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Brian Reedy at Dorsch

Post #754 • March 16, 2006, 2:59 PM • 80 Comments

Driving a cartoon sensibility through the Medieval woodcut and back into contemporary practice, Brian Reedy creates images with a pungent mixture of humor and terror. In Reedy's world, technology and nature butt heads in a contest for the future of the world, and the only certain outcome is that a bunch of people and animals are going to end up dead. One can only face the reality via a goofy remove, and Reedy supplies it with doses of stylistic and technical whimsy. While a number of handsome prints fill the room, the best pieces work up the original blocks with paint and applied materials like metal foil and fake jewels. In a previous review I longed for the return of these painted blocks. Here they are, and I'm pleased - Reedy has the gas pedal of his talents pressed to the floor, and he's producing an original amalgam of funny ha-ha, funny strange, and funny I'm too terrified to do anything except giggle.

Brian Reedy: Eleventh Hour runs through April 1 at Dorsch.

Brian Reedy: Ajax, 2006, 30 x 20 inches, mixed media on wood

Brian Reedy: Beneath the Factory, 2006, 30 x 20 inches, mixed media on wood

Brian Reedy: Escape Ship, 2006, 30 x 20 inches, mixed media on wood

Brian Reedy: Skullscraper, 2006, 30 x 20 inches, mixed media on wood

Brian Reedy: Giant Stag, 2006, 30 x 20 inches, mixed media on wood

Brian Reedy: Do You Want Some of This?, 2006, 30 x 20 inches, mixed media on wood

Comment

1.

bob ross

March 16, 2006, 3:53 PM

Can we all say "Marcel Dzama" with a straight face?

2.

Franklin

March 16, 2006, 3:56 PM

These are much more ambitious than the last Dzamas I saw, partiuclarly regarding materials.

3.

catfish

March 16, 2006, 5:41 PM

Franklin it appears your eye has become unnecessarily kind, I feel. Have not seen this stuff in the flesh, so all the appropriate qualifications apply.

4.

Hovig

March 16, 2006, 6:17 PM

Earlier I glanced quickly and said "Cute." Now I looked more closely and see that they're woodcuts, and each 30x20, I'm more intrigued than I was earlier. I prefer them more or less in the order you posted them -- first two most, last two least -- tho maybe I like Skyscraper more than Escape Ship. Maybe I think he does a better job with straighter lines and blockier shapes than with the more fincky shapes. Woodcuts like being blocky. Otherwise they become drawings, and the skillset is different.

5.

Marc Country

March 16, 2006, 6:37 PM

I'm with bob on this one... definitely looks like Royal Art Lodge stuff. This is the kind of stuff that gets rave reviews like "Cool!", or "Awesome!" by twentysomething art students.

I'm also with catfish... I had clicked the Dorsch link on the Sanchez post (before scrolling down to see the images posted), and when it clicked over to their site, the first thing I thought when the page opened before my eyes, was "God, I hope Sanchez didn't paint this bunny in a maze."
Fortunately for Sanchez, he didn't.

6.

Marc Country

March 16, 2006, 6:44 PM

Tonight at the Art Gallery of Alberta:

A lecture by Art Historian Dr. John O'Brian, entitled "Greenberg on the Road to Edmonton", talking of the renowned art critic's relationship with the art of the Canadian Prairies.

Be there AND be square!

7.

catfish

March 16, 2006, 6:51 PM

That O'Brian guy seems like a heavy-hitter. Score another one for Edmonton for hosting him. (Go north young man, go north.)

8.

Iwasthere

March 16, 2006, 7:26 PM

Hey Marc that Reedy piece with the bunny has to be seen in person. It definetely loses something on the screen. It is actually quite nice.

9.

jordan

March 16, 2006, 11:32 PM

You mean be there and rectangular.

10.

ahab

March 16, 2006, 11:48 PM

Re: #'s 6.0 & 7.0

Be there, and wish you hadn't. Wish you hadn't spent the $10 earmarked for the childrens' milk and fruit on a public gallery lecture that asserted the profound political underpinnings of Greenberg the disappointed poet. With his feet to the fire in Q&A (someone called him out for "bad faith"), O'Brian's defense of his position amounted to a claim that the same lecture had earned successful hearings at the Whitney and the Pompadou, why not Edmonton? Poor illiterate ice-age Edmontonians.

11.

catfish

March 17, 2006, 12:20 AM

ahab, Greenberg DID have a lot of political underpinnings during the early years. He wrote many "important" essays then too. And was very prolific - he actually worked, he said, just one hour a day at his job in customs; the rest of the "work day" was used for writing. While he regretted, even repudiated, the politics that infected works like "Avant-garde and Kitsch", there is no denying the essays were full of gems that persist to this day as relevant ideas for anyone who takes culture seriously. When I met him he was apolitical; he hardly seemed to care who was president. But he was still the same person who wrote those early essays.

That said, could you summarize what O'Brian said that troubles you so much? Thank you.

12.

Marc Country

March 17, 2006, 1:25 AM

Part of the 'trouble' with O'Brian's lecture, if I may concur with ahab, was the fact that it wasn't quite what it was billed to be. "Talking of the renowned art critic's relationship with the art of the Canadian Prairies" wasn't quite on the agenda.
It dealt instead with o'Brian's 'discovery' that Greenberg worked on 'kitch' as a copy editor which influenced, in some way, his thoughts on 'kitch'
(ok);
how his marxist leanings affected his preferences in art (which, when argusd with, as in, "Hey, didn't Clem actually stress the importance of removing social/political from your frame of reference when experiencing art?", somehow morphed into a downgraded assertion that "nothing happens in a vacuum"
(well, when he put's it that way, um, ok);
how his politics and outlook on art changed at mid-century, trading marxism for the CIA payroll, and after that, no more changes, his critical perspective, stagnant.
Oh, and O'Brian made sure to stress Greenberg's once-published praise of pop art for having displaced "second-rate" sencond-gen abstraction.
He also mentioned that he and Greenberg had a relationship for 12 years, which ended abruptly because of a falling out, due, according to O'Brian, to Clem's displeasure at how O'brian was representing him. He quoted Clem as saying, "I always knew there was something wrong with O'Brian". (great, now you tell us).
O' Brian is a self-described "myth-popper", who sees his role as "to complicate the idea that people have of Greenberg". Those of you who might have already had a complex view of the critic, O'Brian relegates you to the hordes of Greenberg Idolators found, coincidentally, it seems, almost exclusively in the Candaian Prairies.

Ahab, please fill in any spots I missed. Now that I've spilled my bile here, I guess I won't be posting on the NESW blog. You should post something on the lecture though, if only to use your skecth as an illustration.

13.

Marc Country

March 17, 2006, 1:28 AM

Re: #8:

Fair enough, you were there...

14.

ahab

March 17, 2006, 1:34 AM

Now my foot is to the fire.

Well, catfish, I should not make or refute claims for Greenberg's politics. I am an inheritor of his approach to art, but not a scholar of his writing, nor someone who knew him personally.

The talk was titled Greenberg on the Road to Edmonton: How Art Writing Earns its Bad Name, and here's the blurb: Shortly after visiting Edmonton for the first time in late summer of 1962, Clement Greenberg published his most sustained attack on contemporary art writing. This AGA talk will investigate why Greenberg considered it an important part of his practice as a critic to expose what he termed “hokum” in art writing. Part of the talk will also examine Greenberg’s “review” in Canadian Art of “Painting and Sculpture in Prairie Canada Today.” Published in March 1963, the article commented on the work of a dozen Edmonton artists.

These sentences were all stated in the body of Dr. O'Brian's lecture, some of them a number of times. I take issue with the need art historians exhibit to emphasize a person's political underpinnings in order to understand his output (writing or art). We all have p.u., of course, but for most if not all of us they can't be shaken down and sorted out in the nice neat packaged way that O'Brian was trying to do for Clement Greenberg. Not that his package was all that neat - it was all over the place and anything but a logically reasoned argument.

To say, as O'Brian did, that Greenberg's taste in art changed according to shifts in the political climate is unprovable, and it is the statement for which O'Brian had to defend himself against a charge of "bad faith". His defense (besides letting it slip that he considered the Edmonton crowd to be a bunch of "hold outs" compared with NY and Paris), was two-fold: first he said, "nothing is provable"; then he said he was not suggesting a 1:1 relationship between the art and the politics. He did not posit a ratio that might be more appropriate, and could only refer to the handful of phrases (one?) in the "...Kitsch" essay for evidence.

O'Brian claimed to be a scholar whose job it was to poke holes in the legend of Greenberg but was unclear as to which myth he was referring to and how it should look after deflation. There was allusion to a personal unrequited falling out with Greenberg that was not explained, I presume the older artists knew what he was on about.

He showed slides that were not particularly illustrative of his points. Though I liked the aerial view of the Edmonton airport in the 60's. And the one of the 19th c. reporter interviewing an Indian chief (not the correct Nez Perce one, unfortunately).

Marc Country was in attendance. Maybe he'll add a word.

15.

Marc Country

March 17, 2006, 1:37 AM

I'm faster, but ahab's longer...

16.

ahab

March 17, 2006, 1:39 AM

"Maybe he'll add a word before I post this comment" is what I should've said.

I've got to photocopy and scan my drawing of the lecture before anyone can see it on the nesw blog, but in a day or two, sure.

17.

Marc Country

March 17, 2006, 1:48 AM

... he considered the Edmonton crowd to be a bunch of "hold outs" compared with NY and Paris...

Not that it isn't true, mind you, but it did betray his limited, binary viewpoint: either you agree with him (or nod and smile, at least), like all the cool dudes at the Pompidou and Whitney do, OR you're a Fanatical "Formalist".

Before the lecture, I considered having O' Brian sign my 4 volume Greenberg set.... now, I realize, the best the O' Brian did to those books, apart from edit and compile them, was to not write in them.

18.

catfish

March 17, 2006, 8:03 AM

Yes Marc, it sounds like having O'Brian sign your Greenberg set would be like the devil signing the Bible. The heavy hitter sounds like he hits mostly foul balls.

From the reports on this talk, it looks like O'Brian is not a good art historian. Instead of focusing on his subject (Greenberg) he has focused on the audience for his subject. And worse, he remodelled Greenberg according to the desires of the negative portion of that audience. That is not "myth-busting"; it is taking the side of the negative myth-makers against the positive ones.

The facts are pretty simple. Greenberg's views on politics changed far more than his views on art. If his vision of art was good in "Avante-garde and Kitsch" (and I take it that O'Brian thinks it was), then it was still good in "Counter Avant-garde" because it didn't change much. Clem 's eye for art remained constant as his involvement with politics changed and ultimately declined. He felt, correctly, that his early politics were bad as politics, and that his attempt to conjoin them with art was not successful because art is an end in itself and politics is a means to an end. Once he said he was a "fool" for embracing socialism, but that was about the value of socialism as politics.

Oh well, at least O'Brian stuck to facts in his intros to the 4 book series. Some idiot writer soiled (but did not spoil) Homemade Esthetics with a silly ass intro that featured the idiot's views of this and that, not Clem's. (I can't remember the idiot's name - otherwise I would have used it, then referred to him as an idiot.)

In the end O'Brian rose above himself to deliver the 4 books. He must be commended for that. They were a great gift to serious art, that need not and cannot be denied.

19.

oldpro

March 17, 2006, 10:00 AM

Clem often said that he had "disabused" himself of Marxism but never wanted to talk about it much, or perhaps it was just comething I was not interested in either so we never talked about it. He was interested in people and art, in that order, and so was I.

He could be very harsh with those who disappointed him. Character faults, as he perceived them, were palpably real, like stone. He tolerated all kinds of bad behavior of the sort most people would shy from as long as they did not betray what he perceived to be :"bad character". You could say he was a connoisseur of character, just as he was of art. In fact, in him the traits were very close.

Reading just the little the Canadians have posted I can see that this O"Brian person would fall short. It would not have been a matter of opposing Clem - he respected that - but of behaving more or less as they have described: devious, craven, dishonest, etc.

20.

Jack

March 17, 2006, 12:10 PM

Sounds like Mr. O'Brian, lacking the personal merits to become Somebody in the art world, opted to become a Name (of sorts, at least in academia) by latching on to a real Somebody, not entirely unlike a parasite. Funny how many have chosen to play this game. It's a tribute to Greenberg, actually, however perverse.

21.

oldpro

March 17, 2006, 1:02 PM

Yes, so many people bash Gberg in a knee-jerk way that is little more than a grumbling mob. And it certainly goes to his credit.

After all, just about all of them acknowledge that he was the greatest critic of the century, BUT........ (add comments at will)

22.

Marc Country

March 17, 2006, 2:37 PM

catfish, the 'idiot' you refer to is Charles Harrison... "Homemade Esthetics" is a great book, but I don't really recall what Harrison wrote in the intro. Harrison has written a slim book, "Modernism" (as part of a series of books by various authors on various periods and movements) which I own, and recall thinking it was a fairly decent gloss on the subject... probably due to his taking a more objective stance than what it seems you're suggesting he used in his intro to "H.E."

I had high hopes for O'Brian but, in the end, as Jack suggests, he's just one of those lesser lights who have chosen to trade on Greenberg's name by way of misreading him... Since Greenberg's safely in the grave, these lowlights feel that they can finally have the last word, and, at long last, win that argument with Greenberg that they never could have when he was alive.

An educational book might be a critical reading of these types of obfuscatory misreadings (O'Brian, Kuspit, Morgan, de Duve, etc...) copared with the clarity and quality of what Greenberg actually wrote.

"After all, just about all of them acknowledge that he was the greatest critic of the century, BUT..."

Exactly, oldpro... they all have just enough good sense to know that if they want to sell tickets to their lecture, it has to be Greenberg's name on the marquee first, then theirs, in small type, underneath.They're ok with this second-billoing, because they know Clem isn't gonna be there when it's time to tally the box-office receipts.

23.

oldpro

March 17, 2006, 3:25 PM

In terms of that never-to-be-argued argument, Marc, Clem seldom publicly refuted those who misunderstood him but preferred to respond only to errors of fact. This only served to further enrage them.

24.

ahab

March 18, 2006, 8:19 PM

I just posted an 800-word review (and illustration) of the John O'Brian lecture on Greenberg that we've been going on about in this thread - it's a direct result and extension of this discussion (though I don't refer to Brian Reedy). It can be found at the NESW blog url'd above.

25.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 10:23 AM

Good job, Ahab. Those Greenberg quotations are squarely on target. This O'Brian guy should have been smart enough to stick to Whitney types. But you know how it is; everybody wants to be a cross-over hit.

26.

oldpor

March 19, 2006, 10:55 AM

Yes, good piece. Keep up the fight.

What was most fun was imagining that jerk standing there and actually getting sharp, confrontational opposition. "Why, that's a very serious accusation...".

Yeah, man. You wandered into hostile territory. Go back to the bobbleheads.

27.

ahab

March 19, 2006, 11:27 AM

Good. Thanks.

Marc Country gets credit for the C.G. quotations. He was mouthing "...inveterate futurists, votaries of false dawns, sufferers from the millennial complex..." from memory as O'Brian himself used the quote for some reason or other (I think it was in partial response to the "bad faith" complaint). O'Brian was blind to the immediate irony.

The url heading this comment is the permalink for the article. So much to learn in order to keep it as simple as possible here in blogland. Must be why even buddhists blog.

28.

George

March 19, 2006, 12:13 PM

Seems to me that the biggest problem Greenberg has is that he's dead. Dark humor aside, what I'm implying is that the faithful who carry the torch forward can't seem to get it right nor heve they been able to connect convincingly in the current cultural climate. It's problematic.

I have recently been reading Karl Marx. Ignoring the communist outcome, his thoughts as they related to the economic upheavals linked to the industrial revolution, are quite interesting.

29.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 12:20 PM

So tell us, George, what is your take on O'Brian, particularly in light of this lecture? Do you think he's got it right (or righter) and has been able to connect convincingly?

30.

oldpro

March 19, 2006, 1:41 PM

Being dead does tend it limit one's activity, George, but aside from that, what's your point? Did the "torch carrying faithful" of Karl Marx get it right?

31.

Marc Country

March 19, 2006, 3:29 PM

A short excerpt from Eric Gebler's review of David Smith at the Guggenheim, for artcritical.com:

(posted here for George, in particular)

Critics can’t predict the future so why do they always feel it is necessary to determine what is passé? Do they entirely reject the cyclical or dialectical aspects of history? Why praise Renaissance art or primitive art in an unqualified way, but feel obligated to sound the death knell of Modernist art?

32.

George

March 19, 2006, 3:50 PM

re: #29,30,31 Aside from noting that Greenberg is dead I wasn't talking about him or what he wrote. It seems that he has an ardent group of followers which I'll assume are still alive, I was referring to them. One would think that with such an distinguished mentor they would be able to have some effect on the current culture.

Marx was very sharp, I'm impressed but his followers mucked it up.

33.

Marc Country

March 19, 2006, 4:09 PM

... what I'm implying is that the faithful who carry the torch forward can't seem to get it right nor heve they been able to connect convincingly in the current cultural climate.

Please clarify:

...can't seem to get it right (what is "it", and how does one get it "right"?)nor heve they been able to connect (connect to what?) convincingly (convincingly to whom?) in the current cultural climate (which is what, exactly?).

34.

oldpro

March 19, 2006, 4:09 PM

Geprge, I would guess that you are posing this question, which you could easily answer yourself, to implicitly denigrate the Greenbergers among us.

Obviously the reason that admirers of Greenberg do not have more influence is that the entire art world turned against him and everything he stood for a generation ago and the cycle turns slowly. This is not news.

35.

Marc Country

March 19, 2006, 4:18 PM

George, one could just as easily ask the question, "Why has the current cultural climate not only failed to "get it right", but also failed to connect convincingly to to those carring Greenberg's torch forward?

Putting the question this way still identifies a "failure to connect", but implies that the fault may lie opposite to what your question implies.

36.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 4:19 PM

Can somebody please close the tags, or whatever it is?

37.

Marc Country

March 19, 2006, 4:21 PM

... except, I see George wasn't actually posing a question, he was simply stating his viewpoint and assumptions as if they were fact.

38.

MC

March 19, 2006, 4:22 PM

Sorry Jack, I'm sure that was my bad... might have to be left for Franklin to clean up.

39.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 4:49 PM

OK, I'll live with italics for a while.

So tell us, George, O Oracle of Gotham, what are poor misbegotten torchbearers to do, relegate Greenberg to the dustbin of history (like Marx) because he's dead and/or not the flavor du jour? Who should be embraced instead? Someone like Danto, he of the Brillo box epiphany? Kuspit, perhaps? Or maybe dear Rosalind K and her dreary diagrams? Just what we need, a mathematical approach to art. Uh, No.

It's not that Greenberg was infallible or the definitive word on art. Nobody can be. Everyone needs to judge and decide for him or herself anyway. But those who find Greenberg more congenial, sensible and conversant with reality than the current crop of official deities need make no apologies or concessions. I know I don't.

40.

George

March 19, 2006, 5:11 PM

re#
Op said Obviously the reason that admirers of Greenberg do not have more influence is that the entire art world turned against him and everything he stood for a generation ago and the cycle turns slowly.

I wasn't thinking about the above, but you have a point. I also wasn't implying or trying to to implicitly denigrate the Greenbergers among us

I can't see how reading Greenberg would be of any help to me, so I don't. For his followers, as I said, it doesn't appear that they are having much effect. OP mentions the "cycle" which I won't debate but we are at a point where an alternative voice could be heard, where is it?

The art world, I don't know what to call it exactly, but including the market place, the artworld seems to be wide open at the current moment. What I mean by this is that everyone is aware of the hype, has a favorite fashion to promote but are also looking for something new for the shop. All that's needed to fill the bill is an artist with good work and someone in the critical community to convince others of the fact. Of course everyone can sit around and just bitich about the way it is and nothing else will happen.

Somebody should write a manifesto.

41.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 5:18 PM

Note to Marc C:

When I become Art Czar of the Western World, which should be any day now, I will appoint you my Royal Media Liaison. It'll look good on your CV. Sort of like I'll be Louis XIV, and you can be Charles Le Brun. I'd make you Cardinal Richelieu, but I promised that spot to Oldpro. Of course, there's always the Cardinal Mazarin position, but that might skew things too far toward Rome, and it's not good to have rival cardinals running around...

42.

George

March 19, 2006, 5:19 PM

jack re #39. I don't read art theory especially if I have to buy the book. It's of no help in the studio and that is all I care about. I have been reading Kuspits web book, and Marx on the web as well.

I am reading Picasso by Mailer which is interesting for me bacause I am fascinated with the period between 1900-1920 and how art developed in concert with the history of the time. I can see some connections to the present day but nothing I want to discuss now.

43.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 5:25 PM

My # 41 was meant for the Roundup thread, where I will now put it. You can delete 41 and this comment if you like, Franklin.

44.

oldpro

March 19, 2006, 6:21 PM

George, you say "I can't see how reading Greenberg would be of any help to me". Oh, I think it would. Besides, it's fun to read. Don't read what novelists say about art, for crying out loud! They don't have a clue.

You also say "For his followers, as I said, it doesn't appear that they are having much effect." Yes, for the reason I gave, which you concede. And why "followers"? Why not "those who appreciate common sense and clear thinking and writing"? You know, it really is possible to have those characteristics without "following" anyone.

And "but we are at a point where an alternative voice could be heard, where is it?" Right here, my friend. Getting the noodles to read it and understand it is another matter.

As for the "wide open" art world, well, It looks like just about everything under the sun is going on, but that is a delusion. There is a whole way of making art and thinking about art which is as rigidily excluded as oil from water. I believe it is called "esthetics".

If you think it is just a matter of some "good art" coming down the pike you are hopelessly naive. What sells is what looks like the current mainstream, not what is good. And who, in this "critical community" has the eyes and the balls to see what's good and what's bad and put it forward? Those people exist but they cannot get published. You can publish a contrarian opinion in practically every field of human activity - politics, movies, music, science, etc. - but not in art. Sure there are squabbles and little differences of opinion and people saying "isn't the Whitney show terrible" and general stuff like that, but that's it. Believe me, I know.

45.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 7:53 PM

OP, if I may be so bold as to presume to read the mind of an august a personage as Mr. O'Brian, aesthetics is too straightforward and consistent; it always boils down to a preoccupation with beauty, and that's just not sufficiently interesting, you see. It's certainly not shifty enough. Besides, dismissing aesthetics makes a lot of people's lives considerably easier, not to mention more profitable. And it's so much less, you know, elitist and all. In the 21st century, we can hardly be so retrograde as to go "This work looks like crap and, come to think of it, it is crap." It's just too barbaric. Besides, for those who are advanced enough, crap holds no fear.

46.

Jack

March 19, 2006, 10:20 PM

Somebody should write a manifesto.

No, George.

What we need is for more, a LOT more people who claim to be serious about art to call it as they themselves see it and not give a damn about this theorist or critic, that curator, this institution or gallery, or that "major" collector unless they truly, personally agree. And, of course, ACT accordingly. It's quite simple, really. I know; I do it all the time.

That would go a long way, but yes, there is a great deal of rot, not to say rampant hypocrisy and/or flagrant self-seeking and self-importance, in the establishment. Vested interests everywhere. Don't ask don't tell. And on and on. After all, it took a Hercules to clean up the Stygian Stables, and Hercules is no longer doing that sort of work. But we can all do a little, and it adds up, or would, if enough people did it.

First order of business: Call BS by its name and treat it as such.

47.

catfish

March 19, 2006, 10:43 PM

Much as I agree with you Jack, art does not make its way driven by negatives, even if it is good to call BS BS. It's going to take some positives. BS gets shoved aside not by truth speaking critics but by superior art.

Likewise I have to qualify what oldpro suggested to Geroge ... reading Greenberg. In itself, that's good, but the real power of Greenberg could only be felt when he was looking at art. You didn't always need to talk with ihim about it, but that is usually what happened.

He told me once about his first visit to Pollock's studio, where he, Pollock, and Krasner sat silent for many minutes - 45 he said. He added that then was when he learned that you don't look at an artist's work that long and say nothing. His problem, he said, was that he didn't get Pollock at first, at least he didn't like the work he saw during that visit. No one controls their taste, not even their own. (So how can Clem be accused of the being the tyrant of taste?)

Greenberg's strongest effect on art was when he visited studios, including the one where he said nothing. Call it vibes, call it his soul, it was real.

48.

George

March 20, 2006, 12:35 AM

#44 Don't read what novelists say about art…
It's not about the art it's about the time that’s interesting.

#44why "followers"?
followers = the Greenbergers among us #34

#44 Getting the noodles to read it and understand it is another matter.
That's what I am suggesting is the problem

#44a whole way of making art and thinking about art which is as rigidly excluded… I believe it is called "esthetics".
Make more convincing art

#44If you think it is just a matter of some "good art" coming down the pike you are hopelessly naive.
No, I am perceptive, the situation is wide open.

#40 (quote me)Somebody should write a manifesto.
#46 No, George….What we need is for more, a LOT more people who claim to be serious about art…

No Jack, what's needed is a few committed artists and critical types who are willing to make a case for their "serious art"
Forget about cleaning up the stables, that is a losing cause which only serves to marginalize the program. Promote what you like.

49.

George

March 20, 2006, 12:47 AM

The current art market is in state of disarray. I think artists are becoming suspicious of the affect money+promotion has had on the state of the art. The affect of the recent sudden influx of capital into the art world has created a temporary situation where the speculators have unduly influenced the art that has been seen in the galleries.

Demand = Money In my opinion the rate of money flowing into the art market is stabilizing to a more normal rate. If this is not true today it will be tomorrow because exponential rates of growth are always unsustainable

Supply= Available art To profit from the rapid increase in demand, the galleries (marketers of art) sought supply where ever they could find it (MFA grads) and promoted what art they had (art=supply). My feeling is that the supply is now reaching the point where it meets the demand. This implies that criteria, other than just the possession of goods to sell and marketing, will start to come into effect. When I say the market is "wide open" I am strongly implying that a number of people see the situation for what it is, manipulated. Even if they don't fully comprehend the reasons why it appears to me that the art world is ready for something new.

Something new? I sense the cringe at this remark. Try thinking, define what you see and replace it with something new. The art world has become a multi-billion dollar business. It will defend itself against pot-shots from the disgruntled who are left out.
As I see it, the solution is to:
1. Make great art, by your own definition, not necessarily mine.
2. To understand how the marketplace works.
3. To use this understanding to promote the art.

In other words, expend the energy fighting for your cause instead pf playing critical defense, it won't work.

50.

oldpro

March 20, 2006, 7:58 AM

George, sometimes a discussion with you is like kicking jello. The situation is not "wide open", it is just trying to look that way because that is the trend. Better art is not "more convincing" in an environment that does not like better art. If I were to make "convincing" art I would be making fashionable bad art. Many of us are making art as well as we can even as we kvetch on the blog. Ridiculing the garbage and the BS is helpful if it can wise someone up. Besides it's fun. Why try to talk us out of it?

51.

Jack

March 20, 2006, 10:06 AM

Re #47:

I don't disagree, but I was thinking more of what non-artists like myself can do. The art public, especially the paying or buying public, is what keeps the system going, since the system runs on money. My point is that if the public refuses to buy, support or otherwise go along with anything it does not truly believe in and want, change would be inevitable. There is far too much groupthink, or just going with the flow and accepting hand-me-down views from sources who are supposed to know--As If. But yes, maybe sheep, or those who just want to enjoy the scene (whatever it may be about) will always be the majority.

Re #49-50:

Again, what artists can or should do is certainly very important, but I'm not an artist and don't think in those terms. I know what I can do, and I do it. I don't see it as being defensive; I see it as standing up for myself and refusing to dance with anyone or anything that doesn't play what I consider good music.

52.

George

March 20, 2006, 10:19 AM

The "kicking jello" remark is funny.

#50 ...it is just trying to look that way because that is the trend
The "art world" isn't a monolith, it is an aggregation of artists, galleries which doesn't try to "look" like anything in particular. There is a "trend" or current fashion of sorts. What I am saying is that I think the people involved are starting to look for something new. Not everyone of course.

If I were to make "convincing" art I would be making fashionable bad art.
That is a rather dour interpretation of what I mean by convincing.

The two abstract painters we discussed the other day, Louise Fishman and Charline Von Heyl might be used as an example, if we can agree, at least for the sake of discussion, that their work is reasonably good, better than a lot of work in the galleries.

Both artists have roots in AE. Fishmans work is a direct lineage, (2nd or 3rd gen) and has the stylistic identifiers of that period. I would say that her "convincingness" is a result of her commitment to the work in the AE style and it's quality. Since the work is in an "older style" both the evidence of commitment and quality are required.

Charline Von Heyl is a generation younger, her work also has roots in AE but I would say it is looking back at AE for a solution. Stylistically it is more current in it's appearance, taking in not only AE but also what followed. Part of it's convincingness is it's apparent freshness to the younger artists or curators along with it's quality.

Hypothetical young artists might be working in a loose painterly style, all they might know about it is what they have seen in books, magazines or the museums, distanced views and no long history of experience. They are appropriating a "look" or method which they like. If the work looks a lot like AE (Fishman model) they probably will have trouble convincing people they are doing anything more than just copying a style, the work will not bee seen as "fresh" (convincing). Unless the work is extremely good they will probably have a tough time.

"Convincing" is both quality and stylistic freshness.

Ridiculing the garbage and the BS is helpful if it can wise someone up. Besides it's fun.
Well, it might be fun, or make you feel better but I'm not sure if it of much other value unless the criticism is constructive.

53.

Jack

March 20, 2006, 10:26 AM

The second part of 51 was really in response to 48-49.

Re #50:

I'm not just thinking of wising people up, however desirable that could be. I'm thinking about hitting back where it hurts, or where it will be felt most. The system, again, runs on money. My money does not go anywhere I don't believe deserves it. Same for my non-monetary support. And whenever some Great Hallowed Wonder like the Basel fair or this or that "major" collection is put before me, I don't get weak in the knees and validate it with tacit, let alone overt, approval.

54.

oldpro

March 20, 2006, 12:34 PM

OK, George. I think you have the capacity to wear me down, if nothing else. I emena, lemmings are an "aggrgation" of individuals too, but they go off the cliff all together.just the same. There is such a thing as the madness of crowds, and we have it in theart business.

I understand what you are saying about Fishman & Heyl, that Heyl looks more 'contemporary" and that presumably helps her in the market. But her pictures, as I mentioned before, though probably more technically adept than Fishman's, are also colder and have less "soul", and, to my eye, less potential. I see this in a lot of quite competent current painters, and I am certain it is not just a stylistic "preference". Something seems to have happened to painting right now, something is gone out of it, with a few exceptions.

55.

George

March 20, 2006, 1:28 PM

#54 Something seems to have happened to painting right now, something is gone out of it, with a few exceptions.

I think that statement touches on something. When I look at work in the galleries I'm just not seeing anything that has real guts and soul, I don't come back to the studio fired up because of something great I've seen. There is competent work but most of it appears like it's looking for an angle on how to make itself stand out.

If anything, what I think connected for me with Fishmans work was its forthrightness, it does have a certain amount of guts and soul which I like. But, for me, in the end its just a marker for comparison not an inspiration.

Unfortunately, even in today's turbulent climate, a lot of work looks like it has its head in the sand, a kind of cartoon pollyanna of decoration, don't worry be happy. Even work which attempts to deal with the existential reality suffers from the appearance of conceptual strategization.

I think this existential disconnect is partly a result of the pressure of, and a preoccupation with, the marketplace. A marketplace which has been turned upside down by an enormous amount of money. It's acting like a condom on creative expression, let alone quality.

Art and Life. Art without life is just another decorative product for the market place. Art and life is an expression of the existential moment resolved formally and connects with the audience deeply. not just as decorative ennui. This is what I want.

56.

oldpro

March 20, 2006, 1:58 PM

Yeah, guts and soul. Decent painting but not great painting. I wish I could put my finer on it.

I don't know that I would pin it on the market place. Maybe on the sheer size of the marketplace. It may be something more intangible, the "esprit" that comes from the synergy of a bunch of talented artists in a conducive environment forming a critical mass and exploding. It is a matter of talent, energy, competition, belief (not necessarily in what may be true; belief is enough) and standards which are not specifiable but which everyone instinctively knows anyway.

That's what I get from teaching the AE seminar, going deeply into the everyday life of the time. What makes that critical mass happen in the first place is a mystery.

57.

Jack

March 20, 2006, 2:23 PM

Art has become too much of a game, perhaps in part as a reaction to the seriousness of, say, a Rothko. Now there are people who brazenly admit they're players, at least if they've been successful at it. Things are too slack, too all over the place, too permissive. It can be passed off as pluralism, "anything goes," whatever, but it's more (to borrow from Franklin) an official license to suck.

58.

George

March 20, 2006, 2:51 PM

#56 Oldpro,

What is different today than in the past, something which started in the 70's I suspect, is the idea that being an artist could be a "career". Not a "career" in the sense of a avocation, but a "career" like one you might aspire to after getting a MBA. The MFA is a MBA for artists. Graduate from a top school and be interviewed for a slot at a gallery. It's disconnected.

I agree that the sheer size of the artworld might be an issue. In addition, the advent of the internet has changed everything. For the first time artists can be aware of the other artists jpegs anywhere in the world. The jpeg is a peculiar filter which pretends to substitute for direct experience but, with painting at least, cannot. Good internet research can assist in a "pursuit of the new styles" and conversely, the internet has atomized "the new styles" in a way which effectively renders them useless.

Personal style, a sense of touch, color or drawing will always exist, but style as fashion is dead because it is now so rapidly disseminated and copied that it loses it's ability to act as a identifier. The work all looks alike in a way similar to the maturing phase of AE, 2nd, 3rd, even 4th generation followers clog up the pipeline.

I suspect the expansion of the artmarket has changed the way painting functions culturally. The marketplace has expanded and in the process it must develop a new substructure which can accommodate the expanded audience. This will allow for the inclusion of an expanded number of artists, of varying talent and quality and in essence defines the "new academy of the marketplace"

I realize this sounds awful but maybe it's not for it also provides a way for the avant garde, advanced painting, to exist again.

Art and life, guts and soul, expression and resolution is what the new advanced painting must have. Painting today is nearly a completely defined language, a set of tones, rather than playing a note, one should play a song.

59.

oldpro

March 20, 2006, 4:09 PM

"Painting today is nearly a completely defined language"

Is this an "everything has been done that can be done" assertion?

60.

George

March 20, 2006, 5:43 PM

#59 Is this an "everything has been done that can be done" assertion?

Not at all. What I'm thinking is if you look at the history of painting, you see similarities in its formal attributes. These seem to be internally roughly linked by the general psychology of the artist, for example the differences between an expressionist and a tight-ass personalities. Painters have always looked into the past for inspiration or solutions, the long history of painting is one of its great attributes. Regardless of the historical source, the outcome is colored by its own era and the personality of the artist rendering each resolution uniquely. In the past it was difficult for an artist to access many of the historical works, they were not easily accessible and even art books were not a complete solution.

As I noted before, I think the internet is having a profound influence on how painting might develop. It makes it relatively easy to see reproductions of a lot of work we would not otherwise have access to. When I say painting is "nearly a completely defined language" I am referring to its long history, in particular to its long history of formal solutions. The internet has begun to make this history readily available, like a dictionary or encyclopedia.

What I am suggesting is that the artist can either extend the language or use the language combinatorially as a means of expression. I view using the language of painting in a combinatorial way, as a method similar to composing a symphony for an orchestra or, more to my personality, like playing jazz. It has great potential and might be devilishly difficult to resolve.

Of course, one can also use the information to just follow fashion or as market research but that’s for other artists.

All of the above assumes the artist pays attention to making a "good painting" in the process.

61.

oldpro

March 20, 2006, 6:22 PM

"All of the above assumes the artist pays attention to making a 'good painting' in the process."

And that is what I don't think is happening, for whatever reason. There is so much that was left open-ended by the great painters of the 20th C which has just been completely dropped, willy-nilly. I suppose we need a new Manet to go back and be inspired by them, as he was by Goya and Velasquez.

62.

catfish

March 20, 2006, 7:38 PM

"...it also provides a way for the avant garde, advanced painting, to exist again."

There is no need for the avant-garde anymore. It is so, well, "yesterday". Whatever might "explode", it won't be recognized as avant-garde. In fact, it might be so subtle that few recognize it at all because everyone is dead set on finding a new avant-garde.

The new avant-garde is the mainstream: eating bugs, invoking the enteral verities, insulting government, and so on. Advanced painting is rear-garde, as oldpro suggests. But it hasn't exploded yet.

63.

George

March 20, 2006, 7:52 PM

#61 And that is what I don't think is happening, for whatever reason.

Maybe it's lack of ambition, not personal ambition but ambition for painting itself. Maybe its a distortion caused by the marketplace, the conservatism of the market academy. The market academy is as onerous as the 19th century academy was but the current system is larger, more commercial and driven by vast amounts of money. For a painter that might choose to go against this hegemony it seems to appear as taking a big risk and they are chickenshit.

Frankly I'm surprised no other painters joined in the discussion.

64.

George

March 20, 2006, 8:16 PM

#62 There is no need for the avant-garde anymore. It is so, well, "yesterday".

I totally disagree. The marketplace has expanded and in the process it must develop a new substructure which can accommodate the expanded audience.[#58] What I meant by this is that the marketplace will become tiered in order to be able to supply enough work for the demand in the both the various mediums (inc styles/fashions) and price ranges. This is what is already occurring although price and quality are not congruent.

By my definition, the avant garde in painting cannot be the mainstream, the mainstream follows the avant guard (sometimes) Sometimes the avant garde in painting lies fallow but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Advanced painting cannot ever be rear garde, even if Oldpro says so. It is important to see painting as its own stream in history surrounded by other artforms or media. But painting has its own unique place in the visual arts with a great history and qualities possessed by no other medium. I believe it is important to not confuse what's hot or appears as "avant garde" in other mediums as reflecting on painting at all. It's a different problem and though one fashion of working may garner more attention it has nothing to do with painting. The vary idea that what you suggest is true is part of the source of the problem. Chickenshits.

65.

George

March 20, 2006, 8:42 PM

just talking to myself...

A typical contemporary dialog sounds like "the artist was attempting to classically objectify the male body."

Picasso did it with soul not an intellectual construct. Great art is resistant to the application of logic.

See also 1. or 2.

66.

Franklin

March 20, 2006, 8:43 PM

I think framing any part of the art world as "avant-garde" may or may not be accurate, but in either case is not useful. The idea of a leading edge and a trailing edge presupposes variants on a single practice, differing in degrees of innovation. We live in pluralism. There is no single practice. I'm not even sure that painting can be seen as a single practice anymore.

Drop the name-calling, George.

67.

George

March 20, 2006, 8:51 PM

Franklin, I wasn't calling anyone here chickenshits, it was a general slam against the pool artists who are focused on the marketplace. Sorry if anyone took it personally.

I think painting can be seen as a single mode of working, It is true that there are different stylistic trends but these are all almost inside what I describe as the market academy.

Oldpro said we need a new Manet to go back and be inspired by them, as he was by Goya and Velasquez.[#61] I think he's right and such an act would be avant garde.

68.

Jack

March 20, 2006, 9:12 PM

I can understand how an artist, wanting at least to make a decent living, would go along to get along, so to speak. I didn't say I approved, but I can see the reasoning. What I can't understand nearly as well, if at all, is why people whose livelihood and career do not depend on the art establishment still behave like damn sheep for no rational reason. There's no real backlash or retribution involved, nothing to lose (not really), so what the hell is the problem?

It's not that I'm asking for a medal for bravery; it's that I have no reason to be afraid. Why is this so difficult? Do most people actually believe this is the best of all possible art worlds? Do they just not get it? Or do they simply not care as long as there's some opening or party at which to see and be seen?

69.

George

March 20, 2006, 9:41 PM

#68 still behave like damn sheep for no rational reason. There's no real backlash or retribution involved, nothing to lose (not really), so what the hell is the problem?

I like sheep, I'll use that word from now on and I don't want my comments against the market place taken as necessarily pejorative in a personal way. I understand that the artist involved have different motives and may be less concerned with some of the issues Oldpro and I raised.

Actually I am not as surprised by your comment as you might be. My take is that a huge percentage of artists desire to work within a context predefined as "art". Certainly there are many artist which value their work based on their "technical skills" In both cases I really think the artists believe they are making innovative and "good" work which leaves us at an impasse.

I personally have no desire to change the artworld, it's bigger than me so I just try to be objective about its machinations. I hear others starting to complain about the situation. Tyler Green has a piece today "Saltz piles on The New Yorker" that is worth reading. It's the text of an email Jerry Saltz sent to the New Yorker magazine regarding an article about Sothebys.

70.

Franklin

March 20, 2006, 9:58 PM

Sorry, George - I didn't understand to whom you were directing the epithet.

Artistic success and financial success are two parallel concerns and each has to be handled in its own way. Artistic success justifies itself. Financial success does not. Conflating the two is a disaster.

71.

George

March 20, 2006, 10:14 PM

Franklin You were right I was unclear.

Conflating the two is a disaster.
I'm afraid I don't see the issue as black and white as that. Like I said to Jack, I honestly believe that most artists think they are making good work. I think this has been the case throughout history. One of my neighbors showed me some of his paintings, he's been painting 30-40 years and thinks they are good. I thought they were terrible (a tough spot to find yourself in, "whadda think?")

The reality behind this discussion is that it ultimately is only applicable to a very few artists. This has been an unusual discussion, it's as if Oldpro and I are looking at the same house from different sides. What Oldpro and I want to see, allowing for our different views, is great painting and there are very few people capable of achieving this. For me all the stuff in the middle is just part of the background environment. The market place can distort perceptions, that's marketing and the problem is that it creates it's own hierarchy and belief system. I still believe it is possible to affect change but its hard.

72.

Jack

March 20, 2006, 10:17 PM

George, in #68 I wasn't talking about artists but rather people who are neither artists nor financially dependent on the art establishment. In other words, the vast majority of the art public, who can afford to tell any and all members of said establishmment to go to hell, yet strangely tend to swallow whatever is fed to them by the system like baby birds. It's completely unnecessary behavior, and since these people pay the bills, they're a major part of the problem.

73.

George

March 20, 2006, 10:25 PM

#72, Jack

I wasn't sure which group you meant. I suspect some of the things I said about the attitude of the artists would apply to the viewing public. Since they are unsure of what they know and often afraid to ask they are comfortable going alonw with the program. I have had several interesting conversations with visitors at the Met but typically we were looking at historical ratherthan contemporary work. I guess I don't know either.

74.

oldpro

March 20, 2006, 11:11 PM

Jack, that "public", the people who come down from Westchester to take their kids to the Whitney and try to explain why some monstrosity is "important", are people who are basically cultural wannabes. They accept authority.

The other public. the "sophisticated" public, including the buyers of the stuff, live in fear of being not "with it". There is no more powerful force for them than this need.

And, as you indicate, nothing would really happen to any of them if they just didn't even bother.

75.

latino

March 21, 2006, 5:05 AM

Canadians are loco, not local.

76.

Marc Country

March 21, 2006, 11:57 AM

Dat's right, mang. Loco in da cabeza.

Jack:
What I can't understand nearly as well, if at all, is why people whose livelihood and career do not depend on the art establishment still behave like damn sheep for no rational reason.

I ws just reading a rather interesting article in Harper's that I think touches on this question. Entitled "MY CROWD: or, phase 5: A report from the inventor of the Flash Mob", by Bill Wasik, the article reveals that the short-lived phenomenon of "Flash Mobs" was conceived as a social science experiment (and "art project") on the concept of deindividuation.

A few excerpts:

"Consider the generational cohort that has come to be called hipsters... The hipsters make no pretense to divisions on principle, to forming intellectual or artistic camps; at any given moment, it is the same books, records, film that are judged au courant by all, leading to the curious spectacle of an "alternative" culture more unanimous than the mainstreanm it ostensibly opposes. What critical impulse does exist among their number merely causes a favorite to be more readily abandoned, as abandoned... it inevitably will be. Once abandoned, it is never taken up again."

"I endeavored to devise a media strategy on the preoject's own terms. The mob was all about the herd instinct, I reasoned, about the desire not to be left out of the latest fad..."

"The basic hypothesis behind the Mob Project was as follows: seeing how all culture in New York was demonstrably commingled with scenesterism, the appeal of concerts and plays and readings and gallery shows deriving less from the work itself than from the social opportunities the work might engender, it should theoretically be possible to create an art project consisting of pure scene- meaning the scene would be the entire point of the work, and indeed would inself constitute the work."

"Almost all of the mobs I organized had been, in some sense, jokes on the subject of conformity... I was pointing out that hipsters, our supposed cultural avant-garde, are in fact a transcontinental society of cultural receptors, straining to perceive which shifts to follow... But hipsters, after becoming aware of this very dynamic, have responded in a curious and counterintuitive way. Even as they might decry this drive toward unanimity, they continually embrace it and re-embrace it in an enthusiastic, almost ecstatic fashion... if they are the American avant-garde it is true, I think, in only this aspect - the unending churn of their tastes, this adult faddishness in the adolescent style."

77.

oldpro

March 21, 2006, 12:50 PM

Interesting, Marc. This is why I have always said that the art world should be studied not by art historians and critics but by sociologists and psychologists.

Counter-culture subcultures are always characterized by extreme conformity, groups like the Hell's Angels, who are supposed to be weird and far-out but are rigidly conformist in every aspect of their dress, habits and behavior. Generally these subcultures consist of losers seeking support in group identity. Though sometimes not "losers" in the economic sense this also applies to the art mob.

"Uniqueness", if there is such a thing, consists not of rejection of or rising above social norms but of living with them in a highly integrated personal and social manner. This will, on occasion, cause such a person to seem "odd", but the oddness is not only never the point but an indication that the surrounding culture is truly odd and does not know it.

78.

Jack

March 21, 2006, 2:44 PM

Re #76, yes, that article is obviously relevant to what I was talking about.

seeing how all culture in New York was demonstrably commingled with scenesterism, the appeal of concerts and plays and readings and gallery shows deriving less from the work itself than from the social opportunities the work might engender

It may well be, as it certainly appears, that the majority of people who are ostensibly into art, or the opera, or what have you, have a relatively shallow or superficial interest in the thing itself, but find the scene or milieu associated with it to be very gratifying.

This makes these people fairly easy to please, as long as the social and other fringe benefits can be counted upon. It also makes them ideal donors or contributors, if they have enough money, because they're not especially demanding in terms of standards--they just need to be stroked properly.

That's why such people typically won't take a hardnosed position with an outfit like MAM, as I did (i.e., "You want a new facility? Prove you deserve one; then we'll talk"). That's why they'll happily put up with mediocre versions of warhorses at the opera, because it's still a fancy night out too see and be seen--the quality of the performance on stage is not that critical.

So yes, scenesterism indeed.

79.

Jack

March 21, 2006, 7:18 PM

This may bore some, or most, or all, but nobody's required to read it. Wear comfortable shoes.

My experience with live opera in Miami was interesting, if frustrating. I love opera, and I used to be a season subscriber, so I'd go to all the productions. At intermission, instead of mingling or parading or networking, I'd be writing my personal, private review of the performance thus far, which I'd finish when I got home after it was all over. These were not "liked it" or "didn't like it" affairs, but specific, detailed analyses. They were not often enthusiastic. You don't win me over with nice scenery, pretty costumes, or singers who look good but can't deliver vocally.

After a while, I got tired of being disappointed. I felt I was going more out of obligation than enjoyment. True, the fancy-dress-and-jewelry crowd seemed quite content, just like the "this is good for image and/or business" crowd, or the "this is what classy people do" crowd. You get the picture. I, however, belonged to an apparently very minor faction who was only really there for what transpired on stage, who knew what it was supposed to be getting, and who got very pissed when it felt shortchanged--which was most of the time.

So, I decided to get out all my reviews and write the company director a letter with numerous concrete examples of what was wrong with his outfit, along with my suggestions for improvement. He did reply, and it was not a form letter, but he was fairly defensive, if adequately polite. Nothing changed. I stopped going. Since then, the company's advertising has become overtly and consistently, uh, populist, not to say cheesy. Example (for Verdi's Traviata): "Richard Gere took Julia Roberts to see it in Pretty Woman, and she loved it!"

Oh, dear. How can I put this? I don't give a flying f--k about Gere, Julia or some damn movie fantasy. You give me a good soprano, tenor and baritone who are up to their roles and will do Verdi proud and make me happy. That's why I pay my money and spend my evening with you. Don't even think of pulling the wool over my eyes (or ears) with slim, young, photogenic types with generic voices and/or unsatisfactory singing talent. I want the real goods musically, and I expect you to respect my intelligence.

Predictably enough, the pop-culture-oriented advertising has apparently had the desired results, or so I hear. Whether the quality of the performances has improved to any significant degree I cannot say. I'm obviously not part of the target audience, and I fully expect they can do without me. That's because most of the audience is not squarely and intensely focused on the thing itself, the opera as performed, but rather on the opera-going experience and related peripheral issues, which are another matter.

We now return you to our regular programming. Get a snack or something.

80.

Marc Country

March 23, 2006, 10:05 PM

An update to the Dr. John O'Brian story can be found here:
John O'Brian: "I've Clearly Lost Touch...".

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