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richard serra

Post #576 • July 8, 2005, 12:03 PM • 151 Comments

Jack brought by the Richard Serra interview from Modern Painters, which might as well stop calling itself that in its attempt to pull readership from the anything-goes magazines with its new anthing-goes approach.

Under discussion is Serra's installation at the Gug Bilbao. Me, I'm looking forward to seeing it one day. Serra described how these enormous pieces were inspired by the Zen gardens of Kyoto:

When I was living in Florence I was still involved with looking out the window, that kind of orthogonal, measured Renaissance view - particularly as I was studying Piero. But once I started looking at what the Chinese and Japanese had to offer, I entered into a different way of relating to space. It suggested ways of dealing with time and movement that are just not possible within the limitations of figurative painting or sculpture. ... In order to appreciate the Japanese Zen garden one has to slow down, which puts you into a state of suspended concentration. Whether the shadows in the furrows of the garden appear and disappear as the sun sets, or whether you walk along a porch and see a rock apear from behind another rock, there is something about the slowing down of perception and the comprehension of what you perceive. Placing the word 'meditation' on it is a little heavy, but for sure it's different from looking at some soup cans, not to take anything from Warhol.

Sounds like my kind of stuff. I protest earlier comments to the effect that the largeness is a gimmick to make up for a form that wouldn't work at a pedastal scale. Serra conceived these as huge from the beginning; suggesting that they wouldn't work small is like saying that your average Rothko wouldn't work if it was flourescent orange. Which is true, but not germane. Serra points out that the grouped forms, despite the undulations, are dead level. Even in reproduction the patinas are beautiful. They look promising.




July 8, 2005, 12:23 PM

so franky

what is it with you and jap zen.

it really has changed your tone, and, frankly, has reflected in your personal "work".

I often questioned the tone you had with the anne chu review. I really thought it was lacking critical view in favor of smooching.

Anyhow, it seems that something similar has happened here. I remeber the serra talks, and although not outright insulting, your tone was quite different. Yet here the work is somehow related to japzen, and it's whoa must be the cheerios.

I know this is a part of you and now come to realize to what extent. I remeber comments about caligraphy, the ooh ah of jet lis many arms, taking out school kids with shuriken and the like, and now this. I dont know if this is taken as bad, and i really have a problem with the make franky happy guideline, although probably facetious, i can recall streams of oh your so good posts. So, nothing personal, just an observation.



July 8, 2005, 12:51 PM

Yeesh. First of all, calling me "Franky" is a privilege, not a right, and you don't have it. Secondly, "jap" as an abbreviation for "Japanese" has been racist since at least WWII, so let's not use that, okay?

The art of Japanese Zen, particularly zenga, influenced my work even before I took vows in a tradition of mixed Japanese and Vietnamese Rinzai. The art drew me in first. So did photos of Serra's Gug installation, which I had no idea related to Kyoto until I read the interview.

Anne Chu's work relates hardly at all to Japanese Zen. She pulls far more from T'ang Dynasty sculpture, which is not really Buddhist and definitely not Japanese. Occasionally a figure could be seen to relate to Guanyin, the Chinese emanation of Avalokiteshvara, but one other referenced the Christian Mary.

Shiruken are Japanese. I don't have any Japanese weapons among my Chinese weapons.

With that out of the way, Chu's work was damn good. Not everything worked equally well, but I said so, so I'm not sure what you mean by "lacking critical view." The Make Franklin Happy guideline doesn't mean "compliment me," which I enjoy but don't need - it means "make sure we're having a good discussion about something." If you thought the review was overly kind because of my sympathies, that's a fair criticism. On the other hand, I emphasized my admiration of her ability to combine Oriental and Occidental influences above everything else, and with all respect to my colleagues down here, I thought I was uniquely qualified to tease those influences apart.



July 8, 2005, 1:05 PM

Franklin, I'll comment further later, but nobody's saying Serra is bad or unworthy of notice. His work is obviously far more worthwhile than something like Hirst's cheesy, overblown rip-off of an anatomical model of a pregnant woman, which was discussed here not long ago. The point, or rather my point, is that Serra is being touted as some sort of deity, and I just don't buy that. As for the patinas, I understand they're natural, not Serra's doing.



July 8, 2005, 1:31 PM

Diety, no. But one of the best mortals, definitely. Even if the patinas are innate, he still gets credit for them. He could have painted everything black, for instance.



July 8, 2005, 2:46 PM

Just for the record, Franklin, under "neomodernism" a while back, I said:
"Serra's sculpture, if small, would be pathetically deficient sculpturally"

You objected by saying:
"Sculpture is too sensitive to scale for this to be a fair criticism"

I amended my statement to:
"Serra's sculpture is formally vacuous but that fact is disguised by the huge size"

I go along with Jack. Serra is serious but not all that good. The inventiveness, humor, surface-mixing and formal twists & turns of those Canadian kids on the previous page make Serra look stodgy and dull. He is less a great sculptor than a cultural monument, like Henry Moore was 50 years ago.



July 8, 2005, 3:38 PM

Franklin, giving Serra credit for not painting the steel is like giving a more traditional sculptor credit for not painting the marble. You're pushing it.



July 8, 2005, 3:39 PM

I'd say Serra isn't that good, period. I cheered the day his sculpture was removed from the plaza so the workers could get a straight shot at going where they wanted to go. It really was a case where artistic freedom interfered with human freedom. Human freedom stands higher in my book and so the removal was more than justified, it was warranted. Serra had been quoted as saying interference with people was "part of the piece". So he repudiated it when they moved it. How could there be a Marquis de Sade without some vicitims? In this case, he thought he needed vicitims to be an artist.

I'm not sure the work's vacuousness was disguised by its size. Seems more like it was accented. Its only effectiveness was to rob living people of the most valuable commodity any of us have - time. I suppose that amounts to a huge distraction.



July 8, 2005, 4:17 PM

oldpro, have you experienced serra's sculptures in person? specifically the ones currently at the gug?



July 8, 2005, 4:52 PM

are you kidding. serra is as close to a diety as you can get. have you experienced his sculpures in person? it is the act of interaction, the involvement you have with the piece and the space it occupies, not to mention the complex force of gravity he is working with that will keep you awestruck. i have no idea how he gets most of it to stand upright. it is very very daunting to experience it one on one. i have seen huge pieces of his in very small spaces, and also outdoors in husge sculpture parks. it is far from just a hunk of steel.

i agree with franklins responce, japzen or whatever someone called it is very very insulting.
and btw - anne chu is chinese, not japanese



July 8, 2005, 5:12 PM

of course he knew it would patina. throw water on a piece of unfinished steel and leave outside and see what happens. he could have sealed the surface if he did not want it to patina. most of his pieces do not. ugh. i am signing off now. to go bang my head with a steel mallet. and then go take care of my 2 year old who is waking up from a nap.

as for the piece someone mentioned (the one in manhattan - mid-town, in front of an office bldg, right?) - i lived there when the press was all over it. yes it did obstruct this area in front of the building where people would go out and eat their lunches. finding a seat outdoors in manhattan is a hot commodity. the people who worked in the bldg were annoyed. so it was taken down. pretty simple. bad choice of placement. not everyone appreciates art. go figure.



July 8, 2005, 5:29 PM

"Serra's sculpture is formally vacuous but that fact is disguised by the huge size"

Formally vacuous?

Vacuous =
1.Devoid of matter; empty.
2.a.Lacking intelligence; stupid.
b.Devoid of substance or meaning; inane: a vacuous comment.
c.Devoid of expression; vacant:
3.Lacking serious purpose or occupation.empty.

So it's all about the negative space, right?



July 8, 2005, 5:32 PM

Accordring to mek, bad choice of placement.

According to Serra, placement was part of the essence of the piece.

I think both of you are right.

Whenever there is a conflict (rare), life trumps art. It doesn't matter whether "everyone appreciates art", which they obviously don't.



July 8, 2005, 6:01 PM

I take Serra's works at the Bilbao Guggenheim as architectural installations, not sculptures. That may be a semantic issue for some--and most, including Serra, will insist it is sculpture. That's fine, but I still don't buy it as such; agreement on the matter is obviously not required. Serra himself admits his work has architectural qualities (which is undeniable), and he stresses the spatial (as opposed to the visual) experience of the work. He is particularly at pains to dismiss figuration as supposedly limiting (it may be for some, though not others), and to tout his own approach as not only "new and improved," so to speak, but also unprecedented (as in "nobody's ever done what I've done before"). Ego is hardly unheard of among successful artists, especially those deified by the establishment, but while I respect Serra (unlike, say, Hirst or Koons), I think he's a tad full of himself. Besides, I'm never impressed with new-different per se, but rather with as good as or better than what's already been achieved.

Personality issues aside, what really counts is the work. Serra's work is perfectly valid for what it is, perfectly serious, and perfectly legitimate as a means of artistic expression. As he himself says, and I quote: It's a different kind of experience from looking at an image and trying to possess it as an object. It certainly is, and so is riding a rollercoaster or going on a water slide at a summer amusement park--which are also spatial experiences dependent on moving through the structure in question, designed to manipulate physical perception. Serra's work is obviously more austere, "pure" and cerebral, and less visceral, but there are definite parallels. Its effect is highly dependent on very large scale, which I tend to mistrust, and on a related element I consider architectural "special effects," more about defining space than about creating sculptural form.

Again, I respect Serra's work, but it seems overrated, although those who wish to genuflect obviously may. There's certainly much less respectable stuff being praised to the skies out there.



July 8, 2005, 6:31 PM

Can one be impressed by Serra's work, even like it, and still say unequivically that it is not good? Will anyone defend this postulation?


Bill Wilson

July 8, 2005, 6:41 PM

"Occasionally a figure could be seen to relate to Guanyin, the Chinese emanation of Avalokiteshvara, but one other referenced the Christian Mary."

Robert Rauschenberg titled a combine "Canyon," which is on one plane a reference to a canyon, while simultaneously it is a reference to Kuan Yin, Guanyin, Cannon, Canyon, and other possible transliterations, no one of which has more authority than another. In that same era, a comic-strip was titled "Steve Canyon." Rauschenberg could scarcely have avoided knowing "Steve Canyon." In an interview Milton Caniff said that Steve Canyon was named for Canyon/Cannon/Kuan Yin (who had originally been a male figure, but became a female figure). "Steve Canyon" also became a television program in which Mary Tyler Moore first appeared on television, playing a character named "Mary." Whether anyone associated the compassions of Guanyin with the Christian Mary I don't know, but implications of "Mary" would interweave with implications unfurling from "Canyon." Well, maybe the television and Mary can be bracketed out, but other wise the overlapping and intersecting ideas and images can't be separated, associating visual art with the ultimate compassion of nature, in spite of the obvious suffering. Within Serra's later sculpture, the Italian Renaissance architecture and the Zen gardens are not in a relation of either/or, but of and/or: one, or the other, or both. This is my footnote to a specific mention, I'll try to write something about experiences of Serra's sculptures, now that I have made myself answerable to the theme of compassion. Bill Wilson


Bill Wilson

July 8, 2005, 6:44 PM

"Occasionally a figure could be seen to relate to Guanyin, the Chinese emanation of Avalokiteshvara, but one other referenced the Christian Mary." Robert Rauschenberg titled a combine "Canyon," which is on one plane a reference to a canyon, while simultaneously it is a reference to Kuan Yin, Guanyin, Cannon, Canyon, and other possible transliterations, no one of which has more authority than another. In that same era, a comic-strip was titled "Steve Canyon." Rauschenberg couldn't have avoided knowing "Steve Canyon." In an interview Milton Caniff said that Steve Canyon was named for Canyon/Cannon/Kuan Yin (who had originally been a male figure, but became a female figure). "Steve Canyon" also became a television program in which Mary Tyler Moore first appeared on television, playing a character named "Mary." Whether anyone associated the compassions of Guanyin with the Christian Mary I don't know, but implications of "Mary" could interweave with implications unfurling from "Canyon." Well, maybe the television and Mary can be bracketed out, but other wise the overlapping and intersecting ideas and images can't be separated, associating visual art with the ultimate compassion of nature, in spite of the obvious suffering. Within Serra's later sculpture, the Italian Renaissance architecture and the Zen gardens are not in a relation of either/or, but of and/or: one, or the other, or both. This is a footnote to a specific mention, I'll try to write something about experiences of Serra's sculptures, now that I have made myself answerable to the theme of compassion. Bill Wilson



July 8, 2005, 6:57 PM

hey all,
I posted this in the last discussion, but thought I should repost here. and just to clarify, when I say 'impressed' that means I think it's good... no equivocations...
Re: Richard Serra

I have read Robert Hughes' "effusive praise" on Serra's work in Bilbao, and usually consider Hughes to be reasonably on the mark, although our opinions certainly diverge on some work. I haven't seen the installation there. I have been to Bilbao though (the Gugg itself is good as art, from the outside, but I don't think much of it as a gallery from within), and I have seen Serra's Torqued Ellipses years back at DIA in NYC...

I didn't think I would be, but I was impressed. So there.

I hear the conter-arguments about size automatically lending 'presence' (which to some extent is true), about hugeness being akin to 'special effects' (but somehow other art techniques aren't? Perspective is a special effect, so is shading, so is pigment...). I'd encourage anyone to not take my word for it, and see them for yourself, if at all possible. If Serra's works ever travelled to a show here in Edmonton, I'd definitely go see them again (who knows, maybe I'll change my mind the second time around).



July 8, 2005, 6:59 PM

Re: oldpro comment #5

There are Canadians in Modern Painters?!? I'm shocked...



July 8, 2005, 7:32 PM

McCourt: I did not say there were Canadians In "Modern Painters". Or maybe I am not understanding your comment.

NZ #8. Yes I have walked around Serra sculptures, but not the ones at the Guggenheim Bilbao. This was discussed at some length on the "Neomodernism" blog, which still can be read.

MEK #9 it sounds as if you are impressed by the engineering, not the art. As for the piece in front of the Federal office building in downtown manhattan, I agree entirely with Catfish, and did so at the time, to the extent of writing a letter to the NY Times lamenting the elitist bleating of the scandalized art crowd.

George, perhap "uninteresting", broad and bland as it is, would have been a better word than "vacuous"

Ahab: Yes, of course one can be impressed by something and not consider it art. I am impressed by it, and even like it, but I dont think it amounts to much as art.



July 8, 2005, 7:37 PM

"Jack brought by the Richard Serra interview from Modern Painters"...

"The inventiveness, humor, surface-mixing and formal twists & turns of those Canadian kids on the previous page make Serra look stodgy and dull."...

I took this to mean there were some Canadian kids on the page preceeding the article on Serra... I must have misunderstood.



July 8, 2005, 7:40 PM

(if I'm blowing your cover, no need to reply)



July 8, 2005, 7:41 PM

Ahab asked, "Can one be impressed by Serra's work, even like it, and still say unequivically that it is not good? Will anyone defend this postulation?"

I would defend such a statement if I happened to believe it (I don't). The way you put it is kind of like the take I have on Duchamp's Fountain, which is not that good, but I like it anyway and am impressed by it. It certainly has garnered its spot in art history, which is so strong that it is unlikely to disappear.

Maybe Serra will get into art history too, but that is hardly assured. I don't think what he has been doing will "catch on" like Duchamp's crazyness did. Serra is huffy and puffy and his work is soaked in "importance". Duchamp was goddam smart and his work was very clever - a much more appealing gestalt. Duchamp was a true friend of art with wide interests. Serra has excluded so many things that perhaps his work is left with only itself.



July 8, 2005, 7:46 PM

Hey McCourt, read the guidelines. No outing, please. We don't ever want to go there again. Thanks.



July 8, 2005, 7:48 PM

McCourt, I think Jack meant the previous page on the blog, not the mag.



July 8, 2005, 7:51 PM

By Jack I meant OldPro. I'm getting mixed up. I don't know either of them, so sometimes it all melts into one big clump.



July 8, 2005, 8:09 PM

Yes, Oldpro, I think the work is impressive more for its engineering or architectural qualities, obviously enhanced by the scale, than for its artistic quality as sculpture. I am reminded of the colossal ancient Egyptian temple statues of the pharaoh versus similar ones on a much smaller, more human scale: both are legitimate and successful as art (regardless of their original function), whereas, as you've noted, Serra's work needs to be huge--and must be experienced as architecture one moves through, by his express intent, in order to be effective. It cannot succeed (in the sense of greatness) as a visual object because, as you've again noted, it is formally vacuous, banal, or uninteresting. Hence, Serra pooh-poohs the visual experience as such, which for me is not only central but indispensable in visual art. Of course, Serra can say his is a different sort of art, which is fine--so is music, but the art that concerns me here is visual. That's why, for me, to borrow from Catfish, his work doesn't really "click." .


Rob now ahab

July 8, 2005, 8:11 PM

All's cool. I wasn't going undercover so much as realizing that I didn't want my contributions to be taken as gross self-promotion. See mek's comment on the "right of first refusal" post (#59).

McCourt, you can clear the air as to whether we know each other or not at your discretion.

flatboy, down boy, good dog.

oldpro, why "Yes, of course..." (#19)?



July 8, 2005, 8:21 PM

Ahab, in response to your #14.

When the blogging is this active things get mixed up very easily. But it's fun.



July 8, 2005, 8:28 PM

Thank you oldboy, but why "Yes, of course #14?" Why can someone liking something that is not good be a tenable position? How is that person's taste not called into question thereby threatening their very assertion of goodness?



July 8, 2005, 8:31 PM

i don't think of it as gross self promotion.

oldpro - i like serras work, not just the engineering aspect. it is really very beautiful. but alas, beauty is so very subjective, eh?

speaking of eh, the canadian kids oldpro was referring to was you mcCourt, darling.

to those of you that hate big art vis-a-vie serra, what is your take on schnabel?

why does whomever it was hate hirst? (damien hirst, correct?)

flatboy - comparing duchamp to serra is like comparing apples to bowling balls



July 8, 2005, 8:34 PM

Maybe it'll help for me to state that I do like the Serra sculptures (photos of them at least. The one chance I had to see and walk around some Torques turned out to be a Monday - CLOSED.) I am not convinced by what little I've seen, and would likely rate them fairly low despite liking the photos of them.



July 8, 2005, 8:38 PM

based on the last comment, that is an argument for why contemporary regionalism (based on franklins position of a cyber community) would not work. art is experiential in part. hope you get to see serra's stuff sometime so you can see if you like the taste of mangos even if you don't like what they look like



July 8, 2005, 8:44 PM

I'm easily confused, could mek please rephrase the last part of the last comment? Mango casserole?



July 8, 2005, 8:51 PM

In fact, mek, could you please elaborate on your entire comment? I am familiar with your exchange on regionalism a couple of pages ago so you don't have to rehash too much. How is what an argument for whatnow?



July 8, 2005, 8:52 PM

Flatboy (#25), if you're having trouble distinguishing between Oldpro's comments and mine, it may help to use the autocrat-o-meter. In other words, if it sounds professorial or ex cathedra, it's Oldpro; if it sounds like Louis XIV, it's Jack.



July 8, 2005, 9:01 PM

Ahab, you are puttin all your 'goods" in one basket. Don't you "like" things that are not art? When I have a reaction to something I have a reaction. Then, if I so choose, I think about the reaction. Differentiating between species of taste is something we all do and if we are doing it with art it cuts pretty fine. Serras art is not crap. it is impressive. it has all that gravity-defying stuff MEK talks about. I see that. But it is just not good enough as art.

MEK we have been up and down the "subjective" ladder several times on this blog. In my opinion goodness in art is not subjective, just "subjectively" discovered. Maybe now that we have some clever new people on the blog we can open up that can of worms again.

And forgive Flatboy. He has a thing for that urinal, and he can't stop saying that Duchamp was just too cool. To wit #22 "Duchamp was goddam smart and his work was very clever... a true friend of art with wide interests."

A true friend of art? Good grief!

But Flatboy is smart. He will grow out of it.



July 8, 2005, 9:03 PM

haha. that art is in part EXPERIENTIAL. you have to physically view it and experience the space it occupies, especially sculpture. especially serra. especially mangos. an experiential treat. hanging over the sink and all. oh there i go again being obtuse.



July 8, 2005, 9:09 PM

And Flatboy (#22), while I don't expect you'll ever adopt my perspective on Duchamp or his urinal (though one lives and hopes), I note you seem to give inordinate credit for achieving a place in some sort of history. Any number of vile and downright evil people have done so; would you give them credit or respect for that? I do not, by the way, lump Duchamp together with Adolf and company--he was very French, and the French are seldom so heavy-handed, as that would be vulgar and unstylish (the Russians, on the other hand...but I digress). Anyway, enjoy your bathroom fixture if it pleases you, though I can only see one way to enjoy it, and I think you know what it is.



July 8, 2005, 9:20 PM

MEK art is not art until it is experienced.

If Jack is Louis the XIV, then I am Sixtus the IV. If you disagree with Jack, off with your head. if you disagree with me, you don't get to heaven.

It's a hard choice.


peter reginato

July 8, 2005, 9:42 PM

If the forms are abstracted why not the color ? If the forms have been drawn in a realistic manner why not the color?



July 8, 2005, 9:53 PM

For Jack and OldPro: Of course I took the opportunity to say a little more about Duchamp. But the point was I could stuff Duchamp into the equation Ahab was asking about, though I could not so stuff Serra. I thought you might be pleased that I recognize the urinal is not that hot as art, despite its place in art history. But I like the way the thing looks, that is certain. Duchamp is the one who put the cool onto overblown art at a time when there was a deep need to introduce cool into the art world. I think he would die at the thought of how "hot" and "serious" things have become, seemingly based on his achievment. It is really quite perverted that so much heavy-duty art is erected on his light hearted but penetrating speculations. He would cool down a few of our self agrandized social revolutionary elitist bleaters OldPro wrote to the NYT about, I think. Maybe he would have drawn holes in as photo of Tilted Arc so that the pedestrians could walk through the damn monster and have full use of their noon hours (Catfish's point).

About history: Jack, political history is full of scoundrels but that is not really the case for art history. True, many artists were minor scoundrels too but it does not follow that their art is bad. So yes, I put great stock in recognition by the history of art. Most practicing artists do. I'm just one of the multitude in that respect.

I like Jack's description of himself as Louis XIV and OldPro as the pope. That unlikely pairing keeps this blog jumping.

And to MEK: I love to compare seemingly unrelated artists and whole art groups, with surprising results at times. For instance, I compare Roman sculpture and late French Academy painting and find them to be roughly the same. On the other hand, your statement that there is a great difference (apples to blowing balls) between Duchamp and Serra is a good one and I completely agree with it. That, in fact, was my point. The two are so very different that the schematic I could apply to Duchamp I could not apply to Serra. What's wrong with comparing things that are different? Especially when you want to use the difference to communicate something.

And finally to OldPro: 10 years ago I decided not to grow up.



July 8, 2005, 10:22 PM

For those sufficiently interested, I recommend getting a hold of the Serra interview mentioned above in the latest Modern Painters, which is not an endorsement of MP (apart from the blatant misnomer of a title, it's not that different from the other art mags out there). Ignore the ass-kissing interviewer (as does Serra, when the twit gets too breathless); just read what Serra has to say. If nothing else, he's obviously serious about his work, and he comes across as articulate and intelligent--as well as huffy, puffy and "important," as Flatboy noted. One can't really blame him, I suppose, with all and sundry bowing and scraping before him. And no, Artblog is NOT your normal, standard-issue, PC artspeak crowd. We like (currently) sacred cows, but only because they taste like chicken (or measly pork, at any rate).



July 8, 2005, 10:56 PM

oldpro, I concede that I got ahead of myself by declaring that I didn't think that Richard "Mr. Guggenheim" Serra would make the cut, when I haven't been there in person, and there is no cutting him from the who's-an-artist-list anyhow. Projection of future and potential like doesn't work, and although I don't subscribe to it generally, I made a slip.

I don't think I said that Serra's art is crap, as you've implied, likely unintentionally . So, as to your answer that I am the one who has mixed his species of taste (#36), would you then say that Serra's sculpture is both art and not-art? As art it is not good enough, as not-art it is impressive? Or are 'I like' and 'I think its bad' compatible in some way, which is what I've been trying to tease out in this discussion? Surely apples and blowing balls (sic. see: flatboy #41) isn't the argument you are trying to apply to your differentiation of 'I hate' and 'it good.'

mek, I feel pressured to recover some face here because I asked a question about taste and got a lesson in viewing sculpture spatially and experientially #37). ...ok, I've reeled in the emotions.

flatboy, I appreciate your passionate discourse. I wish I had met more unrelenting, unapologetic uh flatulants at my own alma mater. I almost finished your "...I decided not to grow up" with some quip, but like I say, I've reeled in the irrelevant banter. I think.



July 9, 2005, 12:11 AM

PR, (#40) sounds Greek to me



July 9, 2005, 12:26 AM

But Flatboy, when you decided not to grow up 10 years ago, you thereby grew up.There's no escaping it.

Duchamp was a somewhat talented artist who made some objects as a point of anti-art satire. He never claimed anything different. The urinal was largely forgotten until Sidney Janis had an edition made 40 years ago to take advantage of the Pop craze. Then everyone made a big deal out of it. The damn thing is nothing but an accident of history, Flatboy. It and its maker do not deserve your praise or anyone else's. it is a footnote, nothing else. We have been over this before, right here on the blog. In fact I am convinced you carry on about him and his damn pisspot just to irritate me, so there.

Ahab, I am a bit confused by your first paragraph - I don't know what i said that you are referring to. As for the second, we can react to something any way we want to. it is quite possible to see something called art and like it OK and not think it is very good as art. Or, it is possible to see something called a chair and think it is very good as art. Or not. Our intuitive responses are not willed, and we should report on them honestly. There is art (so-called) which I think is awful, and art I think is OK, and art I think is fun, and art I think is good and art I think is great. It all interests me, but I am not, and you are not, obliged to have any reaction to it other than what you shoose to have or what comes across intuitively.

Anyway, find those "unflatulents" and stick to them. You have some up there.



July 9, 2005, 12:39 AM

Flatboy (#41), I know I can't stop you from worshiping at the porcelain altar, but my comment (#38) was not confined to political figures whose historical status is not related to greatness. All sorts of "historical" artists can be named who were once highly revered and later nearly forgotten or drastically demoted. For instance, the 17th century painter Charles Lebrun is a major figure in the history of French art. He did contribute significantly to the Grand Manner of the Louis XIV style, which was influential all over Europe, and he did lay the basis of academicism in art, which also had far-reaching and long-lasting effects in France and beyond. However, nobody today, and not for ages before that, would consider him a great painter, which he was not. How many people now, art people, have even heard of Lebrun? I know about him, but of course, Louis XIV would know him.



July 9, 2005, 1:58 AM

"I am not convinced by what little I've seen [of Serra's recent works], and would likely rate them fairly low despite liking the photos of them."

This is the phrase I thought oldpro was objecting to in his comment #36 and with which I was causing him the alleged confusion of #45. It is the comment which I would withdraw if I could, and from which I distanced myself from in paragraph 1, #43.



July 9, 2005, 2:33 AM

It's still early out my way, but I can hear y'all snoring. Which is the only reason I am going to go ahead and post this comment for myself to read.

oldpro, you list different art sensations, which can be ascribed names at your discretion - awful, OK, fun, good, great. Can tasty be added to this list of possible art attributes? Comment #88, page 'slashdot tackles art' implies not. Then if not, it seems you are dishonestly reporting your unwilled intuitive responses to a good meal, assuming a tasty meal is a realistic expectation for you (I don't know that you aren't tube-fed). Or must you now rely on your declared freedom to "react to something any way [you] want to? What is unwilled or intuitive about that?

If 'tasty' (literal def.) cannot be an attribute of art, what else might not be appropriate? I recognize this now as more of the same backwards logic I rebuked a few posts ago - e.g. because it has wheels doesn't make it a bike. Because it is delicious on the tongue, or not, doesn't qualify it for or block it from consideration as art. I'm coming around to your way of thinking, McCourt.

I might be slowly understanding this as I type, and delete and retype and think. Whether you intended this or not, I get: oldpro stands by the "I like it" both/and "it's bad" dialectic on the basis that you experience a thing as a like/don't like and you name it as a good/bad. Another way of saying this: the gut reaction is "I like it;" the cognitive response is "it's bad." Seems so easy when said so simply. Only a framework: proposal 'A'.

I propose another possible framework, one which I to tried get oldpro to approve or disprove once already (#43): that Serra's sculpture is both art (but not good enough), and not-art (but impressive); Duchamp's urinal art (but not great-looking) and not-art (but rhetorically effective). Art when I experience it, as has been asserted often of late; not-art while I respond with conceptualizations or characterizations of it by thinking then writing of it as gravity-defying, or logistically sophisticated, or huge. Any object, even food, has the potential to be 'felt' as art or else to be considered conceptually (not-art) within this paradigm: proposal 'B'

Frameworks 'A' and 'B' do not, admittedly, support one another. But both have been cropping up in the comments on this post. I feel clear-headed enough to get some sleep myself now. G'nite.



July 9, 2005, 8:43 AM

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

OldPro, it is the nature of art history to be influenced by accidents. I could agree that Duchamp is such an accident for the sake of discussion. But once the accident occurred, his place was made. If only we can be so lucky ourselves...I would take such an accident, for sure.

We cannot live for the time 500 years from now when all the stuff of the last 100 years will be finally sorted out and arranged according to the way we feel it should be. It won't matter to us then (and it won't be arranged like we think it should either). So, in the here and now, I am saying Duchamp must be dealt with. It is a practical matter. He isn't going away in our lifetimes, so looking at what he did and why it caught on is helpful, illuminating to some extent, in getting the lay of the land that we must walk on.

As you say, though, we don't "will" taste. I can't choose to not like the curves of the laid on its side "pisspot". So I can't report otherwise unless I want to lie.

In literature, satire is a recognized form of expression. Jonathan Swift is not shorted for his achievement. Why short Duchamp for satirizing art itself? He did it well. When you point out that the urinal was satire, it almost seems like that is evidence, in your mind, that it isn't good art. For me, the same evidence points to his intelligence for finding a neglected spot in the history of visual art. It doesn't directly bear on the goodness of the urinal as art either way.

I am trying to change your mind on Duchamp, OldPro, and you are trying to change mine. Sorry it irritates you. On my side, the process is stimulating.

And Jack, your Lebrun example is compelling. I never heard of him. But if his turns out to be the model for what happens to Duchamp's reputation 400 years from now, what does that mean to us today? Besides, I hope I never said Duchamp was a great artist. Only that I like the "porcelain altar" for its curves and Duchamp's nerve in displaying it with the R. Mutt signature and the cool it introduced against the tendency for artists to self-agrandize.

Now Ahab, you are right that the experience of art, in itself, can be viewed as complicated. I don't know of anyone who took the complicated route and got a good picture of it, though. My guess is it is simpler than that. We don't need frameworks, a, b, c, or d. We just need to be honest in reporting our take. The rest will sort itself out soon enough. I doubt that OldPro's negative reaction to the urinal is "cognitive", it is more likely a refined "gut" reaction (that differs from mine). Everything we say and write can seem "cognitive" because all such stuff must be run through cognition to make it into language. But for some of it, cognition/rationality is not its basis.

One of Duchamp's great contributions was pointing out that anything - including the food that fascinates you and the pisspot that fascinates me - can be taken aesthetically without diminishing or demeaning that experience. Even OldPro might admit this. It is certainly true. And it was true before Duchamp cast the much needed light on it, making his one of the more significant discoveries of the last century. As aesthetics, his is one of the few principles that really does have something to do with the way we experience art.



July 9, 2005, 10:15 AM

Flatboy, you are splitting hairs and getting too complicated at the same time.

Art is just stuff, although it is a special kind of stuff that we organize in a way to provoke a certain response. If we call it art, we are asking for that response, generally known as an esthetic response. Some of us are very wound up with art, and this drives us to personalize it and try to define it and the like. But art is really nothing but what we put in that class of things that are meant to do have a certain effect. It doesn't do to get nuch mnore complicated than that.

We are free to impute any characteristic to art, or to any other thing, which we want to, and we can make use or, or react to any thing any way we want to, within physical possibility. If I go to a comedy club I go intending to be amused, that is willed, but I cannot will what I find amusing. Same goes for art, or food or anything. This is all pretty rudimentary.

The brain's interaction with the environment is extremely complex and I have no competence to describe it beyond honestly reporting my reactions. When discussing art is is better to try to simply stick to what we can observe and not make overinvolved structures. (This is directed less at you than the art world in general, as it suffers though the current epidemic of theoryitis).

As for Duchamp, I shouldn't say I get irritated, because I like arguing with you, but I really do get tired of hearing about him. His "contribution" was that his piece of Dada, rather than someone else's, was taken up to justify making art out of anything when we decided to go that route. Now that we know this (and you should know by now that I know it too) we should get on with making art out of anything and cease using Duchamp to justify anything as art.



July 9, 2005, 11:02 AM

Flatboy, even if we take Duchamp as a brilliant satirist (which I do not), we're still talking about a kind of cleverness--an intellectual business, not an artistic one. I can understand your liking the curves of the urinal, which is like a cool, soothing womb, but Duchamp had nothing to do with that design. If he'd used an angular, boxy, stiff-looking rectangular model, would you feel the same way?

I know he's been influential. Very. The real issue, at least for me, is the nature of that influence, the results, the product. Do you like it? Does it fulfill you? Are you happy with it? I most definitely am not, so I insist on holding him responsible, even if he never intended or envisioned so many would make a risible yet pernicious religion out his practical jokes. And as for counteracting the tendency of artists to self-aggrandize, I'm afraid that is still, and will remain, very much with us.



July 9, 2005, 11:21 AM

Jack asks "If he'd used an angular, boxy, stiff-looking rectangular model, would you feel the same way? "

I doubt it. The structure you describe seems unappealing. That does not change the fact someone could take it aesthetically, but I don't think I would. I haven't seen a urinal that looks like that, though. However, many do not look as good as Duchamp's and I would not be as impressed if he had chosen one of them.

You also said "Duchamp had nothing to do with that design" which is true. But Rubens did not always paint his own paintings either. There are lots of other examples, but the point is artists use stuff if it furthers their art. It doesn't matter who made it, we get the credit after we use it. If we get credit at all.



July 9, 2005, 11:27 AM

This morning, I ran across this interesting article Retina Adapts To Seek The Unexpected, Ignore The Commonplace"
The link
I think it has some deeper ramifications for how things proceed in the 100 to 400 year prehistorical band of time.

The research is focused upon vision as retinal processing, which ultimately appears to be a form of self preservation, identifying the threat because it is different from the surrounding environment. This sensitivity to novelty, a conceptual figure ground analysis, seems to be a deep-rooted and primitive response. I would suspect that it would also affect our psychological and intellectual responses by becoming a familiar pattern of behaviors. In relationship to Duchamp one might view the situation initially as "novel", hence drawing our attention both perceptually and conceptually. Where this relationship starts to become fuzzy is at the point of saturation, that point where the Duchampian influence becomes so ubiquitous if begins to fall into the category of less interesting regions In the media, they call it over exposure, you see it but change the channel.

I think flatboy was right on when he says when all the stuff of the last 100 years will be finally sorted out and arranged according to the way we feel it should be As an artist, one makes personal choices which allows one to sort out and arrange "close in history", in a way which reinforces ones personal vision of reality. This is a mode of self preservation or an aspect of ambition, it doesn't matter which. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that ones personal criteria will ultimately be correct. This is a difficult situation for it suggests a certain degree of intractable logic must be at work. One decides, based on both ones education and ones experience what to believe as the truth.

Earlier, Rob quoted Kierkegaard, no generation begins at any other point than at the beginning This is what makes the work of younger artists so interesting. It is not a question of repeating the mistakes of the past but of the sublimeness of naivete, rearranging all the less interesting regions with a new set of prejudice's.



July 9, 2005, 11:34 AM

Flatboy, you truly can drive a person nuts. Now you are expounding on the esthetic properties of the urinal? Esthetically it is banal. I think you have aknowledged that. All it needed to do to make its "contribution" was to be recognizable as a urinal. I think this is a curcumstance of trying to have your cake and eat it too.

Jack, don't encourage him Duchampwise any more. Aaargh!



July 9, 2005, 11:41 AM

Flatboy, your Rubens analogy is hardly apt. Rubens used assistants trained and directed by him to paint like he would and could paint if he had the time to fulfill so many commissions, which he could not do by himself. That is obviously not what Duchamp did with the urinal, which could have been done by someone without any artistic training or talent--someone, in fact, like ME, had I been so inclined.

I know, I'm not going to talk you out of your urinal fixation, but absolutely nobody is going to talk me into it.



July 9, 2005, 11:41 AM

George, the urinal thing has nothing to do with seeing or the primitive capacity of recognizing novelty within a field of vision. It is just a matter of something culturally unacceptable as art being put forth as art. Enough already.

I wish Mr & Mrs Duchamp senior had never met.



July 9, 2005, 11:54 AM

OP, I wasn't directly referring to the urinal. I do think that there is some sort of time cycle of interest involved with these sort of things. You have a valid personal opinion and at least part of the greater art community has a different opinion. I suspect that at some point we will reach a point of saturation and the urinal will become part of the "less interesting regions" The point I would defend is flatboys interest in the Duchampian approach. I suspect this is all new enough to him to still be fresh and as good a place to start as anywhere.



July 9, 2005, 11:58 AM

i love duchamp for his ideology and historical importance. aesthetics are secondary (b/c he was challenging the notion of aesthetic anyway). ruebens vs duchamp is not an appropriate comparison. i think we have flushed all of the artspeak out of this urinal so it is with great hope that franklin will start a new topic for today.



July 9, 2005, 12:01 PM

All pretty rudimentary, or all pretty fundamental.

Since y'all are making cases for classifying Duchamp the artist. In his Dada phase, worse than a prankster, he was a conman. A liar. And "The Fountain" is a lie. And great lies have their place in history, and lies have their place in the story. But I do not enjoy a lie, even a great one.

I suppose what I was hoping was that the proposals would be broken down in the reasoned manner with which most topics are considered on this site. Instead I get "you're wasting my time" or "you're too simple" or "you're overblowing the whole thing."

I am not arbitrarily laying some existing framework over this thing called art. I am not looking for the magic formula for making art. I am not so naive as to think I can thoroughly 'understand' a urinal, never mind art. My gut reaction is that a thing doesn't become art because we experience it and name it as such. We are so many gnats whose weak terminology and definitions (language) don't even adequately express the fact that we are insignificant. And yet we interact with words, so despite their fallibility we try.

I wrote a term paper once that presented a fictionalized version of my very real visit to deMaria's "Earth Room." This was then juxtaposed with some reasoned art historical contextualization. The story of the visit expressed the nuanced experience of the piece better than the theorizing could ever have hoped to. Neither came close to capturing the event. And that was a thin experience to say the least - I didn't even bother trying to grasp Newman's "Stations of the Cross" in any external form. I'll keep that immensely moving experience to myself, not to deprive you but because I couldn't remotely do it justice.




July 9, 2005, 12:30 PM

i am in accordance with your point about language. what is your take on cave paintings? specifically, the act of documention. is it art or language? a second topic seemingly related: have you read any theory by stan brackage (filmmaker) who disects language via the act of seeing. defining color as such. when you are a child you are taught that this color is blue, this color is green, etc. and that in essence is when language or the act of defining the world around you begins. rudimentary, of course. but like you said we are all little gnats...


i too enjoyed walter deMarias earth room. profound experience.



July 9, 2005, 12:43 PM

"But once I started looking at what the Chinese and Japanese had to offer,
I entered into a different way of relating to space. It suggested ways of dealing with time
and movement that are just not possible within the limitations of figurative painting or sculpture. ... In order to appreciate the Japanese Zen garden one has to slow down,
which puts you into a state of suspended concentration. Whether the shadows
in the furrows of the garden appear and disappear as the sun sets, or whether
you walk along a porch and see a rock apear from behind another rock, there is
something about the slowing down of perception and the comprehension of what you perceive. Placing the word 'meditation' on it is a little heavy..."
But that is what it is.

note : Many of us, as middle-aged female artists, experience the gravitation towards
Prajnaparamita ( the feminine emanation of Avalokiteshvara ) & Kuan Yin -
She who hears the cties of the world.

Thank you for this post.



July 9, 2005, 12:50 PM

I am sorry ifI seem dismissive, Ahab, but we go over these things again and again and everyone at times seems to get on the same page so we can go on a discuss something else and then suddenly we are back to the drawing bord. It is very frustrating.

A thing IS art because we call it art, and it IS art if we experience it as such. A cat is a cat if we call it a cat.Doesn't anyone understand that this is just words and naming? A matter of convenience so we can talk? Why must we be so complicated?

MEK some cave painting is great art. Some is just stick figures (that was the pomo cave painting).. I wish someone would figure out how this happened. Obviously at some point there had to be caveman art teachers. It is a fascinating mystery.

Brackage was talked about all the time in the late 60s early 70s ARTFORUM. I never paid much attention because his work did not interest me. I saw some recently and it looked like chaotic nonsense.



July 9, 2005, 12:51 PM

Oh, it seems like so long ago now, but I should apologize for breaking the rules yesterday. As I've said previously, I'm new to the blog thing, and thought "no outing" meant I wasn't supposed to tell everyone that Ahab is queer (not that there's anything wrong with that).
So, as I try to catch up, let me just get a few things straight:
"Japzen" is not allowed, due to , but I'm guessing that "Britpop" probably is... this seems a bit ethnocentric... either both are ok, or neither are... maybe that's just my Canuck sense of fairness... you Yanks probably disagree though.
Oldpro, I guess I'll have to take your self-proclaimed advanced age more seriously, if people in their 30's are to be refered to as 'kids' here... don't worry, no offense taken, really.
As for the rest, we have started with Serra, but somehow got lost down dead end Rue Duchamp. Too much time and energy has been wasted on him for me to want to follow that up.
Serra's ellipses that I experienced 'clicked my clicker'. It pleased me not for what practical, personal, purposful use I was going to make of the thing, but simply made me feel its 'rightness'. A steel sculptor is as much in control of surface as any other artist and, yes, people have been known to paint marble. Now, if I got a tour of the german steel mill that actually makes these things, I would be open to viewing their facility as art too.



July 9, 2005, 12:57 PM

I'm with you oldpro...
Take food... not as art, but as food:
Food is stuff we eat, right? Well then, is a sock food? If I'm wearing it on my foot, no, it's just a sock. But if I put it in my mouth, chew it up, swallow it, digest it, shit it out (ie consider it as food) then it IS food, and nobody can tell me otherwise. Despite the fact that they have not experienced SOCK as FOOD, that does not take away the fact that I did. So that tells us that anything is whatever we consider it to be, and likewise tells us that definition per se is not that interesting. The point is not whether a sock is food, but whether a sock, as food, is any good.



July 9, 2005, 1:04 PM

Duchamp's fountain showed us, likewise, that URINAL can be ART. Wow, thanks Duch. But, getting on to more important things, is URINAL, as ART, any good? Most people, even Duchamps supporters, would probably agree that it is not (flatboy aside) and moreover, was not intended to be viewed aesthetically. People who talk about the beauty of the urinal are being ingenuous, because they simply take this one urinal picked out by some dude 100 yrs ago, and say, wow, it's so pretty. Well then, give the designer of the bloody pisspot the credit then, because he's the one who decided on those graceful curves and swelling lines that you admire, and he probably worked hard on his design... and there's a bunch of lovely toilets out there to look at, as well as coffe makers, spoons, and all sorts of design works... if these move you to the same extent as other works of art, I don't know whether to envy or pity you.



July 9, 2005, 1:08 PM

Curious how much time was spent on the urinal, certainly a better point of departure would be either "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even" or the "Étant Donnés"



July 9, 2005, 1:15 PM

Duch didn't get cubism, misunderstood it (like so many people did and still do) as just outright wackiness, and said, "You call that wacky? I'll show you wacky!" Picasso attached handlebars to a bike seat, Duchy stuck a bike wheel on a stool. Tit for tat. The urinal was his way of accusing the cubists, as Ruskin accused Whistler, of f'linging a paintpot in the faces of the viewers' (don't know the exact quote). The reality, as is clear to us now, is that Ruskin and Duchamp were just to limited in their taste to get the new, best art being made.



July 9, 2005, 1:19 PM

McCourt said: "there's a bunch of lovely toilets out there to look at, as well as coffe makers, spoons, and all sorts of design works... if these move you ..."

Reminds me of comments about the drips in Pollock's painting. There are lots of drips "out there" in poorly painted buildings but that does not diminish the fact of how Pollock used them. Perhaps some ape somewhere could do the same thing, but none of them did. Perhaps some artist ... but none of them did either and few would dare to get too close to him now.

Duchamp is the tar baby that art of the last 100 years cannot get unstuck from. This discussion illustrates that. Even people who declare they are tired of it can't help themselves.



July 9, 2005, 1:31 PM

You are the one who keeps bringing up Douchemop there Fboy. You stop, I stop.



July 9, 2005, 1:34 PM

You're right. Duchamp is the artist we love to hate. Of course he's not really worth discussing, but one can hardly help oneself. I think this is not only because of his iconic status, but how easy it is to quickly debunk his importance.



July 9, 2005, 1:35 PM

mccourt: "Now, if I got a tour of the german steel mill that actually makes these things, I would be open to viewing their facility as art too." Funny & well put. I was going to mention the foundry aspect of serra and many others (subcontracting out to manufacturers to create your vision) but i forgot. thanks for the statement. this to me makes one an art director, not an artist per se.

oldpro: yes brackage is part of that whole 60-70's mentality, but his theories are sometimes still relevant such as his disection of language & the act of seeing.

franklin: next topic, eh?



July 9, 2005, 1:35 PM

was not intended to be viewed aesthetically

Maybe so, maybe not. The issue of whether or not the readymades are "good art" is probably best judged on characteristics other than appearances. The readymades made the case for the concept that "anything can be art" thus freeing the art object from its classical object forms. It does not guarantee that any of these objects are good art. Just to declare something as art may be valid as a method of defining a context for a the particular object n question. It's art if I say so. At the same time, just declaring something to be art does not necessarily move it above the context of the normal and make it "good art" This requires something else. Duchamp succeeded with the readymades by inserting them into the "art context" as a conceptual act, once done, it was done. Subsequent activities along these lines can no longer lay claim to the generation of this conceptual act as sufficient but require further intervention by the artist. Been there done that.




July 9, 2005, 1:45 PM

When I write "was not intended to be viewed aesthetically", I do not mean to attach significance to intention, but rather to state that the urinal was not chosen because it was particularly 'good', and nobody took it that way at the time... it was chosen because it was wacky, and 'dirty', so therefore would out-shock the artistically shocking work of Picasso et al.

The issue of whether or not the readymades are "good art" is probably best judged on characteristics other than appearances.
Well, it's supposed to be visual art, right? I mean, I hope I haven't just been confused all these years, only to find out now that "Fountain", rather than being a sculpute, is actually a piece of music. I suppose I can't judge it then, since I've never heard it in person.

The readymades made the case for the concept that "anything can be art"
They illustrated that anything could be art, true, but that was always true. I'm sure urinal makers were considering the aesthetics of toilets long before Duchamp made gallery-goers think about it. All he really succeeded in doing was showing us that urinals are probably not very good as art (although the urinal he chose was undoubtedly more eye-pleasing than some)



July 9, 2005, 2:01 PM

Forget about the urinal. In a good part, it was Duchamps work which was championed by the conceptualists in the 70's when they laid waste to modernist formalism. At the time it was a victory for content over form.



July 9, 2005, 2:02 PM

Forget about content v. form... they're inseparable.



July 9, 2005, 2:03 PM

To paraphrase something I heard once, when asked, What do you think of Duchamp?, I reply, I don't think of him. And it's true.



July 9, 2005, 2:04 PM

When we sacrifice Freedom for Security, we end up with neither.
Likewise, when we sacrifice Form for Content, we also generally wind up with neither.



July 9, 2005, 2:10 PM

Up here near the arctic circle, we don't get a lot of nice weather ... I'm going outside to enjoy our weeklong summer... later all


Bill Wilson

July 9, 2005, 2:39 PM

Whether I like a site-specific sculpture like "Tilted Arc" does not illuminate the sculpture; my judgment is about me, unless the judgment is attached to the work by a description and/or analysis. When someone else points toward "Tilted Arc," that person's apprehensions and comprehensions may be so different from mine that we need to check to see if we are talking about the same visual event. I once took a European curator to an installation by Richard Serra; she saw painterly Raphaelesque qualities in the surface of the Cor-ten steel, she did not see or respond to the relations of that installation to eye-level, to minimal aesthetic illusions, to her participations as an observer moving around in an installation, or to the frank massiveness of the steel objects. Any visual artist willy-nilly reveals an attitude toward mass. Mass is not a visual concept, as indeed an artist like Bruce Nauman has teased about mass by compressing a ton of steel into a small object. Marcel Duchamp made a sculpture for travel by cutting up a rubber bathing cap, so that he could string it up in any place he visited, marking a large volume of space with strings of thin elastic material: the least mass, the most spatiality. Donald Judd explicitly worked toward the most surface with the least mass, so that his work was distant from that of Serra--each artist committed to a different life-world to be rendered in sculpture. Yet Serra, in rapport, wrote about Judd: "I especially admire the big, open steel, concrete, and plywood sculptures. They convey a public space, an expanse, a vastness derived from openness but not contained by a closed solution" (Art Forum, Summer 1994, p.114). Serra constructed "Tilted Arc" in a public space, and in relation to two systems that would if they could become self-consistent closed solutions. As artists know or ought to know, a closed system runs down, so that the function of an avant-garde is to get out in front of a system that would close over itself in order to reopen it and to hold it open. "Tilted Arc" was installed in a downtown Manhattan neighborhood that is largely commercial, many small shops, with the values implied by the stores buying and selling with profit and loss, amid exchanges and acquisitions of commodities as possessions. Next to the commerce in that neighborhood are government-issue buildings, efficient buildings with few aspirations toward architectural expression. "Tilted Arc" was erected on the grounds of the Federal Courthouse, where official bureaucratic justice is administered. In fact a judge led the campaign to remove "Tilted Arc," straining the law and the moral rights of the artist. The two environments, commerce and legal justice, both demonstrate systems of value, and both would close over themselves, each to exclude the other, while shunning art. A work of sculptural art had been introduced on that specific site as a challenge to: 1) the practical judgments in buying and selling; and 2) the legal and moral judgments in trials before the law. "Tilted Arc" could only be an object of aesthetic judgment, since it was not for sale, and was of incalculable value that transcends both the materiality of commerce and the ideality of law. It could not be judged except as art, because no laws of government can govern its meanings, or judge aesthetic values in the light of moral or legal values. The "arc" in "Tilted Arc" was physical, the shape of the steel, but the visual arc had a momentum that extended it beyond the physical and visual into continuations in both directions. Those invisible continuations were imaginary or virtual, demonstrating that if we follow implications as secure as those of geometry, that we can know with certainty much more than we can see as evidence of the senses. The continuations of the visible into the invisible could be known with certainty, as anyone could plot the arc beyond the physical. Thus the arc had the effect of curving beyond the material into the air, but specifiably, as a model of thinking with verifiable and provable operations, not with images like angels the construction of which is unspecifiable. The ever-self-enclosing systems of commerce and of bureaucratic justice receded into the background as threats to freedom of mental and physical movements, while the arc opened its site to the invisible plottable curves, and thus to the precisions of an imagination that is open but answerable to a rational reality. To the inconvenience of some people, a spectator became a participant who had to set in motion around the sculpture, improvising a novel path within the immediacies of that moment. The participant-observer needed to think about thinking, to think about an obstacle, and about how the apparent obstacle to a ready-made path could, with an adjustment of vision from the practical and the judicial to the aesthetic, be seen as a purposeless object that encouraged thoughts about habitual purposes. A path around the "Tilted Arc" could be opened, but never closed. And as for "tilted," as a tension between the vertical ideality and the horizontal materiality, any fixed judgments got tilted in the process of constructing an unplotted and unchartered path for oneself. Serra again: "...convey a public space, an expanse, a vastness derived from openness but not contained by a closed solution." I won't take space to draw out more implications, but note the massiveness in Serra's work that is consistent with a lightness. Some of his work allows me to enjoy an emancipation from an oppression I have been unaware of until the oppression is lifted. In an articulate installation, Serra wrote on the wall quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Write whim over the lintel." Serra's whims of steel are models for experiences of responsible and secure visual thinking that acknowledges knowledge that extends beyond the visual, but specifiably (not like invisible and "knowable" demons or seraphs for which we have no specifications for their construction). "Tilted Arc" was a reminder and reproach to systems that would close down over themselves uncritically, and would thereby suffocate themselves and anyone caught within them. Serra works in behalf of freedom, like the freedom of a whim, but with whims that are answerable to mechanics and mathematics. From afar, his later sculptural events can look oppressive, and as though they would close over one, menacing one's freedom. But a structure that looks like it might constrain is discovered to be an emancipation, widening, deepening and opening toward constructive possibilities one might have been unaware of or unappreciative of. What can look like oppression or destruction, if experienced attentively, can become freedom, which is to say that apparent destruction can be made to serve the purposes of a constructivism, that is, the construction of an emancipated, self-governing and imaginative self, one who enjoys whims that can be taken as seriously as gravity acting within steel. I experience the beautiful as that with which I would like to conceive something; and usually emerge from an installation by Serra with steely resolves to act on my whims to conceive something--an idea? an image? a note for a messageboard?--that is as responsible as steel.



July 9, 2005, 2:45 PM




July 9, 2005, 2:50 PM

I have to think of him (Duchamp) once in a while because of classes I teach and I continue to realize how insignificant he is. It's funny he keeps coming up.



July 9, 2005, 2:58 PM

You speak like lawyers all, mostly very funny wood-chopping. Where is that art now? Could it be art, or just a little taste of something, a suggestion, or a proposal? The urinal certainly is banal as art form but somebody sculpted the prototype for an urgent need. No need to like it aesthetically. Duchamp perhaps was bored with significance and pompe. Fountains are supposed to give clear water. (R. Mutt sounds like Eremite or even Armut.) Serra has such good acoustic. Clap your hands or whisper inside. People walk around buildings and even lakes; they cross rivers when they finally reach a bridge, so why not stroll around a sculpture or a very special wall. Art can be an obstacle to a lot of people; they must suffer a lot. Especially when it is too big. I hate to have to walk around a sports-stadium to reach my coffee bar or a museum. And in that weather! Serra could not possibly be smaller. Nor Guernica. Your spirit (or whatever faculty) has to adjust to it. People adjust to things all the time; love, crime and mountains, so what obstacle to your life is a little Serra?



July 9, 2005, 3:28 PM

Que Serra, Serra

A urinal's meant for pee

But whatever we see, we see

Que Serra, Serra

--Doris Day, 1956



July 9, 2005, 3:36 PM

thanks for the laugh



July 9, 2005, 4:10 PM

Nice piece OldPro.



July 9, 2005, 4:35 PM

You're a slippery devil, oldpro. No wonder flatboy holds you in esteem.



July 9, 2005, 4:50 PM

Well, I hold Flatboy in esteem too, despite his advanced marcelomania.



July 9, 2005, 5:35 PM

To clarify the patina issue, for Franklin and others:

Robert Hughes, in his 6/22/05 review for The Guardian of the Serra works in question, reports that no color has been applied to the steel; there is no painting or artificial patination, and Serra says that he doesn't pick his plates for their coloring (which is natural coloring).


Bill Wilson

July 9, 2005, 6:30 PM

A first note about Duchamp's "Fountain" is that it is not a functioning purposeful urinal. A male is likely to approach a urinal purposefully, reaching toward a part of his anatomy he is not usually supposed to reach for in public (in a photograph of himself nude, Duchamp covers his genitals with his hands). Socially a urinal is not known to be used, so Duchamp shows one that is not used (because it is reversed in position). At least by implication he has brought the penis out of the background into the foreground of art, so that the aestheticized gentlemen who bracketed bodily functions out of the arts were reminded of organs and functions society preferred to forget (one made a social visit of 20 minutes, so that one would not need to not use the toilets in other people's houses). The crucial point is both about form and content: Duchamp's urinal is upsidedown, so that any comments about the form as imposed by the original designer are irrelevant to Duchamp's reversal of the object as he turned ideas about art upsidedown. Showing an object upsidedown serves many purposes, since familiar clues to use are rendered unfamiliar (it's like looking backward toward a sunset through your legs). The upsidedownness alleviates the serious purposefulness of the object. Such a urinal, rendered purposeless, intersects with the history of Euro-aesthetics when, after Immanuel Kant, a work of art is understand as purposefully purposeless or purposeless purposefulness. Unfortunately Kant separated the utilitarian from the aesthetic. In his own life, he experienced very little of any of the arts, so that he was not using works of art to think with, or even using beauty to think with about good and truth, as Plato had done. The many responses to Kant's differentiations of judgments include the brilliance of Chekhov, for whom the family lost the beautiful Cherry Orchard because they had forgotten how to dry the cherries for market--a process that had afforded them the luxury of the non-utilitarian appreciation of the exquisite beauty. Beauty and use inextricably overlapped, so No Use, No Beauty. The moral is plain: do not separate aesthetic beauty from practical purposeful uses. If Kantian works of art are purposefully purposeless objects, then an upsidedown urinal is a purposeful object rendered purposeless. It has a claim to belong to the set of works of art, while mischievously subverting the definition of that set. Duchamp also hung a snow-shovel on the wall, and withdrew a bicycle wheel from use, in order both to use it in aesthetic contemplation and to suspend its forward motion. The world-poem of Marcel Duchamp is governed by a few axioms, primarily the law of delay. Duchamp typically slowed down processes, as in playing chess by postcards between Brazil and the U.S., and ever so slowly approaching Beatrice Wood erotically. Again and again, in our era of high-velocity art, Duchamp's works slow us down, if only with that specific work titled with the instruction that it is to be looked at closely, for about an hour. On a chatty messageboard, writing the name "Duchamp" and then gesturing thumbs up or thumbs down does not illuminate the object or the experience of the object. Criticism needs to go case-by-case. Look at the design for a book-jacket, where Duchamp emphasized the Ben Day dots, calling attention to the means of mechanical reproduction, rather than concealing the mechanics. Surely he was presenting his version of the theme of truth in art. Yes, he certainly told lies, or at least engaged in entertaining and rather purposeless deceptions, but what is the meaning of his lies? Bill Wilson



July 9, 2005, 6:56 PM

Bill, it was not turned upside down. It was turned backside f down. One could easily piss in it and i wish someone would.



July 9, 2005, 7:46 PM

Good luck to any of you in the path of Dennisˇ



July 9, 2005, 10:07 PM

Went to Wynwood tonight for the openings. Lousy weather. Weak attendance. And the art? Don't ask.



July 9, 2005, 11:08 PM

i was wondering if anyone went. i did not. sorry you were disappointed - i know how you feel.

there is some artist open studio thing tonite and tomorrow in palm beach. anyone been to it or know if it's worth the schlep?



July 10, 2005, 3:44 AM

jack, where was it the art was so unmetionalble?



July 10, 2005, 11:42 AM

Re #94, the art was not so much unmentionable as not worth mentioning. It's summer , and I guess that's as good an excuse as any.



July 10, 2005, 12:04 PM

Re #95, whatever, have a great summer



July 10, 2005, 12:10 PM

Jack re; #35 thanks, I needed a good laugh!!



July 10, 2005, 12:27 PM

jack re;#38 I have enjoyed this blog because of you hahahaha I think Im in love lol....and old pro; louis 14 didnt chop heads off ...that was Henry8!



July 10, 2005, 12:37 PM

oldpro re; 83......Im pissing myself laughing... hahahahahaha



July 10, 2005, 1:45 PM


thanks for your thoughtful comments about Duchamp.



July 10, 2005, 2:30 PM

Thanks, Elizabeth.

Now, if we discuss the 19 C., I can add another verse:

"Que Seurat, Seurat..."




July 10, 2005, 3:28 PM

old pro....your an endless souce hahahahahahahaha



July 10, 2005, 3:40 PM

oldpro, an endless source......yes I can spell...just not when Im laughing!


Bill Wilson

July 10, 2005, 5:41 PM

Bill, it was not turned upside down. It was turned backside down. One could easily piss in it and i wish someone would.

Old Pro: thanks for the careful correction. I broke several rules by not looking afresh at "Fountain," to see its position as enshrned in a photograph directed by Duchamp. However, even if not "upsidedown," like characters in both I. Bergman and F. Fellini who stand on their heads to look at a topsy-turvey world as a refreshened text, my point about the loss of clues that would cue identification of the urinal stands up under the revision. On Duchampian delays, with the urinal in this position, recognition is slowed, like a "delay in glass." The position of the urinal is unusual enough to recall the illumination Wassily Kandinsky enjoyed when he entered his studio, seeing a marvelous abstract painting that turned out to be a representational painting that was turned on its side. In that position, the figurative content was obscured, but the formal abstract visual excitements survived (Kandinsky would go on to work with the relations between the material paint and the advent of spirit in that work of art, precisely described by John Sallis, "Shades: Of painting at the limit"). The great architectural critic, Robert Harbison, is in print writing in one version that W. K.'s painting was upsidedown, in another version that it was on its side, so we must all be patient with our errors, especially mine. I was with a powerful Matisse scholar when he pointed toward a painting and described the man pictured, but the "man" was a woman, with a visible breast, so we do need to talk to each other to confirm that we are seeing what we think we are seeing. After all, MoMA displayed for years a dreadful painting of a little girl whose legs outlined an erect phallus, but no one in the public seemed to win the game of hide & seek, or at least no one seems to have recognized the pornography, even after the painting was scorched in a fire & restored. On the urinal, I don't understand your hostility. Duchamp's art is to his life-poem as your art is to your world-poem. When I don't appreciate art about which there is a consensus as to its beauty, and to the efficacies of that beauty, I wonder what I am not enjoying or appreciating that other people are savoring. Frank O'Hara wrote in a poem that he did not understand a composition by Prokoviev, but he aspired to it. I have appropriated that line on many occasions. Only a careful study of Duchamp's work, more careful than my coasting on an infarcted memory, can do justice to works of art that have permanently adjusted or readjusted vision, so that we have learned how to teach ourselves to see the ordinary as extraordinary. Wallace Stevens complained about a poet that his poems " not make the visible a little hard/ To see...." ("The Creations of Sound"). Percy Shelley, in a Wordsworthian insight, defines a function of poetry (i.e. aesthetic "making" in any medium) that surely opens to include Duchamp: "Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar." I think of the intended display of the urinal in a religio-philosophic context. As R. H. Blyth writes in Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, it is a certain fact that Jesus used the bathroom. I should check Blyth's words, since we use so many euphemisms, but thanks to recent French critical theories, we can't conceal from ourselves that our concealing of something reveals something else, and our revealing of something conceals something else. I think that we can see through "Fountain" toward two impulses in Duchamp. One impulse is to bring the concealed into unconcealment. The other is to express contempt for the art of his period, 1917, while WW I is being actively fought (and in the same year Picasso and Cocteau together are drawing pictures of their penises in Rome, a city of palindromes: ROMA SUMMUS AMOR, as the graffiti says) . After all, Celine wrote, as I reconstruct from memory, "I piss on it all from a considerable height." But to make pissing a symbolic expression of a human feeling like contempt is highly problematic: "One could easily piss in it and i wish someone would." To degrade a bodily function by using it as a sign or symbol of something other than itself distorts our position in the cosmos, for we give meanings to functions that are not inherent in the functions. Think about mists, a word cognate with micturate, and mistletoe, so that our language holds urine and mist in a comparison that could open a view into nature, and add a dimension to e.g. Mondrian's paintings of mists. In a complex move, Duchamp ejaculated on a piece of photographic paper and mailed it to the woman he loved (has masturbation hitherto entered art as a source of art supplies?). People keep mumbling the fact that urine and semen, or elimination and sexuality, use the same bodily parts. William Butler Yeats has Crazy Jane say to the Bishop: '"A woman can be proud and stiff/ When on love intent;/ But Love has pitched his mansion in/ The place of excrement." If form follows function, then when a form like the urinal is turned toward an unfamiliar position, then the object participates in the meditations on functions that have occurred within the visual arts about the whole truth of our bodies. If we reject excreting, we damage our wholeness. Consider public hair, which Ruskin had not learned about from art representing women. Hence, if the legend is true, the curdling of his wedding-night, when he was shocked to discover pubic hair on his bride, he after all once having "fallen in love" with a pubescent girl whom he saw as a "white statue" walking. Surely artists are entitled to interpret bodies, and their own bodies, as expressively as is consistent with their commitments to their reality. Francis Bacon pictured Van Gogh urinating: Well, not that there's anything wrong with it, is there? Picasso, otherwise P.P., painted scenes of urination, and cut "urnal" out of "journal" to use in a few collages. Please look again at the self-portrait by Franklin in order to enter the visual thoughts about the body. In the middle of the painting is not head or genitalia, but his chest. The emphatic implication of a chest at the center of a painterly rectangle is that he is governed by his breathing:--that he breathes his thoughts, and thinks his breaths. Shakespeare has a blind man say, "I see it feelingly." This portrait seems to say, "I see it breathingly." I figure that a criterion for judging this painting is whether it breathes or not, just as a haiku is to be a one-breath poem. Among my errors, I thought that the figure stands in front of a painting, but the painter stands in front of a window, facing away from the window, with deep space of a landscape behind him, but almost, not quite, flattened to the surface of this painting. The planes are not to be flat, static or inert, because the painting must be free to breathe visually. I now see the painter, allowing for the depletions of this computer screen, standing in a philosophic stance, where he, in the foreground, bodies forth the breathing of the landscape behind him visible through a window. A provisional statement is that he is, by being indoors with his art, nevertheless breathing in the light with the air, at one with his landshape. For relations between art and breath, see "inspire" and "perspire," and revisit paintings of Zephyr, and Buddha sitting. O.K, Bill, take a breath. Bill Wilson



July 10, 2005, 6:10 PM

flatboy; the sole purpose of Marcels 'urinal' was to create something that would piss off oldpro and jack! I adore marcel as well fb, he was irreverent, and you need to be that to be an artist!



July 10, 2005, 6:43 PM

oldpro Sunday 10 July 2005 6:32 pm

Sorry, Bill, i am sick of the urinal and I am sick of hearing about it. Go study it if you want to. No one has anything new to say about that damned tired joke so can we please leave it alone? Those Canadian kids showed us some real live sculpture and here we sit groaning on and on about some sanctified pisspot and a mighty monument of a culture hero who hasn't had a new idea in 40 years. Art is life, people, not headache-making fumbling about with enervated ideas. Aarghh!

Elizabeth of course it was created to torment me &Jack.And Flatboy, bless his soul, is chief inquisitor.

Also, you do not have to be irreverent to be an artist. To wit: religious art of the Rennaissance. The necessity of irreverence, rebellion, "cutting edge", "breaking down the barriers" and all that is just a modern conceit and has become as tired as all get-out.

Besides if you say something like that Kathleen will come tell you, now, now, Elizabeth, isn't it best to see both sides?



July 10, 2005, 8:11 PM

OldPro: Chief inquisitor eh? All I did was use Duchamp as an example of an artist I could apply a certain format of highly qualified appreciation to, in contrast to the proposed use of it for Serra. Duchamp's function as the tar baby of the last 100 years did the rest.

Elizabeth: I hardly adore Duchamp, I just like the looks of his sideways urinal with its crude signature. But I agree that artists good and bad alike are irreverent, even when they are being obedient. Artblog provides lots of evidence of that, with OldPro leading the way. He has kicked just about every sacred cow the art establishment has praised over the last 40 years. Everyone here (except perhaps Kathleen) swings for the fences



July 10, 2005, 8:28 PM

oldpro; religious art was done for paying patrons, so no room for irreverence there or you might risk , dare I say it , the Inquisition' haha, modern art on the other hand, I feel, is not created to please anyone!
FB; ok I hear you, but I DO adore good old Marcel and his rebellion which broke down barriers and was cutting edge for the time.....did I get it all in old pro??? haha
The direct opposition of all that gave us the URINAL' HAHA



July 10, 2005, 8:52 PM

No room for irreverance; plenty of room to make good art. That was my point. These days irreverence has been done to death. There is nothing to be irreverant about. It's a bore.

Yeah, yeah, good old broken barriers. You break barriers, whaddya got? A pile of debris. Wonderful. Then what? Do you stand on them and beat your chest? Or do you make some new ones so you have a place to work in?



July 10, 2005, 9:06 PM

Elizabeth. Your comments are filled with adolescent cliches. You should demand more from yourself.



July 10, 2005, 9:23 PM

beware: I know , but Im in a silly mood today! We take art far too seriously, its good to laugh!



July 10, 2005, 9:29 PM

does anyone think Serra is having a good laugh??



July 10, 2005, 9:49 PM

Dont be hard on Elizabeth, Beware, she laughs at my jokes!



July 10, 2005, 10:16 PM

oldpro i don't think elizabeth cares what anyone thinks - she is having fun. i laugh at your jokes too! now you have a girlie fan club, haha.



July 10, 2005, 10:21 PM

Oh man, at last the blog is paying off! Did you hear that Franklin?



July 10, 2005, 10:23 PM

At last, some good comes of my works...



July 11, 2005, 12:07 AM

well... I have not seen in person Duchamp's urinal but I have seen the one that Ernest Hemingway turned into a cat fountain...brilliant!


Bill Wilson

July 11, 2005, 12:09 AM

Old Pro: "Also, you do not have to be irreverent to be an artist. To wit: religious art of the Rennaissance. The necessity of irreverence, rebellion, "cutting edge", "breaking down the barriers" and all that is just a modern conceit and has become as tired as all get-out."

Actually European religious painting, at least by 1400, is caught in theological cross-currents, and at the time, might well be propagandizing for or against a trend or an explicit religious theme. As ikonic paintings gradually yield to pious naturalism and single-center perspective, the painters respond, for example, to Franciscan thoughts and images that were so unorthodox as to seem to some to be heretical. The rosary, now so familiar, was once a novelty, and as such was opposed by some of the orthodox, while championed in some paintings such as that by Caravaggio, whose "The Madonna of the Rosary" is quite Dominican in its theme, hence at a distance from the Franciscan mood of Giovanni Bellini. A legend I won't believe until I see the evidence says that Veronese painted a Last Supper, but responded to theological objections by retitling it, "The Wedding [Marriage] at Cana." But that is not a neutral identification. Because Scripture records Jesus going to only one wedding, some people argued that a person should only ever be married once. Theological strains are visible if one looks at changes in Greek Orthodox ikons. Their images and styles respond slowly to Italianate pious naturalism (a Greek Ikon museum in Venice provides both the evidence and relief from the marzipan of Baroque ceilings). Every departure from frontal ikonicity is a theological statement, adjusting the vision of God from the Ontological Proof toward the Cosmological Proof (again, perfectly represented by Umberto Eco in his novel, "The Name of the Rose," where induction is slowly replacing deduction from abstract logic). An enlightening book is by Thomas Puttfarken, "The Discovery of Pictorial Composition: theories of visual order in painting 1400-1800." The tragedy of Puttfarken's thesis is that for the sake of his formalism he ignores the theme of religious faith. However, the paintings he studies are meaningless and functionless without faith (on religious function: to my delight, a nun at a show of Titian in Paris, 1993, genuflected to some of the images, and her lips moved along with her silent prayers). Hence Puttfarken does not perceive relations between religious faith and painterly illusion. He is likely to under-read the facture of paintings by Cezanne, the materiality that in his own time was seen to abrade any idealism. Puttfarken does what Bernard Berenson did, which is to ignore the purposes for which the pictures were painted, their uses in prayer and meditation, and their often contentious religious implications (I must now reread Puttfarken to see if I have been fair to him: his book is marvelous as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough into faith). In a formalist secular spirit, Berenson was able to sell religious paintings to non-Christians, even as Edgar Kaufman could hang a Mexican Madonna at Fallingwater, without the implications of the Madonna colliding with the implications of his traditional Judaism or Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture. The paintings of the late Medieval period, and of the European Renaissance, must be taken case-by-case, as with the Duccio Madonna and Child recently bought by the Metropolitan Museum. The pictures are painted with a commitment to the reality of objects of faith like angels and saints, and every change in style was a change in meaning, at least to those who were paying attention both to their faith and to aesthetic illusions. Bill Wilson



July 11, 2005, 12:26 AM

Thanks Bill. Yes, do reread that Puttfarken.



July 11, 2005, 1:16 AM

mek; I do care what others a degree lol.......Im an artist many years so I have attitude now....I think oldpro should have cheerleaders...what costume do u want us in oldie??



July 11, 2005, 1:31 AM

Reading Bill's exponential expounding while my wife sits watching a movie that also alternates between being too quiet to hear then shockingly, overwhelmingly loud, I've had an inventive stroke. There should be a feature on the remote that allows, with a single push of the button, to switch between two significantly different volume settings. I don't want to mute him, just turn him down a notch so I can concentrate.

Bill, posting shorter sound bites might, no guarantee, earn you a more proportionate response.


bill Wilson

July 11, 2005, 1:40 AM

"Art is life, people, not headache-making fumbling about with enervated ideas." Actually a work of art in any medium is an aesthetic illusion, a theme that seems underrepresented here. Art is hypothetical and virtual, not categorical and actual, like life. A painting as art is not a physical object, it is an aesthetic illusion. When looking at the whole painting, the wholeness is an illusion, and only by stepping so close that the wholeness disintegrates can the surface of paint be seen. Painters in practice act on their knowledge of illusion when for example they work the painting upsidedown, so that they might see neither the illusory images nor the premature illusory wholeness. The gap between art and life is the gap between illusion and physical reality. Food is not art because it is not concerned with the good, nor does it convey an artist's commitment to his or her reality. One cannot eat a work of art because it is not material. Plato explained about food as a flattery, unlike medicine which works for the good of a person. Derrida has deconstructed Plato, but Plato's point survives. Food may be sophisticated, but food is useless as an illusion, while art functions only as an illusion. The effect of the powerful movement that called itself Anti-illusion was to delineate the inescapable illusoriness. I titled an essay about Eva Hesse, "On the Threshold of Illusion," because she didn't want to construct an illusion, but she willy-nilly did. The violinist Lachenmann, who rarely puts the bow to the strings, but gets noises out of the physical violin, attacks the illusions of violin music as it can seem to aspire beyond the material world. But his compositions have a wholeness, and while they succeed in eluding organic wholeness, they fail to prevent illusion, however minimal it may be. After all, the work of art exists only in consciousness of the work of art, and consciousness so far is not a material object or physical process. I find this comment difficult to write in the face of facetiousness combined with snide remarks. Richard Serra is committed to the communication of his reality not by fabrication of precious objects, but by constructing a situation in which a participant will understand Serra's world-design by participating in it as an improbable but believable experience. He is serious and generous, even magnanimous, in enabling people to enter his life-poem. The silliness of remarks about art on this messageboard, as though people are proud of being half-educated and less than half serious, are discouraging, & I had better be brief! Visual art is a process of visual thinking about the reality the artist is committed to. To sculpt like Picasso, you would need to believe like Picasso. To paint like Matisse, you would need to think and feel like Matisse, that he had a vision that was worth sharing. To become an artist, you would do well to become a person with the fullness of Eva Hesse. The strange power of art is that its illusions are as vulnerable as illusions tend to be, yet its illusions have an endurance that outlasts marble and gilded monuments. The aesthetic illusion is always something more than the material, and the wonder is that often one can return to that more, later, and discover in it even more than one had experienced earlier. That quality of art, that the same object can yield more, later, is one of the wonders of art that philosophy has responded to in the last century: thus painting is visual philosophy, because it is evidence for the structure of reality. I know that boys and girls just want to have fun, but be on notice that if you don't want to think, you are nevertheless surrounded by menacing people who are thinking, with life-&-death commitments, and with Arab weblogs that take a different tone. Art that is not up to the level of suicide-bombers scarcely seems adequate to the way we live now. Snide remarks--"Thanks Bill. Yes, do reread that Puttfarken"--will not save us now. And with that, Good Night & Farewell: Bill Wilson



July 11, 2005, 1:56 AM

back to Franklins discussion on R.Serra, its keeps coming to mind that I couldnt imagine Serra's work on a small scale, as I couldnt imagine the pyramids being other then huge. It seems that the work wouldnt make sense if on a small scale. Its meant to be explored, walked through, touched and marvelled at....maybe what he wants to do is make the viewer feel really small and insignificant compared to the work'?? I do like his work btw. It has power and a magical quality that comes with its size , texture and balance. Maybe size does matter ??lol



July 11, 2005, 7:49 AM

One of the best comments ever posted here was from William Wilson [#123]
Distilling out points of interest: (emphasis mine)

"Actually a work of art in any medium is an aesthetic illusion…"

"Art is hypothetical and virtual, not categorical and actual, like life."

"The strange power of art is that its illusions are as vulnerable as illusions tend to be, yet its illusions have an endurance that outlasts marble and gilded monuments."

"The aesthetic illusion is always something more than the material, and the wonder is that often one can return to that more, later, and discover in it even more than one had experienced earlier."

"That quality of art, that the same object can yield more, later, is one of the wonders of art that philosophy has responded to in the last century: thus painting is visual philosophy, because it is evidence for the structure of reality."



July 11, 2005, 8:33 AM

what costume do u want us in oldie??

Probably better not discussed on the web Elizabeth. But i think nothing too complicated.



July 11, 2005, 8:52 AM

Regarding the "art and life" question: art and life are two very different things. Harold Rosenberg asserted in his 1956 essay on the "action painters" that "action painting broke down every distinction between art and life". Nothing could be more wrong headed. Rosenberg's theory supports a lot of the nonesense that has gone on since 1960 in the name of art - from happenings to art that attempts to instigate political change. It is not that such things can't be good - they could, most simply are not. Even Rosenberg did not like most of it and said so towards the end of his life, commenting that his theory had spawned more bad art than he could imagine (he didn't recant the theory though). To this day most of these artists leverage their work through their concern for "life-world" issues (to borrow a term from Donald Kuspit). Goya's political subject matter is their guiding light - they do not notice they must also paint as well as Goya to make it work.

I don't know what art is, so Bill's point that art is an "aesthetic illusion" excapes me. But I know it is not life. OldPro's (#106) "Art is life, people" misses the target even as he is right in tagging "breaking down barriers" as a "modern conceit".



July 11, 2005, 9:04 AM

I know, Bill, I was being snide, and I'm sorry for it. Perhaps I was annoyed by the way everyone talks around simple things and avoids being straightforward, direct and to the point, accepting obvious common ground so the discussion can advance, and when another one of your long, solid, opaque blocks comes along it just pushes me over the edge.

May I make a plea for some rereading and editing? You've got a fan in George, not surprisingly, as he is fond of lengthy, nonspecific declarations himself. George singles out "Art is hypothetical and virtual, not categorical and actual, like life." Sounds profound, but when examined does not mean much. Art is anything but hypothetical. It offers pure, direct experience, which is the most concrete thing possible. You might say "art exists unactualized most of the time", but that may be another kind of statement.

Examine, also, the phrase "aesthetic illusion". That would be an illusion which is esthetic, but thereupon the meaning of "illusion" becomes scrambled. Does it mean "illusionistic"? 'Illusory"? Perhaps "fragile"? Once again, however I understand it, the concrete nature of art as direct experience cannot be brought into alignment with the notion that it is "illusion" (aside from the "illusionism" of realistic art, of course).

Writing about art is very difficult, and the most difficult part is boiling things down to simple, short, direct graspable prose. Clem Greenberg did this well. Try taking one or two of these 'big ideas" and deliver them pithy and condensed, Reader's Digest style. That way they will get more reaction.



July 11, 2005, 9:10 AM

Catfish, "Art is life" was deliberate rhetorical oversimplification. I indulge in that once in a while to make a point.



July 11, 2005, 9:33 AM

oldpro wants bill to shorten, he wants serra to shorten, why not mozart (too many notes), proust as readers digest?



July 11, 2005, 9:52 AM

What I was going to say, OP, was that Bill is my new hero.

What I have to say concerning irreverance:

I think that any idiot can be irreverant, that it is not necessary to be irreverant to be an artist, that arrogance and idiocy are tightly entwined, and that irreverance is not the same as playfulness.

Snide remarks are a form of irreverance, for example. Snidefulness is playfulness corrupted by conceit and by a lack of charity.

On Duchamp:

Plainly, I think that a rejection of Duchamp is simply dumb. As in stupid.

On Serra:

I think his work is very nice, and that musings on whether or not his works would function were they smaller is like wondering what Picasso's work would be like if he had not been an a-hole. Irrelevant.

On cheerleaders for OP:


On Bill:

Once again, a thoughtful contributor has been given the bum's rush by, well, by OP.

I don't think it's so much baseball that's being played around here, as it is King of the Hill, in which the one who can push people away the best is the winner.

How's that? Not so equivocal as my usual contributions? Enjoy.



July 11, 2005, 9:52 AM

George singles out, "Art is hypothetical and virtual, not categorical and actual, like life." Yes, I think this is the case.

OP said, Art is anything but hypothetical. It offers pure, direct experience, which is the most concrete thing possible.

Anything can offer "pure direct experience", hence Duchamps urinal, Serras steel sculptures or your keyboard. More specifically you are probably arguing a case for an "art experience", an aesthetic experience which is pure and direct. At the root of this aesthetic experience is the hypothetical work of art. Here I am using hypothetical to mean a proposition which we assume to be true but which has not been proven to be true It is evident from the discussions here that there is some debate about what is considered to be good art or even art at all. When we make concrete assumptions about the "art object" we are assuming a specific location in a virtual context we define loosely as art. It is a moving target, the contextual structures change their form



July 11, 2005, 10:21 AM

Hurray for Kathleen. Now she swings for the fences like the rest of us.

It's not really king of the hill, it is who can hit it out of the park.



July 11, 2005, 10:28 AM

Kathleen, if you are going to be "unequivocal" maybe try to back up your statements instead of just mailing out a string of bullets. If Duchamp must be defended, saying that rejecting him is "dumb" and "stupid" is merely provocative.

And I did not give Bill the "bums rush", I simply asked him, with some hesitation, I might add, to write comments that were shorter and clearer and looked over and edited before sending. I do this and I feel that it is a good practice.

And, finally, we are getting newer and better contributors regularly. Remember what the blog was like a year ago? We are not pushing anyone away who can hack it, and the wiseass, chat-room, profanity-wielding goons get short shrift. If that is "king of the hill", so be it. I don't know about you, but I want a blog that is worth getting on and writing for, and I think Franklin does, too.

YEL, I don't want Serra to shorten, I want him to be a better sculptor. Proust could have edited better. You know, everyone makes fun of the Readers Digest, but with certain things they did a very good job. Their problem was condensed fiction, which of course just destroys the beauty of good litereature. Shorten Mozart? I don't think so. My only regret about Mozart was his tragically short life.

Of course anything can offer pure direct experience, George. Dropping a book on your toe offers pure direct experience. In your response you end up saying that a work of art is "a proposition which we assume to be true but which has not been proven to be true." Are you sure you want to say art is that? Can you tell me what truth has to do with art?



July 11, 2005, 10:29 AM

"It's not really king of the hill, it is who can hit it out of the park."

Thank you, Flatboy.



July 11, 2005, 10:36 AM

I don't want Bill to shorten his posts, not at all. But some well-placed paragraph breaks would help me out a lot. I'm still picking through some of them.

My rejection of the urinal has to do with application, not theory. If great art derived from that act of prankster nihlism, I would honor it. Instead (as I've said before), if art is free to do whatever it wants, including suck, the urinal made it possible to suck much, much harder. That's nothing to be proud of, and not worth further contemplation. I find his glass and book constructions much more interesting.

New post is imminent.



July 11, 2005, 11:28 AM

"Both/and" people. Both. And.

My keyboard is both a virtual and an actual experience, both hypothetical and categorical. In the case of the keyboard I happen to value the non-concrete nature of my interaction with it, ie. the ideas I give and get by using it, over the smooth feeling of the keys and the little bumps on the 'F' and J' or whatever. This does not qualify it or negate it as anything but a keyboard.

My experience with the things I like to look at is...both/and. All day long, as a sculptor, I 'swing' between intense physicality (grinder in hand) and the ether of
aesthetic emotion. (I choose not to use the term 'illusion.')

A theologian can parse greek, an art historian can invent stream of consciousness criticism. Neither in so doing is getting much in the way of the pure, direct experience necessary to round out life.



July 11, 2005, 11:32 AM

Bill's writing is brilliant. His posts are grabbing attention all of us. It gives me a lot of food for thought which I have to digest myself... Probably most of us would prefer that his writing style be more linear and punctured by paragraphing but what really counts is how much he is able go to the depth of of the issue and analyze it. It is really impressive scholary mind. The length of the posts are fine.
In case of the Duchamp's urinal, I think this is the classic case of semantics taking over the physical existence of art object. The words becomes more meaningful, interesting and stimulating because of controversy than art object itself.
Thanks Bill.



July 11, 2005, 11:33 AM

Examine, also, the phrase "aesthetic illusion". op[127]
As I see it, aesthetic is a noun. An object intended to elicit an understanding and experience of beauty or of the nature of art itself.
It is an illusion, not in the mimetic or depective sense but because it is not really what it seems to be. It is not a pipe.



July 11, 2005, 11:52 AM

Ahab writes:

",,,, as a sculptor, I 'swing' between intense physicality (grinder in hand) and the ether of aesthetic emotion. A theologian can parse greek, an art historian can invent stream of consciousness criticism. Neither in so doing is getting much in the way of the pure, direct experience necessary to round out life."

Thanks. This is what I am talking about, folks. I hereby place Ahab's statement in as counterpoint. Make of it what you will.

The reactions to Bill's writing is interesting. Mike, don't just gloss over and get impressed. Take one statement, sit down and parse, it, ans ask yourself "doies this make sense, and could I explain it to someone." This is what I was doing above. I am not saying that Bill does not make sense, but one must be critical and this is the best way to determine if anything is really being said.

George: In the phrase "aesthetic emotion" "Aesthetic" is an adjective. Goof grief! And in the rest of it, are you saying the object is an illusion?How so? I am confused.



July 11, 2005, 12:06 PM

the painter taking his girlfriend to watch the sunset: -too much red-



July 11, 2005, 3:05 PM

I'll stand by what I wrote in comment #138.

Aesthetic illusion

Soap box
Carpet bagger
Fish tank



July 11, 2005, 3:57 PM

There are ten thousand nouns in the English language that can function as adjectives, George. "Aeshtetic" does not function in that phrase as a noun.



July 11, 2005, 4:52 PM

Well then, rather than quibble over parts of speech, why don't we try to get to the bottom of Williams remark. w



July 11, 2005, 6:32 PM

I already had a very hard time getting to the bottom of it, George, or even half way down.
(There I go being snide again)



July 12, 2005, 11:02 AM

re: Bill Wilson
Given the choice of a five course dinner, the kids will still choose McDonalds. Can't be those finely edited McNuggets.



July 12, 2005, 1:09 PM

im pretty sure i said dont take it personal, just observation.

dont paint me in a dark light, because it brings out my worst features

jap is the same thing you did with gug

mostly, i took a facetious tone to illustrate a point.

and, frankly, i wont call you franky.

but dont call me yeesh

and i am glad you have chosen your side

i still haven't

Frankly, i dont think i understand what a blog is for, I took it for a forum. I particularly enjoy the fact that these are archived.

so i have been thinking, and would like to suggest the registration for postings. In particular to have a profile with a "state your assumptions" category that makes up for all of the inherent baggage that accompanies most statements and avoids redundancy in stating them over and over. It will also allow for more direct responses, and will avoid those comments that if said in person would be said in one long breath, red in the face and a single drop that cannot be distinguished as a tear or a bead of sweat.



July 12, 2005, 1:42 PM

I recognize the twisting of words, and seldom respond to it.



July 12, 2005, 6:37 PM

Oh, man, let's all "state our assumptions" and then we can spend half of our time defending against accusations that we are betraying them. What fun.



July 13, 2005, 1:03 PM

you said it



July 13, 2005, 1:05 PM

again-although i like your pessimistic view of this-the point is so you dont have to "defend" yourself from these "accusations" and when this does happen, just reference your profile in the hope that what you say there is clear cut enough to make the point (of view).

or are you worried about something else?



July 13, 2005, 3:28 PM

Yes, Jake, I am worried about having to do even more backtracking, repeating, reiterating and explaining than I already do. No one understands what you say or stand for or believe anyway until you repeat it over and over again right up front all the time. And what if you (God forbid) change your mind?

Having a set of "assumptions" standing under your name is like having a "my philosophy" pinned to your back at a CAA convention. No thanks.



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