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Louise Bourgeois at WAM

Post #896 • October 30, 2006, 10:42 AM • 62 Comments

Worcester, MA — Not long ago I conceived of the Bourgeois Test. In a group exhibition of contemporary art, if a work by Louise Bourgeois is the best thing in the show, the show is in trouble. The ubiquity of her work among contemporary art collections makes this a test that one can perform regularly, and it returns reliable positives because her work, while it can be quirky enough to be interesting, tends to rely on trappings that resemble, and only resemble, serious artistic engagement. They involve serious personal engagement, heartfelt and searching, but that's a different matter. Nevertheless, even interesting quirkiness and a semblance of seriousness tend to make her work look better than the great run of dreck in the prematurely established canon of contemporary masters. It represents a triumph of sincerity over self-criticism, but it is, at least, sincere.

Since formulating the Bourgeois Test, I've wondered, what if hers was the only work in the exhibition? I found out at the Worcester Art Museum, which is showing Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child (in context). It makes a cogent effort to put a recent WAM acquisition alongside related works incorporating textiles; curatorially, it adds up. As I would have predicted, though, the Bourgeois Test applied to a roomful of Bourgeois indicated correctly that the show was in trouble. Wall copy at WAM cited someone calling her the "oldest of the young artists." (At 95, it is a victory to be producing work of equal fortitude to the rest of one's career.) It's an apt characterization, but not in a good way. Like the work of many young artists, hers is aimed, not cynically, but not rightly either, to appeal to impulses that people commonly substitute for visual sophistication. If you have feminist sympathies, her work will tickle them. If you go for something edgy-looking, or think that advanced art doesn't look like art, then you're all set with Bourgeois. Erotic references? Craft references? Conceptual insertions of text? Check, check, and check. They even relate to the spent radicalism of Body Art, albeit enacted with strange little dolls.

(As an aside, I call for a moratorium on wall copy that plugs values into this sentence: "X's work deals with dialectics: a/-a, b/-b, c/-c, etc." It's the art writing equivalent of styrofoam - opaque, bland, and good only for padding. An instance appeared in Woven Child, and I noticed it because I had just seen the same formulation on a label next to the Shazia Sikander that the MFA hung at the end of the hallway outside its Domains of Wonder exhibition, where, frankly, it belonged, if it had to go somewhere.)

Stripping all that away and looking at the objects as objects, she displays a decent graphic sense and a flair for combining hard and soft materials. This latter quality animates her sculptures far more their shapes, which are schematic, even heraldic in their unwillingness to engage the space around them, their energies devoted so fully to psychology. A typical Bourgeois sculpture reads well from one direction, sometimes two, seldom three. They bristle with undeniable emotion, but it seems trapped or muffled by compositional timidity. Troubled odes to human coupling, between the genders and the generations, they look too much like non-art looking like art to succeed fully as art. Even this partial success often outperforms a great many artists, but seeing her up against herself, I conclude that her prominence would survive a remeasuring of her visual achievement, and ought to be made to do so.

Louise Bourgeois: Couple, 2001, fabric, 20 x 6 1/2 x 3 inches. Collection of Jerry Gorovoy, New York, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

Louise Bourgeois: Seven in a Bed, 2001, fabric, stainless steel, glass, and wood, 68 x 33 1/2 x 34 1/2 inches. Collection of the artist, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child, 2002, fabric, stainless steel, glass, and wood, 70 x 35 x 21 inches. Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 2005

Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child, detail




October 30, 2006, 12:23 PM

I admire Bourgeois for her persitstence and long life but her work is as inert, clunky and lifeless as anything can be.



October 30, 2006, 12:29 PM

Some people just live longer than they should. Her work really is uninteresting lifeless politically correct doo doo



October 30, 2006, 3:17 PM

Wow, human. I didn't know there was someone around here rougher on bad art than I am. Except Jack, maybe.



October 30, 2006, 6:06 PM

When younger I allways wondered how this "little old lady" could wack at marble and make such Michealangeloesque life-like fragments of the human body - well was I nieve.
And who was it that wrote something like "when in doubt, put it in a vitrine..."?
I like watching her interviews on video however.



October 30, 2006, 6:06 PM

actually, i felt bad about the living too long part. Just doing that should should merit something or not. But the work is soooo bad and she is well known so that opens her up for tough crits



October 30, 2006, 6:30 PM

Jack is not at all sure sincerity per se is as much a factor as as a kind of exhibitionism which has proven highly successful, and not only completely accepted but warmly encouraged by all the right people. He also wonders about the role of settling, or trying to settle, old accounts by airing dirty laundry in various permutations, which can get rather tiresome.

But all of that is potentially beside the point. The only real point is the quality or success of the work as such, whether by Bourgeois or anybody else. Her motivation, intent, message, etc. only interest me insofar as the work does, as art, and the more I see by her, the weaker she looks. Her status and associated hagiography are entirely irrelevant (except that the greater the discrepancy between official standing and my perception of the work, the more resistant I become to the work).

To be blunt and highly incorrect, in the context of art, I simply don't care what the artist went through or is trying to convey if the work does not work for me as such. I'm not a therapist, and I'm sure as hell not Oprah. I want what I want from art, and I don't take substitutes, no matter how luxuriant the wall text.



October 30, 2006, 8:47 PM

Guys, you are just envious and since Louise Bourgeois $ell$ her sculpture and has museums for her then she is a Geniu$!
If you don't sell most of your art this means that you are no good and knowone cares about your art.



October 30, 2006, 9:39 PM

Success and longevity or no, Louise Bourgeois isn't a sculptor's sculptor.



October 30, 2006, 10:27 PM

Were you wearing cester during your visit to Wusta? Some kind of polycester blend, perhaps? And when did this become a fashion blog, anyway? I thought fashion was verboten here. Next you're going to report on your matching leather goods. What has the world come to.



October 30, 2006, 11:19 PM

God damn it! I need an editor.

It's fixed.



October 30, 2006, 11:46 PM

I keep looking at these images in light of how Bourgeois currently stands in the scheme of things. The incongruity seems greater with each look. If I didn't know better, Franklin, I'd think you deliberately picked the least flattering pieces in the show for this post. Certainly, if these are supposed to be the highlights, there's a serious lack of correlation.



October 31, 2006, 12:08 AM

Franklin, I think you should archive those funny faux pas-ses. So we can all take a break from our highly intent seriousness once in a while. Or maybe I'm just drunk on scotch.



October 31, 2006, 12:10 AM

And the "Drunk Test" doesn't make the Bourgeois or however the hell you spell it any better. A good test, if you ask me.



October 31, 2006, 12:11 AM

Damn, I spelt it correctily.



October 31, 2006, 7:23 AM

Bourgeois is an interesting case, Jack, because her work has intricacy and "meaning" and all the accoutrements people look for in art these days, but is utterly lacking in even the slightest esthetic felicity. Any common object could better serve as art than what she does. I may criticise Scully and Marden as "not good enough" but they are in a different universe. Even awful artists like Hirst come up with dramatic gimmicks and give one something to bitch about. There is "art" there, bad as it is. Bourgeois is simply out of the loop.



October 31, 2006, 10:15 AM

I know, OP. I remember her MOCA show here not long ago, which was probably a lot like the one Franklin just saw. I did my duty, so to speak; I gave the stuff a chance, going round and round the vitrines and what not, but I wound up feeling foolish. It was like, What the hell am I doing bothering with these dour, dreary, dumpy dolls? It made me angry I'd gone in the first place, because it meant I had, to some extent, bought into the ridiculously high status currently assigned to Bourgeois.

I don't care where she's coming from; her personal issues and childhood traumas are her business, not mine, and they do not entitle her to my notice as an artist--only good enough work does. It's not just that the work is, as you say, largely inert, labored and clunky, but that it presumes to be visual art based primarily on non-visual content. Nothing that fails visually interests me as visual art--it's that simple.

Furthermore, there's a definite sense that one is supposed to take this work seriously because of what it's based on, or its ideology, or its moral (or moralizing) tone, as if that were enough by itself. It isn't, not in the context of art, and I reject and resent any suggestion that it should be.



October 31, 2006, 10:46 AM

"dour, dreary, dumpy dolls?"
I love the alliteration Jack !
One could also add: depressing, desperate, droopy, disembodied, discarnate, dismantled...



October 31, 2006, 11:47 AM

A small interview from the late 1980s with her photo on the cover in black and white, features a photo of a cave-like installation about a last meal with the father...can't find the image now but the soft, abject and encompassing quality of that sculpture stays with me, assuming an anti-aesthetic and abject quality I find formally liberating: not unlike a field painting that encompasses a format yet shifts with various eddies and flows through the space. She does well with encompassing environments, like the cells in the Brooklyn Museum retrospective, and the woven stack of pillows with "Don't Abandon Me" at Cheim & Reid that reprise her 1940s totems softly, yet are sharp and moving. The closed and finite shapes of dolls are difficult and suspending them in the vitrines is a way to lighten and break the monotony of the forms. Perhaps too the vitrines are later versions of the cells, by necessity if not choice. I don't know, but she has been so important to me, she is permissive and free, allowing psychology to shape aesthetics. Perhaps it is not disciplined, but it opens and liberates possibilities. She was a pioneer, as were many others. What do you think of Leonora Carrington?



October 31, 2006, 12:35 PM

I hadn't heard of Leonora Carrington, and didn't like what I could find on her. I hardly like any of the surrealists, though. Maybe Ernst, and not much else.

...suspending them in the vitrines is a way to lighten and break the monotony of the forms.

That's a surprising statement. The vitrines further make them seem like lumps.

Apparently we have annoyed KH. It also looks like we have inspired some pot/kettle type comments from Mek. I hope I can find some way to live with myself.



October 31, 2006, 12:47 PM

I disagree about the vitrines, because they suspend the forms, elevating their lumpy shapes.
What is your opinion about Barnaby Furnas' work, now on at Marianne Boesky.



October 31, 2006, 12:51 PM

EC, thank you for your thoughtfully phrased and intelligent disagreement with our negative view of the Bourgeois work. I wish we could arouse more of this kind of thing on this blog.

I would respectfully respond that is appears that you are reacting to the theatrical aspects of the work rather than the visual, and that by "formally liberating" you mean "liberating from considerations of form", which is further enphasized by your appreciation of something as "anti-esthetic". This may very well "liberate possibilities", if I understand your meaning there, but more often that not this liberating of possibilities amounts to the destruction - in the name of our current mania for "freedom" and "breaking the rules" - of useful conventions which are at the heart of art-making - something like sending teams out to play in the superbowl and telling them to just "do your own thing".

I can see an appreciation of her work in a theatrical sense, but even then it fails for me. The simple clunkiness and painful obviousness - at least of what I have seen - precludes that. And of course it then has to compete with actual theater, which would be deadly. I actually caught myself admiring the vitrine in one of those pictures above! This is just bad work.

As for Leonora Carrington, I seem to remember this, "Magic realism", isn't it, like Darryl Austin? I recall hating it.



October 31, 2006, 1:01 PM

I think it's a matter of perspective or priorities, as usual. There's no question Bourgeois is more serious and respectable than a posturing clown like Hirst, whose greatest talent seems to be coming up with creative titles for overblown and ultimately cheesy gimmicks. The problem with her work is that its reach exceeds its grasp except on a non-visual, non-physical level. Maybe that's all she cares to do, but I expect it's also the best she can do. I understand that for some people that's enough, which is fine for them, but I don't just want the idea of the thing--I want and expect to be satisfied by the thing itself.



October 31, 2006, 1:18 PM

Thorny questions, all.
It's true studying with Allan Kaprow, Chris Burden and Mike Kelley in California guaranteed rule breaking as a fundamental component in my education. When I began to paint, rule breaking presented itself as a was part of the situation (Albert Ohelen, Schnabel, Stephen Parino, etc. etc.) I know better now but relish the freedom and invention in many approaches--Jockum Nordstrom, Darger, Charles Garabedian, Neil Welliver, Alex Katz (not all Katz; visited on this blog before), early Yuskavage watercolors and Bad Girls paintings. I love the effort, the thinking and yes, the objects, with all of their inherent characteristics--Nordstrom's tentative erasures and quivering line, yuskavage's plump and sexual, boundary-less forms in the earliest work. These artists, in various ways, tie to tradition yet are able to convey an internal quality that glows with invention. I suppose this informs my feeling about Bourgeois--maybe theatricality, but it takes me somewhere--not to the dynamic, external points of the large white statuary in the Louvre, but an internal, dark, cave-like space that may be conceptual--theatrical--I liked it there.
Welliver: mined a narrow realm, delicously, for what it was worth. Bless him.
Garabedian: insane, totally himself. Bless him.
Rigor is rigor and sometimes there is release.
Stones or Beatles? DeKooning or Pollock?



October 31, 2006, 1:30 PM

Sometimes breaking rules is like breaking rocks. When you are through you've got --- rubble.

All art, as it developes, proceeds toward narrowness. All great art is made within very tight limits. We have been confusing freedom with expression for long enough. We need to get smarter about what we are doing.



October 31, 2006, 1:37 PM

They suspend the forms, at the expense of entombing them under glass like an embalmed saint, with equal implications about their liveliness. Nah, I'm not buying it.

Furnas doesn't exhibit any virtue I find in Cecily Brown in greater quantity. Or Jordan Massengale, for that matter.

These artists, in various ways, tie to tradition yet are able to convey an internal quality that glows with invention.

This I would concur is the crux of the matter, but I don't see it in Bourgeois to the extent that I see it in Philip Guston, who would be my baseline for faux-naif theatricality. Again, she's not bereft of qualities, but her works carry much less weight than I've seen attributed to them.

Seconding Opie's praise of EC's intelligent disagreement. You're welcome here.

Welliver can be great. There's a print show of his up at MIT that I'd like to cover if I haven't missed the damn thing.



October 31, 2006, 3:06 PM

Welliver can be great. There's a print show of his up at MIT that I'd like to cover if I haven't missed the damn thing.

Whoa, how did I not know about that? I'm falling out of touch. Looks like it's still up through January, actually, so maybe I'll get to see it in a month or two when I actually have a few minutes to spare once again. Even better, it's not at the List Art Center, which gives me the heebie jeebies (not so much the building as the people.)



October 31, 2006, 3:20 PM

Franklins right, I have been supressing my innate virtuosic inclinations in an attempt to make styleless pictures.



October 31, 2006, 4:18 PM

You are funny Jordan. By all means, go indulge those virtuosic inclinations!



October 31, 2006, 8:33 PM

Theatricality and rubble. Something about Bourgeois--and then I'm tired--is the way she piles form. Piles are such a strong visual metaphor. Piles are also in Guston, come to think of it-. Guston, who opened the window and let in some air, showed us what the inside looked like--not just the fact he was lonely, painting or dying, but what that looked like it felt. Letting the viscous paint lick the surface and depict some sad old hand at the same time, is great to me.
When I saw the Darger retrospectiveat the Folk Art Museum on Columbus Circle (late 90s) my art training collapsed before me: his work was electric and Darger didn't even draw. It was great theater, in two dimensions and it holds me to this day.
But I have to concede that theater isn't the same as a tough minded painting, which is why Barnaby Furnas, with his great promise, crushes my hoe with his current show at Boesky. I can also agree, from experience, that painting gets narrower as the artist continues working. The concerns boil and reduce, distilling into the late work. But narrow means, and looks like, different things for different artists. Plus, the perameters artists set for themselves are themselves defined in the distillation of the work--the program isn't always pre-set as the artist sets off on his or her adventures.
For now, Furnas pours, and Cecily stacks her forms in deKooningesque space, what will they find. Seek and respond.
This has been a lot of fun. I will check back in a few days.



October 31, 2006, 8:35 PM

er, excuse me, hope, parameters.



October 31, 2006, 9:37 PM

It seems that at least some ardent admirers of Bourgeois are very invested in her personally--her life experience, her response to it, her trajectory, her ideas, philosophy and so forth. That's fine, but no matter how admirable, sympathetic, congenial or appealing she might be personally, on either an emotional or intellectual level (or both), her work must stand on its own and be judged for itself.

It ultimately doesn't matter how resonant, therapeutic or cathartic it was for her to make it, how utterly she may have poured herself into it, or how earnestly she wishes to communicate with the viewer. That is all well and good, and potentially very helpful, but it guarantees little or nothing in terms of the quality of the work as art, specifically visual art. The same goes for the best and noblest intentions, the most passionate devotion, and/or the most heroic effort.

What that can guarantee is a certain level of seriousness, concentration and, for lack of a better term, integrity. This is invariably respectable on principle and may be quite impressive, especially in the context of what the art world has become (despite its risible pretensions to the contrary). Bourgeois has paid her dues and stayed the course, longer than most, which further enhances her perceived stature. I'm reminded of Queen Victoria, who was once rather unpopular, but held her ground so firmly for so long that she became a kind of secular deity.

The bottom line, of course, the primacy of the quality of the work as such, as art, remains immutable and unmoved, not to say implacable. It doesn't care about the artist personally, or the artist's intentions, or even the artist's integrity. It only cares about the end result, the work produced, in and of itself.



October 31, 2006, 10:58 PM

By the way, Jordan (#27), you could do worse than virtuosity, official PC scruples (or insecurity) notwithstanding. Much worse. Examples are all too plentiful, practically everywhere one looks. I can't imagine you've failed to notice. Even if that's all you had to offer, it could still blow away much of the competition, which offers rather less.


Marc Country

November 2, 2006, 11:12 AM

Touching on Ahab's comment, I'd offer that "sculptures" probably isn't a very helpful word to use do describe these things. Sure, they are objects, but they have more to do (in their 'theatricality') with installation than sculpture, per se.

"Dioramas" isn't quite right either... "Tableaux" might be the right word...


david rohn

November 3, 2006, 9:37 AM

quite alot of Bourgois bashing tho I have to admit I ve long thought her work, which has gone thru decades of acceptance, regection and being completely ignored, is ,now that she is ancient and an institution, a bit over-rated,Does this happen when artists live forever? Maybe.But her work does have a look and it certainly has a presence, not least in the more installation aspect: The last Dokumenta had a few thousand sq. metres of her work and it really seemed like too much. And the story is that there are assistants who are making it all . Well that s fine as long as they re not stamping it out like a bunch of widgets.
Another thing to remember is that Bourgois' work was mature and definite and strtong when feminism came 'in' in the '70''s and she has since been a standard bearer for that set of concerns; As a man I woouldn t dare venture to evaluate her oeuvre in this context.
On the other hand I agree with Jordan: the vitrines do damage to her work. I feel it s strenght most in the large, pendulous, charred looking shapes. They re terrifyinf /horrifying! when instead they re put into steel vitrines they become remote expensive objects.(I wonder if she even knows about these vitrines - they seem so antitheticalto her work).- At her best,(for this artist) Bourgoise is more like Francis Bacon than Marcel Broodthears or Richard Serra.


Marc Country

November 3, 2006, 10:32 AM

... which brings us to the Bacon Test...



November 3, 2006, 7:01 PM

The Bacon Test can be carried out in any venue whatsoever - beware the artwork that is less satisfactory than a side of bacon.



November 4, 2006, 7:09 AM

What is "the Bacon Test" ?



November 4, 2006, 10:41 AM

Look at the artwork, think of bacon, and your prevailing preference proves the point. Try this anywhere.



November 5, 2006, 7:10 PM

Hmmm. It's clear there is a desire on this blog to evaluate objects on their own merits--disengaged from history, concept, biography. So when looking at work, would considering previous exhibitions of the artist's work interfere with assessing the art ? Would previous exhibitions create a biography or conceptual history outside of the integrity of the object, or would it supplement the current alteration of form? What if an object doesn't look like art? Where is the border between a new approach to transcendance--and Friedian theatricality (Art and Objecthood--the self-reflexiveness of the art object)? Is theatricality manipulation? Is it kitsch, pandering to base emotions? Is it too easy.

In Art and Kitsch Greenberg measures high art by its ability to provoke contemplative distance. Does this continue to be an aesthetic measure? Many comments in this thread express the desire for a transformative use of materials that operates exclusively on a visual level. Do I understand correctly that Surrealism, symbols, text, paint applications that bend or undermine understanding of concepts (such as kitsch techniques) distract and debase genuine formal innovation?

How does digital information, the newspaper and daily life enter in distinguishing between pure form, rigor and spectacle.



November 5, 2006, 7:52 PM

So when looking at work, would considering previous exhibitions of the artist's work interfere with assessing the art ?

Depends on what you mean by "considering." Looking at previous exhibitions with a critical eye would help, not interfere. Bourgeois's stone sculpture, which I have seen elsewhere, comes off better than anything I saw in this show. Other kinds of consideration will yield mixed results depending on your eye.

It's not that the biography, concept, and history isn't important - it's that it's not good. Or bad. It's content that may be worth getting into once the object succeeds on a formal level. So it goes for symbols and whatnot. Objects that don't succeed formally may be interesting because of the content or reasons extrinsic to the object (such as the artist's biography). As I've put it elsewhere, something with a lot of extrinsic value is interesting. It is good or not for formal, intrinsic reasons. It's important not to conflate them.



November 5, 2006, 8:27 PM



Marc Country

November 5, 2006, 10:42 PM

EC, are you asking, why is it important not to confuse distinctions, such as between the "good" and the merely "interesting"? My guess is, that we experience these things as distinct, and so, if we hope to learn anything from our objective experience, we attempt to conceptualize these disctinctions between things and categories, using words like good, less good, interesting, bad, etc...

Or, as Noam Chomsky put it...
"In particular, I don't know the answers to such elementary questions as these: Are conclusions to be consistent with premises (maybe even follow from them)? Do facts matter? Or can we string together thoughts as we like, calling it an "argument," and make facts up as we please, taking one story to be as good as another? There are certain familiar ground rules: those of rational inquiry. They are by no means entirely clear, and there have been interesting efforts to criticize and clarify them; but we have enough of a grasp to proceed over a broad range. What seems to be under discussion here is whether we should abide by these ground rules at all (trying to improve them as we proceed). If the answer is that we are to abide by them, then the discussion is over: we've implicitly accepted the legitimacy of rational inquiry. If they are to be abandoned, then we cannot proceed until we learn what replaces the commitment to consistency, responsibility to fact, and other outdated notions. Short of some instruction on this matter, we are reduced to primal screams. I see no hint in the papers here of any new procedures or ideas to replace the old, and therefore remain perplexed."



November 5, 2006, 11:14 PM

Chomsky, feh. Life is already confusing enough.

It's important not to conflate them because they achieve different ends by different means. They're as different as the color blue and the triangle - not mutually exclusive, but different classes of things.

This is central to my whole deal, so allow me to elaborate: If a restaurant critic wrote, "I think food should taste good," nobody would regard that as a radical statement. In fact, readers would respond with, basically, Duh. Likewise, I think art should look good. Does that mean that we should disregard art's intellectual component? Hardly. Food has a huge intellectual component - enormous intelligence goes into the production and appreciation of food, spanning biology, chemistry, geography, and even literature. But if you don't like how something tastes, none of that matters much. The sensory experience is primary. I take the same approach to art.



November 5, 2006, 11:33 PM

Maybe instead of saying "Art should look good," which can be misinterpreted, you should say "Art should be visually satisfying." Actually, it must be, otherwise it has failed as visual art, assuming that's what it aspired to be. If it aspired to be something else, then it should be so treated and considered.



November 6, 2006, 12:26 AM

Theatricality, being a description of what it's like at the theatre, or cinema, or act of some kind, is at its best when brought to bear in a play, or movie, or show. It makes no sense for a playwright or theatre critic to tout the sculptural qualities of a performance; why can a sculptor or art critic get away with such non-sense?



November 6, 2006, 9:26 AM

The Chomsky quote is good and addresses the matter.
Because visual satisfaction varies from person to person, setting a measure can be tricky. That is the enterprise, right? That's what we do.
Some believe formal properties stand alone. Others see them in relation with other factors or structures. Networks as a concept can be applied as a visual structure in let's say Julie Merhutu's or Mark Lombardi's work to very different ends. Those ends might be theatrical, or simple-minded, or fabulous--that is up to each person to decide. But what is at question is the impact that the idea of networks would have on the formal structure of the work. Guston conflated Krazy Kat and 1950s abstraction in the late paintings because both informed his visual field. Guston's bio INFORMS but does not REPLACE his artistic trajectory but I'm not sure his work or anyone's, can stand alone outside of society. To resist or embrace those factors in the work is an aesthetic decision and another story. This touches on the point about criticism as well, why would a theatre critic talk about the sculptural quality of a play? Well, if s/he saw it in those terms, why wouldn't they? Don't people hear sound in terms of color, or see geometry in space? Are rigid categories somehow purer than cross references? How do those distinctions apply outside of the willful decision to make it so?
I dimly recall Michael Fried's Art and Objecthood as a narrative exposition about Fried's encounter with nature and likening it to his response to art. If I understand Fried correctly, formally reductive works such as Stella's black paintings or Judd's boxes offer an experience of self-reflection that allows viewers larger insight into the mechanism of their perception. The contained and self-reflexive nature of reductive work becomes its function. Bourgeois' cells and cave (specifically) emphasize visual and psychological immersion, shifting the theatrical mode to the suspension of disbelief. Commentors on this blog do not experience suspension or imersion with the work in Boston or possibly even the cells, because they lack inherent formal structure...but now we are back to issues of pollution, spectacle, standards.
Bachelard's Poetics of Space purports that poetry alters memory and future, adding visual associations that reshape both directions. If we agree, how do formal elements remain discrete?
These are questions best answered in painting, but the discussion is exciting.



November 6, 2006, 9:59 AM

“Every novel created with real passion aspires quite naturally to a lasting aesthetic value, meaning to a value capable of surviving its author. To write without having that ambition is cynicism: a mediocre plumber may be useful to people, but a mediocre novelist who consciously produces books that are ephemeral, commonplace, conventional – thus not useful, thus burdensome, thus noxious – is contemptible. This is the novelist's curse: his honesty is bound to the vile stake of his megalomania.”

Milan Kundera
excerpted from “What is a Novelist?”, The New Yorker, October 9, 2006

I think the same applies to any artist who is serious about his art.



November 6, 2006, 10:18 AM

The networks, as you're calling them, have an enormous impact on the formal results of the work. Like I said above, they're not unimportant, but they're not good. At issue for me is how good Bourgeois's work is, and I found this batch of it wanting for quality. Executed with more flair, the emotional content that this work is supposed to contain would have carried. It didn't. Guston proves this - for all the weirdness of his later paintings, they set up and hold, practically in spite of the content. Content does not want to organize itself, so marshalling it into an effective statement requires enormous formal gifts.


Marc Country

November 6, 2006, 11:05 AM

I took Franklin's use of the word "conflated" in #43, to mean confused, as opposed to fused. Of course, one can fuse the good with the interesting, but they ARE still distinguishable, so we should don't imagine or pretend they aren't, if we are to show respect for reality.

Franklin's use of the food analogy is good (and interesting)... when the critic says something tastes 'interesting', it is wise not to assume this therefore means the food is "good".


Marc Country

November 6, 2006, 11:11 AM

Re: "feh",
As Greenberg said, "I'm a highbrow, what are you?"
Chomsky is a rationalist... what are you?



November 6, 2006, 7:45 PM

T-shirt: "I'm a highbrow, what are you?"



November 6, 2006, 7:48 PM

Did CG really say that? That's great. It'd work for the shirt too. I'll save it.

Chomsky ends a line of reasoning "reduced to primal screams" and they call that rationalism?



November 6, 2006, 8:46 PM

T-shirt: "I'm a highbrow, what are you?"

Just high,

I'm a minimalist.



November 6, 2006, 9:35 PM

I'm a minimalist. Formally or conceptually?



November 6, 2006, 9:44 PM

Not sure, it went up in smoke



November 6, 2006, 11:00 PM

Like you've never been reduced to "aaarghh!" after a little reasoned holding forth, Franklin.

However, it's as though you can see Chomsky thinking right there on the page.



November 6, 2006, 11:05 PM

You can see him confusing himself right there on the page.

Are conclusions to be consistent with premises (maybe even follow from them)? Do facts matter? Or can we string together thoughts as we like, calling it an "argument," and make facts up as we please, taking one story to be as good as another?

Yes. Yes. No.



November 6, 2006, 11:17 PM

Weren't they " *rhetorical* " questions?



November 7, 2006, 9:05 AM

Rational, classicism, rules. Fundamental methodologies with outcomes. Holding the line. Darger's work must then be incidental? I'd like to hear some thoughts on that.
It has been great.
Bye for now.



November 7, 2006, 11:24 AM

Ahab, he says he doesn't know the answers to "elementary questions like these." Just trying to help.

For crying out loud, EC, I've had to clean up three double posts by you on this thread alone. Click once.

I'm led to understand that Darger was extremely self-critical. Apparently he developed his complicated tracing system because he felt that his drawing skills were inadequate. It's not a matter of rationality, methodology, rules, or holding the line. It's a matter of intuitive striving towards high standards.



November 7, 2006, 12:21 PM

Franklin I apologize for the double posts.
Intuitive striving for higher standards, yes.
The model for those standards prompts my musings...
I understand Chomsky's rhetoric and share Kundera's faith.
Must go.



November 7, 2006, 12:21 PM

Franklin I apologize for the double posts.
Intuitive striving for higher standards, yes.
The model for those standards prompts my musings...
I understand Chomsky's rhetoric and share Kundera's faith.
Must go.



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