Thursday, July 11, 2013

Art Must Be a Cat (or Perhaps a Zombie)

You'd be forgiven for thinking an event in a Chelsea gallery yesterday (you couldn't miss it if you have a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Vine account) involved the four horsemen of the apocalypse, rather than a music mogul, the way some folks were discussing it online. Some of the responses went so far as to declare it the "death of art" as we know it. I didn't get to see the event, and some of what I've read about it made it sound worthwhile (perhaps...who knows?), but I'm not as interested today in the event as I am the response to it. In particular, this obviously hyperbolic notion that it symbolized the death of anything. 

Last night our gallery's savvy assistant Alex Torres posted the following on her FB pages:
RIP Art for the eighth time, it only feels like yesterday when James Franco killed it!
To which her brother Hector responded:
That's funny, art must be a cat.

Which made me chuckle. But it also made me recall a passage in Ann Fensterstock's fantastic forthcoming book about the history (and in particular, the migratory nature) of New York's art communities. Titled "Art on the Block," it publishes in September 2013 (pre-order your copy now!), and in amazing detail (chock full of interviews with artists and dealers and critics and collectors) it recounts the birth, heyday, and eventual death of art scenes in neighborhoods across the city over the past half century or so. 

But it wasn't any talk on the "death of art" in Ann's book that the frothy response to yesterday's event reminded me of, but rather a description of a time in New York's history when disgust with the state of things seemed to reach such a crescendo it must have been difficult for anyone to imagine "art" ever recovering. 

The time was the late 1980s, but you wouldn't know that if you only read the critique. For pages, Ann recounts how giants like Hughes, Lippard, Brenson, Schwartzman, and Danto derided much of the art of the age, but what's really amazing is how much of the actual text reads just like the dialog of today. Here's a sample:
In one of the East Village's own publications, Michael Kohn called the work uninteresting and shallow and cautioned that media attention does not equal critical attention. Even Nicholas Moufarrege, who did so much to support the work at the outset, despaired at times. He challenged the now local ruling that no art is unshowable and complained that volume output had done nothing for the meaningful, the powerful or the beautiful. "The boys and girls are gone hog wild with liberty," he wailed, "and the effect is not of shock but of something more dangerous: tedium." 

To some extent, the demographics of the era played as much of a role as matters of taste when it came to the quality of the art. The glut of fresh-baked graduates that had been tumbling out of art schools over the past two decades meant that of the nation's one million self-titled artists, some 90,000 were living in New York City. The education was expensive, and while parents were happy to fund a first year or two, a career somewhere in the $2 billion New York art market was now in order.
 Here's another excerpt:
By January 1986 Michael Brenson was sounding the alert to his New York Times readership when he lamented, "With prominent artists of all kinds having one and sometimes two shows a year, in one, two and even three galleries simultaneously; with museum shows for 30-year-old artists now commonplace; with ceaseless critical and curatorial attention; with the marketing methods of art dealers now material for television business programs; with artists puffed up like rock starts, courted like princes and displayed in the pages of trendy magazines like Hollywood prima donnas, there has been a wide spread feeling of 'enough!'"
Maybe art isn't a cat...maybe it's a zombie. Long dead, but still ambling around, sneaking up on people, popping up when you least expect it. 

Or maybe, simply, it's all part of a very complex and often messy vetting process involving many people who are willing to defend their choices for what should serve and be preserved as the visual representations of what it meant to be alive today. And maybe, sometimes, that free-for-all gets out of hand.

It ain't all that serious.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is certainly vampiric!

7/11/2013 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger John said...

It's not dead. Art is being drawn up in the corners of studios at midnight on a Wednesday. It's jotted down on napkins at coffee bars and local dives. It's being discussed over the internet right here.

I think the emphasis of the institutionalization (must have BFA, must have MFA, must go to Yale or Columbia, must be in so-and-so's collection) of the art is crippling the way people are viewing it.

If Jay-Z wants to rap at Maria and she thinks it would be cool, so be it. Not everything has to be seminal work, right?

There was an interview where an art writer was describing being in a laundry mat and deep reading her surroundings, the mlk poster, the paint colors, the sun casting shadows on walls, the detergents on the machines, and repetition of the circles and squares to the point she decided it was the totally perfect setting to be a laundrymat.

Maybe we're looking at this Jay-Z bit too closely.

7/12/2013 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger A Rose by any other name... said...

I have only a moribund Facebook account so I will never know what the hey happened if you don't spill it.

My opinion is that Art, like Narrative, is eternal and it is the structures around it that change and pass away.

I'm enjoying your series on that, by the way. Since reading Laurie Rojas' 2012 thesis, "On Confronting the Death of Art Criticism," (link below), I've been pondering the ongoing Art Scene Reconstruction and hearing the actors perception of it provides much greater insight. Thank you.

7/12/2013 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

@"A Rose..."

7/12/2013 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger A Rose by any other name... said...

Ah. Got it, I think. Thanks for the clue, John. But I fail to see how a such a piffle in a pan can be so hot a topic?

So Jay-Z made a music video. So what? Would the reception be better if the performance were held as a development event for a museum?

7/12/2013 12:01:00 PM  
Anonymous mark creegan said...

This event is just one of many sorts of mixing of hip hop and contemporary art.. see Pharrell Williams, Hennessy Youngman, and Yeezus (which is an appropriation of sound and video art and performance of the last decade or so). I predict a future CAA panel on this.

7/12/2013 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger A Rose by any other name... said...

As we would have said in the seventies, it was a happening. A very happy happening, I gather.

But the 'death of art as we know it?' pffft.

I think this marks the cat's first death:

And some pompous fur-clad neanderthal looked at those images and said,

"What, no more running bison? Damn hippies just killed art as we know it!"

7/13/2013 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It ain't all that serious." Goddam right Edward . what you have is children playing dress up and make believe at the playground.

I was in my favorite Chinese restaurant last Friday and the installed some fancy new televisions/monitors, a movie was playing that I saw a few years ago . the movie looked fake on the restuarnt monitors the lighting and the people were almost 3 d . It didn't look that way at the movie theater.

#inspiration FOR Art Professionals from T. B. S. A. yOU are Steve McQueen in Papillion .Its the end of the movie and Papillion escapes Devils Island, Floating on the Ocean his last words are "Im still here you Bastards".

Black & White

Stick to your guns
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend
Nobody knows the trouble this poor boy’s seen
People will believe anything

Man on the run
Always gets it in the end
Nobody cares ’cause nobody shares his dream
People don’t believe anything
Everything is changed
Everything is still the same
It’s just a part of the game

Blood on the moon
Patterns running across the floor
A musical inside a movie inside a dream
Guess you can believe anything
Everything is changed
Everything is still the same
It’s all a part of the game

Mama, papa, boys, and girls
Holding hands around the world
Wrong is wrong and right is right
Nothing changes overnight
I’ll believe it when I see it in black and white

Tell me the truth
Nobody leaves here alive
In the black core of doubt
Trying to get out in the light
Sometimes you can’t see anything
Everyone is changed
Everyone is still the same
They can’t get out of the game

7/16/2013 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know your out there Jay Z, and this will find its way to you.

Go in the Studio with Todd Rundgren and make a analog record . Let your posse sit this one out. get out of your comfort zone. Electric Lady Land is calling.

7/18/2013 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous zipthwung said...


7/23/2013 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Hey Zippy!

So you're out of prison???


7/23/2013 09:49:00 PM  

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