Friday, December 21, 2012

Retard of the Tide || Open Thread

I'll admit up front, this post is a bit self-indulgent and only the beginning of a (hopefully) useful analysis...but let's just consider my ability to post it (and solicit your comments) anyway my little Christmas present to myself. Hopefully it will develop into something meaningful along the way. 

retard of the tide --the interval between the transit of the moon at which a tide originates and the appearance of the tide itself. It is found, in general, that any particular tide is not principally due to the moon's transit immediately proceeding, but to a transit which has occurred some time before, and which is said to correspond to it. The retard of the tide is thus distinguished from the lunitidal interval.
Among the themes that emerged from the 35 comments on the previous post, the one that seems to have the most passion behind it is that of time: the lack of it, the false urgency of the market, the management of time, how much time art demands of us, etc. Examples include
  • I spend so much time trying to figure out class
  • But the people who cruise through Basel and drop a few hundred grand can't possibly be taking the time to truly consider the work, and end up warehousing most of what they buy anyway.
  • What do you do while the idiomatic pot boils?
  • If you view art-making as a lifetime project, it's hard to go in there and say "i'm going to create something incredible". that's a sure-fire way to create overblown crap. 
  • It’s only when you find yourself using someone as a gauge for newer stuff that you realize they were any good. It’s actually that call that makes them good. In other words it’s a retrospective judgment.
  • But this attention we give to a certain work of art... maybe it has become in the cacophony od accessability of digital dissemination and publications and art fairs, only the ridiculous reigining as the remarkable, as the attention, as the displaced authority.
  • Also, it's ok to repeat yourself, clean the studio, sharpen the pencils and do nothing for a day.  
  • Sure we have to think long term, try and present work where people aren’t pressured by a race to possess, where there is time and space to let the thing stew for a while and where the collector isn't expected to pay a year's salary for one work. Art is not a race, despite what Saatchi or Rubell might like to claim.
  • Art Fairs have just accelerated the purchases or acquisitions side, which is interesting for dealers, but it’s not really doing anything for the dialogue, unless your idea of a dialogue is speed dating.
  •  We grow more confident of placements or evaluations as we’re able to see this much – it’s the old ‘test of time’ formula really.
It's had me thinking about the relationship of time to art appreciation and the impact of that on art creation. And I'm still working through my thoughts on that.

Then, however, came the love letter of a review in The New York Times that Roberta Smith wrote for MoMA's current exhibition, "Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925." Smith wrote:
In the second decade of the 20th century, abstraction became the holy grail of modern art. It was pursued with feverish intent by all kinds of creative types in Europe, Russia and elsewhere, responding to assorted spurs: Cubism and other deviations from old-fashioned realism, the beautiful whiteness of the blank page, communion with nature, spiritual aspirations, modern machines and everyday noise.

Painters, sculptors, poets, composers, photographers, filmmakers and choreographers alike ventured into this new territory, struggling to sever Western art’s age-old link with legible images, narrative logic, harmonic structure and rhyme. It was a thrilling, terrifying process, and in terms of the history of art, it is one of the greatest stories ever told.

“Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,” a dizzying, magisterial cornucopia opening on Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art, captures something of that original thrill and terror, in a lineup of works that show artists embracing worldliness and, in some cases, withdrawing into mystical purity. The show brings new breadth and detail and a new sense of collectivity to a familiar tale that is, for the Modern, also hallowed ground.
It's a nice review and really makes me want to see the exhibition, but it was first the headline for the article (When the Future Became Now) that connected a dot for me.

I discovered the concept of "retard of the tide" a few decades ago. As explained above, it's used to describe how "any particular tide is not principally due to the moon's transit immediately proceeding, but to a transit which has occurred some time before, and which is said to correspond to it."

What initially captured my imagination about that concept was the necessary vagueness of it: "has occurred some time before." It's not even possible to say, for example, that any particular tide is principally due to a transit that occurred X number of hours before. The variables of time and place are too random, so we've developed this vague placeholder term that acknowledges we understand it's not a direct relationship, but because of the complex way the earth's oceans, the moon's pull, and our point of observation can interact, we're not able to pin down even a definitive concept to describe/predict it.

This type of vagueness would seem to apply in the realm of art appreciation as well. For example, no one can say for certain whether the artists receiving solo exhibitions at our most important institutions today will still be viewed as important a decade or century from now. Moreover, it's often not even clear if artist X becomes popular solely because of an important museum exhibition or whether they get an important museum exhibition mostly because they are popular, or some complex combination thereof. Expand that out to movements or major developments, and the interrelationship between time and the myriad decisions we bundle under "art appreciation" becomes even less clear. 

"When the future became now," for example, is of course only possible to assert about events in the past, but more than that, and because of that, it's an arbitrary declaration chock full of vagueness about timing and cause/effect. My guess is that many of the artists whose work is in the MoMA show felt strongly that the "future" had arrived upon completion of some breakthrough in their studio. Confirmation of that by their immediate circle (artist friends, curators, dealers, collectors, poets, critics, etc.) then would make any subsequent doubt/questions from those outside their circle seem reactionary or ignorant. To them in their bubble, at least. From outside that bubble it would/could seem anything but obvious.

This declaration about when the future became now, then, depends highly on your vantage point, but is never truly definitive. Declaring it has happened is akin to declaring some moon transit which occurred some time before a particular tide is definitely its principle cause. Sure, says you!

But that's just it. 

Yes, says MoMA, the future became now during the years 1910-1925 and they've presented an exhibition to support that assertion. Another institution is free to assert otherwise and provide evidence of their counter assertion. 

And so it is that most of this gets sorted out at the institutional level (making institutional critique an important part of the process, imho). 

That's all I've got for now...must turn my attention to finding THE definitive egg nog recipe (suggestions welcome).

Consider this a holiday open thread on the relationship between time, art appreciation, and declarations of what's important.

Oh, and, Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Occupy Your Studio

There's so much incessant chatter, so much shouting about art and money these days, it's hard to keep up with which objection is the latest, what's actual outrage, what's merely backlash, what's merely an excuse to talk about oneself again, or generally what's being voiced in response to what.

Just in the last week, we've had The New York Times' seemingly serious echo of Adam Lindemann's unserious rant from last year against the amount of money spurting out from every orifice of celebrities and uber-collectors at Art Basel Miami Beach, prompting Lindemann's latest objecting response to not being taken seriously last year.

Then there was Blake Gopnik's apparent parting shot from his Newsweek desk, with this gem:
The newfound popularity of art fairs, which are more like souks than salons, may signal that the boom is being fueled by the pleasure found in buying art rather than in contemplating it. That’s the kind of faddish pleasure that could pass as quickly as the hula hoop.
But not everyone is pleased with the focus on how incestuous art and big money have seemingly become. The Times article quotes members of Miami's Rubell family, a contemporary art collecting dynasty, objecting to the pooh-poohing of money in the art market (and they have a point...I mean, really! actual money in an actual market? how inappropriate...):
Mera Rubell was taking time out from greeting the hundreds of visitors at her family’s sprawling contemporary art center here to vent.
“It’s the height of arrogance to dismiss — — ,” she began.
Jason, her son, interrupted: “It’s arrogance. It’s a completely uninteresting story.”
For the moment her husband, Don, had given up on trying to get a word in.
The Rubells, deans of Miami’s bustling art scene, were pushing back against a chorus of complaints that has been growing louder in the weeks leading up to Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual art pilgrimage that began Wednesday and ends Sunday.
Apparently the story isn't uninteresting enough to die on its own though. In one of the soundest assessments (with one of the most unfortunate subtitles) I've read, Julian Stallabrass offers the following in The Art Newspaper:
It is not just that something seems wrong with the art world. All now appears in a strange new light: bankers are reviled, the political elite is revealed as corrupt, and capitalism itself has been stripped of its ideological cloak, standing naked as the engine of rampant debt, inequality and environmental devastation. In that new frame, the picture of the elite continuing to spend their fortunes on vacuous geegaws is bound to look less pleasing than it once did.
And yet, as many have long argued and Stallabrass notes again:
The super-rich dominate the mainstream image of the art market, just as they do much to control the political agenda. Yet huge and diverse realms lie beyond the culture and the politics of this tiny elite. The years of the art boom were also those of social media, as millions started to show their photographs, videos, writings and art online. Many of them found that it is not so hard to make things that look like contemporary art. Another reflection—complex, contradictory, vulgar and popular, and in some respects less desolating—lies there.
So yes, the landscape is confusing. We want to believe in "art" despite all the signs that it's lost its way, but we're getting backlash whiplash attempting to see the big picture. 

There's also a fair bit of hand-wringing about how the fairs and primary-market-hungry auction houses are leading us to the post-gallery system and how no one not making/selling art of (at least) electric ultramarine chip stature is making any real money. I've heard countless hours of kvetching about what new models must emerge to reach the art-ambivalent middle classes who could/should collectively wrestle at least some of the power away from the trophy-and-trinket-obsessed upper classes. 


The role of objects is to restore silence! 

In other IS about the art.

I have a technique I use when there seem to be too many options and I'm getting frustrated (I use it during installations or during a strategy meeting or whatever). I drag myself and everyone participating back to the basics. What, at the most fundamental level, are we trying to communicate or accomplish? Which of all the options available serve that goal and which distract from it and can be at least momentarily put aside? By focusing on the basics, we usually find our way. 

History tells us that the adults in the art world (the collecting institutions, the historians, and [most of] the critics) will sort out a reasonably acceptable version of what's important among the art of our age from what's superfluous. I trust that system (if only because what it doesn't champion doesn't survive and well, I'm none the wiser about what doesn't survive...and life's way too short to split too many hairs after that point...). But history also tells us, before they get through that heavy lifting, there is only one clear light to follow through these contemporary dark years. It's a cliche, but I honestly believe artists must show us the way. 

And so, artists must first and foremost occupy their studios. They must work, hard, at creating the vessels worthy of all this hand-wringing and effort. It's not going to be easy, it's not necessarily going to pay them off during their lifetimes, and quite frankly, anyone more worried about that than they are about creating important work isn't going to create important work anyway. 

What new models will emerge to clear the cacophony and confusion must be dictated by artists and their work. That's the only meaningful reason the market or the art world at large nurture the current generation of artists, so the important ones emerge and actually realize their full potential. All the rest of it, the parties, the glamor, the egos, the two-spread pages in the fashion magazines...and I indict most of the artists out there as well as the dealers, collectors, and fair organizers with those distractions...all of that is fun but ultimately meaningless. 

I'm serious. In the middle of the night, when I wake frozen in an existential panic about all the bills and stress of competition and the endless fragility of everyone involved, I gently work myself back to sleep thinking about the importance of leaving a meaningful record of our generation for posterity...what we were really like. I comfort myself with thoughts of what importance my tiny role in this process has. 

In my opinion, it's among the hugest tasks assigned to us...any of us...all of us living now. 

It's a task collectors and museums must take seriously, more seriously than many of them currently are. It's a task artists and their dealers must take even more seriously. We don't get a do-over on this.

If there is such a thing as reincarnation (and I'm not sure there's not), I don't want to come back and have to cringe at the crap left to represent who we are and what we accomplished during this time. 

So I mean it when I say, get back to work! All of you! Especially you artists! Occupy your studios so that you can show us the way. 

For the love of God, show us the way.