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salmon talks about public art

Post #375 • September 29, 2004, 7:58 AM • 15 Comments

Have a look at this eminently sensible essay about public art by Felix Salmon.




September 29, 2004, 3:43 PM

Very sensible, indeed. A real oddity.

When I see Tom Otterness mentioned it always recalls the memory that back in the days when artists were shooting themselves and chopping themselves into pieces Otterness made a video called "Shot Dog Piece" which portrayed him shooting a dog and then watching it die. Of all the excesses taken in the name of "art" I found this the least forgiveable.


that guy in the back row

September 29, 2004, 4:27 PM

Felix Salmon for a&e editor at the NY Times now!

(reminds me, miami just installed this heinous Brito sculpture down here, which is making children cry, and me sick.)



September 29, 2004, 5:13 PM

No. 2, did you read what Salmon said about Jeff Koons? As far as I'm concerned, Koons is a smarter, slicker, trendier, much more status-and-reputation-conscious version of Britto, but we're still talking about bogus art (only directed at the powers-that-be as opposed to the general public, who can't even remotely afford the stuff and is therefore irrelevant).


that guy in the back row

September 29, 2004, 8:06 PM

I think public art should be banned until further notice. Aleast until the powers that be, as you call them, come to their senses. I'm not holding my breath. I'm sure the prime real estate that is littered with this good will art could be used better.



September 29, 2004, 8:18 PM

Yeah, Jack, Koons is way smarter and slicker than Britto, sort of like what NY is to Miami, but if we can force ourselves to lower our sights and see the Koons puppy as "fun public art", it actually is fun public art, or fun public something, if you don't want to call it art, certainly better in every way than that grotesque 45-ft cookie-cutter clown at the Dadeland North Metro station. I think if we have "art" expectations for this kind of thing we will always be disappointed. I am not trying to talk anyone into anything, just making distinctions. A ban on public art would suit me just fine.



September 29, 2004, 8:38 PM

No. 4, don't wait for the powers-that-be to come to their senses--as long as they're in control, they don't have to. I have not yet seen the Britto object in question, but I can imagine. Britto's commercial success has so outrageously outstripped his talent that I expect even he knows he's selling fool's gold, and maybe that's why he was caught DUI. Still, it's not his fault that some presumed public servants would spend public money on some huge piece of...populist art.



September 29, 2004, 8:50 PM

Oldpro, as you know, Michelangelo's David was public art. Bernini's fountains were and are public art. Numerous less exalted but still very respectable examples can be cited. The problem is not the concept, it's the work (though I agree that what's effective as public art may not be the greatest work, and vice versa).



September 29, 2004, 9:55 PM

First time posting, although I enjoy the site. Nice Salmon article, and fairly dead on with the issue of displaying public art. It is of course not impossible, but such silliness like the cows of Chicago & NYC can lead to devastation, like fighting cocks in Little Havana. I'm not public art jaded, but I'm also an FIU student, where Margulies' random collection is strewn uncomfortably across campus, and huge expanses of concrete have giant hunks of mostly uninteresting or dated metal pieces where trees would be far more beautiful and the shade more welcome.I would have to agree with Jack on Jeff Koons, since he was only kind of interesting a couple decades ago and his newish stuff is horrendous, like the Easyfun-Ethereal paintings. Oh no...I really have yet to see in person some public art that really interests me or works with the space incredibly well, but I do have faith. I mean, I was in Shanghai last month, and public art was, much of the time, hilariously outdated late 50s Soviet inspired bronzes of Chinese workers in profile, life-sized mothers pushing carriages and tremendous Maos. (Although that isn't much better than Otterness and at least it has some kitsch factor.) Otterness is almost too easy to trash, though...



September 29, 2004, 11:37 PM

Welcome, Newbie. I had heard that a bunch of the MSG folks did a trip to China. How did it go? Did you see the Shanghai Biennial?



September 30, 2004, 1:03 AM

Newbie again, I decided to go with my real name. China was completely amazing for a million reasons, but not so much for contemporary art. (Its more lucrative to see new Chinese art in Hong Kong, Europe or USA.) We came after the biennial, so...

I've seen your website, Franklin, and I like the work. Diehard painters seem rare these days, so its refreshing. I actually make paintings myself and will link you once my site is up off the ground.



September 30, 2004, 2:00 AM

Ross, keep posting if you are interested. We seem to have a lot of readers but only a few consistent posters.

Otterness (and Britto) are easy to trash because that is their medium. They deserve it.

As for "diehard painters", don't confuse visibility with actuality. Diehard painters are a real "silent majority". You don't see them because they they are pushed in the background. That will change.



September 30, 2004, 6:35 AM

I know there are tons of painters are out there, oldpro, and the "silent majority" comment makes a lot of sense. I guess I just want to see some more good artist websites, more than anything else. Three months ago I saw a nice amount of interesting painting at PS1 in NYC, but those were almost all terribly established and/or famous artists, and I would love to see some fresh, very new and challenging painting or drawing from up and coming artists that doesn't fall hard into hipness traps, gimmicks or predictability.

There are contemporary painters out there who I'm really interested in (like Francis Alys, Cecily Brown, Luc Tuymans, Michael Borremans, Marlene Dumas) but they are SO famous! I'd like to see work from painters who aren't already on such a pedistal already... work that is new and honest.

Also, if any of you know of any good links to artists or students websites who make 2D work, I'm very interested. Oh, all of this is woefully off topic now, isn't it?



September 30, 2004, 5:52 PM

Ross: Not all of your "so famous" painters were known to me so I found it interesting to take a few minutes to surf around and see what they were doing. it was interesting, particularly because there was a very distinct common thread to the work: basically figurative, fairly skillful and very tuned in to the current trend of "contained anxiety", a kind of (usually) quiet presentation meant to evoke a mood of ironic abnormality.

I had the perception that such a cautious attention to what is "allowed" was very costly because so restrictive - nothing too direct and straightforward or expressively far out, no bright and garish colors, no forceful brushwork (Cecily Brown's paintings are nominally expressionist but so busy and color-muddled that they end up as large, fairly uniform aggregations of paint), no excesses in the sense of "life" or "spiritual values" or protest or committment of any clear and open kind, no frankly evident delight in color or drawing or surface. The rendering, for the most part, has the utilitarian, stylish aura of better-that-average fashion sketching. This is an art committed to maintaining a cautious observance of certain principles of presentation as rigid as any academy; an art supressed by its own irresolution. It is much more "about" mannerism than feeling.

I can appreciate this work - they all have something going, and they have skills - but, like the rest of the art world, they are spending too much time nervously looking over their shoulders while carefully nurturing accepted ideas of "avante".

Great art just doesn't give a damn.



September 30, 2004, 10:58 PM

I understand your point oldpro, but "contained anxiety" is most certainly not a new trend, since Vija Clemens and Gerhard Richter were making bold, colorless, unnerving, "haunted" paintings in the 60s that are just as severe as Tuymans or Borremans. Alys' work can be quite colorful and playful, so he is a bit of a curveball.

Very well worded and interesting, but I think the judgment is too harsh. One of my favorites of the bunch, Tuymans, has enormous potential and seeing his work in person is magical, but he falls heavily into the "avante" ideas category. Its hard to claw your way out of that mindset when you are a painter who wants to make empty, deadpan paintings drained of color that are NOT "avante" looking. (That just seems incredibly hard!)

Its not that they are joyless, its just a different set of ground rules. I do a lot of watercolor painting based on or loosely based on old family photographs that have a sense of something missing or oddly dark humored. Its not all fashionable doom and gloom, its loose, sketchy interpretive work. I think its hard to frame work like this in a way that seems completely about a personal vision without any elements that seem like a friendly blink to viewers in the know. (and I'm new to painting, so I certainly have some of these elements in my work regardless of whether or not I want them there.) Its true that great art doesn't give a damn, but its also true that great art doesn't fall into any preconceived parameters.

This blog is fun. Thanks Franklin!



October 1, 2004, 2:34 AM

I didnt say the characteristic was new, Ross, just that it was current. It has caught on big time.Tuymans has a nice touch - not the repellent coldness of Richter, for sure - but it is still too pallid and bloodless and mannered for me. I think if I had one on the wall it would not stay there long.

I understand "ground rules" well enough. (You may want to ponder what if any difference there may be between "ground rules" and "preconceived parameters", whatever that means). All good painters work withing narrow limits. But there are ennabling limits and restrictive limits. My feeling that this coy masquerade of weary irony is the latter. It infects the art too deeply.



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