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critical art writing

Post #630 • September 22, 2005, 8:30 AM • 73 Comments

For their final project I told my Critical Art Writing class to review three shows in the Design District and Wynwood, 200 words per review but linked as a single piece, for publication on Artblog.net.

Comment

1.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 8:46 AM

You got a lot more than 200 words.

Have these been corrected, returned and rewritten?

2.

Franklin

September 22, 2005, 8:48 AM

200 words x 3 reviews. They corrected each others' work and we went over a few problem spots in class.

3.

Jack

September 22, 2005, 9:28 AM

Franklin, on first glance, and I do mean glance, it seems you should have been more selective in what you posted. I'll try to read through it all, but haven't we suffered enough with official art writing around these parts?

4.

Franklin

September 22, 2005, 10:00 AM

I said I was going to put them all up, and I put them all up. For better or worse.

5.

catfish

September 22, 2005, 10:30 AM

Franklin said: I said I was going to put them all up, and I put them all up. For better or worse.

I like Franklin's approach very much. When I put up student work from a painting class, I always include everyone. I don't consider it my "fault" when some students do not perform well, but rather a simple fact of ordinary life.

It irritates me when other faculty at the place I teach filter out the bad stuff, on grounds that they are rewarding the best students by including only them. To me, it reads more like "look at what a great teacher I am". My interpretation is of course denied.

6.

George

September 22, 2005, 11:23 AM

I'm really busy this morning so I just read the first lines, do I want to go on?

Ray: The spectacular phenomena of nature amaze me every time, and nothing makes me gasp for air like the beauty of the thunderstorms in the Miami sky.

Raquel: I don't see the connection between the title of Christians Duran's show at the Ingalls and Associates entitled "Apparitions" to his body of work.

Paula Celman: Ingalls and Associates Gallery: "Apparitions", Christian Duran's drawings struggle between the freedom of its lines and the way he forces them to describe a recognizable image.

Furikurimonkey22: Rocket project really did it this time, by launching a last minute show called electric lights.

Pony Pagano: Viewing the shows of Rubell Family, Dorsch, and Ingalls, there lies a common theme: receptivity.

Mrs. Snofalofagus: In art criticism what are the laws that govern the institution?

Gnome Smasher: "Proper Propaganda" The Rubell Family in Wynwood, Miami has an extensive collection of contemporary art.

Bemei: I've been to Dorsch Gallery several times; the gallery had some descent exhibitions sometimes but not this time.

Jahviqtor: As I walked into the Moore Space, Frankie Martin's "esto es que tu quieres" video installation caught my eye. Jahviqtor really needs some whitespace

Sweet Girl 27: The mixed media collages of the TM Sisters resembled to Henri de Toulose-Lautrec's " La Goulue."

Galerias: This week I visited three exhibitions: "Hanging by a Thread" at the Moore Space, 'Electric Lights from Such Great Heights", at Rocket Projects and "Spare Parts" at Buena Vista Building.

7.

that guy

September 22, 2005, 11:26 AM

ah yes, the sweet smell of art criticism at its finest.

8.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 11:56 AM

Once again, it is Franklin's blog.

Aside from a lack of slickness and some grammatical and construction problems these kids are no worse than our local critics. In fact they are fun to read because their reactions are so unaffected and direct.

Paula Celman, for one, could improve the critical life around here considerably if she were writing for one of our local rags. To wit: " The lines imitate those of a plant, they subdivide and ramify, constantly changing their width and direction."

Ramify? I doubt that many of my graduate students could use that word so appropriately, if at all.

9.

a side note

September 22, 2005, 1:13 PM

re: #8
oldpro, with your guidance i doubt that any of your grad students would know their asses from their elbows. (The ramification of which is crucial).

10.

Jack

September 22, 2005, 1:33 PM

Franklin, I'm afraid I have BARS (Battered Art Reader Syndrome). I can barely manage to read some of the presumably professional art writing in official sources. Oldpro, as in other things, has a stronger stomach than mine. I'll defer to his judgment in this case.

11.

that guy

September 22, 2005, 1:43 PM

I'll second that Jack,
Oldpro is cursed with having to read many a student essay. I'm beginning to think he takes some masochistic pleasure in finding the great lines in the many many poorly structured ones.

12.

alesh

September 22, 2005, 1:57 PM

I sure couldn't. What's the difference between "subdivide" and "ramify?"

13.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 2:12 PM

Their meanings are quite distinct, Alesh, as you should know. See my handy desktop definitions below.

Because she was referring to "branching" (Latin "ramus" means "branch") the word was especially appropriate.

subdivide
—tr.
1. To divide a part or parts of into smaller parts.
2. To divide into a number of parts, especially to divide (land) into lots.
—intr.
To form into subdivisions.

ramify
—intr.
1. To have complicating consequences or outgrowths.
2. To send out branches or subordinate branchlike parts.
—tr.
To divide into or cause to extend in branches or subordinate branchlike parts.

14.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 2:17 PM

They may not know their asses from their elbows, sidenote, but they know a hit and run comment when they see it.


Once again, everyone, if you are going to make snide remarks, please give examples.

15.

One of Oldpro's Grad Students

September 22, 2005, 2:38 PM

I resent post # 9... A Side Note, clearly, is an elbow.

16.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 2:41 PM

Well, I guess at least one of them knows the difference.

17.

Franklin

September 22, 2005, 5:03 PM

#15: You are always welcome here. Good one.

18.

George

September 22, 2005, 5:23 PM

So, I finished priming my canvases and decided to have a go at reading the reviews. Since I don't live in Miami, I am at the distinct disadvantage of being unable to even conjure a memory of the exhibitions reviewed. On the other hand, maybe I am more like the typical reader, either reading about what is happening in Miami or deciding which exhibitions I want to go see on Saturday.

A 200 word review is not a Ph.D. thesis or even a short story. Paula Celman has a nice handle on a useful structure for this type of writing. In all three paragraph, she manages to encapsulate the artists name, the venue, the title of the exhibition and a taste of her reaction. This immediately gets my attention by just clearly defining the topic, so I read on. In a scant 500 plus word review she manages to present a nice overview of all three shows, I'd go see them based on the review alone.

I guess I'm just old fashioned and want a review to tell me something about the art. In doing this, there is a fine line between having an aesthetic opinion and just jamming on it, like you were talking in the mall. As a reader I don't care if you "want to get these papers and crunch them up", I'd be interested why but if you can't put it into words I'll pass.

A couple of other observations:
Jahviqtor, white spaces don't add to the word count. A paragraph break can often make the point just by emphasis. The writing was fine.

Ray, uses a tad under 850 words, take it back and edit out 250 of them starting with the first 75 words which wax poetic about something that has nothing to do with the topic.

Mrs. Snofalofagus used over 900 words, I generously read the first 100 words and passed on the lecture, boring.

Finally, I checked the word count on most of these just for fun. Seems like a non event but however onerous, writing to a word count may appear, it acts like a built in editor forcing you to trim off the fat. (365)

19.

a side note

September 22, 2005, 5:47 PM

You guys are sooooo mean. All I was trying to do was point out that opldpro's inadequate and totally irrelevant ideas on art would naturally lead one to assume that his abilities as an art teacher are more than lacking. And here you guys gang up on me and call me names, now that's not nice. An elbow, how nasty.

20.

that guy

September 22, 2005, 6:03 PM

"inadequate and totally irrelevant ideas on art "
yeah right.

Think its time you go and see more art side note.

Come back in ten years and let us know if you still hold these naive low standards.

21.

George

September 22, 2005, 6:10 PM

aside note, just curious are you a student or a working artist?

22.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 6:23 PM

Sidenote, people like you come in regulary, make grand denuncuations, and disappear.

That's why we always ask for examples to accompany the statements. if I have given out "inadequate and totally irrelevant ideas on art", let's hear a few, OK?

23.

a side note

September 22, 2005, 6:37 PM

alright olpro, i'll give you a few examples, even though you hardly ever back up your own statements, but rather make all encompassing gross generalities. You seem to think people should just take your word for it because you say so (as number 2 below will demonstrate). That kind of blind certainty is awfully dangerous for a teacher.

1. I recall you recently criticizing an artist for "not being able to draw" --totally irrelevant

2. I recall you recently saying that a painting either works or it doesn't work. --inadequate

3. Every time you mention Clement Greenberg ---totally irrevelant

4. Every time you dismiss Marcel Duchamp --absolutely inadequate

and George, i'm a working artist, not a student.

24.

ms quoted

September 22, 2005, 6:49 PM

Why side note? Why do you think they are irrelevant or inadequate? I am not baiting here. I would really like to know. Just to say it is irrelevant and inadequate is like leaving me with a cliffhanger. You are using gross generalities to refute old pros 'gross generalities'.

25.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 6:52 PM

exactly, Ms.

26.

George

September 22, 2005, 7:33 PM

It takes two things to make a good teacher.

A good student

and

another good student

Teaching is an art in itself and best judged by a student 20 years after the fact. Fashions ebb and flow, by the time most graduate they have morphed again, quick catch up? What is it you expect? A quick answer to fame? This is another dark hole also populated by wannabe rock stars, rap poets and thespians.

How about a real cliche, let's "realize your potential", let's turn that tail wagging puppy dog enthusiasm onto a path which might lead to global glitter or possibly just the path of self satisfaction. There is nothing to be taught in any art school which can outwit misfortune,
bad timing or a slew of self destructive tendencies we all seem to posses. If one can continue to pursue a process as vocation or avocation and find some degree of fulfillment, it is a success many never achieve.

Your teachers way cannot be your way.
Disagreement is as good as emulation.
A life example provides possibility.
Knowledge has no fences.
Passion is contagious.

One can provide an experienced opinion or just look stupid.

27.

George

September 22, 2005, 7:53 PM

aside note: If you are a regular reader of this blog, you must know I disagree with oldpro on a number of topics but I will address the ones you mentioned specifically

1. The question of being able to draw" or not, has contextual relevance. In some cases the drawing method serves to illustrate the idea at the core of the work. In this case, your observation might be viewed as currently correct. I would suggest that as time progresses and the current "list of interesting artworks" is culled down that the ability to draw might well be a bullet point.

2. Regarding oldpro's position that "a painting either works or it doesn't work," it depends on whether you are a painter or not. If a painting is an illustration of some other aspect of the artwork, you might be correct. (see remark above) While I argue with oldpro over this inability to define "what works" any serious painter would understand his remark and agree.

3. Mentioning Clement Greenberg as "totally irrelevant" I could care less about Greenberg, he is locked into a "read about it" history.

4. Dismissing Marcel Duchamp as "absolutely inadequate" I think Duchamp is relevant but that he is also locked into history. Put a fork in it, Duchamp is a done deal, finished and now historical. No cutting edge artist is building on this anymore, it's second generation, maybe third already.

28.

George

September 22, 2005, 8:27 PM

I happen to read Hans blog, he comments here occasionally from Tbilisi in Georgia (next to Turkey) This is Hans', most recent entry
I will be in the Mountains of Tusheti from tomorrow till 8th of October, with no Internet, Cellphone, Blog, Energy, etc. but with 2600 sheep, 17 horses, dogs, cows and my Tushetian friends. I will miss my computer, but there are brown trouts waiting too. All the best to you- Art Bloggers and with my best regards, Hans Heiner Buhr

He put up a new blog about the Mountains of Tusheti with some beautiful pictures.

OK, now I'm reading this from NYC, with more traffic noise and probably people than there are in all of Georgia (in the Caucasus). Is the internet awesome or what?

29.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 8:29 PM

You win, Jack. My iron stomach and what Guy refers to as my "masochism" are tapped out. I just can't deal with stuff like whether being able to draw has "contextual relevance" any more. If anyone wants to have a serious discussion about something I will be pleased to engage.

Otherwise, forget it.

30.

Jack

September 22, 2005, 9:03 PM

Remember Catfish, Oldpro. Some things are not worth the bother, and are thus best left alone.

31.

George

September 22, 2005, 9:11 PM

I would make the observation that this type of remark is made out of insecurity of ones own position in an attempt to generate a psychic validation. It is not the way of Duchamp or Mondrian.

32.

an onymous

September 22, 2005, 9:24 PM

those who can do;
those who can't teach

33.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 9:25 PM

George, take your "psychic validation" and stick it.

Good grief!

34.

George

September 22, 2005, 10:03 PM

Oldpro, you misunderstood the target of my comment.
It was a continuation of my reply to asidenote not to you or Jack.
I will also note to the other comment with a cute name, that choosing to target another artist to establish position is a sign of insecurity and weakness. If you, pick your hero, and ask them, you'll discover they really can't be bothered.

35.

a side note

September 22, 2005, 10:16 PM

george, i agree absolutely about your ideas of the relationship between student and teacher, which is my point. As both the student and the teacher one must be open and create an exchange, not simply declares oneself right.

as for my previous points.

1. Wether the artist in question could draw is irrelevant for a couple of reasons. a. The work in question was an installation with absolutely no drawing what so ever. And although oldpro sites other examples from this artist (a dog shitting)... well i saw that image as well and it was drawn quite well. The subject of taste could be questioned but not the artists abilities. b. The idea in general of wether one needs to know how to draw in order to make a good piece of art is antiquated and past being academic.

2. In a debate situation you can just say "this works or it doesn't." In front of a canvas that is a different experience, but one that can be later articulated. i.e "I realized after changing this particular red seven times that it needed to be orange." it works better that way. But again when ideas are being debated there must be an exchange, not a wall.

3 and 4. I wasn't trying to refer to greenberg's relevance or duchamps level of adequacy, I was talking specifically of oldpro's use of greenberg as crutch and the fact that if he doesn't consider duchamp (as he has demonstrated), then he is obviously dismissing the last 60 years + of art history. And i think in this case they are dubiously linked. A dangerous place to be.


thanks george, i like you.

36.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 10:25 PM

George, if I misunderstood you in any way, I apologise. I was at a point of terminal irritation. Sorry.

37.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 10:40 PM

Aside:

You know nothing about how I teach so you are not qualified to make remarks a\bout it.

The observation about drawing was dderived from a paint of hands in one of the artist's works. The drawing was bad by any estimation.

What drawing does or does not do in art at large has nothing to do with what I said.

I said art either works or it doesn't. I implied no particulars.

Saying that I "use Greenberg as a crutch" is unsubstantiated.

Dismissing Duchamp as an unimportant artist hardly constitutes "dismissing art history"

I like George too, but I don't say it to curry favor.

The word is "cite".

I know Jack. What's the point.

38.

oldpro

September 22, 2005, 10:41 PM

That's "pair" of hands. Sorry.

39.

George

September 22, 2005, 11:12 PM

#35, asidenote: I cannot address specifically oldpro's teaching practice, I just don't know. I wouldn't necessarily extend his positions here to his classroom, I think this forum is something else. Even so, if it was the case it would fall into my point where I suggest that "disagreement is as good as emulation", meaning that having something to rebel against is as good as something to copy.

Regarding the dog (I saw the repro) you miss my point. As time passes, one discovers the nature of drawing but more importantly the fashion impetus of work fades and it is judged on its merit. Your remark that to know how to draw in order to make a good piece of art is antiquated is a conceit and certainly not the case here in NYC. Let me assure you "antiquated" is a code word associated with fashion, what's in style and what's not. This is a dangerous territory to tread, fashion is very fickle and at the absolute mercy great artists. As a position statement, "knowing how to draw doesn't matter", is a convenient dodge for young artists who can't draw until one comes along that can and takes the territory. Skill cannot be deprecated.

I'll agree to the need for an exchange in your second point. The difficulty here often is a result of the fact that some artists cannot or won't put their observations into words. I wouldn't hold that against anyone, my friends can be like that but it doesn't mean one can't try to make a dialog.

Looking at the Duchamp-Greenberg question. This is an endgame issue, not really relevant to a young artist. Both these guys are in the history books and both are spawning third generation followers. This is ok, it is in the natural course of things but it is not where I would position myself either now or if I were 30 (I'm not). On the other hand you need to cut oldpro some slack and understand that he has a valid position, an unfashionable opinion with all the caveats, but a valid opinion shared by many others as well. I take it in stride because I don't have to think like anyone else to be comfortable. I have followed oldpro's writing since the early 70's and his positions have been consistent. It doesn't mean that if you don't agree, either he is wrong or that you are the less for it, just that you disagree.

Finally, a caution on the remark "A dangerous place to be." It is not the validity, one way or the other, of the remark itself but the very consideration of the position which implies reacting to an outside stimulus, rather than acting from a sense of ones inner voice. The inner self is always the source of the work. Oldpro doesn't like the term voice, but I think it is apt. What I am referring to are the myriad of psychological, environmental, historical in a personal sense, in total, all of ones life experience which is yours personally, which no one else can ever truly know, defining your position. Then fit thatt all into the fashion biz and you're off.

40.

George

September 22, 2005, 11:15 PM

oldpro, re #36, yeh, you totally misunderstood who I was talking to, no harm no foul.

41.

that guy

September 23, 2005, 12:03 AM

George said:
"As a position statement, "knowing how to draw doesn't matter" is a convenient dodge for young artists who can't draw until one comes along that can and takes the territory. Skill cannot be deprecated."

Thats a really good point and should, for the doubters amongst us, be considered whilst in a contemplative mood (insert side note here). I would have counted myself in their camp years ago. The more I looked at art, my opinion changed. Its difficult to find people who even recognize skill, let alone value it higher than intent. Too many artists mean well, but don't have faculty to execute. Their intent overshadows their lack of skill and the piece fails. Ironically, their taste is often so malformed, that even with a solid understanding of craftsmanship, they lack the basic visual sensitivity to make even moderately successful art. Decent craftsmen with a complete deficiency of taste, is why the art-world is as fractured as it is.

42.

Those

September 23, 2005, 6:24 AM

- with cool clothes, connections, who are willing to be puppets, take it in the ass, kiss ass,
obey what they are told, break art paradigms just because, follow popular trends, who where 'different' in high school, have unearned money, have a Manhatten or Brooklin studio from the parents, were too smart for college, went to the right college, are of a certain age, race, gender, religiosity, or family name and ethnic heritage, who feel misunderstood, who study art from 1999 onward only, who think that they are amazing because Mom put them ($) in special classes, etc. - can.
Those who can't just don't have, have never had, or will not 'do'. Those who teach are intellegent enough to be aware of the benefits of freedom. Those who 'can' are the victims of a different kind of sacrifice. Thus artists are all fucked.

43.

Ratrace

September 23, 2005, 7:17 AM

Hi! I'm a comment spammer. I'm going to go find something else to do now, because Franklin can come in and delete my posts about as easily as blinking, and I'm wasting my own time as well as his. Bye!

44.

Franklin

September 23, 2005, 12:03 PM

That was interesting. I was working on the site from a free wireless connection in Montreal that went dead and blanked out some files. We should be operational now. Thanks for your patience.

45.

George

September 23, 2005, 12:23 PM

I thought this column by Jerry Saltz The Battle for Babylon, More Artists, gallerists, and curators are taking matters into their own hands was one of the most interesting articles I've read in long time.

46.

Jack

September 23, 2005, 12:37 PM

From the Saltz piece linked to by George:

Too many critics act like cheerleaders, reporters, or hip metaphysicians.

Tell me about it.

47.

oldpro

September 23, 2005, 1:07 PM

It was interesting to read, George, because he writes well and clearly, but aside from an overtone of "the artists gotta take over" - which is certainly an arguable proposition - I got no clear message or insight or indication how what he claims to be observing will change anything.

48.

Matty

September 23, 2005, 1:58 PM

George,
Looking at the Duchamp-Greenberg question. This is an endgame issue, not really relevant to a young artist. Both these guys are in the history books and both are spawning third generation followers.

A little devil's advocacy coming your way...

First... ok, so if "both are spawning third generation followers", then how are they "not really relevant to a young artist"? This seems to be a contradiction.

Second... who are these "followers" that you refer to? Duchamp, as an artist, blazed a trail which later (second, third gen) artists have clearly trodden. Fine.
Has Greenberg, as a critic, blazed a trail that other (second, third gen) critics have taken to?
Or are the "followers" of Greenberg that you have in mind not critics, but artists?
If so, what of Greenberg can they be said to be following (as opposed to coming up with on their own, through their own experience)?

Also George,
I would make the observation that this type of remark is made out of insecurity of ones own position in an attempt to generate a psychic validation.

In the future, you might want to try clearly addressing your comments to specific people, simply by including their name. I had read the above comment about "this type of remark", and like oldpro, was confused about who you were talking about (although I sort of assumed you were still on about Sidenote).

You're probably getting tired of my bitching about lack of precision and clarity George... sorry... no offense intended. Clear communication is my only motive here.

49.

Matty

September 23, 2005, 2:09 PM

To the locals:
What is the "Design District"? It sounds like a creepy, urban planning gretrification scheme.

In Downtown Edmonton, the City Hall, Edmonton Art Gallery, Winspear Concert Hall, Citadel Theatre, and the Library are clustered around a public square. This area is called the "Arts District"... Same idea?

50.

oldpro

September 23, 2005, 2:22 PM

No Matty, the Design District, or "Wynwood" (I don't know if they are the same thing exactly) is a large area of one-story warehouses and wholesalers which has become the default arts district because of the space and because it was cheap. It is going through the the same kind of gentrification cycle we have seen in many cities over the last 30/40 years.

51.

Jack

September 23, 2005, 2:44 PM

Matty, the Design District and Wynwood are immediately adjacent to each other; the former is more commercial (lots of interior decorator outlets) and the latter is more gritty and residential. Wynwood is currently the in art scene location, which relates to MOCA wanting a foothold or outpost there. The main MOCA location is out of the way, and the area around it has never really gelled as an art zone.

52.

Kathleen

September 23, 2005, 6:33 PM

Matty, the Design District was where MIami's design-oriented (mostly interior decoration/design stuff) business were clustered for a long time. In the '80's (late '80's, I think) most of them relocated to an ugly, huge, out of the way structure (DCOTA--Design Center of the Americas) somewhat more north, and so the Design District fell into disfavor for a long time. Property values dropped, and developers started trying to make it into the new Miami Beach starting before 2000. It kind of took, but mostly among the serious commercial optimists and artists. Rents, especially housing, were still cheap for a while, so people (non-club-scene people) moved from Miami Beach to the Design District. Now the only places which are left which have affordable rent are the last areas to be gentrified and are therefore some of the most difficult to actually gentrify.

53.

George

September 23, 2005, 10:59 PM

Matty re #48.
Looking at the Duchamp-Greenberg question. This is an endgame issue, not really relevant to a young artist. Both these guys are in the history books and both are spawning third generation followers.
That is my opinion, it's history and the energy has moved on, it's a done deal.

I made the reply specifically dealing with #26 and #27, when I "commented" #28 was my remarks on Hans and I didn't think what I said would be misconstrued as referring to him, or anyone else but aside-note. I didn't think old pro would think I was referring to him since it should have been obvious that I was taking his side in the discussion.

54.

George

September 23, 2005, 11:03 PM

(#47) Regarding Jerry Saltz (#45) I agree that he is not offering any resolution to the situation but I do believe he put his finger on the temper of the time better than anyone else has. Something is up, the natives are restless.

55.

George

September 23, 2005, 11:33 PM

Went out looking at art this afternoon.

Andy Warhol at Gagosian, a very impressive show of the early Pop works circa 1960 or so. They all had a very handmade feel, a residual seasoning of abstract expressionism, were gritty and experimental. Surprisingly enjoyable.

The next stop was the Zwirner & Wirth exhibition of early John McCracken sculptures. These are really quite beautiful manifestations of color as a solid. There were also several annotated tautly realized visualization drawings. A nice grouping of several works from the 60-70's

Knoedler had an exhibition of Jules Olitski paintings, some from the 50's and the others post 1998. I wanted to like them but…

Saw a smattering of other minor stuff and finished up at the Met with a second viewing of Matisse exhibition and a long wander through the Modern galleries. Plenty to see, just kept looking.

56.

oldpro

September 24, 2005, 10:45 AM

But what, George?

57.

George

September 24, 2005, 11:29 AM

op re #56 but... I didn't.

58.

oldpro

September 24, 2005, 11:37 AM

OK. I just thought you might have something to say about it.

59.

George

September 24, 2005, 1:08 PM

Op, Honestly I didn't know what to say.

I didn't know this show was up, my friend and I were just walking down Madison Avenue and popped into Knodler and Hirschl and Adler to see what was there. So I was surprised to see it was Olitski.

The small reproduction on the Knodler website looks better than the painting did. See here, the Nodrum Gallery for more imagesThe exhibition itself was comprised of two groups of work. There were some very early paintings from the fifties. These were large, heavily impastoed surfaces, plastered might be a better term, with minimal form and muted color. There was definitely a sense of the period, just exiting abstract expressionism. They were weighty, with potentially ponderous gravity and a dry gray light.

I inquired if there were any of the middle period paintings available. In the late 60's, the sprayed color fields were my first exposure to his work and I was hoping to see one again but unfortunately there were none on display.

So I was left to tackle the late works. I really tried to look with an open mind. I could make the connection between the impulse behind the early plastered surfaces and the physicality of the paint in the late paintings.

When a painting attempts to rely solely on the physical, almost sculptural, manipulation of a colored material, like paint or a modified paint, on a support there is a great risk that the end result will just end up being literally what it is, goop on a plane. Now, a literal approach to color in a sculptural context can work. John McCrackens planks and cubes are just color in a minimal form and extraordinarily beautiful. In a painting context, either we are dealing with a vertical, wall supported, colored slab or a painting.

A color slab can work, Ives Klein is another example but here we are dealing with a painting. A painting contains an image, the distinctions, however subtle, between one area of color and another, of line and texture, of transparency or opacity, of all of the visual clues which allow paint to evoke a memory or visual stimulus to meaning. In short, the form engenders the content. Specifically in Olitski's case it is the paint itself, the paint which comprises and contains the form, which must engender the content. Content arising from form must go past just literally mimicking the form itself, it must elicit a larger response.

The paintings in the Knodler show failed to transcend their materiality. The painting surfaces just seem to collapse into an impenetrable lumpy plastic mire. I found this somewhat similar to the feeling projected by the earlier plastered works which just seemed pleasantly drier. From this point on it was a losing battle to find an entry into the paintings, some deeper content other than the literal material to engage me. The color was disappointing, saturated to the point of garish lipstick. The framing device, a squiggly line squeezed out of an old catsup bottle makes things worse rather than better. There seemed to be a number of technical, or formal, mannerisms which had worked for him once before which were now just there like an Izod alligator.

Like I said, I wanted to like these paintings but frankly I thought they were just awful and I left feeling very disappointed.

60.

catfish

September 24, 2005, 2:04 PM

George: Sounds like you gave the Olitski pictures a good try. I have only seen them in reproduction, but can tell you they required some "getting used to" on my part before they delivered their gift (as much as a repro can deliver anything). You might go by a second time. I envy that you can see them in the flesh, by the way. They ARE very good.

61.

George

September 24, 2005, 3:07 PM

#60, Catfish, I disagree. Knowing that others here like his work I really tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. I was with another painter, so at my instance, we went outside for a break and then came back in for a second look. On that same afternoon, I saw the Matisse paintings again at the Met. Matisse puts the viewpoint, of color in painting, into perspective. For one thing, Matisse knew how to let the painting "breathe", those little blank or neutral areas or even just a scraping, which give the eye pause while scanning the surface. Also by providing a staccato marking, or non marking as the case may be, which carries the ground plane across the surface.

The Olitski's, on the other hand, were puddled, like melted plastic in a Playskool factory or slimy Katrina mud. They are visually impenetrable, relentless with no escape possible inside or outside the squiggly framing device. I suppose if he was a twenty something, showing in Brooklyn, alongside the glitter and DayGlo ersatz Pollocks I might take it as an "arch" form of anti-painting. As it was I thought they were just plain ugly and not in a good way.

It is obvious that he is an experienced painter, he knows how to do all sorts of "stuff" with his medium but so what? Just piling one layer of goopy color onto another onto another isn't all there is to making a painting. Leaving stuff out is just as important, what is not there, in that little area at the upper right, is just as important as the puddle of cadmium yellow at the left. I did consider the counter arguments, that I am supposed to respond as I do but rejected that line of thinking as not valid.

If I visualize any one of them alongside any of the other good paintings I saw that day, DeKooning, Guston, or Mitchell (at the Met) for example, they just don't hold up. Forget Matisse, he's in a different league all together.

Olitski, followed a path from the sprayed color fields back towards the materiality which, judging from his early paintings, seems to be an integral part of his nature. Somewhere along the way, the process broke down, maybe it's the material or maybe it's a process which relies to heavily on accident with the material, or maybe it's just burn out, whatever I do not think it is taking painting in a viable direction. I think his work creates an interesting set of issues for other painters who view the process in a similar way. In his failures Olitski might provide an insight to the path forward.

62.

oldpro

September 24, 2005, 4:05 PM

I understand what you are saying, George. Your descriptions, minus some of the adjectival qualifications, are fairly accurate. Your "content" stuff I just can't comprehend; you keep forcing that distinction for some reason. I won't comment on it.

Much of what you are saying relates to how I felt about the Graham Peacock paintings I mentioned a little while ago. You may remember you challenged me pretty squarely with:

(oldpro) Peacock is an interesting artist who I have always felt was
too dependent on what paint does by itself rather than what he can do with it.

(George) I'm not sure what you mean here oldpro. Has he got the colors in the wrong place? The paint too lumpy? too dry? not runny enough? too clotted? too goopy? too accidental? Too literally paint? Not rectangular enough to win the plane? huh?

(oldpro) my response is based on my visual take, of course. I have always detected a coldness in Peacock's work which i attribute - rightly or wrongly - to excessive dependence on purely physical happenstance. I have nothing whatsoever against this kind of process as such; I do some of the same thing in my own work. And, conversely, I do not maintain that "intervention" is any kind of answer. Obviously, as you already know, and try as you might, I am not going to ever say that any single element is "too" anything.

It is possible to say similar things about the Olitski paintings. Problem is, they just bowl me over.

On the other hand I Find Mitchell's paintings completely incoherent, a kind of "Imitation Abstract Expressionism". I can't understand why it is taken so seriously.

63.

George

September 24, 2005, 6:03 PM

re#62 OP. Content, that quality of form, it's allusion or illusion to the real world. I am not speaking of strictly directed content, a horse, house or flower, rather that sense of recognition, however subtle, which produces a response in the viewer. At it's most basic, the form and content are intertwined, the content of the form being literally the form itself. This is fine as far as it goes, but it also runs the risk of appearing like a nice wall, in the south of France, patinaed by the ages. Pretty? yes, but enduring art, I doubt it. So I require more from a painting than just its literalness and if you were to argue McCracken, I would say that he is making an issue of the literalness of the color and Olitski is making a painting which implies more than that.

My comments to you regarding Peacock's paintings were made as the devils advocate, what would you say? The same questions would also apply to Olitski. For example, in Olitski's case I would make a big issue of his framing device, the squiggly line enclosing the canvas. This is, if not outright amateurish, useless, it doesn't serve the purpose intended. The Guston at the Met uses about 2 inches of blank canvas on the lower three sides of the painting to achieve the effect of allowing the painting to exist in the world of the canvas plane. To allow the eye to freely roam the surface and relax at the edge. With Olitski, what once was a similar device, effectively handled, in the sprayed colorfield paintings is reduced to nothing more than annoying mannerist decoration. I am surprised no one has called him on this before, it just doesn't work.

I agree with you in the danger of "excessive dependence on purely physical happenstance". This is a major problem with this aesthetic strategy, it can degrade into nothing more than a patina on the surface, a manipulated patina, but a patina just the same. By the same token, lesser representational painters, can drift into a mode of imagery I describe as "orange crate illustration", competently executed pandering to the expectations of the audience. To me both extremes, the abstract rotted wall, or the orange crate label, are the same and pandering to the audience without an attempt to take the work beyond.

Now you might argue that Olitski is making more than a nice texture but I would argue that his work has fallen into a mannerist shadow of the possibilities he presented earlier in his career. I don't question his aesthetic decisions for they are his, and his alone, and at this stage in his career it may be all that he has. I would suggest that anyone, trying to build on this aesthetic, try to understand its weaknesses and repair the foundations.

I think art, just about any art, can "bowl someone over" and while this experience is important to recognize it does not guarantee that the art is great, good maybe, attractive to you personally, certainly. Great art, touches a lot of people, the greatness occurs by consensus over time. It cannot be bought or sold and the path to great art cannot be taught, it is the result of a hard fought battle by the artist and time.

I disagree with your perception on Joan Mitchell's paintings but I would rather argue the point after I've seen the current show at the Jewish Museum. As I said earlier, I was aware that Olitski has fans on this blog so I tried to be as fair as possible. I have said what I thought, directly and without pretense. After seeing the recent works, the only conclusion I could come to was that they don't stand up to the works I mentioned earlier, Olitski's paintings are just not as good as the others.

64.

oldpro

September 24, 2005, 8:23 PM

George, at this point in our history of exchanges, I feel that I can ask you to please not say that I even begin to imply that my reaction "guarantees" anything.

Your remarks about content, aside from the understood fact that you are not necessarily referring to depiction of things, are confusing. You need to say clearly and succinctly what you men by content before you make a statement like "content and form are intertwined".

You say content is a "sense of recognition, however subtle, which produces a response in the viewer." but presumably "content" cannot be a "sense" because "sense"" is intrinsic to the viewer and therefore cannot "produce" anything in the viewer. You say " the content of the form being literally the form itself" but saying that content of the form is form is saying nothing. You need a definition.

From your description it is apparent that you were being very fair to the Olitski paintings. We just have a different take on them.

65.

George

September 24, 2005, 9:51 PM

I've said all I have to say about Olitski's work and would rather address oldpro's questions on a purely theoretical or abstract basis without specific references to anyone's work.

Re:#64. Oldpro, fair enough, I used the term "guarantees" as a way of acknowledging that the work moved you and from that I ascribed it a "goodness" factor. I wanted to make the distinction, that as individuals, we might feel a work is strong and thus imply it is good. I believe the case is more like I stated, where the acknowledgement of "goodness" or "greatness" is accrued over time by the culture.

If we assume otherwise, we run into the problem where one artist is labeled "good" and we disagree. While another artist we believe is "good" is not labeled as so by others. This is the most common case of disagreement and in order to resolve it immediately we must then choose which viewpoint is correct and this judgement is embedded in the historical present with all of its distractions of fashion and politics. It is only over time, as fashions change and politics diffuse that an accumulated cultural opinion can occur. Of course individual opinions may vary, that is allowed.

From a practical point of view, to either make or write about art, one is forced into taking a position. As an artist, one follows ones own instincts and history to take and accept a position which one believes is correct. This is a necessary requirement to be able to proceed with any project and the risk is that we make assumptions we believe to be true but which might not. It is a risk.

I said, content as "that sense of recognition, however subtle, which produces a response in the viewer." I meant sense as follows…
sense
3a. An intuitive or acquired perception or ability to estimate: b. A capacity to appreciate or understand: c. A vague feeling or presentiment: d. Recognition or perception either through the senses or through the intellect; consciousness: and 5a - A meaning that is conveyed, as in speech or writing; signification:

My general working definitions…
content
#3b: The meaning or significance of a literary or artistic work.
Meaning#1a. To be used to convey; denote: 1b. To act as a symbol of; signify or represent: #2. To intend to convey or indicate: #3. To have as a purpose or an intention; intend: #4. To design, intend, or destine for a certain purpose or end: #5. To have as a consequence; bring about: #6. To have the importance or value of:

We live in an uncertain world, maybe we feel we have control over our daily lives but in the larger scope, humanity is flotsam to chance events good and bad. We grasp for meaning, some sense of order, belonging, family, country, race, or individuality that we might be special. A considerable amount of time, effort and money is spent generating the illusions of meaning which provide a sense of belonging and individuality. How do you choose what you buy to wear, or what car to drive or even what you eat?

The artist can intercede in this process and provide meaning in its pure state as experience. This is what I refer to as content, the part of the artwork which is elicited by the form but which resides conceptually outside the locus of the form itself.

We can discuss what this might mean.

I am suggesting that content, or meaning, is as important as form, or the matter, in an artwork. I realize they are intertwined but they may each be directed with an individual intent and how this is done is a topic for discussion.

Op, I said "At it's most basic, the form and content are intertwined, the content of the form being literally the form itself." this is the null case implying that there is no content other than the form, literal.

66.

OLDPRO

September 25, 2005, 1:00 AM

Let's keep it simple, George.

Content is whatever is there to be seen.

What's good is what we make of it.

67.

George

September 25, 2005, 1:19 AM

re #66 op
Content is whatever is there to be seen.
What's good is what we make of it.


This falls into the "anything can be art" arena. Anything one makes which can be seen, carries the content? How does the content get into or become associated with what can be seen? Does this occur in the "what we make of it" imperative? What are we acting on, how are we directing our attention. Your remark says nothing which could further the discussion. Do you ever think specifically about the content in your work?

68.

jordan

September 25, 2005, 5:33 AM

george - go to knoedler when there is a john walker exhibit - wait was'nt someone local exhibiting there at one time? - did he burn a bridge or what?
either way, by far the best painters in the country show there and they're all dead or old.

69.

oldpro

September 25, 2005, 9:27 AM

Anything one makes which can be seen, carries the content?
Yes. It is the content.

How does the content get into or become associated with what can be seen?
By putting it there. The content and what can be seen are the same thing.

Does this occur in the "what we make of it" imperative?
I don't understand the question

What are we acting on, how are we directing our attention?
We are acting on what is there, and directing attention however we want to.

Your remark says nothing which could further the discussion.
Yes it does, because it provides a simple, comprehensive, clear definition which allows us to proceed without wrangling over what is merely a verbal diversion

Do you ever think specifically about the content in your work?
The word "content" never enters my mind while I am painting nor when i am evaluating my paintings.

70.

oldpro

September 25, 2005, 10:54 AM

yes, Jordan, Darby Bannard showed at Knoedler in the 70s and 80s.

71.

maria martinez-canas

September 25, 2005, 5:52 PM

just a quick note to correct one comment in the publication by Sweet Girl 27 regarding my work. Sweet Girl writes: "There's one piece on Martinez-Canas's called "Lies: Doll," which at first you might think its a person falling or lying down, but in reality its a doll. At first, it tricks your mind. There's also a picture of a man looking up. You'd think, "what is he looking at that is giving him this impression?" "
The piece titled 'Doll' is an image of a dead woman's body on the floor. The image of the man looking up is an image of a rapist behind bars. The titles on the works are meant to confused the viewers into thinking that they are looking at something that is totally the opposite. Photography’s ability to blur truth and fiction is one of its most compelling qualities. Reinventing a new meaning, disposing its use of documentation and allowing the viewer’s definition of the work to be its new ‘truth’. Evidence is but the signs of things.

72.

that guy

September 25, 2005, 11:20 PM

Why you content-less automaton oldpro! The horror! But what do you fixate on in order to avoid having to make a good picture like half of New York does? I'm genuinely concerned.

73.

George

September 27, 2005, 4:14 AM

noref
A NY Times article on memory pretains to medical labeling but is an interesting bit of information on the working of the mind.

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