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nada chance

Post #423 • December 5, 2004, 8:30 AM • 25 Comments

Back at Art Basel Miami Beach, Bonnard at Aquarella.

At Galerie Lelong, one of the most beautiful Sean Scullys I've ever seen.

George Shaw at Gorney Bravin & Lee.

I found this Christopher Brown at John Berggruen comforting, somehow.

At the NADA Fair I found little to like. I'll bypass going into the sullen gallerist syndrome (although it applied here with remarkable frequency) to issue a ban on the following subgenres, due to habitat-destroying proliferation:

  1. fussy, whimsical, faux-naif collages and collage-style drawings
  2. Elizabeth Peyton knockoffs
  3. knockoffs of Elizabeth Peyton knockoffs
  4. spawn of Essenhigh

Also, everyone please cancel your subscriptions to art magazines as soon as you can. You've been looking at them overmuch, likely in your studios, and it shows.

They don't relate causally, I know, but at a time when annihlation threatens to strike from all quarters, I find it dismaying that artists seem so generally incapable of rendering anything with gravity. At NADA, amidst a sea of trifles, even relatively slight things stood out, like this painting by Cheyney Thompson at Sutton Lane.

Danica Phelps at Allston Skirt.

Eduard del Rosario at Richard Heller.

Tim Bavington at Mark Moore.

(Nobody sullen got their images up. Thanks, people.)

Afterwards, I went from Snitzer to Ingalls to Locust and found nothing I wanted to record. (The series of portraits of nuns by Michelle Ellzay at Ingalls came close, but lay under glass.) At Snitzer, politics served Robert Chambers poorly, and I don't accept the premise or attitude of Bert Rodriguez's work. Art at Locust failed and failed hard.

And clearly I had become saturated; art began to fall out of my solution. I may see more today, but I can feel that part of my psyche has had quite enough, thank you. I did better this year, finding more to like and not getting cranky until Saturday (a whole 24 hours later than last year), but the time has come to retreat into the studio. Activity in the local art world falls off markedly after Basel, and I look forward to undistracted art-making.

Comment

1.

that guy in the back row

December 5, 2004, 7:02 PM

looks like most of those people could use a little undistracted time in the studio, Franklin. This is uber-fluff.

Away from art I will go as well, any one interested can see Arthur Danto at 1pm at the Lowe Art Museum today: "Art Criticism at the end of Art". After art is ruled officially dead.... again, I'll retreat to the studio as well.

2.

alesh

December 5, 2004, 7:15 PM

Finally made it to Basel yesterday. Overall I found it dissapointing - I was looking for those three to five pieces that would really knock me upside the head, and I couldn't find them (damn, though, Gursky sure did have a good year). Hope to see Scope and Nada today, maybe catch some of the stuff Franklin posted yesterday. My post on the previous post went up seconds after this page, so i'll reprise it here:

Typical monitor resolution is 96 dpi. Typical print resolution is 300 dpi. A 400 pixel image carries about as much information as a 1 and a quarter INCH image printed in a book. There is a lot that could be said about various medium's transfer to printed photographs or online images . . .

As I understand it, one of the things that separates art from not-art is that in art the details are important.

With all of that, it seems obvious to me that you can get a general gist of a work of art from an online image, and very little more.

3.

oldpro

December 5, 2004, 9:07 PM

Alesh:

I answered this on the previous page before I knowew this was up, so I will repeat it here, because it is an interesting question:

The only time details count is when details count. Most of this art does not live in the details, not at all. Most of it is based on some "idea", If I can call it that, and the "ideas", for what they are worth, can be expressed any which way. Details are beside the point.

What subtely of naunced rendering do I miss looking at a picture of a pile of newspapers? What delicate touch of grace and richness could make that stuffed man hanging from the coatrack glow with esthetic radiance? What stunning feat of design and proportion and coloration could propel the giant lego into competition with Michaelangelo? Or Tony Smith, even! C'mon!

Great art needs direct attention, needs to be caressed with eyes and mind. Great art nourishes forever. This dreck is all over in two seconds, like a bad pun. it does not even deserve looking at second hand.

I might add that I don't disagree with you that one thing that separates art from non-art is the details.This goes toward my point. If virtually the whole substance of a work can be transmitted by a small picture, or even by a verbal description, I suppose we would be talking about "non-art". Not a bad way to tell the difference, I think.

4.

Jack

December 6, 2004, 1:53 AM

I went to the Great Shrine of Art Basel, but Art is not worshiped there; Mammon is, and the god of money is well served--as are its subsidiary deities: Pseudostatus, Empty Fashion, and Delusion of Discernment. As Alesh already noted, the pickings are indeed slim among so much meretricious, overblown, contrived and cynical rubbish, like so many tarted up corpses preserved in formaldehyde and covered with glossy varnish, both dead and deadening despite slick packaging. The fair is mostly a crass, vulgar sham, albeit highly profitable, which is what the attendants of the temple really care about. When I saw the dealer selling LIGHTING FIXTURES, that was it--case closed; game over; I want my money back. This is Art Miami for a richer crowd.

Since I'd decided that, this time, what didn't look worth my attention wouldn't get it, I got done surprisingly quickly. I would've stayed longer to get a little more bang for my buck, but I was too disgusted and too bored. The Miami Basel story is a classic case of precipitously diminishing returns. In future, unless I hear favorable reports from trusted sources, I do not plan to go back.

In light of all this, Fred Snitzer's statement to New Times that the only criterion of the Basel selection committee (on which he sits) is the quality of the work sounds so utterly ludicrous that I don't know whether it's more deserving of contemptuous derision or profound pity--maybe both. If what was on display at the Convention Center is the best art out there, I need to consider switching allegiance to car racing or dog shows. What a monumental letdown.

5.

Marianne

December 6, 2004, 2:28 AM

Bravo Torquemada!!!!!!!

6.

oldpro

December 6, 2004, 5:03 AM

You've got it backwards, Marianne. Jack is not the inquisitor, he is one of the innocent victims.

Everyone whose eye I trust told me that this was the worst of 3 terrible Art Basels. I had my $20 in hand and was ready to go be put on the rack and then decided - why submit to it - so I chickened out, took a nap and went to the studio. I think it was the right decision.

I know most of the people who read this blog think I am too negative and severe, but if you truly love art and what art can do and what it means to us you must, at some point, take angry exception to what takes place in shows like this. Jack lays it on the doorstep of Mammon, but we need to take it one step further.

Art Basel is an instance of a perversion of something some of us take as the secular version of sacred, something we have devoted our lives to and dearly love. To see what is being done in the name of art and to see people spending huge sums of money on this garbage, money that could do something worthwhile in the world (or just something worthwhile for the poor deluded art buyers) is nothing less than anathema. If you just like the scene and the parties and the artzy atmosphere that's fine. But if you must have the best and strive for the best and have a sense of what the best means to our species you can only lament what happens in this town the first week in December. Somehow, sometime, we have to see this more clearly and more generally, or the whole noble entrerprise is going to tank.

Man, talk about preachy! I can't help it; I feel too strongly about it. Amen.

7.

alesh

December 6, 2004, 5:52 AM

oldpro~ i'll grant you the pile of newspapers; it seems, indeed, that some art can be dismissed from even a crappy photo. Then again, I didn't see the newspapers in person. What I DID get to see was the NADA show and I have this to report: some of the photos that Franklin displays above (specifically I'd say of the Cheyney Thompson and Eduard del Rosario (also the George Shaw from Basel - i didn't catch the Scully) do nothing to convey the piece. A text description would be no worse.

The anti-kvetch: We survived another Basel. The experience was underwhelming overall - had I a month to see everything, everyone would have been better served. Basel was underwhelming, but I don't think the blame falls on the nature of the event more so then on the art. We are spoiled, used to looking at museum exhibitions, which, however imperfect, art assembled intelligently by curators who strive with the viewer's interests in mind to present the art in an intelligible fashion. In Basel, we have each gallery arranging its fare as best as can be expected, but with the understandable (booths range $15 - 45k) goal of moving work. The overall effect could fairly be characterized as horrible. BUT.

Jack will disagree with me, but i would say that if you take a piece of random art from Basel and view it in isolation, it is revealed for the solid, intelligent, possibly somewhat indulgent statement; something worthy of its time. To say that too much of the work is too similar in its dissimilarity . . . who does that criticize, exactly? Say what you will, there was a lot of good work in the show, a lot of great work, and a lot of silly but amusing jokes. Personally, the less serious stuff doesn't bother me (I enjoyed a photo of a guy in a Darth Vader costume, up to his knees in ocean surf, pouring water from a Brita pitcher in one hand into a plastic bottle in the other). Great stuff could be found, and anyone who looked for it and spent a while with it had a good art experience.

8.

that guy in the back row

December 6, 2004, 6:14 AM

alesh: call me back in ten years after you've seen some real art. I fear you are experiencing prepubescent delusions.

9.

oldpro

December 6, 2004, 6:18 AM

Alesh, If you can go to an exhibit like that and like what you see, well, good for you. To each his own.

10.

alesh

December 6, 2004, 6:44 AM

Guy: I'm not sure what you're trying to say. Is it 'art was better in the old days', or is it 'good art is a rare thing', or some combination of the two?

11.

that guy in the back row

December 6, 2004, 6:49 AM

I'm just saying you'll have a better grasp of things when you grow older. Thats all.

12.

Marianne

December 6, 2004, 7:02 AM

Don't know about artists, but GITBR and Jack would make great comissars of culture for our republic of Miami...

13.

oldpro

December 6, 2004, 7:09 AM

Marianne: it is trendy these days to be "open minded", and to call anyone who insists on high standards a "commissar" or a fascist, or the like, but the analogy is inappropriate. Think about it.

14.

that guy in the back row

December 6, 2004, 7:10 AM

Marianne: it goes by caca in these parts, and i think we are honorary members(I'll have to check my membershit card).

15.

alesh

December 6, 2004, 7:33 AM

GITBR (lovin' the acronym, M)~ I don't know how old you are, but think about this: you may already be a member of the 'things were better in the good old days' club. The flip side of this is that I may very well thing that everyhing is shit when i get older (tho at 30 i'm no spring chicken). Yikes!

But I'd still appreciate an answer: Do you think great art is rarer now then it was in the past? When/where do you think the great art was/is?

I actually would love to hear Oldpro and Jack's thoughts on that.

16.

that guy in the back row

December 6, 2004, 8:13 AM

alesh: Art has always been rare. I don't think all things related art have changed much ever. I'm not sure where the best art is today, we will not know that for quite a while, am afraid. One thing I'm sure of, if for no other reason than I was there, is that the best art of our time certainly hasn't gathered attic like, at the convention center this weekend, which it should, if ABMB is what it purports to be. Like Franklin I saw some things at the show that had artistic merit, but as a whole it was lame. I just know art can do better from experience. If Manet were around today he would be deriding the new solon/academy as well. If that puts me in the good ol' day camp oh well, at least I can tell the difference, which at 30 you should too, keep looking.

17.

Jack

December 6, 2004, 8:30 AM

Alesh, if you enjoyed or at least were OK with this Basel fair, I'm not interested in arguing you out of that. You're entitled to your current taste, which is your affair, not mine. I was speaking for myself, knowing full well that my opinion is not the prevailing one.

This was clearly the worst of our Basels so far, and the signs are ominous for future ones, especially if sales were as good as I hear. Much of the work was stale, boring, and/or hollow. The few really nice things were entirely predictable: a Matisse still life or a Picasso drawing here, a Giacometti bust or a Henry Moore bronze there, a Klee watercolor yonder. Even work by big and pretty reputable names, like Frankenthaler, Motherwell and Hofmann, looked lackluster and second-rate, simply because it was. As for work by big but not-so-reputable or downright dubious names (at least in my book), don't ask.

This fair is not about art; it's about selling whatever the market will go for at the highest possible price, period. Just business? Precisely.

18.

Franklin

December 6, 2004, 2:57 PM

Re the "just business" issue: hasn't art persisted in spite of, and perhaps because of, selfish, crass, self-promoting concerns on the part of the patrons? Ignoring qualitative differences, is there any quantitative difference between UBS and the Medici when we're talking about Basel?

19.

oldpro

December 6, 2004, 4:59 PM

Alesh:

You seem to make a habit of trying to turn differences of quality and perception into differences of age. This is something you have some up with on your own. No one else here has ever said that "things were better in the good old days", and maybe you should stop implying that anyone has. And I am guessing that Back Row Guy is no older than you are anyway. He just seems to have an eye and no patience for garbage.

The reason older art lookes better and newer art looks worse is, on balance, because we have had time to sort out the old stuff. This will happen to the art that is being made now. The only advantage us old farts have, within this process, is that we have seen the process at work and know it takes place.

You ask "where the great art was/is". Well, not at Art Basel, for sure. Sitting unseen in the studios of the artists who are making it, I suppose. Bad new art being at the forefront, preempting the better new art, is a modern tradition, after all. it has been this way for well over a hundred years.

20.

oldpro

December 6, 2004, 5:02 PM

Franklin, what is UBS? the link goes to the Art Basel site.

21.

Franklin

December 6, 2004, 5:25 PM

Actually, Guy is the one who brought up the "you'll see it when you're older" angle on what Alesh was saying.

Oldpro: UBS is the "Main Sponsor" - first item on that Basel page, before Bulgari and BMW.

22.

Jack

December 6, 2004, 6:02 PM

Franklin, your analogy is hardly apt. The Medici didn't sell art; they weren't in it to make money. They were patrons and supporters of the best there was in their time, and their taste happens to have been excellent, though they were certainly very lucky in what was available to them.

I wasn't talking about UBS or other commercial sponsors; I wouldn't expect such outfits to behave any differently, because they're explicitly and plainly business concerns. They're not art people. I'm talking about those who swear up, down and sideways that all they care about is quality and promoting the best art for the good of society blah blah blah. If they want me to believe them or take them seriously, they're going to have to do a hell of a lot better than what I saw at the Convention Center.

23.

Fraklin

December 6, 2004, 6:12 PM

Jack, you're right, bad analogy.

That said, gallerists are shopkeepers. I'm not sure how else they would behave.

24.

oldpro

December 6, 2004, 7:59 PM

Franklin; we may expect them to berhave that way, but that doesn't mean we have to like it, or believe what they say. And I have had some experience - not much, but some - with art "shopkeepers" who really believe in what they are doing and what they are selling.

I know Guy brought up the idea that Alesh will know better when he is older, which may or may not be the case, but Alesh brought up "the good old days" and keeps harping on categorical limitations, to the effect that painters can't see photography (see the machete lady page) and implying that old folks casn't see what young folks are doing. I take issue with that kind of thinking, that's all.

25.

Jack

December 6, 2004, 8:05 PM

Well, Franklin, for starters, they can be more honest, or at least less blatantly hypocritical, about what their motives are. In other words, if you want to make big bucks, fine, but please don't tell me that you only go for quality and what you truly believe is good (as opposed to what you believe will sell), that you won't sell stuff you know is mediocre or worse, that you're in it primarily for the love and greater glory of art, when I can see plain as day that it simply isn't true. In other words, don't BS me.

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