Chayka had written on Hyperallergic about a post I had put up here. Tyler's first comment about the link was astutely humorous: "The meta, it hurts."

At the risk of making it hurt all the more, though, I'll quickly shift to Tyler's second, more challenging and equally astute comment: "If there has been growth in writing around art in recent years, it has been around art world meta-narratives, not about art objects, artists or the ideas artists pursue or examine in their work. Which is too bad."

There's no way to argue with any part of that observation, in my opinion. It's true, and it is too bad.

Mind you, I don't view it as my role on this blog to critique art. I'm not a critic, I own a gallery, and it's simply not appropriate, to my mind, for me to criticize shows in other people's galleries. There's no way to do so objectively and besides, again, I'm not an art critic. But I am an art viewer and, as such, an art criticism consumer, so I do feel it's appropriate for me to comment on art writing.

And so, I don't mind noting that I wouldn't mind reading more compelling reflections on art objects themselves. Not reviews of massive shows in which we get at most a pithy line or two about each work, but in-depth, inspiring, and perhaps most importantly accessible musings on single totally silencing objects. Silence today is highly underachieveable, unfortunately. We could all do with a far deal more of it. 

But I don't long for lengthy exercises in art speak...I get my fill of that, quite frankly. Rarely do they drive me back to observe the actual object, again and again, but rather more often off to a dictionary and to read once-provocative texts that have haven't aged well. Such essays are too often vessels for their author's cleverness, and too often seemingly at best ambivalent about their subject.

Don't get me wrong, I fully understand that in the age of Photoshop, it's no longer as simple as 
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
But I do still find myself dumbstruck by art objects from time to time. I like that sensation. And I'd like to think I could (would) carve out the time in my schedule to read really good, in-depth, revealing critiques of why they silence us, still, these objects. 

Then again, I wonder if a similar phenomenon isn't happening in the art world as political reporter Sasha Issenberg recently noted is happening in politics. Things are changing so rapidly the chroniclers of it all can't keep up, and so resort to the meta-narratives or non-applicable descriptions, leaving those closer to the subject being covered (those familiar with the actual objects) longing for more. From Issenberg's article in The New York Times:
Over the last decade, almost entirely out of view, campaigns have modernized their techniques in such a way that nearly every member of the political press now lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what’s going on. Campaign professionals have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding what moves votes. It’s as if restaurant critics remained oblivious to a generation’s worth of new chefs’ tools and techniques and persisted in describing every dish that came out of the kitchen as either “grilled” or “broiled.”
Indeed, in this time when there is, and when an art critic from The New York Times confesses in a review, "I’m not sure if [new works by an established artist] completely qualify as art. But perhaps it’s not necessary," it indicates to me that perhaps we're seeing the impact of a similar modernizing development in the art world. Not so much that the art press lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what's going on (although I'd lay that charge at the feet of a few of them), as much as how quickly everything is changing, and how many individuals are making micro advances in new media with new rich, but insanely obscure histories, leads us to where critics and everyone else lack the perspective to see the whole picture in a way that enables clear interpretation, let alone much time to focus intensely on an individual object.

Still, it would be lovely...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can think of dozens of art bloggers who write critiques about art. They are not writing about art in mainstream art galleries though. The problem is that there are few grants for art bloggers. Those that exist tend to award art blogs that do nothing more than reword criticism from mainstream sources or resort to going the art world gossip route. There is more criticism of influential art critics going on in most circles of the art world. The art blogger who chooses to break that rank and file will not be noticed. The critics don't want to point to an up and comer, and the big art networks don't want to point to real content, going as far as to block those writers from commenting on their blogs. Happens all the time.

9/20/2012 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has taken a few years and very difficult to do. But now when I view art , I take my personel bias, taste ect out of the viewing experience. I realy Dont want to know anything about the artist . I want to go as deep as possible with the work and see where it takes me.

Random Thought

I would like to see Honey Boo Boo and her family make a guest appearance in a Ryan Trecartin video.

9/20/2012 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous T Kelly said...

I recently read a very interesting article on Henri Art Magazine blog by Mark Stone? (Authorship is unclear) primarily about the end of the avant-garde in art. Most intriguing was the suggestion in the last paragraph:
‘We can begin, right now, by thinking about and questioning the paths of our past in a different way, and in so doing, make a new way into the future, understand a new way of seeing. I keep thinking that the contemporary philosopher Graham Harman’s idea about the primacy of things is very important – object-oriented philosophy. It gives us an opportunity to see, not through words or contextual arrangements, but in direct confrontation with something that isn’t contingent on our “perspective,” as something primary and other, as a rising subject. “The sensual object is a unity over against the swirling accidents that accompany it”. We are not concentrated on the vastness of the shifting ground per se, but on the thing itself, the reality of the thing. This switch of one’s perspective is very interesting to me as a painter at this very moment. And I think it offers us many exciting theoretical visual possibilities!’
This seems very similar in sentiment to what you are expressing. I was unfamiliar with Graham Harman but it seems he is not new to the art scene. A quick Google search showed that he had been a panelist at Frieze fair in ’08. I just received his book, The Quadruple Object, in the mail—very readable so far (Chap 1)—but I can’t offer much discussion of his ideas yet. Just a heads up that it’s out there if you haven’t already heard of him.

9/21/2012 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...


9/22/2012 04:22:00 AM  
Blogger Bean said...

Dear Edward,

I'm glad that you wrote this blog post, though I partly disagree. I think there is a wealth of writing about individual artists and objects; it's just that you probably won't find that kind of thing in the big- (and medium) name print magazines and journals that are the mainstay of the art world. However, if you poke around online there is actually quite a bit of writing that rejects a meta-conversation for a more in-depth take on the concrete. If you don't look for it, it can seem as though the entire community is only interested in the abstract and (quite often) the opaque. Maybe it seems disheartening because when done en masse it's boring and empty. In order to have a dynamic dialog about art, we have to be investigating it at every level, meta and otherwise.

I also disagree with Anonymous's claim that the writers who explore select works and artists are only writing about relatively unknown makers or small institutions. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I include this link to a piece I wrote last year on Richard Serra's retrospective at SFMOMA. From the maze of galleries that contained a significant number of videos, drawings and prints, I chose to focus on only two works. No matter how little or well known the artist or institution, if I am moved (intrigued, disgusted, elated) by the work, then I'll write about it--and I am obviously not the only one.

Come find us. We may not always write for academic journals or glossy ad-filled magazines, but we're a dedicated and articulate bunch, and we're definitely out there.

Best wishes,

9/22/2012 06:12:00 PM  
Blogger Viktor said...

Great blog Edward, it's always good to read about art and artists. It's a great place where artists can exchange their thoughts - which is useful for all! Greetings from Global Art Net, and online art community!

9/26/2012 06:16:00 AM  

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