Friday, September 16, 2022

Out of My Hands

I am up in a tree in front of Garett Brewer’s house on Erna street, off of Janice street in my hometown in Texas. It’s 1987. I am 9 years old. In my hands is a copy of Prime Slime Tales #1, from Mirage Studios. In the back is an advertisement for metal gaming miniatures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, also published by Mirage. A few years later I would eventually obtain some of those miniatures, and I would paint them in a comics-accurate style, with the turtles all wearing red masks. 

I’m trying to write about the last Europe trip, but I still can’t locate it in my language, or fully understand what I even saw. The Ghent Altarpiece, gothic cathedrals, the Rijksmuseum, documenta fifteen, the Bourse de Commerce, Serpentine Gallery…there are no words, I can only talk around and to those things, I cannot explain why I fixated on details in Frans Hals portraits, or how a Barnett Newman at the Stediljk was recalled when I saw a work by Miriam Cahn from the Pinault Collection. 

Europe looks like old paintings. New York looks like old movies. Los Angeles looks like old TV shows. When we stayed in Ghent, Belgium, we stayed next door to a castle. We could see the castle from our hotel room window. It's still too soon to write about the trip. It hasn't been properly processed and romanticized into memory yet. Only the food stands out in my mind – the chicken sandwich from the cafe at the Rijksmuseum. The chili cheese schnitzel from Lohmann in Kassel that actually had cheese sauce and red chilis on it, but I was not disappointed. Or the schnitzel at Sudhaus, also in Kassel. Or the view and the vibe and the sausage at Rondell, my third recommendation for a place to eat in Kassel. The salad at Magazine, the Zaha Hadid designed cafe at the Serpentine Galleries in London, was great. The Bourse de Commerce in Paris has a restaurant inside called Halle aux Grains, and I had a fucking great piece of fish, turbot. The Indian food we had delivered to the Air BnB in London was fucking amazing. Ghent’s fine arts museum, the MSK Gent, has nice cafe attached with an outdoor patio where I had a great salad. Lots of beer.

In my mind's eye are two blue paintings. Mare Nostrum, from 2008 by Miriam Cahn at the Bourse de Commerce, and Cathedra, a 1951 work by Barnett Newman at the Stedilijk Museum. Cathedra was slashed with a knife by Gerard Jan van Bladeren in 1997, about eleven years after he slashed another Newman painting at the same museum. No one's done anything like that to Mare Nostrum as far as I know, so we can back out of that rabbit hole right now. Again, I offer no explanation of how the profound sublimity of one work is recalled in the confrontational spectrality of the other, or how they both, for me, visualize the phrase, “wine-dark sea”. 

On a field trip to the San Antonio Museum of Art in 1995 or ‘96 for my AP art history class senior year of high school, I see a painting with Spock and a video game sprite in it. I don’t learn this at the time, but it is by artist Rachel Hecker. In the fall of 2001, I look up the website for the painting area of the fine arts department of the University of Houston. I click on the names of the faculty and an image of that painting comes up; I realize the artist of that painting teaches at UH. I decide to transfer there and finish my BFA there. Because of Rachel Hecker. 

Our waiter in Ghent remarked on my Tetsuo the Iron Man t-shirt. He said it was a film from his youth. He looked about my age. Tetsuo was released in 1989, but I didn’t get hip to it until the early 2000’s, when I was collecting research for my master’s thesis. While we were eating I saw our waiter across the street taking a smoke break. He stared pensively into the distance, no doubt reminiscing about the 90’s. “Where did the world go?” I often ask, when staring off into the distance myself. It’s a non-sensical question that somehow perfectly encapsulates my feelings of grief and nostalgia for the version of the world where I knew less but felt more, before I thought contemporary art was a lost cause. Tetsuo is a about a Japanese salaryman who, over the course of the film, becomes a horrific, monstrous machine-man with a giant drill for a penis. There used to be so much to be interested in, to be drawn to. Now I’m just waiting for the next disaster to react to. The most influential things in my life – my parents, 9/11, the Great Recession, COVID-19, climate change, etc. – were all completely out of my hands. My own choices and decisions seem to matter little in the face of the continual calamities I have no control over. Stuck in a slow motion car crash we can’t stop. Every positive future envisioned has been lost. I’ve woken up from all my dreams. We’re not born knowing how to feel; we have to learn it. Art is how we learn how to feel, that is its function. Art gives form to the inchoate animations inside. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Here and There

Two summers ago, the last real summer, we went up to the Bay Area. One particular painting at SFMOMA, Zapatistas, by Alfredo Ramos Martinez, follows me to the Whitney in New York in early March of 2020, right before the world shit its pants. In between, during the 2019 holidays in San Antonio, I recognize a piece at Ruby City by Cornelia Parker from a similar one on the cover of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe. I pick up reading In the Wake again in the summer of 2020, too late. At SFMOMA my mother stands next to a nice Clyfford Still painting for a photo, horizontal with jagged black forms haloing a flickering flame of red and orange. She and Michelle stand between two Ellsworth Kellys for a photo; two triangles together, two people together, two squares together. In New York Michelle takes a photo of me next to a painting by Lyubov Popova, Painterly Architectonic, from 1917. That painting is in a documentary I show to my students. Photos like this prove that artworks are real, that they are experiences in the world, more than just "images" or "content". Popova's forms are sharp when you just look, but when you see them, you see the precarious entropy shattering the surface, trying in vain to redraw her design. The second photo I took at SFMOMA on that trip was of a painting by Imi Knoebel that is also geometric pink and red with neutral colors like Painterly Architectonic. In researching Popova, I discover they made sneakers with imagery from her paintings on them. This disgusts me. I buy a pair in my size (men’s 9).

At the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford I take a photo of my mother taking a photo of Rodin’s Thinker. A month later at the museum at Pomona College, I take photos of photos on photos, Todd Gray’s infinite regression rabbit holes, worlds within worlds, framings and re-framings on scales human to cosmic. For the first time ever, I lay eyes upon a painting by Kaye Donachie at the Independent Art Fair in Tribeca. It appears to be a sad clown painting. For the first time ever in the states, I see work by Swiss painter Miriam Cahn here, startling vertical portraits of naked humanoids daring to be looked in the eye. Back in San Antonio, a work by Cruz Ortiz at Ruby City titled El Jesse Amado reminds about one time in college, for critique in a painting class, Cruz arrived early and installed a hanging installation in the studio with theatrical lighting and chairs around it in a circle. When we had all sat down and the critique began, Cruz, in costume, handed out photocopied pictures of actor Eric Estrada. Good times. 

The only photo I take from "Painting After All" by Gerhard Richter at the Met Breuer is of a painting depicting a blurry skull in the corner. The show opened the week we arrived; it closed a week later. After the Bay Area trip, in my studio I photograph a plastic skull on a broken plastic column. At the Whitney, Michelle poses in front of the full-size facsimile of Man, Controller of the Universe, the mural by Diego Rivera. The photo I take is an homage to one I took of her in front of the real mural at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, years ago. That mural is a recreation by Rivera of one destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller, Man at the Crossroads, at Rockefeller Center in New York, more years ago. In the movie Cradle Will Rock, Reuben Blades plays Rivera and John Cusack plays Rockefeller. In the movie Frida, Alfred Molina plays Rivera and Edward Norton plays Rockefeller. 

Before New York, in Culver City, Kristy Luck’s paintings hover between this world and another at Philip Martin Gallery. It is the last gallery exhibition I see in person in Los Angeles for over a year. Ree Morton at the ICA is the last museum show in LA I see. Right before Christmas 2019, at LACMA, the part of it they didn't tear down, we see a slow motion big bang in Black City by Julie Mehretu, an ominous storm of lines and bends and feathery marks, the eye of the hurricane is the eye of the viewer. If you’re close enough to see the chaos, you’re part of the chaos. Frothing seas of people on every floor of MoMa in March 2020, Michelle is a pink blur holding a coat in front of One: Number 31 by Jackson Pollock, the last image from the old timeline. Black City and One: Number 31 – across time and space and lunch, in my head, the two paintings finally meet. 

A stinging, crystalline glow surrounds the lost futures of the old world, what the stories were all leading up to, the next steps before the grand staircase collapsed. There were signs all around, in January 2020 I present two paintings in an exhibition called “Death Cult” curated by Max Presneill at the Torrance Art Museum. A large painting in the show is of a toothless skull by Cindy Wright titled LOL. So endeth the decade after the crash and before the plague, a no man’s land of scrambling meaning in forbearance, in deferment, automatically debiting income-reduced payments directly from your account. In the twilight moment after New York but before the big chill, the actor Max Von Sydow dies. I post an image of him from The Seventh Seal with a subtitle from one of Death’s lines, translated from the Swedish: Shall we finish our game?

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.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Memorial Day Weekend, NY, 2018 part 2

Day 3

First time at the Brooklyn Museum, we're here to see a show we missed at the Hammer Museum in LA – Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960-1985. This is not the first time this has happened. It works in reverse too – I was in no hurry to see last fall’s Laura Owens retro at the Whitney, since it’s going to be at MOCA this fall, assuming MOCA is still a thing this fall. The install of Radical Women greets the viewer with an amazing piece of film footage of Afro-Peruvian artist Victoria Santa Cruz. The film flickers and chants on a screen overhead in one of the main gallery spaces, part of the universe of history on display. That history includes the beguiling Envolvimento paintings by Brazilian artist Wanda Pimentel, highlighted by a sharp, striking flatness and ironic distance. Bonus round: Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party is permanently installed at the Brooklyn Museum.

From the Envolvimento series by Wanda Pimentel at the Brooklyn Museum
A Lyft driver named Quayvon takes us to Bushwick. Quayvon is about to have his first child with his opera singer wife. TSANY, Transmitter and Underdonk were closed, but Microscope was open. Therein lay an installation of works by Kevin Reuning that I was not particularly struck by while in its presence, but the memory of it now invites more consideration. The work employs digital technology and the clever byproducts of its misapplication. There is an interactive component that only requires more looking, which I appreciated beings that I am generally loathe to interact with art works and generally consider such conditions indicative of a weakness within the work (with some notable exceptions). At 56 Bogart St., some things were open and some things weren’t. The Border was open, and offered an inviting vision with a group exhibition called Intricate Neighbors, curated by artist and space founder Jamie Martinez. Through festoons of variable realness on the walls and underfoot, I find a ferocious orgy of color and material presence by artist Hyon Gyon. The Border’s mission is focused on immigrant artists, and was begun as a response to the current political climate. Also at 56 Bogart we see the work of Len Bellinger at David & Schweitzer Contemporary. Bellinger's is an interesting story, an insider with outsider habits, qualities the work seems to somehow inhabit. A painting called thug boggles with slathered layers of earnestness, completed over a 3 year period between 2015 and 2018. Down the hall and around the corner at VICTORI + MO is Meetinghouse, by artist Amie Cunat. Cunat has reimagined the works of the Shakers, an American religious cult known for their furniture and not having sex. The result places the viewer in a primary-colored cartoon environment, all lovingly hand-made out of paper, the functionality of the objects swapped for immersive vibrancy and chromatic surreality. 

Hyon Gyon at The Border
Thug, Len Bellinger, David &Schweitzer Contemporary

Meetinghouse by Amie Cunat at VICTORI+MO

Meetinghouse by Amie Cunat at VICTORI+MO
Day 4

Leon Golub: Raw Nerve explodes off the walls of the Met Breuer. Leave your bullshit at the door. Whether its a face, a dog, a skull, or an abstract form, Golub’s world is flayed and exposed. Every piece exists in a state of alert, unstretched shrouds throwing off the trappings of fastidious preciousness. Demonic, masculine golems of paint crowd the canvas of Giantomachy II, the central work of the exhibition. Golub both historically and prophetically channels the necromasculine urge – to war, to violence, to oppression, to subjugation – by slashing, smashing, scraping his figures together. They exude a weary, unidealized nakedness. That nakedness is present in his dictator portraits, where the scrubbed renderings of these men of death smolder against the banality of their expressions. A composition from 1994 titled All Bets Art Off gets down to the realness. A panting dog eyes death like a bone, face down and vulnerable. An old-fashioned tattoo graphic floats above, the unstretched linen and yellow ochre reading as skin. Our world is a hungry dog, hungry for death, salivating in its presence, more permanent than any tattoo, something for the maggots to look at, I guess.

It was the last day for Golub at the Met Breuer but right in the middle of the run for Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now), an ambitious, gobsmacking wallop of an exhibition. You think Westworld is creepy? I dare the Met to host sleepovers for this. Like Life reveals how in 700+ years, we still can’t reconcile with the revelation that we’re just haunted meat. We’re all “still life” someday, though perhaps not like Jeremy Benthem, I hope. 

Giantomachy II by Leon Golub at the Met Breuer

All Bets Are Off by Leon Golub at the Met Breuer
Day 5

Memorial Day. Brunch on 5th Ave at the Church of Heavenly Rest. Behind us is Central Park. Two blocks to our left is the Jewish Museum, one block to our right is the Guggenheim. Chaim Soutine: Flesh at the Jewish Museum rounds out the trip’s themes of corporeality, figuration, and death. Soutine is a name I recognize from every big museum with a room full of old European painting that I've ever been to. His paint handling anticipates Golub, Bacon, Guston, Brown, Lassnig and more. Anxious, searching, passages evoke sensations as much as associations in these works. Among the Jewish Museum's holdings on display, an early self-portrait of Lee Krasner gazes back with casual defiance. Krasner painted this work in 1930, age 22, in her parents backyard in Long Island. In tone and style, the work is somewhat reminiscent of Paula Modersohn-Becker. Despite the safe environs it actually represents, the effect of the background places the young Krasner alone in the wilderness, the wilderness of the path ahead, fixed upon by her scrutinizing countenance. 

Chaim Soutine at the Jewish Museum

Lee Krasner, Self-Portrait, 1930, at the Jewish Museum

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Memorial Day Weekend, NY, 2018 – part 1

Day 1

When we come to NY, we stay with friends in Greenwich Village. It’s a dream really. We walk to Chelsea because we’re from LA, and walking through a sea of humanity to get to where you’re going is sort of what we came for. There’s absolutely nothing comparable to window-viewing in Chelsea, but it’s good to have some specific targets in mind. We hit one right away, an exhibition of Inka Essenhigh’s paintings at Miles McEnery Gallery on W 22nd St. Essenhigh was an early influence of mine, she came to speak at the University of Houston when I was there, in ’02 or ’03. At the time I was still looking at contemporary art for ‘permission’; permission to paint this subject, or that way. Then and nowEssenhigh’s forms seem slick and precisely defined in reproduction, like animation cels for lost scenes from Disney’s Fantasia. In person, the paintings reveal Essenhigh’s hand and the minutiae of her decisions. Figures melt into floppy, suggestive forms, occupying a world free from the constraints of gravity, space, reality. The clarity of the enamel paint surface draws the eye into beholding ambiguous forms that tease with narrative possibility. 

Inka Essenhigh, Girls Night Out, 2017, enamel on canvas, 60 x 58 inches, 152.4 x 147.3 cm

Inka Essenhigh, The Shape You're In, 2017, enamel on canvas, 46 x 72 inches, 116.8 x 182.9 cm

Inka Essenhigh, Party of the Flames and Flowers, 2017, enamel on canvas, 48 x 55 inches, 121.9 x 139.7 cm

One street over from Miles McEnery is one of the tentacles of the Gagosian empire (there are 5 in NY alone). Within the gallery on this warm May day is Ancestors, an exhibition of new paintings by British artist Jenny Saville. This is as good as it gets for me. Opinion is divided, but for me these works offer a corporeal vision of a psyche dismembered and fractured by history. They seduce with amorous revulsion, weeping with paint and gestural fits. Bodies of diverse size and color are smashed together and placed on pedestals, daring the viewer to see them in a light that is still not bright enough – the light of a non-male eye. Historically, statistically, most images of women are produced by men. Correspondingly, it is not surprising to me at all that Saville’s “pyrotechnics” are dismissed by critics oblivious to their own biases, with repeated comparisons to Rubens, Salle, Condo, Auerbach. Gagosian’s roster is 79% male, and represents the penultimate stage of artist canonization before institutional enshrinement, where the gender statistics aren't much better. Art does not exist in a hermetic vacuum, divorced from the context of its time or the systemic oppressiveness that defines that time. The standards of formal analysis are not absolute Platonic ideals above issues of identity. Art, like scripture, often reveals more about the reader/viewer than the author/artist. 

Jenny Saville at Gagosian, New York

Installation view of Jenny Saville: Ancestors at Gagosian, New York.
Jenny Saville, Fate III, 2018, oil on canvas, 102 3/8 × 94 1/2 inches, 260 × 240 cm

Day 2

We head down to the Bowery to catch Songs For Sabotage, the 2018 New Museum Triennial, dubbed by Jerry Saltz the “I Am More Woke Than You” triennial. I didn’t feel that it was "strung out on privileged bullshit" but I am not totally unsympathetic to what I think he means. There was perhaps less of an electric air to it than the last triennial, Surround Audience, but 2015 was a different time wasn’t it? Bailing out on an attempt to process the concept of geontopower certainly helps maintain Saltz’s "folk critic" point of view (a "folk critic” with a Pulitzer Prize no less). But to dismiss Elizabeth Povanelli’s admittedly esoteric concept upon it’s first major exposure in the world of art feels a bit hasty. Were it used to justify distant, opaque, cynical, elitist gestures, perhaps I would dismiss it as well – art that dismisses the viewer should be dismissed by the viewer. Fortunately, the approaches and tactics present in Songs are familiar, accessible, and responsive, while at the same time remaining highly idiosyncratic and unexpected. As for geontopower, it is the New Museum after all, and new approaches to obsessively unpacking the unprecedented, cancerous monetizing of every aspect of life actually does feel like the right thing to be doing at this point in time. Like much great art, these works from all over the globe attempt to contend with content that defies cogent, verbal articulation. The heat of the hot button issues can be felt in many of these works without knowing specifically which buttons the artists are pushing. I give in to the urge to share images of the work of Los Angeles painter Janiva Ellis: riots of color and imagery, unabashed, hand-wrought, and immediate. Playing with the fire of faces, caricature and cartoons, Ellis's bold color and sunny skies are spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine go down. 

In the Lower East Side we visit three galleries: Magenta PlainsCANADA, and yours mine & ours gallery. Our hosts in the Village recommend an exhibit at Magenta Plains, a solo exhibition of paintings by Alex Kwartler. Subjects and objects include tuna cans, popcorn, pennies and the titular snowflakes. I am drawn to a pair of Tuyman-esque paintings of pennies dissolving into grey, austere fogs, fading memories of money. Just my two cents. At CANADA, the paintings of Daniel Hesidence are close to hitting a moving target between imagery and effect. Recurring head-shaped forms force a tense reckoning with the other visual information. The strangeness is compounded by the swirling line work flipping over and under, trying to play at being recognized as something too. While walking down Eldridge St. I notice some work I recognize from LA, Mandy Lyn Ford at yours, mine & ours. Though the materials of Ford's work are paint, cardboard, glitter, canvas, wood, and the like, in her hands they read more along the lines of cake, frosting, sugar, sprinkles, etc. Abstract painting as decadent, over the top dessert. Those colors, that glitter, and the confection-like qualities combine with the ferocious material presence and sublime interior logic, both two-dimensionally and three, to create a more 'nutritious' tension.

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