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Post #339 • August 5, 2004, 6:25 AM • 33 Comments

Via ArtsJournal, an exhibition in Capetown entitled "Flip."

This exhibition consists of an unusual, short-term curatorial "intervention" using paintings from the Michaelis Collection. In this conceptual intervention, selected works will be hung "the wrong way" so that only their backs can be seen by the viewer.

Q. What is the difference between an "intervention" and an intervention?
A. Nothing.

Q. Who is intervening in what?
A. The curator is intervening in the process by which a viewer looks at a painting and enjoys it.

Q. Why are there scare quotes around "the wrong way"?
A. To try to cast doubt into the reader's mind about the correctness of hanging the paintings face-out and imply that face-in is equally valid.

Curated by Andrew Lamprecht of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, the exhibition will function on several levels. Firstly, it will operate as a contemporary "installation" that will raise questions and issues around perceptions and public expectations in a traditional "gallery" space. Secondly, it will draw attention to the important information and the deductions that can be drawn from the historical evidence found on the backs of pictures.

Q. What is the difference between an "installation" and an installation?
A. Nothing.

Q. What question might be raised by this exhibition?
A. "How much is Mr. Lamprecht paid for his pale imitation of cleverness?"

Q. Why are there scare quotes around "gallery"?
A. I have no idea.

Q. Why is the information on the back of the paintings important?
A. Because it relates to the front of the paintings, which will not be visible during the exhibition.

Q. How many is several?
A. More than three.

Old labels, inscriptions and other material have become attached to paintings over hundreds of years, providing clues to their previous ownership, origin, provenance and how they were made. Usually only of interest to specialists, the "hidden" side of a painting often has a unique story to tell.

Q. Then why not hang the paintings edge-in, or floated, so that the "unique story" can be related to the painted side of the canvas?
A. This isn't about education. It's about the fear of good art.




August 5, 2004, 3:24 PM

This looks to me like a good specific example of the kind of thing we have been discussing in general terms. It is drenched in pomo attitude: deliberate but frivolous reversal of expectations, contempt for the art, contempt for the collector, contempt for the public ("this is not about education"), wiseass responses to reasonable questions (" much is Mr. Lamprecht paid...", "I have no idea"), standard pomo buzz phrases ("conceptual intervention", "raise issues", "function on several levels"), absurd relativistic pronouncements ("face-in is equally valid"), rejection of any common sense (when asked why not hang the pictures so that both sides can be seen) and, finally, a pointedly far-fetched rationalization for the exhibit ("It's about the fear of good art"). In the old days a person who did this would be put in the stocks and ridiculed by the public.



August 5, 2004, 4:47 PM

I'm really tempted to rant, but it'd be like shooting fish in a barrel. The whole business is too pitiful to bother with, or should be. Mr. Lamprecht has effectively discredited the institution that is foolish enough to pay him.



August 5, 2004, 4:57 PM

None of you get "it." It's not about good art or bad, it's about how we look at paintings.
What Mr. Lamprecht has done is shown how dumb pomo can be. Applaud his efforts! Encourage his show to tour! And be done with pomo once and for all!!



August 5, 2004, 6:41 PM

Actually this presents an interesting problem. Franklin has posted a pretty thorough description of an actual standard issue Postmodernist art exhibit. Like much of this kind of art we don't need much detail; the exhibit described could take place with just about any group of paintings. If put up in NY or Miami it would be seriously reviewed with all the appropriate language. This is the mainstream art of today.

Where are the defenders? We all chip in about how crappy it is, but it gets boring talking to each other all the time. Franklin tells me he averages 1200 hits a day. A few weeks ago we had people demanding that we talk about actual art and foaming at the mouth whenever we criticized anything like this. Those people faded away like Dracula seeing the sign of the cross. One would think we would be getting postings one after the other calling us dinosaurs and philistines and (as has happened) "blind fools" and telling us that we are full of it and all wrong and so forth. If we were talking about Democrats or Republicans or gays or minorities or local politics or even Albanian cooking, for crying out loud, we would be overwhelmed by angry posts. The people who do this stuff and exhibit and review it are out there and I know a fair number of them are reading this blog. Where are you? Are you all chicken shit? Let's hear it!



August 5, 2004, 11:00 PM

Oldpro, sorry to disappoint, but I'm with you on this one.
Catbird, I get "it" loud and clear and it's just plain vapid. And by the way, in my book, it IS about good art and bad art.
One of the ways to be "done with pomo" is to stop putting on truly dumb and insulting shows such as this, as opposed to encouraging it to tour ( God forbid!).



August 6, 2004, 12:32 AM

I thought people would be interested to see the website of the Michaelis Collection itself. Its collection is comprised of 16th- to 18th-century Dutch and Flemish art, and it makes its historic panelled rooms available for occasional chamber music concerts and "stylish corporate receptions." (The statuary bust in the third photo on that page is Sir Michaelis, who donated the building and its initial collection to the South African government in 1914.)


Jerome du Bois

August 6, 2004, 12:44 AM


Good post. This kind of lameness reached its first nadir with Martin Creed's Turner-Prize-winning The Lights Going On and Off (or whatever it was called), a few years ago.

Here in Phoenix the art scene is too stupid, narrow, provincial, and dated to be as lame as Miami's -- that's a compliment! -- so allow me a couple of exploratory questions or notions about recent shows there.

I haven't looked it up, but it must be part of local art folklore: the guy who chose a ratty stuffed armchair from a dumpster during a recent Miami Art Basel, and some gallerist signed off on it as art. Four grand, I think it was. I wonder if anyone took it home. [Don't sit there! Idiot!]

The recent (I hate to bring it up again) excremental/seminal show at OBJEX by that wanker (oops!) Brit. Once again, a gallerist, a professional art dealer, promoted and signed off on this stuff.

My question: Franklin, Jack, oldpro, whoever over there who knows or is aware of these gallerists and dealers -- could you please ask them for me -- since you haven't yet for yourselves (at least in print) -- why in the name of Haysoos Marimba they promote this manure? I know I could email them, but I'm shy . . .

Put it this way, Franklin, oldpro, any professional Miami artist reading this blog: would you approach OBJEX or whoever slagged off that armcharir to represent you? Yes, I want to stand proudly side by side with that choice . . .

I have tried, out here in Phoenix, but I can't get a gallerist or dealer to justify thier choices in plain terms. There are standards,people; there is a ladder: we climb to the top, throw it away, and confront another ladder. But the direction is up and better, not down and out, and not hiding from the need for standards by facing the wall.

Franklin's right. It's about fear, fear of good art.



Jerome du Bois

August 6, 2004, 12:49 AM

Lost my "B," trying to actual casual.
Can't stop, might end up in the hossspital.




August 6, 2004, 1:13 AM

The only questioning or challenge dubious gallerists are likely to be receptive to or concerned about would be from deep-pockets "major" collectors, who are hardly known for going against what is sanctioned and promoted by the art establishment. Indeed, such collectors finance said establishment and are intimately related to it--they're a big part of the problem. Someone could have the finest eye in the world, but if s/he's never spent big bucks on art and has no prospects of doing so, dubious gallerists are not about to give that person the time of day.



August 6, 2004, 2:14 AM

Germain: yeah, one way to stop Pomo is to stop putting on dumb shows like this, fer sure. Only people keep putting on dumb shows like this, by the thousands. How do you stop them?

Jerome: the armchair was written up by the estimable humorist Dave Barry, my candidate for the best art crtitic in Miami. His column can be found at John Link's site

which links to the Jan 18, 2004 Miami Herald Dave Barry column.

I don't think I would accept a gallery like that to represent me. The gallery has to like and identify with you and your art, has to be honest and pay on time. This is a rare combunation, but everyone is so desperate they take any offer and then suffer for it. And these galleries are amateurish, fly-by-night outfits anyway, which melt away as soon as anything looks like work.

Now, why they show this dreck...that is a difficult question to answer. Some kind of mass hysteria, i think.



August 6, 2004, 6:17 AM

Not defending cause I agree that the chair IS dreck, but wasn't that same dreck also on the cover of Art Forum for the January issue this year??? It is not just the gallerists or the collectors...

Thanks for putting the Heads song in my head. Its in my CD Player now, talk about some damm good art!


Jerome du Bois

August 6, 2004, 6:56 AM


Thanks for your reply. Some collectors are part of the problem, too, then.


You're right, that chair was on the cover of Artforum. So at least one magazine is part of the problem, too. Artists, gallerists, collectors, magazines . . . It's a conspiracy! (Or mass hysteria, in oldpro's words.) Well, as DeNiro said in Ronin, "You're either part of the problem, or part of the solution, or part of the landscape." Don't those four forces about cover the landscape, though? It's discouraging. Time to listen to "The Great Curve."

I'd still like someone to ask those gallerists some hard questions. As soon as I think of them. Right now, I must go back to throwing my wine corks at the TV screen.




August 6, 2004, 3:16 PM

I did not realize that the chair was on the cover of ARTFORUM, but if you read the Dave Barry column with that knowledge in mind it is as good a sample, of both the seriousness and the silliness of the predicament we are in as I could hope to raise. To complete the picture, one must also read this critical defense of the chair:

I also did not realize that my fellow bloggers did not realize how pervasive this thing is. Postmodernism, and the art that represents it, is not just a side issue in today's art world. It is the dominant mode. It is the mainstream. This is why I keep ranting about it.



August 6, 2004, 5:02 PM

And, of course, here's their defense of their defense.



August 6, 2004, 5:06 PM

However much i hate to say it, i think the idea of the chair is more imaginative than the ready-made critique these days. So much of the art being talked about IS being talked about because it fits within a framework of, take your pick: identity, gender, etc. It's a ready-made for the artist and the gallerist and the writer. We all read the same magazines.



August 6, 2004, 5:10 PM

"Rodney McMillian's work limns absence as an unmitigated presence." There's that absent presence doodoo again! Talk about there being no there there!



August 6, 2004, 6:07 PM

So I read McMillians critique. It began with quite a bit of eye-rolling on my part, but then it made me think:

Sure, works like the chair and more so the pompous promotion that surrounds them do bother me. I personally like to see people involved in the actual act of CREATING something, taking the time to interact with the objects and resources around them and transform them into something that is, for them, new and interesting and insightful. . But this is not to say that the practice of taking something out of the garbage and rethinking its history and meaningfulness isnt likewise a useful and needed practice on its own terms.

There is obviously a need for reflection, a need to connect with objects in a more (for lack of a better word) spiritual way. If we begin with the things around us, things we would not typically give a second glance, maybe we can take the first step to enriching our lives with the kind of meaning and soulful-ness that seems to be lacking.

I can understand completely why calling this kind of practice art would unnerve most people; perhaps this activity indeed should have a designation of its own in order to allow the actual creative process more room for celebration and encouragement. (?) However, there is also a big, big part of me that says, So activity like this has found its niche under the umbrella of art? So what? Its only dangerous, I think, when it does so at the cost of other, truly viable methods of creativity..

Most aspects of our lives -- politics or religion or the 9 to 5 workday, for instance -- have not provided a place for this kind of reflective activity. Since art welcomes it as art, thats where it finds its voice.

Its sad, really. We are in such desperate need to connect with ourselves and our environment, that we dont even know how to do it well just yet. Thus we end up with these half-attempts to do so via critique and celebration of the chair, which in the end become all swallowed up by notions of market prestige and academic snobbery. I'm just thinking that there's a REASON that the attempt is made at all, some human motivation outside of market production and ego, and that maybe if we/they keep trying, at some point someone will start to get it right?



August 6, 2004, 7:28 PM

Fauteuil, point taken. As a comparison, you should try writing about abstract art sometime - a difficult task, moreso than art that's about something, particularly something that relates, even tangentially, to a cause du jour for which there's a prefabricated set of stock nonsense.

N, art already provides excellent tools for reflecting on and relating to the world as you're describing, collected under the rubric of craftsmanship. Drawing, especially, is a perfect method for connecting artistically with the world around you. But drawing doesn't appeal to the Dadaist sensibility that the chair does. The chair plays directly to market forces, and I think ascribing nobler intentions to it is an unwarranted act of generosity on your part. I have no problem with its categorization as art. But I saw it, and as art it's quite bad.



August 6, 2004, 9:12 PM

N - Sorry, but I think you have wandered off into the land of mushy thinking. "the practice of taking something out of the garbage and rethinking its history and meaningfulness" may well be "a useful and needed practice on its own terms". I've done that. It can be fun and interesting. And, sure, there is a need for "spiritual reflection". I've done that, too. It nourishes the soul. Let's find ways to do these nice things. But it is not art. The damn chair is not art. It does not belong in a gallery with a $4000 price tag on it. In fact, it exists precisely, in your phrase, "at the cost of other, truly viable methods of creativity". This kind of crap not only crowds out any of the "new and interesting and insightful" stuff you claim to like but its proponents actively discourage any such thing. What have we been talking about here for the last month or two?

And, furthermore, the chair does none of the "uplifting" stuff you are talking about. It is a piece of junk masquerading as art with a big price tag to separate some artworld-besotted fool from his money. And, furthermore again, the "reflective activity" you carry on about can be promoted way better by describing it or teaching it or promoting it on its own, which is done in classes and seminars and on TV all the time. Art is art. It is not some kind of all-purpose spiritual panacea. Let's keep it what it is, please.

Fauteuil: "I think the idea of the chair is more imaginative than the ready-made critique"? Is an "idea" a "critique"? I don't get it.



August 6, 2004, 9:18 PM

I like Franklin's word: doodoo. "Crap" and "shit" and "garbage" - words like this dignify this stuff by their very intensity. It's all doodoo.



August 6, 2004, 9:22 PM

Franklin - Are you saying the act of drawing connects a person to the universe, or the viewing of drawing does? I hope you can give regular guys like me some hope.

Also, I'm not sure if you're using "chair" as a proxy for an entire class of artwork or not. Are you saying craft is necessary for art? (And sufficient?) Or just that "chair" is a bad example of what I'll call "narrative-only" art?



August 6, 2004, 9:48 PM

Hey, hey, hey, now..

I never said that the 'chair' should be called art. That was never my argument. I thought the 'chair' was ridiculous when I first saw the photo of it, and the idea that people are making money off of it makes me hot as hell with anger. When I read McMillian's review, however, I realized that I have had many of the same thoughts about other things I have experienced, things I have noticed while waiting at a bus stop, or while tooling around weekend markets, or even while looking at art in galleries. I would believe that most of what is said about the 'chair' is not genuine reflection on this object in particular, but rather a simulation of the kind of experience that the collectors/gallerists/art goers PRETEND to have when looking at art. (Didn't Rosenberg write about the same kind of dubious activity in art circles back in the late 1940's -- people 'pretending' to get all transcendental in front of a Newman or a Rothko, just so they could fit in with the cool art crowd? Doesn't mean that a transcendental quality couldn't be accessed, it's just that pretension is too easily accepted as the real thing.)

I am so not saying that the 'chair' itself is a good thing. I simply think it's interesting to look at the kind of experience that such showy art-types try to simulate. Because they could choose from a variety of experiences, but the ones they choose to emulate says something about our society and the role art plays in it. It's more productive to think about these questions and at least try to figure out why and how the 'chair' ends up on the cover of ARTFORUM in order to at least try to affect some sort of change. I'd rather do that then just say 'it's stupid' and leave it at that. It's not just stupid -- it has power behind it, and uncovering the structure of that power is important.

We all know that the 'chair' does not achieve notoriety because everyone who is involved with art on any level of power is an idiot; there's something more complicated going on and I'd like to figure it out.



August 6, 2004, 11:42 PM

That's fine, N, but the way you were talking around it sure made it seem like you were coming up with just about any excuse you could find for it. If not, so much the better. But please make the distinctions more clear. I, for one, did not sense them.

As you say, there is power there, and "uncovering the structure of that power is important". There was power in the tulip bulb market in Holland in1637, in the stock of the South Sea Company in 1720 and the NY stock market in 1929. These things all crashed disastrously, overnight. What we have here is a similar kind of mass hysteria, wherein "art" has been simultaneously stripped of any application of common sense valuation on the one hand and elevated to almost scared status on the other. Previous blogs mentioned recent auctions where Andy Warhol paintings and Jeff Koons sculptures - and much else - sold in the $5 or $6 million range. I have neither the training nor the inclination to "uncover the structure", but, as I have said before on these pages, I wish some highly skilled social psychologist would get on the case before, not after, the proverbial shit hits the fan. It would make fascinating reading, for sure.



August 6, 2004, 11:45 PM

one morre thing. You say "We all know that the 'chair' does not achieve notoriety because everyone who is involved with art on any level of power is an idiot"

Well, they are acting like idiots. As they say, "walks like a duck, talks like a duck..."



August 7, 2004, 1:34 AM

N, thanks for the clarification. My response to you became weighty enough to merit its own post; check back Monday and thanks for participating.



August 7, 2004, 2:01 AM

I just realized that I wrote that art has been "elevated to almost scared status". I meant "sacred" status, of course, but the blooper (a half of a Spoonerism, a Freudian slip?) is pretty good too


Jerome du Bois

August 7, 2004, 5:06 PM


I'm glad I brought up the chair; its absent presence was nagging at me, so whaddaya gonna do?


I am so not saying that the 'chair' itself is a good thing. I simply think it's interesting to look at the kind of experience that such showy art-types try to simulate.

I do, too. It reminds me of that George Costanza line: "I always wanted to pretend to be an architect." I think a lot of these people have spent too much time in schools.



John Link

August 7, 2004, 5:46 PM

HERD BEHAVIOR: What N and oldpro are discussing is the innate tendency of humans to form groups that behave as one, seemingly out of mutual beliefs and interests, but more likely due to primitive communication with each other that satisfies the needs of the limbic system in our brains. Neuro chemicals flow to their appropriate receptors and, when the volume is high enough, cause the herd to congeal as one self stimulating whole. Once the chemicals begin such a journey, they are very hard to resist. The primary difference between human and animal herds is our ability to wrap rationalizations around our instinctive behavior.

These are fancy words for it feels compelling if not good to belong to a group, even when the group is engaged in something that will hurt it, as when the buffalo plunge off the cliff. When mutual panic is felt intensely enough, all capability to act independently is overcome, until it exhausts itself on its own accord and they resume grazing, or there is no ground underneath them, in which case panic is confirmed by their plunge into the abyss.

But, herd behavior is not always negative. Many times it leads to positive outcomes, as when a school of fish traps a school of smaller fish in a cove, then eats them with wild abandon until they are gorged in a fit of euphoria.

What is most amazing about the art community is how we disguise our own herd behavior with words like "creativity", "invention", and the worst word of all, "unique". Naturally, everyone in the herd agrees what we are doing is the ultimate expression of indivdualism. An alien from Mars does not see it that way, of course, but it is the nature of aliens not to belong to human herds. (They have their own herds, I bet.)

Herd movements are not always euphoric or panicked, in which cases they are not so tightly packed and closely organized. But when they enter the intense self stimulating mode, there is little tolerance for dissent. The current rushing decline in art - postmodernism - offers a very good example of this intolerance. Even a single dissenter interrupts the primitive flow of hormones that drive the movement to new levels of satisfying intensity, so it is to the herd's advantage to squelch anyone who interrupts the process. No one likes a party pooper, even if the task of the party is to wreck the house in which it is held.

Bottom line, postmodernism is more about hormones we share with all animals than it is about art. Which explains why it is so comfortable doing without much, if any, art.



August 7, 2004, 6:51 PM

I agree with Link, and that's why I wish some trained social psychologist would do a study of the whole ferschlugginer mess.

Jerome, "spent too much time in schools" is right on. Schools and academicism are the problem. Artists are going to art school as if they are going to accounting school, as if it was some sort of profession where you actually learn a job skill. Then when they get there they are told that there is nothing really to teach, just do your own thing (unless it is, heaven forbid, some sort of outmoded modernist effort where you try to make better art) and you doodle around for a couple of years and then go out and guess what? Everyone is doing the same thing you are, and nobody cares whether you do it or not. A couple artists will get picked up by galleries and the rest will whine and complain and that's it.

I just got an email from a young artist I know just out of Claremont, and he sent me a review of a show of 128 graduates if the top art schools around LA and the review said out of 128 there were maybe 5 that were even worth looking at. This reviewer did not write like a tough guy, just a reviewer who looked at a couple hundred pieces from graduate MFAs just out of places like Cal Arts and UCLA and Claremont and said, you know, there is really not much here.

Now, take that 128, and multiply it by all the art schools in the USA, and multiply it by all the years these places have been graduating MFAs, and you get a shitload of MFAs out there who have no hope of ever making anything any good or getting into galleries (it is not the same thing, of course) and they will wait on tables, or live with their parents or, guess what? Get jobs in academia and teach MORE art students to go out and fail just as miserably as they have. What a system! This is why catfish (I think it was catfish) was saying for God's sake let's tell these people to stop making "art" and find something useful to do.



August 7, 2004, 7:14 PM

Yes! I wonder about all those "artist's" out there too. What are you doing? Love to hear from you. do you know what "we " are even talking about?
Some obviously don't want to be found out, accused of making inferior art and perpetuating the PoMo indulgences. I can see how easy it may be, caught up in the frenzy of this Post-Duchampian charade. Harboring fears of being old-fashioned, uncool. You want it all now. Fitting in with the herd makes it easy. Only this herd of the Post-Duchampian ilk is not cool anymore. I equate the cover of magazines, big Hollywood movies, reality tv shows with the most popular art these days. "Everyone" is caught up in the moment. Desperate to be "somebody", whatever it takes. It would definitely be exciting to hear from more artists filling the galleries and museums here, there , everywhere, with stuff that won't last. I assume most can't see beyond a few feet in front of them. There is really no need for them to support their position, take a side and defend it. That would require too much effort wouldn't it?



August 8, 2004, 5:58 AM

Hovig: regarding your earlier question, either making or viewing a drawing will create the connection, but let's face it, the one making the drawing is more hooked in.

All art, to whatever extent it handles materials, requires some kind of knowledge about their handling and thus craftsmanship. But the problem with the chair isn't one of craftsmanship, it's one of bad art.



August 8, 2004, 6:14 AM

My barbels picked up the vibrations of someone calling my name. Yes it was I who brought up the virtue of telling artists to quit. The world does not need so many of them, art does not need so many of them, and I certainly do not need so many of them. It is like a forest with too many seedlings, each crowding the other out so none of them have a chance for growth. Long leaf pines work their way through this problem by leveraging forest fires that start when lightning runs down a big tree and ignites the little suckers.

There are so many huge egoed artists with small to nothing achievements about that I call them "those little pests". Since Orkin won't deal with art-infestations, the alternative is to tell them to quit and hope they will.



August 9, 2004, 12:11 AM

Problem is, catfish, that the Orkin man tells me that they can keep on working for a long time after they have lost their heads...



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