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Discontent roundup

Post #948 • January 30, 2007, 5:43 PM • 26 Comments

Peter Schjeldahl, December 18, 2006:

I disliked the nineties. I knew what all the righteously posturing art was for, but not whom it was for. It invoked a mythical audience, whose supposed assumptions were supposedly challenged. I missed the erotic clarity of commerce - I give you this, you give me that - and was glad when creative spunk started leeching back into unashamedly pleasurable forms. Then came this art-industrial frenzy, which turns mere art lovers into gawking street urchins. Drat.

Holland Cotter, January 16, 2007:

Is contemporary art largely a promotional scam perpetuated by - in no particular order of blame - museums, dealers, critics, historians, collectors, art schools and anyone else who has a sufficient personal, professional or financial investment riding on the scam to want to keep it afloat?

Jerry Saltz, January 18, 2007:

The current market feeds the bullshit machine, provides cover for a lot of vacuous behavior, revs us up while wearing us down, breeds complacency, and is so invasive that it forces artists to regularly consider issues of celebrity, status, and money in their studios. ... Much confusion stems from there being no new, cogent Theory of the Market, no philosophy that addresses the ways in which the ongoing feeding frenzy is affecting the production, presentation, and reception of art. Nothing we say about the market adds up, partly because "the market" isn't really an autonomous subject. It's a diversionary tactic - essentially, a blend of economics, history, psychology, stagecraft, and lifestyle; an unregulated field of commerce governed by desire, luck, stupidity, cupidity, personal connections, connoisseurship, intelligence, insecurity, and whatever.

Charlie Finch, January 29, 2007 (via):

The high-end market just described is the seeking of surplus capital for true value, which lands on a work of art, because that work of art is perceived as unique, often in a highly arbitrary manner that disregards questions of esthetics and connoisseurship. ... Such distortions affect the traditional ways we think about the art market. Block discounts of an artist's entire body of work, from a hedge perspective, turn into block appreciation: each work is worth more in a group than individually. Appreciation in value over time, such as occurred with Dreier's Duchamps, no longer exists. As in day trading on the stock exchange, profit becomes a function of trading rather than holding. Connoisseurship yields to branding. The individual qualities of a painting by Jenny Saville matter less than the fact that the painting is by Jenny Saville.

Jed Perl, January 30, 2007 (via):

The people who are buying and selling the most highly priced contemporary art right now - think of them as the laissez-faire aesthetes - believe that any experience that anyone can have with a work of art is equal to any other. They imagine that the most desirable work of art is the one that inspires a range of absolutely divergent meanings and impressions almost simultaneously. ... The essential problem in the art world today is that in almost every area, from the buying and selling of contemporary art to the programs of our greatest museums, there is an obsession with appealing to the largest imaginable audience. And in practice this means always operating as if painting and sculpture were a dimension of popular culture. ... The problem, again, is not with popular culture, but with the wholesale imposition of its methods and values on an alien terrain. It is this muddling of the realms that fuels the insane art commerce of our day. When we see artists whose careers are barely a decade old dominating the auction rooms, with their work selling for millions of dollars, we are being told that a widespread consensus can crystallize in a moment - and this is a pop culture idea. So, for that matter, is the idea that the way for a museum to attract an audience is by creating a sexy new addition where people can see and be seen. One of the tragedies of the past few decades has been that the museums have lost faith in their own permanent collections, where visitors were once invited to engage, one by one, with works created by the masters, one by one.

Peter Plagens, January 2007 (via; note is Tyler's):

Exceptions [to reader disinterest in art critics] exist - as with the lead critics for a few of the major dailies -- but they don't abound. More and more people in the audience for contemporary art would rather read Tyler Green snark somebody in his blog, Modern Art Notes, than ponder the considered judgment of Michael Kimmelman on a MoMA retrospective. Many art writers have either added unpaid blogging to their activities or been squeezed into it from want of other, traditional outlets -- for which many bloggers don't have enough writerly inclination or discipline, anyway. Each of those art bloggers has a following of fans and other bloggers, and each of those bloggers has... and so on. A growing form of art criticism consists of posting links to other people's criticism, which consists of posting links... and so on.




Marc Country

January 30, 2007, 7:04 PM

Dude... I should totally post a link to this on my blog. Thanks Franklin.



January 30, 2007, 8:52 PM

But all of these people, all of them, actively contribute to the very thing they here deplore. Physician, heal thyself.



January 30, 2007, 9:27 PM

Jerry S. sums it up perfectly. The nineties slickism and aloof coolness in art still resonate today. Jed perl hits on something - contemporary bordom. This seems similar to the rise of the middle classes and the industrial revolution which, has been supplanted in our time with electronic technology. Museums need to have " Awesome, Hot, New..." shows in order to attract an audience. John Berger's comments about " mystification" also come to mind, as does Marshal McLuhan's phophetic views.



January 31, 2007, 12:30 AM

Top Web Results for "phophetic"
No results found for phophetic.
Did you mean phosphatic (in dictionary) or Phonetic (in encyclopedia)?



January 31, 2007, 12:34 AM

Thanks for calling out my spelling mistake ahab. Now things are more clear. Happy New Years!



January 31, 2007, 12:51 AM

I agree, not every spelling mistake is a laughing matter.


Marc Country

January 31, 2007, 2:48 AM

Phonetic = of or relating to spoken language or speech sounds.

Considering McLuhan was an english professor, I pick this one, ahab.

But seriously, folks, like opie says, (and in contrast to jm's remark on MM) these critics quoted are, like, the opposite of prophetic... more like, a day late and a few dollars short.

(Now, of course, I expect some smarty-pants here to come up with the fancy-pants word that IS the opposite of "prophetic")... Epiphetic, maybe? Just a wild guess...



January 31, 2007, 5:45 AM

Interestingly enough, all of these posted snippets by Franklin reveal a disdain that resemble my personal views as well regarding the current short term patterns.
But I must ask myself and others: If you were in the current mix would these ( the above listed ) critic's comments matter ? Could anyone making and selling art (especially painting) blow off Jerry Salz ? What are his aesthetic, theoretical and judicial concerns - or why should one care ? If he writes a favourable article about some art, will everyone come and buy it up ? Do Elizabeth Peytons paintings really suck that much?
In the past, it seemed to be that every few years something created by really talented people had a profundity that was measurable by a criteria which had more to do with science, philosophy, theology etc. and little in common with up-to-date technology, marketing, and mass public response/awareness.
If I choose to respect the thoughts and views of brilliant writers and proclaimed soothsayers, does this really matter in a world where war is not only physical but also virtual and economic? These art critics above, would most likely agree that the focus of art has lost it's primary function(s). Yet are they, as Opie stated, not part of what they complain about too ?
My undergraduate papers on Constuctivism and Supremetism reflect a "world that I would want to live in".
An Art that has a function beyond the obvious. An Art that is usefull on a multifaceted level. Rest in peace Rothko. Has modernism failed ? Yes it has, due to a percieved global market economy and the general neglect by the masses of any utopian vision whatsoever.



January 31, 2007, 5:57 AM

I forgot to mention that Art can also be the ultimate war machine - one that some have not yet finished building.


Bunny Smedley

January 31, 2007, 7:49 AM

Much confusion stems from there being no new, cogent Theory of the Market, no philosophy that addresses the ways in which the ongoing feeding frenzy is affecting the production, presentation, and reception of art.

Alternatively, perhaps at least a few of these people spend far too much time theorising about 'the market' (whatever that's taken to mean), as opposed to writing about what they actually see?

My own impression of the 1990s is that plenty of worthwhile and interesting work was created then, but not necessarily by the sort of people who end up having their shows reviewed in national publications.



January 31, 2007, 7:55 AM

Dear me, JM. Artists need to keep off those "multifaceted levels" if at all possible. Some wise folks see them as "slippery slopes".

Google kicks back 1,790 returns for "phophetic". My guess, and Google's, is that just about every one is a misspelling of "prophetic".



January 31, 2007, 11:09 AM

Phophetic: pseudoprophetic, a contraction of phony prophetic.



January 31, 2007, 11:13 AM

Photalented: Freudian slip in place of "so talented."



January 31, 2007, 11:58 AM

Opie I agree with you, though I would give some credit to Schjeldahl for his description of a "mythical audience, whose supposed assumptions were supposedly challenged". But I doubt that it means he is in the process of healing. Should we send them all "get well soon" cards?


Marc Country

January 31, 2007, 12:42 PM

Jack, I guess phophetic is a little like 'faux-phetic'.

Ok, so, instead of giving these boys a hard time, I suppose we should welcome them aboard... but the question remains, now what, and the ball is definitely in their court, as far as art wrtiting goes... the rest of us will go on making it, either way, in our own way.



January 31, 2007, 1:08 PM

Schjeldahl can be pretty sharp when it comes to describing the "scene", as I noted on this page last month, Catfish, but the comment about the "mythical audience" would have been stronger if he had continued with "the mythical idea that 'challenging' had anything to do with why art is any good in the first place".

The problem with these guys is that they are pop writers and it doesn't pay to really think things through. That and the unfortunate fact that none of then can tell good art from bad. I have the same problem with Robert Hughes, as entertaining as he certainly is.



January 31, 2007, 1:17 PM

They deserve some credit for saying it, even if it's a case of wanting to have one's cake and eat it, too. The problem is that the whole system is so out of whack, not to say corrupt, that it's extremely difficult to be part of it in any official or formal way without becoming contaminated or perverted to some degree. The system clearly rewards adherence, or at least acquiescence, and just as clearly, however covertly or indirectly, penalizes the opposite. It is to its advantage to contaminate as many as possible as much as possible, much like what happens in totalitarian societies or, say, the traditional Mafia system. The dirtier the hands, the less likely the rejection of or opposition to the system.



January 31, 2007, 1:34 PM

I'm sure I've said it before, but the main problem is not so much the critics, such as they are, but the nature and number of sufficiently moneyed collectors or would-be collectors who are anything but truly discriminating, and who are astonishingly ready to throw good money (lots of it) after bad or at best mediocre work. As long as the money is there to hold up the rotting carcass and make it cosmetically presentable, the viewing of the corpse can continue unabated. Call it the Lenin Syndrome.



January 31, 2007, 4:05 PM

Jack is unfortunately correct. So as long as there are wealthy people with appalling taste, Pollock paintings will be continue to be collected. For that matter, so as long as there are middle class people with poor taste, Left Behind novels will continue to be published.


Marc Country

January 31, 2007, 4:08 PM

... which (unfortunately, again) goes to prove, there's no accounting for taste.



January 31, 2007, 4:52 PM

Yeah, those pesky Pollocks. What's to be done?


Lux Iconic

February 1, 2007, 9:26 AM

Nice round up of critical discontent.
I've been wondering, is this just a passing of the guard, a case where one generation fulminates over being replaced by the reinvention-minded younger? Most of these critics are high-modernist in their outlook, and so about thirty-five years out of date. Isn't it about time for a change of critical guard?



February 1, 2007, 9:38 AM

Lux: it is about "time" to change them out - not because they are old, not because they are high-modernist, but because they can't see very well. Unfortunately, the prospect for getting better eyes is not good. So we will probably just muddle on.



February 1, 2007, 10:33 AM

And simply insisting that visual art have visual value is now old-fashioned and out of date. If we accept this, whether we are "high modernist" or not, we accept the demise of visual art as art.

And of coursde catfish is right. The real problem with these people is that they can't see. Even if they could they would not buck the crowd. They'd be out of a job.

It's all very well to bemoan a general condition. Everybody loves that. But try being specific, try stating publicly that, say, Jasper Johns is a hopelessly mediocre artist and see what happens.


uslbrf igsunmpdf

February 7, 2007, 2:13 PM

[I don't really see this as adding value somehow. - F.


Marc Country

February 7, 2007, 9:34 PM

Jasper Johns is a hopelessly mediocre artist.



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