Showing posts with label art world. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art world. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Postcapitalist Painting

"In America..." Published in Krokodil magazine, Soviet Union, 1953 (text translated from Russian)

Some 64,000 years ago, woken beings not too different from us scrawled upon cave walls with red ochre hand-mined from the earth. What connects that kind of activity to the contemporary art exhibited at today’s galleries, art fairs, and museums? There is a disconnect between the felt nobility and inherent good employed to describe learning about and fostering an appreciation for art on one hand, and the decidedly classist, sexist, and racist bias the ‘art world’ routinely demonstrates on the other. The current global economic system of hyper-capitalist, cancerous profiteering rewards such divisive strategies; these strategies arguably underlie the very structures of the current economic paradigm. If systems of health care and education that don’t rely on a profit incentive can be imagined, then a world of art that doesn’t can be too. Such imaginings, practically speaking, are to remain in the realm of thought experiment only. There is no indication that the tide of capital the high end of the art world is awash in will be rolling back any time soon. Even on the non-profit end, much of their funds are still frequently provided by global corporate capital: the lead funder of PST: LA/LA was Bank of America.

Despite this, here in Los Angeles and beyond, thriving communities of working artists exist with the support of artist-run initiatives and alternative exhibition spaces that operate outside the interest and influence of oligarchic wealth. In Los Angeles, the artists of this community produce relevant, grassroots contemporary art activity, and a great deal of that activity is painting. Such a great deal in fact, that some definitive currents and strategies have emerged among the painters of this community. By no means are the basic notions here restricted to the single medium of painting defined at its narrowest at the exclusion of other mediums, or artists who do not identify primarily as painters – ‘painting’ as it were, like all other medium designations, is approached here as one of several overlapping sets of issues and considerations more than as neatly defined classes of products. What the work of these artists has in common is a direct and human-scaled approach. Most of these works range in size from modest to minimally heroic, since they are not industrially fabricated by the alienated labor of technicians in warehouses but hand produced in the studios and studio spaces of artists who are more than likely maintaining a living that has little or nothing to do with sales of their art work. Many of these artists, not being products of brand name MFA programs, remain generally unknown to the commercial gallery world and its audience. Others have broken through to the larger art world stage embodying these notions intact. The exhibitions where you can find many of these artists’ work are frequently organized by artists from within the community itself engaging in extra-studio practice from within the community itself, and the information about where and when typically stays among the social media networks established by them. Exhibitions are often of an ephemeral nature with limited public opportunities to experience them. The audience for them is typically other artists. Some of the overlapping aesthetic and conceptual groupings that have emerged among the painters of these communities as I see them range from edge-to-edge intuitive abstract strategies (Daniela Campins, Rema Ghuloum, Stacy Wendt, John Mills, Max Presneill), to more materially-based pattern and grid riffs (Britton Tolliver, Mandy Lyn Ford, Nano Rubio, Ana Rodriguez, Jenny Hager) all the way to deconstructed investigations of figure-based elements and other represenations (Kristy Luck, Christina Quarles, Maja Ruznic, Ranee Henderson, Joshua Hagler, Josh Peters), to engagements with landscape notions (Christine Frerichs, Esmeralda Montes, Stephen Parise, Carl Baratta, Hung Viet Nguyen, Virginia Katz) as well as engagements with identity, relationships, and media representations (Loren Britton, Michelle Carla Handel, Kyla Hansen, April Bey, Casey Kauffmann).

The unapologetic embrace of painting by working artists of modest means has a larger corollary within our current cultural paradigm. The insatiable hunger for new, novel forms of art coupled with the dismissing or throwing out of older forms thought to be obsolete echoes the wasteful capitalist notion of planned obsolescence. A reassertion and reacknowledgment of painting’s development can be seen as part of a critique of this notion. Also, a connection can be made with regard to perceived notions of commodification of particular mediums. On the surface, a case is made that more conceptual, dematerialized practices challenge the market’s ability to commodify them, leaving painting, sculpture and other materially based forms as tainted with an inherent marketability. However, a deeper analysis uncovers a contrasting take. Indeed, it was a breakdown in financial markets for “dematerialized” and “conceptual” commodities – mortgages, stocks, bonds, debt, securities, derivatives, insurance policies, etc. – that nearly led to complete economic collapse in the previous decade. Indeed, some of the seminal figures of more conceptual bents are canonized market darlings with the “paperwork” relating to the art works becoming a fetishized commodity itself. Against this, the material character of painting and related mediums now stands as a document of the creative, un-alienated labor of working artists, as opposed to both the “administrative” aesthetic of many conceptual and project based practices and the anonymously fabricated designer works of artists like Hirst, Koons, Murakami, etc. This is not to say that there isn’t a hot market for painting, merely that its marketability is no less “inherent” than that of dematerialized forms, whose non-art analogs exist almost as pure commodities, financial products that are essentially shared fictions of government enforced ownership.

It would be a stretch to say the painters mentioned above share a common aesthetic concern. However, grouped together as such, commonalities bubble to the surface when compared to the more recognized artists and trends du jour. Each of the above-mentioned painter's works has a more idiosyncratic, individual characteristic when compared to the repetitive processes of zombie formalism, the last identifiable success aesthetic of the decade. No one wants their work to seem like it was mass-produced to be flipped on the market. No one is making the same painting over and over. This individual characteristic is analogous to and works in conjunction with the notion of indexicality, as defined by German art writer Isabelle Graw. The works directly refer to, and are therefore indexical of the actual artists themselves, and they evoke the artist’s presence when experienced by the viewer. This individualized indexicality can be said to be the result of the reaction to zombie formalism, retro-packaged by writer Chris Wiley as ‘Debt Aesthetics’. Debt Aesthetics refers to the paintings taking on the visual characteristics of currency itself and being traded as such in the wake of the crash of traditional, (barely) regulated sources of credit and markets. This being the case, the overall eclectic reaction to Debt Aesthetics/Zombie Formalism can be summed up as an attempt at a post-capitalist practice, in the case of painting, postcapitalist painting. It is not painting as an attempt to create value that can be used to pay off debt. It is not painting as a commodity that lies somewhere between Monopoly money and BitCoin. It is painting as art. So it speaks to the original question art poses – what is art – and it poses the question not in opposition to capitalism per se, but beyond it, over it, bigger and more universal as an idea than capitalism, speaking to a future that has moved on from it, in light of its increasingly inevitable unsustainability. In no way does the 'postcapitalist' designation imply anything about the above painters' own personal political beliefs. Their work, in my view, is what painting might look like in a world that doesn't revolve around financial profit. It is an initial attempt, a furtive beginning, at envisioning a future, as the great art of the past often attempted to do, if only in hindsight.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thoughts Left on the Page

installation view, Daniela Campins: In the Middle of This Frase, Eastside International (ESXLA), Sept 15th - Oct 20th, 2017

Part one of a series, working title: "Postcapitalist Painting"


To the outside world, it seems that Los Angeles’s cup runneth over with new art museums and high-end galleries. Some of these new, moneyed cathedrals of fetishized capital exist to present high-end contemporary art collections that include million dollar acquisitions by the likes of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Serra and Basquiat (Broad, Marciano). Others are sprung from real estate development riches (Main Museum), or are new incarnations of older, established institutions (ICA-LA). Without digging too much deeper, one could be forgiven for thinking that the art world begins and ends among these spaces and the new mega gallery outposts that are springing up along side them, affirming the legitimacy of the art within, in part, by their market performance (Hauser and Wirth, Spruth Magers, Maccarone, Matthew Marks, etc). The art exhibited at these places wins the public relations battle, and this side of the scene has its front to the world at large. But beyond the spectacle of this there is a community of established, working, contemporary artists at the ground-level in Los Angeles producing important work, despite little engagement with the moneyed side of the art world-industrial complex. A great deal of what they produce is painting. Such a great deal in fact, that some definitive currents and strategies have emerged among the painters of this community. What they all have in common is a direct and human-scaled approach – most of these works range in size from modest to minimally heroic; and a strong indexical sense of the presence of the artist themselves – as this work is not industrially fabricated in quantity by the alienated labor of technicians in warehouses but hand produced in the studios and studio spaces of artists who are more than likely maintaining a living alongside their practice that has little to do with the market demands du jour. Some of the overlapping aesthetic and conceptual groupings that have emerged among the work of these artists range from edge-to-edge intuitive abstract strategies, to more materially-based pattern and grid riffs all the way to deconstructed, figurative investigations and more.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Spectre (excerpt)

A spectre is haunting the art world – the spectre of all who have been failed by the rapidly irrelevant notion of “contemporary art”. All the powers of the old art world-industrial complex have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre—galleries and collectors, curators and critics, museums and patrons: 

  • Contemporary art enters broad public consciousness almost only as a function of late/ advanced/neoliberal capitalism. 
  • Too many students of art are indentured by crippling debt, unable to join the economy or advance in society. 
  • Many of the schools that teach art are overpriced administrative cartels that exploit faculty labor at the expense of students who are regarded as little more than customers. 
  • The continued dwindling of governmental support, respect, or faith in the arts creates even fewer opportunities for contemporary artists. 
  • The metropolitan centers for contemporary art are almost uninhabitable without the wealth and resources available to the upper class. 
  • Small, mid-size and emerging venues and marketplaces for contemporary art are getting squeezed out of the scene, acutely reflecting the larger wealth and income inequality across the globe. 
  • The political response from contemporary art has been stymied by its own systemic complicity in the larger issues; many who are privileged enough to participate in art benefit from the status quo. 
  • There is a fundamental disconnect between the moneyed world of contemporary art and the less institutionalized scene of most working contemporary artists today.

On one end there are art stars, post-internet online celebrity artists, many commercial galleries, many corporate sponsored and private museums, the larger, well-funded art nonprofits, most collectors of contemporary art, art fairs, art auctions, online art sales platforms, much of the art world print media, the brandname art schools and programs, many professional curators, art advisors/consultants/buyers, writers, academics, and critics, and art book publishers. 

And on the other end there are artist-run initiatives, un-institutionalized or less institutionalized alternative spaces, small-budget, specific, and civic-run art non-profits and museums, working artists (artists with day jobs a.k.a. regular jobs), many state university art programs, community college and university exhibition spaces and museums, artist-curators and exhibition producers, online and social media based art writing and blogging, artist-run or alternative art study programs and independent art presses and publishers. 

The latter is all too familiar with, and has aspired to be part of, the former. The former appears barely aware or cognizant of the latter. The edges of the division are not precise, but the world of art of the 21st century is increasingly seeming like two worlds, the distinctions more felt as much as they are deduced by the participants. The motivations of both worlds are probably the same at heart (the wealthy were already wealthy when they got into art), but one side has its face to the world as the entire, official world of art and the other is easily viewed as trying to “sneak in”, hoping to not be mistaken for the help, as those of us on that side frequently actually are—preparing and shipping art work for exhibition, assisting artists successful enough to hire assistants, adjunct teaching art to communities the art world’s doors are not generally made known to at community colleges and public universities. These are often gigs that new MFA’s from the brand name schools aren’t typically caught doing, perhaps because they have been taught that they won’t have to—teaching first-generation college students about drawing and painting is not a representative ambition of such students of these professionalized programs. In such an era as this, the notion of an artist whose only self-imposed obligation to the world is the production of their own personal art practice can easily smack of self-indulgent entitlement at best, and oblivious abuse of developed-world privilege at worst.

Read the rest in the latest issue of Rabble, available for $5 from Insert Blanc Press