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Badlands

Post #1241 • October 3, 2008, 12:59 PM • 8 Comments

North Adams, MA - Badlands is an angsty landscape show up at MassMoCA. Sayeth the museum:

While attuned to the art historical legacy of the landscape, the artists in Badlands engage new ideas about exploration, land use politics, and the relativity of aesthetic beauty.

It's inevitable in an exhibition as tendentious as this one that the best work somehow fails to get with the program. Alexis Rockman, a competent but not an inspiring talent, ended up dominating this show with a multi-panel, mural-length Antarctic seascape painted after a sea voyage to the pole. This is a classical idea of exploration, not a new one, and his icy, syrupy sprawl of oil and wax on paper stood out for want of equal veracity elsewhere in the room: Leila Daw's pleasant but lax collages, Jennifer Steinkamp's toy-like animation of a tree budding, leafing, blossoming, and shedding as it twirled back and forth (entitled, for reasons entirely unapparent, Mike Kelley), and a flaccid tribute to the power of Photoshop by Anthony Giocolea in the form of a 24-foot wide snow scene populated with absurdly costumed models. Also failing to get with the program was the talented Mike Glier, whose knifed, abstracted landscapes on metal were often sun-dappled and pastoral, and thus had to be shunted off into a side room with the great Robert Adams where neither of them would upstage the less traditional work. J. Henry Fair, armed with the moral authority of photography, provided the most solid pieces in the exhibition that looked like they belonged in it - stunning arial shots of industrial waste fields, richly-hued swamps of bauxite, arsenic, cadmium, and other by-products of comfortable contemporary living.

Much of the rest of the show was nonsense. Paul Jacobsen submitted a painting of a weird bridge in an awkward landscape entitled Metaphorical Investigation of a Metaphysical Reunion, thus saddling a stiff work with pretention. Hanging terrariums by Vaughn Bell gave you the opportunity to stick your head inside from the bottom and get poked in the eye with a fern. A grating video by Jane D. Marsching showed cities, in satellite view, sprouting bubbles and sailing away from their land masses, as an operatic soprano sang headlines from a Google News search on "North Pole." Badlands provided its own benchmark: a room of photographs from the archive of the Center for Land Use Interpretation of military, energy, and water facilities, displayed with matter-of-fact descriptions. Artless in the positive sense and informative, they were better than many of the deliberately artistic works like the garish sermons of Melissa Brown or the Boyle family's superrealist fiberglass relief paintings of chunks of ground. Eliminating everything that couldn't outperform the CLUI photos would have cut the show in half, to its benefit.

Comment

1.

Jack

October 3, 2008, 5:04 PM

I'd say something, but what's the point? Why should I, or anybody, dignify lame attempts like this with serious attention or notice? You obviously did, Franklin, and yes, you got a post out of it, but I'm not at all sure it was worth the bother.

2.

MC

October 4, 2008, 7:35 PM

I'm commenting just so I can see if Franklin's fixed that weird bug on the "comments" page... as good a reason as I could think of.

3.

MC

October 4, 2008, 7:35 PM

Yup, it looks fixed.

4.

dude

October 5, 2008, 2:18 AM

stolen from matthew collings and emma biggs website...

'People have got used to a situation in which art becomes more and more un-visual. In fact it’s the least visual thing around at the moment. In terms of visual sophistication and aesthetic awareness almost anything else -- graphic design, architecture, ads, the patterns on curtains -- is better. The visual is sacrificed on the altar of meaning, but at the same time meaning in contemporary art is pathetic: ‘Look Mum! I’m interested in capitalism and schizophrenia!’ No one involved really believes these meanings. They only pay lip service to them.
This seems absolutely awful. It would be much better to have something else. Therefore why not reason yourself, in terms of what’s going on in your mind when you’re reading about art or looking at it, into a relationship with art’s past, the pre-pop past. That means getting used to acknowledging a separation between entertaining trivia (an element of which is necessary to human existence, of course) and art. Art gives pleasure and draws attention to how pleasure is constructed, and is consequently difficult and serious as well as pleasurable.

You might be thinking by this point that the problem with this whole thought is that it’s really about pleasure, and surely the bubble that contemporary art seeks to prick is the phallic power of pleasure? But the supposed pricking that contemporary un-pleasure does must be pretty shallow when the results are in every collection of every collector in the world that you can possibly think of. Maybe it would be better to have something which -- even if your message as an artist is political or moralising -- is delivered in a way that has more visual impact than most contemporary artists seem capable of achieving, supposing that sophisticated visual impact were something they even wanted to achieve.'

5.

Jack

October 5, 2008, 12:11 PM

Well, yes. Why should I waste my time on would-be landscape art when I can delve into Corot, Turner or Claude, to name a few? Apart from having little or no value as visual art, the ludicrous presumptuousness of much of this tripe is incredible. It's like asking someone who can eat at a world-class restaurant whenever he likes to eat at Taco Bell instead. I mean, get a frigging clue sometime.

6.

Jack

October 5, 2008, 1:57 PM

FYI:

New Morandi monograph from the Museum of Modern Art of Bologna, apparently made to go with the Morandi retrospective at the Met and in Bologna (his home base). The retail price is $65, probably less online. The quality of the reproductions is very high. Availabe in Miami at Books & Books.

7.

opie

October 5, 2008, 5:22 PM

Art rides in on pleasure, Dude.

8.

Jack

October 5, 2008, 8:20 PM

By the way, not that I really want to talk about Damien Hirst, who means nothing in and of himself, but the big auction circus Sotheby's mounted for his stuff (well, made by his minions but with his name on it) apparently netted close to $200M.

I assume it was mostly bought by Russian idiots of recent and probably dubiously acquired fortune, but I'm still amazed at such lunacy. The only way I can even remotely respect anybody who spends serious money on a Hirst is if it's done purely as financial speculation and the buyer makes no bones about it (in which case it's obviously not an art issue, just an investment move). Otherwise, I'm sorry, but we're talking automatic disqualification.

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