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Ken Johnson backs me up

Post #1312 • March 11, 2009, 8:40 AM • 54 Comments

Ken Johnson, yesterday:

Mr. Bas's art bears a strong family resemblance to that of the young David Hockney, Karen Kilimnik, Elizabeth Peyton and Paul P., all of whom have trafficked in adolescent fantasy and erotic nostalgia. But he has yet to claim aesthetic or psychological ground that is distinctly his own. And as an installation artist, he is just getting started.

Yours truly, 2003:

I hope the money helps him to cheer up and get laid and establish his place in the grand scheme of things and solve all the other problems that those images were supposed to be about. They are legitimate problems; I have some of them myself. If I sound unsympathetic it's because his art is not moving enough to make me feel their importance. It looks like an awkward amalgam of Herb Ritts, Elizabeth Peyton, and Blair Witch Project.

Ken Johnson, yesterday:

Though profusely detailed, the [12-foot-wide] painting lacks the narrative focus of the smaller works, so it is not clear whether bigger will be better for Mr. Bas.

Yours truly, 2005:

Hernan Bas's work seemed to hang everywhere, and confirmed my feelings about his abilities: on paper, about forearm-size, he can execute a touching, intriguing image. Going larger and moving to canvas put massive strain on his ability to compose and his feathery, tentative drawing, the latter of which works for him well otherwise.

Just for the record. And this of Johnson's I quote for truth:

It is partly because of Mr. Bas's relative immaturity that the question of the Rubells' part in the exhibition arises. As private collectors who have purchased his work in depth over the past 10 years, they have a significant stake in the elevation of his reputation. Having the show at a major museum in New York is a good deal for them.

The museum saves on some costs, as institutions often do when they present traveling exhibitions organized by others. ... But the museum loses some of its intellectual and ethical credibility in letting the Rubells and their former in-house curator, Mark Coetzee, completely determine an exhibition devoted to an artist whose importance remains speculative. ... No doubt this is not the last we'll hear of these issues as museum resources diminish and private collectors offer more and more tempting, money-saving opportunities. It doesn't always have to be a bad thing, but it will never not be tricky.




March 11, 2009, 8:43 AM

"Tricky" is putting mildly and gently. Very.



March 11, 2009, 9:32 AM

I'll bet you discovered the genius of Koons' balloon-animal masterpieces long before Johnson did, too...


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 9:50 AM

I don't know Ken Johnson from Doc Johnson, so I do wonder if you want Ken to agree with you.



March 11, 2009, 10:12 AM

From what I've seen in person Bas's paintings simply aren't very good. It's depressing to see his work getting the recognition it does. Yes, collectors have invested a lot of money and will fight to keep there value.



March 11, 2009, 10:34 AM

Of course, Franklin, everyone knows you're just jealous. Just like anyone who criticizes Obama is racist. Case closed.



March 11, 2009, 10:38 AM


Oh please!





March 11, 2009, 11:24 AM

No, really, eageageag, you can be frank here about Hernan Bas. Just don't say anything about his name.



March 11, 2009, 11:38 AM

Is mocking the art the same as mocking the artist's name?



March 11, 2009, 11:52 AM

Does "Leroy Neiman Gets Jiggy With Popular Gay Narcissicism" merit even mocking? Mock the promoters. Mock the 'critics' who tiptoe around this material. Mock the problem, not the symptom.



March 11, 2009, 11:57 AM

Just don't mock the Rubells, Tim. They're major collectors, you know.



March 11, 2009, 12:04 PM

Or even better, mock whoever or whatever the fuck you want to.



March 11, 2009, 12:11 PM

Bethea is right and EAG's mocking is entirely appropriate. Bas is not really worth taklking about.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 12:40 PM

Far be it from me to render final judgments based on JPEGs, but these really look like more Feeble Painting.



March 11, 2009, 12:48 PM

Chris, Bas is clever, not feeble at all. The question is, what's he doing with it?


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 12:52 PM

Oh, no, Tim, this is the epitome of Feeblist work. As defined by Mark Staff Brandl:

"...they are by 'the we hate paint but we still do it consensus crowd.'

"I find Feeble Painting to be a recent concocted form of painting custom-made for the video-and junk-installation-curator crowd, the ones who until recently swore adamantly that painting was dead. Slowly becoming aware that it was not, and that they would have to live with some form of it, such people have latched on to something they can readily understand, a form of painting requiring no concentration and no 'eye' whatsoever. One, in fact, in which such abilities would be detrimental. My friend, the late Charles Boetschi, an amazing geometric abstract painter, described this work as that 'which is made quickly with one hand while doing what is far more important with the other, cell-phoning an international curator to arrange to do lunch.'"



March 11, 2009, 1:18 PM

Chris, I see that kind of work all over the place, but I didn't know that it has a formal name. The description you furnished makes sense. I thought the point of that stylistic slant was to get clever trendoids (Elizabeth Peyton for instance) to make paintings that go with the carefully cultivated coarseness, casualness, slouchiness of the trendy crowd. Like a part of the wardrobe.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 1:23 PM

Mark Brandl coined the phrase recently so I don't know if it qualifies as a formal name, but he's been trying to get more people to use it, and as soon as I heard it, I began using it myself. I'd used the word "feeble" to describe Trenton Doyle Hancock's work, so when I read Mark's use of the same word, only more generally, I latched right on to it. It's perfect for Peyton, Dumas, and their ilk, and now Bas.



March 11, 2009, 1:35 PM

Yep, they all qualify as pandering to the awkward, disheveled nerdball trend. What a joke on collectors.



March 11, 2009, 1:44 PM

Re #9, that's LeRoy Neiman, with a capital R. Far be it from me to show even the slightest disrespect to anyone's given (or assumed) name. However, we here at Artblog can do a tad better than a Neiman reference, however apt it might be. Bas is like a cross between Gustave Moreau and Oskar Kokoschka on a really bad day. But then again, maybe I'm too kind, as is so often the case.



March 11, 2009, 1:47 PM

I think we called it "wan painting" when we discussed it a year or two ago. There were a number of caustic & clever descriptions - I think MC laid down a few hummers.

As I recall it was back when we had a lot of nasty drivebys, and someone challenged my assessment of a Bas painting, so I gave out with an inch by inch crit - a straight discussion of skill deficiency only - and the picture only got worse the more I examined it.



March 11, 2009, 1:50 PM

Jack, I dont see Moreau but I definitely see Kokoschka in the handling of paint. Very undignified Kokoschka.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 1:53 PM

Drunk Kokoschka suffering from an untreated head injury.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 2:25 PM

OP: I can't find your Bas teardown yet, but I have found some interesting bits of old conversations. Anyone here remember "Perfecta"?



March 11, 2009, 2:47 PM

He's painted something that's 5 x 12 feet? Who does he think he is, Rosenquist? I mean, the nerve.



March 11, 2009, 3:55 PM

Reviewing 'Feeblist' works (a butt whipping for certain), the formula, it seems, is to use every kind of beginners' offputting mishandling of paint and copy things (photos, other paintings, etc.) The point being? I hear a counterpart to that on some pop music on the radio, another major butt whipping. It seems to be a part of the fad (I hope it's a fad) of making mediocrity and crumminess, appealing, which gives us permission to feel good about our shortcomings. The angle being played, it seems, is 'Feeblist' painting brings the artist and the art closer to 'the people' by saying "See, we're no better painters than you are." Make the unattractive attractive, make the refined ugly because it's out of reach of 'the people,' then we'll all be nice and equal.



March 11, 2009, 4:00 PM

"t seems to be a part of the fad (I hope it's a fad) of making mediocrity and crumminess, appealing"

This has been with us since Pop Art, Tim.



March 11, 2009, 4:17 PM

Yes it has, Opie, but not to anywhere near the degree that it is with us now. Now it's almost exclusive. The pedal was put to the metal, it seems, in the early 90s.

In Pop I discerned a frank admission from Warhol and co. that they understood the insipidness of their material, but it's a part of them on a cellular level. Like a really bad jingle that you can't get out of your head. It seemed the Pop artists were, in some ways, joining what they couldn't beat. Also, that work was fairly easily dismissed. I haven't put my finger on it yet, but I sense something more insidious with the material of today, like a socio-political agenda.



March 11, 2009, 5:05 PM

No craft will sustain itself t a high level if it can get away with less. This is not only true in the arts but in all human activity.

When I was a kid I worked in a number of blue-collar jobs, and most of them had a (usually macho) culture of pride in knowing how to handle the particulars at hand, and there was a definite heirarchy associated with these skills. Everyone knew who was best, and those people would rise to foreman or floor chief or manager.

Art-making used to be like this. One had to learn the craft and those who were good at the craft were successful. As innovation came to the fore around a hundred years ago craft naturally receded because innovative methods, one way or another, violated craft techniques or rendered them unnecessary.

Eventually, a generation or two ago, a kind of "do your own thing" culture evolved which fetishized an anti-craft attitude and openly disdained not only technique of any kind but any kind of art-making that employed these techinques. This has become the rule in academia, but fortunately not quite the rule in the marketplace, where painting still sells well.

Being by temperament a libertarian, I have no problem, in priciple, with allowing anything made by anybody to be "art". The real difficulty is that art is something that comes up from a deep well in the psyche, from a place that struggles to shape form in a way that replicates life in materials, or makes materials somehow "alive". It is this life that we experience as art.

Making this happen is the result of an intense, drawn-out struggle with a narrow set of materials. You must "digest" your materials (paint, sound, woirds, whatever) to set them out as something nourishing. It has nothing to do with "ideas" or "theories", it has to do with material transformation.

Unfortunately, that's hard to do. And if you get sneered at it for trying, and rich an famous by not doing it, why do it?


that guy

March 11, 2009, 5:14 PM

Well said Opie.



March 11, 2009, 5:45 PM

Genuine artists don't hear the sneers, or at least don't allow it to stop them. Genuine artists do the HARD work to accomplish the material transformation you write of, often in spite of themselves, even if they have to work isolated. Genuine artists don't have a say in the matter. The art is bigger than they are.

Somehow I don't worry about the art getting done. It's being done somewhere. The question for me is always about where the audience is.



March 11, 2009, 5:48 PM

Tim (#21), try these:

Moreau, by the way, was a man of independent means who didn't need his work to be popular or to sell well, so he basically painted what he liked how he liked, and much of his life was spent in seclusion. When he was in his 60s he became a professor at the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and he was reportedly an inspired teacher, bringing out his students' individual talents rather than trying to impose anything on them. His pupils included Marquet, Matisse and Rouault. I've chosen examples that relate more to Bas, rather than those that show Moreau at his best, but I'm feeling a bit guilty for insulting the man (GM, that is).



March 11, 2009, 6:01 PM

Thanks, Jack. In the Moreau examples I see a similar palette to that of Bas (Forgive me, Moreau!). I've only seen lesser Moreaus in person, I'm afraid. But I know well of Moreau, who told Matisse, "You were born to simplify."


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 6:11 PM

Tim sez:
Genuine artists don't hear the sneers, or at least don't allow it to stop them.... Somehow I don't worry about the art getting done. It's being done somewhere. The question for me is always about where the audience is.

This is a very romantic view of art and art making and, I think, at least partly wrong. No matter how genuine or driven the artist, artists still need an audience and their basic needs met (food, shelter, and so on, and, of course, art supplies). When an artist works in obscurity, or only part of the time while teaching or working at Starbucks or whatever, or both, something is lost. Good art and maybe even great art can still be made under such conditions, but we can only speculate at how much better or greater the art might have been with the proper support.

Artists, again no matter how driven, really need feedback to reach for their best. One of the things failing artists like Bas and Yuskavage and Dumas and the rest is this feedback: It's been short-circuited by early success. They have the financial support but nothing else -- not the proper connection to a real audience and not decent feedback from other artists.

It's sort of obvious that we mourn the loss of artists to events like World War I or the Holocaust, and we're not wrong to lament that; but we more easily let these pervasive, quiet losses slide by without comment. There's this assumption that anyone truly GREAT will rise to the surface regardless of how many obstacles are placed in their way. In fact there are always those who praise the obstacle course as somehow "purifying," as if art is some Darwinian contest. What these people miss, I think, are other forms of greatness, other flavors, which might arise if the obstacle course were different or even non-existent.

Just because something has made it through doesn't mean it's the absolute best. The best-for-now is what survives, leaving all kinds of alternatives to be lost forever.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 6:14 PM

Incidentally, I see absolutely no parallels between the baroque, classically-based work of Moreau and the flat, slavish photo-copying of Bas. Just Moreau's coloring is vastly superior to Bas' incompetent Crayola work.



March 11, 2009, 6:24 PM

Chris, the Moreau analogy is more about relatively esoteric, exotic or "decadent" subject matter that puts a premium on sensual/sexual elements and a kind of hothouse atmosphere or aesthetic. I think all of that was more genuine or personal for Moreau, less of a trendy, marketable affectation or posturte, because he was mainly painting for himself, not looking to move the merchandise and/or have it shown here or there.



March 11, 2009, 6:27 PM

I meant posture, obviously, in #35. And please don't misunderstand me; I find Moreau much more interesting than Bas.


Bas relief

March 11, 2009, 6:31 PM

Anyone see Larry Poons latest?


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 6:52 PM

I saw Larry Poons' show. It was good, with one real standout.



March 11, 2009, 6:54 PM

Chris, ultimately the art needs an audience, yes, but I don't agree that the artist needs one. Artists don't address audiences. They address Art.

Artists can and do get all the feedback (and in all but a very few cases far better) that they could ever need in museums, books, etc.

An artist doesn't recognize as such the obstacle course you refer to. And, it's not that hard to get the necessities in the USA.

You're placing Bas, Yuskavage and Dumas in a class they don't belong in. They're clever kids doing what clever kids do. If there was anything else there, it would've shown by now. I don't think that has anything to do with whether they got "proper feedback."

The idea that artists need some kind of nurturing, hmm... If anything, artists need to be gotten out of the way of.

And yes, I agree that Moreau orchestrated that palette better than Bas could, but I think part of Bas' schtick is to be fasionably crummy.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 6:55 PM

Jack, if that's what you think Moreau and Bas have in common, maybe you should add that they both use paint and canvas. "Human figures, arranged in space, with undertones of mystery and sexual tension" -- describes a lot of art. That's not something two artists have in common, that's something a zillion artists have in common.

Comparing the two is deeply insulting to Moreau, I think. Not that I've seen either Bas or Moreau's work in person to be sure. I'm extrapolating.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 6:57 PM

Artists need a place to stand from which to address Art.



March 11, 2009, 7:03 PM

Chris, wouldn't that 'place to stand' be in fron of an easel?


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 7:11 PM

You're a real card, Tim. Pardon me for a moment while I LOL, followed by a good bout of ROTFL, and then maybe a minute or so of LMAO.



March 11, 2009, 7:22 PM

Happy to oblige, Chris. And after you recompose yourself, maybe you could explain exactly what you mean by a place to stand.



March 11, 2009, 7:28 PM

Well, Chris, if the analogy doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you. I didn't mean to insult Moreau, whom I respect much more than Bas and find far more intriguing, but I can see how it might appear insulting. I still think they share a certain kind of sensibility or inclination, which strikes me as more organic and less affected in Moreau, less self-conscious, and hence more convincing.



March 11, 2009, 7:29 PM

It would be interesting to have Bunny's take on all this.


Chris Rywalt

March 11, 2009, 8:53 PM

I think the most important difference between Moreau and Bas is that Moreau looks like he actually tried to learn to paint, and even succeeded to an extent, while Bas appears to have had better things to do. Perhaps masturbate.

Tim, I have no patience at the moment for explaining anything to you. As Jack just wrote, if the analogy doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you.



March 11, 2009, 9:12 PM

Chris, I wager that Bas is capable of a lot more than he's letting on in his work. I see a lot of cleverness in his things. He's being an entertainer. He's just partying. By the way, an entertainer needs an audience, and a stage, if that's what you meant by a place to stand.

What analogy, Professor?



March 11, 2009, 10:40 PM

"The best-for-now is what survives, leaving all kinds of alternatives to be lost forever."

How romantic can you get?


Chris Rywalt

March 12, 2009, 9:01 AM

I don't consider this romance, I consider it practicality of a higher order. The best-for-now is sometimes the enemy of the best. As Bucky Fuller once noted, if you're shipwrecked and a sufficiently-buoyant piano lid comes along and keeps you afloat until rescue arrives, that's fortuitous, but it doesn't mean the best design for a life preserver is a piano lid.

Studies have been done to show: If you take a class of students and teach them using one method, test them, grade them, and plot the grades you'll get a bell curve. If you take that same class and teach them using a different method, grade them, and plot the grades, you'll get the same bell curve -- with the students distributed differently along the curve.

If you think the teaching method is independent of the student's grades, then you'd think that the "best" have gotten the best grades. But it turns out the teaching method isn't independent. Who ends up as the best depends on it. There is no best.

Likewise, Darwinian competition doesn't result in the absolute fittest, it results in the relative fittest, depending on the conditions at any given time.

Likewise, a difficult art environment doesn't result in the absolute best art, it results in the relatively best-equipped artists making the relatively best work given the conditions.

So when you write, Tim, "Somehow I don't worry about the art getting done. It's being done somewhere" you're wrong. Some art is getting done, certainly, but without help, not the best. Talent and hard work do get wasted.



March 12, 2009, 9:25 AM

Chris, what is a difficult art environment? Do you mean all of that noise going on outside the door?

Artists don't become artists in a class. Artists don't need teaching the way you mean. Maybe a little mentoring to keep them out of trouble in the difficult years.

Sorry, I just can't fit artistic endeavour into a context of Darwinian competition. The making of art doesn't work that way. Maybe making a living from it does, depending on how one goes about it.

When have artists EVER had it so easy as artists have it now? Don't you wonder why there are so many artists now? As for quality, I don't believe quality gets revealed in the present circumstances, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. As you once wrote, time tells that tale.

Art doesn't need our help. We need art's help.



March 12, 2009, 9:31 AM

A tip o' the hat to Tim, for #16's description of feeble painting that, instead of matching the couch, matches the slouch.

Up here in the wilds of Canada, I've seen one Bas painting reproduced in a (U.S.) magazine once, but otherwise had never even heard of him except for on this blog. So, thank you Franklin (and EAG of course), for giving me a (bucky) fuller introduction to his work, and continuing to spread his reputation far and wide.

As for LeRoy Neiman... Didn't he play Dr. Spock on Star Trek?



March 12, 2009, 9:42 AM

MC has inspired me to begin the "Bring Bas to Canada Campaign!" I'll be the first to sign the petition. You do bring up a good point though and that is why I have taken a long break from writing art criticism. I don't want to be the butter knife that spreads reputations far and wide. I want to make art.



March 12, 2009, 10:17 AM

MC, you're dangerously close to name abuse. Stop it.



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