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The market for serious work

Post #1125 • February 14, 2008, 6:50 AM • 164 Comments

Brook S. Mason for the Art Newspaper (via AJ):

US dealers are admitting to sluggish sales, hesitant clients and cancelled deals amid continuing financial market woes, which last month saw America’s largest bank, Citigroup, post a $9.8bn fourth-quarter loss.

"Nobody wants to say the sky is falling but perception affects every market and clearly, we are entering a new period in the economy," said Martha Fleischman, president of Kennedy Galleries. "The people who see art as part of their portfolio and like to flip will get an education very quickly this year," she added.

"There are more dealers hanging on by their fingernails but no-one will go on the record," said a prominent art world public relations expert who did not want to be named. "Everyone is wondering if the downturn will be just like 9/11," she added.

Further gloomy analysis follows, but then:

Ann Freedman, Knoedler & Company president, said its Olitski exhibition this winter was sold out. "Many of the paintings could have been sold many times, illustrating the depth of the market for serious work," she said.

I hesitate to make too much of this, but what a refreshing alternative to the "Absurd Work Sells for Millions" story to which I have become accustomed. (I saw said Olitski exhibition and a writeup is forthcoming.)




February 14, 2008, 7:48 AM

The party isn't over yet. Most of the current fears are a result of the financial crisis and the stockmarket decline. The banking/credit issues will take 6-9 months to work out, the stock market is making a bottom.

I happened to see ad in a NY p[aper last summer by a major (well ground floor on a good street) NY Chelsea gallery looking for someone to put the gallery on a profitable footing (implying that all those expensive installations weren't paying the bills)

Art is a luxury item



February 14, 2008, 8:38 AM

Just to be a bit of a skeptic, I think the Olitski story is an exception, not necessarily the "trend". He has for years been our best painter, and I think this show, which was overtly impressive and coincided roughly with the time of his death, merely illustrates that some people are beginning to realize this.

And these paintings were not "million dollar" paintings". Although not exactly cheap they are still a fraction of what any number of lesser painters easily bring.

But it usually takes a big market correction or some social cataclysm to sober up the art market and get it looking at the worthy stuff.



February 14, 2008, 8:40 AM

You are right George, art is a luxury item. Fundamental to your observation, of course, is that it is "an item". Terry Fenton, in his intro to this year's ECAS show, wrote about the participants:

If they share a fundamental value, it's an insistence that the "work of art" is an individual painting or sculpture.

He went on to note that such an insistence has been called into question lately by the champions of installation and performance, then added an astute observation:

Installations tend to disarm criticism of the objects that comprise them by referring to the larger significance of the installation as a whole with its shibboleths of the "isses of" that it "deals with" or "critiques." As a result, when the objects that comprise them are sold they tend to become relics of the whole, like fragments of the true cross or the knucklebones of saints. In contrast, modernist painting and sculpture stands of falls on the quality of work itself; rather than disarming cirticism, it invites it.

Perhaps the hew and cry against criticism so often put on these pages is misdirected somewhat. Fenton shows why it is hard to "criticize" a lot of contemporary work. And you are pointing to something of the same thing when you note that it is hard to sell. What are you buying when you buy an installtion or performance?

In short, if you can't criticize it you can't possess it. It is hard to sell something when the new owner can't have it.



February 14, 2008, 10:15 AM

it's all so corrupted. this circus doesn't really support the kind of work most of us care about. i think you're right catfish. it's really not worth it to try and critique it. modernism provides its own terms for evaluation and Art Mart's relativity makes it an impossibility. i say put your energy into what you do. make it as fucking excellent as you can. make sure it's there when it all goes down and some spirit is alive to show the trendoids and the artworlders what they're missing. good art will always be the starting point for any worthwhile discussion. as long as it keeps getting made it will always have relevance.



February 14, 2008, 10:48 AM

Another fundamental flaw of "issue" work is that because virtually any object or collection of objects (or whatever) can be jimmied into some kind of representation of some "issue" there is little need for much real working out, much density of choice. It's like thinking you've dug a well because you hit a water pipe 2 feet down. There's no depth, no soul, no getting way down to whatever life force comes through in great art.

Not only that, but the artist declares straight out that his or her art is little more than a signpost. Why bother?



February 14, 2008, 10:59 AM

Anything that diverts attention away from the work as such, in and of itself, as an object or item or unit, makes it easier to get away with mediocre or inferior or downright worthless work, because it's no longer about the work per se but about what is said or written about it, or what it supposedly means, or what the artist ostensibly intended, or some such adjunct.

How people of presumably sound mind would ever spend serious money on such easily contrived, manipulated and even fabricated story lines, despite the actual work(s) in question being exceedingly dubious as tangible objects, is certainly of psychological or sociological interest. It does not, however, speak at all well for any number of major collectors, let alone curatorial and institutional types who are clearly expected to know what's what, and certainly present themselves as doing so.



February 14, 2008, 11:00 AM


Hmm, I'm not so sure you're right. (about items being possessible)

I think the real issue is that most new mediums/generas have no history or tradition. This makes it more difficult to establish relative the quality between different works which is the entire basis for criticism.



February 14, 2008, 11:12 AM

there is a pathology to 'issue' art. the social and pscychological issues it wants to address are part of its very make up. it is a symptom of its own rotten selfishness. i could shit ten installations an hour. how about ten shit installations an hour. it's so feckless and homogenous i can't stand it. so obvious and easy. the why and the how of this whole sordid business really scares me. it's just greed and notoriety.

"Density of choice". thanks for that one opie. it musters a seriousness and integrity that i find really comforting.



February 14, 2008, 11:29 AM

some quick hofmann quotes i clipped:

"Every art expression is rooted fundamentally in the personality and temperament of the artist."

"To worship the product and ignore its development leads to dilettantism and reaction. Art cannot result from sophisticated, frivolous, or superficial effects."

"An idea can only be materialized with the help of a medium of expression, the inherent qualities of which must be surely sensed and understood in order to become the carrier of an idea."

"A work of art is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist's world."



February 14, 2008, 11:35 AM

"A work of art is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist's world."

in other words, "if you choose to make art from the worst of ourselves, we will end up with the worst art."



February 14, 2008, 12:22 PM

George: what is possessed is not the item, or whatever the performance/installation is called. Rather you get some spin off. With Christo, the spin off, if it is a drawing, can be and often is of real substance. With many others, it is a video or photograph or other remnant, such as a bad drawing. In all cases, or almost all, what is sold is not "the work".

But if you buy a retrograde painting or sculpture from a retro-mod artist, you at least get "the work" in its entirety. You own the luxury item, qua item, for good or bad. It is hard to say that about a performance or installation.

It might be likened to video stores trying to sell DVDs of movies for hundreds of thousands of dollars as if owning the spinoff is the same as owning the "whole art". The vulgarian in the street doesn't buy that and won't pay much more than $20. But a video of Michelle Hines pooping her way down the Cranbrook bowling alley, that would bring thousands, anyway, if it existed, and probably a video of how she faked her 26 foot long poop would sell for quite a bit more than $20, especially if the things were signed and numbered a la real art.

Looking over this analogy, it is clear it ain't perfect. But I hope it sheds some light on the difference between the spinoff business and the retro-mod drive to sell the whole dang thang, if they sell it. All those oldies for sale at Jacobson Howard are "items", and most of them are indeed "luxurious". And when you buy one, you get the art work, not some theroy.

(Interesting how Jacobson Howard resembles a museum where they sell the holdings instead of trinkets in the gift shop.)



February 14, 2008, 12:58 PM

they have a lot of first-raters on the roster. funny, but i've not come across that site before.

george + catfish,
don't kid yourself about what is being purchased by the big institutions and the real big private collectors. they are buying installation and all its mutations in their entirety in spades. this matter is a bit different for the average monied collector however.

christo is also a bit of a dated model. his drawings as document or fundraiser aren't demonstrative of how things work these days. there are massive contemporary public and private collections out there with conceptual/idea m.o.'s running right through them. they have become the reposits for much of the gobbledegook that gets lent, which is really the process of a con to propagate its own value. in a way these collections have to hustle themselves on the scene. the worst part for me though in all of this is the academic underbelly that fortifies the whole thing. there are so many siver-tongued twits spinning their magic for young minds.



February 14, 2008, 1:28 PM

x: How do you buy an installation in its entirety?

Christo's "outdated model" put together the largest, most expensive, and most successful installtion in the history of art just a couple of years ago in Central Park. It cost millions and he paid for it all without one penny of grant money. He didn't sell it to anybody. It wasn't that bad, either.

I suspect you are getting caught in the assumption that something as old as Christo's method must be "outdated", but must admit you did not offer many clues as to how you reached your conclusion. How did you get there?



February 14, 2008, 1:29 PM


I mean nothing detrimental when I say "art is a luxury item" It is just a fact which has been true for ages. The elite moneyed class has bought and paid for the art, good or bad.

I think it is a mistake to mix up the ancillary works with the performance or installations. These are generally two different things. Using Christo as an example, we have the installation, an ephemeral event which exists only while it is actually viewable. Then you have the documentation which usually is in another media and has to be judged within the framework of that media. In Christo’s case, we can evaluate the drawings, as drawings "of" the installations (the subject of the drawing.) Viewing the drawings as souvenirs makes them something else, but over the long haul the drawings will get judged as drawings.

From a critical standpoint, judging the installation itself becomes more difficult since it is a new genera and there are few benchmarks to go by. Over time this will sort itself out as well.

Regarding ‘retrograde’ painting. I am assuming you mean ‘an out of fashion medium, painting," because otherwise I would suggest you are referring to painting which is not very good or interesting.

I do not know why you think this. There is more painting being done than art in any other medium. The other art you seem to worry about, the mile long poop, etc., well no one here is paying much attention to that at the moment, it seems to have more legs in the provinces. Since painting lost it’s commercial function as a mode of depiction of things, it has been a dead medium.

A dead medium with a tradition. Anyone can pick up a brush, make a mark and call it a painting. We judge whether or not this ‘painting’ is any good via the tradition and how relevant it is at the moment. Once something has moved into history, into the tradition of painting, it cannot be done again. However, it can be redone again with a fresh vision that incorporates what we know of history into the present.

In other words, it is presently impossible to make an Abstract Expressionist painting in the same way it was done in, say 1950. Our age is different, the horrible memories of W.W.II, and the depression, are the subjects of textbooks not lived experience. As a result, a painter today cannot approach the painting in the same way that the painter in 1950 did, it is just not possible. One can emulate what was done then, but the result will be ersatz, unconvincing and forgettable painting.

However, if one pokes around historically, I think you will find that there are several past precedents for AE, precedents which are manifestations of the gestural impulse but different because their cultural context was different. This means that one could approach painting in a gestural way today by being in sync with the present age and not trying to approximate a past style.

Finally, my major gripe at the moment is that painting (and the other stuff too, I guess) is suffering from the pressures to become a product for the luxury market. This is quite evident to me in what is currently exhibited here in NYC, 98% of what I see is being produced as a ‘product’ for the marketplace. I suppose it is a result of the expanded market and the need to pay off student loans.

If I confront other painters on this point, they will deny this of course, but all you have to do is look at the works to know better. For the older readers, the source of this attitude lies in the 60’s notion of ‘series’ which was a method of producing enough paintings to fulfill the need without all the angst, concepts and effort required to make a a sequence of truly investigative paintings.



February 14, 2008, 2:00 PM

almost anything that can be exhibited can be sold. the exclusions are obvious - Christo and a ribbon through the park or anything conditioned by it's emphemerality.

cat, i think we're getting hung up on your use of 'installation'. check out a rag like artforum or art in america. all of that art has a price tag. even the mysterious invisible art the aesthetomancers call concept. i think fenton priviledges the idea of the 'relic' a bit too much. it's flawed because i think the notion comes out of christo and it's really not how it goes these days. as an example, artists build huge wholesale environments inside galleries that are turned around and sold as such cause there's so much money buried in the object and the magical 'marketplace' that anything is possible. seriously though, WTF does market speculation have to do with art at all?

cat, i know because i've taken the time and had the opportunity to get to know how it all works firsthand. but it's really all right there in the art.



February 14, 2008, 2:05 PM

George: there is nothing detrimental at all about saying art is a luxury item. As you say, that is just what it is.

Installations go back as far as Stonehenge. Thus there are plenty benchmarks by which to get a handle on them. My hunch is that Central Park fares pretty well in such a framework.

Yes there are a lot of paintings being painted. And yes it is a "dead" medium. Hence, I call it "retro". But it doesn't have anything to do with WWII in the sense you seem to mean it - after all, what is Iraq? But I go further, luxury items don't have much to do with any war, any social circumstance, anything other than whatever it takes for humans to get off on them.

I like your suggestion of the "investigative painting". If such a painting succeeds, the rest is beside the point unless mulling over all that stuff is what lights your fire enough to drive you into painting. Keeping the fire going is what is necessary. How you do that is up to you and the gods of happenstance.



February 14, 2008, 2:07 PM

x, you still haven't clued me in about how you reached the conclusion that Christo's method is outdated.



February 14, 2008, 2:17 PM

x ... hounding you just a little more. George assumes any method from the 50s is not possible to do validly anymore, but Christo pulled off Central Park just a couple of years ago. And any reasonable definition of "installation" would not exclude this work. And it had no price tag at all - admission was free and it was not for sale.

In short "it's really not how it goes these days" is directly contradicted by Christo's "ribbon through the park", which hapens to be very recent as well as one of the most successful installations of all time. It was breathtaking and very fine and completely free to the public without one dime from public support funds. Instead of setting it aside as an "exclusion," I'd say it is one of the "benchmarks" by which installtions of the future can be measured.



February 14, 2008, 2:27 PM

Catfish, please, it's not Christo, it's Christo and Jeanne-Claude. You must try to be correct about these things; you wouldn't want to be considered gauche. I'm sure George is never gauche, but of course he lives in NY.

Incidentally, after the Central Park bit, I had all my shower curtains redone in saffron. I love that word. It's right up there with magenta and, oooh, porphyry. But I live for art, you know, even when I go to the bathroom.



February 14, 2008, 3:26 PM


please provide another example we can talk about. i've already labelled christo the exception. nothing i have to say about that work includes any real formal evaluation. i don't want to talk about christo's method or his topicality. christo's projects are very singular and specific. i wouldn't want to define 'installation' through christo because it really doesn't have very much scope relative to all the different kinds of schlock that we call installation. fenton's generalization is weak. his idea of the relic that remains after the installation or performance is up just doesn't wash because that does not describe what happens with most of the installation that goes up. even the most complex (physically) work gets bought and sold just like painting and sculpture. the majority of it has no peripheral or specifically saleable attributes. it gets bought and sold and re-installed in its entirety at a later date. the ephemerality of christo's projects/installations/performances/happenings effectively prevent the work from being sold, but that alone is not grounds to elevate the work. i think fenton has a kinda retrograde notion of what an installation is. the pieces are rarely sold separately. no, no. this is the big leagues, son. the vast sums that underpin this whole game allow for the whole thing to be bought and re-installed again and again. nothing is too ridiculous or wasteful. this is contemporary art's dirty little secret right now too. if the notion of sustainability was really brought to bear on this stuff, then the resources and energy spent to realize so much of this stuff would be seem ludicrous. we never stick around for the teardown of the midway do we?

(this is all dependent of course on the physical nature of what the thing is) christo and artists working in similar modes are the exception, and if fenton is pointing to christo, then he is mistaking him for the rule.


Marc Country

February 14, 2008, 3:51 PM

"there are so many silver-tongued twits..."

That's not silver, x: it's polished lead...



February 14, 2008, 3:58 PM

I just had a vision. A bathroom with magenta walls, saffron curtains, and a tub, sink and commode made of porphyry. I'm sure it would qualify as a totally new movement. It just needs the proper theoretical underpinning and good marketing. Maybe a video with Matthew Barney masturbating in the tub (coated with Vaseline, naturally), Vito Acconci doing it in the sink (his face covered by the saffron curtain) and Michelle Hines relieving herself in the commode and clawing at the magenta walls while screaming obscenities. I mean, endless potential meanings and shades of relevance could be invoked. We're talking Turner Prize material here, people. Eat your heart out, Tracey Emin.



February 14, 2008, 4:52 PM

X: ...artists build huge wholesale environments inside galleries that are turned around and sold as such...

I suspect this is what a lot of people might infer from the glossy art rags. I do not think this is the case, that these installations function differently from a business standpoint. They serve to generate buzz for the gallery and as a draw for collectors. Business is done out of the back room and may or may not involve work by the artist exhibited.

Cat: With painting, I don’t equivocate "retro" and "dead." Retro implies "throwback," a form of nostalgia which I think makes for bad painting. I say "dead" only to imply that paintings original function as a form of illustration, has now passed into history, eclipsed by more modern media.

Modern painting, painting of this era, must take on a new function. Paintings are meta objects of the class called painting, they inherit the properties and traditions of prior paintings. One of the responsibilities of the painter is to redefine these properties within the context of the contemporary era. By reconnecting painting with the present era, new life is given to the medium, without it, it’s just history.

You misunderstand what I meant by my AE references to W.W.II. At this point in time we know about, W.W.II from a textbook perspective, Iraq from a news perspective, AE from text books and museums. Of these three points, only the war in Iraq is contemporary for most readers, something they are living through. The other two points are historical and we ‘know’ about them only indirectly, we lack the historical "lived through it" connection. Contemporary paintings which attempt to duplicate AE in the 50’s style are fake because the intent is different and the context is different.

x. You misunderstood my comments regarding Christo and the 50’s. I wasn’t connecting Christo with anything from the 50"s.

As an art form ‘installation’ has a history, Christo has added to the history his own particular vision of the genera. He is not an exception to anything. Christo does create a point of reference for the tradition.


Marc Country

February 14, 2008, 6:51 PM

"Of these three points, only the war in Iraq is contemporary for most readers, something they are living through. The other two points are historical and we ‘know’ about them only indirectly..."

So, someone reading something in a newspaper is "something they are living through", but looking at a painting in the flesh is something "we ‘know’... only indirectly".




February 14, 2008, 6:52 PM

the buyer basically retains the rights to the production. if the piece gets installed again it is usually done in consultation with the artist where possible. yes there are the big bluster one-offs in commercial and public galleries, but the truth is that lots of this work does get sold. i think catfish, maybe you are talking about 'temporal' installation as a type. there are no rules about any of this. only the rules in its bias towards marketability. it has to convey newness somehow and then sustain demand. usually artists resort to spectacle. and that's part of advertising.

artist-gallerist-institution relations have become a bit dodgy really. it's more business than anything else.



February 14, 2008, 7:28 PM

X, but the truth is that lots of this work does get sold.

Depends. An installation may get ‘financed’ but the harder a work is to crate up the harder it will be to sell

Also, I wasn’t talking about looking at a painting from the 1950’s, because obviously anything you are seeing is happening today, and not yesterday, hence in the present.

I was talking about making the same kind of painting as was made in the 1950’s (just as an example) It should be fairly obvious that since we are not living in the same historical era (the 1950’s) and therefore we cannot reproduce those conditions without faking it.

Most second rate art attempts to elevate itself to being ‘art’ by association with some previously validated form. If this relationship is close in time, we allow for the "what is happening" effect. As the time relationship increases, we view the work as retrograde (auction speak: "in the style of") and consider the works minor at best.



February 14, 2008, 7:44 PM

Gee, I guess all that Renaissance work "in the style of" ancient Greece and Rome was just second rate. Obviously Michelangelo and company weren't living in the same historical era of, say, the Laocoon, so what the hell could they know about it? Just a bunch of retro hacks, I suppose.



February 14, 2008, 7:59 PM

I know, Marc. Some people can't quite understand that everything is "contemporary", all the time, every second.

When you look at a Giotto, it's contemporary.



February 14, 2008, 8:18 PM

You know x, every so often art reminds us that we humans can't pin it down. Sounds like Christo's ribbon in the park may be such an instance for you. If your understanding of "installation" can't include that work, except as an "exception", then you need to work on your understanding of "installation". I'd suggest that you start by giving up the idea that it is a newly minted, art-is-different-now mode of creation. Think Stonhenge, think Mayan lines, think burial grounds ... there are lots of examples, even if there are not near as many as there are for painting.



February 14, 2008, 8:20 PM

op don't be so dense. I was talking about making, not looking.



February 14, 2008, 8:29 PM

And by the way x, why are you so anxious to require the "scope" of installation to conform with "the different kinds of schlock" that are happening "now"? Excellence, when it is achieved, often does so exactly by restricting rather than expanding its scope. I call it "bearing down". A "broad range" (aka "rich diversity") is usually associated with everything else that isn't so hot. Love Christo or not, he beats Michelle Hines installing a fake poop in the Cranbrook bowling alley. Or whoever it was that filled a gallery with refuse from the New York Stock Exchange.



February 14, 2008, 8:33 PM

George: I'm a retro painter according to your understanding, but I'm pretty damn good too. Go figure.



February 14, 2008, 8:36 PM

Oh well, after reading Jack and Marc's comments, I can see that I'm makeing too subtle a distinction for some of you. This is unfortunate because I am not advocating anything one way or the other stylistically, just a frame of reference for aproaching the work in an honest manner. If you don't get it, be sure you have a secure day job.



February 14, 2008, 9:21 PM


I really hope you're misunderstanding me.

Using AE again as an example.
I do not think one can make AE paintings the same way they were done in the 1950's because those paintings were influenced by the time they were made in.

I saw an exhibition of De Kooning's made from 1946 to 1990's in the Gagosian gallery, which is a 10,000 square foot room with skylights and no posts, you could see all the paintings at once (binoculars helped) What was very interesting was both the consistency of approach and the differences that occurred in the different decades from the 50's on. Since I lived through most of those years I have a personal feeling about the times that I could associate with the De Kooning paintings from the corresponding periods.

Just about every artist is influenced by his peers, what’s going on in the art world, and what’s going on in the world in general. For example, in 1949, you and I wouldn’t be having this discussion, because I’m in NYC and you’re, uh, somewhere else. Or one could be using a kind of paint that didn’t exist in 1949, etc.

So the point here is whether or not one is furthering the investigation of both painting itself and ones own ability to claim this painting as your own, to stake out an identity. Its about this intention and realizing it.

Nothing I am saying has anything to do with any of the current philosophical debates, it is above all that and based upon simple observations of painters and their careers in the modern era.



February 15, 2008, 4:10 AM

I agree about work stylistically/conceptually linking itself to prior eras; this could be a marketing ploy but is generally deeper than that for the artist, identifying with a certain period such as AE. I don't understand why this is hard to grasp; it's commonplace.
Each artist would identify with a certain period and way of approaching painting; many folks here with color field era.



February 15, 2008, 4:58 AM

Of course, George. You're too subtle for this blog, just like I'm too sexy for my car (which is why I'm saving up for a Lamborghini). By the way, what's your "day job," or are you entirely supported by the sales of your paintings?



February 15, 2008, 6:09 AM

George may have overstated it a bit above but he got something basically correct - the energy and circumstances that invigorated postwar abstraction have passed, and working with the form now means using the present energies and circumstances in a vital way. Too, coming to a movement after sixty years of winnowing lesser product means making decisions that didn't need making thirty or forty years ago, lest one paint without making a contribution to the genre. On the other hand, we have amazing new materials, and possibly more possibilities of composition now that abstraction doesn't look so strange. In addition to how wonderful they looked, the Olitskis struck me with their strangeness - I found myself unable to write off even the ones that inspired an initial response along the lines of "My God, this looks like a train wreck." '70s Poons looks almost classical by comparison.



February 15, 2008, 7:06 AM

Yes, Franklin, but the critical issue is the degree to which any past work, however remote, inspires or registers with a given artist, and what that artist is able to do with it based on his or her degree of talent. It's obviously a very individual, case-specific thing, but it is entirely possible for someone right now to "catch fire" from AbEx or whatever and have great art come out of that inspiration, if the artist has what it takes to achieve that.



February 15, 2008, 7:55 AM

This whole stuck-in-your-time thing that George keeps harping on is a vacant generalization based on a concept that "seems logical" and is supported by the simple fact tht art changes and can be dated stylistically. The "subtext", of course, is "you guys who paint abstract painterly paintings are doomed by your backwardness". It keeps coming up, is never fully and thoughtfully examined and is plain irritating to hear repeated over and over.

Abstract Expressionism shares with Cubism both the intrinsic force of a method that deeply changed the way art was made and the inevitable defensive reaction that comes afterwards, in the teens with Cubism and in the 60s with AE. Just as the revolutionary premises of Cubism were never reorganized fruitfully until AE did it so the revolutionary premises of AE have never been exploited because the immediate introduction of "easier" methods like Pop & Minimalism & Postmodernism turned off the tap. It took a few solitary geniuses like Olitski to follow the thread while the art world busied itself diddling with all the Looney Tunes dreck we are presently up to our neck in.

Art history shows us that the best stuff survives the shocks (the coming recession, for example) that separate the wheat from the chaff and gradually, if grudgingly, settle for the best. If we are not "in decline", as Greenberg put it, this will happen once again. It is just a matter of that very factor George is so in love with: time.



February 15, 2008, 8:29 AM

(Hi everyone)

a bunch of retro hacks

I love Jacks point. Everyone prior to 1800 was indeed a retro hack with current thinking. We overemphasize "newness","firstness","and freshness". These things speak to how clever an artist may be, but not to their talent, and certainly not to the properties of the artwork itself. Talking about an artwork's "pureness" and "singularness" is even more dubious. We need a different language in criticism, because these are the words of marketing, not the words of art. The word "hack" thrown around way too much. Originality is historically exciting, but it is given far too much weight in criticism, since proving that something is truly original is a futile endevour.

Also, The example of Christo sort of proves the rule about commodification. He sells pieces of his planning and process. The envisioning, planning, and execution of his pieces is a far more important aesthetic achievement than the physical qualities of the final product.



February 15, 2008, 9:03 AM

"esthetic acheivement" is always in the product, not the process.



February 15, 2008, 9:16 AM

"When you look at a Giotto, it's contemporary."

Amen. I was just drawing from him today.



February 15, 2008, 10:11 AM

Everything is contemporary, wwc. It has to be. And if we think this way we free ourselves from the past without losing its usefulness.



February 15, 2008, 10:24 AM


My remark about subtly was facetious. I do not think this is a particularly difficult concept to grasp, to me it appears obvious.

Jack sez: ...but it is entirely possible for someone right now to "catch fire" from AbEx or whatever and have great art come out of that inspiration... I never said nor implied this was not possible, inspiration is where one finds it. I never said one shouldn’t look at art from the past. To the contrary, if you think about the implications behind my use of the word "tradition" in reference to the judgement of paintings, it implies quite the opposite. (I’m a daytrader)

Op sez This whole stuck-in-your-time thing that George keeps harping on is a vacant generalization based on a concept that "seems logical" and is supported by the simple fact that art changes and can be dated stylistically. The "subtext", of course, is "you guys who paint abstract painterly paintings are doomed by your backwardness"...

You have it all wrong. Of course, everything changes, even art, but that is not what I am talking about.

There is NO SUBTEXT to what I am saying, if you are reading one into my comments you should think about why you are doing this.

It seems obvious that any artist (or other person for that matter) makes decisions which are influenced by events and other characteristics of the time in which they live. Is this difficult to understand?

If we assume that today’s painters are not living somewhere in a cave in Tibet, we can assume that they are reasonably aware of some aspects of paintings history.

Artist A (1945-50) [this could be in 1450]
In 1945, our budding AE painter might know about Surrealism, Van Gogh, Monet as well as the works of his peers. He would have recent memories of the depression, W.W.II, Radio, Jazz etc.

Artist B (2008)
In 2008, our budding gestural painter would also know about Surrealism, Van Gogh, and Monet but probably less of the 1945 painters peers. In addition he would know about DeKooning, Pollock, Kline, Guston, Rauchenberg, Pop Art, Minimalism, etc, etc, etc, as well as the works of his peers. He would have recent memories of Iraq, MTV, Hip Hop, the Internet etc.

Even given similar inspirations or psychological states, Artist A and Artist B will find different solutions to their paintings if they are honest with themselves. How hard is that to comprehend?

It suggests nothing at all about Artist B’s work being dated or retrograde because he chose to work in a gestural style which may have been inspired by AE.

Where I did make a value judgement was saying that if Artist B’s intent was to make a gestural painting that looked like AE, to gain authenticity as art, then this painting will be a failure. It will be like a forgery.


Marc Country

February 15, 2008, 10:26 AM

"Of course, George. You're too subtle for this blog..."

A better word would be 'obscure', but close enough, I guess.

"If you don't get it, be sure you have a secure day job."

By "get it", I can only guess George is referring to the textually-transmitted disease he keeps coughing up here... Here's hoping we don't 'get it', Jack.

Of course, neither Jack nor I are painters, but I'm sure we'll both be fine in our current occupations. Painting seems too complicated, anyways...
"There is more painting being done than art in any other medium", but on the other hand, "Since painting lost it’s commercial function as a mode of depiction of things, it has been a dead medium."
"it is presently impossible to make an Abstract Expressionist painting in the same way it was done in, say 1950"
, but on the other hand, "one could approach painting in a gestural way today by being in sync with the present age".
"Once something has moved into history, into the tradition of painting, it cannot be done again. However, it can be redone again..."

Subtle distinctions, indeed...



February 15, 2008, 10:26 AM

To put #38 in different words, the problem is the difference between Raphael's influence on Poussin or Ingres and his influence on countless academic hacks. It has nothing to do with how remote Raphael's time was from that of the artist being influenced, but it has everything to do with who that artist is and what s/he is capable of making out of Raphael's example.



February 15, 2008, 10:52 AM

George, you write repeatedly at great length to the effect that "it can't be done again", but, as far as I can tell, no one is trying to do it again.

Can we just agree that it can't be done again, and be done with it once and for all?



February 15, 2008, 11:41 AM

#47 opie,

Well, gee, I didn't exactly bring it up. I was responding to Catfish, who referred to painting as 'retrograde' This has backward looking connotations which I strongly disagree with.

I tried to respond last night to Catfish's remark that he was a retro painter. Another person might view this as a self-deprecating remark and a sign of insecurity about the work. I did not think this was the case with Catfish and responded.

Painting is a special activity, an activity with a history and tradition stretching back well over 20,000 years. Few activities that we do in our daily lives have this type of history and tradition. It makes painting very special to me. It also presents great challenges to the painter to transcend this long tradition and history and make something fresh and personal.

"Traditional" would be a better word.



February 15, 2008, 12:05 PM

First I start by saying George is very valuable to this blog. He presents views that must be dealt with because many of them are, loosely speaking, held by the majority that run the art system. And he defends them rather well, often going well beyond the standard cliches that I hear from those who merely follow the herd. AND, he exhibits significantly greater tolerance than most who embrace that system. He presents much of what he says as an observer rather than a zealot, and that too is to his credit. When George is not around, the blog begins to sound like we are preaching to the choir.

Opie and George are of course both right: the past can't be done again. Myself, it is not a matter of changing social circumstances - wars, the injustice of the day, technology, all that shit - but rather the change in art itself. For me, the past is a place to rob as well as to find inspiration. As time passes the past becomes incrementally larger and therefore offers more opportunities for robbery and inspiration - that is all there is to it.

It is mistake to codify how art gets made. Hence #44 is not obvious to me, even though I "understand" it well. It just does not fit my experience of making art because it is too neat and clean. I hated the part of the Pollock movie where Jackson views a drip on the floor and the light begins to glow as if the drip were received at the burning bush. But stuff like that happens all the time and is controlled by the gods of happenstance, not the inevitable march of time.

As far as Franklin's "energies and circumstances" go they are easier to swallow because they are vague. Whatever they were yesterday, they are by definition different today. But what is their importance to art? It varies all over the place. There could never have been a Guernica without Guernica, but so what? It ain't such a hot picture anyway. Clem would say that the successful AbEx pix of the 50s had more to do with the depression of the 30s than the cold war of the 50s. I was always more convinced that they didn't have anything to do with the cold war than I was that they were influenced by the depression. So #34 by George seems beside the point too in the second paragraph. But when he talks about deKoonig, he hits on something I think, I'd call it the influence an artist has on him or herself, as time in the studio builds into years and years of it. Most of the time an artist is at work the thing most looked at is the works themselves. Seems reasonable to expect that would present many opportunities for influence and change, subtle as they may be.

And George says something true when he talks about claiming painting as your own. That is exactly what must be done. Unfortunately, our time has misunderstood this as "the new" but that is a different story. Getting to your own painting is what the "investigation" is all about and it is hardly limited to the "modern era". The cave painters in France accomplished it while most others of their time (that we know about) did not. It is no different now.

Franklin: that's an interesting observation about 70s Poons and classicism. Care to elaborate?



February 15, 2008, 12:11 PM

George (#48) Most would say I was being rather strident in asserting that I am a retro and good too. Few have ever accused me of suffering from low self-esteem.

I do not wish to "transcend" tradition at all. I just want to become part of it. That's easier said than done.



February 15, 2008, 12:32 PM

I do not wish to "transcend" tradition at all. I just want to become part of it. That's easier said than done.

That's more or less what I meant, in the sense that one helps to redefine the tradition for the future.



February 15, 2008, 12:51 PM

Re #49: He presents views that must be dealt with because many of them are, loosely speaking, held by the majority that run the art system. And he defends them rather well, often going well beyond the standard cliches that I hear from those who merely follow the herd.

I don't read or buy art magazines, the latest one I have is from 1998.

From 1993 to 1999 I painted but had no dealings with the art world, no gallery exhibitions, openings, art mags etc. So whatever philosophical discourse was going on then was mute to me.

I don't read contemporary criticism or philosophy (danto et al)

I do look at contemporary work in the NYC galleries now. I do not follow any contemporary artist's work other that what I see in the galleries. I do study the paintings by Fra Angelico, Piero, Picasso, Monet, and Van Gogh on a regular basis. I have a digital archive of over 9000 historical paintings.

I like Jasper Johns and Basquait.

So what I write here is my own analysis of the question, it has nothing to do with somebody's party line. (I wasn't invited)



February 15, 2008, 1:12 PM

George, your analysis sounds like the mainstream - your version, of course, but mainstream nonetheless. Just like many here sound like Greenberg juniors, myself included.



February 15, 2008, 1:19 PM


Whatever, I went to art school in the early 70's, read all the formalist criticism of the time then, (including WDB)

So if I had a bias you would expect it to lean in that direction.

I can only say, that I write about things the way I personally see them. So, to some degree, maybe the mainstream is correct? I certainly don't think I'm wrong :-)



February 15, 2008, 1:50 PM

I don't doubt that you think you are right George. But for the studio artist, being "right" is a side issue. You don't need to be right to make good stuff.



February 15, 2008, 1:59 PM

Formalist criticism was on its way to a black hole somewhere by the time the 70s got underway. Along with modernism. I would not expect that reading what was left of it would necessarily influence anyone. I didn't see the light myself until the 80s, when formalism was definitely "dead". I am a contrarian by nature, which is probably part of why I took the carcass seriously.

Of course, there is always the fact Clem was right. That was the most important part.



February 15, 2008, 3:40 PM

i would assume i am amongst the 'greenberg juniors'. what does this denote exactly? no i wasn't a practicing artist when he was making his rounds but if that's a slight, i'd appreciate something helpful to help me temper my enthusiasm for the most important critic-thinker of the twentieth century. ya i'm young catfish, but as a sensible artist moved by the art he elevated, i'm in it to win it and clem is the guy pointing to the things that drew me in before i even knew who he was. his writing and others who shared his opinions are a bastion of common sense that helps understand the art i care about. naive and drunk on pomo for a while, i scoffed like many until i realized i was talking out my ass about a lot of stuff regarding his work and the work of the artists he admires. i started to really read him and others and test his ideas with my own experience and was blown away on so many levels. clem is a towering pillar of clarity amid all the mire. the body of thought he left behind is so so deep. i freely admit to my indebtedness, bias, and prejudice.



February 15, 2008, 4:06 PM

Excellent comment, X. You sound as if your brain is functioning. It is painful sometimes, to constantly question and revise and rethink, but it's worth it. So many people in this business are half-asleep slugs, zombies, or deluded fanatics. Art allows this because it allows everything. But it is no way to be.



February 15, 2008, 4:31 PM

Deluded fanatics indeed, and if they're rich enough, they never lack for copious "validation." The problem is these people are typically far more ideological than visual, if they're visual at all, which explains a lot of the predictably resulting dysfunction.



February 15, 2008, 6:38 PM

Nice comment, x. Unnerving humility. You're putting the lie to Frankfurt's sincerity/bullshit quotient.



February 15, 2008, 7:25 PM

Who is Frankfurt, ahab?



February 15, 2008, 7:43 PM

MC's buddy ol' pal Harry, Eric.


Marc Country

February 15, 2008, 7:52 PM

Harry G. Frankfurt, to be precise...



February 15, 2008, 9:17 PM

Speak for yourself x, but I'm proud to be a Greenberg junior. I don't expect to "go beyond" Clem, I don't even expect to catch up with him. Doesn't trouble me in the least, nor does it "temper my enthusiasm".



February 16, 2008, 7:12 AM

"esthetic acheivement" is always in the product, not the process.

Opie, How very Western of you. I think you'd find a great deal of Chinese artists that would disagree strongly with that statement. How an action is done is equally as artful as the result an action produces. Christo's art is as much a spectacle of production as it is about the qualities of a wrapped-giant-whatever. Many paintings are only interesting because we can see the artist's hand at work in them. And what about an artist's life as an achievement?



February 16, 2008, 7:20 AM

Processes, spectacles of production and lifetime acheivements, "artful" or not, are not available for esthetic apprehension unless they are put in the appropriate form, such as film. You cannot have esthetic appreciation of something you cannot experience.

Also, if that stuff coming out ot China right now is any evidence I would say that I probably have disagreements with a lot of Chinese artists.



February 16, 2008, 7:22 AM

Close your damn tags, Pi6. And preview before posting please.



February 16, 2008, 7:45 AM


knowing how something is cooked, or what ingredients were used does not and should not make food taste better. if it does, then whatever one has to say is secondary to the actual taste of the dish. opie and most everyone here puts the visual first. it just sorta makes sense. that's why we get in silly discussions about ill-considered frame choices, right guys? i hate to drag out the cooking analogy but it works. whatever we put into a dish, the only real aspect anyone should care about is the taste. when it comes to food, nobody has a problem with identifying good or bad. many have tried to make the case that our experience of visual art is different and in much of the art of the last 50+ years a corollary emphasis has been placed on how, why, and who. this emphasis is blatantly rhetorical and secondary in our experience of the thing.



February 16, 2008, 7:54 AM

On the contrary, I love food analogies.



February 16, 2008, 9:02 AM

that was a great post Franklin, thanks.



February 16, 2008, 9:09 AM

pi6 sez: I think you'd find a great deal of Chinese artists that would disagree strongly with that statement.

And Christo might disagree too. Consistent with his disagreement, he makes films of his projects, and touts all the various aspects of getting the thing together as part of the art, making quasi-conceptual claims for the work.

Cezanne piddling around with his pallet would be analagous to some of that, but would hardly qualify as spectacular. Mercifully Cezanne did not muddy the waters by telling us that pallet piddling was part of his art. Christo, like many installation artists lately, is not so kind, but at least he furnishes a record. That record does not change the fact Christo is not as good as Cezanne. But it gives us something to chew on, vis a vis the conceptual claims, which usually fail. But even as they fail, the documentation of the enormous obstacles that must be overcome is interesting to many, myself included.

In the end, the process isn't at all important if the result isn't important. If the result is important, the process doesn't matter much, except as historical curiosity.

Artists are often the worst commentators on their own work. Curiously, the more inane their comments, the more likely our time is to take them as absolute truth.



February 16, 2008, 9:38 AM

Cezanne's letters rule dudes!



February 16, 2008, 11:31 AM

Cezanne's letters don't make his pictures any better or worse.



February 16, 2008, 11:51 AM

Precisely, Catfish. Whatever an artist may get from the process of making or creating something is essentially a personal matter; it's certainly his business, for him to deal with as he will, but it's not really my concern. And, as you imply, it's completely moot (or should be) to the art public if the final product is not good enough. Nothing compensates for a failed outcome.



February 16, 2008, 12:10 PM

X - I use food and music analogies all the time. They are very useful.

eg: postmodernist art is like going to a restaurant and getting a menu but no food.



February 16, 2008, 12:13 PM

It's like buying the menu.



February 16, 2008, 12:48 PM

oie sez: Postmodernist art is like going to a restaurant and getting a menu but no food.

What's more, the pomo's crow about that situation as being the right order of things. They are aesthetic breatharians.



February 16, 2008, 1:56 PM

It's like taking the menu in lieu of the food. In other words, it's like wilfully choosing to live off eating paper instead of actual nourishment, not because there's no food to be had, but because it's not wanted.



February 16, 2008, 2:08 PM

"Aesthetic Breatharians" - i love it. But i think there is much truth to it being pure advertisement. The seedling of web 2.0

Christo is certainly no cezanne, but knowing how something is cooked certainly does make it taste better. ( Its impossible to experience art in a vacuum.

As for retro-art, I think people are just now starting to realize that fashion doesn't (and shouldn't) move as fast as people thought it did in the 20th century. The market is flooded with rushed-in trends, and it will take a long time for us to get past them. I could take another century, at least, of the international style, the rolling stones, expressionism and blue jeans. Let it simmer for christsake. We have different problems now and can't worry about where art is going - I feel my job as an artist is to respond to market demand for today's version of thoughtful, cultural, and spiritually moving decoration - to offer an alternative to the sludge of web 2.0.

sorry my html sucked.



February 16, 2008, 3:54 PM

Screw market demand, except where such market is me. I'm my own target audience, and the only one to whom I'll kowtow. Now I know a few others who regularly point and speak about the work sensibly, so where I agree with them we form some larger consensus.



February 16, 2008, 4:10 PM

Saying that Cezanne's letters are great does not imply that they provide added value to his paintings. I have spent more time with his watercolors and oil paintings than his letters. So when you dismiss all things POMO, are you dismissing all work done after the first wave of Color Field painters? I am just wondering how sweeping the genralizations are.



February 16, 2008, 5:42 PM

who said anything about art in a vacuum?

well i guess koons tried.



February 16, 2008, 6:10 PM

I guess I am asking this: Are there exceptions (in the form of individual artists) to the following statements:

Minimalism stinks
Pop Art stinks
Conceptual Art stinks
Neo-Expressionism stinks
Neo-Geo stinks
Performance Art stinks
Video Art stinks
Computer Art stinks
Feminist Art stinks
Pattern and Decoration stinks

and all the other stuff that came after the artists who Greenberg championed. I guess I am trying to figure out when you think things went wrong from an historical perspective.



February 16, 2008, 6:25 PM

Eric, people with good taste see quality independently of traits, and that includes traits that one might associate with postmodernism. So I have had opportunities to commend performance art, for instance, and could find things to like among your list of movements. If things went wrong somewhere, they went wrong as non-visual and non-aesthetic qualities gained currency as intellectually valid, and that intellectual validity substituted for artistic vilidity on a large scale among artists, curators, critics, and teachers. This took place over a long period that began in the early 1950s and had entrenched itself by the end of the 60s. People have continued to work in a visual manner aimed at maximal quality, but it has grown increasingly difficult to win institutional recognition by doing so.



February 16, 2008, 6:46 PM

Thanks for taking the time to explain your position Franklin. I of course know where you were coming from because I am an avid reader of your blog, but I was just wondering when you thought things really took a turn for the worse. I hope that the Internet will eventually lead to a different model of the art world, a truly pluralistic one, not the faux pluralism Danto describes repeatedly. I hope that islands of style and quality will eventually blossom, where artists will be able to show and sell their work consistently, completely separate from the art world that exists in the art press and academia. Perhaps these networks will diminish the power of the beast.



February 16, 2008, 7:21 PM

If you want to put a point on it, Eric, the ascendency of Pop is a good candidate for when things began to turn down. Its "commentary on culture" was clear and easily discussed at a time when the art world was beginning to rapidly expand, to include many who were not cultivated, but nonetheless interested. Their constant question was "explain modern art to me" and Pop could be and was explained. It also had recognizeable symbols and images. As you proably know, Danto likes to think that interpretation is the key method of interacting with art. So Pop enabled that too, and in a way that the uncultivated could begin to think they were "enlightened" because they could relate to something that seemed a little risque and the "critique of culture" seemed quite intellectual. It was the beginning of what Rosenberg observed as artists becoming too big for art. The discipline of being visual came to be regarded as a limitation that was there to overcome, and overcoming it was artistic virtue.

Pop pictures tended to look pretty good on the walls too. Lichtenstein especially had a sense of design. But so did Warhol, in a commercial sense. Abject ugliness was yet to come. And perhaps above all, Pop reproduced well in the mags, so the expanded audience could relate to it even if they could not afford to buy it, and could grasp the explnations that were offered in various articles.

Many, including myself, welcomed the expansion of the art audience. It turned out to be a case of we should have been careful what we asked for. Somehow we forgot that for the expansion to be genuine, the capacity for a cultivated response to art had to be expanded as well. It wasn't. Instead, the capacity to respond intellectually was extended to the new audience and they seemed quite content with just that.

Pop went over in the marketplace immediately, compared to the struggle AbEx went through. The pace picked up and generated all the isms that you list, like rabbits reproducing, it seemed.



February 16, 2008, 7:40 PM

Excellent analysis, Catfish. Pop catered to the superficial, the slick-hip-flashy impulses of people who wanted art "explained" as in spoon-fed, not worked for, not earned, not patiently and steadfastly and consistently sought out, studied, examined, compared or experientially absorbed and incorporated. It's like people who keep looking for a magic diet with no exercise, no food restriction, no effort, no waiting.

These people are not really into art as such, but into false and distorted idea of it. What they really want is the glamour, the cachet, the image, the scene, the see-and-be-seen, the buzz, the aura, not the thing itself. And yes, just like "magic" diets keep appearing like clockwork, these faux art people got faux art, in spades. The public always winds up getting what it wants, or a reasonable facsimile. All they have to do is pay for it.



February 16, 2008, 7:54 PM

Pop Art seems as good a landmark as any catfish. I also think art became all about the audience. Everyone wanted to be in the know, savvy, cultured, cultivated, cool, hip, whatever. When I see people wagging their tongues in front of contemporary works in the galleries I think to myself, gee don't you think you look smart! Art has definitely become cannon fodder. Whatever inspires the most hollow and insipid discourse is the winner, becomes important, a critical fave. This gamesmanship ties in perfectly with the world of advertising and Hollywood, because it is all about creating a false aura, blustery nonsense that is adequate enough to come across as important and rarefied. Most conceptual art does little more than describe this modus operandi and pretend that it is providing insight or deep truths. It is comical and sad really. Create a false front or facade and then spend years critiquing or mocking it. Haven't we all choked to death on this bland irony, this tired and cynical wink and smirk? Art for me is analyzing and inventing visual phenomena, losing and finding myself in what I see with my eyes opened and closed. (footnote: Harold Rosenberg was a great writer and thinker.)



February 16, 2008, 8:03 PM

Something makes all this confusing, though, at least on the surface - the fact that purity, per se, doesn't enable art very well. The minimalists more or less proved this. Quality accretes on traits like coral on the sea floor. Quality doesn't exist apart from traits. And yet the traits and the quality have little if anything to do with each other. People naturally latch on to the storyline in a work, whether the work has an overt narrative, or something more subtle like a philosophical direction, or even the kind of flash that Jack describes. The mistake occurs not in any of these things, but when their apprehension drowns out the felt aspect of looking at work. That felt aspect exists in varying degrees in people, and correlates to what we call having an eye. Merely feeling excited about something doesn't qualify as the real deal. The real deal manifests as the slow pleasure of looking.

So the tension lies not between the styles of modernism and postmodernism, but between the yearning for great things to look at and its absence.



February 16, 2008, 8:14 PM

"People have continued to work in a visual manner aimed at maximal quality, but it has grown increasingly difficult to win institutional recognition by doing so."

What Franklin said is true, Eric. You don't have the good stuff on your "stinks" list because it never made it into "ism"ness. But it is there.

I spent a lot of time and energy tilting at the windmills of the art world and have come to realize that in the end the best you can do is keep on truckin' and enjoy what little there is that's worthwhile.



February 16, 2008, 8:15 PM

"People have continued to work in a visual manner aimed at maximal quality, but it has grown increasingly difficult to win institutional recognition by doing so."

What Franklin said is true, Eric. You don't have the good stuff on your "stinks" list because it never made it into "ism"ness. But it is there.

I spent a lot of time and energy tilting at the windmills of the art world and have come to realize that in the end the best you can do is keep on truckin' and enjoy what little there is that's worthwhile.



February 16, 2008, 8:17 PM

This double comment seems to happen with some reguarity - I have no idea why.



February 16, 2008, 9:32 PM

Well, what can I say?

Obviously I think you are wrong about Pop Art. Lichtenstein is as good as Mondrian.

Basquiat is the greatist painter of the last 30 years and third or forth over the last sixty.

Great art doesn't care if you like it or not and people do.



February 16, 2008, 9:54 PM

Naah. I just saw Broadway Boogie Woogie again in January and it would eat Lichtenstein's lunch. A good Lichtenstein might be as good as a medium Albers. Basquiat has no qualities not extant to a greater degree in Guston or Twombley and I wouldn't put Guston or Twombley in the top four of the last sixty years.



February 16, 2008, 9:59 PM

F. You need to look closer at Lichtenstein, especially the later paintings, they are very good.

Same thing with Basquiat, lookj at his paintings and ignore all the grafetti stuff, he's right up there with De Kooning, makes Guston look fussy, and Twombly a bore.



February 16, 2008, 9:59 PM

Franklin, "purity" in the common sense enabled Mondrian plenty well. I know the minimalists thought they were doing purity (just as Mondrian thought he was doing theosophy), but to my eye the best of them did simlicity and directness, which do not preclude geometry and whatever purity it might stand for. But simplicity and directness are not limited to geometry, either. Nor is geometry always that pure. Stella's protractor series, for instance, was geometric but hardly pure. Gaudy seems a better way to describe them. But they were simple and direct.



February 16, 2008, 10:09 PM

When I first saw the minimalists, I thought of them as "maximalists" because the work looked so pre-meditated.



February 16, 2008, 10:22 PM

I really meant purity of motive rather than purity of form. I think people have an idea about modernists that they don't allow themselves certain indulgences of taste, wouldn't work with narrative or concept, or suffer from aesthetic narrowness. In fact, taste is driving the whole damn project and it's all you can do to keep up with it.



February 16, 2008, 10:29 PM

In fact, taste is driving the whole damn project...

'n sometimes that's a bitter pill to swallow.



February 16, 2008, 10:31 PM

In fact, taste is driving the whole damn project...

'n sometimes that's a bitter pill to swallow.



February 16, 2008, 10:36 PM

Not sure what you mean by that, George. It's a good way to live.



February 17, 2008, 4:59 AM

I think you have to go back and look at Mondrain, George, especially the work of the early 20s. It is an utterly different order of magnitude from Lichtenstein. Both made clear, graphic, well-organized pictures but saying they are equal as artists is simply unsupportable.

Together with your exaggerated opinion of Basquat (who was pretty good, certainly way better than Lichtenstein) It's my guess that you are allowing yourself to be overinfluenced by the single characteristic of strong design, which is shared by all 3.



February 17, 2008, 6:37 AM

Lichtenstein is so ridiculously overrated that...oh, never mind. Carry on, George. I suppose Catfish may be right about you, after all.



February 17, 2008, 8:08 AM

I would take Basquiat over Lichtenstein any day. But when Schnabel finally gets around to making a movie about Lichtenstein I might change my opinion. This is because my opinions about Basquiat are completely shaped by the pathos of his life story. Remember he was actually able to draw and paint WHILE he was watching television. That is visionary my dear fellows.



February 17, 2008, 8:11 AM

Maybe we all can agree that "90% of everything is crap" and then we can stop worrying about make goes on what side of the fence.



February 17, 2008, 8:36 AM

Which Basquiat life would that be, Eric? The real one, or the one concocted by the system to make him more marketable? Not that it matters, of course, not really, but it does to some people, hence the spun version.



February 17, 2008, 8:44 AM

Oh, and I'm afraid there won't be a Lichtenstein movie. Way too whitebread and prissy. Besides, there's no way to make those damn dots dramatic. Yawn.



February 17, 2008, 9:49 AM

I hope you know I was being tongue in cheek in comment 104. Schnabel did an hilarious job of mythologizing Basquiat in his film. Not ONE critic took him to task for this. Surprise, surprise.



February 17, 2008, 10:00 AM

You're a critic, aren't you, Eric? Which is what surprised me about your #83. But Franklin replied clearly in #s84&89, and catfish in #86, well... great.



February 17, 2008, 10:26 AM

Yes , Eric, I knew you were kidding, but the point was worth making anyway, even if it's all a lousy game.

The system, basically, is so far gone that it's essentially shameless. The vast sheep herds that follow it are only too easily manipulated, too uncritical, too undemanding. The system knows what the sheep really want, and it provides that. Sheep and system suit each other and deserve each other, and certainly "validate" each other at every turn.



February 17, 2008, 10:57 AM

More or less the reaction I expected.

I have no doubt that in another 25 or 30 years, after there is time for reflection, that Lichtenstein will be considered more important than painters like Noland or Poons.

Unfortunately Basquiat died too young but still deserves to be highly rated. I can't think of anyone better from the same period.



February 17, 2008, 11:00 AM

Speaking of expected reactions, here come the condescending proclamations about the future from George.



February 17, 2008, 11:27 AM

I just love saying things about the future. You can say anything you want. There are no facts to get in the way. Even though 99.9 precent of all assertions about the future turn out to be wrong, those who utter them are usually thought to be "forward thinking" if not actually wise.

That said, if the time frame is only 25 years, what George says has more than an average chance of coming true. It won't so much time for reflection, but rather the inertia that comes with valuing an artist in so many venues for so long, such as Lichtenstein has been. 25 years may not be a long enough time to give them up, even if they are "wrong-eyed". Like I said earlier, his work is nicely designed, and that should assist those who want to hang on to his current ranking too. Not to mention how it has infiltrated the art history books, as would be expected for someone as widely collected as he has been.

But in the end, it is just a guess. I would never say "I have no doubt" about any of my guesses. But George does not hesitate.



February 17, 2008, 11:42 AM

x, like you, i was first attracted by the artists greenberg championed and then later actually came to discover and appreciate his writings, eye and other contributions. it just so happened that we liked a lot of the same art. but i will have to admit that i did let his writings sway we me a bit at first because he was so on about so many things. he was just very insightful, with a great eye and words to match.



February 17, 2008, 11:44 AM

If Lichtenstein looks any more dated in 25 years than he does now, his stuff might as well be a bunch of polyester leisure suits. It was a nice gimmick, as such things go, and he certainly got enough mileage out of it, but we're talking glorified graphic design, and its moment is past. It may still serve interior decorators, just like classic advertising posters, but the stuff is very, very...spotty.



February 17, 2008, 12:01 PM

comparing lichtenstein to mondrian is really comparing apples to oranges. mondrian was a GREAT historical artist and lichtenstein was a HUGE pop icon.

granted mondrian was over 10 years in to his downturn with "broodway boogie woogie", but the compettion as to who is the better ARTIST is no contest. from 1912 to the late 20's mondrian was on fire. after following up on the impressionists, picasso, braque, matisse and mondrian own this time period for serious ART. duchamp would be the huge art ICON here. and i would put in a personal nod for robert deaunay, although he would not likely be included by most with the group of 4 Greats that i mentioned, he is great to me.

we may have to eventually separate ARTISTS from ICONS.



February 17, 2008, 12:12 PM

after viewing a retrospective on mondrian 3-4 years ago his position on the big list went way up for me. he was Major.

in regards to basquiat i can't give a fair assessment since i have not seen enough of his stuff in person, but top 3 or 4 or whatever? cmon? and basquiat benifits from the Icon status as well, but i would also say that pollock does too. still pollock is the great artist to match and greatly surpass his icon status.



February 17, 2008, 12:51 PM

re 117

#1 or #2 Pollock
#1 or #2 DeKooning
#3 Rauschenberg
#4 Jasper Johns
#5 Basquiat



February 17, 2008, 12:56 PM

It occurs to me that Lichtenstein is like Alex Katz with chickenpox.



February 17, 2008, 1:33 PM

#3 Rauschenberg? Hell, why not Rosenquist, too? What is this, Graphic Design Groupies Anonymous?

OK, breathe.

George is useful. Yes he is.

Catfish thinks so.

I like Catfish.

George is useful. Yes he is...


Marc Country

February 17, 2008, 2:22 PM

I tend to think Lichtenstein might be better as a movie than he was in real life... Maybe he could be played by Mathew Modine (he's prissy and whitebread enough, I'd say)... And, for the soundtrack?... Why, WHAM!, of course!

(George Michael and, um, the other guy, will no doubt be considered greats on par with Beethoven... just give 'em a few years... you heard it here first.)



February 17, 2008, 2:23 PM

I thought #83 was a straightforward question ahab. I was asking about historical turning points which are subjective in the sense that they are based on an individual's take on art history. I am not sure what you meant by pointing out that I am an artist/critic. And yes, Franklin and catfish did answer my questions eloquently.



February 17, 2008, 2:49 PM

my comment #116 should have read robert delaunay. see "simultaneous contrasts-sun and moon" at MOMA. a masterpiece.



February 17, 2008, 3:02 PM

I have always preferred Richard Hamilton over Lichtenstein. Just to clarify, #83...such a such a movement sucks, etc., was not meant to be my opinion per se.

When we look at the artists who are being dismissed as graphic designers by Jack there is an obvious connecting thread between them; they use reproductions in their work. Is there any artist who is actually considered a good artist by anyone in here, who uses a lot of reproductions or copies in their work, that incorporate a lot of unoriginal imagery in their work?



February 17, 2008, 3:04 PM

It's amazing to me how debased the whole concept of "blue chip" has become. It's like this hysterical joke that the blue-chip crowd doesn't dare laugh over because they've put so much money into it, not to mention that their image and reputation are also tied up in the business. And these are the ostensibly more cautious, more conservative, cooler heads among collectors, as opposed to the "cutting edge" types who are always looking for the next big thing. Sigh.



February 17, 2008, 3:09 PM

Jack's assuredness, focus, and intensity should be admired, whether you agree with him or not. I am off to see the James Brooks exhibit in the city. I will be reviewing it for I have sort of taken an oath with regards to my future critical endeavors. I will only be reviewing shows by artists that have had no or barely no attention paid to them. Why add to the pile of words that have been written about the blue chip artists? What is the point?



February 17, 2008, 3:24 PM

A noble ambition, Eric. And Brooks can be very good indeed.

Speaking of "blue chip" The NY Times had a huge multiple feature on the Broad addition to the LA County museum which talked a lot about the Broad collection, which is absolute blue chip to the core, an absolute line-up of every one of the top rich-collector trophy tchotchkes in their purest form.



February 17, 2008, 3:26 PM

Eric, I suppose I was just catching whiffs in your comments that you were abdicating your own authority and autonomy.



February 17, 2008, 3:29 PM

re 27, R U in it?



February 17, 2008, 4:19 PM

Thanks, Eric, but Jack is just an opinionated elitist who's very visual, has done a fair amount of homework, has always seen fashion (in any context) as a racket, and is selfish and arrogant enough to believe that art is only about itself and him.

Other people can do as they please, but if they presume to interfere, impose upon or otherwise compromise Jack's personal experience of art, he simply sends them to hell.

It may not be the most sophisticated approach, but it works for Jack. He doesn't care whether or not it suits anyone else.



February 17, 2008, 4:30 PM

"re 27, R U in it?"

Does George mean, regarding comment #27, are you in it?



February 17, 2008, 4:31 PM

Anyone care to answer the repro question?



February 17, 2008, 5:26 PM


In #129, I meant re: #127

I do not think the source of the imagery matters at all. What does matter is that the painter posesses it for himself. It is about identity.



February 17, 2008, 5:45 PM

George meant #127, which responded to Opie's thoughts about the article on the Broad Collection by asking if his work was in it. As it happens, George's is. Opie remains entitled to his opinion and is likely correct about it, despite the attempted ambush.



February 17, 2008, 5:46 PM

I wonder how the others feel about the reproduction issue. I understand how you feel about it George.



February 17, 2008, 5:53 PM

I'm fond of Kurt Schwitters and I have liked the few Motherwell collages I've seen, but that's probably not what you have in mind, Eric. Cornell has his moments. That might be it.

PS - In my graduate thesis I wrote, "Appropriation and forced social relevance - I wouldn't mind seeing it all trampled by elephants."



February 17, 2008, 6:07 PM

Would you share your grad thesis with us in digital format? It sounds interesting. You have noted collages made with found scraps and Cornell's symbolic fantasies in a box made from junk he came across in Queens, New York. So I guess that your enthusiasm for the glut of found imagery that started to appear in Pop Art and inundated the art world therafter is non-existent.



February 17, 2008, 6:10 PM

I don't want to say nonexistent - eventually a counterexample comes up - but I'll say it's scant.

I've been meaning to type up that grad thesis for years. Maybe I'll get to work on it.



February 17, 2008, 6:21 PM

The topic of your thesis is very relevant to the current climate. I really wonder if the rampant appropriation that takes place in the art world will stunt the imaginations of future generations. They say that our global leadership in research and development has gone down the toilet because of underfunding, NAFTA, religious fundamentalism, a rotted and dysfunctional education system, etc., and I wonder if appropriation art plays a part in the stunting of humanity's imaginative and creative abilities. Maybe, maybe not.



February 17, 2008, 6:26 PM

My thesis was a goofy ramble. Our program had vague thesis guidelines and I had run out of patience for being in school, and it occurred to me one evening in my last semester that no one had explicitly forbidden my writing it in Ogden Nash-style rhymed couplets.



February 17, 2008, 6:50 PM

Eric, re: 132 and repros.

Artists have robbed other artists for eons. Again, with Pop, it was declared to be a risque thing to do, if it was sufficiently obvious, a gesture that was in and of itself, "significant", no matter whether it served the art or not. The gesture was even stronger if the robbery was from "low art" because that dovetailed nicely into the "critique of culture" that enlightened art lovers everywhere could tune into.

Young artists, especially, are like sponges. They should and do take everything that seems handy. I know of one artist who did not like Olitski seeing her work because he was almost certain to take something, send it through his method, and perhaps get greater credit for it.

The only problem I see with grabbing from others is there is not enough out there worth grabbing right now.



February 17, 2008, 6:58 PM

Oh, am I in the Broad collection, George? Are you kidding?

Wait... this must be the REAL reason I am bitter, angry, resentful, foultempered, sourgraped, anguished, tormented, desolate and crying in the beer which I consume in great quantity to drown my sorrows.



February 17, 2008, 7:28 PM

Well, I think George should tell us what exactly Broad bought of his, when, and (if feasible) provide the image of the work in question (or closely related similar work). Evidently, everything bought by Broad is not "blue chip," even if that is the overriding principle behind his buying.



February 18, 2008, 6:19 PM

Broad, by the way, is not actually giving LACMA any artworks, only letting LACMA borrow works from him and his foundation when it wants to include them in some show or other. He did give them money to build an extension to the museum (which will bear his name), but LACMA will not own any of the works in Broad's collection.


Chris Rywalt

February 18, 2008, 6:23 PM

Obviously I've arrived way too late to contribute anything of substance, but here are my jumbled one-liners:

Rhymed couplets, Franklin? You're insane. An insane genius.

Lichtenstein was a thief, a hack, and utterly worthless. Almost everything he painted he copied; whatever he didn't copy sucked. Lichtenstein makes Warhol look like Leonardo.

Basquiat also sucked. When people look at art and say "My kid can do that!" they're talking about Basquiat.

Julian Schnabel's movie Basquiat was a great movie. Whether it was true is beside the point; it was a great movie. Schnabel is an artist, but his medium is film. Everything he did before he became a director is junk.

Rauschenberg and Johns are also losers. Trampling by elephants is too good for appropriation. It should be eaten by elephants, shat out, and then trampled by rats.

Mondrian is great. Top ten, easily. If you've only seen reproductions, you haven't seen Mondrian.



February 18, 2008, 7:04 PM

Careful, Chris. Mr. Broad might hear. You don't want to upset the blue-chippers. Of course, when you've got that much money, I suppose you can pay other people to be upset for you.



February 18, 2008, 7:10 PM

Basquiat as twitching, spasmodic, mumbling, moron is great?



February 18, 2008, 7:58 PM

There's a full moon tonight. Really.

In my neighborhood, at least.



February 18, 2008, 8:05 PM

There's a full moon tonight.

Maybe that's what happened to the kinder, gentler artblog.



February 19, 2008, 8:39 AM

The kinder, gentler Artblog? You mean the one run by some women out of Philadelphia? Must be.


Chris Rywalt

February 19, 2008, 8:58 AM

Eric sez:
Basquiat as twitching, spasmodic, mumbling, moron is great?

The character isn't great. But the film is. It was beautiful, haunting, involving, interesting. I started watching it in spite of myself -- I disliked Basquiat and wasn't interested in a movie about him -- and ended up mesmerized. It's a fantastic piece of work as a film.

As Roger Ebert likes to say, a film isn't good because of what it's about; it's good because of how it is about it.


Marc Country

February 19, 2008, 9:10 AM

"As Roger Ebert likes to say, a film isn't good because of what it's about; it's good because of how it is about it."

... sounds like another bloody modernist...



February 19, 2008, 9:52 AM

Yeah. They're all the same. They have no pluralism in their souls, poor fellows.



February 19, 2008, 1:48 PM

Hmmm. Pluralism. Is that like not having to make up your mind, not having to decide or judge, not having to commit, because that would just be too...singular? Is that like avoiding any risk of being wrong, or of appearing to be, by accepting and allowing for everything? Is that like, uh, being a presidential candidate? I don't know, sounds kinda tempting, not to mention convenient.


Chris Rywalt

February 19, 2008, 3:43 PM

Pluralism is admitting other people may be right no matter how stupid they are. Modernism is admitting other people may be right if and only if they've shown some intelligence.



February 19, 2008, 4:35 PM

"It's a fantastic piece of work as a film."

Let me clarify. It is a bad film. While I was watching the scene in which Gary Oldman, playing the master himself, Julian Schnabel, gayly waltzed around his velvet lined castle while hugging his duaghter I thought to myself, "What self-serving bullshit." At least the caricature of Basquiat had the good sense to piss in the stairwell before leaving the master's palatial abode.

When William James invented the term pluralism he did not intend for his nuanced and complex philsophical concept to become the whorish generality it has become in the hands of such people as Danto, etc. After walking all over Chelsea today I set off towards the Strand Bookstore after three hours of haphazard roaming with such feelings of disgust, it was simply amazing. I wanted to find something to write about, but I simply couldn't. There was only one show that I liked. If you are in the city you should check out Sean McCarthy at Fredericks & Freiser. The guy is brilliant and no one has written about his work, which fulfills my newish criteria for picking and choosing what artists I will make the subject of a critical essay.



February 19, 2008, 5:20 PM

What, Schnabel self-serving? In his own film? Using Basquiat as a pretext to try to breathe life back into his now extinct and laughable former art stardom? You must have misinterpreted his intention. It was probably meant as satire.

Just as I must have misinterpreted a huge and appallingly ghastly Schnabel red velvet number I saw at Miami MOCA as meaning that whoever inflicted the thing on the public either had no clue or no shame. But hey, we're only human.


Chris Rywalt

February 19, 2008, 6:56 PM

Well, I thought it was a very good movie.



February 19, 2008, 7:09 PM

If you could be more specific when praising the film it might help me to understand your position but it doesn't really matter. Taste is subjective, blah blah, blah. You said it is great, very good, sucked you in even though you thought you wouldn't like it. Specifically what did you like about it?


Chris Rywalt

February 19, 2008, 7:10 PM

Sean McCarthy looks really good. I'll try and make it in this Thursday.


Chris Rywalt

February 19, 2008, 7:29 PM

What did I like about it? Hm. It's been a while. I basically have it tabbed as "great movie" without the details. I remember its being visually beautiful, with a lot of interesting shots. I respond to a given movie on a visual level when the movie itself responds well to that (Knocked Up was very funny, but not exactly visually oriented, for example). I mean, I find myself turning my head sideways when watching a movie in the theater -- it's just all visual to me at times.

So there were shots I liked. And then I remember the scenes with David Bowie playing Andy Warhol; he made Warhol seem sane and grounded, which was intriguing, and I got the feeling of a lot of backstory there. The scene where Basquiat and Warhol are both working on the same painting was funny and sad and frustrating because no one would do what I thought was the right thing to do at that point (which was mostly stop painting that atrocity).

I don't know. The film hypnotized me and made me willing to spend time with it, which is something few movies manage. It absorbed me.



February 20, 2008, 6:29 AM

I wasn't trying to goad you or be a prick Chris. I was just wondering exactly what you liked about it. Thanks.


Chris Rywalt

February 20, 2008, 9:00 AM

I didn't think you were being a prick at all. Which is why I answered sincerely.

See? This is the kinder, gentler Artblog!



February 20, 2008, 12:09 PM

[Oops - sorry for leaving this here all day. - F.]



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