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New in the WDBA: Ann Walsh

Post #1859 • March 6, 2020, 8:49 AM • 4 Comments

[Image: Installation view, Ann Walsh at Alexander/Heath Contemporary, 2015]

Installation view, Ann Walsh at Alexander/Heath Contemporary, 2015

A late but welcome addition to the Walter Darby Bannard Archive: Ann Walsh, a catalogue essay for the artist's 2015 exhibition in Roanoke. (You may recall that I too have written about her, and in doing so referenced Darby's essay.)

Darby didn't write prolifically in his last years. I'm glad of this, as it gave him more time to paint, and many of the later paintings are extraordinary. But I'm sure, despite the absence of material in the archive between 2009 and 2015, that he wrote something during that time. If readers have any insights into the matter, please get in touch.

Diving back into the archive reminds me what a debt I owe to John Link for recovering this material from the wreckage of the Great Server Meltdown of 2014. Thank you again, John.

I dreamed last night that I was helping Darby install a new show. The paintings were really good.

Comment

1.

John Link

March 6, 2020, 5:26 PM

You write, "Darby didn't write prolifically in his last years." It is a nit-picking technicality, but I'll note anyway that throughout 2009 and part of 2010 Darby wrote profusely for the "Rough Rider" version of Artblog that I call "Artblog One" (RIP). One of hundreds of examples can be found in Post #1412, "Beauty is better than a big idea", November 2, 2009, where Darby wrote (#14):

Tim, literalist that I am, I have a problem with art sending us a message. Messages say something, have meaning, even when not verbal. A message communicates. The effect of art consists of what it doea [sic], not what it communicates.

This last full year and all those behind it of Artblog One are full of his hastily typed, informal comments that ring bell after bell after bell. He very much missed the opportunity you afforded him to write prolifically and spontaneously after the fateful day you ended it, April 5, 2010. Of course that leaves another 8 years of scarcity which demonstrates your basic point. But Artblog One served as his main inspiration to express himself in words throughout its six-year run, and I suspect its demise explains in part why he did not have that much to say thereafter. Writing can consume a lot of energy and time when it includes transforming the basic thought into a written-for-publication format. Often the transformation adds little to the value of the raw thought. I think Darby felt that, despite his mastery of formal writing, and acted accordingly.

In the referenced essay you wrote for Ann Walsh's show at the Sam & Adele Golden Gallery in 2018 you said: "Primaries like the ones she and Smith preferred might be destructive to a painting built on the principles of Nimbus...". Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the abstractions of Gerhard Richter with a specific example, for anyone interested, being Abstraktes Bild (809-4), a large 1994 painting that went for $39 million at Sotheby's in 2012. (Eric Clapton, who bought it in 2001 for $4 million, turned a nifty 1000 percent profit.) LeRoy Neiman generated the same kind of garishness with his use of color in his realistic illustrations for Playboy. But Hans Hofmann made scores of bluntly bright abstractions, though perhaps a tad less bright that Ann Walsh's vinyl, but thoroughly saturated nonetheless.

My point is that the successful use of saturated color is primarily a function of the talent that is behind it, and its necessity for realizing such talent. It goes garish when it becomes an end in itself, rather than a means. (Everything employed in successful art is a means to its effect as art.) Thus it is nothing like the Holy Grail of picture making that some appear to regard it. After all, saturated pigments were not readily available to the Old Masters and I am not sure much art made since the 18th century holds up when compared to giants like Titian, David, Rembrandt and so on. Matisse, who worked into the 19th century, is a top candidate for making an exception and he certainly took advantage of the new bright pigments.

PS: I like Artblog Two, but I find myself reading around in the Artblog One archive more often than not because it was and is so damn fertile. Likewise, even though Greenberg's writings are superb, they are not as inspiring as he was in person. Rawness has its unique rewards.

2.

Franklin

March 8, 2020, 12:04 PM

He very much missed the opportunity you afforded him to write prolifically and spontaneously after the fateful day you ended it, April 5, 2010.

And I was sorry to do that to him. But my personal circumstances were unhappy at that point, for reasons that I won't get into in public. At the blog, I found myself in charge of a free-for-all that was enormously interesting as modernist inside baseball, though it required constant monitoring for spam, unclosed italics tags, and inflammatory comments in need of a quickly hurled bucket of water from the proprietor. I also realized around then that modernism, which like a tide had led Darby into an art career and subsequently a teaching position once it foundered, was leading me away from them just as inexorably. Furthermore, nobody had any idea of what to do about modernism's failing fortunes except dig deeper into their respective holes. Ten years on, modernism is not only unpopular, but reviled as politically toxic to boot. People tell me that the pendulum has gone as far as it can and will swing the other way. I doubt it. I think serious art, serious criticism, and serious teaching are all going to become increasingly impossible. If my interest in these things had an off switch I would flip it. But it doesn't, so here I am.

That said, the aphorisms book, which I started working on in 2011, was an attempt to distill Darby's best comments from the blog threads into a more readily available form. The comment you mention, or one like it, became #53: The power of art is not communication, but effect. The book, I hope, performed some kind of service, both within this circle and beyond it.

3.

John Link

March 8, 2020, 5:45 PM

I also realized around then that modernism, which like a tide had led Darby into an art career and subsequently a teaching position once it foundered, was leading me away from them just as inexorably. Furthermore, nobody had any idea of what to do about modernism's failing fortunes except dig deeper into their respective holes.

Wow Franklin! You just opened the door to the dirty little secret of the modernist family history. Digging deeper has only made it worse, though Berry Campbell seems to do OK with old and dead modernists. But that “OK” is minuscule compared to that found in today’s gallery system.

About the “pendulum” theory and predicted swing-back, “Elvis has left the building” better describes the situation that exists today. I could go further and say what’s left are Elvis impersonators, but that seems unkind. Many are trying with all their heart and soul. But I find myself less and less responsive to even as iconic an artist as Frankenthaler. Much of what she and others have done now feels like design without a purpose, composition for its own sake, or doodling at a high level. And, in some cases, pompous.

If modernism in painting can be thought of simply as abstraction without reference to “purity,” “rehabilitation of the media,” and the like, then there may be a path forward. It would involve paying attention to “content,” which is something of a nasty word for what remains of modernism. Yet it should not be. The old masters were chock full of it in a way that roughly corresponds to music with lyrics. But music without lyrics has also been around for a long time, music that conveys and inspires emotion that equals that of music with lyrics.

By avoiding the necessity of including content, abstraction tends to make itself irrelevant. The falling into a black hole that happened to modernism in the early '60s can be read as a positive move in favor of restoring content. The fact that the best artists of that time were not interested in content left a low entrance bar for others who were interested and wanted in. So we got Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and others who were not as strong, but somehow grasped the importance of content and the emotions it could trigger.

It is something to think about. If “abstract” music can trigger emotions, why can’t abstract art? To do so, it might have to ignore one of the major tenets of modernism, but why would that matter? Modernism is dead. That's clear.

As you know, Darby and I started artCrit to continue what you started in Artblog One. But, like most sequels, it did work out as well as its predecessor. We solved many of the problems you cite – spam, italics, inflammatory comments and such – by using Disqus to provide the commenting mechanism. And Darby and others left a number of worthy comments. But it just did not have the magic that permeated Artblog One, warts and all.

4.

Franklin

March 9, 2020, 7:04 AM

...it might have to ignore one of the major tenets of modernism, but why would that matter? Modernism is dead. That's clear.

A modernism practiced with the catholicity that Greenberg himself employed absolutely could include content. But the content, like the form, would have to take the shape it does in the service of felt effect. Most of the content I see now is aimed at interpreters who decode (or claim to decode) the content and then judge the message on its allegiances. It doesn't even have to make any sense as long as it appears to be trying to say the “right” things. And “right” represents a so-thin-it's-transparent slice of the whole range of human experience. So not even a content-driven modernism is viable except at the margins. If that's out, and form-driven modernism is out, then this is too generous:

I could go further and say what’s left are Elvis impersonators, but that seems unkind. Many are trying with all their heart and soul.

Imagine being an Elvis impersonator, and thinking you're actually Elvis. Also, you've only ever heard "Hound Dog" a couple of times.

Berry Campbell also does well with their living artists. Jim Walsh, Jill Nathanson, Susan Vecsey, and Eric Dever are unimpeachably serious so I stop short of saying that the core project is dead. (I guess I’ve written about all of them except Jill, which I ought to take care of. But: Jim, Susan and Jim, Eric.) And sure, this is a drop in the ocean that is the trillion-dollar art market but if that volume is mostly hogwash then it's not a meaningful comparison.

Maybe viability at the margins is all one can ask for in 2020. The conditions that make serious art, criticism, and teaching increasingly difficult are in fact making everything difficult. The humanities are getting wiped out at the universities (which themselves may be more and more vulnerable to a student debt bubble pop), beset by assaults on their legitimacy from both external sources (i.e., skepticism about their ROI) and internal ones (i.e., their newfound love of intellectual race separatism). There’s nothing happening to the profession of art criticism that isn’t also happening to film criticism, or the criticism of dance, poetry, theater, etc. At the museums, philanthropy is down across the board, while activists find ever more sources of that philanthropy intolerable.

The anti-modernism and the identitarianism and all else may very well be a prelude to a giant bust-up. But if so, everything will go down together, good, bad, and ugly.

Perhaps the best survival strategy is to practice modernism in a sublimated form, without calling it that. As comics, perhaps.

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